March 31, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM



LIKE ANY SENTIENT person, you've noticed that software is eating the world, to use venture capitalist Marc Andreessen's famous phrase. You've seen Facebook swallow the public sphere, Uber overhaul urban transportation, Instagram supercharge selfie culture, and Amazon drop off your shopping within 24 hours. Technological innovators generally boast that their services change the world or make life more convenient, but underpinning everything they do is speed. Whatever you were doing before--hailing a cab, gossiping with a friend, buying toothpaste--now happens faster. The thrust of Silicon Valley is always to take human activity and shift it into metabolic overdrive. And maybe you've wondered, why the heck is that? Why do techies insist that things should be sped up, torqued, optimized?

There's one obvious reason, of course: They do it because of the dictates of the market. Capitalism handsomely rewards anyone who can improve a process and squeeze some margin out. But with software, there's something else going on too. For coders, efficiency is more than just a tool for business. It's an existential state, an emotional driver.

Coders might have different backgrounds and political opinions, but nearly every one I've ever met found deep, almost soulful pleasure in taking something inefficient--even just a little bit slow--and tightening it up a notch. Removing the friction from a system is an aesthetic joy; coders' eyes blaze when they talk about making something run faster or how they eliminated some bothersome human effort from a process.

This passion for efficiency isn't unique to software developers. Engineers and inventors have long been motivated by it. During the early years of industrialization, engineers elevated the automation of everyday tasks to a moral good. The engineer was humanity's "redeemer from despairing drudgery and burdensome labor," as Charles Hermany, an engineer himself, wrote in 1904. Frederick Winslow Taylor--the inventor of Taylorism, which helped lay the groundwork for manufacturing assembly lines--inveighed against the "awkward, inefficient or ill-directed movements of men." Frank Gilbreth fretted over wasted movements in everything from bricklaying to vest buttoning, while his industrial-­engineering partner and wife, Lillian Evelyn Gilbreth, designed kitchens such that the number of steps in making a strawberry shortcake was reduced "from 281 to 45," as The Better Homes Manual enthused in 1931.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Joe Biden Denied Acting Inappropriately After A Democratic Politician Said He Kissed Her (Azeen Ghorayshi, 3/31/19, BuzzFeed News)

On Friday, a former Democratic nominee for Nevada lieutenant governor, Lucy Flores, penned a first-person essay describing an incident in 2014 when then-Vice President Joe Biden touched and kissed her from behind in a way that made her uncomfortable. On Sunday morning, Biden released a statement defending his actions, saying he did not believe he acted inappropriately. "It was never my intention," Biden said.

Flores was a 35-year-old on the campaign trail in Nevada when Biden offered to come to one of her rallies to help boost voter turnout. While waiting on the side of the stage, Flores said that the vice president came up to her from behind, put his hands on her shoulders, leaned in close to smell her hair, and then kissed the back of her head.

"I couldn't move and I couldn't say anything," Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman, wrote in New York Magazine's The Cut. "I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me." [...]

"In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once - never - did I believe I acted inappropriately," Biden said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Son of Stormfront Founder Reveals His Family Watches Tucker Carlson for Tips on 'White Nationalist Talking Points' (Tamar Auber, Mar 30th, 2019, Mediate)

The son of Stormfront founder Don Black revealed on CNN on Saturday that his family watches Fox News' Tucker Carlson for tips on white supremacist talking points.

Derek Black grew up making white supremacist speeches and embracing the hate that fills Stormfront's pages. Then he went to college and his life changed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Why Courtrooms Are Kryptonite for Alex Jones (Charlie Warzel, March 31, 2019, NY Times)

In a video deposition, the conspiracy theorist and Infowars host Alex Jones was questioned about the sources for his false claims that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax.CreditCreditJim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock
Nothing like a three-hour deposition under oath to turn an excitable conspiracy theorist into a man subdued, deferential and humbled. That's the Alex Jones who the world met for the first time on Friday, when attorneys for families of the victims of a school shooting posted his deposition online.

The deposition was given earlier this month in conjunction with a number of lawsuits on behalf of parents of victims of the attack in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Mr. Jones, the longtime misinformation-peddler and founder of the radio and online show Infowars, is being sued for defamation for saying repeatedly during his broadcasts that parts of the Sandy Hook shooting were staged and that the tragedy was a "false flag" operation, designed to take away firearms from American citizens.

For anyone familiar with his broadcasts and style, the deposition is a jarring piece of evidence. It is also perhaps the most revealing portrait of Mr. Jones -- one that strips bare the bloviating host to expose a huckster. Amid his heavy sighing and wincing, the hours of out-of-court testimony show the real Alexander Jones: a man caught between the desire to defend his conspiracy empire and a legal system that threatens to bring it all crashing down.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


One benefit workers want more than anything is an unlimited vacation policy (JENA McGREGOR, 3/30/19, The Washington Post)

Employees have a new favorite perk, and it's not free craft-brewed beer, student loan repayment benefits or eco-friendly roof gardens at the office. It's much simpler: More time off.

In its 17th annual employee benefits trend survey released this week -- just as Spring Break season hit its peak -- MetLife found that more people are interested in having an unlimited vacation policy than any other "emerging" perk, such as onsite medical clinics, subsidized egg freezing benefits or even paid sabbaticals. The policies' implicit flexibility for taking time off, the survey found, was more appealing to employees of every age group than any other new benefit (with the exception of a phased retirement program to Baby Boomer-aged workers).

The fewer hours you work the more productive you are--the hardest part of any job being pretending it takes 40 hours a week to complete.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Turks vote in local polls, Erdogan's party could lose in big cities (Tuvan Gumrukcu, 3/31/19, Reuters) 

Turks voted on Sunday in local elections which President Tayyip Erdogan has described as a matter of survival for Turkey and which were marred by violence that left two party members dead in the country's southeast.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years thanks in part to strong economic growth, has become the country's most popular, yet also most divisive, leader in modern history.

However, he could be dealt an electoral blow with polls indicating his ruling AK Party (AKP) may lose control of the capital Ankara, and even Istanbul, the country's largest city.

With the economy contracting following a currency crisis last year in which the lira lost more than 30 percent of its value, some voters appeared ready to punish Erdogan, who has ruled with an increasingly uncompromising stance.

March 30, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 PM


Trump's 2020 Campaign: A Traditional Operation With a Wild-Card Candidate (Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman, March 29, 2019, NY  Times)

Mr. Trump has made it clear that he wants to run on the same anti-immigration, anti-Islam, fear-mongering tropes that lifted him to victory in 2016...

There is also another factor at play, which is how much of his time Mr. Trump is willing to give them.

After two years in office, Mr. Trump, 72, is tired, aides said. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


The Globalisation of Ethnonationalism (Ben Sixsmith, 3/30/19, Quillette)

The Christchurch killer's manifesto, as I have written, is so full of in-jokes that it is difficult to tell what is sarcastic and what is serious. What is clear, however, is that the man had a vast array of international interests and influences. He called himself an "eco-fascist" (despite saying little about the environment). He lionised the British fascist Oswald Mosley. His favourite government was China's. He wrote about conflicts in the Balkans, and Central and Eastern Europe. His title, The Great Replacement, was a reference to the work of the reclusive French anti-immigration author Renaud Camus, who commented, not especially convincingly:

I worry about our Muslim friends. I think that for security they should gather in a large fortress, the "land of Islam" (fifty seven countries anyway...), and live in peace according to their tastes and according to their faith, well protected against the imbalanced.

The Christchurch killer's potpourri of influences reflects the curiously international nature of white nationalism. Rather than nations having their own united, cohesive political movements they tend to have fragmentary and contradictory groups, drawing on ideological trends from around the world.

"Eco-fascists," for example, among whom the Christchurch killer placed himself with arguable levels of seriousness, are influenced by an austere Finnish fisherman named Pentti Linkola. Linkola believes that if human beings are to coexist with nature, the only solutions mass death and severe birth control. "Who misses all those who died in the Second World War? Who misses the twenty million executed by Stalin? Who misses Hitler's six million Jews?" Eco-fascists add, of course, that if any population should survive the mass death it is theirs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


'Out of the Park Baseball XX' predicts Nationals, Astros to meet in World Series (Bryan Wiedey, Published on Mar. 29, 2019, Sporting News)

AL predicted win totals 
Boston Red Sox: 100
Houston Astros: 98
New York Yankees: 93
Cleveland Indians: 93
Tampa Bay Rays: 86
Minnesota Twins: 82
Los Angeles Angels: 82
Toronto Blue Jays: 79
Oakland Athletics: 76
Seattle Mariners: 76
Kansas City Royals: 74
Texas Rangers: 74
Detroit Tigers: 69
Chicago White Sox: 64
Baltimore Orioles: 58

NL predicted win totals 
Washington Nationals: 96
Los Angeles Dodgers: 95
Atlanta Braves: 89
New York Mets: 89
St. Louis Cardinals: 87
Chicago Cubs: 85
Philadelphia Phillies: 84
Milwaukee Brewers: 83
Arizona Diamondbacks: 81
Colorado Rockies: 80
Cincinnati Reds: 79
San Diego Padres: 78
Pittsburgh Pirates: 76
San Francisco Giants: 71
Miami Marlins: 56

Out of the Park Baseball 20 Releases Worldwide Today!

OOTP 20 features all new integrated live services, a supercharged 3D in-game experience, modern baseball strategies, upgraded AI, Perfect Team mode 2.0, 2019 Opening Day rosters, and more! 

Out of the Park Developments, an official licensee of Major League Baseball (MLB), the Major League Baseball Players Association, and, announced that Out of the Park Baseball 20 is available worldwide today! OOTP 20 is the 20th anniversary edition of the award-winning baseball strategy game, the culmination of two decades of sports strategy gaming excellence with dozens of exciting new features and deep improvements.

Out of the Park Baseball 20 includes:

  • For the first time ever - integrated live services all season long! Start a new MLB game any day during the regular season and Postseason with up-to-date rosters, standings, stats and player ratings, or to update player ratings in your current game based on their current performances.
  • All new motion-capture-powered 3D animations, driving a supercharged in-game experience
  • Ultra-modern baseball strategies, including 'openers' and 'followers' as today's game continues to evolve - plus advanced in-game smarts to counteract these moves!
  • Improved AI for trades, scouting, contracts, roster-building, and player evaluation
  • Upgraded prospect and minor league ratings, thanks to the biggest and most hands-on roster evaluation team yet!
  • 2019 roster sets with all Opening Day MLB rosters, as well as the complete minor league system from Triple-A to rookie leagues as well as the Arizona Fall League. All major league (and over a thousand minor league) player ratings will be based on the popular ZiPS player projection system. 
  • 12 international leagues, as well as several independent minor leagues in the US and internationally, with accurate rosters
  • Perfect Team mode 2.0, the next generation of the wildly popular online competitive mode - including all-new tournaments, hundreds of more cards, collection missions, upgraded auction house, additional league levels, and new content release every week all year long!
  • Many more improvements, all built upon the incredibly deep award-winning Out of the Park Baseball engine that has accurately simulated the World Series winner the past two seasons on MLB Network and produced deep simulations for!

In addition, this summer, Out of the Park Developments will unveil our exciting new mobile app OOTP Go, a completely revamped on-the-go experience that allows you to enjoy OOTP and Perfect Team mode anywhere, any time! 

Out of the Park Baseball 20 can be ordered through this link.

Out of the Park Baseball 20 is also available on Steam & Origin. Purchasers of the game via these channels will receive 10% launch discount, which expires March 29.

Out of the Park Baseball 20 will be available as part of the Origin Access Premiere service starting on April 9, 2019.

All customers who have pre-ordered or who now purchase the game and register a Perfect Team mode account prior to March 29 will receive one bonus Perfect Team mode Gold Pack.

OOTP 20 runs on PC/Mac/Linux and features the American League and National League logos, the World Series trophy, official logos and jerseys for all 30 MLB teams, over 150 Minor League Baseball league and team logos, and historical MLB logos.

Quotes from OOTP Developments executives

"We are so proud to release Out of the Park Baseball 20," said lead developer, lifelong baseball fan, and Out of the Park Developments CEO Markus Heinsohn. "It is the culmination of two decades' worth of work - not just from our internal development team, but our entire community. We've always strived to bring everything a baseball fan could ever want to the game, and OOTP 20 is the result of that community-driven approach. We are grateful and humbled by our success - and can't wait to keep building on all of it!"

"Out of the Park Baseball 20 is the most ambitious game we've ever made," said Out of the Park Developments CMO Richard Grisham. "Thanks to the investments in infrastructure, live services, and AI over the past few years, Out of the Park Baseball 20 offers something for every possible kind of player - and it will evolve all season long and into the future. It is a full realization of a multi-year design and development strategy."
About Out of the Park Developments 

Out of the Park Developments is the developer of the award-winning OOTP and MLB Manager series of baseball management simulations, Franchise Hockey Manager, and Front Office Football. German-based OOTP Developments was founded by Markus Heinsohn and Andreas Raht in 1999. OOTP Developments has consistently produced games that have met with critical acclaim, including winning Metacritic's coveted "PC Game of the Year" for the 2016 version of OOTP and "Game of the Year" for the 2007 edition of OOTP, which remains the second highest-rated PC game on Metacritic of all time. Further information on the company and its games is available from the OOTP Developments website,

Major League Baseball Players Association

The Major League Baseball Players Association ( is the collective bargaining representative for all professional baseball players of the thirty Major League baseball teams and serves as the exclusive group licensing agent for commercial and licensing activities involving active Major League baseball players. On behalf of its members, it operates the Players Choice licensing program and Players Choice Awards, which benefit the needy through the Major League Baseball Players Trust, a charitable foundation established and run entirely by Major League baseball players. In 2017, the MLBPA launched Infield Chatter, an innovative social media app created by the Players for the fans and available in the App Store and Google Play. Follow: @MLB_Players; @MLBPAClubhouse; @MLBPlayersTrust.; @InfieldChatter 

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Those frightening Boston Dynamics robots will also take your warehouse job (MELISSA LOCKER, 3/29/19, Fast Company)

Boston Dynamics has a knack for making dystopian robots. The company's latest creation, though, isn't unnerving like its nightmarish stair-climbing invention or its Black Mirror-esque robotic dogs. Its most recent innovation is unsettling because it's angling for your job.

The robot is an updated version of the company's "Handle" bot, which Boston Dynamics first demonstrated back in 2017. The bot is back with even more functionality that lets it autonomously stack and unstack boxes that weigh up to 33 pounds, and move them onto and around conveyor belts. It's built-in on-board vision system lets the robot carefully monitor where the objects should go and understand how to grasp and place each box. While it's not quite ready to be unleashed into the workforce yet, it's clearly on track to become a tireless warehouse worker who never needs a bathroom break, won't form a union, and will never ask for a raise.

March 29, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Poll: After Barr Letter, Overwhelming Majority Wants Full Mueller Report Released (Domenico Montanaro, 3/29/19, NPR)

Overall, three-quarters said the full Mueller report should be made public. That included a majority of Republicans (54 percent). Just 18 percent overall said Barr's summary is enough.

Two-thirds (66 percent) also said they want Mueller to testify before Congress, and 64 percent said the same for Barr.

Almost six in 10 (56 percent) said that questions still exist, with just 36 percent saying Trump is clear of any wrongdoing. That latter figure is close to where Trump's approval rating has been throughout his presidency.

Only the bubble thinks he won.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Maken Engelond Gret Ayeyn: How the contest between free trade and protectionism sparked fervor and unrest in medieval England. (Paul Strohm, Lapham's Quarterly)

[I]t was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that high-volume international trading seriously resumed, with trade in wool one of its major drivers. In those centuries, the Port of London alone handled almost a thousand arriving and departing trading vessels a year, and numerous other English ports (including the newly active ports of Dover and Southampton) were claiming a role. Half this activity was devoted to wool, and it generated immense wealth for the realm, conferring fortunes on a small and monopolistic group of men. These successful profiteers were not the sheepherders and shearers of the provinces, nor the merchant sailors who braved the seas, but the entrepreneurial middlemen who collected revenues on exported wool. A close-knit group of at most several hundred men, they formed allegiances and confederations throughout the mercantile establishment that dominated the leading guilds and ran the city of London.

Knowing a good thing when they saw it, these wool merchants secured their privileges by means of favorable arrangements with select European markets, cities with which they concluded binding and mutually profitable arrangements to defend their trading rights. They came to be known as the Staplers, as a consequence of their conservative and self-interested policies. "Staple," based on estaple--the Old French word for a marketplace or an emporium--epitomized their principal stratagem of forming treaty-based relations with a European trading center and insisting on exclusive dealings.

Of course, the tumultuous and rapidly evolving economic scene of the later Middle Ages opened the door to more than one philosophy of trade. While the conservative wool men abided by the Staple, another and more activist cohort of traders, dealing in cloth and finished wool, was also operating out of London and a hodgepodge of smaller English ports. By the fifteenth century, these merchants had organized and given themselves a name: the Company of Merchant Adventurers. Their chosen name said a great deal about them. The early Merchant Adventurers spurned settled arrangements in favor of new horizons. Unlike their Stapler peers, they preferred far-flung destinations, flexible arrangements, and speculative deals. Their ranks were open to a wide range of aspiring traders and manufacturers with eyes on international markets and products to sell, including mercers (vendors of finished cloth), drapers, haberdashers, and skinners or furriers. Their "adventure" was not so much derring-do or thrill seeking for its own sake but (in the sense of the phrase venture capitalist as we use it today) a readiness to confront economic risk, a preparedness to stake their own capital in the pursuit of profit. Economic historian E.M. Carus-Wilson captured the difference between the two groups when she wrote, "The Adventurer, unlike the Stapler, who went regularly to and fro between England and the English port of Calais, voyaged far afield, east, west, north, or south, wherever he could find an opening."
The dour Staplers and the more rakish Adventurers and everybody in between were swept into discussions of the risks and rewards of international trade. Their concerns were advanced by English authors and poets who talked and wrote avidly about their scorn for international rivals; their approval of sporadic acts of mayhem directed against foreign competitors; their disapproval of sharp practice; the excitement and even romantic allure of their goods; the convergence of their own interests with those of their emerging nation-state. Participants in the discussion included Geoffrey Chaucer (who spent fourteen years as controller of the wool custom in the Port of London and whose father was a successful international wine trader) and the gentleman lawyer John Gower, his friend and poetic rival. Joining them were other canny observers of this emergent scene: city chroniclers, geographers, even a budding political economist who composed one of the earliest tracts written in English on the subject of commerce, essentially an "England First" manifesto in Chaucerian verse.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


A tax on a tax: U.S. customs demands bigger bonds as trade tariffs rise (Rajesh Kumar Singh, 3/29/19, Reuters) 

Stephen Wang is counting the costs of President Donald Trump's trade war. He had to put down 12 times more cash as a guarantee to U.S. customs that he would pay the bill for tariffs on the Chinese-made pumps, valves and motors he imports.

The cost of the guarantee - a U.S. customs bond - has shot up, an additional hit to importers already facing steep customs bills adding up to tens of billions of dollars for tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on incoming Chinese goods, as well as steel and aluminum imports.

Since coming into effect last year, the tariffs have pushed up manufacturing costs, upended decades-old global supply chains and inflated prices for consumers, resulting in lower sales and forcing companies to defer investments. This, in turn, has dimmed global growth outlook, roiling financial markets.

Fun watching former conservatives cheer on Donald for choking the economy with taxes and regulations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


After NYC, Will Los Angeles Be Next to Consider Congestion Pricing?  (DANIEL C. VOCK, MARCH 28, 2019, Governing)
The key to unclogging the Los Angeles area's notoriously congested roads could be to charge drivers during peak hours of the day. A new study looked at a so-called congestion pricing proposal to charge a $4 fee during rush hour for drivers who enter one of the region's most gridlocked corners: the space between two intersecting freeways in western Los Angeles and eastern Santa Monica.

The money raised from the fee would be used to improve transit options and to subsidize access to the area for low-income drivers. Similar systems are already in place in parts of central London and Stockholm, and the idea is picking up steam in lower Manhattan.

"This is the type of policy that could have the greatest impact on quality of life in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of resources," says Darin Chidsey, the interim executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which conducted the study.

The group estimates that incoming traffic to the tolled area would drop by 19 percent during rush hour periods. Transit trips would increase by 9 percent during peak hours, while the number of people biking and walking would increase by 7 percent. Travel times and greenhouse gas emissions would both drop by about 20 percent.

March 28, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


McConnell to Trump: Health care's all yours (BURGESS EVERETT, 03/28/2019, Politico)

Mitch McConnell has no intention of leading President Donald Trump's campaign to transform the GOP into the "party of health care."

"I look forward to seeing what the president is proposing and what he can work out with the speaker," McConnell said in a brief interview Thursday...

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Brazil government, house speaker bury hatchet to save pension bill (Mateus Maia, 3/28/19, (Reuters) 

Brazil's president, economy minister and speaker of the lower house of Congress patched things up publicly on Thursday, trying to move past days of finger pointing to focus on passing a thorny pension reform to save the country's public finances. [...]

Brazil's benchmark stock index jumped 2.7 percent on the peace signs and the local currency firmed 1.1 percent -- in both cases nearly erasing Wednesday's losses.

Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, who on Wednesday said he would quit if there was no appetite for his pension proposal, said the "noise" surrounding the reform will diminish.

Speaking to reporters alongside House Speaker Rodrigo Maia in Brasilia, he said he had Bolsonaro and Maia's full support to get the pension overhaul through Congress.

Echoing the sense of a fresh start, Maia said his aim was to get the reform process back on track.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Exclusive: Mideast nuclear plan backers bragged of support of top Trump aide Flynn (Warren Strobel, Nathan Layne, Jonathan Landay, 12/01/17, Reuters)

The documents, which have not previously been made public, reveal new aspects of the plan, including the proposed involvement of a Russian company currently under U.S. sanctions to manufacture nuclear equipment. That company, major engineering and construction firm OMZ OAO, declined to comment.

The documents do not show whether Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, took concrete steps to push the proposal with Trump and his aides. But they do show that Washington-based nuclear power consultancy ACU Strategic Partners believed that both Flynn, who had worked as an adviser to the firm as late as mid-2016, and Trump were firmly in its corner.

"Donald Trump's election as president is a game changer because Trump's highest foreign policy priority is to stabilize U.S. relations with Russia which are now at a historical low-point," ACU's managing director, Alex Copson, wrote in a Nov. 16, 2016 email to potential business partners, eight days after the election.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


The Republican Party Has an Older Voters Problem (Eric Levitz, 3/28/19, New York)

Voting Republican has become an activity analogous to watching an episode of Matlock with a tall glass of Metamucil: ordinary for the elderly, but a marker of eccentricity among the young.

In 2016, Donald Trump commanded the support of only 28 percent of voters under 30, according to Pew Research. His disapproval rating among Americans under 35 currently hovers around 70 percent. And millennials' antipathy for our Republican president isn't personal; the Fox News grandpa-in-chief might be especially unappealing to the rising generation, but the kids don't have much use for the GOP's kinder, gentler reactionaries, either. Less than 30 percent of millennials wanted Republicans to retain control of Congress last year. And in broader measures of generational opinion, both millennials and Gen-Zers evince higher levels of support for liberal ideological premises and policy proposals than any older cohorts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


How Donald Trump inflated his net worth to lenders and investors (David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell  March 28, 2019, Washington Post)

For instance, Trump's financial statement for 2011 said he had 55 home lots to sell at his golf course in Southern California. Those lots would sell for $3 million or more, the statement said.

But Trump had only 31 lots zoned and ready for sale at the course, according to city records. He claimed credit for 24 lots -- and at least $72 million in future revenue -- he didn't have.

He also claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres, when it really has about 1,200. He said Trump Tower has 68 stories. It has 58.


Document states Trump National Golf Club is presently zoned for 75 home sites with unparalleled ocean and golf course views. At June 30, 2011, there were 55 home sites available for sale.

At that point, only 36 lots were actually approved for sale, and by this point 5 had already been sold. That left 31 - not 55 - available for sale. Since Trump was promising he could sell them for at least $3 million each, there was a $72 million gap between his claims and reality.


Document states "this 68-story bronze glass structure."

Trump Tower only has 58 stories, but Trump re-numbered the floors to make it seem taller.

Now, investigators on Capitol Hill and in New York are homing in on these unusual documents in an apparent attempt to determine whether Trump's familiar habit of bragging about his wealth ever crossed a line into fraud.

The statements are at the center of at least two of the inquiries that continue to follow Trump, unaffected by the end of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation. On Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said it had requested 10 years of these statements from Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA.

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


The bliss of baseball on the radio (Joel Mathis, March 28, 2019, The Week)

On that Saturday night, my grandfather built a campfire outside the cabin. He brought a portable radio outside, and together we sat and listened to Game Six of the World Series.

We were lucky: That was one of the best games of one of the best World Series ever played -- the "worst to first" championship between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves, both of whom had arrived in the playoffs after finishing in last place in their respective divisions the previous year. My grandfather and I sat, not talking much -- he wasn't always a talker -- and listened as Game 6 went the distance, moved into extra innings, and then finally ended in the 11th, when Minnesota's Kirby Puckett hit a home run off Atlanta's Charlie Leibrandt.

The Twins went on to win the championship the next night, but that hardly matters. What I got out of that night was my favorite-ever shared moment with my grandfather, a moment both thrilling and bucolic. We went inside, our clothes smelling of smoke, and ever since I've preferred baseball on the radio.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM

IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD (via The Other Brother)

Merely Possessing a Placebo Analgesic Reduced Pain Intensity: Preliminary Findings from a Randomized Design (Victoria Wai-lanYeung, Andrew Geers, Simon Man-chun Kam,  25 April 2017, Current Psychology)

An experiment was conducted to examine whether the mere possession of a placebo analgesic cream would affect perceived pain intensity in a laboratory pain-perception test. Healthy participants read a medical explanation of pain aimed at inducing a desire to seek pain relief and then were informed that a placebo cream was an effective analgesic drug. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive the cream as an unexpected gift, whereas the other half did not receive the cream. Subsequently, all participants performed the cold-pressor task. We found that participants who received the cream but did not use it reported lower levels of pain intensity during the cold-pressor task than those who did not receive the cream. Our findings constitute initial evidence that simply possessing a placebo analgesic can reduce pain intensity.

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Prominent Democratic lawyer Greg Craig close to being charged in case stemming from Mueller probe (Erica Orden and Evan Perez, 3/28/19, CNN)

Craig initially came into the crosshairs of federal prosecutors in mid-2017, during the investigation by Mueller. Craig and his then-firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, had performed work beginning in 2012 for Ukraine's Ministry of Justice. It was a client relationship the Justice Department has said was forged with the assistance of Paul Manafort, who later became President Donald Trump's campaign chairman.

The special counsel team was intrigued by the notion of using a once-obscure law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, to pursue cases of individuals acting as unregistered foreign agents, a charge the special counsel subsequently brought against Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, both of whom have since admitted to failing to register as foreign agents for their work for Ukraine. Craig and Skadden, during the course of their work for Ukraine, hadn't registered under FARA.

Craig was interviewed twice by the special counsel team -- once in the fall of 2017, at which time he was represented by Skadden's general counsel, and a second time in March 2018, by which point he had retained his own counsel. Days after the second interview, special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann informed Craig that his case was being transferred to the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

The impression Craig's attorneys were given was that the special counsel was concerned about staying within the scope of its mandate. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


U.S. fourth-quarter GDP revised down; profits weak  (Reuters, 3/28/19) 

Gross domestic product increased at a 2.2 percent annualized rate, the Commerce Department said on Thursday in its third reading of fourth-quarter GDP growth. That was down from the 2.6 percent pace estimated in February. [...]

The expansion will be the longest on record in July.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Beto O'Rourke is Genuinely Inauthentic (CHRISTIAN SCHNEIDER,  MARCH 28, 2019, The Bulwark)

The 1992 movie Singles is a Gen-X touchstone. In it, the character of Steve (played by Campbell Scott) approaches Linda (Kyra Sedgwick) at a loud, crowded bar. Steve tells Linda he would like to talk to her, but he doesn't "have an act." Linda responds that not only does he have an act, she tells him "not having an act is your act."

In last week's Vanity Fair launch profile of Beto O'Rourke, readers were told that the Generation X wunderkind lives by the code of realness ascribed to members of his generation.

"Beto O'Rourke is quintessentially Generation X, weaned on Star Wars and punk rock and priding himself on authenticity over showmanship and a healthy skepticism of the mainstream," Vanity Fair's Joe Hagan explained.

In Hagan's piece we learn, for instance, that every speech O'Rourke gives is, for him, a "mystical experience." Beto doesn't prepare speeches, he says. Instead, he is simply filled by them.

"Every word was pulled out of me," O'Rourke tells Hagan. "Like, by some greater force, which was just the people there. Everything that I said, I was, like, watching myself, being like, How am I saying this stuff? Where is this coming from?"

In short, not having an act is O'Rourke's act.

...that the Left/Right could never process was that his emptiness was no act.  Thus, the Left filled him with their absurd Socialist dreams and the Right with their racist/Islamohomophobic nightmares, while he governed as a moderate Republican.  It's best not to assume there's any more to Beto than the Kennedy cutout.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


How Q-Anon Hijacked the White House Petition Site to Push the Next Pizzagate (TONYA RILEY, MARCH 28, 2019, Mother Jones)

Visitors seeking the most popular entries on the White House's official online petition site will come across topics that fall within the natural political discourse, like government ethics, abortion, and net neutrality. But it takes just a few clicks to find some startling appeals, including one calling on the president to deploy troops to Los Angeles's Getty Museum of Art: 
"We demand that our Marine Corp be called to OCCUPY THE GETTY, access the elevator to the bunker, and immediately free our children and return them to the surface. Do not allow these monsters to use underground bunkers, under the pretense of 'continuity of Government', to rape and eat our children in honor of their Satanic beliefs."
If the allegation seems like the kind of harebrained theory known to circulate in social media conspiracy circles, that's because it is. But thanks to a coordinated campaign by followers of the so-called "Q-Anon" movement, a group of conspiracists who analyze anonymous posts from someone claiming to be a high government official calling himself "Q," it now also appears in the searchable index of the "We The People" petition site hosted by the Trump administration. The site features several other conspiracy-related petitions echoing--and spreading--ideas prominent in Q-Anon, as shared by believers on YouTube groups and on Facebook.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Study: Social Media Has Little Impact on User Beliefs (MATTHEW RENDA, 3/27/19, CN) 

The commonly held narrative regarding social media and the 2016 presidential election is that the platforms were a den of misinformation, breeding fake news and building echo chambers. But a study published Wednesday finds Facebook and Twitter - both the focus of vitriol immediately after the election and since - actually have little influence on how much people believed falsehoods about candidates.

In fact, the researchers say Facebook in particular reduced users' misperceptions compared to people who only consumed information via other social media platforms.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


On Eve of Execution, Inmate Fights for Buddhist Priest (CAMERON LANGFORD, 3/27/19, CN)

A Texas death-row inmate who believes chanting prayers with his Buddhist priest as he is executed will help him be reborn in the "Pure Land" has asked the Fifth Circuit for a stay because Texas will not let the priest accompany him in the execution room.

Patrick Henry Murphy, Jr., 57, was serving a 50-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault in December 2000, when he and six other inmates escaped from a prison in Kenedy, Texas.

Now known as the "Texas Seven," some of the men held up a sporting goods store in Irving, Texas on Dec. 24, 2000.

Irving policeman Aubrey Hawkins pulled up to the store and was met with a hail of gunfire. The escaped convicts shot him 11 times, and then ran over his lifeless body as they fled with 44 stolen guns.

Six of the seven inmates were apprehended the following month after a friend of the owner of an RV park in Colorado saw a spot about them on the TV show "America's Most Wanted" and told the owner he believed the men were staying on the property. 

One of the men shot himself as police moved in. In 2003, a jury convicted Murphy of capital murder for Hawkins' death and he was sentenced to death.

Murphy became an adherent of Pure Land Buddhism a decade ago, according to a lawsuit and motion to stay his execution filed Tuesday in Houston federal court.

You're already executing the guy, where's the harm in allowing him to die practicing his phoney-baloney faith?

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


How Blockchain Is Disrupting 3 Industries (Russ Banham, 3/28/19, Forbes)

Healthcare, banking and insurance are just three industries that anticipate tens of billions of dollars in cost savings from the blockchain's permanent decentralized ledger.GETTY

Healthcare, banking and insurance are just three industries that anticipate tens of billions of dollars in cost savings from the blockchain's permanent decentralized ledger. As a result of blockchain, banks, for example, expect to generate more than $27 billion in cross-border settlements alone by 2030, according to a 2018 study.

At its most basic, a blockchain is a distributed, digital ledger with built-in security that records transactions among the network participants in real-time. Every 10 minutes, these transactions are verified, permanently time-stamped and stored in a block that is encrypted and inextricably linked to the preceding block -- creating a blockchain.

Participants don't need to trust that the ledger has not been tampered with because entries are trackable and irrevocable. Another advantage of blockchain technology is business efficiency. Participants can execute smart contracts without a central controlling authority. The contracts trigger when pre-arranged terms and conditions are met.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


On Baseball (Jacques Barzun, Imaginative Conservative)

The gods decree a heavyweight match only once in a while and a national election only every four years, but there is a World Series with every revolution of the earth around the sun. And in between, what varied pleasure long drawn out!

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game--and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams. The big league games are too fast for the beginner and the newspapers don't help. To read them with profit you have to know a language that comes easy only after philosophy has taught you to judge practice. Here is scholarship that takes effort on the part of the outsider, but it is so bred into the native that it never becomes a dreary round of technicalities. The wonderful purging of the passions that we all experienced in the fall of 51, the despair groaned out over the fate of the Dodgers, from whom the league pennant was snatched at the last minute, give us some idea of what Greek tragedy was like. Baseball is Greek in being national, heroic, and broken up in the rivalries of city-states. How sad that Europe knows nothing like it! Its Olympics generate anger, not unity, and its interstate politics follow no rules that a people can grasp. At least Americans understand baseball, the true realm of clear ideas.

March 27, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


U.S. approves secret nuclear power work for Saudi Arabia (Timothy Gardner, 3/27/19, Reuters) 

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia, according to a copy of a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Judge strikes down Medicaid work rules in Arkansas, Kentucky (RACHANA PRADHAN,  03/27/2019, Politico)

A federal judge today blocked new work requirements on Medicaid recipients for a second time, dealing another blow to the Trump administration's efforts to reshape the safety net health care program.

U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled that the federal government failed to justify that adding employment conditions and other changes to Medicaid in Arkansas and Kentucky advanced Medicaid's basic purpose of providing health coverage. Imposing work rules has been a signature issue of Trump's health department and conservative governors.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Idaho Utility Spurns Coal, Pledges 100 Percent 'Clean' Energy By 2045 (BILL CHAPPELL, 3/27/19, NPR)

Idaho Power plans to stop using coal energy and rely instead on hydroelectric, solar and wind resources, the utility says. The public utility vows that 100 percent of energy will come from "clean" sources by 2045. Public utilities have made similar pledges in only a handful of states.

Idaho Power customers increasingly see clean energy that doesn't rely on carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels as a priority, the company says.

"We believe this goal is attainable," Idaho Power President and CEO Darrel Anderson said in announcing the plan.

Idaho Power says it has already agreed to stop using two coal power plants by 2025 and that it's considering how to shut down its third and final coal plant.

AOC and company are incapable of doing so, due to ideology, but they'd be best served accepting that their argument was already won and just accelerating the transition via taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Mueller grand jury 'continuing robustly,' prosecutor says (DARREN SAMUELSOHN, 03/27/2019, pOLITICO)

David Goodhand, an assistant U.S. attorney, acknowledged the grand jury's active status during a hearing in federal district court over a push to unveil the identity of a foreign state-owned firm that has been held in contempt for defying a Mueller subpoena.

The mystery company's case was denied a hearing earlier this week before the Supreme Court, and in the meantime the open government group Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has sought access to all materials in the clandestine litigation, including the company's identity.

During a brief open hearing Wednesday, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court, Beryl Howell, pressed Goodhand to say if the grand jury Mueller had been using in the case remained active.

"It is continuing," the prosecutor replied. "It's continuing robustly."

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Ranking Roger, Frontman For The English Beat, Dies At 56 (Andrew Flanagan, 3/27/19, NPR)

Charlery, who'd been drawn to the punk scene in his hometown as a teenager, ended up a drummer in punk band The Dum Dum Boys in the late '70s. Around that time, a nascent group calling itself The Beat approached Charlery and his band, asking to open for the group at an upcoming gig. Weeks after that show -- at which The Beat "blew us off the stage," Charlery recalled -- he left The Dum Dum Boys, becoming The Beat's frontman and toaster. ("Toasting" is, in essence, a form of reggae-rooted, if more linguistically active, scat-singing.)

Less than a year later, The Beat had reached the Top 10 of the U.K. charts with its cover of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles' song "Tears of a Clown," and "never looked back," Charlery said. The group would go on to release four more Top 10 singles and two Top 10 albums in the U.K.

The Beat went on to help transform the genre of ska, contributing to the creation of the sub-genre of two-tone -- named after the label 2 Tone -- which folded punk-rock structures and '80s textures into the Caribbean-rooted music. Thanks to The Beat, Madness, The Specials (whose keyboardist had founded 2 Tone Records), Bad Manners and other groups, the two-tone genre became a brief but influential cultural force. (In 1980, The Beat was banned from the BBC for two years after releasing a song in opposition to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called "Stand Down Margaret." One of the song's concluding lyrics: "Love and unity, the only way.")

As the group's profile waned in the U.K., its fortunes rose in the U.S. The original group's final album, 1982's Special Beat Service, was its highest-charting record stateside, but its lowest in the group's native country. (That record contained what's arguably the group's most indelible song, "Save It For Later.") In his memoir Siren Song, famed label executive Seymour Stein remembered securing the group's North American rights and putting the band on tour with Talking Heads and The Pretenders, "double bills that never failed to blow away audiences everywhere they played."

By 1983, however, The Beat had dissolved. Charlery and Beat co-founder David Wakeling formed a new group, General Public, while co-members Dave Steele and Andy Cox founded Fine Young Cannibals, which had its own run of success through the rest of the decade.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Scoop: Kevin McCarthy tells Trump new health care push makes no sense (Jonathan Swan, Sam Baker, Alayna Treen, 3/27/19, Axios)

Reflecting widespread concerns within his party, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has told President Trump he disagrees with the Trump administration's attempt to get the entire Affordable Care Act thrown out in court.

McCarthy told Trump over the phone that the decision made no sense -- especially after Democrats killed Republicans in the midterms in part over the issue of pre-existing conditions, according to two sources familiar with their recent conversation. As Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur points out -- health care was the top issue for 2018 midterm voters, and voters who cared most about health care favored Democrats over Republicans by more than 50 percentage points.

The big picture: McCarthy is far from alone in his view. Multiple GOP sources -- from the most conservative to the most moderate wing of the party -- have told Axios that they can't fathom why the president would want to re-litigate an issue that has been a clear loser for Republicans.

A senior House Republican aide texted: "Members feel like [the Mueller report announcement] was great and Trump stepped all over that message with the Obamacare lawsuit announcement."

They're also exasperated about Trump's substance-free declaration that Republicans will become "The Party of Healthcare." Republicans aren't united on health care, and they have been unable to advance a replacement for the ACA.

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Trump's Travel Ban Faces Fresh Legal Jeopardy: New lawsuits challenging the ban have two things going for them: Real-world evidence of the ban's effects, and precedent showing how it violates the Constitution. (ROBERT L. TSAI, March 27, 2019, Politico)

In one landmark 19th-century case, Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the city of San Francisco used a seemingly "neutral" policy to oppress a group of migrants--in that case, people of Chinese ancestry. The city's law, a complex ordinance for regulating laundries, required anyone who wished to operate a laundry in a wooden building to seek a permit. As innocuous as that sounded, the Supreme Court ultimately found that the city's actual enforcement pattern showed that the wood buildings were being used as a proxy for race. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Stanley Matthews, the court ruled that "whatever the intent of the ordinances as adopted," they had been enforced "with a mind so unequal and oppressive as to amount to a practical denial by the state" of equal protection of the laws. The justices inferred discrimination from the pattern of enforcement: Every Chinese applicant had been denied a permit, while all but one white applicant received one. Moreover, the court deemed it irrelevant that the Chinese men were foreign nationals; the 14th Amendment guarantees due process and equal protection of the laws to all "persons," and these protections were treated as "the blessings of civilization," the judges ruled.

All of these principles are now well established in American law, and they have a clear bearing on the travel ban.

Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the decisive fifth vote in the decision upholding Trump's travel ban, authored a separate concurrence specifically to highlight the point that the policy was valid only if it wasn't a vehicle for religious bigotry. "The First Amendment ... promises the free exercise of religion," Kennedy wrote. "It is an urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees ... even in the sphere of foreign affairs," he said, contemplating the possibility that "further proceedings" might illuminate the issue further.

As more information about the ban's real-world enforcement emerges--and as immigrants' rights activists mount fresh challenges to the law--it looks more likely that those "further proceedings" will start to chip away at the policy's defenses. [...]

These new legal claims fall into two main categories. One is based on religious bias: If the administration denies waivers at such a high rate that its policy is tantamount to a religious ban in practice, then it could still run afoul of the First and 14th Amendments' guarantees of equal treatment for people of all faiths. The other is based on fairness: Even if the waiver program isn't being implemented in a fashion that discriminates on the basis of religion, it's possible the program still lacks sufficient procedural safeguards required by federal statutes or the Constitution's due process clause.

The religious equality argument ensures that government officials can't just hide behind a neutral policy while carrying out a nefarious plan to disadvantage Muslim people for who they are--what Justice Kennedy called "animosity to a religion." The fairness argument promotes a related set of norms also essential to American civic values: the predictable and fair administration of a policy, based on criteria that make sense.

During oral arguments, Solicitor General Noel Francisco pointed to the policy's waiver system and pleaded for the justices to afford the president's policy a presumption of "regularity and good faith." Asked by Justice Sonia Sotomayor to "represent to us that it is, in fact, a real waiver process," he said that "consular officers automatically apply the waiver process," but acknowledged, "I haven't looked at every single case" of waiver denials. This exchange is important because it suggests that the justices tried to get more information about how the ban was being implemented, but at the time, there were just too many factual questions and not enough answers.

Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, lays out the road map for what challengers would need to prove if they want to show that the waiver program is a sham. "If the Government is not applying the system of exemptions and waivers ... then its argument for the Proclamation's lawfulness becomes significantly weaker," Breyer wrote. "[D]enying visas to Muslims who meet the Proclamation's own security terms would support the view that the Government excludes them for reasons based upon their religion."

At the time, Breyer pointed out that out of more than 8,400 applications in the first four months of the program, only 430 waivers had been approved. There was also a hint in the original lawsuit that consular officers might have very little discretion to issue waivers, despite what the policy said, but the majority of justices brushed aside these filings as "anecdotal evidence" not yet tested through a full trial or an equivalent process.

Today, however, we have more answers. During the first full year of the waiver program's existence, 98 percent of waiver applications were denied. Then, just last month, the State Department finally released a report that showed 2,673 waivers were granted in fiscal year 2018, while 37,000 visas were refused--meaning a whopping 94 percent of waivers were still rejected during the longer time frame.

Another way to look at the numbers is comparatively across countries. When we do so, we see that for the five Muslim countries that stayed consistently on the travel ban list, the number of immigrant visas approved dropped precipitously: an 81 percent drop overall from fiscal year 2016 to FY2018, ranging from a 68 percent decline for Libyans to a 91 percent decline for Yemenis. Similarly, the number of non-immigrant temporary visas from those five countries declined by 78 percent.

This exceedingly high rate of rejections alone is suspicious and warrants further investigation. Recent coverage also suggests that any waivers granted might even be done in an arbitrary or ad hoc fashion, such as when negative publicity is brought to bear on a particular request, or someone rich or famous supports an applicant.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Immigrants are key to economic growth, Goldman guru says (SHOSHANNA SOLOMON, 3/27/19, Times of Israel)

In the lobby of an upscale Tel Aviv hotel, Abby Joseph Cohen, perhaps one of the best known market strategists and economists in the US, could be mistaken for a garden-variety American tourist. She carries a little blue backpack and wears sensible flat shoes and a conservative cardigan. Her curly hair gently frames her face and she keeps her voice calm, more like a teacher than a Wall Street savant.

But she imparts her knowledge with authority and clarity. In an interview with The Times of Israel last week, the conversation ranged from global trade wars to anti-immigration sentiment to US corporate debt to the impact of Brexit on the world. [...]

There is a global backlash against immigration which can be noticed in many countries, and in the US "we now have a president who has taken on some very anti-immigrant positions," she said.

But what is interesting about this anti-immigrant position in the US, she said, is that the US is actually "dependent upon immigration."

"One of the reasons our economy has been stronger and grown faster than the economies in Europe and Japan -- and I'm comparing us to the developed economies -- is because we have faster population growth. And we have faster population growth in large part because of immigration," she said.

It's easy enough to assume that Trumponomics is just a function of racism and ignorance and that Donald doesn't realize how economically destructive his restrictions on the free movement of goods and people are, but economic destruction is a goal of the Right, precisely because it makes America less attractive.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


French pilot who stayed with hijacked Israelis, Jews at Entebbe dies aged 95 (Times of Israel, 3/27/19)

Israeli and French officials Wednesday mourned the death of Michel Bacos, the Air France pilot who along with his crew insisted on remaining with Israeli and Jewish hostages after pro-Palestinian terrorists hijacked his flight and diverted the plane to Entebbe Airport in 1976. He died in Nice on Tuesday at the age of 95.

On June 27, 1976, Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France jet flying from Tel Aviv to Paris. The plane was diverted to Uganda, where the hijackers were welcomed by dictator Idi Amin.

The terrorists freed the non-Jewish passengers immediately upon arrival but the Air France crew members, with the captain at their head, refused the captors' offer of release and instead chose to remain as hostages with the plane's Jewish passengers.

On July 4, 98 of the hostages were rescued in an operation by elite Israeli commandos. Four hostages lost their lives along with the mission commander Yonatan Netanyahu, elder brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 AM


A God Problem (Peter Atterton, March 25, 2019, NY Times)

If you look up "God" in a dictionary, the first entry you will find will be something along the lines of "a being believed to be the infinitely perfect, wise and powerful creator and ruler of the universe." Certainly, if applied to non-Western contexts, the definition would be puzzling, but in a Western context this is how philosophers have traditionally understood "God." In fact, this conception of God is sometimes known as the "God of the Philosophers."

Indeed, since the text makes no such claims--in fact, demonstrates them to be false--it is not a problem for believers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


White House Obamacare reversal made over Cabinet objections (ELIANA JOHNSON and BURGESS EVERETT, 03/26/2019, Politico)

The Trump administration's surprising move to invalidate Obamacare on Monday came despite the opposition of two key cabinet secretaries: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General Bill Barr.

Driving the dramatic action were the administration's domestic policy chief, Joe Grogan, and the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the decision. Both are close allies of White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who helped to engineer the move.

But Monday's terse, two-sentence letter from the Department of Justice to a federal appeals court, which reversed the administration's previous partial opposition to a lawsuit challenging the 2010 health care law, took many Republicans aback -- in part because they see it as bringing high political risk for a party that has failed to unite behind an Obamacare alternative and which lost House seats in the 2018 midterms when Democrats made health care a focus of their attacks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Trump Tariffs Shedding $1.4 Billion a Month in Consumer Income, Study Says (DON REISINGER, March 26, 2019, Fortune)

President Donald Trump has used tariffs as a negotiating tactic with international governments. But those tariffs might be hurting U.S. consumers more than anyone else, according to a new study.

The tariffs and Trump's broader trade policies with foreign governments reduced U.S. consumers' monthly income by $1.4 billion by November 2018, according to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and both Princeton and Columbia Universities. The study, which was obtained by CNBC, found that tariff costs were passed on to the goods consumers have been buying. The countries that were slapped with U.S. tariffs didn't take on any of the cost burden.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Limits of Beto's Charm (E. J. Dionne Jr., March 21, 2019, Washington Post)

O'Rourke is a planetary and existential sort of guy, someone for whom "Have a nice day" doesn't begin to get at the level of joy we ought to have during our time on this earth. He exudes energy, optimism and confidence laced with the requisite quotient of self-criticism. This Democrat is eager to make clear that he hates a politics rooted in trashing enemies. And while everything about him looks spontaneous, he speaks in the brisk, well-formed sentences that could only come from someone who knows how this game is played.

"We're going everywhere for everyone. No one is taken for granted. No one is written off."

"The challenge is our economy: it works too well for too few and not well enough for too many."

"You will not get political democracy until you have something approaching economic democracy in this country."

O'Rourke's visit here was part of a somewhat slapdash but attention-getting multistate tour aimed at sending an early message. Within days of announcing his candidacy, he is stopping by industrial heartland states--he also traveled to Michigan and Ohio--that Hillary Clinton lost and that, O'Rourke is saying implicitly, he can bring home to his party.

One message certainly got through here: He is an excitement generator. When O'Rourke finished his speech, he had to work his way out of the building through a boisterous crowd yearning to touch him and (welcome to our era) come away with selfies. It was a smart move by his advance team. The video had the feel of a late-October general-election rally, and the youthful candidate named Robert Francis really did convey that look his partisans associate with the late Robert F. Kennedy.

Our national politics is desperate for a positive leader.

March 26, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Sater Eyed Trump Moscow Tower to Launder Cash, BTA Bank Says (Erik Larson, March 25, 2019, Bloomberg)

New York developer Felix Sater is due to testify in Congress this week about his role in Donald Trump's attempt to build a luxury tower in Moscow. A lawsuit filed Monday may provide new fodder for his inquisitors, with its claim that Sater, a longtime associate of Trump's, sought to use money stolen from a bank in Kazakhstan to help develop the building.

The suit by BTA Bank JSC alleges that Sater and the wealthy Kazakh businessman Ilyas Khrapunov explored financing the tower deal in 2012 with some of the $4 billion stolen a decade ago by Khrapunov's father-in-law, ex-BTA Chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov. While the Moscow plan fizzled, other transactions tied to Sater helped launder the purloined cash, the bank says.

"Sater helped Ablyazov, Khrapunov and others launder tens of millions of dollars in those stolen funds into the United States," according to the complaint filed Monday in Manhattan federal court. "Sater also tried to help them stash some of the stolen money overseas, including in real estate in Moscow." [...]

"Sater not only met with Ilyas Khrapunov in Trump Tower to discuss laundering the stolen funds, but he also personally arranged meetings between Ilyas and Donald J. Trump to discuss possible investments," the bank's lawyer, Matthew L. Schwartz of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, said in the complaint.

It's a RICO case.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Nationality law and the Israeli election (Mohammed Ayoob, 3/26/19, The Strategist)

Does Israel belong to all of its citizens or to the Jewish people alone? As the Israeli election scheduled for 9 April draws near, this question has once again attracted a lot of attention. Israel has always struggled with the contradictory pulls of presenting itself as a modern nation-state that belongs to all Israeli citizens regardless of race or religion and of cleaving to the very powerful Zionist idea of a homeland of the Jewish people regardless of where they live.

This dilemma has been exacerbated by the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967. According to Israeli projections, soon there will be as many Arabs as Jews in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. As the prospect of a two-state solution has receded, the spectre of a bi-national state with equal rights for all citizens has begun to haunt the Zionist right. The nationality law passed by the Knesset in July 2018 by a vote of 62 to 55, which declares Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people, was a pre-emptive measure to rule out that option.

The legislation may be consistent with the original Zionist idea, but it has grave implications for Israel's claim to be a state of all its people, including the Palestinian Arabs who constitute one-fifth of its population. It's true that more than 65 discriminatory laws have been passed since Israel's establishment restricting the rights of Palestinian citizens in all fields, including housing and employment. However, this is the most blatant attempt to legally delineate the Palestinian inhabitants of Israel as second-class citizens.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Free markets dramatically reduce the cost of living (Marian L. Tupy, 3/26/19, Human Progress)

[B]asic food items in America have become almost eight times cheaper relative to human labour over the course of the last 100 years.

In our analysis of the cost of food in America over the last century, we begin with Retail Prices, 1913 to December 1919: Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labour Statistics, No. 270, which was published in 1921. On pages 176-183, we encounter nominal prices of 42 items - ranging from a pound of sirloin steak to a dozen oranges - as registered in the city of Detroit in 1919. Those can be seen in the second column of the attached graphic.

Our second step was to express those nominal prices in terms of hours of human labour. Together with Gale Pooley, associate professor of business management, Brigham Young University-Hawaii, we took the index of hourly wages of unskilled labourers (i.e., workers at the bottom of the income ladder) between 1774 and 2016 from and re-indexed it to 1919. That gave us a nominal wage rate of unskilled labourers amounting to $0.25 per hour in 1919. The nominal prices of food relative to nominal wages in 1919 can be seen in column 3.

Our third step was to find the nominal prices of the same goods (including, of course, the same quantity of those goods) on, which is where most unskilled labourers shop in 2019. Those findings can be seen in column 4. According to our calculations, the nominal wage rate of unskilled labourers amounts to about $12.70 per hour today. As such, the nominal prices of food relative to nominal wages in 2019 can be seen in column 5.

What did we find?

The time price (i.e. nominal price divided by nominal hourly wage) of our basket of commodities fell from 47 hours of work to ten (see the Totals line in column five).

The unweighted average time price fell by 79 percent (see the Totals line in column six).

Put differently, for the same amount of work that allowed an unskilled labourer to purchase one basket of the 42 commodities in 1919, he or she could buy 7.6 baskets in 2019 (see the Totals line in column seven).

The compounded rate of "affordability" of our basket of commodities rose at 2.05 percent per year (see the Totals line in column eight).

Put differently, an unskilled labourer saw his or her purchasing power double every 34 years (see the Totals line in column nine).

March 25, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Democracy is good for your health and heart, major study finds: Life expectancy grew faster for countries that have switched to democracy since 1970 (Mark Rice-Oxley, 13 Mar 2019, The Guardian)

Democracy is good for your heart, health and longevity, a major study of 170 countries has concluded, in a boost to a form of government that has faced significant setbacks around the world in recent years.

Life expectancy improved more quickly in countries that switched to democracy over the past 50 years, the researchers discovered, and there were fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease, diseases such as cancer and cirrhosis, and even road traffic accidents.

The study, published in the Lancet, said it was not just that democracies tended to be richer: the "democracy effect" was far stronger than any GDP effect.

"Free and fair elections appear important for improving adult health ... most likely by increasing government accountability and responsiveness," the study said.

Which is why the Right supports totalitarians.
Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


What Does the Barr Letter Actually Say About Collusion? (Robert Litt, March 25, 2019, LawFare)

First, as quoted by Barr, Mueller used the words "conspired" and "coordinated." Unlike the colloquial term "colluded," these terms have legal significance. "Coordination" with a foreign government would be a basis for a finding of criminal liability under the election laws, and "conspiracy" would be a criminal agreement to violate those laws. This language suggests that Mueller's report viewed the conduct through the lens of a criminal investigative process--that is, whether the evidence met the Department of Justice standards for prosecution, including the ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was intent to violate the law. [...]

Barr's letter to Congress makes clear that there was substantial evidence supporting the possibility that the president obstructed justice--enough that Mueller did not feel he could draw a conclusion--but that Barr nonetheless concluded that prosecution was not warranted. By using the same language that Mueller used with respect to "establishing" coordination with Russia, Barr's letter suggests the possibility that, rather than "no evidence" of collusion, Mueller did find such evidence--but similarly did not conclude it warranted a criminal prosecution. 

Given that DOJ guidelines forbid charging a sitting president, the report is an impeachment document, not an indictment.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Special counsel and DOJ deliberated seeking subpoena for Trump (Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and Laura Jarrett, March 24, 2019, CNN)

The special counsel's office deliberated at length with Justice Department officials about issuing a subpoena for President Donald Trump to be interviewed, but ultimately the decision was made not to move forward with such a significant investigative step, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The Special Counsel is bound by the DOJ and the Executive, so there were certain things Mr. Mueller had to leave to Congress and the post-presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Gronk Was The Most Efficient Receiver We've Seen: Yes, receiver -- not just among tight ends. (Neil Paine and Michael Salfino, 3/24/19, 538)

On a per-16-game basis, the average Gronk campaign would consist of 72 catches, 1,094 yards and 11 touchdowns -- numbers that would rank among the top 25 tight end seasons in history. And Gronkowski sustained that pace for nine seasons.

Those numbers are only scratching the surface in terms of how valuable Gronk was to Tom Brady and the Patriots over the years. On a per-target basis, Gronkowksi picked up 9.9 yards -- basically an entire first down every time the ball was thrown in his direction -- according to Since 1992 (the first season for target data on PFR), that's the best of any receiver -- wideout or tight end -- in the NFL.

Remember longtime Vikings WR Cris Carter's old reputation -- "all he does is catch touchdowns"? For Gronkowski, that was closer to being true than for any player of his generation -- and it was a very good thing for the Patriots. With 521 career receptions and 79 career touchdown grabs, Gronk hauled in a TD once every 6.6 catches. Only eight players in NFL history with a minimum of 400 lifetime receptions -- Don Hutson, Paul Warfield, Tommy McDonald, Art Powell, Jimmy Orr, Wesley Walker, Randy Moss and Lance Alworth -- caught touchdowns as a greater share of their total catches than Gronkowski did.

With those rates of great things happening whenever he was involved in the play, it's easy to make a case that Gronkowski was the most efficient receiver (of any type) in NFL history. What's more, Gronkowski consistently made his teammates more efficient, too.

When our colleague Kyle Wagner looked at Gronk's impact during the 2017-18 playoffs, he found that Brady's passing efficiency numbers were significantly higher when his favorite tight end was on the field than not, one of the big ways Gronkowski has been a secret weapon for the Pats during the latter phase of their record-smashing dynasty. Since Gronk's debut in 2010, Brady's passer rating when targeting Gronkowski is 124.7, but it was just 96.8 when throwing to any other receiver. Even when it came to the greatest quarterback of all time, Gronkowski found a way to make him look much better.

And then there was Gronkowski's effect as a blocker. He frequently graded out as the best blocking tight end in the game, according to's ratings. This aspect of his game made Gronk an asset whether the play call was a pass or run -- keeping the Patriots from having to sub him in and out depending on the situation, or having his presence tip the Pats' hand on which type of play was coming. No matter what Gronkowski was asked to do, he generated a mismatch with the defense.

March 24, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Survey: SC Democratic Party county chairs say early interest on Cory Booker, Kamala Harris (Schuyler Kropf and Andy Shain, Mar 24, 2019, Post & Courier)

If a majority of South Carolina's Democratic Party county chairs had to pick a presidential nominee today, the choice would come down to a two-person duel, not an open scrum.

With 11 months to go until the Feb. 29, 2020, primary, U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey are the clear popular nods (not necessarily in that order), according to a telephone survey of the party leaders by The Post and Courier.

The trend was seen in all four regions of the state: the Lowcountry, Pee Dee, Midlands and Upstate. Two-thirds of the county officials agreed to offer opinions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Bush's immigration message strikes the right tone for national discussion (Las Vegas Sun, March 24, 2019)

In his remarks, Bush expressed regret that he wasn't able to guide the comprehensive immigration reform package he developed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2007 through the legislative process. But he also took the opportunity to urge the nation's leaders to "dial down the rhetoric, put politics aside and modernize our immigration law soon."

He further gave an inspiring and compelling explanation of why the nation should continue to welcome immigrants. Here it is:

"The United States is in many ways the most successful of nations. Historically, where immigration is concerned, we're also the most welcoming of nations. And these two facts are related.

"So many of us can draw a line back to a man or woman who had the idea that life could be better, and that hope led them here.

"Generations of new arrivals left their mark on our national character, in traits that friends abroad still recognize as distinctly American -- our optimism, our independence and openness to the new, our willingness to strive and to risk, our sense of life as an adventure dignified by personal freedom and personality responsibility.

"Such qualities don't come out of nowhere. A spirit of self-reliance runs deep in our immigrant heritage, along with the humility and kindness to look at someone less fortunate and see yourself. Across the world, good men and women still dream of starting life anew in America -- people who bring energy and talent and faith in the future.

"Often, they bring a special love of freedom because they have seen how life works without it.

"The great yearning of so many to live in our country presents a significant challenge. America's elected representatives have a duty to regulate who comes in, and when. In meeting this responsibility, it helps to remember that America's immigrant history made us who we are.

"Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Megadonor Who Withdrew From AIPAC Conference Has History Of Controversial Tweets (Josh Nathan-Kazis, 3/19/19, The Forward)

Adam Milstein, the chairman of the hawkish Israeli American Council, backed out of a commitment to moderate a panel at the upcoming AIPAC conference amid a controversy over a tweet in which he said that the values of Muslim congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib "clash with American values."

Milstein, who also serves on the boards of a number of pro-Israel groups, including the AIPAC National Council, the Israel on Campus Coalition and StandWithUs, has a long history of controversial tweets. Below, some standouts.

1. Soros

In 2017, Milstein tweeted a picture depicting Jewish billionaire George Soros as an octopus enveloping the world -- an image that drew on common anti-Semitic tropes. He later deleted the tweet. "I'll try to be more careful in the future," he told JTA at the time.

2. Soros, again

Earlier that year, Milstein had described George Soros in a tweet as "a self-hating #Jew."

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


I wrote the special counsel rules. The attorney general can -- and should -- release the Mueller report. (Neal Kumar Katyal, March 22, 2019, Washington Post)

[T]he mentions of "brief" and "confidential" in the regulations and accompanying commentary were just general guidelines for each type of report. The text of the regulations never required the attorney general's report to Congress to be short or nonpublic. Rather, that text expressly included a key provision saying the "Attorney General may determine that public release of these reports would be in the public interest," even if the public release may deviate from ordinary Justice Department protocols.

The regulations at their core are about a central problem that can be traced back to the Roman poet and satirist Juvenal many centuries ago: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes: Who will guard the guards? Whenever there are allegations of high level executive branch wrongdoing, there is a justifiable worry that the executive branch itself cannot adequately investigate it. The Justice Department, after all, is an executive branch agency, and it has the power to squelch any investigation. The special counsel regulations were written to allow someone outside the Justice Department to run the investigation on a day-to-day basis, while making that someone always subject ultimately to the control of the attorney general.

One might ask why the regulations would give the attorney general such control. The answer is simple: the Constitution requires it. In our system of government, the president is vested with full power over prosecutions, and the attorney general is the official who exercises that executive authority. There is no way to create a headless prosecutor in some other branch of government -- which is why the regulations endeavor not to cut the attorney general out of prosecutions (which would be unconstitutional), but rather to shed sunlight and transparency on the choices an attorney general makes.

The most important thing to understand about the regulations is that they were written to function like a constitution. This isn't meant to be grandiose; it is simply to say that they were written to provide a broad blueprint for dealing with crises that could not be anticipated at the time of their drafting. The idea was not to create a comprehensive set of dos and don'ts, like a tax code. Instead, it was to mark the great outlines of the special counsel's power and responsibilities.

For that reason, the regulations do not, in all cases, compel public release of a special counsel report, but they do not forbid it either. The regulations were written to govern not just investigations of presidents in a variety of circumstances, but also of other, lower ranking government officials -- and it would be inappropriate to have a one-size-fits-all solution to the vast array of officials and crimes that would require investigation in the many years to come. That is why the canard that some Trump allies are floating, that a public release of the report would violate the special counsel regulations, is false. The regulations set a floor, not a ceiling, on the amount of transparency. They require transparency and an "explanation of each action" at the end of the special counsel investigation, but they don't forbid more transparency on top of that.

Fears of a government coverup are at their apogee when we are talking about a criminal investigation of the president. Article II of our Constitution gives only the president the prosecution power -- he alone can stop any prosecution or investigation he wishes. So any investigation into presidential wrongdoing by definition runs headlong into the who-guards-the-guards problem. And in those circumstances, more disclosure (with redactions for classified and deeply private information) is necessary, both to deal with that problem and to maintain public confidence in the rule of law.

The need for public disclosure is even greater here because President Trump's lawyers have repeatedly invoked the idea that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Every scholar who takes that view couples it to impeachment -- explaining that Congress must perform its duty of impeachment so that a lawbreaking president can be removed from office and then brought to justice. Otherwise the president would be above the law. And there is no way impeachment can work efficiently if Congress is not given all of the facts the special counsel has uncovered. That is why in 1974, special prosecutor Leon Jaworski gave Congress his investigative material, including even grand jury materials.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Not Your Founding Fathers' Electoral College (Robert Schlesinger, Dec. 27, 2016, U.S. News & World Report)

"The Electoral College system ... was created by the founding fathers for the new Republic not as a direct outgrowth of eighteenth-century political principles but rather as an ad hoc compromise between those who believed in election of the president by Congress and those who believed in popular election," the political scientist William Keech wrote in 1978. Some founders wanted direct election; others mistrusted average voters' "capacity to judge of the respective pretensions of the candidates," as George Mason put it. This was especially true given the expectation - before the two-party system arose to winnow the number of contenders - that voters would be choosing among a host of candidates from far afield. How could some farmer from Virginia or New York know enough about all the candidates from other states and regions, the reasoning went.

So the compromise was the Electoral College, which per Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68 would allow the "sense of the people [to] operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided," while filtering that vox populi through "men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station." The original conception of the Electoral College, in other words, was a body of men who could serve as a check on the uninformed mass electorate. "This does not mean they were created as free agents authorized to ignore or invalidate the choice of the voters," the historian Arthur Schlesinger, my father, wrote in "War and the American Presidency" in 2004. "The framers, with their talent for ambiguity, were hazy on the question of the electors' freedom to choose." Certainly it was there to some extent. As Keech wrote, "the possibility of electors substituting their own judgments for those of their state's voters was not ruled out by the Constitution. Such a practice was not implausible or offensive by the political values of the day."

...we ought to return to the Founders' original intent and elect leading citizens from each state to meet and decide on a president.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


'Florida Man' challenge sweeps social media (MIKE SCHNEIDER, 3/23/19, Associated Press)

A social media challenge is encouraging people to look up what version of Florida Man they are based on their birthdays.

Florida Man has become shorthand for a unique brand of news story mined from the Sunshine State that usually involves guns, drugs, booze or reptiles -- often in startling combination.

The challenge asks people to run their birthday and "Florida Man" through a search engine to find out which Florida Man headline pops up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Man who toppled headstones at Jewish cemetery in U. City gets probation (Erin Heffernan, 3/23/19, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

A man who told police he toppled more than 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in University City in 2017 because he was drunk, on drugs and mad at a friend was sentenced Thursday to three years probation and a suspended sentence. 

Alzado M. Harris, 35, of Northwoods, confessed to knocking over the headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in February 2017, causing more than $30,000 in damage, according to court documents. [...]

Tarek El-Messidi, a Muslim social justice advocate from Philadelphia, and another volunteer raised $160,000 for restoration efforts at the cemetery within a few weeks of the vandalism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


An Interview With Lisa Littman, Who Coined the Term 'Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria' (Jonathan Kay, 3/19/19, Quillette)

In your own words, how would you describe the central focus of your research?

This research explores, through the reports of parents, a phenomenon whereby teens and young adults who did not exhibit childhood signs of gender issues appeared to suddenly identify as transgender. This new identification seemed to occur in the context of either belonging to a group of friends [in which] multiple--or even all--members became transgender-identified around the same time, or through immersion in social media, or both. The findings of the research support the hypotheses that what I have described could represent a new type of gender dysphoria (referred to as Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria [or ROGD]); that, for some teens and young adults, their gender dysphoria might represent a maladaptive coping mechanism; and that peer and social influences might contribute to the development of gender dysphoria. More research will need to be done to confirm or refute these hypotheses.

What was the professional background that brought you to this research into gender dysphoria?

I'm a physician who is trained in both obstetrics and gynecology, and in preventive medicine and public health. I spent the first few years of my career delivering babies and providing gynecologic care to women, and I spent the most recent decade of my career involved in public health and reproductive health research. I am currently an Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the Brown University School of Public Health in Rhode Island. Until recently, I was working as a physician-consultant on a variety of public-health projects mostly related to the health of pregnant women (immunizations, smoking cessation, oral health, premature births) with the Rhode Island Department of Health. I am also a mother, a spouse, a daughter and sister who has been extremely fortunate to have healthy, happy and strong relationships with my family. My core beliefs about the importance of family relationships comprise a central part of who I am. Caring about the health and well-being of individuals and families has been one of the guiding principles of my professional and personal life.

Why did you decide to conduct research in this area?

I became interested in studying gender dysphoria when I observed, in my own community, an unusual pattern whereby teens from the same friend group began announcing transgender identities on social media, one after the other, on a scale that greatly exceeded expected numbers. I searched online and found several narratives of parents describing this type of pattern happening with their teen and young adult kids who had no history of gender dysphoria during their childhoods. I searched numerous websites, and found only three posting these types of parent accounts at that time. Then, I spoke with a clinician who was hearing her clients describe this phenomenon as something happening in their families. The descriptions of multiple friends from the same pre-existing group becoming transgender-identified at the same time were very surprising. Parents reported that, after announcing a transgender identity, the kids became increasingly sullen, withdrawn and hostile toward their families. They also said that the clinicians they saw were only interested in fast-tracking gender-affirmation and transition and were resistant to even evaluating the child's pre-existing and current mental health issues.

I found these stories compelling and heartbreaking. Gender dysphoria has been studied for a long time, and I recognized that this presentation was not consistent with the existing research. I saw that kids, parents and families were suffering, and I felt that I needed to do something to help. If these descriptions of clinicians refusing to evaluate and treat trauma and mental health issues were true, it means that a vulnerable population was being deprived of much-needed mental-health services. As a physician and researcher trained in public health, I knew I had an important skill set and perspective to bring to the discussion. I felt that the best way that I could contribute was to conduct research to better understand what, where, and why this might be happening.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Wake Up, American Jews: You've Enabled Israel's Racism For Years. (Joshua LeiferFebruary 25, 2019, The Forward)

For years, the men who make up Otzma Yehudit -- Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben Gvir, Benzi Gopstein, Michael Ben-Ari -- stalked the outer limits of Israeli political discourse. But what distinguished them from the rest of the right was not so much substance as style; to borrow New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie's phrase about President Trump, they took the subtext of the right's agenda and made it text.

They said loudly what many on the Israeli right, at least in the past, preferred to whisper, and certainly never to say in English: that Israel would be a Jewish supremacist state, not a democracy; that the Palestinians would forever live subjugated under military occupation, confined to isolated Bantustans, or they would be expelled from the West Bank and into Jordan; that leftists and peaceniks were traitors, and that traitors would be dealt with accordingly.

Today, even without Otzma Yehudit, there is no shortage of Knesset members -- ministers in Netanyahu's outgoing government -- who say these sorts of things. For example, Miri Regev, Israel's culture minister, joined Otzma Yehudit's Michael Ben-Ari in inciting a vicious pogrom against African asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv in 2012.

Naftali Bennett, minister of education and the diaspora, boasts of how many people he's killed and has a plan to annex large portions of the West Bank.

Betzalel Smotrich, deputy speaker of the Knesset, calls himself a "proud homophobe" and proposes paying Palestinians compensation for trucking them out of the West Bank and into Jordan.

Then there is Avigdor Liberman, the former minister of Defense, with a long history of inflammatory racist comments, who proposed transferring Palestinian citizens of Israel into the West Bank and once remarked of Arab MKs, "there is no reason for them to remain Israeli citizens."

Israeli politics during the successive Netanyahu governments has become a parade of hate speech, with right-wing politicians competing over who will do the worst to "the Arabs." During the Likud primaries, Yaron Mazuz, the deputy minister of the environment, even campaigned with the proud endorsement of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier jailed for nine months for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the head.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Netanyahu sought an alliance with the far-right, Kahanist Otzma Yehudit, and his own Likud: the rhetoric of the two parties is increasingly indistinguishable. Likud, nominally a center-right party, has lurched far to the right, and not just in rhetoric but also in policy. Last year, the party's central committee unanimously voted in favor of annexing parts of the West Bank.

March 23, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


In rare TV interview, PM lashes out at opponents, accuses them of 'blood libel' (TOI STAFF and MICHAEL BACHNER, 3/23/19, Times of Israel)

In a rare television interview on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at his main political rivals in the upcoming national election, accusing them of  "a campaign of lies," of issuing "a blood libel" against him, and even of "endangering the security of the State of Israel."

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


South America leaders form Prosur to replace defunct Unasur bloc (Deutsch-Welle, 3/22/19)

Seven right-wing presidents of South American nations gathered in Chile's capital Santiago on Friday to announce a new political association dubbed Forum for the Progress of South America, or Prosur.

The bloc would function "without ideology and bureaucracy, but with a total commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights," Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said.

Prosur includes Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Guyana. Leftist governments in Bolivia and Uruguay sent representatives to the Santiago meeting, but did not join the bloc.

Consider the superhuman effort it took for Donald to lose Congress.
Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Mueller Cannot Seek an Indictment. And He Must Remain Silent. (Ken Starr, 3/22/19, The Atlantic)

As the nation awaits the Mueller report, a return to first principles is in order. One relevant first principle was dramatically illustrated in the breach during the waning weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Then-FBI Director James Comey announced at a press conference that no criminal charges would be brought against Hillary Clinton. Comey didn't stop there, however. In that press conference, which will continue to live in infamy, Comey sharply criticized the former secretary of state for her ill-considered conduct in housing a server in her private residence, only to receive official and--not infrequently--classified information.

The nation should have risen, as one, in righteous indignation in the aftermath of the Comey press conference. In a single misadventure, Comey both seized power that was not his--the power to seek an indictment, a prerogative that was entrusted to the attorney general--and then violated one of the fundamental principles of public prosecution: Thou shalt not drag a subject or target of the investigation through the mud via public criticism. Prosecutors either seek an indictment, or  remain quiet.

Robert Mueller is not your everyday prosecutor, however. Under Department of Justice policy, a sitting president cannot be indicted. This prosecutor, unlike other prosecutors, cannot indict if he finds an indictable offense. And in contrast to the practices and policies that govern thousands of federal prosecutors around the country, this former FBI director--now a special counsel--has a specific reporting obligation. That solemn obligation is not to produce a public report. He cannot seek an indictment. And he must remain quiet.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Shanahan's nomination to head Pentagon on ice (DAVID BROWN, DANIEL LIPPMAN and GABBY ORR, 03/22/2019, Politico)

Patrick Shanahan's expected promotion to permanently head the Defense Department has stalled amid an ethics investigation and a series of unimpressive public performances, according to four people with knowledge of internal White House discussions.

Shanahan, who has served as the Pentagon's acting chief since Jim Mattis resigned in December, has also been hampered by the deadly crashes of two airliners manufactured by his former employer, Boeing -- the company that's also at the heart of his ethics problems.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Trump's son-in-law Kushner cooperating with U.S. House probe: source (David Morgan, Mark Hosenball, 3/22/19, Reuters)

Democrats in the House of Representatives have launched numerous inquiries into Trump, his presidency, his family and his business interests. The Mueller investigation has been focused on the election and whether Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow in its effort to sway U.S. voters in Trump's favor.

Although Mueller's report is finished, its contents were not yet known late on Friday. Details were expected soon.

Russia has denied U.S. intelligence agencies' findings that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 campaign. Trump has denied any collusion and dismissed Mueller's probe as a "witch hunt."

Among the Judiciary Committee's aims are determining if Trump obstructed justice by ousting perceived enemies at the Justice Department and abused his power by possibly offering pardons or tampering with witnesses.

It was not clear how much material Kushner provided to the committee. But investigators sought documents from him on more than two dozen topics. Those topics ranged from a June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to any Trump transition team contacts with Russia.

Stone's lawyer Grant Smith said in the letter to Nadler that Stone faces federal criminal charges and that it "is not in Mr. Stone's best interest" to participate in any other proceedings.

Explainer: Why Trump's legal woes go beyond the Mueller report (Jan Wolfe, 3/22/19, Reuters) 


Mueller charged 34 individuals and three companies. Several of those cases resulted in guilty pleas and one case went to trial, with former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort convicted in August 2018 of eight criminal counts, including bank fraud and tax fraud. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was indicted in January of this year and pleaded not guilty, but his trial is still pending. There are other cases involving indicted Russians that have not gone to trial. Other prosecutors within the Justice Department will likely take over criminal cases begun by Mueller, legal experts said.


Trump may face significant peril from federal prosecutors in Manhattan, according to legal experts. His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said in Feb. 27 congressional testimony that the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York is examining Trump's business practices and financial dealings. Cohen already has implicated Trump in campaign finance law violations to which he pleaded guilty in August 2018 as part of the Southern District investigation.

Cohen admitted he violated campaign finance laws by arranging, at Trump's direction, "hush money" payments shortly before the 2016 presidential election to porn film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal to prevent damage to Trump's candidacy. Both women said they had sexual relationships with Trump more than a decade ago. He has denied that.

Prosecutors said the payments constituted illegal campaign contributions intended to influence the election. Under federal election laws, such donations cannot exceed $2,700 and need to be publicly disclosed. Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, received $130,000. McDougal received $150,000.

The New York investigation has involved longtime Trump ally David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper, who admitted to paying McDougal for the rights to her story and then suppressing it to influence the election, an arrangement called "catch and kill."

During his Feb. 27 congressional hearing, Cohen said he was in "constant contact" with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and said other crimes and wrongdoing by Trump are being investigated by them, though he did not offer details. Cohen said he could not testify about the nature of his last conversation with Trump in early 2018 because it was under investigation by the federal prosecutors in New York.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


The colossal problem with universal basic income (Douglas Rushkoff, 3/23/19, Big Think)

So what really happens what is universal basic income? It's just a way of perpetuating our roles as consumers at the bottom of the pyramid, not as owners. If we're going to go to anything, I would say, what about universal basic assets? What about actual participation? What if the workers owned the means of production? So you don't just give them a handout so that the money ends up in the same corporate coffers and going into the same shares. That's not the point.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Headless Goat Polo Is A Top Sport At World Nomad Games (JOEL GOLDBERG, 3/22/19, NPR)

Two bare-chested men on horseback wrestle. The goal is to pull your opponent off the horse so a part of his body touches the ground.

Three dogs chase a dummy clad in a fox or hare skin to see who's fastest. Biting an opponent is grounds for disqualification.

And then there is this sport: "Each team seeks to throw as many goat carcasses as possible into the tai kazan (goal) of the opposing team."

They're definitely not Olympic sports but they are a part of another global competition: The World Nomad Games, held in Kyrgyzstan last September. That's the landlocked central Asian nation of 6.2 million that, centuries ago, was a stop on the Silk Road traveled by traders from China to the Mediterranean. In modern times, it was part of the Soviet Union until it declared independence in 1991.

This was the third iteration of the games, which were spearheaded by former Kyrgyzstani president Almazbek Atambayev and highlight both unusual regional sports as well as more traditional ones like archery. According to the local press, 2,000 athletes from 80 countries competed before an audience of 150,000, about a third of whom were foreign tourists. The overall cost was about $6.7 million, with $2.3 million covered by private sponsors and the rest picked up by the government.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Kudos to Lamar Alexander for Criticizing Trump's 'Free Speech' Executive Order (JIM SWIFT, MARCH 23, 2019, The Bulwark)

The general consensus is that this action is largely redundant, mostly for show. To get funding for research, universities already have to protect free speech on campus. This executive order, vague as it is, doesn't seem to add anything else to that. And it doesn't interfere with financial aid, which is in itself interesting in a way.

Those old enough to remember might think back to Grove City College v. Bell. Which is to say that this is about power and intimidation, even if it's largely toothless and for show. Conservatives used to appreciate keeping the government out of these things.

That's where Alexander weighs in:

And I agree that colleges should punish hecklers who veto free speech, and stop coddling students to protect them from disagreeable points of view. But I don't want to see Congress or the President or the department of anything creating speech codes to define what you can say on campus. The U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech. Federal courts define and enforce it. The Department of Justice can weigh in. Conservatives don't like it when judges try to write laws, and conservatives should not like it when legislators and agencies try to rewrite the Constitution.

Amen. They're not making any more Lamar Alexanders these days. Instead, we're raising a crop of Charlie Kirks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


'We want real democracy': Thailand's youth voice hopes ahead of election (ABBIE O'BRIEN, 3/23/19, SBS)

Young Thais have grown up in climate of political instability, marked by two military coups over the past decade. The events have divided the country into two camps - supporters of the pro-military royalist parties and those who back the ousted leaders. 

Thailand has not held a general election in eight years and as a consequence there are over 7 million first time voters - a record number. 

This election is their first taste of democracy. 

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said many are embracing Thanathorn with a level of political enthusiasm not seen in years.  

"I have not seen a kind of collective voice and pent-up disenchantment with the status quo that I'm seeing today," he told SBS News.

"A lot of young people - 25 and under and even 40 and under - they're more politically active, conscious [voters]. 

That is certainly the case at Bangkok's Thammasat University, where SBS News asked students how they are feeling about the vote. 

"Very excited!" said one female student. 

"Since we were young, we didn't see any change [but] we've seen lot of coup d'états. It's like a circle, it never ends. We want to see change - real democracy," a male student explained. 

And it is no surprise who they want to see lead that change.  

"Thanathorn's campaign respond to our needs," said a student for the university's school of political science. [...]

While the Future Forward Party are not the front-runners in this race, many at the rally hope they will win enough seats in tomorrow's vote to give Thai politics a new voice.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


The Mueller Report Is Done, But Investigations Related To Trump Will Go On (PHILIP EWING, 3/23/19, NPR)

The Justice Department is undertaking several cases related to Trump that are likely to continue:

Prosecutors have charged GOP political consultant Roger Stone with obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress in connection with his work in 2016 on behalf of Trump's campaign. Stone has pleaded not guilty, and that case could go to trial later this year.

The case against the Russian company Concord Management and Consulting, which has been linked to Russia's social media disinformation campaign, continues in Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors are charging former business partners of Trump's ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn in a case in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Flynn -- who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and cooperated extensively with the FBI -- hasn't been sentenced. The government said it would be fine with a lenient sentence, but it will be up to a judge how and when to finally decide Flynn's punishment.

Another important outstanding case is that of Rick Gates, a business associate of onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Gates also has been cooperating with investigators since pleading guilty last year to conspiracy and making false statements. Justice Department officials have said in court documents that he has given so much good information they want his sentence to be delayed so their work can continue.

Prosecutors in Washington secured a guilty plea from a Russian woman, Maria Butina, who admitted to conspiring to serve as a Russian agent inside the U.S.

Her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, has been indicted on fraud charges in South Dakota -- but the question remains open as to whether he might also be charged in a case related more closely to Butina's.

Erickson has pleaded not guilty and said he has done nothing wrong. His attorney called him a "good American."

Then there is the matter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Assange's anti-secrecy website released material in 2016 stolen by Russia's military intelligence agency as part of its scheme to interfere in the presidential election in support of Trump. There may be a sealed indictment in his case -- or a grand jury may be working now to compile more information for new charges.

Assange's attorney has said he doesn't know whether there is a sealed indictment but calls it unacceptable that authorities might try to charge Assange for publishing truthful information.

In New York City, prosecutors have charged the Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign officials at Trump Tower in June 2016 to provide a political tip about Democrats.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has been charged with obstruction of justice in an unrelated case that revealed how closely she worked with the Russian government -- although she isn't expected to appear in court.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan and other investigators also are reportedly investigating Trump's 2017 inaugural committee, looking to establish whether it may have broken the law by, among other ways, raising money from foreigners.

Investigators also may continue looking into other broad areas, including lobbyists and advocates who worked on behalf of Ukraine's government but didn't report that appropriately.

Several people and at least one big law firm have been swept into the Russia imbroglio over problems with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. [...]

Democratic members in the House, meanwhile, are pursuing a number of investigative avenues with their majority control of the Judiciary, oversight and intelligence committees.

Oversight committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., fired a blast of requests for information from a number of people and entities in early March. He wants to know more about everything from the White House's protocols on handling security clearances to the Trump Organization's business practices to the conduct of Trump's sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., meanwhile, presides over the committee that would have the responsibility of introducing articles of impeachment against Trump.

Nadler has said he believes there's already evidence that Trump committed acts that may rise to the level of impeachment, especially what Nadler has called potential obstruction of justice.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says: In conversation, the 2019 Templeton Prize winner does not pull punches on the limits of science, the value of humility and the irrationality of nonbelief (Lee Billings, March 20, 2019, Scientific American)

Why are you against atheism?

I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It's a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. "I don't believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don't believe." Period. It's a declaration. But in science we don't really do declarations. We say, "Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that." And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god (What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?) But on the other hand, an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn't know about. "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," and all that. This positions me very much against all of the "New Atheist" guys--even though I want my message to be respectful of people's beliefs and reasoning, which might be community-based, or dignity-based, and so on. And I think obviously the Templeton Foundation likes all of this, because this is part of an emerging conversation. It's not just me; it's also my colleague the astrophysicist Adam Frank, and a bunch of others, talking more and more about the relation between science and spirituality.

So, a message of humility, open-mindedness and tolerance. Other than in discussions of God, where else do you see the most urgent need for this ethos?

You know, I'm a "Rare Earth" kind of guy. I think our situation may be rather special, on a planetary or even galactic scale. So when people talk about Copernicus and Copernicanism--the 'principle of mediocrity' that states we should expect to be average and typical, I say, "You know what? It's time to get beyond that." When you look out there at the other planets (and the exoplanets that we can make some sense of), when you look at the history of life on Earth, you will realize this place called Earth is absolutely amazing. And maybe, yes, there are others out there, possibly--who knows, we certainly expect so--but right now what we know is that we have this world, and we are these amazing molecular machines capable of self-awareness, and all that makes us very special indeed. And we know for a fact that there will be no other humans in the universe; there may be some humanoids somewhere out there, but we are unique products of our single, small planet's long history.

The point is, to understand modern science within this framework is to put humanity back into kind of a moral center of the universe, in which we have the moral duty to preserve this planet and its life with everything that we've got, because we understand how rare this whole game is and that for all practical purposes we are alone. For now, anyways. We have to do this! This is a message that I hope will resonate with lots of people, because to me what we really need right now in this increasingly divisive world is a new unifying myth. I mean "myth" as a story that defines a culture. So, what is the myth that will define the culture of the 21st century? It has to be a myth of our species, not about any particular belief system or political party. How can we possibly do that? Well, we can do that using astronomy, using what we have learned from other worlds, to position ourselves and say, "Look, folks, this is not about tribal allegiance, this is about us as a species on a very specific planet that will go on with us--or without us." I think you know this message well.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


NOTHING FAILS LIKE SUCCESS (Dwight R. Lee, 3/20/19, Intercollegiate Review)

Ironically, one reason for the problem of obesity is that most agricultural jobs have been eliminated in response to market incentives. Private-sector entrepreneurs and firms have found profit in developing ways to grow more food at less cost by substituting capital and chemicals for farm labor. The result is more food grown on less land by fewer workers. Tens of millions of agricultural workers have been released to innovate new products, improve old products, and expand the production of both in jobs that are far more interesting, safe, and productive than the ones they replaced. Increasing agricultural productivity, along with the general increase in wealth, clearly allowed people to purchase more calories in fresher, more nutritious, and tastier foods for steadily decreasing amounts of labor.

Possibly even more important than the declining cost of purchasing food has been the declining cost of converting it into tasty meals. Preparing foods for consumption used to be a laborious and time-consuming chore, one performed primarily by women. As market incentives generated technological advances and more productive employment opportunities for women, businesses found it increasingly attractive to introduce products and services that reduced the time and drudgery of preparing meals in the home, as well as doing household chores in general. Shopping for food became more convenient as grocery stores became bigger with larger varieties of food, as well as many other household products, under one roof. Appliances for storing and cooking foods became bigger, less troublesome (self-defrosting refrigerators), and faster (microwave ovens). A larger variety of prepared foods are now available for home consumption. And eating out, which used to be a luxury, is now a common occurrence, with options available for every taste and budget.

Given that people evolved to avoid starvation, not obesity, it is difficult for many of us to avoid gaining weight when surrounded by an abundance of convenient, low-cost, and tasty food. Our natural ­response when food is available is to store as many calories in our fat cells as possible to sustain us until the next successful hunt. Of course, the next successful "hunt" ­almost always occurs three times a day, not to mention those trips to a vending machine. Couple this with the sedentary jobs that economic progress has allowed us to substitute for physically ­demanding ones, and it is hardly surprising that a large percentage of the population has become overweight or obese.

Until quite recently, being significantly overweight was considered a personal problem, if a problem at all. An overweight adult was assumed competent to evaluate the personal costs and benefits of eating more than was consistent with his recommended weight, and he could alter (or not alter) ­caloric intake accordingly. I remember a talk in the 1970s at the University of Colorado by Israel Kirzner in which he pointed out that the market is often criticized for giving people what they want. Kirzner ­defended the market against this criticism by saying it is analogous to blaming the waiter for obesity. I was impressed at the time with how effective this argument was. I fear it would be less effective today.

Increasingly it is not those who are overweight who are seen as responsible for their condition. They are more likely to be considered the victims of "waiters" in the form of those who are responding to consumer demand by making more and tastier food conveniently available at ever-lower real prices. Instead of seeing this as a significant victory in the battle against poverty and hunger, we hear from trial lawyers, health officials, and other politically influential activists that it is a national crisis requiring immediate government action. [...]


Unfortunately, the obesity "crisis" is only one of many examples of the success of markets and freedom being widely, and effectively, portrayed as failures demanding more government controls over our economic choices. Consider the innovations in medical care that have extended our lives and improved their quality into the older ages we are now more likely to achieve. This is clearly a triumph of the innovation and entrepreneurship made possible by the incentives and freedom of market economies--an improvement in our well-being over the last century that is unprecedented in human history and which holds out the promise of continued improvement. But the public hears much more about problems resulting from this triumph than about its enormous benefits. The constant refrain is that the high cost of medical care is a failure of markets, which has become a serious problem--­indeed, another national crisis--demanding a government remedy.

In fact, the cost of medical care is ­greatly overstated. Instead of increasing the cost of medical care, improvements in medical technologies have actually ­reduced that cost and reduced it considerably. In the 1960s the cost of heart-­bypass surgery needed to save your life was ­infinite--­unavailable at any price. The same is true of many other procedures, medicines, and diag­nostic equipment that improve and prolong the lives of untold millions ­today, including the poor. People are confusing the increasing amount being spent on medical care with the costs of that care when claiming that medical costs are higher today than ever. People are spending more on medical care because the success of markets and freedom has increased their wealth and made medical care worth more than ever. No sensible person would argue that transportation costs are higher now than ever, even though we spend a far higher percentage of our income on transportation than in the past. The reason we are spending more is that transportation costs have decreased so much over the past century that today almost everyone in market-based economies can routinely ­afford travel options that were available to only the very rich a few decades ago, and available to no one a little over a hundred years ago, with all those ­options safer, faster, and more reliable than ever before.

March 22, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


A Jewish case for Brown Divest (EVAN LEHMANN, SAM FROLICHSTEIN-APPEL, NOAH BYCK MLYN and BRIAN SOLOMON, March 20, 2019, Brown daily Herald)

Next month, we will celebrate Passover, commemorating the exodus from Mitzrayim and the bondage we experienced there. The Torah reads, "and you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim" (Exodus 23:9). If we're committed to the Torah's call for tikkun olam (repairing the world), to ger toshav (treating strangers as neighbors) and to chesed (loving-kindness), these values must extend to Palestinians.

Jews throughout history have mobilized to stand in solidarity with other oppressed peoples. From the Jewish Labor Bund in 19th century Europe to Jewish students and clergy who participated in the Freedom Rides in the 1960s, progressive Jews have often seen their history of marginalization and oppression as reason to band together with other vulnerable groups, rather than isolate themselves or ally with state violence. While some argue that Israel's aggression toward Palestinians is necessary in order to protect Jews both in the nation and elsewhere, we resist cynical, zero-sum calculations of Jewish safety that lead to isolation -- and insist that we find the greatest safety in solidarity with oppressed people around the world.

We are also compelled to speak out against Israel because Israel claims to speak for us. On March 11, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu stated that "Israel is the national state, not for all of its people, but for Jews alone." It is this rhetoric that compels us, as Jews, to act. We refuse to be spoken for by a nation-state whose policies too often rest on dispossession, displacement and violence against Palestinian people.

While we are critical of the state of Israel and the policies his government pursues, we also implore all students to think deeply about how criticism of Israel can, and sometimes does, intersect with anti-Semitism. For example, claims that Israel's oppressive policies are inherently tied to its Jewish character are anti-Semitic. However, calls for divestment and critiques of Israel and its policies are not inherently anti-Semitic. As Jewish students, we stand both resolutely in support of Brown Divest and against anti-Semitism in all of its forms. We believe that our opposition to human rights abuses and our abhorrence of religious persecution and bigotry can coexist.

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


Trump unexpectedly cancels new sanctions on North Korea (tHE wEEK, 3/22/19)

The Treasury Department on Thursday said sanctions would be imposed on two Chinese shipping companies that it said were helping North Korea evade international sanctions, as reported by The New York Times and CNN. National Security Adviser John Bolton said that "everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea's sanctions evasion."

But Trump on Friday suddenly and unexpectedly announced that "additional large scale sanctions" previously announced by the Treasury Department would be withdrawn.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Fox News has reportedly banned Sebastian Gorka from its hard news shows (The Week, 3/22/19)

[M]ediaite reports that Fox News has banned Gorka from appearing on its hard news shows; The Daily Beast previously reported in August that Gorka was under what it called a "soft ban" on the news side. He's not the only one: Mediaite also writes that reporter Sara Carter isn't allowed to appear on the news shows anymore even though she's a current Fox News contributor. Fox reportedly keeps asking Hannity not to introduce her as an investigative reporter since her "reporting is not vetted" and it "passes none of the network's editorial guidelines," Mediaite writes, but he keeps doing so anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New Zealanders wear headscarves in solidarity with mourning Muslim community (SBS, 3/22/19)

Organisers for the Headscarf for Harmony initiative have called on people to wear headscarves in solidarity with the Muslim community following the Christchurch mosque shootings.

 The movement calls on people to wear headscarves on Friday 22 March, a week on from the Christchurch twin mosque shootings that killed 50 people. 

Headscarves are also being worn as a mark of respect by policewomen and non-Muslim volunteers directing the crowds around a site in Christchurch holding communal prayers.

March 21, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


MAGABomber Pleads Guilty to Sending Explosives by Mail to Trump Critics (Alberto Luperon, March 21st, 2019, lAW & cRIME)

Cesar Altieri Sayoc, the Florida man known as the MAGAbomber, pleaded guilty on Thursday to sending bombs to perceived enemies of President Donald Trump.

Targets included former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, actor Robert de Niro, billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and former President Barack Obama, prosecutors say. The defendant's social media activity showed he was a huge Trump fan. He seemed to subscribe to conspiracy theories that teenage gun control advocate David Hogg was a "paid protester." He also endorsed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Soros.

Most targets were Democratic politicians, but all were perceived to be Trump critics. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 PM


Cummings demands docs on Kushner's alleged use of encrypted app for official business (ANDREW DESIDERIO and KYLE CHENEY 03/21/2019, pOLITICO)

House Democrats are raising new concerns about what they say is recently revealed information from Jared Kushner's attorney indicating that the senior White House aide has been relying on encrypted messaging service WhatsApp and his personal email account to conduct official business.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 PM

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


Marine Corps commandant says deploying troops to the border poses 'unacceptable risk' (MOLLY O'TOOLE, MAR 21, 2019, LA Times)

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, center, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and Undersecretary of Defense David Norquist, right, appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Michael Reynolds / EPA-Shutterstock)
The commandant of the Marines has warned the Pentagon that deployments to the southwest border and funding transfers under the president's emergency declaration, among other unexpected demands, have posed "unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency."

In two internal memos, Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said the "unplanned/unbudgeted" deployment along the border that President Trump ordered last fall, and shifts of other funds to support border security, had forced him to cancel or reduce planned military training in at least five countries, and delay urgent repairs at bases.

The border deployment and funding transfers, as well as recovery costs from hurricanes Florence and Michael, new housing allowances and civilian pay raises, are taking a toll on combat readiness, Neller wrote to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. [...]

"It's pretty unusual for the commandant to be raising concerns that... a top political priority for the president is undermining the ability of the Marine Corps to do the training they need," said Mandy Smithberger, a defense expert at the Project for Government Oversight, a nonpartisan independent watchdog group.

"It looks like from Commandant Neller's perspective, he does think these policies are undermining readiness," she added.

"This is a pretty strongly worded memo," said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

In any normal administration it would be problematic that the armed services have such open contempt for the commander-in-chief and he for men who serve.
Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Judge Blocks Wisconsin Republicans' Power Grab, Rules "Extraordinary Session" Convened Illegally (MARK JOSEPH STERN, MARCH 21, 2019, Slate)

Shortly after Wisconsin voters replaced Republican Gov. Scott Walker with Democrat Tony Evers in 2018, GOP lawmakers scrambled to strip the incoming governor of power. In a special session, Republicans revoked Evers' ability to make dozens of appointments throughout the executive branch, reducing his authority over state commissions. They hobbled incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul's ability to represent the state in litigation. And they slashed early voting across the state in violation of a federal court order. Walker approved the power grab weeks before leaving office.

On Thursday, Circuit Judge Richard G. Niess blocked every single law the Republican legislature passed in late 2018. In his ruling, Niess held that the sessions was convened in violation of the state constitution, rendering the bills it produced unlawful and void. The decision vacates 82 of Walker's last-minute appointments, restores Evers' oversight over the executive branch, and allows Kaul to represent Wisconsin in court.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


What America can learn from the world's happiest countries (Ryan Cooper, March 21, 2019, The Week)

[T]he annual United Nations report on the world's happiest nations was released Wednesday, where the U.S. fell from 18th to 19th place. Meanwhile, the happiest country for the second straight year was Finland. Filling out the rest of the top 5 were Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and the Netherlands.

This raises the question: What might the U.S. learn from the world happiness grandmasters? A good place to start would be copy-pasting their economic and social welfare institutions.

On first blush, there are some obvious big differences that almost certainly explain much of the difference. All these nations have extensive welfare states, with universal health care, generous benefits for parents, seniors, disabled people, the unemployed, and so on. If someone in Finland has an accident or run of bad luck, the state will catch them -- and it will also help new parents out with the enormous expenses of child-rearing. That means both a better life for people who have kids, lose their job, or get sick, plus lower stress for everyone else who knows society will protect them from misfortune. But in the U.S., with its grossly dysfunctional health-care system and tattered safety net, such events can be personally devastating. For instance, children cause fully 36 percent of U.S. poverty, and some 42 percent of American cancer patients lose their entire life savings after diagnosis. [...]

Citizens of the Nordic states also work far less than Americans. If Americans cut their hours-worked figure down to the levels of Denmark or Norway, that would mean over two additional months of vacation (again associated with happiness) every year.

Additionally, a proper welfare state means all these countries have very low poverty rates. All the top five are in the bottom seven of the OECD poverty rankings, while the U.S. has the third-highest poverty rate among those countries (behind South Africa and Costa Rica). Poverty is both soul-crushing and physically harmful, and certainly drags down the U.S. happiness average.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


The Navy Wants to Shrink Its Aircraft Carrier Fleet (Justin Bachman  and Dave Merrill, March 21, 2019, Bloomberg)

Visiting the USS Gerald R. Ford two years ago, U.S. President Donald Trump extolled the importance of an enlarged naval force featuring a dozen aircraft carriers--including the Ford, the most expensive ship ever built.

Having 12 of these behemoths--sometimes accompanied by a half-dozen other ships--would send an international signal of U.S. resolve and restore the fleet to its post-Cold War size during the 1990s.

The Pentagon's latest budget proposal, however, seems to do the opposite.

The Defense Department is seeking to--at least for now--shrink the carrier fleet, proposing that the USS Harry Truman be effectively decommissioned in 2024. This would mean that a multibillion-dollar, nuclear-powered super-carrier deployed in 2000 would be mothballed two decades before the end of its service life.  

Nikki stands to inherit a massive Peace Dividend.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


The Unsaid Threat to Iran During Netanyahu's Navy Cadet Speech (SHEMUEL MEIR, 3/21/19, Atlantic Council)

The first issue in Netanyahu's naval ceremony speech was widely covered and quoted around the world. Netanyahu unexpectedly set the Israeli navy a task that, to date, has not been announced: to participate in the enforcement of unilateral sanctions regime by preventing Iranian oil trading in the Persian Gulf. According to Netanyahu, Iran is bypassing US sanctions by covert oil smuggling and that the international community, including Israel, should work to stop this sanctions violation.

Netanyahu's statement is problematic and raises a number of questions. First, it's unclear how the Israeli navy could enforce sanctions in the Persian Gulf, when according to its traditional doctrine, its role is to operate in the Mediterranean. Second, it's not certain that the US navy could give its blessing to a joint operation. Third, it's also unclear whether Netanyahu's declaration is based on an orderly decision-making process or if it received backing from the security cabinet and the chief of staff. Fourth, were the implications of international law examined? Enforcement of sanctions through searches and boarding foreign merchant vessels in international waters without permission is a violation of the Convention on High Seas. Finally, it's unclear if the implications were weighed of an action that is likely to be interpreted as a naval blockade and a declaration of war against Iran. This is an especially sensitive issue for Israel that set out to war in 1967 using casus belli of the closing of the Straits of Tiranand international sea lanes for its commercial fleet. 

Within days of Netanyahu's declaration, the Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami reacted to the Israeli navy's new mission and declared that Tehran would protect its shipping lanes and that it had the means to give a "crushing response." 

This saber-rattling exchange between Israel and Iran is not without danger. An intense public exchange that includes threats and military offensive scenarios can lead to war through miscalculation. A misunderstanding is likely to push the other side into a preventative war. Neither Iran nor Israel has a monopoly on threatening declarations--which are often made for internal consumption--and in turn could lead to local tactical confrontations that can easily deteriorate into a strategic complication.

During his speech, Netanyahu also raised a second issue which was removed from the Prime Ministers Office's official publications. 

At the naval cadets ceremony, the prime minister referred directly to the Iranian nuclear threat and said in an unambiguous tone that "thanks to the navy above and below the sea--those who aspire to annihilate us will not succeed and will put themselves in terrible danger." This was not reported in the international press, but only reported in the Hebrew press. Paradoxically, and in spite of the stern tone, this line did not receive particular attention in Israel. It was treated as if deterrence strategy messages are simply something that should be repeated at every opportunity.

Declarations about strategic deterrence in the Iranian context are central for Netanyahu. For example, at the name unveiling ceremony of the Dimona Nuclear Research Center in honor of Shimon Peres during August 2018, Netanyahu declared that "those who threaten to wipe us out put themselves in a similar danger." Nevertheless, the prime minister was careful not to repeat this declaratory threat in the context of submarines. 

The last time Netanyahu did this was during the 2016 ceremony for the new Rahav submarine purchased from Germany. On this occasion, Netanyahu referred in the most detailed and concrete manner to the special deterrent and striking role of the submarine fleet in distant and global quarters against "the enemies who want to destroy us," adding that they "need to know that Israel is capable of striking in a very great strength at all those who would harm it." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


The Secret Political History of Queen Esther: From Queen Elizabeth to Abraham Lincoln, the story of Purim has shaped our most contentious debates (Ari Lamm, March 21, 2019, The Tablet)

[T]he image of Esther as reactive protector who sought merely to save her people is incongruous with the actual biblical narrative. Esther's response to Haman's assault on the Jewish people is not simply to request that her people be spared. Esther demands that the perpetrators be held to account. She has Haman charged and hanged for his crimes. She ensures that the Jews of Persia take up arms against those who sought to kill them. And many other people within the empire, seeing justice done, even ally themselves with their Jewish fellow citizens. Esther's story is not one of reactive hunkering down, but of confident, assertive action in maintaining a decent society in which injustice would not be tolerated.

But if the Elizabethans overemphasized Esther's reactive, self-protective posture, the opposite mistake featured at a crucial moment in American history, three centuries later. About a week and a half before issuing a preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spent a quiet Saturday morning meeting with prominent abolitionist Rev. William Weston Patton. A few months earlier, at a June cabinet meeting, Lincoln had declared his intention to issue an edict of emancipation. But his worry over the Union's military prospects, and the accompanying concern over seeming to act from a position of desperation, had so far prevented Lincoln from publishing any such edict. In the hopes of encouraging him in the right direction, Patton met with Lincoln to make the religious case for emancipation. Patton concluded his remarks to the President by comparing him to Queen Esther. Drawing upon Chapter 4 in the Book of Esther, in which her cousin Mordechai exhorts Esther to seize the moment and exercise moral leadership, Patton beseeched Lincoln to recognize the wondrous opportunity presented to him by the Almighty to right an historic wrong: "[we] believe that in Divine Providence you have been called to the Presidency to speak the word of justice and authority which shall free the bondman and save the nation." As Patton saw it, as soon as Esther was made aware of an injustice, she took action and damn the consequences. He felt Lincoln should do the same, assuring the president: "If the Leader will but utter a trumpet call, the nation will respond with patriotic ardor."

Patton's interpretation of Esther as zealous idealist is, like the Elizabethans before him, difficult to square with the Book of Esther itself. According to the biblical narrative, when Mordechai informs Esther of Haman's murderous intentions, she does not immediately confront the king and demand that he rectify the situation. Instead, she devises a political strategy that takes into consideration Haman's power and influence in the royal court. Counting on Haman's growing sense of complacency, Esther waited for a moment of maximal opportunity to make her case before Xerxes. Far from throwing caution to the wind and depending upon a miracle, Esther was a deeply strategic thinker who knew that the arc of history does not bend toward justice of its own accord. It must be bent with human participation.

In the end, it was Lincoln himself who best captured the nuances of the biblical Esther. In his response to Patton's invocation of the biblical queen, Lincoln replied: "Whatever shall appear to be God's will I will do." This is a striking, likely deliberate echo of Esther's words upon hearing from Mordechai of Haman's plot: "I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish." Like Esther, Lincoln knew the dire risks his proposed course of action entailed for his people, and nevertheless resolved to do the right thing. But, also like Esther, Lincoln refused to take impulsive action. The president had already determined that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation months before he met with Patton. He felt, however, that it would take a decisive battlefield triumph by Northern forces to vest his edict with the necessary legitimacy in practice. He therefore kept a draft of the edict in his drawer for the entire summer of 1862, biding his time, waiting for the moment when doing the right thing would not only feel good, but be effective. In this respect, Lincoln embodied the legacy of Queen Esther. And if David Gilmour Blythe's 1863 painting of Lincoln writing the Emancipation Proclamation--in which Lincoln looks for inspiration to two documents: the Constitution and the Bible--is any guide, perhaps Lincoln knew it, too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tech Platforms Obliterated ISIS Online. They Could Use The Same Tools On White Nationalism.: Christchurch could be the moment Silicon Valley decides to finally treat white nationalism the way it's been treating ISIS for years. (Ryan Broderick, 2/20/19, BuzzFeed News)

A 2016 study by George Washington University's Program on Extremism shows that white nationalists and neo-Nazi supporters had a much larger impact on Twitter than ISIS members and supporters at the time. When looking at about 4,000 accounts of each category, white nationalists and neo-Nazis outperformed ISIS in number of tweets and followers, with an average follower count that was 22 times greater than ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts. The study concluded that by 2016, ISIS had become a target of "large-scale efforts" by Twitter to drive supporters off the platform, like using AI-based technology to automatically flag militant Muslim extremist content, while white nationalists and neo-Nazi supporters were given much more leeway, in large part because their networks were far less cohesive.

Google and Facebook have also invested heavily in AI-based programs that scan their platforms for ISIS activity. Google's parent company created a program called the Redirect Method that uses AdWords and YouTube video content to target kids at risk of radicalization. Facebook said it used a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning to remove more than 3 million pieces of ISIS and al-Qaeda propaganda in the third quarter of 2018.

These AI tools appear to be working. The pages and groups of ISIS members and supporters have almost been completely scrubbed from Facebook. Beheading videos are pulled down from YouTube within hours. The terror group's formerly vast network of Twitter accounts have been almost completely erased. Even the slick propaganda videos, once broadcast on multiple platforms within minutes of publication, have been relegated to private groups on apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.

The Christchurch attack is the first big instance of white nationalist extremism being treated -- across these three big online platforms -- with the same severity as pro-ISIS content. Facebook announced 1.5 million versions of the Christchurch livestream were removed from the platform within the first 24 hours. YouTube said in a statement that "Shocking, violent and graphic content has no place on our platforms, and is removed as soon as we become aware of it," though the video does continue to appear on the site -- a copy of it was being uploaded every second in the first 24 hours. Twitter also said it had taken down the account of the suspected gunman and was working to remove all versions of the video.

The answer to why this kind of cross-network deplatforming hasn't happened with white nationalist extremism may be found in a 2018 VOX-Pol report authored by the same researcher as the George Washington University study cited above: "The task of crafting a response to the alt-right is considerably more complex and fraught with landmines, largely as a result of the movement's inherently political nature and its proximity to political power."

March 20, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


'Various Prosecution Offices' Have Advised Top Mueller Witness Not to Talk to Congress -- Yet (Matt Naham, March 20th, 2019, Law & Crime)

Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign deputy chairman, former Paul Manafort business associate and current cooperating witness for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and other prosecutors, will not be talking to Congress -- yet. Gates's attorney Thomas Green said that this is how "various prosecution offices" have advised his client to proceed.

The comment from Team Gates comes days after Mueller filed in court to push back Gates' sentencing for at least another two months, because Gates continues to cooperate in "several ongoing investigations." The House Judiciary Committee recently contacted Gates and 80 other people or entities as part of its investigation into "alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Trump, his associates, and members of his Administration."

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM



US Representative Ilhan Omar tweeted support for the Syrian people who revolted against the regime of President Bashar Assad on Friday. In response she was accused of supporting the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the CIA, and was slammed for her views by pro-Assad activists and online trolls.

Omar, a critic of Israel who has spoken out against US foreign policy, tweeted that "the people of Syria revolted against Assad's repressive dictatorship eight years ago today, demanding a more just and free government. Peace loving people around the world stand in solidarity with them in this struggle."

In response, Omar faced harsh critique on Twitter by well-known activists who are critical of the US or support the Syrian government. 

The proposal that Assad and Netanyahu both be held to Anglospheric standards is destined to infuriate their anti-democratic supporters.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


It appears nothing can move long-dated U.S. Treasury yields higher (Axios, 3/20/19)

Deflation is only going to accelerate going forward.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


The Mismeasurements of Stephen Jay Gould (Russell T. Warne, 3/20/19, Quillette)

Stephen Jay Gould, the famous 20th century paleontologist, published his most celebrated work, The Mismeasure of Man, in 1981. Gould's thesis is that throughout the history of science, prejudiced scientists studying human beings allowed their social beliefs to color their data collection and analysis. Gould believed that this confirmation bias was particularly powerful when a scientists' beliefs were socially important to them.

Gould believed this bias was rampant in particular scholarly fields, and the most prominent target for his criticism in The Mismeasure of Man was the study of intelligence, especially IQ testing and the genetics of mental ability. And his analysis was not kind. Gould believed that there was a direct connection between the discredited study of skull measurements and the dawn of intelligence testing in the following generation. "But the IQ...relies upon unsupportable as those underpinning the old hierarchies of skull sizes proposed by nineteenth-century participants." (Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, p. 210)

It may be surprising to readers to learn that I--a psychologist who researches human intelligence--agree with Gould's principal thesis. Scientists' pre-conceived notions about the things they study do guide their data collection and analysis. These beliefs guide scientists in choosing variables to measure, theories to test, statistical methods to employ, and more. This connection between beliefs and methods is a strong one. After all, if you believe that the universe is made of cheese, you're going to build a cosmic cheese whiz detector.

And though I wish Gould had not targeted my field, The Mismeasure of Man provides a great deal of evidence that scientists' pre-existing beliefs color their judgment--but not in the way he intended. Rather, the book is a perfect example of the sin it purports to expose in others. Gould's Marxist political beliefs made him attack intelligence research because he saw it as a threat to his egalitarian social goals. Ironically, it was this allegiance to ideology over data that made Gould himself a classic examplar of a biased scientist. [...]

If Gould's thesis is true for all scientists, and he sometimes wrote as if it is, then there is an obvious problem for him: he would be subject to the same biases, and his conclusions, like those of the scholars targeted in The Mismeasure of Man, would be inherently flawed--including his claim that all scientific analysis is biased. 

To his credit, he ultimately found it impossible to reconcile Darwinism and decency and chose the latter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Carbon Taxes Are the Original Green New Deal: There is a better way to reduce harmful emissions than the expensive, unwieldy proposal backed by progressive Democrats. (Steven Rattner, March 20, 2019, NY Times)

Fortunately, there is a better way to address the climate problem at far lower cost to the economy: a tax on greenhouse gas emissions. That can be imposed in any number of ways. The 18.4 cent federal gasoline tax, for example, hasn't been increased since 1993 even as most other developed countries impose far higher levies.

A particularly thoughtful proposal has come from the Climate Leadership Council, a bipartisan organization that counts more than 3,300 economists among its signatories. Elegant in its simplicity, the key provision would be the imposition of an escalating tax on carbon. At an initial rate of $43 per ton, the levy would be roughly equivalent to 38.2 cents per gallon of gasoline.

To prevent polluters from fleeing overseas, the tax would be imposed on imports from countries lacking a similar provision while exports to those countries would not be taxed. While difficult to implement, that component is important to work out.

The entire proceeds from the tax would be rebated to consumers. The council suggests an equal amount for each American; my view would be to exclude the wealthy (who hardly need the estimated $2,000 a year in payments) and disproportionately favor those closer to the bottom.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


In Algiers, the 'revolution of smiles' spreads everywhere (Adlène Meddi,  19 March 2019, Middle East Eye)

"Too many people want to speak for us, some political pros will certainly claim [the movement]," the young man exclaims, point to his laptop between an empty cup of coffee and an ashtray filled with cigarette butts. "But on the internet, it is us the people who are sovereign. We make the decisions."

Between calls for a referendum, decentralisation, judicial enquiries into all officials and highest levels of power.... the proposals are numerous and varied, but all "speak to a thirst for real democracy in a country where institutions seem to crumble one after the other," says Halim, who is already coordinating with his comrades the logistics of the next demonstration.

"The goal is to obtain in a fairly short time frame a platform of consensual and unified demands to impose on decision-makers under pressure from giant demonstrations," the student adds while typing on his phone

Another initiative launched last week has seen Algerian students hang thousands of Post-it notes - later ripped off by the police - on the walls of Place Maurice Audin Square in the city centre. Slogans, proposals and various messages were written down - "a way of saying you're talking to a wall", explains Sara, in her second year of medical school.

From this idea was born the Facebook page "Post_it_ga3": gaa, ("all" in darija Arabic) refers to a widely shared video in which a young man interrupts a TV reporter from an Arab channel, and, refusing to speak in classical Arabic as is usually the case on news programmes, said: "Yetnahaou gaa! "('they must all be destituted!') when speaking about the Algerian leaders.

On Post_it_ga3, Algerians are invited to take a picture of an annotated Post-it showing an idea or request, thus creating a virtual wall of young people's demands. 

In Algiers, initiatives are proliferating: last Monday, and for the second time, artists and intellectuals led a debate in Port-Said Square, in front of the National Theatre - an unusual sight in the Algerian capital where gatherings are usually prohibited.

Last Thursday, Algiers' biggest soccer match, the USMA-MCA derby between the capital's two rival clubs, was boycotted by supporters of both teams to denounce the situation in the country.

"Algiers is so beautiful when it revolts," says a smiling passerby on Didouche Mourad Street, where police officers have been stationed for more than three weeks. "The town will be even more beautiful this Friday," the man adds, ahead of the demonstrations on 15 March.

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 AM


Intoxicating Scent of 'Fascism' Swirls Around Israeli Politics (Amy Teibel, March 19, 2019, Bloomberg)

She may have been trying for irony, but Israel's justice minister just won the prize for one of the more outrageous acts of the country's campaign season: A mock ad showing her spraying herself with a perfume called "Fascism."

Israel shuts off West Bank, Gaza Strip ahead of Jewish holiday (Middle East Eye, March 19, 2019)

Israeli occupation forces have announced that no crossings or checkpoints will operate from today until Saturday leaving the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip cut off.

The decision comes as Israel prepares to mark the Jewish holiday of Purim tomorrow and Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Concertina wire stolen from border fence and used for home security in Tijuana, authorities say (Wendy Fry, 3/19/19, San Diego Union-Tribune)

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM



Trump's attacks on Fox have widened the chasm between the network's opinion hosts and the news division, which have been fighting a cold civil war since Roger Ailes was ousted in July 2016. Fox journalists, bristling at being branded an arm of the Trump White House, are lobbying Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace to rein in Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and Pirro. "Reporters are telling management that we're being defined by the worst people on our air," a frustrated senior Fox staffer told me. Fox's opinion hosts, meanwhile, have made the case that Fox's prime-time lineup not only reflects the audience's worldview, but is responsible for the majority of the network's advertising revenue. "We make the money," an anchor close to Hannity told me.

The outcome of that civil war will be decided by Fox Corporation chairman and C.E.O. Lachlan Murdoch. Rupert's oldest son took over the smaller media company that emerged out of the Murdochs' $71 billion deal to sell their entertainment assets to Disney. Though Lachlan hired West Wing stalwart Hope Hicks, staffers believe he is likely to nudge the network away from its close marriage to Trump. Sources close to Lachlan pointed out that Lachlan is a libertarian conservative, not a MAGA diehard, who in private has expressed annoyance at Trump. "He doesn't like Trump," one person who has spoken with Lachlan told me. "There's a lot of talk of the direction of the network changing under Lachlan," the senior Fox staffer told me.

Sources pointed out the hiring of Donna Brazile and the appointment of Trump critic Paul Ryan to Fox Corp's board as signs of Lachlan's view on Trump. "Donna is a shot in that direction. Management knows they have an image problem." Indeed, at an advertiser sales event in recent days, brands complained to Fox News executives about the network's association with Trump, a source briefed on the meeting told me.

They'll always have The Daily Stormer...
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?: No, it wasn't because of WMDs, democracy or Iraqi oil. The real reason is much more sinister than that. (Ahsan I Butt, 3/20/19, Al Jazeera)

The official, and widely-accepted, story remains that Washington was motivated by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme. His nuclear capabilities, especially, were deemed sufficiently alarming to incite the war. As then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "We do not want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Despite Saddam not having an active WMD programme, this explanation has found support among some International Relations scholars, who say that while the Bush administration was wrong about Saddam's WMD capabilities, it was sincerely wrong. Intelligence is a complicated, murky enterprise, the argument goes, and given the foreboding shadow of the 9/11 attacks, the US government reasonably, if tragically, misread the evidence on the dangers Saddam posed.

There is a major problem with this thesis: there is no evidence for it, beyond the words of the Bush officials themselves. And since we know the administration was engaged in a widespread campaign of deception and propaganda in the run-up to the Iraq war, there is little reason to believe them.

My investigation into the causes of the war finds that it had little to do with fear of WMDs - or other purported goals, such as a desire to "spread democracy" or satisfy the oil or Israel lobbies. Rather, the Bush administration invaded Iraq for its demonstration effect.

A quick and decisive victory in the heart of the Arab world would send a message to all countries, especially to recalcitrant regimes such as Syria, Libya, Iran, or North Korea, that American hegemony was here to stay. Put simply, the Iraq war was motivated by a desire to (re)establish American standing as the world's leading power.

It's an even sillier thesis than WMD, given that the US has been the global hegemon since at least the 80s. Gulf I, in particular, had demonstrated how easily we could defeat a supposed military power with nearly no cost to ourselves.

The reality is that W came to the presidency hellbent on correcting the mistakes of his father.  That gave us the most qualified vice president in US history; tax cuts; and the removal of Saddam.

March 19, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:31 PM


FBI tracked Michael Cohen's phones with controversial device (MICHAEL R. SISAK, 3/19/19,  AP)

Michael Cohen, meet the Triggerfish.

Search warrant documents made public Tuesday show the FBI used highly secretive and controversial cellphone sweeping technology to zero-in on US President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer when agents raided his New York City home, hotel room and office last year.

Agents using a Triggerfish cell-site simulator tracked the whereabouts of Cohen's two iPhones to a pair of rooms a floor apart at the Manhattan hotel where he and his family had taken up residence while their apartment was being renovated, according to the documents.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Will Immigrants Find Themselves in the Driver's Seat? (MANUEL MADRID, MARCH 19, 2019, American Prospect)

An analysis of the 44,000-some immigrants in ICE custody last summer found that a full 80 percent of detainees had only committed a minor offense such as a traffic violation or had no prior convictions at all, according to a report by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. According to the agency's own numbers for the last fiscal year, ICE charged or convicted roughly 75,000 immigrants for simple traffic violations (DUIs were not included).

Crispin Hernandez is tired of living in fear of immigration agents. Hernandez, an organizer with the Workers' Center of Central New York and a former upstate dairy worker, says that he's seen too many families in his community separated. "They'll take a father or a mother from their family and the kids are the ones left to suffer," Hernandez says.

If ICE wasn't enough, undocumented immigrants in upstate New York must also contend with Border Patrol, which is allowed to conduct searches within 100 miles of the border under federal law. Both agencies have proven emboldened under the Trump administration, targeting bus stations and workplaces for raids.

"The need for driver's licenses [for undocumented immigrants] has always been there, but in many ways it became more urgent when Trump became president. It woke up a lot of people," says Hernandez, who is also at the center of a lawsuit against the state of New York to allow farmworkers to unionize. "Farm owners have a lot of power over their [undocumented] employees. With driver's licenses, we would have more freedom."

Although the majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States reside in big cities, the most vocal calls for expanding driving privileges come from rural towns where a growing number of undocumented workers have found work on farms and in meat-processing plants. It's in these areas, underserviced or not serviced at all by state public transport, largely ignored by Uber and Lyft, and increasingly dependent on migrant work for their economic stability, where the need for licenses is greatest.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Suspect in murder of Gambino mob boss unhinged, ran pro-Trump Instagram (Adam Schrader and Lia Eustachewich, March 19, 2019, NY Post)

The construction worker charged in the murder of Gambino godfather Francesco "Franky Boy" Cali seemed unhinged leading up to the brazen hit, friends told The Post on Tuesday.

Anthony Comello -- who showed up for his first court appearance Monday with "MAGA forever" and references to the conservative QAnon movement scrawled on his hand -- managed the Instagram account "realamericasvoice_" which is filled with anti-Democrat and pro-President Trump posts, said the pals, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


Why Germany Should Further Boost Defense Spending, and Why It Probably Won't (FRANZ-STEFAN GADY, 3/19/19, Defense One)

 While 43 percent of Germans, according to a September 2018 poll, are in favor of increasing defense spending, 55 percent are against Germany playing a more active diplomatic and military role in international crises. 

Germans simply don't care about military power. Just visit any Gasthaus in the German countryside and talk to the people. War is equated with the history of war--primarily the history of the Second World War--and not any future wars that Germany might have to fight. 

Today, the current military mission of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan also barely makes the news. Wars are fought elsewhere and not related to Germany's domestic security.

Like Kramp-Karrenbauer, other German politicians are quick to join their French counterparts in rhetorically advocating for a militarily stronger Europe, lest the continent become a "plaything" of states "pursuing an aggressive foreign policy direction," but they have repeatedly failed to put their money where their mouth is.

A case in point is Germany's Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who has repeatedly rejected substantial increases in German defense spending. His reluctance even casts into doubt whether Germany will meet its NATO pledge to spend 1.5 percent of economic output on defense by 2024. 

There are much better uses for the money.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


Devin Nunes Sues Twitter for Allowing Accounts to Insult Him (Daniel Victor, March 19, 2019, NY Times)

Stung by obscene and pointed criticism, Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, has sued Twitter and three users for defamation, claiming the users smeared him and the platform allowed it to happen because of a political agenda.

The complaint, which was filed in Henrico County Circuit Court in Virginia on Tuesday, seeks $250 million in damages. In making his case, Mr. Nunes, a loyal ally of President Trump and the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, repeated several common Republican complaints that Twitter has repeatedly denied: that it censors Republicans, "shadow bans" their accounts and actively helps their opponents.

Though absorbing criticism comes with the territory for politicians, the complaint described the objectionable tweets from the three users as something "that no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life." don't have a reputation to defame. #ALLCOMEDYISCONSERVATIVE

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Clergy housing allowance is constitutional, appeals court rules (RNS, 3/19/19) 

A federal appeals court has ruled that the clergy housing allowance authorized by the Internal Revenue Service is constitutional.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation argued successfully in a Wisconsin district court that the long-standing exemption for religious housing in the IRS tax code violated the First Amendment's establishment clause. But a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court decision on Friday (March 15).

the best part of growing up in a parish house was the stain glass window.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM

Broccoli Cheddar Casserole Recipe (Elise Bauer, 3/19/19, Simply Recipes)

2 pounds  broccoli, stems removed (can use vegetable peeler to peel, then slice and eat like celery) and crowns cut into florets (about 8 cups of broccoli florets)
2 strips thick-cut bacon (about 2 ounces), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wide strips
5 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup  all-purpose flour
1/2 cup  heavy cream
1 cup  whole milk
2 to 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (1 to 2 teaspoons if using fine ground black pepper)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 ounces  cheddar cheese, grated


1 Blanch the broccoli florets: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (1 Tbsp salt for 2 quarts of water). Add the broccoli florets and boil for 3-5 minutes or until just tender enough so that a fork can easily pierce the floret, but still firm. Strain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

2 Cook the bacon: While the water in step one is coming to a boil, cook the bacon pieces on medium heat in a frying pan until lightly browned, but not crisp. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess fat. Set aside.

3 Make the egg mixture: Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Butter a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. In a bowl, whisk the eggs into the flour, then whisk in the cream and milk. Add the black pepper (more or less to taste), salt, and mustard. Mix in about a third of the cheese.

4 Assemble the casserole: Place the blanched broccoli florets in the casserole dish, sprinkling about a third of the cheese over the broccoli florets as you lay them down. Sprinkle the bacon pieces over the broccoli.

Pour the egg, cream, milk, cheese mixture over the broccoli, moving the broccoli pieces a bit so that the mixture gets into all the nooks and crannies. Sprinkle the casserole with the remaining cheese.

5 Bake for 25 to 40 minutes, or until set. Once the top has browned, you may want to tent with aluminum foil to keep from burning.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Russia warns of attempts to destabilize situation in Algeria (Reuters, 3/19/19) 

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Russia was concerned by protests in Algeria and saw attempts underway to destabilize the situation in the North African country.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump response to New Zealand massacre highlights his combative history with Muslims (Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey March 18, 2019, Washington Post)

By Monday morning, Trump still had not heeded the plea of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern -- whom he spoke with on the phone Friday -- to offer his nation's "sympathy and love for all Muslim communities." But the president had contorted himself into a victim of the tragedy, griping on Twitter: "The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand."

Trump's tepid response to the New Zealand massacre has highlighted the president's fraught and combative relationship with Islam and Muslims, which dates back at least to his campaign. Throughout his presidential bid and his presidency, Trump has made statements and enacted policies that many Muslim Americans and others find offensive and upsetting at best -- and dangerous and Islamophobic at worst. 

In a lengthy manifesto, the admitted shooter, a white man from Australia, described Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose" and seemed to echo some of the U.S. president's hard-line rhetoric on immigration, describing immigrants as "invaders within our lands." [...]

"What I've seen in the right wing -- people who haven't been as engaged in the political system until Trump came along, they really are taking his language very seriously," said Mohamed Elibiary, a Texas Republican and Muslim who has served as a homeland security expert for the U.S. government. "He is promoting this nostalgic vision of America. He is always getting us to look backwards." [...]

[T]he president has a long history of disparaging Muslims and other minorities, while simultaneously refusing to forcefully condemn white supremacy and violent nationalism. After a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 left a woman dead, for instance, Trump held a freewheeling news conference in which he said "both sides" were to blame. 

"In the Republican Party, we've already had folks who liked to play footsie with the bigotry, but when it came to serious moments, they would tighten up their language, they would be careful not to be seen or misconstrued as overtly bigoted," Elibiary said. "We haven't traditionally had presidents go to the well of white-identity grievances, at least not in my lifetime. I haven't seen a president try to hit those hot-button issues about us versus them." 

Trump fueled his political rise in part with birtherism -- the false and racist theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. The rest of his campaign, as well as his presidency, trafficked in language many Muslims found offensive.

At a September 2015 town hall in New Hampshire, for instance, Trump pledged to kick out of the United States all Syrian refugees, the majority of whom are Muslim, because they "could be ISIS," a reference to the Islamic State. The following month, in a television interview, Trump said he would "certainly look at" possibly closing mosques in the country. And the next month, Trump toyed with the idea of creating a database of all Muslims in the United States.

Also during the campaign, he repeated his false claim that during the 9/11 attacks, he watched Arabs in New Jersey cheer as the twin towers crashed down. When a man claiming allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in 2016, Trump called for vigilance and was quick to praise his own tough stance. [...]

One former senior administration official said Trump often associated Muslims with terrorism and rehashed grim Muslim terrorist attacks, even in private. "He thinks, and says sometimes, that Muslims are taking over Europe," this person said. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Algeria protest leaders tell army to stay out of politics (Lamine Chikhi, 3/19/19, Reuters) 

A new group headed by political leaders, opposition figures and activists called on Algeria's powerful generals to stay out of politics as it pressed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the government to quit.

The failure to purge the supporters of the dictatorship was disastrous in Iraq and Egypt.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


March 18, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


A Mar-a-Lago Weekend and an Act of God: Trump's History With Deutsche Bank (David Enrich, March 18, 2019, NY Times)

In the weeks before Ms. Vrablic attended his swearing-in, the bank commissioned reports to figure out how it had gotten in so deep with Mr. Trump. It issued an unusual edict to its Wall Street employees: Do not publicly utter the word "Trump."

More than two years later, Mr. Trump's financial ties with Deutsche Bank are the subject of investigations by two congressional committees and the New York attorney general. Investigators hope to use Deutsche Bank as a window into Mr. Trump's personal and business finances.

Deutsche Bank officials have quietly argued to regulators, lawmakers and journalists that Mr. Trump was not a priority for the bank or its senior leaders and that the lending was the work of a single, obscure division. But interviews with more than 20 current and former Deutsche Bank executives and board members, most of them with direct knowledge of the Trump relationship, contradict the bank's narrative.

Over nearly two decades, Deutsche Bank's leaders repeatedly saw red flags surrounding Mr. Trump. There was a disastrous bond sale, a promised loan that relied on a banker's forged signature, wild exaggerations of Mr. Trump's wealth, even a claim of an act of God.

But Deutsche Bank had a ravenous appetite for risk and limited concern about its clients' reputations. Time after time, with the support of two different chief executives, the bank handed money -- a total of well over $2 billion -- to a man whom nearly all other banks had deemed untouchable. [...]

Mr. Trump told Deutsche Bank his net worth was about $3 billion, but when bank employees reviewed his finances, they concluded he was worth about $788 million, according to documents produced during a lawsuit Mr. Trump brought against the former New York Times journalist Timothy O'Brien. And a senior investment-banking executive said in an interview that he and others cautioned that Mr. Trump should be avoided because he had worked with people in the construction industry connected to organized crime.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Lobbying Case Against Democrat With Ties to Manafort Reaches Key Stage (Kenneth P. Vogel and Katie Benner, March 18, 2019, NY Times)

A decision about whether to prosecute Mr. Craig, who was White House counsel for President Barack Obama during his first year in office, is expected in the coming weeks, people familiar with the case said. The investigation centers on whether Mr. Craig should have disclosed work he did in 2012 -- while he was a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom -- on behalf of the Russia-aligned government of Viktor F. Yanukovych, then the president of Ukraine.

The work was steered to Mr. Craig by Paul Manafort, who was then a political consultant collecting millions of dollars from clients in former Soviet states. Mr. Manafort, who went on to become President Trump's campaign chairman in 2016, was sentenced this month to seven and a half years in prison on charges brought by Mr. Mueller's team related to obstruction of justice and violations of banking, tax and lobbying laws stemming from his work in Ukraine.

The Manafort case, and others developed by Mr. Mueller, marked the first high-profile criminal charges in years under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. The 1938 law requires Americans to disclose detailed information about lobbying and public relations work for foreign governments and politicians.

It had rarely been used in prosecutions, even as prominent Washington lobbyists, consultants, lawyers and former public officials collected ever-larger, often six- and seven-figure paydays from foreign interests looking to burnish their sometimes unsavory reputations in the United States capital.

Mr. Manafort's case, and the investigations into Mr. Craig and other high-profile consultants who worked with Mr. Manafort, have left Washington's K Street lobbying corridor scrambling to deal with the heightened scrutiny.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Pittsburgh Jews raise £150K for Christchurch Muslim communities after massacre (JEWISH NEWS, March 18, 2019)

He said the funds "will go to help the Muslim community of New Zealand to recover," adding: "We were definitely motivated in part by the enormous support that the Pittsburgh Muslim community gave to Jewish Pittsburgh after the October attack.

"Our relationships with the Muslim community in Pittsburgh have overall been excellent, and those relationships have only gotten stronger in the wake of the synagogue attack last year.

Earlier Meryl Ainsman, who chairs the board of the Jewish Federation, said: "We are all too familiar with the devastating effect a mass shooting has on a faith community. We are filled with grief over this senseless act of hate."

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Trump Has Retweeted at Least Four White Nationalist Accounts That Were Later Suspended (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, MARCH 18, 2019, Slate)

More prominently, there's Jayda Fransen, a far-right British politician who was publicly kicked off Twitter not long after Trump retweeted three hoax videos from her account that purported to show Muslims engaging in violence against whites. (Fransen's fringe party, in the description of the New York Times, believes that "white Christian civilization is under threat from Muslims.")

There's also Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart writer who has been revealed to have solicited input on Breitbart stories from self-avowed white nationalists (including the proprietor of a neo-Nazi site called the Daily Stormer) and was booted from Twitter for inciting harassment against black actress Leslie Jones. Trump never retweeted Yiannopoulos' account per se, so I didn't count him for purposes of the headline, but he did take a question from Yiannopoulos during a campaign Reddit Q&A and promoted him by name on Twitter after taking office. As a candidate, Trump also infamously retweeted a fake graphic about black crime and an anti-Semitic Star of David image from accounts that appear to have been self-deactivated.

Trump Jr., meanwhile, has been caught following (or "caught," because maybe he doesn't care who knows it) at least three openly racist and/or anti-Semitic accounts--a writer named Vox Day, a notorious far-right figure who goes by the anonymous handle "Ricky Vaughn," and a random racist with the handle AdolfJoeBidenTM--that are now suspended.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


A Damaged Soul and a Disordered Personality (Peter Wehner, 3/18/19, The Atlantic)

It doesn't take a person with an advanced degree in psychology to see Trump's narcissism and lack of empathy, his vindictiveness and pathological lying, his impulsivity and callousness, his inability to be guided by norms, or his shamelessness and dehumanization of those who do not abide his wishes. His condition is getting worse, not better--and there are now fewer people in the administration able to contain the president and act as a check on his worst impulses.

This constellation of characteristics would be worrisome in a banker or a high-school teacher, in an aircraft machinist or a warehouse manager, in a gas-station attendant or a truck driver. To have them define the personality of an American president is downright alarming.

Whether the worst scenarios come to pass or not is right now unknowable. But what we do know is that the president is a person who seems to draw energy and purpose from maliciousness and transgressive acts, from creating enmity among people of different races, religions, and backgrounds, and from attacking the weak, the honorable, and even the dead.

Donald Trump is not well, and as long as he is president, our nation is not safe.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Rep. Steve King Shares Violent Civil War Meme (MOLLY OLMSTEAD, MARCH 18, 2019, slate)

In another reminder of his inability to hold back from sharing offensive ideas and statements, Rep. Steve King of Iowa posted a meme on Saturday to an official Facebook account that seemed to revel in the idea of people in more conservative states killing those in more liberal states in an armed conflict.

"Folks keep talking about another civil war," the meme said. "One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn't know which bathroom to use."

King captioned the image with a smirking emoji. "Wonder who would win...." he wrote. [...]

As some on social media noted, King apparently did not notice that the person who designed the graphic lumped Iowa, King's state, in with the blue states and part of the losing side.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Ocasio-Cortez is the 'villain' in Amazon HQ2 pullout: poll (Carl Campanile, March 18, 2019, NY Post)

The elected official getting most of the blame for Amazon's decision not to open a new headquarters in Queens is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, according to a poll released Monday.

The Siena College poll asked New York state voters who was the "hero," "villain" or "role player" in the Amazon debacle and Ocasio-Cortez led the pack.

Thirty-eight percent identified the freshman congresswoman as the biggest villain while only 12 percent called her a hero.

It's awful young to become the avatar of opposition to economic growth.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Orrin Judd's Bracket Pool is Back and You're Invited!

My bracket pool, Brothers Judd, is back for another year on Join now before the tournament starts so we can compete all of March Madness!

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


One card, two journeys: The untold story of Topps' 2001 No. 746 (Corey Brock, Mar. 13th, 2019, The Athletic)

Ask anyone who knows, and they will tell you that the most coveted card from Topps' 2001 set is No. 726 -- the rookie card for Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. The Ichiro card was the gem of the 790-card set, easily the priciest during the time when highly desired baseball cards still fetched a pretty penny.

The monetary worth of card No. 746 didn't rate nearly as high. The split card featured two players who were part of Topps' Chrome Draft Picks collection, an attempt by the venerable brand to peg baseball's next big things.

On the right is 17-year-old Edwin Encarnación, months removed from being drafted by the Rangers. The picture was shot in the fall of 2000, with Encarnación in Florida for an instructional league. He was still a baby-faced kid from the Dominican Republic looking to fit in while fighting pangs of homesickness.

"I was looking for my dream," Encarnación said the other day, holding the card in his hands while smiling from ear to ear.

Then there's Hugh Quattlebaum on the left. If you don't know who that is, well, you're probably not alone. Quattlebaum played four seasons in the minors with the Tigers and Orioles and was released after compiling a career .241 average. Like so many before him -- and after -- Quattlebaum's chances of reaching the major leagues died a mostly anonymous death.

Quattlebaum was out of baseball by 25, but his story goes beyond those four middling seasons he played in the minor leagues. He won a dunk contest in Finland (he played college hoops at Division III Amherst College in Massachusetts) and spent time in Los Angeles writing comedy scripts.

"That's a joke among all my friends," Quattlebaum said, "how I'm destroying the value of that card. It's a joke at how productive Edwin has been. But now that I am at least back in the game, it's not as embarrassing."

On card No. 746, Quattlebaum and Encarnación shared equal billing. When the Mariners acquired Encarnación from the Indians in December, it brought the two together again: Encarnación as the big bat in the middle of the lineup, and Quattlebaum, 40, in his second season as the organization's minor league hitting coordinator.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Beto O'Rourke Raised $6.1 Million Online in First 24 Hours of Campaign (Jonathan Martin, March 18, 2019, NY Times)

Beto O'Rourke raised more than $6 million online in the first 24 hours after announcing his presidential campaign last week, according to his campaign, outpacing his rivals for the Democratic nomination and making an emphatic statement about his grass-roots financial strength. [...]

Mr. O'Rourke's early burst of fund-raising illustrates how much he has captured the imagination of many Democratic activists around the country, who propelled him to break financial records last year in his ultimately losing bid to unseat Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. There were some doubts as to whether those same grass-roots donors would also contribute to him when he was not facing Mr. Cruz -- a detested figure on the left -- but rather was one more entrant in a sprawling presidential primary.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Federal Authorities Raided Trump Fundraiser's Office in Money Laundering Probe (Robert Faturechi and Justin Elliott, March 18, 2019, Pro Publica)

Federal authorities raided the office of Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy last summer, seeking records related to his dealings with foreign officials and Trump administration associates, according to a sealed search warrant obtained by ProPublica.

Agents were authorized to use the megadonor's hands and face to unlock any phones that required fingerprint or facial scans.

The Washington Post reported in August that the Justice Department was investigating Broidy. The sealed warrant offers new details of federal authorities' investigation of allegations that Broidy had attempted to cash in on his Trump White House connections in dealings with foreign officials. It also shows that the government took a more aggressive approach with the Trump ally than was previously known, entering his office and removing records -- just as it did with Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Broidy served as a major Trump campaign fundraiser and was the national deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee until he resigned in April 2018, when it was revealed he had agreed to secretly pay off a former Playboy model in exchange for her silence about their affair.

The search warrant cites three potential crimes that authorities are investigating: conspiracy, money laundering and violations of the law barring covert lobbying on behalf of foreign officials. To obtain a search warrant, authorities have to convince a judge that there's a probable cause they will find evidence of those specific crimes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Why an unbuilt Moscow Trump tower caught Mueller's attention (Jan Wolfe, 3/18/19, Reuters) 

An intriguing area of focus in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Kremlin's role in the 2016 U.S. election is a proposed Moscow real estate deal that Donald Trump pursued while running for president despite denying at the time any links to Russia.

The special counsel has revealed in court filings numerous details about the project, which never came to fruition. Further information has come from Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer who was instrumental in the negotiations, in congressional testimony and in his guilty plea to a charge of lying to Congress about the project.

Mueller's team said in a December 2018 court filing that "the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company (the Trump Organization) could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues."

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Former Shin Bet deputy chief said to claim MK Smotrich planned terror attack (Times of Israel, 3/18/19)

A former deputy head of the Shin Bet security service reportedly told a political gathering that MK Betzalel Smotrich, the head of the National Union party, was a "Jewish terrorist," who planned to blow up cars on a major highway during the 2005 Gaza disengagement.

Yitzhak Ilan, who is running on the Blue and White list, told a gathering of party activists that he personally interrogated Smotrich, who was arrested in the run up to the Gaza evacuation, Channel 13 reported Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


We must apply our universal values to all nations. Only then will we achieve peace. (Ilhan Omar, March 17, 2019, Washington Post)

I believe in an inclusive foreign policy -- one that centers on human rights, justice and peace as the pillars of America's engagement in the world, one that brings our troops home and truly makes military action a last resort. This is a vision that centers on the experiences of the people directly affected by conflict, that takes into account the long-term effects of U.S. engagement in war and that is sincere about our values regardless of short-term political convenience.

This means reorienting our foreign affairs to focus on diplomacy and economic and cultural engagement. At a time when we spend more on our military than the next seven countries combined, our global armed presence is often the most immediate contact people in the developing world have with the United States. National security experts across the political spectrum agree that we don't need nearly 800 military bases outside the United States to keep our country safe.

Valuing human rights also means applying the same standards to our friends and our enemies. We do not have the credibility to support those fighting for human rights in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua if we do not also support those fighting for human rights in Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil. Our criticisms of oppression and regional instability caused by Iran are not legitimate if we do not hold Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to the same standards.

And we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to repression in Saudi Arabia -- a country that is consistently ranked among the worst of the worst human rights offenders. Whether it is the murder of dissenters such as Jamal Khashoggi or war crimes against civilian populations in Yemen, we must hold all of our allies to the same international standards as our enemies.

This vision also applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.S. support for Israel has a long history. The founding of Israel 70 years ago was built on the Jewish people's connection to their historical homeland, as well as the urgency of establishing a nation in the wake of the horror of the Holocaust and the centuries of anti-Semitic oppression leading up to it. Many of the founders of Israel were themselves refugees who survived indescribable horrors.

We must acknowledge that this is also the historical homeland of Palestinians. And without a state, the Palestinian people live in a state of permanent refugeehood and displacement. This, too, is a refugee crisis, and they, too, deserve freedom and dignity.

A balanced, inclusive approach to the conflict recognizes the shared desire for security and freedom of both peoples. I support a two-state solution, with internationally recognized borders, which allows for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own sanctuaries and self-determination. This has been official bipartisan U.S. policy across two decades and has been supported by each of the most recent Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as the consensus of the Israeli security establishment. As Jim Mattis, who later was President Trump's defense secretary, said in 2011 , "The current situation between those two peoples is unsustainable."

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Trump and His Allies Have Lost the Public Debate Over Immigration: Over the decades, Americans have grown steadily more supportive of immigration--including under Trump.  (NOAH LANARD, MARCH 18, 2019, Mother Jones)

In 1979, John Tanton, a Michigan eye doctor and environmentalist, launched the modern nativist movement. He believed that population growth would slow down if poor people stayed in developing countries, where poverty and potentially starvation would keep growth in check, but that if they came to places like the United States in larger numbers, the planet would become more overcrowded. So he founded a group called the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which aimed to stop nearly all immigration to the United States. It was initially seen for it what it was: a fringe group based on long-disproven ideas about the planet's ability to support more people. 

Forty years later, FAIR would seem to be in its heyday. At least three former FAIR employees, including its former executive director, have been hired for senior roles at US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for legal immigration. And the White House has taken a more sharply anti-immigration stand than in any administration of the modern era.

But when it comes to swaying public opinion to its view that legal immigration should be all but eliminated, FAIR and its offshoots are farther from success than ever.

Twenty-five years ago, Democrats and Republicans felt the same way about immigrants: The Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of both parties agreed they were a burden. Immigration critics were confident that those numbers would increase as a backlash to rising immigration took hold among native-born Americans. Instead, the opposite happened. By the time Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign, the share of Democrats and independents who said immigrants strengthen America had nearly doubled, while Republican opinion on the question had barely budged.

And under Trump, anti-immigrant sentiment has fallen even further as the president's rhetoric about immigrants alienates large swaths of the public. According to a Pew poll from January, 55 percent of Republicans--8 percent fewer than in May 2015--and a record-low 13 percent of Democrats believe that immigrants burden the United States by taking jobs, housing, and health care from native-born Americans. And according to Gallup surveys, 67 percent of Americans now say immigration should be increased or kept at its present level, the highest number since Gallup began asking the question in 1965. 

Racism is a tough sell in America.

March 17, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Azerbaijani President Pardons Hundreds, Including Political Prisoners (Radio Free Europe, March 17, 2019)

The mass pardon, which Aliyev issued in a decree signed early on March 16, included former Health Minister Ali Insanov, journalist Fikret Faramazoglu, opposition Musavat Party member Alikram Xurshidov, and the deputy chairpersons of the opposition Popular Front Party, Gozel Bayramli and Fuad Qahramanli.

Insanov was a high-ranking member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party and seen as a possible rival of Aliyev. He was arrested in 2005 on suspicion of planning a coup attempt and sentenced two years later on embezzlement and bribery charges.

Insanov has claimed his innocence, and human rights groups have said they considered him a political prisoner.

Also among the pardoned were Ilkin Rustamzadeh, Elgiz Gahraman, Giyas Ibrahimov, and Bayram Mammadov of the opposition NIDA youth movement.

Ibrahimov and Mammadov were sentenced on drug charges after they sprayed graffiti on a statute of Heydar Aliyev, the former president of Azerbaijan and the current leader's father.

"Amnesty International believes that Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov are prisoners of conscience and that the drug charges against them were fabricated with the sole purpose of punishing them for their political activities," the human rights group said in 2016.

Rights groups and Western governments have urged the Azerbaijani authorities to release political prisoners for years and have accused the government of fabricating criminal cases to stifle dissent and media freedom.

Under the pardon, 399 people will be released from prison, 11 will have their suspended sentences lifted, and 12 will have fines against them dismissed. Three people serving life sentences will have their terms reduced to 25 years.

Aliyev's pardon will also free 14 foreigners from prison, including three Georgians, two Russians, two Nigerians, and one each from Uzbekistan, Iran, Belarus, Turkey, Cameroon, and India.

It is common in Azerbaijan for the president to pardon prisoners ahead of the Norouz new year holiday, which is on March 21. But it is unusual for political prisoners to be included in the pardon.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


Did Russia Steal the World Cup?: Long before anyone had heard of Christopher Steele or a "pee tape," there was an investigation into FIFA corruption (Ken Bensinger, June 7, 2018, NY Times)

Mr. Steele had been hired, in large part, because of his expertise in Russia, one of six countries vying for the right to host the tournament. In the early 1990s, he had worked undercover in Moscow, and he maintained extensive contacts in Russian government and business circles. His mandate in the spring of 2010 was to find out anything he could about the competing bid. He was no stranger to Russia's playbook. When it came to pursuing national objectives, the country had few if any compunctions about employing whatever means -- collusive, corrupting, scandalous -- might be necessary. And on its face, it was clear the Russian bid was going to need a lot of help.

In stark contrast to England, Russia appeared profoundly unqualified to host a monthlong tournament expected to draw well over three million spectators. For starters, Russia didn't have a great soccer tradition; its team hadn't even qualified to play in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, thanks to an embarrassing loss to Slovenia. More important, it didn't have adequate stadiums or other infrastructure, and since it was already going to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, there were serious questions about how it could afford to build what was required.  The International Federation of Association Football, or FIFA, the Swiss-based nonprofit that runs the World Cup and oversees world soccer, ultimately rated Russia's bid riskiest for operational considerations among other contestants for the 2018 tournament.

To most observers, Russia didn't seem like a serious threat to England's hopes, but Mr. Steele's confidential sources told a very different story. Mr. Putin, then serving a four-year term as prime minister, saw hosting the World Cup as a vital way to project his country's power, and his own, around the world. He was determined, sources said, to win the bid at any cost.

Over the next few months, Mr. Steele collected a growing pile of intelligence suggesting that Russian government officials and oligarchs close to Mr. Putin had been enlisted to push the effort, cutting shadowy gas deals with other countries in exchange for votes, offering expensive gifts of art to FIFA voters and even dispatching Roman Abramovich, the billionaire who owns the London-based Chelsea Football Club, to South Africa to pressure Sepp Blatter, FIFA's president. (A spokesman for Mr. Abramovich told The Sunday Times that there was nothing "untoward" in his involvement in the Russian bid.)

The retired spy handed his findings to his clients supporting the English bid, who had been swaggering through the campaign with blithe optimism and self-confidence. But in July 2010, five months before FIFA would hold its vote on where to host the 2018 World Cup, Mr. Steele also passed the information on to another party he thought might be interested in learning what Russia was up to: an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The F.B.I. didn't much care whether England got the tournament, of course, but the agent, who supervised the F.B.I.'s Eurasian Organized Crime squad, had been looking for opportunities to chase down conspiracies emanating from Russia. After breaking the back of the Russian mob in New York, the squad had set its sights on border-crossing financial crimes involving oligarchs and mafia kingpins. Mr. Steele's intelligence about Russian attempts to corrupt FIFA seemed to check all the boxes.

Thus began one of the largest and most ambitious investigations of international graft and money laundering in American history, one that would expose decades of deep-seated rot and corruption in global soccer. Over five years, a team of I.R.S. and F.B.I. agents, working under the direction of several ambitious young prosecutors, secretly dug into international soccer's darkest corners, flipping officials and mining millions of financial records to build a convincing case that the beautiful game had become little more than a source of vast profits for an international organized crime syndicate.

The investigation finally broke into public view on May 27, 2015, with the sensational early morning arrests of seven soccer officials in Zurich. The world's most popular game was shaken to its core: Multiple generations of FIFA administrators were brought down, accused of collectively taking hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes. In a matter of days, FIFA's once -untouchable president, Mr. Blatter, announced that he would  resign, and soon he was under criminal investigation as well. (Mr. Blatter was not among those indicted but he was ultimately banned from all soccer-related activities for six years.) To date, more than two dozen people and entities have been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in the case, which continues.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


No One Wants to Help Bashar al-Assad Rebuild Syria (KRISHNADEV CALAMUR, 3/17/19, Defense One)

The United Nations estimates the cost of reconstruction at $250 billion (about four times Syria's prewar GDP, or roughly the size of Egypt's economy). Russia wants the West to pay up; its military support is essential to the Assad regime's survival, but it has its own economic constraints. However, the United States and its Western allies have adamantly refused, absent meaningful political changes. There would be "no reconstruction without [a] political transition," a French embassy spokeswoman recently told me. Last fall, Nikki Haley, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, dismissed as "absurd" Russia's push for Western support. That leaves 18 million people, about a third of whom are refugees, facing an uncertain future in a country that's far worse off now than it was when the conflict began. Reconstruction remains essential despite Donald Trump's withdrawal of most U.S. troops, signaling Washington's little appetite for further engagement in Syria.

Theoretically, a successful reconstruction effort could see millions of displaced Syrians returning home. (Of course, the problem of security inside Syria would remain.) But as long as parts of the country remain unlivable, the refugee crisis that has gripped Europe for the past few years risks exacerbation, potentially subjecting many more generations of Syrians to living in refugee camps at the mercy of often unfriendly host countries.

Russia, which intervened in the conflict in 2015 and is keen to preserve its newfound regional influence, can't take on the cost of reconstruction. Its economy is in tatters, made worse by sanctions imposed following its invasion of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014 and its interference in the 2016 U.S. elections; the threat of further punitive measures over its seizure in November of Ukrainian vessels near the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, which both countries share under a 2003 treaty; and low oil prices.  But Moscow has tried, with no success, to get the international community to pay.

The U.S. and Europe have made reforms, including a political transition, a precondition for any role in reconstruction. They are also banking on the fact that Assad's main backers, both internal and external, will realize that ongoing support for him will keep the purse strings closed.

And he crushed ISIS without the loss of a single American soldier.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Who's Qualified to Be President?: Donald Trump notwithstanding, it's a good bet that voters will go back to conventional candidates in 2020. (Jonathan Bernstein, March 12, 2019, Bloomberg)

[P]arties and voters should seek out candidates who are likely to be good at presidenting. That's not easy. It's a bit like picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby, which gathers horses that have run at different tracks, on different surfaces, and against different competition, and asks them all to do something - run a mile and a quarter, a distance most American thoroughbreds can't handle - that they've never done before. Faced with that challenge, it's usually a good bet to select a horse that has at least done something similar. Getting elected to a statewide office isn't the same as running a national campaign or serving in the White House. But it's the closest thing available.

To put it another way: What we should want in a candidate is political skill - knowing how to bargain within the system, represent constituents, and work with the party, interest groups, the legislature, the bureaucracy, the courts, state governments, foreign powers, and so on. We should look for candidates who know how to use the powers of the presidency to maximize their influence. For those goals, winning office and governing while representing a whole state is pretty good preparation - certainly better than representing a smaller and less diverse House district or running a mid-sized city government.

Not surprisingly, the three most effective presidents of recent times are the former governors: Reagan, Clinton, W. Oddly, Jimmy Carter was only successful in foreign affairs.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Five Years Later, Putin Is Paying for Crimea: His overconfidence after the successful annexation lured him into a trap where he lost all bargaining power. (Leonid Bershidsky, March 16, 2019, Bloomberg)

[T]he highest cost to Putin came in bargaining power rather than in cash. Immediately after Crimea, geopolitical bargains were still possible for Putin. In a recent interview, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili recounted how in 2014, Petro Poroshenko, then not yet president of Ukraine, told him Crimea could be traded for Ukraine's eventual membership in NATO and the European Union (something Poroshenko himself will never confirm). Whatever the truth of that, Putin could have wrangled a post-Crimea bargain with reluctant Western leaders, especially European ones; after the eastern Ukraine adventure, and especially after the downing of Flight MH17 and all the laughable Russian denials that followed, his credibility was shot. Nobody knew if he would keep his end of any bargain. 

That doesn't just include Western leaders. Putin's lack of credibility is an important reason he can't build any alliances at all, even with China and other major emerging economies. Even if Russia, as a rather large and relatively open economy, has proved difficult to isolate, Putin's isolation is evident in Russia's shrinking share of global arms sales, his inability to broker a political solution in Syria, his failure to persuade Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko to move toward a closer union, the near-lack of Chinese direct investment in Russia. Literally all deals are elusive.

At the same time, Russians' post-Crimea enthusiasm is gone, eroded by six years of falling incomes. Now, Putin's financial costs are coming, too: Increased social and infrastructure spending are necessary to keep his support from sliding further, and, judging by the lack of reaction in the polls to Putin's recent promises, as well as pronounced apathy during recent elections, Russians don't trust him, either.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


AI ALGORITHMS ARE NOW SHOCKINGLY GOOD AT DOING SCIENCE: Whether probing the evolution of galaxies or discovering new chemical compounds, algorithms are detecting patterns no humans could have spotted. Dan Falk, 3/17/19, wired)

In a paper published in December in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Schawinski and his ETH Zurich colleagues Dennis Turp and Ce Zhang used generative modeling to investigate the physical changes that galaxies undergo as they evolve. (The software they used treats the latent space somewhat differently from the way a generative adversarial network treats it, so it is not technically a GAN, though similar.) Their model created artificial data sets as a way of testing hypotheses about physical processes. They asked, for instance, how the "quenching" of star formation--a sharp reduction in formation rates--is related to the increasing density of a galaxy's environment.

For Schawinski, the key question is how much information about stellar and galactic processes could be teased out of the data alone. "Let's erase everything we know about astrophysics," he said. "To what degree could we rediscover that knowledge, just using the data itself?"

First, the galaxy images were reduced to their latent space; then, Schawinski could tweak one element of that space in a way that corresponded to a particular change in the galaxy's environment--the density of its surroundings, for example. Then he could re-generate the galaxy and see what differences turned up. "So now I have a hypothesis-generation machine," he explained. "I can take a whole bunch of galaxies that are originally in a low-density environment and make them look like they're in a high-density environment, by this process." Schawinski, Turp and Zhang saw that, as galaxies go from low- to high-density environments, they become redder in color, and their stars become more centrally concentrated. This matches existing observations about galaxies, Schawinski said. The question is why this is so.

The next step, Schawinski says, has not yet been automated: "I have to come in as a human, and say, 'OK, what kind of physics could explain this effect?'" For the process in question, there are two plausible explanations: Perhaps galaxies become redder in high-density environments because they contain more dust, or perhaps they become redder because of a decline in star formation (in other words, their stars tend to be older). With a generative model, both ideas can be put to the test: Elements in the latent space related to dustiness and star formation rates are changed to see how this affects galaxies' color. "And the answer is clear," Schawinski said. Redder galaxies are "where the star formation had dropped, not the ones where the dust changed. So we should favor that explanation."

The approach is related to traditional simulation, but with critical differences. A simulation is "essentially assumption-driven," Schawinski said. "The approach is to say, 'I think I know what the underlying physical laws are that give rise to everything that I see in the system.' So I have a recipe for star formation, I have a recipe for how dark matter behaves, and so on. I put all of my hypotheses in there, and I let the simulation run. And then I ask: Does that look like reality?" What he's done with generative modeling, he said, is "in some sense, exactly the opposite of a simulation. We don't know anything; we don't want to assume anything. We want the data itself to tell us what might be going on."

The apparent success of generative modeling in a study like this obviously doesn't mean that astronomers and graduate students have been made redundant--but it appears to represent a shift in the degree to which learning about astrophysical objects and processes can be achieved by an artificial system that has little more at its electronic fingertips than a vast pool of data. "It's not fully automated science--but it demonstrates that we're capable of at least in part building the tools that make the process of science automatic," Schawinski said.

A robot doing your job is good economics; one doing mine is a social crisis. Thus is UBI inevitable. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM

FOLLOWING THE TEXT OF THE 2ND...: about states organizing Muslims/Jews and training and arming them as militiamen?

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Why White Supremacists Love Tucker Carlson (Aiden PinkMarch 17, 2019, The Forward)

Here's what white supremacists said about Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson when they thought no one else was looking:

"Tucker is really doing divine work."

"A lone voice of reason in the media."

"Tucker is a blessing, def[initely] our guy."

The uproar this past week over numerous recently-uncovered insensitive comments Carlson made on a radio show overshadowed news that could have been even worse for him: A massive leak of internal chat logs from Identity Evropa, one of the leading white supremacist groups in America, showed that many members were huge fans of Carlson and the ideas he espoused every night to millions of viewers. [...]

Carlson has ramped up his rhetoric since starting his Fox News show a week after President Trump's election in 2016. He quickly became a favorite of the so-called "alt-right" and continued to make statements that could be read as either standard cultural conservatism, xenophobic fear-mongering about immigration and diversity, or outright white nationalism. [...]

Carlson has amplified white nationalist phrases and talking points to his 2.8 million average viewers - including President Trump, who has echoed them.

A segment last August about violence and proposed land seizures against white farmers in South Africa - a narrative frequently promoted by white supremacists - was glommed onto by Trump, who tweeted that he had ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate the issue. The Anti-Defamation League was aghast, saying in a statement that it was "extremely disturbing that the President of the United States echoed a longstanding and false white supremacist claim."

The leak last week of more than 770,000 messages in Identity Evropa's Discord chat forums showed that they saw the South Africa incident as a victory for their ideology. One user urged members to promote the segment on social media and turn it into a recruiting tool.

Carlson has also cast himself as a defender of causes that just so happen to also be promoted by white racists - objecting to the removal of Confederate statues, defending the extremist-friendly social network Gab, criticizing the United Kingdom's decision to ban white supremacists from entering the country.

And he also alludes to the perceived inferiority of non-white people. Last December, for example, he claimed immigrants made the United States "dirtier," which led at least 30 companies to say they wouldn't air ads on his show anymore. More have left since the Media Matters investigation dropped.

Indeed, a Media Matters analysis of the Identity Evropa leaks revealed widespread adulation for Carlson.

Carlson has also been praised on the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer and podcasts like The Daily Shoah. Duke declared last year that Carlson is one of "the voices we have in the media on our side."

Ultimately, the extent to which Carlson continues to promote dialogue that white nationalists approve of will be governed by whether the experience chastises him - or whether the advertiser exodus forces Fox to take tighter control. So far, things appear to be continuing largely as before.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


What does Christchurch attack tell us about rightwing extremism? (Jason Burke, 15 Mar 2019, The Guardian)

In the US, violent rightwing activity was linked to at least 50 deaths in 2018. Research by the Anti-Defamation League showed that over the last decade, 73.3% of all extremist-related fatalities in the US could be linked to domestic right-wing extremists, while 23.4% were attributable to Islamist extremists.

So are we nearing the moment of turnaround, when counterterrorist agencies get the upper hand? Many specialists fear the answer is no, simply because the resources and attention focused on rightwing violence are insufficient.

Last year, the former head of the Metropolitan police's counterterrorism unit said the UK had not "woken up" to the threat posed by the far right. In the US, experts at the Soufan Centre, founded by the former FBI special agent Ali Soufan, described a "long-running US double standard with concerns over crime and terrorism that are inspired by the narrative of Bin Ladenism versus crime and terrorism inspired by right-wing ideology".

Though there are substantial differences, rightwing and Islamist extremism, and extremists, share a great deal. The basic mechanics of the process of radicalisation - by peers, through the internet or otherwise - are very similar. As is the way both forms of violent activism are on the fringe of a much broader movement, much of which has bled into the mainstream in different parts of the world. There are no "lone wolves", at least not in the sense of a solitary actor without links, whether virtual or real, to others.

In a "manifesto" published online by the suspect in the Christchurch attack, for instance, he said he was not a "direct member" of any group or organisation but had interacted with, or donated to, many.

Another shared element is the belief that "resistance" to tyranny is not just acceptable but an obligation. Islamist militant thinkers say rulers or regimes should be overthrown if they stand in the way of the rule of the enlightened and faithful. Rightwing extremists also see the government as the oppressor of their imagined community, defined by "race" and sometimes faith, the authority of which should be rejected and sometimes fought.

Both Islamists and rightwing extremists believe their communities are facing an existential threat, placing an obligation on the individual to fight back. For the Islamists, the belief that a belligerent west has been set on the humiliation and exploitation of the world's Muslims for the best part of 1,000 years is axiomatic.

Demography looms large for far-right nationalists. Protesters in the US have paraded beneath swastikas, shouting: "Jews will not replace us."

The New Zealand suspect's manifesto is titled "The great replacement", a theory predicting the end of the European white race as it is displaced by immigrants from other races. It starts with the phrase "it's the birthrates" repeated three times and predicts "the European people spiralling into decay and eventual death" if nothing is done. The atrocity, the manifesto says, was "a partisan action against an occupying force".

Trump again punts on white supremacy after New Zealand attacks (Stephen Collinson, March 16, 2019, CNN)

Once again, President Donald Trump is having a tough time calling out far right-wing white nationalism.

His response to the carnage in New Zealand, where 49 people died in an attack on two mosques, is also raising fresh questions about his attitude toward Islam following a long history of anti-Muslim rhetoric -- and about the extent to which the President has a responsibility to moderate his language given the rise in white supremacy movements across the world. [...]

But asked whether he saw a worrying rise in white supremacy movements around the world, Trump said he did not, blaming a small group of people "with very, very serious problems." He also told reporters that he had not seen the manifesto linked to by a social media account that's believed to belong to one of the attackers, which mentioned Trump by name and saw him as a symbol of renewed white identity.

Radicalism kills. Why do we only care about one kind? (Anne Applebaum. March 15, 2019, Washington Post)

[W]hite supremacist radicalism, whether aimed at Muslims in New Zealand or Jews in Pittsburgh, differs very little from Islamist radicalism, much of which also happens online. Participants are lured in slowly but soon feel part of a strong alternative, international community, one that has its own language, its own symbolism, its own set of grievances. Its members come to hate the "normal" world, with its virtues of democracy and tolerance, and some of them begin plotting to use violence to bring it down.

There is a difference, though, in how they have been treated. Since 2001, governments around the world have approached online Islamist radicalism with grim seriousness, blocking its financial sources, searching out potential terrorists, working with Internet platforms to stop its spread. By contrast, we have yet to treat white supremacism with anything like the same kind of vigor. Many hours after the New Zealand shooting, it was still ridiculously easy to find the video online. There are few special government programs to fight the milder forms of this violent ideology, and relatively little time has been devoted to thinking about it. The U.S. president has not taken a stand against it; an Australian politician, in the wake of the attack, even seemed to endorse it.

Both radicalisms kill. But while we dither, the death toll -- in Norway, South Carolina, Britain -- continues to rise. And the alternate world continues to tell jokes, make memes -- and draw people in.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


'Come here!': the man who chased away the Christchurch shooter: Abdul Aziz hailed a hero for using a credit card scanning machine and the gunman's spent weapon as he confronted the attacker (Associated Press, 17 Mar 2019)

When the gunman advanced toward the mosque, killing those in his path, Abdul Aziz did not hide. Instead, he picked up the first thing he could find, a credit card scanning machine, and ran outside screaming: "Come here!"

Aziz, 48, has been called a hero for likely preventing more deaths during Friday prayers at the Linwood mosque in Christchurch after scaring the gunman off.

But Aziz, whose four sons and dozens of others remained in the mosque while he faced off with the gunman, said he believed it was what anyone would have done. [...]

Latef Alabi, the Linwood mosque's acting imam, said he believed the death toll would have been far higher if it had not been for Aziz's actions.

Alabi said he heard a voice outside the mosque at about 1:55pm on Friday and stopped the prayer he was leading and looked out of the window. He saw a man in black military-style gear and a helmet holding a large gun, and assumed it was a police officer.

Then he saw two bodies and heard the gunman yelling obscenities.

"I realised this is something else. This is a killer," he said.

He then shouted at the congregation of more than 80 to get down. They hesitated. A shot rang out, a window shattered and a body fell, and people began to realise it was for real.

"Then this brother [Aziz] came over. He went after him, and he managed to overpower him, and that's how we were saved," Alabi said. "Otherwise, if he managed to come into the mosque, then we would all probably be gone."

Aziz, originally from Afghanistan, said he had run outside of the mosque hoping to distract the attacker. He said the gunman ran back to his car to get another gun, and Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him.

He said he could hear his two youngest sons, aged 11 and 5, urging him to come back inside.

The gunman returned, firing, he said. Aziz then said he ran, weaving through cars parked in the driveway, which prevented the gunman from getting a clean shot. Then Aziz spotted a gun the gunman had abandoned and picked it up, pointed it and squeezed the trigger. It was empty.

He said the gunman ran back to the car for a second time, likely to grab yet another weapon.

"He gets into his car and I just got the gun and threw it on his window like an arrow and blasted his window," he said.

The windshield shattered: "That's why he got scared."

He said the gunman drove away and online videos indicate police officers managed to force the car from the road and drag out the suspect soon after.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


U.S. Jews' Support for Trump at Serious Low (Amir Tibon, Mar 17, 2019, Ha'aretz)

The Gallup poll, based on interviews with 978 Jewish American, shows that only 26 percent of them approve of Trump's conduct as president, with only 16 percent that define themselves as Republicans. Meanwhile, 71 percent of the Jewish respondents said they disapprove of Trump, with slightly over half of them identifying as Democrats.

The poll also surveyed Protestant, Catholic, Mormon and atheist or agnostic Americans, but Jewish respondents had the most negative view of Trump and were the least likely to identify as Republicans. In Congress, out of some 40 Jewish representatives, only two are Republicans.

The poll's results are in line with other public opinion polls conducted over the past year, as well as voting estimates in the 2018 midterm elections, which have shown that 78 percent of American Jews voted for Democratic candidates and only 17 percent supported Republicans.

March 16, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


For more information, contact:

Richard Grisham, Chief Marketing Officer

Mike Suszek, License Relations and Digital Content Manager

T.J. Lauerman, Head of Community

OOTP 20 teaser trailer: OOTP 20 Teaser Trailer
OOTP 20 screenshots: OOTP 20 Media Kit

March 4, 2019

Out of the Park Baseball 20 Releases Worldwide on March 22, 2019

OOTP 20 features all new integrated live services, a supercharged 3D in-game experience, modern baseball strategies, upgraded AI, Perfect Team mode 2.0, 2019 Opening Day rosters, and more! 

Available For Pre-Order Now With 10% Discount, early beta access, and a free Perfect Team mode Gold Pack!

Out of the Park Developments, an official licensee of Major League Baseball (MLB), the Major League Baseball Players Association, and, today announced that Out of the Park Baseball 20 will be released on March 22, 2019. OOTP 20 is the 20th anniversary edition of the award-winning baseball strategy game, the culmination of two decades of sports strategy gaming excellence with dozens of exciting new features and deep improvements.

Out of the Park Baseball 20 includes:

  • For the first time ever - integrated live services all season long! Start a new MLB game any day during the regular season and Postseason with up-to-date rosters, standings, stats and player ratings, or to update player ratings in your current game based on their current performances.
  • All new motion-capture-powered 3D animations, driving a supercharged in-game experience
  • Ultra-modern baseball strategies, including 'openers' and 'followers' as today's game continues to evolve - plus advanced in-game smarts to counteract these moves!
  • Improved AI for trades, scouting, contracts, roster-building, and player evaluation
  • Upgraded prospect and minor league ratings, thanks to the biggest and most hands-on roster evaluation team yet!
  • 2019 roster sets with all Opening Day MLB rosters, as well as the complete minor league system from Triple-A to rookie leagues as well as the Arizona Fall League. All major league (and over a thousand minor league) player ratings will be based on the popular ZiPS player projection system. 
  • 12 international leagues, as well as several independent minor leagues in the US and internationally, with accurate rosters
  • Perfect Team mode 2.0, the next generation of the wildly popular online competitive mode - including all-new tournaments, hundreds of more cards, collection missions, upgraded auction house, additional league levels, and new content release every week all year long!
  • Many more improvements, all built upon the incredibly deep award-winning Out of the Park Baseball engine that has accurately simulated the World Series winner the past two seasons on MLB Network and produced deep simulations for!

Plus! This summer, Out of the Park Developments will unveil our exciting new mobile app OOTP Go, a completely revamped on-the-go experience that allows you to enjoy OOTP and Perfect Team mode anywhere, anytime! 

Customers can pre-order OOTP 20 for $35.99, a 10% discount off its full retail price in the OOTP Developments webstore. All pre-order purchases include beta access on March 18, four days ahead of the official launch on March 22. 

OOTP 20 can be pre-ordered through this link:

Steam & Origin pre-orders are not available. Instead, the game launches on these channels on March 22 for a 10% launch discount which expires March 29.

All customers who pre-order or purchase the game and register a Perfect Team mode account prior to March 29 will receive one bonus Perfect Team mode Gold Pack.

OOTP 20 runs on PC/Mac/Linux and features the American League and National League logos, the World Series trophy, official logos and jerseys for all 30 MLB teams, over 150 Minor League Baseball league and team logos, and historical MLB logos.

Quotes from OOTP Developments executives

"Two decades ago, I never would have dreamed we could accomplish something like Out of the Park Baseball 20," said lead developer, lifelong baseball fan, and Out of the Park Developments CEO Markus Heinsohn. "This is the ultimate vision of what we set out to do so long ago. Every single member of the OOTP community has contributed to this - fans, beta testers, our friends in the major and minor leagues, our developers, and our research staff. We're beyond delighted and can't wait for everyone to get their hands on it."

"Out of the Park Baseball 20 is the biggest, best, and most ambitious game we've ever made," said Out of the Park Developments CMO Richard Grisham. "Thanks to the investments we've made in infrastructure, live services, and AI over the past few years, Out of the Park Baseball 20 offers something for every possible kind of player - and it will evolve all season long in ways we never could have done before. Everyone who gives it a try will love it."
About Out of the Park Developments 

Out of the Park Developments is the developer of the award-winning OOTP and MLB Manager series of baseball management simulations, Franchise Hockey Manager, and Beyond the Sideline Football. German-based OOTP Developments was founded by Markus Heinsohn and Andreas Raht in 1999. OOTP Developments has consistently produced games that have met with critical acclaim, including winning Metacritic's coveted "PC Game of the Year" for the 2016 version of OOTP and "Game of the Year" for the 2007 edition of OOTP, which remains the second highest-rated PC game on Metacritic of all time. Further information on the company and its games is available from the OOTP Developments website,

Major League Baseball Players Association

The Major League Baseball Players Association ( is the collective bargaining representative for all professional baseball players of the thirty Major League baseball teams and serves as the exclusive group licensing agent for commercial and licensing activities involving active Major League baseball players. On behalf of its members, it operates the Players Choice licensing program and Players Choice Awards, which benefit the needy through the Major League Baseball Players Trust, a charitable foundation established and run entirely by Major League baseball players. In 2017, the MLBPA launched Infield Chatter, an innovative social media app created by the Players for the fans and available in the App Store and Google Play. Follow: @MLB_Players; @MLBPAClubhouse; @MLBPlayersTrust; @InfieldChatter 

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Robot valets are now parking cars in one of France's busiest airports (James Vincent,  Mar 15, 2019, Verge)

Next time you head to the airport in France there might be a robot waiting to pick up your car. French firm Stanley Robotics has been trialling its self-driving robot valets for a few years, and this week started its first full-time service at France's Lyon-Saint-Exupéry airport.

The system works like this. Customers park their cars in special hangars where the vehicles are scanned to confirm their make and model. Then, one of Stanley's robots -- which are essentially self-driving forklifts named "Stan" -- drives in, slides a platform underneath the vehicle, lifts it up, and carries it away and parks it.

Stanley Robotics say its system uses space much more efficiently than humans, fitting 50 percent more cars into the same area. This is thanks in part to the robots' precision driving, but also because the system keeps track of when customers will return. This means the robots can park cars three or four deep, but then dig out the right vehicle ready for its owner's return.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


How to be a right-wing performance artist (Ben Sixsmith, March 15, 2019, The Spectator)

You never knew where Andy Kauffman the character ended and Andy Kauffman the human being began. Whether he was wrestling women or reading The Great Gatsby aloud, onstage, until he had emptied a theatre of his own fans, the great performance artist always asked the question of whether it was merely an act or whether the antics reflected real instability. When Kauffman died of lung cancer at the age of 35, some people even wondered if he had faked his own death.

Many comedians have aped Kauffman's deranged realism but his true heirs are not comics. They are right-wing performance artists like Alex Jones, Jacob Wohl, and Laura Loomer. Are they Trump-loving, left-hating, conspiracy-theorists? Or smart businesspeople exploiting their audience? Are they mad?

Perhaps the truth is that they are all those things.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


The Neanderthal renaissance: Handprints on a cave wall, crumbs from a meal: the new science of Neanderthals radically recasts the meaning of humanity (Rebecca Wragg Sykes, 3/15/19, Aeon)

Aside from the visceral satisfaction of a full belly, did the Neanderthals experience passions at a more profound level? Were they capable of self-expression, and abstract thought? Archaeologists are nudging closer to affirmative answers. Paintings found at three caves in Spain - La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales - include red-daubed stalactites and flowstone, a clean vertical line and, most enchanting of all, a stencilled silhouette of a hand. Just recently, scientists applied a dating technique measuring the radioactive decay of uranium-thorium in the minerals encrusting the paintings, thereby revealing a minimum age. The results were startling: the oldest ranged from 67,000-52,000 years, appearing some 20,000-7,000 years before we believe that H sapiens arrived in Europe. For many scholars, this represents strong evidence that Neanderthals were responsible. (Others are more hesitant: dating millimetre-thick flowstone layers is complex, and some results suggested contamination.)

Studies across Europe had already found that many cave paintings rested on a substratum of red hand-stencils, lines and dots. The line image at the La Pasiega site seems connected to a ladder-like form, although the other parts might have been added later. Even so, the findings raise the possibility that the first H sapiens entering Europe's caves walked into the darkness to find, not blank canvases, but walls blazing with ancient visions. If genuine, these discoveries have exposed a hidden layer of Neanderthal self-expression, sitting beneath the more famous Upper Palaeolithic oeuvre. Perhaps painting was even something our species actually learned, rather than being the independent wellspring of art.

Some of the Neanderthals' creations carry more than a hint of the eldritch - structures so old that their attribution is unquestionable. In the 1990s, hundreds of metres deep inside the Bruniquel cave in southern France, researchers uncovered stalagmites snapped off and arranged into two rings, encircling smaller piles. But it was only in 2013, after a suspiciously old radiocarbon measurement was taken, that researchers began studying them in detail. Over 174,000 years ago, it seems that Neanderthals walked into the isolated chamber and carefully built these large circular structures. More than 400 pieces from the central parts of the stalagmite columns were placed in layers, some balanced on top of each other, others standing in parallel. Many had been extensively burned, and blazes had been kindled in the small piles. At least some of the fuel was bone, potentially including bear, which isn't easy to set and keep alight. So far there are no artifacts, and no explanation for the rings, but these structures would have taken time and planning to create, and the foresight to provide sufficient illumination underground. Research is ongoing - most excitingly, to see what lies beneath the floor, entombed in calcium carbonate - but Bruniquel has already opened a vista onto a Neanderthal mind as elaborate as our own.

It's important to add a note of caution to all this, since Palaeolithic archaeology is still full of 'unknown unknowns'. It's true that we have no fossil evidence for H sapiens west of the Danube delta - never mind southern Iberia - before 45,000 years ago, which leaves Neanderthals as the chief suspects for the paintings. But absence of bones does not prove absence of hominins, and we know that H sapiens were making their way into the Levant by at least 150,000 years ago. So the case is not entirely closed for the cave art, even if the 3D creation at Bruniquel seems secure. Still, these revelations have radically altered our understanding, and expectations, of what Neanderthals did in their daily lives - which now includes the possibility of more esoteric practices.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM



An associate of late Arizona Sen. John McCain described in detail his contacts with a dozen journalists and several government officials regarding the infamous Steele dossier, according to a transcript of a court deposition unsealed Thursday.

David Kramer, a former State Department official, said in a deposition on Dec. 13, 2017 that he provided a copy of Christopher Steele's dossier to reporters from McClatchy, NPR, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed and CNN's Carl Bernstein.

the failure to disperse it widely pre-election was tragic.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


US manufacturing output falls for a second straight month (CNBC, 3/16/19)

U.S. manufacturing output fell for a second straight month in February, offering further evidence of a sharp slowdown in economic growth early in the first quarter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


DeKalb's Confederate monument to receive contextualizing marker (Tia Mitchell, 3/15/19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The full contextualizing statement about the Confederate monument approved by the county commission:

"In 1908, this monument was erected at the DeKalb County Courthouse to glorify the 'lost cause' of the Confederacy and the Confederate soldiers who fought for it. It was privately funded by the A. Evans Camp of Confederate Veterans and the Agnes Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Located in a prominent public space, its presence bolstered white supremacy and faulty history, suggesting that the cause for the Civil War rested on southern Honor and States Rights rhetoric--instead of its real catalyst--American slavery. This monument and similar ones also were created to intimidate African Americans and limit their full participation in social and political life of their communities. It fostered a culture of segregation by implying that public spaces and public memory belonged to Whites. Since State law prohibited local governments from removing Confederate statues, DeKalb County contextualized this monument in 2019. DeKalb County officials and citizens believe that public history can be of service when it challenges us to broaden our sense of boundaries and includes community discussions of the victories and shortcomings of our shared histories."

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Lawsuit By Sandy Hook Victims Against Gun Manufacturer Allowed To Move Forward (RYAN LINDSAY, 3/14/19, NPR)

The suit is a high-stakes challenge to gun companies, which have rarely been held liable for crimes committed with their products, and could mark a new front in the battle over gun regulations and corporate accountability. It centers on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a 2005 law that shields manufacturers and retailers from civil liability in lawsuits brought by victims of gun violence. An eventual ruling against Remington could establish legal precedent, opening doors for more lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and expose the company's communications about its marketing plans.

"What I'm looking to find out in this whole process, essentially, is what went on inside Remington," said Bill Sherlach, whose wife Mary was the school psychologist shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. "Let's see the internal documents, the internal emails, as to what the charges were to their marketing and ad execs."

The 4-3 majority largely upheld arguments made by lawyers for Remington that the company is protected from suit in many instances. The court ruled, however, that Congress did not intend the PLCAA to preclude state law. Ultimately, the majority said, the plaintiffs should have the opportunity to prove that Remington violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) by marketing a military-style weapon to civilians.

Connecticut law, the court wrote in the majority opinion, "does not permit advertisements that promote or encourage violent, criminal behavior."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM



Portraits of Bolívar hang on multiple walls of the presidential palace in Caracas. Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chávez, spoke of Bolívar as a sort of Christ-like figure whose spirit kept the people of Latin America free from imperial forces. But that worship is a double-edged sword: Yes, Bolívar was considered a great general. But he's also remembered as a mercurial politician who became a dictator within 10 years of liberating the territory from Spanish rule.

That day in Cúcuta, his men could taste revolution. They'd prepared for battle in the city of Mérida but saw none: Spanish forces had evacuated by the time they got there. Storming Cúcuta was one of the first steps in liberating Venezuela and forming a new national project. The huge tracts of land known today as Venezuela were glued onto what was known as New Granada, a territory that at the time encompassed modern-day Colombia and Panama, along with small pieces of Ecuador and Peru. Bolívar's dream was a single republic, to be called Gran Colombia. At age 30, the horse-riding general had managed the first step in his lifelong dream of uniting the entire continent of Latin America into one independent superstate. It was one step closer to abolishing the Spanish octopus from every inch of the New World.

He began his own empire by rebuilding. The newly independent republic needed a new government. So, in 1821 the statesmen leading this new political project met at a stone church in the city of Cúcuta, from which Bolívar and Santander had set out to take Venezuela eight years earlier. There, they debated what form their new government of Gran Colombia - which was composed of modern-day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and parts of Ecuador and Peru - would take.

"When they meet in Cúcuta, they debate federalism and centralism," says Tomas Straka, a Venezuelan historian. The federalists wanted to model Gran Colombia in the image of the United States, a decentralized republic, but Bolívar wouldn't have it -- and eventually, Straka says, they agreed with Bolívar's model of "fundamentally centralist government."

Again, Santander disagreed. He instead envisioned a decentralized federalist system for Gran Colombia. Where Bolívar saw iron-fisted order as the right antidote for the new country's chaotic badlands, Santander thought laws and institutions should be paramount. It was hard, however, to defy the general. The statesmen around Bolívar saw a Napoleon in their leader. They elected him president. But he effectively ignored the responsibilities, leaving Santander to administer the government in his absence so that he could continue with his military campaigns.

"He had never aspired to lead governments," writes Arana. "His ambition - as simple as it was ardent - was to drive out the nation's oppressor." Bolívar set his sights southward, toward Peru.

In Bolívar's absence, the fledgling republic soon started to show cracks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



In just the first two months of 2019, 17 states have introduced legislation to create some sort of ranked-choice system, which, as in other nations like Australia and Ireland, allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference and count those second and third choices -- until one candidate receives a majority of the vote. In all, 19 states have some form of ranked-choice voting in place. The process eliminates expensive run-off elections, where turnout is often dismal, and most experts believe it is crafted to better reflect the will of the majority. Democrats in the crucial first caucus state, Iowa, have announced plans to use ranked-choice voting in 2020 as part of a "virtual caucus" to combat criticisms of accessibility during the 2016 election.

Of the states left still considering these laws, New Hampshire will reign as by far the most important -- due to its potential kingmaking status in the already-crowded Democratic primary. No presidential candidate has won the nomination of either major party without placing in the top two in New Hampshire since 1972.

Advocates like Read worry an electoral crisis is pending in New Hampshire and other states if they don't switch to ranked-choice. Candidates need at least 15 percent of the total vote to receive state delegates, and there could be 20 or more Democrats splitting the vote next February. That means a very possible scenario where the front-runner ends up with, say, 20 percent of the vote, says Read, and secures all delegates without having won even close to a majority of votes. An alternative, equally bad scenario? "None of the candidates reach the 15 percent threshold at all," says Read, laying it out. "In that case, nobody gets delegates." The Republican side came close to that situation in 2016, when Donald Trump won the state with just 35 percent of the vote, while the next four candidates split 50 percent among them.

March 15, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 PM


Mailed pipe bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc expected to plead guilty in New York (abc nEWS, March 15th, 2019)

A Florida man charged with sending pipe bombs to prominent critics of President Donald Trump is expected to plead guilty next week.  [...]

Authorities say he targeted numerous Democrats, critics of the Republican president and CNN, heightening tensions before midterm elections. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 PM


The Roots of the Christchurch Massacre (Wajahat Ali, March 15, 2019, NY Times)

If the gunman's 74-page manifesto and social media posts are to be believed, he was inspired by a thriving online ideological structure that recruits and radicalizes mostly men to save "Western civilization" from a foreign "invasion."

We've seen this before. The gunman's justifications for his act of terrorism were similar to those in the 1,500-page manifesto that the Norwegian Anders Breivik posted before he killed 77 people in 2011. Mr. Breivik wanted to punish Europe for its multiculturalism and welcome of Muslim immigrants. His manifesto and attacks are said to have inspired the white nationalist Christopher Hasson, who was recently arrested on charges of stockpiling weapons with the desire to commit mass murder, especially against Muslims.

If the idea that Muslims are a threat sounds familiar, it's in part because it was used by President Trump to argue for a wall to protect America from a "caravan" of Central American migrants seeking asylum. He asserted that "Middle Easterners" were in the caravan, a claim he admitted he could not back up. During a summer trip to England, Mr. Trump warned that Britain was losing its "culture" and that immigration had "changed the fabric of Europe -- and unless you act very quickly, it's never going to be what it was."

Arguing for his travel ban aimed at mostly Muslim countries, Mr. Trump said, "I think Islam hates us," lied about seeing Muslims celebrate the Sept. 11 attacks, and retweeted a fringe anti-Muslim group's fake videos of Muslim refugees committing violence. No wonder the Christchurch manifesto praised Mr. Trump as "as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose."

It's clear that the dangers of white nationalism aren't limited to the United States. This attack is a reminder that this dangerous ideology also threatens immigrant communities worldwide, and that it's fueled by leaders around the world.

Australia, where the gunman is said to be from, has plenty of its own anti-Muslim, xenophobic rhetoric.

In 2015, a movement called Reclaim Australia organized protests against the "enforcing of Shariah law in Australia" and "the teaching of Islam in government schools." The Conversation reported that placards displayed by the group at a rally read "Islam is an enemy of the West." A key policy goal of the far-right political party Australian Liberty Alliance is to "stop the Islamization of Australia." Its website warns, "Islam is not merely a religion, it is a totalitarian ideology with global aspirations."

While Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, described the suspect as "an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist," an Australian senator, Fraser Anning, responded to the Christchurch attack by blaming "the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place."

It seems the senator shares similar sentiments with mass murderers.

He should have just published one of Donald's stump speeches.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Rush Limbaugh Baselessly Suggests NZ Mosque Attacks Could Be False Flag Carried Out by a 'Leftist' (Caleb Ecarma, Mar 15th, 2019, Mediate)

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh promoted a fringe conspiracy that suggests the Christchurch, New Zealand Mosque massacre may have been a false flag attack carried out by a "leftist" to "to smear" right-wingers.

..the Trumpbots at least understand the natural association between their politics and such violence. The notion that acting on their ideas discredits them gives them away.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


A short history of President Trump's anti-Muslim bigotry (Brian Klaas, March 15, 2019, Washington Post)

Trump is an Islamophobic bigot. As president, his words matter. He is using them to spread hatred. And deranged, unwell or evil people have allegedly been inspired by those words to target the very people that Trump targets in his speeches and his tweets. The charged suspect in New Zealand cited Trump "as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose" (though he also said he rejected Trump as a policymaker and leader).

Trump's anti-Muslim bigotry has a long history. In 2011 and 2012, Trump insinuated that President Barack Obama was secretly Muslim. In September 2015, at a campaign rally, Trump nodded along as a supporter claimed "we have a problem in this country; it's called Muslims." Trump continued nodding, saying "right," and "we need this question!" as the supporter then proceeded to ask Trump "when can we get rid of them [Muslims]?" In response, Trump said: "We're going to be looking at a lot of different things."

In November 2015, on "Morning Joe," Trump said that America needs to "watch and study the mosques." Four days later, he indicated that he would "certainly implement" a database to track Muslims in the United States. Two days after that, he falsely claimed that "thousands and thousands" of Muslims cheered in New Jersey when the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Then came the most egregious statement -- one that should haunt Trump's legacy forever and taint everyone who supported him subsequently: On Dec. 7, 2015, he called to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Three days later, Trump tweeted that the United Kingdom is "trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem." On March 9, 2016, Trump falsely claimed that "Islam hates us."

Upon taking office, Trump surrounded himself with anti-Muslim bigots. Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump adviser, was fired by the FBI for his Islamophobia. Michael Flynn, Trump's disgraced national-security-adviser-turned-felon, said that Islam "is like a cancer." And top officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton have also stoked hatred of Islam.

In late November 2017, Trump retweeted three videos by Jayda Fransen. She was one of the leaders of Britain First, a neo-fascist hate group. She has been convicted of multiple hate-crime offenses and was involved in organizing "Christian patrols," which included what Britain First called "mosque invasions" aimed at intimidating British Muslims. While Fransen was out on bail, she appeared on Radio Aryan, a neo-Nazi radio station. Her interview began right after the station concluded its reading from "Mein Kampf." That is who the president of the United States chose to amplify to his millions and millions of Twitter followers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Trump just called immigration an 'invasion.' So did the New Zealand shooter. (The Week, 3/15/19)

On Friday morning in Christchurch, New Zealand, attacks by at least one shooter at two mosques left 49 people dead. The alleged gunman, who has been arrested, was found to have a manifesto where he declared "we are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history," per The Kansas City Star. The purported shooter specifically decried the "millions of people pouring across our borders."

Hours later, a shockingly similar phrase came from the president. Trump, after vetoing a bill that would've blocked his national emergency declaration to access border wall funding, briefly condemned the shooting before pivoting back to border talk. There are "crimes of all kinds coming through our southern border," Trump said, adding that "people hate the word 'invasion,' but that's what it is."

The New Zealand Shooter's Idea of War Between Islam and "the West" Wouldn't Be Out of Place in the Trump Administration (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, MARCH 15, 2019, Slate)

In 2014, then-Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon, who'd go on to serve as Trump's campaign chairman and as a White House adviser, appeared at a Catholic Church-connected conference to discuss what he described as the "very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict" between "the Judeo-Christian West" and "jihadist Islamic fascism." Bannon said the threat of ISIS and other global jihadist movements had to be taken in context with "the long history of the Judeo-Christian West['s] struggle against Islam," and that "every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn't act." On at least three occasions, Bannon has praised a 1973 novel called The Camp of the Saints in which whites in Europe and the U.S. are violently oppressed by invading armies of nonwhite refugees. The (white) author of the novel once said he believed "the proliferation of other races dooms our race, my race, to extinction."

While Bannon's 2014 comments arguably implied a distinction between radical and "normal" Islam, the Trump campaign that he joined in August 2016 drew no such lines, repeatedly portraying Muslims in the U.S. as a fifth column. In December 2015, Trump called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" after the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting, a call that he reiterated when 49 people were shot and killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. (The shooter in Orlando was Muslim but had in fact been born on Long Island.) In a speech he gave about the Pulse massacre, Trump criticized Florida and San Bernardino's "Muslim communities," asserting (with, it hardly needs to be said, no supporting evidence) that those communities had known in advance that the perpetrators "were bad" but "didn't turn them in." Shortly before Bannon became campaign chairman, Trump suggested that Khizr Khan, the Muslim father of an American soldier who died in Iraq, supported terrorism.

After Trump took office, his speechwriter Stephen Miller collaborated with Bannon to create the first version of the so-called "travel ban," an executive order which shut down travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries on national security grounds. That order was struck down in courts; a revised version of the ban, which is less restrictive and targets non-Muslim countries as well, is still in effect. In 2017, Trump gave a speech in Warsaw in which he asked rhetorically whether "the West" had "the will to survive"--to "protect our borders" and "preserve our civilization" against threats from "the south" that include radical Islam. Miller was reportedly also the driving force behind a Trump push to restrict legal immigration by cutting the number of visas allotted to "shithole" countries in Africa and increasing the number given to "places like Norway."

Throughout Trump's campaign and presidency, he and his son Don Jr. have frequently engaged online with enthusiasts of the so-called "alt-right" who espouse the belief that whites are justified in maintaining political dominance by virtue of cultural and/or genetic superiority. This belief is sometimes accompanied by claims that laws and norms which allow for increasing nonwhite populations constitute a slow-motion "white genocide," a phrase that appears in both the New Zealand shooter's writing and in the handle of a Twitter user Trump once retweeted. It's a concept embraced by one of the president's most outspoken allies in Congress, Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has said that "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies" and that "if we don't defend Western civilization, then we will become subjugated by the people who are the enemies of faith." 

Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM


What the Christchurch Killer's Manifesto Tells Us (JORDAN WEISSMANN, MARCH 15, 2019, Slate)

Before embarking on his attack, the 28-year-old gunman who killed at least 49 people at a pair of New Zealand mosques Friday posted a detailed manifesto explaining his motivations. The document is packed with rhetoric and themes popular with the online white nationalist communities that gather on message boards such as 8chan, where he announced his spree minutes before it began. The document is largely focused on the notion of "white genocide"--the idea that around the world, people of European descent are having too few children and as a result are being replaced in their own countries by foreign "invaders," particularly Muslims. He claims to have taken his deepest inspiration from Anders Breivik, the anti-Islam fanatic who murdered 77 people during a 2011 terror strike in Norway. [...]

Some of this puzzlement stems from the shooter's description of himself as an "eco-fascist" and open fretting about global warming, which is not a concern mainstream readers typically associate with racist reactionaries. But eco-fascists are in fact an established, if somewhat obscure, brand of neo-Nazi. As Sarah Manavis wrote last year at the New Statesmen, "they believe that living in the original regions a race is meant to have originated in and shunning multiculturalism is the only way to save the planet they prioritise above all else." [...]

In the U.S., that ecosystem gave us the Tree of Life massacre and the deadly white supremacist rally in Charleston, both of which were motivated--at least in part--by the fear that whites are in the process of being demographically outnumbered and replaced. Hence the chants in Charlottesville, Virginia, of "Jews will not replace us! Blacks will not replace us! Immigrants will not replace us!" And yes, U.S. politicians and pundits feed that ecosystem, too. When Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham talk on Fox about Democrats trying to "replace" white voters with immigrants, they're mainstreaming its rhetoric. When Rep. Steve King says "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies," he's mainstreaming its rhetoric.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


The end of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case comes with a whimper (Mark Silk, 3/15/19, RNS) 

Last week, to little notice, the Masterpiece Cakeshop case ended with a whimper. Nine months after the Supreme Court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted prejudicially in upholding the complaint of a gay couple who were refused a wedding cake by baker Jack Phillips, the two sides agreed to stop fighting.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


U.S. Defense Chief: No Plan To Charge Allies 'Cost+50 Percent' For Troop Presence (Radio Liberty, March 15, 2019)

U.S. news media had reported that President Donald Trump was pushing a "cost-plus-50 percent" formula for countries such as Germany, Japan, Italy, and South Korea, and others to compensate Washington for U.S. troop deployments.

According to the reports, the formula would mean a hosting country would pay the total cost of housing U.S. troops, plus pay a premium of another 50 percent for the privilege of having them on their territory.

But Shanahan told the Senate panel the reports were "erroneous.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


'Constitutional conservative' Sen. Ben Sasse blames Nancy Pelosi for his vote to uphold Trump's emergency order (The Week, 3/15/19)

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) voted against Thursday's resolution to terminate President Trump's emergency declaration for the border, despite having written a Washington Post op-ed saying he would vote for it because he "cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress," adding later: "It's never a tough vote for me when I'm standing on principle." That flip-flop was more awkward because Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) favorably cited Tillis' op-ed before the vote.

"But none of those 'nay' votes seems quite as loud, or discordant, as the one cast by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who is fond of talking about the importance of Congress as a check on runaway executive power," says Eric Boehm at Reason. Twelve Republicans did vote yes, and the resolution easily passed 59-41, so "that really only makes Sasse's opposition more curious."

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


Trump Administration Cuts The Size Of Fines For Health Violations In Nursing Homes (JORDAN RAU, 3/15/19, Kaiser Health News)

The Trump administration's decision to alter the way it punishes nursing homes has resulted in lower fines against many facilities found to have endangered or injured residents.

Federal records show that the average fine dropped to $28,405 under the current administration, down from $41,260 in 2016, President Obama's final year in office.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM



What mental image does the term "violent protester" conjure? How about "terrorist"?

A new study reports that, in a survey of people living in Britain, support for political extremism was twice as high among whites than among those of Pakistani heritage.

"This raises concerns about right-wing extremism, and suggests that a focus on tackling Islamic fundamentalism is flawed," lead author Kamaldeep Bhui of Queen Mary University of London said in announcing the study's findings.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


5 ways the Syrian revolution continues (Wendy Pearlman, 3/15/19, The Conversation)

Since 2012, I have interviewed hundreds of displaced Syrians who championed the uprising. I have seen that their revolution persists wherever Syrians continue to believe in their capacity to make change.

Five realms of activism and resilience stand out.

1. Nurturing civil society

Forty years of dictatorships stifled independent civil society in Syria. But the years since 2011 have witnessed a flourishing of citizen-led activities in fields from education to media and the creative arts.

In Syrian towns where rebels forced the state to withdraw, communities labored to create local councils through which people governed themselves. The regime subjected these experiments in civic participation to siege and bombardment, and then collapsed them in areas retaken by its troops.

Still, civic work continues inside and outside Syria. Citizens for Syria, itself a Syrian initiative, identifies hundreds of organizations and projects spearheaded by and for Syrians.

Among them are the Molham Volunteering Team which, beginning as a group of students, is now an essential nonprofit provider of humanitarian relief. Women Now for Development offers vocational training, literacy courses and small grants that have empowered hundreds of Syrian women.

The priority of crushing ISIS only bought some time.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


Algeria ruling party turns on Bouteflika as new protests mount: he is 'history' (Lamine Chikhi, Hamid Ould Ahmed, 3/15/19, Reuters)

Algeria's ruling FLN party showed more signs of turning its back on Abdelaziz Bouteflika as new protests against him began on Friday, with one senior party figure saying in an interview overnight the long-serving president was "history now".

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Few Americans see savings from Trump's tax reform: Reuters/Ipsos poll (Maria Caspani, 3/15/19, Reuters)

Only one in five U.S. taxpayers expect to pay less income tax this year as a result of the tax reform law passed in 2017 by Republicans who promised big savings for everyday Americans, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Trump again nods toward violence by his supporters -- and maybe something bigger (Aaron Blake, March 14, 2019, Washington Post)

In an interview with Trump-friendly Breitbart News this week, Trump talked about how "tough" the left was getting, relative to his supporters. His quote meanders a little bit, but stick with it and focus on the text in bold:

It's so terrible what's happening. You know, the left plays a tougher game, it's very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don't play it tougher. Okay? I can tell you, I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump - I have the tough people, but they don't play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad. But the left plays it cuter and tougher.

As The Washington Post's David Nakamura pointed out, this is actually quite similar to something Trump said at a September campaign rally for now-Sen. Josh Hawley (R) in Missouri:

They're so lucky that we're peaceful. Law enforcement, military, construction workers, Bikers for Trump -- how about Bikers for Trump? They travel all over the country. They got Trump all over the place, and they're great. They've been great. But these are tough people. These are great people. But they're peaceful people, and Antifa and all -- they'd better hope they stay that way. I hope they stay that way. I hope they stay that way.

Trump's public comments are often more strategic than his critics give him credit for. He will routinely suggest something without technically saying, "This is what I want." And he will generally lather himself in plausible deniability. "It would be very bad" and "I hope they stay that way" allow him to say he doesn't actually want this thing he's hinting at to happen.

But it's clear from these comments, and the repetition of this formula, that he's suggesting his supporters from the military, law enforcement and even bikers could be tempted to rise up if things don't go Trump's way. He's at the very least toying with the idea that things could become violent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Tech Firm in Steele Dossier May Have Been Used by Russian Spies (Matthew Rosenberg, March 14, 2019, NY Times)

Aleksej Gubarev is a Russian technology entrepreneur who runs companies in Europe and the United States that provide cut-rate internet service. But he is best known for his appearance in 2016 in a dossier that purported to detail Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election -- and the Trump campaign's complicity.

Mr. Gubarev's companies, the dossier claimed, used "botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct 'altering operations' against the Democratic Party leadership."

On Thursday, new evidence emerged that indicated that internet service providers owned by Mr. Gubarev appear to have been used to do just that: A report by a former F.B.I. cyberexpert unsealed in a federal court in Miami found evidence that suggests Russian agents used networks operated by Mr. Gubarev to start their hacking operation during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Trump Investigations and the RICO vs Conspiracy Puzzle (Dwight Holton, March 14, 2019, Just Security)

But sometimes racketeering charges are the best course. So what drives a decision to charge RICO?

There are a couple of factors that might lead towards the path of RICO:

State Law Crimes: RICO makes it illegal to engage in a pattern of crimes that include, among other things, a long list of state crimes -- which means that you can charge an enterprise that commits these crimes in federal court, even if the underlying crimes are purely state law crimes. So, for example, a gang that commits a series of murders as part of its operations can be charged as a racketeering enterprise even if there is no federal hook for these murders. This has been a primary factor in driving federal RICO prosecution of Italian mafia organized crime cases in New York over the past 40 years.

Statute of Limitations: RICO allows prosecutors to charge crimes that happened so long ago that the law does not usually permit them to be prosecuted any longer -- provided the enterprise's pattern of activity extends back to when the crime happened. This can be handy for prosecuting criminal enterprises that have persisted for years without being held accountable.

Association Evidence: With RICO's higher standard of proof comes greater latitude in the evidence admissible at trial. For example, prosecutors might offer evidence of defendants spending time together at a social club to prove the existence of the "association in fact." Ravenite, the club where John Gotti hung out, featured prominently in his prosecution.

Avoiding the Multiple Conspiracies Trap: Charging a complicated conspiracy with many underlying crimes runs the risk the jury might conclude that there were multiple conspiracies, not one overarching conspiracy. Multiple conspiracies can mean there isn't a single agreement to violate the law -- and thus the defendants aren't guilty of the charged conspiracy. RICO avoids this risk because the whole structure of the racketeering statute allows charging an enterprise that encompasses a broad pattern of crime.

Using RICO Telling the Story: Most importantly, RICO is sometimes just the best way to tell the story -- which is how you win over a jury. RICO was adopted to empower prosecutors to ferret out organized crime root and branch, from kingpin to henchman, by criminalizing participation in the sprawling enterprises that do not fit neatly into traditional concepts of conspiracy, and which are not defined by a single crime or type of crime. For this type of criminal enterprise, RICO is the only fit because it allows the prosecutor to weave together all facets of that complex enterprise with a common thread.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


The Problem with No Name: At the heart of the unrest in France is a blackout of rational thinking--and it's driving the country to destruction. (CLAIRE BERLINSKI, March 2019, American Interest) 

Their anger does not correlate with economic facts. Never in French history have so many French men and women been so wealthy and so healthy. They are better fed, housed, and clothed than ever before. They live 20 years longer, on average, than they did at the beginning of the Fifth Republic.

After centuries of intermittent war, including two world wars, France has been at peace for six decades. It is one of the world's wealthiest countries. France's economy is the seventh largest; only three (the United States, Japan, and China) have more companies in the Global 500 rankings. Of the world's very wealthy countries, its welfare system is the most generous. The French enjoy the shortest working week, the earliest retirement, and the best health care system in the developed world. Last year, France's per capita GDP was U.S. $43,800--an all-time high for France. That is 337 percent higher than the world average.

But what about purchasing power, the pouvoir d'achat? It is also at a record high: U.S. $38,605.67. The inflation rate in France is low, and has been declining for several years.

What about inequality? France is enjoying the highest median standard of living in its history.

If the world's wealth were to be redistributed from the rich to the poor, every last Gilet Jaune would become significantly poorer. Life expectancy at birth in France is now 83 years, exceeded only by Japan. In the past 20 years alone, women have gained 3.2 years in life expectancy, men 5.2 years. France's literacy rate is 99 percent. Disposable household income in France is rising, not falling. (When I first came to work in France in 1986, I had neither a private toilet nor a phone; the only kind of phone available--though I couldn't get one--was a rotary dial.) Only one country, Switzerland, has a cleaner environment. Any reasonably compiled list of "best countries to live in," using any reasonable metric, will put France in the top ten, or perhaps the top five. I tried to explain the complaints of the Gilets Jaunes to a Turkish-American friend who moved here recently with her then-boyfriend, a refugee from Syria. "Are they insane?" she said. It's a fair question.

In a satirical treatment filmed at a Carrefour supermarket, a Gilet Jaune marches stolidly before the camera, then unburdens himself of his discontent. "At the end of the month," he says, his wife by his side, "I have to pay the rent, and the gas, and the electricity, and the insurance, and the food, and the car"--his wife begins to look uneasy--"and my wife's car, and the iPhone, and my children's iPhone, and gifts for Noël, and the contractor for the renovations," whereupon his wife says: "Jean, shut up."

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 AM


Kahane Won: How the radical rabbi's ideas and disciples took over Israeli politics, and why it's dangerous (Shaul Magid, 3/15/19, Tablet)

Zionism for Kahane was about conquest, power, and the establishment of an abnormal state, one that did not require adherence to geo-political dictates or policies. "The cornerstone of Jewish foreign policy must be the knowledge and faith that the Jewish people have a divine destiny that cannot be denied and that the State of Israel is the culmination of that destiny." While for Kahane "the state" always existed in theory, its present form served as the instantiation in the here and now. This undermines the normalcy of the state as a part of the family of nations. Just as Jews are chosen, the state is chosen. Chosen and thus exceptionalist, it does not, and should not, follow the dictates of the unchosen. "Israel came into being on behalf of Jews, all the world's Jews, and not to worry over 'What will the nations say'?" Its raison d'etre was a literal reading of Tanakh in its most warring suit, divine sanction supporting unapologetic militancy:

The state of Israel is not a western one or an eastern one; it is not a "secular state"; it is not one to be modeled after 'the nations." It is a Jewish state with all the uniqueness that this applies. It is state whose personality, character, behavior, and structure must be the reflection of Jewishness and Judaism.

Of course, the very notion of a Jewish state, and its Jewish character and relation to Judaism, has been a hotly debated issue in Israel since its founding, even before. Kahane's point here, as I read it, is to challenge the very normalcy of the state as an aspiration. For Kahane the secular argument that Israel is necessary as a safe haven for the Jews or the religious idea that it illustrates the "first flowering of redemption" are not operative forces. In addition, the dependence on allies is an error in understanding the very core of Zionism. It is unclear to me whether his isolationist thoughts here are directly drawn from his reading of Musar or whether they exhibit a more common view that the world is anti-Semitic and thus not dependable. In any case, what is being challenged here is the secular notion of normalization, "a nation like all other nations," that permeated Zionist ideology. "Indeed, there are no allies and the United States itself will cut its bonds to Israel as its interests dictate. In the end Zion and Zionism stand alone with the Almighty G-d who created them." Part of the Zionist program was the normalization for the Jewish people through membership in the community of nations. For Kahane this was a ruse. Isolation was not, for him, a failure but the sign of success. "To be isolated is not to be alone. The greater the isolation of the Jew, the greater the awe of G-d's ultimate victory. The more we stand 'alone' and the less who stand with us, the more astonishing is G-d's majesty."

On one reading, this would be an interesting political rendering of a Musar idea of isolation as the optimal way to experience the fullness of God. As elsewhere, Kahane subverts the Zionist program by viewing it as fulfilling that which the Diaspora could not: the isolation and true abnormality of the Jews. Under the guise of a modern nation, Zionism becomes the true response to emancipation; not power with global responsibility, but power whose responsibility is only to the Jew.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 AM

THE FACE OF TERROR (profanity alert):

Live-streaming New Zealand gunman said he aimed to disrupt US politics (MARK SULLIVAN, 3/15/19, Fast Company)

In his manifesto, the suspected shooter identifies himself as a supporter of Donald Trump, describes his possible motives, his choice of New Zealand as a target, and his aim to impact the political climate in the United States. [...]

The suspect identified Trump "as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose."

March 14, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM


How the EU infantilises national politics: Italy's political chaos is the inevitable consequence of being ruled by others (Tim Parks, 14 MARCH 2019, UnHerd)

Since ratification of the Maastricht treaty in 1993 Italy has been governed by alternat­ing centre-Right and centre-Left governments, the former mainly represented by Berlusconi and the latter Prodi, then Renzi. Committed to following the Maastricht criteria and later the European Fiscal Compact in relation to annual deficit, overall debt, and various other key economic parameters, they had little room for manoeuvre. The result was that, despite a rhetoric of profound ideological division, Italians got used to seeing very little difference in economic policy whoever the party in government.

Prior to the introduction of the Euro in 2002, this situation was made palatable by a fairly steady 1.5% growth rate, comparable with Germany and the rest of the EU. After 2002, however, Italy began to lose ground, and between 2007 and 2017 it had an annual GDP decline of 0.6% compared to a German growth rate of 1.2%. In 10 years, a 20% difference in economic performance has opened up between Italy and its main trading partner, and relative salary levels have fallen drastically.

Between 2008 and 2015 Italy lost 15% of its manufacturing base and the sector's workforce shrunk by 18%. Meanwhile the construction industry shed 25% of capacity and lost 30% of its workforce. Unemployment stands at 10%, while youth unemployment is over 30%.

Most of all, there is no sign of progress and no positive future to look forward to. Every time a government seeks to follow an expansionist policy it is swiftly reminded by Brussels of the need to abide by the rigid Fiscal Compact. Sanctions are threatened and, worse still, Italian government bond rates are forced up in relation to German bonds increasing public borrowing costs, alienating foreign investors and generally worsening an already depressed situation.

This might be acceptable if Italians felt there was any democratic process that could alter EU policy. This is not the case. The idealism that drove the Maastricht process is long gone. European elections are seen as little more than an opinion poll for national parties, with no sense that the European Parliament could function as an instrument for improving economic prospects for Italy.

As the EU came to be seen more and more as an externally imposed necessity, rather than a community Italians are enthusiastically part of, it was inevitable that new parties would emerge taking an anti-European stance and criticising the leaders of the mainstream parties for abject compliance with Brussels.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 PM


How Africa is converting China: China's mass investment in Africa is having an unintended religious consequence at home (Christopher Rhodes, 13 FEBRUARY 2019, UnHerd)

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens have gone to work in Africa, where they have encountered foreign cultures that leave many of them feeling alienated. For some of these disaffected Chinese workers, a source of comfort has come from religion, most notably the Evangelical Christianity that pervades much of sub-Saharan Africa. Evangelicalism prioritises conversion of non-believers, and the Chinese, heavily discouraged from practicing religion at home, are attractive potential converts.

Many local African churches have reached out to Chinese workers, including incorporating Mandarin into services.  A number of Chinese, in turn, have welcomed the sense of community and belonging that these Christian churches offer. And a small but growing number of ethnically Chinese missionaries from Taiwan and other countries are specifically targeting Chinese nationals in Africa, preaching to them with a freedom they'd never be allowed in the People's Republic.

Many of these Chinese workers are returning home, and they're bringing their newfound religion with them.  Visitors to the coastal province of Fujian, for example, now hear South African accented English and see houses adorned with crosses.  African migrants are also moving to China in larger numbers, many of them practitioners of very evangelistic forms of Pentecostal Christianity who are willing to flout the rules placed on religious activity in China.

This new dynamic is creating a headache for the Communist Party, which heavily regulates state-recognised religious bodies and considers non-sanctioned religious activity illegal. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Large-scale solar power set for double-digit growth: Goldman Sachs (Henning Gloystein, 3/14/19, Reuters) 

Utility-scale solar power capacity is expected to grow by double digits globally in 2019 and 2020, driven by expansions in the United States, Europe, Middle East and China, U.S. bank Goldman Sachs said on Thursday.

Solar power is the fastest growing source of electricity generation, taking market share from fossil fuels like thermal coal and natural gas as governments and companies increasingly introduce clean energy targets.

"We expect the combination of lower costs for solar and favorable policy support providing a multi-year runway for utility-scale to drive meaningful upside to the market," the U.S. investment bank said in a research note.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi-led war in Yemen (JORDAIN CARNEY - 03/13/19, The Hill)
The Senate broke with President Trump on Wednesday over the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, paving the way for a veto showdown with the White House.

Senators voted 54-46 to pass a resolution requiring the president to withdraw any troops in or "affecting" Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda.

GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Steve Daines (Mont.), Mike Lee (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Todd Young (Ind.) voted with Democrats on the resolution. 

The chamber first passed the resolution in December, but it did not pass the GOP-controlled House before the end of the 115th Congress and was reintroduced this year.

The Shi'a are our allies; the Salafi the enemy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Syria's Assad struggles to reap spoils after military gains (Tom Perry, 3/14/19, Reuters) 

"I agree with Assad - the war is not over. The regime is not in any imminent danger of falling but the challenges are immense, politically, economically," said David Lesch, an expert on Syria and author of "Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad".

On its current course, he sees Syria becoming more like the crisis-hit African country of Sudan where the state exercises limited control and autonomous regions are beyond its grip.

"The question is does Bashar al-Assad -- and the people around him -- realize this is their future?" he said.

In his speech, Assad said Syria faced four wars: the military conflict, economic "siege", a struggle against corruption and what he described as a battle on social media where he said Syria's enemies were waging a propaganda campaign.

Addressing shortages of gas and other supplies, he acknowledged "the choking crisis" of late and likened economic sanctions to a war in which battles were lost and won.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


MICHAEL CONNELLY ON COLD CASES, POLICE STORIES, AND HIS NEW PODCAST: With 'Murder Book' Connelly Has a New Approach to Crime (DWYER MURPHY, 3/14/19, Crime Reads)

Dwyer Murphy: You've written dozens of novels, some of the most celebrated and popular crime fiction around, not to mention the TV series. What drew you to the idea of making a podcast?

MICHAEL CONNELLY: I've been listening to a lot of podcasts, especially in the last couple years. I do a lot of walking, and at some point I switched over from listening to music to listening to podcasts. So I've been thinking about them. Also, it has something to do with what's going on in the world today. Journalism is under fire from different parts of the political world, and that seemed to reawaken some of my journalism genes. I haven't been a reporter in twenty-five years. But I wanted a chance to tell true stories. I've been lucky enough to have detectives who help me get my novels right. And these detectives, they're working real cases, they have real stories. I thought a podcast might be the right storytelling venue where I could have them tell some of their stories.

What was the initial research for this? How did you come across the case?

It has to do with the way I research my books. I hang out with a small cadre of detectives--three detectives, give or take--and we have breakfast. I don't come with an agenda or a notebook and there's no tape recorder on the table. We just have breakfast. These detectives, they're great storytellers. And they also want to update each other on the cases they're working. They forget I'm even there.

This story--the murder case against Pierre Romain--came out of those conversations. I was hearing about Romain and the strange things that had happened in this case, which was spread out over thirty plus years. It felt like it could work as a podcast. Also, I had the access. The case had different lead detectives over those three decades, and I knew them all. I also heard second hand that the judge in the case read my books, and I thought, maybe he'll let me record in court.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


When The Commander in Chief Is 'Unfit,' What's a General to Do? Jim Mattis' Resignation Was Just a Beginning. (James Kitfield, Mar. 9th, 2019, Daily Beast)

"The warrior in Jim Mattis never quit on a mission in his life, but I could tell by the tone in his voice that day that he had reached his breaking point," Cohen said in an interview. He noted that Mattis had been increasingly at odds with the president on a list of weighty issues, from Trump's frequent contention that the NATO alliance is a swindle and the European Union "a foe," to his inexplicable deference to Putin in preference to his own intelligence community. "Knowing Jim Mattis and seeing Trump's fickle and impulsive leadership, and the shameful mental abuse that he routinely inflicts on his top advisers, I think Mattis only stuck around for as long as he did out of a strong sense of patriotism. But at some point you have to ask yourself if you can do the job and still maintain your sense of integrity."

In the short interim since the Mattis resignation the nation has endured the longest government shutdown in history, for instance, and President Trump delivered a State of the Union address in which he conjured a national security emergency out of an immigrant caravan on the southern border, while announcing a second summit with North Korea's truly threatening dictator Kim Jong Un, who Trump has "fallen in love" with over Kim's "beautiful letters."  

In late January, leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community testified before Congress and publicly contradicted the president's claims that a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons is no longer a threat, that ISIS has been defeated, and that the situation at the southern border with Mexico amounts to a national security emergency.

In the interim U.S. policy in the Middle East has also predictably devolved into strategic incoherence, with top Trump administration officials traveling to the region and announcing long-term conditions for the withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. troops that is already well underway, and then backtracking after being contradicted by President Trump's tweets.  In another jarring break with civil-military tradition, U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel recently publicly disagreed with his commander-in-chief's decision to pull troops out of Syria, stating unequivocally in an interview with CNN that ISIS has not been defeated. Then Trump reversed course yet again and announced that roughly 400 U.S. troops would be staying in Syria after all, along with allied partners.

In mid-February, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Europe and lashed out at the United States' closest and most important NATO allies for failing to fall obediently in line behind the Trump administration's unilateral decision to abandon a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, and then warned of a growing divide in transatlantic relations that is already acutely felt in Europe. Trump also officially declared a "national emergency" on the southern border in an effort to bypass Congress and build a wall with taxpayer money, an assault on Congressional authorities and the Constitution's separation of powers that a bipartisan group of 58 former senior intelligence, diplomatic and national security officials denounced as unjustified and a serious erosion of presidential credibility "with foreign leaders, both friend and foe."

To cap off the tumultuous month, Trump's late-February summit with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam collapsed in disarray, with Trump abruptly walking away from the negotiating table and foregoing a planned signing ceremony and North Korea resuming construction at a long-range missile testing facility.

Meanwhile, a number of media outlets recently reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will soon complete his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and possible Trump campaign collusion in that effort, even as Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified before Congress and alleged under oath that his former boss was involved as president in criminal activity.

Defense Secretary Mattis' resignation-in-protest may have sunk quickly beneath that tsunami of headlines, but it is viewed as an important marker by some of the nation's most respected former flag officers and national security officials precisely because the issues it highlighted put the current chaos and rapidly mounting crises into context. Their willingness to break with the nonpartisan tradition of even retired U.S. military and intelligence officials and speak out is due in part to the historic nature of the resignation and the respect accorded Mattis as one of the preeminent warrior intellectuals of his generation of military leaders. But his resignation is also notable for the critique of the commander-in-chief that accompanied it, and the belief by many stewards of U.S. national security that it largely explains why America and the alliance of free peoples that it professes to lead feel so dangerously unstable right now, with worse very likely to come.

"If we have someone who is as selfless and committed as Jim Mattis resigning his position, walking away from all the responsibility he feels for every service member in our forces, and he does so in a public way like that, we ought to stop and say, 'Okay, why did he do it?'" said retired General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and a Special Forces pioneer who was behind the 2006 killing of arch terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Speaking to ABC News' Martha Raddatz, McChrystal suggested that "we ought to ask what kind of commander-in-chief he had that Jim Mattis, 'the good Marine,' felt he had to walk away."

In the interview, McChrystal left no doubt that he believes the commander Mattis walked away from is not only fundamentally dishonest, but also "immoral." That assessment provides a "pretty good summary of what most generals think about the President's character," Admiral James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, wrote recently in Time Magazine. Stavridis attributes the exodus of Mattis and the other generals in Trump's inner circle to the president's chronic lack of discipline, indifference towards preparation and expert opinion, impulsive decision-making even on matters of great consequence, and instinctively dismissive attitude towards allies.

"I think Secretary Mattis clearly felt that Trump's attitude toward our allies hurt the U.S. position in the world, but the Syria pullout-done without benefit of a coherent interagency process-was the final straw," Stavridis wrote me in an email.

Retired Lt. General Mark Hertling formerly commanded the U.S. Army Europe, and he was an assistant division commander in Iraq. "I was not really surprised by Mattis' resignation, because I had been wondering what was taking him so long given how frequently Trump was walking his top advisers to the edge in terms of ethics and morality," he said in an interview. "What worries me now is that Trump has created an absolutely toxic leadership environment that has driven good people like Mattis away, and the replacements and those who remain have shown no courage nor inclination to push back against the president's worst impulses. Instead Trump has created a cabal of like-minded people who share his worldview and are loyal only to him, and I am very concerned how that dynamic will play out if the administration confronts a real crisis not of its own making."

Indeed, the issues surfaced by Mattis' resignation-in-protest, and others raised by a host of former senior officers and national security experts who have recently seconded his critique, deserve a close examination precisely because of the existential stakes.

Their writ starts with a backstabbing and chaotic White House-chronicled in meticulous detail in books like Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, Bob Woodward's Fear and Cliff Sims' Team of Vipers-that has driven away capable and experienced officials, made it difficult to replace them with qualified successors, and routinely produces haphazard decision making that sows chaos and interagency confusion.

Their case includes the president's stubborn disregard for factual truth, skewing real-world policies on issues ranging from North Korea's nuclear weapons to the supposed "defeat" of ISIS, and Trump's insistence on viewing everything through a partisan prism that politicizes all issues and erodes public trust in non-partisan institutions such as the U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The critique also highlights Trump's belittling and transactional approach that has badly undermined venerable alliances, even as Trump maintains chummy and inexplicably obsequious relations with murderous dictators, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un.

Taken together, Defense Secretary Mattis' first ever resignation-in-protest and the issues it has surfaced represent the worst crisis in civil-military relations since the 2006 revolt of the generals against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's mismanagement of the Iraq War.  In that instance eight senior retired generals made headlines by publicly calling for Rumsfeld's resignation on the grounds that he was on the cusp of losing a major war, with potentially devastating consequences for U.S. national security. Given that the target of today's critiques is the commander-in-chief himself, the stakes are exponentially higher, and the warnings even more dire.

"I'm not sure that a lot of my fellow Americans fully appreciate the fact that there are only two people in the country who can give a lawful order to launch a military strike and start a war, and one of them just resigned to protest the poor judgment of the other," retired General Barry McCaffrey, former commander of U.S. Southern Command and a decorated combat veteran, said in an interview.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


"The Most Expensive Bourbon Ever Made": Four barrels, two hurricanes, and one epic yearlong voyage: Two weeks ago, the first leg of Jefferson's Journey ended with a tasting in Kentucky (TOM WILMES, February 14, 2019, Garden & Gun)

On June 6, 2016, Jefferson's Bourbon cofounder Trey Zoeller began a grand experiment. He and boat captain Ted Gray loaded two freshly filled barrels of bourbon onto a 23-foot Sea Pro and set off from Louisville, Kentucky, on a journey that took them down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, through the Gulf of Mexico and around Key West, and up the Atlantic coast to New York City. Two identical barrels remained in Kentucky to age under normal conditions. Would the voyage change the whiskey?

The answer would have to wait--until two weeks ago, when the first chapter in Jefferson's Journey bourbon came full circle during a comparative tasting event held at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville. "It was a hell of a fun project," Zoeller says, "and a testament to what people went through back then."

Buoyed by the mature-beyond-its-years character and faint salinity of another Jefferson's bourbon, Ocean--barrels of which are aged at sea--Zoeller sought to recreate conditions under which Kentucky whiskey historically traveled to market by flatboat, putting in just below the Falls of the Ohio and floated downriver to New Orleans and ports beyond. Zoeller's hypothesis is that, while surrounding whiskey-producing states share a similar geology and climate to Kentucky, travel by boat is what gave bourbon made in the Bluegrass State its singular character and reputation. The effects of wind, water, temperature extremes, and time all caused the whiskey to constantly come into more contact with the charred insides of the barrels as it floated downstream.

It took Zoeller and Gray fifty-eight days to motor from Louisville to New Orleans, averaging 4.8 knots and "using just enough power to navigate the rivers and the locks," Zoeller says. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for seven straight days. They landed in New Orleans in August and transferred the two barrels onto a slightly larger boat. Before they could depart, however, a tropical storm socked the coast and "rocked the hell out of our barrels," Zoeller says. The leading edge of Hurricane Hermine caught up with them in Tampa Bay, further damaging the exposed barrels and warping and popping the barrel heads. Zoeller syphoned the bourbon into two new barrels in Key West, and high-tailed it for Ft. Lauderdale as Hurricane Matthew loomed in the distance. The category-five storm destroyed the boat they'd contracted to transport the bourbon on the final leg of its journey, so they wintered in Ft. Lauderdale and later hitched a ride the rest of the way. They landed at New York's Chelsea Piers on June 6, exactly one year from their departure date.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 AM


ARMS AND THE MAN (TOM JUNOD, 6/14/93, Sports Illustrated)

There are many ways to measure a man. There are as many ways, in fact, as there are men, and the manlier the man, the more specific, the more exacting, the more outlandish the measure. A librarian, for example, might measure his manhood by the simple fact that he lifts weights, while a weightlifter has to measure his by how much weight he lifts. A strong man may have to prove that he is tireless, a tireless man that he can endure pain, a man who can endure pain that he can administer it, and so on, until we arrive at the most rarefied stratum of masculinity, reserved for men who have distanced themselves from the merely strong and merely tireless and can lay claim to that antique and enduring title: he-men.

Dave Patton is a he-man, but he is only the product of all the he-men who came before him.

Moe Baker of Bristol, Conn., was one. How do we know? Because Baker, according to his partisans, not only had 18-inch forearms but could also jump straight out of a 55-gallon drum without ever touching the sides. Cleve Dean, a 600-pound hog farmer from Georgia, was a he-man, too, because he could pick up a full-grown sow under each arm and walk around. Ed Jubinville of Chicopee, Mass., was a he-man because he had mastered the art of muscle control and could make, say, his left pectoral muscle flop around like a fish pulled fresh from the sea. And the legendary Mac Batchlor, from Los Angeles, was a he-man because he could fold four bottle caps in half simply by placing them on his fingers and closing his fist. Like all the great exemplars of their breed, these men grew impatient with the standard measures of manhood and chose to define themselves by feats so specific, demanding and utterly useless that no one ever thought to follow.

The he-man, however, faces a problem precisely because he is one of a kind. What, after all, is the measure of a man among men who have developed their own measures? Would Baker be expected to hoist hogs, or would anyone try to jam Dean into a 55-gallon drum and demand that he jump out of it? No, clearly they had to develop a basis of comparison, a means of communication beyond the babel of their own stunts, and so it was that Baker, Davis, Jubinville and Batchlor, along with a host of others, one as manly as the next, became pioneers in the sport that Dave Patton has mastered: arm wrestling.

Arm wrestling! The lingua franca of he-men! What boy has not measured his impending manhood by pitting his arm against the arms of his fellows? What barroom, what truck stop, what union hall, what locker room cannot sing of the sweat and tears that flow from an epic "pull," as the arm wrestlers sometimes term their matches? Arm wrestling calls to the man who is strong from lifting weights and the man who is strong from digging ditches; it calls to the man whose arm is as thick as a python and the man whose arm is as thin as a cable; to pretty boys and to boys whose prettiest features will always be their tattoos; to big men, to little men and to women of almost feral intensity; to the drunk and the sober, to the screamers and the shy...and, on this morning, on a Manhattan street corner occupied by one of the greatest arm wrestlers in recorded history, it calls to a cross-section of the residents of New York City, which means every kind of person in the world.

But who in the world would arm wrestle Dave Patton? He hasn't lost in something like 12 years. He may weigh only 160, yet his shoulders and neck are so developed that he sometimes looks hunchbacked. He has been known to knock an opponent off his feet with the force of his pull. He works out incessantly, with true he-man specificity, doing 756 biceps curls per session, jacking himself into a state of Pure Pain, concentrating not on his arms--anybody can have big arms!--but on his tendons. The tendons, the hand: these are the weakest parts of the body, and these are what Patton attacks when he arm wrestles, stealing his opponent's strength, short-circuiting the shoulder, bypassing the biceps, reducing the biggest man to his smallest muscles and then humiliating him.

Patton loves that, taking down the big men. He used to go by the nickname Giant Killer, until the spectacle of his beating men twice his size stopped being a surprise, and aficionados simply recognized him as Dave Patton, the master--the master of technique, the master of mind games, "the master of all things," in the words of one opponent. And the New Yorkers pass him by in their grand, grotesque parade, what they see is not an athlete, a champion, a master; what they see is a fellow manning a sort of lemonade stand of machismo, a fellow who could not weigh much more than...well, 160 pounds...and so they line up to take their free shot at him and collect their thousand bucks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 AM


The Physics of Fungos (David Kagan, March 5, 2019, Hardball Times)

Maybe you don't know what the heck a fungo is. It is a bat designed specifically to hit balls tossed upward by a hitter as opposed to balls thrown by a pitcher. For example, a coach might use a fungo to hit balls for infield practice. A sample fungo is shown below. Why would a fungo be any different than a bat used by a player in a game? That's where the physics comes in.

Think about the Home Run Derby. In about two minutes, a slugger takes roughly 25 swings. At that point, he almost always calls "time out" because he is exhausted. Now, imagine the situation of some poor coach who needs to hit fly balls to his outfielders for half an hour. A fungo bat is designed to address that and make it easy to hit pop flies or grounders with minimal effort.

Let's try to understand how this is accomplished. Perhaps you've never noticed, but it is far easier to swing a bat if you hold it on the barrel as opposed to grabbing the handle. Physics tells us that it is always easier to get an object rotating if more of its mass is closer to the center of rotation. Why then do players insist upon using the handle?

You know the answer: if batters swung using the barrel, pitchers would routinely snap off the handle of the bat. Also, when you hit something with a tool like a hammer, you want as much of the mass as possible "on the business end" as it were.

Since a fungo bat isn't designed to hit a pitched ball, it can be much thinner than a regular bat. After all, a batter facing a pitcher must change the incoming 95 mph pitch into a ball leaving the bat with a 95-mph exit velocity. That total change in the velocity is 190 mph-95 mph to bring the ball to rest momentarily on the bat plus another 95 mph to speed it back up again the other direction. However, a coach hitting a ball after an upward toss needs only to change the velocity of the ball from zero to 95 mph.

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 AM


MAKING A PITCH FOR CRICKET (JOHN FOWLES, 5/20/73, Sports Illustrated)

Britain and America were created, as every serious historian knows, just to see how profoundly two cultures sharing a common language can fail to understand each other. Nowhere is that more clearly demonstrated than in the malignant mutual travesty that concerns our respective summer games. You smugly know we English are impossible because of our attachment to the incomprehensible ritual of cricket; we smugly know you Americans will never grow up because of your seriousness over a game we reserve for beach picnics. You don't even call it by its proper name, which is rounders. One plays rounders with a moribund tennis ball and any old bit of wood for a bat. Every decent Englishman knows that, and that "baseball" is sheer Yankee gall--trying to hide a stolen patent under a new trade name. Of course, every decent American, who equally knows baseball was handed straight from God to Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown in 1839, will spit on such a foul imputation.

Alas, poor truth. Chauvinists from either side who go to bat for the kind of view above can be retired to the bench very fast indeed by any dispassionate historian. There is hard textual evidence that baseball was played in England, and under that name, well back into the 18th century. But Americans can take heart. The farther back one goes, the closer the two games seem to interweave and the plainer it becomes that we are dealing with a pair of twin brothers. It is not at all certain which is the senior sibling. My own guess is that the shadowy father, the Ur-game, was a good deal more like his emigrant son Baseball than the introverted child who stayed at home.

They say an intrepid British secret agent once peered out of a Siberian forest at the mind-bending sight of a meadow of white-clad figures disporting themselves before an English village--thatched cottages, ancient pub and all the rest. But our man guessed in a flash what he had stumbled on: a KGB spy school designed to counter the most fiendish of all British cover-blowing techniques--the request for a brief rundown on the finer points of cricket.

Faced with the same task I know exactly how those would-be Soviet espionage aces must have felt. I can only pray that the basecricketballese I have had to resort to, and which will undoubtedly cause a few major coronaries among elderly British purists, does give some idea of our game. I am not, however, going to get into one grisly swampland where many brave essayists have met a tragic end: explaining the detailed rules. All Americans need understand is that whatever the obvious superficial differences between the two modern games, they are both about precisely the same things: pitching and batting, catching and fielding, running and tagging bases. What is fascinating indeed is this remarkable similarity at heart and the considerable difference in present-day ethos and practice, and what that paradox has to say about our two nations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


KID K: IN 1952, RON NECCIAI, 19, STRUCK OUT 27 BATTERS IN NINE INNINGS: The three greatest pitchers [Branch Rickey had] known...were Christy Mathewson...Dizzy Dean...and Ron Necciai.  (PAT JORDAN, 6/01/97, Sports illustrated)

After two undistinguished seasons, mostly in Class D, Necciai was surprised when the Pirates invited him to their spring training camp in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1952. He had caught the eye of Branch Rickey Jr., the Bucs' farm director and son of the club G.M., the previous season at Salisbury in the North Carolina State League. Necciai had lost his first seven games that year, but on the day Rickey came to town, the righthander had struck out nine batters in a six-hit victory. After the game, Rickey admonished him. "You oughta be ashamed of yourself, playing with these babies," he told Necciai. "Your ability is so superior to theirs you should beat them every time out. Now, if you straighten up your act and win a few games, I'll send you someplace where you can make some real money."

So in the spring of 1952 Necciai was in San Bernardino, but with no expectations of making the Pirates, which was probably why he did so well. "I didn't know why I was there," he says. "I didn't know anything as a pitcher. Just hand me the ball, and I'd throw it." Underestimating his own talent was to be a lifelong habit.

He had seemed to assure himself a spot on the Pirates by pitching five shutout innings against the National League champion New York Giants. On the train ride east after the team broke camp, it dawned on Necciai that he would be starting the '52 season in the big leagues, at the age of 19. He began to worry. He threw up his food. He spit up blood. His weight dropped below 150 pounds. When the Pirates stopped in New Orleans for some exhibition games, Necciai was too weak to pitch in one of them. He was sent ahead to Pittsburgh, where the team physician, Dr. Norman Ochsenhirt, diagnosed Necciai's ulcer. He prescribed a diet heavy on cottage cheese and melba toast, and gave Necciai some black pills--Banthine--which helped neutralize the acid in his stomach. The pills and the diet made him feel better, but he was too skinny and weak to stay with the Pirates. The club wanted to send him to New Orleans of the Class AA Southern Association to regain his weight and strength, but Necciai objected. He wanted to go instead to Bristol, where George Detore was the manager.

The Bristol pitcher was always a little short-tempered on days he was scheduled to start. Little things bothered him, and then his stomach would begin to burn. Sometimes Harry Dunlop, his catcher and close friend, would help Necciai take his mind off his nerves by kidding him about the girls at the local women's colleges. But most of the time Necciai would end up taking one of those black pills. He often ate breakfast alone--boiled eggs and dry toast--and read The Sporting News. He would then sit on a bench outside the Hotel Bristol and while traffic passed, turn to the back pages to check the endless columns of statistics of other low minor leaguers like himself. At noon, when his teammates were probably shooting pool, he might go alone to a movie and lose himself in the darkened theater for a few hours. This day was a cool one, good for his stomach, he thought.

When Necciai got to Trayer's for his afternoon meal, Dunlop was waiting for him. They ate together: the tall, gangling, high-strung pitcher and the slightly shorter, squatter, loquacious catcher. Often Jack Trayer let them eat for free. After lunch they went back to their rooms to pack for the game and set off on foot through town toward Shaw Stadium. Bristol was a nice, friendly town, a town without pressure.

Before the game, Necciai sat in the dugout next to manager Detore to discuss the evening's pitching strategy. Detore told him in a gruff voice how many curveballs he should try to throw for strikes and what he should throw in various situations. Necciai listened and nodded to Detore while watching the sun set beyond the outfield fence, which was painted with advertisements for King's Quality Clothes and Burrough's Home Furnishings and the Bristol Furniture Company.

In many ways, this was the part of the game the pitcher loved most--sitting there, listening to his manager tell him what to do. He liked the way the manager ordered each game for him. It calmed him, took the pressure off. He had only to take the mound and do what he was told. But even more than that, the pitcher just liked sitting there, listening to the gruff, older man who was like a father to him.

"When the Pirates wanted to send me to New Orleans to regain my strength," says Necciai, "I told them I didn't want to go. I said, 'Where's George Detore?' They said he was at Bristol. So I said, 'Then I want to go to Bristol.' I knew if anyone would take care of me, it would be George. He was a fantastic man. Great with kids. Strong, tough, confident. I used to sit next to him on the bench whenever I could. I'd talk his ear off. About anything. Whenever I couldn't do something the way he wanted me to, it used to eat me up. He always calmed me down. I was his fair-haired boy. He made sure I ate right and didn't overexert myself. He mapped out everything for me. How many pitches I'd throw in a game, how many games I'd pitch before I moved up. The time was getting near. I knew the Pirates were going to move me up soon, and in some ways I didn't want to leave George behind. Like I said, he was like a father to me."

"He said that?" says George Detore, now 80, at his home in Utica, N.Y. "I'm flattered. Ronnie was always a good boy, but he was never sure of himself. He never let it out. He kept it bottled up inside. Still, he never complained."

Necciai had signed as a first baseman at a Pirate tryout at Forbes Field in 1950. His first assignment was to Salisbury. Detore, a former catcher with Cleveland, was the manager. "I saw the kid couldn't hit a whole helluva lot," says Detore, "so I made him into a pitcher."

Necciai had pitched briefly at Monongahela High, near Pittsburgh, but his mound career had ended abruptly when he lost control of a fastball and broke a batter's ribs. His coach took him out, and Necciai rarely pitched again until he got to Salisbury. He wasn't successful there, either.

"I walked everyone in sight," says Necciai. He was quickly shunted to Shelby of the Class D Western Carolina League, but after only a few days, he packed up and went home. "I really don't know why I left," he says. "I guess I thought I'd never make it. There were hundreds of D leagues then, and I was just one of thousands of players. Baseball was never really a passion of mine. To be honest, I never did have any passions. Baseball was just something to do. I was just an average kid drifting through, and it didn't seem to make much sense to stay."

Back in Monongahela, Necciai got a job in a steel mill outside of town. He labored beside men who would spend most of their working lives there. That sobered him up pretty quickly. Baseball didn't seem like such a bad life after all, so the next year he again found himself in Salisbury with Detore. After his slow start, the Pirates were ready to release him. Necciai himself was ready to go. He was barely able to support himself on his $150-a-month baseball salary. Detore, however, was not ready to quit on the tall, nervous pitcher. He convinced the Bucs they should keep Necciai for a little while longer, and then he convinced Necciai to stay by making him the team's bus driver for an extra $90 a month. "He was a pretty fair bus driver," Detore remembers. "But he still wasn't much of a pitcher. One game he gave up something like 12 runs in the first two innings. By then, even I was ready to quit on him."

But first Detore decided to give his young pitcher one last try. He put the boy on a warm-up mound one day and told him to throw the ball as hard as he could. Necciai threw a few mediocre fastballs, and Detore threw up his hands in disgust. "Chrissakes, son! Can't you throw any harder than that?" he said.

Necciai nodded.

"Then why the hell don't ya?"

"Because in high school I broke a guy's ribs," Necciai said. "My coach made me promise not to throw that hard again."

Detore was disbelieving, but he told the boy to cut loose one time anyway. As Necciai began his motion Detore started to walk away. Necciai fired. The ball rocketed off the catcher's shin.

"It was a bullet," Detore says. "He had it all along. Then I told him to throw a curveball as hard as he could."

"Watch this!" the pitcher said. The ball exploded straight down just as it reached the plate. Detore was stunned.

"Buddy," he said. "You got it."

"He had a smooth, overhand motion," Detore remembers. "He threw without effort. Now, his curveball he threw different from any other pitcher I ever saw." All efforts at teaching Necciai a conventional curveball had failed. It was only when he was allowed to throw it the way he felt most comfortable that it exploded downward. Instead of rolling his two fingers over the top of the ball to give it downward spin at the point of release, Necciai would fling his curveball with the back of his hand toward the batter in much the way a young boy flips a yo-yo to make it sleep. Only Necciais curveball didn't sleep. It dropped like a duck shot on the wing.

Necciai won four of his last six decisions at Salisbury and then was sent to New Orleans where, inexplicably, he seemed to lose his stuff. He finished the season with a 1-5 record and an 8.45 earned run average. Still, Rickey remembered Necciai from that night in Salisbury and invited him to the Pirates' spring training camp at San Bernardino.

While the Welch Miners were taking batting practice, the Bristol pitcher began to warm up along the leftfield line. After a few throws, Necciai could tell he didn't have his good stuff this night. He told his bullpen catcher he doubted he would be able to go nine. Necciai didn't seem to notice the Welch batters, and if he did, it didn't bother him much. He never pitched against batters in a game. He pitched according to the plan Detore mapped out for him on the bench. Midway through his warmups, Necciai felt a burning sensation in his stomach. The burning got worse as he began to sweat in the cool night air. When he finished, he walked back to the dugout and told Detore his ulcer was acting up. Detore told him to give it a shot anyway. "See how far you can go, son," he said.

Necciai did as he was told. He was starting a professional baseball game for only the 21st time in his life. The fans were still entering the small ballpark, with its slatted wooden bleachers. Some of them were buying hot dogs and popcorn, and others were still settling into their seats by the time Necciai retired the first three Welch batters. He struck out one on a called strike, and two swinging. He walked off the mound to a smattering of applause.

Bristol scored in the bottom of the first when the Welch starter walked four of the first five batters. Necciai retired the Miners in order again in the second inning on two swinging strikeouts and a routine ground ball to shortstop. Bristol scored another run in the second. The first Welch batter in the third reached base when the Bristol shortstop bobbled a grounder. Then Necciai bore down. He struck out the next three batters, two swinging, one looking.

Returning to the dugout, Necciai sat beside Detore and complained that his stomach was burning badly. He was throwing a lot of pitches, he said. It seemed as if every count was reaching 3-1. The more pitches he threw, the more heated he became and the more his stomach burned. The manager told him to hang on as long as he could. He sent the batboy, whom the players knew as Choo-Choo, to the clubhouse for some milk and cottage cheese. Necciai forced it down.

As the fourth inning began. Gene Thompson, the Bristol Herald Courier sports editor, got up from his seat in the press box. He had covered Appalachian League games for almost 20 years, and this game didn't seem much different from any other. Because he had already assigned a reporter to cover the game, he went back to his office.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Beyond Meat just launched a plant-based product for beef lovers (RINA RAPHAEL, 3/06/19, Fast Company)

Beyond Meat is venturing well beyond its popular plant-based burgers and chicken strips. On Tuesday, the meat substitute producer announced Beyond Beef, a new product meant to taste, feel, and smell just like ground beef.

The latest SKU contains no antibiotics, hormones, gluten, soy, or GMOs, and boasts 25% less saturated fat than beef. It's made with a blend of pea, mung bean, and rice proteins meant to rival the popular ingredient found in empanadas or tacos.

"We've long had our eye on creating a versatile product that enables consumers to enjoy all the benefits and versatility of ground beef while tapping into the human health, environmental, and animal welfare benefits of plant-based foods," Beyond Meat founder and CEO Ethan Brown said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Johnny was a mason and a Lithuanian nationalist and the first man I worked for after I left baseball (the phrase I always use). I was a $45,000 bonus baby, a pitcher with the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, and after three years of uncomprehending failure, I was given my unconditional release. I was 21 years old.

As a mason he dealt in bricks and stone and concrete. He did not like athletes, he said. Not even ex-athletes. They were too soft. And compared to him, I guess I was. At 48, he had the smooth, muscular body of a man who has worked hard all his life. He was small, with not an ounce of fat on him, although his leathery skin was a bit slack, like a shrinking man's. He had a high-cheekboned Slavic face with narrow blue eyes and short reddish brown hair. His grandfather had been a mason in Lithuania; his father had been a mason in Lithuania, and, after fleeing the Russians, became a mason in America. Now Johnny, too, was a mason, known for the fastidiousness of his work.

Occasionally he poured foundations for office buildings or built walls of concrete blocks, but mostly he built fireplaces and chimneys for expensive homes in Fairfield County, Conn. To build a fireplace and chimney of used brick, alternating the different shades to be esthetically pleasing, was an art, he said. And Johnny considered himself an artist. Technically, I guess, he was a craftsman, but in his mind, he equated neatness, a sense of design and the ability to work quickly--and without a plumb--with art, not craft. By extension, he considered his laborer an artist, too. He was always telling me about some Italian or Slovak immigrant who had kept him supplied with bricks and mortar as he worked up the side of a house building his chimney.

"And he always left the job spotless," Johnny would say as he walked off.

At the time I thought he was crazy and that all a laborer did was sweat like a mule. I had been working for him for only two days, and by my own admission, I was a lousy mason's laborer. We were building a chimney on a $200,000 colonial, and with each hour I fell further and further behind with the bricks and mortar. It was partly because I had no enthusiasm for the job, partly because it was more physically demanding than any job I had ever had and partly because I was terrified of climbing the maze of rusted pipes and brackets Johnny called his scaffold. Often he settled it on uneven ground so that it wobbled. Sometimes it toppled over. He liked to tell me about the "trips" he had taken over the years and seemed actually proud of them as if they were proof of his courage. His most recent trip--three stories--had shattered bones in his right leg and required an enormous white cast that went up to his hip. That was why he was so desperate for a laborer, he said, even one as worthless as myself.

On this day he had built his scaffold to the second floor, but by midafternoon a strong breeze had come up. From the ground I could see the top of the scaffold swaying left and right past the half-completed chimney. Johnny stood on its rotted planks with a brick in one hand and a trowel in the other, waiting for the wind to blow him past the chimney so he could slap down his mud and brick. Then he waited for the wind to blow him back so he could level the brick with a tap of his trowel. He worked steadily like this all afternoon, taking on a rhythm with the wind. I was terrified. Whenever I had to climb the ladder resting against the scaffold, I wrapped my arms completely around it as if it were a bony lover. I carried a bucket of mud or some bricks in one hand and slowly worked my way up that ladder a step at a time. When I reached the top, I dumped my mud or bricks in a heap and hurried back to solid ground.

But it wasn't just the difficulty of the work or my fear of heights that caused me to fall behind on those first few days. In the process of mixing mortar, my thoughts would drift and for long moments I would lean, motionless on my shovel, lost on some distant pitcher's mound in Palatka or McCook or Way-cross, trying to discover just where and how I had misplaced such a promising career. I would rummage through my past, reliving each season, each game, each pitch, expecting to come to a point where I could say, "There! Right there! That's where I lost it!" Then I would be able to trace my failure to where I was now. A mason's laborer. A bad one at that. I had been out of baseball only a few weeks and I still harbored fantasies of making a comeback if I could locate the point where it had all begun to slide away.

In the midst of such reveries, Johnny would jolt me back to the present with his trowel. He liked to work with the bricks piled to his left and slightly behind him and the mortar tub to his right. Whenever he slashed his trowel into the mortar tub and it was empty, it made a clanking noise. Johnny would keep clanking that trowel against the sides of the tub until I rushed up the ladder with fresh mortar. How I hated that sound! Each clank echoed his observation that all athletes were soft. At first I just cursed him silently and took my time bringing up his mortar. But soon that noise became a reminder that I could not handle even so menial a job as this. I decided one day to silence that trowel forever by mixing mortar faster than Johnny could use it. But no matter how feverishly I worked, I could not still that trowel, and by the end of the week I was exhausted and defeated.

March 13, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Is anti-Chinese mood growing in Kyrgyzstan? (Kamila Eshaliyeva, 13 March 2019, Open Democracy)

In December 2018, members of the Kyrgyz nationalist Kyrk Choro organisation held their first protest action outside the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek. According to media reports, around 50 people turned up to demand that the government deport illegal migrants within a month -- and to stop the persecution of ethnic Kyrgyz in China.

A few weeks later, a second protest - this time spontaneous - took place on 7 January this year, on Bishkek's central Ala-Too Square, where witnesses report seeing about 300 people. The aim of this action? Activists once again demanded that "illegal" migrants be deported. Representatives of Kyrk Choro stated that they were not involved in this protest.

Then, on 17 January, another anti-Chinese protest was organised in central Bishkek. Its organisers demanded that the Kyrgyz government check Chinese citizens' work permits, lower the foreign workers' quota, and cancel the country's debt to China (approximately $1.7 billion, according to the Finance Ministry); some protesters even demanded a ban on Kyrgyz women marrying Chinese men. The demo ended with the arrest of 21 protesters: the police claimed that the activists were obstructing traffic and using foul language.

This series of increasingly well-attended protests has provoked discussion on Kyrgyz social media -- unsurprising at a time when public fears about the detention of ethnic Kyrgyz in Xinjiang are high.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Polling Illustrates Senate Republicans' Border Wall Bind (ELI YOKLEY, March 13, 2019, Morning Consult)

Seven in 10 Republican voters said they would be more likely to vote for senators or representatives who support Trump's decision, according to the March 8-10 survey, while 3 in 5 non-Republicans - self-identified Democrats and independents - said they would be less likely to back the lawmaker in 2020. [...]

Morning Consult data shows the vote could be a big one for the legislators on the ballot next year. Seventy-eight percent of the electorate said support or opposition for Trump's national emergency declaration would sway their vote one way or another, higher than the 61 percent who said the same for the GOP's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in May 2017 and the 64 percent who said the same of the Republican tax bill in December 2017.

Trump's tack of speaking almost exclusively to his own base caught up with congressional Republicans in 2018, as they shed 40 House seats and underperformed early forecasts for Senate gains despite picking up two seats.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


Ilhan Omar and the anti-Israel American Left Would Be Next to Nothing Without Benjamin Netanyahu (Chemi Shalev, Mar 10, 2019, Ha'aretz)

American Jews, in this context, were cast as their aiders and abettors. They voted unabashedly for Obama in 2012, well after he had been earmarked by the right as an Israel-hater and Muslim sympathizer. They voted even more emphatically for Hillary Clinton, even though she was depicted by Netanyahu's allies as worse for Israel than the original Obama. And they voted unequivocally for Democrats in 2018, despite Netanyahu's effusive praise of Trump as the greatest patron of Jews since Persian King Cyrus.

Coupled with their embrace of liberal values that Netanyahu abhors, American Jews morphed in Netanyahu's mind from stalwart allies to suspect saboteurs. Their protests against his escalating nationalism and anti-democratic tendencies were received as proof of their hostile intent. When a Hillary Clinton presidency seemed imminent, Netanyahu was prepared to swallow his pride to win back American Jews, but his heart was never in it.

Trump's election was nothing less than deliverance for Netanyahu, whether it was a result of divine or Russian intervention. Contrary to his critics' doom and gloom warnings about the consequences of his open challenge to Obama, Netanyahu's stars aligned behind him in perfect formation. A brash and impressionable President, a Republican party beholden to Christian evangelicals and Sheldon Adelson in the president's ear - what more could Netanyahu ask for?

Fired up by his triumph, Netanyahu abandoned his intention of mending fences with the Democratic Party and/or its constituent American Jewry. He aligned himself completely and wholeheartedly with Trump and the evangelicals, and vice versa. Thus, it was only a matter of time before Trump would say out loud what Netanyahu and his aides had been whispering about them - and shouting about their counterparts on the Israeli left - for quite some time: The Democrats are now, as Israelis learned from their prime minister long before, "anti-Israel" and "anti-Jewish."

Given his own courtship of white supremacists and manifestations of anti-Semitism - including his December 2015 statements to the Republican Jewish Coalition about the Jewish wish to control presidential candidates with their money, which was a more explicit rendering of Omar's "Benjamins" remark - Trump's attack on the Democrats was outrageous in its sheer hypocrisy and total lack of self-awareness. But it not only conformed to Netanyahu's view of the present, it was also an accurate reflection of what Netanyahu's critics have been saying all along about the future.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Wise people are less lonely. Here's why.: America might be in the throes of a loneliness epidemic, but cultivating wisdom can help. (MATT DAVIS, 27 December, 2018, Big Think)

[T]here was an optimistic finding: The wiser a participant was, the less likely they were to feel the kind of oppressive loneliness that can be so detrimental to one's health. The researchers measured wisdom through six essential aspects: altruism, a sense of fairness, insight, general knowledge of life, the management of emotions, acceptance of divergent values, and decisiveness.

According to the research, it seems that, because they cultivate relationships with themselves as much as they do with others, wise individuals tend to be in good company -- whether or not they are surrounded by friends.

Eric Hoffer: "The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause."

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 AM


Ulysses Grant's Forgotten Fight for Native American Rights (MARY STOCKWELL, JANUARY 7, 2019, What it Means to be American)

The man elected president in 1868--Ulysses S. Grant--was determined to change the way many of his fellow Americans understood citizenship. As he saw it, anyone could become an American, not just people like himself who could trace their ancestry back eight generations to Puritan New England. Grant maintained that the millions of Catholic and Jewish immigrants pouring into the country should be welcomed as American citizens, as should the men, women, and children just set free from slavery during the Civil War. And, at a time when many in the press and public alike called for the extermination of the Indians, he believed every Indian from every tribe should be made a citizen of the United States, too. [...]

Calling American Indians the "original occupants of the land," he promised to pursue any course of action that would lead to their "ultimate citizenship." It was not an idle promise.

That President Grant chose Ely Parker as his Commissioner of Indian Affairs was no surprise to anyone who knew Parker. A descendant of the renowned Seneca chiefs Red Jacket and Handsome Lake, he had been marked for greatness even before birth, when his pregnant mother had dreamt of a rainbow stretching from Tonawanda to the farm of the tribe's Indian agent, which, according to the tribe's dream interpreters, meant that her child would be a peacemaker between his people and the whites.

Parker mastered English in local academies, both on and off the Tonawanda Reserve, and became an avid reader. In 1846, when just 18 years old, he became the official spokesman of his people, who were fighting the U.S. government's efforts to remove them from Tonawanda. He soon traveled with the tribe's leaders to Washington, where he impressed the nation's top politicians, including President James K. Polk. It would take 11 more years of negotiating with the government for Parker to win the right of his people to stay in their ancestral home. During those years, he studied law and even helped argue a case in the Supreme Court on behalf of his tribe, but he was unable to take the bar exam because he was an Indian, so he became an engineer instead. He was overseeing the construction of a customhouse and marine hospital in Galena when he met Ulysses Grant.

When the Civil War broke out, Parker returned to New York and tried unsuccessfully to enlist in the Union Army. Finally, with the help of his friend Grant, who was no longer a failure, but instead a renowned general on the brink of defeating the Confederates at Vicksburg, Parker won an appointment as a military secretary. He first served General John Smith and later Grant himself. From Chattanooga to Appomattox, Parker always could be seen at Grant's side, usually carrying a stack of papers and with an ink bottle tied to a button on his coat. When Lee finally surrendered, it was Ely Parker who wrote down the terms.

The friendship between Grant and Parker strengthened after Grant was appointed General of the Army, a position he held from 1865 to 1869. During these years, Grant often sent Parker, now an adjutant general, to meet with tribes in the Indian Territory and farther west in Montana and Wyoming. Parker listened as tribal leaders described how their country was being overrun by miners, cattlemen, railroad workers, farmers, immigrants from Europe, and freedmen from the South.

Parker reported everything back to Grant and together they worked out the details of a policy with the main goal of citizenship for the Indians. The army would protect Indians on their reservations as they transitioned from their old ways and entered the mainstream of American life, learning how to support themselves through new livelihoods like farming or ranching. It might take a generation or two, but eventually Indians would be able to vote, own businesses, and rely on the protections guaranteed to them in the Constitution.

As president, Grant made Parker his Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and Parker began working to implement the president's plans, appointing dozens of army officers to oversee the superintendencies, agencies, and reservations in the West. Grant and Parker were so certain of the wisdom of their policy that they failed to see how many people opposed it. Congressmen, who had previously rewarded their supporters with jobs in the Indian service, resented the fact that Grant had taken away these plum positions. Many Americans, especially in the West, complained that the president sided with the Indians rather than with his own countrymen.

March 12, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 PM


Support for Trump dwindles among ICE officers (Stephen Dinan, 3/11/19, The Washington Times)

ICE officers who endorsed President Trump in 2016 now say he has failed to follow through on his get-tough promises, saying catch-and-release of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. is not only still happening, but has gone into "overdrive."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers say they're being roped into such mundane tasks as opening the doors on vans to release immigrants already caught by Border Patrol agents. That's dragging the officers from their usual duties of nabbing fugitives, or scouring local prisons and jails for immigrant criminals who lived illegally in the U.S. ready to be deported.

The shell game is all the more "ridiculous," the officers said, because Border Patrol agents could fill out paperwork and open the doors themselves, but the agency's leaders don't want to be part of catch-and-release.

They were promised they wouldn't have to be humane.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Media Uproar Over Netanyahu's 'Nation-State' Comment Reveals A Misunderstanding Of Zionism (JOSH_HAMMER, March 12, 2019, Daily Wire)

In response to a recent question posed by Israeli actress Rotem Sela on her Instagram page about the nature of the Israeli nation-state, Netanyahu responded by saying that "Israel is the nation-state of Jews alone."

Apparently, this rather mundane observation has caused somewhat of a stir for all the usual suspects in the doltish, anti-Israel "international community." Alas, one is forced to wonder whether these same observers would question whether Sweden is the nation-state of Swedes alone despite the presence there of some ethnic Finns, or whether Hungary is the nation-state of Hungarians alone despite the presence there of some ethnic Slovaks.

Or if South Africa was the nation-state of Boers alone?

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


In Newly Unearthed 2006 Radio Clip, Tucker Carlson Fantasized About a Racist Presidential Candidate (MOLLY OLMSTEAD, MARCH 12, 2019, Slate)

CARLSON: [...]I mean, not someone who's like a Klansman or anything, but someone who's totally unbound by P.C. rules, who will just say whatever the hell he wants. ... You know, someone who really will--and everyone claims, "Oh, I say it like it is."

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Trump reportedly told John Kelly to fire Jared and Ivanka because they 'didn't know how to play the game' (The Week, 3/12/19)

This is according to the new book Kushner Inc., in which reporter Vicky Ward describes the president asking Kelly to remove Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner from the White House early on in his tenure as chief of staff, telling him to get his children "back to New York," per The New York Times. The president reportedly fumed that they "didn't know how to play the game" and were generating negative news coverage.

Kelly, the Times writes, told Trump it would "be difficult" to fire them, so instead, the two came up with another solution: They would simply "make life difficult enough to force the pair to offer their resignations."

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Colcannon (Elise Bauer, 3/12/19)


4 russet potatoes (2 to 2 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into large chunks
5 to 6 Tbsp unsalted butter (with more butter for serving)
3 lightly packed cups of chopped kale, cabbage, chard, or other leafy green
3 green onions (including the green onion greens), minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup milk or cream


1 Boil the potatoes: Put the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, and bring to a boil.

Boil until the potatoes are fork tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain in a colander.

2 Cook the greens and the green onions with butter: Return the pot to the stove and set over medium-high heat. Melt the butter in the pot and once it's hot, add the greens.

Cook the greens for 3-4 minutes, or until they are wilted and have given off some of their water.

Add the green onions and cook 1 minute more.

3 Mash the potatoes with milk or cream and greens: Pour in the milk or cream, mix well, and add the potatoes. Reduce the heat to medium.

Use a fork or potato masher and mash the potatoes, mixing them up with the greens.

Add salt to taste and serve hot, with a knob of butter in the center.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Adam Smith, Loneliness, and the Limits of Mainstream Economics (Russ Roberts, Mar 11, 2019, Medium)

The fundamental question Smith asks in The Theory of Moral Sentiments is why, given that we are self-interested (not selfish, self-interested) do we ever make sacrifices for others? Why do we do acts of kindness and generosity at our own expense?

His answer is that we have a vision of what is honorable and we try to live up to it. That vision comes from an awareness that when I step outside myself, I recognize that I have no claim to be better than anyone else. To act as if I am is selfish and dishonorable.

Smith argues that we want the respect of those around us and we want to earn that respect honestly by how we actually behave rather than how we are perceived. We want our true self to be the source of our reputation. A single sentence sums up Smith's view of our motivation:

Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.

By loved, Smith didn't just mean romantic love or deep friendship. He meant honored, respected, praised, paid attention to. We want to matter in the eyes of others. By lovely, Smith meant worthy of honor, worthy of respect, praiseworthy. We naturally desire to be loved and lovely -- we're hardwired that way. What Smith is saying is that we care deeply about not only being respected and praised -- that Smith takes as a given. But we also want to earn that respect and praise honestly, by actually being lovely.

Smith makes a bolder claim that this urge for respect from others is the source of our well-being. He writes:

The chief part of human happiness arises from the consciousness of being loved.

So consider the following. If Smith is right and if the the chief part of human happiness arises from the consciousness of being beloved, then what happens to people who are not beloved, not loved, not respected, not honored? What happens to people who no one pays attention to, people who struggle to find respect, honor, love? What happens to people who feel as if they do not matter?

Smith's answer is that we perceive God observing us.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Tucker Carlson Cries About 'Twitter Mob' Just as New Clip Surfaces With Him Calling Iraqis 'Monkeys' and Worse (Justin Baragona, 03.11.19 , Daily Beast)

In one new clip from 2006, he said it wasn't worth invading Iraq because it's "a crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate primitive monkeys." Carlson also noted that Afghanistan is "never going to be a civilized country because the people aren't civilized."

Later that same year, he said "I just have zero sympathy for them or their culture. A culture where people just don't use toilet paper or forks." He continued: "They can just shut the f[***] up and obey, is my view."

...for exactly as long as it involves killing Muslims, then turns against it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Why I remain a Never Trumper, and what it means (Quin Hillyer, March 11, 2019 , Washington Examiner)

I will not vote for Trump, because I can never vote for a virulent bigot. After much reflection, I personally believe Trump to be just that. This is a personal belief that I will not defend here and now, but it's not something I could make myself ignore, even if I wanted to.

I will not vote for Trump because I believe that while nobody is anywhere near perfect, good character is important, especially in the Oval Office, as an example for America's youth. I can never vote for somebody with character beneath a certain baseline level. I believe Trump to be well below that level. I also firmly believe he is corrupt, with a business past just as dicey as the grifting that made most of us conservatives investigate and castigate the Clintons in the 1990s.

I can't vote for Trump because I believe, in the long term, he is doing more harm to conservatism and his country than the good accomplished by some of his administration's temporary policy achievements. (I also credit him for far fewer achievements than his supporters do.) I believe he is doing significant harm to our international standing and to important international alliances, that his trade policies are a threat to both the American and world economies, that his obvious admiration for authoritarian "strong men" is extremely worrisome, that his particular admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin is dangerous, that his utter diminution of international human rights runs counter to American values and interests, and that his obsession with the only-somewhat-important issue of immigration distracts attention from far more serious issues facing this country, such as debt and cultural rot. [...]

Trump lies constantly, extravagantly, incontinently. He undermines faith in American institutions. He tweets out quotes from Mussolini, recklessly slings around the word "treason" and uses Stalinist language such as "enemies of the people," claims executive powers wildly beyond the tenor and intent of the Constitution, promotes destabilizing conspiracy theories, and encourages a societally hazardous cult of personality.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Anti-Semitism and Orthodoxy in the Age of Trump: How religious Judaism helps shield the American president's disparagement of globalism, cosmopolitanism, and other features of progressive secular Jewry from claims of anti-Semitism (Eliyahu Stern, March 12, 2019 , The Tablet)

In response to the Pittsburgh massacre, in which Robert Gregory Bowers gunned down 11 Jews praying in the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, all major Orthodox organizations condemned the attack in the clearest possible terms, but none was prepared to denounce the stated cause for the violence: white nationalism and the demonization of Jews as avatars for progressive and left-wing politics.

Why would the very group that was most noticeably targeted by white nationalism in the 20th century be the most reluctant to condemn it today? Some point to President Donald Trump and his allies' support for Israel's right-wing government, which itself has made common cause with some European anti-Semitic nationalist movements. Others such as the historian David Henkin claim that many of Trump's Orthodox supporters "are the descendants (literally, in many cases) of Jews to whom the white nationalism of the post-1965 Republican Party was already resonating 30 or 40 years ago in debates about affirmative action, segregation, colonialism, and law enforcement." Both theories, however, overlook Orthodoxy's own position on anti-Semitism and the crucible in which it was formed.

Orthodoxy's position on anti-Semitism was first theorized in the interwar period when Central and Eastern European rabbis and laypeople founded the first Orthodox political party, Agudath Israel. Like all political parties operating on the continent at the time, the Orthodox quickly found themselves choosing between the rock of Stalin on the left, and the hard place of Hitler on the right. Whereas Stalin posed a threat to Jews' religious institutions and observances, Hitler's target was Jews themselves and their involvement in German political and economic life.

The Orthodox, however, operated under the illusion that Hitler's wrath was directed only at certain kinds of Jews and that their own prohibitions against intermarriage and commitments to cultural difference could persuade the German chancellor that they were to be trusted allies. Stalin would destroy Orthodoxy, but Hitler, they figured, would only be bothered by those Jews who were Communists or Marxists. Many in the Orthodox community surmised that Jews who held fast to their spiritual heritage would pose no threat to Nazi Germany and it was therefore Stalin who was to be feared.

German Orthodox leaders directly appealed to the German chancellor (Hitler), arguing in 1933 that "Marxist materialism and Communist atheism share not the least in common with the spirit of the positive Jewish religious tradition, as handed down through Orthodox teachings obligatory on the Jewish People. ... We have," they recalled, "been at war against this religious attitude." Orthodox leaders sought to find common ground with Hitler by demonstrating their own virulent hatred for left-wing and progressive Jews. They proclaimed: "We have always combated the corrosive spirit of materialism with religious idealism."

In their attempt to curry favor with Hitler, Orthodox leaders not only stressed their own loyalty to the German people, but went out of their way to stress the structural similarities between Hitler's position. "We seek a Lebensraum within the Lebensraum of the German people," they maintained. [...]

Where Orthodoxy's position was unique, however, is the way in which it identified left-wing politics as a cancer from within the Jewish collective, something internal to Judaism itself. The fight against Marxism and a materialist theory of the world was not only to be waged against gentiles, but first and foremost against other Jews who played integral roles in founding these new movements.

Wasserman identified Judaism's primary present-day enemies as Jews who held leadership positions in the left; those he considered to be descendants of both the biblical "mixed multitude" as well as the tribe of Amalek. The "mixed multitude" referred to those Egyptians that followed Israelites when they left Egypt only to cajole them into worshiping the Golden Calf in the desert. Amalek was the first group to attack the Israelites in the desert; its descendants were deserving of death by biblical mandate. Wasserman employed the category of Amalek to describe leaders of the Yevsektsiya, the Jewish section of the Communist Party, as well as Zionists residing in Palestine (most of whom were then aligned with the left) and around the world. He advised his flock "to physically fight against them with arms. To prepare oneself to kill." [...]

Whereas the anti-Semite described the Jew as an egoist who hoarded goods and resources, the Jewish materialist claimed that Judaism promoted the fair and equal distribution of resources in society. Whereas the anti-Semite claimed that the Jew was a lesser race, the Jewish materialists argued that Jews were a distinct ethnic group. [...]

Orthodoxy's vigilance in combating anti-Judaism mirrors the Janus-faced relationship of the American Christian right's stance toward Jews. It is precisely their staunch support for certain kinds of Jews and certain forms of Judaism that makes possible their attacks against, or at the very least disregard for, defending the rights of other types of Jews. Their assaults against globalists, progressives, and boundary-crossers are not, they claim, directed at Jews, because real Jews also oppose globalists, progressives, and subversives. If progressive Jews are not really Jews and if left-wing Jewish values are not really authentically Jewish, then it follows that opposing these types and values does not indicate any particular anti-Jewish animus.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


New York attorney general is investigating Trump projects: NY Times (Reuters, 3/12/19) 

The New York attorney general's office is looking into ties between Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank and several Trump Organization projects, the New York Times reported late Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


The Roman Roads of Spain & Portugal Visualized as a Subway Map: Ancient History Meets Modern Graphic Design (Open Culture, 3/12/19)

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Thousands demand quick change in Algeria after Bouteflika concessions (Lamine Chikhi, 3/12/19, Reuters) 

Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi and protest groups will join a conference planning Algeria's future, government and political sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and U.N. special envoy, is expected to chair the conference that will oversee the transition, draft a new constitution and set the date for elections, a government source said.

Crowds who came back onto the streets on Tuesday demanded quicker action.

"The whole system must disappear immediately. Our battle will continue," 25-year-old student Noureddine Habi said in central Algiers as others chanted: "We want this system to go".

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Atlanta Fed trims U.S. GDP growth view to 0.2 pct (Reuters, 3/11/19) 

The U.S. economy is expanding at a 0.2 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, based on January data on domestic retail sales, the Atlanta Federal Reserve's GDPNow forecast model showed on Monday.

The point of Donald's policies is to make America so unattractive that no one will want to move here.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


In first, settler leader to address upcoming AIPAC conference (RAPHAEL AHREN, 3/12/19, Times of Israel)

A senior leader of the Yesha Council is set to appear at the upcoming AIPAC Policy Conference, marking the first time a representative of the settlement umbrella organization has been invited to the powerful lobby's annual summit.

Oded Revivi, the Yesha Council's chief foreign envoy, is scheduled to take part in a panel discussion in one of the conference's side events, as opposed to the main stage, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the 18,000 registered participants. [...]

[R]evivi, who is also the mayor of the West Bank town of Efrat, said it was "not quite true" that AIPAC supports a two-state solution.

"When you get into discussions with them, they're not that clear. They tend to say that what's on the website is not really such a clear-cut statement," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Rembrandt in the Blood: An Obsessive Aristocrat, Rediscovered Paintings and an Art-World Feud: No one had spotted a new painting by the Dutch master for four decades -- until the scion of a storied Amsterdam family found two. (Russell Shorto, Feb. 27, 2019, NY Times Magazine)

The discovery that upended Jan Six's life occurred one day in November 2016. Six is a 40-year-old Dutch art dealer based in Amsterdam, who attracted worldwide attention last year with the news that he had unearthed a previously unknown painting by Rembrandt, the most revered of Dutch masters -- the first unknown Rembrandt to come to light in 42 years. The find didn't come about from scouring remote churches or picking through the attics of European country houses, but rather, as Six described it to me last May, while he was going through his mail. He had just taken his two small children to school (in true Dutch fashion, by bicycle: one seated between the handlebars and the other in back). The typical weather for the season, raw wind and spitting rain, would never deter a real Amsterdammer from mounting his bike -- and Six's roots in the city go about as deep as possible -- but by the time he arrived at his office, he was feeling the effects. Waterkoud ("water cold") is the Dutch word for the chilly dampness of the Low Countries that seeps into the bones.

The antidote to that feeling is encompassed in another word. Gezelligheid, loosely translated as coziness, is the condition people in the Netherlands strive for in the interiors of their homes. It's often what's being depicted and celebrated in old-master canvases from the Golden Age of the 17th century, the era that is Six's specialty: warm domestic scenes, merry companies hoisting tankards, still lifes of tables laden with food. Six's office, on the ground floor of a building on the Herengracht, one of the city's main canals -- a canal that Rembrandt himself used to stroll -- has its share of gezelligheid. The building dates from the early 1600s. Ancient beams cross the ceiling. The views out of the windows are of bicyclists racing by and the evocative, ever-somber surface of the canal reflecting the gabled facades of the buildings on the opposite side.

Six made coffee that morning, then sat down to a stack of mail. He dispensed with the bills and other annoyances first so as to settle into the catalogs of coming art auctions. One was for a December event at Christie's in London. He skimmed it quickly, almost dismissively; it was for the daytime sale, which featured lesser objects. The top paintings and sculptures are always reserved for the evening.

And then, he told me, he stopped cold. The slightly miscolored photograph in the catalog was a portrait of a rather dazed-looking young gentleman with a lace collar and a proto-Led Zeppelin coif. What first spoke to Six was the gaze of the subject (whose identity remains unknown): "He pierces the image," he said. Six felt that he had seen the work before, but after tearing through his library in search of it, he came to believe it wasn't the actual image that struck him as familiar but the sum of all the telltale features of an early Rembrandt. These include, in Six's estimation, the humanness of that gaze, a "rounded" brush stroke and a willingness to employ different painting styles within the same work.

The painting dated from somewhere between 1633 and 1635. The giveaway was the particular type of lace collar, which was the height of fashion in that brief span and then quickly went out of style. What especially excited Six was not just that Christie's had failed to see that the painting was most likely from the hand of the master, but also that the auction house had labeled it "circle of Rembrandt" -- i.e., from a follower. "You see the problem, right?" he asked me. I was puzzling for the solution to the riddle when he blurted it out: "Rembrandt wasn't famous yet in the early 1630s, so there was no circle. I knew right away Christie's had screwed up."

From there, Six was a bloodhound on the trail. He learned that the painting's provenance went back to Sir Richard Neave, an English merchant of the late 1700s who built a serious art collection, which included works by Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable; the painting had stayed in the same family for six generations. This fit: It made sense that a painting by a top-tier artist would have attracted a prominent collector.

Six was so excited that he jumped on his bike and cycled a short distance across central Amsterdam to the home of Ernst van de Wetering, universally renowned as a top authority on Rembrandt; still breathless, Six thrust a photocopy of the picture at him. As befits a person whose opinion is weighted with import, van de Wetering typically reacts with reserve on first seeing an image, but he was intrigued. "It looked like a Rembrandt, but it was completely new to me," van de Wetering told me later. Six cycled back home and bought a plane ticket.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 AM


How Should Self-Driving Cars Choose Who Not to Kill?: A popular MIT quiz asked ordinary people to make ethical judgments for machines (MORGAN MEAKER, Feb 15, 2019, Medium)

In an earlier study, you found that people thought an autonomous vehicle should protect the greater number of people, even if that meant sacrificing its passengers. But they also said they wouldn't buy an autonomous car programmed to act this way. What does this tell us?

Azim Shariff: People recognize it is more ethically responsible to save more lives. But people are self-interested, and it might be a hard sell to do what's ethical. When Mercedes-Benz said that if they could only save one person, they would save the driver and not the pedestrian, public outrage made them retract that statement. This demonstrates an interesting dilemma for car companies. If you say your car would preference the passenger, there will be public outrage. If you decide to treat all life equally but imperil the life of the person who bought the car, you might actually take a hit to your bottom line, people might not buy that car. From the manufacturers we've talked to, they want the decision taken out of their hands and they want regulation.

...where you just release the wheel so as to have no moral culpability for the results.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


NONE WHO HAVE PLAYED IT ARE WELL (PICO IYER, 10/30/95, Sports Illustrated)

The Battle of Waterloo may have been won on that hallowed turf,
but minds, limbs and nerves are lost there every year. For Eton
fields a riot of homegrown sports played nowhere else in the
world yet celebrated everywhere for their mad brutality. Of all
these curious traditions, the most peculiar and the oldest is
the Wall Game. Few who have seen it are alive, and none who have
played it are well. During my five years at Eton, I built a
career at the Wall that was glorious though, in its way,
typical: I never scored a goal; I never saw a goal scored; and
in terrible fact, I never set eyes, let alone feet, on the ball.

For all that, the Wall Game has a breathtaking simplicity. A
soiled and soggy ball is placed along the eponymous Wall, a
278-year-old structure 11 feet high and roughly 355 feet long. A
small boy sits, henlike, on top of the soccer-style ball. About
15 of the game's other 19 players--called seconds, walls and
longs--pile on top of the small boy, forming a rugbylike scrum
known with killing aptness as the bully (rugby, you may recall,
was devised at another of England's high schools). Then, after a
signal from the umpire (usually a teacher in mufti), the boys
push, shove and tackle one another, while the bully shakes
around in a many-legged frenzy that, as one appreciative former
housemaster put it, resembles the "death throes of some
monstrous crab." After 30 minutes of this fun the players change
ends and blearily set about knocking heads for another 30
minutes. The Wall Game, they say, is an acquired taste.

Yet there is to the madness a demented method. At the northern
end of the playing area (a strip of grass 15 feet wide running
along the redbrick Wall) a tiny black door that opens onto a
private garden serves as a goal; its counterpart at the southern
end is the trunk of an ancient elm. In between pummeling
princelings and potentates, the players in the bully try to move
toward the goal by clutching the ball between their ankles and
hopping through the mess of enemy forces, all the while keeping
the ball in contact with the Wall. This is not much harder than
balancing an egg on one's nose while crawling through the
trenches of Verdun. Far behind the bully, the other two players
on each team stand around idly, painting their fingernails. One
is called a flying man or fly. Both, however, might easily be
mistaken for spectators. If the ball makes one of its biennial
appearances outside the bully, the job of these "behinds" is to
lumber up to it and kick it toward the opponents' goal. This
happens with the frequency of lunar eclipses.

Scoring is therefore virtually impossible. But the beauty of the
Wall Game is that it makes a mockery of the very notions of
victory and defeat. Since kicking an unseen ball into a tiny
target from 178 feet away is beyond the reach of all mankind,
some allowances are made. If one player close to the opposing
goal lifts the ball up the Wall with his feet (as if juggling a
soccer ball) and a colleague touches it while crying, "Got it!"
their team is allowed to pick up the ball and fling it goalward.
But should that throw be touched by any of the 10 players
defending the unreachable target, it does not count as a
goal--even if by some miracle it hits the target. Scoring by
this method is, therefore, also impossible. In desperation some
benign lunatics declared that the very attempt to make a "shy at
goal" would count for a point. Spurred by this, perhaps, the
Wall Game recently witnessed an offensive explosion: two goals
in the space of 27 years. And Americans think soccer is a snooze!

March 11, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


Cheney tells Pence Trump's foreign policy is 'more like Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan' (The Week, 3/11/19)

A person who attended the event gave the Post a transcript of the discussion, which started off with pleasantries, before Cheney began pressing Pence on foreign policy, saying the administration "looks a lot more like Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan."

Cheney relayed several concerns, telling Pence he was alarmed by Trump not agreeing with intelligence reports, canceling military exercises with South Korea, his desire to withdraw troops from Syria, and his hard line approach to NATO allies, the Post reports. It got tense at times, a person at the forum told the Post, and the crowd could be heard murmuring. 

If Donald were as internationalist as President Obama we'd be in the TPP, trading with Iran and the economy would not be slowing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


LePage suggests Democrats' money comes mostly from Jews (Associated Press, 3/11/19)

Former Gov. Paul LePage suggested Monday that the Democratic Party's money comes mostly from Jewish people.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Americans' Support for Immigration Is at a Record High. There's No Need to Appease Fascists.: Last year, only 24 percent of Americans supported cutting legal immigration, down from 40 percent in 2006. (NOAH LANARD, MARCH 11, 2019, Mother Jones)

In 1995, the British immigrant turned American white nationalist Peter Brimelow began his book Alien Nation with an usual argument: Immigration to the United States was Adolf Hitler's "posthumous revenge" on America because "mass immigration" was transforming and potentially destroying the "American nation." David Frum, now a staff writer for The Atlantic and a prominent #NeverTrump Republican, blurbed Brimelow's book, calling it a "formidable work." Since then, Americans have become dramatically more supportive of immigration. Frum, evidently, has not.

On Monday, The Atlantic published a cover story in which Frum calls for a radical cut to legal immigration in the name of promoting assimilation and warding off fascism. Frum cites the election of Donald Trump as evidence of a widespread backlash to immigration. He argues that Americans feel threatened by rising levels of immigration and will turn to more right-wing extremists like Trump unless Washington implements new policies that sharply reduce immigration. "Many Americans feel that the country is falling short of its promises of equal opportunity and equal respect," he writes. "Levels of immigration that are too high only enhance the difficulty of living up to those promises." But do Americans actually think there's too much immigration? The answer, according to polling data, is a resounding no.

Last year, only 24 percent of Americans supported cutting legal immigration, down from 40 percent in 2006, according to data provided to Mother Jones by the Pew Research Center. Among Republicans without a college degree, the heart of Trump's base, 59 percent say legal immigration should be increased or kept at the present level. 

The Muslims are coming!

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Algeria's Bouteflika will not run for a fifth term (Reuters, 3/11/19) 

Tens of thousands of people from all social classes have been demonstrating almost daily against Bouteflika's decision to stand in the election, rejecting a stale political system dominated by veterans of an independence war against France that ended in 1962. Bouteflika has ruled for 20 years.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


How Not to Fuel Anti-Semitism When Discussing Israel (Bill Scher, March 11, 2019, RCP)

In Omar's telling, she is not treating pro-Israel lobby groups any differently than she treats other lobby groups. She is criticizing them all for pressuring politicians to put the special interest ahead of the public interest.

The narrative that well-financed donors and special interest lobbies are what thwart the public will is deeply embedded in our discourse. Just as the left blames Big Oil for our lack of action on climate change, so does the right blame Big Labor for resistance to reform of public schools and government bureaucracies. [...]

What Omar and her defenders chafe at, in Omar's words, is accusations of anti-Semitism that are "designed to end the debate." But it is not hard to construct arguments critical of Israeli government policies that do not go near anti-Semitic tropes; there's nothing bigoted about criticizing the Israeli government's settlement policies or its efforts to undermine the Iran nuclear deal. The rhetoric only gets uncomfortably conspiratorial when discussing pro-Israel lobbyist influence, and assuming the underlying motives of those lobbyists.

The way to avoid crossing the line into anti-Semitism is to first conduct a thorough assessment of whether unethical lobbyist influence really is distorting the behavior of our government. Then, if so proven, lay out a carefully crafted case that can hold up to scrutiny. If a robust and productive debate about Israeli policies is the objective, then consider whether that objective will be achieved with cheap shots about foreign "allegiance" and clap-back tweets about "the Benjamins," or with hard facts.

Both the left and the right have a tendency to scapegoat special interest influence as a useful foil for which to galvanize support, and as an excuse to rationalize any difficulty in earning sufficient support. But the obstacles to reform are often more complicated than our preferred pat narratives would suggest, and understanding the complexity is necessary to develop successful strategies. Just because we are comfortable being simplistic when discussing most political issues, that's no reason to do so on a subject where simplicity is oxygen for hate.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM

Slow Cooker Guinness Beef Stew Recipe (Elise Bauer, 3/11/19, Simply Recipes)


2 Tbsp butter
2 pounds (900 g) well marbled chuck beef roast, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups chopped onion (about 1 large onion)
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 pint (16 ounces, 475 ml) Guinness extra stout (make sure you use extra stout and not draught)
3 cups (700 ml) beef broth
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
3 to 4 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 pound (280 g) celery root, potatoes, or very young turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
2 teaspoons dried thyme
4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Special equipment:
6-quart or larger slow cooker

1 Brown the beef, transfer to slow cooker: Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Brown the beef in the butter, starting with the fattiest pieces of meat, fat side down in the pan. This will allow some beef fat to render out. Work in batches as to not crowd the pan.

Sprinkle salt over the beef as it browns. Once browned on all sides, transfer the beef pieces into a 6-quart or larger slow cooker.

2 Sauté onions and celery, transfer to slow cooker: Add the onions and celery to the pan in which you just browned the beef. Sauté the onions and celery until they begin to brown at the edges, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and mix well. Cook for a minute or two, then add a little of the Guinness, enough to make it easier for you to scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the celery and onions into the slow cooker.

3 Add Guinness, broth, root vegetables, thyme, salt: Add the rest of the Guinness, the beef broth, carrots, parsnips, celery root, and thyme to the slow cooker. Add two teaspoons of salt.

4 Cook in slow cooker: Cover and cook on "high" for 4 hours, or "low" for 8 hours. When done, add more salt to taste. If you want, sprinkle with fresh parsley to serve.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Why Trump Should Fear Nikki Haley (Steve Chapman, March 10, 2019, National Memo)

Her assets are hard to overstate. She's an uncompromising Reaganite who thrilled hawks with her aggressive rhetoric at the U.N. Critical of Trump in the primaries, she was a loyal soldier after he won. She somehow managed to stay in his good graces and depart the administration with her reputation intact, a feat akin to staying dry while swimming in a rainstorm.

Haley has not been so rash as to challenge any important article of right-wing dogma. As governor of South Carolina, Haley got a 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association, won the endorsement of the anti-tax Club for Growth PAC and got a score of zero from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Compared with Trump, she is more closely aligned with congressional Republicans on policy toward Russia, NATO and Saudi Arabia. If she were to run against him, she would draw on a large stock of conservative goodwill.

Could she win? Given today's conditions, no. But conditions are likely to get worse for Trump, not better. Republicans would be strongly reluctant to abandon him -- unless he looked like a sure loser and they had an alluring alternative at hand. Haley would be exactly that.

She might be the candidate Democrats would least like to run against. She would be more than capable of uniting the GOP. But as a first-generation Indian-American woman who removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds, she would also be relatively well-positioned to appeal to some independents who find Trump distasteful, if not repulsive.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


A Dangerous Conflation of Terms: "Anti-Israel" and "Anti-Semitic" (Joseph Mussomeli, 3/11/19, Imaginative Conservative)

 I remain a staunch supporter of the Israeli state; indeed, more than supporting the state as such, I firmly believe in the idea of Israel as a safe-haven and refuge for all times for a people who have been appallingly oppressed for centuries. I would go even further to say that there remains an outrageous double standard regarding Israel-the plain truth is we expect far more in terms of freedom and democracy from Israel than we do from any of our other Middle Eastern allies. 

Likewise, we require more of South Korea than of North, yet no one considers this anti-Koreanism.  The notion that certain peoples need not meet the universalist standards of the Declaration is bigotry.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


We Have a Better Story (REGIS NICOLL, 3/11/19, Crisis)

I once heard Oxford theologian Alister McGrath suggest that instead of leading with logic and argument to prove Christianity true, we lead with a story to make people wish it were true--a story that appeals not only to reason, but the imagination. In the same vein, Bishop Robert Barron, in his 2017 Erasmus Lecture, endorses the approach of Hans Urs von Balthasar who recommended that we lead with the beautiful over the true and good. In either case, we have a story that is better than the other side and we need to tell it in a way that is more compelling.

I'm reminded what someone once said about evangelism: the job of the evangelist is not to give people a drink or even lead them to water; it's to make them thirsty. Of course, that requires knowing people enough to know what will trigger that thirst.

Given that all is faith, the choice of faiths is aesthetic.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


The story of the Florida spa owner selling Chinese citizens access to Trump is only getting weirder (The Week, 3/11/19)

Li (Cindy) Yang, a Florida Chinese-American entrepreneur who founded (then sold) the massage parlor where Patriots owner Robert Kraft was allegedly caught paying for sex, didn't just watch the Super Bowl with President Trump last month. She also started a consulting business in 2017 offering Chinese business executives access to Trump, including at his private Mar-a-Lago club, Mother Jones reported Saturday. On Sunday, Mother Jones said Yang is also an officer in local chapters of two clubs with ties to China's Communist government.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


$15 Minimum Wage Laws Are Wiping Out Jobs in New York and Illinois (Hans Bader, 3/10/19, FEE)

Big minimum wage hikes wipe out a lot of jobs. Illinois recently enacted a $15 minimum wage, a large increase in the minimum wage that will be phased in over several years. And businesses are already announcing plans to close up, move out of the state, or curb their expansion in the state. The Daily Gazette and Sauk Valley Media provide the example of Hopper's Poppers:

After a little more than 2 years downtown, Hopper's Poppers - the business, and the building it's in - are being put up for sale, the owner said. Ryan Hopper also closed his Sycamore shop this week, citing Gov. J.B. Pritzker's approval of a statewide $15 minimum wage increase. Three months ago, he and his wife Stephanie were considering adding a third location in Roscoe, which would have brought him closer to his five-location goal. But he said the the minimum wage hike and Illinois's notoriously high property taxes solidified the decision for his family to continue their business ventures outside Illinois.

Jobs are being lost in New York, too. New York City experienced its worst decline in restaurant jobs since 9/11 after a $15 minimum wage there was enacted. The city saw its sharpest fall in restaurant employment in nearly 20 years. Its 40% increase in the minimum wage was phased in over a two-year period, but substantial job losses are already evident.

The law is just a Neoconomic means of taxing business into automating to replace human labor. Of course it works.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


3 cities in the U.S. have ended chronic homelessness: Here's how they did it (ADELE PETERS, 3/11/19, Co.Exist)

Communities in the program use a coordinated approach. Bergen County, New Jersey, with a population of nearly 1 million, was the first in the country to end chronic homelessness, reaching the goal in 2017. (Six months earlier, it had also ended veteran homelessness.) The county created a "command center" that brought together various organizations working on homelessness, and then began using real-time data about each person experiencing homelessness so that everyone could work together to get them housed. Like many places, Bergen County also committed to a "housing first" approach, meaning that people move into permanent housing as a first step before also getting help with finding a job, mental healthcare, or other issues. The data revealed trends, like the fact that their population of those who were chronically homeless-homeless for more than a year-was growing because people were sitting on a waiting list for so long that they were passing the one-year threshold. The county was able to begin prioritizing those who were close the one-year mark to get them into housing faster; now, no one has "aged in" to chronic homelessness for months.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Algeria judges refuse to oversee vote if Bouteflika participates (Lamine Chikhi, 3/11/19, Reuters) 

More than 1,000 judges said they would refuse to oversee Algeria's election next month if President Abdelaziz Bouteflika contests it, in one of the biggest blows to the ailing leader since the start of protests now in their third week.

In a statement on Sunday, the judges added that they were forming a new association "to restore the gift of justice". Bouteflika returned to Algeria on Sunday after undergoing medical treatment in Switzerland.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


For Netanyahu, all Israelis are equal, but some are more equal than others (RAPHAEL AHREN, 3/12/19, Times of Israel)

Last July, a few days after the controversial Jewish Nation-State bill was voted into law, the Jerusalem Report magazine fired its longtime cartoonist Avi Katz for drawing the legislation's champions as pigs from George Orwell's 1945 classic "Animal Farm."

Above the illustration, Katz wrote the book's most famous line, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."

One can argue over whether it's ever appropriate to draw Jews as pigs. But in Orwell's novel, they represent a corrupt ruling class claiming that all animals have the same rights when really they don't, and that was clearly the point Katz wanted to make.

Comments Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made over the weekend about the law suggest that Katz's illustration was spot-on, with the premier's explanation of what the legislation means regarding equality reflecting that of the pigs in "Animal Farm."

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


The Green New Deal? It's Already Happening in Our Communities (Steven Pedigo & Abigail Sindzinski, 3/11/19, Governing)

These efforts extend beyond progressive hubs. Cities and mayors that have committed to the 100 percent renewable goal include Atlanta, Evanston, Ill., Fayetteville, Ark., and St. Petersburg, Fla. Among places that have already achieved that goal through wind and solar energy are Georgetown, Texas, Greensburg, Kan., and Rock Port, Mo.

At the state level, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Vermont are among those that have committed to using at least 50 percent renewables by 2030. New Jersey's goals are on a par with California's: Through an executive order signed last year by Gov. Phil Murphy, the state will aim to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2050. The state is poised to bolster and revamp its solar-energy and offshore-wind credits systems, and the governor also signed into law a nuclear-subsidy bill that supports the continued use of that energy source.

Though renewable and clean energy are crucial aspects of efforts to reduce global warming, there are other important components to combating the effects of climate change. In response to already increasing extreme weather, a number of cities are proactively addressing development through resilience planning. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, for example, Houston has been rethinking development: The city is updating rules for building in flood-prone areas and planning new resilience-focused infrastructure, such as a reservoir and coastal storm barrier. Houstoun is a part of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities program, created to implement a strategy around climate, social and economic issues.

Minnesota and its cities are also at the forefront, particularly on two crucial areas: transportation and urban planning. The state's Department of Transportation has set a goal of boosting the number of electric vehicles on its roads from the current 6,000 to 200,000 by 2030, and the Twin Cities are building on public transit with new and expanding light rail. Meanwhile, the impressive Minneapolis 2040 Plan promotes substantive rezoning across the city to create denser development. New and existing buildings will be retrofitted or redesigned, and the city will emphasize an array of transportation alternatives including incentives for electric-vehicle charging stations. is already on the glide path to solution.

It's 2050 And This Is How We Stopped Climate Change (Dan Charles, 3/11/19, NPR: MOrning Edition)

(Editor's note: Each story has two sections, the first reflecting the present and the second imagining the world of 2050.)

2019: I went looking for people who've mapped out this world without greenhouse emissions. I found them in Silicon Valley.

Sila Kiliccote is an engineer. The back deck of her house, high up in the hills, overlooks Cupertino. Apple's circular headquarters is hidden in the morning mist. It's a long way from Istanbul, in Turkey, where she grew up; a great place to conjure up future worlds.

"Maybe you'd like some coffee?" Kilicotte says.

Her coffee machine is powered by solar panels on the roof. So is her laptop and her wifi.

"Everything runs on electricity in this house," she says.

This is the foundation of a zero-carbon world: Electricity that comes from clean sources, mainly the sun and the wind, cheap and increasingly abundant.

Today, it powers this house; tomorrow, it could drive the world.

Last year, Kiliccotte quit her job at Stanford University and launched a startup company, eIQ Mobility, helping companies replace their fleets of vehicles, such as delivery vans, with electric-powered versions.

"In order to have impact, timely impact, I figured that I need to leave research and focus on impactful things that I want to do. And fast," she says.

It has to happen really fast. Last year, the world's climate scientists put out a report showing what it will take to limit global warming to 1.5 °C by the end of this century, averting the worst consequences of climate change. It requires bringing the globe's net greenhouse emissions down to zero by 2050.

It's a giant leap for humankind.

So Sila Kiliccotte and I take that leap. Sitting in her kitchen, with solar panels overhead and an electric car parked outside, we pretend that it's happened. It's 2050 and we've stopped climate change.

"Any sense of how we did it?" I ask her.

She pauses. "Yes," she says.

2050: The first step was electric cars. That was actually pretty easy.

"By 2025, battery technology got cheaper," she says. Electric cars were no longer more expensive. "At that point there was a massive shift to electric vehicles, because they were quieter, and cleaner, and [required] less maintenance. No oil change! Yippee! You know?"

Heating and cooling in homes and office buildings have gone electric, too. Gas-burning furnaces have been replaced with electric-powered like heat pumps.

We needed more electricity to power all this right when we were shutting down power plants that burned coal and gas. It took a massive increase in power from solar and wind farms. They now cover million of acres in the U.S., ten times more land than they did in 2020. Huge electrical transmission lines share electricity between North and South America. Europe is connected to vast solar installations in the Sahara desert -- which means that sub-Saharan Africa also has access to cheap power.

"It just changed Africa," Kiliccote says. "It actually fueled the economies of Africa."

We now store electricity so that it's always there when we need it. With batteries, of course, but in lots of other ways, too. For instance, cities are using electricity to heat and chill massive tanks of water, which then heat or cool buildings at any hour of the day or night.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Former Gillibrand aide resigned in protest over handling of sex harassment claims (ALEX THOMPSON and DANIEL STRAUSS 03/11/2019, Politico)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one of the most outspoken advocates of the #MeToo movement who has made fighting sexual misconduct a centerpiece of her presidential campaign, spent last summer pressing legislators to update Congress' "broken" system of handling sexual harassment.

At the same time, a mid-20s female aide to Gillibrand resigned in protest over the handling of her sexual harassment complaint by Gillibrand's office, and criticized the senator for failing to abide by her own public standards.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


The blind spot: It's tempting to think science gives a God's-eye view of reality. But we forget the place of human experience at our peril (Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, Evan Thompson,  1/08/19, Aeon)

Behind the Blind Spot sits the belief that physical reality has absolute primacy in human knowledge, a view that can be called scientific materialism. In philosophical terms, it combines scientific objectivism (science tells us about the real, mind-independent world) and physicalism (science tells us that physical reality is all there is). Elementary particles, moments in time, genes, the brain - all these things are assumed to be fundamentally real. By contrast, experience, awareness and consciousness are taken to be secondary. The scientific task becomes about figuring out how to reduce them to something physical, such as the behaviour of neural networks, the architecture of computational systems, or some measure of information.

This framework faces two intractable problems. The first concerns scientific objectivism. We never encounter physical reality outside of our observations of it. Elementary particles, time, genes and the brain are manifest to us only through our measurements, models and manipulations. Their presence is always based on scientific investigations, which occur only in the field of our experience.

This doesn't mean that scientific knowledge is arbitrary, or a mere projection of our own minds. On the contrary, some models and methods of investigation work much better than others, and we can test this. But these tests never give us nature as it is in itself, outside our ways of seeing and acting on things. Experience is just as fundamental to scientific knowledge as the physical reality it reveals.

The second problem concerns physicalism. According to the most reductive version of physicalism, science tells us that everything, including life, the mind and consciousness, can be reduced to the behaviour of the smallest material constituents. You're nothing but your neurons, and your neurons are nothing but little bits of matter. Here, life and the mind are gone, and only lifeless matter exists.

To put it bluntly, the claim that there's nothing but physical reality is either false or empty. If 'physical reality' means reality as physics describes it, then the assertion that only physical phenomena exist is false. Why? Because physical science - including biology and computational neuroscience - doesn't include an account of consciousness. This is not to say that consciousness is something unnatural or supernatural. The point is that physical science doesn't include an account of experience; but we know that experience exists, so the claim that the only things that exist are what physical science tells us is false. On the other hand, if 'physical reality' means reality according to some future and complete physics, then the claim that there is nothing else but physical reality is empty, because we have no idea what such a future physics will look like, especially in relation to consciousness.

The particular genius of the Anglosphere's skepticism allowed us to avoid the Cartesian error, unlike the poor benighted souls of the Continent.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


BROTHER TO THE SWAN (FARLEY MOWAT, 5/16/55. Sports illustrated)

For 20 Years one of my hobbies has been bird watching. I've seen my share of rarities, but the rarest American birds I ever saw were on a stretch of marshy land in southern England. It was a June day. The soft spring air was filled with the comings and goings of ducks, and within easy distance of me were many of the species I had searched for in vain at home, including a flock of North American trumpeter swans which are the largest and rarest of all swans.

I was a little dazed, for within an area of about 20 acres sat, swam or flew the greatest collection of wild waterfowl ever assembled in one spot.

But possibly the strangest thing about it all was that I was standing in the heart of one of the busiest industrial areas in the world, almost within sight of the chimney smoke of the great port of Bristol and less than two hours' train ride from London. Jet planes screamed low overhead and traffic rumbled on the nearby highways, but the winged guests of the Severn Wildfowl Trust never turned a feather.

Slimbridge, the home of the Severn Wildfowl Trust, is on the shores of the busy Severn River in Gloucestershire. Through historic times this piece of soggy land, called The Dumbles, has been the private goose-hunting preserve of the Berkley family. Immense flocks of geese have wintered here for untold centuries. It was the presence of a flock of over 4,000 of them that led to the birth of what is undoubtedly the most unusual wildfowl sanctuary in existence anywhere, with 140 species of ducks, geese and swans from all over the world.

That was in 1946. Peter Scott, the famous painter of birds, had returned from the Royal Navy fired with a dream to establish a refuge for waterfowl on a brand-new plan, where scientists could work out research problems and at the same time the general public could have a chance to see the incredible diversity and beauty of the geese, ducks and swans of the world. Scott happened to be visiting Slim-bridge on that momentous winter day when the geese were milling over The Dumbles and saw at once that this was the perfect site for his experiment. In short order, he acquired a long-term lease on 25 acres of swampy reclaimed ground bordering a salt marsh.

March 10, 2019

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Posted by orrinj at 11:46 AM


Litzman says Women of the Wall 'need to be kicked out' of prayer plaza (Times of Israel, 3/10/19)

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on Sunday assailed Women of the Wall, saying the liberal Jewish group had to be "kicked out" following Friday clashes with thousands of ultra-Orthodox protesters at the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall on Friday held a special anniversary prayer service, celebrating 30 years since its establishment. Their gathering drew protests from some quarters of the ultra-Orthodox community, with several prominent rabbis calling on students to flock to the Western Wall plaza in order to disrupt the event and demonstrate against their worship.

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM

How to Make Chicken Stock in the Pressure Cooker (Sara Bir, /10/19, Simply Recipes)

1 chicken carcass (from a cooked 2- to 3-pound chicken), or 1 pound bones
1 onion, halved or quartered, optional
1 rib celery, roughly chopped, optional
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped, optional
1 bay leaf
1 to 2 quarts water, enough to cover
Special equipment:
6- or 8-quart electric pressure cooker

1 Add the bone and vegetables to the pressure cooker: Put the chicken bones and vegetables (if using) in your pressure cooker. Add water to almost come level with the bones, making sure not to fill the cooker more than 2/3 full. Remember, your cooker can't come to pressure if it is too full.

2 Bring the pot up to pressure: Place the lid on the pressure cooker. Make sure the valve is set to the "Sealing" position. Select the "Manual" or "Pressure Cook" program, then set the time to 30 minutes to an hour at high pressure. (30 minutes gives you a cleaner-tasting stock; 1 hour gives you a darker stock with a stronger flavor. When in doubt, go 45 minutes.)

The pot will take about 20 minutes to come up to pressure, and then the cook time will begin. (Frozen bones will take longer to come to pressure.)

3 Let the pressure release naturally. This can take up to 30 minutes.

4 Strain the stock: Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into a stockpot or large bowl. Either skim off the fat and use the stock immediately, or let cool to room temperature before refrigerating.

5 Store or freeze: Stock will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, or transfer to freezer containers and freeze for up to a year.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


PM to star who rapped anti-Arab rhetoric: Israel 'not state of all its citizens' (Times of Israel, 3/11/19)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday engaged in a social media argument with a popular reality TV host who criticized his Likud party's anti-Arab rhetoric, after Likud Culture Minister Miri Regev in a Saturday TV interview repeated a frequent Likud claim that rival Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz will try to form a government with Arab parties.

In the course of his spat with model and actress Rotem Sela, Netanyahu stressed that Israel is "not a nation-state of all its citizens," but rather "the nation-state of the Jewish people."

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Company founded by Ocasio-Cortez in 2012 still owes $1,870 in taxes (Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein, March 9, 2019, NY Post)

Brook Avenue Press, a company she founded in 2012 to publish children's books in The Bronx, owes the state $1,870.36 in corporate taxes, public records show.

The state slapped the company with a warrant on July 6, 2017, two months after Ocasio-Cortez announced her candidacy to run against Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley for the district that encompasses parts of Queens and The Bronx.

We had a history professor at Colgate who was married to a British aristocrat.  He taught us that Marx hated capitalism because he was such a failure.  Funny how those who are bad at capitalism hate the free markets they could not compete in.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Household net worth falls by largest amount since Great Recession, new Fed data show (CHRISTOPHER INGRAHAM, 3/11/19, The Washington Post)

Total household net worth in the fourth quarter of 2018 dropped by the largest amount since the fourth quarter of 2008 when the country was in the midst of a steep recession, according to data released last week by the Federal Reserve.

To his credit, Donald does keep warning us about the dangers of the sort of Command Economy he's running. The Right's quarrel with the Left is over who gets to command Socialism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Inside DARPA's Ambitious 'AI Next' Program (JACK CORRIGAN, 3/11/19, , NEXTGOV)

Last year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency kicked off the AI Next campaign, a $2 billion effort to build artificial intelligence tools capable of human-like communication and logical reasoning that far surpass the abilities of today's most advanced tech. Included in the agency's portfolio are efforts to automate the scientific process, create computers with common sense, study the tech implications of insect brains and link military systems to the human body.

Through the AI Exploration program, the agency is also supplying rapid bursts of funding for a myriad of high-risk, high-reward efforts to develop new AI applications.

Defense One's sister publication Nextgov sat down with Valerie Browning, director of DARPA's Defense Sciences Office, to discuss the government's AI research efforts, the shortcomings of today's tech and the growing tension between the tech industry and the Pentagon. [...]

Nextgov: Looking at the AI Exploration program, what are the benefits to doing that kind of quick, short-term funding?

Browning: We have limited resources, and sometimes we find an area that we think may be ripe for investment but there's some key questions that need to be answered. We really don't want to scale up a very large [program], but we want to get some answers pretty quickly. The very act of trying to bring in a new performer through the sort of conventional acquisition cycle can be very long and tedious. [For this program], the time from posting a topic announcement to actually getting people doing work is 90 days or less, and that's fairly unprecedented in government contracting. AI Exploration allows us to go after some of the more high-risk, uncertain spaces quickly to find out whether they're on the critical path toward reaching our ultimate vision.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


The Real Horror of the Anti-Vaxxers: This isn't just a public health crisis. It's a public sanity one. (Frank Bruni, March 9, 2019, NY Times)

How many studies do you have to throw at the vaccine hysterics before they quit? How much of a scientific consensus, how many unimpeachable experts and how exquisitely rational an argument must you present?

That's a trick question, of course. There's no magic number. There's no number, period. And that's because the anti-vaccine crowd (or anti-vaxxers) aren't trafficking in anything as concrete, mundane and quaint as facts. They're not really engaged in a debate about medicine. They're immersed in a world of conspiracies, in the dark shadows where no data can be trusted, nothing is what it seems and those who buy the party line are pitiable sheep.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Sixty years on from historic uprising, Tibetan spirit of resistance is 'as strong as ever' (JENNIFER SCHERER, JESSICA WASHINGTON, 3/11/19, SBS)

In 1959, thousands of Tibetans took to the streets, protesting Chinese rule. The demonstrations would later become known as the Lhasa Uprising.

March 10 marked the start of a dramatic change in the lives of Tibetan people - the then 23-year-old Dalai Lama secretly fled into exile in India.

Sixty years later, in cities around Australia, hundreds of Tibetans and Tibet supporters marched to show their solidarity against China's occupation.

Marching from Martin Place to the Chinese embassy in Sydney, demonstrators told SBS News China's crackdown against Tibetan culture continues.

"China wants the Tibetan people to owe their allegiances to the Chinese Communist Party, and not the Dalai Lama," Ms Dhongdue said.

In 2011, the Dalai Lama transferred his political power to a democratically elected leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Ms Dhongdue believes this move was significant for the Tibetan resistance.

"It was to make sure that when the Dalai Lama dies, the Tibet issue doesn't die too," Ms Dhongdue said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Algerian government plane heads north, destination unclear (Reuters, 3/11/19) 

The Algerian government plane that brought President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to Geneva for medical treatment last month left Algerian airspace and headed north early on Sunday, flight radar applications showed.

The ailing 82-year-old Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, and his bid to extend his 20-year rule has prompted tens of thousands of Algerians to join the biggest protests in Algiers in 28 years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Amid Likud's 'Bibi or Tibi' campaign, ADL slams 'demonization' of Israeli Arabs (MICHAEL BACHNER, 3/11/19, Times of Israel)

The Anti-Defamation League on Sunday lambasted political rhetoric "vilifying" Israeli Arabs, referring to frequent alarmist accusations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies that their rivals supposedly intend to form a government with Arab Knesset parties.

"The role of Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset is increasingly emerging as a key wedge of the current election campaign, with several party leaders and politicians vowing not to include them in any future coalition, while accusing their political foes of a willingness to do so," Carole Nuriel, director of the ADL's Israel office, said in a statement that didn't explicitly mention Netanyahu.

"In some cases, even the distinction between Arab parties and the Arab population is blurred and these parties are simply referred to as 'the Arabs.'"

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


The Genesis of the Tech Industry, and Vice Versa: Humankind's obsession with technology and economics can be traced to the first book of the Bible. (Tyler Cowen, March 5, 2019, Bloomberg)

In the Book of Genesis, the underlying model of economics is a pretty optimistic one, and that is another way in which Western history draws upon its Judeo-Christian roots.

That said, Genesis is by no means entirely positive about the impact of technology. While the Egyptians are relatively wealthy and have a strong state, they end up enslaving the Hebrews, hardly a virtuous outcome. God, rather than telling people to build technology in the style of the Egyptians, gives instructions for building the ark of Noah, and later in Exodus there are instructions for the ark of the covenant. Those technologies are more pointed toward carrying along the will and later word of God, rather than the mastery of nature per se.

The story of the Tower of Babel is the clearest instance of the possible dangers of technology. On one hand, it is striking how much potential productive efficacy is ascribed to mankind. People with a single language are building a tower with a top reaching up to the heavens and "now nothing they plot to do will elude them." God then scatters the humans and takes away their common language, to limit their productive capacity. There is a hint that people are seeking to become the rivals of God, who needs to keep their ambitions in check.

So:  the Egyptians should have developed technology instead of relying on labor; the ark saved Creation from climate change; and Man has it within his power to become a rival of God via IT.  

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


James Davison Hunter and the Inadequacy of Naturalism (M. D. AESCHLIMAN, March 2, 2019, National Review)

The distinguished sociologist James Davison Hunter and his philosopher-colleague Paul Nedelisky of the University of Virginia have written a fine, patient, thorough, judicious, carefully argued exposé of the new reductionists called Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality. Their book is a most valuable and welcome addition to a distinguished body of recent anti-reductionist literature: the medical doctor and award-winning science writer James LeFanu's Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves (2009), the philosopher Alvin Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2011), the philosopher Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (2012), and the political scientist Jason Blakely's Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and the Demise of Naturalism (2016), as well as the works of MacIntyre and Taylor themselves.

This is not to speak of literary works such as Sir Tom Stoppard's recent play, currently on Broadway, The Hard Problem (2015), a dramatization of the effects of reductionist ideology on the private lives of researchers, or the distinguished American novelist Marilynne Robinson's Terry Lectures at Yale, published as Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (2010).

Since the deaths of Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, and Peter Berger  (Hunter's teacher), James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia is perhaps America's most distinguished sociologist. His award-winning book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (1991) had unusual range and effect, usefully introducing the conception of an ongoing war of ideas or culture struggle (kulturkampf) in American life, behind and beneath American political struggles, between broadly traditional people (especially religious people) and their "progressive" opponents (putting their faith in science, technology, and political change). Hunter has followed up with several other books, including The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age without Good and Evil (2000), and founded and directs the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, in which his collaborator Paul Nedelisky is a fellow. The Institute publishes an outstanding scholarly journal, The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture.

Hunter's line of intellectual descent comes through his great teacher Peter L. Berger, who mediated to him the high, German, non-Marxist sociological tradition of Max Weber and developed and applied it himself in profound ways (see my "A Contemporary Erasmus: Peter L. Berger," in Modern Age, 2011). Hunter has also been influenced by Tocqueville and Philip Rieff and has sociological-ethical concerns similar to those of contemporaries such as Gertrude Himmelfarb, the Englishman David Martin, Charles L. Glenn, and W. Bradford Wilcox (a former student).

Science and the Good gives a careful historical and logical analysis of what its subtitle rightly calls  "the tragic quest for the foundations of morality" over the last four hundred years. The tragedy of the quest is rooted in the continuing failure of philosophical and scientific naturalism to provide grounds or credibility for ethics (and thus for justice and just law). It was again the great philosopher Whitehead who saw and said this clearly. Speaking of naturalists such as David Hume and Thomas Henry Huxley (initially "Darwin's bull-dog," subsequently repentant for the moral implications and effects of Darwinism), Whitehead asked what reason could such naturalists give for any moral views they held "apart from their own psychological inheritance from the Platonic religious tradition?" (i.e., Christianity; Adventures in Ideas, 1933). Lester Crocker's comprehensive study of such attempts in 18th-century France, Nature and Culture: Ethical Thought in the French Enlightenment (1963), showed that they ended in what he called "The Nihilist Dissolution" of the Marquis de Sade, whose audacious immoralism foreshadowed Nietzsche. In none of its numerous incarnations can "Nature" legitimate ethics; thus the "tragic quest" and the astounding intellectual and political history of the world since 1914, at best a restless intellectual hunger for the new ("neophilia" or "cupiditas rerum novarum"), at worst a political chamber of horrors.

In their painstakingly fair-minded analysis, Hunter and Nedelisky ultimately document the truth argued by a distinguished contemporary philosopher whom they do not quote, Charles Larmore: "Basically, Plato was right," he argues; "moral value is something real and non-natural."

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 AM


Marilynne Robinson's Celebration of Humanity Is Brilliant but Incomplete :  Insights from some of her heroes, like John Calvin and the Puritans, would help round out the picture. (Wesley Hill, 4/06/18, Christianity Today)

But much more of the book is taken up with Robinson's criticisms of a different sort of reductionism. It's not only Christians who are guilty of forgetting the splendor of the human. Scientists too--whose research has opened up windows onto dazzling, dizzying complexity in the heavens above and the equally unfathomable intricacies of the body and its microbial residents below--exhibit the same blindness. "The understandings of human nature that have been proposed to us as scientific diminish us," Robinson laments, "even as science itself is amazed by our complexity, even as science itself is a demonstration of our brilliance." That qualifier--"proposed to us as scientific"--is crucial, since Robinson does not think that real science gives reductionism any quarter. It is only a kind of misguided religious zeal that allows scientists to go beyond the evidence of their own discipline and declare that the human soul is nothing but a material process.

To combat these various assaults on human dignity, Robinson turns to some of her heroes: the 16th-century Reformer John Calvin and the English and American Puritans, Calvin's heirs. "Very characteristic of recent theories about humankind is the assumption that we are the creatures of our race or genes or the traumas we have suffered or the shape of our brain," says Robinson, pinpointing yet more forms of determinism. But the 18th-century American Puritan Jonathan Edwards, among others, "taught me how to understand that something much richer and stranger is going on than any of these schemes can begin to suggest."

To Robinson, it is no accident that New England, dominated as it was by Puritan immigrants from old England, quickly distinguished itself as more humane--more directly responsible for American democracy and progressivism--than the Anglican-dominated South, whose penal codes were far harsher. Puritans like Jonathan Edwards celebrated human dignity because they believed we were created in the image of God. And that belief, in turn, became the bedrock of their ethics, because "[h]ow we think about ourselves has everything to do with how we act toward one another." The more they cultivated awareness of the mystery of their own humanity, the more the Puritans were prepared to shelter and dignify the humanity of others. Their writings can help us do the same today, Robinson thinks. [...]

It is also striking how little Robinson's celebration of humanity is qualified with an emphasis on humanity's fallenness. She appreciates Calvin's great insistence on humanity's capacity for learning, self-consciousness, and responsibility, but she omits almost entirely the side of Calvin that says things like this:

[W]e know that, by the fall of Adam, all mankind fell from their primeval state of integrity, for by this the image of God was almost entirely effaced from us, and we were also divested of those distinguishing gifts by which we would have been, as it were, elevated to the condition of demigods; in short, from a state of highest excellence, we were reduced to a condition of wretched and shameful destitution. [...]

It's unfortunate that Robinson omits this, because--paradoxically--laying more stress on human depravity might actually advance, rather than detract from, the humanism she wants to promote. As counterintuitive as it seems, recognizing the human capacity for cruelty and injustice has the potential to make us more compassionate toward others, more forgiving of human frailty, and more ready to acknowledge that others share the same mixture of good and bad motives, the same cocktail of noble and base behavior, that we know to be characteristic of our own souls. Belief in original sin, as Alan Jacobs has argued in his book on the subject, "serves as a kind of binding agent," bringing the human family together. In a strange twist, the deterministic scientists and angry Christians that Robinson repeatedly denounces may have latched onto something to which Robinson herself is blind: For all of our glories, human beings remain trapped in vicious circles of self-infatuation, self-preservation, and self-sabotage, and only something stronger than art, scholarship, and democracy can finally rescue us.

Human dignity only becomes more astonishing when we view men in full, as even God was eventually forced to.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


ME AND THOSE CANOES (SPARSE GREY HACKLE, 9/02/57, Sports Illustrated)

Canoeists are different from ordinary people. In some cases the difference probably is a matter of courage, resolution, endurance or fortitude, but in my case it was what my old top sergeant said about a rookie who tackled all the dangerous horses. "He ain't brave," snorted the hard-boiled top. "He just don't know no better."

The fact that every time a canoeist embarks he runs a measurable risk of drowning or coronary thrombosis and a greater one of hernia or heat prostration indicates that there are things basically wrong with canoeing; it is, in fact, the most inadvisable means ever conceived for the transportation of man by his own efforts.

Take paddling. If you wanted to move a bureau, you'd stand behind it and shove it with the big muscles of your back and legs. If you had a boat instead of a bureau, you'd dig in your oars and do the same thing. But what would you think of a man who moved a bureau by sitting alongside it, a foot away, and twisting around to give it a feeble shove? If he had a canoe instead of a bureau, he'd use a paddle the same way.

Rowing with two oars drives a boat as straight as a bricklayer heading for a saloon, but paddling with a single blade zigzags a canoe like a bricklayer leaving a saloon. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nietzsche and the Cynics: How Friedrich Nietzsche used ideas from the Ancient Cynics to explore the death of God and the nature of morality (Helen Small, 2/28/19, Aeon)

Ancient Cynicism was an eccentric model for practising a philosophical life. Diogenes of Sinope (c404-323 BCE) and his followers claimed independence from conventional material desires and the normal turmoil of emotional life. They were notoriously without shame - pissing and satisfying their sexual needs in public, like the dogs (kynes) from which their name partly derived. 

Diogenes himself was said to have slept in a tub or a shack in the Athenian marketplace. Seeing a youth scoop up water in the hollow of his hand, he threw away the wooden cup he had been using, pleased to see that he did not need it. When Alexander the Great announced himself: 'I am Alexander the great king,' Diogenes replied: 'I am Diogenes the dog.'

For Friedrich Nietzsche - steeped in the Classics - the Cynics, and the much later account of them in the gossipy collection of anecdotes The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius (no relation to Diogenes of Sinope), were attractive material long before he parted company with an academic career to practise a more abrasive public philosophy of his own. 'Diogenes Laertiades' was how Nietzsche signed himself in a letter to a friend in his late 20s: 'son of Laertius', or literally 'sprung from Laertius', ie from Diogenes Laertius. In the wake of a great deal of critical work in recent years, excavating Nietzsche's Cynicism, two questions are worth asking afresh: how far did the identification go? And what did his philosophy hope to gain, and risk losing, by it?

The Cynic Diogenes of Sinope appears in Nietzsche's The Gay Science (1882) as der tolle Mensch ('the crazy man') who proclaims the death of God; it is a canonical scene of modern philosophy:

Haven't you heard of that madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern and ran around the marketplace crying incessantly: 'I'm looking for God! I'm looking for God!' Since many of those who did not believe in God were standing around together just then, he caused great laughter. Has he been lost, then? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone to sea? Emigrated? - Thus they shouted and laughed, one interrupting the other. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. 'Where is God?' he cried; 'I'll tell you! We have killed him - you and I! We are all his murderers.'

The drama of the madman performs a serio-comic riff upon The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers: 'He [Diogenes of Sinope] lit a lamp in full daylight and walked around with it, saying: "I'm searching for a man".' Sometimes more loosely translated as 'searching for an honest man', the words are a challenge and potentially an affront to all who hear them. Tapping into the radicalism of the ancient example, Nietzsche echoes its original cynicism - the sorry absence of anyone capable of living in the knowledge of what it means to be human - and gives it updated point. A new Diogenes declares the death of God, the collapse of the belief system that underpinned Judaeo-Christian morality and provided the culture's sources of valuation for hundreds of years. Or rather, the crazy man demands attention to what should have followed from that realisation, since the realisation itself is hardly news.

Later in The Gay Science, Nietzsche clarifies what is at issue. By 'God is dead', we should understand that 'belief in the Christian God has become unworthy of belief': the time has come for human beings to live truthfully, in accordance with their situation. The neo-Cynic affront lies not in the debasement of long-lost metaphysical certainties, but in a fresh insistence that destruction of the old basis for morality raises urgent consequences about how to live now.

The choice between dog and God is and can only be a function of faith--a choice between different conceptions of what it means to be human.  And, because we can not know the correct answer, the sole bases for making the decision are either emotional or aesthetic. Judeo-Christian morality is onerous, so a reaction against it is perfectly understandable.  Meanwhile, the desire to lower the standards of behavior to the merely animal level seems liberating, so it has obvious emotional appeal. To live in a world with no meaning, where our every act is excused, where our basest instincts can be indulged without guilt; how could there ever be fellow beings who do not choose this escape from responsibility? 

Of course, the problem always follows that no Cynic ever wants this "freedom" for anyone other than himself.  Take food away from Diogenes, as dogs do from one another, take him sexually, consume his young, etc., etc., etc. and his tune quickly changes. We all recognize that the way of the animals is ugly.

So the way of God is difficult, as it summons us to our higher selves, imposing moral obligations that we know ourselves unable to attain with perfect consistency, as even God showed Himself. However, we also recognize that the existence of a universal morality and the insistence that it is worthwhile for us all to engage in the striving renders a beautiful conception of what it means to be human. And a God who was even willing to become one of us in order to try to comprehend the meaning of mortal life and who loves us despite our conspicuous inability to meet His standards has a beauty that is entirely worthy of faith.

So, we choose beauty over ugliness.

March 9, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 PM


Illegal border crossings from Canada quietly rising, data shows (Kerry Sanders, Ezra Kaplan and Daniella Silva, 3/09/19, NBC News)

DERBY LINE, Vermont -- More than 960 people crossed into the U.S. illegally from the northern border with Canada last year, according to data released from Customs and Border Protection.

While that number is a tiny fraction compared to the migration across the border with Mexico, it represented a 91 percent increase from the prior fiscal year, the data showed.

The Trump administration's rhetoric on border security has largely homed in on the southern border, which has seen an influx of thousands of families with children from Central America seeking asylum in the United States.

It's the coastal walls that are really going to be expensive.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM



"Pitching is what makes me happy. I've devoted my life to it. I live my life around the four days between starts. It determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I'm awake. It determines how I spend my life when I'm not pitching. If it means I have to come to Florida and can't get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me from throwing for a few days, then I never go shirtless in the sun. If it means when I get up in the morning I have to read the box scores to see who got two hits off Bill Singer last night instead of reading a novel, then I do it. If it means I have to remind myself to pet dogs with my left hand or throw logs on the fire with my left hand, then I do that, too. If it means in the winter I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight down, then I eat cottage cheese. I might want those cookies but I won't ever eat them. That might bother some people but it doesn't bother me. I enjoy the cottage cheese. I enjoy it more than I would those cookies because I know it will help me do what makes me happy.

"Life isn't very heavy for me. I've made up my mind what I want to do. I'm happy when I pitch well so I only do those things that help me be happy. I wouldn't be able to dedicate myself like this for money or glory, although they are certainly considerations. If I pitch well for 15 years I'll be able to give my family security. But that isn't what motivates me. What motivates some pitchers is to be known as the fastest who ever lived. Some want to have the greatest season ever. All I want is to do the best I possibly can day after day, year after year. Pitching is the whole thing for me. I want to prove I'm the best ever."

Tom Seaver is the youngest pitcher in the history of baseball to sign a contract for more than $100,000 a season. He has averaged 19 victories a year for the New York Mets. At the age of 27, after five full seasons in the major leagues, he had won 95 ball games. Walter Johnson, who won more games than any pitcher in this century, won only 80 in his first five seasons. Grover Cleveland Alexander, second to Johnson, won 70 games by the time he reached his 27th birthday; Sandy Koufax, 68; Bob Gibson, 34; Warren Spahn, 29.

Thomas George Seaver has one of those smooth, boyish. Middle American faces that would be a burden to some men. He possesses the handsomeness so prized in the 1950s of Pat Boone and Tab Hunter. It is a temptation to describe his face as having too little character when you would more rightly mean too few characteristics. It is a face of undistinguished parts, which are subordinate only to a single clear impression of uncluttered good looks.

Seaver stands 6'½" and weighs 210 pounds from November to February when he indulges himself with an occasional breakfast of fried eggs and beer, and he weighs 205 pounds from March to October when he allows himself no fried eggs and beer. He has a squarish, heavy-chested body that tends to fat but is deceptively muscled. His arms, shoulders, chest and thighs are thick with muscles acquired from years of lifting weights. He believes, unlike most pitchers and coaches, that a selective program of weight lifting will add speed to a pitcher's fastball. As a high school senior in Fresno, Calif. he stood 5'9" and weighed 160 pounds. He was the third-hardest thrower on his team. He did not pick up speed until he began lifting weights in college and had grown three inches and put on 30 pounds. Because he has worked so diligently in developing those parts of his body that relate to his talent, Seaver is highly critical--one might almost say contemptuous--of less conscientious players. He will say of a teammate whose chest is noticeably undeveloped, "Do you know he hit 20 balls to the warning track last year! Twenty! Another 10 feet and they would have been home runs. I know I'd find the strength to hit those balls another 10 feet."

Although he is not conscious of it, Seaver shows his disdain for men who he feels have not fulfilled their potential.

[originally posted 3/09/19]
Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


In another blow to Trump, judge rules in favor of ACLU in family separation case (MARIA SACCHETTI, 3/08/19, THE WASHINGTON POST)

In a legal blow to the Trump administration, a federal judge ruled Friday that all migrant families separated during the government's border crackdown should be included in a class-action lawsuit. But he stopped short of immediately ordering the Justice Department to track them all down.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in California said the universe of separated families should extend beyond the 2,700-plus children taken from their parents last spring, and include families forced apart as early as July 1, 2017, and the months afterward, when the Trump administration was denying that it had a policy of separating families.

Sabraw said a government watchdog report in January that potentially thousands more families were separated than the Trump administration had admitted publicly compelled the court to look into the matter.

"The hallmark of a civilized society is measured by how it treats its people and those within its borders," he wrote in a 14-page ruling. "That Defendants may have to change course and undertake additional effort to address these issues does not render modification of the class definition unfair; it only serves to underscore the unquestionable importance of the effort and why it is necessary (and worthwhile)."

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Another Trump flack leaves over bad press (GREG SARGENT, 3/08/19,  The Washington Post)

Consider the headlines we've seen in recent days. Some of the most unflattering ones are just straight reporting of ways in which Trump has failed by his own metrics. For instance, migrating families arriving at the border just spiked to new highs -- meaning Trump's efforts to deter them from coming through all manner of cruelty have failed. When those numbers were low, he saw that as a sign that he was succeeding. But now they're spiking. This is just a factual matter that no amount of magical spinning can make disappear.

On North Korea, Trump got slammed with headlines after his efforts at a deal with North Korea abruptly collapsed. But it was Trump himself who inflated expectations by absurdly blustering early on that "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea." This also led to more bad headlines when administration officials were forced to contradict it.

Then there's the trade deficit in goods. It has now ballooned to its largest point in U.S. history. This is a fact that Trump's own Commerce Department announced. It has always been idiotic of Trump to invest this metric with the importance that he has, but he did that, and so he is failing by a metric that he established for himself, out of folly and ignorance. No amount of magical spinning can make that disappear, either.

Also on trade, Trump is getting hammered by headlines reporting that he's likely to end up making a face-saving deal with China that doesn't produce the concessions he originally wanted. But it's Trump who sold himself as the Greatest Dealmaker in History, then launched us into a trade war while absurdly claiming that "trade wars are good, and easy to win."

This guaranteed that the headlines showing the damage being done by those trade wars, and the failure to secure the deal he wants, would be all the more brutal. Trump's total lack of interest in learning the complexities of issues, and his unshakable confidence in his ability to bluster his way through anything, is the problem here.

From Jane Mayer, we have now learned in unsettling detail that the hiring of Shine, a former Fox News executive, represented a key part of the near-wholesale merger of Fox and the White House into one large and unified propaganda operation on Trump's behalf.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Into the woods: how one man survived alone in the wilderness for 27 years : At the age of 20, Christopher Knight parked his car on a remote trail in Maine and walked away with only the most basic supplies. He had no plan. His chief motivation was to avoid contact with people. This is his story (Michael Finkel,  15 March 2017, The Guardian)

Knight said that he couldn't accurately describe what it felt like to spend such an immense period of time alone. Silence does not translate into words. "It's complicated," he said. "Solitude bestows an increase in something valuable. I can't dismiss that idea. Solitude increased my perception. But here's the tricky thing: when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. There was no audience, no one to perform for. There was no need to define myself. I became irrelevant."

The dividing line between himself and the forest, Knight said, seemed to dissolve. His isolation felt more like a communion. "My desires dropped away. I didn't long for anything. I didn't even have a name. To put it romantically, I was completely free."

Virtually everyone who has tried to describe deep solitude has said something similar. "I am nothing; I see all," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lord Byron called it "the feeling infinite". The American mystic Thomas Merton said that "the true solitary does not seek himself, but loses himself".

For those who do not choose to be alone - like prisoners and hostages - a loss of one's socially created identity can be terrifying, a plunge into madness. Psychologists call it "ontological insecurity", losing your grip on who you are. Edward Abbey, in Desert Solitaire, a chronicle of two six‑month stints as a ranger in Utah's Arches National Monument, said that being solitary for a long time "means risking everything human". Knight, meanwhile, didn't even keep a mirror in his camp. He was never once bored. He wasn't sure, he said, that he even understood the concept of boredom. "I was never lonely," Knight added. He was attuned to the completeness of his own presence rather than to the absence of others.

"If you like solitude," he said, "you are never alone."

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM



The fundamental design of the violin has changed only once since the times of Antonio Stradivari, considered the ultimate master craftsman of the instrument.

The new findings could rock the music world, so to speak, and alter the way we construct the stringed instruments in the future.

Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, has conducted violin research for 40 years. After exhaustive tonal frequency tests, chemical analysis, and detailed measurements of key parts, he believes that making violin fingerboards lighter and shorter would bring their sound closer to the level the instruments of Italian masters produced centuries ago. His work will appear in the music journal the Strad.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 AM



I was brought up on real hockey, before the slap shot and head-manning the puck all but displaced stickhandling. Mine was a six-team league, charged with talent, wherein the bruiser who scored 20 goals in his debutante year was going some. Last season, on the other hand, rookie Center Gil Perreault was able to score more than 30 with nobody worth mentioning on either wing.

In my time records signified something. Nobody committed an outlandish 100 points a year. But only last season four Boston Bruins--Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Ken Hodge--did better. Any league in which Bucyk and Hodge can look that good is holding up not a mirror but a magnifying glass to nature. To take a socially relevant, rather than esthetic, point of view it must be said that the cause of this decline in quality--a febrile expansion from six to 16 teams in six years--has allowed aging or mediocre players, like wilting corporation presidents, to retire to California, permissive California, where they continue playing, insufficiently, for untutored fans. Fans who simply cannot appreciate hockey as we do. (Look here. Such is our devotion, Canadian voters once even sent a defenseman, Red Kelly, to Parliament. And when it turned out that legislating and hockey conflicted, he had the good sense to quit--Parliament, of course.)

So seeing the game popularized, catching on in the other America, CBS paying the NHL a million dollars for the rights to the Sunday-afternoon game of the week, Bobby Orr making the cover of U.S. magazines, Derek Sanderson in Life, Esquire and The New Yorker, hockey books proliferating--well, we are pleased, we are flattered, yes, yes. But we are also apprehensive. Outsiders have stumbled onto our secret four-star restaurant and, while we applaud its new affluence, we fear for the quality. These days hyperbole is all.

In this new order, Bobby Orr is being touted as the game's savior, something of a latter-day Babe Ruth, and the resurgent Bruins as the greatest team ever to take to the ice. I shall always cherish them for the brilliant, exciting East Division final they lost to the Canadiens in 1968-69. The following season the Canadiens collapsed, and the Bruins ran away with everything. Then last season--which Cheevers writes about in Goaltender--Boston became the first team ever to win 57 games in a season and accumulate 121 points and score 399 goals. But come Stanley Cup playoff time, the serious hour, and the Canadiens beat them again. It was a stunning rookie goaltender, Ken Dryden, who really did them in.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 AM


This Hipster Neighborhood is a Food Paradise in Europe (PARITA SHAH, 11/13/18, National Geographic)

Berlin is no longer playing catch-up with other culinary capitals but is a destination and foodie center in its own right, due in no small part to the influence of its Turkish immigrant population.

Nearly three million people of Turkish descent live in Germany today, making it the single largest immigrant group in the country. The biggest wave arrived in West Germany in the 1960s to replenish the labor supply cut off by the newly constructed Berlin Wall. The Turks arrived looking for reasonable rents, and headed to a part of West Berlin that had been largely destroyed in World War II.

That neighborhood, Kreuzberg, became a haven for Turks and other foreigners, including those who immigrated from the Maghreb and West Africa. The current mix of immigrants and underground, antiestablishment Germans transformed the neighborhood into a true hipster's paradise today. Since it's the best place in Berlin to get a taste of Turkish cuisine, Kreuzberg should be a part of any foodie's itinerary.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



One day some years ago I drove from Miami to Palm Beach for a business appointment, and it was on the kind of day that causes a man to move to Florida in the first place. Bright, sunny, with just enough homemade divinity in the sky to break up the monotony of the flat horizon. It was a goof-off day, and because I was goofing off I took the slower but scenic AIA route after the maze at Fort Lauderdale.

I crossed a drawbridge past Deerfield Beach and noticed the cluster of ancient fishermen on the crest of the bridge, their lines dripping over the concrete balustrade. But there was one old man down at the end of the bridge, well away from the other fishermen. The water was shallow near the bank, and I wondered why he didn't move higher up, where he could cast into deeper water. Perhaps the old man had discovered a deep pool or an eddy that could not be seen from the highway. Perhaps, if the old man had not been standing all alone, I would not have noticed him.

The business transaction in Palm Beach was pleasant. The man who gave me the check was happy to do so because the money belonged to his company and not to him, and I was happy to get the check because I had already worked out a great way to spend it when I got back to Miami.

Going home, I drove even slower than on the way to Palm Beach. This time when I approached the drawbridge below Deerfield the jaws were open. I parked on the side of the road and walked over to the abutment to watch a powerboat chug through. The captain, or pilot, wore a Navy blue flannel jacket and a yellow silk scarf. The woman with him, however, was wearing an orange bikini and a heavy layer of suntan oil. I could smell the woman and the coconut in the oil as the boat passed. The boat was almost out of sight before I spoke to the old man, who was still there, still fishing.

"Catching anything, Pop?"

He nodded. "Three bream. More'n I wanted to catch."

He was a clean old man, wearing stiff khaki chinos, blue canvas tennis shoes and a long-billed cap. His long-sleeved sport shirt still had starch in it, even though he had been standing out in the sun all day. His face was close-shaven and there was a scaly circle on each cheek the color of a ripe Valencia orange. Sun cancers. Benign, of course, but potentially dangerous--and sometimes they itch a little. I had one carved off my left temple by a dermatologist for $50, and it left a round white scar the size of a dime. Now that we are all wearing our hair a little longer, the scar is almost hidden. Florida fishermen get them constantly. Even if you wear a hat the reflection from the water gets to your face. But the prospect of sun cancers has had no statistical effect on the mass migration of old men to Florida.

I looked into this one's yellow plastic bucket. It held a Col. Sanders snack box, an empty Nehi bottle and a wadded Oh Henry wrapper.

"Where are the fish?"

He shrugged. "I turned 'em loose."

"But bream are supposed to be good eating."

"If you like to eat fish, they are."

"You don't eat fish?"

He shook his head. "No, and I don't like fishin', either."

March 8, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Ontario's basic income was working amazingly well before it got canceled  (EILLIE ANZILOTTI, 3/05/19, Fast Company)

Last year, shortly after conservative Doug Ford was elected to lead the Canadian province of Ontario, the government canceled the revolutionary basic income pilot it had been running since 2017. [...]

To put some data to those signposts of success, BICN found that the extra money enabled people to take charge of their lives in new ways: Around 32% of recipients went back to school or received new job training to start a different career, and 9% started a new business or expanded an existing one. One-third of respondents were able to stop relying on food banks for meals, and around 75% said they were able to make healthier food choices.

Around 46% of respondents paid off outstanding debts, and almost all reported feeling more financially stable and prepared for emergencies-significant, given that around 40% of people in the U.S. would not be able to cover a $400 emergency. One recipient described how the extra money allowed him to pay off debt to the city and avoid foreclosure on his home. Around 60% of the participants were able to improve their housing, either by completing outstanding repairs or relocating to a better place.

Non-financial benefits also proliferated. Rates of people volunteering in their communities went up. Some respondents said the extra money helped them start exercising and focusing on their health, and many said they were able to spend more quality time with their families and friends. Around 88% of people saw their stress levels decline, and rates of depression dropped 73%.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Erik Prince acknowledges 2016 Trump Tower meeting for first time (Al Jazeera, 3/08/19)

Erik Prince, founder of the private American security company Blackwater, has admitted to meeting with members of the Trump campaign in August 2016 after, according to a public transcript, apparently failing to disclose the gathering during his testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee last year. [...]

According to the New York Times, that meeting was attended by Prince, Donald Trump Jr, George Nader, a former Blackwater employee and emissary for the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Stephen Miller, then a top aide to the Trump campaign and currently a senior policy adviser to the president and Joel Zamel, whose company, Psy-Group, employed former Israeli intelligence operatives and specialised in social media manipulation, and was reportedly contacted by Rick Gates, a top Trump campaign official, for proposals for social media manipulation to help Trump win the election. 

A natural alliance.
Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


More bad news for President Donald Trump in latest Michigan poll (Todd Spangler, 3/08/19, Detroit Free Press)

Nearly half, 49 percent, of respondents in Michigan say they will definitely vote to replace Trump and another 16 percent say they will consider voting for someone else. Only 31 percent said they will definitely vote to re-elect Trump.

Self-described independent voters are driving down Trump's numbers. Among independents, 44 percent say they will definitely vote for someone else and 27 percent say they will consider backing another candidate, while only 18 percent say they would definitely vote to re-elect.

Meanwhile, 57 percent of women say they will vote for someone else and 17 percent say they will consider another candidate, compared to 41 percent of men who say they will vote for someone else and 14 percent who say they will consider someone else.

And while 67 percent of Republican voters said they would vote to re-elect Trump, that is well below the 80 percent of Republicans who believe he is doing a good or excellent job as president. Seventy-four percent of Republican men say they will definitely vote to re-elect Trump, but only 59 percent of Republican women agree.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Trump cheered Kraft's team to Super Bowl victory with founder of spa where he was busted (SARAH BLASKEY, NICHOLAS NEHAMAS, AND CAITLIN OSTROFF, MARCH 08, 2019, Miami Herald)

Seated at a round table littered with party favors and the paper-cutout footballs that have become tradition at his annual Super Bowl Watch Party, President Donald Trump cheered the New England Patriots and his longtime friend, team owner Robert Kraft, to victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Feb. 3.

Sometime during the party at Trump's West Palm Beach country club, the president turned in his chair to look over his right shoulder, smiling for a photo with two women at a table behind him.

The woman who snapped the blurry Super Bowl selfie with the president was Li Yang, 45, a self-made entrepreneur from China who started a chain of Asian day spas in South Florida. Over the years, these establishments -- many of which operate under the name Tokyo Day Spas -- have gained a reputation for offering sexual services.

It'll be fun to hear evangelical leaders explain why Donald should be hanging out with procurers.
Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Latest Poll Results Say Trust In Putin Down To Historic Low (RFE/RL, 3/08/19)

A poll by Russia's Public Opinion Research Center, or VTsIOM, released on March 7 found that trust in Russian President Putin has fallen to 32 percent, its lowest level since 2006.

At least he still has Donald's loyalty.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM

Baked Potato Soup Recipe ( ELISE BAUER, March 8, 2019, Simply Recipes)

4 pounds russet potatoes (about 7 medium potatoes)
1/4 pound thick sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch slices (lardons)
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
6 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt (more to taste)
1/8 teaspoon of ground white or black pepper
2 to 4 Tbsp heavy cream (optional)


Grated sharp cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Minced chives
Crumbled bacon (from step 2 in method)

1 Bake the potatoes: Scrub the potatoes clean and poke them all over with the tines of a fork or paring knife (this is so they don't explode from internal pressure building up as they cook). Place on a foil lined baking sheet and bake at 400°F for 1 hour, or until easily cut through with a knife.

Remove and let cool enough to handle. (To speed up cooling, slice them in half lengthwise.)

2 Cook the bacon: Place bacon lardons in a large, thick bottomed Dutch oven (about 5 to 6 quart pot). Heat on medium high until the bacon starts to brown then lower the heat to medium.

Cook until the bacon has rendered most of its fat and the lardons are browned and crispy. Remove the cooked bacon and set aside.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from the pan. (Do not discard bacon fat in your sink, it will clog the drain. Pour the fat into a jar and let it cool and solidify. Then either scoop it out and discard it or use it for another purpose.)

3 Cook onion and celery in the bacon fat: Add the chopped onion and celery to the remaining bacon fat in the pot. Cook for 2 minutes on medium high, then lower the heat to low, and cover the pot. Let cook slowly on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

4 Scoop out baked potatoes, add it and chicken stock to pot: When potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides to a bowl. Then add it to the cooked onion and celery mixture along with 6 cups chicken stock. Add a teaspoon of kosher salt.

Bring the soup to a simmer and reduce the heat to low.

Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes into the stock.

5 Purée some or all of the soup: Cook the potato soup for about 5 minutes, then use an immersion blender to purée about half of the soup if you want a slightly chunky soup, or purée all of it if you want a smoother soup.

6 Add cream: Stir 2 to 4 tablespoons of heavy cream into the soup if you want a creamier soup. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

7 Top with grated cheddar, sour cream, chives, bacon: Pour into bowls and top with grated cheddar, sour cream, chives, and crumbled crispy bacon.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Divided We Stand: American Jews & Israeli Democracy (Jonah Hassenfeld, March 4, 2019, The Forward)

More than 12 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Roughly half are Jews and half are Arabs. Arabs who live in Israel and who hold Israeli citizenship can vote in Israeli elections. The millions of Arabs who live in the territories Israel conquered in 1967 cannot. Jewish citizens of Israel vote in Israeli elections no matter where they live.

These facts lead some observers to question Israel's commitment to democracy. Some go so far as to attribute declining American-Jewish support for Israel to Israel's treatment of Palestinians. But the changing relationship of American Jews to Israel goes beyond the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It stems from American Jews' growing recognition that democracy means something very different to Americans and Israelis. American Jews see liberalism, the idea that an individual's civil rights must be protected from the government, as a necessary foundation of any democratic society. Israeli democracy doesn't place the same emphasis on individual rights.

From the earliest years of the state, Israeli leaders cared more about establishing a strong government than about protecting the rights of individuals. Israel's founders -- including its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion -- expressed reservations about liberal values. So today, Israel has no separation of church and state or acceptance of pluralistic religious expression (for example, the state rabbinic authority recognizes conversions only by Orthodox rabbis). Other policies challenge free expression, such as Minister Miri Regev's proposed Cultural Loyalty Law, which defunds cultural institutions and programs that memorialize Naqba Day (the Palestinian name for Israeli Independence Day).

The WoT bought Israel some time--after the Cold War--but it's running out.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Scoop: White House leak to House Dems on Jared and Ivanka's clearances (Alexi McCammond, 3/08/19, Axios)

From a White House source, the House Oversight Committee has obtained documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's security clearances that the Trump administration refused to provide, according to a senior Democratic aide involved in handling the documents.

The Trump administration's problems with leaks will now benefit Congress, making it harder for the White House to withhold information from Democratic investigators.

March 7, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Lawyer Who Questioned Donald Trump About Felix Sater Says He Told 'Flat Untruth' Under Oath (Rhonda Schwartz and Brian Ross, March 7th, 2019, Law & Crime)

The lawyer who questioned Donald Trump under oath in a civil deposition says it is now clear Trump lied about his relationship with Felix Sater, a convicted felon once connected to the Russian mafia.

"If somebody tells a flat untruth under oath then that's the very definition of perjury," Jared Beck said in an interview on the Law&Crime Network program Brian Ross Investigates.

In his testimony, Trump said he barely knew Sater and stated, "If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn't know what he looked like."

Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen testified last week before Congress that at the time of the deposition, in 2013, Trump did know Sater, who Cohen said had an office in the Trump organization on the same floor as Trump, the 26th floor.

ABC News reported that the Trump Organization had even printed business cards for Sater, identifying him as a "senior adviser" to Donald Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


House overwhelmingly approves anti-Semitism resolution (JTA, 3/07/19)

Omar was among 234 Democrats -- the entire caucus -- who favored the resolution.

All 23 nays were Republicans...

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


I've Faced the Charge of Dual Loyalty (RAHM EMANUEL, 3/07/19, The Atlantic)

Maybe I'm sensitive to this charge of dual allegiance because it's been wielded against me in some of my political campaigns. I've been accused of actually being a citizen of Israel. (That's not true, although my father was an Israeli immigrant to the United States.) In 2002, well before Donald Trump and other "birthers" questioned Barack Obama's citizenship, I had to produce my U.S. birth certificate in my first run for Congress to disprove false assertions about my background and loyalties.

But it's not just me who's been subject to questions of dual loyalty.

Indeed, it's the experience of all Muslims.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Senior Blue and White member: Party backs 2 states to separate from Palestinians (Times of Israel, 3/07/19)

MK Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid, one of three authors of the Blue and White party's campaign platform, said Thursday the party would work to spearhead a "regional process" that would enable Israel to "separate from the Palestinians" and lead to the formation of "two states" -- in the first clear statement of support for the two-state solution by a senior party official since its formation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


John Kelly, Out of White House, Breaks With Trump Policies (Maggie Haberman, March 7, 2019, NY Times)

Mr. Kelly defended the utility of the NATO alliance, which Mr. Trump has often criticized as an unfair financial drain on the United States.

On a wall at the border with Mexico, Mr. Kelly said that there were specific areas where it could be effective but constructing one "from sea to shining sea" was a "waste of money."

The issuance of the zero-tolerance policy for border crossings that resulted in family separations "came as a surprise" to him and to other officials, Mr. Kelly said, defending his replacement as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, from criticism. He appeared to place most of the blame on the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who announced the policy.

Of people crossing the border who are apprehended, Mr. Kelly contradicted the president. "They're overwhelmingly not criminals -- they're people coming up here for economic" purposes. Mr. Trump has regularly portrayed immigrants crossing at the southern border as dangerous lawbreakers.

He also joked wryly about the advice he gave his successor, Mick Mulvaney: "Run for it," Mr. Kelly said, to laughter. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


The Absolute Best Way to Cook Bacon (ELLA QUITTNER, MARCH 07, 2019, Slate)

Oven: No Parchment Paper
Bacon on a plate with a label: Baking Sheet in Oven - No Parchment 400 degrees F. The strips are slightly curled but mostly flat.

Method: We placed the bacon strips directly on a rimmed sheet pan, and baked them in a preheated oven at 400°F.

Outcome: We've proselytized the oven-baking method before, so we had high hopes, and this sheet-pan bacon met them. After about 18 minutes, the fat had rendered extremely evenly, producing a perfectly chewy/crispy specimen.

Pros: This method was very hands-off--we didn't need to flip the bacon midway through, or fiddle with temperature--yet still hugely effective. The lack of stovetop-surrounding grease splatter was so welcome.

Cons: While the actual cooking of baked bacon takes about five minutes longer than the stovetop method, we also had to wait for our oven to preheat for approximately 10 minutes, so this isn't a method we'd recommend for those moments when you need bacon ASAP. (What, like you don't have those moments?) Also, the bacon stuck in one or two spots to the sheet pan, and cleaning the sheet pan was no easier than cleaning the cast iron skillet.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


In recording, Gantz notes need for large lead over Likud, backs West Bank deal (Times of Israel, 3/07/19)

Major settlement blocs would not be evacuated, Gantz vowed to the activists, and said he nevertheless sought ways to separate from the Palestinians and believed any agreement should be put to a national referendum.

"I know every meter on the road [to Peduel], where you turn right, through Bruchin, Peduel, Alei Zahav, Beit Aryeh, Ofarim," he told the reporter. "So I know what I'm talking about here. Those people will raise their grandchildren there, and their great-grandchildren and their great-great-grandchildren."

He added: "On the other hand, we don't want to control the Palestinians, or any of the things that will turn the state into a binational state. We will find the arrangement that gives security."

Blum pushed back, fishing for details: "My family [in Peduel], from its perspective. What do we do with the Palestinians living next to us?"

Gantz replied, "What do you want? To expel them? Working on the assumption that they live on that land, and that there are millions here on both sides [of the Arab-Jewish divide], in the end we have to reach an arrangement of some sort. And we can't let that arrangement endanger our security."

Asked about the future of the settlements and a possible Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, he said, "Much of the settlement [project] will be developed far more than it is today. And if it becomes relevant, we'll discuss what we do after that. And even that we'll take to a referendum. In other words, it isn't something that will be relevant tomorrow morning, if at all."

Blum went on: "My family is mostly, in the end, voting for [New Right's leader Naftali] Bennett and farther right."

"Bennett and farther to his right risk turning Israel into a binational or nondemocratic state. One of the two. We don't want either one. We don't have a choice except to look for a responsible, safe, non-unilateral diplomatic arrangement," Gantz replied.

There is nothing in an Israel at peace with a nation of Palestine for the current critics of Ilhan Omar to support.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Far-rightists cleared for Israel election, Arab party blocked (Dan Williams, 3/07/19, Reuters) 

The elections committee, made up of members of the outgoing parliament, struck down motions that had sought to bar as racist Jewish Power's Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who are adherents of late anti-Arab rabbi Meir Kahane.

Left-wing party Meretz said it would appeal, along with center-left Labour, to the Supreme Court against the decision to let the Jewish Power candidates stand.

The committee also voted 17-10 to bar Arab party Balad from the election in accordance with a motion filed by Netanyahu's ruling Likud party.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


What's socialism anyway? (MARK MELLMAN, 3/07/19, The Hill)

Eduard Bernstein, the preeminent theorist of democratic socialism, made the same point 120 years ago: "If we asked a number of people ... to give a brief definition of socialism, most of them would be in some difficulty. ... If we consult the literature of socialism itself, we will find very different accounts of the concept. ... They will vary from ... legal ideas (equality, justice) to ... its identification with the class struggle ... to the explanation that socialism means cooperative economics."

Bernstein's socialist program was so mainstream (i.e., not radical) that much of it was achieved in America long ago: universal suffrage, workers' rights to form unions, an end to child labor for those under 14 and improved conditions for agricultural workers. 

Bernstein explicitly rejected Marx and revolution, preferring evolution, and unlike some current American socialists,  opposed "full state maintenance" of the unemployed, saying it  was damaging the will to work of those voluntarily unemployed.

Soviet socialism was radically different, as are other visions of socialism. Saint-Simon's socialism and Proudhon's and Owens's and Bakunin's and Debs's and Olof Palme's socialisms were all quite different from each other.  [...]

Asked by Gallup to define socialism, the largest number of respondents --  about a quarter of both Democrats and Republicans -- said it meant equality. Another 13 percent of Democrats, but only 7 percent of Republicans, saw it as government services, like free health care.

About 6 percent believe socialism means being social, including activity on social media.

Relatively few Democrats (13 percent), but more Republicans (23 percent) believe socialism implies government ownership.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


'Not my fault': Trump struggles to defend his record amid setbacks on immigration, trade, North Korea (David Nakamura, Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey March 6, 2019, Washington Post)

On immigration, the administration has sought to block asylum seekers at legal ports of entry along the border, prompting them to try to find alternative pathways into the country. The president shut down parts of the federal government for 35 days -- the longest such closure in U.S. history -- in an ill-fated fight for border wall funding, even though experts said the surge of migrant families is not a threat to national security and that a wall would do little to curb it.

On trade, Trump's tariff war with China has harmed U.S. farmers as Beijing slashed agricultural imports. Although the president has signaled that a trade deal is close, analysts said an accord would not fundamentally alter the U.S. trade relationship with the world's second-largest economy.

And on North Korea, officials have said, the president's decision to rush forward with bilateral summits with Kim have led to difficulties for U.S. negotiators engaging with their counterparts over technical and complicated nuclear matters, as Kim has preferred to deal directly with Trump.

Simon Rosenberg, founder of NDN, a liberal think tank, noted that the tax cut has not met GOP projections for economic growth and could add significantly to the ballooning federal deficit.

"The reality is he can't point to a single thing that's better today than when he came to office," Rosenberg said.

Although he has projected confidence, Trump has fretted in private over his difficulties. 

Fortunately, the UR left him such a strong economy he's only been able to slow it, not kill it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Democrats Put Off Anti-Semitism Resolution After Fierce Backlash (Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Glenn Thrush, March 6, 2019, NY Times)

[M]r. Trump has been accused repeatedly of trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes. His 2016 campaign tweeted out an image of Hillary Clinton in front of a Jewish star, over a pile of money. His final campaign ad railed against "global special interests" as the faces of George Soros, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and the Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen -- all Jewish -- crossed the screen. In 2015, Mr. Trump told members of the Republican Jewish Coalition: "You're not going to support me because I don't want your money. You want to control your politicians, that's fine."

Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is again running for the Democratic presidential nomination, took the opposite tack and suggested House Democratic leaders were trying to tamp down legitimate discussion of the conduct of the Israeli government.

"What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate," Mr. Sanders said in a statement. "That's wrong."

Earlier in the day, Democrats, including some prominent African-Americans, confronted Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a testy closed-door meeting, demanding to know why they were being pushed to pass the resolution when bigoted comments by Republicans have gone unchallenged.

Representative Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, said she told leadership that there must be "equity in our outrage," noting that Ms. Omar, a Minnesotan and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, was being attacked for her faith.

"Islamophobia needs to be included" in the anti-Semitism resolution, she told reporters on Wednesday. "We need to denounce all forms of hate."

That it is just about criticism of Israel is best revealed by the demand she be removed from the Foreign Affairs committee.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump Administration Reportedly Tracked and Targeted Journalists and Activists Involved With Migrant Caravan (ELLIOT HANNON, MARCH 06, 2019, Slate)

[A]ccording to a chilling report from NBC 7, NBC News' local affiliate in San Diego. Documents leaked to NBC 7 show that the Trump administration went about gathering names of journalists, activists, and attorneys who had covered or worked with the fleeing migrants, and created a database that included dossiers on 57 people, including 10 journalists.

Those swept up in the government database where then targets for surveillance and harassment with at least 21 individuals subsequently questioned or arrested by Customs and Border Protection. The U.S. government, in some cases, placed alerts on the targeted individuals' passports who were listed in the database titled: "San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch: Migrant Caravan FY-2019, Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators and Media." The documents dated Jan. 9, 2019 included files on some 39 American citizens, including seven who were tracked by the U.S. government. The documents are part of an interagency "SharePoint" application accessible to a myriad of agencies, including agents from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations, and the San Diego office of the FBI.

They were violating the law or abetting its violation. What would one expect law enforcement to do?  This is like when the Trumpbots winge about the UR investigating leaks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


So Far, Donald Trump's Trade War Is an Utter Failure (JORDAN WEISSMANN, MARCH 06, 2019, Slate)

Donald Trump has waged a trade war unlike any the United States has seen since the 1930s, upsetting our global allies and panicking markets as he's gleefully slapped tariffs on steel and Chinese products.

And by just about any measure you pick, his effort appears to have been an absolute flop.

Consider the trade deficit, which Trump has promised to shrink. On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that it actually grew by $68.8 billion in 2018, reaching $621 billion, as imports continued to outpace exports. In December, the monthly gap hit a 10-year high. The timing of the announcement was almost poetic: It came just over a year after Trump tweeted that "trade wars are good, and easy to win." As he is learning, they are not.

Because the president is obsessed with manufacturing jobs, the White House likes to focus on the trade deficit in goods alone--ignoring the contributions of services like finance and education. But on that score, its performance looks even worse. The goods gap soared to an all-time high of $891.3 billion last year. It grew with China. It grew with Mexico. It grew with Canada. Like Wile E. Coyote with a box of ACME dynamite, Trump tried to blow up the global trade order, and instead came out looking like a used matchstick.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The president's sons entrusted their private hunting retreat to a caretaker. He was working in the country illegally. (Joshua Partlow, Nick Miroff and David A. Fahrenthold March 6 , 2019, Washington Post)

Quintero, 42, was so trusted by the Trumps that he had not one but two jobs working for the family. He was a greenskeeper at the Trump National Golf Club Hudson Valley in Hopewell Junction, N.Y., where he would work eight-hour shifts on weekdays. Then he would put in five more hours each day as a contractor at the 171-acre hunting retreat called Leather Hill Preserve, which serves as a private weekend playground for President Trump's sons and the property's co-owners.

He also was an immigrant from Mexico who had crossed the border more than two decades ago and was working illegally in the United States.

In January, Quintero lost his golf course job after 18 years of employment -- part of a purge of undocumented workers from Trump's businesses amid revelations that the company relied on illegal labor for years, well into Trump's presidency. Gone, too, was his side job at the hunting retreat.

"All of the years you give them, and they just let you go," Quintero said in a recent interview at his home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "They do not say, 'Let's do something, let's try to help you.' They simply said, 'Your documents are not valid,' and that is it."

March 6, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


The Case for More Immigration (David R. Henderson, March 6, 2019, Defining Ideas)
Economists are almost unanimous in their view that when barriers to trade fall, the vast majority of residents of the country whose government reduces those barriers gains. They gain as consumers from the increased availability and variety of goods they can buy and from lower prices of imports, and their gains usually exceed by a big margin the losses to domestic producers who face new competition. That's the main reason that the vast majority of economists favor free trade.

Does this reasoning carry over to movement of people rather than just movement of goods? Yes. In the remainder of this article I explain why that's so, and discuss possible objections to immigration, whether those objections hold water, and ways of handling those objections. I'll give the bottom line here: Virtually every objection to immigration to the United States has been exaggerated. For every objection, there are persuasive, evidence-based defenses.  

Consider first why immigration is good for immigrants and good for the existing American residents. The reason is one of the simplest and yet most powerful ideas in economics: both sides gain from trade.  If they didn't gain, they wouldn't do it. The vast majority of the adults who come here do so to work. So they produce something valuable here that is sold to someone here. Both the buyer and the seller gain.

These gains are huge. The reason is that people who come here from poor countries are automatically two to eight times as productive as they were in the country they left. Think about the person who leaves Haiti to come to the United States. Even if, as is likely, he has few job skills, those skills will give him an income in the United States that is a large multiple of what he could earn in Haiti. The majority of the gain goes to the immigrant. But we who are already here gain too. We gain from lower prices and more variety in the goods and services that immigrants produce. The American mother, for example, who wants to work outside the home, can more easily find someone to take care of her child. The person like me who loves nice lawns but hates mowing them can more easily find someone to do so.

Michael A. Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development, estimates that allowing a lot more people from low-productivity poor countries into high-productivity rich countries would increase world GDP by trillions of dollars. That's not a typo. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Far-Right, White Supremacist Group Identity Evropa Worked the Phones to Keep Steve King in Office (Colin Kalmbacher, March 6th, 2019, Law & Crime)

Far-right, white supremacist group Identity Evropa, which has been designated as a hate group, worked feverishly to keep Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in office, according to internal chat logs released Wednesday by an independent media organization.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


What Trump's secret school records tell us about 2016 and 2020 (Paul Waldman, March 6, 2019, Washington Post)

Obviously, if Trump were a straight-A student who aced his SATs, he would have been more than happy to have those records made public. But why would it have mattered so much even if he wasn't? Who would really care whether a man in his 70s got a C in history class a half century ago?

It's more than just embarrassment. The answer lies in the narrative Trump was writing, not just about himself but about Obama and the entire American system.

That narrative told white voters that their resentments and disappointments were both perfectly valid and not their fault. When Trump told them that the system was "rigged" against them, he wasn't talking about wealth and power. He was talking about white people supposedly being held back, by immigrants and undeserving black people who had been pushed ahead of them to the front of the line.

Central to that picture was the idea that Obama was the most undeserving of all. Trump turned himself from a reality show character to a political figure by becoming the country's most prominent advocate of birtherism, the racist theory that Obama was not a real American but, in fact, had been born in Kenya.

What may be not quite as well remembered is that Trump also repeatedly demanded that Obama release his transcripts, and claimed over and over that Obama could not possibly have gotten into Columbia University and Harvard Law School on merit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


DO KURDS HOLD KEYS TO SYRIAN PEACE? (Karlos Zurutuza, 3/06/19, OZY)

[I]n recent days, Syria's Kurds have released 300 former ISIS militants, having determined that the fighters didn't have blood on their hands. This sign of leadership is helping Kurds gain credibility outside their own circles. Syria's Kurds are credited with much of the success against the militants, but Salih Muslim Muhammad, the best-known face of Kurdish opposition in the Syrian civil war, believes he and his colleagues deserve far more credit for the revolution inside Syria. Meanwhile, Kurds are negotiating with the Australian government, asking it to take Australian ISIS fighters back -- underscoring how the Kurds weren't just central to the fight against the ISIS but also to the creation of a post-ISIS future for Syria.

Muslim, the former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main political party for Kurds in Syria, which he founded in 2003, today serves as head of international relations for the party and as its spokesperson. OZY sat down with him to discuss the American withdrawal from the region and its repercussion for the Kurds. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. [...]


We're just asking for the decentralization of the country, constitutional reforms and a democratization process, not just for the Kurds but for all Syrians. We haven't received any answer, because Syria has to agree on every move with Russia and Iran. Our delegation visited Moscow with a road map, which received good feedback from the Russians. Neither the so-called Syrian opposition nor the regime has a plan for the country; they don't follow any democratic principles, they don't recognize society's most basic rights. But we do, and we truly think that's the only way to achieve peace in Syria. [Muslim is referring to decentralization of Syria, recognition of non-Arab demographics like Kurds, Syriacs and Armenians and a true democratization process.]

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Brazil's Bolsonaro tweets obscene video, draws fire (Al Jazeera, 3/06/19)

Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has become embroiled in a firestorm of criticism after re-publishing obscene footage from the Latin American giant's ongoing carnival festivities.

The new president, frequently criticised for remarks disparaging women, gay people and black people, posted a tweet on Tuesday including a video showing a man urinating on another man's head, as a way of denouncing what he sees as moral degeneracy in the country.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Lawyers claiming ties to Rudy Giuliani approached Michael Cohen after FBI raids; investigators looking at contacts (ELIANA LARRAMENDIA, JAMES HILL LAUREN PEARLE Mar 6, 2019, ABC News)

The sources familiar with the contacts said the two lawyers first reached out to Cohen late in April of last year and that the discussions continued for about two months. The attorneys, who have no known formal ties to the White House, urged Cohen not to leave the joint defense agreement, the sources told ABC News, and also offered a Plan B. In the event Cohen opted to exit the agreement, they could join his legal team and act as a conduit between Cohen and the president's lawyers.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Cohen gives documents to House panel on Trump attorney alleged changes to 2017 testimony (Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, March 6, 2019, CNN)

Michael Cohen on Wednesday provided the House Intelligence Committee with new documents showing edits to the false written statement he delivered to Congress in 2017 about the Trump Organization's pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project into the 2016 campaign season, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

It's tough to choose which guy you respected who has done the most damage to his soul on behalf of Donald, but Jay Sekulow ranks right near the top.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


New poll: Americans' support for Israel declines to lowest point in a decade (ERIC CORTELLESSA, 3/06/19, Times of Israel)

Whereas 65 percent of Americans said they were "more sympathetic" to Israel over the Palestinians in 2018, 59% said the same in 2019, marking a six point drop. That decline is the biggest over a one-year period in the history of the poll, which began in 2001.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


U.S. trade deficit jumps to 10-year high in 2018 (Reuters, 3/06/19)

The U.S. trade deficit surged to a 10-year high in 2018, with the politically sensitive shortfall with China hitting a record peak, despite the Trump administration slapping tariffs on a range of imported goods in an effort to shrink the gap.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Enhancing Medicare Advantage (Chris Pope, February 28, 2019, Manhattan Institute)

Medicare funds health-care services for 60 million elderly and disabled Americans. Of these, 39 million receive coverage through a plan known as "Traditional Medicare" or "Medicare Fee-for-Service" (MFFS) that the federal government administers directly. Increasing numbers--21 million in 2019--enroll in Medicare Advantage (MA), choosing Medicare coverage from competing plans managed by private insurers.

Medicare's Fee-for-Service payment system has hampered appropriate coordination of care and inflated costs by paying separately for each medical procedure or service delivered to beneficiaries, regardless of their value. As every detail of its operation is highly politicized and hard to reform, MFFS has an outdated benefit structure that leaves elderly and disabled enrollees exposed to potentially catastrophic out-of-pocket costs.

By contrast, MA plans have broad flexibility to upgrade operations. They are able to reduce costs and improve medical outcomes by making better use of primary care, negotiating discounts with preferred networks of providers, and managing chronic conditions to avoid expensive hospitalizations. This allows them to attract enrollees by reducing out-of-pocket costs and enhancing benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


From video game to day job: How 'SimCity' inspired a generation of city planners (JESSICA ROY, MAR 05, 2019, LA Times)

Jason Baker was studying political science at UC Davis when he got his hands on "SimCity." He took a careful approach to the computer game.

"I was not one of the players who enjoyed Godzilla running through your city and destroying it. I enjoyed making my city run well."

This conscientious approach gave him a boost in a class on local government. Instead of writing a term paper about three different models for how cities can develop, Baker proposed building three scenarios in "SimCity," then letting the game run on its own and writing about how his virtual cities fared.

He ended up getting an A. Playing "SimCity," Baker said, "helped remind me of the importance of local government, which is what I ended up doing for a living."

Today, Baker is the vice president of transportation and housing at the nonprofit Silicon Valley Leadership Group. He served as a council member in Campbell, Calif., from 2008 to 2016, a tenure that included two stints as mayor.

Thirty years ago, Maxis released "SimCity" for Mac and Amiga. It was succeeded by "SimCity 2000" in 1993, "SimCity 3000" in 1999, "SimCity 4" in 2003, a version for the Nintendo DS in 2007, "SimCity: BuildIt" in 2013 and an app launched in 2014.

Along the way, the games have introduced millions of players to the joys and frustrations of zoning, street grids and infrastructure funding -- and influenced a generation of people who plan cities for a living. For many urban and transit planners, architects, government officials and activists, "SimCity" was their first taste of running a city. It was the first time they realized that neighborhoods, towns and cities were things that were planned, and that it was someone's job to decide where streets, schools, bus stops and stores were supposed to go.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM

HURRY 2021:

Trump in trouble in Florida poll (MARC CAPUTO, 03/06/2019, Politico)

Just 40 percent of Florida voters said they believed the president should be reelected, while 53 percent were opposed to a second term, according to a new Bendixen & Amandi International poll.

Trump's approval ratings were also poor, with 43 percent having a favorable impression of Trump, and 52 percent viewing him unfavorably -- and 46 percent very unfavorably. Trump's approval ratings look even worse when compared with the man he helped make Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, who has a 50 percent approval rating while only 23 percent disapprove.

Mr. DeSantis morphed into Andrew Gillum as soon as he took office.  Donald has consistently doubled down on David Duke. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


John Bolton puts his singular stamp on Trump's National Security Council (Karen DeYoung, Greg Jaffe, John Hudson and Josh Dawsey March 4, 2019, Washington Post)

The contradictions of Bolton's tenure were apparent in the wake of last week's collapsed Hanoi summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Bolton dutifully reiterated Trump's assessment that the summit was a success. But he offered little support for that judgment or the president's approach beyond saying in an interview with CNN on Sunday that Trump "remains optimistic."

Asked whether the summit effort was worth it, Bolton took a pass.

"He obviously thinks it's worth trying," Bolton said of the president.

Asked about Kim's insistence that he wasn't involved in the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, Bolton declined to back Trump, who had said he took Kim "at his word."

"My opinion doesn't matter. . . .," he said. "I am not the national security decision-maker. That's [Trump's] view." [...]

He has cut to a bare minimum meetings in which top national security officials present and vet options for the president. In some cases, he has replaced subject experts detailed to the National Security Council from other agencies with ideological soul mates who have little experience serving at the most senior levels of policymaking.

His approach to the job and the president's disinclination to read lengthy briefings or consult experts have afforded Bolton vast power over an often disorderly foreign policy process.

And Donald is so blinded by his hatred of Iran he doesn't even notice the Neocon coup. Comic gold.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Trump Pushes for China Deal to Fuel Market Rally, Sources Say (Jennifer Jacobs  and Saleha Mohsin, March 6, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump is pressuring U.S. trade negotiators to cut a deal with China soon in hope of fueling a market rally, as he grows increasingly concerned that the lack of an agreement could drag down stocks, according to people familiar with the matter.


Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


This Is Your Brain on Nationalism: The Biology of Us and Them (Robert Sapolsky, March/April 2019, Foreign Affairs)

The human mind's propensity for us-versus-them thinking runs deep. Numerous careful studies have shown that the brain makes such distinctions automatically and with mind-boggling speed. Stick a volunteer in a brain scanner and quickly flash pictures of faces. Among typical white subjects in the scanner, the sight of a black man's face activates the amygdala, a brain region central to emotions of fear and aggression, in under one-tenth of a second. In most cases, the prefrontal cortex, a region crucial for impulse control and emotional regulation, springs into action a second or two later and silences the amygdala: "Don't think that way, that's not who I am." Still, the initial reaction is usually one of fear, even among those who know better.

This finding is no outlier. Looking at the face of someone of the same race activates a specialized part of the primate brain called the fusiform cortex, which recognizes faces, but it is activated less so when the face in question is that of someone of another race. Watching the hand of someone of the same race being poked with a needle activates the anterior cingulate cortex, a region implicated in feelings of empathy; being shown the same with the hand of a person of another race produces less activation. Not everyone's face or pain counts equally.

At every turn, humans make automatic, value-laden judgments about social groups. Suppose you are prejudiced against ogres, something you normally hide. Certain instruments, such as the Implicit Association Test, will reveal your prejudice nonetheless. A computer screen alternates between faces and highly emotive terms, such as "heroic" or "ignorant." In response, you are asked to quickly press one of two buttons. If the button pairings fit your biases ("press Button A for an ogre's face or a negative term and Button B for a human face or a positive term"), the task is easy, and you will respond rapidly and accurately. But if the pairings are reversed ("press Button A for a human face or a negative term and Button B for an ogre's face or a positive term"), your responses will slow. There's a slight delay each time, as the dissonance of linking ogres with "graceful" or humans with "smelly" gums you up for a few milliseconds. With enough trials, these delays are detectable, revealing your anti-ogre bias--or, in the case of actual subjects, biases against particular races, religions, ethnicities, age groups, and body types.

Needless to say, many of these biases are acquired over time. Yet the cognitive structures they require are often present from the outset. Even infants prefer those who speak their parents' language. They also respond more positively to--and have an easier time remembering--faces of people of their parents' race. Likewise, three-year-olds tend to prefer people of their own race and gender. This is not because children are born with innate racist beliefs, nor does it require that parents actively or implicitly teach their babies racial or gender biases, although infants can pick up such environmental influences at a very young age, too. Instead, infants like what is familiar, and this often leads them to copy their parents' ethnic and linguistic in-group categorizations.

Sometimes the very foundations of affection and cooperation are also at the root of humankind's darker impulses. Consider oxytocin, a compound whose reputation as a fuzzy "cuddle hormone" has recently taken a bit of a hit. In mammals, oxytocin is central to mother-infant bonding and helps create close ties in monogamous couples. In humans, it promotes a whole set of pro-social behaviors. Subjects given oxytocin become more generous, trusting, empathic, and expressive. Yet recent findings suggest that oxytocin prompts people to act this way only toward in-group members--their teammates in a game, for instance. Toward outsiders, it makes them aggressive and xenophobic. Hormones rarely affect behavior this way; the norm is an effect whose strength simply varies in different settings. Oxytocin, however, deepens the fault line in our brains between "us" and "them."

Put simply, neurobiology, endocrinology, and developmental psychology all paint a grim picture of our lives as social beings. When it comes to group belonging, humans don't seem too far from the families of chimps killing each other in the forests of Uganda: people's most fundamental allegiance is to the familiar. Anything or anyone else is likely to be met, at least initially, with a measure of skepticism, fear, or hostility. In practice, humans can second-guess and tame their aggressive tendencies toward the Other. Yet doing so is usually a secondary, corrective step.

...Donald and the Trumpbots are post-Christian party that has surrendered to Nature.  It's an understandable impulse given how hard Man must work to be decent.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


In Defense of Andrew Yang's Freedom Dividend (Samuel Kronen, 3/06/19, Quillette)

There are three major critiques of Universal Basic Income: Cost, Inflation, and Incentive.

To provide 1000 dollars a month to every American citizen today, the headline cost would be about $2.4 trillion a year. The federal budget is around $4 trillion a year, distributed between mandatory spending (i.e. Social Security and Medicare--about $2.4 trillion), discretionary spending (i.e. military programs--about $1.11 trillion), and interest on federal debt (about $364 billion). With that in mind, $2.4 trillion sounds pretty steep.

But there are other avenues through which UBI could be paid for. If the gains from artificial intelligence and new technologies were harnessed, there would be a surplus of wealth to invest into the economy. Yang has proposed instituting a value added tax on all goods and services, at every level of production and distribution, putting the onus on large companies who benefit most from automation.

This is estimated to generate almost $1 trillion in national revenue, and when we take into account the $800 billion spent on welfare that would decrease in the wake of UBI, along with the tax revenue generated from the extra $1000 a month circulating back into the economy and the 100s of billions that would be saved in healthcare, incarceration, and homelessness services, the Freedom Dividend could end up paying for itself. That is not to mention the potential value gains from having a population with higher rates of education, health, nutrition, and productivity that are estimated to improve with UBI according to a number of studies on already existent trial runs. (The state of Alaska, the leading example, instituted a dividend for its citizens over 30 years ago primarily funded by oil money, and Yang is quick to note that technology is the oil of the twenty-first century.)

That is optimistic. Allocating funds from the myriad social programs already in place into a UBI could prove to be a dicey process, and taxing powerful corporations has never been child's play. Another issue often brought up against a UBI platform is the prospect of inflation. If more wealth is being distributed across the population, won't that make for increased prices and lead to a decrease in the value of money?

According to Yang, inflation has been low for years because globalization and technology have been helping reduce the cost of goods and services, and there is no good reason to believe that trend wont continue. Even after the 2008 financial crisis, when the U.S. government printed $4 trillion, we have not seen a meaningful rise in inflation. If the Freedom Dividend were indeed able to pay for itself through a value added tax, the liquidation of other social services, and a general stimulation of the economy (the Roosevelt Institute estimates economic growth of about 13 percent and an increase in the labor force by about 4.5 million people), the money supply circulating in society would not increase substantially. This would produce little to no inflation. Yang also points out that the central areas of inflation tend to fall into the protected dysfunctional markets of housing, health care, and education rather than consumer goods where prices are actually falling.

Finally, one of the most common and reflexive arguments leveled against UBI is that it mirrors the fundamental flaw of the Welfare State: the absence of a stable incentive structure. If every American citizen is going to receive free money with not a single qualification or requirement, won't we all just become more lazy? I find this to be the least compelling argument against UBI, largely because it fails to acknowledge the actual problem with welfare policies. The issue with welfare is not that it creates no incentive, it is that it creates a disincentive. If a person is on disability, for example, getting better would mean getting off the dole, so there is actually an incentive not to re-enter the job market. If a single mother is on welfare and bringing a husband into the picture will suspend that monthly check, then she will be less inclined to find a husband. It is subtle shift in one's thought process that enhances an underlying feeling of dependency. The issue with welfare is not that it's free money; the issue is that the requirements necessary to receive welfare benefits tend to reward failure and punish success.

There has always been just one argument against such a program: you and I didn't need it.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


In the Middle of His Official Business, Trump Took the Time to Send Checks to Michael Cohen (Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, March 5, 2019, NY Times)

On a busy day at the White House, President Trump hosted senators to talk about tax cuts, accused a Democratic congresswoman of distorting his condolence call to a soldier's widow and suffered another court defeat for his travel ban targeting Muslim countries. [...]

[O]n the same day he reportedly pressured the F.B.I. director to drop an investigation into a former aide, the president's trust issued a check to Mr. Cohen in furtherance of what federal prosecutors have called a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws at the direction of Mr. Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Rand Paul: Sure, Vaccines Are OK, But We Shouldn't Trade 'Liberty' for 'False Sense of Security' (Sam Stein, 03.05.19, Daily Beast)

During a Senate Health Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized the idea that parents should be required to vaccinate their children and perpetuated the notion that vaccines themselves could cause harm.  

The speech--which came during the opening moments of the hearing, and in the midst of two major measles outbreaks--was framed as an argument in favor of personal liberty, a posture that Paul routinely adopts. But in offering his thoughts, the Kentucky Republican furthered the argument that it is socially reasonable not to vaccinate your kids, a mindset that the scientific community says is already worsening communal health crises.

"As we contemplate forcing parents to choose this or that vaccine, I think it's important to remember that force is not consistent with the American story, nor is force consistent with the liberty our forefathers sought when they came to America," said Paul, reading off a paper.

Just another way in which libertarians oppose actual liberty.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


The federal deficit ballooned at start of new fiscal year, up 77 percent from a year before (Damian Paletta, March 5 , 2019, Washington Post)

When Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives during the Obama administration, lawmakers and White House officials embarked on a number of strained negotiations to try to reduce the gap between spending and tax revenue. During the Trump administration, there have not been any similar discussions, and President Trump has largely enacted an agenda of tax cuts and spending increases that had grown the deficit markedly.

...let's not hear from these guys about how it costs too much.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bernie Sanders signs DNC loyalty pledge: 'I am a member of the Democratic Party' (Alex Seitz-Wald, 3/06/19, NBC news)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has formally declared himself a member of the Democratic Party as he seeks its presidential nomination in 2020, abiding by new Democratic National Committee rules.

"I am a member of the Democratic Party," reads the statement to the DNC that Sanders signed and notarized Tuesday. It also asserts that Sanders will serve as a Democrat if elected president and that the DNC can determine who is "a bonafide Democrat."

Isn't he already pledged to the Socialist International?

March 5, 2019

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Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


France's burning hate (Noëlle Lenoir, 3/05/19, tHE STRATEGIST)

Emmanuel Macron's unexpected victory in the 2017 French presidential election, with 66% of the vote, made France seem, at least to some, a safe haven from the populism roiling European politics. His triumph came as a relief to a large majority of the French, as well as to other governments in the European Union and around the world.

But Macron's victory incited a form of near-hysterical derangement among his opponents on the extreme right and left. The increasingly violent, racist and anti-Semitic 'Yellow Vest' protests are the visible manifestation of that rage.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Ilhan Omar Has a Point (JORDAN WEISSMANN, MARCH 05, 2019, Slate)

In early 2015, as the Obama administration was deep into negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stridently opposed the deal, to address a joint session of Congress. The speech itself, which was intended to convince Congress to scuttle the agreement, turned out to be a dud. Instead of shaming Democrats into opposing the deal, Bibi seemed to unify them in support of it. But the public spectacle of a foreign leader attempting to undermine the American president on U.S. soil at the request of his political adversaries was symbolically striking. Later, polling would show that GOP voters generally felt more warmly about Netanyahu than their actual commander in chief. "Republicans haven't just rejected Obama. They have adopted Netanyahu as their leader," Slate's Will Saletan wrote at the time.

"Does a majority of the Republican Party identify more with Israeli interests than with American interests?" he continued. "When Israel's prime minister speaks on the floor of Congress, do Republicans feel more allegiance to him than to their president? If so, will the feeling subside once Obama leaves office? Or does it signify an enduring rift in the fabric of this country?" [...]

In recent years, Israel's most conservative backers (the vast majority of whom are not Jewish) have taken steps that unfortunately blur the distinction between supporting a country and showing loyalty to it. Welcoming Netanyahu to Washington in 2015 was one example. Boehner made the unprecedented decision to invite the Israeli prime minister without first informing the White House, to ensure that "there was no interference" from the administration. Some suggested the move may have been unconstitutional. It is normal and healthy for Congress and the White House to clash over foreign policy. It is not normal, however, for opposition lawmakers and a foreign leader to publicly work hand in hand to undermine the diplomatic efforts of a sitting U.S. president. This does not mean Republicans were actively trying to undermine America's interests on behalf of Israel; they saw them as one in the same. But given a choice between Netanyahu and Obama, as Saletan wrote, it was pretty clear whom Republicans felt more loyalty to.

The raging fight over the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement--or BDS--is a more recent and clear-cut example where Israel's backers have placed its interests above those of their countrymen. Supporters of BDS--including Omar and her colleague Rep. Rashida Tlaib--are trying to borrow a page from the anti-apartheid playbook by economically isolating Israel so it will be forced to make a peace deal with the Palestinians. Israel's backers see BDS as inherently anti-Semitic, in part because they believe it is an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state's existence and because other countries aren't facing boycotts for their human rights abuses. (There aren't a lot of campus activists protesting China's decision to throw the Uighurs in re-education camps, for instance.*) It's a complicated issue, but pushed by pro-Israel activists, at least 25 states have come down hard on it by passing laws aimed at barring businesses and individuals from government contract work if they take part in BDS. A speech pathologist is currently suing the state of Texas because she allegedly lost her job after refusing to sign a contract promising not to support a boycott of Israel.

What do you call a law that prioritizes the economic well-being of Israel over the free speech rights of individual Americans? 

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Goldman Sachs: First quarter of 2019 is a "GDP pothole" (Dion Rabouin, 3/05/19, Axios)

The Atlanta Fed's GDPNow model is known for predicting GDP readings that start out exceedingly high and eventually recoil back to trend.

But Monday's reading shows expectations for just 0.3% growth in the first quarter of 2019. It followed a weak U.S. construction spending report that badly missed expectations.

Since the Tax Cut and Jobs Act was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2017, the metric has largely trended upward, but has fallen significantly since the beginning of the third quarter in 2018.

Donald is the only thing that can stop the American economy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Crossing Divides: Has the UK changed its mind on immigration? (BBC, 4 March 2019)

Almost half the people in the UK believe immigration has been positive for the country, a poll for the BBC's Crossing Divides season suggests.

Just over a quarter of nearly 1,500 people who took the Ipsos-Mori online survey felt it had a negative impact.

The findings are in line with other surveys suggesting Britain has changed from being generally negative about immigration before the Brexit vote.

In 2011, 64% of Britons told Ipsos-Mori immigration had been bad for the UK.

Just the illusion that Brexit has given Britain control of its borders is sufficient.  It's just an aesthetic matter for all but the hard core.
Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


House panel taps veteran prosecutor to lead Trump probe (Nathan Layne, Mark Hosenball, 3/05/19, Reuters) 

The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said on Tuesday it had hired a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan with experience investigating Russian mobsters and white-collar crime to lead its probe into the Trump administration.

The hiring of Daniel Goldman is the latest move by the House's new Democratic majority to add legal firepower to an expanding list of investigations into the affairs of Republican President Donald Trump and his associates.

64 Percent Of U.S. Voters Say Trump Committed A Crime, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds (Quinnipiac University Polling, 3/05/19)

President Donald Trump committed crimes before he became president, American voters say 64 - 24 percent in a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today. 

Republicans say 48 - 33 percent that President Trump did not commit crimes before he was president, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University National Poll finds. Every other listed party, gender, education, age and racial group says by wide margins that Trump committed crimes. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Mystery Mueller Opponent Says U.S. 'Ignores' Warning of 'Foreign-Policy Nightmare' if Case Moves Forward (Ronn Blitzer, March 5th, 2019, Law & Crime)

In a court filing on Tuesday, the home country of the company, referred to in court documents as "Country A," claimed that the United States doesn't have jurisdiction over other countries in criminal matters. They also said that the U.S. government, in their pursuit of this case, "strangely ignores" the specter of "reciprocal treatment" if the matter is allowed to move forward.

Vlad really thinks our elite cabal is accidentally poisoning relations?

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


'Spectacular blow' to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau as star minister Jane Philpott quits cabinet over his handling of SNC-Lavalin scandal (Associated Press, 5 Mar, 2019)

Another member of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet resigned Monday over his handling of a scandal that has shaken the government in an election year.

Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, considered a star minister, said in a resignation letter that it was "untenable" for her to continue in the Cabinet because she could not defend the government.

Philpott's friend, former Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, testified last week that Trudeau and senior members of his government inappropriately tried to pressure her to avoid prosecution of a major Canadian engineering company in a case involving allegations of corruption in Libya.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Kavanaugh Comes Out Strong for Religious Liberty in Comment (Charles Fain Lehman, March 4, 2019, Free Beacon)

[I]n a statement regarding the denial of certiorari, Kavanaugh and colleagues Justices Alito and Gorsuch made clear that they thought the general principle of religious non-discrimination was a well-supported and important one.

"The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the State's discrimination [in blocking funding] did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments," Kavanaugh wrote. "In my view, the decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court is in serious tension with this Court's religious equality precedents."

Kavanaugh traces this basic principle--that churches cannot be treated differently simply by dint of religious affiliation--to a bevy of cases on everything from prohibiting ministers from serving as delegates to a constitutional convention, to a New York school district that sought to deny a religious group use of a public high school, to the recent religious liberty win in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, in which the court found that a Lutheran church could not be excluded from receiving public funding for refurbishing its playground.

"As this Court has repeatedly held, governmental discrimination against religion--in particular, discrimination against religious persons, religious organizations, and religious speech--violates the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause," he wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Rock star Jack White is helping restore a Detroit-area Negro Leagues Stadium (Matt Monagan, March 4, 2019, Cut4

80 years ago, Hamtramck Stadium, located about six miles northeast of Detroit, was a mecca of baseball talent. It was home to the Detroit Stars/Wolves -- one of the best teams to ever play in the Negro National League -- for three seasons. Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes starred for the home team, Satchel Paige brought his bag of tricks as a visitor and Josh Gibson unleashed his power on the stadium's maddening dimensions.

But, besides some rec leagues and a few amazingly dominant Little League teams in the 1950s, the field -- one of the few remaining from the Negro Leagues era -- has fallen into disuse. The grass has become overgrown, graffiti litters the grandstand and the sounds of baseball have grown silent.

On Monday, though, Stearnes' daughter Rosilyn Stearnes-Brown and the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium announced a new campaign to raise $50,000 to restore the park. And right away, they got a hefty $10,000 donation from a Detroit legend.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump's Fatal Attraction (MONA CHAREN, March 1, 2019, The Bulwark)

The world is full of misery, and American leaders sometimes have to deal with unsavory characters. But nothing required President Trump to pick up the phone in 2017 and say to Duterte, "You are a good man . . . . You are doing an unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing, and I just wanted to call and tell you that."

Explaining the need for a wall on the southern border, Trump offered this odd report from a conversation with China's Xi Jinping, who apparently told the president that China has no drug problem because they employ the death penalty. He found this exhilarating. "If we want to get smart, we can get smart," Trump said. "You can end the drug problem, can end it a lot faster than you think."

It would be less disturbing if Mr. Trump's chief weakness were for porn stars and money. Alas, his attraction to thugs seems even stronger.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


'Where are the women's teams?': Trump ignores women's champions in White House sports ceremonies (David Nakamura, March 4, 2019, Washington Post)

Not a single women's championship team has made a solo visit to the White House under Trump, although several women's teams participated in an event in 2017 during which Trump celebrated numerous men's and women's college champions in nonrevenue sports.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's Grip Shows Signs of Slipping as Senate Prepares to Block Wall Emergency (Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Emily Cochrane, March 4, 2019, NY Times)

"It simply sends a message that Congress is going to stand up for its institutional prerogatives and abide by the separation-of-powers framework that was carefully worked out by the framers in the Constitution," Ms. Collins said on Monday. "I truly don't see this as sending a message at all one way or the other about border security but rather about executive overreach."

Ross K. Baker, a political scientist and expert on Congress at Rutgers University, said passage of the resolution would amount to a "serious rebuke" of the president.

"It's Congress saying: 'This has gone far enough. We're not going to roll over and play dead for the president,'" Mr. Baker said. "It's the kind of thing that James Madison had in mind when he laid out in the Federalist Papers the argument for separation of powers and checks and balances."

March 4, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Trump's trade war is politically motivated, yet hurts consumers and GOP voters, study shows (MICHAEL HILTZIK, MAR 04, 2019, LA Times)

President Trump and China's President Xi Jinping leave a meeting together in Beijing in 2017. Their trade war continues. (Nicolas Asfouri / AFP/Getty Images)
The economic rationale for President Trump's trade war with China has been so threadbare and the likelihood of losses so great that no one should be surprised that it hasn't been the success Trump predicted.

But the nature of its failure hasn't been quantified, until now. In a newly released study draft, a team of economists find that U.S. consumers have paid the entire price for Trump's tariffs. Producers in America's agricultural heartland -- largely Republican -- have been especially hammered.

"Workers in very Republican counties," they write, "bore the brunt of the costs of [the] trade war." Those in Democratic-leaning counties, meanwhile, "ended up experiencing relative gains (that is, experienced the smallest losses.)"

Of course, his supporters should bear the cost of race-driven policies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Google found it was underpaying more men than women for similar jobs (Lauren Feiner, 3/04/19, CNBC)

In an effort to address wage equity among women and members of minority groups, Google studied its own practices as it does every year. But the results showed the company was underpaying more men than women for doing similar jobs in software engineering.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


U.S. lawmakers complain Trump has taken 'no meaningful action' on abuse of China Muslims (David Brunnstrom, 3/04/19, Reuters)

"This issue is bigger than just China. It is about demonstrating to strongmen globally that the world will hold them accountable for their actions," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The group is led by Eliot Engel, Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and includes Republican ranking member Representative Ted Yoho.

A dictator abusing Muslims is the sweet spot.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Last Year Was the Deadliest for Pedestrians Since 1990 (DANIEL C. VOCK, FEBRUARY 28, 2019, Governing)
Pedestrian deaths have been on the rise for a decade, reaching their highest level since 1990 last year. According to preliminary estimates, there were 6,227 U.S. pedestrian deaths in 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


What Do the 13 Republicans Who Voted Against Trump's Emergency Declaration Have in Common?: It's not their ideology. Or the composition of their district. (ANDY SMARICK  MARCH 4, 2019, The Bulwark)

[A] curious--and potentially encouraging--event took place Tuesday: Thirteen Republicans in the House voted against the president's contrived emergency declaration. And what stood out about that group was how young they skewed.

Before the vote, I suspected that dissenting Republicans would be long-experienced institutionalists and conspicuous constitutionalists. People who'd been in Congress for decades and, thanks to seniority and a history of standing up for constitutional principles, had the freedom to buck House leadership and the White House on a vote that was lost anyway.

There were a few of those among the 13 dissidents. Four were 60 or older, and Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and Fred Upton, for instance, have each been in Congress for more than 30 years.

But Reps. Justin Amash, Elise Stefanik, and Mike Gallagher are in their 30s. Another four are between 40 and 45. None of these members have been in the House for a decade.

Age stands out because other obvious factors do not. Of the 13, a few won their 2018 elections in squeakers, but several others got more than 60 percent of the vote. Only two of the 13 are members of the conservative Freedom Caucus.

Ideology wasn't a clear predictor either. According to govtrack, Amash was the fifth-most liberal GOP member in the 115th Congress, but Stefanik and Gallagher were in the more conservative half of the caucus. Sensenbrenner and Francis Rooney had more conservative voting records than most of the GOP caucus, but Thomas Massie and Greg Walden had more liberal voting records.

In the last Congress, the average age in the House was about 58. In this new Congress, that number has fallen, largely because of the massive influx of young Democrats. Perhaps these young dissident Republicans are taking some inspiration from their new, forward-leaning colleagues across the aisle. Or maybe their relative youth gives them the opportunity to take the long view and realize that hitching their wagons to the Trump administration is unwise.

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Trump Told Cohen to Lie to Congress About "Collusion" in General--Not just the Moscow Tower deal (Ryan Goodman, March 4, 2019, just Security)

One of the jaw-dropping moments last Wednesday was the revelation of a White House meeting on Thursday, May 18, 2017 between President Trump, Cohen, and another of Trump's personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow. The purpose of the May 2017 meeting, according to apparently independent information in the possession of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and confirmed by Cohen, included Cohen's upcoming testimony before the House. What did President Trump tell Cohen to do in his testimony? Cohen testified, "He wanted me to cooperate. He also wanted just to ensure, I'm making the statement and I said it in my testimony, there is no Russia, there is no collusion, there is no -- there is no deal" (my emphasis added).

Connolly followed up by asking Cohen if the President coached him in how to testify. Cohen replied that Trump does not make these messages directly but the message was clear. Cohen said, "I know what he means because I've been around him for so long. So, if you're asking me whether or not that's the message, that's staying on point, that's the party line that he created that so many others are now touting, yes, that's the message that he wanted to reinforce." Cohen repeated the line that Trump told Cohen to maintain, "What he does is, again, 'Michael, there's no Russia, there's no collusion, there's no involvement, there's no interference'" (emphasis added).

CONNOLLY: In any way, final question, did the president, in any way from your point of view, coach you, in terms of how to respond to questions or the content of your testimony before a House Committee?

COHEN: Again, it's a difficult answer, because he doesn't tell you what he wants. What he does is, again, 'Michael, there's no Russia, there's no collusion, there's no involvement, there's no interference.'

I know what he means because I've been around him for so long. So, if you're asking me whether or not that's the message, that's staying on point, that's the party line that he created that so many others are now touting, yes, that's the message that he wanted to reinforce.

Cohen elaborated how Trump gives subordinates directions in response to a question by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mi). "He doesn't give you orders. He speaks in a code and I understand the code, because I've been around him for a decade," Cohen said.

AMASH: All right, but you suggested that the president sometimes communicates his wished indirectly. For example you said, quote, "Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress, that's not how he operates." End quote. Can you explain how he does this?

COHEN: Sure. It would be no different if I said, that's the nicest looking tie I've ever seen, isn't it? What are you going do? Are you going fight with him? The answer is no. So, you say, yes, it's the nicest looking tie I've ever seen. That's how he speaks. He doesn't give you questions. He doesn't give you orders. He speaks in a code and I understand the code, because I've been around him for a decade.

Cohen's sentencing memorandum, which he submitted to the federal court, flatly states that Cohen's conduct involving false statements to Congress on the Moscow Tower deal "was intended to benefit Client-1, in accordance with Client-1's directives." The term "directives" also fits Cohen's description of how Trump told Cohen, during the May 2017 meeting, to testify about collusion.

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The Steele Dossier's 'Corroborated' Claims Were Old News (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, March 4, 2019, National Review)

By autumn 2015, the FBI knew that the DNC servers had been hacked and that Russian operatives were surely the culprit. The Times reported as much on December 13, 2016.

It is well known in Western intelligence circles that WikiLeaks is, at least in part, a willing agent of Russian intelligence.

On June 12, 2016, over a month before WikiLeaks published the hacked DNC emails, Julian Assange gave an interview on the British television network ITV. In it, he announced, "We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton. . . . We have emails pending publication."

By the time of this June 12 interview, WikiLeaks had already published a searchable index of approximately 30,000 emails from the private server on which Secretary Clinton had systematically conducted State Department business. These were the emails that she disclosed to the State Department two years after leaving office, falsely claiming they were the only ones she had that involved government business.

The natural speculation after Assange's interview was that WikiLeaks had, and was poised to release, some or all of the approximately 32,000 emails Clinton had deleted and attempted to destroy -- i.e., the emails she had not surrendered to the State Department, falsely claiming none of them involved government business. But that is not what Assange said. To repeat, he coyly indicated only that the emails he was planning to publish were "in relation to Hillary Clinton."

Consequently, when WikiLeaks began publishing the hacked DNC emails on July 22, 2016, it was quickly and widely concluded that the Russians were responsible for the cyberespionage operation.

In one fell swoop he's gone from defending Donald to: acknowledging that collusion is obvious; conceding the FISA warrants did not require the dossier;  taking out Devin Nunes; and, defending the veracity of the dossier.  That's some Deep State level stuff.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


US Palestinian mission in Jerusalem to merge with Israel embassy (Middle East Monitor, March 4, 2019 )

The US consulate in Jerusalem, which serves Palestinians, will be absorbed into the new US Embassy to Israel on Monday, the State Department said, a planned merger that has angered Palestinian leadership, Reuters reports.

One of those instances of accidental clarity.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM

MADE MEN(DACITY) [profanity alert]:

The Making of the Fox News White House: Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda? (Jane Mayer, 3/11/19, The New Yorker)

When Shine assumed command at Fox, the 2016 campaign was nearing its end, and Trump and Clinton were all but tied. That fall, a reporter had a story that put the network's journalistic integrity to the test. Diana Falzone, who often covered the entertainment industry, had obtained proof that Trump had engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with a pornographic film actress calling herself Stormy Daniels. Falzone had worked on the story since March, and by October she had confirmed it with Daniels through her manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, and with Daniels's former husband, Mike Moz, who described multiple calls from Trump. Falzone had also amassed e-mails between Daniels's attorney and Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen, detailing a proposed cash settlement, accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. Falzone had even seen the contract.

But Falzone's story didn't run--it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, "Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go." LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone's colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.

Despite the discouragement, Falzone kept investigating, and discovered that the National Enquirer, in partnership with Trump, had made a "catch and kill" deal with Daniels--buying the exclusive rights to her story in order to bury it. Falzone pitched this story to Fox, too, but it went nowhere. News of Trump's payoffs to silence Daniels, and Cohen's criminal attempts to conceal them as legal fees, remained unknown to the public until the Wall Street Journal broke the story, a year after Trump became President.

In January, 2017, Fox demoted Falzone without explanation. That May, she sued the network. Her attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, declined to comment but acknowledged that a settlement has been reached; it includes a nondisclosure agreement that bars Falzone from talking about her work at Fox. [...]

Last June, after only six months of deliberation, the Trump Administration approved Fox's bid to sell most of its entertainment assets to Disney, for seventy-one billion dollars. The Murdoch family will receive more than two billion dollars in the deal, and will become a major stockholder in the combined company. The Justice Department expressed no serious antitrust concerns, even though the combined company will reportedly account for half the box-office revenue in America. Trump publicly congratulated Murdoch even before the Justice Department signed off on the deal, and claimed that it would create jobs. In fact, the consolidation is projected to result in thousands of layoffs.

In July, the F.C.C. blocked Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative rival to Fox, from combining with the Tribune Media Company. The F.C.C. argued that the deal would violate limits on the number of TV stations one entity can own, upending Sinclair's hope of becoming the next Fox.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, went to court in an effort to stop A. T. & T.'s acquisition of Time Warner, which owns CNN. Time Warner saw the deal as essential to its survival at a time when the media business is increasingly dominated by giant competitors such as Google and Facebook. Murdoch understood this impulse: in 2014, 21st Century Fox had tried, unsuccessfully, to buy Time Warner. For him, opposing his rivals' deal was a matter of shrewd business. Trump also opposed the deal, but many people suspected that his objection was a matter of petty retaliation against CNN. Although Presidents have traditionally avoided expressing opinions about legal matters pending before the judicial branch, Trump has bluntly criticized the plan. The day after the Justice Department filed suit to stop it, he declared the proposed merger "not good for the country." Trump also claimed that he was "not going to get involved," and the Justice Department has repeatedly assured the public that he hasn't done so.

However, in the late summer of 2017, a few months before the Justice Department filed suit, Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene. According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, "I've been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing's happened! I've mentioned it fifty times. And nothing's happened. I want to make sure it's filed. I want that deal blocked!"

Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage, and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, "Don't you f[***]ing dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way."

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Chile is charging ahead with electric vehicles (Natalia A. Ramos Miranda, 12/12/18, Reuters)

A massive cargo ship docked in the Chilean port of San Antonio at the end of November, carrying it its belly the first 100 electric buses from China that Chileans hope will revolutionize their public transport system.

Chile's ambitious plan to face down its capital Santiago's notorious smog problem includes the rollout of electric scooters, cars and taxis, as well as lorries for use in the mining industry. [...]

The operation and maintenance costs of an electric bus are also around 70 per cent less than those of a diesel engine, according to Chile's Ministry of Transport.

March 3, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 PM


Trump suggests Cohen hearing contributed to failure of North Korea summit (Reuters, 3/03/19) 

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that the Democrats' decision to interview his longtime fixer, lawyer Michael Cohen, on the same day as a meeting with Kim Jong Un may have led to the North Korea summit ending with no deal.

And Nancy still won't give him a safety word...

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Egypt allows Mecca-bound Palestinians to exit besieged Gaza Strip (Al Jazeera, 3/03/19)

Security sources on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing confirmed it was the first such permission for the Muslim Umrah pilgrimage since the start of Egyptian military operations in northern Sinai in 2014.

Egypt halted the Umrah programme for Palestinians in Gaza in 2015 over instability in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula that borders the Palestinian enclave, but still allowed transit for the main annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Umrah is the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca that can be completed throughout the year, as opposed to the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Around 2,500 pilgrims are authorised annually to leave Gaza via Egypt to perform Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam which every able-bodied Muslim who is able to afford the journey is obliged to undertake at least once in their lifetime.

The Rafah border is the main exit point for the majority of Gaza's two million population. The Erez crossing, the other exit for Palestinians in Gaza, is managed by Israel, who puts severe limitations on the number of people who can pass through it.

Gaza has been under a land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel since 2007 when Hamas - the group that governs the Strip - took over power after winning a parliamentary election.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Two sides of the globe, one painful lesson: Trump is debasing America (GARRY KASPAROV, MAR 03, 2019 , NY Daily News)

In this combination of images. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and President Donald Trump during their meeting Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi. (Evan Vucci / AP)
No matter how low your opinion may be of President Trump, he'll always find a way to lower it. On Wednesday, he outdid himself, breaking even the laws of physics by reaching new depths in two places at once. In Washington, Trump was revealed to be even more traitorous, venal and outright criminal than already assumed thanks to the congressional testimony of his long-time attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. Just hours later, in Hanoi, Trump was forced to walk away from his latest love-fest summit with one of the world's bloodiest dictators, North Korea's Kim Jong Un. [...]

He confirmed that Trump heard from Roger Stone that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would release emails that would damage Hillary Clinton. Assange and WikiLeaks have been lockstep collaborators with Russian intelligence services for years and cannot be considered to act independently from Putin's wishes.

Additionally, Deutsche Bank lent Trump hundreds of millions of dollars when no other institution would give him a dime. This is the same bank that was fined for laundering billions in Russian cash and was described by expert reporter Luke Harding as facilitating a "shuffle of money" between its business with Russians and its business with Trump. From Trump Tower to the hacked emails to the fishy loans to the polling data Manafort handed over to a Russian agent, the list of contacts and likely quid pro quos between Trump and Russia is long and growing. I believe the English term is "collusion."

Cohen's credibility was enhanced by his Republican interrogators, who debased themselves, their offices and Congress as an institution with their eagerness to attack one of the few people who can shed light on the threat Trump represents to the country. It is vital to understand what Putin extracted from Trump in exchange for keeping quiet about the Trump Tower arrangement and the Trumps' many lies about it. But it was clear from the start that the Republicans weren't interested in the truth, only in defending their Dear Leader.

They attempted to do this by calling Trump's right-hand man a liar and a crook, as if those characteristics aren't exactly why Trump relied on him for so many years. The GOP questioners didn't even try to exculpate Trump, conceding that his actions are indefensible so the only hope is discrediting the messenger. The GOP isn't angry with Cohen for lying to Congress in 2017 when he was doing it to defend Trump. They're angry that he stopped. [...]

Trump's wooing of murderous North Korean dictator would be inexcusable even if it achieved results. It hasn't. Instead, Kim has received the global elevation all dictators crave by being treated as an equal by the leader of the most powerful free country in the world and given up nothing he cares about. His country is still a concentration camp of 25 million souls, and he knows the only reason he is receiving first-class treatment is because of the nuclear weapons he will never relinquish.

Just as Russia loomed over the Cohen hearing, Putin's shadow was also present in Hanoi, with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov appearing right on time to claim that the "Americans are seeking our advice" on the negotiations. To be fair, if Kim listens to anyone, it's likely Putin, who helped turn the North Korean missile program into a global threat in record time.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


CPAC: Blexit Is Real!: Another day with the best that Conservatism Inc. has to offer. (MOLLY JONG-FAST,  MARCH 2, 2019, The Bulwark)

After Beck it went to the (other) future of the Republican party, Candace Owens. Say what you want about her grasp of history, but Owen is actually a really compelling speaker. And because she's from Trumpworld she also sells merch with the "Blexit" logo on it.

The idea of Blexit is that African-American voters are about to leave the Democratic party in droves because, Trump. This seems . . . unlikely? If you take Trump's net approval rating--which is right now only -9 (that's very, very good for him) and slice and dice it across a whole bunch of cohorts, you see that among African-Americans he is a staggering -64.7.

I want to take a minute and put that into some perspective for you. Pick a group of people that you think are really, super-duper anti-Trump. Maybe people who live in cities? They're a net -29. Okay, maybe people with post-graduate degrees? They're -30. There is literally no other measurable demographic group that thinks as negatively about Trump as African-Americans.

But wait--there's more! The best part is that Trump's approval rating among African-Americans is actually dropping. In January of 2017 he was "only" -47. Since then he's dropped by another third. Which means that since Candace Owens started selling Blexit gear, African-American voters actually became even more anti-Trump than they already were.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


$15 a Day to Drive? Londoners Say 'Thanks, I'll Take the Train' (Irene Garcia Perez, February 28, 2019, Bloomberg Business Week)

For most of the past decade, Samantha Basham drove the 16 miles to work in central London from the suburban borough of Bexley, but last year she switched to the train. Why? London's congestion charging system was costing her hundreds of pounds a month. These days, "I don't drive in at all," says Basham, 45, a freelance makeup artist for magazines and broadcasters. "I take the train even though I have to carry a heavy suitcase full of makeup."

Basham is among the thousands of Londoners who've shifted to public transport since the city introduced the charges in 2003. Drivers pay as much as £11.50 ($15) to enter central London from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The rules are enforced by cameras that snap photos of license tags at the zone's perimeter and by random camera checks inside. They've cut the number of cars entering the area by 30 percent on weekdays, the municipal transport agency says. While the primary goal of the charges was to ease traffic, they've also dampened auto sales: In 2017 some 710,000 cars were registered in London, down 2 percent from 2009, vs. an 11 percent increase across Britain.

More than a dozen cities worldwide have instituted similar programs, and after years of false starts, New York appears poised to impose a fee on vehicles in parts of Manhattan. Proponents say such plans result in time savings, fewer accidents, and lower carbon monoxide emissions--benefits that outweigh the cost of implementation.

To further limit pollution, London will double down on its system in April with an additional £12.50 daily fee for many older cars. 

March 2, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 PM


A small Maine city has begun reaping serious benefits from its solar power push (Abigail Curtis, February 27, 2019, Bangor Daily News)

On an otherwise unremarkable day last December, something powerful happened in the city of Belfast.

That was when the city's new 5-acre solar installation went online at the site of the still-under-construction public works facility off Crocker Road. And when it did, the 660-kilowatt project -- along with two other solar projects built within the past few years -- allowed the city to offset almost 90 percent of its municipal electric costs.

It's a good feeling, said Belfast City Councilor Eric Sanders, a founding member of the city's energy committee. Since it was formed half a decade ago, the committee has been working to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used by the city and to lower greenhouse gas and air pollutions emissions there.

"Every time we start getting meters clicking, we say to ourselves, that's what's supposed to happen," he said. "I view solar like people probably did telephone poles 100 years ago: It's going to happen. How do we best place ourselves as a leader for our citizens?"

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


US, South Korea to end key joint military exercises (SBS, 3/02/19)

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


The hipster effect: Why anti-conformists always end up looking the same (Emerging Technology from the arXiv,  February 28, 2019, MIT Technology Review)

You've probably seen this effect--perhaps you are a victim of it. You feel alienated from mainstream culture and want to make a statement that you are not part of it. You think about wearing different clothes, experimenting with a new hairstyle, or even trying unconventional makeup and grooming products.

And yet when you finally reveal your new look to the world, it turns out you are not alone--millions of others have made exactly the same choices. Indeed, you all look more or less identical, the exact opposite of the countercultural statement you wanted to achieve.

This is the hipster effect--the counterintuitive phenomenon in which people who oppose mainstream culture all end up looking the same. Similar effects occur among investors and in other areas of the social sciences.

How does this kind of synchronization occur? Is it inevitable in modern society, and are there ways for people to be genuinely different from the masses?

Today we get some answers thanks to the work of Jonathan Touboul at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Touboul is a mathematician who studies the way the transmission of information through society influences the behavior of people within it. He focuses in particular on a society composed of conformists who copy the majority and anticonformists, or hipsters, who do the opposite.

And his conclusion is that in a vast range of scenarios, the hipster population always undergoes a kind of phase transition in which members become synchronized with each other in opposing the mainstream. In other words, the hipster effect is the inevitable outcome of the behavior of large numbers of people.

One of the things that has most bewildered the vast majority of Americans who reject Trumpism is the way otherwise normal conservatives who supposedly reluctantly accepted him came to sound just like him.  It's just hipster conformity. MAGA hats are their flannel.

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


As India, Pakistan stand down, Kashmir remains on precarious edge (Zahid Rafiq, 3/01/19, Al Jazeera)

The present government has maintained that it wants to scrap the Article 35A enshrined in India's constitution that bars Indians from buying land in the disputed region. A case to scrap the Article aimed at protecting the demography of the Muslim-majority region is also being heard in India's Supreme Court.

Each time the hearing comes up at the Indian top court, there is a shutdown in Kashmir and people wait in silence and complete attention to hear the outcome, for it is perceived in Kashmir that the scrapping of the Article would be a landmark moment in the region, that will only increase the confrontation between New Delhi and Kashmir, setting course for a stronger resistance and deadlier violence.

In Kashmir, it is not only the pro-independence Kashmiri leaders and activists that are being targeted by the Indian government. As it fails to win any real ground, New Delhi seems to have turned on its "own people" too. After the February 14 bombing, the Indian government also removed the security cover of several leaders, including some pro-India politicians as well..

Waheed Parra, a young Kashmiri politician with the People's Democratic Party, is one of them. Parra's party shared power with the Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ruled Kashmir between 2015 and 2018, till BJP pulled out of the alliance, bringing the disputed region under direct rule from New Delhi.

Parra, like all other Kashmiri "pro-India" politicians, is seen in Kashmir as a "collaborator" who gives some semblance of legitimacy and "a handle to the axe" to India's rule in the region. Always at threat from the rebels and often even from people, Parra had six security guards and a bulletproof vehicle till last week. Now he has none.

"It was criminal on part of India to leave me like this at the mercy of the militants, it was almost like telling me to find out how many hours I would last," Parra told Al Jazeera. "Only because I speak of dignified peace and human rights of Kashmiris. Even that is unacceptable to them, even when I speak within the Indian constitution."

Parra is from Pulwama in the south of Kashmir, the same district where Dar, the suicide bomber came from, and where the worst bombing on Indian armed forces also took place.

He says he is vulnerable without the security cover considering the kind of work he did, like "arranging 6,000 Kashmiris for a visit of the Indian Home Minister [Rajnath Singh] to Kashmir," a no small feat considering the anti-India sentiment in the region.

"India kills the militants, blinds the protesters, jails the Hurriyat (pro-independence) leaders, and humiliates us," Parra says. "It [India] has only vindicated the stand of those leaders and people who refused to engage in its electoral process and boycotted their elections. We [pro-India politicians] have been used and discarded."

Parra and the politics his party and other pro-India parties in the region espoused - of getting a few concessions from the Indian government, a "healing touch policy" to show the humane face of India, and of a dialogue with India even when the dialogue was an end in itself - lie in dust on the trampled ground in Kashmir.

Parra too sees the writing on the wall, which is more violence from the Indian state and a violent resistance from Kashmir, and the fact is not lost on him that what happens in Kashmir may no longer stay in Kashmir. War hangs on the horizon perpetually, till the oldest running conflict in the world is not resolved.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


German carmakers to invest 60 billion euros in electric cars and automation: VDA (Reuters, 3/02/19) 

Germany's car industry is to invest nearly 60 billion euros ($68 billion) over the next three years on electric cars and automated driving, the head of the VDA car industry association said ahead of the Geneva motor show.

"We will invest over 40 billion euros in electric mobility during the next three years, and another 18 billion euros will be invested in digitization and connected and automated driving," VDA president Bernhard Mattes said in a statement on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


Hannah Gadsby Is 'Comfortable' Not Being Funny in First Stand-up Set After 'Nanette' (Tarpley Hitt, 03.02.19, Daily Beast)

The new show arrives on the heels of Nanette, a comedy special which aired on Netflix last summer, sending waves through the think-piece internet and comedy Twitterverse. The special, for those who managed not to hear about it, had nothing to do with the name Nanette, and everything to do with a problem Gadsby saw in her industry--namely, an expectation that comedy minorities make themselves the butt of the joke. [...]

However people felt about Nanette, part of what made it unusual and noteworthy was Gadsby's ability to repackage an oppressively familiar theme--the sidelining of marginal voices in comedy--in a surprising, inarguably novel way. In Douglas, the comic seemed to struggle with finding a way to talk about similar subjects with equal originality, often falling back on woke cliches and one-dimensional girlbossery, as if parroting Resistance catchphrases could do both comedic and analytical labor for her. "The U.S. is the straight white man of culture," she says at one point. In another moment, while running off a series of allegedly unpopular opinions, Gadsby manages to compile an almost universally agreed upon list of enemies (bikini models, the paleo diet, golf, atheists, chivalry, Elon Musk, to name only a few). "Believe women," she adds later, almost out of the blue.

in other words, she is the butt of the joke.  That's genius.

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Ilhan Omar's Latest Remarks on Israel Draw Criticism (Karen Zraick, March 1, 2019, NY Times)

The sentence that garnered the most attention was, "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is O.K. for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." [...]

At one point, Mr. Shallal asked about anti-Semitism, saying it was "an issue that tends to keep popping up over and over again."

"I know that's a very sensitive topic and I know it's an issue that has been out there and it's used oftentimes to quiet people, to disparage them, to isolate them," he said.

He asked Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib to discuss how the issue was playing out in the political sphere and how progressives could support them so their criticism of Israeli policies would not be seen as anti-Semitic.

"Because you're not criticizing the religion. You're not criticizing Jewish people. You're criticizing government policies," he added, "just like we criticize government policies here in the United States."

Ms. Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, then talked about her love for her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank, and her drive to humanize the discussion around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"This conversation and debate around human rights for everyone, this conversation around what that looks like, is not centered around hate, it's actually centered so much around love," she said.

Ms. Omar sounded a similar note, saying the country had not "uplifted" the stories of Palestinians. But she added that she had heard Jewish constituents, colleagues and friends say that some Palestinians do not want or deserve safety.

She said she did not "go into the dark place" of assuming those people were Islamophobic. But she said she was afraid that people were labeling her and Ms. Tlaib as anti-Semitic because of their Muslim faith.

Ms. Omar said she felt pained that she had been linked to intolerance. But she argued that the persistent focus on those accusations was detracting from substantive discourse about American foreign policy.

"We end up defending that, and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine," she said to loud cheers.

This is a moment where she should be forcing the contradictions of her opponents, not getting herself in trouble, as political Zionism reveals its ethnonationalist face.  This is not just about the way Israel treats Arab citizens but about the nature of modern Judaism (Zionism) itself and whether America will continue to ally itself with a nation that rejects our ideals:

American Israel lobby condemns Netanyahu deal with far-right party (Ruth Eglash, February 25, 2019, Washington Post)

"The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel," AJC wrote in its statement. "The party might conceivably gain enough votes to enter the next Knesset, and potentially even become part of the governing coalition."

AIPAC's tweet simply said it agreed with the AJC and added that it "has a long-standing policy not to meet with members of the racist and reprehensible party."


Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

I am writing to express my deep concern regarding troubling developments between the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the American Jewish community.  Specifically, I have become aware that the Chief Rabbinate has taken upon itself to unilaterally reject Jewish status letters written by my constituent, Rabbi Avraham Weiss of New York, on behalf of those seeking to marry in the state of Israel.  This trend of rejecting status letters written by Rabbis Weiss and others undermines the bond between Diaspora communities and the state of Israel, and I fear, may ultimately lead to the wholesale prohibition on community rabbis in the Diaspora from participating in the religious life of Jewish people in Israel.  

Rabbi Weiss has for many years supplied Jewish status letters to those seeking to marry in Israel without raising questions about his halachic credentials by the Chief Rabbinate.  As you may know, Rabbi Weiss has led the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale for nearly four decades, and also founded Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, both of which are in my congressional district.  He has served as a powerful activist and a defender of clal yisrael on issues ranging from Soviet Jewry to Jonathan Pollard's release.  To those such as myself who have known Rabbi Weiss for many years, it would be unthinkable to question his commitment to Jewish law.

As dismayed as I and many of my constituents may be by the Chief Rabbinate's decision in regards to Rabbi Weiss specifically, I am concerned that this is simply the latest instance of the broader marginalization of the many diverse streams of Judaism in Israel. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM



The number of infants under the age of one in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention at the border has increased since January, reaching levels that alarm immigration advocates. Pro-bono attorneys working along the southern border noticed the increase over the course of a few weeks last month, when visiting clients in a detention center in Dilley, Texas.

Attorneys were worried to see infants as young as five months old cradled in their mothers' arms. By the end of February, they determined that at least "nine infants under one year of age" were detained in the South Texas Family Residential Center, which is one of the largest family detention centers in the country with 2,400 beds. Three of the country's more prominent immigration legal organizations--the America Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network--subsequently filed a complaint addressed to two Department of Homeland Security oversight officials calling for the immediate release of these nine infants detained with their mothers in the Dilley facility.

Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


Poster linking Rep. Ilhan Omar to 9/11 sparks outrage, injuries in W.Va. state Capitol (Eli Rosenberg March 1, 2-019, Washington Post)

Friday was a day meant to celebrate the Republican Party in the West Virginia Capitol. But a poster connecting a Muslim congresswoman to the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to heated emotions, caused the resignation of at least one staff member and left another reportedly injured when things got physical as the altercation spilled into the chamber of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

The poster, at a table in the Capitol's rotunda, featured an image of freshmen Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) underneath one of the New York's twin towers burning.

"'Never forget' -- You said," read text placed over the photo of the World Trade Center.

"I am the proof you have forgotten," read the caption over Omar's image.

Omar, one of the first two Muslim congresswoman ever elected, has been the target of Islamophobic smears since she took office this year.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


How a black man 'outsmarted' a neo-Nazi group -- and became their new leader (Katie Mettler, March 2, 2019, Washington Post)

Without notifying his followers or even his inner circle, the longtime president of a legacy neo-Nazi group has signed over its control to a black civil rights activist from California.

James Hart Stern, a 54-year-old with a history of infiltrating white supremacist groups, is the new leader of the National Socialist Movement. And his first move as president was to address a pending lawsuit against the neo-Nazi group by asking a Virginia judge to find it guilty of conspiring to commit violence at the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Next, he plans to transform the hate group's website into a space for Holocaust history lessons.

Kind of like Cory succeeding Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Anti-Vaxxers Are Cozying Up to the Far Right Online (Kelly Weill, 03.01.19, The Daily Beast)

Far-right news sites can find a serious audience in these highly active conspiracy communities. One 2017 Red Ice article has repeatedly made the rounds in large anti-vax groups, sometimes racking up more than 1,000 likes. Although the article skews right wing (it lauds a clip from the Tucker Carlson's show) and alarmist (vaccines "can seriously injure your child"), it isn't overtly white supremacist. But should anti-vaxxers chose to explore the rest of the site, they would find a white supremacist swamp, full of anti-immigrant and Islamophobic fear-mongering.

Most anti-vaxxers are not white supremacists, far from it. But the overlap can send some well-meaning parents down the rabbit hole. Far-right groups frequently engage in "entryism," a tactic that involves seeding a sympathetic mainstream group with extremist ideology, then slowly radicalizing its members. The tactic works well in groups like the anti-vax community.

At their surface level, anti-vax claims tap into populist grievances with bipartisan support; in the U.S., where health care can be prohibitively expensive, vaccines are sometimes seen as an extension of well-moneyed pharmaceutical companies. But the world of conservative-leaning conspiracy sites take the claims further. Red Ice, Infowars, and their ilk build on the mistrust of pharmaceutical companies to claim vaccines are part of a world-domination scheme by a shadowy global elite. As these claims typically go, the conspiracy theory gets anti-Semitic, with white supremacists interpreting "elite" to mean Jewish people.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Centrist Democrats push back against party's liberal surge (Michael Scherer and Mike DeBonis March 1, 2019, Washington Post)

John Anzalone, an Alabama-based Democratic pollster, said the perception that the party's primary voters are enthusiastically liberal is not based on data.

"There is, without a doubt, a myth that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez somehow represents the narrative of Democratic primary voters in the country," Anzalone said. "Almost half of them identify themselves as moderates or conservative."

That appears to be at least somewhat borne out by the midterms, when less-ideological candidates often won when facing purist opponents. Thirty-three of the 40 GOP seats that Democrats picked up were won by candidates who had been endorsed by the moderate NewDem PAC.

A November Gallup poll found a pragmatic streak in the party -- 54 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents wanted the party to become "more moderate," while only 41 percent wanted it to be more liberal. That contrasted with the Republicans and their allies, 57 percent of whom wanted a more conservative party.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Love of calling Red Sox games never wanes for WEEI's Joe Castiglione (Chad Finn, MARCH 1, 2019, Boston Globe)

Castiglione, whose first season, 1983, was Carl Yastrzemski's final season and the summer Roger Clemens was drafted, has worked with just five primary partners during his tenure: Ken Coleman (1983-89), Bob Starr (1990-92), Jerry Trupiano (1993-2006), Dave O'Brien (2007-15) and Tim Neverett (2016-18).

While there have been others with whom Castiglione has shared the booth through the years such as Lou Merloni, Sean Grande, Glenn Geffner, Dale Arnold, and Jon Rish, flagship station WEEI's approach to replacing Neverett (who is now with the Dodgers) offers a new challenge.

WEEI confirmed in mid-February that it will use a rotating cast of play-by-play voices and analysts alongside Castiglione this season, among them Sean McDonough, NESN's Tom Caron and Dave O'Brien (when the Red Sox are on national television), ESPN's Chris Berman, former Tigers voice Mario Impemba, former Mets broadcaster Josh Lewin, and more.

Adjusting to different broadcast partners from series to series might seem like something an established play-by-play voice wouldn't be especially interested in doing. But Castiglione, while acknowledging that it will be different from what he's used to, said he is looking forward to it.

"It'll be an adjustment, working with some people I haven't worked with before,'' he said, noting that he is especially looking forward to working with McDonough, who called Red Sox games from 1988-2004. "But the couple I haven't worked with I know well. They're all friends. So that will be cool. It will be different, but it will be fun. They're all different personalities, so that will be the biggest thing. But I don't see any difficulty in it.

"I've always believed in a conversational broadcast. The games are so long and there's so much time between pitches. There's plenty of opportunity for everyone to get involved. That should work fine. We might be a little more conversational [than in the past], but I think we always have been."

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Explainer: In Trump-Russia probe, when does collusion become a crime? (Jan Wolfe, 3/02/19, Reuters)

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in July 2018 said, "I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. Collusion is not a crime." Trump wrote on Twitter the next day, "Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn't matter because there was No Collusion."

There indeed is no federal crime called "collusion." But collusion is a non-legal way of saying conspiracy, which is one of the most commonly asserted crimes in U.S. federal courts. Conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit an unlawful act. A conspiracy does not need to have been successful, but the individuals must have taken some action to further it.

Because computer hacking is clearly a federal crime, any Trump campaign official who assented to and encouraged the hacking of Democratic National Committee computers in 2016 could be liable for the crime of conspiracy. U.S. officials have said Russia hacked the Democratic computers to steal emails that were later released by the WikiLeaks website to hurt Clinton.

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said during a June 2016 news conference, referring to Clinton emails. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

...the only question is whether it warrants indictment or just impeachment.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Other People's Blood: On Paul Volcker (TIM BARKER, February 26, 2019,  n+1)

IF SOMEONE WERE TO MAKE a movie about neoliberalism, there would need to be a starring role for the character of Paul Volcker. As chair of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987, Volcker was the most powerful central banker in the world. These were the years when the industrial workers movement was defeated in the United States and United Kingdom, and third world debt crises exploded. Both of these owe something to Volcker. On October 6, 1979, after an unscheduled meeting of the Fed's Open Market Committee, Volcker announced that he would start limiting the growth of the nation's money supply. This would be accomplished by limiting the growth of bank reserves, which the Fed influenced by buying and selling government securities to member banks. As money became more scarce, banks would raise interest rates, limiting the amount of liquidity available in the overall economy. Though the interest rates were a result of Fed policy, the money supply target let Volcker avoid the politically explosive appearance of directly raising rates himself. The experiment--known as the Volcker Shock--lasted until 1982, inducing what remains the worst unemployment since the Great Depression and finally ending the inflation that had troubled the world economy since the late 1960s. To catalog all the results of the Volcker Shock--shuttered factories, broken unions, dizzying financialization--is to describe the whirlwind we are still reaping in 2019.

At the height (or nadir) of the Volcker Shock, benchmark interest rates were over 20 percent--and worse if you had bad credit. The exorbitant cost of borrowing put tens of thousands of firms out of business, and led to twenty-two months of negative growth. In December 1982, unemployment was at 10.8 percent--closer to 20 percent if you include workers who wanted jobs but had stopped looking, and underemployed workers who could not find steady full-time work. In absolute terms, twelve million Americans were unemployed that month, plus another thirteen million "discouraged" and underemployed.

The nation's industrial belt was the hardest hit. Ninety percent of job losses occurred in mining, construction, and manufacturing. It was costly for businesses to pay their debts and borrow money to invest, while a strong dollar made American exports even less competitive internationally. In places like Flint, Michigan and Youngstown, Ohio, more than one in five workers was unemployed. In Akron, the commercial blood bank reduced the prices it would pay by 20 percent due to the glut of laid-off tireworkers lining up to bleed. In the area around Pittsburgh, suicide rates and alcoholism soared, while residents competed for spots in homeless shelters. The unemployment rates for African-Americans were worse, peaking in early 1983 at 21.2 percent (up from around 12 percent--already a crisis--in 1979).

Those who praise Volcker like to say he "broke the back" of inflation. Nancy Teeters, the lone dissenter on the Fed Board of Governors, had a different metaphor: "I told them, 'You are pulling the financial fabric of this country so tight that it's going to rip. You should understand that once you tear a piece of fabric, it's very difficult, almost impossible, to put it back together again." (Teeters, also the first woman on the Fed board, told journalist William Greider that "None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life.") Fabric or backbone: both images convey violence. In any case, a price index doesn't have a spine or a seam; the broken bodies and rent garments of the early 1980s belonged to people. Reagan economic adviser Michael Mussa was nearer the truth when he said that "to establish its credibility, the Federal Reserve had to demonstrate its willingness to spill blood, lots of blood, other people's blood."

What the Fed failed to understand most was that the fabric it tore up was what had created inflationary pressure and that it would indeed not be sewn back together again.  The tragedy is that every incoming Fed chairman--except Janet Yellen, bless her soul--felt compelled to prove their hawkish bona fides and caused economic slowdowns by hiking beyond what the market could bear. Thankfully, Jerome Powell seems to have spooked himself sufficiently to end his needless hiking.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Brits and Americans No Longer Own English: The language doesn't belong to the Anglosphere any more. (Leonid Bershidsky, March 2, 2019, Bloomberg)

There is no indication that the language's popularity is declining despite the recent damage to the two countries' soft power. Last year, the British Council forecast that the number of potential learners in Europe will decline by 8.8 percent, or some 15.3 million, between 2015 and 2025. Brexit has nothing to do with this: the expansion of English teaching at schools is expected to cut demand for the organization's courses. Overall, the market for English in education is predicted to grow by 17 percent a year to reach $22 billion in 2024. That, in large part, is thanks to insatiable demand in Asia.

I learned it in the Soviet Union. I have to admit I did it because of British and U.S. soft power: I wanted to understand rock song lyrics, watch Hollywood movies in the original, and read books that weren't available in translation. But that wasn't the reason high-quality instruction was available to me in Moscow in the 1980s: English was the adversary's mother tongue. Russian President Vladimir Putin is no fan of the U.S. or the U.K., but he has learned their language well enough to speak to other foreign leaders without a translator.

It's impossible to avoid: 54 percent of all websites are in it. The next most widespread language is Russian, with 6 percent. The most popular translation requests on Google all involve English. The global academic community speaks it, and not just because U.S. and U.K. universities are important: If they all closed tomorrow, scholars would still need a common tongue, and they aren't going to vote to adopt another one.

Nor will the global political community. The European Union is a case in point: After Brexit, English could lose the status as one of the bloc's working languages because no remaining members use it officially. Yet the legal departments of all the EU governing bodies have agreed that it can retain its status on the rather thin argument that it's used in Irish and Maltese law. It's also the lingua franca for all the Eastern European officials who have never learned French or German. Even after Brexit, it will share with German the status of the most widely spoken language in the EU - that is, as long as one takes into account non-native speakers.

March 1, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Warmbier parents blast 'evil' North Korea regime after Trump praises Kim (Reuters, 3/01/19)

Warmbier's parents said they had held off commenting during the second summit between Trump and Kim in Hanoi, which was cut short on Thursday after the two sides failed to reach a deal for the reclusive communist nation to give up its nuclear weapons.

"Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto," Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement. "Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Scottish government wins Donald Trump wind power legal costs (BBC, 28 February 2019)

Donald Trump's Aberdeenshire golf resort must pay the Scottish government's legal costs following a court battle over a major North Sea wind power development.

Mr Trump battled unsuccessfully in the courts to halt the project before he became US president.

A total of 11 turbines make up the development off Aberdeen.

Judges have now ruled Trump International Golf Club Scotland Ltd should pay the legal bills incurred.

He was a loser in an impressive range of time zones this week.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Immigrant Miscarriages in ICE Detention Have Nearly Doubled Under Trump (Scott Bixby, 03.01.19, Daily Beast)

The number of undocumented women who have lost their pregnancies while in government detention nearly doubled in the first two years of President Donald Trump's administration, according to a government review of medical records.

Now, following the stillbirth of a baby boy by a woman who was held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody despite being six months pregnant, members of Congress are calling for an investigation into Trump administration policies that they fear are worsening the crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Could Your Mindset Affect How Well A Treatment Works? (ESTHER LANDHUIS, 3/01/19, NPR)

The study randomly assigned families into two groups. Both groups received instruction on symptoms and medication use. They learned to distinguish non-life-threatening symptoms from potentially serious ones and at what point to contact a doctor, call 911 or administer epinephrine, an injectable medication for severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions.

Each day families completed a short online survey to report how the dose went, what time it was taken, whether symptoms developed, and how anxious they were about the symptoms. Throughout the study parents had monthly calls with a support team and had a direct line to Stanford immunologist Dr. Kari Nadeau, director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research, which has served as a trial site for companies developing peanut allergy treatments. In addition, families came to the clinic once a month for facilitated support sessions with other participants.

The two groups differed in just one regard. One group was told that symptoms can be an unfortunate side effect of treatment. But with the other group, session leaders reframed the message on symptoms, saying they could be a sign that the immune system is learning to desensitize -- a positive signal that the treatment is working.

At the monthly sessions, parents in the "positive signals" group were asked to come up with creative ways to reinforce this message with their children. Alissa Harris of Stockton, Calif., connected with her 7-year-old, Lucy, with a dance analogy: "When you were learning how to do the splits, it hurt your legs. But it just meant your muscles were getting stronger and getting used to doing the splits."

During the study when Lucy complained her mouth was itchy, "I would remind her, 'That's OK, that's your body getting stronger. We're fighting this peanut allergy. Just remember, your body is 'learning how to do the splits,' " Harris says.

Those reminders seemed to calm parents, too. Though both groups entered the study similarly anxious -- more than half indicated they were "kind of nervous" or "extremely nervous" -- parents who got the messaging that symptoms could be positive signals reported less nervousness as the study continued. They were also less likely to report symptoms, drop doses or contact staff about symptom concerns, compared with the other group of parents.

All participants reached the goal of tolerating one peanut by the end of the study period, and no patient needed to use epinephrine in response to symptoms.

It helps that the "allergies" are a function of parenting in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Is Elizabeth Warren's Campaign Already Over? (MICHAEL GRAHAM  MARCH 1, 2019, tHE bULWARK)

"Sometimes she can come off as a little shrill. I think she's trying to appeal to a broader base than maybe she actually has," Roger Lessard, chairman of the Hillsborough County, NH Democratic Party, told US News and World Report.

"I don't know a single person who has her at the top of their list," a New Hampshire Democratic Party insider tells me. "It's not that people don't agree with her policies. She just doesn't get people that fired up here."

This early in the 2020 cycle, New Hampshire Democrats are reluctant to either publicly sign on with a candidates or publicly criticize them.  But even in this cautious political environment, the silence around Liz Warren is deafening.

And given that New Hampshire is her electoral backyard, it's potentially deadly.

Speaking of deadly . . .

There hasn't been a public poll of New Hampshire Democrats with Warren in the lead since May. In fact, Warren consistently finishes in fourth place--or worse--trailing candidates like Kamala Harris and potential candidates like Beto O'Rourke.

But that's just the beginning of Warren's bad news.

Last May, Liz Warren had 26 percent support among New Hampshire Democrats and was leading the field. That summer, New York magazine featured her on the cover with the headline "Front Runner?"  But by August, she was down to 17 percent.  Last week, both Emerson University and the University of New Hampshire polls had her at a mere 7 percent.

When UNH asked an open-ended version of the "who do you support today" question (no names listed for the respondent to choose from), Warren got just 2 percent support, fewer mentions than Amy "The Comb Master" Klobuchar.

All right in Warren's back yard.

No, New Hampshire isn't the whole ballgame--but for Warren, it's close.  It's hard to see her campaign surviving a fourth place, or even third-place, finish in a state where, as key Democratic consultant Jim Demers notes, national coverage of Warren is on the local news.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


The Trump Administration Wrongly Extends A New 'Temporary Protected Status' Amnesty (JOSH HAMMER, March 1, 2019, Daily Wire)

After signing into a law an amnesty omnibus boondoggle as a means of ending a shutdown standoff, it unfortunately appears that the Trump Administration is not yet done with its immigration-related capitulations.

On Thursday, Axios reported that the Administration is opting not to appeal a rogue decision last October from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that halted the Administration's efforts to rescind "Temporary Protected Status" (TPS) for aliens presently in the United States from Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua. As the Department of Homeland Security announced, the Administration is instead planning to abort its plans to rescind TPS. Instead, Homeland Security will automatically extend the TPS amnesty for the affected beneficiaries through January 2, 2020.

Legally, there is no reason not to appeal this rogue judge's preliminary injunction that infringes on our national sovereignty. On the substantive policy merits, furthermore, the failure to appeal amounts to de facto amnesty for what Axios reports are 300,000 aliens. That is not a small number!

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


New spokeswoman for Bernie Sanders won't be able to vote for him in 2020 -- she's an illegal immigrant (Lukas Mikelionis, 3/01/19,  Fox News)

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


CPAC: This Is Definitely the Bad Place: A travel diary from day one at CPAC. (MOLLY JONG-FAST  MARCH 1, 2019, The Bulwark)

If you're of a certain age, you may remember Ollie North for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, which involved the covering up of selling weapons to people America wasn't supposed to be selling them to. Well, Ollie is now the head of the National Rifle Association and, by total coincidence, the NRA now seems to have taken money from people they weren't supposed to, also. Life is funny that way in Conservatism Inc.

Ollie told the audience to "pray for the NRA." Which is a little strange. Apparently, his God cares about the well-being of non-profit organizations dedicated to political lobbying. But they need it! Donors showered the NRA with $163 million in 2015. That total dropped to $128 million in 2016 and then $98 million in 2017. If things keep going like this, then NRA TV might have to cut back from the 18 people it currently lists as programming "hosts" to 17, or maybe even 16. And then, how will the Second Amendment survive?

Because this is all about the Constitution, people! [...]

Kirk was followed by the dragon of Budapest, Sebastian Gorka, who lectured the crowd about how socialism is bad and how Democrats love to kill babies. But the best part of Gorka's rant against the evils of liberalism was when he said "They want to take your pickup truck, they want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved." I know you should never argue with a doctor--even a fake doctor--but I'm pretty sure Stalin's dreams were a good deal bigger and that he achieved pretty much all of them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


House Democrats explode in recriminations as liberals lash out at moderates (Mike DeBonis,  February 28, 2019, Washington Post)

House Democrats exploded in recriminations Thursday over moderates bucking the party, with liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threatening to put those voting with Republicans "on a list" for a primary challenge.

In a closed-door session, a frustrated Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lashed out at about two dozen moderates and pressured them to get on board. "We are either a team or we're not, and we have to make that decision," Pelosi said, according to two people present but not authorized to discuss the remarks publicly.

But Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the unquestioned media superstar of the freshman class, upped the ante, admonishing the moderates and indicating she would help liberal activists unseat them in the 2020 election.

Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, said she told her colleagues that Democrats who side with Republicans "are putting themselves on a list."

Ideologues find governing intolerable.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


The Cohen of Silence Breaks: What to Make of Wednesday's Testimony (Mikhaila Fogel, Quinta Jurecic, Matthew Kahn, Margaret Taylor, Benjamin Wittes  Wednesday, February 27, 2019, Lawfare)

The most damaging aspect of Cohen's testimony for Trump concerned the president's involvement in two offense patterns to which Cohen has pleaded guilty. The first of these was Trump's involvement in the payments Cohen coordinated to Stephanie Clifford (better known as Stormy Daniels) and Karen McDougal--the matter regarding which Cohen originally pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York on charges of campaign finance violations. Prosecutors have already alleged that Cohen "acted in coordination with and at the direction of" Trump himself in making those payments. But Cohen's testimony provided unmistakable evidence of direct, personal involvement by Trump in the scheme--first as a presidential candidate and, perhaps most significantly, continuing months after he swore the oath of office.

Cohen testified in response to questions by Rep. Katie Hill that he received payments over the course of 2017, drawn either from Trump's personal account or from his trust account. He promised that he could provide copies of all checks to Congress. Along with his written testimony, he included a copy of a check Trump had written him from his personal bank account reimbursing Cohen for the Daniels and McDougal payments--from August 2017, well into Trump's presidency. He also included a check from the trust account dated to March 2017, which Cohen identified to Chairman Elijah Cummings as signed by Donald Trump, Jr. and Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg.

The timing of the checks is important for two reasons. The first is legal. Technically speaking, under federal election law, the balance Trump owed Cohen at any given time could constitute an ongoing illegal contribution by Cohen. Leaving aside the problem of indicting a president while he remains in office, any prosecutor seeking to bring a case against Trump would need to prove that he had "knowingly and willfully" violated the law, and that is far from clear. But it is noteworthy that the president's potential criminal exposure in the Daniels and McDougal matter now extends beyond his time as a private citizen into his tenure as a public official.

On this note, Cohen's opening testimony describes an exchange with Trump in the Oval Office in February 2017 in which Trump assures him that his reimbursement checks are on their way: "They were FedExed from New York," Cohen paraphrases him as saying, "and it takes a while for that to get through the White House system." In other words, the president of the United States was signing those checks--made out to his personal fixer in exchange for paying off two women for their silence regarding sexual relationships with him--in the White House itself.

This points to the second reason why the timing is important. Cohen's testimony makes clear that the president repeatedly lied to the American people and made efforts to ensure the public would not find out the truth. After signing some of those checks to Cohen in the White House, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he knew nothing about the Daniels payment in April 2018. In an exchange with Hill, Cohen said that Trump had called him just two months earlier, in February 2018, to ensure that Cohen would tell reporters that Trump had had no knowledge of or involvement in the reimbursements or Cohen's original payments to Daniels. This systematic deception may not be a legal problem for the president, but it is a moral affront and a breach of his responsibility as the leader of the country.
The second area involves Cohen's allegation that Trump indirectly encouraged him to lie to Congress about the abortive Trump Tower Moscow project--the subject of Cohen's second guilty plea, this time to the special counsel's office. This was the subject of the BuzzFeed News story alleging that Trump personally directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the date the Moscow project was terminated in order to hide Trump's involvement. That story caused a fracas when Mueller's office broke its customary silence to issue a rare statement denying unspecified aspects of the story: "BuzzFeed's description of specific statements to the Special Counsel's Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen's Congressional testimony are not accurate."

Cohen's testimony begins to square this particular circle, claiming that Trump made his desire clear without explicitly "directing" Cohen to lie, and that Cohen followed what he took to be an instruction. In his prepared statement, Cohen says that Trump had made clear to him over months what the party line was--saying to him that there was no business in Russia even as he supervised Cohen's efforts to build a tower there. Moreover, Cohen writes, "Mr. Trump's personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it," referring to the August 2017 letter Cohen submitted to the House and Senate intelligence committees, which contained the false assertion that the negotiations ended in January 2016. Cohen continues, "Mr. Trump had made clear to me, through his personal statements to me that we both knew were false and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie" about the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations. "And he made it clear to me because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress."

Speaking at the hearing, Cohen told Rep. John Sarbanes that Trump's lawyers had access to Cohen's statement to Congress circulated because of Cohen's joint defense agreement with Trump, but said that he couldn't recall the nature of the edits. He identified both Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow and Jared Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell as having reviewed the statement, and told Rep. Jamie Raskin that review by the president's team led to changes in "how we were going to handle that message, ... the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive." He said he would try to provide the committee with an original draft of his statement from before the edits.

Notably, Sekulow contested Cohen's testimony, saying in a statement that "[t]oday's testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the President edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false."

But there's another element of Cohen's testimony: He also stated during questioning by Rep. Gerry Connolly that he and Sekulow met with President Trump and specifically discussed the statement and impending testimony before the House intelligence committee. What did the president say? "He wanted me to cooperate. He also wanted just to ensure by making this statement--and I said it in my testimony--there is no collusion. There is no deal. He goes, 'It's all a witch hunt.'"

"At the end of the day, I knew exactly what he wanted me to say," Cohen testified.

In other words, if Cohen is telling the truth, the president encouraged his false statements both in the general sense that he articulated the lies that became the party line Cohen was meant to represent and in the more specific sense that he met with Cohen in the run-up to the statement and testimony, reiterated the false party line, and then had his attorneys review and refine Cohen's statement to help reflect that line.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM