August 31, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Donald Trump confirms Star story on his secret bombshell remarks about Canada (DANIEL DALE, Aug. 31, 2018, Toronto Star)

High-stakes trade negotiations between Canada and the U.S. were dramatically upended on Friday morning after inflammatory secret remarks by President Donald Trump were obtained by the Toronto Star.

In comments Trump wanted to be "off the record," the U.S. president told Bloomberg News reporters on Thursday that he is not making any compromises at all in the talks with Canada -- but that he cannot say this publicly because "it's going to be so insulting they're not going to be able to make a deal."

"Here's the problem. If I say no -- the answer's no. If I say no, then you're going to put that, and it's going to be so insulting they're not going to be able to make a deal ... I can't kill these people," Trump said of the Canadian government.

In another remark he did not want published, Trump said that the possible deal with Canada would be "totally on our terms." He suggested he was scaring the Canadians into submission by repeatedly threatening to impose tariffs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Homeland Security staffer with white nationalist ties attended White House policy meetings (Nick Miroff, August 30, 2018, Washington Post)

Ian M. Smith, a Department of Homeland Security analyst who resigned this week after he was confronted about his ties to white nationalist groups, attended multiple immigration policy meetings at the White House, according to government officials familiar with his work.

Smith quit his job Tuesday after being questioned about personal emails he sent and received between 2014 and 2016, before he joined the Trump administration. The messages, obtained by the Atlantic and detailed in a report published Tuesday, depict Smith engaging in friendly, casual conversations with prominent white supremacists and racists. 

In one email from 2015, Smith responded to a group dinner invitation whose host said his home would be "judenfrei," a German word used by the Nazis during World War II to describe territory that had been "cleansed" of Jews during the Holocaust. 

"They don't call it Freitag for nothing," Smith replied, using the German word for "Friday," according to the Atlantic. "I was planning to hit the bar during the dinner hours and talk to people like Matt Parrot, etc.," Smith added, a reference to the former spokesman for the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Cafe blast kills pro-Moscow rebel leader in east Ukraine (Anton Zverev, Olena Vasina, 8/31/18, Reuters) 

The leader of Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine was killed in an explosion at a cafe on Friday, prompting Russia to accuse Ukraine of assassinating him while Kiev blamed separatist infighting.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


The surprising role cheese played in human evolution (Penny Bickle, 8/31/18, The Conversation)

We have been making cheese using the utensils, plants and techniques available to Neolithic farmers. The aim of the experiments is not to faithfully recreate early cheeses, but to begin to capture some of the decisions available to early cheese makers -- and the experiments have thrown up some interesting results.

By using these ancient techniques, we have discovered that a wealth of different means of curdling the milk would have been possible, each producing different forms, tastes and amounts of cheese.

And such specialist knowledge may have been akin to the spread of bronze smelting at the end of the Neolithic. Dairy may have had a special status among foodstuffs. For example, at the major late Neolithic feasting site of Durrington Walls, not far from and contemporary with Stonehenge, dairy residues were found in a particular kind of pottery vessel and concentrated in the area around a timber circle - a form of Late Neolithic monument.

From the Bronze Age, however, lactase persistence offered an advantage to some people who were able to pass this on to their offspring. It also seems that this advantage was not solely because of increased calorie and nutrient intake alone -- but because of the special status dairy foods may have had. The development of this biological adaption to fresh milk took place after humans had already found ways to safely include dairy products in the diet.

This shows that humans are not only able to manipulate their food to make it edible, but that what we consume can also lead to new adaptations in our biology.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Trump's approval rating among black voters is a whopping 3 percent (The week, 8/31/18)

President Trump's approval rating is pretty dismal overall, a poll by The Washington Post and ABC News found on Friday, but the numbers are worse in some demographic groups than others.

Just 3 percent of black Americans polled said they approved of Trump's performance, compared to the president's 36 percent approval overall. An overwhelming 93 percent of black Americans, meanwhile, said they disapprove. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


AP sources: Lawyer was told Russia had 'Trump over a barrel' (AP, 8/31/18)

A senior Justice Department lawyer says a former British spy told him at a breakfast meeting two years ago that Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump "over a barrel," according to multiple people familiar with the encounter.

The lawyer, Bruce Ohr, also says he learned that a Trump campaign aide had met with higher-level Russian officials than the aide had acknowledged, the people said. [...]

Beside the "over a barrel" remark, Ohr also told Congress that Steele told him that Page, a Trump campaign aide who traveled to Moscow that same month and whose ties to Russia attracted FBI scrutiny, had met with more-senior Russian officials than he had acknowledged.

That breakfast took place amid ongoing FBI concerns about Russian election interference and possible communication with Trump associates.

By that point, Russian hackers had penetrated Democratic email accounts, including that of the Clinton campaign chairman, and Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign associate, was said to have revealed that Russians had "dirt" on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of emails, court papers say.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


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Trump's Top Targets in the Russia Probe Are Experts in Organized Crime (NATASHA BERTRAND, AUG 30, 2018, The Atlantic)

Bruce Ohr. Lisa Page. Andrew Weissmann. Andrew McCabe. President Donald Trump has relentlessly attacked these FBI and Justice Department officials as dishonest "Democrats" engaged in a partisan "witch hunt" led by the special counsel determined to tie his campaign to Russia. But Trump's attacks have also served to highlight another thread among these officials and others who have investigated his campaign: their extensive experience in probing money laundering and organized crime, particularly as they pertain to Russia.

As Trump praised and defended Russian President Vladimir Putin along the campaign trail, financial analysts and money-laundering experts questioned whether the real-estate mogul had any financial incentives--including business ties or outstanding debt--to seek better relations with Moscow. Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed in May 2017 to investigate a potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, assembled a team with revealing expertise in fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and other financial crimes.

Trump's latest obsession is with Bruce Ohr, a career Justice Department official who spent years investigating Russian organized crime and corruption--an expertise he shared with another Trump target named Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence operative who provided valuable intelligence on Russia to the State Department and the FBI's Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force prior to authoring the Trump-Russia dossier in 2016.

Those bastards!  By calling it a task force they were even advertising their collusion!
Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


'Totally dishonest': Trump asserts only he can be trusted over opponents and 'fake news' (Ashley Parker, August 30, 2018, Washington Post)

Over roughly the past day, President Trump has decried the "totally dishonest" media, with its "fake news" and "fake books." He has argued that Google is biased against conservatives. And he has accused NBC News of "fudging" the tape of an interview with him that has been available online for more than a year.

The president has even declared there is no chaos in his White House, which he claimed is a " 'smooth running machine' with changing parts," despite the tumult that emanates almost daily from within its walls.

Trump's assertions -- all on Twitter, some false, some without clear evidence -- come just over nine weeks before the midterm elections that could help determine his fate, and they are bound by one unifying theme: All of his perceived opponents are peddling false facts and only Trump can be trusted.  [...]

He has decried the media as the "enemy of the people" as recently as this week, and on Thursday, the FBI arrested a man in California who had threatened to shoot Boston Globe staff, calling the newspaper "the enemy of the people" and "fake news." 

So, he is reaching his base.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


EU to recommend that member states abolish daylight saving time (Reuters, 31 Aug 2018)

The European commission will recommend EU member states abolish daylight saving, where clocks are advanced by one hour in summer, Jean-Claude Juncker has said.

"We carried out a survey, millions responded and believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that's what will happen," he told the German public broadcaster ZDF, adding that the commission planned to decide on the matter later on Friday. [...]

An online poll suggested that more than 80% of Europeans were  of adjusting clocks forward by one hour in the spring and then back an hour in the autumn, an established practice across most of Europe and North America.

August 30, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


New child passenger safety seat guidance advises kids to ride rear-facing as long as possible; drops age criterion (Benjamin D. Hoffman, M.D., FAAP,  AAP Technical Report)

Children should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, up to the limits of their car safety seat. This will include virtually all children under 2 years of age and most children up to age 4.

We've recognized for decades that all seats in motor vehicles/airplanes should face backwards. Technology gives us the new opportunity to include drivers/pilots.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


A lifelong dream washed away: The major league shot he chased his entire life finally arrived. Then it drowned. (Dave Sheinin, AUGUST 30, 2018, Washington Post)
In the middle of it all, the entire, emotional ordeal that would come to define his career, in the midst of the literal storm that was drenching the Eastern Seaboard on the afternoon of Sept. 5, 2006, and the perfect, figurative one that was conspiring at that moment to make him the victim of the cruelest bit of circumstance the inherently cruel game of baseball could possibly produce -- in the middle of all that, Brian Mazone, anxious, restless, bored, headed to the dugout to see the skies for himself.

Out of the Philadelphia Phillies' clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park he strode, past the coaches' offices and the video room, down the steps, through the dugout tunnel, clad in team-issued, home-white game pants and a T-shirt. It was perhaps 21/2 hours before the first pitch of a game that, judging from a radar full of giant yellow and orange blobs, appeared doomed. He was 30 years old, with eight years in the minors, and that evening, weather permitting, he would be making his big league debut.

He heard the rain before he saw it, loud splatters of dream-piercing liquid darts. The dugout was flooded beneath several inches of it. It was pooling in various corners of the field. Mazone had rarely known rain like this; the nearly 21/2 inches that fell in Philadelphia that day, the biggest day of his professional life, were roughly half the total rainfall for all of 2006 in his native San Diego.

But the climb up those last few steps, from the dugout to the field of a big league stadium, was a moment he had envisioned for a quarter of a century, and now, unsure whether he would get the chance again -- later that evening or ever -- he braced himself against the downpour and ascended.

As long as he lives, he will never forget that rain.

Twelve years later, he doesn't recall exactly when he first became aware of the rain and the mortal threat it posed to the fulfillment of his lifelong dream. But he had seen it out his Philadelphia hotel window when he awoke that morning, having been summoned by the Phillies the night before from Rochester, N.Y. -- where his Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons were preparing for the International League playoffs, and where Mazone broke down in heaving sobs as he heard the words, "You're going to Philly."

"I remember standing at the window, the drapes open, just watching," he recalled of that morning in the hotel. "When you see that kind of rain, you know you're in trouble."

His wife, Amber, having stayed behind with their two young children while Brian hustled to the airport to catch the next flight, got up the next morning and headed south to join him. The rain began mere minutes into her five-hour drive, and it never stopped.

"I remember thinking, 'This is not good,' " she said. "He had so many ups and downs in baseball, it was like, 'Of course this would happen.' "

It was raining when Brian got to the stadium at around 1:30 p.m., some 51/2  hours before the scheduled first pitch against the Houston Astros, walking in the home clubhouse to find his uniform -- red-on-white, No. 49 -- hanging at the locker he had been assigned.

And now, as he stood by the dugout railing, the ground beneath him drenched, the stands empty, the rain began to pick up in intensity. And Mazone, in the empty stadium, took the full brunt of it, squinting through streaks of rain cut with tears at a field-level view that, in the mind of someone who had been picturing it since age 5, was akin to the one from the top of Everest.

"I couldn't even see much," he recalled. "But at that point I really didn't care."

Finally, he walked off the field, drenched. Down the stairs to the flooded dugout. Through the tunnel. Up the stairs to the clubhouse. Through the doorway. To his locker.

There hung his uniform. He looked at it again. He took it down, slipped his arms into the sleeves, buttoned it up. He took a seat. And that's where he still sat a little while later, when they came to tell him they needed to see him in the manager's office.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Don't forget Donald Trump Jr. and his Trump Tower meeting. He broke the law, too. (Fred Wertheimer, Aug. 29, 2018, USA Today)

On June 3, 2016 Trump Jr. received an email from Rob Goldstone, a music publicist, who offered "to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." The email also said, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

In the context of the campaign-finance laws, "contribution" is defined as any "thing of value" provided "in connection with a Federal ... election."

Incriminating documents and information about Hillary Clinton that would be "very useful" to presidential candidate Trump would clearly be something "of value." This was offered to Trump Jr. in connection with the 2016 presidential election and was expressly made on behalf of a foreign country. Thus, the offer made to Trump Jr. falls squarely within the definition of "contribution."

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Vatican Source: Pope dismissed Cdl. Müller for following Church rules on abuse cases  (LifeSiteNews, 8/30/18) 

A highly placed Vatican source told LifeSiteNews that Cardinal Gerhard Müller, together with his much-experienced three CDF priests, were dismissed by Pope Francis because they all had tried to follow loyally the Church's standing rules concerning abusive clergymen. In one specific case, Müller opposed the Pope's wanting to re-instate Don Mauro Inzoli, an unmistakably cruel abuser of many boys; but the Pope would not listen to Müller. In another case, the Pope decided not to give a Vatican apartment to one of Müller's own secretaries, but to the now-infamous Monsignor Luigi Capozzi, in spite of the fact that someone had warned the Pope about Capozzi's grave problems. The Vatican source also said that it was known to several people in the Vatican that some restrictions were put on Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI, and he thereby confirms Viganò's own claim.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Iran is complying with nuclear deal restrictions: IAEA report (Francois Murphy, Robin Emmott, 8/30/18, Reuters) 

Iran has remained within the main restrictions on its nuclear activities imposed by a 2015 deal with major powers, a confidential report by the U.N. atomic watchdog indicated on Thursday.

It's a trade deal and they need trade now more than ever.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Structural change, disinflation and 'Amazonisation' (JANUS HENDERSON, 8/29/18, New Stateman)

Information technology has powered almost every form of growth and development in the past 10 years. There are so many billion-dollar companies that did not exist 30 years ago, but the FANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google - now Alphabet) are probably the most well-known. And among them, the story of Amazon is perhaps the most impressive.

The e-commerce giant started life in 1994 as an online book store and has evolved into the second-largest retailer in the US, after Walmart. The company has gradually eaten into the market share of traditional retailers and entered markets no one would have thought about. Its membership programme, Amazon Prime, is an awesome customer acquisition tool with discounts on Amazon products and discount partnerships at various other outlets. Prime has a household penetration rate of between 40% and 60% in the US, according to Wall Street analysts, which only adds weight to Amazon's frightening disruptive capability.

For example, Amazon announced it would enter the home security market with its February acquisition of Ring, which offers a do-it-yourself, state-of-the-art home security system, Ring Alarm, that undercuts similar products offered by market leader ADT and Google's Nest Secure product. ADT floated in January with an initial price of $14 per share, but fell as low as $7 in the aftermath of Amazon's announcement and now the company faces a daunting battle against a serial disruptor. [...]

Another recent example of Amazon's frightening reach across industry came in June when it revealed its intention to acquire US online pharmacy PillPack for a reported $1bn. Soon after the announcement, some $14bn was wiped from the market cap of the US drug distribution industry, according to analysts at Reuters. These are simply the most recent examples of Amazon's disruptive reputation, there are plenty more to tell and we're pretty confident there will be plenty more to come, too.

The point is that this is all massively deflationary. Economies of scale, whereby behemoths like Amazon use their might to undercut rivals in new markets, means the prices of goods comes down. We are all used to seeing reduced prices or deals whereby you can buy a number of goods for a similar price to a product on its own.

We are used to disinflation (slowing down of inflation) and sometimes deflation (opposite of inflation). We live in a world where people expect a discount, are given a discount or where retailers will throw away their margin and just give you a discount sometimes without anyone asking for it; and that is a generational change.

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


Trump's tariffs spawn exemptions, then his own Big Government (The Editorial Board, 8/29/18, USA TODAY)

If it weren't enough that the Trump administration has slapped tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum, it has instituted a process by which companies that consume these products can apply for exclusions from these taxes.

In other words, the administration has imposed a new tax on imported metals and then put itself in a position to decide who has to pay it and who does not.

This is Big Government at its worst -- arbitrary and capricious, if not outright political, as it picks winners and losers in business. And all this is being done without any new law being passed and while a Republican Congress, which used to stand for free enterprise and limited government, remains supine.

How Special Interests Hide the True Costs of Tariffs (Veronique de Rugy, Aug. 29, 2018, NY Times)

If there is a silver lining to the recent trade insanity, it's the bright light that it shines on the victims of President Trump's tariffs. These victims include construction companies, equipment manufacturers and the many American producers whose costs are increasing. Workers in these industries as well as ordinary American consumers pay higher prices for automobiles, washers and dryers, and the other goods whose prices are artificially hiked by the tariffs.

Because of the president's hyperactive use of his trade authority, the scale of this pain is unusually high. But the reality is that this disregard for the consequences inflicted on buyers in the industries downstream from tariffs is nothing new. In fact, thanks to the handiwork of interest groups who benefit from the tariffs and the politicians who serve them, it's embedded in our trade system, sometimes even in the legislation itself.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Thinking About the Holodomor: Part I  a review of  Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine (FLAGG TAYLOR, 8/29/18, Law & Liberty)

While the story of the Holodomor deserves telling and retelling, historical awareness of the terrors of 1932-33 was nearly effaced in the ensuing decades. The Soviet Union was quite adept at whitewashing these events and finding willing agents in the West to propagate lies on its behalf. Academic political scientists and historians, those supposedly well-equipped for measured analysis, have not always proven themselves to be reliable interpreters of the Holodomor. As the French philosopher and historian Alain Besançon put it, "It is characteristic of the twentieth century that its history was not only horrible in terms of human massacres, but that historical awareness . . . has had particular difficulty finding a true orientation."

The British social scientists Sydney and Beatrice Webb visited the Soviet Union during the famine. Still they returned more convinced than ever that the Soviet system was a model for all to emulate. Here is their considered judgment, rendered in 1937, on "dekulakization" (the forced removal and deportation or murder of the supposedly wealthier peasants) during the collectivization campaign: "Candid students of the circumstances may not unwarrantably come to the conclusion that . . . the Soviet Government could hardly have acted otherwise than it did."

Thankfully, not all "candid students" have come to that repellant conclusion. The reception of Applebaum's book, which was published in 2017, has been favorable. Red Famine garnered very positive reviews in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Commentary, National Review, and The Guardian, the leftwing British newspaper. Even among scholars not inclined to agree with some of her conclusions, Applebaum, a longtime Washington Post columnist who is currently a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, seems to have earned a grudging respect. The Australian historian Sheila Fitzpatrick, writing in The Guardian on August 25, 2017, noted that Applebaum's "take on Stalin's intentions comes closer than I would to seeing him as specifically out to kill Ukrainians, but this is a legitimate difference of interpretation."

That last admission is important, especially when one compares it with a prominent reaction, over three decades ago, to Conquest's argument for the famine as an intentional plan. J. Arch Getty, a Soviet and Russia specialist at UCLA, wrung his hands about Harvest of Sorrow, saying it would "give a certain academic credibility to a theory which has not been generally accepted by non-partisan scholars outside the circles of exiled nationalities. In today's conservative political climate, with its 'evil empire' discourse, I am sure the book will be very popular." Note the sneering tone and attempt to place Conquest's book beyond the pale of serious discourse.

Notwithstanding the progress shown by Fitzpatrick's and others' treatment of this subject, the debilitating thought patterns and dispositions that have been around for decades are unfortunately still evident. Sophie Pinkham, reviewing Red Famine for The Nation, argues that Applebaum's history is distorted by her polemical intent and her anti-communism. Applebaum leaves the standards of academic history behind, says Pinkham, in her "frequent use of concepts of 'evil' and 'morality'."

This is the fact-value distinction at its most ludicrous, invoked in precisely the place, one would hope, that demonstrates its limits. As Pierre Manent once asked, "How can one begin to describe what goes on in a concentration camp without disclosing its inhumanity, that is, without evaluating it, without making a 'value judgment'?"

Not surprisingly, Pinkham has trouble staying the value-free course. She identifies Applebaum's broad "political agenda" (as revealed in the introduction to her Pulitzer Prize-winning 2003 book Gulag) as recognizing that "Stalinism--and, by extension, communism--was just as bad as Nazism." Pinkham is clearly troubled by the comparison, as she is by what she sees as Applebaum's "disgust at leftist sympathy for any part of communism at all." This is a very old game: Isolate communism from Stalinism and its "excesses" so as to save the "good" parts of communism and thus discredit any parallels to Nazism.

Seeing the kinship between Nazism and communism has a long and distinguished history, stretching back to the 1930s and including luminaries of the 20th century like Alexander Wat, Czesław Miłosz, Waldemar Gurian, Eric Voegelin, Hannah Arendt, Raymond Aron, Vasily Grossman, and many others. I once asked the Czech novelist Ivan Klíma, who was in the Nazi transit camp Terezin as a child and then spent most of his life living under a communist regime, what he thought of the comparison between the two regimes. "In practice, there is no difference," he told me. "The only difference is in the theory."

Both regimes killed people in great numbers not for any action they took, but for who they were. But whereas Nazism proclaimed its racial ethic quite openly and its violence was inextricably intertwined with that ethic, communist atrocities were committed in the name of equality. Pressing Klíma to elaborate, I asked him what he thought of an argument put forward by Besançon, that precisely because of that contrast, it is communism that is the greater evil because it cloaks its evil, shrouds its violence in ideals familiar to people living in democracies. "I know this argument and I agree with it," Klíma said.

It was the revisionist political scientists and historians of the 1960s and 1970s who were eager to jettison the concept of "totalitarianism" and thereby deny any kinship between Nazism and communism. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


Sycophant Republicans change tune to keep seat at Trump's table (Edward Luce, 8/30/18, Financial Times)

It was Lindsey Graham who most memorably summarised the choice between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz at the close of the 2016 Republican primary elections: did voters want to be shot or poisoned? Republicans opted to be shot. But that was not before Mr Graham had called Mr Trump a "race-baiting xenophobic bigot" -- and much else besides.

Today, the South Carolina Republican is among Mr Trump's most brazen flatterers. He was among the first to suggest that the US president might deserve a Nobel Prize for his North Korea diplomacy. The Russia probe is a sham and Hillary Clinton should be in jail, he believes. Meanwhile, Mr Graham now says there is no evidence to suggest Mr Trump is racist.

What happened? The unenlightening answer is that Mr Trump won. That is why other Trump detractors such as Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Mr Cruz flipped from enmity to sycophancy in a heartbeat. Some of their roads to Damascus were even stranger than Mr Graham's. Mike Huckabee, for example, called the New York property developer every name imaginable. Now the former Arkansas governor -- and father of White House spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders -- compares Mr Trump with Winston Churchill.

Career politicians gravitate to power. But in Mr Trump's case they must do so conspicuously. Anything short of nonstop praise will go unnoticed. Politicians who once shunned Lyndon Baines Johnson changed their tune after John F Kennedy was assassinated. But they did not have to broadcast their allegiance every day. They feared LBJ's capacity to be ruthless. But he judged them on how they acted, not by the lavishness of their praise.

For Mr Trump, the flattery must be directly proportional to the scorn for which you are atoning. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


'Winter is coming': Allies fear Trump isn't prepared for gathering legal storm (Philip Rucker ,
Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker, August 29, 2018, Washington Post)

One adviser recalled recently telling Trump, "They will crush you if they win. You don't want them investigating every single thing you've done."

Another concern is that the White House, which already has struggled in attracting top-caliber talent to staff positions, could face an exodus if Democrats take over the House, because aides fear their mere proximity to the president could place them in legal limbo and possibly result in hefty lawyers' fees.

"It stops good people from potentially serving because nobody wants to inherit a $400,000 legal bill," said another Trump adviser.

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Trump personally lobbying GOP senators to flip on Sessions (ELIANA JOHNSON and ELANA SCHOR, 08/29/2018, Politico)

"There's the belief that if the president taking action with respect to Sessions is going to be an important part of the Mueller obstruction case, most of that case has already been made. Things that the president has already done privately that have been reported, but also things that the president has done publicly that could be characterized as bullying or intimidating, all of that case is already there ready to be made, such that firing him is almost like an afterthought," said one person familiar with the conversations among members of the president's legal team. [...]

Seized by paroxysms of anger, Trump has intermittently pushed to fire his attorney general since March 2017, when Sessions announced his recusal from the Russia investigation. If Sessions' recusal was his original sin, Trump has come to resent him for other reasons, griping to aides and lawmakers that the attorney general doesn't have the Ivy League pedigree the president prefers, that he can't stand his Southern accent and that Sessions isn't a capable defender of the president on television -- in part because he "talks like he has marbles in his mouth," the president has told aides.

Just listened to episode 7 of Slow Burn, about the Saturday Night Massacre.  It's impossible to imagine Beauregard resigning in the same circumstances.

August 29, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM

NO ONE WILL MISS JOBS (profanity alert):

Money for Nothing: Many jobs are pointless. Others are being automated away. In the future, who will still work for a paycheck? (ATOSSA ARAXIA ABRAHAMIAN, August 29, 2018, New Republic)

Some years ago, I had a colleague who would frequently complain that he didn't have enough to do. He'd mention how much free time he had to our team, ask for more tasks from our boss, and bring it up at after-work drinks. He was right, of course, about the situation: Although we were hardly idle, even the most productive among us couldn't claim to be toiling for eight (or even five, sometimes three) full hours a day. My colleague, who'd come out of a difficult bout of unemployment, simply could not believe that this justified his salary. It took him a long time to start playing along: checking Twitter, posting on Facebook, reading the paper, and texting friends while fulfilling his professional obligations to the fullest of his abilities. [...]

The anthropologist David Graeber posits that the link between salaried positions and real work has long been tenuous in any case, since many highly paid jobs serve little purpose at all. In Bull[***]t Jobs, he tries to make sense of the peculiar yet all-too-common situations in which people are hired, after much fanfare, to do a job, then find themselves not doing much--or worse, performing a task so utterly pointless that they might as well not be doing it. [...]

Graeber's book expands on his viral 2013 essay "On the Phenomenon of Bull[***]t Jobs," in which he took aim at "employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case." [...]

His method for identifying bull{***}t is, by his own account, unscientific. He draws from a pool of anecdotes to produce an anatomy of bull[***]t workers, who fall into five categories: "flunkies," "goons," "duct-tapers," "box tickers," and "taskmasters."

"Flunkies" are the modern equivalent of feudal minions who make bosses feel big, important, and strong. Whereas they were once doormen and concierges, they now tend to be receptionists who do little besides answer cold calls and refill the candy bowl, or personal assistants who drop off their boss's dry cleaning and smile when he walks through the door. "Goons" essentially bully people into buying things they don't need: Marketing managers and PR specialists do this, as do telemarketers. "Duct-tapers" are employed to fix things that aren't or shouldn't be broken or do tasks that could easily be automated--data entry, copying and pasting, photocopying, and so on. "Box tickers" help companies comply with regulation (or offload responsibility for complying), and finally "taskmasters," or middle managers, spread more BS by assigning it to others.

"The creation of a BS job," one manager tells Graeber, "often involves creating a whole universe of BS narrative that documents the purpose and functions of the position as well as the qualifications required to successfully perform the job, while corresponding to the [prescribed] format and special bureaucratese." She explains that her organization's bureaucracy created odd incentives to retain employees whose work was inadequate. It was easier for her to hire someone in a new position than to fire and replace the incompetent employee. This, she notes, helped BS jobs proliferate.

Graeber attempts to quantify just how much--and after some back-of-the envelope calculations, he wagers that 37 to 40 percent of all office jobs are "bull[***]t." He further contends that about 50 percent of the work done in a nonpointless workplace is also bull[***]t, since even useful jobs contain elements of nonsense: the pretending to be busy, the arbitrary hours, the not being able to leave before five. "Bull[***]tization" is even infecting the most nonbull[***]t professions, with teachers overloaded with administrative duties that didn't use to exist and doctors forced to deal with paperwork and insurance firms that probably should be abolished.

There's no sure way to verify Graeber's estimates, but for white-collar workers, they seem basically right. Work backward: How much activity on social media takes place during work hours? How many doctor's appointments, errands, and online purchases occur between nine and five? In other words, how many of us could stand to work half as much as we currently do without any significant consequences? And yet we insist over and over that we are terribly, endlessly busy.

This state of affairs seems to defy not just human reason, but also basic capitalist logic: Wouldn't a profit-seeking organization tend to cull unnecessary compensated labor rather than encourage it? Graeber proposes that there is an explicitly irrational reason why such jobs exist--a system he calls "managerial feudalism," wherein employers keep adding layers and layers of management so that everyone can feel their job is important or at least justified. (They're "mentoring" young people. They're helping others develop careers!) The bigger the staff, the more important the company and its leaders feel, regardless of purpose or productivity.

The two factors that will drive adoption of UBI are capitalism itself--displacing labor lowers costs and increases profits--and white collar jobs being displaced.  When the lower classes don't have jobs it's a moral issue.  When we elites don't have them it's a political crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Group of U.S. lawmakers urges China sanctions over Xinjiang abuses (Reuters, 8/29/18) 

Muslims in Xinjiang, China's western autonomous region, were "being subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, egregious restrictions on religious practice and culture, and a digitized surveillance system so pervasive that every aspect of daily life is monitored," the lawmakers said in their letter, which in addition to Rubio and Smith was signed by 15 U.S. senators and representatives.The letter, signed by nine Republicans, seven Democrats and one Independent, called for sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against senior Chinese government and Communist Party officials overseeing the policies, including Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo, and for other measures to be considered.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


A Novel Defense of Bad Social Psychology Studies (ANDREW FERGUSON, July 31, 2018, Weekly Standard)

In the last 10 years, thanks to several whistle-blowing researchers working independently, the prison experiment and its findings have been largely discredited. The editor of at least one popular textbook has removed mentions of it. It turns out that the behavior of college students in role-playing exercises under the watchful eye of their professors doesn't tell us much about the behavior of ordinary people in the real world, no matter how powerful or powerless they are. This has surprised social psychologists. Many of them still refuse to believe it.

Carey also mentions another famous, and much cuter, experiment called the Marshmallow Test. It, too, he notes glumly, has been subverted by further examination. In the marshmallow test, young and adorable children were filmed as they tried not to eat marshmallows. The researchers concluded that children who were taught the ability to delay gratification would, thanks to this single trait, grow up to have happier and more successful lives. On the basis of the marshmallow experiment, policymakers over the next generation developed character-building programs that became all the rage in the fad factories of public education. Teach a kid self-control when he's 5, went the thinking, and 20 years later you'll have a college graduate on your hands.

Anyone uncontaminated by social science would understand this proposition to be laughably mechanical and simplistic. And even social scientists are now seeing that the study was severely limited in application. Almost all the kids in the test were white and well-to-do; the results didn't take into account family stability, the level of parents' education, the behavior of peers, or any of the other infinite factors that form a child's character. For nearly 30 years the "marshmallow effect" was science. Now it's folklore.

Carey could have picked dozens of other examples. Every few weeks, it seems, another established truth of social science comes a cropper. But Carey is a man of faith, as believers in social science must be. He doesn't want to let go. He is wounded by critics who think the replication crisis somehow undermines social psychology's standing as science. "On the contrary," he writes. The crisis proves social science is self-correcting, just the way real sciences are.

"Housecleaning is a crucial corrective in science," Carey writes. This is true. He also says "psychology has led by example." This is not true. A science cannot correct itself unless its findings are subjected to replication, but even now such self-examination is rare in social science--indeed, it is often deemed seditious. Reformers and revisionists who question famous findings are subjected to personal and professional abuse from colleagues online and elsewhere.

Still, Carey insists, psychology is a science. It's just not a science in the way that other, fussier sciences are science. "The study of human behavior will never be as clean as physics or cardiology," he writes. "How could it be?" And of course those farfetched experiments aren't like real experiments. "Psychology's elaborate simulations are just that."

These are large concessions, but Carey doesn't seem to realize how subversive they are. Those "elaborate simulations" are held up by social scientists as experiments on a par with the controlled experiments of real science. We are told they re­-create the various circumstances that human beings find themselves in and react to. The only reason anyone pays attention to social psychology is that its findings are supposed to be widely, even universally, applicable, as the findings of the physical sciences are. Otherwise it's unlikely news outlets would hire reporters to write about social science.

Carey's defense of social psychology fits the current age. It is post-truth, as our public intellectuals like to say. "[Social psychology's] findings are far more accessible and personally relevant to the public than those in most other scientific fields," Carey writes. "The public's judgments matter to the field, too."

Okay, but are the findings true? Carey's answer is: Who cares? The headline over his piece summarizes the point. "Many famous studies of human behavior cannot be reproduced. Even so, they revealed aspects of our inner lives that feel true."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


The Art of the Possible (B.D. McClay, 6/28/18, Hedgehog Review)

A zero sum reality, in which every win is someone else's loss, exists in a constant state of crisis, and those who want to push back end up having no language other than the language of crisis to use, pitting one kind of existential threat against another. Immigration is a case in point: It threatens our sense of having limited, and dwindling, resources and space. This sense of crisis in turn justifies any means to contain immigration, with the principle being, as the president said recently, "I'm sorry, you can't come in." Sure, you have to separate families now, but that's the price of doing business.

Challenges to this position can either accept the essential terms ("yes, this is an existential threat, or at any rate feels like one") but try to implement the solutions more humanely ("#JailFamiliesTogether"). Or they will escalate the level on which the crisis occurs, making the creation of a border crisis a move in a larger, national crisis. Invoking crisis tries to draw attention to the ways in which our political reality is artificial, and can be changed, but only by representing that as an existential threat.

But because every crisis is existential, life-or-death, the capacity for political attention shrinks to just one struggle. And indeed, many of these issues are life or death, but not for the main players, for whom the struggle often about capturing attention and setting the rules. Whenever an issue is exhausted, or some minor victory is achieved, the next crisis starts.

The above is mostly an attempt to articulate--albeit in an abstract way--something that's nagging at me as I watch one political battle after another take place. I take most of the issues at stake here quite seriously; I don't believe it's a waste of time to dedicate attention, money, or thought to them. I don't decry the idea of politicization or polarization as such--it all depends, after all, on what the politics are, where the poles sit.

But what I resent about "reality," and the constant crisis generated thereby, is its foreclosing of imaginative possibility.

When W turns out to be a crypto-liberal (Conservative) and the UR to be a closet Republican (neo-liberal) the reality is we all win.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


What we know -- and don't know -- about the FBI investigation hanging over Andrew Gillum's campaign (Kirby Wilson, Jul. 20, 2018, Tampa Bay Times)

Here are three questions about the FBI's investigation into Tallahassee's city government and how it relates to Florida's governor's race.

1. What is Gillum's connection to the case?

Starting in 2015, FBI agents came to town posing as businessmen considering investments in the city of Tallahassee. The three men, who reportedly identified themselves as Mike Sweets, Mike Miller and Brian Butler, spent months cozying up to city officials and people close to them. The FBI investigation based in part on their undercover work has yielded several rounds of subpoenas -- but no charges yet.

A slew of Tallahassee officials and insiders have been named in those subpoenas over the past year. According to those documents, which you can read here, here and here, the part of the investigation that could be most relevant to Gillum centers around the city's community redevelopment agency, which steers private and public money to revitalization and infrastructure projects.

One of the officials in the crosshairs of the FBI, lobbyist Adam Corey, was a longtime Gillum friend and ally until Gillum cut ties with him last year the Tallahassee Democrat has reported.

In 2013, the community redevelopment agency voted to give $1.3 million in taxpayer money to help a Corey-associated restaurant project, the Edison. Gillum voted with the rest of his fellow city commissioners -- who sit on the CRA -- to fund of project. At the time, Gillum's vote raised eyebrows because of his close association with Corey. One year later, Corey served as the treasurer of Gillum's mayoral campaign.

According to the Democrat, Corey became close with Miller, reportedly introducing Gillum to the undercover agent sometime in 2016. One of the reported meetings between Corey, Gillum and Miller at the Edison in May of that year became a point of controversy when the Democrat reported that Corey scheduled the meeting while on vacation with Gillum and another city lobbyist in Costa Rica. Gillum has maintained he did not discuss business in Costa Rica; the trip was merely a vacation with longtime friends, he has said. Gillum also said he paid for his entire portion of the getaway.

Gillum also joined Corey and Miller in New York in August 2016 at the end of a business trip Gillum took in his capacity with the liberal People for the American Way Foundation. In an email inviting Gillum to meet up in New York, Corey noted that Miller had arranged hotel rooms, an outing to a Mets game and a boat trip to the Statue of Liberty, the Democrat reported. Gillum's group may also have attended a performance of the hit musical Hamilton. (Tallahassee Reports first reported Gillum's New York Trip.)

Gillum didn't confirm to the Democrat whether he attended the baseball game or the show, but there are pictures of the mayor and Corey on the boat ride. Gillum has said he didn't allow Miller to pay for any part of his trip to New York, and his office calendar from that time reportedly said he stayed at a different hotel.

So how do all of these pieces fit together?  Miller, the undercover agent, wanted the city to expand the jurisdiction of the community redevelopment agency to include a parcel of land Miller said he would develop. He solicited Corey's help to achieve that goal, and in 2016, the CRA -- of which Gillum is the chair -- voted unanimously to expand the jurisdiction. The good news for Gillum? The mayor wasn't present for that vote.

Those savvy Florida voters gave themselves a choice between a crook and a Nativist.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Why Are U.S. Bombs Killing Civilians in Yemen? (The Editorial Board, Aug. 28, 2018, NY Times)

A: Because they're Muslims

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Does $60,000 make you middle-class or wealthy on Planet Earth? (Heather Long and Leslie Shapiro, 8/20/18, Washington Post)

[A]fter thousands of years of most people on the planet living as serfs, as slaves or in other destitute scenarios, half the population now has the financial means to be able to do more than just try to survive.

"There was almost no middle class before the Industrial Revolution began in the 1830s," [Brookings Institution scholar Homi Kharas] said. "It was just royalty and peasants. Now we are about to have a majority middle-class world."

Today, the middle class totals about 3.7 billion people, Kharas says, or 48 percent of the world's population. An additional 190 million (2.5 percent) comprise the mega-rich. Together, the two groups make up a majority of humanity in 2018, a shift with wide-reaching consequences for the global economy -- and potential implications for the happiness of millions of people.

So how much money does it take to meet Kharas's definition of middle-class? It depends on where you live and, more precisely, on how expensive things are where you live. Kharas's definition takes into account the higher cost of meeting basic needs in places such as the United States, Western Europe and Japan than in much of the developing world.

In dollar terms, Kharas defines the global middle class as those who make $11 to $110 a day, or about $4,000 to $40,000 a year. Those are per-person numbers, so families with two parents and multiple children would need a lot more. It's a wide range, but remember that he adjusts the amounts by country to take into account how much people can buy with the money they earn. For example, earning $12,000 for a family of four in Indonesia would qualify for the global middle class, but it would not in the United States.

There are currently as many job openings as there are unemployed looking for work.  Go to any business strip and every food and retail business is hiring.  Take an unemployed couple and let the husband accept two 40-hour jobs and the wife one at the national average of $26k per year and the family income approaches $80k.  Being lower class is essentially a lifestyle choice.

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


The Man Who Used To Run Medicaid Has A New Idea To Make It Better (Michela Tindera, 8/29/18, Forbes)

Slavitt is pulling together the CEOs of 17 hospital systems around the country to commit to improving care for their Medicaid patients over the next two years in at least four areas: behavioral health, women and infant care, substance use disorder as well as aiming to reduce the number of preventable emergency department visits. The participating hospital systems serve over half of the country's Medicaid population across 21 states.

Many of the project's partners already have innovative programs in place to serve their Medicaid patients. For example, Geisinger Health System, which serves northeastern and central Pennsylvania, has something called a "Fresh Food Farmacy," where doctors can "prescribe" fresh fruits and vegetables to patients who have diabetes and identify as being food insecure. A larger issue though, Slavitt says, is getting these health systems to share that information with one another.
"When hotels started making WiFi free it quickly spread to every hotel. Or when banks made ATMs more available, or you could take a picture of your check and deposit it--those innovations don't stay proprietary for very long," Slavitt says. "Healthcare unfortunately doesn't work that way."

To improve that communication, Slavitt has partnered with Chicago-based digital health firm Avia, which will help implement and scale the digital efforts that these systems come up with. "The most important thing about this is to get these organizations to commit to say this is not about competition. It's improving health for everybody," Slavitt says.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


The U.S. is wrong about the Muslim Brotherhood -- and the Arab world is suffering for it (Jamal Khashoggi, August 28, 2018, Washington Post)

During the Obama presidency, the U.S. administration was wary of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had come to power in Egypt after the country's first-ever free elections. Despite his declared support for democracy and change in the Arab world in the wake of the Arab Spring, then-President Barack Obama did not take a strong position and reject the coup against President-elect Mohamed Morsi. The coup, as we know, led to the military's return to power in the largest Arab country -- along with tyranny, repression, corruption and mismanagement.

That is the conclusion that David D. Kirkpatrick arrives at in his excellent book "Into the Hands of the Soldiers," which was released this month. A former Cairo bureau chief for the New York Times, Kirkpatrick gives a sad account of Egypt's 2013 coup that led to the loss of a great opportunity to reform the entire Arab world and allow a historic change that might have freed the region from a thousand years of tyranny.

The United States's aversion to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is more apparent in the current Trump administration, is the root of a predicament across the entire Arab world. The eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing less than an abolition of democracy and a guarantee that Arabs will continue living under authoritarian and corrupt regimes. In turn, this will mean the continuation of the causes behind revolution, extremism and refugees -- all of which have affected the security of Europe and the rest of the world. 

W made the mistake in Palestine, the UR in Egypt. Donald just prefers that Muslims be ground under an iron heel.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


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Trump says White House Counsel Donald McGahn will leave his job in the fall (Robert Costa and Robert Barnes, August 29, 2018, Washington Post)

Trump's announcement of McGahn's departure came as a surprise, including to McGahn.

He was not aware that Trump planned to send the tweet before it posted, according to a person close to McGahn who was not authorized to speak publicly.

"He was surprised," this person said. While it had been an open secret inside the White House that McGahn planned to leave after Kavanaugh's confirmation process concludes, he had not discussed his plans directly with Trump, according to this person.

McGahn, who has told many friends that he has wearily endured countless political and legal battles, saw Trump's tweet as abrupt but typical of how the president acts -- and it did not make him angry, according to two people familiar with his reaction. His reaction was, "Of course it happened this way," one person said.

...he does have a means of discerning which guys will wait to be humiliated instead of resigning in disgust.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 1:15 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


The Flynn Tapes: A New Tell (Murray Waas, 8/28/18, NY Review of Books)

In early February 2017, a senior White House attorney, John Eisenberg, reviewed highly classified intelligence intercepts of telephone conversations between then-National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, which incontrovertibly demonstrated that Flynn had misled the FBI about those conversations, according to government records and two people with first-hand knowledge of the matter. It was after this information was relayed to President Trump that the president fired Flynn, and the following day allegedly pressured then-FBI Director James Comey to shut down a federal criminal investigation into whether Flynn had lied to the FBI.

Eisenberg reviewed the intercepts on or about February 2, 2017, according to confidential White House records and two former White House officials. Despite the fact that not only Eisenberg but presumably also other senior White House officials learned this information, they apparently took no immediate action. Only on February 8, 2017--after The Washington Post contacted the White House to say that it was about to publish a story about the intercepts showing that Flynn had lied about his conversations with Kislyak--did administration officials do anything. [...]
A former senior White House official, with first-hand knowledge of the matter, expressed disbelief at the inaction: "You have a White House lawyer learning that the national security adviser to the president of the Untied States has possibly lied--about his contacts with Russians--not only to his own White House, but also to the FBI, which is a potential felony, and nobody does anything?"

...they had to go tell a president and AG who were also lying about their contacts with the Russians so you can understand some reticence.

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


Why Putin's Russia Can't Grow: He's spent 18 years undermining what the country needs most: rule of law. (Mark Whitehouse, August 29, 2018, Bloomberg)

Oppressive governance and an aging population have left the economy with little capacity to grow, threatening a period of stagnation that could turn the people against him. Putin says he wants a breakthrough, yet the crucial conditions -- the sanctity of private property and personal freedom -- are precisely what he can't deliver: The Kremlin elite derive their wealth and position from violating them.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Trump's Mexico Trade Deal Looks Like a Lemon: Peer under the hood, and these auto rules pack less punch. (David Fickling  and Anjani Trivedi, August 28, 2018, Bloomberg)

[T]he small list of affected vehicles chimes with the equanimity with which the agreement is being greeted in Mexico.

About 70 percent of the country's light-vehicle exports to the U.S. would be compliant under the new rules, with the remaining 30 percent getting a five-year phase-in period running through 2024, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told a press conference Monday. Even those that fall short would only receive the usual tariff of 2.5 percent for cars and 25 percent for trucks -- levels that Volkswagen AG, Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp. and others consider worth paying on swathes of models in return for Mexico's drastically cheaper labor costs.

It's likely to be a similar story with Canada, which shouldn't be affected at all by the wage rules. "Canada should find it relatively simple to join the U.S.-Mexico consensus" and the agreement is a "fundamentally positive development" that should reduce perceptions of risks around Nafta, Brett House, deputy chief economist at Bank of Nova Scotia, wrote in a note after the announcement.

When we were growing up in the 'hood, we used to play kick-the-can for hours.  For whatever reason, we decided that instead of a can the game had to be played with a Red-eye.  But the kid who owned it was rather petulant about being "it" and would storm off with his Red-eye all the time. (Happily, two of his older brothers played and would beat him up and steal it back.)

Donald Trump is pretty much that kid.  As long as you pretend that he's winning he doesn't care about any actual achievement.   

Fortunately, his sycophants are only too eager to trumpet stuff like this and North Korea's elimination of nuclear weapons as world historical wins, so we get to avoid having him do much damage.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Why is Abbas staunchly opposed to a possible Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal? (ADAM RASGON, 8/29/18, Times of Israel)

While the parties have not agreed on final terms -- and there is no certainty that they will -- a number of reports have mentioned that such a deal would provide for the end of violence and tensions in the border region between Gaza and Israel for a set period of time, a significant easing of Israel's blockade on the Hamas-run Strip, and hundred of millions of dollars of investment in development projects in the territory.

Many Palestinians in Gaza, who have suffered through overwhelmingly inadequate hours of available electricity, excessively dirty drinking water, acutely high rates of unemployment and an overall dire humanitarian crisis, hope the possible agreement will come to fruition.

For Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, however, the prospect of a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is anything but desirable.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Defenders rally around pope, fear conservatives escalating war (Philip Pullella, 8/29/18, Reuters) 

In the statement published at the weekend, Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, called on Francis to resign on the grounds the pope knew for years about the sexual misconduct of an American cardinal and did nothing.

Vigano said he told the pope himself five years ago, little more than three months after Francis' election. He included no supporting documents in the statement, and has not been reachable for comment since it was published.

...that the Church, as an institution, is uninterested in ameliorating its problems with rampant sexual misconduct? Only the conservative reformers seem to care.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Putin tells Russians he is softening unpopular pension reform (Reuters, 8/29/18) 

President Vladimir Putin told Russians on Wednesday he had decided to dilute unpopular draft legislation to reform the pension system which has hurt his popularity, but said serious demographic challenges meant some kind of reform was necessary.

There's a reason no sensible person sees Russia as a strategic threat: it's dying poor.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


Iran's Parliament Gives President a Rare Rebuke (Richard Pérez-Peña, Aug. 28, 2018, NY Times)

Iran's Parliament summoned President Hassan Rouhani to answer questions on Tuesday about the country's economic crisis, and then voted to reject his explanation, in a remarkable rebuke of a sitting leader.

Mr. Rouhani blamed United States sanctions, not government management, for his country's troubles. But after he answered five questions about economic challenges like high unemployment and the collapsing value of the national currency, the rial, a majority of lawmakers voted that they were "not convinced" by four of his answers.

Elected by wide margins in 2013 and 2017, Mr. Rouhani is seen as a moderate in Iranian politics, and he campaigned on easing hostilities between his country and the West, and increasing economic opportunity. In 2015, his government struck a deal with the United States and other powers to give up elements of its nuclear program in return for the lifting of some sanctions.

But this year, President Trump withdrew the United States from that agreement and reimposed sanctions not only on Iran but also on companies doing business with the country. That has persuaded many European businesses to stay away from the Islamic republic, though their countries' governments still support the deal.

Saving the Republic means growing the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


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An Indian robotics startup wants to beat Amazon at warehouse automation (Kamalika Ghosh, 8/28/18, Quartz)

At the turn of the decade, two Indians engineering students founded GreyOrange to see if they could develop their college obsession with robotics into a full-blown venture.

Seven years later, the homegrown startup is all set to enter the US to test its robots against the biggest names in the business, including Kiva Systems, a pioneer in warehouse automation which was acquired by Amazon in 2012.

GreyOrange currently has two major offerings, Butler and Sorter. The former lifts heavy shelves and moves them around warehouses. The latter is a conveyor belt that sorts and arranges parcels by weight, size, and delivery location.

There are already at least 1,000 of these robots operating at 50 sites across the world.

Now, after creating a footprint in significant geographies like India, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Germany, GreyOrange is betting on deploying some 20,000 more robots in the US alone over the next three years.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Emails Link Former Homeland Security Official To White Nationalists: The emails show Ian M. Smith, who has resigned his position, to be connected to an incognito social scene that included white nationalist activists.   (ROSIE GRAY, AUG 28, 2018, The Atlantic)

The emails show that the official, Ian M. Smith, had in the past been in contact with a group that included known white nationalists as they planned various events.  On one of the email threads, the address of alt-right white nationalist leader Richard Spencer is included as well as Smith's. Another group of recipients includes Smith as well as Jared Taylor, the founder of the white nationalist publication American Renaissance, who calls himself a "white advocate."

The messages, given to The Atlantic by a source to whom they were forwarded, paint a picture of the social scene in which white nationalists gathered for an "Alt-Right Toastmasters" night in 2016, and organized dinner parties and visits from out-of-town friends. And they provide a glimpse into how a group that included hardcore white nationalists were able to operate relatively incognito in the wider world, particularly in conservative circles. The revelation of these messages comes amid increasing scrutiny of white nationalists' ties to the administration; a White House speechwriter named Darren Beattie left the administration after CNN reported earlier this month that he had attended a conference with white nationalists in 2016. The Washington Post reported last week that Peter Brimelow, the publisher of white nationalist website VDare, had attended a party at top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow's house.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


'I remember Pearl Harbor': Inside Trump's hot and cold relationship with Japan's prime minister (John Hudson and Josh Dawsey, August 28, 2018, Washington Post)

During a tense meeting at the White House in June, President Trump caught Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe off guard with a pointed remark.

"I remember Pearl Harbor," the president said, referring to the surprise attack that propelled the United States into World War II.

August 28, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Devin Nunes's Curious Trip to London (NATASHA BERTRAND, 8/28/18, The Atlantic)

According to two people familiar with his trip across the pond who requested anonymity to discuss the chairman's travels, Devin Nunes, a California Republican, was investigating, among other things, Steele's own service record and whether British authorities had known about his repeated contact with a U.S. Justice Department official named Bruce Ohr. To that end, Nunes requested meetings with the heads of three different British agencies--MI5, MI6, and the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. (Steele was an MI6 agent until a decade ago, and GCHQ, the United Kingdom's equivalent of the National Security Agency, was the first foreign-intelligence agency to pick up contacts between Trump associates and Russian agents in 2015, according to The Guardian.)

A U.K. security official, speaking on background, said "it is normal for U.K. intelligence agencies to have meetings with the chairman and members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence." But those meetings did not pan out--Nunes came away meeting only with the U.K.'s deputy national-security adviser, Madeleine Alessandri. The people familiar with his trip told me that officials at MI6, MI5, and GCHQ were wary of entertaining Nunes out of fear that he was "trying to stir up a controversy."

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


McCain's choice of Russian dissident as pallbearer is final dig at Putin, Trump (JOSH MEYER, 08/28/2018, Politico)

The choice of Kara-Murza, who says he has been poisoned twice, appears aimed at sending a last message to Putin and Trump, whom McCain had criticized for sounding too cozy with the Russian leader, amid an investigation into whether the U.S. president's allies cooperated with Moscow's efforts to intervene in the 2016 election.

For more than seven years, McCain and Kara-Murza had each other's backs as each criticized Putin and what they saw as his autocratic tendencies in Russia.

"We all knew this day was coming, but hoped against hope that it would not be coming so soon," Kara-Murza wrote of McCain's death in The Washington Post on Monday. "He was a true leader and a dear friend, and it will always be among the greatest blessings of my life to know him."

Officially, Kara-Murza, 36, who lives in the Washington area, is the vice chairman of the Open Russia movement and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, established in honor of the dissident political leader who, critics say, was assassinated in 2015 for his anti-corruption investigations into Putin.

Unofficially, with help from McCain, Kara-Murza has positioned himself as perhaps the biggest full-time thorn in Putin's side.

...if fellow pallbearer Warren Beatty hadn't romanticized the Russian Revolution the same way Vlad does.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Virtue Signaling (B.D. McClay, Summer 2018, The Hedgehog Review)

To what extent is "virtue signaling" a useful, or at least meaningful, phrase? That the desire to be thought of a certain way can preclude the desire to be a certain way, or at least complicates the latter, is certainly true. That sometimes people say and do things just to be seen saying and doing them is also true.

Take rich white parents who profess to believe in the importance of desegregation of schools but who send their own children to segregated-in-all-but-name schools. Both of these actions (the professed antiracism, the choice of school) involve signaling of a kind, since the name of the school you send your children to can sometimes carry more heft than the substance of their education. At the same time, choosing to send your children to an integrated school could also be understood to be a virtue signal--that you're so obsessed with appearing right-minded that you will make decisions that might penalize your children.

People being--for millennia, as the saying goes--social creatures, things begin to get muddy right around here. Anything can function as a signal, and to some extent does: the clothes you wear, your taste in books, the car you drive, the food you eat, the religion you practice, the organizations to which you give time and money, and so on. Unless you take great pains to make sure nobody ever sees you doing any of these things--which some people have been known to do--they're all information by which other people judge you.

In other words, maybe you like the novels of Leo Tolstoy because they're good; or maybe you like them because you've been told that's what smart people like, and you want to be thought of as smart. But most likely, your reaction is an inscrutable mixture of the two, because your taste doesn't exist in a vacuum but also is probably not purely developed for cynical reasons. And if every action you can take in a given situation can be a virtue signal--whether in accord with your principles or against them--then as a diagnostic tool, "virtue signaling" isn't very useful.

Like hypocrisy, virtue signaling should function as a reminder to people that what they say or write should be more than empty words. But more often it is a way of saying you don't need to listen to any words, because they're all empty. To signal virtue is bad if signaling overrides actual virtue; to borrow Robin Hanson's terms, one should say that X is, and ought to be, about Y. More often, however, the accusation of virtue signaling is a way of trying to avoid the question of whether X really is about Y by elevating motive over the content of beliefs.

It's no accident that this obsession with signaling flourishes in communities of online discontent, because signaling--in a very deliberate sense--is unavoidable in digital interactions. Everything you do online is conscious; it lacks the quality of offline life in this way. E-mails, tweets, and texts are deliberated over in way that doesn't admit of spontaneity. When you fill out a list of your favorite books for Facebook, you're aware of what that list says about you, and what emphasizing books (rather than movies or music) says about you. When you pick a profile picture, that's your face, unchangingly, for as long as you use it. When you fill out a dating profile, you're trying to pick attributes that represent you accurately but which will also attract a certain kind of person. You signal that you are your ideal person's ideal person.

The criticisms implicit in accusations of virtue signaling demand one sort of impossible purity of motive--the assurance that, if you performed this action in a total vacuum, it would be the same--then substitute another for it. If actions are unavoidably performed before others, and the way we think about them is shaped by our culture, then all actions can be understood to be only performative; you wouldn't do them if you had grown up in a different place with different parents and a different value system, and you wouldn't do them if you thought they'd diminish your status or your standing as a good person. But what "virtue signaling" can't admit into its framework, even though it should, is that most people act from mixed motives: They desire to do the right thing, and they also want people to think well of them.

From a societal standpoint, what is the difference between the virtuous person and the one who continually virtue-signals? It is that rigorously imposed conformity that has made our republic possible.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Republicans Push Back on Trump's Trade Gambit (HALEY BYRD, August 28, 2018, Weekly Standard)

The president threatened to leave Canada behind in renegotiating NAFTA. But lawmakers doubt he's allowed to do that.
Congressional Republicans disregarded President Donald Trump's announcement Monday that he would pursue a bilateral trade deal with Mexico unless Canadian negotiators quickly agree to a framework for an updated trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement, arguing that his plan may not even be possible due to procedural constraints.

"That would be almost impossible as it's been described to me," said Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson when asked about Trump's plan. "About all we can really do is fix NAFTA and keep it as a three-party agreement, which I think, first of all, we should want that."

It should be easy enough to pass a resolution declaring that NAFTA henceforth be referred to as the "Trump Super Duper Fair Trade Act that Stuck it to the Mexicans and Canadians"

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Only Latino Employee Resigns From Anti-Immigration Group Over Racial Slurs (Scott Bixby, 08.27.18, Daily Beast)

When Joe Gomez joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) as its sole Latino employee, he told friends that the anti-immigration organization's reputation as a hate group was unfounded.

But after enduring months of racist slurs, mockery of his medical condition and racialized abuse from FAIR's top management and executives, Gomez said, he filed a complaint with Washington D.C.'s Office of Human Rights. A copy of the complaint was provided to The Daily Beast.

"When I first joined, as hokey as it made sounds, I thought, 'they're FAIR --they're supposed to be fair!'" Gomez told The Daily Beast. "But based on my experience with that organization and what happened, I don't know, I think my opinion is beginning to change."


Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


The GOP Is Scared of Putting John McCain's Name on a Building Currently Named After a Segregationist (JIM NEWELL, AUG 28, 2018, Slate)

Richard Russell was a leader of segregationist Democrats who obstructed civil rights legislation for years. He was, as even his 76-year-old niece, Sally Russell, told the Washington Post, a racist. But he was also, she went on, "much more than that," citing his authorship of the National School Lunch Act, support for New Deal programs, and his leading voice in foreign affairs as longtime chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

...but the renaming should wait for Bob Dole's passing, a Senate leader who actually passed a ton of significant legislation.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Slow Burn is an engrossing podcast that brings the Watergate scandal to life (Andrew Liptak,  Apr 8, 2018, The Verge)

Nixon famously resigned as president in 1974 -- the only president to do so in American history -- after being connected to a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. While most people know how the story ends, fewer are familiar with the twists and turns of the four-year journey from the break-in to Nixon stepping down.

That's the topic of Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate that takes a deep dive into what caused Nixon's unprecedented resignation from the Oval Office. Over the course of eight episodes (as well as a series of subscriber-only bonus episodes), Slate staff writer Leon Neyfakh takes a closer look at the state of the country as the crisis unfolded. He also spotlights the role of both central figures, like the journalists who covered the scandal, and lesser known characters like Martha Mitchell, the wife of John N. Mitchell, the former US attorney general and chair of Nixon's reelection committee.

While Nixon's resignation now feels as though it was the logical, natural outcome, Neyfakh paints a far different picture of the four years that followed the Watergate break-in. The efforts to investigate and impeach the president faced almost insurmountable obstacles --including Nixon trying to shut down the investigation while firing people -- which have taken on a new resonance in 2018.

Listened to the first 5 episodes today and it's terrific.  There are so many parallels to today it's spooky. But much of the drama is just the eternal partisan conflict.  There's one hilarious bit that Mr. Neyfakh doesn't even seem to notice.  In episode four the Democratic staffers prepare John Dean to testify, rehearsing him for optimal effect.  Then in episode five, a Democratic staffer complains that Republican senators had received talking point from the White House for their Dean interrogation and this seems to him to reveal their unique partisanship.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Lawyer tries Trump argument that flippers should be outlawed (LARRY NEUMEISTER, Aug 28, 2018, AP) 

A New York defense lawyer wasted no time in trying to use President Donald Trump's argument that cooperators, or flippers, in criminal cases "almost ought to be illegal."

Kafahni Nkrumah didn't get very far in his closing argument Thursday when he tried to bring up Trump's statement to disparage a cooperator who was testifying against his client in a drug case. A judge disallowed it, calling the attempt "out of line."

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Jerry Falwell Jr. Urges Trump to Fire Sessions (Ed Kilgore, 8/28/18, New York)

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


Elizabeth Warren's Theory of Capitalism: A conversation with the Democratic senator about why she's doubling down on market competition at a moment when her party is flirting with socialism. (FRANKLIN FOER, 8/28/18, The Atlantic)

When I heard Warren speak about the crisis in capitalism, I asked to sit down with her to explore her theory of the case. I interviewed her in her Washington, D.C., office. The transcript of our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.

Franklin Foer: All the investment bankers who have voodoo dolls of you might be a bit surprised that you recently described yourself as "capitalist to the bone." What did you mean?

Elizabeth Warren: I believe in markets and the benefits they can produce when they work. Markets with rules can produce enormous value. So much of the work I have done--the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, my hearing-aid bill--are about making markets work for people, not making markets work for a handful of companies that scrape all the value off to themselves. I believe in competition.

Foer: To what end?

Warren: Markets create wealth. [....]

Foer: But markets right now are doing a good job of producing wealth. Yes?

Warren: Right.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


Jeremy Corbyn and the English Fetishization of Irony (Rebecca Mead, August 27, 2018, The New Yorker)

Whatever else the remarks indicate about Corbyn's character, they certainly reveal that he adheres to a widespread English fetishization of irony. The English investment in irony can hardly be overstated, which is why suggesting that an individual, or a community, might be incapable of appreciating it is especially damning. Irony is to the English what self-reliance is to Americans, or what linguistic cultivation is to the French: a core value often elevated to the status of myth. One might say that the English take pride in their sense of irony, though pride is not quite the right word for the national commitment to a mode of discourse that depends so entirely upon understatement. The belief that English irony, or the English sense of humor more broadly, amounts to an intangible national treasure is widespread. It is common to the point of cliché for English expats to list the national sense of humor among those aspects of life they most miss, along with Radio 4 and a decent cup of tea.

What, then, characterizes English irony? In one sense, it is the habit of saying one thing when meaning its opposite. But English irony does not merely depend upon reversal for its effect; it also depends heavily upon deflation, of oneself or of others. English irony, when effectively deployed, is what English pomposity looks like after being pricked with a pin. It was a triumph of English irony when, a couple of years ago, the National Environmental Research Council invited members of the public to name a twenty-million-pound polar-exploration ship, and the overwhelming winner was "Boaty McBoatface." (Officials rejected the name in favor of the R.R.S. Sir David Attenborough, named for the naturalist and broadcaster.) Similarly, the personal ads in the London Review of Books turn irony into a minor art form, with would-be romantic partners competing with ever more outlandish displays of self-deprecation, describing themselves as "Sinister-looking man with a face that only a mother would love," or "Woman, 24, inherited her mother's unreasonable and utterly unfounded nostalgia (and her father's hirsute back)."

In the London Review of Books personals, the wounding quality that is so often present in English irony is turned inward, to the point that self-loathing is so acute it becomes a form of self-love. (I may be ugly, but look how clever I am.) Often, though, the violence of irony is turned outward. The British playwright David Hare, in the notes to his play "Plenty," writes that, when foreign actors ask him why a character behaves in a certain way, he believes it is sufficient to reply, "Because you are English." Hare goes on, "Irony is central to English humor, and as a people we are cruel to each other, but quietly." In this sense, Corbyn's charge that some people "don't understand English irony" participates in a ratcheting up of cruelty in the name of humor. The next step beyond hurting an individual or a group with a joke at their expense is to insist that their pain, far from being a justified response to verbal violence, is a symptom of deficiency on their part. The charge that a person lacks a sense of humor is a familiar bully's tactic. Women in particular will recognize that the phrase "Can't you take a joke?" is an expression of menace, not an invitation to share a laugh.

Above all else, the English valorization of irony participates in the English aversion to anything approaching earnestness. For a newspaper reviewer, for example, to describe the work of an author as painfully or overly earnest is to deliver a critique as withering as it is ineluctable: the author who has actually committed the transgression of earnestness is unable to dismiss the accusation with an ironical shrug. Irony requires a scrupulously refined emotional detachment. It is what the English have instead of therapy. (Irony's counterpart, in the English context, is sentimentality, and, given enough drinks, any Englishman will morph from acidulous detachment to maudlin deliquescence.) To be able to maintain an ironical approach to life means avoiding a more passionately committed or passionately expressive one. It means arming oneself in advance against the possibility of pain or disappointment, by building pain and disappointment into one's emotional default. Irony is resignation in jester's clothing.

No other posture is possible for the reasonable man after Hume.  

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Online Bettors Can Sniff Out Weak Psychology Studies: So why can't the journals that publish them? (ED YONG, AUG 27, 2018, The Atlantic)

[W]hy is it that scientists seem to be remarkably good at predicting which studies in psychology and other social sciences will replicate, and which will not?

Consider the new results from the Social Sciences Replication Project, in which 24 researchers attempted to replicate social-science studies published between 2010 and 2015 in Nature and Science--the world's top two scientific journals. The replicators ran much bigger versions of the original studies, recruiting around five times as many volunteers as before. They did all their work in the open, and ran their plans past the teams behind the original experiments. And ultimately, they could only reproduce the results of 13 out of 21 studies--62 percent.

As it turned out, that finding was entirely predictable. While the SSRP team was doing their experimental re-runs, they also ran a "prediction market"--a stock exchange in which volunteers could buy or sell "shares" in the 21 studies, based on how reproducible they seemed. They recruited 206 volunteers--a mix of psychologists and economists, students and professors, none of whom were involved in the SSRP itself. Each started with $100 and could earn more by correctly betting on studies that eventually panned out.

At the start of the market, shares for every study cost $0.50 each. As trading continued, those prices soared and dipped depending on the traders' activities. And after two weeks, the final price reflected the traders' collective view on the odds that each study would successfully replicate. So, for example, a stock price of $0.87 would mean a study had an 87 percent chance of replicating. Overall, the traders thought that studies in the market would replicate 63 percent of the time--a figure that was uncannily close to the actual 62-percent success rate.

The traders' instincts were also unfailingly sound when it came to individual studies.

This is what should be done with all government reports, particularly predictive ones.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


The populist revolt against trade liberalization is over. Trump killed it. (Daniel Drezner, August 27, 2018, Washington Post)

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has completed its 2018 survey on American attitudes toward trade (full disclosure: I serve on board of advisers for the Chicago Council survey), and a funny thing happened to U.S. opinions on the subject. As Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura write in their latest policy brief, Americans love trade way more than they love Trump:

While recent polls show that American views of President Trump's performance on trade are divided along partisan affiliations, the just-completed 2018 Chicago Council Survey finds that the largest majorities of Americans yet recorded say that trade is good for the US economy, US consumers, and US job creation. In addition, a growing majority believe that NAFTA is good for the US economy, and six in ten approve of US participation in a renewed Trans-Pacific trade agreement.

The highest percentages ever registered in this survey (since 2004) say that trade is good for the US economy (82%), good for consumers like you (85%), and good for creating jobs in the US (67%).

These findings are consistent with other recent surveys showing popular enthusiasm for trade and inconsistent with the pundit narrative about American hostility toward it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Trump is rage-googling himself, and he doesn't like what he's found (Peter Weber, 8/28/18, The Week)

President Trump said on Twitter early Tuesday that he had typed his name into Google and was dismayed with what he saw, suggesting that the lack of good news about him at the top of the search engine's results is "rigged" and might be "illegal."

...though much of the bad news is a function of his criminal behavior, there's also much driven by bad policy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Air pollution causes 'huge' reduction in intelligence, study reveals (Damian Carrington and Lily Kuo, 27 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

Air pollution causes a "huge" reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health.

The research was conducted in China but is relevant across the world, with 95% of the global population breathing unsafe air. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person's education.

"Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge," said Xi Chen at Yale School of Public Health in the US, a member of the research team. "But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education."

Maybe those who advocate polluting more are just trying to level the playing field?

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Intelligence experts accuse Cambridge forum of Kremlin links (Sam Jones, DECEMBER 16, 2016, Financial Times)

A group of intelligence experts, including a former head of MI6, has cut ties with fellow academics at Cambridge university, in a varsity spy scare harking back to the heyday of Soviet espionage at the heart of the British establishment.

Sir Richard Dearlove, the ex-chief of the Secret Intelligence Service and former master of Pembroke college, Stefan Halper, a senior foreign policy adviser at the White House to presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, and Peter Martland, a leading espionage historian, have resigned as conveners of the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar -- an academic forum for former practitioners and current researchers of western spycraft -- because of concerns over what they fear could be a Kremlin-backed operation to compromise the group.

Mr Halper said he had stepped down due to "unacceptable Russian influence on the group". [...]

Sir Richard and his colleagues suspect that Veruscript -- a newly established digital publishing house that has provided funding to set up a new journal of intelligence and to cover some of the seminar's costs -- may be acting as a front for the Russian intelligence services.

They fear that Russia may be seeking to use the seminar as an impeccably-credentialed platform to covertly steer debate and opinion on high-level sensitive defence and security topics, two people familiar with their thinking said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Poll: Cruz leads O'Rourke by 1 point in Texas Senate race (JUSTIN WISE, 08/27/18, The Hill)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) leads his Democratic challenger, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, by just 1 point in their Texas Senate race, well within the margin of error of a new poll from Emerson College. 

The survey, which was released on Monday, found that Cruz leads O'Rourke 38 to 37 percent. Four percent of voters favor a different candidate and 21 percent remain undecided.  [...]

O'Rourke leads Cruz among voters in the 18-34 and 35-54 age ranges. On the other hand, Cruz has the advantage among voters between 55 and 74 and over the age of 75. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


'A truth which must not be spoken': what's really happening to prices (Ross Gittins, 28 August 2018, The Age)

Last week Reserve Bank deputy governor Dr Guy Debelle gave a speech which departed from the official talking points and revealed a truth which must not be spoken: the digital revolution is squeezing many retailers' profit margins and forcing them to cut costs so rising prices don't cost them customers.

Debelle says that, since 2015, the price of the typical food basket (excluding fruit and veg, and meals out and takeaway) has actually fallen a fraction. Fruit and vegetable prices have risen, but by only a third of their average rate over the past 25 years.

The prices of alcoholic drinks have risen more slowly since 2015, and non-alcoholic drink prices have fallen a bit.

The prices of consumer durable items, including fridges and furniture, have been falling since 2015, meaning they've hardly increased over the past 25 years.

The prices of audio-visual equipment - including TVs, computers and phones - have fallen significantly over the past 25 years and particularly the past three.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


In Defending Trump, Is Giuliani a Shrewd Tactician or 'Untethered'? (Dan Barry, Benjamin Weiser and Alan Feuer, Aug. 27, 2018, NY Times)

All of this has played out while Mr. Giuliani's private life has been in upheaval. His third wife, Judith Giuliani, recently filed for divorce.

According to a statement issued by her lawyer, Bernard Clair, Ms. Giuliani "prefers to maintain her silence about the reasons for her filing and the causes behind the behavioral changes of her husband that have become obvious to even his most ardent supporters."

August 27, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Trump Admin: President Trump Intervened in Plan to Rebuild FBI HQ Across From Trump Hotel (Colin Kalmbacher, August 27th, 2018, Law & Crime)

The General Services Administration's (GSA) inspector general just released a report which claims that President Donald Trump personally took part in discussions regarding the rebuilding of the FBI's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Coming in at 36 pages, the report authored by GSA Inspector General (IG) Carol Fortine Ochoa stands in stark contrast to previous statements from the Trump administration about the FBI headquarters project. [...]

The upshot here is that the Trump administration appears to have misled Congress about the White House's involvement in an abrupt change to longstanding FBI plans. 

..."never trust an inspector general!"

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Florida shooting suspect had history of mental illness (MICHAEL BIESECKER and DAVID MCFADDEN, 8/27/18, AP)

The suspect in a deadly shooting at a Florida video game tournament had previously been hospitalized for mental illness, according to court records in his home state of Maryland reviewed by The Associated Press.

Divorce filings from the parents of 24-year-old David Katz of Baltimore say that as an adolescent he was twice hospitalized in psychiatric facilities and that he was prescribed antipsychotic and antidepressant medications. [...]

Federal law requires gun buyers to disclose whether they have ever been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. Maryland state law also prohibits the sale or transfer of a gun to someone who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder or who has a history of violent behavior.

In recent weeks, Katz legally purchased the two handguns he carried from a gun store in Baltimore, the sheriff said. One of the weapons was equipped with a laser sight that paints the intended target with a glowing red dot.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Corbyn and Netanyahu, Together at Last (Noah Berlatsky, 8/27/18, Splice)

Calling out any Zionists for being aliens and foreigners in their own country activates the history of anti-Semitic stereotypes. Whatever his intentions, Corbyn attacked Zionists as Jews. He insults them not for their ideas, but for their lack of true English character, and inability to assimilate. That's anti-Semitic.

It also plays directly into Zionist talking points that undermine Corbyn's supposed commitment to Palestinian rights. Netanyahu's hard-right conservative government in Israel does exactly what Corbyn did here--conflate Zionists with Jewish people, and suggest that both are only truly at home in Israel.

Netanyahu's government passed a law last month affirming that Israeli national identity is specifically Jewish; a measure that seems designed to turn non-Jewish Israelis into second-class citizens. Netanyahu has enthusiastically embraced the Trump administration, including figures like Steve Bannon with connections to the virulently anti-Semitic alt-right. For Netanyahu, Israel's interests are Jewish interests, and someone like Bannon, who supports Israel oppression of the Palestinians, can't be anti-Semitic no matter what he says about, or does to, Jewish people in the diaspora. Corbyn and Netanyahu agree; the core of Jewish identity is Israel.

This is a lie. Many Jewish people support Palestinian rights and oppose Netanyahu's government. Many Jewish people don't care about, or think that much about Israel. Conversely, the most influential Zionists in the United States, and therefore in the world outside Israel, aren't Jewish. They're American evangelicals and imperialist Islamophobes who support Israel because of its supposed role in the endtimes, and/or because they see it as a geopolitical ally.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM

SO YOU'RE SAYING, YOU LIKE TO WATCH? (degeneracy alert):

What Donald Trump was up to while John McCain was a prisoner of war (Michael E. Miller & Fred Barbash, July 20, 2015, Washington Post)

Several years later, Trump was frequenting "Studio 54 in the disco's heyday and he said he thought it was paradise," Timothy O'Brien wrote in "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald." "His prowling gear at the time included a burgundy suit with matching patent-leather shoes," O'Brien wrote.

"I saw things happening there that to this day, I have never seen again," Trump told O'Brien. "I would watch supermodels getting [****]ed, well-known supermodels getting [****]ed on a bench in the middle of the room. There were seven of them and each one was getting [****]ed by a different guy. This was in the middle of the room."

Moving Mr. Steele ever closer to 100%....

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


The End of Theoretical Physics As We Know It (Sabine Hossenfelder, August 27, 2018, Quanta)

[T]heoretical physics now has many subdisciplines dedicated to computer simulations of real-world systems, studies that would just not be possible any other way. Computer simulations are what we now use to study the formation of galaxies and supergalactic structures, to calculate the masses of particles that are composed of several quarks, to find out what goes on in the collision of large atomic nuclei, and to understand solar cycles, to name but a few areas of research that are mainly computer based.

The next step of this shift away from purely mathematical modeling is already on the way: Physicists now custom design laboratory systems that stand in for other systems which they want to better understand. They observe the simulated system in the lab to draw conclusions about, and make predictions for, the system it represents.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Whittaker Chambers and the Crisis of American Conservatism (GREG FORSTER, 8/08/18, Law & Liberty)

In his political thought, one of Chambers' organizing principles is the "crisis of history." The economic and technological development of the modern world have brought an end to older, agrarian ways of life and their traditions. These traditions told people what the meaning and purpose of their lives was. Now, we have to figure out the meaning of life for ourselves, and we have not developed the necessary moral and spiritual maturity to do so.

This is the real problem that lies behind all the obvious problems of the modern world: world wars, tyrannical oppression, alienation, poverty in the midst of plenty, etc. People are drawn to totalitarianism - to fascism and communism, and today we could add religious extremism - because they are driven to desperation in seeking answers to these urgent problems. The true answer, that our own moral failure is the underlying problem, is one we never want to accept. Hence totalitarianism, which identifies blameable enemies and promises to cure the ills of the modern world, is itself one of the ills of the modern world, and probably always will be.

Chambers points out, to our intense discomfort, that the real power of communism is that it forces to the surface what has always been the basic, subterranean question of human life: "God, or Man?" He does not mean the merely philosophical question of whether God exists. He means the practical question of who controls our destiny.

If we believe that the destiny of man is in the hands of man, it follows logically that all solutions for human problems must come from the mind and power of man. The human mind is in control of the universe, to the extent that anything is. If there are to be solutions to the catastrophic problems of world war, oppression and continuing poverty in a world of breathtaking growth, the Almighty Mind of Man must invent them on its own, and then impose them upon a recalcitrant world.

Such undertakings are sometimes successful at first, but are doomed in the long run. The lives and freedoms of a few people, or a few million people, or even a few hundred million people, inevitably pale to insignificance compared to the salvation of the whole human race. Sooner or later, if our answer is "Man" rather than "God," we are going to start lying, cheating and stealing, and eventually torturing and murdering on a mass scale. To commit the crimes of history in order to deliver all future humanity from the crimes of history is the greatest sacrifice the devotee of Man can make to his cause.

The communist East, Chambers wrote, has chosen "Man" and has the courage of that conviction. The capitalist West has also chosen "Man," but is haunted by the specter of its Christian past. That is why the West is in crisis; that is why the world is in crisis.

As Chambers said, without God, man cannot organize the world for man. Without God, man can only organize the world against man. Some higher power must restrain us, or else we will not be restrained.

Chambers' witness against communism, and his withering diagnosis of the spiritual emptiness of the American establishment that failed to take the communist threat seriously, is not nearly as familiar as it ought to be. Even conservatives have largely forgotten Witness at this point, even though the cruel and shameful mistreatment of Chambers at the hands of the American establishment used to be one of the key origin stories of the movement. But Chambers' critique of conservatism itself isn't just neglected; it never really became well-known in the first place. [...]

[B]uckley and the conservatives forced Chambers to recognize that human freedom - his core political concern - required openness to technological and economic development.

Chambers wrote to Buckley: "I have decided that the machine is not the enemy." And this concession, which the conservatives had forced him to make, became the starting point of his critique of conservatism.

The whole conservative project, Chambers showed, rested on the assumption that our society's old, traditional moral and religious structure would continue unchanged by default, as long as overweening Big Government stayed out of the way. But the technological and economic development welcomed by economic conservatism must permanently destabilize the institutions that undergird the moral norms and religious sensibilities demanded by social conservatism. What is primarily needed to meet the crisis of history is not the mere conservation of old moral and religious institutions, but a continual reform and redesign of those institutions. Not a continual reform in the vain pursuit of progress on human terms, but a continual reform to manifest the justice and mercy of the eternal and transcendent God in a world being constantly remade by technological and economic development.

The idea of a potentially fatal tension between economic liberalism and social conservatism is, of course, a familiar line of attack on conservatism. What makes Chambers' version so much more incisive is that it lays aside the secondary issues and cuts to the heart of the issue: the relationship between God and social institutions. If our commitment to God and his holy love for an unholy human race is to remain unchanged, then our moral and religious institutions must change constantly.

One of the clearest signs of a subtle mind is the ability to distinguish things without separating them. Chambers neither identifies God with moral and religious institutions, as social conservatives tend to do; nor tries to have God without moral and religious institutions, as certain liberal, modernizing religious people try to do; nor tries to have morality without God, as secularists (including secular conservatives) strive vainly to do. We must have both God and institutions, yet they are not the same thing, and it requires constant struggle and constant reform to keep them aligned.

Conservatives and liberals are united most by that willingness to reform our institutions.  Left and Right are united in the desire to destroy them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


What on Earth is Obama doing? (Ryan Cooper, August 27, 2018, The Week)

What's been most striking about this political re-entry is its profound worthlessness.

Exhibit A is the list of people he snubbed in his endorsements. He did not endorse Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York's 14th Congressional District, nor Democratic senators facing tough elections battles like Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), or Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). To be fair, his blessing might not be of that much use for those senators, and Ocasio-Cortez is safe in a deep-blue district.

But that is not true of Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP who is in a tight race for the Maryland governorship and whom Obama pointedly didn't endorse.

Down by 16 points in the latest poll this month, Jealous could badly use Obama's help. His Republican opponent, Larry Hogan, is popular. Jealous is betting on winning by stoking lefty enthusiasm with progressive policy and populist rhetoric about economic and social justice. As a result, he is facing near-mutiny from wealthy Maryland liberals, a great many of whom are in favor of social justice if and only if it does not deduct one single cent from their personal pocketbooks.

There's an argument to be made that this was a political miscalculation, and it's possible that Jealous could lose on that basis. But that argument was hashed out in the Maryland primary, and Jealous was the victor. The way the Democratic Party is advertised to work is that internal decisions about the party's political orientation will be decided in the primaries, and then all party factions will unite behind whoever wins.

What's more, Obama is enormously popular among wealthy liberals, and among the African-American voters of Maryland (which has the fourth-highest percentage of black residents of all states, just slightly behind Georgia). If anyone could swoop in and get Maryland Democrats to focus on the greater goal of ousting the Republican enemy, it is him. 

When you think Larry Hogan is the enemy, you aren't likely to get the UR.

Marylanders are more liberal than Gov. Hogan. But they like him anyway. (Robert McCartney, Emily Guskin, Rachel Chason, 6/6/18, Washington Post)

As Hogan prepares to run for reelection in November, the poll results highlight his success in retaining widespread support in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1.

Seventy-one percent approve of Hogan's overall job performance, tying his previous record and nine points higher than for any other Maryland governor since the late 1990s. He is unopposed in the June 26 primary and leads potential Democratic challengers by margins of between 10 and 24 percentage points.

"The support for Hogan really suggests that people are paying attention to what's happening on the ground and not just reverting to their partisan identification, at least at this point," said Michael J. Hanmer, research director of the University of Maryland's Center for American Politics and Citizenship, which conducted the poll with The Post.
The survey also finds that Hogan's efforts to keep his distance from President Trump have not hurt his standing with his Republican base. In fact, the governor's 97 percent approval rating among Maryland GOP voters far exceeds Trump's 75 percent mark for that group.

Hogan's strongest area of overall support is his handling of the economy, which Marylanders approve by a margin of nearly 3 to 1. The state gained more than 100,000 non-farm jobs during his first three years in office, aided by a robust national economy.

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Bruce Ohr Fought Russian Organized Crime. Now He's a Target of Trump. (Adam Goldman and Katie Benner, Aug. 27, 2018, NY Times)

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Mr. Ohr joined the Justice Department in 1991 from a law firm in San Francisco. As a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, he twice won top awards and rose to be chief of the district's violent gangs unit.

He had a knack for managing people and pushing cases forward, former associates said, which helped propel him to a job at the Justice Department in Washington in 1999 as the head of the organized crime and racketeering section. He provided the F.B.I. with resources to prosecute cases and navigated relationships with the intelligence community, brokering disputes and earning the respect of the F.B.I. and prosecutors.

As oligarchs and gangs flourished in Eurasia after the fall of the Soviet Union, Mr. Ohr, his deputies, the F.B.I. and federal prosecutors tackled Russian crime syndicates, said J. Kenneth Lowrie, a former federal prosecutor who was Mr. Ohr's longtime deputy.

"Until 9/11, organized crime was one of the main priority criminal programs at the Justice Department," said Mr. Lowrie, who retired in 2008. "Russian organized crime was a focus. Bruce knew a lot of the Russia stuff and traveled there."

Mr. Ohr's section supported the 2000 prosecution of Pavlo Lazarenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine, who was convicted of money laundering, wire fraud and extortion in a case brought by the office of the United States attorney in San Francisco at the time, Robert S. Mueller III, who is now the special counsel.

Also under Mr. Ohr's oversight, a Russian crime boss, Semion Mogilevich, was indicted in 2003 on charges of defrauding a company outside of Philadelphia out of $150 million. The case made headlines and laid the groundwork for Justice Department efforts to combat Russian organized crime overseas. [...]

Mr. Ohr was a manager, not a litigator, who built bridges with law enforcement agencies around the world, former Justice Department officials said. He sent top deputies to Hungary to root out the nascent Russian mob in the early 2000s. F.B.I. agents viewed the commitment as a sign of his seriousness about combating Russian organized crime.

In 2006, Mr. Ohr was part of a group of government officials who revoked the visa of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire and aluminum magnate. Officials were concerned that Mr. Deripaska might try to come to the United States to launder illicit profits through real estate, a former law enforcement official said.

Mr. Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, has been tied to the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted last week of tax and bank fraud. In 2016, Mr. Manafort offered private campaign briefings to Mr. Deripaska, raising concerns about the prospect of Russians wielding influence inside the White House. In April, the United States imposed sanctions on Mr. Deripaska.

In 2007, Mr. Ohr met Mr. Steele, who was still with MI-6, the British spy service, according to a former senior American law enforcement official who knows both men. Both governments approved their contacts, the former official said.

Mr. Ohr moved on to other senior jobs, starting in 2010 as counsel for international relations in the Justice Department's transnational organized crime and international affairs section, where he bolstered partnerships with foreign law enforcement agencies. In 2014, he became the director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, distributing grant money to bolster prosecutorial work.

He stayed in touch with Mr. Steele, meeting him in Rome in 2014 and in Washington in 2015.

For the F.B.I., their relationship would come in handy. A longtime informant who provided valuable tips on corruption, Mr. Steele violated his confidentiality agreement with the F.B.I. when he disclosed to a reporter in the months before the 2016 election that he had been working with the bureau. He had expressed frustration that his information about Mr. Trump, gathered for Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired him on behalf of Democrats to research the candidate, had gone seemingly nowhere in the F.B.I.

In early November 2016, the agent handling Mr. Steele told him not to obtain intelligence "on behalf of the F.B.I."

That did not stop F.B.I. agents from collecting coveted information from Mr. Steele. While the F.B.I. could no longer considered him a confidential informant, former officials said, agents eager to assess the dossier as part of their counterintelligence investigation into links between Trump associates and Russia's election interference could still document what he was telling a third party -- Mr. Ohr.

And when Mr. Ohr approached the F.B.I. about his relationship with Mr. Steele, bureau officials saw an opportunity.

Mr. Ohr met with Mr. Steele almost a dozen times beginning in late 2016 through May 2017, according to congressional officials. F.B.I. agents interviewed Mr. Ohr after the meetings and documented the information. [...]

[T]he arrangement was not unusual, former law enforcement officials said. Senior F.B.I. officials were aware of the Steele meetings and those involved followed internal guidelines, a former official said.

Mr. Ohr's contacts with Mr. Steele were one small part of a broader effort to determine whether the allegations in the dossier were true, a former official said. The F.B.I. also did not have all the reports that Mr. Steele had produced and agents were keen to get them.'s various government agencies working together to prosecute criminals.

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Preliminary Nafta Deal Reached Between U.S. and Mexico (Ana Swanson and Katie Rogers, Aug. 27, 2018, NY Times)

"They used to call it Nafta," Mr. Trump said. "We're going to call it the United States Mexico Trade Agreement," adding that the term Nafta had "a bad connotation" for the United States, which he said had been taken advantage of by the trade deal.

...and he'd sign a National Health bill.

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George Walker, Trailblazing American Composer, Dies At 96 (TOM HUIZENGA, 8/24/18, NPR)

"His music is always characterized by a great sense of dignity, which is how he always comported himself," says composer Jeffrey Mumford, who, as a music professor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, uses examples of Walker's music in his classes. "His style evolved over the years; his earlier works, some written while still a student, embodied an impressive clarity and elegance."

Walker was a trailblazing man of "firsts," and not just because of the Pulitzer. In the year 1945 alone, he was the first African-American pianist to play a recital at New York's Town Hall, the first black instrumentalist to play solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the first black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

The following year, Walker wrote his first string quartet. In 1990, he revised the second movement into a new piece, Lyric for Strings, which has become his most often-performed work.

In 1996, Walker broke new ground again when he became the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. Lilacs for voice and orchestra, set to a text by Walt Whitman, is a moving meditation on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

George Theophilus Walker was born June 27, 1922 in Washington, D.C. to a father from the West Indies and a mother who started him off with piano lessons at age five. At 14, Walker gave his first public recital at Washington's Howard University. In 1937, he entered Oberlin College in Ohio on a scholarship and graduated at age 18. He then enrolled at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied piano with Rudolf Serkin and composition with Samuel Barber, graduating in 1945. In the late 1950s, he traveled to Paris to study for two years with the famous pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. (Her other students ranged from Aaron Copland to Quincy Jones.)

Mumford likes to recall a story about Walker's Paris years with Boulanger. "She was so impressed with his musicianship that she waived the regular requirements she made of students," Mumford says. "He could bring anything he wanted to show her at lessons."

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A Weekend Trip to a Baker's Paradise in Vermont (Nikkitha Bakshani, August 24, 2018, Food52)

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Trump owns a shrinking Republican party (Elaine Kamarck, Alexander R. Podkul, and Nicholas W. Zeppos, June 14, 2018, Brookings)

For the Democrats, party identification peaked in Obama's first term and then dropped in his second term. For Republicans, party identification took a sharp drop at the end of George W. Bush's second term and never really recovered. The trend seems to have taken another drop after Trump's election.

How can we explain what looks to be a long-term decline for the Republican brand? Age, for one thing. From the beginning of the Trump administration the oldest Americans, those aged 50 and over, have consistently given Trump his highest approval ratings while young people aged 18-29 have consistently given him his lowest approval ratings. The chart below by David A. Hopkins of Boston College illustrates this reality. The generation gap keeps showing up in American elections. In the two big governors' races in 2017, Virginia and New Jersey, younger voters chose Democrats by large margins and older voters went for the Republicans. In 2016, Primaries Project exit polling showed that 15.2 percent of Democratic voters participating in competitive primaries were aged 18-29, compared to just 8.3 percent of Republican voters.

A political party that can't attract young people, especially in a generation that is as big as the Millennial generation--America's largest demographic group--is not a party with a very bright future. So although Trump, while focusing on the base, has made the Republican Party his, come November it may not be as much of an advantage.

...but old white men seems short-sighted.  But some substantial cohort of that group decided a decade ago that it was preferable to sharing the party with the others.

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Mike Cernovich steps into the U.S. Senate race in Arizona. A 'gonzo thing,' he says. (Avi Selk, August 25, 2018, Washington Post)

Midway through her statewide bus tour, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward alights at a desert shooting range and spends a few minutes firing an AR-15 for the benefit of several dozen supporters, volunteers and news crews in her entourage.

Her newly minted campaign surrogate, the professional conspirator and far right Internet presence Mike Cernovich, is on the other side of a clearing -- about as far from Ward's photo op as he can be without actually abandoning the event.

Between volleys of gunfire, he tries to explain the difference between the conspiracy theories and far-right memes he has helped send viral, and those he actually believes in. It's usually a hazy distinction.

"The Clintons were running a pedophile ring" is what Cernovich tweeted in late 2016, for example -- when he was regularly promoting the false #Pizzagate rumors that led a man to fire a gun inside a Washington pizza place, thinking it was some sort of child sex dungeon.

Now, on the Friday before Arizona's primary election, Cernovich no longer overtly claims that a massive network of pedophiles has infiltrated the U.S. government. But "there has to be some nefarious thing going on," he says. "There's no other explanation."

The few, the proud, the Trumpies...

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Vietnam pays respects to John McCain with tributes, flowers (AP, 8/27/18)

People paid tribute to McCain at the U.S Embassy in Hanoi on Monday and also at the monument built where he parachuted from his Navy Skyhawk dive bomber in October 1967 and was taken prisoner of war. He was held more than five years at the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" prison.

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August 26, 2018

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Scoop: Republicans secretly study their coming hell (Jonathan Swan, 8/26/18, axios)

Congressional Republicans are getting ready for hell. Axios has obtained a spreadsheet that's circulated through Republican circles on and off Capitol Hill -- including at least one leadership office -- that meticulously previews the investigations Democrats will likely launch if they flip the House. [...]

President Trump's tax returns
Trump family businesses -- and whether they comply with the Constitution's emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization
Trump's dealings with Russia, including the president's preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin
The payment to Stephanie Clifford -- a.k.a. Stormy Daniels
James Comey's firing
Trump's firing of U.S. attorneys
Trump's proposed transgender ban for the military
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's business dealings
White House staff's personal email use
Cabinet secretary travel, office expenses, and other misused perks
Discussion of classified information at Mar-a-Lago
Jared Kushner's ethics law compliance
Dismissal of members of the EPA board of scientific counselors
The travel ban
Family separation policy
Hurricane response in Puerto Rico
Election security and hacking attempts
White House security clearances

The spreadsheet -- which I'm told originated in a senior House Republican office -- catalogs more than 100 formal requests from House Democrats this Congress, spanning nearly every committee.

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No Bailout Deal After McCain, Obama, Bush Meeting (JENNIFER LOVEN and JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, 9/25/18, Associated Press)

Urgent efforts to lash together a $700 billion rescue plan for the national economy appeared to be stalling tonight, hours after key lawmakers had declared they had reached a deal. [...]

The day's earlier apparent breakthrough, announced with fanfare at midday, was followed by a White House summit bringing together President Bush, Senators McCain and Obama, and top congressional leaders. But that meeting, aimed at showing unity in resolving a national financial crisis, broke up with conflicts in plain view.

Inside the session, the House Republican leader, John Boehner, expressed misgivings about the emerging plan and Mr. McCain would not commit to supporting it, said people from both parties who were briefed on the exchange. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was private.

The earlier agreement by key members of Congress from both parties -- but not top leaders -- would have given the Bush administration just a fraction of the money it wanted up front, subjecting half the $700 billion total to a congressional veto.

But conservatives were still in revolt, balking at the astonishing price tag of the proposal and the hand of government that it would place on private markets. [...]

Layered over the White House meeting was a complicated web of potential political benefits and consequences for both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain.

Mr. McCain hoped voters would believe that he rose above politics to wade into successful, nitty-gritty dealmaking at a time of urgent crisis, but he risked being seen instead as either overly impulsive or politically craven, or both. Mr. Obama saw a chance to appear presidential and fit for duty, but was also caught off guard strategically by McCain's surprising gamble in saying he was suspending his campaigning and asking to delay tomorrow night's debate to focus on the crisis.

W tried to hand Maverick the election wrapped up in a bow, but when Maverick wouldn't stand up to the House GOP and the UR stood by W's side against most Democrats it was all over.

While he most regretted his involvement in the personal corruption of the Keating 5 scandal, it was this policy failure that was his worst political moment.  

Like Bob Dole, he was ultimately too much a creature of the Congress to be a great presidential candidate.  He likewise flubbed when he played footsie with the pro-choice neocons in the 2000 race and the nativist Right in his last Senate campaign.

Taking the man in full, he is worthy of the praise he's receiving, but portraying him as a singularly courageous politician does a disservice to many of his peers, who are similarly decent but cut and trim for party and electoral purposes.  That, after all, is their profession.

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The Great McCain Story You've Probably Forgotten (Michael Lewis, Slate)

Following the senator's death, we remembered a wonderful moment from Lewis' 1997 New York Times Magazine profile of McCain, "The Subversive." The passage below comes at the very end of Lewis' article.

By 7:30 we were on the road, and McCain was reminiscing about his early political career. When he was elected to the House in 1982, he said, he was "a freshman right-wing Nazi." But his visceral hostility toward Democrats generally was quickly tempered by his tendency to see people as individuals and judge them that way. He was taken in hand by Morris Udall, the Arizona congressman who was the liberal conscience of the Congress and a leading voice for reform. (Most famously--and disastrously for his own career--Udall took aim at the seniority system that kept young talent in its place at the end of the dais. "The longer you're here, the more you'll like it," he used to joke to incoming freshmen.)

"Mo reached out to me in 50 different ways," McCain recalled. "Right from the start, he'd say: 'I'm going to hold a press conference out in Phoenix. Why don't you join me?' All these journalists would show up to hear what Mo had to say. In the middle of it all, Mo would point to me and say, 'I'd like to hear John's views.' Well, hell, I didn't have any views. But I got up and learned and was introduced to the state." Four years later, when McCain ran for and won Barry Goldwater's Senate seat, he said he felt his greatest debt of gratitude not to Goldwater--who had shunned him--but to Udall. "There's no way Mo could have been more wonderful," he says, "and there was no reason for him to be that way."

For the past few years, Udall has lain ill with Parkinson's disease in a veterans hospital in Northeast Washington, which is where we were heading. Every few weeks, McCain drives over to pay his respects. These days the trip is a ceremony, like going to church, only less pleasant. Udall is seldom conscious, and even then he shows no sign of recognition. McCain brings with him a stack of newspaper clips on Udall's favorite subjects: local politics in Arizona, environmental legislation, Native American land disputes, subjects in which McCain initially had no particular interest himself. Now, when the Republican senator from Arizona takes the floor on behalf of Native Americans, or when he writes an op-ed piece arguing that the Republican Party embrace environmentalism, or when the polls show once again that he is Arizona's most popular politician, he remains aware of his debt to Arizona's most influential Democrat.

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Jackson Hole admission points to gaps in understanding economy 10 years after crisis began (Sam Fleming, 8/26/18, Financial Times)

Mr Powell and his colleagues at the gathering on Friday and Saturday made it clear that the Fed will err firmly on the side of caution as they slowly edge rates higher, while watching for signs of overheating across a range of indicators.

But Mr Powell's mistrust of central banking lodestars, such as the natural rate of unemployment or neutral rate of interest, speaks to deeper uncertainties running through the profession as officials struggle with basic gaps in their understanding of how the economy works 10 years from the start of the credit crisis.

Among the most stubborn questions is why wages and inflation have failed to ignite despite unemployment falling ever further below what bankers in the US and elsewhere thought was its natural rate.

Alan Greenspan made the same mistake twice and Ben Bernanke once, tightening into the teeth of deflation until they triggered economic slowdowns.   

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Alberto Alesina on Immigration and Redistribution (Russ Roberts, Jul 30 2018, EconTalk)

Alberto Alesina of Harvard University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how people in the US and five European countries perceive the population and characteristics of legal immigrants. Reporting on research with Armando Miano and Stefanie Stantcheva, Alesina finds that individuals systematically overestimate the number of immigrants while underestimating their standard of living. His research also finds that support for welfare payments to the poor is related to the perception people have of the size of the immigrant population and their economic status. The conversation concludes with a discussion of why people's perceptions are so inaccurate and the implications of perception for public policy.

Mr. Alesina is the most consistently interesting economist in the world and this discussion does not disappoint.

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Minister hails US for reportedly planning to reject 'fictitious right of return' (Times of Israel, 8/26/18)

An Israeli minister on Sunday praised US President Donald Trump's administration for reportedly planning to announce shortly that it rejects the Palestinian demand of a "right of return" to Israel for refugees and their descendants, and said Jerusalem would support such a declaration. [...]

"Refugee status doesn't pass by inheritance," Bennett added in his statement.

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel

The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, defiant returnees, and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.

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Bull market: Who gets credit for the record run in stocks? (Ken Fisher, 8/26/18, USA TODAY)

Sir John Templeton famously said: "Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria." The financial crisis' deep pessimism and deeper scars kept us in "skepticism" for years. When optimism blossoms, volatility whacks it. As discussed in my July 29 column, after a great 2017, investors spent 2018 fretting Italy, Turkey, tariffs and Trump. Euphoria? Absent. That's giving us this elongated, grinding bull.

The Fed also helped slow stocks with six years of quantitative easing (QE). They called it "stimulus," but it really flattened the yield curve, reducing long-term interest rates while short rates were fixed near zero. As my column on Nov. 5, 2017  explained, banks borrow at short rates, lend at long rates and profit off the spread. A flatter rate spread zaps loan profits, sapping lending. Crawling loan growth slowed the expansion, amplifying fear. To many, the expansion always seemed one sneeze away from dying.

Events abroad conspired against sentiment, too. Britain nearly had a double-dip recession in 2012. The eurozone had a regional bear market in 2011. A second, two-year recession followed. Those woes slowed markets globally. Investors everywhere feared Greece would shatter the euro - and the world economy with it. As a result, we didn't really get synchronized global growth until 2017. History's most joyless bull market has been a grind.

This is also a long bull because neither of the two bull-killers has happened: We haven't climbed Templeton's wall of worry to euphoria. And nothing has walloped stocks in the meantime - no huge, unseen negative capable of knocking a few trillion dollars off world GDP. Just endless biting gnats along the way.

Is there a "who" deserving credit for this bull? In one way the last bear gets the credit, since it depressed investors. You could send a thank-you note to Ben Bernanke and former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson - not for saving anything but for dismantling traditional Wall Street in 2008.

Bernanke and his Fed justify a second thank-you note for being overly cautious and using QE to address "too big to fail" by recapitalizing banks through the back door. the need of partisan ideologues to deny it exists.

Hopefully enough, the one thing that will trigger market euphoria is the removal of the uniquely anti-free market president.  And that euphoria would be entirely adjusted by the improved conditions for expanded growth.

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Reagan, McCain, and Sam McGee (ANDREW FERGUSON, December 20, 1999, Weekly Standard)

[T]wo weekends ago, as he was campaigning across New Hampshire, a team of comics with a camera crew from the cable network Comedy Central clambered aboard his campaign bus to enlist him in their own little game of gotcha.

Who's your favorite poet? they asked McCain.

According to the cosmology of the sophisticates at Comedy Central, politicians are not supposed to have favorite poets.

McCain hesitated, and then said, "Robert Service, I guess."

Okay, the comedians pressed as the cameras rolled, then recite some of his poetry.

Gotcha? Here again, the Comedy Central team revealed their own provincialism. They were apparently ignorant of one of the ironclad rules of modern poetry: Anyone who likes Robert Service can recite Robert Service. By the yard.

And that's what McCain did. After a bumpy push-off, by one witness's account, he ran through all 14 stanzas of "The Cremation of Sam McGee," Service's great ballad that deathlessly begins 
There are strange things done in the 
midnight sun 
By the men who moil for gold; 
The Arctic trails have their secret tales 
That would make your blood run 
cold . . .

Service is best known for his narrative poems set in gold rush-era Yukon, where the poet himself lived for many years at the turn of the century. "Sam McGee," like his other great ballad, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," is a celebration of men in extremity, leavened by a black-humor joke at the end. With their march-beat rhythms and simple rhyme schemes, his poems were written to be memorized and recited, and as a result Service was second only to Kipling as the poet of choice for at least two generations of American boys.

In his autobiography, Ronald Reagan recalls discovering a book of Service poems during his boyhood. "I reread 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew' so many times that years later, on the occasional nights when I had trouble falling asleep [Reagan? Insomnia?], I'd remember every word and recite it silently to myself until I bore myself into slumber. If I still couldn't sleep, I'd switch to 'The Cremation of Sam McGee,' and that usually did it."

Manly, sentimental, easily digestible, Service might be considered a poet of the Reaganite school -- not the most crowded school in the world of poetry. Reagan was noted among his friends for his tendency to let fly with Service at odd moments. In his book he describes a state dinner with the Queen Mother on one side of him and Pierre Trudeau, the insufferable pseud who served interminably as premier of Canada, on the other. Trudeau said he'd heard that Reagan could recite "Dan McGrew" from memory and challenged him to do so. The Queen Mother urged him on, saying she was a great fan of the poem's central character, "the lady that's known as Lou." Reagan obliged, unburdening himself of all 11 stanzas, with the Queen Mother chiming in at each mention of Lou. When they were finished, according to Reagan's account anyway, the table erupted in applause -- probably excepting Trudeau, that snot. Royal-watchers, by the way, will be pleased to know that the Queen Mother's favorite, the lady that's known as Lou, is a homicidal slut. [...]

On the bus in New Hampshire, the wise-asses from Comedy Central were apparently impressed with McCain's performance. As they were breaking down their camera equipment, McCain mentioned offhandedly how he had come to memorize "Sam McGee."

"The guy in the cell next to me," he said, "it was his favorite poem. He used to tap it to me on the wall, in Morse Code. That's how I memorized it."

He gotcha.

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Pro-Iran militias turn on Assad, try to establish land corridor to Mediterranean (AVI ISSACHAROFF, 8/26/18, Times of Israel)

The fighting is focused around the town of Al-Bukamal, next to the Al-Qa'im border crossing between Syria and Iraq, which is considered a key strategic point in securing trade between Iraq and Syria -- and indirectly, between Iran and the Mediterranean Sea.

Al-Bukamal is located on the eastern border of the Deir Ezzor region, on the banks of the Euphrates River.

The fighting between Shiite militia forces and the Syrian military's forces began more than two weeks ago, and are in an all-out battle over control of the town, its various neighborhoods and the border crossing. Similar exchanges of fire were reported in the nearby town of Al-Mayadin.

In both towns there were reports of fighters killed and wounded, although the exact number isn't clear. Among the dead was a high-ranking officer of Iranian origin and fighters from the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division, which is funded, equipped and trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Because people see Iran as a boogeyman rather than a rational actor with its own interests and ideals, they confuse themselves into thinking it was there for Assad's sake.

August 25, 2018

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Ex-nuncio accuses Pope Francis of failing to act on McCarrick's abuse reports (Edward Pentin, Aug 25, 2018, National Catholic Register).

In an 11-page written testament, a former apostolic nuncio to the United States has accused several senior prelates of complicity in covering up Archbishop Theodore McCarrick's allegations of sexual abuse, and has claimed that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on then-Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 77, who served as apostolic nuncio in Washington D.C. from 2011 to 2016, wrote that in the late 2000s, Benedict had "imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis" and that Viganò personally told Pope Francis about those sanctions in 2013.

Archbishop Viganò said in his written statement that Pope Francis "continued to cover" for McCarrick and not only did he "not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on him" but also made McCarrick "his trusted counselor," claiming that the former archbishop of Washington advised the pope to appoint a number of bishops in the United States, including Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark.

Archbishop Viganò, who said his "conscience dictates" that the truth be known as "the corruption has reached the very top of the Church's hierarchy," ended his testimony by calling on Pope Francis and all of those implicated in the cover up of Archbishop McCarrick's abuse to resign.  

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What Will Mueller Do? The Answer Might Lie in a By-the-Book Past: The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has approached law enforcement consistently for decades: leading aggressive investigations marked by adherence to precedent and higher office. (Matt Apuzzo, Aug. 25, 2018, NY Times)

Shortly after taking over as United States attorney in San Francisco in 1998, former colleagues recalled, Mr. Mueller asked all the supervisors in the office to step down. He promptly sent a Justice Department-wide email announcing that "the following positions are now open" -- and listing every major prosecution job in Northern California.

Many in the office found it brusque and off-putting. But Mr. Mueller told colleagues that he had learned a management style decades earlier as a Marine platoon commander: You cannot make people do things that they are incapable of doing. So rather than prodding employees, he preferred to move quickly to assemble the best possible team, even if his method was disruptive.

As special counsel, Mr. Mueller has recruited talented prosecutors from across the country, stocking the office both with trusted longtime colleagues and younger prosecutors with sterling résumés. "If you have an opportunity to work with him and learn from him, you do it," said Melinda Haag, a former United States attorney in Los Angeles who once served as Mr. Mueller's chief white-collar prosecutor.

Mr. Mueller was not the obvious choice to lead the San Francisco office during the Clinton administration. Those jobs usually go to politically connected lawyers, and Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, had formed a selection committee to recommend candidates.

Mr. Mueller was tied to the wrong party, having served as a top Justice Department appointee of George Bush. But the San Francisco office was adrift, and career prosecutors at the Justice Department in Washington recommended Mr. Mueller for the job. And though Ms. Boxer had an eye for liberal nominees who diversified the work force, the chairwoman of her committee, Cristina C. Arguedas, had known and respected Mr. Mueller when he was a young prosecutor and she was a public defender.

"It was quite ironic, me going to Barbara Boxer saying, 'You have to give this plum appointment to this straight white guy who's also a rock-ribbed Republican,'" Ms. Arguedas recalled.

Judge Patel said she also quietly recommended Mr. Mueller to top Justice Department officials. "I'm a Democrat. He's a Republican," Judge Patel said. "But he's a different kind of Republican, the kind we remember."

Had Mr. Mueller entertained political ambitions, Republicans could hardly have dreamed up a better pedigree: Robert Swan Mueller III, the son of a DuPont executive and the grandson of a railroad magnate, whose birth was announced in the New York Times society pages. A product of New England prep school and Princeton, he was a lacrosse and hockey star who volunteered for the Marines and earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in Vietnam. He married shortly before enlisting; he and his wife, Ann, a schoolteacher, have two daughters.

But Mr. Mueller never flirted with elected office. After law school at the University of Virginia -- one of a few prestigious schools that did not look down on his Vietnam service, he would later say -- he began angling for jobs as a prosecutor.

"I wanted to do public service," he told his law school alumni magazine in a rare interview. "Every day you go to work because you want to; there is always something interesting and exciting. And you do it for somebody else, not just for the salary."

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Clemson RAs freed from mandated 'commitment to social justice' (Grace Gottschling, Aug 24, 2018, Campus Reform)

Clemson University RAs no longer have to "demonstrate a commitment to social justice" to be eligible for the position.

The Eldest was an RA and they went around in a circle during their training telling what hardships they'd overcome:

A: I'm a gay Muslim from Indonesia

B: I'm a transexual Sikh

Eldest: I'm kinda fat and half-Jewish?

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Chapel Hill Police Officer With Anti-Government Militia Tattoo Will Keep His Job (Jessica Schulberg, 8/24/18, huffPo)

The Chapel Hill Police Department will not discipline a police officer who stood guard near the "Silent Sam" Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina on Monday with a tattoo of the logo of the Three Percenters, a nativist anti-government militia, visible on his right forearm. Instead, the officer, Cole Daniels, has been instructed to keep his tattoo covered while at work.  [...]

The image of a law enforcement official displaying a symbol associated with racially motivated violence while policing protesters as they toppled a symbol of white supremacy was jarring. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Europeans keep lapping America on foreign language learning (Stef W. Kight, 8/24/18)

Only 20% of American K-12 students learn a foreign language, compared to a median of 92% of students from European countries, according to a study by Pew Research.

English is the first language.*

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Three Arabs hospitalized after beating by Jews at Haifa beach (Times of Israel, 8/25/18)

"They came over with chains, sticks and knives. There were about eight of them. They started hitting us without mercy," one of them, identified only as 'M,' told Haaretz. He said the attackers shouted at them that they should not come to the beach. [...]

'M' said it was the first time he had encountered such violence. "How can someone ask someone what they are and then beat them?" he said. "Are we not allowed to be here because we're Arabs? This is a public place and all Israelis are allowed. I was born here in Haifa."

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


U.S. Wind Power Is 'Going All Out' with Bigger Tech, Falling Prices, Reports Show: Three new government reports detail how the wind industry is expanding -- offshore and onshore -- and the role corporations, technology and tax credits are playing. (DAN GEARINO, I8/23/18, NSIDECLIMATE NEWS)

"Right now it's going full bore," said Mark Bolinger, a research scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of one of the new reports. "The industry is really going all out."

Some of the key findings:

The country's wind energy capacity has tripled since 2008, reaching 88,973 megawatts by the end of 2017. Wind contributed 6.3 percent of the nation's energy supply last year.
The average price of wind power sales agreements is now about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, down from a high of 9 cents in 2009 and low enough to be competitive with natural gas in some areas.
State renewable energy requirements once were the leading contributor to demand for new wind farms, but they were responsible for just 23 percent of new project capacity last year due to rising demand for clean energy from corporate customers, like Google and General Motors, and others.
Offshore wind is going from almost nothing, with just five wind turbines and 30 megawatts of capacity off Rhode Island, to 1,906 megawatts that developers have announced plans to complete by 2023.

"The short story is wind is doing well in the markets, has been doing well, and looks like it will continue to do well," said Michael Webber, deputy director of the energy institute at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved with the reports.

Hap[pily, we all know that sustainable energy is the biggest hoax since 3D printing....

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German conservative says community service would help migrants integrate (Reuters, 8/24/18) 

Completing a year of community service would improve the integration of refugees into German society and their acceptance by the public, the general secretary of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party said on Saturday. [...]

[S]he said many party members had told her during a summer "listening tour" that reinstating the draft - which was scrapped in 2011 - or community service was a good idea for both native Germans and immigrants.

"If refugees complete such a year, either voluntary or compulsory, it would help their integration into the country and society. And in the populations, it would increase acceptance that refugees live among us," she told the newspapers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Many women's toiletries do cost more than men's -- and their mortgages might too, report finds (AURORA PERCANNELLA, AUG 24, 2018, LA Times)

There is some evidence women pay more than men for mortgages, cars and auto repairs and have less access to small-business credit, a federal report has found. (Bertrand Langlois / AFP/Getty Images)
The "pink tax" is real: Many products aimed at women cost more than the versions men are supposed to buy -- and women might also be paying more for gender-neutral things such as mortgages, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The report found that, in five cases out of 10, a personal care product marketed to women, such as a deodorant, cost significantly more than a similar version marketed to men. It found only two product categories -- shaving gels and non-disposable razors -- that were more expensive for men.

? They're all $1.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


'It IS bad there': Emails reveal Trump officials pushing for TPS terminations (Tal Kopan, 8/25/18, CNN)

There was a simple explanation in October 2017 when a Department of Homeland Security official was asked why a memo justifying ending immigrant protections for Central Americans made conditions in those countries sound so bad.

"The basic problem is that it IS bad there," the official wrote.

Nevertheless, he agreed to go back and see what he could do to better bolster the administration's decision to end the protections regardless.

The revelation comes in a collection of internal emails and documents made public Friday as part of an ongoing lawsuit over the decision to end temporary protected status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who live in the US, most of whom have been here for well over a decade.

Friday's document dump come as backup for the attorneys' request that the judge immediately block the government's decision to end these protections as the case is fully heard. 

The Strzok messages reveal personal political opinions--pretty much incontrovertible ones at that.  These reveal Trumpies trying to warp policy.

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Exclusive: Ex-Trump World Tower doorman releases 'catch-and-kill' contract about alleged Trump affair (Sonia Moghe, 8/24/18, CNN)

The contract appears to have been signed on Nov. 15, 2015, and states that AMI has exclusive rights to Sajudin's story but does not mention the details of the story itself beyond saying, "Source shall provide AMI with information regarding Donald Trump's illegitimate child..."

The contract states that "AMI will not owe Source any compensation if AMI does not publish the Exclusive..." and the top of the agreement shows that Sajudin could receive a sum of $30,000 "payable upon publication as set forth below."

But the third page of the agreement shows that about a month later, the parties signed an amendment that states that Sajudin would be paid $30,000 within five days of receiving the amendment. It says the "exclusivity period" laid out in the agreement "is extended in perpetuity and shall not expire."

The amendment also establishes a $1 million payment that Sajudin would be responsible for making to AMI "in the event Source breaches this provision."

You can hear the Trumpbots now, "At least he didn't pay to abort this one...."

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Jesus was a 'somewhere'. Paul was an 'anywhere' (Giles Fraser, 24 AUGUST 2018, UnHerd)

Jesus wasn't a Christian. He wasn't the first Christian. He wasn't even a Christian with an interesting Jewish backstory. Nowhere does the carpenter from Galilee suggest that he wants to start a new religion. On the contrary: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" he tells a woman in Matthew's gospel.

Yes, Jesus would constantly argue with the religious authorities of his day. But argument with religious authority is itself a longstanding Jewish tradition. Jesus was Jewish, completely Jewish - he had a Jewish mother, he was circumcised according to the law, he kept kosher, his Bible was the Bible of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he attended his local Galilee synagogue, he taught in the Temple throughout his life, he made pilgrimage to the Temple for the special feasts. And he died Jewish, mocked as the King of the Jews. The very idea of Christianity was not even invented in his lifetime. Jesus was very much a somewhere - Jesus of Galilee.

Most of Jesus' early followers were also Jewish, but not all of them. And for these people, the question began to arise whether being a follower of Jesus required following the Jewish law - and, in particular, whether it required the Jewish practice of circumcision. This question prompted a furious debate among Jesus' followers, with some maintaining that Jesus-following required the full commitments of Jewish religion, and some maintaining that it did not. St Paul was the leading proponent of the second view.

Paul was also a Jew himself, indeed a Pharisee by training, but he was also a Roman citizen, born into the Jewish diaspora in what we now call Turkey - and thus the nearest thing to a citizen of the world that a Jew could be. For Paul, the God that he recognised in Jesus was absolutely the God who was promised to Jews in the Hebrew scriptures, but - and this was his world-changing idea - it was also a God who was promised to all humanity.

It now seems obvious to Christians that the God spoken about by Jesus is a God who seeks the salvation of all people, irrespective of race, nationality or culture. But it wasn't at all obvious to many of Paul's contemporaries, and it took some arguing on his part. "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek," Paul insisted. You don't need to be ethnically Jewish to have a special relationship with God. With Jesus, the special deal that God had made with the Jewish people had been extended to include all non-Jews.

It wasn't that Paul denied the idea that God had established a special relationship with the Jewish people in the first place - all those who are "in Christ" are "Abraham's offspring" he maintained, and the Jews were the chosen people - but now, Paul declared, being chosen was open to all.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Attending my first haj (Zohra Bensemra, 8/25/18, Reuters)

My first time walking around the holy city of Mecca, I was amazed by the mixture of people. There were Africans, Asians, Europeans, Americans, and Arabs, all coexisting in this tiny place.

In Jamarat, during the stoning of the devil ritual, where pilgrims hurl pebbles at a giant wall, men and women mixed together without the restriction of gender segregation that has been custom in public places in Saudi Arabia for decades.

One day, after taking pictures of sunset prayers at the Grand Mosque, I sat on the side of the road watching thousands of men and women file out. I was surprised at how closely they were all crowded together, something that is frowned upon in most Muslim countries.

That is part of what makes this place so special for me; the haj unites all Muslims, even those who might be waging war against each other back in their own countries.

Sanjeeda Bagam, 60, a Muslim pilgrim from Pakistan, is wheeled by her son after they cast their stones at a pillar that symbolises Satan during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mena, Saudi Arabia, August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
"When the war began in Yemen I never would have imagined that I would one day have the capability to come to haj," Ibtissam Al Assiri, a 39-year-old pilgrim from Yemen, told me. "God bestowed this place upon Muslims to unite us."

One of the lasting impressions I have is from the sound of pilgrims reciting in unison the main verses of the haj rituals. It sounded like a perfectly-synched orchestra. It gave me chills and filled my heart with joy.

More than two million pilgrims attended this year's five-day ritual, which retraces the route Prophet Mohammed took 14 centuries ago. Many Muslims save their entire lives to attend.


When he was in Makkah, Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz wrote a letter to his loyal assistants in Harlem... from his heart:

"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.

"I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca, I have made my seven circuits around the Ka'ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad, I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al Marwah. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat."

"There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."

"America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white - but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color."

"You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth."

"During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana."

"We were truly all the same (brothers) - because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude."

"I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man - and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their 'differences' in color."

"With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called 'Christian' white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster - the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves."

"Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities - he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth - the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to."

"Never have I been so highly honored. Never have I been made to feel more humble and unworthy. Who would believe the blessings that have been heaped upon an American Negro? A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a white man, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honors - honors that in America would be bestowed upon a King - not a Negro."

"All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds.


Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)

(From the AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X with assistance from Alex Haley, the author of ROOTS)

August 24, 2018

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The Doomsday Clock on Trump's presidency leaps forward: Last Tuesday, the Doomsday Clock on Donald Trump's presidency leaped forward one half-hour to 10 minutes to midnight. (Bruce Fein, 8/24/18, Al Jazeera)

President Donald Trump's long-serving personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to twin federal election law offences directly implicating the President. Mr Cohen's statements set the foundation for the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York to subpoena Mr Trump to testify about $280,000 paid to a adult film star (Stormy Daniels) and a Playboy model (Karen McDougal) during his 2016 campaign for their silence about his decade-old affairs with each to influence the outcome of the election. The disclosures could have alienated his religious right-wing supporters.

Mr Trump is likely to resist the subpoena. That would force a challenge in the United States Supreme Court as to whether a sitting president is accountable to the criminal law, as are all other officers of the United States, including members of Congress and justices of the Supreme Court. The controlling precedents are against President Trump. In United States v Nixon, the Supreme Court unanimously compelled President Richard Nixon to surrender presidential tapes and documents for use in a criminal trial against his top assistants. None of Mr Nixon's four Supreme Court appointees voted in his favour. In Clinton v Jones, the Court held that President Bill Clinton could be compelled to testify in a civil suit bright by Paula Jones alleging sexual harassment. Neither of Mr Clinton's two appointees voted in his favour. Mr Trump is similarly unlikely to win the votes of Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom he appointed, or Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination will soon be confirmed. They would strain to avoid an appearance of bowing to their benefactor as did the Nixon and Clinton justices.

An adverse ruling by the Supreme Court would end the Trump presidency. If he defied the Supreme Court's order, he would be immediately be impeached by the House for subverting the Constitution's separation of powers, convicted in the Senate by a two-thirds majority, and removed from office. (Attempts to subvert the Constitution are made impeachable offences, ie, high crimes and misdemeanours, under Article II, section 4). The Supreme Court remains the nation's most venerated and untarnished civil institution. Any attack on a decision joined by Trump's own appointees would ring hollow.

President Trump would be equally doomed if he agreed to give testimony under oath. In his mental universe, he does not distinguish between truth and falsehood. Perjury would be inescapable. He has already lied repeatedly about pay-offs to the two women. His foremost lawyer and spokesman, Rudy Giuliani, has insisted "truth isn't truth" in explaining why Trump's testimony would inexorably prove perjurious. Perjury is an impeachable offence, and occasioned President Clinton's impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Kremlin Sources Go Quiet, Leaving C.I.A. in the Dark About Putin's Plans for Midterms (Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg, Aug. 24, 2018, NY Times)

The full reasons the sources have gone silent are not known. But current and former officials also said the exposure of sources inside the United States has also complicated matters.

This year, the identity of an F.B.I. informant, Stefan Halper, became public after House lawmakers sought information on him and the White House allowed the information to be shared. Mr. Halper, an American academic based in Britain, had been sent to talk to Trump campaign advisers who were under F.B.I. scrutiny for their ties to Russia.

Current American officials said there is no direct evidence that the exposure of Mr. Halper has been cited by overseas informants as a source of concern.

But the officials said that some allies have cited the exposure of the informant and other intelligence leaks in curbing some of the intelligence they share. 

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A Majority of Public Employees Don't Want to Be Forced to Pay Union Dues, Survey Finds (Vicki Alger, 8/24/18, FEE)

Rather than ramp up recruitment efforts highlighting the benefits of membership, some union leaders have launched negative ad campaigns against organizations that inform union members of their opt-out rights.

A leading effort to do just that is National Employee Freedom Week, including the release of a new survey evaluating the opinions of public-sector union members. It found that 71 percent of respondents were aware of the Janus ruling, and 51 percent of them viewed the decision positively. Nearly one-third of respondents (32 percent) disagreed with the decision, while 17 percent were undecided.

Reasons respondents gave for favoring the Janus ruling include the fact that it protects their personal rights and freedoms (37 percent), stops an unfair labor practice (22 Percent), and lets them save money (18 percent). Fully 84 percent of respondents favoring the decision have stopped paying dues or plan to stop.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Corbyn praised by former KKK grand wizard and ex-leader of far-right BNP (Times of Israel, 8/24/18)

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn received the approval Friday of a former wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and an ex-leader of the far-right British National Party for stating that "Zionists" don't understand English irony.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Trump Organization CFO granted immunity in Cohen probe - report (Times of Israel, 8/24/18)

Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, has reportedly been granted immunity from US prosecutors in exchange for his testimony in the federal investigation into President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Allen Weisselberg was subpoenaed by federal prosecutors to testify before a federal grand jury earlier this year regarding the Cohen investigation, the report noted.

Weisselberg has served as CFO and executive vice president of the Trump Organization for decades, and was appointed by Trump to run his company along with his sons after he was elected president.

///the press and Congress refuse to investigate the way the FBI and Justice are colluding on MS-13 prosecutions...

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Jeff Sessions: US attorney general hits back at Trump (BBC, 24 August 2018)

"I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in," the attorney general said in a statement.

"While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.

"I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action."

He added: "No nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States.

"I am proud to serve with them and proud of the work we have done in successfully advancing the rule of law."

Previously, Mr Sessions had been largely non-committal following criticism of him by the president, who appears to believe that Mr Sessions should have shown him greater loyalty instead of recusing himself from the Russia inquiry.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


Indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter: My wife handled my finances (Kate Sullivan,  August 23, 2018, CNN)

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter seemed to shift any blame onto his wife, Margaret, on Thursday for alleged campaign fund abuses, saying she was the one handling his finances.

"She was also the campaign manager, so whatever she did that'll be looked at too, I'm sure," the California Republican said on Fox News.
"But I didn't do it," Hunter said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Ayman Nour: Saudi planned the coup in Egypt, UAE carried it out (Abdul Hamid Qutb August 23, 2018 Middle East Monitor)

Dr. Ayman Nour, the leader of Ghad Party and the former Egyptian presidential candidate, said that the decision to hold a coup on 3 July 2013 and oust the country's first civilian president was not purely an Egyptian effort. International players were most likely behind the move, he added, stressing that indications of prior arrangements for the coup were clear during the period between December 2012 and January 2013.

Nour explained that the pre-coup phase was pivotal in the decision to overthrow the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and the democracy that brought them to power. Manifestations of efforts to do this were evident in the run up to the coup with the UAE intervening in the local media and bribing politicians who were flocking to the Emirates to set up home.

Saudi's role was not obvious to many people at the time, he explained, however the decision and planning for the military coup was a Saudi move and the implementation was Emirati.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Manhattan D.A. Eyes Criminal Charges Against Trump Organization (William K. Rashbaum, Aug. 23, 2018, NY Times)

The Manhattan district attorney's office is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Michael D. Cohen's hush money payment to an adult film actress, according to two officials with knowledge of the matter.

A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with President Trump, the officials said.

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Seventy percent of Americans support 'Medicare for all' in new poll (MEGAN KELLER, 08/23/18, The Hill)

A vast majority -- 70 percent -- of Americans in a new poll supports "Medicare for all," also known as a single-payer health-care system.

The Reuters-Ipsos survey found 85 percent of Democrats said they support the policy along with 52 percent of Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Washington Is Turning Into Moscow: What upsets the Putin regime isn't research into its military strength, but anything exploring its illicit finances. Something similar might now be said of the White House (BEN JUDAH, AUG 22, 2018, The Atlantic)

I set to work on my new project at the Hudson Institute doing open-source research on corruption. But what had long been my fringe interest on the nexus of money laundering through luxury real estate, shell companies, and Russian oligarchs no longer felt so eccentric as Paul Manafort was arrested and Robert Mueller started digging into Ukrainian money trails.

Something strange was happening. Offline, living in a Whole Foods-eating, Netflix-watching bubble off Dupont Circle, Washington felt like one of the softest places in the world. Moscow, goodbye. But online, and on TV, it was quite another matter.

I had to pinch myself watching Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson on Fox News. These men, railing furiously against plots and traitors, were eerily reminiscent of the propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov on Channel One Russia.

But that was not all. The mounting hysteria about foreign influence. The professional trolls and Twitter accounts laying blame on MI6. I felt like I had seen it all before. But nothing more so than the fact that smart people kept telling me power was measured here by proximity to the president, not by the office you held.

So I wasn't surprised when my computer was hacked in a custom-made attack launched from a Russian-speaking country. Nor was I shocked when Microsoft revealed that, once I had finished my research into how kleptocrats move around their money, my project had been targeted by hackers run by Russian intelligence who cloned a website in order to phish the accounts of anyone interested in our work.

But this time I didn't stop to think Why me? It was now perfectly clear. What upsets the current regime in Moscow is not what used to infuriate the old Soviet authorities--research into its military strength--but anything exploring its illicit finances. Something similar might now be said of the current White House.

Looking back on it, I realize that every story I ever filed from Russia was not just a politics story, or a crime story, or a spy story--but almost always, on some level, also a corruption story.

That's one final, spooky way that Washington now feels just like Moscow.

White House blocks bill that would protect elections (Alexander Nazaryan, 8/23/18, Yahoo News)

A bill that would have significantly bolstered the nation's defenses against electoral interference has been held up in the Senate at the behest of the White House, which opposed the proposed legislation, according to congressional sources.

August 23, 2018

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National Enquirer hid damaging Trump stories in a safe (Jeff Horwitz, 8/23/18, AP) 

The National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election, people familiar with the arrangement told The Associated Press. [...]

Former Enquirer employees who spoke to the AP said that negative stories about Trump were dead on arrival dating back more than a decade when he starred on NBC's reality show "The Apprentice."

In 2010, at Cohen's urging, the National Enquirer began promoting a potential Trump presidential candidacy, referring readers to a pro-Trump website Cohen helped create. With Cohen's involvement, the publication began questioning President Barack Obama's birthplace and American citizenship in print, an effort that Trump promoted for several years, former staffers said.

The Enquirer endorsed Trump for president in 2016, the first time it had ever officially backed a candidate. In the news pages, Trump's coverage was so favorable that the New Yorker magazine said the Enquirer embraced him "with sycophantic fervor."

Positive headlines for Trump, a Republican, were matched by negative stories about his opponents, including Hillary Clinton, a Democrat: An Enquirer front page from 2015 said "Hillary: 6 Months to Live" and accompanied the headline with a picture of an unsmiling Clinton with bags under her eyes.

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Trump speechwriter's ouster sparks racially charged debate: The Claremont Institute shuttered an email list after an exchange over white nationalism blew up. (ELIANA JOHNSON, 08/23/2018, Politico)

It took just 80 minutes after racially incendiary emails started flying for the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, to shut down an email Listserv connecting hundreds of high-profile conservatives.

The emails that sparked the controversy began ricocheting midday Tuesday, in response to a plea from Darren Beattie, a recently fired speechwriter for President Donald Trump, for "those on this list with media influence" to come to his defense. The White House over the weekend dismissed Beattie after CNN revealed that he had spoken at a conference alongside a racial provocateur.

Charles Johnson, an alt-right provocateur and Trump loyalist, was first to respond.

"Beattie's offense is that he spoke at an event where -- gasp! -- there were white nationalists afoot!" Johnson wrote the group. "Heaven forbid that some thinkers -- like the American founders who favored our country be majority white -- think that the U.S. of A should stay majority white! Perish the thought. Can't have that."

A little more than an hour later, as senior administration officials and white-shoe lawyers asked to be removed from the list, the Claremont Institute had scuttled it entirely. [...]

Johnson has been affiliated with the Claremont Institute since his undergraduate years at Claremont McKenna College, from which he graduated in 2010. He is the author of a biography of Calvin Coolidge, published in 2013, for which a Claremont Institute senior fellow and Johnson's undergraduate mentor, Charles Kesler, wrote the foreword. Since then, he has entertained and espoused a number of controversial racial views and increasingly associated himself with white nationalists, who he says helped Trump win the election.

His statements caused alarm within the Claremont Institute community, according to one of its members, and several of the organization's scholars criticized him and counseled him, in private conversations, to cease his affiliation with and promotion of fringe groups. Those concerns reached an apex in 2015 when Johnson appeared on the neo-Nazi podcast "Fash the People" remarking on the "neurotic" tendencies of the Jewish people and warning that they "should be on tap but really never on top of a lot of decision making." Ultimately, though, the organization, never officially disavowed him. these guys keep cropping up in Donald's Twitter feed, on his staff, among his defenders.... It's almost as if being a Nativist, Anti-Semite, racist, Islamophobe attracts them.

'This is a white supremacist talking point.' Anti-racism groups blast Trump's 'white farmers' tweet (Matt Pearce, AUG 23, 2018, LA Times)
President Trump embraced a longtime white-nationalist talking point when he tweeted about alleged "large scale killing" of white farmers in South Africa, drawing praise Thursday from white nationalists and protests from anti-racism groups in the U.S.

"I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers," Trump tweeted Wednesday night. Appearing to quote a Tucker Carlson segment on Fox News, Trump wrote the "South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers."

South Africa's government immediately protested Trump's remark, writing on Twitter that "South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past."

Trump's tweet drew applause from white nationalists in the U.S., who have strongly supported his presidency due to his tough stances on immigration and his past reluctance to denounce far-right figures.

"Thank you!" tweeted David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, later adding an image that said, "Stop White Genocide," with the hashtag #SouthAfrica. Duke has strongly praised Trump in the past, including after last year's violent rally in Charlottesville, Va., when Trump struggled to criticize white nationalists who clashed with anti-racism protesters.

Trump's White-Nationalist Pipeline: The most enduring scandal in and around the White House might not be corruption, but rather the administration's constant embrace of bigotry from white-supremacist and far-right groups. (VANN R. NEWKIRK II, 8/23/18, The Atlantic)

Trump is easily impressed by lies and falsehoods that appear to support the agenda of his mostly white base, and the backlash that he has received for repeatedly spreading misinformation from hucksters, hoaxers, and hate groups hasn't seemed to phase him. In November 2017, just a few months after his lukewarm and controversial criticism of Klansmen and Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, he received an official rebuke from British Prime Minister Theresa May after retweeting videos from the far-right group Britain First purporting to show crimes committed by Muslim immigrants. He's repeatedly shared tweets from garden-variety racists and bigots, and he once retweeted an actual Twitter account with the name "White Genocide." Each time, the president has either done nothing or deleted the tweet with little explanation and no apology, and he's rarely been pressed about it.

Of course, Trump is only the star player in a White House and an administration that have become a clearinghouse for all sorts of hate-group propaganda. Even an abridged list of the dyed-in-the-wool white-supremacist, white-nationalist, and hate groups that have been amplified recently by Trump associates would require a table of contents. Just this week, The Washington Post reported that Trump's economic adviser Larry Kudlow had hosted Peter Brimelow, a white-nationalist publisher of the racist website VDare, at his birthday party. Among other extreme positions, Brimelow expressed last year his belief that Latino people are more "prone" to committing rape than people of other ethnicities.

Earlier this week, Media Matters reported that, on his campaign website for the 2018 governor's race, Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and the former leader of Trump's ill-fated voter-fraud commission, cited a fake statistic about crime committed by immigrants. The stat was dreamed up by the white nationalist Peter Gemma, who has an avowed mission to prevent "race-mixing." In June, the Trump-friendly Iowa congressman Steve King--who's openly expressed his belief in the superiority of white culture and society--retweeted an anti-immigration message from a British Nazi sympathizer, and hasn't deleted the tweet.

Carlson has himself often dipped into the pools of white-supremacist content. On his show, he's recommended the social-media app Gab, which is often described as a white-nationalist haven. Last December--ironically, in a tweet thread attempting to lampoon progressives for calling out racism too often--Carlson tweeted a link to Red Ice TV, a white-nationalist blog.

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


The President Sounds Like a Mob Boss: Never take sides against the family. (NOAH ROTHMAN, AUG. 23, 2018, Commentary)

The president began by insisting that the government, of which he is the chief executive, is a perpetrator of gross misconduct. Cohen, Trump said, "pled to two counts that aren't a crime, which nobody understands." Trump said that, based on the information he gathered from watching "two shows," the criminal conduct to which Cohen pleaded guilty and the version of events to which he attested should never have been accepted by government prosecutors. The fact that they were, so this thinking goes, amounts to either incompetence or gross misconduct and corruption.

Trump went on to attack his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The president insisted that the civil violation of campaign finance law attributed to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign is materially worse than the alleged felony violation of campaign finance law in which Cohen accused the president of being complicit. Trump attributed the substantial fines levied on the Obama campaign as a result of these violations without the possibility of jail time to the fact that Eric Holder was a more honest attorney general. "We have somebody that they seem to like to go after a lot of Republicans," Trump said of Jeff Sessions, of all people.

But the worst was yet to come. "One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that trial," the president said of his former campaign chairman. "I know all about 'flipping,'" he continued. "Everything's wonderful, and then they get ten years in jail, and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed." The president went on to diminish the eight counts of bank and tax fraud of which a jury found Manafort guilty as "not a big deal."'

The gall of this assertion from the president of the United States is staggering. The chief executor of the nation's laws has, in effect, come out in opposition to turning state's evidence.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Prosecutors grant immunity to National Enquirer publisher in Cohen probe: report (MEGAN KELLER, 08/23/18, The Hill)

Prosecutors have granted immunity to David Pecker, the CEO of the company that publishes National Enquirer, as part of their investigation into President Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen.

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


Why I Changed My Mind About The Sacco-Vanzetti Case (Francis Russell, June/July 1986, American Heritage)

As a Harvard undergraduate I had read Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti and had taken for granted that men who could write so movingly, and in Vanzetti's case so eloquently, could not have been guilty of the sordid holdup-murder for which they had been convicted. The dogma of their innocence, expounded until it became a fixed belief in most intellectual circles, I accepted as selfevident. According to that received dogma, Sacco and Vanzetti were harmless philosophical anarchists arrested during the hysteria of the postwar Red scare. The police, in cooperation with the Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigation, considered a robbery-murder charge a good way of getting rid of two troublesome agitators. No one involved could really have considered them guilty. Sacco's and Vanzetti's lives were snuffed out by Massachusetts reactionaries. Their trial, little better than a kangaroo court, was presided over by an intemperate, narrow-minded judge, a "black-gowned cobra" in Vanzetti's words, already determined to convict the defendants. The jury was made up of nativist bigots, the prosecution corrupt to the point of framing evidence. In the post-trial stages of the case, the parvenu governor of Massachusetts, Alvan T. Fuller, a bicycle mechanic who had turned to automobiles and made himself wealthy selling Packards to the rich, was no more than a toady to Beacon Hill Boston. Harvard's president A. Lawrence Lowell, reviewing the case, preferred to see the two anarchists die rather than to disturb the social structure.

My first lapse from this dogma came as I read through the trial transcript. Reluctantly I had to admit that, judging by the printed record, the trial had been proper, the verdict reasonable. Sacco and Vanzetti were armed when arrested--for all their explanations, a telling point against them. Judge Webster Thayer's conduct and remarks seemed temperate. His charge to the jury, so assailed by Professor Felix Frankfurter in his seminal book that did most to stir world opinion, seemed to me fair. No doubt the judge had practiced declamation at high school in the postCivil War period of oratory, but he could scarcely be faulted for that. "Let your eyes be blinded to every ray of sympathy or prejudice," he told the jury, "but let them ever be willing to receive the beautiful sunshine of truth, of reason and sound judgment."

It was for the court, he said, to decide questions of law. Only the jury could decide the facts. Alibis were always questions of facts. "The Commonwealth [he continued] claims that these defendants were two of a party of five who killed the deceased. The defendants deny it. What is the fact? The Commonwealth must satisfy you beyond reasonable doubt that the defendants did. If the Commonwealth has failed to satisfy you, that is the end of these cases and you will return verdicts of not guilty....On the other hand, if the Commonwealth has so satisfied, you will return a verdict of guilty against both defendants or either of them that you so find to be guilty.

"I have now finished my charge," he concluded. "My duties are now at end. I have tried to preside over the trial of these cases in a spirit of absolute fairness and impartiality to both sides. If I have failed in any respect you must not, gentlemen, in any manner fail yours. I therefore now commit to your sacred keeping the decision of these cases."

After the charge but before the jury had brought in its verdict, Sacco and Vanzetti's chief attorney, Fred Moore, a former general counsel for the Industrial Workers of the World, told the judge that whatever the verdict, no one could say that the defendants had not had a fair trial. Many would later say just that. I was no longer one of them.

I continued to think Sacco and Vanzetti innocent but now considered them victims of circumstance, a matter of mistaken identity and bad luck, their case a tragedy rather than a melodrama. From this altered point of view I wrote an article, "Tragedy in Dedham," that I later expanded to a book. In beginning the book I considered myself impartial, but I was much more emotionally committed to Sacco and Vanzetti than I then realized. Starting out, I had been convinced of their innocence and hoped with reasonable luck to prove this once and for all. But as I progressed, the road that had first seemed straight developed so many bends, twists, and reverses that, in the end, I found myself reluctantly facing in the opposite direction. It was a direction I had long tried to avoid. But questions that I had brushed aside as inconsequent returned to trouble me. Why did Sacco and Vanzetti lie after their arrest about matters that had no connection with their anarchist beliefs? Both described themselves as men of peace. Why were they armed when they were picked up by the police? Sacco had on his person a Colt automatic pistol and thirty-two cartridges--three Remington, sixteen Peters, seven U.S., and six Winchester, of an obsolete type. Unaware of the brand differences, he said he had bought his cartridges in a sealed box. By the time of his trial he had learned better. He now said he had bought an opened box of mixed cartridges.

A Winchester bullet of an obsolete type had been taken from the body of a guard shot down durins the holdup-murders for which Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted. An obsolete Winchester shell was one of four spent shells found at the murder scene, the others being two Peterses and a Remington. The prosecution claimed that the obsolete Winchester bullet and shell had been fired in Sacco's Colt, but the trial's ballistic tests were primitive. In spite of later, more sophisticated tests, I remained unconvinced, still hoping that further tests might establish that the fatal bullet and shell had not been fired in his Colt. Other aspects, nevertheless, disturbed me. Sacco's story on the night of his arrest did not ring true. On the day of the crime he had been absent from work, and alibi witnesses who testified to having seen him in Boston on that day were Italian radicals.

I became more ambivalent when I discovered that Moore had in the end doubted his clients' innocence. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Is There Really A Violent Crime Wave By Illegal Immigrants? (David Thornton, 8/23/18, The Resurgent)

A 2018 article in Criminology cited several studies that looked at community-wide crime rates. One compared "gateway" cities with high immigrant populations to "traditional" American cities. Another looked at different neighborhoods in Austin, Texas. Both found no evidence that neighborhoods with high numbers of immigrants had higher crime rates A third study examined federal Uniform Crime Report data from 2000 through 2010. The study found that even though immigration increased during the period, the crime rate decreased.

When the researchers looked at violent crime, the pattern was the same. Far from being the most dangerous places in the country, cities with many recent immigrants had the lowest homicide rates. Murder rates were more closely associated with age and socially disorganized neighborhoods than immigration status. Immigrants, possibly due to their strong family structures, often helped to lower the homicide and crime rates in their neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute also published a study of illegal immigrant crime rates in Texas where crime data distinguishes between illegal and legal immigrants. The Texas data showed that the overall crime rate and the violent crime rate for both legal and illegal immigrants were far below that of native-born Americans.

Cities on the southern border do not rank among the most dangerous cities in the US even though they are in close proximity to the source of much illegal immigration. The most dangerous city in America is Detroit, located near the Canadian border. We might do more to lower the crime by deploying the national guard to Michigan than the Mexican border.

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


False Concepts of Liberty (WIN MCCORMACK, August 23, 2018, New Republic)

A few years ago, at a panel discussion I attended among labor leaders about the condition of unionism in America, one of the speakers launched into a diatribe against the Koch brothers and their funding of anti-union "right to work" laws. The brothers' arguments in favor of them, he said, were predicated on a phony concept of individual rights and totally insincere--designed to mask their real purpose of wreaking havoc on the American labor movement. I responded that it doesn't matter whether the Koch brothers are sincere. They are making a political argument, and anyone who wants to defeat it needs to make a political counterargument against it.

The counterargument I suggested depends on restoring the moral framework of civic republicanism. Alongside the liberal tradition, which concerns itself predominantly with the idea of individual liberty, as articulated in the Declaration of Independence, civic republicanism constitutes a second foundational tradition in American political thought. It centers on the idea of citizenship, embodying what some have called "communal liberty." The central concepts of civic republicanism are "the public interest" and "the common good," exactly the lodestars that guide unions in representing their members.

Of course, republican liberty requires that the public determines the public interests and adopts a legal framework to vindicate them and then we are universally bound by it. At one point, during a depression, the public determined that unions should have power over businesses. This period resulted in the stagflation of the 70s. During the long post-inflation boom, we have determined that unions should no longer have that power.  Arguments against the results of republicanism are ultimately just arguments against liberty.

The Theory of the Republic (Maurizio Viroli, Machiavelli's Prince and the Discourses)

If we now analyse Machiavelli's works, the first point that needs to be stressed is that Machiavelli's republicanism is above all else a commitment to the vivere civile. Any form of government, including republican or popular government, which does not fulfil the requirements of civil and political life is either a tyranny or a corrupt republic - that is, the two worst calamities that can befall a people.

In full agreement with the tradition that I have outlined [in the portion of the text we have excluded], Machiavelli regards the rule of law as the basic feature of civil and political life. In the Discourses, he in fact contrasts political life ('vivere politico') with tyranny, understood as authority unbound by laws ('autorità assoluta'), and opposes armed violence to 'civil modes and customs'. In the Florentine Histories he contrasts civil life ('vivere civile') with 'sole authority' ('unica autorità'). Elsewhere, he opposes political life to corruption: in order to obtain glory, he writes, a man must use different methods in a corrupt city ('città corrotta') from those he would use in one which lives politically ('politicamente'). A corrupt city, he explains, is precisely one where laws are disobeyed ('le leggi bene ordinate non giovano'), where 'are found neither laws nor institutions which will suffice to check widespread corruption'.

When he speaks of rule of law, Machiavelli means, first of all, observance of the principle of legality - that is, the principle which prescribes that men's actions are to be judged on the basis of general rules which apply equally to all actions of the same type and to all individuals of the group concerned. Like the jurists, he sees the generality and the impartiality of the law as the basis of civil life. The laws, be says, 'make [men] good' - that is, compel them to serve the common good and refrain from barrning their fellow-citizens, as civil and political life demands. A wise legislator must frame the laws assuming that 'all men are wicked', and that they will always behave with malignity, if they have the opportunity. The law is therefore necessary, and, once it is in place, it must be obeyed without allowing for privileges or discriminations. As be strongly asserts, crimes have to be punished regardless of the personal and public merits of the criminal. No well-ordered republic ('republica bene ordinata'), he writes, 'allows the demerits of its citizens to be cancelled out by their merits; but, having prescribed rewards for a good deed and punishments for a bad one and having rewarded someone for doing well, if the same person afterwards does wrong, it punishes him, regardless of any of the good deeds be has done'. Should this principle of legal justice be disregarded, be concludes, and the wording is important, 'civil life will soon disappear' ('si resolvera ogni civiltà').

Machiavelli's commitment to the principle of legality is apparent also in his strong admonition that to remain well ordered, and to prevent corruption, a republic must be sure that punishments are always inflicted according to the law by legitimate public authorities, never by private citizens acting outside the law. Coriolanus, who commanded not to distribute corn to the people in order to diminish their political power, was saved from popular fury by the tribunes, who summoned him to appear in court. Had the mob lynched him, Machiavelli remarks, his death would have been a wrong inflicted by private citizens on a private citizen ('offesa da privati a privati'). This violation of legality would have caused fear and mistrust in the efficacy of the law to provide for adequate protection. As a result, citizens would have formed factions to protect themselves, thereby causing the downfall of the republic. But, since the whole matter was settled by public authorities in full respect of the law - that is, in an orderly way ('ordinariamente'), the Roman Republic did not suffer serious consequences.

When he speaks of rule of law, Machiavelli always means rule of just laws - that is, laws and statutes that aim at the common good. It is the law understood in this sense which is the foundation of true civil life and of the liberty of the citizens. As the anonymous speaker of the Florentine Histories eloquently explains, to restore a 'free and civil life' ('vero vivere libero e civile'), Florence needs new laws and statutes that will protect the common good and replace the rule of factions, which imposes 'orders and laws made not for the public but for personal utility', 'not in accordance with free life' but by the ambition of that party which is in power'. In the Discourses be stresses that, when the Roman Republic became corrupt, 'only the powerful proposed laws, not for the common liberty, but to augment their own power'.

The best government is that which is more apt to secure the rule of law and the common good. It is precisely from this angle that Machiavelli discusses the comparative merits of different forms of government. A political life can be ensured either through a republican government or through a monarchy, provided that, whoever the sovereign is, is bound by laws. Between the government of a people 'chained' ('incatenato') by the laws and that of a prince 'bound by the laws' ('obbligato dalle leggi'), Machiavelli firmly believes that the former is better than the latter; but the fundamental requisite in order to have a political life is that the sovereign, be it one or many, is under the law, because a prince 'who can do what be pleases is mad' and a people 'which does what it likes is unwise'.

In his defence of the superiority of republican government over monarchy, Machiavelli restastes the classical argument that, if deliberations on matters of general interest are entrusted to the many, it is more likely that the common good will prevail over particular interest. 'I claim', he writes in the Discourses,

that the populace is more prudent, more stable, and of sounder judgement than the prince. Not without good reason is the voice of the populacc likened to that of God; for the opinion of the people is remarkably accurate in its prognostications, so much so that it seems as if the populacc by some hidden power discerned the evil and the good that was to befall it.

And in Book II of the same Discourses, be puts the point even more forcefully: only in republics is the common good 'looked to properly', because only in republics are the deliberations that are conducive to the common good carried out no matter if they hurt this or that private person. In a principality just the opposite is true, for what the prince does in his own interest usually harms the city, and what is done in the interests of the city 'harms him'.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Trump Wants to Ban Flipping Because He Is Almost Literally a Mob Boss (Jonathan Chait, 8/23/18, New York)
"The two greatest thing in life, never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut." Photo: The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Last November, a person close to the Trump administration speaking to the Washington Post invoked a chilling metaphor. "This investigation is a classic Gambino-style roll-up," the source said. "You have to anticipate this roll-up will reach everyone in this administration." This turns out to be a perfectly apt and quite literal description not only of the investigation, but of Trump's own ethos and organizing principles.

The way a roll-up of the Gambino family, or any other crime organization, would work is that the FBI would first find evidence of crimes against lower-level figures, and then threaten them with lengthy prison sentences unless they provide evidence against higher-ranking figures in the organization. The roll-up moves from bottom to top. It would be extremely difficult to prosecute any organized crime if it were not possible to trade lenient sentences in return for cooperation.

In an interview with Fox News, President Trump offers his view that flipping is dishonorable, and is so unfair it "almost ought to be outlawed."

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Manafort juror reveals lone holdout prevented Mueller team from winning conviction on all counts (Peter Doocy, Jake Gibson, Lucas Tomlinson, 8/23/18, Fox News)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team was one holdout juror away from winning a conviction against Paul Manafort on all 18 counts of bank and tax fraud, juror Paula Duncan told Fox News in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

"It was one person who kept the verdict from being guilty on all 18 counts," Duncan, 52, said. She added that Mueller's team of prosecutors often seemed bored, apparently catnapping during parts of the trial. [...]

Duncan described herself as an avid supporter of President Trump, but said she was moved by four full boxes of exhibits provided by Mueller's team - though she was skeptical about prosecutors' motives in the financial crimes case. [...]

"Finding Mr. Manafort guilty was hard for me. I wanted him to be innocent, I really wanted him to be innocent, but he wasn't," Duncan said. "That's the part of a juror, you have to have due diligence and deliberate and look at the evidence and come up with an informed and intelligent decision, which I did." [...]

Her account of the deliberations is no longer a secret. And neither is the pro-Trump apparel she kept for a long drive to the federal courthouse in Alexandria every day.

"Every day when I drove, I had my Make America Great Again hat in the backseat," said Duncan, who said she plans to vote for Trump again in 2020. "Just as a reminder."

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Imagining a Federalist Israel: Notes Toward a Disruptive Fantasy (Benjamin Wittes, August 14, 2018, Lawfare)

This is out there. It's unrealistic. It's a fantasy thought experiment. But it's time to start talking about federalism in Israel--and ultimately in Palestine as well.

To be clear, I'm a two-state solution guy. I believed in the two-state solution before it was cool. I believed it in while it was cool. I kept the faith while others were busy losing it. And I continue to believe in it now that it's decidedly no longer cool. I believe in it because I am sympathetic to the Zionist aspirations of Jews over more than a century, and I believe in it because I am sympathetic also to Palestinian national aspirations that have matured over the same time period. I believe in it because I believe that divorce is generally the best solution to a truly terrible marriage. The day we can get back to the negotiation of an equitable divorce arrangement for Palestinians and Israelis, count me in.

Indeed, I want to stress at the outset that I'm not writing this piece because I have given up on the two-state solution. I'm writing it because, to a great extent, the parties to the conflict have done so, or are in the process of doing so, and the conflict is thus drifting toward a one-state reality--either a one-state reality in which Israel actively incorporates the West Bank, as some of its politicians advocate, or a one-state reality in which the populations have become so intertwined as a consequence of the current stalemate that they become impossible to separate and the status quo thus becomes a permanent state of affairs. In either context, it strikes me as important to try to imagine the qualities and character of the state that will emerge. Will it be a state in which one ethnicity dominates another--the prospect that many people see in the recent passage by the Knesset of a new Basic Law on Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people? Will it be a unitary single state with bloc voting by ethnicity and religion? Or can Israelis and Palestinians be creative in designing structures that lower the stakes in what seem today like zero-sum disputes? And can we somehow enable this single state to express both communities' national aspirations?

I want to stress something else at the outset too: I'm not delusional. There's a known condition in the psychiatric literature called Jerusalem Syndrome, in which a person of previously sound mental health visits Jerusalem and experiences a religiously themed period of psychosis. These episodes are often accompanied by the perceived need to give a sermon at a religious landmark. There's a related--related, at least, in my view--phenomenon in which outsiders to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict suddenly developing the delusion that they have some comprehensive plan to solve the unsolvable, to bring the parties both to their senses and to the table, and get done at long last "the deal." Some who have suffered this diplomatic version of Jerusalem Syndrome have served at the most senior levels of American government. I suffer from Jerusalem Syndrome neither in its psychiatric nor its diplomatic form. I am not offering here any kind of peace plan, let alone a comprehensive one. I am fully aware that what I am proposing--as I said at the outset--is a kind of blue-sky fantasy that may well raise more questions than it answers. So consider what follows less of a proposal and more of a mood that might constructively guide us in a period of drift.

With those prefatory disclaimers, I think it's time for a serious discussion of federalism, both in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and within the context of domestic Israeli politics themselves. I don't mean federalism here in the sense that it's sometimes used in the Israeli-Palestinian context, which is to say of some kind of confederation between Israel, the Palestinian territories, and--in some iterations--Jordan. I mean it in the far more ambitious sense of tearing up all internal borders within the combined territory of Israel and Palestine and carving the land up into a series of small and highly-autonomous provinces, cantons, or states--the specific terminology here carries symbolic importance to which I will return--unified by a national government empowered in the realms of foreign relations, national security, certain criminal enforcement, and human and equal rights protection. I am by no means the first to suggest this. A pair of articles in Ha'aretz in 2014 suggested carving up Israel into cantons as a way of handling internal divisions. Wrote Judd Yadid and Carlo Strenger:

Israeli cultural politics need not be a zero-sum game, imposing the values of one community over others. Solutions are to be found in countries like the United States, Switzerland, India and Spain. Just as U.S. states provide a framework for playing out America's "culture wars" on a sub-national level, Israel's cultural regions could create a more livable status quo. While the U.S. may dwarf Israel's population and landmass, our cultural chasms are exponentially deeper. And just as the Swiss cantons afford their residents a high degree of autonomy in such areas as education, health and personal-status issues (including marriage), so should and can Israel's.

Last month, writing in the Washington Post, former Foreign Service officer Daniel Hollander penned a short essay, entitled "Forget the Two-State Solution. Let's Try Six" in which he floated the idea of a "a federalist, multistate solution."

In this essay, I want to flesh out the idea that a federal Israel may offer an approach to Israel's drift toward binationalism. In Israel these days, there's a fair bit of talk of approaching the conflict on the basis of "two states, one homeland." I want in this essay to explore the idea of this sort of deep federalism both as a more concrete expression of the concept and as a means of alleviating certain tensions within contemporary Israeli society more broadly. The idea here is not to replace either Zionism or Palestinian nationalism with some binational secular vision, but to try to imagine a governance system that might give reasonable expression to the aspirations of both historical movements.

The fundamental problem remains: what happens when a national election chooses a Muslim leader?

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Will Anyone in the Trump Administration Ever Be Held Accountable for the Zero-Tolerance Policy? (Jonathan Blitzer, August 22, 2018, The New Yorker)

Since the middle of July, a group of some twenty government officials has been gathering each week at the headquarters of Customs and Border Protection, in Washington, D.C., to discuss what the Trump Administration should do in the aftermath of the President's failed zero-tolerance policy. The policy, which called for the criminal prosecution of anyone crossing the border illegally, and led to the separation of more than twenty-five hundred children from their parents, has coincided with a broader effort to dismantle the U.S. asylum system. Yet the government never had a plan for keeping track of the separated parents and children once they were in custody, and, even after a federal judge in San Diego, Dana Sabraw, ordered the government to reunite them, it struggled to comply. "I definitely haven't seen contrition," an Administration official, who told me about the weekly meetings, said. "But there was frustration with the incompetence of how zero tolerance got implemented. From the perspective of the political leaders here, there's recognition of how badly the policy failed." The lesson, according to the official, didn't seem to be that the Administration had gone too far in separating families but, rather, that "we need to be smarter if we want to implement something on this scale" again.

The meetings--which, the official said, were first called by a team at the White House that reports directly to Stephen Miller, the President's senior adviser on policy--include representatives from the Department of Justice, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. The main focus, the official added, has been to "map out" how the government can detain asylum seekers as they wait for a hearing before an immigration judge, which can take several months: "The job is to model all the steps in the process. If we go after families, where do we detain them?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Politics of the void: how the left abandoned patriotism and the common good: From the mid-1960s the New Left took socialism in a doctrinaire direction that was abstract and soulless, preferring progress to tradition, identity to class and free choice to common endeavour. (ADRIAN PABST, 8/22/18, New Statesman)

The rise of identity politics marks the triumph of the 1960s motto that "the personal is the political". Since then, both left and right have embraced variants of this approach. From the mid-1960s onwards the New Left took socialism in a doctrinaire direction that was abstract and soulless. It equated the purpose of the left not so much with the struggle for greater economic justice but primarily with cultural liberation. The socialists of the New Left preferred progress to tradition, identity to class and free choice to common endeavour.

During their time in office, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair both attempted to articulate an ethical vision, but their governments were much more committed to modernisation and liberalisation than to patriotism and the common good. Left politics became increasingly technocratic and transactional, focused on fiscal transfers and the extension of individual entitlements rather than national renewal around mutual obligations. The loss of an animating purpose explains in part why the left in Britain bequeathed economic crises in 1976 and 2008 that the right exploited to establish new political settlements.

Starting in the early 1980s, the New Right combined libertarian economics with a corporate capture of the state. This had the effect of aligning conservatism with borderless capitalism, and with individual freedom largely devoid of reciprocal duties. An unholy alliance of fundamentalist faith with an aggressive consumer culture trumped the historic commitment to citizenship. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher spoke the language of morality and hope, but their politics promoted a rampant individualism. More recently, George W Bush's "compassionate conservatism" and David Cameron's vision of the "big society" failed to tame market fundamentalism or rebuild civic ties.

Since then, the political contest across the West has descended into culture wars, fuelling the tribalism on which the liberal elites and the insurgents are now thriving. Each side legitimates itself by purporting to protect the public from the threat posed by the other.

As a consequence, our politics have become more partisan. Liberal elites dismiss populists as bigots and racists. Hillary Clinton's jibe about Donald Trump voters, many of whom were former Democrat supporters, as a "basket of deplorables" was emblematic of this contempt. Similarly, insurgents label liberals as "enemies of the people". A once noble newspaper like the Daily Telegraph characterises politicians who dissent over hard Brexit as being guilty of treason. As disagreement gives way to demonisation, democracy becomes debased and demagogic. Identity politics is devoid of any sense of public service and the pursuit of noble causes.

The obsession with individualised identity has fuelled a moral panic about race, gender and sex that turns difference into absolute division. An example is the accusation of transphobia levelled at the feminist writer Germaine Greer for saying that transgender women are "not women". What is hate speech to some is free speech to others, with no agreement about the ethical norms of public debate.

A society devoid of any shared moral horizon would by this logic be condemned to see crimes everywhere. If there are no common moral values to shape the law, will not the fight against all forms of discrimination slide into a Hobbesian "war of all against all"? Instead of nurturing adults and citizens, politics increasingly treats people as eternal adolescents and consumers in the marketplace of identity.

Of course, Margaret Thatcher/Tony Blair and W were able to forge electoral juggernauts precisely because their Third Way politics is universalist and morally based.  The next significant leaders of the Anglosphere will, likewise, offer us Second Way (left) results--social security--via First Way--free market--means.  This reality will only be accelerated by the replacement of human labor with machine.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


'How Did We End Up Here?' Trump Wonders as the White House Soldiers On (Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers, Aug. 22, 2018, NY Times)

Well into the president's second year, Mr. Trump's aides have learned to weather, deflect or completely ignore developments that critics of the administration viewed as insurmountable. This spring, aides faced near constant questions about how the White House doled out security clearances. In May, the president's personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said that Mr. Trump had reimbursed Mr. Cohen for payments to one of the women, Stephanie Clifford, a pornographic film actress, contradicting the president's prior claim that he had no knowledge of them.

This summer, the White House has faced a self-inflicted firestorm over its immigration policies, which led to thousands of family separations at the border; questions about why Mr. Trump stood by Scott Pruitt, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who faced more than a dozen investigations into his spending and management practices before eventually resigning in July; and Mr. Trump's cozy, widely criticized news conference with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Helsinki, Finland.

On Wednesday, several aides dismissed the news about Mr. Cohen as just another bad headline lacking the silver bullet that they say the special counsel would need to prove that the president conspired with Russian officials.

Mr. Trump spent the early hours of Wednesday tweeting -- he called the convicted Mr. Manafort a "brave man" who, unlike Mr. Cohen, "refused to 'break'" or "make up stories in order to get a 'deal.''' He also monitored headlines, as he did after his news conference with Mr. Putin. In the interview with Fox News, he asserted that money for the payments to the women had come not from his campaign, but from his own accounts.

"I don't know if you know," Mr. Trump said during the interview, "but I tweeted about the payments. But they didn't come out of the campaign." Campaign finance laws still prohibit Mr. Trump from making unreported payments related to the campaign, regardless of where they came from. Neither payment was disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.

On Air Force One on Tuesday night on the way back from a rally in West Virginia, Mr. Trump repeatedly minimized the news, telling aides that the legal developments were not about him, but about Mr. Manafort and Mr. Cohen. He also groused over the optics of the rally, telling a person close to him that the crowd seemed flat and that some chairs were empty.

You inherit a criminal enterprise; you run it like a criminal; the noose closes....

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Why Prosperity Has Increased but Happiness Has Not (Jonathan Rauch, Aug. 21, 2018, NY Times)

[A]ll happiness is relative. Although moral philosophers may wish Homo sapiens were wired more rationally, we humans are walking, talking status meters, constantly judging our worth and social standing by comparing ourselves with others today and with our own prior selves.

According to the Brookings Institution economist Carol Graham, poor whites are far more unhappy and pessimistic than poor blacks, even though, in absolute terms, they are better off. That would not make sense if absolute standing determined subjective well-being. It does make sense, however, when we look at relative standing. Less-educated whites (especially men) have seen their relative standing decline sharply, both compared with their parents and with rising nonwhites. Blacks, by contrast, have seen themselves doing better than expected and closing the economic and social gap.

Absolute standing is not irrelevant, and people will tolerate and sometimes even embrace inequality if they believe the system is fair and lets them get ahead. Still, the witticism (frequently attributed to Gore Vidal) that "it is not enough for me to succeed; others must fail" is uncomfortably accurate. In a striking experiment, certain households in Kenyan villages were randomly chosen to receive large financial windfalls. The lucky beneficiaries were pleased, of course, but their increased happiness was much more than offset by the increased unhappiness of other households, which lost nothing in absolute terms but suddenly saw themselves falling behind. Pondering the accumulated evidence, the British happiness economist Richard Layard concluded, "These studies provide clear evidence that a rise in other people's income hurts your happiness."

Inequality, in short, is immiserating. One could cite more evidence in the same vein. Places in the United States with more inequality have higher stress and worry, more political polarization and lower social connectedness, even among the wealthy. Moreover, what counts for subjective well-being is not just reality but also perception. If social media and reality TV disproportionately depict millionaires and amazing homes...

Unreality tv.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Composer Max Richter wants fans to spend the night in Grand Park (SCOTT TIMBERG, JUL 26, 2018, LA Times)
When most musicians play a piece, they hope the audience will engage with the music and open their ears to the sound of the instruments. Ideally, listeners can get some sense of the shape of the work itself, whether a 12-bar blues or a five-movement symphony. The person who wrote the music, typically, is even more invested in it being heard.

But Max Richter, the composer and keyboard player for two all-night performances this weekend in Grand Park, doesn't even care if the sold-out audience stays awake.

He's trying to ask questions about the way music -- especially more-or-less classical music, now draped in centuries of formality -- is performed. "I wanted to break that open a bit," the German-born, Britain-based composer, 52, says from his home near Oxford. "The audience arrives; they can go to bed. They have cots there. There are no rules. I hope they'll make a journey through the night, in a way that feels authentic to them."

The piece he's discussing, "Sleep," is an eight-hour minimalist work he'll lead Friday and Saturday nights through sunrise the next mornings.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


With Cohen's Plea, New York Prosecutors Flex Their Independence (Greg Farrell  and Christian Berthelsen, August 21, 2018, Bloomberg)

Donald Trump's firing of the U.S. attorney for Manhattan once rattled the president's critics, who predicted the end of the office's famously fierce independence.

What a difference a year makes.

On Tuesday, officials at the New York outpost squeezed guilty pleas out of Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen. While admitting to crimes including campaign finance violations, Cohen said some of his actions had been directed by Trump. At a press conference minutes later, Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami announced, "We are here, prosecutors are here, law enforcement is here, the Department of Justice is here."

Obstructing justice is just one more thing he's inept at.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


The nightmare is just beginning for Paul Manafort (Ken Dilanian, Aug.22.2018, NBC News)

Paul Manafort woke up Wednesday in a jail cell, just as he has each morning since a Washington judge revoked his bail in June over witness tampering allegations.

But this particular morning must have felt different. The spartan accommodations may have seemed less like a temporary inconvenience for President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, and more like a nightmare from which his chances of escaping are narrowing by the day.

Manafort awoke to the realization that his expensive gamble for an acquittal or hung jury in his Virginia trial failed, and that he stands convicted of eight felonies that could send him to federal prison for a decade. He faces another trial next month across the river in Washington -- where the evidence is expected to be more voluminous, and the charges promise to be more substantial, the judge less sympathetic, the possible sentence longer.

August 22, 2018

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Cost of New E.P.A. Coal Rules: Up to 1,400 More Deaths a Year (Lisa Friedman, Aug. 21, 2018, NY Times)

The Trump administration has hailed its overhaul of federal pollution restrictions on coal-burning power plants as creating new jobs, eliminating burdensome government regulations and ending what President Trump has long described as a "war on coal."

The administration's own analysis, however, revealed on Tuesday that the new rules could also lead to as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 from an increase in the extremely fine particulate matter that is linked to heart and lung disease, up to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, a rise in bronchitis, and tens of thousands of missed school days.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Behind the fight over Google's China project, a battle for the company's soul (Jon Talton , 8/22/18, The Seattle Times)

According to The New York Times, "The project, known internally as Dragonfly, was developed largely in secret, prompting outrage among employees who worried they had been unwittingly working on technology that would help China withhold information from its citizens."

According to Human Rights Watch, an international research and advocacy group, "China's extensive censorship regime restricts a wide range of peaceful expression that officials deem politically sensitive, including criticism of government policy and information that does not conform to official narratives."

The organization warned Big Tech, specifically Google, against complicity in the repression.

The Intercept first reported that Dragonfly gained speed after a meeting this past December between a top Chinese government official and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. "The app has already been demonstrated to the Chinese government; the finalized version could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending approval from Chinese officials."

A letter signed by 1,400 Google employees said, "We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we're building." It also called for employees to be included in a review of the ethics of Google products.

In an internal meeting that followed, executives claimed they weren't close to returning to China. But based on the information above, this should be taken with shakers full of salt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM



ON WEDNESDAY MORNING, President Donald Trump tweeted something genuinely funny:

Donald J. Trump

 If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen!

8:44 AM - Aug 22, 2018

Trump is angry at Michael Cohen, of course, because Cohen just pleaded guilty to (among other things) making an illegal contribution to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign by paying hush money to Stormy Daniels just before the election. Moreover, Cohen told the judge in the case that he did so "in coordination with and at the direction of" Trump.

Cohen's actions were illegal because individuals may only contribute a limited amount of money or in-kind services to political campaigns. During the 2016 election, the maximum was $5,400. Cohen fraudulently obtained a home equity loan and then wired $130,000 of it to the lawyer representing Daniels on October 27, 2016.

What Trump certainly doesn't understand, and what makes his tweet extra-wonderful, is that the problem with Cohen isn't just that he (in Trump's mind) betrayed Trump. It's that Cohen is genuinely a terrible lawyer. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


These Economists Think It Was Guns, Not the Crack Epidemic, That Drove the '90s Murder Boom (ALEX YABLON, August 22, 2018, The TrAce)

In a working paper updated in August, Geoffrey Williams and his colleague W. Alan Bartley argued that it was a "supply shock" of low-priced pistols which in the 1980s and early '90s led to higher levels of gun homicide among young black men. During those years, ATF oversight of the gun industry slacked off and a group of Los Angeles-based manufacturers known as the "Ring of Fire" expanded the market for "Saturday Night Specials": bottom-of-the-barrel firearms that turned up at crime scenes as surely as weekends beget drunken disputes.

Culling advertisements in back issues of the magazine Gun Digest, Williams and Bartley compiled handgun price and production data for the period. They calculate that the production of cheap guns priced at $100 or less peaked in 1993, the same year murders, both those committed with guns or other means, reached their highest point. That year, Washington, D.C., had a murder rate of 75 per 100,000 residents. The industrial hub of Gary, Indiana, led the country at a rate of 110 per 100,000 residents. Today, very few cities even approach those levels of violent death.

The huge pool of cheap guns contracted sharply as the 1990s wore on. Manufacturers of cut-rate handguns were driven out of business by product liability lawsuits (their guns tended to injure users, too). The federal government doubled ATF law enforcement funding, from just over $2 billion in 1990 to more than $4 billion by 1994. The then-nascent Brady background check system, which allowed gun dealers to instantly check whether a purchaser was prohibited from owning a gun, reduced the ability of gun purchasers with felony histories or other disqualifying behavior to buy firearms.

By 2000, the cheap handguns that had risen to claim the largest share of production sunk to the smallest share. Over the same years, the gun homicide rate among young black men also fell.

So did their suicide rate, which Williams and Bartley consider crucial evidence. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


New York subpoenas ex-Trump attorney Cohen in Trump Foundation probe (Karen Freifeld, 8/22/18, Reuters) 

New York state sent a subpoena on Wednesday to U.S. President Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen in connection with a probe of the Trump Foundation charity, a New York state official said.

Someone didn't get the memo about this all being an Ohr/Brennan driven conspiracy. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Petition Wants Rudy Giuliani to Appear Even MORE on Cable News (Matt Naham, August 22nd, 2018, Law & Crime)

While some are wondering whether news outlets should continue to give Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani a platform to speak his mind, a petition circulating online shows that others think Giuliani appearing on TV as often as possible is what is needed.

Political activism site has launched a petition asking network TV and cable news producers to bless Giuliani with even more time on the airwaves to do "this country a service."

The idea behind this is that Giuliani has "damaged Trump's position in relation to some serious offenses" and so allowing him to speak further would result in more damage.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Hybrid Hominin: This Girl's Mother and Father Came From Two Different Species (Nathaniel Scharping, August 22, 2018, Discover)

Multiple groups of humans once co-existed with Homo sapiens, including Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans. And we did more than simply live alongside them -- traces in our DNA reveal that our ancestors also interbred with other human species.

Now, for the first time, researchers have found direct evidence of this interbreeding in the form of a 13-year-old girl from Russia's Altai Mountains. Her mother was a Neanderthal and her father was a Denisovan, making her a first-generation hybrid of human species.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


The bizarre disconnect between Trump and the White House on Russia (Paul Brandus, Aug 21, 2018, MarketWatch)

[T]here's a bizarre disconnect between what the president says and what his administration has done. For example, it has tweaked Moscow in ways that Barack Obama wouldn't: agreeing to sell lethal weaponry to Ukraine for example, so it could better defend itself against the Russians, and by launching a cruise missile attack against Syria's Bashar al-Assad to punish him for chemical weapons attacks against his own people. If Trump's a Kremlin puppet, why would he do such things?

Trump has also criticized a planned 800-mile pipeline that would deliver natural gas from Russia to energy-hungry Germany. "Germany, as far as I'm concerned, is captive to Russia because it's getting so much of its energy from Russia," Trump said at last month's NATO summit. "We have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars that's being paid to the country we're supposed to be protecting against."

That's a valid point. Why is Germany, a key American ally, helping to prop up Putin's regime? If Russia's such a menace, and its economy is so reliant on oil and gas exports, doesn't it make sense to hit Moscow in its achilles heal? And if Trump's a Kremlin stooge, why is he out to scuttle the deal?

The administration has also hit Russia, arguably reluctantly, with sanctions. In March, after special counsel Robert Mueller's indicted 13 Russians for cyberattacks during the 2016 election, the administration imposed financial sanctions on 19 people and a number of Russian organizations, including intelligence services. It was a rare example of Trump rowing in the same direction as the man leading what the president calls the "witch hunt" into alleged campaign collusion.

And earlier this month, the administration imposed still more sanctions against Putin's government after a chemical weapon attack on an ex-spy living in Britain.

What's going on here? Is Trump really a tough guy like he claims? Is the opposition claim that he's rolling over for the Russians just "fake news?"

"It depends on whose policy you think that is," says Dr. Tom Nichols, a national security professor at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island. "I think these policies are running without him. I think the whole government is basically functioning without a chief executive."

There's a famous poem called "Footprints," or "Footprints in the Sand":

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."

He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you."

Thankfully, when we finally purge Donald from the White House he will have left no footprints.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


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Researchers Identify Most Sexist Places in America; N.H., Vt. Among Least (Christopher Ingraham, 8/21/18, The Washington Post)

Prevalence of sexist attitudes is highest in Arkansas, followed by Utah, Alabama, West Virginia and Tennessee. On the flip side, New Hampshire residents demonstrate the lowest levels of sexism, followed by Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont and Connecticut.

It's tempting to explain away these differences as a function of say, political beliefs: Is this just a measure of conservative attitudes toward gender and family?

A closer look reveals this is not the case. Some of the least sexist states, such as Wyoming and Alaska, also tend to be the most reliably Republican in presidential elections. On the other hand, some Democratic strongholds, such as Illinois and New York, end up in the middle of the pack.

Not much room for sexism when the women are hard as the granite.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Trump adviser Larry Kudlow hosted publisher of white nationalists at his home (Robert Costa, August 21, 2018, Washington Post)

The publisher of a website that serves as a platform for white nationalism was a guest last weekend at the home of President Trump's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow.

Peter Brimelow attended the gathering, a birthday bash for Kudlow, one day after a White House speechwriter was dismissed in the wake of revelations that he had spoken alongside Brimelow on a 2016 panel.

Brimelow, 70, was once a well-connected figure in mainstream conservative circles, writing for Dow Jones and National Review. But over the past two decades, he has become a zealous promoter of white-identity politics on, the anti-immigration website that he founded in 1999.

While Brimelow has long personally rejected the label of "white nationalist," he acknowledged to the Harvard Crimson in 2016 that his website does "certainly publish a few writers I would regard as 'white nationalist' in that they stand up for whites just as Zionists, black nationalists do for Jews, blacks, etc."

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


The Crowd Chanted 'Lock Her Up.' President Trump Didn't Mention His Own Team's Legal Troubles (KATIE REILLY, 8/22/18, TIME)

Hours after his former campaign manager and longtime personal lawyer faced moments of reckoning in separate federal courtrooms, President Donald Trump stood at a campaign rally in West Virginia as his supporters chanted "drain the swamp" and "lock her up."

It was the same day that Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations and Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, was convicted on eight counts of bank and tax fraud related to his work as a political consultant overseas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Duncan Hunter in Indictment: 'Tell the Navy to Go F*** Themselves' (Katherine Tully-McManus, 8/22/18, Roll Call)

A federal indictment alleges that House Armed Services member Duncan Hunter was not happy when he didn't get a tour of a military base in Italy and had this to say: "Tell the Navy to go f--- themselves." [...]

To conceal the use of campaign funds to pay for the Italy trip, Hunter's wife, Margaret, told his campaign treasurer that the charges  were mostly "military/defense" related. 

However, she emailed a friend that "Italy was amazing .. Truly our best family trip so far. Like that saying 'if traveling was free you'd never see me again'!"

Hunter's wife also concealed a number of improper campaign expenditures by saying they were for wounded veterans. In March 2015, Hunter spent campaign funds buying shorts for himself. According to the indictment, Margaret counseled him to buy the shorts at a golf pro shop so that they could falsely describe the purchase later as "some [golf] balls for the wounded warriors."

In August of that same year, Margaret spent $216.50 of campaign funds on running shoes and other items at Dick's Sporting Goods. To conceal the personal expenditure, she told the campaign treasurer that the purchase was for an annual dove hunting event involving wounded warriors.

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Remember, Mueller and a Democratic House can now give Michael Cohen immunity without fear of jeopardizing any prosecution, since he&#39;s already pleaded guilty. That means Cohen would have to testify in grand jury and before Congress in public. We will hear more from Cohen.</p>&mdash; Jeffrey Toobin (@JeffreyToobin) <a href="">August 21, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

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One of the Oldest Rules for Retirement Saving Is Wrong, Experts Say. Here's the Fix (ELIZABETH O'BRIEN May 1, 2018, Money)

You know that old rule of thumb to subtract your age from 100 to get the percentage of your portfolio that should be in stocks? Well as they say in Brooklyn, fuhgeddaboudit!

"You should not robotically reduce your equity allocation because you're getting older," says Rich Weiss, chief investment officer of multi-asset strategies at American Century Investments. Instead, most investors should pick a stock percentage that feels comfortable and keep it constant throughout retirement, experts say.

The old rule might have made more sense back when people weren't living as long. Today, many investors will need their portfolios to last well into their 80s, 90s and even beyond. And you're not going to get much-needed growth if you stay too cautious with stocks.

August 21, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Once their rallying cry, Obamacare is suddenly a sticky campaign issue for Republicans (JENNIFER HABERKORN, AUG 21, 2018, LA Times)
For the first time in nearly a decade, Republicans are heading into a national election divided and defensive over healthcare, the very issue that once propelled them to majorities in the House and Senate.

After failing to deliver on their years-long promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act and faced with the sudden popularity of Obamacare's consumer protections, GOP candidates across the country are struggling to put together a cohesive message on healthcare.

Die-hards still want to repeal the 2010 law, but a growing number of Republicans -- particularly those facing tough elections -- want to quietly admit defeat and move on to other issues.

"Even to bring it up is picking at the scab," said Joe Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. "It's reminding people that they [failed]. The base isn't that stupid."

Other GOP candidates find themselves trying to thread an awkward needle of opposing Obamacare -- a law that is still unpopular with base voters -- while supporting some of its key provisions. A few Republicans who once called for the repeal of Obamacare are now even embracing it, albeit cautiously.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Today Blew Giant Cannon Holes Through Trump's Already Listing Ship (Martin Longman August 21, 2018, Political Animal)

[R]ep. Duncan Hunter of San Diego and his wife were indicted on fraud and campaign finance charges. This is extra special because Duncan Hunter and Rep. Chris Collins of New York were the first two House Republicans to endorse Trump's candidacy and now they've both been indicted. The first senator to endorse Trump, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, perjured himself during his confirmation hearings and had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.  So, there's a nice pattern here.

But that's still not all. There's more!

The special counsel's office and Michael Flynn's lawyers were in court today where they agreed to put off sentencing for a fourth time because Flynn's cooperation with the investigation is still ongoing.

But the big news today was that Michael Cohen pled guilty to eight federal crimes and Paul Manafort was convicted of eight federal crimes. In Cohen's case, it almost certainly means that he will now be a fully cooperating witness, although that it not technically confirmed and any agreement is probably under seal. In Manafort's case, it means that he's probably already looking at three to four years in prison at a minimum, and that's before the more serious charges are settled next month in a Washington DC courthouse in front of a Washington DC jury with a judge who is not likely to be as friendly to the defense as the judge was in the case in Virginia.  Also, when he's sentenced for today's convictions, it will be as a person with a clean record. That won't be the case when he's convicted in the next go-round.  Manafort has to hope he gets pardoned because otherwise he'll probably die in prison.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


In recent weeks, Donald Trump has privately expressed doubts about White House lawyer Don McGahn's loyalty. Trump has vented to aides that McGahn doesn't support the House Freedom Caucus's quixotic campaign to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein--a bank shot that would leave Robert Mueller unprotected. McGahn has also clashed with Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, whom one Republican said McGahn "hates with the intensity of 1,000 burning suns." [...]

 "You have to understand McGahn kept notes on every single meeting with Trump," one former West Wing official said. "There's no way this guy is going to protect him." [...]

Privately, Trump blames his precarious position on the people who work for him. Trump's fury at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, already raging, has been stoked thanks to Sessions's refusal to resign after months of public abuse. "You can't talk to Trump without him bringing up Sessions," one adviser said.

Trump's frustration with Sessions has even caused him to turn on Giuliani. Over the weekend, Trump blamed Giuliani for the entire Russia probe. According to a person to whom the conversation was described, Trump loudly said to his lawyer: "It's your fault! I offered you attorney general, but you insisted on being secretary of state. Had I picked you none of this would be happening."

...if Rudy were AG, Donald might be on death row by now....

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Cohen Faces December Sentencing on U.S. Charges: Plea Update (Bob Van Voris , Christian Berthelsen , and Patricia Hurtado, August 21, 2018, Bloomberg)

The prosecutor told the judge the purpose of the payments was to ensure that the individuals did not disclose "alleged affairs with the candidate." Besides the $130,000 payment, Cohen admitted to making an illegal contribution of $150,000, which was how much McDougal received from the National Enquirer's publisher to quash her story. [...]

In acknowledging the charges against him, Cohen said he was directed to violate campaign law at the direction of a candidate for federal office. At the same candidate's direction, he said he paid $130,000 to somebody to keep them quiet, which was later repaid by the candidate. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM



In 2013, Ohio Governor John Kasich bucked his fellow Republicans by executing a successful campaign to expand Medicaid in the state under the Affordable Care Act. The expansion met quite a bit of hostility within the GOP; one group of Republican Ohio state representatives tried suing to overturn the expansion, though their effort ultimately failed. Kasich, ever the faithful Christian, apparently told a fellow legislator, "When you die and get to the meeting with Saint Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor."

A report released this morning by the Ohio Department of Medicaid suggests that, on this front, Kasich has done quite a bit. The report--which analyzes coverage and employment, financial hardship, and physical and mental health across Medicaid beneficiaries--finds impressive outcomes among recipients continuously enrolled in the program.

Here are four of the most interesting takeaways from the report:

Over 83 percent of employed Ohioans who were continuously enrolled in Medicaid said the program helped enable them to hold down jobs; in many cases, Medicaid allowed them to obtain treatment for health conditions that would have otherwise made working difficult. Among unemployed but continuously enrolled beneficiaries, 60 percent said the program made it easier for them to look for work.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Rand Paul Suggests Talking to Russia About the Size of NATO (Niels Lesniewski, 8/21/18, The Hill)

Sen. Rand Paul floated the possibility of a dialogue with Russia about keeping NATO from further expanding its umbrella into Eastern Europe.

The Kentucky Republican, who recently returned from a trip to Russia for meetings with Russian lawmakers, suggested that the country's leaders may have fears of NATO seeking to go as far as expanding into Georgia and Ukraine. [...]

Trump played golf with Paul over the weekend at the president's country club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Author of Trump-Russia dossier wins libel case in US court (Luke Harding,  21 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

[T]he judge concluded that it was covered by the US first amendment, which protects free speech. He ruled that the oligarchs had failed to prove a key part of their case: that Steele knew that some information in the dossier was inaccurate, and had acted "with reckless disregard as to its falsity".

The ruling is a piece of good news for Steele, who has maintained silence in the face of a mountain of abuse from Trump and his enraged supporters. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


FDA extends EpiPen expiration dates to address ongoing shortage (Jacqueline Howard, 8/21/18, CNN) 

"We are doing everything we can to help mitigate shortages of these products, especially ahead of the back-to-school season," Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a written statement.

"We've completed the necessary reviews of the data to extend the expiration date by four months for specific lots of EpiPen that are expired or close to expiring. We're hopeful this action will ensure patients have access to this important medication and provide additional peace-of-mind to parents as the agency works with the manufacturer to increase supply," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen reaches plea deal with prosecutors: reports (Brendan Pierson. 8/21/18, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, has reached a plea bargain with federal prosecutors in New York on campaign finance violations, bank fraud and tax evasion, news media outlets reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources.

At least Alger Hiss pretended.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Watch 'The Wire' to Understand the Mueller Investigation (Nancy LeTourneau, August 21, 2018, Washington Monthly)
For years now I've thought that some day I wanted to go back and re-watch the best show that has ever been developed for television, David Simon's epic series, The Wire. I finally followed through and just finished the first season. It focuses on the investigation of Avon Barksdale's criminal organization that was launched by homicide detective Jim McNulty after dead bodies started piling up with possible connections to the organization.

What strikes me as a I listen to Trump and his enablers talk about the Mueller investigation is that they could learn a thing or two about how law enforcement goes after a criminal organization from watching that season of The Wire. [...]

The Baltimore Police detectives who were assigned to investigate the Barksdale gang often used informants to gather information. At one point, D'Angelo Barksdale, Avon's nephew, gets disgusted with the violence and, finding himself arrested, gives the detectives all that he knows about their criminal activities. That would be similar to how Steele operated in Russia. He developed confidential informants who, for whatever reason, were willing to give him information about Putin's so-called "Trump operation." That is how investigators work cases like this.

Many times during the first season of The Wire confidential sources were developed as a result of being arrested. In exchange for a plea deal that involved a lesser crime and reduced sentence, they were willing to provide investigators with damaging information on their superiors within the Barksdale organization. When Trump's enablers claim that people within his campaign like Papadopoulos and Gates have reached plea deals with Mueller on low-level charges and therefore, the special prosecutor has no case, they are engaging in an absurd argument based on ignorance.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


There's a Need for More Constructive Conservatism on Race  (DAVID FRENCH, August 20, 2018, National Review)

I have a question. If you're a young person of good will who is concerned about racial division in this nation, longs to understand how race has played a role in American history, and seeks racial reconciliation -- which is to say, one of millions of politically and culturally engaged young people in America -- how many thoughtful conservative voices will you encounter compared to thoughtful progressive voices? Yes, I know that there are conservatives who've written outstanding and compelling works on race and culture (Thomas Sowell is indispensable, of course), but if all you've got is curiosity and Google, conservative voices are simply swamped, and the conservative commentary that is out there is dominated by a particular tone and approach.

It strikes me that an enormous amount of conservative or right-leaning commentary on race is dedicated mainly to debunking the excesses and hypocrisy of the identity-politics Left. Make no mistake, that is a target-rich environment (people twisted themselves into ideological and conceptual pretzels to justify Sarah Jeong's malicious tweets, for example). Less is dedicated to seriously grappling with the consequences of racism in American life and culture. And no, I don't mean dwelling on microaggressions or proclaiming that police have declared some kind of "open season" on black men. But it does mean having something to say after you've taken on Al Sharpton or Linda Sarsour.

In fact, at least in my experience, showing particular concern for issues of race is often seen as evidence by itself that you're thinking like a progressive or that you're somehow not sufficiently conservative.

Just Mr. Sowell.  One of the most interesting points he's ever made was that the success of black immigrants to America--even of Haitian and African refugees--is not much different than that of other groups, but is completely different than the struggles of the descendants of slaves--who were obviously involuntary immigrants.  Essentially, we deprived them of the building blocks that the first generation normally provides to succeeding generations and made them start not just from ground zero but from below ground. He'd object, but it's an argument in favor of reparations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Police Are Attacked in Chechnya; ISIS Claims Responsibility (Ivan Nechepurenko, Aug. 20, 2018, NY Times)

At least four police officers were injured on Monday in a series of attacks in the mountain republic of Chechnya, Russian law enforcement authorities said, raising fears of renewed violence in the restive region.

Three attacks occurred around the same time in different locations, the Investigative Committee, a Russian security agency, said in a statement: an assault outside a police station by two men armed with knives, an attempted suicide bombing and the running over of two officers with a vehicle in Grozny, the regional capital. No police officers were reported killed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Train and Desist: Government analysts say most security cooperation programs don't work. Does Congress care?  (JUSTIN R. REYNOLDS, 8/20/18, American Interest)

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) took the Department of Defense to task over its poorly written project proposals for the Global Train and Equip program--basically a $4.1 billion security cooperation fund dedicated to improving our allies' counterterrorism capabilities. Under an Obama-era directive, Defense and State Department officials are supposed to consider four distinct modules when crafting Train and Equip projects: project objectives (what security gap the project is intended to fill); absorptive capacity (the recipient country's ability to use the training or equipment provided to it in an effective manner); baseline capabilities (to what degree the recipient country's forces are already capable of performing the task for which they are being trained or equipped); and sustainment arrangements--that is, how the recipient country will be able to sustain that capacity through its own funds or through continued support from the U.S. government. GAO's primary finding--or at least the one it went out of its way to highlight--was that these four elements were routinely omitted during the drafting process. While all proposals included information about project objectives and most included baseline assessments, less than half addressed absorptive capacity, and less than three quarters included complete sustainment plans.

This isn't the first time the Defense Department has come under fire for bureaucratic laziness. In 2016 the GAO criticized the department for being chronically late--almost two years, in some cases--in delivering statutory updates to Congress on the effectiveness of its Train and Equip programs. But underneath these managerial worries is a more alarming finding: According to the new report, only eight of the 21 aid programs examined by the GAO showed any improvement in their defensive capabilities under the DoD's own internal scale. Even in those eight, the results were modest: GAO found that on a five-point scale, six programs moved from level two to level three and just two programs moved from level one to level three.

Together, these programs cost the United States hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Many spanned half a decade or more. Yet for all that, the data is clear: Most of them do not actually work.

The New York Times justifiably homed in on the spectacular inefficiencies described in the report, but the results here are hardly surprising. U.S. security cooperation efforts have been failing to produce their intended outcomes for years, in large part because these programs seek to accomplish too much in places where the likelihood of success is slim. The important point is that despite new and concentrated efforts by the Defense Department and State to be more judicious when deciding which Train and Equip programs to fund, the vast majority still don't deliver.

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August 20, 2018

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Sources: Trump unsettled by McGahn's 30 hours with the special counsel (Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond,  August 20, 2018, CNN)

The President was unsettled by the notion that he didn't know everything McGahn said to the special counsel during their interviews, the sources said. And while he had approved the cooperation, Trump did not know the conversations stretched for 30 hours or that his legal team didn't conduct a full debriefing with McGahn after the fact.

Trump remained agitated for the rest of the weekend, the people said, believing the revelation made him look weak. Between conversations with his lawyers and a round of golf with Sen. Rand Paul, Trump lashed out on Twitter, decrying the suggestion he was caught off guard. [...]

According to officials, Trump has at times seemed unclear on McGahn's role -- which is not as his personal lawyer, but as a lawyer for the White House and the presidency.
McGahn enjoys rare status in the West Wing as an official who has openly defied the President-- in one case last year, he refused to order the Justice Department to fire Mueller, despite Trump's command.

But it has come at a cost. Trump and McGahn -- once close partners who forged a bond when McGahn joined Trump's campaign in its early stages -- now rarely meet one-on-one, a source familiar with their relationship said. Instead, Trump and McGahn now often only meet as part of a broader meeting, often times one involving White House chief of staff John Kelly.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


The Cornerstone of Conservatism (Matthew Johnson, 8/20/18, Imaginative Conservative)

The cornerstone of all conservative thought is that man is a creation of a supreme and divine Creator. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Giuliani walks back 'truth isn't truth' comment (STEPHANIE MURRAY, 08/20/2018, Politico)

One of the reasons that Ronald Reagan and W were able to assemble such outstanding cabinets is because they were egoless executives and confident that having superior staff would not diminish themselves in any way, would, in fact, enhance them by making their administrations more successful.

Donald, like Bill Clinton and the UR, justifiably lacks that confidence and so surrounds himself with staff even more incompetent than himself.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Charles Darwin's theory of evolution owes more to his garden than the Galápagos (Ben Garrod, 8/20/18, The Conversation)

Although it's too late to rebrand his most famous work, it might make sense to rename it "On the Origin of Pigeons, Worms, and Barnacles." These animals, along with the plants from his own country garden, provided him with much of the book's content.

Breeding pigeons was something of an obsession in Victorian England, and everyone from coal miners to (apparently) Queen Victoria were in on the craze. Perhaps realizing that in this one animal was contained all the evidence needed to explain his work and provide the public with a recognizable example of (albeit non-natural) selection in progress, Darwin became a pigeon fancier in 1855, even going so far as to set up a breeding loft in his home.

Indeed, the entire theory just--tellingly--analogized Nature to breeding.

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This AI can identify 50 eye diseases with superb accuracy-and explain its diagnoses (MELISSA LOCKER, 8/20/18, Fast Company)

In a paper published in Nature Medicine on Monday, Google's DeepMind subsidiary, UCL, and researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital showed off their new AI system. The researchers used deep learning to create algorithm-driven software that can identify common patterns in data culled from dozens of common eye diseases from 3D scans. The result is an AI that can identify more than 50 diseases with incredible accuracy and can then refer patients to a specialist. Even more important, though, is that the AI can explain why a diagnosis was made, indicating which part of the scan prompted the outcome. It's an important step in both medicine and in making AIs slightly more human.

August 19, 2018

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"A blue wave is obscuring a red exodus" (Jonathan Swan, 8/19/18, Axios)

There are 43 Republican seats now without an incumbent on the ballot. That's more than one out of every six Republicans in the House -- a record in at least a century,[Dave Wasserman, the Cook Political Report's House analyst] says. [...]

Wasserman says the most important sign that 2018 will be a "wave" year -- with Democrats winning control of the House -- is the intensity gap between the two parties. In polls, Democrats consistently rate their interest in voting as significantly higher than Republicans. And Democrats have voted in extraordinary numbers in the special elections held the past year, despite Republicans holding on to win almost all of these races. [...]

Wasserman has a vivid way of describing the most harmful dynamic for Republicans in November. "This election is the year of the angry female college graduate," he said.

"The most telling number in the most recent NBC/WSJ poll is that Trump's approval rating among women with college degrees was 26 percent. That's absolutely awful and the intensity of that group is extraordinary. They're already the most likely demographic to turn out to vote in midterms. But never have they been this fervently anti-Republican."

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Scoop: Trump said one-state solution would lead to Israeli PM named Mohammed (Barak Ravid of Israel's Channel 10 news, 8/19/18, Axios)

[O]n August 2nd, King Abdullah hosted French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Amman. During the meeting, the king briefed the French minister on his meeting with Trump a month earlier. French diplomats told me about the king's description of that meeting.

The king said he warned Trump during their meeting in June that "many young Palestinians don't want the two-state solution anymore, but would rather live together with the Israelis in one state with equal rights for all." The king added he told Trump: "The result will be that Israel will lose its Jewish character".

The king told the French foreign minister Trump answered sarcastically -- half joking, half serious: "What you say makes sense. ... [In a one-state scenario,] the prime minister of Israel in a few years will be called Mohammed".

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Trump Lawyers' Sudden Realization: They Don't Know What Don McGahn Told Mueller's Team (Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt, Aug. 19, 2018, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's lawyers realized on Saturday that they had not been provided a full accounting after The New York Times published an article describing Mr. McGahn's extensive cooperation with Mr. Mueller's office. After Mr. McGahn was initially interviewed by the special counsel's office in November, Mr. Trump's lawyers never asked for a complete description of what Mr. McGahn had said, according to a person close to the president.

Mr. McGahn's lawyer, William A. Burck, gave the president's lawyers a short overview of the interview but few details, and he did not inform them of what Mr. McGahn said in subsequent interactions with the investigators, according to a person close to Mr. Trump. Mr. McGahn and Mr. Burck feared that Mr. Trump was setting up Mr. McGahn to take the blame for any possible wrongdoing, so they embraced the opening to cooperate fully with Mr. Mueller in an effort to demonstrate that Mr. McGahn had done nothing wrong.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump's lead lawyer dealing with the special counsel, Rudolph W. Giuliani, appeared to acknowledge that he had only a partial understanding of what Mr. McGahn had revealed. Mr. Giuliani said his knowledge was secondhand, given to him by a former Trump lawyer, John Dowd, who was one of the primary forces behind the initial strategy of full cooperation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


EXCLUSIVE: 4-in-10 N.H. Republicans Support a 2020 Primary Challenge for President Trump (Michael Graham, 8/19/18, NH Journal)

A significant majority of Granite State voters--and 40 percent of Republicans--say a 2020 GOP primary for President Trump "would be a good thing." That's the finding of the latest New Hampshire Journal poll, 18 months ahead of the New Hampshire presidential primary.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


Speechwriter who attended conference with white nationalists in 2016 leaves White House (Andrew Kaczynski,  August 19, 2018, CNN)

CNN's KFile reached out to the White House last week about Darren Beattie, a policy aide and speechwriter, who was listed as speaking at the 2016 H.L. Mencken Club Conference.

The Mencken Club, which is named for the early 20th century journalist and satirist whose posthumously published diaries revealed racist views, is a small annual conference started in 2008 and regularly attended by well-known white nationalists such as Richard Spencer. The schedule for the 2016 conference listed panels and speeches by white nationalist Peter Brimelow and two writers, John Derbyshire and Robert Weissberg, who were both fired in 2012 from the conservative magazine National Review for espousing racist views.

Other speakers from the 2016 conference are regular contributors to the white nationalist website VDare. Jared Taylor, another leading white nationalist, can be heard at the conference in 2016 on Derbyshire's radio show along with Brimelow.
The White House, which asked CNN to hold off on the story for several days last week declined to say when Beattie left the White House. Beattie's email address at the White House, which worked until late Friday evening, was no longer active by Saturday.

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Israeli questioning of US Jews at border exposes deeper rift (The Associated Press, 8/19/18)

A series of similar incidents at Israeli border crossings has highlighted a growing gulf between the country's hard-line government and liberal Jewish Americans who say they support Israel but oppose its policies on issues including religion, President Donald Trump and especially the continued occupation of the West Bank.

This shift already appears to be having important implications for what historically has been a close relationship built on almost unquestioning bipartisan support. Some Jewish leaders have begun to criticize Israeli policies publicly, and some predict that the Democratic Party -- home to an estimated 70 percent of American Jews -- could soon turn away from its support for Israel.

A poll published by the American Jewish Committee in June showed deep differences between U.S. and Israeli Jews on issues like Israeli settlements, religious pluralism and Trump's policies. Only 34 percent of American Jews, for instance, supported Trump's handling of relations with Israel, compared with 77 percent of Israeli Jews.

A separate poll conducted by the Pew Research Center early this year found deep partisan differences in attitudes toward Israel, with Republicans more sympathetic to Israel than Democrats by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.

The differences between the world's two largest Jewish communities have been in the making for years.
Non-Orthodox American Jews have long identified with liberal causes, such as civil rights and social justice, and have become well-integrated into mainstream American society. They have a high rate of intermarriage with non-Jews, are less engaged in Jewish communal life than their parents, and tend to hold relatively dovish attitudes in Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, according to Steven Cohen, a prominent sociologist who studies the American Jewish community.

In contrast, many Israelis have more conservative world views. They generally oppose mixed marriage, have a more collective identity and take a harder line toward the Palestinians, Cohen said.

"Essentially, you have a liberal American Jewry confronting an increasingly conservative Israeli electorate, specifically an Israeli Jewish electorate," Cohen said.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Hezbollah leader meets with Yemeni rebels (Times of Israel, 8/19/18)

Hezbollah is believed to train and support the Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels, who are at war with a Saudi-led coalition allied with Yemen's internationally recognized government.

Hezbollah, which is also an Iran-allied Shiite group, says the Houthis are fighting a war against Saudi and American imperialism.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Sex scandals fester at unhealthy organizations, experts say (The Associated Press, 8/19/18)

Of all the horrific details contained in the Pennsylvania grand jury report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, one sentence stands out: "The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid 'scandal.'"

When sex-abuse cases dominate headlines, a familiar pattern often emerges. If it took place at a large organization -- be it a church, a large state university or a group such as USA Gymnastics -- misconduct is often covered up in hopes of saving the institution's reputation, and the money that accompanies it.

Why is the role of institutions so powerful? Because they command emotion. They inspire loyalty. And they have established ways of doing things that rev up when problems surface.

Perhaps most relevantly, they often have a community built around them, geographically or otherwise. And preserving that community can become a priority -- even over something as seemingly fundamental as protecting the youngest among us.

In short, when bad things happen inside institutions, the ingredients are already there to make things even worse.

"We have to stop protecting our rainmakers and we have to hold them to the values we espouse, not just move them around," said Kim Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women. [...]

"Sadly, all too often, we still see organizations wanting to preserve the brand and preserve the money, either by moving alleged perpetrators out of the organization to another area, rather than getting rid of them, or not acting in a way that's protecting the victims," says Churches.

"Victims and survivors then feel ashamed," she says. "They don't believe the institutions they trusted are caring for them.

"Why would that be, though? Why wouldn't an institution reflexively prioritize the protection of the very people most likely to help chart its future? Alan Salpeter, an attorney at Arnold & Porter in Chicago, says there's usually one key reason why abuse is covered up.

"It happens because of weaknesses in the culture of the institution," says Salpeter, a crisis-management expert who has written about the Penn State situation.

Those weaknesses can be to protect profit or power.

Now suppose that all these institutions made all their records open and available to the public.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Signs of Trump-Putin collaboration, starting years before the campaign? (Shane Harris, August 17, 2018, The Washington Post)

Of all the allegations contained in the "Steele dossier," the urtext of President Trump's possible ties to Russia, one has long stood out as the most compromising, because it would be evidence of a political and business relationship between Trump and Russia that predated his campaign for the White House.

"An intelligence exchange," former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele writes, "had been running between" Trump's team and the Kremlin, with the direct knowledge of Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Within this context Putin's priority requirement had been for intelligence on the activities, business and otherwise, in the US of leading Russian oligarchs and their families. Trump and his associates duly had obtained and supplied the Kremlin with this information."

The precise nature and location of that "intelligence exchange" have never been fully explained. But journalist Craig Unger thinks he may have found it, running out of the offices of Bayrock Group, a real estate development company that operated in Trump Tower in Manhattan in the early 2000s and partnered with the Trump Organization.

Based on his own reporting and the investigative work of a former federal prosecutor, Unger posits that through Bayrock, Trump was "indirectly providing Putin with a regular flow of intelligence on what the oligarchs were doing with their money in the U.S."

As the theory goes, Putin wanted to keep tabs on the billionaires -- some of them former mobsters -- who had made their post-Cold War fortunes on the backs of industries once owned by the state. The oligarchs, as well as other new-moneyed elites, were stashing their money in foreign real estate, including Trump properties, presumably beyond Putin's reach.

Trump, knowingly or otherwise, may have struck a side deal with the Kremlin, Unger argues: He would secretly rat out his customers to Putin, who would allow them to keep buying Trump properties. Trump got rich. Putin got eyes on where the oligarchs had hidden their wealth. Everybody won.

Thus Trump succeeded in business with Russia by what could most charitably be described as willful ignorance. Take the money. Don't ask too many questions.

And he'd had a lot of practice at that, Unger writes. Trump's burgeoning real estate empire was fueled in the 1980s by another privileged class, Russian gangsters who appear to have used Trump properties to launder their ill-gotten gains, Unger alleges.

It is this nexus between Trump, Putin, and wealthy mobsters and oligarchs -- often the same people -- that is Unger's fixation in his latest book, "House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia."

If Donald's business career demonstrates any incontrovertible truth it is that he can not make money without the intervention of more powerful men, always criminals--Fred, the mafia, oligrachs, Vlad.... Heck, the guy lost money as the house in Atlantic City.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Wildwood (Kara Moses, Emergence)

The sweet sound of birdsong seeps into my awareness, tugging at the sleeves of my slumber. The sunlight is already warm--unusually warm for springtime in Wales. Last night I slept on a bed of moss, gazing at the glimmering sky through the branches of a magnificent oak. Again I experienced that strange sense of peering back through time, as if the bison had opened up a channel through the ages that I could still glimpse through.

I am back at home, spending some time out on rewilding land, still dreaming of Białowieża. When I first arrived home, I was desperate to return to the forest. I longed for the bison, the wolves, the ancient oaks. But I decided to trust that the puszcza had imparted its small gifts, seeds to cultivate and carry forward.

The winds from the Irish Sea howl and whip across this Welsh moor, with no trees left to impede them. This land has long been stripped of her forest garments, every secret curve exposed, her rocky bones showing through. A monoculture of purple moor grass stretches endlessly over the rolling hills and jutting valleys, interrupted only by regimented blocks of alien sitka spruce plantation. The moor grass is so unappealing to wildlife that hardly any birds or animals will live in it, and not even the sheep, which eat everything else, will eat it. A bird survey conducted last year found one single species: the meadow pipit, the only bird to be found for miles around. Each year, the thick moor grass tussocks die and flop down, smothering everything else, draining the landscape of all color but a sickly jaundice yellow. Walking on the moor grass is almost impossible, an infuriating and exhausting experience; you never know whether your foot will wobble atop the tussocks or disappear between them.

Like so much of our island, the wildwood here was cleared until nothing of it remained. Intensive animal agriculture now dominates the landscape: a sheep-wrecked green desert. Many of the natural processes that pulse through Białowieża no longer function here. There are barely any predators left--no bear, no wolf, no lynx. There are no grazing bison or deer, no wild boar rummaging through the soil, no beaver engineering the waterways. It is a curious thing that many of the species we have exterminated here are those that would play key roles in regeneration. And so the task now falls to us.

Over the past few weeks, a group of us have begun rewilding this area in the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains in West Wales. This hundred-acre site--a "big soggy hill," as one person described it--covered in purple moor grass and not much else, was recently bought by a small charity with a vision to restore the great Cambrian wildwood that once covered these mountains.

Rewilding is about regenerating and restoring landscapes and their processes, creating healthy, functional ecosystems that can become self-regulating and free-willed again. There has been no human intervention here for seven years--even the sheep farmers gave up trying to make a living from these barren hills. After millennia of being suppressed by human will, the will of the land has begun to return in just a few years, oozing through the cracks and crevices in all its glorious forms. Mountain ash, birch, hawthorn, and oak are quietly emerging through the moor grass and the bracken. This land has not forgotten what it is meant to be. Like steam rising from hot water, new life rises from the land, from the memory of what it once was, what it still longs to be. The wildwood is returning.

One of our first jobs was ripping out the internal fences to create a core area that will allow free movement of wildlife--when it returns. In driving rain and scorching sun--sometimes both in one day--we pulled out fencing staples, cut through barbed wire, and laid fence posts down to return to the earth. Beneath the necessary work of restoring destroyed landscapes is perhaps another work that rewilding asks of us: to step back into the family of things--to participate. In doing so, we engage in a practice of reciprocity, going beyond the limitations of "sustainability"--which maintains a level of taking--and enter a regenerative relationship with the wild again. We give as much as we take--if not more. Ripping out the fences was exhilarating: it felt like a sacred act, an apology, a reconciliation. By liberating the land from these boundaries, its containment into sizes and shapes for human control, on some level we also liberated ourselves.

NH was once mostly clear cut, but is now back to 85% forested--2nd only to ME.  And everything the author says about the wild is accurate, but nothing gives a human being a better sense of perspective than coming upon a stone wall in the middle of a dense wood.  One is forced to imagine first the effort that it took for our ancestors to clear the woods, then to plow up so many stones, and you can't help but be humbled by their dedication. Them one has to recognize what short order nature made of our efforts once we let it alone briefly and you can't help but be humbled by Creation.   

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


McGahn, White House Counsel, Has Cooperated Extensively in Mueller Inquiry (Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, Aug. 18, 2018, NY Times)

 The White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, has cooperated extensively in the special counsel investigation, sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned of otherwise, according to a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter. [...]

For a lawyer to share so much with investigators scrutinizing his client is unusual. Lawyers are rarely so open with investigators, not only because they are advocating on behalf of their clients but also because their conversations with clients are potentially shielded by attorney-client privilege, and in the case of presidents, executive privilege.

"A prosecutor would kill for that," said Solomon L. Wisenberg, a deputy independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation, which did not have the same level of cooperation from President Bill Clinton's lawyers. "Oh my God, it would have been phenomenally helpful to us. It would have been like having the keys to the kingdom."

Mr. McGahn's cooperation began in part as a result of a decision by Mr. Trump's first team of criminal lawyers to collaborate fully with Mr. Mueller. The president's lawyers have explained that they believed their client had nothing to hide and that they could bring the investigation to an end quickly.

Mr. McGahn and his lawyer, William A. Burck, could not understand why Mr. Trump was so willing to allow Mr. McGahn to speak freely to the special counsel and feared Mr. Trump was setting up Mr. McGahn to take the blame for any possible illegal acts of obstruction, according to people close to him. So he and Mr. Burck devised their own strategy to do as much as possible to cooperate with Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that Mr. McGahn did nothing wrong. [...]

As the months passed on, it became apparent that Mr. McGahn and Mr. Burck had overestimated the amount of thought that they believed the president put into his legal strategy. Rather than placing the blame on Mr. McGahn for possible acts of obstruction, Mr. Trump has yet to even meet with the special counsel, his lawyers resisting an invitation for an interview. Mr. McGahn is still the White House counsel, shepherding the president's second Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh, through the confirmation process.

Mr. Mueller, armed with Mr. McGahn's account, is still trying to interview witnesses close to the president. But the White House has a new lawyer for the investigation, Emmet T. Flood, who has strong views on privilege issues. When the special counsel asked to interview Mr. Kelly, Mr. Flood contested the request, rather than fully cooperate.


A White House counsel is not in a position to reject or ignore a special prosecutor's request for information relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation. The law on the fundamental point is clear. Precisely as the Times describes McGahn's understanding of his role, the White House counsel is a government employee, not personal counsel to the president. Courts presented with the question have ruled that, in a criminal investigation, the attorney-client privilege does not shield a White House counsel from providing his or her evidence. Neither is executive privilege a safe harbor if the government can demonstrate need for the information and its unavailability from other sources.

The Clinton administration litigated and lost both privilege claims in defending against the independent counsel investigations. When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled unanimously on the application of the attorney-client privilege, it did so in no uncertain terms:

To state the question is to suggest the answer, for the Office of the President is a part of the federal government, consisting of government employees doing government business, and neither legal authority nor policy nor experience suggests that a federal government entity can maintain the ordinary common law attorney-client privilege to withhold information relating to a federal criminal offense. 

This is not to say that, when called to interview with prosecutors, a White House counsel would agree to answer any and all questions. It falls to his or her attorney to negotiate an acceptable scope and focus for the interviews. In preparing for those discussions, the counsel and his or her lawyers can certainly take into account the constitutional and other reasonable concerns of the president's personal counsel. The Times story does not provide detail about the extent to which McGahn's own counsel consulted with the president and the president's private counsel, except to report that the president raised no objection to the interviews. In the end, however, the White House counsel is a government employee called upon to negotiate in good faith the terms of cooperation with criminal justice authorities.

It is conceivable that McGahn could resist the interviews by drawing on the constitutional theory that Trump's lawyers have been testing publicly--that there is no "evidence" for him to give because the case for which it is sought, presidential obstruction of justice, is constitutionally impermissible. This maneuver would stand little chance of success. Assuming that McGahn were willing to be the vehicle for a test of Trump's constitutional theory, he would have reason to doubt that he would prevail. A court would likely hold that the constitutional question was premature and not one for him to raise, and that at this stage of the proceeding, he must give testimony.

The entire episode serves yet again of a reminder of the potential hazards that accompany the benefits to the president of the institutionalized office of the White house counsel. 

August 18, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Evangelicals confront sex abuse problems in #MeToo era (DAVID CRARY, 8/17/18, Associated Press)

The turmoil in evangelical ranks coincides with new disclosures about abuse by Catholic clergy in the U.S., including multiple allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and a scathing grand jury report about rampant abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses. However, the Catholic Church has been grappling publicly with its clergy abuse problem for more than two decades. For many American evangelicals, the #ChurchToo angst of recent weeks has been a painfully new experience.

In late July, the Southern Baptist Convention -- the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. -- announced plans to create a high-level study group to develop strategies for combatting sexual abusers and ministering to their victims. The move followed a series of revelations about sexual misconduct cases involving Southern Baptist churches and seminaries, including allegations that led to the ouster of powerful leader Paige Patterson as president of a seminary in Texas.

"Sexual assault and sexual abuse are Satanic to the core," said the Rev. Russell Moore, a high-ranking Southern Baptist Convention leader. "Churches should be the ones leading the way when it comes to protecting the vulnerable from predators."

The issues go beyond the Southern Baptists.

Last week, sexual misconduct allegations against one of the country's highest-profile evangelicals, Bill Hybels, led to wrenching changes at Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago-area megachurch he founded. The church's board of elders and lead pastor, before announcing plans to resign, said they would form an advisory council of Christian leaders from across the U.S. to oversee an investigation of the allegations lodged by several women against Hybels.

Hybels retired in April after some allegations were publicized, although at the time the elders belittled the women who spoke up. Announcement of the independent inquiry came a day after The New York Times quoted Hybels' former executive assistant, Pat Baranowksi, as saying the pastor repeatedly groped and harassed her in the 1980s.

The elders, in a statement , apologized to Baranowski and the other women who alleged abuse ranging from suggestive comments to unwanted kissing and hugging.

"The church should always follow in Jesus' footsteps to help the wounded find healing, and we are sorry we added to your pain," the elders said. "We are sorry that our initial statements were so insensitive, defensive, and reflexively protective of Bill."

In the Chicago case and others like it, the abuse was carried out by ministers who wield tremendous influence over their congregations, leading to situations where victims are silenced and blamed themselves for the abuse.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Kofi Annan, Former U.N. Secretary-General, Peace Prize-Winner, Dies At 80 (JAMES DOUBEK, 8/18/18, NPR)

In Oslo in 2001, Annan spoke of having "three key priorities" for the future of the U.N. in the 21st century: "eradicating poverty, preventing conflict, and promoting democracy. Only in a world that is rid of poverty can all men and women make the most of their abilities. Only where individual rights are respected can differences be channelled politically and resolved peacefully. Only in a democratic environment, based on respect for diversity and dialogue, can individual self-expression and self-government be secured, and freedom of association be upheld."

the great test of his career came when W sought to enforce UN resolutions and extend rights and democracy to the people of Iraq:  he failed it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


US supplied the bomb that killed Yemeni children during Saudi-led air strike (Agence France-Presse, 8/18/18)

The bomb that killed 40 children and 11 others in a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a bus in rebel-held northern Yemen was sold by the United States under a State Department deal with Riyadh, CNN has reported.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


She Is The World's Most Renowned Empathy Researcher -- And Is Alleged To Have Been Harassing Employees For Years: Screamed at, grabbed, pressured -- 11 scientists leveled serious accusations against Tania Singer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany. Singer denies the accusations. (Pascale Mueller,  August 17, 2018, Buzzfeed News)

Bethany Kok was a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany. She actually got along well with her boss, Tania Singer, the institute director - until she was pregnant. "Suddenly all that changed," Kok said. Now she is leveling serious accusations against the influential researcher.

Singer allegedly told Kok that she had to write four scientific articles before her maternity leave began. But according to the institute's list of publications, other scientists there only published one to two articles per year. Kok says that up until the date of her Caesarean section in October 2015, Singer was still writing her emails in which she insisted that Kok had to write a draft. By this point, Kok was well into her maternity leave. Her husband confirmed that such emails did exist - he recalled that they must have been received either before the day when his wife had to go to the hospitals, or before the actual operation. "That was illegal," said Kok.

Her boss denied the accusation. "There is no email with such content," she told BuzzFeed News through an attorney.

Singer is a world-renowned researcher and recipient of the Otto Hahn Medal. Executive managers in Davos and the Dalai Lama listen to her presentations with equal interest. She was twice listed as one of the 50 most influential women in German business by Manager Magazin.

Singer's field of expertise: empathy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Rod Was Right and I Was Wrong (AUSTIN RUSE, 8/17/18, Crisis)

Then 2002 came, and Rod started reporting on the priest sex scandal. Many of us thought Rod was going too far, going off the deep end, pulling out his hair. Like many others, I just could not believe some of the things we were hearing. What's more, I instinctively thought that the bishops were doing, if not the right thing, then the thing that made sense given who they felt they had to listen to: insurance companies, lawyers, and psychologists.

I just could not believe that Cardinal Law, for instance, was the bad guy. I just could not believe that such a friend to the pro-life movement was an enemy. I thought this was almost certainly the devil's way of ridding us of such a valuable ally.

I believed the bishops had to protect the Church, that the lawyers were probably right to offer compensation to victims and require them to keep quiet so as not to scandalize the faithful.

What's more, they were following the best "scientific" advice from psychologists, that these men could go into counseling and be "cured" such that they could enter ministry again, at least away from young people. A few years after 2002, I was with one of the most celebrated psychiatrists in the country, one who is Catholic and outspokenly pro-life [not Paul McHugh] and I asked him if his profession held that pedophilia could be cured. He said yes.

I thought the media was ginning up what was a scandal, to be sure, but one that was small, localized, and now blessedly over. And Rod was banging out story after story bringing down the Church. I thought he was overemotional. He was making things worse.

I recall perhaps the last time I was with Rod. It was at some conference years ago, still in the shadow of '02. I don't remember where. We sat at a table along with Robert Royal and David Mills, and we talked about this issue. I don't remember the exact conversation, but it was strained. There was already an estrangement over this issue and what he was doing. At that time, as we have come to know, Rod was under severe pressure from influential Catholic laymen and from important bishops to lay off. Father Neuhaus actually yelled at him. You are hurting the Church, they told him. This will blow over. This is being handled. Handled. Yes.

August 17, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Website Promised Free Anti-Antifa Shirts. Alt-Right Signed Up. It Was a Trap. (Kelly Weill, 08.17.18, Daily Beast)

A website that offered free anti-anti-fascist t-shirts for a real far-right march appears to have been a trap by anti-fascists.

On August 18, Trump supporters will host the "National March Against Far-Left Violence" in several cities, organized by a pair of frequent attendees at far-right rallies. Expected participants include members of anti-Muslim group the Proud Boys and people involved in the pro-Trump troll group Patriot Prayer, which has attracted white supremacists. In early July, when march leaders were planning their event, an apparent ally set up a website where marchers could pre-order anti-anti-fascist t-shirts. But the website appears to have been a trap by antifa, who turned around and published the names and addresses they'd collected from the website.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


AP source: It's not just audio, Manigault Newman has video (DARLENE SUPERVILLE, 8/17/18, AP)

It's not just audiotapes.

Omarosa Manigault Newman has a stash of video, emails, text messages and other documentation supporting the claims in her tell-all book about her time in the Trump White House, a person with direct knowledge of the records told The Associated Press Friday. [...]

"I will not be silenced. I will not be intimidated. I'm not going to be bullied by Donald Trump," the former Trump aide told The Associated Press this week as she seemed to dismiss a threat from Trump's campaign. She spoke to the AP hours after Trump's campaign announced it was filing an arbitration action against her alleging she'd violated a signed agreement with the campaign that prohibits her from disclosing confidential information.

She told PBS in a separate interview this week: "I have a significant amount, in fact, a treasure trove, of multimedia backup for everything that's not only in "Unhinged," but everything that I assert about Donald Trump."

Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


Trump cancels military parade, says he will head to Paris (Makini Brice, 8/17/18, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at the Griffiss International Airport, for a meeting with supporters in Rome, New York, U.S., August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


The real reason your company switched to an open plan office (JESUS DIAZ, 8/17/18, Co.Exist)

A new data analysis by Erik Rood offers one simple explanation: They save companies insane amounts of money.

Rood points out that the average amount of space per worker has been shrinking for years. According to some research, adopting open plan workspaces has helped drop the average square footage per worker by about 33% in just seven years. Using publicly available data from some of the largest S&P 500 companies, he offers a rough estimate of what the savings might look like-multiplying the square footage they'd expect to save by going open plan times the number of employees and a baseline cost per square foot for office space.

While such an estimate is rough, and Rood assumed key details like the cost per square foot at $50-which may be high or low, depending on location-and a standard amount of space savings in general, the numbers are nothing short of amazing. In theory, corporations like JP Morgan may have avoided spending more than a billion dollars over seven years by adopting open plan offices, which may translate into more than a 3.5% of its profits.

Still, as Rood points out, this doesn't account for the loss of productivity that open plan design seems to have on workers. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


The Banality Of The Bishops' Evil (ROD DREHER, August 16, 2018, American Conservative)

I know y'all are worn out by all my takes on the Catholic abuse scandal, but if you can stand it, Megan McArdle's column on it is worth reading. This graf jumped out at me:

There are plenty of tales to tell about how church reality came to resemble a dime novel, yet most are essentially stories of individual malfeasance, of depraved molesters seeking the camouflage of priestly celibacy. That doesn't explain the bureaucratization of evil. For what is striking about the grand jury's findings is that this was not simply a matter of a few bad individuals, or even many of them; what impresses and appalls is how routine it all was -- that the church had, as the report says, "a playbook for concealing the truth."

"The bureaucratization of evil" is a way of saying "the banality of evil," which was Hannah Arendt's term in Eichmann In Jerusalem, her famous account of the trial of the Nazi functionary. Arendt discussed how the evil that Eichmann did had become disguised by embedding it in bureaucratic procedures. Eichmann's evil became banal through bureaucratization, which rendered it abstract. She wrote:

The essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.

A good example of this in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report (pp. 285-90) is the way Bishop James Timlin of Scranton handled the case of Father Thomas Skotek, who impregnated a 16-year-old girl, then procured for her an abortion. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


People can guess at your social status based on the way you laugh (Julia Case-Levine, July 8, 2016, Quartz)

"Just by listening to a single instant of someone's laughter, a one second sample of the way someone laughs, you can gain some insight as to their status in a group," Christopher Oveis, an assistant professor at University of California San Diego, told Quartz.

Oveis is leading research on the relationship between laughter and status; his latest study examines the laughter of 48 male members of a university fraternity. Researchers split participants into groups with two low-status members (pledges, who had joined the fraternity just a month prior) and two high-status members (who had been active in the fraternity for two years or longer). Groups were then recorded as they exchanged jokes and teased each other.

The study found that low-status pledges exhibited markedly different laugher than their brothers higher up in the hierarchy.

"High-status laughers were more disinhibited, willing to take up more space with their voice, versus low status laughers, who were laughing submissively and were more constrained," Oveis said.

Dominant laughter was louder, more variable in tone, and--to the surprise of researchers--higher in pitch. Low-status laughers, on the other hand, tended to exhibit laugher that was shorter, lower in pitch, less sporadic, and more airy.

"I think this is about the psychology of power, and status tends to co-occur with power," Oveis said. "We know that when you feel powerful, you feel relaxed, and that tends to co-occur with certain non-verbal behaviors, so you're more disinhibited over-all."

"It was only when we put low-status laughers into that commanding position that they could feel that power and let those dominant laughs go."
High-status laughers tended to consistently laugh dominantly, while low-status laughers did so only occasionally. Notably, low-status individuals sometimes transcended their subordinate role when put in a position of power--for example, when they were teasing another brother.

"It was only when we put low-status laughers into that commanding position that they could feel that power and let those dominant laughs go," Oveis said.

Humor is dominance. That's why even liberals questions Donald's sexuality when making fun of him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Detroit Rep. Bettie Cook Scott on Asian opponent: 'Don't vote for the ching-chong!' (Violet Ikonomova,  August 16, 2018, Metro Times)

More than a dozen community groups have called on Rep. Bettie Cook Scott (D-Detroit) to apologize for a series of racial slurs sources say she used to describe her primary election opponent, Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit). 

Scott is alleged to have referred to Chang as "ching-chang" and "the ching-chong" to multiple voters outside polling precincts during last Tuesday's election. She's also said to have called one of Chang's campaign volunteers an "immigrant," saying "you don't belong here" and "I want you out of my country." 

Sister forgot to check her white privilege.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM



In recent days, Trump has called Manigault Newman "crazed," a "lowlife," and a "dog" on Twitter. His campaign filed an arbitration suit against her seeking "millions." And Trump told advisers that he wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to have Manigault Newman arrested, according to one Republican briefed on the conversations. (It's unclear what law Trump believes she broke.) Another Republican recounted how over the weekend Trump derailed a midterm-election strategy session to rant about Manigault Newman's betrayal. In an effort to change the narrative, the White House announced yesterday that Trump had revoked former C.I.A. director John Brennan's security clearance. But that only ignited a new public-relations crisis. A former West Wing official compared Trump's erratic behavior this week to the P.R. nightmare he created by attacking grieving Muslim-American Gold Star parents during the 2016 campaign. It's a "death spiral," the former official said.

Advisers and friends offered differing theories to explain Trump's nuclear response to a book that has failed to top the best-seller list, even while Trump has campaigned against it. "He's known her for 15 years and thinks it's a personal betrayal," the former West Wing official said. Others said Manigault Newman's well-oiled media rollout ignited Trump's fury. "She is doing everything perfect if her ultimate goal is to troll Trump," another former official said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Terrorism isn't 'losing'. It has already lost (The Spectator, 18 August 2018)

The latest attacker found the House of Commons protected by barriers. After driving around Westminster for 90 minutes, he drove into one of these barriers, killing no one. Within seconds, he was in handcuffs. It was, of course, a reminder of a vulnerability, the type of attack that could come from anyone with a car and murderous intent. But it was also a reminder of the professionalism of the police and security services, and the efficacy of the steps taken.

Since last year's attack in Westminster, 13 Islamist terror plots have been thwarted in the UK. The relative quiet we have seen recently is not because of a lack of jihadists. Instead, it shows the effectiveness of the security services: how a democracy can respond, successfully, to a terror threat without loss of civil liberties or making citizens feel under siege. Jihadists are now resorting to smaller plots, knowing that larger ones will probably be thwarted.

Al Qaeda used to publish a digital magazine called Inspire. British spies were eventually able to hack into it, at one point changing bombmaking instructions into a recipe for cupcakes. The ability of spies to intercept terror cells led the Islamic State to realise at an early stage that it would be unable to hatch 9/11-style mass-casualty attacks because whenever a network of potential jihadists is created in the West, it now stands a high chance of being intercepted. Last year, Khalid Masood used a car and a knife to take five lives in Westminster and injure 50. Tom Hurd, the counter-terrorism chief, has long argued that this -- the lone wolf attack -- is the main threat because larger attacks, with hundreds of potential victims, are now normally prevented.

It's not that terrorism is failing. It's that it has failed, demonstrably, in Britain and abroad: it can claim lives but it never succeeds in achieving its stated aims. 

The problem for the Salafi is that their cause--unlike that of national liberation groups--is illegitimate and can not appeal to the ideals of those they attack.

August 16, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Once again, Trump blows up his own lies (Greg Sargent, August 16, 2018, Washington Post)

An intriguing pattern is developing: President Trump resolves to strike a blow against the Russia investigation. He enlists his people in developing a rationale for his pending action that disguises its real motive. He carries out the act. He releases a carefully vetted statement elaborating that fake rationale. He then blows up the fake rationale by forthrightly declaring in a freewheeling interview that the act was really about the Russia probe all along.

The latest example of this: In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Wednesday night, Trump openly declared that his revocation of former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance was actually about the Russia investigation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Nationality Law leads some Druze to re-evaluate identity (Wilson Fache August 16, 2018, Al-Monitor)

The sign in Hebrew hanging on the front door of the military cemetery at the top of Mount Karmel reads, "Tribute to the fallen Druze soldiers / We did not honor you as we should have."

Ameer, a Druze man with protruding muscles, looked at it with a sad smile. "It's a Jewish neighbor who wrote that," he told Al-Monitor. "It's nice." An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veteran, Ameer had served during the first intifada. 

Druze cemeteries are traditionally devoid of grave markers bearing names because the Druze believe in reincarnation. An exception was made on Mount Karmel for those who had fallen in war, with more than 400 names of Druze soldiers so far engraved on stone slabs. The first date back to 1938, a decade before the founding of the State of Israel. Today, about 83% of Druze youth serve in the IDF, the highest enlistment percentage of all communities, including the Jewish population.

"We gave our lives and so much more," Ameer said, pacing along the cemetery's pathways under a scorching hot sun. "And now the government wants to make us second-class citizens. Why?"

Since July 19 -- when the Knesset adopted the controversial Nationality Law defining Israel as the nation-state and national home of the Jewish people -- a rebellion has been brewing within the Druze community. Historically "faithful" to Israel, including to the IDF, the Druze feel discriminated against because of the new law.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Couple Wearing 'Abolish ICE' Shirts Denied Access To Statue of Liberty (JAKE OFFENHARTZ, AUG 16, 2018, Gothamist)

A pair of New Yorkers hoping to pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty last month say they were ordered by federal employees to change out of their "Abolish ICE" t-shirts before approaching the monument. When the couple refused, security guards escorted them out of line for their pre-paid tour--a decision that the National Park Service now admits was a "misstep," and one that qualifies as illegal viewpoint discrimination, according to the NYCLU.

Tiffany Huang tells Gothamist that she'd never been to the statue before, and received tickets from her fiancé as a birthday gift back in June. In light of President Trump's family separation policy, the couple "felt we needed to acknowledge the symbolism of visiting the Statue of Liberty," says Huang. They decided to do so by wearing homemade shirts emblazoned with the "Abolish ICE" slogan.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Breitbart editor calls for 'national conversation' on N-word amid Trump furor (ANDREW SILOW-CARROLL, 8/16/18, JTA)

In a tweet Wednesday, Joel Pollak, Breitbart's editor-at-large, tweeted about his visit to a local boxing gym "owned by a terrific black guy."

Having heard the word used repeatedly in the rap music played over the gym's sound system, Pollak suggested that the country is "overdue for a real national conversation about the word and its public use."

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Revoke my security clearance, too, Mr. President (William H. McRaven, August 16, 2018, Washington Post)

William H. McRaven, a retired Navy admiral, was commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014. He oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Dear Mr. President:

Former CIA director John Brennan, whose security clearance you revoked on Wednesday, is one of the finest public servants I have ever known. Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don't know him.

Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.

As we saw once again during the election, secrecy served the Republic poorly.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Small business owners are getting a new incentive to sell to their employees (Joseph Blasi, Rutgers University and Douglas L. Kruse, Rutgers University, 8/16/18, The Conversation)

The federal government just made it a lot easier to form an employee-owned business.

In an increasingly rare example of bipartisan cooperation, President Donald Trump on Aug. 13 signed a defense bill into law that included a popular provision that allows the Small Business Administration to straightforwardly loan money to employee-owned businesses that wish to buy out retiring small business owners.

This and other changes in the provisions are significant. Not only could they double or even triple the growth rate of employee-owned companies over the next decade, we expect they will help stabilize jobs in local communities as well as reduce inequality by giving more middle-class families a means of accumulating wealth. [...]

A few employee-owned companies include grocery chain Publix Super Markets and staffing firm Penmac - the two biggest - as well as food companies King Arthur Flour and Bob's Red Mill and breweries Harpoon and New Belgium Brewery, maker of Fat Tire beer. [...]

The provision, previously known as the Main Street Employee Ownership Act, was written by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and had co-sponsors on both sides of the political aisle. It is the most far-reaching employee share ownership legislation to pass Congress in over 20 years.

Its most important element involves permitting the SBA to clear away many previous barriers so it can make guaranteed loans of up to $5 million to employee-owned businesses, especially ESOPS and worker cooperatives. This will make employee buyouts easier to do by significantly expanding the amount of credit available and will create more flexibility for sellers so that they can transition out of their businesses over a few years.

The law also tasks the SBA with providing more awareness, technical assistance and training both to the small business owners who might be interested in selling to their employees and to the workers themselves.

We've observed that past efforts to encourage employee ownership by the federal government led to large growth spurts, such as laws passed 30 and 20 years ago that offered tax incentives. That's why we would estimate the latest measure to double or even triple the growth of employee-owned companies.

The legislation's impact could be far-reaching.

If it's successful in leading more small business owners to sell to employees, it could help reduce economic inequality. That's because the primary beneficiaries would be working- and middle-class employees who would suddenly have a new way to build a substantial amount of capital.

Furthermore, it'll help preserve local jobs and the tax base because as we noted these small businesses often end up closing down because there's no one to take over. In addition, employee-owned companies have shown greater resiliency in times of economic stress, leading to fewer layoffs. And research shows that these types of companies offer better pay and benefits than other types of businesses.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


New Omarosa Tape Appears to Back Claim She Was Offered $15,000 a Month to Stay Quiet (INAE OH, AUG. 16, 2018, Mother Jones)

A new secret recording released by Omarosa Manigault Newman on Thursday appears to show President Donald Trump's daughter-in-law offering the former White House aide a $15,000-a-month job shortly after she was fired last December. Manigault Newman told NBC that the recording demonstrates the Trump campaign's effort to buy her silence and prevent her from speaking out against the president.

The clip, which raises concerns of possible campaign finance violations, marks the fourth recording released by Manigault Newman this week as she promotes Unhinged, a memoir recounting her brief tenure at the White House where she was reportedly paid a $179,000 salary.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
the highest resolution version available.
Parker vs Perseid 
Image Credit & Copyright: Derek Demeter (Emil Buehler Planetarium)

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Identity politics are - by definition - racist (Lionel Shriver, 18 August 2018, Spectator USA)

An astonishing 55 per cent of Americans now consider being white important to their identity. I don't count myself among them. All of greater Europe and its vast diaspora is too diffuse an association to do anything for me. I may be feebly interested in my German heritage, but should DNA analysis prove that my forebears were actually Bangladeshi, if anything I'd throw a party. ('Yay! I'm not white! Nothing's my fault!') I don't much care about being female or American, either. These are all attributes foisted upon me at birth that I did not choose.

Having little attachment to your race is a luxury, of course. Historically, African-Americans have had to consider their race important, because it was too important, in the worst way, to others. Yet luxuries aren't to be wasted, so I plan on continuing to be so-what about my skin colour. Progress, to me, involves us all becoming so-what about race -- but that's not the direction we're headed. [...]

The American left urges every race to organise, pull together, demand their rights if not special treatment, recognise their common experience, celebrate their people's separate history and separate accomplishments -- except one. If white people do the same thing, they're bigoted and beyond the pale. That mixed-message platform isn't politically saleable in the long term, isn't actually fair and is already backfiring big-time.

To be clear, I'm not arguing for white identity politics, but against identity politics of any brand. The movement insists that what we are is more important than who we are; that our lives derive their meaning from our membership of groups; that what happens to us isn't the product of our own decisions but of unequal power dynamics that are bigger than we are. Ergo, your complexion eclipses everything else about you. Identity politics are overtly and explicitly racist. In fact, by cavalierly characterising anyone who embraces a white identity as a 'supremacist', that NewsHour discussion was racist as could be.

Keep playing this game, get more white folks playing it, too. Some white liberals will continue to compete over who can seem more ashamed, in an effort to earn themselves out of their skin colour (sorry, guys--doesn't work, and anything nasty you say about white people still applies to you). But all the other pale faces won't necessarily tolerate being told that Caucasians alone cannot be regarded as a cohesive people, cannot experience solidarity, cannot feel communal pride, cannot fight back when slandered or stereotyped, cannot advocate for their interest and cannot ever, ever feel sorry for themselves. The sleeping giant of white identity politics? Thanks to misguided hard-left activism, it's woke.

The Right is the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


FCC chair says White House lawyer asked about status of Sinclair deal (David McCabe, 8/16/18, Axios)

The White House's top lawyer made contact with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to inquire about its review of the purchase of Tribune Media stations by the conservative broadcaster Sinclair, Pai told a Senate committee on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


'Trump Is Ours': Kremlin Media Fear Democratic Victory in November Midterm Elections (Julia Davis, 08.16.18 , Daily Beast)

As the realization dawns on them that the Putin-friendly president cannot or will not lift past and future sanctions on the faltering Russian economy, as many had expected, they appear to be focusing their hopes--and fears--on the Hill.

Reports in the state-controlled media betray the Kremlin's apparent concern that President Trump will be impeached if the Democrats win control of the House. They describe the midterms as "the electoral death match." Evgeny Popov, the host of the Russian state TV show 60 Minutes, posed a provocative question to Sergei Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States: "Will anything change in November? Let's jokingly assume that we interfere and all goes well for Trump." Kislyak tergiversates about the potential outcome and cautiously warns Popov: "Let's not joke about that. Americans have lost their sense of humor."

Politician Sergei Stankevich opines that Trump is in dire straits, as the Republicans are poised to lose their House majority. He says the GOP's opponents criticize Trump's decidedly soft approach to Russia based on him being "charmed or covertly pressured by Putin." [...]

Stankevich argued with the state TV host, Olga Skabeeva, who repeated the popular Russian mantra "Trump is ours." Stankevich described Trump as a "psychologically unstable swashbuckler" and said Russian politics should prioritize "the containment of madness." He stressed that the sanctions bill "crossed two red lines" Americans avoided in the past by targeting Gazprom and Russia's sovereign debt. Stankevich cautioned that doing so would spiral into an all-out conflict between the United States and Russia.

Military expert Sergei Sudakov said the biggest threat facing Russia is the possibility of being disconnected from SWIFT, the coding system vital to international money transfers, which would affect the country's key foreign exchange earners in the oil and gas industry. Sudakov claimed that the Russians are actively developing a strategy of using Chinese hubs to circumvent Russia's potential loss of its access to SWIFT. MP Leonid Kalashnikov asserted that he is still glad that Trump was elected, because under Hillary Clinton Russia would have been cut off from SWIFT a long time ago.  

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


Beinart's airport questioning: No mistake, just a fadiha*: Netanyahu doesn't think the policy is wrong -- he's just sorry it was applied to a prominent Jew (Yonatan Gher, AUG 15, 2018, Times of Israel)

It's obviously helpful that prominent organizations condemned Beinart's detention, but it also raises the question: Why just now? I'll focus for a minute on the response by Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League quoted in the above link. He said that: "Accepting wide-ranging views and advocacy strengthens commitment to a democratic Jewish state. Questioning those who may hold divergent views when entering or exiting Israel does the opposite." He then added that Netanyahu's response was "an important start."

I just checked in with Tanya Rubinstein, general-coordinator of the Coalition of Women for Peace, who was questioned in a similar fashion when she returned from a conference in Stockholm this past May. She says, nope, no letters from a Jonathan Greenblatt. I imagine I would get the same answer from Yehudit Ilani, a human rights activist, who had a similar experience two weeks after Tanya. Considering Simone Zimmerman, former Bernie Sanders adviser, has a little bit of history with the ADL, I guess it's no surprise that they did not speak out when she experience similar Shin Bet questioning last week.

Tanya's questioning, marking the first in this current wave, was described in the Haaretz article as an "unusual incident." Lest we forget that the only unusual thing about it was that it happened to a Jewish-Israeli citizen. For Palestinian-Israeli activists, let alone Palestinian-Palestinian activists, this would be their quite usual Ben Gurion experience.

Let's be very clear: when Netanyahu says this was a mistake, he does not mean the policy is a mistake. He means its application to Peter Beinart was a mistake. This policy is part of a broader "us vs. them" strategy. Palestinians are "them." Those who support Palestinian rights -- human or political -- is "them." Anyone who opposes government policy is "them." All these "thems" are evil. They oppose Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and "would have us all thrown into the sea." So they are not worthy of enjoying such privileges as freedom of expression, as afforded to the "us" -- being those who use their freedom of expression in praise of leader and state.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


The crucified Christ isn't a tragic hero: In a comic reversal, says Terry Eagleton, the death of God incarnate reveals a fragile social order : a review of Radical Sacrifice By Terry Eagleton (George Dennis O'Brien August 16, 2018, Christian Century)

The book's final chapter, "Kings and Beggars," offers a particularly clear account of how the Real undermines the surety of symbols that structure our common world. What final reality attaches to king or beggar? In death they are but common dust. Eagleton points to the cultural practice of carnival as a symbolic recognition of the fragility of the social order. For a day, servants become masters and beggars don royal robes. Eagleton understands Christian Holy Week within the order of carnival. "An obscure layman, blown in from provincial Galilee" is hailed with palms only to be crucified days later under the mocking title "King of the Jews."

The crucifixion has been regarded since New Testament times as a sacrifice. But what is a sacrifice? Eagleton ticks off 18 definitions of sacrifice, from gift to adoration to discharge of a debt. In which sense, then, is the death of Jesus a sacrifice? Is it a radical sacrifice? In a chapter titled "Tragedy and Cruci­fixion," Eagleton suggests that "Jesus may be a tragic protagonist, but . . . he is not a heroic one." The hero dies for a cause, for the sake of some symbolic system that outlives death. The permanent transcendence of the cause is affirmed by courageous death. In contrast, Jesus at dark cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" What does that imply about his cause?

To understand the crucifixion, one has to go beyond the story of heroes and causes. Eagleton rejects a "Big Other" God who sustains the cause for which the hero dies. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross defeats and destroys the reigning symbolic orders of Temple sacrifice and Roman law. Neither is underwritten by a Big Other. In truth, God has no cause except himself. A derelict and deserted Jesus has no cause beyond faith in the Father. "The Father . . . is an abyss of love rather than a copper-bottomed metaphysical guarantee. It is the Father himself who lies at the source of Jesus' faith, as the object-cause of his desire, and in that sense, he has not been forsaken."

For Eagleton, the crucifixion is not tragic. It is a "comic" reversal in which the highest becomes the lowest, God becomes the most abject. In carnival, the crucified is God incarnate. It is the triumph of what Eagleton calls God's "brutal love." Jesus' cause is faith in the Father, the bond to the one he calls Abba.

Christianity emerges, therefore, not as a cause but as personal attachment to the one who says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the light." The radical reversal of the cross leads us beyond our human failure to capture life fully lived, and even beyond death's defeat. The Christian world is finally haunted not by "the Real" but by the unspeakable God.

Is it even possible to imagine a more comic/tragic/heroic story than that of the Christ?  God determined to live as a Man, to show us the perfect example of what He had intended for Creation.  But when push came to shove even He despaired of Himself, making possible--actually necessary--His reconciliation with His flawed creations.  It is aesthetically perfect.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


In setback for TransCanada, judge orders Keystone XL pipeline review (Timothy Gardner, 8/16/18 Reuters) 

A federal judge in Montana on Wednesday ordered the U.S. State Department to do a full environmental review of a revised route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, possibly delaying the project's construction and dealing the latest setback for Canada's TransCanada Corp (TRP.TO).

There was never any chance of it being built, which is why the UR should have compromised on it.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Only Aretha Franklin had the soul power to summon the spirit at will (Dominic Green, August 16, 2018, Spectator USA)

Aretha Franklin, who died this morning at the age of 76, was called the Queen of Soul. But she did not inherit her crown, so much as create it. Nor, though she inspired plenty of oversold and over-souled pretenders, did she ever have a plausible heir. She wove that crown from the music of the black church, the blues and Broadway, from faith, pain and love. No one else could touch her, and she will meet her maker still wearing it.

Aretha -- the voice was so distinctive that her surname seemed superfluous -- was simply the finest popular singer of her generation. Unlike every other pop star of the Sixties and Seventies, she would have been among the finest of the previous generations, too. Her only peer for placing the note just where it hurt was Billie Holiday, but Aretha also had the power of Big Mama Thornton. Her only peer in sheer swinging joy was Ella Fitzgerald, but Aretha was stronger on the high notes.

She was born in 1942, and into the business of soul. [...]

The crowning glory was her 1971 gospel album, Amazing Grace, with full choir, a rhythm section of Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie (drums), Chuck Rianey (bass) and Cornell Dupree (guitar), a delirious audience at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, and Aretha on incandescent form. There never was a pop records like it. Perhaps it is not a pop record at all, but a spiritual testimony of black American music; and perhaps that is what Soul music was, when it stayed close to the church.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Iran Supreme Leader admits mistake over nuclear talks (Middle East Monitor, August 15, 2018)

International sanctions on Iran were lifted when the pact with world powers came into force in 2016, but the expected level of foreign investment to help revive the economy has never materialised. Then this May President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement and is now reimposing U.S. sanctions in stages.

Khamenei, who rarely admits in public to making errors, said he had done just that over the nuclear talks. "With the issue of the nuclear negotiations, I made a mistake in permitting our foreign minister to speak with them. It was a loss for us," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Trump Revokes Ex-CIA Director John Brennan's Security Clearance (Peter Nicholas and Michael C. Bender, Aug. 15, 2018, WSJ)

In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Trump cited Mr. Brennan as among those he held responsible for the investigation, which also is looking into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Mr. Trump has denied collusion, and Russia has denied interfering.

Mr. Brennan was director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Democratic administration of former President Obama and one of those who presented evidence to Mr. Trump shortly before his inauguration that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

"I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham," Mr. Trump said in an interview. "And these people led it!"

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


President Trump's Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash (John O. Brennan, Aug. 16, 2018, NY Times)

Before, during and after its now infamous meddling in our last presidential election, Russia practiced the art of shaping political events abroad through its well-honed active measures program, which employs an array of technical capabilities, information operations and old-fashioned human intelligence spycraft. Electoral politics in Western democracies presents an especially inviting target, as a variety of politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright by Russian intelligence operatives. The very freedoms and liberties that liberal Western democracies cherish and that autocracies fear have been exploited by Russian intelligence services not only to collect sensitive information but also to distribute propaganda and disinformation, increasingly via the growing number of social media platforms.

Having worked closely with the F.B.I. over many years on counterintelligence investigations, I was well aware of Russia's ability to work surreptitiously within the United States, cultivating relationships with individuals who wield actual or potential power. Like Mr. Bortnikov, these Russian operatives and agents are well trained in the art of deception. They troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters. Too often, those puppets are found.

In my many conversations with James Comey, the F.B.I. director, in the summer of 2016, we talked about the potential for American citizens, involved in partisan politics or not, to be pawns in Russian hands. We knew that Russian intelligence services would do all they could to achieve their objectives, which the United States intelligence community publicly assessed a few short months later were to undermine public faith in the American democratic process, harm the electability of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and show preference for Mr. Trump. We also publicly assessed that Mr. Putin's intelligence services were following his orders. Director Comey and I, along with the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, pledged that our agencies would share, as appropriate, whatever information was collected, especially considering the proven ability of Russian intelligence services to suborn United States citizens.

The already challenging work of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities was made more difficult in late July 2016, however, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, publicly called upon Russia to find the missing emails of Mrs. Clinton. By issuing such a statement, Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Did I Join a Movement That Naturally Attracts Extremists and Kooks? (Matt Lewis, 08.15.18, Daily Beast)

Now, I'm not going to pretend that there aren't weird people on the left; there are (see Anthony Weiner). And I'm not going to say they don't have some horrifically stupid ideas (a new survey shows Dems prefer socialism to capitalism) I'm just saying that, in recent years, the balance has gotten out of whack.

Think of it this way: Even if you prefer the implementation of conservative public policy (as I do), on the micro level,  who would you trust alone to watch your children? Donald Trump? Rudy? Gorka? Or Barack Obama? I have to say, I'd trust Obama in a minute.

But it's not just the Trump administration that looks like a cast of supervillains. Take a good look at what has happened to the entertainment wing of the right. Consider the last decade of Dinesh D'Souza's life. Consider the career trajectory of Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Consider Alex Jones' insane conspiracy theories. And--just last week--consider Mark Levin's theory that Robert Mueller is a "greater threat" to America than Vladimir Putin--or the toxicity Laura Ingraham's recent rant about immigration.

Speaking of Ingraham, on Monday, a Morning Joe producer tweeted some remarks Ronald Reagan made in 1989 about immigration, in which Reagan says the U.S. leads the world because "we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world." It was, quite simply, a reminder that the Gipper espoused the exact opposite message from the one Ingraham is peddling nightly on her Fox News show.

I grew up with (and signed on for) Reagan's version of conservatism. In recent years, I have become disenchanted--not with the intellectual philosophy of Edmund Burke or the governing philosophy of Ronald Reagan--but with what passes for conservatism today.

The 1980s, for a set of historical reasons, was a time when conservatism had real intellectual credibility. Not only was Reagan a decent man, his conservatism was (without having to market it as such) compassionate. I thought this was a culmination, that conservatism had outgrown the earlier extremism and kookiness that existed before I came of age. But what if it was an aberration?

In recent years, the worst trends seem to have disproportionately hit the American right. It's unclear why the right was more susceptible to forces that ultimately gave us Donald Trump's "legion of doom," but my guess is that conservatives felt like they had to create alternative media outlets to distribute their message. Along the way, those alternative media outlets (most famously, talk radio and Fox News), metastasized from alternate outlets into alternate realities. Liberals, still wedded to mainstream media outlets, are (for now) more moored to reality.

When your goal is to move the Overton Window to the Right in a conservative country you're trying to let the kooks in.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Catholic Priests Abused 1,000 Children in Pennsylvania, Report Says (Laurie Goodstein and Sharon Otterman, Aug. 14, 2018, NY Times)

Bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it, according to a searing report issued by a grand jury on Tuesday.

The report, which covered six of the state's eight Catholic dioceses and found more than 1,000 identifiable victims, is the broadest examination yet by a government agency in the United States of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The report said there are likely thousands more victims whose records were lost or who were too afraid to come forward.

It catalogs horrific instances of abuse: a priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out; a victim tied up and whipped with leather straps by a priest; and another priest who was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.

The sexual abuse scandal has shaken the Catholic Church for more than 15 years, ever since explosive allegations emerged out of Boston in 2002. But even after paying billions of dollars in settlements and adding new prevention programs, the church has been dogged by a scandal that is now reaching its highest ranks. The Pennsylvania report comes soon after the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who is accused of sexually abusing young priests and seminarians, as well as minors.

20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

August 15, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


She works for Trump. He can't stand him. This is life with Kellyanne and George Conway. (Ben Terris, August 15, 2018, wASHINGTON pOST)

 Here's a conversation from a few days after our walk:

Me: You told me you found [George's tweets] disrespectful.

Kellyanne: It is disrespectful, it's a violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows . . . as "a person familiar with their relationship."

Me: No, we're on the record here. You can't say after the fact "as someone familiar."

Kellyanne: I told you everything about his tweets was off the record.

Me: No, that's not true. That never happened.

Kellyanne: Well, people do see it this way. People do see it that way, I don't say I do, but people see it that way.

Me: But I'm saying we never discussed everything about his tweets being off the record. There are certain things you said that I put off the record.

Kellyanne: Fine. I've never actually said what I think about it and I won't say what I think about it, which tells you what I think about it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Revelation of a Liverpool Soccer Fan: Devotion to this team has taught me to see the value in crushing defeat. (Simon Critchley, Aug. 15, 2018, NY Times)

In the end, we lost calamitously, almost comically, with two inexplicable errors from our otherwise excellent goalkeeper, Loris Karius, and an astonishing goal (courtesy of a bicycle kick) from Real Madrid's Gareth Bale. But our fans, decked out all in red, were magnificent throughout, massively outnumbering Madrid's supporters and singing our songs until the bitter end: "Mo Salah, Mo Salah, Mo Salah running down the wing ... the Egyptian king."

It's difficult to describe the feeling after losing a game like this: We felt stunned, empty, with no desire to speak much. Ed and I sat quietly and drank more beer. I suggested feebly that we go to the pub, but Ed declined, saying he wasn't feeling it. Nor was I, truthfully. At that moment, like a good metaphor, a vast storm broke over South London, sending rivers of rain into the streets.

What does being a soccer fan teach us about being human? It provides us with a living, breathing community of fellow fans, and with a sense of identity and belonging, even if that belonging is virtual, circulating across social networks. For Liverpool supporters, fandom also offers a set of values: compassion, internationalism, decency, honor, self- respect and respect for others, even Manchester United fans (well, sometimes).

Soccer fandom binds us together in love. It gives us access to a rich, commonly held history that is also intensely personal. My grandmother has a Liverpool Football Club crest on her gravestone. Soccer was the only thing I could talk about sensibly with my father until his death. Eighty percent of my texting and talking with my son is about the team we love. That's a century and counting of history.

Millions of fans all over the world have similar sets of experiences. And these experiences link together into a vast collective that constitutes the cosmos of fandom. The fans are a living archive. Players come and go, but the fans stay, creating Liverpool's existential memory. Without them, the game is nothing. With them, it is more than a game.

But mainly being a fan is about learning to accept failure and bewildering disappointment. To lose to Real Madrid in the way we did was heartbreaking. Yet our fans are closer than ever. Liverpool's club song is a moving rendition of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune "You'll Never Walk Alone." In loss, we are still together. My son and I have watched Liverpool lose many times -- to Sevilla in the 2016 Europa League final, to A.C. Milan in the 2007 Champions League final. And we will lose again. The important thing is being together when we do. Soccer teaches you the value of solidarity.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Medical students are skipping class in droves -- and making lectures increasingly obsolete (ORLY NADELL FARBER, AUGUST 14, 2018, STAT)

The future doctors of America cut class. Not to gossip in the bathroom or flirt behind the bleachers. They skip to learn -- at twice the speed.

Some medical students follow along with class remotely, watching sped-up recordings of their professors at home, in their pajamas. Others rarely tune in. At one school, attendance is so bad that a Nobel laureate recently lectured to mostly empty seats.

Nationally, nearly one-quarter of second-year medical students reported last year that they "almost never" attended class during their first two, preclinical years, a 5 percent increase from 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Are Jews White?: A recent judicial ruling defining Jewish as a protected race follows a long and often ugly history. (ATIYA HUSAIN, AUG 14, 2018, Slate)

Joshua Bonadona graduated from Louisiana College in 2013. Raised Jewish, he converted to Christianity in college and was known to lead the "Christian devotional" for his football team at the private Baptist school.

In May 2017, Bonadona applied for a job at his alma mater as a football coach. The president of the university, Rick Brewer, and the head coach interviewed him for the job. The head coach relayed to Bonadona afterward that he had recommended him for hire but Brewer did not. Brewer allegedly cited Bonadona's "Jewish blood" as the reason for the hiring decision. (Bonadona's mother is Jewish, and his father is Catholic.)

After learning why he was denied employment, Bonadona sued the college. And he won.

The judge ruled last month that Bonadona had been discriminated against because of his Jewish lineage, deciding that he was part of a protected "race" under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For some Jewish people, it did not feel like a victory. The regional branch of the Anti-Defamation League released a statement in February while the case was ongoing: "ADL is deeply offended by the perception of Jews as a race found in both allegations against the College and the plaintiff's assertions in the lawsuit." After the decision, David Barkey of the ADL called it a "double-edged sword."

Such racial classifications recall a violent history for Jewish people. The Holocaust was a product of the notion that Jews were a biologically "different" race from Germans and, more precisely, the Nazi concept of the Aryan race. This history is not a comfortably distant memory, either, with similar arguments echoing through the alt-right today.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM



[The Bal des Victimes] was an orgiastic evening of aristocratic irreverence. Attendees wore bizarre black costumes, intentionally gauzy and threadbare to mock the severity of the French Revolution. Men sheared the backs of their heads, and women tied their hair up, baring their necks in the way that executioners prepared the condemned for the guillotine. Most ballgoers tied red ribbons or shawls around their necks, cheekily signifying the spout of blood produced by the guillotine's slicing blade. These young aristocrats were rowdy and outlandish, a gang of pro-establishment punks -- they were les Incroyables et Merveilleuses.

Also known as les Muscadins for the expensive, musky perfume they wore in rebellion against the revolutionary rebuke of decadence, the "incredible and marvelous ones" first appeared around 1794. These aristocrats had been itching to come out of hiding and party since the beginning of the Reign of Terror in 1792, during which the First Republic government under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre lopped off the heads of 40,000 people, most of them from the highest echelons of French society.

When Robespierre himself was guillotined on July 28, 1794, thus ending the terror, surviving aristocrats wasted no time getting decadent. Ornate carriages rolled through the streets of Paris the day after the revolutionary leader's execution.

And these initial parades of wealth were only the beginning. All forms of entertainment once again thrived in the French capital, with theaters and music halls putting on performances that mocked revolutionary austerity.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Measuring inflation: What's changed over the past 20 years? What hasn't? (Finn Schuele & David Wessel, 8/14/18, Brookings)

Despite improvements made over the past two decades, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) still overstates the annual rate of inflation by about 0.85 percentage points, according to Brent Moulton, a 32-year veteran of the agencies that compile the nation's economic statistics who retired in 2016 as Associate Director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). This represents some improvement since 1996, when the congressionally appointed Boskin Commission estimated that the CPI overstated the annual rate of inflation by 1.1 percentage points. [...]

Moulton finds that the BLS managed to substantially reduce bias from lower-level substitution and new products/quality change. However, he finds that the BLS failed to address upper-level substitution bias, the bias from consumers substituting across categories as prices change. Notably, Moulton estimates that CPI bias today is only slightly lower than in 2003, suggesting that most improvements occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s. [...]

Moulton points out that changes in the economy have offset some of the improvement in measurement. Digital goods, the service sector, and multinational enterprises are all more important now than 20 years ago, and all are difficult to measure accurately.

He suggests tackling the remaining biases by: (1) improving the measurement of quality-adjusted prices for information and communications technology equipment and associated digital services; (2) expanding the quality adjustment process to a wider range of new goods, not just those that directly replace a disappearing good; (3) making a systematic effort to deal with the effects of globalization on the measurement of GDP.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


Welcome to Netanyahu's fortress state (Lisa Goldman, 8/15/18, +972)

Over the last month, the Israeli and international media reported several incidents involving Shin Bet agents at ports of entry to Israel detaining prominent Jewish Americans for lengthy, aggressive questioning about their political views.

Meyer Koplow, chair of Brandeis University's Board of Trustees and a prominent donor to Israeli causes, was detained before his flight out of Ben Gurion Airport and questioned because security agents found in his suitcase a brochure about Palestine.

Moriel Rothman-Zecher, an Israeli citizen who lives in the U.S., was detained and questioned at the airport and warned against his continued involvement with left-wing Israeli organizations.

Simone Zimmerman, a co-founder of IfNotNow, was detained at the Taba border crossing and questioned for four hours about her political views and her relationships with Palestinians.

And this past Sunday, Jewish American journalist Peter Beinart was questioned at Ben Gurion Airport upon arrival; as he writes in his description of the incident, he was with his wife and children, all of whom came to attend a family bat mitzvah. Beinart's story lit up the internet, since he is a prominent writer who is a well-known voice in liberal Zionist circles.

The loud outrage in liberal Jewish circles over Zionist Jews having been questioned in a hostile manner about their politics is derived from the dawning understanding that the Netanyahu government is slowly but surely redefining Israel itself. Once it was the national home of the Jewish people, but now it is becoming -- or has become -- an authoritarian nationalist fortress state for Jews who share its anti-democratic views. Jews who see things differently will be tolerated as long as they refrain from expressing dissent.

American Jews are an existential threat to Bibi's project.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


The First Family's Chain Migration (Linda Chavez, August 10, 2018, Creators)

In what way would we be better off as a nation to deny legal residents who are living, working and paying taxes in this country a path to citizenship? Immigration restrictionists have long used the argument that this generation of immigrants didn't truly want to become American, a canard that defies the actual evidence of assimilation taking place. But now, it seems, the restrictionists are showing their true colors. They don't want immigrants to become Americans.

The sheer hypocrisy of Trump's anti-immigrant crusade is striking. Trump is the son and grandson of immigrants. His mother, Mary MacLeod, came to the United States from a poor fishing village in Scotland as a 17-year-old to join her sisters. MacLeod listed her profession as "maid" or "domestic" on the ship manifests and 1930 census. Trump's grandfather Friedrich Trump came from Germany when he was 16 years old with nothing more than a suitcase and a small amount of formal education. He didn't even speak English. Yet Trump would like to shut the door on similarly situated immigrants today.

"Chain migration" has been the backbone of immigration policy for generations. It didn't begin in 1965, when immigration law changed to lift quotas imposed in the anti-immigrant 1920s, but extends back to the beginnings of this nation. The flood of Scots, Germans, Irish, Italians and other immigrants who came in earlier eras often started with one enterprising pioneer in a family who set off alone. Once established, that immigrant sent for his brothers, sisters and parents. That first generation often remained poor, but the children of those immigrants usually moved up the economic ladder, and some even ended up, like Donald Trump, rich and successful. But don't try to convince Donald Trump that this is the genius of America.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Despite Trump, Somali-Americans overcame scrutiny to make political history in Minnesota (Abdi Latif Dahir, 8/15/18, Quartz)

Two days before the 2016 US presidential elections, Donald Trump visited Minnesota and told supporters that faulty refugee vetting processes allowed large numbers of Somalis to come to the state. They came here, he said, "without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world."

His characterization of Somalis was deemed "dangerous," with critics saying the remarks were a setback for the community who worked hard to become part of the state and nation's fabric. Around 150,000 Somalis live in the US according to United Nations estimates, with many of them living in Minnesota than any other state.

On Tuesday night (Aug. 14), voters in that state cast Trump's comments aside and delivered a resounding victory for immigrants and women. The ongoing primary elections are being seen as a test of Trump's influence and whether Republicans or Democrats will control both houses of Congress next year.

Ilhan Omar, 36, won the Democratic primary in Minnesota's 5th congressional district, likely becoming the first Somali-American to serve in Congress. Omar, who fled the Somali civil war and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp, won the seat left behind by representative Keith Ellison, another Muslim who is running for state attorney general in November. Along with Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, the two are poised to become the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Australian's Parliament Speech on 'Final Solution' Condemned (AP, 8/15/18) 

An Australian senator is being condemned for his speech in Parliament advocating reviving a white-only immigration policy and using the term "final solution" in calling for a vote on which migrants to admit into the country.

Fraser Anning has refused to apologize for the content of his first upper house speech. But politicians across the spectrum were united in denouncing his words. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten gave passionate Parliament speeches Wednesday opposing Anning's comments.

Australian party leader hails speech calling for 'final solution' on Muslim migration  (Katharine Murphy, 15 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

Bob Katter, the veteran Queensland political maverick, has lauded an inflammatory speech by his Senate representative, Fraser Anning, declaring the contribution "absolutely magnificent" and "everything that this country should be doing".

As political leaders moved in lock-step to condemn Anning's speech - which praised the White Australia policy, called for an end to Muslim migration, and invoked the term "final solution" - Katter, the leader of Katter's Australia party, struck a starkly different note, declaring the speech had his "1,000% support".

August 14, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Analyst: Renewable energy will be 'effectively free' by 2030 (BRYAN CLARK, 8/14/18, Next Web)

Analysts at Swiss investment bank UBS believe that by 2030, we could all be living without much of a carbon footprint -- at least at home. The analysts believe that the cost of renewable energy will continue to dive heading into the next decade, and that by 2030, costs will be so low they will "effectively be free," according to new research published this morning in the Financial Times (paywall).

The analysis explained that solar and wind farms are getting bigger a move that is "great news for the planet, and probably also for the economy." With its increased popularity among consumers and, more importantly, energy providers, the economics of scale come into play. With declining prices, it makes little sense to ignore alternative energy sources, especially those that are renewable.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Is God Dead... or is it Nietzsche? (Donald Devine, 8/12/18, Imaginative Conservative)

It turns out the authoritative Pew Research Center had just completed a comprehensive study of 24,000 people in fifteen Western European countries finding, as most everyone thought they knew, that most Europeans were religiously non-practicing, with only one-fifth attending religious services monthly or more.[4] Yet, contrary to expectations, 71 percent of Europeans insisted they were still Christian, with 65 percent believing in God or a higher power, and 51 percent saying they pray. Moreover, 70 percent said they were raising their children as Christians.

There were differences by country. In Italy 40 percent did attend church regularly (and another 40 percent were non-attending Christians), with 35 percent attending church in Portugal, 34 percent in Ireland, 28 percent in Austria, and 27 percent in Switzerland (Poland was not included in the survey), all near U.S. levels. There was a very distinct north-south and Protestant-Catholic difference: In the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, and Denmark only one-in-ten attended regularly and four-in-ten were unaffiliated with religion. Only Netherlands had a non-Christian plurality but even there only 17 percent said they were specifically atheist or agnostic.

The British magazine Christian Today was intrigued by the study finding that European Christians were more likely to "express anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish views" than those not affiliated with religion, although it is hardly surprising that those with stronger beliefs would be more protective of their values.[5] Specifically the study asked whether it was important to have a British family background or to have Muslims or Jews accepted into their families. Was this simple prejudice or perhaps not wanting daughters pressured into hijab or prohibited from shaking hands with men?

The Atlantic magazine's intriguing headline about the Pew study was "Atheists Are Sometimes More Religious than Christians."[6] It noted that many religiously unaffiliated were still religious in many ways. Even more "striking" was that American religiously unaffiliated were "as religious as--or even more religious than--Christians in several European countries, including France, Germany, and the U.K." "The notion that religiously unaffiliated people can be religious at all may seem contradictory, but if you disaffiliate from organized religion it does not necessarily mean you've sworn off belief in God, say, or prayer."

...who would be affiliated with the Institution?

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Few Have Genuine Allergy to Penicillin (Kate Furby, 8/10/18, The Washington Post)

Ten percent of all patients in the United States claim to have a penicillin allergy. Of those people, 90 percent are not truly allergic and can tolerate the drug. That means millions of people take alternative antibiotics, which are more expensive and can put their health and potentially the health of others at risk. The solution is a simple allergy test.

A study in the British Medical Journal looked at six years' worth of medical records for patients in the United Kingdom and found that those with a penicillin allergy had an almost 70 percent greater chance of acquiring a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection and a 26 percent increased risk of Clostridium difficile-related colitis (C. diff.). MRSA and C. diff. are major health risks worldwide. The study compared adults with a known penicillin allergy to similar people without a known penicillin allergy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Trump Wants to Destroy the World Order. So What? : Whatever the U.S. president's intentions, his efforts to rock the foundation of international politics are hopeless.  (JAMES KIRCHICK,  JULY 26, 2018, Foreign Policy)

Were Trump to exist in a different political system, one with fewer checks and balances and external limitations on a leader's power, he would be far more dangerous. Trump's behavior as a businessman, his authoritarian rhetoric, and his frequently expressed admiration for strongmen suggest dictatorial tendencies.

But as Trump would probably be the first to admit, running a democratic country--with a free media, independent judiciary, active civil society, energized opposition party, and regular elections--isn't at all like running a family business. If Trump were president of a banana republic like Venezuela, or a nonconsolidated democracy like Hungary, it would be much easier for him to single-handedly undermine his country's democratic institutions and geopolitically reorient it away from the free world. Fortunately, Trump--however despotic his inclinations--is the democratically elected leader of the world's oldest constitutional republic, and his attempts to undo the seven-decade-old liberal world order that republic built and sustained have thus far largely been frustrated.

The primary reason for this is that, at least in the realm of foreign and defense policy, Trump has either been unwilling or unable to staff his administration with like-minded "America First" nationalists. The U.S. diplomatic and security apparatus is a behemoth, comprising tens of thousands of people, and it requires a great number of ideologically committed and bureaucratically skilled individuals to transform America's world role in the way Trump desires. Beginning with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and continuing further down the bureaucratic chain to Wess Mitchell, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Fiona Hill, the National Security Council senior director for European and Russian affairs, there is no one in the upper echelons of the U.S. diplomatic and military firmament who even remotely shares the president's antipathy to the EU, NATO, or U.S. global leadership, never mind his bizarre affinity for Putin. (The role of these patriotic officials in restraining Trump's worst impulses, and the likelihood of their replacement by incompetent and obsequious ideologues, makes the recurring calls for them to resign shortsighted.) Until he was fired last summer, Steve Bannon was the closest thing Trump had to an advisor capable of translating his gut prejudices, conspiratorial delusions, and half-baked proposals about the world into actual policies. For a taste of the damage Bannon might have wreaked were he still in the White House, look to Brussels, where he has decamped to set up a nationalist political network he claims will rival George Soros's Open Society Foundations.

Absent Bannon whispering in his ear, Trump's ability to wreck the liberal world order hinges upon the degree to which he can translate his nationalistic, zero-sum worldview into actions on the world stage. Thus far, the damage he has done is mostly rhetorical. And nowhere has the gap between wild presidential rhetoric and actual governmental deeds been more apparent than Russia. The media's obsessive coverage of the Trump-Putin summit as if it were a major title boxing match--with television news outlets dispatching entire teams to Helsinki for nonstop coverage--exemplifies its simplistic reduction of U.S.-Russia relations to mere personalities and is seriously distorting analysis. For all the talk of Trump's "treasonous" behavior last week (and it was indeed morally despicable), there were no actual U.S. policy concessions to Russia as a result of his disastrous performance. From expulsions of Russian diplomats to sanctions on Russian individuals and entities to Ukrainian arms sales and increased support for--yes-- NATO, the posture of the United States toward Russia is tougher than it has ever been since the end of the Cold War. "Trump and the U.S. are not exactly the same thing right now," a person close to a Russian business tycoon recently lamented to the Financial Times, with more than a little understatement.

A common misperception of presidents (not least Trump's predecessor) is that they can change the world by their mere presence on the international stage. By treating Trump's rhetoric as if it constitutes policy, many are essentially endorsing a simplistic "great man theory" of history. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Celeste Wallander, a former National Security Council staffer under President Barack Obama, says that because of Trump's comportment, "Americans must face the fact that the biggest threat to NATO today may be the United States itself"--not the country that has perpetrated the first territorial annexation on European soil since World War II, whose military doctrine paints NATO as its main adversary, and that simulates nuclear strikes on NATO territory. If the biggest threat to NATO is its most powerful member, the other nations in the alliance certainly are not acting like it.

Yes, a handful of European leaders--namely German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister, Heiko Maas--have repeatedly made statements to the effect that Europe can no longer fully depend on the United States as it used to in the past. But like Trump's alleged single-handed destruction of the liberal world order, their pursuit of alternate arrangements to work around or replace the status quo has been almost entirely rhetorical. Aside from the activation of an EU defense collaboration initiative called PESCO ("Permanent Structured Cooperation"), which was envisioned long before the arrival of Trump and is not intended to replace NATO, there is little evidence to indicate that European policymakers are genuinely preparing for a post-American future. In Asia, meanwhile, "Trump's focus on China as a great-power rival will compel him or some future administration to refurbish and expand U.S. alliances rather than withdraw from them," Daniel Deudney and John Ikenberry write in Foreign Affairs.

Always bet on the Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


Turkey's Economy is on a Collision Course with Reality (Jonah Shepp, 8/14/18, New York)

Turkey's economy has been on a collision course with reality for years, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bought his popularity with low interest rates and cheap credit, which has fueled several years of rapid growth in the country's real GDP. Unfortunately, it has also fueled high inflation and a massive current account deficit: All that growth was greased with easily available loans in foreign currencies, and with the collapse of the lira, that debt has suddenly become unmanageable.

The Turkish bonanza of the past few years can be easily blamed on foreign financiers, who saw Turkey and other developing economies as attractive investment destinations compared to the ultra-low-interest-rate environments being maintained by central banks in the United States and Europe. Now that interest rates are beginning to rise again in these more stable economies, investors are turning away from emerging markets again. [...]

Investors are wary of Turkey largely because they are wary of Erdogan: The strongman has run the country for the past 15 years (first as prime minister, and since 2014 as president) and in that time has grown increasingly paranoid and authoritarian. He appointed his son-in-law as minister of finance last month and has attacked the independence of the Turkish central bank. Investors are rightly concerned that a more authoritarian Turkey will be a riskier place to do business.

Erdogan also believes in voodoo economics: The purpose of his recent meddling with the central bank has been to prevent it from raising interest rates, which he believes to be the cause of inflation rather than a cure for it. For a while, it was possible to write this belief off as merely a product of his recognition that low rates mean faster growth and faster growth means more votes for Erdogan. Now, however, it is increasingly clear that Erdogan's opposition to high interest rates is more fundamental and philosophical, guided perhaps by the Islamic proscription against usury.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


New Omarosa Tape Lends More Credence to Possibility of Trump N-word Recording (Benjamin Hart, 8/14/18, New York)

During an October 2016 phone conversation that Manigault Newman surreptitiously recorded -- as was her wont during her Trump tenure -- she speaks about the possibility of the tape's release with Lynne Patton, who was then an aide to Eric Trump, campaign communications director Jason Miller, and spokeswoman Katrina Pierson.

From the CBS transcript:

"I am trying to find at least what context it was used in to help us maybe try to figure out a way to spin it," Pierson is heard saying.

Patton then described a conversation she had with then-candidate Trump about making the slur.

Patton: "I said, 'Well, sir, can you think of anytime where this happened?' And he said, 'no.'"

Omarosa: "Well, that is not true."

Patton: "He goes, how do you think I should handle it and I told him exactly what you just said, Omarosa, which is well, it depends on what scenario you are talking about. And he said, well, why don't you just go ahead and put it to bed."

Pierson: "He said. No, he said it. He is embarrassed by it."

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


The Trump Administration Is Launching Stealth Attacks on Veterans (Eric Levitz, 8/14/18, New York)

Many veterans hail from humble backgrounds and enter the military early in adulthood, before they've had the opportunity to build much credit. For decades, this made them a prime target for unscrupulous lenders; according to Defense Department research, vets are four times more likely than other Americans to be exploited by payday lenders. The Pentagon claimed such practices hurt the morale of America's fighting forces, and thus, national security. In response, Congress passed the Military Lending Act (MLA), which bars lenders from charging military members an annual interest rate above 36 percent, forcing vets to settle legal disputes over loans through arbitration, or imposing penalties for early payment, among other restrictions.

After Elizabeth Warren pushed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) into existence, the federal government stepped up enforcement of the MLA. In addition to investigating individual reports of abuse, the CFPB began conducting routine inspections of various lenders' practices -- essentially stopping and frisking shady financial institutions. Through this tactic and others, the CFPB has redistributed more than $130 million from abusive lenders to military members and their families since 2011.

But some of the Republican Party's best friends are abusive lenders. And so, according to documents obtained by the New York Times and NPR, the Trump administration will soon suspend the CFPB's efforts to enforce the MLA through proactive investigations; instead, the agency will merely react to individual reports of alleged malpractice.

This change will make it significantly easier for payday lenders to profit off of veterans' financial desperation with impunity. This fact is so plain, the administration is not even arguing that the CFPB's proactive investigations are unnecessary.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Donald Trump and the disturbing power of dehumanizing language: Dehumanization is already prevalent in America. We don't need anyone -- especially Trump -- stoking it further. (Brian Resnick,  Aug 14, 2018, Vox)

As a president, Donald Trump can be erratic. But there's at least one area where he's consistent: using demeaning and dehumanizing language, especially when he's talking about refugees, immigrants, and his critics.

Here's the most recent example. On Tuesday, he tweeted this apparent attack against former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman, calling her a "dog."

Trump has been railing against the former Apprentice contestant for the past few days, calling her "wacky," "vicious," and "not smart," in retaliation for her tell-all book about her time in the White House.

All these attacks -- on a woman of color, in particular -- are concerning. But it's important to focus on Trump's propensity to compare those he does not like to animals, or inferior beings.

History and psychological science show us that when we refer to people as "animals" or anything other than "people," it can flip a mental switch in our minds. It may increase our anger and disgust toward them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Fox compared 'socialist' Denmark to Venezuela, sparking a puzzled backlash from top officials (Rick Noack, August 14, 2018, Washington Post)

"Everyone in Denmark is working for the government," anchor Trish Regan announced in a segment aired last week. "And no one wants to work."

"Not only is school free; they actually pay you.... You know what happens then? Nobody graduates from school.... They just stay in school," Regan went on to say, referring to university-level education.

"Because that's the reality of socialism. As one person who studied Denmark said: Nowadays all the kids graduating from schools in Denmark, they want to start cupcake cafes," Regan said, before breaking into laughter. "Denmark -- like Venezuela -- has stripped people of their opportunities," the anchor concluded on a more serious note.

The Danish government wasn't very amused. "We are working much more than Americans and at the same time ranking as the worlds best in Work-Life-Balance," Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen wrote Monday on Twitter. Addressing the Fox Business Network anchor directly, he added: "You should come to Denmark if you dare be confronted with facts."

On the other hand, Denmark produces no decent baseball players.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Stephen Miller is a product of "chain migration," his uncle says (Emily Stewart  Aug 13, 2018, Vox)

Stephen Miller, the senior policy adviser to the president and one of the ideologues pushing the administration's hardline immigration policies, is a product of the so-called "chain migration" he and President Donald Trump often deride. That's according to his uncle, who penned an essay in Politico outlining Miller's family's immigration story on Monday.

David Glosser, a retired neuropsychologist and Miller's uncle on his mother's side, detailed the story of how the family came to live in the United States. Miller's great-great-grandfather Wolf-Leib Glosser left the village of Antopol in what is now Belarus amid "violent anti-Jewish pogroms" there and came to the US. He landed on Ellis Island in 1903 and, over time, was able to bring over the rest of his family. [...]

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses -- the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants -- been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the US just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the "America First" nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family would likely have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Erdoğan Tilts at Windmills as Lira's Decline Continues: The central bank took steps to halt the slide of the currency--but stayed mum about raising interest rates (KRISHNADEV CALAMUR, AUG 13, 2018, The Atlantic)

Although the lira's decline stemmed from a number of factors, the actual chain of events leading to the crisis is fairly straightforward. Turkey's economic growth came on the back of low interest rates and foreign capital. The low rates allowed Turkish companies to borrow money cheaply to finance projects. But corporate debt swelled to 70 percent of gross domestic product--one of the highest shares among major economies. Much of this borrowing was done in foreign currencies like the U.S. dollar--not in liras. This factor is one reason why Turkey's broader economy could be vulnerable as the lira continues to slide. The loans incurred by Turkish companies in U.S. dollars and other foreign currencies will now be more expensive to repay; profits will also be hit because of the depreciation.  

"This is a foreign currency crisis in its origin, but given the reliance of Turkey--both in the government and corporate sectors--on external finance, this could turn into a debt crisis which engulfs its banks," Hasnain Malik, the head of equity research at Exotix Capital, said Monday in a research note. "Because of the high participation of foreign banks and portfolio investors in Turkey, there are clear risks of contagion."

Investors would like to see Turkey's central bank raise interest rates (its benchmark rate is at 17.75 percent), address inflation (which is at 16 percent), and engage with multilateral lenders to keep the crisis from spreading. Erdoğan, however, has railed against higher interest rates. Turkey's central bank has stayed mum on rates, casting doubts about its independence. Erdoğan's appointment of his son-in-law as the country's finance minister hasn't inspired confidence either.   

Economists worry that Turkey's troubles could cause investors to start pulling money from other emerging economies. Other currencies fell Monday against the U.S. dollar, including the Indian rupee, which hit a record low, and the South African rand. Markets in Asia and Europe fell as well on Monday before recovering.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Trump's Dangerous Obsession With Iran: Why Hostility Is Counterproductive (Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson, 8/13/18, Foreign Affairs)

The United States' treatment of Iran as a serious strategic competitor is deeply illogical. Iran imperils no core U.S. interests. It refrains from attacking U.S. forces or using terrorism to target U.S. assets or territory, coexists with the United States in Iraq with little friction, and has agreed to limits on its nuclear program. Tehran scarcely reacts to Israeli strikes on its assets in Syria, where it maintains only a small forward-deployed force supplemented by ragtag Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian Shiite militias. Iran is economically beleaguered and militarily weak, and its navy is a coastal defense force, capable of disrupting shipping but not of seriously challenging the U.S. Fifth Fleet or the battle groups in the Pacific theater it can call upon in a crisis. According to independent, informed assessments, such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance, Iranian forces are plagued by outdated equipment, an inadequate defense-industrial base, and a large conscript army that is substantially undeployable on a large scale. Its air force flies planes incorporating 1960s technology, and it has virtually no amphibious capability.

Iran's annual defense spending, about $16 billion, or 3.7 percent of GDP, on both measures falls considerably short of Israel's, Saudi Arabia's, or the UAE's individually, and is positively dwarfed by their collective spending. Moreover, the United States' military capabilities overwhelm those of Iran on every conceivable measure. Although those capabilities are intended to support the United States' global interests, given U.S. forces' astounding operational effectiveness, honed in continuous warfare in the Middle East and Central Asia since 2011, any serious Iranian challenge to U.S. regional interests that could not be contained through diplomacy would be easily suppressed, even if it morphed into a long-term, low-intensity conflict marked by persistent Iranian terrorism. But of course that is why diplomacy is such an attractive alternative to the use of force.

Iran does have some high-end military capabilities: it has deployed a 2,000-kilometer range ballistic missile, fields the advanced Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missile system, and is thought to have substantial cyberwarfare capabilities. But the latter is an asymmetric asset, scarcely a match for its U.S. and Israeli equivalents, and Syria's S-300s have not helped it defend against the Israeli Air Force, which destroyed its nuclear weapons infrastructure in 2007. Iran's ballistic missile program would be a serious threat if it were coupled with mass production of compatible nuclear warheads, but this is a distant concern as long as the JCPOA remains in force. Overall, Iran's ability to project military force in the region is severely limited. Iranian troops in Syria probably peaked at about 4,500, roughly equal to the 4,000 or so that the United States has deployed in the eastern part of the country. In Yemen, Iran's military presence is even smaller. In Iraq, there is a residual Iranian military presence because Iran was a combatant in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS). Even there, however, it has reportedly inserted only around 2,000 troops to complement the Shiite militias that it supports, and these assets seem to be overmatched by the presence of an estimated 5,000 U.S. military personnel.

The Iranian intrigues that so alarm the Trump administration mainly boil down to its influence with the Iraqi government and support for Shiite militias, its ongoing reinforcement of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and its backing of the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Some would also throw in its support for Shiite groups in Bahrain, a vassal state of Saudi Arabia ruled by a Sunni minority. Yet Iran's foreign policy has evolved essentially on the basis of opportunistic realism rather than especially aggressive revisionism, and, as noted, it has a sparse military presence in the region.

Iran, to be sure, is theoretically a problem for the United States in Iraq. But the United States created that problem by overthrowing the Sunni minority government of Saddam Hussein, ushering in a Shiite-dominated Iraq that would inevitably be subject to Iranian influence. Trump must of course deal with Iranian clout in Iraq, but U.S. strategic interests do not demand overriding Washington's short-term need to stabilize the country. Recently, especially in the campaign against ISIS, the United States and Iran have been on the same side, and it appears that the Iraqi government has figured out how to work simultaneously with Washington and Tehran. There are still areas of clear U.S.-Iranian friction--Iraq, for instance, allows Iranian weapons to cross Iraq into Syria--but these are critical from Washington's point of view only if Iran's involvement in Syria poses a major threat to core U.S. interests, which it does not.

The main incoherence of US policy towards Iran remains the same as it has ever been; it is based on opposing democracy in the Middle East, which we treat as our main interest everywhere else on Earth. Essentially, we just remain petulant because of the hostage crisis.  But the generation behind the one in government won't even remember what it was.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Turkey's Lira Crisis Tests Erdogan's Authoritarian Approach (Carlotta Gall, Aug. 13, 2018, NY Times)

Turkey's economic troubles, analysts say, are largely of Mr. Erdogan's own making. They have less to do with his dispute with the United States and the prospect of greater sanctions than with Mr. Erdogan's deepening economic interference as he attempts to bend the logic of monetary policy and global financial markets to suit his political purposes.

Yet while Mr. Erdogan asserts greater control over life in Turkey -- including the media, the judiciary, foreign policy and political decision-making -- it is far less clear that he can bully an economy increasingly beholden to global markets to submit to his will, they say.

Business leaders warn that the many strands of the president's authoritarian approach are intertwined, and that Turkey will not climb out of its hole until the country enacts major structural reforms that would undo many of Mr. Erdogan's constraints.

Those would include allowing a free press, an independent judiciary and returning powers to Parliament. Another step, the release of political prisoners, would help repair relations with Europe.

August 13, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Fact-checking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's media blitz: The self-described "democratic socialist" keeps making statements that are false, misleading or incorrect. (Glenn Kessler, August 10, 2018, Washington Post)

For instance, in an appearance on CNN on Monday, when challenged on the costs of government-financed health care, she answered: "Why aren't we incorporating the cost of all the funeral expenses of those who died because they can't afford access to health care? That is part of the cost of our system."

Huh? [...]

"Unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs. Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their family."
-- interview on PBS's "Firing Line," July 13, 2018

This is an example of sweeping language -- "everyone has two jobs" -- that can get a rookie politician in trouble. She may personally know people who have two jobs, but the data is pretty clear that this statement is poppycock.

First of all, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the percentage of people working two jobs has actually declined since the Great Recession -- and been relatively steady at around 5 percent since 2010. The percentage bounced around a bit but it was as low as 4.7 percent in October 2017 and was 5.2 percent in the July jobs report, the most recent available. That hardly adds up to "everyone."
"After reaching a peak of 6.2 percent during 1995-96, the multiple job-holding rate began to recede," the BLS noted in a report. "By the mid-2000s, the rate had declined to 5.2 percent and remained close to that level from 2006 to 2009. In 2010, the multiple job-holding rate decreased to 4.9 percent and has remained at 4.9 percent or 5.0 percent from 2010 to 2017."

The July data shows most of these people juggling two jobs -- 58 percent -- have a primary job and a part-time job. Only 6 percent have two full-time jobs, which calls into question her claim that people are working "60, 70, 80 hours a week." Indeed, the average hours worked per week for private employees has remained steady at just under 35 hours for years.

"ICE is the only criminal investigative agency, the only enforcement agency in the United States, that has a bed quota. So ICE is required to fill 34,000 beds with detainees every single night and that number has only been increasing since 2009."
-- in an interview with the Intercepted podcast, May 30

As our friends at PolitiFact documented, this is an urban legend. There is language in the 2016 appropriations bill that requires ICE to have 34,000 beds available -- ICE "shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds through September 30, 2016" -- but it is not required to fill them. The main point of such language, a version of which dated to 2009, is to make sure the money is not spent on something else. [...]

"They [national Democrats] were campaigning most when we had more of an American middle class. This upper-middle class is probably more moderate but that upper-middle class does not exist anymore in America."
-- interview on "Pod Save America," Aug. 7

Here's some more sweeping rhetoric. In knocking the current leaders of the Democrats, stuck in " '90s politics," Ocasio-Cortez said the "upper-middle class does not exist anymore."

But the data show that while the middle class overall may have shrunk a bit, the upper-middle class has actually grown. In a 2016 paper published by the Urban Institute, Stephen J. Rose documented that the upper-middle class has grown substantially, from 12.9 percent of the population in 1979 to 29.4 percent in 2014. His analysis showed that there was a massive shift in the center of gravity of the economy, with an increasing share of income going to the upper-middle class and rich.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM

SMACKING DOWN BETA MALES (profanity alert):

The failure of the 2018 Unite the Right march shows that - for now - Antifa's tactics work (NICKY WOOLF, 8/13/18, New Statesman)

Remember, that this is an administration that cried foul at the supposed lack of "civility" shown by the staff at the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia, who quietly and politely asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, but which refused to publicly condemn Heather Heyer's murderers.

Instead it has chosen to focus its ire on the Antifa movement, which aims to respond to neo-Nazi violence in kind, with sticks and fists. This tactic may be unseemly, but when the instruments of the state fail to clamp down on rising far-right agitators, it is unsurprising that a grassroots movement would rise up to fill the vacuum.

Whether the violent tactics of Antifa are the most moral option in the face of emboldened Nazi marchers is also one for debate by future historians. On one hand, their violent attacks against the Nazis marching in Charlottesville and at other white supremacist rallies like one in Berkeley just two weeks later gave Trump cover to pretend moral equilibrium between the two sides.

But on the other hand, those who said that stooping to their level would in some way undermine the counter-movement do not yet seem to have been proven right.

In the end, in Washington DC, the outer bands of a torrential rainstorm to the north of the city dampened this weekend's Unite the Right rally. Two dozen soggy white supremacists arrived at the White House flanked by rows of police officers, allocated for their protection from the masses of counter-protesters who gathered to show that they were not welcome, and from the black-clad Antifa in their midst.

The message seems to have gone out that, at least as far as the American people are concerned, Nazis will not be allowed to march through the streets with impunity.

Inside Omarosa's reign of terror (Jonathan Swan, 8/13/18, Axios)

[S]ome of the most powerful men in government were terrified of her. [...]

"I'm scared s[***]less of her... She's a physically intimidating presence," a male former colleague of Omarosa's told me. (He wouldn't let me use a more precise description of his former White House role because he admitted he's still scared of retribution from Omarosa. Other senior officials have admitted the same to me.)

"I never said no to her," the source added. "Anything she wanted, 'Yes, brilliant.' I'm afraid of her. I'm afraid of getting my ass kicked."

Three other former officials shared that sentiment: "One hundred percent, everyone was scared of her," said another former official.

The big picture: Trump has nobody to blame but himself for Omarosa's raucous book tour, in which she calls him a racist and a misogynist, and says he's in mental decline. Trump brought her into the White House at the senior-most level with the top salary. In many ways, two former senior administration officials pointed out, what Omarosa is doing now is pure Trump.

"She may be the purest of all the Trump characters," one told me. "She may be the most Trumpian. She knows media, she knows about physical presence, like Trump does...that's why I think he's rattled."

"The only reason Trump works is because he gives less of a crap than anybody in the world," the other source told me. "That's where she's at. She's totally undeterred by things that would freak out most people.

"She's out-Trumping Trump right now," the source added, before losing his train of thought in a fit of laughter.

Behind the scenes: Former chief of staff Reince Priebus made valiant efforts to keep Omarosa out of the Oval. And former press secretary Sean Spicer kept having to rebuff administrative officials who were lugging desks over to the West Wing to set up a personal workstation for Omarosa at her command.

But Omarosa answered to nobody. And senior staff told me last year they felt paralyzed because she was the only top-level official in the White House who was African-American.

On a weekend last April, Omarosa caused a security and ethics stir when she dropped into the White House in full bridal attire and with members of her bridal party to try to hold a wedding photoshoot in the Rose Garden and throughout the West Wing.

Faith-based protesters flock to Washington to counter white supremacists (Jack Jenkins, 8/12/18, RNS) 

Some religious groups have been actively fighting against racism throughout America's history, and a band of faith leaders and theologians were among the few who stared down white supremacists in Charlottesville last year. But a broad swath of religious groups began organizing ahead of this year's rally in Washington, hosting vigils, trainings and events. Auburn Seminary, the Council on American-Islamic Relations) and Bishop Michael Francis Burbidge of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., also issued statements condemning racism, the planned white supremacist rally or both.

"Let us pray for those who shout 'Jews will not replace us' or 'you will not replace us,'" the Rev. William Barber of the Poor People's Campaign declared at a teach-in Friday at Washington Hebrew Congregation. He was referring to the haunting chant bellowed by white supremacists the year before as they marched with torches onto the University of Virginia campus -- all while, as Barber noted, a group of religious activists met to condemn racism in a church across the street.

"(We know) those who have been overcome by the insanity of hate and the insanity of racism. For we know it is a disease, a terrible disease of the spirit that diminishes the humanity of anyone it infects."

On Sunday, this blitz of faith-based activism was evident across the city, beginning with a "United to Love" rally on the National Mall organized by the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. Dozens of attendees swayed and sang as a choir led the group in singing hymns, and some waved signs emblazoned with slogans such as "Jesus was black" and quotes from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., such as, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that."

The event also included a sermon from the conference's Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, who stood silhouetted against the U.S. Capitol as she spoke. She repeatedly condemned racism and white supremacy, arguing that those who champion racism "betray God."

"Hate kills," she declared. "Hate destroys. Hate controls. Hate dominates. Hate imprisons. Hate legislates inequality. Hate hides behind religion and politics to promote oppression and inequality. Hate is not of God."

United Methodist Bishop LaTrelle Easterling preaches during the "United to Love" rally in Washington, D.C., in opposition to the "Unite the Right 2" white supremacist demonstration on August 12, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

As she spoke, a lone white man walked up to demonstrators and began shouting racial slurs, insisting white supremacists will "rule the night." When security officials turned to face him, he quickly fled.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


The Prague Spring still haunts Europe : The human thirst for political rights, justice and national freedom is unquenchable (TONY BARBER, 8/13/18, Financial Times)

The Prague Spring seems far off because the geopolitical setting in which it took place is long gone. In 1968 the cold war divided Europe in two. Its eastern half languished under communism -- a repressive, dreary system of government imported from Moscow in the 1940s and not to be cast aside for another 21 years. Nowadays, the reborn Czech and Slovak states are independent, increasingly prosperous democracies and members of Nato and the EU.

Yet there are still lessons to be learnt from the Prague Spring. The first is that doctrinaire ideologies and political practices, whether they be 1960s-style communism or the intolerant dogmas of today's radical right and left, contain the seeds of their own downfall. They propose inadequate solutions to the complex problems of modern societies. They bully critics, deride experts and degrade reason. In so doing, they generate economic inefficiency, social tension and political discontent.

The second lesson is that the human thirst for political rights, justice and national freedom is unquenchable. This was on display throughout the communist era: East Berlin in 1953, Budapest in 1956, Prague in 1968, Gdansk in 1980 and across the Baltic states in 1988-91. The patriotism of Czechs and Slovaks is more civic than nationalist in nature. But the recovery of independence is one of their most cherished gains of 1989.

The third lesson is that political struggle need not be conducted, as in much of today's world, in the language of the gutter and with the manners of the yahoo. In 1968, Dubcek wore a permanent smile on his face and celebrated the dignity of the individual. He can be faulted for a naive faith that communism was reformable. But he had the last laugh when he returned to a hero's welcome on Wenceslas Square after the triumph of the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

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CHILE VS. VENEZUELA (Steven F. Hayward, 8/12/18, Powerline)

What's the difference between Chile and Venezuela? Socialism, sure, but we should take this point one large step further: the only reason Chile isn't also a socialist basket case is that it had a military coup in 1973 to prevent the socialist government of Salvador Allende from making Chile into the prototype for Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Allende had every intention of following the same playbook of rigging elections and legislative bodies, subverting rival power structures, censoring the press and arresting opposition leaders, nationalizing industries and launching Chile's economy down the same road to oppressive mediocrity like all other socialist regimes.

Likewise, Spain's GDP per capita is triple Romania's, and so on.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Under Trump, the rare act of denaturalizing U.S. citizens on the rise (BRITTNY MEJIA, AUG 12, 2018, LA Times)

The move comes at a time when Trump and top advisors have made it clear that they want to dramatically reduce immigration, both illegal and legal.

The administration granted fewer visas and accepted fewer refugees in 2017 than in previous years.

Recently, the federal government moved to block victims of gang violence and domestic abuse from claiming asylum. White House senior advisor Stephen Miller -- an immigration hawk -- is pushing a policy that could make it more difficult for those who have received public benefits, including Obamacare, to become citizens or green card holders, according to multiple news outlets.

Shusterman, now a private immigration attorney in L.A., said he's concerned denaturalization could be used as another tool to achieve the president's goals.

"I think they'll ... find people with very minor transgressions," he said, "and they'll take away their citizenship."

Dozens of U.S. mayors, including L.A.'s Eric Garcetti, signed a letter sent to the citizenship agency's director in late July, criticizing a backlog in naturalization applications and the agency's commitment of resources to "stripping citizenship from naturalized Americans."

"The new measure to investigate thousands of cases from almost 30 years ago, under the pretext of the incredibly minimal problem of fraud in citizenship applications, instead of managing resources in a manner that processes the backlogs before them, suggests that the agency is more interested in following an aggressive political agenda rather than its own mission," the letter stated.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


White House exploring legal options against Omarosa Manigault Newman for making secret recording in Situation Room (MERIDITH MCGRAW TARA PALMERI, Aug 12, 2018, ABC News)

Omarosa Manigault Newman's former White House colleagues are looking into legal options to stop her from releasing more tapes and to punish her for secretly recording her conversation with Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly, White House officials tell ABC News.

August 12, 2018

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Steel users are frustrated by process of seeking tariff exemptions (David Nicklaus, 8/12/18,  St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

RotoMetrics, a cutting-die manufacturer in Eureka, thought it had a strong case for being exempted from President Donald Trump's steel tariffs.

Nearly three months after it started asking for such an exclusion, the company is still waiting for an answer.

So is Deutsche Precision, a transmission parts manufacturer in Maryland Heights. The Commerce Department took weeks to even post its exemption requests.

Both companies import thousands of tons of steel a year, and they continue to price and sell their products despite not knowing how much that steel will cost -- the price suppliers were charging before Trump announced his trade action in March, or 25 percent more to cover the tariffs.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said up front that companies could apply for exemptions "through a fair and transparent process" with decisions based on "whether a product is produced in the United States of a satisfactory quality or in a sufficient and reasonably available amount."

RotoMetrics buys 71 percent of its steel domestically. It asked for tariff exclusions on types of tool steel that aren't available in the U.S.

Deutsche Precision imports all of its steel from Italy and Japan. Carlo Ilardi, the company's general manager, said domestic mills can't meet its customers' specifications for hardness and purity.

Each firm must file a separate request for each size, grade or chemical composition of a steel product it imports. So far, that adds up to 72 requests by RotoMetrics and 14 by Deutsche Precision.

Ken McInnis, RotoMetrics' director of supply chain-Americas and global purchasing, says dozens of his requests were kicked back for being incomplete.

Of the requests that went through the required 30-day comment period, several drew objections from steel suppliers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas that say they can meet RotoMetrics' needs.

McInnis has checked; they can't. "They had huge lead times and were charging three times the price," he said. "Financially, we can't pay that and be viable."

The process, though, provides no way for him to answer the steel companies' claims. An objection seems to stop the request in its tracks.

"The process has just been a fiasco," McInnis said. "They kill it even though it (an objection) is not legitimate."

Ilardi, too, is frustrated by the exemption process. "There's nobody to call. You just email an address and hope they will respond," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Omarosa Released A Secret Recording From When John Kelly Fired Her From The White House (Mary Ann Georgantopoulos, 8/12/18, BuzzFeed News)

On the recording, Kelly can be heard saying:

"There are pretty significant legal issues that we hope don't develop into something that, that'll make it ugly for you. But I think it's important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure we can all be, you know, you can look at, look at your time here in, in the White House as a year of service to the nation. And then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation. " [...]

On the one-year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Manigault Newman on Sunday said she was "totally complicit" when she defended the president after he blamed "both sides" for the violence.

"He should have been denouncing what we saw as clearly racist Nazis," she said Sunday

"I was complicit with this White House deceiving this nation, they continue to deceive this nation," she said.

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The Left's Contempt for Jordan Peterson Is Perfectly Rational (Eric Levitz, 8/12/18, New York)

Is it actually the case that Peterson's argument against identity politics is profound, and that the left has no coherent reason for disdaining him on the basis of it?

To answer this query, let's take a look at what Peterson's own fans have identified as "his finest moment" -- his nutshell case for rejecting identity politics and embracing the individualist, "free market" traditions of "the West."

This viral clip from one of Peterson's lectures begins with the professor arguing that every single person in his audience is "oppressed." The ensuing rant is worth quoting at length:

God only knows why. Maybe you're too short, or you're not as beautiful as you could be, or, you know, your parent, your grandparent was a serf -- likely, because almost everbody's grand-, great-grandparent was. And you're not as smart as you could be. And you have a sick relative, and you have your own physical problems -- and it's like, frankly, you're a mess. And you're oppressed in every possible way including your ancestry and your biology. And the entire sum of human history has conspired to produce victimized you, with all your individual pathological problems. It's like: YES! TRUE! OKAY!

But the problem is that, if you take the oppressed, you have to fractionate them and fractionate them, and it's like: You're a woman? Yeah, okay -- well I'm a black woman. Well, I'm a black woman who has two children. Well, I'm a black woman who has two children, and one of them isn't very healthy. And then, well, I'm a Hispanic woman, and I have a genius son who doesn't have any money, so that he can't go to university -- and, you know, I had a hell of a time getting across the border. It was really hard on me to get my citizenship. My husband is an alcoholic brute. It's like, well, yeah, that sucks too. And so, let's fix all your oppression. And we'll take every single thing into account, and then we'll fix yours too. We'll take every single thing into account.

It's like: NO, you won't because you can't. You can't. It is technically impossible. First of all, you can't even list all the ways that you're oppressed. Second, how are you going to weight them? Third, who's going to decide? And that's the bloody thing: Who's gonna decide? That's the thing. 

Well, what's the answer in the West? It's like, in free markets ... We're going to outsource it to the marketplace. You're going to take your sorry pathetic being, and you're gonna try to offer me something that maybe I want. And I'm going to take my sorry pathetic being, and I'm gonna say, "well, all things considered, as well as I can understand them, maybe I could give you this much money", which is actually a promise for that thing. And you've packed all of your damn oppression into the price. And I packed all my oppression into the willingness to pay it. And that solution sucks. It's a bad solution. But compared to every other solution - man, it's why 10 percent of us have freedom!

Here, Peterson argues that seeking political solutions to problems of identity-based oppression is futile; that attempts to do so will inevitably bestow arbitrary powers on some tyrannical authority (Who's gonna decide?); and thus, that the best society can do is to maintain free markets, where all individuals can seek to transcend their oppression by selling goods and services that other individuals wish to buy.

This narrative rests on so many flimsy premises it's hard to know where to begin. Does Peterson genuinely believe that "free markets" are the best solution "the West" has found for a woman whose "genius son" can't afford to go to college? Or for a mother with a sick child? Is he unaware of the existence of public universities, and his home country's single-payer health-care system? Or does he not understand that people had to organize collectively -- around shared identities of oppression (as with workers in trade unions or people who suffer from disabilities, in lobbying groups) -- to bring these kinds of public goods into being? And is the question of "who will get to decide" whose oppression the state should prioritize redressing really so confounding? Didn't "the West" develop republican institutions precisely so that the people's elected representatives could adjudicate such claims, and be voted out of office if they do so in way that displeases a majority of the public?

But the core problem with Peterson's argument -- the one that best justifies the left's contempt for him -- is that it proceeds from the premise that it is impossible to draw a categorical distinction between oppressions that are rooted in race, gender, or class, and ineluctable misfortunes like "being less tall than one might prefer."

That is, of course, precisely the opposite of what Mr. Peterson said in the quoted excerpt (see bold).  It's rather easy to draw categorical distinctions.  When Donald Trump rages against immigrants, Muslims, etc. he's just drawing categorical distinctions. The Left and the Right, both being rational, simply believe themselves uniquely well-suited to drawing them and then basing public policy on them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


The Outrage Over Sarah Jeong: Let he who is without a bad tweet cast the first stone. (Bret Stephens, Aug. 9, 2018, NY Times)

In March, a liberal furor erupted when The Atlantic magazine briefly hired Kevin Williamson, a conservative writer with National Review. Several years earlier, Williamson had written a short tweet in which he seemed to suggest that women who obtain abortions should be hanged. Though he insists this is far from his real view, his fate was sealed when it turned out he had said something similar in a podcast. He was fired almost immediately.

I defended Williamson at the time, [...] [s]o allow me to apply precisely the same logic in defense of my soon-to-be colleague at The Times, Korean-American technology writer Sarah Jeong, who is joining the editorial board with her own extensive history of unfortunate tweets. [...]

I've spent the last few days reading some of Jeong's longer-form journalism. It's consistently smart and interesting and as distant from some of her more notorious social-media output as a brain is from a bottom. But you'll struggle to find her articles on an internet search, because her serious work is overwhelmed by the controversy her tweets have generated.

Is it ultimately her fault for writing those ugly tweets? Yes. Does it represent the core truth of who she is? I doubt it. Anyone who has been the victim of the social-media furies knows just how distorting and dishonest those furies can be. I'm routinely described on social media as an Arab-hating, climate-denying, pedophile apologist. It's enough for me that my family, friends and employer know I'm none of those things. God save us all when those pillars crumble in the face of our new culture of denunciation.

So welcome, Sarah, to The Times. I look forward to reading you with interest irrespective of agreement. I trust you'll extend the same good faith to all of your new colleagues. Only through such faith do the people, institutions, and nations thrive.

Whether it's funny or not, the intent of snark is comic.
Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


ICE Withheld Deported Parents' Phone Numbers From Lawyers, ACLU Says (Angelina Chapin, 8/11/18, Huffington Post)

The American Civil Liberties Union told HuffPost that the government finally handed over phone numbers this week for the more than 400 migrant parents who were separated from their children and then deported under the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy on immigration. 

But the organization believes that Immigration and Customs Enforcement deliberately withheld these phone numbers for more than a month, despite the fact that this contact information could have helped reunite many families. 

ICE is essentially a military organization now and immigrants are its enemy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Coal industry on steady decline under Trump's leadership (MARK HAND, AUG 7, 2018, ThinkProgress)

Meanwhile, newly released data shows the coal industry is doing worse today than it was when President Barack Obama was preparing to leave office in January 2017. Coal production is still on the decline. Coal-fired power plants are still closing. And Trump's own Department of Energy doesn't see these trends reversing anytime soon. In other words, Trump hasn't reversed the downward financial trajectory of the industry that started years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Who are the Sikhs and what are their beliefs? (Simran Jeet Singh, 8/10/18, RNS)

To start at the beginning, the founder of the Sikh tradition, Guru Nanak was born in 1469 in the Punjab region of South Asia, which is currently split between Pakistan and the northwestern area of India. A majority of the global Sikh population still resides in Punjab on the Indian side of the border.

From a young age, Guru Nanak was disillusioned by the social inequities and religious hypocrisies he observed around him. He believed that a single divine force created the entire world and resided within it. In his belief, God was not separate from the world and watching from a distance, but fully present in every aspect of creation.

He therefore asserted that all people are equally divine and deserve to be treated as such.

To promote this vision of divine oneness and social equality, Guru Nanak created institutions and religious practices. He established community centers and places of worship, wrote his own scriptural compositions and institutionalized a system of leadership (gurus) that would carry forward his vision.

The Sikh view thus rejects all social distinctions that produce inequities, including gender, race, religion and caste, the predominant structure for social hierarchy in South Asia.

A community kitchen run by the Sikhs to provide free meals to anyone, irrespective of caste, faith or religion, in the Golden Temple, in Punjab, India. Photo by Shankar S./Creative Commons

Serving the world is a natural expression of the Sikh prayer and worship. Sikhs call this prayerful service "seva," and it is a core part of their practice.

In the Sikh tradition, a truly religious person is one who cultivates the spiritual self while also serving the communities around them - or a saint-soldier. The saint-soldier ideal applies to women and men alike.

In this spirit, Sikh women and men maintain five articles of faith, popularly known as the five Ks. These are: kes (long, uncut hair), kara (steel bracelet), kanga (wooden comb), kirpan (small sword) and kachera (soldier-shorts).

Although little historical evidence exists to explain why these particular articles were chosen, the 5 Ks continue provide the community with a collective identity, binding together individuals on the basis of a shared belief and practice. As I understand, Sikhs cherish these articles of faith as gifts from their gurus.

Turbans are an important part of the Sikh identity. Both women and men may wear turbans. Like the articles of faith, Sikhs regard their turbans as gifts given by their beloved gurus, and its meaning is deeply personal. In South Asian culture, wearing a turban typically indicated one's social status - kings and rulers once wore turbans. The Sikh gurus adopted the turban, in part, to remind Sikhs that all humans are sovereign, royal and ultimately equal.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Study: 11 million white Americans think like the alt-right (Zack Beauchamp, Aug 10, 2018, Vox)

[N]ew research from the University of Alabama's George Hawley, published by UVA's Institute for Family Studies, suggests this isn't the case. According to Hawley, a political scientist who specializes in demography and the far right, roughly 5.64 percent of America's 198 million non-Hispanic whites have beliefs consistent with the alt-right's worldview. Whether or not they would describe themselves as alt-right, Hawley argues, they share the movement's belief in a politics that promotes white interests above those of other racial groups.

[W]hile the alt-right as a practical political movement is marginal, Hawley's research shows that its ideas are more popular than it might seem. Large numbers of people think the way that they do, and shape their political identity around a sense of white grievance and identity. They may not march around the streets yelling, "Jews will not replace us!" but they are extremely receptive to a politics that positions whites as victims and a growing minority population as an existential threat.

This kind of white identity politics has become more and more common in the mainstream conservative movement since Trump's ascendancy. Just this week, Fox News host Laura Ingraham went on an anti-immigration rant that could just as easily been given by alt-right luminary Richard Spencer. Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke even tweeted out his endorsement of Ingraham's monologue.

"The America we know and love doesn't exist anymore," Ingraham said during her Wednesday night show. "Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don't like."

You can find similar rhetoric from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, whom the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer has referred to as "literally our greatest ally." Rep. Steve King, a prominent anti-immigration Republican from Iowa, tweeted last year that "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies"; the Daily Stormer has termed King "our guy."

These mainstream figures are activating this latent alt-right constituency, bringing them into the conservative movement and the Republican Party as a core constituency. And nobody has done this more effectively than President Donald Trump: Study after study has shown that Trump's primary and general election victories were driven by the racial resentment and demographic panic he activated among white voters.

By their obsession with immigration shall you know them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Some workers say Carrier faces low morale, absenteeism at factory kept open by Trump: report (JOHN BOWDEN, 08/10/18, The Hill)

Several employees at Indiana's Carrier factory say the facility is at risk of shuttering again because of low morale and rampant absenteeism, despite President Trump's efforts which helped keep the facility open.

The New York Times reported Friday that multiple employees and union officials have complained about rising absenteeism, which has led to the factory missing quotas and even shutting down production early.

* with apologies to Sarah Jeong for stealing her bit

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Trump's War With Harley-Davidson Has Divided America's Bikers: A move by the company has put one of the country's most iconic brands in the uncomfortable position of clashing with a president who is immensely popular with most of its customers. (Alan Rappeport, Aug. 11, 2018, NY Times)

"We're not going to sit back on a hope and a promise that they're going to do the right thing," said Mr. Cox, who brought with him a leather jacket autographed by Mr. Trump at the White House when he was in Washington for a recent visit with some bikers. He said that Mr. Trump insisted that he visit the Oval Office because his group has been so supportive and loyal.

Explaining the importance of domestic production, Mr. Cox said that Vietnam veterans who joined motorcycle clubs after the war were disappointed decades later when the new brake pads they needed to buy were made in Vietnam. He said that many bikers he knows are now wearing long sleeves to conceal their Harley tattoos.

But even Mr. Cox, a South Carolina chain saw artist who carves trees and other objects, could not escape the realities of global supply chains and the high cost of making some products in the United States. While he used to sell American-made T-shirts, the $20 Trump shirts he was selling outside his R.V. were made in Haiti. The American-made shirts proved to be a hard sell.

"If I get a T-shirt made in the U.S.A., it's going to cost about $8 more," Mr. Cox said. "I looked far and wide to try to get a shirt made in America, it's just they get you, they gouge you."

Donald and the Trumpbots have turned the Times into one of the great comedic publications in history.

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Syrian rebels build an army with Turkish help, face challenges (Khalil Ashawi, 8/12/18, Reuters) 

A "National Army" being set up by Syrian rebels with Turkey's help could become a long-term obstacle to President Bashar al-Assad's recovery of the northwest - if they can end factional rivalries that have long blighted the opposition. [...]

Turkey's role has gone beyond supporting allied Syrian forces to rebuilding schools and hospitals. At least five branches of the Turkish post office have opened in the area.

Colonel Haitham Afisi, head of the National Army, says setting up the force has been no easy task over the last year.

"We are at the beginning. We face many difficulties but we are working to overcome them," Afisi told Reuters in an interview in the town of Azaz near the Turkish border.

There is no Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Tens of thousands protest in Tel Aviv against 'nation-state law' (Al Jazeera, 8/12/18)

"This is amazing. This is the first time I remember Jews and Palestinians fighting together for something. This is a really big moment for people that believe in democracy and equality," an unidentified demonstrator told Al Jazeera.

A Jewish participant agreed, saying all citizens of Israel should be equal under the law. 

"We, a lot of Israelis, believe that they [minorities] are entitled to be equal to us," protester Dan Meiri said. "It is the Jewish state but the people that live here are entitled to be equal to us across the board in education, in the army, in the universities, in the parliament - all over."

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Melania's Family Immigration Lawyer Blasts Trump Policy (Matthew Chapman, August 12, 2018, AlterNet.)

One such person who noticed this contradiction was Michael Wildes, the former mayor of Englewood, NJ, and the attorney who represented the Knavses during the immigration process in the first place. And he is not happy about what Trump has been saying. [...]

'Let me take off one hat as the First Lady's immigration lawyer and her family, and put on my own personal hat. It's unconscionable to scare people into believing that. You cannot bring nephews. You cannot bring neices or uncles. You can't bring 32 people here. And some of the quotas are backed up for 10 or 15 years from particular countries."

"This whole notion of 'chain migration' is actually a beautiful bedrock of immigration law and policy, called family reunification," he went on. "Imagine this. People will work harder and love more and do more for America, knowing that their loved ones, their immediate relatives, their parents, their children, to say you can bring one relative and not another relative, I can understand that some of them may be in jeopardy, and you may want to retool and ancient migration system ... but chain migration is not family reunification."

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Wisconsin May Cut Income Tax Rates to Offset Rise in Online Sales Tax Revenues (Michael Carroll, August 12, 2018, Free Beacon)

Income tax filers in Wisconsin may soon reap benefits from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring that more out-of-state online retailers collect and remit sales taxes on purchases.

Remote sellers that conduct at least 200 annual transactions - or annual sales topping $100,000 - in Wisconsin will have to collect state sales taxes, the court ruled recently in South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. The ruling in June overturned a previous high court decision that said such taxes need not be collected by online retailers unless they had a physical presence in the state where they were doing business.

In a report sent to members of the state legislature, the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau pointed out that current state law may require the additional sales tax revenues received as a result of the court decision be used to reduce income tax rates. Under that scenario, the average Wisconsin income tax filer would see a tax reduction of $52 annually, according to the bureau's report.

That idea now has the endorsement of Gov. Scott Walker.

There's his 2020 platform--tax consumption, not income.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


V.S. Naipaul, Who Explored Colonialism Through Unsparing Books, Dies at 85 (Rachel Donadio, Aug. 11, 2018, NY Times)

In a 1974 essay that marked a breakthrough in his own understanding of himself as a writer, Mr. Naipaul wrote of his debt to the Ukrainian-born Conrad, who had also willed himself to be an artist in England and also traveled to the far corners of the colonized world. "I found that Conrad -- 60 years before, in a time of a great peace -- had been everywhere before me," he wrote. But in an interview with The Times in 2005, Mr. Naipaul revised this judgment. While conceding that Conrad was "great," he insisted that he "had no influence on me."

"Actually, I think 'A Bend in the River' is much, much better than Conrad," Mr. Naipaul said.

Mr. Naipaul's writing about Africa drew criticism from many who were unsettled by his portraits of Africans. The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe called him "a new purveyor of the old comforting myths" of the white West.

He was also criticized for his unflattering portrayals of women. In "A Bend in the River," the protagonist spits on the naked body of his Belgian lover. In his 1975 novel "Guerrillas," the English girlfriend of an exiled South African resistance hero acts on her fantasies of native sexual power to disastrous effect.

Always attuned to the tides of history, Mr. Naipaul began to travel in non-Arab Islamic countries around the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He visited Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia in the late 1970s, when they were witnessing a rise in political power and Islamic fundamentalism. His first travelogue, "Among the Believers," was published in 1981. A sequel, "Beyond Belief," followed in 1998.

He started his inquiry, he later explained, by asking simple questions: To what extent had "people who lock themselves away in belief shut themselves away from the active, busy world?" "To what extent without knowing it" were they "parasitic on that world"? And why did they have "no thinkers to point out to them where their thoughts and their passion had led them?"

The books are grounded in Mr. Naipaul's belief that Islamic societies lead to tyranny, which he essentially attributed to a flaw in Islam, that it "offered no political or practical solution."

"It offered only the faith," he wrote.

These books were harshly criticized. The critic and Palestinian rights advocate Edward Said argued that Mr. Naipaul had interviewed only those who would confirm his pre-established thesis about flaws in Islam while playing down local political situations that might better explain the rise in Islamic fundamentalism.

Mr. Naipaul also wrote perceptively about America. "A Turn in the South" (1989) is a travelogue about the Deep South, and in an essay on the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, "The Air-Conditioned Bubble," he dissected American political pieties. "The fundamentalism that the Republicans had embraced went beyond religion," he wrote. "It simplified the world in general; it rolled together many different kinds of anxieties -- schools, drugs, race, buggery, Russia, to give just a few; and it offered the simplest, the vaguest solution: Americanism, the assertion of the American self."

Mr. Naipaul increasingly lamented the limitations of fiction. The novel had reached its peak in the 19th century, he said, and Modernism was dead. Instead, he thought nonfiction better captured the complexities of the world. He said he wrote his novel "Half a Life" (2001) only to fulfill a publisher's contract.

In 1996, two months after the death of his first wife, Mr. Naipaul married Nadira Khannum Alvi, a divorced Pakistani journalist more than 20 years his junior. She survives him. He had met her at the home of the American consul-general in Lahore. In 2003 Mr. Naipaul adopted Nadira's daughter, Maleeha, who was then 25.

A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

The writer Paul Theroux, who was one of Mr. Naipaul's closest friends, had a falling out with Mr. Naipaul not long after the marriage to Ms. Alvi. In his book "Sir Vidia's Shadow" (1998), Mr. Theroux documented the arc of their complicated literary friendship, which began in Uganda in 1966 and ended abruptly in 1997 after Mr. Theroux saw books he had written and inscribed to his mentor listed for sale in an auction catalog. He depicts Mr. Naipaul as a great inspiration as a writer, but also petty, cruel and needy. The two men later reconciled.

For all his pessimism, Mr. Naipaul was confident that what he called "Our Universal Civilization" would prevail. In a 1992 lecture, he said his optimism derived from his belief in the idea of the pursuit of happiness, which lay "at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery."

"It is an elastic idea; it fits all men," he said. "It implies a certain kind of society, a certain kind of awakened spirit. I don't imagine my parents would have been able to understand the idea. So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away."

Which nicely captures his contradictions, the pursuit of happiness being quintessential Americanism. And nothing better captures the contradictory relationship of intellectuals to his work than the fact that he was awarded the Nobel immediately after 9-11.

V.S. Naipaul, a Writer of Many Contradictions and Obvious Greatness (Dwight Garner, Aug. 12, 2018, NY Times)

Naipaul's unsympathetic views of postcolonial life made him among the most controversial writers of his time. No white Westerner could have spoken as he did. He wrote of the "primitivism" and "barbarism" of African societies. He fixated in India on the lack of plumbing: "They defecate on the hills; they defecate on the riverbanks; they defecate on the streets." He denigrated the country of his birth: "I was born there, yes. I thought it was a mistake." He was a critic of Islam.

He was loathed by third world intellectuals and called, among other things, a "restorer of the comforting myths of the white race" (Chinua Achebe), "a despicable lackey of neocolonialism" (H.B. Singh) and a "cold and sneering prophet" (Eric Roach).

He made enemies as easily as sipping tea. He said: "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me." He physically abused Margaret Murray, his mistress of many years. He spoke openly about disliking overweight people and about visiting prostitutes. A bindi on a woman's forehead signifies, he said, "My head is empty."

He had as many ardent defenders. Ian Buruma, the editor of The New York Review of Books, thought it was a mistake to view Naipaul as "a dark man mimicking the prejudices of the white imperialists." He wrote: "This view is not only superficial, it is wrong. Naipaul's rage is not the result of being unable to feel the native's plight; on the contrary, he is angry because he feels it so keenly."

At its best, Naipaul's work made these questions nearly moot. He was a self-styled heir to Joseph Conrad, and a legitimate one. "This is what I would ask of the writer," he once said. "How much of the modern world does his work contain?" Naipaul's work contained multitudes -- subtle and overlapping meanings, only rarely sledgehammer ones. He is the subject of an excellent biography, "The World Is What It Is" (2008), by Patrick French -- a good starting point, along with "A House for Mr. Biswas," for those interested in Naipaul's work.

August 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


When the Tide Comes In (JONAH GOLDBERG, August 11, 2018, National Review)

In January of 1959, The Mercury had run an editorial "revealing" a Jewish conspiracy of world conquest along the lines of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Buckley was under pressure from backers of NR and others to publicly rebuke and denounce The Mercury. But some on the NR board worried that it would cost the fledgling magazine many of its subscribers. One board member, Mrs. A. E. Bonbrake, whom Judis describes as "a Forest Hills housewife whom Buckley had promoted to the board as a representative grass-roots activist," asked, "Since when is it the job of National Review to attack supposedly anti-Semitic publications?"

(More about that "supposedly" later.)

"But Buckley felt hypocritical at remaining silent," Judis recounts. "He wrote Bonbrake, "I do not feel comfortable criticizing Liberals . . . for not disavowing objectionable Liberals, when I do not myself [disavow objectionable conservatives]."

Buckley first settled for a compromise: National Review's editors would not write for The Mercury nor would National Review publish anyone associated with it. If you were on their masthead, you couldn't be on ours. Remember, The Mercury had long been a respected publication on the right, and many of the writers at National Review had cut their teeth writing for it. Many were on both mastheads, in one capacity or another. No longer. You can be with us or with them, but not both. All but one writer sided with National Review.

James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers enthusiastically agreed with Buckley. Chambers welcomed the memo as a "liberation." "How good, and how strong, it is to take a principled position," Chambers wrote to Buckley. "It defines, and defining, frees. Now what is good and strong outside us can draw to us, about whom there is, in this connection, no longer question, equivocation. The dregs will be drawn to the dregs, and sink where they belong."

A few subscriptions were cancelled, but not many. Quickly, other leading conservatives followed NR's example and repudiated The Mercury.

Maguire was furious that Buckley had broken the popular-front orthodoxy of the Right. Maguire soon shriveled up to a footnote in obscure books; Buckley went the other direction, to understate it dramatically.

Now, I am not trying to whitewash National Review's history. NR would go on to make some morally grievous editorial errors, particularly on civil rights. It would also rally to the defense of cranks, anti-Semites, and demagogues on too many occasions, albeit on free-speech grounds or in the name of the noble cause of anti-Communism.

And with the advantage of hindsight, one can argue that NR dawdled in excommunicating other elements of the irresponsible Right. That is always an issue with conservatives, who, by nature and design, prefer to measure at least twice before cutting even once. ("I must bear with infirmities until they fester into crimes," as Edmund Burke said.)

...but when they metastasize they need to be cut.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Trump's résumé is rife with mob connections (David Von Drehle, August 10, 2018, Washington Post)

New York construction, for starters. In 1988, Vincent "the Fish" Cafaro of the Genovese crime family testified before a U.S. Senate committee concerning the Mafia's control of building projects in New York. Construction unions and concrete contractors were deeply dirty, Cafaro confirmed, and four of the city's five crime families worked cooperatively to keep it that way.

This would not have been news to Trump, whose early political mentor and personal lawyer was Roy Cohn, consigliere to such dons as Fat Tony Salerno and Carmine Galante. After Cohn guided the brash young developer through the gutters of city politics to win permits for Trump Plaza and Trump Tower, it happened that Trump elected to build primarily with concrete rather than steel. He bought the mud at inflated prices from S&A Concrete, co-owned by Cohn's client Salerno and Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino family. [...]

His gambling interests led him into the world of boxing promotion, where Trump became chums with fight impresario Don King, a former Cleveland numbers runner. (Trump once told me that he owes his remarkable coiffure to King, who advised the future president, from personal experience, that outlandish hair is great PR) King hasn't been convicted since the 1960s, when he did time for stomping a man to death. But investigators at the FBI and U.S. Senate concluded that his Mafia ties ran from Cleveland to New York, Las Vegas to Atlantic City. Mobsters "were looking to launder illicit cash," wrote one sleuth. "Boxing, of all the sports, was perhaps the most accommodating laundromat, what with its international subculture of unsavory characters who play by their own rules."

But an even more accommodating laundromat came along: luxury real estate -- yet another mob-adjacent field in which the Trump name has loomed large. Because buyers of high-end properties often hide their identities, it's impossible to say how many Russian Mafia oligarchs own Trump-branded condos. Donald Trump Jr. gave a hint in 2008: "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets."

For instance: In 2013, federal prosecutors indicted Russian mob boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and 33 others on charges related to a gambling ring operating from two Trump Tower condos that allegedly laundered more than $100 million. A few months later, the same Mr. Tokhtakhounov, a fugitive from U.S. justice, was seen on the red carpet at Trump's Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Trump Tears Into Jeff Sessions (JEREMY SCHULMAN, AUG. 11, 2018, Mother Jones)

President Donald Trump on Saturday publicly excoriated his attorney general in a series of tweets about the Russian investigation, describing Jeff Sessions as "scared stiff and Missing in Action."

...he's an extremely good judge of lack of character.  He can't treat guys like Beauregard and General Kelly with enough contempt for any of them to resign.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Poll: Trump is as strongly disliked now as Nixon was before he resigned (Harry Enten, 8/11/18, CNN)

Trump is as strongly disliked as President Richard Nixon was when he resigned the presidency 44 years ago this week. Back then, 45% of people said Nixon was doing a poor job as president in a Harris poll.

Among Democrats, the intensity of the dislike toward Trump is even deeper today than it was against Nixon back in 1974. Back in 1974, 70% of those who said they voted for Democrat George McGovern in 1972 (37% of the sample) gave Nixon a poor rating. That's 10 percentage points below the 80% of Democrats (35% of the Marist sample) who give Trump a poor rating today.

What's so interesting is that even though a majority of people didn't strongly dislike Nixon, it's not like they wanted to stay him in office. The Harris poll back in 1974 found that 56% of Americans wanted him impeached and removed from office compared with only 34% who didn't want that to happen. Among McGovern voters, it was 83%. Clearly, Americans didn't like Nixon, but it didn't boil over into strong dislike in the same way it does with Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Of Course There Is Such a Thing as a 'Perjury Trap' (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, August 11, 2018, National Review)

The theme the anti-Trump camp is pushing -- again, a sweet-sounding political claim that defies real-world experience -- is that an honest person has nothing to fear from a prosecutor. If you simply answer the questions truthfully, there is no possibility of a false-statements charge. [...]

Former national-security adviser Michael Flynn was questioned about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. There were some discrepancies between Flynn's account of the discussions and the FBI's understanding of them (we'll come back to why). Did that necessarily mean Flynn lied? Of course not. To take the most obvious possibility, Flynn could have had an innocent failure of recollection. It happens to all of us; it would happen to you if you tried to describe this this column to someone without having a copy of it in hand.

The investigators and prosecutors had to weigh whether Flynn's discrepancies were honest mistakes or conscious misstatements. It appears that the first set of investigators gave him the benefit of the doubt, but Mueller's team drew the opposite conclusion. Yes, Flynn ultimately pled guilty, but when highly experienced investigators assess the same basic facts differently, the matter cannot be black-and-white.

Or take the George Papadopoulos case. The false-statements charge against him was largely based on misleading investigators about the timing of his conversations about Russia.

Get it?  Perjury traps are real because Donald's wiseguys are pleading guilty to misleading investigators. Sublime.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


As I See It: Race and Equality (Mitt Romney, AUGUST 10, 2018)

A year ago in Charlottesville, a Nazi white supremacist plowed his car into a group of people, killing Heather Heyer and injuring several others. His object was to brutalize and terrorize demonstrators whom he and his hate brigade opposed. The President opined that there were good people in both groups, a statement for which he was widely criticized. My view --then and now -- is that people who knowingly march under the Nazi banner have disqualified themselves as "good people." Accordingly, I wrote:

Prior to and after Charlottesville, the President made public statements that were viewed by some as expressing or evoking racism. He objected to this characterization and insisted that he opposes racism. What followed has been a national conversation about the implications of race in America. Today, one year after Charlottesville, I again add my voice to this discussion.

I firmly believe in the moral foundation that underlies and is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution: "all men are created equal." I recognize that while individuals are born with unequal talents, unequal family circumstances, and unequal opportunity for education and advancement, the equality of the intrinsic worth of every person is a truth fundamental to our national founding and moral order.

As citizens of a nation founded on the principle of human equality, we must categorically and consistently reject racism and discrimination. We must refuse to allow our estimation of others to be based upon their ethnicity rather than upon their qualities as individuals. We must insist that those we elect as our leaders respect and embrace Americans of every race, sexual orientation, gender, and national origin. In this country, it must be electorally disqualifying to equivocate on racism.

There are some who feel that in our effort to create equality of opportunity for some we have, in certain circumstances, created discrimination for others. That surely would be unfortunate and ill-advised. Our aim must be equality of opportunity, not superiority of opportunity. That said, my personal experience working in communities of color is that in the great majority of circumstances, it is still a distinct disadvantage of opportunity to be African-American or Hispanic-American. My understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, is that it is not intended to elevate minority lives above white lives; it is intended to draw vivid attention to the too frequent reality of deadly racial discrimination in law enforcement and in the courts.

My convictions regarding the equality of mankind were unquestionably shaped by my parents and by my belief that we are all children of God. Civil rights were a passion for both my father and mother; Dad refused to support a presidential nominee of his party due in part to that person's perceived equivocation on civil rights. As a governor, he established the first state Civil Rights Commission. In our home, Mom and he taught us to respect people different than ourselves and to champion racial equality.

There are some besotted and misguided souls who long for a population that is more homogeneous--more white. They even disparage legal immigration, ignoring the fact that nearly all Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. But can they not at least recognize--whether or not they like it--we are, in fact, a highly diverse population? And given this reality, "united we stand and divided we fall."

The matter of race and racism is not tangential to the great issues of our day: it is one of them. It is impossible for America to achieve and sustain high growth, economic superiority, and global leadership if our citizenry is divided, disengaged, and angry. But more than this, we must foster equality if we are to remain a great and good nation. And we ourselves must embrace the dignity of all God's children if we are to merit His love.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Cheer up, Deutschland: The biggest risk to Germany is excessive pessimism (Charlemagne, Aug 2nd 2018, The Economist)

Pessimism, and the associated perfectionism, may be a German strength--but in moderation. And that moderation risks succumbing to the latest bout of hyperventilating self-denigration, along with basic facts about the state of the country. Germany's economy, for example, is powering ahead. Unemployment is at a record low, and exports are booming. Its infrastructure is among the best in the world. Inequality remains lower than in most other rich countries and the quality of life higher (the fourth best in the world, according to the UN's Human Development Index). German politics, it is true, is fragmenting, as in other European countries, but Mrs Merkel remains a sensible and decent leader, and moderate forces still dominate.

And the immigrants? By April this year 26% of refugees admitted to Germany since 2015 were in employment, more than expected. Crime fell to a 30-year low last year, with the largest long-term falls among immigrants. If rightists are becoming more vocal in their opposition to Germans of immigrant background, like Mr Özil, it is because their monocultural vision of Germany is losing the battle: the proportion of non-ethnic German residents is rising fast, with ever more reaching prominent roles in public life. The share of MPs with a migrant background rose from 3% to 9% over the two elections to 2017. Germany's most popular politician, Cem Özdemir of the Greens, is of Turkish origin, too.

Germany overlooks such facts at its peril. Mainstream politicians will not halt the rise of the AfD by parroting its inaccurate portrayal of the country as an unruly shambles. The country does not invest enough--threatening its competitiveness and contributing to international economic imbalances--but pessimists do not invest. Cracks in the liberal international order threaten German interests, but introspective gloom will surely prevent the country from taking more responsibility for its preservation. For its own sake and that of others, it is time for Germany to lift its gaze from its navel, grasp the bigger picture--and cheer up.

People are understandably confused that we've made the world and our societies so much better but not improved human nature one iota.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Environmental regulations drove steep declines in U.S. factory pollution (Public Affairs, UC Berkeley | AUGUST 9, 2018)

The study, forthcoming in the American Economic Review, found that polluting emissions from U.S. manufacturing fell by 60 percent between 1990 and 2008--a period in which manufacturing output grew significantly--primarily because manufacturers adopted cleaner production methods in tandem with increasingly strict environmental regulation.

"In the 1960s and 1970s, people worried that Los Angeles, New York and other U.S. cities would have unbearable air pollution levels by the end of the 20th century," said Joseph Shapiro, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics who co-authored the study with Reed Walker, an associate professor in the Haas School of Business and Department of Economics. "Instead, air pollution levels have plummeted, and the evidence shows that environmental regulation and the associated cleanup of production processes have played important roles in those steep declines."

Shapiro and Walker analyzed newly available data on over 1,400 different products produced by U.S. plants between 1990 and 2008. They combined this with plant-level pollution emissions data over the same period. The authors then categorized reductions in overall emissions into those that can be explained by changes in manufacturing output, changes in the types of goods produced or changes in production technologies.

The researchers found that most of the decreases in emissions of important pollutants from manufacturing--such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide--came from changes in production technologies.

"People often assume that manufacturing production pollutes less today because manufacturing output has declined, when in fact output was 30 percent greater in 2008 than in 1990," said Walker. "Others argue that manufacturing has shifted towards cleaner, high-tech products or that the manufacturing of 'dirty' products like steel has moved to China, Mexico or other foreign countries. Our analysis showed that changes in the product-mix of U.S. manufacturing do not explain much of the reduction in emissions. Instead, manufacturers are producing the same types of goods, but they've taken significant steps to clean up their production processes."

The researchers sought to identify the key driver of the change in production technology. They quantified the importance of reductions in tariffs and other trade costs, improved productivity and environmental regulation in explaining decreases in air pollution emissions. Then they showed that the stringency of environmental regulation for manufacturing firms nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008. The researchers demonstrate that this increase in regulatory stringency, rather than improvements in manufacturing productivity or trade exposure, accounted for most of the decreases in pollution emissions.

August 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


GOP Operative Made "Suspicious" Cash Withdrawals During Pursuit Of Clinton Emails (Jason Leopold, Anthony Cormier. August 10, 2018, BuzzFeed News)

In one of the most intriguing episodes of the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican activist Peter W. Smith launched an independent effort to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails to help defeat her and elect Donald Trump. His quest, which reportedly brought him into contact with at least two sets of hackers that he himself believed were Russian, remains a key focus of investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Now, BuzzFeed News has reviewed documents showing that FBI agents and congressional investigators have zeroed in on transactions Smith made right as his effort to procure Clinton's emails heated up. Just a day after he finished a report suggesting he was working with Trump campaign officials, for example, he transferred $9,500 from an account he had set up to fund the email project to his personal account, later taking out more than $4,900 in cash. According to a person with direct knowledge of Smith's project, the Republican operative stated that he was prepared to pay hackers "many thousands of dollars" for Clinton's emails -- and ultimately did so. [...]

The money trail, made public here for the first time, sheds new light on Smith's effort, in which he told people he was in touch with both Russians on the dark web and Trump campaign officials -- particularly Michael Flynn, who was then a top adviser to the Trump campaign and later served as national security adviser before having to resign after misleading White House officials about his meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Intelligence agencies have given the FBI information that Russian hackers talked about passing Clinton's emails to Flynn through a cutout, according to two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Strange Bedfellows: Is the US Supporting al-Qaeda in Yemen? (Abigail Liebing, August 10, 2018, Politico)

For the past two years, the civil war in Yemen has gone almost unnoticed in the US. Yemen is currently one of the most dangerous countries in the world, suffering from violence, starvation, and now an outbreak of cholera. The focus of the news media in the US has been elsewhere. Case in point, out that in the past year MSNBC has hardly mentioned Yemen but has had 455 segments about Stormy Daniels. But with the recent discovery of how al-Qaeda has been involved with the US-supported, Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen, there may be a few more eyes turned towards the fray.

A Saudi-led coalition, that is predominantly Sunni, has been sweeping through Yemen fighting the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels and driving al-Qaeda out of some of its strongholds throughout the country. , the coalition has been bargaining with al-Qaeda militants, paying them to leave cities, or letting them retreat with weapons, money, and equipment. In addition, the coalition has been recruiting al-Qaeda fighters to join them in the bigger fight against the Shiite Houthis.

Though this discovery is rather recent, it appears as though the quid pro quo has been going on for some time. In February 2018, Emirati forces (which are part of the bigger Saudi-led, Arab coalition) reclaimed al-Said, a region that has been largely under al-Qaeda control. It was recognized as quite a victory. But a tribal mediator who was involved said that the al-Qaeda forces left weeks before the Emirati forces and their Yemeni counterparts even arrived. And they left peacefully. Al Jazeera reported that "under the terms of the agreement, the coalition promised al-Qaeda members it would pay them up to 100,000 Saudi riyals ($26,000) to leave, according to Awad al-Dahboul, the province's security chief." And the recruitment of al-Qaeda fighters was part of the agreement. Two officials and a mediator estimated that for every 1,000 fighters recruited into the Emirati forces to fight the Houthis, 50 to 70 would be al-Qaeda.

Then we feign confusion about why we aren't loved in the Middle East...

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Omarosa says Trump is a racist who uses N-word - and claims there's tape to prove it (dAVID sMITH, 8/10/18, tHE gUARDIAN)

Donald Trump is a "racist" who has used the "N-word" repeatedly, Omarosa Manigault Newman, once the most prominent African American in the White House, claims in a searing memoir.

The future US president was caught on mic uttering the taboo racial slur "multiple times" during the making of his reality TV show The Apprentice and there is a tape to prove it, according to Manigault Newman, citing three unnamed sources.

Trump has been haunted from around the time of his election in 2016 by allegations that outtakes from the reality TV show exist in which he is heard saying the N-word and using other offensive language.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


White anxiety finds a home at Fox News (Tom Kludt and Brian Stelter, 8/09/18, CNNMoney)

It wasn't so much a dog whistle as it was an airhorn. Or perhaps a primal scream. But whatever it was, Laura Ingraham's forceful denunciation of "massive demographic changes" served as another raw example of a Fox News host echoing white nationalist language.
Perhaps it was a glimpse into President Donald Trump's well of support, too.

The Fox News audience is almost 100% white, according to Nielsen. And on the channel's highest-rated shows, the politics of white anxiety play out practically every day, as hosts and guests warn about the impacts of immigration and minimize or mock the perspectives of people of color. The talk show segments are clearly intended to appeal to people who perceive they are losing their grip on power.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Trump's staff tricked him into signing a pro-NATO agreement. (Jeet Heer, 8/09/18, New Republic)

The New York Times has published a remarkable reconstruction of the July NATO meeting, the upshot of which is that the staff of President Donald Trump successfully conspired to get him to sign an agreement supporting the troubled alliance against his own policy preferences. The machinations, which were led by National Security Advisor John Bolton and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, were done to avoid the fiasco of the June G-7 summit in Quebec, where the president ended up not signing the final communiqué.

As The Times notes, "In June, weeks before the meeting, Mr. Bolton sent his demand to Brussels through Kay Bailey Hutchison, the American ambassador to NATO. He wanted the NATO communiqué to be completed early, before the president left for Europe."

The idea was to reach an agreement that was strongly pro-NATO,and could counteract the president's tendency to criticize the alliance and to call for greater co-operation with Russia.

When John Bolton is a moderating influence you're in deep trouble.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


U.S. curbs on Russian banks would be act of economic war: PM (Reuters) 

Russia would consider any U.S. move to curb the operations of Russian banks or their foreign currency dealings a declaration of economic war, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday.

No one questions that Vlad opposing Hillary's election was a simple matter of national defense.

August 9, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 PM

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Putin's Pension Headache: For the Russian President and his team, social security reform is no walk in the park. (Aaron Schwartzbaum, 8/09/18, American Interest)

There are currently 46.5 million pensioners in Russia, roughly a third of the country's population. Annual expenditures on pensions this year are set to total 7.35 billion rubles ($120 billion) compared to 16.5 trillion in budget spending. Suffice it to say, this is a large and expensive system. The key problem is a demographic one: Russia's working-age population, the tax base for the pension system, is decreasing as a proportion of the overall population. In 2010 working-age Russians made up 62 percent of the population. This year the figure is only 58 percent, and that number will only shrink over the next decade. This is not a case of Russia the "dying bear," as a familiar trope goes; the trend is occurring across Europe as a whole. But it nonetheless poses a particular problem for Putin.

When the Pension Fund of Russia (PFR) operates at a deficit, as it has in recent years, the federal government must transfer funds out of the budget to close the gap. That reduces the fiscal space available for key items such as Putin's bold spending plans for his current term. It is also a political legitimacy problem: Part of the social contract in Putin's Russia, at the very least until the economic crisis, was the exchange of political freedoms for prosperity.

There are two components of the pension reform, one of which has received significantly more news play than the other. First is a gradual hike in the retirement age: from 60 to 65 for men and from 55 to 63 for women. It bears note that the current retirement age was stipulated in 1932 and by modern standards is very generous, despite the actual pension benefits being fairly meagre.

Second is a change to the mandatory savings component of Russia's pension system--roughly equivalent to a 401(k). Under the most recent edits to Russia's pension code, workers could elect to divert up to 6 percent of the 22 percent payroll tax they face into individual savings accounts, the sort of "nest egg" concept that has been floated in the United States on occasion. The issue with this system was that these accounts were technically property of the state, and contributions to them were "frozen" starting in 2013: The government used these contributions to cover present pension needs instead. Under the new system, with a roadmap expected in the coming weeks, workers will contribute the whole 22 percent payroll tax to present pension needs and be able to save an additional 6 percent--likely on an opt-out basis, to the alarm of some. It is an unofficial mantra for local economy officials that if a policy can't be made to work on a market basis, rigid laws often do the trick.

A slew of public polling since pension reform was announced--particularly following the closing of the World Cup--shows warning signs for the Kremlin. According to the independent Levada Center, approval of the Duma sits at 33 percent, approval of the government sits at 37 percent, and approval of Prime Minister Medvedev is at 31 percent. Putin's approval rating is at 67 percent, low by his standards. Measures of protest potential--a gauge of how liable Russians are to take to the street--should worry the Kremlin as well. Pollster VTsIOM's protest index is presently at 43, the highest it has been since 2005 (more on that year shortly). Its accompanying measure of personal protest potential recently reached 36, a high since the mass protests that rocked Russia in 2011 and 2012. Another measure by Levada finds 41 percent of Russians believe protests over economic issues are "entirely possible" while 28 percent would personally take part: the highest level these figures have reached since Russia defaulted on its debt in 1998. It can be said that the current reform project has firmly put to rest the Crimean consensus, the massive boost in popularity enjoyed by officials after the annexation of Crimea. We're back to 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


NBCU's Latest Online Video Idea: Paying Viewers  (Tom Dotan and Jessica Toonkel,  Aug 09, 2018, The Information)

The battle to win over viewers online may be reaching new levels of intensity. Comcast's NBCUniversal is considering the launch of a streaming service that would pay people to watch it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Who's A Good Fox? Soviet Experiment Reveals Genetic Roots Of Behavior (Charles Choi, August 9, 2018, Discover)

[O]ver the course of nearly 60 years, researchers bred foxes to be either friendly or aggressive. On a farm in Novosibirsk in Siberia, Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaev started a project that selectively bred hundreds of foxes over more than 40 generations, mating the friendliest foxes together, the most hostile foxes with each other, and keeping another group that were not bred for any specific behavior. His aim, and those of his successors after he died in 1985, was to recreate the process by which ancient humans domesticated wolves into dogs.

The results included the world's first domesticated foxes. "They do not just allow humans to pet them, but actively solicit human contact and enjoy it," says behavioral geneticist Anna Kukekova at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "It is very touching."

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Identitarianism, Unite the Right, and Pro-Lifers (HANNAH HOWARD, August 9, 2018, Weekly Standard)

Having a label on the political right is no guarantee of shared values. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

While subtle differences might exist between white nationalists, white supremacists, racists, and identitarians, all four groups share the common philosophy of dividing people along racial lines. Pro-lifers who have spent decades building an inclusive movement oriented around the idea that human life has innate value should reject any promise of unity that defines itself through racial division. [...]

In his video Why Tomi Lahren Is Right on Abortion, Spencer advocates aborting babies who are prenatally diagnosed with genetic abnormalities such as Down Syndrome: "Smart people are using abortion when you have a situation like Down Syndrome," he says. Spencer makes his comment on selective abortion within a larger discussion of T. Lothrop Stoddard's views on contraceptive use and eugenics. T. Lothrop Stoddard was a eugenicist who wrote The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood (formerly the American Birth Control League) promoted Stoddard's work, and chose him as a board member for the League. In "Birth Control and Racial Betterment," a 1919 essay published in her journal Birth Control Review, Sanger explained the following relationship between her mission of government action for birth control and the mission of her eugenist contemporaries:

Before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for Birth Control. Like the advocates of Birth Control, the eugenists, for instance, are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit. Both are seeking a single end but they lay emphasis upon different methods.

Sanger was closely associated with many racial fanatics and eugenicists throughout her life. Her successor as president of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Alan F. Guttmacher, had also served as vice president of the American Eugenics Society.

Recognizing a material attribute, such as race, as the foundation of "everything" assumes a debased scheme of thought which equates physical characteristics with moral worth. As such, inherent human dignity is replaced with perverse quantifications of genetics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


'Turn the Plane Around': Judge Threatens Sessions After Woman, Child Deported Mid-Court Hearing (Ronn Blitzer, August 9th, 2018, Law & Order)

The woman, identified only as Carmen, and her daughter had been scheduled to be deported, but the government agreed to postpone their removal until Thursday night so an appeal of the decision could be heard in court, the Washington Post reported. When court was in recess in the middle of the hearing, however, an attorney with the ACLU-which is representing them in a lawsuit-received an email notification that Carmen and her child had been taken from the detention center where they had been kept, and were being deported.

Judge Sullivan had strong words for Sessions when he found out about this, and even threatened to hold him in contempt of court.

"This is pretty outrageous," the judge said. "That someone seeking justice in U.S. court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?"

"I'm not happy about this at all," Sullivan said. He ruled in favor of the ACLU's request to put the deportation on hold, and ordered the Trump administration to "turn the plane around."

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Meet the newest US citizens: Melania Trump's parents (MICHAEL R. SISAK, 8/09/18, AP)

First lady Melania Trump's parents were sworn in as U.S. citizens on Thursday, completing a legal path to citizenship that their son-in-law has suggested eliminating.


Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Laura Ingraham: America as we know it doesn't exist anymore due to 'demographic changes' (BRETT SAMUELS, 08/09/18, The Hill)

Trumpism, to the extent it represents a coherent ideology, begins with hatred of America--the rest follows.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Devin Nunes, in secretly recorded tape, tells donors GOP majority is necessary to protect Trump: 'We're the only ones' ( Isaac Stanley-Becker, August 9, 2018, Washington Post)

"If Sessions won't unrecuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones, which is really the danger," Nunes said at an event for Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, referring to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. [...]

Others observed that the lawmaker's actions over the past year made his comments unsurprising. "After all," tweeted University of Texas Law School professor Steve Vladeck, "this has been the only explanation -- for quite some time -- for his ridiculous behavior on everything from the unmasking scandal" to the "Rosenstein impeachment." [...]

[A]t another point during the fundraiser, he addressed the issue of collusion, considering a hypothetical situation in which a campaign received stolen emails from a foreign power and then released them, labeling this activity "criminal."

"Now if somebody thinks that my campaign or Cathy's campaign is colluding with the Chinese, or you name the country, hey, could happen, it would be a very bad thing if Cathy was getting secrets from the Portuguese, let's say, just because I'm Portuguese, my family was," Nunes said, using McMorris Rodgers as an example in his hypothetical. "But, ultimately, let's say the Portuguese came and brought her some stolen emails, and she decided to release those. Okay, now we have a problem, right? Because somebody stole the emails, gave them to Cathy, Cathy released them. Well, if that's the case, then that's criminal."

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


There Are Better Ways to Mock Trump Than Joking That He's Putin's Gay Lover (ROWAN WALRATH, AUG. 9, 2018, Mother Jones)
It's not just the New York Times. Since 2016, a flood of editorial cartoons, magazine covers, late-night skits, and memes have depicted Trump as being romantically involved or sexually attracted to strongmen and right-wing political leaders. Although intended to mock Trump's strange--and noteworthy--political attraction to authoritarian leaders, these illustrations invoke old sexist and homophobic tropes. As they've become increasingly visible, some LGBTQ advocates and journalists have asked what message they really send.

Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, chair of gender studies at the University of Southern California's Dornsife College, says it all comes down to old-school gender dynamics. "We live in a culture where there is this casual homophobia that still persists," she says. "It becomes our default way of thinking about the world. Thinking about who has greater power and who has lesser power, we think about dominance and submissiveness."

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson: The Canadian psychology professor's stardom is evidence that leftism is on the decline--and deeply vulnerable. (CAITLIN FLANAGAN, 8/09/18, The Atlantic)

Two years ago, I walked downstairs and saw one of my teenage sons watching a strange YouTube video on the television.

"What is that?" I asked.

He turned to me earnestly and explained, "It's a psychology professor at the University of Toronto talking about Canadian law."

"Huh?" I said, but he had already turned back to the screen. I figured he had finally gotten to the end of the internet, and this was the very last thing on it.

That night, my son tried to explain the thing to me, but it was a buzzing in my ear, and I wanted to talk about something more interesting. It didn't matter; it turned out a number of his friends--all of them like him: progressive Democrats, with the full range of social positions you would expect of adolescents growing up in liberal households in blue-bubble Los Angeles--had watched the video as well, and they talked about it to one another.  

The boys graduated from high school and went off to colleges where they were exposed to the kind of policed discourse that dominates American campuses. They did not make waves; they did not confront the students who were raging about cultural appropriation and violent speech; in fact, they forged close friendships with many of them. They studied and wrote essays and--in their dorm rooms, on the bus to away games, while they were working out--began listening to more and more podcasts and lectures by this man, Jordan Peterson.

The young men voted for Hillary, they called home in shock when Trump won, they talked about flipping the House, and they followed Peterson to other podcasts--to Sam Harris and Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan. What they were getting from these lectures and discussions, often lengthy and often on arcane subjects, was perhaps the only sustained argument against identity politics they had heard in their lives.

That might seem like a small thing, but it's not. With identity politics off the table, it was possible to talk about all kinds of things--religion, philosophy, history, myth--in a different way. They could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology. All of these young people, without quite realizing it, were joining a huge group of American college students who were pursuing a parallel curriculum, right under the noses of the people who were delivering their official educations.

Because all of this was happening silently, called down from satellites and poured in through earbuds--and not on campus free-speech zones where it could be monitored, shouted down, and reported to the appropriate authorities--the left was late in realizing what an enormous problem it was becoming for it. that the former have simply embraced the Left's identitarianism, while the latter recognize that the Left/Right is talking anti-Christian/anti-American nonsense.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM



For instance, the poll found that 66 percent of Americans would find "government-paid college tuition" as a "very effective" or "somewhat effective solution" to social barriers, with more than half of those lining up on the "very effective" side.

Americans For Prosperity, the Koch-funded political advocacy organization, campaigned against free college tuition in 2016, just as the idea was becoming a central plank of Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign. AFP Wisconsin called it a "terrible idea," while the state director of AFP Colorado called it "pie-in-the-sky."  [...]

A third of respondents believe that more regulation of Wall Street would be very effective, while 36 percent said it would be somewhat effective. Nearly seven in 10 respondents said increasing government assistance for child care would be a very or somewhat effective policy response to social barriers.

The top concern of those polled is the growing cost of health care, with 92 percent saying it is a problem. A combined 55 percent said a government-run health care system would be a very or somewhat effective policy response.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Russia reels, cries foul after U.S. sanctions spiral escalates (Andrew Osborn, 8/09/18, Reuters) 

Russia condemned a new round of U.S. sanctions as draconian on Thursday after news of the measures sent the rouble tumbling to two-year lows and sparked a wider asset sell-off over fears that Moscow was locked in a spiral of never-ending sanctions.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


August 8, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


'My Israel has died': British philanthropist lambasts Jewish nation-state law (Mustafa Abu Sneineh, Wednesday 8 August 2018, Middle East Eye)

Dame Vivien Duffield, one of Britain's most prominent donors to Israel, called the Jewish nation-state law "apartheid" and said that "my Israel has died' in an interview in Hebrew with Haaretz, published on Tuesday.

Duffield, 72, is the chairman of the Clore Duffield Foundation in Israel, which has donated millions of British pounds since 1979 to build libraries, parks, shelters for battered women, houses for Israel's Association for Children with Disabilities, classrooms and clinics, among a long list of philanthropic efforts.

She also donates money to the Weizmann Institute of Science in the Israeli city of Rehovot and the Tower of David Museum in the citadel of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem.

"To be honest, 'my' Israel has died. The Israel that I knew and loved is no more," Duffield was quoted as saying.

"I'm a very pragmatic person, but do I like what has been going on in Israel in the past few years? No. I hate what is going on there."

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Activists wave Declaration of Independence in stormy Knesset nation-state debate  (Times of Israel, 8/08/18)

Zionist Union activists waved copies of Israel's Declaration of Independence in the Knesset plenum Wednesday during a special debate on the nation-state law.

Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni delivered the main address at the gathering, which was called after the opposition obtained the requisite 25 MKs' signatures for holding a special plenum debate during the summer recess.

In her speech, Livni railed against the right-wing government, called for early elections and said the opposition would pass the Declaration of Independence as a basic law in lieu of the nation-state law passed by the right-wing coalition on July 19.

Castigating the prime minister for failing to include a commitment to equality for all Israeli citizens in the nation-state law, Livni stormed: "What the hell has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got against the Declaration of Independence?", which includes a specific commitment to full equality.

"We're the side that believes in a covenant of equals," she said. "Every citizen of Israel has equal rights."

"We commit to bringing the principles of the Declaration of Independence back into our lives. That's our commitment, and we will fight for it until we win the elections. Your time is over," she said to leaders of the right-wing coalition -- who were not present in the plenum.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:44 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


How low can investment fees go? Fidelity launches a race to zero (THOMAS HEATH, AUG 08, 2018, LA Times)
Fidelity Investments announced recently it was launching two zero-cost index mutual funds, escalating a price race that could leave investors questioning whether to pay mutual fund management fees at all.

"The most meaningful impact of all of this is its effect on what investors expect to pay for broad market exposure, which is now, at least in the case of a pair of Fidelity funds, nothing," said Ben Johnson, director of global exchange traded funds and passive strategies research at Morningstar.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


N.H. Predicts Lower Cost For 'Obamacare' Plans (Nora Doyle-Burr, 8/08/18, Valley News)

In the short term, New Hampshire residents who buy health insurance through the federal marketplace can expect lower rates. In the longer term, there's a good chance they'll have more plans to choose from, although there's disagreement about whether that's a positive development.

Rates for the coming year won't be available until enrollment begins on Nov. 1, but the New Hampshire Insurance Department predicts a 6.75 percent rate decrease between 2018 and 2019, according to a news release issued on Monday. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


The Shadow Rulers of the VA: How Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter and two other Mar-a-Lago cronies are secretly shaping the Trump administration's veterans policies. (Isaac Arnsdorf Aug. 7, 2018, ProPublica)

Last February, shortly after Peter O'Rourke became chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he received an email from Bruce Moskowitz with his input on a new mental health initiative for the VA. "Received," O'Rourke replied. "I will begin a project plan and develop a timeline for action."

O'Rourke treated the email as an order, but Moskowitz is not his boss. In fact, he is not even a government official. Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service "concierge" medical care.

More to the point, he is one-third of an informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump's private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The troika is led by Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who is a longtime acquaintance of President Trump's. The third member is a lawyer named Marc Sherman. None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government.

Yet from a thousand miles away, they have leaned on VA officials and steered policies affecting millions of Americans. They have remained hidden except to a few VA insiders, who have come to call them "the Mar-a-Lago Crowd." [...]

[H]undreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials tell a different story -- of a previously unknown triumvirate that hovered over public servants without any transparency, accountability or oversight. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd spoke with VA officials daily, the documents show, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions. They prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials travelled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views. "Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring," a former administration official said.

...they'd get an actual VA scandal!

August 7, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Technology helped America's economy way more than we thought (Lydia DePillis, 8/03/18, CNNMoney)

At the end of July, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its blockbuster 4.1% economic growth rate estimate for the second quarter, few noticed another announcement from the statistical agency: A total revamp of its gross domestic product calculations, going back decades.

Deep in the guts of what makes up the GDP, the agency had incorporated new information about cloud computing, cell phones, and other rapidly evolving technologies. And while the updated calculations only changed overall economic growth by a tiny bit each year, total business investments climbed by almost a whole percentage point on average for each year between 2002 and 2017.

That's a big jump, and presents a brighter picture of economic activity after the recession than the one we had before last Friday, the agency said in a briefing with reporters.

Such adjustments aren't new. Every five years, the federal government's economic number crunchers announce that they were a little bit off, because of changes in business practices that they couldn't track in real time.

Accelerating inflation in the 1960s prompted better measurement of price changes, for example. In the 1980s, IBM helped the agency understand how computers were getting cheaper and better at the same time.

"When BEA does one of these benchmarks, they try to target one of these areas where they know there's been a lot of technological advance that hasn't been captured in the numbers," says Brent Moulton, who recently retired after a 30-year career split between BEA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "When the decision was made that software really should be counted as part of investment along with hardware, that led to a large increase in growth rates over the 1980s and '90s."

But it's become harder to keep up with those changes lately, as new technologies have diffused through workplaces in ways that statisticians still don't fully understand.

That mismeasurement could be part of the reason why growth numbers have been disappointing in recent years. If federal agencies haven't been able to capture all new economic activity, that's a lot less concerning than the idea that America is really becoming a less dynamic nation.

"One question is whether it accounts for the slowdown that we've had in productivity," says Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studies the impact of technology on the economy. "I think we're probably missing more and more over time because more of the economy's becoming digitized."

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


How Trump Radicalized ICE: A long-running inferiority complex, vast statutory power, a chilling new directive from the top--inside America's unfolding immigration tragedy (FRANKLIN FOER  SEPTEMBER 2018, The Atlantic)

Settling into a sense of safety is hard when your life's catalog of memories teaches you the opposite lesson. Imagine: You fled from a government militia intent on murdering you; swam across a river with the uncertain hope of sanctuary on the far bank; had the dawning realization that you could never return to your village, because it had been torched; and heard pervasive rumors of former neighbors being raped and enslaved. Imagine that, following all this, you then found yourself in New York City, with travel documents that were unreliable at best.

This is the shared narrative of thousands of emigrants from the West African nation of Mauritania. The country is ruled by Arabs, but these refugees were members of a black subpopulation that speaks its own languages. In 1989, in a fit of nationalism, the Mauritanian government came to consider these differences capital offenses. It arrested, tortured, and violently expelled many black citizens. The country forcibly displaced more than 70,000 of them and rescinded their citizenship. Those who remained behind fared no better. Approximately 43,000 black Mauritanians are now enslaved--by percentage, one of the largest enslaved populations in the world.

After years of rootless wandering--through makeshift camps, through the villages and cities of Senegal--some of the Mauritanian emigrants slowly began arriving in the United States in the late 1990s. They were not yet adept in English, and were unworldly in almost every respect. But serendipity--and the prospect of jobs--soon transplanted their community of roughly 3,000 to Columbus, Ohio, where they clustered mostly in neighborhoods near a long boulevard that bore a fateful name: Refugee Road. It commemorated a moment at the start of the 19th century, when Ohio had extended its arms to accept another influx of strangers, providing tracts of land to Canadians who had expressed sympathy for the American Revolution.

Refugee Road wasn't paved with gold, but in the early years of this century, it fulfilled the promise of its name. The Mauritanians converted an old grocery store into a cavernous, blue-carpeted mosque. They opened restaurants that served familiar fish and rice dishes, and stores that sold CDs and sodas imported from across Africa.

Over time, as the new arrivals gave birth to American citizens and became fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Cavaliers, they mentally buried the fact that their presence in America had never been fully sanctioned. When they had arrived in New York, many of them had paid an English-speaking compatriot to fill out their application for asylum. But instead of recording their individual stories in specific detail, the man simply cut and pasted together generic narratives. (It is not uncommon for new arrivals to the United States, desperate and naive, to fall prey to such scams.) A year or two after the refugees arrived in the country, judges reviewed their cases and, noticing the suspicious repetitions, accused a number of them of fraud and ordered them deported.

But those deportation orders never amounted to more than paper pronouncements. Where would Immigration and Customs Enforcement even send them? The Mauritanian government had erased the refugees from its databases and refused to issue them travel documents. It had no interest in taking back the villagers it had so violently removed. So ice let their cases slide. They were required to regularly report to the agency's local office and to maintain a record of letter-perfect compliance with the law. But as the years passed, the threat of deportation seemed ever less ominous.

Then came the election of Donald Trump. Suddenly, in the warehouses where many of the Mauritanians worked, white colleagues took them aside and warned them that their lives were likely to get worse. The early days of the administration gave substance to these cautions. The first thing to change was the frequency of their summonses to ice. During the Obama administration, many of the Mauritanians had been required to "check in" about once a year. Abruptly, ice instructed them to appear more often, some of them every month. ice officers began visiting their homes on occasion. Like the cable company, they would provide a six-hour window during which to expect a visit--a requirement that meant days off from work and disrupted life routines. The Mauritanians say that when they met with ice, they were told the U.S. had finally persuaded their government to readmit them--a small part of a global push by the State Department to remove any diplomatic obstacles to deportation.

Fear is a contagion that spreads quickly. One ice officer warned some Mauritanians sympathetically, "It's not a matter of if you'll be deported, but when." Another flatly said, "My job is to get you to leave this country." At meetings, officers would insist that the immigrants go to the Mauritanian consulate and apply for passports to return to the very country whose government had attempted to murder them.

One afternoon this spring, I sat in the bare conference room of the Columbus mosque after Friday prayer, an occasion for which men dress in traditional garb: brightly colored robes and scarves wrapped around their heads. The imam asked those who were comfortable to share their stories with me. Congregants lined up outside the door.

One by one, the Mauritanians described to me the preparations they had made for a quick exit. Some said that they had already sold their homes; others had liquidated their 401(k)s. Everyone I spoke with could name at least one friend who had taken a bus to the Canadian border and applied for asylum there, rather than risk further appointments with ice.

A lithe, haggard man named Thierno told me that his brother had been detained by ice, awaiting deportation, for several months now. The Mauritanians considered it a terrible portent that the agency had chosen to focus its attention on Thierno's brother--a businessman and philanthropically minded benefactor of the mosque. If he was vulnerable, then nobody was safe. Eyes watering, Thierno showed me a video on his iPhone of the fate he feared for his brother: a tight shot of a black Mauritanian left behind in the old country. His face was swollen from a beating, and he was begging for mercy. "I'm going to sleep with your wife!" a voice shouts at him, before a hand appears on-screen and slaps him over and over.

In 21st-century America, it is difficult to conjure the possibility of the federal government taking an eraser to the map and scrubbing away an entire ethnic group. I had arrived in Columbus at the suggestion of a Cleveland-based lawyer named David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Leopold has kept in touch with an old client who attends the Mauritanian mosque. When he mentioned the community's plight to me, he called it "ethnic cleansing"--which initially sounded like wild hyperbole. But on each of my trips back to Columbus, I heard new stories of departures to Canada--and about others who had left for New York, where hiding from ice is easier in the shadows of the big city. The refugees were fleeing Refugee Road. [...]

Approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in this country, a number larger than the population of Sweden. Two-thirds of them have resided in the U.S. for a decade or longer. The laws on the books endow ice with the technical authority to deport almost every single one of them. Trump's predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, allowed for a measure of compassion, permitting prosecutors and judges to stay the removals of some defendants in immigration court, and encouraging a rigorous focus on serious criminals. Congress, for its part, has for nearly two decades offered broad, bipartisan support for the grand bargain known as comprehensive immigration reform. The point of such legislation is to balance tough enforcement of the law with a path to amnesty for undocumented immigrants and the ultimate possibility of citizenship.

Yet no politician has ever quite summoned the will to overcome the systematic obstacles that block reform. Democrats didn't make it a top priority when they briefly controlled Congress during Obama's first term, and Republican reformers have again and again been stymied by anti-immigration hard-liners in the House. A comprehensive reform bill passed the Senate in 2013 by a resounding 68-32 margin, but then-Speaker John Boehner refused to allow it a vote in the House. The 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio went from staking his political identity on immigration reform to suggesting that he'd never truly supported the reforms in the first place.

Under the current administration, many of the formal restraints on ice have been removed. In the first eight months of the Trump presidency, ice increased arrests by 42 percent. Immigration enforcement has been handed over to a small clique of militant anti-immigration wonks. This group has carefully studied the apparatus it now controls. It knows that the best strategy for accomplishing its goal of driving out undocumented immigrants is quite simply the cultivation of fear. And it knows that the latent power of ice, amassed with the tacit assent of both parties, has yet to be fully realized.

Now the Trump administration wants to limit citizenship for legal immigrants: The most significant change to legal immigration in decades could affect millions of would-be citizens, say lawyers and advocates. (Julia Ainsley / Aug.07.2018, NBC News)

The Trump administration is expected to issue a proposal in coming weeks that would make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of popular public welfare programs, including Obamacare, four sources with knowledge of the plan told NBC News.

The move, which would not need congressional approval, is part of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller's plan to limit the number of migrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year.

Whenever someone defends Donald this is why they do so.
Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


New Details About Wilbur Ross' Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting (Dan Alexander, 8/07/18, Forbes)

A multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been quietly making its way through the New York State court system over the last three years, pitting a private equity manager named David Storper against his former boss: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The pair worked side by side for more than a decade, eventually at the firm, WL Ross & Co.--where, Storper later alleged, Ross stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork. Two weeks ago, just before the start of a trial with $4 million on the line, Ross and Storper agreed to a confidential settlement, whose existence has never been reported and whose terms remain secret.

It is difficult to imagine the possibility that a man like Ross, who Forbes estimates is worth some $700 million, might steal a few million from one of his business partners. Unless you have heard enough stories about Ross. Two former WL Ross colleagues remember the commerce secretary taking handfuls of Sweet'N Low packets from a nearby restaurant, so he didn't have to go out and buy some for himself. One says workers at his house in the Hamptons used to call the office, claiming Ross had not paid them for their work. Another two people said Ross once pledged $1 million to a charity, then never paid. A commerce official called the tales "petty nonsense," and added that Ross does not put sweetener in his coffee.  

There are bigger allegations. Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations--which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine--come to more than $120 million. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


There's Little Confusion About Trump's Regulatory Record (Cass R. Sunstein, August 6, 2018, 1Bloomberg)

In late 2008 and early 2009, I worked on Barack Obama's transition team, scrutinizing President George Bush's regulations to see what we might want to abandon. We were surprised to find that we were pretty comfortable with much of what Bush had done. Even when we didn't love it, we often concluded that it wasn't worth the time and effort to change it.

There has been a lot of noise since January 2017 about how Trump is obliterating Obama's regulatory legacy. That view is false. Most areas show continuity.  [...]

[T]he system has important safeguards against excessively abrupt changes. Regulators listen carefully to the private sector, and when companies value stability, they are not shy about saying so. 

Would-be deregulators are sometimes amazed to learn that companies have adjusted to the rules of the road, even if they opposed them vociferously in the first place. And officials are unlikely to work on behalf of deregulation when companies don't want it.

Sure, companies often want to remove regulations that have not yet gone into effect. Trump's proposed weakening of the fuel-economy standards is a case in point (though automobile companies are divided). 

But even if you don't like the Trump proposal (and you really shouldn't), it's noteworthy that his regulators did nothing to affect the Obama administration's fuel-economy standards through 2020. And before the president's proposed freeze can go into effect, he will have to deal with a host of objections, and undoubtedly a serious legal challenge. 

The overall picture shows a lot more regulatory continuity than people think, even across administrations with dramatically different views.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Immigration "loophole" that Trump bemoaned returns after zero tolerance rollback (DAVID YAFFE-BELLANY AUG. 7, 2018, Texas Tribune)

As the United States' immigration policies continue to shift, the procedures that dictated the fates of asylum-seeking families as recently as a few weeks ago already seem like ancient history. A head-spinning sequence of events -- chaotic procedural changes, followed by furious public outcry and abrupt policy reversals -- appears to have put the Trump administration back where it started: running an immigration enforcement system in which migrant families who cross the border illegally are allowed to stay in the country while the government processes their asylum claims.

"The administration has backed off," said Laura Lynch, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "The procedures that we're seeing at the border are those that were previously conducted, prior to the announcement of zero tolerance."

Under the zero-tolerance policy, which the Trump administration announced in May, Border Patrol officers handed migrant parents who crossed the border illegally to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution. That process resulted in thousands of family separations, as immigrant children -- who the government cannot detain for longer than 20 days under a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores Agreement -- were transferred to shelters while their parents went to detention centers.

But in late June, after President Donald Trump issued an executive order ending family separations, Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan announced that agents had temporarily stopped referring adult migrants with children for prosecution. A Border Patrol spokesman confirmed last week that a "temporary suspension" remains in effect as the agency works with the Justice Department to "maintain family unity while enforcing prosecution efforts."

The administration's retreat from "zero tolerance" was on full display at McAllen's bus station last Tuesday as a long line of recently released immigrant parents arrived with tracking devices strapped to their ankles. Among them was Carla Molina, 27, who said she paid smugglers $7,000 to help her and her 6-year-old daughter travel to the border from Honduras.

Molina said she and her daughter were headed to San Antonio, where they plan to stay with friends.

"I always trust in God," she said. "With God, anything is possible."

August 6, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Only a Pawn in Their Game: Seymour Hersh's memoir reveals not a fearless reporter but a useful idiot: a man who spent a lifetime channeling faulty intelligence in a game of intrigue he did not understand. (Liel Liebovitz, 8/06/18, American Interest)

[P]roperly read, Reporter isn't a memoir at all: It's a novel about the sort of chap le Carré knows best, the gullible guy who becomes a pawn in a game of intelligence and intrigue whose rules he doesn't understand but whose players, for some strange reasons, he trusts.

Read almost any Hersh story, going back now for decades, and sooner or later you'll come across a staple of his reporting: unnamed sources. These shadowy figures emerge at critical junctures to shed light on astonishing plots, like the alleged one by the Bush Administration to manipulate Iraq's democratic elections: "I was informed by several former military and intelligence officials," Hersh wrote in the New Yorker in 2005, "that the activities were kept, in part, 'off the books'--they were conducted by retired C.I.A. officers and other non-government personnel, and used funds that were not necessarily appropriated by Congress." A year earlier, unnamed sources also informed Hersh that the Department of Defense, inspired by a 1973 book about Arab psychology, had launched a program, codenamed "Copper Green," designed to use sexual abuse and humiliation to get Iraqi prisoners to share useful intelligence. And in 2017, Hersh published a widely criticized article in the German Die Welt, rushing to the defense of Syria's Bashar al-Assad: The World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders may have ruled the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun, leaving 92 dead, to be a chemical attack orchestrated by the Syrian regime, but unnamed sources assured Hersh that the deaths were caused by toxic discharge released as a result of a conventional attack on a nearby jihadi facility.

These outlandish allegations nearly always turn out to be unverifiable. Frequently, they turn out to be dead wrong: In 1974, for example, another anonymous source informed Hersh that the one-time American Ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, was instrumental in orchestrating that country's coup d'état. Seven years later, faced with incontrovertible disconfirming information, Hersh was forced to write a 3,000-word story correcting the record and recanting his earlier reporting.

Of course, relying on anonymous sources is an important part of an investigative journalist's job. People in a position to know sensitive information, especially information pertaining to national security, aren't likely to amble into a newsroom and volunteer information that is likely to jeopardize their careers and, sometimes, their freedom. Even our best reporters err from time to time, an inconvenient truth you're taught sometime during your first semester in journalism school. But Hersh errs far more than most, and the pattern of his errors is instructive.

Take l'affaire JFK, in which Hersh, accepting papers that allegedly belonged to the late President, was duped into believing that Kennedy was beholden to mob boss Sam Giancana and blackmailed by Marilyn Monroe. In Reporter, Hersh dispenses with the entire episode, one of the most seminal of his career, in a handful of pages. A 1997 account in the New Yorker by David Samuels, however, paints a more satisfying--and more troubling--picture. [...]

Why would a reporter fudge the facts? And why, given Hersh's record for running into trouble with the truth, would venerable publications like the New Yorker continue to employ him?  The answer to all these questions is the same: It's because, in Hersh's worldview, it's always 1969, there's always a secret war going on, and the American military is always seeking for the next target to destroy. There is always another target for Hersh's permanent adolescent rebelliousness, which took on the form of an infantile left-wing radicalism and is what years ago led New York Times' editor Abe Rosenthal to refer to Hersh, playfully one supposes, as "my little commie."

Often, this forever-hippie worldview comes off as entertaining. In his seminal March 2012 Commentary takedown of Hersh, James Kirchick dug up an interview that Hersh gave the Progressive in 1997. "It was easy to go to war against the Vietnamese," Hersh opined then. "I thought in the 1992 campaign Bill Clinton might be the first president since the end of World War II to actually bomb white people. But I was disappointed, as usual. He found it easier to go after the Somalians. Just like Ronald Reagan found it easy to go to Grenada, and Bush found it easy to go to Panama, to the Third World, or to people of a different hue. There seems to be some sort of general pattern here." That Clinton had in fact bombed Serbia, a European country inhabited by Caucasians, did little to cure Hersh of his vision of America's perpetual malignant racism.

Put a man like that in continuous proximity to our national security apparatus, and you hardly need a John le Carré to dream up a scenario or six in which the idealistic journalist with an impressive capacity for ignoring facts that contradict his wishful thinking gets played by his unnamed sources. Believing anything a source would tell him merely to preserve the source, Hersh is an intelligence officer's dream reporter; all you have to do is make sure that the story you tell him hints at some sort of official American malfeasance, and he's bound to buy into the tale, no matter how tall.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Why [the President] Must Resign Or Be Impeached  (Mike Pence)

News flash to the major media networks: we live in a constitutional republic. We are governed by written constitution which defines, among other things, the rights, privileges and responsibilities of high office with great clarity. Under Article II, Section 1 the executive power of the United States of America is vested in the President. In the oath of office proscribed, a president commits to faithfully execute the office and preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. 

While the office brings with it the duties that attend the administration of the government, as President Herbert C. Hoover wrote, "The Presidency is more than executive responsibility. It is the inspiring supreme symbol of all that is highest in our American ideals." When a president fails to fulfill his oath of office, as is the case where the law is broken in a big way or a small way (another way of saying high crimes or misdemeanors), the Constitution provides for a mechanism whereby the legislative branch might impeach him. 

This may seem drastic to the average American. It is. Our founders intended it to be so because they intended the President of the United States to be the center of the government of the United States. Other constructs were considered, including the appointment of a prime minister-like president by the legislative branch, but all were rejected in favor of a strong and elected President. Alexander Hamilton defended this concept in 'The Federalist' writing, "the Executive is a leading characteristic in the definition of good government... it is essential to the steady administration of the law." Hamilton also cautioned against long suffering where a President failed to meet this high standard, writing, "a feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of government. A feeble Executive is but another name for a bad executive; and a government ill-executed... must be proclaimed a bad government."

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


The Voters Who Will Decide the Midterms (Henry Olsen, Aug. 6, 2018, NY Times)

"Romney-Clinton" voters are generally the sort of highly educated, affluent, more moderate voters who disapprove of Donald Trump. The most recent Voter Survey shows Mr. Trump had less than a 20 percent job approval rating among them; nearly 70 percent of these formerly Republican voters disapprove of his job performance. And they are taking this dislike with them to the voting booth. Forty-three percent say they will vote for Democrats this fall; only about 20 percent intend to back Republicans.

These voters are very important for the battle for the House. Democrats need to pick up 24 House seats to get a majority, and Republicans hold 25 seats in areas that Hillary Clinton carried. Mitt Romney won the districts of 13 of those seats in 2012, and his margin of defeat was smaller than Mr. Trump's in another nine. Democrats simply cannot retake the House unless they get a lot of these voters to stick with them when Mr. Trump isn't personally on the ballot.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Fact and Fiction About the Amendment of the Israeli Supreme Court's Jurisdiction Over West Bank Cases (Elena Chachko, Amichai Cohen  Monday, August 6, 2018, LawFare)

The Israeli legislature has taken another step toward blurring the lines distinguishing the Israeli legal system from the one that exists in the West Bank. The Knesset recently passed an amendment that transfers original jurisdiction over certain cases concerning the West Bank from the Supreme Court of Israel (in its capacity as the High Court of Justice) to the Administrative Affairs Court in Jerusalem (a subdivision of the Jerusalem District Court). The amendment's proponents, chiefly the right-wing Jewish Home party, have publicly asserted that it would make it more difficult for the Supreme Court to order the removal of illegal West Bank outposts and settlements. But a look at the amendment's language reveals that it actually does something quite different. [...]

As leaders of the Jewish Home party, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, have repeatedly stated, the amendment primarily serves to advance the so-called "normalization of Judea and Samaria." It deviates from the longstanding convention that Knesset legislation only applies within Israel's sovereign territory. Legal adviser Bligh underscored this issue during the parliamentary committee deliberations, noting that the amendment would be the first time that Knesset legislation specifically refers to Jordanian planning and construction law applicable in the West Bank. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Beyond the Stigma: 'The next wave of gun safety' (SHAWNE K. WICKHAM, 8/05/18, New Hampshire Union Leader)

Ralph Demicco still remembers the "sinking feeling" nine years ago when he learned that three customers who had purchased guns from his Hooksett shop had used them to kill themselves -- all unrelated deaths and all within a six-day period.

"It was just shocking," he said. 

In the years since, Demicco, former owner of Riley's Sport Shop, has been part of a band of strange bedfellows dedicated to improving gun safety. The New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition has promoted trigger locks, and created a suicide prevention campaign for gun shops that has become a model for the nation.

Now they want to enlist firearms instructors to promote suicide awareness.

The coalition, which includes public health and firearms experts, put together a video for instructors to use in their classes. It depicts a despondent man whose wife has left him and taken his beloved dog. When family members come to his home to check on him, they convince him to let them hold onto his gun for a time -- and to call a suicide hotline together.

The group hopes the video will prompt important conversations about gun safety.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Is Japan Becoming a Country of Immigration?  (Yunchen Tian and Erin Aeran Chung, 8/02/18, Foreign Affairs)

As the only advanced industrial democracy that has closed its borders to unskilled migrant labor since the end of World War II, Japan has long been viewed as hostile to immigration. Although the number of foreign nationals in Japan has grown at a rapid pace in recent years--from 850,000 in 1985 to almost 2.6 million in 2017--foreign residents still make up less than two percent of the total population, compared with between eight and 25 percent in western European countries. And only one-fifth of Japan's foreign workers hold visas explicitly intended for labor immigration, which is restricted to the highly skilled.

Japan's aging population, however, is creating a demand for foreign labor. Japan's population peaked at 127.8 million in 2004 and has fallen by over 1.5 million since then, and its working-age population has dropped by over ten million since 1997. Nationwide, the ratio of job openings to applicants now stands at around 1.6, the highest it has been since the height of the so-called economic miracle over four decades ago. Workers in construction and mining, caretaking, food service, hospitality, and retail are in particularly short supply. In July 2018, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents the country's small- and medium-sized businesses, reported that around 65 percent of members had difficulty meeting labor requirements despite wage increases.

In the face of these shortages, the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shifted toward a greater openness to foreign workers, although the word "immigration" remains taboo.

Immigrants are in the driver's seat and will be able to demand benefits in exchange for emigrating, including housing.

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Sacha Baron Cohen and Joe Arpaio have an amazingly inappropriate chat about Trump (Peter Weber, 8/06/18, The Week)

OMGWhizzBoyOMG appeared to win Arpaio over when he said he had a large gun collection himself, to prepare for the coming "race war."

Cohen shifted the conversation to President Trump, appearing surprised that Arpaio knows the president. And things got weird, fast. Arpaio said it "wouldn't surprise me" if Trump "had a golden shower," and when Cohen asked if Trump would give him a "golden shower," Arpaio said, "If he sees this and the way you're speaking, he's going to like you, because you think like he thinks." OMGWhizzBoyOMG's use of a creative malapropism for manual labor appeared to throw Arpaio off, because when Cohen asked if Arpaio would accept a certain kind of sexual favor from Trump, Arpaio responded, "I may have to say yes." 

They're all willing to in exchange for race war. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Lawyer Explains: His Client Trump Misled Him (Tommy ChristopherAugust 6, 2018, Shareblue)

First, Stephanopoulos showed video of Sekulow denying that Trump had anything to do with the bogus cover story -- and reminded Sekulow that White House Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later admitted that Trump "weighed in" about the Trump Tower cover story, but that he "certainly didn't dictate" it.

Finally, Stephanopoulos reminded Sekulow that Trump did, in fact, dictate the statement -- as Trump's own legal team, including Sekulow, eventually admitted.

"So why did you deny President Trump's involvement?" Stephanopoulos asked. "When did you learn that the denial wasn't true?"

Sekulow first tried to make excuses about having been new to the case at that point.

But then he finally admitted that he made a "mistake" because Trump gave him "bad information" about Trump's own role in the coverup.

"I had bad information at that time, and made a mistake in my statement," Sekulow said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Democrats surging on eve of pivotal special election (ALEX ISENSTADT 08/05/2018, Politico)

The entire Republican Party machinery has converged on this suburban Columbus district for a furious eleventh-hour campaign aimed at saving a conservative House seat and averting another special election disaster.

But in the final days ahead of Tuesday's election, signs were everywhere that Democrats are surging -- from recent polling to the private and public statements of many Republicans, including the GOP candidate himself. The district has been reliably red for more than three decades, but the sheer size of the Republican cavalry made clear how worried the party is about losing it. [...]

The all-out push underscores the GOP's trepidation about the final special election before the midterms. A loss, following startling Republican defeats in Pennsylvania and Alabama, would offer more evidence that a blue wave is on the horizon. And it would further fuel fears of what's becoming evident: that Democrats are simply more amped up, even in areas that have long been safely Republican.

August 5, 2018

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Study: Minnesota's Minimum Wage Hikes Lead to Job Losses for Younger Workers (Andrew Burger, August 5, 2018, Free Beacon)

Noah Williams, professor of Economics and director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economics at the University of Wisconsin, compared jobs and economic data in Minnesota and Wisconsin since Minnesota began increasing its minimum wage in 2014.

Wisconsin last raised its minimum wage in 2010 to keep pace with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Minnesota's began a series of minimum wage increases in 2014. It has increased from $6 per hour to $9.65 as of this January.

Those minimum wage hikes have led to slower job growth as compared to neighboring Wisconsin, particularly in the restaurant industry and among younger workers, Williams research found.

All else being equal, "businesses will demand less labor, which could mean fewer workers and/or shorter hours per worker," Williams said. "There were workers willing to work for wages that were less than the new, higher minimum wage and businesses that were willing to hire them for that ... The distortion is that the minimum wage rules out mutually beneficial agreements between workers and firms."

Taxing labor is presumably intended to get rid of it.

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Amish man puts new spin on ride-sharing with Amish Uber . (WPVI, 8/14/18) 

An Amish man in Colon, Michigan is putting a new spin on ride-sharing.

Timothy Hoch-Stedler is giving customers a lift with his horse and buggy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Radical new law making everyone an organ donor unless they opt-out could save 700 per year, government says (Alex Matthews-King, 8/05/18, Independent)

As many as 700 lives a year will be saved by new organ donation laws which will presume everyone is a donor unless they explicitly opt-out, the government has said.

The new system will now be introduced after a consultation showed the public are overwhelmingly in favour of organ donation, but only a minority have registered as organ donors.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


August 4, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 PM


Trump at a precarious moment in his presidency: Privately brooding and publicly roaring (Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, August 4, 2018, Washington Post)

[T]rump has latched onto Giuliani's talking point that "collusion is not a crime," believing it is catchy and brilliantly simplistic, according to people with knowledge of internal talks.

Still, Trump has confided to friends and advisers that he is worried the Mueller probe could destroy the lives of what he calls "innocent and decent people" -- namely Trump Jr., who is under scrutiny by Mueller for his role organizing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. As one adviser described the president's thinking, he does not believe his son purposefully broke the law, but is fearful nonetheless that Trump Jr. inadvertently may have wandered into legal ­jeopardy.

The true-believers are the only ones left pretending he's not guilty.

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GOP consultants say Kobach campaign has white nationalists on payroll (Sherman Smith, Aug 3, 2018,  The Topeka Capital-Journal
Kris Kobach's gubernatorial campaign employs three men identified as members of a white nationalist group by two political consultants who have worked with Republicans in Kansas. [...]

The consultants in early July independently named the three men, all in their early 20s, as members of American Heritage Initiative, a splinter of Identity Evropa, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as as a campus-based white supremacy group that builds community from shared racial identity.

Kurtis Engel, Collin Gustin and Michael Pyles received $1,250 to $3,100 in payments from Kobach's campaign between June 8 and July 26, according to expense reports made public this week. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM

IF THE GAME IS FIXED, I'M NOT A LOSER! (profanity alert):

Trump Fans Are Suckers and QAnon Is Perfect for Them: And aggrieved, and paranoid, and thrilled to have "An Answer" that explains everything about the world they hate and tells them Trump is great and they're pretty good, too. (Rick Wilson, 08.03.18, dAILY bEAST)

Some people need a single, grand unifying theory of why the world refuses to line up with their expectations. When difficult realities confront people without the intellectual horsepower to understand and accept the truth, some turn to conspiracy theories to paper over the holes in their worldview. No matter how absurd, baroque, and improbable, conspiracies grow on their own like mental kudzu where inconsistencies aren't signs of illogical conclusions, but of another, deeper layer of some hidden truth, some skein of powerful forces holding the world in its grip.

After Donald Trump's rally in Tampa this week, the notorious QAnon scam became America's conspiracy of the moment. And why not? In the face of Trump's daily meltdowns, mood swings, and unmedicated rage episodes in which he lashes out at every target in reach, his base is desperately looking for a version of reality that gives them some comfort and stability.

This Q conspiracy is filling the political bloodstream of the Trumpentariat and has been bubbling up inside the right for the last few months, and while Will Sommer and others have covered the story, there seemed to be a media shock moment after the Qbots showed up at Trump's Tampa rally.

Conspiracies--this one in particular--give their devotees a sense of coherence that is lacking in everything Trump does. QAnon presents Trump as the character he plays on TV; bold, commanding, strategic, and opposed to the real Donald Trump, who displays the dignity, intelligence, and honesty of a strip-club tout with tertiary syphilis.

In Q's world, Donald Trump is courageously leading an effort to round up and punish--I'm not exaggerating--tens of thousands of child predators who occupy the highest reaches of government.  Q and Don, side by side, doling out the secret knowledge to the new elite. Instead of getting a clearance, all you need to do is check out 4chan, Reddit, or YouTube.

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The Accidental Universe : Science's crisis of faith (Alan Lightman, December 2011, Harper's)

The scientists most distressed by Weinberg's "fork in the road" are theoretical physicists. Theoretical physics is the deepest and purest branch of science. It is the outpost of science closest to philosophy, and religion. Experimental scientists occupy themselves with observing and measuring the cosmos, finding out what stuff exists, no matter how strange that stuff may be. Theoretical physicists, on the other hand, are not satisfied with observing the universe. They want to know why. They want to explain all the properties of the universe in terms of a few fundamental principles and parameters. These fundamental principles, in turn, lead to the "laws of nature," which govern the behavior of all matter and energy. An example of a fundamental principle in physics, first proposed by Galileo in 1632 and extended by Einstein in 1905, is the following: All observers traveling at constant velocity relative to one another should witness identical laws of nature. From this principle, Einstein derived his theory of special relativity. An example of a fundamental parameter is the mass of an electron, considered one of the two dozen or so "elementary" particles of nature. As far as physicists are concerned, the fewer the fundamental principles and parameters, the better. The underlying hope and belief of this enterprise has always been that these basic principles are so restrictive that only one, self-consistent universe is possible, like a crossword puzzle with only one solution. That one universe would be, of course, the universe we live in. Theoretical physicists are Platonists. Until the past few years, they agreed that the entire universe, the one universe, is generated from a few mathematical truths and principles of symmetry, perhaps throwing in a handful of parameters like the mass of the electron. It seemed that we were closing in on a vision of our universe in which everything could be calculated, predicted, and understood.

However, two theories in physics, eternal inflation and string theory, now suggest that the same fundamental principles from which the laws of nature derive may lead to many different self-consistent universes, with many different properties. It is as if you walked into a shoe store, had your feet measured, and found that a size 5 would fit you, a size 8 would also fit, and a size 12 would fit equally well. Such wishy-washy results make theoretical physicists extremely unhappy. Evidently, the fundamental laws of nature do not pin down a single and unique universe. According to the current thinking of many physicists, we are living in one of a vast number of universes. We are living in an accidental universe. We are living in a universe uncalculable by science.

"Back in the 1970s and 1980s," says Alan Guth, "the feeling was that we were so smart, we almost had everything figured out." What physicists had figured out were very accurate theories of three of the four fundamental forces of nature: the strong nuclear force that binds atomic nuclei together, the weak force that is responsible for some forms of radioactive decay, and the electromagnetic force between electrically charged particles. And there were prospects for merging the theory known as quantum physics with Einstein's theory of the fourth force, gravity, and thus pulling all of them into the fold of what physicists called the Theory of Everything, or the Final Theory. These theories of the 1970s and 1980s required the specification of a couple dozen parameters corresponding to the masses of the elementary particles, and another half dozen or so parameters corresponding to the strengths of the fundamental forces. The next step would then have been to derive most of the elementary particle masses in terms of one or two fundamental masses and define the strengths of all the fundamental forces in terms of a single fundamental force.

There were good reasons to think that physicists were poised to take this next step. Indeed, since the time of Galileo, physics has been extremely successful in discovering principles and laws that have fewer and fewer free parameters and that are also in close agreement with the observed facts of the world. For example, the observed rotation of the ellipse of the orbit of Mercury, 0.012 degrees per century, was successfully calculated using the theory of general relativity, and the observed magnetic strength of an electron, 2.002319 magnetons, was derived using the theory of quantum electrodynamics. More than any other science, physics brims with highly accurate agreements between theory and experiment.

Guth started his physics career in this sunny scientific world. Now sixty-four years old and a professor at MIT, he was in his early thirties when he proposed a major revision to the Big Bang theory, something called inflation. We now have a great deal of evidence suggesting that our universe began as a nugget of extremely high density and temperature about 14 billion years ago and has been expanding, thinning out, and cooling ever since. The theory of inflation proposes that when our universe was only about a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, a peculiar type of energy caused the cosmos to expand very rapidly. A tiny fraction of a second later, the universe returned to the more leisurely rate of expansion of the standard Big Bang model. Inflation solved a number of outstanding problems in cosmology, such as why the universe appears so homogeneous on large scales.

When I visited Guth in his third-floor office at MIT one cool day in May, I could barely see him above the stacks of paper and empty Diet Coke bottles on his desk. More piles of paper and dozens of magazines littered the floor. In fact, a few years ago Guth won a contest sponsored by the Boston Globe for the messiest office in the city. The prize was the services of a professional organizer for one day. "She was actually more a nuisance than a help. She took piles of envelopes from the floor and began sorting them according to size." He wears aviator-style eyeglasses, keeps his hair long, and chain-drinks Diet Cokes. "The reason I went into theoretical physics," Guth tells me, "is that I liked the idea that we could understand everything--i.e., the universe--in terms of mathematics and logic." He gives a bitter laugh. We have been talking about the multiverse.

While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be "fine-tuned" to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine­tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for "man," is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.

If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars' Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, "To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability.... [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles."

Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties--for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker--then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn't matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn't be here to ask the question.

The explanation is similar to the explanation of why we happen to live on a planet that has so many nice things for our comfortable existence: oxygen, water, a temperature between the freezing and boiling points of water, and so on. Is this happy coincidence just good luck, or an act of Providence, or what? No, it is simply that we could not live on planets without such properties. Many other planets exist that are not so hospitable to life, such as Uranus, where the temperature is -371 degrees Fahrenheit, and Venus, where it rains sulfuric acid.

The multiverse offers an explanation to the fine-tuning conundrum that does not require the presence of a Designer. As Steven Weinberg says: "Over many centuries science has weakened the hold of religion, not by disproving the existence of God but by invalidating arguments for God based on what we observe in the natural world. The multiverse idea offers an explanation of why we find ourselves in a universe favorable to life that does not rely on the benevolence of a creator, and so if correct will leave still less support for religion."

Some physicists remain skeptical of the anthropic principle and the reliance on multiple universes to explain the values of the fundamental parameters of physics. Others, such as Weinberg and Guth, have reluctantly accepted the anthropic principle and the multiverse idea as together providing the best possible explanation for the observed facts.

Because every finding in physics confirms Design, those who oppose God have been forced to invent a theory for which there is no evidence.

Thus Robert Griffiths's line : "If we need an atheist for a debate, we go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn't much use."

[originally posted: 2/25/17]

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Horseman, Pass By: Glory, grief, and the race for the Triple Crown (John Jeremiah Sullivan, October 2002, Harper's)

My only real awareness of the Kentucky Derby, growing up across the river from Louisville, lay in noticing the new commemorative glass that appeared in the cupboard each May, to be dropped and broken, as often as not by me, before the next one arrived. Although my father attended the race every year for more than a decade, occasionally taking my older brother along, he never said anything to me about it apart from to ask, when I got old enough, which horse I would like him to bet on with my allotted two dollars. His position, in general, was that to talk about work was the same as being at work, and there was already plenty of that.

A sportswriter gets used to people coming up to him in restaurants or at PTA meetings and taking issue with something he said in a column or on some call-in show. And my father was sensitive to the slightest criticism --really the slightest mention--of his writing, almost to the point of wincing, which may have stemmed from his having come to the job somewhat backward. As opposed to the typical sportswriter, who has a passion for the subject and can put together a sentence, my father's ambition had been to Write (poetry, no less), and sports were what he knew, so he sort of stumbled onto making his living that way. When the alternative weekly paper in Columbus, Ohio--where we moved when I was twelve so he could take a job writing for the Columbus Dispatch--started running a regular column entitled "The Sully," in which they would select and expand upon what they felt to be my father's most bizarre sentence from the previous week (e.g., "'Second base is still an undefined area that we haven't wrapped our arms around,' Tribe general manager John Hart said, sounding very much like a man about to have his face savagely bitten"), we were amazed by his pained reaction. The compliment behind the teasing would have been plain to anyone else, but he would not have the thing in the house.

Two years ago, in May, I sat with him in his hospital room at Riverside Methodist, in Columbus. He was in recovery from what was supposed to have been a quintuple bypass operation but became, on the surgeon's actually seeing the heart, a sextuple bypass. There had, in the preceding year, already been the aneurysm surgery, then the surgery (unsuccessful) to repair the hernia caused by the aneurysm surgery. "My succession of infirmities," as he put it to me in a letter, "has tended finally to confront me with blunt intimations of mortality." Otherwise it was not a morbid scene. The last operation had gone well, and he seemed to be feeling better than he had any right to. The waning sedative and, I suppose, twenty-four hours without cigarettes had left him edgy, but he was happy to talk, which we did in whispers, because the old man with whom he was sharing a room that night had already gone to sleep.

I asked him to tell me what he remembered from all those years of writing about sports, for he had seen some things in his time: Michael Jordan at North Carolina, a teenage John McEnroe, Bear Bryant, the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. This is what he told me:

I was at Secretariat's Derby, in '73, the year before you were born-l don't guess you were even conceived yet. That was...just beauty, you know? He started in last place, which he tended to do. I was covering the second-place horse, which wound up being Sham. It looked like Sham's race going into the last turn, I think. The thing you have to understand is that Sham was fast, a beautiful horse. He would have had the Triple Crown in another year. And it just didn't seem like there could be anything faster than that. Everybody was watching him. It was over, more or less. And all of a sudden there was, just a disruption in the comer of your eye, in your peripheral vision. And then before you could make out what it was, here Secretariat came. And then Secretariat had passed him. No one had ever seen anything run like that--a lot of the old guys said the same thing. It was like he was some other animal out there...

I wrote that down when I got back to my father's apartment, where my younger sister and I were staying the night. He lived two more months, but that was the last time I saw him alive. [...]

My trip to the September yearling sale was only the second time I had been back to Lexington since we had buried my father there a year before. On the evening of the twelfth, after the last hip number had been called and most of the buyers had been driven to the airport, I pulled away from Keeneland under an almost radioactive violet sky that had the first tinge of fall in it, passing a skinny, bald-headed man who was walking shirtless along the side of the road, listlessly waving an American flag. The car was pointed toward my grandmother's house, where I was staying, but I veered at the last minute toward the cemetery.

His grave is at Calvary, a Catholic cemetery that lies directly across the road from Lexington Cemetery, site, as it happens, of the first racetrack in town and the place where all of my Episcopalian family on my mother's side are buried. The two graveyards, starkly separated from each other by the road and the traffic and the fences, seemed at the time to sum up rather neatly how opposite my parents were in almost every way: he Catholic, she Protestant; she Old Lexington, he a grandson of Irish immigrants, brought up in White Plains, New York, who moved to Lexington only as a teenager when his father, a construction supervisor, got a job overseeing the building of an IBM plant outside of town; she a former boarding-school cheerleader, he a former Memphis hippie (the freakiest of the hippies, as any survivor can tell you); and the list is long. It is a riddle how they stayed together for twenty years

The headstone was not on the grave yet, the grass had not come in. No one else was around. I had no flowers or anything else to leave and felt slightly awkward, as if I were trespassing.

One of the most difficult things in dealing with my father's death--for many of the people he left behind, I think--is how totally inappropriate grief and mourning seem beside any memory of the man himself. He was a deeply funny person, a collector and disseminator of bawdy jokes and carefully clipped page 10 stories about insane trailer park crimes. He had inherited some variant of that dark and antic strain of Irish humor that runs through Synge and Flann O'Brien, by which the worst imaginable scenarios, the worst outbursts of temper, would flower in a joke that made everything bearable. It was a quality not without its regrettable side, for he used it to keep our concern over his health at bay. I have a letter from him, written less than a month before he died, in response to my having asked him about an exercise regimen that his doctor had him on. In typically epithetic style (it was his weakness), he wrote, "Three days ago didst I most stylishly drive these plucky limbs once around the 1.2-mile girth of Antrim Lake--and wasn't it a lark watching the repellently 'buff' exercise cultists scatter and cower in fear as I gunned the Toyota around the tight turns!"

For all the joking, his disappointments and sadnesses never quit him. His own father had died when he was only nineteen, dropping dead in harness, as it were, on the job at a construction site. "Four men came up to my mother at the funeral," my father told me once, "and claimed to be the one who caught him, which is how she knew that no one did." He was devastated; he had worshiped the man. He dropped out of college, utterly lost for a while. I see now that he was always, in some sense, a son. In one of his journals are plans for a book that would tell his father's story, the story of "a great and unknown man." But he never wrote it. His temperament was not suited for the long commitment, for the artist's obliviousness to competing responsibilities, which necessitates a certain cruelty, let us admit. So he accepted his defeat, with dignity, and with a total lack of self-pity. He wrote his newspaper stories, and wrote them well, downstairs at his vast green-leather-topped desk, on his creaking chair, in a haze of smoke. The desk was accidentally lost during the settlement of his estate. It is in a Salvation Army somewhere in Louisville, or at the dump.

The night he died I went back to his bachelor apartment in the dismal complex and sat down at the old desk, among his few things. In the drawers were his "quitting journals," as he called them, special notebooks, set apart from the others, filled with his rapid, loopy script. He would start a clean one with each new attempt to kick cigarettes. I had glanced at them once or twice, without permission, when he was alive. Now they belonged to me, along with all of his "creative work," under the terms of the will. They were largely self-excoriations, full of dark thoughts, efforts to locate and take hold of his own willpower. How badly he wanted co change. Worse than any of us could want that for him. I remember a notecard on the table by the bed, written during a brief period when he was attending a support group: "Reasons to quit: I} It worries my children."

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Kobach promised cities help. It cost them millions -- and powered his political rise (HUNTER WOODALL, JESSICA HUSEMAN, BRYAN LOWRY AND BLAKE PATERSON, August 01, 2018, Kansas City Star)

Kris Kobach likes to tout his work for Valley Park, Mo. He has boasted on cable TV about crafting and defending the town's hard-line anti-immigration ordinance. He discussed his "victory" there at length on his old radio show. He still lists it on his resume.

But "victory" isn't the word most Valley Park residents would use to describe the results of Kobach's work. With his help, the town of 7,000 passed an ordinance in 2006 that punished employers for hiring illegal immigrants and landlords for renting to them.

After two years of litigation and nearly $300,000 in expenses, the ordinance was largely gutted. Now, it is illegal only to "knowingly" hire illegal immigrants there -- something that was already illegal under federal law. The town's attorney can't recall a single case brought under the ordinance.

"Ambulance chasing" is how Grant Young, a former mayor of Valley Park, describes Kobach's role. Young characterized Kobach's attitude as, "Let's find a town that's got some issues or pretends to have some issues, let's drum up an immigration problem and maybe I can advance my political position, my political thinking and maybe make some money at the same time."

Kobach used his work in Valley Park to attract other clients, with sometimes disastrous effects on the municipalities. The towns -- some with budgets in the single-digit-millions -- ran up hefty legal costs after hiring him to defend similar ordinances.

Farmers Branch, Texas, wound up owing $7 million in legal bills. Hazleton, Pa., took on debt to pay $1.4 million and eventually had to file for a state bailout. Fremont, Neb., raised property taxes to pay for Kobach's services. None of the towns is currently enforcing an ordinance he helped craft.

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The Devil's Party?: Why we love Lucifer--and why Milton might have, too (Edwin M. Yoder Jr.,  July 31, 2018, American Scholar)

The paramount issue, since John Milton's great poem Paradise Lost first appeared in 1667, is that his magnificent articulation of the myth of the Fall of Man should, for many readers, make a hero of the archangel Lucifer, the leader of the celestial rebellion that precipitates the legend. For attentive readers, notably William Blake, Satan overshadows the Almighty, in color if not in virtue. Whether or not Milton was the Devil's unconscious partisan, Satan's distinction in the poem remains controversial.

We are assured by the formidable critic and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis that it is a misreading of the poem to find Satan a more attractive figure than the God against whom he leads the rebel angels. But a recent rereading leaves me with the persistent impression that the issue is less easily resolved than Lewis supposed. [...]

Milton installs Adam and Eve as innocents in a paradise of flower and fruit. Their enjoyment is circumscribed by a single rule: They may eat all the fruit in the Garden except that from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This exception is obviously significant, since Milton's epic appeared at a time when certain forms of knowledge were dangerous in and of themselves. The temptation and fall, and its consequences, are preceded in the poem by the rebellion of a third of the angelic host. Satan's followers are cast out of Heaven in a celestial war in which the divine son volunteers to rally the loyal angels. Satan's expulsion, to the fiery waters and "darkness visible" of Hell, becomes one of the spectacular scenes of the epic:

Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.
Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf, ...
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes ...

The description of Satan's expulsion is a vivid example of Milton's masterly interplay of vowels and consonants, offering an auditory sensation of falling; and the plunge is earth-shaking--or would be, had our world existed then. That comes later in time, if not poetic sequence. Milton's God excites Satan's envy by creating a new and favored being, Adam, and sets him up in Paradise. The Creator stipulates a unique test of fidelity: the tree laden with forbidden fruit, deathly to the touch. God dispatches Raphael and other angelic messengers to counsel Adam and Eve about the penalties of disobedience--indeed, these angels harp upon the dangers of certain kinds of inquiry. The First Parents are admonished to content themselves with information of a more practical and earthly kind:

And thus the godlike Angel answered ...
Such commission from above
I have received, to answer thy desire
Of knowledge within bounds; beyond abstain
To ask, nor let thine own inventions hope
Things not revealed, which the invisible King,
Only omniscient, hath suppressed in night,
To none communicable in Earth or Heaven:
Enough is left besides to search and know.
But knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her temperance over appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with surfeit, and soon turns
Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind. ...

Thus the perils of excessive learning! And here lies the heart of the mystery, for me, as for others before me.

Milton's inventive power is nowhere more dramatic than in the sequence in which Satan, stealing into Eden as a toad and then a serpent, spies Eve at a distance and is smitten by her beauty. His malicious resolve briefly falters. The temptation of Eve is open to a suspicion of misogyny; during the first of Milton's three marriages, his young Royalist wife fled his household at the outbreak of civil conflict, returning only when the parliamentary side was clearly winning. Eve pleads with her distrustful lord and master Adam to be permitted to work alone one morning, and Adam reluctantly grants permission--till lunchtime. So "hapless Eve" is pictured as easy prey for Satan's sophistries:

Her graceful innocence, her every air
Of gesture or least action overawed
His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved
His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought.
That space the Evil One abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remained
Stupidly good of enmity disarmed,
Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge,
But the hot Hell that always in him burns,
Though in mid Heaven, soon ended his delight,
And tortures him now more, the more he sees
Of pleasure not for him ordained; then soon
Fierce hate he recollects.

Satan offers arguments that, we are to assume, Adam would have seen through and dismissed. The serpent leads her to the tree of knowledge, and boastfully plucks and eats without the penalty of death. The benefits are lavish:

"O sacred, wise, and wisdom-giving Plant,
Mother of science, now I feel thy power
Within me clear, not only to discern
Things in their causes, but to trace the ways
Of highest agents, deemed however wise.
Queen of this Universe, do not believe
Those rigid threats of death; ye shall not die: ...
Shall that be shut to man, which to the beast
Is open? or will God incense his ire
For such a petty trespass, and not praise
Rather your dauntless virtue ... ?

The grievance, absorbed and echoed by Eve, is that humankind should enjoy at least the same privileges as the beasts. Eve elaborates her own fallacious rationalization:

How dies the Serpent? He hath eaten and lives,
And knows, and speaks, and reasons, and discerns,
Irrational till then. For us alone
Was death invented? or to us denied
This intellectual food, for beasts reserved?

And so Eve falls, with cosmic effect, as the poet returns to the universal calamity in third-person narration:

... in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat,
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. Back to the thicket slunk
The guilty Serpent, and well might, for Eve
Intent now wholly on her taste, nought else
Regarded ...
Greedily she ingorged without restraint,
And knew not eating death. Satiate at length,
And heightened as with wine, jocund and boon ...

Disobedience, as promised, brings death into the fallen world, but the effect is not immediate. Adam, dismayed by Eve's lapse, administers a husbandly tongue-lashing but then chivalrously joins in her death sentence. The immediate consequence is an abrupt surge of sexual lust and self-conscious nakedness.

Despite the warnings of C. S. Lewis and others, I am left echoing Eve's question: if the beasts, why not man? Why, having armed his new creatures with intellectual curiosity, should their thirst for intellectual adventure become the paramount sin and its exercise a cosmic catastrophe? This prohibition seems especially odd because it contradicts what we know of Milton the lifelong scholar and polymath.

The warning communicated by angelic messengers is so categorical that it trivializes the original evil. Myths of overweening curiosity--forbidden knowledge--are plentiful; they neither began nor ended with Faust. But God's ban in this case seems to call for an elaboration that the archangels don't provide. Because God said so, is what it amounts to--the eternal edict of parent to child.

The extravagance of our punishment for simply being true to our nature is why He is equally extravagant with His love after sinning Himself.

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Cracks appear in 'invincible' Xi Jinping's authority over China: Intellectuals voice criticism as analysts point to disharmony in the Communist party (Lily Kuo, 4 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

This week, an essay by a law professor at Tsinghua University, one of the country's top schools, made the rounds on Chinese social media. The essay - Our dread now and our hopes - by Xu Zhangrun offered one of the most direct criticisms of the Chinese government under Xi's direction.

Referring to Xi only as "that official", Xu accused him of reversing years of reforms, effectively returning China to an era of totalitarian politics and a style of dictatorship last seen under Mao Zedong.

"After 40 years of reform, overnight we're back to the ancien régime," he wrote, calling for the return of term limits, abolished under Xi earlier this year, the rehabilitation of those punished for the 4 June pro-democracy protests crushed by the government and an end to the cult of personality surrounding Xi.

"The party is going to great lengths to create a new idol, and in the process it is offering up to the world an image of China as modern totalitarianism," he wrote.

Xu is one among several intellectuals voicing dissent. Zi Zhongyun, an international politics scholar, blamed the US-China trade war on the Xi administration's failure to implement reforms in an article in June. Wenguang Sun, a retired professor at Shandong University published an essay in July urging Xi to stop spending money abroad on projects such as the Belt and Road initiative, and spend it at home instead.

"For the first time since Xi Jinping gained power in 2012, he is facing a pushback from within the party, from liberal intellectuals and so forth," said Willy Lam, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation and adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The pushback is also emerging in other ways. A group of alumni from Tsinghua published an open letter on Wednesday calling for the sacking of a professor over his claims China had emerged as the world's top superpower.

Hu Angang, who claimed in a series of speeches that China had surpassed the US in economic strength and technological know-how, is one of many who have echoed Xi's claims that China has entered a new era of power on the world stage, reversing his predecessors' more muted global aspirations.

"[Hu] misleads government policy, confuses the public, causes other countries to be overly cautious about China and for neighbours to be afraid of China. Overall, it does harm to the country and its people," the former students said, according to images of the letter posted online.

Such criticism is an indirect rebuke of Xi's more assertive foreign policy, and comes as his opponents use economic troubles and failed trade negotiations with the US as pretext to question him, according to analysts.

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On the Constant Hunt for Fresh Outrage (JONAH GOLDBERG, August 3, 2018, National Review)

We live in a time when partisan affiliation and ideological worldviews serve as substitute religions. And if we've learned anything from the last few years, the capacity for outrage on the left and right is near infinite. There's nothing wrong with forcefully expressing disagreement, but the constant hunt for scalps will leave everyone bald and bloodied.

Newspapers, magazines, and other businesses have every right to hire and fire whomever they want, but if they do hire someone, they should stand by their decision until the new employee does something worthy of firing while employed by them, not because a mob chooses to weaponize something they said in the past. And even then, they should make the decision on the merits, not simply to appease jackals. Obviously this can't be an inflexible law, but it should be the rule of thumb.

At the same time, people shouldn't tweet -- or say -- indefensibly stupid, racist, or dumb things on the assumption that only "their people" will see it, hear it, or process it in precisely the way the author intended. The Internet has made it impossible for such "narrowcasting" to stay narrow. As Jeong has learned, we all live in one "general audience" now. Again, it can't be law: People shouldn't hold themselves hostage to the most excitable and humorless among us. But it's a worthy principle.

And so is this: We should all save our outrage for when it's really needed.

Everything offensive is not comedy, but all comedy is offensive. And ideologues are, necessarily, offended by every challenge.

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New polls show Ted Cruz could really lose in 2018 (Tara Golshan, Aug 3, 2018, Vox)

Democrat Rep. Beto O'Rourke is within single digits of beating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, two recent polls find -- a development that has pushed the Cook Political Report to change the state's partisan rating from "Likely Republican" to "Lean Republican."

A new poll from Quinnipiac University released Wednesday put O'Rourke just 6 points behind Cruz. Cruz drew the support of 49 percent of registered Texas voters; 43 percent of registered voters backed O'Rourke. The poll, which has a 3.5-point margin of error, shows the Texas Senate race tightening since an earlier poll in May when O'Rourke was 11 points behind Cruz.

Another poll from Texas Lyceum, with a slightly smaller sample size, had Cruz up by just 2 points -- a statistical dead heat. Cruz had the support of 36 percent of registered voters, and O'Rourke had the support of 34 percent. The Real Clear Politics polling average has Beto behind by 6.5 points.

Put simply: It's becoming a very real possibility that Cruz could lose reelection to a Democrat -- an upset that would seriously imperil Republicans' hold on the Senate majority. Texas has not had a Democratic senator in more than 20 years. [...]

O'Rourke notably underperformed in the Texas primaries; he won the primary and avoided a runoff but still lost some crucial border counties to a complete political unknown, Sema Hernandez. In March, it was a sign that O'Rourke didn't have name recognition. Now, in July, the Quinnipiac poll finds 43 percent of voters still haven't heard enough about O'Rourke to form an opinion about him. Only 7 percent of voters said the same of Cruz. [...]

Some things are clearer. O'Rourke has a lot of money, and voters who do know him overwhelmingly like him. The Quinnipiac poll shows black, Hispanic, and women voters prefer him to Cruz.

Who needs them?

Democrats Don't Need to Win Texas--But They Just Might, Anyway (TIM MURPHY, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017, Mother Jones)

O'Rourke's politics, forged in one of the largest border communities on Earth, are in many ways the antithesis of President Donald Trump's; he supports single-payer health care and marijuana legalization, hates the wall, and loves Mexico. Trump's platform was all but designed in a lab to devastate predominantly Hispanic ports of entry like El Paso. But in Texas, a state gripped by one-party rule, anemic turnout, and a photo ID law that makes voting disproportionately harder for college students and people of color, O'Rourke believes the same frustration that ushered in Trumpism can also be harnessed to thwart it. A year ago, running against Cruz might have looked like a suicide mission--maybe it still is. But something is happening in Texas.

After Election Day, when the Democrats' fabled Great Lakes "blue wall" crumbled, party leaders descended on white working-class enclaves of the Rust Belt intent on finding the path back. Sen. Bernie Sanders huddled with miners in West Virginia. Joe Biden reflected on what went wrong in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Mark Zuckerberg put on his pith helmet and parachuted into Ohio. "We've gotta find a way to get them back in," said Rep. Tim Ryan, whose Youngstown district was ground zero for blue-collar anthropology, "and that starts with a message that resonates in the flyover states."

But there is another way of looking at what happened. The Trump wave masked a riptide. Hillary Clinton made huge gains across the Sun Belt, in such bastions of Republicanism as Orange County, California, and the suburbs of Houston and Dallas. Texas was closer than Iowa. Arizona was closer than Ohio. The white women and energized Hispanic voters Clinton was counting on really did exist--they just didn't live where she thought they did.

Now the dilemma facing party leaders is this: In 2016 the Democratic presidential nominee received 43 percent of the vote in two states. The first state is 80 percent white. Its population is stagnant and graying. Democrats have performed successively worse there in the last two presidential elections, and the last Democrat to run for governor lost by 30 points. The second state is 44 percent white. A majority of the population is 34 or younger. Democrats are coming off their best presidential showing in 20 years. Maybe you still think Ohio is more winnable than Texas--but would you bet your party's future on it?

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There's a virus in Trumpland (Philip Bump, August 3, 2018, Washington Post)

At Thursday's rally, though, it's certainly the case that there were more overt supporters of QAnon than there were of Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner or Senate candidate Lou Barletta -- who was ostensibly the reason for Trump's visit. One guy with a "Lou" sticker didn't want to talk; one woman in a Scott Wagner shirt explained that it was her only political shirt. She also called him "Scott Walker."

QAnon fans were both more numerous and generally better able to explain their support. Explanations of what Q was and what he stood for were varied but, then, so were the explanations of what Trump was doing and had achieved among his mainstream supporters.

Mark Emmett, 55, said he was at the Trump rally because he likes the president's focus on making things in the United States. We spoke after he finished signing a petition in support of Brett M. Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court.

"I'm in manufacturing," Emmett said. "You can't build your military if you don't manufacture your own steel. You fire up the steel mills, you're going to fire up not just the mills, you're going to fire up the mines."

He added: "Everything we buy says 'Made in China.' So hopefully everything we buy in the next 20 years will say 'Made in America.' "

His son Colton, 18, suddenly took off his Make America Great Again hat.

"This is 'Made in China!' " he said.

He does seem to be actively promoting mine fires.

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DACA Ruling Puts Republicans on the Defensive Approaching the Midterms (David Atkins, August 4, 2018, Washington Monthly)

But voters haven't forgotten. DACA remains incredibly popular, with upwards of 80% or even 90% support depending on the poll. That means support for DACA cuts into even Trump's most hardcore supporters. This is not a fight Republicans want front and center as November approaches.

But it looks like it's going to be:

The ruling sets up potentially conflicting DACA orders from federal judges by the end of the month.

The decision comes less than a week before a hearing in a related case in Texas. In that case, Texas and other states are suing to have DACA ended entirely, and the judge is expected to side with them based on his prior rulings.
Previous court rulings in California and New York have already prevented the administration from ending DACA, but they only ordered the government to continue renewing existing applications. Bates' ruling would go further and order the program reopened in its entirety. The earlier decisions are pending before appeals courts.

The administration has two choices here: do the decent and honorable thing, abiding by the agreement while facing the temporary wrath of Ann Coulter, Mickey Kaus and the merry racists at Breitbart-or use the conflicting to appeal this fight as far as necessary, prolonging the political damage.

A normal administration would simply take the loss and move on. But that's not Trump's style or his instinct. Trump's first gut reaction is to eliminate whatever Obama did before him, and cater to the most stridently deplorable racists from among his supporters.

It's the campaign they deserve.

GOP grumbles as Donald Trump reshapes midterm campaigns (LISA LERER and KEN THOMAS, 8/04/18, AP)

The president is casting himself as the star of the midterms, eagerly inserting himself into hotly contested primaries, headlining rallies in pivotal swing states and increasing his fundraising efforts for Republicans. Last week, Trump agreed to donate a portion of his reelection fund to 100 GOP candidates running in competitive House and Senate races.

He's expected to be even more aggressive in the fall. White House officials say he's reserving time on his schedule for midterm travel and fundraising likely to surpass that of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

"This is now about Donald Trump," said Al Cardenas, a former Florida Republican chairman. "It's a high-risk, high-stakes proposition."

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicts the media -- on bogus, Trumped-up charges (Aaron Blake, August 3, 2018, Washington Post)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has taken to the briefing room podium twice this week. Both times, she has come loaded for bear with a list of grievances.

Recognizing the moment is charged because of the verbal abuse CNN reporter Jim Acosta received at a Trump rally this week -- and knowing she was likely be asked about Ivanka Trump disagreeing with her father having labeled the news media the "enemy of the American people" -- Sanders wanted to be ready. Rather than dealing with the issues at hand, she instead read from prepared statements and listed the media's sins.

The problem: Her arguments showed exactly why the media is so hard on the Trump White House -- and rightfully so.

On Wednesday, it was an allegation that the media effectively damaged the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s, by disclosing classified information about his use of a satellite phone. Except that claim had long ago been debunked -- and the media didn't even disclose that it was being used for surveilling the al-Qaeda leader.

On Thursday, with Acosta pressing Sanders on whether she thinks the media is the American people's foe, she opted to list the cases in which she personally has been allegedly wronged by the media. Except, again, her evidence was lacking.

The one thing she seems to have learned from her boss is how to wallow in self-pity.

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The Americanization of James Iredell (M.E. Bradford, 8/02/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Before he undertook to shape its meaning, James Iredell paid a great price for his American citizenship. He was disowned by a wealthy uncle in the West Indies--an uncle whose heir he had been. Also he lost his powerful patrons in England and Ireland. Moreover, he was cut off from his closest relations, left for many years with only a tenuous connection through the mails. Finally, he was separated from a total culture which, as he wrote the King in 1777, he continued to cherish, feeling, even in self-imposed exile, "a strong attachment to my native country." Edenton, his family and friends there, the regard for him which they expressed, made good Iredell's losses, and transformed the young attorney, as he participated fully in the public life of North Carolina, into one of the representative Southerners of his time.

Iredell's careful apologia for the American cause--a teaching which he developed in a series of essays and public letters written from 1773-1778--clearly contains a foreshadowing of what he thought should be in a constitution for the United States. In response to the Declaratory Act (1766), the Coercive Act (1774), and the "Declaration for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition" (1775), the young lawyer from Edenton backed slowly toward the conclusion that Crown and Parliament would never agree to any restraint upon their powers of supervision over the colonies and that therefore they had forfeited all the authority over Americans they had once enjoyed.

And while he was withdrawing from the King's no-longer-paternal protection, the entire Tidewater section of North Carolina, a very conservative community, was inwardly, often unknowingly, quietly, doing the same. As Professor Don Higginbotham has maintained, James Iredell wrote originally of his politics in the hope of preserving a connection with Great Britain, and also the liberty of his neighbors under the British constitution. In his "Essay on the Law Court Controversy," his "To the Inhabitants of Great Britain," "The Principles of an American Whig," "Causes of the American Revolution," "To His Majesty George the Third, King of Great Britain," and "To the Commissioners of the King of Great Britain for Restoring Peace, etc...," he envisaged an empire of equal parts, like what came later with the British Commonwealth of Nations. Only a small change in the colonial pattern before 1763 was needed, but no less would serve. As early as September 1773 he had written, "I have always been taught and, till I am better informed, will continue to believe, that the Constitution of this country [North Carolina] is founded on the Provincial Charter, which may be considered the original contract between King and inhabitants." In the same spirit, looking back on relations between colonies and mother country since the first English settlement on this continent, he later informed King George III (as he withdrew his allegiance from that prince) that there would have been no Revolution "if your Majesty had disliked innovation as much as we did."

The great failing of the British system, according to James Iredell, was that it did not include a judiciary powerful enough to protect its constitution from the abusive acts of Crown and Parliament. Divided sovereignty, enforced by a judiciary speaking for an antecedent (and truly sovereign) fundamental law, provided a formula for preserving both liberty and civil order. Such an argument Iredell may have learned from his friend William Hooper, who in 1774 wrote to the young immigrant from Bristol of a hope for setting up on these shores "a British constitution purged of its impurities." But whatever its source, it is in keeping with the point of view which he affirmed throughout his public life. For well before most Americans, James Iredell came to believe that what we now call judicial review is essential to any hope for a government of laws. Functioning as a private attorney, he established the doctrine in North Carolina in the 1787 case of Baynard v. Singleton, and affirmed it again at every opportunity.

Looking back on a war fought more against the "700 or 800 Tyrants" of the House of Commons than the despotism of a monarch, Iredell in "An Address to the Public" wrote:

We had not only been sickened and disgusted for years with the high and almost impious language from Great Britain, of the omnipotent power of the British Parliament, but had severely smarted under the effects. We felt, in all its rigor, the mischiefs of an absolute and unbounded authority, claimed by so weak a creature as man, and should have been guilty of the basest breach of trust, as well as the grossest folly, if in the same moment, when we spumed at the insolent despotism of Great Britain, we had established a despotic power among ourselves.

Because of what he had learned as an Englishman in America, he wished no system of legislative supremacy on these shores. Instead, even with respect to North Carolina, he insisted that "it has ever been my opinion that an act inconsistent with the [state] Constitution was void, and that the judges, consistently with their duties, could not carry it into effect. The Constitution appears to me to be a fundamental law, limiting the powers of the legislature, and with which every exercise of those powers must, necessarily, be compared." In 1783 he observed, "In a Republic... the Law is superior to any or all Individuals, and the Constitution superior even to the Legislature, of which the Judges are the guardians and protectors." Legislative supremacy was an idea of democratic, doctrinaire egalitarians. And Iredell was assuredly not of that company.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


"The Brothers Karamazov" and the Power of Memory (Robert Stacey, 8/04/18, Imaginative Conservative)

On my desk sits a small, clear acrylic cube. Inside that cube rests an old baseball. On the surface of that baseball is printed the swashbuckling emblem of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Surrounding that emblem and covering the rest of the ball are a number of signatures in ink--signatures of the men who constituted the starting line-up of the 1979 World Series Champions.

To a memorabilia collector, that baseball would likely have some monetary value. To a Pirates fan (like myself), that baseball might have some sentimental value, as it commemorates the last time the team won a World Series.

But that baseball has an entirely different value in my eyes, one that could not really be shared by anyone else.

You see, when I was about ten years old, my grandfather took me to Three Rivers Stadium, a couple hours' drive from my home, to see my first ever professional baseball game. He bought me that baseball at the game as a memento of our special trip. I can still remember driving in the car together, sitting with him in the impossibly large stadium, and holding his enormous hand as we navigated the biggest crowd I had ever seen in my young life.

Oddly enough, I remember very little of the actual ball game. What I remember most is the certain knowledge that my grandfather loved me and that we shared a wonderful day together.

Every time I look at that baseball, a whole set of beautiful memories rushes back to me. I don't think of athletic heroes like Willie Stargell or Phil Garner. I don't recall championships or victories. I simply remember my grandfather's love and our special day. My grandfather passed away nearly twenty-five years ago now, but I never grow tired of looking at that baseball!

August 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


China is quietly relaxing its sanctions against North Korea, complicating matters for Trump (Don Lee, AUG 03, 2018, LA Times)

After his dramatic summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, Trump declared on Twitter, "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

Administration officials were quick to say the actual elimination of that threat would be the subject of negotiations now underway.

And, they said, the trade embargo that China has played a pivotal role in enforcing would ease only after North Korea had taken significant steps to stop developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

The visits by North Korean trade officials in Dandong, along with a boomlet in Chinese tourists to Pyongyang and elsewhere in North Korea, are far from the only signs that Beijing is not waiting.

Instead, it has quietly begun loosening the screws on its long-time ally.

U.S. satellite images and Japanese naval photos have captured suspected illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil. And experts say North Korean workers are returning to jobs inside China, some under the guise of educational exchanges. Thousands of North Korean laborers also have entered Russia since the U.N. ban against new work permits last September, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

Those workers send home hard-cash wages that, combined with large slush funds likely from prior years of coal sales and clandestine trading networks built up across China and southeast Asia, allow Pyongyang to pursue its nuclear ambitions while keeping its political elite happy with fine liquor, designer watches and the latest electronics normally unobtainable at home.

Some of these transactions, like procuring luxury goods, are clear violations of United Nations resolutions aimed at choking back Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


'Enemy of the people': Trump's phrase and its echoes of totalitarianism (Emma Graham-Harrison,  3 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

The phrase has old roots, even appearing in a Shakespeare play, but it became well known in the 20th century when it was adopted by dictators from Stalin to Mao, and Nazi propagandists, to justify their murderous purges of millions.

Stalin was perhaps most closely associated with the phrase, which successor Nikita Khrushchev specifically denounced in a landmark speech after Stalin's death, which he used to begin dismantling the dictator's poisonous legacy.

"Stalin originated the concept 'enemy of the people'. This term automatically made it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man be proven," Khrushchev said in his secret address to the Communist party's inner circle.

"It made possible the use of the cruellest repression, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent, against those who had bad reputations."

In fact the phrase was first deployed in a modern political sense during the French Revolution, allied with a form of another favourite Trump phrase, "fake news", according to the New York Times.

So much tendency,. so little talent.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Omarosa Claims Trump Has 'Mental Decline That Could Not Be Denied' (Ed Mazza, 8/03/18, Huffington Post)

In an excerpt of her upcoming book, reality TV star and former White House official Omarosa Manigault Newman claims President Donald Trump is suffering from "mental decline."
Trump had been prepped to say former FBI Director James Comey was fired on the recommendation of the Department of Justice and not because of the Russia investigation, Manigault-Newman claimed, but that's not what he said in the interview.

"I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it," Trump said. "And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.'"

In the book excerpt, Manigault-Newman wrote:

"While watching the interview I realized that something real and serious was going on in Donald's brain. His mental decline could not be denied. Many didn't notice it as keenly as I did because I knew him way back when. They thought Trump was being Trump, off the cuff. But I knew something wasn't right."

You can't decline from the gutter.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


The Western Illusion of Chinese Innovation (ZHANG JUN, 7/30/18, Project Syndicate)

 While it is true that digital technologies are transforming China's economy, this reflects the implementation of mobile-Internet-enabled business models more than the development of cutting-edge technologies, and it affects consumption patterns more than, say, manufacturing. This kind of transformation is hardly unique to China, though it is occurring particularly rapidly here, thanks to a huge consumer market and weak financial regulation.

Furthermore, it is not so obvious that these changes have anything to do with the government's industrial policies. On the contrary, the growth of China's Internet economy has been driven largely by the entrepreneurship of privately owned companies like Alibaba and Tencent.

In fact, Western observers - not just the media, but also academics and government leaders, including US President Donald Trump - have fundamentally misunderstood the nature and exaggerated the role of China's policies for developing strategic and high-tech industries. Contrary to popular belief, these policies do little more than help lower the entry cost for firms and enhance competition. In fact, such policies encourage excessive entry, and the resulting competition and lack of protection for existing firms have been constantly criticized in China. Therefore, if China relies on effective industrial policies, they would not create much unfairness in terms of global rules.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions (Zack Beauchamp, Aug 3, 2018, Vox)

The Free Speech Project's researchers have cataloged more than 90 incidents since 2016 that fit their criteria for a person's free speech rights being threatened. Of those 90, about two-thirds took place on college campuses. These incidents range from a speaker being disinvited to a faculty member being fired over allegedly offensive comments to a student-run play being canceled over concerns it would offend.

The raw numbers here should already raise questions about the so-called political correctness epidemic. According to the Department of Education, there are 4,583 colleges and universities in the United States (including two- and four-year institutions). The fact that there were roughly only 60 incidents in the past two years suggests that free speech crises are extremely rare events and don't define university life in the way that critics suggest.

Moreover, there's a consistent pattern in the data when it comes to conservatives -- one that tells a different story than you hear among free speech panickers.

"Most of the incidents where presumptively conservative speech has been interrupted or squelched in the last two or three years seem to involve the same few speakers: Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, Charles Murray, and Ann Coulter ," Sanford Ungar, the Free Speech Project's director, writes. "In some instances, they seem to invite, and delight in, disruption."

What Ungar is suggesting here is that the "campus free speech" crisis is somewhat manufactured. Conservative student groups invite speakers famous for offensive and racially charged speech -- all of the above speakers fit that bill -- in a deliberate attempt to provoke the campus left. In other words, they're trolling. When students react by protesting or disrupting the event, the conservatives use it as proof that there's real intolerance for conservative ideas.

The other key thing that emerges from the Georgetown data, according to Ungar, is that these protests and disruptions don't just target the right. "Our data also include many incidents, generally less well-publicized, where lower-profile scholars, speakers, or students who could be considered to be on the left have been silenced or shut down," he writes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


Ex-leader of SC Republican Party says he's Christ and God told him to kill mom's dog, police say (NOAH FEIT,  August 02, 2018, The State)

The former leader of the South Carolina Republican Party was recently arrested after police said he "cruelly" killed his mother's dog, and told them he did it because he was acting on a command from God -- and that he was the second coming of Jesus Christ.

...the Trumpbots would be telling us the pooch was Satan....

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Will the 'Trump economy' save the GOP?  (Greg Sargent, August 3, 2018, washington Post)

Priorities USA surveyed 1,000 presidential-year voters and people who recently registered to vote and found:

Voters are evenly divided on Trump's economic policies in general, with 41 percent viewing them favorably and 41 percent viewing them unfavorably.
However, on some of the specifics, Trump fares worse:

By 56-31, voters say they have an unfavorable reaction to what they've been hearing about Trump's trade policies and his developing trade war with China and Europe.

Only 33 percent view the Trump/GOP tax law favorably, while 21 percent are neutral and 38 percent view it unfavorably.

By 47-22, voters say things are getting worse rather than better in terms of wages keeping pace with the cost of living.

64 percent say the cost of health care is getting worse.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


The NRA Says It's in Deep Financial Trouble, May Be 'Unable to Exist' (TIM DICKINSON, 8/02/18, Rolling Stone)

The National Rifle Association warns that it is in grave financial jeopardy, according to a recent court filing obtained by Rolling Stone, and that it could soon "be unable to exist... or pursue its advocacy mission."

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Trump Administration Says the ACLU Should Reunite Separated Families (TONYA RILEY, AUG. 3, 2018, Mother Jones)

Nearly a week after missing its deadline to reunite all the migrant families it separated at the border, the Trump administration has a new solution: The American Civil Liberties Union should do it.

On June 27, a federal judge gave the administration 30 days to reunite these families. But more than 570 children remain separated from their parents. Now the Justice Department is suggesting that the ACLU, which sued the administration for separating families, should be responsible for reuniting these remaining children with their parents.

Just turn over immigration to them wholesale. They understand it better.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Ivanka Trump rebukes Donald: Media is not the enemy (Deutsche-Welle, 8/03/18)

US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump appeared to distance herself Thursday from her father's ongoing attacks on the US media. The first daughter said she did not believe the media was "the enemy of the people" as the US president has repeated many times on Twitter.

Next she'll be telling us that Latinos aren't subhuman....

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Employee Charged With Molested 8 Kids At Immigrant Shelter (Topher Sanders, August 3, 2018,  ProPublica)

A youth care worker for Southwest Key has been charged with 11 sex offenses after authorities accused him of molesting at least eight unaccompanied immigrant boys over nearly a year at one of the company's shelters in Mesa, Arizona, federal court records show.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM



Trump's latest attacks on Mueller are partly being enabled by conversations with his attorney Emmet Flood, one source told me. "Emmet feels there's nothing there with collusion, so it's fine for Trump to comment and tweet," the source explained. This person added that Trump appears to be in earnest about his desire for Sessions to end the Mueller probe, and spoke of a timeline of a couple of weeks. Otherwise, Trump has threatened to fire Rosenstein himself.

Inside the White House, West Wing advisers fear that Trump is careening toward disaster with few guardrails. One prominent Republican close to the White House told me Chief of Staff John Kelly made his decision to stay on past his one-year mark, in part, to be present in case Trump makes a calamitous decision. "Kelly knows he's the last bulwark against insanity in that White House," the Republican said.

Seeking to strengthen his hand against being fired, Kelly went to Trump this week and said he needed Trump's support. Afterward, Kelly told White House staff that Trump assured him he could stay on until 2020. According to two sources familiar with the matter, Trump was surprised that Kelly made their conversation public. From Trump's point of view, the sources said, it was an offhand comment, not a formal commitment to keep Kelly. "Trump is like, 'Whatever, we'll deal with Kelly after the midterms,'" a source said.

August 2, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM



Kirk was criticized, then and later, for writing in an anachronistic style, one not suited to confronting the seemingly rationalist arguments of liberalism. In order to defend what they thought to be worth conserving, some conservatives believed that they had to engage liberalism on its own terms, in a "dialectic" mode that is foreign to the conservative language of custom and tradition. Kirk rejected this approach.

As early as the 1950s, he had become convinced that liberalism would exhaust itself because it could not inspire and sustain what he called the "moral imagination." For conservatives to buy into its premises would seal their defeat. Something else would replace liberalism eventually, and Kirk offered a richly imaginative vision of conservatism that could survive liberal modernity's collapse. One element of that vision was a revived respect for religious faith.

As early as 1982, in an essay for National Review , Kirk suggested that "the Post-Modern imagination stands ready to be captured. And the seemingly novel ideas and sentiments and modes [of postmodernism] may turn out, after all, to be received truths and institutions, well known to surviving conservatives." He went so far as to state that he thought that it "may be the conservative imagination which is to guide the Post-Modern Age." (One of the earliest uses of the word postmodern was by the conservative Episcopalian cleric Bernard Iddings Bell, in a book of that title published in 1926; not surprisingly, Bell was an early influence on Kirk.)

Kirk had little patience for the trendy radicalism and sometimes simply nonsensical expressions of postmodern hacks. Nonetheless, he saw in postmodernism a chance to escape the strictures of liberalism and reconnect with the older, pre-Enlightenment tradition of the West. This approach has its weaknesses--Kirk, for example, too often simply assumed the existence of historical continuity, and perhaps did not sufficiently confront the corrosive effects of liberalism on the kinds of social forces he believed could sustain tradition. Nevertheless, his work stands as a stark alternative to a much bleaker postmodern future.

Kirk's intellectual legacy remains widespread, if too often unacknowledged by the movement he helped create. Two of the journals he founded, the University Bookman and Modern Age , continue to appear, and his books remain in print. The localist writer Bill Kauffman has outlined a defense of regionalism that is very much in Kirk's spirit. Kauffman wants to reclaim the particularities of the American experience from the domination of big government and the monotone culture emanating from Hollywood, Washington, and New York. His lyrical prose elevates half-forgotten episodes and figures in American history and weaves them into a compelling counter-cultural story.

Scholars such as Robert Kraynak and Peter Augustine Lawler have followed Kirk in studying postmodernism through a traditionalist lens, and popular writers such as Rod Dreher, author of the provocative Crunchy Cons , draw from Kirk's writings to support a localist, organic lifestyle. Despite Kirk's suspicion of the cult of technology, a number of influential bloggers also look to him for inspiration in shaping their own conservative visions, rejecting purely utilitarian views of rationality and promoting the ideal of the "postmodern conservative" who transcends traditional political labels of left and right.

In addition, scholars like Barry Alan Shain, in their writings on early America, have confirmed Kirk's contention that that the colonies were not Lockean utopias expressing the values of modern political theory, but closely knit, highly religious Protestant villages for whom "Christian liberty" had real meaning. The world of the Founders was not, in other words, an earlier version of our own secular society.

...the left's roundabout way back to pre-modernism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Coffee Fights Disease and Extends Your Life, Especially if You Drink It This Way: Coffee is the ultimate superfood, especially if you know the right way to drink it. (Geoffrey James, 8/02/18,

As I explained last month, a meta-analysis of 127 studies revealed that drinking two to four 8-ounce cups of coffee each day results in enormous health benefits. The consensus of these studies is that coffee:

Reduces your risk of cancer up to 20 percent.
Reduces your risk of Type 2 diabetes by 30 percent.
Reduces your risk of Parkinson's disease by 30 percent.
Reduces your risk for heart disease by 5 percent.
That alone is enough to qualify coffee as a superfood, but there's more to it than that. Almost all of the 127 studies tracked coffee-drinkers versus non-coffee-drinkers without regard for HOW the coffee-drinkers take their coffee.

In other words, some percentage--probably a pretty large percentage--of the coffee-drinkers in those studies drink coffee with sugar, creamer, and artificial flavorings. As a result, the potential reduction in heart disease is probably much, much larger than 5 percent. [...]

[I]f you gradually accustom yourself to drinking your coffee black, the health benefits go through the roof.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Remember Trump's Tweet Saying He Was Pulling Out Of The G7 Summit Agreement? No One Ever Did Anything About It. (Alberto Nardelli, 8/02/18, BuzzFeed News)

US inaction means Trump effectively endorsed the final statement after all.

Trump had left the leaders of Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and the UK stunned and bewildered after tweeting that he'd "instructed U.S. Reps" not to endorse the G7 communique, the official name of the joint leaders' statement that he'd signed up to in Quebec, before flying to Singapore to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In his tweets, Trump claimed that he was pulling out of the agreement because Trudeau had made "false statements" at his press conference.

Since Trump's tweet, however, there has been no formal or official follow-up by the US on the president's demand, the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.

"The White House and State Dept. are actively ignoring the tweets of the president," one of the sources said. "It's like there's a reality TV president, in his own bubble, thinking he controls stuff. It's like The Truman Show."

Impeach him but give him a FOX show where he pretends to be president.  Everybody wins.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The Case Against Screening For Thyroid Cancer (Christie Aschwanden, 8/02/18, 538)

The bad news first: Thyroid cancer incidence in the U.S. has tripled since the mid-1990s, and although the number of deaths remains very low, thousands of people are having their thyroid glands removed. Now here's the good news: We can bring those cancer rates down and save most of those thyroids with one weird trick -- stop looking for these cancers.

Forgoing cancer screening might seem like a reckless choice, but the current U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against screening for thyroid cancer in people with no symptoms, and neither the American Thyroid Association nor the American Cancer Society advise routine thyroid cancer screening. "There's no evidence that screening for thyroid cancer saves lives," said Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer at the American Cancer Society.

That's because most thyroid cancers aren't life-threatening. Even as rates of thyroid cancer have risen, one number hasn't budged: 98.1 percent of patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer survive at least five years -- the highest survival rate among the 12 most common cancers. Among patients whose cancer had not spread beyond the thyroid, the five-year survival rate is 99.9 percent. Most of the new cases being diagnosed are a type called papillary thyroid cancer, which is almost always benign, Brawley said. (The deadly types are less common and rarely found early by screening.)

Thyroid cancer screening isn't a routine check like breast cancer or prostate cancer screenings are, so why are we finding so many more cases now than 25 years ago? The answer is a combination of "haphazard screening" that happens as part of general health care (a doctor feeling the patient's neck during a visit for something else) and incidental findings seen on imaging tests done for some other reason, said H. Gilbert Welch, a physician at Dartmouth. Last week in The New England Journal of Medicine, Welch and surgeon Gerard M. Doherty wrote that "efforts to reduce thyroid cancer detection are clearly warranted."

The current slapdash, somewhat unintentional method of screening may also explain why about 75 percent of thyroid cancers are diagnosed in women. Women tend to get more health care than men do, Welch said, often because they're seeking reproductive health care.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


'We are Q': A deranged conspiracy cult leaps from the Internet to the crowd at Trump's 'MAGA' tour (Isaac Stanley-Becker, August 1, 2018, Washington Post)

The prominence of the "Q" symbol turned parts of the audience into a tableau of delusion and paranoia -- and offered evidence that QAnon, an outgrowth of the #Pizzagate conspiracy theory that led a gunman to open fire in a D.C. restaurant last year, has leaped from Internet message boards to the president's "Make America Great Again" tour through America.

"Pray Trump mentions Q!" one user wrote on 8chan. He didn't need to. As hazy corners of the Internet buzzed about the president's speech, his appearance became a real-life show of force for the community that has mostly operated behind the veil of anonymity on subreddits.

Trump himself has at times been a purveyor of conspiracy theories, most notably in refusing for years to back down from his false claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He also asserted without evidence that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, peddled the debunked idea that millions of illegal votes cost him the popular vote and associated the father of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas with the assassin who shot John F. Kennedy.

But viewing their message boards, it's clear that QAnon crosses a new frontier. In the black hole of conspiracy in which "Q" has plunged its followers, Trump only feigned collusion to create a pretense for the hiring of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is actually working as a "white hat," or hero, to expose the Democrats. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros are planning a coup -- and traffic children in their spare time. J.P. Morgan, the American financier, sank the Titanic.

In the world in which QAnon believers live, Trump's detractors, such as Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, wear ankle monitors that track their whereabouts. Press reports are dismissed as "Operation Mockingbird," the name given to the alleged midcentury infiltration of the American media by the CIA. The Illuminati looms large in QAnon, as do the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family vilified by the conspiracy theorists as the leaders of a satanic cult. Among the world leaders wise to satanic influences, the theory holds, is Russian President Vladimir Putin.

QAnon flirts with eschatology, fascist philosophy and the filmmaking of Francis Ford Coppola. Adherents believe a "Great Awakening" will precede the final storm foretold by Trump. Once they make sense of the information drip-fed to them by "Q," they will usher in a Christian revival presaging total victory.

The implication is that resolving the clues left by "Q" would not just explain Trump's planned countercoup. It would also explain the whole universe. they seem almost indistinguishable from him and the rest of his defenders.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Trump Says You Need an ID to Buy Groceries. Shoppers Say, 'Huh?' (Katie Rogers, Aug. 1, 2018, NY Times)

Several of the president's friends -- one of them a billionaire owner of a chain of grocery stores -- said they cannot recall Mr. Trump ever doing his own grocery shopping. John A. Catsimatidis, the owner of Gristedes Foods, a chain of small grocery stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, said in an interview that he has known the president for 40 years, but cannot recall a time when Mr. Trump entered one of his stores.

"I wouldn't know," Mr. Catsimatidis said. "I don't have any pictures with him in Gristedes."

Thomas J. Barrack Jr., another billionaire friend of the president's, was blunt when asked if Mr. Trump ever did his own grocery shopping.

"No," Mr. Barrack said in a text complete with a smiley face emoji. Mr. Barrack, a financier, did not respond to a follow-up question about how he got his own groceries.

Mr. Catsimatidis said that he knew Mr. Trump as a homebody who preferred to host associates in the comfort of a Trump Tower boardroom rather than go out to dinner. When he did dine out, Mr. Catsimatidis said, Mr. Trump was often in the company of one or two bodyguards, perhaps making him too conspicuous for the express lane at Whole Foods on 57th Street between Second and Third Avenues, four blocks from Trump Tower.

Mr. Trump has, at the very least, shown that he knows his way around a shopping cart. Last December, the president was photographed as he nudged a cart around a food distribution center in Utah, pointing at his bounty with a "can you believe this" look on his face and a grin before setting off through the facility.

One of his handlers suggested he add a five-pound bag of potatoes to his cart: "These?" Mr. Trump asked of the potatoes, looking around for reassurance before giving no one in particular a thumbs up.

He also picked up and examined a can of food, holding it up and rotating it in his hands, seemingly fascinated.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


How Econ Went From Philosophy to Science: A new study shows how much the field now relies on hard data instead of airy theories. (Noah Smith, August 2, 2018, Bloomberg)

Big changes have been happening in the economics profession, but many people still don't seem to realize this. Maybe it's the steady drumbeat of think pieces reiterating the same outdated critiques. Or maybe there's a lingering collective memory of the time when the public face of economics was strongly libertarian. Or perhaps think tanks and pundits have publicized a caricature of economics.

But recognized or not, the changes are real and substantial. First, the profession has become much more empirical, increasingly emphasizing evidence and data over theoretical conjecture. Second, economists are much more concerned with inequality these days. And finally, economists are more willing to question basic assumptions, such as the premise that economic actors are perfectly rational.

Princeton University economist Henrik Kleven recently gave a presentation in which he evaluated how the profession has changed in recent years. Kleven used software to search the texts of National Bureau of Economics Research working papers. His search was limited to the field of public economics, which deals with taxes, government spending and similar issues. But it probably reflects trends that are present, to a greater or lesser degree, across the discipline.

The first thing Kleven found is that empiricism is on the rise. Many more papers mention the term "identification," which basically means testing models against data:

This empirical revolution takes many forms. More papers are making use of the data collected by government agencies, and techniques like machine learning are rapidly gaining in popularity. But the biggest change has been the increased emphasis on separating correlation from causation.

Economists basically don't disagree about any core question.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Americans are far more religious than adults in other wealthy nations (DALIA FAHMY, 7/31/18, Pew Research)

In 1966, Time magazine famously examined whether the United States was on a path to secularization when it published its now-iconic "Is God Dead?" cover. However, the question proved premature: The U.S. remains a robustly religious country and the most devout of all the rich Western democracies.

In fact, Americans pray more often, are more likely to attend weekly religious services and ascribe higher importance to faith in their lives than adults in other wealthy, Western democracies, such as Canada, Australia and most European states, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

For instance, more than half of American adults (55%) say they pray daily, compared with 25% in Canada, 18% in Australia and 6% in Great Britain. (The average European country stands at 22%.) Actually, when it comes to their prayer habits, Americans are more like people in many poorer, developing nations - including South Africa (52%), Bangladesh (57%) and Bolivia (56%) - than people in richer countries.

As it turns out, the U.S. is the only country out of 102 examined in the study that has higher-than-average levels of both prayer and wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


Trump's Boast About Getting Fallen Heroes From Korea Is Collapsing (Jonathan Chait, 8/02/18, New York)
As North Korea's vague, timetable-free promises to one day denuclearize the Korean peninsula have melted away, President Trump has emphasized his shrewd bargaining for the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War. "We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, already 200 got sent back," boasted Donald Trump earlier this summer.

Unsurprisingly, this is false. North Korea has almost certainly not sent back anything close to 200 bodies. In the past, the regime has promised to return the remains of servicemen, but actually handed over unidentifiable bones of many people and some animals.

The latest batch of 55 boxes of remains from North Korea has just been received, and appears to fit the historic pattern. According to the Associated Press, the boxes contain "a single military dog tag but no other information that could help U.S. forensics experts determine their individual identities."

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


No Shirt, No Swipe, No Service   (HENRY GRABAR, JULY 24, 2018, Slate)

For years, small businesses have asked customers to pay cash, set credit card minimums, or added a surcharge onto card transactions, in an effort to defray the premiums imposed by companies like Mastercard and Visa. Now, an increasing number of businesses are doing the opposite. Head out of Slate's offices for lunch and you might wind up at Dos Toros, a local burrito minichain; for coffee you might pick Devoción, a Colombian-born coffeehouse with an airy storefront. In either case, you'd be confronted with the same demand: Pay with plastic.

Stores are eliminating cash registers and coin rolls in pursuit of what they say is a safer, more streamlined payment process--and one that most of their customers want to use anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


TSA mulling end to security checks at small US airports, but 'no decision' yet (ERIC CORTELLESSA, 8/02/18, CNN)

The US Transportation Security Administration is reportedly considering an end to its passenger screening at more than 150 American airports, a move that, if carried out, would mark a dramatic shift in the rigorous airport security reforms that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks.

There's nothing Donald loves more than yanking the rug out from under his vassals. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Trump's Groceries Gaffe Is Even More Baseless Than It Seems: Contrary to what the president says, you don't need ID to buy food. Lots of people don't need ID for anything at all. (VANN R. NEWKIRK II, 8/02/18, The Atlantic)

Strict photo-ID requirements--that is, requirements without reasonable workarounds for those who lack said identification--are relatively rare in American society. Even alcohol and cigarette purchases--which could charitably count as "groceries"--aren't as tightly and universally bound by photo ID as proponents of the election measures suggest. Aside from the few states, like Tennessee and Indiana, that have implemented "universal carding," most states allow people who look to be well older than 21 to purchase alcohol and tobacco without the hassle. (Most Americans would probably consider it pretty weird if great-grandmothers got carded on beer runs.)

Their sale isn't really analogous to voting, though--alcohol and tobacco are vices. Photo ID in that context is mostly used to avoid fines related to underage sales, not matters of security and fraud prevention.

It might seem that commercial flying, an act that is regulated through the national-security apparatus, would be a better example, since driver's licenses and passports are such integral parts of the check-in process. But that's not right either: People don't actually need a government-issued photo ID to fly. In fact, the Transportation Security Administration's website states that travelers without ID are asked "to complete an identity verification process which includes collecting information such as your name, current address, and other personal information to confirm your identity." Barring criminal warrants or other red flags, most passengers without ID are allowed to fly after a pat-down and a bag inspection. I'm one of them: Speaking from experience, the process is a hassle, but one designed specifically to accommodate people who've lost or don't have a driver's license. (From that experience, I can say that the hassle is well worth it to avoid being trapped in Las Vegas forever.)

Defenders of voter ID often see parallels between other areas of daily life where the federal bureaucracy extends: The Patriot Act and related laws pertaining to the Department of Homeland Security have created much tougher identification requirements for a number of tasks, including opening bank accounts, buying houses, buying regulated behind-the-counter drugs, and seeking employment.

But for each, again, there are some reasonable loopholes for the few citizens without the required documents. All bank transactions and new accounts--including home mortgages--are governed by a Patriot Act-enhanced version of the Bank Secrecy Act. That requires financial institutions to run a Customer Identification Program (CIP), an effort to crack down on suspicious financial activity on behalf of terrorist groups and organized crime. But the CIP allows banks to use different tiers of verification for customers who lack photo ID for specific reasons; allows employee discretion in verifying the identification of customers they know; and also, in some cases, might allow a combination of Social Security cards and voter-registration cards to serve as acceptable ID. Some local banks specifically account for people without photo ID in their written procedures. For example, the Callaway Bank, which serves mid-Missouri cities, says that people opening new accounts "can bring in 2 forms of ID," including a Social Security card, a birth certificate, a Medicare card, or an insurance card.

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Trump administration must stop giving psychotropic drugs to migrant children without consent, judge rules (Samantha Schmidt, July 31, 2018, Washington Post)

August 1, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Behemoth, bully, thief: how the English language is taking over the planet : No language in history has dominated the world quite like English does today. Is there any point in resisting? (Jacob Mikanowski,  Jul 2018, The Guardian)

Behemoth, bully, loudmouth, thief: English is everywhere, and everywhere, English dominates. From inauspicious beginnings on the edge of a minor European archipelago, it has grown to vast size and astonishing influence. Almost 400m people speak it as their first language; a billion more know it as a secondary tongue. It is an official language in at least 59 countries, the unofficial lingua franca of dozens more. No language in history has been used by so many people or spanned a greater portion of the globe. It is aspirational: the golden ticket to the worlds of education and international commerce, a parent's dream and a student's misery, winnower of the haves from the have-nots. It is inescapable: the language of global business, the internet, science, diplomacy, stellar navigation, avian pathology. And everywhere it goes, it leaves behind a trail of dead: dialects crushed, languages forgotten, literatures mangled.

One straightforward way to trace the growing influence of English is in the way its vocabulary has infiltrated so many other languages. For a millennium or more, English was a great importer of words, absorbing vocabulary from Latin, Greek, French, Hindi, Nahuatl and many others. During the 20th century, though, as the US became the dominant superpower and the world grew more connected, English became a net exporter of words. In 2001, Manfred Görlach, a German scholar who studies the dizzying number of regional variants of English - he is the author of the collections Englishes, More Englishes, Still More Englishes, and Even More Englishes - published the Dictionary of European Anglicisms, which gathers together English terms found in 16 European languages. A few of the most prevalent include "last-minute", "fitness", "group sex", and a number of terms related to seagoing and train travel.

In some countries, such as France and Israel, special linguistic commissions have been working for decades to stem the English tide by creating new coinages of their own - to little avail, for the most part. (As the journalist Lauren Collins has wryly noted: "Does anyone really think that French teenagers, per the academy's diktat, are going to trade out 'sexting' for texto pornographique?") Thanks to the internet, the spread of English has almost certainly sped up.

The gravitational pull that English now exerts on other languages can also be seen in the world of fiction. The writer and translator Tim Parks has argued that European novels are increasingly being written in a kind of denatured, international vernacular, shorn of country-specific references and difficult-to-translate wordplay or grammar. Novels in this mode - whether written in Dutch, Italian or Swiss German - have not only assimilated the style of English, but perhaps more insidiously limit themselves to describing subjects in a way that would be easily digestible in an anglophone context.

Yet the influence of English now goes beyond simple lexical borrowing or literary influence. Researchers at the IULM University in Milan have noticed that, in the past 50 years, Italian syntax has shifted towards patterns that mimic English models, for instance in the use of possessives instead of reflexives to indicate body parts and the frequency with which adjectives are placed before nouns. German is also increasingly adopting English grammatical forms, while in Swedish its influence has been changing the rules governing word formation and phonology.

Within the anglophone world, that English should be the key to all the world's knowledge and all the world's places is rarely questioned. The hegemony of English is so natural as to be invisible. Protesting it feels like yelling at the moon. Outside the anglophone world, living with English is like drifting into the proximity of a supermassive black hole, whose gravity warps everything in its reach. Every day English spreads, the world becomes a little more homogenous and a little more bland.

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

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Too Many Jobs Feel Meaningless Because They Are (Mark Buchanan, August 1, 2018, Bloomberg)

David Graeber of the London School of Economics argues in a recent book that the prevailing myths about the efficiency of capitalism blind us to the fact that much of economic reality is shaped by jockeying for power and status and serves no economic function at all. [...]

In an essay five years ago, he made the seemingly bizarre assertion that perhaps as many as 30 percent of all jobs actually contribute nothing of use to society. It might seem an obnoxious claim, if not for the fact that a huge number of people willingly attest to the worthlessness of their own jobs. A 2015 U.K. survey found that 37 percent of people felt their jobs "did not make a meaningful contribution to the world," and a later poll in the Netherlands found 40 percent saying the same thing.

Perhaps even more surprising is the nature of these "bull[***]t" jobs, as Graeber calls them. They aren't in teaching, cleaning, garbage collecting or firefighting, but seem mostly to be in the professional services sector. Since writing his essay, Graeber says he has been contacted by hundreds of people saying they agree -- they work in pointless jobs which could be eliminated with absolutely no loss to society -- and they've come mostly from human resources, public relations, lobbying or telemarketing, or in finance and banking, consulting, management and corporate law. Of course, neither Graeber nor anyone else can be a final judge which jobs are useful or not, but the people who offer this view of their own jobs come most frequently from the service sector.

Consider the case of Eric, a history graduate hired to oversee a software project ostensibly intended to improve the coordination of different groups in a large firm. Eric only discovered after several years on the job that one of the firm's partners had initiated the project, but that several others were against it and were acting to sabotage its success. His job -- and that of a large staff hired beneath him -- was a meaningless effort to put into place a change that most of the company didn't want.

Another example Graeber provides in the books is of a senior manager for one of the big accounting firms hired by banks to oversee the disbursement of funds for claims against mis-sold insurance. The company, this manager claimed, purposefully mistrained accounting staff and saddled them with impossible tasks so the work could not be done in time and the contract would need to be extended. In other words, the job was intentionally structured so as to siphon off as much of the available funds into the accounting firm, which placed itself as a machine of extraction between the funds and their intended recipients.

These examples are typical, Graeber argues, of jobs generated naturally out of the corporate managerial struggle for influence, status and control of resources.

This is a long way from true capitalism, as Graeber notes, and actually looks more like classic medieval feudalism. Much within the modern corporation is less about making things or solving problems and more about the political process of gaining control over the flows of resources. The result is a proliferation of jobs that actually serve very little if any economic function, and only make sense from the perspective of rent seeking and power relations. Many like to laugh at the absurd inefficiencies of the Soviet Union, where so many people only pretended to do useful work, yet this may be significantly true in Western economies as well (only in the West they actually get paid for it).

Power is measured by the number of employees who report to you, not by the quality of work.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Taliban says defeats Islamic State fighters in north Afghanistan (Abdul Matin Sahak, 8/01/18, Reuters) 

More than 150 Islamic State fighters surrendered to Afghan security forces in the northwestern province of Jawzjan after they were defeated and driven out by the Taliban, Taliban and government officials said on Wednesday.

The defeat represents a major setback for the group, which first appeared in eastern Afghanistan around four years ago and which had gained a foothold in southern Jawzjan, where it fought for control of smuggling routes into neighboring Turkmenistan.