December 31, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


After Studying the Lives of 724 Men for 79 Years, Harvard Reveals the 1 Biggest Secret to Success and Happiness (Dana Severson, 12/31/18, INC.)

Have you ever wondered what it takes to live the good life? Have you ever wondered what the secret to success and happiness is? Harvard researchers seem to have an answer in a 79-year-old study.

After poring through a mountain-load of data, obtained from in-person interviews, questionnaires, medical records, etc., researchers concluded that close relationships are what make men happy, and that social ties shield people from life challenges while improving mental and physical health.

This is surprising in a culture that recognizes hard work as the ticket to the good life.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


John Kelly: judge me on what Trump didn't do while I was chief of staff (Martin Pengelly, 30 Dec 2018, The Guardian)

The chief of staff criticised the implementation of the family separations policy at the border, which in the summer "brought down a greater deal of thunder on the president".

Of Trump's demanded wall, for which he has shut down the US government despite campaigning on a promise to make Mexico pay, Kelly said: "To be honest, it's not a wall."

"The president still says 'wall'," he said. "Oftentimes frankly he'll say 'barrier' or 'fencing,' now he's tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it."

Citing the thorny question of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Trump's urge to pull out of Nato, the Times said Kelly "defended his rocky tenure, arguing that it is best measured by what the president did not do when Kelly was at his side".

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Stephen Miller steps into spotlight amid chaos in 'zombie' White House press shop (Hunter Walker, 12/31/18, Yahoo! News)

On Dec. 16,  Miller went on CBS' "Face The Nation" to declare that Trump was "absolutely" willing to shut down the government if his demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall was not met. Four days later, Miller got into a shouting match with CNN's Wolf Blitzer as he argued for the wall. These appearances drew shocked reactions due to Miller's high volume, extreme positions and combative tone.

The controversy could have been predicted. Miller similarly raised eyebrows the last time he blazed across the media landscape in 2017, and was rarely seen in the public eye afterwards.

Trump's reliance on Miller comes as the White House press operation has been rocked by reports of impending high-profile departures. These rumors have come as the president's spokespeople have retreated from view as weeks have gone without on-the-record briefings. Since Dec. 19, Trump's communications team hasn't even accomplished its most basic task: distributing guidance detailing the president's public schedule.

The only loyalty is to his racism.

December 30, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Why Do People Quit Their Jobs, Exactly? Here's the Entire Reason, Summed Up in 1 Sentence (Marcel Schwantes, 12/30/18, Inc.)

[Gallup CEO Jim Clifton] summarized in a succinct sentence the bottom line of why your company's employee turnover may be high. He said:

The single biggest decision you make in your job--bigger than all the rest--is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits--nothing.

That's what Clifton wrote in the summary accompanying Gallup's 2013 "State of the American Workplace" employee engagement study. That quote is the conclusion Gallup drew from decades of data and interviews with 25 million employees. But companies keep getting this decision wrong, over and over again.

Clifton says decision makers at the top of the food chain spend billions of dollars every year on everything but hiring the right managers. He writes, "They'll buy miserable employees latte machines for their offices, give them free lunch and sodas, or even worse--just let them all work at home, hailing an 'enlightened' policy of telecommuting."

If you're an executive concerned about low morale, employee satisfaction or engagement, or--at worst--a revolving door at your company, start by looking at who your current managers are. You have a choice to make: Develop their leadership skills or filter them out of their leadership roles.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


Norman Gimbel, Oscar-Winning Lyricist of 'Happy Days' Theme and 'Girl From Ipanema,' Dies at 91 (Harrison Smith, 12/29/18, The Washington Post)

The musical, Blimp, never took off, although its would-be signature song became an international sensation -- by some accounts the second-most-recorded song in history, after the Beatles' Yesterday. Written by composer Antônio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes, it neatly filled a major plot hole: What might cause an extraterrestrial guest to linger in Brazil?

The answer, rendered into English by lyricist Norman Gimbel, was a beautiful woman from southern Rio de Janeiro:

"Tall and tan and young and lovely

"The girl from Ipanema goes walking

"And when she passes, each one she passes goes 'ah!' "

With help from Gimbel, The Girl From Ipanema went on to drive the bossa nova craze in the United States and beyond, introducing millions of listeners to Brazil's "new wave" fusion of samba and jazz. Alternately celebrated and mocked, with its ubiquitous instrumental covers derided as innocuous Muzak, versions of the song were used as elevator music in a scene from The Blues Brothers and as a soundtrack to the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Yet the tune was just one of many hits for Gimbel, an Oscar- and Grammy-winning lyricist who co-wrote the theme songs to Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, as well as the chart-topping ballad Killing Me Softly With His Song.

....The Song has to have earned him some time in Purgatory.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Potential Challengers Mull Run Against Sen. Shaheen (Paul Steinhauser , 12/29/18, Valley News)

It seems unlikely that the two most popular New Hampshire Republicans would run for the Senate in 2020.

Gov. Chris Sununu repeatedly has vowed that he has no interest in running for the U.S. Senate. The odds are much greater that the governor would run in 2020 for a third term in the corner office rather than for a full-time job in the nation's capital.

"I have absolutely no interest," Sununu told the Concord Monitor in June. "I'm a manager. I love to manage."

While she's staying mum, it's also highly doubtful former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte would run in 2020.

Ayotte, who lost to then-Gov. Maggie Hassan by just 1,017 votes out of nearly three-quarters of a million cast in 2016, has joined the boards of numerous corporate and nonprofit entities, including News Corp., BAE Systems, Bloom Energy, Caterpillar, the One Campaign and the McCain Institute. She's also a member of the executive committee of New Hampshire Veterans Count.

People close to her say it's unlikely she'd run in 2020, with Shaheen running for re-election and with President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

Ayotte struggled when asked at a 2016 Senate debate if she considered Trump a role model. A few weeks later, she broke with her party's presidential nominee after Trump's controversial 2005 Access Hollywood comments regarding women surfaced.

While those close to Ayotte say the odds right now are slim to none that she would run in 2020, a lot can change politically as the cycle progresses over the next year and a half.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


The Man Behind Most of the Ski Maps in America (Heather Hansman, Dec 29, 2018, Outside)

There's good chance that any time you slide off the top of a chairlift, you'll be faced with James Niehues's work. The 72-year-old Coloradan has hand-painted the maps used by more than 200 ski resorts. But skiing's most prolific artist says he stumbled into it by luck. In 1987, Niehues had just moved to Denver from Grand Junction, Colorado. He had a couple of kids, and he was looking for work as a graphic designer after his work at an auto-parts manufacturer dried up. He reached out to local artist Bill Brown, who gave him a one-off job working on the trail map for Winter Park's Mary Jane Mountain. Brown, who was the only resort-map artist at the time, was looking to retire, and he passed the ski-map mantle on to Niehues. 

Aside from ideal timing, Niehues says he thinks he has an innate ability to see a whole mountain in one shot. We'd have to agree--his maps are incredibly accurate, down to the parking lots, but with a nostalgic wash of pastel color that's instantly recognizable. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


'For 30 years I've been obsessed by why children get leukaemia. Now we have an answer': Newly knighted cancer scientist Mel Greaves explains why a cocktail of microbes could give protection against disease (Robin McKie,  30 Dec 2018, The Guardian)

"It is a feature of developed societies but not of developing ones," Greaves adds. "The disease tracks with affluence."

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is caused by a sequence of biological events. The initial trigger is a genetic mutation that occurs in about one in 20 children.

"That mutation is caused by some kind of accident in the womb. It is not inherited, but leaves a child at risk of getting leukaemia in later life," adds Greaves.

For full leukaemia to occur, another biological event must take place and this involves the immune system. "For an immune system to work properly, it needs to be confronted by an infection in the first year of life," says Greaves. Without that confrontation with an infection, the system is left unprimed and will not work properly."

And this issue is becoming an increasingly worrying problem. Parents, for laudable reasons, are raising children in homes where antiseptic wipes, antibacterial soaps and disinfected floorwashes are the norm. Dirt is banished for the good of the household.

In addition, there is less breast feeding of infants and a tendency for them to have fewer social contacts with other children. Both trends reduce babies' contact with germs. This has benefits - but also comes with side effects. Because young children are not being exposed to bugs and infections as they once were, their immune systems are not being properly primed.

"When such a baby is eventually exposed to common infections, his or her unprimed immune system reacts in a grossly abnormal way," says Greaves. "It over-reacts and triggers chronic inflammation."

As this inflammation progresses, chemicals called cytokines are released into the blood and these can trigger a second mutation that results in leukaemia in children carrying the first mutation.

"The disease needs two hits to get going," Greaves explains. "The second comes from the chronic inflammation set off by an unprimed immune system."

In other words, a susceptible child suffers chronic inflammation that is linked to modern super-clean homes and this inflammation changes his or her susceptibility to leukaemia so that it is transformed into the full-blown condition.

From this perspective, the disease has nothing to with power lines or nuclear fuel reprocessing stations, as has been suggested in the past, but is caused by a double whammy of interacting prenatal and environmental events, as Greaves outlined in the journal Nature Reviews Cancer earlier this year.

Crucially, this new insight offers scientists a chance to intervene and to stop leukaemia from developing in the first place, he adds. "We do not yet know how to prevent the occurrence of the initial prenatal mutation in the womb, but we can now think of ways to block the chronic inflammation that happens later on."

The slogan in the title above comes from the best book I read this year, The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, which expands on their essay in the Atlantic. While much of the book focuses on the way parents, administrators and students have sought to make Academia similarly antiseptic, with similarly disastrous (if not lethal) results, there's an excellent discussion of how trying to remove every conceivable danger from children's physical lives has been counterproductive.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


How Nancy Pelosi signaled the end of Donald Trump's easy ride: In one deft performance the top Democrat in the House owned the president, having faced down Republicans' scare tactics and attacks from her own side (David Taylor, 30 Dec 2018, The Guardian)

"I think the American people recognise that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything," said Pelosi as Trump nodded. "And that we should not have a Trump shutdown."

The president looked up and said: "A what? Did you say a Trump - ?"

After two years surrounded by loyalists and sycophants, Trump had got his first taste of what life will be like with Pelosi in control of one half of Congress. And as the cameras rolled, he quickly lost his cool, declaring he would be "proud to shut down the government", trapped on live TV by his temper and the pincer movement of Pelosi and the top Democratic senator Chuck Schumer.

Pelosi walked out of the White House into brilliant sunshine in sunglasses and a fiery red coat looking triumphant and returned to Capitol Hill to make jokes about Trump's manhood and utter the memorable description: "It goes to show you: you get into a tickle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you." [...]

According to the Wall Street Journal, there were more than 135,000 adverts during the midterms attacking Pelosi by name, and some Democratic candidates ran for election vowing not to vote for her as speaker if they won.

Wendy Schiller, chair of political science at Brown University, called the attack ad strategy "wasted money, pure and simple". Republicans "mistakenly believed that voter animosity towards strong women was interchangeable, so they tried to get the voters who disliked Hillary Clinton to see Nancy Pelosi the same way and then transfer that dislike to their local Democratic congressional candidate.

"That is just way too many connections for most voters to make, and it infuriated a lot of women. It is as if the GOP did not live in the same #MeToo moment as the rest of us."

The bubble breathes in misogyny with its racism and Islamophobia.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Illinois Population Falls for Fifth Year With Decline of 45,000 (Cole Lauterbach, December 30, 2018, Free Beacon)

Only New York saw a larger population decline of 48,510. The Empire State has about 7 million more people than Illinois.

With an out-migration of more than 114,000 in 2017, Illinois was relegated to America's sixth-largest state, falling behind Pennsylvania.

The new data begins in July 2017, the same time that Illinois lawmakers voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto to pass a historic income tax hike, raising the income tax rate to 5 percent, up from 3.75 percent.

In the months before July 2017 dating back to the recession, Illinois saw job growth at 1.7 percent, in line with the rest of the nation. Data from the next twelve months that coincide to the day with census data, Illinois saw jobs growth slow to .97 percent, 44th in the nation.

December 29, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Tesla's 2019 challenge? To remain profitable quarter after quarter (Claudia Assis, Dec 29, 2018, Market Watch)
Tesla Inc. shares are poised to end the year well ahead of major stock indexes and the company is still basking in the afterglow of the profit reported for its latest quarter.

Wall Street's message for the company in 2019? Do it again and again.

On paper, at least, the early predictions are rosy: Wall Street expects Tesla TSLA, +5.61%  to report an adjusted profit of $6.75 a share for all of 2019, which would stand against expectations of an adjusted loss of $1.68 a share for this year. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


President Trump is flirting with mutually assured economic destruction (Nouriel Roubini,  Dec 28, 2018, Project Syndicate)

Despite corporate earnings growing by over 20% (thanks to the tax cuts), U.S. equity markets moved sideways for most of the year, and have now taken a sharp turn south. At this point, broad indexes  are in correction territory (meaning a 10% drop from the recent peak), and indexes of tech stocks, such as the Nasdaq, are in bear-market territory (a drop of 20% or more).

Though financial markets' higher volatility reflects concerns about China, Italy and other eurozone economies, and key emerging economies, most of the recent turmoil is due to Trump. The year started with the enactment of a reckless tax cut that pushed up long-term interest rates and created a sugar high in an economy already close to full employment. As early as February, growing concerns about inflation rising above the Federal Reserve's 2% target led to the year's first risk-off.

Then came Trump's trade wars with China and other key U.S. trade partners. Market worries about the administration's protectionist policies have waxed and waned throughout the year, but they are now reaching a new peak. The latest U.S. actions against China seem to auger a broader trade, economic and geopolitical cold war.

An additional worry is that Trump's other policies will have stagflationary effects (reduced growth alongside higher inflation). After all, Trump is planning to limit inward foreign direct investment, and has already implemented broad restrictions on immigration, which will reduce labor-supply growth at a time when workforce aging and skills mismatches are already a growing problem.

Moreover, the administration has yet to propose an infrastructure plan to spur private-sector productivity or hasten the transition to a green economy. And on Twitter and elsewhere, Trump has continued to bash corporations for their hiring, production, investment and pricing practices, singling out tech firms just when they are already facing a wider backlash and increased competition from their Chinese counterparts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Trump pulled out of a massive trade deal. Now 11 countries are going ahead without the US (Katie Lobosco, December 29, 2018, CNN)

A major 11-country agreement goes into effect Sunday, reshaping trade rules among economic powerhouses like Japan, Canada, Mexico and Australia -- but the United States won't be a part of it.

That means that Welch's grape juice, Tyson's pork and California almonds will remain subject to tariffs in Japan, for example, while competitors' products from countries participating in the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership will eventually be duty-free.

Japan will offer similar tariff relief to the European Union, in a separate trade deal set to go into effect on February 1.

His hatred of Asians costing us what it should.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


'Oh, no': The day Trump learned to tweet: Trump's first social media adviser reveals the full inside story of how he guided his ex-boss from Luddite to Twitter addict. (BEN SCHRECKINGER, 12/20/2018, Politico)

When Trump's young social media manager saw the tweet, he was perplexed. He typically typed and sent Trump's tweets for the boss, but in this case he hadn't. He did recall that Trump had been spending a lot of time in his office lately playing around with a new Android smartphone.

The next morning, the handful of staffers with access to the boss' account told the social media manager, Justin McConney, that they had not sent it either.

That's when it dawned on him: Donald Trump had tweeted on his own for the first time.

"The moment I found out Trump could tweet himself was comparable to the moment in 'Jurassic Park' when Dr. Grant realized that velociraptors could open doors," recalled McConney, who was the Trump Organization's director of social media from 2011 to 2017. "I was like, 'Oh no.'"

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


New Jersey AG has obtained evidence of possible crimes at Trump's golf club -- and Mueller, FBI are involved in probe (CHRIS SOMMERFELDT, 12/29/18, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

New Jersey prosecutors have collected evidence that supervisors at President Trump's Garden State golf club may have committed federal immigration crimes -- and the FBI as well as special counsel Robert Mueller have played part in the inquiry, the Daily News has learned.

Anibal Romero, a Newark attorney who represents several undocumented immigrants who used to work at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, said Friday he recently met with investigators from the state attorney general's office and handed over fraudulent green cards and Social Security numbers that management at the club allegedly procured and gave his clients, Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz.

Before he met with the state prosecutors, Romero said he reached out to Mueller's office because, while he wanted to contact federal authorities, he was concerned about looping in the Justice Department, which was headed by Jeff Sessions at the time.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM



This past summer, for the first time in more than two decades, Congress passed a pro-ESOP piece of legislation. Introduced by Gillibrand in the Senate and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., in the House, the Main Street Employee Ownership Act makes it easier for small businesses to establish ESOPs and co-ops. It was included in the defense bill that President Donald Trump signed in August. (Another likely 2020 presidential contender, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced legislation this year for a different type of employee ownership. Known as co-determination, it would require companies with revenue over $1 billion to allow workers to elect at least 40 percent of their board of directors.)

Unlike conservatives, who have defended employee ownership on the grounds that it's most certainly not socialism -- indeed, it turns laborers into capitalists -- liberals have taken to ESOPs because they strengthen worker power, boost worker income, and increase corporate transparency. Workers, the arguments goes, care as much about their employment as they do about corporate profitability, so they won't advocate for a strategy that leaves them jobless, even if it is better for the short-term bottom line. "Simply put, when employees have an ownership stake in their company, they will not ship their own jobs to China to increase their profits; they will be more productive, and they will earn a better living," Sanders said last year.

Some progressives have criticized ESOPs, with the argument that they are little more than tax breaks for corporations that don't give workers real ownership of a company or a meaningful say in its management. ESOPs can also create tensions with traditional labor unions, as the latter seeks to organize workers, while ESOPs tend to blur the relationship between workers and owners.

Indeed, not many unionized ESOP companies exist. Some unions -- like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Steelworkers -- have been open to the idea. Others, "like the [United Automobile Workers], are inherently distrustful," said Loren Rodgers, executive director of the National Center for Employee Ownership, a national nonprofit based in Oakland, California. "In the auto industry, the threat of strikes is really important, and it's harder to get people to strike against something when that might hurt the value of the shares in their retirement account."

MORE THAN 14 MILLION current and former private sector workers have participated in ESOPs, according to the National Center for Employee Ownership. They work in almost every industry, from supermarkets, like the chain Publix, to policy research, like the firm Mathematica. About 7,000 companies today have the retirement plans. Research released earlier this year estimated that the average worker in an ESOP had accumulated $134,000 in retirement wealth from their stake.

Joseph Blasi, an economic sociologist who directs the Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing at Rutgers University, has long championed ESOPs because he believes they benefit both workers and companies, and are a way to transfer wealth to the middle class. Blasi points to studies showing that workers at ESOP companies tend to earn 5-12 percent more in wages than those at traditionally owned companies, have retirement accounts that are 2.2 percent larger, and are far less likely to be laid off during economic downturns.

Sobering statistics about growing wealth inequality -- like that the top 10 percent of households owns 80 percent of the financial assets, and the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined -- underscore the need for economists, activists, and policymakers to figure out ways to counteract these trends.

"I've been working on them for over 40 years and only now have ESOPs become cool," said Blasi.

A PAPER PUBLISHED this summer by a young economics researcher in Denmark has reinvigorated interest in ESOPs, as his findings suggest that the financial benefits of the retirement vehicle may be even greater than previously understood.

While this all would have been enormously helpful forty years ago, it now runs up against two trends; the decline of work; and the need for publicly traded stock to fill personal accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


2-year-old Yemeni boy whose mom was kept out of US by travel ban has died (Benjamin Goggin and Associated Press, 12/29/18)

The boy's father, Ali Hassan, brought him to the United States for medical treatment in October. His mother Shaima Swileh remained behind in their Egypt home. The boy and his father are U.S. citizens but Swileh is not.

Yemeni citizens are restricted from entering the United States under President Donald Trump's travel ban. She applied for a waiver in 2017, but U.S. officials granted it only in December after the council sued alongside a petition from Rep. Barbara Lee.

Swileh held her son for the first time in the hospital on Dec. 19.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Exclusive: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch (SIMON SHUSTER, 12/29/18, TIME)

When the U.S. government put out its latest sanctions list on Dec. 19, the man named at the top did not seem especially important. Described in the document as a former Russian intelligence officer, he was accused of handling money and negotiations on behalf of a powerful Russian oligarch. The document did not mention that the man, Victor Boyarkin, had links to the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.

A months-long investigation by TIME, however, found that Boyarkin, a former arms dealer with a high forehead and a very low profile, was a key link between a senior member of the Trump campaign and a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his only interview with the media about those connections, Boyarkin told TIME this fall that he was in touch with Trump's then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in the heat of the presidential race on behalf of the Russian oligarch. "He owed us a lot of money," Boyarkin says.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


US farmers 'helpless' as TPP boosts Aust (SBS News, 12/29/18)

American farmers are facing the "imminent collapse" of key markets and fear uneven trade playing fields as Australian, Canadian and other rival nations take advantage of the soon-to-be implemented Trans-Pacific Partnership.

After President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the TPP on just his third day in the White House in 2017, the States will be left on the sidelines when the re-shaped TPP-11 comes into effect 12am on Sunday AEDT.

Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore were the first nations to ratify the agreement, formally titled the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement. Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Peru and Malaysia are set to follow in coming months

US farmers, already hit hard by Trump's tariff battle with China and the lack of a free trade agreement with Japan, are bracing to immediately lose market share.

American wheat and beef producers have been particularly vocal.

They expect Australian farmers to use their TPP advantage to sell more to Japan.

The growing U.S. soybean stockpile could come back to haunt Trump (Adriana Belmonte, 12/23/18, Yahoo Finance)
From 2000 to 2017, Chinese imports of U.S. soybeans steadily increased. In 2016 and 2017, the U.S. exported 67,854,202 metric tons of soybeans to China, which was good for about 60% of total U.S. soybean exports during those two years.

In 2018, amid trade tensions, China basically stopped importing U.S. soybeans: Through September 2018, U.S. soybean exports China were down 98% compared to 2017. At the same time, the USDA forecasted that soybean production for 2018 will be an increase of 7% from 2017.

As a result, U.S. soybean inventory is poised to reach an estimated 955 million bushels in 2019, nearly doubling the 2018 stockpile.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


'Will they forgive me? No': ex-Soviet spy Viktor Suvorov speaks out: Defections from Moscow's most powerful spy agency are so rare, there are believed to be just two living examples. One is Sergei Skripal, who almost died this year. The other talks (Luke Harding,  29 Dec 2018, The Guardian)

Viktor Suvorov is a literary pen-name: he was born Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun in Soviet Ukraine; his father a military officer, his mother a nurse. (His Ukrainian roots are another reason the Kremlin might have it in for him, sources in Moscow tell me.) His father was a confirmed Bolshevik who believed the USSR could flourish were it not for the "bad guys at the top", and Suvorov grew up a "fanatical communist". He attended military school, joined the Red Army and took part in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. An outstanding officer, he trained tactical reconnaissance sergeants and served in the intelligence division of the Volga military district headquarters - an experience Suvorov describes in Aquarium.

In 1970, he was recruited by the GRU. He was now part of an elite organisation that was a bitter rival of the KGB. His disillusionment with the Soviet system began only when he got to Geneva, he says, where he was attached to the UN mission. Suvorov says he was summoned to the airport one day to watch the arrival of an Ilyushin-76 transport plane from Moscow. When its ramp was lowered, gold bars were taken out of the cargo bay - to buy food from America. "We couldn't feed ourselves," he says.

Further disillusion came when he and his "wonderful spy wife" Tatiana went on holiday. They took the train from Basel and travelled across West Germany to east Berlin, passing the wall. "It was the same people, same history, same bloody Germans. [But] it's a Mercedes here and it's a Trabant there," he recalls with a laugh. He read George Orwell's Animal Farm. "At first I thought: 'These aren't Russian pigs, they're pigs from Berkshire.' Then I realised it was about the people in the Kremlin. They had banned the book inside the Soviet Union because they recognised themselves."

He read Nineteen Eighty-Four. "Orwell was never a communist, but was close to them. He understood the totalitarian state has to be like that. He never visited the USSR, but he realised everything better than anybody could imagine," Suvorov says. He says his wife - the daughter of an intelligence officer - agreed to defect with him. They have been married for 47 years. "It's an achievement," he says.

From his new home in the UK, Suvorov wrote one of the most influential books of the perestroika era, Icebreaker. When it was published in 1988, his argument was heretical: that Stalin had been secretly plotting an offensive against Hitler's Germany, and would have invaded in September 1941, or at the latest by 1942. Stalin, he wrote, wanted Hitler to destroy democracy in Europe, in the manner of an icebreaker, thereby clearing the way for world communism. The book undermined the idea that the USSR was an innocent party, dragged into the second world war. Russian liberals supported Suvorov's thesis; it now has broad acceptance among historians.

It was the KGB that understood the scope of the Soviet failure.
Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Trump-Russia: Republican probe of alleged FBI bias ends 'with a whimper' (The Guardian, 28 Dec 2018)

Republicans have quietly and unceremoniously ended their congressional investigation of whether the FBI and Justice Department were biased in their handling of inquiries into Hillary Clinton's emails and Donald Trump's ties to Russia.

House judiciary chairman Robert Goodlatte and oversight chairman Trey Gowdy, who are retiring next week, sent a letter rather than a full report to the Justice Department and the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Every single time that information becomes public it devastates the defense and adds fuel to the bonfire of the prosecution. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Virginia Study: State's Tax Incentives Are Ineffective (Tyler Arnold, December 29, 2018, Free Beacon)

A Virginia study concluded that the commonwealth's tax incentives - whether they be tax credits or tax exemptions - do not provide much return as an economic investments. The study, conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, found that grants were more effective between Fiscal 2010 and Fiscal 2017.

According to the study, nearly 60 percent of incentive spending was through tax incentives. The state spent $835 million on tax exemptions and $180 million on tax credits. About 42 percent was spent on grants, which was $715 million. The remaining $25 million were spent on other incentives, which include loans and gap financing programs.

...end tax expenditures.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM

NIKKI 2020:

Donald Trump will be impeached in 2019, says 'prediction professor' (Deutsche-Welle, 2018)

"I think it's more likely than not he will get impeached," the American University professor [Allan Lichtman.] told DW.

After previously predicting 30 years of presidential elections correctly, Lichtman became a media phenomenon when he -- against mainstream wisdom -- predicted early on that Trump would win in 2016.

Now Lichtman is convinced that as of 2019, and for the remainder of his term, Trump will be engaged in a fight to remain in office -- a fight he well may lose. [...]

Lichtman is not just convinced that Trump will be impeached. He also sees an increasing likelihood that Trump will actually be ousted from the presidency, which many other political experts still consider unlikely. If the House votes to impeach Trump, removing him from office requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate. Republicans still control that body by a 51-49 majority, meaning a substantial number of GOP lawmakers would have to vote to oust a president who is a member of their own party.

Such a scenario is less unrealistic than it sounds, said Lichtman, pointing to the steady drip of incriminating information from the Mueller probe and Trump's conduct in office that is beginning to take its toll on Republicans -- a sentiment backed up by the recent midterm results. With presidential and Congressional elections in which Senate Republicans face a much less favorable electoral map than this year just around the corner in 2020, the GOP may be ready to cut Trump loose.

"The way in which Trump could be impeached and removed would be if Republicans think he is going to drag them down with him," said Lichtman. "They don't have any personal loyalty to Trump. They are worried about antagonizing his base and losing Republican primaries. But if they think he is going to be a political liability, they may be willing to abandon him."

He viewed Senator Marco Rubio's recent remark that it would be a "terrible mistake" for Trump to pardon his former campaign manager Paul Manafort as an indicator that some influential Republicans may be ready to reconsider their support for the president, should circumstances merit it.

"Republicans supported [Richard] Nixon until the evidence became so overwhelming that he was a tremendous liability to them," said Lichtman, referring to the former GOP president who resigned in 1974 during the Watergate scandal. "I am not saying he won't survive, but I am saying it's unlikely."

Majority in poll want Trump impeached or censured (MAX GREENWOOD, 12/28/18, The Hill)

Nearly 60 percent of U.S. voters surveyed say President Trump should be either impeached and removed from office or formally censured, according to a new Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released exclusively to The Hill.

The poll shows that a majority of voters polled think some kind of action should be taken against Trump, though they are divided on how far lawmakers should go as Democrats prepare to take over the House majority.

December 28, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Why Exaggeration Jokes Work: They prey on a phenomenon that goes to the very heart of nature. (JAMES GEARY, DEC 23, 2018, The Atlantic)

The story of supernormal stimuli begins with the Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen. As a boy growing up in The Hague in the 1910s, Tinbergen was fascinated by the fish and fowl inhabiting the little pond in his backyard. These early encounters with the wildlife of the Netherlands informed his later work, and as an adult, he kept an aquarium in his home.

One day he noticed that the male three-spined sticklebacks--which have "gorgeous nuptial colors," Tinbergen observed, "red on the throat and breast, greenish-blue on the back"--went into attack mode every time a red postal van parked outside. They dropped their heads and raised their dorsal fins, a posture normally assumed only in the presence of a rival male.

Wondering whether the fish were reacting to the postal van, Tinbergen introduced variously colored objects into the tank. He discovered that the males became aggressive in response to anything red--the unmistakable sign of another male's presence--regardless of whether it resembled a fish. The observation sparked Tinbergen's discovery of color's influence on animal behavior, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973.

When he wasn't observing three-spined sticklebacks, Tinbergen spent a lot of time with adult herring-gull hens, which have pronounced orange spots on their lower mandibles. For the first few weeks of a chick's life, its mother's beak is its sole food source. That orange spot is a good target for chicks to aim at when they peck at their mother to prompt her to regurgitate food.

Tinbergen noticed that the chicks in his lab, like the male sticklebacks in his aquarium, aggressively pecked not just at their mother's beak but at anything with an orange spot on it. It occurred to him that it might be possible to one-up nature, to "make a dummy that would stimulate the chick still more than the natural object," he wrote.

So Tinbergen started making "super-gulls": cobbled-together constructions that amplified the orange spot to which the chicks so enthusiastically responded. He painted orange spots on everything from old pieces of wood to kitchen utensils. He made the orange spots bigger and surrounded them with white rings to enhance the contrast. The chicks pecked at absolutely everything that had an orange spot on it. The bigger the spot, the more aggressively the chicks pecked.

Tinbergen called his exaggerated orange spots "supernormal stimuli," which, he concluded, "offer stimulus situations that are even more effective than the natural situation."  [...]

What is a punch line but a supernormal stimulus?

We respond to witty words and images more intensely than to "normal" objects, just as Tinbergen's theory of supernormal stimuli suggests. "Humor at its best is a kind of heightened truth--a super-truth," E. B. White wrote. This is also true of wit, which takes routine seeing and heightens it by shearing ordinary things and meanings of their habitual context, revealing them as suddenly strange and unfamiliar.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


What Do Mueller and the Kremlin Know About Michael Cohen's Alleged Prague Trip? (John R. Schindler, 12/28/1, NY Observer)

[T]he important part of the McClatchy story isn't the cell phone data, rather indications that friendly spies had information about the reputed Prague trip. As the report states, "[in] late August or early September, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague." In other words, a friendly spy service picked up signals intelligence that may corroborate the Steele dossier.

In the SIGINT world, such tells are called "reflections" and they happen all the time. They're not hard evidence, yet they are intriguing. If Russians--particularly prominent or well-connected ones--believed that Michael Cohen was visiting the Czech Republic when it's claimed he was, that's an important fact, even if far from decisive proof. That unnamed Eastern European intelligence agency shared their Cohen SIGINT report with American counterparts some time ago, my sources tell me, and it's in the possession of Robert S. Mueller, III and his Special Counsel investigation.

In addition, the National Security Agency, our own eavesdroppers, intercepted at least one similar piece of intelligence back in the late summer of 2016. As an NSA official told me, this SIGINT was highly classified and involved "senior Kremlin types" mentioning that Michael Cohen was in Prague. It was "office chit-chat, really," explained the NSA official, and it included no details of what Cohen was doing in the Czech Republic, yet "these Russians stated it as a fact" that the Prague trip happened when the Steele dossier said it did.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Beto's towering advantage in the 2020 Democratic primary (Keith Humphreys, December 28, 2018, Washington Post)

Voters like to think that they rationally assess political candidates entirely based upon policy positions, character and abilities. But more-primitive forces also shape political judgments, including a bias in favor of taller candidates. At a height of 6 feet 4 inches, O'Rourke stands (sorry couldn't resist) to benefit.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, no major political party has nominated a shorter-than-average man for president. (There are far, far too few data points to draw any conclusions about height and female nominees, but the one in all of U.S. history we've had so far is reportedly 5 feet 5 inches, slightly taller than average for women.)

And over the course of U.S. history, the taller presidential nominee has won the popular vote two-thirds of the time. Tallness bias is not unique to Americans. When asked to draw pictures of the "ideal national leader" and "typical citizen," people from a range of countries draw the former as being taller than the latter.

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success: With "The Apprentice," the TV producer mythologized Trump--then a floundering D-lister--as the ultimate titan, paving his way to the Presidency. (Patrick Radden Keefe, 12/287/18, The New Yorker)

Burnett has never liked the phrase "reality television." For a time, he valiantly campaigned to rebrand his genre "dramality"--"a mixture of drama and reality." The term never caught on, but it reflected Burnett's forthright acknowledgment that what he creates is a highly structured, selective, and manipulated rendition of reality. Burnett has often boasted that, for each televised hour of "The Apprentice," his crews shot as many as three hundred hours of footage. The real alchemy of reality television is the editing--sifting through a compost heap of clips and piecing together an absorbing story. Jonathon Braun, an editor who started working with Burnett on "Survivor" and then worked on the first six seasons of "The Apprentice," told me, "You don't make anything up. But you accentuate things that you see as themes." He readily conceded how distorting this process can be. Much of reality TV consists of reaction shots: one participant says something outrageous, and the camera cuts away to another participant rolling her eyes. Often, Braun said, editors lift an eye roll from an entirely different part of the conversation.

"The Apprentice" was built around a weekly series of business challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be "fired." But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to "reverse engineer" the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump's shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense. During the making of "The Apprentice," Burnett conceded that the stories were constructed in this way, saying, "We know each week who has been fired, and, therefore, you're editing in reverse." Braun noted that President Trump's staff seems to have been similarly forced to learn the art of retroactive narrative construction, adding, "I find it strangely validating to hear that they're doing the same thing in the White House."

Such sleight of hand is the industry standard in reality television. But the entire premise of "The Apprentice" was also something of a con. When Trump and Burnett told the story of their partnership, both suggested that Trump was initially wary of committing to a TV show, because he was so busy running his flourishing real-estate empire. During a 2004 panel at the Museum of Television and Radio, in Los Angeles, Trump claimed that "every network" had tried to get him to do a reality show, but he wasn't interested: "I don't want to have cameras all over my office, dealing with contractors, politicians, mobsters, and everyone else I have to deal with in my business. You know, mobsters don't like, as they're talking to me, having cameras all over the room. It would play well on television, but it doesn't play well with them."

"The Apprentice" portrayed Trump not as a skeezy hustler who huddles with local mobsters but as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth--a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines. "Most of us knew he was a fake," Braun told me. "He had just gone through I don't know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king." Bill Pruitt, another producer, recalled, "We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture. We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise."

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Why Amos Oz matters (Jeffrey Salkin, 12/28/18, Religion News Service)

Let me share with you three things that I learned from Amos Oz -- things that have formed my outlook on what it means to be human, on Judaism, and on Israel itself.

First, what it means to be human.

Amos Oz was born Amos Klausner, and his father's name was Yehuda Klausner.

In the 1940s, the Klausner family lived in Jerusalem. Mr. Klausner dreamed of becoming a best-selling author of scholarly books. He wanted to be like his friend, Israel Zarchi, whose books always sold out within a few days of their printing.

Yehuda Klausner would privately print his books, and he would take them to Achiasaph's book store on King George Street in Jerusalem.

No one bought Mr. Klausner's books. They just sat there in a pile, as their author became more depressed and more discouraged.

Finally, one day he got a call from the bookstore. All of his books had been sold! There had been an absolute run on his books! So much so, that a bookstore in Tel Aviv had put in an order as well!

Yehuda Klausner was elated, and this launched his modest career in scholarly writing.

A few years later, young Amos Oz was visiting Israel Zarchi in his cluttered apartment. Mr. Zarchi left the living room to get Amos a cup of hot cocoa. While Mr. Zarchi was in the kitchen, Amos was looking around, and he noticed something under the coffee table in the corner of the room.

It was a pile of his father's books.

Israel Zarchi returned to the living room with the cup of cocoa. He saw Amos looking at the pile of his father's books - and he held his index finger to his lips, as if to say: Please don't say anything to your father.

You know what had happened. Israel Zarchi had secretly bought all of Klausner's books.

And because of that, Yehuda Klausner had thought himself to be a minor commercial success, and because of that, he continued writing.

This is what Amos Oz has said about that incident:

"I have many close and dear friends. And yet, I am not sure that I could do for any of them what Israel Zarchi did for my father. Israel Zarchi was poor. He lived hand to mouth. At a certain moment, he must have said to himself, I can either buy some clothes that I need, or I can buy the three copies of Klausner's book.'

"And he chose to buy my father's book."

I share this story because it is one of the most important illustrations that I know -- of the cardinal Jewish value of chesed, selfless love.

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


Chile Eyes Business Opportunities in Bolsonaro's Brazil: If Brazil's new government liberalizes its economy as vowed, it may also seek new and more dynamic trading partners like Chile and the Pacific Alliance. (Rodolfo Vilches, 2018-12-27,  WORLDCRUNCH)

Bolsonaro has put the University of Chicago graduate Pablo Guedes in charge of devising his government's economic plan. There are scant details on it for now but we know the country faces a delicate fiscal situation that must be addressed with spending cuts and increased revenues. This would be possible thanks to the privatization of non-essential government companies, which would exclude oil giant Petrobras and various energy-sector firms.

There is also strong budget pressure from the country's costly pensions system, which threatens to increase the fiscal deficit that is already close to 8% of GDP per year. This makes Brazil's access to international credits more costly, so the new government will likely put a pension reform among its priorities, increasing personal contributions and raising the retirement age with appropriate incentives.

Brazil also has considerable room for growth when it comes to trade. International trade represents for example only 23% of its GDP, in contrast with 44% and 57% for Peru and Chile respectively. Bolsonaro has more than once shown an interest in taking the country closer to the Pacific Alliance, a Latin American liberal trading block that is in clear contrast with the protectionist approach that has dominated Mercosur. Brazil would have to leave behind the protectionist approach if it wishes to develop an open trading policy.

The announcement that Bolsonaro's first visit abroad will be to Chile, not Argentina, Brazil's traditional trading partner in the region, shows the new administration's liberal economic inclinations and greater regard for the national interest in seeking pacts and deals. That will mean unshackling itself from the commitments Mercosur membership implies. Brazil will also seek to strengthen its position as a recipient of foreign investments, which requires boosting market confidence in the country. That should help boost internal demand, create jobs and make inroads into a current unemployment rate of 12%.

Posted by orrinj at 10:48 AM


The Most Important Graph in the World (Marian L. Tupy, 12/13/16, Human Progress)

Jonathan Haidt, the well-known psychologist from New York University, started as a "typical" liberal intellectual, but came to appreciate the awesome ability of free markets to improve the lives of the poor. Earlier this year, he penned an essay in which he pointed to what he called "the most important graph in the world." The graph reflected Angus Maddison's data showing a massive increase in wealth throughout the world over the last two centuries and which is reproduced, courtesy of Human Progress, below.

The "great enrichment" (Deirdre McCloskey's phrase) elicits different responses in different parts of the world, Haidt noted. "When I show this graph in Asia," Haidt writes, "the audiences love it, and seem to take it as an aspirational road map... But when I show this graph in Europe and North America, I often receive more ambivalent reactions. 'We can't just keep growing forever!' some say. 'We'll destroy the planet!' say others. These objections seem to come entirely from the political left, which has a history, stretching back centuries, of ambivalence or outright hostility to capitalism."

Haidt's experience mirrors my own. When giving talks about the benefits of free markets, audiences in Europe and America invariably note the supposedly finite nature of growth and express worry about the environmental state of the planet. Why? In Haidt's view, capitalist prosperity changes human conscience. In pre-industrial societies, people care about survival. "As societies get wealthier, life generally gets safer, not just due to reductions in disease, starvation, and vulnerability to natural disasters, but also due to reductions in political brutalization. People get rights."

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Why the Bernie Movement Must Crush Beto O'Rourke (Jonathan Chait, 12/28/18, NY Mag)

The rise of Beto O'Rourke poses an obvious threat. The Texas congressman has replicated aspects of Sanders's appeal -- his positivity and refusal to accept PAC money -- while exceeding it in some ways. Sanders is charismatic in an unconventional way, the slovenly and cranky but somewhat lovable old uncle, while O'Rourke projects a classic handsome, toothy, Kennedy-esque charm that reliably makes Democrats swoon. Hard-core loyalists find the contrast irksome. "Reading Karl Marx is cool," said Nomiki Konst, a Sanders loyalist and candidate for New York City public advocate, to NBC. "Doing a livestream while you're doing your laundry is a gimmick." The comment sums up the left's well-grounded fear that Sanders's hard-core ideological appeal can be easily disarmed with personal charisma.

And while O'Rourke has yet to decide on a presidential campaign, and would have to overcome an enormous field if he does, the Sandernistas are hardly paranoid to discern the kind of groundswell that could quickly propel O'Rourke to the front of the pack. Former Obama strategist and current Pod Save America host Dan Pfeiffer wrote a piece urging O'Rourke to run (without endorsing him). O'Rourke reportedly met with Obama, who favored him with public praise. "What I liked most about his race was that it didn't feel constantly poll-tested," Obama said. "It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed."

What Obama is describing here is O'Rourke's ability to speak naturally and with apparent conviction -- one never knows if a politician is expressing genuine conviction or just performing it well -- without taking hard-left policy stances. O'Rourke's short career has allowed him to avoid being pinned down on every item in the party platform. He generally occupies the center of the Democratic Party, and often expresses broad sympathy for left-wing policy goals while suggesting he favors a more pragmatic alternative. On health care, he advocates "achieving universal health care coverage -- whether it be through a single-payer system, a dual system, or otherwise -- so that we can ensure everyone is able to see a provider when it will do the most good and will deliver health care in the most affordable, effective way possible."

One of the deeper strategic goals of the left is to equate progressive maximalism with authenticity, like Sanders did. They want candidates who take uncompromising left-wing positions to be seen as authentic, and candidates who adopt more moderate lines to be seen as calculating and phony. The socialist left will attack any non-Sanders candidate, but O'Rourke is especially dangerous to their project precisely because of his Obama-like personal appeal.

The frequently invoked comparisons between O'Rourke and the 44th president explain both O'Rourke's wide appeal within the party ranks and the mistrust he has inspired on the far left. Socialists generally regard Obama as a failure; Sanders often critiqued Obama implicitly, sometimes explicitly.

Beto could not buy enough air time himself to purchase the notion that he is the same charismatic centrist the UR was.  It--along with the age difference--allows him to displace Joe Biden.

Then it just becomes a question of whether Kamala and Cory decide to contest him for the Obama mantle or define themselves to the Left of each other.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Dems' New Year's resolution: Stiff Trump on the wall and reopen the government (RACHAEL BADE and JOHN BRESNAHAN, 12/27/2018, Politico)

While the strategy is fluid, House Democrats hope to pass a funding bill shortly after members are sworn in. They believe that would put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to follow suit. And they're confident that their political leverage will only increase the longer the shutdown lasts -- a notion that some GOP leaders privately agree with.

Indeed, the specter of a lengthy shutdown could hurt Trump's already damaged image more than it would Democrats -- especially because he claimed ownership of the crisis two weeks ago. Democrats believe the shutdown battle -- combined with the volatility in financial markets and special counsel Robert Mueller closing in on Trump -- exacerbates the appearance of a cornered president acting out of his own political self-interest instead of the needs of the American public.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


More Americans blame Trump for government shutdown: Reuters/Ipsos poll (Chris Kahn, Ginger Gibson, 12/27/18, Reuters) 

Forty-seven percent of adults hold Trump responsible, while 33 percent blame Democrats in Congress, according to the Dec. 21-25 poll, conducted mostly after the shutdown began. Seven percent of Americans blamed congressional Republicans. [...]

Just 35 percent of those surveyed in the opinion poll said they backed including money for the wall in a congressional spending bill. Only 25 percent said they supported Trump shutting down the government over the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


For many migrants trekking to the U.S., faith is their compass (Alkis Konstantinidis, 12/28/18, Reuters) 

On the long journey from Central America to U.S. soil, many migrants have taken solace in their religion.

Several 'caravans' of mostly Honduran migrants who made the trek this year faced arduous conditions, braving fierce heat by day and searching for a safe place to sleep at night.

Many regard their faith as their compass.

For migrants far from home, the street often becomes their place of worship. On a warm afternoon in late November, pastor Jose Murcia, a Salvadoran who lives in the United States, preaches outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana to a cluster of men.

Later, Murcia joins a pair of men kneeling in the middle of the road, their heads bowed in prayer.

On their way to the U.S. border, the migrants walked the length of Mexico. Here, the Virgin of Guadalupe - an image of the Virgin Mary who devotees believe appeared to an indigenous man in the 16th century - looms large. As if seeking her protection, a man drapes himself with a banner depicting her as he crouches before a phalanx of riot police in Tijuana.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM



Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower and former employee with Cambridge Analytica, swears in to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 16, 2018.ANDREW HARRER/GETTY IMAGES
IT'S NO SECRET that companies like Facebook and Google scoop up personal information to serve users ads. But if anything became clear this year, it's that consumers have a lot more to learn about what happens to their data online--how it's gathered, who gets to look at it, and what it's worth.

American corporations are expected to have spent over $19 billion this year acquiring and analyzing consumer data, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, from names and emails to the unique way we fumble with our smartphones. That info is used by marketers, advertisers, analysts, and investors for a host of purposes that remain largely opaque to the average person. In some places, seemingly irrelevant factors like the type of device you have, your email address, or the time of day you make a purchase may be used determine whether you qualify for a loan. Despite all the power and value this data can have, there are few laws in the US regulating the collection and sale of it. [...]

Our personal data is being sold, traded, and shared in ways that we're only beginning to fully unravel. In just the past year, we've learned how these troves of information can be used to influence elections, enrich hedge funds, and even catch a murderer. The next step in 2019 will be deciding what should be done about it.

We are obviously already receiving value for our data, just in the form of the free web tools we get to exploit.  [What, after all, would the ability to Google have been worth to someone in 1818?]

But the growing dependency of higher-end consumers--companies, political campaigns, etc.--on our data suggests we should receive greater recompense.  At least, that is, until others stop selling it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


A Cold War Fought by Women (John Tierney, Nov. 18, 2013, ny tIMES)

To see how female students react to a rival, researchers brought pairs of them into a laboratory at McMaster University for what was ostensibly a discussion about female friendships. But the real experiment began when another young woman entered the room asking where to find one of the researchers.

This woman had been chosen by the researchers, Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, because she "embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective," meaning a "low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts." Sometimes, she wore a T-shirt and jeans, other times a tightfitting, low-cut blouse and short skirt.

In jeans, she attracted little notice and no negative comments from the students, whose reactions were being secretly recorded during the encounter and after the woman left the room. But when she wore the other outfit, virtually all the students reacted with hostility.

They stared at her, looked her up and down, rolled their eyes and sometimes showed outright anger. One asked her in disgust, "What the [expletive] is that?"

Most of the aggression, though, happened after she left the room. Then the students laughed about her and impugned her motives. One student suggested that she dressed that way in order to have sex with a professor. Another said that her breasts "were about to pop out."

The results of the experiment jibe with evidence that this "mean girl" form of indirect aggression is used more by adolescents and young women than by older women, who have less incentive to handicap rivals once they marry. Other studies have shown that the more attractive an adolescent girl or woman is, the more likely she is to become a target for indirect aggression from her female peers.

"Women are indeed very capable of aggressing against others, especially women they perceive as rivals," said Dr. Vaillancourt, now a psychologist at the University of Ottawa. "The research also shows that suppression of female sexuality is by women, not necessarily by men."

Stigmatizing female promiscuity -- a.k.a. slut-shaming -- has often been blamed on men, who have a Darwinian incentive to discourage their spouses from straying. But they also have a Darwinian incentive to encourage other women to be promiscuous. Dr. Vaillancourt said the experiment and other research suggest the stigma is enforced mainly by women.

"Sex is coveted by men," she said. "Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous."

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Chucho Valdes Toasts a Lineage As Well as a Heritage with His New Album, 'Jazz Bata 2' (NATE CHINEN • SEP 20, 2018, WBGO)

[C]hucho Valdés is about to release a new album, Jazz Batá 2, that burnishes his stature as a towering Afro-Cuban pianist of our time, while reclaiming a meaningful chapter from his past. The album is due out  Nov. 16 on Mack Avenue Records, which has shared one track here as an exclusive premiere: "100 Años de Bebo," or "100 Years of Bebo," featuring violinist Regina Carter.

The song's title is a nod to Bebo Valdés's centenary, which falls on Oct. 9. (Chucho has the same birthday; he'll be turning 78.) A danzón-mambo with a lilting melody exquisitely played by Carter, it's a composition that holds sentimental associations.

"No one's heard this tune," Valdés says in a press release. "I'm the only person who knows it. When I was a child, Bebo played it on the piano at home. Just a tune, very beautiful, and as many times as he played it, it always captured my attention. I don't believe he ever recorded it. Since it's his centenary, I added an introduction, I put a tumbao at the end, and recorded it." (Don't miss the delirious "laughing" effect that Carter plays at the onset of the tumbao, just after the three-minute mark -- and stay put for her marvelous solo, which leads to a show of mastery by Valdés.)

Apart from Carter, a guest who also graces a radiant track titled "Ochún," the supporting personnel on Jazz Batá 2 consists strictly of musicians from the Guantánamo region of Cuba: longtime Valdés associate Yaroldy Abreu Robles on percussion; Yelsy Heredia on bass; and Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé on batá drums and vocals.

As the title implies, Jazz Batá 2 is also a sequel -- to Jazz Batá, an album that Valdés released in 1972, for the Cuban label Egrem. A forward-thinking experiment in cultural convergence, that album paired modern jazz piano with the earthy thrum of the batá, an hourglass-shaped drum adapted from Yoruban religious practice. The percussionist on the album was Oscar Valdés (no relation), and the bassist was Carlos del Puerto. Both became founding members of Irakere, whose explosive success eclipsed the acoustic sound of Jazz Batá, rendering it a kind of curio.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


World Economy Is Set to Feel the Delayed Trade War Pain in 2019 (Enda Curran and Katia Dmitrieva, December 25, 2018, Bloomberg)

Bloomberg's Global Trade Tracker is softening amid a fading rush to front-load export orders ahead of threatened tariffs. And volumes are tipped to slow further even as the U.S. and China seek to resolve their trade spat, with companies warning of ongoing disruption.

Already there are casualties. GoPro Inc. will move most of its U.S.-bound camera production out of China by next summer, becoming one of the first brand-name electronics makers to take such action, while FedEx Corp. recently slashed its profit forecast and pared international air-freight capacity.

"Any kind of interference with commerce is going to be a tax on the economy," said Hamid Moghadam, chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Prologis Inc., which owns almost 4,000 logistics facilities globally. "And the world economy is probably going to slow down as a result of it."

December 27, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 PM


Playing for God and the St. Louis Blues, organist provides soundtrack to ups and downs of life and sport (Erin Heffernan, 12/27/18, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Jeremy Boyer had a doubleheader with God and hockey.

On a recent Sunday morning, Boyer sat at a new organ in the choir loft at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Oakville, where he works as the music director. Mass was starting, and Bishop Mark Rivituso waved incense over the keys of the new instrument.

"We beg you Lord to bless this organ, which we dedicate to your service," the bishop prayed.

Then the organ boomed over the suburban churchgoers, sending hallelujahs to the rafters.

Organist Jeremy Boyer waits to play the new organ at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Oakville while Bishop Mark Rivituso (right) blesses it on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. Photo by J.B. Forbes,

Just four hours later, Boyer played "Hallelujah" again -- this time filling a 19,000-seat arena as the St. Louis Blues took on the Calgary Flames.

Perched on a platform in Enterprise Center's Section 328, Boyer pounded the keys for Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" to celebrate an impressive save from goalie Jake Allen.

"That one works for both jobs," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


LinkedIn Co-Founder Apologizes for Deception in Alabama Senate Race  (Scott Shane, Dec. 26, 2018, NY Times)

Reid Hoffman, the tech billionaire whose money was spent on Russian-style social media deception in a Senate race last year, apologized on Wednesday, saying in a statement that he had not approved the operation and did not support such tactics in American politics.

Mr. Hoffman said he had no idea that political operatives whose work he had financed had used fakery on Facebook and Twitter in the special Senate election a year ago in Alabama. But he had an obligation to track how his money was spent, he said, and he promised to exercise more care in the future.

"I categorically disavow the use of misinformation to sway an election," said Mr. Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent figure at the intersection of Silicon Valley and Democratic politics. [...]

Democratic political strategists say the small Alabama operation -- which accounts for a minuscule share of the $51 million spent in the contest -- was carried out as a debate about tactics intensified within the party.

Democrats had been shocked to learn of Russia's stealth influence campaign to damage Hillary Clinton and promote Donald J. Trump in the 2016 presidential race. But at least a few Democrats thought their party could not shun such tactics entirely if others were going to continue to use them.

The Alabama operation is among the first examples to come to light of such underhanded methods on social media in American politics.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


How Russian Money Helped Save Trump's Business (MICHAEL HIRSH | DECEMBER 21, 2018, Foreign Policy)
In the fall of 1992, after he cut a deal with U.S. banks to work off nearly a billion dollars in personal debt, Donald Trump put on a big gala for himself in Atlantic City to announce his comeback. Party guests were given sticks with a picture of Trump's face glued to them so they could be photographed posing as the famous real-estate mogul. As the theme music from the movie Rocky filled the room, an emcee shouted, "Let's hear it for the king!" and Trump, wearing red boxing gloves and a robe, burst through a paper screen. One of his casino executives announced that his boss had returned as a "winner," according to Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio.

But it was mainly an act, D'Antonio told Foreign Policy. In truth Trump was all but finished as a major real-estate developer, in the eyes of many in the business, and that's because the U.S. banking industry was pretty much finished with him. By the early 1990s he had burned through his portion of his father Fred's fortune with a series of reckless business decisions. Two of his businesses had declared bankruptcy, the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City and the Plaza Hotel in New York, and the money pit that was the Trump Shuttle went out of business in 1992. Trump companies would ultimately declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy two more times. When would-be borrowers repeatedly file for protection from their creditors, they become poison to most major lenders and, according to financial experts interviewed for this story, such was Trump's reputation in the U.S. financial industry at that juncture.

For the rest of the '90s a chastened Trump launched little in the way of major new business ventures (with a few exceptions, such as the Trump World Tower across from the United Nations, which began construction in 1999 and was financed by two German lenders, Deutsche Bank and Bayerische Hypo- und Vereinsbank). "He took about 10 years off, and really sort of licked his wounds and tried to recover," D'Antonio said. As late as 2003, Trump was in such desperate financial trouble that at a meeting with his siblings following his father's death he pressed them to hurriedly sell his father's estate off, against the late Fred Trump's wishes, the New York Times reported in an investigation of Trump family finances in October. And his businesses kept failing: In 2004, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts filed for bankruptcy with $1.8 billion dollars of debt.

But Trump eventually made a comeback, and according to several sources with knowledge of Trump's business, foreign money played a large role in reviving his fortunes, in particular investment by wealthy people from Russia and the former Soviet republics. This conclusion is buttressed by a growing body of evidence amassed by news organizations, as well as what is reportedly being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Southern District of New York. It is a conclusion that even Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., has appeared to confirm, saying in 2008--after the Trump Organization was prospering again--that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets."  

Trump's former longtime architect, Alan Lapidus, echoed this view in an interview with FP this month. Lapidus said that based on what he knew from the internal workings of the organization, in the aftermath of Trump's earlier financial troubles "he could not get anybody in the United States to lend him anything. It was all coming out of Russia. His involvement with Russia was deeper than he's acknowledged."

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Trump, Angry Over Mattis's Rebuke, Removes Him 2 Months Early (Helene Cooper and Katie Rogers, Dec. 23, 2018, NY Times)

Less than two hours after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis went to the White House on Thursday to hand a resignation letter to President Trump, the president stood in the Oval Office and dictated a glowing tweet announcing that Mr. Mattis was retiring "with distinction" at the end of February.

But Mr. Trump had not read the letter. As became apparent to the president only after days of news coverage, a senior administration official said, Mr. Mattis had issued a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump over his neglect of allies and tolerance of authoritarians. The president grew increasingly angry as he watched a parade of defense analysts go on television to extol Mr. Mattis's bravery, another aide said, until he decided on Sunday that he had had enough.

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Cell signal puts Cohen outside Prague around time of purported Russian meeting (PETER STONE AND GREG GORDON, DECEMBER 27, 2018, McClatchy)

A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump's former lawyer and "fixer" Michael Cohen briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.

During the same period of late August or early September, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague, two people familiar with the incident said.

The phone and surveillance data, which have not previously been disclosed, lend new credence to a key part of a former British spy's dossier of Kremlin intelligence describing purported coordination between Trump's campaign and Russia's election meddling operation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM



TEN YEARS AGO last Friday, then FBI Director Robert Mueller bundled himself in his tan trench coat against the cold December air in Washington, his scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. Sitting on a small stage at Arlington National Cemetery, he scanned the faces arrayed before him--the victims he'd come to know over years, relatives and friends of husbands and wives who would never grow old, college students who would never graduate, business travelers and flight attendants who would never come home.

Burned into Mueller's memory were the small items those victims had left behind, items that he'd seen on the shelves of a small wooden warehouse, outside Lockerbie, Scotland, a visit he would never forget: A teenager's single white sneaker, an unworn Syracuse University sweatshirt, the wrapped Christmas gifts that would never be opened, a lonely teddy bear.

A decade before the attacks of 9/11--attacks that came during Mueller's second week as FBI director and which had awoken the rest of America to the threats of terrorism--the bombing of Pan Am 103 had impressed upon Mueller a new global threat.

It had taught him the complexity of responding to international terror attacks, how unprepared the government was to respond to the needs of victims' families and how on the global stage justice would always be intertwined with geopolitics. In the intervening years, he had never lost sight of the Lockerbie bombing--known to the FBI by the codename Scotbom--and he had watched the orphaned children from the bombing grow up over the years.

Nearby in the cemetery stood a memorial cairn made of pink sandstone--a single brick representing each of the victims, the stone mined from a Scottish quarry that the doomed flight passed over just seconds before the bomb ripped its baggage hold apart. The crowd that day had gathered near the cairn in the cold to mark the 20th anniversary of the bombing.

For a man with an affinity for speaking in prose, not poetry, a man whose staff was accustomed to orders given in crisp sentences as if they were Marines on the battlefield or under cross-examination from a prosecutor in a courtroom, Mueller's remarks that day soared in a way unlike almost any other speech he'd deliver.

"There are those who say that time heals all wounds. But you know that not to be true. At its best, time may dull the deepest wounds; it cannot make them disappear," Mueller told the assembled mourners. "Yet out of the darkness of this day comes a ray of light. The light of unity, of friendship, and of comfort from those who once were strangers and who are now bonded together by a terrible moment in time. The light of shared memories that bring smiles instead of sadness. And the light of hope for better days to come."

He talked of Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and of inspiration drawn from Lockerbie's town crest, with its simple motto, "Forward." He spoke of what was then a two-decade-long quest for justice, of how on windswept Scottish mores and frigid lochs a generation of FBI agents, investigators, and prosecutors had redoubled their dedication to fighting terrorism.

Mueller closed with a promise, "Today, as we stand here together on this, the darkest of days, we renew that bond. We remember the light these individuals brought to each of you here today. We renew our efforts to bring justice down on those who seek to harm us. We renew our efforts to keep our people safe, and to rid the world of terrorism. We will continue to move forward. But we will never forget."

Hand bells tolled for each of the victims as their names were read aloud, 270 names, 270 sets of bells.

The investigation, though, was not yet closed. Mueller, although he didn't know it then, wasn't done with Pan Am 103. Just months after that speech, the case would test his innate sense of justice and morality in a way that few other cases in his career ever have.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Character Is Destiny (JONAH GOLDBERG, December 27, 2018, National Review)

For a very long time now, I have been predicting that the Trump presidency will end poorly because character is destiny. I've said it so often, I occasionally need to be reminded that I didn't coin the phrase. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus did when he observed "ethos anthropoi daimon," most often translated as "man's character is his fate."

Character is one of those topics, like culture or morality, that everyone strongly supports yet also argues about. When James Q. Wilson, one of the greatest social scientists of the last half-century, turned his scholarly attention to character, many of his colleagues in academia were repulsed. Even though every one of them surely believed in some notion of good character, it was assumed that to talk of it, let alone seek a definition of it or a plan for how to cultivate it, would be an exercise in lending aid and comfort to the moralizers of the Right.

But Wilson, a man of both good and conservative character, had a more humble and universal definition than his colleagues might have expected: decency, politeness, self-restraint, commitment, honesty, cooperativeness, and the ability to think of others' well-being.

Weirdly, it's gotten to the point that when I say President Trump is not a man of good character, I feel like I should preface it with a trigger warning for many of my fellow conservatives.

There's nothing weird about it.  At the heart of the Right ideology is the conscious refusal to think of the well-being of the other.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Donald Trump Is Bad for Israel (Bret Stephens, 12/27/18, NY Times)

[C]onsider the Trump presidency from a purely Israeli standpoint. Are Israelis better off now that the U.S. Embassy is in Jerusalem? Not materially. The move was mostly a matter of symbolism, albeit of an overdue and useful sort. Are Israelis safer from Iran now that the U.S. is no longer in the Iran deal and sanctions are back in force? Only marginally. Sanctions are a tool of strategy, not a strategy unto themselves.

What Israel most needs from the U.S. today is what it needed at its birth in 1948: an America committed to defending the liberal-international order against totalitarian enemies, as opposed to one that conducts a purely transactional foreign policy based on the needs of the moment or the whims of a president.

Mr. Stephens labors under the common enough delusion that Israel shares our liberal democratic values.  All one need observe is that Bibi, like his fellow Nationalist, Donald, has cultivated relationships with anti-democratic regimes like Putin, the Sa'uds, etc. to oppose self-government in places like the Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, etc. to understand what a godsend Trumpism has been.  An America that does not seek to vindicate liberal democracy in Israel is Bibi's dream.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


After Syria, Trump Should Clean Out His National Security Bureaucracy: They're undermining his positions and pursuing their own agendas. John Bolton should be the first to go. (DOUG BANDOW, December 27, 2018, American Conservative)

Most dangerous is Bolton. He publicly advocated war with both Iran and North Korea before his appointment, and his strategy in Syria risked conflict with several nations. He's demonstrated that he has no compunctions about defying the president, crafting policies that contradict the latter's directives. Indeed, Bolton is well-positioned to undermine even obvious successes, such as the peaceful opening with North Korea.

Supporting appointments to State and the National Security Council have been equally problematic. Candidate Trump criticized the bipartisan War Party, thereby appealing to heartland patriots who wonder why their relatives, friends, and neighbors have been dying in endless wars that have begotten nothing but more wars. Yet President Trump has surrounded himself with neocons, inveterate hawks, and ivory tower warriors. With virtually no aides around him who believe in his policies or were even willing to implement them, he looked like a George Bush/Barack Obama retread. The only certainty, beyond his stream of dramatic tweets, appeared to be that Americans would continue dying in wars throughout his presidency.

However, Trump took charge when he insisted on holding the summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. Now U.S. forces are set to come home from Syria, and it appears that he may reduce or even eliminate the garrison in Afghanistan, where Americans have been fighting for more than 17 years. Perhaps he also will reconsider U.S. support for the Saudis and Emiratis in Yemen.

Trump should use Secretary Mattis's departure as an opportunity to refashion his national security team. Who is to succeed Mattis at the Pentagon? Deputy Secretary Patrick Shanahan appears to have the inside track. But former Navy secretary and senator Jim Webb deserves consideration. Or perhaps it's time for a second round for former senator Chuck Hagel, who opposed the Gulf war and backed dialog with Iran. Defense needs someone willing to challenge the Pentagon's thinking and practices. Best would be a civilian who won't be captured by the bureaucracy, one who understands that he or she faces a tough fight against advocates of perpetual war.

Next to go should be Bolton. There are many potential replacements who believe in a more restrained role for America. One who has been mentioned as a potential national security advisor in the past is retired Army colonel and respected security analyst Douglas Macgregor.

Equally important, though somewhat less urgent, is finding a new secretary of state. Although Pompeo has not so ostentatiously undermined his boss, he appears to oppose every effort by the president to end a war, drop a security commitment, or ease a conflict. Pompeo's enthusiasm for negotiation with Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin is clearly lagging. While the secretary might not engage in open sabotage, his determination to take a confrontational approach everywhere except when explicitly ordered to do otherwise badly undermines Trump's policies.

Who to appoint? Perhaps Tennessee's John Duncan, the last Republican congressman who opposed the Iraq war and who retired this year after decades of patriotic service. There are a handful of active legislators who could serve with distinction as well, though their departures would be a significant loss on Capitol Hill: Senator Rand Paul and Representatives Justin Amash and Walter Jones, for instance.

Once the top officials have been replaced, the process should continue downwards. 

America First means switching fully to the Near War and abandoning the Far War.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Inside Bernie-world's war on Beto O'Rourke: As the Texas congressman's star rises, Sanders supporters turn up the heat: "Reading Karl Marx is cool. Doing a livestream while you're doing your laundry is a gimmick." (Jonathan Allen and Alex Seitz-Wald, 12/23/18, NBC News)

The main line of attack against O'Rourke is that he isn't progressive enough -- that he's been too close to Republicans in Congress, too close to corporate donors and not willing enough to use his star power to help fellow Democrats -- and it is being pushed almost exclusively by Sanders supporters online and in print.

It's been the first flashpoint in what promises to be a politically bloody primary -- one that has drawn responses from foot soldiers in the Obama and Clinton wings of the party -- as Democrats begin to focus on who has the best chance to deny President Donald Trump a second term in the Oval Office.

Nomiki Konst, a progressive activist and 2016 Sanders supporter who is now running for public advocate in New York City, said liberal activists mostly kept quiet about their concerns over O'Rourke's record, including the backing he got from the centrist Blue Dog Democrats, before he lost a Texas Senate race to Republican Ted Cruz in November.

"They sucked it up while he was running" because they wanted him to win, Konst said. "But now it's a different story."

The biggest difference may be that O'Rourke is now a threat to Sanders in the 2020 primary. Though neither man has announced whether he will run, O'Rourke captured the hearts and dollars of veteran Democratic activists, donors of all ages and millennial political newcomers across Texas and the nation in his Senate run.

"I think this week can be understood as a kind of turning point, where -- for the first time really -- millions of Americans are seeing pieces that look underneath the superficial gloss of projections onto Beto," said Norman Solomon, who was a delegate for Sanders at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

"What we're seeing is someone who's a big step up for red-state Texas statewide and actually a big step down for where the majority of Democrats are nationwide. ... If we buy the Beto package, we're gonna have buyer's remorse later on."

[O]'Rourke's ability to connect with younger and progressive white voters -- Sanders' source of strength in his losing 2016 primary against Hillary Clinton -- puts him in direct competition with the Vermont senator.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Dec. 19 showed that 57 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 34 have a favorable view of Sanders, while his unfavorable ratings are higher than his favorables with voters 35 and older.

Twenty-five percent of millennials view O'Rourke favorably and 15 percent view him unfavorably, with 59 percent telling Quinnipiac they haven't heard enough about him to know how they feel.

And while the vast majority of Democrats have an opinion about Sanders, that's not true of O'Rourke yet, with 51 percent reporting they don't have enough information to form an opinion.

That explains the rush to define him in negative terms.

He'd have beaten Ted Cruz if he had run as the moderate he is.

Radical Centrists Will Decide the Democratic Primary: As a scrum of candidates battles for the leftist vote, a dark horse could win the nomination simply by standing out from the crowd. (STEVEN TELES, December 27, 2018New Republic)

Around this time four years ago, before the presidential primaries had begun, the most plausible Republican candidates seemed to be reading from more or less the same script. There were differences, to be sure, between Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush, but for the most part, they offered a mixture of social conservatism, budgetary austerity, and neoconservative foreign policy. Even as the field dwindled, Cruz, Rubio, and the supposedly moderate John Kasich--the last mainstream candidates left standing--all supported slashing Social Security and Medicare to make room for large income tax reductions. They were cut from recognizable GOP cloth, if tailored to slightly different tastes.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, was different, and not just in the color of his hair and the length of his ties. While all the other Republicans were converging around the policy positions of Paul Ryan, Trump identified a section of potential GOP voters who were being overlooked. It was to them that he directed his startlingly new positions on trade, immigration, foreign policy, and entitlements; for them that he promised to protect Medicare and Social Security; and for them, that he proposed a noninterventionist, what's-in-it-for-us foreign policy, and pledged to end free trade agreements. 

The majority of GOP voters--as much as 60 percent--didn't particularly like these positions. (And GOP funders, especially those in the Koch network, saw his policy positions as an outright repudiation of their core ideological commitments.) The ordinary Republican candidates--the 16 not named Donald Trump--knew as much. But in fighting for the "normal" 60 percent of the Republican electorate, they ensured their own defeat. In Illinois, the three conventional Republicans (Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich) took 59 percent of the vote, but because it was split three ways, not one was able to top Trump's 39 percent. The same thing happened in North Carolina, where voters gave the orthodox candidates 58 percent, and Trump took the state with 40. The strategy may not have been intentional, but it turned out to be foolproof: Carve out a distinct political ideology that appeals to a solid minority of primary voters, and let the rest of the candidates vie for, and consequently split, the rest of the vote. 

More than a dozen candidates may run for the Democratic nomination in 2020: governors from the Plains states, senators from the coasts, billionaire entrepreneurs. But the most serious so far--Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders--run the risk of falling into the same trap as the main Republicans did in 2015.

Leaving Nikki to occupy the Center.

December 26, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


The Night When Charlie Parker Played for Igor Stravinsky (1951) (Open Culture, October 12th, 2016)

Alfred Appel tells it definitively in his book Jazz Modernism: From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce:

The house was almost full, even before the opening set -- Billy Taylor's piano trio -- except for the conspicuous empty table to my right, which bore a RESERVED sign, unusual for Birdland. After the pianist finished his forty-five-minute set, a party of four men and a woman settled in at the table, rather clamorously, three waiters swooping in quickly to take their orders as a ripple of whispers and exclamations ran through Birdland at the sight of one of the men, Igor Stravinsky. He was a celebrity, and an icon to jazz fans because he sanctified modern jazz by composing Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman and his Orchestra (1946) -- a Covarrubias "Impossible Interview" come true.

As Parker's quintet walked onto the bandstand, trumpeter Red Rodney recognized Stravinsky, front and almost center. Rodney leaned over and told Parker, who did not look at Stravinsky. Parker immediately called the first number for his band, and, forgoing the customary greeting to the crowd, was off like a shot. At the sound of the opening notes, played in unison by trumpet and alto, a chill went up and down the back of my neck.

They were playing "KoKo," which, because of its epochal breakneck tempo -- over three hundred beats per minute on the metronome -- Parker never assayed before his second set, when he was sufficiently warmed up. Parker's phrases were flying as fluently as ever on this particular daunting "Koko." At the beginning of his second chorus he interpolated the opening of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite as though it had always been there, a perfect fit, and then sailed on with the rest of the number. Stravinsky roared with delight, pounding his glass on the table, the upward arc of the glass sending its liquor and ice cubes onto the people behind him, who threw up their hands or ducked.

Parker didn't just happen to know a few bits of Stravinsky to whip out as a novelty; he had, at that point, already deeply internalized the work of the man who composed The Rite of Spring (1913), the most rhythmically complex piece of orchestral music to date.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Iraqi lawmakers criticize Trump visit as blow to Iraqi sovereignty (Reuters, 12/26/18)

Sabah al Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of parliament "to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq's sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The U.S. occupation of Iraq is over."

The Bina bloc, Islah's rival in parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, also objected to Trump's trip to Iraq.

"Trump's visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government," said a statement from Bina.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Think Electric Vehicles Are Great Now? Just Wait... (Dan Neil, 12/26/18, WSJ)

This is above all a pocketbook issue for me. A gas-powered vehicle would be too expensive. I plan to keep my next vehicle 10 years, at least. Over that time the cost of ownership for an EV, including fuel (on the order of a penny a mile for the electricity), repairs and maintenance would be considerably lower than comparable costs of an IC car.

My other big worry: resale value. In case you haven't been following the news from the Paris climate talks, most nations of the world have put the IC vehicle under a death sentence. Post-Paris, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that there will be between 125 and 220 million EVs on the road by 2030.

We are living through the S-curve of EV adoption. The total number of EVs on global roads surpassed 3 million in 2018, a 50% increase over 2016, according to the IEA. In November Tesla Model 3 was the best-selling small/midsize luxury sedan in the U.S; and Model S sales (26,700, year to date) outsold Mercedes-Benz S Class, BMW 6- and 7-Series, and Audi A8 combined, according to industry-tracker

During the reasonable service life of any vehicle I buy today, I expect the demand for IC-powered vehicles will drop to practically zero, equivalent to the current market penetration of flip phones. No one will want them and there will be nowhere to get them fixed; by that time widespread fleet electrification will have cratered traditional dealerships that depend on service dollars to survive.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


In Court, Israel Defends Ban on Relationships Between Foreign Workers  (Lee Yaron, Dec 27, 2018, Ha'aretz)

The Population and Immigration Authority has started to defend in court the ban it has imposed on foreign workers forming couple relationships.

When it learns of such a relationship, the authority insists that one partner leave Israel as a condition for extending the work visa of the other one.

Until now, however, it has apparently backed down every time an appeal was filed against this demand. According to Kav LaOved - Worker's Hotline, in the 13 cases over the past year in which the organization filed an appeal, the authority backed down and allowed both partners to stay in Israel.

But in response to another appeal that Kav LaOved filed this week, the authority did not withdraw but instead filed a response to the Jerusalem appeals tribunal, in which it stated that the two partners in question are foreign nursing workers "who are conducting a relationship that contradicts the respondent's procedures."

The response goes on to say, "There is growing concern that the petitioner and the baby's father are conducting life as a couple and a family in Israel in a manner that violates the authority's rules." [...]

Kav LaOved said, "This is a benighted policy that is the ultimate dehumanization of migrant workers in Israel. It's hard to understand how the hands of the lawyers and the decision makers don't tremble when they sign off on sentences like, 'The appellants are living together against the rules,' or 'There's a suspicion they are forming a family unit,' as if a family unit is no less than a terror cell."

The population authority doesn't explicitly forbid relationships between foreign workers, but forbids two first-degree relatives to stay in Israel at the same time.

This ban was set in 2013 as part of the regulations for employing foreign nursing care workers, on that grounds that such a practice "encourages settlement in Israel."

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


At Christmastime, George W. Bush Was Santa, Obama Was Scrooge (JOSEPH CURL, December 26, 2018, Daily Wire)

Every year, in the week between Christmas and New Year's, I think about George W. Bush.

It was in that week each year for the eight years I covered him as a reporter that he gave me a spectacular gift -- and he knew it.

I started covering the newly elected president in 2000, when I was in my 30s. Back then, as a reporter for The Washington Times, we went everywhere the president went -- everywhere. If he went to Charlotte, North Carolina, to give a 30-minute speech on an airport tarmac, we went. Up at 4 a.m., an hour-long commute to Andrews Air Force Base, in place on the ground hours before POTUS landed, and there for hours and hours after he left -- sometimes right through the evening news so network reporters could file live from the site.

We also went with the president to Texas every summer -- often for a month -- and every winter, too, over the holidays.

But here's the thing: In December, we never left Washington, D.C., until the day after Christmas. Never.

Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush would always depart the White House a few days before the holiday and hunker down at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. After a few years, I asked a low-level White House staffer why.

I still remember exactly what she said: "So all of us can be with our families on Christmas."

Who was "us"? Hundreds and hundreds of people, that's who. Sure, the reporters who covered the president, but also dozens and dozens on his staff, 100 Secret Service agents, maybe more, and all of those city cops required whenever the president's on the move in D.C.

For me, that one-day delay was huge. My kids were 6 and 8 years old when Mr. Bush took office. When he went home to Prairie Chapel that last time in 2009, my girl was driving, the boy was 6 foot 1. But in the meantime, I was home for eight Christmas mornings, playing Santa, stoking the fire, mixing up hot chocolates.

That was President Bush. And every year for the past five, I've thought about what that meant to me.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Trump Delivers a Victory to Iran: The president's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria has ruined the administration's efforts to contain the Islamic republic. (Reuel Marc Gerecht & Mark Dubowitz, 12/24/18, The Atlantic)

During the presidential campaign, the outlier in Donald Trump's foreign-policy orations was his treatment of Iran. On Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia (remember President Barack Obama's "off-mic" tête-à-tête with President Dmitry Medvedev?), and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Trump largely followed his predecessor. Differences existed, certainly in style and manner, but the overlap between the two men on most of the big foreign-policy questions was profound.

When it came to the clerical regime in Iran, however, the two men were polar opposites. Trump thought the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was "the worst deal ever." He also let loose against Tehran's Islamic radicalism, terrorism, quest for regional hegemony, and fondness for sowing mayhem in the Middle East. Trump's serrated rhetoric stood in contrast to the comments of Obama, his secretary of state, and other senior officials, who had muted their criticisms of Tehran in their pursuit of the atomic accord and, as important, a new strategic realignment, wherein a less interventionist America might, so the theory went, find a modus vivendi with a richer, commercially engaged, and moderating Islamic Republic.

As president, Trump followed through. The nuclear deal went down, the sanctions came back, and despite moments of wobbliness concerning troop deployments in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the Trump administration held fast in the Middle East. National-Security Advisers H. R. McMaster and John Bolton, United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, and, perhaps most of all, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out a new approach to the Islamic Republic. The Trump administration wasn't inclined to roll back the clerical regime, but it did seem ready to contest and contain Iran's Shiite imperialism in Syria, Yemen, and even in Iraq, in which the president had never evinced much interest.

Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, concurrently with his intention to drastically reduce the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan and the likely soon-to-be-announced further drawdown of U.S. personnel in Iraq, has made mincemeat of the administration's efforts to contain Iran.

The entire WoT is about assisting the Shi'a and other pro-democracy Muslims in their struggle against anti-democratic regimes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


The Surprising Benefits of Exercising in Cold Weather (Markham Heid, 11/08/18, Medium)

Kajimura's lab at UCSF focuses on metabolism and energy balance, and specifically on the function of the body's fat cells. He says cold exposure during workouts may be beneficial for a number of reasons. For one thing, shivering burns a lot of calories. "Shivering is a very energy-demanding and tiring process," he says. If your goal when exercising is to lose weight, working out in the cold may help a bit.

Some of Kajimura's research has also shown that spending time in cool or cold environments converts some of the body's fat cells from unhealthy "white" fat to heat-producing, metabolically active "beige" fat. Kajimura says this conversion seems to help the body acclimatize to cold environments and increases resting energy expenditure -- the amount of calories a person burns just sitting around. Research by Kajimura and others has shown that beige fat may limit blood sugar spikes and even combat metabolic disorders like diabetes. "For now, this is just a theory," he says. "We need more investigation."

Exercise also appears to promote the development of beige fat. Kajimura says one hypothesis is that beige fat helps the body filter byproducts called metabolites that are released during exercise. Evidence suggests certain metabolites can contribute to fatigue and post-exercise soreness. So, for a lot of reasons, "Combining cold stimulus with exercise is a great idea," he says. "I highly recommend exercising outside in the early morning or swimming in cold water."

Fat and fatigue benefits aside, cool-weather training may offer other perks. Maintaining proper internal temperature is one of the body's main priorities during any activity, says Mike Jett, an instructor and lab director in exercise physiology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Exercise produces heat, which the body must labor to counteract if workout conditions are hot and humid. While that's not a big deal in most circumstances, it can hamper athletic performance. "If heat accumulates, exercise intensity is reduced," Jett says. Meanwhile, exercising in cool conditions (or even in cold ones, assuming you're properly bundled) seems to be optimal. The body can devote all its resources to training and performance, rather than to temperature regulation, Jett says. However, "Working out in an intentionally hot room does not make sense from a performance standpoint," he adds.

There may even be some mental health benefits associated with cold-weather exercise. A small 2004 study from Finland found that winter swimming combatted tension and fatigue and improved overall well-being among 36 middle-aged adults. Cold-water exposure seems to activate the central nervous system and stimulate the circulation of hormones that may promote improved mood and energy, write the authors.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


'Good to go': Top Trump aide gave inaugural day ok to nuclear plan - congressman (Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, 12/26/18, Reuters)

As President Donald Trump delivered his inaugural address on Capitol Hill in January, his incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn, sitting a few yards away, texted a former business partner that a nuclear power project that would require lifting sanctions on Russia was "good to go," a senior House Democrat said in a letter released on Wednesday.

Quoting a confidential informant, Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote that Alex Copson, the managing partner of ACU Strategic Partners, told the informant that Flynn would see that the sanctions on Moscow were "ripped up."

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Do a 'marginal' number of 7-year-olds believe in Santa? That's what Trump told a SC girl. (Hannah Alani, Dec 25, 2018, Louisville Post & Courier)

Lloyd sat in her kitchen on hold for about six minutes, she told The Post and Courier. There was no hold music, just silence. She expected to hear a voice recording when it picked up, if anything. 

"He has a lot to do on the night of Christmas Eve," she said.

Then came the New York accent. 

Trump, who sat in the Oval Office in Washington, D.C., was suddenly on speaker phone in Lloyd's kitchen. 

"Are you still a believer in Santa?" he asked. 

"Yes, sir," she said. 

Then the president asked her a puzzling question: 

"Because at 7, that's marginal, right?" 

Lloyd had never heard that word before, "marginal." 

"Yes, sir," she said. 

She didn't know it, but his comment about her age being marginal -- and her response -- would spark national news stories that night and the following morning.

Lloyd never did learn Santa's whereabouts, but she was glad to be able to talk with her nation's leader. 

"I was like, 'wow.' I was shocked," she said. "It wasn't really (nerve-wracking), I just had to think of what the truth was." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Private buyers of Iran crude had no problems exporting it: oil minister (Reuters, 12/26/18) 

Private buyers of Iranian crude have had "no problems" exporting it, Iran's oil minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday by state news agency IRNA, despite U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's oil exports.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Do America's Socialists Have a Race Problem?: Inside a raging debate that has split the country's most exciting new political movement (MIGUEL SALAZAR, December 20, 2018, New Republic)

At one point, Tur-ha Ak, a black organizer with Brooks's Anti-Police Terror Project, asked to speak. As his turn approached, the young man who was chairing the meeting asked if Ak was a member. A number of white people had spoken before him, including Forrest Schmidt, 42, who was attending his first DSA meeting. "None of us had our credentials called," he said. "Nobody said, 'Are you a DSA member?'" When Ak responded that he was not a member, the chair asked him to take a seat.

The room erupted. The procedural rules were racist, Ak proclaimed, raising his voice over a cacophony of protests and chants. "The energy," Brooks recalled, "turned into that of a white mob." She decided to take the floor. "My name is Cat Brooks," she said. "I've been organizing in this city longer than most of you have lived here." In a brief, piercing speech, she accused the largely white crowd of being gentrifiers and then walked out, leaving members confused and outraged.

The debate quickly moved to Twitter, Reddit, and other corners of the internet. In an online essay, Jeremy Gong, an East Bay member who sits on DSA's National Political Committee, the organization's highest decision-making body, argued that Cat Brooks "weaponized" her race to coerce DSA into supporting her candidacy. He would not endorse her. The July DSA meeting, he wrote, was a textbook example of "race reductionism and liberal guilt politics." By insinuating that white members were "the problem" when it came to Oakland's gentrification, he claimed, Brooks had mistakenly reduced what was fundamentally a class conflict into a racial one.

Though a dustup among a small group of lefties in Oakland may seem to be a parochial affair, the controversy surrounding Brooks is part of a fierce debate about race within the newly invigorated socialist movement. Since 2016, when it had only 6,500 members, DSA has added nearly 50,000 members and over 125 chapters across the country. In 2018, two of its members--Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, both women of color--were elected to serve in Congress, and 21 more won seats in state legislatures. Though DSA is separate from the Democratic Party, some of its members represent both institutions, while DSA itself is at the cutting edge of the broader progressive movement, a loud, insistent voice on issues ranging from universal health care to debt forgiveness.

But unlike other progressive groups, DSA has to contend with internal factions that are very seriously wedded to a certain strain of socialist ideology--one that emphasizes, as Karl Marx did, a churning class war that governs the history of humankind. For these socialists, an anti-capitalist movement must be anti-racist, since capitalism has been instrumental in the subjugation of minorities. But they are also weary of liberal politicians who, they say, exploit race to pander to minority groups, all while skirting the deeper class conflict at work. In the past year, these hard-liners have clashed on numerous occasions with other socialists, often minorities themselves, who contend that righting America's unique wrongs requires an approach distinct from the universal precepts of historical materialism--one that emphasizes racism's special impact on inequality, supra-class.

In the Brooks controversy and other incidents, these tensions have come to a head, badly dividing the movement and raising difficult questions about socialism's potential as a political force in the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


The Left Is Taking Aim at Pelosi's Deficit Obsession: The Democratic leader wants to resurrect a House rule that will hinder progressive legislation. (DAVID DAYEN, December 26, 2018, New Republic)

Earlier this year, amid "internal divisions" in the party, Pelosi signaled her intention to put pay-go into the rules package. "Democrats are committed to pay-as-you-go," her spokesman, Drew Hammill, said in June. Former Progressive Caucus chair Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) responded by calling pay-go "an absurd idea," saying it's "irresponsible to try to tie up Congress's ability to respond to economic downturns or, in the current discussion, to slash programs."

Pelosi has defended and expanded pay-go for over a decade. She first instituted it as a standing rule the day she received the speaker's gavel in 2007, and was a driving force in passing the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act in 2010, signed by Barack Obama. That law puts the burden on the president to enforce across-the-board cuts if Congress violates pay-go. The prospect of any president implementing an unpopular hatchet job like that is remote. So the House rule looms large in this fight by constraining new spending at its source.

Obviously, Pelosi and her allies on pay-go consider the rule good politics, allowing them to rebut charges about "tax and spend" liberals by insisting that every new program is fully paid for. If anybody actually cared about the deficit, instead of habitually using it as a weapon to rein in the opposition party, maybe that logic would be compelling. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Russia: Israeli strikes in Syria Tuesday endangered 2 civilian flights (Times of Israel, 12/26/18)

Moscow says planes were landing in Damascus and Beirut at the time of the attack, air defenses downed 14 of 16 missiles fired by Israel

December 25, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Gaza's Christians blocked from travel to Bethlehem (Ahmed el-Komi December 24, 2018, Al Monitor)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Palestinian Christians in Gaza are feeling a damper on the Christmas spirit this year as Israeli authorities have blocked many from receiving exit permits to celebrate the Christmas holidays in Bethlehem in the West Bank.

While Western Christians celebrate, following the Gregorian calendar, Dec. 25 of every year, Eastern churches -- to which the majority of Palestinian Christians belong -- follow the Eastern calendar and celebrate on Jan. 7.

The international organization Middle East Concern, which advocates for the rights of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, said in a Dec. 10 statement that most of the applications by Christian Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for permits to participate in Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem had been rejected by Israeli authorities. It noted that "nearly all" of the requests were rejected, "with only Christians over the age of fifty-five being allowed to travel."

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM



If you're curious what the book is about, the entire argument is helpfully summed up in the title. Europe is dying -- being murdered, in fact -- by hordes of Muslim immigrants, aided in their task by craven liberal politicians. As Murray describes it, insufficiently harsh border policies have opened the gates to migrants bent on committing no lesser crimes than mass rape and indiscriminate murder. Meanwhile, white Europeans, exhausted by their own history and driven into moral relativism by the decline of the Christian faith, are slowly being replaced by an implacably hostile and alien population of foreigners.

The "mass movement of peoples in Europe," Murray writes, has led to "streets in the cold and rainy northern towns of Europe filled with people dressed for the foothills of Pakistan or the sandstorms of Arabia." This is an early clue to the relentlessly paranoid tenor of the book: In South Asia or the Middle East -- just as among the Western immigrant populations who hail from those places -- many, if not most, people today dress in Western clothing, regardless of how appropriate it is for the climate. [...]

In case it needs to be said, some migrants, particularly young people, do commit crimes. There have been violent crimes involving migrants, including some who were refugees. But Murray's narrative of lawlessness is blinkered to the point of being propaganda. While European Union-wide statistics are not readily available, it's worth noting that Germany, the country that took the most refugees during the peak of the crisis, reported its lowest national crime rate this year since 1992. Similar decreases have been recorded in Italy, one of the front-line states for those arriving from across the Mediterranean. Across the continent, the wave of refugees has already crested, without the breakdown of law and order claimed by far-right polemicists.

It's not even clear that there are so many migrants. According to United Nations data, between January 2014 and March 2018, roughly 1.8 million people crossed the Mediterranean Sea to try and enter the EU. This number -- which has driven Murray to such angst that he has pronounced the "death of Europe" -- amounts to less than one-third of 1 percent of the EU's population. In the meantime, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Pakistan continue to quietly host millions of refugees, many of whom were driven from their homes as a result of wars of aggression supported by Murray, whose past books include forthright tomes like "Neoconservatism: Why We Need It."

Even if no immigrant in Europe ever committed a crime, it seems like Murray would keep moving the goal posts against them anyway. In some of the most eye-opening portions of "The Strange Death of Europe," he waxes nostalgic about medieval European warriors like Charles Martel who battled Muslim armies in the eighth century, drawing insidious connections between this ancient episode, among others, and the people he sees on the streets of Europe today. In other words, it's not ultimately even about what immigrants and minorities do, it's about who they are. On a trip to Paris, Murray laments that some of the subway lines are like "taking an underground train in an African city," asserting contemptuously that most of the people are "going to low-paid service jobs or appear to be heading nowhere."

I RECENTLY FINISHED reading Murray's book while I myself was on a subway in Paris. This was a strange experience in some respects, particularly since I'm technically one of the invaders from the "foothills of Pakistan" that the book raises the alarm about. It was also strange because Murray actually begins his argument by citing my own favorite book: "The World of Yesterday" by Stefan Zweig.

Zweig was an Austrian-Jewish writer who was driven from Europe by the rise of fascism during the mid-20th century. While Murray cites him to reinforce his case about the continent's looming mortality, the actual threat that Zweig warned about in his writings was from the xenophobic parties of the European far right. Those people eventually did destroy Zweig's world, forcing him into a life of forlorn exile. He killed himself in Brazil in 1942.

Zweig was yesterday's Muslim.
Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM



There are thousands of hours of logs burning online and on streaming services. There are over a hundred videos alone on the YouTube channel Virtual Fireplace. We watched as many as we possibly could, then picked the ones that burn the brightest for you. [...]

2. WPIX Yule Log

Log-for-log, the original WPIX version doesn't hold up by today's standards. For starters, there's no natural sound, just music. That's a problem. A good crackle is the foundation of any respectable yule log video. But the OG is not on this list for its production value. We wouldn't be here without it.

1. Fireplace for your home: Classic edition

If George Ford is the Orson Welles of yule log videos, this is his Citizen Kane. Like birchwood, the fire starts slow and builds over time, reaching a ferocious peak about 15 minutes in. That's where it hits its stride, blazing in perfect symmetry for another 30 minutes until it begins to slowly die. It's hard to imagine a more perfect fire with a more perfect sound.

Netflix gave it its own trailer and behind the scenes video when it started running it in 2013. It's literally restoring people's faith in Christmas.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


7 demographic trends shaping the U.S. and the world in 2018 (ANTHONY CILLUFFO AND D'VERA COHN, 4/25/18. Pew Research)

After decades of decline, motherhood and family size are ticking up in the U.S. Among women at the end of their childbearing years (ages 40 to 44), 86% had ever given birth by 2016, an increase from 80% in 2006 and about the same share as in the early 1990s. Women also are having more children: On average, women in 2016 had 2.07 children during their lives - up from 1.86 in 2006, the lowest average on record.

In addition, there has been a substantial increase in motherhood over the past two decades among women who have never been married. In 2014, more than half (55%) of women ages 40 to 44 who had never married had given birth - up from 31% in 1994.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Christmas in Lebanon: 'Jesus Isn't Only for the Christians' (Vivian Yee and Hwaida Saad, Dec. 24, 2018, NY Times)

BEIRUT -- The Iranian cultural attaché stepped up to the microphone on a stage flanked by banners bearing the faces of Iran's two foremost religious authorities: Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, and Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader.

To the left of Ayatollah Khomeini stood a twinkling Christmas tree, a gold star gilding its tip. Angel ornaments and miniature Santa hats nestled among its branches. Fake snow dusted fake pine needles.

"Today, we're celebrating the birth of Christ," the cultural attaché, Mohamed Mehdi Shari'tamdar, announced into the microphone, "and also the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution."

"Hallelujah!" boomed another speaker, Elias Hachem, reciting a poem he had written for the event. "Jesus the savior is born. The king of peace, the son of Mary. He frees the slaves. He heals. The angels protect him. The Bible and the Quran embrace."

"We're celebrating a rebel," proclaimed a third speaker, the new mufti of the Shiite Muslims of Lebanon, the rebel in question being Jesus.

The mufti, Ahmed Kabalan, went on to engage in some novel religious and political thinking: Christians and Muslims, he said, "are one family, against corruption, with social justice, against authority, against Israel, with the Lebanese Army and with the resistance."

The proclamations from the stage were applause lines -- perhaps against the odds, given that the audience at the Iranian-sponsored event on Saturday consisted mostly of observant Shiites from the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut. Occasionally, the crowd chanted praise for the Prophet Muhammad.

When a pair of Iranian bands flown in for the occasion began playing Assyrian and Persian Christmas carols, the audience clapped along.

From its founding as an independent republic, Lebanon has walked a tightrope, not always successfully, with its Muslim and Christian populations make up most of the country's 18 officially recognized sects.

Nearly 30 years after the end of a civil war in which Beirut was cloven into Muslim and Christian halves connected only by a gutted buffer zone, Lebanese from all different sects now commonly mingle every day at home, at work and in public.

But few seasons frame the everyday give-and-take of religious coexistence quite like Christmastime in Lebanon.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


I'm a Christian and a Conservative. Trump is Making it Terribly Hard To Be Both. (Matt Lewis, 12.24.18, Daily Beast)

[I]s another year ends, I'm left wondering: Will "Christian conservative" be an oxymoron in 2019?

Before we go any further, I should confess that I have never actually identified myself as a Christian conservative, because the term conjures visions of "religious right" figures like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

However, I am a (very flawed) Christian and a (somewhat conflicted) conservative. These two identities--the sacred and the secular--once coexisted happily. Not so today. Increasingly, my faith and my political loyalties are at odds, and sometimes even seem to be mutually exclusive.

Trump's fundamental character deficiencies are part of the problem. We all fall short, but Christians aspire to bring about the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). These virtues aren't just out of step in today's society--they are utterly countercultural in Trump's Republican Party.

Unlike Ronald Reagan's sunny optimism, rooted in faith in America's future, Trump motivates via fear. His worldview is rooted in a scarcity mentality that says someone else is stealing your share of the pie. This carnal mindset clashes with a faith that calls us to gladly give to others (I'm speaking here about personal charity, not redistribution via the tax code)--and trusts in God to provide for our daily needs.

Donald is neither a Christian nor a Conservative.  The question is whether the GOP still is or whether it chooses to be like Donald..

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Italy, Russia Do Not Oppose Role for Seif al-Islam Gaddafi in Libya's Future (Asharq al-Awasat, 25 December, 2018)

Italy and Russia announced that they do not oppose a return to Libyan political life by Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of later ruler Moammar.

An official in the Italian government had stated that Rome "cannot claim that Seif al-Islam has no right to pursue a leadership role in his country."

It cannot oppose his return to politics if he enjoys popular support, he added. "This is democracy."

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


India Takes Over Iran's Strategic Chabahar Port (Radio Liberty, December 25, 2018)

The U.S. State Department in November exempted the Chabahar Port project from sanctions in recognition of its importance to landlocked Afghanistan.

The effort to build up Afghanistan's economy is also aimed at reducing Kabul's dependence on foreign aid and putting a major dent in the illicit opium trade that has been a major source of revenue for the Taliban insurgency.

New Delhi has poured $2 billion into development in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban's government.

December 24, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 PM


Admit It: Donald Trump Is a Disaster for Israel and the Jews (Eric H. Yoffie, Dec 24, 2018 , Ha'aretz)

There are, it seems to me, at least four immediate reasons why Donald Trump has been a disaster for Israel and the Jews.

One: Donald Trump defers to Ann Coulter, with her long history of anti-Semitic rants, when he wants to know what the Republican grassroots are thinking. [...]

Two: An amoral, self-absorbed leader, Trump does what is good for himself rather than what serves the interests of America and its allies - Israel included.  [...]

Facing criminal investigations and crises of every sort, our President foments chaos to change the subject from yesterday's bad news and to make himself the story and the center of attention. And his disregard for expert advice is no oversight. One consults with advisors and allies when the intention is to bring order out of chaos; one acts alone when the intention is to do the opposite.

These are the responses of an impulsive, unbalanced man, patently unfit for his job. And for Israel, a powerful country but still a very vulnerable ally in a bad neighborhood, chaos and uncertainty have replaced the stability, security assurances, and military cooperation that the alliance with America has always delivered. 

As his resignation letter noted, James Mattis left his job as Secretary of Defense precisely because he saw how an unstable president was treating America's allies, and he realized that Trump's behavior was both profoundly wrong and dangerous for all concerned.

Three: The President remains a hostage to Vladimir Putin, for reasons still unknown, posing dangers to Israel that grow by the day.

On the other hand, he hates Muslims even more than Jews.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Why the Christmas story matters: Religion is not physics. And those who confuse the two will always miss the point. (Giles Fraser, 24 DECEMBER 2018, UnHerd)

Vicar's kids have spent all their lives back stage and are often unimpressed with religious razzmatazz. "No Dad, I don't want to go to Midnight Mass again. It's boring. And anyway, God doesn't exist."

I summarise a little, but that's the gist of it. Bulging with semi-digested food (we have our main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve) a declaration of post-dinner atheism has traditionally been the most effective way to stay firmly planted on the sofa. I am considering implementing an 'atheists do the washing up' policy this year. I reckon that might make a difference to the religious affiliation of the household. We will see. [...]

The problem with discussing the question of God's existence is that it often turns into an argument about what we mean by existence rather than an argument about God per se. Consider, for instance, the surprisingly difficult question of the existence of numbers. Philosophers have been debating this since the Greeks. Is there an independent reality to the number seven - something over and above the objects that there may be seven of, like tables or cars? Or is mathematics simply a clever and complicated organising principle supplied by the human mind? Or something else entirely? No one is doubting that there are such things as numbers - the question is more like, in what way do they exist or what do we mean by their existence?

In other words, most philosophers don't believe that the existence of numbers is an empirical question at all - it is not something that scientists can design experiments to establish. that physics is not physics either.  Russ Roberts approached this topic with John Horgan on the most recent Econ Talk podcast about the Mind-Body problem,.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas from two vicar's kids.

What Reason Alone Cannot Comprehend (JAMES V. SCHALL, 12/24/18, Law & Liberty)

We cannot say that philosophy wants to know everything and, at the same time, exclude some knowledge that can be known.

The first step would be to show how revelation is not a feeling or a product of human imagination. Revelation does not contradict reason. If something said to be irrational is found in revelational accounts, that revelation must be rejected. On the other hand, if something is found in revelation that, on examining it, proves to make reason more reasonable, makes it aware of a truth that it did not arrive at by itself, then it would seem that revelation and reason have origins in the same source.

Revelation is not something we can expect, something due to us in virtue of what we are. The universe might be just as it is with no claims to a further knowledge found in it. But what we have in fact is a world in which, in addition to reason, we have divine claims or events addressed to this same reason. Revelation has an intelligibility to it, whether we "believe" it or not. It bears the character of mind addressing mind. How so?

If we take the central notions found in Christianity, namely the Trinity and the Incarnation, we see that Christians themselves hold that these events and their explanations cannot be "proved" by reason. To maintain that one can "prove" that God is triune in person is a heretical position. Yet, Christians hold precisely this understanding of the Godhead as something to be believed. This holding would at first sight make them to be irrationalists. The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is intelligible. We know what it means. It is a statement of otherness and order within the one God. This otherness is personal--the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, neither is the Holy Spirit.

What is the significance of this knowledge contained within revelation to the philosopher? The philosopher does not see how God is triune. He can understand what the Christians hold on this topic. But the philosopher on his own terms is puzzled by a question he cannot answer in his own discipline. Aristotle put it well. God, the First Mover, thought thinking itself, seems to lack something, namely, friendship, that is a perfection in the creature, man. But once he has heard of the Christian teaching on the Trinity, on the otherness in God, the philosopher can see that the doctrine of the Trinity puts revelation in line with reason. Revelation does seem to correct reason by making it more reasonable in its own order.

Once we understand the implications of this connection of reason and revelation, it becomes clear that what it contained in revelation can incite reason to broaden its own understanding of reality. In other words, from the point of view of the philosopher, revelation makes reason more itself--more reasonable. It does this by considering how a revelational teaching expands something not fully understood by reason itself.

Reason united with revelation enlarges our freedom because it enlarges our knowledge of our own personal destiny. Plato's "myth" at the end of The Republic taught us that our lives are not unimportant. They are held accountable for what was freely chosen. In this sense, we are both freer and more responsible when we know how the teachings of reason and revelation respond to each other in an intelligible whole.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


The Politics of Population Control: How Western family planners helped curb the birth of girls in developing countries, the effects of which are felt today. (Al Jazeera, 24 Dec 2018)

While international pressure has compelled India and China to ban the use of ultrasounds for the purpose of sex-selective abortions, boys are more prized in these regions because they are looked upon as having an economically productive future, while women are not. As parents grow older they expect much more help and support from their independent sons than from daughters who they believe become, for all intents and purposes, the property of their husbands' families after marriage.

This gendercide is a result of politically motivated population control policies imposed more than 30 years ago by well-known scientists and extremely wealthy men like John D Rockefeller III who had access to the highest levels of the US government.

Their organisations, such as the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Population Council, which still exist today, triggered worldwide fears of a population explosion, according to Matthew Connelly, a historian at Columbia University in New York. He has researched in detail the development of this movement from its beginnings to its effects today. 

"The Population Council saw its mandate not just to control the rate of population growth, but also to address problems in the quality of population. So they had an explicit mandate to try to do something about the growth of the fertility rates among people who they thought would eventually take over the world if something wasn't done to reduce fertility rates across the board. But especially among people who they thought would be poor parents that would have even more poor children."

The fear of poor people having children gained steam in American politics by 1966, where US president Lyndon B Johnson attached conditions to receiving development aid, one of them being that recipient countries must reduce their population.

This eventually led to the creation of the United Nations Population Fund, which actively channelled millions into population control campaigns in South Korea, China, and India - including forced sterilisations and the mandatory use of contraceptives by poorer segments of society.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


A Tocquevillean Christmas Fable (ELIZABETH AMATO, 12/24/18, Imaginative Conservative)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) is the finest cinematic exploration of the commercialization of Christmas. The central story is that Kris Kringle, a man who looks like and believes he is Santa Claus, is hired to play Santa Claus at Macy's department store. When it is revealed that he believes he is the real Santa Claus, Kris must defend his sanity in court.

Rather than condemn commercialization, Miracle on 34th Street recognizes that Christmas and commercialism are like milk and cookies--you can't have one without the other. It pragmatically accepts commercialism as a part of the celebration of Christmas in America. Gift giving requires a marketplace. Kris is not opposed to working for a department store in which the prime purpose of having children visit Santa is so that moms and dads will buy things while they are there. He is highly knowledgeable of the toy market. He knows where and for how much toys are sold. As if to drive home the point, Kris sings the nursery rhyme "To Market, To Market" to Susan (played by a young Natalie Wood). Insofar as markets are where toys are bought and sold, Kris accepts them as useful and a legitimate part of Christmas festivities.

In Democracy in America, Tocqueville explains that the American morality is the doctrine of self-interest rightly understood. Enlightened selfishness motivates Americans to be honest and self-restrained, for they know that these virtues are the surest way to get what one wants from others. Americans, Tocqueville observes, love to praise how their self-interest produces the common good.

Nevertheless, Tocqueville sees evidence of Americans giving themselves over to "unreflective" impulses of goodwill towards others. Americans are, as he says, better than they say. They demonstrate through their actions not their words sincere self-forgetting behavior.

Miracle on 34th Street explores how calculated self-interest can ameliorate some of the worst tendencies of commercialism. Self-interest rightly understood does what Tocqueville says. Yet, self-interest also provides "cover" for characters to act on more noble grounds. Characters makes decisions that require loyalty and resolve that go beyond mere self-interest.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Marines Deployed Abroad Seek Answers Amid Washington's Turmoil  (Ben Kesling, Dec. 23, 2018, WSJ)

BOST AIRFIELD, Afghanistan--On a holiday visit to American troops overseas, Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, was asked by a Marine about President Trump's orders to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

What, the Marine wanted to know, did the orders mean for those on combat deployments?

"That's a really good question," the commandant said. "And the honest answer is I have no idea."

At every stop on his tour, Gen. Neller has faced questions about what the recent drawdown orders and the resignation of Defense SecretaryJim Mattis mean for Marines and for the broader U.S. military strategy in the Middle East.

The questions have come from Marines bundled in parkas while training in Norway as well as those sweating in the heat of Afghanistan, who are eager to know how the turmoil in Washington affects them.

"Are your families asking if you're leaving?" he questioned a group of Marines in Helmand province. Many nodded yes.

"You're not leaving," he deadpanned, to laughs from troops midway through a months-long deployment.

In normal times, the utter disregard of subordinates for the Commander-in-Chief would be scandalous, rather than healthy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


The Uncommon Power of Grace (Peter Wehner, Dec. 23, 2018, NY Times)

In his book "What's So Amazing About Grace?" Philip Yancey describes a conference on comparative religions where experts from around the world debated which belief, if any, was unique to the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis happened to enter the room during the discussion. When he was told the topic was Christianity's unique contribution among world religions, Lewis responded: "Oh, that's easy. It's grace."

Lewis was right. No other religion places grace at its theological center. It was a revolutionary idea; as Mr. Yancey puts it, grace "seems to go against every instinct of humanity." We are naturally drawn to covenants and karma, to cause and effect, to earning what we receive.

Grace is different. It is the unmerited favor of God, unconditional love given to the undeserving. It's a difficult concept to understand because it isn't entirely rational. "Grace defies reason and logic," as Bono, the lead singer of U2, put it. "Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions."

There's a radical equality at the core of grace. None of us are deserving of God's grace, so it's not dependent on social status, wealth or intelligence. There is equality between kings and peasants, the prominent and the unheralded, rule followers and rule breakers.

It's entirely rational: if we could make God behave a certain way by the way we behave then He would be subject to us, instead of vice versa.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Treasury secretary startles Wall Street with unusual pre-Christmas calls to top bank CEOs (Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey, December 23, 2018, Washington Post)

Trump is ensnared in one of the most challenging periods of his presidency, and the stock market's fall has stolen one of his favorite talking points. A partial government shutdown began Saturday morning. Several of his Cabinet officials have departed. At least two people withdrew from consideration to become his next chief of staff, and Democrats have balked at giving him money to build a wall on the Mexico border.

Mnuchin had enjoyed a relatively close relationship with Trump until recent months. Trump has blamed Mnuchin for recommending Powell to the Fed job, and Trump has also fumed at Mnuchin over the stock market's poor performance this year.

Two Trump advisers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the calls would stoke unnecessary alarm. "No one thought we were at crisis level," one of these people said. "It's going to create more of an issue than we had already."

Mnuchin and the president had a call on Saturday to talk about how to reassure the markets. Aides said that Trump knew the Powell story hurt the markets but did not want to defend the Fed chief. So he told Mnuchin to put out a statement.

"Trump is [mad] at him because Powell was his pick. And he thinks Mnuchin is doing a bad job on the economy," said one of the advisers, who suggested Mnuchin's fate could be perilous.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


China imports zero U.S. soybeans in November for first time since trade war started (Reuters, 12/24/18)

China's soybean imports from the United States plunged to zero in November, marking the first time since the trade war between the world's two largest economies started that China, the world's largest soybean buyer, has imported no U.S. supplies.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Trump assails Fed as the 'only problem our economy has' (JOSH BOAK, 12/24/18, AP)

President Donald Trump lashed out at the Federal Reserve on Monday after administration officials spent the weekend trying to assure the public and financial markets that Jerome Powell's job as Fed chairman was safe.

"The only problem our economy has is the Fed," the president tweeted Monday. "They don't have a feel for the Market, they don't understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders. The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can't score because he has no touch -- he can't putt!"

On Wall Street, stocks had already been down but intensified their fall after Trump's tweet. Markets were already facing their worst month in a decade over fears about a U.S. trade war with China, a slowing global economy and chaos in the Trump White House.

It's a Reverse Wonderful Life! Donald inherited Bedford Falls but is trying to make it Pottersville.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Far-Right Proud Boys Reeling After Arrests and Scrutiny (Colin Moynihan and Ali Winston, Dec. 23, 2018, NY Times)

[A]s prosecutors move ahead with charges, the all-male Proud Boys group is in disarray. Ten members have been arrested in connection with the violence, charged with riot and attempted assault as part of an investigation into their activities.

The Proud Boys have been widely condemned as a hate group. Facebook and Instagram have banned the group. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled it a "hate group." An organization called New York City Antifa, whose members describe themselves as "anti-fascists," has named the Proud Boys who were involved in the violence and has posted details about their lives on Twitter.

Even the founder, Gavin McInnes, has distanced himself, announcing on YouTube in late November that he was quitting the group "in all capacities, forever." His departure left the Proud Boys without a figurehead, though the group has since said in an online message that, "We're not going anywhere."

Though Mr. McInnes has said he disavows racism, he wrote that the prominent white nationalist, Richard B. Spencer, "comes across as perfectly reasonable in conversation," and he said Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is black, is "kind of like Sambo." When he quit the group, he blamed "rumors and lies and terrible journalism" for undermining "the greatest fraternal organization in the world." [...]

At the same time, previously unreleased video, obtained by The New York Times, shows that the Proud Boys initiated the attack in Manhattan against a handful of anti-fascist protesters, not the other way around, as Mr. McInnes had initially said.

Prosecutors said at court appearances for some of the accused Proud Boys members that video evidence will prove that the Proud Boys started the fight. [...]

The people who turned out to hear Mr. McInnes speak at the Metropolitan Republican Club in October represented a cross-section of New York's far-right subculture: libertarians, conspiracy theorists and nationalists who have coalesced around their opposition to Islam, feminism and liberal politics.

Irvin Antillon, 49, who is accused of kicking protesters on the ground, is a member of a Latino skinhead group, Batallón 49, who traveled to Charlottesville last year for the "Unite the Right" rally, where an anti-racist protester was killed, experts said.

In one online photograph, he poses shirtless, showing off tattoos of Nazi symbols.

Mr. Hare, 26, of Harrisburg, Pa., was filmed in early October punching leftist protesters at a "Resist Marxism" rally outside the statehouse in Providence, R.I., and traveled to another far-right rally in Portland, Ore., in August, where Vice News Tonight filmed him wearing what appeared to be a bulletproof vest.

Mr. Young, 38, of Rockland County, N.Y., who is accused of punching and kicking three people, has called Muslims "a virus" who "feed off the host nation until it's dead" in an online video.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Trump's Populist Schism Over Syria (Walter Russell Mead, Dec. 23, 2018, WSJ)

The conservative opposition to conventional American foreign policy is anything but monolithic. One group of critics continues the Jeffersonian tradition of preserving American liberties at home by minimizing American involvement abroad. Figures like Sen. Rand Paul and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, speak to this side of the populist coalition. Jeffersonians are skeptical of international institutions and alliances as well as American interventions to protect human rights abroad. They oppose big defense budgets and extensive military deployments and see no reason for an anti-Russia foreign policy. Many believe that Israel seeks to drag the U.S. into Middle East struggles that Washington would do better to avoid. Sen. Paul was quick to announce his support for President Trump's Syria decision.

The other, Jacksonian wing of conservative populism shares the Jeffersonian suspicion of multilateralism and humanitarian interventions, but is more supportive of the American military and of maintaining America's reputation for standing by allies. Jacksonians are hawkish about China, Russia and Iran and favor a strong relationship with Israel. This tendency in American politics is represented by figures like Sen. Tom Cotton, a U.S. Army veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq and has criticized Mr. Trump's Syria decision.

Mr. Trump's beleaguered presidency needs both Jeffersonian and Jacksonian support to survive, and until the Syria decision, he had managed the tension between the two currents pretty effectively. Both Jacksonians and Jeffersonians supported the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and both hailed the president's skepticism about humanitarian intervention. Both sides enjoyed the discomfiture of the foreign-policy establishment when Mr. Trump challenged conventional wisdom, and both praised his willingness to pursue a more unilateral course in foreign affairs.

That harmony may soon sour. Mr. Trump's decisions on Syria and Afghanistan risk a rift between the president and his Jacksonian supporters and provide a way for some in the GOP to break with the president without losing their own populist credentials. The betrayal of the Kurds, the benefits to Iran of American withdrawal, the tilt toward an Islamist and anti-Israel Turkey, and the purrs of satisfaction emanating from the Kremlin are all bitter pills for Jacksonians to swallow.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Trump's Incoming Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan Pushed Military to Buy Weapons It Didn't Want (David Axe, 12.23.18 , Daily Beast)

Pentagon ethics rules require Shanahan to recuse himself from any decisions regarding Boeing. But the plane-maker, which historically places second behind Lockheed Martin as America's biggest defense contractor, has enjoyed a chain of successes winning major competitive contracts.

In August, Boeing snagged a $7-billion contract to build aerial-refueling drones for the Navy. A month later it won a $2.4-billion contract to build helicopters for the Air Force. In September, it also scored a $9-billion contract to build training jets for the flying branch.

A much smaller contract perhaps is the most troubling. On Dec. 21, Bloomberg reported that the Pentagon would request funding in the 2020 defense budget for a dozen upgraded F-15X fighters worth $1.2 billion. Boeing builds the 1970s-vintage, non-stealthy F-15 at its plant in St. Louis.

The Air Force for years has said it does not want more F-15s, instead preferring to order F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed for around the same price as the F-15X, per plane. But the Pentagon reportedly overruled the Air Force and added the new Boeing fighters to the budget.

Shanahan "prodded" planners to include the planes, according to Bloomberg--this despite the requirement that Shanahan recuse himself from decisions involving Boeing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


How to avoid the middle-income trap: Lessons from Poland, a European Tiger (Enrique Aldaz-Carroll, Rogier van den Brink, Emilia Skrok, 12/24/18, Brookings)

Over the last two decades, Poland experienced the most stable high growth in the EU, increasing the size of its economy by two and a half times and raising incomes. In 1994, the Poles had one-fourth less income than the Mexicans did. By 2014, the incomes of Mexicans had grown annually at about 0.9 percent (to $16,300); whereas Poles saw their incomes grow annually at 4.2 percent (to $25,000). In only 20 years, a Pole had become 50 percent richer than a Mexican. [...]

1. Governing
It is important to get the institutions right--economic but also political--and guide reform with a shared vision. What sets Poland apart from the Asian Tigers is that it sustained its high growth with a vibrant democracy--one that supported a shared vision of a socially responsible market economy. Such a vision facilitated remarkable policy continuity spanning 17 governments since democratization. Reforms were sequenced effectively. Rapid liberalization was quickly followed by the creation of a support structure of basic democratic institutions at the local and national level. This support structure, together with the use of EU accession as an anchor, helped create a political consensus for deeper economic institutional change. And the inclusive political institutions at all levels of government also made the Poles pay their taxes, something other transition economies often struggle with but is a key pillar of sustainable public finances.

2. Sustaining
Ensuring macroeconomic stability is key to keep inflation and debt under control. Poland did this through a rules-based but flexible fiscal framework that limited deficits and debt, and a flexible exchange rate backed up by a credible inflation-targeting monetary policy. Poland's effective restructuring, regulating, and supervising of the financial sector also ensured that banking crises were avoided.

3. Connecting
Integrating domestic markets into global markets helps increase firm competitiveness. Poland did this through rapid, but sequenced, integration: cutting tariffs first to help markets "get the prices right," then tackling the more complex soft infrastructure in advance of EU accession, and finally making the most of EU hard infrastructure funds to connect domestic and external markets. Poland welcomed foreign direct investment enabling its domestic firms to participate in global value chains and exposed them to the global markets, which provided access to quality inputs, capital goods, and technological transfers.

End History; succeed. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A Rabbinical Judge Probed Graft Allegations Against ultra-Orthodox Trust. Then Israel's Chief Rabbi Fired Him (Nir Hasson, Dec 24, 2018, Ha'aretz)

Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau, who is responsible for the rabbinical courts, has reassigned a rabbinical court judge who was seeking to investigate irregularities and corruption in ultra-Orthodox nonprofit groups. 

According to people familiar with the issue, Lau yielded to pressure from parties with an interest in stopping the investigation launched by the judge, "dayan" in Hebrew, Rabbi Shlomo Shtasman. Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, the rabbinical courts' legal adviser, told Lau in a letter that Shtasman was even threatened by "people involved in the cases he was hearing."

December 23, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Dershowitz Threatens to Sue a Whole Lot of People over Underage Sex Abuse Allegations (Alberto Luperon, December 23rd, 2018, Law & Crime)

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz threatened to sue the women who alleged that they were forced to have sex with him by billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. But first, he said, they had to make their claims in public, and not in a litigation setting.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Mnuchin speaks with US bank executives to reassure investors after Wall Street whiplash (Donna Borak, December 23, 2018, CNN)

In a precautionary move, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spent Sunday on the phone speaking with the chief executives of some of the country's largest banks to avoid yet another market whiplash when Wall Street opens Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The secretary, who has been visiting his children in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, tried to get ahead of further market jitters following reports that President Donald Trump was consulting advisers about whether he had the legal authority to fire Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell.

"It's being pre-emptive," a person familiar with the matter told CNN. "It's sending the proper message to the market so they can calculate the real picture into their Monday opening. They don't have to wait until something happens to be reassured."

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Alice Walker Endorses anti-Semitism. Marc Lamont Hill Doesn't. Was That So Hard?: When the right-wing pro-Israel community completely writes off all pro-Palestinian advocates as 'anti-Semites' it cheapens the charge of anti-Semitism. That's not only unfair - it's actually dangerous for Jews (Raphael Magarik, Dec 23, 2018, Ha'aretz)

In the past few weeks, two African American leaders have been accused of anti-Semitism - Alice Walker and Marc Lamont Hill. The problem is, only one of them actually made anti-Semitic remarks - Walker. 

And by erasing the difference between Walker's remarks and Hill's, we Jews are minimizing the threat and danger of actual anti-Semitism. In writing off the whole pro-Palestinian movement as anti-Semitic, we lose the ability to call out anti-Semitism when it really happens. Moreover, we lose any leverage over people in that movement. [...]

The problem is what Hill said was not the least bit anti-Semitic. He was punished for advocating wholeheartedly and unapologetically for Palestinian rights - as non-Jews on the Left, and particularly people of color, routinely are.

By contrast, last week, Alice Walker recommended an openly, rabidly anti-Semitic book in the New York Times. And it wasn't even the first time. It turns out she has been praising the book's conspiratorial author, David Icke, for years. [...]

She claimed to have found in the wisdom of Youtube videos "the trail of 'The Talmud' as its poison belatedly winds its way into our collective consciousness."

Walker's awful anti-Semitic comments only serve to highlight how unfairly Hill was treated. Hill and Walker stand on opposite sides of the bright line between criticizing  Israel and expressing anti-Semitism; where Hill restricted himself to politics, Walker attacked Jewishness itself. Hill spoke of liberation; Walker talks conspiracy theories. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


Fed Rate Hikes May Have Already Cost Trump $5 Million a Year (Shahien Nasiripour, December 14, 2018, Bloomberg)

Every time the Fed raises rates, Trump's payments on some $340 million in variable-rate loans go up. Since his January 2017 inauguration, the Fed's steady rate hikes may have added a cumulative $5.1 million a year to his debt service costs, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of the president's financial disclosures and property records.

If Federal Reserve officials raise interest rates by another quarter percentage point when they meet Dec. 18-19, as investors expect, make that $6 million per year.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


For Investors, an Ugly Three Months After 10 Very Good Years (Thomas Heath, 12/22/18, The Washington Post)

The numbers are cosmic.

From the depths of the Great Recession in March 2009 through September of this year, the shares of the 500 largest public U.S. companies grew by $18.9 trillion.

In addition to the rise in stock prices, those 500 businesses delivered $3.1 trillion to their shareholders in the form of dividends.

Add them up, and by September 2018, the total comes to more than the entire $21.9 trillion of federal debt.

"The greatest amount of wealth creation in history" is what Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indices called it.

Then -- well, you know: It's been an ugly three months.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


In Israel, calling someone 'Reform' may get you sued for libel (CNAAN LIPHSHIZ, 12/23/18, Times of Israel)

 "Reform Jew" describes a member of Judaism's largest and most liberal denomination.

In Israel, however, a lawsuit wants it officially recognized as a defamatory insult.

In the libel suit brought by an Orthodox Jewish woman against a rabbi she said defamed her, the adjective "Reform" is listed among the slights.

The dispute pits Adina Bar-Shalom -- a daughter of the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef -- against Rabbi David Benizri, a prominent supporter of the Shas Orthodox movement.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:33 AM


Orrin beat me to my annual post about Christmas jazz with the article about Charlie Parker's White Christmas.  But here are some holiday-themed recordings from my 2 biggest jazz heroes, Benny Carter and Sonny Rollins.

First up is Christmas in New Orleans, featuring Louis Armstrong on vocals and trumpet with Benny Carter's big band.  Bassist and radio host Christian McBride lists this among his favorite Christmas jazz records. 

A Child is Born  is probably the best-known composition by the trumpeter, composer/arranger and bandleader, Thad Jones.  Although not written as a Christmas song, this simple, peaceful and hymn-like melody feels as though it could have been...and so when Thad's older brother, Hank, and Benny Carter recorded it for a jazz Christmas collection, the tune's title was infused with new meaning.

Winter Wonderland is really a winter song about lovers enjoying a snowy day rather than a Christmas song...but it's on every holiday playlist you'll hear.  It's exactly the kind of pop ditty that Sonny Rollins loves to dig into, but instead of playing the tune with its usual bounce, Sonny interprets it as a languid ballad.

Count Your Blessings, written by Irving Berlin, was introduced by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in the film "White Christmas," thus guaranteeing that it would always be thought of as a holiday song...even though its lyrics, too, make no mention of Christmas.  Sonny was a big fan of Crosby's and covered many of Bing's tunes (including I'm an Old Cowhand and Sweet Leilani).  Sonny beautifully caresses and elaborates on the melody, supported by the rhythm section from the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet (of which Rollins was then a member).

Happy holidays and best wishes for a happy, healthy 2019 to all...

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Fake whisky 'infiltrating' rare Scotch market - study (Chris Mercer, December 20, 2018, Decanter)

Tests on 55 'rare' Scotch whiskies have revealed more than a third to be fakes, prompting concern about the scale of counterfeiting in the secondary market.

If genuine, the 21 whiskies would have a combined value of £635,000, said Rare Whisky 101, a valuation and consultancy service that acquired the bottles via the secondary market and commissioned the lab tests - which used radiocarbon dating.

December 22, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Departing Mattis said to cancel Israel trip, as Israel feels 'betrayed' on Syria (Times of Israel, 21 December 2018)

Trump's declaration was met with profound concern in Israel, with the US presence in Syria seen as a barrier to Iran's military efforts there.

A senior Israeli official quoted by Channel 10 said Mattis had informed Israeli leaders Trump might pull out American soldiers from Syria. It was not specified when Mattis reportedly said this.

Channel 10 news reported Wednesday that Netanyahu tried in vain to persuade Trump to change his mind, and that there was tremendous "disappointment" in Jerusalem over the pullout, which is regarded as a victory for Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. [...]

Though top Israeli government officials have publicly refrained from criticizing the move, Channel 10 quoted a senior diplomatic official on Friday harshly criticizing Trump's decision.

"Trump threw us under the wheels of the semi-truck of the Russian army, the one that transfers weapons to Syria and Hezbollah," the unnamed official said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


For Trump, 'a War Every Day,' Waged Increasingly Alone (Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 22, 2018. NY Times)

When President Trump grows frustrated with advisers during meetings, which is not an uncommon occurrence, he sits back in his chair, crosses his arms and scowls. Often he erupts. "Freaking idiots!" he calls his aides. Except he uses a more pungent word than "freaking."

For two years, Mr. Trump has waged war against his own government, convinced that people around him are fools. Angry that they resist his wishes, uninterested in the details of their briefings, he becomes especially agitated when they tell him he does not have the power to do what he wants, which makes him suspicious that they are secretly undermining him. [...]

Mr. Trump is said by advisers to be consumed by the multiplying investigations that have taken down his personal lawyer, campaign chairman, national security adviser and family foundation. He rails against enemies, who often were once friends, nursing a deep sense of betrayal and grievance as they turn on him. [...]

More recently, the president has told associates he feels "totally and completely abandoned," as one put it, complaining that no one is on his side and that many around him have ulterior motives. That extends even to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was credited for helping push through the criminal justice bill, praise that Mr. Trump took note of.

Longtime associates said Mr. Trump's relationship with his children has grown more removed and that he feels he does not have a friend in the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Republican Governor Pardons Immigrants Trump's Been Trying to Deport For Over a Year (Colin Kalmbacher, December 22nd, 2018. lAW & cRIME)

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has pardoned several Iraqi immigrants the Trump administration has been unsuccessfully trying to deport for over a year.

"We're ecstatic," defense attorney Bill Swor told the Detroit Free Press. "These are people who have worked very hard to prove that one mistake does not define their life. We're grateful for Governor Snyder for recognizing that effort and that achievement and taking the steps to correct it."

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Keep Your Eyes on the Narcissist: Donald Trump's Latest Antics Are Driven by Fear of Robert Mueller (James Risen, December 22 2018, The Intercept)

A MALICIOUS LONER paralyzed one of the world's great cities this week. Meanwhile, a drone operator shut down a major international airport.

Donald Trump and the drone enthusiast who halted flights out of London's Gatwick Airport apparently have a lot in common. Both have been willing to wreak havoc with a callous disregard for the public.

The motivation behind Trump's pre-holiday assault on Washington -- sewing chaos, breaking promises, shutting down the federal government, changing his policies from one minute to the next, forcing out one top official after another, spooking the stock market - is easily explained. Trump is a psychopathic criminal who feels cornered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, so he is lashing out in every direction.

After two years in office, at least one thing about Trump has become predictable: He reacts violently whenever Mueller appears to be making progress in his investigation. When he hears Mueller's footsteps, Trump has one go-to move that he cynically uses time and again: He returns to the issues and slogans that energize his base, no matter what the cost. He embraces his base because he believes it will provide him political protection from the fearful Mueller.

Trump has plenty of reason to worry about Mueller these days. The signs are everywhere that Mueller's investigation is intensifying and closing in on Trump and the crooks around him.

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


Trump lashed out at Whitaker after explosive Cohen revelations (Laura Jarrett and Pamela Brown, December 21, 2018, CNN)

President Donald Trump has at least twice in the past few weeks vented to his acting attorney general, angered by federal prosecutors who referenced the President's actions in crimes his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Trump was frustrated, the sources said, that prosecutors Matt Whitaker oversees filed charges that made Trump look bad. 

You ain't seen nuthin' yet.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Reliable Allies Refuse to Defend a President Content With Chaos (Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 21, 2018, NY Times)

In other corners of the rattled capital, his most reliable allies refused to defend him on his decision to pull back troops from the Middle East.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a reliable lieutenant in partisan battle, is now one of the president's most vocal critics on Syria. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, issued a rare statement that he was "distressed" by the departure of the defense secretary, Jim Mattis. Even Fox News, the mirror Mr. Trump has used to reflect the story of a presidency reshaped in his own image, has broadcast segments critical of his abrupt decision to pull troops.

As he lost the public support of those once willing to step forward on his behalf, Mr. Trump grew angry over his news coverage and told people close to him that he would be fine without Mr. Mattis. He rebuffed them for even expressing concern.

Mr. Trump also privately groused about having to postpone departure plans for his 16-day trip to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort. On Friday, Melania Trump, the first lady, had already made plans to leave town with the couple's son Barron, according to her spokeswoman. Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, who are also planning to go to Mar-a-Lago, were preparing to stay with Mr. Trump in Washington, an administration official said.

Outside the family, a litany of staffing problems loomed as the shutdown deadline drew nearer. Mr. Trump privately complained that Mr. Mulvaney, who stepped into the vacancy left by John F. Kelly after others turned down the chief of staff position, had given him few options for averting the shutdown.

As the day drew on, reports surfaced that Mr. Mulvaney, who is set to take over for Mr. Kelly on Jan. 2, had once called Mr. Trump's plans for a border wall "absurd and almost childish."

An insult to children.

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


U.S. State Department says special envoy McGurk resigns (Reuters, 12/22/18)

A person familiar with the matter said McGurk has quit because he objected to President Donald Trump's decision to pull out U.S. troops from Syria, a decision followed by the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis a day later. CBS reported McGurk's resignation earlier on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


Mississippi's Republican governor quietly considering Medicaid expansion: The term-limited Phil Bryant has been holding secret talks after an election that showed strong support for the Obamacare program in red states. (PAUL DEMKO, 12/22/2018, Politico)

Mississippi's Republican governor is considering Medicaid expansion, the first sign that long-held GOP opposition could be wilting in the Deep South after an election that was a big winner for the Obamacare program.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, entering his final year in office, has been engaged in quiet talks about adopting expansion after resisting for years, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

The behind-the-scenes move comes as a surprisingly viable Democratic gubernatorial candidate is planning to make Medicaid expansion a central issue in the 2019 election. But in an even more unlikely scenario, Republicans could beat him to it and undercut a key Democratic message.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


The Greatest Jazz Christmas Performance of All Time (Colin Fleming, 12/19/18, Jazz Times)

The Royal Roost, which was located at 1580 Broadway, was originally a chicken restaurant. It struggled to make a profit, and the would-be poulter, Ralph Watkins, sold it to Sid Torin. You might not know his given name, but you'll recognize his nom de jazz of Symphony Sid, the man who turned a place to nosh on some legs and breasts into a venue that did worlds for postwar jazz, helping bebop to blossom and send its seeds a'wafting into millions of homes, courtesy of the radio. Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, Miles Davis, and of course the Bird were all Roost regulars. The club was near the Met, which led to its dashing handle of "the Metropolitan Bopera House." In jazz, even a nickname is a hot lick.

At this point in his career, Parker has already done a lot of his innovating. The core bebop texts have been waxed, and he's nursing a dream to record with strings, one he'll realize in November of the next year. He's an inventor still, but a lot of that invention is glimpsed in live performance. Bird has some stalwart help this holiday morning at the Roost: Max Roach on drums, Al Haig on piano, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Bennie Green on trombone, among others. Symphony Sid certainly does not sound dimmed by any revelries from the previous evening. If he had been out late wassailing, you'd not know it. He's clearly gassed to have the Bird for Christmas morning, and that energy feels pervasive. Miles Davis' "Half Nelson" is taken at a gallop; we are obviously not here to lollygag over Bloody Marys at brunch. Sometimes Bird's lines could become enjambed, like he was thinking so quickly that one figure would run into the backside of another, maybe several others--but here, right now, he's bang on. The number feels complete, total, definitive, but also a setup. Rarely do we feel that we are both wholly satiated and just getting started. But we are.

Sid takes the microphone at the close of the number. "You know, somebody called a little while ago at the studio," he says, as you can just make out Haig lightly chording away on the piano, "and they said, 'I wonder if you'd get Bird to do something on Christmas.'" You can hear that Sid didn't think this request would necessarily be met with open arms. "Well, it's fitting," he says, more to himself than any of us, a replay of the thought process he had when the caller gave Sid his idea. "This is Christmas morning ... and the Bird's got a little arrangement, a little surprise for you, on 'White Christmas.'" As he's talking, Haig's piano chords are coming up ever so slightly in volume until, with the close of Sid's announcement, they instigate the performance proper.

These days, we cannot get away from "White Christmas." For some of us that's an annoyance--no matter how great the tune--and for others, like myself, it's a welcome sound each and every time it's encountered, so long as it's by an artist who's up to handling the job. Give me Bing, give me Clyde McPhatter, give me Elvis. Crosby gave the first public performance of the song on Christmas 1941, cutting it the next year for release as a package of songs from Holiday Inn, in late July 1942. The master was then used over and over again to the point that it was deteriorating, such was the song's popularity. (Crosby had to re-record the song due to that raddled master; what you usually hear on the radio is a version he taped in 1947, which put the song back in the American consciousness, although it had never really left.)

That original 1942 version made No. 1 on the Harlem Hit Parade, the first time Crosby reached the top spot on black charts. This is not surprising to me. The song is no work of Hollywood bunkum. It's bluesy as hell, and the blues, just like a ghost story, is perfect for Christmas. Think of something like Judy Garland's performance of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"--its blues feel is every bit as strong as anything by Skip James. Think of how many carols work from within the context of a bluesy minor key, and how they have a fraughtness to them that tends to elude popular songs. They appear to be pregnant with what we might think of as the overarching, the ineffable.

Now the blues tends to be slow and bebop, naturally, is fast. But everything in Parker, if you know how to listen to it, is passed through a blues filter. He must have heard Crosby's version of "White Christmas" and filed it away as an idea to return to later, in his time, in his fashion. For an artist to take a pop song and turn it into a veritable secular carol is among the greatest achievements of seasonal song alchemy. Perhaps something best undertook by a tuneful Santa, or the elfin equivalent of Rudolph, with his unique skill set. Or a transcendent alto saxophonist.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


The Real Roots of American Rage: The untold story of how anger became the dominant emotion in our politics and personal lives--and what we can do about it. (CHARLES DUHIGG, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019, The Atlantic)

Averill's expectations were modest. He assumed that most Greenfield residents would say they only infrequently lost their temper. He expected respondents to confess that they were embarrassed afterward, and that, in retrospect, their paroxysms had only made things worse. In fact, he figured most people would toss the questionnaire in the trash.

Then the survey from the aggrieved wife arrived. Other replies soon began flooding his mailbox, so many that Averill had trouble reading them all. "It was the best-performing survey I've ever conducted," he told me. "Some people even attached thank-you notes. They were so pleased to talk about being angry." The replies contained unanticipated responses: The betrayed wife, it turned out, wasn't all that upset about the mistress--she had harbored suspicions for years, and to be frank, if another woman was willing to put up with her husband, more power (and sympathy) to her. But how dare he show her the new car first?

Other respondents described more mundane arguments, over who ought to take out the trash, or curfews for teenagers, or snappish tones at the dinner table. People were eager to talk about their daily indignations, in part because they felt angry so frequently. "Most people report becoming mildly to moderately angry anywhere from several times a day to several times a week," Averill later wrote, summing up his research in American Psychologist.

Most surprising of all, these angry episodes typically took the form of short and restrained conversations. They rarely became blowout fights. And contrary to Averill's hypothesis, they didn't make bad situations worse. Instead, they tended to make bad situations much, much better. They resolved, rather than exacerbated, tensions. When an angry teenager shouted about his curfew, his parents agreed to modifications--as long as the teen promised to improve his grades. Even the enraged wife's confrontation with her unfaithful husband led to a productive conversation: He could keep the mistress, as long as she was out of sight and as long as the wife always took priority.

In the vast majority of cases, expressing anger resulted in all parties becoming more willing to listen, more inclined to speak honestly, more accommodating of each other's complaints. People reported that they tended to be much happier after yelling at an offending party. They felt relieved, more optimistic about the future, more energized. "The ratio of beneficial to harmful consequences was about 3 to 1 for angry persons," Averill wrote. Even the targets of those outbursts agreed that the shouting and recriminations had helped. They served as signals for the wrongdoers to listen more carefully and change their ways. More than two-thirds of the recipients of anger "said they came to realize their own faults," Averill wrote. Their "relationship with the angry person was reportedly strengthened more often than it was weakened, and the targets more often gained rather than lost respect for the angry person."

Anger, Averill concluded, is one of the densest forms of communication. It conveys more information, more quickly, than almost any other type of emotion. And it does an excellent job of forcing us to listen to and confront problems we might otherwise avoid.

Subsequent studies have found other benefits as well. We're more likely to perceive people who express anger as competent, powerful, and the kinds of leaders who will overcome challenges. Anger motivates us to undertake difficult tasks. We're often more creative when we're angry, because our outrage helps us see solutions we've overlooked. "When we look at the brains of people who are expressing anger, they look very similar to people who are experiencing happiness," says Dacher Keltner, the director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab. "When we become angry, we feel like we're taking control, like we're getting power over something." Watching angry people--as viewers of reality television know--is highly entertaining, so expressing anger is a surefire method for capturing the attention of an otherwise indifferent crowd.

In the years after his survey, Averill watched as anger studies became the focus of academic specialties and prestigious journals. In 1992 alone, social scientists published almost 25,000 studies of anger.

Then, in early 2016, Averill was watching newscasts about the presidential primaries. The election season had barely started, and the Republican field was still crowded. Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, giving the Republican rebuttal to President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address, took a subtle jab at one of her party's candidates--a clownish figure the establishment hoped to marginalize.

"During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation," Haley told voters. "Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That's just not true."

Soon afterward, reporters swarmed Donald Trump to ask how he felt about such a public renunciation. "Well, I think she's right, I am angry," Trump told CNN. "I'm angry, and a lot of other people are angry, too, at how incompetently our country is being run." Trump continued: "As far as I am concerned, anger is okay. Anger and energy is what this country needs."

As Averill watched, he felt a shock of recognition. Everyone believed Trump would be out of the race soon. But Averill wasn't so sure. "He understands anger," he thought to himself, "and it's going to make voters feel wonderful." [...]

Trump made the most of this animosity during his campaign, as Averill predicted he would; he has mastered the levers of emotional manipulation better than any of his political opponents. But our predicament predates the current president. In 2001, just 8 percent of Americans told Pew they were angry at the federal government; by 2013, that number had more than tripled. [...]

But moral outrage must be closely managed, or it can do more harm than good. Ganz, who eventually became a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School, has spent years teaching people how to use their anger to effect change. Stoking the emotion is easy. Learning how to channel it to useful ends, he told me, is harder. For anger to be productive, at some point, it must stop. Victory often demands compromise. "You have to know how to arouse passions to fuel the fight, and then how to cool everyone down so they'll accept the deal on the table," Ganz said.

Donald uses Trumpbot anger to distract them from his corruption, not to achieve anything.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


You Can't Serve Both Trump and America (Eliot A. Cohen, 12/22/18, The Atlantic)

The story is told of Jim Mattis, when he was the commanding general at Quantico, relieving a young lance corporal on Christmas. The rest of that wintry day, those entering the front gate of the Marine base were startled to see that the sentry was a general, checking passes and waving cars through so that a young man could spend the holiday with his family. It is the kind of behavior animated by sentiments Donald Trump could not understand, and it reflected a kind of code by which he cannot live.

The president misunderstood his secretary of defense. The Jim Mattis one saw on the battlefields of Afghanistan and in the shattered cities of Iraq was not "Mad Dog," a sobriquet he loathed, but a resolute military leader who was a reader and a thinker. Give him a copy of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, and he would compare it with the other two editions that he already owned.

He was, to be sure, a fierce enemy. In 2005, he got into trouble for saying, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." He was also the man who said, "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet." And he meant it. He did not think you had to hate an enemy to kill him, but that just made him a more formidable leader in combat. His menace to America's battlefield enemies was that of the superbly calm tactician, not the blood-crazed berserker.

Mattis was also the man who said, "Engage your brain before you engage your weapon," the commander who praised the quick-thinking Marine squad leader who was smart enough to take a knee when he saw a Shia funeral procession filled with armed men walk by in the newly liberated streets of Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq. And above all, he was the division commander who, when his tour was over, got in a car and crossed the country visiting families of his fallen Marines. To see him explaining to his security detail and his driver the political importance of driving into downtown Ramadi to hobnob with the potentially hostile sheikhs was to see leadership of a subtle kind. Those young Marines were ready to follow him anywhere. Literally, anywhere. [...]

The departure of Jim Mattis from government service is proof that you cannot have it all. You have to walk if you are to remain the human being you were, or conceived yourself being, before you went in. He alone refused to curry favor, to pander at the painful televised Cabinet sessions, or to praise someone who deserved none of it. In the end, he could not do his job and serve the country as he knew it had to be served. No one could.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Dow's worst week since 2008 financial crisis; Nasdaq closes in bear market (David Goldman,  December 21, 2018,  CNN Business)

The Dow just suffered its deepest weekly plunge since 2008 and the Nasdaq is officially in a bear market.

The miserable performance reflects deepening fears on Wall Street of an economic slowdown and overly-aggressive Federal Reserve.

If President Pence just ends the trade and immigration wars he can restore the W/Obama boom.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


10 Pros And Cons Of Coffee Everyone Should Probably Be Aware Of (Coffee Abode)


1. Drinking Coffee In Moderation Is Good For Your Brain

Studies have begun to suggest that daily, moderate coffee consumption may help to reduce the risk of developing brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia, thanks to its antioxidants.

The antioxidants in coffee may help to prevent damage to brain cells while also raising cognitive function. While you may not notice these benefits as you drink your daily cup of joe on a regular basis, these positive effects are long-term benefits.

As usual, drinking coffee in moderation is key, as these projected benefits are based on consuming three cups of coffee per day at most.

You might be interested in: Does Coffee Make You Smarter?

2. Coffee Consumption May Aid With Weight Loss

Coffee is a stimulant for the bowels as well as a natural diuretic, which can help to regulate our bodies digestion cycle.

Many today resort to weight loss or chemically created fat burning pill. But coffee is natural and possibly more effective than weight loss pills. As a bonus, calories are burned more quickly after drinking coffee due to a boosted metabolism thanks to both the coffee and your efforts. [...]

4. Coffee May Be Good For Your Heart In The Right Doses

Coffee can have positive effects on your cardiovascular system over time when in moderation, or in this case between two and six cups per day.

Drinking coffee has been linked in studies by the American Heart Association to a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease (as far in the future as ten years) and may even have the potential to protect against stroke and heart failure.

However, it still is not clear whether higher coffee consumption may have a significant impact, as nearly every individual who took part in the study usually consumed six or less cups of coffee per day

6. Regular Coffee Consumption May Help To Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Scientists are studying coffee's antioxidant compounds (more specifically, chlorogenic acid and quinides). This led them to theorize that they contribute to our cell's' insulin sensitivity, which our bodies use to regulate blood sugar.

It is possible that coffee's natural caffeine content may limit this benefit, giving decaffeinated coffee an added benefit despite its lack of energy boosting power.

In this case, consuming in moderation still allows you to drink two to four cups of coffee per day to enjoy this benefit

It's also crazy cheap and easy to make.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Is It Finally Getting Easier to Do Business in Brazil? (OTAVIANO CANUTO, NOVEMBER 27, 2018, Americas Quarterly)

Despite improvement, Brazil's absolute distance from the "efficiency frontier" - a baseline level indicating best practices in several categories - remains large. 

An obvious place to start with additional reform is the tax system, whose complexity makes fulfilling even basic obligations a challenge. Here, Brazil ranks 184th out of 190 in the World Bank report. Reducing high barriers to trade with foreign countries would also help increase productivity and growth.

Brazil has taken steps to improve its credit market, but here too there is a chance for more progress. In addition to the newly approved electronic receivables registry, Congressional approval of a "positive credit registry," similar to a consumer credit rating system, would have a positive effect on risk assessment and bank spreads. A new bankruptcy bill is also on the agenda, which would complement the truncated reform that was approved in the first half of the last decade.

Widening the space for greater competition in credit options for consumers, including via fintechs, would also help improve access to finance. Facilitating such access on a sustainable basis and not depending on public sector favors would not only improve the business environment, but also strengthen foundations for higher economic growth.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


A New Center Being Born: The market and the welfare state go together. (David Brooks, Dec. 20, 2018, NY Times)

 Niskanen thinkers like Ed Dolan, Samuel Hammond and Will Wilkinson made a simple and empirically verifiable observation. The nations that have the freest markets also generally have the most generous welfare states. The two are not in opposition. In the real world they go together.

The key distinction you have to make, Will Wilkinson writes, is between the redistributive state and the regulatory state. Nations like Denmark, Sweden and Canada built elaborate redistributive states to give their citizens a foundation of economic security. Then they realized they were going to have to liberalize their economies if they were going to be able to afford their welfare states.

Today, those nations have many fewer regulations governing zoning and economic activity. They score very high on the rankings of economic freedom that are put together by conservative outfits like the Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute.

Last week, Niskanen released a comprehensive report called, "The Center Can Hold: Public Policy for an Age of Extremes," written by Brink Lindsey, Steven Teles, Wilkinson and Hammond. The report is a manifesto for a new centrism based on what the authors call a "free-market welfare state" model.

They want government to protect citizens against the disruptions of global capitalism: "Without strong income supports that put a floor beneath displaced workers and systems that smooth the transition to new employment, political actors and the public tend to turn against the process of creative destruction itself."

At the same time, they want an open, dynamic society. They want to reduce restrictive zoning and land use regulations that favor the rich and entrenched. They see immigration as crucial to America's long-term prosperity. They want charter schools and wider choice, but within strong government structures to ensure quality. (It turns out that bad charter schools continue to attract students; the education market doesn't work totally unregulated.)

The Niskanen authors are making a compelling case for moderation; for understanding that politics is striking a rough but workable balance between competing goods; for understanding that the world is complex and our knowledge is limited, and so it's best to proceed constantly, but skeptically.

There's no future other than First Way means to achieve Second Way ends.  And it is being driven by two simple realities: globalization and technology are stripping labor of value; and capitalism works best if capital is held universally.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Welcome to the Bulwark Podcast  (Episode 1,  December 21st, 2018)

Bill Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard, tells host Charlie Sykes that the spirit of the magazine will live on. Plus, Mattis, Syria, the shutdown, and much more.

Mr. Sykes's Daily Standard podcast was especially good.
Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Iran Says U.S. Troops In Syria 'Cause Of Instability' From The Start (Radio Liberty, December 22, 2018)

Iran's Foreign Ministry says the presence of U.S. troops in Syria has been "illogical and a source of tension" from the very start, in its first official reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

The point of US foreign policy since the Founding has been to destabilize undemocratic regimes. Withdrawing from Syria has the great advantage of destabilizing several and luring the Salafi back into the kill zone.

December 21, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


The 2020 Democratic frontrunner is a Republican (Matthew Walther, December 21, 2018, The Week)

This voting record suggests that O'Rourke is very slightly to the left of West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whom President Trump has come close to nominating for a Cabinet post. In what sense, exactly, is Beto a "progressive"?

I can understand why some naive Democrats, for strictly partisan at-least-he's-not-the-other-guy reasons, were big paid-up Beto supporters in his failed 2018 Senate campaign, and show signs of going the same way in 2020. What I do not understand is why ostensibly committed left-wingers would give this corporate shill the time of day. When Elizabeth Bruenig of The Washington Post, a socialist Texan, dared to write a mildly critical column about Beto in her newspaper, she received thousands of hateful messages accusing her of being a crypto-Trumpist collaborator who hates immigrants and the poor.

That does put him well to the UR's left.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Parkland shooter's mom hated Trump. When she died, he put a Trump hat in her casket (DAVID OVALLE AND NICHOLAS NEHAMAS, DECEMBER 20, 2018, Miami Herald)

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was obsessed with guns -- and to the chagrin of his mother, also appeared to be a fan of President Donald Trump.

So when his mother, "a liberal anti-gun type," died in 2017, Cruz used his own "Trump hat" to get a twisted final word on their political differences, a friend told police in a 425-page investigative report released on Thursday.

"Due to the fact that his mother hated Donald Trump he put it in her casket with her when she died and took a picture of her with the hat," the friend, Hunter McCutcheon, told a detective, according to a report authored by the lead detective in the criminal case against the confessed mass murderer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Supreme Court upholds block on Trump's asylum ban (Caroline Kelly and Ariane de Vogue, 12/31/18, CNN)

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal judge's order blocking the Trump administration's new asylum restrictions.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices in the 5-4 ruling.

The one unforgivable sin for the Trumpbots is failing at racial hygienics.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Trump is already mad at his future chief of staff (Brendan Morrow, 12/21/18, The Week)

["D]id you know [Mulvaney] called me 'a terrible human being' back during the campaign?"

Mulvaney will begin his tenure as chief of staff in the new year, although with the president fuming at him long before his actual start date, it remains to be seen whether he could somehow outdo Trump's former communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, and set the new record for shortest White House stint.

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Who moves to California? The wealthier and better educated, mostly (MARGOT ROOSEVELT, DEC 21, 2018, LA Times)

High taxes. Stifling regulations. Exorbitant housing costs. Freeway gridlock. Fires and floods.

Hand-wringing over an exodus of disillusioned Californians may be a Golden State pastime, the subject of political punditry and strung-out social media threads.

But the latest data are far from dire. The U.S. Census Bureau, in its newly released surveys for 2017, shows that California's net migration remained fairly stable. Since 2010, as the economic recovery took hold and housing prices skyrocketed, departures accelerated -- but the number of newcomers rose steadily as well.

The state attracts a steady stream of college graduates, especially from the East Coast, even as many less-educated residents move to neighboring states -- and to Texas -- in search of a lower cost of living.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Trump call with Turkish leader led to US pullout from Syria (MATTHEW LEE and SUSANNAH GEORGE, 12/21/18, AP) 

With Erdogan on the line, Trump asked national security adviser John Bolton, who was listening in, why American troops remained in Syria if what the Turkish president was saying was true, according to the officials. Erdogan's point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, U.S. special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 percent of its territory, the officials said.

Bolton stressed, however, that the entire national security team agreed that victory over IS had to be enduring, which means more than taking away its territory.

Trump was not dissuaded, according to the officials, who said the president quickly capitulated by pledging to withdraw, shocking both Bolton and Erdogan.

Caught off guard, Erdogan cautioned Trump against a hasty withdrawal, according to one official. While Turkey has made incursions into Syria in the past, it does not have the necessary forces mobilized on the border to move in and hold the large swaths of northeastern Syria where U.S. troops are positioned, the official said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


In America, a gay socialist Muslim is an arch-Federalist.
Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


A New Survey Finds Kamala Harris Has Big Support For A Presidential Run From Top Democratic Women Of Color (Ryan C. Brooks, 12/18/18, BuzzFeed News)

The survey results, provided to BuzzFeed News by She the People, a new network advocating for women of color in politics, show a majority of respondents -- 71.1% -- includes Harris in their top three choices for president, if she decides to run.

The second most popular candidate was Rep. Beto O'Rourke, whose closer-than-expected Senate race against Ted Cruz in Texas this year has propelled him into the national spotlight. O'Rourke was a top three choice for 38.3% of respondents, followed by Joe Biden for 25%, Sen. Cory Booker for 24.2%, Sen. Elizabeth Warren for 22.3%, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams for 15.2%, and Sen. Bernie Sanders for 12.1%.

Women of color are a key voting demographic for the Democratic Party in elections across the country, and consistently turn out to vote at high rates. In Southern primaries, including early states like South Carolina, black women compose a large portion of the electorate and helped secure the nomination for Hillary Clinton over Sanders in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


How Trump Made War on Angela Merkel and Europe: The German Chancellor and other European leaders have run out of patience with the President. (Susan B. Glasser, 12/24/18, The New Yorker)

On November 16, 2016, eight days after Trump was elected, Barack Obama flew to Berlin to meet with Merkel; it was the last foreign trip of his Presidency. Obama and Merkel had not started out as good friends, but they had become as close as two public figures could be. Over dinner in the Adlon Hotel, they discussed the shocking events of the previous few months, particularly Great Britain's referendum to leave the European Union and Trump's victory running on the slogan "America First." Through the windows of their private dining room, Merkel and Obama could see the floodlit Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of a reunified Berlin.

Merkel, who was nearing the end of her third term, confided that she reluctantly felt that she had to run again, in order to be a buffer against Trump, Brexit, and the surge of right-wing populism throughout Europe. Obama urged her to do so. "Obama was obsessed with the fate of Europe during his last year in office," Charles Kupchan, who served as Obama's top National Security Council adviser on European affairs and accompanied him on the trip, told me. After the election, the situation seemed even more urgent. "His view was that Merkel was needed to keep Europe together," Kupchan said. "He was afraid that, without Merkel, Humpty Dumpty was going to fall off the wall."

The dinner was emotional. Obama later told Benjamin Rhodes, his deputy national-security adviser, that he had said to Merkel that the Trump Presidency would be like a storm. Obama told her to just "try to find some high ground," and hold on to it, Rhodes recalled to me. By the time they said good night, three hours later, it was the longest that Obama had been alone with another world leader in his eight years in office. In an adjoining room, advisers to Merkel and Obama were concluding their own dinner. Rhodes offered a rueful toast: To Angela Merkel, he said, now "the leader of the free world."

Rhodes was not the first to bestow this title on Merkel. When Time named her its Person of the Year, in 2015, it called her "Chancellor of the Free World," citing her decision to take in more than a million refugees. Merkel's immigration policy infuriated Trump, and he seized on it to help define his candidacy for the White House. "I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year," Trump tweeted. "They picked person who is ruining Germany." He often brought the Chancellor up on the campaign trail in 2016, saying at a rally in March, "What Merkel did to Germany, it's a sad, sad shame."

Before the election, Henry Kissinger had visited Berlin, and he advised German officials to arrange a meeting with Jared Kushner, which they did, although the German policy élite, like the rest of the world, didn't think Trump would win. "We were extremely poorly prepared for this," Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German Ambassador to the United States, who now heads the Munich Security Conference, told me. "I think everybody has been in quite a state of shock."

After Trump was elected, other world leaders schemed to play golf with Trump or schmooze him at Trump Tower. Merkel, for her part, released a statement, at once congratulating the President-elect and subtly announcing their differences. It spoke of "common values," including "democracy, liberty, respect of the law and of human dignity."

The foreign-policy establishment, in both Washington and Berlin, told Merkel and her advisers that Trump was sometimes unpredictable and volatile, but not an existential threat. He was ignorant, but would be constrained by his staff. He didn't really mean what he said. One veteran of Republican Administrations recommended "strategic patience," telling a senior German diplomat to ignore the tweets and focus on policy. Other Europeans received similar advice and came to similar conclusions. Rob Malley, a senior Obama adviser on Europe, who now heads the International Crisis Group, said, of the French, "Their view was that you shouldn't take irreversible steps as the result of a reversible Presidency."

From the start, Merkel entertained no illusions that Trump could be easily managed. Still, she had surmounted serious differences with Trump's two predecessors, George W. Bush and Obama, and became close partners with both. When Merkel took office, in late 2005, Germany had not moved past its antipathy for Bush, whose invasion of Iraq had opened a rift with her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. But Merkel and Bush got along, and their unlikely friendship was captured for the cameras when Bush gave her a back rub at a G-8 summit. With Obama, a decisive moment came in 2014, when Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Obama and Merkel worked together to form a coherent response to Putin's aggression, imposing sanctions and demanding peace talks. By 2016, they spoke as often as once a week and had what advisers for both leaders told me was a genuine personal and intellectual connection.

Russia figured heavily in the dinner conversation at the Adlon: Trump was threatening to abandon the Ukraine policy and embrace Putin. Obama's lobbying that night to get Merkel to run for a fourth term was, I've been told by German sources, critical in her considerations. "I think the Chancellor listened very carefully to what [Obama] said," a senior German official told me. As Rhodes recounts in his memoir, "The World as It Is," when Obama left the country, on November 18th, he thought he saw a tear rolling down Merkel's face as she said goodbye. Obama turned to Rhodes and said, "Angela, she's all alone." Two days later, Merkel announced that, because of "insecure times," she was running again. However, she cautioned those who hoped that she would be a foil for Trump and the Trump-friendly forces throughout Europe: "No person alone, not even the most experienced, can turn things to good in Germany, Europe, and the world, especially not a Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Gutierrez: 'Thank God There Wasn't a Wall' When Jesus Fled into Egypt (JACK CROWE, December 20, 2018, National Review)

Representative Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.) lashed out at Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen during a Congressional hearing Thursday, accusing her and her colleagues of betraying Christian values by enforcing immigration law and pushing for the construction of a border wall.

"It is repugnant to me and astonishing to me that during Christmas ... a time in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a Jesus Christ who had to flee for his life with Mary and Joseph," Gutierrez shouted. "Thank God there wasn't a wall that stopped him from seeking refuge in Egypt. Thank God that wall wasn't there, and thank God there wasn't an administration like this or he would too have perished."

"Shame on everybody that separates children and allows them to stay on the other side of the border fearing death, fearing sickness," he concluded. "Shame on us for wearing our badge of Christianity during Christmas, and allowing the secretary to come here and lie."

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Will the Nation Heed the Warning Jim Mattis Delivered Today? (DAVID FRENCH, December 20, 2018, National Review)

Donald Trump is at a pivotal moment. He can heed General Mattis's warning -- delivered publicly, firmly, and respectfully -- or he can continue down his current, reckless path. This letter represents America's most-respected warrior telling the nation that he does not believe the president sees our enemies clearly, understands the importance of our alliances, or perceives the necessity of American leadership. We should be deeply troubled.

But this isn't just a pivotal moment for Trump. Republicans in Congress believed that General Mattis's appointment was one of Trump's best decisions as president, and Mattis's very presence at the Pentagon reassured the party and (more importantly) the public that an inexperienced, impulsive, president would listen to wise counsel. After reading this letter, will Republicans in Congress retain their faith in Trump's judgment? Will they continue to view him as the leader of the GOP, the man they defer to in politics and policy?

Now is the time for Republicans in Congress to declare their independence from the Republican in the White House and refuse once and for all to rubber-stamp Donald Trump's whims and desires.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A Top Aide's Exit Plan Raises Eyebrows in the White House (Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos, Dec. 20, 2018, NY Times)

After weeks of discussions about his future, Zachary D. Fuentes, the 36-year-old deputy White House chief of staff, had a plan.

Mr. Fuentes told colleagues that after his mentor, John F. Kelly, left his job as chief of staff at the end of the year, he would "hide out" at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, for six months, remaining on the payroll in a nebulous role. Then, in July, when he had completed 19 years of service in the Coast Guard, Mr. Fuentes -- an active-duty officer -- would take advantage of an early retirement program.

The program, referred to as temporary early retirement authority, had lapsed for Coast Guard officials at the end of the 2018 fiscal year, and, according to people briefed on the discussions, Department of Homeland Security officials began pressing Congress in November to reinstate it. Administration officials said they had been told that Mr. Fuentes discussed the program with officials at the Department of Homeland Security, and after reporters raised questions with lawmakers of both parties, a provision to reinstate it was abruptly pulled from a House bill on Wednesday.

The White House declined to answer questions about whether Mr. Fuentes had pressed to have the program restarted, saying only that he planned to remain on for a time as a senior adviser to aid in the transition to a new chief of staff. But in interviews, nearly a dozen White House and administration aides, none of whom would speak on the record, raised concerns about how they believed Mr. Fuentes planned to use government resources in the coming months.

December 20, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Sisi Isn't Mubarak. He's Much Worse.: Egypt faced terrible repression during the Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak eras, but nothing like today's sustained cruelty. (STEVEN A. COOK | DECEMBER 19, 2018, Foreign Policy)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi achieved something impressive in the last few weeks: He made remarks that, in their loopiness, managed to outdo U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign rallies. In a televised address he declared, "The situation was this way, we were this way, and despite it being this way, we went this way. That is the miracle." Then, a few days later, while imploring Egyptians to lose weight and exercise more, he added, "Even in the media we have to choose guests who take care of their bodies."

One has to wonder whether Sisi is cracking under the extraordinary pressure of being in charge of a country that seems to be ungovernable. No doubt he has established some political control since coming to power, but it is hard to make the case that Sisi is actually governing. In the last six months, Egyptians have been forced to endure a potato shortage and water scarcity. Instead of addressing the issues that the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to housing recently highlighted, the government attacked her and the people she interviewed in the course of her research.

In the most basic sense, Sisi faces a crisis of authority; he seems incapable of using the authority he already wields. His supporters are now moving to solve that problem by giving him more. They want to amend the 2014 constitution either to extend the president's term in office or possibly abolish presidential term limits entirely. Egyptian officials and Sisi's supporters previously vowed that this would never happen. They claimed that Egypt had changed. No one believed them--and their skepticism was clearly justified. 

It's long past time for the Brotherhood to be allowed to govern freely.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Beto O'Rourke frequently voted for Republican legislation, analysis reveals (David Sirota,  20 Dec 2018, The Guardian)

[A] new analysis of congressional votes from the non-profit news organisation Capital & Main shows that even as O'Rourke represented one of the most solidly Democratic congressional districts in the United States, he has frequently voted against the majority of House Democrats in support of Republican bills and Trump administration priorities.

Capital & Main reviewed the 167 votes O'Rourke has cast in the House in opposition to the majority of his own party during his six-year tenure in Congress. Many of those votes were not progressive dissents alongside other left-leaning lawmakers, but instead votes to help pass Republican-sponsored legislation.

O'Rourke has voted for GOP bills that his fellow Democratic lawmakers said reinforced Republicans' anti-tax ideology, chipped away at the Affordable Care Act (ACA), weakened Wall Street regulations, boosted the fossil fuel industry and bolstered Donald Trump's immigration policy.

Consumer, environmental, public health and civil rights organizations have cast legislation backed by O'Rourke as aiding big banks, undermining the fight against climate change and supporting Trump's anti-immigrant agenda. During the previous administration, Barack Obama's White House issued statements slamming two GOP bills backed by the 46-year-old Democratic legislator.

O'Rourke's votes for Republican legislation - which at times put him at odds with a majority of Texas Democratic lawmakers in Congress - underscore his membership in the New Democrat Coalition, the faction of House Democrats most closely aligned with business interests.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Mattis resignation letter lists ways he was "not aligned" with Trump (Zachary Basu, Haley Britzky, 12/20/18, Axios)

The Pentagon released Defense Secretary James Mattis' resignation letter Thursday evening, moments after President Trump announced on Twitter that Mattis would be "retiring" in late February.  [...]

[I] believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours: It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model -- gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions -- to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity, and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my positions. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


James Mattis retiring as defense secretary (CBS NEWS, 12/20/18)

In a hard copy of Mattis' resignation letter acquired by CBS News' David Martin, the defense secretary said he is stepping down because of the differences in viewpoints with Mr. Trump.

"Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position," Mattis wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Planned Parenthood Is Accused of Mistreating Pregnant Employees (Natalie Kitroeff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Dec. 20, 2018, NY Times)

As a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood, Ta'Lisa Hairston urged pregnant women to take rest breaks at work, stay hydrated and, please, eat regular meals.

Then she got pregnant and couldn't follow her own advice.

Last winter, Ms. Hairston told the human-resources department for Planned Parenthood's clinic in White Plains, N.Y., that her high blood pressure was threatening her pregnancy. She sent the department multiple notes from her nurse recommending that she take frequent breaks.

Managers ignored the notes. They rarely gave her time to rest or to take a lunch break, Ms. Hairston said.

"I had to hold back tears talking to pregnant women, telling them to take care of their pregnancies when I couldn't take care of mine," she said. "It made me jealous."

Discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers remains widespread in the American workplace. It is so pervasive that even organizations that define themselves as champions of women are struggling with the problem.

That includes Planned Parenthood, which has been accused of sidelining, ousting or otherwise handicapping pregnant employees, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Acting U.S. attorney general declines to recuse himself from Russia probe: source  (Reuters, 12/20/18)

Justice Department ethics officials had recommended that Whitaker, who made comments critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe before taking office, should not supervise the investigation, the source said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Jerry Falwell: I Lent $1.8 Million To A Venture Involving A Pool Attendant (Aram Roston, 12/20/18, BuzzFeed News)

The prominent evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. has for the first time acknowledged putting up $1.8 million for a business venture managed by a young pool attendant whom he and his wife befriended during a stay at a luxury hotel in 2012.

BuzzFeed News first reported in May on a lawsuit that claimed the Falwells had developed a "friendly relationship" with Giancarlo Granda, then 21 years old, at the lavish Fontainebleau Miami Beach, flying him in a private jet, offering "financial assistance," and ultimately setting him up in business.


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Congress is set to kick the can and pass a short-term funding bill to keep the government open until early February, seemingly surrendering on the idea of funding a southern border wall. Congressman Gohmert is not happy about this. He sees the wall as Trump's "read my lips" moment, his fundamental campaign promise, which is why Democrats are opposing it so fervently. Once Democrats got former President George H.W. Bush to break his "no new taxes" pledge, it was over for him. Gohmert sees the wall the same way, that Democrats won't support it because not building one will be the president breaking a promise. That's why Louie is so adamant that the president should not sign any bill that doesn't contain $5 billion for the wall.

In addition to Democrats opposing Trump, Gohmert says there are many on the president's team who are working against him. "There are people in power in the Republican Party that do not want to see him succeed," he said. He points his finger squarely at leadership.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


We were FBI agents. We want to know why Flynn lied to the bureau. (Josh Campbell and Asha Rangappa, December 19, 2018, Washington Post)

Tuesday's sentencing hearing for Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, took an unexpected twist after his attempts to shift blame to the government backfired. After Flynn retracted his allegations of "entrapment" by FBI agents into lying and (re) confirmed his guilty plea, Judge Emmet Sullivan offered a startling rebuke of Flynn: "I want to be frank with you, this crime is very serious," said the judge, adding, "I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain for your criminal offense."

Lost in the circus around Flynn's sentencing -- which is delayed until March -- is the unsolved mystery of why Flynn sat across from two FBI agents to begin with and attempted to deceive them. Put simply, why did he lie?

As former special agents who used to conduct national security investigations, we have encountered deceptive subjects and know that their reasons for lying are worth exploring. Flynn's motivation for deceiving investigators remains one of the most significant unanswered questions in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's ongoing investigation. Given that Flynn has sat for 19 interviews since pleading guilty, Mueller certainly knows the answers. But for the rest of us, this piece of the puzzle can shed light on the magnitude of the threat Flynn posed to national security.

December 19, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM



A longtime associate of late Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain provided a copy of the infamous Steele dossier to BuzzFeed News, according to an explosive court filing released Wednesday.

David Kramer, a former State Department official who was an executive at the McCain Institute, met on Dec. 29, 2016 with BuzzFeed reporter Ken Bensinger, according to a filing submitted Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro.

BuzzFeed published the dossier, which was authored by former British spy Christopher Steele, on Jan. 10, 2017.

As if he hadn't afforded a grateful nation sufficient service already.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Ultra-Orthodox integration into Israeli life is slowing down, think tank warns (SAM SOKOL, 19 December 2018, Times of Israel)

The pace of haredi Orthodox integration into both the workforce and academy has slowed significantly, indicating a "worrisome" trend in Israeli society, a Jerusalem think-tank warned in a new report.

The Israel Democracy Institute said Wednesday that full-time yeshiva enrollment has increased among the fervently Orthodox haredim, rates of employment have slowed, and fewer members of the community are enrolling in secular higher education.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Trump 2020 campaign used a shell company to pay ad buyers at the center of alleged illegal coordination scheme with NRA (Anna Massoglia, December 19, 2018, Open Secrets)

The Trump campaign funneled money to ad buyers alleged to have facilitated illegal coordination between the campaign and the NRA by routing funds through a secretive LLC that appears to be little more than a shell company, an investigation by the Center for Responsive Politics has found.

While the Trump campaign stopped reporting payments to ad buyers alleged to have facilitated illegal coordination between the campaign and the NRA after the 2016 election cycle, Trump's 2020 campaign has continued to deploy the same individuals working for the firms at the center of the controversy through payments to Harris Sikes Media LLC -- a low-profile limited-liability company operating with no website or public-facing facade whatsoever.

Facing the illegal coordination allegations are National Media, Red Eagle Media Group and American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG), closely tied consultancies that share staff, resources and adjacent storefronts in Alexandria, Va.

CRP's analysis of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) records found that Trump campaign political ad disclosures on file with stations across the country have continued to include signatures and names of individuals working for National Media, despite no mention of National Media or its known affiliates on any FCC or Federal Election Commission (FEC) disclosures. Those individual ad buyers' names have simultaneously continued to be included in ad documents for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and America First, but with the ad buyers' affiliation listed as National Media or one of its affiliates.

Common vendors are one of the factors federal regulators consider when determining if communications may constitute illegal coordination between a campaign and outside group.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


US diplomats shaken by Trump decision to exit Syria (Laura Rozen, December 19, 2018, Al Monitor)

While Trump has repeatedly made clear his desire to bring US troops home from Syria, he has been persuaded in the past by advisers to give the mission more time. It's not clear that such a reversal will be forthcoming now, however.

"We know Trump's instincts from the get-go were to get these guys out of Syria," Tamara Wittes, a former State Department Middle East official now with the Brookings Institution, told Al-Monitor. "And yet, he has clearly been persuaded at several points 'not yet, ISIS is not quite defeated, but we can use [the troop presence] as leverage against Iran.' He becomes persuaded, and then at a certain point, ... he decides enough is enough. He just changes his mind."

Some current and former US officials faulted what they saw as overreach by administration Iran hawks, in particular US Syria envoy Jim Jeffrey and his lieutenant, Joel Rayburn, the deputy assistant secretary of state for the Levant, who have argued publicly that US forces would not leave Syria until all Iranian forces had left.

"The people who work for [Trump] -- Bolton, Rayburn, now Jeffrey -- make it worse by adding impossible objectives on Syria [involving Iran] that suggest an indefinite stay," said the US official who called Trump's decision catastrophic. The official said these arguments have "no connection to realistic objectives for our military" and go "way beyond" the goal of defeating IS and preventing its re-emergence.

Donald nailed this one.  It destabilizes the Assad regime, benefits Iran and draws Russia and Israel in deeper.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration's Attempt to Deny Asylum to Domestic Violence Victims (MOLLY OLMSTEAD and MARK JOSEPH STERN, DEC 19, 2018, Slate)

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down Justice Department rules that made it harder for asylum seekers to make successful claims based on fear of domestic abuse or gang violence, offering yet another judicial blow to the Trump administration's efforts to unilaterally rewrite immigration law.

In his ruling, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington concluded that the policies--which were rolled out by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June--were "arbitrary" and "capricious," violating federal immigration law as crafted by Congress.

That dang 9th Circuit....

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Poll shows Hamas leader would defeat Abbas to win Palestinian elections (Times of Israel, 18 December 2018)

A public opinion poll shows that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would lose to the leader of the Hamas terror group if elections were held today.

Failing to embrace Palestinian election results was one of the worst errors of W's presidency. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


There are way more solar panels in the U.S. than we thought (ADELE PETERS, 12/19/18, Co.Exist)

The program, called DeepSolar, combed through more than 1 billion satellite images and found 1.47 million rooftop solar systems or larger solar plants in 48 states. That's more than the 1 million systems in the Open PV database, an open-source project that uses voluntary reporting. It's more than twice as much as the 0.67 million counted by Google's Project Sunroof, another project that uses AI and satellite data (though because its methods aren't published, it's hard to know what accounts for the difference).

Knowing how many solar panels exist-and where they are-can help renewable power run smoothly and grow faster. "Utilities and system operators can figure out where there's more solar power being produced, in which neighborhoods, and adjust their operations and planning," says Ram Rajagopal, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, and one of the authors of a new study about the project. "For example, a utility can decide to invest in storage after looking at this data."

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Why Michelle Obama still insists on going high when they go low (Ephrat Livni, December 18, 2018, Quartz)

Last month, speaking to Blavity, a publication for black millennials, the former US first lady explained why she continues to insist on this approach in life and politics. "I absolutely still believe that we've got to go high―always and without exception," she said. "It's the only way we can keep our dignity."

For Obama, failing to follow her own rule means losing. So she has to fight any desire to respond crudely or cruelly to insults and bullying and always keep the big picture in mind, which is admittedly difficult at times. "If you allow yourself to play on their terms, they win...Going high isn't just about the fight you want to win, but it's also about the person you want to be--and the kind of country you want to have," she told Blavity.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


For the first time, a Chinese car is coming to the US--and it's electric (Michael J. Coren, December 18, 2018, Quartz)

Last week, Qiantu Motor announced it would aim to become the first Chinese automaker to sell its own vehicles in America. So far, Chinese manufacturers have only sold their cars under established brands, such as the Buick Envision (built by Shanghai GM, a joint venture between China's SAIC Motor and General Motors) and the Volvo S90 (Volvo was bought from Ford by China's Geely in 2010).

Qiantu (the name is Chinese for Dragonfly) plans to start building its K50 electric vehicle (EV) in 2020. The electric luxury sports car will be a joint US manufacturing effort between Chinese automaker CH-Auto and Southern California-based startup Mullen Technologies. It will be assembled from American and Chinese components.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Hacked European Cables Reveal a World of Anxiety About Trump, Russia and Iran (David E. Sanger and Steven Erlanger, Dec. 18, 2018, NY Times)

Hackers infiltrated the European Union's diplomatic communications network for years, downloading thousands of cables that reveal concerns about an unpredictable Trump administration and struggles to deal with Russia and China and the risk that Iran would revive its nuclear program.

In one cable, European diplomats described a meeting between President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Helsinki, Finland, as "successful (at least for Putin)."

Another helpful reminder of how trivial the stuff that is kept "secret" actually is. Open source everything.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump signed letter of intent for Trump Tower Moscow project despite Giuliani insisting he didn't (Kate Sullivan, December 18, 2018, CNN)

A newly obtained document shows President Donald Trump signed a letter of intent to move forward with negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Russia, despite his attorney Rudy Giuliani claiming on Sunday the document was never signed. [...]

While the potential Trump Tower Moscow deal was on the table, then-candidate Trump was speaking positively about working with Russian President Vladimir Putin and minimizing Russia's aggressive military moves around the world.

December 18, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


White House suggests it could back down on $5 billion border wall demand (Jacob Pramuk, 12/18/18,

The White House suggested Tuesday that President Donald Trump could back down from his demand for $5 billion to fund his proposed border wall in a year-end spending bill.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Note to Michael Flynn: Federal Court Is Not Twitter (Ken White, 12/18/18, The Atlantic)

Nobody wants to be charged with a federal crime, but if you must, you want the deal Flynn got. He was the first to cooperate in the Special Counsel investigation in December 2017, and got the first cooperator's prize: a plea to a single count of lying to the FBI, an offense usually resulting in a sentence of probation. He worked hard to earn the trust and even respect of the Special Counsel's Office, submitting to 19 interviews that were "particularly valuable" because he was the first in the door, and likely inducing others to plead guilty through his cooperation. Mueller's team recommended that he get probation, a permissible sentence under the applicable United States Sentencing Guidelines. The prosecutor recommended the same. Every defendant's ideal sentence was his to lose.

And he lost it. He now has until March to win it back.

Flynn and his lawyers faced the same problem that has bedeviled Trump and Michael Cohen and Michael Avenatti and Paul Manafort and several other figures in this circus we call life after 2016: a muscular public relations strategy is often a terrible litigation strategy. Time and again, these players have heard their public statements quoted back at them in court to undermine their legal positions. But Flynn's error was even more grievous - he incorporated media spin into a sentencing brief.

Flynn's lawyers argued in his brief that the FBI wronged him: wronged him by discouraging him from having an attorney present during his interview, by failing to warn him that false statements during the interview would be a crime, and by not telling him that his answers were inconsistent with their evidence so that he could correct himself. The Flynn-as-Deep-State-victim narrative was pleasing to Trump partisans and Mueller foes, but suicidally provocative to a federal judge at sentencing.

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Michael Flynn's Very Bad Day in Court (Martin Longman, December 18, 2018, New York)

In particular, Judge Sullivan took strong exception to the exact thing I have been complaining about, which is the suggestion that Flynn was somehow set up by the FBI and should never have been charged with lying to its agents. What caused this backlash was a highly questionable decision by Flynn's lawyers to inject right-wing talking points into their filing asking for leniency.  It was a wholly unnecessary move. Based on Flynn's extensive cooperation with the Office of Special Counsel, his lack of prior offenses, and his decades of (mostly) distinguished military service, the OSC was recommending no jail time.  Based on the sentencing guidelines, which called for a term of incarceration of 0-6 months, there was a very real prospect that Flynn would pay a fine, do some community service and get a period of supervised probation, but otherwise walk away unscathed.

In an indication of how divorced the Republicans have become from reality, several right-wing media outlets spent Monday evening speculating that Judge Sullivan might even throw out Flynn's guilty plea entirely because he would ultimately agree that Flynn had been entrapped.  That did not happen.

Instead, Sullivan tore into Flynn and his lawyers. He almost bizarrely put Flynn under oath before demanding that he admit his guilt and deny all the right-wing talking points which have recently been repeated by the president himself. He forced Flynn to admit that he knew he was wrong to lie to the FBI and that there had been no misconduct in how his interviews were conducted. He acknowledged that any possible wrongdoing then-Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and counterintelligence official Peter Strzok may have committed in other areas had no bearing on his responsibility to be truthful to federal agents.

Judge Sullivan openly questioned whether Flynn could have been charged with treason for operating as an undeclared agent of a foreign power while serving as National Security Advisor, suggested that Flynn had dishonored the flag that was displayed in the courtroom, and said "arguably you sold your country out."

He also asked Flynn's lawyers how their filing was consistent with the client taking responsibility for his actions and advised them that they might want to delay sentencing since he was not inclined to let Flynn avoid incarceration.

Trump backers just had their anti-Mueller hopes and dreams dashed (Aaron Blake, December 18, 2018, Washington Post)

On Saturday, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro engaged in a bit of wishful fantasizing.

Earlier that week, Michael Flynn's attorneys seemed to imply that he was tricked into lying to the FBI. In response, the judge in Flynn's case asked for more information about Flynn's interview. Pirro wagered that the judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, might blow up special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's entire case.

She hailed Sullivan as "a jurist unafraid of the swamp, a judge who has a track record of calling out prosecutorial misconduct, a man who does not tolerate injustice or abuse of power." She suggested Flynn's guilty plea might be thrown out: "The amazing part of it is, if he does it, then the house of cards of Robert Mueller falls."

That's decidedly not what happened Tuesday. In fact, quite the opposite.

At Flynn's sentencing, Sullivan made a point of making sure that Flynn stated (and restated) that he lied to the FBI, that he knew it was wrong to do so and that he accepted responsibility. Sullivan asked Flynn whether he knew that lying to the FBI was illegal, and Flynn said, "I was aware." The judge gave Flynn several chances to withdraw his guilty plea, and Flynn opted to proceed.

Here's what Michael Flynn has admitted (Dave Lawler, 12/18/18, Axios)

On Monday, Mueller's office released redacted notes of the FBI's interview with Flynn, revealing what exactly the former national security adviser lied about.

Flynn told the FBI that in his conversations with Kislyak during the presidential transition, he did not attempt to influence Russia's vote on a UN Security Council resolution concerning Israeli settlements. He admitted in his charging document in Mueller's case that a senior member of the Trump transition team directed him to contact Kislyak to learn where Russia stood and urge them to vote against the resolution.

Flynn also told the FBI that he did not ask Kislyak to refrain from escalating tensions in response to steps taken by Barack Obama over Moscow's election meddling, which included expelling alleged Russian spies and closing two Russian diplomatic compounds in the U.S. Flynn later admitted that, acting on behalf of a senior member of Trump's transition team, he contacted Kislyak to ask that Russia show restraint. Vladimir Putin ultimately elected not to escalate the situation, a move Trump called "very smart."

Though he admitted to violating lobbying laws by failing to register as a foreign agent on behalf of Turkey for hundreds of thousands of dollars of consulting work, Flynn was not charged for those crimes and has attempted to receive leniency from the Mueller investigation by offering extensive cooperation.

Trump to Dissolve Charitable Foundation as Part of Lawsuit Brought by N.Y. Attorney General (DAHLIA LITHWICK, DEC 18, 2018, Slate)

The Trump Foundation agreed Tuesday to dissolve itself under an agreement reached with the New York attorney general's office, the result of a major civil lawsuit alleging that the charity violated state law.

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Document Provides New Details of Michael Flynn Interview With F.B.I. (Sharon LaFraniere and Adam Goldman, Dec. 17, 2018, Washington Post)

Mr. Flynn has admitted that he requested that Russia not escalate tensions between the countries after the outgoing Obama administration imposed sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential race. Russia agreed to not retaliate, an unusual decision that Mr. Trump himself praised.

But in his interview with the F.B.I., Mr. Flynn claimed that he did not remember ever asking Mr. Kislyak that Russia restrain its response, the agents wrote in the document, known as a 302. He told them that he did not even know about the Obama administration's decision to expel dozens of Russian diplomats and to seize two Russian-owned properties in the United States because at the time the sanctions were imposed, he was on vacation in the Dominican Republic, without access to television or to his government-issued BlackBerry phone.

Mr. Flynn also has acknowledged lying to the agents about his conversations with Mr. Kislyak involving Russia's impending vote in the United Nations on an Egyptian-sponsored resolution to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He has admitted that he asked that Russia either delay or oppose the resolution.

But in their account of their interview, the agents stated that Mr. Flynn said he had merely inquired about Russia's views on the resolution.

Asked whether he had advocated that Russia take any particular position, "FLYNN answered, 'No,'" the agents wrote. Instead, he "stated the conversations were along the lines of where do you stand, and what's your position," they said.

Mr. Flynn also said that he had no particular fondness for Russia but communicated with Mr. Kislyak because "maintaining trusted relationships within foreign governments is important," the agents stated.

The interview both alarmed and perplexed agents at the F.B.I., then in the midst of a highly sensitive counterintelligence investigation targeting Mr. Flynn and three other associates of Mr. Trump's.

All secrecy has done is allow Donald and the Trumpbots to lie about the crimes investigators have exposed.  That's why every revelation of "secret evidence" has served as a further indictment instead of being exculpatory.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


The Trump Administration Is Slowing The Asylum Process To Discourage Applicants, An Official Told Congress (Hamed Aleaziz, 12/17/18, BuzzFeed News)

A high-ranking Customs and Border Protection official told Congress earlier this month that border agents were limiting asylum applications along the border because allowing too many migrants to apply would inspire more migrants to come, according to a letter written by senior House Democrats on Monday.

The statement by Jud Murdock, CBP's acting assistant commissioner, contradicted official claims that the practice of "metering" -- when officials limit the number of individuals who can make asylum claims at ports of entry on any given day -- was due to resource constraints, including a lack of detention space and personnel. When asked about the practice at a Senate hearing last week, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that it was not meant as a deterrent.

But on Dec. 6, Murdock said in a closed congressional briefing that CBP had chosen to limit asylum-seekers at ports of entries because "[t]he more we process, the more will come," according to the letter.

When the Right says it supports "legal immigration" it is because it's easier to keep legals out.
Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


The stock market is on pace for its worst December since the Great Depression (Michael Sheetz, 12/18/18,

Two benchmark U.S. stock indexes are careening toward a historically bad December.

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 are on pace for their worst December performance since 1931, when stocks were battered during the Great Depression. The Dow and S&P 500 are down 7.8 percent and 7.6 percent this month, respectively.

It's almost as if opposing the free movement of people and goods is bad for the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Russian disinformation teams targeted Robert S. Mueller III, says report prepared for Senate (Craig Timberg, Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin December 17, 2018, Washington Post)

Months after President Trump took office, Russia's disinformation teams trained their sights on a new target: special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Having worked to help get Trump into the White House, they now worked to neutralize the biggest threat to his staying there.

The Russian operatives unloaded on Mueller through fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and beyond, falsely claiming that the former FBI director was corrupt and that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were crackpot conspiracies. One post on Instagram -- which emerged as an especially potent weapon in the Russian social media arsenal -- claimed that Mueller had worked in the past with "radical Islamic groups."

Such tactics exemplified how Russian teams ranged nimbly across social media platforms in a shrewd online influence operation aimed squarely at American voters. The effort started earlier than commonly understood and lasted longer while relying on the strengths of different sites to manipulate distinct slices of the electorate, according to a pair of comprehensive new reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee and released Monday.

December 17, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Advertisers are dropping Tucker Carlson for demonizing immigrants (JOE BERKOWITZ, 12/17/18, Fast Company)

Just this year alone, the ever-bloviating pundit with permanently perplexed facial paralysis has complained that white people aren't "designed" to live around immigrant communities, tried to disprove the idea that diversity is a virtue, and earned shout-outs from Richard Spencer, the prominent white nationalist who earned plaudits in 2016 from the Los Angeles Times and others for not dressing like a hobo clown. Prompted by media watchdogs such as Sleeping Giants and Jordan Uhl, however, some advertisers have become uncomfortable supporting Carlson's most recent rant.

Fox News's professionally angry propagandist began last Thursday's show railing against immigrants in general, claiming that they make America "poorer, dirtier, and more divided." Jordan Uhl, who works with and has a large Twitter following, tweeted out a clip of the performance and tagged the financial agency Pacific Life, whose advertisement ran on Fox News immediately following the rant. Whether spurred on by Uhl's specific, popular tweet or an overall online outcry, Pacific Life announced on Friday that it was pulling its ads from Carlson's show to "reevaluate" this business relationship.

 Pacific Life insurance, which has advertised on Tucker Carlson's show for a year, said they "strongly disagree" with his comments last night about immigration and are pausing their ads on his show for the next few weeks as they "reevaluate" relationship ...

Uhl and Sleeping Giants continued tweeting the clip of the show at other Carlson advertisers through the week to gauge whether they, too, perhaps felt uncomfortable supporting Carlson's attack on immigrants.

On Monday afternoon, another advertiser, the job site Indeed, announced it had no plans to advertise on Carlson's show in the future.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM



Meat production chews up land and spews out methane by the kiloton, accounting for about two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. A University of Oxford study recently found that, to keep global warming below 2 degrees this century, we need to be eating 75 percent less beef and 90 percent less pork globally. "Without concentrated change, we really risk exceeding key environmental limits," Marco Springmann, one of the Oxford researchers, warns me. [...]

Still, even the most uncanny substitutes for meat face an uphill slog if they're going to replace 75 to 90 percent of beef and pork. The first taste of an Impossible Burger--a moment when low expectations work a powerful magic in the product's favor--is one thing. But how do you keep meat-eaters asking for more after their sixth, and their 26th?

Fortunately, the science here is firing on all pistons. Impossible Foods owes much of its appeal to a bioengineering process that cranks out big, blood-red tanks of "heme," a crucial molecule that gives veggie meat "that slightly metallic bloody flavor," as David Lipman, chief science officer of Impossible Foods, tells me. Meanwhile, "cultured meat," created by growing actual animal cells in a vat, is moving toward viability. In New York, the nerds at Ocean Hugger Foods have engineered a process to transform tomatoes into mock tuna. And over in the Netherlands, a company called The Vegetarian Butcher is developing a Nespresso-style device: You pour in a bag of vegetable protein and out pops fabricated meat. The company aims to release it in two years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Michael Flynn's business partner charged with illegally lobbying for Turkey (Rachel Weiner, Carol D. Leonnig and Matt Zapotosky December 17, 2018, Washington Post)

A former business partner of Michael T. Flynn has been charged with conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign government for his efforts to have Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen extradited from the United States.

Bijan Kian made his first appearance in Alexandria federal court Monday morning. According to the indictment, Kian, who ran a lobbying firm with Flynn, conspired with a Turkish businessman to illegally influence government officials and public opinion in the United States against Gulen.

The indictment demonstrates the extent to which Flynn was secretly working to advance the interests of his Turkish clients while publicly serving as a key surrogate to Donald Trump and auditioning for a role in his administration. According to the newly unsealed court document, Flynn was texting and emailing frequently about how to advance the Turkish agenda throughout the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


How Democrats Can Blow It in 2020 (JONAH GOLDBERG, December 14, 2018, National Review)

[I]n a contest between Trump and a generic Democrat, Trump would almost surely lose if the current political climate holds through 2020. According to a Fox News poll this week, 38 percent of respondents said they would "definitely" or "probably" vote for Trump, while 55 percent said they would "definitely" or "probably" vote for someone else. [...]

Trump carried the Electoral College because he won Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by 0.7 points each and Michigan by 0.2 points. A mere 78,000 votes carried the day.

Most presidents work assiduously to build on the coalition that brought them to power. President Trump has done almost the opposite, catering to his base while doing almost everything he can to alienate suburban Republicans and independents, which is why the GOP got shellacked in the midterms.

So if Trump runs -- which is probably a bigger "if" than many people think -- the cards are stacked against him. Fortunately for him, the Democrats will not nominate someone named Generic Democrat.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Trump is failing to achieve one of the biggest goals of his trade war, and he only has himself to blame (Bob Bryan Dec. 13, 2018, Business Insider)

[A]ccording to Goldman Sachs economists Blake Taylor and Alec Phillips, the ever-increasing US-China trade deficit is actually because of the tariffs.

"The trade deficit with China stands at an all-time high," the pair wrote in a note to clients on Thursday. "Exports declined sharply on a seasonally adjusted basis, extending their decline since retaliatory tariffs started to take effect in July, and imports continued to rise further. Unsurprisingly, we find that recently imposed tariffs have played a role in these changes." [...]

"US exports to China continued their sharp decline, a trend in place since the tariffs took effect over the summer," Taylor and Phillips said. "Declining exports alongside modestly increasing imports pushed the trade deficit with China to an all-time high in October."

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Netanyahu's Son Says He'd 'Prefer' if 'All the Muslims Leave the Land of Israel' (JTA and Ben Sales Dec 16, 2018, Ha'aretz)

Yair Netanyahu said there would not be peace in the land of Israel until either all the Jews or all the Muslims leave -- and he would prefer the latter.

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 AM


I Have Seen the Future of a Republican Party That Is No Longer Insane (Jonathan Chait, 12/17/18, New York)

Niskanen's observation that tax rates needed to reflect actual rather than desired spending levels is banal to right-of-center economists in almost any country. But it was (and is) absolute heresy on the Republican right, which has elevated anti-tax absolutism into a theological principle. The Niskanen Center, founded in 2015, four years after Niskanen's death, drew upon his heresies as a basis for an unconventional and less dogmatic approach to libertarian economics. And in the Trump era, its heretical tendencies have blossomed. Rather than going along with Trump, or waiting him out so things can go back to normal, Niskanen has used the shock of his ascension to rethink the ideas that brought the American right to this point. The center has developed something that for more than a generation has been almost totally nonexistent in American politics: a right-of-center program that is detached from the conservative movement.

Niskanen's scholars have criticized the failures of conservative policy you might expect -- climate science skepticism, the Republican health-care plan -- a heterodox center-right think tank to criticize. But Niskanen has gone beyond point-by-point rebuttals and has developed a broad and deep argument with the movement's core assumptions.

Last year, Will Wilkinson argued against "small-government monomania" and in favor of a social safety net to "increase the public's tolerance for the dislocations of a dynamic free-market economy," and identified libertarianism with hostility to democracy, resulting in persistent Republican efforts "to find ways to keep Democrats from voting, and to minimize the electoral impact of the Democratic ballots that are cast." Brink Lindsey attacked "the notion that downward redistribution picks the pockets of makers and doles it out to layabout takers."

These are frontal assaults on the basic orientation of the libertarian political project. By recognizing the value of social transfers as a backstop to a free-market system, and acknowledging that the right's obsession with the protection of property has made it hostile to democracy itself, they forced themselves to rethink not only the methods but also the goals of libertarian politics.

Wilkinson, late last year, stepped away from libertarianism, acknowledging that according to libertarians' own data, countries with larger welfare states also had more freedom. This revealed "a pretty major intellectual mistake lurking within the ideal-theoretic version of libertarianism that the most prominent institutions of the 'freedom movement' were built to promote."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


A Shutdown Looms. Can the G.O.P. Get Lawmakers to Show Up to Vote? (Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Emily Cochrane, Dec. 16, 2018, NY Times)

Just days before a deadline to avert a partial government shutdown, President Trump, Democratic leaders and the Republican-controlled Congress are at a stalemate over the president's treasured border wall. But House Republican leaders are also confronting a more mundane and awkward problem: Their vanquished and retiring members are sick and tired of Washington and don't want to show up anymore to vote.

Call it the revenge of the lame ducks. Many lawmakers, relegated to cubicles as incoming members take their offices, have been skipping votes in the weeks since House Republicans were swept from power in the midterm elections, and Republican leaders are unsure whether they will ever return.

It is perhaps a fitting end to a Congress that has showcased the untidy politics of the Trump era: Even if the president ultimately embraces a solution that avoids a shutdown, House Republican leaders do not know whether they will have the votes to pass it.

All they owe Donald is their defeats.

December 16, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


White House moves toward government shutdown, vowing 'whatever is necessary' to secure money for a border wall (LAURA KING, DEC 16, 2018, LA Times)

The Trump administration signaled Sunday that it would not compromise to avert a partial government shutdown at the end of this week, with senior White House policy advisor Stephen Miller declaring that "we're going to do whatever is necessary" to secure money for the president's much-vaunted border wall. [...]

Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have urgently tried to avoid a shutdown and thought earlier this month that they had Trump's agreement.

But after a tumultuous week that saw the appointment of a new acting White House chief of staff and the resignation of scandal-plagued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, together with an escalation of the president's legal exposure on multiple fronts, Trump has appeared at times to relish the idea of a highly public confrontation over the border wall, his signature issue.

In a televised showdown at the White House on Tuesday with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi - soon to take the speaker's gavel - Trump asserted he would be "proud" to preside over a partial shutdown beginning at midnight Friday if his demands go unmet.

The greatest gift ever handed to a new majority has to be getting to rewrite the budget.
Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Japan's inflation target is still remarkably elusive (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, 12/16/18, Financial Times)

Has the Bank of Japan succeeded or failed? The answer is both: unemployment is strikingly low, which indicates that its monetary policy has worked; but inflation is still far below its 2 per cent target, which indicates it has not. There is still no justification for monetary tightening. But additional policy options need to be considered.

The only inflationary pressure in the world is Donald and he's a one indictment problem.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


New report on Russian disinformation, prepared for the Senate, shows the operation's scale and sweep (Craig Timberg and Tony Romm December 16, 2018, Washington Post)

A report prepared for the Senate that provides the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia's disinformation campaign around the 2016 election found the operation used every major social media platform to deliver words, images and videos tailored to voters' interests to help elect President Trump -- and worked even harder to support him while in office.

The report, a draft of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is the first to study the millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), its chairman, and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), its ranking Democrat. The bipartisan panel hasn't said if it endorses the findings. It plans to release it publicly along with another study later this week.

The research -- by Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm -- offers new details on how Russians working at the Internet Research Agency, which U.S. officials have charged with criminal offenses for meddling in the 2016 campaign, sliced Americans into key interest groups for targeted messaging. These efforts shifted over time, peaking at key political moments, such as presidential debates or party conventions, the report found.

The data sets used by the researchers were provided by Facebook, Twitter and Google and covered several years up to mid-2017, when the social media companies cracked down on the known Russian accounts. The report, which also analyzed data separately provided to House intelligence committee members, contains no information on more recent political moments, such as November's midterm elections.

"What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party -- and specifically Donald Trump," the report says. "Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting."

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


How Russian provocation backfired in the Caribbean (STEPHEN BRYEN, DECEMBER 16, 2018, Asia Times)

Of course, Ukraine is a weak adversary as far as the Russians are concerned, and the Russians have renewed pressure on Ukraine's current leadership, not only by restricting access to the Sea of Azov (which was relaxed days after the Kerch Strait incident), but also according to the Ukrainians, by Russia massing tanks and soldiers close to Ukraine's eastern border.  Whether this is just more of the same - an intimidation exercise - or a prelude to an actual military invasion of Ukraine is far from clear.

There were, of course, other consequences from the Kerch confrontation, including additional sanctions from the West and US President Donald Trump's decision to cancel an important face to face meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit.  Of course, the meeting cancellation put off negotiations on important matters, especially the fate of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement (INF agreement) which Trump has declared he will cancel because of Russian violations.  The Russians have been trying to head off Trump's decision and have offered negotiations, but Russia once again shot itself in the foot by their poor behavior at Kerch.

But if that wasn't enough, the Russians went even further when they sent Backfire bombers to Venezuela after the G-20 summit. [...]

The fact that Russia carried out a military drill that was of no military purpose and then had to turn tail and go home, suggests the Russians got hard warnings from the Trump administration, discernible from the tone of the rhetoric especially from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and so they pulled back.

Perhaps in the back-channel communication the US administration reminded the Russians of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Putin may want to rethink the games he is playing. The Backfires certainly backfired.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Trump and Pompeo Take Aim at a Multilateralism That Doesn't Exist (Richard Gowan, Dec. 12, 2018, World Politics Review)

The secretary of state is hardly the first American politician to dismiss international organizations as bloated and stodgy. He will not be the last. But he is wrong on two basic points. 

The first is that other nations are addicted to treaties--in reality, diplomats are increasingly wary of binding multilateral instruments. The second is that cosmopolitan bureaucrats are proliferating at a dangerous rate. Although the U.N. secretariat and its agencies employ over 100,000 people worldwide, in addition to nearly 100,000 uniformed U.N. peacekeepers, the organization's leaders are pushing to keep staff numbers down and cut bureaucratic red tape.

The Trump administration is tilting at a rapacious multilateral system that does not exist.

Take Pompeo's line about treaties first. It is true that, in the immediate post-Cold War period, states signed off on a raft of new treaties and expanded their commitments under existing ones. The U.S. frequently struggled with these, failing to ratify important agreements like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Rome Statute authorizing the International Criminal Court. Pompeo and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton often cite these as cases of multilateral overreach.

But recently, international negotiators have increasingly shied away from inking formal treaties of this type. In part out of deference to U.S. concerns, they have tended to forge international pacts, like the Paris accord on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals, that involve political commitments and ambitious goals, but are explicitly not legally binding treaties.

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM

NIKKI 2020:

Poll: 62 percent say Trump isn't telling the truth in Russia probe (Mark Murray, 12/16/18, NBC News)

Six in 10 Americans say President Donald Trump has been untruthful about the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, while half of the country says the investigation has given them doubts about Trump's presidency, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. [...]

A month after the results from the 2018 midterm elections, 48 percent of Americans say they want Democrats in Congress to take the lead role in setting policy for the country, versus 21 percent who want congressional Republicans to take the lead and 19 percent who want Trump in charge.

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


Trump Says SNL Sketches Are "Real Scandal" That "Should Be Tested in Courts" (DANIEL POLITI, DEC 16, 2018, Slate)

President Donald Trump woke up in a bad mood Sunday morning, and knew just where to aim his ire: his good old friends at the media. Mere hours after Saturday Night LIve aired a sketch in which it imagined a magical world in which Trump was never president, the commander in chief blasted his critics in the media and wondered why criticizing him was legal in the first place. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Mueller Investigation Cost $25 Million So Far, Report Says. It's Pulled in $48 Million From Tax Cheats (EMILY GILLESPIE, December 14, 2018, Fortune)

Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, was sentenced for conspiracy and obstruction of justice in September. As part of his plea deal, Manafort agreed to forfeit assets that amount to between $42 million and $46 million, including about $22 million in property, CNBC reports. The case revealed how Manafort avoided paying more than $15 million in taxes by laundering $60 million from pro-Russian Ukrainians, CNN reports.

Manafort reportedly violated the conditions of his plea deal, and last month prosecutors said that he could face more charges.

Earlier this week, Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to financial crimes including paying hush money to a porn star and Playboy model. As part of his deal, Cohen agreed to pay $1.4 million in unpaid taxes and hand over $500,000 in assets as well as pay $100,000 in fines.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Jakelin Caal Was Held at Border Patrol Base Previously Cited for Contaminated Water (Justin Glawe, 12.15.18, Daily Beast0

The U.S. facility on the Mexico border where a migrant girl was held last week before she died is one of several Border Patrol bases the government previously found had contaminated drinking water. Some agents at the bases told investigators they refused to drink, wash their clothes or bathe in the water.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Obamacare Ruling Puts GOP in Bind (Sean Sullivan, 12/15/18, The Washington Post)

[T]here still is a political imperative for Republicans to rally around a plan of their own, especially ahead of 2020 elections for president and Congress. Democrats are seizing on Friday's ruling to highlight the repeated GOP efforts to dismantle the ACA.

"In the midterms, the threat to health care was theoretical, and now it's a clear and present danger," said Jesse Ferguson, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee official.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, vowed her chamber would "formally intervene in the appeals process" when her party takes power in January. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he will force votes next year that would show Republicans have been dishonest on health care, votes certain to be used in campaign ads. A liberal group is planning to pressure GOP senators up for reelection to oppose the ruling.

"They are trapped by their white-hot hatred of President Obama and everything he did," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaking of Republicans. "And if they stay in that place it will be their undoing as a party."

While many congressional Democrats spoke out in the hours after the judge's ruling, Republicans on Capitol Hill were much quieter on Saturday.

The dynamic resembled this year's midterm elections, in which Democrats were eager to run on health care and Republicans sought to direct voters' focus to other topics.

The ruling was so obviously wrong that it will be tossed quickly, which is a pity from a comedy standpoint.  It would be fun to watch the GOP try to restore the Heritage mandate and Democrats stop them because it's conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Ten years on, Fed's long, strange, trip to zero redefined central banking (Howard Schneider, 12/16/18, Reuters)

The Fed was not the first to employ such an aggressive response to an economic downturn. The Bank of Japan adopted ZIRP in the 1990s in response to a collapse in its real estate market that helped trigger a decade of economic stagnation. 

There was nowhere else to go. From July 2007 to the fall of 2008, the Fed had trimmed its target policy rate from 5.25 percent to 1 percent.

The economy was so weak that many models indicated the appropriate interest rate for the Fed would have been negative - in effect a tax on savings that might prompt people to spend. While theoretically possible and in fact later adopted by a few central banks elsewhere, negative interest rates would have been a political non-starter in the U.S. Congress, and difficult to sell to the public in a fast-moving crisis.

Instead, a dramatic Fed action drove the policy rate to a range of between zero and 0.25 percent. It was, in effect, a zero rate, but more importantly demonstrated the Fed's willingness to go to extremes. [...]

The unemployment rate is at its lowest in nearly 50 years. Inflation is hovering around the Fed's target. A near decade of economic growth will become the longest expansion on record next year.

What's not to like?

It took seven years for the Fed to leave the zero lower bound, and rates are still abnormally low. By some accounts, consumers and businesses may be addicted to cheap money, and so sensitive to interest rates their willingness to buy homes or invest may fall off more quickly than in the past as rates rise.

Note that the core assumption here is that consumers do not react rationally to a widening divide between the interest rate and the rate of inflation/deflation.  The fact is that prices crashed so much after the Credit Crunch that zero was usurious.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Why is it still so freakin' hard to be a Jewish kid at Christmas? (Sara Laufer, DEC 16, 2018, Times of Israel)

The December Dilemma is a term that has, at least in Jewish educational circles, referred to children in interfaith families who might struggle to reconcile the celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah within their own families, if not in their house. I certainly don't want to diminish those challenges, but as a rabbi and a mom in 2018, I think there is another December dilemma, epitomized by yet another 1990s classic: Kyle expressing his loneliness in "Jew on Christmas," a song he sings in the first season on "South Park."

It's hard to be the lonely Jew on Christmas. The "War on Christmas" aside, it turns out that it is hard to be Jewish in a culture bombarded by Christmas songs, imagery, advertisements and Netflix options. Even my older kid -- a rabbi's kid, in a Hebrew immersion class in a Jewish preschool in a Jewish suburb of Los Angeles, who sings Hebrew Hanukkah songs daily right now -- looks at the lights with envy and asks why Santa doesn't come to our house, even though he knows and understands that we don't celebrate Christmas.

The Children Judd love the combo so much the Eldest wants to marry a black girl so he can add Kwanza.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM

70% HELPS:


[Venezuelan psychologist Juan José (J.J.)] Rendón, 54, deploys social media and grass-roots tactics to protect democracy from what he views as a neo-totalitarian threat, best personified by what he calls the "criminal gang" now running Venezuela. He often evokes comparisons to longtime conservative strategist Karl Rove. Foes, however, depict him as a Roger Stone-like figure, calling him the "king of black propaganda." Rendón is deeply aware of the myth built around his controversial public self, but he won't discuss his campaigns and methods in detail, labeling such talk "disrespectful."

Juan Diego Zelaya, a Honduran politician who met Rendón on Porfirio Lobo Sosa's successful 2009 presidential campaign, says Rendón "basically sees everything happening five to seven moves in advance. It's not the typical 'Hey, let's talk about grassroots, strategy, messaging.' No. He'll tell you the story of what's supposed to happen, and then he works backward."

Rendón wielded those tactics against Latin America's early-21st-century leftward turn, as the socialist model spread from Venezuela to Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil. As a consultant, he helped right-leaning politicians win multiple presidential elections, including the two-term Colombian Juan Manuel Santos who signed a peace deal with FARC rebels. He also helped Mexico's recently departed president, Enrique Peña Nieto, ascend to power. [...]

In 2004, Rendón called fraud on Hugo Chavez's electoral victory, was chased out of his homeland and found himself country-less and in the U.S. with a nullified passport. Maduro's regime in June 2013 declared Rendón public enemy No. 1 for conspiring against socialism. "One day, we will get him and throw him behind bars and he'll pay for all the damage he's done to Venezuela," Maduro said. In 2016, the U.S. granted Rendón asylum.

Today, dressed all in jet black save for white socks, he stretches out on a white sofa and lights up a white Belmont, his choice Venezuelan brand of smokes.

As Peña Nieto leaves office amid scandal, Rendón admits regrets about his choice of clients. "Power changes people," he says. "Around 30 percent of the people we work with, they get changed by power. And half of those people change for the worse."

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM



A massive crowd had gathered in Pyongyang to celebrate the Soviet Union's role in freeing Korea from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. The rally also gave Soviet Gen. Nikolai Levedev the opportunity to introduce Kim Il Sung, whom Levedev declared a "national hero." Many of those in attendance knew the name -- Kim had been a valiant anti-Japanese guerrilla. But when the 33-year-old read a speech written by his Soviet handlers, many in the crowd were skeptical that someone so young who had spent so much time abroad was experienced enough to become the nation's savior.

After more than a quarter-century of exile in Manchuria and the Soviet Union, Kim Il Sung had returned to an impoverished Korean Peninsula in September 1945, a month before the rally. By then, the Soviets and the Americans had settled into occupation zones north and south of the 38th parallel, respectively, while a cauldron of competing domestic and foreign political factions vied for power.

Few mistakes in world history compare to nuking Japan twice instead of Moscow once.  It left the blood of 100 million on our hands.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Ultra-Orthodox battalion soldiers suspended after clashing with border guards (JUDAH ARI GROSS , 12/16/18, Times of Israel)

The military suspended two soldiers from an ultra-Orthodox battalion on Sunday after they allegedly fought with border guards the day before in an attempt to get their friends released from police custody.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, a group of some 50 settlers illegally staged a protest on the outskirts of the city of Ramallah in the central West Bank, during which a number of rioters threw stones at Palestinian homes.

Three suspected rock throwers were arrested by Border Police officers who were at the scene.

The army said two in-uniform soldiers from the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion of the Kfir Brigade attempted to free the two suspects and as a result "a clash broke out."

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


3D-printed sex robots are cheaper and more lifelike than ever (TNW, 12/16/18)

DS Robotics, an offshoot of DSDolls, exhibited its latest 3D-printed robotic head at the VR Expo in NanChang City in China last month, showing that manufacturing AI heads for sexbots is about to get a whole lot more affordable.

Until now, the traditional method for manufacturing silicone sex doll components is through using molds and setting casts. Using a 3D printer to create humanlike faces for DSDoll's AI gynoids means that the assembly line process will be sped up considerably and therefore, the bots will be cheaper to produce.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


How Israel's calls for countries to move their embassies boomeranged (Raphael Ahren, 12/16/18, Times of Israel)

Canberra's recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital on Saturday can best be seen as the return flight of a boomerang -- a tool that likely originated among Australian Aborigine hunters. Indeed, there is hardly a better metaphor to illustrate how the zest with which the Jewish state and its supporters urged the world to follow Washington's move last year has backfired.

While Australian Zionists celebrated the decision as "historic," a recognition of only West Jerusalem as Israel's capital may after all be detrimental to the Jewish state's efforts to secure the international community's support for Israeli sovereignty over the entire city. [...]

On October 16, Morrison, Australia's conservative prime minister, and his foreign minister, Marise Payne, announced that they would "consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without prejudice to its final boundaries."

In a joint statement, Morrison and Payne said they would look at moving Australia's embassy to West Jerusalem, and acknowledge the eastern part of the city "as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state."

Already then, the writing was on the wall: Australia's declaration would be closer to Russia's surprising April 2017 recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital than to Trump's more sweeping December 6 announcement.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


15,000 tech worker shortfall pushing firms to seek talent offshore (SHOSHANNA SOLOMON, 12/16/18, Times of Israel)

Israel's tech innovation sector is lacking some 15,000 skilled workers, mainly software engineers and data scientists. This shortage is causing local salaries to surge and is also pushing firms to seek workers abroad, a new report by Start-Up Nation Central and the Israel Innovation Authority shows.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Let's admit that comedy is problematic (Godfrey Elfwick, December 15, 2018, Spectator USA)

It's time for us to admit that comedy is a problem. For too long comedians have got away with making light of issues using the flimsy excuse of it being their job to make people laugh. Like 'free speech', comedy is now a far right dogwhistle. The Internet is filled with unregulated and dangerous comedy. Laughter has become a weapon, with sharpened japes and poisoned memes its ammunition.

For a while now, the wokest and most progressive of us have forgone humor.

December 15, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 10:45 AM


My Dad's Friendship With Charles Barkley (Shirley Wang, 12/14/18, WBUR: Only a Game)

When Charles Barkley's mother, Charcey Glenn, passed away in June 2015, Barkley's hometown of Leeds, Alabama, came to the funeral to pay respects. But there was also an unexpected guest.

Barkley's friends couldn't quite place him. He wasn't a basketball player, he wasn't a sports figure and he wasn't from Barkley's hometown. Here's what I can tell you about him: he wore striped, red polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts and got really excited about two-for-one deals. He was a commuter. He worked as a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa. In short, he was everyone's suburban dad. More specifically, he was my dad.

"You know, it was obviously a very difficult time," Barkley told me recently. "And the next thing I know, he shows up. Everybody's, like, 'Who's the Asian dude over there?' I just started laughing. I said, 'That's my boy, Lin.' They're, like, 'How do you know him?' I said, 'It's a long story.' "

Posted by orrinj at 10:41 AM


'Unprecedented' decline in number of American Jews on 'Birthright' trips to Israel (Middle East Monitor, December 12, 2018)

One explanation for the downturn suggested by the trip providers is that the numbers "could reflect the well-documented fact that young American Jews are growing increasingly disengaged from Israel, and have less and less interest in visiting the country - even when the trips are free".

Poll shows deep divisions between Israelis and American Jews

Haaretz noted how "recent studies have shown that Jewish millennials, who are largely progressive, feel less connected to Israel than their parents and grandparents because they perceive the country's policies as antithetical to their values."

"In particular," the paper added, "they cite Israel's treatment of Palestinians and of asylum seekers."

Just last week, a petition "signed by 1,500 Jewish students - demanding that Birthright include in its itinerary Palestinian speakers able to address the realities of occupation - was delivered to Hillel directors at over 30 campuses across the United States."

"The exclusion of voices of Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel from Birthright runs counter to our core values," the petition said.

"On a trip to Israel, we should experience the country's history and culture, but we should also learn about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and hear the voices of Palestinians living under occupation."

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Trump names budget director Mick Mulvaney as acting White House chief of staff (Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta December 14, 2018, Washington Post)

Earlier Friday, Chris Christie was described by White House aides as a leading contender for the job after the former New Jersey governor met privately with Trump and first lady Melania Trump for more than an hour in the White House residence on Thursday night. But Christie called Trump at midday Friday to take his name off the list. A person close to Christie said a number of current and former White House aides warned Christie that the building was unmanageable and that "no one can have success there."

Trump grew deeply frustrated at the rejections and the media narrative that no one of high stature wanted to be his chief of staff, according to a senior White House official, so he decided suddenly on Friday afternoon to tap Mulvaney.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Hours before her collapse in U.S. custody, a dying migrant child's condition went unnoticed (Nick Miroff December 14, 2018, Washington Post)

Twenty-seven hours before she died at an El Paso children's hospital, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal walked across the U.S. border with her father and 161 other migrants outside Antelope Wells, N.M.

It was 9:15 p.m. on Dec. 6, and the small, remote U.S. border crossing was closed for the night. There were four Border Patrol agents on duty, and no medical staff.

The migrants skirted barriers and crossed into the United States. Like most Central American asylum seekers who have been arriving at the border in record numbers, they were not seeking to evade capture but to turn themselves in.

That night, as elsewhere when large groups of parents with children appear at remote border outposts, U.S. agents strained to accommodate the needs of those in their custody. The agents radioed the nearest Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, 90 minutes away, to request a bus, the only one available along that barren desert span of the New Mexico boot heel.

What unfolded over the next eight hours, as Jakelin's condition deteriorated but went unnoticed by agents and perhaps her father, is now the subject of an internal investigation at the Department of Homeland Security, and congressional Democrats are demanding a full accounting and meetings with Customs and Border Protection officials.

On Tuesday, three days after the child's death, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told the Senate Judiciary Committee that his agency's Border Patrol stations and their rudimentary holding cells were ill-suited to handle so many families and children. More medical staff and social workers were needed to handle the demographic change, he said.

McAleenan did not mention the girl's death, which was disclosed by CBP only after The Washington Post inquired about it Thursday evening. A DHS official said Friday the agency will review its policy on reporting deaths of migrants in U.S. custody.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Voter Fraud Panel Barked Up Wrong Tree (Mariel Garza, 12/14/18,  Los Angeles Times)

Maybe the commission, led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, might have survived if it hadn't been looking for fraud in all the wrong places.

Instead of California and other Democratic states, they might have found what they were looking for right at home in Trump country.

If the allegations are true, there was some blatant election fraud going on in Bladen County, N.C., and Canton, Miss.

But it had nothing to do with immigrants, in the country illegally or otherwise. In both places, campaigns and candidates are the alleged fraudsters.

In North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, a campaign consultant working for Republican candidate Mark Harris is accused of paying people to collect absentee ballots. Both collecting ballots from a third party and paying people to do so are illegal in that state.

All the more worrisome is that some of those ballots never made it to elections headquarters to be counted.

The allegations are so serious that Harris hasn't been confirmed the winner and the election might have to be held again.

And in Mississippi, seven Canton city officials -- including the former police and fire chiefs -- were arrested last week in connection with a variety of election offenses, including bribing voters with money, Walmart gift cards and beer. (I hope it was at least a 12-pack of a nice pale ale.)

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Yoder wants 'autopsy' to determine reasons for heavy Republican losses in House (LINDSAY WISE, DECEMBER 14, 2018, KC Star)

Outgoing U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas wants national Republicans to conduct a thorough "autopsy" to determine why the party lost so many seats in the House of Representatives -- including his own.

Yoder signed onto a draft letter that House Republicans are circulating in response to the party's dramatic loss of 40 seats in this year's midterm elections. The copy, obtained by McClatchy, includes Yoder's signature alongside those of Carlos Cubelo, a moderate Republican who lost his re-election race in Florida, and GOP Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. It's unclear how many members signed it as of Friday, or whether the letter has been sent.

Stefanik served as the first female head of recruitment at the National Republican Congressional Committee -- the House's campaign arm -- but only one of the 100 women she recruited won. Next year there will be 89 Democratic women serving in the House compared to 13 Republican women. [...]

In the letter, Yoder, Stefanik and the other members say the results of this year's congressional elections "require an honest, transparent assessment" of what went wrong.

"Neither our Republican caucus, nor our party as a whole, can afford further erosion among key demographics," the letter states. "The November elections resulted in our party falling short in races that were otherwise winnable."

The letter points out that Republicans "lost a disproportionate number of seats in suburban districts and other key areas of our country" and "fell short across multiple demographics, including women, who represent a growing segment of America's voting population."

Downplaying or ignoring the causes for those losses "will lead us to repeat them," the letter warns.

California chief justice gives up Republican Party label (SUDHIN THANAWALA, DECEMBER 14, 2018, AP)

Cantil-Sakauye -- a registered Republican since age 18 -- was nominated chief justice in 2010 by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Early in her career, she worked as a deputy legal affairs secretary for Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, who appointed her as a Sacramento municipal court judge.

Another Republican governor, Pete Wilson, elevated her to Sacramento County court before she became an appellate court judge.

Cantil-Sakauye said the Kavanugh hearings left her "disheartened" and "hollow." Kavanaugh's confirmation was delayed and nearly derailed when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford made sexual assault allegations against him. A subsequent hearing in September before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee exposed a sharp partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans considering Kavanaugh's nomination. Kavanaugh denounced Senate Democrats during his confirmation hearing.

The U.S. Senate voted nearly entirely along party lines confirmed him to the court the following month.

As a mother of two young women, Cantil-Sakauye didn't understand the process. Why, for example, did Republicans bring in a female prosecutor to question Ford, she asked.

She said she made the decision to shed her party label in consultation with her husband and a few friends and described the process as "humbling, tough, emotional."

She described herself as conservative on some issues, but open-minded on social justice issues.

One wonders if the folks who think the Kavanaugh fight helped the GOP have ever met a woman, nevermind dated one.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


How Schumer united Dems against Trump's wall (BURGESS EVERETT, 12/15/2018, Politico)

The bottom line? Mexico isn't paying for the border wall, and neither is Congress -- even if there's a Christmastime shutdown. [...]

The Democratic unity is already having its desired effect: After digging in on Tuesday in a remarkable back and forth with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a televised Oval Office debate, Trump is actively considering ways out of the wall fight to avoid a partial shutdown next Friday. [...]

Trump repeatedly predicted to Pelosi and Schumer that House Republicans could pass a border funding bill, but griped about the Senate. Then he took ownership of any impending shutdown, saying it was worth the border wall fight.

The results made Schumer's caucus almost giddy.

"They completely handed him his head. He better get used to it because that's what it's going to be like now. He's going to get fact-checked to his face," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). "He's not going to have congressional leaders or Cabinet people around him like bobble heads saying yes to everything."

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Strange real estate deal raises specter of Putin buying Trump (Jackie Speier Dec. 14, 2018, SF Chronicle)

As Trump's financial empire was crumbling, Putin certainly had reason to believe that Trump might be susceptible.

In 1987, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, Yuri Dubinin, arranged for Trump and his then-wife, Ivana, to enjoy an all-expense-paid trip to Moscow to consider possible business prospects.

Only seven weeks after his trip, Trump ran full-page ads in the Boston Globe, the New York Times and the Washington Post calling for, in effect, the dismantling of the postwar Western foreign policy alliance.

He had another tour of Moscow in 1996.

Russian mobsters frequented and enjoyed the Trump casinos. Russians were heavy purchasers of units in the Trump Tower. So many Russians bought Trump apartments at his developments in Florida that the area became known as Little Moscow. The developers of two of his hotels were Russians with significant links to the Russian mob. The late leader of that mob in the United States, Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov, was living at the Trump Towers. In various real estate deals, Trump, at the very least, had turned a blind eye to apparent Russian money laundering.

Though Trump had previously contemplated running for president, Putin had no idea whether that would come to pass. It was enough that Trump was a prominent figure and television star already sympathetic to Russia.

Rybolovlev's purchase of the Florida mansion put about $74 million in Trump's pocket. Trump suddenly had oxygen.

What had Trump done to earn such a favor? It may seem surprising, but the answer could be nothing. At least not then.

Trump was being enrolled in the Russian system of kompromat, of which Putin is a master. Grant a favor, ask for nothing. Both parties understand that someday something may be expected in return.

And Rybolovlev? Only four months after Rybolovlev bought Trump's Florida mansion, the Russian government ruled that his mine had not caused the damage, blaming the collapse on long-dead Stalin-era planners. The stock price of Rybolovlev's company soared. It was up long enough for Rybolovlev to recover his losses on the Palm Beach purchase, plus, presumably, an ample commission for his service.

This decision was made by officials who have been identified as key figures in Putin's circle. Kompromat is the only explanation of these events that fits all the facts as we now know them.

Looking at Trump's circumstances in 2008, Putin laid out bait in the form of an absurdly high purchase price for a piece of real estate. Trump took the bait. The snare snapped shut.

One deal was closed. Could there have been others?

Keith Darden, an international relations professor at American University who has studied kompromat, says about Trump: "He's never said a bad word about Putin. He's exercised a degree of self-control with respect to Russia that he doesn't with anything else. ... He knows there are limits, there are bounds on what he can say and do with respect to Russia."

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Trump's Worst Nightmare? New York's Tish James (Alex Henderson, December 15, 2018 , AlterNet)

As president of the United States, Trump enjoys certain executive powers--including the power to issue pardons for federal crimes. The people Trump has pardoned so far at the federal level range from Scooter Libby to former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt for his unconstitutional tactics against undocumented immigrants. But the keyword with the Libby and Arpaio pardons is "federal": Trump had the power to pardon them for federal crimes--and he has the power to grant Paul Manafort (his former campaign manager) a presidential pardon for tax fraud, bank fraud and all the other crimes he has been convicted of. But Trump does not have the power to issue presidential pardons for criminal convictions in individual states, including any that might come about in 2019 in New York State. And James obviously plans to keep her staff very busy next year.

James, in a recent interview with NBC News, was quite specific about the things she plans to investigate--including whether or not Trump's business interests in New York City represent a violation of the U.S. Constitution's emoluments clause, which restricts presidents and other federal politicians from receiving gifts or payments from foreign powers (for example, the Russian government).

James has said that she plans to investigate the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York City that was attended by Manafort, the Trump Organization's Jared Kushner (who is married to the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump) and Donald Trump, Jr. as well as Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and others. And New York State's incoming attorney general also noted that she will be investigating Trump's real estate holdings in NYC for potential illegalities.

James told NBC News, "We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well.... We want to investigate anyone in his orbit who has, in fact, violated the law."

Further, James has asserted that she would like to pursue state charges against any Trump associates who are pardoned for  federal crimes allegedly committed in New York State. Presently, James might have difficulty doing that because of a double jeopardy law in New York State. But in the midterms, she campaigned on modifying that law--and doing so, James told NBC News, "is a priority because I have concerns with respect to the possibility that this administration might pardon some individuals who might face some criminal charges, but I do not want them to be immune from state charges."

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Ann Coulter says Jews, like rest of Democratic base, 'hate white men' (Times of Israel, 12/15/18)

"I mean you have the Muslims and the Jews and the various exotic sexual groups and the black church ladies with the college queers," Coulter said.

"The only thing that keeps the Democratic base together is for them to keep focusing on: 'No, white men are the ones keeping you down, you must hate white men.' It's the only thing they all have in common," Coulter added during her appearance on The Ingraham Angle.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


House Republicans Elect Anti-Vaxxer To Head Freshman Class (Dan Desai Martin, 12/15/18, Shareblue)

Tennessee congressman-elect Mark Green has a history of using anti-science, anti-Muslim, and anti-gay rhetoric. So naturally, the GOP freshman class elected him to be their leader.

Green, who won the House seat vacated by Marsha Blackburn when she ran for Senate, was elected unanimously by 30 freshman Republicans to be their class president.

His ignorant and bigoted views make him the perfect poster-child for Republicans in the Trump era.

Green, a medical doctor, recently embraced the debunked fringe theory that vaccines may cause autism. At a meeting with constituents after he was elected to the House, Green claimed that "there is some concern that the rise in autism is the result of the preservatives that are in our vaccines." [...]

Pediatricians "expressed dismay" at his comments, according to NBC News.

"[A]ny physician who espouses overt anti-vaccine views is contributing to our national decline in child public health, and could be considered in violation" of their Hippocratic oath, Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and dean of the school of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told NBC News.

Government agencies like the CDC have been working to dispel harmful myths like the ones Green is perpetuating.

And even though Green peddled these myths, his spokesperson told NBC that Green's own children are vaccinated.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


A Year in Reading: Garth Risk Hallberg (Garth Risk Hallberg December 15, 2018, The Millions)

First and foremost, about Halldór Laxness's Independent People. This Icelandic classic had been on my reading list for almost a decade, but something--its bulk, its ostensible subject (sheep farming), its mythic opening--held me back. Then, this summer, I took a copy to Maine, and as soon as Bjartur of Summerhouses blustered onto the page, the stubbornest hero in all of world literature, I was hooked. As for those sheep: This is a novel about them only in the sense that Lonesome Dove is a novel about cows. And though I love Lonesome Dove, Independent People is much the better book. Laxness's storytelling offers epic sweep and power, but also, in J.A. Thompson's stunning translation, modernist depth and daring, along with humor and beauty and pain to rival Tolstoy. In short, Independent People is one of my favorite novels ever.

Iceland's Stoic, Sardonic 'Independent People' (CHRISTINA SUNLEY, 5/04/09, All Things Considered)

I'd like to introduce you to the most maddening person I've ever encountered in my life: Bjartur of Summerhouses.

I've known him for 15 years, and he never fails to infuriate me; he is querulous, contrary, hard-hearted and stubborn.

And yet, I find myself drawn to him again and again.

Please do not let the fact that he is fictitious -- or Icelandic, or an impoverished sheep farmer -- deter you from entering his world, which is brilliantly conjured in the pages of Halldor Laxness' novel Independent People.

When I first opened this book, it was with a feeling of trepidation and a hefty dose of familial obligation. My mother had sent it to me in the mail, accompanied by a note that said "You must read this" -- a phrase that was underlined three times. "It's written by Halldor Laxness," she wrote. "He is one of Our People."

My mother was referring to the Icelanders; her parents' families had fled Iceland for North America in the 1800s after a devastating volcanic eruption, but she still referred to all Icelanders as "Our People."

And that is how I came to encounter the flinty yet endearing Bjartur of Summerhouses, a gritty, practical farmer who composes poetry as he strides through blizzards searching for lost sheep.

As the novel opens, Bjartur -- who spent 18 bitter years as a servant on another man's farm -- is surveying the first thing he has ever owned. It is a dark, dank, turf-roofed farmhouse on a glacial moor, where the family members inhabit one common room upstairs and the sheep, horse, cow and dog occupy the entire first floor.

But this miserable hovel is also Bjartur's palace. The character's sole quest in life -- and one of the novel's great themes -- is to live as an independent man, in debt to no one. It's a desire that comes with a price, especially in a harsh climate where interdependence is the only means of survival; Bjartur's wife, children and neighbors all bear the brunt of his obsession for independence.

If all of this seems too grim, keep reading. One of the great surprises of the novel is the author's deliciously sardonic humor and marvelous grasp of human foibles at all levels of society.

And they're finally going to add a visitor center to his house.   

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


The Steele Dossier: A Retrospective (Sarah Grant, Chuck Rosenberg, December 14, 2018, LawFare)

Elsewhere, Steele reports that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych "confided in Putin that he did authorize and order substantial kick-back payments to Manafort as alleged but sought to reassure him that there was no documentary trail left behind which could provide clear evidence of this."

The official record supports this second allegation: Manafort's work for, and bankrolling by, Yanukovych is at the core of the criminal charges against him--conduct he has admitted. The superseding indictment filed by Mueller's office in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia goes into extensive detail about Manafort's ties to Yanukovych and other Ukrainian political and business interests, but in short:

Defendant PAUL J.  MANAFORT, JR. (MANAFORT) served for years as a political consultant and lobbyist.  Between at least 2006 and 2015, MANAFORT, through companies he ran, acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and foreign political parties. Specifically, he represented the Government of Ukraine, the President of Ukraine (Victor Yanukovych, who was President from 2010 to 2014), the Party of Regions (a Ukrainian political party led by Yanukovych), and the Opposition Bloc (a successor to the Party of Regions after Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014).

MANAFORT generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of his Ukraine work. From approximately 2006 through 2017, MANAFORT, along with others including Richard W. Gates III (Gates), engaged in a scheme to hide the Ukraine income from United States authorities, while enjoying the use of the money.

Manafort's ties to Ukraine are relevant to the Russia investigation, as most readers will know, because he worked closely with an individual--Konstantin Kilimnik, a named co-conspirator in the superseding indictment against Manafort and a star player in Mueller's submission last week regarding Manafort's breach of his plea deal--suspected of ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort and Kilimnick worked on behalf of pro-Russian parties and lobbied within the United States to advance what were not merely Ukrainian interests, but Russian interests as well. Among those interests, according to the dossier, were "sidelin[ing] Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue," "deflect[ing] attention away from Ukraine," and building political support in the U.S. for "lift[ing] Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia."

The Kremlin also pursued that last interest through, among others, Trump's campaign advisor and first national security advisor, Michael Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to one count of making materially false statements to the FBI, in violation of 18 USC § 1001(a), and is due to be sentenced on Dec. 18. Among the things he lied about to the Special Counsel's Office were his discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about the Trump administration's intent to lift sanctions:

During the interview, FLYNN falsely stated that he did not ask Russia's Ambassador to the United States ("Russian Ambassador") to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed on Russia. FLYNN also falsely stated that he did not remember a follow-up conversation in which the Russian Ambassador stated that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of FLYNN's request.

The dossier does not allege significant communications between Flynn and Kremlin-affiliated individuals during the campaign--as it does for Manafort, Cohen and Carter Page--but does remark upon Flynn's visit to Moscow in December 2015. Steele reports:

[A] Kremlin official involved in US relations commented on aspects of the Russian operation to date. Its goals had been three-fold--asking sympathetic US actors how Moscow could help them; gathering relevant intelligence; and creating and disseminating compromising information ('kompromat'). This had involved the Kremlin supporting various US political figures, including funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow. S/he named a delegation from Lyndon Larouche; presidential candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party; Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page; and former DIA Director Michael Flynn, in this regard and as successful in terms of perceived outcomes.

The redacted addendum to the sentencing memorandum filed by Mueller's team in Flynn's case explains that Flynn has cooperated extensively with the Special Counsel's Office and provided information relevant to at least three different investigations: one criminal investigation, about which all information is redacted; the special counsel's investigation into interactions between Russian government figures and the Trump campaign; and a third, completely redacted investigation. With respect to the special counsel's investigation, the addendum notes that Flynn "assisted the [Special Counsel's Office's] investigation on a range of issues, including interactions between individuals in the Trump Transition Team and Russia," and other topics which are redacted. This indicates that the relevant information Flynn is providing to Mueller's team is not limited to the post-election discussions about sanctions relief about which he previously lied.

Notably absent from the dossier is any reference to George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who pleaded guilty last fall to lying to the FBI about his contacts during the campaign with individuals tied to the Russian government and recently served a 12-day sentence after proving himself unhelpful to the Special Counsel's Office. (He was sentenced to 14 days but was released two days early, prior to a weekend.) The statement of offense asserts that over the first half of 2016, Papadopoulos had multiple in-person interactions and email communications with several individuals connected to the Russian government or whom Papadopoulos believed were connected to the Russian government, including a London-based professor, later identified as Joseph Mifsud; a female Russian national who was introduced as a relative of Russian president Vladimir Putin; the Russian ambassador in London; and an individual claiming to be affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In April 2016, Papadopoulos learned from the professor that the Russians possessed "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, in the form of thousands of her emails. Over the course of approximately five months, strongly encouraged by his contacts, Papadopoulos aggressively pursued a meeting between Trump and/or senior campaign officials with Russian government officials. He communicated the idea and his progress on a number of occasions to various high-ranking Trump campaign officials. When interviewed by the FBI in January 2017 in the course of its investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election, Papadopoulos lied about the extent, timing and nature of his communications with these individuals.

Again, Papadopoulos is not mentioned in the Steele dossier. We revisit his case because it resonates with one of the themes of the dossier, which is the extensive Russian outreach effort to an array of individuals connected to the Trump campaign. Steele's sources reported on alleged interactions between Carter Page and Russian officials, but Papadopoulos's conduct would have fit right in. In any event, Papadopoulos is noteworthy as the first figure in the Trump campaign--as far as we know--approached and informed by Russian proxies that the Russian government had obtained Clinton's emails.

To conclude, we return to Carter Page, about whom there is a great deal in the dossier. We will not recount the details here because the allegations have not been corroborated in filings by Mueller's team. The only nod at confirmation we have from an official source is a heavily-redacted memorandum from the House intelligence committee minority. In it, Ranking Member Schiff describes the FBI's wholly independent basis for investigating Page's long-established connections to Russia, aside from the Steele dossier, and emphasizes that the Justice Department possessed information "obtained through multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele's reporting" with respect to Page.

As we noted, our interest is in assessing the Steele dossier as a raw intelligence document, not a finished piece of analysis. The Mueller investigation has clearly produced public records that confirm pieces of the dossier. And even where the details are not exact, the general thrust of Steele's reporting seems credible in light of what we now know about extensive contacts between numerous individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


The Reasons Protectionists Want to Keep the Economic Pie From Growing Are Half-Baked (Amanda Snell & Patrick Tyrrell, December 14, 2018, Daily Signal)

Many factors contribute to economic growth, including trade liberalization and increased labor productivity. These principles are at the heart of a free-market economy, which lends itself to individual advancement.

Economist John V.C. Nye has written:

In the most successful countries, the average citizen now enjoys a material standard of living that would have made the greatest king of [200] years ago turn green with envy.

But despite incredible gains in overall wealth, some argue that certain industries need government protection, even in advanced economies, such as that of the United States.

One of the most frequently heard arguments is that American manufacturing--which is said to have peaked around 1980 and undergone an overall decline since--needs tariffs to compete against manufacturers in other countries.

A quick look at the facts, however, shows that the U.S. manufacturing sector has become bigger and more productive as trade has expanded, although major advancements in technology may have crimped demand for low-skilled workers in the sector.

Instead of focusing on protecting certain sectors from foreign competition, we should pursue economic freedom, enabling further innovation.

Domestic and international economic development are not mutually exclusive, and in a free market, declining sectors are replaced organically by other efficient industries.

Innovation creates value for producers and consumers, and an unfettered economy sets the stage for these mutually beneficial transactions.

Jonah Goldberg had an excellent discussion on this topic with Tyler Cowen, Episode 75: Stubbornly Attached (HOSTED BY JONAH GOLDBERG, December 13, 2018, The Remnant)

What is a Crusonia plant? Where did prosperity come from? Can Jonah get a laconic libertarian to digress? Tyler Cowen, George Mason University economics professor and author of Stubborn Attachments, joins the Remnant to answer these and other questions.

December 14, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Federal Deficit For November Hits Record High Despite Tax Reform (David Thornton, 12/14/18, The Resurgent)

Tax reform stands as the one major legislative accomplishment of the Trump Administration. The measure became law a year ago and, as forecasted, jumpstarted growth in an economy that had been largely stagnant since the Great Recession. Unfortunately, tax reform has so far not lived up to its promise of paying for itself with that increased growth. In fact, the deficit for the 2018 fiscal year, which ended in September, is the largest in six years despite increased growth and revenues. [...]

Despite the tax reform and the increased tariff taxes on trade, revenues were flat at $206 billion, about half of what the government spent.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Cohen says Trump knew of hush payments, 'doesn't tell the truth' (Susan Heavey, 12/14/18, Reuters)

"He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters," Cohen told the ABC program "Good Morning America," referring to the $150,000 paid to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the $130,000 paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels. [...]

Asked if Trump knew the payments were wrong, Cohen said, "Of course."

Cohen bristled at Trump's accusation that he was trying to embarrass the president and protect his own family.

"Here is the truth: The people of the United States of America, the people of the world don't believe what he's saying. The man doesn't tell the truth, and it's sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds," Cohen said.

"I gave loyalty to someone who truthfully does not deserve loyalty," Cohen added.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Brazilian president approves extradition of Italian militant  (Reuters, 12/14/18) 

Brazil's President Michel Temer on Friday signed an extradition order for Italian militant fugitive Cesare Battisti wanted for murder in Italy since the 1970s, his press office said. [...]

Battisti faces life in prison in Italy where he was convicted of four murders committed when he belonged to a guerrilla group called Armed Proletarians for Communism. He escaped from prison in 1981 and lived in France before fleeing to Brazil to avoid being extradited.

The Italian government almost obtained his extradition in 2010 but leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva granted Battisti asylum on his last day in office that year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Adam Schiff's Plans to Obliterate Trump's Red Line: With the Democrats controlling the House, Schiff's congressional investigation will follow the money. (Jeffrey Toobin, 12/24/18, The New Yorker)

Schiff went on, "At the end of the day, what should concern us most is anything that can have a continuing impact on the foreign policy and national-security policy of the United States, and, if the Russians were laundering money for the Trump Organization, that would be totally compromising." Schiff hypothesizes that Trump went beyond using his campaign and the Presidency as a vehicle for advancing his business interests, speculating that he may have shaped policy with an eye to expanding his fortune. "There's a whole constellation of issues where that is essentially the center of gravity," Schiff said. "Obviously, that issue is implicated in efforts to build Trump Tower in Moscow. It's implicated in the money that Trump is bragging he was getting from the Saudis. And why shouldn't he love the Saudis? He said he was making so much money from them." As the Washington Post has reported, Trump has sold a superyacht and a hotel to a Saudi prince, a $4.5-million apartment near the United Nations to the Saudi government, and many other apartments to Saudi nationals, and, since Trump became President, his hotels in New York and Chicago have seen significant increases in bookings from Saudi visitors. In a break with the Republican congressional leadership, Trump refuses to take action against Saudi Arabia, notwithstanding substantial evidence that Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince and the putative head of state, directed the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who lived in the United States.

Schiff also pointed out that Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law, met with the C.E.O. of a state-owned Russian bank in December, 2016, and that, the following month, Erik Prince, an informal adviser to the Trump campaign, met with the leader of a Russian sovereign-wealth fund in the Seychelles, an East African archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean. "The American people have a right to know that their President is working on their behalf, not his family's financial interests," Schiff said. "Right now, I don't think any of us can have the confidence that that's the case." All of these subjects, Schiff averred, were fair game for investigation by the committee that he will soon chair.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Kasparov: Russia Increasingly Losing Its Standing On World Stage (Radio Liberty, December 14, 2018)

Kasparov said that Russia invested "enormous resources" to ensure Donald Trump's victory against Hillary Clinton.

"Russian propaganda portrayed Trump's election victory as Putin's triumph," Kasparov said.

However, the "triumph" in Moscow has been short-lived because, "as it turned out, the president of the United States, with all his enormous political power, is limited in his ability to pursue the policy that Putin would have expected from him," Kasparov added.

The allegations of Russian election meddling have dogged Trump's presidency and have given rise to an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Trump denies the allegation, calling it a political witch hunt.

Kasparov also said that another blow to Putin has been the European sanctions imposed in response to the annexation by Moscow of Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 10,300 over the past 4 1/2 years.

On December 13, the European Union prolonged the sanctions for another six months.

The sanctions, which mainly target the Russian banking and energy sectors, were first imposed in the summer of 2014 and have been extended every six months since then.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


MBS said to be plotting Camp David-style handshake with Netanyahu (David Hearst,  13 December 2018, Middle East Eye)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reported to be "seriously considering" setting up a "game-changing" Camp David-style summit meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with US President Donald Trump playing host.

The crown prince, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, has asked the emergency task force he created to deal with the fall-out from the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to look at the idea, sources in the kingdom with close knowledge of the discussions told Middle East Eye.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Trump's Inauguration Paid Trump's Company -- With Ivanka in the Middle: As the inaugural committee planned the landmark celebration, internal concerns were raised about whether Trump's Washington hotel was overcharging for event space. The spending could be a violation of the law. (Ilya Marritz, WNYC, and Justin Elliott, 12/14/18, ProPublica)

The inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company's Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica.

During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect's eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to "express my concern" that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen "when this is audited."
If the Trump hotel charged more than the going rate for the venues, it could violate tax law. The inaugural committee's payments to the Trump Organization and Ivanka Trump's role have not been previously reported or disclosed in public filings.

"The fact that the inaugural committee did business with the Trump Organization raises huge ethical questions about the potential for undue enrichment," said Marcus Owens, the former head of the division of the Internal Revenue Service that oversees nonprofits.

Inaugural workers had other misgivings. Rick Gates, then the deputy to the chairman of the inaugural, asked some vendors to take payments directly from donors, rather than through the committee, according to two people with direct knowledge. The vendors felt the request was unusual and concerning, according to these people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they signed confidentiality agreements. It is not clear whether any vendors took him up on his request.

The revelations about the inauguration's finances show how Trump blurred the lines between his political and business lives, as the real estate mogul ascended to the presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


Jared Kushner Replaced Michael Cohen as Trump's National Enquirer Connection (Asawin Suebsaeng,  Maxwell Tani,  Lloyd Grove, 12.14.18, Daily Beast)

Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner was handed a task considered critical to the president's operations. In addition to serving as a senior adviser in the White House, he would also be playing the role of the main conduit between Trump and his friend David Pecker, the National Enquirer publisher and chief executive of AMI, who prosecutors said on Wednesday admitted to making a $150,000 hush-money payment "in concert with" the Trump campaign. . [...]

"Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed... This was not a big crime," Giuliani told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.

Well, Oleg Erovinkin was.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


Who are Yemen's Houthis? (Myriam Renaud, 12/14/18, PRI)

Just as the Protestant tradition is subdivided into Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and others, Shiite Islam is also subdivided. Houthis belong to the Zaydi branch.

From the ninth century onward -- for a thousand years -- a state ruled by Zaydi religious leaders and politicians existed in northern Yemen. Then, in 1962, Egyptian-trained Yemeni military officers toppled the Zaydi monarchy and replaced it with a republic. Because of their ties to the ancient regime, Zaydis were perceived as a threat to the new government and were subjected to severe repression.

Nearly three decades later, in 1990, the region known as South Yemen merged with North Yemen to become the Republic of Yemen. Zaydis remained a majority in the north and west of the country, and also in the capital city of Sanaa. However, in terms of the overall population, they became a minority.

According to a 2010 CIA estimate, 65 percent of Yemen's people are Sunnis and 35 percent are Shiites. The majority of those Shiites are Zaydis. Jews, Bahais, Hindus and Christians make up less than 1 percent of inhabitants, many of whom are refugees or temporary foreign residents.

To reduce the dominance of Zaydis in the north, government authorities encouraged Muslims belonging to two Sunni branches with links to Saudi Arabia -- Salafis and Wahhabis -- to settle in the heart of the Zaydis' traditional territories.

Start of Houthi insurgency
Contributing to this trend, in the early 1990s, a Yemeni cleric founded a teaching institute in the Zaydis' heartland. This cleric, educated in Saudi Arabia, developed a version of Salafi Islam.

His institute proselytized with the goal of reforming Muslims through conversion. It educated thousands of Yemeni students and, in less than three decades, the new religious group grew large enough to compete with older groups such as the Zaydis.

According to scholar Charles Schmitz, the Houthi insurgency began in the early 1990s, spurred, in part, by Zaydi resistance to growing Salafi and Wahhabi influence in the north.

The entire WoT just consists of the Anglosphere helping Shi'ites, Kurds and democratic Sunni/Islamists win self-representation at the expense of secular dictatorships and the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 AM


Democrats in New Jersey Have a Firm Grip on Power. They Want Even More. (Nick Corasaniti, Dec. 13, 2018, NY Times)

Legislative power brokers across the country have long designed district lines in back-room deals that entrenched their control for years, if not decades. But now, Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey are carrying out a power grab in an unusually public fashion: They are seeking to make Republicans a permanent minority by essentially writing gerrymandering into the State Constitution.

The New Jersey plan comes amid a national reckoning over the consequences of gerrymandering and has been met by fierce opposition across the political landscape -- and not just from Republicans and nonpartisan watchdog groups.

Even some national Democratic leaders have criticized the plan, fearing that it undercuts Democratic efforts to attack what they term Republican strong-arm tactics in state capitals across the country. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Offshore Wind Bonanza Draws Bidding War in Record-Setting Sale (Jennifer A Dlouhy, December 13, 2018, 1Bloomberg)

Companies competed Thursday for the opportunity to install wind turbines in Atlantic waters off Massachusetts in an auction that shattered records even as it headed toward a second day of frenzied bidding. [...]

By Thursday evening, when Interior Department officials called an overnight halt to the auction, four companies were still vying for the territory, drawn by growing demand for renewable power in the Northeast U.S. and a chance at gaining a foothold in the nation's growing offshore wind market.

"The unprecedented interest in today's sale demonstrates that not only has offshore wind arrived in the U.S., but it is set to soar," said Randall Luthi, head of the National Ocean Industries Association.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Former Apprentice Staffer Claims Trump Was 'Speed Freak,' Invited Teen Beauty Queens to His Suite (Tommy Christopher, Dec 13th, 2018, Mediate)

During a recent performance, Casler told the crowd that he worked on The Apprentice for six seasons, as well as some of Trump's beauty pageants during the 1990s, and he made some brutal revelations:

I worked on a bunch of those beauty pageants he had in the nineties too. That was a good idea, Miss Teen Universe? Yeah, that's like giving Jeffrey Dahmer a cooking show. He would line up the girls on the side of the stage, and he would inspect them literally, he would stick his little freaking doll fingers in their mouth and look at their teeth. I'm not kidding, this is true, he would line them up like they were pieces of meat. He'd be like, "You, you, and you, if you want to win I'm in the penthouse suite, come and see me." [...]

Casler then claimed that Trump is a "speed freak," and that Trump "crushes up his Adderall and he sniffs it because he can't read, so he gets really nervous when he has to read the cue cards."

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM


Trump increasingly isolated as aides leave, friends flip and investigations advance (CHRIS MEGERIAN and ELI STOKOLS, DEC 13, 2018, LA Times)

For the second day in a row, the president had been in the White House residence all morning, fuming about federal investigations that have moved closer to him -- and are likely to get worse.

His former confidant, attorney Michael Cohen, and other once-stalwart supporters have flipped, becoming witnesses for a Justice Department he has struggled to bend to his will. Prosecutors also secured the cooperation of American Media Inc., the tabloid publisher that routinely helped Trump muzzle bad stories and target his enemies.

The result is Trump has become increasingly isolated as he enters what may be the most difficult stretch of his presidency, one laden with political and legal dangers.

December 13, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Half of Russians now say Vladimir Putin is responsible for the country's problems, according to new poll (Levada Center, 13 december 2018)

For only the third time in Putin's presidency, more than half the country currently holds him responsible for Russia's problems and the rising cost of living, according to a new poll by the Levada Center. Late last month, 55 percent of the country said Putin is to blame for these trends. (Sociologists recorded previous spikes in August 2012, at 51 percent, and in August 2014, at 65 percent.)

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Trump's 'Advice of Counsel' Tweets Trashing Michael Cohen May Have Just Waived Attorney-Client Privilege (Colin Kalmbacher, December 13th, 2018, Law & Crime)

"I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," Trump wrote. "He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called 'advice of counsel,' and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid."

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Joshua Block pointed out the potential issue with  Trump's defense here.

"Asserting an 'advice of counsel' defense generally constitutes a waiver of attorney client privilege, Block tweeted. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Get Ready for Mueller's Phase Two: The Middle East Connection (Erin Banco, 12.13.1, Daily Beast)

While one part of the Mueller team has indicted Russian spies and troll-masters, another cadre has been spending its time focusing on how Middle Eastern countries pushed cash to Washington politicos in an attempt to sway policy under President Trump's administration. Various witnesses affiliated with the Trump campaign have been questioned about their conversations with deeply connected individuals from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, according to people familiar with the probe. Topics in those meetings ranged from the use of social-media manipulation to help install Trump in the White House to the overthrow of the regime in Iran.

Now, according to those same sources, the Special Counsel's Office is ready to outline what cooperating witnesses have told them about foreigners' plans to help Trump win the presidency. Two sources with knowledge of the probe said Mueller's team has for months discussed the possibility of issuing new charges on this side of the investigation.

"If this is going to be unveiled, this would be like the surfacing of the submarine but on the other plank which we haven't seen," said Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Nikki Haley Is Fierce (MICHAEL WARREN, December 13, 2018, Weekly Standard)

A young, charismatic former governor, the daughter of immigrants from India, with foreign-policy experience and national name recognition: Many don't see a mere "voice" in Nikki Haley, they see a future president. Friends tell her she ought to run one day. "I hope she does," says Trey Gowdy, a retiring congressman from Haley's state of South Carolina. "She's very smart, very tough, very politically skilled." People in the administration who worked with her say similar things. [...]

Haley has decided to remain in New York after leaving the U.N. so that her 17-year-old son can finish high school there. (Her daughter, 20, is a nursing student at Clemson, Haley's alma mater, and her husband, Michael, remains in South Carolina where he serves as an officer in the National Guard.) Friends of hers also note that a decade in public service during one's prime earning years can take a financial toll--South Carolina's governor earns below the national average and a lot less than plenty of public employees in high-tax states--and that Manhattan is a good place to find your footing. The center of the news media universe, it's also a convenient perch to remain a presence in the national conversation. A book, a think tank role, some TV hits, and a bit of distance from the president she once served? It sure sounds like the beginnings of a campaign for something.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Russian operative Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy (Elisha Fieldstadt, Charlie Gile and Rich Schapiro, 12/13/18, NBC News)

In pleading guilty, Butina admitted to working with her Republican operative boyfriend Paul Erickson -- identified in court papers as as "U.S. Person 1" -- at the behest of a Russian official in order "to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics ... for the benefit of the Russian Federation."

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Trump Considering Son-In-Law Jared Kushner For Next Chief Of Staff (S.V. Date, 12/13/18, HuffPo)

Having run through his first choices for his chief of staff vacancy without any luck, President Donald Trump is considering his own son-in-law for the job.

Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump's daughter Ivanka and already an official White House adviser, met with Trump Wednesday about the job, a top Republican close to the White House told HuffPost. He and two others close to Trump or the White House who confirmed Kushner's interest in the position did so on condition of anonymity to discuss the president's staffing considerations freely.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Did Michael Flynn Try to Strike a Grand Bargain With Moscow as It Attacked the 2016 Election? (DAVID CORN AND DAN FRIEDMAN, DECEMBER 13, 2018, Mother Jones)

[T]wo Flynn associates tell Mother Jones that Flynn has informed friends and colleagues that prior to Election Day he spoke with Kislyak about how Trump could work productively with Russia if he won the presidency.

One of these Flynn associates, who each asked not to be identified, notes that Flynn said he discussed with Kislyak a grand bargain in which Moscow would cooperate with the Trump administration to resolve the Syrian conflict and Washington would end or ease up on the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Federal prosecutors probing Trump inauguration spending: WSJ (Reuters, 12/13/18) 

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether U.S. President Donald Trump's inaugural committee misspent some of the funds it raised, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people it said were familiar with the matter.

The investigation opened by the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office is examining whether some of the committee's donors gave money in exchange for policy concessions, influencing administration positions or access to the incoming administration, the Journal said.

Trump was in the room during hush money discussions with tabloid publisher (Tom Winter, 12/13/18, NBC News)

Donald Trump was the third person in the room in August 2015 when his lawyer Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker could help counter negative stories about Trump's relationships with women, NBC News has confirmed.

As part of a nonprosecution agreement disclosed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, American Media Inc., the Enquirer's parent company, admitted that "Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided."

The "statement of admitted facts" says that AMI admitted making a $150,000 payment "in concert with the campaign," and says that Pecker, Cohen and "at least one other member of the campaign" were in the meeting. According to a person familiar with the matter, the "other member" was Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


U.S. Senate hands Trump historic rebuke on Saudi Arabia (Patricia Zengerle, 12/13/18, Reuters)

The U.S. Senate delivered a rare double rebuke to President Donald Trump on Saudi Arabia on Thursday, voting to end U.S. military support for the war in Yemen and blame the Saudi crown prince for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


The contradiction that will bedevil Trump for the next two years (Paul Waldman, December 12, 2018, Washington Post)

The truth is that the wall has always been so much more than a physical structure. It's a vessel into which Trump asked his supporters to pour all their hopes, their fears, their resentments, their anger and their disappointments. It would be the instrument of their spiritual restoration, a way to not just keep out immigrants but to bring back the dignity Trump voters felt they had lost. Not only would we build it, high and wide and strong, but we would use it to make Mexico kneel down before us in subjugation. "Who's gonna pay for it?" Trump would ask his fervid crowds, and they'd cry "Mexico!" in joyful response, envisioning the day that we force our southern neighbors to open up their wallets to pay for their own humiliation while we stand tall once again.

But as he runs for reelection, he won't be able to convince them that the wall is built and Mexico has paid for it, especially if he's also telling them they still need to be afraid of the problem the wall is supposed to solve.

This contradiction will emerge for Trump on issue after issue. As much as he will describe his presidency as the most successful in history, he will always be drawn back to promoting fear and anger, as he did without success in the midterm elections. That's not only because it's where he seems to feel most comfortable, but because it's what he believes his base wants, and he sees feeding that base as his only path to victory.

...why wouldn't Mexico just build the Wall on their side with that sweet, sweet cheap labor?

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


KFC is now selling a firelog that smells like its fried chicken, but supplies are limited (Kelly Tyko, 12/13/18, USA TODAY)

The limited edition 11 Herbs & Spices Firelog costs $18.99 and is available while supplies last at The price includes tax, shipping and handling.

"The smell of the Colonel's Original Recipe fried chicken is unmistakable," the fast-food chain said in a statement, noting it worked with Enviro-Log to create "the ultimate winter necessity."

According to the item description, the one-of-a-kind logs made with 100 percent recycled materials can burn up to three hours. They "may result in a craving for fried chicken" and "attract bears or neighbors who are hungry."

...since they added a 4th hour.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Tabloid Publisher's Deal in Hush-Money Inquiry Adds to Trump's Danger (Mike McIntire, Charlie Savage and Jim Rutenberg, Dec. 12, 2018, NY Times)

With the revelation by prosecutors on Wednesday that a tabloid publisher admitted to paying off a Playboy model, key participants in two hush-money schemes say the transactions were intended to protect Donald J. Trump's campaign for president.

That leaves Mr. Trump in an increasingly isolated and legally precarious position, according to election law experts. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments made in 2016 to keep two women silent about alleged affairs are now firmly framed as illegal campaign contributions.

There's no longer any question that Donald is guilty of these crimes, since his co-conspirators have pled.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Zionism, Pan-Africanism, and White Nationalism (Shaul Magid, December 12, 2018, The Tablet)

The law called "Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People," also known as the Israeli Nation-State Law, which was passed by the Knesset last July and defines Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish people," has raised serious concerns among political scientists, legal experts, and liberal Zionists, even as it has been celebrated by many of those on the Israeli right. Is this law the fulfillment of Zionism, or its demise? The term "Zionism" itself, and thus the question, is fraught, since Zionism is an ideology that has been at war with itself since its inception. Which Zionism are we speaking about? Taken at face value, the law seems unproblematic, as that was what many different kinds of Zionism held from the start. But when that idea is made part of the Basic Law of the country, problems arise: 25 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jews and thus find themselves outside the raison d'être of a legally defined ethnocentric state, or what Israeli scholar Oren Yiftachel calls an "ethnocracy."

Why is this a problem? For example, while we can say colloquially that America is a "Christian country" (over 90 percent of American citizens are at least ancestrally Christian), Congress does not codify that idea into law. And I would assume American Jews would feel somewhat uncomfortable with such legislation. The de facto notion of Israel as a state of the Jews is not the same thing as altering Israel's Basic Law to say as much. Two questions one could ask are: (1) What does this new law do to the present reality of statist Zionism (not all Zionism was statist, but arguably today all Zionism is statist)--that is, what kind of state now exists in light of it? And (2) Is legally binding ethnocentrism the natural fulfillment of an earlier form of Zionism that has now dominated the discourse? Or, is this an aberration of statist Zionism?

One way to get at these questions is to explore them not from the perspective of Zionism's own self-definition or justification, but rather by asking how Zionism has been viewed by others who adopted it for their own movements of self-determination. Yes, Zionism has been the most significant experiment in Jewish modernity. For a beleaguered people frustrated with the failure of emancipation to resolve the perennial problem of persecution in Europe and fueled by an age-old hope of returning to their ancestral land, the Jews' creation of an ethnocentric Jewish nation-state seemed, in the heyday of colonialism, like a viable solution to maximize collective flourishing and safety. Yet while the Zionist experiment may have been the most successful one in the contemporary politics of ethnocentricity, it was not the only one, and perhaps not even the first one, in modernity. Nor is it the last.

In fact, long before the state's existence, Zionism became the exemplar of ethnocentric politics, and it was used as a lodestar for other minority attempts to solve the problem of the limits of ethnic self-determination. [...]

Here, I discuss two examples of Zionism outside Judaism: Black Zionism and White Zionism. Black Zionism has its roots before the formal advent of Zionism: in the Pan-African writings of William Blyden and Martin Delaney, and then later in W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Stokely Carmichael. White Zionism is a new phenomenon, taken up by some in the alt-right such as Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor and to some extent Steve Bannon, each arguing from the perspective that white Christians are losing, or have lost, their majority status and privilege in America. I argue that all three "Zionisms"--Jewish, black, and white--are ethnically, or racially, based and promote the notion of a renewed society, lost in the real or mythic past, that can only be maintained by means of ethnic dominance; I argue that they can offer religious and racial freedom but never offer equality.

December 12, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski Calls Mike Pompeo A Homophobic Slur (RYAN SAAVEDRA, December 12, 2018, Daily Wire)

During an interview with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin Wednesday, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a "wannabe dictator's butt boy." The comment earned swift backlash for its homophobic undertones and prompted an apology from Brzezinski -- though not to Pompeo.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


EU parliament approves 'world's largest' free trade deal with Japan (Deutsche-Welle, 12/12/18)

The European Parliament on Wednesday approved a free trade agreement between Japan and the EU, covering 635 million people and almost one-third of the world's economy.

Dubbed the world's largest free trade agreement, the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will remove duties on almost all agriculture and industrial products as well as open up the service sector and procurement. It also moves to eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade.

"Almost five centuries after Europeans established the first trade ties with Japan, the entry into force of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will bring our trade, political and strategic relationship to a whole new level," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


As U.S. cuts refugee numbers, African teens find brotherhood on a Texas soccer team (Monica Rhor, 12/06/18, USA TODAY)

 The boys in royal blue huddled in the middle of a soccer field, arms locked, heads bowed, their lucky hot pink socks a sharp contrast to the browning grass and storm-threatening sky striated with slate and gray. 

In few minutes, the reVision Football Club would play their final match of the fall season. If they won, they would qualify for a state soccer cup for the first time by beating last year's champions.

They would defy the odds - as they have been doing all their lives.

Most of the teenage players were born in refugee camps in Africa and arrived in this country with nothing, save a few phrases in English - "Hello" "How are you?" "Where is the food?" - and the yearning for a better life.

Here, they encountered a different kind of struggle: New languages and unfamiliar cultures, classrooms where they are bullied for their accent and skin color, hardscrabble apartment complexes where street gangs fish for fresh recruits - and now, a president who has made it clear that refugees are no longer welcome.

But one thing has remained constant. From Africa to America, they have found ways to keep playing soccer.

In the beautiful game, they discovered strength and self-confidence. In this team, which came together almost by accident, they forged a brotherhood. In their stories, they offer a glimpse into the challenges confronted by refugee children - who, in 2016, made up about 44 percent of those resettled in this country.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


National Enquirer Parent Company Admits to Helping Trump Commit Criminal Violation of Campaign Finance Law (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, DEC 12, 2018, Slate)

The news was announced in a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which prosecuted Cohen:

The Office also announced today that it has previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, in connection with AMI's role in making the above-described $150,000 payment before the 2016 presidential election. As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate's presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election. AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


Inside Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam's Strange Ties to Scientology (Marlow Stern, 12.12.18, The Daily Beast)

You probably know about the Church of Scientology's courting of Hollywood celebrities, from Tom Cruise to John Travolta to the woman who's the voice of Bart Simpson, and perhaps you've caught wind of its cozy relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department.

But few are aware of its close partnership with the Nation of Islam, led by Minister Louis Farrakhan.

The approximately 20,000-strong black political and religious movement was formed in 1930 to improve the lives of black Americans, but in recent years has come under fire for its anti-gay, anti-white, and anti-Semitic views. Farrakhan, a vocal anti-Semite, found himself back in the news recently when he was cited as one of the reasons for the implosion of the Women's March, with some leaders of the movement accused of supporting Farrakhan and parroting his anti-Semitic talking points.

The alliance between the Nation of Islam, a black organization, and Scientology, an almost entirely white one, was hatched in the mid-Aughts, when the late Isaac Hayes, one of the only famous black Scientologists, approached Scientology leader David Miscavige and asked why the "religion" wasn't doing more to court black Americans. So Miscavige reached out to the Nation of Islam, and by 2010, they began promoting the "benefits" of Dianetics, the core set of ideas preached by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

During a sermon in Chicago on July 1, 2012, Farrakhan proclaimed to his acolytes, "I found the tool that I know can help us. And I thank God for Mr. L. Ron Hubbard. And I thank God for his research and teaching."

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Germany: Santa Clauses in short supply amid dearth of skilled labor (Deutsche Welle, 12/12/18)

People who are ready to play Santa Claus in stores or at Christmas markets, even as a paid job, are becoming few and far between in Germany, according to recruitment agencies.

Willi Dahmen, who runs one such agency in the northern German city of Celle, told DW on Wednesday that he and other recruiters across Germany were facing a dearth of willing Santas this year.

Dahmen said one reason was that many young people were not willing to sacrifice their weekends or holidays to do the work.

He also lamented the fact that many Santa Clauses who did take on the job were poorly trained and had cheap costumes that were not up to the role. "What are the children to think?" he said.

That fat white people are lazy?
Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Incoming New York attorney general plans wide-ranging investigations of Trump and family (Allan Smith, 12/12/18, NBC News)

James outlined some of the probes she intends to pursue with regard to the president, his businesses and his family members. They include:

Any potential illegalities involving Trump's real estate holdings in New York, highlighting a New York Times investigation published in October into the president's finances.

The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian official.

Examine government subsidies Trump received, which were also the subject of Times investigative work.

Whether he is in violation of the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution through his New York businesses.

Continue to probe the Trump Foundation.

"We want to investigate anyone in his orbit who has, in fact, violated the law," said James, who was endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Trump 'storms out and throws briefing papers across floor' after extraordinary televised row with Pelosi and Schumer (Tom Embury-Dennis, 12/12/18, The Independent US)

A frustrated Donald Trump reportedly threw briefing papers across the White House floor following his chaotic televised meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. 

The US president repeatedly clashed with the Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday over his desire for additional billions in border wall funding. 

Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer were widely considered to have bested Mr Trump after the 72-year-old was goaded into admitting he would be "proud" to partially shut down the government if congress refuses to approve $5bn in border wall funding. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Exclusive: Trump says China 'back in the market' for U.S. soybeans (Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason, 12/12/18, Reuters)

But traders in Chicago said they have seen no evidence of a resumption of such purchases following China's imposition of a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in July.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Maria Butina set to plead guilty to conspiring to act as agent of Kremlin, documents shows (Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger December 11, 2018, Washington Post)

The young Russian operative called her strategy the "Diplomacy Project," an elaborate, multiyear scheme to infiltrate the conservative movement in the United States in hopes of cementing bonds to benefit the Kremlin.

Maria Butina laid out the proposal in March 2015 and then pursued her plan over the next two years, traveling to conferences to schmooze Republican presidential candidates. She established close ties to top officials in the National Rifle Association. She hosted "friendship dinners" with wealthy Americans. And she organized a Russian delegation to attend the influential National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

Much of Butina's work has been reported over the past year as part of a broader campaign by Moscow to influence U.S. elections -- but new details are included in documents obtained by The Washington Post that will be filed in court Thursday, when Butina is expected to admit for the first time that her activities were part of a concerted endeavor, coordinated with a top Russian official with the express intent of establishing unofficial lines of communication with Americans who could influence U.S. politics.

The documents show Butina plans to admit she worked at the direction of a former senator who was deputy governor of the Russian central bank. That description matches Alexander Torshin, who was subjected to economic sanctions by the U.S. government earlier this year and resigned his bank position in November.

Butina is being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, not special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But with a plea, she will become the first Russian national convicted of working to influence U.S. policy around the time of the 2016 election.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Google CEO Sundar Pichai emerges 'unscathed' from the circus in Washington (Drew Harwell December 11, 2018, Washington Post)

[A]fter nearly four hours of rambling questions and partisan bickering, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai emerged on Tuesday from his first-ever testimony to Congress almost entirely untouched.

"He didn't make any enemies here today," said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank that has received funding from Google. "The people who were here trying to rattle him weren't able to do it. Google came out unscathed."

Pichai was the measured, mild-mannered political tenderfoot in a sea of Washington bombast, not showing agitation at the silliest of questions or taking his interrogators' bait.

December 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Judging Bolsonaro: Brazil's judiciary will be a major check on the country's far-right president-elect (Ryan C. Berg, December 7, 2018 | Foreign Policy)

[T]he judiciary has proven so decisive in Brazilian affairs that critics and supporters alike often speak of the judicialização da política ("judicialization of politics"). For instance, the courts led the way to the legalization of same-sex marriage and the ban on corporate donations to election campaigns. They were also instrumental in bringing down former Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as part of the "Lava Jato" ("Car Wash") investigation, the largest anti-corruption campaign in the country's history.

The way Lava Jato unfolded is instructive. At first, Rousseff managed to appear beyond reproach from the campaign, which unfolded during her presidency. To meet a budget surplus target set by Congress, however, Rousseff fudged the books in an accounting sleight of hand involving loans from public banks.

The beginning of the end for Rousseff was a ruling in October 2015 by the Federal Court of Accounts (an auditing body) that the scheme was illegal and a violation of fiscal responsibility. As a partisan impeachment process proceeded through Congress, it turned out to be the legal ruling that was key to her downfall. It served as a constant justification for those voting in favor of impeachment, even if there were other, more partisan, motives for their moves.

It was the judiciary, too, that felled the immensely popular Lula, who was barred from running for president this year after the Supreme Court upheld the initial conviction against him for corruption. Despite his defiance, including a New York Times op-ed claiming that jailing him was akin to the military dictatorship's 1964 coup, Brazil's judiciary persisted.

Another telling fact about the Lava Jato process is that, rather than having its origins in one of Brazil's highest courts, the investigation started in Curitiba, a relatively minor Brazilian city, before wending its way through the country's judicial system. The popular head of the investigation, Sérgio Moro, was an unknown judge on the 13th Federal Court until 2014, when he began to publicize the sordid details of corruption in Brazilian politics--and not just among those in the ruling Workers' Party but politicians across the political spectrum. The elevation of Lava Jato from a provincial city to the highest courts in the country--without getting derailed by the many powerful enemies seeking to quash the investigation--speaks to the vigor of Brazil's judiciary from the top to the bottom.

Moro has since been tapped to join Bolsonaro's cabinet to fight organized crime and corruption. He has stated that he views joining the government as his best chance to ensure lasting progress in the fight against corruption. Moro has a wealth of political capital to wage his campaign, and he will most likely have high-level support for his efforts to strengthen judicial capacity. Bolsonaro himself understands how central this fight is to his electoral mandate. It is clear that a major part of why he won the presidency is that Brazilians were fed up with corruption and wanted a radical shakeup of politics in Brasília. The president-elect managed to parlay his untainted image, despite almost 30 years in politics, into one of an anti-corruption crusader unwilling to play politics as usual.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Republicans Kept Embarrassing Themselves While Trying to Get Google's CEO to Admit the Company Was Biased Against Conservatives (AARON MAK, DEC 11, 2018, Slate)

At the beginning of the hearing, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith tried to needle Pichai with a series of studies and statistics claiming to show suppression of pro-Trump viewpoints in Google search results. Smith cited a claim from conservative outlet PJ Media that 96 percent of results for a search on news about Trump were from left-wing media and findings from psychologist Robert Epstein that Google could have swung 2.6 million votes in Hillary Clinton's favor during the 2016 election. Pichai responded that Google had investigated the specific findings, which allowed him to pivot the line of questioning to a debate over the studies' methodologies all while maintaining that Google in no way discriminates against conservatives.

Later on, Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot brought up his own grievances, claiming that Google had given lower page ranks to positive coverage of bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and to the 2017 Republican tax cut. "I understand the frustration at seeing negative news.

I see it on me on Google," Pichai responded, performing a bit of rhetorical jiujitsu. "There are times you can search on Google, and page after page there is negative news, which we reflect." Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat, later helped to underscore that point by complaining in jest that Breitbart and the Daily Caller seemed to dominate the first page of search results when he Googled himself.

These allegations of conservative bias also produced the hearing's most glaring gaffes--from the representatives. They played into criticisms that Congress lacks basic knowledge of the tech industry. In arguing that Google relies too heavily on "liberal" Wikipedia, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert admitted that his staff was altering his own Wikipedia page every night for two weeks, only to be rebuffed by the site's editors. (Wikipedia guidelines state that editing an employer's page is a "conflict of interest.") Iowa Rep. Steve King, after issuing several stern threats to impose regulations on Google to deal with political bias, ended his time asking why his granddaughter had come across a profane meme featuring his picture while using an iPhone. Pichai responded, "Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Gap continues to widen between Trump and intelligence community on key issues (Greg Miller, December 11, 2018, Washington Post)

Trump, for example, asserted in June that because of his administration's negotiations with Pyongyang, there is "no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea." U.S. intelligence officials said that there is no such view among analysts.

Trump accused Iran of violating a 2015 nuclear agreement with the United States and other major powers despite assessments by U.S. spy agencies and allies that Tehran was in compliance. More recently, Trump has claimed that his decision to abandon the nuclear deal had forced Iran into regional retreat and led to turnover in the top ranks of its government. "They're a much, much different group of leaders," he said in June.

But CIA assessments do not describe any such shift, officials said, noting that Iran's religious rulers remain firmly entrenched and that the country continues to uses proxies to fuel conflict across the Middle East.

Perhaps most notably, Trump has repeatedly undercut the agency's assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was a contributing columnist for The Post.

The agency reached that conclusion with "medium to high confidence," terms that reflect a high degree of certainty. But Trump has described the CIA as having vague "feelings" on Mohammed's culpability, and when pressed on whether he thought the crown prince gave the order, said, "Maybe he did, maybe he didn't."

By contrast, senior lawmakers emerged from a session last week with CIA Director Gina Haspel saying the case against Mohammed was overwhelming. "There's not a smoking gun -- there's a smoking saw," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said, referring to the alleged dismemberment of Khashoggi's corpse. [...]

One official said CIA employees were staggered by Trump's performance during a news conference with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin in Helsinki earlier this year in which Trump treated denials by Putin as so "strong and powerful" that they offset the conclusions of the CIA.

"There was this gasp" among those watching at CIA, the official said. "You literally had people in panic mode watching it at Langley. On all floors. Just shock."

The disorienting impact of such statements has rippled beyond CIA headquarters even to stations overseas, where intelligence operatives have struggled to comprehend Trump's characterization of developments abroad.

"I think you definitely do see a bewilderment and a concern over the president's conduct and relationship to the intelligence community," said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who frequently visits with senior CIA officials on overseas trips.

Trump's disagreements are not driven by "questions about their methodology or differing interpretations of the same facts," Schiff said. "He wants to tell an alternate narrative."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


White Voters Without A Degree Remained Staunchly Republican In 2018 (Nathaniel Rakich and Julia Wolfe, 12/11/18, 538)

In 2016, educational divides emerged as one of the top explanations of voters' choices: White voters without a bachelor's degree made up the Republican base, while a coalition of nonwhite voters and white college graduates formed the Democratic base. The 2018 midterms seemed to continue what we saw in 2016: Districts with bigger black populations, Hispanic populations or college-educated non-Hispanic white populations tended to vote more Democratic, while non-college-educated white voters remained strongly loyal to the GOP. We found a clear negative relationship (R = -0.72) between the Democratic margin of victory in a district and the share of the district's population age 25 or older who are non-Hispanic white and lack a bachelor's degree -- a group that pundits often call the "white working class."

...isn't paying attention.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Beto O'Rourke beats Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in progressive group's straw poll (bRENDAN mORROW, 12/11/18, tHE wEEK)

A poll published Tuesday found that when it comes to the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, members of one progressive organization don't lean toward former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- they prefer Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas).

The one thing he has going for him is youth, which she checks.   

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Trump's Catastrophic Meeting with Chuck and Nancy (Martin Longman,  December 11, 2018, Washington Monthly)

Jerry Moran is a Republican senator from Kansas. He's obviously not pleased with Trump's performance. And it's not just that Trump voluntarily offered to take "the mantle" of responsibility for a government shutdown. He had invited the Democratic leaders to the White House because he needs their help and then he proceeded to spew a fire hydrant level of lies about the border wall and related topics that Schumer and Pelosi shot down with mocking contempt.

On several occasions, Pelosi begged Trump to stop forcing them to contradict him in public in front of the press before the negotiations could even begin, but he insisted on pressing on, only to get owned over and over again.

How could shutting down the government over his wall ever not be attributed to him?
Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Pelosi Questions Trump's 'Manhood' Following Contentious Oval Office Meeting (Alex Griswold, December 11, 2018, Washington Examiner)

Pelosi went from the White House to a Democratic caucus committee meeting, at which multiple outlets report that the soon-to-be speaker of the House went off on the president.

"It's like a manhood thing for him," the Washington Post quotes Pelosi as saying, citing a source in the room. "As if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing."

Has anyone ever accused him of being a man? His entire politics is that of cowardice.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


As Good an Attorney General as We're Likely to Get (Benjamin Wittes, 12/09/18, The Atlantic)

It is better to have an attorney general nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate in an undoubtedly legal fashion than to have an acting attorney general serving in circumstances of dubious legality.

It is better to have an attorney general who is steeped in the traditions and culture of the Justice Department than to have an acting attorney general who is understood at the department to be operating as the "eyes and ears" of a president who is busily attacking the institution.

It is better to have an attorney general who has run the department before and served with distinction in other senior roles within it than to have an acting attorney general whose experience is limited to a brief stint running a relatively sleepy U.S. Attorney's Office, and an even briefer stint as the chief of staff to the attorney general.

Read: Trump picks a Washington insider as his next attorney general

And it is better to have an attorney general with a long-standing professional reputation as a lawyer to protect than to have an acting attorney general who is professionally on the make and dependent on the president, and whose career has included no legal practice of any distinction but, instead, work for some rather shady outfits.

None of this is a character reference on behalf of Bill Barr, President Donald Trump's nominee to run the Justice Department. In fact, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about Barr's nomination.

They are, however, all reasons to be cautiously optimistic about his nomination. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Republicans Must Reject 'Russia Hoax' Conspiracies and Examine the Evidence (DAVID FRENCH, December 10, 2018, National Review)

The idea that the FBI used the Russia investigation to intervene in the election to hurt Trump and help Clinton has always strained credulity. After all, the Russia investigation remained secret during the election while the FBI not only publicly reopened the Hillary email investigation, it also confirmed the existence of an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation and exposed rifts with the Obama Department of Justice -- casting the FBI as heroically resisting Obama-administration pressure to avoid any "overt steps" in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign.

Publicly the FBI torpedoed Clinton. Privately it investigated the Trump campaign.

And now, with each new revelation from the Mueller investigation, we understand that claims of "entrapment" are increasingly bizarre. The more we learn about Trump World's contacts with Russians or Russian operatives, the more astounding it becomes. Consider this partial summary:

Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, lied to Congress about his contacts with a Russian government official as he tried to negotiate a Trump Tower Moscow deal deep into the 2016 presidential campaign.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has lied about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, an alleged asset of Russian intelligence.

Longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone (and Stone's sidekick, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi) allegedly tried to communicate with WikiLeaks, a "hostile intelligence service," to obtain advance information about Julian Assange's planned document dumps.

Donald Trump's son, campaign chairman, and son-in-law met with a purported Russian representative with the intention of receiving "official documents" as part of a "Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about his own contacts with a professor who "claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials" and who claimed to have access to "dirt" on Hillary in the form of "thousands of emails."

Indeed, the list of known contacts between Russians and senior Trump officials (and Trump family members) keeps growing. In less partisan times they'd generate far more bipartisan concern. Even now, they should at the very least demolish the worst of the pro-Trump conspiracy theories.

Like your colleague. The poor Trumpbots are going to have trouble facing themselves, nevermind decent Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 AM


Jared Kushner did what? (Jennifer Rubin, December 10, 2018, Washington Post)

The Times article should be deeply troubling on multiple levels. First, it's obvious Kushner was as gullible and unsophisticated on foreign policy matters as his father-in-law, making him a sitting duck for manipulation by the Saudis ("The prince and his advisers, eager to enlist American support for his hawkish policies in the region and for his own consolidation of power, cultivated the relationship with Mr. Kushner for more than two years"). If you want to know how an administration could so naively and completely base its foreign policy on the Saudis and come to believe the kingdom was actually going to sponsor the peace process and get away with denying culpability in the gruesome murder of Khashoggi, one should start with the easily snowed Kushner.

Second, what in the world is a U.S. official doing advising a foreign leader on how to escape blame for the murder of a U.S. national, a crime so repulsive that a bipartisan push is underway in Congress to enact sanctions and end arms sales to the Saudis? Giving advice to Mohammed bin Salman under these circumstances demonstrates the sort of moral blindness we rarely witness (aside from Trump). "Success" -- letting MBS get away with murder -- would be a moral abomination quite apart from the foreign policy implications.

Third, Kushner -- whether because he has financial interests or because he's easily bamboozled -- has lost track of where his loyalties should lie. He owes the United States his undivided loyalty and should never be in a position in which he assumes defense of any foreign leader. He has created a classic conflict of interest in which we cannot determine if he is motivated solely by concern for U.S. foreign policy (which he foolishly and excessively tilted in the Saudis' direction) or because of personal loyalties or business interests.

...about its hatred of Muslims and democracy, so why wouldn't it ally with regimes that oppress Arabs?

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM


After Ayers Turns Down Chief of Staff Job, Trump Is Left Without a Plan B (Katie Rogers, Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni, Dec. 10, 2018, NY Times)

After Nick Ayers, the Georgia political operative who was the president's top pick, declined the job -- something of a plot twist in a presidency notorious for its episodic cliffhangers -- Mr. Trump is without a Plan B. Several of his aides expressed frustration that months of intense campaigning to replace John F. Kelly -- an effort led by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president's elder daughter and son-in-law -- resulted in yet another chaotic staffing scramble in a White House splintered by factions and rife with turnover.

The folks happy to oversee his removal are unacceptable to him.

'The bottom is going to fall out': White House reporter says Republicans are privately discussing abandoning Trump (Bob Brigham BOB BRIGHAM, 10 DEC 2018, Raw Story)

[A]s Chris Christie pointed out, the Mueller investigation, Southern District of New York, they probably have a lot more evidence than just the word of Michael Cohen and that has to worry the president," Stokols explained.

"Yes, he and Rudy Giuliani on some level believe they can continue to attack the investigators, to try and convince the public that there's something nefarious and something politically motivated about this," he noted. "But when all the facts are laid out and people can see the investigators' work, I think it's going to be very problematic for this president."

Republicans on Capitol Hill are also growing anxious.

"And there is some understanding, I think, inside the White House of just how dark it may be getting, especially in terms of conversations -- private conversations -- that people there are having with Republicans on the Hill who are starting to be concerned," Stokols reported.

"Republican lawmakers who are -- have a huge role to play in this if it goes forward -- are starting to tell me privately, some of them, that, you know, if there's obvious evidence, the bottom is going to fall out," he explained.

"They're not going to be able to stand by this White House and that's a looming problem for the president," he concluded.

Trump may even face a greater threat from the Southern District of New York investigations.

"It's much harder to stop what's happening in that office as opposed to with the special counsel's investigation," Stokols noted. "This train has left the station, there's really nothing that this White House can do about it."

"I think that's a source of frustration to the president. Also, it's difficult to politicize, it's difficult to go out and demonize that office because, as you pointed out already, that's a Trump appointee running that office," he added.

Trump has become increasingly concerned in recent weeks about what his administration is facing come January, when newly empowered Democrats are expected to unleash the full force of their oversight powers on the Trump administration.

Those include compelling Cabinet secretaries to testify, requesting the President's tax returns and scrutinizing some of his most controversial policy decisions. Trump often complained that Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, was not politically shrewd enough for the task.

The details of the President's discussions, which have not been reported on previously, reveal how close Ayers was to becoming chief of staff. He and Trump huddled several times over the last week in the residence of the White House, where they were afforded more privacy than in the staff-filled West Wing, but they ultimately could not agree to terms and Ayers declined the job.

Multiple sources familiar with Trump's mood told CNN he's frustrated with the Ayers process. One source described his mood as "super pissed." A second added he feels humiliated, a position he doesn't like to be in, because the President did not have a backup candidate prepared like he typically does when he's fielding people for jobs.

December 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Adapting to wildfires (Terry L. Anderson and Andrew J. Plantinga, December 9, 2018, washington Times)

The result of misguided policies is that the number of California homes built in the WUI grew by 34 percent between 1990 and 2010, bringing the total to nearly 5 million homes. Research published in Land Use Policy estimates that nearly 12 million acres of wild and agricultural lands in California will be replaced with houses by 2050. Nearly 1 million homes will be "in 'very high' wildfire severity zones." Regardless of the cause, wildfires will be more devastating than they have been.

Insurance companies are sending a clearer signal to homeowners regarding wildfire risk. State officials reported that non-renewals increased by 15 percent between 2015 and 2016 and that some premiums have increased five-fold. Such signals should encourage less development in the WUI.

Policies that require wildland-urban interface homeowners to support CAL-FIRE are another step in the direction of homeowner accountability. The third-largest source of funding for CAL FIRE is the State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund. It required each WUI homeowner to pay a fee of $153.33 per year. Similarly, Santa Barbara's Wildlife Fire Suppression Assessment District requires 3,300 homes to pay only $65 per year for fire prevention services. The former, however, was suspended in 2018 until 2031, and the latter is tiny compared to fire prevention expenditures.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


What Good Did USA Today's Ambushing Kyler Murray Do Anyone? (CHARLES C. W. COOKE, December 10, 2018, National Review)

What, one has to ask, is the public-interest angle here? Fourteen-year-olds say stupid things constantly. Yes, all of them. What possible good can it do to punish them as adults for the thought crimes they committed as minors? Had Murray committed an actual crime -- say, shoplifting or joyriding or the like -- it would likely have been expunged from his record when he reached the age of majority, especially given how impressive a young man he has become in the interim. And even if it hadn't, the press would likely have been circumspect about bringing it up. But tweets? Apparently, we just Have to Know -- and on the day of his triumph, to boot.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


A Conservative Judge Torched Donald Trump's Latest Illegal Assault on Immigrants (MARK JOSEPH STERN, DEC 10, 20184, sLATE)

In a meticulous 65-page opinion, Bybee--a conservative George W. Bush appointee--explained that the president cannot rewrite a federal statute to deny asylum to immigrants who enter the country without authorization. His decision for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a twofold rebuke to Trump, halting the president's legal assault on asylum-seekers and undermining his claim that any judge who blocked the order is a Democratic hack. The reality is that anyone who understands the English language should recognize that Trump's new rule is illegal. Like so many of Trump's attention-grabbing proposals, this doomed policy should never have been treated as legitimate in the first place.

Kavanaugh, Roberts side with liberal judges on Planned Parenthood case (ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN 12/10/2018, Politico)

Chief Justice John Roberts and the newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, joined the court's four liberal jurists in turning away a pair of petitions from Kansas and Louisiana seeking the ban on abortion providers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


US starts to withdraw troops from Trump border mission (LOLITA C. BALDOR, 12/10/18, AP)

The U.S. this week will begin withdrawing many of the active duty troops sent to the border with Mexico by President Donald Trump just before the midterm election in response to a caravan of Central American migrants, U.S. officials said Monday.

About 2,200 of the active duty troops will be pulled out before the holidays, the officials said, shrinking an unusual domestic deployment that was viewed by critics as a political stunt and a waste of military resources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Accused Russian spy Maria Butina appears to reach plea deal (Sara Murray and Katelyn Polantz, December 10, 2018, CNN)

Maria Butina, an accused Russian spy who nuzzled up to the National Rifle Association before the 2016 election, appears to have reached a plea deal with the Justice Department, according to a new court filing in her criminal case.

Her attorneys and prosecutors filed a two-page request on Monday for a "change of plea" hearing before a federal judge as soon as Tuesday. "The parties have resolved this matter," the filing in DC federal court said Monday morning. Butina's case was brought by federal prosecutors in DC and not by Robert Mueller's team in the special counsel's office.

NRA leader, Jack Abramoff and GOP operative tied to alleged Russian spy Maria Butina have long history as foreign agents lobbying together (Anna Massoglia, December 10, 2018, Open Secrets)

In December 2015, Butina's Russian gun-rights organization called the Right to Bear Arms sponsored an NRA delegation to Moscow where attendees met with influential Russian officials including former deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin who had been under U.S. sanctions since 2014.

The convoy to Moscow included Keene, Trump campaign surrogate Sheriff David Clarke, president and CEO of the Outdoor Channel Jim Liberatore, soon-to-be NRA president Peter Brownell and NRA donors Jim Gregory, Arnold Goldschlager and Hilary Goldschlager.

Alexander Torshin -- a Russian politician and longtime associate of Butina who has since come under U.S. sanctions -- played a key role in the trip and, allegedly, Russia's decade-long operation infiltrating American conservative groups. A conservative Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV who has done business in Russia claims that he first introduced David Keene to Torshin in 2011 while Keene was NRA president.

Keene and Torshin quickly forged an alliance based on mutual interests.

"Just a brief note to let you know just how much I enjoyed meeting in Pittsburgh during the NRA annual meeting," Keene wrote in a 2011 letter later obtained by anti-corruption activists in Russia that extended a personal invitation to the NRA's conference the following year.

Keene added, "If there is anything any of us can do to help you in your endeavors . . . please don't hesitate to let us know."

"We will start organizing our own Russian NRA," Torshin tweeted shortly thereafter.

In 2011, Maria Butina became founding chair of a new Russian gun rights group called the Right to Bear Arms.

By 2013, Keene was introduced as an honored guest at the Right to Bear Arms conference in Moscow. "There are no peoples that are more alike than Americans and Russians," Keene said. "We're hunters. We're shooters. We value the same kinds of things... we need to work together."

Erickson accompanied Keene to the 2013 conference, where he reportedly first crossed paths with Butina.

Senate intelligence and finance committees have reportedly requested documents on the NRA's connections to Russia, including documents related to whether the NRA took Russian money and the 2015 delegation. After spending a record $54.4 million to put President Donald Trump in the White House and support Republicans in Congress, the NRA's membership dues dropped precipitously the following year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


New Lawsuit Seeks to Expose How Giuliani Knew in Advance That Comey Would Reopen Clinton Probe (Matt Naham, December 10th, 2018, Law & Crime)

President Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani is the star of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's (CREW) lawsuit filed on Monday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

CREW said, citing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that the point of this action was to find the "source of the leak of information to Rudolph Giuliani in October 2016 that then-FBI Director James B. Comey was going to reopen the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of personal email system." [...]

"In recent testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Mr. Comey confirmed that he had ordered a leak investigation after Mr. Giuliani's public statements indicated he had inside knowledge of the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton that appeared to stem from his communications with people in the FBI's New York field office," the filing continued.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Did Trump's enemies try to derail a trade deal with China? (DAVID P. GOLDMAN, DECEMBER 6, 2018, Asia Times)

The news has stunned financial market participants and policy analysts, for two reasons.

First, never before has the United States attempted the extraterritorial rendition of a foreign citizen - Meng is a Chinese national - in connection with sanctions violations. It has imposed travel and banking restrictions, but seeking an arrest warrant for this is entirely without precedent.

Earlier this year, the US government banned exports of US computer chips to the Chinese telecommunications equipment ZTE in retaliation for violations of sanctions against Iran, but sought no arrests.

Second, Meng was arrested on December 1, the day that President Trump and his economic team dined with President Xi Jinping and his advisers at the Group of 20 Summit in Buenos Aires. Trump has every interest in striking a deal with China that would enable him to declare some measure of victory in a trade war, and China has shown every indication that it is willing to make concessions to the United States on intellectual property protection, financial market opening and, at least in rhetoric, on industrial policy, while increasing its imports from the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Argentina and Trump's funny money (Jonathan Swan, Alayna Treene, 12/10/18, Axios)

And Macri told a story everyone in the room found hilarious. Here it is, as recalled by one source in the room and confirmed, in broad detail, by another source in the room and a third source briefed on the conversation:

When Macri was running for president, he got a phone call out of the blue. "This is Donald Trump," Macri told the people in the room, impersonating the future president and pretending to hold a phone to his head. "I've been watching you."

The call amazed Macri, he told listeners. "Trump goes on to say, 'I remember you fondly and I remember the business deal,'" one participant recalled. "And Macri says, 'Fondly? Fondly, you son of a gun?'"

Trump told Macri he would help him. "Yeah, yeah," Macri replied, as if he didn't think much of it at the time.

Some days after the call, a big FedEx envelope came in the mail with a check from Trump to Macri's campaign. One source thought the check was for $500; another thought $5,000.

Then came the punchline: Macri told the room that when his team went to deposit the check, it bounced.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM



WE'RE HEADING SOUTHEAST on Interstate 10, headed into Tucson, Arizona, when we pass the group of men in orange jumpsuits and hard hats working on the side of the highway. "Inmates Working," the sign on the back of the truck parked on the shoulder says. It's the sort of sight that can generate a swirl of curiosity, pity, and distaste in a person, but the robot doesn't register anything about who these men are. It's thinking about that parked truck and the rule buried in its code that says when it senses something on the shoulder, it's supposed to clear out of the right lane. Checking it has plenty of room, it makes a quick juke to the left, pulling its 18 wheels and four human passengers over the dashed white line.

This lane change is just one of a variety of impressive maneuvers TuSimple's self-driving truck executes during a 40-minute demo ride I took with the company's CTO, Xiaodi Hou, on a sunny Friday morning last month. Between a smooth merge onto the highway and an easy exit, it cruised steadily, adjusting its speed and position as necessary to accommodate its human-piloted neighbors.

Powering the impressive showing are the sensors studded around the truck, including two lidar laser scanners and a forward-facing radar. The key to the system, though, is the handful of cameras looking forward, to the side, and to the back. In an increasingly crowded robo-trucking field, TuSimple's bid to stand out hinges on those cameras, which Hou says let the vehicle see as far as 1,000 meters ahead--nearly triple the range claimed by by most of its competitors. With them, Hou is attempting to solve one of the most dastardly problems facing engineers who are trying to make vehicles that drive themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


House Republicans Took One Final Shot at Comey--and Discredited Themselves (WILLIAM SALETAN, DEC 10, 2018, Slate)

Strzok shouldn't have written those texts. You can't go around calling a dirtbag a dirtbag when part of your job is to investigate, in a publicly credible way, whether the dirtbag was involved in crimes. But it's been more than a year since the texts came out. Republicans have had three chances--the IG report, the July hearing, and Friday's hearing--to produce any evidence that Strzok's low opinion of Trump altered the investigations. Three times, they've swung and missed. They've struck out. 

Every step of the process has shown the House GOP to be faking it for political reasons.  Why should their last gasp be any different?

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Assad: Israel deliberately caused Syria to down Russian plane (Times of Israel, 12/10/18)

Syria's President Bashar Assad says Israel deliberately caused Syrian ground batteries to down a Russian transport aircraft during an Israeli airstrike on September 17.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Bug business: Cockroaches corralled by the millions in China to crunch waste (Thomas Suen, Ryan Woo, 12/10/18, Reuters) 

In the near pitch-dark, you can hear them before you see them - millions of cockroaches scuttling and fluttering across stacks of wooden boards as they devour food scraps by the tonne in a novel form of urban waste disposal.

The air is warm and humid - just as cockroaches like it - to ensure the colonies keep their health and voracious appetites.

Expanding Chinese cities are generating more food waste than they can accommodate in landfills, and cockroaches could be a way to get rid of hills of food scraps, providing nutritious food for livestock when the bugs eventually die and, some say, cures for stomach illness and beauty treatments.

On the outskirts of Jinan, capital of eastern Shandong province, a billion cockroaches are being fed with 50 tonnes of kitchen waste a day - the equivalent in weight to seven adult elephants.

The waste arrives before daybreak at the plant run by Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co, where it is fed through pipes to cockroaches in their cells.

Shandong Qiaobin plans to set up three more such plants next year, aiming to process a third of the kitchen waste produced by Jinan, home to about seven million people.

A nationwide ban on using food waste as pig feed due to African swine fever outbreaks is also spurring the growth of the cockroach industry.

"Cockroaches are a bio-technological pathway for the converting and processing of kitchen waste," said Liu Yusheng, president of Shandong Insect Industry Association.

Cockroaches are also a good source of protein for pigs and other livestock. "It's like turning trash into resources," said Shandong Qiaobin chairwoman Li Hongyi.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


THE SCIENTIFIC CASE FOR EATING BREAD (Markham Heid, December 8, 2018, Quartz)

[G]o digging through the published, peer-reviewed evidence on bread and human health, and most of what you'll find suggests that bread is either benign or, in the case of whole-grain types, quite beneficial.

"We have conducted several meta-analyses on whole-grain consumption and health outcomes like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature mortality," says Dagfinn Aune, a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. "When looking at specific sources of grains, whole-grain bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, brown rice, and wheat bran were all associated with reduced risks."

Asked if bread should be considered a "junk" food, Aune says the opposite is true. "Whole-grain breads are healthy, and a high intake of whole grains is associated with a large range of health benefits," he says, citing links to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and mortality. In fact, his research has found that eating the equivalent of 7.5 slices of whole-grain bread per day is linked with "optimal" health outcomes.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Mike Pompeo swaggers his way to failure (Jackson Diehl, December 9, 2018, Washington Post)

"Swagger" diplomacy sounds like a contradiction in terms, but Pompeo has made it his motto. He launched his Instagram account in September by rebranding State as "the department of Swagger." An op-ed he wrote for the Wall Street Journal last month was laced with it, contemptuously dismissing congressional and media outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So was a speech he delivered last week in Brussels, in which he trashed the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Criminal Court, the Organization of American States, and, perhaps for good measure, the African Union.

The results? The Senate voted 63-to-37 to halt all U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's calamitous intervention in Yemen, with 14 Republicans joining all 49 Democrats. The head of the IMF coolly observed that Pompeo didn't know what he was talking about. And the European Union went ahead with plans to substitute euros for dollars in energy transactions, making it easier for the bloc to circumvent new U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Done With Michael Cohen, Federal Prosecutors Shift Focus to Trump Family Business (Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 9, 2018, NY Times)

At the time of the payments to the two women, Mr. Trump was the head of the company, and although he turned over its management to his elder sons, he still owns it through a trust. While the prevailing view at the Justice Department is that a sitting president cannot be indicted, the prosecutors in Manhattan could consider charging him after leaving office. It is also possible the prosecutors could seek his testimony before he leaves office if they continue the investigation into anyone else who might have had a role in the crimes, a person briefed on the matter said. [...]

In early September, before Mr. Cohen had completed his discussions with prosecutors and before the Southern District renewed its record request, Bloomberg reported that the Southern District was investigating Trump Organization executives other than Mr. Cohen. [...]

Mr. Cohen has told the Southern District prosecutors that he arranged the hush money to the two women at the direction of Mr. Trump. In the filing on Friday, the Southern District prosecutors put the weight of their office behind Mr. Cohen's admission, saying that "with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of" Mr. Trump. [...]

Mr. Cohen also pleaded guilty to "causing" an illegal corporate donation to Mr. Trump when he urged American Media Inc., which publishes The National Enquirer, to buy the rights to a former Playboy model's story of an affair with Mr. Trump. The deal effectively silenced the model, Karen McDougal, for the remainder of the campaign.

Mr. Cohen has also told the Southern District that Mr. Weisselberg, who is one of Mr. Trump's longtime loyalists, was involved in discussions about how to pay Ms. Daniels, according to a person briefed on the matter. Mr. Cohen linked him to the deal with American Media as well.

During the campaign, Mr. Cohen recorded a conversation he had with Mr. Trump about buying the rights to negative information American Media had collected on Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen told Mr. Trump, who did not know he was being recorded, that "I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up." The deal was signed by American Media and Mr. Cohen, according to court papers. But a person familiar with the arrangement said that Mr. Trump balked at reimbursing America Media, as had been agreed to, and the media company was never reimbursed in relation to Ms. McDougal.

But after the campaign, Mr. Weisselberg handled reimbursing Mr. Cohen for the payment to Ms. Daniels, according to people briefed on the matter. In early 2017, Mr. Cohen sought to recoup the $130,000 he paid out of his own pocket to Ms. Daniels as well as $50,000 he spent on a technology company in connection with the campaign, prosecutors have said.

Not only did the Trump Organization repay those expenses, but it agreed to pay taxes Mr. Cohen might have incurred on the reimbursements. This decision to "gross up" Mr. Cohen went against the Trump Organization's typical reimbursement practices, people briefed on the matter said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nick Ayers, Aide to Pence, Declines Offer to Be Trump's Chief of Staff (Maggie Haberman, Dec. 9, 2018, NY Times)

The decision leaves Mr. Trump to contend with fresh uncertainty as he enters the 2020 campaign amid growing danger from the Russia investigation and from Democrats who have vowed tougher oversight, and could even pursue impeachment, after they take over the House next month. [...]

[T]wo people close to Mr. Trump said that a news release announcing Mr. Ayers's appointment had been drafted, and that the president had wanted to announce it as soon as possible.

December 9, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM



"It certainly looks like they are the kind of offenses that would call for impeachment hearings into the conduct of the president of the United States," Bernstein told host Brian Stelter. "There's something much more important than just impeachment going on, and that is the fact that Donald Trump for the first time in his life is cornered," he said.

The journalist pointed out that the former businessman "always could bully his way out of a corner" when he was managing his private company. "He always could buy his way out, cheat his way out. He is boxed in by Mueller, and the people around him know that he is," Bernstein pointed out.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


2018 Was a Record Year for School Gun Violence -- and it Wasn't Even Close (DANIEL POLITI, DEC 09, 2018, Slate)

It already seemed obvious that 2018 was a particularly bad year for gun violence in schools. But data cited by advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise are truly staggering. According to research by the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School there were 94 school shooting incidents in 2018, which is almost 60 percent higher than the previous record of 59 that had been set in 2006. The NPS database dates back to 1970 and documents any instance in which a gun is "brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason."

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and transition (Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Carol D. Leonnig December 9, 2018, Washington Post)

The Russian ambassador. A deputy prime minister. A pop star, a weightlifter, a lawyer, a Soviet army veteran with alleged intelligence ties.

Again and again and again, over the course of Donald Trump's 18-month campaign for the presidency, Russian citizens made contact with his closest family and friends, as well as figures on the periphery of his orbit.

Some offered to help his campaign and his real estate business. Some offered dirt on his Democratic opponent. Repeatedly, Russian nationals suggested Trump should hold a peacemaking sit-down with Vladi­mir Putin -- and offered to broker such a summit.

In all, Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and presidential transition, public records and interviews show.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Comey Says FBI Looked Into Possible 'Connection' Between Four Trump Campaign Associates and Russia in 2016  (Erin Banco & Betsy Woodruff, 12.08.18, Daily Beast)

The FBI's scrutiny of Donald Trump's wider presidential campaign team over fears of collusion with Kremlin election-meddling began as far back as the summer of 2016, according to the former FBI Director James Comey.

Comey revealed in testimony to congressional investigators that four Americans somehow connected to the campaign, but not Trump himself, had come into the FBI's sights in late July, well before polling day.

The details were made public for the first time on Saturday when the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees released the transcript of Friday's seven-hour, closed-door interview with Comey.

Comey's statements provide new information about the timing of the federal government's probe into the 2016 presidential battle between Trump and Democrat Party nominee Hillary Clinton, and could offer new clues about what's coming down the pipeline from the Department of Justice. [...]

Representatives in the closed-door interview posed several questions to Comey about the special counsel's investigation into obstruction. At one point Gowdy asked Comey about his termination from the FBI.

"He is entitled to his opinion, but to the extent--because he also stated that he is also a witness in the investigation," said Cecilia Bessee, a lawyer for the FBI present at the interview.

"Which investigation is he a witness in?" Gowdy asked.

"To the special counsel," Bessee said, switching her phrasing on Comey's witness status. "He said he is a potential witness."

"Well, you just said witness," Gowdy said. "Is there an obstruction of justice investigation?"

"I believe there is an investigation that the special counsel is looking into," Bessee said.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Fruscella & Moore: An Important Find : a review of Tony Fruscella & Brew Moore Quintet  (Doug Ramsey, 12/08/18, Rifftides)

Fruscella was one of the young lions of the New York jazz scene in the late 1940s and early '50s. Moore was active in New Orleans in the early forties--he later called it his "training ground--then in New York. Later, he was in demand in San Francisco. Peripatetic throughout his career, Moore worked in Paris for a time with drummer Kenny Clarke, moved to Copenhagen, back to New York, then to Copenhagen again, where he died in 1973 after falling down a flight of stairs. Like Moore and so many others of their jazz generation, Fruscella had drug problems and died in 1969.

The intimacy of Fruscella's tone and phrasing made him an attraction during his New York period in the fifties and helped inspire Atlantic Records to record him. The 1955 sessions resulted in the album Tony Fruscella, which became  an underground favorite and was finally reissued as a 12-inch LP thirty years later. The "new" Fruscella-Moore album just issued was also recorded in 1955. The rhythm section was New York stalwarts Bill Triglia, piano; Teddy Kotick, bass and Bill Heine, drums. Preparation for the March, 1954, date was informal, as the preponderance of blues indicates. The two takes of "Bill Triglia's Original," with its interesting middle section, constitute an interesting compositional exception. The individuality and inventiveness of the soloists and are what matter here. We may learn nothing dramatically new about Fruscella and Moore, but we are rewarded with an hour of their music that until now has been all but unknown. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


The ignored story of 'America's biggest serial killer' (George F. Will, December 7, 2018, Washington Post)

Recently in Texas, Samuel Little, 78, has been confessing to about 90 murders spanning 35 years. Now serving three life sentences for the murders of three Los Angeles women during the 1980s, he has been giving police details that seem to validate his claim to have killed in at least 14 states. A Texas district attorney says "we anticipate that Samuel Little will be confirmed as one of the most prolific serial killers in American history," and the New York Times observes, "How a serial murderer could go on killing for years, apparently without anyone noticing a pattern, seems perplexing."

That Gosnell could have been a much more prolific killer than Little is not perplexing, for two reasons. People who should have known did not want to know because knowing would have forced them to answer questions about when in an infant's gestation it is preposterous to deny that a baby is present. And given that most "reproductive rights" militants oppose restrictions on late-term abortions because pre-born babies supposedly have no more moral significance than tumors, Gosnell sincerely thought he was doing nothing wrong in guaranteeing dead babies for those who paid for late-term abortions. This is why, in the movie and as actually happened, a female prosecutor is accurately warned by her supervisor that she would be characterized as "the prosecutor who went after reproductive rights."

No one knows how many -- certainly hundreds, probably thousands -- spinal cords Gosnell snipped before the 2010 raid on his "clinic." Law enforcement came looking for illegal drugs. They also found jars of babies' feet, fetal remains in toilets and milk cartons, and a pervasive smell of cat feces -- in a facility that had not been inspected for 17 years. Pennsylvania nail salons receive biennial inspections.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Comments on Abortion in the New York Times (Michael Gerson, July 17, 2009, Washinton Post)

The New York Times Magazine printed a candid interview with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, including this portion:

Q: "Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid abortions for poor women?"

Justice Ginsburg: "Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae -- in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion."

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


A New Moral Imagination on Immigration (Pramila Jayapal, NY Review of Books)

During the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, the demand for labor in this new, growing nation meant that almost anyone who arrived here was allowed into the country with just a physical exam--unless they fell into a few deeply exclusionary categories. Before 1921, the only immigration laws that existed were ones that restricted Chinese people from immigrating (repealed only in 1943), as well as excluding most other Asians and certain categories of people such as prostitutes, those with "dangerous and loathsome contagious disease," or "the insane." Later, in 1921 and 1924, quotas were established based on race and nationality, heavily favoring immigrants from Western Europe. 

But because there were few laws and little bureaucratic control over who came and stayed, undocumented immigration was the norm for generations. As much as "amnesty" has become a dirty word today, amnesties were applied to waves of European immigrants who were here without proper authorization. The 1929 Registry Act, for example, allowed "honest law-abiding alien[s] who may be in the country under some merely technical irregularity" to register as permanent residents if they could prove they had been here since 1921 and were of "good moral character."  

It wasn't until 1965 that the national-origin quota system was abolished and replaced with a system whereby immigrants were admitted on the basis of relationships to immediate family members or employers. The last major overhaul of the immigration system to increase legal admissions caps, in 1990, focused largely on employment-based visas.

Complex and multifaceted as our history on immigration is, it is marked by two deep traditions that are at war with each other. One is inextricably bound up with bigotry, while the other is tied to the spirit of generosity and renewal of a country that is always being shaped by those who come here. This battle has to be fought in every generation, and it has never been easy. [...]

As America grows and ages, our economy needs immigrants to replenish America's work force as baby-boomers age. In the fast-growing industries of domestic care, home health aides, nursing assistants, and personal care aides, immigrants make up the vast majority of workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that in those industries alone, from 2016 to 2026, the US will need workers to fill 1.2 million jobs. Yet our legal immigration system is groaning under the weight of outdated category caps that simply don't meet the needs of our economy or our people. The number of visas for nonagricultural workers (such as construction workers, housekeepers, or forest workers) is stuck at the 1990 level of 66,000 visas--even though our economy requires millions. Just last year, more than 3.9 million US citizens and permanent residents who had applied legally for their closest family members--parents, spouses, children, and siblings--were in an immigration processing "backlog" that could take decades to clear. (Contrary to the "chain migration" narrative, these immediate family members are the only ones eligible to migrate via the family-based system.)

There is also still bipartisan consensus that we must fulfill our moral and legal obligations (under US and international law) to take asylum seekers and refugees from around the world. Refugees and asylum seekers are often fleeing the very forces of oppression, war, and dictatorship that threaten the world's safety, including America's. In some cases, the United States has been complicit in propping up foreign leaders that become dictators, or in fostering economic conditions that lead to devastation. In all cases, consigning millions of people to refugee camps with little freedom, dire living conditions, and no hope of determining their own futures becomes a moral question for all nations, including those that seek to lead the world. Despite statements to the contrary from this White House, the US ranks only fiftieth in the world for welcoming refugees, and leaders from all faiths (including evangelicals) have emphasized the need to strengthen, not cut, our refugee resettlement program. 

It is critical that Americans understand that there currently is no orderly, functioning process for people to come to America. Under Presidents Reagan and Bush, there were superficial, temporary fixes, such as legalizations or "amnesties" for those who were undocumented at the time. But without underlying reform so that the system functions, we were bound to end up in the same place again. Most Republicans--and too many Democrats--have given in to the simplistic narratives supplied by anti-immigrant forces, throwing billions of taxpayer dollars into mass deportations, a vast labyrinth of expensive private prisons, and a border that is already one of the most secure and militarized in the world. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM

90-10 NATION:

An Issue Americans Agree On: Investing in Public Health (Brian C. Castrucci , 12/05/19, Governing)

For state and local leaders who want to pursue a bipartisan agenda, including the 20 new governors who will take office in 2019, a new national survey shows that investing in public health is not only smart policy but also good politics. In a rare level of consensus across political affiliation, geography, gender, race, income and education, 89 percent of Americans said they believe that public health departments play an important role in the health of their communities.

Commissioned by the de Beaumont Foundation, the poll also finds that 66 percent of voters believe every community should have basic public health protections and that 57 percent are willing to pay higher taxes to ensure that everyone has access to those services.

Voters placed a particular emphasis on stopping the spread of communicable diseases, bringing other government agencies together in emergencies, protecting environmental quality and supporting child and maternal health. Expressing support for these basic public health protections were overwhelming majorities of African-Americans (85 percent), liberals (78 percent), Hispanics (75 percent), mothers (74 percent), working-class people (72 percent) and Northeasterners (71 percent), along with slimmer majorities of conservatives (55 percent), white men (53 percent) and fathers (51 percent).

The electorates of developed democracies require health care as a core governmental function.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


John Kelly Was a Bully, Bigot, and Liar for Trump. Goodbye and Good Riddance. (Mehdi Hasan, December 9 2018, The Intercept)

Kelly, lest we forget, arrived at the White House from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where he had quickly and proudly built a reputation "as one of the most aggressive enforcers of immigration law in recent American history," to quote from a scathing evaluation of his six-month tenure in charge of DHS by the New Yorker's Jonathan Blitzer. On Kelly's watch, wrote Blitzer, "immigration arrests in the U.S. increased by forty per cent and DHS became one of the few branches of the federal government that has been both willing and able to execute Trump's policy priorities."

In March 2017, while defending Trump's 'Muslim ban', Kelly had threatened to walk out of a meeting with Arab-American and Latino groups in Michigan. In April 2017, in a speech in Washington D.C., the DHS Secretary had told members of Congress to either change the country's immigration laws or "shut up and support the men and women on the front lines." In May 2017, at a Coast Guard ceremony, the retired general was caught on a hot mic telling Trump, who was holding a ceremonial sword, that he should "use that on the press, sir."

SO WHY did anyone with functioning eyes or ears assume he would do anything different at the White House? Why did political and media elites pretend he would be a sober and moderate figure, a check or restraint on the president, rather than Trump's nasty and brutish mini-me?

How else are we supposed to describe his gaffe-laden, controversy-filled 17 months in charge? This was a chief of staff who told Fox News that "the lack of the ability to compromise led to the Civil War," while praising the pro-slavery Confederate general Robert E. Lee as an "honorable man"; who protected and promoted White House staff secretary Rob Porter -- a man accused of domestic abuse by both of his ex-wives -- and described him as a man of "true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him"; who repeatedly misled the press about what he knew about Porter and when he knew it, which led to one of his White House colleagues calling him a "big fat liar"; who claimed the "vast majority" of undocumented immigrants "don't integrate well" and "don't have skills"; who described immigrants who were eligible for DACA but had failed to apply for it as "too lazy to get off their asses"; who said he wanted to reduce the number of refugees admitted into the United States to "between zero and one"; who defended the separation of migrant children from their parents on the grounds that the kids would be "put into foster care or whatever" and bragged that the "big name of the game is deterrence"; who signed a "Cabinet order" authorizing the (potentially illegal) use of lethal force by troops at the border; who lamented that women were no longer treated as "sacred and looked upon with great honor" but who was also accused of suggesting women were more emotional than men; who breached security protocols by firing White House aide Omarosa Manigault in the Situation Room and threatening her in the process; who boasted to Manigault on a secret recording that everyone in the White House "works for me and not the president"; who made a series of false accusations against black member of Congress, Frederica Wilson, and then swore he would "never apologize" for lying about her; and who shamelessly allowed Trump to use his dead son to attack former President Barack Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Why Trump is likely to be indicted by Manhattan US Attorney (Andrew McCarthy, 12/09/18,  Fox News)

The major takeaway from the 40-page sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors Friday for Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney, is this: The president is very likely to be indicted on a charge of violating federal campaign finance laws.

It has been obvious for some time that President Trump is the principal subject of the investigation still being conducted by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Cohen earlier pleaded guilty to multiple counts of business and tax fraud, violating campaign finance law, and making false statements to Congress regarding unsuccessful efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Yes, Cohen has stated he did the hands-on work in orchestrating hush-money payments to two women who claim to have had sexual liaisons with Trump many years ago (liaisons Trump denies).

But when Cohen pleaded guilty in August, prosecutors induced him to make an extraordinary statement in open court: the payments to the women were made "in coordination with and at the direction of" the candidate for federal office - Donald Trump.

Prosecutors would not have done this if the president was not on their radar screen. Indeed, if the president was not implicated, I suspect they would not have prosecuted Cohen for campaign finance violations at all. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Why the global suicide rate is falling (The Economist, Nov 30th 2018)

Policy also plays a role. When Mikhail Gorbachev introduced restrictions on alcohol in the Soviet Union in 1985, consumption and suicide both plunged; something similar has happened since Vladimir Putin introduced new rules in 2005. Restricting access to easy means to kill oneself can make a big difference because suicide is a surprisingly impulsive act. Of 515 people who survived the leap from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971, 94% were still alive in 1978--which suggests that a suicide postponed is likely to be a suicide prevented. The banning of toxic pesticides has had a clear impact on rates in countries such as South Korea and Sri Lanka. Selling paracetamol and aspirin in only very small quantities has also been shown to reduce rates. Investing in health services--particularly palliative care, which helps make life tolerable for the sick--can make a difference. And if America restricted gun ownership, rates would almost certainly crash. America's rate is twice Britain's (which has tight gun controls), half America's suicides are by firearm, and the difference in rates between states, which range from 26 per 100,000 each year in Montana to five in Washington, DC, is largely explained by variations in levels of gun ownership.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM



Alternate theories abound, but the game evolved from a game called "totum" or "teetotum," often played in England and Ireland around Christmastime, writes David Golinkin, a conservative rabbi and professor at Jerusalem's Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, in an article for the My Jewish Learning website. By 1720, the game was known as "T-totum" or "teetotum," and by 1801, the four letters on the top stood for English words. There was a German equivalent too, where the spinning top was called "torrel" or "trungl" in German, and "fargl," "varfl" or "dreidel" in Yiddish. This spread continued: An Eastern European game emerged, based on the German version. And when Hebrew was revived as a spoken language, some called the spinning top a "sevivon."

Put simply, the game of chocolate gambling that American Jews know and love was a product of cultural assimilation, which is ironic, because Hanukkah's history details a civil war between two factions of Jews fighting over just that: assimilation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM




McLaughlin: I'm giving the government a lot of credit here, but it could have just taken the Justice Department this long to develop a case in a way they think could stand up in court. But the timing of it is just bizarre. In a normal administration -- and I worked in a bunch of normal ones -- what happens is you have the national security advisor convene around a table in the White House Situation Room representatives from every major agency to discuss the pros and cons of a step like this. Instead, what we have here looks like three parts of the U.S. government operating without talking to each other: the Justice Department, the White House and the trade negotiators. ouse and touse and the trade negotiators.


Absolutely. There is ample evidence that, like most major Chinese companies, it is closely aligned with the military and security services and working to assist their intelligence collection and influence missions while pursuing -- very successfully -- legitimate business objectives. And there is also no doubt that China's trade practices are unfair and in need of reform. But while these issues justify pushing back on national security grounds, they are not persuasive reasons to arrest a prominent foreign national. That requires evidence of criminal behavior.


Well, many sanctions violations do not have criminal penalties. More likely, they result in fines and denial of trade, as with another Chinese telecom company, ZTE. One possibility is that she is being charged under a provision that requires foreign companies selling to Iran to have less than 10 percent U.S. components in their products. Or perhaps there is some espionage violation that will be charged. We'll have to wait and see.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


What 2018 Tells Us About 2020 (Charles E. Cook, Jr., December 7, 2018, Cook Political Report)

Keeping in mind that Trump received just 46 percent of the popular vote in 2016 and how little he has attempted to expand his base beyond that point, a president of 20 months who has yet to see a Gallup weekly job-approval rating above 45 percent--which also happens to be his approval rating in the networks' exit poll, with 54 percent disapproving--is very, very vulnerable.

Consistently, Gallup polling has shown a ratio of at least 1.4 voters strongly disapproving his performance for each one who strongly approves, and in the exit poll, 46 percent strongly disapproved while just 31 percent strongly approved. These are very troubling signs. Two years ago, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 4 points among independents while Republican House candidates topped their Democratic rivals by 6 points among independents. In this year's midterms, the 30 percent of the electorate that described themselves as independents voted for Democrats by a 12-point margin, 54 to 42 percent,

Maybe Trump can squeeze out another Electoral College majority while losing the national popular vote, but the popular-vote advantage of 9.4 million that Democrats had in House races this year dwarfs the 2.9-million edge that Clinton had in 2016. Democrats may find a way to blow this upcoming election, but it would take considerable effort to do so.

He's 72. His immigration and trade restrictions are making the strongest economic recovery in US history shaky and it was the only thing propping his approval ratings around 40%. He faces indictment, personally and/or as the Trump Organization. He faces impeachment. His next two years will be even more frustrating than the past two and he already hates the job. Like Truman and LBJ he could either lose NH or come so close to doing so that even he could read the writing on the wall.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


A look back at the Willie Horton ad (CARL M. CANNON, 12/08/18, Orange County Register)

Amid the coverage and commentary commemorating the passing of George H.W. Bush, it was nice of the media to debunk the 1992 New York Times front page story characterizing the 41st president as being flummoxed by a supermarket scanner. Written by a reporter who wasn't present at the event, it was -- in today's parlance -- fake news.

It was even classier for former Newsweek editor Evan Thomas to reiterate his mea culpa for his magazine's bizarre 1987 cover story calling an acclaimed war hero a "wimp."

It would have been far better, however, had the record finally been corrected about the Bush campaign's much-maligned "Willie Horton ad." Instead, the nation's most prominent news outlets doubled-down on a slander that is now 30 years old: namely, that under the spell of Rasputin-like political operative Lee Atwater, Bush ran a dirty campaign with racist overtones to get elected president. [...]

The Bush campaign entered the fray in June after an authoritative piece on Dukakis' furlough program, "Getting Away With Murder," ran in Reader's Digest. Atwater and Roger Ailes, who ran the media operation for Bush, knew it was an explosive issue. They also knew it was delicate: Horton is African-American and his victims were white.

Ailes forbade the campaign from releasing Horton's photograph. When the campaign produced its now-famous Massachusetts prison "revolving door" ad, it was filmed in Utah, in sepia tones, and the inmates appeared to be white, black, and Hispanic. Earlier, two conservative provocateurs, Larry McCarthy and Floyd Brown, produced a low-budget ad showing Horton's picture and mentioning his name. Democrats pounced. This is racist, they said. Some of the media followed suit and some didn't, although with each passing year, the "vile" Willie Horton ad narrative entrenched itself more deeply in the collective memories of Democrats and the media.

Those closest to the case were the most nonplussed by this characterization. Dane Strother, a former Eagle-Tribune reporter who became a Democratic political consultant, told me race was never an issue when Dukakis' furlough program came under scrutiny. "It wasn't about racism," he said. "That didn't come up. Not ever."

One reason was that as the paper dug deeper into the story, they found other victims of crimes, not all of them white, and other furloughed prisoners who'd committed violent crimes, not all of them black.

Among the details unearthed by the Eagle-Tribune was that of the 80 prisoners listed as "escaped" by the state, all but four were on furlough when they disappeared.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Why Liberalism's Critics Fail: a review of  Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen  (Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, Summer 2018, Modern Age)

The main body of thought overlooked by anti-liberalism of all sorts, then, from Deneen's gentle communitarianism to fascism and communism, is economics after the 1860s and an economic history after the 1940s that uses economics. Deneen, like most of our deep social thinkers, has not opened a book of economics since Marx or of economic history since Polanyi. Like most intellectuals, therefore, he does not understand how a market economy works and what its actual history has been. The facts and logic adduced from the elderly or tertiary books on which he relies are regularly nonfacts, nonlogic, fake news.

Deneen believes, on the contrary, that the poor have become immiserated. But, like Marx, he is mistaken. "Inequality" is the fashionable cry, which of course Deneen echoes. But according to careful statistical studies, world inequality among individuals has declined radically in the past thirty years. And even in rich countries, the inequality we hear so much about has been grossly mismeasured. For example, measures of inequality of wealth, such as Thomas Piketty's, ignore the largest source of modern wealth: human capital. For another example, the alleged decline of the middle class in the U.S. turns out to be mostly a rise into the upper middle class, not a fall into social classes C, D, and E. For still another--the examples are legion--the quality of goods has risen sharply, making "stagnant" money earnings more valuable. Think, to take a plebian example, of modern auto tires or, of course, the amazing power of the modern smartphone, owned now even by the plebes.

During all the millennia before 1800, income per person in today's prices for the average human bumped along at about $2 or $3 a day. It was tough, at the present level of Mali and Afghanistan or of the hard-socialist regimes. Furthermore, hierarchy prevailed. Born a milkmaid, you died a milkmaid. Doubly tough. Your smart option therefore was to look inside, following Stoic and Christian and Buddhist teaching, to take up your cross, or prayer wheel, and quit whining. You'll get pie in the sky when you die, and anyway you might acquire along the way true enlightenment.

By now, however, income per person in the same prices is about $33 a day worldwide, the condition of Brazil. And the liberalism invented in the eighteenth century has partly eroded hierarchy, the condition of Australia. This amazing fact is unknown by most intellectuals damning capitalism and is unappreciated by them even when by some chance they catch wind of it.

One is led to wonder if the two events are connected, the Great Enrichment and the inclusive liberalism Deneen dislikes. They are. In a country like Japan or Sweden or the U.S. that has embraced liberalism most warmly, incomes per person as a whole-population average have risen from the old and ancient $2 or $3 a day to anything from $90 to $120, and much more if the person is highly skilled--sufficient, say, for a condo on Printer's Row in Chicago and a trip to watch birds in Antarctica. The increase is 3,000 percent in the median or average. And the poorest have gained the most. The very rich get another diamond bracelet. Splendid. But the poor get food, housing, antibiotics, and education denied to most people during all of history but the liberal era. By now, descendants by the billions of illiterate slaves and milkmaids have acquired the instruments for full human flourishing. They may not all take it. But that merely suggests that we join Deneen in preaching to them to leave off reality TV and Fritos and get to work on their Greek and Beethoven piano sonatas.

Yet the fact that liberalism resulted in billions of people having full lives does not move Deneen, or other right conservatives and left environmentalists, who fiercely attack a "consumerism" that has in truth characterized human life always. Deneen will have none of it. He wants us to go back to Brook Farm. my grandfather who worked 16 hours a day in the coal mine and died at 42....

Glad they finally posted this because it's the best review I've read of Mr. Deneen's book.

Russ Roberts had a, typically, good conversation with him, EconTalk Podcast: Patrick Deneen on Why Liberalism Failed (Russ Roberts, Jul 9 2018)

Political Scientist and author Patrick Deneen of the University of Notre Dame talks about his book Why Liberalism Failed with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. By liberalism, Deneen means the modern enterprise--the push for self-actualization free of the constraints of tradition, family, and religion that typifies modern culture. He argues that both the left and the right have empowered the state and reduced liberty. He argues for a smaller, more local, more artisanal economy and a return to the virtues of self-control and self-mastery.

Does liberalism deserve to be saved?: Patrick Deneen asserts that the natural endpoint of liberalism is desire rampant and tyrannical, while Jonah Goldberg argues that these outcomes are not liberalism, but its betrayal. (Nathanael Blake, June 28, 2018, Catholic World Report)

The authors agree that liberalism, understood as it is broadly instantiated in the liberal, democratic capitalist West, is in crisis, but diverge regarding its nature and their prescriptions.

Goldberg claims that the happy combination of political liberty, representative government, free markets and technological creativity resulted in what he considers the "Miracle" of liberal democratic capitalism, which has provided previously unimaginable wealth, comfort, freedom and security. But if this is so, then why is the liberal West in danger of committing suicide? He asserts that it is not only because complacency, boredom and ingratitude induce us to forget how much liberalism has done for us, but also because liberalism is unnatural.

We may live in a liberal culture and polity, but we have not significantly evolved from our tribal, stone-age ancestors. Tribal chiefs and divinely-ordained leaders are more natural for us than democratic self-government and freedom. Liberalism, in Goldberg's account, does not give us an all-encompassing identity that provides a sense of meaning. And so many people are readily tempted back to our natural tribalism, which promises to reunite the fragments of the fractured liberal self.

Although Deneen is not insensate to the positives of liberalism, from rising standards of living to the freedoms liberal regimes promise, he fears that as liberalism becomes more dominant and therefore more pure, the blessings that it has provided will either be lost or prove not to be worth their price. The core of Deneen's argument is that liberalism carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction, and thus is failing because it has triumphed--it betrays itself as it fulfills itself. As liberalism muscles out older traditions and practices that had restrained its excesses, it becomes increasingly self-destructive and, ironically, illiberal. At the heart of this phenomenon is liberalism's determination to liberate human appetite.

For Deneen, liberalism is primarily a philosophy of individual emancipation, with an emphasis on human control of nature as a means to achieve this. Instead of controlling our appetites, we indulge them. Instead of seeking our place in family, community and creed, we seek liberation from their constraints. Instead of accepting a place in the order of the cosmos, we seek dominance. Technological prowess is put in the service of fulfilling our desires. But the scientifically-aided liberation of human appetite makes us slaves to our passions, unable to sate our inflamed desires.

And in the end, it makes us slaves to the state as well. 

The implicit core of this critique is that Man was better off when he was a slave to an economic master than as a "slave" to a participatory republic (if we allow the epithet).  One would bet that the actual men of the former would all prefer the latter.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Horror and Eternity (Scott Beauchamp, Summer 2018, Modern Age)

Carpenter's The Thing strongly echoes the same themes first put forth by the American master of nihilist horror, H. P. Lovecraft. It isn't a stretch to say that most contemporary horror as we encounter it in movies and on television was influenced by Lovecraft's disdainful, almost paranoid hatred for the world as it is. French novelist Michel Houellebecq writes in his book-length appreciation of Lovecraft, H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life:

Few beings have ever been so impregnated, pierced to the core, by the conviction of the absolute futility of human aspiration. The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition towards chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. The skies will be glacial and empty, traversed by the feeble light of half-dead stars. These too will disappear. Everything will disappear. And human actions are as free and stripped of meaning as the unfettered movement of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure "Victorian fictions." All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact, and radiant.

Lovecraft's wholly materialistic fiction, his disgust at being fettered by the vicissitudes of the natural world, is made radiant with the knowledge that, though things exist, their existence is entirely arbitrary. He gets us coming and going, in other words. He's disgusted by the sheer fact of existence, and simultaneously horrified that it carries no meaning beyond itself. This is the pure nihilism of gore and the animating pathos of films such as Hostel and Saw.

When it comes to this kind of horror, human institutions are merely a thin film protecting us from the truly revolting nature of life. Materialist horror operates by peeling back the pathetically flimsy protections of culture to reveal the naked and vast horror of what it considers pure existence. The horror itself results from life being completely denuded of its mystery, or perhaps from finding mystery to be an inadequate illusion we use to spare ourselves from the bare facts of existence. There's something pornographic in this compulsion to expose in nihilistic horror. Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han defines the erotic against the pornographic as something that interrupts, tarries, and holds us at a distance, while the pornographic presents itself as bare fact delivered directly and without intermediary. Narrative is erotic, but facts are pornographic. The supernatural suggests a distance between subject and object, but the aptly named "torture porn" of films like Saw collapse the space between meaning and existence, reducing both to a false equivalency: a severed limb shown in close up is the totality of meaning in the universe.

Opposing The Thing, the bare fact, is The Presence. Kirk's fiction is rich with it. Though his output was relatively modest, comprising in total some twenty-two stories along with three novels that were written predominantly in short bursts throughout the '60s and '70s, Kirk's fiction burns even more incandescently for its brevity and focus. Collected and recollected in books such as Ancestral Shadows and The Surly Sullen Bell, Kirk's fiction isn't always easy to acquire. Special orders and calls to book dealers are occasionally necessary for a few of the more rare collections, yet he always remains timely: the dynamics of The Presence being echoed in both the subject matter of the works themselves and their occasionally enigmatic physical existence, suggesting a constant interplay between the ephemeral and eternal.

Kirk's fiction is suffused with The Presence. You find it sensed by both the older man and younger boy in "An Encounter by Mortstone Pond." The Presence haunts Stoneburner in "What Shadows We Pursue." We're almost tricked into thinking the eponymous Presence has betrayed itself by materializing in "Uncle Isaiah." Old House of Fear is absolutely permeated with Presence. But what is it? It might help to think of The Presence as the exact inverse of The Thing. If The Thing is horrible because it exists, and because it implies a nihilistic void in which the material world is all that exists, then The Presence is summarized by T. E. Hulme's phrase "Nothing suggests itself." The Presence, a sense of something that can't quite be acquired by the senses, intimates a metaphysical order lying outside the material world that also gives that world coherence.

The horror of The Thing is a plaintive howl of nihilism. The horror of The Presence is a humbling challenge to our pragmatic, everyday experience of the world. The Thing is disgusting, but The Presence is awful in the traditional sense of the word, as being full of awe. It unsettles and challenges while offering a terrible glimpse of the sublime. A few contemporary cinematic examples of this school of horror can be found in The Sixth Sense, The Others, and perhaps surprisingly The Exorcist.

45 years later, "The Exorcist" retains its ability to shock: The audience is forced to undergo horror in order to clarify the issue of good and evil in our fallen world. (Titus Techera, 12/03/18, Catholic World Report)

The spiritual crisis of evil is about God and the devil in a spiritual war for our souls. But there is a worldly dimension to this crisis. We see Regan's mother and her friends--successful, upper-class people with social and artistic pretensions, who nonetheless have something wrong with them that goes beyond sins and crimes we have learned to tolerate. They are respectable, but irresponsible. A socialite party, with its levity, is interrupted by a girl who is possessed, but no one can cares to notice; it is a rebuke of the preference for respectability over a moral effort to protect the innocent.

The exorcist of the title, Father Merrin (played wonderfully by Max von Sydow), only comes to the possessed girl in the third act. Exorcism is not our first idea--it is, in fact, our last resort. This is not merely a description of our liberal, secular society, but also of Church practice, which requires adequate scientific investigation before addressing the issue of possession. At the same time, the story uses this to dramatize how incredible evil is in the literal sense--we cannot believe what we are seeing, we do not know how to deal with it.

The story establishes two further points related to this problem. First, the beginning of the movie, which would seem to have nothing to do with the story of modern America, deals with the ancient past--the archaeological digging up of an ancient idol in the Middle East. We take a scientific attitude to old ideas about evil, thinking they cannot have any power now. We take a progressive view of power: we moderns have far more power now than has ever existed before, so what is there to fear? As a society, we have achieved unimagined powers; but individually, each one of us remains mortal and vulnerable and limited.

Second, Father Merrin himself has little doubt about the true character of the problem he is facing. He is able to explain to Father Karras that the experience of evil befalling a child, perhaps our greatest fear, is about desperation, which would make us "see ourselves as ugly and animal; to make us reject the possibility that God could love us." Redemption would seem impossible if we gave in to that desperation.

ACF Middlebrow #19: The Exorcist (Titus Techera,  December 1, 2018, ACF Podcast)
The podcast turns to horror, Catholic and scientific. I am joined by veteran and writer Scott Beauchamp to talk about William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist and about Russell Kirk's views on horror -- having read his very humanistic essay on horror in Modern Age. We talk about body horror as a way of confronting evil, of raising existential questions: Is being human special, after all, or just another meaningless accident? Next week, we turn to the scientific horror for comparison-The Thing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


The U.S. may not 'believe' in climate change. But we're the only one doing something about it (Jon Gabriel, Dec. 8, 2018, USA Today)

Nineteen nations "believe" in climate change. How are they backing up their statement of faith?

China was praised for signing on to the Paris Climate Agreement and in Argentina reaffirmed its commitment to controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, however, China increased those emissions by 1.7 percent.

India, the fourth largest source for CO2, saw their emissions grow by 4.6 percent in 2017. Luckily for them, they too were praised for signing that "nonbinding communiqué."

Overall, the European Union raised their CO2 output by 1.5 percent.

France, home of the Paris Agreement, is leading the diplomatic effort to save the planet. They increased their greenhouse gas emissions by 3.6 percent.

Pollution in France will likely rise further this year from the burning cars alone. French President Emmanuel Macron announced a sharp increase in gas and diesel taxes last month. This sparked the largest riots seen in Paris in nearly 50 years as yellow-vested citizens blockaded roadways, burned vehicles and damaged artwork and infrastructure.

If the nations paying lip service to climate change aren't meeting their goals, imagine how poorly the oil-drilling, coal-mining Americans must be doing. President Donald Trump was pilloried for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and for being only G20 leader who refused to sign the climate change statement in Argentina.

From 2016 to 2017, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.7 percent. Emissions from large power plants declined 4.5 percent since 2016, and nearly 20 percent since 2011. All without signing a piece of paper in Paris or Buenos Aires.

December 8, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


John Kelly, Trump's Chief of Staff, to Leave White House (Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 8, 2018, NY Times)

While Mr. Trump is eager for Mr. Ayers to join that list, it is unclear whether the aide, who lacks experience in government beyond his stint with Mr. Pence, is what the president needs in the top West Wing post as he heads into what allies expect will be the most tumultuous year yet of his presidency. [...]

When it became clear that Mr. Trump, who has an unusual affinity for Mr. Ayers, was leaning toward him to replace Mr. Kelly, several top aides told the president that they took issue with it and that it could lead to a staff exodus.

If Mr. Ayers accepts the job, his appointment would be seen inside the White House as a coup for Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who clashed with Mr. Kelly and are seen as close to Mr. Ayers. The view inside is that they are now "running the building," one of the president's allies said. [...]

Mr. Kelly's departure is expected to have a ripple effect across the upper echelons of the West Wing staff, as well as in Mr. Trump's cabinet. One of the biggest question marks is the fate of Kirstjen M. Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security. Ms. Nielsen has clashed repeatedly with Mr. Trump, and at times relied on Mr. Kelly, who was previously her boss at the agency, to defend her.

For weeks, Mr. Trump has been offering her position to other people. At one point, Mr. Trump even broached the possibility that Thomas P. Bossert, a former homeland security adviser, would return and run the agency. But Mr. Bossert, who was forced out of the administration after John R. Bolton became national security adviser, made it clear he would not accept the position.

The ceaseless West Wing backbiting that captures headlines has belied the reality of working there, which is that aides form tight cliques and burrow into those friendships to endure the chaos of the work environment.

Other protégés of Mr. Kelly like Zachary D. Fuentes, the deputy chief of staff, are also seen as particularly vulnerable without Mr. Kelly in the top job. Mr. Fuentes, who has earned ridiculing nicknames, including "Zotus" (a play on Potus, short for president of the United States) and "prime minister," for his large ego, has already approached other departments in the administration for a position, but has cultivated few allies. Mr. Trump continues to blame him and Mr. Kelly for letting him miss a World War I battlefield commemoration outside Paris because of bad weather.

The White House communications office, which Mr. Trump has complained about for two years, is also set to undergo a restructuring. The overlap in officials has bred chronic confusion. 

Because of his personality and politics, Donald began his presidency with incompetents manning every cabinet department and the chief aide positions.  And as things have deteriorated and the jobs became even more undesirable the quality has gone even further downhill--in January 1 there will be no one in the Administration who anyone thinks could be an effective president in his own right.  [Contrast with W, in particular, who had Rumsfeld, Cheney, Ashcroft, etc.]

As Impeachment/indictment gears up, he needs not just a first-rate legal team and political shop but staff he can leave governance too.  He has none of the three. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


'Siege warfare': Republican anxiety spikes as Trump faces growing legal and political perils (Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, December 8, 2018, Washington Post)

A growing number of Republicans fear that a battery of new revelations in the far-reaching Russia investigation has dramatically heightened the legal and political danger to Donald Trump's presidency -- and threatens to consume the rest of the party as well.

President Trump added to the tumult Saturday by announcing the abrupt exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, whom he sees as lacking the political judgment and finesse to steer the White House through the treacherous months to come.

Trump remains headstrong in his belief that he can outsmart adversaries and weather any threats, according to advisers. In the Russia probe, he continues to roar denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of wrongdoing by his former associates "totally clear" him.

But anxiety is spiking among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad.

Richard Nixon not only emblemized the Republican Party for a quarter century but had built up a colossal store of good will within it and debts from its members.  But, eventually, carrying his water just got to be too big an ask and they bailed. 

Donald Trump has always opposed the party, hates it today and owes his election to congressmen and governors who dragged him in on their coattails. No one, outside a Klavern or militia, owes him anything. The GOP will not hesitate to cut him loose when nut-cutting time comes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Wisconsin Republicans Are Shooting Themselves In the Foot: My friend Scott Walker should not sign the power-grabbing legislation. (Charles J. Sykes, 12/06/18, The Atlantic)

The Wisconsin GOP's lame-duck power play was not the death of democracy. But it was bad enough: petty, vindictive, and self-destructive. It was, as the saying goes, worse than a crime. It was a blunder. [...]

Truth be told, Republicans can mount a case for all of this, starting with precedent. Eight years ago, Democrats under former Governor Jim Doyle tried to use a lame-duck session to ratify state-employee union contracts that would have greatly limited Walker's flexibility. Republicans remember how the Democrats, desperate for a win, brought back a disgraced state representative named Jeff Wood to vote on the contracts. Wood was actually still serving a jail term for his repeated drunk-driving arrests and used his work-release privileges to cast a crucial vote. (The measure ultimately failed in the state Senate.)

Republicans can also argue that they were merely affirming the powers of a co-equal branch of government (something their counterparts in Washington might wish to emulate.) Their case, however, is weakened by their lack of concern for excessive executive powers prior to the November 6 election. In any case, they have big majorities in both legislative chambers and will be able to provide a powerful check on the incoming governor after he is sworn in, even without the last-minute legislation. In other words, the lame-duck bill only marginally increases their preexisting legislative clout.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


The walls are closing in on 'individual #1' (EDWARD LUCE, 12/08/18, Financial Times)

Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is methodically lining up his targets for what increasingly looks like a recommended indictment of Mr Trump for more than one federal crime. On Friday, "individual #1", as Mr Trump is called in the filings, was implicated in a federal crime in the sentencing reports for Michael Cohen, his estranged personal lawyer, and Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman.

The filings were heavily redacted. But even from what was visible, they establish connections between the Russian government and people around Mr Trump from as early as November 2015 -- eight months before he took the Republican nomination. The chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov, once said that Mr Trump "had more Russia connections than Aeroflot". Mr Mueller has by no means finished mapping them out. "Individual #1" also directed Mr Cohen to break federal election laws in the payment of hush money to two women.

The looming denouement of Mr Mueller's investigations coincide with the Democratic takeover of the US House of Representatives, which formally starts in early January. Mr Trump remains fixated before then on securing funding for his border wall. But the walls closing in on his presidency are more tangible than the one on the Mexican border.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


The Wooing of Jared Kushner: How the Saudis Got a Friend in the White House (David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard, Mark Landler and Mark Mazzetti, Dec. 8, 2018, NY Times)

The prince and his advisers, eager to enlist American support for his hawkish policies in the region and for his own consolidation of power, cultivated the relationship with Mr. Kushner for more than two years, according to documents, emails and text messages reviewed by The New York Times.

A delegation of Saudis close to the prince visited the United States as early as the month Mr. Trump was elected, the documents show, and brought back a report identifying Mr. Kushner as a crucial focal point in the courtship of the new administration. He brought to the job scant knowledge about the region, a transactional mind-set and an intense focus on reaching a deal with the Palestinians that met Israel's demands, the delegation noted.

Even then, before the inauguration, the Saudis were trying to position themselves as essential allies who could help the Trump administration fulfill its campaign pledges. In addition to offering to help resolve the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, the Saudis offered hundreds of billions of dollars in deals to buy American weapons and invest in American infrastructure. Mr. Trump later announced versions of some of these items with great fanfare when he made his first foreign trip: to an Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The Saudis had extended that invitation during the delegation's November 2016 visit.

"The inner circle is predominantly deal makers who lack familiarity with political customs and deep institutions, and they support Jared Kushner," the Saudi delegation wrote of the incoming administration in a slide presentation obtained by the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, which provided it to The Times. Several Americans who spoke with the delegation confirmed the slide presentation's accounts of the discussions.

The courtship of Mr. Kushner appears to have worked. [...]

"Kushner made clear his lack of familiarity with the history of Saudi-American relations and he asked about its support for terrorism," the team noted in the slide presentation prepared for Riyadh. "After the discussion, he expressed his satisfaction with what was explained about the Saudi role in fighting terrorism" and what the Saudis said was their international leadership in fighting Islamist extremism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


John Kelly Was Supposed to Bring Credibility to the White House. He Failed. (FRED KAPLAN, DEC 08, 2018, Slate)

[N]o tears should be shed for Gen. Kelly. Yes, he was lauded in the early months of his term as one of the "grown-ups in the room," the man who not only blocked Bolton but got rid of Steve Bannon and his white-nationalist sidekick, Sebastian Gorka. Kelly also talked a good game on broader issues, particularly immigration. In his confirmation hearing for secretary of homeland security, a job he held before Trump moved him to the White House, Kelly assured senators that he would speak "truth to power"; said that a wall on the Mexican border would not halt drug trafficking; disputed Trump's description of illegal immigrants as rapists and killers, saying most of them came here for "economic opportunity and to escape violence"; and firmly opposed the idea of detaining them without trial, noting, "I'm pretty committed to the Constitution."

Yet once installed at DHS, Kelly enforced Trump's crackdown on undocumented immigrants with gusto, and as chief of staff, he defended the separation of families. His intolerance of foreigners extended well beyond "illegals," opining in a behind-closed-doors meeting last year that the number of refugees to be let in to the United States should be reduced to "somewhere between zero and one."

Finally, he adopted--or maybe revealed that he shared--Trump's contempt for democratic institutions. In a speech at George Washington University in April, Kelly lambasted congressional critics of the crackdown on once-protected DACA children, saying that "they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines." At a press conference in August 2017, he took questions only from reporters who knew Gold Star families, saying, "We don't look down upon those of you that haven't served," but "we're a little bit sorry for you, because you'll never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our servicemen and women do."

When Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat, criticized Trump for his insensitive phone call to a constituent whose husband had been killed in battle, Kelly denounced her as an "empty barrel" and told a story about a self-serving speech she'd given at the dedication of an FBI building--a story that a video of her speech revealed was false. Kelly never corrected the record. When a reporter asked White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the contradiction, Sanders said it was "highly inappropriate" to question a four-star general. Kelly never dissociated himself from that absurd statement either--though others did. Another retired four-star general, David Petraeus, said on a weekend talk show, "We in uniform protect the rights of others to criticize us."

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM



The potential innocent explanations for Donald Trump's behavior over the last two years have been steadily stripped away, piece by piece. Special counsel Robert Mueller and investigative reporters have uncovered and assembled a picture of a presidential campaign and transition seemingly infected by unprecedented deceit and criminality, and in regular--almost obsequious--contact with America's leading foreign adversary.

A year ago, Lawfare's Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic outlined seven possible scenarios about Trump and Russia, arranged from most innocent to most guilty. Fifth on that list was "Russian Intelligence Actively Penetrated the Trump Campaign--And Trump Knew or Should Have Known," escalating from there to #6 "Kompromat," and topping out at the once unimaginable #7, "The President of the United States is a Russian Agent."

After the latest disclosures, we're steadily into Scenario #5, and can easily imagine #6.

The Cohen and Manafort court documents all provide new details, revelations, and hints of more to come. They're a reminder, also, that Mueller's investigation continues alongside an investigation by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that clearly alleges that Donald Trump participated in a felony, directing Cohen to violate campaign finance laws to cover up extramarital affairs.

Through his previous indictments against Russian military intelligence and the Russian Internet Research Agency, Mueller has laid out a criminal conspiracy and espionage campaign approved, according to US intelligence, by Vladimir Putin himself. More recently, Mueller has begun to hint at the long arm of that intelligence operation, and how it connects to the core of the Trump campaign itself. that the Trump family never learned anything else.

'No Vacancies' for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias (Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder, Aug. 27, 2016, NY Times)

She seemed like the model tenant. A 33-year-old nurse who was living at the Y.W.C.A. in Harlem, she had come to rent a one-bedroom at the still-unfinished Wilshire Apartments in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of Queens. She filled out what the rental agent remembers as a "beautiful application." She did not even want to look at the unit.

There was just one hitch: Maxine Brown was black.

Stanley Leibowitz, the rental agent, talked to his boss, Fred C. Trump.

"I asked him what to do and he says, 'Take the application and put it in a drawer and leave it there,'" Mr. Leibowitz, now 88, recalled in an interview.

It was late 1963 -- just months before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act -- and the tall, mustachioed Fred Trump was approaching the apex of his building career. He was about to complete the jewel in the crown of his middle-class housing empire: seven 23-story towers, called Trump Village, spread across nearly 40 acres in Coney Island.

He was also grooming his heir. His son Donald, 17, would soon enroll at Fordham University in the Bronx, living at his parents' home in Queens and spending much of his free time touring construction sites in his father's Cadillac, driven by a black chauffeur.

"His father was his idol," Mr. Leibowitz recalled. "Anytime he would come into the building, Donald would be by his side."

Over the next decade, as Donald J. Trump assumed an increasingly prominent role in the business, the company's practice of turning away potential black tenants was painstakingly documented by activists and organizations that viewed equal housing as the next frontier in the civil rights struggle. [...]

Looking back, Mr. Trump's response to the lawsuit can be seen as presaging his handling of subsequent challenges, in business and in politics. Rather than quietly trying to settle -- as another New York developer had done a couple of years earlier -- he turned the lawsuit into a protracted battle, complete with angry denials, character assassination, charges that the government was trying to force him to rent to "welfare recipients" and a $100 million countersuit accusing the Justice Department of defamation.

When it was over, Mr. Trump declared victory, emphasizing that the consent decree he ultimately signed did not include an admission of guilt.

But an investigation by The New York Times -- drawing on decades-old files from the New York City Commission on Human Rights, internal Justice Department records, court documents and interviews with tenants, civil rights activists and prosecutors -- uncovered a long history of racial bias at his family's properties, in New York and beyond.

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


Falling for "Les Fake News," Trump Spreads Lie French Protesters Chant His Name (Robert Mackey, December 8 2018, The Intercept)

Writing on Twitter, the president claimed, falsely, that the protests had been inspired by his opposition to the Paris climate accord and the phrase "We want Trump" rang out on the streets.

In fact, the president was misled by a viral hoax, in which video of British white supremacists chanting his name last year was posted on Twitter this week with a false caption, incorrectly describing the scene as one unfolding in France.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Trump's favorite pollster was the least accurate in the midterms (Harry Enten, 12/08/18, CNN)

The fact that Rasmussen has a better approval rating for the President than other pollsters isn't new. This is why we've seen Trump mention Rasmussen many times. That leads to the media pointing out that other pollsters are far more pessimistic about his standing with voters.

But the average isn't always right. Before last month, there was no way to really know if the average was biased against Trump. It was conceivable that Rasmussen Reports was right. Maybe their likely voter screen was somehow picking up something true about the electorate that other pollsters were missing. Remember, pollsters did somewhat underestimate Trump in the 2016 election.

The midterm elections prove that at least for now Rasmussen is dead wrong and traditional pollsters are correct.

In the final three weeks before the midterm, 16 different pollsters released generic congressional ballot polls. Some of those pollsters, including Rasmussen, released multiple polls. In total, there were 32 generic ballot polls put out.
The generic ballot isn't a perfect estimate of the House popular vote because often pollsters don't mention the specific candidates running in each district and some districts don't feature candidates from both parties running. Still, these factors tend to cancel each other out nationally and are only worth a point or 2 at the very most. They don't excuse Rasmussen's midterm performance.

Rasmussen's final poll was the least accurate of any of the 32 polls. They had the Republicans ahead nationally by one point. Democrats are currently winning the national House vote by 8.6 points. That's an error of nearly 10 points.
Of course, it's possible for any pollster to have one inaccurate poll. Fortunately, for statistical purposes, Rasmussen released three generic ballot polls in the final three weeks of the 2018 campaign.

And then the Bubble wonders why reality doesn't comport with Trump worship.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


My Saturday in Paris with the gilets jaunes (Gavin Mortimer, December 8, 2018, Spectator)

Crossing the Pont des Arts I spotted a Father Christmas in a yellow vest walking briskly along the river path. Under the bridge and out of sight of the police, Santa Claus stripped. I watched as he stuffed his outfit into his haversack and then strolled out wearing black jeans and a black hooded top. He was in his late twenties, clean cut, sporting a short back and sides; there was a touch of the military about his bearing as I tailed him towards the Louvre. [...]

As we approached the Place de la Madelaine the slogans on the boarded-up shops proliferated: 'Looting=Social Justice', 'Neither Patrie [Patriotism] or Patron [boss]', 'Banksters go to Hell', 'Neither Macron, nor Marine [Le Pen]', 'Vive Le Vandalisme' and on the shuttered entrance to the Chanel shop, 'A perfume of Victory'.

Another line of police vans barred the entrance to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, home to President Macron (and the British Embassy). Close by, a group of smiling gilets jaunes had established a command post and were distributing leaflets to anyone interested. I took one. It was entitled 'Let's Put an end to Poverty' and it called on the proletariat to abolish wages, state and money. 'We should have only one wish,' concluded the tract, 'the death of commodity'.

For an hour or so I hung around the Place de la Madelaine, making small talk with one or two gilets jaunes, most of whom seemed to be here to socialize as much as to demonstrate. Their jackets carried a range of messages, mostly about social justice and inequality; I saw a couple emblazoned with the slogan: 'Don't touch our cops'.

Then the atmosphere began to change. From the direction of Opera came a crowd of three or four hundred, few of whom were wearing yellow. Many had face masks, hoods or hats pulled down low. A few sported gas masks and moved with a testosterone strut. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


US companies forked over a record amount of tariffs in October ($6.2 billion!) because of Trump's trade war (Bob Bryan, 12/08/18, Business Insider)

The cost of President Donald Trump's trade war is starting to pile up.

Trump has cheered billions "pouring into the coffers of the USA," but new data shows companies' costs starting to reach new records:

In October, US companies paid $6.2 billion in tariffs, up from $4.4 billion in September and just $3.1 billion in October 2017.

That's a 104% year-over-year increase, despite just a 13% jump in the value of imports, according to data compiled by Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, a pro-free trade group, and research firm The Trade Partnership.

The total payments in October is the largest monthly tariff collection amount in history, according to the groups.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Young Muslims challenge the old guard at Britain's mosques (The Economist, Dec 6th 2018)

Younger Muslims tend to prefer younger, British-born imams such as Mr Sidat. Mr Timol says that many of Britain's 1,700-odd mosques have already been forced to bring in second, English-speaking imams, if only to stop their youthful congregants leaching away. These younger imams are more likely to have been to university, and to have had other jobs before becoming imams. Mr Sidat worked at ey as an accountant. Another wanted to be a sports coach. This gives them a worldliness that aspirational young Muslims appreciate.

Mr Sidat argues that his generation is also more accepting of gay or alcoholic Muslims. He gives advice to both. In his sermons he urges Muslims to understand local English culture better, particularly their neighbours' obsessive attachments to dogs, pubs and gardening.

In a recent survey, the Muslim Council of Britain (mcb), an umbrella group, found that the biggest complaint among mosque-goers was the lack of facilities for women and young people. About a quarter of Britain's mosques do not accommodate women at all, and they are often excluded from the management of mosques. The mcb has conceded that this is unacceptable. It has just launched its first six-month programme to train a cohort of 20 women to take leadership roles. The mcb sees this as part of a campaign to improve the running of mosques, utilising the professional skills of young Muslims, male and female. Thus disruption comes to British Islam.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Trump can't do anything right -- even his coverups are incompetent (Max Boot, December 7, 2018, Washington Post)

This week, another coverup blew up in the president's face when CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed senators on the mountain of evidence implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) emerged to say, "If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes," while Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R., S.C.), a master of the one-liner, said there was a "smoking saw."

This was a reference to the lame line from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who kept claiming he had not seen any "smoking gun" to link the crown prince to the crime. Mattis was just telling Trump what he wanted to hear. The president has been saying that maybe the crown prince knew about Khashoggi's murder and "maybe he didn't" -- "we may never know all of the facts."

No one expects Donald to tell the truth but a General lying to Congress is a different matter.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Edmund Burke and the Calculation of Man (Bradley J. Birzer, 12/07/18, Imaginative Conservative)

As Edmund Burke began to wind down his very long letter--that which would become 1790's Reflections on the Revolution in France--he returned to the question of first principles and right reason, especially in regard to the nature of the human person. At his best and most natural, Burke argued, men understood themselves as spirited and not as mere passive members of a republic. A safe republic relied upon the natural habits and goodness of a man's soul, as much as a man's soul found itself safe and secure in a well-ordered republic. Burke, unlike Jean-Jacques Rousseau, did not believe man perfectable, but he did believe that through virtue and habit, a man could attenuate his darkest longings. Counter-Rousseau, Burke was an ancient as well as a Christian in his understanding of human nature, in private and in public. As Plato had so often argued, the order of the soul and the order of the commonwealth are inseparable one from the other. If the republic is disordered, man will attempt to live by whatever means necessary, even ill ones. If the soul is disordered, man cannot hope to govern himself or others, thus rendering a republic decrepit and corrupt.

As Burke looked across the English Channel, he saw the revolutionaries of France behaving in dangerously idiotic fashion.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


2 More Immigrants Say They Worked for Trump Despite Lacking Legal Status (Miriam Jordan, Dec. 7, 2018, NY Times)

Two more immigrant women who worked at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey said on Friday that they were undocumented at the time and that golf course management knew it. One of the women said that she was allowed to submit fraudulent documents by the employee who interviewed her for the job.

The two women's accounts came a day after a Guatemalan woman, Victorina Morales, told The New York Times that she has worked without legal status as a housekeeper at the club for the past five years. She said she had decided to come out of the shadows because of President Trump's negative public comments about undocumented immigrants and what she said were even more demeaning words directed at her from her supervisor at the club.

[Read: Making President Trump's Bed: A Housekeeper Without Papers]

Millions of undocumented workers are employed in service, agriculture and landscaping, among other fields. But the latest revelations from both a current employee and several former workers at the New Jersey facility mark one of the first times that such vulnerable workers have elected to speak publicly about their employment at a company owned by the Trump Organization.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


The Special Counsel's Cohen Sentencing Brief Is Ominous for Trump (DAVID FRENCH, December 7, 2018, National Review)

 I want to focus on a different document: the special counsel's sentencing memo outlining Cohen's cooperation with the Special Counsel's Office. This document may well outline the roadmap for an impeachment count against the president that is based on recent presidential precedent.

The Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon articles of impeachment (Nixon resigned before he was impeached) contain common obstruction-of-justice claims -- namely that the president participated in an effort to provide false testimony to investigators.

For example, the Nixon articles of impeachment accused the president of

approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings.

The Clinton articles of impeachment repeatedly allege that the president "corruptly encouraged" witnesses to make false statements in a federal civil action and that he "made false and misleading statements to potential witnesses in a Federal grand jury proceeding in order to corruptly influence the testimony of those witnesses."

If you read the special counsel's Cohen memo, you'll note that the special counsel takes pains to note that Cohen's false statements to investigators were "deliberate and premeditated" and "did not spring spontaneously from a line of examination or a heated colloquy during a congressional hearing." His lies were in a "written submission" and a "prepared opening statement." These lies were allegedly told to "minimize the links" between the Moscow Trump Tower project and Trump himself.

Also -- and this is crucial -- the memo notes that Cohen has been cooperating in describing the "circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries" [emphasis added].

In plain English, this means that it is highly likely that senior Trump officials reviewed Cohen's prepared, false testimony before he lied to Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Ammon Bundy Quits Militia Movement in Solidarity With Migrant Caravan (Eric Levitz, 12/08/18, New York)

[T]his being 2018, Bundy naturally just disavowed the militia movement in solidarity with the migrant caravan, suggested that nationalism is actually the opposite of patriotism, and said that Trump's America resembles nothing so much as 1930s Germany.

Last week, Bundy posted a video to Facebook in which he criticized President Trump for demonizing the Central American migrants who were traveling in a caravan to seek asylum in the United States.

"To group them all up like, frankly, our president has done -- you know, trying to speak respectfully -- but he has basically called them all criminals and said they're not coming in here," Bundy observed. "What about individuals, those who have come for reasons of need for their families, you know, the fathers and mothers and children that come here and were willing to go through the process to apply for asylum so they can come into this country and benefit from not having to be oppressed continually?"

Bundy went on to observe that "faith is the opposite of fear" and that "we have been asked by God to help, to be welcoming, to assist strangers, to not vex them." He also provided his viewers with a quick fact-check of the president's claims that liberal billionaire George Soros had orchestrated the caravan, and that there were terrorists embedded among the migrants.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Man Who Drove Into Crowd Convicted of First-Degree Murder (Denise Lavoie, 12/07/18, AP)

A man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia was convicted on Friday of first-degree murder for killing a woman in an attack that inflamed long-simmering racial and political tensions across the country.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Iran's Rouhani denounces US sanctions as 'economic terrorism' (Al Jazeera, 12/08/18)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has denounced US President Donald Trump's decision to reimpose economic sanctions against Tehran, calling it a form of "economic terrorism".

Speaking at a regional security conference in Tehran on Saturday, Rouhani said the United States' intensions against Iran were "evident" when Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

"The unjust and illegal American sanctions against the Iranian nation is a clear example of terrorism," he told the gathering, which was attended by top legislative officials from Iran, China, Russia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

...that the US had declared war on Japan prior to December 7th.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


A Presidency Without Humor (Bret Stephens, Dec. 7, 2018, The New York Times)

As with September's memorial services for John McCain, expressions of mourning for George H.W. Bush -- extolling the 41st president's humility, loyalty, temperance, decency, bravery and devotion to public service -- have contained thinly veiled rebukes of the current president. The sharpest one, I thought, came in Alan Simpson's splendid eulogy at Washington National Cathedral.

"He never lost his sense of humor," the former senator from Wyoming said of his friend of more than 50 years. "Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life. That's what humor is. He never hated anyone. He knew what his mother and my mother always knew: hatred corrodes the container it's carried in."

Did Donald Trump catch any of this as he sat there in the first pew? Lindsey Graham, the episodically spineful Republican from South Carolina, has claimed that, in private, the 45th president is "funny as hell" and has "a great sense of humor." If so, it's a better kept secret than his tax returns.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Dana Carvey Remembers George Bush, From Muse to Friend (Dana Carvey, Dec. 7, 2018, NY Times)

Later that day, my wife and I accompanied the president and the first lady to the Kennedy Center, where outstanding artists were awarded for their contributions to the arts. (Another generous gesture from the president -- my work was done, but we were still hanging out.)

The recipients that year included Lionel Hampton, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. We settled into our box seats high up in the theater, and I noticed that all four of us had a Secret Service agent seated behind us. I asked Barbara Bush about it, and she said that it was standard protocol since, "you know, Lincoln."

During a break in the show, I happened upon Newman, who had apparently referred to Vice President Dan Quayle in some derogatory manner in the press.

"I'm trying to avoid him," he said. "He knows I think he's a moron." Just then Quayle approached, and Paul skedaddled back to his seat.

Just as the show ended, Walter Cronkite, the host, looked up to the balcony where we all were sitting and, in his booming voice, congratulated President Bush "on behalf of a grateful nation" for his 50 years of public service. Then the entire audience stood up, faced us and gave him a loud, lengthy ovation.

It seemed to catch the president off guard. The Secret Service whisked us away to a small elevator, and I looked up to see the president with tears running down his cheeks. No one said a word. My wife and I had known the Bushes for only 30 hours, and there we were, sharing this intimate family moment.

And so began my lucky 25-year friendship with "Barbara and George." My wife and I happily received Christmas cards every year, as well as other postcards and letters. When I had a health scare in 1998, President Bush wrote to me to ask: "Can I do anything Dana? We've got great doctors right here in Houston." When we did charity events together, I did my Ross Perot impression for him, and he would always laugh.

On Election Day in 2004, I got a surprise call. Again, the voice was familiar.

"Hi, Dana. George Bush here. How ya doing?"

"Hi, Mr. President. Uh, isn't your son running for re-election today?"

"Yeah. But how are you doing?"

"I'm fine thanks. How's the election looking?"

"Don't know yet. But Bar and I saw you on some 'S.N.L.' reruns last night and wondered how you were doing."

That was who he was. Always making sure everybody else was O.K.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Mueller's Roadmap: Major Takeaways from Cohen and Manafort Filings (Ryan Goodman and Andy Wright, December 8, 2018, JustSecurity)

Here are eight major takeaways from what these developments:

1. SDNY Prosecutors named the President of the United States as a direct participant, if not the principal, in felonies

"The Department of Justice today, in the most explicit terms, said the President of the United States committed two felonies. Just said it. Came out and said it. Campaign violations. ... It's just plain as day," Jeffrey Toobin said live on CNN. Toobin is basically right, and that's the legal, political, and ethical bombshell of this day in history.

More specifically, the flagship U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York walked right up to the line of accusing Donald Trump (identified as "Individual 1") in a federal court filing of complicity and conspiracy in Cohen's felony campaign finance crimes related to the payment of hush money to women to squash sex stories. Specifically, the SDNY states:

During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories - each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 - so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1. As a result of Cohen's actions, neither woman spoke to the press prior to the election.

Trump is no mere accomplice, but is alleged to have directed the criminal activity. And this is no minor crime. The SDNY submitted to the court that "the nature and seriousness of the offenses" should "weigh heavily in favor of a substantial term of imprisonment." And as though they were speaking about Trump himself, the prosecutors state that the "two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency," "deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election," and should be met with a stiff penalty "to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful." That language is not reserved for Cohen, but presumably applies to the individual who directed Cohen's activities as well if not more so. [...]

2. Other Trump Campaign and Trump Organization officials may face criminal charges for the hush money scheme

The key allegation against the President also refers to "one or more members of the campaign," which suggests more indictments for the hush money scheme may still be in the offing. This also raises the prospect that we may soon see the prosecution of the campaign itself as an organization -- "United States vs. Trump Campaign" -- even if a sitting president (United States vs. Donald J. Trump) cannot be indicted. Something similar holds true for other executives in the Trump Organization and the company itself. The SDNY memo states that executives engaged in a scheme to create fraudulent payments to reimburse Cohen for his payoffs for the two women. It states, for example, that "Executives of the Company agreed to reimburse Cohen ... the Company then falsely accounted for these payments as 'legal expenses.' In fact, no such retainer agreement existed and these payments were not 'legal expenses' - Cohen in fact provided negligible legal services to Individual-1 or the Company in 2017."

3. The Special Counsel ties Trump directly to possible Russia collusion

The Special Counsel's sentencing memorandum for Cohen very deliberately tells the public that Trump himself was caught up in the connections to and embrace with Russia, and some of those actions were in fact the candidate's idea. The Special Counsel's memo says that it was Trump's idea to initiate contact with the Kremlin in the early stages of the campaign, and that he tasked his fixer, Cohen, to begin that process as early as September 2015. This information should now inform how we think about other subsequent events in the Trump-Russia timeline. At least some Russian overtures should be seen as a potential second step (a receptive response) in the two side's engagement, not the first step (an initial overture or invitation).

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Robots or humans: the choice for companies (Steve LeVine, 12/08/18, Axios)

Over the coming years, the workplace in the U.S. and other advanced economies will see increased automation, and corporate leaders will face a stark choice: whether to keep humans in the mix or let them go. And if it's the former, to what degree?

The point of an economy is not to create (preserve) labor; it is to create wealth more efficiently.  The distribution of that wealth is a political question.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Israel rejects international immigration pact (Danny Zaken, December 7, 2018, Al Monitor)

Like other right-wing governments in the West, Israel will not be participating in the international conference in Morocco this month where the United Nations will present the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. [...]

Netanyahu first announced his opposition after the newspaper Israel HaYom revealed that Israel planned to take part in the initiative. The paper's reporting generated a reproach from the right. Israeli opponents of migration believe that the country's very participation in the initiative would be a step too far. A major reason behind this opposition is the supposedly liberal character of the initiative, which blurs distinctions between illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

One of those issues that illustrates the gulf between Judaism and Zionism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Why does Le Carré gets a prime BBC slot? Because he loathes the West (Rod Liddle, Dec. 8th, 2018, The Spectator US)

I can't imagine another elderly or dead white, public school-educated, heterosexual male writer whose stories would be deemed admissible for a BBC adaptation these days. Certainly not Orwell or Waugh or even Martin Amis. John le Carré makes the cut not because of the brilliance of his prose or his plots but because of his fashionable world viewpoint: a revulsion for the West and what it has, in its wickedness, done to other countries. Le Carré loathes the West -- and, of course, by extension, Israel.

The perception that each side is as morally bad as the other, except that the West (because of its wealth and hegemony) is even more cynical, accords entirely with current liberal sensibilities. No matter that it is palpably wrong and a kind of convenient and frankly cowardly evasion of the truth. The imprecation that we should not judge foreign cultures or governments or institutions -- and that in every case our own perfidies easily outweigh those that have been ranged against us -- is the dominant paradigm.

But to my mind there is a fairly simple morality in the Cold War, for example: an ossified and paranoid authoritarian regime responsible for the mass murder of its own citizens was eventually, mercifully, defeated by the contradictions in its own system and the resolve and determination (and wealth) of democratic countries. There are, I would suggest, few shades of grey in the falling of the Berlin Wall and the emptying of the gulags. It is pretty straightforward as to where the rectitude lay, no?

The literary world is fond of its revisionism, mind, even if in the past those cast out into the wilderness were handed their exit visas more because of the style of their writing than because of their political affiliations. Both John Steinbeck and (even more so) Sinclair Lewis were denuded of their fashionability very quickly after their deaths because, while both men were certainly left of centre, the rather journalistic style they deployed had ceased to please in the decade of the nouveau roman and the likes of Robbe-Grillet. You can still find Steinbeck on some GCSE English courses, but only the simple novellas, such as Of Mice and Men. Sinclair Lewis seems to be gone for good, which I think a bit of a shame.

Today the style of writing is less important than the political affiliations and politics of the writer. Few literary greats have been defenestrated quite as quickly as John Updike, for example, who was being hauled from his plinth even before his death from cancer in 2009. Updike's problem was to have written from deeply within his time and from the standpoint of a white male heterosexual: that don't cut no ice no more. He's a privileged sexist bigot now.

Much the same odium has fallen on Saul Bellow -- in my opinion almost Updike's equal as the greatest American novelist of the second half of the 20th century. And it is happening to Philip Roth too. They will be replaced by authors who have far less literary merit but look a little different and are more attuned to the political zeitgeist. Happy reading.

...than listening to his characters whinge about playing second fiddle to America, so nothing is worthwhile.

December 7, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


Trump's trade war has cost the S&P 10% this year, JP Morgan estimates (Bob Pisani, 12/07/18, CNBC)

J. P. Morgan's Marko Kolanovic released his 2019 outlook this morning]  "The risk that many market participants underestimated this year was the destabilizing impact of the US administration's trade policies...these policies might have erased up to ~10% of S&P 500 value this year."

A 10 percent reduction in the S&P 500 due to trade policy incoherence is a bold call, but it may not be far from the truth. Consider what happened Friday morning. Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow appeared on CNBC at 9:05 a.m. ET saying President Trump would consider extending the 90-day tariff truce with China if "good" progress was made on the negotiations.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose over 100 points in the following few minutes after those remarks aired.

Then, Peter Navarro, the director of the White House National Trade Council, appeared on CNN a little after 10 a.m. ET and fielded a question about whether the U.S. would walk away if China trade talks were not resolved in 90 days. Navarro answered that the U.S. would move forward with raising tariffs.

The Dow and the S&P, which were already off their highs, promptly dropped after those remarks and kept dropping.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


What Do Americans Make? The Stormy Kromer! (Jim Vinoski, 9/19/18, Forbes)

The Stormy Kromer hat was named for its inventor, railroad engineer George "Stormy" Kromer. He wanted a warm winter hat that wouldn't fly off in the wind on the trains, and asked his wife Ida to add an ear flap to a baseball hat. When he began wearing his, demand from his friends and colleagues pushed him into full-scale production. He eventually opened a production plant in Milwaukee, where 25-30 workers helped make the hats. In 2001, with sales dwindling, the company announced that they were going to stop making their iconic Blizzard Cap.

Jacquart Fabric Products was founded in Ironwood, Michigan, at the very western end of the Upper Peninsula near Lake Superior, in 1958 by Bob Jacquart's father, Robert R. Jacquart. The business began as a bank deposit bag maker, and eventually began producing a variety of sewn products such as duffle bags, boat covers, and upholstery. The company went into full-scale manufacturing just about the same time overseas competition (primarily from China) was heating up; they focused on products that Chinese producers couldn't do, such as on demand pet beds, RV awnings and canopies for playground equipment. "In most cases, we can ship the same day" Jacquart says. (The threat was and remains very real; a Munsingwear factory in town shut down and its production went to China in 1987.)

Jacquart was at a restaurant one day in 2001 when his friend and local bike and ski shop owner Mark Fitting approached him and insisted he "do something" about his winter hat supplier ceasing production. Jacquart told him, "Get me the number and I'll buy the company!" By the time he made it back to his office, the number was on his desk. He called and discovered that the two main Stormy Kromer retailers, and 80% of the tiny business's customer base, were located in his immediate vicinity, in western Upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin. Jacquart saw the business as an excellent fill-in item, and brought its production to Ironwood.

In addition to location, because of their focus on viable domestic sewn goods manufacturing, "we were uniquely positioned to take over the business," says Jacquart. Production of the hats is anything but simple, and is still very manual. Piece cutting and embroidering are the only automated steps; the rest is machine sewn by individual operators. (The only fully automated item the company makes is a can wrap.) On a 6-panel hat with a visor and a retracting ear flap, that means lots of individual sewing steps. All of this was an excellent fit with Jacquart's existing operation.

The complexity of the hat is what makes automation difficult (which is not entirely a bad thing in an area in need of jobs). Jacquart sits on the Board of Trustees of Michigan Tech University and once asked the former dean of technology there to have a team come up with a way to make the hats robotically. Their study concluded that it couldn't be done economically.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Nadler: I'm ending investigation into FBI, DOJ when I become chairman (OLIVIA BEAVERS, 12/07/18, The Hill)

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who stepped outside of the ongoing closed-door interview with former FBI Director James Comey, told reporters Friday that he plans to end the probe come January.

"Yes, because it is a waste of time to start with," Nadler said in response to a question about whether he would end the probe. Nadler characterized the Republican investigation as a political sideshow that aims to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"The entire purpose of this investigation is to be a diversion of the real investigation, which is Mueller. There is no evidence of bias at the FBI and this other nonsense they are talking about," he continued.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Ocasio-Cortez Threatens To Retaliate Against Trump Jr. Over Meme, Twitter Explodes With Accusations Of Ethics Violations (RYAN SAAVEDRA, December 7, 2018, Daily Wire)

Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threatened to use the powers of her elected office to retaliate against Donald Trump Jr. on Friday after the president's son posted a meme trolling her on his personal Instagram account.

"I have noticed that Junior here has a habit of posting nonsense about me whenever the Mueller investigation heats up," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "Please, keep it coming Jr - it's definitely a "very, very large brain" idea to troll a member of a body that will have subpoena power in a month."

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Comey faces off with GOP over Clinton emails, alleged bias (Mary Clare Jalonick, December 7, 2018, AP)

After the questioning was underway, some Republicans signaled they were unhappy with Comey's level of cooperation. California Rep. Darrell Issa said Comey had two lawyers in the room, his personal lawyer and a lawyer from the Justice Department. He said the department lawyer repeatedly instructed Comey not to answer "a great many questions that are clearly items at the core of our investigation."

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Breaking: Federal Prosecutors say Donald Trump Directed Michael Cohen to Commit Crimes: The president's former lawyer provided credible information related to the Russia investigation, but still faces years in prison. (HANNAH LEVINTOVA, DECEMBER 7, 2018, Mother Jones)

The two Friday memos include a number of new revelations about Trump's actions during the 2018 campaign to insulate himself from news of his affairs, and about efforts by Russian representatives to court the Trump campaign.

New York prosecutors more clearly tied the six-figure hush payments to two women--adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal--directly to Trump, noting that Cohen admitted that he issued the illegal funds "at the direction of" the future president. This means that federal prosecutors believe Trump directed Cohen to break the law, which itself can be a criminal act. The filing also describes how the president's company was involved in the payments.

Mueller's memo details a 2015 conversation between Cohen and a Russian national "who claimed to be a 'trusted person' in the Russian Federation." This person offered the Trump campaign "political synergy" and "synergy on a government level" and repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Putin, noting that the meeting could have a "phenomenal" impact on politics, and also on Trump's Moscow tower venture. The person boasted there is "no bigger warranty in any project" than Putin's buy-in. Cohen told the special counsel he did not take this person up on their invitation, in part because he was already working on the Moscow tower with another contact who had Russian-government connections.

The memo also notes that Cohen shared with them useful information about "discrete Russia-related matters" that Cohen had gleaned by way of regular conversations with Trump Organization executives during the election. This appears to further contradict Trump's statements during the campaign that he had no business interests in Russia while running for president.

Federal Prosecutors 'Concluded that President of the United States Committed a Felony' (Matt Naham, December 7th, 2018, Law & Crime)

One of the details that immediately jumped off the pages of Southern District of New York (SDNY) prosecutors' Friday sentencing memo for Michael Cohen has to do with "Individual-1," also known as President Donald Trump.

Prosecutors were pretty open about who Individual-1 was from the start and how he came to "direct" Cohen to commit felonies:

On approximately June 16, 2015, Individual-1, for whom Cohen worked at the time, began an ultimately successful campaign for President of the United States. Cohen had no formal title with the campaign, but had a campaign email address, and, at various times advised the campaign, including on matters of interest to the press. Cohen also made media appearances as a surrogate and supporter of Individual-1. During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories - each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 - so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.

Then came to key line: "In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1."

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Rex Tillerson Breaks His Silence: Trump Is Impulsive, Hates Reading, and Floated Illegal Plans  (HANNAH LEVINTOVA, DECEMBER 7, 2018, Mother Jones)

On Thursday evening, Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state and Exxon Mobil CEO, sat down for an interview with CBS's Bob Schieffer in Houston. It was Tillerson's first public appearance since being fired by Donald Trump in March after months of tension, and when it came to discussing his points of disagreement with the president, Tillerson did not mince words. 

"So often, the president would say, 'Here's what I want to do, and here's how I want to do it,'" Tillerson recalled, according to the Houston Chronicle, "and I would have to say to him, 'Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can't do it that way. It violates the law.'"

"I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day who told him he can't do that," Tillerson said.

Asked if he believed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election--a charge that Trump continues to cast doubt on--Tillerson said, "There's no question" that it did, citing the evidence presented by US intelligence agencies. Tillerson also discussed the president's tendency to act on impulse rather than reading things like briefing reports before making decisions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Can Nikki Haley Emerge From the Trump Administration Unscathed?: In an interview with The Atlantic, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the UN made the case for a values-driven foreign policy, and acknowledged daylight between her and the president. (URI FRIEDMAN, 12/07/18, The Atlantic)

A 46-year-old, exceedingly popular Republican politician, Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants and a former South Carolina governor who is often discussed as a potential presidential candidate. Her reflection on her tenure at the UN, and the moral calling that she felt underpinned it, was a vivid reminder that the president's America First vision isn't necessarily the settled future of the Grand Old Party. It was also an object lesson in how Haley, perhaps more skillfully than any other top administration official, has navigated major differences with Trump while cultivating common ground. And she's done it representing him at an organization he once denounced as no friend to the United States.

"The most dangerous thing we can ever do is show a blind eye to any sort of human-rights violations," Haley told me, arguing that promoting American values overseas is in the core interest of the United States. "Because if [the violation] threatens people, it threatens the world."

In her first public comments on the Khashoggi killing, for example, she rejected the idea that the apparent state-sponsored murder of the journalist by Saudi Arabia, a longtime ally, placed the United States in the binary position of having to choose between its interests and its values--as the president has suggested in insisting that any U.S. response to the Khashoggi case must not disrupt an alliance that is critical to American economic and security interests. Employing remarkably forceful language for a hard-liner on Iran, she maintained that Washington could simultaneously consider Saudi Arabia its "complete partner when it comes to fighting Iran" and convey the message that "we're not going to continue to be your partners if you continue to use thuggish behavior."

"You have Saudi government officials that did this in a Saudi consulate" in Turkey, Haley told me. "We can't give them a pass," she added, "because that's not who America is." That's why the Trump administration has sanctioned 17 Saudi officials accused of involvement in the murder and is "asking for accountability," she explained, and "we need to continue to do it until we get it."

Asked about accountability for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who, at least according to senators briefed by the CIA this week, was likely behind the hit, Haley said, "I think all of that, the administration needs to decide." She did not specify the additional steps she would like the White House to take.

But while Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have avoided calling out MbS, as the crown prince is known, citing a lack of clear proof of his complicity in the extrajudicial killing, Haley didn't reference the intelligence community's findings or lack thereof. Instead, she simply noted bin Salman's status as the kingdom's de facto ruler to make the point that the buck stops with him.

"We can't condone [the Khashoggi murder], we can't ever say it's OK, we can't ever support thuggish behavior, and we have to say that," Haley told me.

At the United Nations, Haley has argued that prioritizing rights issues can avert conflict that endangers Americans and people around the world. She has sought to introduce debate on human rights into the UN Security Council, a body that is intended to focus on matters of peace and security, for this reason.

"You look at Syria," she observed, citing a conflict she has spent considerable time on, whether in visiting refugee camps, raising alarms about a (so far averted) Syrian government offensive against the rebel-held province of Idlib, or unsuccessfully seeking the renewal of a mechanism for holding perpetrators of chemical-weapons attacks accountable (Russia nixed it). "Everybody talks about how long this war has been. What started that war? That handful of teenagers was out there doing what every teenager does--spray-painted something on a wall, and even though it wasn't that bad, the government officials don't just go and say something to them; they beat them, they bloody them, they pull their nails out and return them to their parents. Their parents go out to the streets, the country rises up, the government oppresses them, conflict happens. It always happens."

As Haley sees it, whenever people feel stripped of freedom and opportunity, they instinctively challenge their government in order to reclaim control over their lives. "And if a government doesn't value human life," she said, "then they will do something to their people that the whole world will have to pay attention to." Haley has argued that the peril extends beyond those under the dictator's thumb. In 2017, after a North Korean missile test, she drew a direct connection between the nuclear threat from Pyongyang and the government's ghastly human-rights record. "Depravity toward one is a sure sign of willingness to do much more harm," she warned at the time.

"I think those freedoms are every person's God-given right, regardless of where they were born and raised, regardless of their religion, regardless of their ethnicity or gender," said Haley, who was raised Sikh but converted to Christianity as an adult. (During her confirmation hearing, Haley traced her focus on human rights to her love of her family's and America's "immigrant heritage" and to her decision as governor to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse.) "It doesn't cost us anything to fight for democracy, to fight for human rights, and to fight for the dignity of people ... We have to understand the leverage we have: that when we call out a country or we call out a wrong, everyone takes notice."

What Next for Nikki Haley (Charlie Sykes, 12/06/18, TWS)

On today's Daily Standard Podcast, senior writer Michael Warren joins host Charlie Sykes to discuss the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush and his legacy, the state of the economy, and what's next for outgoing UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Trump praises Israel as 'your country' to American Jews (JTA and TOI STAFF, 12/07/18, Times of Israel)

"I want to thank Vice President Mike Pence," Trump said Thursday at one of two White House Hanukkah parties. "A tremendous supporter -- a tremendous supporter of yours. And Karen. And they go there and they love your country. They love your country. And they love this country. That's a good combination, right?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


UN rejects US-drafted resolution to condemn Hamas (Al Jazeera, 12/07/18)

The United Nations General Assembly has rejected a United States-sponsored resolution seeking to condemn Hamas, the Palestinian group administering the besieged Gaza Strip. [...]

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, an independent online news publication, said the failure of the proposal was significant.

"This resolution was really just an attempt to weaponise the UN against the Palestinian people, against their legitimate rights," he told Al Jazeera.

"The resolution itself was just transparently Israeli talking points - it didn't mention the military occupation, the siege of Gaza, Israel's daily attacks against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. I think the world saw through it and they rightly rejected it."

The Gaza Strip, home to two million Palestinians, has been under a crippling Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

In 2006, Hamas beat Fatah in parliamentary elections in the Gaza Strip and, a year later, fighting between the rival factions broke out.

When Hamas eventually took control, Israel responded by enforcing a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza and banning its residents from working in Israel.

Egypt followed suit, effectively sealing the Strip - often described as the world's largest prison - from the outside world.

Gaza's continued isolation has devastated its economy, impoverished its population and left 60 percent without jobs, adequate electricity and health services.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Robert Mueller's Bigger Collusion Picture Is Starting to Emerge (JOHN REED, DEC 06, 2018, Slate)

A former U.S. intelligence officer with experience in Eastern Europe told me using such deals to draw in potential assets would be typical Russian intelligence tradecraft: "I do believe this is about business in Russia or in places Russia has influence. That's how you pull someone in, by making them offers that are harder and harder to refuse. ... This is all about trading favors for future Russian spoils."

Last spring, it was reported that Mueller has been looking into a proposed peace deal between Ukraine and Russia that made its way to Flynn in his role as national security adviser. The proposal was reportedly brought to Flynn's attention via Trump's ex-personal attorney Michael Cohen and former Trump business affiliate Felix Sater. That plan, nominally put forward by a Ukrainian lawmaker representing a pro-Russia political movement with reported ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was skewed heavily in Russia's favor. The plan called for Ukraine to hold a referendum on whether Crimea should be leased to Russia for 50 to 100 years in exchange for Russian forces leaving eastern Ukraine. The Times further reported that the plan may have also involved the release of compromising material on Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, who was elected following the 2014 revolution that ousted Ukraine's pro-Russia President and Manafort client Viktor Yanukovych. The plan's blatantly pro-Russia tilt along with the involvement of several Americans with connections to Russia raised concerns that the plan had actually come from Moscow. Last week, Mueller revealed that Cohen and Sater were working together during the 2016 presidential campaign to advance Trump's efforts to develop property in Moscow and that Cohen lied about it to Congress.

Trump's history here is worth remembering. The president has long wanted to do business in Russia, he has a long history of traveling to the country as a high-profile American, and there have been a large number of people linked to the intelligence services and Mafia buying his and his family members' real estate properties and working with him.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Meet the New Permian, It's Double the Size of the Old One (Kevin Crowley, December 6, 2018, Bloomberg)

The Permian's Delaware Basin, the less drilled part of the giant West Texas and New Mexico oil field, holds more than twice the amount of crude as its sister, the Midland Basin, the U.S. Geological Service said Thursday.

The Wolfcamp Shale and Bone Spring rock formations in the Delaware hold an estimated 46.3 billion barrels, the scientists said in their first assessment of the area. In addition, it holds about 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, about 18 times the amount in the Midland Basin, which is more heavily drilled and better known.

The Midland and Delaware estimates are the USGS's "largest continuous oil and gas assessments ever released," Dr. Jim Reilly, the organization's director, said in a statement. The amount consists of "undiscovered, technically recoverable resources," the USGS said.

Remember Hubbert's peak?  That was fun.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Documents Point to Illegal Campaign Coordination Between Trump and the NRA (MIKE SPIES, DECEMBER 6, 2018, Mother Jones)

The National Rifle Association spent $30 million to help elect Donald Trump--more than any other independent conservative group. Most of that sum went toward television advertising, but a political message loses its power if it fails to reach the right audience at the right time. For the complex and consequential task of placing ads in key markets across the nation in 2016, the NRA turned to a media strategy firm called Red Eagle Media.

One element of Red Eagle's work for the NRA involved purchasing a slate of 52 ad slots on WVEC, the ABC affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, in late October 2016. The ads targeted adults aged 35 to 64 and aired on local news programs and syndicated shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. In paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Red Eagle described them as "anti-Hillary" and "pro-Trump."

The Trump campaign pursued a strikingly similar advertising strategy. Shortly after the Red Eagle purchase, as Election Day loomed, it bought 33 ads on the same station, set to air during the same week. The ads, which the campaign purchased through a firm called American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG), were aimed at precisely the same demographic as the NRA spots, and often ran during the same shows, bombarding Norfolk viewers with complementary messages.

The two purchases may have looked coincidental; Red Eagle and AMAG appear at first glance to be separate firms. But each is closely connected to a major conservative media-consulting firm called National Media Research, Planning and Placement. In fact, the three outfits are so intertwined that both the NRA's and the Trump campaign's ad buys were authorized by the same person: National Media's chief financial officer, Jon Ferrell.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Tucker Carlson says Trump is 'not capable' and hasn't kept his promises (Deanna Paul, December 6, 2018, Washington Post)

Carlson said he cannot stand Trump's self-aggrandizement and boasting. Then, when asked whether Trump has kept his promises, the usually quick-witted and long-winded Carlson had just one word: "No." [...]

"His chief promises were that he would build the wall, defund Planned Parenthood and repeal Obamacare, and he hasn't done any of those things," Carlson said, adding that those goals were probably lost causes. Trump, he said, doesn't understand the system, and his own agencies don't support him.

The White House Has No Plan for Confronting the Mueller Report (ELAINA PLOTT, DEC 6, 2018, The Atlantic)

"Answering those questions was a nightmare," he told me. "It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days."

There are numerous other reasons no response plan has been produced, White House sources said, including the futility of crafting a strategy that Trump will likely ignore anyway. There have also been few frank conversations within the White House about the potential costs of Mueller's findings, which could include impeachment of the president or the incrimination of his inner circle. Those close to Trump have either doubled down on the "witch hunt" narrative, they said--refusing to entertain the possibility of wrongdoing--or decided to focus on other issues entirely. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer has even taken to treating the probe like a game: On Wednesday he tweeted a (quickly deleted) link where followers could place bets on "how many tweets containing #mueller" the president will send "before the investigation is up."

Attempting to plan "would mean you would have to have an honest conversation about what might be coming," a former senior White House official, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told me.

Imagine being left defending Little Finger even after these cretins have bailed?

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Trump ally who served on voter integrity panel expresses concern about fraud in North Carolina (Sean Sullivan, December 6, 2018, Washington Post)

Kris Kobach, an ally of President Trump who served on a voter integrity panel, expressed worry Thursday that Republican fraud might have tainted a North Carolina congressional election, becoming one of the most prominent members of the GOP to publicly express alarm about the race.

"Based on what I have read, I am very concerned that voter fraud did occur," Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 AM


Exodus from Ukip continues as more senior figures quit over Tommy Robinson links (Jon Stone, 12/07/18, Independent)

More senior figures have left Ukip as the party continues to implode in a row over its association with far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

David Coburn, Ukip's long-serving Scottish leader, quit on Friday morning, accusing the party of promoting "English nationalism" and anti-Islamic politics.

He was closely followed to the exit door by former leader Paul Nuttall, who said dealing with Mr Robinson was a "catastrophic error"

No surprise, the Trumpbots love him.

December 6, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Trump did not know about Huawei extradition request before Xi dinner: source (Reuters, 12/06/18) 

President Donald Trump did not know about a U.S. request for the extradition of Huawei's chief financial officer from Canada before he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping over dinner last weekend, a White House official said on Thursday.

Why would anyone trust him with information useful to our enemies?

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert just said some very questionable things about George Soros (The Week, 12/06/18)

On Thursday, the congressman appeared on Fox Business' Varney and Co. to discuss the rapidly plummeting stock market. Google's parent company Alphabet was among the businesses that saw diminishing shares in the past few days, and Gohmert suggested that was because "Google has repeatedly sold their souls" and invaded user privacy. He then compared that to the surveillance state George Orwell envisioned in his novel 1984.

Discussing Orwell soon reminded Gohmert of "another George," he said. Just like how Google was "born in a free country" but shifted to "oppress others," the Hungarian-born liberal philanthropist George Soros is "supposed to be Jewish" but went on to "damage" Israel, Gohmert alleged. Without any form of proof, Gohmert then claimed that Soros, who received a suspected pipe bomb in the mail in October and is frequently the target of anti-Semitic smears, "turned on fellow Jews and helped take the property that they own."

If he's only a pretend Jew then is he absolved of eating Christian babies?

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Trump Personally Employs Undocumented Immigrants? That May Be a Federal Crime (Colin Kalmbacher, December 6th, 2018, Law & Crime)

President Donald Trump has long employed undocumented immigrants at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a New York Times report. This arrangement may run afoul of federal law.

A mid-afternoon Thursday exposé identified two of the undocumented women by name.

Victorina Morales, the report notes, has made Trump's bed, "cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies." The second woman, Sandra Diaz, no longer works at the golf club but had similar duties during her three-plus years there.

Per the Times:

[Diaz] said she washed and ironed Mr. Trump's white boxers, golf shirts and khaki trousers, as well as his sheets and towels. Everything belonging to Mr. Trump, his wife, Melania, and their son, Barron, was washed with special detergent in a smaller, separate washing machine, she said.

Substantial media attention has focused on the stark divide between Trump's personal employment of undocumented immigrants compared to his campaign rhetoric and governing priorities. Morales herself noted that disconnect.

"We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money," she told the Times. "We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation."

Aside from the disconnect between the Trump administration's approach to illegal immigration and the apparent reality at his club, there could be a federal crime afoot here, too.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Explainer: What is an inverted yield curve? (Reuters, 12/06/18) 

Shorter-dated securities are highly sensitive to interest rate policy set by a central bank such as the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Longer-dated securities are more influenced by investors' expectations for future inflation because inflation is anathema to bond holders.

So, when the Fed is raising rates, as it has been for three years now, that pushes up yields on shorter-dated bonds at the front of the curve. And when future inflation is seen as contained, as it is now because higher borrowing costs are expected to become a drag on the economy, investors are willing to accept relatively modest yields on long-dated bonds at the back end of the curve.

The deflationary epoch is driven by the free movement of goods and people (and the decline in labor costs as a function of off-shoring, integration and technology).

Donald and his war on trade and immigration represent a temporary inflationary aberration.  The Fed is fighting him prophylactically with rate hikes and the market is responding logically in pricing securities.

Donald can either abandon his Nationalist policies and get credit for extending the Bush/Obama recovery or he can set up his successor for an easy first term.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Migrants tend to be healthier, live longer: study (Reuters, 12/06/18) 

Migrants tend to be healthier than the residents of wealthy countries they travel to, such as the United States, and often help fight diseases by becoming healthcare workers in those nations, according to a study published on Wednesday.

Populist arguments that migrants pose a health risk and a burden to health systems are myths used to drive anti-immigrant sentiment, the report published by University College London and the Lancet medical journal concluded. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Volkswagen Will Stop Making Gas Powered Cars in 2026: More Automakers Have More Plans to Sell Electric Cars, And the luxury electric-SUV market is really heating up. (CHRIS MORRIS December 5, 2018, Fortune)

Volkswagen, which has been increasingly shifting its focus to electronic vehicles, says it will stop making gas-powered cars entirely in 2026.

Michael Jost, who heads strategy for the automaker, made the announcement at a conference at the company's Wolfsburg, Germany headquarters Tuesday, saying "in the year 2026 will be the last product start on a combustion engine platform".

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


We finally found election fraud (Jennifer Rubin, December 5, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump and his kangaroo court -- the Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity -- never found evidence of widespread voter fraud, the sort of fraud by impersonation that the Republican Party's voter-ID laws are supposed to combat. That's not for lack of trying, but as we've seen in study after study, voter-ID laws are a solution in search of a problem -- and a means of deterring traditionally Democratic constituencies from voting. [...]

Now, however, we have a big, ugly and blatant example of what is very likely election fraud. And strangely, Trump and the rest of the Republicans are silent, which is hardly surprising given that the alleged fraud may have put Republican Mark Harris in the House to represent North Carolina's 9th Congressional District.

The Post reported on a GOP operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, who allegedly ran an operation to collect absentee ballots (which they are not permitted to do) and discard them.

On Monday, the board issued a subpoena to the Harris campaign, according to campaign attorney John Branch. The board is expected to issue one soon to Red Dome Group, a GOP consulting firm based in the suburbs of Charlotte that hired Dowless, according to two people familiar with the probe. . . . 

Investigators with the bipartisan state elections board -- which last week voted unanimously to delay certifying the race -- have identified hundreds of potential witnesses to interview, many of them voters whose absentee ballots were never turned in, according to the people familiar with the probe. That raises the possibility of a weeks-long investigation and an uncertain start date for the next congressman from the 9th District.

The absentee ballots, wouldn't you know, are disproportionately from African American neighborhoods.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


India to import Iranian oil using rupee payment mechanism: source (Reuters, 12/06/18) 

India will import crude oil from Iran using a rupee-based payment mechanism, an industry source told Reuters on Thursday, adding that 50 percent of those payments will be used for exporting items to Tehran.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Saudi-funded lobbyist paid for 500 rooms at Trump's hotel after 2016 election (David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell, December 5 , 2018, Washington Post)

Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump's Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump's election in 2016 -- paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

At the time, these lobbyists were reserving large numbers of D.C.-area hotel rooms as part of an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington -- then sent them to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed, according to veterans and organizers. ][...]

Some of the veterans who stayed at Trump's hotel say they were kept in the dark about the Saudis' role in the trips. Now, they wonder if they were used twice over: not just to deliver someone else's message to Congress, but also to deliver business to the Trump Organization.

December 5, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


George H.W. Bush's public rejection of the NRA exemplified his commitment to 'duty, honor and country' (Michael E. Diamond, 12/05/18, NBC News)

Bush, an avid hunter, had been a lifetime member of the NRA. Like many of his generation, the NRA to him was an organization dedicated to the promotion of hunting and firearm training. But during his political rise, that version of the NRA fundamentally changed, and Bush was wise enough to see it.

Just days before the deadly Oklahoma City bombing, where a domestic terrorist targeted federal agents and killed 168 people, the NRA sent out a fundraising letter in which NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre referred to federal agents as "armed terrorists dressed in Ninja black ... jack-booted thugs armed to the teeth who break down doors, open fire with automatic weapons and kill law-abiding citizens."

The "jack-booted thugs" imagery has long been associated with Nazi storm troopers. The letter showed just how far the NRA was sliding into lunatic conspiracy territory, but the organization's refusal to recant LaPierre's words in the wake of the bombing six days later seemed to be the last straw for Bush. He reacted by publicly resigning his membership.

His letter to the organization stated that "your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us."

Bush was of an era where it was important to recognize who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. Comparing U.S. law enforcement to Nazis while advocating for irresponsible gun policy would have been tough for a guy like Bush to swallow. So he didn't.

That awareness of good and evil also led Bush to stand in opposition to the regime in Moscow, which at the time restricted peoples' access to free markets, free press and individual liberties. And while not much has changed in terms of Moscow's hostility to those ideals, one thing absolutely has changed: Vladimir Putin's Russia loves America's NRA.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM



On Monday, Trump hosted a 2020 strategy meeting with a group of advisers. Among the topics discussed was whether Mike Pence should remain on the ticket, given the hurricane-force political headwinds Trump will face, as demonstrated by the midterms, a source briefed on the session told me. "They're beginning to think about whether Mike Pence should be running again," the source said, adding that the advisers presented Trump with new polling that shows Pence doesn't expand Trump's coalition. "He doesn't detract from it, but he doesn't add anything either," the source said. Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had been privately asking advisers if Pence could be trusted, and that outside advisers have been pushing Nikki Haley to replace Pence.

Nikki 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


George H.W. Bush got to hear his own eulogy before he died. His reaction was priceless. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr., December 5, 2018, Washington Post)

In George H.W. Bush's final days, Jon Meacham -- the Bush biographer, presidential historian and one of four people chosen to eulogize the 41st president -- decided to share the words of his speech with its subject.

And the ailing Bush responded in characteristically self-deprecating fashion:

"That's a lot about me, Jon."

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


People Are Angry About Amazon Sharing This Local News Story About A Delivery Driver Losing Weight (Remy Smidt, 12/03/18, BuzzFeed News)

On Monday afternoon, the Amazon News Twitter account shared a local news story about a woman named Jackie Crow.

Crow, a delivery driver in Kansas City, Kansas, lost weight by working out while making deliveries. People were critical of the tweet.

"So this is Amazon health care," one person said. "Alright. I'm gonna allow my prime membership to expire," another person responded.

In addition to working for the company, Crow also works at her family's restaurant, Wilson's Pizza and Grille, according to a September story published by KSHB. BuzzFeed News reached out to Crow for comment.

"I wear long sleeves in the hot sun and sometimes I'll park a longer distance from a house so I can jog a longer distance," Jackie said of the workout.

The local news segment shows Crow getting out of a car and jogging up to a door, package in hand.

Not everyone found the story to be "feel good."

"This isn't the feel good piece you think it is!" one person said in response to the company sharing the story.

Nathan Fielder responded to the tweet too. He noted that on an episode of his show, Nathan for You, one of his comedic schemes involved a moving company attempting to cut its cost of labor by tricking people into moving things as part of a fake fitness program called "The Movement."

The point, of course, is that jobs that require moving are genuine fitness programs.  That's why we hate them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Prosecutors ramp up foreign lobbying probe in New York (ERIC TUCKER, DESMOND BUTLER and CHAD DAY, 12/05/18, AP)

Spinning off from the special counsel's Russia probe, prosecutors are ramping up their investigation into foreign lobbying by two major Washington firms that did work for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigation had been quiet for months since special counsel Robert Mueller referred it to authorities in Manhattan because it fell outside his mandate of determining whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia.

But in a flurry of new activity, Justice Department prosecutors in the last several weeks have begun interviewing witnesses and contacting lawyers to schedule additional questioning related to the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs, the people familiar with the inquiry said [...]

In New York, Mueller's referral prompted a fresh look at the lobbying firms of Washington insiders Tony Podesta and Vin Weber, who have faced scrutiny for their decisions not to register as foreign agents for Ukrainian lobbying work directed by Manafort.

Podesta is a longtime Democratic operative whose brother, John Podesta, ran Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign; Weber is a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. Neither man has been charged with any crimes. Their firms have defended the decisions by saying they relied on the advice of outside attorneys.

Mueller's referral also involved Greg Craig, a former White House counsel for President Barack Obama. Craig supervised a report authored on behalf of the Ukrainian government, and Mueller's team has said Manafort helped Ukraine hide that it paid more than $4 million for the work. CNN reported in September that prosecutors were weighing charges against Craig.

Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:48 AM


Trump On Coming Debt Crisis: 'I Won't Be Here' When It Blows Up (Asawin Suebsaeng & Lachlan Markay, 12.05.18, The Daily Beast)

The friction came to a head in early 2017 when senior officials offered Trump charts and graphics laying out the numbers and showing a "hockey stick" spike in the national debt in the not-too-distant future. In response, Trump noted that the data suggested the debt would reach a critical mass only after his possible second term in office.

"Yeah, but I won't be here," the president bluntly said, according to a source who was in the room when Trump made this comment during discussions on the debt.

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Spotify just released this year's most-streamed artists and yeah, they're all male (LAURA BYAGER, 12/05/18, Mashable)

Spotify just released the most-streamed artists list and yeah, they're all dudes. The most streamed artist is Drake, thanks to his Scorpion album, followed by Post Malone, and late rapper XXXTentacion. Number four is Columbian singer J Balvin and last on the top five is last year's most played artist, Ed Sheeran. 

The exact same thing was the case in 2017, where the top five artists were also all male.

No women are to be found in the most-streamed groups category either. The top five groups are Imagine Dragons, BTS, Maroon 5, Migos, and good old Coldplay, last year's most streamed group.

In a separate category, most-streamed female artists has Ariana Grande at the top, followed by Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Taylor Swift and Camila Cabello. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


NH receives federal approval for wider federal trade zone service area (DOUG ALDEN, 11/19/18,  New Hampshire Union Leader)

New Hampshire has received federal approval to expand foreign trade zone service areas in the state, allowing more businesses access to benefits that include lessening duties on imported goods.

Geno Marconi, director of the New Hampshire Port Authority, said the Federal Trade-Zone Board approved the state's application to modify the boundaries and reorganize the coverage area.

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One state for all: The only alternative to Israeli apartheid (Haidar Eid, 3 December 2018 13:, Middle East Eye)

It is high time that Palestinians start moving away from racist solutions that do not meet their inalienable right to self-determination, namely the two-state solution

This alternative solution should be encouraged by liberals and leftists alike, by those who were involved in anti-apartheid activities. If the world learned anything from the South African experience, it was that race, ethnicity and religion should not be the only determinants of one's citizenship, and that separation does not guarantee security as defined by the powerful party, in this case Israel. 

The first to call for this solution have been Palestinians who see clearly the complexities of their reality, and who recognise that a Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, even in the best case, could hardly constitute a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian problem. Rather, it would only contribute towards a solution for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza - about 35 percent of the Palestinian people. 

Such a move would necessarily lead to a permanent fragmentation of the Palestinian community, and to the perpetuation of the problems of the many Palestinians who live outside of this limited state. As historian Benedict Anderson showed, all nations are "imagined communities", and borders can be drawn to encompass and exclude any number of individuals, both between and within geopolitical entities.

The combination of political vision and practical measures on various fronts - the West Bank and Gaza, 1948 Palestine, the Arab world, and the international solidarity community - is the necessary precondition for the materialisation of any solution. Yet, thanks to the Oslo Accords, we have reached an impasse: either a Bantustan, or nothing. 

Nevertheless, a "third way" is available. It is high time that Palestinians start moving away from solutions that do not meet their inalienable right to self-determination, namely the two-state solution. 

As more people are recognising the futility - not to say absurdity - of attempting to partition Palestine, there is an urgent need for a new vision to bring about decolonisation and justice in historic Palestine. This vision must be committed to the struggle for Palestinians' internationally stipulated rights; it must be humanist and genuine in its attempt to provide a just solution to the Palestine question. 

Palestinian rights will never be realised outside the framework of a unitary state with equality for all its citizens. This is the only way forward.

The Israeli vision is also one state, but with Arabs as a permanently oppressed majority.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


First ever sun-dimming experiment will mimic volcanic eruption in attempt to reverse global warming (Josh Gabbatiss, 12/04/18, The Independent)

The team will use a balloon suspended 12 miles above Earth to spray tiny chalk particles across a kilometre-long area, with the intention of reflecting the Sun's rays away from the planet.

In doing so, they will attempt to replicate on a small scale the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.

During this event, the volcano spewed 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, creating a haze that cooled the planet by 0.5C for around 18 months - returning the Earth to its pre-industrial temperature.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


GOP senators come out and say it: The Trump administration is covering up Khashoggi's killing (Aaron Blake, December 4, 2018, Washington Post)

In remarks after a briefing from CIA Director Gina Haspel, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) suggested there is no plausible way that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn't order the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, and said that the evidence is overwhelming.

This is completely contrary to the narrative that has been put forward by President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Trump has said it's unknowable whether the crown prince was actually behind it -- despite the CIA concluding this with "high confidence" -- while Pompeo said last week that there was no "direct reporting" implicating him.

Graham said Tuesday that you'd have to be "willfully blind" to not know Mohammed was responsible -- a clear rebuke of Trump's argument that this whole thing resides in some kind of gray area.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Cuba to finally give citizens internet access on their phones as government launches 3G service (Tim Wyatt, 12/05/18, The Independent US)

People in Cuba will soon be able to access the internet from their mobile phones for the first time after the government announced it would launch a 3G service.

The president of the state telecoms company, Mayra Arevich, announced on television on Tuesday evening that the long-awaited service would begin on Thursday.

Cuba is one of the last countries on earth to join the mobile internet. Citizens of the repressive Caribbean country have only been able to get online via fixed connections to their homes from last year.

The regime has also been opening state-owned internet cafes since 2013 and WiFi hotspots in public places since 2015.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Mueller says Michael Flynn gave 'first-hand' details of Trump transition team contacts with Russians (Dan Mangan & Kevin Breuninger, 12/04/18,

Mueller in a sentencing memo said Flynn's "substantial assistance" to his probe warrants a light criminal sentence -- which could include no jail time for the retired Army lieutentant general.

That assistance, which includes 19 interviews with Mueller's team and Justice Department attorneys, related to a previsouly unknown "criminal investigation," as well as to Mueller's long-running probe of the Trump campaign's and transition team's links or coordination with the Russian government.

"The defendant provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials," the memo says.

December 4, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


My Prozac Economics Lecture: Showing Students What They'd Earn if Their FICA Taxes Were Put in the S&P (T. Norman Van Cott , 11/26/18, FEE)

What if students, instead of being legally obligated to pay Social Security taxes, had the option of putting and holding those funds in the stock market?

The discussion is organized around the following question: What if students, instead of being legally obligated to pay Social Security taxes, had the option of putting and holding those funds in the stock market?

To this end, it should be noted that the average annual return in the stock market since 1928, as measured by the S&P 500 index, is 9.8 percent (not that the return every year is 9.8 percent, mind you--just that over the last 90 years, annual returns average out to 9.8 percent). Then pick an annual starting salary students might earn. Say it's $35,000, and assume it rises by 3 percent a year. Under this latter assumption, the salary never rises above the current $127,400 maximum taxable annual income.

Assume the person intends to work 41 years. Then at the end of the first year of employment, his/her $4,340 Social Security tax for the year ($35,000 x 12.4 percent) is invested in an S&P 500 index fund and held for the following 40 years at the 9.8 percent average return. What will it equal at the end of 40 years? Believe it or not, $182,634. That's right; just the first year's tax will grow to $182,634. The second year's tax ($4,470), held for 39 years, will grow to $171,316, and so on.

Making these calculations by hand is tedious, to say the least. For example, the growth in the first year's tax is the answer to $4,340 x (1.098)40. The second year's tax follows from $4,470 x (1.098)39 and so on. Don't despair. Websites like this enable you to make the calculations quite easily by plugging in the numbers.

Thus, if the student never saved another penny in his/her whole life, just the first two years of Social Security taxes invested under the above conditions would grow to $353,950, more than one-third of a million dollars, when they retired 41 years after graduation.

If the student's Social Security taxes for the first 10 years of working life were invested at the S&P 500's 9.8 percent return, he/she would have a $1,391,844 portfolio at the end of 41 years; the first 20 years of taxes would grow to $2,126,777; the first 30 years of taxes grows to $2,514,569; and for the entire 40 years, it's $2,718,713.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Japan Needs to Change its Attitude to Foreigners (Editorial Board, December 4, 2018, Bloomberg)

A bill approved by the lower house of the Diet would open Japan's doors to two types of foreign workers. Lower-skilled laborers in 14 sectors would for the first time be able to apply for five-year visas after demonstrating a good command of Japanese. And highly skilled workers would be eligible for work visas that can be renewed indefinitely, could bring their families with them, and could apply for permanent residency after 10 years. The government aims to push the bill through the upper house before the current session ends.

It's a good plan, as far as it goes. There's no question Japan needs the newcomers. At just above 2 percent, the country's unemployment rate is the lowest it's been since the early 1990s; labor shortages are acute in several industries, including construction and nursing care. The longer-term picture is even more worrying. Recent forecasts predict that the population will shrink to two-thirds its current size by 2065. By then, one in four Japanese will be over age 75.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has made progress in getting more women and senior citizens back into the workforce, and is working to nudge up the fertility rate. It's also allowed in more foreigners than many realize, partly through a technical internship program meant to impart skills that workers can take back to their home countries. The new bill is an acknowledgment that such measures won't be nearly enough to stop Japan's working-age population from imploding. There's widespread opposition to mass immigration, so the admission is brave.

The good thing about such a population collapse will be that such nations can offer housing in order to lure the young.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Everyone loves Paul Volcker. Everyone is wrong (Jeff Spross, December 4, 2018, The Week)

Yes, Volcker successfully tamed inflation. The question is whether there was a better way to do it than setting off a massive recession. At the time, America was dealing with oil shocks, a broken consumer price index, the fallout from funding the Vietnam War, the end of the Bretton Woods system, and a new political enthusiasm for massive tax cuts for the wealthy. Any combination of these factors could have been driving the price spiral.

But Volcker's solution destroyed the American working class for a generation. Unemployment peaked as high or higher than in the Great Recession. Unions, already in decline, went into free fall. Volcker explicitly viewed breaking the power of organized labor as a critical piece of his anti-inflation crusade. "The standard of living of the average American has to decline," Volcker declared shortly after becoming Fed Chair. Trace the modern trends in wage stagnation and inequality, and they lead back to Volcker's recession.

There's also the lesson Volcker taught the Fed. In many ways, the institutional culture of the Fed remains fixated on the moral narrative of the 1970s inflation and guided by Volcker's tough-love disciple. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, Volcker's successor, argued that keeping workers "traumatized" was key to restraining prices.

In free market nations, inflation is just a function of wage pressure.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Abortion rates continue downward trend, hitting lowest numbers since Roe v. Wade was decided: CDC (CHEYENNE HASLETT Nov 21, 2018, ABC News)

From 2006 until 2015, the total number of reported abortions decreased by 24 percent -- from more than 840,000 in 2006 to about 638,000 in 2015, the report found.

The CDC also focused on two other measures that reached their lowest level over the same time period: the total number of abortions in the population, or the abortion rate, which decreased 26 percent, and the proportion of all pregnancies that end in abortion rather than birth, or the abortion ratio, which decreased 19 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Subpoenas issued to Trump Organization in emoluments lawsuit (Jan Wolfe, 12/04/18, Reuters)

Among other documents, the attorneys general are seeking revenue statements and tax returns from the Trump Organization entities.

Ignoring the subpoenas would result in a finding of contempt of court, said George Brown, a professor at Boston College Law School.

The development "brings us closer to judicially enforced discovery about the Trump empire," said Brown. "It will probably tell us a lot we don't know because nobody is going to hide that stuff in the face of a subpoena."

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Stock Market Drops 700+ Points As Trump Declares Himself 'Tariff Man' (BEN SHAPIRO, 12/04/18, Daily Wire)

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Mueller Is Laying Siege to the Trump Presidency (Mikhaila Fogel & Benjamin Wittes, 12/0/18, The Atlantic)

No, Mueller and his forces are not a Mongol horde, but the Trump White House is very much under siege.

Mueller's army isn't the only force encircling Trump's fortress, but it is the largest and most active force, and it actually has several distinct encampments. One contingent of Mueller's forces is charged with investigating efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 election. In this capacity, the special counsel's office has indicted individuals associated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm that has spread disinformation and propaganda on social media. His office also indicted 13 members of the Russian military intelligence organization, the GRU, in connection with deliberately hacking into the Democratic National Committee server and passing the fruits of that hack to WikiLeaks "to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election."

The immediate threat this particular force poses to the castle right now involves its evident interest in Roger Stone and the group of people around him. The GRU indictment does not name Stone, but he has publicly admitted that he is the person referred to in the indictment "who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump" and who corresponded with a fake hacktivist persona used by the Russians.

This front of the siege has become hot in recent months and will likely remain an area of intense activity over the coming weeks. Recently, Jerome Corsi publicly shared a draft statement of offense in connection with a plea agreement offered him by the special counsel's office. The document details contact between Corsi and an individual reported to be Stone regarding WikiLeaks' planned release of the hacked material. Moreover, in the coming weeks, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is expected to rule on whether Andrew Miller, another Stone associate, is obligated to testify before Mueller's grand jury. Miller had appealed a contempt citation, contending that Mueller's appointment was unconstitutional. Stone and Corsi both seem to expect indictments.

This front is likely to remain active and to generate big news events. But note as well if and when either man or both face charges, that will not be the sky falling for Trump any more than last week's Cohen plea was. It will be just another set of stones blasted out of the city walls.

Last week's events revealed another force surrounding the castle, also under Mueller's command: the investigation of Trump's efforts to do financial business in Russia. The president, while insisting there was "NO Collusion with Russia," admitted that he "lightly looked" into building a tower in Moscow months into the 2016 campaign. Trebuchets from the Cohen front sounded into Friday evening, when Cohen's lawyers filed a sentencing memorandum as a follow-up to the guilty plea. In the memo, Cohen's legal team said that Cohen "remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1," another euphemism for Trump. It's unclear to what extent this investigation is one and the same with the main Mueller collusion force, but it is evidently an active matter, too.

Mueller's forces also include a major encampment focused on obstruction of justice. This force has so far not done anything the public can see, but it may be getting ready to launch some kind of report against the castle. And this report, whenever it materializes, may prove devastating. But note that the day such a report is completed will also not be the "big one"--the cataclysmic event that causes the house of cards to collapse. After all, any report would likely have to undergo a lengthy approval process, either from within the Justice Department or by the courts, or both. It might have to be approved by Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, before being released. It may have significant classified components. Even if the findings in this report are of bombshell proportions, given that it is unlikely Mueller will reject Office of Legal Counsel guidelines against the indictment of a sitting president, the damage that bombshell will inflict will ultimately be determined by Congress, and its detonation would likely be substantially delayed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Republicans Finally Have an Election Fraud Scandal (Pema Levy, December 4, 2018, Mother Jones)

[T]here is one place where there is a strong possibility of fraud in the 2018 midterms, and so far, none of these Republicans have mentioned it. In North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, the state election board has refused to certify the results of the election as it investigates the possibility that fraud helped Republican Mark Harris defeat Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of more than 280,000 cast.

Thus far, there is evidence of tampering with absentee ballots in Bladen County, a large rural county in the southeast corner of the state. One woman recounted in a sworn affidavit that a woman had collected her absentee ballot before it was sealed in its envelope; another voter also recalled in an affidavit a woman picking up her ballot. In North Carolina, it is illegal for anyone but the voter to turn in his or her absentee ballot. Some affidavits fingered a local Republican operator, Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., who worked as on behalf of the Harris campaign, according to the Charlotte Observer. The Washington Post reported Monday that according to one sworn affidavit from a former friend of Dowless, "he oversaw a crew of workers who collected absentee ballots from voters and updated the Harris campaign on the numbers."

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Majority of Voters Back National Health Plan -- Unless It's Called 'Single Payer' (YUSRA MURAD, November 29, 2018, Morning Consult)

As they deliberate messaging tactics, a new Morning Consult/Politico survey suggests that while describing the controversial health policy as "Medicare for all" is a crowd pleaser, Democrats should avoid calling it a "single-payer" plan.

The survey of 1,957 registered voters asked respondents about their support for a system where all Americans would get their health insurance from the government, labeled as Medicare for all, single payer, universal health care or socialized medicine. While not truly synonymous, the terms are often used interchangeably to describe a national health plan that guarantees coverage for each resident.

According to the messaging test in the survey, "Medicare for all" has the highest favorability, with 58 percent of registered voters saying they would back such a plan.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


It's Actually Not a "Good Time" for a Government Shutdown (JIM NEWELL, DEC 03, 2018, Slate)

The Democratic takeover of the House makes it more pressing for Trump that he get the wall money he wants right now--and less likely that he gets it. His chances of constructing the wall of his dreams will be shot once Democrats take control of the chamber. But if there's a protracted government shutdown that carries through the holidays, it will be resolved by that new House Democratic majority anyway--and after the already unpopular president has taken a hit by shutting down the government over the unpopular issue of a border wall.

In other words, congressional Republicans will be spending these next several weeks finding the president an out.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


The Battle over Conservative Masculinity, from Bush I to Trump (DAVID FRENCH, December 3, 2018, National Review)

After Bush's death, this almost 40-year-old clip of Bush on CBS's Face the Nation rocketed around the Internet. In it, Bush presents the best answer I've ever heard to the charge that he was too nice. [...]

Here was his answer, and it's brilliant:

I equate toughness with moral fiber, with character, with principle, with demonstrated leadership in tough jobs where you emerge not bullying somebody, but with the respect of the people you led. That's toughness. That's fiber. That's character. I have got it. And if I happen to be decent in the process, that should not be a liability.

As we raise our sons, who is the better model? Is it the "wimp" who enlisted in the Navy at age 18, became one of the service's youngest aviators, was shot down over the Pacific and rescued, went on to a lifetime of public service (including the presidency), led the nation in war, and managed the fall of the Soviet Union with calmness, ending a great-power conflict without triggering a cataclysm? Is it the beloved husband (of one wife for more than 70 years) and father -- a man of real faith?

Or is it the "tough guy" who ducked his war, paid off porn stars, gloried in his adultery, married three women, built a business empire in part through nepotism and "suspect" tax schemes, bankrupted casinos, and now adopts his aggressive posture mainly through public insults and angry tweets? This isn't the masculinity that we should respect. And it's hardly "manly" to defend behavior that is barely removed from the posturing and strutting of the schoolyard bully.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Senior aides push back on Trump's claim that China agreed to cut auto tariffs (JIM PUZZANGHERA, DEC 03, 2018, LA Times)

[T]rump's top economic advisors made clear Monday that no agreement to reduce and remove the tariffs yet existed, despite Trump's boast.

"We don't yet have a specific agreement on that, but I will just tell you ... we expect those tariffs to go to zero," Larry Kudlow, Trump's top economic advisor, told reporters in a conference call from the White House. [...]

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin gave mixed messages, appearing to confirm the auto tariff cut but then backing off.

"There is an immediate focus on reducing auto tariffs," Mnuchin told reporters. "There's a lot of work to be done over the next 90 days."

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro also wouldn't confirm China was lifting auto tariffs. He told NPR that the issue "certainly came up in discussions" between Trump and Xi.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Why Michael Cohen, Trump's Fixer, Confessed to It All (Benjamin Weiser, Dec. 3, 2018, NY Times)

Of all of President Trump's former associates who have come under scrutiny in the special counsel's Russia investigation, his former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, has undertaken perhaps the most surprising and risky legal strategy.

Mr. Cohen has twice pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to a litany of crimes, and he has volunteered information to the special counsel and other agencies investigating Mr. Trump and his inner circle. He did all this without first obtaining a traditional, ironclad deal under which the government would commit to seeking leniency on Mr. Cohen's behalf when he is sentenced on Dec. 12.

Mr. Cohen has concluded that his life has been utterly destroyed by his relationship with Mr. Trump and his own actions, and to begin anew he needed to speed up the legal process by quickly confessing his crimes and serving any sentence he receives, according to his friends and associates, and analysis of documents in the case.

He has told friends that he is mystified that he is taking the fall for actions he carried out on behalf of Mr. Trump, who remains unscathed. Still, he is resigned to accepting responsibility. [...]

Surprisingly, Mr. Cohen entered his plea without a traditional cooperation deal in which the Southern District would write to the judge and seek leniency when he was finally sentenced.

Cooperating witnesses are often not sentenced until investigations are completed, months or even years later. Mr. Cohen was concerned that signing a deal would delay his sentencing, his lawyers explained in their filing on Friday.

"He respectfully declined to pursue conventional cooperation so that his sentencing proceeding would go forward as scheduled," wrote the lawyers, Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester, both former Southern District prosecutors.

December 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Legal Experts Pummel Rudy Giuiliani's Defense of Trump's Controversial Roger Stone Tweet (Colin Kalmbacher, December 3rd, 2018, Law & Crime)

Julie Rendelman is a former prosecutor and currently a defense attorney working in New York City. She also serves as an analyst on the Law&Crime Network. Rendelman thinks both Trump and Giuliani blew it here.

"Trump's tweet regarding Roger Stone is simply one of a growing number of comments by Trump designed to send a message of intimidation and bullying to those who might cross him," she told Law&Crime. "Giuliani's response is, as usual, a poorly communicated attempt to give an innocent explanation for Trump's tweet. And as we see time and time again, it appears to have backfired."

Robert Bianchi is also a former prosecutor as well as a national legal analyst and host on the Law&Crime Network. Bianchi said that Giuliani that himself, back in his prosecutor days, likely would have made easy work out of Trump's perceived message for Stone.

"Poppycock," Bianchi said of Giuliani's excuse. "When Giuliani was U.S. Attorney he would indict in a flash someone communicating with a witness-arguing it was to embolden them to stay the course and not cooperate."

Bianchi went on to note that Trump's presidential prerogatives only sweeten the potential pot here.

"Not to mention the person tweeting is under investigation and has the power to pardon, which he, Trump, in plain sight has stated is on the table. Add those comments up and it is clear to all but the dumbfounded what is cute by half and you will get burned."

Perhaps further complicating matters for himself and the 45th president, Roger Stone appears to have signaled that he received the presidential message of encouragement loud and clear.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Unplug Electric Vehicle Subsidies and Let Consumers Decide (Nicolas Loris, December 03, 2018, Daily Signal)

Electric vehicle handouts subsidize the wealthiest Americans and, despite their being advertised as a more "climate-friendly" option, they produce next to no climate benefit for the planet.

Trump does not quite have the power to cut GM's current electric vehicles subsidies full stop. But he could play an important role in the future of the targeted tax subsidy.

Both federal and state governments have generous handouts for electric vehicles. The federal tax credit extends up to $7,500 and applies to the first 200,000 electric vehicles per manufacturer, and then a phaseout of the credit begins.

Tesla is in the phaseout period now, and General Motors Co. is close to hitting the 200,000 mark.

Congress is considering a larger package to revive and extend special tax breaks that use the tax code to pick winners and losers.

Some members want to include a permanent extension of the $7,500 tax credit and to lift the 200,000 cap. An unlimited subsidy would be a massively expensive bill for taxpayers and a win for cronyism that awards money based on preferential treatment, rather than the competitive process.

Furthermore, extending the subsidy would continue to take decision rights away from car buyers and leave them in the hands of the federal government.

Use a hammer, not a scalpel.  Government can do destruction well, but surgery poorly. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


PODCAST: Remembering 41 (Hosted by Charlie Sykes, 12/03/18, Weekly Standard)

On today's Daily Standard Podcast, editor-at-large William Kristol and national correspondent Andrew Ferguson join host Charlie Sykes to remember President George H.W. Bush. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Ex-Marine admits he lured Seth Rich conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman to a hotel parking garage, then shot him (Rachel Weiner, December 3, 2018, Washington Post)

A man who worked as an investigator for conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman will serve nine years in prison for shooting and wounding his ex-boss in a complicated plot involving a fake FBI exposé. [...]

Burkman told The Washington Post in March that he hired Doherty, a onetime Marine, to investigate the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. Burkman, a Republican lobbyist, has enmeshed himself in a conspiracy theory that Rich was killed for handing Democratic emails over to WikiLeaks. Law enforcement has deemed the homicide a botched street robbery, and Rich's family has repeatedly sued right-wing news outlets for falsely reporting otherwise.

Doherty was supposed to build a psychological profile of Rich's possible killer, but Burkman said in March that he and Doherty quickly came to loggerheads over control of the project. Burkman fired Doherty in July 2017.

In court, Eastman described the plot Doherty executed months later and how police tracked him down. Doherty sent Burkman emails pretending to have information "detrimental to the FBI." Burkman paid Doherty $15,000 and arranged to pick up the documentation from under a traffic cone at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington on March 13.

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Wall Street rises as industrials, tech bounce on trade truce (Shreyashi Sanyal, 12/03/18, Reuters) 

Trade-sensitive industrial and technology stocks pushed Wall Street higher on Monday after the United States and China agreed on a temporary trade detente, hopes of which had driven the market last week to post its biggest gain in nearly seven years.

...were to drop all opposition to the free movement of goods and people and join the TPP and CETA and add the UK to the CMUSA. Simply by undoing his own unforced errors he'd get a boom he could claim credit for.  All he needs to do is become Bizarro-Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


Right-left rift tops ethnic tensions as biggest source of polarization in Israel (RAOUL WOOTLIFF, 12/03/18, Times of Israel)

A growing fissure between the right and left has catapulted political rifts into becoming the most powerful source of tension in Israeli society, leapfrogging long-held divisions between Jews and Arabs, a new poll of attitudes from across the widening political spectrum has found.

In 2012, just nine percent of Jewish Israelis identified the right-left divide as the worst rift in the country. Today, that number stands at 36%, according to a poll released on Monday by the Israel Democracy Institute.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


A comprehensive guide to the new science of treating lower back pain: A review of 80-plus studies upends the conventional wisdom. (Julia Belluz,  Jul 27, 2018, Vox)

The big takeaway: Millions of back patients like Ramin are floundering in a medical system that isn't equipped to help them. They're pushed toward intrusive, addictive, expensive interventions that often fail or can even harm them, and away from things like yoga or psychotherapy, which actually seem to help. Meanwhile, Americans and their doctors have come to expect cures for everything -- and back pain is one of those nearly universal ailments with no cure. Patients and taxpayers wind up paying the price for this failure, both in dollars and in health.

Thankfully, Ramin finally discovered an exercise program that has eased her discomfort. And to this day, no matter how busy her life gets, she does a series of exercises every morning called "the McGill Big Three" (more on them later). "With very rare exceptions," she says, "I find time to exercise, even when I'm on the road."

More and more people like Ramin are seeking out conservative therapies for back pain. While yoga, massage, and psychotherapy have been around for a long time, there was little high-quality research out there to understand their effects on back pain, and doctors sometimes looked down on these practices. But over the past decade, that's changed.

To learn more, I searched the medical literature on treatments for lower back pain (the most common type) and read through more than 80 studies (mainly reviews of the research that summarized the findings of hundreds more studies) about both "active" approaches (yoga, Pilates, tai chi, etc.) and passive therapies (massage, chiropractics, acupuncture, and so on). I also talked to nine experts and researchers in this field. (For more detail on our methods, scroll to the end.)

What I found surprised me: Many of these approaches really do seem to help, though often with modest effects. But when you compare even those small benefits with the harm we're currently doing while medically "treating" back pain, the horror of the status quo becomes clear. "No one dies of low back pain," one back pain expert, University of Amsterdam assistant professor Sidney Rubinstein, summed up, "but people are now dying from the treatment."

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Qatar: We're quitting OPEC in 2019 (Middle East Eye, 3 December 2018)

Qatar said on Monday it was quitting OPEC from January to focus on its gas ambitions, taking a swipe at the group's de facto leader Saudi Arabia and marring efforts to show unity before this week's meeting of exporters to tackle an oil price slide.

Doha, one of OPEC's smallest oil producers but the world's biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter, is embroiled in a protracted diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states.

Qatar said its decision was not driven by politics but in an apparent swipe at Riyadh, Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi said: "We are not saying we are going to get out of the oil business but it is controlled by an organisation managed by a country." He did not name the nation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Robot Janitors Are Coming to Mop Floors at a Walmart Near You (Pavel Alpeyev, December 3, 2018, Bloomberg)

The world's largest retailer is rolling out 360 autonomous floor-scrubbing robots in some of its stores in the U.S. by the end of the January, it said in a joint statement with Brain Corp., which makes the machines. The autonomous janitors can clean floors on their own even when customers are around, according to the San Diego-based startup.

Walmart has already been experimenting with automating the scanning of shelves for out-of-stock items and hauling products from storage for online orders. Advances in computer vision are also making it possible to use retail floor data to better understand consumer behavior, improve inventory tracking and even do away with checkout counters, as Inc. is trying to do with its cashierless stores. Brain's robots are equipped with an array of sensors that let them to gather and upload data.

"We can take anything that has wheels and turn it into a fully autonomous robot, provided that it can go slow and stopping is never a safety concern," said Brain Chief Executive Office Eugene Izhikevich. "And it's more than just navigation. It is to robots what Android operating system is to smartphones."

Brain doesn't make its own hardware, focusing instead on developing software -- BrainOS -- that endows machines with autonomy in closed environments. At first, the machines were need to be operated by humans, who "teach" the layout of the space that needs cleaning. After that the robots can perform the task autonomously.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Rich Americans Rank Financial Security Over Love in Relationships (Lananh Nguyen, November 30, 2018, Bloomberg)

When looking for a partner, 56 percent of affluent Americans want someone who provides financial security, versus 44 percent who want to be "head over heels" in love, according to more than 1,000 respondents surveyed by Bank of America Corp.'s Merrill Edge. Of those polled, 63 percent said they preferred a career-focused partner over a socially conscious mate.

"There's a level of realism" for couples who face economic uncertainty and a lack of financial planning, said Aron Levine, head of consumer banking and Merrill Edge, which offers online investing. "How do you keep the love of your life if you can't pay for a vacation?" he said in an interview in New York.

Family Structure: The Growing Importance of Class (Isabel V. Sawhill, January 16, 2013, Brookings)

Nearly fifty years later, the picture is even more grim--and the statistics can no longer be organized neatly by race. In fact, Moynihan's bracing profile of the collapsing black family in the 1960s looks remarkably similar to a profile of the average white family today. White households have similar--or worse--statistics of divorce, unwed childbearing, and single motherhood as the black households cited by Moynihan in his report. In 2000, the percentage of white children living with a single parent was identical to the percentage of black children living with a single parent in 1960: 22 percent.

What was happening to black families in the '60s can be reinterpreted today not as an indictment of the black family but as a harbinger of a larger collapse of traditional living arrangements--of what demographer Samuel Preston, in words that Moynihan later repeated, called "the earthquake that shuddered through the American family."

That earthquake has not affected all American families the same way. While the Moynihan report focused on disparities between white and black, increasingly it is class, and not just race, that matters for family structure. Although blacks as a group are still less likely to marry than whites, gaps in family formation patterns by class have increased for both races, with the sharpest declines in marriage rates occurring among the least educated of both races. For example, in 1960, 76 percent of adults with a college degree were married, compared to 72 percent of those with a high school diploma--a gap of only 4 percentage points. By 2008, not only was marriage less likely, but that gap had quadrupled, to 16 percentage points, with 64 percent of adults with college degrees getting married compared to only 48 percent of adults with a high school diploma. A report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia summed up the data well: "Marriage is an emerging dividing line between America's moderately educated middle and those with college degrees." The group for whom marriage has largely disappeared now includes not just unskilled blacks but unskilled whites as well. Indeed, for younger women without a college degree, unwed childbearing is the new normal.

These differences in family formation are a problem not only for those concerned with "family values" per se, but also for those concerned with upward mobility in a society that values equal opportunity for its children. Because the breakdown of the traditional family is overwhelmingly occurring among working-class Americans of all races, these trends threaten to make the U.S. a much more class-based society over time. The well-educated and upper-middle-class parents who are still forming two-parent families are able to invest time and resources in their children--time and resources that lower- and working-class single mothers, however impressive their efforts to be both good parents and good breadwinners, simply do not have.

The striking similarities between what happened to black Americans at an earlier stage in our history and what is happening now to white working-class Americans may shed new light on old debates about cultural versus structural explanations of poverty. What's clear is that economic opportunity, while not the only factor affecting marriage, clearly matters.

Love without responsibility and obligation is mere self-indulgence.  It's no surprise it doesn't work.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Saudi dissident sues Israeli software firm for helping Riyadh spy on him (Middle East Eye, 3 December 2018)

A Saudi dissident is suing the NSO group, alleging that Israeli software company helped Riyadh hack his phone to spy on correspondence with Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist murdered by the kingdom's operatives two months ago.

Omar Abdulaziz, a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia's government and its powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, lives in exile in Canada.

His lawsuit, filed in Montreal, follows other suits charging the Israeli company with similarly helping controversial governments in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico spy on dissidents, activists and journalists.

The NSO group is licensed to sell its technology to foreign powers by the Israeli government, and its ties with Gulf Arab countries is evidence of growing relationships between those states and Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Washington Post tripled Yemen coverage after Khashoggi's death (Cockburn, 29 November 2018 , Spectator USA)

At the time of printing, the Post had published 879 posts featuring the word 'Yemen' on in 2018. Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018 - 59 days ago. In the 59 days preceding his death, the Post had published 100 posts containing 'Yemen'.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


RIP, The Vishnu: He was the kindest, most decent man I've ever known (Christopher Buckley, 2 December 2018, Spectator USA)

As a boy, one of his nicknames - he had several - was 'Have-Half,' after his habit of always sharing half his sandwich with whoever was there. Another was 'Poppy,' followed years later by the somewhat more exotic 'Vishnu.'

'Have-Half' remained apt later in his life. As vice president, Mr Bush would stay over in Washington for Christmas rather than go home to Houston, so that his Secret Service detail could spend the day with their families. When, a few years ago, the two-year-old child of one of his Secret Service agents was stricken with cancer, Mr Bush shaved his own head bald in solidarity.

There are dozens, scores, hundreds such stories about George Herbert Walker Bush's noblesse oblige -or as he called it, 'noblesse noblige.' [...]

He was, to use a term that has suffered of late from desuetude, a Christian gentleman. Paradigmatically so. His love was total, unconditional. He embodied Shakespeare's admonition that 'Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.' His soul was visible on his sleeve. And in his pocket there was always a handkerchief, usually damp.

I was present in 2004 at the National Cathedral in Washington when Mr Bush, struggling through his eulogy to Ronald Reagan, came close to breaking down. I'd seen him lose it so many times. He'd choke up during the playing of the National Anthem at a baseball game. The Navy Hymn brought forth Niagara falls. For a flinty New England blueblood Yankee, George Bush had the tear ducts of a Sicilian grandmother.

In November 1992 I phoned him at Camp David. It was a few days after his mother Dorothy had passed away. Just weeks before, he'd lost the presidency to a governor of Arkansas. Talk about a dark, drizzly November of the soul.

Dorothy Bush's funeral was the next day. I asked if he was going to give a eulogy.

'God no,' he said. 'I couldn't do it. I'd choke up. I would be permanently ensconced as a member of the Bawl Brigade.' The Bawl Brigade is Bush-speak for members of the family who cry easily. It constitutes a majority of Bushes.

He told me, 'I'd love to, but I know my limitations. I even choked up here at Camp David last night. We had our choir singing. We had a little vespers program with Amy Grant. It was so beautiful, and I found myself choking up. We had a bunch of friends up here and "Oh God," I said, "please hold back the floods."'

That was my Vishnu. I'm struggling now to hold back my own floods, but I'm also pinching myself, contemplating my amazing good fortune in having known this splendid man.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


'Twists but no plot': Trump's diminishing foreign travel reflects a president scaling back foreign ambition (David Nakamura and John Hudson December 2, 2018, Washington Post)

Trump returned to Washington on Sunday after a relatively subdued two-day visit to the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, where he announced modest breakthroughs on trade but chose to avoid provocative meetings with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

His performance -- coupled with his listless two-day visit to Paris days after the midterms, during which he skipped a visit to an American cemetery and appeared isolated from other world leaders -- has created the impression of a president scaling back his ambitions on the world stage amid mounting political crises. [...]

For Trump, there appears to be diminishing bandwidth to focus on foreign affairs, given that he is weighing a Cabinet shake-up and has threatened a partial government shutdown this month over border wall funding.

Furthermore, the Democrats' looming takeover of the House has posed new dangers for the White House in the form of potential subpoenas and investigations. And bombshell revelations last week involving former Trump associates in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election have rattled the White House.

Donald who?

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Alan Dershowitz says he's still advising Jeffrey Epstein (Jonathan Swan, 12/03/18, Axios)

Behind the scenes: While he was allegedly raping teenage girls, Epstein cultivated cozy relationships with America's elites.

Bill Clinton flew on Epstein's plane, nicknamed the "Lolita Express," numerous times, according to flight logs.

And Donald Trump, in a profile with New York magazine written several years before the police caught up with Epstein, praised his friend as a "terrific guy." "It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do," Trump said of Epstein, "and many of them are on the younger side."

Dershowitz was also friendly with Epstein before the broader public knew he was a pedophile.

December 2, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


The Lawfare Podcast: Special Edition: Michael Cohen's Trump Tower Moscow Plea (Mikhaila Fogel, November 29, 2018, Lawfare)

Thursday saw another plea deal from Michael Cohen: this time with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress regarding how long into the 2016 campaign the Trump Organization sought to build Trump Tower in Moscow and who exactly knew about the efforts. The criminal information validates to a remarkable degree a May 2018 report from Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed News, chronicling the details of Michael Cohen and associate Felix Sater's efforts to cement the real estate deal. 

Immediately after new of the plea broke, Benjamin Wittes sat down with Cormier, Susan Hennessey and Paul Rosenzweig to discuss the story, the implications of the plea for the Mueller investigation, and who just might have legal exposure and for what.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


China Is Inching in the Right Direction: Never mind "Thucydides's trap." Today's rising power seems to have taken history's lessons to heart. (John Micklethwait, November 30, 2018, Bloomberg)

China's biggest handicap is its public inability to admit that it has done anything wrong, when on issues like intellectual property it obviously has. This not only makes other countries and businesspeople cross, it leaves the Chinese mystified with what the famous British philosopher Monty Python might call the bleedin' obvious.

For instance, Chinese officials seem perplexed: Why haven't American companies rushed to defend the multilateral trading system against Trump's rampages? The answer is fairly simple: Western CEOs are privately fed up with the way China treats them -- the artificial barriers, the ownership restrictions, the intellectual property theft and the repeated delays in opening up markets. Anything Trump can do to prize open China is welcome -- as long as he does not go too far.

However, there are two promising signs that China is becoming more skillful. First, China's rhetorical defense is increasingly anchored in the multilateral system. Even a year ago, China seemed bent on replacing the "Western" Bretton Woods institutions set up at the end of World War II with regional bodies of its own creation. But at this month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Xi specifically called for countries to uphold a rules-based order led by the World Trade Organization. And in recent weeks he has condemned the law of the jungle and beggar-thy-neighbor policies -- and warned about globalization being at a crossroads.

Second, China increasingly stresses that opening up its economy is in its own interest. Earlier this month Xi promised to import $30 trillion worth of goods. And China has promised to push ahead much more quickly with opening up industries, including financial services.

Of course, China has muttered about opening up before and done very little, but there is a difference now. China's economy is in transition. The next phase of its growth, officials say, will come from services and personal consumption. It would much rather suck in foreign capital than add yet more debt and government stimulus. And talking about the benefits of opening up China gives Xi more room to retreat gracefully. Domestically, he can portray "concessions" to Trump as long-promised reforms that will make China stronger (which is probably true anyway).

There is a useful prompt for this -- with another historical echo. Dec. 18 is the 40th anniversary of the third plenary session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which was the moment in 1978 Deng Xiaoping started opening up China's economy. Xi is likely to unveil a series of commemorative reforms; foreign banks that have been waiting to take bigger stakes in their Chinese joint ventures may well find the approval process is speeded up. 

So China is inching in the right direction. Its task is made harder by Trump's enormous unpredictability. His tweets do not just move markets, but also the heart rates of Chinese civil servants who have to interpret his intentions to President Xi.

In Beijing, debate rages about what the U.S. president actually wants.

One school of thought is that the self-styled artist of the deal will settle for any agreement where he can proclaim victory. Some Chinese see the renegotiation of Nafta as an example of that: Trump made a lot of noise, but not much changed. They hope that Trump can be assuaged by personal flattery -- not least from his very good friend, Xi Jinping -- and that he can be persuaded to sign a deal quickly.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


The Patrician President and the Reporterette: a Screwball Story (Maureen Dowd, Dec. 2, 2018, NY Times)

Nobody understood our relationship -- least of all us.

It was, admittedly, odd.

"I like you,'' the first President Bush wrote me once, after he was out of office. "Please don't tell anyone."

In decades of correspondence, he tried to figure out why we stayed in touch, beginning one note "Darn you Maureen Dowd" and mischievously observing in another, "Sometimes I found it better around my family to go 'Maureen who?'"

At times, typing on what he called "my little IBM,'' he signed off "Con afecto, GB,'' or if I was writing critically about his sons, "Con Afecto, still, just barely though! gb.'' Or "Love" scratched out and replaced with the handwritten rebuke, "not quite there yet." [...]

"We have a love-hate relationship,'' he told me when I ran into him in 2001 at a book party in Georgetown. "I talk to my shrink about it." He knew that I knew he was kidding; he avoided introspection at all costs, often ending debates in the White House by saying "I'm president and you're not."

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


In U.S. Media, Israel Is Untouchable: You can attack the Palestinians in America uninterrupted, call to expel them and deny their existence. Just don't dare say a bad word about Israel, the holy of holies. (Gideon Levy, Dec 02, 2018, Ha'aretz)

In a matter of hours, the skies collapsed into well-orchestrated hysteria. Seth Mandel, editor of the Washington Examiner, accused Hill of having called for Jewish genocide; Ben Shapiro, an analyst on Fox News, called it an anti-Semitic speech; Consul Dani Dayan tweeted that Hill's remarks were like a "swastika painted in red," the Anti-Defamation League said they were tantamount to calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. The inevitable outcome was not long in coming and CNN fired the rebel analyst on the very same day.

How dare he? What was he thinking? Where did he think he's living, in a democracy with free speech or a country where dialogue about Israel is under the serious censorship of the Jewish establishment and Israeli propaganda? Hill tried to claim that he's opposed to racism and anti-Semitism and his remarks were intended to support the establishment of a binational, secular and democratic state. But he didn't stand a chance.

In the heavy-handed reality that has seized control over dialogue in the United States, there's no room for expressions that may offend the Israeli occupation. On a liberal day it's permissible to say "two states" as long as you do it in a whisper.

What would have happened if Hill had called for the establishment of a Jewish state between the Jordan and the sea? He would have safely continued holding down his job. Rick Santorum, the former senator, said in 2012 that "no Palestinian" lives in the West Bank. Nobody thought of firing him. Even Hill's critic, Shapiro, has called in the past for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the territories (he backtracked on it a few years later) and nothing happened to him.

You can attack the Palestinians in America uninterrupted, call to expel them and deny their existence. Only don't dare to touch Israel, the holy of holies, the country that exists above suspicion.

Essentially, the Holocaust absolves Israel of behaving any better than the Jews were treated.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


For Netanyahu's Supporters, Bribery Allegations Only Serve to Support His Narrative (Ravit Hecht, Dec 03, 2018, Ha'aretz)

It's not just that the police recommendations submitted on Sunday to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery won't affect Netanyahu's supporters in the short term.

If anything, they will strengthen his hold on his base by dint of his most effective mechanism of recruitment and control, namely the narrative whereby the media is persecuting him.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Netanyahu's supporters in the Likud party and on the right automatically belittle each and every one of the cases in which he is embroiled. Cases 4000 - involving Elovitch - and 2000, both dealing with his relations with the media, are no different.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Stunned Parisians clean up posh central district after worst riots since 1968 (Richard Lough, Geert De Clercq, 12/02/18, Reuters)

"Macron has a problem on his hands. Everyone's fed up. He's got to listen more," said Amaya Fuster, eyeing graffiti daubed on a Printemps department store window that read: "There's enough money in the coffers of businessmen. Share the riches!"

Authorities said violent groups from the far right and far left as well as "thugs" from the suburbs had infiltrated the yellow vests movement in Paris on Saturday.

There were signs that some of the hardcore troublemakers were part of the anarchist and anti-capitalist movement: banks, insurance companies, upmarket private homes and cafes and glitzy boutiques were among the properties smashed up and looted.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Dem Congresswoman Joins Migrant Caravan for Border Crossing, Helps Five Asylum Seekers Enter U.S. (Aryssa Damron, December 2, 2018, Free Beacon)

Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) joined the migrant caravan on Saturday in their attempt to cross the border, condemning President Donald Trump for "creating the crisis." She said she was able to help five asylum seekers gain access to the United States.

"I was able to successfully assist 5 asylum seekers - 2 unaccompanied minors, a mother and her 9 year old child, and a young man with a serious medical condition - into the United States," she wrote in a tweet.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


'You belong': Threatened Muslim child receives 500 interfaith letters of support (Aysha Khan, 11/30/18, RNS) 

When a 10-year-old Muslim girl looked in her classroom cubby one Friday morning last month, she found a note there with the words, "You're a terrorist," scribbled in childish, all-capital letters. The next week, a message appeared, saying, "I will kill you."

"She was visibly upset -- she was crying," her uncle Jamaal Siddiqui told CBS Boston. "Just the thought of that makes me feel sick to my stomach."

The letters stopped after Hemenway Elementary School officials and police in Framingham, Mass., began investigating the possible hate crime.

After the threatening notes were discovered, civil rights advocates from the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had asked the public -- particularly interfaith allies -- to rally in support of the young student by sending encouraging messages.

Now, two weeks after receiving the threat, the fifth-grade student at Hemenway Elementary in Framingham, Mass., has stacks upon stacks of letters of support from all over the country, waiting to be read.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Regev in east Jerusalem: Palestinians don't have deep roots here (Yishai Porat,   08.02.18 , Ynet)

Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev asserted Wednesday that the Palestinians don't have roots in east Jerusalem. 

"No matter how deep they can dig, the Palestinians will not find a single Palestinian coin here," Regev said at a ceremony to launch a preservation project of an ancient Yemenite synagogue in Silwan (Kfar HaShiloach) in east Jerusalem, which was destroyed 80 years ago.

"This region knew many occupiers and rulers, but no one has succeeded in cutting off the deep roots of the Jewish people. It's always exciting to walk these streets, where Jews walked 3000 years ago."

"Our right to this land is a subject of constant discussion in recent days, in which we must explain the obvious--the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people alone. Only the Jewish people are entitled to national rights between the river and the sea," she said, referring to the criticism over the controversial Nationality Law.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Under Trump, the Swamp Is Draining: A grifter president has inspired an elite housecleaning. (Ross Douthat, Dec. 1, 2018, NY Times)

[T]here is one odd way in which Trump's supporters have gotten what they wanted. Trump isn't draining the swamp himself, but the shock of his ascent has created swamp-draining conditions -- in which other corruptions have suddenly been exposed, and there have been many deserved falls from grace.

This exposure has vindicated some of the public cynicism that made Trump's rise possible -- because in many cases the newly-exposed scandals were open secrets, known to those in the know, and in some cases they were as baroquely grotesque as any Reddit fantasy. (Like, what if Harvey Weinstein's whole movie empire was just a procurement agency, and what if he hired ex-Mossad agents to stalk one of the stars of "Charmed" ... ?)

The story of rich-guy pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, just written up in exhaustive detail by The Miami Herald, is a perfect example -- a pedophilia scandal hidden in plain sight, in which a wealthy abuser got off with a slap on the wrist because he had a bipartisan group of allies and there was an incentive not to embarrass the powerful people who might have frequented his parties or taken rides on his plane. A crucial player, the prosecutor who let Epstein slide, is now the Trump administration's labor secretary -- but instead of being a seedy Trumpworld figure, Alexander Acosta is an eminently respectable, big-law figure. Not a grifter; just an exemplar of the American elite.

As, of course, is Epstein's pal Bill Clinton, who hasn't been exposed in the Trump era so much as finally acknowledged, by a growing number of liberals, as a sexual predator who survived impeachment because the establishment went into a panic about the specter of puritanism and either smeared or ignored the women credibly accusing him. Not a grifter, the ex-president; just a pillar of the establishment who happened to have a plausible rape accusation lying there in plain sight all the time.

Some of these scandals might have come out under any president, and Clinton was overdue for a feminist reassessment. But Trump has clearly been a catalyst: The sense of moral crisis created by his ascent, the sense of moral outrage felt by women, especially, and the finger-pointing within a divided, freaked-out establishment has made it easier to acknowledge rot in meritocracy, and to purge the grossest examples from our entitled class.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


How George Bush Befriended Dana Carvey, the 'S.N.L.' Comedian Who Impersonated Him (Sarah Mervosh, Dec. 1, 2018, NY Times)

It was December 1992, and Mr. Bush, who had been defeated by Bill Clinton, was on his way out of the White House. He summoned his staff to the East Room for a formal Christmas greeting. But when "Hail to the Chief" began to play, it was not Mr. Bush who entered the room, but Mr. Carvey.

The crowd roared in surprise.  [...]

When the president took the lectern -- "I don't dare move my hands," he said -- he thanked Mr. Carvey for visiting the White House.

"Dana has given me a lot of laughs," Mr. Bush said. "He said to me on the phone, 'Are you sure you really want me to come there?' And I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'I hope I've never crossed the line.' I knew exactly what he meant and as far as I'm concerned, he never has."

"The fact that we can laugh at each other," Mr. Bush said, "is a very fundamental thing."

In his life after the White House, Mr. Bush continued to embrace the comedian's impression of him, even referencing it in his eulogy to former President Gerald R. Ford in 2007. He also stayed in touch with Mr. Carvey over the years.

In an interview this year, Mr. Carvey told Conan O'Brien, the late-night host, that Mr. Bush wrote him notes at important moments in Mr. Carvey's life and even called him on Election Day in 2004. "We had so many warm moments with them," he said. "It was a different time. It wasn't scorched-earth angry politics."

In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Carvey said that "it was an honor and a privilege to know and spend time with George H.W. Bush for over 25 years."

"When I think of those times what I remember most is how hard we would laugh," he said. "I will miss my friend."

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


George H.W. Bush: A presidential fishing tale (Angus Phillips,  December 25, 1999, Washington Post)

As soon as I heard the elevator hit the landing below, I heard footsteps from the direction we'd just left. It was the President, in monogrammed, sky blue pajamas and fleece-lined leather slippers, and he had in hand a sheaf of papers that he was waving. He was hollering for the just-departed butler and issuing instructions on what to do with the papers, which for all I know may have been orders to bomb Moscow.

But when he came around the corner all he saw was a middle-aged sportswriter in a Batman baseball cap, the only one I could find that didn't have some logo on it. I spread my arms in a classic pose that said: "I am unarmed. I mean you no harm."

But if he was the least concerned, he didn't show it. I guess presidents see a lot of unexpected things, because he sized me up instantly as someone who couldn't do whatever it was that needed to be done with those papers, and he turned on his heel, still waving them overhead. As he strode back to his bedroom, he declared: "Big fish to catch today. Big fish!"

The butler soon reappeared, saying coffee was ready downstairs at the South Entrance. There were lots of Secret Service people there, and about 10 minutes later the President appeared, tackle box and rods in hand. He greeted me as if nothing had happened, which of course, it hadn't.

We had a great day fishing.

The president caught several largemouth bass on rubber worms. Late in the day, he hooked one with some weight to it, but when he got it to the surface it turned out to be a big, slimy carp. Glenn Peacock, our guide, tried to cut the line with his pocket knife. He didn't want the world to see a professional bass guide landing a carp for the President.

But Bush wouldn't hear of it and landed the fish with great fanfare. "I haven't seen either of you catch anything this big," he said, holding it high, and from that point on crowed about his great success outfoxing "the wily Potomac carp."

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


George H.W. Bush had a love of sports and an affinity for at least one sportswriter (Thomas Boswell, December 1, 2018, Washington Post)

One day nearly 30 years ago, I got a call at home from the sports department of The Washington Post.

"You said not to give your home phone number to anybody," a young news aide said. "But can I give it to the president?"

"The president of what?" I said.

"The United States."


A few minutes later, President George H.W. Bush called. We had chatted a bit at All-Star Games and baseball functions when he was vice president for eight years. Now he was president. While fishing in the South, he had heard, to his delight, that there was decent bass fishing near the White House. Was it true?

"Where are you, Mr. President?" I asked.

"In the Oval Office," he said.

I told him that, if he looked over his shoulder, he could almost see that fishing spot. I would get The Post's outdoors writer, Angus Phillips, to call him with the details. [...]

If any man, certainly any president, believed in reciprocity, it was this gracious gentleman for whom I was suddenly glad that I had voted. Over time, my wife and I were invited to a horseshoe-pitching contest at the White House and other sports-themed events, including a mixed-doubles tennis match with "the boys" -- that would be George W. and Jeb -- who played a spirited match with Chris Evert and Pam Shriver as their partners.

After tennis, everybody was invited back for dinner. After dessert, we were told: "Oh, go anywhere you want. Everybody wants to see the [White] House." My wife asked whether we could see the Lincoln bedroom. "Sure."

I'm not certain how many people have stolen the breakfast menu off the pillow in the Lincoln bedroom. Not saying my wife did. I did mention hidden cameras at the time. She said: "Who pays for all this stuff? The public. Us."

One day in 1990, a long white limo pulled up in front of our house -- the first and last time that has happened. A man delivered an envelope. "Knowing what a great baseball fan you are, I wanted you to have the enclosed Topps George Bush baseball card. Only 100 were made. Best wishes, George Bush."

What struck me was that, as the captain of a Yale baseball team that played for the national championship in both 1947 and 1948, a team that included three future major leaguers, Bush could emphasize whatever he wanted in the statistics and honors on the back of the card. Included was his .251 career batting average in 175 at-bats, plus his .133 average (2 for 15) in "postseason," a number that couldn't possibly have pleased him. No mention of being captain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Democrats, Trump spar over border wall funding ahead of possible government shutdown (BENJAMIN SIEGEL Dec 2, 2018, ABC News)

It all comes down to the wall.

Washington is on the brink of another government shutdown, with Democrats and Republicans sparring over funding President Donald Trump's signature (and unfulfilled) campaign promise, with government funding set to expire on Dec. 7 at midnight.

Trump wants $5 billion in funding to construct a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border as part of any agreement to sign a package of the remaining funding bills yet to be signed into law for the next fiscal year.

"There is a possible shutdown if we don't get the wall," Trump said Thursday as he departed the White House for the G-20 Summit in Argentina. "If we don't get border security, possible shutdown."

America just overwhelmingly rejected his Nationalism.

Democrats can pass a Republican budget or dare him to leave them to write one in 2019.

It's a lose-lose situation for Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


'Your time is up': Opposition calls on PM to resign after bribery recommendation (MICHAEL BACHNER, 12/02/18, Times of Israel)

Political rivals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called on him to resign and urged immediate elections after Israel Police's bombshell recommendation for a bribery indictment against the premier in the Bezeq corruption probe, known as Case 4000.

Investigators said Sunday they believed there was enough evidence to bring Netanyahu to trial on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust and fraudulently accepting benefits. It is the third case in which police have recommended bribery charges against the prime minister.

Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said that "Netanyahu has to go before he destroys law enforcement bodies to save his own skin. The Israeli nation deserves clean leadership."

There's no evidence they want it.

Israel's Netanyahu is no stranger to scandals -- he has a lengthy list (Associated Press,  Feb. 14, 2018)

Here is a look at some of the scandals that have plagued Netanyahu, his family and his confidants over the years.

During his first term in office in the 1990s, Netanyahu was suspected of engineering the short-lived appointment of a crony as attorney general in exchange for political support from the Shas party. Prosecutors called Netanyahu's conduct "puzzling," but stopped short of filing charges.

During that same stint as prime minister, Netanyahu and his wife Sara were suspected of taking gifts he received from world leaders - items considered state property. The Netanyahus also were suspected of accepting favors from a contractor. Both cases were closed without charges.

Netanyahu was suspected of double billing travel expenses and using state funds to cover travel for his family in the 2000s, while he was finance minister and opposition leader. After a lengthy investigation, the attorney general dismissed the case.

Sara Netanyahu has faced repeated allegations of mistreating household help. During their first term in office, the family's nanny said she was fired by Netanyahu's wife for burning a pot of vegetable soup. The young woman said she was thrown out of the family's home without her clothes or passport, and later was ordered to pick up her belongings dumped outside the front gate. Netanyahu's office said the woman was fired because she was prone to violent outbursts.

More recently, a Jerusalem labor court awarded $30,000 in damages to a former employee of the first lady who claimed he faced yelling and unreasonable demands. Last month, a recording emerged of Sara Netanyahu screaming at an aide as she complained that a gossip column about her did not mention her educational credentials.

In 2016, an official expense report found that Netanyahu spent more than $600,000 of public funds on a six-day trip to New York, including $1,600 on a personal hairdresser. Three years earlier, he was chided for spending $127,000 in public funds for a special sleeping cabin on a flight to London. Netanyahu said he was unaware of the cost and halted the practice. He also halted purchases at his favorite Jerusalem ice cream parlor that year after a newspaper reported his office ran up a $2,700 bill, mostly for vanilla and pistachio.

Israel's attorney general announced last fall that he is considering charging Sara Netanyahu with graft, fraud and breach of trust for alleged overspending of over $100,000 in public funds on private meals at the prime minister's official residence. At the same time, the attorney general dismissed allegations that the Netanyahus used government money to buy furniture for their private beach house and used state funds to pay for medical care for Sara Netanyahu's late father.

Last month a recording surfaced of Netanyahu's eldest son, Yair, joyriding with his wealthy buddies to Tel Aviv strip clubs in a drunken night out in a taxpayer-funded government vehicle. The 26-year-old Netanyahu has drawn criticism over the years for living a life of privilege at taxpayers' expense, hobnobbing with ultra-rich donors and making crude social media posts, all while never holding down a job.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a Netanyahu confidant, was suspected in a long-running corruption case of illicitly receiving money and laundering it through shell companies in eastern Europe. In 2012, Israel's attorney general dismissed the most serious charges, saying the case would be virtually impossible to prove. A report at the time said he noted that key witnesses lived outside the country, that Lieberman's lawyer had invoked the right to remain silent, and that two key witnesses had died while a third had disappeared. Lieberman was indicted on lesser graft charges. That case forced him to step down as foreign minister, but he was ultimately cleared and returned to the post a year later.

David Bitan, one of Netanyahu's closest allies, resigned as coalition whip in December due to suspicions that he accepted bribes as a municipal politician. Bitan has invoked his right to remain silent during repeated police interrogations.

December 1, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


'I Love You, Too': George Bush's Final Days (Peter Baker, Dec. 1, 2018, NY Times)

George Bush had been fading in the last few days. He had not gotten out of bed, he had stopped eating and he was mostly sleeping. For a man who had defied death multiple times over the years, it seemed that the moment might finally be arriving.

His longtime friend and former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, arrived at his Houston home on Friday morning to check on him.

Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open. "Where are we going, Bake?" he asked.

"We're going to heaven," Mr. Baker answered.

"That's where I want to go," Mr. Bush said.

Barely 13 hours later, Mr. Bush was dead. The 41st president died in his home in a gated community in Houston, surrounded by several friends and members of his family. As the end neared on Friday night, his son George W. Bush was put on the speaker phone to say goodbye. He told him that he had been a "wonderful dad" and that he loved him.

"I love you, too," Mr. Bush told his son.

Those were his last words. [...]

Mr. Bush did not get out of bed the last few days. Former President Barack Obama visited him on Tuesday while in town for an event with Mr. Baker. [...]

Ronan Tynan, the Irish tenor, had called earlier in the day to ask if he could drop by, and when he showed up, Ms. Becker asked him to sing to the president. Mr. Tynan sang two songs, the first "Silent Night" and the second a Gaelic song.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Rest in Peace: George H.W. Bush, a conservative at heart (Washington Examiner, December 01, 2018)

Character and comportment are part of conservatism. On those scores, Bush was a role model for the Right.

Bush was no pushover. In fact, in 1980, Bush was perhaps the most notoriously combative of the Republican presidential candidates. But he was thoroughly decent. When he lost his cool on reporters, he wrote personal notes of apology. When he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, he was impeccably polite and gracious in defeat.

Bush was also a family man. Everyone, including politicians and journalists, who got to see behind the scenes on his life saw that. In his old age, Bush basked in the payoff of his lifelong dedication to his family. Having leaders who can shine as examples of family men and women is valuable to the country.

And even among the Greatest Generation, Bush stood out as a man of public service. He was a member of Congress, and ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, director of the CIA, vice president, and president. He was also a combat veteran and a legitimate war hero.

Decency, dedication to family, service to country. These are all virtues that conservatives, along with most non-conservatives, hold dear.

But there was a deeper conservatism in Bush's way of seeing the world. Specifically, he knew politics and government weren't everything.

Bush fought hard on politics, but he tried not to let those fights define his relations with his adversaries.

When he left office, Bush declined to insert himself into the middle of political fights. He didn't stay out of the public square. He spoke up on political and diplomatic issues, but mostly just offering his opinion when asked. Where he really asserted himself was in volunteering and rallying the public to charitable giving.

He teamed up with Bill Clinton to raise money for victims of the devastating 2004 tsunami and then Hurricane Katrina. He served on the board of his church and chaired the Thousand Points of Light foundation, which aimed to highlight the noble works of private individuals. That foundation sprung from Bush's speech at the 1988 convention.

"We're a nation of community," he said, listing voluntary organizations: "the Knights of Columbus, the Grange, Hadassah, the Disabled American Veterans, the Order of Ahepa, the Business and Professional Women of America, the union hall, the Bible study group, LULAC, 'Holy Name' -- a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky."

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Party celebrating Rudy Giuliani nixed because no one wants to go (BRIAN NIEMIETZ  and CHRIS SOMMERFELDT, 12/01/18,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Plans for a party celebrating the 25-year anniversary of Rudy Giuliani becoming the mayor of New York City are "fizzling out" because the 74-year-old politico is "too toxic," according to a source who was invited.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Some 2020 warning signs Elizabeth Warren needs to pay attention to -- stat (Harry Enten, 12/01/18, CNN)

Warren's performance in 2018 was one of the weakest for a Democratic Senate candidate. I created a simple statistical formula explaining the results of the 34 Senate races with at least one Democrat (or independent who caucuses with the Democrats) and one Republican. Controlling for a state's weighted average partisanship and incumbency, Warren's performance was the sixth worst of all Democrats. She did 7 points worse than expected. (For comparison, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders outperformed their baselines by 9 and 12 points respectively.)

It's not the only bad number for Warren published this week. A UMass/YouGov study of Massachusetts Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents finds former Vice President Joe Biden at 19% to Sanders' 14% to Warren's 11% in a hypothetical Democratic presidential primary. A large 27% answered "don't know." YouGov's polling does not meet CNN's standards because it doesn't use probability sampling.

Of course, it's very early in the 2020 Democratic primary process, which is probably why 27% of Massachusetts Democrats don't know who they support.

Yet you would think that candidates who just ran major statewide races in their home states would be favorites in their home states. In this case, Warren isn't only not in first place, but she's also not even in second place. A full 89% of Massachusetts Democrats are not behind her at this point.

The lack of home state love should, in theory, be worrisome for Warren. These are the voters who know her best. If she is underperforming with them, then it follows that she may do worse than expected when exposed more fully to Democrats nationally.

Even this early, eventual nominees are usually winning in hypothetical primary polling in their home states. Ronald Reagan was winning among California Republicans in 1980, Bill Clinton was winning among Arkansas Democrats in 1992, Bob Dole was crushing the field among Kansas Republicans in 1996 and the list goes on. The one poll taken this year of a hypothetical 2020 Delaware Democratic presidential primary had Biden ahead by nearly 40 points.

One of the first signs that Sanders was going to perform better in 2016 than early national polling indicated was that he was beating Clinton in 2014 Vermont polling. This was when he was stuck in the single digits nationally.

In the podcast linked below, Ron Brownstein quite dismissive of her candidacy.  As he points out, white liberals who cast themselves as the leaders of people of color do not fare well.  On that end of the Democratic spectrum--where Progressives want to spend the whole election confronting Donald's racism--she is an inferior choice to Kamala Harris or Cory Booker. Meanwhile, if Democrats want to reassure potential swing voters, she obviously can't compete with the avuncular Joe Biden, nor even the John Hickenlooper types.


Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


How Devin Nunes Helped Robert Mueller (DAVID R. LURIE, NOV 30, 2018, Slate)

 Incoming Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff has made it clear that one of the first items on the new majority's agenda next year will be to forward those transcripts to the special counsel. Those transcripts will likely be accompanied by expressions of concern regarding the veracity of the testimony of several witnesses, in light of facts that have recently come to light, including as a result of Mueller's recently filed charging documents in the Cohen case and other cases.

The irony of this new situation is that, as Susan Hennessey has observed, outgoing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Rep. Mike Conaway (who purportedly led the Russia inquiry after Nunes' quasi-recusal), lead interrogator Trey Gowdy, and the other GOP members of the committee may, wholly unintentionally, prove to have been devastatingly effective questioners in the service of future false-statement prosecutions.

This is because, as the House Intelligence Committee majority's publicly released report indicates, the GOP appears to have all but openly encouraged its witnesses to deny any and all potential wrongdoing, regardless of the plausibility of their denials. Thus, the GOP members and their staffs appear to have been singularly uninterested in testing the veracity of witnesses' testimony or even inquiring into elemental questions, such as whether Donald Trump Jr. called his father regarding his Trump Tower meeting with representatives of the Russian government, or whether Blackwater founder Erik Prince lied regarding yet another Trump Tower meeting, this one including Don Jr. and, among others, representatives of two Gulf states.*

As a result, some witnesses affiliated with Trump and his campaign may have been lulled into thinking they could lie with particular impunity. It is therefore possible, if not likely, that a fairly substantial number of witnesses, including possibly the president's eldest son, will soon find themselves facing the unusual prospect of being criminally charged for lying before a House panel that all but welcomed their dishonesty.

And as Mueller's prior felony charges for lying against individuals including Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Alex van der Zwaan have demonstrated, the threat of such criminal liability can often be just what it takes to induce liars to tell important truths to investigators.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


'They had us fooled': Inside Payless's elaborate prank to dupe people into paying $600 for shoes (Kristine Phillips November 30, 2018, Washington Post)

A mini-runway, lined with stiletto heels, glistens in bright fluorescent lighting. Shoes of various types sit neatly in individual glass shelves. A statue of an angel carrying several shopping bags stands in the middle as Los Angeles fashionistas mill about, trying on shoes, posing on the red carpet, drinking champagne served in tall, slender glasses.

It was a private launch party of a new luxury brand of shoes called Palessi, designed by Italian designer Bruno Palessi.

"I would pay $400, $500. People are going to be like, 'Where did you get those? Those are amazing,' " a woman said as she tried on a pair of bright-gold sneakers with leopard prints.

The woman was not actually buying a Palessi because there's no such brand, and there's no Bruno Palessi.

There is, however, Payless ShoeSource, a discount shoe retailer hoping to shake things up through an elaborate -- and expensive -- advertising prank to attract new customers and change the perception that the company sells cheap, unfashionable shoes.

"We felt like this campaign would be a great way to get a lot of people to consider Payless again, and to realize it's more than just a shoe store in the mall," said Sarah Couch, Payless's chief marketing officer.

But the prank also points to a reality about the human mind: Consumers are not capable of discerning the quality and value of the things they buy, said Philip Graves, a consumer behavior consultant from Britain. Slap a fancy-sounding European label on $30 shoes, and you have an illusion of status that people will pay an exorbitant amount of money for.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


George Bush and the Price of Politics: For every compromise he made to political expedience on the campaign trail, in office he ultimately did the right thing. (Jon Meacham, Dec. 1, 2018, NY Times)

His guests were just about everything George H.W. Bush had never been, and never could be: ideological, hard edged and spoiling for a partisan revolution. It was the spring of 1989, and Newt Gingrich, a young congressman from Georgia, had been elected the House Republican whip, a key leadership post in the Washington of the 41st president. Mr. Bush, who was more comfortable in the fading moderate precincts of the Republican Party, didn't know Mr. Gingrich well, but the perennially hospitable president invited him and Vin Weber, the Minnesota Republican congressman who had managed Mr. Gingrich's whip campaign, down to the White House for a beer. The conversation was pleasant, but the visitors felt there was something Bush was not quite saying. Mr. Weber decided to put the question to the president directly.

"Mr. President, you've been very nice to us," Mr. Weber said as they were preparing to leave. "Tell us what your biggest fear is about us."

"Well," Mr. Bush answered, "I'm worried that sometimes your idealism will get in the way of what I think is sound governance." In the most polite way possible, in a single sentence, Mr. Bush had summarized his anxiety that when politics and principle clashed, politics was going to win.

Mr. Weber recalled that he appreciated the president's use of the word "idealism" -- he hadn't said "extremism" or "partisanship," though that was what he meant. The two congressmen represented a harsh new kind of politics that would, in five years' time, lead to the first Republican takeover of the House in four decades. By then George Bush would be back in Texas, a one-term president done in by the right wing of his own party -- a conservative cabal that rebelled against Mr. Bush's statesmanlike deal with Democrats to raise some taxes in exchange for spending controls to rein in the deficit. [...]

As an 18 year old, he volunteered for hazardous duty as a carrier-based naval aviator in World War II. As commander in chief, nearly half a century later, he, with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and building on the work of presidents of both parties down the decades, ended the deadliest standoff in human history, the Cold War. Before he got to the White House, a nuclear Armageddon between America and the Soviet Union was always a possibility; after him, it was unthinkable.

On the home front, his 1990 budget agreement codified controls on spending and created the conditions for the elimination of the federal budget deficit under his successor, Bill Clinton. He negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and passed historic clean-air legislation. It's virtually impossible to imagine a Republican president doing so much today.

It's an inescapable fact of history, though, that as Bush struggled to govern like Ike, the world around him was beginning to resemble a Joe McCarthy rally. In the Bush years conservative Republicans girded for total war, talk radio was on the rise, cable news shows were busy turning politics into a kind of professional wrestling for wonks, and populists such as Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan -- forerunners, in their way, of Donald J. Trump -- were waiting for their chance to pounce. (Mr. Bush did think an overture from Lee Atwater, his campaign manager, to consider Mr. Trump for the 1988 vice-presidential nomination the most puzzling of notions. "Strange," Mr. Bush told his diary. "Unbelievable.")

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


Baseball 'held a special place' in Bush's life (Richard Justice, 10/29/17,

Once when George and Barbara Bush were taking in a game in what became their regular seats behind home plate at Minute Maid Park, Drayton McLane, who owned the Astros at the time, threw out a question.

"George," he asked, "what was your favorite day at the White House?"

Bush smiled and said he wasn't sure there'd been a single one. However, a couple days later, McLane received a package.

Inside was a large framed photograph of Bush standing between Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams in the Rose Garden. The photo was autographed by all three men, and Bush had attached a note:


You asked about my favorite day at the White House. This was it.

-- George

McLane cherishes that photograph because he believes it -- and the story behind it -- speak volumes about the 41st president of the United States.

"Here's what's amazing about that," McLane said. "President Bush said he was so nervous the day those two guys visited the White House."  [...]

Bush became a favorite son of Texas A&M and made frequent appearances at Aggie games. And some at the school believe Bush played a significant role in the women's basketball team winning the 2011 National Championship.

"Here's the story," former A&M athletics director Bill Byrne said. "President Bush and Barbara would sometimes sit in a small suite I had at our home football games.

"It was not long after we'd hired Gary Blair to be our women's basketball coach, and Gary was obsessed with recruiting a player named La Toya Micheaux from the Houston area.

"Gary was trying to get her away from LSU and asked if he could bring her by my booth before a game."

La Toya is the daughter of a legendary University of Houston men's player, Larry Micheaux, a member of the Phi Slamma Jamma era of UH basketball.

"So here we are, a couple of hours before a game, and Gary nonchalantly sticks his head in the door and sees the Bushes," Byrne remembered.

George and Barbara say hello, and in walks Larry Micheaux behind Gary.

"Larry Micheaux! Phi Slamma Jamma!" Bush shouts. "What a team you guys had."

And then La Toya appears behind her father.

"And you must be Larry's daughter," Bush says. "Barbara and I have been talking about how much we're looking forward to watching you play for the Aggies."

All these years later, Bryne still laughs at the story.

"That was the end of La Toya's recruiting," he said. "There was no chance she was going to go any place else. And she opened doors for us into the Houston area we hadn't been able to open. And from her coming to Texas A&M in 2005 had to have played a role in us winning the National Championship in 2011.

"That championship raised the profile of the school in so many ways, and it's not a stretch to trace it back to George and Barbara Bush making Larry and La Toya feel special."

Byrne has another point to make.

"When the president and Barbara came to a football game, they insisted on arriving early and leaving early," Byrne said. "Because they have Secret Service protection, they didn't want to disrupt traffic.

"There were times when the game was tight in the fourth quarter, and we'd ask them to stay. No, they didn't want to disrupt anyone else from getting home." [...]

When the Washington Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI in 1992, Bush wanted to do more than honor the hometown team with the traditional Rose Garden ceremony.

So he invited the Redskins to come later in the day and to bring their families and stay over for a cookout and round of horseshoes. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and his players and staff stayed late into the night playing a very loud, very competitive round of horseshoes.

"The horseshoe tournament came down to two Redskins against President Bush and his partner, a Secret Service agent," former Redskins and Texans general manager Charley Casserly said.

On the next-to-last throw of the night, one of the Redskins players -- possibly linebacker Monte Coleman -- made a leaner, which appeared to have won the tournament.

Bush had the final throw of the night.

"We're thinking, `Wow, there's some pressure on the president," Casserly said. "Then it hits us what we've just said. Pressure? Are you kidding me? This guy knows what real pressure is."


"President Bush threw a ringer to win the tournament," Casserly said. "No one believes the story, but I was there. It happened."

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


George H.W. Bush, 1924 - 2018: What it was like to work for the man.   (ANDREW FERGUSON, 12/01/18, Weekly Standard)

Late one afternoon I got a call from a higher-up in the White House (I had lots of higher-ups).

"What do you know about the battle of Guadalcanal?" he asked.


"I figured," he said. He told me a gathering of Marines who fought at Guadalcanal was to be held the next morning at the Iwo Jima memorial, across the river in Arlington, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the battle. Campaign strategists had appropriated the ceremony as a fitting occasion to reacquaint Americans with the fact that their president was a war hero. And I was to write his remarks.

One of the White House's tireless, endlessly resourceful researchers came to my rescue and deep into the night we learned everything we could about the battle of Guadalcanal. The first thing we learned was that it wasn't a battle--more like a campaign, six months long, to dislodge an entrenched army from an island the Japanese saw, correctly, as the key to their defense of the Pacific. No sooner had the Marines landed than the American fleet was hammered by the Japanese from the sea and air, forcing a hasty retreat and leaving the Marines with only sporadic resupply as they engaged the enemy. Our attacks involved not only air assaults but episodes of savage hand-to-hand combat in the steaming jungles and along the jagged hillsides. As the months wore on, as their fellow soldiers watched from around the world, the scope of the fighting grew to legendary proportions. The researcher unearthed a bit of doggerel that had circulated among troops in the Pacific and even Europe: "Say a prayer for your pal on Guadalcanal."

My higher-up had told me the speech had two requirements. The first was political. The campaign strategists insisted it contain a reference to the heroes of the Gulf War--the year before Bush had commanded the war with great subtlety and courage, but voters seemed to have forgotten it and they needed reminding. The second condition came from the president: no sentimental stuff. Not gonna make me cry! I didn't know whether "say a prayer" would make the cut.

The president arrived in Arlington the next morning. Under a brilliant sun hundreds of Marine veterans were spread across the hillside that slopes gently away from the statue of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. They gave Bush a splendid ovation. For forty years, much longer than my (then) lifetime, the president of the United States had been a veteran of World War 2. No matter what happened in November, Bush would be the last of them, and the thought lent a special poignancy to the event. [...]

Bush had revised the remarks that morning and worked on them some more on the drive from the White House. The aide who rode with him in the limousine told me the president liked the speech, including the old bit of doggerel. "It doesn't get too emotional," the aide said.

Bush delivered it with a few of his usual improvisations--shout outs to a clergy member, hat tips to other honored guests. He praised the courage of the men who hadn't made it off the island fifty years earlier and, by implication, the courage of the men who sat before him now, who had survived, only to continue the bloody hopscotch from island to island for three more years

"There was a rhyme passed around during those dark months that I'm sure many of the marines here remember . . . Every Marine who wasn't fighting on the island knew the lines. 'Say a prayer for your pal on Guadalcanal.'"

At the words many of the men roared approval; others rose and applauded, obviously pleased. I stood off to the side behind a rope line, feeling an intruder.

They are nearly all of them gone now, of course. And Bush joins them. No one could ask for a greater honor than serving such a man, and by extension serving them too.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM



Here are the four key developments we learned about this week:

Mueller has identified collusion. In the draft plea agreement provided to Jerome Corsi, Mueller details how Roger Stone, who Mueller notes was in frequent contact with Donald Trump and senior campaign officials, directed Corsi to connect with WikiLeaks about the trove of stolen materials it received from Russia. Corsi subsequently communicated back to Stone WikiLeaks' release plan. Laid bare, this means that a Trump associate engaged with a Russian-affiliated organization to learn about its plans to disseminate information the Trump campaign knew had been stolen by a foreign adversary, all for the purpose of benefitting Trump. That is collusion.

Key takeaway: Mueller has evidence that the Trump team in fact colluded with Russia. They coordinated with WikiLeaks, which they knew was a Russian front, about the release of the emails, which they knew had been stolen by Russia.

Trump is compromised by a hostile foreign power. Michael Cohen's plea revealed that Trump repeatedly lied during the campaign about Russia's financial leverage over him. While Trump falsely claimed to have no business ties to Russia during the campaign, the Trump Organization was having discussions with high-ranking Kremlin officials to build a lucrative Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump's team even tried to bribe Russian President Vladimir Putin by offering him a $50 million penthouse. Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, then lied to Congress about the discussions to hide them from investigators.

Key takeaway: Trump knowingly and repeatedly lied to the American people about a business deal he was negotiating with the Kremlin during the campaign. Worse, Trump gave the Russians leverage over him because they knew he was lying and helped him do so. We now have direct evidence that the president of the United States is compromised by a hostile foreign power. People have wondered why the American president has kowtowed to Putin rather than standing up for America's interests. Now we know.

Trump is engaged in a vast cover-up. The events of this week further demonstrate that Trump is engaged in a vast effort to cover up his actions during the campaign and is working aggressively to obstruct and undermine the investigation. We now know that:

Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress to protect Trump.

Trump illegally put in charge of the Justice Department a political crony who had previously outlined a strategy to shut down the investigation.

Trump's legal team sought to use Paul Manafort's cooperation with the Mueller investigation to gain information on the direction of the investigation.

Trump's legal team has established joint-defense agreements with 32 individuals, indicating the breadth of their concern. Trump has encouraged others to lie and deceive investigators, dangling pardons to those who obstruct the investigation.

Key takeaway: Trump is acting guilty. You don't work this hard to obstruct an investigation and engineer a vast cover-up if you're innocent. Trump is trying to hide even more damning evidence that he and his campaign conspired with the Russian attack on our democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Does 'Chilling Adventures of Sabrina' Make Satanists Look Bad? (Wired, 12/01/18)

THE NEW NETFLIX series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a dark comedy about a teenage witch who engages in devil worship and human sacrifice. Screenwriter Rafael Jordan enjoyed the show, but notes that not everyone was so fond of it.

"People that actually identify as pagans or wiccans or Satanists did not appreciate it," Jordan says in Episode 337 of the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast. "They basically thought it cast them in a pretty bad light, and perpetuated misconceptions about Satanism."

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime (JULIE K. BROWN, NOV. 28, 2018, Miami Herald)

A decade before #MeToo, a multimillionaire sex offender from Florida got the ultimate break.

On a muggy October morning in 2007, Miami's top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta, had a breakfast appointment with a former colleague, Washington, D.C., attorney Jay Lefkowitz. 
It was an unusual meeting for the then-38-year-old prosecutor, a rising Republican star who had served in several White House posts before being named U.S. attorney in Miami by President George W. Bush.

Instead of meeting at the prosecutor's Miami headquarters, the two men -- both with professional roots in the prestigious Washington law firm of Kirkland & Ellis -- convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away. For Lefkowitz, 44, a U.S. special envoy to North Korea and corporate lawyer, the meeting was critical.

His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls -- with the help of young female recruiters -- to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found.

The eccentric hedge fund manager, whose friends included former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, was also suspected of trafficking minor girls, often from overseas, for sex parties at his other homes in Manhattan, New Mexico and the Caribbean, FBI and court records show.

Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.

But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck -- an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein's crimes and the number of people involved.

Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal -- called a non-prosecution agreement -- essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein's sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.

The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to "any potential co-conspirators'' who were also involved in Epstein's crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein's various homes or on his plane.

As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls -- or anyone else -- might show up in court and try to derail it.
This is the story of how Epstein, bolstered by unlimited funds and represented by a powerhouse legal team, was able to manipulate the criminal justice system, and how his accusers, still traumatized by their pasts, believe they were betrayed by the very prosecutors who pledged to protect them.

"I don't think anyone has been told the truth about what Jeffrey Epstein did,'' said one of Epstein's victims, Michelle Licata, now 30. "He ruined my life and a lot of girls' lives. People need to know what he did and why he wasn't prosecuted so it never happens again."

Now President Trump's secretary of labor, Acosta, 49, oversees a massive federal agency that provides oversight of the country's labor laws, including human trafficking. He also has been on a list of possible replacements for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who resigned under pressure earlier this month.

...but is it just the dirt he has on Donald that's letting him keep his Cabinet post?

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Lopez Obrador Spells Trouble for Mexico: His personalistic presidency threatens years of hard-won institutional gains. (Shannon K O'Neil, November 30, 2018, Bloomberg)

Over the last three decades Mexico has changed. What was once a closed commodity-driven economy is now open, globally competitive and dominated by manufacturing. A nation once known for its few haves and many have-nots has seen extreme poverty fall to 2.5 percent, infant mortality cut to a third, average lifespans rise by a decade, and the number of years children stay in school grow by half. Politically, decades of one-party rule ended in competitive if at times messy democracy.

This slow-moving transformation also embodies a bigger achievement: a shift away from informal, personalistic, and centralized power through the strengthening of institutions. Pushed by opposition politicians, civil society organizations, investigative journalists, entrepreneurs and the decisions of millions of business owners, workers, and voters, Mexico has become a place with a diverse and increasingly independent private sector, with greater transparency and access to information and incipient but growing political checks and balances.

Mexico's transformation hasn't been all good, and the good parts have been uneven. Crime, violence, and corruption (or at least public awareness of it) have surged, affecting everyday life for too many. Economic growth, access to healthcare, quality education, and jobs with benefits diverge dramatically between the north and the south: In Nuevo Leon, home to Mexico's industrial center, fewer than 2 in 10 citizens live in poverty, similar to their nearby Texan counterparts; in the South, nearly 8 in 10 face this daily economic hardship.

And the transformation remains incomplete. NAFTA helped open up Mexico to international markets, but it did little to take on the monopolies and oligopolies that drove up prices at home and made it hard for the less-connected to get ahead.  Recent structural reforms are beginning to chip away at these barriers: Financial reform has increased access to credit, telecom reform has lowered prices, energy reform has brought new finds and more stable supplies, anti-trust crusaders have taken on unfair business practices, and education reform is just beginning to better prepare Mexico's youth for 21st century jobs.

Political institutions also have a ways to go. Power still matters too much. And rule of law in particular remains weak.

Yet the Fourth Transformation doesn't look to build on this base, making the benefits, such as they are, more inclusive and widespread. Instead, it looks to roll back the institutional gains so important to Mexico's transformation, as Lopez Obrador -- a leader obsessed with his place in history -- pushes a return to the more personalistic approach of the past.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


1991 Gulf War looms large over Bush's Mideast legacy: The events of Washington's first armed conflict with Saddam Hussein have helped shape the region's last three decades (HUSSAIN AL-QATARI and JON GAMBRELL, 12/01/18, AP)

On the outskirts of Kuwait City, the love Kuwaitis have for former US President George H.W. Bush could be seen in 2016 on a billboard one Bedouin family put up to announce their son's wedding.

That son being Bush al-Widhan, born in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War that saw US-led forces expel the occupying Iraqi troops of dictator Saddam Hussein.

"He was a real man, a lion," said Mubarak al-Widhan, the father of the Kuwaiti Bush, of the American president. "He stood for our right for freedom, and he gave us back our country."

With Bush's death Friday, his legacy across the Middle East takes root in that 100-hour ground war that routed Iraqi forces. That war gave birth to the network of military bases America now operates across the Persian Gulf supporting troops in Afghanistan and forces fighting against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

However, Bush ultimately would leave the Shiite and Kurdish insurgents he urged to rise up against Saddam in 1991 to face the dictator's wrath alone, leading to thousands of deaths.

America nearly always goes to war to vindicate the principals of the Founding:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

And we generally achieve the core goal of the war quite easily.

Unfortunately, we then seek to abandon the unwanted duty rather too quickly, often sowing the seeds for the next war or making the gains transitory.

Thus, we defeated the Confederacy, but allowed the South to segregate; won WWI for the Allies, but then failed to strip them of their colonies; crushed the Nazis and Japs, but left the Soviet Union in place; stopped North Korean aggression but left the regime in place; Vietnamized the war successfully, but then withdrew our support; drove Saddam out of Kuwait but failed to establish Kurd, Shi'a and democratic Sunni governance in a former Iraq; removed Saddam from power, but refused to allow the sorts of reprisals that de-Baathification required; and while we have routed ISIS without losing an American life, we continue to dodge our obligation to remove Assad.

Once is a mistake, two hundred years is just our reality.  We can be rallied to war when our sensibilities are offended (the Crusader State of Walter McDougall's formulation), but we don't have much stomach for being the aggressor.  And, because of the democratic nature of the state and the armed forces, the demand to bring the boys home always prevails (back to our Promised Land).

As a result, the End of History comes to everyone, just much more slowly than it might have with more steadfast help and with tragic results in the meantime.

(N.B. Arguably, the manner in which GHWB oversaw the end of the Cold War without bloodshed was a great achievement, though, even if true, that must be balanced against failing to push to topple the PRC during Tiananmen Square.)

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Bush, a president who grappled with Jewish leaders, engineered rescue of Jews (RON KAMPEAS, 12/01/18, Times of Israel)

In 1991, Bush lashed out at pro-Israel activists who had flooded Congress in response to the president's reluctance to approve loan guarantees requested by Israel to help absorb hundreds of thousands of Jews from the just-collapsed Soviet Union.

Bush called himself "one lonely guy" battling "a thousand lobbyists on the Hill." Jewish leaders saw the insinuation that the pro-Israel community was possessed of a power sinister enough to unsettle the leader of the free world as borderline anti-Semitic. The "one lonely guy" comment haunted Bush thereafter, with even Republican Jews apt to use the first Bush presidency as a signifier of how far they had traveled in attracting Jewish support.

Yet, that was hardly the whole story. Less remembered was how, as Ronald Reagan's vice president, Bush quietly helped engineer some of the pivotal moments in the effort to bring Jews out of the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and Syria.

"When you add up the Jews he saved, he will be a great tzaddik," Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League's former national director, said in 2013, using the Hebrew word for "righteous man."

Bush was deeply involved in foreign policy as vice president, and Jewish leaders said he helped orchestrate the dramatic seder hosted by Secretary of State George Schultz at the American embassy in Moscow in 1987.

He also ignored advice from much of his national security team in 1991 - the very period that he was in the throes of his most difficult arguments with Jewish leaders - and approved American overtures to the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia that resulted in Operation Solomon, which brought 15,000 Jews to Israel. Among other things, Bush secured a "golden parachute" for Mengistu Haile Mariam, the dictator who was already plotting his escape to luxurious exile in Zimbabwe.

Bush was also instrumental in persuading Hafez Assad, the Syrian dictator, to allow young Jewish women to leave Syria for New York so they could be matched with men in the Syrian Jewish community.

While some of these actions were secret at the time, Bush was averse to claiming responsibility even in subsequent years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Trump aides caught in web of deception over Russia contacts (ERIC TUCKER, 12/01/18, AP)

One lied about his knowledge of Russian-hacked emails, another about a Russian real estate deal, a third about dialogue over sanctions with a Russian ambassador.

A pattern of deception by advisers to President Donald Trump, aimed at covering up Russia-related contacts during the 2016 campaign and transition period, has unraveled bit by bit in criminal cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The lies to the FBI and to Congress, including by Trump's former fixer and his national security adviser, have raised new questions about Trump's connections to Russia, revealed key details about the special counsel's findings and painted a portrait of aides eager to protect the president and the administration by concealing communications they presumably recognized as problematic.

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The false statements cut to the heart of Mueller's mission to untangle ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and to establish whether they colluded to sway the election.