January 31, 2019

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Who is this guy? (Wright Thompson, ESPN)

You don't notice Ernie Adams at first, but he's always there in his own peculiar way. Walking the halls in the Patriots' complex, lost in his own thoughts, he will often ignore co-workers. In meetings, he has been known to fall asleep. After practice, he is almost always the first person Bill Belichick consults. On game day, he's in the press box with a headset on, running numbers, computing percentages and, some around the league insinuate, overseeing more insidious operations.

When Belichick is taking those lonely walks up and down the sideline, his head bowed as if in prayer, you can bet it's Ernie Adams yapping away in Belichick's ear. Some call him the smartest man they've ever met. A longtime NFL watcher compares him to "Q," James Bond's master of espionage and gadgetry. Author David Halberstam called him "Belichick's Belichick." No other team has anyone like him on its payroll. And yet, save for football insiders, he is virtually unknown. In an era of media oversaturation, there is exactly one more picture of Bigfoot on The Associated Press photo wire (two) than there is of Adams (one). And it's of the back of his head.

So here, in the ballroom of the Phoenix Convention Center, just six days before New England will attempt to complete a perfect season that Adams played a significant role in creating, I want to know what the almost-perfect Patriots think about their secret weapon: a guy with thick glasses and the sartorial sensibility of Mister Rogers; a guy who lived with his mother until she died three years ago. Who, exactly, is Ernie Adams?

"I don't know what his job title is," linebacker Adalius Thomas says. "I didn't even know his last name was Adams."

"Ernie is a bit of a mystery to all of us," offensive tackle Matt Light says. "I'm not sure what Ernie does, but I'm sure whatever it is, he's good at it."

Finally, I approach receiver Wes Welker. "I'm writing a story about Ernie Adams," I tell him.

"Who?" he says.

"The guy who's always with Belichick who doesn't ever really talk."

"Oh," he says, recognition washing over his face. "Ernie."

He thinks for a second. "He's got to be a genius," he says, "because he looks like one."


This is why God created best friends. Inside a cavernous church, Ernie Adams sat through his mother's funeral, the saddest day of a man's life, and by his side, where he'd been for years, was Bill Belichick. Sept. 25, 2004 was a beautiful New England day, a Saturday morning during the Patriots' bye week. In the tree-lined suburb of Brookline, Mass., a small crowd had gathered in the Gothic Revival Episcopal Church on the corner of St. Paul Street and Aspinwall Avenue. The stone bell tower rose cold and medieval against the fall blue sky.

The mourners had come to say goodbye to Helen Adams, a woman who loved education and adored her son even more. Ernie and Helen lived together, like something out of a Victorian novel, one friend said, with much doting and an occasional trip to the old continent. At the end, Ernie took care of his mother. In the crowd were friends from childhood, high school and college. One of them was the headmaster of Dexter School, where Ernie went to elementary and junior high. "I was struck by the loyalty of Belichick to Ernie," Bill Phinney says.

That bond is the cornerstone of the Patriots' dynasty. In many ways, the traits we associate with Belichick and the Patriots are traits commonly ascribed to Adams. The humble pie? Classic Ernie, frequently described as having no ego. The rumpled hoodie? Again, classmates remember, classic Ernie. Together, Adams and Belichick have created the transcendently successful franchise they dreamed of creating back in high school.

"It's really the story of a friendship," says Michael Carlisle, a successful literary agent who was Adams' high school roommate at Andover.

Adams and Belichick met in 1970. Adams had been at Phillips Academy in Andover, an elite New England boarding school, for three years. In that time, he'd become a campus legend, famous for his quirky attire and habits. He wore high-top cleats and old-fashioned clothes, looked and talked like something from the 1940s. His three obsessions were Latin, naval history and, strangely, football.

...that if it were April you'd assume he was another Sidd Finch.

[originally posted: 1/31/08]

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM




The survey of 2,000 people, conducted by OnePoll, found that 24 percent think sleeping separately can actually improve a relationship -- even though those who slept in the same bed were twice as likely as their non-bed-sharing counterparts to rank their relationship happiness a 10 out of 10.

This isn't just an American phenomenon: In the U.K., 15 percent of Brits surveyed said they prefer to sleep in a different bed than their romantic partner, according to a 2018 YouGov survey of nearly 2,100 British adults. Britain's Sleep Council report found that the percentage of couples who sleep separately at least some of the time increased by 9 percent between 2013 and 2017, while the proportion of couples who always sleep alone rose from 8-12 percent.

"If you've slept in your own bed your entire life, sleeping with somebody else in the same bed is a huge deviation from what you are accustomed to," says Bill Fish, a sleep science coach who co-founded the Tuck Sleep Foundation. Habit formation becomes especially relevant as people marry later. Hughes is one example: She and Heath were 38 and 32 when they married, and she says they'd developed independent routines over decades.

Sleep disturbances, personal preferences and simple logistics play a role. For one, snoring: It's estimated that partners lose up to an hour of sleep every night because of a significant other's snoring. Other seemingly minor disturbances add up, particularly when partners operate on opposite timetables. Colleen Noon and her husband began sleeping solo initially because he was getting up several times a night to care for their infant son, and waking her in the process.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Democratic super PAC prepares opposition research on Howard Schultz (Alexi McCammond, 1/31/19, Axios)

Priorities USA, a progressive group and the largest Democratic super PAC, is sending FOIA requests to nearly 70 different national and state agencies that either Howard Schultz or his corporate entities may have interacted with at any point between August 1987 and June 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Run, Howard, run (Matt Bai, January 31, 2019, Yahoo News)

I was a little taken aback this week by the level of outrage and vitriol spewed at Howard Schultz, the 65-year-old billionaire who built Starbucks into a global brand, after he said he was considering a self-funded, independent campaign for president. The way the left reacted, you'd have thought he was getting rid of almond-milk lattes.

"There is zero appetite for this, and there is an urgent need for the Democratic candidate to win in 2020," said Brian Schatz, the professional tweeter who is also a senator from Hawaii, echoing the common sentiment that Schultz would only serve to split the Democratic vote and reelect Trump.

"Vanity projects that help destroy democracy are disgusting," tweeted Neera Tanden, a key adviser to the last Democratic nominee, who believed that no one else should be able to run for the Democratic nomination but her and then delivered the country into the hands of a covert Russian agent.

Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser in the Obama administration, accused Schultz of creating headlines so he could sell his new book, because I guess what Schultz needs is more money. (At Schultz's first book event in Manhattan, a heckler screamed: "Don't help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire a**hole!")

Liberal media got into the act, too, arguing that Schultz was looking to a bygone time when Americans were tired of partisan politics and still thought government could solve problems in a peaceable way, whereas we know they're now totally radicalized and happy as hell to scream at each other on Twitter all day long. (Or maybe we journalists are confusing American voters with ourselves.)

I guess the lesson here is that liberals are all about breaking up big monopolies and rigged systems, unless it happens to be the two-party chokehold on Washington.

...wait'll the Right realizes he's a threat to Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


Jerome Corsi and Larry Klayman Threaten to Sue Gateway Pundit (Jared Holt | January 31, 2019, Right Wing Watch)

Jerome Corsi and one of his lawyers are waging threats to sue against The Gateway Pundit, an outlet that has been overwhelmingly supportive of Corsi before he began singing to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators in the Justice Department probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Corsi admits that he corroborated evidence that the Mueller team had involving the interactions he had with Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, who was arraigned on Tuesday, with regard to the WikiLeaks dumps of emails hacked from the Clinton campaign by Russian intelligence operatives.

Larry Klayman, the estranged founder of Judicial Watch who is representing Corsi as he processes through Mueller's probe, appeared on NewsmaxTV yesterday with host John Cardillo to spar with Gateway Pundit contributor Cassandra Fairbanks, who had taken to Twitter the day before to call Corsi "a deranged old man," and to criticize Mueller for taking information from him. Corsi is also represented by New Jersey attorney David Gray.


Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 1:40 PM

Happy 100th Jackie!

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


Trump is on a major losing streak (Joel Mathis, January 31, 2019, The Week)

Consider these developments in recent days:

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, on Wednesday called on Trump to lift tariffs on Canada and Mexico before Congress begins debating the NAFTA-replacement treaty the administration recently negotiated, citing the toll the trade war with those countries is taking on American farmers.

"We'll be working all hands on deck to get the job done," Grassley said. "But we need the administration to help us pave the way."

On a related front, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on Wednesday announced bipartisan legislation that would let Congress reclaim its tariff authorities from the president. Other senators who have signed on to cosponsor the bill include farm state Republicans such as Ben Sasse (Neb.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), James Lankford (Okla.), and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).

"The imposition of these taxes, under the false pretense of national security, is weakening our economy, threatening American jobs, and eroding our credibility with other nations," Toomey said in a press release announcing the bill.

Meanwhile, Politico reported Wednesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is signaling that he won't allow another government shutdown, despite the president's wish to have the option if Congress doesn't approve money for his proposed border wall during negotiations over the next few weeks. McConnell is even entertaining bills that would end shutdowns forever, according to the report.

The dissent even extends to foreign policy, where McConnell on Tuesday "effectively rebuked the president" by introducing a measure criticizing the "precipitous" withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Syria. "We are not the world's policeman," the senator said. "But we are the leader of the free world. And it is incumbent upon the United States to lead."

What's going on here?

The president is starting to look like a loser.

He was born a loser. Nevermind the repeated bankruptcies and divorces, the guy managed to lose to Hillary by over 3 million votes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


Are Russia, Iran engaged in tug of war over Syria? (Anton Mardasov, January 30, 2019, Al Monitor)

The controversy between Moscow and Tehran has always been a part of the Syrian conflict. However, the debates between the two have started to become more political in nature, influencing the future of Syria's armed forces and other military entities. [...]

Sources in the Russian military industry who spoke with Al-Monitor conceded that since Russian specialists had started helping Damascus build up the efficiency of its air defense and are preparing to transfer the management of S-300 systems to Syrians, further Syrian or Russian reactions to Israeli activities could become a serious issue. For Moscow, this problem may become highly complex, if not intractable, even considering Russia's obvious interest in constraining Iran's ambitions through Israel's actions.

Officially, Russia emphasizes that it distances itself from the regional conflict and exclusively protects its own facilities. Furthermore, it views its support of Syrian air defense forces as a measure to re-establish the country's sovereignty. In this regard, setting up the S-300 and integrating Syrian air defense into a semblance of a unified structure will allow it to keep its distance. At the same time, Moscow bears responsibility for the actions of its "client."

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM



We have just marked the second anniversary of President Trump's original travel ban, which resulted in significant negative consequences for immigrants and raised difficult legal questions ultimately heard by the Supreme Court. One impact unknown to many is that the ban magnified America's rural health care crisis, because it has blocked medical professionals from affected countries from coming to the United States.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that in the years spanning 2016-2030, the number of Americans age 65 and older will have increased from 49.2 million to 73 million. By that time, there will be a shortage of 42,600-121,300 doctors across the country, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The United States simply has too few doctors available to treat its rapidly aging population. Instead of restricting access to physicians, our leaders should seek to recruit and retain foreign doctors. But the travel ban did the opposite.

For instance, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen -- six of the seven countries originally banned -- account for more than 7,000 physicians practicing in the United States. In fact, Iran and Syria are two of the top ten nations that supply the United States with physicians.

Only the Right could find a way to make hygiene unhealthy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Wisconsin Is Finally Facing the Reality of Foxconn's Plans (Tim Culpan, January 30, 2019, Bloomberg)

So Foxconn Technology Group may not make display panels in Wisconsin after all.

Those who've been following Foxconn for a long time won't be surprised. Chairman and founder Terry Gou is as much a salesman as he is a manufacturer, having spent decades honing his pitch not just to clients but also governments. 

Then-Governor Scott Walker, backed by President Donald Trump, loved exactly what he sold: the promise of thousands of jobs to make stuff in the U.S. Walker loved it so much that he pledged as much as $3 billion in sweeteners, a deal that likely cost him his governorship.

Now, according to a Reuters interview with one of Gou's right-hand men, such plans to manufacture display panels may be scaled back or even shelved.

"In Wisconsin we're not building a factory. You can't use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment," Louis Woo was cited as saying. Woo was one of the key architects and negotiators behind Foxconn's deal with the state. 

Foxconn's Wisconsin-made screens likely would have been put into televisions. Woo this week admitted that "in terms of TV, we have no place in the U.S. ... We can't compete."

If Foxconn can't be competitive making electronics in the U.S., nobody can.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Europe Protects Itself From Trump's Caprice: The 'special purpose vehicle' for Iran is a strike for greater economic sovereignty. (Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, January 31, 2019, Bloomberg)

It's been a surprisingly short time in coming. It was only last September that Federica Mogherini, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs, announced that the European parties to the Iranian nuclear deal--formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action--would establish an a special purpose vehicle to "assist and reassure economic operators pursuing legitimate business with Iran," giving them a route around secondary sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

Just four months later, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are ready to launch the much-anticipated SPV, a first-of-its-kind state-owned trade intermediary. It will initially facilitate what French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has described as trade in "essential goods"--mostly European exports of food and medicine to Iran. These, although not technically sanctioned by the U.S., have been restricted by the reluctance of European banks to facilitate payments for fear of American retribution. [...]

The surprising speed with which the SPV was established reflects a sense of urgency in Europe for an assertion of greater economic independence from the U.S. The French treasury played a leading role in devising the SPV, working closely with the French, German, and British foreign ministries and in consultation with the European Commission. Shortly after Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal last May, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire spoke of a "realization among all European states that we cannot keep going in the direction we are headed today whereby we submit to American decisions."

The Shi'a are democratic allies; Donald is not.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


SC's Tim Scott still opposes Thomas Farr, has sharp words for conservative critics (EMMA DUMAIN, 1/30/19, The State)

Scott, R-S.C., is doubling down in his opposition to Farr over concerns about the Raleigh, N.C., lawyer's history on race relations. [...]

"For some reason the authors of this letter choose to ignore ... facts, and instead implicate that I have been co-opted by the left and am incapable of my own decision making," Scott said in a statement to McClatchy, adding he votes for Republican judicial nominees "99 percent of the time."

"Why they have chosen to expend so much energy on this particular nomination I do not know, but what I do know is they have not spent anywhere near as much time on true racial reconciliation efforts, decrying comments by those like (Republican U.S. Rep.) Steve King, or working to move our party together towards a stronger, more unified future," Scott continued, referring to the Iowa congressman who recently suggested he was sympathetic to white supremacists in a New York Times interview.

Last last year, Scott was the deciding vote in sinking Farr's chances of being confirmed. The Charleston Republican said he was unable to ignore concerns that Farr may have been involved in a racially motivated voter-suppression strategy during the 1990 reelection campaign of the late-U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. Farr held a senior staff position with the campaign.

In his statement Wednesday, Scott said, contrary to the suggestion in Tuesday's letter that he never had met with Farr or done the necessary research into his background, "I have met with him multiple times over the past 18 months, both in person and via phone."

Ultimately, Scott said, a Justice Department memo from the George H. W. Bush administration "raise(d) serious questions about the level of involvement Mr. Farr had in the Helms campaign."

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


Trump singled out Dan Coats in morning rant about intelligence community (Kaitlan Collins and Caroline Kelly, January 30, 2019, CNN)

President Donald Trump seethed Wednesday morning as he watched the highlights of his intelligence chiefs testifying on Capitol Hill and singled out Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats by name during his morning rant, two people with knowledge of the outburst tell CNN.

The President didn't see Coats' full testimony in front of lawmakers that took place on Tuesday, but he was furious Wednesday as he watched television chyrons blare that the officials had contradicted him. The snippets of Coats saying that North Korea had "halted its provocative behavior related to its WMD program" but was unlikely to "completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities" angered him, CNN has learned.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Rand Paul awarded more than $580K after neighbor's attack (BRUCE SCHREINER, 1/30/19,  ASSOCIATED PRESS)

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was awarded more than $580,000 in damages and medical expenses on Wednesday in his lawsuit against the neighbor who tackled him and broke several of his ribs in a dispute over lawn maintenance.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Mueller says Russians are using his discovery materials in disinformation effort (Tom Winter, 1/30/19, NBC News)

Russians are using materials obtained from special counsel Robert Mueller's office in a disinformation campaign apparently aimed at discrediting the investigation into Moscow's election interference, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

One or more people associated with the special counsel's case against Russian hackers made statements last October claiming to have stolen discovery materials that were originally provided by Mueller to Concord Management, Mueller's team said in court documents filed on Wednesday in the Russian troll farm case.

That discovery -- evidence and documents traded between both sides of a lawsuit -- appears to have been altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign apparently aimed at discrediting the ongoing investigations in Russian interference in the U.S. political system, according to the documents.

Devin Nunes was running the same op.

Remember Mueller's Russia Indictments? They Matter Now More Than Ever. (KIM WEHLE  JANUARY 30, 2019, The Bulwark)

In February and July of 2018, Mueller indicted numerous Russian entities and individuals--together with "others known and unknown to the grand jury"--on various charges of conspiring to commit crimes against the United States of America.

In theory, those indictments could be buttressed at any time, evidence willing, by adding American co-conspirators. Yes, American co-conspirators--possibly including those who have already been pinged for serious wrongdoing (pejoratively deemed by some as "process" crimes), such as lying to Congress or the grand jury.

Of course, if President Trump were involved in these conspiracies, it's not a far jump to "high crimes and misdemeanors" warranting impeachment.

Hopefully by now, most people understand that "collusion" is not a crime--it's an umbrella term for a host of potential crimes associated with Russia's attack on our electoral process. But conspiracy is a crime. Conspiracy is an offense that occurs if, first, two or more persons agree to commit a crime and, second, they take a step toward that goal. So, if two guys hatch a plan to rob a convenience store over beers, and then buy a ski mask and water pistol at the mall, they can be charged with a criminal conspiracy. Even if they never actually cross the convenience store's threshold.

Under federal law, if two or more people agree to commit a crime against the United States, and take an action in that direction, they can be sent to jail. An agreement to get around the FEC's reporting requirements, for example, and a subsequent attempt to make a campaign contribution look like something else, would violate 18 U.S.C. § 371. A defendant can be guilty of conspiring to defraud the United States by engaging in other dishonest conduct in connection with a federal agency or program, too.  

As the Department of Justice explains on its website, the goal of federal conspiracy laws is "to protect the integrity of the United States."

In the two conspiracy indictments pending in the Russia probe, the grand jury charged the defendants with attempting to sow discord within the American electorate--and to help Trump win the presidency--by interfering with the lawful functions of the U.S. government. The conspirators allegedly took a number of steps to achieve these goals, such as creating social media accounts of fictitious U.S. persons; holding fake rallies to shape public opinion; planting derogatory public information about Trump opponents Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio; hacking the email accounts of Clinton's staff; and staging the release of stolen data in order to heighten its impact on the 2016 presidential election.

The Trump campaign was involved. That much is clear from the grand jury's charging papers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


NRA Heavyweight Wanted Access to Putin: Leaked Email (Betsy Woodruff, 01.30.19, Daily Beast)

The NRA's Russian hosts were a powerful group. Alexander Torshin, who Erickson said had tentatively offered Keene a Putin interview, was a deputy governor at Russia's powerful central bank at the time. Justice Department prosecutors later alluded to him when they charged Erickson's girlfriend, Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina, with conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent in the U.S. Butina pleaded guilty to the charge last month. Her organization, called The Right to Bear Arms, had helped organize the trip Keene went on.

The NRA officials on the trip also met with Dmitry Rogozin, a Putin deputy and prominent figure in the Russian defense industry who is under U.S. sanctions. And they met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to The Washington Post.

The Erickson email, which has not been previously quoted, indicates that the NRA officials on the Moscow trip believed they were meeting with Kremlin power players who could influence the country's president. The existence of this email was first reported by The New York Times.

Erickson's email also said the trip could help ease relations between Russia and the U.S. by creating a way for the Kremlin to connect with a future Republican president.  

"As we discussed over lunch in Iowa, Russia believes that high level contacts with the NRA might be the BEST means of neutral introduction to either the next American President OR to a meaningful re-set in relations with the Congress under a (God forbid) President Clinton," he wrote. "This simple good will trip would have enormous diplomatic consequences for a future U.S. / Russia bilateral relationship to the world."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Howard Schultz's 2020 policies: Reduce the debt, cut entitlements, oppose Medicare for all and taxes on wealthy (Jeff Stein, January 30, 2019, Washington Post)

Schultz has characterized his potential presidential run as appealing to a moderate "silent majority" of voters disaffected with both political parties, whom he sees as veering to the left and the right, leaving open the center. Others say that "silent majority" does not exist.

Schultz has embraced social liberalism on a number of issues, including promoting diversity in corporate culture and LGBT rights, while also rejecting Democratic plans such as "Medicare for all" and the Republican tax law of 2017 as prohibitively expensive. On immigration, Schultz has said he opposes Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and believes in protecting the 800,000 immigrants brought to this country as children, known as Dreamers.

"We're living at a most fragile time," Schultz said Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes." "Not only the fact that this president is not qualified to be the president, but the fact that both parties are consistently not doing what's necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged, every single day, in revenge politics."

January 30, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Russia Embarrasses Trump With Leak Of Secret Talk At G-20 Meeting (Caroline Orr, January 30, 2019, Shareblue.

Russian President Vladimir Putin fired a warning shot at Trump this week, strategically dropping compromising information to remind Trump that he has saved all the receipts from their interactions -- and he's not afraid to use them.

Citing a Russian government official, the Financial Times reported Tuesday that Trump met with Putin at last year's G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, without a translator or anyone from his administration present during the exchange. [...]

Speaking to the Financial Times, a Kremlin official said the meeting lasted upwards of 15 minutes and included discussions about substantive issues including the conflict in Syria, as well as Russia's recent aggression toward Ukraine and seizure of two Ukrainian Navy vessels.

Trump and Putin also discussed potential arrangements for a formal meeting, the Kremlin official said.

Putin clearly had the upper hand during the exchange, as he was accompanied by a translator. Trump, meanwhile, was accompanied by Melania, and no one else.

"The four of them sat at a table and were among the last to leave," the Financial Times reported.

None of this was disclosed by the White House, and the timing of the leak from the Kremlin comes just as the Russian government is publicly expressing its anger with the Trump administration for its position on recent events in Venezuela.

The revelation that Trump and Putin discussed Syria policy is particularly damning. Less than three weeks after the November meeting, Trump abruptly and unexpectedly announced that he was ordering U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria -- a move that stands to greatly benefit Putin, who praised Trump's decision, which Trump's own military and intelligence advisers had warned against.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


WDIV/Detroit News poll: Trump faces uphill re-election battle in Michigan (Ken Haddad, January 29, 2019, Click on Detroit) 

Donald Trump begins his re-election campaign with only 30.6 percent of Michigan voters saying they would vote to Re-elect Donald Trump. 53.4 percent of Michigan voters said they would vote for someone new to be president. 

23.3 percent of Michigan voters would DEFINITELY vote to Re-elect Donald Trump.  48.5 percent of Michigan voters would DEFINITELY vote for someone new against Donald Trump.   
23.3 percent        Definitely Re-elect President Trump
7.3 percent        Probably Re-election President Trump
4.7 percent        Probably vote for Someone New
48.5 percent        Definitely vote for Someone New
15.0 percent         Depends who the Democratic Nominee is

Among Independent voters that have a disproportional share of deciding Michigan winners, President Trump is faced with unprecedented opposition. 24.1 percent of Independent voters would vote to re-elect President Trump. 54.8 percent of Independent voters would vote to elect someone new.  

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


The Peculiar Logic of the Trump-Russia Scandal Deniers (Jonathan Chait, 1/30/19, New York)

Six Trump campaign associates so far have been indicted for or pleaded guilty to a wide array of federal crimes. And this is before some of the best-known episodes in the Russia scandal, like the Trump Tower meeting and the president's efforts to dictate false statements about it, have faced any legal sanction. Yet even as the legal net has widened, a devoted band of defenders has promoted an energetic defense of the president that has never wavered in its conviction of his essential innocence in the Russia matter.

The Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel, the Washington Examiner's Byron York, the Federalist's Mollie Hemingway, and the National Review's Andrew McCarthy have confidently explained that every new indictment or revelation of malfeasance does not seriously indict the president or is not a revelation at all. These analysts represent the best and the brightest of the Trumpian vanguard, sitting atop an extensive food chain of talk-show hosts and rage-tweeters.

Their method for dismissing every incremental advance in the investigation is the same. First, they examine every new charge in isolation, ignoring the broader pattern of behavior in which it is contained. Then they assume the most innocent possible interpretation for each isolated fact, further assuming that no other incriminating evidence will emerge. It is not clear whether they have decided to act like lawyers for Trump, presenting the most plausible defense they can muster, or if they simply trust he would never do something like collude with Russia, and are working backward from their heartfelt presumption of innocence. Either way, they have developed a method that allows them to acknowledge every new piece of incriminating evidence without in any way altering their confidence that the investigation is going nowhere.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


History Offers the GOP a Path Away From Trump: Decades have passed since a party opponent challenged an incumbent president; it's been even longer since one succeeded. This time could be different. (DAVID PRIESS  JANUARY 30, 2019, The Bulwark)

The 10th president, if only in this one respect, was a trendsetter: John Tyler in 1844 began a six-president cascade of men who failed to appear on their party's ballot in the general election following their first term. One, Zachary Taylor, literally had no choice; like Harrison, he died in office. For the others,  national agonizing over slavery and other tensions within each of the major parties made it difficult for any president to sustain a governing coalition. Only James Polk left with a solid reputation and a ledger of successes.

The three presidents who followed Polk--the forgettable series of Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan--share three characteristics. First, historians routinely rank them among the nation's absolute worst. Second, and related to that, they took no responsibility for resolving the national moral failure of slavery. And third, no matter how they had attained office, they found themselves spurned by their own parties.

The case of Pierce in the 1850s is particularly instructive for potential Republican challengers to Trump today. On one side of the Democratic party, Senator Stephen Douglas stayed out of the administration and undercut the president's bid for renomination by quietly building support among pro-slavery Democrats in the South and West. Pierce's other rival, former secretary of state James Buchanan, served as ambassador in London and used his absence from the United States to duck any blame for the administration's disastrous legislation (notably, the Kansas-Nebraska Act) and lift his own candidacy. Ultimately, that distance from the unpopular president helped Buchanan win the floor fight at the convention--and the presidency in the general election.

The former president whom Trump most resembles, Andrew Johnson, hoped that old Democratic colleagues would reward him with their ticket's top spot in 1868 for the pain he had caused to Republicans after Abraham Lincoln's death. His optimism was misplaced. The party convention instead chose Horatio Seymour, a man who didn't even want the nomination.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Remember Mueller's Russia Indictments? They Matter Now More Than Ever. (KIM WEHLE, JANUARY 30, 2019, The Bulwark)

In the two conspiracy indictments pending in the Russia probe, the grand jury charged the defendants with attempting to sow discord within the American electorate--and to help Trump win the presidency--by interfering with the lawful functions of the U.S. government. The conspirators allegedly took a number of steps to achieve these goals, such as creating social media accounts of fictitious U.S. persons; holding fake rallies to shape public opinion; planting derogatory public information about Trump opponents Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio; hacking the email accounts of Clinton's staff; and staging the release of stolen data in order to heighten its impact on the 2016 presidential election.

The Trump campaign was involved. That much is clear from the grand jury's charging papers.

In paragraph 44, the July indictment states that:  "On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, 'thank u for writing back . . . do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs I posted?'"

"On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, please tell me if I can help u anyhow . . . it would be a great pleasure to me."

"On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] document posted online and asked the person, 'what do you think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.' The person responded, '[p]retty standard.'"

And in paragraph 43: "On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate's opponent."

That's correct. A candidate for U.S. Congress requested and received stolen documents regarding a political opponent from Guccifer 2.0--the same entity behind the illegal hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer network and subsequent email dump. Guccifer 2.0 is operated by Russia's GRU.

The most hilarious part of the Russian charges is the lawyers who show up to claim their clients don't exist.
Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


5 anti-poverty plans from 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, explained (Dylan Matthews, Jan 30, 2019, Vox)

So far, rumored and announced candidates have outlined at least five formal proposals designed to direct additional cash to low-income households. These proposals, all co-authored by senators -- Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Sherrod Brown, and Michael Bennet (Rep. Ro Khanna is a co-sponsor on one) -- attempt to do different things: Two would expand the earned income tax credit (EITC), another two offers assistance for rent, and one is a child allowance. But they all have the same overriding objective: improving the lives of low-income Americans.

The press tends to analyze proposals like these in terms of how much they cost, how realistic their passage is, and so on. And while that's important, I had a different question: Which of these plans would do the most to cut poverty in America?

It turns out that a team of researchers at Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy was asking that question too, and they have the skills to actually answer it. They estimated how much each of these five bills would reduce poverty, deep poverty (measured as the share of people living at or below 50 percent of the poverty line), and child poverty.

The five bills are Harris's LIFT the Middle Class Act and Rent Relief Act; Brown and Khanna's GAIN Act; Booker's HOME Act; and Brown and Bennet's American Family Act. And according to Columbia analysis, all five would significantly cut poverty.

All of them cost a lot -- but they all cost about the same or less than the recent round of Republican tax cuts. All five are more ambitious than any cash proposals during the 2016 primary, or any other Democratic primary I can remember. And in a head-to-head matchup of all five, two plans (surprisingly) stood out as doing the most to reduce poverty at the least cost: bills from Cory Booker and Kamala Harris subsidizing rent for low-income households. [...]

The Rent Relief Act ($93 billion a year), also by Harris, would offer a refundable tax credit to people making $100,000 or less and spending at least 30 percent of their income on rent. The credit would be worth a certain percentage of the difference between their rent (capped at 150 percent of area fair market rent) and 30 percent of their income. For the poorest renters, the credit would cover the full difference; for slightly less poor renters, 75 percent, and so on.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


White suburbia the source of Trump's Texas troubles (David M. Drucker, January 30, 2019, Washington Examiner)

In 2016, Trump lost suburban Houston's 7th Congressional District and suburban Dallas' 32nd Congressional District -- both traditionally held by Republicans up and down the ballot -- to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In 2018 the Republican incumbents who for several years had easily defended these House seats fell to Democratic challengers in the midterm elections. The president's particularly low job approval ratings among women fueled the Democratic Party's victories there, and Republicans worry that this situation could foreshadow what's to come next year.

"It's the suburbs," Robin Armstrong, who represents Texas on the Republican National Committee, acknowledged in an interview with the Washington Examiner. "That's basically the woman's vote. We need to make sure that we're engaging females and letting them know that we're addressing their values and concerns."

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Tulsi Gabbard campaign in disarray (DANIEL STRAUSS and ALEX THOMPSON, 01/29/2019, Politico)

Two-and-a-half weeks after the Hawaii Democrat told CNN she had decided to run for the White House--an announcement that even her own staff didn't know was coming, after weeks of debating the timing of the rollout--the 37-year-old congresswoman has struggled to contain the chaos.

Campaign manager Rania Batrice and Gabbard's consulting firm Revolution Messaging are set to depart after this weekend's official kickoff in Hawaii, two sources familiar with the situation told POLITICO. Gabbard is leaning on her sister, Vrindavan, to fill the void.

Meanwhile, the congresswoman is under fire back home after picking a fight with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and a prominent Democratic state lawmaker is already challenging Gabbard in next year's congressional primary. That means she faces the possibility of losing the presidential race and her House seat as well.

...when Donald's White Nationalism only gets 20%.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Ongoing Environmental Protests in Russia Pose Threat to Kremlin in 2019 (Richard Arnold, January 23, 2019, Eurasia Daily Monitor)

The famous anti-corruption blogger, activist, and thorn in the side of the authorities Alexei Navalny was quick to capitalize on this mass airing of grievances. His staff in Tambov region, for instance, used Twitter to retweet a post declaring that, "We are looking for the resignation of the political leadership in the region [due to the trash issue]. And that is only the start" (Twitter.com/teamnavalny_tmb, December 23, 2018).

Navalny has long been aware that one person's trash is another man's treasure; he has reported on the corrupt awarding of the lucrative contract for disposal of Moscow's trash back in 2015. At that time, he noted the strange award of a 42.9 billion ruble ($702 million) contract to a company called Charter. This firm had almost no public presence or record, but is known to be controlled by Igor Chaika, the then-26-year-old son of the general prosecutor, Yuriy Chaika (Navalny.com, August 28 2015). Small wonder, then, that Navalny featured Chaika as Exhibit A in a recent video (put out via Twitter) that explains "why trash reform is not possible" in Russia and compares the story to an episode of the popular US television show The Sopranos. As debate opened, on January 1, 2019, for solutions to Russia's trash crisis, the video asserts that the web of corruption around the awarding of contracts to deal with garbage makes the prospect of real reform difficult to contemplate (Twitter.com/navalny, January 16, 2019).

The authorities are under extreme pressure to take these ongoing environmental protests more seriously. The current demonstrations are responding to quintessentially local issues. And yet, in an authoritarian country like Russia, environmental protests can sometimes kickstart a more powerful engine of separatism as well as fuel increasingly politically tinged anger at the government. Indeed, in 1988, environmental protests against a biochemical plant in Gudermes presaged the separatist movement that arose in Chechnya. Thanks to the continued penetration of social media access in today's Russia, the rise in horizontal awareness of local issues in other regions thus represents a growing challenge to both local governments and the Kremlin.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM



Asked whether Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico was a worthy endeavor, Chertoff said: "No." 

"I think the idea of a wall in and of itself is a symbol. It's not a real tool," said Chertoff, who led the country's Homeland Security department from February 2005 to January 2009. "It is not an efficient or effective tool." 

...that it should be traded for Amnesty.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Why Trump's Tariffs Didn't Help Create More Steel Jobs (Joe Deaux, January 30, 2019, Bloomberg)

Visiting the massive steel mill in Crawfordsville, Ind., operated by Nucor Corp., the largest American steelmaker, helps explain why the much-ballyhooed steel tariffs promoted by Donald Trump have so far been a bust for the steelworkers he successfully courted in his 2016 presidential bid. The Crawfordsville facility, set amid sprawling acres of farmland, looks like many other plants. But the 30-year-old factory has the ability to shrink or expand production at will, depending on demand by customers, while employing pretty much the same number of workers.

That flexibility is why, as the first year of Trump's steel tariffs comes to a close, the U.S. industry's biggest players are enjoying increasing demand and revenue but adding few of the jobs promised during the campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Harris: No Reason to Have Assault Weapons in a Civil Society (Andrew Kugle, January 29, 2019, Free Beacon)

"We have got to have smart gun safety laws in this country, and we've got to stop buying this false choice. You can be in favor of the Second Amendment and also understand that there is no reason in a civil society that we have assault weapons around communities that can kill babies and police officers," Harris said.

Harris, one of the many Democrats running in the 2020 presidential primary, held a town hall in Iowa where a pastor asked what she would do to tackle gun violence.

"As you know, the rates of gun violence in America are astronomically higher than in other western democracies. What do you think can be done, and what would you be prepared to do to address the problem of gun violence?" the pastor asked.

"Something like universal background checks. It makes perfect sense that you might want to someone can buy a weapon that can kill another human being, you might want to know have they been convicted of a felony where they committed violence," Harris responded.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


VENEZUELAN TROUBLES: Learning From History (Edward Luce, 1/29/19, European Edge)

[H]istory suggests that using diplomatic recognition as a weapon is a tricky business. After the Bolshevik revolution, most Western countries boycotted the new Soviet authorities. That stemmed from a mixture of hope (that the communist experiment would be temporary) and fear (that it might spread). European countries opened diplomatic relations quite quickly (starting with Estonia in 1920); the United States waited until November 1933. It is hard to see what gains that brought. The West made a similar mistake with the Communist authorities in China, with most countries waiting until the regime in Beijing took over the Chinese seat at the UN from Taiwan in 1971.

That is not to say that symbolic moves are worthless. When Lech Wałęsa became president of Poland in 1990, he received the seal and other insignia of office not from the outgoing communist authorities in Warsaw, but from the president of the government-in-exile in London. Fifty years on the sidelines were suddenly vindicated.

In the State Department lobby, the flags of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania hung throughout the years of Nazi and Soviet occupation. They no longer existed de facto, but the United States, and most Western countries, did not recognize Soviet rule there de jure. That seemed a pointless, even quixotic, stand during the Cold War. But when the Baltic states regained independence, it paid off. Countries like the U.S. and the Vatican that had looked after the Baltic states' interests during the years of occupation felt justly proud. Those that had not, blushed. (In the early 1990s Britain, for example, had to pay the three countries £90m in compensation for their gold reserves, handed back to the Soviet authorities in 1967.)

At the United Nations, it was the other way around.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


'Get Me Roger Stone': What to Make of the 'Dirty Trickster's' Indictment (Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Matthew Kahn, Lev Sugarman, Benjamin Wittes, January 25, 2019, LawFare)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has never flatly announced that this broad public contention is a lie. He has, rather, meticulously chipped away at it--one indictment at a time, one plea agreement at a time--with the substance of successive prosecutorial actions. First, the court documents related to the plea of Trump campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos were unsealed--telling the story of how Papadopoulos was told by an apparent Russian cutout that the Kremlin had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails," months before the DNC and Podesta emails were leaked to the public. Then came the plea of former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn in December 2017 on charges of lying to investigators over, among other things, contacts during the presidential transition with Russian officials. Two months later, Mueller unspooled a detailed account of a systematic social media influence operation conducted by an entity owned by a friend of Vladimir Putin's. In July 2018, Mueller's office moved the story closer to the Kremlin itself, indicting 12 officials of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, for hacking and leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Most recently, in the case of one-time Trump attorney Michael Cohen, Mueller has asserted in court documents that the Trump Organization's efforts to construct a Trump Tower Moscow went on well into the 2016 presidential campaign and detailed the contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials and cutouts on the matter.

Today, the special counsel brought the story inside the Trump campaign, alleging that Roger Stone, longtime gadfly political operative, had acted as a kind of back channel between the campaign and WikiLeaks--funneling information between Julian Assange and senior officials of the Trump campaign about forthcoming releases of purloined emails. No, this is not the smoking gun many have been waiting for. A lot of the information contained in the indictment has been in the press for a while--and in any event, the relationship it alleges between the campaign and the Russian government is a complicated, and somewhat attenuated, one. But if the Roger Stone indictment doesn't quite allege "collusion" between the Trump campaign and the Russians, it unambiguously alleges--in the language of Robert Mueller's appointment letter--"links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump." Specifically, the indictment alleges that Stone and WikiLeaks were together coordinating between the Russian government and the Trump campaign over the release of information that, by then, had been publicly reported by Crowdstrike and many press outlets to have been stolen by the Russian government.

Don Jr. is hearing the footsteps as Mr. Mueller's logical next step is to bring it from the campaign into the family.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A  big Trump case hinges on the definition of 'emoluments.' A new study has bad news for him. (Aaron Blake, January 29, 2019, Washington Post)

The study from Clark D. Cunningham at Georgia State University and Jesse Egbert of Northern Arizona University uses a scientific method called "corpus linguistics" that combines traditional linguistics with large sets of data, in the form of contemporary written texts.

Studying 138 million words written between 1760 and 1799, the researchers found more than 2,500 uses of "emolument" or "emoluments." From there, they found:

The word was usually modified either before or after its usage -- much more than an average noun -- suggesting it had a broad meaning that required such specification and clarifying.

Many of the uses concerned personal or private transactions not involving a public official.
The word was often modified using the adjective "official," which would be redundant if that were understood as part of its definition.

It often appeared (35 percent of the time) with other nouns as part of a "coordinated noun phrase," and in many cases involving public officials it was used alongside the word "profit." This suggests it could be something besides a profit.

Perhaps most importantly the study, which was not submitted on behalf of either party in the case, found these coordinated noun phrases often used the word "other" before emoluments. (In fact, the phrase "other emoluments" accounted for one out of every 40 uses of the word, which is far more common than for other nouns.) This suggests many of the words that would proceed "other emoluments" were understood themselves to be forms of emoluments. This would include words like "bounties," "fees," "contracts," "lands," "pay," "clothing," "privileges" and "places."

Taken together, this research suggests that many things constitute an emolument and that Trump's continued acceptance of basically anything from foreign states could be interpreted as accepting emoluments.

The benefit of this kind of study, the authors contend, is that dictionaries are not reliable sources of common usage. "There is no scientific basis for using a handful of definitions written by individual, idiosyncratic dictionary authors and evaluating sixteen sentences, as the District Court did, in order to prove common usage by the population of late 18th century America," Cunningham and Egbert write.

Lawrence Solan of the Brooklyn Law School, who studies both the law and linguistics and has reviewed the new study, said it should strengthen the case for a broader definition of emolument.

January 29, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 PM


Republicans Are Ditching the Wall (WILLIAM SALETAN, JAN 29, 2019, sLATE)

In TV interviews last weekend, Republican lawmakers bent over backward to avoid the word wall. "I happen to agree with the president on barriers," said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine pledged "to continue to build physical barriers." On Fox News Sunday, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, used the word barrier 13 times. Trump is "winning the battle on the importance of a barrier," said Mulvaney. On Face the Nation, Mulvaney boasted that Democrats were privately telling the White House, "We think you might be right on this barrier thing."

Barrier thing? If Trump is winning, why is everyone around him afraid to say the word wall?

The answer is: Trump isn't winning. He's been losing on this issue for a long time. The wall, as he originally proposed it, was a dumb idea. Border security experts told him so. Democrats rejected it, and polls backed them up. Trump tried to get his way by shutting down the government, but nobody budged, and his approval ratings tanked. So now Republicans have retreated to a fallback position. They're claiming that renovations and extensions of current border infrastructure--in short, the status quo--count as Trump's wall.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


US intel assessment suggests Trump's Iran policy not working (Laura Rozen, January 29, 2019, Al Monitor)

Top US intelligence officials, in a new "Worldwide Threat Assessment" to Congress, offered several judgments on Iran that seem to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Donald Trump administration's Iran policy.

Iranian hard-liners could be empowered, sporadic unrest is uncoordinated, and Iran's regional behavior has not moderated and may even become more aggressive in the face of perceived increased US/Saudi/Israeli hostility and US-led economic pressure, the 42-page annual "Worldwide Threat Assessment," prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said.

Iran continues for now to abide by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that Trump withdrew from last year, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told the Senate Intelligence panel today. But Iran is having internal debates if it should resume elements of its program if it does not receive the economic benefits world powers agreed to in exchange for its rollback of its nuclear program, US intelligence officials warned.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM



Retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey warned that President Donald Trump will "never be safe" from Russian intelligence due to his one-on-one private meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last year.

McCaffrey, who previously served as a member of President Bill Clinton's cabinet, appeared on MSNBC on Tuesday to discuss a briefing by National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel to the select Senate Intelligence Committee. During the hearing, Coats declined to answer a question about Trump's private meeting with Putin during their Finland summit last July, saying he'd rather discuss it behind closed doors. The retired general shared his perspective on the summit, saying Moscow would undoubtedly use that meeting against Trump at some point in the future.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Israel's decision to end Hebron observer mission may breach Oslo accords -Norway (Reuters, 1/29/19)

Israel's decision to eject observers in Hebron may be a breach of the implementation of the Oslo accords, the Norwegian foreign minister said on Tuesday.

A Guided Tour of Hebron, from Two Sides of the Occupation (Masha Gessen, January 24, 2019, The New Yorker)

Hebron is a microcosm of the West Bank, a place where the key practices of the Israeli occupation can be observed up close, in a single afternoon.Photograph by Cristina de Middel / Magnum
The stories of Hebron are the stories of the absent and the unseen. They are the stories of the occupation and of Palestinian life that has been caged in or displaced. No one who lives in Hebron, and very few of those who visit the city, can see the entirety of the displacement or appreciate the scale of the absence. Hebron is divided in such a way that some will only ever see the empty streets, while others see a crowded and bustling town--one bound by fences, walls, and barbed wire, beyond which the emptiness begins. To see the emptiness is to understand some of the effects of the occupation; to see it from the point of view of Palestinians, who have been rendered almost entirely invisible, is to understand much more.

For several years, two activist groups, one Israeli and one Palestinian, have been leading tours of the occupation of Hebron. I recently went on both, crossing from the living city of Hebron to its hollow shadow and back several times.

Issa Amro became an activist in 2003, when he was twenty-two, during his last semester at the Palestine Polytechnic University. In January of that year, he went to class only to find that the university had been shuttered by order of the Israel Defense Forces. The school's computers had been used to download bomb-making manuals, the I.D.F. claimed. Amro went home and Googled "how to make a revolution." The search engine returned results on Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and nonviolent struggle. Amro got a committee together and started organizing protests against the closure. Seven months later, when the university was allowed to reopen and Amro was able to graduate, he felt that nonviolent struggle had accomplished something. In 2007, he founded Youth Against Settlements, a group that protests and lobbies against the Israeli occupation and leads tours intended to convey the experience of living under the occupation of the West Bank. (Last year, Amro stepped down as the head of the organization to launch a sister foundation called the Hebron Freedom Fund.)

Amro's tour begins, necessarily, with crossing a checkpoint. Amro resides in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, in an area where about thirty thousand Palestinians--a fraction of the number who used to live here--live under direct Israeli military rule, which protects fewer than a thousand Israeli settlers. This part of the city is freely accessible to Israeli citizens and foreigners, but most Palestinians can enter only if they're residents. It's a border-style checkpoint, with two sets of revolving gates and two soldiers, behind glass, checking documents. Like all Palestinians in Tel Rumeida, Amro has to go through a checkpoint in order to buy groceries and again to bring them home, or to fill his kitchen-stove tank with propane. He has to carry the tank on his back, because Palestinians are not allowed to drive within the neighborhood. On one afternoon and evening in Hebron, I observed Amro cross checkpoints a half-dozen times, and not once did the soldiers pass up an opportunity to harass him: now demanding a body search, now screaming insults at him, now informing him that, as of a half hour earlier, passage to a Palestinian-owned souvenir shop was closed to Palestinians. The soldiers know Amro for his activism, and ongoing harassment of him appears to be a regular part of their job.

Amro is tall and hulking, with deep-set brown eyes and a short beard. In winter, he wears fur-lined green coveralls that enhance his bearish mien and serve as an extreme irritant for I.D.F. soldiers, who constantly demand to know where he got his outfit. The same coveralls are issued to Israeli soldiers, but Amro says that they are made in the Palestinian territories. (I later saw them for sale in shops outside Ramallah.) Amro's wardrobe, like much of the rest of his life, is a form of nonviolent protest.

On the tour, we descended the steep hill on which Amro lives, went through a checkpoint, and walked the street that runs along the base of the hill, the main commercial thoroughfare of the part of Hebron where Palestinians are still allowed to drive, walk, and shop. For a second it felt like we were in a covered market, but this was because the street is fenced in from the top, with a sort of wire net intended to protect the Palestinian traders and their customers from rocks, bottles, and trash thrown by Israeli settlers who live on the street just above. Amro pointed at metal sheeting placed over a section of the net; it is meant to guard against acid that settlers pour down, to destroy the goods sold here. "I've seen it twice," Amro told me. "I've seen the earth boiling here."

In 1997, as part of the Oslo peace process, Israel and the Palestinian Authority drew a line splitting Hebron in two. The area designated as H-1 is controlled by the Palestinian Authority; in H-2, the Palestinian Authority has civil administration over Palestinian residents and the Israeli military controls everything else. H-1 is far larger, and in the past two years its population has roughly doubled, while H-2's has dwindled because settler violence and I.D.F. restrictions have made life unbearable for Palestinians. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Russian Language Losing Its Position in Kyrgyzstan--and Moscow May Be as Well (Paul Goble, January 28, 2019, Eurasia Daily Monitor)

In the words of Viktoriya Panfilova of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, "The Russian language is losing its positions in Kyrgyzstan" and, along with the language, Russia as well. Participants at a November 2018 roundtable in Bishkek, on "Kyrgyzstan: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," discussed what role Russian should have in the country (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 16, 2019). And recently, Azimbek Beknazarov, a Kyrgyzstani opposition politician, told journalists that he, along with representatives of 47 other opposition political groups, have drafted a law calling for a referendum to strip Russian of its status as an official language. If the measure is approved, he said, it would mean that Kyrgyzstan, like any normal country, would do all its official business in the language of the titular nationality, representatives of whom now form more than 75 percent of the population (Interfax, January 16, 2019).

When Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many officials there used Russian for almost all official business. Some did not speak Kyrgyz well enough to do otherwise; and consequently, the government decided to keep Russian as the second official language. That meant that much official business and nearly all post-secondary education has remained Russian-speaking, a pattern that put pressure on parents to have their children learn Russian earlier so that they could take advantage of higher education and obtain jobs within the government. But it has also been a source of irritation for many ethnic Kyrgyz, who are offended that the language of a foreign country and former occupier retains a de facto higher status than their own.

Over the last decade, there have been numerous attacks on the status of Russian (Fondsk.ru, May 16, 2013; Forum-msk.org, March 24, 2015). But to date, all of these have fallen short. Part of the reason stems from fears that an end to the language's official status will lead many of the nearly 500,000 Kyrgyzstanis who speak Russian to leave, thus stripping the country of some of its most highly trained specialists. Additionally, an administrative phasing out of Russian would eventually make it more difficult for residents of Kyrgyzstan not fluent in the language to go to Russia to earn money as guest workers--a revenue stream the impoverished country depends on. Hampered access to the Russian market for Kyrgyzstani labor could also open the way for the growth of greater Chinese influence in the Central Asian republic, something many Kyrgyzstanis are worried about. Moreover, it might trigger a sharp deterioration in Bishkek's ties with Moscow. Or it could destabilize Kyrgyzstan's perpetually unsettled domestic situation, especially in the southern regions of the country. Panfilova points to all of these factors. But she also raises the suspicion that the Kyrgyzstani opposition is simply using language as a wedge issue to bring down the current government (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 16, 2019).

Nevertheless, evidence is now available that support for reducing the status of Russian inside Kyrgyzstan is growing--or, at least, that the government has concluded it must take steps in that direction or face an even more radical outcome. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Democrat or Islamist firebrand -- who is Tunisia's Rachid Ghannouchi? (Amberin Zaman, January 28, 2019, Al Monitor)

As proof that he is sincere about empowering women, Ghannouchi pointed to the high number of Tunisia's female mayors -- 42 out of a total 68, including Tunis' first female mayor -- who were elected on Ennahda's ticket.

"We are in an electoral year and there many accusations against Ennahda," he said. "But these are part of a media war that is designed to influence public opinion. It was the Ennahda government which declared Ansar al-Sharia to be a terrorist group and took action against them."

Nevertheless, the backlash against rising Islamic extremism coupled with continued corruption and economic stagnation took its toll. Ennahda pulled in second behind the pro-secular Nidaa Tounes in the October 2014 parliamentary elections. It then became a decidedly docile partner in a coalition that has ruled since. "Ennahda saw the limits of Tunisia's religiosity," said Lamine Benghazi, who helps run Al Bawsala, a leading Tunisian civil society organization. "The greater geopolitical trend is demonizing political Islam, and Ennahda sees Nidaa Tounes as something of a shield."

In 2016, Ghannouchi compromised further, declaring, "There is no longer any justification for political Islam in Tunisia." He said Ennahda was a party of "Muslim democrats," distinctly Tunisian in character.

"We are Tunisian Muslims who are determined to live in our age as believing Muslims," he told Al-Monitor. "There is only one Islam, but we believe it is a flexible religion that interacts with each environment with each age." The rebranding has seen Ennahda embrace modern Tunisia's founder Habib Bourguiba as a national hero, whitewashing his abuses and blaming all the horrors endured under six decades of dictatorship solely on Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The shift is an acknowledgement that political Islam has become radioactive. Just as critically, it speaks to the continued resilience of a coalition of politicians and officials left over from the Ben Ali regime, including the notorious national guard, which is attached to the Ministry of Interior. In tandem with a deeply entrenched oligarchy, the holdouts of the Ben Ali regime are determined to prevent the Islamists from establishing their own patronage networks within the bureaucracy and the business world, and they will wield and inflate the threat of Islamic extremism to that end if need be. [...]

As in Turkey, one of the dangers facing Tunisia is a smugness born from decades of repressed religiosity that continues to be mistaken for a lack of it. Outside the capital, in impoverished areas like Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine, where the protests that led to Ben Ali's downfall first erupted, Islamic conservatism runs deep. Yerkes observed, "Some portion of the population would like to see a stronger role of religion within the government and public life, and Ennahda used to be the clear political party to help achieve that goal." 

Ennahda lawmakers who back Ghannouchi's moderate stance insist that such a stance is necessary if Tunisia's democracy is to survive. "Cohabitation makes us more pragmatic, and pragmatism is not a dirty word," parliamentarian Naoufel Jammali told Al-Monitor. "On the contrary it is what permitted us to become the sole democracy of all the Arab Spring countries. Cohabitation pushes us to be comfortable with the idea that we are not the sole political party in the country and that we need to work together with other parties in order to remain part of the political landscape." Islamists, leftists and secularists all have deep roots in Tunisia. "We are condemned to live together." 

But just how long will Ennahda be willing to take the back seat? The party has regained a plurality in the parliament following a steady defection of lawmakers from Nidaa Tounes, and it beat the secularists in the country's first free municipal polls that were held in May, though both were overtaken by independents, a sign of voter disaffection across the board.

With Prime Minister Youssef Chahed forming a new secularist bloc after his fallout with Essebsi and his son Hafedh, who engineered Chahed's ouster from Nidaa Tounes in June, Ennahda is poised to be kingmaker. It helped Chahed survive a vote of no confidence in November. Will it continue to throw its weight behind Chahed and International Monetary Fund-inspired reforms? And will Ghannouchi throw his hat in the ring for the presidency? The Ennahda leader is holding his cards close to his chest, saying he has no such ambitions but then leaving the door open by saying it's up to his party.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Roger Stone Created Legal Defense Fund the Day After Alleged False Statements to Congress (Colin Kalmbacher, January 29th, Law & Crime)

Stone testified in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on September 26, 2017. Immediately thereafter, Stone addressed an assemblage of reporters and expressed the view that his testimony exonerated him from any allegedly untoward activity.

According to a WHOIS query, however, the domain name stonedefensefund.com was registered on September 27, 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


U.S. spy chiefs break with Trump on many threats to U.S. (Patricia Zengerle, Doina Chiacu, 1/19/19, Reuters) 

China and Russia pose the biggest risks to the United States and are more aligned than they have been in decades, U.S. intelligence leaders told senators on Tuesday, in testimony that repeatedly contradicted President Donald Trump's statements on global threats. [...]

The intelligence officials also said Iran was not developing nuclear weapons in violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement, even though Tehran has threatened to reverse some commitments after Trump pulled out of the deal. [...]

Coats also said some U.S. allies are seeking more independence, responding to their perceptions of Washington's changing policies on security and trade, and "are becoming more open" to new partnerships.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


The Koch Network's High Hopes and Early Push for an Immigration Deal (JIM GERAGHTY, January 29, 2019, National Review)

"If you look at the polling, it shows that regardless of the political spectrum, there's broad support for both border security and then the Dreamers," says Mark Holden, general counsel of Koch Industries and the network's point man on the successful push for criminal-justice reform last year. He met with Trump and other conservative leaders at the White House about shutdown negotiations back on January 23. "Now, what that looks like, people may disagree on, but it means doing something positive with the Dreamers, not kicking them out of the country, but some type of either legalization or a path to citizenship. I've been in meetings with hardcore Republicans on that issue, and even they acknowledge that."

Brian Hooks, chairman of the Koch Seminar Network, told assembled attendees of the Koch network's winter meeting on Monday that the network's effort to unite a broad coalition to push Congress and the White House had already begun.

"We just got the longest government shutdown in the history of our country, and this issue was at the core," Hooks said. "When you read the headlines saying this is impossible, it's understandable. But we see an opportunity to bring the same approach that this network brought to criminal-justice reform, to unite a broad-based policy coalition with groups from the ACLU to people in Silicon Valley, to Fortune 500 companies, to members of the religious community, and a whole lot of people in between. This isn't wishful thinking; this is already underway."

Americans don't oppose immigration, just disorderly immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Texas Republicans fear Trump could lose the state in 2020 (David M. Drucker, January 29, 2019, Washington Examiner)

Nationally, Republican operatives and donors have historically taken Texas for granted and directed their financial and organizational muscle to more competitive regions. Separately, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, up for re-election next year, has spoken with new RNC co-chairman Tommy Hicks, a Lone Star State native, about concerns that Trump could lose the state.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Democrats seek to cut U.S. budget deficits in half: Yarmuth  (Reuters, 1/29/19) 

The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee on Tuesday said he and other senior Democrats aim to write a fiscal blueprint this year that would cut annual budget deficits by 50 percent in the next 10 years, possibly including tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


France's Yellow Vest Movement Dogged by anti-Semitism and Extremist Conspiracy Theories (The Associated Press, Jan 29, 2019)

[O]ver 11 weeks of yellow vest protests, views from the fringes have bubbled through the diffuse and leaderless movement and have been amplified: anti-Semitic rants about banking, a Holocaust survivor harassed on the subway, assaults on journalists, and claims the government concocted terrorist attacks or deadly accidents to divert attention from the demonstrations.

There has been scattered violence at the protests, with clashes between participants and riot police, and authorities worry that the extremists have taken over the center of the movement, risking a return to the darker episodes from France's past.

On Saturday in Paris, a man in a yellow vest turned toward a journalist filming at the sidelines of an otherwise quiet match, hurled a homophobic epithet and added: "You work for the Jews." [...]

Marchers at one of the first yellow vest rallies in Paris in November held the French flag aloft while chanting "This is our home!" -- a double-edged slogan that resonates with the far-right National Rally party, whose leader Marine Le Pen calls it a "cry of love" for France; critics see only anti-immigrant overtones.

In December, a group of marchers in Paris' bohemian Montmartre neighborhood proffered an anti-Semitic salute. They sang lyrics associated with Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, a French comedian convicted several times of racism and anti-Semitism. The hand gesture and song are both called the "quenelle," with the gesture mimicking an inverted Nazi salute and the song hinting at Zionist plots. Dieudonne describes them as anti-establishment symbols.

On that same day, men in yellow vests harassed an elderly Holocaust survivor on a subway train when she asked them to stop making the gesture, and one of them replied that the gas chambers that had killed her father never existed. A journalist who saw the exchange said no one took the woman's side. France's interior minister said the train operator was trying to identify the men, saying "whether hidden by a yellow vest or in the anonymity of Twitter, anti-Semitism must be fought with all strength."

Some of France's most notorious anti-Semitic personalities have been seen at the forefront of some of the Paris protests.

One of them, Herve Ryssen, appeared on the cover of the weekly Paris Match, facing police as he stood before the Arc de Triomphe. Ryssen has been convicted repeatedly of anti-Semitism and provoking acts of discrimination. He was convicted again last week for Holocaust denial, a crime in France for decades that harkens back to the country's history of surrendering French Jews to the occupying Nazis to be killed.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux acknowledged that protests varied from town to town, but said last week that some were marked by "paramilitaries close to the extreme right." Among them were Victor Lenta, a former soldier who fought alongside pro-Russian separatist forces in Ukraine.

Maxime Nicolle, a YouTube personality who goes by the handle Fly Rider, and Eric Drouet, a trucker who was among the early yellow vest organizers, also have emerged as prominent voices.

The Jean Jaures Foundation, a think tank connected with the Socialist Party, studied online activity by Drouet and Nicolle, and said both are tacitly affiliated with France's far-right party.

It said Drouet shared anti-migrant videos and provided a Facebook platform for discuss plots involving Zionists, banks, and the media. The study said Nicolle had repeatedly liked videos linked with the party that lost to President Emmanuel Macron.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM

60-40 NATION:

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


A Strong Start for the Democrats in 2020 (YASCHA MOUNK, JAN 28, 2019, Slate)

2. Recognize That America Is Flawed but Deny That It Is Rotten

There is no way for any liberal to look at the United States right now without seeing big, ugly stains. But there is a great range of opinions about how these stains should inform our overall view of the country. A growing number of writers and politicians believe that the rise of Trump is the last piece of evidence that was needed to prove the essential rottenness of America. According to this vision, there has been scant progress over the past 50 years. Today's mass incarceration is as bad as Jim Crow. America is as racist now as it was in the 1960s. The might of its army has the sole purpose of subjugating the rest of the world. Our country is irremediably fallen--and will likely remain so.

The competing vision Harris presents is no less indignant about the present injustices, but both more positive about the "true" nature of America and more hopeful about its future. It recognizes that America has come a very long way from its ugly past. It stipulates that it is, though perhaps not inevitable, entirely within our agency to bend history in an even better direction. And though it recognizes how far America's global standing has sunk under Donald Trump, it still aspires to the United States playing a role of moral leadership in the world. Perhaps most importantly, rather than throwing American symbols on the dustbin of history, it claims that liberals and progressives capture the true soul of America.

Speaking at Netroots, a giant gathering of progressive activists, last year, Harris first emphasized this theme:

The American people know that we are better than this. I know we are better than this because 13 years ago, New Orleans was under water and the initial response was appalling. Katrina exposed a shocking level of racism and neglect. But ultimately Americans of every race and religion and background--local leaders, church groups, college students--came together to bring the city back to life. That's who we are. That's our American identity. ... We are a country that is aspirational. We have not achieved all of those ideals. But we have those ideals and it is part of our identity to fight for those ideals. So let's not let anybody take our flag from us, OK? That's our flag.

On Sunday, she doubled down on the same message: "The truth is that as Americans we have so much more in common than what separates us," she exclaimed. "We are already standing on common ground. I say we rise together or we fall together as one nation indivisible."

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


What to Ask Defense Leaders About the Border Deployment (BRIAN P. MCKEON, JANUARY 28, 2019, Defense One)

The available public evidence suggests administration witnesses will have a hard time justifying that the mission is in the interest of national security. Here are a few questions that members of the new Democratic majority should pose to DoD witnesses:

What was the requirement to use active-duty forces?

It's not unprecedented for presidents to send military forces to support law enforcement at the southwest border in an election year. Presidents Bush and Obama deployed the National Guard to the border in 2006 (Operation Jump Start) and 2010 (Operation Phalanx). What is different this time? The use of more than 5,000 active-duty forces, in addition to some 2,000 National Guard forces that were already on station. What unique capabilities, not available in the Guard or Reserve forces, were required for this deployment?

The other key difference in this case -- the overtly political purpose of the deployment, as demonstrated by President Trump's regular invocation of it on the campaign trail, where he warned of supposed dangers from a "caravan" of migrants traveling from Central America and claimed a "crisis" on the border. Yet seizures of inadmissible aliens at the southern border are at historic lows, which hardly suggests a crisis is at hand. And, quite apart from the absurdity of using the military for a civilian mission to stop a group of desperate, unarmed migrants, why were most of the forces deployed to south Texas when the caravan arrived in Tijuana?

Who created the false talking points about terrorists?

Administration officials sought to scare the American people by asserting that many terrorists were among those showing up at the southwest border. This lie survived neither scrutiny by the media nor expert analysis, including by the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Trump team retreated. Who injected these false arguments into administration talking points?

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Let Them Fight: The #AlwaysTrump MAGA-heads and the Build-the-Wall nativists have gone to war. And it is glorious. (MOLLY JONG-FAST  JANUARY 29, 2019, The Bulwark)

And then the two sides started to go at it.

Mitchell went thermonuclear on Ann Coulter for an inability to compromise her . . . well, whatever it is that made her so eager for both Romney 2012 and Build a Wall 2016: [...]

And then, Mitchell really dropped the hammer: He called Coulter a Democrat. And you'll never guess who jumped up to thumb the like button.Mitchell was so hot and bothered he even took swings at Mike Cernovich and . . . Breitbart?

Charlie Kirk was also extremely triggered by the linear-thinking, fair-weathered, useful idiots who really thought they were signing up to get a wall. He did an Instagram video about how conservatives just can't abandon Trump with a headline "so sick of people stabbing @realdonaldtrump in the back."

Young Charlie also urged people to understand that Trump has been waging the entire fight by himself, because he is beset on all sides by enemies or the Deep State or whatever. And even the Daily Caller couldn't take it. 

The weird undercurrent in all of this is that, like courtiers serving under an egomaniacal monarch, the sycophants seemed almost pleased to have a chance to differentiate themselves from other loyalists in the eyes of the king. Newt Gingrich, for instance, rushed into a Fox studio to assure the president that he should never listen to irrelevant people like Ann Coulter because he should only listen to highly relevant people such as Newt Gingrich.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM



Tlaib is a member of the Facebook group "Palestinian American Congress," where members often demonize Jews. The group's founder, Palestinian activist Maher Abdel-qader, was a key fundraiser for Tlaib and organized campaign events for her around the country.

In January 2018, Abdel-qader shared an anti-Semitic video that claimed Jews aren't actually Jewish, and invented their historical claim to Israel and secretly control the media.

The video, which described Jews as "satanic," also questioned whether 6 million Jews actually died in the Holocaust.

"Research the truth about the Holocaust, and you'll definitely start to question what you thought you knew," the video's narrator says.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Footage Of Shirtless Bernie Sanders Drunkenly Singing With Soviets In '88 Surfaces (Jenny Singer, 1/28/19, The Forward)

Forget dancing queen AOC or bangin' Beto or even that unsettling video of teenage Ted Cruz plotting world domination -- this grainy footage of a topless, hammered Bernie Sanders singing "This Land Is Your Land" in the Soviet Union blows them all out of the political shark-filled water.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Trump 'very pissed off' at former White House aide's tell-all (DANIEL LIPPMAN 01/28/2019, Politico)

One former senior White House official said Sims has managed to do the impossible: unite an infamously fractious world of Trump advisers and associates.

"Basically every warring faction has come together," to push back against Sims, said a former senior White House official. "You wouldn't believe the text chains. The best part is the president is sort of chomping at the bit to tap this guy and tweet something to the effect of, 'I didn't know who this guy was. He taped videos.'"

The best part is that everyone in the White House knew he was just there to get material for a book, but they're so chaotic no one could do anything about him.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM



A small team of Israeli scientists think they might have found the first complete cure for cancer.

"We believe we will offer in a year's time a complete cure for cancer," said Dan Aridor, of a new treatment being developed by his company, Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd. (AEBi), which was founded in 2000 in the ITEK incubator in the Weizmann Science Park. AEBi developed the SoAP platform, which provides functional leads to very difficult targets.

"Our cancer cure will be effective from day one, will last a duration of a few weeks and will have no or minimal side-effects at a much lower cost than most other treatments on the market," Aridor said. "Our solution will be both generic and personal."

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


What science could teach Ocasio-Cortez about climate change (Bjorn Lomborg, January 27, 2019, NY Post)

The truth is comparatively boring: According to the United Nations climate-science panel's latest major report, if we do absolutely nothing to stop climate change, the impact will be the equivalent to a reduction in our ­incomes of between 0.2 percent and 2 percent five decades from now.

Yet by the 2070s, personal incomes will be some 300 percent to 500 percent higher than they are today. Far from the "end of the world," the impact of warming is what we'd expect from roughly a single economic recession taking place over the next half century.

Many of us question how this could be true, when we are constantly told that extreme weather is wreaking ever-greater devastation. In fact, ­research shows that extreme weather is having a rather minimal economic effect. Since 1990, the cost associated with extreme weather worldwide has actually declined, to 0.25 percent of global gross domestic product, from 0.30 percent.

Extreme weather costs each French citizen about $25 a year; each American, about $56 per year. That's what the average US worker spends on coffee in less than a month.

What about the escalating costs of hurricanes, now inevitably held up as examples of climate change? Actually, a major study in Nature shows hurricane damage today costs about 0.04 percent of global GDP. By 2100, even if hurricanes were to get twice as bad as they are now, increased prosperity and ­resilience mean the cost will have halved to 0.02 percent of GDP.

What's more, the UN panel finds there is no observable increase in hurricane frequency.

Likewise, extreme weather is killing fewer people now than at any point in the last 100 years: In the 1920s, extreme weather killed about half a million people annually. Now, despite there being four times as many people, it kills fewer than 20,000 each year.

It's a Puritan nation; run against waste and degradation of Creation.

Here's the seemingly most comprehensive Green New Deal available and note how tightly they tie it to economic growth:

A Green New Deal (GREG CARLOCK, EMILY MANGAN, SEAN McELWEE, Data for Progress) 


The United States needs to reduce its annual greenhouse emissions from 2016 by 16 percent to achieve our 2025 reduction target communicated through the Paris Agreement[1], and 77 percent to reach our 2050 target.[2] To strive for the global goal of a 1.5-degree future, the U.S. should aim for zero net emissions by mid-century. This requires massive economic and technological transformation in how we create and consume energy, build structures, and transport people and goods. This transformation must accelerate now.


✔ 100% Clean and Renewable Electricity by 2035 
All electricity consumed in America must be generated by renewable sources, including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, sustainable biomass, and renewable natural gas, as well as clean sources such as nuclear and remaining fossil fuel with carbon capture.

✔ Zero Net Emissions from Energy by 2050
We must end all emissions from fossil fuels. The full U.S. economy can and must run on a mix of energy that is either zero-emission or 100 percent carbon capture by mid-century.[3] This includes residential, commercial, and industrial electricity; thermal energy; and transportation.


✔ 100% Net-Zero Building Energy Standards by 2030
Buildings can stand and operate for over 100 years, and current building standards are not in line with goals for deep decarbonization. Yet buildings also have the highest potential for low-cost emission reductions of all sectors. We must start constructing and retrofitting to the highest performance standards now to avoid locking in outdated technology and to reach these goals by mid-century. New technological innovation every year will push the potential of building and industrial efficiency, helping American citizens and businesses lower energy costs and be more competitive.


✔ 100% Zero Emission Passenger Vehicles by 2030
The technologies already exist; we only need to scale-up charging infrastructure and consumer incentives to transition 100 percent of sales to zero emission passenger and light duty vehicles by 2030, followed with a swift phase out of internal combustion engines.

✔ 100% Fossil-Free Transportation by 2050
To reach decarbonization goals, we must transition away quickly from the use of fossil fuels in aviation, heavy duty vehicles, and rail. Not everything can be electrified, meaning we must innovate and scale up the next generation of biofuels and carbon-neutral fuels.


While air and water quality have dramatically improved in the U.S. since the passage of landmark environmental regulations in the 1950s and 1970s, progress has slowed.[4] Too many Americans live without access to consistent clean air and clean water. Air pollution from vehicles and smokestacks cause 200,000 early deaths each year and led to negative health effects such as asthma and lung disease.[5] America's drinking water and waterways are threatened by aging infrastructure and pollution from fossil fuel production. We cannot guarantee clean air and clean water without cutting emissions and fossil fuel extraction.


✔ National Clean Air Attainment
Forty-two percent of the U.S. population--over 130 million Americans--live in areas that still have not attained national Ambient Air Quality Standards as ozone and particulate matter pollution are still too high.[6]  While the EPA continually eases air quality regulations, 22 states do not meet ozone standards.[7] Ground-level ozone, or smog, has worsened significantly in recent years as higher average temperatures and more days of extreme heat intensifies smog.[8] Reductions in fossil fuel combustion and certain industrial activities will reduce ozone and particulate pollution across the country, especially in urban areas where air quality tends to be worse.

✔ Cut Methane Leakage 50% by 2025
Methane, a greenhouse gas 28-36 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is the second-largest industrial source of climate pollution from the oil and gas industry. Methane leaks from oil and gas production and distribution cost the U.S. economy approximately $2 billion annually.[9] These leaks are enough to power 6.5 million homes a year. Much of the pollution can be curbed with existing low-cost technologies that can improve air quality and reduce emissions.[10]


✔ National Lead Pipe Replacement & Infrastructure Upgrades
America's problems with lead in drinking water extend well beyond Flint, Michigan. In 2015, 18 million people were served by water systems with lead violations.[13] We need to remove lead service lines and fix other water problems with a prioritization of underserved communities. This requires meaningful investments in water treatment infrastructure upgrades across the nation. And yet, federal investment in local water infrastructure has declined from covering 63 percent of costs in 1977 to just 9 percent today.[14] By investing in clean water infrastructure, it will stimulate the development of economically-critical projects that will create jobs and increase American economic competitiveness.[15]

✔ Guarantee Access to Affordable Drinking Water
To keep up with the mounting costs of water infrastructure needs, many utilities across the country have been increasing water rates. In some cities, the average monthly cost of water for a family of four has increased 30 percent since 2011.[16] In 2015, 1 in 9 households in Detroit had their water shut off because of prohibitively high water bills. The EPA needs to establish more consistent and comprehensive standards on water affordability, protecting low-income residents from extreme price increases.

✔ Protect Two Million New Miles of Waterways
The quality of our water supply also depends on the restoration, conservation, and sustainable land management of forests and wetlands. The 2015 Clean Water Rule, if fully enforced, would extend protections to two million new miles of streams and tributaries, and 20 million acres of wetlands. Protecting our watersheds and waterways, particularly upstream, benefits our natural environment, human health, and food supplies, as well as enhances the resiliency of our built infrastructure. Waterways and their related forests and wetlands constitute a natural infrastructure that saves money and produces additional benefits such as reduced emissions, jobs, and habitat protection.[17]


It is hard to envision America without picturing its glorious landscape--whether it is the rolling plains and hills, wide rivers, snow-capped mountains, sandy coastlines, great lakes, or rich forests. The American landscape is not only our heritage but also a vital resource. Our lives and livelihoods rely upon the landscape for food, fiber, minerals, homesteads, protection, wildlife, and recreation. Clean air and clean water are not possible without healthy, robust lands. This landscape is our largest natural emissions sinks, literally absorbing millions of tons of greenhouse gases out of the air annually. We must tend to it.


✔ Reforest 40 Million Acres of Public and Private Land by 2035
America's forests are 25 percent smaller than they were when settlements began around 1630, and only a fraction of what remains is old-growth forest, while the rest is regrowth of deforestation.[20] Forested lands continue to come back slowly, but it is well below the pace needed. To reach a net-zero emission economy by mid-century, we must reforest land--in other words, the remaining emissions our economy still creates are canceled out by the emissions absorbed by land. Similarly, many forests are badly in need of restoration, threatened by drought, wildfire, and invasive species, which are only exacerbated by climate change.

Expanding forests by 40-50 million acres by 2035 could achieve reductions of 600 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050. With forests as part of a holistic plan, the full land carbon sink could offset up to 45 percent of economy-wide emissions annually by 2050. [21]


✔ Restore 5 Million Acres of Wetlands by 2040
Wetlands--including swamps, marshes, and peatlands--are vital ecosystems for all types of wildlife and biodiversity. They support seafood, recreation, and tourism industries; protect American shorelines from storm surge; filter water; and absorb carbon. America has lost over half of its original wetlands.[22] The rate of loss is increasing, and a third of what remains is in poor condition.[23],[24],[25]


✔ Expand Sustainable Farming and Soil Practices to 30% of Agricultural Land by 2030 and 70% by 2050
A thriving agricultural sector relies upon healthy soil. Healthy soil also supports carbon sequestration, flood protection, reduced erosion, and pest and plant disease control. Beyond the field, the excess use of pesticides and fertilizers affect soil and water quality, leading to such effects as deadly hypoxia and algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay. It also diminishes property values and recreational uses of nearby waters, costing the U.S. at least $2.2 billion annually.[26] Sustainable farming and soil practices are not only practical but also economically beneficial to farmers.

Increasing uptake of key soil carbon-beneficial conservation practices to 70 percent of U.S. cropland could result in an increased soil carbon sink of over 270 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equiv. per year by 2050--this represents half of current agricultural emissions. [27]


✔ Cleanup Brownfields and All Hazardous Sites
A brownfield is a previously occupied property of which its redevelopment or reuse is complicated due to the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. There are an estimated 450,000 brownfield sites in the United States[28] and 1,343 sites listed on the Superfund National Priority List, which are locations with significant hazardous material contamination.[29]

Neighborhoods adjacent to brownfields are more likely to be low-income and minority neighborhoods.[30] Cleaning up and redeveloping these sites is not only important for human health and the environment, but it can increase local tax revenues, grow jobs, lift property values, and ease development pressure off undeveloped lands.[31],[32]


Green is not just about environmentalism, it is about livability for the long-term. As more people move to cities, particularly along the coasts, risk of exposure to poor air quality and threats from climate change only increase. The right investments in sustainable and resilient infrastructure today will improve livability and reduce the economic and social costs of future disasters.


✔ Establish a National Fund for Urban and Rural Resilience
Cities and communities across America need to upgrade their infrastructure now to withstand the effects of climate change, including extreme heat, increased rain and snow, sea level rise, and extreme weather. A national adaptation fund, and analogous funds at the state and local level, could support investments in urban and rural stormwater management, green infrastructure, community hardening, and disaster preparedness. This fund will supplement the expansion of existing infrastructure and urban planning grant programs for sustainable communities and smart growth.

✔ Expand Public Green Space and Recreational Lands and Waters
As cities and suburban areas grow, citizens need greater opportunities to access open and green space and outdoor recreation than exist today. Green space can enhance the beauty and environmental quality of a community, as well as improve emotional health and build a sense of community. This should also include the doubling in size of dedicated public recreational lands and waters, including, in part, National and State parks.

✔ Modernize Urban Mobility and Mass Transit
The growth of cities, the rapid change in vehicle technology, and the need for low-carbon transportation means that the way in which we move ourselves and goods from one place to another is going to change forever. This transition needs to be executed thoughtfully to meet the needs of cities and the scale of change required. Large investments are needed to increase access to safe pedestrian and bicycle travel, low-carbon bus rapid transit, and electrified light rail.

133 million people will live in counties directly on the shoreline by 2020,[33] and 41 million Americans live in 100-year floodplains. That number is expected to grow by 50 percent by 2050 as the size and population of floodplains expand.[34]


✔ Zero Waste by 2040
Waste is just a resource without a market. Many of the materials sent to landfills can be recycled back into nature or the marketplace. Zero waste is about modernizing how products are created and disposed of to reduce the amount of waste created in manufacturing and packaging and to increase resource recovery through recycling and composting. A Zero Waste economy will never be 100-percent free of waste, but it will exploit every opportunity to turn waste into a resource.

✔ Capture 50% of Wasted Methane by 2040
Methane also enters the atmosphere through the decomposition of livestock manure, organic trash in landfills, and sludge from wastewater treatment facilities. This is money literally floating away. New and scalable methane capture systems can turn this waste into a valuable, carbon-neutral resource, saving Americans billions of dollars and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Former Obama aide joins Howard Schultz's team. Democrats aren't happy. (Dan Merica, Cristina Alesci, Rebecca Buck and Jeff Zeleny, 1/28/19, CNN)

Bill Burton, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, defended his decision to join Howard Schultz's team as the former Starbucks CEO considers an independent presidential bid in 2020, pushing back against suggestions that Schultz could be a spoiler.

Burton was one of the original aides to the Obama campaign 12 years ago and went on to be deputy press secretary in the White House. His addition to Schultz's team will lend the former Starbucks CEO credibility but it will also amplify the pushback to Schultz's potential bid from Democrats who believe it would jeopardize their chances at defeating President Donald Trump.

People forget that the original Donald Trump, Ross Perot, led the 1992 presidential race until he was exposed to sunlight. Mr. Schulktz is poised to run the same sort of aesthetic campaign but without the racism.

January 28, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Michael Bloomberg Panics: Don't Run Against Trump, Howard! (HANK BERRIEN, January 28, 2019, Daily Wire)

On Monday, after former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced over the weekend that he might be interested in launching an Independent candidacy for the presidency in 2020, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican who supported Hillary Clinton's candidacy in 2016, issued a statement that echoed the panic many Democrats expressed that a prospective Schultz run would jeopardize the Democrats' chances of ousting President Trump in 2020. 

The hysteria over Mr. Schultz's candidacy reflects the fear that the Democrats may nominate a Progressive, instead of Kamala or Biden, and risk losing a near unlosable election.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM

60-40 NATION:

Bipartisanship: A New Hope (JIM GERAGHTY, January 28, 2019, National Review)

In December, right before the government shutdown began, a surprisingly broad bipartisan coalition united behind long-discussed legislation on criminal-justice reform. The First Step Act won more than 350 votes in the House of Representatives and 87 votes in the Senate, and it was the rare time that the ACLU, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the NAACP, and Kim Kardashian all applauded legislation signed by President Trump -- while scholars at the Heritage Foundation hailed it as "a conservative victory."

One year ago, attendees at the Koch Seminar Network's winter meeting talked up the criminal-justice reform and prison anti-recidivism programs relentlessly, when they were considered second-tier issues by most of Washington. At this year's winter meeting, the network of activist groups and nonprofits headed by Charles Koch have pointed to the push for criminal-justice reform as evidence that their playbook can work in an era of intensely divided government.

Addressing attendees Saturday night, the 83-year-old Charles Koch called on the network's members to "unite with people across the whole spectrum of viewpoints, of different ideas, including those who have been adversaries." He paused for a surprisingly long moment. "This attitude of holding against others who have different beliefs is tearing our country apart. What we're planning to do, and what we're doing, is bringing people together."

"Uniting broad coalitions is much more effective than partisan politics," said Brian Hooks, chairman of the Koch Seminar Network. In the coming year, the network will "really focus on uniting broad-based policy coalitions," Hooks said. "The next step forward is to go with what's working" as demonstrated in the passage of the First Step Act.

"Our efforts in criminal-justice reform are really a blueprint for going forward focusing on uniting the two sides," James Davis, a senior adviser to several of the network's member groups, told me. This means making more alliances with individuals and organizations that might have fought with the Koch networks in the past. Mark Holden, the Koch general counsel who spearheaded the groups' push for criminal-justice reform, noted that one of his closest allies on the issue, CNN commentator and former Obama-administration official Van Jones, once attended a protest against Americans for Prosperity and the Koch Brothers back in 2011. Last year, Holden and Jones were doing joint interviews, crediting each other for their efforts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


An Obscure White House Staffer's Jaw-Dropping Trump Tell-All (ELAINA PLOTT, 1/28/19, The Atlantic)

"This is the worst f--ing job I've ever had."

So snapped John Kelly on a March morning in the West Wing, according to a new book by Cliff Sims. The chief of staff was sitting in his office, a light-filled space where the White House swimming pool was just visible beyond French doors. "People apparently think that I care when they write that I might be fired. If that ever happened, it would be the best day I've had since I walked into this place," Kelly told the small group of aides in front of him. "And the president knows it, too." [...]

He also watched as senior officials privately laughed off many of the president's stranger requests. In his first few days as director of the National Economic Council, Sims writes, Larry Kudlow emerged from a meeting with the president looking flustered. He told Gary Cohn, his predecessor, that Trump ordered him to "stop" a "special deal" that he believed Amazon was getting from the U.S. Postal Service. "Gary laughed loudly," Sims writes. "'Welcome to the White House,' [Cohn] said, shaking Larry's hand ... 'It's total bulls--.'" Cohn explained that Amazon was not, in fact, getting "some special deal." "He's just mad at [Jeff] Bezos for owning The Washington Post."

Read: The brazenness of Trump's White House staff using private email

"'So' Larry replied hesitantly, 'I shouldn't do anything about this?'" Sims writes that Cohn told Kudlow not to bother, adding, "But now you know why I'm so happy to be leaving." [...]

Sims told me his aim in writing the book was not to scorch or, alternatively, deify the president. In large part, Sims said, it was a way for him to gain clarity and closure on how the experience changed him personally--and how he became, at many points, a person he didn't like. Throughout the book, he calls himself "nakedly ambitious," "selfish," and "a coward." He writes about his struggle to reconcile his Christian faith with working for a president who, for example, "totally lacked nuance" in his attitude toward refugees--particularly "persecuted Christians," whom Trump "promise[d]" to help but "[never] did." Sims writes that he took this concern at one point to Stephen Miller, who, he writes, told him, "I would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched America's soil."

Meanwhile, he writes, he "never heard any of the faith leaders who actually had access to Trump" press him on the issue. He describes Trump's evangelical advisory board as a collection largely of televangelist adherents to the prosperity gospel, people he "doubted" were "positive moral and spiritual influence[s] on the president." "When the president occasionally struggled ... to unify the country on divisive cultural issues, the silence of his 'spiritual advisers' was deafening," Sims writes. "What is the point of having moral authority, as all these advisers claimed to, if you don't stand up for morality?"

if they stood up for morality they'd have to quit.
Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Poor sleep magnifies the brain's response to pain (Natalie Parletta, 1/28/19, Cosmos)

Exploring the well-known link between sleep and pain, a new study has found for the first time that sleep impacts on areas of the brain that control pain.

After just one night of sleep deprivation, the brain region that senses pain goes into overdrive, while other regions that help modulate that pain response go on strike, according to a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


The $15 Minimum Wage Is Here. Why We Need $33 an Hour. (Ginia Bellafante, Jan. 4, 2019, NY Times)

Buried under the relentless flood of news during the last months of 2018 was a report, sponsored in part by City Harvest, New York's largest supplier of food to pantries and hunger charities that suggested less-than-optimistic predictions for what a new wage standard might achieve. The authors of the report calculated a self-sufficiency standard, meant to determine how much income is now required to meet basic needs -- housing, child care, food, transportation, health care -- without help from public subsidies, for families of different sizes living in different parts of the city.

The study found that more than two in five households in New York City lacked the income to cover necessities. And yet just a third of those households were considered poor by measures used by the federal government -- measures typically used as qualifiers for certain kinds of public assistance and ones that do not account for family composition among many other variables.

You begin to understand some of the animosity directed at Amazon around its impending move to Queens, for example, when you see how much money is actually required to live there already, before housing prices are destined to be driven up even further by the company's expansion. A single parent with two school-age children, for example would need to make nearly $69,427 a year, according to City Harvest's Self-Sufficiency calculator. That amounts to an hourly wage of just under $33.

That'd kill jobs even quicker than anything the GOP has achieved. Of course, it would never occur to the Left that the parent should simply marry.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Stephen Miller, Descendant Of Refugees, Would Be 'Happy' With No New Refugees (Aiden Pink, 1/29/19, The Forward)

White House senior advisor Stephen Miller said he would be "happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched America's soil," a new tell-all book by a former Trump administration staffer claims.

As David Jolly suggests on today's Bulwark podcast, Donald has to declare an emergency for his Wall or he'll lose his core supporters, for whom it has become a fetish symbolizing all their hatred of the other.

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


As Trump slides in new poll, he retreats deeper into Fox News fantasyland (Greg Sargent, January 28, 2019, Washington Post)

First, let's look at the new Post-ABC polling. Some highlights:

57 percent rate Trump's handling of border security negatively, a remarkable indictment of Trump on his signature issue.
61 percent say Trump is not honest or trustworthy.
58 percent say Trump lacks the personality and temperament to serve effectively as president.
56 percent say Trump has not brought needed change to Washington.
65 percent say Trump does not understand the problems of people like them.
58 percent say Trump is not good at making political deals.
64 percent do not have a lot of confidence that Trump will make the right decisions for the country's future. [...]

That Trump is consulting Dobbs for private advice about how to proceed -- even as he craters in polls -- perfectly captures the folly and delusion consuming this presidency at this particular moment. Trump watches Fox obsessively for validation, and he has very likely seen Dobbs tell him that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "whipped" him in the shutdown battle; that his only route forward is to declare a national emergency; and that recent leaks about the Russia probe were really about distracting the public from Democratic opposition to Trump's wall, as if that's somehow an unpopular position that Democrats fear holding.

In this mythology, the political threat to Trump does not come from the mounting legal travails he faces (all of that is a hoax and a witch hunt) or from Trump's malicious and deeply destructive shutdown for the sake of his deeply unpopular wall. Rather, the real political danger to Trump always comes from his failure to fight hard enough, whether it's failing to close down special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation, or failing to do whatever it takes -- declare a national emergency, shut down the government until the end of time -- to ensure that he gets the wall without giving up anything that might perturb his base in the slightest.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


'Mean as a Snake': When President Trump Met the Real Mitch McConnell: An exclusive excerpt from a new insider account of the Trump White House. (CLIFF SIMS January 28, 2019, Politico)

As the meeting was coming to an end, an offhand comment piqued the president's interest.

"We're going to have to keep everyone together, because we're going to be doing this without any Democratic votes," McConnell said.

"Really?" Trump replied, suddenly intrigued. "You don't think we'll get any?"

The owlish, placid Senate majority leader spoke quietly but firmly. "No, Mr. President," McConnell said. "Not one." Democrats had passed Obamacare without any Republican votes. If Republicans were going to repeal it, McConnell believed they'd have to do it in the same way.

"What about Joe Manchin?" Trump asked, as if McConnell must have for­gotten him. Manchin, a 69-year-old West Virginia Democrat who liked to position himself as above partisan politics and willing to work with the GOP, was coming up for reelection in 2018 in a state that Trump had won by 42 points. On top of that, Trump viewed him as a personal friend. Surely his buddy Joe would play ball.

"Absolutely not, Mr. President," McConnell said in a tone that seemed designed to end the debate.

"Really?" the president asked. Often the contrarian, he seemed to view this as a personal challenge as well as a test of his persuasiveness. "I have a wonderful relationship with him; I think he might come around."

McConnell didn't flinch. He stayed sitting upright in his brown leather chair, elbows on the armrests and hands clasped underneath his chin.

"Mr. President," he began, "he'll never be with us when it counts. I've seen this time and time again. We're going to do everything in our power to beat him when he comes up for reelection in 2018."

Trump seemed taken aback. He cut his eyes at Priebus, as if to say, Why did no one tell me this was an issue? He didn't seem angry, just befuddled.

"Well, Joe's been a friend of mine, so we'll have to see," Trump said, turning his attention back to McConnell. "Do we have to go after him like that?" "Absolutely, Mr. President," McConnell shot back without a moment's hesitation. "We're going to crush him like a grape." Outside the walls of the Roosevelt Room, the conventional wisdom was that men like McConnell would temper Trump's aggressive impulses. Just the opposite was happening right now. There was a brief silence--maybe a half second--when the atmosphere in the room felt like the scene in Goodfellas when no one can tell how Joe Pesci is going to react to Ray Liotta calling him "funny." Would he freak out? Would he laugh it off? Finally Trump broke the tension.

"This guy's mean as a snake!" he said, pointing at McConnell and looking around the room.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


New Party, Who Dis? (ANDREW EGGER  JANUARY 28, 2019, The Bulwark)

According to the NH Journal poll, which surveyed 593 registered voters earlier this month, 55 percent of New Hampshire Democrats believe that Elizabeth Warren best represents the Democratic party. Ocasio-Cortez came in second with 28 percent. Just 17 percent said that Clinton was the best representation of the current party.

"The fact that so many Democrats in New Hampshire see Sen. Warren as an accurate reflection of their party isn't that surprising," NH Journal publisher Shawn McCoy said in a press release. "But the fact that Hillary Clinton, an icon of the party for 30 years, trails a progressive activist newcomer like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is astonishing."

Republicans shouldn't spend too much time gloating over these numbers, however. Because even while New Hampshire Democrats are inching away from Clinton, the poll shows that New Hampshire voters overall are running away from Trump. In 2016 Trump came within half a percentage point of winning the state. Now, he trails both Warren and Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders by 13 points (54 percent to 41 percent) in head-to-head polling. (Trump also trails Beto O'Rourke 48 percent to 41 percent.)

The poll contains one word of comfort for the president: A sizeable majority of state Republicans (59 percent) said they'd support Trump if he were challenged by Utah senator Mitt Romney.

...but it's still revealing that Donald can't even get to 60% in a primary.  [People forget, Gene McCarthy only got 42% in 1968.] He's not going to be on the ticket.

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


Bahrain upholds life sentences for opposition leaders (Deutsche-Welle, 1/28/19)

Sheikh Ali Salman, the secretary-general of the outlawed Al-Wefaq political party, on Monday lost his appeal against a life sentence before Bahrain's highest court.

The supreme court upheld the verdict against Salman and two other exiled Al-Wefaq leaders accused of spying for estranged neighbor Qatar.

Sheikh Hassan Ali Juma Sultan and Ali Mahdi Ali al-Aswad were jailed for life in absentia last November, overturning their previous acquittals.

Al-Wefaq -- dissolved by court order in 2016 -- had had links to Bahrain's Shiite Muslim minority and had campaigned for reforms in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom until crushed in 2011 by a Saudi-led intervention.

Amnesty International described Monday's verdicts as "yet another nail in the coffin for the right to freedom of expression in Bahrain and exposes the country's justice system as a complete farce."

Except, of course, that it is majority Shi'a.  We should punish both its government and the Sa'uds.

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


The shutdown cost America $3 billion it'll never get back, nonpartisan report finds (The Week, 1/28/19)

The longest government shutdown in history may have ended, but its damage to the economy is far from over.

Throughout the 35-day shutdown prompted by President Trump's demand for border wall funding, 800,000 federal employees went unpaid and six government departments went unfunded. That cost the American economy $11 billion, $3 billion of which will never be recovered, an analysis released Monday by the Congressional Budget Office reveals.

there's a reason all his ventures end in bankruptcy and loan's from Dad.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Can This Man Help End the War in Afghanistan? (Ahmed Rashid, Jan. 28, 2019, NY Times)

Mr. Baradar is revered among the Taliban as a charismatic military leader and a deeply religious figure who still reflects the origins of the Taliban movement, when it was founded to end the Afghan civil war and warlordism in the mid-1990s.

He was the first senior Taliban leader to see the futility and waste of war and held secret peace talks in 2009 with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and indirectly with the United States and the NATO forces.

Pakistan, then the principal backer of the Taliban, brought these tentative negotiations to an end by arresting Mr. Baradar in February 2010 in Karachi and exposing the interlocutors. In arresting him, Islamabad sent out a harsh message to the Taliban and the Afghan government not to engage in political processes that contradicted its policy in Afghanistan. Mr. Baradar's arrest created intense antagonism between Kabul and Islamabad and was deeply resented by the Taliban, which revered Mr. Baradar as one of their founder leaders.

After pressure from the United States and Qatar, Pakistan released Mr. Baradar in October after eight and a half years. He stayed in the country for medical treatment. Mr. Baradar's release and his subsequent elevation as the chief negotiator have raised hopes that Pakistan's attitude to the peace process and its military's antipathy to the Taliban leaders seeking peace has clearly changed.

Pakistan has been politically isolated in the region for its unwillingness to help end the Afghan war. And the damage done by the Pakistani Taliban, a collective of jihadist groups, which attacks targets in Pakistan and then retreats into Afghanistan, has changed Islamabad's calculus. The ongoing talks between the Americans and the Taliban have made it clear that the Taliban will no longer support or give sanctuary to terrorist groups from outside Afghanistan.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Wild is the Wolf (Eloise Kane, 23 January 2019, History Today)
For over a decade during the late 18th century, a wolf stalked the estate of the Earl of Pembroke in Wilton, Wiltshire. Wolves were not commonly seen roaming the grounds of England's stately homes, though the nobility and gentry enjoyed keeping menageries of exotic creatures when they could. Having been extinct in Britain for centuries (if not millennia), the wolf was certainly an unusual creature. This particular wolf, however, was not wild, nor part of a menagerie; her name was Lupa and she seems to have been thought of as more of a pet.

Lupa was born in 1770 and, once weaned, was given to the Earl of Pembroke. She had her own keeper, Nathaniel Townsend, who was paid between £1 and £2 every few months for 'the keeping of the wolf-bitch'. Lupa was kept separately from the other hounds, perhaps in case of aggression between them, and it is unlikely that she lived in the house. She reportedly had four litters of puppies, one of which is recorded in the household accounts in 1773. At the time of her death, Lupa was 12 years old and like many of the family's pets was buried in the gardens of Wilton House with a headstone. All evidence we have for Lupa's existence refers to her as either a wolf or wolf-bitch, but the epitaph that was inscribed on her headstone makes it clear what Lupa really was: a wolf-dog hybrid. [...]

General interest in creating a typology of animals was driven by the divide between nature and culture that emerged in the Enlightenment during the late-17th and 18th centuries. Nature was something to be studied, observed, dissected and understood. It was only 12 years before Lupa was born that the Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus' most important work had appeared, the 10th edition of Systema Naturae. In it, Linnaeus laid out the classification of the animal kingdom, giving the world a system for naming plants and animals by genus and species. But while this laid the foundation of the taxonomic system of understanding the natural world that we still use today, general attitudes towards animals were very different.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM


Germany to close all 84 of its coal-fired power plants, will rely primarily on renewable energy (ERIK KIRSCHBAUM, JAN 26, 2019, LA Times)

Germany, one of the world's biggest consumers of coal, will shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years to meet its international commitments in the fight against climate change, a government commission said Saturday.

The announcement marked a significant shift for Europe's largest country -- a nation that had long been a leader on cutting CO2 emissions before turning into a laggard in recent years and badly missing its reduction targets. Coal plants account for 40% of Germany's electricity, itself a reduction from recent years when coal dominated power production.

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 AM


Shutdown showed America's dependence on the federal government (DAMIAN PALETTA, 1/26/19,  WASHINGTON POST)

The severe economic strain caused by the five-week shutdown forced small-government conservatives to break from Trump in a way they hadn't before. They were overwhelmed with pleas from businesses and families caught in the middle of the shutdown, far beyond just the 800,000 federal employees who hadn't been paid in a month.

"We cannot mess with people's lives this way," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said.

The air travel system bogged down. Tax refunds appeared in jeopardy. Parts of the federal court system were preparing to close. Food stamp benefits neared expiration, and the government was running out of money to pay rent for its own agencies, let alone low-income families who receive housing benefits.

Even though the shutdown affected less than a quarter of the government's budget, White House officials said they believed it could have stalled the entire economy if it continued for much longer.

"The government touches so much of the economy that you don't even realize," said Melissa Kearney, an economics professor at the University of Maryland. "This brings into really sharp focus that the government is part of our daily economic lives in so many dimensions."

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Kamala Harris's controversial record on criminal justice, explained: As she launches her presidential campaign, Harris is characterizing herself as a reformer. Critics disagree. (German Lopez,  Jan 23, 2019, Vox)

A close examination of Harris's record shows it's filled with contradictions. She pushed for programs that helped people find jobs instead of putting them in prison, but also fought to keep people in prison even after they were proved innocent. She refused to pursue the death penalty against a man who killed a police officer, but also defended California's death penalty system in court. She implemented training programs to address police officers' racial biases, but also resisted calls to get her office to investigate certain police shootings.

But what seem like contradictions may reflect a balancing act. Harris's parents worked on civil rights causes, and she came from a background well aware of the excesses of the criminal justice system -- but in office, she had to play the role of a prosecutor and California's lawyer. She started in an era when "tough on crime" politics were popular across party lines -- but she rose to national prominence as criminal justice reform started to take off nationally. She had an eye on higher political office as support for criminal justice reform became de rigueur for Democrats -- but she still had to work as California's top law enforcement official.

Her race and gender likely made this balancing act even tougher. In the US, studies have found that more than 90 percent of elected prosecutors are white and more than 80 percent are male. As a black woman, Harris stood out -- inviting scrutiny and skepticism, especially by people who may hold racist stereotypes about how black people view law enforcement or sexist views about whether women are "tough" enough for the job.

Still, the result is the same: As she became more nationally visible, Harris was less known as a progressive prosecutor, as she'd been earlier in her career, and more a reform-lite or even anti-reform attorney general. Now critics have labeled her a "cop" -- a sellout for a broken criminal justice system.

In the 2020 elections, she faces a balancing act again: managing constituencies on the left that will push for more radical reforms, particularly in the Democratic primary, and more centrist voters who may like some of her "tougher" roots as a prosecutor and attorney general, especially in the general election.

...is her biggest nomination stumbling block, but her appeal to women, blacks and moderates means she can lose progressives and still win easily.  She's a female UR but  without the initial street cred.

California's big, but South Carolina may be key in Kamala Harris' presidential run (EVAN HALPER and MARK Z. BARABAK, JAN 25, 2019, LA Times)

It was no coincidence Harris chose this state to make her initial appearance. Nor was the locale an accident: the annual bash thrown by Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation's first sorority founded by African Americans, which Harris pledged as a student at Howard University.

Few states are being as closely studied, sized up and sifted through by the senator's campaign as South Carolina, which has a crucial early place on the 2020 calendar.

South Carolina played a vital role propelling Barack Obama to the White House in 2008, boosting him past Hillary Clinton. The state and its large African American population hold similar promise for Harris, whose parents were immigrants: her father from Jamaica, her mother from India.

South Carolina may be a conservative stronghold. But the Democratic primary electorate is mostly black, serving as a political bellwether for much of the South, where Harris' stature as the first viable black female presidential candidate could position her uniquely well. The party is looking for fresh faces, and the turnout of black women has historically been among the highest of any voter group.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calls for a unified opposition (Al Jazeera, 1/28/19)

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for the establishment of a united Egyptian opposition group abroad to help regain control of the country after a military coup in July 2013 put Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in power.

In a statement marking the eighth anniversary of the January 25, 2011 revolution, the outlawed group said the purpose of a unified opposition would be to liberate Egypt from military rule and to release political prisoners from prison.

The Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt's oldest and most influential Islamist group - called on expatriate Egyptian judges to take over the leadership of a constituent body, pointing out that individuals or groups abroad can help the work of the opposition at home.

In the interest of the Egyptian revolution and to protect the opposition, the statement also stressed the need to stay away from those who advocate the use of violence.

It is to our enduring shame that we did not intervene to help the democratic government.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Why are France's yellow vest protests so white?: Few minorities attend rallies demanding change from President Macron, which have seen outbursts of racism. (Alice Kantor, 1/28/19, Al Jazeera)

[A]study by sociologist Herve Le Bras suggested that yellow vest protesters are overwhelmingly from rural areas, where there are few minority groups.

"It's a white movement," said Rafik Chekkat, a law expert and editor of the website Etat d'Exception. [...]

The yellow vest movement, meanwhile, has witnessed outbursts of racism.

In one instance, white yellow vest protesters forced a black woman out of her car and insulted her in front of her children, telling her to "go back to [her] country."

"It's white France that's suffering," said Jean-Yves Le Gallou, a self-proclaimed yellow vest member and far-right politician. 

"Bourgeois France duped us, telling us migrants are poor," added Eric Zemmour, a right-wing writer. 

Minorities have been reluctant to join a movement that might very well turn against them, said Sopo.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Howard Schultz, Former Starbucks Chief, Is Preparing for an Independent 2020 Run (Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jan. 27, 2019, NY Times)

Asked if he would consider changing his mind and run as a Democrat, he said, "I feel if I ran as a Democrat I would have to be disingenuous and say things that I don't believe because the party has shifted so far to the left."

"When I hear people espousing free government-paid college, free government-paid health care and a free government job for everyone -- on top of a $21 trillion debt -- the question is, how are we paying for all this and not bankrupting the country?" Mr. Schultz said.

"It's as big of a false narrative as the wall," he added. "Doesn't someone have to speak the truth about what we can afford while maintaining a deep level of compassion and empathy for the American people?"

Mr. Schultz, who grew up in the public housing projects in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, became a billionaire by building Starbucks from seven stores in Seattle into a global coffee chain with over 350,000 employees. He was known as a progressive corporate leader, offering full health benefits for full- and part-time employees and their domestic partners, and Starbucks became the first privately owned American company to include part-time workers in its stock-option program. [...]

Mr. Schultz's consideration of entering the race as an independent evokes the 1992 campaign by the eccentric Texas billionaire Ross Perot, also a political neophyte. Mr. Perot, for a time, was the leader in the polls and gained almost 19 percent of the popular vote, the most for an independent candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.

Like Mr. Schultz, Mr. Perot expressed concern about the national debt and vowed to reduce it. Mr. Perot failed to win any electoral votes.

Mr. Schultz, who pointed to a recent Gallup poll showing that 42 percent of voters identified as politically independent, scoffed at the comparisons to previous efforts of independent candidates.

"This is a very different time in America today in terms of how divided we are and the need for the country to come together," he said. "I've done the work this year to unequivocally remove, if I decide to run, any concern regarding ballot access."

Mr. Schultz is relying in part on a small team of outside advisers, including Steve Schmidt, the former campaign strategist for John McCain's 2008 presidential effort.

Join debt reduction with a plan to end illegal immigration and campaign reform and you can run a purely aesthetic campaign.

January 27, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Wrong track': Public sours on nation's direction after shutdown (Mark Murray, 1/27/19, NBC News)

After the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history, six-in-10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and nearly 70 percent of them have negative opinions on the state of the nation today, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. [...]


The NBC/WSJ poll also measures eight presidential qualities for Trump. His highest marks (where he scores a "4" or "5" on a 5-point scale):

being direct and straightforward in communicating with the American people: 43 percent;
changing business as usual in Washington: 39 percent;
being effective and getting things done: 38 percent;
being a good negotiator: 36 percent.

His lowest marks:

being steady and reliable: 32 percent;
being knowledgeable and experienced: 32 percent;
being honest and trustworthy: 28 percent;
having high personal and ethical standards: 24 percent.

Notably, Trump gets below 50 percent on all eight of these qualities.

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


Trump ordered 15,000 new border and immigration officers -- but got thousands of vacancies instead (MOLLY O'TOOLE, JAN 27, 2019, LA Times)

Two years after President Trump signed orders to hire 15,000 new border agents and immigration officers, the administration has spent tens of millions of dollars in the effort -- but has thousands more vacancies than when it began.

In a sign of the difficulties, Customs and Border Protection allocated $60.7 million to Accenture Federal Services, a management consulting firm, as part of a $297-million contract to recruit, vet and hire 7,500 border officers over five years, but the company has produced only 33 new hires so far.

The president's promised hiring surge steadily lost ground even as he publicly hammered away at the need for stiffer border security, warned of a looming migrant invasion and shut down parts of the government for five weeks over his demands for $5.7 billion from Congress for a border wall.

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM



Who needs moderation today? At first sight, the present moment does not seem to be ripe for moderation. As long as we live in echo chambers and democratic norms are being defied and undermined by politicians who exhibit erratic patterns of behavior and an insatiable appetite for domination, embracing moderation seems to be a self-defeating course of action. As a political theorist who has been researching this elusive virtue for over a decade, I have learned two important things about it.1 First, writing about moderation often amounts to a silent condemnation to solitude and marginality. This virtue never makes the headlines in our cable news world and it is conspicuously absent from the agenda of many politicians and parties. We know who the lions and foxes of the world are, but the moderates, whoever they may be, rarely appear on our radar screens. Second, the conventional image of moderation as a weak and ineffective virtue deserves to be challenged and revised. Edmund Burke was aware that moderation had often been stigmatized as "the virtue of cowards and compromise as the prudence of traitors." And yet, he still regarded it as the virtue of noble and superior minds. "In all changes in the state," Burke claimed, "moderation is a virtue, not only amiable but powerful. It is a disposing, arranging, conciliating, cementing virtue."2

One may wonder why Burke's defense of moderation seems so alien to many of us today. Don't we need this virtue in our current political world to countervail the influence of misguided ambition and curb the insatiable desire for (more) power and domination? This is arguably a rhetorical question. That is why I have been encouraged by the sudden revival of interest in a virtue which, for all its limitations, remains essential to the smooth functioning of our representative institutions. Jerry Taylor's essay "The Alternative to Ideology" (October 29, 2018) and the Niskanen Center policy essay "The Center Can Hold: Public Policy for an Age of Extremes" (December 2018) are bold manifestos for moderation that highlight the pitfalls of ideological thinking and the dangers of the "monomaniacal pursuit of a single idea" at all costs.3 Both texts extend a timely invitation to those who are not fearful of swimming against the current to rediscover the nuances of a complex, contested, and often misunderstood virtue. They are likely to raise some eyebrows, perhaps even trigger some interesting controversies. We can only hope that they will start a larger debate on an important virtue in scarce supply in Washington and beyond. Here I would like to contribute to this conversation by summarizing a few lessons I have learned while studying moderation in historical perspective.

Although moderation is an old concept with deep roots in classical political thought and in various religious traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism), it is still surrounded by misunderstanding and suspicion. For many, it is an unappealing word that carries the connotation of weakness, timidity, and indecisiveness. On this view, moderation is practiced only by soft-hearted individuals unable to hold firm opinions or make strong decisions. Others equate moderation with opportunism and see it as a synonym of mediocrity and pettiness. According to this view, moderates lack moral principles, endorse dubious compromises, and/or defend an unsavory center devoid of substance. If one is brave enough to truly believe in something, the argument goes, one cannot (and should not) be a moderate.

Another opinion is that moderation can never be truly radical or democratic enough because it lacks a clear moral or political compass. According to this claim, moderation amounts in practice to endorsing the status quo or condoning, willingly or unwillingly, various forms of injustice in the name of a deceptive modus vivendi. Those who embrace such an objectionable form of moderation do not really care about addressing injustice and reducing inequalities. This was "the moderation of the white man" criticized by Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail (1963). An additional paradox might be mentioned here. When the public acknowledges the value of moderation, its support for the general concept is often greater than support for moderation on any particular issue, be it government size and spending, health care, immigration, taxation, or abortion. If and when people endorse moderation, they do it on the issues about which they care the least. On those topics which are central to their beliefs, their support for moderation is much weaker.

If anything, all these views of moderation prove that it is quite common to be pessimistic or cynical about the chances of moderation today. That is why it is important to challenge the conventional image of moderation by showing that it is a complex virtue which has a surprisingly radical side, often neglected by its critics and friends alike. If moderation can sometimes be a mask for cowardice and reaction, it can also be an effective means for promoting democratic reforms and preserving the institutional framework of free and open societies. Far from being a philosophy for weak souls, moderation is, in fact, a rare and difficult virtue for courageous minds. It implies a good dose of courage, nonconformism, and eclecticism, which explains why it is so difficult to acquire and practice moderation.

The misunderstanding of moderation is at the core of the recent Uncommon Knowledge, where Peter Robinson, Boyden Gray and Haley Barbour discussed the continuity of the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations.  Indeed, historians will look back at the period from Jimmy Carter to Barrack Obama as one undifferentiated political moment.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Who Thought the Shutdown Was a Good Idea?: Trump's shutdown disaster has many fathers. (CHARLES SYKES, JANUARY 27, 2019, The Bulwark)

For the moment, let's leave aside the obvious suspects on Fox News and the obsessive turd polishers (to borrow Jonah Goldberg's term) at American Greatness and focus on the people who are supposed to be analysts first and cheerleaders second.

Rush Limbaugh has always fancied himself as a galaxy brain. But he helped goad Trump into the shutdown and then encouraged the president to hang tough, even as the hard data became impossible to ignore. As recently as last week, when Trump's poll numbers were hemorrhaging, Limbaugh began his show with a blast of bravado:

I'm just gonna tell you, folks, if President Trump can hang in there, if he can hang in there and not go wobbly, he can win this. It's gonna be a few more weeks. There are gonna be a lot of risks. There are gonna be a lot of temptations to drop the ball and cave. I don't mean cave, there's gonna be a lot of temptation to make a deal. But he can win this if he just hangs in there.

So either El Rushbo was dead wrong or Trump is a wobbly wuss. Dittoheads can take their pick.

Then there were the obligatory references to Trump's occult skills at 3-D chess. After Speaker Nancy Pelosi shut down Trump's SOTU, David Brody, who reports for CBN, tweeted that "she's in for a rude awakening. Pelosi is playing checkers, trump is playing chess.

But willfully stupid takes of this sort were not confined to the Trumpist right's lumpenproletariat.

Here's a quick rundown on some of the best of the worst (or is it worst of the best?):

Henry Olsen

Last seen denouncing Mitt Romney for saying that Republicans should care about character, Olsen, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center returned to the pages of the Washington Post on January 3 to assure readers that "Trump won't lose in a long shutdown."

"Common wisdom says the longer this lasts, the worse the politics will get for President Trump," Olsen wrote. "I disagree. Trump isn't likely to suffer politically because he's not doing anything his supporters find objectionable." In fact, Olsen predicted, the Democrats "will increasingly bear some political responsibility for ending the crisis."

As a result, Olsen predicted that "for Trump, a continued shutdown is a political win no matter what the outcome."

You simply can't get the American people to share your racist obsessions.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


There's a Crowdsourcing Effort to Map the Stone Walls of New Hampshire: Part of the goal is to inspire greater appreciation for these mossy structures. (JONATHAN CAREY, JANUARY 24, 2019, Atlas Obscura)

HAVE YOU EVER WALKED DOWN your local trail and stumbled upon a random stone wall that looks as if it grew from the ground itself? No doubt it was built by someone and is extremely old, but why was it built? Was it the boundary for livestock on an old homestead, or perhaps a line of defense? The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services is trying to answer some of those questions for the state's mossy partitions.

New England is somewhat of a stone wall hotspot. Around 100,000 miles of walls dot the region's woodlands and countrysides. Most of these walls weren't built deliberately, but were instead a convenient way for farmers in previous centuries to discard plow-impeding rocks from their fields. In the years since, many of those stretches of farmland have become reforested.

To learn more about these structures, the DES launched a crowdsourced initiative to map every stone wall in the state, using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) mapping. LiDAR utilizes lasers to produce geological surveys showing land elevation.

Through an interactive interface known as the New Hampshire Stone Wall Mapper, interested parties can map the plethora of walls from the resulting aerial imagery.

It would be humbling enough if the only operative fact were that our ancestors had plowed up all these stones to build the walls, but they also cleared all the trees to make the fields they were encircling.
Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


A Bruised Trump Faces Uncertain 2020 Prospects. His Team Fears a Primary Fight. (Alexander Burns, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, Jan. 26, 2019, NY Times)

Privately, some of Mr. Trump's 2016 aides have said they are pessimistic about his path to 270 electoral votes after his party's midterm defeats in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. An Associated Press poll on Wednesday showed that Mr. Trump's overall approval rating had fallen to 34 percent, with his support among Republicans dipping below 80 percent -- a startling turn for a president who strives for total control of the G.O.P., and has usually achieved it. [...]

While core Republican voters remain loyal to him and he is not currently facing a contest for the nomination, Mr. Trump's low standing with political moderates and especially women is leading some G.O.P. officeholders to voice unease about having him at the top of the ticket next year.

"I think it's healthy and appropriate for the party to consider in 2020 whether this is really the path it wants to continue taking," said David F. Holt, the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City, where a Democrat won a stunning House upset last year thanks in part to the suburban antipathy toward Mr. Trump. [...]

In addition to Mr. Hogan, William F. Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, is weighing a challenge to Mr. Trump as a small-government moderate, people who have spoken with him said. Mr. Weld, 73, who was the Libertarian Party's vice-presidential nominee in 2016, has discussed either opposing Mr. Trump in the Republican primaries or seeking the Libertarian presidential nomination.

Governor Weld won NH for Hillary in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Report: In 2018, Far Right Perpetrated Every Extremist Murder in US (Matthew Chapman, January 24, 2019, AlterNet)

On Wednesday, a report from the Anti-Defamation League documented every known extremist killing in the United States in 2018. And according to its findings, right-wing extremists were responsible for every single one:

Right-wing extremists killed 50 people last year, mostly with firearms, making them responsible for more deaths than in any year since 1995, according to the ADL's data.

The report focuses on incidents like the February mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, committed by a teenager who expressed sympathy towards white supremacist ideology; the massacre at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue by an avowed anti-Semite; and the shooting spree at a Tallahassee yoga studio by a man bent on committing violence against women.

Guns were responsible for 42 of the 50 deaths documented by the ADL.

The ADL's list may not even capture the full scope of right-wing terror in 2018. For example, it would not include Cesar Sayoc, the pro-Trump Florida bodybuilder who sent a series of pipe bombs to Democratic officials, because mercifully none of his bombs killed anyone.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM



Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Chris Wray should hang his head in shame. At a time when he should be restoring the FBI's reputation after Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok and others tarnished its image as our country's premier law enforcement agency, he allowed 29 gun slinging agents to make a predawn arrest of former Trump advisor Roger Stone.

They haven't been this worked up since the last time we broke up white nationalist gangs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Jared Kushner, a Confident Negotiator, Finds Immigration Deal to Be Elusive (Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman, Jan. 26, 2019, NY Times)

Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, was confident in his ability as a good-faith negotiator who could find a compromise to end the government shutdown.

His pitch to Democratic lawmakers was simple: He told them he was the person who could "land this plane."

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


You're Known by the Hat You Wear (Cynthia Tucker, 1/24/19, Uexpress)

Symbols are powerful, conveying profound messages with the simplest images.

Soldiers carry a flag into battle and face death to hoist it aloft. Christian churches are identified by T-shaped pieces of wood or metal affixed to prominent places. In some ancient Eastern religions, the swastika represented peace, but it is today universally recognized as a sign of racism and anti-Semitism, violent repression and genocide. Each of those symbols carries a deep meaning recognized by those who display it.

During his 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump launched his own symbol -- a baseball cap with the words "Make America Great Again" emblazoned on it. Because of the incendiary rhetoric he spewed during his rallies, the MAGA cap quickly became associated with a bundle of prejudices -- xenophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia. If you wear the cap, you aren't just a fan of Trump; you're also a bigot who wants to build a wall on the southern border.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Universal Basic Income: The Basic Trade-offs (Arnold Kling, Aug 21, 2018, Medium)

I first learned about the UBI forty years ago, in a class taught by the late Bernie Saffran. He said that there are trade-offs in how the government sets two parameters: the level of the UBI and the tax rate on earned income. These in turn affect the UBI's impact on the budget and on upward mobility.

For example, suppose that the government grants each family of four a basic income of $20,000, and the tax rate on earned income is 20 percent. A tax rate of 20 percent does little to impede upward mobility, but it means that the "breakeven point" is a family earned income of $100,000. Families earning less than $100,000 would be receiving a net transfer from families earning more than that. This would make the UBI very expensive from a budget standpoint, leaving little or no room for other government spending.

On the other hand, suppose that the tax rate is 80 percent. That makes the "breakeven point" an income of $25,000, meaning that the only families receiving a net transfer are those that earn less than $25,000. But the 80 percent tax rate is a major impediment to upward mobility. People who work especially hard will have very little to show for their efforts.

You might think "A tax rate of 80 percent? That's crazy. There is no way that would be adopted in the U.S." But it turns out that is close to what we have.

Instead of a single tax rate and a universal basic income, we have a complicated tax system and a set of "conditional transfers," meaning money that people receive that can only be spent in certain ways (food stamps, for example) and only if they satisfy eligibility rules, including strict income cut-offs.

Examining the overall impact of all of these taxes and transfers, economist John F. Early found that

the middle-income group averages only 20 percent more spendable income than that of the lowest group. Government income redistribution basically flattens out the bottom 60 percent of income to within 20 percent of each other.
Taking into account the way that they lose eligibility for conditional transfers, low-to-middle income families face an average tax rate of close to 80 percent. In fact, there are surely some families in some income ranges who face a tax rate on incremental earnings of more than 100 percent! They would have more to spend if they earned a bit less income. Given the high implicit tax rates that they face, it is a tribute to their work ethic that so many of these families choose to earn income at all. But we offer them hardly any chance for upward mobility.

The economic case for the UBI, as I first learned from Bernie Saffran, is that it enables the government to meaningfully reduce poverty and still allow for upward mobility. Our current hodge-podge of conditional transfers is less effective on both counts, especially the latter.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Rep. Speier Predicts Two More Russia Probe Witnesses Could Be Indicted Soon (Matthew Chapman, January 27, 2019, AlterNet.)

[A]s Rep. Jackie Speier told MSNBC's Ari Melber, Stone's arrest could just be one of many dominoes still to fall.

"I think many of those who testified before our committee while the Republicans were in power were under the impression that they could say virtually anything and get away with it," she said. "And we're going to see in short order that Roger Stone is not the only one who lied to Congress."

"Your view, based on what we know to be, the trigger that Mueller is willing to use on false statements to Congress, is that you have knowledge of other individuals that you think by this standard would also be charged?" Melber pressed her.

"Yes I do," said Speier. She refused to name specific examples, but added that "there may be two."

Many think the Deep State's greatest coup was planting Rudy on the "defense" team, but it's hard to top the genius of having Devin Nunes call in Trumpbots for the sole purpose of having them lie to Congress. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Legal standards invoke the 'reasonable person'. Who is it? (Kevin Tobia, 1/25/19, Aeon)

Theorists often remark that the reasonable person is not the average person. As the American legal philosopher Peter Westen puts it:

[R]easonableness is not an empirical or statistical measure of how average members of the public think, feel, or behave ... Rather, reasonableness is a normative measure of ways in which it is right for persons to think, feel, or behave ...
The fact that a reasonable person can't be an average person inspires 'ideal' theories of the reasonable person. The UK's Supreme Court elaborates this view, on which facts about average people are entirely irrelevant. Evidence about ordinary people is 'beside the point. The behaviour of the reasonable man is not established by the evidence of witness, but by the application of a legal standard by the court.' On this view, the reasonable person is some 'ideal' person. As the UK Supreme Court observed, it is 'the anthropomorphic conception of justice ... the court itself'.

Of course, often 'the court itself' reflects the judgment of ordinary jurors. Perhaps surprisingly, the question of how ordinary people judge reasonableness is largely neglected. When people evaluate a standard of 'reasonable care', it might be that they're considering the common level of care or a good level of care. Or perhaps they're considering both.

To test this thought, I ran an experiment. I divided participants into three groups. One group provided their estimates of the reasonable number of different things, such as 'the reasonable number of weeks' delay before a criminal trial' and 'the reasonable loan interest rate'. Another group provided their estimates of the average number of each thing (eg, the 'average loan interest rate'), and the last provided their estimates of the ideal number of each thing (eg, the 'ideal loan interest rate'). Then, I compared the three groups' mean estimates for each example. For instance, is the 'reasonable loan interest rate' more like the average or the ideal interest rate?

A striking pattern emerged: across all these different examples, the estimates of 'reasonable' amounts tended to be intermediate between the 'average' and 'ideal' ones. For example, the reasonable number of weeks' delay before a criminal trial (10 weeks) fell between the judged average (17) and ideal (7). So too for the reasonable number of days to accept a contract offer, the reasonable rate of attorney's fees, and the reasonable loan interest rate.

These results suggest that our conception of what is reasonable is informed by thinking about both what people actually do and what people should do. Reasonableness is not a purely statistical notion, nor is it a purely prescriptive one; instead, it is a 'hybrid'. In this way, reasonableness is similar to other hybrid judgments, such as our judgment of what is 'normal'.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


As Xenophon saw it: Brilliant leader, kind horseman and friend of Socrates: Xenophon's writings inspire a humane, practical approach to life (Eve Browning, 1/10/19, Aeon)

Xenophon also wrote down his remembrances of a local philosopher named Socrates. Those who know Socrates mainly through the writings of Plato - Xenophon's near-exact contemporary - will find Xenophon's Socrates something of a surprise. Plato's Socrates claims to know nothing, and flamboyantly refutes the knowledge claims of others. In the pages of Xenophon's Memorabilia, however, Socrates actually answers philosophical questions, dispenses practical life advice, provides arguments proving the existence of benevolent gods, converses as if peer-to-peer with a courtesan, and even proposes a domestic economy scheme whereby indigent female relatives can become productive through the establishment of a textile business at home.

Socrates' conversation, according to Xenophon, 'was ever of human things'. This engaged, intensely practical, human Socrates can be refreshing to encounter. Anyone who has felt discomfort at how the opponents of Plato's Socrates suffer relentless public refutations and reductions to absurdity can take some comfort in Xenophon's Socrates who 'tries to cure the perplexities of his friends'.

For instance, what could be more enchanting than a Socrates who solo-dances for joy and exercise, so unlike the Socrates we know from Plato? In Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates asks the Phoenician dance-master to show him some dance moves. Everyone laughs: what will you do with dance moves, Socrates? He replies: 'I'll dance, by God!' A friend of Socrates then tells the group that he had stopped by his house early in the morning, and found him dancing alone. When questioned about it, Socrates happily confesses to solo-dancing often. It's great exercise, it moves the body in symmetry, it can be done indoors or outdoors with no equipment, and it freshens the appetite. 

Another surprising side of Xenophon's Socrates is shown through his encounter with a person who not only doesn't honour the gods, but makes fun of people who do. To this irreligious person, Socrates presents a careful and persuasive line of reasoning about the designed usefulness of all elements of creation. For humans and many other animals, there are 'eyes so that they can see what can be seen, and ears so that they can hear what can be heard', eyelids, eyelashes, molars and incisors, erotic desire to aid procreation; all these are 'the contrivance of some wise craftsman who loves animals'. And what about the cosmos as a whole? 'Are you, then, of the opinion that ... those surpassingly large and infinitely numerous things are in such an orderly condition through some senselessness?' Human beings even have the spiritual capacity to perceive the existence of gods, 'who put in order the greatest and noblest things', and 'they worry about you!'

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


WHY SPIRAL DOESN'T DESERVE TO BE COMPARED TO THE WIRE: On the Casual Racism and Muddled Politics of the French Crime TV Hit (RADHA VATSAL, 1/25/19, Crime Reads)

The series, now streaming its sixth season in the US, has enjoyed commercial and critical success, and "stunned executives by becoming the biggest-selling French TV show ever." The many comparisons the show has received to The Wire are revealing, however, because while both shows feature multi-layered plots involving characters from different walks of life, The Wire created memorable characters regardless of race (I think of the drug lord Stringer Bell enrolled in a business course). Spiral, although it creates a compelling and complex female lead in Proust's Police Captain Laure Berthaud, fails to open up the same possibilities for its non-white/minority characters. In fact, at key moments, Spiral abandons its otherwise meticulous plotting and undermines its own pursuit of an unvarnished realism by turning minority characters into types.

Instead of even some of the crooks being likable, even the heroes are unlikable.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Who Is Venezuela's Juan Guaidó? (John Otis, January 27, 2019, NPR)

In what amounted to his inaugural speech, Guaidó called on military officers to withdraw their support from Maduro.

"It has to be the Venezuelan people, the armed forces, and the international community that allow us to assume power, which we will not let slip away," Guaidó told cheering supporters in what amounted to his inaugural address.

At least one high-ranking military official, Col. José Luis Silva, who serves as military attaché at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, has heeded Guaidó's call. "As the Venezuelan defense attaché in the United States, I do not recognize Mr. Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela," Silva said in an interview Saturday with el Nuevo Herald.

Guaidó lacks any control over government ministries but he is more than just a figurehead. Analysts say that swelling international support for him, coupled with Maduro's diplomatic isolation, strengthens Guaidó's claim to the presidency.

Frank Mora, who heads the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University, said Guaidó's swearing-in ceremony could become a watershed moment, similar to the 2010 episode in Tunisia when an angry fruit vender set himself on fire and helped ignite the Arab Spring.

Alternative leadership in Caracas has also opened the door for the Trump administration to squeeze the vital flow of petrodollars to the Maduro government -- which counts on oil for 95 percent of its export earnings.

One option would be to send the proceeds from purchases of Venezuelan oil to foreign accounts that could be set up and controlled by Guaidó's governing team, said Francisco Rodríguez, a former economic advisor to Venezuela's National Assembly. He said that diverting oil funds to Guaidó would have a "huge impact" on the Venezuelan economy and put more pressure on Maduro to leave office.

"The pieces are starting to fit together for a peaceful transition in Venezuela," said Benjamin Scharifker, a leading Venezuelan intellectual and an opposition activist.

January 26, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Inside the White House, aides and advisers are despondent over a wasted month (Kevin Liptak, Dana Bash and Jim Acosta, 1/26/19, CNN)

Instead of emerging victorious, many of Trump's allies are walking away from a record-breaking government shutdown feeling outplayed, not least by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The President is now more unpopular than he was before the shutdown began, sacked with blame for the 35-day lapse in funding.

Friday's announcement was an extraordinary comedown that left many in the White House and those who support Trump marveling at the futility of the preceding four weeks of brinkmanship. In the eyes of some aides and outside advisers, an entire fruitless month has passed that cannot be recouped, a waste of the most valuable asset a White House has: the President's attention and time. [...]

Acknowledging a new political reality with Pelosi in charge, one adviser said the only way forward for Trump is "compromise," with little room for the no-holds-barred approach favored by advisers like Stephen Miller, the immigration hardliner.

"Today is not a cave but a grave for Stephen Miller policies," the adviser said, acknowledging it's not clear at all that Trump is ready to make that kind of course correction. [...]

Two people who talk to Trump regularly said that over the past week or so the President had been in a very sour mood amid the shutdown episode -- a state of mind that only worsened as Friday approached and he realized he was losing the fight. Already a mercurial boss, Trump has lashed out at aides he believes bear some responsibility for the morass.

His aides and advisers are frustrated too, and disappointed over the way Trump boxed himself in during a fateful Oval Office meeting in December, where, with cameras rolling, Trump told Pelosi and Schumer that he would proudly shut the government down over the border wall. He later sought to shirk responsibility, but his words were on tape. And he began steadily being outmaneuvered by Democrats, particularly Pelosi, whose ploy to deprive Trump of a State of the Union address dealt a preliminary blow this week.

For Trump, the border wall -- which began as a rhetorical device at his campaign rallies -- has become something much larger, an extension of himself so personal that he can't let it go.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Mueller's Real Target in the Roger Stone Indictment: It was probably not Stone himself, but rather his electronic devices. (Julian Sanchez, Jan. 26, 2019, NY Times)

Mr. Stone's early-morning arrest at his Florida home unsurprisingly dominated coverage, but reports also noted that federal agents were "seen carting hard drives and other evidence from Mr. Stone's apartment in Harlem, and his recording studio in South Florida was also raided." The F.B.I., in other words, was executing search warrants, not just arrest warrants. Even the timing and manner of Mr. Stone's arrest -- at the absolute earliest moment allowed under federal rules of criminal procedure without persuading a judge to authorize an exceptional nighttime raid -- suggests a concern with preventing destruction of evidence: Otherwise it would make little sense to send a dozen agents to arrest a man in his 60s before sunrise.

The indictment itself -- which charges Mr. Stone with witness tampering, obstruction of justice and false statements to Congress -- takes little imagination to translate into a search warrant application, and also hints at what Robert Mueller might be looking for. In describing the lies it alleges Mr. Stone told a House committee, the document places great emphasis on Mr. Stone's denial that he had any written communications with two associates -- associates with whom he had, in fact, regularly exchanged emails and text messages. That's precisely the sort of behavior one might focus on in seeking to convince a recalcitrant judge that an investigative target could not be trusted to turn over documents in response to a subpoena, requiring the more intrusive step of seizing Mr. Stone's devices directly.

Of course, as the indictment also makes clear, the special counsel has already managed to get its hands on plenty of Mr. Stone's communications by other means -- but one seeming exception jumps out. In a text exchange between Mr. Stone and a "supporter involved with the Trump Campaign," Mr. Mueller pointedly quotes Mr. Stone's request to "talk on a secure line -- got WhatsApp?" There the direct quotes abruptly end, and the indictment instead paraphrases what Mr. Stone "subsequently told the supporter." Though it's not directly relevant to his alleged false statements, the special counsel is taking pains to establish that Mr. Stone made a habit of moving sensitive conversations to encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp -- meaning that, unlike ordinary emails, the messages could not be obtained directly from the service provider.

The clear implication is that any truly incriminating communications would have been conducted in encrypted form -- and thus could be obtained only directly from Mr. Stone's own phones and laptops. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


We Interrupt This Crisis: Trump, Venezuela, and the Crazy Politics of the Shutdown: President Trump intervenes in Caracas but remains stymied on Capitol Hill. (Susan B. Glasser, January 25, 2019, The New Yorker)

For the better part of two years, Rubio has been lobbying Trump to take on Maduro, and on Wednesday he appeared to have succeeded in a big way. Around 1 p.m., the President briefly interrupted his public spat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the time and place of the annual State of the Union address to unveil a major intervention in Venezuela: the recognition of Juan Guaidó, the little-known, thirty-five-year-old head of the opposition National Assembly, as the country's legitimate interim leader. Tens of thousands took to the streets in Caracas, and more than a dozen other countries quickly joined the United States in backing Guaidó's claim to the Venezuelan Presidency. Maduro called it a U.S.-backed coup attempt and, in retaliation, ordered the expulsion of American diplomats within seventy-two hours. It's anybody's guess what will happen next. Pretty much all we know for sure is that Trump's surprise decision to throw the United States into the middle of Venezuela's chaos represents a major challenge to a teetering government.

This is not the crisis we expected to be talking about this week. The U.S. government is in its own paralyzed gridlock and Trump's approval rating is cratering because of it. In his announcement, Trump cited Venezuelans' demands for "freedom and the rule of law," which is not exactly the centerpiece of the President's foreign policy toward any other country in the world. Trump and his Administration have not only ignored human-rights abuses in other countries but celebrated some of the world's worst perpetrators of them. He began his Presidency by promising Arab dictators in Riyadh that he would not lecture them and, even in the face of the extrajudicial killing of a U.S. resident, he has stuck to it.

In typical Trump fashion, the decision about Venezuela happened quickly, at the last minute, and apparently without the normal process that would have accompanied such a significant move in any other Administration. On January 10th, Maduro was sworn in for a new term as President, even though the U.S., and much of the rest of the international community, had declared his reëlection, last year, as illegitimate. That seemed to be where the matter stood until January 15th, when Rubio, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere (and has used that perch to turn himself into what I've often heard referred to as the State Department desk officer for Latin America), took to the Senate floor. Citing the Venezuelan constitutional provision that calls for the head of the National Assembly to assume the Presidency in case of its vacancy, he demanded that the Trump Administration recognize Guaidó as the country's interim leader. Rubio's prodding, along with that of exile groups, sent the Administration "scrambling," McClatchy News reported.

Voted for Donald, got Jeb! and Marco....

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Roger Stone Indictment Raises More Big Questions About Russia, Trump 2016 Campaign (PHILIP EWING, 1/26/19, NPR)

In the summer of 2016, the fact of Russia's "active measures" was the subject of speculation, anonymous quotes and supposition -- but was not officially confirmed in public.

Since then, Mueller's office has detailed some of Russia's practices: Its use of social media agitation to deepen divisions among Americans, and the cyberattacks against political and other targets in search of embarrassing dirt to release.

The question now is what Stone, Trump's then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump's family or Trump himself knew about what was taking place behind the scenes.

Trump has gone back and forth then and now about what he accepts about the Russian election interference in 2016. But at the time he was consistent about how much he loved WikiLeaks and urged voters to focus on what it was revealing about the Democrats, no matter where the material was coming from.

The events of July 2016 followed many contacts by Russians or their agents with people in the Trump campaign -- including a meeting the previous month hosted by Donald Trump Jr., following an offer of help for the campaign, again via intermediaries, from the Russian government.

Manafort also met at least once with a business associate who has been linked to the GRU and, according to court documents, allegedly discussed polling data from the campaign, although the details about that meeting aren't clear.

And even as Trump's political fortunes improved throughout 2016, he and his deputies were negotiating with powerful Russians behind the scenes over a potential Trump Tower project in Moscow.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


'All for nothing': Trump's wall retreat bewilders allies: Before the president was done talking on Friday, a group text chain with several former Trump aides lit up with complaints. (ANITA KUMAR and GABBY ORR 01/25/2019, Politico)

Before President Donald Trump finished speaking from the Rose Garden, putting a temporary end to the five-week government shutdown, a running group text between several of his former aides lit up with complaints.

"[Speaker Nancy] Pelosi ordered everything off the menu and left Trump hanging with the bill," one Trump ally texted to the group.

"President Nancy Pelosi, she runs the country now," said a former White House official. "We went from indefinite shutdown, to down payment, to cave -- all within a span of 24 hours."

That official said that Trump's core supporters and former aides are "furious" and "melting down."

Bewildered by his decision to accept a deal without funding for a wall on the southern border -- not even the "down payment" the White House had requested a day earlier -- some of his most loyal supporters fretted that Trump was in danger of losing his fervent base that has fueled his presidency. It didn't help that special counsel Robert Mueller had just released more details about the Trump campaign's alleged attempts to backchannel with WikiLeaks during the election.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


'Prisoner of his own impulse': Inside Trump's cave to end shutdown without wall (Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim January 25, 2019, Washington Post)

His poll numbers were plummeting. His FBI director was decrying the dysfunction. The nation's air travel was in chaos. Federal workers were lining up at food banks. Economic growth was at risk of flatlining, and even some Republican senators were in open revolt.

So on Friday, the 35th day of a government shutdown that he said he was proud to instigate, President Trump finally folded. After vowing for weeks that he would keep the government closed unless he secured billions in funding for his promised border wall, Trump agreed to reopen it.

He got $0 instead.

Trump's capitulation to Democrats marked a humiliating low point in a polarizing presidency and sparked an immediate backlash among some conservative allies, who cast him as a wimp.

The Senate won't vote to convict because justice requires it, but because electability does.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Report: Trump Fears Stone Will Flip (Cody Fenwick, January 26, 2019, AlterNet)

[Vanity Fair reporter Gabriel] Sherman reports that, despite Stone's implications to the contrary, there's good reason to believe he may flip on Trump. One Republican close to Trump told Sherman that, "Stone knows Donald isn't loyal. He calls him 'Mr. Ingratitude.'"

There's been much speculation that Trump may be dangling pardons for his allies caught in Mueller's investigation or that those allies might be holding out hope for a pardon and refusing to cooperate on this basis. There are severe political risks, though, to the strategy for the president, lowering the likelihood that Trump will ever take this route. And given that Stone has seen that none of the other people indicted by Mueller have yet been pardoned by Trump, he may realize this as an increasingly unlikely bet.

Sherman also reports that Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, fears that he may too be indicted soon. 

We'll all have to forgive our increasingly hysterical Trumpot countrymen; they see their dream of an ethno-state drifting away from them.

Trump slammed by supporters for backing down on shutdown: Conservative pundits lash out at US president after he ends shutdown while failing to secure funding for border wall. (Al Jazeera, 1/26/19)

Far-right activists Mike Cernovic and Paul Joseph Watson also chimed in, with the former calling Trump "a broken man" and the latter declaring his base was in "complete meltdown".

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Tropicana Field is going cashless (Craig Calcaterra, Jan 25, 2019, Hardball Talk)

Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal reports that Tropicana Field will be the first major league ballpark to stop accepting cash. Yes, for real. Everything -- beer, hot dogs, nachos, foam fingers and the rest -- must be either (a) purchased with a credit card; or (b) with a Rays gift card which one can obtain for cash.

This is gonna cause a lot more controversy than you might think.

It's still a small handful of places, but a growing number of businesses, often coffee shops or upmarket fast casual restaurants, have adopted cashless policies, refusing to accept paper currency and requiring customers to pay with debit or credit cards. The rationale: thanks to chip and tap and smartphone technology it's become quicker and easier to to simply take cards or electronic payment, reducing customer wait time and the hassle of making change, counting cash drawers down at the end of the day, etc.

The polices have met with backlash, however, because they freeze out people who don't have access to bank accounts and/or credit or debit cards, such as low-income and people of color, who are far more typically unbanked of underbanked than others. You can read up on what that means here, but the upshot is that, according to the FDIC, 6.5 percent of households in the United States do not have any affiliation with a bank whatsoever. 

Cards will be a part of establishing universal saving accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Racism has no place in the Christian heart  (Steve Givens, 1/26/19, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

"Racism still profoundly affects our culture, and it has no place in the Christian heart," the bishops write. "This evil causes great harm to its victims, and it corrupts the souls of those who harbor racist or prejudicial thoughts."

Despite many promising strides made in our country over the past nearly six decades of my life (roughly the time since the beginning of the civil rights movement), racism still infects our nation, and the church is right to remind its members that our work is far from over. The bishops give us a succinct definition to begin an examination of our consciences, to begin an honest inventory of our personal and institutional deficits.

They write: "Racism arises when -- either consciously or unconsciously -- a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love."

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Human Immortality (William James, 1898, Harvard University) 

For our ancestors the world was a small, and--compared with our modern sense of it--a comparatively snug affair. Six thousand years at most it had lasted. In its history a few particular human heroes, kings, ecclesiarchs, and saints stood forth very prominent, overshadowing the imagination with their claims and merits, so that not only they, but all who were associated familiarly with them, shone with a glamour which even the Almighty, it was supposed, must recognize and respect. These prominent personages and their associates were the nucleus of the immortal group; the minor heroes and saints of minor sects came next, and people without distinction formed a sort of background and filling in. The whole scene of eternity (so far, at least, as Heaven and not the nether place was concerned in it) never struck to the believers's fancy as an overwhelmingly large or inconveniently crowded stage. One might call this aristocratic view of immortality; the immortals--I speak of Heaven exclusively, for an immortality of torment need not now concern us--were always an elite, a select and manageable number.

But, with our own generation, an entirely new quantitative imagination has swept over our western world. The theory of evolution now requires us to suppose a far vaster scale of times, spaces, and numbers than our forefathers ever dreamed the cosmic process to involve. Human history grows continuously out of animal history, and goes back possibly even to the tertiary epoch. From this there has emerged insensibly a democratic view, instead of the old aristocratic view, of immortality. For our minds, though in one sense they may have grown a little cynical, in another they have been made sypathetic by the evolutionary perspective. Bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh are these half-brutish pre-historic brothers. Girdled about with the immense darkness of this mysterious universe even as we are, they were born and died, suffered and struggled. Given over to fearful crime and passion, plunged in the blackest ignorance, preyed upon by hideous and grotesque delusions, yet steadfastly serving the profoundest of ideals in their fixed faith that existence in any form is better than non-existence, they ever rescued trimphantly from the jaws of ever-imminent destruction the torch of life, which, thanks to them, now lights the world for us. How small indeed seem individual distinctions when we look back on these overwhelming numbers of human beings panting and straining under the pressure of that vital want! And how inessential in the eyes of God must be the small surplus of the individual's merit, swamped as it is in the vast ocean of the common merit of mankind, dumbly and undauntedly doing the fundamental duty and living the heroic life! We grow humble and reverent as we contemplate the prodigious spectacle. Not our differences and distinctions,--we feel--no, but our common animal essence of patience under suffering and enduring effort must be what redeems us in the Deity's sight. An immense compassion and kinship fill the heart. An immortality from which these inconceivable billions of fellow-strivers should be excluded becomes an irrational idea for us. That our superiority in personal refinement or in religious creed should constitute a difference between ourselves and our messmates at life's banquet, fit to entail such a consequential difference of destiny as eternal life for us, and for them torment hereafter, or death with the beasts that perish, is a notion too absurd to be considered serious. Nay, more, the very beasts themselves--the wild ones at any rate--are leading the heroic life at all times. And a modern mind, expanded as some minds are by cosmic emotion, by the great evolutionist vision of universal continuity, hesitates to draw the line even at man. If any creature lives forever, why not all?--why not the patient brutes? So that a faith in immortality, if we are to indulge it, demands of us nowadays a scale of representation so stupendous that our imagination faints before it, and our personal feelings refuse to rise up and face the task. The supposition we are swept along to is too vast, and, rather than face the conclusion, we abandon the premise from which it starts. We give up our own immortality sooner than believe that all the hosts of Hottentots and Australians that have been, and shall ever be, should share it with us in secula seculorum. Life is a good thing on a reasonably copious scale; but the very heavens themselves, and the cosmic times and spaces, would stand aghast, we think, at the notion of preseving eternally such and ever-swelling plethora and glut of it.

Having myself, as a recipient of modern scientific culture, gone through a subjective experience like this, I feel sure that it must also have been the experience of many, perhaps of most, of you who listen to my words. But I have also come to see that it harbors a tremendous fallacy; and, since the noting of the fallacy has set my own mind free again, I have felt that one service I might render to my listeners tonight would be to point out where it lies.

It is the most obvious fallacy in the world, and the only wonder is that all the world should not see through it. It is the result of nothing bit an invincible blindness from which we suffer, an insensibility to the significance of alien lives, and a conceit that would project our own incapacity into the vast cosmos, and measure the wants of the Absolute by our own puny needs. Our christian ancestors dealt with the problem more easily than we do. We, indeed, lack sympathy; but they had a positive antipathy for these alien human creatures, and they naively supposed the Deity to have antipathy, too. Being, as they were, `heathen,' our forefathers felt a certain sort of joy in thinking that their Creator made them as so much mere fuel for the fires of hell. Our cutlure has humanized us beyond that point, but we cannot yet conceive them as our comrades in the fields of heaven. We have, as the phrase goes, no use for them, and it oppresses us to think of their survival. Take, for instance, all the Chinamen. Which of you here, my friends, sees any fitness in their eternal perpetuation unreduced in numbers? Surely not one of you. At most, you might deem it well to keep a few chosen specimens alive to represent an interesting and peculiar variety of humanity; but as for the rest, what comes in such surpassing numbers, and what you can only imagine in this abstract summary collective manner, must be something of which the units, you are sure, can have on individual preciousness. God himself, you think, can have no use for them. An immortality of every seperate specimen must be to him and to the universe as indigestible a load to carry as it is to you. So, engulfing the whole subject in a sort of mental gidiness and nausea, you drift along, first doubting that the mass can be immortal, then losing all assurance in the immortality of your own particular person, precious as you all the while feel and realize the latter to be. This, I am sure, is the attitude of mind of some of you before me.

But is not such an attitude due to the veriest lack and dearth of your imagination? You take these swarms of alien kinsmen as they are for you: an external picture painted on your retina, representing a crowd oppressive by its vastness and confusion. As they are for you, so you think they positively and absolutely are. I feel no call for them, you say; therefore there is no call for them. but all the while, beyond this externality which is your way of realizing them, they realize themselves with the acutest internality, with the most violent thrills of life. 'Tis you who are dead, stone-dead and blind and senseless, in your way of looking on. You open your eyes upon a scene of which you miss the whole significance. Each of these grotesque or even repulsive aliens is animated by an inner joy of living as hot or hotter than that which you feel beating in your private breast. The sun rises and beauty beams to light his path. To miss the inner joy of him, as Stevenson says, is to miss the whole of him.*10* Not a being of the countless throng is there whose continued life is not called for, and called for intensely, by the consciousness that animates the being's form. That you neither realize nor understand nor call for it, is an absolutely irrelevant circumstance. That you have a saturation-point of interest tells us nothing of the interests that absolutely are. The Universe, with every living entity which her resources create, creates at the same time a call for that entity, and an appitite for its continuance,--creates it, if nowhere else, at least within the heart of the entity itself. It is absurd to suppose, simply because our private power of sympathetic vibration with other lives gives out so soon, that in the heart of infinite being itself there can be such a thing as plethora, or glut, or supersaturation. It is not as if there were a bounded room where the minds in possession had to move up or make place and crowd together to accommodate new occupants. Each new mind brings its own edition of the universe of space along with it, its own room to inhabit; and these spaces never crowd each other,--the space of my imagination, for example, in no way inteferes with yours. The amount of possible consciousness seems to be governed by no law analogous to that of the so-called conservation of energy in the material world. When one man wakes up, or one is born, another does not have to go to sleep, or die, in order to keep the consciousness of the universe a constant quantity. Professor Wundt, in fact, in his `System of Philosophy,' has formulated a law of the universe which he calls the law of increase of spiritual energy, and which he expressly opposes to the law of conservation of energy in physical things.*11* There seems to be no formal limit to the positive increase of being in spiritual respects; and since the spiritual being, whenever it comes; affirms itself, expands and craves continuance, we may justly and literally say, regardless of the defects of our own private sympathy, that the supply of individual life in the universe can never possibly, however immeasurable it may become, exceed the demand. The demand for that supply is there the moment the supply itself comes into being, for the beings supplied demand their own continuance.

I speak, you see, from the point of view of all the other individual beings, realizing and enjoying inwardly their own existence. If we are pantheists, we can stop there. We need, then, only say that through them, as through so many diversified channels of expression, the eternal Spirit of the Universe affirms and realizes its own infinite life. But if we are theists, we can go farther without altering the result. God, we can say, has so inexhaustible a capacity for love that his call and need is for a literally endless accumulation of created lives. He can never faint or grow weary, as we should, under the increasing supply. His scale is infinite in all things. His sympathy can never know satiety or glut.

I hope now that you agree with me that the tiresomeness of an over-peopled Heaven is a purely subjective and illusory notion, a sign of human incapacity, a remnant of the old narrow-hearted aristocratic creed. ``Revere the Maker, lift thine eye up to his style and manners of the sky,'' and you will believe that this is indeed a democratic universe, in which your paltry exclusions play no regulative part. Was your taste consulted in the peopling of this globe? How, then, should it be consulted as to the peopling of the vast City of God? Let us put our hand over our mouth, like Job, and be thankful that in our personal littleness we ourselves are here at all. The Deity that suffers us, we may be sure, can suffer many another queer and wondrous and only half-delightful thing.

For my own part, then, so far as logic goes, I am willing that every leaf that ever grew in this world's forests and rustled in the breeze should become immortal. It is purely a question: are the leaves so, or not? Abstract quantity, and the abstract needlessness in our eyes of so much reduplication of things so much alike, have no connection with the subject. For bigness and number and generic similarity are only manners of our finite way of thinking; and, considered in itself and apart from our imagination, one scale of dimensions and of numbers for the Universe is no more miraculous or inconceivable than another, the moment you grant to a universe the liberty to be at all, in place of the Non-entity that might conceivably have reigned.

The heart of being can have no exclusions akin to those which our poor little hearts set up. The inner significance of other lives exceeds all our powers of sympathy and insight. If we feel a significance in our own life which would lead us spontaneously to claim its perpetuity, let us be at least tolerant of like claims made by other lives, however numerous, however unideal they may seem to us to be. Let us at any rate not decide adversely on our own claim, whose grounds we feel directly, because we cannot decide favorably on the alien claims, whose grounds we cannot feel at all. That would be letting blindness lay down the law to sight.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


The U.S. Failed in Venezuela Last Time. It's a Different World Now (Marc Champion , Ilya Arkhipov , David Tweed , and Firat Kozok, January 25, 2019, Bloomberg)

When the U.S. rushed to endorse a military coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2002, it ended up with egg on its face. The self-styled leader of a "Bolivarian" revolution was back in office within three days -- and more anti-American than ever.

The decision by Washington to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the nation's legitimate president could see a repeat, if Chavez-heir Nicolas Maduro should cling onto power. But it takes place in a very different geopolitical climate, one where failure risks global repercussions.

Venezuela's economy is in a tailspin, prompting millions to flee to neighboring states that have backed the U.S. in refusing to recognize Maduro's 2018 re-election, widely seen as fraudulent. The coup against Chavez was condemned by many Latin American governments as anti-democratic. Now it's the military that's keeping an authoritarian Maduro in power, in the face of much stronger domestic and regional opposition.

Yet the current stand-off is also freighted with great-power rivalry -- between China, Russia and the U.S. -- that barely existed in Venezuela 16 years ago. That's providing Maduro with a reservoir of international support in standing up to Washington that Chavez didn't enjoy.

Even if it weren't worth restoring a more moderate government simply to comport with our ideals, it would be worth toppling such regimes simply because it would serve as an object lesson to Putin, the PRC, etc. We know how their History Ends, but we're happy to speed it up.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite (Kevin Roose, Jan. 25, 2019, NY Times)

They'll never admit it in public, but many of your bosses want machines to replace you as soon as possible.

I know this because, for the past week, I've been mingling with corporate executives at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos. And I've noticed that their answers to questions about automation depend very much on who is listening.

In public, many executives wring their hands over the negative consequences that artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers. They take part in panel discussions about building "human-centered A.I." for the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" -- Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology -- and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.

But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

How could an organization "Committed to Improving the State of the World" not favor increasing wealth and liberating mankind from labor?

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


What ever happened to the Campus Free Speech Crisis? A year ago, universities were bracing for a new wave of Charlottesvilles. Administrators were predicting more protests, more deplatformings, and more out-of-control student activism. Indeed, the crisis was thought to be so acute that the White House convened a forum to address it, while state legislatures across the country scrambled to pass new laws and regulations.

What a difference a year makes. Rather than collapsing into chaos, 2018 was a year of relative quiet on college campuses. There were fewer deplatformings, fewer fired professors, and less violence compared to 2017. There was also more dialogue, greater respect for faculty free speech rights, and increased tolerance on both the right and the left. All of which raises the question: what went right? [...]

Finally, there are hopeful signs that a new culture of tolerance is taking hold on campus.

In colleges and universities across the country, students are forming new clubs and networks dedicated to respectful dialogue. Campus leaders are following suit, explicitly affirming the value of free speech and establishing protocols for its protection. Among conservatives in particular, there is a renewed emphasis on inviting speakers of substance, as opposed to those who seek merely to provoke.

For faculty, there are encouraging signs as well. Despite powerful campaigns to pressure universities into firing controversial professors, the vast majority of administrators held firm to principles of academic freedom. Indeed, a survey carried out by the conservative American Enterprise Institute found overwhelming support for academic freedom throughout the professoriate. While threats to faculty persist (including, ironically, to the survey's author), universities appear much less willing to placate their outraged critics than they did in 2017.

Why the new culture of tolerance? Some of it, I suspect, is due to the efforts of groups like PEN America, FIRE, and Heterodox Academy, which have been working tirelessly all year to promote dialogue and protect free speech. Fear of litigation is also likely to have made a difference. But I suspect the broader national political climate may be an even more important factor. Few observers truly appreciate how deeply the culture on campus is shaped by events taking place off it, which is why I suspect there is too little recognition that many of the events of 2016 and 2017, when concern about the "Free Speech Crisis" was at its height, were tied to the presidential election.

Trump's campaign and victory generated enormous consternation among many students and faculty, leading some to embrace confrontational forms of activism. In this, they were no different from activists off campus. But as that initial surge of panic has receded, so has the combative sense of urgency and alarm that drove campus activists when it was vivid and fresh. In other words, it is probably not that students are suddenly being won over by Mill's On Liberty. Nor is it that they now see the value of what Charlie Kirk or Ben Shapiro bring to campus. Rather, it is just that they are beginning to find them boring.

This might not sound like tolerance, but it is

Few people saw the improvements of 2018 coming. Interestingly, one of the few who did was social psychologist and Heterodox Academy co-founder Jonathan Haidt, who predicted in late 2017 that conditions on campus were poised to improve. Haidt got some of the details wrong. For example, he thought that there would be more free speech controversies in spring 2018, but there turned out to be fewer. But he was nevertheless on to something. The culture, tactics, and networks on campus have begun to change, and for the better.

Well, that's another wasted round of Rightwing hysterics...

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Is Harry Potter an apologist for neoliberalism? (Polly Mackenzie, 25 JANUARY 2019, UnHerd)

If you want evidence that being partisan rots the brain, take a look at Leftist commentary criticising 'neoliberals' for loving Harry Potter. A classic of the genre was published recently by one RJ Quinn, which sets out such a brain-bendingly idiotic misreading of JK Rowling's novels I could have wept. The hypothesis is that neoliberals love the Potter franchise because it presents a world in which "the magic of facts and reason and elite education were enough to vanquish the ills of society".

Well, thanks to my seven year old daughter, I've just reread all one million words of the Harry Potter novels, and I can tell you that Lord Voldemort is not defeated by facts, reason or elite education. He's defeated by love. 

Which is, of course, the basis of neoliberalism.  Heck, W even named his Compassionate Conservatism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Trump Has Lowest Presidential Approval Average Since 1945 (Oliver Willis, January 26, 2019, Shareblue)

Trump now has the lowest two-year average approval rating of any president in over seven decades.

A new poll from ABC News/Washington Post shows Trump with an average approval rating of 38 percent during his first two years in office. That is 23 points lower than the average approval for the 12 presidents before him, 61 percent, going back to 1945 -- when the first approval polls for U.S. presidents were conducted.

Trump's immediate predecessor, President Barack Obama, averaged a 55 percent approval rating in the same two-year time period, and President Bill Clinton had 51 percent. President John F. Kennedy had the highest marks, averaging 74 percent support over his first two years in office.

The latest poll also marks a record low for Trump himself, not just all U.S. presidents in the history of polling. His January approval rating was 37 percent, down 4 points from October and down one point from his previous low in December.

Racism, corruption and incompetence is a tough sell.

January 25, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Trump Caves on Government Shutdown, Agrees to Deal With No Wall Funding (JOSH VOORHEES, JAN 25, 2019, Slate)

Trump tried to spin this deal as a victory during his Rose Garden speech--at least when he wasn't going off-script to fearmonger about crimes committed with the aid of duct tape--but he was unable to cite anything he gained by keeping parts of the government shuttered for five weeks. This is, in short, a cave by Trump. He had previously been steadfast in his demand that any funding deal, short-term or not, include significant funding for the wall. In fact, this stop-gap funding bill is pretty much the same deal Democratic leaders have been pushing for weeks--Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were adamant that they would not negotiate while Trump held the federal government hostage--and is more or less the same one Trump and Republicans had agreed to prior to the shutdown, before he changed his mind under pressure from the Ann Coulters of the world.

What changed Trump's mind this time? Take your pick: Mounting pressure over delays at airports and sickouts at the IRS; an American public who increasingly blamed him for the shutdown; major cracks in his support from Senate Republicans; his desire to give a primetime State of the Union; and/or a need to change the subject from the indictment of his long-time political adviser Roger Stone, the latest person from his campaign to be caught up in Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The longer it went the better immigration policy we could have had. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Ann Coulter calls Trump the 'biggest wimp ever to serve as president' over shutdown deal (The Week, 1/25/19)

After Trump announced Friday a deal to reopen the government for three weeks without the $5.7 billion in border wall funding he has been demanding, the conservative commentator tweeted that he is now the "biggest wimp ever to serve as president."

Always bet on the Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Trump Associate Roger Stone Arrested in Florida as Part of Special Counsel Probe (Andrew M Harris , David Kocieniewski , and David Voreacos, January 25, 2019, Bloomberg)

Roger Stone, a longtime Republican strategist and sometime confidant of President Donald Trump, was arrested in Florida on Friday after being indicted for obstructing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia before the 2016 U.S. election.

The indictment goes to the heart of Mueller's investigation and could pose serious risk to Trump. It lays out how Stone, after leaving Trump's campaign in 2015, continued communicating regularly with unnamed senior campaign officials about an organization matching the description of WikiLeaks -- and how a "senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone."

Those exchanges occurred in the summer of 2016, when WikiLeaks began publishing Democratic emails that Mueller has previously alleged were obtained by Russian government hackers in an effort to interfere with the presidential election. [...]

Mueller's indictment describes how a "high-ranking Trump campaign official" was in touch with Stone in October 2016 ahead of the release of additional damaging information about Clinton's campaign by WikiLeaks. That official was Stephen Bannon, according to a person familiar with the matter. Bannon, who later served as Trump's top strategist, texted Stone after the release to say, "Well done."

Well Done': Stone indictment details his contacts with Trump camp about Wikileaks (Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann, 1/25/19, NBC First Read)

[I]nside of Mueller's indictment is an even bigger story: a list of the times when Stone was communicating with the Trump campaign and its associates about the WikiLeaks email releases that ended up rocking Hillary Clinton's campaign in the final month of the 2016 presidential election.

"During the summer of 2016, STONE spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1" -- WikiLeaks -- "and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign. STONE was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1." (Page 2)

"STONE also continued to communicate with members of the Trump Campaign about Organization 1 and its intended future releases." (Page 2)

"After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign." (Page 4)

"On or about October 3, 2016, STONE wrote to a supporter involved with the Trump Campaign, "Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming." (Page 8)

"Also on or about October 3, 2016, STONE received an email from a reporter who had connections to a high-ranking Trump Campaign official that asked, '[the head of Organization 1] -- what's he got? Hope it's good.' STONE responded in part, 'It is. I'd tell [the high-ranking Trump Campaign official] but he doesn't call me back.'" (Page 9)

"On or about October 4, 2016, the head of Organization 1 held a press conference but did not release any new materials pertaining to the Clinton Campaign. Shortly afterwards, STONE received an email from the high-ranking Trump Campaign official asking about the status of future releases by Organization 1. STONE answered that the head of Organization 1 had a '[s]erious security concern' but that Organization 1 would release 'a load every week going forward.'" (Page 9)

"Shortly after Organization 1's release, an associate of the high-ranking Trump Campaign official sent a text message to STONE that read 'well done.'" (Page 9).

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


This 3D Printing Technique Is 100 Times Faster Than Standard 3D Printers (Mark Anderson, 1/23/19, IEEE Spectrum)
A new 3D-printing technique could render a three-dimensional object in minutes instead of hours--at up to 100 times current speeds. The experimental approach uses a vat of resin and some clever tricks with UV and blue LED lights (no lasers needed) to accelerate the printing process.

It's impossible to overstate deflationary pressures.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


A Study on Driverless-Car Ethics Offers a Troubling Look Into Our Values (Caroline Lester, Jan. 12th, 2019, The New Yorker)

We should be wary of drawing broad conclusions from the geographical differences, particularly because about seventy per cent of the respondents were male college graduates. Still, the cultural differences were stark. Players in Eastern-cluster countries were more likely than those in the Western and Southern countries to kill a young person and spare an old person (represented, in the game, by a stooped figure holding a cane). Players in Southern countries were more likely to kill a fat person (a figure with a large stomach) and spare an athletic person (a figure that appeared mid-jog, wearing shorts and a sweatband). Players in countries with high economic inequality (for example, in Venezuela and Colombia) were more likely to spare a business executive (a figure walking briskly, holding a briefcase) than a homeless person (a hunched figure with a hat, a beard, and patches on his clothes). In countries where the rule of law is particularly strong--like Japan or Germany--people were more likely to kill jaywalkers than lawful pedestrians. But, even with these differences, universal patterns revealed themselves. Most players sacrificed individuals to save larger groups. Most players spared women over men. Dog-lovers will be happy to learn that dogs were more likely to be spared than cats. Human-lovers will be disturbed to learn that dogs were more likely to be spared than criminals.

In its discussion, the paper skims over the uglier aspects of the study to identify "three strong preferences" that might provide a starting point for developing a standardized machine-ethics framework: sparing human lives, sparing more lives, and sparing young lives. The paper concludes with a soaring look into the future, and recasts machine ethics as a "unique opportunity to decide, as a community, what we believe to be right or wrong; and to make sure that machines, unlike humans, unerringly follow these moral preferences." But, when I asked Shariff what he thought of the human prejudice shown in the data, he laughed and said, "That suggests to us that we shouldn't leave decisions completely in the hands of the demos."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Jared Kushner Is Goading Trump Into Prolonging the Shutdown (Jonathan Chait, 1/25/19, New York)

The presidential son-in-law is "repeatedly assuring Trump that he can personally strike a deal with Democrats," reports the Post. Kushner, fired up by faith in his deal-making prowess, believes he is on the cusp of breaking apart the Democratic caucus and delivering a ransom to Trump. "A person familiar with Kushner's strategy" -- i.e., Kushner himself -- tells the Post "he has been focused on targeting Democrats who may want to break from leadership and has had positive conversations with many of them."

This sounds insane. Indeed, other advisers in the White House say it's insane. "They can't jam Pelosi. They never will. They think Nancy Pelosi will have to eat something. She's not going to have to eat anything." Another quote describes Kushner as "delusional."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Skripal poisoning: Trump admin yet to impose new Russia sanctions required by law (Josh Lederman, 1/24/19, NBC News)

Nearly three months after deeming Russia in violation of a chemical weapons law, the Trump administration has yet to impose tough new sanctions on Moscow required by the law and triggered by the poisoning last year of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.

Even as the European Union moves ahead, punishing four Russian officials this week in connection with the poisoning, the U.S. has not moved forward with its own penalties. The delay comes as the Trump administration faces intense congressional scrutiny over a Treasury Department deal to lift sanctions on companies that had been controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Why Trump Will Lose in 2020 (Rachel Bitecofer, Jan. 24, 2019, NY Times)

[A] key aspect of polarization has been somewhat overlooked: negative partisanship. Voters with this attitude are mobilized not by love of their own party so much as by hatred of the opposition party. Negative partisanship especially benefits the party that doesn't hold the presidency, because out-party voters find themselves living in a world where their political preferences are under constant assault, or at least appear to be so.

For the midterms, I devised a new forecasting model informed partly by this new paradigm of voter behavior. It was as accurate as the best in the forecasting business, and my predictions were made months ahead of the others. That's important, because it is already telling us what we can expect from the 2020 election. [...]

Motivated by the threat posed by the Trump administration, casual Democratic voters, especially college-educated women, have been activated since Mr. Trump's election and will remain activated so long as the threat he presents to them remains. And the complacent Democratic electorate of the 2010 and 2014 congressional midterms as well as the 2016 presidential election is gone (for now). It has been replaced by a galvanized Democratic electorate that will produce the same structural advantage for Democrats that manifested in the 2018 midterms.

The surge won't be uniform. Democrats will win big in more urban, more diverse, better-educated and more liberal-friendly states and will continue to lose ground in other states like Missouri. Although Mr. Trump may well win Ohio and perhaps even Florida again, it is not likely he will carry Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2020. Look at the midterm performance of statewide Democrats in those states. And his troubles with swing voters, whom he won in 2016, will put Arizona, North Carolina and perhaps even Georgia in play for Democrats and effectively remove Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire from the list of swing states.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump White House grows eager to escape losing shutdown fight (ELIANA JOHNSON, BURGESS EVERETT and HEATHER CAYGLE, 01/24/2019, Politico)

Now that the Senate has shot down President Donald Trump's compromise offer to end the month-long government shutdown, White House officials aren't sure of their next move.

But they do know one thing: they're losing, and they want to cut a deal. [...]

The White House's new appetite for a negotiated resolution came after the administration managed to peel off just one Democratic vote -- that of Sen. Joe Manchin (D, W.V.) -- a fact that came as a particular surprise to Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who has touted his relationships with Democratic lawmakers but lacks deep experience on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile several Republicans abandoned their party to vote for a Democratic counter proposal offered by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that would have funded the entire government through March 8 without providing any additional money for the wall. That was a grim sign for Trump and his aides looking for a way to end the partial shutdown.

January 24, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 PM


Older, right-leaning Twitter users spread the most fake news in 2016, study finds (Ben Guarino January 24, 2019, Washington Post)

In a new study published Thursday in the journal Science, political scientists surveyed the inhabitants of this Internet pocket around the time of the last presidential election, from Aug. 1 to Dec. 6, 2016. They found that people who shared fake news were more likely to be older and more conservative. "Super-sharers" were responsible for the bulk of fake news, soaking their Twitter feeds in falsehoods with the gusto of kids with water pistols. They were enthusiastic communicators, tweeting an average of 70 times a day, and had a very limited reach.

Only 0.1 percent of users shared 80 percent of the fake news. "And almost all exposure is among 1 percent of Twitter users," said David Lazer, a political-science professor at Northeastern University and an author of the new report.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 PM


Wearing a Trump hat? That's not exactly pro-life, says Catholic Bishop John Stowe (JOHN STOWE, JANUARY 23, 2019, Lexington Herald-Leader)

As the leader of the Catholic Church in the 50 counties of Central and Eastern Kentucky, I join the Diocese of Covington and other Catholic leaders in apologizing in the wake of this incident.

I am ashamed that the actions of Kentucky Catholic high school students have become a contradiction of the very reverence for human life that the march is supposed to manifest. As such, I believe that U.S. Catholics must take a look at how our support of the fundamental right to life has become separated from the even more basic truth of the dignity of each human person.

Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents, it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.

MAGA or Christian?

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 PM


GOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown votes (ALEXANDER BOLTON, 01/24/19, The Hill)

Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), warned the vice president that prolonging the shutdown is not a smart political strategy, in hopes of sending a clear message to President Trump that he needs to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.

Lawmakers vented their irritation to Pence shortly before six GOP senators defected to vote for a Democratic-backed bill that would open the government without funding Trump's proposed border wall.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM


Officials rejected Jared Kushner for top secret security clearance, but were overruled (Laura Strickler, Ken Dilanian and Peter Alexander, 1/24/19, nbc nEWS)

Jared Kushner's application for a top secret clearance was rejected by two career White House security specialists after an FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence on him -- but their supervisor overruled the recommendation and approved the clearance, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The official, Carl Kline, is a former Pentagon employee who was installed as director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President in May 2017. Kushner's was one of at least 30 cases in which Kline overruled career security experts and approved a top secret clearance for incoming Trump officials despite unfavorable information, the two sources said. They said the number of rejections that were overruled was unprecedented -- it had happened only once in the three years preceding Kline's arrival.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 PM


'Am I out of touch?': Trump administration struggles to show empathy for workers. (Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta January 24, 2019, Washington Post)

On Day 34 of the government shutdown, with federal workers set to miss their second straight paycheck on Friday, the Trump administration was prominently represented by two denizens of Wall Street: Wilbur Ross and Larry Kudlow.

Ross, the commerce secretary, on Thursday morning bemoaned air traffic controllers, who he incorrectly said were calling in sick, and added in a CNBC interview, "I don't really quite understand why" federal workers were visiting food banks. Instead, he suggested they apply for loans from banks.

Then came Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, who called the shutdown "just a glitch." He went on in a midday gaggle with reporters: "Am I out of touch? I don't think I'm out of touch. I'm addressing the problem. I've met with my individual staff members and God bless them. They're working for free. They're volunteering. But they do it because they believe government service is honorable and they believe in President Trump."

The twin appearances underscored a tone-deafness that has appeared more pronounced in the Trump administration as the plight of about 800,000 unpaid federal workers worsens. And it has become a fresh vulnerability for Democrats to exploit at a moment when polls show Trump already losing the public opinion battle over the shutdown.

"Is this the 'Let them eat cake' kind of attitude?" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked Thursday. "Or, 'Call your father for money'? Or, 'This is character-building for you. It's all going to end up very well just so long as you don't get your paychecks'?" [...]

Peter Wehner, a former official in the past three Republican administrations and a Trump critic, said the president is "lacking an empathy gene. This is a man who hasn't shown empathy throughout his entire life, so to expect him to show empathy toward federal workers who are suffering is just not going to happen."

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


George Soros launches attack on Chinese president Xi (Roula Khalaf and Arash Massoudi, 1/24/19, FT)

George Soros launched a searing attack on China's president Xi Jinping, singling out advancements in artificial intelligence in the hands of repressive regimes as a "mortal threat" to societies around the world.

In a provocative speech, the billionaire philanthropist and proponent of open societies said China was not the only authoritarian regime in the world but it was the wealthiest, strongest and technologically most advanced.

"This makes Xi Jinping the most dangerous opponent of open societies," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


Florida's Republican Secretary of State Just Resigned Because He Got Caught Wearing Blackface (Colin Kalmbacher, January 24th, 2019, Law and Crime)

Michael Ertel was recently appointed Florida's Secretary of State by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. He lasted less than a month in that position. Ertel resigned Thursday afternoon just hours after photographs surfaced of him wearing blackface at a Halloween party in 2005.

Ertel's costume also featured fake breasts and a bandana. His t-shirt identified him as a "Katrina victim"-just two months after the destructive Category 5 hurricane had all but laid waste to the Big Easy's Ninth Ward and created thousands of refugees.

The Governor was actually doing a decent job of racing to the middle and convincing people he's not a genuine racist.
Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Eight years after uprising, Egyptians say freedoms have eroded (Mohamed Abdellah, Mahmoud Mourad, 1/24/19, Reuters) 

"No one imagined that the situation would be this bad," Maher, an engineer who is also studying for a degree in political science, told Reuters. "Even the right to gather in a crowd or to express an opinion is not available."

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power determined to crush the Muslim Brotherhood after a year in office that saw the economy suffer, has also targeted secular activists, including many prominent figures of the January 25 uprising.

Many have fled the country, others are in prison while a third group have been cowed into silence.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


Nancy Pelosi flexes her muscle over Trump (Aaron Blake, January 24, 2019, Washington Post)

The first month of Pelosi's return to the speakership has thus far served as a pretty resounding affirmation of her leadership and political acumen. And Wednesday epitomized it.

At the start of the day, we got a CBS News poll that tested the popularity of Washington's leaders. Pelosi scored a 39 percent approval rating. That was shy of her disapproval -- 50 percent -- but it was significantly better than Trump's split (36-59) and far better than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) 25-55. It also appears to be her best mark in a poll since the last time she was speaker a decade ago.

The poll also notably tested her head-to-head with Trump, asking who was doing a better job with shutdown negotiations. Forty-seven percent chose Pelosi, while just 35 percent chose Trump. It also affirmed previous polling that showed the American people blame Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown by more than a 20-point margin -- the kind of margin that has forced Republicans to fold during past shutdowns.

And Pelosi's edge in the shutdown fight was only reinforced as the day went on. Early Wednesday afternoon, Trump made the highly questionable decision of telling Pelosi he would deliver the State of the Union address next week from the House chamber, even though Pelosi has raised shutdown-related objections to it. But Pelosi quickly sent a letter back saying she would not extend the invitation, and Trump, rather remarkably, immediately backed down. Pelosi had called his bluff.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Who Is Juan Guaido? A Quick Look at the Young Venezuelan Leader (Andrew Rosati  and Alex Vasquez, January 23, 2019, Bloomberg)

Tall and lanky, Guaido is known for his love of his hometown baseball team, the Sharks of La Guaira, and salsa dancing. Unlike many opposition allies, who are criticized for their blue-blooded roots, Guaido has humble origins. The son of a commercial pilot and a homemaker, he is one of seven children who grew up in the small port city near Caracas.

In 1999, his family survived mudslides that destroyed much of Vargas and killed thousands. "Seeing your daily life wiped out from one day to the next forced us to detach ourselves from material things, but brought us closer," Guaido told the newspaper El Nacional last month.

Guaido's partner is Fabiana Rosales, a fellow student leader. Their daughter, Miranda, named after a forerunner to South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, was born amid the 2017 wave of protests, during which her father was hit in the neck by plastic buckshot and broke his hand in clashes with police.

It was just four years ago that Guaido entered the National Assembly. He became its chief due to "a series of unfortunate events" after peers were arrested or forced into exile, said Carlos Romero, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas.

Guaido was sworn in as the head of the assembly on Jan. 5, the week before Maduro's inauguration for a second term as president. Maduro began the six-year term in defiance of domestic foes and the more than 60 nations that refuse to recognize his 2018 election.

In his short career, Guaido has been applauded for building unity among fellow legislators. Now his challenge is to do the same across the country, channeling the desperate desire for change within the limits of a regime intent on suppressing dissent. "The situation has catapulted him into the spotlight," Romero said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


For Trump Administration, It Has Been Hard to Follow the Rules on Rules (Margot Sanger-Katz, Jan. 22, 2019, NY Times)

Ever since President Trump took office, his appointees have directed federal agencies to draft regulations meant to delay or reverse policies of the Obama administration.

Nearly all the proposals have been tripped up by the same arcane 1946 law governing administrative policies. Just last week, two signature administration actions -- to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 census, and to allow employers to avoid covering birth control for their workers if they object to it -- have been stymied by rulings under the law.

That law, the Administrative Procedure Act, was written to make sure that the executive branch followed some basic steps when it wanted to change policies. Over time, courts have given it additional teeth by requiring regulators to follow certain processes and conduct certain analyses before making changes. The Trump administration appears to have repeatedly failed to hew to those standards.

"I think there was a lot of corner cutting by the administration," said Josh Blackman, an associate professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, who has been critical of shortcuts in the regulatory process by both the Trump and Obama administrations.

An analysis by the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law shows that more than 90 percent of court challenges to major Trump deregulatory actions have been successful so far. By the institute's count, 30 big rules have been challenged, and the courts have found for the litigants 28 times.

On the other hand, his trade regulations are in force.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


AP-NORC poll: 6 in 10 Americans blame Trump for shutdown (STEVE PEOPLES and EMILY SWANSON, 1/24/19, AP) 

A strong majority of Americans blame President Donald Trump for the record-long government shutdown and reject his primary rationale for a border wall, according to a new poll that shows the turmoil in Washington is dragging his approval rating to its lowest level in more than a year.

Overall, 34 percent of Americans approve of Trump's job performance in a survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That's down from 42 percent a month earlier and nears the lowest mark of his two-year presidency. 

We're getting down to his core 25%.

Trump Says He'll Delay Speech Until After Shutdown, as Democrats Draft Border Security Plan (Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jan. 23, 2019, NY Times)

"As the Shutdown was going on, Nancy Pelosi asked me to give the State of the Union Address," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter shortly after 11 p.m., hours after he had said he would look for another venue for the speech. "I agreed. She then changed her mind because of the Shutdown, suggesting a later date. This is her prerogative - I will do the Address when the Shutdown is over."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Colorado's Cory Gardner breaks ranks with Senate Republicans, calls for end to government shutdown (ANNA STAVER, 1/23/19, The Denver Post)

Colorado's Republican U.S. senator says he would vote yes on a package of bills to reopen the federal government and thinks his Republican colleagues should do the same. [...]

Gardner, who is facing a challenging re-election campaign in 2020, is one of two Republican senators who publicly split with their party Thursday on whether funding for the border wall needs to be part of the deal to reopen the federal government. Susan Collins of Maine, also up for re-election in two years, was the other.

January 23, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Sheila Jackson Lee Leaves 2 Posts After Aide Says She Was Fired for Reporting Sexual Assault (Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 23, 2019, NY Times)

 Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, facing fallout from a lawsuit claiming she fired an aide who said she was sexually assaulted by a supervisor at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said on Wednesday she had decided to resign as the foundation's chairwoman.

Ms. Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat in her 13th term, also stepped aside temporarily from an important House Judiciary subcommittee chairmanship, the committee said.

Ms. Jackson Lee made the decision to step aside from both roles as pressure was growing within her own party to account for the claims in a Jan. 11 lawsuit brought by a woman who worked in her congressional office and who said she was sexually assaulted by a Black Caucus Foundation supervisor. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


US allies try to dilute anti-Iran agenda for Warsaw summit (Laura Rozen, January 23, 2019, Al Monitor)

 An international conference in Poland next month that the Donald Trump administration had intended to showcase global unity and resolve to isolate Iran is instead highlighting wariness among US allies.

European allies are scrambling for excuses to send lower-level diplomats instead of their foreign ministers to the Feb. 13-14 Warsaw conference and also are looking for ways to dilute the agenda while not outright snubbing the United States, European sources said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM



In September 2017, two Norwegian firms, Yara and Kongsberg, announced plans to build the world's first fully electric and autonomous container ship, the Yara Birkeland, by 2020. In 2018, Kongsberg teamed with another Norwegian firm, Wilhelmsen, to form the world's first shipping company dedicated to autonomous vessels. In November, the ferry Folgefonn, also from Norway, underwent successful auto-docking, undocking and dock-to-dock tests, all controlled remotely, demonstrating how autonomously ships of the future might function, even when in port.

In the Netherlands, a consortium of 20 maritime businesses launched a project in December to study and demonstrate the potential of autonomous maritime transport. In Germany, the Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services is designing a remote-control tugboat that could help large, manned ships dock and undock. And the European Commission is co-sponsoring a collaborative project called MUNIN (Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks) that's developing technology for unmanned vessels.

China's Maritime Safety Administration and Wuhan University of Technology are developing uncrewed multifunctional maritime ships, the country's latest step in developing advanced transport solutions. And British automobile giant Rolls-Royce plans to build a remotely operated local vessel by 2020. By 2035, the company aims to launch autonomous, unmanned oceangoing ships.

These plans are altering the face of shipping, shaped for centuries by sailors and explorers whose actions formed the bedrock of trade and transport. But increasingly, say observers and industry insiders, autonomous, unmanned commercial ships represent an unavoidable future -- one where human errors can be avoided, financial margins improved because of fewer wages and lower fuel costs for lighter vessels, and the impact on the environment reduced.

"The magnitude of cost-saving potential [when it comes to autonomous and unmanned vessels] is huge," says Oskar Levander, senior vice president of concepts and innovation at Rolls-Royce Marine.

Lives can also be saved with unmanned ships. According to insurance company Allianz, 2,712 people died because of maritime accidents in 2017. In all, 94 ships were lost that year to accidents; 1,129 have been lost over the past decade. "One of the main advantages of unmanned vehicles is that it allows for operations that do not put human lives at risk," says Richard V. Lawson, CEO of the Washington-based International Ocean Science and Technology Industry Association.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


'More merciful than Yahweh': Jack Miles on God in the Quran (Yonat Shimron, 1/22/19, RNS) 

What you found is that Allah is more merciful, consistently so, than in the Bible. Is that accurate?

Yes, it is. A friend asked me, what was the biggest surprise you discovered in writing the book? I said, Allah is more merciful than Yahweh. Understand, we're talking about the same being, but the presentation (in the Quran) stresses not just Allah's mercy, but also the themes of repentance and forgiveness. I should say, these episodes that involve biblical material probably are no more than a quarter or a fifth of the overall material in the Quran. So, my comment that Allah is more merciful than Yahweh is confined to that portion of the Quran.

I'll give two examples. Adam and Eve in the Quranic version immediately repent of their sin and throw themselves on the mercy of Allah and Allah forgives them on the spot. They do have to leave paradise, but if they live a good life then at the Last Judgment they will ascend to the heavenly garden. Adam and Eve in the Bible never do repent.

Similarly, the Israelites, just after crossing the Red Sea, create the Golden Calf and God decides to exterminate them as punishment. Moses dissuades him from that, but still there's horrendous violence imposed on them, a mass slaughter of the lead offenders. In the Quran, the Israelites immediately repent and Allah forgives them. The tablets of the law are not broken. In something approaching efficiency, the Israelites get over it, Allah gets over it and everyone moves on to the Promised Land.

You point out in your book that the biblical idea of humankind created in God's image doesn't really exist in the Quran. A lot of interfaith leaders might be surprised to hear that.

Yes, that's right. Jews pray to "Avinu Malkeinu," "our Father, our King," and "Our Father, who art in heaven," is the beginning of the Lord's Prayer in Christianity. But there isn't a similar kind of rhetoric or emphasis in Islam.

Allah is at pains to say that Jesus is not his son, and actually there's a scene in which Allah and Jesus are speaking and Jesus explicitly repudiates any notion that during his life on earth he ever claimed such as a blasphemous thing. No, he is not the son of God. God had no son, or spouse, and no one really closely associated with him.

This has the effect of making Allah a more awe-inspiring, more august being. Christian theology itself sometimes uses the phrase that God is the "wholly other." That phrase, "wholly other," is a pretty apt description of Allah in the Quran.

It appears the theology of the Quran is fairly straightforward in comparison with the Bible. Would you agree?

Yes. I make the point that the Hebrew Bible came into being over a thousand years. The Quran came into being as 20 years of revelation to the Prophet Muhammad from the year 610 to the year 632. So, there is much greater consistency in the portrayal of the character of Allah. He is more moral in a way. He's more exacting, but always in a predictable manner. Of course, the complexity that Christianity has by having the deity be both divine and human at the same time is also completely absent. So, by being "wholly other" Allah can be wholly simple. That provides a kind of appeal, a kind of fascination, but it isn't a fascination of complication and conflict.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Trump is trapped and tanking (Jennifer Rubin, January 23, 2019, Washington Post)

The Morning Consult-Politico poll finds that "57 percent of registered voters disapprove of Trump's job performance -- more than any other survey in Trump's two years in office -- while 40 percent approve. The 17-percentage-point deficit matches two previous lows of the Trump presidency." Sixty percent of independents now disapprove of his performance. As time goes on, more Americans blame Trump for the shutdown ("49 percent of voters [say] he is responsible in the latest survey -- up 6 points since the shutdown began").

The CBS News poll has even worse numbers for Trump. In that survey, "Seven in 10 Americans don't think the issue of a border wall is worth a government shutdown, which they say is now having a negative impact on the country. ... Mr. Trump's overall approval rating has dipped three points from November to 36 percent today. Fifty-nine percent of Americans now disapprove of the job he is doing - a high for his presidency, although just one point above his previous high." To add insult to injury, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gets higher marks (47 percent) than Trump (35 percent) in handling the shutdown. Only 39 percent think Trump cares a lot or some about people like them; 53 percent say the same of Democrats. On the wall, 61 percent think the border can be secured without it, while 71 percent say it is not worth a shutdown.

The irony here -- or is it karma? -- is that Trump's biggest cheerleaders in the right-wing media (e.g. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity) and his hardcore anti-immigrant adviser Stephen Miller who egged him on are now responsible for the worst political debacle of his presidency, one that has erased any residue of presidential power. He's now trapped, waiting for a permission slip from the right-wing media chorus to capitulate -- or watch his support and any hope for legislative accomplishments evaporate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Halfway Through the Trump Presidency, the Resistance Is Winning  (John Cassidy, 1/22/19, The New Yorker)

[A]t the halfway point in this Presidential cycle, it is also worth asking how successful these attacks have been--and the answer is more encouraging than is sometimes acknowledged. Trump has undoubtedly disrupted the American system of government, but he hasn't upended it. And, in many ways, his Administration is already losing steam. With his approval rating languishing at a historic low despite a vibrant economy, and with the Democrats now in charge of the House of Representatives, he no longer controls the legislative agenda. After all the personnel departures, he is finding it hard to fill key vacancies. With polls showing that a majority of the public blames him for the shutdown, he has been forced to sue for peace. (According to the Times, he told Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff, "We are getting crushed.") Although there is a long way to go before November, 2020, Trump's reëlection prospects don't look good. In an NPR poll that came out last week, fifty-seven per cent of registered voters said that they would definitely vote against Trump if he runs again.

From the beginning, it was clear that Trump's narcissism, amorality, disregard for the truth, and authoritarian tendencies presented a grave threat. The question was how much he would be reined in by the fabled checks and balances that the Founders erected to prevent the emergence of an overweening Presidency--the split between the executive and the legislature, the independent judiciary, the free press, regular elections to elicit the will of the people. To express it another way, the question was: Who was the more powerful, Donald Trump or Thomas Jefferson? So far, Jefferson is winning on points. For the most part, the institutions of American democracy have withstood the assaults they have been subjected to, frustrating and infuriating Trump in equal measure.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Brazil's Bolsonaro seeks central bank autonomy in 100 days: aide (Reuters, 1/23/19) 

Brazil's new right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro will work to establish the formal independence of the country's central bank in his first 100 days in office, his chief of staff Onyx Lorenzoni said on Wednesday.

Although the Brazilian central bank enjoys administrative autonomy, it is one of the few major central banks in the world that does not have formal institutional independence. [....]

He said the government also aims to obtain approval from the National Energy Council of the revision to the government's "transfer of rights" contract with state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro S.A., opening the way for the sale of Santos Basin presalt areas by the third quarter of this year.

Petrobras could receive a potential 30 billion reais ($8 billion) and raise more than 120 billion reais for the government next year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


The 1959 Project: A New Photoblog Takes a Day-By-Day Look at 1959, the Great Watershed Year in Jazz (Open Culture, January 23rd, 2019)

To celebrate that year in musical breakthroughs and photographic near-perfection, sportswriter and jazz history "superfan" Natalie Weiner has launched a blog called The 1959 Project. "The premise is simple," writes Tim Carmody at Kottke, "every day, a snapshot of the world of jazz sixty years ago." Simple it may be, but its dive into jazz history is deep and satisfying. The project has already occasionally strayed outside the lines, posting materials from 1958 and 1960. But great moments in music history cannot be forced to fit tidily inside calendar years.

In addition to iconic photos, Weiner posts short summaries, news clippings, film and television clips, and recordings from albums like Milt Jackson and John Coltrane's Bags & Trane (1960). Yesterday's post focused on Max Roach's 1959 The Many Sides of Max (see him in the studio with Booker Little at the top). January 18th brought us Jackie McLean's Jackie's Bag, recorded 1959, released 1960, featuring Donald Byrd, Sonny Clark, Paul Chambers, and Philly Jones, and made for Blue Note by the great Rudy Van Gelder.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Arturo O'Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Fandango at the Wall (Resilience Music Alliance) (Bill Meredith, 1/23/19, Jazz Times)

Even by the standards set by pianist, composer, bandleader, and social activist Arturo O'Farrill, Fandango at the Wall, a double-CD with the 18-piece Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, qualifies as personal. A New York City resident, the 58-year-old O'Farrill was born in Mexico City, and he's been openly critical of President Trump's attempts to build a wall along the United States' southern border. Inspired by retired Mexican librarian Jorge Francisco Castillo's annual Fandango Fronterizo Festiva--a burgeoning event that's brought musicians to play through the meshed wall separating Tijuana from San Diego for a decade--O'Farrill upped the global ante for this recording by performing with his orchestra at several locations along the border, aided by various special guests, many of whom are from countries targeted by Trump's travel ban. [...]

Horns, stringed instruments, and guest French-Chilean vocalist Ana Tijoux singing and rapping in Spanish on "Somos Sur" tear down perceived walls between jazz, classical, hip-hop and traditional Mexican music, while Mexican stars like the singing, violin-playing Villalobos Brothers (on the dramatic "El Pijul") and vocalist/jarana player Patricio Hidalgo (a romping "Conga Patria") also get spotlight time. Disc one's centerpiece is O'Farrill's three-part "Invisible Suite," defying categorization and featuring a banner Carter solo, the New Haven String Quartet, and the Young People's Chorus of New York City.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


The number of pedestrians killed by cars keeps going up (EILLIE ANZILOTTI, 1/23/19, Fast Company)

Every year, the amount of time Americans spend walking declines. Driving, on the other hand, has slightly but steadily risen in popularity since 2008. During that period, the number of pedestrians killed by people in cars has skyrocketed.

Investigating this disturbing trend is the subject of a report put out by the National Complete Streets Coalition (a program under Smart Growth America) called Dangerous by Design. The coalition releases this report annually, says Emiko Atherton, the coalition director, but what's striking is that "things are just getting worse," she says. "When you look at the numbers, four of the five major metro areas in the U.S. are just growing more dangerous for pedestrians."

Since 2008, the number of people struck and killed by a driver while walking rose by 35%, to 49,340 people in a year. The report authors note that this is the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people dying each day.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Brazil takes an Austrian turn (SILVIO SIMONETTI, JANUARY 23, 2019, Acton)

Everything started to change when Keynesian intellectual hegemony broke down because of the economic turbulence caused by stagflation in the 1970s. In 1983, Donald Stuart, Jr. founded the Liberal Institute in the city of Rio de Janeiro with the purpose of publicizing the ideas of the Austrian School. The Liberal Institute was the first in a series of think tanks which emerged at the beginning of the 21st century dedicated to defend the market economy. Guedes, for instance, is one of the founders of the pro free-market Millennium Institute.

Like everything else in Brazil, intellectual revolutions are slow. It was the economic chaos engendered by the erratic policies of Dilma Rousseff's leftist government (2011-16) that provided the countless free-market advocates with an opportunity to move new ideas to the center of the political debate. Surprisingly, it was Bolsonaro, a former champion of big government, who decided to adopt economic liberalism as his platform.

Nevertheless, the influence of libertarian think tanks goes beyond the political discussion. Today, they are providing the government with new names and new thinking to help restructure Brazil. For example, the new Minister of Education, the philosopher Ricardo Velez Rodrigues, is a member of the Liberal Institute. Salim Mattar, who is leading the privatization program of the new government, was in the Institute's executive council. The Bank of Brazil, the country's largest public bank, is now headed by Rubem Novaes, another member of the Institute. Adolfo Sachsida, secretary of Economic Policy, and Roberto Ellery, who was part of the Bolsonaro's transition team, are two other prominent members of the Liberal Institute.

The popularity that libertarian ideas have gained in Brazil and the central role that many adherents of this doctrine hold in the new government do not mean that libertarianism has won. On the contrary, it means that libertarians have been given the opportunity to show that the virtues of the free market go beyond theory and can be proved in practice.

Jair Bolsonaro is not a libertarian, but a conservative populist who has been converted to a free-market apostolate by the immediate needs of a country that has lived, for the last four years, through an economic nightmare animated by bad ideas. The success of libertarians will be directly associated with both their ability in reshaping public policies and in delivering positive financial results to people that are tired of unemployment and loss of purchasing power.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Pope says fear of migrants can make people crazy (Reuters, 1/23/19) 

One of the reporters flying with the Pope to Panama told him he had recently seen a barrier designed to deter migrants that juts out into the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, the western edge of the U.S. border with Mexico, and described it as a "folly".

"Fear makes us crazy," Francis replied.

As Charlie Sykes and Peter Wehner discussed on the Bulwark Daily today: you can be MAGA or Christian, not both.

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


Michael Cohen Indefinitely Postpones Testimony to Congress, Citing Fears of Family's Safety (Maggie Haberman, Jan. 23, 2019, NY Times)

Michael D. Cohen, the former personal lawyer and fixer for President Trump, has indefinitely postponed his congressional testimony, his lawyer said in a statement on Wednesday, citing Mr. Trump's verbal attacks on Mr. Cohen's family in the days since he scheduled his appearance on Capitol Hill. [...]

Mr. Trump has repeatedly suggested on Twitter that Mr. Cohen's family members be investigated. In a recent interview with Jeanine Pirro, the Fox News host and one of Mr. Trump's preferred interviewers, he called for Mr. Cohen's father-in-law to be investigated without citing details.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


Trump disapproval rating at all-time high amid shutdown, Russia concerns: poll (ARIS FOLLEY - 01/23/19, The Hill)

The majority of the poll's respondents, 57 percent, believes it's likely Russia "has compromising information" on Trump, while 31 percent of those polled disagree.

...we prefer blackmail to belief.

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM


Right-Wing Extremist Murders Surged In 2018: ADL (Aiden Pink, 1/23/19, The Forward)

The ADL's Center on Extremism tracked 50 extremism-related murders last year, according to the new edition of its Murder and Extremism Report. All of them were conducted by right-wing extremists (one perpetrator also had alleged ties to Islamist extremism). That number made 2018 the deadliest year for right-wing extremists since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, which killed 171.

The 2018 death toll was the fourth-highest overall regardless of category since 1970. The last four years have comprised four of the six deadliest years for extremist killings in that timeframe.

Among the murders tracked in the ADL's analysis were the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17; Tree of Life*Or L'Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which killed 11; and a Waffle House in Nashville. All of the suspects in those cases had expressed support online for far-right ideologies.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


CEOs sour on Trump polices, warn they hurt business, investment (Jessica DiNapoli, Soyoung Kim, 1/22/19, Reuters) 

"The trade war has been very damaging for the U.S. agricultural economy," said David MacLennan, chief executive of U.S. food and agricultural giant Cargill Inc, which announced worse-than-expected results out of China earlier in January.

"The longer this goes on, the worse it is," he told Reuters.

Foreign investment in the United States, which includes cross-border mergers and acquisitions and intra-company loans, fell about 18 percent in 2018 from the prior year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

That is close to the 19 percent year-on-year drop in foreign investment globally. But it is notable given the deregulation and tax cuts that might have otherwise fed into inward investment.

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


Dem Congressman Says of Furloughed Workers: It's Never Been Legal To 'Make People Work For Free.' (ASHE SCHOW, January 23, 2019, Daily Wire)

"Never in the history of this country has it been legal to make people work for free but that's what's happening to federal employees. This can never happen again," Welch tweeted while linking to a VTDigger article about his bill.

Welch, a seven-term congressman, was quickly reminded that, actually, there was this one other time in our nation's history where it was "legal to make people work for free."

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


Brazil's Bolsonaro uses Davos speech to appeal to big business (Mark Bendeich, 1/23/19, Reuters) 

Brazil's new right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro threw out the welcome mat for big business and foreign investors on Tuesday, telling a summit of CEOs in Davos that his government would make the country one of the top 50 in which to do business.

Bolsonaro said he would work to open up Brazil's relatively closed economy, reduce and simplify taxes, privatize state companies and give his new justice minister the tools to tackle corruption.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


5-trump-v-pelosi-shutdown.png https://www.cbsnews.com/news/pelosi-has-edge-over-trump-on-budget-negotiations-says-cbs-news-poll/
Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Poll: Only 7% of Voters Back Wall Funding to End Shutdown (Daily Beast, 1/22/19)

Only 7 percent of American voters surveyed support giving Donald Trump funding for his Mexico border wall to end the U.S. government shutdown, according to a new poll.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


The History of the Covington MAGA Teens' Racist 'Tomahawk Chop' (Robert Silverman, 01.23.19, The Daily Beast)

Amidst all the ref-working, bad faith arguments, false equivalencies, and targeted attacks on reporters by the far right since videos showing a group of teens from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky hooting, jeering, and mocking a Native American elder were made public, one piece of evidence can't be hand-waved away or pettifogged until the truth is unrecognizable: the Tomahawk Chop.

In multiple videos, the students--some of whom, prior to gathering at the Lincoln Memorial, were allegedly howling "MAGA!" at random female passers-by--can be seen engaging in the familiar chant, bringing their arm downward as if wielding a tomahawk while belting out a crude version of traditional Native American songs. Fans of the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Florida State University, and numerous high schools with Native American mascots have been chopping away for decades. But make no mistake: The chant in and of itself is considered a slur by Native Americans and advocacy groups have plaintively asked sports teams to stop rubber-stamping this behavior since it first gained prominence.

It isn't just the Covington Catholic students -- MAGA hats are a teen trend: The red baseball caps are a provocative way to signify you're on a "winning" team. (Rebecca Jennings,   Jan 22, 2019, Vox)

MAGA hats, however, hold special significance for some middle and high school students. Travel to any tourist destination in DC and you'll see swaths of school groups, many of them wearing hats purchased at nearby souvenir shops. It's not a coincidence that most of the kids wearing them happen to be white: All over the country, there have been reports of students in MAGA hats bullying their Latino, Middle Eastern, Black, Asian, and Jewish classmates (BuzzFeed found 81 instances in one year between 2016 and 2017) on the basis of race and religion.

Students wearing the caps, like the group from Covington, often repeat the slogans that the president built his campaign around. "Fake news" and "build the wall" became their own memes, pithy phrases tailor-made to be shouted by large groups of people. But just like the hat and its slogan, these phrases have far-reaching consequences. The press, and truth itself, is under direct attack from the president, and Trump's demands for $5 billion of funding for his border wall has now contributed to the longest government shutdown in US history, which so far is estimated to have cost the American economy more than the cost of the proposed fence.

These are problems, however, for adults to worry about and for kids to make fun of. In a 2017 report on the draw that MAGA hats hold for teens, Hilary George-Parkin noted that the more that adults wring their hands about the potential dangers of Trumpist symbolism, the easier it is for kids to laugh about how dramatic they're being. "I think kids think of [MAGA hats] as more of a joke," a 14-year-old named Julia from New Jersey told her, "and adults don't."

Plus, the more taboo the hats become, the more power they hold, at least from a fashion standpoint. Teens have always been quick to embrace clothing that adults find distasteful or uncomfortable, from visible underwear to rude novelty T-shirts. For some teens who wear MAGA hats, it's no more than a fashion trend. "I only got it because everyone else was," Julia added. "I doubt I'd wear it after the trip because I'm not really much of a hat person anyway."

But for those for whom the phrase "Make America Great Again" refers to only a small slice of who or what "America" is, it isn't just a hat. One Muslim American mother whose son went on a middle school trip to DC in which "every single white kid besides maybe one or two" returned wearing a MAGA hat said that the red caps became a familiar marker of exclusionary preteen politics.

"I think 12-year-old boys use it as a form of bullying -- identifying themselves as part of this group to the exclusion of others just for the fun of it," she told George-Parkin. "That's what it seemed like to me. Us over here with the red hats, and you over there ... you're not even an individual anymore. Now you're just one of the brown kids and you're not one of us."

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Poll: Shutdown, Russia drive Trump to all-time high disapproval (REBECCA MORIN, 01/23/2019, Politico)

President Donald Trump's disapproval rating is at an all-time high amid a historically long partial government shutdown and concerns about the president's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

Nearly 6-in-10 voters -- 57 percent -- disapprove of Trump's job performance, compared to the 40 percent that approve. In addition, 54 percent of voters blame Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill for the government shutdown. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Why There's No Liberal Federalist Society: The legal left has a money problem, a history problem and--maybe worst of all--a big-idea problem. (EVAN MANDERY January 23, 2019, Politico)

Since its conception, the Federalist Society has had one consistent and very graspable ideological backbone: that the Constitution should be interpreted as having the meaning it had when it was enacted. So-called originalism gives the Federalists a catchy intellectual hook. The agents of change in American law, they argue, should be legislators, not judges; that's how the Constitution intended it. Hence the famous proclamation of Justice Antonin Scalia--the first faculty adviser to one of the Federalist Society's founding chapters at the University of Chicago--that the Constitution is "dead, dead, dead."

The Federalists' mantras are succinct and understandable: The law should be neutral. It is the duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. Whatever its theoretical weaknesses, says Columbia Law School's Jamal Greene, "originalism's simplicity is one of its chief selling points." And in the abstract, it's widely popular: In one study by Greene and his colleagues, 92 percent of people expressed support for the idea that a good Supreme Court judge should "uphold the values of those who wrote our Constitution two hundred years ago."

Standing behind the original meaning of the Constitution gives the Federalists a deeply appealing claim to a neutral, timeless American tradition. It is also complete nonsense, according to scholars who've looked at the rulings of "originalist" judges: Those judges tend to issue politically conservative rulings regardless of the larger principles at stake. Judge Richard Posner, no liberal, has ridiculed Scalia's claim that originalism and the related doctrine of textualism offer greater certainty than competing principles, such as interpreting the Constitution as an evolving document. Originalism, for all its pretenses, is no more than a fig leaf for injecting politics into the judiciary.

Judicial neutrality may be a fiction, but it's a useful one--and an idea for which liberals just haven't found a response. The Federalist Society's claim that the law should be agnostic on policy consequences is seductive to law students and lawyers; the invocation of the Constitution gives it rhetorical roots in the foundations of the Republic. What do liberals have to offer on their side?

One of their counterweights is law school itself: There's no question that law school faculties are overwhelmingly liberal, but when it comes to delivering results on the federal bench, the academy is not the same thing as an organization with a focused mission and a budget. The ACS has a mission, true, but it can be a little hard to pin down. Its website says the organization "works for positive change" on "important legal and constitutional issues including access to courts, voting, equality, and many other issues directly affecting people's lives." As judicial philosophies go, it couldn't be more diffuse. And the focus on outcomes rather than first principles immediately colors it with politics.

But the liberal legal academy hasn't come up with an easily digestible rival idea, or a readily comprehensible way to demonstrate to the American people that the idea of "fidelity to the Constitution" means less than the politics of the judge who professes it.

It's tough to sell the notion that justice should be unprincipled.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Hundreds of IRS employees are skipping work. That could delay tax refunds. (Danielle Paquette, Lisa Rein, Jeff Stein and Kimberly Kindy January 22, 2019, Washington Post)

[I]RS employees across the country -- some in coordinated protest, others out of financial necessity -- won't be clocking in, according to Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, and several local union officials. The work action is widespread and includes employees from a processing center in Ogden, Utah, to the Brookhaven campus on New York's Long Island.

The move is the leading edge of pushback from within the IRS, and it signals the potential for civil servants to take actions that could slow or cripple government functions as the shutdown's political stalemate continues in Washington. U.S. Department of Agriculture meat inspectors have begun to call in sick, Transportation Security Administration sickouts at airports have been rising, and federal law enforcement agencies say the shutdown is increasing stress among agents and affecting investigations.

"They are definitely angry that they're not getting paid, and maybe some of them are angry enough to express their anger this way," said Reardon, whose union represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments. "But these employees live paycheck to paycheck, and they can't scrape up the dollars to get to work or pay for child care." [...]

Scott, who has worked at the IRS for four years, says she typically helps as many as 50 people a day with their returns during tax season, including U.S. troops stationed overseas. She said the shutdown could delay refunds for months, and without employees like her on the job, "it's going to be a disaster all around."

Many of the IRS employees who are choosing not to come to work despite getting called back are taking advantage of a provision in the union contract that allows them to miss work if they suffer a "hardship" during a shutdown, according to the labor groups.

Hating Mexicans ain't free.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


The Real Stain on Angela Davis' Legacy Is Her Support for Tyranny (CATHY YOUNG,  JANUARY 23, 2019 , The Bulwark)

The statute of limitations does not apply only to white public figures in America. The great artist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was not only a Communist with Soviet ties but an outright Stalin apologist. In a particularly infamous episode, he publicly denied the persecution of Soviet Jews during Stalin's "anti-cosmopolitan" campaign after a 1949 trip to Moscow--even though his friend Itzhak Feffer, a poet who was later executed, discreetly told him the truth during his visit and pleaded for help. Robeson's Communist sympathies cost him dearly in his lifetime, destroying his once-stellar career during the Cold War. Yet today, he has been recognized with many honors, from a U.S. Post Office stamp to a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame to several high schools and community or campus centers named after him (including the Paul Robeson Cultural Center at my own alma mater, New Jersey's Rutgers University, of which he was also an alumnus).

Should these honors be denied because of Robeson's terribly flawed politics? I don't believe so. For one, Robeson was a true giant of both black American culture and American culture, period. He was also a complicated and tragic figure, held hostage by his conviction that discrediting Communism would hurt the struggle for black empowerment in the United States at a time when racism was openly institutionalized in large parts of the country. Robeson's relationship with the Soviet regime illustrates his moral conflicts: Despite his public stance in the West, he tried to make a statement against anti-Semitism on his 1949 Soviet trip by speaking in tribute to Soviet Jews and singing a wartime resistance song in Yiddish during his nationally broadcast concert in Moscow. Later, he reportedly became persona non grata in the USSR after privately confronting Khrushchev about anti-Jewish discrimination.

The contrast to Davis, who reached adulthood in an America that offered vastly more opportunities for black political participation, is stark. There is no indication that she ever showed any concern about the human rights situation in the Soviet bloc--not only on behalf of "pro-capitalist" dissidents, but even on behalf of, say, the Russian feminists who were jailed or forced to emigrate after launching an underground publication challenging the Soviet propaganda myth of full gender equality in the USSR, or the gays brutally persecuted for their sexuality in the Soviet Union and Cuba. (In 1973, Soviet Georgian film director Sergei Parajanov was tried for "homosexual relations" and sentenced to five years in labor camps; several Western communists, including French writer Louis Aragon, interceded with the Kremlin and probably helped secure the director's early release. Davis, who had very real influence with the Soviet regime at the time, said nothing.) Nor has she shown any regret or remorse since.

It's also unclear just what it is that Davis accomplished for the black community. Despite being dubbed a "civil rights icon," her only involvement in the civil rights movement of the Martin Luther King era happened when she was a teenage high school student; she spent most of the early 1960s studying in Europe with radical mentors like Herbert Marcuse, then threw herself into work for the Communist Party long past the time when it played an actual role in the fight for black equality. She was also involved with the Black Panthers, a violent radical group whose primary victims were fellow African-Americans such as Sam Napier, the distribution manager of the party newspaper, killed with unspeakable brutality by a rival Panther faction, and 19-year-old Alex Rackley, tortured and murdered on mistaken suspicion of being an FBI informant. A 1969 speech Davis gave at a Black Panther rally in Oakland, California included words of solidarity for the "brothers and sisters in Connecticut"--the men and women awaiting trial for Rackley's horrific murder.

While Davis was active on the far-left fringes of black politics in the 1970s and 1980s, her most notable role at the time was being the vice-presidential candidate of the Communist Party, a Soviet-funded outfit supremely irrelevant to the interests of African-Americans. It is notable, too, that while some black American Communists such as Josephine Wyatt left the party in the 1980s after its leader Gus Hall pursued a deliberate course of de-emphasizing the "black national question," Davis remained loyal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM



As Giuliani's unforced errors pile up, former West Wing officials and 2016 campaign veterans are privately debating what's gone wrong with Rudy. Why, they ask, is he making statements that so obviously damage his client? A former White House official speculated that maybe Giuliani "has lost his mind." But there are other, more charitable ways of interpreting Giuliani's interviews. As I've previously reported, the Trump-Giuliani relationship hasn't been good for weeks. Giuliani has said privately that he "hates the job" and that Mueller's final report will be "horrific" for Trump. Facing these challenges and pressures, it's understandable he would make mistakes, the thinking goes. "Everyone who works for Trump screws up because there's no way to please the guy," an outside Trump adviser said.

But, frustrating as the job may be, Giuliani also may be addicted to it. Friends said the former New York mayor was embittered after being out of the limelight for years following his failed 2008 presidential campaign. He's been exhilarated by the press attention that comes with being Trump's lawyer. Sources said Giuliani often books his own interviews and frequently texts with television news anchors. "There's a school of thought that it's better to be famous and ridiculed than ignored," a Giuliani friend told me. But the media environment has become vastly more complicated than it was a decade ago, the last time Giuliani was on the national stage, and he has struggled to adapt. "This has been a trial by fire for him," the friend said. "He can't just say whatever he wants, because he's being fact-checked on Twitter. Every time he does anything he gets caught."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump pursued a deal in Russia and hid it from voters (The Editorial Board, 1/22/19, USA TODAY)

[T]here's one Trump-Moscow link where the emerging evidence is already as damning as it is disturbing.

During much, if not all, of Trump's campaign he sought to enrich himself by pursuing a luxury hotel-condominium-office deal in Russia known as Trump Tower Moscow.

And as a candidate, Trump repeatedly misled or lied to voters about his business with Russia. "I have nothing to do with Russia," he told reporters in July 2016. "I don't deal there," he said during the Oct. 9 presidential debate.

The truth is, Trump had coveted a lucrative hotel project in Russia -- whether to build one or license his name to be emblazoned on a skyscraper -- for decades. "We will be in Moscow at some point," he said in a 2007 deposition.

Later, as a presidential candidate, he secretly signed an 18-page letter of intent for Trump Tower Moscow on Oct. 28, 2015, the day of the third Republican presidential debate.

Court filings by Mueller in November make clear that negotiations led by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen continued through at least June 2016. Cohen lied about this to Congress to "give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before 'the Iowa caucus and ... the very first primary,' " according to the filings. 

He may have lied about specifics but in what sense did he hide the fact he was in bed with Vlad and willing to trade sanctions for cash?
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Power struggle paralyzes 'irrelevant' White House press shop (Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak,  January 22, 2019, CNN)

White House press briefings, in steady decline even before the partial government shutdown, have now ground to a halt as a prolonged power struggle among President Donald Trump's aides leads to a muddled messaging strategy, people familiar with the matter say. [...]

No one has emerged as the clear leader among Sanders, Bill Shine, Kellyanne Conway or Mercedes Schlapp, leading to deep divisions among one of the administration's most fractious departments and causing a void for a coverage-obsessed president.

The communications team has also drawn the ire of dozens of senior staffers, including Trump at times, who have blamed them for failing to blunt PR missteps and allowing them to turn into full-blown disasters.

The inner workings of the communications team were described to CNN by 11 current and former White House officials who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly.

In a West Wing where proximity to the President translates into power, the four senior communications aides -- Sanders, Shine, Conway and Schlapp -- can often be found where Trump is.

All four were present for a relatively mundane hurricane briefing in October. Three -- Shine, Sanders and Conway -- were back again during his interview with two Washington Post reporters in later November. And all of them were seated along the wall of the Situation Room during Trump's first, second and third meetings with Democrats during the partial government shutdown.

Mick Mulvaney, who replaced John Kelly as chief of staff earlier this year, has made clear to staff that he has no desire to curb access to Trump, as his predecessor did.
But despite the constant presence of four senior communications officials, their colleagues say it has not helped form a coherent message.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


4 arrested in plot to attack Muslim community in New York (JEFF PEGUES, January 22, 2019, CBS NEWS)

Police in New York Tuesday announced the arrest of four suspects in an alleged terror plot. They described the plan to attack a group of Muslims in central New York state as serious and real. 

Brian Colaneri, 20; Vincent Vetromile, 19; Andrew Crysel, 18; and a 16-year-old suspect whose name is being withheld, were arrested Friday in the town Greece.

"If they had carried out this plot, which every indication is that they were going to, people would've died," said Chief Patrick Phelan.

January 22, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM



Close to half, 46 percent, of registered voters who consider themselves political independents in a Hill-HarrisX survey released Tuesday said Trump and GOP members in Congress are the primary ones responsible for the shutdown, a 7-point increase from a survey conducted in the last two days of December. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Native American man from viral video offers to meet with Catholic students, leaders (Jack Jenkins, 1/22/19, RNS)

Nathan Phillips, a Native American man seen in a viral video of an encounter with a group of Kentucky Catholic school students, says he wants to meet with them and church officials to discuss the incident and turn it into a "teachable moment."

"Let's create space for the teaching of tolerance to happen," Phillips, an Omaha Nation elder, said in a news release from the Lakota People's Law Project. [...]

Phillips says he wants dialogue with the students, and Nelson said the Lakota People's Law Project plans to offer a formal invite to the school soon.

"I have faith that human beings can use a moment like this to find a way to gain understanding from one another," Phillips said.

Phillips offered to visit the school and hold a discussion "about cultural appropriation, racism and the importance of listening to and respecting diverse cultures."

Phillips, in collaboration with the Indigenous Peoples March and the Lakota People's Law Project, is also requesting a meeting with Vatican officials and Pope Francis "to discuss what role the Church might be willing to play in reconciling the Catholic community worldwide with Indigenous people."

"We feel that there is a distinct lack of understanding and appreciation of Native peoples and traditions worldwide," said Phillips. "It's time to address the indecency of culturally appropriating our ritual movements and songs for the enjoyment of non-Native peoples." [...]

Others are also calling for a reunion of the two groups. On Monday, Cincinnati restaurateur Jeff Ruby offered to fly out Phillips first class to his establishment to "break bread and make amends" with Covington Catholic High School students, according to the Courier Journal.

"There might be blame on both sides," Ruby, who has mentored Covington Catholic students, told the Journal. "We have to remember these are kids in this situation. There may have been things done and said in the heat of the moment. I'd like to get both sides together, get them talking and maybe take a moment to stand in the other's shoes."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Trump's Lawyer Said There Were "No Plans" For Trump Tower Moscow. Here They Are. (Azeen Ghorayshi,  January 22, 2019, BuzzFeed News)

The plan was dazzling: a glass skyscraper that would stretch higher than any other building in Europe, offering ultra-luxury residences and hotel rooms and bearing a famous name. Trump Tower Moscow, conceived as a partnership between Donald Trump's company and a Russian real estate developer, looked likely to yield profits in excess of $300 million.

The tower was never built, but it has become a focal point of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Trump's relationship with Russia in the lead-up to his presidency.

The president and his representatives have dismissed the project as little more than a notion -- a rough plan led by Trump's then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his associate Felix Sater, of which Trump and his family said they were only loosely aware as the election campaign gathered pace.

On Monday, his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said "the proposal was in the earliest stage," and he went on to tell the New Yorker that "no plans were ever made. There were no drafts. Nothing in the file."

However, hundreds of pages of business documents, emails, text messages, and architectural plans, obtained by BuzzFeed News over a year of reporting, tell a very different story. Trump Tower Moscow was a richly imagined vision of upscale splendor on the banks of the Moscow River.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Tlaib Trashes Obamacare as Written by Insurance Companies, Creating 'Winners and Losers' in Health Care (David Rutz, January 22, 2019, Free Beacon)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) ripped Obamacare as being written by insurance companies and for creating "winners and losers" in health care in a new interview on the New York Times podcast "The Daily."

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Poll shows Russia's trust in Putin falls to all-time low: The ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria have led to a dramatic drop in popularity for Russian president. (Madeline Roache , 1/22/19, Al Jazeera)

Russia's trust in its President Vladimir Putin has fallen to its lowest level since 2006, falling more than 33 percent, according to a recent poll conducted by the Russian-state Public Opinion Research Center. [...]

Another survey by the Moscow-based independent pollster the Levada Center in December 2018 showed that 53 per cent of respondents disapprove of the Russian government.

However, Putin has an overall approval rating of about 63 per cent percent, declining from 89 per cent in June 2015, according to Levada Centre.

"We know the Kremlin takes these figures incredibly seriously, so we should pay attention to them," Dr Ben Noble, a Russian Politics Lecturer at University College London, told Al Jazeera.

Exactly as one would have predicted upon luring him into Syria and enacting sanctions over Ukraine..

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Everyone is still wrong about the Covington kids (Molly Roberts, January 22, 2019, Washington Post)

The problem is, neither of these distillations captures the truth, which is hidden somewhere in a mess of different segments of different recordings showing different offenses by different parties. It's true that the Hebrew Israelites shouted invective at the kids, and it is true that the kids chanted school cheers to drown them out. It's also true that the schoolboys, whether someone else was mean to them beforehand or not, were giggling as they let loose with offensive war whoops and tomahawk chops while a Native American man beat his drum before them. It's true that one of them ripped his shirt off in a signal of self-assured dominance. And it's true that a smirk is a smirk.

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


"Even If He Did Do It, It Wouldn't Be a Crime": Rudy Giuliani on President Trump (Isaac Chotiner, January 21, 2019, The New Yorker)

Saying things for Trump, not always being truthful about it--do you ever worry that this will be your legacy? Does that ever worry you in any way?

Absolutely. I am afraid it will be on my gravestone. "Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Trump plan to reopen govt., build border wall undercut by Supreme Court (Richard Cowan, 1/22/19, Reuters) 

President Donald Trump's bid to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall and end a month-long partial government shutdown suffered a blow on Tuesday when the U.S. Supreme Court left in place for now a program protecting young illegal immigrants from deportation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


MAGA Men Unashamed (Wayne Isaac, January 20th, 2019, American Greatness)

The Left fears men. Which is exactly why the corporate-media-activist ideological conglomerate is currently losing its collective mind over a viral video of young, white, Catholic men in MAGA hats smirking at an Indian.  [...]

Every great resistance movement, rebellion, and revolution has been lead by men. And that terrifies our elites. [...]

Cooperation, exploration, and courage--that is what manhood means. And that is exactly why our elites quake at the sight of young conservative men who refuse to back down when attacked. They're used to the bow-tied, soy-male, David French-brand of conservatism that insists the highest virtue is being nice to people who utterly despise you.

The terrors of the Right are exacerbated by the fact that no one fears them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Ugly Truths and Misplaced Moralism: If people who go to comedy shows expect moralism instead of ugly truths, there's not much future in comedy for women. (Titus Techera, 1/22/19, Splice Today)

Iliza Schlesinger is a contender for today's most successful comedienne. She has a special on Netflix, Elder Millennial--she's had many before and will have more. Few women get a lot of attention in comedy and it's easy to see why she does, since she's pretty, starving herself to perfection and showing her rib cage to prove it, and also very funny. She's teaching young American women how to interact with men or at least their own insecurities.

Famous comediennes talk about the war of the sexes more than male counterparts. Iliza, though a feminist, offers all-American observations about the dating scene in glamour-cities like Los Angeles. Such cities don't help women marry--which is the purpose of her comedy. Instead, as she complains, cities prey on the unspoken desires of young women. Unfortunately, this leads her to an obvious paradox. Women put heroic effort into mating but they still mostly fail.

Iliza excels at mocking men as dumb and predatory. It's worth listening to her for the entertainment--and then again because behind the laughs there's a lot of sad stuff about what it's like to be a young woman, alone in a city, trying to get married and mostly failing. Iliza herself has succeeded, as she says, at 35. But if this were so many young women's experience of men that this comedy is popular--why would they even want to marry? Evolution is her answer. So it's easy to blame society, but nature is far worse. Unfortunately, Iliza, who calls make-up war paint, can only utter ugly truths that leave women unscathed. She grants women one moral flaw--insecurity--but she blames society for that, too.

Comedy's supposed to tell ugly truths--we're told comedians are transgressive, willing to say things most of us won't. Iliza proves equality with male comics in filthy language and pretends to reveal the dirty truth about women men idolize. Comediennes are forever proving equality in filth. But if the ugliest truth about women is they're systematically victims--there's no hope of happiness.

This burden of perfection means moments of insight are hidden in ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Zap: How Electric Therapy Is Curing Navy SEALs of PTSD ... And Could Remake Brain Science (PATRICK TUCKER, JANUARY 20, 2019, Defense One)

What Tony and several other former U.S. Special Operations Forces personnel received Newport Brain Research Laboratory, located at the Center, was a new treatment for brain disorders, one that might just revolutionize brain-based medicine. Though the FDA clinical trials to judge its efficacy and risks are ongoing, the technique could help humanity deal with a constellation of its most common mental disorders -- depression, anxiety, aggressiveness, attention deficit, and others--and do so without drugs. And if its underpinning theory proves correct, it could be among the biggest breakthroughs in the treatment of mental health since the invention of the EEG a century ago.

At the lab, Tony (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) met Dr. Erik Won, president and CEO of the Newport Brain Research Laboratory, the company that's innovating Magnetic EEG/ECG-guided Resonant Therapy, or MeRT. Won's team strapped cardiac sensors on Tony and placed an electroencephalography cap on his skull to measure his brain's baseline electrical activity. Then came the actual therapy. Placing a flashlight-sized device by Tony's skull, they induced an electromagnetic field that senta small burst of current to his brain. Over the course of 20 minutes, they moved the device around his cranium, delivering jolts that, at their most aggressive, felt like a firm finger tapping.

For Tony, MeRT's effects were obvious and immediate. He walked out of the first session to a world made new. "Everything looked different," he told me. "My bike looked super shiny."

He began to receive MeRT five times a week-- each session lasting about an hour, with waiting room time -- and quickly noticed a change in his energy. "I was super boosted," he said. His mood changed as well.

Today, he admits that he still has moments of frustration but says that anger is no longer his "go-to emotion." He's developed the ability to cope. He still wants help with his memory, but his life is very different. He's taken up abstract painting and welding, two hobbies he had no interest in at all before the therapy. He's put in a new kitchen. Most importantly, his sleep is very different: better.

Tony's experience was similar to those of five other special-operations veterans who spoke with Defense One. All took part in a double-blind randomized clinical trial that sought to determine how well MeRT treats Persistent Post-Concussion Symptoms and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Five out of the six were former Navy SEALS.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


China's Xi Warns Party of 'Serious Dangers' as Risks Mount (Bloomberg News, January 21, 2019)

President Xi Jinping stressed the need to maintain political stability in an unusual meeting of China's top leaders -- a fresh sign the ruling party is growing concerned about the social implications of the slowing economy.

Xi told a "seminar" of top provincial leaders and ministers in Beijing on Monday that the Communist Party needed greater efforts "to prevent and resolve major risks," the official Xinhua News Agency said. He said areas of concern facing the leadership ranged from politics and ideology to the economy, environment and external situation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Harlan Ellison wrote Star Trek's greatest episode. He hated it.: The famously cantankerous science-fiction legend died this week. The story of "City on the Edge of Forever" represents his career in miniature. (Keith Phipps  Jun 29, 2018, Vox)

Here's the version of "The City on the Edge of Forever" that's been seen by countless viewers since 1967: After administering a small dose of a dangerous drug to Lt. Sulu (George Takei), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) accidentally administers a massive dose to his own abdomen after getting knocked about when the Enterprise hits some interference from a strange time distortion.

Driven temporarily mad, McCoy beams down to the nearest planet, home to the Guardian of Forever, a talking portal that allows visitors to travel through time and space. When McCoy uses it to travel back to Depression-era New York, the Enterprise's landing party learns their ship has disappeared. Whatever McCoy has done has distorted history in such a way that the universe as they know it has ceased to exist.

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) give chase, in time learning that McCoy has changed time by saving the life of Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), the near-saintly proprietor of a soup kitchen. If allowed to live, her idealistic message of pacifism and tolerance will delay the United States' entry into World War II, allowing Hitler to develop the atomic bomb, win the war, and dominate the Earth -- shutting the door on the hopeful future imagined throughout the series.

And so, as Spock says twice in the episode -- first as a question then as a statement arrived at through cold, hard logic -- Edith Keeler must die. The only problem: Kirk has fallen in love with her and isn't sure he can bring himself to let her die. But, after reuniting with McCoy, he does just that, stopping the doctor from saving Edith from a truck that strikes her down in the street.

This is the dilemma that Ben Shapiro presented.  His position is either that he would let her live or that there is something so peculiar about babies that he would save her as a fetus but not as an adult, which is curious moral reasoning.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


The Trumpification of the pro-life movement exacts a price (Michael Gerson, January 21, 2019, Washington Post)

[T]he Republican Party] has become thoroughly braided into Trump's bigotry. In a nation where the chant of "Trump! Trump! Trump!" has become a racist jeer, the GOP has accepted its rebranding as his subsidiary. To many suburban voters, the party has become a symbol of intolerance. To many younger voters, an instrument of white privilege. At the national level at least, the party's fate is inseparable from the fate of the president.

Most members of the conservative movement will be tainted for flipping their inspiration from Ronald Reagan to George Wallace with hardly a moment's thought. This gives credence to charges of racial prejudice that I once thought exaggerated.

Because racism is the only thing Donald ran on, truly believes in, and tries to achieve, that's what MAGA  stands for.

Nathan Phillips Lied. The Media Bought It. (KYLE SMITH, January 20, 2019, National Review)

We'll stipulate that the Catholic boys from a high school in Kentucky were a little obnoxious when an indigenous man named Nathan Phillips banged a drum at them in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday. But Phillips was being a lot more obnoxious. To put it another way, if you were minding your own business in a public place and someone came right up to you and put a drum up to your face and made a huge racket inches from your nose, would you be happy about it?

The kids from Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Ky., were ambassadors for causes much bigger than themselves: Catholicism and the right to life. As such, they should have comported themselves better than to jeer and do a tomahawk chop in front of Phillips.

As their Pope says, they are also driven by a fear smaller than themselves, Pope Francis: Overcome fear of immigrants and refugees (Gerard O'Connell, March 11, 2018, America)

"The world today is often inhabited by fear. It is an ancient disease", but "the call not to be afraid often recurs in the Bible," he said.

"Our time experiences great fear as it faces the vast dimensions of globalization and fear often turns against people who are foreign, different or poor as if they were enemies," he said. Francis noted that "the atmosphere of fear can infect also those Christians who hide the gift they have received, like the slave in the parable: they do not invest it in the future, they do not share it with others, they preserve it for themselves."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson's Archives: On a Presidential paper trail. (Robert A. Caro, 1/28/19, The New Yorker)

In 1959, when I went to work for Newsday, on Long Island, the paper had a managing editor named Alan Hathway, who was an old-time newspaperman from the nineteen-twenties. He was a character right out of "The Front Page," a broad-shouldered man with a big stomach that looked soft but wasn't. His head was shiny bald except for a monklike tonsure, and rather red--very red after he had started drinking for the day, which was at lunch. He wore brown shirts with white ties, and black shirts with yellow ties. We were never sure if he had actually graduated from, or even attended, college, but he had a deep prejudice against graduates of prestigious universities, and during his years at Newsday had never hired one, let alone one from Princeton, as I was. I was hired as a joke on him while he was on vacation. He was so angry to find me there that during my first weeks on the job he would refuse to acknowledge my presence in his city room. I kept saying, "Hello, Mr. Hathway," or "Hi, Mr. Hathway," when he passed my desk. He'd never even nod. Ignoring me was easy for Mr. Hathway to do, because as the low man on the paper's reportorial totem pole I never worked on a story significant enough to require his involvement.

At the time, Newsday did not publish on Sundays, so as low man on the totem pole I worked Saturday afternoons and nights, because if a story came in then I could put the information in a memo and leave the actual writing to the real reporters who came in on Sunday.

Late one Saturday afternoon, a telephone on the city desk rang, and when I picked it up it was an official from the Federal Aviation Agency, calling from his office at what was then (because John F. Kennedy hadn't yet been assassinated) Idlewild Airport. Newsday had been doing a series of articles on Mitchel Field, a big Air Force base in the middle of Long Island's Nassau County that the military was giving up. Its twelve hundred acres were the last large open space in the county, so what happened to it was important. The F.A.A. was seeking to make it a civilian airport. Newsday, however, felt that it should be used instead for public purposes--in particular, for education, to allow Hofstra University to expand, and to create a campus for Nassau Community College, the only general-education public college on Long Island, which was then being housed in temporary quarters in the county courthouse in Mineola. The rooms there were already too crowded to accommodate the students, many of them from the large low-income community in nearby Hempstead. Public education for the poor: that was something worth fighting for.

I hadn't been working on any of the Mitchel Field stories. But on this Saturday suddenly this guy from the F.A.A. was on the phone, and he says something along the lines of "I really like what you guys are doing on Mitchel Field, and I'm here alone in the F.A.A. offices, and if you send someone down here I know what files you should be looking at."

I was alone, the only person in the city room. This happened to be the day of the big Newsday annual summer picnic on the beach on Fire Island. Just about everyone else had gone, except me. None of them had a cell phone, of course, since there were no cell phones then. I called the editor who was my immediate superior, and then his superior, but wasn't able to reach them. When, after many calls, I finally did reach an editor, he told me to call the paper's great investigative reporter Bob Greene, but Greene wasn't reachable, either, and neither were the other reporters I was told to call. Eventually, the editor told me that I would have to go myself.

I will never forget that night. It was the first time I had ever gone through files. The official met me at the front door and led me to a room with a conference table in the middle, and, on the table, high stacks of file folders. And somehow, in a strange way, sitting there going through them, I felt at home. As I went through the memos and the letters and the minutes of meetings, I could see a pattern emerging, revealing the real reason that the agency wanted the field to become a civilian airport: executives of corporations with offices on Long Island, who seemed to be quite friendly with the F.A.A. officials, wanted to be able to fly in and out of Long Island on their company planes without the inconvenience of having to drive to Idlewild or LaGuardia. I kept looking for a piece of paper on which someone came right out and said that, but I didn't find one; everything I could find talked around that point. But between all the pieces of paper I found sentences and paragraphs that, taken together, made the point clear.

There are certain moments in your life when you suddenly understand something about yourself. I loved going through those files, making them yield their secrets to me. And here was a particular and fascinating secret: that corporate executives were persuading a government agency to save them some driving time at the expense of a poor kid getting an education and a better chance in life. Each discovery I made that helped to prove that was a thrill. I don't know why raw files affect me that way. In part, perhaps, it's because they are closer to reality, to genuineness--not filtered, cleaned up, through press releases or, years later, in books. I worked all night, but I didn't notice the passing of time. When I finished and left the building on Sunday, the sun was coming up, and that was a surprise. I went back to the office, and before driving home I wrote a memo on what I had found.

I had previously worked at a newspaper in New Jersey, and my wife, Ina, and I hadn't yet moved to Long Island. Early on Monday morning, my day off, the phone rang, and it was Mr. Hathway's secretary, June Blom. Alan wanted to see me right away, she said. I said, "I'm in New Jersey."

"Well, he wants to see you just as soon as you can get here," June replied. I drove to Newsday that morning, sure every mile of the way that I was about to be fired.

I ran into June just as I entered the city room; motioning to Alan's office, she told me to go right in. Walking across the room, I saw, through the glass window, the big red head bent over something he was reading, and as I entered his office I saw that it was my memo.

He didn't look up. After a while, I said tentatively, "Mr. Hathway." I couldn't get the "Alan" out. He motioned for me to sit down, and went on reading. Finally, he raised his head. "I didn't know someone from Princeton could do digging like this," he said. "From now on, you do investigative work."

I responded with my usual savoir faire: "But I don't know anything about investigative reporting."

Alan looked at me for what I remember as a very long time. "Just remember," he said. "Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is All Economic Growth Created Equal? (OREN CASS  JANUARY 21, 2019, The Bulwark)

Imagine a button that would instantly double the productivity of the labor market's most productive quintile, but also cause the least productive quintile to drop out of the labor force. Would you push the button?

Distribution of that wealth is a political question.

January 21, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


This Year Looks A Lot Like The 1976 Democratic Primary. What Does That Mean For 2020? (Katherine Miller, 1/21/19, BuzzFeed News)

Take 1976, when Jimmy Carter came out of nowhere to win the nomination and presidency. Depending on who you're talking to, this is the most wide-open Democratic primary since 2004, 1992, or 1976. But 1976 is the year most likely to be like our own: a huge, divided field of liberal candidates ran for president after a period of nightmare politics. If you read enough about the 1976 election, you'll pick up on a dead-ended weariness -- the kind of emotional valence that feels familiar to 2019, a year that has begun with a dystopian joke about Marie Kondo throwing away most of the world because it does not spark joy.

"What Jimmy Carter has thought is that many people are turned off by the old politics, Watergate, stress, issues, and now," Sally Quinn wrote at the time, "they simply want to make it through the night."

The Vietnam War and Richard Nixon -- both finished by then -- dominated 1976. Carter's campaign recognized early on, the New York Times wrote, that though there might "be passing moments of interest in other concepts," one subsumed all others: "the issue of integrity" -- and "the most successful candidates would base their pursuits on that foundation." A decade later, Jerry Rafshoon, Carter's TV ad maker, told the New Republic that the basis for the campaign's materials -- an array of gentle PBS-looking clips -- was Carter's existing message. "We looked at the footage we had and these were the lines that were capturing audiences. Who came up with it? Jimmy Carter the candidate," he said. "It worked for those times."

And thus, in ads and on the trail: Jimmy Carter spent a lot of time talking about love.

"I want a government," the central line went, "that is as good and honest, and decent, and truthful, and fair, and competent, and idealistic, and compassionate, and as filled with love as are the American people."

Despite cratering the word "liberal" for a quarter century, during the actual campaign, Carter frustrated a wide array of Democrats and reporters by eluding ideological categorization. He seemed very liberal on civil rights, for instance, but Julian Bond wouldn't endorse him; he was a final and Southern rebuke to segregationist George Wallace, but he'd shown a little friendliness to Wallace years before; he hadn't opposed the Vietnam War, but called it a racist war in 1976, fought by those who couldn't afford to evade the draft. He kept saying he was a nuclear physicist (he was not) and rarely gave specifics about anything he'd actually do on taxes, inflation, etc.

Instead, stuff like: "We've still got the greatest system of government on earth. Richard Nixon hasn't hurt it. Watergate didn't hurt it. Vietnam and Cambodia haven't hurt it. ... We still have within us the same strength, the same courage, the same ability, the same intelligence, the same educational capacity, the same religious faith, the same love of our land, the same concern about our children as have existed in the minds and hearts of the great people of the past."

This was delivered to rapt, quiet crowds in a fairly grim manner -- which was maybe part of the appeal, seeming serious after all the chaos.

W obviously had a much more thorough platform he ran on, but he and the UR depended heavily on simply being decent and caring American men.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


President Trump Posts Altered Photos to Facebook and Instagram That Make Him Look Thinner (Matt Novak, 1/21/19, Gizmodo)

President Donald Trump's social media accounts are filled with vile racism, idiotic xenophobia, and inaccurate statistics. And now we can add another category to the list: fake photos.

In recent months, Trump's official Facebook and Instagram accounts have published photos of the president that have been manipulated to make him look thinner. [...]

[I]n one of the strangest alterations, Trump's fingers have been made slightly longer. Seriously.

Donald Trump, an unindicted co-conspirator whose own lawyer admits that the president was trying to secure a real estate deal in Russia as late as November of 2016, has been somewhat sensitive about the size of his hands ever since journalist Graydon Carter described Trump as a "short-fingered vulgarian." Carter was writing for the now-defunct Spy magazine in the 1980s when he made the observation and the insult has reportedly bothered Trump for decades. Carter claims that the president has even sent photos of his hands to Carter with the fingers circled in gold Sharpie.

"To this day, I receive the occasional envelope from Trump," Carter wrote in 2015, before Trump won the presidency. "There is always a photo of him--generally a tear sheet from a magazine. On all of them he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers. I almost feel sorry for the poor fellow because, to me, the fingers still look abnormally stubby."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A Problem for Kamala Harris: Can a Prosecutor Become President in the Age of Black Lives Matter? (Briahna Gray, January 20 2019, The Intercept)

KAMALA HARRIS HAS a prosecutor problem.

She's running for president as a progressive, but as attorney general of California, she criminalized truancy -- making it a crime for kids to be late for school, and dragging into the criminal justice system even more disproportionately low income, predominantly black and latino families. She's overlooked the misconduct of her prosecutors and fought to uphold their wrongfully secured convictions. She defended California's choice to deny sexual reassignment surgery to a trans inmate, and in 2014, appealed a federal judge's holding that the death penalty was unconstitutional.

The list goes on and on. But in some ways the details don't matter. The problem isn't that Harris was an especially bad prosecutor. She made positive contributions as well -- encouraging education and reentry programs for ex-offenders, for instance. The problem, more precisely, is that she was ever a prosecutor at all.

To become a prosecutor is to make a choice to align oneself with a powerful and fundamentally biased system. As Paul Butler, former prosecutor and author of "Chokehold: Policing Black Men," told The Guardian, "as a lawyer who went to law school with a goal of helping black people and using my legal skills to make things better, the realization that the law itself was a mechanism to keep African American people down was frightening." He added, "Lawyers are competitive and ambitious, and the way that manifests itself in a prosecutor's office is you want to get tough sentences. I got caught up in that world. You feel like you're doing the Lord's work -- you tell yourselves that you're helping the community."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rudy's remarkable interview (Jonathan Swan, 1/21/19, Axios)

Top Washington criminal defense lawyers, both Democrats and Republicans, told me they couldn't understand what Giuliani was trying to achieve with his TV appearance.

"Any defense lawyer would advise their client in an investigation not to discuss testimony with other people involved in the investigation in order to avoid the risk of obstruction or suborning perjury charges," said a Republican attorney who spoke on condition of anonymity because he works with the Trump administration and doesn't want to offend them.

"Rudy is the gift that keeps on creating issues that do not otherwise exist. He should have taken the Mueller statement [denying the BuzzFeed story], embraced it and not said another word," said a prominent criminal defense lawyer, who requested not to be identified because he's active in Robert Mueller's investigation.

January 20, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Giuliani Acknowledges Trump May Have Talked to Cohen About Testimony: "So What?" (DANIEL POLITI, JAN 20, 2019, Slate)

Rudy Giuliani didn't do his client any favors Sunday, acknowledging on CNN that it was possible President Donald Trump spoke with Michael Cohen before his testimony to Congress. In discussing a BuzzFeed story that claims Trump told his longtime personal lawyer to lie about negotiations on a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, Giuliani said he had no knowledge of any talks.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Nathan Phillips Says He Was Playing Peacemaker When MAGA Students Taunted Him (PETER WADE, 1/20/19, Rolling Stone)

The incident appeared to begin when a small group of Black Hebrews were making anti-Trump remarks on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The Covington students, many wearing "Make America Great Again" memorabilia, crowded around the group and started yelling at them. Although it's tough to make out what the students were saying in the video, it's clear they are taunting the Hebrews.

Maga hat boy's mother blames 'black Muslims' for her son harassing Native American man (Adam Forrest, 1/20/19, Independent)

[H]is mother claimed "black Muslims" had been harassing the group of Donald Trump supporters from the private, all-male Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Giuliani Says Talks for Trump Tower in Moscow Lasted Through 2016 Election (Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt, Jan. 20, 2019, NY Times)

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, said on Sunday that discussions about building a Trump Tower in Moscow lasted through the November 2016 election, months longer than previously confirmed.

Mr. Giuliani said in an interview with The New York Times that Mr. Trump "recalls a series of conversations" with his former lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, about the project during the campaign.

"He can't tell you the date" that it ended, Mr. Giuliani said. "There are no entries or phone logs" that indicated specifics, he added.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


This is our chance to completely redefine the meaning of work (Alex Gray, 1/09/19, WEF)

A recent paper by the Tinbergen Institute in the Netherlands revealed that a quarter of workers are dissatisfied with their jobs. The study of 100,000 workers from 47 countries found that 8% perceive their job as "socially useless", while a further 17% are doubtful about the usefulness of their job.

So what does work really mean anyway? For many it's a hierarchical relationship between employer and employee, in which the latter is paid and contributes a portion to the government in the form of taxes.

But there's another way to think about work, argues Bregman. Work should be defined simply as doing something that adds value to society.

Of course, this type of work already exists. No-one would argue that doctors, teachers, care workers, cleaners, and those working in garbage disposal aren't doing useful work. But Bregman says there are a great many jobs that contribute nothing to society - so-called "bu[***]t jobs".

Bregman argues that the social usefulness of many jobs has been in decline since the middle of the last century. And the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is only going to exacerbate the problem.

"In the 50s, 60s and 70s, if you were really talented in your field you would probably go into research or government," he says.

"But then what started to happen in the 80s in advanced economies is that it became much more financially attractive to move into financial services and the tech industry. While there is useful work being done there, we also know, especially with the financial sector, that it involves a huge amount of people getting rich at expense of others.

Conservatives, in particular, ought to be leading the charge to assign value to the work required to develop and maintain healthy marriages, families, neighborhoods, communities, civil society, etc., instead of mere jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Nathan Glazer, Urban Sociologist and Outspoken Intellectual, Dies at 95 (Barry Gewen, Jan. 19, 2019, NY Times)

Mr. Glazer's turn to neoconservatism followed an almost paradigmatic path. Throughout the 1950s, and even after he went to work for the Kennedy administration's Housing and Home Finance Agency in 1962-63, he continued to consider himself a radical. But if, as his longtime friend Irving Kristol put it, a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality, then Mr. Glazer got hit over the head.

He had taken a teaching post at Berkeley in 1963, just as the student rebellions of the 1960s were erupting. Opposed to the growing American military involvement in Vietnam and supportive of social policies designed to help the poor, he initially sympathized with the student protesters. But as they grew more extreme -- "nihilistic" was Mr. Glazer's word -- he turned away from them and his own leftist past as well. He moved toward what he saw as a hard-won pragmatism but what others saw as a reactive conservatism. [...]

During the battles of the 1970s over busing and affirmative action, Mr. Glazer published "Affirmative Discrimination" (1975), a landmark statement for neoconservatives and others opposed to government-enforced racial balancing. Mr. Glazer was prominently featured in one of the earliest studies of the group, Peter Steinfels's "The Neoconservatives: The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics" in 1979.

Mr. Glazer was never an entirely reliable neoconservative. He wasn't comfortable with the label, and on foreign policy he continued to describe himself as "somewhat left." If he opposed policies like affirmative action, it was not, as with more traditional conservatives, out of antipathy to government itself, but out of a skepticism about what public programs could accomplish.

One of his books was entitled "The Limits of Social Policy," published in 1988.

"On most areas of public policy," he said, "I consider myself pragmatic, rather than a man of the left or a man of the right."

As a social scientist, Mr. Glazer valued hard facts over good intentions. At the same time, he was modest about what the facts could show. A reader of his work was always coming upon phrases like "I am not sure" and "We do not have the knowledge" and "I do not know."

This meant that the nonideological Mr. Glazer could change his mind. In his writings on architecture and city planning, for example, he went from early enthusiasm for modernism to a "growing disenchantment."

"In the end," he said, "the defense of a radical modernism became the work of an elite that the ordinary person could not understand."

During the 1990s Mr. Glazer decided that he had been wrong about the course of integration as set out in "Affirmative Discrimination" -- that he had been complacent about racial progress in America.

And once he had concluded that some kind of multiculturalism was necessary for public education, he bowed to what he saw as the inevitable: "Even the most balanced and professional effort to define a curriculum for students in American schools today will place a heavy emphasis on multiplicity and diversity, race and ethnicity."

In Mr. Glazer's case, it seemed, a multiculturalist was a neoconservative who had been mugged by reality.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Ocasio-Cortez Embraces Anti-Semitic Women's March After DNC, Top Dems Cut Ties (RYAN SAAVEDRA, January 19, 2019, Daily Wire)

On Saturday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) embraced the anti-Semitic Women's March just days after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other left-wing organizations cut ties with the movement over blatant anti-Semitism.

January 19, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Advertisers Flee Ben Shapiro in Wake of Criticism Over 'Baby Hitler' Comments (Colin Kalmbacher, January 19th, 2019, Law & Crime)

As of Saturday, at least two advertisers have pulled the plug on conservative commentator Ben Shapiro's eponymous podcast over the host's controversial speech at the annual anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

"[T]he truth is that no pro-life person on earth would kill baby Hitler," Shapiro said before adding, "Baby Hitler was a baby."

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Alexander Hamilton is smiling on Ron DeSantis (Adam C. Smith Jan. 16, 2019, TB Times)

At one point in that post-election period, Gaetz, chief of staff Shane Strum and transition team leader Susie Wiles holed up at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club to map out a proposed first 100 days.

"The governor comes in and says he loves it -- but would like to do all of it in January," Gaetz said.

As striking as the contrast is between DeSantis' campaign and early, pedal-to-the-metal governing style, consider how the Fox News partisan has managed to please so many Democrats on key policies.

No way the bipartisan goodwill lasts, but the early moves sent a reassuring message to the 50.4 percent of Florida voters who cast ballots for someone else.

Chris Hand, a Jacksonville lawyer and Democratic strategist who worked on the bipartisan Groveland Four Clemency Coalition, hailed DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet for so quickly pardoning the young men wrongfully accused of rape in 1949.

"To the extent that this is Gov. DeSantis signaling that he wants to be a leader for all Floridians, that would be a welcome change from the previous administration," he said.

Democratic St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman applauded DeSantis' emphasis on environmental protection and plan to create an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection to respond to rising sea levels.

"Every city in this state is going to need help addressing issues of mitigation and adaptability, and we could be real partners," Kriseman said.

One of the saddest things about the GOP these days is that it's entirely possible that the Governor is not a genuine racist and just ran as one to appeal to white Florida voters.
Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Outrage as non-Native youth wearing #MAGA hats taunt and disrespect Native elder (Vincent Schilling, 1/19/19, iNDIAN cOUNTRY tODAY)

Nathan Phillips, Omaha, is a Vietnam Veteran who hosts a sacred pipe ceremony at Arlington, was taunted in D.C.

Native Twitter has gone ablaze as a Native American elder singing the AIM Song in Washington DC during the Indigenous Peoples March was ridiculed, taunted and mocked by a group of non-Native youth.

The video, which was posted by YouTube account holder KC NOLAND, was also screen captured and shared on other social media accounts with views shortly gaining tens of thousands of views.

The elder is Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder who is also a Vietnam Veteran and former director of the Native Youth Alliance. He is also a keeper of a sacred pipe and holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Former Afghan warlord Hekmatyar enters presidential race (Reuters, 1/19/19) 

His decision to contest the presidential polls in July is seen by analysts as the ex-warlord's attempt legitimize his Hizb-i-Islami party. The faction has been blamed for atrocities committed during Afghanistan's brutal civil war, which led many Afghans to welcome the emergence of the Taliban in 1996 in the hope the hardline Islamist group would restore law and order.

In 2003, the U.S. State Department listed him as a terrorist, accusing him of taking part in and supporting attacks by al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Washington later welcomed Ghani's decision to sign a peace deal with Hekmatyar.

In 2016, President Ghani's government granted immunity to Hekmatyar but the former warlord has been critical of his administration and the parliamentary election process in 2018.

Announcing his candidacy, Hekmatyar pledged to restore peace and security and said the current government had failed to end the war with the Taliban.

"Our country's situation requires a powerful central government lead by an elected president supported by the majority of people," he told a news conference in Kabul.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


How Americans Learned to Condemn Drunk Driving (BARRON H. LERNER, JANUARY 17, 2019, What it Means to be an American)

It is no exaggeration to say that drunk driving was largely ignored in the United States until the late 1970s. Even when drunk drivers caused serious injury or death, they often pleaded guilty to misdemeanors or traffic violations. For young men aged 21 to 44, who constituted the bulk of the offenders, drunk driving was almost a rite of passage. More jarringly, from our modern vantage point, police and prosecutors characterized victims such as Lightner's daughter Cary, who had been walking down the side of a highway when she was killed, as being "in the wrong place at the wrong time." Deaths caused by drunk drivers were "accidents."

In a country that celebrated both drinking and driving, it has long been hard to convince people that it was unacceptable to do both.

After its brief flirtation with Prohibition in the 1920s, the United States readily welcomed back alcohol into its social fabric. Manufacturers used advertising in newspapers and magazines, and later on radio and television, to connect drinking with the good life. It was a healthy habit, too. A 1937 pamphlet entitled Beer in the American Home actually characterized the beverage as "liquid food." And the more you drank, the better. Schaefer reminded its customers that it was the "one beer to have when you're having more than one."

Prior to World War II, most public drinking occurred in bars and taverns located within cities. Patrons could avail themselves of public transportation to get home. But rapid suburban growth in the 1950s meant that drinking became associated with driving, either after work or after dinner at a local restaurant.

In the late 1950s, a Harvard-trained physician and epidemiologist named William Haddon, Jr. began to formally study the incidence and characteristics of drunk driving in the United States. His work culminated in a document, the 1968 Alcohol and Highway Safety Report, that estimated that alcohol was involved in 800,000 crashes annually, leading to 25,000 deaths. Drunk driving, he and his coauthor A. Benjamin Kelley concluded, was a major public health problem that was being ignored.

But it was not until victims of drunk driving went public with their stories that the people paid attention.

This happened because two modes of advocacy converged in the early 1980s. On the one hand, anti-drunk driving efforts built upon recent progressive activism such as the Civil Rights movement, anti-Vietnam War protests, and second-wave feminism (hence Mothers Against Drunk Driving). On the other hand, fighting drunk driving meshed with more conservative, Reagan-era efforts to create "wars" against drugs and crime and to recognize the rights of crime victims.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


BALLOT INITIATIVES ARE BRINGING MEDICAID EXPANSION TO SOME OF AMERICA'S MOST CONSERVATIVE STATES: The passage of Medicaid expansion in three deeply conservative states is evidence that a less partisan presentation of policy is allowing voters to make decisions based more on their own interests, according to advocacy groups. (BRIANNA PROVENZANO, 1/17/19, Pacific Standard)

Based on publicly available national polling data, voters do, in fact, want to help struggling families: According to the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll released in November, about three quarters of the American public--including 77 percent of the population living in non-expansion states--holds a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act provision that grants states the option to expand Medicaid. In those same states, KFF found that 59 percent of the population would be in favor of expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income Americans, while 34 percent said they would like to see their state leave its existing Medicaid coverage unchanged.

In a 2012 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to the Affordable Care Act when it upheld the constitutionality of the law's individual mandate, which stipulates that most people must maintain a minimum level of health insurance coverage. A majority of the court also decided that the ACA's mandatory Medicaid expansion was unconstitutional, effectively leaving it up to the states to decide whether or not to opt to expand coverage.

But while 36 states and Washington, D.C., have adopted Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, some red states have continued to eschew the increased coverage proposals.

With 4.7 million uninsured, Texas boasts the most people under the age of 65 without medical insurance out of any state, according to a report released by the Urban Institute in December. And in Georgia, newly minted Republican Governor Brian Kemp continues to decry Medicaid as "a failed government program," despite the fact that 73 percent of the state's population supports an expansion. Both states are legally ineligible to put Medicaid expansion to voters by way of a ballot initiative, meaning that Republican wins during the 2018 mid-terms all but ensure that the possibility has stalled for the foreseeable future.

Conversely, in states like Maine and Wisconsin, Democratic victories in November have bolstered the prospects of health-care expansion in a big way. In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker was recently ousted by Democrat Tony Evers, who ran a campaign centered around passing Medicaid expansion. And in Maine, an approved initiative to expand health-care access that had been held hostage by Republican Governor Paul LePage will now likely see the light of day under the tenure of newly elected Democrat Janet Mills.

In the remaining six states eligible to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot in 2020--Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming--there's still hope for reform.

Bridget McCandless, president and chief executive officer of Health Forward in Kansas City, Missouri, says her organization has tangled with the state's Republican-led general assembly for years without luck. She called the passage of ballot initiatives in three red states last fall "an opportunity for advocates in the state of Missouri to understand that there was an opportunity to expand Medicaid in this state."

Although Schleifer could not disclose which states the Fairness Project plans to target in 2020, he says the group is currently "evaluating the viability" of campaigns in all six states eligible for ballot initiatives. McCandless confirmed in an interview with Pacific Standard that her organization has been working with the Fairness Project in order to collect preliminary data on the popularity of a potential ballot initiative to expand Medicaid in the Missouri.

"I think when you put Medicaid expansion to the people in an initiative petition, you see voters make decisions less on political reasons and more on human issues," McCandless says. "Being healthy or well isn't a red or blue issue, it's about taking care of our neighbors and making sure as many people as possible can access the care that they need."

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Faith makes for a good night's sleep, study says (Tracy Simmons, 1/16/19, RNS)

A strong faith could be the key to a good night's sleep, according to a study released this week in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Researchers found that those who believe in salvation and feel they have an unshakable relationship with God tend to sleep longer, fall asleep faster and feel more rested in the morning, according to Terrence D. Hill, associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Sociology.

Hill, a co-author of the study, "Sleep Quality and the Stress-Buffering Role of Religious Involvement: A Mediated Moderation Analysis," said the findings aren't surprising to him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM

ALL IN HER HEAD (profanity alert):

Gluten Free Antarctica (Idle Words, 12/20/18)

Far below the Antarctic circle, I watch a woman cry real tears because she can't get gluten-free toast.

Mary is a plummy old English lady traveling alone, an Agatha Christie figure who I expected would spend her time solving mysteries on the ship. When people started disappearing in the Ross Sea, Mary would work the case and gather everyone in the ship's saloon for the spectacular reveal.

Unfortunately, Mary turned out to be a bit of a shipboard bully, bad-talking the other passengers instead of helping to solve their murders. But I am still not ready to see her go to pieces over toast.

Conor, our juvenile delinquent chef, emerges from the galley and drapes himself across the table to soothe her.

"What can I get you, love?" he coos, "Can I get you an egg?"

"I don't want an egg."

"Can I get you some bacon?"

"I don't want bacon. What I want is a second piece of toast."

"I'm so sorry, but we don't have enough for all the gluten-free passengers."

Her face darkens. "I know for a fact that there are some people who were not gluten-free before they got on this ship."

The accusation hangs in the air, unanswerable, and Mary starts to cry. These are angry tears, tears that demand gluten-free justice. The single piece of corn toast she has been allotted for breakfast lies mute on her plate, an affront to God and man.

Rodney convenes a summit in the ship's auditorium to address the gluten crisis. Only passengers with dietary restrictions are invited. The rest of us must huddle around the open hatch one deck above, straining to hear. We are deep in the Ross Sea, five hundred miles from the nearest human being, and this is the most exciting thing that has happened on the ship in weeks.

There are tears of laughter on the bridge when I tell the Russian crew about the Great Antarctic Glutiny.

"You mean if this woman eats bread, she will die?"

"Not really. She just gets sick."

"Yuri, come here! You have to hear this. If she eats bread, the woman will die."

"She won't die. Gluten causes digestive problems for some people. But it's also become a sort of health fad."

"What is 'gluten'? Is that even a Russian word?"

Here they've got me. Tolstoy never wrote about gluten (kleikovina), and the ship's dictionary is strictly nautical. Trying to paraphrase the concept only exposes the holes in my own understanding of this mysterious, flavorful substance.

"It's some kind of a protein in grain. I think it makes things taste good."

Yuri makes a skeptical face.

"It doesn't kill anyone," I insist. "But people can get digestive... unpleasantness."

"So bread will make her sick?"


"Can she eat potatoes?"

"Yes. And corn."

Any hope of sympathy from the Russians evaporates.

"Then let her eat potatoes. Let her eat corn. Or let them all stay home and eat whatever the f[***] they want."

The Russians are seasick, homesick, and lacking in sympathy for the unique challenges that confront the Antarctic tourist. Repeated trips to the Ross Sea have brought them no closer to understanding why people would pay money--tens of thousands of American dollars!--to stare at ice when they could instead be visiting the big duty-free shops at Busan, or spending a pleasant two weeks fishing off the coast of Sakhalin Island, where the fish practically jump into your net and you can sometimes see bears right on the shore.

No one has asked the crew if they have nut allergies, gluten sensitivity, hypertension, lactose intolerance, or any other kind of dietary restriction. Their culinary options are to stay home in Vladivostok earning nothing, or get on the ship and eat what they are given. The closest the Russians come to a dietary preference is the battery of hot sauce and condiment bottles that crowds the center of their table at each meal, along with trays of raw onion, garlic, and weapons-grade mustard.

The conversation on the bridge soon turns to fish and the best ways of preparing them, and I leave the crew to go lie in my bunk for a while, sliding back and forth in time with the motion of the sea, thinking about gluten.

We have been at sea for a very long time.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


For the NFL and all of football, a new threat: an evaporating insurance market (Steve Fainaru & Mark Fainaru-Wada, 1/17/19, ESPPN)

From the NFL to rec leagues, football is facing a stark, new threat: an evaporating insurance market that is fundamentally altering the economics of the sport, squeezing and even killing off programs faced with higher costs and a scarcity of available coverage, an Outside the Lines investigation has found.

The NFL no longer has general liability insurance covering head trauma, according to multiple sources; just one carrier is willing to provide workers' compensation coverage for NFL teams. Before concussion litigation roiled the NFL beginning in 2011, at least a dozen carriers occupied the insurance market for pro football, according to industry experts.

The insurance choices for football helmet manufacturers are equally slim; one helmet company executive said he was aware of only one. Pop Warner Little Scholars, which oversees 225,000 youth players, was forced to switch insurers after its longtime carrier, a subsidiary of the insurance giant AIG, refused to provide coverage without an exclusion for any neurological injury.

"People say football will never go away, but if we can't get insurance, it will," Jon Butler, Pop Warner's executive director, lamented to colleagues after discovering that just one carrier was willing to cover the organization for head trauma, according to a person who was present.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


U.S. military leaders 'embarrassed' by Trump's Syria plan, Kurdish commander says (Richard Engel and Kennett Werner, 1/18/19, NBC News)

American military leaders are "constantly apologizing" for President Donald Trump's Syria withdrawal plan, according to the commander who oversees a force of 65,000 U.S.-backed fighters that's battling the Islamic State.

"It was a joint war, but they left us in the middle of the road," said Gen. Mazlum Kobane, who is in charge of the coalition of militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. [...]

Kobane highlighted that Trump's decision, which was widely seen as the abandonment of a loyal ally, was made against the advice of some U.S. commanders.

"They are embarrassed," Kobane said, referring to his American counterparts. "They didn't expect this decision. It's out of their hands, and they are constantly apologizing for it."

January 18, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Reading Proust in the Gulag (Ayten Tartici, 1/18/19, New York Times)

The Chicoms used Joyce for torture.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


In Davos, Brazil's Bolsonaro to tout reforms, trade liberalization (Ricardo Brito, 1/18/19, Reuters)

Brazil's president will outline his government's economic reform agenda and plans to increase trade with the rest of the world during a speech at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos next week, one of his aides told Reuters on Friday.

Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who took office on Jan. 1 vowing to end years of graft and crack down on violent criminals, will also pledge to lower rampant bureaucracy in Brazil, which many view as a drag on the country's stuttering economy, said the source, who asked not to be identified.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Exclusive: The making of Trump's Enemies List (Jonathan Swan, Mike Allen, 1/18/19, Axios)

"Give me their names," he said, his eyes narrowing. "I want these people out of here. I'm going to take care of this. We're going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-­feeders."

Only in retrospect did I see how remarkable this was. I was sitting there with the President of the United States basically compiling an enemies list -- but these enemies were within his own administration. If it had been a horror movie, this would have been the moment when everyone suddenly realizes the call is coming from inside the house.

The President proceeded to name White House staffer after White House staffer. Almost no one was deemed beyond reproach--not his chief of staff, not senior aides, almost no one other than those with whom he shared a last name. He wanted me to help him judge their loyalty. How, I wondered, had it come to this?

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Trump administration finds its Iran policy not working (Laura Rozen, January 17, 2019, Al Monitor)

The Donald Trump administration conducted a preliminary internal assessment of its Iran "maximum pressure" policy this month and determined that it is not working, according to a new report. Such an assessment could drive administration efforts to try to provoke Iran to leave the nuclear deal, possibly by urging a potential inspections crisis at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), some experts said.

"So far, there is little evidence that the administration is meeting any of its possible goals," the International Crisis Group writes in the new report, "On Thin Ice," on the third anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal.

"A preliminary internal assessment by the administration described to Crisis Group purportedly concludes that the U.S. approach has yet to curb Iran's behaviour or entice Tehran back to the negotiating table," the ICG report says, citing in a footnote an interview conducted by the group with a senior US administration official this month.

Posted by orrinj at 11:56 AM


The Vice of Nationalism (Jared Morgan McKinney, January 18, 2019, Providence)

"I was a nationalist, and not a patriot," Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf.

Trump: I'm a nationalist and I'm proud of it (Felicia Sonmez, October 23, 2018, Washington Post)

Trump used the word during a campaign rally Monday night, declaring to a crowd in Houston, "You know what I am? I'm a nationalist."

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


BuzzFeed's Bombshell-or-Bust Story (JIM GERAGHTY, January 18, 2019, National Review)

If the big report in BuzzFeed is true, then President Trump suborned -- persuaded someone to commit -- perjury . . .  and there was widespread belief in the Republican party that suborning perjury was an impeachable offense back in 1998.

Trump reportedly told Michael Cohen to lie. His own attorney general pick testified that's a crime. (Isaac Stanley-Becker, January 18, 2019, Washington Post)

When Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asked President Trump's nominee for attorney general, William P. Barr, earlier this week whether it would be a crime if "the president tried to coach somebody not to testify, or testify falsely," Barr was unequivocal: "Yes," the nominee told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Under an obstruction statute, yes."

Now that an explosive story published Thursday by BuzzFeed News alleges that Trump did just that, by ordering Michael Cohen, his former attorney, to lie to Congress, Barr's answer presents the White House with a new quandary -- the president's own choice for the nation's top law enforcement official has described such conduct as "classic" obstruction of justice. Barr said the same when pressed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), as well as in his own written statements. He has affirmed his view at least three times, both in a once-private memo and in sworn testimony.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


One Way to Do Brexit: Unilateral Free Trade (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, January 18, 2019, National Review)

The United Kingdom has the power to write its own trade accord with the European Union -- a trade accord consisting of two words: "Yes, please."

The born-again mercantilists and daft neo-nationalists fundamentally misunderstand trade: The benefits of trade are the imports; the exports are the cost. Contemporary trade skeptics -- and American nationalist-populists in the Donald Trump mode are not least among them -- get it backward. They hear about "trade deficits" and, misunderstanding that term -- it is an intentionally misleading one, after all -- believe that our trading partners are somehow getting over on us. Difficult as it is to believe in the particular -- that you've been victimized by your new Mercedes -- it somehow feels plausible as an abstraction: They get $50 billion, and we get only $30 billion. Of course, they get only $30 billion worth of actual goods and services, while we get $50 billion worth.

Unilateral free trade may sound like a radical idea, but other countries have had pretty good luck with it, including one that may be of interest to the English: England. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Border rancher: 'We've found prayer rugs out here. It's unreal' (Anna Giaritelli, January 16, 2019, Washington Examiner)

Ranchers and farmers near the U.S.-Mexico border have been finding prayer rugs on their properties in recent months, according to one rancher who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by cartels who move the individuals.

The mats are pieces of carpet that those of the Muslim faith kneel on as they worship.

"There's a lot of people coming in not just from Mexico," the rancher said. "People, the general public, just don't get the terrorist threats of that. That's what's really scary. You don't know what's coming across. We've found prayer rugs out here. It's unreal. It's not just Mexican nationals that are coming across."

Well, it's certainly true that it's not real.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Trump Tried Partisan Applause Lines Inside the Pentagon. Nobody Applauded.: Inside the Pentagon, senior military leaders sat silent as President Trump attacked Democrats during a missile defense speech (KEVIN BARON, JANUARY 17, 2019, Defense One)

This kind of partisan attack is simply not done by at the Pentagon. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was traveling overseas, have taken extraordinary steps to keep political discourse away from the military. In part, they did so by sharply reducing their press appearances, public engagements, and the number of reporters permitted to travel with them abroad. The select officers and civilians picked to hear this speech apparently got the message. The room did not applaud.

Still, the president continued to wade into politics by tweaking the noses of his predecessors and taking personal credit for new policies and arguably untrue advances in foreign relations.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Globalization Is Surviving Trump:  European and Asian countries are doubling down on economic cooperation. (Shawn Donnan, January 18, 2019, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK)

Kevin Kester is used to taking the long view--his family has raised cattle on the land his Bear Valley Ranch occupies in California since 1867. But he also can see what looms in the not-too-distant future across the Pacific Ocean.

The 11-country trade deal once known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership has started to come into force, giving his Australian competitors what stands in coming years to be an increasingly valuable leg up in Japan, the U.S.'s most lucrative export market for beef. Thanks to President Trump's withdrawal from the TPP--one of his first acts in office--American ranchers won't get any of the benefits of the reduced tariffs for beef and other farm products U.S. negotiators spent years haggling over with Japan, the pact's biggest remaining economy.

Kester isn't just another bemused bystander to American politics. As the current volunteer president of the powerful National Cattlemen's Beef Association, he serves on committees that advise Trump and his cabinet on agricultural policy and trade. He doesn't see Trump reversing course and joining what's now known as the CPTPP (the "C" stands for comprehensive and the "P" for progressive, a rebranding requested by Canada's Justin Trudeau) anytime soon. His advice to the government: Please hurry up and negotiate with Japan so U.S. beef doesn't become another economic casualty of the president's trade wars. "We're encouraging them to get on the horse and get working on the bilateral with Japan as soon as possible," he says.

Kester's plea echoes an emerging theme among U.S. industries going into 2019. While plenty of corporate angst is focused on tariffs and the president's China battles, many businesses are more concerned about protecting their share of other offshore markets and their international competitiveness. The reason is simple. Trump's election in 2016, amid the advent of an era of protectionist power politics, threatened to bring about the death of globalization--a subject that will consume this month's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Yet the rest of the world appears to have decided globalization isn't the enemy after all, and that leaves the U.S. playing trade catch-up.

The CPTPP is just one sign of that. 

Whoever we elect after the Donald disaster inherits a boom similar to Bill & the UR.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 AM


Human Rights Watch: Global pushback against autocrats grows (KIRSTEN GRIESHABER, 1/17/19, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The world is seeing growing resistance against the abuses of autocrats as states, civic groups and popular movements all push back against populists who are seeking to curtail freedoms, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

In its annual assessment of rights around the world, the advocacy group said rising opposition to authoritarian governments has been the most important development in the past year.

"The same populists who spread hatred and intolerance are fueling a resistance that keeps winning battles," agency director Kenneth Roth said. "Important battles are being won, re-energizing the global defense of human rights."

The report, released in Berlin, said the pushback can be seen in efforts to resist attacks on democracy in Europe, to prevent a bloodbath in Syria or to stop the Saudi-led bombing and blockade of Yemeni civilians.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


State-by-state study links gun ownership with youth suicide (Maggie Fox, 1/17/19, NBC news)

Suicide rates among U.S. children and teens have hit startling rates and a study now finds one clear predictor of youth suicide: gun ownership.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Activist who met with congressmen about 'DNA' posted about black 'violence gene' (Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins, 1/17/19, NBC News)

An alt-right activist who met with two Republican congressmen to discuss "DNA" and "genetics" posted on Facebook that he believes Muslims are "genetically different in their propensity for violence or rape" and linked to stories about how African-Americans "possessed a 'violence' gene."

The mask always slips.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project (Jason Leopold & Anthony Cormier, 1/17/19, BuzzFeed News)

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. "Make it happen," the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Trump, Cohen, and Buzzfeed: Is This the Big One?: If the new Buzzfeed report is true, the legal debates about Trump and obstruction just got blown out of the water. (ANDREW EGGER  JANUARY 18, 2019, The Bulwark)

Some legal observers have argued that finding a "corrupt intent" in Trump's use of his constitutional powers of executive oversight would fall short of establishing a charge of criminal obstruction. Two former top prosecutors on the Whitewater investigation, Sol Wisenberg and Robert Ray, made this case to me last year: "I think almost everything that Trump did, starting with the firing of Comey, criticizing Sessions for recusing himself, all of that stuff, allowing the attacks on Mueller to happen, it's all terrible," Wisenberg said. "But I don't think it's obstruction."

Crucially, this skepticism of the "corrupt intent" model is shared by the man who is likely to be overseeing Mueller by the time he issues his final report: William Barr, the president's nominee for attorney general. Last summer, Barr wrote a lengthy memo to top Justice Department officials arguing that case exactly: that Trump had been exercising lawful Article II constitutional powers when he fired Comey, and that finding a crime in an otherwise lawful action by probing for corrupt intent would rely on "a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law," one that would "have grave confines far beyond the immediate confines of this case and would do lasting damage to the Presidency and to the administration of law within the Executive branch."

"It is well settled that statutes that do not expressly apply to the president must be construed as not applying to the president if such application would involve a possible conflict with the president's constitutional prerogatives," Barr argued. As a result, the standard of "corrupt intent," taken alone, would be insufficient to establish a charge of corruption for President Trump.

And here is where the new Buzzfeed story comes in.

Because if true, the allegations in the new report render the legal debate between the Mariotti view and the Barr-Wisenberg view moot. If this Buzzfeed report is accurate, and there is hard evidence to show that Trump ordered Cohen to commit perjury by lying to Congress, that would be obstruction, open and shut.

Buzzfeed's anonymous sources suggest there is indeed hard evidence. "The special counsel's office," the report states, "learned about Trump's directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents."

The importance of these allegations simply cannot be overstated: If this is true, and Mueller can prove it, that's the whole ball game.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Trump startled by cozy Barr-Mueller relationship (Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny, January 17, 2019, CNN)

"I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and that the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over," Barr said. "Bob is a straight-shooter and should be dealt with as such."

While Barr said during his hearing that Trump "was interested" in hearing about the friendship, the details that emerged this week caught the President off guard, the three sources said. He bristled at Barr's description of the close relationship, complaining to aides he didn't realize how much their work overlapped or that they were so close.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The circular firing squad: Mueller targets turn on each other: After Rudy Giuliani's latest comments, it's everyone for themselves. And it's a prosecutor's dream for the special counsel. (DARREN SAMUELSOHN, 01/17/2019, Politico)

"Ya think!!!" one former Trump campaign official wrote to POLITICO when asked if Giuliani was trying to protect the president at the expense of everyone who worked for him.

The Team Trump infighting has been a prosecutor's dream for Mueller, opening up an ever-widening window into the behind-the-scenes workings of a rookie politician whose campaign has been under investigation for years. The special counsel and federal prosecutors have already benefited from the internal sniping, flipping Trump's former lawyer, national security adviser and campaign chairman.

Bickering and backstabbing were Trump world trade marks long before the former businessman launched his White House bid, from the real estate mogul's decades of private business dealings to his years as a reality television star.

January 17, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Karen Pence, Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been, Part of a Christian Ministry?  (DAVID FRENCH, January 17, 2019, National Review)

I've been involved in Christian education for much of my life. I attended a Christian college, my oldest kids attended a dozen consecutive years of Christian schooling, I served a term as chairman of their school's board, and I've represented Christian institutions for more than two decades, and I've never once seen a Christian institution declare that no gays are allowed.

Instead, many thousands of Christian schools have statements of faith and codes of conduct that require teachers and sometimes students and parents to agree with the school's theological doctrine and comply with a code of conduct. They don't say, "No gays allowed." They say, "Here is what we believe, and here is how you must behave."

And sure enough, that's exactly what Immanuel Christian School does. It's a ministry of the Immanuel Bible Church, it has adopted the church's essentials of the faith, and it has created a "parent agreement" that contains the following relevant language:

I understand the biblical role of Immanuel Christian School is to partner with families to encourage students to be imitators of Christ. This necessarily involves the school's understanding and belief regarding biblical morality and standards of conduct. I understand that the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes, but is not limited to contumacious behavior, divisive conduct, and participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity, promoting such practices, or being unable to support the moral principles of the school. (Lev. 20:13 and Romans 1:27.) I acknowledge the importance of a family culture based on biblical principles and embrace biblical family values such as a healthy marriage between one man and one woman. My role as spiritual mentor to my children will be taken seriously.

Let me translate this from Christianese: You must conduct yourself in accordance with historic, orthodox Christian teaching about human sexuality. And, let's be clear, any person -- regardless of their sexual orientation and whether they suffer from gender dysphoria -- can both agree with and comply with the moral statements above. There are countless same-sex-attracted Christians who do. There are many thousands of Christians with gender dysphoria who do.

Why? Because these Christians share with other orthodox Christians the notion that their fundamental identity is not defined by their sexuality or perceived gender identity but rather by their faith in Christ.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Trump Is Unifying Democrats Instead of Consolidating His Base (Amy Walter, January 17, 2019, Cook Political Report)

The Pew poll asked respondents how willing they'd be to compromise on a solution to the shutdown deal. About two-thirds of Republicans who support a border wall said that a compromise to reopen the government that doesn't include wall funding would be unacceptable. But, among Democrats who oppose the wall, 84 percent say that a compromise that includes wall funding would be unacceptable.

By this point, it's pretty clear that the president and the GOP are in a very deep hole. The wall hasn't become more popular. The majority of the public blames the shutdown on Trump. A CNN poll found that just 66 percent of Republicans agree that building the wall will help solve the crisis on the border -- not exactly a ringing endorsement. But, what should worry Trump the most - and could be more problematic in the long run - was this finding in the Quinnipiac poll: When asked who they trusted more on border security, Democrats in Congress were ahead of Trump by 5 points (49 to 44 percent). In other words, not only is Trump losing the argument on the wall and the shutdown, but he's also losing on the issue of safety and security. That's losing the battle AND losing the war.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Former Fed chairmen and Nobel economists voice support for carbon tax (Amy Harder, 1/17/19, Axios)

All four of the still-living former Federal Reserve chairs, nearly 30 Nobel economists and all but one former chair of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers have signed onto a statement laying out their support for a carbon-tax policy -- one that has been gaining support from big oil companies, environmental groups and others across the political spectrum.

The plan includes a tax on carbon emissions that rises over time, with the proceeds sent back to Americans via quarterly dividend checks.

Other carbon-tax policies have put the money toward other priorities, including clean-energy investments and eliminating other taxes.

The op-ed published Wednesday says a sufficiently rising carbon tax would "replace the need for various carbon regulations that are less efficient." That point is particularly controversial among some environmentalists who want regulations as a backstop.

A better policy would be to use carbon taxes to offset income tax reductions as a first step towards repealing the 16th amendment and replacing all taxes on income, savings, and investment with consumption taxes.

Meanwhile, there's a hilariously inept conversation about income taxes vs. wealth taxes on The Gist today.  It begins from the premise that the single greatest problem with American society is wealth inequality.  Which begs the question: suppose that we could magically make 99% of Americans into billionaires overnight, but at the expense of making 1% of Americans trillionaires? Does the inequality make that an undesirable outcome?

Things only get odder as the discussion both, cedes the importance of greater growth (wealth creation), but then argues that taxes should be used to take away the wealth of the wealthiest members of society.  So we want to create wealth but also to destroy it? The example they use to illustrate the undesirability of wealth is revealing: a grandfather accumulates great wealth; a father squanders it; the children get none.  Obviously, the issue here is consumption not wealth.  And this is simply not what the wealthy generally do, or we'd not be wealthy.  Wealth is instead invested and thereby helps to grow the economy. To the degree that this is not done to the degree we desire, the solution is to tax consumption and stop taxing said investment altogether.

The real difficulty that the doctrinaire Left faces when it confronts these questions is that it remains locked in a Malthusian zero-sum view of wealth and does not actually believe in growth.


[I]n Trump's hierarchy of bliss, dominance does seem to rank at the top. "I love to crush the other side and take the benefits," he wrote in a book called Think Big. "Why? Because there is nothing greater. For me it is even better than sex, and I love sex." He went on to observe: "You hear lots of people say that a great deal is when both sides win. That is a bunch of crap. In a great deal you win--not the other side. You crush the opponent and come away with something better for yourself."

So it makes sense that, two years after Trump entered office, Sullivan's game-theoretical framing has caught on. The zero-sum game--in which the players' fortunes are inversely correlated, so that for one player to win the other must lose--has become a standard paradigm for the Trump presidency. If you Google "Donald Trump" and "zero-sum" you'll get such headlines as "Trump's Zero Sum Delusion," "Donald Trump and the Rise of Zero-Sum Politics," and simply "Zero-Sum Trump."

Some of the articles attached to these headlines are about economics. They may lament Trump's gleeful anticipation of "winning" the trade wars he starts--as if trade were a zero-sum game--and his seeming obliviousness to the fact that trade wars can have lose-lose outcomes. Other articles focus on world affairs more broadly. Nations come together to pursue win-win outcomes in the face of all kinds of problems, from financial meltdowns, climate change, and weapons proliferation to overfishing of the seas. And Trump's attitude toward the institutions that embody such nonzero-sum engagement is notably lacking in warmth.

As journalist Jonathan Swan wrote on Axios this summer, "Trump has expressed skepticism, and in some cases outright hostility towards NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and the Group of Seven." Swan added that Trump has "already withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran deal" and "announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate accord."

The zero-sum label applies not just to Trump's policy preferences but to his political style. He's expert at evoking reactions that seem to have been engineered by evolution for zero-sum situations, notably fear of, hatred of, and contempt for a perceived enemy. Bill Clinton presumably had Trump in mind when he said, five months into Trump's presidency, "We've seen a resurgence in the oldest of all social reactions--the tendency to look at people first as the other, to think of life in zero-sum terms, it's us versus them."

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


Scientists Find Brain Cells That Make Pain Hurt (JONATHAN LAMBERT, 1/17/19, NPR)

A research team from Stanford University pinpointed the neurons in mouse brains that make pain hurt and were able to alter these neurons in a way that reduced the unpleasantness of pain without eliminating the sensation. The study lays the groundwork for future research into more targeted pain treatments.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Wall Street rises on report of U.S. considering end to China tariffs (April Joyner, 1/17/19, Reuters)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed lifting some or all tariffs imposed on Chinese imports and suggested offering a tariff rollback during trade discussions scheduled for Jan. 30, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the internal deliberations.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


In a West Wing in Transition, Trump Tries to Stand Firm on the Shutdown (Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni, Jan. 16, 2019, NY Times)

"We are getting crushed!" Mr. Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, after watching some recent coverage of the shutdown, according to one person familiar with the conversation. "Why can't we get a deal?" [...]

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the White House is in a moment of transition as West Wing staff members become acclimated to the leadership style of a new chief of staff. Mr. Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina, has told aides he has no plans to duplicate the type of chain-of-command structure preferred by John F. Kelly, the retired Marine general he replaced. Nor did he want to limit anyone's access to Mr. Trump.

"You're all adults," Mr. Mulvaney told the White House staff members in attendance, according to an administration official in the room.

Mr. Mulvaney thereby staked out a strong claim for funniest line of a laughingstock presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Study: Dem Wage Hike Will Cut 2 Million Jobs (Bill McMorris, January 17, 2019, Free Beacon)

Prof. David Macpherson, chairman of Trinity University's economics department, said that such an increase would be unprecedented, but not in the manner Sanders describes. While only 3 percent of hourly workers work under the minimum wage today, the increase would instantly bring 44 percent of them under that umbrella. Despite that large increase, it would not alleviate the poverty rate as employers, particularly small businesses, eliminated jobs to offset the increased costs. Macpherson, using Congressional Budget Office methodology, found that 2 million jobs would be lost under a $15 rate with the most heavy losses coming in poorer states.

"The job loss would be greater in Mississippi than wealthier states like New York," he said.

The higher we can drive minimum wages the quicker we can displace humans from the workplace.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


There is a better Brexit deal out there. It means accepting freedom of movement: It would take just days to construct a political declaration that dropped the UK's red line and, instead, pointed towards staying in the single market.  (JONATHAN PORTES, 1/17/19, New Statesman)

In other words, voting for and signing this deal - including this version of the political declaration - is a mandate from parliament to leave the single market and to introduce major new barriers to trade, in both goods and services, between the EU27 and the UK. And every credible independent analysis shows that this will result in significant economic damage to the UK (and indeed to a lesser extent the EU27). There is no getting around the fact that this is the implication of the deal on the table - and to the credit of government economists, they have said precisely this.

But Barnier's point is also clear. That this is our choice, not that of the EU. We are choosing to leave the single market - we are not being kicked out of it - because of the red lines that the Prime Minister has chosen. Foremost among those is, of course, her determination to end free movement. As if to emphasise that this is our choice, not the EU's, the political declaration says: "The United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply" - the only passage in the document where it makes clear one side has made a specific choice. 

So is there an alternative political declaration that the EU would accept and that would point towards a radically different future relationship - a very different Brexit? Absolutely. It would take officials just a few days to construct a political declaration that dropped the UK red line on freedom of movement and, instead, pointed towards a UK that remained, de facto or de jure, within the single market, with freedom of movement continuing - although perhaps with some new modifications or controls, of the sort that already exist for non-EU participants in the single market. Whether this would look like "Norway", "Switzerland", or, more likely, some specifically British solution would take years of negotiation to work out - but the direction of travel would be very clear and very different from that implied by the current deal. And so would the destination.

Would this really be a "better" Brexit? Economically, there is little doubt. 

Economics is where national sovereignty inevitably breaks down, because enforcement of rules across national boundaries requires submission to an external/transnational authority. Unless, of course, you take the optimal course and simply remove all your own barriers to the free movement of goods and people and ignore what your trading partners do. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


Two Republican Congressmen Met With a Holocaust Denier About DNA "Research" (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, JAN 17, 2019, Slate)

Chuck Johnson, as the Daily Beast notes, is an infamous alt-right figure who has helped raise money for the publisher of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer site and written that he doesn't believe the Auschwitz concentration camp, or gas chambers in general, ever existed. Harris and Roe, who represent districts in Maryland and Tennessee, respectively, said in statements that they'd met with Johnson to discuss DNA sequencing research, an astounding subject to have covered with a supporter of neo-Nazism given that, you know, the Nazis used genetic pseudo-science to justify the worst genocide in human history.

...is: why do we call them "neo"?

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


President Trump can't stop U.S. coal plants from retiring (Scott DiSavino, 1/17/19, Reuters) 

More U.S. coal-fired power plants were shut in President Donald Trump's first two years than were retired in the whole of Barack Obama's first term, despite the Republican's efforts to prop up the industry to keep a campaign promise to coal-mining states.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Trump is fraying nerves inside the Pentagon (Barbara Starr, 1/17/19, CNN )

It's not just Trump's unpredictable decision making that has officials on edge, it's also his penchant for politicizing the military-- something that's come into focus in recent months as he's struggled to fulfill his campaign promise to crack down on immigration and build a border wall. His decision to draw down troops in Syria and his claims that ISIS is defeated have also rankled military commanders who felt it wasn't well thought out.

Some of the highest-ranking officers say there is a new atmosphere of unease inside the Pentagon, particularly among some of the most senior ranks, over the President's inclination to use the military to achieve certain partisan policy objectives. Behind the scenes officials are trying to keep it all at bay. "The amount of time we have to spend making sure our statements and what we say is apolitical is astronomically higher than ever before," one senior military officer told CNN.

If commanders order the troops to perform a mission for reasons that are political -- rather than based on national security grounds -- the fundamental nature of the US military is changed, several officials worry. That line has already been crossed in the minds of some over the issue of sending troops to the border. It could become even more of a problem should the President decide to declare a national emergency to gain access to Defense Department funds to build the wall.

Among the many entertaining spectacles nowadays is watching "patriots" defend a guy with such complete contemp[t for the armed services.
Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Kamala Harris Was Not a 'Progressive Prosecutor' (Lara Bazelon, Jan. 17, 2019, The New York Times)

Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state's attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent. 

Making her the Democrats' singularly  Law & Order candidate is not going to hurt her.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


For 7th Consecutive Year, Visa Overstays Exceeded Illegal Border Crossings (Richard Gonzales, 1/16/19, NPR)

As the Trump administration demands funding for a border wall to stop illegal immigration, a new study finds that for the seventh consecutive year, visa overstays far exceeded unauthorized border crossings.

The report released Wednesday by the Center for Migration Studies of New York finds that from 2016-2017, visa overstayers accounted for 62 percent of the newly undocumented, while 38 percent had crossed a border illegally.

"It is clear from our research that persons who overstay their visas add to the US undocumented population at a higher rate than border crossers. This is not a blip, but a trend which has become the norm," said Donald Kerwin, CMS's executive director in a statement.

...is a wetback too.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Poll: Trump Approval Down, Slips With Base(Domenico Montanaro, 1/17/19, NPR Morning Edition)

The president also faces some significant headwinds for re-election in 2020. Just 30 percent of registered voters said they will definitely vote for Trump in 2020, while 57 percent said they will definitely vote against him. [...\]

For context, in 2010, when asked about then-President Barack Obama, just 36 percent said they would definitely vote for him, while 48 percent said they would not. Obama went on to win with 51 percent of the vote.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Globalization in transition: The future of trade and value chains (Susan Lund, James Manyika, Jonathan Woetzel, Jacques Bughin, Mekala Krishnan, Jeongmin Seong, and Mac Muir, McKinsey Global Institute)

Globalization is in the midst of a transformation. Yet the public debate about trade is often about recapturing the past rather than looking toward the future. The mix of countries, companies, and workers that stand to gain in the next era is changing. Understanding how the landscape is shifting will help policy makers and business leaders prepare for globalization's next chapter and the opportunities and challenges it will present.

Global value chains are undergoing five structural shifts

One of the forces reshaping global value chains is a change in the geography of global demand

The rise of domestic supply chains in China and other emerging economies has also decreased global trade intensity

New technologies are changing costs across global value chains

Given the shifts in value chains, companies need to reevaluate their strategies for operating globally [...]

Section 4: New technologies are changing costs across global value chains

The explosive growth of cross-border data flows, highlighted in MGI's previous research on digital globalization, is ongoing. From 2005 to 2017, the amount of cross-border bandwidth in use grew 148 times larger. A torrent of communications and content travels along these digital pathways--and some of this traffic reflects companies interacting with foreign operations, suppliers, and customers.

Instant and low-cost digital communication has had one clear effect: lowering transaction costs and enabling more trade flows. But the impact of next-generation technologies on global flows of goods and services will not be as simple. The net impact is uncertain, but in some plausible scenarios, the next wave of technology could dampen global goods trade while continuing to fuel service flows.

Digital platforms, logistics technologies, and data-processing advances will continue to reduce cross-border transaction costs and enable all types of flows

In goods-producing value chains, logistics costs can be substantial. Companies often lose time and money to customs processing or delays in international payments. Three sets of technologies will continue to reduce these frictions in the years ahead.

Digital platforms can bring together far-flung participants, making cross-border search and coordination more efficient. E-commerce marketplaces have already enabled significant cross-border flows by aggregating huge selections and making pricing and comparisons more transparent. Alibaba's AliResearch projects that cross-border B2C e-commerce sales will reach approximately $1 trillion by 2020. B2B e-commerce could be five or six times as large. While many of those transactions may substitute for traditional offline trade flows, e-commerce could still spur some $1.3 trillion to $2.1 trillion in incremental trade by 2030, boosting trade in manufactured goods by 6 to 10 percent. Continued rapid growth in small-parcel trade would present a challenge for customs processing, however.

Logistics technologies also continue to improve. The IoT can make delivery services more efficient by tracking shipments in real time, and AI can route trucks based on current road conditions. Automated document processing can speed goods through customs. At ports, autonomous vehicles can unload, stack, and reload containers faster and with fewer errors. Blockchain shipping solutions can reduce transit times and speed payments. We calculate that new logistics technologies could reduce shipping and customs processing times by 16 to 28 percent. By removing some of the frictions that slow the movement of goods today, these technologies together could potentially boost overall trade by 6 to 11 percent by 2030.6

Automation and additive manufacturing change production processes and the relative importance of inputs

Previous MGI research has found that roughly half of the tasks that workers are paid to do could technically be automated, suggesting a profound shift in the importance of capital versus labor across industries. The growing adoption of automation and advanced robotics in manufacturing makes proximity to consumer markets, access to resources, workforce skills, and infrastructure quality assume more importance as companies decide where to produce goods.

Service processes can also be automated by artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual agents. The addition of machine learning to these virtual assistants means they can perform a growing range of tasks. Companies in advanced economies are already automating some customer support services rather than offshoring them. This could reduce the $160 billion global market for business process outsourcing (BPO), now one of the most heavily traded service sectors.

Additive manufacturing (3-D printing) could also influence future trade flows. Most experts believe it will not replace mass production over the next decade; its cost, speed, and quality are still limitations. But it is gaining traction for prototypes, replacement parts, toys, shoes, and medical devices. While 3-D printing could reduce trade in some specific products substantially, the drop is unlikely to amount to more than a few percentage points across overall trade in manufactured goods by 2030. In some cases, additive manufacturing could even spur trade by enabling customization.

Overall, we estimate that automation, AI, and additive manufacturing could reduce global goods trade by up to 10 percent by 2030, as compared to the baseline. However, this reflects only the direct impact of these technologies on enabling production closer to end consumers in advanced economies. It is also possible that these technologies could lead to nearshoring and regionalization of trade instead of reshoring in advanced economies. Moreover, developing countries could adopt these technologies to improve productivity and retain production, thereby sustaining trade.

New goods and services enabled by technology will impact trade flows

Technology can transform some products and services, altering the content and volume of trade flows in the process. For example, McKinsey's automotive practice estimates that electric vehicles will make up some 17 percent of total car sales globally by 2030, up from 1 percent in 2017. This could reduce trade in vehicle parts by up to 10 percent (since EVs have many fewer moving parts than traditional models) while also dampening oil imports.

The shift from physical to digital flows that started years ago with individual movies, albums, and games is now evolving once again with streaming and subscription models. Streaming now accounts for nearly 40 percent of global recorded music revenues. Cloud computing uses a similar pay-as-you-go or subscription model for storage and software, freeing users from making heavy capital investments in their own IT infrastructure.

The advent of ultra-fast 5G wireless networks opens new possibilities for delivering services. Remote surgery, for example, may become more viable as networks transmit sharp images without any delays and robots respond more precisely to remote manipulation. In industrial plants, 5G can support augmented and virtual reality-based maintenance from remote locations, creating new service and data flows.

It's hard to overstate the triviality of the Trump presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


Top Trump official resigned over White House plan to withhold disaster-relief funds from Puerto Rico: report (OWEN DAUGHERTY, 01/16/19, The Hill) 

[Pam] Patenaude, HUD's second in command, reportedly grew frustrated by the White House's attempt to block federal relief money to the island following the devastation left by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

According to the Post, Patenaude expressed concern in fall 2018 over the Trump administration's attempt to block disaster-recovery money Congress appropriated for the island and states hit by hurricanes. Patenaude visited Puerto Rico a half-dozen times during her time in the role.

"I didn't push back," Patenaude told the Post, referring to Trump's attempt to block relief funding. "I advocated for Puerto Rico and assured the White House that Puerto Rico had sufficient financial controls in place and had put together a thoughtful housing and economic development recovery plan."

Carlos Mercader, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington, told the Post that Patenaude showed the "most commitment to Puerto Rico of any of the public officials inside the Trump administration." Mercader joined Patenaude on several trips to the island.

Patenaude's departure comes as HUD faces criticism for not renewing hundreds of expired affordable-housing contracts prior to the beginning of the partial government shutdown, which entered its 26th day on Wednesday. The Post noted that the move not to renew such contracts jeopardizes property owners' budgets and low-income tenants' housing stability.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


Giuliani: 'I never said there was no collusion' between the Trump campaign and Russia (MICHAEL BURKE, 01/16/19, The Hill) 

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


'She wields the knife': Pelosi moves to belittle and undercut Trump in shutdown fight (Paul Kane, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey January 16, 2019, Washington Post)

Surprised Democratic lawmakers cheered their leader's rationale: If the government stays shut down, Pelosi would deprive Trump of the spotlight he craves. To a president especially sensitive to acts of disrespect -- and one with a hearty appetite for pomp and circumstance -- the so-called unvitation was not merely a ­power play. It was a calculated personal slight.

In the two weeks since she reclaimed the speaker's gavel, Pelosi has moved aggressively to leverage her decades of congressional experience to needle, belittle and undercut Trump with swipes at his competence and even his masculinity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


When Did It Become the FBI's Job to Act as a Check and Balance to the President? (RICH LOWRY, January 16, 2019, National Review)

It's literally their job: I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Donors to a GoFundMe "Trump Wall" campaign have reportedly given the organizer, Brian Kolfage, permission to transfer at least $7 million in donated funds to his new nonprofit and plan to construct a barrier along the southern border on private land.

January 16, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Unintended Consequences: In an excerpt from a new history of 20th-century Iran, the neglected story of the Jewish revolutionaries who participated in--or adapted to--the sweeping changes of 1979 (Lior B. Sternfeld, January 14, 2019, tHE tABLET)

[i]n late 1978 a delegation of the Jewish community went to Paris to meet the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini. The tacit purpose of this trip was to ensure that Jews would not be regarded as enemies of the revolution but rather as its supporters. This meeting was the first of many between the Jewish leadership and Khomeini. Shortly after, the hospital received its first recognition from Khomeini: "For this reason [the humanitarian help] Imam Khomeini, before his return to Iran, had sent a letter of gratitude to the director of the hospital, recognizing his help and support for the wounded revolutionaries," said Dr. Siamak Moreh-Sedeq, one of the hospital's leaders and the current Jewish deputy in the Majlis in an interview. He described the assistance given to the revolutionaries and confirmed, once again, the story of the Shah's army siege in 1978. Receiving Khomeini's recognition is not a small feat. In many ways it secured the future of the Jews under the leadership of the revolution.

Throughout the revolutionary events, there was a continuing attempt by both revolutionary factions and the Jews to draw a clear distinction between Jews and Zionists. This would be a theme well into the early revolutionary period, but even from the time of the protest there were multiple occasions on which revolutionaries and nonrevolutionaries provided ways to tell the difference.

On Sept. 1, 1978, a few days before the escalation of Black Friday, Yousef Kohan, then the Jewish representative in the Majlis, and another member of the parliament, Ahmad Bani-Ahmad, met the Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Kazim Shari'atmadari. The purpose of this meeting was to have the respected ayatollah stopped the incitement against Jews, which was becoming a problem in some of the provinces in Iran. In his memoir, Kohan described the efforts:

At 1:30 in the afternoon of that September 1st, Bani-Ahmad called me and said, "Kohan! Put on your clothes and come to me immediately. Bring your documents with you." Those days, Bani- Ahmad was in danger, because he was seriously opposing the Shah's regime. I took the address of his secret location, which was the home of one of his fellow Azeris, and took off immediately. Outside the house, a group of tough Azerbaijanis were standing and I could tell they were armed. I asked Bani-Ahmad what was going on. "We want to go visit His Eminence Ayatollah Shari'atmadari," he answered.

In any case, all the issues were humbly reported to him on that day in Qum. The Ayatollah was inclined to proclaim that the lives of Jews were protected unless if they were agents of Israel. Bani-Ahmad recommended that "even though this is correct, but mentioning it will cause the malefactors to take the life of any Jew they want and then claim that he had been an Israeli agent. It would be better if His Eminence issued a general, unconditional and unambiguous command." Many reporters and correspondents from major international news agencies were constantly on the alert at Shari'atmadari's house with their cameras, because that location was the epicenter of Iranian politics, which was of interest to the whole world. That evening, the Iranian radio and television broadcasted this proclamation of the great Source of Emuluation of Iranian Muslims:

"Reports are reaching us that a series of written threats against religious minorities who are recognized by the Constitution and respected by the Iranian Nation, have begun under the name of the Clergy and the banner of Islam. Iranian minorities, have all the liberties and the rights imaginable for the people of Iran. On the other hand, according to the ruling of Islamic commandments, personal rights of all the people of the world and even the human rights of our enemies have been recognized. Religious Minorities, which have been identified in the Constitution, have been shoulder to shoulder with the struggle of the Iranian nation as far as I remember. They accompanied the people in every step of the momentous events of the Constitutional Revolution. I shall never accept the smallest threat or intimidation against them under the name of Islam. In fact I consider such actions as an anti-Iranian and anti Islamic conspiracy. We must know that irresponsible people with missions of sabotage are on the prowl and are hoping to spread the seeds of hate and disunity."

Such a proclamation from a prominent religious leader like Ayatollah Shari'atmadari was a major achievement for the Jewish leadership and in fact was crucial at a moment when Israel was brought up more often as part of the anti-Shah slogans and some Iranians could not tell the difference between Jews, Zionists, and Israelis.

Later that month, during the events of Black Friday it was rumored that the Shah deployed Israeli soldiers to confront the protesters. This rumor, of course, had no basis, but it promptly became an issue demanding attention on behalf of the Jewish leadership.

In the 2013 documentary Before the Revolution: The Untold Story of the Israeli Paradise in Iran, Nissim Levy, one of the Israeli embassy's security officers, recalls that as he drove through the streets of Tehran right before the ultimate victory of the revolution, he saw graffiti that read, "Kill Every Israeli--But Do Not Harm the Jews."

Shortly after the 'Ashura events, the revolution took a dramatic turn when on Jan. 15, 1979, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi left Iran for good. "Shah Raft" (The Shah left), announced the newspapers the next day to the overjoyed crowds, and about two weeks later they announced that the Imam had arrived (Imam amad). All major minority groups came to the airport to welcome Ayatollah Khomeini back to Iran. The Jewish delegation coordinated their participation with another prominent leader of the revolutionary movement, Ayatollah Mohammad Bihishti.

After the installation of the new regime, the hospital encountered controversy. Jalali states, "One night after the revolution they called me to tell that a group of people from the regime came and changed the name of the hospital to 'Khusraw Golisurkhi Hospital.' A member of the left, Gol-isurkhi had been executed by the Shah.It took us a long time, together with Parviz Yesha'ya to change it to Dr. Sapir Hospital." Simin, Sapir's relative, explained how they petitioned the government to have the name changed to Dr. Sapir: "I collected evidence from people that got treatment in the hospital, collected newspaper stories, letters from clerics about the hospital during the revolution, and gave it to them in a big box. After a short discussion they pronounced him a shahid, a martyr of the revolution, and ordered to have the name changed to Dr. Sapir Hospital."

This episode of the name change became significant as the Jewish community retained management of the hospital and the government acknowledged the role the hospital had played during the revolution. Still today, at the entrance to the hospital, there is a sign welcoming patients, staff, and visitors. The sign reads, in Hebrew and Persian, "Love thy neighbor as yourself " (Hebrew: Ve'ahavta le're'acha kamocha; Persian: Hamnow'at ra mesl-i khodet dust bedar), and this essentially captures the philosophy of this hospital from the days it was established by Sapir and onward.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Why Harris And O'Rourke May Have More Upside Than Sanders And Biden (Nate Silver, Jan. 14, 2019, 538)

Last week, we introduced a method for evaluating Democratic presidential contenders, which focused on their ability to build a coalition among key constituencies within the party. In particular, our method claims there are five essential groups of Democratic voters, which we describe as:

Party Loyalists, who are mostly older, lifelong Democrats who care about experience and electability.

The Left.

Millennials and Friends, who are young, cosmopolitan and social-media-savvy.

Black voters.

And Hispanic voters, who for some purposes can be grouped together with Asian voters.

The goal is for candidates to form a coalition consisting of at least three of the five groups.

I certainly wouldn't claim that this is the only way to evaluate the field; rather, it's part of what we hope will be a fairly broad toolkit of approaches that we'll be applying as we cover the Democratic candidates at FiveThirtyEight over the course of the next 18(!!) months.1 Furthermore, in reality, the various ideological and demographic constituencies within the Democratic Party are more fluid than this analysis implies. Nonetheless, it has influenced my thinking -- the coalition-building model has made me more skeptical about the chances for Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar, for instance, but more bullish about Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke and Cory Booker. In this article, I'll go through a set of 10 leading contenders and map out their potential winning coalitions; we'll tackle some of the long-shot candidates later on this week. [...]

The candidate who looks best according to the coalition-building model is probably not O'Rourke, however. Instead, it's California Sen. Kamala Harris, who potentially has strength with all five groups.

Harris, who is of mixed Jamaican (black) and Indian descent, was easily the top choice in the survey of influential women of color that I mentioned earlier. So while I don't automatically want to assume that nonwhite candidates will necessarily win over voters who share their racial background -- it took Obama some time to persuade African-Americans to vote for him in 2008 -- Harris seems to be off to a pretty good head start. And her coalition not only includes black voters, but also potentially Asian and Hispanic voters. Harris did narrowly lose Hispanic voters to Sanchez, a Hispanic Democrat, in 2016 (while winning handily among Asian voters). But her approval ratings among Hispanic voters are high in California, a state where the group makes up around a third of the electorate.

If black voters and the Hispanic/Asian group constitute Harris's first two building blocks, she'd then be able to decide which of the three remaining (predominately white) Democratic groups to target to complete her trifecta. And you could make the case for any of the three. Harris polls better among well-informed voters, which could suggest strength among Party Loyalists. She's young-ish (54 years old) and has over 1 million Instagram followers, which implies potential strength among millennials. (And remember, Democratic millennials highly value racial diversity.) Harris's worst group -- despite a highly liberal, anti-Trump voting record -- might actually be The Left, the whitest and most male group, from which she's drawn occasional criticism for her decisions as a prosecutor and a district attorney.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Revolution in Ruins: The Hugo Chávez Story review - essential, chilling viewing (Chitra Ramaswamy, 16 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

Six years after his death, we get Revolution in Ruins: The Hugo Chávez Story (BBC Two), a dense and deeply depressing precis of his 14-year rule of Venezuela: a country with the largest proven oil preserves on the planet where 90% of the population live in poverty. Why this, now? Probably because of the rise in populism and the cult of personality in politics, which collide with such magnetic force in the polarising figure of Chávez.

Of course there's a world of difference between the populism of the left and the right, which is what we're seeing in Brazil, Hungary, the US and the endless chaos of Brexit. What's so appalling is the outcome is often the same: the slippery slope to authoritarianism, corruption and abject poverty. Venezuela is now a country in freefall. Inflation is said to be more than 1,000,000%. People are starving to death. Childhood friend Rafael Simon Jimenez says of the president's death from cancer at the age of 58, "[it] spared him from dealing with the disaster that began under his rule".

Chavismo can't have been that bad if a rag like The Guardian disapproves....

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


In Praise of Trump! No, Really. (JONATHAN V. LAST  JANUARY 16, 2019, The Bulwark)

[N]ow that Nancy Pelosi has asked Trump to postpone this year's SOTU, he could do America a real service by declining to give an address at all. Instead, he could send a written version to Congress--which is how the SOTU was delivered by all presidents from Thomas Jefferson through William Taft. And then in 1913 Woodrow Wilson--a self-aggrandizing blow-hard if there ever was one--decided he wanted to give the speech in person. Like Washington had done.

Returning the SOTU to its proper place of (minimal) importance would be a small achievement. But a real one. It's the kind of disruption Trump's biggest cheerleaders once promised.

If America has to deal with all of Trump's pernicious norm-destroying, we might as well break one of the norms that deserves to die, too.

Shutting Down the State of the Union (RAMESH PONNURU, January 16, 2019, National Review)

If the shutdown results in the end of this tradition begun by Woodrow Wilson, something good will have come of it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


John Bogle, Vanguard Founder Who Advocated Low Fees, Dies at 89 (Christopher Condon, January 16, 2019, Bloomberg)

By word and example, Bogle proselytized on behalf of patient, long-term investing in a diversified group of well-run companies. He focused his advocacy on index funds, those that buy and hold the broadest mixes of stocks. He cautioned that the pursuit of quick trades and short-term profits typically helped investment advisers more than investors.

"The way to wealth for those in the business is to persuade their clients, 'Don't just stand there. Do something," he wrote in "The Little Book of Common Sense Investing" (2007). "But the way to wealth for their clients in the aggregate is to follow the opposite maxim: 'Don't do something. Just stand there."

Bogle's formula turned Vanguard into the largest U.S. manager of stock and bond funds.

"He was a towering figure," Burton Malkiel, a Princeton University economics professor and Vanguard board member since 1977, said in an interview. "The mutual-funds industry is infinitely better because of Jack Bogle." [...]

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett praised Bogle in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders in early 2017.

"If a statue is ever erected to honor the person who has done the most for American investors, the hands down choice should be Jack Bogle," Buffett wrote. "He has the satisfaction of knowing that he helped millions of investors realize far better returns on their savings than they otherwise would have earned. He is a hero to them and to me."

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Trump and Putin Have Met Five Times. What Was Said Is a Mystery. (Peter Baker, Jan. 15, 2019, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's meeting with Mr. Putin that day lasted more than two hours. Afterward, Mr. Trump took his interpreter's notes and instructed the interpreter not to brief anyone. Mr. Tillerson told reporters that the leaders discussed everything from Syria to Ukraine, but he also described "a very robust and lengthy exchange" on the election hacking.

A few hours later, Mr. Trump sought out Mr. Putin again during a dinner for all the leaders. Videotape later made public showed Mr. Trump pointing at Mr. Putin, who was seated across and down a long table, then pointing at himself and then making a pumping motion with his fist.

Mr. Trump later told The Times that he went over to see his wife, Melania Trump, who was sitting next to Mr. Putin, and the two leaders then talked, with Mr. Putin's interpreter translating. No American officials were present, and the White House did not confirm the encounter until more than 10 days later, after it was independently reported.

The day after the two meetings, as Mr. Trump was on Air Force One taking off from Germany heading back to Washington, he telephoned a Times reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Daily Presidential Tracking Poll (Rasmussen Reports, January 16, 2019)

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Wednesday shows that 43% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of President Trump's job performance. Fifty-five percent (55%) disapprove.

The latest figures include 32% who Strongly Approve of the job Trump is doing and 46% who Strongly Disapprove. This gives him a Presidential Approval Index rating of -14.

Which has to make the real number closer to -20.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Clemson QB Praises Trump's Fast Food Banquet: 'It Was Awesome' (PAUL BOIS, January 15, 2019, Daily Wire)

According to TMZ Sports, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence couldn't get enough of President Trump's offering of Big Macs, Wendy's hamburgers, pizza, and fries. In fact, he wants to do it again.

"It was awesome," Lawrence told TMZ while taking pictures with Clemson fans. "We had McDonalds and everything. It was good!"

When a fan asked Lawrence on how many times he plans on returning to the White House, the champion QB enthusiastically replied, "Hopefully, a few more!"

You really don't have to have experienced the purgatory that is the "rubber-chicken, mashed potatoes and peas" circuit to understand how preferable legit fast food is to the stuff you generally get at these events.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Omar Fuels Conspiracy Theory: Graham Is 'Compromised!' (Mikhael Smits, January 16, 2019, Free Beacon)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) accused a Republican lawmaker without evidence of being "compromised" Tuesday.

The Right always favored this rumor until he switched to being a Trumpbot.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Pelosi calls on Trump to reschedule the State of the Union or deliver it in writing (Brendan Morrow, 1/16/19, The Week)

Pelosi suggests she and Trump work together to come up with a new date for the State of the Union that would be after the government re-opens. Alternatively, she suggests Trump simply deliver his address in writing instead of in person, as presidents did before former President Woodrow Wilson's administration.

One of the many, but hardly worst, damages from 9-11 was that W planned to scrap the speech and just submit written reports going forward.

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


Iran satellite Payam fails to reach orbit (Deutsche-welle, 1/16/19)

Telecommunications Minister Mohammed Javad Jahromi told Iranian state television that the rocket carrying the satellite had passed the first and second launch stage, but that it had developed problems in the third phase.

"Payam satellite was successfully launched this morning with the Basir satellite carrier. But the satellite unfortunately failed to be placed in the orbit in the last phase," said Jahromi.

The country had plans to send two satellites, Payam, meaning "message," and Doosti, meaning "peace" into orbit.

State television said the two satellites would be used to gather information on the country's environment. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


A judge has stopped the Trump administration from asking about citizenship in the census (Dara Lind, Jan 15, 2019, Vox)

Judge Jesse M. Furman of the Southern District of New York found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated federal law by misleading the public -- and his own department -- about the reasons for adding the question, which would have forced everyone taking the census to answer whether or not they and others in their household are US citizens. [...]

The Trump administration claimed it needed better citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act and that the Department of Justice had asked Ross to add a citizenship question to the census for this reason. But emails and records uncovered as part of the lawsuit showed that Ross had been asking his staffers and other agencies to find reasons to add a citizenship question months before he received a letter from DOJ.

Furman also declared that Ross's decision violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies make regulations and other decisions. Ross had ignored and in some cases lied about evidence from his own officials that found asking people about citizenship would decrease participation and increase cost. The ruling also finds that Ross and the Department of Commerce violated two specific provisions in the federal Census Act -- one that seeks to limit the number of questions people are asked directly in the census and one regarding reports to Congress as the census is being planned.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


New court filing indicates prosecutors have extensive details on Manafort actions not yet made public (Spencer S. Hsu January 15, 2019, Washington Post)

Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III have intensively scrutinized Paul Manafort's activities after President Trump's election -- including after Manafort was criminally charged -- and indicated they have extensive details not yet made public about Manafort's interactions with former Russian aide Konstantin Kilimnik and others, a Tuesday court filing showed.

Although heavily redacted, the documents state that Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, claimed he was trying to get people appointed in the new presidential administration. The filing also states that in another Justice Department investigation, Manafort provided information that appears related to an event while he was with the campaign in August 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Donald Trump's Pattern of Deference to the Kremlin Is Clear (DAVID A. GRAHAM, 1/15/19, THE ATLANTIC)

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly praised Putin, and downplayed objections to Russia's seizure of Crimea. In one extraordinary campaign rally, he called on Russia to hack emails from the former U.S. secretary of state, who happened to be his rival for the presidency. (Russian hackers made their first attempt to do so that very day.) He hired Paul Manafort as his campaign manager despite copious warning signs, including his work as a lobbyist for foreign dictators and his offer to work for free. Manafort was one of several aides who in June 2016 met with Russians who, the aides believed, were bringing damaging info about Clinton. (Trump would later dictate a misleading statement about the meeting.)

Several Trump advisers, especially George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, had extensive contacts with Russians, which they have attempted to downplay. The Trump Organization also claimed it had cut off discussions about building a tower in Russia, when in fact it remained in close contact with Russian government officials about the project.

Before and after the election, Trump dismissed the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was interfering in U.S. politics. During the presidential transition, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner (who attended the June 2016 meeting) sought to set up a secret backchannel with Russia that would bypass the federal government. Meanwhile, National-Security Adviser-designate Michael Flynn had conversations with the Russian ambassador, about which he lied to FBI agents and Vice President Mike Pence. Trump only fired Flynn when his lying was revealed in the press.

During a February 2017 interview with Bill O'Reilly, Trump dismissed concerns about Putin killing dissidents and journalists. In May 2017, he abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, citing the Russia investigation as his motivation. The day after he fired Comey, he welcomed Russia's U.S. and ambassador and foreign minister to the White House--an arrangement that rattled some intelligence experts on its own--where he told them that firing that "nutjob" Comey had relieved "great pressure because of Russia" on him. Trump also disclosed sensitive classified information to the Russians.

During the summer of 2017, Trump continued to deny that Russia had interfered in the presidential election, despite a growing body of evidence. In July 2017, he met with Putin in Hamburg, with a tiny team of advisers; Trump greeted Putin warmly, and according to the Russians, Trump "accepted" Putin's denials of interference in the election.

That meeting turned out to be only a warm-up for a disastrous meeting with Putin in Helsinki the following summer, in which Trump kowtowed to the Russian leader; openly took Putin's side over U.S. intelligence on the interference issue; suggested allowing Russia to take part in the inquiry; and entertaining allowing the Russians to question a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

More recently, Trump regurgitated a strange and bogus Russian assertion that the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in 1979 to fight terrorists. According to TheTimes, the president has also discussed the idea of withdrawing the U.S. from NATO, which would effectively destroy the organization and fulfill one of Putin's greatest desires in geopolitics.

Any of these specific incidents, and many others that I have omitted, might be individually explained away fairly easily. As a pattern, they're too weird to dismiss with a shrug or cobbled together explanations.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


The red state that loves free college: How Tennessee is making Bernie Sanders' favorite education idea a reality. (BENJAMIN WERMUND, 01/16/2019, Politico)

From the beginning, free college in Tennessee was framed not as a form of personal betterment, or social welfare, but in terms of economic development. State leaders found that companies considering locating in Tennessee wanted a broad base of skilled workers more than just about any financial incentive they could offer.

"I can't emphasize enough to anybody who's not in the middle of these economic development conversations how much it has changed - literally it is all about workforce development," Haslam said. "You could look out and say, 'We're really close to having a big mismatch and jobs are going to go somewhere else and we're going to have a lot of people here who won't have jobs.' So that's the primary emphasis, that was the primary motivating factor."

Increasingly, that means workers with some form of postsecondary education. For Tennessee, this was a problem: The percentage of Tennessee residents with a degree beyond high school was in the low 30s - nearly 10 points below the national average at the time. Haslam created a statewide initiative to bring that up to 55 percent by 2025.

The centerpiece of that initiative was free college. Haslam saw it as the quickest, most surefire way to get people - especially those who had never considered college - talking about it. It had to make a splash - even if it meant running up against political resistance from his own party.

"We wanted it to be an easy thing to sell and describe," Haslam said. "If I say, 'Well, it's free unless your income's above this level,' or, 'it's free unless you make a 2.5 GPA' ... Free was an easy discussion so we could say, 'If you walk across that high school stage, then you could go to college free.' And that was a conversation we wanted people to have around their dinner tables."

But "free" wasn't an automatic sell to the Republican lawmakers who would have to sign off. "There were people, particularly on my side of the aisle, who had an issue around, like, 'free - free? - so you don't have to do anything to qualify for it?'" Haslam said. "There was a sense in which this is going to be another entitlement program. That was one of the issues. Mainly from Republicans."

Haslam enlisted Mark Norris, the Senate majority leader and one of the state Legislature's most conservative members, to draft free college legislation and get their Republican colleagues on board. The plan would be funded from a lottery reserve - meaning no new taxes - and it would require students do community service to qualify, so it wouldn't be seen as a handout.

Norris, now a district judge after he was tapped by Trump to a federal bench in western Tennessee, was quickly faced with "concern this was, quote unquote, just another entitlement program that was costing taxpayers money," Norris said. But "when people came to learn it wasn't costing taxpayers money unless they play the lottery, it gave them pause."

In retrospect, Tennessee Republicans came up with a remarkably effective strategy for how free-market politicians could talk about free college to their donors, voters and national colleagues. First Tennessee Promise is billed as an economic-growth program, a way to boost the workforce and lure companies - and jobs - to the state. It focuses on community colleges and technical colleges where students train for those jobs, rather than more elite universities that serve better-off students and come with what critics see as a liberal political culture.

Second, the program is open to everyone, not just low-income students. That sends a signal that it's not a "poverty" program or an "entitlement," and gets buy-in from wealthier families who have their own concerns about the growing cost of college. And importantly, Tennessee's programs are state-based, not a federal mandate or "just another entitlement check from Washington," as Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and former state governor, put it.

"It's different than the Bernie Sanders, 'We'll just send you a check from Washington," said Alexander, who also served as president of the University of Tennessee and U.S. secretary of Education. "That's why Republicans are very comfortable with it, conservatives are very comfortable with it ... We don't think of it as an entitlement, we think of it as a ladder to the middle class."

To make it affordable for a non-wealthy state, Tennessee's program is "last dollar" - meaning the state pays only what isn't covered by Pell Grants, the federal aid program for low-income students. It costs the state about $45 million a year, an amount covered entirely by the lottery reserve fund.

"We did it without raising taxes. We didn't add any debt or add to the deficit," said Michael Sullivan, executive director of the state's Republican Party and a supporter of the program. "We took the fiscally responsible steps."

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 AM


The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Getting History Right (Seth G. Jones, January 13, 2019, LawFare)

To understand Soviet concerns about Afghanistan, it is helpful to go back to 1973, six years before the Soviet invasion. On July 16, 1973, Muhammad Daoud Khan overthrew King Zahir Shah, who had ruled the country since 1933, in a coup d'état. Moscow, which had been providing military aid to Afghanistan since at least 1955, grew increasingly alarmed about instability in Afghanistan. In April 1978, Daoud was assassinated during a coup led by Nur Mohammad Taraki, further increasing Soviet fears about their southern flank.

The next year, it was Washington's turn to become alarmed after its ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolf Dubs, was kidnapped by armed extremists posing as police. When Afghan security forces attempted to rescue him, Dubs was shot and killed. President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, blamed the incident on "either Soviet ineptitude or collusion."

Afghanistan headed toward the abyss. Demonstrations erupted in cities like Herat, and, as one top-secret Soviet assessment concluded, key parts of the Afghan Army "essentially collapsed." In June 1979, there was yet another coup, as Taraki was replaced by Hafizullah Amin. This was the last straw for Moscow. As the Soviet archives indicate, Moscow's leaders believed that Amin was growing too close to Washington. A top-secret report to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned: "It is known, in particular, that representatives of the USA, on the basis of their contacts with the Afghans, are coming to a conclusion about the possibility of a change in the political line of Afghanistan in a direction which is pleasing to Washington." The KGB came to similar conclusions and assessed that Amin would likely turn to Washington for aid.

On December 8, 1979, Brezhnev hosted a meeting with several trusted Politburo members, including ideologist Mikhail Suslov, KGB head Yuri Andropov, Defense Minister Dmitriy Ustinov, and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Andropov and Ustinov argued that Washington was trying to expand its influence in Afghanistan. The group tentatively agreed to direct the KGB to remove Amin and replace him with the Babrak Karmal. They also deliberated about sending Soviet troops to Afghanistan. On December 12, Brezhnev, Suslov, Andropov, Ustinov, and Gromyko met again. The group assessed that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan threatened the security of the Soviet Union's southern borders, which the United States and other countries could take advantage of by aiding the Afghan regime. In addition, Afghanistan could become a future U.S. forward operating base situated in the Soviet Union's "soft underbelly" in Central Asia.

On Christmas Eve 1979, elite Soviet forces began flying into Kabul airport and the military airbase at Bagram. The 357th and 66th Motorized Rifle Divisions of the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan from Turkmenistan and began advancing south along the main highway. The 360th and 201st Motorized Rifle Divisions crossed the Amu Darya River from Uzbekistan.

The Soviet invasion created an immediate global uproar. In response, over five dozen countries--including the United States--boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow. The Soviet invasion increased already-high tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Terrorism had nothing to do with all this. While Soviet leaders were concerned about "religious fanatics" that were involved in Afghan protests, the Soviets were overwhelmingly worried about U.S. power and influence. To argue that the Soviets were "right to be there," as President Trump remarked, is either to misunderstand Cold War history or, even worse, to legitimize Brezhnev's cold-blooded, anti-U.S. strategic rationale for invading Afghanistan.

In response to the Soviet invasion, the United States conducted one of its most successful covert action programs during the Cold War. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


US must stand with Congo's voters and its civil society (K. RIVA LEVINSON, 01/14/19, The Hill)

"Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi clinches surprise win in presidential election," reported Reuters. The BBC announced "Felix Tshisekedi steps out of his father's shadow to lead DR Congo," and the United Nations extolled the country's "first peaceful transfer of power." [...]

On Sunday 30 December 2018, millions of Congolese went to the polls to elect a new president and national lawmakers. Despite a two-year delay, a chaotic process, and the exclusion of four percent of the electorate because of the on-going Ebola health emergency, the vote came off with relative calm.

The presidential contest was fought between Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the choice of the country's president Joseph Kabila (who is under EU sanctions for human rights crimes), Felix Tshiekedi, the son of the country's veteran opposition leader who founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress in 1982 and died in 2017, and Martin Fayulu, a former executive of Mobil Oil who was backed two political leaders the government barred from standing.

Just getting to this point of electoral uncertainty was a struggle of epic proportion for Congo's 85 million people -- and why the final certified result must be just, and evidence-based.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Confessions of a Recovering Libertarian (Charlie Sykes, January 15th, 2019, The Bulwark)

On today's Daily Bulwark Podcast, Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center joins host Charlie Sykes to discuss Jerry's confessions as a recovering libertarian, virtue signalling in the GOP, how the decline of broad political knowledge is fueling excessive partisanship, and the future of moderation in our hyper-partisan times.

As per below, this is a great conversation about what partisanship does to the mind.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Steve King's Fall Offers Three Lessons for Conservatives (Ramesh Ponnuru, January 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

[C]onservatives themselves need to be better at policing that distinction. Too often conservatives react to unjustified charges of racism by discounting all such charges. Conservatives ought to be realistic, too, about the unsavory supporters that even defensible causes can draw.

The third is that the frequency and offensiveness of King's provocations have grown as Donald Trump has become the dominant force in the Republican Party. That is probably not a coincidence.

During his presidential campaign, Trump barely and belatedly disavowed the white nationalist David Duke, attacked a judge for having Mexican ancestry, and urged the banning of all adherents of a global faith. And he won.

Maybe King felt liberated by his example to be less politic about his views. 

The thing that has really surprised conservatives about this time is the revelation of just how racist the Right, which we've often made common cause with, is. It's quite salutary.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's Attempt to Bypass Democratic Leaders on Wall Falls Flat (Justin Sink  and Sahil Kapur, January 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's attempt to bypass Democratic congressional leaders to break open negotiations on the government shutdown fell flat as he failed to persuade any of the party's rank-and-file members to attend a hastily arranged White House meeting Tuesday.

Could have at least gone and scored some burgers...

January 15, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Defying Trump, U.S. Senate advances measure critical of easing Russia sanctions (Patricia Zengerle, 1/15/19, Reuters) 

The U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday to move ahead with a resolution disapproving of a Trump administration plan to ease sanctions on Russian companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, clearing the way for debate and a vote on the plan.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Why Conservative Media and the Far Right Love Tulsi Gabbard for President: The enigmatic congresswoman has earned substantial praise from many across the right--from Fox News star Tucker Carlson to white nationalists like David Duke. (Maxwell Tani,  Kelly Weill, 01.15.19, Daily Beast)

In a Monday evening segment, featuring anti-war leftist journalist Glenn Greenwald, the Fox News host argued that Gabbard had been unfairly maligned because of her deep skepticism about intervention in Syria and willingness to talk to Assad.

"There's something so stealthy and feline and dishonest about the way they're attacking her," Tucker said. "If you don't like her foreign policy views, let's just say so. But no one ever really wants to debate what our foreign policy should be. They just attack anyone who deviates from their own dumb ideas."

Gabbard first became an in-demand Fox News guest in 2015 after she criticized Barack Obama's unwillingness to use the label "radical Islamic terrorism." Her media tour explaining that position earned her positively-tilted coverage in right-wing outlets like Breitbart and The Daily Caller--a trend that continued when she later expressed skepticism of Obama's Iran nuclear deal. [...]

Steve Bannon, Trump's former White House chief strategist, reportedly admired Gabbard's foreign policy, and arranged a meeting with her and Trump shortly after his election. Bannon was reportedly considering Gabbard for an administration role, although no such job ever materialized.

"He loves Tulsi Gabbard. Loves her," a person close to Bannon told The Hill at the time. "Wants to work with her on everything." The person added that Gabbard "would fit perfectly too [inside the administration] ... She gets the foreign policy stuff, the Islamic terrorism stuff."

Richard Spencer, a white nationalist and alleged domestic abuser who has called for "peaceful ethnic cleansing," has tweeted multiple times in support of Gabbard. David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and current racist, has also heaped praise upon her.

"Tulsi Gabbard is brave and the kind of person we need in the diplomatic corps," Spencer tweeted in January 2017. "Tulsi Gabbard 2020," he tweeted later that year.

In a November 2016 tweet, Duke said Gabbard was representative of a "political realignment" he hoped to see in the U.S., and called for Donald Trump to appoint her secretary of state. Duke ran a favorable blog post about Gabbard on his website.

Gabbard hit back at Duke. "U didn't know I'm Polynesian/Cauc?" she tweeted at the former KKK leader. "Dad couldn't use 'whites only' water fountain. No thanks. Ur white nationalism is pure evil." But he continued to laud her, writing "God bless Tulsi Gabbard" later that year.

Spencer and Duke credited their Gabbard support to her stance on Syria, where civil war has resulted in an estimated half-million deaths. (Some on the far right view Assad as a hero. The Intercept reported that fascists in the U.S. and abroad see Assad as creating an ideal "homogeneous" authoritarian state, free of political dissent. And James Fields Jr., the neo-Nazi who murdered a woman with a car at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Virginia in 2017, posted a meme of Assad on Facebook, alongside pictures of swastikas and Hitler.)

Gabbard has billed herself as an anti-interventionist in Syria, but she's gone further than many pacifists--most famously by meeting with Assad on the trip organized by members of a far-right group in early 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


The Supreme Court Just Handed a Big, Unanimous Victory to Workers. Wait, What?   (MARK JOSEPH STERN, JAN 15, 2019, Slate)

Tuesday's case, New Prime v. Oliveira, involves a dispute between a trucking company (New Prime) and one of its drivers, Dominic Oliveira. When he began work, Oliveira was required to complete 10,000 miles hauling freight for New Prime--for free, as an "apprentice." He was then compelled to complete another 30,000 miles as a "trainee," for which he was paid about $4 an hour. Once he became a full-fledged driver, Oliveira was designated as a contractor rather than an employee. He was forced to lease his own truck (from a company owned by the owners of New Prime), buy his own equipment (from the New Prime store), and pay for his own gas, often from New Prime gas pumps.

Typically, New Prime would have to pay all these expenses. But because it classified Oliveira as a contractor, it deducted the costs from his paycheck. Sometimes, that paycheck wound up negative due to these deductions, meaning New Prime essentially charged Oliveira to work for the company.

In 2015, Oliveira filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of himself and tens of thousands of other "contractors." He alleged that New Prime had misclassified him as a contractor to underpay him, a violation of federal labor law. But Oliveira's contract with the company declared that all disputes must be resolved through individual arbitration, a process that is costly, time-consuming, and often unjust, favoring employers over workers. New Prime asserted that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, courts must enforce this "agreement" and dismiss Oliveira's claims. That's no surprise: In recent years, SCOTUS has repeatedly used the FAA to crush labor lawsuits, deploying the 1925 law to throw class actions and labor disputes out of court.

But New Prime had a problem. The FAA generally obligates courts to enforce arbitration clauses. But it expressly excludes "contracts of employment of ... workers engaged in ... interstate commerce," such as "seamen" and "railroad employees." Everyone agrees that truckers qualify for this exception. New Prime, however, asserted that truckers who work as contractors do not have "contracts of employment" and thus do not qualify. And by classifying so many workers as contractors, the company believed it had worked around the FAA's exemption.

Not so, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court on Tuesday. We may see a formal distinction between "employment" and contractor work today. But when Congress passed the FAA in 1925, Gorsuch explained, "Dictionaries tended to treat 'employment' more or less as a synonym for 'work.' " Indeed, "all work was treated as employment," whether or not "a formal employer-employee or master-servant relationship" existed. Citing six dictionaries from the era, as well as contemporaneous statutes and rulings, Gorsuch concluded that "contract of employment" was understood to encompass "work agreements involving independent contractors." As a result, Oliveira, along with other truckers and transportation contractors, qualify for the FAA's exemption. His class-action lawsuit may proceed in court.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Trump once dismissed Pat Buchanan's politics as for the 'right-wacko vote.' Now he's quoting him. (The Week, 1/15/19)

In 1999, President Trump briefly ran against paleo-conservative Patrick Buchanan for the Reform Party presidential nomination, and before dropping out of the race, Trump told NBC's Tim Russert that Buchanan is "a Hitler lover" and apparent "anti-Semite," and "it's just incredible that anybody could embrace this guy. And maybe he'll get 4 or 5 percent of the vote and it'll be a really staunch, right-wacko vote. I'm not even sure if it's right. It's just a wacko vote." Upon dropping out, Trump wrote in The New York Times: "I leave the Reform Party to David Duke, Pat Buchanan, and Lenora Fulani. That is not company I wish to keep."

On Sunday night, Trump tweet-quoted approvingly from a recent Buchanan column about militarizing the border to preserve white male America.

He went further than that: "The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani." 

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Alabama judge overturns law protecting Confederate monuments (Gina Cherelus, 1/15/19, Reuters)

An Alabama judge has voided a 2017 state law preventing the removal or alteration of historic memorials, saying it infringed citizens' free-speech rights and effectively enshrined a pro-Confederacy message in the southern U.S. state.

The ruling was the latest blow in an ongoing national fight over memorials to the pro-slavery Confederacy, which lost in the 1861-1865 U.S. Civil War. Backers of the monuments call them a tribute to history and heritage, while opponents decry them as powerful tributes to institutionalized racism.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Chris Christie accuses Jared Kushner of political 'hit job' in explosive new book (Ed Pilkington and Martin Pengelly in New York,  15 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

As Bannon was carrying out the firing, at Trump Tower in New York, Christie forced him to tell him who was really behind the dismissal by threatening to go to the media and point the finger at Bannon instead.

"Steve Bannon ... made clear to me that one person and one person only was responsible for the faceless execution that Steve was now attempting to carry out. Jared Kushner, still apparently seething over events that had occurred a decade ago."

The political assassination was carried out by Kushner as a personal vendetta, Christie writes, that had its roots in his prosecution, as a then federal attorney, of Charles Kushner in 2005. The real estate tycoon was charged with witness tampering and tax evasion and served more than a year in federal prison. [...]

The elder Kushner hired a sex worker to seduce his brother-in-law Bill Schulder, then filmed them having sex in a motel and sent the tape to his own sister, Esther. The bizarre plot was an attempt to blackmail the Schulders into keeping their silence about Bill's knowledge of Charles's fraudulent activities.

Charles Kushner pleaded guilty to 18 charges and served 14 months in a federal prison in Alabama.

In one of the most visceral passages of the book, Christie recounts for the first time how Jared Kushner badmouthed him to Trump in April 2016, pleading with his father-in-law not to make Christie transition chairman. Remarkably, he did so while Christie was in the room.

"He implied I had acted unethically and inappropriately but didn't state one fact to back that up," Christie writes. "Just a lot of feelings - very raw feelings that had been simmering for a dozen years."

Kushner went on to tell Trump that it wasn't fair his father spent so long in prison. He insisted the sex tape and blackmailing was a family matter that should have been kept away from federal authorities: "This was a family matter, a matter to be handled by the family or by the rabbis."

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


NBC News Tells Staffers Not To Directly Call Steve King's Racist Remarks Racist (Yashar Ali, 1/15/19, Huffington Post)

NBC News' standards department sent an email to staffers Tuesday telling them not to directly refer to Rep. Steve King's recent comments about white supremacy as "racist."

"Be careful to avoid characterizing [King's] remarks as racist," reads the email, which two NBC News staffers shared with HuffPost. "It is ok to attribute to others as in 'what many are calling racist' or something like that."

It speaks well of the American people that we're reluctant to say that racists are racist, but, on the other hand,  it strips words of their meaning.
Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


When America Stared Into the Abyss (John Lawrence, Jan. 7th, 2019, The Atlantic)

The commission appointed by Congress in 2009 to investigate the causes of the meltdown concluded that it "was the result of human action and inaction, not of Mother Nature or computer models gone haywire." A "combination of excessive borrowing, risky investments, and lack of transparency put the financial system on a collision course with crisis." And perhaps most tellingly, the commissioners determined, the crisis had been "avoidable."

In the leadership meeting Pelosi convened after her phone calls with Bernanke and Paulson, the Federal Reserve chairman described a "very severe financial crisis--hundreds of billions in losses." The administration was forced to turn to Congress, Bernanke declared, because the Fed was "no longer able to use the tools we have to maintain stability. It is a matter of days," the chairman warned, before "a major meltdown [would occur] in the United States and globally." Paulson agreed. "I've never seen anything like it," he said. "Once in 100 years."

Congress would have to authorize the Treasury to purchase the toxic assets. "If we don't deal with it by next week, the country could collapse," Paulson warned. The alternative, Bernanke predicted, was a "deep, long recession." Congressional leaders, many of whom considered the two financial managers politically naive and partly responsible for the unfolding catastrophe, were stunned. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked how much the purchase would cost. "Hundreds of billions," Paulson admitted, and even then, it was inevitable that widespread foreclosures would cost millions of Americans their homes.

Democratic leaders immediately seized on the strategy of using Wall Street's crisis to benefit millions of Americans on "Main Street" who were seeing their homes, savings, and jobs evaporate without generating any comparable urgent response. Congress had negotiated with Paulson and the Bush administration a meager $168 billion stimulus bill in February, but the law had minimal impact on the worsening recession. Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York insisted that something like Paulson and Bernanke's audacious proposal could only secure Democratic votes if it included billions of dollars in anti-recessionary spending to promote job creation, extend unemployment assistance, and fund other initiatives to reduce the "perception the bill is a [corporate] bailout." Barney Frank, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, also demanded restrictions on the exorbitant executive-compensation packages of financial-services companies to help secure the needed votes.

The administration and congressional Republicans reacted negatively to these efforts to expand the scope of the legislation. "We won't get there if you take that approach," Paulson admonished. The House Republican leader, John Boehner, agreed, advising the Democrats, "Don't play politics." Other Republicans raised their own concerns. Dick Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, skeptically described the administration's proposal as "a blank check." Reid explained that Democrats would also face challenges rounding up votes without incentives. "It's political reality," Reid declared in defense of the additional spending. Without the anti-recessionary provisions, Frank advised, "I can't tell you the bill will pass." After a tense moment, Paulson glumly responded, "Then God help us." [...]

Administration negotiators were also exasperated by a plethora of conservative-generated TARP alternatives, including one from Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor that would have substituted a federal insurance plan for the bailout. Paulson dismissed these alternatives as "pretty ridiculous" and focused on crafting the legislation with Democrats. Meanwhile, on the Senate side of the Capitol, Paulson was "laying an egg" with the Senate Finance Committee, a top Boehner aide confided in me. White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told Democratic leaders their Republican counterparts were "horrid," according to Reid, and Obama quoted Bush as having declared, "My problem is House Republicans." According to a senior White House staffer, neither Senator Shelby nor the ranking member Spencer Bachus of Alabama was being helpful. The obstinacy of Bachus, said Paulson, was "disgraceful."

Reid was flabbergasted to hear that even McCain was leaning against the bill. "We can't pass a bill unless 80 percent of Republicans vote for it," he told Pelosi, who called McCain's opposition "just pathetic." When McCain called Pelosi on September 24 to complain about the pace of the discussions, Pelosi sharply rebuked him. "We are making progress," she said. "It is not accurate to say otherwise." McCain then proposed a suspension of the presidential campaign and the convening of a bipartisan White House summit to hash out a legislative agreement. Pelosi was concerned that a White House meeting would cause delays. When Bolten called to invite her to attend the meeting, the speaker reproached him for capitulating to McCain's "political stunt." She instructed Paulson, "Tell the president to lead! ... I will not allow Congress to look like it's in disarray!" Later in the meeting, she reminded him, "The president never listened to us on Iraq ... He never broaches disagreement." Unless Bush embraced the TARP design they had fashioned together, she told the Treasury secretary, "we have wasted our time, and it is an insult to you." Sardonically, Paulson noted, "I'm beyond that point."

Schumer thought McCain's suggestion was "just weird," especially coming from someone who had offered little "except for an occasional, unhelpful statement, sort of thrown [in] from far away." The Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, was similarly skeptical of the meeting, which might force the postponement of his first debate with McCain, but he was also wary of rejecting the kind of invitation he might soon as president extend to congressional leaders. "We've got him boxed in ... We have him on the ropes," Obama said. "If we didn't go, it would be a bad precedent," he told Reid and Pelosi. They unenthusiastically decided to participate, and decided Obama would serve as their leader. However, they agreed, there would be no deal-making at the meeting, and the exit statement to the press would emphasize that it was the Republicans who needed to "get their ducks in a row."

"We've got a serious economic crisis," Bush declared to the participants around the enormous oval table in the Cabinet Room. "This meeting is an attempt to reach agreement quickly. I can't tell you how important it is to get something done." He cautioned against loading up the bailout with controversial provisions that could jeopardize passage, but he also signaled flexibility, adding that if Paulson and Bernanke signed off, "we're for it. You damn sure don't want to be the people who see it crater." He made, I recall, a point of singling out Pelosi for her collaboration with administration officials.

Obama's opening statement focused on the proposal under negotiation, while Boehner and Bachus again floated alternative approaches. Their ideas, like the insurance scheme, drew sharp rebukes from Frank and Reid, who accused the Republicans of leading negotiators "down a primrose path" only to throw up obstacles at the last minute. As the parties parried, Bush became increasingly restless. "It's easy for smart guys to sit around," he said, but "if money isn't loosened up, this sucker could go down." Although he had proposed the meeting, McCain remained silent for nearly an hour. A CNN reporter confidentially disclosed to me later that McCain's campaign staff had feared that his presence in the meeting could be "political dynamite," and a Boehner staff person privately expressed to me deep concern at the nominee's lack of preparation, admitting he had requested staff assistance from Boehner only the day before the meeting.

After nearly every other principal had spoken, Obama turned to his rival. "We need to hear from John," he declared, and all heads turned to the silent senator. McCain awkwardly stumbled through a rambling statement, thanking Bush for convening the meeting and declaring his support for the concerns expressed by other Republicans. Puzzled looks flew around the Cabinet Room.  [...]

Afterward, Nowakowski told me the Republican leader was displeased with the outcome of the White House meeting and furious with Paulson for seemingly siding with Democrats against the GOP proposals. Perhaps, she mused, Pelosi should "start thinking" about a bill that could pass with only Democratic votes. Confidentially, a top White House aide admitted that Boehner's conference was filled with "hardheads" and that the meeting had been awful, "chaos ... typical of McCain world," allowing others to "outmaneuver him." I recall one Republican aide telling me, "The only person in the room who looked presidential was your guy," Obama. [...]

Unease hung over the House chamber as the debate began on September 29. Blunt advised Pelosi, "Don't count on the Republicans," while Nowakowski advised that some Republicans would undoubtedly "beat their chests" in opposition. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Paulson, and Bernanke continued to call House members, the White House liaison Dan Meyer reported, but there might be only 75 Republican votes for the bill. He asked for additional time to convince recalcitrant Republicans, but Pelosi, worried that her own members might begin to drift away, insisted that the vote go forward.

In a leadership meeting, Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn confidentially predicted that only half of the Democrats' 235 members would support the bill, but far fewer if the Republicans produced only 75 of their own. Pelosi dispatched Barney Frank to meet with skeptical Democratic factions, including the liberal Hispanic and Black Caucuses, and the conservative Blue Dogs. Steeling himself for the onslaught of complaints, Frank asked, "When is the Asshole Caucus, and do I have to address them?"

Shortly after the New York stock market had opened that morning, Citigroup announced it was taking over the failing Wachovia Bank, and several central banks announced plans to shore up the credit markets. Neither action prevented the Dow from beginning a precipitous decline, a worrisome backdrop to the debate. In her statement in support of the bill on the House floor, Pelosi acknowledged, "We have a situation where on Wall Street, people are flying high. They are making unconscionable amounts of money. They make a lot of money. They privatize the gain. The minute things go tough, they nationalize the risk ... they drive their firm into the ground, and the American people have to pick up the tab. Something is very, very wrong with this picture."

She castigated Bush for squandering the $5.6 trillion surplus bequeathed him by President Bill Clinton on unpaid wars, tax cuts, and a Medicare expansion. "No regulation" and "fiscal irresponsibility, combined with an 'anything goes' economic policy, has taken us to where we are today," she asserted. Now, she assured the skeptics in her caucus, "the party is over." She promised that "before long, we will have a new Congress, a new president of the United States, and we will be able to take our country in a new direction."

In his floor speech, Jerry Lewis, a well-respected Southern California Republican, offered a rationale for his recalcitrant fellow conservatives to support the bill. "Frankly, I'm furious," he admitted. "The idea of spending taxpayer dollars to prop up risky investments keeps me awake at night. It goes against all the principles I have lived by." But there was little choice. "Doing nothing will cause a potential catastrophe."

The toughest selling job fell to Boehner, who had privately described the bill to Republicans as a "crap sandwich, but I'm going to eat it anyway." His voice cracking as he spoke in the well of the House chamber, his cheeks streaked with the tears, he acknowledged, "Nobody wants to vote for this, nobody wants to be anywhere around it ... I didn't come here to vote for bills like this. But let me tell you this, I believe Congress has to act." He pleaded with members on both sides of the aisle: "What's in the best interest of our country? Not what's in the best interest of our party [or] our own reelection." His earnest plea received tepid applause, and then it was time to vote.

As the seconds ticked down on the 15-minute clocks flanking the chamber, it became evident that the bipartisan entreaties and White House pressure had failed. The bill was defeated by a vote of 205-228, a rare loss on the floor for Pelosi. Nearly 60 percent of Democrats (140 out of 235) voted "yea," compared with just 33 percent of Republicans (65 of 198). Bush, who had called all 19 Republican members of his Texas delegation, had persuaded just four to support the bill. One of the Texas dissenters, Jeb Hensarling, denounced TARP as the first step "on the slippery slope to socialism."

Anxiety over the fast-approaching election played a significant role in the defeat. Of 18 members in "toss-up" races, 15 voted against the bill, including all six freshman Democrats facing tight campaigns. Some voiced skepticism about the accuracy of the administration's description of the crisis, recalling the misleading information provided Congress about weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify the war in Iraq. Many in the Hispanic and Black Caucuses proved unwilling to explain to their economically suffering constituents the massive spending for Wall Street, particularly since the bill contained little of what Democrats had sought for the jobless and those at risk of losing their homes.

In the cloakroom, stunned members watched the Dow Jones average plunge sharply lower. When the final vote was announced, the bottom fell out. Within minutes, the market had lost nearly 700 points off its opening, ending 778 points lower for the day, a record one-day point loss. By day's end, $1.2 trillion in IRAs, pension funds, and savings was gone--nearly twice the size of the bailout package itself. The VIX index that chronicled market volatility, the so-called fear index, closed at the highest level in its 28-year history.

Reality always trumps ideology, but not often as quickly as that week.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Pelosi learned the art of "no" from working with Bush. Trump is a whole new test. (Ella Nilsen,   Jan 15, 2019, Vox)

[I]n the fall of 2008, Pelosi still wrangled the votes for a massive bank bailout proposed by Bush's administration, in part because of a willingness to give Democrats some key demands in exchange.

Admitting his party had taken a "thumping" in the 2006 midterms, Bush pledged to work with Pelosi. And he did; in 2007 and 2008, Pelosi and Bush partnered on a fiscal stimulus bill and a large energy bill that raised fuel efficiency standards, among other things.

"We had good lines of communication, we had regular meetings down at the White House," remembered John Lawrence, Pelosi's chief of staff from 2005 to 2011.

Pelosi is an old-school politician who sees the role of speaker of the House as standing up for the institution, ensuring it fulfills its constitutional responsibilities, and making deals on bills. Even with a powerful position in the majority, she has had to compromise with the Senate and the White House; for example, agreeing to cut a public option from the final version of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But she still has a strong record working with both Democratic and Republican presidents.

"She makes it very clear going into negotiations with the executive branch that she is not there to simply follow the dictates of any other branch," Lawrence told me recently.

Go behind the scenes. Chat with creators. Support Vox video. Become a member of the Vox Video Lab today.

As Pelosi begins her second tenure as speaker of the House -- this time, amid a government shutdown -- Trump would be wise to look back at her working relationship with Bush. The 43rd president learned that when he came to the table willing to truly engage, he could get a deal with Democrats. When he wasn't, Pelosi wouldn't cave.

She's earned respect from her Republican opponents. "I don't think there's any question that she's a very accomplished legislator," said Michael Steel, who served as a spokesperson for former Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


The disturbing timeline of events surrounding the first Trump-Putin meeting (Luiz Romero, 1/15/19, Quartz)

July 7, 2017 -- First meeting

Trump received some disturbing news on the morning of July 7, when the New York Times reached out to the White House seeking comment on a bombastic story. The Times had learned that Trump's son, Don Jr., together with Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, had met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer. The meeting took place at Trump Tower, in the midst of the presidential campaign in June 2016.

(Last week, prosecutors charged Veselnitskaya with obstruction of justice in the context of a money laundering probe. The case is unrelated to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but helped confirm Veselnitskaya's ties to the Russian government.)

Later that day, Trump and Putin met in person for the first time. Their encounter, which was scheduled as part of the G20 summit in Hamburg, lasted more than two hours, and was surrounded by secrecy. The only people present were Trump and Putin's translators, and the American and Russian foreign ministers. Afterwards, both presidents gave reporters vague descriptions of what was discussed.

Trump reportedly ensured the content of the meeting was kept secret by keeping his translator's notes, and demanding that she not brief anyone on what was discussed, according to the Post.

Secret chat

Then, on the evening of July 7, during a formal dinner in Hamburg, Trump walked up to Putin, and the two talked "privately and animatedly" for almost an hour, Ian Bremmer, the head of political risk consultancy Eurasia, said at the time, citing world leaders who had been present at the dinner. [...]

July 8 -- Statement to the Times

While flying back to Washington from the Hamburg summit, the president dictated a statement to aides regarding the Trump Tower meeting. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Barr sent or discussed controversial memo with Trump lawyers (Ariane de Vogue, January 15, 2019, CNN)

Attorney General nominee William Barr shared a controversial memo last year with nearly all of President Donald Trump's lawyers concluding that an aspect of special counsel Robert Mueller's case could be "fatally misconceived," Barr acknowledged Monday.

Barr's 19-page memo -- which concluded that Trump's publicly reported interactions with ex-FBI Director James Comey could not constitute obstruction of justice -- was addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel and released as a part of Barr's Senate questionnaire last month. But it was previously unclear who else had seen it.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham Monday night, Barr said that he had sent it to White House special counsel Emmet Flood, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and his former Justice Department colleague Pat Cipollone who is now White House counsel. He also discussed the issues raised in the memo with Trump lawyers Marty and Jane Raskin and Jay Sekulow. In addition he sent a copy, or had a conversation about the contents of the memo with Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Jared Kushner.

While it's obviously pertinent that his memo misreads the law, it was one thing when he'd just shared his thoughts with the DOJ, but acting as virtual counsel for the suspect in the biggest case before the Department he wishes to head has to be disqualifying.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Mueller Probes an Event With Nunes, Flynn, and Foreign Officials at Trump's D.C. Hotel (Erin Banco, Asawin Suebsaeng, Betsy Woodruff, Spencer Ackerman, 01.14.19, The Daily Beast

The Special Counsel's Office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are scrutinizing a meeting involving former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, one-time National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and dozens of foreign officials, according to three sources familiar with the investigations.

The breakfast event, which was first reported by The Daily Sabah, a pro-government Turkish paper, took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. at 8.30 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2017--two days before President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Nice that Erdogan has kompromat too.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Trump Discussed Pulling U.S. From NATO, Aides Say Amid New Concerns Over Russia (Julian E. Barnes and Helene Cooper, Jan. 14, 2019, NY Times)

There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.

Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States. [...]

[M]r. Trump's national security team, including Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, scrambled to keep American strategy on track without mention of a withdrawal that would drastically reduce Washington's influence in Europe and could embolden Russia for decades.

Now, the president's repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr. Trump's efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides, and an F.B.I. investigation into the administration's Russia ties.

So we do know the content of Vlad and Donald's pillow talk. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


This CO2 machine could transform the way we fight climate change: Carbon Engineering's affordable, scalable way to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere might just wean us off our addiction to fossil fuels. (JACKSON RYAN, JUNE 7, 2018, CNet)

Previous research suggested the idea of sucking carbon out of the air -- "direct air capture" -- would prove too costly, with CO2 removal breaking the bank at $600 per ton. However, new research published in Joule on June 7 by Canadian company Carbon Engineering demonstrates that they can suck CO2 out of the air for between $94 and $232 per ton.

"It's unlike CO2 capture that's designed to work from a power plant. We're capturing CO2 from the atmosphere -- that's what our technology does," David Keith, founder of Carbon Engineering, tells CNET.

"The purpose of capturing from the air is that you can make low carbon fuels from renewable power."

The research is a major breakthrough demonstrating direct air capture technology can be economically viable and provide an alternative means of generating low-carbon fuels that can "drop-in" to existing infrastructure -- meaning they might be powering cars and planes in the future.

That's important because solar and wind power continue to get cheaper, even powering entire cities, but Keith says that "doesn't allow us to make airplanes fly and trucks drive." By combining existing renewable energy sources with the direct air capture system, Carbon Engineering can generate fuel that is essentially carbon-neutral and affordable.

"You can make gasoline or diesel fuel [via direct air capture] but, of course, they didn't come from the ground, so the amount of carbon they emit when they burn is just the amount you used making them, so they're carbon neutral," says Keith.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM


Republicans need to condemn Trump's brazen bigotry (Michael Gerson, January 14, 2019, Washington Postr)This article has been updated.

In their criticism of King, you get the sense that Republicans are actually relieved to be in the position of attacking racism for a change, instead of being forced to defend it from the president. They seem to be signaling that they are not really the bigots they appear to be. Republicans seem desperate to explain that they are normal and moral -- despite all the evidence. Attacking King reveals some sense of shame at what they have become.

Yet, in the end, Republican critics of King manage to look worse rather than better. If racism is the problem, then President Trump is a worse offender. And the GOP's relative silence on Trump is a sign of hypocrisy and weakness. [...]

By any standard, Trump says things that are reckless, wrong, abhorrent, offensive and racist. Until Republicans can state this reality with the same clarity and intensity that they now criticize King, they will be cowards in a time crying for bravery.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Pompeo Trip Fails to Ease Questions Over U.S. Goals in Mideast (Nick Wadhams, January 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

Missing throughout the trip was any concrete plan or vision for how to move beyond the problems that already bedevil the region -- from the 18-month diplomatic spat between the gas-rich state of Qatar and its Gulf neighbors to the investigation into the death of columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whose killing has become a hurdle for U.S.-Saudi ties.

In the background was the drumbeat of the continuing federal government shutdown, new reports about the investigations into Trump and Russia, and the president's own Twitter feed. It all made for weakened leverage for America's top diplomat.

"The U.S. rolls in hot without a plan or the architecture of policy planning and bureaucracy to support its aims," said Karen Young, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who focuses on the Middle East. "The underlying anxiety of dealing with the Trump administration, with its domestic upheaval, and its foreign policy towards the Middle East that changes daily, is exhausting and counterproductive to diplomacy."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

TRUMPONOMICS (profanity alert):

Trump's Shutdown Turns Atlanta International, the World's Busiest Airport, Into a 'Shitshow' (Pilar Melendez, 01.14.19, Daily Beast)

The world's busiest airport has descended into chaos as President Trump's government shutdown drags into its fourth week.

Travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport are reporting hours-long waits at domestic terminals, missed flights due to lack of security personnel, and the closure of checkpoints across the airport due to a lack of TSA agents.

For one Atlanta air traffic controller, the airport, which processes more than 100 million passengers per year, has become "a total s[***]show."

January 14, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


The Week in Public Finance: The 10 States That Give More to the Feds Than They Get Back (LIZ FARMER, JANUARY 11, 2019, Governing)
Residents in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have some of the highest tax bills in the nation. They also pay thousands more in federal taxes than their state receives back in federal funding.

In total, 10 states are so-called donor states, meaning they pay more in taxes to the federal government than they receive back in funding for, say, Medicaid or public education. North Dakota, Illinois, New Hampshire, Washington state, Nebraska and Colorado round out the list.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


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

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

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

These efforts to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia's intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election alarmed some State Department officials, who immediately began lobbying congressional leaders to quickly pass legislation to block the move, the sources said.

"There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions," said Dan Fried, a veteran State Department official who served as chief U.S. coordinator for sanctions policy until he retired in late February. He said in the first few weeks of the administration, he received several "panicky" calls from U.S. government officials who told him they had been directed to develop a sanctions-lifting package and imploring him, "Please, my God, can't you stop this?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Contactless payments are coming to the US, another threat to the use of cash (John Detrixhe, January 9, 2019, Quartz)

The US has long been a laggard when it comes to payment technology. But several factors, from changes in how fraud liability is handled to the biggest credit card issuer's embrace of contactless technology, are now coming together (paywall) for a reboot. Even the Federal Reserve is contemplating how best to upgrade the country's payment plumbing to make it real-time and available 24 hours a day.

Britain's experience with contactless payments shows how it gives physical cash a run for its money. Spending using contactless cards rose to £3 billion ($3.8 billion) in 2017, up from £117 million in 2014, according to the UK Cards Association. A CMSPI consultancy case study of a large fast-food chain found that contactless payments catch on quickly, "cannibalizing both cash and card payments." The study showed that contactless transactions increased by 64% in one year to account for 27% of all purchases, while cash declined by 11%.

"In the UK, contactless payments have been key in digitizing low-value high-frequency payments," Bernstein research analysts wrote in a report this month. [....]

The US, encumbered by entrenched interests and aging transactions systems, has been slow to change. But the massive data breach in 2013 at retail company Target helped spur the shift away from the magnetic stripe, an older and more vulnerable way of processing payments. Since then, a change in fraud liability (pdf) has given merchants, like stores and restaurants, an incentive to switch to EMV chip technology that's more secure. Merchants, instead of card issuing banks, have been on the hook for fraudulent magnetic stripe payments since 2015. While the US has lagged behind in NFC and contactless payments, "that is rapidly changing"  given the recent overhaul in payment terminals, Bernstein wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


What Someone Needs to Explain to Trump About 'National Emergencies' (BOB BAUER, JANUARY 11, 2019, Defense One)

It is critical to bear in mind what is at stake here: Congress has exclusive control of the power to appropriate. The expenditure of federal funds without lawful congressional authorization is a criminal offense. Congress could have written into the law the president's unfettered discretion to determine the existence of an emergency. It did not. Courts will not lightly read into the law what Congress does not expressly provide on an issue central to the constitutional separation of powers.

Moreover, the more questionable the case for an emergency, the more unlikely that a court would read the statutory authorizations as broadly as the administration would like. You can only push the courts so far. A president who's trying to advance the most aggressive case for deference to his judgment about an emergency may succeed on that front, and then fail to convince the courts that even with the emergency in place, he has clear statutory authorization for the particular project--in Trump's case, of course, the construction of the "beautiful" steel wall with slats that enable stateside observers to peer through to the other side.

So the first problem the president faces is seeking to exercise discretion under this statute that he does not have. The second is that some of what he has said about the "emergency" undercuts the very claim that there is one. In fact, the president has periodically declared that things are going quite swimmingly at the border, as he did in remarks in meetings with congressional leaders:

A lot of the wall is built. It's been very effective. I asked for a couple of notes on that. If you look at San Diego, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent once the wall was up. El Paso, illegal traffic dropped 72 percent, then ultimately 95 percent once the wall was up. In Tucson, Arizona, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent. Yuma, it dropped illegal traffic 95 to 96 percent.

Now, of course, the administration will argue that these comments merely showcase the virtues of the wall. If walls work in San Diego or Tucson or El Paso, they can be expected to work with similarly spectacular results elsewhere.

The downside of this argument, however, is that to take the president at his word, the administration is making do quite nicely without the declaration of an emergency--and he has pushed his point hard. At Christmastime, he advised the American public that "our country is doing very well ... We are securing our borders," after tweeting two weeks before that, "Border Patrol and our Military have done a FANTASTIC job of securing our Southern Border ..." What, then, supports the need for the use of extraordinary authorities in the name of an "emergency"?

Trump is not helped in answering this question by his other, repeated public utterances on the subject. He and his spokespersons have repeatedly made false statements about the terrorists, drugs, human trafficking, and ordinary criminals crossing over into the United States on foot at the southern border. These claims have been debunked by fact-checking just about everywhere, including at his own State Department. So he starts off in a bad place when claiming legal authority to proclaim an emergency, having both bragged that he is doing quite well without one and then misrepresented the grounds that might exist for such a proclamation if he nonetheless decided to issue it.

Finally, courts will not fail to note the considerable evidence in the president's public statements that he is looking to the national emergency as a tool to resolve a conflict with the Congress. He has said that one way or another, he is going to build the wall, and the shutdown was the first bare-knuckled maneuver to break the stalemate in congressional negotiations. Now he's speaking of an emergency. It is, on its face, a negotiating gambit, apparently also a political rallying cry. But because he is treating the declaration of an emergency as a tactic, he has added considerably to his difficulties in having his "emergency" taken seriously by the courts.

The president's predilection for trampling on his own case brings to mind his unhappy experience with the travel-ban litigation caused by his statements on Twitter and on the campaign trail. Eventually, after considerable trimming and adjustment, the administration was able to do better with a revised executive order and a superseding proclamation. These cases tested difficult questions about the extent to which the president's public utterances--including statements on the campaign trail--invite the examination of the true motives behind executive action.

That Trump eventually survived this scrutiny in the travel cases will have little relevance to his efforts to concoct a national emergency now to support his wall-building project. In the travel-ban cases, the Supreme Court found that he was operating under an immigration law that "exudes deference to the President in every clause."  The National Emergencies Act only "exudes" deference to his decision to proclaim an actual emergency. Moreover, none of the tricky issues presented by campaign-trail statements made prior to the election are present in this instance. Trump has issued a steady stream of statements as president. No one has to engage in any raw speculation or psychological testing to ferret out his motives. He has said what he has said, in clear terms and consistently. These are not slips of the tongue, but one statement after another, most of them separately--and all of them in the aggregate--damning to his legal position on the existence of an emergency.

Commentators looking for illuminating constitutional precedents typically begin with the Youngstown Steel and Tube Co. case, in which the Supreme Court rejected President Harry Truman's claimed authority to direct the secretary of commerce to seize steel-producing facilities. The majority in that case produced two opinions, and other justices wrote as well, so it is fair to say that teasing out lucid doctrine from that case is no simple matter. However, it has become clear over time, from the more developed historical record, that the Court was decisively influenced by the evidence that no steel-shortage crisis existed. There was no emergency, and the Court was aware of this.

And so, for that matter, was the Truman White House. One staff memorandum that later came to light openly acknowledged public skepticism about the claim of emergency and conceded that it was well founded. "The fact is that the public has never believed this contention, and in the face of recent releases of steel for racetracks and bowling alleys, they are even less likely to believe this now."

For this reason, Maeva Marcus, a leading historian of the case, has written: "The Court simply was not convinced of the crisis confronting the nation was sufficiently grave to justify the president's assertion of power." The factual circumstances surrounding the president's claim of authority drove the court's decision. Marcus notes approvingly one commentator's view that "the legal arguments between the two divisions of the Court [in Youngstown] were consequently of little significance; the vital disagreement was over premises." The Truman administration's key premise was an emergency shortage in steel production--and there was none.

Trump has manufactured for himself the same problem from which Truman suffered: an absence of presidential credibility. It is possible, of course, that the courts will let Trump off the hook, giving him more of the benefit of the doubt than Truman enjoyed. Trump would purportedly be acting pursuant to a statute, not on an expansive claim of inherent, constitutional authority. But is also true that when Truman misrepresented the emergency steel shortage, he was at least leading a nation at war.  

It is also worth noting that Trump is repeating another mistake that Truman made. Like his distinguished predecessor, he is flaunting his view of the unqualified "absolute right" to declare this emergency. It never serves presidents well to enter into these constitutional tests with a show of arrogance, especially when their legal footing is far from secure. If Trump doubts this, he might ask legal veterans of the George W. Bush administration how they fared before the courts in advancing confrontational positions on rule-of-law issues in the War on Terror.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


Credit and cash sink as Australians find new ways to pay (Shane Wright, 14 January 2019, SMH)

Conservative Australian shoppers started to wind down their use of cash and credit in the run-up to the key Christmas shopping period, new figures show amid suggestions this year could see record numbers give up their credit cards for good.

Figures from the Reserve Bank released on Monday showed the number of withdrawals out of the nation's network of ATMs at their lowest level for a November since 2001.

ATM transactions dropped by 3.9 per cent over the past year.

The number of credit cards on issue has fallen below 16 million, dropping steadily over the past six months ahead of a string of new rules that started from January 1. They have now fallen to their lowest level since March 2015.

Those laws included a requirement that credit card issuers assess an application based on the ability of the customer to repay the entire credit limit within a three-year period.

Card issuers must also give customers the ability to reduce the limit or cancel their cards online, while they must not charge interest retrospectively on outstanding balances.

As credit card accounts are shut down they are being replaced with debit cards.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


With a Single Action, Eagles Quarterback Nick Foles Just Showed Us What True Leadership Looks Like (Justin Bariso, 1/14/19, Inc)

Despite being unable to get much going in the second half, Foles and the Eagles offense found themselves deep in Saints territory, poised to retake the lead on a final drive. Foles dropped back and threw a bullet to one of his favorite targets, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Except the ball sailed right through Jeffery's hands and was intercepted by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, in effect sealing the game.

Jeffery dropped to the ground, devastated.

 But then, just a few minutes later, this happened:

Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles consoles WR Alshon Jeffery after 4th quarter interception. According to Jeffery, Foles "told me he loved playing with me and we wouldn't have won a Super Bowl without me."

Now that's #leadership.

#Eagles #NickFoles #AlshonJeffery #Eagles pic.twitter.com/iKYwFYMgEn

-- Justin Bariso (@JustinJBariso) January 14, 2019

Now that's what true leadership looks like.

Jeffery hadn't dropped a pass all game. In fact, Jeffery has never dropped a pass in the postseason.

No matter how skilled you are at your profession, you will make mistakes. That's life, and it doesn't matter if you work for a professional sports team or a fast food restaurant.

But here's the thing: It's how you deal with those mistakes that will define the type of influence you have on the people you work with.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM



YEARS BEFORE HE was a potential 2020 presidential candidate, Beto O'Rourke was a city councilman in El Paso--and a leading voice in a high-profile battle with unions representing police and firefighters.

At the height of the conflict, O'Rourke publicly mused about disbanding the police union, calling it "out of control" and lamenting his colleagues' unwillingness to stand up to the powerful political force. A year later, he was calling for "better checks on collective bargaining in the public sector."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


No president has ever been asked: Are you a Russian agent? (Jennifer Rubin, January 13, 2019, Washington Post)

[I]n Trump's concealing and perhaps destroying of records of conversations with Vladimir Putin, the question is raised: Was he destroying evidence of collusion and in fact continuing to collude with Putin? "I'm at a loss to figure out a legitimate much less reassuring explanation for the impounding of his interpreter's notes," former federal prosecutor Harry Litman tells me. "How could intelligence agencies, not to mention the American people, not react to that with extreme alarm?"

There is no logical reason that Trump would be going to such efforts to keep everyone else from knowing what he told Putin if there was not something untoward, embarrassing and/or incriminating in those discussions. Otherwise, those records would be essential for his own senior staff in formulating Trump's desired Russia policy. Not knowing what was said would mean his own aides might work at cross purposes with the president and/or not take advantage of Putin's own words. You tie your administration up in knots in this way only if the discussions didn't concern U.S. policy (but instead Trump's private affairs) and/or there was something compromising in the discussions. The very fact that Putin knows what was said and we don't raises the potential for blackmail.

Let's remember where we started: "No collusion." Since then we've learned of: more than 100 contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, Moscow Trump Tower dealmaking that continued through the 2016 campaign, a June Trump Tower meeting where Russians offered "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, and Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort sharing polling data with a Russian linked to Kremlin intelligence operations.

As if that were not all bone-chilling enough, we saw Trump refuse to flat-out deny he was a Russian agent when asked by Fox News gadfly Jeanine Pirro. Republican senators, when asked on Sunday, didn't offer a complete rebuttal. Far from it. (Asked about subpoenaing the translator to report on the Trump-Putin Helsinki meeting, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz weakly replied, "You know, I think it's premature for that. I've seen the allegations. I want to find out a little bit more about what happened there. I want to learn more than just the allegations in the press.") Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), invariably sober and circumspect, declined to rule out the possibility that the president was knowingly or unknowingly a Russian asset. He said: "Well, Jake, that's the defining question of our investigation and the Mueller investigation."

To many this seems like a bad movie plot. "The Manchurian Candidate scenario, by its very nature, has always been highly implausible," Litman acknowledges. "But the question seems to be becoming 'Is it the least implausible explanation for a long chain of bizarre and worrisome actions by the President?'"

January 13, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


'They screwed the whole thing up': Inside the attempt to derail Trump's erratic Syria withdrawal (Anne Gearan, Josh Dawsey, John Hudson, January 13, 2019, Washington Post)

President Trump dispatched national security adviser John Bolton on a cleanup mission a week ago, with a three-day itinerary in Israel that was intended to reassure a close ally that Trump's impulsive decision to immediately withdraw troops from Syria would be carried out more slowly and with important caveats.

The plan seemed to work at first. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was all smiles, thanking Bolton profusely for the show of U.S. support.

But by the end of the week, attempts to dissuade Trump or place conditions on the withdrawal faded as the U.S. military announced it had "begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria." A multipronged effort to significantly alter or reverse Trump's decision by alarmed U.S. national security officials, foreign allies and Republican hawks in Congress was effectively a bust.

Since Trump's abrupt Syria announcement last month, a tug-of-war with allies and his own advisers has roiled the national security apparatus over how, and whether, to execute a pullout. Netanyahu spoke to Trump two days before the president's announcement and again a day afterward. French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron tried to get the president to change his mind. Even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who liked the policy, was concerned it could not be safely executed so quickly.

The episode illustrates the far-reaching consequences of Trump's proclivity to make rash decisions with uneven follow-through, according to accounts of the discussions from more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials and international diplomats. The president's erratic behavior on Syria cost him the most respected member of his cabinet, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; rattled allies and partners unsure about U.S. commitment to the region; and increased the possibility of a military confrontation between Turkey and Kurdish forces.

...that repeatedly bankrupting businesses and being bailed out by Dad or Vlad wouldn't prepare him to govern?

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Donald Trump reopens door to TPP participation, Asia reset (Jacob Greber, 13 Jan 2019, AFR)

In the final hours of 2018 Donald Trump signed into law an act that reopens the door to a TPP-style deal in Asia.  CARLOS BARRIA

However, the enacting of a new law is a significant step for the Congress and White House, which have delivered a bold statement of intent that the US is determined to stay engaged across the Indo-Pacific on security and trade.

It represents a major effort to assuage allies' concerns that a US withdrawal would create a power vacuum in favour of a more assertive China.

The so-called Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), which Mr Trump ratified without fanfare as one of his final acts on New Year's Eve, includes a call for the US to return to multilateral trade deals, countering the President's own tendency to pursue agreements with individual countries such as Mexico, Canada and Japan.

Responding to questions from The Australian Financial Review, Republican senator for Colorado, Cory Gardner, who spearheaded the law's passage through Congress, described it as an opportunity to "re-engage in trade conversations" including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

So much for Trumponomics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Xi Jinping silences dissent on anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre (Philip Sherwell, January 13 2019, The Sunday Times)

China has launched a sweeping crackdown on social media and internet use as it prepares for the 30th anniversary in June of the bloody suppression of student-led protests in Tiananmen Square.

The internet censor has unveiled a six-month campaign against online "negative and harmful information" even though the highly sensitive milestone is already banned from mention by name.

The government censors the internet widely through a "Great Firewall" of regulation and has recently started prosecuting those who use proxy servers, or virtual private networks, to access banned sites such as Facebook and Google.

President Xi Jinping has a blanket policy of official amnesia about the events of 1989, which marked the greatest challenge to the Communist Party during its seven decades in power.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Trump dodges question on whether he has worked for Russia (DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Jan 13, 2019, The Associated Press)

President Donald Trump avoided directly answering when asked whether he currently is or has ever worked for Russia after a published report said law enforcement officials, concerned about his behavior after he fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017, had begun investigating that possibility.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


The Case for the Longer Term (Tyler Cowen, January 9, 2019, Cato Unbound)

In Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals I argue that we should have two and only two "stubborn attachments" in our social philosophy:

Sustainable economic growth

Absolute human rights

Of those two concepts, economic growth is the focus of the book, and the key point is that economic growth has ethical value. More broadly, I argue for a perspective which is more forward-looking, more oriented toward investment, more respectful of common sense morality (which I see as growth-enhancing), calling for more epistemic humility on the small questions and questions of implementation, and also more utopian in the sense of asking people to focus their attention on how we might make the future a much, much better place, most of all through the medium of economic growth.

If you find it useful to ask whom a book alienates, I would say the emphasis on growth runs contrary to much of the discourse amongst left-wing progressives and egalitarians, and the focus on sustainability might turn off many of those on the current political right.

Behind all that are particular pieces of argumentation, a few of which I will try to summarize.

First, the fundamental problem of moral judgment addressed in the book is one of aggregation. If a choice or policy makes some people better off and others worse off, how are we to weight those competing interests? I respond by finding one case where aggregative judgments are relatively unproblematic. In particular, I believe that life in a much wealthier society is better for virtually everyone. It is much better to live in the United States than Albania, or better to live in Denmark than Burkina Faso. Alternately, you might say that Denmark today is a much better place to live than say Denmark in 1930.

Second, I work backwards from those judgments. If significantly greater wealth is indeed a positive social good, which choices can we in fact endorse? We can endorse choices that bring us to the much wealthier state of affairs, namely higher rates of sustainable economic growth.

As an aside, but an important one, my concept of wealth is broader than most current measures of GDP. We need to adjust GDP for instance to take into account environmental sustainability, the value of leisure time, and the value of possibly unmeasured social indicators, noting that many of the latter are in fact indirectly reflected in GDP. For instance, health matters above and beyond wealth, but still a healthier population is likely to be more productive.

Third, the power of compound returns remains underrated. In the early 1960s, South Korea was as poor as much of sub-Saharan Africa, but since then compound returns have made for a huge difference. Or considering the years 1870 to 1990, if the United States had grown one percentage point less per year, the country would in 1990 have had the same standard of living as Mexico. More abstractly, if you can boost the growth rate by two percentage points a year (by no means a utopian scenario for many emerging economies), after a time horizon of 55.5 years income will be three times higher than it otherwise would have been. Compound growth truly matters.

Fourth, we should not discount the future well-being of humans and also future humans. Significant gains or costs in the future should not dwindle in moral importance simply because they are distant in time. You don't have to believe the discount rate on future well-being should be exactly zero in all circumstances; it suffices to regard the ability to bring about a much, much better and sustainable future as having decisive weight in our current choices. Furthermore, you can believe in this treatment of well-being without denying the appropriateness of the positive discounting of financial flows in a variety of settings, including corporate decision-making.

Mr. Cowen was recently on The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg and I find little to disagree with him about. If anything, I would argue that he blunts his own arguments by not framing them well enough.

Suppose we begin an examination of the proper economic system by simply asking what the point of an economy is, the end, rather than the means.  It seems incontrovertible that the point is to maximize and preserve social wealth.  

Once we establish this first principle, it follows that the means we use to guide that economy should be geared towards efficiency, rendering the greatest value at the lowest possible cost.  Because costs include externalities we capture the concerns for sustainability and future well-being--for example: environmental impacts.

Importantly, the maximization and preservation of wealth suggests the means a tax regime should take: it should punish the consumption of wealth rather than its creation and investment/savings. [The end of taxation being to fund the operations of government.]

But here the rainbows and buttercups end, because of a fundamental reality that we are failing to reckon with: there is nothing instrinsic to an economy that dictates how the wealth it creates should be distributed/redistributed.  And while over the long course of human history we have found it efficacious to use labor as a means of accomplishing that redistribution, labor is just a cost and a system aimed at driving costs down is destined to eliminate the labor cost altogether. Ultimately, this is going to be a political question rather than an economic one and our politics is ill-equipped to deal with it right now. Both parties are still trying to maximize employment.  Neither is even remotely concerned with the economic value of those jobs.  Neither are they concerned with the question of how much spiritual satisfaction can possibly be derived from a job that has no value. Of course, both parties give lip service to the idea that our economic selves are not only not our entire selves but not even our most important selves.  We hear about family, friends, neighborhood, church, voluntary associations, civic groups, parties, etc. but suggest that we should redirect wealth to encourage and enable these superior institutions and folks get their knickers in a twist. 

This, I would argue, is the attachment that Mr. Cowen, perhaps inevitably given his libertarian focus on the individual, misses: enduring social capital.   

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


CNN Poll: Trump bears most blame for shutdown (Jennifer Agiesta, 1/13/19, CNN)

Among those who do see the situation as a crisis, most feel that a border wall would help improve things. The subset who feels that way, however, amounts to only 31% of US adults. [...]

The increase in disapproval for the President comes primarily among whites without college degrees, 45% of whom approve and 47% disapprove, marking the first time his approval rating with this group has been underwater in CNN polling since February 2018. In December, his approval rating with whites who have not received a four-year degree stood at 54%, with 39% disapproving. Among whites who do hold college degrees, Trump's ratings are largely unchanged in the last month and remain sharply negative -- 64% disapprove and 32% approve.

Those whites who do not have college degrees remain in favor of a wall along the border with Mexico (51% favor it, 46% oppose it), but they tilt toward blaming the President for the government shutdown (45% say he is more responsible for it, 39% the Democrats in Congress).

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


Tea With Assad, Hugs With Adelson: An Iraq veteran who endorsed Sanders, Gabbard is hoping to win over progressive Dems with a rare brand of isolationism that even right-wing Evangelicals like (Amir Tibon, Jan 13, 2019, Ha'aretz)

Gabbard's views and actions on this war-torn area can be described as unique and controversial. She has opposed recent American military interventions in the Middle East, often citing her own experience of serving in Iraq to explain why she is so suspicious of American attempts to spread democracy or take down autocrats in the region. This has made her a favorite of many U.S. progressives, who are angry about the "forever wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the same time, Gabbard has developed during her six years in Congress some surprising relationships with right-wing supporters of Israel, who are affiliated with the Republican Party. Her contacts with such groups took place mostly during Barack Obama's time in the Oval Office.

In 2015 she spoke at a conference of Christians United for Israel, an organization that strongly opposes Palestinian statehood and supports Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The organization had a leading role in fighting against Obama's policies in the Middle East. CUFI's leader, Pastor John Hagee, for example, is an outspoken supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump; Hagee was invited by the Trump administration to speak at the ceremony last year marking the transfer of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In 2016, Gabbard received an award from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a New Jersey based Rabbi with close ties to casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the largest donor to the Republican Party. A year before Gabbard attended Boteach's gala dinner and received his "Champion of Freedom" Award, Boteach published full-page advertisements in leading American newspapers in which he accused Obama's National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, of being responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. (Leading Jewish groups denounced the ads, and Boteach later apologized.)

A picture from the 2016 gala dinner, which Boteach uploaded on his Twitter account, shows him and Gabbard together with Miriam Adelson, the Israeli-born wife of Sheldon Adelson and a partner to his political donations to many Republican politicians.

There's nothing odd about co-operation among those who oppose democracy in the Middle East 

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


The Lethal Crescent: Where the Cold War was hot. : a review of THE COLD WAR'S KILLING FIELDS: RETHINKING THE LONG PEACE by Paul Thomas Chamberlin  (Daniel Immerwahr, DECEMBER 20, 2018, The Nation)

Scholars still debate why the Cold War stayed cold. Gaddis, like Orwell, emphasized nuclear weapons, which forced caution on the superpowers. Unwilling to gamble on all-out war, Washington and Moscow sought to contain, not destroy, each other, and they largely stuck to their own spheres of influence. They pressed frequently on the boundaries of those spheres, but just as often, they backed down from conflict.

That pattern can be seen clearly in the first true Cold War crisis in Europe, Joseph Stalin's 1948 blockade of the Western-controlled parts of Berlin, a city located in the middle of the Soviet zone of occupied Germany. Harry Truman could have gone to war over this, but he didn't. Instead, he responded with a creative workaround, a round-the-clock stream of planes that flew 2.3 million tons of supplies to the city's sealed-off sectors. In a swaggering show of abundance, one squadron developed the habit of parachuting candy to Berlin's overjoyed children. For his part, Stalin could have shot the planes down, but he didn't. Instead, after 11 humiliating months and more than a quarter-million overflights, he reopened the roads. Not a single shot was fired.

But is Berlin a good stand-in for the entire Cold War? Perhaps not. Just as Stalin and Truman were facing off over that contested capital, a similar showdown was taking place nearly 5,000 miles away in Changchun, a prosperous provincial capital in Manchuria. As with Berlin, communist forces--this time under the leadership of Mao Zedong--controlled the zone around the city, but Changchun itself remained under the control of Chiang Kai-shek's Guomindang government. As with Berlin, Mao closed the roads to the city.

Yet here this tale of two cities diverges. Mao didn't expect Chiang to relinquish Changchun peacefully. Rather, the point of his five-month blockade was (as one of Mao's generals put it) to "turn Changchun into a city of death." The trapped, starved, and freezing residents started dying in the streets. "There were corpses everywhere," recalled the general charged with defending the city. "It had become a living tomb." The siege very likely killed more people than the bombing of Hiroshima did, with estimates between 120,000 and 200,000.

Many more people died in the campaign that followed. On the eve of his victory, Mao bragged to Stalin that his forces had killed more than 5 million since 1946, though between 2 million and 2.5 million killed on all sides seems like a sturdier number. But however many millions of people died, one thing was clear: The contrast between Berlin and Changchun--planes dropping candy versus corpses in the streets--represented a larger divide. The Cold War in Europe may have been a patient chess game, or a Long Peace. But in Asia, it was a bloodbath.

Paul Chamberlin's eye-opening The Cold War's Killing Fields offers us a precise, painful account of the Cold War as narrated from the Changchuns of the world rather than the Berlins. His focus is not on the capitals where grand strategies were spun, as in Gaddis's telling, but on the blood-soaked locales where those strategies took their greatest toll. By Chamberlin's calculations, more than 20 million people died in conflicts related to the Cold War.

What makes the Cold War so deeply unjust is that we had the capacity to end it throughout.  The reality of Mutual Assured Destruction was that both US and Russian leaders were assured that only the latter was mortally threatened.  Had Curtis LeMay been allowed to decapitate the regime in the 40s-50s untold millions of lives could have been saved, along with incalculable levels of human suffering:

The General and World War III: Curtis LeMay believed that the only sure nuclear defense was to launch a preëmptive first strike. During the Cuban missile crisis, he almost did it. (Richard Rhodes, 6/19/95, The New Yorker)

[W]hen LeMay took his ideas for a sac war plan to his superiors in the Air Force, he proposed that "the primary mission of sac should be to establish a force in being capable of dropping 80% of the stockpile in one mission." By then he was confident, he assured them, that "the next war will be primarily a strategic air war and the atomic attack should be laid down in a matter of hours." The Air Force agreed: the plan that resulted entailed destroying seventy Soviet cities in thirty days with a hundred and thirty-three atomic bombs, causing up to 2.7 million deaths and another four million casualties. American air-power strategists had a name for such an attack as LeMay was proposing: "killing a nation."

In the spring of 1953, a committee headed by retired Air Force General James Doolittle proposed giving the Russians a two-year deadline to come to terms and attacking them if they failed to do so (thus using the wasting asset to force a decision). The following year, President Eisenhower rejected this bizarre nuclear ultimatum and issued an updated Basic National Security Policy statement: "The United States and its allies must reject the concept of preventive war or acts intended to provoke war."

At the outset of the Korean War, in 1950, LeMay had asked the Pentagon, as he said later, to "turn sac loose with incendiaries" on North Korea; Truman's advisers had rejected such a blitzkrieg of mass destruction. sac was ultimately authorized to bomb urban and rural North Korea anyway, piecemeal, and carried out its assignment brutally, burning out cities and breaking big agricultural dams, scouring out entire valleys of peasant villages and rice paddies as far as twenty-seven miles downstream, spreading the agony across the years of war. More than two million North Korean civilians died in that campaign, a little-known toll comparable to civilian losses in Japan during the Second World War. "Over a period of three years or so," LeMay remembered, "we killed off--what--twenty percent of the population of [North] Korea. . . . This seemed to be acceptable to everybody; but to kill a few people at the start right away, no, we can't seem to stomach that." Such inconsistencies further undermined LeMay's trust in Presidential decisiveness. If deterrence had to be his formal strategy, he would also prepare darker strategies against the hazard that deterrence might fail.

Since preventive war was not an available remedy to the enlarging Soviet capacity for a first strike, sac was authorized to plan for preëmption--for beating the Soviet forces to the punch if intelligence indicated they were beginning a first strike. The C.I.A. estimated that the Soviet Union would need a month to assemble and deliver its small stock of nuclear weapons. The Joint Chiefs ordered sac to assign highest priority to a "blunting mission" that would take out Soviet airfields first upon Presidential determination that a Soviet attack had begun, followed by attacks on advancing Soviet troops, followed finally by attacks on cities and government control centers.

LeMay had no interest in dribbling out his forces on three disparate missions. The Soviets might need a month in 1954 to deliver their arsenal of about a hundred and fifty atomic bombs; his thousand and eight bomber crews, once deployed, could deliver as many as seven hundred and fifty bombs in a few hours. The sac commander continued to believe obstinately that the most effective attack would be his "Sunday punch": simultaneous assault from all sides with everything in the stockpile. According to documents analyzed in International Security by the defense consultant David Alan Rosenberg, Captain William Brigham Moore, a Navy officer, attended a sac standard briefing on March 15, 1954, kept notes, and came away appalled: "The final impression was that virtually all of Russia would be nothing but a smoking, radiating ruin at the end of two hours." During the post-briefing question period, someone asked LeMay what course he would advocate if hostilities were renewed in Korea--by then at truce. He answered that he would drop a few bombs in China, Manchuria, and southeastern Russia. "In those 'poker games,' " the Navy captain quotes LeMay, "such as Korea and Indo-China [where the French were then engaged], we . . . have never raised the ante--we have always just called the bet. We ought to try raising sometime."

By 1954, Curtis LeMay had apparently begun raising the ante with the Soviet Union on his own, covertly and extralegally. Reconnaissance overflights of the Soviet Union had begun no later than 1950. LeMay used these flights not only to gather electronic and photographic intelligence; he also used them to probe Soviet air defenses, knowing as he did so that he might be provoking war. There is testimony that he may have meant to do just that. If he could not initiate preventive war, he seems to have concluded, he might be able to push the Soviets to sufficiently high levels of alert to justify launching a full preëmptive attack. He linked reconnaissance with provocation in an interview after he retired:

There was a time in the 1950s when we could have won a war against Russia. It would have cost us essentially the accident rate of the flying time, because their defenses were pretty weak. One time in the 1950s we flew all of the reconnaissance aircraft that SAC possessed over Vladivostok at high noon. Two reconnaissance airplanes saw MiGs, but there were no interceptions made. It was well planned, too--crisscrossing paths of all the reconnaissance airplanes. Each target was hit by at least two, and usually three, reconnaissance airplanes to make sure we got pictures of it. We practically mapped the place up there with no resistance at all. We could have launched bombing attacks, planned and executed just as well, at that time.

Soviet defense forces had no way of knowing if LeMay's crisscrossing reconnaissance aircraft carried nuclear weapons or not. If Soviet aircraft had crisscrossed American cities under similar circumstances, sac would certainly have preëmpted. The Soviets hunkered down, because they had no adequate response, but their lack of defenses predictably emboldened LeMay.

In 1954, LeMay remarked to a reconnaissance pilot whose plane had been damaged by a MiG-17 while over the Soviet Union, "Well, maybe if we do this overflight right, we can get World War III started." The pilot, Hal Austin, told the documentary filmmaker Paul Lashmar that he assumed LeMay was joking, but years later, after LeMay retired, Austin saw him again and "brought up the subject of the mission we had flown. And he remembered it like it was yesterday. We chatted about it a little bit. His comment again was, 'Well, we'd have been a hell of a lot better off if we'd got World War III started in those days.' "

Unfortunately, not only did we fail to end the Soviet ,Union we also pretended that they were our peers.  Not only did we treat them as if they were a serious threat, as in the Cuban Missile Crisis--when we could have destroyed them with impunity--we also treated them like a plausible regime:

Kissinger regularly mixed violence and the threat of it with diplomacy, so that the diplomacy had credibility. He preserved what he saw as the legitimate order, in which the Soviet Union was both contained and accepted, so that revolutionary chaos was confined to the edges of the superpower battlefield, in the Third World. (In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite -- notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan.)

While RWR obviously deserves great credit for reversing the narrative and denying their permanence and legitimacy, he was, unfortunately, a leader among those who elevated them as a military threat.  Essentially, we ended up with a dynamic where left, right and center over-estimated the USSR all for their various--often conflicting--purposes, making the USA an effective guarantor of the manifestly failed evil state.

Bill Kristol's most recent Conversations, with Stephen Rosen touches on many of these themes before getting to China.  Like the Cold Warriors before him, Mr. Rosen overestimates the potential of the PRC (the size of the economy of 1.3 billion people can look large, but it masks a GDP per capita of $9k in a state with imploding demographics), but he does plumb its greatest weakness: The Party is terrified of its own citizenry in a way that it is not clear the Soviets ever were.  They spend as much or more on internal security as they do on external.  This affords us tremendous opportunities.  Besides supporting independent nationhood for Hong Kong, Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet and Uighurstan, the removal of the North Korean regime would serve to destabilize China proper and we could make disrupting the Great Firewall a focus of our military policy. As important as any concrete actions is a change in our rhetoric. Rather than treat them as a Great Power, as we did the USSR, we need to constantly diminish them and aggresively deny their legitimacy and potential for any future significance. They are a fine source of cheap labor, but little more, and as we develop other Third World countries and switch to robotics they'll be displaced from even that minimal role.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Listening to the Bible With David Suchet  (Michael De Sapio, 1/13/19, Imaginative Conservative)

Mr. Suchet's delivery combines force and gentleness--the phrase "power in reserve" comes to mind. He does not give us the nicey-nice Jesus of popular lore; there is an uncompromising sternness and irony in His speeches. When He denounces the hypocrisy of the scribes, the words sting. Never do you sense that Mr. Suchet is simply doing a celebrity gig, or offering the Bible as a literary monument; he truly believes in the words. There is in his reading a humility and directness likely belonging to Mr. Suchet himself.

I bet that the power of David Suchet's Gospel reading derives, in part, from Hercule Poirot. Mr. Suchet has spoken in interviews about the appeal of the Belgian sleuth--of how he is a "great moral compass" who "when you're with him, you feel everything's all right in the world." As a foreigner in England, Poirot is able to mix with all strata of society; he particularly gets along well with and has compassion for the servant class. He's an excellent listener, able to see into the workings of a person's psychology. In the denouement, when Poirot reveals the identity of the culprit, he becomes the instrument of divine justice, bringing what is hidden to light.

A good rehearsal, I should think, for embodying the Son of God and the poets and prophets of the Old Testament. Despite all his roles on stage, film, and television, Mr. Suchet's Bible will stand as one of his signature accomplishments. 

I would say that David Suchet is, in his low-key way, an evangelist--a rare thing in today's world and especially in the acting profession. Drama and the faith are not often yoked together, but this is a mistake and listening to Mr. Suchet's work reminds us of the relationship.

An actor--particularly a fine classical actor like Mr. Suchet--studies the context behind the words he speaks and attempts to enter into the spirit of the times when they were written. Not too dissimilar, when you think about it, from how a thoughtful person should approach the text of the Bible. Such a reader uses rational analysis to bring out proper emphasis, to pace and punctuate, to bring linguistic intelligence and psychological insight, to create audible rhetoric that leaps from the page. To read Jesus' parables with these principles in mind is not unlike reciting a soliloquy of Shakespeare.

The experience of audible reading used to be an everyday part of our culture. In the nineteenth century American homes were furnished with the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, and both were often read aloud by the hearth. Elocution was a widely taught art, and crowds willingly stood to hear lengthy speeches and debates. A stock of popular literature, passed on by voice, created a common literacy. Even more, it helped connect people to the physicality of words, making the text more than merely intellectual.

Nowadays we hear the Bible read in installments at our weekly liturgies (not usually by David Suchet, alas), but sustained reading aloud is rare. Most of our reading is silent and abstract. Yet reading out loud is irreplaceable. It is a social act, incarnating the words and message in a personal way. In hearing the Bible read, the Word takes flesh before us.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Gregory Lewis on the Hammond B-3 (Adam Perlmutter, 1/04/19, Jazz Times)

"Piano's great," Gregory Lewis says. "But the organ--I don't want to say it's better, but it's just different. You have more power and control, and I do like to be in control when I'm playing."

Lewis, a New York-based keyboardist and composer, is both one of the modern jazz masters of the Hammond B-3 organ and a Thelonious Monk specialist. His latest release--Organ Monk Blue, a trio with guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Jeremy Clemons--is one of four albums on which he finds his own voice within Monk's music. Like many B-3 players, he learned to play piano before taking up the organ. He got serious about the Hammond while studying at the New School in New York and likens the process of transferring his keyboard skills to the instrument to learning to drive a stick shift. [...]

1954 saw the introduction of the B-3, which would prove to be the company's most popular model. In the 1950s and '60s, it emerged as a commanding voice in jazz and popular music. Jimmy Smith used the instrument to set the prototype for the jazz organist, using its bass pedals to mimic an upright bassist, while at the same time playing virtuosic lines with both hands. Rock and R&B musicians like Steve Winwood, Keith Emerson, Booker T. Jones, and Billy Preston harnessed the instrument's growling sounds to excellent effect.

Though the B-3 produces a massive wall of sound, Lewis finds that he doesn't need to adjust his conception of the keyboard to reduce sonic clutter. He tends to approach a Monk composition like "Little Rootie Tootie," with its dense chordal accents in the A section, just as he would if at the piano. "I definitely don't shy away from those 10-note chords," he says. "They sound monstrous on the B-3, and it works really well for some reason. Maybe it's the same idea as in gospel, where the power can make churchgoers very emotional."

January 12, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration (Greg Miller January 12, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Was Modernism Meant to Keep the Working Classes Out? : In the 19th century, more working class readers started partaking in contemporary fiction. Modernist literature, however, was specifically not for them. (Matthew Wills, January 9, 2019, J Stor Daily)

The first working-class libraries, which originated in Scotland, concentrated on religious books. Some banned fiction outright; into the early nineteenth century, fiction was considered too avant-garde for the general reader. The popularity of Walter Scott's Waverley novels started to change that. But, as scholar Jonathan Rose details, "a kind of cultural conservatism" lingered for nearly two centuries among working-class readers in the British Isles.

The "cultural lag" was partly economic: new books and periodicals were expensive. Rose, who has made an extensive study of the intellectual life of the British working class, quotes a Welsh collier born in 1871:

Volumes by living authors were too high-priced for me...Our school-books never mentioned living writers, and the impression in my mind was that an author... must be dead; and that his work was all the better if he had died of neglect and starvation.

This helps explain the nineteenth-century mania for Shakespeare; Victorian "Bardolatry" was driven by working class audiences. As Rose writes, however, the "long-term trend in the West [was] away from a common public culture and toward increasingly differentiated and fragmented audiences."

Meanwhile, by the late nineteenth century, inexpensive reprints of classics by authors such as Swift, Pope, Fielding, Byron, and the Greek philosophers were becoming popular. Many of these were cheap because they were out of copyright. This occurrence, combined with the growth of public education, soon had ordinary folks reading more and more books, including seeking out more contemporary writers. Rose has an interesting theory about how this trend helped to create the literary movement of modernism:

The intelligentsia was driven to create literary modernism by a profound loathing of ordinary common readers. The intellectuals feared the masses not because they were illiterate but because, by the early twentieth century, they were becoming more literate, thanks to public education, adult education, scholarships, and cheap editions of the great books.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


THE BORDER PATROL HAS BEEN A CULT OF BRUTALITY SINCE 1924 (Greg Grandin, January 12 2019,The Intercept)

SINCE ITS FOUNDING in the early 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol has operated with near-complete impunity, arguably serving as the most politicized and abusive branch of federal law enforcement -- even more so than the FBI during J. Edgar Hoover's directorship.

The 1924 Immigration Act tapped into a xenophobia with deep roots in the U.S. history. The law effectively eliminated immigration from Asia and sharply reduced arrivals from southern and eastern Europe. Most countries were now subject to a set quota system, with the highest numbers assigned to western Europe. As a result, new arrivals to the United States were mostly white Protestants. Nativists were largely happy with this new arrangement, but not with the fact that Mexico, due to the influence of U.S. business interests that wanted to maintain access to low-wage workers, remained exempt from the quota system. "Texas needs these Mexican immigrants," said the state's Chamber of Commerce.

Having lost the national debate when it came to restricting Mexicans, white supremacists -- fearing that the country's open-border policy with Mexico was hastening the "mongrelization" of the United States -- took control of the U.S. Border Patrol, also established in 1924, and turned it into a frontline instrument of race vigilantism. As the historian Kelly Lytle Hernández has shown, the patrol's first recruits were white men one or two generations removed from farm life. Some had a military or county sheriff background, while others transferred from border-town police departments or the Texas Rangers -- all agencies with their own long tradition of unaccountable brutality. Their politics stood in opposition to the big borderland farmers and ranchers. They didn't think that Texas -- or Arizona, New Mexico, and California -- needed Mexican migrants.

Earlier, in the mid-1800s, the Mexican-American War had unleashed a broad, generalized racism against Mexicans throughout the nation. That racism slowly concentrated along an ever-more focused line: the border. While the 1924 immigration law spared Mexico a quota, a series of secondary laws -- including one that made it a crime to enter the country outside official ports of entry -- gave border and customs agents on-the-spot discretion to decide who could enter the country legally. They had the power to turn what had been a routine daily or seasonal event -- crossing the border to go to work -- into a ritual of abuse. Hygienic inspections became more widespread and even more degrading. Migrants had their heads shaved, and they were subjected to an increasingly arbitrary set of requirements and the discretion of patrollers, including literacy tests and entrance fees.

The patrol wasn't a large agency at first -- just a few hundred men during its early years -- and its reach along a 2,000-mile line was limited. But over the years, its reported brutality grew as the number of agents it deployed increased. Border agents beat, shot, and hung migrants with regularity. Two patrollers, former Texas Rangers, tied the feet of one migrant and dragged him in and out of a river until he confessed to having entered the country illegally. Other patrollers were members of the resurgent Ku Klux Klan, active in border towns from Texas to California. "Practically every other member" of El Paso's National Guard "was in the Klan," one military officer recalled, and many had joined the Border Patrol upon its establishment. [...]

In 1993, the House Subcommittee on International Law, Immigration, and Refugees held hearings on Border Patrol abuse, and its transcript is a catalogue of horrors. One former guard, Tony Hefner, at the INS detention center in Port Isabel, Texas, reported that "a young Salvadoran girl" was forced to "perform personal duties, like dancing the Lambada, for INS officials." (In 2011, Hefner published a memoir with more accusations of sexual abuse by, as Hefner writes, the INS "brass"). Roberto Martinez, who worked with the San Diego-based U.S.-Mexico Border Program for the American Friends Service Committee, testified that "human and civil rights violations" by the Border Patrol "run the gamut of abuses imaginable" -- from rape to murder. Agents regularly seized "original birth certificates and green cards" from Latino citizens, "leaving the victim with the financial burden of having to go through a lengthy process of applying for a new document." "Rapes and sexual abuse in INS detention centers around the United States," Martinez said, "seem to be escalating throughout the border region."

Brutality continued as Washington further militarized both the border and broader immigration policy -- first after the 1993 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and then years later with the creation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 attacks. Since 2003, Border Patrol agents have killed at least 97 people, including six children. Few agents were prosecuted. Last year, a 19-year-old Guatemalan Maya woman, Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzáles was killed, shot in the head by a still-unnamed Texas Border Patrol agent shortly after she entered the United States. According to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union, young girls apprehended by the Patrol have been physically abused and threatened with rape, while unaccompanied children have experienced "physical and psychological abuse, unsanitary and inhumane living conditions, isolation from family members, extended period of detention, and denial of access to legal medical service."

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Is India Becoming a Hindu Pakistan? (Mihir Sharma, January 10, 2019, Bloomberg)

A decades-old accord set the date beyond which cross-border migration became illegal at 1971, the same year that Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan. Now, the government is demanding people prove they or their parents arrived before then -- an absurd process that, if carried to its logical end, would require India to set up internment camps for literally hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. (Some camps have already been built.) The government hopes, through the new citizenship rules, to ensure that no non-Muslims are caught up in this sweep of "foreigners."

Assam's sub-nationalists are furious: They don't want to welcome any outsiders, Hindus included. Yet the government is facing a tight reelection later this year, and at least some BJP strategists appear to hope that anti-Muslim sentiment will serve as a wedge issue elsewhere in India -- especially in nearby West Bengal state.

Personally, I doubt that will work; like Assam, West Bengal is one of those parts of India where ethnicity has traditionally counted for more than religion. In the religiously polarized north and west of India, however, the law might help the BJP mobilize a few million extra voters.

Surely even a few million votes aren't worth allowing India to lose a seven-decade old argument and accept that Jinnah's "two-nation theory" was correct after all? Is an election victory worth making India's 170 million Muslims feel unwelcome in their own country?

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


GM accelerates China push with electric Cadillacs (SHUJI NAKAYAMA, 1/13/19, Nikkei)

General Motors is preparing to sell electric versions of its luxury Cadillac brand, challenging Tesla and other high-end competitors in China's growing market for environmentally friendly vehicles.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


'In the White House waiting': Inside Trump's defiance on the longest shutdown ever (Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker and Seung Min Kim January 12, 2019, washington Post)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the president that he had no leverage and that, without a clear strategy, he would be "boxed in a canyon." He tried to make the case to Trump that even if Pelosi and Schumer were interested in cutting a deal with him, they would be constrained from compromising because of internal Democratic Party pressures to oppose Trump's wall, these officials said.

Then-House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) talked with Trump by phone for 45 minutes the day before the shutdown, warning that he saw no way to win as he paced in a Capitol hallway just outside a conference room where House Republicans were meeting. Then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned about the perils of a shutdown during the Christmas season. 

Inside, some of the more hard-line members urged a showdown over border wall funding, arguing that Trump's core supporters would revolt otherwise. But McCarthy asked, "Tell me what happens when we get into a shutdown? I want to know what our next move is."

A senior White House official characterized Republican leaders as "supportive" throughout the shutdown.

Trump's advisers are scrambling to build an exit ramp while also bracing for the shutdown to last weeks longer. Current and former aides said there is little strategy in the White House; people are frustrated and, in the words of one, "freaking out."

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Brazil president says he wants free trade with 'the entire world' (Reuters, 1/12/19)

Latin America's largest economy is also one of the world's most restrictive. The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, last year ranked Brazil 153 out of 180 countries in its Index of Economic Freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Why China Clings to State Capitalism (Robert SamuelsonJanuary 09, 2019, Washington Post)

 In a new book -- "The State Strikes Back: The End of Economic Reform in China?" -- economist Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics argues that, until a few years ago, China seemed to be moving gradually toward a system of private enterprise.

In 1978, when Deng Xiaoping launched China's present economic reform, state-owned firms dominated the economy. Now, according to Lardy's estimates, private firms account for roughly 70 percent of the country's output (gross domestic product).

The reversal came after Xi Jinping assumed leadership of the Communist Party in 2012 and, later, the presidency. He changed course, favoring state-owned firms, as Lardy shows by citing loans to businesses.

In 2013, 57 percent of loans went to private firms and 35 percent to state-controlled firms. By 2016, there had been a stunning reversal; state firms received 83 percent of loans, compared with 11 percent for private firms. Much of this lending came from state-owned banks.

This relates to a larger issue: the ferocious debate, mostly among economists, over China's future economic growth rate. In the decade leading up to the 2007-09 Great Recession, GDP growth averaged 10 percent annually. Since then, it has dropped to a 6 percent to 7 percent range, and some economists predict it will ultimately fall to a 2 percent to 4 percent range.

Many theories have been advanced to explain this shift. After years of fast growth, it's said, China has exploited most existing technologies. It will now act more like a "normal" economy. Or: China has too much debt, limiting expansion. Or: China's population is rapidly aging, hampering labor force growth.

Lardy dissents. He attributes the slowdown mainly to two factors: a declining trade surplus and the misguided decision to favor state-owned firms, which he regards as monstrously inefficient. He reports that the profitability of private-sector firms is more than double that of state-controlled companies.

The PRC has no future, but it can speed its own demise.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Kamala Harris Is Hard to Define Politically. Maybe That's the Point. (Astead W. Herndon, Jan. 12, 2019, NY Times)

Longtime strategists and admirers of Ms. Harris believe she is well positioned to create electoral coalitions among Democrats desperate to beat Mr. Trump, partly because she is not tethered to any one of the divergent and sometimes warring factions of the party. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday morning, Ms. Harris was asked, "Why would you want to be president?" and responded by citing the need for leaders who have a "vision of our country in which everyone can see themselves."

"Her message of unity, that's the key," said Valoree Celona, a 50-year-old insurance executive who came to the 92nd Street Y with friends. "If she can get people to have that hope again, that's what's important. That's what President Obama did."

But Ms. Harris would also need to grapple with Democratic rivals who are more ideologically liberal and may try to move the debate to the left in ways that could force difficult choices for her. [...]

Reviews of Ms. Harris's book have been mixed, as critics have accused her of not adequately grappling with several controversial stances she took as California attorney general and others have characterized it as overly reliant on political clichés.

In the memoir, which was released simultaneously with a children's book by Ms. Harris called "Superheroes Are Everywhere," she repeatedly writes that she does not believe in "false choices." This can mean both meaningful workers' rights and a strong economy, she writes at one point, but she also applies the concept to police accountability and public safety.

"I know how hard it is for the officers' families, who have to wonder if the person they love will be coming home at the end of each shift," Ms. Harris writes. "I also know this: It is a false choice to suggest you must either be for the police or for police accountability. I am for both. Most people I know are for both. Let's speak some truth about that, too."

Sean Clegg, a longtime political adviser who is expected to play a senior role in any presidential campaign from Ms. Harris, said that if she ran she would discuss issues like income inequality, but that the message would be coupled with a call for partisan healing. [...]

Sarah Weiss, a 33-year-old book editor, said she was disappointed by Ms. Harris's talk, especially after the heavy policy focus of Ms. Warren's trip to Iowa.

"My concern is that she's not liberal enough, and she talks in clichés that are kind of meaningless," Ms. Weiss said of Ms. Harris. "She keeps saying there's more that connects us than divides us, but at this time in politics, it seems like that's not enough."

It's more than enough if, unlikely as it is, Donald is running in 2020.  It's inadequate against Nikki.

Kamala Harris Is Laughing (David Catanese, Jan. 10, 2019, US News)

[O]ne highbrow takeaway from all the talk is that she loves to laugh. And she's pretty good at it.

"I love her laugh," one man was overheard saying as he walked out of GW's Lisner Auditorium on Wednesday night after listening to Harris field questions from Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post for about an hour.

A week after Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts faced a critique that uncorked a touchy debate about "likeability" - and whether that wholly subjective evaluation should be made about female candidates - Harris is proving herself to be a comfortable conversationalist, bubbly and engaging, and prone to openly cackling at her own wisecracks.

In other words, she's likeable. Even to those well outside of her political ideology.

"Really likeable," declared blogger Jennifer Rubin of the Post after watching her on "The View."

"Dare I say it, I find her likeable," said Jim Antle, editor of The American Conservative, following her first book event.

Harris' likeability derives from a relaxed disposition that presents someone who doesn't take herself too seriously and genuinely appears to be having a good time - even as she prepares to embark on the most audacious venture of her life.

She's literally laughing her way through the process, with a wink and a shrug and promise of more to come soon.

To George Stephanopoulos, she laughed at how her late mother would characterize the country's political situation. ("It is a hot mess!") On "The View," she laughed at her own quip as to why the U.S. should use paper ballots in elections. ("Russia can't hack a piece of paper!") And at GW, she laughed so hard recalling a story about her razor-close race for attorney general, the audience began to laugh at her extended laughter.

At a time when the nation is on the brink of a daily meltdown, Harris is having fun - and inviting you to do so, too.

"I've never heard anybody call Kamala Harris dislikable," Republican commentator Ana Navarro said on CNN following the network's interview with the 2020 candidate-in-waiting. "Maybe it's not a woman thing. Maybe it's an Elizabeth Warren thing."

Minyon Moore, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton who is uncommitted ahead of 2020, says Harris "has a great command of the issues, mixed with a lot of wit. ... She's going to be a force."

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


What Happened to Bioethics? (Yuval Levin, Summer/Fall 2018, New Atlantis, ) 

[C]ritics of the research, and most prominently President George W. Bush himself, tried to offer a kind of case for moderation -- for finding a way to advance medicine while also respecting some boundaries on research, by insisting there was room and time for ethics.

By moderation I don't mean finding some mushy middle or avoiding controversy. Bush certainly didn't do that. I mean moderation in the deepest sense -- a moderation that consists of properly balancing genuinely competing practical goods by grounding our judgments about them in a commitment to the moral principles at the foundation of our society. That's what a durable moderation in politics would require, and I think it's also a kind of definition of statesmanship: prudence in defense of principle.

Bush tried to do this in two different ways in the course of his presidency. First, in setting his administration's funding policy, he said that the government would fund research using embryos that had already been destroyed before the policy was announced but would not permit federal dollars to be an enticement to further embryo destruction. Whether he found it or not, he was seeking a principled middle ground.

And second, particularly in his second term, Bush emphasized funding research on scientific alternatives to embryo research, and especially on ways of giving non-embryonic cells the characteristics of embryonic stem cells, to avoid the need to destroy embryos. [...]

Under the Bush administration's compromise policy, 21 viable stem cell lines were eligible for research. Today the number is 398, including 20 that have been added since the Trump administration began. But that number offers a misleading impression of the direction of policy.

In fact, funding for embryonic stem cell research has not grown that dramatically since the end of the Bush years. In 2008, the NIH spent $88 million on the research. This year it is set to spend $266 million. That's a lot of money, but it's nothing like the explosion of support researchers expected and Democrats promised once the Bush policy was undone. It's only half as much as the $516 million set to be spent this year on non-embryonic human stem cell research, and 15 percent of all NIH spending on stem cell research -- human and animal, embryonic and adult.

Even more telling, spending this year for research on so-called "induced pluripotent human stem cells" -- that is, adult cells induced to function like embryonic stem cells -- will be fifty percent higher than the amount spent on human embryonic stem cell research. Roughly the same was true over the last three years of the Obama administration. That's telling because the category of induced human pluripotent stem cells didn't even exist for most of the time that the debate over the Bush stem cell policy was going on, and it's fair to say that the category came into being, or at least got a very big boost, as a direct result of Bush's policy itself.

Bush's prohibition on funding for newly created lines of embryonic stem cells propelled the development of alternatives, and therefore encouraged work on developing cells that have the same properties as embryonic stem cells but can be generated without destroying human embryos. This new category of cells could well turn out to be more significant for the advancement of cell biology than embryonic stem cells themselves. The pattern of NIH funding certainly suggests researchers in the field think it is already. And it can, at least in part, be considered an achievement of the Bush policy, and of the prioritization of human life and human dignity in this area of policy.

But of course, neither these new cells nor embryonic stem cells have so far yielded anything like the miracle cures that some politicians were promising a decade ago. That's the most significant story on the stem cell front over this period of relative political calm around the issue: Stem cell science has proven valuable for better understanding developmental biology, but its direct application for therapies looks further off and more implausible now than it did ten and fifteen years ago.

This isn't necessarily a scientific setback: Better understanding the nature of cells and of human development is very important. But as with the more complicated promises of genomics and other flashy subfields of biology, investment in research, rather than opening up a direct path to therapy, often turns out to reveal a more complicated scientific reality. That is what scientific progress often involves.

This argues for humility in the political case for medical research, and it might also argue in particular for taking the time and making the effort to seek scientific paths around threats to human dignity and life in medical research, rather than setting the advance of medicine and the protection of vulnerable human life in opposition to each other. It argues for moderation, rightly understood, and for putting medical research in perspective in a way that makes room for ethics.

Government is exceptionally good at forcing innovation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Maduro Kicks Off Second Term With an Economic Disaster of His Own Making (Alex Vasquez  and Andrew Rosati, January 10, 2019, Bloomberg)

Since Maduro was elected in 2013 after Chavez died, the country has been brought low by mismanagement, corruption and the oil industry's collapse. In 2018, exports of crude, which once made the the nation South America's wealthiest, plummeted to a three-decade low of 1.25 million barrels a day. That's ravaged a population that now grapples with Soviet-style shortages, soaring prices and malnutrition.

"Last year was catastrophic, the worst I can remember," said Betty Diaz, who runs a soup kitchen in Petare, a hillside slum in eastern Caracas. Diaz feeds 130 children daily, but began turning teenagers away in favor of the youngest and most desperate. "For many of the children, the only meal a day they eat comes from us, but it's harder and harder for us to provide; every day it's more expensive."

Rolling blackouts and crumbling public services are endemic in countryside and capital alike. In Caracas, residents line up at mountainside springs to fill jugs and bathe children, while the hungry pick through garbage bins. Any plastic trash bag left on the street is methodically slit and sorted.

People are fleeing as they face both hunger and hyperinflation, which according to Bloomberg's Cafe Con Leche Index stands at almost 225,000 percent. Some 3 million Venezuelans now live abroad, and thousands more leave every day. The exodus has overwhelmed Venezuela's neighbors, but regional leaders have been unable to coordinate a response that would make Maduro change course -- and the outflow lowers pressure for change.

On Thursday, the Organization of American states voted to not recognize Maduro's second term, while Paraguay formally broke relations, the first South American country to do so.

Last week, Colombian President Ivan Duque stood alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and called on governments to "unite to reject the dictatorship of Venezuela and make all the necessary efforts to restore democracy." Twelve Latin American nations plus Canada -- the so-called Lima Group -- urged Maduro last week to hand over power to the opposition-led National Assembly and call fresh elections.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Bolsonaro Was Not Elected to Take Brazil as He Found It: Latin America's biggest democracy has a bigger global role to play. (Ernesto Araujo, January 7, 2019, Bloomberg)

We want to promote freedom of thought and freedom of expression around the world. This is essential to promote any other sort of change and any other sort of freedom. Bolsonaro's election in Brazil was only possible because people could freely exchange their ideas and express their feelings unencumbered by mainstream media's straitjacket. This lesson is priceless.

Unfortunately, today's world has countries where thought is directly controlled by the state. It also has countries, mainly in the West, where thought is indirectly and insidiously controlled by the media and academia, leaving very few places untouched by Wittgensteinian death-of-the-subject oppression. Brazil has now shown that it is possible to break free and, through the sheer force of speech, transform the political reality of a country of 200 million people and peacefully dismantle a decades-old system of crime and corruption with courage, determination and sincerity.

We also want to promote peace and security in our region and everywhere. But you don't promote peace and security by pretending that the threats you face either don't exist or can't realistically be addressed. You have to face the threats, and the main one comes from non-democratic regimes that export crime, instability and oppression. You can't simply wish away dictatorships such as Venezuela and Cuba. Especially when you don't even wish. Especially when you let them preserve and extend their power, with the excuse that this is "the world as we found it" or "the natural march of things."

And we want, of course, to expand trade. Brazilian trade policy, as part of our foreign policy, has slumbered for too long. We are determined to negotiate trade, investment and technology deals with all our partners, in an ambitious and creative way, exploring different models with different partners, always with the concrete needs of the productive sector in mind.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Tulsi Gabbard: how a progressive rising star is a paradox for the left (Sabrina Siddiqui, 10 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

[G]abbard's critics say her views on foreign policy and tolerance for dictators such as Bashar al-Assad deserve another look.

As one of the few Democrats to meet with Donald Trump following his election, Gabbard's unorthodox positioning has drawn scrutiny at a time when progressives have rallied their midterm messaging around opposition to the president. Her highly controversial visit last year to Syria, where she met with Assad, also raised eyebrows both nationally and at home.

"The wake up call, for most of us, came when Gabbard met with Trump soon after his inauguration and then with Assad, instead of marching on DC with us and the rest of the Hawaii's congressional delegation during the Women's March in protest of what has become an unprecedented abolition of human and civil rights in America," said Sherry Alu Campagna, an environmental scientist who is among Gabbard's most well-known primary challengers. [...]

In 2015, Gabbard was among a minority of Democrats who voted for additional restrictions on refugees entering the US from Syria and Iraq. She has also previously expressed "skepticism" that the Assad regime is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria, and aligned herself with nationalist figures such as Narendra Modi of India.


LONG BEFORE THE Indian strongman Narendra Modi became prime minister of the world's largest democracy, he was a prominent leader of the Hindu right. He rose as a public figure through the nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, whose ideology includes a desire to carve out a Hindu nation in which Muslims and Christians are considered second-class citizens. It was a well-known activist who once had links to the RSS who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, accusing him of appeasing Muslims during the bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent.

That anti-Muslim sentiment has been a major driving force of Modi's political career in the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. In 2002, when Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat, he oversaw an outbreak of violence by Hindu nationalists against the minority Muslim population that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. Local and international fact-finding groups accused Modi of complicity in the killings, charging that he did not do enough to contain the violence. Indian courts eventually exonerated him for a lack of evidence, but his image was pilloried. The United Kingdom and some European countries refused to deal with him and in 2005, the United States barred him from entering the country.

Modi's ascent has normalized nationalist rhetoric, the silencing of dissent, and violence against religious minorities in India -- and it's also had global implications. Elected prime minister in 2014, he was one of the first of a class of populist autocrats who've risen to power in recent years. That group includes Egypt's Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was elected in the same month as Modi; Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been in office for more than a decade but has been increasingly consolidating power; Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whose war on drugs has killed thousands of people; Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected in October despite his pro-military dictatorship stance; and, of course, America's Donald Trump.

In the United States, Modi's reputation has been helped by a group of Hindu-American supporters with links to the RSS and other Hindu nationalist organizations, who've been working in tandem with a peculiar congressional ally: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, the first Hindu in Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Christian Group Reported Expenses for Having Russians at National Prayer Breakfast (Jonathan Larsen, with additional research by Dylan Digel, Jan 11, 2019, TYT)

A Christian charity with ties to the National Prayer Breakfast reported unspecified expenses associated with having Russian guests attend the event in 2017 and possibly other years, federal tax documents show.

The guests may have included people picked by convicted Russian agent Maria Butina as part of a plan to create back-channel connections with U.S. policy-makers, many of whom attend the breakfast. One leader of the charity appears to match details the FBI has given about an unnamed breakfast organizer who aided Butina.

In her plea agreement, Butina admitted to acting as an agent of the Russian government without registering with the Justice Department.

The FBI says that Butina and her handler -- widely reported to be Alexander Torshin, a Russian official said to be close to President Vladimir Putin -- attended the breakfast to influence U.S politics. The tax records reviewed by TYT represent the first indication they may have received direct financial support in their efforts.

"[I]n furtherance of the conspiracy," Butina's plea deal says, "Butina helped [Torshin] organize a Russian delegation to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast... [Torshin] directed Butina to include certain people."

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Bolton's Big Iran Con (JOE CIRINCIONE, 1/12/19, Defense One)

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats certainly does not agree with Bolton. He testified to the Senate last year that Iran "wants to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" which expressly forbids Iran from ever having nuclear weapons. He said that the accord "has also enhanced the transparency of Iran's nuclear activities, mainly by fostering improved access to Iranian nuclear facilities." That is, we have increased our already formidable ability to detect any Iran violations. The International Atomic Energy Agency concludes, and U.S. intelligence agencies agree, that Iran remains in strict compliance with the deal that shrank and then largely froze its nuclear complex.

In his 2017 statement, "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community," Coats was crystal clear on the issue of intent: "We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons." That is, Bolton has no basis for his statement. "We" -- the U.S. intelligence agencies--do not believe that Iran is committed to building nuclear weapons.

Nor is this a new judgement, one that Bolton might have somehow missed in the press of his duties. Paul Kerr, in his comprehensive 2018 report for the Congressional Research Service, finds: "Since at least 2007, the U.S. intelligence community has issued unclassified assessments that Iran has not decided whether to develop nuclear weapons. According to the 2007 NIE, 'Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons' until fall 2003, after which Iran halted its nuclear weapons program 'primarily in response to international pressure.'"

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


The new citizenship bill and the Hinduisation of India (Al Jazeera, 1/12/19)

On January 8, India's lower house of parliament approved a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to undocumented non-Muslim immigrants, sparking protests in the country's northeast. The protests took place mainly in the state of Assam, where millions of people were accused of being foreigners and effectively stripped of their citizenship last year.

The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which still needs the approval of the upper house of parliament, seeks to amend the 1955 Citizenship Act to make Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from three Muslim-majority countries - Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan - eligible for Indian citizenship. This would mean migrants belonging to these religious communities who entered India without the necessary documents prior to 2014 would not be imprisoned or deported and would gain permanent citizenship after six years of residency in India.

The government says the bill aims to provide succour to persons who have been persecuted in their homelands because of their religious identities and who have "nowhere else to go but India". The proposal assumes persons who identify as Muslim cannot be persecuted in Muslim-dominated countries, and therefore excludes all Muslim immigrants. Hence, members of the Ahmadiya and Shia communities of Pakistan, despite being persistently targeted by extremists, would not be able to seek refuge in India. 

The bill has been widely criticised for attempting to make religion an eligibility criterion for Indian citizenship - an act that would fundamentally alter the secular character of India.

....is being persecuted.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York Times's Latest Bombshell (Benjamin Wittes, January 11, 2019, KLawFare)

Shortly before the holidays, I received a call from New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt asking me to meet with him about some reporting he had done. Schmidt did not describe the subject until we met up, when he went over with me a portion of the congressional interview of former FBI General Counsel James Baker, who was then my Brookings colleague and remains my Lawfare colleague. When he shared what Baker had said, and when I thought about it over the next few days in conjunction with some other documents and statements, a question gelled in my mind. Observers of the Russia investigation have generally understood Special Counsel Robert Mueller's work as focusing on at least two separate tracks: collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, on the one hand, and potential obstruction of justice by the president, on the other. But what if the obstruction was the collusion--or at least a part of it?

Late last year, I wrote a memo for Schmidt outlining how I read all of this material, a memo from which this post is adapted.

Today, the New York Times is reporting that in the days following the firing of James Comey, the FBI opened an investigation of President Trump. It wasn't simply the obstruction investigation that many of us have assumed. It was also a counterintelligence investigation predicated on the notion that the president's own actions might constitute a national security threat:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president's behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow's influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

The following is an adaption of the memo I sent Schmidt. I have updated it in important respects in light of the reporting in the Times's actual story. The analysis remains, however, tentative; I want to be careful not to overread the threads of evidence I am pulling together here.

The analysis that follows is lengthy and takes a number of twists and turns before laying out what I think is the significance of the whole thing. Here's the bottom line: I believe that between today's New York Times story and some other earlier material I have been sifting through and thinking about, we might be in a position to revisit the relationship between the "collusion" and obstruction components of the Mueller investigation. Specifically, I now believe they are far more integrated with one another than I previously understood.

There's this fun thing the Trumpbots do where they start from the premise that there was nothing wrong with Vlad interfering in the election and nothing wrong with Donald and company seeking his help to do so, then, on that basis, assume that the only basis for the investigation must be some kind of grand conspiracy among private political consultants and FBI staffers who don't like their hero.  It's sublime.

Senate intel committee grilling ex-Trump campaign members in Russia probe (Katy Tur, 1/11/18, NBC News)

"They are doing an exhaustive investigation," Nunberg told NBC News after his interview, which he said appeared to be "narrowly focused on collusion." [...]

Nunberg, who sat with committee staff for four and half hours, said he was asked repeatedly about how Trump formulated his policy positions regarding Russia. Trump has voiced support for numerous foreign policy positions beneficial to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nunberg said he told the committee that Trump, as a candidate, said "he would take the position that he was happy Russia was in Syria."

At the time, Nunberg said that position raised no red flags because he saw it as consistent with Trump's generally held view that the United States should not be involved in the Middle East. Nunberg said the campaign was getting questions at that time about how he saw U.S. involvement in Syria.

Also of interest to investigators, Nunberg said, was the campaign's relationship with the National Rifle Association and efforts by a Russian national to get a meeting with Trump through the NRA. Nunberg says he told investigators Friday that he was aware of efforts by Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty last month to conspiring with a Russian official to interfere in American politics, to seek a meeting with Trump, using the NRA as a conduit.

Investigators also peppered Nunberg with questions which suggested to him that they were trying to pin down specific relationships among members of Trump's campaign and organization and outside actors, including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. [...]

Nunberg said he was surprised by the interest in a Moscow tower since the campaign's official position was that it would not seek new foreign deals. Nunberg said he was asked to review public statements, emails, tweets and text messages obtained by investigators related to potential Russian interference.

Nunberg described the committee's investigation as professional and bipartisan. "If I were the White House, I would be concerned," said Nunberg, who joined the campaign early but was fired in August 2015 after racially charged Facebook posts were uncovered. He later apologized.

Unlike the House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation, which was shuttered by Republicans last spring over the protest of Democrats, the Senate committee's probe has proceeded deliberately and in a largely non-partisan manner. Led by Burr and Ranking Democrat Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel has broken its probe into five parts and began releasing preliminary findings and recommendations last fall.

Darn, the adults are in charge now.

January 11, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Dem Rep: Stop Drunk Driving by Requiring Breathalyzers in Cars (Nic Rowan, January 11, 2019, Free Beacon)

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D., Mich.) has a plan to reduce drunk driving: Put breathalyzers in all vehicles.

Dingell announced Thursday she would introduce legislation to require car manufacturers to install breathalyzers, called ignition interlock devices, to ignition systems of all new cars. Before starting a car, drivers would have to self-submit to a breathalyzer test. If a driver's blood alcohol content is above the legal limit, the car will not start.

The pot breathayzer next.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


Trump stops short of emergency declaration in border wall fight (Richard Cowan, Steve Holland, 1/11/19, Reuters) 

President Donald Trump said on Friday he would not declare a national emergency "right now" to end a standoff over border security that has idled large swaths of the U.S. government, all but guaranteeing that he will preside over the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Why are Republicans accused of racism? Because we're silent on things like this. (Tim Scott January 11, 2019, Washington Post)

When people with opinions similar to King's open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole. They want to be treated with fairness for some perceived slights but refuse to return the favor to those on the other side.

Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism -- it is because of our silence when things like this are said. Immigration is the perfect example, in which somehow our affection for the rule of law has become conflated with a perceived racism against brown and black people.

The Purge We Need: It's past time for the GOP to expel the mouth-breathers and bigots who are ruining the party. (CHARLES SYKES  JANUARY 11, 2019, The Bulwark)

[T]he push to oust Shafi was never about his actual positions on issues. The campaign to oust him began in August with a post on the "Protect Texas" Facebook page, denouncing him as "a practicing, Mosque-attending muslim who claims not to follow sharia law or know what it is." "As a practicing muslim that is an overt falsehood." wrote GOP activist  Sara Legvold. "Sharia law is anathema to our Constitution because Islam recognizes no other law but shariah. As the most conservative county in the nation, this is a demoralizing blow to the conservative rank and file of the Republican Party across the nation and in Texas." Levgold warned against what she saw as the Islamization of the GOP.

Those of us who follow this islamisation (sic) issue closely are very concerned at this infiltration of the nation's most conservative county and the ramifications to our continuing to remain a red State. The conservative base of the Republican Party has always been the conscience and moral compass of our Party and the fact that alleged conservatives are enabling this is disconcerting and must surely alarm us. ...The Big Tent with "diversity" and "inclusion" as its cornerstones will continue chipping away at the morale of the rank and file Republicans who vehemently oppose this push.

As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported, others also chimed in. "Please explain to me ... why we need a Muslim in the SREC in Tarrant County! There are no Conservative Muslims or Moderate ones!" a woman named Vicky Underhill posted on the "Republican Women of Arlington" Facebook page.

It never got any better. When other Tarrant GOP officials and stepped forward to defend Shafi, the anti-Shafi activists began to call for their removal as well. When Texas's Republican governor, Greg Abbott came to Shafi's defense, Protect Texas lashed out. "Governor Abbott came out in support of the Islamization of our Republican Party of Texas today. How's that for shariah compliance?"

And they doubled down on the ugly.

The "Protect Texas" page provides a glimpse into what the GOP faces. is a cesspool of anti-Muslim memes and white supremacist links. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Progressive Groups Blast Bustos for Tapping Moderate Dems for DCCC Leadership Team (Cameron Cawthorne, January 10, 2019, Free Beacon)

Several progressive organizations blasted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, on Wednesday for announcing a leadership team consisting entirely of pro-business Democrats from the New Democrat Coalition.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D., Ill.), who was recently elected to be the DCCC chairwoman, announced her racially diverse team of two women and four men, but she received backlash for not tapping any members from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has over 95 members and is the largest single bloc in the House Democratic Caucus.

Donald too would be too far Left to serve.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Pompeo's Cairo speech panned as 'tone-deaf,' 'hyper-partisan,' 'offensive' (Laura Rozen, January 10, 2019, Al Monitor)

Pompeo's speech "was a regurgitation of what they have been saying for two years. There was nothing new, and it was offensive," former career US diplomat and ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Al-Monitor. "That they think that anyone still wants to hear about Barack Obama's 2009 Cairo speech -- get over it."

"You own the issue now, you own the policy," Feierstein continued. "People want to know what you are going to do, not what you think Barack Obama did wrong. And on that score, there was nothing there, Just a lot of empty rhetoric of all things they are going to do and how wonderful the United States is and it never occupied anybody. So what."

Pompeo's speech is unlikely to reassure American allies and partners frustrated by constantly shifting Donald Trump administration positions on the region that they are not properly consulted about, said former FBI and Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt.

"I do not think they [the Trump administration] fully appreciate the level of anxiety among our allies and potential allies in the region and beyond in Europe in terms of how reliable we are as a partner," Levitt, now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor.

"It is not just the decision to withdraw US forces in Syria," Levitt continued. "Much more than that, it is the way the decision was arrived at and announced. [US Syria envoy Jim] Jeffrey said one thing one day, Trump says the opposite the next day. ... People can't keep up with the pace of the back and forth, ping pong. The lack of clarity, the lack of procedure in the policy making process -- the allies see that."

"While it is great to go to the region in a time of anxiety to reassure people you mean to have a reinvigorated role in the Middle East, it is not enough to say it," Levitt said.

The extensive swipes in the speech at the previous administration were also discomfiting, Levitt said.

Whether it is done by Republicans or Democrats, "I always felt uncomfortable when Americans travel abroad and hang out dirty laundry," he said.

"Embarrassing and shameful speech by the small, hyper-partisan Trump suck-up Pompeo," Ellen Tauscher, a former undersecretary of state for arms control in the Obama administration and a former member of Congress, wrote on Twitter. "There's not a 'non-partisan statesman' pore in his body."

"Seriously. A joke. They really are struggling along with the C team only two years in," a former US diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor of Pompeo's speech. "Honestly, it'll be forgotten in about five minutes."

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM



The imminent Financial Services Committee announcement would take some sting out of several disappointments for the Congressional Progressive Caucus's high-profile rising stars, who on Wednesday were largely shut out of new assignments to three critical committees where they sought expanded representation.

The Progressive Caucus had cut a deal with Pelosi for increased representation on the so-called money committees that handle most domestic legislation. They sought membership on the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Appropriations, and Financial Services committees equal to their roughly 40 percent membership in the Democratic caucus.

Progressive Caucus members did receive several new assignments announced Wednesday night, but only hit 40 percent on Ways and Means, on which progressives had already achieved a 40 percent threshold in the previous Congress. As of now, the total averages out to 38.3 percent across all three, but those numbers will rise to 41.8 percent if three committee members join the CPC as expected.

According to numbers provided by the Progressive Caucus, membership increased on Ways and Means from 42 percent to 54 percent. Energy and Commerce moved from 29 percent to 31 percent, and Appropriations held steady at 36 percent.

Progressives have also asked for increased representation on the Financial Services Committee, with jurisdiction over Wall Street, whose makeup is still to be determined. So far, though, the caucus's most prominent figures have not been given new committee assignments on the three major committees. Ocasio-Cortez; Tlaib; CPC co-chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; and vice chair Ro Khanna, D-Calif., all vocally pushed for inclusion on the money committees. Justice Democrats waged an outside campaign on their behalf, and other organizations engaged in petition drives and marched on Pelosi's office. None of that was successful, showing the limits of an outside campaign on an insider issue like committee assignments.

The party is neo-liberal, not Progressive.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Prosecutors Examining Ukrainians Who Flocked to Trump Inaugural (Kenneth P. Vogel, Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Iuliia Mendel, Jan. 10, 2019, NY Times)

Serhiy Kivalov, a Ukrainian lawmaker known for pro-Russian initiatives, took photos of the dance, as well as of his coveted tickets and passes to the soiree where it took place, the Liberty Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, posting them on Facebook and declaring that "it was an honor" to attend.

He was one of at least a dozen Ukrainian political and business figures who made their way to Washington for the inauguration, several of whom attended the Liberty Ball. Most had more on their dance cards than just parties.

They attended meetings and orchestrated encounters at Trump International Hotel with influential Republican members of Congress and close allies of President Trump. Representing a range of views, including a contingent seen as sympathetic to Moscow, they positioned themselves as brokers who could help solve one of the thorniest foreign policy problems facing the new administration -- the ugly military stalemate between Russia and Ukraine and the tough sanctions imposed on Moscow following its seizure of Crimea. [...]

Evidence of the Ukrainians' presence eventually prompted interest from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as he investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, and has spawned a number of related inquiries by federal prosecutors. The investigations are playing out against growing indications that some of the Ukrainians who came to Washington for the inaugural, or their allies, were promoting grand bargains, or "peace" plans, that aligned with Russia's interests, including by lifting sanctions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


More and more states are seeing job openings outnumbering jobless (Reuters, 1/09/19)

In October, there were 7.1 million job openings nationwide, about 1 million more than the number of unemployed workers. The spread was widest in the Midwest, where there were 463,000 more openings than jobless workers, and in the South, where the spread was 317,000. The spread was 77,000 in the West and 51,000 in the Northeast.

January 10, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Populists in Power Around the World (Jordan Kyle & Limor Gultchin, :7th November 2018, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change)

Populism has two essential features. First, it holds that the people are locked into conflict with outsiders. Second, it claims that nothing should constrain the will of the true people.

Populism draws an unbridgeable divide between the people and outsiders. The people are depicted as "morally decent . . . economically struggling, hard-working, family-oriented, plain-spoken, and endowed with common sense", in the words of sociologist Rogers Brubaker.18 The people are defined in opposition to outsiders, who allegedly do not belong to the moral and hard-working true people. While many studies of populism define the essential social conflict as between the people and the elite, this report uses the more general term "outsiders", because populists as often stoke divisions between marginalised communities as between marginalised communities and elite.

From there, populists attribute a singular common good to the people: a policy goal that cannot be debated based on evidence but that derives from the common sense of the people.19 This general will of the people, populists argue, is not represented by the cartel of self-serving establishment elites who guard status quo politics.

There are three main strategies that populists use to stoke this insider-outsider division:

* a political style in which populists identify with insiders;

* an effort to define and delegitimise outsiders; and

* a rhetoric of crisis that elevates the conflict between insiders and outsiders to a matter of national urgency.

One of the most enjoyable things about Nationalism is that it claims unique virtue for the in-group, a unique threat from the out-groups, and a unique set of crises and it claims these things no matter where it is advocated, no matter when, no matter by whom and no matter against whom. It's quite precious from without.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


For Trump, Storming Out of a Meeting Is a Signature Ploy (Shannon Pettypiece  and Margaret Talev, January 10, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's decision to abruptly storm out of a meeting with congressional leaders on Wednesday shocked some on Capitol Hill. But those who have done business with him recognized it as one of his trademark negotiating tactics.

Long before he entered the White House -- where the latest turn on his heel occurred -- Trump was known to have done the same thing when a deal wasn't going his way. He even walked out of a judge's chambers during divorce proceedings.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


Visibly shaken Netanyahu blows live TV address (Ben Caspit, January 9, 2019, Al Monitor)

"It was the appearance of someone who finally put two and two together, who suddenly understood that he lost control over his situation and his fate," said a senior Israeli political figure who was loyal to Netanyahu for a long time, adding to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, "Evidently he understood that the attorney general is really going to indict him and announce his decision even before elections."

Netanyahu made a number of mistakes on the way to the appearance. They began at five p.m., when his office spread the word that the prime minister would deliver "a dramatic announcement" at eight p.m. In Israel, that kind of buildup can cause panic and sweep an entire country with crazy rumors. This is exactly what happened on Monday afternoon. As the clock ticked closer to eight, Netanyahu's people understood the terrible mistake they had made and tried to lighten the atmosphere.[...]

"He lost touch with reality," one of Netanyahu's ministers told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity after the broadcast. "He thinks this is a reality show and that he is the director."

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Groom wins NIS 30,000 damages after injuring his foot breaking the glass (Times of Israel, 1/10/19)

A Tel Aviv court has awarded a groom NIS 30,000 ($8,000) in damages after he injured his foot performing the glass breaking ritual at his wedding ceremony.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Kamala Harris Ready To Enter Race For President, Sources Say (DOUG SOVERN, JANUARY 09, 2019, KCBS)

Sen. Kamala Harris has decided to run for president in 2020 and will announce her candidacy on or around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, probably at a campaign rally in Oakland, sources close to the freshman senator from California tell KCBS Radio.

Obviously Mrs. Obama is their optimal candidate, but Ms Harris becomes the immediate front-runner in her absence.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Pacific trade deal spurs Canadian farm sales to Japan as U.S. watches (Rod Nickel, 1/10/19, Reuters)

A trade deal among Pacific nations - called the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) - took effect on Dec. 30 among the first six of 11 member countries to ratify it, including Canada, Japan and Australia.

CPTPP's real prize, Canadian exporters say, are reduced Japanese tariffs for beef, pork, wheat and canola oil. Japan is the world's third-largest beef importer and seventh-largest wheat buyer, often buying top-quality supplies to meet consumer demand for soft, white breads and beef raised on grain not grass.

For Canada, following a year of volatile relations with the United States and China, the deal offers a rare opportunity to seize market share from the United States, which withdrew from the pact after President Donald Trump took office.

Canada's opportunity illustrates the risks of Trump's drastic trade actions. Farmers are key Trump supporters, but they have been among the hardest-hit from a trade war with China.

U.S. beef packers such as Tyson Inc and National Beef Packing Co also stand to lose, while Canadian grain exporters Richardson International and Viterra [VILC.UL] may gain.

At the Tokyo beef buffet, enthusiasm about Canadian beef transcended borders.

"The interest was as high as I've ever seen," said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, who has been visiting Japan since the 1980s. "This new agreement is one of the most significant opportunities we've seen since the original NAFTA (North American Free Trade) agreement was signed."

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Test of steel prototype for border wall showed it could be sawed through (Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley, 1/10/18, NBC News)

President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as "absolutely critical to border security" in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


Before Trump, Steve King Set the Agenda for the Wall and Anti-Immigrant Politics (Trip Gabriel, Jan. 10, 2019, NY Times)

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive?" Mr. King said.

Dude, you're at least supposed to pretend there's another reason you oppose immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Reform Bid Said to Be A No-Go For Trump (ADAM NAGOURNEY, FEB. 14, 2000, NY Times)

The new interim head of the Reform Party, Pat Choate, described Mr. Trump as a ''hustler'' last night, and said he had never believed that Mr. Trump had any interest beyond promoting himself and a new book that happened to be published at exactly the time he started his light schedule of campaign travel.

''Donald Trump came in, promoted his hotels, he promoted his book, he promoted himself at our expense, and I think he understands very fully that we've ended the possibilities for such abuse of our party,'' Mr. Choate said. ''We're taking our party back to our very principles, and exploiters such as Donald Trump will not be able to exploit us again -- and he realizes it.''

''We saw no evidence that he was a serious candidate at all,'' Mr. Choate said. ''All this was, was a serious hustle of the media, and I think the media should send him a massive bill on it.''

Mr. Trump apparently anticipated such speculation -- which, in fact, is fairly common in political circles -- and in his statement went out of his way to say that this was more than a frolic. ''For those who suggest that this has just been a promotion, I want to strongly deny that,'' he said.

He said that although his book and his businesses had probably benefited from the exposure his campaign generated, ''I did not launch my exploratory campaign for that reason.''

Mr. Trump painted a fairly dark picture of the Reform Party in his statement, noting the role of Mr. Buchanan, along with the roles of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and Lenora Fulani, the former standard-bearer of the New Alliance Party and an advocate of Marxist-Leninist politics.

''The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani,'' he said in his statement. ''This is not company I wish to keep.''

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Shutdown's economic damage: $1 billion a week: The mounting toll is adding new risks to the Trump administration's economic hopes for 2019. (VICTORIA GUIDA 01/09/2019, Politico)

The roughly 800,000 government employees who are either furloughed or working without pay will be forced to start slashing their consumer spending when paychecks don't appear this week. Private-sector contractors and other workers tied to the government are already seeing damage from lost business.

And a hit to the nation's financial standing is on the horizon with a warning from Fitch Ratings on Wednesday about downgrading the government's credit rating if the shutdown persists.

Estimates from President Donald Trump's chief economist peg the cost to the overall U.S. economy at about $1.2 billion for each week the shutdown persists.

People seem unable to compute the fact that a tanking economy is a desirable outcome for Nativists as it makes America a less desirable destination.
Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Texas landowners prepare wall fight; Trump to visit border (NOMAAN MERCHANT, 1/10/19, AP) 

As President Donald Trump travels to the border in Texas to make the case for his $5.7 billion wall, landowner Eloisa Cavazos says she knows firsthand how the project will play out if the White House gets its way.

The federal government has started surveying land along the border in Texas and announced plans to start construction next month. Rather than surrender their land, some property owners are digging in, vowing to reject buyout offers and preparing to fight the administration in court.

"You could give me a trillion dollars and I wouldn't take it," said Cavazos, whose land sits along the Rio Grande, the river separating the U.S. and Mexico in Texas. "It's not about money."

Only Keystone made them love eminent domain this much.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


People older than 65 share the most fake news, a new study finds (Casey Newton, Jan 9, 2019, The Verge)

Older Americans are disproportionately more likely to share fake news on Facebook, according to a new analysis by researchers at New York and Princeton Universities. Older users shared more fake news than younger ones regardless of education, sex, race, income, or how many links they shared. In fact, age predicted their behavior better than any other characteristic -- including party affiliation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


Report: US sanctions threaten Russian plans for passenger jet (Reuters, 01.10.19)

US sanctions have cut off imports of foreign components needed to produce Russia's first post-Soviet mainline commercial aircraft, threatening its production schedule, the newspaper Kommersant reported on Thursday.
Russia hopes the MS-21, a twin-engine, medium-range passenger plane, will give Boeing and Airbus a run for their money. Three prototypes have been built and the plane had been set to enter serial production in 2020.
But Kommersant, citing a senior government official and Russian aviation industry sources, said US sanctions had cut off imports of components from the United States and Japan that were needed to make the plane's wings and part of its tail fin.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Trump's team had over 100 contacts with Russian-linked officials, report shows (Christal Hayes, 1/10/19, USA TODAY)

"This wasn't just one email or call, or one this or that," said Talia Dessel, a research analyst for the left-leaning organization. "Over 100 contacts is really significant because you don't just have 100 contacts with a foreign power if there's nothing going on there."

The organization used publicly available court documents and reporting to tally up the number of contacts. Each meeting and message was counted as a separate contact.

The number of contacts was raised to 101 this week after it was reported that Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, a former campaign aide, shared polling data with Manafort's former Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik. 

Dessel noted the group's list of contacts is on the "conservative" end and the "very minimum amount of contacts" between Russian-linked officials and those within the Trump campaign and transition. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 AM


Yemen soldiers killed in Houthi drone attack on base (BBC, 1/10/19)

A drone attack on a Yemeni government base by the rebel Houthi movement has reportedly killed at least six soldiers and injured several senior officials.

A video appeared to show one drone exploding above al-Anad base, in Lahj province, during a military parade.

Sky News Arabia said army chief of staff Gen Abdullah al-Nakhi and Lahj governor Ahmed Abdullah were hurt.

A Houthi-run TV channel said the rebels had targeted personnel from the Saudi-led coalition backing the government.

January 9, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Trump Storms Out of White House Meeting with Democrats on Shutdown (Nicholas Fandos and Michael Tackett, Jan. 9, 2019, NY Times)

 President Trump slammed his hand on a table and stormed out of a White House meeting with congressional leaders on Wednesday after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said she would not fund a wall along the southern border, dramatically escalating the confrontation over the government shutdown.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Exclusive: Mueller Is Holding Top Secret Intelligence That Will Sink the Trump Presidency (John R. Schindler, 01/09/19, NY Observer)

What really ought to worry the president and his inner circle is what Mueller knows about the election and has yet to reveal. The Special Counsel doesn't have to disclose to suspects how it knows certain things, and it's apparent that Mueller and his investigators asked Manafort about his dealings with Kilimnik, which he lied about--and the ostrich jacket connoisseur is now trying to come clean before he gets a de facto life sentence in prison.

That Mueller knew about Manafort's 2016 dealings with Kilimnik is no surprise, given that the two men communicated frequently for many years, and the Special Counsel seized all of those communications from Manafort. But how did Mueller know about their secret Madrid meeting in early 2017, despite Manafort's denials?

The answer lies in a highly secretive intelligence program run by the National Security Agency (NSA). It's called travel tracking and its existence, like so many NSA top-secret operations, was revealed by Edward Snowden, the disgruntled agency IT contractor who fled to Moscow in June 2013 with over a million classified documents from the NSA and other U.S. spy agencies.

Travel tracking means that the NSA and its Five Eyes Anglosphere intelligence partners know who's going where by air, and when, anywhere. They can even crack into WiFi and mobile phones in flight, according to top secret-plus documents stolen and leaked by Snowden. Unless you're traveling under alias documents of the kind issued by higher-end spy services, the NSA and its close friends know where you're headed.

There ends the mystery of how Mueller and his investigators knew about Manafort and Kilimnik's off-record rendezvous in Madrid at the beginning of Donald Trump's presidency. It also means that the Special Counsel knows the truth regarding Michael Cohen's alleged summer 2016 trip to Prague to parley with Kremlin spies on behalf of his then-client, our 45th president.

"Mueller really does know everything," joked a former Intelligence Community (IC) senior official whom I've known for years. "The IC gave the Special Counsel everything we had that might be of relevance to their investigation, most of it came from NSA." Which hardly surprises, since something like 80 percent of the actionable intelligence in the IC emanates from the NSA, the world's most productive spy agency.

Fmr Fed Prosecutor: It Doesn't Get Much More 'Collusive' Than Manafort Sharing Poll Data with Kilimnik (Matt Naham, January 9th, 2019, Law & Crime)

Former federal prosecutor and current CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said Wednesday on New Day that this was a revelation with potentially serious implications. While Manafort's attorneys spent the majority of their response to Mueller's allegations arguing that the special counsel has no proof Manafort "intentionally lied," they also noticeably failed to redact information.

Here's what one of those redactions said:

In fact, during a proffer meeting held with the Special Counsel on September 11, 2018, Mr. Manafort explained to the Government attorneys and investigators that he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he was engaged with work related to the presidential campaign. Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort's mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed. The same is true with regard to the Government's allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.

In short, Manafort said that he didn't lie about sharing polling data related to the Trump campaign, he just needed his memory jogged. It wasn't the first time, however, that Manafort has been accused of offering high-level Russians insight on the Trump campaign. Manafort allegedly offered Vladimir Putin-connected Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska "private briefings" on the 2016 Trump campaign -- an oligarch he apparently owed millions of dollars.

Honig said that the detail of Manafort sharing polling data is significant.

"The campaign chair is the campaign. The campaign was sharing polling data with someone known to be connected to Russian intelligence," he said. "Is it collusion in the everyday non-legal sense before Rudy Giuliani started using the word? Sure. What could be more collusive than the top guy in a campaign with a Russian operative giving him the most sensitive data a campaign has?"

"Could it be a crime? Yes," Honig continued. "It is a federal crime to solicit or attempt to receive foreign election aid."

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Iranian Leader Calls Trump Officials 'First Class Idiots' During Pompeo Mideast Tour (Davis Richardson • 01/09/19, ny oBSERVER)

...they're third rate at best.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


What was the president really saying last night? (Jeffrey Salkin, 1/09/19, rELIGION nEWS sERVICE)

Did you watch the President's speech last night?

If so, then you might have noticed something.

Its main theme was fear. Fear of "them." Fear of being overrun. Fear of crime. Fear of drugs. Fear of....

Whatever else you might want to say about his speech, whatever other inquiries you might want to make into the veracity of his remarks, that was what was going on.

Pure, unadulterated fear. His speech was a binder bulging with fears.

Fears have a way of becoming pathological. When that happens, they become phobias.

Phobias have a way of migrating into hatred -- to the extent that we often confuse phobia with hatred, as in homophobia, Judeophobia...

Oh, right.

Xenophobia. The fear of foreigners/the hatred of foreigners.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Why Would Any Man Not Want to Be Bald? (Edith Zimmerman, 1/09/19, The Cut)

[I] say, objectively, why would any man resist going bald? It's so attractive, it boggles my mind. If I were a guy, I'd be excited. I'd kneel beside my bed at night and pray for it. Baldness signals testosterone (well, complicatedly), wisdom, and manliness; why would anyone fight that? I know we're all different, but honestly why would anyone have any other opinion on this topic?

Bald guys are hot. Bald guys are no-nonsense, bald guys have other things to think about. Bald guys aren't using a bunch of hair supplies, bald guys have more time to spend doing attractive and useful things, like building houses and making jokes. Bald guys are magnificent. Bald guys seem to have seen something more of life. Bald guys know things, if you know what I mean.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Trump's National Address Escalates Border Wall Fight (Peter Baker, Jan. 8, 2019, NY Times)

[P]rivately, Mr. Trump dismissed his own new strategy as pointless. In an off-the-record lunch with television anchors hours before the address, he made clear in blunt terms that he was not inclined to give the speech or go to Texas, but was talked into it by advisers, according to two people briefed on the discussion who asked not to be identified sharing details.

"It's not going to change a damn thing, but I'm still doing it," Mr. Trump said of the border visit, according to one of the people, who was in the room. The trip was merely a photo opportunity, he said. "But," he added, gesturing at his communications aides Bill Shine, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, "these people behind you say it's worth it."

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


TV: Shin Bet chief warns a 'foreign country' is trying to influence elections (Times of Israel, 8 January 2019)

The head of the Shin Bet security services warned that a foreign state "intends to intervene" through cyberattacks in Israel's national elections in April, local television reported Tuesday.

Though Nadav Argaman's statements Monday were made during an event hosted by Friends of Tel Aviv University attended by a large crowd, Israel's military censor is barring from publication much of what he said, according to Hadashot TV news.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Can religious and civil marriage coexist in Israel? (Nechama Goldman Barash, AN 9, 2019, Times of Israel)

[T]here is a growing crisis on several fronts, religious, national, cultural and social, democratic and a growing demand for a change in the policy towards civil marriage in Israel. In the aftermath of the immigration from the former Soviet Union, there are hundreds of thousands of citizens who cannot marry in Israel because they are not recognized as halakhically Jewish. There are also a considerable number of couples who are not able to marry according to Jewish law and there are thousands of Israeli citizens who are recognized as Jewish, but choose to travel to Cyprus or elsewhere to marry. There are also an increasing number who want to marry in a Jewish but not Orthodox ceremony, who are forced to break the law when they choose a Reform or Conservative rabbi to perform the ceremony.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Trump Wants Trade Deal With China to Boost Stocks, Sources Say (Jenny Leonard , Jennifer Jacobs , Saleha Mohsin , and Shawn Donnan, January 8, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump is increasingly eager to strike a deal with China soon in an effort to perk up financial markets that have slumped on concerns over the trade war, according to people familiar with internal White House deliberations. [...]

Inside the White House, some key economic advisers are campaigning for a quick resolution to the trade conflict to help soothe battered markets. The S&P 500 Index has fallen about 8 percent since Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on a 90-day truce at a Dec. 1 meeting in Argentina.

It's the discipline of the markets.

Now join TPP.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


Italy's Populist Revolution Is Gone in 480 Seconds (Ferdinando Giugliano, January 9, 2019, Bloomberg)

It took Italy's populists just eight minutes to renege on one of their flagship stances. On Monday night, the coalition government gave its go-ahead to a bank bailout, saying it is willing to recapitalize Banca Carige, a troubled mid-sized lender, if needed.

The plan smacks of hypocrisy. For years, the Five Star Movement has accused its political opponents of using public money to help the banks instead of supporting ordinary citizens. Most important, it may not work. It's not clear that Italy can inject public money into Carige without breaking the European Union's state-aid rules.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Whoppers Sizzle in Land of Steak as Burger King Surges in Brazil (Gerson Freitas Jr, January 9, 2019, Bloomberg)

Brazil, known for its unique steak houses and premium beef exports, is seeing a growing appetite for a different type of meal, Burger King's 680-calorie whopper.

Burger King is opening a new site in Brazil every three to four days, said Iuri Miranda, chief executive officer of BK Brasil SA, the world's fastest-growing restaurant operator by revenue. With 736 sites since 2011, BK Brasil is challenging McDonald's Corp. for Brazil's fast-food crown. McDonald's, which opened its first restaurant in Rio de Janeiro in 1979, has 939 in place.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Trump Has Defeated Himself (David Frum, 1/08/19, The Atlantic)

"Leverage: don't make deals without it." The words appeared under Donald Trump's byline on page 55 of the 1987 best seller The Art of the Deal. Trump did not write them, and he seems not to have understood how to apply them. In this budget shutdown, Trump discarded his leverage from the very start, by declaring for the cameras that the budget shutdown was his decision, his responsibility. When the shutdown began to hurt, Trump and his surrogates hastily tried to transfer the onus--but it was too late. Everybody knew that it was Trump's doing, and that it was done for reasons rejected by large majorities of Americans.

The idea of invoking "emergency powers" was a last grasp for the leverage Trump had already abdicated, and it had to be abandoned for fear of what the courts and public opinion would say.

After the January 8 Oval Office address, little doubt remains of how this shutdown will end. Sooner or later--probably sooner--it will end the way Trump's threats of nuclear war upon North Korea ended: with a sudden Trump about-face. It is now only a matter of time. The polls will arrive over the next hours. Democrats and Republicans will both see that Trump did not move public opinion in his favor. They might see that Trump could not even motivate very many Americans to watch him. The panic slowly building among congressional Republicans will boil. Trump, trapped without a decent exit in a predicament of his own making, will yield everything and get nothing.

Neither Fred nor Vlad can bail him out this time.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Why Unpaid Federal Workers Don't Just Strike During a Shutdown: The law prohibits federal employees from walking off the job--even if they're not being paid. (RUSSELL BERMAN, 1/09/19, The Atlantic)

Eric Young is the president of the union that represents the approximately 30,000 employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons who are working during the government shutdown.

Young's members, scattered at 122 facilities located in largely rural areas across the country, aren't being paid and don't know when their next paycheck will come. Like the leaders of virtually every federal-employee union during the past three weeks, he has condemned the shutdown and its toll on innocent workers as "unconscionable."

"My personal opinion," Young told me over the phone from his office in Alabama, "is that it constitutes involuntary servitude."

Neither Young nor any of his partners in union leadership will urge their members to do the one thing that would seem most natural for employees facing the same treatment in the private sector: If they don't pay you, stay home.

"We can't call or advocate for a strike," Young said.

Since the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, federal employees have been legally prohibited from striking.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Educated Americans Paved the Way for Divorce--Then Embraced Marriage: The countercultural revolution of the 1960s and '70s didn't get rid of the institution of marriage. It transformed it along class lines. (ELI J. FINKEL, JAN 8, 2019, The Atlantic)

Almost nobody anticipated what happened next. After 1980, the likelihood of divorce among college-educated Americans plummeted. Despite their loosened romantic and sexual values, educated liberals became more dedicated to family stability and intensive parenting. They did adopt the beliefs that marriage is optional and divorce is acceptable, but in their personal lives, they also sought to build and sustain an egalitarian, mutually fulfilling marriage. Today, educated liberals certainly value individuality and self-expression, but they tend to pursue family stability as a primary means of realizing those values.

Poorer, less-educated Americans, especially those without a high-school degree, have exhibited the opposite trend. Although they are no less likely to cohabitate today than in previous eras, they are less likely to marry. When they do marry, they are less satisfied and more likely to divorce.

Social analysts have offered three major explanations for these marital difficulties. The first--that less-educated Americans have lost respect for the institution of marriage--is refuted by data. The psychologists Thomas Trail and Benjamin Karney conducted a definitive study asking Americans to indicate their agreement with the statement that "a happy, healthy marriage is one of the most important things in life." The agreement rates were virtually identical among Americans of all income and education levels--and quite high all around.

The second explanation is that poorer, less-educated Americans have a different, perhaps faulty, vision of how an ideal marriage should work. Given the marital turmoil that started in the 1960s, it was reasonable to hypothesize that different segments of American society would arrive at different visions of the optimal marriage, and that some of these visions might be more conducive to happiness and longevity than others. But here, too, the best evidence suggests that most Americans, across income and education levels, have adopted a new marital ideal in which spouses look to each other not only for love, but also for self-expression and personal growth. Most Americans agree, for example, that "understanding each other's hopes and dreams" is essential for a successful marriage--much more important than having sufficient savings, sharing values, or having good sex. Americans today want a partner who can help bring out their best self.

The third explanation is that building and sustaining a marriage that meets these lofty aspirations typically requires substantial investments of time, attention, patience, and responsiveness, investments that are harder for poorer, less-educated Americans to make. When life happens--when the car breaks down or a ligament snaps--they are at greater risk for unemployment, eviction, and destitution. They tend to have less control over their schedules and less money to pay a babysitter, so they may struggle to get regular time alone with their spouse. When they find such time, they are more likely to arrive to the conversation feeling emotionally depleted from other stressors, and the topics of discussion--how to stretch the money this month, how to wrangle child care with a demanding work schedule--are often thornier. The evidence is generally supportive of this third explanation: a major reason why the marriages of poorer, less-educated Americans are struggling is that economic realities make it difficult to live up to the new cultural ideal. This struggle is leading many to opt out of marriage altogether and, for those who opt in, to make the path to marital success more challenging.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 AM


How Trumpism Actually Made Americans More Favorable Toward Immigrants: The more the president decries immigration, the more Americans support it (Brendan Nyhan, Oct 26, 2018, Medium)

Strikingly, however, public opinion data suggest that Trump has failed to convince the public on immigration and has even helped to turn the public against his positions -- an effect that may grow stronger as his anti-immigration campaign intensifies.

The evidence suggests Trump has failed to convince most Americans to support his views on immigration. Since he took office, for instance, the number of Americans who say immigration is a good thing for the country has reached record highs in Gallup polls. The increase is expectedly most pronounced among Democrats, who typically react negatively to positions that Trump takes, but it's also noticeable among Republicans. Similarly, he is proposing immigration restrictions that a majority of Americans oppose. Polling shows that approximately six in 10 Americans are against building a U.S.-Mexico border wall, a figure that has been stable since fall 2016, and approximately seven in 10 support allowing undocumented residents to stay and apply for citizenship.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


The question Trump's border wall speech didn't answer: Why now? (Philip Klein, January 08, 2019, Washington Examiner)

He's been president for nearly two years, and up until last week, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. At any point during that two years, Republicans could have passed a bill to fund the border wall, and he could have gotten at least $5.6 billion.

Republicans were ready to use the reconciliation process, allowing the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority, to repeal and replace Obamacare. They successfully used the procedure to pass a massive tax cut. They certainly could have found a way to use it to put some money into building a border wall had Trump actually fought for it earlier in his administration.

In 2017, Trump had just won the presidency and building a wall was a significant part of his platform. At the time, he had significant political capital among Republicans, who would have been reticent to defy him on such a central issue.

Instead, he waited until now to make a firm stand, at a time when his party just lost control of the House and he has zero leverage over Democrats, whose base expects maximum resistance.

There are many possible explanations for why Trump waited until now to make his stand. But the most straight forward is this is the downside of having an "outsider" president. Trump's supporters loved that he wasn't a typical politician, that he came from a business background, and that he shot from the hip. But translating campaign rhetoric into tangible policy success as president takes a lot more organization, competence, and discipline than Trump has demonstrated. So the most likely outcome of the current shutdown fight is that Trump will end up politically damaged, but with nothing to show for it. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


US Chamber of Commerce demands end to government shutdown (Katelyn Caralle, January 08, 2019, Washington Examiner)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called on President Trump and Congress to reopen the government.

"The shutdown is harming the American people, the business community and the economy," the conservative-leaning group's executive vice president Neil Bradley wrote in a letter Tuesday. 

In the letter, Bradley listed challenges U.S. businesses, companies, and citizens were facing without all the agencies of the federal government being fully operational.

"[T]he adverse consequences of the shutdown are wide and growing," the letter said. Although it did recognize the "broken immigration system" in the U.S., the Chamber said that the situation for American citizens and businesses would only get worse if the shutdown continues.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


REVEALED: How Gulf states hatched plan with Israel to rehabilitate Assad (David Hearst, 8 January 2019, Middle East Eye)

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have hatched a plan with Israel to welcome Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back into the Arab League to marginalise the regional influence of Turkey and Iran, Middle East Eye can exclusively reveal.

The diplomatic initiative was agreed at a secret meeting held in a Gulf capital last month which was attended by senior intelligence officials from the four countries including Yossi Cohen, the director of Mossad, Gulf sources with knowledge of the meeting have told MEE.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Proud Boy Member Accused of Murdering His Brother With a Sword (Will Sommer, 01.09.19, Daily Beast)

A self-proclaimed member of the far-right Proud Boys group who also believes in the QAnon conspiracy theory allegedly murdered his own brother with a sword.

Prosecutors say Buckey Wolfe, 26, killed his brother in Seattle on Sunday night by stabbing him in the head with a four-foot long sword.

Wolfe, who prosecutors say exhibited signs of mental illness, called police himself after the murder and claimed he thought his brother was a lizard, according to The Seattle Times. When detectives arrived, he reportedly believed they were also lizards. Wolfe has been charged with second-degree murder.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

(SAM) HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM (profanity alert):


Trump's aides fear he has given himself no way out. "The president put himself in a box," the former official in touch with the White House told me. "The problem is there's no endgame. Right now the White House is at a seven on the panic scale. If this thing goes on past the State of the Union they're going to be at an 11." Another prominent Republican close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described Trump's handling of the shutdown as "total f[***]ing chaos."

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, installed in the job just before Christmas, may already be looking at escape routes. Unlike his long-suffering predecessor, John Kelly, Mulvaney has indicated he's prepared to walk away if things go south with the president. "Mick has both eyes open," said a person who spoke with Mulvaney recently. "So far, Trump has been more DIY than ever before. It's a continuation of where things left off with Kelly. Mulvaney is not going to stick around and get ground up." Before Christmas, Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told people that Mulvaney wouldn't last long, according to a person who spoke with Lewandowski. Last night, The New York Times reported Mulvaney is interested in becoming president of the University of South Carolina.

A growing number of Americans blame Trump for shutdown: Reuters-Ipsos poll (Chris Kahn, 1/09/18, Reuters) 

The national opinion poll, which ran from Jan. 1 to Jan. 7, found that 51 percent of adults believe Trump "deserves most of the blame" for the shutdown, which entered its 18th day on Tuesday. That is up 4 percentage points from a similar poll that ran from Dec. 21 to 25.

Another 32 percent blame congressional Democrats for the shutdown and 7 percent blame congressional Republicans, according to the poll. 

January 8, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution (Ferris Jabr, Jan. 9, 2019, NY Times)

A male flame bowerbird is a creature of incandescent beauty. The hue of his plumage transitions seamlessly from molten red to sunshine yellow. But that radiance is not enough to attract a mate. When males of most bowerbird species are ready to begin courting, they set about building the structure for which they are named: an assemblage of twigs shaped into a spire, corridor or hut. They decorate their bowers with scores of colorful objects, like flowers, berries, snail shells or, if they are near an urban area, bottle caps and plastic cutlery. Some bowerbirds even arrange the items in their collection from smallest to largest, forming a walkway that makes themselves and their trinkets all the more striking to a female -- an optical illusion known as forced perspective that humans did not perfect until the 15th century.

Yet even this remarkable exhibition is not sufficient to satisfy a female flame bowerbird. Should a female show initial interest, the male must react immediately. Staring at the female, his pupils swelling and shrinking like a heartbeat, he begins a dance best described as psychotically sultry. He bobs, flutters, puffs his chest. He crouches low and rises slowly, brandishing one wing in front of his head like a magician's cape. Suddenly his whole body convulses like a windup alarm clock. If the female approves, she will copulate with him for two or three seconds. They will never meet again.

The bowerbird defies traditional assumptions about animal behavior. Here is a creature that spends hours meticulously curating a cabinet of wonder, grouping his treasures by color and likeness. Here is a creature that single-beakedly builds something far more sophisticated than many celebrated examples of animal toolmaking; the stripped twigs that chimpanzees use to fish termites from their mounds pale in comparison. The bowerbird's bower, as at least one scientist has argued, is nothing less than art. When you consider every element of his courtship -- the costumes, dance and sculpture -- it evokes a concept beloved by the German composer Richard Wagner: Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, one that blends many different forms and stimulates all the senses.

This extravagance is also an affront to the rules of natural selection. Adaptations are meant to be useful -- that's the whole point -- and the most successful creatures should be the ones best adapted to their particular environments. So what is the evolutionary justification for the bowerbird's ostentatious display? Not only do the bowerbird's colorful feathers and elaborate constructions lack obvious value outside courtship, but they also hinder his survival and general well-being, draining precious calories and making him much more noticeable to predators.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Supreme Court Rejects Mystery Company in Case Linked to Mueller (Greg Stohr, January 8, 2019, Bloomberg)

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to shield a mystery company from having to provide information in what is believed to be the criminal investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Acting on a sealed request from the company and making no comment, the justices Tuesday declined to block a federal appeals court ruling that apparently favored Mueller. The appeals court upheld daily fines -- revealed Tuesday to be $50,000 a day -- against the company, owned by an unidentified foreign country, for failing to comply with a grand jury subpoena.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Manafort Shared Trump Campaign Data With Russian Associate, Prosecutors Say (Sharon LaFraniere and Kenneth P. Vogel, Jan. 8, 201, NY Times)

Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with an associate tied to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign, prosecutors alleged, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday.

The accusations came to light in a document filed by Mr. Manafort's defense lawyers that was supposed to be partly blacked out but contained a formatting error that accidentally revealed the information. [...]

In one portion of the filing that Mr. Manafort's lawyers tried to redact, they instead also revealed that Mr. Manafort "may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan" with the Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, "on more than one occasion."

Investigators have been questioning witnesses about whether Russia tried to influence the Trump administration to broker a resolution to hostilities between Russia and Ukraine. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


A bulwark against Trump and Trumpism (Jennifer Rubin, January 8, 2019, Washington Post)

On Monday, that void was filled, at least in part, by a new online news outlet, the Bulwark, featuring many of the Weekly Standard's familiar faces -- Charlie Sykes as editor in chief, Bill Kristol as editor at large, former Weekly Standard writers Jim Swift and Jonathan Last -- but also new writers and new contributors. Judging from Monday's edition, it offers the possibility of a no-holds-barred critique of the right during the Trump era and its less-than intellectually honest apologists. Sykes was good enough to answer a few questions:

Jennifer Rubin: What's the origin and purpose of the Bulwark?

Sykes: The Bulwark isn't going to be The Weekly Standard 2.0, but the murder of the Standard made it urgently necessary to create a home for rational, principled, fact-based center-right voices who were not cowed by Trumpism. We were lucky to get some of the magazine's most talented on-line personnel on board right away. Our mission is to be smart, conservative, non-tribal and to say out loud what too many conservatives only say in private. We also wanted to move quickly because the next few months may prove decisive.

We also intend to have fun and name names. One of our core missions will be to call out the grifters and trolls who've done so much to corrupt conservatism.

The mission of Conservatism today is to differentiate conservatism from the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


Pence says Trump's wall claim was 'impression' (Associated Press, January 8, 2019)

Vice President Mike Pence says President Donald Trump's recent claim that his predecessors endorsed his idea of a U.S.-Mexico border wall was an "impression."

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


Exclusive: NBCUniversal is slashing even more TV ads (Sara Fischer, 1/09/18, Axios)

NBCUniversal will reduce the number of commercial breaks in prime-time TV shows by more than 20% across all of its networks by 2020. Last year it committed to a 10% reduction in ad breaks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Border wall would do nothing to stop terrorism. And there is no national emergency. (Peter Bergen, 1/08/19, CNN)

Let's start with the fact that there is no terrorism emergency. 2018 saw one of the lowest yearly numbers of jihadist terrorism cases in the United States -- 14 -- since the 9/11 attacks, according to New America, a research institution that tracks terrorism.

While the number of terrorism cases is not an exact proxy for levels of threat, it certainly says something about the scale of the threat and the United States has seen a steep decline in the number of jihadist terrorism cases over the past four years.

This decline tracks with the declining fortunes of ISIS. When it controlled territory the size of the United Kingdom, thousands of Islamist militants joined or attempted to join ISIS, including from the United States. Now the geographical caliphate is almost entirely gone and ISIS recruitment has slowed to a trickle.

In the United States since the 9/11 attacks, 455 jihadist terrorists have been charged or convicted or died before they faced trial. Not one of these terrorists crossed the southern border.

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


Veselnitskaya, Russian in Trump Tower Meeting, Is Charged in Case That Shows Kremlin Ties (Benjamin Weiser, Jan. 8, 2019, NY Times)

Last April, Ms. Veselnitskaya acknowledged in an interview with NBC News that she was not merely a private lawyer, but a source of information for the Russian prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika.

Now prosecutors say she collaborated clandestinely with that office to write an official letter than benefited her client, the investment firm Prevezon Holdings Ltd., and its owner, Denis P. Katsyv, in the Justice Department's civil fraud case.

For years, Ms. Veselnitskaya has been regarded as a trusted insider and go-to lawyer for the Moscow regional government.

In the fraud case, filed in 2013, the prosecutors in the Southern District accused Prevezon and other defendants of using real estate purchases in New York to launder a small portion of the profits of an elaborate $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme. The lawsuit was settled last May on the eve of trial for about $6 million, with Prevezon admitting no fault.

The broader Russian scheme had been uncovered by Sergei L. Magnitsky, the Russian tax lawyer who was imprisoned after exposing the scheme and died in a Moscow jail.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Shamkhani: It is Trump who begs for dialogue with Iran (Tehran Times, January 7, 2019)

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, announced on Monday that the U.S. requested talks with Iran for two times during his recent visit to Afghanistan.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


The Partisans and the Ideologues (PETER SAVODNIK, JANUARY 4, 2019 , Vanity Fair)

If you can't distinguish between Mitch McConnell and Joseph Goebbels, if you're the kind of progressive who thinks free speech is violence, or whiteness is a crime--there are a lot of you out there--the Kremlin social-media mavens have you in their sights. You're the fruit that hangs low.

It's not just the insidious threat of pro-Bernie Sanders memes cooked up in a St. Petersburg basement, or Moscow's fondness for Jill Stein, or the post-election spike in shady, Resistance-ish Twitter accounts like @RogueNASA and @RoguePOTUSStaff. It's the vulnerability in the way the Democratic partisan thinks, which is not that different from the way the Republican partisan thinks, which is not really thinking. It's speaking in tongues. It's faith. The progressive pines for elected representatives one can fall in love with, as if all politicians were not focus-grouped escorts. The partisan can't stomach this tension--one of the reasons, presumably, we've heard so little about Beto O'Rourke's father-in-law being a very rich real-estate developer. (To the true progressive, money is "filthy lucre," and Beto can't be filthy--Beto is . . . Beto.) The partisan--ranty, feverish, fully cocooned--craves simplicity. The partisan, in the end, is not really left or right, but needy, in search of a cartoon god that can impose order--a moral calculus--on one's life. This person is simultaneously dangerous and in danger.

It's important, at this juncture, to distinguish between the partisan and the ideologue. In this country, there used to be a species of human known as the ideologue, one who believed deeply in certain principles (for example, the benevolent power of the re-distributive state, or the moral superiority of free markets). Of course, these people still exist, but their proposals (mostly) feel stale, better suited to the old order--when liberals were champions of free speech and conservatives still trafficked in ideas, when capitalism and democracy were assumed to coexist in harmony, when we weren't so in love with our gadgets, with the hyper-positivism and small-minded concreteness and practicality of the new technology.

The ideologues, alas, have been eclipsed by the partisans, who retain vaguely ideological beliefs, but who are less principled than combative. (Sidenote to all my Bernie Bro bros out there: The happy talk you lapped up way, way back in the faraway land of early 2016, about free college and living wages, was some good old-fashioned ideology. You thought it sounded fresh, because you were born in the 1990s--and because it lacked the partisan guile of the Clintonistas, who would never allow something so quaint as an ideological commitment to get in the way of winning. Hasta la vista, Bernie!) Bottom line: The partisan loves the fight! The partisan craves the Manichaean clash of good and evil. The partisan, naturally, would object to this, but the partisan is basically an idiot.

Our president, who resides in a subterranean alt-reality in which no one is expected to believe in anything except the president, perfectly embodies this transmogrification. 

Image result for new yorker cartoon dogs cats must fail


Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Trump's 'authenticity' is merely moral laziness and cruelty (Michael Gerson, January 7, 2019, Washington Post)

Without intending it, Tlaib and Trump have wandered into an important moral debate. And not a new one. In any ethical system derived from Aristotle, human beings fulfill their nature by exercising their reason and habituating certain virtues, such as courage, temperance, honor, equanimity, truthfulness, justice and friendship. Authenticity -- at least, authenticity defined as congruence with your unformed self -- is not on the list. In fact, this view of ethics requires a kind of virtuous hypocrisy -- modeling ourselves on a moral example, until, through action and habit, we come to embody that ideal. Ethical development is, in a certain way, theatrical. We play the role of someone we admire until we become someone worthy of admiration.

But there is a rival tradition. In any ethical tradition derived from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, authenticity is at the apex of the virtues. This view begins from the premise that man is born free but is everywhere in social chains. Being true to yourself, and expressing yourself freely, is seen as the chief requirement of a meaningful and happy life. In this system, the worst sin is hypocrisy -- being untrue to your real self.

This approach to ethics is also theatrical, but in a different way. In Rousseau's view, we are performers as ourselves, and life is a kind of transgressive art form. Being true to ourselves means being true to our eccentricities. Especially to our eccentricities.

At the root of the Aristotelian approach is the premise that the human person is originally in need of formation. At the root of the other approach is the premise that the human person is only in need of liberation. This has marked a long-standing difference between right and left, with conservatism often on the side of character building and progressivism often on the side of personal expression. But with Trump, something remarkable has happened: The right is increasingly on Rousseau's side as well.

This view of ethics is a perfect philosophic fit for the president's narcissism. 

Morality is the war on human nature.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


More TSA Agents Are Calling Out Sick as Shutdown Forces Them to Work Without Pay (DANIEL POLITI, JAN 05, 2019, Slate)

Transportation Security Administration officers are increasingly calling out sick ever since the partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22 and forced personnel to work without pay. CNN was first to report the story, saying that hundreds of TSA officers called out sick from work this past week. One source even called it a "blue flu," in reference to the blue shirts that the security officers who check bags at airports wear. "This will definitely affect the flying public who we [are] sworn to protect," Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN.

Some of the numbers are staggering. More than 150 TSA employees called out sick on Friday morning at Kennedy International Airport in New York, reports the New York Times. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the number of TSA officers who are calling out sick has increased by 200 to 300 percent, according to CNN.

...it can at least demonstrate what a waste most of TSA and ICE are.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


A Qualified Defense of the Barr Memo: Part I (Jack Goldsmith, January 4, 2019, LawFare)

As Barr says:

Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding's truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction. Indeed, the acts of obstruction alleged against Presidents Nixon and Clinton in their respective impeachments were all such "bad acts" involving the impairment of evidence. Enforcing these laws against the President in no way infringes on the President's plenary power over law enforcement because exercising this discretion--such as his complete authority to start or stop a law enforcement proceeding--does not involve commission of any of these inherently wrongful, subversive acts.

This is a broad statement about presidential exposure to criminal obstruction of justice. As Marcy Wheeler has noted, and as I explain further below, this statement holds potential peril for Trump. Wheeler thinks that Trump has suborned false statements from former national security adviser Michael Flynn that, under Barr's theory, counts as obstruction of justice. She may be right--the answer is not yet clear. The point for now is that Barr's memo in no way rules out this conclusion and, indeed, invites it, depending on the facts--which Barr concedes he does not know. This shows that Barr has not, as Hemel and Posner allege, "made up his mind about the investigation."

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


To Keep Medicare for All at Bay, Offer a Better Alternative (James C. Capretta, 1/07/19, RealClearPolicy)

But do opponents of government-run health care have a competing vision for improving the health system? Because, over the long run, it may not be enough just to be against government-run health care if the public perceives the alternative as inadequate, and, currently, there is widespread agreement that the status quo is inadequate. The provision of medical care remains far too costly. Waste is rampant. Administrative costs are high. The system is fragmented and uncoordinated, the paperwork is maddening, and the quality of care provided to patients is uneven. The persistence of these problems over many years is a major reason why the U.S. has been on a steady march toward greater government control of the health system, even without a full embrace of a nationalized plan. [...]

Market-driven health care requires different reforms. First, the tax preference for employer-provided health care needs to be limited, to give both employers and workers stronger incentives to seek out lower cost and higher value insurance and medical care. It is estimated that the current open-ended tax break increases the cost of employer coverage by 35 percent. The ACA's Cadillac tax is an imperfect answer to this problem, but it is better than nothing. Unfortunately, Republicans have been leading the effort to repeal the tax without replacing it with a better alternative. If the GOP is serious about a market-driven health system (and that's a big "if"), it must change course and embrace some version of a limit on the tax break for job-based coverage. That's the surest way to bring new cost discipline to the system, which will mean lower costs for patients.

A second critical change is transformation of Medicare into a premium support program. Beneficiaries would select their insurance coverage from competing plans, including the traditional, government-run fee-for-service option. Beneficiaries choosing more expensive options would pay for the higher premiums with their own money. Those selecting less costly options would keep 100 percent of the savings. This design would ensure the insurance plans would compete vigorously with each other to keep their premiums as low as possible. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that a certain specification of this reform would lower costs both for the Medicare program and for the beneficiaries.

Beyond these major adjustments, the role of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) needs to be updated, to allow them to become more effective instruments of consumer-driven health care. Among other things, HSA enrollees should be allowed to use their accounts to pay for  primary care using a monthly fee model instead of fee-for-service. Further, there needs to be an effort to make the suppliers of common medical interventions compete with other on the prices they charge by allowing all HSA enrollees to pay posted prices for these services.

The important thing about a universal HSA/catastrophic regime is that it would return us to growing the Ownership Society and Anglospheric elections are won by Third Way parties.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Kamala Harris readies her 2020 rollout: A book tour and a flurry of TV appearances enable the California senator to launch a campaign on her own terms. (CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO,  01/07/2019, Politico)

In October, Harris visited Iowa, South Carolina and Wisconsin, but it was to campaign for Democratic candidates ahead of the midterm elections. This week's soft launch enables her to reveal -- on her own terms and at length -- more about her backstory as the child of immigrants who were civil rights activists.

The senator's book is not a traditional memoir, but according to her publisher, "a book about the core truths that unite us, and the long struggle to discern what those truths are and how best to act upon them, in her own life and across the life of our country."

Those truths guide her thinking "on issues ranging from health care and the new economy to immigration, national security, the opioid crisis, and accelerating inequality" -- all elements of Harris' speeches since ascending to the Senate.

The intent is to draw a contrast with Donald Trump by presenting her credentials as a tough, fact-based prosecutor against a factually challenged president who has been under a legal cloud for much of his presidency.

Harris isn't likely to follow the book tour with the creation of a presidential exploratory committee, according to three people familiar with Harris' thinking. Their expectation, if she runs, is that the senator would simply launch the formal campaign, which would be led by key staffers from her 2016 Senate run.

...but does she have the political nous to run as the reassurance candidate?

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Revisiting the Trump-Russia dossier: What's right, wrong and still unclear? (Marshall Cohen and Jeremy Herb, 1/08/19, CNN)

Russian meddling in the 2016 election

While Trump and his supporters have seized on the most salacious, uncorroborated claims to discredit the dossier as a "pile of garbage," much of Steele's memos focused on Russia's role interfering in the 2016 election. Steele's intelligence memos detail a pattern and preference for Trump that have since been confirmed by the US intelligence community and indictments against Russians brought by Mueller's investigation.

Steele, a former MI6 intelligence operative, has a history of working with US agencies, including the FBI, and helped with the corruption investigation into FIFA, the world soccer governing body. Steele's dossier eventually made its way to the FBI, which cross-referenced Steele's work with its own burgeoning investigation into Russian meddling.

Written in the midst of the campaign, Steele's memos contained allegations that Russia was waging a broad effort to interfere, and Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the effort, motivated by his "fear and hatred" of Clinton. That assertion is now accepted as fact by the US intelligence community and Trump's handpicked intelligence leaders, though Trump himself has refused to unequivocally accept the conclusion that Putin was trying to help him.

Even Putin has seemingly endorsed the conclusion that he favored Trump's candidacy. Asked during his summit with Trump last year in Helsinki, Finland, if he wanted Trump to win the election, Putin responded: "Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal."

The dossier said that the hacks against Democrats, which were publicly released by WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, were part of a wider Russian hacking effort. That has since been confirmed in Mueller's court filings, and last year, the special counsel indicted a dozen Russian intelligence agents in connection with the hacks.

The dossier also noted efforts from the Russian government to exploit political divisions within the US and the Democratic Party after the bruising primary fight between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders. A separate Mueller indictment dealt with disinformation efforts by a Kremlin-linked troll farm that played on those divisions. Since the 2016 election, social media companies have pulled thousands of accounts tied to Russia.

Trump's real estate dealings in Russia

The dossier claimed that the Russians tried to influence Trump by offering him "sweetener" real estate deals, in hopes of drawing him closer to Moscow. The specific details about these purported deals haven't been corroborated, but the dossier said Trump declined these offers.

Throughout the campaign, Trump said he had "nothing to do with Russia." When the dossier was first published, there wasn't any indication that Trump's company was involved in Russia beyond the Miss Universe pageant that he hosted in Moscow in 2013.

But it recently became public knowledge that Trump pursued a lucrative project in Moscow deep into the 2016 campaign, and that his then-attorney Michael Cohen sought help from the Kremlin to move the project along. Cohen admitted these shocking details when he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow proposal, which never came to fruition.

Steele's sources were right that Trump had recently explored business dealings in Russia. And his suggestion that it could be linked to the election has also been made by Mueller's team. In court fillings, the special counsel said that the proposal "likely required" help from the Kremlin and highlighted how it overlapped with "sustained efforts" by the Russians to influence the election.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Eminent Domain, Emergency Powers, and Trump's Wall (Ilya Somin, Jan. 7, 2019, Reason)

If Trump is able to overcome legal obstacles and use an emergency declaration to secure funds for the wall without congressional authorization and use eminent domain to seize the land he needs, conservatives are likely to have good reason to regret the precedent it would set. The same powers could easily be used by the next Democratic president for purposes that the right would hate.

Consider a scenario where Elizabeth Warren wins the presidency in 2020, but Republicans in Congress refuse to allocate funds she claims are necessary to combat climate change and institute the gigantic "Green New Deal" program many progressives advocate. President Warren could then declare climate change to be a "national emergency" and start reallocating various military and civilian funds to build all kinds of "green" construction projects. She could declare that climate change is a threat to national security, and use the Army Corps of Engineers and other military agencies to participate in the project.

Indeed, the claim that climate change is a menace to national security is at least as plausible as the claim that undocumented immigrants on the Mexican border are. The Obama Administration Department of Defense even published a report on the subject in 2014. And, of course, if President Warren decides she needs to seize some private property to carry out her plans, she could cite the Trump precedent to use eminent domain for that purpose. This is just one of many ways in which liberal Democrats could exploit the sorts of powers Trump claims here. It would not be difficult to imagine others.

Both Democrats and Republicans often fail to consider the long-term effects of presidential power-grabs they support when their party occupies the White House. 

It would be tied up in court until he's just a bad memory.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Trump wages intense but lonely campaign for his border wall (ELIANA JOHNSON, 01/07/2019, Politico)

Fighting a virtual one-man messaging battle for his border wall, President Donald Trump is growing frustrated that he doesn't have more public defenders in his shutdown fight with Congressional Democrats.

Dude, it's not actually a thing.  Your aides were just messing with you.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


A Tale of Conflict and Disagreement (David Biale, JANUARY 7, 2019, LA Review of Books)

IN THE WAKE of the October 2018 massacre of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, the place of Jews and Judaism in the United States has suddenly come into sharp relief. In particular, the awkward attempt of political and religious leaders in Israel to express their solidarity only highlighted how different American Jews are from their Israeli cousins. So, for example, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel refused to call the site of the murders a synagogue because the worshipers were either Conservative or Reconstructionist Jews rather than Orthodox. And Israel's Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, tried to tie the crime of the White Nationalist shooter to the rockets that Hamas in Gaza regularly shoots at the south of Israel. As if all hatred of Jews is the same.

What also became clear after the Pittsburgh murders is how American Jews as a whole are defined by a commitment to social justice. The murderer was incensed by the work of HIAS, the Jewish immigrant aid society, in resettling refugees and immigrants (never mind that there are eight other non-Jewish agencies funded by the federal government to engage in the same work). This was a charge to which many in the synagogue would no doubt plead guilty.

Steven Weisman's The Chosen Wars offers a nuanced analysis of how this American Judaism arose and how it came to define Jews in the United States. Weisman's focus is on the early history of American Jews, with a particular emphasis on the 19th century. He pays relatively little attention to the period of mass migration from Eastern Europe, starting in the 1880s and lasting until the 1924 restrictive immigration law. Although he does not say so explicitly, Weisman seems to hold that the institutions created by Sephardic and German Jewish immigrants before the East-European influx were the ones that persisted into the present day. Said differently, the new immigrants from Eastern Europe, who would vastly out-number earlier Jewish immigrants, ultimately came to accept the Judaism that those earlier American Jews created. [...]

In 1885, a conference of rabbis issued the "Pittsburgh Platform," the would-be constitution for classical Reform Judaism. This was not a declaration of independence for American Judaism tout court, as Wise had envisioned, but instead, says Weisman, a "declaration of war." The result was not unity, but the rise of Conservative Judaism, a more traditionalist compromise and of new forms of Orthodoxy as well.

The prevailing belief of Reform Jews was that while revelation may not have been divine, the Jews nevertheless had a divine mission, which was tikkun olam (social justice), the Jewish equivalent of the social gospel of late-19th-century Christianity. In the formulation of the Reform leader Kaufmann Kohler, who was influenced by Charles Darwin, the Jews are the most morally fit people, a product of divine natural selection. As Arnold Eisen showed many years ago, American Jewish thinkers like Kohler were able to transform the old idea of the Jews as a chosen people into a uniquely American doctrine.

January 7, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


We tried cooking the new Impossible Burger: The meatless burger that bleeds has a new, even more convincing formula-and will soon be sold in supermarkets, not just restaurants. We took it for a spin in the kitchen. (ADELE PETERS, 1/07/19, Fast Company)

"If you had lied to me and told me this was store-bought ground beef, I would have believed you." So says my friend John as we stand in his kitchen, experimenting with the newly revamped Impossible Burger, which will begin to show up in some restaurants this week. Later this year, the plant-based burger will also be available in grocery stores for the first time. [...]

The new version, the first to be released since the burger was first sold in restaurants in 2016, has better nutrition, with less fat and sodium than the previous recipe. It has as much iron and high-quality protein as a comparable serving from an animal but fewer calories and no cholesterol.

"We're a little tight-lipped about our IP, but it all has to do with the nearly seven and a half years we spent determining what makes meat perform, from raw to cooked, like meat," says Lee. "Not just in terms of its taste, but how it smells, how it sizzles, ultimately even how it looks." The startup considers itself a technology company; the new product is launching at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show.

In John's kitchen, we start with a burger. The raw patty looks like beef. In a cast iron pan, it sounds like any burger frying. Like beef, the color changes from pink to brown as it sizzles. The finished burger has a nice sear; inside, it still looks a little rare. "It tastes right," John says.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 PM


Trump struggles to replace Mattis as Pentagon chief (ELIANA JOHNSON and DANIEL LIPPMAN, 01/07/2019. Politico)

Jon Kyl, the retired Arizona Republican senator, became the second person to wave off Trump's overtures last week, telling the White House he is not interested in the job. Ret. Gen. Jack Keane also turned down the job shortly after Mattis' resignation. (Keane, who frequently advises Trump, had refused the position once before, during the 2016 presidential transition.)

The refusals are particularly striking given that the top Pentagon job is historically among the Cabinet's most prestigious and powerful, and coveted by national security veterans. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM


House GOP leaders fear support eroding for Trump's shutdown fight (JOHN BRESNAHAN and SARAH FERRIS, 01/07/2019, Politico)

Several dozen House Republicans might cross the aisle this week to vote for Democratic bills to reopen shuttered parts of the federal government, spurring the White House into a dramatic effort to stem potential GOP defections.

White House officials and Republican congressional leaders worry that GOP support for the shutdown is eroding, weakening President Donald Trump's hand as he seeks billions of dollars for a border wall that Democrats have vowed to oppose, according to GOP lawmakers and aides.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Trump-appointed judge defends Mueller, scolds lawyer for Russian firm (Charlie Gile and Rich Schapiro, 1/07/19, NBC News)

A federal judge on Monday defended special counsel Robert Mueller while delivering a scathing denunciation of a lawyer for a Russian company charged with meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The confrontation took place inside a Washington courtroom where Judge Dabney Friedrich scolded Eric Dubelier, the attorney for Concord Management, over a recent court filing.

"I thought your brief was inappropriate and unprofessional and ineffective," Friedrich told Dubelier. "You have undermined your credibility in this courthouse."

"Knock it off," added Friedrich.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?: Permitting pot is one thing; promoting its use is another. (Malcolm Gladwell, 1/07/19, The New Yorker)

Berenson, in his role as devil's advocate, emphasizes the research that sees cannabis as opening the door to opioid use. For example, two studies of identical twins--in the Netherlands and in Australia--show that, in cases where one twin used cannabis before the age of seventeen and the other didn't, the cannabis user was several times more likely to develop an addiction to opioids. Berenson also enlists a statistician at N.Y.U. to help him sort through state-level overdose data, and what he finds is not encouraging: "States where more people used cannabis tended to have more overdoses."

The National Academy panel is more judicious. Its conclusion is that we simply don't know enough, because there haven't been any "systematic" studies. But the panel's uncertainty is scarcely more reassuring than Berenson's alarmism. Seventy-two thousand Americans died in 2017 of drug overdoses. Should you embark on a pro-cannabis crusade without knowing whether it will add to or subtract from that number?

Drug policy is always clearest at the fringes. Illegal opioids are at one end. They are dangerous. Manufacturers and distributors belong in prison, and users belong in drug-treatment programs. The cannabis industry would have us believe that its product, like coffee, belongs at the other end of the continuum. "Flow Kana partners with independent multi-generational farmers who cultivate under full sun, sustainably, and in small batches," the promotional literature for one California cannabis brand reads. "Using only organic methods, these stewards of the land have spent their lives balancing a unique and harmonious relationship between the farm, the genetics and the terroir." But cannabis is not coffee. It's somewhere in the middle. The experience of most users is relatively benign and predictable; the experience of a few, at the margins, is not. Products or behaviors that have that kind of muddled risk profile are confusing, because it is very difficult for those in the benign middle to appreciate the experiences of those at the statistical tails. Low-frequency risks also take longer and are far harder to quantify, and the lesson of "Tell Your Children" and the National Academy report is that we aren't yet in a position to do so. For the moment, cannabis probably belongs in the category of substances that society permits but simultaneously discourages. Cigarettes are heavily taxed, and smoking is prohibited in most workplaces and public spaces. Alcohol can't be sold without a license and is kept out of the hands of children. Prescription drugs have rules about dosages, labels that describe their risks, and policies that govern their availability. The advice that seasoned potheads sometimes give new users--"start low and go slow"--is probably good advice for society as a whole, at least until we better understand what we are dealing with.

Late last year, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, announced a federal crackdown on e-cigarettes. He had seen the data on soaring use among teen-agers, and, he said, "it shocked my conscience." He announced that the F.D.A. would ban many kinds of flavored e-cigarettes, which are especially popular with teens, and would restrict the retail outlets where e-cigarettes were available.

In the dozen years since e-cigarettes were introduced into the marketplace, they have attracted an enormous amount of attention. There are scores of studies and papers on the subject in the medical and legal literature, grappling with the questions raised by the new technology. Vaping is clearly popular among kids. Is it a gateway to traditional tobacco use? Some public-health experts worry that we're grooming a younger generation for a lifetime of dangerous addiction. Yet other people see e-cigarettes as a much safer alternative for adult smokers looking to satisfy their nicotine addiction. That's the British perspective. Last year, a Parliamentary committee recommended cutting taxes on e-cigarettes and allowing vaping in areas where it had previously been banned. Since e-cigarettes are as much as ninety-five per cent less harmful than regular cigarettes, the committee argued, why not promote them? Gottlieb said that he was splitting the difference between the two positions--giving adults "opportunities to transition to non-combustible products," while upholding the F.D.A.'s "solemn mandate to make nicotine products less accessible and less appealing to children." He was immediately criticized.

"Somehow, we have completely lost all sense of public-health perspective," Michael Siegel, a public-health researcher at Boston University, wrote after the F.D.A. announcement:

Every argument that the F.D.A. is making in justifying a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes in convenience stores and gas stations applies even more strongly for real tobacco cigarettes: you know, the ones that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Something is terribly wrong with our sense of perspective when we take the e-cigarettes off the shelf but allow the old-fashioned ones to remain.

Among members of the public-health community, it is impossible to spend five minutes on the e-cigarette question without getting into an argument. And this is nicotine they are arguing about, a drug that has been exhaustively studied by generations of scientists. We don't worry that e-cigarettes increase the number of fatal car accidents, diminish motivation and cognition, or impair academic achievement. The drugs through the gateway that we worry about with e-cigarettes are Marlboros, not opioids. There are no enormous scientific question marks over nicotine's dosing and bio-availability. Yet we still proceed cautiously and carefully with nicotine, because it is a powerful drug, and when powerful drugs are consumed by lots of people in new and untested ways we have an obligation to try to figure out what will happen.

A week after Gottlieb announced his crackdown on e-cigarettes, on the ground that they are too enticing to children, Siegel visited the first recreational-marijuana facility in Massachusetts. Here is what he found on the menu, each offering laced with large amounts of a drug, THC, that no one knows much about:

Strawberry-flavored chewy bites
Large, citrus gummy bears
Delectable Belgian dark chocolate bars
Assorted fruit-flavored chews
Assorted fruit-flavored cubes
Raspberry flavored confection
Raspberry flavored lozenges
Chewy, cocoa caramel bite-sized treats
Raspberry & watermelon flavored lozenges
Chocolate-chip brownies.

He concludes, "This is public health in 2018?"

Health issues provide perfect cover for puritanism.
Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Rival fiefdoms emerge in scramble over Trump's Syria withdrawal (Laura Rozen, January 7, 2019, Al Monitor)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has asserted, in both internal briefings and public interviews, that Trump's instructions are clear and the troops are coming out, while saying the administration's overall goals for the region have not changed. Meanwhile, national security adviser John Bolton, currently traveling in Israel and Turkey with a press pool in tow, has said any US withdrawal from Syria will be conditions-based, and won't occur until the so-called Islamic State in Syria (IS or ISIS) is fully defeated and unless Turkey guarantees protection for Syrian Kurdish fighters that Ankara considers terrorists. [...]

"My understanding is Bolton is maximally interpreting his brief -- and is attempting to present Trump with a false choice," Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert and director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Al-Monitor today. "Leave and it's chaos vs. stay in a different way and things will be fine."

"I think Bolton will lose because, once again, his actions are at odds with the directives of his boss," Stein continued. "Trump wanted US forces out within 30 days, but has accepted the military's recommendation to leave over the next four months. This suggests US forces will be gone in 2019."

"The danger, I think, is that in the absence of a hard plan, you get competing fiefdoms," Stein added. "Bolton and [US Syria envoy Jim] Jeffrey are probably broadly aligned on the need to stage manage the exit, but Jeffrey would never have signaled to Ankara in the way Bolton did. I'm sure Jim is going to have an awful time in Ankara because of things someone else said."

Bolton's comments over the weekend on an entirely conditions-based withdrawal from Syria seem out of step with Trump's instructions, former State Department official Amanda Sloat said.

"I was surprised to see Bolton's comments in the press, which seemingly return to the old strategy -- defeat ISIS, counter Iran and diplomatically end the civil war," Sloat, now with the Brookings Institution, told Al-Monitor. "Trump's tweet this morning suggests he is doubling down on his desire to withdraw and doesn't want to look managed by his staff.

"These disjointed messages reflect the lack of a real policy process inside the government," Sloat continued. "Instead, we have decision-making by presidential tweet or pronouncement followed by advisers scrambling to implement Trump's guidance in a more rational way. If nothing else, it makes it hard for local actors to trust what Trump's envoys are telling them when they know it could be undermined by the president."

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The "skills gap" was a lie (Matthew Yglesias, Jan 7, 2019, Vox)

Five or six years ago, everyone from the US Chamber of Commerce to the Obama White House was talking about a "skills gap."

The theory here was that high unemployment reflected a structural shift in the labor market such that jobs were available, but workers simply didn't have the right education or training for them. Harvard Business Review ran articles about this -- including articles rebutting people who said the "skills gap" didn't exist -- and big companies like Siemens ran paid sponsor content in the Atlantic explaining how to fix the skills gap.

But nothing was really done to transform the American education system, and no enormous investment was made in retraining unemployed workers. And yet the unemployment rate kept steadily falling in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 as continued low interest rates from the Federal Reserve let a demand-side recovery continue. Donald Trump became president, injected a bunch of new fiscal stimulus on both the spending and tax sides, and in 2017 and 2018 the unemployment rate kept falling and the labor force participation rate kept rising.

Now along comes a new paper from Alicia Sasser Modestino, Daniel Shoag, and Joshua Ballance presented this week at the American Economics Association's annual conference that shows the skeptics were right all along -- employers responded to high unemployment by making their job descriptions more stringent. When unemployment went down thanks to the demand-side recovery, suddenly employers got more relaxed again.

Of course, the important point is that there is no education crisis.
Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Sotomayor and Gorsuch Resume Their Fight for the Future of the Sixth Amendment (MARK JOSEPH STERN, JAN 07, 2019, Slate)

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch are on a mission to restore criminal defendants' constitutional rights. In November, the two justices teamed up to champion Sixth Amendment safeguards against notoriously flawed forensic analysis. Weeks later, they came together to attack policing for profit, endorsing Eighth Amendment protections against civil forfeiture. And on Monday, the two joined forces once again to stick up for the right to a trial by jury when the government seeks to impose crippling fines in the form of criminal restitution.

It's no surprise that Sotomayor and Gorsuch are emerging as the court's staunchest defenders of the Sixth Amendment. Sotomayor is a crusader for the rights of the accused and views government overreach through the lens of social justice. Gorsuch is a libertarian skeptic of state power who sees juries as a bulwark against tyranny. (For what it's worth, so did John Adams, who called representative government and trial by jury "the heart and lungs of liberty.") The two justices may disagree on much. But it's perfectly logical that they'd unite to stick up for defendants who demand that a jury--not a judge--decide the facts that justify criminal penalties.

The case in question, Hester v. United States, should be an easy one. In 2000's Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must prove any fact that increases the maximum sentence for a crime to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. This rule is quite sensible and tracks the Framers' understanding of the Sixth Amendment. After all, if a judge can unilaterally increase a sentence by finding facts not proved to the jury, then the Constitution's guarantee of a trial by jury is rendered meaningless. In 2012's Southern Union Company v. United States, the court extended Apprendi to criminal fines, holding that any fact that increases a maximum fine must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


How AOC Owns the Cons (RACHAEL LARIMORE, JANUARY 6, 2019, The Bulwark)

One of the #MAGA crowd's favorite pastimes, aside from twisting themselves into logic pretzels to defend and celebrate Donald Trump, is to cackle about how easily the snowflakes are triggered. Nothing feels as good as owning the libs.

Which is why it's almost amusing to see the same people who mock others' outrage freak out every time Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the democratic socialist and newly elected House member from the Bronx, does something interesting or, dare we say, even entertaining.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Half of the people who think they have food allergies actually don't (Sara Chodosh, 1/07/19, Popular Science)

Even though common wisdom holds that allergies of all kinds have been on the rise in recent years, researchers actually have very little data on allergies in adults since many of them never get diagnosed by a physician. Some studies have attempted to use hospitalization data as a proxy, but that only picks up people with sufficiently serious allergies to go to the ER for anaphylaxis. Another study used data from NHANES, a massive national survey study that occurs every few years, to look at actual blood test results.

This new study, out last week in the journal JAMA Network Open, took a far broader approach, and focused solely on food allergies: Researchers based out of Northwestern University surveyed some 40,443 American adults and asked them a series of questions designed to figure out how many people actually had food allergies versus how many just thought they did. What they found? Although one in five people surveyed reported having an allergy, only about one in 10 actually does.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Trump, Weaker Than People Realize (David Leonhardt, Jan. 7, 2019, NY Times)

In his recent book on the history of impeachment, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein asks readers to do a mental exercise. When thinking about the impeachment of a given president, imagine that he was a member of your political party, Sunstein suggests. In that case, would you still support impeaching him?

Here is the basic evidence about our current president:

1. He has accepted money from foreign governments, used the presidency to promote his businesses and hidden his personal finances from the American people.

2. He directed a criminal campaign-finance violation scheme, in the final month of the presidential campaign, and lied to the American people about it.

3. He pressured Justice Department officials to go easy on an investigation into the president himself and his campaign.

4. He attempted to undermine the credibility of multiple checks and balances on the executive branch, including the justice system, the press, the electoral system and the Central Intelligence Agency.

No other president, Republican or Democrat, has ever behaved as Donald Trump has. I think Americans, regardless of party, should come to see that he is unfit for the office and is damaging the country.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Netanyahu's TV broadcast: Rather desperate, and ultimately irrelevant  (David Horovitz, 1/07/19, Times of Israel)

The Benjamin Netanyahu who addressed a large proportion of Israel's voters on Monday night -- his appearance at the start of the night's main TV news broadcasts was estimated to garner a 40 percent rating -- was a prime minister rattled and fighting for his life. Not his political life, in the narrow definition: he looks set, for now, to win re-election in April. But his long-term career -- his capacity to continue to hold office before, during, and after those elections, and to depart the scene at a time of his choosing.

Throughout the course of the three investigations of corruption against him, carried out by the police under the close oversight of the state prosecution and the attorney general, Netanyahu has repeated the mantra that "there is nothing" to the allegations, and that therefore "there will be nothing" to hold against him when the evidence is weighed. But in the last few days, indications have been multiplying that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit -- the official who has to decide whether to indict him -- is concluding that, actually, there is something.

Instead of closing the cases, as Netanyahu would have hoped he would, and still hopes he will -- Mandelblit has reportedly consulted with veteran legal officials about the propriety of announcing an intention to indict, subject to a hearing, in the course of an election campaign. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Case Closed: The Justice Department Won't Stand Behind its Report on Immigrants and Terrorism (Benjamin Wittes, January 7, 2019, LawFare)

Don't look now, but the United States Department of Justice just came perilously close to admitting that it engaged in disinformation about immigrants and terrorism in a formal government report.

I say perilously close, because the department did not quite admit it; in fact, the letter sent to a group of people, including me, who had raised concerns about a report the Justice Department published last January, announces that the department has concluded that "the Report should not be withdrawn or corrected."

But the letter, sent to us by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael H. Allen, also concedes that "the Report could be criticized by some readers, consistent with some of the concerns presented," and promises that the department will follow the "principles" of an obscure law known as the Information Quality Act better "in issuing future reports ... to better present such information to the public." This is about as close as the Trump administration is going to get to admitting that it used a formal government report to distort data to slime Muslims and immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Two Months: A lot has changed since Election Day. (WILLIAM KRISTOL  JANUARY 6, 2019, The Bulwark)

Two months ago, on the morning of Tuesday, November 6, 2018, Republicans easily controlled the House of Representatives and held two-thirds of all governors' mansions. The Dow Jones average stood at 25,461. The Trump administration had retired four-star generals James Mattis as secretary of defense and John Kelly as chief-of-staff. Former senator Jeff Sessions was the attorney general, and the president had been relatively disciplined (if demagogic) on the campaign trail.

Today, two months later, Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House, and more Americans have a Democratic governor than a Republican one. The Dow Jones average has fallen about 10 percent. The Trump administration features a chief-of-staff who was a backbench congressman, a secretary of defense with no military or foreign policy experience, and an acting attorney general who hasn't been (and could not be) confirmed by the Senate. The president is in an obvious state of meltdown just as the guardrails have disappeared.

Furthermore, the most prominent incoming Republican senator has gone out of his way to say that the president hasn't risen to the occasion of the presidency and may well lack the character ever to do so.

And a large part of the federal government is shutdown in a way that has damaged the president's credibility among Republicans on the Hill and that is unlikely to end well for him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Posing as Prohibitionists, 2nd Effort Used Online Fakery in Alabama Race (Scott Shane and Alan Blinder, Jan. 7, 2019, NY Times)

The "Dry Alabama" Facebook page, illustrated with stark images of car wrecks and videos of families ruined by drink, had a blunt message: Alcohol is the devil's work, and the state should ban it entirely.

Along with a companion Twitter feed, the Facebook page appeared to be the work of Baptist teetotalers who supported the Republican, Roy S. Moore, in the 2017 Alabama Senate race. "Pray for Roy Moore," one tweet exhorted.

In fact, the Dry Alabama campaign, not previously reported, was the stealth creation of progressive Democrats who were out to defeat Mr. Moore -- the second such secret effort to be unmasked. In a political bank shot made in the last two weeks of the campaign, they thought associating Mr. Moore with calls for a statewide alcohol ban would hurt him with moderate, business-oriented Republicans and assist the Democrat, Doug Jones, who won the special election by a hair-thin margin.

Matt Osborne, a veteran progressive activist who worked on the project, said he hoped that such deceptive tactics would someday be banned from American politics. But in the meantime, he said, he believes that Republicans are using such trickery and that Democrats cannot unilaterally give it up.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM



Russia chose Donald Trump as the U.S. presidential candidate who would be most advantageous to Moscow, and used online tactics to win him the presidency, according to a former agent of the Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad.

"Officials in Moscow looked at the 2016 U.S. presidential race and asked, 'Which candidate would we like to have sitting in the White House? Who will help us achieve our goals?' And they chose him. From that moment, they deployed a system [of bots] for the length of the elections, and ran him for president," former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told the audience at the Marker's digital conference in Israel on Monday, where experts gathered to discuss online disinformation campaigns and bots.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Hamas has a positive legacy with Christians but it faces a serious test (Dr Adnan Abu Amer, January 7, 2019, Middle East Monitor)

Hamas has a positive legacy of good relations with Palestinian Christians. The head of the movement's Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, and a delegation of senior officials visited the Latin Monastery in Gaza City recently to wish Palestinian Christians compliments of the season. He stressed the strong relationship between Muslim and Christian Palestinians, as one nation belonging to one country and with one cause. There is, stressed Haniyeh, a deep historical relationship between them.

When a presenter on Hamas-controlled Aqsa TV used the term "Christian community" in reference to dealing with Palestinian Christians as a minority, the movement believed that this emphasised a non-existent issue. Attempts to create difficulties for Hamas were contrived, as the term carries no negative connotations.

It is estimated that there are 1,000 Christians in the Gaza Strip, out of a total population of two million. Seventy per cent of them are Greek Orthodox; the rest are Roman Catholics.

The official position of Hamas on Christians can be read from the point of view that, since its foundation in the 1980s, its relationship with Palestinian Christians distinguishes only between "those who lived with us, who have what we have and receive what we receive, and those who participate in Western attacks against us." The movement's founding charter, written in 1988, stated that Hamas "adheres to the permissibility of Islam with regards to followers of other religions. It is not hostile towards them, except those who fight it. According to Islam, followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism coexist in security and safety."

In the political document issued in mid-2017, Hamas asserted that, "The Palestinian people, with all their religious and cultural components, are one and believe that Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance. Palestine was and will remain a model of coexistence and tolerance and Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, including all of its Muslim and Christian sanctities."

In addition, Hamas has always included Christian holidays and religious events in its statements and activities, and officials have participated when possible. When strikes were called which coincided with a Christian celebration, then the strikes were switched to another date. This happened on several occasions during the First and Second Intifadas. Moreover, the movement has made sure to include Christians in Palestinian political life, maintained open relations with religious leaders, and had them on their side in national matters. The position taken by Palestinian Roman Catholic priest Father Manuel Musallam, for example, indicates the strong relationship that he has with Hamas.

"Hamas deals with its Christian brothers as a major component of the nation and an active player in the struggle against the occupation," explained the former head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khalid Meshaal. "It does not differentiate between Muslims and Christians in these matters, as we are partners in our homeland and everyone has rights and responsibilities."

When pro-Hamas candidates stood on the Change and Reform electoral list in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, they called for "respect for the rights of all on the basis of citizenship, and to maintain the Palestinian Muslim and Christian Awqaf [religious endowments], alongside justice and equality of opportunity for all citizens in recruitment, employment and promotion."

In practical terms, Hamas does not formulate its position on Christians and even Jews based on their respective views and beliefs, but on their stance on what the Palestinian people are exposed to. This stems from the reaction to aggression, not religious beliefs, which has paved the way throughout the long history of Palestine to good relations between Muslims and Christians across Palestine in general, and the Gaza Strip in particular.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


What Romney Exposed About Late-Stage Trumpism: For some reason, Trump supporters get angry when critics discuss the president's character. (CHARLES SYKES  JANUARY 6, 2019, The Bulwark)

Roger Kimball has heroically taken up Jonah Goldberg's challenge to "come up with a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear."

I use the term "heroically," advisedly because Kimball brings to the task all of his formidable intellectual and rhetorical skills, including the use of original Greek, quotes from Voltaire, and commentary from Cardinal Newman.

In his book The Grammar of Assent, Newman devotes some interesting pages to Aristotle's concept of φρόνησις, "prudence." "Properly speaking," Newman says, "there are as many kinds of phronesis as there are virtues: for the judgment, good sense, or tact which is conspicuous in a man's conduct in one subject-matter, is not necessarily traceable in another."

Rising to the challenge, Kimball writes that voters did not vote for Trump because they thought he was "a candidate for sainthood."

On the contrary, people supported him, first, because of what he promised to do and, second, because of what, over the past two years, he has accomplished. These accomplishments, from rolling back the regulatory state and scores of conservative judicial appointments, from moving our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem to resuscitating our military, working to end Obamacare, and fighting to keep our borders secure, are not morally neutral data points.

These accomplishments, Kimball says, are "evidences of a political vision and of promises made and kept."

And it is here that Kimball makes the audacious bid to redefine the meaning of the word "character." Add up the list of Trump wins, Kimball concludes, "and I think they go a long way towards a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear."

Do not overlook Kimball's accomplishment here: There as a time when character referred to such hoary values as justice, prudence, truth, temperance, and fortitude. But in this telling, character becomes simply a threshold to be clear by tabulating policy outcomes.

In his response, Goldberg notes that Kimball "employs an enormous amount of logic-chopping and squirrel-spotting," to come up with a "new and wholly instrumental definition of good character":

He is saying that a man who bedded a porn star while his (third) wife was home with their newborn child now fits the--or at least a--definition of good character because he delivers tax cuts. A man, who by his own admission, "whines until he wins" and boasts of how he screwed over business partners, a man who lies more egregiously and incessantly than Bill Clinton and used his family charity in Clintonian ways, has a good character because he's "working to end Obamacare, and fighting to keep our borders secure." Is that really what conservatives should be telling presidents? That so long as you fulfill your promises to the base of the party, not only will we abstain from meaningful criticism, but we will in fact redefine good character to fit the president? I have deep admiration for Roger, but if I knew what the original Greek for "bologna" is, I would use it here.

But this is where I have to differ from Jonah a bit. The Trumpian celebration of strength over goodness and the sneering at traditional values as emblems of weakness is not utterly new. It is, in fact, somewhat surprising that Kimball would quote Newman and Voltaire, but not Nietzsche, since he seems to channeling his transvaluation of values.

Peter Wehner noted the intellectual patrimony of the Trumpian ethos more than two years ago.

To better understand Mr. Trump's approach to life, ethics, and politics, we should not look to Christ but to Friedrich Nietzsche, who was repulsed by Christianity and Christ. "What is good?" Nietzsche asks in "The Anti-Christ": "Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases--that resistance is overcome."

In other words #winning.

Wehner recognized the intellectual antecedents of the strutting bully-boys of Trumpism, even if they were oblivious of the source. Nietzsche would have fit seamlessly into the pages of American Greatness or on Fox News' primetime lineup. His twitter feed would have been lit. As Wehner wrote:

Whether or not he has read a word of Nietzsche (I'm guessing not), Mr. Trump embodies a Nietzschean morality rather than a Christian one. It is characterized by indifference to objective truth (there are no facts, only interpretations), the repudiation of Christian concern for the poor and the weak, and disdain for the powerless. It celebrates the "Übermensch," or Superman, who rejects Christian morality in favor of his own. For Nietzsche, strength was intrinsically good and weakness was intrinsically bad. So, too, for Donald Trump.

This is what Romney exposed. While mouthing pieties about Christian values, late stage Trumpism is edging ever closer to explicitly embracing Nietzsche's upside down moral universe. And this is as dangerous as it is disappointing.

Donald's removal will not be a function of the Right coming to Jesus, but their coming to Gallup and realizing he's about to give us unified Democratic government. As the midterms showed, he's a #loser.

The Trump Primary Has Already Begun (JONATHAN LAST  JANUARY 6, 2019, The Bulwark)

[(]1) Primary challenges are not, in fact, extraordinary insurrections incited by deranged elements within the party. And (2) whether a primary challenge is a cause or a symptom, it usually correlates with a failed re-election bid.

You can imagine that if Trump is challenged, the first thing the Julie Kellys and Mollie Hemingways of the world will say is that his challenger represents another paroxysm of NeverTrump insanity. As a historical matter, this argument would be false. When sitting presidents are unpopular and have politically unsuccessful first terms, a primary challenge is the norm, not the exception. And as for the second matter, anyone who wants to claim that a Republican challenger actually helps Trump will have have to argue the four most dangerous words in the English language: "This time is different."

Good luck with that.

The modern political age more or less begins with the advent of televised politics in the 1960s. Since then we've had nine sitting presidents stand for re-election. Five of them were challenged in the primaries. Of those five, only one--Richard Nixon in 1972--won.

When you look at the data on presidential approval ratings, a few things stand out. Not all of the presidents to draw primary challenges were terribly unpopular. George H.W. Bush, for instance, was at close to 60 percent approval at this point in the cycle. (This was an artificial level created by the Gulf War, obviously.) But most were under the 50 percent mark and trending downward. The presidents who avoided primaries--Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama--generally had approval rates above 45 percent and generally trended upward leading into the re-elect year.

Look at the graph below and you'll note that 45 percent is a mark Trump hasn't yet touched. His average has remained closer to 40 percent and there is virtually no directional trend: He has topped out, once or twice, at 44 percent and bottomed out, more than a few times, at 36 percent. His range of possible outcomes here seems locked into a very narrow band. In order for him to break out of it, something extraordinary would have to happen.

Have you seen anything in the last three years to suggest that Donald Trump is capable of making himself markedly more popular with the people who don't already like him?

Me neither.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Why Republicans Should Support Immigration (Jordan Bruneau, Jan. 2, 2019, NY Times)

Hard as it is to believe today, California once reliably voted Republican in presidential elections. Other than Lyndon Johnson, no Democratic presidential candidate won the Golden State in the four decades between Harry Truman and Bill Clinton. Now, Democrats control the entire state government and hold 46 of its 53 House seats and both Senate seats.

What happened? Mr. Wilson, then governor, went after immigrants, championing Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative that barred illegal immigrant children from attending public schools and using other social services. Though the measure passed after a contentious fight, it was a hollow victory. An injunction was granted three days after passage, and the measure was ultimately deemed unconstitutional.

Several studies have found that Republican support of Proposition 187 and other anti-immigrant efforts alienated white and Latino voters in California from the Republican Party. One of these studies, published in The American Journal of Political Science, points out that Proposition 187 actually reversed the trend of Latinos increasingly supporting Republicans, with "no counterbalancing gain in party supporters from other groups, particularly non-Hispanic whites." The authors conclude that the "results raise serious questions about the long-term efficacy of racially divisive strategies for electoral gain." This study should be required reading for Trump Republicans.

The Hispanic portion of the United States population today is similar to the portion in California in the early 1990s. About 20 percent of the country is Hispanic; in 1990, 26 percent of California's population was. You don't have to be a political wizard to understand that alienating growing blocs of voters -- not just Latinos, but also other immigrants and younger people -- is bad political strategy.

"I hate you; vote for us!"

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Trump aides may be in legal jeopardy as Democrats give evidence to Mueller (David Taylor, 6 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

Speaking on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, Schiff made clear he would be handing over transcripts which had been withheld from Mueller's investigation by Republicans when they controlled the panel.

The committee staged 73 interviews with dozens of witnesses, including Jared Kushner, Trump Jr and Stone. Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, has already pleaded guilty to perjury for lying to Congress over attempts to make a deal to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Schiff said he was "trying to deconflict" with special counsel Mueller's investigation because over the last two years the committee, under Republican leadership, had actively tried to make the special counsel's work more difficult.

Schiff said he planned "as one of our first acts to make the transcripts of our witnesses fully available to special counsel for any purpose, including the bringing of perjury charges".

Trump Jr is in peril because he orchestrated the now infamous Trump Tower meeting with a group of Russians after being promised "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. He would face problems if he told Congress that his father was unaware of the meeting but Mueller has obtained evidence to contradict that.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


'Sonic attack' on US embassy in Havana could have been crickets, say scientists (Ian Sample,  6 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

[A] fresh analysis of the audio recording has revealed what scientists in the UK and the US now believe is the true source of the piercing din: it is the song of the Indies short-tailed cricket, known formally as Anurogryllus celerinictus.

"The recording is definitively a cricket that belongs to the same group," said Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, a professor of sensory biology at the University of Lincoln. "The call of this Caribbean species is about 7 kHz, and is delivered at an unusually high rate, which gives humans the sensation of a continuous sharp trill."


January 6, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


This Reporter Took a Deep Look Into the Science of Smoking Pot. What He Found Is Scary.: Alex Berenson's new book delves into research linking heavy use with violent crime and mental illness. (STEPHANIE MENCIMERJANUARY 5, 2019, mOTHER jONES)

The book was seeded one night a few years ago when Berenson's wife, a psychologist who evaluates mentally ill criminal defendants in New York, started talking about a horrific case she was handling. It was "the usual horror story, somebody who'd cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment--typical bedtime chat in the Berenson house," he writes. But then, his wife added, "Of course he was high, been smoking pot his whole life."

Berenson, who smoked a bit in college, didn't have strong feelings about marijuana one way or another, but he was skeptical that it could bring about violent crime. Like most Americans, he thought stoners ate pizza and played video games--they didn't hack up family members. Yet his Harvard-trained wife insisted that all the horrible cases she was seeing involved people who were heavy into weed. She directed him to the science on the subject.

We look back and laugh at Reefer Madness, which was pretty over-the-top, after all, but Berenson found himself immersed in some pretty sobering evidence: Cannabis has been associated with legitimate reports of psychotic behavior and violence dating at least to the 19th century, when British colonial officials in India noted that 20 to 30 percent of patients in mental hospitals were committed for cannabis-related insanity. The British reports, like Berenson's wife, described horrific crimes--at least one beheading. The Brits attributed far more cases of mental illness to cannabis than to alcohol or opium. The Mexican government reached similar conclusions, banning cannabis sales in 1920--nearly 20 years before the United States did--after years of credible reports of cannabis-induced madness and violent crime.

Over the past couple of decades, studies around the globe have found that THC--the active compound in cannabis--is strongly linked to psychosis, schizophrenia, and violence. Berenson interviewed far-flung researchers who've quietly but methodically documented the effects of THC on serious mental illness and he makes a convincing case that a recreational drug marketed as an all-around health product may, in fact, be really dangerous--especially for people with a family history of mental illness, and for adolescents with developing brains.

Now that drugs are finally legal they're facing the same public policy onslaught as alcohol and cigarettes as health concerns converge with moral qualms. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


A newly discovered account of jazz legend Buddy Bolden's mental decline (James Karst, 1/03/19, NOLA)

Buddy Bolden is a towering yet enigmatic figure in American popular music. The cornet player was said to be the most popular jazz musician in New Orleans for a brief period in the early 20th century, before the homegrown genre was even known by that name. Bolden is sometimes credited as having single-handedly invented jazz, although the truth of its genesis is complicated. The bawdy "Buddy Bolden's Blues," AKA "Funky Butt," remains a traditional jazz staple to this day.

Tragically, the first king of jazz was debilitated by mental illness at what should have been the height of his career. After a series of arrests, he was committed to the Louisiana mental asylum in 1907. He lived out the rest of his life at the institution and died in obscurity. Bolden is believed to have made a wax cylinder recording around the turn of the century, but it has never been found, and the conventional wisdom is that it probably no longer exists.

Limited details are known about Bolden's life, and separating fiction from fact has often proven difficult. Much of what we do know has come from police and medical records and from interviews conducted years after his death with people who had known Bolden.

During Bolden's career, in the early decades of Jim Crow, newspapers in New Orleans rarely wrote about black people except to hold them up for ridicule or to document alleged criminal offenses. As a result, any contemporary slivers of information about Bolden have great significance to jazz historians. Don Marquis writes in his definitive Bolden biography, "In Search of Buddy Bolden," that reports in the Daily Picayune and Item in late March of 1906 constituted the only newspaper coverage of the famed musician during his lifetime.

But a third New Orleans newspaper, the Daily States, also wrote about the incident that is believed to have marked the beginning of Bolden's downfall. For reasons that are unclear, it was lost to history until this December, when it was discovered by this writer on microfilm in the New Orleans City Archives. This newly unearthed report provides another perspective on beginning of the mental health crisis of the jazz pioneer, sharing details not addressed in the other newspapers or the police report, and offers a rare contemporary glimpse at the life of a tragic figure whose enduring fame exists at the intersection of madness and genius.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Frank Kimbrough: Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk (Sunnyside): Review of six-disc comprehensive Monk set on which the pianist is joined by Scott Robinson, Rufus Reid, and Billy Drummond (Dan Bilawsky, 1/05/19, Jazz Times)

The fact that these men had the stamina and discipline to accomplish such a feat in such a concentrated amount of time is a marvel in and of itself. And that's to say nothing of the quality of what they created, which is incredibly high, and the level of respect within it, which runs deep. Walking a careful line, Kimbrough and his companions never obscure the master's truths, muddy his language, or attempt to erect a revisionist playground. Fidelity is a foremost concern, as melodies, harmonies, and shape are largely honored. Kimbrough even adopts a more percussive touch than usual, hewing closer to Monk's mannerisms. But that doesn't mean creative thought is suppressed. This is anything but mundane Monk.

Wonders abound across these five-and-a-half hours of music spanning six CDs, but it's the hidden gems in Monk's portfolio that stand tallest. "Humph" is angular chic all the way, showcasing the chemistry between Robinson's tenor and Kimbrough's keys; "Bluehawk" uses simplicity as elevating grace, giving Robinson's echo cornet and Reid's centered bass a chance to connect; "San Francisco Holiday" is a captivating affair built on descending lines and some artful connections from Drummond; and "Hornin' In" is the stuff of casual brilliance, highlighting the group's near-telepathic interplay.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Dirty Harry: The Rage of the Anti-Hero (K. V. Turley, 1/04/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Also in 1968, Steve McQueen had scored box office success with the à la mode police drama: Bullitt. Set in San Francisco, the McQueen police character, Frank Bullitt, has only the semblance of a police officer. Equally as much a loner as the later Callaghan, both characters are alienated from their superior officers if for different reasons. Bullitt despises the Establishment as represented by those superior officers and their political masters. In this aspect McQueen's character is more counter-cultural than law and order. In contrast, Callaghan would despise his police superiors solely for being weak on the perpetrators of crime; so weak, in fact, that there is, under Callaghan's glib one-liners, a visceral rage against their hypocritical inaction. By 1971, Mr. Eastwood's character was tapping into a wider rage that was then seething through a large segment of American society, the same constituency who had voted for Nixon just a few years earlier. On screen, it is this rage that propels Callaghan to become less a law enforcement officer than an enforcer of his laws.

In Dirty Harry this is nowhere more exemplified than when Callaghan is confronted about his arrest tactics. To free a girl being held hostage, he tortures the reptilian psychopath Scorpio (played by Andy Robinson). When, later, Callaghan is told the confession and weapons retrieved from Scorpio's lair, to say nothing of the dead girl's body, are all inadmissible as evidence, the police inspector is rightly outraged. We watch as a shabbily dressed bureaucrat berates Callaghan over the so-called "Miranda warning." This was the 1966 United States Supreme Court decision confirming that criminal suspects must have their rights read to them prior to any interrogation. Thinking only of the victim, Callaghan had dispensed with this while torturing Scorpio, and, what's more, later, makes no apology for doing so.

Predictably, liberal film critics loathed Dirty Harry. In particular, they seized upon the torture scene as well as other aspects of the plot to come up with a catalogue of perceived "crimes" committed by Mr. Eastwood. The Scorpio figure is obviously counter-cultural, speaking in that argot, and dressed accordingly. He even wears a very San Francisco "love and peace" sign. He might be a rampaging killer but to some film critics he was representative of an emerging America with which they identified, one seemingly under attack from the Frontier Justice of Mr. Eastwood's perceived alter ego.

Reminiscent of Spillane, despite these negative critical pronouncements, Dirty Harry was a box office smash: one of the highest-grossing movies of 1971. As well as a huge success worldwide, it was this film that moved Mr. Eastwood from Hollywood star to a Hollywood Super Star.

It seems odd to miss the fact that Scorpio is modeled after the Zodiac Killer, and which brings one to another film that should be viewed in conjunction with Dirty Harry and Bullitt: Zodiac.  The last is based on journalist Robert Graysmith's memoir of the actual case and features Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi, who both Eastwood and McQueen used as inspiration for their portrayals of Harry and Frank.  Each film is excellent in its own way.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Don't run (Times Argus, Jan 5, 2019)

Bernie Sanders should not run for president. In fact, we beg him not to.

That is an unfavorable opinion, especially among most Vermonters and progressives who support the platform that has come to define him. But at this point, there are more things about another Sanders run at the White House that concern us than excite us.

In this space, we have repeatedly hit the senator on where his loyalties lay: Vermont or a bigger calling? We have asked him to make a choice, which he would argue was his recent re-election to Congress. But in his previous run for the presidency, Sanders, an independent who ran for the White House as a Democrat, missed dozens of votes that likely would have helped Vermonters. And, while he handily defeated his challenger, can Vermonters point to Sanders' record and say definitively, "This is what he's done for us?"

Walker Ending Term With $588.5 Million Budget Surplus (Bethany Blankley, January 6, 2019, Free Beacon)

Gov. Scott Walker leaves office next week, finishing his second term by posting a budget surplus for the eighth year in a row. Wisconsin ended last fiscal year with a $588.5 million surplus and will start 2018-2019 with the second-highest opening balance since 2000.

"We are leaving Wisconsin in the best financial condition in a generation," Walker announced. "This is part of our legacy and it will continue to drive Wisconsin forward."

Walker, who had not previously discussed publicly what he planned to do after leaving office, said Tuesday he would join a speaking tour across the country and "focus on new methods to articulate a conservative message."

Walker's legacy includes cutting Wisconsin residents' taxes by $8 billion and reducing the collective bargaining rights of government workers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Did the Rich Really Pay Much Higher Taxes in the 1950s? The Answer Is a Little Complicated. (JORDAN WEISSMANN, AUG 07, 2017, Slate)

American progressives like to remember the mid-20th century as a time when the only thing higher than a Cadillac's tail fin was the top marginal tax rate (which, during the Eisenhower years peaked above 90 percent for the very rich). Uncle Sam took 90 cents on the dollar off the highest incomes, and--as any good Bernie Sanders devotee will remind you--the economy thrived.

Conservatives, however, often try to push back on this version of history, pointing out that those staggeringly high tax rates existed mostly on paper; relatively few Americans actually paid them. Recently, the Tax Foundation's Scott Greenberg went so far as to argue that "taxes on the rich were not that much higher" in the 1950s than today. Between 1950 and 1959, he notes, the highest earning 1 percent of Americans paid an effective tax rate of 42 percent. By 2014, it was only down to 36.4 percent--a substantial but by no means astronomical decline.

Greenberg is not pulling his numbers out of thin air. Rather, he's drawing them directly from a recent paper by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman in which the three economists--all well-loved by progressives--estimate the average tax rates Americans at different income levels have actually paid over time. Their historical measure includes federal, state, and local levies--including corporate, property, income, estate, sales, and payroll taxes.

45% of Americans pay no federal income tax (CATEY HILL, 4/18/16, MarketWatch)

On average, those in the bottom 40% of the income spectrum end up getting money from the government. Meanwhile, the richest 20% of Americans, by far, pay the most in income taxes, forking over nearly 87% of all the income tax collected by Uncle Sam.

Rich people pay nearly 87% of all federal individual income tax in America

Income levelShare of total federal 
individual income tax paid
Average income tax bill 
per person
Lowest 20%-2.2%-$643
Second lowest 20%-1.7%-$621
Middle income4.2%$1,743
Second richest 20%12.9%$6,285
Richest 20%86.8%$50,176

Source: Tax Policy Center

The top 1% of Americans, who have an average income of more than $2.1 million, pay 43.6% of all the federal individual income tax in the U.S.; the top 0.1% -- just 115,000 households, whose average income is more than $9.4 million -- pay more than 20% of it.

Having fought a Revolution based on the idea that representation is a function of taxation, it seems problematic to have a tax system that is so fundamentally unbalanced.  Meanwhile, economically it is odd to use taxes to punish earning, profits, saving and investing. Thus, the Neoconomic notion of transitioning to a regime of consumption taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Labor shortage drives more bankruptcies in Japan (TSUKASA MORIKUNI, JANUARY 06, 2019, Nikkei)

More Japanese companies went under for lack of personnel last year, reflecting the growing toll of the country's ongoing labor crunch on businesses that fail to secure or keep workers.

Tokyo Shoko Research counted 362 such bankruptcies during the year through November 2018, up more than 20% on the year. The total has already surpassed the full-year 2015 figure of 340, the highest since the research firm began tracking this data in 2013.

The number of companies that had to shut their doors because they lacked enough employees to handle the necessary work jumped 66% to 53, while another 24 -- a 71% rise -- increased compensation to hold on to existing staff but could not bear the higher costs. A total of 261 companies went out of business because the head fell ill or retired without a successor, up 13%.

The problem is particularly severe in the service sector, including such areas as the restaurant industry, nursing homes and care providers for the elderly, and trucking companies.

January 5, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Donald Trump, master revisionist: What he said about Afghanistan, and what it says about him (GARRY KASPAROV, JAN 04, 2019, NY Daily News)

Terrorists going into Russia wasn't even part of the Soviet Union's pretexts for invading Afghanistan in 1979. The Soviets went in to secure a much-hated pro-Kremlin Communist regime and to kill anyone who resisted. (The similarities with Vladimir Putin's bloody efforts in Syria today are notable.) The only talk about insurgents was of the local mujahideen variety that was waging guerilla war against the brutal Communist government, with American aid.

As for being "right to be there," the American President justifying the Soviet invasion of a neighboring country is very dangerous at a time when Putin is doing the very same thing.

Intent on vindicating his own hostile acts, Putin has been steadily rehabilitating the deeds of Joseph Stalin and other Soviet actions. After all, if the Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan was wrong -- it was officially condemned "morally and politically" in the USSR in December 1989 -- what to make of Putin's invasions of neighboring Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014? With that in mind, the puppet Russian parliament has prepared a resolution declaring that the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan was lawful and just and is scheduled to vote on it on Feb. 15.

Just a coincidence? So where did the President get this idea that the Soviets were right to be in Afghanistan? Keen observers have noted that Trump's Twitter rants regularly regurgitate talking points from Fox News morning shows, but unless I've seriously underestimated the show, upcoming Russian parliamentary votes and Soviet history aren't much in the mix on "Fox & Friends."

The only beneficiary of Trump making this wild claim is the person who originated it: Vladimir Putin. State-controlled Russian media are delighted to have the American President's endorsement of the right to invade neighboring countries under the flimsiest of pretexts. Nor is this the first time Trump has shared an oddly specific non-sequitur in line with Kremlin talking points. Last summer he suddenly criticized new NATO member Montenegro, which was the target of a Russian coup plot in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Federal prison guards fume inmates get special holiday meals while they work without pay (PETER SBLENDORIO, 1/05/18,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

While federal prison officers worked through the holidays without pay, the inmates they guarded were treated to special yuletide meals, union officials reportedly fumed.

At the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex near Orlando, convicts dined on Cornish game hen and pie on Christmas and beef with black eyed peas and sweet desserts, according to USA Today.

"This is appalling," Joe Rojas, Coleman's union chief, told the newspaper. "We're not getting paid, and the inmates are eating steak. The inmates know what's going on; they know about the shutdown, and they are laughing at us."

After years of Trump's dire warnings, a 'crisis' has hit border but generates little urgency (Nick Miroff and David Nakamura, 1/05/19, The Washington Post)

In recent weeks, so many parents with children have been among the 2,000 unauthorized migrants who are being taken into federal custody each day that authorities have resorted to mass releases of families onto the streets of El Paso and other border cities. U.S. agents are bringing dozens of migrants coughing and feverish each day to clinics and hospitals after stays in jam-packed holding cells where children sleep on concrete floors and huddle in plastic sheets for warmth.

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will travel to New Mexico on Monday to the Border Patrol station where 8-year-old Felipe Alonso Gomez was detained before he died on Christmas Eve with flulike symptoms. But Democrats critical of the administration's treatment of migrant families have offered few solutions to stem the unprecedented influx of parents with children that is buckling the U.S. immigration system.

The government shutdown has made the strains worse. Many immigration judges have been furloughed, deepening dysfunction in a court system crippled by a backlog of nearly 1 million cases. Along the border, U.S. agents and officers are being forced to work indefinitely without pay. "Morale is down in the dumps," said one border agent in South Texas who was not authorized to speak on the record.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


The Border Wall: How a Potent Symbol Is Now Boxing Trump In (Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Peter Baker, Jan. 5, 2019, NY Times)

As Mr. Trump began exploring a presidential run in 2014, his political advisers landed on the idea of a border wall as a mnemonic device of sorts, a way to make sure their candidate -- who hated reading from a script but loved boasting about himself and his talents as a builder -- would remember to talk about getting tough on immigration, which was to be a signature issue in his nascent campaign.

"How do we get him to continue to talk about immigration?" Sam Nunberg, one of Mr. Trump's early political advisers, recalled telling Roger J. Stone Jr., another adviser. "We're going to get him to talk about he's going to build a wall."

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Trump Keeps Giving Mueller Reasons to Pursue the 'Collusion' Probe (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, January 5, 2019, National Review)

[T]rump's remarks, echoing Russian propaganda about its aggression, are apt to be of interest to the special counsel. [...]

Just sticking with what we know (as if Mueller has no other information): Cronies of Putin told Trump-campaign officials that the Russian government wanted Trump to win the election. Trump recruited into his campaign the likes of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, who had close ties and multi-million-dollar business dealings with Putin cronies, including leaders of the Kremlin-backed Ukranian political party that was largely responsible for the strife in Ukraine that has led to civil war and Putin's annexation of Crimea. Manafort, who became Trump's campaign chairman, offered briefings on the campaign to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch so close to Putin that the latter has interceded on Deripaska's behalf to protest U.S. travel restrictions. The