May 31, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Scientists have 3D printed the most advanced artificial cornea ever using human cells
(Rachel Becker,  May 30, 2018, The Verge)

Scientists have 3D printed the thin protective film over the eye, called the cornea, using human cells -- and it's the most advanced version of an artificial cornea yet. Should the technology improve, it could help millions of people see again.

It was tricky to find the right recipe for an ink that's thin enough to squirt through a 3D printer's nozzle, says Che Connon, a tissue engineer at Newcastle University who was one of the creators of the artificial cornea. This bio-ink didn't just have to be thin -- it also had to be stiff enough that it could hold its shape as a 3D structure. To get the right consistency, the researchers added a jelly-like goo called alginate and stem cells extracted from donor corneas, along with some ropy proteins called collagen.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Pakistani President Signs Law Merging Tribal Areas With Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (RadioLiberty, May 31, 2018)

Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain has signed legislation that merges the country's tribal regions with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and therefore grants some 5 million people in the regions the same rights as other Pakistanis. [...]

The legislation rids the northwestern tribal areas of what were seen as discriminatory laws under which those regions have been governed since the colonial rule of Britain.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Trump 'spygate' offensive loses steam. (KYLE CHENEY 05/30/2018, Politico)

The blowback began Tuesday night when Gowdy, pressed during a Fox News interview, insisted that the FBI acted appropriately when it deployed an informant to collect information during the 2016 presidential election from Trump campaign aides Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Both men had been suspected of having questionable Russian contacts and the FBI's attempt to follow the lead was appropriate and necessary, Gowdy said.

"I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got," said Gowdy, one of just five Republicans in a classified DOJ briefing last week for congressional leaders about the issue.

Wednesday morning, Gowdy doubled down on CBS.

"When the FBI comes into contact with information about what a foreign government may be doing in our election cycle, I think they have an obligation to run it out," he said.

The lawmaker's comments were echoed by Napolitano, who said Trump's "spy" claim seemed to be "baseless" and that the use of an informant on the periphery of the campaign is "standard operating procedure" in the FBI's counterintelligence operations.

"If they were there for some nefarious reason ... to gather data from the campaign and pass it to the West Wing and pass it to Mrs. Clinton, I'd want to see evidence of that before I made an allegation that outrageous," Napolitano said.

Dershowitz joined in Wednesday morning by conceding that he was "on the way to being persuaded" that the FBI's use of an informant was proper.

The confluence of conservative defenses of the FBI undercuts Trump's aggressive PR strategy to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing probe into Russian election meddling and whether there was any coordination with the Trump campaign. That investigation has edged deeper inside Trump's inner circle and spurred Trump to lash out against the "witch hunt" against him.

Sadly, it is news when his defenders retain some dignity.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


F.B.I. Official Wrote Secret Memo Fearing Trump Got a Cover Story for Comey Firing (Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt, May 30, 2018, NY Times)

In the document, whose contents have not been previously reported, Mr. McCabe described a conversation at the Justice Department with the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, in the chaotic days last May after Mr. Comey's abrupt firing. Mr. Rosenstein played a key role in the dismissal, writing a memo that rebuked Mr. Comey over his handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton.

But in the meeting at the Justice Department, Mr. Rosenstein added a new detail: He said the president had originally asked him to reference Russia in his memo, the people familiar with the conversation said. Mr. Rosenstein did not elaborate on what Mr. Trump had wanted him to say.

To Mr. McCabe, that seemed like possible evidence that Mr. Comey's firing was actually related to the F.B.I.'s investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, and that Mr. Rosenstein helped provide a cover story by writing about the Clinton investigation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 AM


US Air Force Is Waiting a Year for Parts That It Could 3D-Print (MARCUS WEISGERBER, 5/29/18, Defense One)

Someday, the military will 3D-print missiles as needed, the U.S. Air Force's acquisition chief says. In the shorter term, he just wants to use additive manufacturing technology to get broken planes back in the air. The roadblock is legal, not technical.

"I have airplanes right now that are waiting on parts that are taking a year and a half to deliver. A year and a half," Will Roper, the assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in an interview.

Today's 3D-printers could make short work of those deliveries, but some of those parts' original manufacturers control the intellectual property -- and there not clear policy for dealing with that.

The reason "I can't say we're going to do it is we're talking about government contracts and IP, so I have lawyers that are helping me and other contracts folks," Roper said. "But it's an area I'm going to stay focused because I see a way for win-win. And that doesn't happen often in the government."

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 AM


Not so secular: Survey finds a large group of nonpracticing Christians in Europe (Tom Heneghan, 5/29/18, RNS) 

A new survey by the Pew Research Center looks past the headlines that worry the established churches to ask what Western Europeans think about religion. The results, issued Tuesday (May 29), suggest a more nuanced picture.

Despite the region's widespread secularization, 64 percent of the 24,599 adults Pew surveyed in 15 countries still identify as Christians, even if only 18 percent say they attend church at least once a month.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


The Roots of Russian Aggression (JAMES KIRCHICK, May 24, 2018, National Review)

Long before the collapse of their empire, Soviet leaders endorsed this conception of state sovereignty by signing the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, which committed signatories to respect one another's "sovereign equality," the "inviolability of frontiers," the "territorial integrity of states," "non-intervention in internal affairs," and the "peaceful settlement of disputes." Collectively, these resolutions constituted the act's "first basket" of agreements. The second basket incorporated trade and scientific cooperation, while the third committed states to uphold human rights, freedom of emigration, and freedom of the press. At the time, the Soviets were eager for such an agreement because it essentially legitimized their post-war domination of Central and Eastern Europe, where they had installed Communist puppet regimes (which, along with the United States and its Western allies, were also party to the Helsinki accords). While the Eastern Bloc governments had no intention of actually upholding the act's "third basket," their formal recognition of it came back to haunt them in the form of dissidents who cited these written commitments in making their case for great political freedom. So, too, were the Soviets and their allies taken by surprise when national independence movements referenced the act's sovereignty provisions to expose the fundamental illegitimacy of the Warsaw Pact, all along a façade for Russian colonialism. That the Soviets (and, later, Russians) never intended to take the human-rights and sovereignty provisions of the Final Act seriously is a repudiation not of the Final Act itself but of the leaders who disingenuously signed it.

Soviet leaders again endorsed the principle of national sovereignty when, in 1989, they supplanted the Brezhnev Doctrine, which permitted Warsaw Pact countries to intervene militarily against "forces hostile to socialism" in other member nations, with the "Sinatra Doctrine," whereby Eastern Bloc states could do it their way. Though it was not Gorbachev's intention, this momentous decision ultimately led to the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The first post-Cold War conflict to erupt between Russia and the West was in the Balkans, where the United States and its allies intervened militarily to avert ethnic cleansing carried out by Moscow's traditional ally, the Serbs. Confronting internal economic and political instability, and prosecuting a scorched-earth war in Chechnya, Russia was in no position to challenge NATO in the former Yugoslavia. This inability to contest Western intervention in what Moscow considered its imperial backyard bred feelings of resentment among a rising generation of Russian nationalists, who would later choose to fixate on the Western military alliance as the greatest threat to Russian security.

The subject of NATO's post-Cold War enlargement, and more specifically the false claim that Western leaders promised their Soviet counterparts that NATO would refrain from incorporating new members, has won credibility of late. Particularly after the Ukraine crisis, Russia's Western sycophants, seeking to justify Putin's aggression, trotted out the claim that NATO's "encircling" of Russia had somehow forced Putin into invading his neighbors. It is remarkable how pervasive this narrative has become. Touring the United States over the past year to promote my book about Europe, I have never addressed an audience in which someone did not mention, if not endorse, this argument.

Assertions of Western "triumphalism" with regard to NATO enlargement gained strength in December when an outfit called the National Security Archive at George Washington University selectively published a series of recently declassified U.S.-government documents purporting to show, once and for all, that Western leaders had indeed offered their Soviet interlocutors a "cascade of assurances" that NATO would not expand. Despite its official-sounding name, the National Security Archive is a left-wing organization committed to exposing the Cold War sins, real or alleged, of America through the highly selective publishing of tendentiously presented documents, and nothing in the latest dump tells us anything new. As is already known, James Baker, then the secretary of state, promised Gorbachev that NATO would not expand "one inch eastward." The archive attempts to embellish this statement by releasing some extraneous once-classified documents. But Baker made that pledge solely in the context of East Germany, a country that, like the Soviet Union, would soon cease to exist. At the time, it was inconceivable that places such as Poland or Czechoslovakia (another state not long for this world), never mind the soon-to-be independent Soviet Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, might one day join NATO.

Russia and its Western apologists can offer no evidence of a promise not to enlarge NATO, because such a promise was never made. Gorbachev should have the final word on this matter: "The topic of 'NATO expansion' was not discussed at all, and it wasn't brought up in those years," he said in October 2014. "I say this with full responsibility. Not a single Eastern European country raised the issue, not even after the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist in 1991." Only years later would the prospect of former Warsaw Pact states' joining NATO become a subject of more than academic discussion, when the alliance offered membership to Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. In 1997, all three joined.

But relitigating what assurances the West did or did not make to the collapsing Soviet Union about NATO's future status is a distraction from the more fundamental question: What right does Russia have to decide whether its former satrapies can join a defensive military alliance of their own free will? In the words of the former State Department official Kirk Bennet, "NATO enlargement was driven by demand, not supply." The newly independent countries of Central and Eastern Europe all desperately wanted to join NATO, and given their histories with Russia, it's not hard to understand why. The practice of invading European neighbors because they stray from the true socialist path -- employed by the Russians in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1956 and 1968, respectively -- is a model of interstate behavior that was supposed to have been forever discredited with the collapse of the Soviet Union. (As events in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine six years later demonstrate, however, it has unfortunately been revived.)

The principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity initially laid out in the Helsinki Final Act were later enshrined in the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, agreed to by the Soviet Union and, following its dissolution, its legal successor state, the Russian Federation. In 1994, Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum with Ukraine, Great Britain, and the United States, which saw Kiev surrender its ample nuclear-weapons stockpile to Moscow in exchange for guarantees of its territorial integrity. As with practically every understanding it signed in the post-Cold War period, Russia later violated this pledge. [...]

Our present-day problems with Russia stem from two utterly different, and fundamentally irreconcilable, understandings of what the end of the Cold War meant. It wasn't just a side that lost but a whole understanding of how the world should work. From the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to the Sudeten crisis to the division of Germany, most of the 20th century's major conflicts erupted over border disputes in Central and Eastern Europe. Vladimir Putin's refusal to acknowledge that small countries have the same rights as larger ones has pitted a rules-abiding West against a rules-flouting Russia. Faced with neighbors wishing to break free of their post-imperial yoke, Russians have not paused to consider that maybe it's their behavior, past and present, that has led the former "captive nations" to be wary of Moscow's designs. Rather, Russians have internalized, in the words of former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, the attitude that "nobody likes us, what's wrong with everybody?" For Western policymakers to endorse such myopia is like giving car keys to a drunk.    

No one asked if Russia wanted to redefine sovereignty and no one cares that they don't.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


Glasnost for US Intelligence: Will Transparency Lead to Increased Public Trust? (Joshua Busby, Steve Slick  Tuesday, May 29, 2018, Lawfare)

The most reliable way for the intelligence community to gauge the effectiveness of its various transparency programs would likely be periodic public polling, but any attempt by today's intelligence agencies to measure public opinion in the U.S. would stir uncomfortable memories of Cold War-era projects. In this context, the Texas National Security Network fielded a nationally representative survey of 1,000 Americans with the survey market-research firm YouGov. The first round of the poll is intended to establish a stable baseline that measures Americans' overall perception of the American intelligence community, its effectiveness, regard for civil liberties, and democratic oversight.

Our goals in gathering and analyzing this information this year and in the future are: 1) to inform scholarly and popular debate on the proper role of intelligence in our democracy; and 2) to help intelligence community officials design public-facing programs that respond most directly to the actual knowledge, beliefs, and concerns of the American people. We view this project as a useful complement, and not a challenge, to Lawfare's monthly polling on public confidence in U.S. national-security institutions, including the intelligence community.

Here are several key takeaways from the initial report:

56 percent of respondents indicated that the U.S. intelligence community "plays a vital role in warning against foreign threats and contributes to national security" while only 7 percent of those questioned thought our intelligence agencies were "no longer necessary". Large differences were noted in this pool based on respondents' general knowledge of foreign affairs;

75 percent of respondents regarded the intelligence community as effective in "preventing terrorist attacks against the U.S.", but only 43 percent judged the intelligence community equally effective at "protecting the privacy an civil liberties of Americans". More Democrats than Republicans credited the intelligence community with protecting their rights (see figure above);

More than 90 percent of Americans agreed with the longstanding charge by U.S. presidents that the intelligence community employ "[a]ll reasonable and lawful means" to ensure the government receives the best possible intelligence, but only 38 percent believe that in gathering this information the U.S. intelligence community should "respect the privacy rights of foreigners to the same extent as Americans". Democrats were more likely than Republicans or Independents to extend privacy protections to foreigners;

63 percent of Democrats believe the intelligence community can share more information with the public without compromising its effectiveness, while only 42 percent of Republicans hold that view;

From a shortlist, 24 percent of respondents selected the NSC as the institution primarily responsible for monitoring U.S. intelligence, while only 11 percent thought the president played this role. Only 20 percent of those polled associated the Congress with intelligence oversight, while 21 percent (incorrectly) believe federal courts and judges play a central role in regulating U.S. intelligence.

We see this as a preliminary point of departure for our assessment of the public's view of the U.S. intelligence community. 

Share it all and let the citizenry do the work of crunching the data:

Big data brings new power to open-source intelligence (Matthew Moran, 5/14/14, The Conversation)

Two overlapping developments in particular have greatly influenced the growth of open-source intelligence.

First, the explosion of social media has given us instant access to a wealth of user-generated content. From Facebook to Twitter to Google+, we are now only ever a few keystrokes away from a potentially global audience. And as these tools increase global connectivity, people seem increasingly willing to project their thoughts, opinions and observations into cyberspace. The process of information generation has produced what has been described as "new digital commons of enormous size and wealth".

Second, and on a larger scale, the scope of open-source intelligence has been completely changed by the rise of big data. The meaning of this term is contested but it is commonly used to describe "data that exceeds the processing capacity of conventional database systems". According to some estimates, some 1,200 exabytes of data now exists in the world and 90% of it was created in the last two years alone.

Social media is a good example of big data in practice. Users are generating 500m tweets and 90m blog posts on Tumblr per day. Every minute, 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube. The social media universe is expanding at an astronomical rate.

Little surprise, then, that this networked society has spawned new analytical approaches and opportunities. From everyday policing to counter-terrorism to civil war, information gleaned from open sources can provide insights into world events like never before. Finding what you want in this sea of information can be like looking for a needle in a haystack - but it can be done.

Eliot Higgins pieced together his analysis of weapons use in Syria by trawling through hours of video footage uploaded to YouTube, refining and cross-referencing what he found with information drawn from other websites and platforms.

But the Brown Moses approach represents just one end of a spectrum. At the other end, at the cutting edge of informatics and computing, researchers are developing complex algorithms aimed at automating the process. This will enable them to make big data work as a source of intelligence too. In between are those who combine the manual searches with freely available and often very useful analytical tools.

A recent report by Demos hinted at the potential for social media analysis to support police investigations, for example. Tweets and status updates can provide eyewitness testimony and pictorial evidence of incidents or be used by police to "measure groundswells of emotion". Left unchecked, bubbling tensions could develop into episodes of collective violence. Monitoring them online could enable a faster response, or even preventative measures.

This is not open-source intelligence as it has traditionally been understood. The move towards automated analysis hints at something more akin to signals intelligence. It is perhaps for this reason that researchers active in the area of social media analysis have coined their own term: social media intelligence or SOCMINT. Fundamentally, however, this is open-source intelligence in the sense that publicly accessible information is being exploited for intelligence purposes.

Technology has breathed new life into open-source intelligence. Whether it is derived from the work of internet investigators like Brown Moses or complex algorithms, it is more valuable than ever before.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


Why you never have to spend more than $10 on wine again (Jeanette Settembre, 5/25/18, Moneyish)

Last year, a $6 bottle of red wine sold exclusively at Coles supermarkets in Melbourne received rave reviews from oenophiles at the Melbourne International Wine Competition, who gave it a unanimous gold rating during a blind taste test. The Aussie wine, St. Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, earned the coveted "double gold" medal from a panel of sommeliers, retail buyers and distributors, beating out 1,100 wine submissions from more than 10 countries around the world.

And last May, an $8 bottle of Exquisite Collection Cotes de Provence Rose earned a silver medal at the International Wine Challenge (which is considered the Oscars of winemaking) that pits super-expensive wines against affordable ones to find the best. You can buy it at German discount grocery chain Aldi (which boasts seven New York City warehouse-style stores).

And you don't have to be a sommelier to have good taste.

"If you like it, it's good," retail spirits expert Gary Fisher tells Moneyish. 

May 30, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


N.H. Finds No Signs  Of Illegal Voter Busing (Ethan DeWitt, 5/30/18, Concord Monitor)

The state Attorney General's Office has no evidence that out-of-state voters were ever bused into New Hampshire to illegally sway the outcome of an election, a top official said on Tuesday, dismissing an oft-repeated claim that's spread from the Granite State to the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


SO-CALLED SPYGATE (Peter Weber, 5/29/18, The Week)

After attending classified Justice Department briefings last week about the FBI informant, "I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump," House Oversight Committee Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told Fox News host Martha MacCallum on Tuesday night.

"President Trump himself in the Comey memos said if anyone connected with my campaign was working with Russia, I want you to investigate it, and it sounds to me like that is exactly what the FBI did," Gowdy said. "I think when the president finds out what happened, he is going to be not just fine, he is going to be glad that we have an FBI that took seriously what they heard. ... We run toward the criminality, but I would think everyone would want to know what Russia did."

Former Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Trump favorite, followed Gowdy, and he was similarly unimpressed with the claims being made by Trump and Giuliani. The FBI spying allegations "seem to be baseless -- there is no evidence for that whatsoever," he told MacCallum. "But this other allegation with this professor -- whose name we're not supposed to mention -- that is standard operating procedure in intelligence gathering and criminal investigations."

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


The health care industry is being transformed, one deal at a time (THAD KRESHO MAY 25, 2018, Stat)

 As I described in a recent PwC Health Research Institute report, they include:

Vertical integrators such as Cigna and Express Scripts, which hope to build efficiencies of scale and condense the value chain

Employer activists such as Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase, who seek a better health care offering for their employees

Technology invaders such as Google or Uber aiming to gain better footholds in the industry

Health retailers such as Amazon looking to gain market share by better understanding consumer desires and behavior and provide some types of health care directly

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


The Statustician! (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, 5/24/18, Weekly Standard)

Then, in 1970, he wrote his breakout piece, the work that made him a writer to be reckoned with. "Radical Chic" was an account of the most famous case of reverse slumming of its time: the party that Leonard and Felicia Bernstein gave for the Black Panthers. The phrase "radical chic" was a perfect description of the behavior of an upper class with nothing at risk cultivating fashionable progressive opinions to reinforce its own self-esteem and at the same time seeming to demonstrate its large-hearted sensitivity to the condition of the underclass. The point about the phenomenon was that it was risk-free. As Wolfe later noted: "A Radical Chic protester got himself arrested in the late morning or early afternoon, in mild weather. He was booked and released in time to make it to the Electric Circus, that year's New York nightspot of the century, and tell war stories."

The roster of guests gathered at the Bernsteins' Park Avenue penthouse duplex for an evening of fundraising for the Black Panthers was a splendid combination of the well-known and the well-to-do. Included were Jason Robards and Schuyler Chapin, Goddard Lieberson and Mike Nichols, Lillian Hellman and Larry Rivers, Aaron Copland and Richard Avedon, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins, Adolph and Phyllis Green and Betty Comden. A party for the Panthers had its complications: Black servants had to be replaced by Hispanic ones, for a start. Then there was the question of the Black Panthers' taste in hors d'oeuvres and so much more with which the thoughtful hosts had to contend. The Bernsteins' mistake, of course, was letting Tom Wolfe in the door.

What he set indelibly on display in "Radical Chic" was that people who can afford them can wear their opinions as if they were designer clothes. Some opinions, like some clothes, were more comme il faut than others. Expressing support for the Black Panthers, a group that should its members' dreams come true would have everyone in the Bernstein apartment that evening on a tumbril on the way to the guillotine, was the political equivalent of Dior, Hermès, or Givenchy.
Just behind the Panthers in progressive social prestige in those days came Cesar Chavez and his National Farm Workers Association. In the same essay, Wolfe gave a brief account of a fundraiser arranged for them by Andrew Stein in Southampton. "From the beginning," Wolfe writes of Stein's fête, "the afternoon was full of the delicious status contradictions that provide much of the electricity for Radical Chic."

The men in their Dunhill blazers and Turnbull & Asser neckerchiefs, the women in their Pucci dresses, Gucci shoes, and Capucci scarves listened to heartrending accounts of grape pickers and their children rising at 3 a.m. for 12-hour days in the blistering hot fields with nothing to eat but a baloney sandwich. How sad, how gripping, how unjust it all was, until, Wolfe interjected, "the wind had come up off the ocean and it was wrecking everybody's hair." Perfecto!

Perfecto, that is, if one wishes to show how feeble, thin, and ultimately fraudulent was the sympathy of the rich and famous for the poor and downtrodden. "Radical Chic" put a serious dent in the radical movement that was then sweeping America and that today chiefly finds a home in the much shabbier surroundings of university humanities and social-science departments. Many thought the essay the work of a right-winger, but they were wrong. The essay was the work of a man who enjoyed the comedy of rich contradictions played out by people prepared to desert their common sense in the hope of boosting their status. And Wolfe didn't in the least flinch when naming names: Jean vanden Heuvel, Jules Feiffer, Carter and Amanda Burden, Sidney and Gail Lumet, and other glittering names all hosted events like that of the Bernsteins. "Who do you call to give a party?," Wolfe quoted the then-high-profile New York art dealer Richard Feigen asking.

Wolfe never minded making enemies. Early in his career he took on William Shawn and the New Yorker in an essay called "Tiny Mummies! The True Story of the Ruler of 43rd Street's Land of the Walking Dead!," guaranteeing that he would never appear in that magazine's pages. Later, he wrote of Robert Silvers, the Anglomaniacal editor of the New York Review of Books, that "his accent arrived mysteriously one day in a box from London. Intrigued, he slapped it into his mouth like a set of teeth." In those two strokes, he made himself permanently non grata with two of the most powerful editors in the land. He was no more tender about the leading intellectual figures of the day. He described Susan Sontag as "just another scribbler who spent her life signing up for protest meetings and lumbering to the podium encumbered by her prose style, which had a handicapped parking sticker valid at Partisan Review."

Along with conferring greater fame on him than he had hitherto known, "Radical Chic" gave Wolfe a strong taste for provocation. Literary and intellectual provocateur was a role he felt comfortable playing. He seemed greatly to enjoy a ruckus of his own devising. After "Radical Chic" came his book The Painted Word, a dazzling takedown of the pretensions of the contemporary art world and its star critics, which was excerpted in 1975 in Harper's. (Six years later, in From Bauhaus to Our House, he would perpetrate a similar massacre of modern architecture.)

Wolfe was a brilliant titlist, and "The Painted Word" conveys the chief idea in the work--namely, that no contemporary painting could have any serious standing without a critical theory certifying and explaining it. Twenty-five years from the time of his essay, he prophesied, there would appear on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art "huge copy blocks, eight and a half by eleven feet each, presenting the protean passages. . .. Beside them will be small reproductions of the work of leading illustrators of the Word from that period such as Johns, Louis, Noland, Stella, and Olitski." The essay is a reminder that in Joseph Roth's novel Left and Right, the criterion a wealthy character sets for buying art is "that a picture should repel his sense and intelligence. Only then could he be sure of having bought a valuable modern work."

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


The Wage Gap Between Men and Woman Virtually Disappears When Differences in Behavior Are Taken into Account (Matt Knight  , 5/22/18, FEE)

[W]e're trying to discover just how much influence sexist discrimination has on women's earnings relative to men's, we've controlled for full-time status, and now we're saying that--ceteris paribus--sexism alone accounts for a gap of 21 to 23 percent between men and women?

Shouldn't we try to compare women and men who studied the same things in college and selected careers in the same fields?

Come on.

Granted, controlling for full-time status is important, but surely we can do better than one measly factor. I mean, there are a ton of other things that play into comparing the earnings of men and women, right?

For example, shouldn't we try to compare women and men who studied the same things in college and selected careers in the same fields? Seems relatively important--and when we do that, the American Association of University Women finds that women actually make 93 percent of their male coworkers.

What about comparing work experience? Lengthy career interruptions? And, heck, what about overtime? Controlling for those things, a report prepared for the US Department of Labor found that women actually make 95 percent as much as their male coworkers.

I'd say a rise in women's pay from 77 percent to 95 percent is quite an improvement, wouldn't you agree?

But wait, there's more!

Starting a family makes up a large (and growing) proportion of the total wage gap, and women tend to accept "family-friendly fringe benefits" (flexible hours, child-care, and parental leave, for example) in lieu of higher wages. When we account for these kinds of non-wage compensation, the gap in total compensation falls to 3.6 percent.

Neat, right?

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 AM


Meet Anthony Seigler, the Switch-Hitting, Switch-Pitching MLB Draft Gem (DANNY KNOBLER, MAY 29, 2018, Bleacher Report)

The most interesting player in the MLB draft this June is a switch-hitting catcher.

And a right-handed pitcher. And a left-handed pitcher. A starter. And a closer. An infielder. And, oh yes, an outfielder.

He's Anthony Seigler, an 18-year-old high school senior from Cartersville, Georgia, and trust me, you've never seen anyone quite like him. He's Shohei Ohtani, if Ohtani turned around and started throwing left-handed too. He's the switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, if Venditte started a game behind the plate and ended it on the mound.

He's the guy who could play all nine positions in one game, except he could do it one day throwing right-handed and the next day throwing left-handed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


Time Bandits: What were Einstein and Gödel talking about? (Jim Holt, Jan. 22nd, 2005, The New Yorker)

In 1906, the year after Einstein's annus mirabilis, Kurt Gödel was born in the city of Brno (now in the Czech Republic). As Rebecca Goldstein recounts in her enthralling intellectual biography "Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel" (Atlas/Norton; $22.95), Kurt was both an inquisitive child--his parents and brother gave him the nickname der Herr Warum, "Mr. Why?"--and a nervous one. At the age of five, he seems to have suffered a mild anxiety neurosis. At eight, he had a terrifying bout of rheumatic fever, which left him with the lifelong conviction that his heart had been fatally damaged.

Gödel entered the University of Vienna in 1924. He had intended to study physics, but he was soon seduced by the beauties of mathematics, and especially by the notion that abstractions like numbers and circles had a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind. This doctrine, which is called Platonism, because it descends from Plato's theory of ideas, has always been popular among mathematicians. In the philosophical world of nineteen-twenties Vienna, however, it was considered distinctly old-fashioned. Among the many intellectual movements that flourished in the city's rich café culture, one of the most prominent was the Vienna Circle, a group of thinkers united in their belief that philosophy must be cleansed of metaphysics and made over in the image of science. Under the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein, their reluctant guru, the members of the Vienna Circle regarded mathematics as a game played with symbols, a more intricate version of chess. What made a proposition like "2 + 2 = 4" true, they held, was not that it correctly described some abstract world of numbers but that it could be derived in a logical system according to certain rules.

Gödel was introduced into the Vienna Circle by one of his professors, but he kept quiet about his Platonist views. Being both rigorous and averse to controversy, he did not like to argue his convictions unless he had an airtight way of demonstrating that they were valid. But how could one demonstrate that mathematics could not be reduced to the artifices of logic? Gödel's strategy--one of "heart-stopping beauty," as Goldstein justly observes--was to use logic against itself. Beginning with a logical system for mathematics, one presumed to be free of contradictions, he invented an ingenious scheme that allowed the formulas in it to engage in a sort of double speak. A formula that said something about numbers could also, in this scheme, be interpreted as saying something about other formulas and how they were logically related to one another. In fact, as Gödel showed, a numerical formula could even be made to say something about itself. (Goldstein compares this to a play in which the characters are also actors in a play within the play; if the playwright is sufficiently clever, the lines the actors speak in the play within the play can be interpreted as having a "real life" meaning in the play proper.) Having painstakingly built this apparatus of mathematical self-reference, Gödel came up with an astonishing twist: he produced a formula that, while ostensibly saying something about numbers, also says, "I am not provable." At first, this looks like a paradox, recalling as it does the proverbial Cretan who announces, "All Cretans are liars." But Gödel's self-referential formula comments on its provability, not on its truthfulness. Could it be lying? No, because if it were, that would mean it could be proved, which would make it true. So, in asserting that it cannot be proved, it has to be telling the truth. But the truth of this proposition can be seen only from outside the logical system. Inside the system, it is neither provable nor disprovable. The system, then, is incomplete. The conclusion--that no logical system can capture all the truths of mathematics--is known as the first incompleteness theorem. Gödel also proved that no logical system for mathematics could, by its own devices, be shown to be free from inconsistency, a result known as the second incompleteness theorem.

Wittgenstein once averred that "there can never be surprises in logic." But Gödel's incompleteness theorems did come as a surprise. In fact, when the fledgling logician presented them at a conference in the German city of Königsberg in 1930, almost no one was able to make any sense of them. What could it mean to say that a mathematical proposition was true if there was no possibility of proving it? The very idea seemed absurd. Even the once great logician Bertrand Russell was baffled; he seems to have been under the misapprehension that Gödel had detected an inconsistency in mathematics. "Are we to think that 2 + 2 is not 4, but 4.001?" Russell asked decades later in dismay, adding that he was "glad [he] was no longer working at mathematical logic." As the significance of Gödel's theorems began to sink in, words like "debacle," "catastrophe," and "nightmare" were bandied about. It had been an article of faith that, armed with logic, mathematicians could in principle resolve any conundrum at all--that in mathematics, as it had been famously declared, there was no ignorabimus. Gödel's theorems seemed to have shattered this ideal of complete knowledge.

That was not the way Gödel saw it. He believed he had shown that mathematics has a robust reality that transcends any system of logic. But logic, he was convinced, is not the only route to knowledge of this reality; we also have something like an extrasensory perception of it, which he called "mathematical intuition." It is this faculty of intuition that allows us to see, for example, that the formula saying "I am not provable" must be true, even though it defies proof within the system where it lives. 

Fortunately, the Anglosphere never succumbed to the dream of Reason.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 AM


There's even more evidence to suggest most popular vitamin supplements are essentially useless (Lindsay Dodgson, 5/29/18, Business Insider)

A new systematic review of existing data and trials published between January 2012 and October 2017 has found that popular multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, and calcium -- some of the most common choices -- had no real advantage to people's health, and there was no evidence taking them reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, or early death.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, was led by researchers at St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto.

"We were surprised to find so few positive effects of the most common supplements that people consume," said Dr. David Jenkins, the lead author of the study. "Our review found that if you want to use multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium or vitamin C, it does no harm -- but there is no apparent advantage either." [...]

There were, however, a few apparently advantageous supplements. Folic acid and B vitamins with folic acid were found to possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Niacin (a form of vitamin B3) and antioxidants, meanwhile, were actually associated with a higher risk of death for any cause, albeit a very small increase.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


CIA report says North Korea won't denuclearize, but might open a burger joint (Courtney Kube, Ken Dilanian and Carol E. Lee / May.29.2018, NBC)

 A new U.S. intelligence assessment has concluded that North Korea does not intend to give up its nuclear weapons any time soon, three U.S. officials told NBC News -- a finding that conflicts with recent statements by President Donald Trump that Pyongyang intends to do so in the future. [...]

"Everybody knows they are not going to denuclearize," said one intelligence official who read the report, which was circulated earlier this month, days before Trump canceled the originally scheduled summit.

In an odd twist, a list of potential concessions by North Korea in the CIA analysis included the possibility that Kim Jong Un may consider offering to open a Western hamburger franchise in Pyongyang as a show of goodwill, according to three national security officials.

It suggests Kim is interested in a peaceful gesture to an American president whose love of fast-food burgers is well known -- and who, during the 2016 campaign, had said he wanted to talk nukes over a burger with the North Korean leader.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


How Right is the Left?: The German radical Left in the context of the 'Ukraine crisis' (KYRYLO TKACHENKO, 15 May 2018, Eurozine)

In summary, the German radical Left has accepted the Russian master narrative about Ukraine, including the most blatant propaganda lies. At the beginning, many people (including this author) supposed that this was just an aberration, albeit deplorable, and one subject to correction by factual critique. But four years on from the beginning of the Maidan, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that this impression was wrong.

No German leftwing newspaper ever apologized for spreading so many lies about Ukraine, although the great bulk of them could have been avoided by simple fact-checking (even without any knowledge of Ukrainian or Russian).

Dietmar Bartsch, the co-chair of the Die Linke faction in German parliament, has never withdrawn his statement that there is an institution to train political activists in Ukraine which is named after Joseph Goebbels. Moreover, he was never admonished, at least not openly, by his colleagues from the party. The allegation that the Maidan was financed by five billion dollars from the US, made by another Die Linke co-chair, Sahra Wagenknecht, during parliamentary debates, is still to be found on her official website, without any comment.13The statement is simply a lie produced by the Russian propaganda machine, still circulating in the leftwing milieu despite being comprehensively refuted.14

To the best of my knowledge, nobody from Die Linke has ever apologized for calling the Ukrainian trident a 'Nazi symbol'.

As of the beginning of 2018, basically nothing has changed since 2014. The item on the agenda of Die Linke which demands the dissolution of NATO and the creation of a collective security system with the participation of Russia remains unchanged despite Russia's redrawing of borders by means of war.15

The pro-Russian stance goes so far that another prominent member of the party, the ex-chairman of its parliamentary faction, Gregor Gysi, can state that it would be better for the rest of the world if Trump and Putin were to come to an agreement about the division of their respective spheres of influence16

whereas another high-ranking representative of Die Linke, Alexander Neu, has denied Russia's bombing of Aleppo - at a point when Russia had been bombing Syria, more or less openly, for eleven months.17Each time Assad's regime is accused of using chemical weapons, representatives of Die Linke never tire of casting suspicion on the facts. They demonstrate 'against the bombing of Syria' only when the United States threatens to intervene. At the same time, their silence about the bombing carried out by Russia and the regime itself is deafening.

Notwithstanding some remarkable exceptions, the narrative about Ukraine as generally accepted by the German Left can be summarized as follows: Maidan is a putsch financed by the western forces; Ukraine is currently ruled by radical nationalists and fascists; Russia was provoked by western intrusion and was forced to protect itself; even if Russia does support the breakaway 'people's republics', the conflict in the Donbas is an instance of civil war instigated by NATO; Russia never invaded Ukraine; and so on, and so forth. As contradictory as this narrative is, it's vivacity and even a kind of a peculiar coherence becomes clear in the light of some intrinsic features of the leftwing worldview and its correlation with the relevant agenda of the far right.

May 29, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 PM


Trump Asked Sessions to Retain Control of Russia Inquiry After His Recusal (Michael S. Schmidt and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, May 29, 2018, NY Times)

By the time Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrived at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort for dinner one Saturday evening in March 2017, he had been receiving the presidential silent treatment for two days. Mr. Sessions had flown to Florida because Mr. Trump was refusing to take his calls about a pressing decision on his travel ban.

When they met, Mr. Trump was ready to talk -- but not about the travel ban. His grievance was with Mr. Sessions: The president objected to his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump, who had told aides that he needed a loyalist overseeing the inquiry, berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request.

Mr. Sessions refused. [...]

Investigators have pressed current and former White House officials about Mr. Trump's treatment of Mr. Sessions and whether they believe the president was trying to impede the Russia investigation by pressuring him. The attorney general was also interviewed at length by Mr. Mueller's investigators in January. And of the four dozen or so questions Mr. Mueller wants to ask Mr. Trump, eight relate to Mr. Sessions. Among them: What efforts did you make to try to get him to reverse his recusal? [...]

To the president, no decision has proved more devastating during his time in office than Mr. Sessions's recusal. In Mr. Trump's view, Mr. Sessions, who had been one of his closest political allies and earliest prominent supporter in Washington, never would have appointed a special counsel, as the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, did last May after the president abruptly fired Mr. Comey.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Iran Plotting With U.S. Allies to Skirt Trump's New Sanctions (Adam Kredo, May 29, 2018, Free Beacon)

Iranian officials are plotting with U.S. allies across the globe to develop a series a measures meant to counter new sanctions by the Trump administration following its abandonment of the landmark nuclear deal, setting up a global economic showdown between America and its allies over their future business dealings with the Islamic Republic.

Iranian leaders disclosed on Tuesday that they had recently held high-level meetings with European Union nations and leaders in India and Thailand to explore options for skirting new U.S. sanctions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Valerie Jarrett Responds to Roseanne's Tweet, Series Cancellation: 'Turn It Into a Teachable Moment' (Itay Hod, May 29, 2018, The Wrap)

After Roseanne Barr insulted Valerie Jarret and George Soros in language condemned as racist, prompting ABC to cancel Barr's hit sitcom, Jarrett said the matter should be a "teachable moment."

"First of all, I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I'm fine. I'm worried about all the people out there who don't have a circle of friends and followers coming to their defense," the former Obama adviser said during an MSNBC town hall on racism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Fox News defends Roseanne after her sitcom is canceled over racist tweets (MELANIE SCHMITZ, MAY 29, 2018, Think Progress)

"I don't understand it to be anything other than free speech," said Outnumbered Overtime host Harris Faulkner. the difference between the Constitution and the free market.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Have Democrats Finally Found A Strategy For 2018 Midterms? (David Thornton, 5/29/18, The Resurgent)

The biggest issue that Democrats hope to capitalize on is healthcare. Repeal of Obamacare has been a Republican goal since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, but after last year's failure to pass a reform bill, the GOP has gone silent on the issue. Meanwhile health insurance premiums are increasing both for Obamacare policies and the market as a whole.

Democratic primary winners believe that the solution to the health insurance crisis is to expand Medicare to cover all Americans, a back-door plan to institute a single-payer health care system. Axios reports that Democratic candidates who support varying versions of Medicare-for-all are often winning primaries against candidates backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Although it is tempting for conservatives to assume that single-payer health care would be a nonstarter for most Americans, the idea polls pretty well. A March 2018 poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation found 59 percent of Americans like the idea of Medicare-for-all. When the national health plan was made a voluntary option, the share of those in favor increased to 75 percent, including 64 percent of Republicans.

Perhaps ominously for Republicans running against the idea, 74 percent of independents favored the idea of an optional national health insurance plan. The big question is how voters in swing House and Senate districts will view the idea.

"People are increasingly happy with the Affordable Care Act, but they are increasingly unhappy with the health-care system writ large," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). "I think there is a greater willingness to accept a bigger role for public programs in repairing the health-care system." [,...]

A second plan of attack for Democrats is to blame high gas prices on the Trump Administration. [...]

In early May, Patrick DeHaan of Gas Buddy told the New York Post that prices were already affected, even before Trump announced the decision to withdraw from the Obama Iran deal. "The market has already baked in that Trump is going to opt out of the Iran deal. Oil is several dollars per barrel higher because of it, DeHaan said.

"It's well known that geopolitical instability drives oil prices, and gas prices, around the world higher and higher," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). "The Trump administration's chaotic approach to foreign policy not only served instability around the world, it certainly serves to drive up oil prices higher and higher."

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Supreme Court Rejects Appeal Of Restrictive Abortion Law In Arkansas (Domenico Montanaro, 5/29/18, NPR)

The law was initially blocked by a federal district court judge in Arkansas, but a three-judge panel at the court of appeals in St. Louis vacated the decision.

If the ban permanently goes into effect, two of the state's three facilities that perform abortions would very likely close and surgical abortion would be the only option for women in the state.

"This is very good news for people who care about the safety of women in Arkansas," said Family Council Executive Director Jerry Cox in a statement, adding, "This is a pro-life victory not only for the women of Arkansas, but for women across the nation. I'm sure other states will be looking at Arkansas and considering following our example."

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Roseanne Barr Is Terribly Sorry for Her Horribly Racist Tweet (SAM ADAMS, MAY 29, 2018, Slate)

Roseanne Barr's Twitter feed has long been a cesspool of right-wing conspiracy theories and dogwhistle racism, but early this morning she swapped out the dog whistle for a foghorn. In response to a tweet about former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, who is black, Barr tweeted "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj."

What is it about Ms Jarrett that the Right hates so much, hmmm?
Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Libyan factions agree to December 10 elections at Paris talks (John Irish, Marine Pennetier, 5/29/17, Reuters) 

Rival Libyan factions agreed on Tuesday on a declaration that would create a political framework to pave the way for U.N.-backed elections in December to end the country's seven-year-old conflict. [...]

The Paris meeting, included eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar, Tripoli Prime Minister Fayez Seraj, and the leaders of rival parliamentary assemblies, aimed to urge them to agree general principles for ending the conflict and moving toward elections.

"Against the backdrop of a Libyan-owned process and the full engagement of all Libyan parties involved, we committed in Paris on May 29, 2018 ... to work constructively with the U.N. to realize credible and peaceful elections as soon as possible and to respect the results of these elections when they occur," an eight-point joint statement by the four stakeholders read.

While we're impatient for Middle Eastern nations to transition to full democracy; it's historically staggering how fast they're moving.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Report: Students harshly criticize Iran in meeting with supreme leader (AP, 5/29/18)

The annual gathering of students typically sees some complaints but at least one speech on Monday night frankly discussed economic troubles Iran faces after US President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the nuclear deal. [...]

Khamenei acknowledged many of the shortcomings, saying "removing problems is not as easy" as students expect.

In recent months, Iran has been beset by economic problems.

Politicians now offer the idea of possible government referendums or early elections. Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei acknowledged the depths of the problems ahead of the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution.

"Progress has been made in various sectors in the real sense of the word; however, we admit that in the area of 'justice' we are lagging behind," Khamenei said in February, according to an official transcript. "We should apologize to Allah the Exalted and to our dear people."

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


With 'Spygate,' Trump Shows How He Uses Conspiracy Theories to Erode Trust (Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman, May 28, 2018, NY Times)

As a candidate, Donald J. Trump claimed that the United States government had known in advance about the Sept. 11 attacks. He hinted that Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court justice who died in his sleep two years ago, had been murdered. And for years, Mr. Trump pushed the notion that President Barack Obama had been born in Kenya rather than Honolulu, making him ineligible for the presidency.

None of that was true.

Last week, President Trump promoted new, unconfirmed accusations to suit his political narrative: that a "criminal deep state" element within Mr. Obama's government planted a spy deep inside his presidential campaign to help his rival, Hillary Clinton, win -- a scheme he branded "Spygate." It was the latest indication that a president who has for decades trafficked in conspiracy theories has brought them from the fringes of public discourse to the Oval Office. [...]

But Mr. Trump's willingness to peddle suspicion as fact has implications beyond the Russia inquiry. It is a vital ingredient in the president's communications arsenal, a social media-fueled, brashly expressed narrative of dubious accusations and dark insinuations that allows him to promote his own version of reality.

You can hardly blame him and his old-white-male followers for hating our multi-ethnic, woman-empowered reality.  

A global women's liberation movement (Mike Allen, Steve LeVine, 5/29/19, Axios)

A record number of women running for office in America. The #MeToo movement taking down men worldwide. Ireland voting two-to-one to legalize abortion. Some Silicon Valley companies promising to make 50% of their workforce female. Young women increasingly dominating men in high school and college classrooms. 

Why it matters: Everywhere you look, women are rising and forcing results. It's sparking debate about whether this is a landmark, '60s-style liberation and empowerment -- but on a global stage.  [...]

The data:

After upsetting headlines about harassment in Silicon Valley, women feel increasingly empowered and hopeful. Tech companies are taking steps to improve figures for women in their workforces, which range from 45% at Pinterest to 35% at Facebook to 26% at Microsoft, according to Recode.

Women will account for 55% of the full-time undergraduates in U.S. colleges this fall, according to a Department of Education projection, a trend that led The Atlantic to call men the "new minority on campus."

A record number of women are running for Congress this fall, and the N.Y. Times calculates that roughly half of the women running in primaries have won so far. Cook Political's David Wasserman says this Democratic primary season "is defined by women trouncing men," with women winning in 69% (45 of 65) of races where they faced a male non-incumbent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


The Measure of Trump's Devotion (David Frum, May. 28th, 2018, The Atlantic)

The 45th president is often described--and sometimes praised--as "authentic." That compliment, if it is a compliment, is not truly deserved. In many ways, President Trump is not the man he seems. He was not a great builder, not a great dealmaker, not a billionaire, not a man of strength and decisiveness.

But there is one way in which he truly is authentic: He is never able to play-act the generous feelings that he so absolutely lacks. "To show an unfelt sorrow is an office which the false man does easy." In that one sense, Donald Trump is not false. He does not feel sorrow for others, and he does not try to pretend otherwise.

Trump's perfect emptiness of empathy has revealed itself again and again through his presidency, but never as completely and conspicuously as in his self-flattering 2018 Memorial Day tweets. They exceed even the heartless comment in a speech to Congress--in the presence of a grieving widow--that a fallen Navy Seal would be happy that his ovation from Congress had lasted longer than anybody else's.

It's not news that there is something missing from Trump where normal human feelings should go. His devouring need for admiration from others is joined to an extreme, even pathological, inability to return any care or concern for those others. But Trump's version of this disconnect comes most especially to the fore at times of national ritual.

Donald Trump cares enormously about national symbols--the flag, the anthem--when he can use them to belittle, humiliate, and exclude.

Trump has called for revoking the citizenship of those who burn the flag. He has suggested that NFL players who do not rise for the Star-Spangled Banner should be deported. He scored one of the greatest victories of his presidency when the National Football League submitted to his demand to punish players who did not stand at attention for the anthem. Vice President Pence ran the victory lap for Trump on this one.

But when it comes time to lead the nation in its shared rituals of unity and common purpose, Donald Trump cannot do it. He is, at most, president of slightly more than half of white America, and often not even that.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


India, Top Iranian Oil Importer, Says Will Not Heed U.S. Sanctions (Radio Liberty, May 29, 2018)

India is currently a top destination for Iran's oil exports. Asked about the U.S. move to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions at a news conference on May 28, Swaraj said that India's policy was to honor only UN sanctions, not sanctions imposed by individual countries.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 AM


Forget about broad-based pay hikes, executives say (Steve LeVine May 27, 2018, Axios)

[T]his was rare, candid and bracing talk from executives atop corporate America, made at a conference Thursday at the Dallas Fed. The message is that Americans should stop waiting for across-the-board pay hikes coinciding with higher corporate profit; to cash in, workers will need to shift to higher-skilled jobs that command more income.

Troy Taylor, CEO of the Coke franchise for Florida, said he is currently adding employees with the idea of later reducing the staff over time "as we invest in automation." [...]

The moderator asked the panel whether there would be broad-based wage gains again. "It's just not going to happen," Taylor said. The gains would go mostly to technically-skilled employees, he said. As for a general raise? "Absolutely not in my business," he said.
John Stephens, chief financial officer at AT&T, said 20% of the company's employees are call-center workers. He said he doesn't need that many. 

May 28, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


The good folks at Out of the Park Baseball have kindly offered to give two BroJudd readers a copy of OOTP 19.  If you're interested, please comment below or send me an email and we'll draw a couple names out of a hat on Monday afternoon.

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


'Spider-Man,' a Migrant in Paris, Scales Building to Save a Child (Aurelien Breeden and Alan Cowell, May 28, 2018, NY Times)

The 4-year-old boy seemed to be suspended from a balcony. An adult standing nearby seemed powerless to help. Disaster seemed the only possible outcome.

Then, to the nimble rescue on the streets of Paris on Saturday evening, came a young man whom some French people have started to call the Spider-Man of the 18th, referring to the area of Paris where the episode unfolded.

With a combination of grit, agility and muscle, the man hauled himself hand over hand from one balcony to another, springing from one parapet to grasp the next one up. A crowd that had gathered before he began his daring exploit urged him ever upward, according to onlookers' video that was shared widely on social media.

Finally, after scaling four balconies, the man reached the child and pulled him to safety. And suddenly, an act of individual courage and resourcefulness began to play into Europe's fraught and polarized debate about outsiders, immigrants and refugees.

The man, identified as Mamoudou Gassama, 22, is a migrant from Mali, a troubled former French colony in northwest Africa, who said he had journeyed through Burkina Faso, Niger and Libya before making the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing to Italy and arriving in France in September.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


NFL 'Should Play Negro National Anthem To Make Amends For No-Kneeling Policy' (JOSEPH CURL, May 28, 2018, Daily Wire)

[A] black columnist for the New York Daily News, has a new suggestion for what the NFL should do.

Now that the patriot police have turned what was a peaceful protest about police brutality and social injustice into a flag-waving, jingoistic shame fest, the NFL can make amends with the black players it has insulted with its new no-kneel policy by singing a different tune.

For just one week of the league's 17-week season, the NFL should bench "The Star Spangled Banner," and replace it with -- wait for it -- "The Negro National Anthem."

The song, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," was dubbed the "national black anthem" in 1919 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Greene points out that the song lyrics "inspire hope."

It's a way better song. We used to sing it in the East Orange Gospel Ensemble.

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


More than 1,000 Saudi troops killed in Yemen since war began (Al Jazeera, 5/28/18)

More than a dozen soldiers from Saudi Arabia have been killed in Yemen during operations along the border. This brings the total number of Saudi casualties since 2015 to over 1,000, according to state media.

Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


Here's How the FBI Investigation Into Russia and Trump Campaign Actually Started (John R. Schindler, 05/28/18, NY Observer)

Let me put my cards on the table: The counterintelligence investigation of Donald Trump was kicked off by not one, not two, but multiple SIGINT reports which set off alarm bells inside our Intelligence Community. This has been publicly known, in a general way, for some time. A little over a year ago, the Guardian reported, based on multiple intelligence sources, that the lead was taken by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ - Britain's NSA), which "first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious 'interactions' between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the U.S. as part of a routine exchange of information."

NSA isn't just the world's most powerful intelligence agency, it's the hub of the whole Western spy system. In late 2015, based on GCHQ reports, the word went out to NSA's close friends and partners to be on the lookout for any intercepts touching on Russian efforts to infiltrate the Trump campaign. They found plenty. As the Guardian explained, in the first half of 2016, as Trump's presidential bid gained unexpected steam, Australia, Germany, Estonia, and Poland all had SIGINT hits that indicated a troubling relationship between Trump and Moscow. So, too, did the French and the Dutch--the latter being an especially savvy SIGINT partner of NSA's.

As the Guardian tactfully phrased the matter, "GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the U.S." In other words, Western intelligence agencies that were eavesdropping on the Kremlin and its spies--not Trump or any of his retinue--heard numerous conversations about Trump and his secret Russian connections. As I've told you previously, senior Kremlin officials got very chatty about Trump beginning in late 2014, on the heels of his infamous Moscow trip, and NSA knew about this.

In truth, NSA understood quite a bit about Trump's connections to Moscow, and by mid-2016 it had increased its efforts to get to the bottom of the mystery regarding the candidate's Russian ties. In response to urgent FBI requests for more information, NSA rose to the occasion, and by the time that Donald Trump officially accepted the Republican nomination in mid-July 2016, "We knew we had a Russian agent on our hands," as a senior NSA official put it to me recently.

The official went on: "We had several reports in late 2015 and early 2016, mostly from Second and Third Party"--that being spy-speak for NSA's foreign friends--"but by the spring of 2016 we had plenty of our own collection." These reports, based on multiple intercepts, were tightly compartmented, that is, restricted to a small group of counterintelligence officials, given their obvious sensitivity, but they painted an indelible picture of a compromised GOP nominee. "The Kremlin talked about Trump like he was their boy, and their comments weren't always flattering." The NSA official stated that those above-top-secret reports left no doubt that the Russians were subverting our democracy in 2016--and that Team Trump was a witting participant in the Kremlin's criminal conspiracy: "Trump and his kids knew what they were doing, and who they were doing it with," the official explained.

Essentially, no one thinks he did not collude with Vlad, there are just people on the Right who think it was worthwhile, either because they hate Hillary so much or because he hates immigrants and Muslims so much, or both.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


In rare move, Russian jets reportedly intercept Israeli planes over Lebanon (Times of Israel, 5/28/18)

Hadashot news, citing Lebanese and Russian media outlets, said that 2 Israeli Air Force F-16 planes were challenged by Sukhoi Su-34 jets over Tripoli and forced away.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Seasonal Workers Hard to Find (David Sharp and Claudia Torrens, May 27, 2018, AP)

Phippsburg, Maine -- Frustrated by red tape and visa limits on foreign workers, tourism businesses from Maine to Missouri are turning to Puerto Ricans who are fleeing a shattered economy and devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

Bob Smith, owner of Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg, hired a half-dozen Puerto Ricans last summer for housekeeping, landscaping and kitchen work, providing relief to his overworked staff. This summer he is doubling the number, and he would like to hire even more.

Louis Morales, 50, of Comerio, Puerto Rico, is happy to be here because he makes double the salary he would back home, where jobs are scarce.

"A lot of people lost their houses, their jobs, everything. It's not the same now," said Morales, a maintenance worker who worked at Sebasco last year and has recruited more residents from Comerio to join him.

Employers large and small are seeking alternative solutions as demand continues to outstrip the annual allotment of 66,000 H-2B temporary visas, which are issued for workers holding down seasonal, nonagricultural jobs.

Critics fear that immigration politics were playing a role in program changes starting last summer. Compounding the uncertainty for businesses was a lottery system and background check delays on workers who come from dozens of countries from the Caribbean to Croatia.

On Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced 15,000 additional visas and acknowledged reforms were needed.

With Maine's unemployment rate below 3 percent, there aren't enough local people willing to take those seasonal jobs, Smith said.

"People say you should give these jobs to Americans. If you can find 'em, then that's great," he said. "The only Americans we can find to do the work right now are in Puerto Rico."

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 AM


On Sunday TV, Giuliani Latest 'Collusion' Stumble (Tommy Christopher, 5/28/18, ShareBlue)

"You are confident that there is no collusion?" host Dana Bash asked.

"I can't be confident in anyone but my client," Giuliani said. "Am I confident because I was in that campaign at a very intimate level? Nobody talked about or knew about Russians. This came as a surprise to me, to the president, to the top four or five people around him."

He went on to ask a truly stunning question, for a lawyer.

"Now, you go out to the outer orbit, how do I know what is going on?" he said. "I don't think that would matter. If there is collusion with a guy 50 rungs down on the campaign -- not that I'm saying it happened -- but if it did, I don't know what that means."

At least three of the "top four guys" on Trump's campaign -- Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort -- literally attended a meeting with Russians to discuss colluding, then emailed each other about it. One of the three, Manafort, is currently under indictment by Mueller.

But Giuliani's statement isn't just a stunning admission of potential criminality in Trump's presidential campaign. It's also a signal to anyone in Trump's orbit that they are on their own. Because apparently, Trump and Giuliani will happily throw them under the bus in order to save Trump's neck.

And by making public statements about what he saw as an "intimate" of the Trump campaign, Giuliani may have also succeeded in making himself a witness for Mueller.

May 27, 2018

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Amnesty for 'Dreamers' is in the GOP's finest tradition (Jeff Jacoby, 5/27/18, The Boston Globe)

[T]he Kochs are ramping up support for a DACA fix. And they aren't the only ones. Politico reports that former Exelon chairman John Rowe, a Republican mega-donor who has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates, "is threatening to choke off campaign resources" to congressmen who refuse to sign the discharge petition. "There's a whole bunch of Republicans like me," Rowe said he told Representative Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, "who simply aren't going to keep giving money if you don't get an immigration bill done."

Extending permanent legal status to Dreamers may be anathema to seal-the-border restrictionists, but for most voters it is a no-brainer. A strong majority of voters, including most Republicans, has consistently told pollsters that DACA enrollees and Dreamers should be granted a path to citizenship, not threatened with deportation. Outside the fever swamps, there could hardly be a more mainstream position.

Nor, in historical terms, could there be a more Republican one.

For most of its existence, the Party of Lincoln was the party of immigration. The GOP platform of 1864 ringingly declared that "foreign immigration . . . should be fostered and encouraged by a liberal and just policy." Nearly a century later, when Richard Nixon first ran for president, his party called for opening the nation's gates even wider. Citing "Republican conscience and Republican policy," the 1960 platform urged that "the annual number of immigrants we accept be at least doubled."

Pursuing the GOP nomination in 1980, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush spoke with compassion and warmth about immigrants -- even those here illegally. "Rather than talking about putting up a fence," Reagan suggested, "why don't we . . . open the border both ways?" As president, Reagan championed a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants; he always envisioned America, he would say in his farewell address, as a land whose "doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here."

Admittedly, there has always been a nativist strain in American culture, and more than a few Republicans plainly share Trump's immigration sourness. But they don't reflect the Republican conservative tradition. It is Rowe and the Koch brothers who are being faithful to the GOP heritage, and the anti-DACA bitter-enders who are betraying it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


White House comms team turns on each other in front of Trump (Jonathan Swan, 5/27/18, Axios)

[T]he president told Sadler she wouldn't be fired for her remark. He added, separately in the conversation, that he's no fan of McCain. Then Trump, who had grown obsessed with the leaking problem, told Sadler he wanted to know who the leakers were. Sadler then stunned the room: To be completely honest, she said, she thought one of the worst leakers was Schlapp, her boss.

Schlapp pushed back aggressively and defended herself in the room. And in follow up conversations after the meeting, some of Schlapp's colleagues also came to her defense. (In a prior meeting, she had said, "You can put this on the record: I stand with Kelly Sadler"). Sadler went on to name other people she also suspected of being leakers.

The allegation -- like a previous internal meeting to deal with leaking -- ultimately got leaked to us.

Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM


Almost Half Of Republicans Believe Millions Voted Illegally In The 2016 Election (Sam Levine and Ariel Edwards-Levy, 5/27/18, HuffPost)

Forty-eight percent of Republicans said they believe between 3 million and 5 million people voted illegally in 2016, while 17 percent said they do not, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. Another 35 percent of the GOP said they were unsure. have to invent a different one in your head. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


'No evidence' FBI spied on Trump campaign, Republican says, contrary to president's claims (CHEYENNE HASLETT, May 27, 2018, ABC)

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he sees "no evidence" to support President Trump's claims that the FBI used an informant to gather information on his campaign, but that instead the federal probe was focused on "individuals with a history of links to Russia that were concerning."

"What I have seen is evidence that they were investigating individuals with a history of links to Russia that were concerning," Rubio, a Florida senator who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent and "This Week" Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday.

It's like saying the feds didn't investigate the Gambino family, just the mafia.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Putin complains that probe around Trump hurting U.S.-Russian relations (5/26/18, Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that investigations swirling around President Trump are interfering with improved relations with Moscow, noting he has had little contact with the U.S. president. 

"We are hostages to this internal strife in the United States," Putin said at an economic forum in St. Petersburg. 

Even after paying Donald the ransom.
Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


Rudy Giuliani admits 'Spygate' is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller (Tom McCarthy,  27 May 2018, The Guardian)

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said on Sunday that his repeated imputations of a supposed scandal at the heart of the Robert Mueller investigation - which Donald Trump calls "Spygate" - amounted to a tactic to sway public opinion and limit the risk of the president being impeached.

"Of course we have to do it to defend the president," Giuliani told CNN State of the Union host Dana Bash, who accused him of being part of a campaign to undermine the Mueller investigation.

When you're defending criminality there are no other options.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


Corporate America's best report card since 2010 (Matt Egan and Danielle Wiener-Bronner, May 27, 2018, CNN Money)

[A]merican companies are pulling in monster profits right now.

A combination of faster economic growth, lower taxes and soaring oil prices are padding the bottom lines of large businesses. Call it the Great American Profit Machine.

Not only are S&P 500 profits sitting at all-time highs, but first-quarter earnings are on track to surge by 24.5% -- the fastest pace since 2010, according to FactSet.

The blockbuster results even managed to blow away Wall Street's lofty expectations. More than three-quarters of S&P 500 companies -- 78% to be exact -- beat earnings estimates. That's the most since FactSet started tracking the stat in 2008.

"Companies are absolutely crushing it on earnings," said Anthony Saglimbene, global market strategist at Ameriprise Financial.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


A Palestinian Vineyard Annihilated With Chainsaws, With a Chilling Message in Hebrew: Vandals slashed hundreds of mature grape plants near Hebron, and the odds that the culprits will be caught are slim (Gideon Levy and Alex Levac May 24, 2018, Ha'aretz)

The grapes are shriveled. The vineyard is dead. Reduced to a large, dried-out, yellowing stain in the heart of the verdant region along Highway 60 where the road runs past the town of Halhoul, north of Hebron. The "yellow wind" that David Grossman wrote about 30 years ago is a dying vineyard here. Two plots of land, with hundreds of vines that were slashed, their stems and shoots sawed off - and within a week everything here had withered and died.

This is a particularly horrible sight because all the damage was wrought by the hand of man. A wicked, loathsome hand that hates not only Arabs but despises the land itself. In fact, we can assume that it wasn't just one individual who raided and destroyed this vineyard late Tuesday night last week. To saw off that many plants in such a short time requires a few pairs of nasty hands. And someone also had to smear the threatening words in Hebrew on a rock: "We will reach everywhere." All before first light illuminated the dark deed.

When dawn broke, the owner of the vineyard, Dr. Haitham Jahshan, a hematologist, arrived and couldn't believe his eyes. His vines had been ravaged. First he saw one sawed trunk, then another and another - a sea of butchered vines, whose grapes were grown to be eaten, not for wine - until the full scale of the calamity hit home.

For his part, Musa Abu Hashhash, a field researcher for the B'Tselem human rights organization, says he's never seen an act of so-called agricultural crime on this scale.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Britain and Islam - the real special relationship: This country is fully Quran-compliant. And it has been since the Elizabethan era (Ed Husain, 26 May 2018, The Spectator)

The consolidation of Protestantism, free trade, and free inquiry in England that led to the Enlightenment had something to do with the Ottoman-Elizabethan pact. By the end of her reign, English traders, diplomats, adventurers, and others lived or travelled through places such as Istanbul, Damascus, Fallujah, Aleppo, Raqqa, Algiers, Baghdad and Tripoli. The Queen was said to like Moroccan sugar so much that her teeth became quite black with decay.

The merchants who left England, writes the historian Jerry Brotton, transformed Elizabethan homes. The wealthy filled their houses with Turkish carpets, silk quilts and embroidered tapestries. The language of 16th-century England was filled with Arabic: 'sugar' from sukkar, 'crimson' from kirmiz, 'tulip' from tulband. The English fascination with Islam and Muslims did not end with the Elizabethans. In 1650, a Greek-Turk named Pasqua Rosee opened the first coffee house in the City of London. It was pious Muslims from Yemen who spread the drinking of coffee within the Ottoman Empire, to help believers stay awake at night for worship of Allah. In Arabic, qahwah, or kehve in Turkish, became 'coffee' in English. Samuel Pepys visited the coffee house in 1660 and wrote 'the first time that ever I was there, and I found much pleasure in it'.

During the Victorian era, hundreds of thousands of Muslims served in the British armed forces. During the Crimean war, Ottoman Muslims fought together with the British against the Russians. It was in Constantinople that Florence Nightingale invented the art of nursing. Queen Victoria's government was proud to remind the Ottoman sultan that she was an empress of more Muslims than he. Britain's first purpose-built mosque was in 1889 in Woking, Surrey.

Most importantly, it was Queen Victoria's patronage of and closeness to Munshi Abdul Karim that shows a warmth at the highest levels of British society towards Muslims. As part of the royal household, this pious Indian taught her Urdu, the poetry of Rumi, and gave her spiritual comfort. The 2017 feature film Victoria and Abdul captured some of the depth of that relationship.

Too often, too, we forget that half a million Muslims fought with Britain in the first world war and died in the trenches for God, King and Empire. That generation held these values worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, almost four million Muslims from the Empire and then the Commonwealth have made Britain our home. The freedom to worship and thrive here in Britain is unmatched by any other country. It was this freedom that drew my Muslim parents to this country. The raison d'être of Islamic civilisations and the shariah for a thousand years was to provide five things: security, worship, preservation of the family, nourishment of the intellect and protection of property. These are called maqasid, or the higher objectives of the shariah. Britain provides these in multitudes for every Muslim today. There is no French tradition of laicité or hostility to Islam in modern British history.

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Four Russian Soldiers Killed In Syria (Radio Liberty, May 27, 2018)

The ministry said fighting erupted overnight when "several mobile terrorist groups attacked Syrian government artillery at night."

Two Russian military advisers were killed on the spot. Five other personnel were injured and taken to a Russian military hospital. Two of them died from their wounds.

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May 26, 2018

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Ethiopia to allow all Africans to visit without visas "very soon" PM Abiy Ahmed says (This Is Africa, May 26, 2018)

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has revealed that the country will "very soon" follow Rwanda's example allowing all Africans to travel to the country without visas.

The plan was revealed during a state banquet hosted by Prime Minister Abiy for Rwandan President Paul Kagame who is in Ethiopia on a three-day official visit. The two leaders held bilateral talks at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, and made a commitment to strengthen relationships in key sectors, which include defence, and air services.

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Outrage Grows as Horror of Policy to Split Children and Parents at Border Becomes Clear (DANIEL POLITI, MAY 26, 2018, Slate)

As the heart-wrenching stories of babies snatched from their parents' hands at the border start to be told, the outrage is growing. "There is something terrible happening here that Americans would not support if they understood it," F. Scott McCown, director of the Children's Rights Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, told NBC News earlier this week. It seems Americans are finally starting to wake up to the reality of what is happening in their country and outrage over the practice is growing now that is becoming more commonplace thanks to new policies being implemented by the Trump administration.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to criminally prosecute "100 percent" of migrants illegally crossing the border with Mexico. That essentially meant it suddenly became official U.S. policy to separate children from their parents whereas before families would usually be kept together in shelters while they underwent asylum or deportation proceedings. But when he announced his new policy Sessions outright said the separation of children and their parents would be inevitable and brushed off concerns by saying that it would send a clear message to potential migrants. "If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Sessions said. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border." In other words, the government made it clear it was willing to traumatize children for life just to teach a lesson to their parents. Chief of Staff John Kelly seemed to put into words the administration's lack of interest on the fate of the children split from their parents in an interview with NPR: "The children will be taken care of -- put into foster care or whatever."

First, you have to think of them as animals.

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Back to the future? Bolton, Trump and Iranian regime change (Gareth Porter, Friday 18 May 2018, Middle East Eye)

Bolton was part of the powerful neoconservative faction of national security officials in the George W Bush administration that had a plan for supporting regime change in Iran, not much different from the one Bolton is reportedly pushing now. But it was a crackbrained scheme that involved the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) exiled terrorist organisation that never had Bush's support. [...]

It appears that Bolton was still pushing the idea within the administration as of last week. The Washington Free Beacon reported on 10 May that a three-page paper outlining a regime-change strategy from a small far-right organisation called the Security Studies Group, with which Bolton is said to have close ties, was circulated among NSC officials. The quotes from the paper in the story make it clear that the strategy is based largely on seeking to exploit ethnic and religious conflicts in Iran. 

The paper reportedly makes the point that ethnic minorities - such as Kurds, Azeris, Ahwazi Arabs and Baloch - represent one-third of Iran's population, and argues that the Iranian regime's "oppression of its ethnic and religious minorities has created he conditions for an effective campaign to splinter the Iranian state into component parts".

It adds: "US support for their independence movements, both overt and covert, could force the regime to focus attention on them and limit its ability to conduct other malign activities." 

Those minorities have all had organisations that have carried out violent actions, including bombings and assassinations against Iranian officials, over the past decade, and such a strategy would presumably involve supporting a step-up in such activities - in other words, US support for terrorist activities against Iranian government targets.

But none of this is new. It was the official line of the powerful alliance between the neoconservatives and the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis within the Bush administration. By 2003, Douglas Feith, the uber-neoconservative former undersecretary of defense for policy, had developed a plan for giving MEK, whose army had been captured by US troops in Iraq, a new name and using them for a covert paramilitary operation in Iran. 

Meanwhile, Iran was offering to provide names and other data on al-Qaeda officials it had captured in return for US information on MEK. When former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to protect MEK from such a deal, Bush's response was: "But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist." 

Despite the neocon fixation with supporting MEK, both the CIA and the Israelis have long regarded the idea that it could be an instrument for regime change in Iran as ridiculous. After the organisation helped Saddam Hussein's regime suppress Shia and Kurdish uprisings, it lost any semblance of legitimacy inside Iran. After it relocated to Iraq, moreover, it was transformed into an authoritarian cult.

The former Israeli ambassador to Iran, Uri Lubrani, who was given a free hand to organise a programme for destabilising Iran, recognised long ago, as he told two Israeli journalists, that MEK has no capacity to do anything inside the country. 

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How plans for a North Korea summit collapsed: Trump sought a legacy, underestimated the difficulty (NOAH BIERMAN and ELI STOKOLS, MAY 25, 2018, Washington Post)
When it began, with a South Korean official standing outside the White House announcing that the leaders of the United States and North Korea would meet for an unprecedented summit, President Trump believed he had accomplished a historic breakthrough -- an accomplishment, he told friends, that would secure his legacy and his reelection. [...]

[W]hile Trump privately blamed Chinese president Xi Jinping for souring North Korea on the meeting, U.S. observers, including some close to the White House, said that all along, the prospects for the summit had been caught between two competing currents: Trump's unbridled desire to make history and his advisors' increasing skepticism that Kim was willing to come anywhere close to Trump's fundamental demand that he relinquish his nuclear arsenal.

Some of that tension played out in public as the North Koreans threatened to pull the plug within days of Trump musing publicly about winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

But the roots of the trouble took shape earlier, according to friends of Trump, national security veterans and Korea experts.

On one side was Trump, guided by the desire to captivate a world audience, prove the establishment wrong and win the type of legacy-building achievement that transcends scandals at home in the same way that President Nixon's opening of China survived the tarnish of Watergate.'s no big deal to sell out to another one to try to distract from your legal morass.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Surprise! Donald Trump is terrible at diplomacy. (Max Boot, May 24, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump is widely reported, after 16 months on the job, to feel unleashed. Naysayers like economic adviser Gary Cohn and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have been banished. White House chief of staff John F. Kelly has, to a large extent, been sidelined. Trump is listening to Sean Hannity and doing what he wants.

And how's that working out? To judge by the evidence of Trump's dealings with China and North Korea this week, it's been a disaster. The Trump Train just jumped the tracks.

Trump marched into a confrontation with China - America's top trade partner - in the serene confidence that "trade wars are good and easy to win." As recently as Tuesday, he was claiming: "When you're losing $500 billion a year, you can't lose in terms of a negotiation." (The U.S. trade deficit with China is actually $375 billion; $506 billion is the amount of goods the U.S. imports from China - and we're not losing that money, we are getting sneakers and LED displays in return. But then this president traffics in attitudes, not facts.)

Trump evidently thought he would threaten China with tariffs, and Beijing would fold as quickly as one of the vendors he has made a practice of stiffing. Not so fast. China retaliated by stopping purchases of U.S. soybeans, hurting the farm states whose votes Trump needs. China also made plain it wasn't going to pressure North Korea into concessions as long as Trump was threatening its trade.

Lo and behold, Trump caved. First he tweeted that he would lift sanctions on Chinese telecom giant ZTE before kind of, sort of, walking it back. And then this week he ran up the white flag altogether, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying that the trade war is "on hold."

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


History Suggests Double Trouble for Incumbent Trump (Paul Brandus, April 19th, 2018, Crystal Ball)

 In the last half-century, there have been four times when a weak presidential incumbent invited a primary challenger from within his own party. None of these weak incumbents -- Lyndon Johnson (1968), Gerald Ford (1976), Jimmy Carter (1980), or George H.W. Bush (1992) -- was re-elected (or in Ford's case, elected, given that he became president when Richard Nixon resigned). Let's take a closer look:

-- 1968: Growing opposition to the Vietnam War took Lyndon Johnson's approval (Gallup) from 79% in early 1964 to 41% four years later. Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) challenged him for the Democratic presidential nomination, nearly upsetting the president in the New Hampshire primary. Johnson's arch-enemy Robert F. Kennedy then declared his candidacy. LBJ, seeing the writing on the wall, announced that he would neither seek nor accept the Democratic nomination.

-- 1976: Gerald Ford was a weak incumbent for two reasons: his pardon of Richard Nixon and a terrible recession. Former Gov. Ronald Reagan (R-CA) took him on in the Republican presidential nomination contest. After a tooth-and-nail fight that went all the way to the GOP national convention, Ford won his party's nomination. But Ford was badly weakened, and he lost to Jimmy Carter that fall.

-- 1980: Thanks to a recession and a hostage crisis with Iran, it was Carter's turn to earn an intraparty challenge, this time by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Carter vowed to "whip his ass," and did -- only to be crushed by Reagan in a November landslide.

-- 1992: After winning the Gulf War in a rout, George H.W. Bush's approval soared to 89%. A shoo-in for reelection, right? But Bush, backing away from a major 1988 campaign pledge, supported a tax hike to lower the deficit. That, along with a mild recession, caused his approval to collapse. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan challenged him for the GOP presidential nomination and won nearly a quarter of all primary votes. A weakened Bush survived to make the general election, but lost in a three-way race that November to Bill Clinton.

If that's not ominous enough for Trump, consider this: He's at or below the approval of all four of those unsuccessful incumbents at this stage (Trump is at 39% approval in Gallup right now). Gallup approval 15 months in:

Johnson (Feb. 1965): 68%
Ford (Nov. 1975): 44%
Carter (April 1978): 40%
Bush (April 1990): 67%
History is also against Trump in another big way: he's the fifth president to lose the popular vote but win the Electoral College. So what happened to the other four when they sought re-election? Only one was successful.

John Quincy Adams (1828): crushed by Andrew Jackson
Rutherford Hayes (1880): declined to run again
Benjamin Harrison (1892): lost to Grover Cleveland
George W. Bush (2004): won reelection

And Bush's 2004 win wasn't exactly a landslide. He got 50.7% of the popular vote and 286 electoral votes against Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


How a Tiny Kansas Town Rebooted Its Struggling Hospital into a Health Care Jewel: An innovative exec found a way to recruit doctors, help refugees and make money delivering babies. (LISA RAB May 26, 2018, Politico)

The region's economy depends on the price of gas and oil, which plummeted in recent years. But there are pockets of industrial vitality, too. Seventeen miles east of Lakin, in Holcomb, where Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood, smoke rises from the steel towers of the Tyson Fresh Meats plant. Tyson's workers slaughter 6,000 head of cattle a day, making it one of the largest beef-packing plants in the world. East African refugees inspect beef beside immigrants from Burma, Mexico, and Ecuador. Those who don't find jobs at the plant labor on the surrounding dairy farms and ranches. In short, this part of western Kansas is like a lot of rural America, right down to the struggling county hospital.

Four years ago, Kearny County Hospital had to turn away patients because it didn't have enough doctors to treat them. It was losing $100,000 a year in its maternity ward. County commissioners wanted to avoid the fate of other rural communities, which have lost 83 hospitals across the country in the past eight years. Often, the solution is to stop delivering babies. More than half the rural counties in the country no longer have a labor and delivery unit in their hospitals; in Kansas, nine rural obstetrics units have shut down in the past 10 years, and six more are planning to close soon, says Michael Kennedy, associate dean for rural health education at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

But Kearny County went the other way.

Officials hired an innovative CEO who came up with a way to make their rural hospital appeal to talented young physicians who want to deliver babies in Third World countries. You can do that work right here in Kansas, Ben Anderson told his new recruits, by serving immigrants and refugees. Once the new doctors arrived, Anderson applied for grants to upgrade the hospital's equipment and fly in a specialist to see women with high-risk pregnancies. The skilled doctors and luxurious birthing suites attracted immigrants from neighboring Garden City and wealthier patients from out of town, and the baby boom they created padded the hospital's bottom line. KCH went from delivering 187 babies in 2014 to 327 in 2017. In the span of five years, Anderson has turned the hospital into the county's largest employer, with a profitable maternity ward that draws patients from as much as two hours away for its superior care. "I think it's a huge success story," Kearny County Commissioner Shannon McCormick says.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


MLB panel: Baseballs are getting more lift; cause is a mystery (Associated Press, 5/24/18)

Baseballs really have been getting extra lift since 2015, and it's not from the exaggerated uppercuts batters are taking, according to a 10-person committee of researchers hired by the commissioner's office.

"The aerodynamic properties of the ball have changed, allowing it to carry farther," said committee chairman Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

But the panel, which includes professors specializing in physics, mechanical engineering, statistics and mathematics, struck out trying to pinpoint the cause. [...]

"We have to admit, and we do admit, that we do not understand it. We know the primary cause is the change in the drag but we just simply cannot pinpoint what feature of the ball would lead to it," Nathan said during a conference call Wednesday, ahead of the report's release. "Therefore it was probably something very, very subtle in the manufacturing process, but again it has to be pretty subtle, because if it weren't, we would have found it."


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This Is How We Forget Who We Are (NOAH ROTHMAN, MAY 25, 2018, Commentary)

There is enough scholarly literature and social science on the effect of dehumanizing rhetoric from political leaders on their respective societies for any conservative with a proper fear of the state to find Trump's remarks disturbing. Throughout history and across wildly distinct cultures, such language from public officials has prepared the way for social unrest and, ultimately, statist oppression. This is hardly the first time Trump has described criminal immigrants as beasts and implied that individual immigrants were incapable of any independent thought that contradicts their ethnicity's hive mind. And we have reason to fear the extent to which this kind of rhetoric has greased the skids for inhumane policies that are happening right before our eyes.

The New York Times reported in late April that the Department of Health and Human Services has lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children who were separated from their parents or were apprehended alone after they crossed the border illegally. They have simply fallen off the radar, prompting concerns that these children could end up in the custody of abusers or human traffickers. Hundreds of children have been separated from their parents at the border, which is a practice that is often legitimate and predates the Trump administration. What is new is that the Trump administration has openly floated the idea of breaking up families as a means of deterring future illegal immigration. The process would be entirely humane, said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, because HHS does "a very, very good job of putting them in foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States." Clearly, that is not the case.

What's more, the process to which illegal migrant parents are subjected is disturbing. No human being could fail to be moved by the all-too-common story of a young mother, forced to wear a yellow bracelet that identifies her as an illegal immigrant parent, weeping in an American courtroom as she is separated from her children. This is not "ordered liberty" or the dispassionate conduct of the affairs of a state. It's capricious and vengeful, and it is corrupting of the soul. Donald Trump isn't responsible for a mentality on the right that views this kind of treatment as a necessary evil to which any self-respecting country must appeal; he's a product of it.

May 25, 2018

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'Trump's son should be concerned': FBI obtained wiretaps of Putin ally who met with Trump Jr. (Michael Isikoff, 5/25/18,Yahoo News)

The FBI has obtained secret wiretaps collected by Spanish police of conversations involving Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia's Central Bank who has forged close ties with U.S. lawmakers and the National Rifle Association, that led to a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. during the gun lobby's annual convention in Louisville, Ky., in May 2016, a top Spanish prosecutor said Friday.

José Grinda, who has spearheaded investigations into Spanish organized crime, said that bureau officials in recent months requested and were provided transcripts of wiretapped conversations between Torshin and Alexander Romanov, a convicted Russian money launderer. On the wiretaps, Romanov refers to Torshin as "El Padrino," the godfather.

"Just a few months ago, the wiretaps of these telephone conversations were given to the FBI," Grinda said in response to a question from Yahoo News during a talk he gave at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. Asked if he was concerned about Torshin's meetings with Donald Trump Jr. and other American political figures, Grinda replied: "Mr. Trump's son should be concerned."

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Where in the world is Melania Trump? (The Week, 5/25/18)

Reporters asked Trump about the first lady's absence on Friday, and the president pointed at a White House window, responding that "she's doing great. She's looking at us right there." But Melania was nowhere to be seen.

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There is only one gun store in all of Mexico. So why is gun violence soaring? (Kate Linthicum, MAY 24, 2018, LA Times)
The only gun store in all of Mexico is located behind a fortress-like wall on a heavily guarded military base in Mexico City.
The only gun shop in all of Mexico is behind a fortress-like wall on a heavily guarded military base.

To enter the Directorate of Arms and Munitions Sales, customers must undergo months of background checks -- six documents are required -- and then be frisked by uniformed soldiers.

The army-run store on the outskirts of Mexico City embodies the country's cautious approach to firearms, and a visit here illustrates the dramatically different ways two neighboring countries view guns, legally and culturally.

Like the 2nd Amendment in the United States, Mexico's Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but it also stipulates that federal law "will determine the cases, conditions, requirements and places" of gun ownership. For many Mexicans, even those who love guns, the thought of an unfettered right to owning one is perplexing.

Yet on this issue, like so many aspects of life in Mexico, the influence of its powerful neighbor to the north is keenly felt: Each day the army gun store sells on average just 38 firearms to civilians, while an estimated 580 weapons are smuggled into Mexico from the United States.

That paradox is increasingly relevant given Mexico's unprecedented levels of gun violence, which have claimed more than 100,000 lives over the last decade. Last year was Mexico's deadliest since the government began releasing homicide statistics in 1997. This year, it is on track to surpass that record.

American firearms are directly driving the violence, although U.S. appetites for drugs and rampant corruption among Mexican officials also play a role. About 70% of guns recovered by Mexican law enforcement officials from 2011 to 2016 were originally purchased from legal gun dealers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Just because one attempt to stem this flow was botched does not obviate our moral obligation to our neighbors.

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


At Trump Tower, Michael Cohen and Oligarch Discussed Russian Relations ( William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Mike McIntire, May 25, 2018, NY Times)

Eleven days before the presidential inauguration last year, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin visited Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with Donald J. Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, according to video footage and another person who attended the meeting.

In Mr. Cohen's office on the 26th floor, he and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia's relations with the United States under President Trump, according to Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Mr. Vekselberg.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Compromise is possible on Palestinian right of return (Akiva Eldar, May 24, 2018, Al Monitor)

Shubair recounts how she set out with her family on March 30, the date Palestinians call Land Day to commemorate Israel's 1976 confiscation of Arab lands in the Galilee, for the border with "occupied Palestine." She vowed, "Each day until May 15, the anniversary of the Nakba ["catastrophe" when more than 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homeland to create Israel] we will camp by the border to remind the world that we have a right to return home ... Everyone there was united under one flag and one motto: We have a right to return to Palestinians' historic homeland. This overwhelming feeling of unity long has been missing, especially in Gaza ... None of us had anything more valuable to lose than what we already had: our home."

Shubair laments the home that was lost and insistence on her right to "return home." She is not asking to go back to the once predominantly Arab towns of Ashkelon or Jaffa, a demand that a priori nullifies the two-state solution to the conflict. Jews, on the other hand, are of course entitled to long to go back to their ancestors' homes in the West Bank's Hebron and to receive compensation for these homes. But these rights do not justify the expulsion of Palestinians from the buildings where they have lived for several decades. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also said in a 2012 interview on Israel's Channel 2 that despite being a refugee from the Galilee town of Safed, he does not expect to return there. "Palestine now for me is the '67 borders -- alongside the state of Israel," he said.

Three comprehensive polls conducted in the first half of 2003 among 4,500 families living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza indicate that most refugees favor Abbas' position. Only 10% want to return to Israel, compared with 72% who would rather live in a Palestinian state or receive monetary compensation. The results were met with harsh criticism by radical Palestinian factions opposed to any compromise on the right of return. They even threatened the head of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Khalil Shikaki, with violence.

After deliberating on a petition by Greek Cypriot refugees, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in March 2010 that claiming a certain land or property as "home" is insufficient to establish a right. An overwhelming majority of the 17 judges agreed that given that 35 years had passed since the petitioners lost their property when Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974, and the local population had changed, the claimants were entitled to compensation in cash, but not necessarily in land. The judges warned that rectifying an old injustice could result in a new injustice. One can infer that UN Resolution 194 of 1948, stipulating that a refugee can choose between a return to Israel and compensation, does not grant every refugee a personal right to return. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative referred to this resolution as the basis for a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


The Scarlet Letter Is Back. It Never Really Went Away. (DAN MCLAUGHLIN, May 23, 2018, National Review)

When Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel The Scarlet Letter is read by modern Americans, it tends to provoke snickers, sneering, and judgmental tut-tutting at those awful Puritan prudes who would force an adulterous woman to wear an outward sign of the shame of her sin for her entire life and endure communal shunning over her violation of a social norm that we, in our own era, would not even regard as a crime. We would never do something like that today, would we? But actually we do, and -- in appropriate cases -- we should. And it's high time we stopped pretending otherwise.

That thought came back as I read the story of Aaron Schlossberg, a Manhattan lawyer who committed a sin last week -- letting fly a racially incendiary tirade at Spanish-speaking workers in a crowded Madison Avenue restaurant -- and had the misfortune of having it filmed and widely disseminated. For this, at least for the moment, he has been shunned as surely as Hester Prynne was, complete with government officials bidding to permanently end his livelihood:

Schlossberg was then kicked out of his office building, while lawmakers petitioned the New York state court system to review his behavior and potentially revoke his law license.

And on Friday, dozens of protesters rallied outside his building while a mariachi band played.

The 42-year-old also lost at least one client over his tirade...

This is very much the same impulse that motivated the Puritans. Bigotry is more a sin than a crime, but a sin that we subject to harsh moral judgment, and that we rightly see today as corrosive of society and a contributor to worse problems, like sudden explosions of violence. In other words, we see it in exactly the same terms that the Puritans saw adultery...

What folks always underestimate is the degree to which democratic society depends on such social conformity to rein in our nature.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Parents, children ensnared in 'zero-tolerance' border prosecutions (Curt Prendergast and Perla Trevizo, 5/19/18,  Arizona Daily Star)

Alma Jacinto covered her eyes with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks.

The 36-year-old from Guatemala was led out of the federal courtroom without an answer to the question that brought her to tears: When would she see her boys again?

Jacinto wore a yellow bracelet on her left wrist, which defense lawyers said identifies parents who are arrested with their children and prosecuted in Operation Streamline, a fast-track program for illegal border crossers.

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Federal Agencies Lost Track of Nearly 1,500 Migrant Children Placed With Sponsors (Ron Nixon, April 26, 2018, NY Times)

A top official with the Department of Health and Human Services told members of Congress on Thursday that the agency had lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children it placed with sponsors in the United States, raising concerns they could end up in the hands of human traffickers or be used as laborers by people posing as relatives.

The official, Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary of the agency's Administration for Children and Families, disclosed during testimony before a Senate homeland security subcommittee that the agency had learned of the missing children after placing calls to the people who took responsibility for them when they were released from government custody.

The children were taken into government care after they showed up alone at the Southwest border. Most of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and were fleeing drug cartels, gang violence and domestic abuse, government data shows.

From last October to the end of the year, officials at the agency's Office of Refugee Resettlement tried to reach 7,635 children and their sponsors, Mr. Wagner testified. From these calls, officials learned that 6,075 children remained with their sponsors. Twenty-eight had run away, five had been removed from the United States and 52 had relocated to live with a nonsponsor.

Always fun to hear the Right claim to be pro-life.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


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French state coffers boosted by record €1 billion bonanza from speed cameras (The Local, 25 May 2018)

Automatic speed cameras on French roads are proving a healthy earner for the state with a record one billion euros pulled in over the past year. And the record will likely be broken next year.
There are some 4,600 speed cameras in France and they have never proved more lucrative.

While state accountants will be rubbing their hands with glee, drivers in France will be gnashing their teeth at the news that speed cameras handed out €1.01 billion of fines in 2017.

But the total sum paid out by motorists for all kinds driving offences was even more eye-watering with state coffers boosted by €1.97 in 2017. That's a nine percent rise on 2016.

That's a record haul for the state. But it looks like it won't stay in the record books too long, with 2018 set to bring in even more money.

May 24, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 PM


White House Lawyer Crashes FBI Meeting on Trump-Russia Investigation (Betsy Woodruff, 05.24.18, Daily Beast)

Carrie Cordero, formerly an attorney in the Justice Department's National Security Division, said Flood's attendance created the appearance of impropriety.

"It creates the appearance that the briefing was set up for the purpose of the defense team learning what was going on in the investigation," she told The Daily Beast. "That's the optics of it. Whether or not that is really what's happening, we don't exactly know. But I can't think of any positive reason for him having been there."

It was the only reason for the meeting.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Judge who took part in storied undercover Chicago probe dies (AP, 5/24/18) 

A southern Illinois judge who went to Chicago for a temporary assignment and ended up helping convict dozens of judges, attorneys and police officers in one of city's most famous corruption cases has died.

Brocton Lockwood died Monday in Marion after a fight with Parkinson's disease. He was 74. Crain Funeral Home & Cremation Service confirms the death and says no services are planned.

Lockwood filled in on the bench in Chicago in the early 1980s, something downstate judges did to help reduce a backlog of cases in Cook County.

But in 1981, he alerted federal authorities to widespread corruption. He wore a wire and taped conversations for three years with corrupt judges, lawyers, court employees and police officers.

The investigation known as "Operation Greylord" led to the conviction of nearly 100 people.

Lockwood later told the (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan newspaper that he hid a recorder in his cowboy boots.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


What I Saw in Post-Nuclear Deal Iran (PETER VAN BUREN • May 24, 2018, American Conservative)

I'm just back from eight days in Iran. Before my trip the United States withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear accords, and while I was in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad, officially moved the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Inside Iran I spoke with fearful students, anxious Foreign Ministry officials, and clerics seemingly pleased that they'd been proven right--the Americans could not be trusted. It doesn't take long to conclude that we've empowered the wrong people, shouting at the very folks who might have helped lower the nuclear temperature.

Among students there is deep frustration at their nation's lack of participation in the world, and a desire to engage. The universities I visited had foreign students from China, but no one from the United States. One man who had never left Iran spoke English with a scarred Southern accent, admitting he got his start with a DVD of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof his father brought home from a now-ancient business trip. He loved America from afar and the Trump visa ban was a personal affront to him. The students I met were not about to take to the streets in favor of John Bolton's regime change schemes. Nowhere did I feel any sense of the panic, crisis, and disruption that American pundits speak of. These kids wanted to see L.A.

People from the Foreign Ministry expressed frustration over having no Americans to talk to, and were unsure why the U.S. still questions the legitimacy and stability of Iran's government. "The Americans everywhere seem to have quit trying," one said. There was much talk about Russia and China, little confidence the Europeans would fight the American sanctions, and a sad resignation that moderates would not be able to overrule the hardliners on foreign policy for a long time to come. "The door you came through to Iran is open," one said, "but it's Russians and Chinese who seem to want to come in."

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists (DAVID ADLER, MAY 23, 2018, NY Times)

 My research suggests that across Europe and North America, centrists are the least supportive of democracy, the least committed to its institutions and the most supportive of authoritarianism.

I examined the data from the most recent World Values Survey (2010 to 2014) and European Values Survey (2008), two of the most comprehensive studies of public opinion carried out in over 100 countries. The survey asks respondents to place themselves on a spectrum from far left to center to far right. I then plotted the proportion of each group's support for key democratic institutions. (A copy of my working paper, with a more detailed analysis of the survey data, can be found here.)

Respondents who put themselves at the center of the political spectrum are the least supportive of democracy, according to several survey measures. These include views of democracy as the "best political system," and a more general rating of democratic politics. In both, those in the center have the most critical views of democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Trump's Reckoning Arrives (DAVID FRUM, 5/24/18, The Atlantic)

When a president speaks, others hear. When he acts, he sets in motion a chain of reactions. When he selects one option, he precludes others.

This is why presidents are surrounded by elaborate staff systems to help them--and oblige them--to think through their words and actions.  

If we impose tariffs on Chinese products, how might they retaliate? What's our next move after that?

If we want to pressure Iran more tightly than our predecessors, what buy-in will we need from other countries? What will they want in return?

What do we want from North Korea that we can realistically get?

Team Trump does not engage in exercises like this.

Team Trump does not do it because the president does not do it. His idea of foreign policy is to bark orders like an emperor, without thinking very hard about how to enforce compliance or what to do if compliance is not forthcoming.

The administration canceled the Iran deal without first gaining European, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian cooperation for new sanctions.

Trump started a trade war with China without any plan for response to the inevitable Chinese counter-moves.

He enthusiastically pounced on a possible U.S.-North Korea summit in the false belief that such a summit represented a huge concession to the United States rather than--correctly--a huge concession by the United States.

..he's achieved nothing on the domestic front either.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Democrats are helping Republicans unleash Wall Street. What could go wrong? (Ryan Cooper, May 24, 2018, The Week)

A hefty package of bank deregulation passed the House of Representatives earlier this week, after being passed by the Senate back in March. It now goes to Trump to be signed into law. The majority of votes were Republican, of course, but some 33 Democrats also joined -- some 17 percent of the House Democratic caucus, which is at least less than the 16 (or 34 percent of) Senate Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


Art of the Fail (FRED KAPLAN, MAY 24, 2018, Slate)

[K]im doesn't need this summit. He has already, deceptively or not, cultivated the image of a peace-seeker, through a charm offensive that began with his New Year's Day message and continued through the Winter Olympics, his own summits in China and South Korea (the first meetings with those countries' leaders on their territory), his offer to meet with Trump, his suspension of nuclear and missile tests (though only after announcing that he now had a viable nuclear arsenal), and proposing "denuclearization" (though with a vague timetable and the usual caveats).

All Kim was looking for was to be treated as if his regime were legitimate.  Being portrayed as the peace-maker was just gravy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Roger Stone Sought Information on Clinton from Assange, Emails Show (Shelby Holliday and  Rob Barry, May 24, 2018, WSJ)

Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone privately sought information he considered damaging to Hillary Clinton from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The emails could raise new questions about Mr. Stone's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in September, in which he said he "merely wanted confirmation" from an acquaintance that Mr. Assange had information about Mrs. Clinton, according to a portion of the transcript that was made public.

In a Sept. 18, 2016, message, Mr. Stone urged an acquaintance who knew Mr. Assange to ask the WikiLeaks founder for emails related to Mrs. Clinton's alleged role in disrupting a purported Libyan peace deal in 2011 when she was secretary of state, referring to her by her initials.

"Please ask Assange for any State or HRC e-mail from August 10 to August 30--particularly on August 20, 2011," Mr. Stone wrote to Randy Credico, a New York radio personality who had interviewed Mr. Assange several weeks earlier. Mr. Stone, a longtime confidant of Mr. Trump, had no formal role in his campaign at the time.

Mr. Credico initially responded to Mr. Stone that what he was requesting would be on WikiLeaks' website if it existed, according to an email reviewed by the Journal. Mr. Stone, the emails show, replied: "Why do we assume WikiLeaks has released everything they have ???"

In another email, Mr. Credico then asked Mr. Stone to give him a "little bit of time," saying he thought Mr. Assange might appear on his radio show the next day. A few hours later, Mr. Credico wrote: "That batch probably coming out in the next drop...I can't ask them favors every other day."

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Trump is having a very loud public meltdown - all thanks to Michael Cohen (Rick Wilson, 24 May 2018, Spectator USA)

If you're wondering why President Trump's mad-dog frenzy in the last 48 hours has surpassed even his typically manic tone, look no further than Michael Cohen's mounting legal troubles. Two new fronts were opened this week, pushing Cohen closer to the edge of a painful, existential choice: cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, or an extended, unpleasant stay in federal prison. Trump can sense his friend edging closer to capitulation and his own legal peril mounting as Cohen begins to crack. As usual, he's having a very public, very loud meltdown.

First came the news that Gene Freidman, Cohen's associate in his taxi-medallion enterprise, has flipped. You'll be shocked (and by 'shocked' I mean, 'entirely unsurprised') to learn that Soviet émigré "Gene" Freidman, formerly "Evgeny" is tied to - wait for it - shady Russian and Ukrainian interests. For those of you in more civilised climes, New York's taxi business isn't the most genteel and ethical business niche; it's notoriously mobbed-up. Cohen comes from the same Russian wiseguy-inflected, criminal enterprise-adjacent circles as Freidman. Freidman has now pledged to assist Federal officials in their investigation of Cohen, and by extension, Trump.

The second source of new psychological and legal pressure on Trump and Cohen came from the BBC's Paul Wood. In an impeccably-sourced piece, Wood revealed yesterday that Cohen has engaged in illegal lobbying on behalf of Ukraine, serving in both of his usual roles as fixer for and conduit to Donald Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM

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Did the F.B.I. Save Trump's Presidency? (Bret Stephens, May 24, 2018, NY Times)

So let's review again:

Beginning in 2014, the Obama administration began receiving urgent warnings that Russia planned to interfere in U.S. politics. "You have no idea how extensive these networks are in Europe ... and in the U.S.," a Russian source told a U.S. official that year, according to an investigation by Politico's Ali Watkins. "Russia has penetrated media organizations, lobbying firms, political parties, governments and militaries in all of these places."

As early as 2013, the F.B.I. had concerns about Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, regarding their "offshore consulting activities," and interviewed the pair repeatedly. At the time, Manafort was working for Ukrainian President (and Putin puppet) Viktor Yanukovych, from whom he allegedly received more than $12 million in secret payments.

The bureau also had long been interested in Carter Page, an obscure energy consultant whom it had first interviewed in 2013 in connection to his contacts with Victor Podobnyy, a Russian spy based in New York. Page's chief distinction was his willingness to recite Kremlin talking points on foreign policy.

Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016. Page was named to Trump's foreign policy team that same month. So was George Papadopoulos, another nonentity with pro-Russian views. Within two months, Papadopoulos was getting word of Russia's hacking ops via a Kremlin-connected source, which he passed along to former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer that May. The Australians later related this to the F.B.I.

Retired Gen. Mike Flynn, the future national security adviser, had his own financial ties to Russian companies and organizations that would stand to benefit from the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia. Flynn's sudden advocacy for lifting sanctions was especially odd given that he was previously on record as an anti-Russia hawk.

All of this is independent of Christopher Steele's notorious Russia dossier. Some pundits on the right are now breathlessly trying to claim that the bureau was spying on Page, and thus the campaign, via an informant before the formal investigation began, as if this is an outrage of the first order.

But the significant question is whether any competent counterintelligence officer would not have seen, in this constellation of facts, serious reason to believe that the Trump campaign was profoundly vulnerable to Russian manipulation, even (or especially) if the candidate himself didn't know about it.

Some of us are even old enough to remember when the Right was bothered by the penetration of American politics and government by Russia and the Left dismissed the concerns...

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


This Culture War Isn't about the Flag; It's about Conscience (DAVID FRENCH, September 27, 2017, National Review)

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

Those are the most famous words of West Virginia v. Barnette, one of the Supreme Court's greatest cases, but these words apply today:

Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.

In other words, the power of the salute lies with the choice to salute, and the most repugnant form of censorship is compelled speech -- the effort to force a person to state what they do not believe. Mandatory reverence isn't reverence at all.

The Supreme Court's words have a profound cultural meaning that resonates far beyond the letter of the law. The government cannot force a man to violate his conscience. Nor should it try to bully powerful, private entities into doing what the state cannot legally accomplish. Private corporations should think twice before using their own economic and cultural power to enforce conformity, even if they are legally empowered to censor their employees. Again, the cure for bad speech is better speech, and free speech cannot flourish in the midst of a culture of censorship.

Sadly, it is now clear that the freedom from compelled speech is under profound threat, from both the Left and the Right. Earlier this month I was honored to write an amicus brief on behalf of 33 family-policy organizations in a case called Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Supreme Court will decide whether petty officials (state civil-rights bureaucrats) can compel a baker to use his artistic talents to celebrate an event he finds offensive. The court will determine whether the state can compel speech.

This week, a high official, the president of the United States, has repeatedly called for the punishment of American citizens for exercising the very right guaranteed by Barnette -- the right to refuse to salute the flag. Or, more precisely, the right to modify their salute to the flag.

Oddly enough, many members of the Right endorse this move -- including those who would be livid if a Democratic president called on the NFL to fire praying football players because that's "injecting religion into football."

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


George Conway's Tweets Raise West Wing Eyebrows: The spicy Twitter feed of Kellyanne Conway's husband has gotten noticed in the Oval Office. But friends say the real target of his ire isn't Donald Trump. (ANNIE KARNI May 24, 2018, Politico)

George Conway's Manhattan law firm sits near the corner of Sixth Avenue and 52nd Street, just three blocks from Trump Tower.

During the 2016 election, when he still supported Donald Trump, the corporate litigator would sometimes walk over to the campaign HQ after work, according to former campaign aides. He'd pop in around 8 p.m. and would sit and work in his wife Kellyanne Conway's office until she was ready to go. Then he'd drive her to New Jersey, or the couple would share a town car home.

Friends say he was proud of Kellyanne, the longtime Republican operative who was finally running the show, and the evening routine allowed him to grab some one-on-one time with his busier half. On election night, he cried, and noted to other campaign aides that as the first female campaign manager of a winning presidential bid, his wife had made history.

Over the past year, however, since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department, George Conway has become a man in turmoil. A serious, conservative attorney who believes in the rule of law, he has been torn, people who know him say, between the loyalty he feels toward his wife and an assault on his profession and his ideals that he did not anticipate when he cheered on election night--delivered by her boss.

During that period, he has walked away from a powerful job running the Justice Department's civil division, where he would have served as one of the administration's top lawyers. And he has become a Twitter phenom--tweeting and retweeting critiques of the president and support for the Mueller probe that his wife's employer calls a "witch hunt." Many in the White House have noticed, including Kellyanne and, according to multiple administration officials, the president himself.

The pushback coming from inside the house of Trump's lead cable-news defender has become one of Washington's favorite family dramas. In "Conway versus Conway," George attacks the president, or seems to defend the Mueller probe, while Kellyanne puts her own credibility on the line to defend Trump, who has escalated his verbal assaults on the Russia inquiry and this week even demanded an investigation of the investigation. [...]

[I]n conservative legal circles, his tweets are reverberating in a way that has not much at all to do with his wife. There, George Conway is seen as rebuking the silence of his fellow Federalist Society members--the elite, conservative lawyers who have generally chosen to give Trump a pass on his breaches of long-cherished legal norms and traditions in exchange for the gift of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Nevertrump is not about Donald, who's iredeemable, it's about our friends' souls.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Robert Mueller coolly reminds everyone that the Trump-Russia investigation is still happening, with 'multiple lines of non-public inquiry' (Peter Weber, May 23, 2018, The Week)

Mueller quietly reminded everyone that of all the leaking going on in Washington and New York, none of it is coming from his team -- and his team knows things you don't:

The special counsel's investigation is not a closed matter, but an ongoing criminal investigation with multiple lines of non-public inquiry. No right of public access exists to search warrant materials in an ongoing investigation. ... Search warrant materials regularly remain sealed while investigations are ongoing. And a right of public access risks jeopardizing open investigations. That remains true even though some aspects of the investigation have resulted in charges; the overall investigation is not complete, and the search warrant materials relate to that ongoing investigation. [Court filing, Robert Mueller]

"As of this date, the government has brought criminal charges against 22 individuals and entities arising from the investigation," Mueller added, listing the charges in an appendix, in case anyone in the White House forgot that his office has already turned up considerably more than nothing. The five news organizations -- The Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico -- will likely have to look elsewhere for their information. They could always try Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Most of us will be driving electric SUVs (Steve LeVine, 5/23/18, Axios)

Electric car skeptics cite relatively low current demand as evidence that battery-propelled vehicles are unlikely to break out of their niche any time soon. But the new forecast suggests why they can -- because they will fall neatly into the current of existing mobility fashion.

SUVs lead vehicle sales, accounting for 42% of all U.S. demand last year and 39% of China's.
The report forecasts an overall boom in EV demand through 2040, led by a surge in the number of electric models on offer, especially from the German automakers but also Tesla, said Salim Morsy, the report's main author. SUVs will be the main driver of that demand, Morsy tells Axios.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Getting to the Bottom of the Trump Tower Meeting (Kate Brannen, May 18, 2018, JustSecurity)

The fact that this meeting even took place remains a stubborn obstacle in President Donald Trump's "NO COLLUSION" narrative. His son enthusiastically took the meeting after a family acquaintance told him quite clearly that a "Russian government lawyer" would be able to share with the Trump campaign "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."

According to everyone who attended the meeting and testified to Congress, that's not exactly what transpired on June 9, 2016. Instead, Veselnitskaya (and Akhmetshin, according to some attendees) discussed the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses; the law's deleterious effect on U.S.-Russian relations, including the halting of U.S. adoptions of Russian children; and a complicated Russian tax evasion scheme where allegedly dirty money made its way into the Democratic National Committee's coffers.

Because no specific negative information about Hillary Clinton was offered, everyone said they considered the meeting to be a dud. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Quantum computing edges toward mainstream (Scott Rosenberg, 5/18/18, Axios)

Quantum computing will enter the mainstream faster than most of us realize, a panel of experts told a San Francisco crowd earlier this week -- with some important real-world applications emerging within five years.

May 23, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Annual Burning of Benedict Arnold (Atlas Obscura, 5/23/18)

The citizenry of New London held a deep grudge, and they never forgave Arnold. His name became synonymous with traitor, and among the people of New London, they even still evoke his name as a form of insult or as a means to convey a purposeful arson.

In 1782, one year after the infamous traitor led the burning of New London, the townspeople paraded an effigy of Arnold through the streets and burned it on the anniversary of the brutal attack. This tradition continued all the way up to the Civil War. Because of the horrors of the Civil War, the tradition faded away... until... a history-loving theater troupe decided to resurrect it.

In 2013 the troupe, with very little organization, marched an effigy of Benedict Arnold down to the pier, dressed in colonial garb, and burned it. As they paraded it through the streets of New London, curious bystanders started following the procession, and the tradition was revived.

The effigy, complete with a papier-mâché head with two faces, is dressed in a British red coat uniform. Once the parade reaches the pier, the traitor, complete with a wooden shame sign around his neck, is displayed in his wooden cart until 8 p.m., when he is rolled to an empty blocked-off area, doused with flammables, and set on fire for the crowds to watch.

Still going strong half a decade later, the event has grown and is now accompanied by live music, a police escort, and the mayor traditionally performing the ceremonial "lighting." The citizens of New London still rally around, with cries of "traitor" and "Burn him!"

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


A yacht, cocaine, prostitutes: Winery partly owned by Nunes sued after fundraiser event (MACKENZIE MAYS, May 23, 2018, Fresno Bee)

In 2015, Alene Anase was asked by her employer Alpha Omega Winery to serve guests as part of a charity cruise on the San Francisco Bay.

But what she expected to be a routine shift serving wine turned into a nightmare, according to court documents.

The guests aboard the yacht that night -- described in her 2016 lawsuit as 25 of the Napa Valley-based winery's top investors, all men -- were openly using what appeared to be cocaine and "drawing straws" for which sex worker to hire, according to the lawsuit.

Alpha Omega, which boasts "world-class wines in a convivial setting," settled with Anase for an undisclosed amount in Napa County Superior Court the same year. The winery is owned by Robin Baggett, a major benefactor of Cal Poly, and its investors include his friend Rep. Devin Nunes. [...]

Nunes, whose back story often focuses on his time spent as a dairy farmer in the central San Joaquin Valley, sold his Tulare County farmland in 2006 and invested between $50,000 and $100,000 in Alpha Omega, which opened the same year.

The congressman, who represents Fresno and Tulare counties and is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, serves as a limited partner in the company, according to his latest financial disclosure forms.

Alpha Omega and Phase 2 Cellars, in San Luis Obispo, are listed as Nunes' only assets, aside from a Bank of America savings account and copyright royalties for WND Books, a conservative publishing company.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


In reversal, Giuliani now says Trump should do interview with Mueller team (Josh Dawsey, May 23, 2018, washington Post)

Giuliani said he was concerned that the president would become a target or that the interview would be a perjury trap, because the "truth is relative." The president's legal team continues to try to set limitations on an interview, including the duration and questions posed, he said.

"They may have a different version of the truth than we do," Giuliani said.

Rudy is at least demonstrating more self-awareness than the rest of the Trumpbots.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Southern California's median home price hits a new record: $520,000 (Andrew Khouri, MAY 23, 2018,  Los Angeles Times)
Southern California home prices in April surged 7.2% from a year earlier to reach a new all-time high, a sharp increase at a time when rising mortgage rates are making an already pricey housing market even more so.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Trump lawyer 'paid by Ukraine' to arrange White House talks (Paul Wood, 5/23/18, BBC News)

Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved.

The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine's leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law.

The meeting at the White House was last June.

Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country's anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

...can only be appreciated once you accept that he planted Donald, Jared, Don Jr., Manafort, Page, Cohen, Stone, Flynn, Sessions, etc. in the Donald campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


The sorry state of Trump's affairs (Jacob Heilbrunn, 23 May 2018, The Spectator USA)

After reports of the lavish payment and the affairs in April, Broidy, who was deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee and convicted of bribery in 2009, resigned and issued a public apology to his wife of several decades. But speculation is growing that this was just a cover-up. That it was Trump, not Broidy, who had the affair. 

Why would Broidy take such a blow for Trump? According to various reports, he was negotiating a deal in which he would use his influence to get the Justice Department to drop its investigation of a Malaysian company called 1MDB, for which Broidy and his wife would be paid £75 million. But the real prize was still to come in the Middle East. 

As the Associated Press has shown in a major story, the Middle East is where Broidy teamed up with a wealthy Lebanese American named George Nader. Nader, who served a six-month sentence in Virginia in the early 1990s for the possession of child pornography, was convicted in May 2003 on ten counts of sexually abusing boys and spent a year in prison in Prague. No -matter. He went on to set up shop in the United Arab Emirates, where he became chums with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

Broidy's and Nader's efforts centred around persuading the Trump administration to adopt a hostile stance toward Qatar, which it did. Broidy indicated in an email to Nader that he was a 'close friend' of the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and would push him to look favourably on sanctioning Qatar. But Broidy ended up landing an even bigger bauble: he met Trump in the Oval Office on 6 October last year to discuss Qatar. According to the AP, 'In return for pushing anti-Qatar policies at the highest levels of America's government, Broidy and Nader expected huge consulting contracts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to an Associated Press investigation based on interviews with more than two dozen people and hundreds of pages of leaked emails between the two men.' Huge indeed. They pitched plans to the princes that would have netted them more than $1 billion.

Perhaps the most piquant detail is that Nader was desperate for a photo with Trump. The Secret Service apparently put the kibosh on it. But Broidy donated a cool $189,000 to the Republican National Committee and any lingering reservations about Nader's background as a paedophile vanished.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM

NIKKI 2020:

Poll: Trump reelection bid begins in a hole (STEVEN SHEPARD,  05/23/2018, Politici)

Just 36 percent of voters say they would vote for Trump over a generic Democratic candidate in 2020, compared with 44 percent who would pick the Democrat, the poll shows. One in five voters, 20 percent, are undecided.

Trump has trouble on the homefront, too. Despite the conventional wisdom that the president is wildly popular with the GOP base, the poll also shows a desire among a healthy slice of Republicans -- though a distinct minority -- for a challenger to run against Trump for the nomination.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Trump demands housecleaning on White House communications team (ELIANA JOHNSON, ANDREW RESTUCCIA and NANCY COOK 05/22/2018, Politico)

President Donald Trump has demanded changes to his communications team -- long seen as one of the most internally divided offices in his White House -- in an effort to crack down on the leaks that have plagued his presidency since Day One.

White House chief of staff John Kelly signed off on a plan that would flush out some of the department's midlevel and junior aides, according to three people familiar with the situation. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other key senior officials are expected to remain, these people said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 AM


Did Rosenstein and Wray play Trump? (Jennifer Rubin, May 22, 2018, Washington Post)

I would suggest a third take on the meeting: Wray and Rosenstein, with Mueller's full backing, might be setting up Trump. We know Mueller is already pursuing an obstruction-of-justice inquiry that might relate to acts such as Trump firing former FBI director James B. Comey, falsely accusing him of illegally leaking confidential material, pressuring Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, helping draft a phony cover story to explain the June 9 Trump Tower meeting and conducting an extended campaign to smear, discredit and disrupt the work of the FBI and the special counsel. In that vein, wouldn't a meeting directly ordering Wray and Rosenstein to conduct what amounts to a wild goose chase and to put confidential material into the hands of congressional allies be part of the pattern of possible obstruction they are investigating?

Goodness knows what Trump said in the meeting and what he revealed about his intent with regard to outing the previously secret source. Moreover, Wray and Rosenstein already may have a very good idea who leaked the name of the source (initially to the right-wing Daily Caller, it appears) and may be keen to see whether the materials shared with congressional Republicans get leaked as well. (They, too, understand the finite protections of the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause.) [...]

But let's get back to reality. Going to the meeting, taking copious notes, analyzing the notes to determine the propriety of Trump's comments and referring that information over to Mueller is precisely what any responsible law-enforcement officials would do. It was, come to think of it, precisely what Comey did.

May 22, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Giuliani's New Stance On Russian Collusion: So What? It's Not Illegal. (S.V. Date, 5/22/18, hUFFINGTON pOST)

In a recent interview with HuffPost, Giuliani initially disputed the notion that Trump's daily citing, in the final month of his campaign, of Russian-aligned WikiLeaks and its release of Russian-stolen emails constituted "colluding" with Russia.

"It is not," Giuliani said.

Then he switched tacks.

"OK, and if it is, it isn't illegal... It was sort of like a gift," he said. "And you're not involved in the illegality of getting it."

He is a gift.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Israeli right shifts stance on Armenian genocide amid Turkey spat (Akiva Eldar, May 22, 2018, Al Monitor)"

It is unclear yet whether the verbal clash between Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the killing of Palestinians during violent demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel border changed the "situation" to such an extent that the government is at long last heeding calls for recognition of the Armenian genocide. But if it does so, the world in general and the Armenians in particular will see through the claims of morality and conscience and recognize the move for what it is: taking cynical advantage of a genocide to exact diplomatic retribution and score PR points.

It's true that joining the 29 other states, among them 11 members of the European Union, that have recognized the genocide would undermine the prospects of eventual reconciliation with Erdogan's regime. To resolve its previous contretemps with Turkey over the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla that sought to breach the Israeli siege of Gaza, Israel relented and paid compensation to Turkish victims of its commando raid on the vessel. It will not be able to go back on its recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Anatomy of a Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theory (MATT FORD, May 22, 2018, New Republic)

In his recent memoir, A Higher Loyalty, former FBI Director James Comey wrote about his decision to brief President-elect Donald Trump in January 2017 about the existence of the Steele dossier, which contained salacious allegations against him. Comey offered a reasonable explanation for why he briefed the president about the dossier's contents: It would prevent Trump from being blindsided by the document if it became public and insulate him from the threat of foreign blackmail.

"I could see no way out of it," Comey wrote. "The FBI was aware of the material. Two United States senators separately contacted me to alert me to its existence and the fact that many in Washington either had it or knew of it. CNN had informed the FBI press office that they were going to run with it as soon as the next day. Whether it was true or not, an important feature of disarming any effort to coerce a public official is to tell the official what the enemy might be doing or saying. The FBI calls that a 'defensive briefing.'"

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


How Did Actual Witch Hunts Work? (DANIEL ENGBER, MAY 22, 2018, Slate)

The procedures for a witch hunt, and its relative brutality, varied quite a bit from place to place. In the 17th-century Lutheran kingdom of Denmark, for example, witches would be tried according to the more old-fashioned "accusatorial" system of justice. That meant an injured party--the alleged victim of some witchcraft--would choose to bring the case to local court. The accuser then would touch the suspect's head and say, "I hereby accuse you of being a true witch." Witnesses would testify, and if the suspect were found guilty, the case would be taken up again at the county level. Torture would be carried out only after the defendant had been found guilty, and just before her execution. She'd be tied to a ladder in preparation for burning at the stake. Then she'd be tortured via stretching, as a means of procuring her confession before God--along with the names of any fellow witches she might know.

Witch hunts happened very differently in other parts of Europe. In Catholic Italy (as in many other places), witches were tried in an "inquisitorial" system. A designated official--the inquisitor--would do the investigation for himself and decide which claims of witchcraft might be legitimate and thus deserving of the full legal process. Torture would be applied during the trial, not afterward, as a means of gathering evidence. But inquisitors had to follow rules specifying the sorts of torture they could use and the maximum duration. Suspects were not supposed to suffer any permanent harm from the process. In the end, the most extreme sentences applied to witches would not be execution but rather public flogging and exile from the community.

It is the estrangement from the community in the first place that produces the accusations.
Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Yes, a Reasonable Prosecutor Would Have Ordered an Investigation of the Trump Campaign (DAVID FRENCH, May 22, 2018 , National Review)

Consider what we know, now widely verified through bipartisan sources.

We know that at the very least the Russian government engaged in a disruption operation to sow discord and chaos in the 2016 election. The CIA, NSA, FBI, and the Republican-run Senate Intelligence Committee agree that this disruption operation morphed into an effort to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

At the same time that Russia was attempting to help Trump, the candidate had surrounded himself with a constellation of advisers who possessed problematic ties with the Putin regime. Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had long been on the payroll of Putin allies, receiving millions of dollars in compensation for his work on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine. One of Trump's closest military advisers, Michael Flynn, had received tens of thousands of dollars in compensation from Kremlin-affiliated sources. One of the campaign's foreign-policy advisers, Carter Page, had been actively recruited by Russian intelligence (to his credit, he apparently rebuffed those advances) and had long sought business relationships in Russia.

And that's not all, not by a long shot. We also know that Kremlin-connected Russians reached out to the Trump campaign, and that key members of the campaign team were enthusiastic about receiving Russian help.

Donald Trump Jr. responded positively to a direct invitation to collude with Russia, taking a meeting with a Russian lawyer after being promised information that could hurt Hillary Clinton as part of an official Russian effort to help Trump. Trump brought Manafort and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to the meeting.

Campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had contact with a Russian-affiliated professor who told him that the Russians had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." He received this information months before the first WikiLeaks releases rocked the Clinton campaign, and he later lied to the FBI about it.

Trump confidante Roger Stone apparently had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks had obtained damaging emails from John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee.

Note that the Trumpbot argument requires not that Donald's campaign should not have been investigated but that Vlad's should not have been.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Coveted exemptions from Trump's travel ban remain elusive for citizens of Muslim-majority countries (Abigail Hauslohner, May 22, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump's travel ban prevented Mohammed Al-Awadhi's Yemeni wife from joining him in Arkansas, but he was certain she would qualify for a waiver: She has a serious heart condition, she's married to a law-abiding U.S. citizen and the rejection of her visa would tear apart their marriage and leave her in a nation ravaged by war and famine.

But Al-Awadhi has become increasingly skeptical that the Trump administration is applying its waiver standards to those who qualify. Five months after the travel ban went into effect, immigration advocates say the waivers -- permission for certain citizens from the prohibited countries to travel to the U.S. based on special circumstances -- have been nearly impossible to get. [...]

The government has provided little guidance on how to get a waiver, they say, and many visa applicants are still unaware the waiver option exists.

The State Department says that it automatically considers whether a visa applicant from a banned country is eligible for a waiver.

But the department also acknowledged that a "cleared" or "granted" waiver does not mean the applicant actually has received a visa. A State Department official said many waiver recipients have received actual visas, but declined to give specifics.

The travel ban stipulates that waivers can be granted to certain visa applicants deemed not to pose a national security threat, including people seeking to reunite with spouses, children or parents in the United States and those in need of urgent medical care, among others.

Attorneys say hundreds or thousands of people who meet those descriptions are being denied. And during the Supreme Court hearing last month, Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether the waiver system is "window dressing" rather than an actual process.

"The waiver process is a sham," said Gadeir Abbas, a senior litigation attorney in Ohio for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group that has fielded hundreds of requests for help from people affected by the ban. Abbas said he knew of just three people who have received waivers.

Queries to more than 30 immigration attorneys and major immigrant legal and advocacy groups across the country turned up fewer than 25 known waiver recipients from the Muslim-majority ban countries.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Michael Cohen's Business Partner Agrees to Cooperate as Part of Plea Deal (Danny Hakim, William K. Rashbaum and Vivian Wang, May 22, 2018, NY Times)

A significant business partner of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, has quietly agreed to cooperate with the government as a potential witness, a development that could be used as leverage to pressure Mr. Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Under the agreement, the partner, Evgeny A. Freidman, a Russian immigrant who is known as the Taxi King, will avoid jail time, and will assist government prosecutors in state or federal investigations, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Obama administration too slow to probe Russian meddling in 2016: Senate sources (Mark Hosenball, 5/22/18, Reuters)

The sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters the Senate Intelligence Committee found that although there was mounting evidence of Russian interference for months before the November 2016 election, the Obama administration did not press U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to investigate.

Law enforcement and intelligence officials say the administration's stance was consistent with customary law enforcement and intelligence agency practice to avoid influencing voters in the run-up to an election.

Darn facts are fatal to the Trumpbot conspiracy theory.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


White House Bars Democrats From Meeting on Russia Investigation Records (Justin Sink, May 22, 2018, Bloomberg)

Sanders said Democrats weren't included in the meeting because they hadn't requested the records themselves, and suggested reporters ask them why they should be "randomly invited." She took questions for less than 13 minutes at her briefing on Tuesday.

Trump demanded in a tweet on Sunday that the Justice Department investigate whether the department or the FBI "infiltrated or surveilled" his campaign "for political purposes" and whether Obama administration officials were involved. There is no evidence the FBI planted an informant in his campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


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Aim, bluff, lose: The art of not making deals (Jennifer Rubin, May 22, 2018, Washington Post)

Pick any topic -- trade with China, NAFTA, North Korea, etc. Trump goes in with maximalist demands, as if it were just another licensing deal or casino, with no idea how he is going to accomplish the end result. Alas, the international stage is not a TV show, nor can he conceal failures, as he could running a family business and exaggerating his wealth. His demands are often premised on things that just aren't so (we "owe" someone the trade deficit, no one ever got a deal with North Korea, we are losing millions of jobs under NAFTA). He is either not educable, or his advisers are afraid to try. Together they run headlong into a wall (another silly promise, undeliverable!). He then is forced to blame others (usually Obama, sometimes Congress) or pretend he got what he wanted. (He keeps falsely telling crowds that he is building the wall.)

Rather than solve problems (expensive health-care premiums, theft of intellectual property) he creates new or bigger ones (even higher premiums, a trade war). His staff is forced to rush to rationalize and do damage control when he behaves impulsively, as he did in agreeing to a face-to-face summit with North Korea without understanding fully what he was doing. Trump acts rashly, and advisers rush to keep up and rationalize the outcome they didn't expect and may not have supported. (The Post reports, "The biggest problem comes, experts [in Seoul] say, from Trump's fundamental misunderstanding of North Korea's interests. The regime in Pyongyang has never said it was prepared to unilaterally give up its nuclear program but has instead repeatedly made clear that this would have to be part of a 'phased and synchronous' process that would involve rewards for North Korea along the way." Oops. That sounds like a rather large deal.)

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Report: Putin's New Missile With 'Unlimited Range' Crashed After 22 Miles (Alex Griswold, May 22, 2018, Free Beacon)

A new Russian nuclear-powered missile highly touted by Russia's leadership has so far been a dud, according to U.S. intelligence sources who say it has crashed in every test to date.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Iranian Officials Call For Unblocking Twitter Share (Radio Liberty, May 22, 2018)

Six Iranian ministers and two lawmakers, all members of the state committee in charge of blocking websites, have issued an open letter to the country's prosecutor calling for the unblocking of Twitter.

The letter was issued in response to "the growing public demands for unfiltering Twitter to allow the activity of the youth and media in [it]," the government website reported. [...]

Despite the blocking, many Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, use Twitter to reach out to supporters and spread their messages.

Many Iranians also use Twitter to share news and information and express themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:47 AM


The Constitutional Case for California's Sanctuary State Laws (Damon Root, June 2018, Reason)

In the complaint filed in March, the Justice Department asked a U.S. District Court to invalidate several state laws, including parts of the 2017 California Values Act, which stops state and local police from providing certain assistance to federal immigration authorities. [...]

As the late Justice Antonin Scalia explained in Printz v. United States (1997), "the Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States' officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program."

At issue in Printz were parts of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that required local police to help implement a federal gun control scheme. The Clinton administration argued that obstructionist local officials should not be allowed to thwart duly enacted national legislation, but the Court disagreed. The provisions were struck down as an unconstitutional "federal commandeering of state governments."

Sessions' case against portions of the California Values Act involves the same constitutional failing that Scalia identified in Printz. The feds may commandeer local police into administering neither federal gun control nor federal immigration policy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 AM


How China and Wall Street won Trump's trade war (Jeff Spross, May 22, 2018, The Week)

It does look like Trump's China hawks are getting rolled. But it's probably good old-fashioned Republican economic orthodoxy, not China, that's doing the rolling.

When Gary Cohn stepped down as head of the National Economic Council, it was supposed to be a sign that anti-trade and anti-globalization forces would lead the White House. But then long-time conservative commentator Larry Kudlow was tapped to replace him. "Kudlow is an extremely doctrinaire supply-sider, almost to the point of parody," Vox's Dylan Matthews said. "He's also an ardent free trader, a point of sharp contrast with the president, whose protectionist tendencies helped spur Cohn to leave." It looks like Kudlow thinks Trump's protectionist tendencies are malleable. He might be right.

The other major player here is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is serving as the White House's point man in the talks with China. He's a former investment fund manager and investment banker, and cut his teeth at Goldman Sachs. Mnuchin doesn't appear to be as much of an ideologue as Kudlow, but his preferences clearly lean in the same direction. He'd prefer to de-escalate the trade fight with China.

Remember that for the bulk of big American businesses, the current trade setup with China is fine. It improves profit margins by suppressing labor costs here in the U.S., and lets American wealth owners shop for new investments and even cheaper labor in China. The country's myriad limits on foreign capital, its hardball practices on intellectual property, and its own protectionism and tariffs certainly complicate the picture. But these practices tend to anger specific sectors and industries rather than American business writ large.

Furthermore, all big business in the U.S. is knit together by the financial sector. Wall Street benefits enormously from the high profits and free capital flow of the current global trade regime, and has the biggest megaphone in Washington, D.C. Mnuchin comes right out of the finance world. And while Kudlow is more of a talking head, he takes the same sweeping, pro-big-business-in-the-aggregate approach.

Because center-right and center-left economists have mostly all signed onto the global trade agenda, the only serious China hawks the White House has been able to find in the economics world are oddballs like Peter Navarro.

Note that it is not "Republican orthodoxy", but simple economics.  There is no economic case against free trade. Donald's objections are Nativist.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


Bitcoin Presents A Quandary (Joe Davis, 5/21/18,

[A]re bitcoin and competing cryptocurrencies really currencies? Let's think about what a currency is:

A currency is a unit of account. Cryptocurrencies qualify, as they can measure the value of other goods and services.

A currency is a medium of exchange. I'd give cryptocurrencies a qualified yes on this point. Currently, only a limited number of vendors globally accept cryptocurrencies, and recent volatility will only discourage increased adoption.

A currency is a store of value. Bitcoin is not. Its price volatility undermines its adoption, as fewer vendors will accept a currency whose value can fluctuate so dramatically. The prices of newer currencies have been similarly volatile.

Let's call the verdict on the currency question mixed. Even if cryptocurrencies qualify for niche purposes, their prospects seem dubious.

The greatest threat is central banks, which have begun to research blockchain-based currencies and impose regulations on exchanges. Given the additional control and policy effectiveness that digital currencies could provide, central banks have good reason to adopt digital currencies in the coming decades. Those currencies would be "legal tender," legally recognized forms of payment for all debts and charges.

If the choice were between bitcoin or a blockchain-based dollar, which would you rather have in your digital wallet?

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


Trump to ask Justice Department to look into campaign surveillance claims (Doina Chiacu, 5/22/18, Reuters)

Neither Trump nor Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor who is now one of Trump's lawyers, provided any evidence of government infiltration into Trump's presidential campaign. Giuliani acknowledged in a CNN interview on Friday that neither he nor the president really knew if such action took place.

Giuliani was quoted by the New York Times later on Sunday as saying that Mueller had said the investigation would wrap up by Sept. 1.

A source familiar with the probe called the Sept. 1 deadline "entirely made-up" and "another apparent effort to pressure the special counsel to hasten the end of his work."

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


AI-Powered Bank Accounts Of Tomorrow Are Solving The Biggest Problem With Your Finances -- You  (Oliver Smith, May. 22nd, 2018, Forbes)

Personetics is starting by letting banks build AIs which analyze customer data for unusual spending patterns, identify spare money which could be saved or upcoming subscription payments which might leave someone overdrawn.

While some investment services like Betterment and Nutmeg have used algorithms to make investment decisions, this is the first time we've seen the same principles applied to current accounts.

"You can apply the same principles to a bank account as a driverless car--once we understand your goals, your obligations and your way of living, there's no reason why machines can't make the right decisions, or even better decisions than a person can," says Sosna.

Indeed there's a basic financial error that millions of us make every month, which AI could solve.

"You've got a credit card balance that you should pay off, but you also really want to have some savings--in that situation most people will make the wrong decision to save," Bud CEO and co-founder Edward Maslaveckas tells Forbes.

Indeed the instinct to put money away as a nest egg is usually the wrong one, especially while savings interest rates are at a historic low and any money sitting in your current account is essentially losing value every day.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 AM


After Iran deal exit, average Iranians worried about the future (Shaghayegh Rostampour May 21, 2018, Al Monitor)

As for ordinary Iranians, "gloom" appears to be the word of the day.

In his May 8 deal withdrawal announcement, President Donald Trump addressed "the long suffering people of Iran," characterizing his policy toward the Islamic Republic as one that "benefits all of Iran." He concluded his remarks by saying that "the future of Iran belongs to its people." A similar sentiment was echoed in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's May 21 outlining of the new US strategy toward Iran.

Among ordinary Iranians, there now seems to be a shared sense of distress, frustration and anger. These sentiments are clear whether at friendly gatherings, family visits, chats during taxi rides or heated dialogues among colleagues.

Sepideh Pourakbar, a young mother who works from home in the city of Karaj, 20 miles west of the capital Tehran, bitterly laughed off Trump's remarks, telling Al-Monitor, "Future? What future? Does he really care about us? I cannot believe that. My heart sank the very night I heard Mr. Trump's speech. I knew nothing good would come of it."

Young Iranians do not disagree with the notion of being in charge of their fates. "I do believe that the people of Iran are in charge of their future and are assets to their country," said Amirhossein Andalibi, a software engineer who works at a startup in Tehran. "We need equipment, software and hardware to work on applications or sites, for the sake of the country's development. But much of what we are looking for cannot be found here due to the sanctions in place."

For some, the impact of the reimposition of US sanctions is even more imminent. Forough Mahmoudi Darvish speaks up about her worries of not being able to find the medicine she needs for her thalassemia blood disorder. The US embargo on Iran does not include medicine, medical devices, food and certain agricultural commodities. But Iranian markets, still reeling from the sanctions imposed prior to the implementation of the nuclear deal, appear frozen as businesses contemplate how to best proceed amid the uncertainty.

"I have to take mycophenolic acid pills sold under the brand name Suprimon. With the recent tensions and the surging exchange rate, pharmacies seem to be withholding the drugs because they don't know at what rate they should be sold," she told Al-Monitor.

Although Darvish sees mismanagement and corruption as the direct cause of her predicament, she told Al-Monitor that she also believes the situation is an indirect outcome of US sanctions and the fear of an upcoming war. "Only the salespeople might benefit from this situation."

But putting certain well-connected elites aside, small business owners do not appear to be beneficiaries of the present situation. Pouya Khajenasir, a 22-year-old who works in a clothing shop in the city of Qazvin, just over two hour's drive northwest of Tehran, said his sales have dropped dramatically. "I know things are about to get worse with this new fiasco," he told Al-Monitor.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


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Rating Changes in 19 House Races, All Toward Democrats (Nathan L. Gonzales, 5/21/18, Roll Call)

After the latest round of changes, Inside Elections now has 68 Republican seats rated as vulnerable compared to just 10 vulnerable Democratic seats. And there are at least a couple dozen more GOP-held seats that could develop into competitive races in the months ahead.

That discrepancy in the playing field is reminiscent of previous "wave" elections. In April 2010, there were 68 vulnerable Democratic House seats and 11 vulnerable Republican seats. Republicans gained 63 seats later than year. And in May 2006, there were 42 vulnerable Republican seats and 11 vulnerable Democratic seats. Six months later, Democrats gained 30 seats.

Of course, just because a seat is vulnerable, it doesn't mean a race is lost. But the larger number of vulnerable seats means Democrats need to win a smaller proportion of the total competitive districts to gain the 23 seats necessary for the majority.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


Trump Team's Mueller Strategy: Limit the Investigation and Attack the Investigators (Peter Baker, May 21, 2018, NY Times)

Mr. Giuliani's deference to Mr. Mueller has not been shared by Mr. Trump, who again accused the special counsel of running an office filled with partisan Democrats with conflicts of interest. But both Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani share a favorite target in James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, who was fired by the president last year and is now one of his most outspoken critics as well as a potential witness against him.

In some ways, that mirrors approaches taken by other politicians who came under fire, including Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton. During Watergate, Mr. Nixon's team dismissed accusations against him as trumped up by a hostile establishment, especially the news media. During the investigation into whether he lied under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, Mr. Clinton's team repeatedly assailed the independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr, and attributed the investigation to what Hillary Clinton called a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Mr. Trump, however, is willing to go further in public than either of those presidents in pressing the law enforcement agencies that report to him to start or end politically charged investigations. And he has more tools to define the narrative the way he sees it. Neither Mr. Nixon nor Mr. Clinton had Twitter to spread the word, nor did they have the same extent of ideologically sympathetic media to echo their viewpoints the way Mr. Trump has Fox News and Breitbart News, among others.

It can be hard to decide what part of this is the most fun, but certainly the Right's war on law and order ranks way up there.
Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Trump works to cut high-skilled visas in NAFTA deal (FRANCO ORDOÑEZ AND ANITA KUMAR, May 21, 2018, McClatchy)

The Trump administration is working to slash the number of visas granted to Canadian and Mexican professionals as part of ongoing NAFTA negotiations among the three countries.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is leading the push as part of President Donald Trump's "Buy American, Hire American" initiative promised during the 2016 campaign.

Always fun when Nativists insist that they only oppose certain forms of immigration--illegal; low-skilled; too much from one country; etc.--when in practice they oppose it all.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Bernie's army in disarray: The Sanders-inspired grass-roots group 'Our Revolution' is flailing, an extensive review by POLITICO shows, fueling concerns about a potential 2020 bid. (EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE 05/21/201, Politico)

Bernie Sanders' top operatives formed "Our Revolution" after he lost the 2016 primaries to keep his army organized and motivated -- and potentially prepare for another presidential run in 2020.

But an extensive review of the Sanders-inspired group depicts an organization in disarray -- operating primarily as a promotional vehicle for its leader and sometimes even snubbing candidates aligned with Sanders. Our Revolution has shown no ability to tip a major Democratic election in its favor -- despite possessing Sanders' email list, the envy of the Democratic Party -- and can claim no major wins in 2018 as its own.

The result has left many Sanders supporters disillusioned, feeling that the group that was supposed to harness the senator's grass-roots movement is failing in its mission.

Bernie's mission has never been anything more than Bernie.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


'Too inconvenient': Trump goes rogue on phone security (ELIANA JOHNSON, EMILY STEPHENSON and DANIEL LIPPMAN 05/21/2018, Politico)

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones -- one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites -- are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was "too inconvenient," the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 AM


Impatient, distracted consumers disrupt U.S. businesses (Sara Fischer, 5/21/18, Axios)

At the heart of the on-demand economy is a user that wants choice. Customers today want to pay for the content they like and nothing else. As a result, they are dropping expensive cable packages with hundreds of channels they don't consume for "skinny bundles" with core channels that are much cheaper. (The average American cable package is roughly $92, while the average streaming package is roughly $40.)

They want to watch their favorite shows at any time, on any device. They are looking to technology companies to deliver their content through apps that they can access at any time on their phone, on their smart TV, or laptop. And they expect these apps to store their information, so that they can pick up on a show or series from the exact minute they left off.

This has made users so impatient and distracted, that an estimated 177.7 million U.S. adults --or  70.3% of the total population -- will regularly use another digital device while watching TV this year, up 5.1% from 2016, per eMarketer. A majority of people (58%) say also say they browse the internet while watching video programming, per Nielsen.

Distracted consumers no longer tolerate commercials, which is completely upending the advertising industry. They've become accustomed to on-demand viewing where there are no ads, or digital ads that are highly relevant.

May 21, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 PM


Are electric cars worse for the environment?: Crunch the numbers, and it looks like all those subsidies might be counterproductive. (JONATHAN LESSER 05/15/2018, Politico)

If you believe the headlines, traditional automobiles are speeding toward a dead end. All those V8s, V6s and turbocharged vehicles we've grown to love will soon be replaced by squadrons of clean, whisper-quiet, all-electric vehicles. And if you believe the headlines, the environment will be much better off.

Policymakers at every level have done their part to push electric vehicles by creating a tankful of subsidies. Thanks to laws signed by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, electric-vehicle buyers can feast on federal tax credits of up to $7,500 that reduce the initial purchase cost of their vehicles. Not to be outdone, many states also dangle their own mix of goodies for electric vehicle buyers, including purchase rebates as large as $5,000, additional rebates for vehicle chargers, and free use of public charging stations--which, of course, are only "free" because they're subsidized by ratepayers and taxpayers. Some states even give electric vehicles preferential access to carpool lanes.

Then there are the electric vehicle mandates. In January, California Gov. Jerry Brown decreed that 5 million electric vehicles must be on his state's roads by 2025, along with 250,000 charging stations. Eight other states are following California's lead. One California lawmaker has even introduced legislation to ban all internal combustion vehicles by 2040.

All of this might make sense if electric vehicles, as their supporters claim, were truly likely to reduce air pollution and tackle climate change. But are they?

Good government policy does not seek to pick winners via subsidy--that's too hard a task--it picks losers, by taxing externalities, which forces the innovations that avoid what we don't want.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Why the New Times Report on the Gulf Meeting Is Freaking Trump Out (Jonathan Chait, 5/21/18, New York)

The figures in the story have emerged in recent months and inhabit an unmapped but potentially vast new territory in the investigation. Prince, George Nader -- a lobbyist for various Middle Eastern interests -- and the Gulf States have had some role in the financial and political nexus between Trump and Russia. The figures convened in a suspicious meeting in the Seychelles before the inauguration, which Mueller is investigating as an attempt to set up a back channel to Russia.

Just why would this back channel be needed? After all, Trump was about to become president. He presumably did not need to conduct secret negotiations when he was poised to assume control of an entire governmental apparatus to communicate for him. A possible explanation is that the meetings were designed to facilitate a corrupt deal that needed to evade detection by American law enforcement -- either payoffs to the Trump Organization, some return to Russia for its help in the campaign, or both. The Gulf States (as the Times reports) developed a strong preference for Trump to win the election and seem to have played a role. [...]

Trump's furious lashing out, including his reckless escalation of a crisis with the Department of Justice this weekend, provides interesting clues. Trump has no poker face, no chill. The closer the investigators get to incriminating evidence, the more intensely he rages. He resembles a suspect at a crime scene screaming at the police not to go into the attic. And now that attic is looking awfully interesting.

One of those hilarious manifestations of TDS is how the bots think he's finally going after the investigators because he's winning.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


100 million Americans have chronic pain. Very few use one of the best tools to treat it. (Brian Resnick, 5/17/18,

Like many patients with chronic pain, Golson never got a concrete diagnosis. For a decade, the 38-year-old Californian went from doctor to doctor, trying all the standard treatments: opioids, hand splints, cortisone injections, epidural injections, exercises, even elective surgery.

Golson's pain was not caused by anything physically wrong with him. But it wasn't imagined. It was real.

After weaning himself off the opioid Vicodin and feeling like he had exhausted every medical option, Golson turned to a book that described how pain could be purely psychological in origin. That ultimately took a pain psychologist, a therapist who specializes in pain -- not a physician -- to treat the true source: his fearful thoughts. Realizing that psychological therapy could help "was one of the most profoundly surprising experiences of my life," Golson says. No doctor he ever saw "even hinted my pain might be psychogenic," meaning pain that's psychological in origin.

Golson was lucky; few chronic pain patients ever get the chance to understand the psychological dimensions of their pain or try psychological therapies.

There are 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, and an unknown number of them are like Golson, with back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia symptoms, or other forms of pain that have no diagnosed physical cause.

To have chronic pain is to be a man.  To complain about and medicate it is not.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Supreme Court Decision Delivers Blow To Workers' Rights (Nina Totenberg, 5/21/18, All Things Considered)

In a case involving the rights of tens of millions of private-sector employees, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, delivered a major blow to workers, ruling for the first time that workers may not band together to challenge violations of federal labor laws. [...]

"The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written," Gorsuch writes. "While Congress is of course always free to amend this judgment, we see nothing suggesting it did so in the NLRA -- much less that it manifested a clear intention to displace the Arbitration Act. Because we can easily read Congress's statutes to work in harmony, that is where our duty lies."

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM




A: Definitely not.

Long-standing protocol dictates that the FBI and Justice Department operate free of political influence or meddling from the White House. That's one reason that the FBI director serves a 10-year term and does not turn over the reins as presidential administrations come and go. It also means that presidents are not supposed to supervise, initiate or stop law enforcement investigations.

White House officials and Justice Department lawyers aren't even meant to talk with each other about ongoing criminal investigations or civil enforcement actions, though there is leeway granted for matters of national security, including terrorism.

A 2007 Justice Department memorandum says that though it's important for the Justice Department and White House to communicate freely on many matters, the department will advise the White House of criminal or civil-enforcement matters "only where it is important for the performance of the president's duties and where appropriate from a law enforcement perspective."

"This limitation recognizes the president's ability to perform his constitutional obligation to 'take care that the laws be faithfully executed' while ensuring that there is public confidence that the laws of the United States are administered and enforced in an impartial manner," the memo states.

Trump said during the campaign that he would have his attorney general appoint a special prosecutor to look into Clinton, though such an appointment ultimately rests with the attorney general. On Tuesday, he said he was not inclined to continue with an investigation of Clinton "for whatever power I have on the matter."

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general, has expressed an appreciation for the independent nature of the job. He asked Loretta Lynch during her confirmation hearing as attorney general last year if she was "able and willing to tell the president of the United States no if he asks permission or a legal opinion that supports an action you believe is wrong?" Lynch said she was.


A: Justice Department officials have long considered it imperative that their investigations not be politicized or tainted by suspicions of interference by the White House or other elected leaders.

Any hint of political meddling could undermine public faith in the legitimacy of an investigation. It could raise the prospect that a person is being investigated, or is being spared from investigation, on the whims of political considerations rather than evidence of guilt or innocence.

Past episodes that have blurred the line between politics and the administration of justice have been fairly disastrous for the government.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


China Has Decided Russia Is Too Risky an Investment (MAXIMILIAN HESS, MAY 16, 2018, Foreign Policy)
On May 4, the planned investment by the Chinese company CEFC China Energy into Russian state oil giant Rosneft fell apart, eight months after it was first announced. The tie-up's failure reveals the strict limits on the potential for energy cooperation between China -- which is in the process of taking ownership of CEFC -- and Russia, and with it a broader political alliance between the two countries.

Beijing has come to view Rosneft more as a tool of the Russian state than a traditional oil company, and to the extent the two countries don't share political priorities, China has little interest in any significant economic relationship. Although China is actively searching for new political and economic partners around the world, it seems to have decided the Russian government is too risky a political investment.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


Amid ethics scrutiny, EPA's Pruitt also finds his regulatory rollbacks hitting bumps (Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, May 20, 2018, Washington Post)

In March, as part of Scott Pruitt's aggressive campaign to roll back federal regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed relaxing standards for storing potentially toxic waste produced by coal-burning power plants.

EPA officials cited a study indicating that forcing utilities to get rid of unlined coal ash ponds too quickly could strain the electrical grid in several regions of the country.

But when environmental advocates scrutinized the specifics, they discovered a problem: The evidence cited was not established scientific research. Instead, the agency was relying on a four-page document by the utility industry's trade association, the Edison Electric Institute, which has acknowledged that its conclusions were not "part of or a summary of a larger study."

Lisa Evans, a lawyer for the group Earthjustice, was among the advocates who seized on that omission, as well as on gaps in technical data and other evidence, to argue that the agency's action was ill-advised and legally flimsy.

"The record does not support the proposal," Evans said, noting that the Obama administration's 2015 requirement on coal ash drew on years of public input and peer-reviewed scientific studies. "I've never seen a rule like this, in terms of the thinness of the evidence."

The coal ash proposal is among the more than half-dozen major EPA moves that have been snagged by procedural and legal problems. The delays threaten to tarnish Pruitt's image as an effective warrior in President Trump's battle against federal regulations, a reputation that has so far saved the EPA administrator his job amid an array of investigations into ethical and management lapses.

All of the corruption, none of the change!  The Right made a deal with the devil and they still can't play the guitar worth a lick.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


Michael Flynn pleaded guilty. Now his supporters are trying to exonerate him. (Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey May 20, 2018, Washington Post)

[T]he largely social-media-based effort has, at times, put Flynn's advocates, and occasionally Flynn, at odds with his own legal team, which believes that any public attention to Flynn's case is not helpful as he awaits sentencing and has counseled that he and his family to remain quiet. [...]

Flynn was one of the first Trump associates to plead guilty in Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and he began cooperating with the ongoing investigation. He was initially fired from his top White House post in February 2017, after misleading Vice President Pence about his contacts with Kislyak. [...]

While Flynn's supporters have focused on his guilty plea regarding lying to the FBI, the special counsel's office made clear in a court filing at the time that he was also being investigated for other possible crimes before the deal was struck, including improperly lobbying for Turkey. [...]

But at one point late last year, when it looked as though Flynn might accuse Trump or people close to the president of possible wrongdoing, the president's own legal team readied an attack on his credibility. And many White House aides have privately expressed little sympathy for him, saying choosing Flynn for the top national security post was a mistake from the very beginning. The president, at times, has also called the general "very controversial," according to a senior administration official.

...for firing him for lying about colluding?

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Quantum Physics May Be Even Spookier Than You Think (Philip Ball, May 21, 2018, Scientific American)

The classic example of a superposition involves firing photons at two parallel slits in a barrier. One fundamental aspect of quantum mechanics is that tiny particles can behave like waves, so that those passing through one slit "interfere" with those going through the other, their wavy ripples either boosting or canceling one another to create a characteristic pattern on a detector screen. The odd thing, though, is this interference occurs even if only one particle is fired at a time. The particle seems somehow to pass through both slits at once, interfering with itself. That's a superposition.

And it gets weirder: Measuring which slit such a particle goes through will invariably indicate it only goes through one--but then the wavelike interference (the "quantumness," if you will) vanishes. The very act of measurement seems to "collapse" the superposition. "We know something fishy is going on in a superposition," says physicist Avshalom Elitzur of the Israeli Institute for Advanced Research. "But you're not allowed to measure it. This is what makes quantum mechanics so diabolical."

Correction: "divine"
Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


Trump Grappling With Risks of Proceeding With North Korea Meeting (David E. Sanger, May 20, 2018, NY Times)

President Trump, increasingly concerned that his summit meeting in Singapore next month with North Korea's leader could turn into a political embarrassment, has begun pressing his aides and allies about whether he should take the risk of proceeding with a historic meeting that he had leapt into accepting, according to administration and foreign officials.

Mr. Trump was both surprised and angered by a statement issued on Wednesday by the North's chief nuclear negotiator, who declared that the country would never trade away its nuclear weapons capability in exchange for economic aid, administration officials said. The statement, while a highly familiar tactic by the North, represented a jarring shift in tone after weeks of conciliatory gestures.

On Thursday and Friday, Mr. Trump peppered aides with questions about the wisdom of proceeding, and on Saturday night he called President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to ask why the North's public statement seemed to contradict the private assurances that Mr. Moon had conveyed after he met Kim Jong-un, the 35-year-old dictator of the North, at the Demilitarized Zone in late April.

You've got an anti-American leader of South Korea and a North Korean dictator who wants only to be treated like a peer and has no intention of giving up nukes, and Donald is surprised?  

To be fair, much of the analysis of these events was just as moronic as his.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


The China bargain emerges (Jonathan Swan, 5/20/18, Axios)

What Mnuchin said:

He told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace: "We're putting the trade war on hold... we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we try to execute the framework."

No wonder Donald hates Asians; they keep bullying him.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


A Border Patrol agent detained two U.S. citizens at a gas station after hearing them speak Spanish (Amy B Wang May 20, 2018, Washington Post)

The incident occurred early Wednesday morning at a convenience store in Havre, Mont., a town in the northern part of the state, near the border with Canada.

Ana Suda said she and her friend, Mimi Hernandez, were making a midnight run to the store to pick up eggs and milk. Both are Mexican American and speak fluent Spanish, and they had exchanged some words in Spanish while waiting in line to pay when a uniformed Border Patrol agent interrupted them, Suda said.

"We were just talking, and then I was going to pay," Suda told The Washington Post. "I looked up [and saw the agent], and then after that, he just requested my ID. I looked at him like, 'Are you serious?' He's like, 'Yeah, very serious.' "

Suda said she felt uncomfortable and began recording the encounter with her cellphone after they had moved into the parking lot. In the video Suda recorded, she asks the agent why he is detaining them, and he says it is specifically because he heard them speaking Spanish.

May 20, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


President Trump is his own wiretap (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, MAY 20, 2018, LA Times)
Watergate happened in audio. Bless his patriotic soul, President Nixon generously bugged his own offices and tapped his own phones. It was Nixon's own unmistakable voice, conspiring on dirty tricks and putative obstruction of justice, that checkmated him.

President Trump is also his own wiretap, and he may yet checkmate himself. But he uses another medium, another form of speech and another genre to wreck himself. Trump's chronic self-incrimination -- most of it, anyway -- is not audio; it exists in tweets and on TV.

From his televised request for more Kremlin hacks -- "Russia, if you're listening" -- to his NBC confession that he fired the FBI director to snuff out the Russia investigation, Trump makes sure to get just about every micron of his venality on the record.

And nowhere does he do it more flagrantly than on Twitter. One example: The syntax and content of "No Collusion or Obstruction (other than I fight back)," from last month, was read by the journalist Jonathan Chait and others as a tacit confession that Trump was saying that he did, under the rubric of fighting back, obstruct justice.

But there are also tweets that constitute a kind of trespass in themselves.

Trump says he will call for Justice Department to probe whether FBI surveilled his campaign for 'political purposes' (Matt Zapotosky, Robert Costa and David Nakamura May 20, 2018, LA Times)

Trump had spent much of Sunday railing against the year-old special counsel probe into his campaign, when just after 1:30 p.m., he wrote, "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes -- and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!"

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Roger Stone Says He's 'Prepared' to Be Indicted by Mueller (Chas Danner, 5/20/18, New York)

In March, the Washington Post reported that Stone had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange had hacked emails from DNC members including Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta. Stone had publicly predicted that Podesta would face scrutiny before anyone else knew about the emails. He has repeatedly denied that he coordinated with Assange or the Russian hackers.

Mueller's investigators recently subpoenaed two of Stone's associates. Jason Sullivan, a consultant who worked for Stone's pro-Trump PAC and was his social media adviser for four months before the 2016 election, received subpoenas last week for his documents and testimony before a grand jury. John Kakanis, who worked as an accountant, driver, and operative for Stone, has also been served with a subpoena, and has already been questioned by the FBI as part of the Russia investigation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Trump, South Korean leader commiserate over upcoming summit (David Nakamura and Carol D. Leonnig May 20, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump spoke late Saturday to South Korean President Moon Jae-in amid increasing concerns in the White House that North Korea is not serious about striking a deal on denuclearization, which has complicated planning for the upcoming Singapore summit.

Donald already gave Kim everything he was looking for in exchange for a humiliation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


The Return of Islam (BERNARD LEWIS, JAN. 1, 1976, Commentary)

Modern Western man, being unable for the most part to assign a dominant and central place to religion in his own affairs, found himself unable to conceive that any other peoples in any other place could have done so, and was therefore impelled to devise other explanations of what seemed to him only superficially religious phenomena. We find, for example, a great deal of attention given by Western scholarship to the investigation of such meaningless questions as "Was Muhammad Sincere?" or "Was Muhammad an Enthusiast or a Deceiver?" We find lengthy explanations by historians of the "real" underlying significance of the great religious conflicts within Islam between different sects and schools in the past, and a similar determination to penetrate to the "real" meaning of sectarian and communal struggles at the present time. To the modern Western mind, it is not conceivable that men would fight and die in such numbers over mere differences of religion; there have to be some other "genuine" reasons underneath the religious veil. We are prepared to allow religiously defined conflicts to accredited eccentrics like the Northern Irish, but to admit that an entire civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too much. Even to suggest such a thing is regarded as offensive by liberal opinion, always ready to take protective umbrage on behalf of those whom it regards as its wards. This is reflected in the present inability, political, journalistic, and scholarly alike, to recognize the importance of the factor of religion in the current affairs of the Muslim world and in the consequent recourse to the language of left-wing and right-wing, progressive and conservative, and the rest of the Western terminology, the use of which in explaining Muslim political phenomena is about as accurate and as enlightening as an account of a cricket match by a baseball correspondent.

If, then, we are to understand anything at all about what is happening in the Muslim world at the present time and what has happened in the past, there are two essential points which need to be grasped. One is the universality of religion as a factor in the lives of the Muslim peoples, and the other is its centrality.

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things which are God's." That is, of course, Christian doctrine and practice. It is totally alien to Islam. The three major Middle Eastern religions are significantly different in their relations with the state and their attitudes to political power. Judaism was associated with the state and was then disentangled from it; its new encounter with the state at the present time raises problems which are still unresolved. Christianity, during the first formative centuries of its existence, was separate from and indeed antagonistic to the state with which it only later became involved. Islam from the lifetime of its founder was the state, and the identity of religion and government is indelibly stamped on the memories and awareness of the faithful from their own sacred writings, history, and experience. The founder of Christianity died on the cross, and his followers endured as a persecuted minority for centuries, forming their own society, their own hierarchy, their own laws in an institution known as the Church--until, with the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine, there began the parallel processes of the Christianization of Rome and the Romanization of Christ.

In Islam, the process were quite different. Muhammad did not die on the cross. As well as a Prophet, he was a soldier and a statesman, the head of a state and the founder of an empire, and his followers were sustained by a belief in the manifestation of divine approval through success and victory. Islam was associated with power from the very beginning, from the first formative years of the Prophet and his immediate successors. This association between religion and power, community and polity, can already be seen in the Qur'an itself and in the other early religious texts on which Muslims base their beliefs. One consequence is that in Islam religion is not, as it is in Christendom, one sector or segment of life, regulating some matters while others are excluded; it is concerned with the whole of life--not a limited but a total jurisdiction. In such a society the very idea of the separation of church and state is meaningless, since there are no two entities to be separated. Church and state, religious and political authority, are one and the same. In classical Arabic and in the other classical languages of Islam there are no pairs of terms corresponding to lay and ecclesiastical, spiritual and temporal, secular and religious, because these pairs of words express a Christian dichotomy which has no equivalent in the world of Islam.2 It is only in modern times, under Christian influence, that these concepts have begun to appear and that words have been coined to express them. Their meaning is still very imperfectly understood and their relevance to Muslim institutions dubious.

For the Muslim, religion traditionally was not only universal but also central in the sense that it constituted the essential basis and focus of identity and loyalty. It was religion which distinguished those who belonged to the group and marked them off from those outside the group. A Muslim Iraqi would feel far closer bonds with a non-Iraqi Muslim than with a non-Muslim Iraqi. Muslims of different countries, speaking different languages, share the same memories of a common and sacred past, the same awareness of corporate identity, the same sense of a common predicament and destiny. It is not nation or country which, as in the West, forms the historic basis of identity, but the religio-political community, and the imported Western idea of ethnic and territorial nationhood remains, like secularism, alien and incompletely assimilated. The point was made with remarkable force and clarity by a Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire who, in reply to the exponents of the new-style patriotism, replied: "The Fatherland of a Muslim is the place where the Holy Law of Islam prevails." And that was in 1917.

In the 18th century, when, under the impact of Austrian and Russian victories against Turkey and British successes in India, Muslims began to be aware that they were no longer the dominant group in the world but were, on the contrary, threatened in their heartlands by a Europe that was expanding at both ends, the only really vital responses were religious reform movements, such as the Wahhabis in Arabia and the reformed Naqshbandi order which spread from India to other Muslim countries. In the early 19th century, when the three major European empires ruling over Muslims, those of Britain, France, and Russia, were advancing in India, North Africa, and Central Asia, the most significant movements of resistance were again religious--the Indian Wahhabis led by Sayyid Ahmad Brelwi from 1826 to 1831, the struggle of Abd al-Qadir in North Africa from 1832 to 1847, the dogged resistance of Shamil to the Russians in Dagistan and the Northern Caucasus from 1830 to 1859. All of them were crushed, but made a considerable impact at the time.

Then, for a while, Muslims were sufficiently overawed by the power, wealth, and success of Europe to desire to emulate European ways. But from the middle of the 19th century onward came a further wave of European imperial expansion--the suppression of the Indian mutiny followed by the disappearance of the last remnants of the Mogul monarchy in India and the consolidation of the British Empire in that formerly Muslim realm, the rapid advance of the Russians in Central Asia, the expansion of the French into Tunisia and of the British into Egypt, and the growing threat to the Ottoman Empire itself, all of which brought a response in the form of a series of pan-Islamic movements.

The unification of Germany and Italy was a source of inspiration in Muslim lands, particularly in Turkey where many Turkish leaders thought that their country could play a role similar to that of Prussia or Savoy in the unification of Germany and of Italy by serving as the nucleus for the unification of a much larger entity. But what would that larger entity be? Not a pan--Turkish entity. Such ideas were still far away in the future and were not even discussed at that time. The basic political identity and aspiration were Islamic, and pan-Islamism was the first and natural response to pan-Germanism and pan-Slavism. It was not until much later that pan-Turkism and pan-Arabism appeared on the political horizon and, even then, there is some doubt as to what they really signified.

The end of World War I, the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the strains and stresses that followed and the opportunities which seemed to be offered by the collapse of Czarism in revolution and civil war also gave rise to a series of religiously inspired movements--Enver Pasha in a last throw formed the ambitiously titled Army of Islam, the objective of which was to liberate the Muslim subject peoples of the fallen Russian Empire. Some of these movements were linked with the Communists or taken over by the Communists at a time when the fundamentally anti-Islamic nature of Communism was not yet understood. Almost all were expressed in religious rather than in national or even social terms. Most significant among these movements was that which has since come to be known as the Turkish Nationalist Movement. Yet the revolt of the Kemalists in Anatolia was in its first inspiration as much Islamic as Turkish. Islamic men of religion formed an impressive proportion of its early leaders and followers. The language used at the time, the rhetoric of the Kemalists in this early stage, speaks of Ottoman Muslims rather than of Turks, and the movement commanded a great deal of support in the Islamic world. It was not until after their victory and after the establishment of the republic that, as a result of many factors, they began to lay the main stress on nationalist and secular aims.

During the 20th century, at least in the earlier decades, such movements of resistance were more commonly expressed in the fashionable form of political parties and in the fashionable language of political, more or less secular, nationalism. But neither the party organization nor the nationalist ideology really corresponded to the deeper instincts of the Muslim masses, which found an outlet in programs and organizations of a different kind--led by religious leaders and formulated in religious language and aspiration.

....because the core error of neoconservatism is that Muslim society--unlike our own--must be shorn of its religion. Thus the Christianity of American political parties and their leaders and the Judaism of Israel's are perfectly acceptable, but the notion of Muslim voting for religious parties and leaders disorders the minds of the neocons and the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


A Response to Corey Robin: Conservatism Isn't about Preserving Privilege (CHRISTIAN ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ, May 19, 2018, National Review)

Well researched and brilliantly argued though it was, Robin's thesis on conservatism presupposes a far-left conception of history that few people would feel comfortable endorsing. This is The Reactionary Mind's great shortcoming. To accept Robin's interpretation of conservatism requires one to accept his interpretation of history, which, as we will see, is morally questionable and inattentive to counter-evidence.

So what, exactly, does the Robin conception of history entail? Robin explains that ever since the Enlightenment, the Left has inaugurated great movements of "emancipatory politics." Leftist movements have struggled on behalf of the oppressed and the downtrodden against entrenched power structures and their rightist apologists. Modern history for Robin, then, is the tale of an unceasing leftist struggle to defeat the Right; presumably, once that defeat is accomplished, human societies can finally set themselves to the task of turning capitalist depravity into socialist utopia.

In theory, Robin's view of history might not sound so bad. In practice it is appalling: In his book we learn that his examples of leftist "movements for emancipation" include the French Revolution, "the nineteenth century's movements against slavery and on behalf of workers," the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the leftist activism of the 1930s.

Except for the case of abolition, which wasn't a cause of the Left but of the religious Right (more on this in a moment), those are some rather peculiar examples of liberationist movements. Indeed, who today but the most recalcitrant Marxist can take seriously the description of the French and Bolshevik revolutions as emancipatory movements? It is true that Russia and France saw ghoulish monarchs overthrown by popular uprisings; it is also true that both countries descended into dictatorships far more barbaric than the ones they replaced. To call the French and Russian revolutions emancipatory is to ignore Jacobin terror and Leninist tyranny.

And what is one to make of the suggestion that the Left was fighting for "emancipation" in the 1930s? One wonders which Left Robin is referencing. The 1930s were the peak of both Stalinist crimes and of all the leftist apologetics for them. As the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm chronicles in The Age of Extremes, leftist conduct in the 1930s and early '40s could hardly have been more unprincipled. Against the fascist threat, European and American Communists switched from supporting capitalist countries (the U.S. and the U.K.) to supporting Nazi Germany when it allied itself with Stalin's Russia in their joint mission to obliterate Poland. Then the Western Communists switched again, this time to oppose Germany . . . but only when and because it had invaded the Soviet Union!

Some politics of emancipation.

It is important to bear in mind not just that Robin's implicit approval of far-Left movements and governments is morally questionable but that it is indispensable to the arguments of The Reactionary Mind. His theory of conservatism is grounded in an interpretation of violent, revolutionary irruptions as "emancipatory" and of counterrevolutionary thought and practice as "oppressive." Remove that interpretation of history and his thesis collapses. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is that conservatives did not turn on such revolutions once they achieved power and demonstrated their mass murderous intent, it opposed the very idea of them because it understood what would happen. Robin's argument is even more peculiar as the end of two centuries of The Long War saw the revolutions favored by his side abandoned and the societies they damaged rather peacefully evolve towards the End of History model that the Anglosphere had achieved by 1776.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


China Rejects U.S. Target for Narrowing Trade Gap (Bob Davis in Washington and  Lingling Wei in Beijing,  May 19, 2018, WSJ)

A last-ditch effort by the Trump administration failed to get China to accept its demand for a $200 billion cut in the U.S. bilateral trade deficit, as Chinese officials resisted committing to any specific targets after two days of contentious negotiations.

The two days of deliberations in Washington ended with both sides arguing all night on Friday over what to say in a joint statement, people briefed on the matter said. The Chinese had come willing to step up purchases of U.S. merchandise as a measure to narrow China's $375 billion trade advantage. But U.S. negotiators pushed the Chinese delegates to approve a specific target of $200 billion in additional Chinese purchases. The Chinese refused any such target in specific dollar amounts...

Now Even Japan Is Pushing Back Against Trump's Tariffs (Motoko Rich, May 18, 2018, NY Times)

After months of taking hits from the United States over North Korea policy and trade, Japan has decided that it will only be pushed so far, and is threatening to punch back.

On Friday, Japan notified the World Trade Organization that it was reserving the right to impose retaliatory tariffs against the United States in response to tariffs on steel and aluminum imports proposed by President Trump.

Darn, hating Asians turns out not to be a viable economic plan...and we thought the Right was on to something....

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Death of a Biohacker: Aaron Traywick envisioned a future in which self-taught scientists would cure diseases and bend the human body to their will. (Jonah Engel Bromwich, May 19, 2018, NY Times)

People who knew Aaron Traywick, the biohacker who died last month at a spa in Washington, D.C., were initially suspicious about the circumstances of his death.

David Ishee, a researcher for Mr. Traywick's company, Ascendance Biomedical, said his first thought upon hearing that Mr. Traywick's body had been discovered in a sensory deprivation tank was that he had faked it and run off with his clients' money.

Tristan Roberts, another biohacker who worked with Ascendance, thought the same thing. Maybe the body was just "a very convincing clone," he joked.

Kelly Martin, who helped found Ascendance Biomedical, had a different theory, one that hinted at a conspiracy. "There's speculation, if you watch Aaron's last video, that he was going to provide disruptive technology that would upend Big Pharma," she said. "He said that we were close to coming up with something that was pretty revolutionary."

The police do not suspect foul play and the cause of the death is unknown. Edwina Rogers, Mr. Traywick's adoptive cousin, said a police detective told her that he found the drug ketamine in his pants pocket. She thought it likely that he had taken the drug, lost consciousness in the tank and drowned. [...]

Biohackers in general aim to augment their bodies in the hopes of gaining enhanced abilities. Those who work with the kinds of compounds that Mr. Traywick did often experiment on themselves so as not to break any of the laws that regulate health care.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


John Kelly's Ancestors Wouldn't Have Fit In Either (Viet Thanh Nguyen, 5/19/18, NY Times)

His inability to see or feel the world as they do is shared by many Americans.

That includes some of my fellow Vietnamese-Americans, who, though they came to this country as refugees fleeing war, are saying that the United States should not take in any more refugees, especially those from places like Syria. Some, like the Vietnamese-American mayor of Westminster, Calif., home to the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam, even say the United States should not accept any undocumented immigrants, since they include "criminals."

We were the good refugees, the reasoning goes. These new ones are the bad refugees.

Having grown up in the Vietnamese refugee community in San Jose, Calif., in the 1970s and 1980s, I can testify that there were plenty of bad refugees among us. Welfare cheating. Insurance scams. Cash under the table. Gang violence, with home invasions being a Vietnamese specialty.

All that has been forgotten. Vietnamese-Americans are now part of the "model minority" who believe they earned their success, relying on little or no government assistance. They are not so different from Mr. Kelly, the descendant of Irish and Italian immigrants who included unskilled laborers speaking little English. Convenient amnesia about one's origins is an all-American trait, since we believe ourselves to be the country in which everyone gets a new beginning.

What some of us also forget is that at nearly every stage of our country's history, the people who were already established as American citizens found convenient targets to designate as unable to assimilate: the indigenous peoples; conquered Mexicans; slaves; or the newest immigrants, who were usually classified as nonwhite.

In 1751, even before the country was founded, Benjamin Franklin wrote that "perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my country, for such kind of partiality is natural to mankind." He favored "the English" and "white people," and did not want Pennsylvania to become a "colony of aliens," who "will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion." He was speaking of the Germans.

German-Americans are now "white," which is partly a color, partly a state of mind and partly a matter of perception. The eventual whiteness of German-Americans saved them from being thrown en masse into internment camps during World War II, unlike Japanese-Americans. With historical lessons like that, it's no surprise that some Vietnamese-Americans desire to put their refugee past behind them, including the memory of how only 36 percent of Americans wanted to accept Vietnamese refugees in 1975.

The Right, like the Left, hates the America that actually exists.
Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Houston Police Chief Says He Has 'Hit Rock Bottom' on Gun Rights Arguments (Jacey Fortin and Matt Stevens, May 19, 2018, NY Times)

"I know some have strong feelings about gun rights but I want you to know I've hit rock bottom and I am not interested in your views as it pertains to this issue," he wrote. "Please do not post anything about guns aren't the problem and there's little we can do. My feelings won't be hurt if you de-friend me and I hope yours won't be if you decide to post about your views and I de-friend you." [...]

In his Facebook post, which had elicited more than 16,000 reactions as of late Saturday, Chief Acevedo said the days after the shooting were a time for "the asking of God's forgiveness for our inaction." He specifically called out "the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing."

"I will continue to speak up and will stand up for what my heart and my God commands me to do, and I assure you he hasn't instructed me to believe that gun rights are bestowed by him," he wrote. "The hatred being spewed in our country and the new norms we, so-called people of faith, are accepting, is as much to blame for so much of the violence in our once pragmatic Nation."

Chief Acevedo, who took office in 2016, leads a department of more than 5,000 officers in the fourth-largest city in the United States. Under his direction, officers have rarely asked  detainees about their immigration status, despite a Texas immigration law that bans so-called sanctuary cities.

"Policing is all about relationships, and my job is, if these people are going to live in our city, is build those relationships," he said last year at The New York Times's Cities for Tomorrow conference. "We're taking the lead in the cities to try to make the best of really bad politics, really bad policy."

We're probably still a generation away from reasonable gun restrictions.

Young People Keep Marching After Parkland, This Time to Register to Vote (Michael Tackett and Rachel Shorey, May 20, 2018, NY Times)

The pace of new voter registrations among young people in crucial states is accelerating, a signal that school shootings this year -- and the anger and political organizing in their wake -- may prove to be more than ephemeral displays of activism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


U.S. sanctions on Iran threaten vital Afghanistan trade project (Jonathan Landay, Rupam Jain, 5/20/18, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord and re-impose sanctions on Tehran threatens to derail a project to help build Afghanistan's economy, endangering a key goal of the U.S. strategy to end America's longest war.

The Indian-backed Chabahar port complex in Iran is being developed as part of a new transportation corridor for land-locked Afghanistan that could potentially open the way for millions of dollars in trade and cut its dependence on Pakistan, its sometimes-hostile neighbor.

Building Afghanistan's economy would also slash Kabul's dependence on foreign aid and put a major dent in the illicit opium trade, the Taliban's main revenue source.

Yeah, but the Afghans are Muslim, so Donald opposes helping them.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Rays to start reliever Sergio Romo vs. Angels for 2nd straight game (ESPN News, 5/20/18)

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash's unconventional decision to use a back-of-the-bullpen reliever to start the team's game worked so well on Saturday that he plans to do it again Sunday.

According to Cash, righty Sergio Romo, who started Saturday's win over the Los Angeles Angels, will start again Sunday.

May 19, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Wed, a New Era Dawns (ELLEN BARRY, MAY 19, 2018, NY Times)

A thousand-year-old English castle echoed with the exhortations of an African-American bishop and a gospel choir on Saturday, as Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle, an American actress, nudging the British royal family into a new era.

Ms. Markle, who has long identified herself as a feminist, entered St. George's Chapel alone rather than being given away by her father or any other man, a departure from tradition that in itself sent a message to the world. She was met halfway by Prince Charles, her future father-in-law and presumably the future king of Britain.

Prince Harry, who is sixth in line for the throne, has long called on Britain's monarchy to draw closer to the daily life of its people. But the most extraordinary thing he has done is to marry Ms. Markle, an American actress who is three years his senior, biracial, divorced and vocal about her views. Their choices at the wedding, many of them heavily influenced by black culture, made clear they plan to project a more inclusive monarchy.

In a time of tribalism and separation, it was a clear move toward an integrated modern future from the oldest of houses. Seated directly opposite Queen Elizabeth II was Ms. Markle's mother, Doria Ragland, the descendant of slaves on plantations in the American South. [...]

A gospel choir sang the Ben E. King song "Stand By Me," and the couple exited to the rousing civil rights anthem "This Little Light of Mine."

In short, it was not your average royal wedding. Among the throngs who filled the streets of Windsor on Saturday were black women who had flown in from Houston and Atlanta, moved, sometimes to tears, to see a woman of color so publicly adored.

"One of the children of slaves is marrying a royal whose forerunners sanctioned slavery; the lion is lying down with the lamb," said Denise Crawford, a court stenographer from Brooklyn.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


The irredeemable irresponsibility of The Federalist (Damon Linker, May 18, 2018, The Week)

Some day, when the Trump administration is over and the true extent of its corruption has become part of the public record, the right-wing website The Federalist and its leading promoters and writers (especially Sean Davis and Mollie Hemingway) will receive proper recognition for the significant and distinctive contribution they made to polluting the waters of American public life.

Along with Sean Hannity's prime time show on Fox News, the House Intelligence Committee under Devin Nunes, and the president's own lie-filled Twitter feed, The Federalist is a leading disseminator of pro-Trump conspiracies and up-is-down, funhouse-mirror distortions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and potential Trump involvement. [...]

The latest example of this inverted political reality occurred this week, in The Federalist's coverage of the long article published Wednesday in The New York Times about how the FBI concealed its early investigation of four affiliates of the Trump campaign (Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and George Papadopoulos) while being far more publicly transparent about its investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server practices during her time as secretary of state.

To most people reading this story, its point was plain: The FBI behaved in a way that was deeply unfair to the Clinton camp, which had to contend with a constant stream of stories about the email investigation, including it being briefly reopened (and then closed again) less than two weeks before Election Day. The Trump campaign, by contrast, not only faced no such bad press but even enjoyed a (now notorious, because false) front-page Times story in late October 2016 that actively denied it was under investigation at all.

It's hard to conclude anything other than that the FBI made things much harder for the Clinton campaign while simultaneously protecting the Trump campaign (out of a fear that the implications of the Trump-campaign investigation were so grave that publicizing them before the election could fatally damage it).

But for The Federalist, this isn't the takeaway from the Times story at all. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM



Lewis was a leading scholar on Oriental and Middle Eastern studies. His study of antisemitism, Semites and Anti-Semites was a cry against Soviet and Arab attempts to delegitimize Israel. In other works, he argued Arab rage against Israel was disproportionate to other tragedies or injustices in the Muslim world.

Though a champion for Israel, Lewis was an often controversial figure, on this subject and others. He was accused of being a "genocide denier" for his views on the Armenian genocide. His support of the Iraq War has also brought criticism.

...what went wrong.

Bernard Lewis, eminent historian of the Middle East, dies at 101 (Brian Murphy May 19, 2018, Washington Post)

Dr. Lewis had no qualms about hard-edge policies toward the Middle East, once famously advising "get tough or get out," in what some have dubbed the Lewis Doctrine. He repeatedly denied that he backed the invasion of Iraq, saying he advocated for greater aid to Western-allied Kurds in northern Iraq as a counterweight to the Baghdad regime.

"For some, I'm the towering genius," Dr. Lewis told the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012. "For others, I'm the devil incarnate."

But what stood out for many, especially in an age of borderless violence, was Dr. Lewis's premise of inevitable friction and competition between the Islamic and Western worlds -- particularly as Islamist militants and other groups exert more influence. He revived his earlier phrase "clash of civilizations" in an article, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," in 1990, two years before it was popularized by the late Harvard professor Samuel Huntington.

Dr. Lewis further argued that the Middle East's troubles were mostly self-inflicted and were not simply inherited ills from colonialism or outside meddling. He praised Islam as a great faith but fretted that it was being hijacked by intolerance and anger.

"He provided intellectual scaffolding for the belief that something was very wrong with Arab societies" and that U.S. support should remain squarely behind Israel, Jacob Heilbrunn, author of "They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons," told the Jewish American magazine Moment in 2011.

Beyond the polarizing arguments in which he was swept up, Dr. Lewis was a man of expansive intellectual appetites.

He immersed himself in topics as varied as Sufi mystic poetry and intricacies of Islamic law. Step by step, he crafted a style that combined a professor's gravitas, a pundit's wit and a patrician's confidence, despite his upbringing outside England's upper crust as the son of a modestly successful Jewish real estate agent and a housewife.

And, like his subjects and prose, Dr. Lewis defied easy definition.

He was, at times, an academic sleuth, poring over ancient Arabic volumes or poking through lonely archives in Turkey. He could quickly shift to become a commentator on present-day issues such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood ("dangerous"), aspects of Saudi Arabia's Salafist brand of Islam ("extreme and fanatical") and Iran's theocracy ("encourage resistance").

In his works -- including back-to-back bestsellers after the 9/11 attacks, "What Went Wrong?" (2002) and "The Crisis of Islam" (2003) -- Dr. Lewis increasingly courted a mass audience. He sought to explain Muslim views, but also scolded Western leaders for failing to grasp the reach of groups such as al-Qaeda.

"Osama bin Laden made me famous," he once quipped.

His tone grew more serious in subsequent years as he warned that the Middle East may increasingly breed radicalism and anti-Western fervor. "Either we bring them freedom or they destroy us," he wrote in a 2010 book, "Faith and Power."

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Richard Pipes, Historian of Russia and Reagan Aide, Dies at 94 (William Grimes, May 17, 2018, NY Times)

Professor Pipes, who spent his entire academic career at Harvard, took his place in the front rank of Russian historians with the publication of "Russia Under the Old Regime" in 1974. But he achieved much wider renown as a public intellectual deeply skeptical about the American policy of détente with the Soviet Union.

In 1976, he led a group of military and foreign-policy experts, known as Team B, in an ultimately pessimistic analysis of the Soviet Union's military strategy and foreign policy and the threats they posed to the United States.

The group's report, commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency as a counterweight to an analysis that had been generated by the C.I.A.'s own experts -- Team A -- helped galvanize conservative opposition to arms-control talks and accommodation with the Soviet Union. And it set the stage for Ronald Reagan's policy of challenging Soviet foreign policy and seeking to undermine its hold over Eastern Europe.

While writing ambitious histories of the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik regime, Professor Pipes continued his campaign for a tougher foreign policy toward the Soviet Union in the late 1970s as a member of the neoconservative Committee on the Present Danger and as director of Eastern European and Soviet affairs for President Reagan's National Security Council.

Despite this public role, he regarded himself, first and foremost, as a historian of Russian history, politics and culture -- a field in which he performed with great distinction. A forceful, stylish writer with a sweeping view of history, Professor Pipes covered nearly 600 years of the Russian past in "Russia Under the Old Regime," abandoning chronology and treating his subject by themes, such as the peasantry, the church, the machinery of state and the intelligentsia.

Stinkin' immigrants....

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Yes, Americans Should Care About the Royal Wedding (PHILIP TERZIAN, 5/18/18, weekly Standard)

[Y]es, we did fight a revolution to gain our independence from Britain; but our quarrel was with Parliament, not with the reigning monarch of the day. (Indeed, many Founders had hoped that King George III might be sympathetic to their grievances, and petitioned him to intervene with Parliament on their behalf.)
For that matter, if anyone doubts that Americans are susceptible to the lure of constitutional monarchy, they need only contemplate the status and trappings of the modern presidency. When Senator Mitch McConnell strides into a room, the Marine Band does not strike up "Hail to the Majority Leader." And so far as I am aware, no one outside the John Roberts household refers to the wife of the chief justice of the United States as "First Lady."

Something in and around Buckingham Palace fulfills a need still lurking in the American consciousness.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


'The Day that We Can't Protect Human Sources': The President and the House Intelligence Committee Burn an Informant (Quinta Jurecic, Benjamin Wittes  Saturday, May 19, 2018, Lawfare)

It wasn't that long ago that both the executive branch and the legislature in this country considered the protection of intelligence sources a matter of surpassing national importance.

During the 1970s, a renegade former CIA officer named Philip Agee went on a campaign of outing agency sources and covert operatives. Agee spent decades in exile, and an appalled Congress responded in 1982 by passing the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which criminalized the knowing and intentional outing of U.S. covert operatives and intelligence sources whom the government is taking active steps to protect.

More recently, a lot of people, including one of the current authors, objected strenuously to the activities of Edward Snowden. Snowden didn't disclose the names of human sources--just programmatic intelligence information. Yet he has been camped out in Moscow since the leak, unable to return to the United States for fear of the prosecution that would surely await him. Similarly, Julian Assange does not leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London for fear of arrest over his own activities. While both men have their supporters, we have never considered their jeopardy an injustice.

But what happens when the intentional outing of U.S. intelligence assets is the province not of rogue insiders, not of foreign hackers or foreign agents, not of people who end up spending the rest of their lives as fugitives, but of senior officials in two branches of this country's government who are most responsible for protecting those assets? To wit, what happens when the Chairman of the House intelligence committee and the President of the United States team up to out an FBI informant over the strenuous objection of the bureau and the Department of Justice--and manage to get the job done? And what happens when they do so for frankly political reasons: to protect the president from a properly predicated counterintelligence investigation involving the activity of an adversary foreign power?

These questions should be the stuff of conspiratorial Hollywood movies. They are, in fact, the stuff of this week's news.

...and Devin wants to get it to Vlad.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Protesters spite racist lawyer with live Mariachi band outside home (Alex Taylor and Natalie O'Neill May 18, 2018, NY Post)

A Mariachi band triumphantly played at a protest Friday outside the home of the Midtown lawyer caught on camera hurling racist insults at Spanish-speaking restaurant workers.

More than 100 people gathered in front of Aaron Schlossberg's abode on West 60th Street near 10th Avenue to wave signs, chant "Ole, Ole! Throw him out!" and feast on free tacos.

"We're basically clapping back at this fool," said Chris Thompson, 40, an electrical engineer from Manhattan, who believes the lawyer should be disbarred.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Immigrants to Get Lift From Business Loan Program in N.H. (Stephanie Morales, 5/18/18, The Associated Press)

Bhutan native Tika Acharya came to the U.S. nine years ago with his parents and his wife after spending 17 years in a Nepal refugee camp. The 40-year-old father graduated from college in India and has a degree in business, but he was turned down by banks when he approached them about starting a company of his own.

Acharya, who launched an independent insurance agency last year in Manchester, was the first participant to be helped by the Regional Economic Development Center, a New Hampshire nonprofit that helps first-generation immigrants achieve their American Dream of becoming business owners by providing them with microloans and technical assistance.

"In just one year, we've been able to gain close to 1,000 customers," Acharya said.

The nonprofit on Friday unveiled a statewide economic program called the New Hampshire New Americans Loan Fund, which provides small-business loans for $50,000 or less. It also brings in experts to act as advisers to the businesses during their first two to three years, helping with website design, marketing and accounting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Rage Against The Mom: Psychoanalyzing The Link Between Upbringing And Terrorism Share (Ron Synovitz, 5/19/18, Radio Liberty)

When 20-year-old Khamzat Azimov went on a deadly stabbing spree in Paris this month, a May 12 attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, details about his upbringing caught the attention of psychoanalyst and counterterrorism expert Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin. [...]

"The problem is that these terrorists are coming from shame-honor cultures, which are dysfunctional by definition," Kobrin explains.

"Their reservoir of rage arises from problems nested in early maternal attachment in shame-honor cultures -- the early mother-infant bonding attachment, the first relationship in life," Kobrin says. [...]

Infants in shame-honor cultures, she says, are also often treated like objects and learn to repress their feelings to the point that internal rage can boil within.

Making matters worse, Kobrin says, women in shame-honor cultures are also often devalued, objectified, or even physically abused.

"Women who are abused also become full of rage," Kobrin says, noting that subconscious reactions of young mothers to abuse seriously impact a child's early development.

The first four years of a child's life is a crucial time when most infants develop empathy for other human beings, she says, adding that the lack of empathy and concern for the pain that terrorists cause to others is "almost worse than the terrorist attacks themselves."

Donald Trump's Mommy Issues: He may not have bonded successfully with his mother and that made him the adult--and the politician--that he is. (PETER LOVENHEIM May 13, 2018, Politico)

[I] have spent years researching a major field of psychology known as attachment theory for a book. According to the science of attachment--developed in the second half of the 20th century by British psychotherapist John Bowlby--we're hardwired at birth to attach to a competent and reliable caregiver for protection because we are born helpless. The success or failure of this attachment affects all our relationships throughout life--in the workplace, on the athletic field, with loved ones--and yes, even in politics. Children who bond successfully with a primary caregiver--usually this is the mom but it could also be the dad, grandparent, nanny or other adult--grow up with what is termed a "secure" attachment. As adults, they tend to be confident, trusting of others, resilient in the face of setbacks, and able to enjoy long, stable relationships. Children who fail to achieve a successful attachment, on the other hand, may as adults have a lack of comfort with intimacy, difficulty trusting others, a constant need for reassurance from relationship partners, and a lack of resilience when faced with illness, injury or loss.

The biographical record is fairly strong on Trump's failure to develop a healthy emotional attachment to either of his parents. It may have contributed to his tumultuous personal life, but it also endowed him with some traits that made him well-suited to his late-career entry in politics.

Donald Trump is the fourth of five children of Fred and Mary Trump. Because his father was busy building a real estate business, and it was the mid-20th century when dads didn't typically do a lot of early child care, his mother cared for the children (with the help of a live-in maid) and was their primary "attachment figure." What factors may have affected the quality of young Donald's early care--his own temperament as an infant; the role, if any, of the family's maid in child care; the demands on his mother's time and energy of three older children and a subsequent pregnancy--we don't know. The president's own writings are largely silent about his early childhood; journalists and biographers fill in only some of the blanks.

But we do know that Mary Trump became seriously ill from complications during labor with her last child. An emergency hysterectomy and subsequent infections and surgeries followed--four in two weeks, one of her oldest daughters once said. As a result, at just two years and two months of age, Trump endured the trauma of the prolonged absence and life-threatening illness of his mother. It's not clear how long she was incapacitated. Indeed, we don't know that she ever really re-engaged with her son. According to a Politico Magazine story on Mary Trump, there's evidence that Mary and her son didn't interact much during his childhood (more on this later).

Infants who fail to receive that kind of care usually fall into one of two categories as adults. Either they have what's called attachment anxiety--leading them as adults to crave intimacy but have difficulty trusting others and constantly seeking reassurance--or they have attachment avoidance, where as adults they generally distrust others and convince themselves they don't need close relationships. The relationships they do have are often unstable. They also tend to be excessively self-reliant and desire a high level of independence. These last two traits--self-reliance and independence--are not necessarily disadvantageous, of course. They might be just the right recipe, for example, for an entrepreneur.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


How Muslim Migrants Are Reshaping Russia's Dying Countryside, One Village At A Time (Mansur Mirovalev, 5/19/18, Radio Liberty)
ROZHDESTVENO, Russia -- Nazim Soliev is confident that he's good for Russia.

Or more specifically, the 35-year-old native of Tajikistan, the most impoverished of Central Asia's five former Soviet republics, says his presence here, 200 kilometers northwest of Moscow, is good for his adopted homeland.

"'Better you than the Chinese,' that's what my ex-boss told me," the small-framed Soliev says between double shifts as a stoker at the village school, earning him around $250 a month, nearly twice the average Tajik wage.

The "you" is a reference to Soliev, who speaks fluent Russian and also routinely quotes ancient Persian thinker Omar Khayyam's poems in Farsi, a linguistic sibling of his mother tongue, and 46 other families whose resettlement from Tajikistan over the past decade almost doubled Rozhdestveno's aging population of about 200.

Half of the students in Soliev's school are their raven-haired children, and their wives, in long skirts and head scarves, shop for groceries at a store next to the Orthodox church.

The arrival to urban centers and the countryside of Soliev and millions of other mostly Muslim labor migrants from Central Asia is at the center of what could emerge as Russia's most radical ethnic makeover in centuries.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Trump Misspells Wife's Name in Tweet Welcoming Her Home From the Hospital (DANIEL POLITI, MAY 19, 2018, Slate)

...there must be plenty of porn stars named Melanie.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


Trump Jr. and Other Aides Met With Gulf Emissary Offering Help to Win Election (Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman and David D. Kirkpatrick, May 19, 2018, NY Times)

Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.

The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months -- past the election and well into President Trump's first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.

Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the crown princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Europe reassures Iran of commitment to nuclear deal without U.S. (Alissa de Carbonnel, 5/19/18, Reuters)

The European Commissioner for Energy and Climate, Miguel Arias Canete, delivered the message during a visit to Tehran and also said the 28-nation EU, once the biggest importer of Iranian oil, hoped to boost trade with Iran.

"We have sent a message to our Iranian friends that as long as they are sticking to the (nuclear) agreement the Europeans will... fulfill their commitment. And they said the same thing on the other side," Canete told a news conference.

"We will try to intensify our flows of trade that have been very positive for the Iranian economy."

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


Politics as (Un)usual (Mark Shields, May 19, 2018, Creators)

When Hart asked the [focus group of 12 voters in a Milwaukee suburb, conducted for Emory University] for a word or phrase to describe Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, who is gravely ill in his Arizona home, it was not surprising that the answers included positives -- "war hero," "patriot," "strong," "very ethical" and "smart" -- reflecting the more than 3 in 5 Americans, according to impartial surveys, who view McCain favorably.

But committed Donald Trump voters in the group were harsh indeed when it came to McCain. To Betsy Novak, 55, who works in a greenhouse, he is "petty," which was the word also used by Randy Cera, 52, a self-employed insurance agent. To 66-year-old machinist Stephen Romanowski, McCain is a "turncoat," while to shipping and receiving manager Curt Hetzel, 48, McCain is, at 81, "too old."

As Hart, who has conducted hundreds of similar focus groups to find out how voters feel personally about political figures and the issues facing the country, noted afterward, "partisan America is alive and well in Wisconsin." He added: "If anybody has a doubt about how solid the Trump core is, come listen to this group. They couldn't even find a nice word to say about John McCain." [...]

Sadly, even an authentic American hero who is almost certainly on his deathbed is not given the benefit of the doubt and instead is the target of political invective from fellow Republicans.

Populism runs on hate.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


The Prophet of Ordinary Unhappiness (David P. Goldman, Spring 2018, Claremont Review of Books)

Frederick Crews pioneered psychoanalytic literary criticism in the 1960s. By 1980 he had concluded that Sigmund Freud was a charlatan. Now professor emeritus at Berkeley, he has devoted much of his career to debunking Freud, taking shots along the way at the whole repertoire of postmodern literary fads. In Freud: The Making of an Illusion he has given us a summa contra psychoanalysis, digesting the enormous literature refuting Freud and adding some of his own discoveries and conjectures. So overwhelming is the evidence Crews assembles of Freud's professional charlatanry and personal turpitude that the reader finishes his book baffled that this prevaricating, mercenary, self-promoting lout ever managed to put one over on the whole educated world. [...]

Crews's lengthy book never lags. So depraved is Freud's villainy, so preposterous his assertions, so calamitous the human woe he left behind in his pursuit of status and money, that morbid curiosity commands the reader's attention until the end. It is an exemplary piece of polemical composition. No one who came of age in the West before the mid-1980s escaped Freud's baleful influence, and it is cathartic (pardon the word) to hear just how gullible we were.

Freud didn't heal his patients. He knew he didn't, but he didn't care:

Freud knew that his claims of healing power for psychoanalysis lacked any basis in fact. From time to time he even intimated, amid many claims to the contrary, that patients ought not to expect good results. Therapeutic success, he wrote in his "Little Hans" case history of 1909, "is not our primary aim. We endeavor rather to enable the patient to obtain a conscious grasp of his unconscious wishes." In a 1912 letter to a fellow analyst he observed, "The therapeutic point of certainly not the only one for which psychoanalysis claims interest, nor is it the most important." Freud's pupil Abram Kardiner recalled his declaring, "I have no great interest in therapeutic problems.... I am much too occupied with theoretical problems all the time." Finally in 1932, when he felt himself to be generally revered, he admitted to the world that he had "never been a therapeutic enthusiast."

"Some of Freud's later patients did aver, vaguely, that they had benefited from their analyses," Crews allows. "Already by 1910, such was his shamanic aura that a stroll around the city of Leyden with Gustav Mahler was said to have permanently cured the composer of impotence. But this was faith healing, not psychoanalysis."

Freud's methods did no good. They sometimes did a great deal of harm. Especially repugnant was his treatment of "Anna O." (Bertha Pappenheim) in 1880-1882, presented in Freudian apologetics as "the foundation of psychoanalytic therapy," the first supposed cathartic cure reported in Freud's Studies on Hysteria (1895).

Freud's coauthor Josef Breuer, who treated Pappenheim, turned the unfortunate young woman into a morphine and chloral hydrate addict. Crews concludes that "her most serious debility, as of the summer of 1882, and for five years thereafter, wasn't hysteria but the horror of attempted and failed withdrawal." Freud and Breuer claimed in Studies on Hysteria that Pappenheim's symptoms were "permanently removed by being given utterance in hypnosis," yet Pappenheim was committed to a sanatorium only five weeks after Breuer stopped treating her.

* * *

The Pappenheim case was "the founding deception of psychoanalysis"--the breakthrough that supposedly unlocked the psyche's secrets. The final chapter of Studies on Hysteria, Crews reports, declared that

the resistance encountered in therapy was "no doubt" the same psychical force that had generated the patient's symptom. Again the intrusion of irrelevant matter into a patient's association "never occurs." When we search for a trauma with the pressure technique, "we shall find it infallibly." The procedure "never fails;" it has "invariably achieved its aim;" and in one instance Freud's confidence in it was "brilliantly justified."

Crews contrasts these bravado assertions with Freud's correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess, his closest friend and collaborator during 1897 and 1898: "The cases of hysteria are proceeding especially poorly. I shall not finish a single one this year either; and as for the next one, I shall be completely without patient material." And: "My work now appears to me to have far less value, and my disorientation to be complete,...another entire year has gone by without any tangible progress in the theory."

Freud's crisis of confidence, though, inspired a great leap from the world of clinical documentation--where nothing ever went right--to the grand assertion of theories that could not be proven. He abandoned the molestation theory of neurosis, which required the identification of specific sexual acts perpetrated upon the patient during childhood, to a general theory of sexuality that framed all human relationships in terms of libido. The Oedipus complex was the cornerstone of this new theory.

Such is the nature of these faiths that Mr. Crews's classic comic riffs on Freud are hard to discern from the real thing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


May 18, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Congratulations, America, indeed (Ruth Marcus,  May 17, 18, wASHINGTON pOST)

On collusion: We now know, but didn't back then, about the Trump Tower meeting -- that Donald Trump Jr. responded eagerly to an overture from a purported emissary of the Russian government to offer damaging information about Hillary Clinton and arranged a meeting to obtain it that included Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

When Mueller was named, we had some scattered knowledge of contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russians, most prominently the meetings between then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and the phone conversations between Kislyak and incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn. Yet we had no inkling of how many Trump associates and campaign aides had dealings with Russian officials and operatives -- at least 75 contacts and 22 meetings between Trump's team and individuals linked to Russia, according to the Moscow Project, an initiative of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

We did not know that, during the campaign, Manafort was meeting with a person with ties to Russian intelligence and, through him, offering to brief a Vladimir Putin ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. We did not know that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and business associate Felix Sater were pushing construction of Trump Tower Moscow during the campaign -- indeed, Trump assured the public he had no business there -- or that their emails on the subject included this assurance from Sater: "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected." We did not know that a professor with links to Russia had offered campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos "thousands of emails" with "dirt" on Clinton.

And on obstruction, we knew the essence of the possible case: that Trump asked FBI Director James B. Comey to "let this go" on Flynn and fired Comey, he said, to relieve the pressure of "this Russia thing." But we did not know that Trump had ordered his White House counsel, Donald McGahn, to instruct the attorney general not to recuse himself in the probe. That Trump ordered Mueller's firing and backed off only after McGahn threatened to quit. That Trump himself was involved in drafting a misleading statement describing his son's Trump Tower meeting as "primarily . . . about the adoption of Russian children."

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About two-thirds of all undocumented immigrants recently arrested by ICE had no criminal convictions (The Week, 5/18/18)

About two-thirds of the nearly 80,000 immigrants arrested by ICE agents between October 2017 and March 2018 had no criminal convictions, HuffPost reported. The number of arrests has ticked up, but deportations decreased slightly.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Epigenetics: The Evolution Revolution (Israel Rosenfield and Edward Ziff, JUNE 7, 2018, The new yorker)

At the end of the eighteenth century, the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck noted that life on earth had evolved over long periods of time into a striking variety of organisms. He sought to explain how they had become more and more complex. Living organisms not only evolved, Lamarck argued; they did so very slowly, "little by little and successively." In Lamarckian theory, animals became more diverse as each creature strove toward its own "perfection," hence the enormous variety of living things on earth. Man is the most complex life form, therefore the most perfect, and is even now evolving.

In Lamarck's view, the evolution of life depends on variation and the accumulation of small, gradual changes. These are also at the center of Darwin's theory of evolution, yet Darwin wrote that Lamarck's ideas were "veritable rubbish." Darwinian evolution is driven by genetic variation combined with natural selection--the process whereby some variations give their bearers better reproductive success in a given environment than other organisms have.1 Lamarckian evolution, on the other hand, depends on the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Giraffes, for example, got their long necks by stretching to eat leaves from tall trees, and stretched necks were inherited by their offspring, though Lamarck did not explain how this might be possible.

When the molecular structure of DNA was discovered in 1953, it became dogma in the teaching of biology that DNA and its coded information could not be altered in any way by the environment or a person's way of life. The environment, it was known, could stimulate the expression of a gene. Having a light shone in one's eyes or suffering pain, for instance, stimulates the activity of neurons and in doing so changes the activity of genes those neurons contain, producing instructions for making proteins or other molecules that play a central part in our bodies.

The structure of the DNA neighboring the gene provides a list of instructions--a gene program--that determines under what circumstances the gene is expressed. And it was held that these instructions could not be altered by the environment. Only mutations, which are errors introduced at random, could change the instructions or the information encoded in the gene itself and drive evolution through natural selection. Scientists discredited any Lamarckian claims that the environment can make lasting, perhaps heritable alterations in gene structure or function.

But new ideas closely related to Lamarck's eighteenth-century views have become central to our understanding of genetics. [...]

Until the mid-1970s, no one suspected that the way in which the DNA was "read" could be altered by environmental factors, or that the nervous systems of people who grew up in stress-free environments would develop differently from those of people who did not. One's development, it was thought, was guided only by one's genetic makeup. As a result of epigenesis, a child deprived of nourishment may continue to crave and consume large amounts of food as an adult, even when he or she is being properly nourished, leading to obesity and diabetes. A child who loses a parent or is neglected or abused may have a genetic basis for experiencing anxiety and depression and possibly schizophrenia. Formerly, it had been widely believed that Darwinian evolutionary mechanisms--variation and natural selection--were the only means for introducing such long-lasting changes in brain function, a process that took place over generations. We now know that epigenetic mechanisms can do so as well, within the lifetime of a single person.

And, of course, it obviously can't be limited to stress.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


California gains nearly 40,000 jobs, and unemployment falls to record low (Andrew Khouri, MAY 18, 2018, LA Times)
California added 39,300 net new jobs in April, as the unemployment rate fell from 4.3% to a new record low of 4.2%, according to data released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. [...]

In April, the U.S. unemployment rate fell below 4% for the first time since 2000, but wages rose only slightly faster than inflation -- up 2.6% from a year earlier. In California, average hourly earnings climbed even slower, rising 2.3% from a year earlier to $30.65 in April.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Dartmouth, D-H Study Tracks Drop in End-of-Life Care Costs (Nora Doyle-Burr, 5/17/18, Valley News)

A study published this month by Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock researchers found that spending for medical care at the end of life appears to be declining.

The study, which used Medicare data from the Dartmouth Atlas Project for people between the ages of 65 and 99, found that while end-of-life care costs increased between 2004 and 2009, they decreased from 2010 to 2014.

"We were surprised to find this kind of downward trend in per capita spending," said Dr. William Weeks, a professor at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine.

Weeks, the lead author, said his surprise arose from the fact that previous studies have shown end-of-life care costs to be increasing.

The findings, published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, are significant because such a large portion of overall Medicare spending is involved with end-of-life care, Weeks said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Uyghurs: Victims of 21st Century Concentration Camps (Mehmet Tohti, May 18, 2018, The Diplomat)

Camouflaging the concentration camps that hold more than a million Uyghurs is simply not enough to hide the tragic reality that Uyghurs are facing today.

Yes, concentration camps - it is now time to label these "re-education centers" with a term that best fits the situation. According to the Britannica dictionary definition, concentration camps are "internment centers for political prisoners and members of national or minority groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or punishment, usually by executive decree or military order." This describes the situation in Xinjiang exactly.

China has put more than a million Uyghurs into these concentration camps, where they are held without charge or any terms of release. This has been going on for over a year now, since the arrival of new Communist Party boss of the region, Chen Quanguo, in late 2016.

Uyghurs are Turkic people and the main inhabitant of the region, their ancestral homeland for millennia. China entered the region known by Uyghurs as East Turkistan in 1949 and declared the founding of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on October 1, 1955. The newly-created Xinjiang accounts for one-sixth of China's total land mass.

During nearly six decades of annexation, China has pursued a policy of assimilation and changed the demographics of the region. In 1950, the ethnic Han population (the majority group, by a massive margin, in China) accounted for only 5 percent of Xinjiang residents. That jumped to over 40 percent in 2009, including an influx to the Chinese paramilitary Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. Uyghurs are now minorities in their own homeland.

As of 2017, the Uyghur language has been banned from schools in Hotan prefecture. In addition, a religious crackdown has morphed into a total ban of Islam, with the bold move of demolishing thousands of mosques (including "nearly 70 percent of the mosques" in Kashgar city) and the confiscation of religious books, including the Holy Quran.

China's repression campaign gained momentum by hijacking the 9/11 tragedy. Beijing played the terrorism card against Uyghurs and intensified its crackdown by labeling all civil disobedience and discontent as part of the "three evils" (terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism). Since then, tens of thousands of Uyghurs have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment. One of them is Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen from Burlington, Ontario who has been serving a life sentence in a Chinese jail since 2006.

The Chinese ambition for global expansion is becoming uncontrolled, and the Uyghur homeland has become China's springboard to Central Asia and beyond, because of its direct borders with eight countries in addition to its enormous energy resources. Xi Jinping's ambitious "Belt and Road Initiative" looks to further cement China as the dominant power in Asia, Africa, and Europe with trade initiatives and infrastructure investment that passes through Xinjiang.

As a result, Uyghurs are seen as a barrier to Xi's ambition. China requires the absolute silence of Uyghurs on their historic land to advance its plan. The current use of concentration camps as a tool of collective punishment of Uyghurs should be understood in this context.

Concentration camps were unanimously condemned by the world community in the last century.

Israel keeps Gaza residents 'caged in a toxic slum': U.N.'s Zeid  (Reuters, 5/18/18) 

Israel has systematically deprived Palestinians of their human rights, with 1.9 million in Gaza "caged in a toxic slum from birth to death", U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said on Friday. [...]

"Nobody has been made safer by the horrific events of the past week," he said. "End the occupation, and the violence and insecurity will largely disappear."

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


As goes the suburbs, so goes the nation? (JOEL KOTKIN, 5/12/18,  Orange County Register)

There is a wide and growing disparity between rural and urban core voters, but the suburbs remain roughly evenly divided. They are also demographically ascendant, as both rural areas and urban cores stagnate. The majority of Americans even in the metropolitan areas of over a million, upwards of 85 percent, live in low to moderate density, overwhelmingly automobile oriented, compared to under 15 percent in and around the urban core. More importantly, the suburban share continues to increase, as evidenced in last year's Census estimates.

Suburban residents are more likely than urban core residents or aging rural residents to have children, nearly twice as likely to be homeowners and be part of the country's large, albeit beleaguered, middle class. They represent a far larger portion of the population in red-leaning metro areas, like Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix and Kansas City than in the older "legacy" regions like New York, San Francisco, Boston or Chicago, where the urban core population represents a far larger share. People with suburban lifestyles, for example, account for more than 95 percent of people in the Atlanta area but slightly less than 50 percent in New York and 75 percent in Chicago. [...]

Given their diversity, suburban voters are hard to categorize. As property owners and families, they would tend to like maintaining their way of life; despite the Hollywood accounts, Pew finds, suburbanites are more satisfied with their place of residence than either country folk or city-dwellers. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Bill Gates: Trump couldn't differentiate HIV from HPV, but was well-versed on Gates' daughter's looks (The Week, May 17, 2018)

Gates explained that he first met Trump in December 2016, but Trump had met his and wife Melinda's daughter Jennifer, now 22, before at an equestrian event in Florida. "So when I first talked to him, it was actually kind of scary how well he knew -- how much he knew about my daughter's appearance," Gates said. "Melinda, didn't like that too well." A big advocate of vaccinations, Gates said he tried to talk Trump out of forming a commission to study the debunked claim that vaccines cause autism, as proposed by Robert Kennedy Jr. Trump did not seem to well-versed on vaccines, or viruses, he added. "Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HIV and HPV, so I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other."

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


After upset Iraqi vote, US prepares to embrace a former foe (JOSH LEDERMAN, 5/18/18, AP) 

Fourteen years after Muqtada al-Sadr's militias fought American troops, the United States is preparing to work hand in hand with the charismatic Shiite cleric and his movement, hoping to find common cause in curtailing Iran's influence in the wake of an upset Iraqi election.

Like many Iraqis, Washington was caught off guard by the election, in which a coalition organized by al-Sadr took the largest share of the parliamentary vote.

Oddly enough, we're never surprised when Christian parties win our elections or Jewish parties Israeli elections, but are always surprised that Muslims vote for Muslim parties.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought (Robert Wright, 5/17/18, Wired)

Sam Harris, one of the original members of the group dubbed the "New Atheists" (by Wired!) 12 years ago, says he doesn't like tribalism. During his recent, much-discussed debate with Vox founder Ezra Klein about race and IQ, Harris declared that tribalism "is a problem we must outgrow."

But apparently Harris doesn't think he is part of that "we." After he accused Klein of fomenting a "really indissoluble kind of tribalism" in the form of identity politics, and Klein replied that Harris exhibits his own form of tribalism, Harris said coolly, "I know I'm not thinking tribally in this respect."

Not only is Harris capable of transcending tribalism--so is his tribe! Reflecting on his debate with Klein, Harris said that his own followers care "massively about following the logic of a conversation" and probe his arguments for signs of weakness, whereas Klein's followers have more primitive concerns: "Are you making political points that are massaging the outraged parts of our brains? Do you have your hands on our amygdala and are you pushing the right buttons?"

Of the various things that critics of the New Atheists find annoying about them--and here I speak from personal experience--this ranks near the top: the air of rationalist superiority they often exude. Whereas the great mass of humankind remains mired in pernicious forms of illogical thought--chief among them, of course, religion--people like Sam Harris beckon from above: All of us, if we will just transcend our raw emotions and rank superstitions, can be like him, even if precious few of us are now.

It's ironic that the mass-murderous delusion of Rationalism is best cured by Christianity, where Hisownself demonstrated Man can't transcend his humanity.    

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM



As debate in Washington heats up over climate change and transparency in science, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine held a quiet meeting last week to discuss just how consistent the results are across climate studies.

The verdict, for those who follow the science, wasn't too surprising. There's broad agreement among climate studies that global warming is happening and human-driven. But as scientists work to zero in on exact forecasts of future temperatures and precipitation under a given amount of greenhouse gas emissions, they are still seeing a wide range of results. "The spread has gotten tighter, but it hasn't gotten super tight," is how NASA climate researcher Gavin Schmidt puts it. [...]

The National Academies meeting comes at a time when scientists, critics, and the public alike are deep in discussions about reproducing findings in science. There's been vigorous debate among scientists about how well results in social science and clinical medicine hold up when others try to duplicate them. Distressing findings--one effort to reproduce 100 top psychology studies found less than half of them worked a second time--have led to calls for fixing the system.

May 17, 2018

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Witnesses: Stephen Paddock Ranted About a Government Plot to Seize Guns Prior to Las Vegas Shooting (Adam K. Raymond, 5/17/18, New York)

Less than a month before he killed 58 people and injured hundreds more at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, Stephen Paddock ranted to a new friend about a supposed government plot to confiscate guns from the American public. The man, whose statement is among many released by investigators this week, told authorities that he met Paddock just weeks before the massacre after the 58-year-old answered an online ad for "schematics to convert semi-automatic guns to fire automatically," the AP reports.

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Kushners near deal with Qatar-backed firm to save investment in troubled Manhattan high-rise (BLOOMBERG, MAY 17, 2018)
In a deal that would bail out the family of senior White House advisor Jared Kushner, Kushner Cos. is nearing a deal with a unit of Brookfield Asset Management Inc. to salvage its investment in an over-leveraged Manhattan office tower, according to two people familiar with the talks.

The Qatar Investment Authority, which invests on behalf of Qatar's government, is the largest owner of the the unit, Brookfield Property Partners LP, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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As Mueller probes Seychelles meetings, details emerge about Russian plane: exclusive (Erin Banco, 5/17/18, NJ Advance Media)

Few details have emerged about the contents of the meetings. Last year, the Washington Post described this meeting in its reporting as an attempt by the U.S. to set up a backchannel with Russia. [...]

The Russian aircraft in question departed from Moscow and landed in the Seychelles  at 4:21 p.m. Jan. 10, 2017, according to the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority -- one day before Prince arrived on the island. The aircraft carried six passengers, including flight crew. 

Two individuals familiar with the aircraft's purchasing history said the aircraft is owned by Andrei Skoch, a Russian billionaire who made his fortune in the mining business and is now a deputy in the Russian State Duma, the country's legislative body. The individuals requested to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to give out private aircraft owner information.

It is unclear if Skoch was on the aircraft, but employees at the Seychelles airport and the Four Seasons Hotel told NJ Advance Media that the plane's passengers stayed at the resort during their time on the island. The hotel was the setting of meetings among Prince, UAE representatives and Dmitriev, according to Prince's testimony with the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017.

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EU to block Trump's Iran sanctions by activating old law: Brussels has decided to launch the so-called blocking statute, Jean-Claude Juncker says. (HANS VON DER BURCHARD, 5/17/18, Politico)

Juncker told reporters in Sofia that EU leaders decided Wednesday night to activate the so-called blocking statute, which bans European companies from complying with the U.S. sanctions against Iran.

"We have the duty, the Commission and the European Union, to protect our European businesses," said Juncker, adding: "We must act now and we will act now. That's why we are launching the process to use the 1996 'blocking statute' to neutralize the extraterritorial effects of U.S. sanctions on European companies ... We will do that tomorrow morning at 10:30."

The blocking statute would forbid EU companies, under threat of punishment, to cancel business ties with Iran because of the U.S. sanctions. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


You Need to Add Potato Chips to Your Eggs  (Claire Lower, 5/17/18, Lifehacker)

You can crumble a small handful of chips into a scramble (I like sour cream and onion chips for this), stuff them into an omelette (try plain with some dollops of fresh goat cheese), or make a quick Spanish tortilla (instructions on how to do that here). My favorite, however, is to crack a couple of eggs over a bed of chips that have been tossed and cooked with a variety of meats and vegetables, then steam them until they are just set, but still runny in the yolk. It's a real hangover helper, and it's a great way to clean out your fridge. It's also a forgiving recipe, so you can just measure everything by the handful. To make it, you will need:

A big pat of butter or spoonful of bacon grease (omit if you are using a meat that needs to be rendered)
2 handfuls of vegetables, whatever's in your fridge (I used half a shallot and a couple of stalks of asparagus.)
1 handful of either cooked meat or about 4 ounces of breakfast sausage or bacon (I used some sous vide carnitas, and it was a great idea.)
3 handfuls of potato chips (The best choice here is the salt & pepper crinkle cut chips from Kettle. They have flavor without being flavored, you know?)
2 eggs
Chives or fried leek greens for topping
Parmesan cheese for topping (optional)

If you are starting out with a raw breakfast meat that needs to be rendered, go ahead and add that to a nonstick skillet, render out all the fat, and remove it once it's crispy. Add your vegetables and cook until they are nice and soft, seasoning them with salt and pepper to taste. If you are using a meat that's already cooked, melt your cooking fat over medium-high heat, cook your vegetables until they are nice and soft, then add the meat to warm.

Add your chips a handful at a time, crushing each handful slightly. If you need to add back in some rendered meat, toss it in now, and give everything a good stir to coat the chips in that lovely cooking oil. Make two little wells in the chip mixture, reduce the heat to low, and crack two eggs into the wells. Cover the pan with a lid, and let the eggs steam until they are just set. (They'll be all crispy on the bottom with runny yolks on top; it's really delightful.) Top with chives or fried leek greens, sprinkle on some salty Parmesan, and slide your creation onto a plate. Enjoy with hot sauce.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Exclusive: Manafort's former son-in-law cuts plea deal, to cooperate with government - sources (Nathan Layne, 5/17/18, Reuters) 

The former son-in-law of Paul Manafort, the one-time chairman of President Donald Trump's campaign, has cut a plea deal with the Justice Department that requires him to cooperate with other criminal probes, two people with knowledge of the matter said.   

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


China Buys Record Amount of Russian Soy as It Shuns U.S. Growers (Anatoly Medetsky, May 17, 2018, Bloomberg)

China, the world's biggest soybean importer, almost tripled purchases from Russia amid a trade dispute with the U.S., the biggest producer.

Russia sold about 850,000 metric tons of soybeans to China from the start of the 12-month season in July through mid-May, according to Russia's agriculture agency Rosselkhoznadzor. That's more than during any season before and compares with about 340,000 tons sold during all of the previous period, Chinese customs data show.

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Paul Ryan Scrambles to Block Vote on DREAM Act (Eric Levitz, 5/17/18, New York)

Last September, Paul Ryan told Dreamers that they could "rest easy": Congress would take action to resolve the "serious humane issue" raised by President Trump's cancellation of Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Eight months later, Congress has done no such thing; former DACA recipients are already getting deported; and the speaker is scrambling to prevent moderate Republicans from forcing him to allow a vote on a bipartisan DREAM Act (which he knows would likely pass).

It's a simple test of decency that he's failing.
Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


There is a hidden inclination to divide Yemen: Ahmad al-Sayyad (Al Jazeera, 5/17/18)

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are inclined towards a division of Yemen, the country's ambassador to the UN's cultural agency has told Al Jazeera.

In an interview on Wednesday, Ahmad al-Sayyad, ambassador and head of Yemen's permanent delegation to the Paris-based UNESCO, said "there is synergy between the roles of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There is a hidden inclination to divide Yemen".

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


Pivotal moments in Mueller's Trump investigation: 5 guilty pleas, 17 indictments and more (CHRIS MEGERIAN, MAY 17, 2018, LA Times)

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


The Emergence and Rise of Postmodern Conservatism (Matt McManus, 5/17/18, Quillette)

I believe that postmodern positions emerged in our current epoch due to a complex array of social forces. The authors in the second line of leftwing postmodern thinkers drew inspiration from these social forces to formulate interesting, but ultimately flawed philosophies which will not stand the test of time when evaluated from a purely intellectual standpoint. But this is not my major concern here. If postmodern positions emerge as a consequence of social forces, this presents a more general problem for critics of postmodernism. It is not simply the fact that a number of skeptical university professors are professing flawed philosophical positions, and thence inspiring individuals to take radical political positions on identity and power as a consequence. Rather, postmodern positions can emerge in a myriad of places when individuals are affected by the social forces of the epoch in the right way. This is what I believe accounts for the emergence of postmodern conservatism.

The association of conservatism with a strong commitment to epistemic and moral truth, both in general and regarding particular doctrines, is far more contingent and ahistorical than some partisans may expect. In fact, there is a long history in conservative and other rightwing circles of rejecting strong epistemic and moral truths. As highlighted by Leo Strauss in his seminal Natural Right and History, the modern origins of this rightwing rejection of epistemic and moral truths are in the work of Edmund Burke. Burke was staunchly critical of the abstract intellectualism of the French revolutionaries, and their desire to rationalize society. Against abstract and scientific approaches to knowledge and morality, Burke emphasized the need to pay close attention to history, tradition, and the identity of a particular people. As Strauss observed, much of this was sound advice and a dire warning to fundamentalists and fanatics of all stripes. But it also constituted a shift towards regarding knowledge and morality as contingent upon particular circumstances and histories. This tendency to associate revolutionary progressivism with abstract respect for reason continued in the thought of rightwing thinkers like Joseph De Maistre, identified by Isaiah Berlin as the intellectual forefather of fascism. De Maistre argued that the human capacity to reason towards true knowledge and morals was so fundamentally limited it needed to be massively supplemented by faith in traditional authorities and revealed religion. He was a reactionary of the highest pitch, damning the French Revolutionaries for their arrogant conceit of having figured the world out for themselves, and demanding a return to the values of throne and altar.

In the modern era, there have been plenty of conservative thinkers who have also condemned rationalism, upholding the value of tradition and history as a relative source of knowledge and morals. Michael Oakshott's famed essay "Rationalism in Politics" argued that what defines a conservative is respect for the epistemic and moral authority of tradition over abstract faith in the power of Utilitarian reason. In his debate with H. L. A. Hart, the conservative Lord Devlin justified restrictions on homosexuality by claiming that true morality is a matter of what the "man on the Clapham omnibus" believed. Justice Robert Bork, Reagan's favored pick for the Supreme Court, wrote in Coercing Virtue that what characterized the leftwing 'new class' was its belief in universal values and truths. In contradistinction, conservatives were defined by their veneration of "particularity--respect for difference, circumstance, (and) history..." He condemned this progressive 'new class' for attempting to push its pretentious universalistic ideas about knowledge and morals onto traditionally oriented societies which did not want them.

My point here is not to accuse any of these authors of holding to specifically postmodern doctrines. Nor do I want to accuse them of being responsible for the emergence of what I call postmodern conservatism. As I mentioned before, I believe postmodernism emerged as a result of social factors particular to our epoch. It was not driven primarily by intellectual shifts; intellectual shifts were driven by post-modern culture. My point is to observe that the association of conservatism with a strong commitment to truth is contingent rather than consistent throughout history. In a highly radicalized and even mutilated form, the ideas developed by these authors provided an intellectual backdrop for explaining why many conservatives increasingly look like their left postmodern 'adversaries,' right down to their commitment to identity politics.

What fundamentally characterizes postmodern conservatives is locating epistemic and moral authority in a given traditional identity. Postmodern conservatism a highly radicalized iteration of the intellectual movements indicated above, often emerging in periods of economic and social crisis and finding its initial expression in hyper-modern mediums such as the internet. Postmodern conservatives increasingly regard strong truth claims about knowledge and morality with active suspicion and even hostility. This is because they regard the intellectual and cultural 'elites' who produce knowledge and popularize moral norms as progressive, abstract, and unlikely to sympathize with their concerns. Rather than attempting to formulate alternative claims about knowledge and morality which might have some epistemic and meta-ethical tenability, postmodern conservatives reject even these standards. Instead, they largely appeal to identity as the locus for epistemic and moral validity.

The entirety of Anglo-American philosophy (and the basis of our anti-Intellectualism) consists of the rejection of the idea that truth can be reached by the exercise of Reason. The dispute between conservatives and radicals is simply over what this insight means for how we should arrange our culture. The conservative chooses the Christian faith as the most aesthetically sound basis, not least because it imposes the morality everyone claims to aspire to.  The more radical proposition--shared by Right and Left--is that there can be no common culture at that point.    

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Breaking With Trump's GOP, Koch Brothers Praise Democrats On Immigration (Tim Mak, 5/17/18, Morning Edition)

The Koch brothers are going rogue.

For years the political network funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch funded politicians on the right, laying the foundation for the libertarian causes the two support. Their support has gone almost exclusively to Republican candidates, with rare exception.

But in the era of Trump, what it means to be on the 'right' is changing, and the Koch network's tactics are changing to reflect new realities.

For the first time, the LIBRE Initiative -- the Hispanic outreach arm of the Koch network -- is putting money behind efforts to praise Democrats on the federal level, and doing so with control of Congress on the line in the midterm elections.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


The Healthy America Program: Building on the Best of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act (Linda J. Blumberg, John Holahan, Stephen Zuckerman, May 14, 2018, Urban Institute)

Since efforts to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have failed, and bipartisan attempts to improve the law have stalled, some policymakers are now looking beyond incremental fixes. In this paper, Urban Institute researchers present a set of policy ideas that would provide universal access to comprehensive coverage but would also allow people to keep their employer-sponsored coverage, would offer a range of insurer options and ensure broad pooling of health care risk, would not have an employer mandate, would provide income-related federal assistance, and would create a more flexible individual incentive to remain insured than that under the ACA.

The proposal builds on components of the Medicare program and the ACA Marketplaces. However, it simplifies the current health insurance system by integrating Medicaid acute care for nonelderly people and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)--while preserving access to their benefits--with coverage for people enrolled in private nongroup insurance and people currently uninsured. This large new Medicare-style marketplace, featuring a public plan and private insurer options, would contain costs by fostering competition among many insurers, capping provider payment rates, and addressing prescription drug pricing. This proposal is less ambitious than a single-payer system (i.e., Medicare for All), but it would get close to universal coverage with much lower increases in federal spending and less disruption for people currently enrolled in employer coverage or Medicare.

They estimate that the plan would result in 15.9 million fewer uninsured people and reduce total health care spending by $28.9 billion in its first full year of implementation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Wednesday Was a Busy and Bad News Day for Michael Cohen. Here's What We Learned. (ELLIOT HANNON, MAY 16, 2018, Slate)

• Michael Cohen allegedly told Qatari investor Ahmed Al-Rumaihi in 2016, when Al-Rumaihi was running a $100 billion Qatari government investment fund, that he'd have to pay Cohen a personal $1 million "fee" in order to be considered for the Trump administration's planned infrastructure initiative.

• A law enforcement whistleblower came forward to the New Yorker to take responsibility for a leaked financial document called a suspicious-activity report filed by Cohen's bank about his shady transactions because, according to the official, other damning suspicious-activity reports in a Treasury Department database appeared to be disappearing--or being erased.

• The FBI is investigating the circumstances surrounding a $150,000 deal between Cohen and South Korean aerospace firm Korea Aerospace Industries made after the 2016 election.

• A new cache of Cohen's text messages reportedly show the Trump lawyer was actively trying to strike a deal on a Trump Tower in Moscow as late as May 2016 as Trump was wrapping up the Republican nomination. According to the messages, Cohen was also considering a trip to Moscow for high-level meetings with government and business leaders. Cohen told Congress he gave up on the project much earlier in January 2016.

• President Trump's new financial disclosure forms, released Wednesday, included--for the first time--more than $100,000 in payments to Cohen in 2017. The reason for the payment was not disclosed, but its sudden appearance seems to indicate not only that Trump knew about the hush payment to Stormy Daniels, but reimbursed Cohen, meaning both Cohen and Trump have been lying.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


How Tom Wolfe Changed My Life (Scott Kelly, May 16, 2018, NY Times)

On Feb. 18, 2016, I woke up in my crew quarters on the International Space Station for the 328th day of a yearlong mission, the longest ever flown by a NASA astronaut. After breakfast and a conference call with the ground, I got into my work for the day: conducting a physics experiment, taking a sample of my own blood for a NASA study, performing routine maintenance on life support equipment, and answering questions for an elementary school in Arizona via live video uplink.

When I finally had a few free moments to myself, I opened up a laptop and typed out an email. I spent longer writing that email, and proofread it more carefully, than anything I had written in a long time.

I had decided to reach out to the author of a book that had meant a lot to me, something I had never done before. I was writing to Tom Wolfe, and I wanted to tell him that the reason I was spending a year in space, the reason I had flown three earlier missions to space and had flown high-performance aircraft in the Navy before that, was all because I had come across "The Right Stuff" as an 18-year-old college freshman.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Mueller Won't Indict Trump if He Finds Wrongdoing, Giuliani Says (Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Charlie Savage, 5/16/18, NY Times)

"They can't indict," Mr. Giuliani said. "They can't indict. Because if they did, it would be dismissed quickly. There's no precedent for a president being indicted."

There is admittedly something refreshing in Rudy's refusal to even pretend that Donald is innocent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Plessy V. Ferguson: The Birth of Jim Crow (C. Vann Woodward, April 1964, American Heritage)

The elder John Marshall Harlan is correctly described by Robert Cushman as "a Southern gentleman and a slave-holder, and at heart a conservative." A Kentuckian of the Whig persuasion, Harlan had opposed secession and fought in the Union Army, but at the same time he opposed both the emancipation of the slaves and the passage of civil rights laws to protect the rights of the freedmen. Shocked by Ku Klux excesses, he experienced a sudden conversion, renounced his former views, became a Republican in 1868, and was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Hayes in 1877.

After his conversion Harlan became one of the most outspoken champions of Negro rights of his time, and during his thirty-four years on the bench he lifted his voice repeatedly against denial of those rights by the dominant opinion of the Court. His famous dissent in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 had denounced the "subtle and ingenious verbal criticism" by which "the substance and spirit of the recent amendments of the Constitution have been sacrificed." And in 1896 he was ready to strike another blow for his adopted cause.

Harlan held the Louisiana segregation law in clear conflict with both the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth amendments. The former "not only struck down the institution of slavery," but also "any burdens or disabilities that constitute badges of slavery or servitude," and segregation was just such a burden or badge. Moreover, the Fourteenth Amendment "added greatly to the dignity and glory of American citizenship, and to the security of personal liberty," and segregation denied to Negroes the equal protection of both dignity and liberty. "The arbitrary separation of citizens, on the basis of race, while they are on a public highway," he said, "is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds."

Harlan was as scornful as Tourgée had been of the claim that the separate-car law did not discriminate against the Negro. "Every one knows," he declared, that its purpose was "to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons." This was simply a poorly disguised means of asserting the supremacy of one class of citizens over another. The Justice continued:

But in view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings, or of his color when his civil rights as guarantied by the supreme law of the land are involved....We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow citizens,--our equals before the law. The thin disguise of "equal" accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead any one, nor atone for the wrong this day done.

"The present decision, it may well be apprehended," predicted Harlan, "will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the constitution...." For if the state may so regulate the railroads, "why may it not so regulate the use of the streets of its cities and towns as to compel white citizens to keep on one side of a street, and black citizens to keep on the other," or, for that matter, apply the same regulations to streetcars and other vehicles, or to courtroom, the jury box, the legislative hall, or to any other place of public assembly?

"In my opinion," the Kentuckian concluded, "the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case."

But Harlan was without allies on the Court, and the country as a whole received the news of its momentous decision upholding the "separate but equal" doctrine in relative silence and apparent indifference. Thirteen years earlier the Civil Rights Cases had precipitated pages of news reports, hundreds of editorials, indignant rallies, congressional bills, a Senate report, and much general debate. In striking contrast, the Plessy decision was accorded only short, inconspicuous news reports and virtually no editorial comment outside the Negro press. A great change had taken place, and the Court evidently now gave voice to the dominant mood of the country. Justice Harlan had spoken for the forgotten convictions of a bygone era.

The racial aggressions he foresaw came in a flood after the decision of 1896. Even Harlan indicated by his opinion of 1899 in Cummings v. Board of Education that he saw nothing unconstitutional in segregated public schools. Virginia was the last state in the South to adopt the separate-car law, and she resisted it only until 1900. Up to that year this was the only law of the type adopted by a majority of the southern states. But on January 12, 1900, the editor of the Richmond Times was in full accord with the new spirit when he asserted: "It is necessary that this principle be applied in every relation of Southern life. God Almighty drew the color line and it cannot be obliterated. The negro must stay on his side of the line and the white man must stay on his side, and the sooner both races recognize this fact and accept it, the better it will be for both."

And then we feign wonder at the retardation of black culture.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


No Taxation Without Representation And Other Reasons America Declared Independence (Kelly Phillips Erb , 7/04/17, FORBES)

The Declaration of Independence is technically a letter to the King. When the Declaration was being drafted, the colonists felt that it was important that the exact reasons for their unhappiness were made clear. The largest section of the Declaration - after the lines that we all memorized in elementary school - is that list of grievances. Of course, taxes were included:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.


For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

The word "Consent" was important. Under the British Constitution, no British subjects could be taxed without the consent of their representatives in Parliament. But the colonies didn't elect representatives to Parliament. They were, however, clearly being taxed. The colonists considered the constant imposition of taxes without a vote to be unconstitutional. It was, they felt, "taxation without representation."

George should have just demanded that America be granted parliamentary representation in Britain or he would recognize a separate American legislature.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


New York Times acknowledges it buried the lead in pre-election Russia-Trump story (Erik Wemple May 16, 2018, Washington Post)

In a massive article Wednesday on the FBI's 2016 snooping into the possible nexus between Russians and the Trump presidential campaign, reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos include these two paragraphs:

In late October, in response to questions from The Times, law enforcement officials acknowledged the investigation but urged restraint. They said they had scrutinized some of Mr. Trump's advisers but had found no proof of any involvement with Russian hacking. The resulting article, on Oct. 31, reflected that caution and said that agents had uncovered no "conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government."

The key fact of the article -- that the F.B.I. had opened a broad investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign -- was published in the 10th paragraph.

That's one heck of a concession: We buried the lead! In their book "Russian Roulette," authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn report that editors at the New York Times "cast the absence of a conclusion as the article's central theme rather than the fact of the investigation itself," contrary to the wishes of the reporters.

May 16, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen's Financial Records (Ronan Farrow, 5/16/18, The new yorker)

Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department's inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen's financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.

The payments to Cohen that have emerged in the past week come primarily from a single document, a "suspicious-activity report" filed by First Republic Bank, where Cohen's shell company, Essential Consultants, L.L.C., maintained an account. The document detailed sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Cohen by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, the telecommunications giant A.T. & T., and an investment firm with ties to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The report also refers to two previous suspicious-activity reports, or sars, that the bank had filed, which documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen's account. Those two reports detail more than three million dollars in additional transactions--triple the amount in the report released last week. Which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery. But, according to the official who leaked the report, these sars were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or fincen. The official, who has spent a career in law enforcement, told me, "I have never seen something pulled off the system. . . . That system is a safeguard for the bank. It's a stockpile of information. When something's not there that should be, I immediately became concerned." The official added, "That's why I came forward."

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Tom Wolfe, The Art of Fiction No. 123 (Interviewed by George Plimpton, ISSUE 118, SPRING 1991, Paris Review)


When did the breakthrough come?


Well, this happened really in two stages. While I was in graduate school at Yale I came upon a group of early Soviet writers called the Brothers Serapion. These were people like Boris Pilnyak who wrote a book called The Naked Year, and especially Eugene Zamiatin, probably best known for his novel We, upon which George Orwell's 1984 is based. He is a brilliant writer who was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1927, I believe. These were Russian writers writing about the Soviet revolution; they were heavily influenced by French Symbolism, so you had all the preciousness and aestheticism of the Symbolists converging upon a very raw subject, namely the Revolution. I began imitating the Brothers Serapion in the short pieces I was writing for myself. I even tried to sneak these things into my newspaper work. I never got very far with it.


What sort of thing?


For example, one of the things they did was experiment with punctuation. In We, Zamiatin constantly breaks off a thought in mid-sentence with a dash. He's trying to imitate the habits of actual thought, assuming, quite correctly, that we don't think in whole sentences. We think emotionally. He also used a lot of exclamation points, a habit I picked up and which I still have. Someone counted them in The Bonfire of the Vanities--some enormous number of exclamation points, up in the thousands. I think it's quite justified, though I've been ridiculed for it. Dwight Macdonald once wrote that reading me, with all these exclamation points, was like reading Queen Victoria's diaries. He was so eminent at the time, I felt crushed. But then out of curiosity I looked up Queen Victoria's diaries. They're childhood diaries. They're full of exclamation points. They are so much more readable than the official prose she inflicted on prime ministers and the English people in the years thereafter. Her diaries aren't bad at all. I also made a lot of use of the historical present (getting back to Emil Ludwig) in my early magazine work, along with eccentric images and metaphors. These were things that I began to use as soon as I had a truly free hand. That was when I began to do magazine work in 1963 for Esquire--which was that rarest of things: an experimental mass-circulation magazine.


Presumably there was an editor at Esquire who supported what you were up to . . .


Well, Byron Dobell was the first editor I had at Esquire. I've written about this in the introduction to The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. The piece about car customizers in Los Angeles was the first magazine piece I ever wrote. I was totally blocked. I now know what writer's block is. It's the fear you cannot do what you've announced to someone else you can do, or else the fear that it isn't worth doing. That's a rarer form. In this case I suddenly realized I'd never written a magazine article before and I just felt I couldn't do it. Well, Dobell somehow shamed me into writing down the notes that I had taken in my reporting on the car customizers so that some competent writer could convert them into a magazine piece. I sat down one night and started writing a memorandum to him as fast as I could, just to get the ordeal over with. It became very much like a letter that you would write to a friend in which you're not thinking about style, you're just pouring it all out, and I churned it out all night long, forty typewritten, triple-spaced pages. I turned it in in the morning to Byron at Esquire, and then I went home to sleep. About four that afternoon I got a call from him telling me, Well, we're knocking the "Dear Byron" off the top of your memo, and we're running the piece. That was a tremendous release for me. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


This is why Gazans won't back down (Brian K. Barber, 5/16/18, CNN)

From my earliest interviews in the late 1990s of first intifada youth -- the adults present at the current Gaza protests, and the parents of the youth who are there -- to last month in Gaza when a late teen told me that Gazans can handle the awful water, electricity and health situation, the theme of dehumanization has been deep-seated and constant. "The real effect of the occupation and siege is to make us feel 'subhuman,'" he said.

To understand the sense of being dehumanized, a 2011 study I conducted with colleagues of several hundred middle-aged Gazans showed that, at the hands of Israeli forces, over the course of their lives: 80% have had their homes raided (which, according to the nearly 2,000 Palestinians my colleagues and I have interviewed over the years, typically occur in the early morning hours with squadrons of soldiers crashing down their doors and often very harshly treating family members); over 70% have witnessed someone close to them being humiliated; and over 60% have themselves been verbally abused. Our research, which shows similar findings for other Palestinian territories, also reveals that many have experienced all these events multiple times. (Given the numerous major points of conflict since 2011, the incidence of these would have only increased.) A quarter of men have been imprisoned at least once, with its incumbent severe treatment.

Behind this sense of dehumanization is a related, prevailing sense of being marginalized. [...]

The steady cascade of ruinous economic and political developments since then -- whether sourced in actions and policy from Israel, Egypt or Palestinian interfactional divisions within Gaza -- have only increased this sense of marginalization, with Gaza now completely set off from the West Bank and Jerusalem.

So, how to reconcile these deep-seated, deadening states of mind with the tenacity Gazans display to keep resisting?

A core Palestinian concept is sumud (steadfastness), or the determination to keep their land and build their country. It goes some distance in explaining Gazan's persistence and long suffering, but not necessarily the intense, active resistance in the face of extreme risk, injury and death as is playing out in Gaza now.

It is better explained by what the forces that marginalize and dehumanize specifically target: identity and dignity. We've learned that all forms of adversity experienced by the dominated don't have the same impact. Gazans and all Palestinians can handle much, obviously. But it is the assault on their worthiness -- as human beings -- that inspires such defiance, as if there is a sacred boundary of humanity that cannot be crossed without instinctive rebellion.

That instinct will not be killed away.

Liberal democracies always yield to peoples who invoke our own beliefs and demand that we live up to them.  Israel just has to decide if it wants to be one.  
Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Senate Intel Breaks With House on Issue of Russian Interference in 2016 (Susan Wright, 5/16/18, The Maven)

Say, what's the difference between the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee?

The Senate Intelligence Committee isn't burdened with Devin Nunes.

Other than that, in delivering a statement on Wednesday, Senate Intel leadership backed up the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community.

"We see no reason to dispute the conclusions," Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in a statement.

"There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections."

The Senate Intel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is still ongoing, but for the past few months, they've been going over the January 2017 assessment put together by top intelligence community officials.

So what were the exact points of that particular assessment:

The assessment found that Russia sought to interfere in the election for three reasons: to undermine U.S. democracy, to damage Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and to help Trump win the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation (Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos, May 16, 2018, NY Times)

Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.

Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump's advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an F.B.I. interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

The agents summarized their highly unusual interview and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago Thursday, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane. [...]

Agents considered, then rejected, interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the investigation but risked revealing the existence of the case. Top officials quickly became convinced that they would not solve the case before Election Day, which made them only more hesitant to act. When agents did take bold investigative steps, like interviewing the ambassador, they were shrouded in secrecy.

Fearful of leaks, they kept details from political appointees across the street at the Justice Department. Peter Strzok, a senior F.B.I. agent, explained in a text that Justice Department officials would find it too "tasty" to resist sharing. "I'm not worried about our side," he wrote.

Only about five Justice Department officials knew the full scope of the case, officials said, not the dozen or more who might normally be briefed on a major national security case.

The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump's future national security adviser was under investigation, as was his campaign chairman. One adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself.

In the Clinton case, Mr. Comey has said he erred on the side of transparency. But in the face of questions from Congress about the Trump campaign, the F.B.I. declined to tip its hand.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Testimony: Lawyer for Trump Jr. tried to coordinate statements about Russian lawyer meeting (DEBRA CASSENS WEISS, MAY 16, 2018, ABA Journal)

A lawyer for Donald Trump Jr. tried to coordinate public statements about a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer held on the promise that the lawyer would deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to newly released Senate testimony. [...]

Before the media reported on the meeting, lawyer Alan Futerfas contacted Goldstone, Emin Agalarov and Kaveladze to discuss their memories of the incident, according to Politico.

Futerfas sent a proposed statement to Goldstone with the message, "If you feel comfortable with this statement and are comfortable saying nothing more, at least for the time being, that would be our preference."

Then-candidate Donald Trump also reportedly helped draft a statement about the meeting that said it was mostly about the adoption of Russian children.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


EXCLUSIVE: Michael Cohen 'asked Qatari investor for millions of dollars' which he said he would 'pass to Trump family members' at Trump Tower meeting - and Qatar's foreign minister was there too (Josh Boswell For and Ryan Parry West Coast Correspondent For, 15 May 2018, Daily Mail)

Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, is facing claims he asked a Middle Eastern official for millions of dollars to give to 'Trump family members' in a meeting at Trump Tower weeks after the president's election victory, can reveal.

Cohen is alleged to have asked Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, a former diplomat in charge of a $100bn Qatari investment fund, to send 'millions' through him to Trump family members. A source told that the Qatari said he refused.

Al-Rumaihi on Tuesday issued a statement agreeing that he was at Trump Tower and a source with knowledge of the daysaid that Cohen had 'popped in' briefly to a meeting. Photographs show that he was  part of a group greeted by Cohen, who went up in an elevator with them. can disclose that the group also included Qatar's foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


The Racism Treadmill (Coleman Hughes, 5/14/18, Quillette)

[W]hile psychological biases may sufficiently explain progressophobia on most other topics, our denialism about racial progress calls for a deeper explanation--an explanation in terms of widely-held beliefs about race and inequality.

One such belief is the notion that disparities between blacks and whites--in income, housing, employment, etc.--are caused by systemic racism. The award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, for instance, summed up the state of racial progress like so: "I could see that some fifty years after the civil rights movement black people could still be found at the bottom of virtually every socioeconomic metric of note."2 Ibram X. Kendi, another celebrated race writer, put it bluntly: "As an anti-racist, when I see racial disparities, I see racism."

But the premise built into the thinking of Coates and Kendi is false. I call it the disparity fallacy. The disparity fallacy holds that unequal outcomes between two groups must be caused primarily by discrimination, whether overt or systemic. What's puzzling about believers in the disparity fallacy is not that they apply the belief too broadly, but that they apply it too narrowly. Any instance of whites outperforming blacks is adduced as evidence of discrimination. But when a disparity runs the other way--that is, blacks outperforming whites--discrimination is never invoked as a causal factor.

Here's a clear example of the disparity fallacy: a recent study by researchers at Stanford, Harvard, and the Census Bureau found that, "[a]mong those who grow up in families with comparable incomes, black men grow up to earn substantially less than the white men." A New York Times article attributed this disparity to "the punishing reach of racism for black boys." But the study also found that black women have higher college attendance rates than white men, and higher incomes than white women, conditional on parental income. The fact that black women outperformed their white counterparts on these measures, however, was not attributed to the punishing reach of racism against whites.

Economic disparities that favor blacks have been reported for decades, yet they have rarely if ever been attributed to anti-white systemic bias. A 1994 New York Times article reported that, among college graduates, black women earned slightly more money than white women did. In addition, the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out that, as early as 1980, U.S. census data show black college-educated couples out-earning their white counterparts.3

The black/white unemployment gap provides an even older illustration of the disparity fallacy. Many commentators have reflexively attributed the modern unemployment gap to systemic racism. But in historical eras with far more racism, the gap was reversed. According to Sowell, "[b]lack unemployment rates were lower than that of whites in 1890 and, for the last time, in 1930."4 Facts like these, however, are never explained in terms of discrimination in favor of blacks. Indeed, why progressives only commit the disparity fallacy in one direction is never explained. What the writer Shelby Steele has said about progressives and racist events is equally true of statistical disparities that disadvantage blacks: When they learn of one, "they rent a jet plane and fly to it!"

It's a sign of the poverty of our discourse on racial progress and inequality that the rarest findings are thought to be normal, and the most common findings are thought to require special explanation.

Indeed, it is rare to find any two ethnic groups achieving identical outcomes, even when they belong to the same race. A cursory glance at the mean incomes of census-tracked ethnic groups shows Americans of Russian descent out-earning those of Swiss descent, who out-earn those of British descent, who out-earn those of Polish descent, who out-earn those of French descent in turn. If the disparity fallacy were true, then we ought to posit an elaborate system that is biased towards ethnic Russians, then the Swiss, followed by the Brits, the Poles and the French. Yet one never hears progressives make such claims. Moreover, one never hears progressives say, "French-Americans make 79 cents for every Russian-American dollar," although the facts could easily be framed that way. Similar disparities between blacks and whites are regularly presented in such invidious terms. Rather than defaulting to systemic bias to explain disparities, we should understand that, even in the absence of discrimination, groups still differ in innumerable ways that affect their respective outcomes.

One crucial way in which groups differ is culture. Culture matters enormously. The importance of culture is, ironically, a value often expressed by progressives. When presented with arguments that point to genetic influences on human behavior, many on the Left respond by emphasizing the importance of culture over genetics, that is, nurture over nature (see Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate for more.) Moreover, cultures differ from one another. This is true by definition. It's unclear what the "multi" in "multi-culturalism" could possibly mean if cultures were all the same. Put these two premises together, and you arrive at what should be an equally banal conclusion: if culture matters enormously, and cultures differ from one another, then differences between cultures matter enormously.

But, together with the disparity fallacy, the denial of cultural explanations for disparity has become the received view among progressives. 

It's easy enough to break the culture--just use mortgage and public education vouchers to shift the population from cities to the suburbs.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Trump team ready to 'pressure' Mueller at probe's one-year mark (DARREN SAMUELSOHN,  05/16/2018, Politico)

"When Comey closed [the case] in July -- although I think it was a complete whitewash -- I'd like to have them do that for us," the former New York mayor said.

Helpful of the Mayor to admit Donald needs a cover-up.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Trump-voting crab town left shell-shocked by his visa changes (Kendall Breitman, May.15.2018, NBC)

HOOPERS ISLAND, Md. -- This community voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. But now his immigration changes are killing its livelihood -- legendary crabs that are a mainstay of the local economy and a regional delicacy.

For decades, Hoopers Island, known for its crabbing industry, has relied on a federal seasonal work program -- known as H-2B visas -- to keep its businesses humming. This has allowed employers to hire foreigners, mostly Mexican women, to come temporarily to pick crab meat.

But this year, the cap on H-2B visas -- and a shift from the first-come, first-served based model to a lottery system that has disadvantaged Hoopers Island seasonal workers -- has left the island without 40 percent of the visas they have needed in the past.

Hate won't feed the family, eh?

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


SORRY CONSERVATIVES: You Don't Have Free Speech On Facebook Or Twitter (Carl Szabo, 05/15/2018, Daily Caller)

Conservative groups often say "private companies should be free to conduct their operations as they see fit, without undue governmental interference." This is, of course, a fundamental tenet of conservative principles -- as is limited government. Those principles and the first amendment protect our free speech both publicly and privately.

Under these principles, Fox News can be a conservative organization, while MSNBC can cover the other end of the political spectrum. Both rightly operate without the government dictating what political views they favor. Likewise, core conservative principles would oppose Congress holding hearings and passing laws to ensure that the Drudge Report doesn't favor conservative views over liberal ones.

Unfortunately, it seems that some conservatives have forgotten their principles when it comes to social media.

Recently, several conservative groups surprisingly called for government action over what a private businesses allows on its website -- in this case, the business is Facebook.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


EPA watchdog announces new probe into Pruitt's emails (LUIS SANCHEZ, 05/15/18, tHE hILL)

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) inspector general said it is investigating EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's use of nonpublic email accounts, the latest in a series of federal investigations into the agency chief.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 AM


Pentagon OKs $90 million for Lebanese army amid Hezbollah gains (Jack Detsch May 15, 2018, Al Monitor)

The Donald Trump administration is sending more than $90 million worth of military equipment to help the Lebanese army protect its borders, the latest sign that the United States is sticking by Beirut despite Hezbollah's growing influence.

The Pentagon notified Congress on April 25 that it would be providing the Lebanese Armed Forces with 7-ton and 2.5-ton trucks as well as US Army Humvees mounted with .50-caliber machine guns, according to documents reviewed by Al-Monitor. The aid package draws from the Pentagon's $1.4 billion global train-and-equip fund.

May 15, 2018

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 PM


This was the week that, for some reason, everyone finally realized that the Left is humorless :
Bubble Wrap: The Nation vs. The Weekly Standard (John Powers, LA Weekly)
AS FAR BACK AS I CAN REMEMBER THE NATION HAS been the journalistic lodestar of the American left. Now, in its 137th year, the magazine is on a commercial roll. Its subscriptions have risen steadily in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks. Its finances may actually break even (a miracle in the world of political magazines). And its publishing adjunct, Nation Books, is raking in money from two hot titles: Gore Vidal's Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace and Forbidden Truth by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume DasquiÈ. Indeed, everything's going so well that I feel kind of churlish in pointing out what most on the left are unwilling to say: The Nation is a profoundly dreary magazine.

Just compare it to another thin, ideologically driven rag, The Weekly Standard, a right-wing publication currently approaching its measly seventh anniversary. A few months ago, I began putting new issues of each side by side on an end table and, to my surprise, discovered that while unread copies of The Nation invariably rose in guilt-inducing stacks, I always read The Weekly Standard right away. Why? Because seen purely as a magazine, The Standard is incomparably more alluring. As gray and unappetizing as homework, The Nation makes you approach it in the same spirit that Democrats might vote for Gray Davis -- where else can you go? In contrast, The Standard woos you by saying, "We're having big fun over here on the right."

And in some undeniable sense that's true. Back in the '60s, the left was the home of humor, iconoclasm, pleasure. But over the last two decades, the joy has gone out of the left -- it now feels hedged in by shibboleths and defeatism -- while the right has been having a gas, be it Lee Atwater grooving to the blues, Rush Limbaugh chortling about Feminazis or grimly gleeful Ann Coulter serving up bile as if it were chocolate mousse, even dubbing Katie Couric "the affable Eva Braun of morning television." (Get your political allegiances straight, babe. Katie's the Madame Mao of morning television. You're Eva Braun.)

Right-Wing Envy : Do you have it? (Jack Shafer, August 29, 2002, Slate)
While the right seeks converts, trying both to persuade and entertain, the left spends its journalistic energy policing the movement. Imagine The Nation running a weekly column about nothing, called "Casual," as the Standard does. Also, conservative journalists are more likely to allow readers to enjoy a magazine article without strong-arming them into signing the ideology oath that seems to come packed with most lefty journalism. For instance, when the Standard's David Brooks profiled "Patio Man," the acquisitive consumer who haunts Home Depot looking for things to buy, he both laughed at its subject and exalted him without fear of contradiction.

Of course, lefty journalism needn't turn right to improve itself. But Powers hints that the source of The Nation's illness is the Stalinist impulse to prescribe proper attitudes toward culture, art, and journalism. A Nation writer who, say, wants to use humor or wit to make his point mustn't abuse gays, blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Ralph Nader, foreigners, women, the infirm, working stiffs, Indians, Mohammed (but Jesus is fair game), whales, or any cultural stereotype. This leaves him just one angle from which to compose his point: Stupid White Men. Such is the state of left journalism that Michael Moore has made a career out of painting and repainting this mono-mural.

How the anything-goes drug-and-sex party that the cultural left threw in the '60s segued into an Amish wake featuring stern readings from the joyless work of Barbara Ehrenreich, the scoldings of Todd Gitlin, and the catechisms of Richard Goldstein is anybody's guess. Would Emma Goldman dance with these folks? Or would she make a beeline for the house on the right, which looks like a brothel in comparison to the one on the left? I await the Powers sequel.

Who's more miserable - the far right or the far left? (James Lileks, Rants)
The former is likely to wash its hands of the modern world, lament how things have gone to hell since the Brits stopped shoving civilization down the ululating maws of Wogland, and announce that you're all welcome to your polyglot mishmash - I'll be over here getting smashed on port and reading Patrick O'Brien novels. But at least they seem dedicated to enjoying life on their own terms; if they're cultural conservatives, they retire to their version of Heston's apartment in "The Omega Man," surrounded by the remnants of Western glory, keeping to themselves, and venting their spleen now and then by burping off a few rounds at the moaning zombies outside in the darkened park.

The hard left, on the other hand, demonstrates all the symptoms of anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure - there's a rancid bitterness, a pissy miserablism that makes you feel very, very sorry for them.

All of them are, of course, correct, but Mr. Powers and Mr. Shafer and several of the folks who have commented on these stories make one major mistake in their analysis: because they are Leftists themselves or in some of the commentators cases reformed Leftists, they are forced to assume that this represents a change of some kind. Typically they harken back to the 60s when the Left was "fun". Mr. Shafer for instance refers approvingly, and apparently with a straight face, to the "anything-goes drug-and-sex party that the cultural left threw in the '60s". Surely at this late date there's no one left who really thinks that was fun, is there? You'd have thought the Clinton Presidency, where we got to see what the children of the 60s had turned into, or the Robin Wright character in Forrest Gump would have put the final nail in that coffin. It's entirely typical of the time that the genuinely humorous art it produced all makes fun of the Left's pretensions and heaps scorn upon the "party". One thinks in particular of Tom Wolfe, who in essays like Radical Chic made it clear that hat was fun about the 60s parties was not to be at one but to contemplate the participants. Even Hunter S. Thompson, who we still tend to think of as a defender of the 60s party, apparently understood even at the time that the joke was on him and the rest of the partiers. At the end of his book Hell's Angels, after a several hundred page paean to the care free biker gang spirit, those same bikers beat the living hell out of him. The whole text is revealed to have been an elaborate joke at his own expense. And that is the proper point to take away from the 60s: the partiers were not the perpetrators but the butt of all the truly amusing jokes.
[originally posted: 8/31/02]
Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's : ". . . It's a tricky business, integrating new politics with tried and true social motifs . . ." (Tom Wolfe, June 8, 1970, New York Magazine)

From the beginning it was pointless to argue about the sincerity of Radical Chic. Unquestionably the basic impulse, "red diaper" or otherwise, was sincere. But, as in most human endeavors focused upon an ideal, there seemed to be some double-track thinking going on. On the first track--well, one does have a sincere concern for the poor and the underprivileged and an honest outrage against discrimination. One's heart does cry out--quite spontaneously!--upon hearing how the police have dealt with the Panthers, dragging an epileptic like Lee Berry out of his hospital bed and throwing him into the Tombs. When one thinks of Mitchell and Agnew and Nixon and all of their Captain Beef-heart Maggie & Jiggs New York Athletic Club troglodyte crypto-Horst Wessel Irish Oyster Bar Construction Worker followers, then one understands why poor blacks like the Panthers might feel driven to drastic solutions, and--well, anyway, one truly feels for them. One really does. On the other hand--on the second track in one's mind, that is--one also has a sincere concern for maintaining a proper East Side lifestyle in New York Society. And this concern is just as sincere as the first, and just as deep. It really is. It really does become part of one's psyche. For example, one must have a weekend place, in the country or by the shore, all year round preferably, but certainly from the middle of May to the middle of September. It is hard to get across to outsiders an understanding of how absolute such apparently trivial needs are. One feels them in his solar plexus. When one thinks of being trapped in New York Saturday after Saturday in July or August, doomed to be a part of those fantastically dowdy herds roaming past Bonwit's and Tiffany's at dead noon in the sandstone sun-broil, 92 degrees, daddies from Long Island in balloon-seat Bermuda shorts bought at the Times Square Store in Oceanside and fat mommies with white belled pants stretching over their lower bellies and crinkling up in the crotch like some kind of Dacron-polyester labia--well, anyway, then one truly feels the need to obey at least the minimal rules of New York Society. One really does.

One rule is that nostalgie de la boue--i.e., the styles of romantic, raw-vital, Low Rent primitives--are good; and middle class, whether black or white, is bad. Therefore, Radical Chic invariably favors radicals who seem primitive, exotic and romantic, such as the grape workers, who are not merely radical and "of the soil," but also Latin; the Panthers, with their leather pieces, Afros, shades, and shoot-outs; and the Red Indians, who, of course, had always seemed primitive, exotic and romantic. At the outset, at least, all three groups had something else to recommend them, as well: they were headquartered 3,000 miles away from the East Side of Manhattan, in places like Delano (the grape workers), Oakland (the Panthers) and Arizona and New Mexico (the Indians). They weren't likely to become too much . . . underfoot, as it were. Exotic, Romantic, Far Off . . . as we shall soon see, other favorite creatures of Radical Chic had the same attractive qualities; namely, the ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs and Somali leopards.

Rule No. 2 was that no matter what, one should always maintain a proper address, a proper scale of interior decoration, and servants. Servants, especially, were one of the last absolute dividing lines between those truly "in Society," New or Old, and the great scuffling mass of middle-class strivers paying up to $1,250-a-month rent or buying expensive co-ops all over the East Side. There are no two ways about it. One must have servants. Having servants becomes such a psychological necessity that there are many women in Society today who may be heard to complain in all honesty about how hard it is to find a nurse for the children to fill in on the regular nurse's day off. There is the famous Mrs. C--------, one of New York's richest widows, who has a 10-room duplex on Sutton Place, the good part of Sutton Place as opposed to the Miami Beach-looking part, one understands, but who is somehow absolute poison with servants and can't keep anything but day help and is constantly heard to lament: "What good is all the money in the world if you can't come home at night and know there will be someone there to take your coat and fix you a drink?" There is true anguish behind that remark!

In the era of Radical Chic, then, what a collision course was set between the absolute need for servants--and the fact that the servant was the absolute symbol of what the new movements, black or brown, were struggling against! How absolutely urgent, then, became the search for the only way out: white servants!

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Posted by orrinj at 9:20 PM


How Tom Wolfe Became ... Tom Wolfe : .Michael Lewis delves deep into the archives of the legendary reporter turned novelist to discover what made the man in the white suit the voice of a journalistic generation. (MICHAEL LEWIS, November 2015, Vanity Fair)

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. was born on March 2, 1930, and grew up in Richmond, Virginia, the son of a conservative, God-respectful southern editor of an agricultural trade magazine. Home was never something he was looking to get away from; it was never even something he was looking to pretend he was looking to get away from. He was accepted at Princeton but chose to attend Washington and Lee, to remain close to home. Every now and then one of his teachers would note that he had a way with words, and some artistic talent, but artistic ambition, for a conservative southern male in the 1950s or really any other time, was too vague and impractical to indulge. After college, he took the advice of his professor and went to Yale, for a doctorate in American studies--and right up to this point in his life there isn't a trace of institutional rebellion in him. He pitches for the baseball team, pleases his teachers, has an ordinary, not artistic, group of pals, and is devoted to his mother and father.

The moment he leaves the South, something comes over him. Whatever it is, the feeling seems to be heightened by the sight of a blank sheet of paper. For instance, he creates (while he's meant to be writing a Yale dissertation) an elaborate parody of a Beat poet, "Jocko Thor," complete with a small book of poems and a short biography. Jocko Thor has given birth to a "new poetic genre called Bonkism." In his preface he explains: "Most of these poems were composed beneath a Coca-Cola sign in the town of Accident, Maryland, in February of 1956. They are dedicated to my childe bride whom I first met on that very spot." There follows what is essentially a book of short poems written, it seems, purely for Wolfe's own amusement--he never mentions them to anyone.

"Regular Fellows 
We walk the sidewalk brick by brick 
We climb the brass-clapped stairs 
We spit into each other's faces 
And never put on airs."

"The Martyr 
... A Freudian Poem 
In a moment I'll resume my martyrdom 
In a moment, ready to trick myself, 
Goad myself, to vex myself 
With expert taunts, 
I'll exhale and open my eyes. 
Small designs will writhe 
Behind my eyelids 
Like bullwhips."

And so on. For the first time in his life, it appears, Tom Wolfe has been provoked. He has left home and found, on the East Coast, the perpetual revolt of High Culture against God, Country, and Tradition. He happens to have landed in a time and place in which art--like the economy that supports it--is essentially patricidal. It's all about tearing up and replacing what came before. The young Tom Wolfe is intellectually equipped to join some fashionable creative movement and set himself in opposition to God, Country, and Tradition; emotionally, not so much. He doesn't use his new experience of East Coast sophisticates to distance himself from his southern conservative upbringing; instead he uses his upbringing to distance himself from the new experience. He picks for his Ph.D. dissertation topic the Communist influences on American writers, 1928-1942. From their response to it, the Yale professors, who would have approved the topic in advance, had no idea of the spirit in which Wolfe intended to approach it:

"Dear Mr. Wolfe:

I am personally acutely sorry to have to write you this letter but I want to inform you in advance that all of your readers reports have come in, and ... I am sorry to say I anticipate that the thesis will not be recommended for the degree.... The tone was not objective but was consistently slanted to disparage the writers under consideration and to present them in a bad light even when the evidence did not warrant this." [Letter from Yale dean to T.W., May 19, 1956.]

To this comes appended the genuinely shocked reviews of three Yale professors. It's as if they can't quite believe this seemingly sweet-natured and well-mannered southern boy has gone off half cocked and ridiculed some of the biggest names in American literature. The Yale grad student had treated the deeply held political conviction of these great American artists as--well, as a ploy in a game of status seeking. This student seemed to have gone out of his way to turn these serious American intellectuals into figures of fun. "The result is more journalistically tendentious than scholarly.... Wolfe's polemical rhetoric is ... a chief consideration of my decision to fail the dissertation." To top it all off ... he'd taken some license with the details. One outraged reviewer compared Wolfe's text with his cited sources and attached the comparison. Sample Wolfe passage: "At one point 'the Cuban delegation' tramped in. It was led by a fierce young woman named Lola de la Torriente. With her bobbed hair, leather jacket, and flat-heeled shoes, she looked as though she had just left the barricades. Apparently she had. 'This is where our literature is being built,' exclaimed she, 'on the barricades!' " Huffed the reviewer: "There is no description of her in the source, and the quotations do not appear in the reference."

Which is to say that, as a 26-year-old graduate student, just as a 12-year-old letter writer, Tom Wolfe was already recognizably himself. He'd also found a lens through which he might view, freshly, all human behavior. He'd gone to Yale with the thought he would study his country by reading its literature and history and economics. He wound up discovering sociology--and especially Max Weber's writings about the power of status seeking. The lust for status, it seemed to him, explained why otherwise intelligent American writers lost their minds and competed with one another to see just how devoted to the Communist cause they could be. In a funny way, Yale served him extremely well: it gave him a chance to roam and read and bump into new ideas. But he didn't immediately see that:

"These stupid fucks have turned down namely my dissertation, meaning I will have to stay here about a month longer to delete all the offensive passages and retype the sumitch. They called my brilliant manuscript 'journalistic' and 'reactionary,' which means I must go through with a blue pencil and strike out all the laughs and anti-Red passages and slip in a little liberal merde, so to speak, just to sweeten it. I'll discuss with you how stupid all these stupid fucks are when I see you." [T.W., aged 26, letter to a friend, June 9, 1956.]

He re-writes his thesis. He lards it up with academic jargon and creates a phony emotional distance from his material (he refers to "an American writer E. Hemingway"), and it is accepted. Then he flees Yale as fast as he can. He's entering his late 20s with only the faintest idea of what he might do to earn a living. But he's ambitious, eager to find his place in the world. His father introduces him to business associates. Wolfe writes to the head of a sales institute and sends "excerpts from work I have done on the subject of Communist activity among American writers and other 'intellectuals.' " He applies for jobs in public relations. He writes to American Airlines to inquire about a post. He even considers, briefly, a position teaching economics.

In short, he doesn't have any clear idea of what to do, although he has long liked the notion of being a writer or an artist. In May of 1955 he had written to the dean of Washington and Lee University, "I am thinking very seriously of going into journalism or a related field," but he was slow to pursue it, as he was sure it would disappoint his parents. He writes to one of his father's friends and confesses what he really wants to be is a sportswriter. Finally, he sends letters and curricula vitae to newspapers, offering his services as either a journalist or a graphic artist. (As a child he had enjoyed drawing and still seems at this point in his life as interested in drawing as in writing.) Only one newspaper writes back to express interest: the Springfield Union, in eastern Massachusetts. In 1956, at the age of 26, he takes the job.

[originally posted: 10/18/15]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 PM


There's a tendency when folks put together lists of suggested summer reading to assume that readers don't want to have to think. So such lists usually have a lot of mindless thrillers and the like. It seems to me that a book can be mentally challenging but still be reasonably easy to read, in fact most of the best books are. So here's a list that won't strain your brain too much but that won't waste your time either.

These are the rough guidelines for the choices :

(1) It should be big. Five-hundred-pages-or-better big. You should be able to only take two books from the list and still have enough reading to get you through a week.

(2) It should be readable. No note-taking needed. Not a whole lot of names to remember. You should be able to pick it up and put it down again without having to reorient yourself. Most of all, you should enjoy it.

(3) Ideally it should be a book that you've been meaning to read but you've put off, probably because of its size. But now, when it's the only one, or one of the only ones, you have with you, you'll be "forced" to read it. At the same time, it should be good enough that you won't regret having brought it. No experiments.

So here are a few suggestions (with links to our reviews where applicable)(please add your own suggestions in the comments section) :

What it Takes : The Way to the White House (1992) (Richard Ben Cramer)
[A whopping 1051 pages, but you won't even notice. Available in a nice paperback edition.]
Mr. Cramer's account of the 1988 presidential campaign is an amalgam of both The Right Stuff and Moby Dick. It may be the quintessential book about America.

The Power Broker : Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974) (Robert Caro)
[1246 pages. Available in hardcover]
Mr. Caro writes biography in order to understand political power. He's in the middle of his acclaimed four volume Lyndon Johnson series, but for a
one volume masterpiece this one can't be bettered. Along with Mr. Cramer's book and All the King's Men it forms my personal triumvirate of great American political books.

Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943) (Albert Jay Nock  1872-1945)
[Not 500 pages, but I never miss a chance to plug it. Hard to find, but looks to be available in paperback.]
An idiosyncratic thoroughly charming book by a conservative writing at a time when conservatism appeared dead.

The Last Hero (1990) (Peter Forbath)
[729 pages. Hard to find (though I have four copies and might be convinced to
send you one.)]
Maybe the best historical novel ever written, based on Henry Morton Stanley's expedition up the Congo to relieve the embattled Emin Pasha.

Sweet Soul Music : Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom () (Peter Guralnick)
[448 pages (Close enough). Available in paperback.]
There's no better music writer in America and no better book about American music. If you take this one, you'd better bring some Solomon Burke cds too. His Elvis bio is excellent too.

All the King's Men (1946) (Robert Penn Warren 1905-1989)
[531 pages. Available in a fairly cheap hardcover.]
You might have had to read it for a class and thus ended up hating it. But it is an amazing political fable of good intentions corrupted by political power.

The Pity of War : Explaining World War I (1998) (Niall Ferguson) (Grade: A+)
[608 pages. Available in Paperback.]
I'm especially partial to authors who argue against the conventional wisdom. Mr. Ferguson takes on nearly everything you think you know about WWI.

Falls the Shadow (1989) (Sharon Kay Penman)
[580 pages. Available in paperback.]
Churchill mentions Simon de Montfort as an early hero of democracy in his History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Ms Penman takes the ball and runs with it. Went to Spring Training one year with married friends. Players went on strike. The couple fought over who got to read the book all week.

The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963 (Michael R. Beschloss)
[Looks to be out of print.]
Though Mr. Beschloss is more impressed by the handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis than I, this is a terrific, nearly novelistic, account of the utter hash that a drug-addled and sexually compromised JFK made of American Soviet relations.

The Conservative Mind : from Burke to Eliot (1953) (Russell Kirk 1918-94)
[Clocks in at 535 pages. Nice paperback edition available.]
Kirk is such a good writer that though the topic may appear dry you'll be captivated. Written in sections so if you find you're not particularly interested in one of the authors he's discussing, you can easily skip without losing anything.

Witness (1952) (Whittaker Chambers 1901-61)
[Roughly 800 pages. I'm not familiar with the edition that's available.]
Lost in the controversy between Hiss and Chambers, an understanding of which is central to comprehending mid-Century America, is the fact that Mr. Chambers was a great writer. This book is a psychodrama, a spy thriller, a courtroom story, and a testimony of faith all rolled into one.

Parting the Waters : America in the King Years (1989) (Taylor Branch)
[1064 pages. Available in paperback.]
America has no greater tale to tell than that of the successful and largely peaceful struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and 60s. Mr. Branch tells it well.

A Man In Full (1998) (Tom Wolfe 1931-)
[727 pages. Available in Hardcover.]
One assumes everyone has read The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities, but the mixed reviews on this one seem to have turned many folks off. Don't be one of them. It's a terrific satirical social novel that offers a sweeping panorama of America in the 90s.

Coming of Age in the Milky Way (1988) (Timothy Ferris)
[495 pages (so sue me). Available in a nice paperback.]
Mr. Ferris is one of the best popular science writers going--take it from someone who hates science. His history of Cosmology is a thrilling intellectual adventure.

Tai-Pan (James Clavell)
[730 pages. Available in a mass market paperback that might not be ideal for older eyes.
King Rat, Shogun and Noble House are excellent also, but Tai-pan is my favorite. A great anti-anti-colonial novel.

The Russian Revolution (1991) (Richard Pipes)
[944 pages. Available in paperback.]
As Daniel Pipes is to the war on terror, so his Dad was to the Cold War. He was the scourge of fuzzy thinking about the Soviet Union and this great history of the Revolution--from showing why it was not necessary to showing Lenin to be the father of the Terror--is unparalleled.

How Green Was My Valley (1939)(Richard Llewellyn 1906-1983)
[512 pages. Available in paperback.]
Heartbreaking look back at life in a dying Welsh mining village. You won't want it to end and won't ever forget it.

Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001) (Rick Perlstein 1969-)
[671 pages. Available in Hardcover]
The book's worth buying just for the cover. Mr. Perlstein, though a self described "European-style Social Democrat", gives a fair and wonderfully readable account of the rise of grassroots conservatism, culminating in the 1964 nomination of Barry Goldwater.

Lindbergh (1998) (A. Scott Berg)
[628 pages. Available in paperback.]
All any of us remember is that he flew, he lost a child and he was a Nazi. The last is untrue. The first is far more remarkable than we realize any more. The second is heartbreaking.

And the Band Played On (1987) (Randy Shilts)
[672 pages. Available in paperback.]
Fairly even-handed history of the early years of the AIDs crisis, by one of its victims.

Modern Times : The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (Paul Johnson)
[880 pages. Available in paperback.]
Takes on the convential wisdom decade by decade.

Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories (1992)(Joseph Mitchell  1908-96)
[716 pages. Available in paperback.]
Mr. Mitchell was later to become a staple of fiction himself, as the writer's-blocked old fellow wandering the halls of the New Yorker, but before his pen went dry he wrote some of the best essays--mostly about New York City and its characters--that you'll ever read.

A Better War : The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam (1999) (Lewis Sorley 1934-)
[528 pages. Available in Hardcover.]
It's a major rethinking of whether even if we weren't going to "win the Vietnam War we might have at least salvaged South Vietnam and our honor.

The Great Bridge : The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (1972)(David McCullough 1933-)  (Grade: A+)
[640 pages. Available in a very nice Hardcover edition.]
Remarkable story about the building of an engineering marvel that the rest of the skyline eventually dwarfed, but never diminished.

Dune  (1965)(Frank Herbert  1920-1986)   (Grade: A+)
[528 pages.
Available in Hardcover.]
An intensely political science fiction novel. I never liked any of the sequels, but this first is terrific and stands alone quite nicely.

Ulysses S. Grant : Soldier & President (1997) (Geoffrey Perret)
[560 pages. Available in paperback.]
Mr. Perret, who writes wonderfully, challenges the caricatures of Grant and refurbishes his tarnished reputation.

Independent People (1946)(Halldor Laxness 1902-98) (Grade: A+)
[480 pages. Available in Hardcover in an excellent translation.]
If you pick this one, take two more. But if you're willing to trust me, it's just an amazing book, in which an Icelandic sheepherder becomes an "epic" hero.

Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (1994) (Gerald Posner)
[600 pages. Available in paperback.]
One of the great feats of debunking as Mr. Posner just shreds every last bit of the JFK conspiracy theories.

And a few more for the slightly more adventuresome palate :
Don Quijote (Part 1--1605, Part 2--1615)(Miquel de Cervantes 1547-1616)(translated by Burton Raffel)  (Grade: A+)
[Available in a Norton Critical edition paperback.]
For years, you'd start this book with every intention of reading it but be defeated by the translation. That all changed with Burton Raffel's masterful work. It's now very accessible and quite wonderful.

Possession: A Romance (1990)(A.S. [Antonia Susan] Byatt  1936-) (Grade: A+)
[608 pages. Available in a nice Modern Library hardcover.]
A seeming chick book that none of the women I've recommended it to have much liked--just a good literary mystery.

With Fire and Sword (1899) (Henryk Sienkiewicz 1846-1916)
[1135 pages. Hard to find and it's imperative to get the Kuniczak translation (not Curtin)]
The Polish names can make for tough sledding, but once you get into it you'll fly. Sienkiewicz won the Nobel prize and richly deserved it. You might want to start with Quo Vadis?  (1896)(Grade: A+) instead.

And, for teens, see :
Mr. Doggett's Suggested Summer Reading for Students

N.B. : Wild Weasel says he's had uniformly good experiences shopping for used copies of books at ABE.

[originally posted: 6/27/02]
Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


What Is Human Dignity? :We display our dignity by imposing our will on nature to create a world where we can live as dignified beings--or not as miserably self-conscious and utterly precarious accidents... (Peter Augustine Lawler, Imaginative Conservative)

As we remember our friend Peter Augustine Lawler (1951-2017), we are proud to publish this selection from his insightful book Modern and American Dignity (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010). [...]

It was with such Greek reflections in mind that the Roman word dignitas took on a basically aristocratic connotation. Dignity is a worthiness or virtue that must be earned, and the dignified man is someone exceptional who attains distinction by his inner strength of character. Dignitas is a self-contained serenity, a kind of solid immobility that cannot be affected by worldly fortunes. For the Stoics, and especially for Cicero, dignity is democratic in the sense that it does not depend on social status; it is within reach of everyone from the slave (Epictetus) to the emperor (Marcus Aurelius). Dignity refers to the rational life possible for us all, but it is really characteristic only of the rare human being who is genuinely devoted to living according to reason.

Dignity, the contemporary Stoic novelist Tom Wolfe shows in A Man in Full, can shine through even in the life of a maximum-security prisoner who seems to have been deprived of every human good. Mr. Wolfe's novel shows both that the Stoic way of thinking is almost completely alien to American life today and that it still has powerful explanatory power. He shows us that our sociobiologists and neuroscientists have something to learn from what we might call Stoic science. The Council's book would have been more comprehensive had a genuine Stoic contributed a chapter, but no critic has yet registered that complaint. The early modern philosophers--following, in a certain way, St. Augustine's Christian critique of Stoic vanity--denied that human beings could ever achieve a rational, inward insulation from the effects of fortune. They contended instead that it is undignified to allow oneself be a plaything of fortune--of forces and people beyond your control.

There is nothing genuinely dignified in Stoic self-deception about our real bodily dependence. Human beings are stuck with being concerned, most of all, with keeping their fragile bodies alive. So there is something dignified in facing up to that truth and doing something about it--acting with freedom and intelligence to make yourself more secure. In Hobbes's view, your own life is infinitely valuable and irreplaceable to you, but it cannot seem that way to anyone else. Therefore, Hobbes reasons, your dignity is nothing more than your "public worth." And that is nothing more than the price your powers can bring: Your dignity is your productivity.

Others recognize your worth only insofar as they can use--and are willing to pay for--what you can do. We have every right to work to become as dignified as we can be, but we do not have an equal right to dignity. Hobbes is for equal rights, but equal dignity is impossible.

There is a lot to be said for ranking people--determining their excellence or importance--according to their productivity. Vain illusions which generate the idleness that comes with inward serenity are dispelled. There is, we learn, no invisible realm of freedom, no impregnable Stoic fortress, into which we can securely retreat. It is undeniable progress to stop ranking people according to their social class, gender, race, religion, and so forth. Productivity is the most visible and surest foundation for a meritocracy--which is why Americans today are having more trouble than ever finding a higher standard than productivity to determine their dignity. Even with the economic downturn, Americans are wealthier and freer than ever, but their dignity seems to depend more than ever on being useful and pleasing to others. They increasingly lack the inward self-confidence that comes with having a personal standard higher than "success." We might want to say that Americans are both more and less free than ever--and in a way that would earn a Stoic's cold contempt.

This is the source of the fear of technology and the end of labor.  For millennia we have tried to convince people that dignity is intrinsic in work.  The inanity of the idea is obvious when we pause for a moment to consider slaves, serfs and the like.  Or, for the Abrahamist, if we just consider that labor was a punishment from God.

Of course, as technology began displacing jobs, we of the white collar world tried consoling ourselves that creative classes would be exempted, because uniquely irreplaceable, that only the "average" would be affected.  Our brain work must, surely, have a value and dignity that mere manual labor does not.  But now the machines are coming for us too and that boast turns out to be hollow.

We are thrust back upon the most terrifying of all thoughts for mortal man : our worth lies not in any economic transaction but in what type of people we are, in how we behave, particularly towards others.  

Meanwhile, it is hardly coincidental that the dignity of labor mummery was so well-suited to an individualistic capitalist economy while relocating dignity to our moral being is better-suited to a Third Way economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


The Pirate Pose
: Twenty years after Bonfire of the Vanities, the author checks in on the new masters of the universe and finds them even coarser and ruder than their predecessors could have ever imagined being. (Tom Wolfe, May 2007, Conde Nast Portfolio)

Somehow the members of the Knickerbocker, the Brook, the Union, and the Leash, for that matter, do not seem too keen on recruiting people infinitely richer than they are who pride themselves on their aggressive nature and will happily see to it you enjoy doing things their way; even less so, the three clubs that count, socially, in Greenwich, the Round Hill Club, the Field Club, and the Greenwich Country Club. The country club is bigger and doesn't seem as picky as the others, but it is not eager to welcome these people.

So what? We will build our own clubs! Our own sports emporia! Our own resorts! We will outdo the wobbly too-tall old elite with their scrubbed-wood aesthetic left over from the early days of the 20th century. Have you -ever actually been inside that Round Hill Club they're so proud of? The worn wood, the rickety sashes, the tired paint, the failing fabrics, the cracked leather--the place is falling apart, the way we see it. (We're capital-M Modern.) Imagine how it would look if it were set beside Stevie Cohen's own 32,000-square-foot clubhouse and 14 acres of grounds! Next to Stevie's art collection--which is nothing less than a world-class museum!--Stevie's indoor basketball court, year-round swimming pool under glass, his gym, his spa facility, his theater for movies and every other electronic medium, his hair salon, two putting greens complete with sand traps and a fairway in between, and, as the pièce de résistance, an ice rink the size of Rockefeller Center's with a 30-by-24-foot rink house for the Zamboni! Clubhouses? We'll show you clubhouses!

The only thing missing is an entire 18-hole golf course. There is always the Burning Tree Country Club, whose membership is largely Jewish, nearby, but who has to bother with "nearby"? When we want to play golf, we just go over to the Westchester County Airport, where our Gulfstreams, Falcons, and full crews fly us anywhere in the world to play on courses that make the Greenwich Country Club look like miniature golf. Every weekend? Anytime we want!

As for the co-op buildings in New York, their residents having felt already burned by the fabulous new money, some are now considering new screening devices. The "good buildings" have traditionally required full financial--disclosure statements, certified by C.P.A.'s, to make sure applicants have enough money. The board of a building on Park Avenue is now considering rejecting applicants who have too much money. These days, when a personal net worth punches a hole in the earth's atmosphere, it invariably signals one of these people.

In Greenwich, the two charities with old-money cachet, namely the Boys and Girls Club and Greenwich Hospital, will gladly accept these people's money but don't seem to have them on their boards. So these people's money goes mainly to the Bruce Museum, which has no such scruples. The Bruce Museum's Renaissance Ball is perhaps the most lavish party of the year in Greenwich.

In New York there are now, as there have been for 125 years, two cracks in the "walled city," as Theodore Dreiser called it in Sister Carrie, through which new money can slip: charity and the arts.

But these people keep getting stuck halfway. On the art front, they soon realize they have a problem. New York's great cultural repositories, the museums, libraries, and performing arts centers, have a social hierarchy. To use an N.C.A.A. analogy, there is Division I, consisting of (1) the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (2) the New York Public Library, (3) the Museum of Modern Art, and (4) the Frick Collection. From that elevation it is a terrifying plunge in status to Division III: the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, Lincoln Center, the Museum of Natural History, the Morgan Library, the Museum of the City of New York, and the New-York Historical Society. There is no Division II.

All these institutions are dying to get their hands on the stupendous palletloads of money that socially ambitious hedge fund managers have amassed. The Division III institutions can't resist. For example, 43-year-old David Ganek of Level Global Investors is not only on the board of the Guggenheim, he is treated as a star. He is touted as having assembled a breathtaking art collection of his own, of the Richard Prince, Jeff Koons hot-now variety. He was co-chairman of the museum's annual benefit extravaganza in November and appeared onstage with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and celebrity lure Dennis Hopper. The party brought in $4 million, which made the museum's director ecstatic.

On the other hand, it was anemic compared with the Robin Hood Foundation's $48 million. That may explain why another Division III board, Lincoln Center's, has made Bruce Kovner of Caxton Associates vice chairman and featured star. Kovner has donated $20 million (as well as $25 million to Juilliard). He is also head recruiter of other hedge fund managers. Last year, he convened a breakfast meeting in his office with six of them, including Steven Mnuchin of Dune Capital and Eric Mindich of Eton Park, both of whom are also on the Division III Whitney's board.

Lincoln Center's gratitude to Kovner knows no boundaries--except possibly for a single tiny leg up he accomplished in all innocence. There were old-money sorts on the board who rolled their eyes in a northerly orbit the time he sat down at a meeting and slung one leg over the arm of his chair.

Only halfway, halfway, halfway ... These people have yet to actually make it into the walled city and onto the boards of the Big Four. Steve Cohen has a $3 billion fortune, according to Forbes, and a huge collection of Modern and contemporary art reportedly worth $500 million one day and $750 million the next. That may be so, and the Museum of Modern Art would no doubt like to have some of both, but Cohen has gotten no further at the museum than its paintings-and-sculpture-acquisition committee. Ganek, likewise, has made it to the Metropolitan Museum's photography committee, and that's it for him.

Edith Wharton's New York new money, embodied by Undine Spragg in The Custom of the Country, wanted nothing so much as to replicate the status symbols and customs of old money--the architecture, the art collections, the country estates, the dress, manners, politesse, sophistication, worldly wisdom--in order to achieve certified respectability. But we can assume no such thing about our new hedge fund money. Getting in socially in the Edith Wharton sense may be part of their ambition, but it crashes head-on into their most cherished values, their very status fixation. The animal spirits that have brought them their astounding fortunes and, equally important, honor in the eyes of one another practically guarantee that they will be shut out of places like the Knickerbocker, the Brook, the Union. For that matter, even a much younger, hipper club, such as Soho House, hasn't welcomed them either--and these people thought they would fit right in.

So in the spring of 2005, they opened their own club, the Core Club, in midtown Manhattan, a club to beat all clubs, a billionaires club. No amenity would be regarded as too over-the-top. Every member working out in the club's fitness center would have a butler at his elbow. To do what, was not immediately evident. Nevertheless, the prospects of the ultimate club seemed so swell, 100 people ponied up $100,000 each as "elite founding members," reported a wide-eyed Time magazine. Each of the 400 other members--500 was the limit--agreed to pay an initiation fee of $55,000, staggeringly high for an in-town, indoor club, plus $1,000 a month in dues, meaning the club would take in $6 million a year in dues alone. The membership was a royal assortment of hedge fund managers and suchlike: David Ganek, Richard Perry, Stephen Schwarzman, Barry Rosenstein, Teddy Forstmann, Bruce Wasserstein, plus a few female celebrities such as Patty Smyth and Fergie, Duchess of York, plus--ahhhh, the poetry of status justice!--the bitterest and most poetic mocker of private clubs in our time ... Daniel Loeb! Daniel Loeb ... club man at last! The club remains flush with cash and Croesuses. Some have been saying, however, that there are reports that the members are not exactly wild about going to the club to beat all clubs anymore.

If so, the reason is not hard to find. At the Soho House, and wherever else the younger smart set convenes, the Core Club is now known as the "club for people who can't get into clubs." don't belong anywhere and money doesn't buy belonging.

[originally posted: 4/30/07]

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Eunuchs of the Universe (Tom Wolfe, Jan 4, 2013, Daily Beast)

Naturally, being so manly, so fast-acting, so... well... so masterful, the Masters of the Universe couldn't help but feel superior to the common people they had to deal with every day. They tried not to show it... but when the warriors were among themselves, out on the trading floor, let's say, how could they help but poke a little fun at all the simple souls they ran into in the course of their work? It was like the way New York City police officers called the clueless citizens they ran into "hooples."

The Masters of the Universe had the same sort of terminology for referring to clueless citizens in their world--but who were they? According to Michael Lewis, a onetime salesman for Salomon Brothers, there was a running joke at Salomon that went:

"What's the second-lowest form of human being?"

"I don't know, what?"

"An equities dealer in Dallas." This was the sub-punchline. At the time, the 1980s, the action, the big money, was not in equities, i.e., stocks, but in the bond market and certainly not in Texas.

"So what's the lowest form of human being?"

"A customer."

That was Salomon Brothers. At Goldman Sachs they called customers "muppets." Other investment banks called their customers "guppies," "suckers," "marks," "sheep," "chumps," "lambs," "baby seals"... Words like suckers, marks, and lambs had considerably more bite than hooples. After all, where do lambs go? To the slaughter.

The Masters of the Universe had always thought of their customers as people who should never have been let out of the house with money in their pockets. But here they were and somebody was going to take advantage of them. To turn your palms up and shrug and just watch them walk by, you'd have to be as lame as they were. They were lame; they weren't stupid. They had money and IQs above 98. So you had to ask yourself, Why would they ever invest in an investment bank? In a hedge fund you at least had a fighting chance. The manager was investing his own money the same way you were. Well... let's be fair. Not every investment bank would lead its customers to the slaughter. On the other hand what was wrong with shearing the fleece every so often?

Our manly Masters, still gorged with so much testosterone and dopamine, just didn't get it in 2009 even when the most unlikely thing in the world happened: a bunch of weaklings, a bunch of nerds known as quants, shut the golden door flat in their faces.

Nerds... the nerd has never been precisely defined, thanks to the psychological complexity of the creature. The word has connotations of some level of intelligence. The typical nerd is a male with intelligence but no sense of giving it a manly face. He doesn't play sports, doesn't automatically crack up over jokes about slutty girls, doesn't shore up his masculinity with frequent drops of the f-bomb, doesn't realize how bad it looks when he shoots his arm into the air and flaps his hand like a flag in his eagerness for the teacher to call on him first to answer the question, doesn't retaliate against insults from his fellow males in the schoolyard--oh, the schoolyard... the schoolyard... It is there that he learns he is not a Master of the Universe and never will be... not in his whole lifetime... and so he develops interests that are neither male nor not male--just obsessive, such as capturing bugs at night and pinning them up on a push-pin board, studiously arranging them by genus, species, and subspecies. There's nothing wrong with it... it's just a little weird and brainy--in short, nerdy. If a nerd was a little weird and not brainy at all, he was known as a dork. There was no connotation of deviant sexual behavior. The Master of the Universe assumed all varieties of nerds--quants, dorks, and plain nerds--were asexual.

Quant was what a nerd could move up in rank to, if he turned out to be a mathematical genius. It was the manly traders' and salesmen's condescending contraction of the actual term, quantitative analyst. Quants started showing up on trading floors in the late 1980s to set up computers that could retrieve information and sort it out faster than a trader, thereby freeing the Master of the Universe from a lot of tedious clerk work. At the outset, the traders looked down upon the quants as nerds who didn't have, in real-manly MasterSpeak, "the balls" it took to go out on the floor and take the big risks required if you wanted to make real money. It was in the early 1990s that the Masters actually coined the word quant, possibly because that was what it sounded like when you squashed a blood-ballooned tick with your thumb. They had no suspicion, none at all, of what these ball-less, sofa-bottomed weaklings were up to.

In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter wrote that stocks and bonds are "evaporated property." Everybody thought of that as such a witty aphorism, but Schumpeter meant it as a lament. "Substituting a mere parcel of shares for the walls and the machines in a factory," he said, "takes the life out of the idea of property." The new owners, i.e., the stockholders, lose the entrepreneur's, the founder's, will "to fight, economically, physically, politically, for, 'his' factory and his control over it and to die if necessary on its steps." Instead, at the first whiff of a problem the shareholders bail out and sell their share of the ownership to whoever will buy it on the stock market... and couldn't care less who it is.

That was how stocks and bonds evaporated property. What the quants had in mind was a quantum leap (so to speak) forward to the next stage: evaporating the stocks and bonds... not the property--that was long gone--but the very stocks and bonds themselves and making some real real money.

It was not a new idea, but even among quants few knew where it came from. Back in 1962 a young (30) mathematics professor at MIT, Edward O. Thorp, had published a mathematically foolproof way of winning at blackjack by counting the numbers of the cards already played. He proved it in live action by playing in a series of Nevada casinos... with a professional gambler's money. The book--and Thorp himself--infuriated the gambling industry. Now any clueless hoople could walk into a casino and wipe out the house. The casinos had to change the rules of a grand (and lucrative) old game. Naturally, the public ate it all up, and Beat the Dealer became a bestseller. To most mathematicians it was ingenious--they devoutly wished they had thought it up themselves--but pretty simple stuff, when you got right down to it. Five years later however, in 1967, Thorp caught their unqualified attention with a second book, Beat the Market. It described a foolproof way of winning big on the stock and bond markets. His fellow mathematicians had been spellbound at the time... 45 years ago. This one baffled ordinary citizens, however. It had to do with the mispricing of stocks and bonds as compared to their derivatives--futures, warrants, debentures, forwards, options, swaps, convertibles... and selling the stocks and bonds short and buying the derivatives long, or vice versa. It didn't matter what stocks or bonds, either. Their names, histories, reputations, prospects--irrelevant. All that mattered were the spreads, the lags, and they didn't have to be large. In fact, a difference of 2 cents was--

Hold on! Hold on!... Did you say derivatives?! and debentures or something?! and selling short?! or vice versa?! It made a hoople's head hurt.  [...]

The robo-monster accounted for 10 percent of all trades in 2000. Thereafter, the number rose in a steep, steady climb to a peak of 73 percent in 2009, close to three of every four trades--and nobody in the outside world, not even the press, had ever heard of it! The first mention of it in the press was not until July 23, 2009, in the New York Times.

The majority of men working full-time right here on Wall Street didn't know much more. They were as innocent as the suckers, the guppies, the muppets. They learned in such tiny steps, they didn't get the whole picture until very late in the game. Their first inkling came when the investment banks' trading floors began to calm down... fewer and fewer traders yelling at each other or into the telephone or at Fate. Before long they were sitting at desks behind banks of computer screens and communicating with each other by text message.

The robots cost some old traders and salesmen their jobs but, again, gradually, and intermittently, somebody still had to attend to the muppets and marks who continued to come to Wall Street to invest--to the quants the word seemed so archaic--to "invest" their money. What the Masters didn't realize was that their muppets, marks, guppies, and chumps provided only the liquidity--i.e., ready money... useful mainly to provide the quants' robo-diddlers with numbers to play with, discrepancies the robot battle machinery could game and exploit. The Masters didn't begin to sense that something was up until the heads of the various desks began giving them odd assignments such as taking big customers or potential customers out to lunch. Out to lunch? Assigned to leave the trading floor in the middle of the trading day? No more you... yes, you... if you must have something to eat, wimp, order in from the deli?... What was this? But even then it never became blatant enough to make them realize the new name of the game.

Today the same sort of top Ivy League students who wanted so badly to work on Wall Street even six years ago... now head for the Silicon Valley, because that is now where things are happening. And what is happening there is part of an older, more typical America. A Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook, and Facebook's industry, IT, for information technology... and, hoodie or no hoodie, are perfectly traditional in the lustrous economic annals of the United States.

Two things showed quite concretely how lowly the traders and salesmen had fallen. For a hot quant prospect, employers would pay up to five times as much as for a Master of the Universe. Or as a New York Post headline put it recently: "Slick 'Wall Street' guys ousted by $1M geeks." And a quant's rogue algorithm for a single stock could bring down the entire market, as in the "flash crash" of 2010 and the 1,000-point nosedive of 2012. The dive cost the Knight Capital Group $440 million. They never recovered.

[originally posted: 1/06/13]
Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


The Hill Ran an Anti-Iran Deal Op-Ed by a Paid Agent of Saudi Arabia Without Disclosing It (Libby Watson, 5/15/18, sPLINTER)

And yet! Were you to read The Hill last Friday, and stumble across an op-ed from Coleman applauding Donald Trump's exit from the Iran nuclear deal, you would not have learned that Coleman has represented the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for five years. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


The Human Beast (Tom Wolfe, 2006 Jefferson Lecture)

Ladies and Gentlemen, this evening it is my modest intention to tell you in the short time we have together . . . everything you will ever need to know about the human beast.

I take that term, the human beast, from my idol, Emile Zola, who published a novel entitled The Human Beast in 1888, just 29 years after Darwin's The Origin of Species broke the stunning news that Homo sapiens--or Homo loquax, as I call him--was not created by God in his own image but was precisely that, a beast, not different in any essential way from snakes with fangs or orangutangs . . . or kangaroos. . . or the fang-proof mongoose. Darwin's doctrine, Evolution, leapt from the pages of a scientific monograph into every level of society in Europe and America with sensational suddenness. It created a sheerly dividing line between the God-fearing bourgeoisie who were appalled, and those people of sweetness and light whose business it was to look down at the bourgeosie from a great height. Today, of course, we call these superior people intellectuals, but intellectual didn't exist as a noun until Clemenceau applied it to Zola and Anatole France in 1896 during the Dreyfus Case. Zola's intellect was as sweetly enlightened as they made them. He was in with the in-crowd. Evenings he spent where the in-crowd went, namely, the Café Guerbois, along with Manet, Cezanne, Whistler, Nadar, and le tout Paris boheme. He took his cues from the in-crowd's views, namely, Academic art was bad, Impressionism was good, and Homo sapiens had descended from the monkeys in the trees. Human beasts? I'll give you human beasts! Zola's aforementioned novel of that name, La Bete Humaine in French, is a story of four murderers, a woman and three men, who work down at track level on the Paris-Le Havre railroad line, each closing in on a different victim, each with a different motive, including the case of a handsome young passenger train engineer with a compulsion . . . to make love to women and then kill them. With that, Zola crowned himself as the first scientific novelist, a "naturalist," to use his term, studying the human fauna.

I love my man Zola. He's my idol. But the whole business exudes irony so rich, you can taste it. It tastes like marzipan. Here we have Darwin and his doctrine that in 1859 rocks Western man's very conception of himself . . . We have the most popular writer in the world in 1888, Zola, who can't wait to bring the doctrine alive on the page . . . We have the next five generations of educated people who have believed and believe to this day that, at bottom, evolution's primal animal urges rule our lives . . . to the point where the fourth greatest pop music hit of 2001, "You and Me, Baby" by the Bloodhound Gang, proclaims, "You and me, baby, we ain't nothing but mammals. / So let's do it like they do on the Dis-cov-ery Channel"--it's rich! rich! rich beyond belief!

O. I love you, Emile, but by the time you and Darwin got hold of it, evolution had been irrelevant for 11,000 years. Why couldn't you two see it? Evolution came to an end when the human beast developed speech! As soon as he became not Homo sapiens, "man reasoning," but Homo loquax, "man talking"! Speech gave the human beast far more than an ingenious tool. Speech was a veritable nuclear weapon! It gave the human beast the powers of reason, complex memory, and long-term planning, eventually in the form of print and engineering plans. Speech gave him the power to enlarge his food supply at will through an artifice called farming. Speech ended not only the evolution of man, by making it no longer necessary, but also the evolution of animals! Our animal friends--we're very sentimental about predators these days, aren't we--the lions, the tigers, the wolves, the rhinoceroses, the great apes, kangaroos, leopards, cheetahs, grizzly bears, polar bears, cougars--they're "endangered," meaning hanging on for dear life. Today the so-called animal kingdom exists only at the human beast's sufferance. The beast has dealt crippling blows even to the unseen empire of the microbes. Stunted adults from Third World countries with abysmal sanitation come to the United States and their offspring grow six or more inches taller, thanks to the wonders of hygiene. Cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys would be extinct by now had not the human beasts hit upon the idea of animal husbandry. So far the human beast enjoys the luxury of crying sentimental tears over the deer because she's so pretty. But the day the human beast discovers deer in his cellar, fawns in his bedroom closet, bucks tangling horns in the attic at night above his very bedroom . . . those filthy oversized vermin, the deer, will be added to that big long list above. We're sentimental about the dolphins, because they're so smart. What about the tuna? It's okay to kill tunas by the ton because they're dimwits? It would take an evolutionary mystic (and there are such) to believe these animals will ever evolve their way out of the hole they're in thanks to man's power of speech.

If you're looking for some good Pod fodder, the lecture is also available as an Mp3

[originally posted: 11/13/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


One Giant Leap to Nowhere (TOM WOLFE, 7/19/09, NY Times)

How could such a thing happen? In hindsight, the answer is obvious. NASA had neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers.

From the moment the Soviets launched Sputnik I into orbit around the Earth in 1957, everybody from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson on down looked upon the so-called space race as just one thing: a military contest. At first there was alarm over the Soviets' seizure of the "strategic high ground" of space. They were already up there -- right above us! They could now hurl thunderbolts down whenever and wherever they wanted. And what could we do about it? Nothing. Ka-boom! There goes Bangor ... Ka-boom! There goes Boston ... Ka-boom! There goes New York ... Baltimore ... Washington ... St. Louis ... Denver ... San Jose -- blown away! -- just like that.

Physicists were quick to point out that nobody would choose space as a place from which to attack Earth. The spacecraft, the missile, the Earth itself, plus the Earth's own rotation, would be traveling at wildly different speeds upon wildly different geometric planes. You would run into the notorious "three body problem" and then some. You'd have to be crazy. The target would be untouched and you would wind up on the floor in a fetal ball, twitching and gibbering. On the other hand, the rockets that had lifted the Soviets' five-ton manned ships into orbit were worth thinking about. They were clearly powerful enough to reach any place on Earth with nuclear warheads.

But that wasn't what was on President Kennedy's mind when he summoned NASA's administrator, James Webb, and Webb's deputy, Hugh Dryden, to the White House in April 1961. The president was in a terrible funk. He kept muttering: "If somebody can just tell me how to catch up. Let's find somebody -- anybody ... There's nothing more important." He kept saying, "We've got to catch up." Catching up had become his obsession. He never so much as mentioned the rockets.

Dryden said that, frankly, there was no way we could catch up with the Soviets when it came to orbital flights. A better idea would be to announce a crash program on the scale of the Manhattan Project, which had produced the atomic bomb. Only the aim this time would be to put a man on the Moon within the next 10 years.

Barely a month later Kennedy made his famous oration before Congress: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth." He neglected to mention Dryden.

INTUITIVELY, not consciously, Kennedy had chosen another form of military contest, an oddly ancient and archaic one. It was called "single combat."

The best known of all single combats was David versus Goliath. Before opposing armies clashed in all-out combat, each would send forth its "champion," and the two would fight to the death, usually with swords. The victor would cut off the head of the loser and brandish it aloft by its hair.

The deadly duel didn't take the place of the all-out battle. It was regarded as a sign of which way the gods were leaning. The two armies then had it out on the battlefield ... unless one army fled in terror upon seeing its champion slaughtered. There you have the Philistines when Little David killed their giant, Goliath ... and cut his head off and brandished it aloft by its hair (1 Samuel 17:1-58). They were overcome by a mad desire to be somewhere else. (The Israelites pursued and destroyed them.)

More than two millenniums later, the mental atmosphere of the space race was precisely that.

The Economic Failure of the Space Program (Michael Mandel, July 19, 2009, Business Week)
Between 1962 and 1972, the U.S. space program spent $176 billion (inflation-adjusted in 2009 dollars). In magnitude, that comes close to the mammoth federal expenditures on building the interstate highway system over the same period (outlays from the Federal Highway Trust Fund totalled $220 billion in 2009 dollars from 1962-72).

We know what we got from the interstate highway system--fast, easy transportation, the creation of the suburbs, an entire transformation of our way of life. What did we get economically from the space program, especially the manned portion? Much, much less. Government investment in space, rather than opening up new opportunities, turned out to be a one-off. Lots of communication satellites, yes, but what else? There's no manufacturing in space, and unless I'm wrong, there's been little research done in space which has had great practical applications (please let me know if I'm wrong about this).

I'm sorry to be a grump about this. I don't think the expenditures on space were a bad idea. I don't think the moon landing was a bad idea. To the contrary--I'm glad we did it.

I'm just making the economic point that we used large amounts of scarce scientific and technical labor and money for one activity which at least up to now, has not produced big economic payoffs.

It wasn't helpful that from the start of the Space era until the election of Ronald Reagan we had an especially unthoughtful series of presidents.

[originally posted: 7/19/09]

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Racist 'alt-right' movement reeling after string of setbacks (MICHAEL KUNZELMAN and DYLAN LOVAN, 5/15/18, AP)

Richard Spencer, who coined the term "alt-right" to describe a loosely connected band of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists, suspended a college tour after violent clashes overshadowed one of his campus speeches in March. He and other leading alt-right figures are fighting lawsuits without help from lawyers. Many also are struggling to raise money or spread their messages after losing access to mainstream internet platforms. A few have even dropped out of the movement altogether.

And then there's Heimbach, whose Traditionalist Worker Party was rocked by his arrest in March on charges he assaulted his wife's stepfather, David Matthew Parrott, who also was the group's spokesman. The men had argued over Heimbach's alleged affair with Parrott's wife, according to court documents. The alleged assault was a violation of Heimbach's probation for a case in which he was accused of physically harassing a protester at a 2016 Trump campaign rally in Kentucky.

The Daily Stormer, a leading neo-Nazi website, has struggled to stay online since its founder, Andrew Anglin, published a post mocking the woman who was killed by a car that plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters at a "Unite the Right" white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer.

Anglin complained of being "banned from the internet" after domain-name registration companies Google and GoDaddy yanked the site's web address, effectively making it unreachable. Other technology companies cracked down on far-right extremists in the rally's aftermath. Twitter, for instance, banned accounts belonging to alt-right troll Tim "Baked Alaska" Gionet and white nationalist Jared Taylor.

Christopher Cantwell, a white nationalist who hosts a live-streamed talk show called "Radical Agenda," was jailed on felony charges stemming from a torch-lit march through the University of Virginia's campus on the eve of the rally. Cantwell, Spencer and other "Unite the Right" participants are named in a federal lawsuit that blames them for the Charlottesville violence.

White nationalists rejoiced when Trump seemed to spread the blame for the violence.

And this is their Golden age. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Manliness: Proving Darwin Wrong (Peter Augustine Lawler, The Imaginative Conservative)

America's two most astute social commentators, the political philosopher Harvey Mansfield and the novelist Tom Wolfe, have weighed in on the debate over the neo-Darwinian view of evolution. They agree that the real controversy in our country is not between rationalists who preach evolutionism and fundamentalists who live in Darwin-denial, but between those who still believe that evolution can account for the whole of human behavior and those who see with their own eyes that it does not. The Darwinians, they observe, cannot properly account for the natural human quality that Mansfield calls "manliness" and that Wolfe, following the sociologists, describes as each individual's concern for his own status or ranking. The Darwinians do not recognize what genuinely distinguishes the human individual from everything else in nature, so they cannot account for such admirable phenomena as Carson Holloway's defense of transcendent human nobility against Darwinian reductionism.

Mansfield's Manliness is an ambitious and profound attempt to account for the human individual in terms of his need for--and his dramatic assertion of--singular, indispensable importance. The individual he describes is not the sovereign or utterly free (but also fearfully miserable) modern individual invented by Hobbes. Nor is he the Christian person whose dignity is graciously guaranteed by the Creator who made and loves him.

The manly individual is not the contemporary individual who understands his freedom as the replacement of social virtue by selfish calculation whom I criticize in Stuck with Virtue. Nor, finally, is he the Freudian individual who distinguishes himself by the uniqueness of his unconscious desires. The manly individual, the real human being, asserts that he is more than--essentially or qualitatively different from--his slavish fears, obsessions, and bodily desires. Wolfe shows in all his essays and novels that the truth of this assertion is still evident everywhere in our country today. In his most recent novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, he describes life at an elite contemporary university in terms of manly struggles for status. He focuses on a brilliant young woman, Charlotte Simmons, who enters the university convinced that she will distinguish herself through the life of the mind, and a young man, Jojo Johanssen, proud of his physical prowess as one of the country's most talented basketball players. Both Charlotte and Jojo think of themselves, not without reason, as natural aristocrats, distinguished from almost all of humanity by their mental or physical excellence.

Charlotte and Jojo certainly do not think of themselves--as the evolutionists do--merely as members of their species, or of a kin group. And they are right not to do so. Wolfe's and Mansfield's observations on the singular importance of the human individual are nobly supplemented by Carson Holloway's excellent The Right Darwin. Holloway (who writes as a real man, contemptuous of anyone who cannot see how important human beings can be) develops an Aristotelian-Tocquevillian critique of the view that Darwinian materialism could ever provide an adequate account of the goodness or greatness of the virtue alone practiced by human individuals. More insistently than Wolfe or Mansfield, Holloway defends the transcendent heights in which manliness surpasses itself in the direction of genuine human perfection.

Reflecting seriously on the individual defined by manliness can transform our understanding of who we are. And there is a great deal of empirical evidence for the truth of this view: Making the case against Darwin and on behalf of human dignity need not depend on revelation or the distinctive insights of Christian psychology. This is made plain in the fine anti-Darwinian scientific observations found in Tom Wolfe's 2006 Jefferson Lecture on "The Human Beast."

There, Wolfe claims to cover "everything you will need to know about the human beast." The phrase "human beast" he borrows from the title of Emile Zola's famous novel, the first literary presentation of Darwin's alleged discovery that human beasts are not really different from all the others. The sudden and sensational popularization of that "breakthrough" in the nineteenth century divided the intellectual world into two classes. The "God-fearing bourgeoisie" were "appalled by the suggestion that they were not created in the Creator's image." So they have raged against the scientific denial of individual human dignity or importance. The intellectuals-- "whose business it was to look down on the bourgeois from a great height"--embraced the new enlightenment that elevated each of them by reducing everyone else to beasts. In effect, they took pride in knowing that pride had no natural foundation. They incoherently believed that by seeing themselves and everyone else as beasts they had achieved a sort of divine wisdom about all things. Now the persistence of this class struggle over dignity or status--for five generations--is undeniable evidence of the distinctiveness of the human beast.

We went to the DHMC flu clinc and I asked for the mist, instead of the vaccine. The nurse said it was only for unders-18s and to "be a man and take the shot."

[originally posted: 9/29/15]

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


The Faith of John Glenn (TOM WOLFE, Dec. 9, 2016, wsj)

The idea is to answer personal questions as remotely and briefly and in as moribund a deadpan as possible. That they proceed to do...until it's John Glenn's turn.

The others can't believe it. The man's ready with a discourse on the subject, complete with sincerity-steeped rhetorical inflections.

"I don't think any of us could really go on with something like this if we didn't have pretty good backing at home, really," Glenn says. "My wife's attitude toward this has been the same as it has been all along through all my flying. If it is what I want to do, she is behind it, and the kids are too, a hundred percent."

What the hell is he talking about? I don't think any of us could really go on with something like this... Schirra leans into his mike and says, "My wife has agreed that professional opinions are mine, career is mine." What possible difference could a wife's attitude make about an opportunity this big? What was with this guy?

It keeps on in that fashion. Some reporter gets up and asks them all about their religious affiliations (religious affiliations?)--and Glenn tees off again.

"I am a Presbyterian," he says, "a Protestant Presbyterian, and I take my religion very seriously, as a matter of fact." He starts telling them about all the Sunday schools he has taught at and the church boards he has served on and all the church work that he and his wife and his children have done. "I was brought up believing that you are placed on Earth here more or less with sort of a 50-50 proposition, and this is what I still believe. We are placed here with certain talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us to use those talents and capabilities as best you can. If you do that, I think there is a power greater than any of us that will place the opportunities in our way, and if we use our talents properly, we will be living the kind of life we should live."

A power greater than any of us! From the lips of a flying jock! The others do their best to locate some piety and stay in the game. Gus Grissom says, "I consider myself religious. I am a Protestant and belong to the Church of Christ. I am not real active in church, as Mr. Glenn is"--Mister Glenn--"but I consider myself a good Christian still." Deke Slayton says, "As far as my religious faith is concerned, I am a Lutheran, and I go to church periodically." Alan Shepard says, "I am not a member of any church. I attend the Christian Science Church regularly." He doesn't feel compelled to mention that when he went to church, it was because his wife was an ardent member. It was hard slogging, but Glenn had given them no choice. The wise thing was to imply somehow that you had piety to burn.

Glenn never gave up. He kept the pressure on. In his speech to Congress after the historic flight that made him the first American to orbit the Earth, he said some things that nobody else in the world could have gotten away with, even in 1962. He said, "I still get a lump in my throat when I see the American flag passing by."

Yet for all of this, I never see mention of Glenn's importance in the religious history of the United States. 

[originally posted: 12/09/16]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


The "Me" Decade and the Third Great Awakening: ". . . The new alchemical dream is: changing one's personality--remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one's very self . . . and observing, studying, and doting on it. (Me!) . . ." (Tom Wolfe, August 23, 1976, New York Magazine)

Every major religious wave that has developed in America has started out the same way: with a flood of ecstatic experiences. The First Great Awakening, as it is known to historians, came in the 1740s and was led by preachers of "the New Light" such as Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, and George Whitefield. They and their followers were known as "enthusiasts" and "come-outers," terms of derision that referred to the frenzied, holy-rolling, pentecostal shout tempo of their services and to their visions, trances, shrieks, and agonies, which are preserved in great Rabelaisian detail in the writings of their detractors.

The Second Great Awakening came in the period from 1825 to 1850 and took the form of a still wilder hoe-down camp-meeting revivalism, of ceremonies in which people barked, bayed, fell down in fits and swoons, rolled on the ground, talked in tongues, and even added a touch of orgy. The Second Awakening originated in western New York State, where so many evangelical movements caught fire it became known as "the Burned-Over District." Many new seets, such as Oneida and the Shakers, were involved. But so were older ones, such as the evangelical Baptists. The fervor spread throughout the American frontier (and elsewhere) before the Civil War. The most famous sect of the Second Great Awakening was the Mormon movement, founded by a 24-year-old. Joseph Smith, and a small group of youthful comrades. This bunch was regarded as wilder, crazier, more obscene, more of a threat, than the entire lot of hippie communes of the 1960s put together. Smith was shot to death by a lynch mob in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844, which was why the Mormons, now with Brigham Young at the helm, emigrated to Utah. A sect, incidentally, is a religion with no political power. Once the Mormons settled, built, and ruled Utah, Mormonism became a religion sure enough . . . and eventually wound down to the slow, firm beat of respectability. . . .

We are now--in the Me Decade--seeing the upward roll (and not yet the crest, by any means) of the third great religious wave in American history, one that historians will very likely term the Third Great Awakening. Like the others it has begun in a flood of ecstasy, achieved through LSD and other psychedelics, orgy, dancing (the New Sufi and the Hare Krishna), meditation, and psychic frenzy (the marathon encounter). This third wave has built up from more diverse and exotic sources than the first two, from therapeutic movements as well as overtly religious movements, from hippies and students of "psi phenomena" and Flying Saucerites as well as charismatic Christians. But other than that, what will historians say about it?

The historian Perry Miller credited the First Great Awakening with helping to pave the way for the American Revolution through its assault on the colonies' religious establishment and, thereby, on British colonial authority generally. The sociologist Thomas O'Dea credited the Second Great Awakening with creating the atmosphere of Christian asceticism (known as "bleak" on the East Coast) that swept through the Midwest and the West during the nineteenth century and helped make it possible to build communities in the face of great hardship. And the Third Great Awakening? Journalists (historians have not yet tackled the subject) have shown a morbid tendency to regard the various movements in this wave as "fascist." The hippie movement was often attacked as "fascist" in the late 1960s. Over the past several years a barrage of articles has attacked Scientology, the est movement, and "the Moonies" (followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon) along the same lines.

Frankly, this tells us nothing except that journalists bring the same conventional Grim Slide concepts to every subject. The word fascism derives from the old Roman symbol of power and authority, the fasces, a bundle of sticks bound together by thongs (with an ax head protruding from one end). One by one the sticks would be easy to break. Bound together they are invincible Fascist ideology called for binding all classes, all levels, all elements of an entire nation together into a single organization with a single will.

The various movements of the current religious wave attempt very nearly the opposite. They begin with . . . "Let's talk about Me." They begin with the most delicious look inward; with considerable narcissism, in short. When the believers bind together into religions, it is always with a sense of splitting off from the rest of society. We, the enlightened (lit by the sparks at the apexes of our souls), hereby separate ourselves from the lost souls around us. Like all religions before them, they proselytize--but always on promising the opposite of nationalism: a City of Light that is above it all. There is no ecumenical spirit within this Third Great Awakening. If anything, there is a spirit of schism. The contempt the various seers have for one another is breathtaking. One has only to ask, say, Oscar Ichazo of Arica about Carlos Castaneda or Werner Erhard of est to learn that Castaneda is a fake and Erhard is a shallow sloganeer. It's exhilarating!--to watch the faithful split off from one another to seek ever more perfect and refined crucibles in which to fan the Divine spark . . . and to talk about Me.

Whatever the Third Great Awakening amounts to, for better or for worse, will have to do with this unprecedented post-World War II American development: the luxury, enjoyed by so many millions of middling folk, of dwelling upon the self. At first glance, Shirley Polykoff's slogan--"If I've only one life, let me live it as a blonde!"--seems like merely another example of a superficial and irritating rhetorical trope (antanaclasis) that now happens to be fashionable among advertising copywriters. But in fact the notion of "If I've only one life" challenges one of those assumptions of society that are so deep-rooted and ancient, they have no name--they are simply lived by. In this case: man's age-old belief in serial immortality.

The husband and wife who sacrifice their own ambitions and their material assets in order to provide "a better future" for their children . . . the soldier who risks his life, or perhaps consciously sacrifices it, in battle . . . the man who devotes his life to some struggle for "his people" that cannot possibly be won in his lifetime . . . people (or most of them) who buy life insurance or leave wills . . . and, for that matter, most women upon becoming pregnant for the first time . . . are people who conceive of themselves, however unconsciously, as part of a great biological stream. Just as something of their ancestors lives on in them, so will something of them live on in their children . . . or in their people, their race, their community--for childless people, too, conduct their lives and try to arrange their postmortem affairs with concern for how the great stream is going to flow on. Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, "I have only one life to live." Instead they have lived as if they are living their ancestors' lives and their offspring's lives and perhaps their neighbors' lives as well. They have seen themselves as inseparable from the great tide of chromosomes of which they are created and which they pass on. The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things. The Chinese, in ancestor worship, have literally worshiped the great tide itself, and not any god or gods. For anyone to renounce the notion of serial immortality, in the West or the East, has been to defy what seems like a law of Nature. Hence the wicked feeling--the excitement!--of "If I've only one life, let me live it as a ------!" Fill in the blank, if you dare.

And now many dare it! In Democracy in America, Tocqueville (the inevitable and ubiquitous Tocqueville) saw the American sense of equality itself as disrupting the stream, which he called "time's pattern": "Not only does democracy make each man forget his ancestors, it hides his descendants from him, and divides him from his contemporaries; it continually turns him back into himself, and threatens, at last, to enclose him entirely in the solitude of his own heart." A grim prospect to the good Alexis de T.--but what did he know about . . . Let's talk about Me!

Tocqueville's idea of modern man lost "in the solitude of his own heart" has been brought forward into our time in such terminology as alienation (Marx), anomie (Durkheim), the mass man (Ortega y Gasset), and the lonely crowd (Riesman). The picture is always of a creature uprooted by industrialism, packed together in cities with people he doesn't know, helpless against massive economic and political shifts--in short, a creature like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, a helpless, bewildered, and dispirited slave to the machinery. This victim of modern times has always been a most appealing figure to intellectuals, artists, and architects. The poor devil so obviously needs us to be his Engineers of the Soul, to use a term popular in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. We will pygmalionize this sad lump of clay into a homo novus, a New Man, with a new philosophy, a new aesthetics, not to mention new Bauhaus housing and furniture.

But once the dreary little bastards started getting money in the 1940s, they did an astonishing thing--they took their money and ran. They did something only aristocrats (and intellectuals and artists) were supposed to do--they discovered and started doting on Me! They've created the greatest age of individualism in American history! All rules are broken! The prophets are out of business! Where the Third Great Awakening will lead--who can presume to say? One only knows that the great religious waves have a momentum all their own. Neither arguments nor policies nor acts of the legislature have been any match for them in the past. And this one has the mightiest, holiest roll of all, the beat that goes . . . Me . . . Me . . . . Me . . . Me . . .

...appalled by that BMW with the brat who never gets exactly what he wants until he can finally afford his choice of cars?

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[originally posted: 12/27/10]

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


President Trump shrinks from another fight with China (John Harwood, 5/15/18,

Strange as it sounded, Donald Trump's reversal on punishing a Chinese telecommunications giant fits his pattern: Facing powerful adversaries, the tough-talking president usually shrinks from a fight. [...]

The administration team he recently sent to Beijing to demand trade concessions from China came back empty. China, from which Trump simultaneously seeks help in nuclear negotiations with North Korea, demanded that he back off ZTE.

So Trump backed off - just as he did upon taking office with his stern promises to declare the world's second-largest economy a "currency manipulator."

President Trump just blinked on China: The president appears to have crawled way out on a limb to make a mediocre deal. (Daniel W. Drezner May 15, 2018, Washington Post)

As the Journal story noted, "The Trump administration worries that a backlash among U.S. farmers to tariffs could endanger Republican efforts to keep control of the House and Senate in midterm elections." The Post story notes:

Talks with China had bogged down in recent days, a potential problem for Trump because he needs Chinese help with the upcoming North Korea summit.

The president has asked several White House advisers recently what the Chinese want and what must be done to advance the trade talks, according to two people briefed on the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about sensitive matters.

Trump is determined to make a deal with China and has been told in recent days that relaxing restrictions on ZTE was a "prerequisite" to get the Chinese to engage in substantive discussions.

As the Financial Times editorializes, this is a heckuva way to run a railroad:

Mr Trump's remarkable conversion -- he not only lifted the restrictions on ZTE but actively wished for the company's revival -- appears to be entirely due to exchanges with Xi Jinping, China's president, ahead of a visit from a Chinese delegation to Washington for talks about trade.

In this context, the move fits in all too well with two of Mr Trump's huge weaknesses as a president. First, he is addicted to making deals with other powerful leaders on the spur of the moment and with barely any thought of the consequences either to the goal he is pursuing, or indeed other interests of the US. Second, he has contempt for the normal functioning of government, and particularly the interagency process that painstakingly works out policy in the US's complex and multifaceted administration.

All of this is consistent with Monday's observation that this administration is shorthanded and scrambling when it comes to trade issues.

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Tom Wolfe, Innovative Nonfiction Writer and Novelist, Dies at 88 (Deirdre Carmody and William Grimes, May 15, 2018, NY Times)

Once asked to describe his get-up, Mr. Wolfe replied brightly, "Neo-pretentious."

It was a typically wry response from a writer who found delight in lacerating the pretentiousness of others. He had a pitiless eye and a penchant for spotting trends and then giving them names, some of which -- like "Radical Chic" and "the Me Decade" -- became American idioms.

His talent as a writer and caricaturist was evident from the start in his verbal pyrotechnics and perfect mimicry of speech patterns, his meticulous reporting, and his creative use of pop language and explosive punctuation.

"As a titlist of flamboyance he is without peer in the Western world," Joseph Epstein wrote in the The New Republic. "His prose style is normally shotgun baroque, sometimes edging over into machine-gun rococo, as in his article on Las Vegas which begins by repeating the word 'hernia' 57 times."

William F. Buckley Jr., writing in National Review, put it more simply: "He is probably the most skillful writer in America -- I mean by that he can do more things with words than anyone else."

From 1965 to 1981 Mr. Wolfe produced nine nonfiction books. "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," an account of his reportorial travels in California with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters as they spread the gospel of LSD, remains a classic chronicle of the counterculture, "still the best account -- fictional or non, in print or on film -- of the genesis of the sixties hipster subculture," the press critic Jack Shafer wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review on the book's 40th anniversary.

Even more impressive, to many critics, was "The Right Stuff," his exhaustively reported narrative about the first American astronauts and the Mercury space program. The book, adapted into a film in 1983 with Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid and Ed Harris, made the test pilot Chuck Yeager a cultural hero and added yet another phrase to the English language.

At the same time, Mr. Wolfe continued to turn out a stream of essays and magazine pieces for New York, Harper's and Esquire. His theory of literature, which he preached in print and in person and to anyone who would listen was that journalism and non-fiction had "wiped out the novel as American literature's main event."

After "The Right Stuff," published in 1979, he confronted what he called "the question that rebuked every writer who had made a point of experimenting with nonfiction over the preceding ten or fifteen years: Are you merely ducking the big challenge -- The Novel?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Pence Is Trying to Control Republican Politics. Trump Aides Aren't Happy. (Alexander Burns, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, May 14, 2018, NY Times)

Republican officials now see Mr. Pence as seeking to exercise expansive control over a political party ostensibly helmed by Mr. Trump, tending to his own allies and interests even when the president's instincts lean in another direction. Even as he laces his public remarks with praise for the president, Mr. Pence and his influential chief of staff, Nick Ayers, are unsettling a group of Mr. Trump's fierce loyalists who fear they are forging a separate power base. [...]

Word of the internal tensions is getting out beyond the walls of the White House: one prominent lawmaker said the complaints of high-ranking Trump officials were starting to circulate on Capitol Hill.

"They're looking for people to stay on the team, not break away from the team," Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said of the Trump side of the West Wing. [...]

"I don't know if he can get the nomination or not," said Lyle Campbell, a retiree living in Scottsdale. "I like Pence very much, but I'd rather have a woman run -- I'd rather have the ambassador to the U.N."

Good governance requires planning the transition.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Trump Indonesia project is latest stop on China's Belt and Road (11 May, 2018, SCMP)

A billion-dollar Indonesian property development with ties to Donald Trump has become the latest project in China's globe-spanning Belt and Road infrastructure project - just as Washington and Beijing are tussling over trade.

A subsidiary of Chinese state-owned construction firm Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) signed a deal with Indonesia's MNC Land to build a theme park outside Jakarta as part of the ambitious project, the company said on Thursday.

The deal is the latest to raise questions about the extent of Trump's financial exposure to Beijing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Michael Cohen's Meetings With Michael Flynn and a Qatari Diplomat Might Be the Key to Unlocking the Steele Dossier (JEREMY STAHL, MAY 14, 2018, Slate)

The founder of a three-on-three basketball league who claims he was offered a bribe by a one-time Qatari diplomat to arrange access to Steve Bannon said on Monday that the former diplomat is the same person photographed with Michael Cohen at Trump Tower in December 2016.

BIG3 basketball league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz told Slate that he recognized Ahmed Al-Rumaihi in photos with Cohen that were tweeted Sunday by attorney Michael Avenatti.

"Yes, 100 percent," Kwatinetz said when asked if he thought the videos and photos were of Ahmed Al-Rumaihi. Last week, Kwatinetz, who is a co-founder of BIG3 with Ice Cube, accused Al-Rumaihi in a sworn court declaration of making an attempted bribe and of suggestively boasting that Flynn had not refused "our money." [...]

The photos were posted on Twitter on Sunday by Avenatti, who is representing the adult film actor Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against Cohen that seeks to nullify her confidentiality agreement over an alleged affair with Donald Trump. Avenatti tweeted the images that appeared to show Al-Rumaihi entering an elevator in Trump Tower on Dec. 12, 2016, five days after news broke of the multibillion-dollar sale of 19.5 percent of the Russian fossil fuel giant Rosneft to Swiss trading firm Glencore and Qatar's sovereign investment fund. (Glencore and Qatar sold off a major stake of Rosneft to China last year, but earlier this month Qatar bought back in to the Russian company for a total stake of 19 percent.)

The Rosneft deal features prominently in an investigative dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. A central claim of the Steele dossier was that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, during an alleged meeting with Rosneft officials in summer 2016, promised that a Trump administration would undo sanctions against Russia, in part, in exchange for brokerage of the Rosneft deal. In May 2016, Al-Rumaihi reportedly took over as head of a major division of the wealth fund ultimately involved in the Rosneft deal.

The allegations in the Steele dossier, made in October 2016, suggested a future quid-pro-quo deal between Russia and the Trump campaign. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


Iraqi Voters Strengthen Hand of Militia Leader Who Battled U.S. (Margaret Coker and Rick Gladstone, May 14, 2018, NY Times)

Moktada al-Sadr, a firebrand militia leader whose forces once battled American troops in Iraq and were implicated in widespread atrocities against civilians, has emerged as the surprise front-runner in the Iraqi national elections, according to Iraqi election officials.

After American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, Mr. Sadr remained vocally anti-American, though he has also been strongly critical of Iran, the other foreign power with widespread influence here.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


I Helped Start the Gaza Protests. I Don't Regret It. (Ahmed Abu Ratima, May 14, 2018, NY Times)

My grandparents and their grandparents were born and raised in the town of Ramla, in the center of what is now Israel. On my walks, I imagined my family's ancestral land.

But I also have experienced the destructive impact of borders more personally. I was born in 1984, two years after Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, dividing my city, Rafah, between Gaza and Egypt. The core of the city was razed by Israel and Egypt to create a buffer zone, separating families, including mine, with barbed wire. My mother's family lived on the Egyptian side and Rafah's division ended in the separation of my parents. Although my mother lived a stone's throw away, it was 19 years before I saw her again.

On that day in December, as I watched the birds fly over the border I could not cross, I found myself thinking how much smarter birds and animals are than people; they harmonize with nature instead of erecting walls. Later that day, I wondered on Facebook what would happen if a man acted like a bird and crossed that fence. "Why would Israeli soldiers shoot at him as if he is committing a crime?" I wrote. My only thought was to reach the trees, sit there and then come back.

I couldn't let go of that thought. A month later, I wrote another post. "Thank you, Israel, for opening our eyes. If the occupation opened the crossing points, and allowed people to live a normal life and created jobs for young people, we could wait for a few generations," I wrote. "We are forced to choose between confrontations or between life." I ended the post with the hashtag GreatReturnMarch.

These Statistics Show Why Gazans Are Risking Their Lives To Protest Israel: The humanitarian crisis and the current death toll. (SASHA KRAMER, 5/14/18, In These Times)

2007 Year Israel imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Gaza

76% Reduction in Gazan imports after the blockade
151 Import items, including cement and pipes, prohibited because of "dual use" for military purposes
84% Portion of supplies for water, health and sanitation infrastructure denied by Israel, according to Oxfam
97% Portion of drinking water in Gaza that is unsafe
6-8 Daily hours of electricity Israel supplies to Gaza
61:1 Ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed in Gaza since 2009
181 Times between January and March that ISF shot at Gazan fishers and farmers who strayed into "access restricted areas," killing two and wounding 13 [...]
101 Protesters killed in Gaza by Israeli security forces since March 30, as of May 14
8,400 Gazans wounded in the protests since March 30, as of May 14

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Ireland Lowered Its Corporate Tax Rate. Here's What Happened. (Fred Lucas, May 14, 2018, Daily Signal)

Many U.S.-based multinationals are finding luck with Ireland's low corporate tax rate--and that 12.5 percent rate has been a pot of gold for the Irish economy as well.

In 2015, the Irish economy was estimated to have grown by 26.3 percent through foreign companies opening operations and providing high-paying jobs, including about 700 U.S. companies currently operating in the country.

The Irish corporate tax rate is about half the average for other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which comprises 34 developed nations.

May 14, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Replacing agents with bots, startup upends home insurance industry (SHOSHANNA SOLOMON, 5/14/18, Times of Israel)

New York-based Lemonade Insurance Company, founded by Israeli entrepreneurs Shai Wininger and Daniel Schreiber, is seeking to revolutionize the way we insure our homes.

The startup, which began its activities with homeowner and renters insurance, is a licensed insurer in 11 US states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas, allowing users to insure their homes by doing away with agents and replacing them with bots and artificial intelligence. Customers answer a set of simple questions through a chat with the company's bot, Maya, and, in seconds, can get their home insured. It takes 90 seconds to get insured, the company's website says, and three minutes to get paid, if and when a claim is made.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Trump's hardline supporters sound alarm on his China moves (Jonathan Swan, Erica Pandey , 5/14/18, Axios)

President Trump's pivot on China has some of his most loyal supporters spooked.

Why it matters: Several people outside the White House who have Trump's ear -- Fox News' Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham -- are publicly dissenting. And, internally, trade hardliners Peter Navarro and Robert Lighthizer are concerned about a Mnuchin-led deal that could give up on nailing China for its nefarious industrial practices.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Multiverse theory cops a blow after dark energy findings: The question of dark energy in one universe does not require others to provide an answer. (Andrew Masterson, 5/14/18, Cosmos)

[A] group of astronomers, including Luke Barnes from the University of Sydney in Australia and Jaime Salcido from Durham University in the UK, has published two papers in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that show the dark energy and star formation balance isn't quite as fine as previous estimates have suggested.

The team created simulations of the universe using the supercomputer architecture contained within the Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments (EAGLE) project. This is a UK-based collaboration that models some 10,000 galaxies over a distance of 300 million-light years, and compares the results with actual observations from the Hubble Telescope and other observatories.

The simulations allowed the researchers to adjust the amount of dark energy in the universe and watch what happened.

The results were a surprise. The research revealed that the amount of dark energy could be increased a couple of hundred times - or reduced equally drastically - without substantially affecting anything else.

"For many physicists, the unexplained but seemingly special amount of dark energy in our universe is a frustrating puzzle," says Salcido.

"Our simulations show that even if there was much more dark energy or even very little in the universe then it would only have a minimal effect on star and planet formation."

And this, he suggests, implies that life could potentially exist in many multiverse universes - ironically enough, an uncomfortable conclusion.

"The multiverse was previously thought to explain the observed value of dark energy as a lottery - we have a lucky ticket and live in the universe that forms beautiful galaxies which permit life as we know it," says Barnes.

"Our work shows that our ticket seems a little too lucky, so to speak. It's more special than it needs to be for life. This is a problem for the multiverse; a puzzle remains."

It is a puzzle that goes right to the heart of the matter: if the dark energy assumptions are flawed, does a multiverse even exist? The researchers acknowledge that their results do not preclude it - but they do diminish the likelihood.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Five Amusing Myths About the Iran Controversy (Joseph Mussomeli, 5/13/18, Imaginative Conservative)

1. Iran is the Leading State Sponsor of Terrorism

The State Department has been regurgitating this mindless drivel for decades and now President Trump is echoing it. Mr. Trump was more lucid and forthright before becoming President when he bluntly wrote that Saudi Arabia is the "biggest funder" of terrorism. But now that Israel and Saudi Arabia have formed a temporary alliance of convenience against Iran, President Trump is willing to ignore his better instinct about our ally Saudi Arabia. Iran has never attacked the American homeland and was among the first countries to condemn the attacks of September 11. Without exception, every Islamic terrorist attack in the United States has been perpetrated by Sunni extremists who have been indoctrinated by the intolerant, anti-Western Wahhabi sect funded by the Saudi regime. From well before 9/11 and up to the present day, Saudi-taught and Saudi-inspired terrorists have remained the greatest threat to the United States.

As with any myth, there is always a kernel of truth and it is undeniable that Iran has sponsored attacks on U.S. interests overseas--but only when it perceived them as legitimate responses to military aggression. The most obvious example of this was the 1983 suicide bombing of our Marine barracks in Lebanon in which 241 of our Marines lost their lives. While that attack was deplorable, what is usually left out of the narrative about that attack was that the United States was initially viewed by all sides as neutral, but eventually the White House chose sides in the ongoing civil war in Lebanon--never a good idea in any civil war--and started shelling Shi'a villages. Moreover, if we consider which state sponsor of terrorism is responsible for the most American deaths overseas, again Iran falls short. That label is more appropriately awarded to our other longtime ally Pakistan, which has funded and protected the Taliban and the Haqqani network who have killed or wounded thousands of Americans in Afghanistan.

We overthrew Saddam, not them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


It's No Wonder Iranians Hate America: When will the U.S. stop reminding them how legitimate their grievances are? (Pankaj Mishra, May 11, 2018, Bloomberg)

These Western interventionists don't grasp why Iran came very late to decolonization, and then with a volcanic anti-Western eruption. For decades Iranians were victims of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. inflicted puppet regimes on many nation-states in Asia and Africa. Iran did have its own nationalist upsurge, which built up throughout Western and Soviet occupation of the country during World War II. But it was brutally suppressed by a CIA-backed coup in 1953 that deposed the country's democratically elected leader and empowered the despotic Shah of Iran.

The tens of thousands of Americans who once lived in Tehran -- some as advisers to the Shah's notorious executioners and torturers in the secret police -- may have occasionally felt the visceral hostility in the country to the Shah and his American enablers.

But they were not helped by "obtusely establishment editors," as Kennett Love, the New York Times correspondent in Tehran, called his bosses, who like most American newspaper editors couldn't look past the Shah's pharaonic modernization projects to his brutality and foolishness.

Such naivete and ignorance explains why, when they finally erupted in 1979, anti-American passions shocked policymakers and opinion-formers in the U.S.

Frustrated "real men" then took to assisting Saddam Hussein in his vicious assault on Iran, which entrenched the Islamic revolutionaries in power in Tehran. They trampled upon the few shoots of liberal reform in Iran in the early 2000s, insisting on the country's inclusion in President George W. Bush's "axis of evil." It is no surprise that their stampede into Baghdad helped turn Iraq into an Iranian client state.

Needless to add, during all these years of unrelentingly belligerent and incompetent American policy, Iranian nationalism osmotically grew, along with Iran's sphere of influence in the region.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


A Brief History of Michael Cohen's Criminal Ties: From the Russian mob to money launderers, Trump's personal attorney has long been a subject of interest to federal investigators (Seth Hettena, April 10, 2018, Rolling Stone)

During Trump's presidential run, reporters noticed a curious thing about Cohen. Questions about Trump's business or his taxes went to his chief legal officer or another staffer, but Cohen handled questions about Russia. "One of the things that we learned that caught my interest," Simpson testified to Congress in November 2017, "serious questions about Donald Trump's activities in Russia and the former Soviet Union went to Michael Cohen, and that he was the only person who had information on that subject or was in a position to answer those questions."

In the 1990s, there was an informal group of federal and local law enforcement agents investigating the Russian Mafiya in New York that called themselves "Red Star." They shared information they learned from informants. It was well known among the members of Red Star that Cohen's father-in-law was funneling money into Trump ventures. Several sources have told me that Cohen was one of several attorneys who helped money launderers purchase apartments in a development in Sunny Isles Beach, a seaside Florida town just north of Miami. This was an informal arrangement passed word-of-mouth: "We have heard from Russian sources that ... in Florida, Cohen and other lawyers acted as a conduit for money."

A year after Trump World Tower opened in 2002, Trump had agreed to let Miami father-and-son developers Gil and Michael Dezer use his name on what ultimately became six Sunny Isles Beach condominium towers, which drew in new moneyed Russians all too eager to pay millions. "Russians love the Trump brand," said Gil Dezer, who added that Russians and Russian-Americans bought some 200 of the 2,000 or so units in Trump buildings he built. A seventh Trump-branded hotel tower built up Sunny Isles into what ostensibly has become a South Florida Brighton Beach.

An investigation by Reuters found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in the seven Trump-branded luxury towers. And that was a conservative estimate. At least 703 - or about one-third - of the 2044 units were owned by limited liability companies, or LLCs, which could conceal the property's true owner. Executives from Gazprom and other Russian natural resource giants also owned units in Trump's Sunny Isles towers. In an observation that several people I spoke with echoed, Kenneth McCallion, a former prosecutor who tracked the flows of Russian criminal money into Trump's properties, told me, "Trump's genius - or evil genius - was, instead of Russian criminal money being passive, incidental income, it became a central part of his business plan." McCallion continued, "It's not called 'Little Moscow' for nothing. The street signs are in Russian. But his towers there were built specifically for the Russian middle-class criminal."

Cohen joined the Trump Organization around the time that the second Sunny Isles tower was being built. A few years earlier, he had invested $1.5 million in a short-lived Miami-based casino boat venture run by his two Ukrainian business partners, Arkady Vaygensberg and Leonid Tatarchuk. Only three months after its maiden voyage, it would become the subject of a large fraud investigation. But Cohen was saved from his bad investment by none other than Trump himself, who hired Cohen as an attorney just before his casino ship sank. A source who investigated Cohen's connections to Russia told me, "Say you want to get money into the country and maybe you're a bit suspect. The Trump organization used lawyers to allow people to get money into the country." 

Residents at Sunny Isles included people like Vladimir Popovyan, who paid $1.17 million for a three-bedroom condo in 2013. Forbes Russia described Popovyan as a friend and associate of Rafael Samurgashev, a former championship wrestler who ran a criminal group in Rostov-on-Don in southeastern Russia. Peter Kiritchenko, a Ukrainian businessman arrested on fraud charges in San Francisco in 1999, and his daughter owned two units at Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach worth $2.56 million. (Kiritchenko testified against a corrupt former Ukrainian prime minister who was convicted in 2004 of money laundering.) Other owners of Trump condos in Sunny Isles include members of a Russian-American organized crime group that ran a sports betting ring out of Trump Tower, which catered to wealthy oligarchs from the former Soviet Union. Michael Barukhin, who was convicted in a massive scheme to defraud auto insurers with phony claims, lived out of a Trump condo that was registered to a limited liability corporation.

Selling units from the lobby of the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles was Baronoff Realty. Elena Baronoff, who died of cancer in 2015, was the exclusive sales agent for three Trump-branded towers. Glenn Simpson, who spent a year investigating Trump's background during the campaign, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Baronoff was a "suspected organized crime figure."

An Uzbek immigrant who arrived in the United States as a cultural attaché in public diplomacy from the Soviet Union, Baronoff became such a well-known figure in Sunny Isles Beach that she was named the international ambassador for the community. Baronoff accompanied Trump's children on a trip to Russia in the winter of 2007-2008, posing for a photo in Moscow with Ivanka and Eric Trump and developer Michael Dezer. Also in the photo, curiously, was a man named Michael Babel, a former senior executive of a property firm owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian metals tycoon Paul Manafort allegedly offered personal updates on Trump's presidential campaign. Babel later fled Russia to evade fraud charges.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Bradley Smith's WSJ Op-Ed Is A 'Breathtaking' Distortion Of The Facts Of The IRS 'Scandal' (David Cay Johnston, 5/13/18, TaxProf Blog)

The record shows that there was no "targeting" of right wing groups and the "hassling" Smith writes about was against all dubious applicants.

Likewise, there was no favoritism for liberal or centrist or establishment or any other C4 organizations. Indeed, the only C4s who had their status revoked were two liberal organizations.

The record shows that the number of conservative groups whose applications were given extra scrutiny was larger than the number of centrist and liberal groups. That, however, tells us nothing about IRS bias, only about the competency and propriety of the applicants. I expect drunks in bars to misunderstand such issues, but not professors.

The record shows that the C4 applications set aside for scrutiny stated or indicated plans to engaged in prohibited activity. Among applications declaring such intent, the facts show, more were in the Tea Party zone of politics than centrist or liberal zones.

One obvious question this raises is whether there are lawyers and other advisers to conservative groups who simply did not understand the C4 law and, logically, saw nothing amiss in the applications they prepared. Was there bad advice circulating among conservative groups? That issue has, as best I can tell, never been investigated.

The Be On the Lookout (BOLO) directive for applications was even handed. It included "Tea Party" because many questionable applications used those two words, making it like some other terms shorthand for identifying which applications were most likely to be problematic.

The BOLO memo also cited "progressive," "blue" and "medical marijuana." Only the last of those might be affiliated with conservative groups, likely libertarian.

The BOLO directive came from a mid-level manager, a self-described conservative Republican who testified that he acted on hown authority. The record shows he did so with good reason.

Many C4 applications -- on their face -- stated or indicated the organization would engage in prohibited activity or strongly suggested that. The facts show that more of these flawed applications, came from right wing groups that the center or left. Had the IRS approved any or all of them without scrutiny THAT would have been a scandal.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Pompeo: U.S. Must Assure North Korea (David S. Cloud, 5/14/18, Chicago Tribune)

The U.S. is prepared to quickly lift sanctions on North Korea and promise its leader, Kim Jong Un, that it would not seek to oust him from power, senior officials said Sunday, sketching out the terms of a possible deal if Kim agrees to give up his nuclear weapons.

"We will have to provide security assurances" to Kim as part of a nuclear deal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday. 

After all, Trumpies could care less about the North Korean gulag. Given the differing levels of totalitarianism, this is much worse than JFK's surrender in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Who Lost Czechoslovakia?: After its liberation in 1945, Czechoslovakia soon fell behind the 'Iron Curtain'. That it would do so was not a formality: the US could have brought the country into the Western Bloc - had it been so inclined. (Benn Steil, 09 May 2018, History Today)

It is often taken for granted that all European nations involved in the early Cold War, save Germany, fell naturally onto one side of the Iron Curtain or the other. Yet Czechoslovakia was not pre-ordained to become part of the Soviet sphere. There were multiple opportunities for the United States to influence its position on the political map of Europe.

Czechoslovakia emerged from the Second World War unaligned. Hitler and Stalin had not allocated it in the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Stalin and Churchill had not included it in their secret 1944 'percentages' deal, which designated spheres of influence in eastern and southern Europe. The victorious Allies had not discussed its orientation at Yalta or Potsdam. Both the Soviets and the Americans had liberated it. But whatever cards Washington had to play, diplomatically and militarily, it gave most of them up in 1945.

'I believe that Russia wants to and will cooperate' in Czechoslovakia, President Roosevelt told the Czech Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, a democrat unaffiliated with any party, in February 1944. Red Army officials, however, made clear to their Czech counterparts that the country would be brought within the Soviet sphere. What capacity the US Army had to countervail was circumscribed by the fateful decision of Generals George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower to stop its own advance 50 miles west of Prague.

The Red Army, which had been 150 miles further from the Czech capital than General George Patton just before the war's end, marched into Prague on 9 May 1945. It was one of its easier victories, but also one that had great subsequent historical significance. 'We could have liberated Prague', lamented one bitter US embassy official. [...]

President Truman decided to write to Stalin on 2 November proposing a simultaneous US and Soviet withdrawal by 1 December. Given that such a deal would tip the military balance of power in the country overwhelmingly to the Soviets, who would have hundreds of thousands of soldiers available near its borders to smother the country as necessary, Stalin agreed.

The notion of FDR & Truman as successful presidents depends on approving of the Iron Curtain.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


White House Leaker Covers Tracks by Impersonating Coworkers (Margaret Hartmann, 5/14/18, New York)

On Sunday Axios caught up with some of the administration's most prolific leakers to ask them why they do it. Some said it's about doing what's right for America ... and annoying their enemies:

"The most common substantive leaks are the result of someone losing an internal policy debate," a current senior administration official told me. "By leaking the decision, the loser gets one last chance to kill it with blowback from the public, Congress or even the President."

"To be honest, it probably falls into a couple of categories," one current White House official tells me. "The first is personal vendettas. And two is to make sure there's an accurate record of what's really going on in the White House."

Another said the atmosphere in the White House is basically leak or be leaked about:

"Otherwise," the official added, "you have to realize that working here is kind of like being in a never-ending 'Mexican Standoff.' Everyone has guns (leaks) pointed at each other and it's only a matter of time before someone shoots. There's rarely a peaceful conclusion so you might as well shoot first."

But the most interesting response concerned how they go about spilling anonymous quotes to reporters:

"To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers' idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me," the current White House official added.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr leading in Iraq's election (Arwa Ibrahim , 5/14/18, Al Jazeera)

With over half the votes counted, powerful Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has emerged as the leading contender in Iraq's parliamentary elections, a remarkable comeback after being sidelined for years by Iranian-backed rivals.

May 13, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


In Stunning Reversal, Trump Vows to Help China's ZTE Stay in Business After U.S. Sanctions (DANIEL POLITI, MAY 13, 20182, Slate)

Even in an administration that has gotten us used to reversals and back-and-forths, President Donald Trump performed an impressive U-Turn on policy Sunday, when he wrote a tweet vowing to help Chinese telecom giant ZTE get back in business following devastating U.S. sanctions. Days earlier, ZTE had said it would cease "major operating activities" because of trade sanctions imposed by the United States. The Commerce Department had last month banned American companies from supplying to ZTE for seven years as a result of findings that it had illegally sold goods to Iran and North Korea.

In a tweet on Sunday, Trump suggested he told the Commerce Department to get ZTE back in business. "Too many jobs in China lost," Trump wrote. "Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!" Trump also said he was working with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to give ZTE "a way to get back into business, fast."

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Trying for House Gains, Democrats Bless Moderates and Annoy Liberals (Alan Blinder and Alexander Burns, May 13, 2018, NY Times)

To many Democratic leaders, the path to power in Washington looks like Clarke Tucker.

He supports the Affordable Care Act, but not a single-payer system. He signals misgivings about Nancy Pelosi as the next House speaker. And even when addressing an audience of Democratic Party regulars, he does not attack President Trump by name.

In short, he comes across as a moderate -- and exactly the kind of candidate who leading Democrats believe the party should field in Republican-leaning districts to bolster the majority they hope to win in the House in November.

But that strategy frustrates the party's liberal supporters, who feel the wind at the Democrats' back and worry about using it to crowd their House caucus with members who may feel inclined to buck the party leadership and stray from its policy agenda.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Trump Administration Will Separate Parents From Children at Border (Benjamin Hart, 5/07/18, New York)

In a speech before law-enforcement officials in Arizona on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government seeks to separate parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to discourage more crossings.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the policy officially went into effect last week, though hundreds of children have already been taken from their parents in recent months.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


France's Macron tells Trump he worried about Middle East stability (Reuters, 5/13/18) 

French President Emmanuel Macron told U.S. President Donald Trump in a phone conversation on Saturday that he was extremely worried about stability in the Middle East, Macron's office said.

While Shi'a dominated states have made great strides, the Sunni Arab world is mired in various forms of anti-democratic regime.  Sa'udi Arabia is the big enchilada to be toppled.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Liberals, You're Not as Smart as You Think (Gerard Alexander, May 12, 2018, NY Times)

I know many liberals, and two of them really are my best friends. Liberals make good movies and television shows. Their idealism has been an inspiration for me and many others. Many liberals are very smart. But they are not as smart, or as persuasive, as they think.

And a backlash against liberals -- a backlash that most liberals don't seem to realize they're causing -- is going to get President Trump re-elected.

People often vote against things instead of voting for them: against ideas, candidates and parties. Democrats, like Republicans, appreciate this whenever they portray their opponents as negatively as possible. But members of political tribes seem to have trouble recognizing that they, too, can push people away and energize them to vote for the other side. Nowhere is this more on display today than in liberal control of the commanding heights of American culture.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Wife hung fake Picasso after taking real thing amid contentious divorce (Carleton English May 11, 2018 , NY Post)

A woman locked in a contentious divorce with her bond-trader husband took a Picasso off his wall -- and replaced it with a forgery she made herself.

Sue Gross didn't wait until she and Wall Street titan Bill Gross had finalized their split, swapping out a 1932 Pablo Picasso painting entitled "Le Repos" hanging in their bedroom with her own rendering.

The original is expected to fetch as much as $35 million at Sotheby's Monday evening.

The painting, which depicts ­Picasso lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, had belonged to them jointly. But a coin flip in August 2017 -- amid the couple's divorce proceedings -- awarded Sue full custody of Picasso's depiction of his sleeping mistress, which the couple had owned since 2006.

After the flip, Bill Gross tried to make arrangements for the piece to be transferred from his ­Laguna Beach, Calif., house to his ex-wife, sources told The Post.

But the ex-Mrs. Gross said that was unnecessary -- she already had taken the real thing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


The Two Faces of Kamala Harris: Kamala Harris has matched every one of her progressive achievements with conservative ones. (BRANKO MARCETIC, August 2017, Jacobin)

Harris's rise has produced a fiery debate among liberals and the Left. Leftists and progressives have come out in strong opposition to Harris's candidacy, with some declaring #NeverKamala and some high-profile Bernie Sanders supporters, such as National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro, making clear their lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy. For some prominent liberals, this pushback is simply the product of virulent racism and sexism among an imagined (and non-existent) all-white, all-male, Sanders-supporting base.

While most Harris-supporting liberals wouldn't go this far, there is deep suspicion among some Democrats that opposition to Harris is motivated by similarly less-than-noble motives -- namely, that it's part of a project of poisoning the well for any potential challengers of a Bernie Sanders or Sanders-like candidacy in 2020.

In truth, there is much about Harris's long record as a public prosecutor in California -- the vast bulk of her career -- that is up for legitimate criticism by any prospective 2020 Democratic voters.

Throughout her career, Harris has been called the "female Obama." In reference to her race, this is lazy and arguably even racist. But the comparison is apt with reference to her politics. Harris has emulated the Obama approach, delivering a combination of some notable progressive victories and pleasant rhetoric and a steadfast avoidance of structural change -- paired, in some cases, with far-from-progressive policies. [...]

Much as Obama pursued policies starkly opposed to his own rhetoric, Harris's record is defined by policies that undercut her proclaimed vision.

The death penalty is a prime example. Harris deserves credit for refusing to execute a man while under tremendous pressure to do so. But despite her vaunted personal opposition, she never challenged the death penalty during her time as attorney general -- and in fact did the very opposite, actively working to keep it in existence.

When a federal judge ruled California's enforcement of the death penalty unconstitutional, Harris appealed what she called a "flawed" decision. She would continue to defend the death penalty as the case wound through the federal courts.

One might counter that it's the job of the attorney general to defend state law, regardless of her views. Yet in stark contrast, Harris refused to defend the anti-gay Proposition 8 in court, calling it "a proposition that was found by a judge to be unconstitutional."

You can see this pattern in Harris's approach to criminal justice. Today, Harris talks a good game. She attacked her rival for Boxer's senate seat for helping "fuel America's mass incarceration crisis by voting to send more kids to prison, build more prisons and ratchet up mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes." She penned an op-ed about the tragedy of female incarceration, pointing out the abuse women receive in prisons, as well as prison's economic costs to their dependents. She often says that the question of whether one should be "soft" or "tough" on crime is a false choice, and that one should instead be "smart" on crime.

Yet Harris's "smart on crime" approach seems remarkably similar to a "tough on crime" one.

"Getting Smart on Crime does not mean reducing sentences or punishments for crimes," she explains in her book. As her website outlines, "Kamala believes that we must maintain a relentless focus on reducing violence and aggressively prosecuting violent criminals." Fittingly, when she became San Francisco DA, the felony conviction rate rose from 52 percent to 67 percent in three years.

In practice, Harris defended California's uniquely cruel three-strikes law, the only one in the country which imposed life sentences for a third "strike" that was any minor felony. She urged voters to reject Proposition 66, a ballot initiative that would have reformed the harsh law by making only serious or violent felonies trigger life sentences.

Harris promised that if voters rejected the initiative, she would put forward her own, different reform. But Harris's proposal was a tepid half-measure: it simply eliminated some third strikes. Harris would later support a different ballot measure that was identical to Proposition 66, but continued to allow anyone previously convicted of murder, rape, or child molestation to receive life sentences for relatively minor third strikes (though it did also allow those with non-serious third strikes to petition for re-sentencing).

Harris's bullishness on three strikes was unusual. When she ran for attorney general, her Republican opponent actually ran to her left on the issue. In fact, four years earlier, as the Los Angeles County district attorney, he had proposed a reform of the law. Harris had not supported it.

Sure, Harris had a reputation for being one of the few prosecutors who held off on seeking life sentences for nonviolent third strikes. But this meant little when leaving the law in place meant future, more aggressive prosecutors were free to keep imposing unjust sentences.

Fortunately, eventual reforms to the law meant this never happened, though it was no thanks to Harris. In 2012 and 2014, California voters passed two ballot initiatives that gave judges more discretion in sentencing and retroactively scaled back punishment for certain low-level crimes. Harris didn't take a public position on either, claiming that taking a side would come into conflict with her duty to write the ballot text. A fellow Democrat who had preceded her as attorney general called the excuse "baloney."

Harris's commitment to harsh punitive measures wasn't limited to the three-strikes law. For all her recent concern about the incarceration of women and its economic effects, as district attorney, she successfully championed a statewide version of an anti-truancy law she had put in place in San Francisco that threatened parents of chronically truant children with as much as a $2,000 fine and a year in jail. By October 2012, two mothers had been imprisoned under the law.

"We are putting parents on notice," she said in her inaugural speech as attorney general. "If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law."

Harris's championing of the measures was an outgrowth of what she described as a passion for the issue of truancy that she had held since becoming San Francisco's district attorney. But for its part, the Los Angeles Daily News -- in an editorial that endorsed her, no less -- argued that "it was hard not to conclude that Harris chose truancy as an election-season focus because it's an issue without much political risk."

At the time, Harris was pushing for statewide data collection on truancy, which she said would inform future anti-truancy policies and was something she had first introduced in San Francisco. Yet when the Daily News asked her what this data collection in the city had shown, "she seemed not to know or have thought about it," the paper wrote.

Harris's actions in the Daniel Larsen case are particularly concerning.

The Larsen case was a travesty of justice from start to finish. In 1999, when two police officers claimed they saw Larsen, who had earlier in his life been convicted for burglary, pull a six-inch-long knife from his waistband and throw it under a car, he was sentenced to twenty-seven years to life under the three-strikes law supported by Harris.

Forget for a second that the sentence was unduly harsh for the crime in question. Police had wrongly targeted Larsen for a search in the first place, and witnesses reported that it wasn't Larsen but the man he was with who had thrown the knife. In trial, Larsen's incompetent lawyer (who would later be disbarred) didn't investigate a single witness, nor present one in trial.

Eleven years later, a judge reversed the conviction due to the lack of evidence and incompetence of Larson's attorney's. Yet two years later, Larsen was still in jail. Why? Because Harris, now a vocal opponent of mass incarceration, appealed the judge's decision on the basis that Larsen had filed his paperwork too late -- a technicality.

Tens of thousands of people petitioned Harris to release Larsen, and numerous civil rights groups similarly called on her to do the right thing. But even when he was eventually released from custody after fourteen years, Harris challenged his release, and five months later Larsen was back in court, fighting to stay out of prison for a crime he didn't commit.

Harris's concern about mass incarceration similarly failed to come up when California Governor Jerry Brown reacted to a Supreme Court order to reduce prison overcrowding by announcing a $730 million plan to move inmates to private prisons and vacant county jails. One would expect Harris may have had some words of criticism, especially as California's senate president had an alternative, better plan that focused on getting inmates mental health and drug treatment. But she was silent. San Jose's Mercury News criticized her inaction, rightly pointing out that "she wrote a book about" the issue.

Harris has also recently taken up the habit of reminding us that "the war on drugs was a failure." Yet Harris's record on drug reform while attorney general is nonexistent.

She opted not to join in other states' attempts to take marijuana off the DEA's list of most dangerous substances. When Obama raided California's medical marijuana dispensaries, Harris put out an empty statement. When asked about legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012, only a week after the New York Times endorsed national legalization and less than a year before she started warning about the failure of the war on drugs. Harris laughed. As was the case with respect to the three-strikes law, her 2014 Republican opponent ran to her left on the issue.

The limits of Harris's approach are likewise evident in her actions on police shootings. She did back a bill that required reports on officer-involved shootings to be posted publicly online and mandated bias training and that justice department agents wear body cameras. But as district attorney, she refused to hand over the names of police officers whose testimonies had led to convictions despite the officers' arrest records and histories of misconduct. As attorney general, she also opposed instituting police body cameras statewide and stood against a bill requiring her office to investigate fatal police shootings.

Members of California's Legislative Black Caucus (who are fellow Democrats) criticized her over the latter, as did Melina Abdullah, a Black Lives Matter activist and professor of pan-African studies, who commented: "This is not the time for timidity. ... Martin Luther King said if you tell black people to wait, that means never."

These are just a few of a large group of civil rights advocates and activists who criticized her on the matter, including San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi and Phelicia Jones, an organizer with the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition and a former Harris supporter, who wondered "how many more people need to die" before Harris stepped in, and accused her of "turn[ing] your back on the people who got you to where you are." Although Harris's defenders have singled out a small number of her critics who are white, complaining that it's "the same three people" criticizing of her, it's not hard to find a range of people who criticize her record, many of whom are people of color.

In fact, despite being well-placed to reshape California's criminal justice system, Harris has something of a reputation in the state as a marginal figure on the issue. As the Orange County Register put it, she was viewed by some as a "too-cautious and often calculating politician" who has avoided hot-button issues.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, told the Sacramento Bee that Harris could've been "a more vigorous advocate for full criminal justice reform" and that she was "unwilling to be big and bold." "Harris's role has not been pivotal" in reshaping the criminal justice system, the paper wrote. "The pyramid shook, but often it wasn't her doing the shaking."

Harris tried to dismiss a suit brought by California inmates over the state's use of solitary confinement, with her office insisting "there is no 'solitary confinement' in California prisons" (despite this, the case ultimately turned into a landmark settlement that struck a blow against the practice). She tried to block a transgender inmate's request for gender reassignment surgery. When a prosecuting attorney inserted a falsified confession into the transcript of a defendant's confession, committing what an appeals court called "outrageous government misconduct," Harris appealed the case, arguing that it wasn't "outrageous" because it didn't involve physical brutality.

One of the more egregious blots on Harris's record is her hostility to sex workers' rights.

Haley v. Harris would be the perfect response to the Donald debacle, an election between children of immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


God Is No Thing: The case for faith, by the religion editor of The Times Literary Supplement. : a review of God is No Thing: Coherent Christianity | By Rupert Shortt (Francis Phillips, Jul 18 2016, MercatorNet)

To write a slim, serious book that provides thought-provoking reasons for believing in God is a difficult task today. Many books are written from a Christian perspective and some notorious ones ridicule religious belief. Shortt, journalist, biographer and religious editor of the Times Literary Supplement, brings thoughtfulness and intellectual rigour to his defence of the opening statement: "Christianity - at its centre, the story of love's mending of wounded hearts - forms a potent resource for making sense of our existence."

He makes it clear that atheism and agnosticism are "reasonable" worldviews which Christians must respect, yet he also argues that the Christian faith is dismissed too quickly in the West (but not, he notes, in almost all other countries.) By using the word "reasonable" Shortt indicates that debate over God's existence can and should be debated by reasonable people on both sides; religious fundamentalism on the one hand and the routine abuse and contempt for faith common to (Western) internet users on the other, do a disservice to the perennial question at the heart of human existence: who are we? Are we merely the product of random evolutionary development - or do human beings have a divine destiny?

Shortt concedes that although the numbers of people "who come to faith as a result of intellectual exchanges alone" is small, an intellectually robust case for Christianity can be made. For those who think that all statements must be "provable in a test tube", he offers the reasonable rebuttal that it means rejecting "ethics, aesthetics and much culture, as well as spirituality." And to those who think that civilised, enlightened behaviour can be upheld without benefit of religious belief (the position of intellectual elites in the UK) he adds a warning that is obvious to those who regard human nature as deeply flawed: "Principles such as human rights and human dignity may not automatically survive, once commitment to the infinite value of every life has faded away." Some would say we have already entered this dangerous territory.

The Anglosphere has avoided the trap of Reason by recognizing that it is not rational.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


We read every one of the 3,517 Facebook ads bought by Russians. Here's what we found (Nick Penzenstadler, Brad Heath, Jessica Guynn, 5/11/18, USA TODAY)

The Russian company charged with orchestrating a wide-ranging effort to meddle in the 2016 presidential election overwhelmingly focused its barrage of social media advertising on what is arguably America's rawest political division: race.

The roughly 3,500 Facebook ads were created by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency, which is at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's February indictment of 13 Russians and three companies seeking to influence the election.

While some ads focused on topics as banal as business promotion or Pokémon, the company consistently promoted ads designed to inflame race-related tensions. Some dealt with race directly; others dealt with issues fraught with racial and religious baggage such as ads focused on protests over policing, the debate over a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and relationships with the Muslim community.

The company continued to hammer racial themes even after the election.

Donald and his base are united by their hatreds.  So long as he remains anti-black, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant they'll excuse everything else.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The Palestinians who can't return yet can't forget (Nidal al-Mughrabi, 5/13/18, Reuters) 

All that remains of Hiribiya, the village where Saber and Huda Deeb were born in 1940s colonial-era Palestine, are two old Arab buildings in an area that is now an Israeli kibbutz, Zikim.

Now grandparents living in Sheikh Radwan, the couple were only six and eight years old when they were forced to flee Hiribiya and make the short but lifelong journey south to Gaza to escape the fighting between Jewish and Arab forces that marked the birth of the State of Israel 70 years ago.

Like two thirds of Gaza's two million Palestinians, they are refugees, and may well remain so until they die.

But still they talk of the village as home.

"I dream of Hiribiya all the time, sometimes even while I am awake. I imagine the places where I used to hang around," said 78-year-old Huda Deeb.

Her 76-year-old husband, a retired taxi driver, is no less effusive.

"Hiribiya is the bride of the north -- vineyards, apples, grapes, guava, farms that you can't describe," he recalls.

Records show that more than 2,000 people lived in Hiribiya before 1945. There were also about 60 Jewish residents who lived in a cluster of houses on the edge of the village, said the father of 11, adding that they would come to his family's farm to buy fruit.

As a long-running Gaza border protest builds to a climax in the coming days, it is the passing down of memories such as these that fuel the demonstrations.

May 14 is the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel in the western calendar. The following day is when Palestinians traditionally commemorate the events of 1948 as the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were dispossessed.

The protest campaign, dubbed The Great March of Return, began on March 30 and has revived a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their former towns and villages.

Successive Israeli government have ruled out any right of return, fearing the country would lose its Jewish majority.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


In leaked conversation, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lambastes White House staffers over leaking details of private meetings (Sonam Sheth, 5/12/18, Business Insider)

"I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too," a visibly upset and furious Sanders told attendees during Friday's meeting, Axios reported, citing five staffers who were in the room. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Is democracy actually in retreat? There's some evidence to the contrary (Clay R. Fuller, April 4, 2018, AEIdeas)

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Without Firing a Shot: Review: 'Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire' by Bret Baier and Catherine Whitney (Ron Capshaw, May 13, 2018, Washington Free Beacon)

[I]t would be in the 1950s that Reagan would craft the policies that would one day cause the Soviet collapse. As a spokesperson for General Electric he witnessed first-hand the economic strength of the country by touring factories. This strength would be instrumental to Reagan's belief that the Cold War could be won.

Appalled by a nuclear exchange, Reagan saw America's robust economy as a weapon. He believed that by involving the Soviets in a costly arms race they would not be able to keep up and would implode.

This message reached national audiences and won him political backing when he gave a speech for the doomed Goldwater campaign in 1964. Enunciating his criticism of the "welfare state" and those who refused to fight Soviet aggression, Reagan advocated for not only "peace through strength" but also taking the Soviets on economically.

During his first term in office Reagan put these views into practice. Rather than taking the Soviets on directly, Reagan funded their opponents in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and behind the Iron Curtain in Poland. Most of all Reagan upped the nuclear ante, placing nuclear missiles in Western Europe.

Still, this supposed "hard-liner" did reach out to Brezhnev early in his term advocating for a reduction in nuclear weapons by the two powers.

Baier takes us through the famous speeches: "the Evil Empire" and "Tear Down This Wall." Again and again, he shows how the détente-minded in the White House, namely George H.W. Bush, sought and failed to rein him in. Baier dispenses with the perception that Reagan was a non-intellectual. He shows that Reagan was a closet writer, revising and even rewriting speeches that did not reflect his uncompromising anticommunist views.

By the time of the Gorbachev summits, Reagan had his strategy intact. These meetings did not occur because Reagan had turned "soft" on communism (an accusation made against him by conservatives outside the White House loop at the time), but was in reality using the strategies developed in the 1950s to win the Cold War.

The summits were Reagan's greatest hour. While he believed Gorbachev to be a more reasonable type of Soviet leader, Reagan refused to back down. To an enraged Gorbachev he refused to use the term "peaceful coexistence" to describe their relations.

That is, of course, precisely what Kim Jong Un has wrung from Donald, and without instituting any reforms to help the people he keeps imprisoned in his gulag. The entirety of Ronald Reagan's strategy lay in hewing to the reality that the US was locked in a war with the USSR that could only end in regime change.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


New president calls on people to transform Sierra Leone  (Reuters, 5/12/18) 

Sierra Leone's new President Julius Maada Bio on Saturday called on the public to help him transform the West African nation, which is struggling to recover from an economic downturn and a deadly Ebola epidemic.

Tens of thousands of supporters packed into a municipal stadium in the capital Freetown alongside regional dignitaries participating in the inauguration ceremony for Maada Bio, who won a presidential run-off April. [...]

Dressed in flowing white robes, the former army officer, who briefly ruled Sierra Leone as head of a military junta in 1996, said he would wage a three-front war against indiscipline, corruption and poverty.

"The strategic objective of the policies and programs is to transform Sierra Leone into a country we can all be proud of," he said.

"I cannot do it alone. So today I ask all of you to believe in your capacity as citizens that together we can change Sierra Leone," he added.

The largely peaceful election process that brought Maada Bio to power came as a relief to Sierra Leone's 7 million people, who in the 1990s endured a brutal civil war fueled by the diamond trade and notorious for its drug-addled child soldiers and punitive amputations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


'What I saw in Jerusalem': On his first visit to Jerusalem, Al Jazeera journalist saw how daily life is completely segregated for Israelis and Palestinians. (Showkat Shafi, /13/18, Al Jazeera)

Upon arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, I was taken to a waiting room and spent the next three hours being interrogated by eight different officials, each playing either good cop or bad cop with the same set of questions.

I was made to write the names of every family member, including my grandparents, before being allowed to leave.

Wherever you travel, here's a relief that comes with passing through airport security, picking up your luggage, and finally collapsing on to your hotel bed.

In Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories there's no such thing; the checks rarely seem to end.

I was out there to work on stories, and most of our travel time would go in passing through various security checkpoints dotted throughout the area.

I have only heard and read about apartheid in South Africa, and I often wondered how it was possible to segregate public facilities and social activities.

Nothing quite prepared me for what I saw in Jerusalem.

Life is segregated for Israelis and Palestinians to the extent that there are even different buses for Jews and Arabs.

I was travelling on one such bus with Palestinians leaving Jerusalem for the occupied West Bank when soldiers stopped the bus and demanded to see identification documents.

The soldiers checked ID cards for everyone on board - Israel issues military permits to a few Palestinians who are allowed to visit Jerusalem.

A young Palestinian carrying a baby in her arms was asked to get off the bus as her permit had expired.

Even though the woman kept telling them that she was leaving Jerusalem and returning to the West Bank, they took her off the bus regardless.

She was made to stand in the sun with her baby while officials at the checkpoint sat in their vehicle and questioned her.

I was watching from my window growing increasingly frustrated because I could not intervene and help her.

If it was a free country, people could have gone out to help her and challenge the officials. However, this is what occupation looks like, where repressed people are forced to endure every injustice thrown their way.

Since we were getting late for an interview and the bus had been standing for nearly an hour, we decided to get off the bus and cross the checkpoint on foot. I don't know what happened to her.

Racial profiling is routine on the streets of Jerusalem and I witnessed three men thoroughly searched in a span of just 10 minutes.

Such treatments come coupled with widespread hatred for Palestinians. A day before we reached Jerusalem, Israeli forces killed 34 unarmed Palestinians on Gaza border. We decided to interview people in West Jerusalem about those killings.

"Just 34 killed?" Asked one Israeli.

"They should have killed 200. I want them to kill all the Palestinians there," he said.

I was still confounded by shock as he went on: "My life is before (that of) the Arabs," meaning his life is worth more than an Arab's.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Lebanon's Hariri replaces chief of staff after election setback (Reuters, 5/13/18)

Despite Future's losses, Hariri is still the frontrunner to form the next government, as the Sunni Muslim leader with the biggest bloc in parliament. Lebanon's prime minister has to be a Sunni under its sectarian power sharing system.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah group and factions and individuals that support its possession of weapons made significant gains last Sunday, winning more than half the seats in parliament.

May 12, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


Trump has put America in the worst of all possible worlds (Anne Applebaum, May 11, 2018, Washington Post)

Perhaps unexpectedly, Trump's abrupt withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal exposed America's weak hand. For we left -- but then what? In different circumstances -- after negotiations, after obtaining proof that Iran was in violation of the deal -- it might have been possible to recreate the international coalition that imposed sanctions so successfully in the first place. In different circumstances, it might also have been possible to change the deal: That's what the French president and German chancellor were offering during their recent visits to Washington, though their efforts were rebuffed. In different circumstances, it might even have been possible to threaten Iran militarily -- not a position I advocate, but I can imagine how it could be done.

Instead, we are now in the worst of all possible worlds. We have broken the agreement with Iran, but we are unable to impose a new sanctions regime in its place. Instead of making a diplomatic investment, we are shouting and barking orders. Just after Trump's announcement, the American ambassador to Germany issued a threat on Twitter: "German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately." As a result, European leaders are not talking about Iran. They are talking about how they can protect their companies from American sanctions, and how they might retaliate. as if they were an ally.  Donald has strengthened them at our expense, which is what we traditionally do for friends.  Similarly, W removed Saddam and insisted that the rest of the Middle East democratize and the UR tried to resume normal trade relations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Giuliani says Trump 'denied' the AT&T-Time Warner deal, then backtracks  (Brian Stelter, May 12, 2018, CNN  Money)

With five simple words, "the president denied the merger," President Trump's new lawyer Rudy Giuliani contradicted months of statements by the White House and the Justice Department.

The subject was AT&T's $85 billion bid for Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Dear Conservative Media: Do Some More Damn Reporting (Ben Howe, 05.11.18, Daily Beast)

The American political left has something that their counterparts on the right do not.

It's not a particular point of view, or a thing that is particular to a point of view. It is more foundational than that. It is something utterly essential not just to the growth and credibility of the right, but to the political health of the American landscape at large.

What's missing is an entire subset of media. Sure, the conservative media has solid opinion writers and deep-thinking essayists by the handful. And within that hand are diverse opinions, notwithstanding recent, glaring errors in judgment at some outlets. There is depth. There is talent. However, there is almost no original reporting.

...but the facts themselves.  So rightwing media can not afford to report or they alienate the readers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Iran's supreme leader trolls Trump with photo of himself reading 'Fire and Fury' (JOSH DELK, 05/11/18, The Hill)

Khamenei's photo showed him reading author Michael Wolff's 2018 bestseller, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" -- a book that rocked Washington and the international community with its provocative descriptions of the commander in chief and his inner circles.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Gina Haspel and the Enduring Questions About Torture (Amy Davidson Sorkin, May 10, 2018, The New Yorker)

About two-thirds of the way through the public part of Gina Haspel's confirmation hearing, before the Senate Intelligence Committee, for her nomination as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Senator Kamala Harris, of California, asked her a simple question: "Do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?" Those techniques--acts of torture adopted by the C.I.A. in the years after the 9/11 attacks--included repeated waterboarding, confinement in a coffin-like box, exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation, and forced rectal infusions. After a pause, Haspel began to answer, in careful tones, "Senator, I believe that C.I.A. officers, to whom you refer--"

"It's a yes-or-no answer," Harris said. She clarified, "I'm not asking, do you believe they were legal? I'm asking, do you believe they were immoral?"

There was another pause, and then Haspel, again, dodged the question. "Senator, I believe that the C.I.A. did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country, given the legal tools that we were authorized to use."

"Please answer yes or no," Harris again interrupted. "Do you believe, in hindsight, that those techniques were immoral?"

"Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to," Haspel replied. This was a formulation that she had already used repeatedly in answering earlier questions. But all it amounted to was that she didn't object to the United States being extra-double-plus moral--as when Congress and the Obama Administration both renounced waterboarding--without ever saying that its actions had been immoral before. So Harris kept trying: "Could you please answer the question."

"Senator, I think I've answered the question," Haspel said.

"No, you've not," Harris said...

There are two acceptable responses: either, "No"; or, "I withdraw my nomination and resign from the agency."

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Critics Miss the Point of the 'Intellectual Dark Web' (DAVID FRENCH, May 11, 2018, National Review)

 I've been speaking and writing about free speech for a quarter-century. I've been litigating free-speech issues just as long. Two things stand out to me.

First, the law of free speech has mainly improved. Americans might have more legal defenses against government censorship now than they ever have before. If the government moves against your speech based on your viewpoint and you fight back, you're likely to win.

Second (and more importantly) the culture of free speech has decayed. Individuals and organizations are far more sensitive and far less tolerant of dissent than they were even in the recent past. People in academia and in much of corporate America who report increasingly politicized workplaces, with HR departments weaponized in the service of identity politics social-media accounts monitored for thought crimes. People are all too aware of social-media pile-ons, and they know that one complaint -- even if hypersensitive and meritless -- can derail a career.

It would hardly seem necessary to mention that your right of free speech is a claim against government coercion, not social.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


For the first time ever, there's a job opening for every unemployed worker (STEVE GOLDSTEIN, 5/08/18, Marketwatch)

The big pickup in job openings has done what's not ever been accomplished in the nearly two-decade history of this economic series -- there's now a job opening for every unemployed worker.

According to the latest data from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, there were 6.55 million job openings in March. In March, there were 6.59 million unemployed, meaning there are 1.01 unemployed workers for every job.

In July 2009, just as the U.S. exited the Great Recession, there were 6.65 unemployed people for every available job.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Trump Tirade Is Culmination of Immigration Frustration (Michael D. Shear, May 11, 2018, NY Times)

Eleven days before President Trump erupted in anger at his homeland security secretary in a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, he complained at a rally in Michigan about what he called "the dumbest immigration laws anywhere on earth."

Six days later, he told the National Rifle Association about "deadly immigration loopholes," "horrible killer gang members" and "laws that were written by people that truly could not love our country."

And hours after berating his secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, for failing to secure the border, Mr. Trump headed to Indiana, where he vented that Democrats have given the country "the worst immigration laws in the history of mankind."

Mr. Trump's fury at Ms. Nielsen was a long time coming, White House officials said. They described it as part of the president's longstanding desire to close the United States' borders and part of his increasing belief that his administration is moving too slowly to make good on the central promise of his 2016 presidential campaign.

The courts and Congress have resisted his demands, and even his own staff keeps telling him no.

He and Vlad never understood America.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


'Tricked by the devil.' They backed Trump. Now, his foreign labor cuts may ruin them. (TOM EBLEN, May 10, 2018, Herald-Leader)

Eddie Devine voted for President Donald Trump because he thought he would be good for American business. Now, he says, the Trump administration's restrictions on seasonal foreign labor may put him out of business.

"I feel like I've been tricked by the devil," said Devine, owner of Harrodsburg-based Devine Creations Landscaping. "I feel so stupid."

Devine says it has been years since he could find enough dependable, drug-free American workers for his $12-an-hour jobs mowing and tending landscapes for cemeteries, shopping centers and apartment complexes across Central Kentucky.

So for years he has hired 20 seasonal workers, mostly from Guatemala, through the U.S. Labor Department's H2-B "guest worker" program. Importing these workers for a few months cost him an additional $18,000 in fees and expenses beyond their wages, which must be the same as he pays American workers. But that's the only way he could serve his customers.

Restrictions on guest-worker visas, which began during President Barack Obama's second term as immigration became a hot issue for conservatives, have gotten worse under Trump. And it's even more of a problem now that the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in years.

May 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


The shrinking health spending gap (Drew Altman, Kaiser Family Foundation)

One of the laws of health care baked into the heads of every policy analyst is that health care spending almost always rises much faster than GDP. Except it hasn't really been doing that since 2010, and the gap between health spending and GDP growth is projected to continue to be small through 2026.

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Can a Shiite Cleric Pull Iraq Out of the Sectarian Trap? (Thanassis Cambanis, May 11, 2018, NY Times)

Iraq's parliamentary elections on May 12 might seem to offer more of the same because most of the leading candidates and movements have dominated the country's political life since the United States unseated Saddam Hussein in 2003. But the 44-year-old firebrand Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr is leading an encouraging transformation, which could jar Iraq's politicians out of their sectarian rut.

Mr. Sadr inherited millions of devoted followers from his family of revered religious scholars. Both his father and father-in-law were grand ayatollahs, the highest clerical level of Shiite Islam. He cemented his status by leading a bloody resistance against the American occupation and fighting the United States-allied government in Baghdad. He stubbornly defied foreign intervention, angering both Iran and the United States. He has purged corrupt operatives from his movement.

In the summer of 2015, Mr. Sadr made a potentially historic about-face, uniting with the Iraqi Communist Party and secular civil society groups who were protesting the government's failure to provide security against the Islamic State or even the basic necessities of life, including jobs and electricity. Together, the new alliance demanded an end to corruption. [...]

An important outcome of Mr. Sadr joining a nonsectarian coalition is a new strain of pluralism and tolerance. The liberating effect is visible in how Iraqis irrespective of class, sectarian and sexual identities can reclaim public spaces without fear.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 AM


Trump is no longer the worst person in government (George F. Will, May 9, 2018, Washington Post)

Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America's most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today's lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year's elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.

May 10, 2018

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Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump: This Will End Badly. And Probably Soon. (Rick Wilson, 05.10.18, Daily Beast)

Like a bloated, portly fake billionaire rolling off a hooker after a hot 45 seconds of passionate sex, Donald Trump's ardor for Rudy Giuliani seems to have cooled.

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The Ted Kennedy Scandal Worse Than Chappaquiddick (Paul Kengor, May 09, 2018, Intercollegiate Review)

For whatever reason, Senator Kennedy liked the Soviets. And he thought they liked him--when, in fact, they used him, wining and dining and duping him.

An eyewitness to this was Yuri Bezmenov, a journalist and editor for Novosti, the Soviet press agency (where he also worked for the KGB), before he defected to the West in the 1970s. Among Bezmenov's chief duties was to handle Western visitors through propaganda and misinformation. "One of my functions," recalled Bezmenov in a 1984 television interview, "was to keep foreign guests permanently intoxicated from the moment they landed at Moscow airport." He would "accompany groups of so-called 'progressive intellectuals'--writers, journalists, publishers, teachers, professors of colleges. . . . For us, they were just a bunch of political prostitutes to be taken advantage of."

Bezmenov had come to see the rotten totalitarianism of the Soviet system and was quite bothered that these Western progressives could not discern the obvious. "I did my job," he lamented, but "deep inside I still hoped that at least some of these useful idiots [would catch on]."

Among the worst of them, said Bezmenov, was Senator Ted Kennedy.

Pointing to a photo that he said showed Ted Kennedy dancing at a wedding at Moscow's Palace of Marriages, Bezmenov stated, "Another greatest example of monumental idiocy [among] American politicians: Edward Kennedy was in Moscow, and he thought that he's a popular, charismatic American politician, who is easygoing, who can smile, [who can] dance at a wedding at Russian Palace of Marriages. What he did not understand--or maybe he pretended not to understand--is that actually he was being taken for a ride." Bezmenov noted that Kennedy, in this particular instance, was participating in a "staged wedding used to impress foreign media--or useful idiots like Ed Kennedy. Most of the guests there [had] security clearance and were instructed what to say to foreigners." Bezmenov himself worked these weddings. He noted that Kennedy "thinks he's very smart," but "from the viewpoint of Russian citizens who observed this idiocy," he was "an idiot," a "useful idiot," participating in "propaganda functions like this"--a so-called wedding that was really a "farce," a "circus performance."

The Soviets saw Ted Kennedy as someone they could entertain and manipulate. And for the senator from Massachusetts, the Russian romance was ongoing. In March 1983 he reciprocated whatever wedding prize Soviet handlers gave him with a gift of his own: ridicule of Ronald Reagan's self-described "dream" of missile defense. Around this same time the Massachusetts senator also made an extraordinary private bequest to the Kremlin--and he did so quite consciously.

As we now know from a highly sensitive KGB document, the liberal icon, arguably the most important Democrat in the country at the time, so opposed Ronald Reagan and his policies that the senator approached Soviet dictator Yuri Andropov, proposing to work together to undercut the American president.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Giuliani Resigns From Law Firm Amid Tensions Over Comments About Trump (Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, May 10, 2018, NY Times)

Firm partners had chafed over Mr. Giuliani's public comments about payments that another of Mr. Trump's lawyers, Michael D. Cohen, made to secure the silence of a pornographic film actress who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. The president has denied her allegations. In interviews, Mr. Giuliani suggested that such payments were common at his firm.

"That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do, out of his law firm funds," he said on Fox News.

He added, "Michael would take care of things like this like I take care of this with my clients."

The New York Times asked Greenberg Traurig several times to explain those remarks over the past week.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Salem executives pressured radio hosts to cover Trump more positively, emails show (Hadas Gold and Oliver Darcy,  May 09, 2018, CNNMoney) 

Executives at Salem Media Group, a conservative media company that syndicates some of the country's most recognized talk radio hosts and operates a batch of popular commentary websites, pressured some of their radio talent to cover Donald Trump more favorably during the 2016 presidential campaign, emails obtained by CNNMoney show.

One former radio host employed by Salem is now speaking out on the record, claiming the company fired her because of her refusal to play along.

It might not be unusual that a conservative-minded media organization would aim to support the Republican nominee. But the former host, Elisha Krauss, said she feels it's disingenuous to ostensibly hire hosts to be open about their views, only to pressure them behind the scenes to change. [...]

Shapiro and Krauss were not the only people working with or for Salem who were pressed to take a more positive stance regarding Trump, multiple people who have been associated with Salem told CNNMoney.

In his June 2016 email to Shapiro and Krauss, Boyce said that, at his suggestion, Atsinger had written to two other popular Salem hosts, Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved, "a very well stated case for supporting the GOP nominee because we have to beat Hillary."

Boyce went on to assert that in the wake of Atsinger's message to him, Hewitt had begun to modify his position and had gone on to write an article for The Washington Post about why he found it necessary to vote for Trump. That prompted Atsinger to say, according to Boyce's email, "Wow he took a lot from my email to him and turned it into an article."

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Malaysia Opposition, Led by 92-Year-Old, Wins Upset Victory (Richard C. Paddock, May 9, 2018, NY Times)

In a historic election upset in a country that has been governed by just one coalition for decades, a Malaysian opposition bloc led by the 92-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad swept to a majority in national parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds, gave an emotional national address on Thursday, saying that he would "accept the verdict of the people."

But the election's result has not yet been settled. The country's king must now rule on who will be the next prime minister, as the loose coalition of opposition parties led by Mr. Mahathir is not officially recognized as a single political entity.

He Was a Protester a Month Ago. Now, Nikol Pashinyan Leads Armenia. (Neil MacFarquhar, May 8, 2018, NY Times)

If whirlwind events of the past month are any guide, Armenia might never get back to its old ways, civilized or not. On Tuesday, Mr. Pashinyan became Armenia's interim prime minister, when a Parliament dominated by his political foes elected him by a 59-to-42 vote.

After vowing to remake the country's political and economic systems, Mr. Pashinyan told a cheering throng in the central Republic Square in Yerevan, the capital, that, "Your victory is not that I was elected as prime minister of Armenia; your victory is that you decided who should be prime minister of Armenia."

Tens of thousands had gathered in the square, cheering wildly and waving the country's red, blue and orange flag as the vote was broadcast live on giant monitors.

On March 31, Mr. Pashinyan, 42, a balding man with a salt-and-pepper beard and slight paunch, began a quixotic walk across central Armenia to protest an effort by the president to skirt term limits.

Few paid much attention at first. Yet within three weeks, Mr. Pashinyan, a former newspaper editor and political prisoner, had galvanized a civil disobedience movement that transformed the country's political landscape. It forced the retirement of Serzh Sargsyan, the president for the past decade, and shoved aside the long-dominant Republican Party.

It was the most sweeping change in this small, landlocked country of about 2.8 million people in the southern Caucasus since it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 AM


GOP Senate intel chair burns House intel Trump-Russia findings: They didn't 'substantiate every conclusion with facts' (Elizabeth Preza, 08 MAY 2018, Raw Story)

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, ripped his colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, arguing members of that panel did not "substantiate every conclusion with facts." [...]

Burr has previously criticized the House intel committee, and particularly Nunes. Last year, the Senate intel chairman said Nunes "created" the narrative that members of the Obama administration improperly "unmasked" members of the Trump team.

"The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes, and I'll wait to go through our full evaluation to see if there was anything improper that happened," Burr told CNN at the time.

May 9, 2018

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McCain Confirms He Gave Trump Dossier to Comey: 'Duty Demanded I Do' It (Gideon Resnick, 05.09.18, Daily Beast)

In his new book, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) confirms that he gave a controversial dossier about President Trump to former FBI chief James Comey.

"I agreed to receive a copy of what is now referred to as 'the dossier,'" McCain writes in the upcoming book, titled The Restless Wave, referencing information compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. "I reviewed its contents. The allegations were disturbing, but I had no idea which if any were true. I could not independently verify any of it, and so I did what any American who cares about our nation's security should have done."

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Firm That Paid Cohen Bought 'Alt-Right.Co' (Daily Beast, 5/09/18)

Columbus Nova, the firm that paid Michael Cohen's shell company Essential Consultants, also bought alt-right website domains, according to an NBC News reporter. Columbus Nova, under the design manager's name Frederick Intrater, bought various alt-right-themed domains, including,,

Quite delicious that our Trumpbots are yesterday's fellow travellers.

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Massachusetts man stole Warhol paintings, sold fakes: prosecutors (Nate Raymond, 5/09/18, Reuters) 

A Massachusetts man was arrested on Wednesday and accused by federal prosecutors of stealing two Andy Warhol paintings from a former college classmate and then using them to produce knockoffs that he sold on eBay.

Brian Walshe, 43, sold two forged Warhols to the owner of a Los Angeles gallery for $80,000 in 2016, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Boston.

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THE BEEF (profanity alert):

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  'Do Not Respond': Did The Soviet Government Abandon Its WWII Prisoners? (Robert Coalson & Dmitry Volchek, 5/09/18, Radio Liberty)

"Already on June 23, 1941, the Red Cross sent a telegram to [Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav] Molotov offering its assistance to the Soviet Union during the war," Bogoslavsky told RFE/RL. "Molotov confirmed his interest."

In the first weeks of the conflict, Germany and the Soviet Union both confirmed they would adhere to international conventions on the treatment of prisoners. However, it quickly became clear that neither side intended to keep its commitment.

In the first six months of the war, as the Germans raced across the Soviet Union to the outskirts of Moscow, more than 3 million Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner, often as a result of encirclement as Soviet officials refused to allow them to retreat or failed even to issue orders.

According to the archival materials, Bogoslavsky said, the Axis powers offered to exchange lists of prisoners with the Soviets in December 1941. Molotov's deputy, Andrei Vyshinsky, wrote to his boss that a list of German prisoners had been compiled and advised that it be released to prevent harm to the Soviet Union's reputation.

"But Molotov wrote on the message, '...don't send the lists (the Germans are violating legal and other norms),'" Bogoslavsky said. "After that, almost all the letters and telegrams received from the Red Cross...were marked by Molotov as 'Do Not Respond.'"

The Soviet government adopted this policy as a result of a cold-blooded calculus.

"By the end of 1941, more than 3 million people had been taken prisoner, and one of the Soviet leadership's goals was to control this avalanche," Bogoslavsky said. "A Soviet soldier had to understand that if he was captured, he wouldn't be getting any food parcels from the Red Cross and he wouldn't be sending any postcards to his loved ones. He had to know that the only thing awaiting him there was inevitable death."

The Soviets had to station secret police behind the troops to get them to fight at all.  There were no patriots for the regime.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Favorites Win Nearly Everywhere in First Big Primary Election Results of 2018 (Ed Kilgore, 5/09/18, New York)

The candidates favored by the oddsmakers didn't win every single race in the four-state primaries held today: Republican U.S. representative Robert Pittenger of North Carolina lost his party's nomination for another term in a rematch with 2016 opponent Mark Harris. Other than that, though, this was simply not a night for upsets. The big shocker many had anticipated, a West Virginia GOP Senate nomination for rogue ex-con Don Blankenship, emphatically didn't happen. You can say the same about dogs that did not bark in the other three states' primary election results.

Of course, Donald was sui generis in 2016 as well, with all the other Rightwingers flaming out in the primaries there too.  It's why the bottom of the ticket was able to carry him into office, outpolling his substantially.

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Trump wants to wring a 'better deal' from Iran.  (Nicholas Miller.  May 8, 2018, Washington Post)

[I]n 2009 the United States discovered that Iran had secretly constructed another enrichment facility at Fordow. Iran argued that it needed the plant to supply fuel for its nuclear reactors -- but rejected a diplomatic bargain that would have guaranteed a supply of nuclear fuel in exchange for shipping much of its low-enriched uranium out of the country.

In June 2010, the Security Council passed Resolution 1929, which imposed not just an arms embargo on Iran but also, for the first time, broader financial restrictions. After obstructing strong measures in the past, Russia finally agreed to impose enhanced sanctions. That change came largely because of the Fordow revelation, Iran's rejection of a diplomatic deal and Russia's short-lived desire to improve relations with Washington.

Over the next few years, the United States and European Union tightened the noose on the Iranian economy. The European Union banned investment in much of Iran's oil and gas industry, imposed an oil embargo and cut off Iran from the SWIFT financial network. Meanwhile, the United States imposed sweeping secondary sanctions, which effectively cut off entities that did business with Iran or did not reduce purchases of Iranian oil from using the U.S. financial system.

Collectively, these measures had a crushing effect on the Iranian economy, reducing Iranian oil exports by more than 50 percent and causing the Iranian economy to contract.

Even then, it's unlikely that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would have reached a deal. But in June 2013, Iranian voters replaced Ahmadinejad with Hassan Rouhani. Unlike his predecessor, Rouhani favored greater engagement with the West and supported compromising on the nuclear issue to end international sanctions. With the implicit backing of Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, Rouhani quickly reached an interim agreement with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, signed in November 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


The Grocery Store as an Indicator of American Progress (Steven Horwitz, 5/08/18, Econ Lib)

The grocery store is in many ways a metaphor for the increase in American living standards experienced by both rich and poor. Those of us who remember the 1970s have perhaps the best sense of this evolution, as we can remember what even good grocery stores were like back then. Stores were generally small, not well lit, not always clean, limited in the variety of goods they stocked (especially fresh produce), and lacking in the prepared foods we take for granted at most grocery stores today.3

The 21st century American grocery store, by contrast, is a marvel of higher quality, lower cost, and expanded variety. There is simply no comparison between the quality of the produce, meats, and bread available at even a large middle-market chain like Kroger today and what was available anywhere in the 1970s. Measured in terms of labor hours required for purchase, food has generally never been cheaper. We see that today, as poverty in America is far more likely to be associated with obesity than with being underweight.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Crime rate in Germany lowest since 1992, but Seehofer still issues stern warning (Deutsche-Welle, 5/09/18)

"Germany has become safer," Interior Minister Horst Seehofer proclaimed on Tuesday morning in Berlin, as he presented the latest crime statistics for the first time since taking over the post in the new German government.

The latest figures show that some 5.76 million crimes were reported in 2017, 5 percent fewer than in the previous year and the lowest number since 1992. Taken as a percentage of the population, the crime rate is actually at its lowest in 30 years, Seehofer said. 

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BIRTHPLACE OF CAPITALISM (Nima Sanandaji, 05/09/2018, New Geography)

Already before the rise of Islam, the deep deserts of the Arabian Peninsula had thriving cities, which lived of the specialized manufacturing and export of goods. The Arab tradition of trade lives on in the faith and traditions of Islam. The Prophet Muhammed himself was a merchant for many years. He married his first wife Khadija, a renowned merchant capitalist, after having managed some of her trade affairs. Khadija is seen as one of the most important female figures in Islam, commonly regarded by Muslims as the "Mother of the Believers." She is a rare example of a ancient female entrepreneur who had a demonstrable impact on history. When the tribe of Quraysh in Mecca gathered their caravans to embark upon the summer journey to Syria or the winter journey to Yemen, Khadija's caravan equaled the caravans of all other traders of the tribe put together.

During the Islamic Golden Age, Middle Eastern trading cities prospered through enterprise. During the early Middle Ages, Baghdad was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, as seen in the stories of the One Thousand and One Nights collection of Middle Eastern folk tales. In these tales, the heroes are often merchant capitalists, who - through their pursuit of wealth - benefit themselves as well as the rest of society. The Eastern tradition of portraying entrepreneurs as heroes differs sharply from the modern Western tradition, in which the agent of an economic enterprise is often the villain, and the hero characterized by his disregard for material wealth. Modern Western institutions are shaped in accordance with the principles of the market economy, but contemporary culture --- influenced in large part by elements of Christianity and its secular off-shoot, Marxism --- still retains a hostile view of enterprise, commerce, and wealth accumulation. On the contrary, these things are all celebrated in Middle Eastern cultures.

Of course, the market-based exchange in the historic Middle East competed with feudalism, tribalism, and state control. In rural areas, much of the population was mostly self-sufficient farmers. Yet, in several cities in the Middle East, North Africa, India, and China mature and durable market institutions emerged. The Silk Road bound together these market centers, and merchants brought the goods from Middle Eastern market cities such as Aleppo to Europe and Africa. Today, the story of globalization and commerce is told almost exclusively from a Western viewpoint. However, much of the development occurred in the East and the South. Zanzibar and other trading cities across the Swahili Coast, for example, grew wealthy by attracting African, Arab, Persian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, and Chinese merchants.

Proponents of economic freedom focus almost exclusively on the Western origins of free-market ideas. In fact, many of these ideas originated in Eastern philosophy. The Tale of the Moneyed Rat Trader is an old Indian folktale which explains how voluntary market exchange and capital accumulation can allow even the most impoverished individual to climb the social ladder. The idea that government tax revenues will fall when the tax rates reach a certain level is today associated with the U.S. economist Arthur Laffer. This theory was originally developed by the 14th century North African Arab intellectual Ibn Khaldun, who used the theory of stifling government taxation to explain the rise and fall of entire dynasties. In Qabus Nameh, a major work of Persian literature from the 11th century A.D., the mythological king of Iran, Kai Kavus, advised his son on economic matters. The ideas of rational self-interest expressed in this work lies very close to the thinking of Western free-market intellectuals such as Adam Smith and Ayn Rand.

This long tradition of enterprise is evident also today. Iranians, Arabs, Turks, Jews, Kurds, Armenians and the myriad of people who inhabit the Middle East have widely different cultures. Yet they are all dealers and hagglers, with market exchange almost encoded into their cultural DNA. Middle Eastern immigrants to Europe and the Americas have high rates of entrepreneurship. It might not be recognized in the West, but there is a great deal of interest to shift towards free markets in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Corruption, oil-dependency and war have so far hampered the development - but a market renaissance for the Middle East is certainly a possibility. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Mitch McConnell's Big Night (JOSH VOORHEES, MAY 09, 2018, Slate)

Tuesday night could have theoretically gone better for Mitch McConnell, but not by much. Voters selected Republican Senate nominees in three states that were won overwhelmingly by Donald Trump in 2016, and instead of picking wacky outsiders who could torpedo the party's chances in November, the rank-and-file opted for nominees who should be able to capably carry the torch for the next six months. All three nominees will keep Republicans' hopes of keeping control of the Senate next year alive and well.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


How Michael Cohen's Apparent Russia Payment Might Help Prove Collusion (JED SHUGERMAN, MAY 09, 2018, Slate)

Given the outrageous conduct of Putin and Deripaska, and given the almost unanimous votes in Congress to impose tough sanctions, these accommodations should have been considered stunning. As of Tuesday night, they stink to high heaven.

And the question must be raised: Was there a quid pro quo understanding between Vekselberg and Trump associates in January 2017? It is crucial to remember here what was happening in December 2016 and January 2017 in regards to Russia sanctions. Here's what I summarized in an earlier Slate piece on Kushner, Qatar, and Russian money: The Steele Dossier alleged that Russians had made a deal with Trump associates for the Russians to sell Rosneft, the massive state energy company, and use the commissions to give Trump associates payments under the radar, in return for lifting or softening sanctions. The Rosneft sale went through in December 2016, a month after the election, coinciding with Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page's various alleged communications with Russians. Just eight days before this oil megadeal, Flynn and Kushner met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, and Kushner reportedly proposed a secret communication link with the Kremlin through the Russian embassy. Then, a few days after the Rosneft deal, Kushner met Sergey Gorkov, chair of Russia's government-owned VE Bank (VEB) and Putin's close confidant.

Analysts have described VEB as Putin's "private slush fund," a source of money independent from official Russia budgeting. VEB is under strict U.S. sanctions.
Gorkov reportedly flew to Japan to meet with Putin practically immediately. On Dec. 29, President Obama ordered new Russian sanctions for election hacking and interference--and Flynn reportedly had five calls with Kislyak. We later learned that they discussed Russian sanctions after Flynn pled guilty to lying about this fact to federal investigators. Trump tweeted about Putin the next day, calling him "very smart" for not responding to Obama's sanctions before Trump has had a chance to transition into office.

We've now learned, in the very next month after the Kushner/Flynn backchannel contacts with Russia, the Vekselberg-connected payments to Cohen began. And they occurred, inexplicably enough, after the Steele Dossier was published. Again, this is all clearly now a subject of Mueller's probe. As the New York Times first reported last week, Mueller's agents questioned Vekselberg when he flew into New York earlier this year. CNN reported on Tuesday that they asked him about these particular payments. What might be the plausible innocent explanation for a Putin-associated Russian oligarch, to use Rudy Giuliani's phrase, "funneling" money to Trump's personal lawyer through a fund used to pay hush money to one or more women and as that oligarch was due to benefit from Trump's sanction policies? Maybe they have an explanation, but it's hard to imagine it, and it's hard to imagine how persuasive a jury would find it.

The Avenatti document, meanwhile, suggests a road map for trying to substantiate this hypothetical. The first part of Avenatti's summary offers more detail for the allegation that Cohen may have committed bank fraud, misrepresenting the reasons for opening his bank account. I've explained in an earlier piece how this is one of several federal and state crimes that Cohen is potentially facing. He is also still on the hook for possible campaign finance felonies, even if one accepts all of Giuliani's spin about reimbursement. Furthermore, Avenatti suggests that California has jurisdiction over these possible crimes, opening up another set of state and federal prosecutors who could potentially bring charges. Which is all just to say, there is more pressure on Cohen to cooperate with Mueller and other prosecutors than ever. If he were to flip, he would presumably have to provide insight into what these payments were for.

Attacking Hondurans and Iranians is not just a function of Donald's own hatreds; he also has to buy support from the Right.

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Is there anything that Jordan Peterson can't disrupt? (Peter Franklin, 09 May 2018, Unherd)

[P]eterson is in the process of disrupting several 'markets'.

The first is the so-called alt-right. This always was a misleading label, because the alternative on offer is not to the conventional right. Rather, the variation is on the identity politics of the left. The alt-right offers a similar set of victimhood narratives, but with a different set of victims.

Peterson is accused by his stupider critics of having his alt-right tendencies of his own. They couldn't be more wrong:

"...his refusal of the consolations of group identity also puts him at odds with the alt-right. 'The alt-righters would say--and they've said this to me directly--'Peterson, you're wrong. Identity politics is correct. We just have to play to win.' I think that's a reprehensible attitude...'

"...Peterson sees himself as a kind of Catcher in the Rye, rescuing alienated young men from such dangerous temptations."

Disrupting the market for identity politics - by convincing its potential customers that they don't need its products (whether in rightist or leftist packaging) is a campaign that Peterson has waged on social media. However, he isn't just a (highly successful) YouTube personality. He's also a serious academic and Yang hints that he may have plans to disrupt a second market:

"He had met with Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen to discuss an unspecified future venture. Both of those billionaires have for years called for the disruption of higher education, and Peterson has spoken of his desire to create an online university that will offer accreditation in the humanities at a tenth of the prevailing cost. "

As I've argued before, this is market that desperately needs disrupting. Besides the grotesque politicisation of entire disciplines, it is absurd that students should be racking up enormous debts for the privilege of listening to mediocre academics from the back of a lecture theatre, when world-class teaching resources can be made available online. Of course, there's more to higher education than attending lectures - but digital could reinvent all of that too.

May 8, 2018

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Melania Trump trolls her husband (Karen Tumulty, May 7, 2018, Washington Post)

It may be that the most effective way to strike a blow against a Twitter bully is to be a deft troll. In choosing and unveiling the child-welfare platform she plans to champion, first lady Melania Trump proved she has a well developed sense of irony.

"I do believe children should be both seen and heard," she said on Monday in the White House's Rose Garden. "And it is our responsibility as adults to educate and remind them that when they're using their voices, whether verbally or online, they must use their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion."

There is no reason to doubt either her sincerity or her commitment to fighting a very real problem for young people. But the first lady managed to also draw everyone's attention to the fact that the worst imaginable role model for those values happened to be the man sitting right there in the front row. Every time she brings up the subject, she knows the commentary will certainly include references to her husband's abusive comments on social media and in his tirades against his adversaries.

"I am well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing this topic," Melania Trump had acknowledged in March during a White House meeting with tech executives and Internet-safety advocates.

But then again, who better to do it? Who else can shame Donald Trump? Who else can he not afford to attack or belittle, at a time when the country is transfixed and disgusted by reports of his extramarital dalliances with a porn star and a Playboy centerfold?

When he has reached for her hand at photo opportunities, she has sometimes replied with a swat, knowing the cameras will bear evidence to her humiliation and her anger. And now she has done it by putting a spotlight on a cause guaranteed to remind people of his character flaws.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM

COLLUSION ALL THE WAY DOWN (profanity alert):

Michael Cohen Took Cash From Russian Oligarch After Election: The Daily Beast can confirm Michael Avenatti's claim made Tuesday about Trump's lawyer. (NOAH SHACHTMAN : KATE BRIQUELET, 05.08.18, Daily Beast)

The Daily Beast can confirm that Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company controlled by Putin-aligned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The allegations were initially made Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, porn actress Stormy Daniels' lawyer, and confirmed by a source familiar with the matter.

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Joint statement from Prime Minister May, Chancellor Merkel and President Macron following President Trump's statement on Iran (8 May 2018)

Iran should continue to receive the sanctions relief it is entitled to whilst it remains in compliance with the terms of the deal.

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Renewable Energy Is Surviving Trump (EMILY ATKIN, May 8, 2018, New Republic)

President Donald Trump has done a lot for the oil and coal industries. Since taking office, he's halted more than 30 costly environmental regulations, approved two large oil pipelines, and opened up more public land for drilling. "We have ended the war on American energy," Trump said in January.

America's energy production is indeed on the rise: More than 3 gigawatts have been added to the country's electric grid this year, enough to power more than 2 million homes. Problem is, almost none of that new capacity came from fossil fuels. It came from renewable resources.

According to data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), 95 percent of the energy capacity added in the first quarter of 2018 came from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Only about 3 percent came from natural gas. By comparison, in the first quarter of 2017, approximately 33 percent of new capacity came from natural gas and 61 percent came from renewables. (There's been no new capacity from coal this year or last.)

Left and Right, but I repeat myself, are always in for a rude awakening when they fight market forces.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Melania Trump Reportedly Knows Her Husband Is a Cyberbully (Pluralist, 08 MAY 2018)

"She has been heard saying that she knows her husband has contributed to the combative nature of today's online chatter," the Washington Post reported Sunday, "and one associate said she has persisted with her anti-cyberbullying efforts despite White House advice that she pick any other issue to champion."

Trump formally launched her initiative against cyberbullying Monday, but it was overshadowed by the ​revelation that a White House pamphlet on the subject for parents was mostly plagiarized from a document created by President Barack Obama's administration. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Racism and the Pro-Life Movement (Hunter Baker, May 7th, 2018, Public Discourse)

[It is good to think upon the continuing problem of race and justice in America. But in so doing, we should take care not to set righteous causes in opposition to one another. Somewhat bizarrely to those with memories and long knowledge of the pro-life movement, we now hear suggestions from progressive evangelicals that the protection of unborn life enjoys inappropriate priority over and against black lives. It seems to be becoming a new article of faith among some evangelicals that pro-lifers erred by building a great movement in opposition to Roe v. Wade when so much racial injustice remained to be vanquished. Indeed, the attack may be formulated more sharply to argue that pro-life votes are positively pernicious in the sense that they have supported politicians whose commitment to law and order undermines racial justice.

But it is terribly unfair and wrong to see the goals of the pro-life movement as being in competition for priority with the need to address continuing manifestations of racism. To a large extent, perhaps unappreciated by many, the two struggles share a common foundation. The movement against slavery and institutionalized racism was and is a struggle against dehumanization. Under slavery, the legal regime held that the owner of a slave effectively had the power of life and death over another human being. In other words, the fate of the slave depended upon the wishes of the owner. It should not be difficult to see (and much scholarly and other writing has been produced to this point) that the unborn child is in very much the same situation. If an unborn child is wanted, then he or she has status and protection. If the same child is not desired by its mother, then she and the health care apparatus have the same godlike dominion once extended by the owner of chattel slaves. In fact, the unfortunate unborn life now disposed of may also become an object of commerce in various ways. The parallels are substantial.

Let me repeat that: the two struggles are against the same enemy. The struggle against racism is directed against dehumanization, and so is the fight against abortion.

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


More Americans say they'll buy an electric car (Peter Valdes-Dapena, May 8, 2018, CNN)

One in five Americans say they are likely to buy an electric car for their next new vehicle, according to a survey from AAA. That's up from 15% who said they were likely to buy an electric car last year.

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"I love documents": How Seth Hettena came to write Trump / Russia, on sale today (Seth Hettena, 5/08/18, Melville House Press)

Russia wasn't much on the radar when I started researching what became my book, Trump/Russia: A Definitive History. Obama was still president, the Steele Dossier hadn't leaked yet, and James Comey was FBI director. But if you didn't think that something was going on with Trump and Russia back in the summer of 2016, then you just weren't paying attention. First, Russian intelligence hacked the Democratic National Committee. Then came Trump's bizarre "Russia, if you're listening," remark. (Remember that one, when he asked the Kremlin to "find" Hillary Clinton's missing emails?) As the GOP gathered to nominate Donald Trump for president in Cleveland, the Trump campaign quietly softened the language in the party's platform about arming Ukraine. These were not mere coincidences. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond and a former intelligence officer, once wrote, "One is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action."

My wife thinks this is strange, but I love documents. People were marching in the streets; I started digging through documents. I got hold of every article I could find and read books on Russia in my spare time. I began to gather all these tiny pieces of information and assemble them into a coherent whole. It turned into a mountain of information. I was compiling timelines, and writing posts about hacking and Russian intelligence at "Just a guy trying to figure out if the president is an agent of a foreign power," is how I described myself.  It was my personal attempt to understand the election of Donald Trump and what role Russia had played in it. I knew this stuff mattered to me. If somebody else found it helpful, great.

It was my agent, Scott Mendel, who contacted me and told me what I was doing was interesting and important and mattered to everybody. The outline of the book was there, but I just hadn't seen it yet. In February 2017, I wrote what would turn out to be my most popular blog post ever. I took a look at all the Russian Mafia figures who have lived or worked in Trump Tower, including a few names that would feature prominently in my book. The more I looked, the more Russian Mafia figures I found, and this became the tie that binds many of the disparate threads of the Trump/Russia story together. It's what Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, Felix Sater, and many other characters all have in common. I didn't know it then but I was on the same path that others had followed, including the FBI and the researchers at Fusion GPS who commissioned the Steele Dossier.

We hear a lot of talk about collusion between Trump and Russia, but the story I saw was one of corruption.

That's the difference between opposition done on and done by Donald.  The former turns up corruption.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


What to make of the car crash Trump-Buhari presser? (Elsie Eyakuze, 5/08/18, Al Jazeera)

Did you see the video of President Trump and President Buhari speaking to the press on the White House lawn? The one that is essentially two old men, one clearly exhausted and the other one oblivious, making unintelligible comments into a forest of microphones?

There are good reasons to watch it.

I, for example, was asked to watch it and see if I could come up with an opinion piece. So I did, because nothing could possibly be worse than Trump's superb clanger on the Fox and Friends show, right? And besides, around the same time, Kanye West was doing a good job of delivering all the aggravation one global community under a 24-hour news cycle regime could tolerate with his version of the history of slavery. I mean, this couldn't possibly be too bad.

It was bad. 

It was bad because it hurt to try to decipher what was being said. For a bit of work, I had violated my own Trump quota, forgetting that watching him actually makes me doubt my own perceptions.

It was bad because no person of colour, and especially no African, should be exposed to his intense and hateful ignorance about Africa, as it is nearly a literal poison.

It was bad because the head of state of Africa's giant powerhouse was weakly mumbling something that sounded obsequious next to this unfathomable man that the US has inflicted upon us.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


As headlines swirl, Trump grows frustrated with Giuliani (JONATHAN LEMIRE, 5/08/18, AP)

President Donald Trump is growing increasingly irritated with lawyer Rudy Giuliani's frequently off-message media blitz, in which he has muddied the waters on hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels and made claims that could complicate the president's standing in the special counsel's Russia probe.

Trump has begun questioning whether Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, should be sidelined from television interviews, according to two people familiar with the president's thinking but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

Begun?  Priceless.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


40 Years Later, 'The Bob Newhart Show' Seems Revolutionary (Travis M. Andrews, 5/07/18, The Washington Post)

Newhart exploded onto the comedy scene in 1960 with his live album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. On it, Newhart has fake phone conversations, such as the one between Abe Lincoln and a New York ad man -- only Newhart just plays one side, leaving the other to the listener's imagination.

"On the telephone bits, he did the seeming impossible. He gave the punchline to the person he was talking to that you couldn't hear," comedian Norm Macdonald told The Post via text. "The idea of playing straight man to silence seemed revolutionary to me."

That comedic attitude informed the show. Newhart wasn't flashy or loud. He played the straight man, subtly reacting to the craziness round him. And his phone call routines were regularly baked into the plot.

"The show was a perfect showcase for Bob's skill set," Macdonald said.

In typical Newhart fashion, the show's namesake doesn't take much credit. "It was all about the writing," he said. "The writers were brilliant. I just tried to get out of the way." But others say his demeanor was the key ingredient.

"He would give away the biggest and funniest lines to others. He would let other people have jokes," O'Donnell said. "Somehow that generosity ended up creating a show that's so much better and funnier than all other shows."

Newhart said he learned this from Jack Benny. Benny once told him a story in which he gave the best line of the night to another actor. When asked about it, Benny simply said, "Well, I'll be back next week."

"That stuck with me," Newhart said. "I'll always be back next week. Let everybody be good. Because if you want this thing to last, it's going to take everybody."

The result was a show that warmly seeped into people's houses. That was Hunt's experience, at least. She said Newhart remains a gold standard for her, and is one of the reasons she became an actress.

"I feel so lucky to have grown up during a time when Bob Newhart and his show was on television," Hunt said in a phone interview. She has "such profound memories of my parents loving that show so much," and of watching their faces as they watched the screen on Saturday nights. The week's problems, any tension or unhappiness, melted away as the TV flickered.

"It was kind and full of love," Hunt said. "And it's very challenging to be funny with all those things in order and not to be gross or shocking."

That kindness was radical in its own, quiet way.

"We took a chance, and it worked," Newhart said.

But, reflecting back on the show, what Newhart takes the most pride in isn't the barriers the show broke nor the fact that it inspired and influenced so many comics. It's the simple fact that it brought joy to people.

To this day, one of the funniest scenes in tv history features Bob & Emily being robbed at gunpoint. When Howard walks in and sees them speadeagle up against the wall of the apartment he runs over and helps "hold the wall up."

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Two Russian Pilots Killed In Helicopter Crash In Syria (Radio Liberty, May 08, 2018)

A Russian military helicopter crashed on May 7 over eastern Syria, killing both pilots, the Russian Defense Ministry said. [...]

It was the second time this month Russian pilots have lost their lives in crashes over Syria. On May 3, a Russian Su-30SM fighter jet crashed in Syria shortly after takeoff, killing both of its crew members.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Pruitt fast-tracked California cleanup after Hugh Hewitt brokered meeting (EMILY HOLDEN and ANTHONY ADRAGNA, 05/07/2018, Politico)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt placed a polluted California area on his personal priority list of Superfund sites targeted for "immediate and intense" action after conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt brokered a meeting between him and lawyers for the water district that was seeking federal help to clean up the polluted Orange County site.

The previously unreported meeting, which was documented in emails released by EPA under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club, showed Pruitt's staff reacting quickly to the request last September by Hewitt, who has been one of Pruitt's staunchest defenders amid a raft of ethics controversies around his expensive travel, security team spending and a cheap Washington condo rental from a lobbyist.

One would have hoped Mr. Hewitt was better than this. Whatever the case for the cleanup help, ethics require that he include the fact of his business dealings in his defenses.

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Cornyn pans Texas lawsuit to end DACA: 'I honestly don't understand' (Mitchell Schnurman, 5/08/18, Dallas Morning News)

Cornyn, a former Texas AG, said he'd immersed himself in the immigration issue and just couldn't get lawmakers to the finish line. Yes, we need border security, he said, and the rule of law.

"But there is a role for compassion and for pragmatism," Cornyn told the audience.

Dreamers were brought to the U.S. by their parents, who were not authorized to live here. The kids grew up and finished school, and  the vast majority have landed jobs, including in the military and public education. 

They should not be punished for their status, he said, and most conservative Republicans want them to remain in the country, polls show.

"In America, we don't hold children responsible for the mistakes their parents made," Cornyn said.

It's just racial hygiene.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


China's trade gap with the US widens despite tariffs threat (Deutsche-Welle, 5/08/18)

China's trade surplus with the United States surged 43 percent in April, compared with the previous month, to reach $22.9 billion, according to data released by the Chinese Customs Office on Tuesday.

That led to a widening trade gap in the first four months of 2018, climbing to $80.4 billion from about $71 billion in the same period last year.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Resigns After Women Accuse Him Of Assault (Aiden Pink, 5/07/18, The Forward)

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his resignation on Monday, hours after The New Yorker published allegations by four former romantic partners accusing him of physical abuse.

The women said that Schneiderman repeatedly hit them, often while intoxicated and sometimes as part of violent sexual roleplay to which they did not consent.

After state political leaders, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, called for him to step down, Schneiderman announced that he would resign at the end of the day on Tuesday.

Four Women Accuse New York's Attorney General of Physical Abuse (5/07/18, The new Yorker)

After the former girlfriend ended the relationship, she told several friends about the abuse. A number of them advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose. She described this response as heartbreaking. 

May 7, 2018

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A Lot of People Agree with a Supervillain about Population : The supervillain's master plan echoes the fears of 'Population Bomb' author Paul Ehrlich. (Alexander Hammond, 5/07/18, FEE)

Thanos believes that there are finite resources in the universe--an appropriately illiterate idea, considering that the universe is infinite. Thus, if population growth is left unchecked, rising demand for resources will inevitably bring ruin to everyone. Halving the population of the universe is, in Thanos' mind, "not suffering, but salvation," for it is intended to avoid famine and poverty. The premise is misguided, but it's striking how many people here on Earth share it.

Thanos' concerns are identical to those of Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich, whose influential 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb predicted that rapid population growth would result in demand on Earth's finite resources outstripping supply, resulting in the breakdown of society. To this day Ehrlich continues to make doomsday predictions, and to this day reality continues to prove him wrong.

Just last month, Ehrlich stated that the "collapse of civilization is a near certainty within decades." In a 1979 interview, Ehrlich predicted that "sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come--and by 'the end,' I mean an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity." Most amusing, as I sit writing this article in a small café in central London, is his 1969 claim that he "would take even money that England would not exist in the year 2000."

Less amusing are the horrific real-life policies that have been implemented because of Ehrlich's doomsaying. To be sure, no policy has yet been on par with Thanos' plan to directly kill half of the population, but as Chelsea Follett has noted,

"Ehrlich's jeremiad led to human rights abuses around the world, including millions of forced sterilizations in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India--as well as China's draconian 'one child' policy. In 1975, officials sterilized 8 million men and women in India alone...To put that in perspective, Hitler's Germany forcibly sterilized 300,000 to 400,000 people."

Since Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb in 1968, the world's population has more than doubled, from 3.5 billion to 7.5 billion. Since 1968, famines have all but disappeared outside of war zones, and daily per capita calorie consumption has increased by more than 30 percent. In Asia, the region that consumed the fewest calories and had the fastest-growing population in 1968, caloric intake has increased by 40 percent, faster than the global average. Since 1990, the overall number of hungry people in the world has decreased by 216 million, despite the fact that the population grew by more than 1.9 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Germany, France vow to stick to Iran deal if U.S. pulls out (Reuters, 5/07/18) 

Germany and France on Monday vowed to stand by the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers even if the United States pulls out, with the German foreign minister saying the world would be less safe without it.

Rouhani says Iran nuke deal could survive without U.S. (John Bacon, 5/07/18, USA TODAY)

The Iran nuclear agreement could remain in place even if President Trump withdraws the United States from the deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Shocker: Republican candidate says 'I was just wrong' -- and Obama was right (George Bennett, May 7, 2018, Palm Beach Post)

[I]t happened during Saturday night's Florida Family Policy Council dinner when moderator Frank Luntz asked U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who's running in a GOP primary for governor against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, to provide an example of a time he's changed his mind about something.

"Actually, I think the one time that I was wrong in the Congress was when we had the breakout of Ebola and I thought we've just got to shut everything down, we can't take any risks," DeSantis said of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and concerns about its spread to the U.S.

"Obama didn't do that and I criticized him a lot for doing that. A lot of my Republican colleagues criticized him for doing that but, you know, I look back at it - it was handled well," DeSantis said. "I was just wrong about that. I think that the way the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and some of the folks in government handled it was actually an example of government getting the job done. So I'm totally willing to just be honest and admit if I call it wrong. Just admit that you were wrong and people appreciate that. Because we're going to make mistakes in this line of work, that's just the bottom line."

Nicely done.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


The FBI Is in Crisis. It's Worse Than You Think (ERIC LICHTBLAU May 3, 2018, TIME)

The Justice Department's Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, will soon release a much-anticipated assessment of Democratic and Republican charges that officials at the FBI interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign. That year-long probe, sources familiar with it tell TIME, is expected to come down particularly hard on former FBI director James Comey, who is currently on a high-profile book tour. It will likely find that Comey breached Justice Department protocols in a July 5, 2016, press conference when he criticized Hillary Clinton for using a private email server as Secretary of State even as he cleared her of any crimes, the sources say. The report is expected to also hit Comey for the way he reopened the Clinton email probe less than two weeks before the election, the sources say.

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Inside Melania Trump's complicated White House life: Separate schedule, different priorities (Mary Jordan, Emily Heil and Josh Dawsey, May 6, 2018, The Washington Post)

Donald and Melania Trump's remarkably separate daily routines begin with him getting up around 5:30 a.m., watching cable news shows and tweeting.

The first lady wakes in her own bedroom a bit later, according to two close friends of the Trumps. She then readies their 12-year-old son for school, including checking to make sure his homework is in his backpack.

Amid the noise and churn of the Trump administration -- most recently about how the president paid money to silence Stormy Daniels -- Melania Trump has settled into a quieter routine, often apart from the president, raising their son and carving out a place for herself in a most untraditional White House. [...]

The Trumps are often apart even during their free time, according to several people who know the couple's schedules. At Mar-a-Lago on holidays and weekends, the president golfs or dines with politicians, business executives and media personalities on the patio, while Melania is often nowhere to be seen. According to several current and former aides, the president and first lady often do not eat together in the White House either.

"They spend very little to no time together," said one longtime friend of the president.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


Witness in Jane Sanders land deal probe says she was recently interviewed by FBI (Lukas Mikelionis, 5/07/18, Fox News)

The revelation--the first such confirmed development since January--likely indicates that the federal investigation into a soured $10-million real estate deal remains open.

Jane Sanders, the former president of the now-defunct Burlington College, was at the helm when the college decided to expand and obtain a tract of land from a Roman Catholic parish. She secured a $6.7 million loan from a bank and a $3.6 million loan from the parish from which she planned to purchase the property.

She resigned in 2011 amid accusations that she inflated the amount of money donors have pledged to the school and provided incorrect information to a bank to get the loan. Multiple individuals, who were listed as college donors, have since come forward denying the commitments.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


For Those Still Hungering for 'Hamilton,' a New Indulgence (MICHAEL PAULSON, MAY 6, 2018, NY Times)

The musical's creative team, following other pop culture phenoms from "Star Wars" to "Downton Abbey," has created "Hamilton: The Exhibition," which will open in November in Chicago, where the musical has been running since 2016, and then move to other cities.

The project differs from other brand-extending entertainment-industry gallery ventures in one key respect: Because this musical is a work of nonfiction, based on Alexander Hamilton's life, the museum-style exhibition aspires to historical accuracy, and has been developed in consultation with experts at Yale and Harvard. The exhibition's creators -- much of the same team that put together the musical -- say they are seeking to answer questions asked by the show's fans.

"There was no way of anticipating the fact that 'Hamilton' has sparked this interest in this era, and in this founder who didn't really get his due," Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and original star of the musical, said. "This is much more historically rigorous than two hours of musical theater could ever possibly be, and it really is to satisfy the demand of people who learn a little bit in our show and want to know more."

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


America's putrid wage growth (Jeff Spross, May 7, 2018, The Week)

Average hourly wages for production and nonsupervisory workers (i.e. most people in the workforce) grew just 2.6 percent in the 12 months culminating in April 2018. That's certainly better than the 1.2-percent pit this metric hit in late 2012. But wages were growing at 4 percent at the peak of the last business cycle, just before the economy cratered in 2008. Wage growth also hit 4 percent during the late-1990s boom, and at the end of the 1980s business cycle before that.

At this point, the unemployment rate may obscure more than it reveals. People are getting jobs. But are the jobs everyone's getting any good? Do they pay well?

Thus far the answer is largely no. And grappling with that fact requires an unpleasant review of economic policymaking over the last few decades.

Price growth got out of hand in the 1970s, peaking at around 10 percent. Economic officials broke the price spiral around 1980. After that, inflation came back down to Earth, and eventually leveled off around 2 percent in the 1990s. This story is now almost universally hailed as one of the great accomplishments of modern macroeconomic policymaking.

I'm sure you sense a "but" coming.

Simply put, if you curtail inflation, you often also curtail wage growth. 

If you curtail wage growth you curtail inflation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


Hayden: Don't work for Trump administration (LUIS SANCHEZ - 05/06/18, The Hill)

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said in a new interview that he would advise against working for the Trump administration, Yahoo News reported.

Hayden said in a Yahoo podcast that he's had difficulty watching top officials try to defend President Trump.

"The longer they were in the administration, the more their personal credentials were being threatened," Hayden said. "At what point do you stop being a guard rail and become an enabler and a legitimizer?"

...the Nativism. Donald is a prop.

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Israeli Operatives Who Aided Harvey Weinstein Collected Information on Former Obama Administration Officials (Ronan Farrow, May 6, 2018, The New Yorker)

The documents show that Black Cube compiled detailed background profiles of several individuals, including Rhodes and Kahl, that featured their addresses, information on their family members, and even the makes of their cars. Black Cube agents were instructed to try to find damaging information about them, including unsubstantiated claims that Rhodes and Kahl had worked closely with Iran lobbyists and were personally enriched through their policy work on Iran (they denied those claims); rumors that Rhodes was one of the Obama staffers responsible for "unmasking" Trump transition officials who were named in intelligence documents (Rhodes denied the claim); and an allegation that one of the individuals targeted by the campaign had an affair.

The campaign is strikingly similar to an operation that Black Cube ran on behalf of Harvey Weinstein, which was reported in The New Yorker last fall. One of Weinstein's attorneys, David Boies, hired Black Cube to halt the publication of sexual-misconduct allegations against Weinstein. Black Cube operatives used false identities to track women with allegations, and also reporters seeking to expose the story. In May, 2017, a former Israel Defense Forces officer, who had emigrated to Israel from the former Yugoslavia, was working as an undercover agent for Black Cube. The woman contacted the actress Rose McGowan, claiming to work for Reuben Capital Partners but using the identity of a Diana Filip. Filip's e-mails to McGowan displayed the same tactics as those in the e-mails sent to Norris and Kahl, and in some cases used almost identical language. (Filip also wrote to me from Reuben Capital Partners, and again used similar language.)

In a statement, Black Cube said, "It is Black Cube's policy to never discuss its clients with any third party, and to never confirm or deny any speculation made with regard to the company's work." The statement also read, "Black Cube has no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration, to Trump aides, to anyone close to the administration, or to the Iran Nuclear deal." The firm also said that it "always operates in full compliance of the law in every jurisdiction in which it conducts its work, following legal advice from the world's leading law firms."

In the Iran operation, as in its operation for Weinstein, Black Cube focussed much of its work on reporters and other media figures, sometimes using agents who posed as journalists. The company compiled a list of more than thirty reporters who it believed were in touch with Obama Administration officials, annotated with instructions about how to seek negative information. Transcripts produced by Black Cube reveal that the firm secretly recorded a conversation between one of its agents and Trita Parsi, a Swedish-Iranian author. The conversation, which began as a general discussion of Iran policy, quickly devolved into questions about Rhodes, Kahl, and whether they had personally profited off of the Iran policy. "I've had the first part of the conversation five hundred times," Parsi recalled, of his conversation with the agent, who claimed to be a reporter. "But then he started asking about personal financial interests, and that was more unusual. He was pushing very, very hard."

The Observer reported that aides of President Trump had hired Black Cube to run the operation in order to undermine the Iran deal, allegations that Black Cube denies. "The idea was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the deal, making it easier to pull out of it," a source told the Observer. One of the sources familiar with the effort told me that it was, in fact, part of Black Cube's work for a private-sector client pursuing commercial interests related to sanctions on Iran.

Poor Donald, he assumes that just because opposition research on him uncovers myriad criminal conspiracies it will find out secxrets about his opponents.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


Buffett: Driverless cars will dramatically reduce insurance premiums (Ethan Wolff-Mann, 5/02/18, Yahoo Finance)

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Buffett mused that this technological revolution would likely mean less auto insurance required.

"Driverless cars will reduce -- perhaps dramatically -- the need for auto insurance if they're safer," said the legendary investor and CEO. "If driverless cars are successful and people don't hack into 'em, that will reduce auto insurance premiums -- and perhaps drastically reduce them."

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Did the dying Stephen Hawking really mean to strengthen the case for God? (Philip Goff, 7 May 2018, The Guardian)

Scientists have discovered a surprising fact about our universe in the past 40 years: against incredible odds, the numbers in basic physics are exactly as they need to be to accommodate the possibility of life. If gravity had been slightly weaker, stars would not have exploded into supernovae, a crucial source of many of the heavier elements involved in life. Conversely, if gravity had been slightly stronger, stars would have lived for thousands rather than billions of years, not leaving enough time for biological evolution to take place. This is just one example - there are many others - of the "fine-tuning" of the laws of physics for life.

Some philosophers think the fine-tuning is powerful evidence for the existence of God. However, in his 2010 book The Grand Design (co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow), Stephen Hawking defended a naturalistic explanation of fine-tuning in terms of the multiverse hypothesis. According to the multiverse hypothesis, the universe we live in is just one of an enormous, perhaps infinite, number of universes. If there are enough universes then it becomes not so improbable that at least one will chance upon the right laws for life.

In Hawking's older version of the multiverse hypothesis, there is great variety among the laws in different universes. In some gravity is stronger, in some weaker, and so on. However, physicists have come to see problems with such a heterogenous multiverse, especially if the number of universes is infinite. We work out the predictions of a given multiverse hypothesis by asking how probable our universe is according to that hypothesis. But if there is an infinite number of universes, that question becomes meaningless. And hence in his final paper, A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation?, Hawking and his co-writer, Thomas Hertog, formulate strict limits to the kind of universes that populate the multiverse.

The problem is that the less variety there is among the universes, the less capable the multiverse hypothesis is of explaining fine-tuning. If there is a huge amount of variation in the laws across the multiverse, it is not so surprising that one of the universes would happen to have fine-tuned laws. But if all of the universes have exactly the same laws - as in Hawking and Hertog's proposal - the problem returns, as we now need an explanation of why the single set of laws that govern the entire multiverse is fine-tuned.

Physics is the case for God.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Republicans in key election races turn down volume on Trump's tax cuts (David Morgan, 5/07/18, Reuters) 

Right after Republicans in the U.S. Senate passed their income tax overhaul in December, delivering tax cuts to businesses and most American taxpayers, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was buoyant.

Surrounded by jubilant fellow Republicans, he told reporters, "If we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work."

Four months later, McConnell's attempt at levity could prove prophetic. 

The most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the tightest congressional races in the November elections are talking less and less about the tax cuts on Twitter and Facebook, on their campaign and congressional websites and in digital ads, the vital tools of a modern election campaign, a Reuters analysis of their online utterances shows. 

Nor can Democrats run on their claim that the bill was going to destroy the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


Republican Fears About Holding The Senate Start To Sink In (Jessica Taylor, 5/07/18, NPR)

In conversations with several top GOP strategists, nearly all conceded that the overwhelming Democratic enthusiasm they're facing this November is incredibly worrisome. Most still think it's a better than even chance that they do keep the Senate -- albeit narrowly -- but it's no longer out of the realm of possibility that the upper chamber could change hands, especially given the volatility of the GOP's two-seat majority.

"Generally speaking, close races aren't won by the party with the wind in their face. That's not the way it works," said one top GOP Senate race veteran. "If we lose 40 to 50 seats in the House, you can't pick up three to four Senate seats."

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Iraq's prime minister is making electoral history in the former jewel of the Islamic State (Tamer El-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim May 6, 2018, Washington Post)

In advance of national elections next weekend, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is the front-runner here, and if he ultimately prevails, he will make political history as a Shiite politician in this overwhelmingly ­Sunni city.

The electoral strength of Abadi and his ticket in Mosul, the country's second-largest city, underscores his nationwide popularity and bodes well for his reelection, which U.S. officials have repeatedly indicated they would like to see.

But beyond that, Abadi's success in a place that had been the jewel of the Islamic State -- an extremist Sunni group -- would represent an opening for cooperation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in a country long bedeviled by sectarian grievance and violence.

The conversion from Far War to Near War, the winning of the latter and the spread and routinization of democracy in the Shi'asphere is a historic achievement.  Now for the Sunni states....

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Inside Scott Pruitt's "miserable" bunker (Jonathan Swan, 5/06/18, Axios)

 On Friday afternoon, Pruitt had lunch with four members of his team at Ambar restaurant on Capitol Hill. The gathering came as a surprise to just about the entire senior staff of the EPA; they found out about the meeting from a picture a lobbyist tweeted.

Over the last few months, Pruitt has walled himself off from all but five EPA political appointees: Millan Hupp, Sarah Greenwalt, Hayley Ford, Lincoln Ferguson, and Wilcox. Of those five, only Wilcox is over 30. Hupp, Greenwalt and Ferguson came with Pruitt from Oklahoma. Wilcox is the only press aide Pruitt appears to trust.

Pruitt's chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, runs the agency's operations but rarely knows where his boss is. Pruitt has frozen Jackson out of his inner circle -- a disaster for a chief of staff. Pruitt and Jackson don't trust each other, multiple sources told me.

"All of us have been frozen out over time," one EPA political appointee told me. "It's absolutely unreal working here. Everyone's miserable. Nobody talks. It's a dry wall prison."

Pruitt never trusted the EPA's career staff. But for the first 10 months of his tenure as EPA administrator, he kept most political appointees at least partially in the loop. Now, he's frozen out almost all of them. [...]

The bottom line: Pruitt has grown paranoid and isolated, and he only trusts a small handful of people at the agency. Senior White House staff darkly joke among themselves every time a fresh bad story comes out about Pruitt. Numerous senior EPA staff have already resigned or plan to quit.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Early Results Show Hizballah, Allies Gaining In Lebanon's Parliament (Radio Liberty, May 07, 2018)

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizballah movement appeared set on May 7 to secure a victory in general elections that were held during the weekend.

Preliminary results cited by politicians and Lebanese media suggest Hizballah and its allies were on track to win more than half the seats in the 128-seat parliament.

If confirmed by a final count expected later on May 7, the results would boost Hizballah politically - with parties and individuals aligned with the heavily armed group securing a simple majority.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


How three million Germans died after VE Day: Nigel Jones reviews After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift by Giles MacDonogh (Nigel Jones, 4//18/07, Daily Telegraph)

Giles MacDonogh is a bon viveur and a historian of wine and gastronomy, but in this book, pursuing his other consuming interest - German history - he serves a dish to turn the strongest of stomachs. It makes particularly uncomfortable reading for those who compare the disastrous occupation of Iraq unfavourably to the post-war settlement of Germany and Austria.

MacDonogh argues that the months that followed May 1945 brought no peace to the shattered skeleton of Hitler's Reich, but suffering even worse than the destruction wrought by the war. After the atrocities that the Nazis had visited on Europe, some degree of justified vengeance by their victims was inevitable, but the appalling bestialities that MacDonogh documents so soberly went far beyond that. The first 200 pages of his brave book are an almost unbearable chronicle of human suffering.

At least we didn't nuke a fraction of that in Moscow.

May 6, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


How the Orioles lost 21 straight games to start the 1988 season: And why it will never happen again. (Grant Brisbee,   Apr 30, 2018, SB Nation)

With another team, it might have been hard to pinpoint where the tipping point was from strange to surreal. With the 1988 Orioles, it's pretty easy: It was when the team fired the manager, who was also the father of their superstar shortstop and starting second baseman, after six games. Of all the awkward, preventable situations, that seems like the most awkward and preventable.

To be fair, there were on-field questions about Ripken, Sr. After the team mowed down by future all-star lefty Greg Swindell, it was certainly noticeable that more than half of the O's lineup was left-handed, especially toward the bottom of the order, where you would think more of the replaceable players would have been.

This is the kind of wholesale collapse that is needed to lose 11 games in a row. It can't be one player struggling. It has to be the entire team. It has to be a Powerball-level flukishness across the whole roster.
There were also extenuating circumstances. Ripken, Sr. had been arrested in February for driving under the influence of alcohol, and he pled guilty a few hours before being fired. It's hard to know just how much that incident played into it.

Still, it's always, always, always weird when an awful team fires its manager after a week of being awful. Nobody was projecting the Orioles to win the AL East, and nobody was projecting them to get close. To fire a manager after six games -- a manager who had been with the organization since 1957 and happened to be the father of the best player in franchise history -- was bizarre at the time and just as bizarre in retrospect. What was different in April 1988 that wasn't true in November 1987? Why upend the leadership after a week instead of at any point during the offseason, when there would have been time to prepare?

Let's just assume there had to be a reason.

Which is placing a lot of trust in the team that screwed up their DL paperwork and eventually lost 21 straight games.

Whatever the reason, suddenly you had a shellshocked team that felt responsible for a baseball lifer getting fired. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson moved from the front office to the open managerial spot, and his reputation was as a no-nonsense manager, to the point where the Giants once based an ad campaign around it. But for the '88 Orioles, he decided to be jocular and jovial. He was going to joke with the reporters before the game, and he was going to take the heat after the game. It was a sound strategy with a team in a losing streak.

But they kept losing.

By the time the Orioles were 0-10, reporters fanned out for different angles on the same story that every baseball writer in America started covering. Someone got in touch with former Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who wasn't keen on inserting himself in the conversation. It would have been a bad look to start giving advice from a 1,000 miles away, and he knew it. But after some badgering, he said, "You know what I did to end a losing streak? I gave the ball to Dave McNally and said, 'Pitch a shutout.'"

That same night, Mike Morgan pitched nine shutout innings for the Orioles.

They still couldn't win. The Orioles were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and they lost 1-0 in 11 innings.

This is the kind of wholesale collapse that is needed to lose 11 games in a row. It can't be one player struggling. It has to be the entire team. It has to be a Powerball-level flukishness across the whole roster. Now the record for the all-time worst start was looming. The previous record for losses to open a season was 13, and it was shared by the 1904 Washington Senators and 1920 Detroit Tigers.

It had been 68 years since another team had a start to the season this futile. The Orioles had a new manager and a bad team, but it was really hard to lose 13 games in a row to start the season.

They were probably fine.

While the Orioles' streak was going on, the Atlanta Braves had also lost their first nine games. Orioles play-by-play announcer Jon Miller was given a respite from calling all the losses, and he was sent by NBC to call the back end of a Game of the Week doubleheader ... between the Braves and Dodgers.

As Braves manager Chuck Tanner saw Miller walking on the field, he muttered, "We've had the famine ... now here comes the pestilence." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Lab-Grown Meat Is Getting Cheap Enough For Anyone To Buy (ADELE PETERS, Fast Company)

In 2013, producing the first lab-grown burger cost $325,000. By 2015, though the cost had dropped to around $11, Mark Post, the Dutch researcher who created the burger, thought that it might take another two or three decades before it was commercially viable. But the first so-called "clean meat," produced from animal cells without an actual animal, may be in restaurants by the end of 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


First recording of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (1909) (Public Domain Review)

We don't know for sure who created the popular African American spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", though we do know it came to popular attention by finding itself part of the repertoire of The Fisk Jubilee Singers in the 1870s. One often cited source is Wallis Willis (known as "Uncle Wallace"), a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory in what is now Choctaw County, in Oklahoma. According to the Library of Congress, in the mid nineteenth century, "Uncle Wallace" was rented out to a local school for Native American boys where he is said "to have entertained the boys by singing spirituals he composed, including 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'." [...]

Whatever the truth to its beginnings, the lyrics are thought to be referencing the Bible story of Prophet Elijah's being taken to heaven by a chariot, and also possibly the "Underground Railroad", the freedom movement that helped black people escape from Southern slavery to the North and Canada.

Featured here is the first known recording of the song performed in December 1909 for Victor Studios by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet (pictured above), a male foursome carrying on the legacy of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers of the 1870s.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


GM plant tech boosts malaria drug yield (Paul Rincon, 24 April 2018, BBC)

Scientists have modified a plant's genetic sequence to make it produce high levels of a key malaria drug, potentially helping meet the large global demand.

The team identified genes involved in making artemisinin, altering their activity to produce three times more of the drug than "normal" plants make.

The plant-based production of the drug sometimes fails to meet demand.

The shrubs don't produce enough of the chemical in their leaves.

The work appears in the journal Molecular Plant.

"Nearly half of the world's population is at risk of malaria," said co-author Kexuan Tang of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

"Our strategy for the large-scale production of artemisinin will meet the increasing demand for this medicinal compound and help address this global health problem."

The team produced a high quality draft of the Artemisia annua plant's genome and used this information, along with data on how genes are expressed, to engineer plants that produced high levels of artemisinin.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says malaria affected about 216 million people in 91 countries in 2016, and caused an estimated 445,000 deaths worldwide that year alone.

"Artemisia annua remains the sole source of the World Health Organization recommended treatment for malaria, which continues to be a devastating disease in the developing world," said Prof Ian Graham from the University of York, who was not involved with the study.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


THE ROBOT ASSAULT ON FUKUSHIMA: The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan triggered a devastating catastrophe in one of the country's largest nuclear power plants. The cleanup will take decades, and it's no job for humans. (VINCE BEISER, 4/26/18, Wired)

Following the meltdown, nearly 165,000 people had to evacuate the area surrounding the Fukushima plant to avoid radioactive exposure. Today, even after extensive cleanup efforts, 50,000 people still can't go home.

In the first chaotic weeks after the meltdown, with radiation levels far too intense for anyone to work inside the reactors, Tepco scrambled to deploy robots to assess and contain the damage. Tractor-treaded bots from iRobot, drones from Honeywell, and a prototype disaster-­response mech from Tohoku University scouted the rubble-­strewn facility and tried to measure the intensity of the radiation. A remote-­controlled concrete pumping truck was adapted so that its extendable spout could pour water into the reactors, cooling and stabilizing the overheated chambers.

In the months and years that followed, Fukushima became both a market and a proving ground for ever-advancing robot technologies designed to operate in hazardous conditions. Remote-controlled front-end loaders, backhoes, and other heavy equipment were put to work breaking up radioactive debris and loading it onto remote-controlled dump trucks. A four-legged walking robot investigated the reactor buildings. Robots with 3-D scanners were sent in to gather imagery and map radiation levels. Swimming robots inspected pools where spent fuel rods were stored, taking pictures.

But none of these robots were capable of penetrating the innermost areas of the reactors. In August 2013, the Japanese government assembled a consortium of public utilities and private companies, including Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and Toshiba, to create robots specifically for the most challenging environments. Dubbed the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, it has developed some 20 machines that have been deployed onsite. Their ranks include a snakelike bot that crawled through a tiny accessway into Unit 1, then bent itself into a more stable U-shape to explore inside. Then there was the Scorpion, a tank-tread-driven machine with a camera mounted on an elevating "tail" that was sent into Unit 2. The Japanese government is bankrolling a $100 million, state-of-the-art R&D center near the nuclear plant where robot operators train on digital models of the reactors in a giant 3-D Holo Stage and on life-size physical mock-ups.

But even with the massive government investment, many of the new robots still couldn't hack it inside the reactors. The camera on one of them, sent to clear a path for the Scorpion, was shut down by radiation; the Scorpion itself got tripped up by fallen debris. The first version of the snakelike bot got stuck; the second did better but failed to find any melted fuel. "It's very difficult to design a robot to operate in an unknown environment," says Hajime Asama, a professor at the University of Tokyo who was one of the first roboticists the government turned to for help. "Until we send the bot in, we don't know what the conditions are. And after it's sent, we can't change it."

Kenji Matsuzaki has worked in Toshiba's nuclear technology branch for more than 10 years, and by May 2016, when he was assigned to the team developing a robot to explore inside Unit 3 of Fukushima, he was familiar with the plant's basic architecture. All six of its reactors are boiling-water reactors, a type designed in the late 1960s and early 1970s and found all over the world, including in the United States. They generate electricity by circulating water through their infernally hot cores, converting it to steam that is used to turn turbine generators. Each reactor has three containers set one inside another like Russian nesting dolls. The smallest container, a steel capsule about the length of a tennis court, is called the reactor pressure vessel. That's where the nuclear fission reaction takes place, powered by fuel composed of uranium dioxide baked into ceramic pellets. This capsule is enclosed inside a primary containment vessel, a concrete and steel structure shaped like a massive light bulb, designed to capture any radiation that might accidentally escape. The containment vessel in turn is housed inside the reactor building, a concrete and metal rectangle that offers only minimal protection from radiation.

Technicians in protective gear can work for short periods inside the reactor building, but they can't enter the far more radioactive containment vessel, which is where they were likely to find at least some of the missing fuel. Building a robot that could get inside and maneuver around the containment vessel presented several unique challenges. First, the containment vessel was only practically accessible through a 5.5-inch circular maintenance opening about 8 feet above the floor of the reactor building, so the robot would have to be small. Second, because the containment vessel had been pumped full of water to cool it down, the robot would have to be able to swim. Third, since the water and thick walls would defeat wireless signals, this small, swimming robot would need to be powerful enough to move under­water while dragging as much as 65 yards of electric cable behind it.

It took months of research, experimentation, and testing in Toshiba's labs and in an enormous simulation tank at the government-run Port and Airport Research Institute to balance all these capabilities inside the little machine. Matsuzaki's team had to try different configurations of propellers, cameras, and sensors, boost the power of the propeller motors, develop a new type of coating to make the cable move more smoothly, and ensure the whole package could withstand a blistering level of radiation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Working for Trump, Giuliani Attacks His Law-Enforcement Roots (ALAN FEUER and BENJAMIN WEISER, MAY 4, 2018, NY Times)

Over the years, there have been few more vocal or aggressive advocates for law enforcement than Rudolph W. Giuliani. A former top official at the Justice Department, a onetime prosecutor with a tough, crusading style, and a police-embracing mayor who ran New York on a law-and-order platform, Mr. Giuliani -- both in office and as a private citizen -- has spent the better part of his career stridently defending the country's crime-fighting class and fiercely lashing out at those who attack it.

But in his latest role as a lawyer for President Trump, Mr. Giuliani (who, like his client, is volatile by nature) appears to have made an abrupt change of course. In the past few days, he has launched a series of rants in the media, assailing his former colleagues in law enforcement -- and the work that they have done -- as Nazis, frauds and garbage. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Trump lawyer Giuliani does not rule out payments were made to other women (Timothy Gardner, 5/06/18, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani said on Sunday he would not rule out the possibility that payments were made to women other than porn star Stormy Daniels to get them to stay silent about allegations against Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


A storm's a coming for Trump over the 'dirty ops' allegations (Jacob Heilbrunn, 5/06/18, Spectator US)

Speaking last night on Fox News with the hanging Judge Jeanine--a possible future candidate for the Supreme Court--Giuliani explained, 'I'm not an expert on the facts.' Apparently not. Today on ABC News Giuliani suggested that Trump could take plead the 5th amendment, a move that Trump before he became president declared was proof positive of guilt. When asked if Trump had paid off other women, Guiliani replied, 'I have no knowledge of that, but I would think if it was necessary, yes.'

The only question remaining is how much more damage Trump allows Guiliani to create. Giuliani, who called Jared Kushner 'disposable' last week, may soon discover that the term applies to him as well. But perhaps Trump has been distracted for the nonce from Giuliani's one-man wrecking show by the appearance of Stormy Daniels on Saturday Night Live, where she warned him, 'A storm's a coming', baby.' Indeed it is. Even Trump's most loyal janissary, Kellyanne Conway, refused to stand by the old boy on CNN with Jake Tapper on Sunday morning. Queried about Trump's contradictory responses to the $130,000 in payments to Daniels to keep mum about their sexual tryst, she responded, 'You've got to look at his tweets, because he responds to that. And that's, honestly Jake, that's the best I can do given my limited visibility in the legal matters.'

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


How Michael Cohen, Trump's Fixer, Built a Shadowy Business Empire (William K. Rashbaum, Danny Hakim, Brian M. Rosenthal, Emily Flitter and Jesse Drucker, May 5, 2018, NY Times)

He was a personal-injury lawyer who often worked out of taxi offices scattered around New York City.

There was the one above the run-down auto repair garage on West 16th Street in Manhattan, on the edge of the Meatpacking District before it turned trendy. There was the single-story building with the garish yellow awning in the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge. There was the tan brick place on a scruffy Manhattan side street often choked with double-parked taxis.

And then there was his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower overlooking Fifth Avenue, right next to the one belonging to Donald J. Trump. [...]

He has spent much of his personal and professional life with immigrants from Russia and Ukraine. His father-in-law, who helped establish him in the taxi business, was born in Ukraine, as was one of Mr. Cohen's partners in that industry. Another partner was Russian. And Mr. Cohen used his connections in the region when scouting business opportunities for Mr. Trump in former Soviet republics.

More recently, Mr. Cohen and his father-in-law lent more than $25 million to a Ukrainian businessman who has a checkered financial record and a history of defaulting on loans. And Mr. Cohen long held a small stake in his uncle's catering hall, which was frequented by Russian and Italian mobsters.

In addition to his legal and taxi businesses, Mr. Cohen has had a seemingly charmed touch as a real estate investor. On one day in 2014, he sold four buildings in Manhattan for $32 million, entirely in cash. That was nearly three times what he paid for them no more than three years earlier.

"This is the type of person you'd see most bankers steer clear of," said Ben Berzin, a retired executive vice president and senior credit officer at PNC Bank who clashed with Mr. Trump in the early 1990s over loans to the future president's troubled Atlantic City casinos. The speed with which Mr. Cohen successfully flipped real estate stands out, Mr. Berzin said. "You have to ask what's going on."

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


The case for a five-hour working day: One financial services boss was so productive on his reduced week he has rolled it out (Pilita Clark, 5/06/18, Financial Times)

The other day I heard a story about something so odd yet compelling that I have not been able to stop thinking about it.

It happened in the Australian city of Hobart where the boss of a financial advice firm started working part-time after his wife -- a new mother -- began treatment for cancer.

Jonathan Elliot found he could get as much work done in five hours as he had in his previous eight, so he had a thought: why not see if everyone else in the company could do the same?

At the start of last year, the 30-odd staff at his firm, Collins SBA, began a trial of a five-hour day, with no cut in their pay. They had to start between 8am and 9am and get their work done by 1pm or 2pm. After that, most were free to hit the golf course, play with their children or whatever else they felt like. The reception desk stayed open all day and urgent client needs were met.

Despite fears the move could blow up the business, it has worked so well to date that there are no plans to end it, says Claudia Parsons, the firm's operations director.

"It's been life-changing," she told me last week. Sick days have plunged. Talented recruits have been hired. Some advisers have done record levels of new business. Clients did not mind waiting a few hours to see an adviser. The firm's bottom line seems unaffected.

In an 8-Hour Day, the Average Worker Is Productive for This Many Hours (Melanie Curtin, Inc.)

The eight-hour workday is not based on the optimal number of hours a human can concentrate. In fact, it has almost nothing to do with the kind of work most people do now: Its origins lie in the Industrial Revolution, not the Information Age.

In the late 18th century, 10-16 hour workdays were normal because factories "needed" to be run 24/7. When it became clear that such long days were both brutal and unsustainable, leaders like Welsh activist Robert Owen advocated for shorter workdays. In 1817, his slogan became: "Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest."

However, this eight-hour movement didn't become standard until nearly a century later, when, in 1914, Ford Motor Company astonished everyone by cutting daily hours down to eight while simultaneously doubling wages. The result? Increased productivity.

Thus, while it may be hard for some to believe, the eight-hour workday was initially instituted as way of making the average workday more humane.

Now, the workday is ripe for another disruption. Research suggests that in an eight-hour day, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes.

That's right--you're probably only productive for around three hours a day.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.8 hours every day. Yet a study of nearly 2,000 full-time office workers revealed that most people aren't working for most of the time they're at work.

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


Welcome To Partytown, Baghdad (Borzou Daragahi, 5/05/18, Buzzfeed News)

Welcome to Partytown, Baghdad, a city of nearly 8 million that has seen a dramatic mood shift since the deadly years that followed the US invasion of 2003 and the subsequent 15 years of war, most recently including a bloody fight against ISIS.

It's not just that restaurants and cafes are full until the early morning hours. It's also that the streets of commercial districts are filled with cars, music blaring, kids out having fun. "Now there's more and more activity at night," said Muntassir Mashadani, the 29-year-old night manager at al-Faqma, a famous Iraqi ice cream chain. Since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIS in December, Mashadani estimated that business at night is up 25%. "There's been a very big change since."

Were it up to the Left and Right, Saddam would still be mass-murdering the Shi'a and there would be no freedom in Baghdad.

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


Idaho officials negotiating on 'state-based' insurance plan (Rebecca Boone, 5/06/18, AP) 

Idaho officials say they may add more requirements from former President Barack Obama's health care law to their proposal to let health insurance companies sell so-called state-based policies that skirt some "Obamacare" rules.

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


Giuliani: 'Nobody Seems to Care' That Kerry is 'Violating the Logan Act' (Cameron Cawthorne, May 6, 2018, Free Beacon)

President Donald Trump's top personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on Sunday said that "nobody seems to care" that former Secretary of State John Kerry  is 'violating the Logan Act' by quietly trying to save the Iran nuclear deal.

Shouldn't he be complaining to Beauregard?

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 PM


Catalonia separatists propose Carles Puigdemont as new president (Al Jazeera, 5/06/18)

Catalan politicians are attempting to put forward former regional President Carles Puigdemont as a candidate for the region's presidency, despite a European arrest warrant issued by Spain. [...]

Catalonia held snap polls in December, called by the Spanish government, to form a new parliament after separatists led by Puigdemont tried to secede the region from Spain.

Secessionist parties maintained their majority, continuing the struggle between the national and regional governments.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Israeli troops shoot dead two Palestinians in southern Gaza Strip (Al Jazeera, 5/06/18)

The killing on Sunday of Baha Abdul Rahman Qdeih, 23, and Mohammad Khaled Abu Rideh, 20, raised the death toll of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers since a new wave of protests began on March 30 to at least 43.

Ashraf al-Qudra, Gaza's health ministry spokesman, said the two men were killed after Israeli soldiers opened fire of Khan Younis city in the southern part of the besieged enclave. because the citizenry grows weary of violence against people who are demanding they live up to their own ideals. Whether Israel chooses to be Western is the open question.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Billions on the line for firms as Trump weighs Iran pullout (AP, 5/06/18)

From airplanes to oilfields, billions of dollars are on the line for international corporations as President Donald Trump weighs whether to pull America out of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.

Regardless of where they are headquartered, virtually all multinational corporations do business or banking in the U.S., meaning any return to pre-deal sanctions could torpedo deals made after the 2015 agreement came into force.

That threat alone has been enough to scare risk-averse firms, like Boeing Co., into slow-walking deals agreed to months ago. A complete pullout by the U.S. would wreak further havoc and likely frighten off those considering making the plunge.

"I absolutely think those on the fence will not jump in," said Richard Nephew, a former sanctions expert at the U.S. State Department who worked on the nuclear deal and now is at New York's Columbia University. "The only ones who will, will be those who see tremendous monetary benefit and no U.S. risk."

As Bibi demonstrated, they abandoned their weapons program over a decade ago.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


This Is The Toughest Gun Law In America (Jonathan Cohn, 5/06/18, Huffington Post)

[H]e couldn't do that in Massachusetts because the state requires would-be buyers to get a permit first. That means going through a much longer process and undergoing a lot more scrutiny.

Each applicant must complete a four-hour gun safety course, get character references from two people, and show up at the local police department for fingerprinting and a one-on-one interview with a specially designated officer. Police must also do some work on their own, searching department records for information that wouldn't show up on the official background check. 

If the police come to believe an applicant is a possible threat to public safety, they can refuse to grant the permit. [...]

No other state requires a permit for any kind of gun purchase while also giving police some discretion to deny those permits. 

The combination could help explain why the state's mortality rate from firearms incidents is relatively low, according to some experts who have studied these types of laws. That makes the Massachusetts permit system a potential model for legislation in other states, or even the country as a whole, at a time when the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, has put gun violence back on the political agenda.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Giuliani: Trump doesn't have to comply with potential Mueller subpoena (VICTORIA GUIDA, 05/06/2018, Politico)

Rudy Giuliani said Sunday that President Donald Trump wouldn't have to comply with a potential subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller.

"We don't have to," the former New York City mayor now working as Trump's attorney said when asked on ABC's "This Week" whether the president would comply if Mueller tries to compel him to appear for an interview about Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"He's the president of the United States," Giuliani said.

Viroli again:

They also believed that restrictions imposed by the law on the actions of rulers as well as of ordinary citizens are the only valid shield against coercion on the part of any person or persons. Machiavelli forcefully expressed this belief in his Discourses on Livy (I.29), when he wrote that if there is even one citizen whom the magistrates fear and who has the power to break the law, then the entire city cannot be said to be free. It can be said to be free only when its laws and constitutional orders effectively restrain the arrogance of nobles and the licentiousness of the people.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Trump floats 'closing up the country for a while' over border security (Elizabeth Landers, May 5, 2018, CNN)

President Donald Trump seemed to float a new idea about border control during at a tax reform roundtable in Ohio.

The President was in the midst of criticizing Democrats during a riff about border security when he slipped in the idea that people might "have to think about closing up the country."

As the noose tightens we have to expect him to become ever more racist to keep the Trumpbots on board.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Economists focus too little on what people really care about: The fourth in our series on the profession's shortcomings (The Economist, May 3rd 2018)

Equating money with value is in many cases a necessary expedient. People make transactions with money, of one form or another, rather than "utility" or happiness. But even if economists often have no choice but to judge outcomes in terms of who ends up with how many dollars, they can pay more attention to the way focusing on "material well-being", as determined by the "measuring rod of money", influences and constrains their work.

The measuring rod itself often causes trouble. Not every dollar is of equal value, for instance. You might think that if two economists were forced to bid on an apple, the winner would desire the apple more and the auction would thereby have found the best, welfare-maximising use for the apple. But the evidence suggests that money has diminishing marginal value: the more you have, the less you value an extra dollar. The winner might therefore end up with the apple not because it will bring him more joy, but because his greater wealth means that his bid is less of a sacrifice. Economists are aware of this problem. It features, for example, in debates about the link between income and happiness across countries. But the profession is surprisingly casual about its potential implications: for example, that as inequality rises, the price mechanism may do a worse job of allocating resources.

Equating dollar costs with value misleads in other ways. That economic statistics such as GDP are flawed is not news. In a speech in 1968 Robert Kennedy complained that measures of output include spending on cigarette advertisements, napalm and the like, while omitting the quality of children's health and education. Despite efforts to improve such statistics, these problems remain. A dollar spent on financial services or a pricey medical test counts towards GDP whether or not it contributes to human welfare. Social costs such as pollution are omitted. Economists try to take account of such costs in other contexts, for example when assessing the harms caused by climate change. Yet even then they often focus on how environmental change will affect measurable production and neglect outcomes that cannot easily be set against the measuring rod.

Economists also generally ignore the value of non-market activity, like unpaid work. By one estimate, including unpaid work in American GDP in 2010 would have raised its value by 26% (and drawn a very different picture of the contributions of different demographic groups). As Diane Coyle of Cambridge University has argued, the decision to exclude unpaid work may reflect the value judgments of the (mostly male) officials who first ran statistical agencies. But it seems likely that economists today still treat things which cannot easily be measured as if they matter less.

Let us consider just one example: your lawn.  When you mow it yourself, not only do we fail to measure the value of the work you did--as opposed to when you hire a service--but we don't capture the value you added in pure enjoyment.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


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Trump tells 57,000 Hondurans who've lived in the US for 20 years to get out: It's yet another move that will turn people who are in the US legally into unauthorized immigrants. (Dara Linddara,  May 4, 2018, 4Vox)

By January 2020, the Trump administration will have turned 400,000 people who are currently in the US legally into unauthorized immigrants.

The administration announced Friday that it is going to stop granting Temporary Protected Status -- a protection given to people in the wake of humanitarian disasters in their home countries -- to 57,000 Hondurans who've been living in the US for 20 years. They'll have one last chance to apply for TPS for 18 months and will lose their protections on January 5, 2020 -- making them unable to work in the US legally as of that date, and vulnerable to deportation.

Over the next two years, the Trump administration will strip TPS from immigrants from six different countries -- all but strangling the program.

...they're defending this. It's why truth doesn't matter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


The Broke 'Billionaire': Giuliani Explains How Trump Had to Borrow the Stormy Daniels Hush Money (David Cay Johnston, May 6, 2018, DC Report)

[T]he more significant revelation came when Giuliani said that it took Trump four months or more to pay the bill. Think of it as one of those 90-days same-as-cash deals that merchants with excess goods offer so they can generate enough immediate cash to pay their bills.

Trump lawyer Michael Cohen "funneled it [the $130,000] through a law firm and the president repaid it," Giuliani said, speaking with Trump's advance knowledge.

"You're going to do a couple of checks for $130,000," Giuliani said.

Why didn't Trump pay with a single check, as any mere multimillionaire could be expected to do? Giuliani didn't say, and the entertainer Hannity didn't ask even though his show appears on Fox News.

Some reporters and pundits cited the multiple payments as potential violations of the federal Cash Transaction Report rules on payments of more than $10,000. But those rules don't apply to checks and do not apply to payments for services.

Then came the real news, however much unintended, by Giuliani. His very next words:

"When I heard Cohen's retainer of $35,000 when he was doing no work for the president, I said that's how he's repaying--that's how he's repaying it with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael."

"The president reimbursed that over a period of several months," Giuliani said.

That makes clear that the hush money paid to keep the porn star silent just before voters went to the polls was a loan from lawyer Cohen to Trump. No such loan is disclosed in either Trump's ethics filings or campaign finance filings. That might cause legal problems for Trump and Cohen, though keep in mind that "might" implies doubt.

There might also be federal gift tax violations, depending on the fine print of the transactions.

If his Dad was still around he would have paid her off in poker chips.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims so far (Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly May 1, 2018, The Washington Post)

In the 466 days since he took the oath of office, President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims, according to The Fact Checker's database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president.

That's an average of nearly 6.5 claims a day.

When we first started this project for the president's first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day. Slowly, the average number of claims has been creeping up.

Indeed, since we last updated this tally two months ago, the president has averaged about 9 claims a day.

Our interactive graphic, created with the help of Leslie Shapiro and Kaeti Hinck of The Washington Post's graphics department, displays a running list of every false or misleading statement made by Trump. We also catalogued the president's many flip-flops, since those earn Upside-Down Pinocchios if a politician shifts position on an issue without acknowledging that he or she did so.

Trump has a proclivity to repeat, over and over, many of his false or misleading statements. We've counted at least 113 claims that the president has repeated at least three times, some with breathtaking frequency.

In fairness, it;'s not as if he and the Trumpbots can afford to be truthful.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Professor Dershowitz's meltdown does serve to illustrate how Donald defenders are using him. So long as they perceive Donald as pro-Israel, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant they are his bulldogs. But they'd all disappear the second he relented on immigration, Palestine, and/or the Iran trade deal.
Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


New Boston Restaurant Uses Robots to Prepare Some Dishes (Matt O'Brien, 5/05/18, AP)

Seven autonomously swirling cooking pots -- what the restaurant calls a "never-before-seen robotic kitchen" -- hum behind the counter at Spyce, which opened Thursday in the city's downtown.

Push a touch-screen menu to purchase a $7.50 meal called "Hearth." A blend of Brussels sprouts, quinoa, kale and sweet potatoes tumbles from hoppers and into one of the pots. The pot heats the food using magnetic induction, then tips to dunk the cooked meal into a bowl. Water jets up to rinse it off before a new order begins.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM



No one thinks he's serious.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Iraqi air strike targets Islamic State position in Syria: PM (Reuters) 

The Iraqi air force carried out a new strike on an Islamic State position inside Syria, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office said in a statement on Sunday.

Tunisia holds first free municipal elections since 2011 revolution (Deutsche-Welle, 5/06/18)

The North African country has held parliamentary and presidential polls since the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, but local elections have faced repeated delays.

"For the first time the Tunisian people are called to participate in municipal elections, something that seems simple, but it is very important," Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said on the eve of the vote.

"This means that Tunisia continues establishing the democratic course."

Lebanon holds general election for first time in nine years (Asma Ajroudi , 5/06/18, Al Jazeera)

Polls have opened in Lebanon, kicking off the country's first parliamentary elections in nearly a decade.

Sunday's vote sees 583 candidates compete for the 128 seats in parliament through 77 rival lists, spread across 15 districts.

Under the terms of a new electoral law that introduced proportional representation, voters will be casting two votes; one for a list of candidates and one for a single preferred candidate.

There are up to 3.8 million registered voters in the country. More than 700,000 voters will be casting their ballots for the first time.

Such region-wide self-determination is the point of the WoT.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


At His Ranch, John McCain Shares Memories and Regrets With Friends (Jonathan Martin, May 5, 2018, NY Times)

Having spent over two years in solitary confinement while he was imprisoned in Vietnam, Mr. McCain has no use for being alone, whether it is in the intensive care unit or at his ranch. And his deck is where he receives a constant flow of friends -- with visits that often end with Mr. McCain saying, "I love you" -- and takes calls on the iPhone he just swapped for his tattered flip phone. (Mr. McCain finally made the switch to download the Major League Baseball app to better follow his Arizona Diamondbacks.)

Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, were there last weekend; Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican, and his wife, Cheryl, visited Friday; other colleagues are set to come this week and his seven children are there as often as they can. The phone calls have been even more frequent: Former President George W. Bush checked in last week, telling Mr. McCain the country is missing him.

In a visit on the deck earlier this year, Mr. Flake said he and Mr. McCain recalled how in the 1980s the legendary former Arizona congressman Morris Udall, a Democrat, had taken the newly elected Mr. McCain under his wing despite their differences in party.

"It was the two of us lamenting the loss of the politics of the past," Mr. Flake said.

It was also at his Hidden Valley Ranch where the senator participated in a nearly two-hour HBO documentary and co-wrote what he acknowledges will be his last book, "The Restless Wave," both of which are set to be released this month.

The film and the book, a copy of which The New York Times obtained independently of Mr. McCain, amount to the senator's final say on his career and a concluding argument for a brand of pro-free trade and pro-immigration Republicanism that, along with his calls for preserving the American-led international order, have grown out of fashion under President Trump.

In the book, Mr. McCain scorns Mr. Trump's seeming admiration for autocrats and disdain for refugees.

"He seems uninterested in the moral character of world leaders and their regimes," he writes of the president. "The appearance of toughness or a reality show facsimile of toughness seems to matter more than any of our values. Flattery secures his friendship, criticism his enmity."

Yet many in Mr. McCain's own party believe that, by selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, he bears at least a small measure of blame for unleashing the forces of grievance politics and nativism within the Republican Party.

While he continues to defend Ms. Palin's performance, Mr. McCain uses the documentary and the book to unburden himself about not selecting Mr. Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent, as his running mate.

He recalls that his advisers warned him that picking a vice-presidential candidate who caucused with Democrats and supported abortion rights would divide Republicans and doom his chances.

"It was sound advice that I could reason for myself," he writes. "But my gut told me to ignore it and I wish I had."

Even more striking is how Mr. McCain expresses his sorrow in the documentary. He calls the decision not to pick Mr. Lieberman "another mistake that I made" in his political career, a self-indictment that includes his involvement in the Keating Five savings and loan scandal and his reluctance to speak out during his 2000 presidential bid about the Confederate battle flag flying above the South Carolina Capitol.

Mr. Lieberman said he didn't know Mr. McCain felt that regret until he watched the film. "It touched me greatly," he said.

Here in his adopted state, he has been immortalized as an icon. "John McCain is a giant in Arizona," said Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, expressing sentiments that were echoed by the teachers protesting at the state Capitol last week.

Erik Gillman, a math instructor, said Mr. McCain had become the new Barry Goldwater, a figure as inextricably identified with the desert as cactus.

Ms Palin gave him the lead in the race until the credit crunch started biting.  Yielding to House GOP intransigence on the TARP deal that W, Ben Bernanke and the UR handed him tanked the markets and cost him the election, as it should have.

May 5, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


How Classical Liberalism Can Heal the Bonds of American Affection (Michael Shermer, 4/30/18, Quilette)

The social-justice left now casually portrays whiteness (and sometimes maleness) itself as a sort of moral disease. The alt-right embraces nativism and vilifies immigrants. Both sides insist that we are in the midst of a Manichean culture war, and imagine that they are fighting against implacable extremists. Language matters, and good-faith debate and compromise become impossible once one side has painted the other as inveterate bigots or criminals. Who would want to reason with a racist, or dialogue with a demagogue? [...]

The term "classical liberalism" gets thrown around a lot, sometimes in a way that mangles the term's true meaning ("liberalism" today represents something different from its 18th century meaning). So in my 2015 book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity to Truth, Justice, and Freedom, I tried to systematically enumerate what I believe are the core elements of a classically liberal society:

a democracy in which the franchise extends to all adults;

rule of law, including a constitution that is subject to change only under extraordinary political circumstances and well-defined judicial procedures; a legislature whose laws are applied equally to all citizens; and a system of courts that serves all litigants impartially;

protection of civil rights and civil liberties;

a potent police and military to ensure the safety of citizens;

property rights, and the freedom to trade with others at home and abroad;

a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system;

freedom of internal movement;

freedom of speech, the press, and association;

mass education, accessible to all, of a type that encourages critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and the dissemination of knowledge.

And to this, I would add one more element--which though alien to classical liberalism in its original form, has become an integral part of all modern democracies that engenders societal stability, trust, and inter-group solidarity:

adequate public spending to help the needy--including the homeless, mentally ill, physically handicapped, unemployed, aged, and very young--through the provision of such needs as shelter, child care, food, energy, education, job training, and medical care.

This last point is one I would not have included in my more libertarian youth, but now embrace in my classically liberal maturity, having studied the empirical data collected during my lifetime. Although the left and right disagree about social spending (too little or too much), the fact is that today the strongest and fastest growing economies in the world allocate anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their GDP to social expenditures. A 2015 study on global human development between 1870 and 2007, conducted by the economist Leandro Prados de la Escosura, reported a positive correlation between the percentage of GDP that an OECD nation allocated to social spending and its score on a composite measure of prosperity, health, and education. Germany, for instance, has created the strongest economy in the EU on the basis of a social-welfare system that provides citizens with cradle-to-grave security. (My wife Jennifer is from Köln, Germany, and she is constantly amazed at what the United States fails to provide those in need--starting with universal health care.) This shows us that it is not only morally virtuous to help those who cannot help themselves, it pays economic dividends, as well.

We also have empirical evidence showing us that, for all the tribalized division between America's left and right, both sides share a surprisingly large number of basic moral values. The psychologist Jonathan Haidt, for example, collected data from hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and distilled five foundations of morality common to all of us:

Care, underlying such virtues as kindness, gentleness, and nurturance;

Fairness, associated with such ideals as justice, rights and autonomy;

Loyalty, including patriotism and a tendency toward self-sacrifice;

Respect for authority; and

Purity/sanctity, which manifests in the effort to live a more elevated or noble way.

According to received political wisdom, conservatives care primarily for #3, #4, and #5, while liberals are more concerned with #1 and #2. And the survey data does bear out this trend to some degree. But the statistical differences are more minor than we've been conditioned to expect. Both liberals and conservatives value all five moral foundations, even while varying in their degree of assigned priority.

The one hard kernel of dogma that tends to separate liberals and conservatives today, and which reflects a clear deviation from the ideals of classical liberalism, is the prevailing emphasis on the group over the individual. Under the banner of identity politics, liberals tend to categorize individuals as members of an oppressed or oppressing group, using race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other crude categories as a moral proxy. Meanwhile, under the banner of faith and flag, many conservatives sort people into collectivities according to religion and national origin. The resulting Us vs. Them tribalism leads to such illiberal policies as speech censorship on the left and economic nationalism on the right. The racial politics of the Alt-Right is the moral mirror image of identity politics of the Alt-Left.

Classical liberalism provides an escape from this dyad, because it identifies individuals, not groups, as the locus of rights. It is individuals, not groups, who perceive, emote, respond, love, feel, suffer--and vote.

In his fine treatise on republicanism, Maurizio Viroli offers the following vision:

Classical republican writers maintained that to be free means to not be dominated--that is, not to be dependent on the arbitrary will of other individuals. The source of this interpretation of political liberty was the principle of Roman law that defines the status of a free person as not being subject to the arbitrary will of another person--in contrast to a slave, who is dependent on another person's will. As the individual is free when he or she has legal and political rights, so a people or a city is free insofar as it lives under its own laws. 

We, on the right, have always tried to romanticize the freedom of poverty, lest we be forced as a society to do something about it.  But the reality is that the needy are never free; they are always subject to the arbitrary whims of others. Yes, we can point out that were they to "lift themselves up by their own bootstraps" they would not be needy, but some significant portion of society has always been in such need and as the technological/information revolution rolls on the means to do so diminish.

Our task now then is to construct a social welfare system that meets needs universally while maximizing individual freedom.  The obvious way to do so is to directly transfer wealth to individuals within structures that will grow it and allow for transfer to succeeding generations: O'Neill accounts; HSAs; Social Security accounts; housing vouchers; etc.  It also requires a redirection of taxation policy towards taxing consumption rather than wealth, investment, savings, inheritance, etc.  W got us started on the path towards this sort of Ownership Society but much remains to be done.

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 PM


California Now World's 5th Largest Economy, Surpassing UK (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, MAY 4, 2018)

"We have the entrepreneurial spirit in the state, and that attracts a lot of talent and money," said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University Channel Islands. "And that's why, despite high taxes and cumbersome government regulations, more people are coming into the state to join the parade."

All economic sectors except agriculture contributed to California's higher GDP, said Irena Asmundson, chief economist at the California Department of Finance. Financial services and real estate led the pack at $26 billion in growth, followed by the information sector, which includes many technology companies, at $20 billion. Manufacturing was up $10 billion.

California's economic output is now surpassed only by the total GDP of the United States, China, Japan and Germany. The state has 12 percent of the U.S. population but contributed 16 percent of the country's job growth between 2012 and 2017. Its share of the national economy also grew from 12.8 percent to 14.2 percent over that five-year period, according to state economists.

California's strong economic performance relative to other industrialized economies is driven by worker productivity, said Lee Ohanian, an economics professor at University of California, Los Angeles and director of UCLA's Ettinger Family Program in Macroeconomic Research. The United Kingdom has 25 million more people than California but now has a smaller GDP, he said.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Why Are We So Obsessed With Jobs?: What's so important about jobs, anyway? And what's the best way to make them? (Richard N. Lorenc, 5/05/18, FEE)

Observe most any political conversation, and you will discover "jobs" as the common cure-all. Whether to solve illiteracy ("hire more teachers!"), illness ("hire more nurses!"), aging infrastructure ("hire more construction workers!"), or government budget deficits ("hire more taxpayers!"), the discussion inevitably turns to how to secure more resources to hire more people.

These perspectives miss the true meaning of a job as an opportunity to engage in valuable behavior for other people.

This obsession with more and more job creation isn't limited to one party or group--far from it. The democratic socialists regard having a job as a basic human right, freeing the individual from the tyranny of a boss who can suddenly revoke their livelihood. Social conservatives see a job as a validation of human dignity, channeling a person's fallen human nature away from antisocial behavior and lethargic self-destruction.

Both of these perspectives miss the true meaning of a job as an opportunity to engage in valuable behavior for other people. This is because every new job created is fundamentally a bet that it will create value before a better opportunity comes along. Each job's value is, therefore, a function of proper timing in service of fickle human preferences. Our changing preferences are why so many businesses either never get off of the ground and why even businesses that were once massively successful (e.g., Toys "R" Us, Kodak, and Borders Bookstores) sometimes break our sentimental hearts and close their doors.

The limited resources available to apply toward valuable opportunities are constantly changing, and this is why a top-down, government jobs guarantee or minimum wage is a fundamentally wasteful exercise. All they do is tie up talent and treasure that could otherwise be applied in more valuable ways.

The Left is stuck clinging to the labor theory of value and the Right to its terror of the idle poor when the reality is that human history, since God sought to punish Man, is one long story of the separation of wealth creation from labor input.  They are left treating our greatest achievement as our biggest problem.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Walking away the right way: What I'll remember about Ichiro's brilliant legacy in Seattle (Larry Stone / Columnist|May. 4th, 2018, Seattle Times)

I'll remember the Terrence Long throw -- "like something out of Star Wars,'' in Dave Niehaus' immortal phrase -- and all the infield singles that should have been routine outs until Ichiro went into his full Sultan of Slap mode to beat them out. One of those was as a rookie in the All-Star Game in Seattle off Randy Johnson, as it became ever clearer that Ichiro just had a knack for rising to the moment and confounding the mundane.

I'll remember the excitement of watching one of the game's hallowed records fall in 2004 when Ichiro banged out his 258th hit, breaking George Sisler's 81-year-old season record on the way to 262.

I'll remember being at the ballpark in San Francisco in 2007 when Ichiro became the first, and still only, player to get an inside-the-park home run in the All-Star Game. And I'll remember so many penetrating "State of the Ichiro" interview sessions at his 10 All-Star Games, when he would give a tantalizing peek inside his brain, yet never revealing an iota more than he wanted to.

I'll remember his provocative and unique quotes, as when, asked about facing countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka for the first time, Ichiro told journalist Brad Lefton, "I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger." I'll go the rest of my career hoping to unearth a quote that vivid. And I might never get as funny a response as when, in San Diego, I asked Ichiro how he felt about heading to Cleveland for a makeup game. "If I ever saw myself saying I'm excited going to Cleveland,'' he replied through interpreter Ken Baron, "I'd punch myself in the face, because I'm lying."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


New Revelations Suggest a President Losing Control of His Narrative (Peter Baker, May 3, 2018, NY Times)

As of last week, the American public had been told that President Trump's doctor had certified he would be "the healthiest individual ever elected." That the president was happy with his legal team and would not hire a new lawyer. That he did not know about the $130,000 payment to a former pornographic film actress who claimed to have had an affair with him.

As of this week, it turns out that the statement about his health was not actually from the doctor but had been dictated by Mr. Trump himself. That the president has split with the leaders of his legal team and hired the same new lawyer he had denied recruiting. And that Mr. Trump himself had financed the $130,000 payment intended to buy the silence of the actress known as Stormy Daniels.

Even in the current political environment that some derisively call the post-truth world, the past few days have offered a head-spinning series of revelations that conflicted with the version of events Mr. Trump and his associates had previously provided. Whether called lies or misstatements, Mr. Trump's history of falsehoods has been extensively documented, but the string of factual distortions that came to light this week could come back to haunt him.

The shifting statements also illustrated starkly why some of the president's lawyers have urged him not to submit to an interview by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating whether Mr. Trump's campaign cooperated with Russia during the 2016 presidential election and whether the president obstructed justice to thwart that investigation. Those lawyers have said Mr. Mueller is setting a perjury trap for Mr. Trump. What they do not say publicly is that they worry the president would be unable to avoid contradicting himself. [...]

For Mr. Trump, it is about creating a narrative that suits his desired image, and dictating the terms of his own life -- in media coverage, in his business, in politics, even in his medical care. But he now risks losing his grip on the story line he has long sought to control, in part because of his own treatment of associates like his doctor and the lawyer who paid the porn star.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


No, Thanos Is Not 'the Real Hero' of Infinity War (JONATHAN V. LAST, May 04, 2018, Weekly Standard)

[I]n a neo-Malthusian world, Thanos and his plan to wipe out half the beings in the universe because of overpopulation is, admittedly, a little extreme. And maybe misunderstood. But fundamentally kind of on to something.

No, really. Here's Slate (of course) arguing that "when Thanos suggests that life has expanded beyond our environment's ability to sustain it, he kind of has a point." Here's Inverse: "His 'evil' plan makes a certain amount of rational sense: The greatest enemy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't Thanos; it's overpopulation that will eventually lead to famine and ruin." Here's Forbes tip-toeing up to the line before throwing up their hands and saying It's complicated!

Here's Josh Brolin--who plays Thanos it the forkin' movie--"You want to write him off as insane. And yet what he's doing makes sense, if you break it down."

And to be honest, I have a certain weakness for these kinds of arguments, because it is now settled-science that movies often confuse the good guys and the bad guys.

Except that when it comes to Thanos, there's no real way to make that case. As Sonny Bunch observes, Thanos is more or less a stand in for Paul Ehrlich, and as such, he's wrong on the real-world merits, obviously. Overpopulation may be a problem for butterfly colonies, but it is not a problem for humanity because, unlike insects, humans have both technology and labor economics. Don't @ me--just check the scoreboard. We're now at a point where even the New York Times the rest of the bien pensant world admits that the author of The Population Bomb was fool who caused a great deal of misery.

On the other hand, Killmonger is kind of the hero of Black Panther.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Karl Marx, Yesterday and Today: The nineteenth-century philosopher's ideas may help us to understand the economic and political inequality of our time. (Louis Menand, 10/10/16, The New Yorker)

[U]nlike many nineteenth-century critics of industrial capitalism--and there were a lot of them--Marx was a true revolutionary. All of his work was written in the service of the revolution that he predicted in "The Communist Manifesto" and that he was certain would come to pass. After his death, communist revolutions did come to pass--not exactly where or how he imagined they would but, nevertheless, in his name. By the middle of the twentieth century, more than a third of the people in the world were living under regimes that called themselves, and genuinely believed themselves to be, Marxist.

This matters because one of Marx's key principles was that theory must always be united with practice. That's the point of the famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." Marx was not saying that philosophy is irrelevant; he was saying that philosophical problems arise out of real-life conditions, and they can be solved only by changing those conditions--by remaking the world. And Marx's ideas were used to remake the world, or a big portion of it. Although no one would hold him responsible, in a juridical sense, for the outcome, on Marx's own principle the outcome tells us something about the ideas. [...]

It is sympathy for Marx that leads Sperber and Stedman Jones to insist that we read him in his nineteenth-century context, because they hope to distance him from the interpretation of his work made after his death by people like Karl Kautsky, who was his chief German-language exponent; Georgi Plekhanov, his chief Russian exponent; and, most influentially, Engels. It was thanks mainly to those writers that people started to refer to Marxism as "scientific socialism," a phrase that sums up what was most frightening about twentieth-century Communism: the idea that human beings can be reëngineered in accordance with a theory that presents itself as a law of history. [...]

The reason that "Capital" looks more like a work of economics than like a work of philosophy--the reason that it is filled with tables and charts rather than with syllogisms--is the reason given in the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: the purpose of philosophy is to understand conditions in order to change them. Marx liked to say that when he read Hegel he found philosophy standing on its head, so he turned it over and placed it on its feet. Life is doing, not thinking. It is not enough to be the masters of our armchairs.

What unites all ideologues is their hatred for the actual historical processes that lead to universal capitalism, democracy, and protestantism and their eagerness to impose artificial constraints on them. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


MPs call for inquest as Corbyn fails election test (Francis Elliott | Sam Coates | Lucy Fisher, May 5 2018, Times of London)

Jeremy Corbyn was criticised by MPs and defeated candidates yesterday for not dealing with antisemitism as his party failed to secure predicted victories in the local elections.

Labour did not win any London councils from the Tories and suffered reverses in former strongholds that voted to leave the EU, in a disappointing performance castigated by one frontbencher as "amateur hour".

The Conservatives were the main beneficiaries from the almost total collapse of Ukip, enabling Theresa May to confound predictions of heavy losses. With all but one set of results declared, Labour was showing a net gain of 57 seats and the Tories a net loss of 28; the Liberal Democrats were up 75.

Boris Johnson seized on the outcome as evidence that Tory supporters expected and wanted Brexit, saying that Mr Corbyn had been punished for his commitment to remain in a customs union with the EU.

Conservative parties in the Anglosphere can lose elections; the left can't win them and, even then, the latter have to position themselves well to the right--a la Clinton/Blair.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM



"He's gotten more and more extreme in his views, but what's troubling is the views are also foundationally different than they used to be," an ex-aide says. "I mean, I cannot imagine the Rudy Giuliani I knew attacking F.B.I. agents. If you told me Rudy was on the wrong side of some racial-discord issue, I wouldn't be surprised. But the rhetoric on Hillary, the rhetoric on Comey, the sloppiness of his statements on Hannity--that stuff is not recognizable."

Some see the changes as rooted in Giuliani's demeanor. "He just doesn't seem as mentally sharp as he was," says the former adviser. "It started after 9/11, when he was talking about, 'I have to take control of the city, we've got to change the law, I'm the only one who can save the city.' He literally thought he was Winston Churchill. It was bizarre. The progression really was after 9/11, and it has continued."

Giuliani's grandiosity and megalomania may have worsened, but those qualities weren't new even in 2001. Whatever may have changed in his personality recently, and whatever the doubts about his legal skills, the one sure thing when Trump hired Giuliani was that Rudy was going to be a high-profile media presence. Way back in 1997, when Giuliani was being mentioned as a vice-presidential possibility on a G.O.P. ticket headed by George W. Bush, his old antagonist Rev. Al Sharpton sized up the situation. "I pity the guy who takes Rudy for vice-anything. He'll need a food-taster," Sharpton told New York magazine's Mark Jacobson. "The minute he gets a head cold, Rudy'll be calling an act of Congress. Giuliani would make Alexander Haig look bashful."

Sure enough, Giuliani may have caused his new client some unneeded legal problems this week with his statements--but it was the way Giuliani delivered those statements, on a media blitz, talking about how he will make the decisions regarding a possible presidential interview with Robert Mueller, that could become the real threat to Giuliani's job security. If there's one thing Trump can't tolerate, it's someone pulling focus away from him.

Criminals can never afford truthful spokesmen.

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Iran's Rohani Strongly Criticizes Court Block On Telegram Service (Radio Liberty, May 05, 2018)

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has strongly criticized a ban on the Telegram messaging service that was imposed by the country's judiciary, saying his administration does not support it.

"The government wants a safe, but not controlled Internet," Rohani wrote on his Instagram account late on May 4.

He said that the ban was neither ordered nor endorsed by the government.

"We want a free flow of information as well as the right for citizens of free choice," he said, adding that the block was "the direct opposite to democracy."

The reason Donald and the other Islamophobes are so hellbent on ending the trade deal is to thwart reform.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


Pruitt had travel wish list and asked staff to find 'official' reasons to go: report (JOHN BOWDEN - 05/04/18, The Hill)

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, when he joined the EPA, drew up a list of his preferred travel destinations and told his staff to find official reasons for him to travel to those countries, according to The Washington Post.

Four EPA officials familiar with Pruitt's travel arrangements tell the newspaper that Pruitt created the list shortly after taking office last year and directed aides to plan visits to countries on the list while finding official EPA business to rationalize the travel.

In some cases, those trips were planned for months with the help of influential Washington, D.C., lobbyists, the Post reports, raising further questions about Pruitt's use of taxpayer funds and proximity to lobbyists who may have business before the agency.

...someone from the caravan would be doing it.

May 4, 2018

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Lebanese Elections: Good for the Country, Warts and All (Hady Amr, May 4, 2018, Lawfare)

At its heart, Lebanon's electoral system remains a consociational system, where the 128 seats in parliament are apportioned based on a formula negotiated in 1989 for a fixed number of 64 Christian seats and 64 Muslim seats, both of which are further subdivided along sectarian lines--34 for Maronite Christians, 27 each for Sunni and Shia Muslims, 14 for Orthodox Christians, the rest for other Christian and Muslim minorities. Imagine telling American voters that of our 435 members of Congress, it was preordained that 109 would be evangelical, 91 Catholic, 9 Jewish, 4 Muslim, and so on. Doesn't sit well, does it? To make matters worse, the apportionment doesn't match Lebanon's actual religious distribution--Christians as a whole get half the seats but may represent only 37 percent of voters, Muslims representing 73 percent get the other half. This imbalance fuels a sense by the underrepresented that the system fails them, which contributes to social tension.

World Shia Muslims Population (Shia Numbers)

In terms of the world Shia Muslim population, most people don't know that about half the population of the core Middle East are Shia. The nations where Shi'a Muslims form a dominant majority are Iran (95%), Azerbaijan (80%), Bahrain (75%) and Iraq (65%), a plurality in Lebanon (45%) and large minorities in Yemen (45%), Turkey (25%), Kuwait (35%), Afghanistan (20%), Pakistan (20-25%), Saudi Arabia (15%), India (20-25% of Muslims), UAE (20%), and Syria (15-20%).

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


'Amazing': Unemployment Hits Lowest Rate in 18 Years (Tim Pearce, May 04, 2018, Daily Signal)

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report revealed roughly 164,000 jobs were added last month, about 30,000 fewer than some experts predicted but continuing the longest streak of consecutive monthly job growth at 91 months. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Exclusive: Nunes demands Justice Department records. Then he doesn't read them. (Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb and Laura Jarrett, May 4, 2018, CNN)

Nunes had already been offered time to review a copy of the electronic communication formally authorizing the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but he had publicly demanded to see what was behind certain blacked out lines.

Facing the growing pressure, and outrage from President Donald Trump, Rosenstein finally relented in early April -- and granted Nunes and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina access to the document with only minimal redactions to protect the name of a foreign country and agent, along with all members of the House Intelligence Committee.

But when the pair arrived at the Justice Department to review the electronic communication, officials were caught off-guard by his next move. Nunes -- sitting with a copy of the document in an unopened folder directly in front of him -- opted not to read it, according to four sources with knowledge of the situation.

Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, reviewed a copy and since then nearly a dozen other lawmakers have gone to the Justice Department to read the document, sources say.

As Nunes has moved aggressively to publicly sow doubt about the Russia investigation, the moment marked at least the second time that he has demanded sensitive documents from the Justice Department, only to choose not to read them -- allowing his staff or Gowdy to pore through the materials instead. The California Republican admitted in February that he did not read any applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Illegal immigration surges 230 percent in April on southwest border (Stephen Dinan - The Washington Times)

Illegal immigration along U.S.-Mexico border surged 230 percent in April compared to last year, according to new numbers released Thursday that experts said expose major loopholes in American immigration law.

Chief among the loopholes is the de facto "catch-and-release" policy that sees most illegal immigrants caught at the border quickly put back out on the streets, with the hope that they'll return to be deported later.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Now majority Muslim, kids at UK's King David Jewish school still pray in Hebrew: A decades-long depletion in number of Jews living outside of London means that boys in taqiyah and girls in hijabs sing 'Hatikvah' to start the school day (CNAAN LIPHSHIZ, 5/04/18, JTA) 

Like hundreds of Jewish institutions in the Diaspora, the King David School celebrated Israel's 70th Independence Day with blue-and-white flags and group singing of the "Hatikvah" national anthem.

But the King David is not like most other Jewish schools.

Most of the dozens of students in the 53-year-old elementary school in a suburb of this gritty English city come from Muslim families -- the result of a decades-long depletion in the size of most Jewish communities outside London and growing immigration from South Asia and the Middle East. According to parents and community observers, 80 percent of the students are Muslim.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Islamophobia prompts Muslims to engage in US democracy: report: Anti-Muslim measures have backfired, causing the US Muslim population to protest and run for office in higher numbers. (Dalia Hatuqa , 5/04/18, Al Jazeera)

One of the ways of pushing back against Islamophobia, US Muslims have found, is becoming more politically active and engage in electoral politics to change what they see as a biased shift in their country.

"The bright side of all of this is that over the past several years Muslims have climbed steadily in the percentage that report being registered to vote," said Dalia Mogahed, ISPU's director of research and former adviser on Muslim affairs during the Barack Obama administration.

"While things have gotten a lot harder, the response in many cases is greater engagement, not isolation ... Muslims are less satisfied with the direction of the country but they are more politically engaged."

The poll found that almost 75 percent of Muslims said they were registered to vote, an increase of seven percentage points over last year's numbers. That last tally itself was eight percentage points higher than the 2016 mark, the report said, showing that the figure is steadily climbing.

More than 90 American Muslims, nearly all of them Democrats, are running for public office across the country this year, an unprecedented number that marks an exceptional rise for a diverse group that typically has been underrepresented in American politics.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


China is afraid of its ethnic minorities (Erica Pandey, 5/04/18, Axios)

The regions of concern for the Communist Party are Xinjiang -- populated by Muslim Uighurs -- and Tibet. China has a long history of repression of the Uighurs and has tried to squash opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet, including by exiling the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhists' spiritual leader.

What's happening: Tension between Chinese officials and Uighur separatists in Xinjiang have often led to violent clashes, and nearly 150 Tibetan monks have protested by self-immolation.

Citizens of Xinjiang and Tibet are under strict surveillance and subjected to propaganda campaigns.

In Xinjiang, officials are collecting mandatory DNA samples and fingerprints from citizens under the guise of a free health care program, says Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs are also detained in political education camps that push propaganda about Chinese identity.

In Tibet, "local officials [from the Atheist Communist Party] have intruded into core decision-making about how monasteries and nunneries are run," Richardson says. And local schools in Tibet heavily emphasize Mandarin Chinese, stripping children of Tibetan language and culture.

China also tries to surveil and pressure Uighur and Tibetan refugees who have left the country and, in some cases, become foreign citizens.

In April, Swedish authorities indicted a man for allegedly spying on Tibetan refugees for the Chinese government.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Trump Looks at Pulling U.S. Troops From South Korea, Despite Peace Talks: Report (Margaret Hartmann, 5/04/18, New York)

Now the New York Times reports that Trump has ordered the Pentagon to draw up options for reducing the number of U.S. troops in South Korea. While North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just had a historic meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Trump is expected to hold his own landmark meeting with Kim in the next few weeks, officials said the troop reassessment was not meant to be a bargaining chip in negotiations. If true, that means Trump didn't think it would be a problem to start looking at a move that could weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance, and also aligns with Kim's goals.

South Korea was quick to deny the story.

One of the great advantages of being unprepared for conventional war is that we'd be more likely to go straight to atomic.

May 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


An Open Letter to Trump's Evangelical Defenders (DAVID FRENCH, May 3, 2018, National Review)

We are not told, however, to compromise our moral convictions for the sake of earthly relief, no matter how dire the crisis. We are not told to rationalize and justify sinful actions to preserve political influence or a popular audience. We are not told that the ends of good policies justify silence in the face of sin. Indeed -- and this message goes out specifically to the politicians and pundits who go on television and say things they do not believe (you know who you are) to protect this administration and to preserve their presence in the halls of the power -- there is specific scripture that applies to you:

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"

The president of the United States has paid hush money to a porn star -- apparently to cover up a tryst that occurred shortly after the birth of his son. And that's hardly his only affair. More than a dozen women have accused him of sexual assault or some form of sexual harassment. He has been caught lying, repeatedly and regularly. Yet there are numerous Christians of real influence and prominence who not only won't dare utter a negative word about the president, they'll vigorously turn the tables on his critics, noting the specks in his critics' eyes while ignoring the sequoia-sized beam in their own. [...]

Soon enough, the "need" to defend Trump will pass. He'll be gone from the American scene. Then, you'll stand in the wreckage of your own reputation and ask yourself, "Was it worth it?" The answer will be as clear then as it should be clear now. It's not, and it never was.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


'I was going to get this over with': Inside Giuliani's explosive Stormy Daniels revelation (Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker,  May 3, 2018, Washington Post)

He may have had a strategy, but Rudolph W. Giuliani hatched it almost entirely in secret.

The White House counsel had no idea. Neither did the White House chief of staff, nor the White House press secretary, nor the new White House lawyer overseeing its handling of the Russia investigation.

They watched, agog, as Giuliani, the president's recently installed personal attorney, freestyled on live television Wednesday night about the president's legal troubles and unveiled an explosive new fact: that Trump reimbursed his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for the $130,000 paid to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to ensure her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.

Giuliani's attempt to defuse a ticking time bomb exposed Trump's failure to divulge the full story about the Daniels hush money and highlighted contradictory public statements from him and White House spokesmen. One month ago, Trump told reporters that he did not know about the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, or where Cohen got the money to make it.

Aides and advisers to the president -- who were scrambling Thursday morning to manage the fallout of Giuliani's interview with Sean Hannity, a Trump-friendly Fox News Channel host -- expressed a mixture of exasperation and horror. One White House official texted a reporter a string of emoji characters in response, including a tiny container of popcorn. [...]

Giuliani said in an interview with The Washington Post that he discussed the issue with Trump a few days ago and that they agreed that he would reveal details about the reimbursement.

"He was well aware that at some point when I saw the opportunity, I was going to get this over with," Giuliani said.

It's entirely fitting that a lifetime of lying to lawyers left Donald without a competent one when he most needed.  Most of the profession is popping corn right now.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Feds tapped Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's phones (Tom Winter and Julia Ainsley / May.03.2018, NBC)

Federal investigators have wiretapped the phone lines of Michael Cohen, the longtime personal lawyer for President Donald Trump who is under investigation for a payment he made to an adult film star who alleged she had an affair with Trump, according to two people with knowledge of the legal proceedings involving Cohen.

It is not clear how long the wiretap has been authorized, but NBC News has learned it was in place in the weeks leading up to the raids on Cohen's offices, hotel room, and home in early April, according to one person with direct knowledge.

At least one phone call between a phone line associated with Cohen and the White House was intercepted, the person said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


According to Michael Caputo, the Special Counsel Is Spearfishing (Nancy LeTourneau, May 3, 2018, Wahington Monthly)

During an interview with Anderson Cooper, Caputo expounded on the "net fishing" vs "spearfishing" metaphor.

I was in the Senate Intelligence Committee with their investigators Tuesday, and they were still fishing around. They reminded me of net fishing. They're just throwing things out there hoping they can get something in. If we're working with a fishing metaphor, I'd say the Mueller team is spearfishing. They believe they know where they're going, not asking a wide range of questions that seem to be unrelated. They know exactly what they are looking for and they have emails backing it up. And I don't think that they ask any questions that they don't already know the answer to...I don't recall in that whole three hour period where they asked a question that they did not already know the answer. I think they wanted me on the record to confirm what they believed.

To the extent that Caputo knows what he's talking about and is relating his experience honestly, that is a damning statement for anyone associated with the Trump camp. It confirms what many of us have been suggesting for a while now, which is that Mueller knows a whole lot more than has been leaked to the press.

But it is also interesting in light of the fact that much of what Giuliani talked about are the negotiations that are taking place over whether or not the president himself will be interviewed by the Mueller team. All along I've gotten the impression that the investigators want to talk to Trump in order to ask him questions that would clarify his intent to obstruct justice, which is a critical component to a criminal prosecution. But other than that, they probably have all of the information they either need or hope to get on whether the campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the Russians to influence the election.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


Israeli device would let pregnant women take ultrasound scans on phone (MICHAEL BACHNER, 5/03/18, Times of Israel)

An Israeli startup is in the final stages of developing a revolutionary handheld ultrasound device that will allow pregnant women to check on the health of their baby using only a smartphone.

Might want to change that name, eh?

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Trump's fixers revolt: Longtime associates whose job was to clean up messes are suddenly in the spotlight making things worse for the president. (ANNIE KARNI, 05/02/2018, Politico)

Looking the part has always mattered to President Donald Trump.

The president's preference for people who look like they came from "central casting" has become a well-known part of how Trump makes personnel decisions. The president said as much when he nominated Ronny Jackson -- the square-jawed White House physician with a full head of hair thick enough to hold a side part -- to be secretary of Veterans' Affairs.

But behind the scenes, there's another set of characters who populate Trump's world: loyal fixers who lie for Trump, and clean up his messes in the shadows, where their looks count less than their loyalty.

It's a dichotomy that's well-known in Trump's inner circle. One former adviser described it succinctly:

"Central casting for 'front porch' jobs, trolls for the real work."

But in recent weeks, there has been tension in the natural order of Trump's world, because his not-made-for-prime-time "fixers" have been basking in the national spotlight where they don't belong. And they're doing something else very out of character for the aides picked solely for their loyalty and willingness to bend the rules: They're falling out of line.

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When America's hottest jazz stars were sent to cool cold-war tensions: When a US blighted by racial unrest found itself needing to win a global propaganda war, a team of musical ambassadors was assembled. The result was anything but straightforward (Hugo Berkeley, 3 May 2018 , The Guardian)

In 1954, President Eisenhower wrangled $5m from Congress to send US cultural groups abroad as part of the growing "public diplomacy" effort. Initially they sent symphony orchestras, theatre groups, a cappella singers and folk dancers. The Soviets responded by touring national institutions such as the Kirov and Bolshoi ballet troupes - though the country's political claims were undermined when star performers like Nora Kovach and Rudolf Nureyev defected while abroad.

Then in 1956, Adam Clayton Powell Jr, an African American congressman from Harlem, suggested that America send its greatest jazz musicians overseas as cultural emissaries. The State Department warmed to the idea, believing that touring mixed-race jazz groups could help deflect attention from the spiralling civil rights abuses and present a uniquely American art form that the Russians couldn't compete with. Plus, as a deluge of fanmail from Voice of America radio attests, jazz was immensely popular with international audiences.

Powell convinced his friend Dizzy Gillespie to become America's first jazz ambassador, though the irony of the request was not lost of Gillespie. When the State Department asked him to come in for a pre-tour briefing, Gillespie responded with characteristic swagger: "I've had 300 years of briefing. I know what they've done to us." He went on to explain: "I sort've liked the idea of representing America, but I wasn't going over there to apologise for the racist policies of America." Dizzy, like all the jazz musicians who would tour on behalf of the State Department, was torn between the feelings of patriotism and his progressive politics, of hoping that America would win the cold war, and wishing that his country would actually embrace its founding ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Dizzy's tour to the Middle East, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey and Greece was a triumph and convinced State Department planners that jazz diplomacy had real legs. Ironically, when Gillespie's band took the stage in Damascus, it wasn't the mix of black and white musicians that shocked audiences, but the presence of female trumpeter Melba Liston and singer Dottie Salter. Gillespie's band was attacked in Congress by segregationist politicians outraged at the thought of bebop music representing America abroad. But the die was cast; US diplomats now saw jazz as an important tool in their arsenal.

The tours didn't always go smoothly. In September 1957, outraged by Eisenhower's refusal to send troops into Little Rock to guarantee the safety of nine black children attempting to enrol in the local high school, Louis Armstrong cancelled his trip to the Soviet Union, saying he wouldn't defend the US constitution abroad if it wasn't properly enforced at home.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


West Virginia Republicans Lie About Each Other's Imaginary Hillary-mania (Ed Kilgore, 5/02/18, New York)

Some ads showed Jenkins sporting a 2008 Clinton campaign button. And after complaints from the Jenkins campaign, Morrisey's put out a paper providing at best a shaky circumstantial case that Jenkins might have voted for Clinton in the 2008 West Virginia primary-but might not have done so at all. Ballotpedia fact-checked the claim (along with the closely associated claim that Jenkins supported "cap and trade" legislation) and found it to be unsupported by actual facts.

If Morrisey's HRC-flavored attack was highly and deliberately mendacious, Jenkins' retaliation was way over any imaginable line. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


You Just Cant: The longer I live, the more humbug there is. (THEODORE DALRYMPLE, 5/02/18, CERC)

Like almost everyone, I am a humbug on occasion and in my youth was a humbug practically all the time.  Youth, in fact, is the golden age of humbug, that is to say of the expression of supposedly generous emotions that it has to a much lesser extent than claimed.  "Sincerity," said Hazlitt, "has to do with the connexion between our words and thoughts, and not between our beliefs and actions." Hypocrisy is not the same as cant.

Hypocrisy is, or at any rate can be, a social virtue.  To express a sympathy or an interest that you do not in the slightest feel can be almost heroic when it is done for humane reasons, and is often socially necessary.  Hypocrisy is to social life what oil is to axles.  Cant or humbug, on the other hand, is always poisonous, among other reasons because it is designed to deceive not only others but ourselves.  It doesn't entirely succeed in this latter task because a still, small voice tells us that we are canting, to which our preferred solution is often to cant even harder, like drowning out something we don't want to hear by turning up the wireless.  That is why there is so much shrillness in the world: People are defending themselves against the horrible thought that they don't really believe what they themselves are saying.

There is no subject to which humbug attaches more than humanity, of course.  Who will admit that he doesn't love humanity, that it wouldn't matter to him in the slightest if half of it disappeared, that he can sit through the news of the worst disaster imaginable (provided far away) and eat his dinner nonetheless with good appetite? No, in order to be a good person you have to pretend to be lacerated by awareness of suffering anywhere in the world and show your wounds like Christ showing his heart in one of the Baroque Spanish colonial paintings. 

One of the things that makes the Left and Right--but I repeat myself--so enjoyable is the hysteria with which they denounce the hypocrisy of each other. No well-adjusted human being is troubled by hypocrisy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


The most unexpectedly religious film of the year (BISHOP ROBERT BARRON, 5/02/18, CERC)

The basic structure of the narrative is laid out in simple, deft strokes.  We learn that a terrible plague of fierce, devouring creatures has descended on the earth.  Where are the monsters from?  Outer space, maybe?  We're never told -- which makes the story more compelling.  The few people who have survived the holocaust have learned that the creatures, though blind, are extraordinarily acute of hearing.  Therefore, the key to survival is silence.  Our attention becomes focused on the Abbot family, two youthful parents and three small children, making their quiet way through a beautiful but dangerous open country.  When the youngest of the kids flips a switch on his toy rocket, causing buzzing sound to pierce the silence, one of the beasts devours him just before his terrified father can save him. 

We flash-forward several months later, and we watch the Abbots (can the name have possibly been accidental?) going about their lives in what could only be characterized as a monastic manner: no conversations above a whisper, elaborate sign language, quiet work at books and in the fields, silent but obviously fervent prayer before the evening meal, etc.  (I will confess that this last gesture, so thoroughly absent from movies and television today, startled me.) Given the awful demands of the moment, any gadgets, machines, electronic entertainment, or noisy implements are out of the question.  Their farming is by hand; their fishing is done with pre-modern equipment; even their walking about is done barefoot.  And what is most marvelous to behold is that, in this prayerful, quiet, pre-modern atmosphere, even with the threat of imminent death constantly looming, a generous and mutually self-sacrificing family flourishes.  The parents care for and protect their children, and the remaining brother and sister are solicitous toward one another and toward their parents.  The young girl even regularly risks her life to pay silent tribute to her fallen brother at the spot where he was killed.

Monsters and beasts in the more reflective horror movies are evocative of those things that frighten us the most: illness, failure, our own wickedness, death itself.  How wonderful that a Hollywood movie would suggest that what is needed to keep the darkness at bay in our time is silence, simplicity, a return to the earth, prayer, and care for one another. 

Cities were a mistake.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


The Commodification of Learning and the Decline of the Humanities (Julian Vigo, 5/02/18, Quillette)

Closer scrutiny of his book reveals that Bloom's efforts are focussed on encouraging his readers to think, to read, and to question--activities which today are quickly disappearing from academia across the English-speaking world. University professors are often asked not to require their students to read or write very much, if at all. Requests for professors to "lighten the reading load" have in recent years resulted in many being asked to abandon reading altogether so that today this task is viewed as merely 'optional.' Students, who now represent something closer to entitled neoliberal clients, now get to decide what empowers them more: studying and coming to class or virtually 'attending' their lectures and tutorials through online interfaces initially intended to be spaces for students to find course information and view online documents (i.e. Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, etc).

Many university professors are now expected to present lectures as a series of keywords using PowerPoint, where knowledge has been whittled down to the bare linguistic essentials. As a result, learning resembles a visual briefing, a York Notes to higher education, in which the university-as-job-centre offers utilitarian degrees in Media Studies and Business, a pitstop on the way to becoming the next Bitcoin innovator like Satoshi Nakamoto or Vitalik Buterin. Since economic worship is driving these shortcuts to learning and the cheapening of knowledge, the end effect of the neo-liberalisation of higher education is simply to produce a job while still rewarding the white middle-class graduates with a false sense of political empowerment.

I experienced precisely this at two UK universities where I was asked not to have students read or write. I have also witnessed colleagues throughout the humanities since the late 1990s bow to similar pressures in universities from North America to the UK. There is a growing trend among university administrators to ask that professors lessen--or entirely eliminate--reading while also enjoining faculty to create courses geared more towards entertainment than education. At the same time, universities are turning students into 'clients,' whose measurable 'outputs' and 'impact' are to be quantified and managed. In turn, the intellectual decimation of higher education is being justified by this managerial class, which offers young students the dreams of futures careers, sometimes with a written guarantee of job placement. And all of this is taking place amidst growing economic pressures to come up with rising tuitions fees, as approximately 71 percent of students take out loans to pay for education incurring a student loan debt that can take decades to pay off.

This commodification of education has contributed directly to the dumbing down of higher education, from the classroom to the wider campus. Between the clientelism driven by rising fees and the onus on professors to deliver a product, the end result has been a student-led culture, in which the client-turned-activist denounces the teaching of the Epic of Gilgamesh or The Iliad as 'racist' and the teaching of certain ideas collides with the imperatives of social justice dogma. Classes have become infantilized spaces for presentations of trivia, in which facts are glossed over while certain politicised keywords are superficially incorporated into a classroom lexicon so that already vague terms like 'positionality,' 'relational,' and 'problematic' reduce prose to meaningless drivel. By feeding students academic jargon stripped of historical or philosophical context, the classroom has been transformed from a space in which to engage and discuss close textual readings into the soundstage of a daytime talk show where feelings matter more than facts, often at the expense of the syllabus. The principle idea is simply to ensure factory production: keep the student-consumers happy so that they return the following semester for more of the same. Or, as one colleague advised me in a university where I was about to take up my first tenure-track position, "Don't give the students much reading--that way your class evaluations will be excellent and you will have no problem getting tenure."

The consequent decline of academic rigour has resulted in a warped political tendentiousness on college campuses across North America and beyond, where learning is now less about studying a subject and more about aligning one's writing and research with a particular ideology. Having crept from the classroom to the wider university environment, the political triumph of ideology over open debate and free inquiry has been buttressed by much of the theoretical hocus-pocus taught over the past three decades. It is not surprising that the vast amount of hokum presented to humanities students as 'knowledge' has in recent years produced a sort of academic 'blowback,' with student-clients being armed with a rhetoric of social justice which stipulates that facts are inconvenient and complaints about micro-aggressions and triggered emotions are said to merit serious attention.

This focus on jargon and academic buzzwords has precipitated the humanities' decline and the closing down of literature and language departments over the past 20 years. Pressure is now increasing on students to take up "practical studies" believed to help them secure a job rather than to study and learn for their own sake. And, although the social sciences have been affected by postmodern theory to a lesser degree, there is still a crude pragmatism at the heart of speciality degrees dealing with certain social issues (for example, opioid and pornography addiction) which are narrowly grounded in practical applications, the meeting of market pressures, and the adaptability of many social science degrees.

The Left thought it could use the Humanities to train revolutionaries, but kids just want jobs, so they went elsewhere. College isn't for education, just job certification.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Teacher Pay Is So Low in Some U.S. School Districts That They're Recruiting Overseas (DANA GOLDSTEIN, MAY 2, 2018, NY Times)

The latest wave of foreign workers sweeping into American jobs brought Donato Soberano from the Philippines to Arizona two years ago. He had to pay thousands of dollars to a job broker and lived for a time in an apartment with five other Filipino workers. The lure is the pay -- 10 times more than what he made doing the same work back home.

But Mr. Soberano is not a hospitality worker or a home health aide. He is in another line of work that increasingly pays too little to attract enough Americans: Mr. Soberano is a public school teacher.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


GM bets on 3D printers for cheaper and lighter car parts (Nick Carey, 5/03/18, Reuters) 

General Motors Co said on Thursday it was working with design software company Autodesk Inc to manufacture new, lightweight 3D-printed parts that could help the automaker meet its goals to add alternative-fuel vehicles to its product lineup.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Teacher of the Year hands Trump letters from her refugee students (Allie Malloy, 5/02/18, CNN)

National Teacher of the Year award winner Mandy Manning came to the White House with one goal in mind: to elevate the profile of her refugee and immigrant students with President Donald Trump.

In a phone interview with CNN, Manning said she had done just that, delivering handwritten letters from her students directly to the President when meeting with him one on one Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Mueller's Questions Ought to Frighten Trump: The special counsel is playing it straight. For the president, that's exactly the problem. (NORMAN EISEN, NOAH BOOKBINDER and BARRY BERKE May 01, 2018, Politico)

Many of the questions aim to shed light on the issue at the heart of the inquiry into the president's possible obstruction of justice: whether he acted with corrupt intent. What were his motives in firing FBI Director James Comey, and were they pure or tainted by the wrongful desire to shield his associates or himself from liability? When Trump reportedly told Russian officials after he fired Comey, "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off," was he advocating neutral policy concerns or protecting himself from personal exposure? Was the aim of the president's tweets and comments threatening Comey to intimidate a witness or simply editorial commentary? Trump will need to not only provide innocent explanations to all of these questions, but also address the pattern of his actions, which otherwise appears damning.

Other questions drive at the "collusion" issue by echoing Republican Senator Howard Baker's famous question in the Watergate hearings: What did the president know and when did he know it? If there truly was no collusion, as the president incessantly claims, then this question should be a softball, particularly since Mueller has told the president the exact pitches that are coming. Here too, however, problems lie for Trump. The president will need to explain how it is possible that he did not know about any of the 70 or more contacts his associates had with Russians during and after the campaign; or that the president only learned last summer about the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting that his campaign chair Paul Manafort, his son Donald Trump Jr., and his son-in-law Jared Kushner took with the Russians. Mueller's questions show that the investigation of conspiracy and other offenses that could fall under the label of "collusion" is very much alive, no matter what House Republicans think.

With respect to both these areas of questioning, President Trump is in a bind of his own making. By volunteering straightforward answers about his conduct, he risks strengthening the case that he obstructed justice and implicating himself in the campaign's possible conspiracy with Russia. If Trump lies to investigators, he risks prosecution for knowingly making a false statement to federal agents--the same offense to which his former associates Michael Flynn, George Papadopolous and Rick Gates have already pleaded guilty.

...lying is a new crime.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 AM


Rudy Giuliani May Have Just Implicated President Trump In Serious Campaign Finance Violations (RICHARD L. HASEN, MAY 03, 2018, Slate)

Donald Trump's new lawyer Rudy Giuliani took to Sean Hannity's Fox News program Wednesday night to defend the president from the ongoing Mueller investigation and to calm the waters for the Trump faithful.

But it looks like he's gotten the president into potentially greater legal jeopardy by admitting that Trump repaid his fixer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment to adult film performer Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet, seemingly contradicting the president and potentially implicating Trump and his campaign in some serious campaign finance violations.

In his first TV appearance as Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani made a bombshell admission about why Trump fired James Comey (Bryan Logan, 5/02/18, Business Insider)

Rudy Giuliani, the newest addition to President Donald Trump's legal team, said on Wednesday night that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last May because Comey "would not, among other things, say that he wasn't a target in the [Russia] investigation."

In One Hannity Interview, Giuliani Blew Up Trump's Arguments in 3 Legal Cases (Margaret Hartmann, 5/02/18, New York)

Giuliani went on to offer details on how Trump reimbursed Cohen. He pointed to Cohen's hefty retainer, saying, "When I heard Cohen's retainer of $35,000, when he was doing no work for the president, I said that's how he's repaying it, with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael."

That also bolstered the argument from federal prosecutors in Manhattan that much of what was seized in the Cohen raid is not protected by attorney-client privilege, as he was "in fact, performing little to no legal work."

Adding him to Team Donald is indistinguishable from a Deep State black op.

May 2, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


White House lawyer hired to help Trump in Russia probe to retire (Karen Freifeld, and Steve Holland, 5/02/18, Reuters)

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Ukraine, Seeking U.S. Missiles, Halted Cooperation With Mueller Investigation (ANDREW E. KRAMERMAY 2, 2018, NY Times)

In the United States, Paul J. Manafort is facing prosecution on charges of money laundering and financial fraud stemming from his decade of work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

But in Ukraine, where officials are wary of offending President Trump, four meandering cases that involve Mr. Manafort, Mr. Trump's former campaign chairman, have been effectively frozen by Ukraine's chief prosecutor.

The cases are just too sensitive for a government deeply reliant on United States financial and military aid, and keenly aware of Mr. Trump's distaste for the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into possible collusion between Russia and his campaign, some lawmakers say.

The decision to halt the investigations by an anticorruption prosecutor was handed down at a delicate moment for Ukraine, as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles, called Javelins.

...if not to trade for criminal cover-ups?

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Republicans ran 13,000 ads against Hillary Clinton -- this year (THe Week, 5/02/18)

Republicans really can't quit Hillary. Yes, Hillary Clinton retired from electoral politics after losing the Electoral College to President Trump in 2016, but GOP candidates and allied groups keep on running against her. From Jan. 1 to April 24, Republicans ran 12,864 ads on TV mentioning Clinton or showing her photo, USA Today reports, citing data from Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Morocco Cuts Ties With Iran For Allegedly Backing Western Sahara Independence (Radio Liberty, May 02, 2018)

Morocco has severed diplomatic ties with Iran over Tehran's alleged support for the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara independence movement. [...]

The Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony that Morocco annexed in 1975. Polisario fought a guerrilla war for independence until a United Nations-backed cease-fire was established in 1991.

Algeria, Morocco's neighbor, hosts camps for people displaced by the conflict, including members of Polisario, but denies giving military aid to the group.

The Western Sahara has effectively been split by an earthen wall separating territory controlled by Polisario and an area controlled by Morocco. There is a UN-mandated buffer zone between them, and UN peacekeepers patrol the region.

A people who think themselves a nation are one.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


The effect of corporate taxation on investment (Tyler Cowen, May 2, 2018, Marginal Revolution)

This study estimates the investment, financing, and payout responses to variation in a f