April 30, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Moore's bid for Federal Reserve looks increasingly shaky (SYLVAN LANE AND JORDAIN CARNEY - 04/30/19, The Hill)

One of President Trump's closest allies in the Senate, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said Moore's nomination would be "very problematic" given his controversial statements and writings about women and a host of other subjects, adding that it would be "tough" for him to win confirmation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Congressional Democrats' emoluments lawsuit targeting President Trump's private business can proceed, judge says (Jonathan O'Connell, Ann E. Marimow and Carol D. Leonnig April 30, 2019, Washington Post)

The decision in Washington from U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan adopted a broad definition of the anti-corruption law and could set the stage for Democratic lawmakers to begin seeking information from the Trump Organization. The Justice Department can try to delay or block the process by asking an appeals court to intervene.

In a 48-page opinion, the judge refused the request of the president's legal team to dismiss the case and rejected Trump's narrow definition of emoluments, finding it "unpersuasive and inconsistent." [...]

Led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the Democrats filed their suit last year asking the court to force Trump to stop accepting payments they consider violations of the Constitution's foreign emoluments clause. They say the provision was designed to guard against undue influence by foreign governments by barring any "emolument" -- meaning a gift or payment -- without prior approval from Congress.

Sullivan agreed, writing that dictionaries from the era of the Founding Fathers, as well as legal historians and government practice, point to the broader definition backed by the congressional Democrats that "ensures that the clause fulfills this purpose" of excluding the possibility of corruption and foreign influence. Sullivan described the record as "overwhelming evidence" from "over two hundred years of understanding the scope of the clause to be broad."

"The Court is persuaded that the text and structure of the Clause, together with the other uses of the term in the Constitution, support plaintiffs' definition of 'Emolument' rather than that of the President," the judge wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Mueller complained that Barr's letter did not capture 'context' of Trump probe (Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky April 30, 2019, Washington Post)

Days after Barr's announcement, Mueller wrote a previously unknown private letter to the Justice Department, which revealed a degree of dissatisfaction with the public discussion of Mueller's work that shocked senior Justice Department officials, according to people familiar with the discussions.

"The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office's work and conclusions," Mueller wrote. "There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations."

"Stop lying, Bill"

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Make Physics Real Again : Why have so many physicists shrugged off the paradoxes of quantum mechanics? (David Guaspari, April 2019, New Atlantis)

Consider the famous "double-slit" experiment. The experimental apparatus consists of a device that sends electrons, one at a time, toward a barrier with a slit in it and, at some distance behind the barrier, a screen that glows wherever an electron strikes it. The journey of each electron can be usefully thought of in two parts. In the first, the electron either hits the barrier and stops, or it passes through the slit. In the second, if the electron does pass through the slit, it continues on to the screen. The flashes seen on the screen line up with the gun and slit, just as we'd expect from a particle fired like a bullet from the electron gun.

But if we now cut another slit in the barrier, it turns out that its mere existence somehow affects the second part of an electron's journey. The screen lights up in unexpected places, not always lined up with either of the slits -- as if, on reaching one slit, an electron checks whether it had the option of going through the other one and, if so, acquires permission to go anywhere it likes. Well, not quite anywhere: Although we can't predict where any particular shot will strike the screen, we can statistically predict the overall results of many shots. Their accumulation produces a pattern that looks like the pattern formed by two waves meeting on the surface of a pond. Waves interfere with one another: When two crests or two troughs meet, they reinforce by making a taller crest or deeper trough; when a crest meets a trough, they cancel and leave the surface undisturbed. In the pattern that accumulates on the screen, bright places correspond to reinforcement, dim places to cancellation.

We rethink. Perhaps, taking the pattern as a clue, an electron is really like a wave, a ripple in some field. When the electron wave reaches the barrier, part of it passes through one slit, part through the other, and the pattern we see results from their interference.

There's an obvious problem: Maybe a stream of electrons can act like a wave (as a stream of water molecules makes up a water wave), but our apparatus sends electrons one at a time. The electron-as-wave model thus requires that firing a single electron causes something to pass through both slits. To check that, we place beside each slit a monitor that will signal when it sees something pass. What we find on firing the gun is that one monitor or the other may signal, but never both; a single electron doesn't go through both slits. Even worse, when the monitors are in place, no interference pattern forms on the screen. This attempt to observe directly how the pattern arose eliminates what we're trying to explain. We have to rethink again.

At which point Copenhagen says: Stop! This is puzzling enough without creating unnecessary difficulties. All we actually observe is where an electron strikes the screen -- or, if the monitors have been installed, which slit it passes through. If we insist on a theory that accounts for the electron's journey -- the purely hypothetical track of locations it passes through on the way to where it's actually seen -- that theory will be forced to account for where it is when we're not looking. Pascual Jordan, an important member of Bohr's circle, cut the Gordian knot: An electron does not have a position until it is observed; the observation is what compels it to assume one. Quantum mechanics makes statistical predictions about where it is more or less likely to be observed.

That move eliminates some awkward questions but sounds uncomfortably like an old joke: The patient lifts his arm and says, "Doc, it hurts when I do this." The doctor responds, "So don't do that." But Jordan's assertion was not gratuitous. The best available theory did not make it possible to refer to the current location of an unobserved electron, yet that did not prevent it from explaining experimental data or making accurate and testable predictions. Further, there seemed to be no obvious way to incorporate such references, and it was widely believed that it would be impossible to do so (about which more later). It seemed natural, if not quite logically obligatory, to take the leap of asserting that there is no such thing as the location of an electron that is not being observed. For many, this hardened into dogma -- that quantum mechanics was a complete and final theory, and attempts to incorporate allegedly missing information were dangerously wrongheaded.

But what is an observation, and what gives it such magical power that it can force a particle to have a location? Is there something special about an observation that distinguishes it from any other physical interaction? Does an observation require an observer? (If so, what was the universe doing before we showed up to observe it?) This constellation of puzzles has come to be called "the measurement problem."

Bohr postulated a distinction between the quantum world and the world of everyday objects. A "classical" object is an object of everyday experience. It has, for example, a definite position and momentum, whether observed or not. A "quantum" object, such as an electron, has a different status; it's an abstraction. Some properties, such as electrical charge, belong to the electron abstraction intrinsically, but others can be said to exist only when they are measured or observed. An observation is an event that occurs when the two worlds interact: A quantum-mechanical measurement takes place at the boundary, when a (very small) quantum object interacts with a (much larger) classical object such as a measuring device in a lab.

Experiments have steadily pushed the boundary outward, having demonstrated the double-slit experiment not only with photons and electrons, but also with atoms and even with large molecules consisting of hundreds of atoms, thus millions of times more massive than electrons. Why shouldn't the same laws of physics apply even to large, classical objects?

Enter Schrödinger's cat, the famous thought experiment beloved by pop-physics expositors and often deployed to wow (and cow) laymen by demonstrating the deep strangeness of quantum mechanics and the mental might of the Scientists who wield it. In fact, Schrödinger offered it as a reductio ad absurdum of the Copenhagen interpretation.

The experiment -- buried in a lengthy 1935 paper, "The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics" -- asks us to imagine a sealed box with a tiny amount of radioactive substance, a Geiger counter for detecting its decay, a glass jar of cyanide, a mechanism that controls a hammer, and a cat. If the Geiger counter detects that the radioactive substance has decayed, it activates the hammer, which breaks the jar and poisons the cat. Spontaneous decay is a quantum event about whose occurrence we can make only probabilistic predictions. The amount of the radioactive substance is chosen so that the probability of its decaying within one hour is 50 percent. If we leave this sealed box to itself, what can we say about the radioactive substance, and hence the cat, when the hour is up?

If it's literally true, as the Copenhagen interpretation claims, that an unstable atom is in an "indeterminate" state -- neither decayed nor undecayed -- until an act of observation compels it to choose which, then the cat is also in an indeterminate state -- neither alive nor dead -- until we observe it. Someone who takes Copenhagen seriously, Schrödinger says, must say that the cat is neither alive nor dead until we open the box and that, if it is dead, opening the box is what killed it.

Schrödinger describes the thought experiment as a "quite ridiculous case," demonstrating that the attempt to make a principled, radical distinction between a quantum world and a classical world made no sense.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Schiff Hires Ex-Chief of FBI Financial Crimes Section as House Intel Probes Trump's Finances (Betsy Woodruff, 04.30.19, Daily Beast)

Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has hired Patrick Fallon, former chief of the FBI's Financial Crimes Section, according to two sources familiar with the move. [...]

Frank Figliuzzi, former Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, called Fallon's hiring significant.

"The fact that the Committee has hired someone at the former senior executive service level from within the FBI's Financial Crimes Section is significant, and to me denotes an effort to apply significant resources to examining and analyzing financial findings," Figliuzzi said. "By the time you got to the head of the Financial Crimes section, you would have substantial white collar crime and global financial crime experience, both at the street level and the supervisory level. And his role at headquarters would have had him overseeing the bulk of all financial crime cases in the FBI."

Always bet on the Deep state.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


An Unexpected Current That's Remaking American Politics: New forms of electricity storage are making the grid more renewable and more reliable--and may change the politics of climate change. (MICHAEL GRUNWALD April 29, 2019, Politico)

[A]nother technology revolution is underway that could help solve that problem: an electricity storage boom. The cost of lithium-ion batteries has plunged 85 percent in a decade, and 30 percent in just the past year, so utilities across the U.S. have started attaching containers full of them to the grid--and they're planning to install far more of them in the coming years. Electricity has always been the toughest commodity to manage, because unlike water, grain, fuel or steel, it has been largely impossible to store for later use. But that is changing fast, and even though the dramatic growth of batteries on the grid will be invisible to most Americans, it has the potential to transform how we produce and consume power, creating more flexible and resilient electricity systems with less waste, lower costs and fewer emissions.

"This will be like the change from analog to digital, or landlines to cell phones," says Advanced Microgrid Systems CEO Susan Kennedy, whose firm's software helps utilities optimize their power choices every instant of every day. "The energy industry will never be the same."

Electricity storage will reshape the grid in many ways, but the most important is its potential to accelerate the already explosive growth of renewable energy--and that will have political implications. Of the 21 states with the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, Trump won 20 of them, and the lone exception, New Mexico, just passed a law committing to 100 percent clean power by 2045. By contrast, Hillary Clinton won the eight states with the lowest emissions per capita. But that carbon divide is not necessarily permanent. Eighty percent of the wind power installed during Trump's presidency has been built in states he won, and the five most wind-dependent states were all Trump states. And while the storage boom started in blue states like California and Hawaii, it is taking off in Texas, Florida, and the rest of Red America as well. Polls suggest "clean energy" is now popular throughout the country, even though "climate action" is not, and there are now more than 3 million clean energy jobs in America, versus only 50,000 coal-mining jobs. The president's fossil-fueled rhetoric no longer reflects the reality on the ground. And the politics of energy might become less partisan in a world in which renewable power becomes much more common.

The energy world really is changing at the speed of light. Wind and solar generation has almost quintupled in the past decade, providing 9 percent of U.S. electricity last year without emitting any greenhouse gases. This has further complicated the already daunting task of balancing supply and demand on the grid every instant, forcing utilities to respond to every passing cloud and lull in the wind. The rise of Big Data has helped to identify where more electrons are needed in real time, while new transmission lines have helped move electrons longer distances to meet those needs. But lithium-ion batteries were too expensive to use to capture power on the grid before yet another technology transformation--the growth of electric vehicles, from zero a decade ago to more than 1 million on American roads today--drove down their costs through mass production.

Now grid storage is poised to grow at a faster pace than the electric cars that made it cost-effective, and even faster than the renewables it will help to accommodate on the grid.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Explainer: Probes spawned by Mueller target Trump business, others (Reuters, 4/30/19) 

Numerous investigations spun out of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe are still alive and kicking, presenting potential ongoing legal and political risk for President Donald Trump, some of his former advisers and others.

Even though Trump avoided a knockout blow from the April 18 Mueller report, the special counsel disclosed more than a dozen active criminal inquiries that will play out for months to come, some possibly into the 2020 election campaign season.

Details on most of these cases are unclear as they were redacted in the 448-page report. Only two were not blacked out: one case versus former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen; and one versus Greg Craig, a former White House counsel in the Obama administration.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Waive the Jones Act (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, April 29, 2019, National Review)

The United States is producing beaucoup natural gas -- you knew that. But do you really know how much? The United States is now the world's largest natural-gas producer by far, with No. 2, Russia, nowhere close. The growth alone in U.S. natural gas is equal to about twice the annual production of Iran, which is the world's third-largest producer.

So why are people in New England importing natural gas from Russia?

Welcome to the batty world of trade protectionism.

The United States has on the books and enforces an antediluvian piece of legislation known as the Jones Act, signed into law by that great malefactor of his day, Woodrow Wilson. The Jones Act forbids the transportation of goods, commodities, or people between U.S. seaports unless the vessels used are manufactured, registered, flagged, and owned in the United States -- and owned and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. It's the reason why a cruise ship picking up passengers in Fort Lauderdale can't disembark them in Key West -- and also the reason why we can't get natural gas from the Gulf Coast to users in the Northeast and in Puerto Rico.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Profitable Giants Like Amazon Pay $0 in Corporate Taxes. Some Voters Are Sick of It. (Stephanie Saul and Patricia Cohen, April 29, 2019, NY Times)

Corporations' ability to whittle down their tax bills has long been a target of criticism by Democrats, and this presidential campaign is no exception, particularly among left-wing candidates who argue that corporations should be accountable for wage inequality and its impact on low- and middle-income workers.

Though both parties have sought to lower the top corporate tax rate in the last decade -- President Barack Obama proposed lowering it from 35 percent to 28 percent -- Republicans in 2017 pushed it down to 21 percent, in addition to expanding some generous tax breaks. The new law allowed immediate expensing of capital expenditures, for example, in order to goose investment. That was one of the primary reasons that more corporations paid no federal taxes, according to the report.

The threshold problem with these arguments is: why would we want to punish business for being profitable when that is literally the point of being in business.  Tax their consumption instead.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Renewable energy to surpass coal for first time in the US - but why not Australia? (SBS, 4/30/19)

New data from the United States shows renewable energy, such as wind and solar power are, for the first time this month, set to surpass coal.

Research analyst, Dennis Wamstead said the news, published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, was phenomenal.

"The data is pretty astounding," he told SBS News.

"It's an indication of the massive transition underway in the US electricity industry, where the share of coal generated electricity is declining steadily, and the share of both, natural gas generation and renewable generation, is increasing."

The Right chooses a lot of peculiar hills to die on, but few odder than their denial of technology, innovation and productivity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Right Wing Smear Campaigners Try to Cook Up Fake Sexual Assault Accusations Against Pete Buttigieg (ELLIOT HANNON, APRIL 29, 2019, Slate)

The Daily Beast reported Monday that noted right-wing smear campaigners Jacob Wohl and lobbyist Jack Burkman have been busy trying to cook up a controversy about Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. The pair have reportedly been trying to recruit Republican men to make sexual assault accusations against Buttigieg, the openly gay Democratic mayor of South Bend, Ind. As with most things Wohl and Burkman touch, the scheme appears to be comically simplistic, deeply cynical, and possibly illegal.

..but require that he behave like their other hero, Donald?

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Netanyahu won't condemn the real danger to U.S. Jews: White nationalism (Mairav Zonszein, April 29, 2019, Washington Post)

For the second time in six months, Jews have been gunned down, allegedly by a self-proclaimed white supremacist, in their house of worship on U.S. soil, just for being Jewish. And for the second time in six months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to the killing of American Jews, allegedly by a self-identified white supremacist, without calling out the alleged perpetrator or mentioning their right-wing white-supremacist ideology.

In his condemnation of the shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, Calif., on Twitter, Netanyahu called the incident an attack on the "heart of the Jewish people," but he followed that with a vague assertion that "the international community must step up its struggle against antisemitism." He didn't use the word "terrorist," which he and other Israeli leaders and media reach for systematically to describe violent attacks in which the assailants are Muslim or Arab -- even when the victims are not Jewish. Netanyahu's politics won't allow him to explicitly condemn anti-Semitic ideology unless it manifests in explicitly Islamist ways. Anti-Semitism that doesn't have anything to do with groups Netanyahu sees as enemies of Israel barely seems to move him at all.

Embracing racism, rabbis at pre-army yeshiva laud Hitler, urge enslaving Arabs (TAMAR PILEGGI, 4/30/19, Times of Israel)

In a series of undated recordings published by Channel 13 news on Monday, Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel, the head of the Bnei David academy in Eli, can be heard calling for the enslavement of the "stupid and violent" non-Jews due to their genetic inferiority.

"The gentiles will want to be our slaves. Being a slave to a Jew is the best. They're glad to be slaves, they want to be slaves," he told a class in one of the video clips. "Instead of just walking the streets and being stupid and violent and harming each other, once they're slaves, their lives can begin to take shape."

"All around us, we are surrounded by peoples with genetic problems. Ask a simple Arab 'where do you want to be?' He wants to be under the occupation. Why? Because they have genetic problems, they don't know how to run a country, they don't know how to do anything. Look at them."

In the lecture, Kashtiel goes on to embrace racism against non-Jews.

"Yes, we're racists. We believe in racism... There are races in the world and peoples have genetic traits, and that requires us to try to help them," he said. "The Jews are a more successful race."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump's lack of cooperation with Congress intensifies impeachment push in House (Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis April 29, 2019, Washington Post)

Frustration among House Democratic investigators is intensifying after President Trump's refusal to cooperate with congressional inquiries, leading some to privately question whether they should try to pressure Speaker Nancy Pelosi into launching impeachment proceedings.

The chairmen and members of the six panels investigating the president are increasingly angered by the White House's unwillingness to comply as they carry out their oversight role, according to several House Democratic officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter freely. But that anger extends into the ranks of Pelosi's team as well, according to multiple leadership officials.

In fairness, it's not as if he can ever co-operate with legal authorities without implicating himself in crimes.
Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Trump directs officials to toughen asylum rules (Yeganeh Torbati, Mica Rosenberg, 4/30/19, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump directed officials to toughen rules for asylum seekers on Monday, including by introducing a fee for their applications and barring those who entered the country illegally from working until their claims are approved.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


2020 Texas: Biden and Beto in Dead Heat in Democratic Primary. (Emerson Polling, 4/29/19)

In general election matchups, Trump is in statistical dead heats with four of the top six Democratic opponents and leads the other two. In a Donald Trump versus Joe Biden matchup, the two are almost exactly even at 50% for Biden and 49% for Trump. Beto O'Rourke versus Trump is very similar, with 50% going to Beto and 50% supporting Trump.

April 29, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


A NEW STUDY CONFIRMS (AGAIN) THAT RACE, NOT ECONOMICS, DROVE FORMER DEMOCRATS TO TRUMP: Research on Iowa counties that swung from Obama to Trump indicates that GOP success was driven far more by sexism and racism than by economic anxiety. (TOM JACOBS, 4/29/19, Pacific Standard)

[A] major study published a year ago found that Trump's support among non-college-educated whites--arguably the key to his Electoral College success--was driven far more by sexism and racism than by economic anxiety.

Now, a new study that focuses on one key constituency--white people in Iowa who voted for Barack Obama, and later for Trump--comes to that same conclusion.

"Economic distress is not a significant factor in explaining the shift in Iowa voters from Democrat to Republican between 2008 and 2016," write Iowa State University sociologists Ann Oberhauser, Daniel Krier, and Abdi Kusow. "The election outcomes do not signify [a revolt] among working-class voters left behind by globalization."

Rather, in 2016, "the nativist narrative about 'taking back America' and anti-immigrant sentiment became stronger forces than economic issues," Oberhauser said in announcing the findings. [...]

"In general, the counties that swung the most [from Obama to Trump] were those that were almost entirely white," the researchers report. Rural counties were more likely to have shifted Republican than urban counties, as were counties in which fewer people had college educations.

In contrast, "median county income, adults not working, and county employment [rates]" were not predictive of a shift in political affiliation. Nor, surprisingly, was religiosity: The researchers argue that their findings suggest whiteness "plays a greater role in explaining Trump's support among white evangelicals than religion."

So the less educated you were, and the less likely you were to actually know any people of color, the more susceptible you were to Trump's fear-mongering. This suggests that these rural voters were voting to uphold "certain racialized and gendered norms," the researchers argue.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


3D printing might save your life one day. Here's how it's transforming medicine and health care. (Big Think, 4/29/19)

Imagine that a health emergency strikes and you need an organ transplant - say, a heart. You get your name on a transplant list, but you find out there's a waiting period of six months. Tens of thousands of people find themselves in this dire situation every year. But 3D printing has the potential to change that forever.

The technology could usher in a future where transplantable organs can be printed not only cheaply, but also to the exact anatomical specifications of each individual patient.

What other innovations could 3D printing bring to medicine and health care? The sky is the limit, according to Dr. Todd Goldstein, a researcher with the corporate venturing arm of Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider and an industry leader in 3D-printing research and development. 

"It comes down to what people can think up and dream up what they want to use 3D printing for," Goldstein says. "Ideally, you would hope that 50 years from now you'd have on-demand, 3D printing of organs." 

While that's still on the horizon for researchers, 3D printing is already improving lives by revolutionizing medicine in three key areas.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Did Netanyahu cut deal with Assad? (Ben Caspit April 29, 2019, Al Monitor)

Israel released two Syrian prisoners this week, criminal prisoner Zidan Taweel and security prisoner Ahmed Khamis, in what Jerusalem described as a "goodwill gesture" toward President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus. It was the sole decision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made without authorization from the cabinet and carried out in utmost secrecy. In the harsh public and political criticism that followed, it was argued that the move was the second part of a secret deal that Netanyahu made with Assad under the mediation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The first step, it was said, was the transfer of the remains of Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel to Israel just prior to the April 9 elections, winning Netanyahu brownie points from the public as a world-class statesman.

After Baumel's remains arrived in Israel, Netanyahu flew to Moscow to participate in an impressive ceremony that Putin organized for him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Did Donald Trump Jr. Admit to Violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act? (Orin Kerr, April 29, 2018, LawFare)

The recently-released Minority report of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) discloses a copy of an e-mail sent by Donald J. Trump Jr., on September 21, 2016, to a group of top Trump campaign officials.   The e-mail is interesting because Trump may have confessed in it to committing a federal crime, specifically 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2).   It's just a misdemeanor based on the facts we know.  But depending on the circumstances, the violation could also be a felony.  

Here are the law-nerd details.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Burger King is rolling out meatless Impossible Whoppers nationwide (Dami Lee, Apr 29, 2019, Verge)

The Impossible Whopper is made with startup Impossible Foods' plant-based patties, which are designed to look and taste like meat. The patties are also designed to "bleed," just like the real thing, which can be attributed to the use of heme, a soy-based compound found in plants and meat. The burgers have 15 percent less fat and 90 percent less cholesterol than regular Whoppers, and Burger King's taste test experiments claim that customers and employees can't tell the difference.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


Guide to the Mueller Report's Findings on "Collusion" (Ryan Goodman, Apr. 29th, 2019, JustSecurity)

Summary of Major Findings

The redacted Mueller Report documents a series of activities that show strong evidence of collusion. Or, more precisely, it provides significant evidence that Trump Campaign associates coordinated with, cooperated with, encouraged, or gave support to the Russia/WikiLeaks election interference activities. The Report documents the following actions (each of which is analyzed in detail in Part II):

1. Trump was receptive to a Campaign national security adviser's (George Papadopoulos) pursuit of a back channel to Putin.

2. Kremlin operatives provided the Campaign a preview of the Russian plan to distribute stolen emails.

3. The Trump Campaign chairman and deputy chairman (Paul Manafort and Rick Gates) knowingly shared internal polling data and information on battleground states with a Russian spy; and the Campaign chairman worked with the Russian spy on a pro-Russia "peace" plan for Ukraine.

4. The Trump Campaign chairman periodically shared internal polling data with the Russian spy with the expectation it would be shared with Putin-linked oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.

5. Trump Campaign chairman Manafort expected Trump's winning the presidency would mean Deripaska would want to use Manafort to advance Deripaska's interests in the United States and elsewhere.

6. Trump Tower meeting: (1) On receiving an email offering derogatory information on Clinton coming from a Russian government official, Donald Trump Jr. "appears to have accepted that offer;" (2) members of the Campaign discussed the Trump Tower meeting beforehand; (3) Donald Trump Jr. told the Russians during the meeting that Trump could revisit the issue of the Magnitsky Act if elected.

7. A Trump Campaign official told the Special Counsel he "felt obliged to object" to a GOP Platform change on Ukraine because it contradicted Trump's wishes; however, the investigation did not establish that Gordon was directed by Trump.

8. Russian military hackers may have followed Trump's July 27, 2016 public statement "Russia if you're listening ..." within hours by targeting Clinton's personal office for the first time.

9. Trump requested campaign affiliates to get Clinton's emails, which resulted in an individual apparently acting in coordination with the Campaign claiming to have successfully contacted Russian hackers.

10. The Trump Campaign--and Trump personally--appeared to have advanced knowledge of future WikiLeaks releases.

11. The Trump Campaign coordinated campaign-related public communications based on future WikiLeaks releases.

12. Michael Cohen, on behalf of the Trump Organization, brokered a secret deal for a Trump Tower Moscow project directly involving Putin's inner circle, at least until June 2016.

13. During the presidential transition, Jared Kushner and Eric Prince engaged in secret back channel communications with Russian agents. (1) Kushner suggested to the Russian Ambassador that they use a secure communication line from within the Russian Embassy to speak with Russian Generals; and (2) Prince and Kushner's friend Rick Gerson conducted secret back channel meetings with a Putin agent to develop a plan for U.S.-Russian relations.

14. During the presidential transition, in coordination with other members of the Transition Team, Michael Flynn spoke with the Russian Ambassador to prevent a tit for tat Russian response to the Obama administration's imposition of sanctions for election interference; the Russians agreed not to retaliate saying they wanted a good relationship with the incoming administration.

During the course of 2016, Trump Campaign associates failed to report any of the Russian/WikiLeaks overtures to federal law enforcement, publicly denied any contacts with Russians/WikiLeaks, and actively encouraged the public to doubt that Russia was behind the hacking and distribution of stolen emails.

One qualification before proceeding to the analysis in Part II: a significant amount of relevant information was unavailable to Mueller due to four factors. First, as the Report states, "several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office," and "those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference." Second, President Trump's interference in the investigation also appears to have stymied the investigation. A key example is Paul Manafort's failure to cooperate with the Special Counsel because he was apparently led to believe that President Trump would pardon him. Third, some individuals used encrypted communications or deleted their communications. Fourth, some of the individuals who "cooperated" with the investigation (e.g., Steve Bannon) appear to have been deceptive or not fully forthcoming in their dealings with the Special Counsel. Several individuals failed to recall the content of important conversations with Trump or other Campaign associates. The Report states, "Even when individuals testified or agreed to be interviewed, they sometimes provided information that was false or incomplete."

Finally, some tips for reading the Mueller Report. It is important to keep in mind that the Report's analysis is about whether or not to prosecute someone for a crime. Furthermore, statements that the investigation "did not establish" something occurred are not the same as saying there was "no evidence" that it occurred. The Report has clear ways of saying when the investigation found no evidence. It conveys the absence of any evidence when, for example, it states the investigation "did not identify evidence" or "did not uncover evidence" that something occurred. Even then, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. When there is "evidence of absence," the Special Counsel was willing to say the investigation "established" effectively that something did not occur. For example, the Report states that the investigation "established" that interactions between the Russian Ambassador and Campaign officials at certain locations were "brief, public, and non-substantive." That finding excludes the possibility that something more nefarious occurred in those particular interactions.

Conservatives rightly found it disgraceful that Democrats defended Bill Clinton--and the Senate failed to convict him--for perjury, suborning perjury and for obstructing justice in a sexual assault case. Imagine defending Donald for all this?

The Five Most Important Takeaways From the Mueller Report: If there wasn't collusion, it sure wasn't for lack of trying. (Benjamin Wittes, 4/29/19, The Atlantic)

Here are five conclusions I drew from the exercise:

The president committed crimes.

There is no way around it. The attorney general's efforts to clear the president, both in his original letter and in his press conference the morning of the report's release, are wholly unpersuasive when you actually spend time with the document itself.

Mueller does not accuse the president of crimes. He doesn't have to. But the facts he recounts describe criminal behavior. They describe criminal behavior even if we allow the president's--and the attorney general's--argument that facially valid exercises of presidential authority cannot be obstructions of justice. They do this because they describe obstructive activity that does not involve facially valid exercises of presidential power at all.

Consider only two examples. The first is the particularly ugly section concerning Trump's efforts to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to "unrecuse."

The alleged facts are simple enough. According to Mueller, the president asked Corey Lewandowski to convey a message to Sessions, a message Trump dictated. It was a request that Sessions reassert control over the special counsel investigation, make a speech in which he would declare that the president didn't do anything wrong and that the special counsel investigation of him was "very unfair," and limit the special counsel investigation to interference infutureelections. Lewandowski asked a White House staffer to deliver the message in his place; the staffer in question never did so.

There are a few important factors to highlight here, all of them aggravating. Lewandowski was not a government employee, so this was not an example of the president exercising his powers to manage the executive branch. Indeed, Trump very specifically did notgo through the hierarchy of the executive branch. He tried to get a private citizen to lobby the attorney general on his behalf for substantive outcomes to an investigation in which he had the deepest of personal interests. What's more, the step he asked Lewandowski to press Sessions to take was frankly unethical. Sessions was recused from the Russia probe because he had an actual conflict of interest in the matter. In other words, the president of the United States recruited a private citizen to procure from the attorney general of the United States behavior the attorney general was ethically barred from undertaking.

But it gets worse, because Trump did not merely seek to get Sessions to involve himself in a matter from which he was recused. He wanted him both to limit the scope of the investigation and to declare its outcome on the merits with respect to Trump himself. This action would have quite literally and directly obstructed justice. Limiting the jurisdiction of the special counsel to future elections would have, after all, precluded the indictments Mueller later issued for the Russian hacking and social-media operations. It would have precluded the prosecutions of Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Mike Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Rick Gates, as well. Nor is there any real complexity here with respect to Trump's intent. As Mueller reports, "Substantial evidence indicates that the President's effort to have Sessions limit the scope of the Special Counsel's investigation to future election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President's and his campaign's conduct."

As a criminal matter, this fact pattern seems to me uncomplicated: If true and provable beyond a reasonable doubt, it is unlawful obstruction of justice. Full stop.

Another example: Mueller reports that after the news broke that Trump had sought to get White House Counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller fired, Trump sought to get McGahn to deny the story. He also sought to get him to create an internal record denying the story. McGahn refused.

The attempt to get McGahn to write an internal memo disputing the story is the critical fact here. The president's conduct might otherwise be defended as a mere effort to lie to the press, but one doesn't order the creation of false internal documents for purposes of denying a published story. So the question is, first, whether what Mueller described as Trump's "repeated efforts to get McGahn to create a record denying that the President had directed him to remove the Special Counsel" would have "the natural tendency to constrain McGahn from testifying truthfully or to undermine his credibility" if he told the truth. The second question is whether such a corrupt outcome was specifically intended by the president.

Mueller acknowledges that there is "some evidence" that the president simply thought the story was wrong and was proceeding on his memory. But the prosecutor is pretty clear that the weight of evidence "cuts against that understanding," though--as always--he stops short of making that judgment explicit. Not the least reason the evidence does not favor that view is that McGahn's underlying story, as Mueller previously concluded, was amply supported by the evidence, while it's hard to believe the president would simply have forgotten an effort to fire Mueller. As to the president's intent, Mueller is pretty unabashed: "Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn's account in order to deflect or prevent scrutiny of the President's conduct toward the investigation."

Assuming that one believes this could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, it is not hard to imagine this fact pattern as a count in an indictment. It is hard to imagine a plausible defense based on the idea that pressuring an employee to create false government records by way of influencing his ability to tell the truth is within the president's constitutional authority.

There are a number of other examples. If one accepts, as I do, Mueller's general reading of the obstruction statutes as applied to official presidential action, there are many more. When Trump leaves office, assuming statutes of limitations have not yet run, someone will have to make the binary assessment, which Mueller did not make. of whether they amount to prosecutable cases. As a historical matter, the report leaves me with little doubt that the president engaged in criminal obstruction of justice on a number of occasions.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


John Bolton on the Warpath (Dexter Filkins, Feb. 11th, 2019, The New Yorker)

Bolton found an especially enthusiastic reception for arguments about the dangers of Islam. From 2013 to 2018, he was the chairman of the Gatestone Institute, which describes itself as "dedicated to educating the public about what the mainstream media fails to report." The institute, which paid Bolton a hundred and fifty-five thousand dollars in 2017, has published virulently anti-Muslim articles of questionable accuracy. During Bolton's tenure, one article warned of an impending "jihadist takeover" of Europe, and another claimed that immigrants from Somalia and other countries were turning Sweden into the "rape capital of the West." A report titled "History of the Muslim Brotherhood Penetration of the U.S. Government" suggested that both the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and the State Department official Huma Abedin were sleeper agents. According to a database maintained by NBC News, at least four articles published by Gatestone were retweeted by the Internet Research Agency, the Russian intelligence front that led efforts to sow dissension during the 2016 election.

Like many conservatives in Israel and in the U.S., Bolton rejects the idea of a two-state solution. At a speech in Israel in 2017, he instead advocated a "three-state solution," in which Israel, Jordan, and Egypt would divide up the Palestinian territories in Gaza and the West Bank, abolishing the political entities that now exist there. For that speech, Bolton received a hundred thousand dollars and a Guardian of Zion Award from Bar-Ilan University.

As Bolton became a celebrity in conservative media, he used his visibility to establish himself in electoral politics. In 2013, he set up a political-action committee, John Bolton Super PAC, which raised money to support Republican candidates. The most significant donor was Robert Mercer, the right-wing activist, hedge-fund billionaire, and co-founder of the data firm Cambridge Analytica, which later became notorious for capturing private information from some eighty-seven million Facebook users. Mercer gave the super PAC a total of five million dollars. During the elections in 2014 and 2016, Bolton's organization paid Cambridge Analytica $1.2 million, for psychographic data to tailor messages that would help Senate candidates, including Scott Brown, in New Hampshire, and Thom Tillis, in North Carolina. But Groombridge, Bolton's former aide, told me that the data turned out to be less effective than promised. "It was useless," he said. "We used it the way they told us, and it had no discernible impact whatsoever."

After forming the PAC, Bolton briefly considered running for President, but people close to him said that he was more focussed on another job. "He was running for Secretary of State," Groombridge told me. As with Bolton's nomination for U.N. Ambassador, there were reasons for concern that he wouldn't pass Senate confirmation. In Bolton's financial disclosure, he listed a forty-thousand-dollar payment, for a speech that he gave, in 2016, to Mujahideen-e-Khalq, an Iranian exile group dedicated to overthrowing the government in Tehran. The M.E.K., which professes an eccentric variant of Islam, has been characterized by many experts as resembling a cult. From 1997 until 2012, the United States listed it as a terrorist group, owing to a campaign of bombings and assassinations that it led in Iran. Bolton's association with the group apparently went back at least to that time. During the speech in 2016, he told the crowd, "I just say again what I have been saying for ten years that I've been coming to this rally: the regime in Tehran needs to be overthrown at the earliest opportunity!"

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a frequent critic of the regime, said that Bolton's relationship with the group should have disqualified him from senior government jobs. "Anyone who pimps himself out to the M.E.K. fails the litmus test for integrity," he said. [...]

 In addition to giving Trump a rundown of potential national threats each morning, Bolton attends the President's Daily Brief, a top-secret meeting with Gina Haspel, the head of the C.I.A., and Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence. Trump prefers to hold these meetings just two or three times a week, and is famously susceptible to distractions--people walking into the office, telephone calls, even houseflies.  Aides have found that detailed briefings provoke impatience; graphics and bullet points work better, and relatable photographs better still. "Bolton gets to the point very fast," a senior Administration official told me. "He's very brief, and the President appreciates that." Groombridge, the former aide, said, "John is thinking, To the extent I can modify or mollify the President's actions, I will. He is truly a patriot. But I wonder how he goes into work every day, because deep in his heart he believes the President is a moron."

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


The NRA Civil War: Pitting Grifter Against Grifter (Charlie Sykes, Apr. 29th, 2019, The Bulwark)

On a cosmic level, the NRA has been hemorrhaging cash for years (running deficits of as much as $40 million a year), may be nearly broke, is losing members, and now faces a formidable legal challenge to its tax exempt status. Axios calls these "existential threats" to the group that has become the id of the Right. And this doesn't even include its odd entanglements with the Russians. The full NRA board is supposed to meet on Monday to hash all of this out.

What is the internal civil war about?

In one sense it's a war over nothing; there do not appear to be any significant policy differences behind the battle between long time NRA boss Wayne LaPierre and North. So far, it looks like this feud is mostly about personalities, power, and access to the various grifts. And the grifts are juicy indeed: million dollar salaries, sweet deals for spouses, fat consultant contracts, six-figure wardrobe allowances, and a menagerie of scams all marinated in a culture of deception, secrecy, and greed. Because the Second Amendment.

There are no white knights here, but apparently lots of whistleblowers.

...divvying up the wool is tough.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Football's new age neutralises philosophies of the past (Ken Early, Apr 29, 2019, Irish Times)

When Liverpool scored after 15 seconds against Huddersfield Town on Friday night, one common reaction would have been to bemoan the lack of competitiveness in the Premier League, and wonder if there was anything else on television. But this was one of the most interesting goals you'll see all season, and it's worth analysing what happened in detail.

From the kick-off, Huddersfield go back to holding midfielder Jon Gorenc Stankovic, who plays it right to central defender Christopher Schindler. Daniel Sturridge closes Schindler down, and Sadio Mane is close to the right back Tommy Smith, so Schindler plays it back to goalkeeper Jonas Lössl and runs towards the right corner of the Huddersfield box to make himself available for a return pass.

Except Sturridge has angled his run to close down Lössl such that he is also threatening that return pass to Schindler, and he has Mane in support. The other centre half, Terence Kongolo, has split to the left corner of the Huddersfield box, but Mohamed Salah is close by: too risky. The easiest available pass is up the middle to Stankovic, who is unmarked and appears to be in space.

Appearances can be deceptive. Naby Keïta is a good 15 yards away from Stankovic, on the far side of another Huddersfield midfielder, Jonathan Hogg. Hogg is pointing and gesticulating to team-mates and paying no attention to Keïta, whose orientation at this moment seems to be entirely defensive.

In fact Keïta is waiting to spring the trap. As the ball goes back to Lössl, he knows his team-mates are leaving the goalkeeper with only two options: hit it long, or pass to Stankovic in the middle. At the precise instant he sees Lössl has chosen the short rather than the long pass, Keïta takes off, goes past Hogg before Hogg realises what is happening, and arrives on Stankovic's blindside as he turns with the ball and attempts to pass. Keïta blocks the ball to the nearby Salah, runs into the area, collects the return pass and scores.

The interesting thing about the goal was that you'd never have seen one like it in the Premier League of 10 years ago. These 15 seconds showed some of the ways the game has changed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


As in 2018, health care ranks among Trump's 2020 challenges (POLL) (GARY LANGER Apr 29, 2019, ABC News)

The key issue of the 2018 midterms may stick around to trouble President Donald Trump in 2020: Americans, by a 17-point margin, say his handling of health care makes them more likely to oppose than support him for a second term.

That result, from the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, marks one of many challenges Trump is expected to face as he seeks re-election.

The Mueller report and his immigration policies are substantial negatives as well. As reported Friday, Trump's overall popularity is low: just 39 % of people approve of his work in office, and 55% flatly rule out voting for him next year.

Beyond that, a remarkable 75% of Americans, and 85% of registered voters, say they're certain to vote in the 2020 election -- intended turnout levels typically only seen in the closing days of a presidential contest. If that intensity is maintained, it may boost Democratic candidates, many of whose core support groups are less reliable voters.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


President Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims (Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly April 29, 2019, Washington Post)

It took President Trump 601 days to top 5,000 false and misleading claims in The Fact Checker's database, an average of eight claims a day.

But on April 26, just 226 days later, the president crossed the 10,000 mark -- an average of nearly 23 claims a day in this seven-month period, which included the many rallies he held before the midterm elections, the partial government shutdown over his promised border wall and the release of the special counsel's report on Russian interference in the presidential election.

It's not so much that he lies as that he doesn't even bother trying not to. They ought to count his factual statements. Both of them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


The Lasting Disappointment of the Clinton Presidency (Walter Shapiro, Apr. 29th, 2019, New Republic)

Clinton's campaigns and most of his eight years in power were designed as the belated Democratic response to Reaganism. This explains lines that two decades later make liberals cringe, like Clinton's declaration in his 1996 State of the Union Address, "The era of big government is over." 

The French have a phrase (esprit de l'escalier, loosely translated as "wit of the staircase") for the clever dinner-party comeback that leaps to mind after the guests are long gone and the host is headed to bed. Clinton was the Democrats' espirit de l'escalier.

Clinton had limited goals as president--adoration, reelection, and thwarting Reaganism. His strategy was to take off the table every issue that Reagan and then Bush with his vicious, Lee Atwater-designed 1988 campaign had used to bludgeon the Democrats. As a result, Clinton centered his domestic agenda as president on traditional GOP issues like crime, welfare and budget deficits.

In fairness, Clinton deserves credit for the laudable 1993 expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (which aids the working poor and near-poor) and the 1997 passage of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIPs), which was a last-ditch effort to achieve something tangible after Hillary Clinton's 1994 health-care debacle. 

The rightly derided 1994 crime bill was a reflection of Clinton practicing the politics of the defensive crouch. As the Clinton Library signage gamely explains, "Though violent crime tripled in the 30 years before President Clinton was elected, the number of police increased by only 10 percent. The President was determined to correct this imbalance [and] the administration provided the funds to put more than 100,000 new police on the streets."  [...]

The saddest aspect of the Clinton Library for me is not about the policy failures of the 1990s like America's inaction in the face of genocide in Rwanda. Nor is it a reprise of the Clinton scandals or a reference to Al Gore consigning the president to the sidelines during the 2000 hanging-chad race against George W. Bush.

No, that laurel has to go to a display heralding the political wonders of 1997, the first year of Clinton's second term. "America entered 1997 more peaceful and more prosperous than it had been in a generation," the signage proudly proclaims. "The contentious debates between those who saw government as the problem and those who believed that government should be part of the solution had given way to a more bipartisan cooperation culminating in an agreement to balance the federal budget, for the first time in a generation." 

This indeed should have been a peak moment for Clinton, the Democrats and America. In 1997, Communism was defeated, a friendly Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia, terrorism (aside from the home-brewed Oklahoma City version) was a problem for other countries, and the unsettling effects of global warming were mostly visible in scientific models. The unemployment rate, fueled by the first tech boom, had slipped below 5 percent and the budget was on a glide path toward solvency. Yes, Newt Gingrich was still House speaker, but he had been largely boxed out by the government shutdowns. And Gingrich privately was a somewhat cooperative figure, at least in contrast to the uncompromising zealot that he delighted playing in the media. 

These were, in many respects, the best years of our lives--and Clinton, still locked in a fetal crouch as he faced the outsize legacies of Reaganism, lacked a vision to take advantage of them. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Universal Health Care Might Cost You Less Than You Think: We don't think of the premiums we already pay as taxes, but maybe we should. (Matt Bruenig, April 29, 2019, NY Times)

Just how heavy is the burden placed on American workers by employer insurance premiums? By combining data from the O.E.C.D. Taxing Wages model with data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, we can see what percentage of each worker's compensation -- a figure that includes cash wages as well as the taxes and benefits employers pay on behalf of their employees -- goes toward taxes and health care, and how progressive these payments really are.

What this data shows is that lower-income workers, higher-income workers, single workers, and married workers with children all contribute around 40 percent of their pay toward taxes and health premiums. And when those health care costs are taken into account, the less well off no longer pay less than high-earners, as they do in taxes alone.

So, while opponents of comprehensive plans like Medicare for All claim those plans will greatly burden middle-class families, the truth is that we already have an unfair system. Middle-class workers in America are charged the same health insurance fees as upper-class workers despite the vast income differences between the two groups, and pay more of their earnings toward taxes and health care than workers in many wealthy countries.

For instance, according to this analysis, American families that earn around $43,000, half of the average wage, pay 37 percent of their wages to taxes and health care premiums. In high-tax Finland, the same type of family pays 23 percent of their compensation in labor taxes, which includes taxes they pay to support universal health care. In France, it's 2 percent. In the United Kingdom and Canada, it is less than 0 percent after government benefits.

Consider the impact of these insurance premiums on American families with children. Through the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit, the federal tax code does a lot to ensure that the effective tax rates of lower-middle-class workers go down considerably when they have kids. But these efforts are effectively negated by the burden of employer-based health insurance.

Yeah, but in return we get worse health comes at much higher cost.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Majority of Australians support immigration: exclusive poll (SBS, 4/29/19)

The poll found 51 per cent of respondents thought immigration was "generally positive" for the country, 35 per cent believed it was "generally negative" and 15 per cent were unsure.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


In Regions Hit by Recession, Gen Z Is Turning Out to Be Frugal:  Scarred by financial crises and unemployment, they'd rather shop secondhand stores. (Lisa Du and Ellen Milligan, April 25, 2019, Bloomberg)

The kids of Generation Z are about to become the planet's biggest consumer spending force. That portends many opportunities in the globe's two largest economies, the U.S. and China. But retailers and brands in many developed nations with less robust economies aren't cheering. That's because their Gen Z youth have grown up in the shadow of financial crises and economic recessions, leaving them indelibly marked by frugality.

Surveys show that unlike millennials, many members of Generation Z are cautious about excessive consumption. After seeing their parents walloped by the 2008 financial crisis, they're attracted to thrift stores, sustainable brands, and saving for a rainy day--even when they have steady jobs and rising wages. That's particularly true in Europe and Japan, where growth has failed to bounce back as it has in the U.S. and China. Those Gen Zers, born in the mid-1990s or later, are part of a generation that's entering the workforce with a far more cautious approach to spending than their predecessors.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Food stamps recipients can now order groceries online for delivery. Amazon, Walmart and ShopRite will offer the service (Nathaniel Meyersohn and Tami Luhby, 4/29/19, CNN Business)

Walmart, Amazon and grocery chains like ShopRite hope to tap into a lucrative new market: Food stamp recipients who want to shop for groceries online.

For the first time, the US Department of Agriculture has given the green light for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to use their benefits to buy groceries online and get them delivered to their homes, the agency said Thursday.

April 28, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Former U.S. deputy attorney general: If Trump was not president, he would be indicted (Reuters, 4/28/19) 

"I've personally prosecuted obstruction cases on far, far less evidence than this," Yates said. "And yes, I believe, if he were not the president of the United States, he would likely be indicted on obstruction." [...]

Yates told NBC there was a larger question raised by the report, which she said painted a "devastating portrait" of a campaign that welcomed Russian intervention, lied about it and then tried to cover it up.

"Is this the kind of conduct that we should expect from the president of the United States?" she said. "I mean, when the Russians came knocking at their door, you would expect that a man who likes to make a show of hugging the flag would've done the patriotic thing and would've notified law enforcement."

Yates was fired by Trump after she took the extraordinarily rare step of defying the White House and refused to defend new travel restrictions targeting seven Muslim-majority nations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


How France's Yellow Vest Protesters Are Different from America's Tea Party (Daniel J. Mitchell, 4/28/19, FEE)

[T]he Tea Party also wanted smaller government. That doesn't seem to be the case in France.

Which means the Yellow Vests are either ignorant or hypocritical. After all, the burden of government spending is very onerous in France, and the country also has high levels of debt.

This is simply false, of course.  The Tea Party was likewise opposed to cuts in the social welfare net--unsurprising for older white men--and, like the Yellow Vests, largely driven by the fear that minorities were a threat to those goodies.

70% of Tea Partiers Don't Want to Cut Medicare Either (ELSPETH REEVE, APR 19, 2011, The Atlantic)

The Tea Party movement is supposed to be the engine driving Republicans' push for sharp cuts to spending and reform entitlements. Representative Paul Ryan's 2012 budget, which passed the House last week, phases out Medicare for people under 55 and turns Medicaid into block grants. But it turns out that Tea Partiers, like most Americans, strongly oppose cutting Medicare and Medicaid. A new McClatchy-Marist poll shows 70 percent of "Tea Party supporters" oppose cutting those programs--and 80 percent of registered voters agree.


 A new survey by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality offers fresh insight into the racial attitudes of Tea Party sympathizers. "The data suggests that people who are Tea Party supporters have a higher probability"--25 percent, to be exact--"of being racially resentful than those who are not Tea Party supporters," says Christopher Parker, who directed the study. "The Tea Party is not just about politics and size of government. The data suggests it may also be about race."

Surveyers asked respondents in California and a half dozen battleground states (like Michigan and Ohio) a series of questions that political scientists typically use to measure racial hostility. On each one, Tea Party backers expressed more resentment than the rest of the population, even when controlling for partisanship and ideology. When read the statement that "if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites," 73 percent of the movement's supporters agreed, while only 33 percent of people who disapproved of the Tea Party agreed. Asked if blacks should work their way up "without special favors," as the Irish, Italians, and other groups did, 88 percent of supporters agreed, compared to 56 percent of opponents. The study revealed that Tea Party enthusiasts were also more likely to have negative opinions of Latinos and immigrants.

These results are bolstered by a recent New York Times/CBS News surveyfinding that white Tea Party supporters were more likely to believe that "the Obama administration favors blacks over whites" and that "too much has been made of the problems facing black people." The survey also showed that Tea Party sympathizers are whiter, older, wealthier, and more well-educated than the average American. They're "just as likely to be employed, and more likely to describe their economic situation as very or fairly good," according to a summary of the poll.

Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


Border Patrol is now releasing migrant families directly in Tucson (Rafael Carranza, 4/26/19, Arizona Republic)

Border Patrol officials have begun releasing migrant families in Tucson because they lack the space to detain them and immigration officials are unable to take them into custody.

The practice has been going on for about a month, according to the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, which covers most of Arizona's border with Mexico.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Iraq demands apology after Bahraini FM calls al-Sadr a 'dog' (Al Jazeera, 4/28/19)

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed called al-Sadr a "dog" in a tweet on Saturday after the latter denounced the wars in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria and demanded their leaders' immediate departure. 

In response, Bahrain's foreign ministry summoned Iraq's top envoy, Charge d'Affaires Nihad Rajab Askar, to express the kingdom's dismay.

"The statement is a blatant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain," a statement by the Bahrain foreign ministry said.

"It violates the principles of international law and affects the nature of relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Republic of Iraq."

The Bahraini regime, which oppresses its overwhelmingly Shiite majority, is illegitimate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


As NRA Leadership Fight Spills Into Public, N.Y. Attorney General Opens Investigation (Tim Mak, 4/27/19, NPR)

Even as the NRA struggled to handle its internal divisions, an external threat emerged this weekend in the form of a new investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

"The Office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation related to the National Rifle Association (NRA)," a spokesperson for the attorney general told NPR. "As part of this investigation, the Attorney General has issued subpoenas. We will not have further comment at this time."

The NRA has received a document preservation notice in connection with the investigation being undertaken by the New York attorney general, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The NRA responded to the announcement of the investigation by pledging its cooperation.

"The NRA will fully cooperate with any inquiry into its finances," said William A. Brewer III, an outside lawyer for the NRA. "The NRA is prepared for this, and has full confidence in its accounting practices and commitment to good governance."

North's announcement on Saturday shocked the hundreds of NRA members and donors gathered at the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis -- the news was met with absolute silence.

Following the announcement, rank-and-file NRA members proposed a resolution holding LaPierre accountable for the allegations of financial mismanagement within the organization and calling for him to step down.

The resolution was ultimately defeated, but not before a passionate debate broke out among members -- with escalating rhetoric. Some members demanded information on the allegations of financial impropriety. Others suggested that because of ongoing litigation, the matter should not be debated in public. At one point, one NRA member compared the resolution to an attempted hanging of LaPierre.

North -- who is perhaps best known for his role in the Reagan-era Iran-Contra affair -- was expected to join Saturday's meeting himself, but his chair onstage was empty.

Gonna need more popcorn...

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Sudan's military and opposition agree on joint council (Al Jazeera, 4/18/19)

Sudan's ruling military council and the opposition alliance have reached an agreement in principle to form a new body to run the country until the next election.

The agreement was reached during a meeting on Saturday between the ruling Military Transitional Council (MTC) and the Declaration of Freedom and Changes Forces, an umbrella organisation of opposition groups. [...]

Meanwhile, the Sudanese opposition has rejected an African Union move to give the ruling military council a three-month deadline for handing power over to a civil administration.

"Sudanese don't need the recommendation of African Union," said Sadiq al-Mahdi, the head of the National Umma Party.

Speaking in a press conference in Khartoum, al-Mahdi called on the MTC "to act with wisdom, not tension".

"We hope that the civilian authority in the transition period will organize national, economic and international conferences", he added.

Al-Mahdi stressed that the transitional period must follow free elections.

Al Jazeera's Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said protesters were continuing to keep the pressure on the military council.

"Over the past three weeks, more and more people have been arriving from different parts of the country to join the sit-in.

"They say they want civilians, and not the military, to be the ones who have the ultimate say on the shape of Sudan's future".

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Bringing Private Health Insurance Into the 21st Century: A plan for blending the best aspects of American health care with market-based models abroad. (Avik Roy, Apr 21, 2019, FreOPP)

Employer-sponsored insurance
Overall grade: C-minus
2019 enrollment: 151 million (excluding members of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program)

While employer-based health insurance coverage is commonly thought of as America's "market based" health insurance system, it departs considerably from market principles. Employers rely on the largest and fastest-growing subsidy in the tax code--the exclusion from taxation of the value of employer-sponsored insurance (ESI)--to offer coverage to half of all Americans. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that fiscal value of this tax break in 2019--in terms of lost revenue to the federal government, and/or lower taxes elsewhere--is 1.4 percent of GDP, or roughly $300 billion. The value of the exclusion from state and local taxation represents an additional $38 billion, for a total of $338 billion. (Fiscal sustainability: C).

Because ESI premiums are taken out of a worker's paycheck before he receives it, employees rarely understand how much of their compensation is taken up by the cost of health care. They demand access to costly services because they lack the tools to understand how costly services affect their health insurance premiums. (Consumer-driven incentives: D)

This lack of price sensitivity, in turn, has led the cost of employer-based coverage to explode. Indeed, American ESI is the costliest form of health insurance in the world. (Underlying cost: F)

Furthermore, workers in the ESI system rarely get to choose their health insurer; instead, that insurer is chosen on their behalf by a human resources executive at their employer. However, an increasing number of employers are deploying high deductibles and other cost-sharing tools to keep costs down; average deductibles have tripled in the last decade. As a result, more workers are gaining access to tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Accounts, which provide improved choice for routine health care expenses. (Freedom of choice: D)

In general, however, employers know that their employees are not price sensitive, and see generous health benefits as a retention tool. As a result, they have been reluctant to limit access to costly providers or health care services, out of fear that workers will rebel and decamp to a rival employer. (Access to doctors: A; Access to innovation: A)

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Another Act of White Supremacist Terror. When Will GOP Leaders Say Enough? (David Atkins April 28, 2019, Washington Monthly)

As older, whiter, more male and more socially conservative voters decline as a portion of the electorate, the Republican Party has become increasingly hostile to democracy itself. Gerrymandering, census manipulation, poll taxes, power grabs against branches of government they don't control, voter suppression, and legislative intimidation against voter registration can all be done with little public fanfare to help them delay the inevitable.

But violent acts of terrorism by their own base are much harder to sweep under the rug. And vague statements of general condemnation against violence won't cut it as these despicable acts continue to increase, and as the Republican Party becomes increasingly associated with it. Whatever remains of the mushy middle of American politics is allergic to conflict, extremism and violence-and as conservative politics are increasingly associated with violent extremism, Republican room for electoral maneuvering decreases.

Conservative infotainment on cable news and the AM radio can maintain their radicalized audiences longer than the Republican Party can sustain its position: after all, a small population can keep conservative media in business much longer than it can continue to deliver majoritarian wins for one of America's two major political parties, even buoyed by political affirmative action for older, rural white voters. But conservative media has its own problem: advertisers. Corporate America knows where its future customer base is, and it's not with the Fox News audience. So ultimately even the likes of the Murdoch family, Clear Channel and Sinclair Broadcast Group will feel the hit from the abandonment of advertisers.

And that is all just tactical. Morally, how long can whatever is left of decency among Republican opinion leaders sustain the current trends as its base descends into radical violent extremism? We certainly haven't hit rock bottom yet. Maybe there isn't one, but common sense dictates that at least some portions of conservative intelligentsia must have a breaking point.

At what point, either out of moral revulsion, sense of patriotic duty or sheer self-preservation, do Republican leaders start to try to put out the fire instead of fanning the flames? How many more deaths will it take?

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM



It's high in protein, low in sugar, and just right for the struggling American dairy industry.

It's Icelandic yogurt, also known as Skyr, and as the meteoric popularity of the Greek product fizzles, farmers are hoping the new variety will help lift them out of years of lackluster demand. A big reason dairy producers love it: Recipes for one pound of Icelandic yogurt call for four pounds of milk -- four times the amount needed to make traditional yogurt.

U.S. dairy farms could use some good news. For more than four years, retail milk prices have been disappointing, and farmers are reacting by slaughtering more cows than they can replace. In July, a gallon of whole milk cost $2.84, the lowest price since at least 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In March, the price of a gallon stayed below $3 for a 15th straight month.

It's a different story for Icelandic yogurt. While U.S. yogurt sales dropped 3.4% in the 12 months ended in February, the Icelandic style jumped 24% to $173.9 million, Nielsen data show.

April 27, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Suspect in deadly synagogue shooting near San Diego wrote anti-Semitic manifesto (KRISTINA DAVIS, SARAH PARVINI and J. HARRY JONES, APR 27, 2019, LA Times)

A gunman armed with a semiautomatic rifle walked into a suburban San Diego County synagogue and opened fire on the congregation Saturday, killing one person and injuring three in an attack that authorities believe was motivated by hate.

A 19-year-old was arrested in connection with the shooting, authorities said. The gunman entered Chabad of Poway on Chabad Way about 11:20 a.m. and started firing.

He was identified as John T. Earnest, a Rancho Penasquitos resident. He is being questioned by homicide detectives.

Earnest appears to have written a letter posted on the Internet filled with anti-Semitic screeds. In the letter, he also talked about the planning the attack.

"How long did it take you to plan the attack? Four weeks. Four weeks ago, I decided I was doing this. Four weeks later, I did it."

Earnest, who is white, wrote that he was willing to sacrifice his future "for the sake of my people." [...]

The attack comes six months after a man with a history of posting anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant social media messages opened fire at a temple in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people and wounding six more.


According to the NBC 7 report, Earnest produced an online manifesto in which he took responsibility for arson at a nearby mosque in nearby Escondido last month, and on Reddit said he planned to livestream his shooting Saturday on Facebook. His account has been deactivated.

In the reported manifesto, Earnest said the shooting suspects for the Pittsburgh mosque, which was six months ago to the day, and last month's shooting at a Christchurch, New Zealand mosque inspired him to carry out the shooting in Poway, which is a San Diego suburb.

At a news conference, San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore said. "This individual was with an AR-type assault weapon and opened fire on the people inside the synagogue."

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Lawyers for neo-Nazi website head to quit anti-Semitic troll storm case: Attorney says Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin won't return to US over alleged terrorizing of Jewish real estate agent, after Richard Spencer's mother says she threatened her (MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, 4/27/19, Times of Israel)

Andrew Anglin runs the anti-Semitic Daily Stormer website. (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)
Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Boiled Cider: Popular in colonial New England, this "apple molasses" is now made by only a handful of commercial producers. (Atlas Obscura, 4/27/19)

Apple cider is practically the official beverage of the fall foliage season in the United States. But you're far less likely to find its concentrated sibling, boiled cider, at local farm stands. This traditional New England sweetener, which dates back to colonial times, is made by reducing fresh cider into a thick, gooey, dark liquid also called "apple molasses."

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Trump says measles vaccine 'so important'; in the past, he warned about autism (IVAN COURONNE, 4/27/19, AFP) 

President Donald Trump on Friday urged Americans to get vaccinated as a measles outbreak spread across the country, reaching the highest number of cases in the country since 2000.

"Vaccinations are so important," Trump told reporters at the White House. "They have to get their shots."

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


North Dakota, in Last Place for Solar, Takes Steps to Move Up the Ranks (JACQUELINE TOTH, April 26, 2019, Morning Consult)

Solar energy has been slow to enter the scene in North Dakota, due in part to its lush farming soil, plentiful fossil fuel resources and strong wind suitable for turbines. As of the end of last year, North Dakota ranked last in solar installed capacity among all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

But the state approved its first commercial solar project in February. And at the same time that the economics of solar grow more attractive to developers, the discussion surrounding the commercial project led to an attempt at a regulatory change that could ease the approval process for future large-scale solar endeavors on the state's key farmland.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Texas Retracts Claim of Mass Voter Fraud Touted by Trump, Agrees to Halt Planned Purge (MARK JOSEPH STERN, APRIL 26, 2019, Slate)

On Jan. 25, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley issued a shocking advisory alleging that 95,000 noncitizens were on the state's voter rolls, 58,000 of whom had cast at least one ballot. Whitley, a Republican, directed county registrars to commence an immediate purge of these noncitizens using lists he would provide. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, also a Republican, promptly tweeted a "VOTER FRAUD ALERT" summarizing Whitley's findings, and President Donald Trump repeated Whitley's claims two days later. By that point, counties had already begun notifying targeted voters that they would be purged from the rolls.

On Friday, Whitley quietly promised to rescind his January advisory and halt Texas' voter purge as part of a settlement with multiple voting rights groups. The factual basis of Paxton and Trump's tweets has been not just undermined, but fully revoked.

April 26, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


During NRA speech, Trump drops out of another global arms treaty (Missy Ryan and John Hudson April 26, 2019, wASHINGTON pOST)

The origins of the treaty, which sets out international rules for sales and transfers of everything from small arms to large planes and ships, dates to the George W. Bush administration. The agreement was negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations and signed in 2013 under President Barack Obama but has never been ratified by U.S. lawmakers.

The treaty seeks to prevent illicit arms transfers that fuel destructive conflicts, making it harder to conduct weapon sales in violation of arms embargoes. About 100 countries -- including U.S. allies in Europe -- have ratified the treaty, while more than 30 others have signed but not ratified. Countries that have shunned the treaty entirely include Russia, North Korea and Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Member of Ken Starr's Team on Mueller's Findings: 'If It Were Up to Me, I Would Recommend Impeachment' (Matt Naham, April 26th, 2019, Law & Crime)

Here's a brief portion of what Mueller himself had to say in the report about these incidents:

The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests. [James] Comey did not end the investigation of [Michael] Flynn, which ultimately resulted in Flynn's prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI. [Don] McGahn did not tell the Acting Attorney General that the Special Counsel must be removed, but was instead prepared to resign over the President's order. [Corey] Lewandowski and [Rick] Dearborn did not deliver the President's message to [Jeff] Sessions that he should confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only. And McGahn refused to accede from his recollections about events surrounding the President's direction to have the Special Counsel removed, despite the President's multiple demands that he do so.

Rosenzweig suggested that you don't even need to consider the above-described facts to make a strong argument for impeachment.

"My view is that there's ample reason right now for the House Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment inquiry ... and if it were up to me, I would recommend them to impeach," he said. "I mean, if I were called to testify today at the first of those hearings, I would say that Trump's obstruction of justice and frankly, more importantly, Trump's dereliction of duty in failing to address the issue of Russian interference in our electoral processes, are by themselves grounds for his impeachment."

"Add to that, his recalcitrance in responding to [special counsel Robert] Mueller and his stonewalling of congressional investigations and the case becomes ... much more compelling than that which attended the [impeachment] recommendation with respect to Clinton," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


'Jews will not replace us': Why white supremacists go after Jews (Yair Rosenberg, August 14, 2017, Washington Post)

When white nationalists descended upon the historic Virginia city to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, their "Unite the Right" rally gathered a veritable who's who of top neo-Nazis in the United States, including Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke and alt-right leading light Richard Spencer, among others.

They immediately went after the Jews. At their Friday night rally at the University of Virginia, the white nationalists brandished torches and chanted anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans, including "blood and soil" (an English rendering of the Nazi "blut und boden") and "Jews will not replace us" -- all crafted to cast Jews as foreign interlopers who need to be expunged. The attendees proudly displayed giant swastikas and wore shirts emblazoned with quotes from Adolf Hitler. One banner read, "Jews are Satan's children."

"The truth is," Duke told a large crowd Saturday, "the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause." Addressing another group, Richard Spencer mocked Charlottesville's Jewish mayor, Mike Signer. "Little Mayor Signer -- 'See-ner' -- how do you pronounce this little creep's name?" Spencer asked. The crowd responded by chanting, "Jew, Jew, Jew." In TV interviews, attendees were not shy about their anti-Semitism.

And James Fields Jr., the man who is accused of mowing down protesters that day, killing one and injuring 19, "had this fascination with Nazism and a big idolatry of Adolf Hitler," according to his high school history teacher. He was previously photographed at a rally for Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi group dedicated to fighting "the international Jew."

What we know about the alleged driver of the car that plowed into Charlottesville crowd
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, is accused of driving his car into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. (Video: Elyse Samuels, Sarah Parnass, Whitney Leaming/Photo: Getty Images/The Washington Post)

None of this should surprise us. The United States' white nationalists have made no secret of their special hate for Jews, particularly during the 2016 campaign and its aftermath.

Inspired by Donald Trump, Duke himself ran for Senate in Louisiana, spending much of his time on the primary debate stage ranting against the Jews. When Melania Trump was found to have plagiarized Michelle Obama in her Republican National Convention address, Duke declared he'd "bet a gefilte fish" that it was Jewish sabotage.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump's alt-right supporters barraged Jewish journalists with online abuse, including CNN's Jake Tapper, the Atlantic's Julia Ioffe and me, photoshopping us into gas chambers and concentration camps.

This conduct is not incidental to the white nationalist program; it is essential.

the rest of us look at them and see racists; Donald sees himself and his base.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Mueller Prosecutors: Trump Did Obstruct Justice (Murray Waas, 4/26/19, NYRB)

Prosecutors working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded last year that they had sufficient evidence to seek criminal charges against President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice over the president's alleged pressuring of then FBI Director James Comey in February 2017 to shut down an FBI investigation of the president's then national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Privately, the two prosecutors, who were then employed in the special counsel's office, told other Justice Department officials that had it not been for the unique nature of the case--the investigation of a sitting president of the United States, and one who tried to use the powers of his office to thwart and even close down the special counsel's investigation--they would have advocated that he face federal criminal charges. I learned of the conclusions of the two former Mueller prosecutors not by any leak, either from them personally or from the office of special counsel. Rather, the two prosecutors disclosed this information in then-confidential conversations with two other federal law enforcement officials, who subsequently recounted what they were told to me. 

On March 24, without consulting with Mueller, Attorney General William Barr declared that in the absence of a final judgment by Mueller as to whether or not the president broke the law, he, the attorney general, had taken it upon himself to make that determination in a summary he sent to Congress. Barr decided that Trump wouldn't be charged with a crime. But many career Justice Department employees, former prosecutors for the special counsel, and legal scholars have questioned the propriety and legitimacy of Barr's making such a decision.

Given the Justice Department's longstanding doctrine that a president cannot face criminal indictment while in office, Mueller suggested in his report that Congress could still act: the special counsel made more than twenty references in his report to Congress's impeachment power. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


April 25, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


How Fox News distorts the news: A Mueller case study (Erik Wemple, April 25, 2019, Washington Post)

 Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times presented a scoop on Jan. 25, 2018, under this headline: "Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, but Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit." The story wasn't vague: "President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive," noted the lead of the piece, which stated that then-White House counsel Donald McGahn had fielded the order.

The reporting added sinew to chatter that had circulated in June 2017, when Trump friend and Newsmax Media chief executive Christopher Ruddy told PBS, "Well, I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel."

Reacting to the Schmidt-Haberman story from the international big-wig confab in Davos, Switzerland, Trump said, "Fake news, folks. Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story."

On his program, Hannity posed as a debunking journalist -- initially. "Our sources -- and I've checked in with many of them -- they're not confirming" the reporting of the Times, said Hannity. Later in the proceedings, Hannity was forced to change course, thanks to the reporting of Fox News's Ed Henry: "All right, so, we have sources tonight just confirming to Ed Henry that, yeah, maybe Donald Trump wanted to fire the special counsel for conflict. Does he not have the right to raise those questions? You know, we'll deal with this tomorrow night," said Hannity, who then turned his viewers' attention to a video of a car crash.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Franklin Graham and the High Cost of the Lost Evangelical Witness (DAVID FRENCH, April 25, 2019, National Review)

 In 1998, at the height of Bill Clinton's sex scandals, the younger Graham wrote a powerful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal combating Clinton's assertion that his affair was a "private" matter. Clinton argued that his misdeeds were "between me, the two people I love the most -- my wife and our daughter -- and our God." Graham noted that even the most private of sins can have very public, devastating consequences, and he asked a simple question: "If [Clinton] will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?"

Graham was right: Clinton, it turned out, wouldn't just lie to mislead his family. He'd lie to influence courts, Congress, and the American people.

Fast-forward 20 years. By 2018, Donald Trump was president -- and helping to win important policy victories for religious conservatives -- and Graham's tune had changed dramatically. He actively repudiated his condemnations of Clinton, calling the Republican pursuit of the then-president "a great mistake that should never have happened," and argued that "this thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody's business."

Graham was wrong: Trump, it turns out, doesn't just lie to mislead his family. He lies all the time to influence courts, Congress, and the American people. [...]

The proper Evangelical position toward any president is not hard to articulate, though it is exceedingly difficult to hold to, especially in polarized times when one party seems set on limiting religious liberty and zealously defending abortion: We should pray for presidents, critique them when they're wrong, praise them when they're right, and never, ever impose partisan double standards. We can't ever forget the importance of character, the necessity of our own integrity, and the power of the prophetic witness.

In other words, Evangelicals can never take a purely transactional approach to politics. We are never divorced from our transcendent purpose, which always trumps political expediency. In scripture, prophets confronted leaders about their sin. They understood a core truth, one clearly articulated in the Southern Baptist Convention's 1998 Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials: "Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God's judgment."

All too many of our nation's Evangelical leaders haven't just "tolerated" serious wrongdoing by Trump, they've rationalized and minimized it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


The Press Didn't Just Report Accurately on Trump-Russia Corruption. It Prevented the Corruption From Being Worse. (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, APRIL 25, 2019, sLATE)

What the Russians at the June 9 meeting specifically wanted to discuss with Trump's advisers was their government's interest in getting the U.S. to lift sanctions that prevent Russian officials, oligarchs, and/or organized crime figures from using the American financial system. And June 9 wasn't the only attempt to broach this issue: Campaign chairman Paul Manafort discussed a sanctions-related Ukraine "peace plan" in August 2016 with one of his former business partners, Konstantin Kilimnik, who had connections to Russian military intelligence. Additionally, eventual Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn served as an "adviser" until June 2016 to a company that was developing a plan to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East in collaboration with Russian partners, a plan that would have required the U.S. to lift certain sanctions.

As is documented at length in Mueller's report, during the presidential transition period Flynn told Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that the Trump administration did not want to escalate sanctions that the Obama administration had imposed against Russia over its election interference. A former State Department official who dealt with sanctions has also said publicly that Trump officials began initiating plans to rescind other sanctions against Russia immediately after Trump's inauguration. Those efforts subsequently died under heavy political pressure, however. After the Washington Post broke the news of Flynn's conversation with Kislyak, he was eventually forced out of office--and more broadly, as the New Yorker has reported, the administration's efforts to strike a sanctions-easing agreement with Russia died because of "the looming Mueller investigation" and because "members of Congress were pushing at the time to expand sanctions against Russia, not reduce them." Says the New Yorker: "Trump told aides that he was frustrated that he could not make progress because of political opposition in Washington." That political opposition, of course, existed because even Republican senators were responding to what John McCain described as "Russia's attack on American democracy"--a subject that had been covered since June 2016 in press accounts of Russian propaganda and hacking operations whose details would go on to be confirmed by multiple Mueller indictments and documented in his report.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Hubble Hints Today's Universe Expands Faster Than it Did in the Past (Korey Haynes, April 25, 2019, dISCOVER)

In more recent years, astronomers have measured the expansion rate of today's universe using the Hubble Space Telescope. And mysteriously, the number it found for our current expansion was some 9 percent off from the expansion rate of the early universe, as measured by the European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft. At the time, astronomers said the odds were something like 1 in 3,000 that the disagreements were a fluke. But in a study released Wednesday, scientists say they've refined the Hubble measurements, doubling down on the idea that today's universe is expanding faster than it was in the past, and dropping the odds of a mistake to 1 in 100,000. At this point, something is definitely fishy, and astronomers need to understand why. [...]

[R]iess and his SH0ES team used Hubble Space Telescope observations, combined with ground-based observations, to reduce the uncertainty in the distance to Cepheid variables in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud from 2.5 percent to 1.3 percent.

They found that the earlier measurements of the Hubble Constant in the nearby universe were spot-on. This came as a surprised to Riess and his team because it confirmed earlier disagreements with the Planck telescope. That spacecraft measures fundamentals about the early universe, mapping the cosmic microwave background and calculating the ratio of dark energy, dark matter, and normal matter.

And Riess' measurements don't stand alone, but in line with a host of other measurements from today's universe. Similarly, Planck's numbers are backed up by other measurements of the early universe in the first few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. Neither seem likely to change at this point.

"This is not just two experiments disagreeing," Riess explained in a press release. "We are measuring something fundamentally different. One is a measurement of how fast the universe is expanding today, as we see it. The other is a prediction based on the physics of the early universe and on measurements of how fast it ought to be expanding. If these values don't agree, there becomes a very strong likelihood that we're missing something in the cosmological model that connects the two eras."

It's not clear what the solution is to make the two numbers agree. And indeed, at this point, it's not clear they will ever agree. Instead, it's looking more like a true sign that our early universe behaved differently than it does today with regard to expansion.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


North Korea issued $2 million bill for comatose Otto Warmbier's care (Anna Fifield, April 25, 2019, Washington Post)

North Korea issued a $2 million bill for the hospital care of comatose American Otto Warmbier, insisting that a U.S. official sign a pledge to pay it before being allowed to fly the University of Virginia student from Pyongyang in 2017.

The presentation of the invoice -- not previously disclosed by U.S. or North Korean officials -- was extraordinarily brazen even for a regime known for its aggressive tactics.

But the main U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier signed an agreement to pay the medical bill on instructions passed down from President Trump, according to two people familiar with the situation. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


How Trump has changed white evangelicals' views about morality (David Campbell and Geoffrey Layman April 25, 2019, Washington Post)

Back in 2016, many journalists and commentators pointed out a stunning change in how white evangelicals perceived the connection between private and public morality. In 2011, a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Religion News Service found that 60 percent of white evangelicals believed that a public official who "commits an immoral act in their personal life" cannot still "behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life." But in an October 2016 poll by PRRI and the Brookings Institution -- after the release of the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape -- only 20 percent of evangelicals, answering the same question, said that private immorality meant someone could not behave ethically in public.

Other religious groups didn't see such a dramatic shift. [...]

Have white evangelicals made an allowance only for Trump, or have they reconsidered their opinions on private and public morality more broadly? We tested this with two other versions of the same question. One starts with, "Many supporters of Donald Trump have argued," followed by the identical statement about an elected official who commits a privately immoral act. The other harks back to the Monica Lewsinky scandal that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment. "When he was president, many supporters of Bill Clinton argued . . ." To avoid the possibility of one question affecting responses to the others, respondents were randomly assigned to receive only one of the three variations: the "generic," Trump, or Clinton version.

White evangelicals had a substantially different reaction when asked about Trump or Clinton. When primed to think about Trump, only 6 percent of them say that an elected official who acts immorally in private is incapable of being ethical in public life. But when Bill Clinton is mentioned, that rises to 27 percent -- a 21-point increase.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Obama's Original Sin (Eric Rauchway, Apr. 22nd, 2019, The New Yorker)

Time's article about Obama-as-Roosevelt came a week after a New Yorker feature that sported a similar illustration but took a more tempered view. There, journalist George Packer quoted Cass Sunstein, Obama's onetime academic colleague and sometime political advisor, describing the newly elected president as post-partisan and a "visionary minimalist"--a man little devoted to great change. This attitude, Packer noted, made Obama "distinctly un-Rooseveltian." Before long, Packer's more cautious view was vindicated. By 2009, when the historian William E. Leuchtenburg put out a new edition of his book on the post-1945 presidency, In the Shadow of FDR (1983), adding a chapter on Obama's first hundred days, Leuchtenburg could already note how frequently "Obama expressed a degree of separation from the age of Roosevelt." He even quoted the new president as saying, "My interest is finding something that works. . . . whether it's coming from FDR or it's coming from Ronald Reagan."

For the better part of a half century, the Democratic Party has been in this multigenerational crisis over its past. Campaigning against Ronald Reagan in 1980, Jimmy Carter disowned the New Deal's effort to put Wall Street in harness to Washington, declaring "we believe that we ought to get the Government's nose out of the private enterprise of this country. We've deregulated . . . to make sure that we have a free enterprise system that's competitive." Bill Clinton fully assimilated Reaganism in 1996, saying "the era of big government is over." And now some progressive presidential candidates--together with a base of millennial Democrats--are decrying Obama's presidency as the last emanation of the Carter-Reagan-Clinton synthesis, a retread of neoliberalism whose weak program for recovery from the economic crisis of 2008 ensured nearly a decade of employment doldrums that aided the rise of Donald Trump.

Reed Hundt, once Clinton's chair of the Federal Communications Commission and a member of Obama's transition team, has made the progressives' argument effectively in his new book A Crisis Wasted. Obama, Hundt believes, made decisions while still a United States senator and then as president-elect that determined the course of his presidency. In the post-election, pre-inauguration winter of 2008-2009, the ordinarily maddeningly self-assured titans of finance--the same ones who, earlier in the year, counseled government inaction in the interest of letting the market discipline its own--were suddenly, and convincingly, prophesying doom unless Washington did something dramatic to avert economic catastrophe. While many voters hoped Obama's policies might represent a dramatic change along the lines of the New Deal, instead Obama acquiesced to emergency considerations and ideological blandishments aimed at tempering expectations and a return to "normalcy."

Obama swiftly switched from FDR redux to Clinton reborn because, Hundt points out, he sought experienced advisors to staff his administration-in-waiting, and the Democrats most accustomed to the White House were those who had served Bill Clinton. Obama named Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta, to head his transition team, and Podesta brought with him other Clinton appointees who thought their job now was one of restoration. As Hundt writes, "People are policy," and the incoming Obama team wanted to bring back the policies of the 1990s and with them, the prosperity of that era. The Clinton personnel shared a more Reaganesque than Rooseveltian view, believing their success in the late twentieth century resulted from "a reduction in the size, capacity, and purpose of the public sector." The Clinton people, following Carter, believed the New Deal had led ultimately to over-regulation and inhibition of capitalism's great energies, and that the long boom of the 1990s owed to their getting government out of the way of business and banking, while still retaining state programs necessary to promote opportunity for the majority of Americans.

When the next president restores neoliberalism, Trumponomics will be seen as an aberration in an undifferentiated period that began with Jimmy Carter and ran until 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


BOSCH IS BOSCH: APPRECIATING A MASTERFUL ADAPTATION: A Crime Author's Harry Bosch Admiration Runs Deep (REED FARREL COLEMAN, 4/25/19, Crime Reads)

Most importantly, and maybe self-evidently, Bosch is Bosch. None of the rest of it would matter, not even Welliver's possessing the character, if Harry didn't act like Harry. In all the seasons I have binged the show, not once have I watched and said to myself, "Bosch would never do that!" The Bosch from the novels behaves, thinks, and speaks like TV Bosch. In spite of getting the other stuff right, it would all collapse if he didn't. For me, anyway. Whether or not this is attributable to Michael's involvement in the show, I can't say. What I can say is that the best thing about the show is, to restate what I wrote above, Bosch is Bosch.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


That friend who says he works 75 hours a week? He's probably only clocking 50 (David Yanofsky, October 17, 2012, Quartz)

People are not very good at estimating how many hours they work, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (PDF) in a study highlighted by Harvard Business Review. When asked how much work they do each week, Americans tend to report longer hours than when they keep a more accurate diary of their work, the BLS analysis found. For instance, a person who actually works 40 hours in a week will, on average, report working 43.

Not only that, but the more hours that people work, the more they exaggerate. Americans who say they work 75 hours a week tend to be exaggerating by 25 hours. (The average American work week in September was 34.5 hours, according to the BLS.)

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


NRA beset by infighting over whether it has strayed too far (LISA MARIE PANE, 4/24/19, AP)

It has been a bumpy ride for the NRA over the past year.

The massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last year created a groundswell of opposition to the NRA, driven by student-led protests over gun violence. Corporate America began pushing back, with some major retailers stopping gun sales and banks dropping discounts or certain services for NRA members and gunmakers.

More recently it was disclosed that Russian operatives tried to use contacts in the NRA to influence American elections. Democrats in Congress vowed to launch investigations into the gun lobby.

The NRA does not release detailed membership numbers but has repeatedly said in recent years that it has about 5 million members. The tax-exempt organization's filings with the IRS for 2016 and 2017, the most recent years available, show combined losses of nearly $64 million. And income from membership dues plunged about $35 million in 2017.

The financial turmoil was seen as a key reason the NRA raised its dues last year for the second consecutive year.

Around the same time, the NRA saw its political influence wane during the 2018 elections and got outspent by gun control groups headed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. More than a dozen NRA-backed congressional candidates lost in last year's midterms.

The NRA also faces regulatory pressures in New York, where the marketing of its line of insurance for gun owners involved in shootings was scrutinized. That legal action ultimately led the broker and underwriting firm for the insurance to pay millions of dollars in fines and abandon the program.

The NRA's charter was created in New York, and there are concerns that state officials may look for ways to strip it of its nonprofit status.

With the organization struggling financially, even some NRA stalwarts have begun questioning whether the millions spent on public relations and NRATV is worth the money.

One NRATV segment in particular seemed to be the last straw for some members: It took the children's show "Thomas & Friends" to task for adding some ethnically and gender diverse characters to its lineup of talking locomotives and other vehicles. The segment featured several trains wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods and sitting on flaming tracks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


U.S. and Afghan Forces Killed More Civilians Than Taliban Did, Report Finds (David Zucchino, April 24, 2019, NY Times)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- For the first time since the United Nations began documenting civilian casualties in Afghanistan a decade ago, more civilians are being killed by Afghan government and American forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents, according to a report on Wednesday.

It's Getting Harder to Track US Progress in Afghanistan (KATIE BO WILLIAMS, APRIL 24, 2019, Defense One)

It's getting harder and harder for the public to track the U.S. military's progress in its 17-year war in Afghanistan, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction warned Wednesday ahead of the release of his latest quarterly report.

"What we are finding is now almost every indicia, metric for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent. Over time it's been classified or it's no longer being collected," John Sopko told reporters. "The classification in some areas is needless."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Mueller Report Reveals Trump's Fixation on Targeting Hillary Clinton (Michael S. Schmidt, April 24, 2019, NY Times)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had a tenuous hold on his job when President Trump called him at home in the middle of 2017. The president had already blamed him for recusing himself from investigations related to the 2016 election, sought his resignation and belittled him in private and on Twitter.

Now, Mr. Trump had another demand: He wanted Mr. Sessions to reverse his recusal and order the prosecution of Hillary Clinton.

"The 'gist' of the conversation," according to the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, quoting Mr. Sessions, "was that the president wanted Sessions to unrecuse from 'all of it.'"

Mr. Mueller's report released last week brimmed with examples of Mr. Trump seeking to protect himself from the investigation. But his request of Mr. Sessions -- and two similar ones detailed in the report -- stands apart because it shows Mr. Trump trying to wield the power of law enforcement to target a political rival, a step that no president since Richard M. Nixon is known to have taken.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


THE SRI LANKA CHURCH BOMBINGS: THE SAUDI PESTILENCE SPREADS (Joseph Mussomeli, April 24th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

Perhaps one of the saddest things that has changed since the 1990s is the role of the local Muslim minority. At that time in the Embassy we used to joke that the small portion (less than 10%) of the population that was Muslim were the only sane Sri Lankans we knew. While Muslim groups from other countries were being radicalized and causing great violence, the Sri Lankan Muslims were peaceful and productive citizens, refusing for the most part to choose sides in the bitter rivalry between the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Hindu Tamils. Our driver, named Raja, was a Muslim and his devotion to our children and his apolitical attitude seemed indicative of his entire faith. Our housemaid was Catholic Tamil, and she too avoided politics and ethnic and religious rivalries. The Muslims and the Catholics were bystanders, not participants, in the ongoing struggle between Hindus and Buddhists. An embassy colleague of mine who had converted to Buddhism was so appalled by the attitudes and actions of his fellow Buddhists that he invariably would refer to them as "the killer vegetarians."

Perhaps part of the genius of the Muslim population was that they were primarily inspired by the Sufi school of Islam, a generally peaceful and more mystical sect, usually abhorring violence and far less attracted to politics. In the seventh century, when the first Muslims came to Sri Lanka, they did so not as conquerors, but as traders. They came in peace and they stayed in peace, marrying among the local population and settling down as a merchant class. When the late-arriving Portuguese showed up centuries later and waged war on the Muslims, the Sinhalese rulers gave the Muslims refuge and protection. Their tradition of Sufiism and living peacefully among their neighbors continued into the 1990s when I was there.

But things then changed dramatically. Beginning in the Nineties and continuing even today, Saudi money came pouring in and with it a more intolerant form of Islam took root. Muslim women in Sri Lanka are now adopting the niqab (full face covering) and Muslim men, having gone as laborers to Saudi Arabia, come back indoctrinated with Wahhabi views of the world and Islam. Of course, some Sinhalese Buddhists have accelerated the process of Islamic radicalization by discriminating against Muslims and committing violence against them. For example, the Sinhalese-orchestrated anti-Muslim riots in March of this year went largely unreported in the Western media even though over twenty mosques were vandalized. Reminiscent of the Sinhalese-orchestrated anti-Tamil (Hindu) riots of the Fifties, these attacks on peaceful Muslim communities serve only to convince younger Muslims that the Saudi brand of intolerant Islam is the true path.

Yet, the nexus between the anti-Muslim riots in March and the Church bombings in April is tenuous. The Christian communities had nothing to do with the violence perpetrated against the Muslim population. The clearer and more obvious linkage is between the Church bombings and the growing influence of Wahhabism among Sri Lankan Muslims. As I have seen elsewhere in the world, most notably Cambodia which once also boasted a peaceful, tolerant Muslim community, there is a dangerous turn toward radicalization and a proliferation of Wahhabi-sponsored mosques built with money from Saudi Arabia. It is remarkable that as a country, despite all the evidence, we continue to believe Saudi Arabia a close ally and refuse to accept that Saudi Arabia is the greatest state-sponsor of terrorism. Unfortunately, President Trump and his administration's singularly obsessive focus on the far lesser threat posed by Iran has obscured our vision. He refuses to see what Candidate Trump saw very clearly: that Saudi Arabia poses a worldwide threat to peace and stability. Until he does, more churches will burn and more peaceful Islamic communities will turn toward violence and intolerance.

Sri Lanka's Muslims Face an Angry Backlash After Easter Sunday Attacks (Jeffrey Gettleman and Dharisha Bastians, April 24, 2019, NY Times)

Until this week, Sri Lanka didn't have much history of Christian-Muslim violence. The two faiths are small minorities: The country is about 7 percent Christian, 10 percent Muslim, 13 percent Hindu and 70 percent Buddhist.

Religion was not a driving factor in Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war, in which ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils nearly tore the country apart.

Easter Sunday Attacks Add a New Dimension to Sri Lanka's Sectarian Tensions
The deadly attacks on Easter Sunday marked a departure from the country's sectarian tensions, with a radical Islamist group targeting Christian minorities.

During the war years, many Muslim men rose up the ranks of the government's intelligence services because they were known for their fluency in Sri Lanka's three major languages -- Sinhala, Tamil and English.

But after the civil war ended in 2009, militant Buddhism began to surge. Some observers have said it was as if powerful forces in Sri Lankan politics were looking for a new enemy to fight. Hard-line Buddhist monks targeted churches and mosques, priests and imams, often with the tacit support of the security services.

While Muslims bore the brunt of these attacks, Christians suffered, too, and the two communities were essentially on the same side. But that informal alliance was seriously challenged by Sunday's attacks, which the authorities say were carried out by Muslim extremists, primarily against Christians.

In an instant, everything changed again, said Malik Farhan, another Pakistani refugee.

Many Muslims have tried to help grieving Christians, offering food and friendship, but the outreach has been complicated. Feelings are so raw that one priest told members of a mosque to stay away from the funerals.

Sri Lanka bombings: Who are the National Thowheed Jamath? (Al Jazeera, 4/25/19)

The NTJ is believed to have been formed sometime around 2014 after breaking away from the larger Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ), according to a report in The Hindu newspaper.

Based in Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated town in eastern Sri Lanka, the NTJ, much like the SLTJ, is believed to have been strongly influenced by Wahhabism - the official religious doctrine in Saudi Arabia that calls for a strict and literal reading of the Quran and the Sunnah, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

According to its Twitter account, which has a limited social media presence and hasn't been updated since March 2018, the NTJ would regularly organise talks and seminars, distribute videos and even arrange funeral prayers at mosques.

Glenn Carle, a former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for transnational threats at the CIA, said while little was known about NTJ's membership, its size was likely modest compared to the SLTJ.

Muslims make up only 9.7 percent of Sri Lanka's population, and Carle said the NTJ appeared to be "very small" in size.

"The group is reportedly led by an imam who has been trained or influenced by Wahhabism. However, its foreign ties are surmised and not known," Carle told Al Jazeera.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rhode Island Man Threatened to 'Eradicate' All Democrats, Eat Pro-Choice Professor: Feds (Will Sommer, 04.24.19, Daily Beast)

A Donald Trump supporter from Rhode Island allegedly threatened to kill and eat a college professor and "eradicate" Democrats, according to federal officials.

Matthew Haviland, a 30-year-old resident of North Kingstown, threatened to murder and eat the professor in a series of March 10 emails, according to prosecutors. Haviland was arrested on Wednesday after an FBI investigation, and faces federal cyberstalking and threat charges. [...]

A friend of Haviland's told law enforcement that his political views had recently become "more extreme," according to the FBI affidavit, because he was angry over media coverage of Trump.

April 24, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


In Push for 2020 Election Security, Top Official Was Warned: Don't Tell Trump (Eric Schmitt, David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, April 24, 2019, NY Times)

 In the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary: preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election. [...]

But in a meeting this year, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. According to one senior administration official, Mr. Mulvaney said it "wasn't a great subject and should be kept below his level."

...but she can exact some revenge.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Brazil pension reform clears hurdle, but uphill battle awaits (Jamie McGeever, Gram Slattery, 4/24/19, Reuters) 

Pension reform in Brazil cleared a congressional hurdle late on Tuesday after a lengthy and tumultuous debate, a sign that the government was finally building support for its most important economic reform, but which may face a steep climb ahead.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Trump camp descends on Pennsylvania as alarms grow over 2020 (ALEX ISENSTADT and HOLLY OTTERBEIN 04/24/2019, Politico)

Trump's campaign is moving to shore up the state after 2018 midterm elections that saw Republicans get blown out in races up and down the ballot. [...]

Wednesday's meeting comes after months of bad news for the Pennsylvania GOP. In March 2018, Republicans lost a special election in a conservative southwestern Pennsylvania congressional district. In November, Republicans lost Senate and gubernatorial races by double digits as well as three House seats, partly because of a redrawn congressional map that favored Democrats.

The bleeding hasn't stopped since then. In a special election this month, Democrats won a state Senate seat in a district that Trump carried in 2016. Nationally, it was the first such legislative seat that Democrats flipped this year, prompting grumbling among some Republicans that the state party did not invest enough in turning out voters.

A power struggle, meanwhile, has consumed state GOP leadership, with some Republicans complaining that DiGiorgio lacks fundraising skills and has failed to unite the party after a bruising election for state party chief in 2017.

There have been other black eyes. Last week, Fox News held a town hall with Democratic contender Bernie Sanders in Northampton, a traditionally Democratic county that Trump won in 2016. Prime-time viewers were treated to visuals of Sanders getting cheered in Trump country, leading some to wonder whether Republican organizers failed to lure fans of the president to the event.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Zarif slams US silence on mass executions in Saudi Arabia (Al Jazeera, 4/24/19)

"After a wink at the dismembering of a journalist, not a whisper from the Trump administration when Saudi Arabia beheads 37 men in one day - even crucifying one two days after Easter," Zarif said on Twitter, referring to the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents in October.

"Membership of the #B_team - Bolton, Bin Salman, Bin Zayed & "Bibi" - give immunity for any crime," Zarif added, referring to the US NSA and the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


How Many Times Has Trump Told His Staff to Break the Law? (Nancy LeTourneau, April 24, 2019, Washington Monthly)

Here is a list of the examples that we know about:

He told Don McGahn to have Rod Rosenstein fire Robert Mueller.

He told Corey Lewandowski to put pressure on then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the Russia investigation.

He wanted K.T. McFarland to draft an internal email that would confirm that he did not direct Flynn to call the Russian Ambassador about sanctions.

He told then-Defense Secretary Mattis to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Trump asked him to do things that would violate the law.

He told former DHS Secretary Nielsen to block all migrants from seeking asylum.

He told Customs and Border Patrol agents to refuse to allow any migrants through the border and promised them presidential pardons if they were charged.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is now in federal prison (Gary Grumbach and Adiel Kaplan, 4/24/19, NBC)

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is now in federal prison. Manafort, who was convicted and pleaded guilty in 2018 to multiple charges of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy, is serving his 7.5 year sentence at a facility outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


The History Behind Baseball's Weirdest Pitch (TYLER KEPNER, April 2019, Lit Hub)

The plaque in the Hall of Fame gallery for W. A. "Candy" Cummings boldly settles things in seven gilded words: "Pitched first curve ball in baseball history." The plaque dates this discovery to 1867, when Cummings was the amateur ace of the Brooklyn Stars. History should always be so easy.

The Cummings backstory is so indelible, so rich in imagery, that if it's not true... well, it should be. It has never been debunked and would be impossible to do so. Cummings is practically a charter member of the Hall, going in with the fourth class of inductees in 1939. His story links the discovery of the curveball to the curiosity of a 14-year-old boy on a beach in Brooklyn. What could be more American than that?

Here is how Cummings described it for Baseball Magazine in 1908:

In the summer of 1863 a number of boys and myself were amusing ourselves by throwing clam shells (the hard shell variety) and watching them sail along through the air, turning now to the right, and now to the left. We became interested in the mechanics of it and experimented for an hour or more. All of a sudden it came to me that it would be a good joke on the boys if I could make a baseball curve the same way.

Cummings was born in 1848 in Ware, Massachusetts, and various accounts say that he played the old Massachusetts game before moving to Brooklyn. Cummings himself did not mention this in his retelling of the curveball's origin story, but to Morris, it was a significant detail. In the 1850s, pitchers in Massachusetts were permitted to throw overhand, which made curveballs easier to throw."

He had probably seen rudimentary curves thrown as a youngster in Massachusetts, and when he moved to Brooklyn and began playing the 'New York game,' the delivery restrictions made the pitch seem impossible," Morris wrote. "Yet the example of throwing clamshells made him think that it might be possible, and his arm strength and relentless practice enabled him to realize his ambition."

Cummings emphasized two points: his solitary persistence in perfecting the pitch despite ridicule from his friends, and the physical toll imposed by the delivery restrictions of the day. Pitchers then worked in a four-by-six-foot box, and could not lift either foot off the ground until the ball was released."

The arm also had to be kept near the side and the delivery was made with a perpendicular swing," Cummings said, in an undated interview published after his career. "By following these instructions it was a hard strain, as the wrist and the second finger had to do all the work. I snapped the ball away from me like a whip and this caused my wrist bone to get out of place quite often. I was compelled to wear a supporter on my wrist all one season on account of this strain."

Cummings left Brooklyn for a boarding school in Fulton, New York, in 1864. He tinkered with his curveball there--"My boy friends began to laugh at me, and to throw jokes at my theory of making a ball go sideways"--and joined the Star Juniors, an amateur team in Brooklyn. From there he was recruited to the Excelsior Club as a junior member, in both age and size: he would grow to be 5 foot 9, but his weight topped out at 120 pounds.

In the curveball, though, Cummings found an equalizer. He showed that pitchers of all sizes could rely on movement and deception--not simply on power--to succeed. Soon, the notion would be ingrained as baseball fact that a pitcher with dominant stuff could humble even the brawniest hitter. Cummings began to prove this in 1867, with the Excelsiors in a game at Harvard."

A surge of joy flooded over me that I shall never forget," he wrote in the Baseball Magazine piece. "I felt like shouting out that I had made a ball curve; I wanted to tell everybody; it was too good to keep to myself. But I said not a word, and saw many a batter at that game throw down his stick in disgust. Every time I was successful I could scarcely keep from dancing from pure joy. The secret was mine." [...]

For decades after Cummings's last pitch, many people doubted the very notion that a ball could curve. It was a staple of baseball debate that the curveball just might be an optical illusion. A favorite exercise for skeptics was to challenge a pitcher to prove his powers by bending a ball around a series of poles. This happened a lot.

"The majority of college professors really believe that the curve ball was as impossible as the transmutation of gold from potato skins," said a man named Ben Dodson, in the Syracuse Herald in 1910.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


The Meteoric Rise of Family Tree Forensics to Fight Crimes (MEGAN MOLTENI, 04.24.19, Wired)

Three hundred and sixty six days ago, CeCe Moore woke up to the headline that would change her world: "Suspected Golden State Killer, East Area Rapist arrested after eluding authorities for decades." Later that day, those authorities would hold a press conference in front of the Sacramento County District Attorney's office to explain how the day before they had finally put handcuffs on the man believed to have committed a series of sadistic rapes and murders that spread terror through California for more than forty years. But Moore didn't have to tune in to know how they had done it. "I knew immediately they had cracked it with genetic genealogy and GEDmatch," she says.

She knew it because at the time, Moore was working as the genetic genealogy researcher on the PBS show, Finding Your Roots, and had a consulting business helping adoptees find their biological parents. To aid her searches, she regularly logged onto GEDmatch, a public database where hobbyists upload results from consumer genetic testing companies like 23andMe and Ancestry to find relatives with shared DNA and reverse-engineer their family trees. It had come to her attention that another genealogist on the site, Barbara Rae-Venter, had been uploading files that seemed out of place, and Moore suspected they came not from family members, but from crime scenes. But she had never imagined that one of them belonged to the man believed to be one of the most notorious serial killers in US history. "This was going to be huge," she remembers telling people that day.

But not even Moore could have predicted just how huge it would become. In the year since the dramatic arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, the alleged Golden State Killer, investigative genetic genealogy has emerged as the most powerful new crime-fighting tool since DNA itself. So far, the technique has been used to identify suspects in more than 50 additional cases. Its vast potential to crack tens of thousands more has given rise to a lucrative new forensic science business, the formation of dedicated family tree-building police units, and the first-ever home DNA kit marketing campaign to get people to send in their spit to solve crimes. 

This is in part the subject of the fabulous Bear Brook podcat.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Twitter CEO Gently Tells Trump: Your 'Lost' Followers Are Bots and Spam Accounts (Will Sommer, Asawin Suebsaeng, 04.23.19, Daily Beast)

This is what the most powerful person in the world was preoccupied with Tuesday.

A large percentage of the meeting, which included senior White House officials such as Trump's social media director Dan Scavino, was spent addressing the subject of @realDonaldTrump's follower count. The president stated his belief that he had lost some of his roughly 59 million followers in anti-Trump, anti-conservative Twitter purges, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

Dorsey, according to this knowledgeable source, had to explain to the president that like other Twitter users, @realDonaldTrump periodically loses followers when the site deletes fake or bot accounts. Dorsey even said he himself had lost followers as a result of Twitter's efforts to delete fake accounts.

April 23, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


The Truth About Dentistry: It's much less scientific--and more prone to gratuitous procedures--than you may think. (FERRIS JABR  MAY 2019, The Atlantic)

The uneasy relationship between dentist and patient is further complicated by an unfortunate reality: Common dental procedures are not always as safe, effective, or durable as we are meant to believe. As a profession, dentistry has not yet applied the same level of self-scrutiny as medicine, or embraced as sweeping an emphasis on scientific evidence. "We are isolated from the larger health-care system. So when evidence-based policies are being made, dentistry is often left out of the equation," says Jane Gillette, a dentist in Bozeman, Montana, who works closely with the American Dental Association's Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry, which was established in 2007. "We're kind of behind the times, but increasingly we are trying to move the needle forward."

Consider the maxim that everyone should visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings. We hear it so often, and from such a young age, that we've internalized it as truth. But this supposed commandment of oral health has no scientific grounding. Scholars have traced its origins to a few potential sources, including a toothpaste advertisement from the 1930s and an illustrated pamphlet from 1849 that follows the travails of a man with a severe toothache. Today, an increasing number of dentists acknowledge that adults with good oral hygiene need to see a dentist only once every 12 to 16 months.

Many standard dental treatments--to say nothing of all the recent innovations and cosmetic extravagances--are likewise not well substantiated by research. Many have never been tested in meticulous clinical trials. And the data that are available are not always reassuring.

The Cochrane organization, a highly respected arbiter of evidence-based medicine, has conducted systematic reviews of oral-health studies since 1999. In these reviews, researchers analyze the scientific literature on a particular dental intervention, focusing on the most rigorous and well-designed studies. In some cases, the findings clearly justify a given procedure. For example, dental sealants--liquid plastics painted onto the pits and grooves of teeth like nail polish--reduce tooth decay in children and have no known risks. (Despite this, they are not widely used, possibly because they are too simple and inexpensive to earn dentists much money.) But most of the Cochrane reviews reach one of two disheartening conclusions: Either the available evidence fails to confirm the purported benefits of a given dental intervention, or there is simply not enough research to say anything substantive one way or another.

Fluoridation of drinking water seems to help reduce tooth decay in children, but there is insufficient evidence that it does the same for adults. Some data suggest that regular flossing, in addition to brushing, mitigates gum disease, but there is only "weak, very unreliable" evidence that it combats plaque. As for common but invasive dental procedures, an increasing number of dentists question the tradition of prophylactic wisdom-teeth removal; often, the safer choice is to monitor unproblematic teeth for any worrying developments. Little medical evidence justifies the substitution of tooth-colored resins for typical metal amalgams to fill cavities. And what limited data we have don't clearly indicate whether it's better to repair a root-canaled tooth with a crown or a filling. When Cochrane researchers tried to determine whether faulty metal fillings should be repaired or replaced, they could not find a single study that met their standards.

"The body of evidence for dentistry is disappointing," says Derek Richards, the director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Dentistry at the University of Dundee, in Scotland. "Dentists tend to want to treat or intervene. They are more akin to surgeons than they are to physicians. We suffer a little from that. Everybody keeps fiddling with stuff, trying out the newest thing, but they don't test them properly in a good-quality trial."

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Cracks Are Deepening in Erdoğan's Ruling Party: "If we lose Istanbul, we lose Turkey," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reportedly said in 2017--and his party recently lost Istanbul's mayoral election. (MELVYN INGLEBY, APR 22, 2019, The Atlantic)

Following local elections last month, the AKP challenged results in several cities where it did not win a majority. In Istanbul, it pushed for a recount that dragged on for more than two weeks. Just before the opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoğlu was eventually declared mayor, the AKP filed a request to invalidate the outcome of the election and rerun the vote, on which the Supreme Electoral Council is expected to decide soon.

These moves have brought already existing divisions and discontent within the AKP to a boiling point. For years, members of the party have privately complained about their frustrations and worries, but only when nobody could hear them. Shocked by recent events, some have now decided to speak out, offering a rare glimpse into a party that seems to have forgotten what it once stood for. Pushing for a cancellation of the election, these internal critics warn, would harm not just Turkish democracy, but the future of their own party as well.

"I am voicing criticism because others are not," Kemal Öztürk, a former spokesman for Erdoğan who also served as the head of Turkey's state news agency Anadolu from 2011 to 2014, told me. "I am a member of the AKP and want it to stay in power. But for that to happen, the party should constantly renew itself."

Öztürk said structural problems have beset the AKP in recent years, since it embarked on a more nationalist course. This mounting nationalism reflected a global trend, he said, adding that it was in part a reaction to what were perceived as anti-Turkish sentiments in the West. As relations with Europe soured, many liberals left the party, and its commitment to meritocratic principles dwindled.

According to Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at Oxford University, experienced politicians have, as a result, been replaced by Erdoğan's personal confidants. "President Erdoğan values loyalty above everything else," Dalay told me. "This has promoted a politics of favoritism and the rise of a class of careerists. These figures put their own interests above everything else and fuel personal rivalries within the party."

Four sources with ties within the AKP, all of whom requested anonymity out of fear of reprisals, in particular expressed concerns about the growing influence of Erdoğan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who was appointed finance minister last year. The election loss in Istanbul, these sources said, was at least partly related to a power struggle between Albayrak and the AKP's candidate for mayor, Binali Yıldırım. According to one of the sources, a former political adviser still in touch with the party leadership, the two clashed as Albayrak demanded to maintain his influence in the future management of the city, which undermined Yıldırım's already lackluster campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Why Americans Don't Cheat on Their Taxes (RENE CHUN, APRIL 2019, The Atlantic)

If such a thing as American exceptionalism remains, maybe it can be found in this: Despite deep IRS budget cuts, an average audit rate that has plunged in recent years to just 0.6 percent, and a president who has bragged that dodging federal taxes is "smart," most Americans still pay their income taxes every year. Even more remarkable, most of us feel obliged to pay. To quote the findings of a 2017 IRS survey: "The majority of Americans (88%) say it is not at all acceptable to cheat on taxes; this ethical attitude is not changing over time."

True, tax crooks might not confess their real feelings in an IRS survey. But other data confirm that the U.S. is among the world's leaders when it comes to what economists call the voluntary compliance rate (VCR). In recent decades, America's VCR has consistently hovered between 81 and 84 percent. Most countries don't calculate their VCR regularly, but when they do, they lag behind the U.S. One paper that gathered what comparative data were available reported that Germany, the top European Union economy, had a VCR of 68 percent.

It helps that we get exceptional value in return.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


14 Mueller Report Takeaways You Might Have Missed (GARRETT M. GRAFF, 04.22.19, Wired)

1. This was as much a counterintelligence investigation as a criminal one. One of the new details in the report is that the FBI "embedded" approximately 40 personnel in the Special Counsel's Office. Their role was not to contribute to the criminal probe, but instead to pore over the collected materials and pass written summaries of key counterintelligence findings to FBI headquarters and other agencies across the country.

2. Jerome Corsi isn't out of the woods. One of the most surprising decisions at the close of the Mueller investigation was the lack of further indictments. But conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, at least, appears to still be very much in the sights of prosecutors. In fact, the very first mention of Corsi's name appears in a redaction labeled "Harm to Ongoing Matter." (We know that because we only see the "second" reference to Corsi's name appear in a paragraph on page 54 of the first volume of the report.) Elsewhere, Corsi's name is clearly hidden in other redactions, as context clues make clear he's the "ongoing matter" under question. [...]

4. The Trump campaign really wanted Hillary's emails. The role of Michael Flynn aide Peter Smith has long been unclear. Smith evidently tried to mount an effort in 2016 to find Hillary Clinton's stolen emails through the dark web, and later apparently killed himself days after the Wall Street Journal reported on those efforts in 2017. Mueller makes clear that Smith's actions were extensive, well-funded, and part of multiple initiatives by people connected to the Trump campaign to find Hillary's emails--all of which were then overtaken by the Russian theft and email dumps of DNC and Clinton campaign emails. [...]

9. Mueller goes to great lengths to demolish William Barr's theory of obstruction. One of the major overlooked sections of the report is the roughly 20-page portion--akin almost to a Harvard Law Review article--at the end, where Mueller's team makes clear how vigorously they disagree with attorney general William Barr's controversial memo last year. At the time, Barr argued that the obstruction statute doesn't apply to the president. It's easy to imagine Mueller team member Michael Dreeben, perhaps the Justice Department's best appellate lawyer, laboring long and hard over pages 159 to 181 of Volume II. The report argues that the idea that the president can't obstruct justice "is contrary to the litigating position of the Department of Justice and is not supported by principles of statutory construction."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump left our allies at the altar. Now he's mad they're moving on. (Catherine Rampell, April 22, 2019, Washington Post)

What a jerk you were to let me dump you. [...]

The United States spent eight years negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This 12-country Pacific Rim trade pact was partly designed to build an economic and diplomatic alliance that would keep China, which had been excluded from the deal, in check.

But the United States' objective was also to open up new markets for U.S.-made products, especially U.S. agricultural goods. A 2016 analysis from the International Trade Commission found that agriculture and food would be the U.S. sector that saw the greatest percentage gain in output growth as a result of the TPP.

Greater access to the Japanese market was particularly enticing to U.S. farmers and ranchers. Japan is a wealthy, mature economy -- where high-income consumers can afford high-end U.S. beef and high-quality U.S. grains -- but it's also an economy that has had high barriers to agricultural trade.

And so, as part of the TPP talks, the U.S. trade team spent about a year negotiating one-on-one with Japan about agriculture, with the understanding that whatever concessions the United States won would be granted to the other TPP member countries as well.

This allowed us to "design the shape of a package that catered to U.S. priorities," explains Darci Vetter, then the chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump left our allies at the altar. Now he's mad they're moving on. (Catherine Rampell, April 22, 2019, Washington Post)

What a jerk you were to let me dump you. [...]

The United States spent eight years negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This 12-country Pacific Rim trade pact was partly designed to build an economic and diplomatic alliance that would keep China, which had been excluded from the deal, in check.

But the United States' objective was also to open up new markets for U.S.-made products, especially U.S. agricultural goods. A 2016 analysis from the International Trade Commission found that agriculture and food would be the U.S. sector that saw the greatest percentage gain in output growth as a result of the TPP.

Greater access to the Japanese market was particularly enticing to U.S. farmers and ranchers. Japan is a wealthy, mature economy -- where high-income consumers can afford high-end U.S. beef and high-quality U.S. grains -- but it's also an economy that has had high barriers to agricultural trade.

And so, as part of the TPP talks, the U.S. trade team spent about a year negotiating one-on-one with Japan about agriculture, with the understanding that whatever concessions the United States won would be granted to the other TPP member countries as well.

This allowed us to "design the shape of a package that catered to U.S. priorities," explains Darci Vetter, then the chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

April 22, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


Trump drops plan to put Cain on Fed as Moore faces scrutiny  (BLOOMBERG, APR 22, 2019)

President Trump shelved his plan to put Herman Cain on the Federal Reserve amid opposition from his own party, with Democrats swiftly urging Republicans to also block the president's pick of fellow supporter Stephen Moore for the U.S. central bank. [...]

Moore's selection has also drawn scrutiny after it emerged that he had been found in contempt of court after he failed to pay his former wife some $300,000 in alimony after their 2010 divorce, the Guardian reported, citing court records. Moore also owes more than $75,000 in taxes and other penalties to the U.S. government, according to a January filing in the circuit court for Montgomery County, Maryland, where he owns a house.

Adultery, arrears and amends: Inside Trump Federal Reserve pick Stephen Moore's messy and very expensive divorce (Dan Mangan & Brian Schwartz, 4/02/19, CNBC)

Court records from Stephen Moore's divorce paint President Donald Trump's nominee for the Federal Reserve Board as a brazen philanderer who openly talked about his mistress in front of his kids -- and then continued shorting his ex-wife on tens of thousands of dollars of alimony and child support even after a judge held him in contempt of court.

"I have two women, and what's really bad is when they fight over you," Moore said to the couple's children in front of his wife Allison "at their son's graduation ceremony," court records claim. [...]

The conduct by Moore, a conservative economist, as alleged by his former wife Allison Moore, stands in sharp contrast to his publicly published positions on marriage.

"What is irrefutable is that marriage with a devoted husband and wife in the home is a far better social program than food stamps, Medicaid, public housing or even all of them combined," Moore wrote in a 2014 Washington Times article in which he contended the nation's economic success would depend on a "culture of virtue," strong families and parents, and a resurgence of the Protestant work ethic. "Name a government program that can take the place of a father."

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


F.B.I. Was Told That Militia in New Mexico Planned to Kill Obama and Clinton (Simon Romero, April 22, 2019, NY Times)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- The imprisoned leader of a right-wing militia that detained migrant families in New Mexico first came under the scrutiny of federal authorities in 2017, after the F.B.I. received reports that his group was "training" to assassinate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros, according to documents unsealed Monday in federal court.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Trump's Washing Machine Tariffs Cost Consumers $800,000 Per Job Created (Mark Perry, April 22, 2019, AEI)

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


How Stephen Miller made immigration personal (GABBY ORR and ANDREW RESTUCCIA, 04/22/2019, Politico)

In the summer of 2017, a group of White House aides were in Paris, enjoying some rare downtime during Donald Trump's first trip to France as president.

As the Trump officials soaked up a July evening along the banks of the Seine, one stepped away to take a phone call from the U.S. It was Stephen Miller, the president's then 31-year-old chief policy adviser, speechwriter and hardline immigration policy advocate.

As the other officials looked on, Miller spent several minutes loudly pressing administration officials on the other end of the line to deport an individual who had been detained by immigration authorities.

The episode, recounted by two former administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter, struck some of Miller's colleagues as bizarre. They were familiar by then with Miller's volatile temper, and of his central role in Trump's immigration policy. Even so, the effort by a young White House aide to dictate the fate of a single detainee was a startling sign of his deep involvement in the federal government's immigration system.

It's just hate: it's not as if there are neutral policy justifications for opposing the free movement of goods and people.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


The promise and perils of Bolsonaro's Brazil: Behind the populist tweets, important reforms are taking shape (Financial Times, 4/22/19)

While the Trump administration is the most protectionist in modern US history, Mr Bolsonaro has appointed economic liberals to the most important government posts. If those people -- above all, the finance minister, Paulo Guedes -- succeed in pushing through their programmes, they could do Brazil a lot of good. In an optimistic scenario, the wilder statements of Mr Bolsonaro could then be dismissed as drawing the eyes of the crowd -- while the real work is actually going on backstage.

There is a widespread consensus in Brazil that the most important single reform is to restore some sanity to the pension system. It is so generous that it threatens to bankrupt the state. Actually pushing through rises in the retirement age and contribution rates will be politically fraught. The chances are that only a relatively modest reform will get through this year. Even that, though, will start the process of getting Brazil's finances back in order.

Beyond pensions, Mr Guedes has other reform priorities. These include trade liberalisation through the pursuit of new regional accords. The University of Chicago-trained finance minister is also intent on a programme of privatisation and reducing energy costs by introducing greater competition.

While economic liberalism is going out of fashion in other parts of the world, Mr Guedes remains an unrepentant liberal. If he can retain Mr Bolsonaro's backing and secure necessary support in congress -- neither of which can be assumed -- then his reforms should help both to stabilise and reinvigorate the economy.

Brazil certainly needs a period of stability and good governance, after a deep economic and political crisis that has seen many members of the political and business elite driven from office and, in numerous cases, imprisoned. Economic liberals and technocrats, however, comprise only one grouping within the new government. They are having to work alongside a faction of populists, who are more interested in culture wars centred around Christianity, making gun ownership easier and the extirpation of alleged "cultural Marxism" from Brazilian education. This faction includes the ministers for foreign affairs and education, as well as Mr Bolsonaro's own sons.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Trump called on spy chiefs for help as Mueller probe began (DEB RIECHMANN and SUSANNAH GEORGE, 4/21/19, AP) 

Two months before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed in the spring of 2017, President Donald Trump picked up the phone and called the head of the largest U.S. intelligence agency. Trump told Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, that news stories alleging that Trump's 2016 White House campaign had ties to Russia were false and the president asked whether Rogers could do anything to counter them.

Rogers and his deputy Richard Ledgett, who was present for the call, were taken aback.

Afterward, Ledgett wrote a memo about the conversation and Trump's request. He and Rogers signed it and stashed it in a safe. Ledgett said it was the "most unusual thing he had experienced in 40 years of government service."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Is Stephen Moore Hanging Out with the Alt-Right? (DAVIS RICHARDSON, APRIL 22, 2019 , The Bulwark)

Last fall [...] Moore started cropping up at some ... interesting ... speaking engagements. In September, hespoke at the Phyllis Schlaflay 47th "Eagle Council" co-hosted by the Gateway Pundit; his fellow speakers included Mike Cernovich, Stefan Molyneux, Pamela Geller, Joe Arpaio, and Laura Loomer. This is the same gathering that bestowed Rep. Steve King the "Phyllis Schlafly Award for Excellence in Leadership" months before King defended white supremacy in a  New York Times interview and promptly lost all of his House committee assignments. The conference also honored several far-right European nationalists, including one representative for the People's Alternative for Deutschland (whose members have marched with Neo-Nazis and advocated for Germany going "180 degrees" in its Holocaust memorial policies). [...]

Shortly after the Eagle Council, Moore's name appeared alongside Milo Yiannopoulos and Loomer at the American Priority Conference (which included a Qanon "expert" panel, before the session was delisted). Moore backed out of the event (I asked him about that but he declined to comment), but he later gave an interview to Jacob Wohl. The Q&A was briefly featured on Wohl's Medium page, and was scrubbed after the 21-year-old aficionado of hipster coffee shops was referred to the FBI for peddling false accusations against the special counsel.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Nothing wrong' with campaign accepting information from Russians, Giuliani says (FELICIA SONMEZ and MICHELLE YE HEE LEE, 4/21/19, The Washington Post)

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, said Sunday that there is "nothing wrong" with a campaign accepting information from Russians, defending the Trump team's efforts to obtain damaging material about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 race.

"There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians," Giuliani said in an interview on CNN's State of the Union.

Even if he doesn't understand morality or Campaign Finance Law.

April 21, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Remote Workers Are Outperforming Office Workers--Here's Why: Research shows that office workers cannot concentrate at their desks. (Brian de Haaff, 4/21/19, Inc)

Plenty of studies and surveys show the power of remote work when it comes to productivity.

Here are three reasons remote workers outperform office workers:

1. Productivity

With no office distractions and greater autonomy, remote workers have the freedom to get more done. This is something most people crave. According to a nationwide survey, 65 percent of workers said that remote work would give their productivity a boost. Another 86 percent said that working alone allows them to hit maximum productivity.

2. Teamwork

Despite the distance, remote workers make the best teammates. This is because that distance demands more communication. Without being able to lean on physical proximity, remote workers must reach out to one another frequently and with purpose. This leads to stronger collaboration and camaraderie. And all those long-distance video chats? An astounding 92 percent of workers say the video collaboration actually improves their teamwork.

3. Presence

Office life is littered with absences -- workers who are calling in sick or sneaking out early to run an errand or get to an event on time. But remote workers do not need to make excuses. Since they are not tied to an office, they can design their workday to meet the demands of their lives. If they have a cold, they can work from home without spreading the germs to others. And if they need to run an errand, they can handle it quickly without losing a workday. This ultimately makes remote workers more present for their work and team.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Spottswood Poles to receive long-overdue honors from city (BRIAN BREHM, 4/17/19,  The Winchester Star)

Poles was born Dec. 9, 1887, and honed his baseball skills with a broomstick and tennis ball outside his house at 530 Fremont St. He went on to play in the Negro leagues.

In 1906, he joined the Harrisburg Colored Giants baseball team in Pennsylvania. Poles became a professional player in 1909 with the Philadelphia Giants, then signed with the New York Lincoln Giants when the Philadelphia team folded in 1911.

Poles enjoyed his best years in New York, batting .440 in his first season with the Lincoln Giants, .398 in his second, .414 in his third and, in his final season with the team, a stunning .487.

"He was the black Ty Cobb,'" said Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Justin Kerns, comparing Poles to the legendary Major League Baseball player who is ranked third in Sporting News's list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players."

After leaving the Lincoln Giants, Poles played for the New York Lincoln Stars, Brooklyn Royal Giants and Hilldale Daisies before enlisting in the Army's 369th Infantry Regiment -- the legendary Harlem Hellfighters -- during World War I.

The Hellfighters were an infantry unit primarily comprised of African-American soldiers. Many white soldiers at that time refused to fight alongside blacks, so in April 1918 the regiment was attached to the French army.

During his year of military service, Poles earned five battle stars and a Purple Heart.

He resumed his baseball career in 1919 with the Lincoln Giants and stayed with the team until retiring in 1923.

After leaving baseball, Poles operated a taxi business in Harrisburg, Pa., that enabled him to retire comfortably. He died in Harrisburg on Sept. 12, 1962, and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

During Poles's lifetime, blacks rarely received the same accolades for their accomplishments as their white counterparts. But the biggest barrier to Poles becoming as widely known as baseball legends Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth was poor record keeping.

Even though Poles played professional baseball for 14 seasons and is credited with an outstanding lifetime batting average of over .400, the Negro leagues of the early 20th century did not keep good records. Historians have only been able to fully document two complete seasons from Poles's prolific career, and the minimum for inclusion in the National Baseball Hall of Fame is four.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Donald Trump failed us as commander in chief (Tom Nichols, April 19, 2019, USA Today)

As a team of writers at Lawfare put it, Trump's people "were aware the Russians sought to help them win. They welcomed that assistance. Instead of warning the American public, they instead devised a public relations and campaign strategy that sought to capitalize on Russia's illicit assistance. In other words, the Russians and the Trump campaign shared a common goal, and each side worked to achieve that goal with basic knowledge of the other side's intention. They just didn't agree to work toward that goal together."

As a candidate and as a citizen, Donald Trump had a responsibility to put a stop to this unethical and dangerous behavior in his organization. He had an obligation to report it to the FBI, and to work with the government to thwart the Russian efforts. Instead, he knowingly allowed his campaign and some of the people closest to him to continue their contacts with the Russians, and then he spent months lying, encouraging others to cover for him, and gaslighting an entire nation with talks of witch hunts and hoaxes.

This is execrable behavior from a citizen. But a citizen has the right to be execrable and to do bad things, as lawyers would say, that are "lawful but awful." As president, however, it is now clear from the Mueller report that Trump knows, and has known for years, what Mueller knew. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Why Do Doctors Overtreat? For Many, It's What They're Trained To Do (MARA GORDON, APR 19, 2019, NPR)

When family physician Jenna Fox signed on for a yearlong advanced obstetrics fellowship after her residency to learn to deliver babies, she knew she'd need to practice as many cesarean sections as possible.

The problem was, she also knew C-sections aren't always good for patients. Many women's health experts argue they're often unnecessary and increase health risks for mom and baby. Doctors are working to decrease high C-section rates in hospitals around the country. Fox and her colleagues on the labor and delivery floor at the University of Rochester try hard to prevent them, particularly primary C-sections, when a woman needs one for her first baby.

"I want to avoid primary C-sections. But also in this one year of my life I want all the primary C-sections in the world," Fox says. "It's me feeling conflicted, internally, all day, every day."

During her fellowship, she says, the more C-sections she does, the better prepared she'll be to practice independently.

Medical education is built on the assumption that the more procedures or treatments doctors see and do, the more competent they'll be when they're independent. It can feel tempting to do more rather than less.

But excessive medical tests and treatments can have financial and personal costs. They contribute to this country's rising health care spending and subject patients to anxiety and the risks of extraneous procedures. A group of medical educators thinks this epidemic of overtreatment, as they call it, starts with the habits that doctors develop during training -- habits they're hoping to break with new approaches to medical education.

Patients want treatment and doctors get paid for procedures and the costs fall elsewhere.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


EASTER MOVIES: "HAIL CAESAR!" AND "RISEN" (Michael De Sapio, April 19th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

Visual symbols are used tellingly throughout the film. Hourglasses reflect the fleeting nature of time, and the evergreen plant that Clavius rubs his fingers against to destroy the smell of blood is just one of the many motifs (like water and white clothes) that signal eternal life and the advent of the Christian faith. As Clavius inches ever closer toward conversion--hindered at times by a sycophantic second-in-command named Lucius--he becomes an everyman, a symbol of all of us as we grope our way toward God.

But Clavius assisted at Jesus' crucifixion, ordering his side to be pierced to speed his death. Although at first acting as a mere minion of Pilate, Clavius finds himself drawn into question Jesus' identity and curious as to whether this figure can give him the spiritual sustenance that his own culture is no longer able to provide.

As he interviews Mary Magdalene, the apostle Bartholomew, and the soldiers who guarded Jesus' tomb on the night before the Resurrection, Clavius feels his defenses cracking and himself wondering whether this incredible mystery could possibly be true.

The search culminates in the astonishing moment when Clavius discovers Jesus--very much alive--in a cave with his disciples. Clavius continues to follow from afar, finally encountering Jesus face to face on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea. Viewers may differ as to whether the film fulfills expectations in portraying the world-shattering personality of Christ; but Risen is not meant as a treatise on Christology. It is instead a conversion story couched as "the greatest detective story ever told," and in that it succeeds.

Through the intelligent writing, we get a world-historical view of the story of Jesus; we see not only the coming of one man to faith in Christ, but anticipate the rebirth of an entire civilization. One of my favorite moments in this vein comes toward the end. Clavius has gone off to follow the risen Jesus and his apostles, and Pilate has sent a search party to bring him back. When they turn up empty-handed, Pilate turns toward the sea and declares with sublime inaccuracy, "I doubt we'll ever hear from them again."

And who is to say that a Clavius couldn't have existed? According to the Gospels, one Roman centurion professed faith in Jesus' healing powers, another declared his divinity at the foot of the cross. Perhaps one or both of these men took Clavius' path toward Christ. After all, "there were also many other things which Jesus did" which would fill endless books (and screenplays).

One of the best scenes comes when Clavius is interrogating disciples and threatens Bartholomew with crucifixion.  Bartholomew, kind of a knucklehead, welcomes it, until Clavius explains the suffering involved in excruciating (literally) detail. As we saw when Mel Gibson released his Passion, there's a strong desire to ignore the Cross and skip straight to the risen Christ, as if the experience was no big deal, just a necessary step.  But this warps understanding of events and of the nature of the post-Cross God.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Mueller Report: Assange Smeared Seth Rich to Cover for Russians (Kevin Poulsen, 04.18.19, Daily Beast)

As laid out by Mueller, Assange's involvement in Russia's election interference began with a June 14, 2016 direct message to WikiLeaks' Twitter account from "DC Leaks," one of the false fronts created by the Russians to launder their hacked material.

"You announced your organization was preparing to publish more Hillary's emails," the message read, according to Mueller's report. "We are ready to support you. We have some sensitive information too, in particular, her financial documents. Let's do it together. What do you think about publishing our info at the same moment? Thank you."

A week later, WikiLeaks reached out to a second GRU persona, Guccifer 2.0, and pitched WikiLeaks as the best outlet for the hacked material. On July 14, 2016,  GRU officers used a Guccifer 2.0 email address to send WikiLeaks an encrypted one-gigabyte file named "wk dnc link I .txt.gpg." Assange confirmed receipt, and on July 22 he published 20,000  DNC emails stolen during the GRU's breach.

By then, it was no secret where the documents came from. The computer security firm CrowdStrike had already published its technical report on the DNC breach, which laid out a trail leading directly to Moscow and the GRU. Analysts at ThreatConnect independently presented evidence that Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks were fictional creations of that agency.

But rather than refuse to comment on his sources, as he's done in other cases, Assange used his platform to deny that he got the material from Russians, and make statements at an alternative theory. On August 9, 2016, WikiLeaks' Twitter feed announced a $20,000 reward for "information leading to conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich."

For some, the cryptic tweet was their first introduction to a grim and fantastical conspiracy theory rooted in a real-life tragedy that occurred the early morning of July 10, 2016 on a Washington DC sidewalk.

Rich was a 27-year-old DNC staffer when he was gunned down in what police have described as a robbery gone wrong. The unsolved murder timed shortly before Assange's DNC leaks spoke volumes to inhabitants of the far right wing fringe, where it's long been an article of faith that Hillary Clinton has her enemies killed.

Trump urges Russia to hack Clinton's email (MICHAEL CROWLEY and TYLER PAGER, 07/27/2016, NY Times)

"I will tell you this, Russia: If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," the Republican nominee said at a news conference in Florida. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

Trump's comments set off an immediate uproar from the Clinton campaign, which blasted the remarks as a threat to national security.

"This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent," Hillary for America policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. "That's not hyperbole, those are just the facts. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue."

"I find those kinds of statements to be totally outrageous because you've got now a presidential candidate who is, in fact, asking the Russians to engage in American politics," said former CIA Director Leon Panetta, a Clinton surrogate. "I just think that's beyond the pale."

House Speaker Paul Ryan's office did not mention Trump, but condemned any role for Russia in the U.S. election, with Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck saying, "Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election."

Security researchers and U.S. officials have accused Moscow of being behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's emails, thousands of which WikiLeaks published on Friday. Democrats have gone further, drawing a connection between Trump's friendly comments toward Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and the well-timed leak on the eve of Hillary Clinton's nomination.


Sean Spicer had notice of discredited Fox News story on DNC aide's death (Ed Pilkington, 1 Aug 2017, The Guardian)

Donald Trump's former press secretary Sean Spicer was given advance notice while still in the White House about a sensational but later discredited Fox News story on the murder of the Democratic National Committee aide Seth Rich.

Spicer, who quit the White House earlier this month, confirmed to National Public Radio's David Folkenflik that in April he met Rod Wheeler, a longtime Fox News contributor, and the Republican donor Ed Butowsky, and that they informed him about an investigation they were conducting into Rich's death.

A month later, Fox News posted the online story that claimed, quoting Wheeler, that Rich had been identified by the FBI as the source of emails hacked from the DNC that were published by WikiLeaks.

The article, billed by Fox and Friends as a "bombshell", was instantly heralded by the president's supporters as proof debunking Russia's role in the DNC hack and suspicions that Trump associates colluded with the Kremlin to distort the 2016 election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Republican discussed violent attacks and surveillance with rightwingers (Jason Wilson, 20 Apr 2019, The Guardian)

A Washington state Republican politician took part in private discussions with rightwing figures about carrying out surveillance, "psyops" and even violent attacks on perceived political enemies, according to chat records obtained by the Guardian.

State representative Matt Shea, who represents Spokane Valley in the Washington state house, participated in the chats with three other men. All of the men used screen aliases - Shea's was "Verum Bellator", Latin for true warrior. The Guardian confirmed the identity of those in the chat by cross-checking phone numbers attached to the Signal accounts.

The group included Jack Robertson, who broadcasts a far-right radio show, Radio Free Redoubt, under the alias "John Jacob Schmidt". The chat also included Anthony Bosworth, whose history includes a public altercation with his own daughter and bringing guns to a court house. Bosworth participated in the 2016 occupation of the Malheur national wildlife refuge, reportedly at Shea's request.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Baseball icon Al Leiter's HS battle remembered 30 years later (Steve Serby, April 20, 2014, NY Post)

It is 30 years to the day on this Easter Sunday, and they still talk about the chilly, damp, misty day Al Leiter of Central Regional high school of Bayville, N.J., struck out 32 batters and a bulldog named John Spinapont of Wall Township High School struck out 18 and matched the future major-league star goose egg for goose egg for 13 refuse-to-lose innings before the game was called because of a drenching downpour from a solitary angry dark cloud.

As long as Leiter wasn't coming out of the game, Spinapont wasn't coming out of the game, and 30 years to the day later, in an era when pitchers are coddled and saddled with pitch counts, each of them guesstimates he must have thrown no fewer than 200 pitches, and in Jersey folklore, it is forever remembered as an epic mano-a-mano duel between two of the legends of the schoolboy game.

April 20, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


The 20 Fastest Growing Jobs in America--And How Much They Pay (EMILY PRICE March 11, 2019, Fortune)

The position with the most growth is Solar Photovoltaic Installers, which the Bureau expects to see 110% growth from 2016-26. Also known as PV Installers, people in that position assemble, install, and maintain solar panel systems on rooftops or other structures. In 2017, the median pay for the position was $39,490, or $18.98 an hour. People in the position typically only need a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training.

Here are the top 10 growing professions according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics along with the median salary associated with each:

Solar photovoltaic installers - $39,490
Wind turbine service technicians - $53,880

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


How Can You Ask Us To Be Zionists When Israel Rejects Us As Jews? (Eliana Fishman, Apr. 15th, 2019, The Forward)

As the chasm between American Jews and Israel widens and more and more young Jews renounce Zionism, many assume that Jewish anti-Zionism is based on scorn for Israel's myriad human rights abuses.

They aren't exactly wrong. Many Jews, both young and old, have rejected Zionism due to their solidarity with Palestinians. But pro-Israel advocates miss an additional key reason for the shift to anti-Zionism among young Jews: self-interest.

Imagine attending the celebration of a recent convert. The officiating rabbi calls her up to the Torah the first Shabbat after her immersion in the mikvah, and congratulates her on this momentous occasion. The rabbi then goes on to talk about how moving it is for converts to join the Jewish people at a time of rising anti-Semitism around the globe. Thank God, she continues, that we have the State of Israel as a haven from anti-Semitism.

But this scenario, which has no doubt happened in Conservative and Reform synagogues across America over the past few years, is actually a chilling one. For even though the rabbi and the congregation are happy to embrace their new convert as a Jew, the State of Israel will not. Israel only accepts conversions from a limited number of rabbis, all of whom are Orthodox men. The Rabbinate, which defines who is a Jew, similarly does not consider patrilineal Jews to be Jews.

What that amounts to, at a time of rising anti-Semitism in America and across the globe, is nothing short of horrifying. For if anti-Semitism were to become imminently threatening such that emigration to Israel was absolutely necessary, many of the Jews targeted by anti-Semitism would not be Jewish enough for the Jewish State. This would result in a scenario in which matrilineal Jews by birth and Jews of choice with the correct rabbi's name on their conversion documents would flee to the State of Israel, abandoning those Jews who aren't "Jewish enough" to fight anti-Semitism alone.

And yet, horrifying as this scenario is, it is also the truth buried in the statements rabbis across America make when they embrace political Zionism: Though we may claim autonomy over who is a Jew in our own synagogues, we defer the actual definition of who is a Jew to a foreign government.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


From 'total exoneration' to 'total bullsh**': Trump lingers on damning report (Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins,  April 20, 2019,  CNN)

By the time President Donald Trump had passed through the prime rib buffet at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday to sit for dinner with family and a top aide, the damning picture Robert Mueller's report painted of his presidency had become clear.

Instead of the "total exoneration" Trump had proclaimed earlier, the report portrayed the President as deceitful and paranoid, encouraging his aides to withhold the truth and cross ethical lines in an attempt to thwart a probe into Russia's interference in US elections -- his "Achilles heel," according to one forthcoming adviser.

Perhaps more angering to a leader who detests weakness -- but doesn't necessarily mind an amoral reputation -- were the number of underlings shown ignoring his commands, privately scoffing at the "crazy sh**" he was requesting and working around him to avoid self-implication.

Now, those close to him say Trump is newly furious at the people -- most of whom no longer work for him -- whose extensive interviews with the special counsel's office created the epic depiction of an unscrupulous and chaotic White House. And he's seeking assurances from those who remain that his orders are being treated like those of a president, and not like suggestions from an intemperate but misguided supervisor. [...]

[T]rump grew angry as he watched cable news coverage because, sources familiar with the matter said, a theme was emerging that vexed him: a portrait of a dishonest president who is regularly managed, restrained or ignored by his staff. [...]

In the report, Trump is described as having several tense encounters with McGahn during his White House tenure, including episodes when McGahn was prepared to resign rather than carry out Trump's demands.
McGahn described Trump asking him to do "crazy sh**," according to Priebus. Trump, meanwhile, deemed McGahn a "lying bastard" whose habit of taking contemporaneous notes raised suspicion. In an anecdote relayed in the report, Trump and McGahn went back-and-forth over the note-taking, which Trump insisted good lawyers -- such as his onetime counsel Roy Cohn -- never did.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Electric Cars Will Cost Less Than Gas Cars Within 3 Years: There are fewer and fewer reasons left to buy a gas-powered car. (Minda Zetlin, 4/20/19, Inc)

The next time you go shopping for a car, especially if it's a new car, you will seriously consider an electric vehicle. Why? Because you're a logical person, and an EV will be the logical choice--less expensive to buy, less expensive to own, better for the environment, and way more fun to drive.

One of the biggest reasons car buyers choose a gas car over an electric one is simple economics. Electric cars cost considerably more to buy (or lease) than gas ones. Consider the 2018 Ford Focus. The manufacturer's suggested retail price starts at $17,950. The 2018 Ford Focus Electric MSRP starts at $29,120. Even counting the $7,500 federal tax credit for buying an EV, the electric model costs substantially more. And if you pay less than $7,500 in federal income tax, your tax credit will be lower as well.  

But that price difference is going away, and sooner than you think. A Bloomberg analyst reported last week that the "crossover point" at which electric vehicles will become less expensive to buy than gas ones will come in three years, in 2022. A couple of years ago, analysts thought that day wouldn't come until 2026. What's changed since then is battery technology--batteries are getting smaller and less expensive all the time. If that trend continues, the crossover point could come even sooner.

Transformative innovation always happens faster than predicted. Economics forces it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Cornell scientists create 'living' machines that eat, grow, and evolve (TRISTAN GREENE, 4/20/19, Next Web)

Scientists from Cornell University have successfully constructed DNA-based machines with incredibly life-like capabilities. These human-engineered organic machines are capable of locomotion, consuming resources for energy, growing and decaying, and evolving. Eventually they die.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Why the Infamous Trump Tower Meeting Didn't Take Down Trump (Erik Larson, April 20, 2019, Bloomberg)

Mueller's dry conclusion: "The written communications setting up the meeting showed that the Campaign anticipated receiving information from Russia that could assist candidate Trump's electoral prospects, but the Russian lawyer's presentation did not provide such information," Mueller said.

By the time the meeting was held, the participants included Trump Jr.; the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner; campaign chairman Paul Manafort; Veselnitskaya; and Rinat Akhmetshin, a lobbyist and former Soviet counterintelligence officer.

Rick Gates, who was the deputy campaign chairman at the time, testified that Trump Jr. announced at a regular planning meeting that he "had a lead on negative information about the Clinton Foundation," according to the report. But Gates also recalled inexplicably that the meeting involved Kyrgyzstan, Mueller said.

According to Gates, Manafort warned everyone that the meeting "likely would not yield vital information and they should be careful."

That turned out to be the case, and it may have been a blessing in disguise for Trump. When the meeting got underway at 4 p.m. that day, Trump Jr. and Kushner quickly grew impatient as they realized the dirt wasn't the bombshell they were hoping for.

Veselnitskaya instead offered what she said was evidence that members of the wealthy Ziff family had engaged in tax evasion and money laundering in Russia and the U.S. and donated ill-gotten gains to the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign.

"According to Akhmetshin, Trump Jr. asked follow-up questions about how the alleged payments could be tied specifically to the Clinton Campaign, but Veselnitskaya indicated that she could not trace the money once it entered the United States," Mueller said.

Kushner became aggravated and asked "[w]hat are we doing here?" according to the report. Akhmetshin then turned the conversation to U.S. sanctions imposed under the Magnitsky Act and Russia's retaliation prohibiting the U.S. adoption of Russian children, according to the report.

"Several participants recalled that Trump Jr. commented that Trump is a private citizen, and there was nothing they could do at that time," Mueller said. "Trump Jr. also said that they could revisit the issue if and when they were in government." [...]

Mueller, in his attempt to find out who knew what and when, said his team weighed whether Trump was telling the truth when he said he didn't know about the meeting. The special counsel weighed a sequence of events surrounding a speech Trump gave at the time that "suggested that candidate Trump had contemporaneous knowledge of the June 9 meeting," according to the report.

At issue was Trump's public assertion on June 7, 2016 -- just as Trump Jr. was completing arrangements for the meeting with Veselnitskaya -- that he would give a "major speech" the following week "discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons," according to Mueller's report.

After the Trump Tower meeting failed to produce the dirt Trump Jr. was seeking, Trump's speech changed course. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


The counterintelligence investigation of the Trump team and Russia hasn't stopped (Ken Dilanian, 4/19/19, NBC News)

Special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal investigation may be over, but the FBI's efforts to assess and counter Russian efforts to influence the U.S. political system -- including the Trump administration -- is continuing, current and former U.S. officials say.

The FBI and other intelligence agencies are pursuing a counterintelligence effort to thwart Russian influence operations in the U.S. and stymie an anticipated Russian effort to interfere in the 2020 election, the officials tell NBC News.

As part of that mission, analysts will continue to drill down on exactly how the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, whether any Americans helped them unwittingly, and whether any American continues to be compromised by Russia, experts say.

The UR just spied on the campaign and the transition; Donald is spying on his Administration.
Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Another Warning Sign (YUVAL LEVIN, April 19, 2019, National Review)

The most striking of these was this paragraph on page 158 of the second volume of the report:

The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests. Comey did not end the investigation of Flynn, which ultimately resulted in Flynn's prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI. McGahn did not tell the Acting Attorney General that the Special Counsel must be removed, but was instead prepared to resign over the President's order. Lewandowski and Dearborn did not deliver the President's message to Sessions that he should confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only. And McGahn refused to recede from his recollections about events surrounding the President's direction to have the Special Counsel removed, despite the President's multiple demands that he do so.

That paragraph summarizes a pattern of behavior evident throughout the evidence laid out in that second volume. Simply put, the people who work for the president use their judgment to decide when to do what he says and when to ignore him or flatly contradict his decisions.

This extraordinary pattern in the report brought to mind an incident from very early in the Trump era. On January 15 of 2017, a few days before Trump's inauguration, the President-Elect was interviewed by the Washington Post, and when asked about health care he said his team would soon propose its own health-care reform--that it was worked out, and that it would not reduce coverage numbers but would cost less than Obamacare. The statement sent the little conservative health policy world into a frenzy: What was this plan? Who was working on it? What kinds of ideas was it based on? The barrage of group emails was soon ended, however, by a note from a member of Trump's little policy circle, who would soon become a senior administration official. The message was simple: Trump had no idea what he was talking about, the proposal he mentioned was a figment of his imagination, and don't worry about it--everything was under control.

In a normal administration it would be a constitutional crisis that no one--especially the military--feels compelled to follow orders from the Executive. In this one, it's held up by his supporters as a defense.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


WHY HALF THE POPULATION WOULD WELCOME A SLEEP DIVORCE: Sleeping solo is stigmatized as a sign of a failing relationship, but it might make a lot of sense. (Carly Stern, 4/20/19, Ozy)

Each night, Kelly Kandra Hughes nestles under the weighted blanket of her queen-size bed around 9 pm. She usually reads before her husband, Heath, comes in to chat about their plans for the next day. If it's been a long day, he'll crawl into the bed and run his fingers through her hair. After kissing Kelly goodnight, he turns off the lamp.

When Heath goes to bed a few hours later, he heads into his own bedroom. The couple has been sleeping separately since about seven months into their marriage. Because Kelly has narcolepsy, her husband's nighttime movements disturb her sleep. But recent studies suggest that their situation -- which has been coined a "sleep divorce" -- isn't all that unique. In fact ...

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

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

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

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

What's more, people increasingly are bringing screens into the bedroom -- but partners may prefer different content, or be unable to fall asleep when they want to. "I had to beg my wife to stop watching ER 10 years ago as I was trying to sleep because it was giving me the worst nightmares," Fish says. On a physical level, blue light from mobile screens has been found to disrupt natural sleep cycles.

The actual numbers are much higher, but folks mistakenly think it reflects poorly on them.

April 19, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 PM


US man arrested for threatening Democratic politicians (Al Jazeera, 4/19/19)

Police arrested a Florida man on Friday on suspicion of leaving racist, homophobic and Islamophobic messages filled with death threats on the voicemails of several Democratic members of Congress. 

John Kless, 49, of Broward County, is accused of leaving expletive-strewn voicemail death threats at the Washington, DC, offices of California Representative Eric Swalwell, Detroit Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. In the messages, he allegedly threatened and expressed his hatred for Ilhan Omar. [...]

Kless is said to have racially abused Omar, a Somali-American former refugee, referencing a recent controversy in which she was accused of downplaying the September 11, 2001 attacks, and allegation she and her supporters, including top Democrats deny. He allegedly said in one of the messages that he would like to throw Omar off the Empire State Building, according to local media. 

Kless, who reportedly defended President Donald Trump in the messages and warned the politicians to stop criticising the president, has been charged with making threatening communications.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


US seeks level playing field in Japan trade talks, ambassador says (TAKESHI KUMON, 4/18/19, Nikkei)

[U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty] cited Japan's economic partnership agreement with the European Union and the revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership, which both took effect in recent months, lowering tariffs on a wide range of goods. "By implementing these agreements before addressing our bilateral trade relationship, Japan is effectively redistributing market share away from its strongest ally, the United States," he said.

If we were their strongest ally we'd be in TPP, but Donald hates Asians.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM

SO MUCH WINNING! (profanity alert):

Trump blames McGahn after Mueller paints damning portrait with notes from White House aides (Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa April 19, 2019, Washington Post)

President Trump seethed Friday over the special counsel's damning portrayal of his protracted campaign to thwart the Russia investigation and directed much of his ire at former White House counsel Donald McGahn, whose ubiquity in the report's footnotes laid bare his extensive cooperation in chronicling the president's actions.

Some of the report's most derogatory scenes were attributed not only to the recollections of McGahn and other witnesses, but also to the contemporaneous notes kept by several senior administration officials -- the kind of paper trail that Trump has long sought to avoid leaving.

Many White House aides use pen and paper both as a defensive mechanism -- such as when then-chief of staff John Kelly documented Trump's move to grant security clearances to his daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner -- and as a means of creating the first draft of a page-turning presidency.

But the fact that some of those notes became primary source material for Mueller to paint a vivid portrait of Trump's deception and malfeasance angered the president, who was stewing over the media coverage as he decamped to Florida for the holiday weekend, according to people familiar with his thinking.

The poor dimwit believed General Barr; no wonder reality leaves him and the Trumpbots seething.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


The Mueller Report's 'Smoking Gun' on Obstruction of Justice (Murray Waas, 4/19/19, NYRB)

That section of the Mueller report--which also refers to former FBI Director James Comey, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, then White House Counsel Don McGahn II, and the former Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak--reads as follows:

By the time the President spoke to Comey about Flynn, DOJ officials had informed McGahn, who informed the President, that Flynn's statements to senior White House officials about his contacts with Kislyak were not true and that Flynn had told the same version of events to the FBI. McGahn also informed the President that Flynn's conduct could violate 18 USC §1001. [US Code Title 18 § 1001 is the federal statute that makes it a felony to lie to the FBI or other federal investigators, a crime that Flynn did indeed later plead guilty to.]

The significance of this section is that Trump's personal attorneys have always defended the president by arguing to the special counsel that Trump did not know that Flynn was under criminal investigation for lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak. For nearly nine months, despite my own reporting for the Daily that contradicted their story, the Trump legal team's version--that Trump did not understand Flynn was under investigation when he leaned on Comey--largely prevailed. That was until the Mueller report finally laid to rest this fiction.

The central incident in any potential obstruction case, described on page 46 of Volume II of the Mueller report, is well known: Comey had alleged that Trump had pressured him, while the two men were alone in the Oval Office, on February 14, 2017, to shut down an FBI investigation of Trump's former national security adviser, Flynn. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Comey testified the president said to him. 

Despite Trump's denial that he said this to Comey, the special counsel concluded that "substantial evidence corroborates Comey's account." An obstruction of justice is an effort to "corruptly" impede or interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation. The special counsel uncovered evidence that Trump did exactly that. But for Trump or anyone else to obstruct justice, the law also requires that there must be a "nexus to a proceeding," meaning that anyone attempting to stymie investigators must clearly have understood that whomever they were attempting to protect was under criminal investigation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Slow TV project follows Sweden's elk for 450 hours (The Local, 18 April 2019)

Every spring for around 9,000 years, hundreds of elk have crossed the same river to migrate to summer pastures. This year it's possible to watch their journey from start to finish, thanks to a major 'slow TV' project by Sweden's national broadcaster.

The animals travel from the coast where they spend the winter to their summer grazing spot near the foot of the mountains, by swimming across the Ångermanälven in Jämtland once the ice has melted.

Trapping pits in the area show that people have watched the animals make this journey for centuries, and this year the journey will be recorded by 22 unmanned cameras linked up to a nearby control room.

The programme, titled Den stora älgvandringen (The Great Elk Trek), had its premiere on Monday and the elks' journey will be broadcast live 24/7 until May 2nd, making it the first independent slow TV project by Swedish broadcaster SVT. Planning took an entire year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Why Robert Mueller Cited Antonin Scalia to Prove Trump's Official Acts Might Have Been Obstruction (MARK JOSEPH STERN, APRIL 19, 2019, Slate)

Aguilar turned, in part, on the definition of "corruptly," and Scalia wrote that the word "has a long standing and well accepted meaning" in criminal law. Quoting from law dictionary and precedent, Scalia wrote that "corruptly" denotes an "act done with an intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others." (Emphasis mine.) Mueller then wrote:

That standard parallels the President's constitutional obligation to ensure the faithful execution of the laws. And virtually everything that the President does in the routine conduct of office will have a clear governmental purpose and will not be contrary to his official duty. 

Thus, only in truly exceptional cases will prosecutors be able to glean corrupt intent behind seemingly proper or "routine conduct of office." And the special counsel's decision to gauge Trump's intent will not chill the president's actions, because "in virtually all instances, there will be no credible basis for suspecting a corrupt personal motive."

Of all the cases Mueller could cite to make this point, why the Scalia opinion in Aguilar? It is not actually an opinion for the court but rather a partial dissent, not a binding authority. But this citation serves two useful purposes. First, it clarifies that in federal criminal law, individuals, including government officials, can engage in obstruction when they commit a seemingly lawful act with illicit motive. After all, the law contemplates an individual having some "official duty" with which he acts inconsistently. If, for example, the president purports to exercise his Article II authority to terminate unsatisfactory subordinates, but actually fires an underlying to impede an investigation into his campaign, he may have acted "inconsistent with official duty" and therefore with the necessary corruption to obstruct justice.

Second, by bolstering his argument with wise words from Scalia, Mueller preemptively neutralized some inevitable criticism that his report failed to respect the presidency. Scalia was a proponent of the "unitary executive" theory, which endorses vast powers for the president. And the famed conservative jurist is a model for Trump's archconservative judicial nominees. Yet Scalia's Aguilar opinion seems to fortify Mueller's rationale for investigating Trump's ostensibly officials acts, forestalling complaints that the special counsel's obstruction probe chilled the president's freedom to govern.

In the end, Mueller concluded that he did not gather sufficient evidence to determine whether a "reasonable inference" could show that Trump fired Comey with corrupt intent. He did, however, write that a number of Trump's other actions, including his efforts to manipulate then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, arguably qualified as obstructing justice.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


The Eighties: A Sequel (PETER TONGUETTE, April 18, 2019, National Review)

[T]he current '80s mania is on some level nothing more than a matter of aesthetics. Even those who did not live through the decade or do not have conscious memory of it can recognize the solid craftsmanship of Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) or Richard Donner's The Goonies (1985), or the retro appeal of old-school book and VHS covers. Yet, if we go back to the mass entertainment that prompts our present feelings of nostalgia, a more complicated picture emerges. Simply put: Many movies and TV shows made during that decade ought to be celebrated -- not for their elements of rad design but for their surprising wholesomeness.

Gone were the soul-searching sensitivity of James Dean in Rebel without a Cause (1955) and the aimless intensity of Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider (1969). Instead, the '80s gave us a new sort of screen hero: well-adjusted teenagers who, snug and secure in their well-appointed homes, seemed to embody the energy and enthusiasm of Reagan's "morning in America." Think of Tom Cruise's entrepreneur-in-training in Risky Business (1983) or Corey Haim's automobile-obsessed youth in License to Drive (1988). Meanwhile, in the Back to the Future series and on the sitcom Family Ties, Michael J. Fox proved that by-the-books ordinariness could be popular with audiences, too.

In fact, rare was the '80s teen comedy in which the traditional family unit was presented as anything but a positive, or at least benign, force. Ferris Bueller's Day Off features the hero (Matthew Broderick) evading all forms of authority, but he has no particular animus toward his elders; after all, the elaborate sound-effects system through which he fools his father is installed in his bedroom in his parents' home! And, in the surprisingly sharp and funny License to Drive, Corey Haim flouts all the rules in his pursuit of wheels, but he is situated firmly within the constellation of a family, including his assertive but tolerant dad (Richard Masur), his daffy, pregnant mom (Carol Kane), and a pair of harmless siblings. This is a family in harmony, more or less. Even when Dad is a Wally World-obsessed fool, like Chevy Chase in the Vacation string of comedies, the family most often ends up where they started: together.

Significantly, a family lacking in two parents was usually seen as a deficit in the cinema of the '80s. For example, E.T. -- a far richer film than anything by John Hughes, let alone License to Drive -- touchingly depicts the unavoidable struggles of single motherhood. After her husband has flown the coop, Mary (Dee Wallace) is left to rear her three children, Elliott (Henry Thomas), Michael (Robert MacNaughton), and Gertie (Drew Barrymore). Alas, Mary's grip on her kids' comings and goings is so tenuous that she is the last to know of the presence of a space alien in her home. Released two years after E.T., Michael Apted's Firstborn goes a step further in chronicling the hazards a single mother (Teri Garr) exposes her brood to when she tests the dating waters with a no-good guy (Peter Weller). [...]

Could it be that our wistfulness for the '80s represents a thinly disguised wish for the future -- a wish for homes on peaceful streets and for moms and dads who have their kids' interests at heart? During last fall's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, child-of-the-'80s Brett Kavanaugh was widely sneered at for his high-school calendars, some of which included plans to see some of the lesser cinematic achievements of the period, including Grease 2 and Rocky III. Yet, with all their scribblings about athletic events, social get-togethers, and church obligations, those calendars were, as much as any movie of the era, a reflection of the healthy, well-balanced society in which we lived during those years. What are we seeking when we pick up that crazy Stranger Things book? Is it Molly Ringwald and the Ecto-1 we miss? Or could it be a culture in which the warmth and coziness of the middle of the road was, again and again, affirmed?

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Bernie Is a Capitalist, Whether He Likes It or Not (John Phelan, 4/19/19, FEE)

Having an idea, acting on it, and making a pile of money is the very definition of successful entrepreneurship.

Sen. Sanders took a laptop costing a few hundred dollars and produced Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, for which he was paid $795,000. 

Sen. Sanders took a laptop costing a few hundred dollars and produced, in Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, a document for which he was paid $795,000. Taking an input valued at a few hundred dollars and turning it into an output worth $795,000 is the essence of entrepreneurial capitalism.

And Senator Sanders is right--he deserves that money. In January 2018, an estimated 73 percent of US adults owned either a desktop or a laptop. That's 187.4 million people. How many of them produced a word document worth $795,000? Very few. No doubt Jersey Shore's Snooki used a laptop like Sen. Sanders' to produce Gorilla Beach, her debut novel, but there were more people willing to pay--and pay more money--for Sen. Sanders' book. Value is subjective, after all. By providing greater satisfaction, Sen. Sanders reaped greater rewards.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Trump Sits on a Throne of Lies: It is not a seat where a man can rest at ease. (JONATHAN V. LAST  APRIL 19, 2019, The Bulwark)

Let's start with the obvious: Every president lies. Maybe it's a little fib. Maybe it's "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor." Maybe it's actual perjury. After all, we live in a fallen world and saints typically don't run for president.

All of that said, the sheer volume of falsehoods, fabrications, mistruths, and prevarications from Trump and his administration collected in the Mueller report should be disconcerting to pretty much everyone in America, regardless of party or creed. He lies to the press. He lies in official communications. He lies to his staff. He tries to get others to lie for him.

Here's a small sample (all page numbers are from Vol. II)...

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


Rep. Matt Gaetz hires ex-White House aide ousted for white nationalist ties (SARAH FERRIS, 04/19/2019, Politico)

Rep. Matt Gaetz -- one of President Donald Trump's most avid supporters in Congress -- has hired a former White House speechwriter who was forced out last year amid scrutiny over his ties to white nationalists. [...]

Gaetz has been one of Trump's most vocal defenders on Capitol Hill and on television, and is known for his bombastic rhetoric.

The attorney-turned-lawmaker has drawn scrutiny himself for inviting a Holocaust denier to one of Trump's State of the Union addresses.

Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM


Why Jesus on the Cross Is No Mere Symbol (Peter Wehner, 4/19/19, NY Times)

As a non-Christian friend of mine put it to me recently, the idea that people would worship a God who is compassionate toward us is one thing, but to worship a God who suffers and dies -- as a condemned criminal, no less -- is distinct to Christianity. In my friend's understated words, "When you think about it, it is a little strange."

Perhaps the aspect of the crucifixion that is easiest to understand is that according to Christian theology, atonement is the means through which human beings -- broken, fallen, sinful -- are reconciled to God. The ideal needed to be sacrificed for the non-ideal, the worthy for the unworthy.

But the cross is more than simply a gateway to the City of God. "I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross," John Stott, one of the most important Christian evangelists of the last century, wrote in "The Cross of Christ." "The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as 'God on the cross.' In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?" From the perspective of Christianity, one can question why God allows suffering, but one cannot say God doesn't understand it. He is not remote, indifferent, untouched or unscarred.

Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Wash., and a lifelong friend, pointed out to me that on the cross God was reconciling the world to himself -- but God was also, perhaps, reconciling himself to the world. The cross is not only God's way of saying we are not alone in our suffering, but also that God has entered into our suffering through his own suffering.

The Bible relates the story of God's evolution.

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Russia rejects Mueller report that documents its interference : Both Trump and Russia say the Mueller investigation does not prove interference in the 2016 presidential election. (aL jAZEERA, 4/19/19)

Ms Sanders should really just speak for both..

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


The Mueller Report Is an Impeachment Referral: The special counsel has concluded he can neither charge nor clear the president. Only Congress can now resolve the allegations against him. (Yoni Appelbaum, 4/18/19, The Atlantic)

A basic principle lies at the heart of the American criminal-justice system: The accused is entitled to a fair defense and a chance to clear his name. Every American is entitled to this protection, from the humblest citizen all the way up to the chief executive. And that, Mueller explained in his report, is why criminal allegations against a sitting president should be considered by Congress and not the Justice Department. The Mueller report, in short, is an impeachment referral.

In his report, Mueller took pains to detail why he "determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment" as to whether the president had broken the law by obstructing justice. He began by noting that he accepted the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)--which issues guidance for the executive branch on questions of law--that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

That, Mueller explained, posed an insurmountable problem. A normal investigation would end with a prosecutor deciding to bring charges, or to drop the case. It's a binary choice. But "fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought." Ordinarily, a criminal charge would result in "a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case." But if Mueller were to state plainly that, in his judgment, the president had broken the law and obstructed justice, it would afford "no such adversarial opportunity for public name-clearing before an impartial adjudicator." In other words, because a sitting president cannot be indicted, making such a charge publicly would effectively deny Trump his day in court, and the chance to clear his name.

Mueller also pointed to the OLC's guidance on seeking sealed indictments, which could be unsealed when a president leaves office, or leveling such charges in an internal (and, presumably, nonpublic) report. 

...they don't understand how a public servant functions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience (DAVID FRENCH, April 18, 2019, National Review)

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, even I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up his own facts on matters great and small, but to see the extent to which his virus infected his entire political operation is sobering. And the idea that anyone is treating this report as "win" for Trump, given the sheer extent of deceptions exposed (among other things), demonstrates that the bar for his conduct has sunk so low that anything other than outright criminality is too often brushed aside as relatively meaningless. [...]

These lies have multiple consequences. First and most obviously, they demonstrate that the president's word simply can't be trusted. Yes, I know that there are readers who will immediately respond that "we already knew that" or that his dishonesty is already "priced in." But don't forget -- as recently as last year, 76 percent of Republicans still believed that Trump told the truth "all or most of the time." I personally know many people who believe that Trump's ability to "tell it like it is" is one of his chief appeals.

Second, the extent of the lying across the Trump team shows that Trump's lies can't be contained to Trump. Even honest people who believe and repeat Trump's words or the words of key members of his team can find themselves deceiving the public. Those who resist Trump's efforts to deceive can find themselves overruled and publicly shamed. It was to Donald Jr.'s credit that his instinct -- after news of the Trump Tower meeting started to leak -- was to be transparent. It is Trump's shame that he forced his own son to put out a misleading statement instead.

Third, the lies help demonstrate why the underlying investigation was so very necessary. When our intelligence agencies are aware of Russian efforts to interfere in the election and tilt it toward Trump, they know Trump officials are in contact with Russians, and they know that Trump officials are lying about those contacts, then it makes cries of "witch hunt" sound hollow indeed -- especially when the actual results of the investigation demonstrate that the special counsel declined to prosecute multiple individuals who had Russian contacts, including members of Trump's own family.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Paranoia, lies and fear: Trump's presidency laid bare by Mueller report (Philip Rucker and Robert Costa April 18, 2019, Washington Post)

Trump's advisers rarely challenged him and often willingly did his bidding, according to the special counsel's report released Thursday. But in some cases, they refused when Trump pushed them to the brink of committing outright crimes.

Trump ordered Donald McGahn to instigate special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's firing, but the White House lawyer decided he would resign rather than follow through.

Trump urged Corey Lewandowski to ask then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation, but his former campaign manager only delivered the message to an intermediary.

And Trump demanded that Reince Priebus procure Sessions's resignation, but the White House chief of staff did not carry out the directive.

The vivid portrait that emerges from Mueller's 448-page report is of a presidency plagued by paranoia, insecurity and scheming -- and of an inner circle gripped by fear of Trump's spasms. Again and again, Trump frantically pressured his aides to lie to the public, deny true news stories and fabricate a false record.

"If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," the report says. "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment."

Donald is the only one who isn't paranoid.

April 18, 2019

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Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


William Peter Blatty on why there is good in 'The Exorcist' (William Peter Blatty, April 05, 2019, American)

For the Feb. 23, 1974, issue, the editors invited William Peter Blatty, author of the novel The Exorcist and a producer of the film, to respond to America's critics. This article has been republished as part of America's special 110th anniversary issue.   

Several years ago I set out to write a novel that would, not only excite and entertain (sermons that put one to sleep are useless), but would also make a positive statement about God, the human condition and the relationship between the two. On its crudest level it would argue for transcendence by presenting supernatural forces as real; but on the level that would stay with the reader long after he had closed the book, the theme was something other--and deeper. At the end of The Exorcist, the mother can believe in the devil because "he keeps doing all those commercials"; but Dyer responds: "Then how do you account for all of the good?" And that is the question that my novel and film implicitly ask: namely, if the universe is clockwork and man is no more than molecular structures, how is it there is love as a God would love and that a man like Jesuit Damien Karras would deliberately give up his life for a stranger, the alien corpus of Regan MacNeil? This is surely an enigma far more puzzling and far more worth pondering than the scandalous problem of evil; this is the mystery of goodness. It is the point all critics miss.

Your issue on The Exorcist was fine. Fr. Robert Boyle's insight into the fact that both novel and film derive much of their "harrowing impact from the refusal to analyze openly" is almost astounding in its penetration to the author's intent. [...]

1. The theme--the "mystery of goodness"--may fail because the ending of the novel and the film are misinterpreted (especially the film). What happens--at least as I intended it--is this: Fr. Karras invites the demon to take possession of him instead of the girl. The demon--having lost by dint of this very invitation, this act of love--accepts. Then the demon, using Fr. Karras's body, reaches out his hand to strangle the girl. Fr. Karras fights to regain control; succeeds; and in the few moments he has available before what he knows will be the inevitable and final repossession of his body by the demon, he does the only thing he can do that will save the girl's life (and the lives of everyone else in the house): he leaps from the window to the street below and certain death. How Fr. Richard Blake gets from this to his opinion that "the conclusion is a fatalistic belief in the penultimate triumph of the dark powers" is truly a mystery impervious to the powers of a Charlie Chan. No less mysterious to me as a Christian are Fr. Blake's moans at the number of deaths involved in the work and his conclusion that the deaths are a triumph of evil. I, for one, have been harboring the delusion these years that "better to lose the world" than suffer the loss of one's immortal soul. In his act of love, Fr. Karras triumphs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


A Market-Driven Green New Deal? We'd Be Unstoppable: Any serious energy transformation will need to harness America's powerful and creative economic engine. (Amory B. Lovins and Rushad R. Nanavatty, April 18, 2019, NY Times)

 In 2011, Reinventing Fire, an energy study by Rocky Mountain Institute, where we work, showed how a business-led transition could triple energy efficiency, quintuple renewables and sustain an American economy 2.6 times larger in 2050 than it was in 2010 with no oil, coal or nuclear energy, and one-third less natural gas. The net cost was $5 trillion less than business-as-usual -- or even more valuable if a price was put on carbon emissions. [...]

First, we should let competition and flexibility rule our electricity system. Abundant market data show that a renewably powered future would cost less than our current system. Electricity providers have gotten the memo, even if Washington hasn't. To save their customers money, utilities in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado and Utah are phasing out old coal and nuclear plants and replacing them with wind and solar. Clean energy portfolios -- including affordable battery storage and other flexible resources -- are starting to displace natural gas in California and New York.

Concerns about round-the-clock availability of electricity from a highly renewable grid, a common fear, are mostly misplaced. The Department of Energy has assessed that renewables "that are commercially available today," combined with a more flexible electric grid, can reliably supply up to 80 percent of our electricity in 2050 (and these technologies are advancing every year). Four European countries with modest or no hydropower get from 46 percent to 71 percent of their electricity from renewables, with grids more reliable than those in the United States.

In America, Iowa and Texas are leading the way on wind. Over 35 percent of Iowa's electricity is wind-generated. This has provided a second source of income to farmers whose lands host turbines and given Iowans among the lowest power prices in the nation. Over all, the estimated $476 billion needed to build a flexible grid that integrates renewables would yield $2 trillion in saved energy and reliability benefits.

Second, correcting our biggest market failure by putting a price on carbon by taxing it and then rebating the revenues equally to all citizens would be "the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the necessary scale and speed," according to a recent statement signed by more than 3,500 economists, including 27 Nobel laureates. Combining carbon pricing with border tax adjustments and rebates for citizens would ensure we didn't export our emissions or hurt working-class Americans. Clearer price signals could drive cheaper and cleaner practices if we eliminated market barriers that are obstacles to efficiency and clean energy.

For sectors with fewer market-ready substitutes and less sensitivity to fuel prices, like industry and agriculture, we need other approaches. Hence our third point:

We need to take advantage of the world's most successful research and development organization -- the federal government -- to solve our remaining technology challenges. Government R&D helped develop the internet, the Global Positioning System, fracking, many vital drugs and, more recently, breakthrough battery technologies. The government now needs to apply its early-stage investment muscle, in concert with private enterprise, to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in these harder-to-abate sectors.

Failures should outnumber successes, as in any sound early-stage investment portfolio. But just a handful of big wins can deliver potentially incalculable value to our economy and planet. Which brings us to our final point.

We should base investment decisions on net value, not cost alone.

Green New Deal critics often look at only one side of the accounting ledger. A columnist for The Wall Street Journal, for example, recently pointed to the $400 billion estimated cost of retrofitting American buildings without mentioning the $1.4 trillion net value (retrofit costs minus saved energy costs) of doing so.

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The Mueller Report: Excerpts and Analysis (NY Times, 4/18/19)

The Justice Department released a redacted version of the special counsel's report on Thursday. Times reporters uncovered the biggest findings and  shared excerpts and analysis. [...]

Stopping the exchange of possibly fake, compromising tapes of Trump's conduct in Russia.

Vol. II, Page 27: Comey's briefing included the Steele reporting's unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, "Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there's anything else. Just so you know ...." 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said "tapes" referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe contest in Russia... Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen.

In a footnote of the report, a Russian businessman is quoted as stating via text message that he had "stopped flow" of possibly fake, compromising tapes of Mr. Trump's conduct in Russia. This offers a new detail on the sensational question of whether, as claimed in the unverified dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent, Mr. Trump was caught with prostitutes on video in his Moscow hotel in 2013.


In the end, it looks like Christopher Steele was right about everything.

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


CNN's Jeffrey Toobin highlights sentence in the Mueller report that is 'all but an explicit invitation' to impeach Trump (The Week, 4/18/19)

Far from a total exoneration, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin believes Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report actually contains an invitation to Congress to impeach President Trump.

Mueller in his report did not draw a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice but specifically said that "if we had confidence" Trump did not do so, "we would so state." The report also says, "The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law."

It's kind of sweet the way the Trumpbots always believe what Donald tells them, regardless of reality.
Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


How Bolsonaro's Rivalry with his Vice President Is Shaping Brazilian Politics (OLIVER STUENKEL, APRIL 18, 2019, Americas Quarterly)

After a little over one hundred days in power, President Jair Bolsonaro's government is at war with itself, and the president is increasingly unable to control the factions close to him jockeying for influence. Amid the chaos - and with a disorganized opposition -- an unexpected figure is working to keep the president in check: Hamilton Mourão, Bolsonaro's own vice president.

Mourão has emerged as the leader of the generals in Bolsonaro's administration, a role that's put him at odds with Olavo de Carvalho, the Virginia-based conspiracy theorist and influential voice of the anti-globalist wing of Bolsonaro's government. The anti-globalists are also regularly clashing with a third faction, the neoliberal economists around Economy Minister Paulo Guedes and the technocrats such as Justice Minister Sérgio Moro. The president is stuck in the middle of these three groups that helped him get elected, each with a contradicting vision of what his presidency should look like.

But Bolsonaro's refusal to condemn Carvalho's systematic social media campaign against Mourão and the other former generals in his cabinet -- such as General Santos Cruz, one of Bolsonaro's chief strategists -- shows that, when in doubt, the president and his sons will side with the anti-globalists, the grouping closely associated with his die-hard supporters. This strategy, however, has already begun to erode the president's support among the many moderates who voted for him last year.

Enter Mourão, who was largely seen as even more radical than the president during the presidential campaign last year. Sensing an opportunity, Mourão has undergone what looks like an ideological metamorphosis. He has been systematically courting moderates who feel abandoned, many of whom are supportive of the government's law-and-order policies and pension reform, but who are horrified by the president's frequent attacks on the media, academics and minorities and are uncomfortable with how his extreme right-wing rhetoric affects Brazil's standing in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


What Donald Trump has said about Jews (Ryan Cooper, April 18, 2019, The Week)

1) Israel loyalty

In the recent controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) criticizing Israel, conservatives accused her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes about Jews having "dual loyalty" to Israel. While she never actually said anything like that, as Eli Valley points out, she could have phrased her comments better to avoid causing unnecessary offense (and indeed she has done so since that time).

But Trump has said something far, far worse than even what the most bad-faith critics of Omar accused her of saying. In a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition in April, he said that recently reelected Benjamin Netanyahu was "your prime minister." Instead of implying dual loyalty, he all but said Jews aren't actually Americans at all, because they have single loyalty to Israel. As Josh Marshall writes, it's "as though American Jews are somehow an expat community of Israelis resident in the United States." (The conservatives who had a purple-faced screaming fit about Omar mysteriously didn't raise a fuss about this.)

2) Jews and money

One of the oldest stereotypes about Jews is that they are all money-grubbing chislers -- a prejudice that was at the root of countless medieval pogroms. Trump has implied or straight-up said this many times. In a 1991 book, John O'Donnell, the former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel & C[***]o, said Trump had told him: "Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day." [...]

4) Conspiracy theories

Probably the worst anti-Semitic propaganda Trump has pushed is the classic conspiracy theory that Jews control world politics and the global economy. In the last days of the 2016 campaign, he rolled out an ad featuring three rich Jews -- then-Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and financier George Soros -- over a narration decrying "those who control the levers of power in Washington," and the "global special interests" who "partner with these people who don't have your good in mind." The obvious implication is that Hillary Clinton is a cat's paw for a global Jewish conspiracy. As Josh Marshall writes, "These are standard anti-Semitic themes and storylines, using established anti-Semitic vocabulary."

Trump has focused particular ire on George Soros in this vein. He baselessly accused him of funding protesters of Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and suggested Soros could be funding the refugee caravan -- lending credence to the conspiracy theory that world Jewry is conspiring to bring immigrants into the United States to replace white people (thus the "Jews will not replace us" chant referenced above).

It bears repeating that this kind of thing is very close to what you find in Mein Kampf. But you don't have to look at history to see the danger of spreading this sort of poison. A Trump supporter sent a pipe bomb to Soros' house (as well as 15 other high-profile liberals) last year. The right-wing terrorist who massacred 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last October espoused the exact same conspiracy theory about refugees. This is simply the kind of thing that happens when the most powerful person in the world is constantly spewing anti-Semitic propaganda.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kentucky Republicans Worried Inviting AOC to Meet with Coal Miners Might Backfire: Ocasio-Cortez actually said yes to their invite, and now they're waffling. (LUKE DARBY, April 16, 2019, GQ)

Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, told The Courier-Journal, "Luckily, we still have open borders with Kentucky. We don't need Congressman Barr to meet with coal miners and have a town hall, though we'd love his participation if we do."

Uninviting Ocasio-Cortez is probably a smart move on Barr's part in the long run. For one thing, there aren't any active coal mines in Barr's district. And James Comer, another Republican representative from Kentucky, told local news that he didn't "see any upside" to having her come to Kentucky. "I think a lot of Republicans are making a mistake picking on her. I think we need to be very prepared when we debate her on issues that we're having a hard time with."

Let's take it as a given that AOC is a neophyte with rather silly ideas: now imagine you're a GOP congressman who gets his head handed to him by her....

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Benjamin Netanyahu and the Death of the Zionist Dream: Israel's founding fathers are turning in their graves. (Avi Shlaim, April 18, 2019, NY Times)

From the 1920s onward, the Zionist movement was split into two groups that put forward rival ideas of the Jewish state, one liberal, the other right wing. David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding father and its longest serving prime minister, was the leader of Labor Zionism, the liberal vision; Zeev Jabotinsky was the founder of Revisionist Zionism and the spiritual father of the Israeli right. Mr. Ben-Gurion embodied the liberal Zionist dream of a free, independent and egalitarian Jewish state. Mr. Jabotinsky was an ardent Jewish nationalist who laid claim to Jewish sovereignty over the whole of the territory between both banks of the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Although he led the opposition to mainstream Zionism, Mr. Jabotinsky was, in fact, the main architect of the strategy that guided the entire movement in the confrontation with the Palestinians -- the strategy of the "iron wall." This strategy consisted of two stages: First, build an iron wall of Jewish military power to compel the Arabs to recognize that the Jewish state was there to stay. Then negotiate with the Arabs about their rights and status in Palestine. The essence of the strategy was negotiations from strength. The risk inherent in it was that military superiority would lead to diplomatic intransigence.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who won a fifth electoral victory last week in an election that was essentially a referendum on his leadership, is in many ways the heir to Mr. Jabotinsky's legacy. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, was Mr. Jabotinsky's secretary and the editor of the Revisionists' daily newspaper, HaYarden; his party, Likud, is the successor to the post-independence Revisionist party, Herut. 

[P]rime Minister Netanyahu is more conservative and more extreme than the founder of the movement. Mr. Jabotinsky's attitude toward the national aspirations of the Palestinians was, in his own words, one of "polite indifference." Mr. Netanyahu's attitude is one of active and unrelenting hostility. Mr. Jabotinsky would have been a tough negotiator; Mr. Netanyahu is a non-negotiator.

Mr. Netanyahu is the proponent of the doctrine of permanent conflict. He rules out the possibility of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians because he is not prepared to concede their most basic demand: an independent Palestinian state over the West Bank and Gaza with a capital city in East Jerusalem. 

April 17, 2019

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This chart shows the fall in coal-power plants being planned around the world (Douglas Broom, 4/16/19, World Economic Forum)\

The amount of planned capacity fell by over a third last year and was 84% down on the figure for 2015. [...]

Paradoxically, despite using more coal, China also achieved the world's biggest increase in solar and wind generation last year. Renewables now account for more than a quarter of world power generation, and last year they delivered close to half of the growth in global capacity.

The amount of coal-based capacity closed down last year was almost equivalent to China's capacity growth which meant the growth rate of coal capacity slowed to the lowest on record, the fourth straight year of decline.

The US led the way, shutting down 18 gigawatts of capacity. India and China both plan large scale closedowns in coming years. Over half of EU member states have committed to phase out coal by 2030. In the UK, coal provides just 5% of capacity, down from two-fifths six years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Cheap solar panels power consumer appliance boom in North Korea (Hyonhee Shin, 4/17/19, Reuters) 

Years after they first appeared in North Korea, increasingly cheap and available solar panels are giving a boost to consumer consumption and industry as Pyongyang tries to limit the impact of tough international sanctions. [...]

Now ever more households, factories and businesses are equipped with solar panels, leading to a greater variety of home electronics products available in increasingly common private markets known as jangmadang, defectors and recent visitors say.

Among the hottest selling items are water purifiers, hair straighteners and electric bicycles, mostly from China but some made in North Korea or even smuggled in from South Korea.

"A few years ago, such things as water purifiers, mixers and rice cookers were only seen at some restaurants and rich households, but they are becoming commonplace, especially in cities," said Kang Mi-jin, an economic expert who regularly speaks with North Koreans for Daily NK, a website run by defectors.

"Some would look just like an ordinary middle-class South Korean home, with a wall-hanging LED TV, multiple laptops and electric mini cars for babies."

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Mueller Report 'Is Pure Mischief,' Trump's Former Lawyer Says (Betsy Woodruff,  Sam Stein, 04.17.19, daily Beast)

John Dowd, who represented Trump for nearly a year of the 21-month investigation, told The Daily Beast he believes the report may cause trouble for Trump. [...]

[A Republican congressional staffer whose boss has been a vocal critic of the Mueller probe] told The Daily Beast that their office has its fridges "stocked with Red Bull for a marathon speed-reading session."

"I think it's probably not going to be a good day for Republicans because any kind of color that the report on Thursday sheds onto this is only going to be upside for Democrats," the staffer added. "Four hundred pages is a lot of ink to say no collusion and no obstruction."

It's an impeachment report.

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Trump and Netanyahu Are Breaking the Bond Between American Jews and Israel (JANE EISNER, 4/17/19, TIME)

For many American Jews, though, the status quo is not a victory. It is a source of worry, frustration, alienation and even rupture. The hallmarks of the American Jewish experience -- acceptance as a minority in a country built on the values of religious pluralism and social assimilation -- increasingly conflict with an ascendant religious nationalism in Israel. The already-strained relationship between the world's two largest Jewish communities is bound to splinter even further if, as expected, Netanyahu prevails in forming a majority governing coalition in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

Politically, this election highlighted how the two communities are trending farther apart. In Israel, right-wing and Orthodox parties won more than 57% of the total votes, the highest proportion in Israeli history; only 34% went to centrist and left-wing Zionist parties. There is little reason to expect this to reverse: Young Israelis, especially, who have come of age during the prime minister's reign, have a hard time imagining another leader and another approach to governance. By contrast, among the 34 Jews in the current U.S. Congress, only two are Republican, both of whom serve in the House; there hasn't been a Republican Jew serving in the Senate for more than a decade.

American Jews are so loyal to our Founding ideals that they believe they apply to Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM



ON JUNE 1, the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Massachusetts will shut down, a victim of rising costs and a technology that is struggling to remain economically viable in the United States. But the electricity generated by the aging nuclear station soon will be replaced by another carbon-free source: a fleet of 84 offshore wind turbines rising nearly 650 feet above the ocean's surface.

The developers of the Vineyard Wind project say their turbines--anchored about 14 miles south of Martha's Vineyard--will generate 800 megawatts of electricity once they start spinning sometime in 2022. That's equivalent to the output of a large coal-fired power plant and more than Pilgrim's 640 megawatts.

"Offshore wind has arrived," says Erich Stephens, chief development officer for Vineyard Wind, a developer based in New Bedford, Massachusetts, that is backed by Danish and Spanish wind energy firms. He explains that the costs have fallen enough to make developers take it seriously. "Not only is wind power less expensive, but you can place the turbines in deeper water, and do it less expensively than before."

Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities awarded Vineyard Wind a 20-year contract to provide electricity at 8.9 cents/kilowatt-hour. That's about a third the cost of other renewables (such as Canadian hydropower), and it's estimated that ratepayers will save $1.3 billion in energy costs over the life of the deal.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


The ADL Opposes West Bank Annexation - Because We Are Zionists. (Kenneth Jacobson, April 16, 2019, The Forward)

The result of annexing the West Bank would be the creation of one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in which there would be, if not a majority Palestinian population, at the very least something very close to it. This majority would either have equal rights to those of Israelis, threatening Israel's Jewish character, or they would be kept as second class, non-voting citizens, which would threaten Israel's democratic character.

Neither of these options should be viable for anyone who considers him or herself a Zionist.

Zionism was all about returning the Jewish people to their historic homeland where the Jewish people would, after 2,000 years, once more be in charge of their own destiny. The hope of that return, embodied in daily prayers, in the Passover Seder and at wedding ceremonies, was what kept the Jewish people alive while they were dispersed around the globe and oppressed for millennia.

The rise of modern anti-Semitism, culminating in the horror of the Holocaust, made that dream urgent and imperative.

And so Israel came into being in 1948 representing the highest values as noted in the nation's declaration of independence - a Jewish state and a democratic state. It has been able to be both, with full rights to its non-Jewish population, because there has been an overwhelming Jewish majority.

Today, the greatest threat to the continuing fulfillment of that dream would be the annexation of the West Bank, the ending of the possibility of two states, and the absorption into Israel of several million Palestinians.

No longer could Israel be a Jewish state, deciding its own destiny when the parliament would be divided fairly equally between Jews and Palestinians.

Indeed, it is no accident that the originator of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, Omar Barghouti, calls for one state between the Mediterranean and Jordan, exactly because he understands that would be the demise of the Jewish state of Israel. His goal in BDS is not to make Israel better, but to make Israel disappear. He and others who call for one state are labeled as anti-Semitic for denying the right of the Jewish people to their historic home.

Clearly, those in Israel who call for annexation are coming from a very different place; they believe they are doing good for Israel. But the results would be the same destructive ones desired by the BDSers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


The State of Pitchers Hitting (Howard Megdal, April 17, 2019, Hardball Times)

In 1968, The Year of the Pitcher (but, you know, on the mound), pitchers in major league baseball posted a slash line of .132/.167/.171, good for a wRC+ of 1, in 9,024 plate appearances. A decade later? Just 5,185 plate appearances, but the slash line improved a bit, to .148/.183/.188, though the wRC+ dipped to -1. By 1988, as more and more pitchers spent less and less time hitting, it dropped to .133/.163/.168 and a -9 wRC+. It rallied to .146/.187/.183 and a wRC+ of -6 in 1998. And even as overall offense remained pretty static in 2008, major league pitchers slashed just .139/.177/.176 that season. And by 2018? Pitchers overall hit .115/.144/.148 in the major leagues in 2018 in 5,135 plate appearances. That's a -25 wRC+

Just as teams can now simply tell the umps they want to intentionally walk a guy, pitchers should be able to tell them they want to take an automatic strikeout.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Rivalries and power struggles: a portrait of the Islamic State in Khorasan: A new book focuses on the power struggles that drove the emergence of Islamic State -- and its spillover in Central Asia. (Hélène Thibault, 17 April 2019, Open Democracy)

Even though IS-K's early presence was marked by cooperation with local jihadists, its aim was to eventually replace the Taliban and monopolise power. These chapters provide a month-to-month reconstruction of events, surveying all regions within Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. The author compares and contrasts IS-K with the Taliban in terms of organisational structure and ideological/sectarian motivations, while chapter five highlights the drivers of support for the Islamic State in Khorasan. Giustozzi reiterates that although IS-K's insistence on anti-Iranian and anti-Shia rhetoric did not seem to resonate with the local population, for many former Taliban, "it did not really matter which organization they belonged to; they vaguely wanted to fight for what they could perceive as a 'just cause'".

In general, IS-K was more attractive due to its more efficient organisational structure and discipline in military rank, where tribal-affiliations played a lesser role than in the Taliban and positions were allocated more on merit than connections or status. Moreover, IS-K provided better equipment, as well as higher and more regular salaries, ranging between 400 and 800 USD per month for local fighters, and between 1,500 and 2,000 USD for jihadists sent to Iraq. Moreover, the families of martyrs received a one-off 15,000 USD payment. In comparison, the Taliban paid their militants only 100 USD per month. IS-K could offer better salaries because, in 2015, its funding per capita was approximately 10 times larger than that of the Taliban. Their leadership appeared to enjoy some degree of independence from IS-Central even though they maintained strong connections to Iraq and Syria, notably because Arab trainers were sent to Khorasan to train local militants. The organisation had no trouble with recruitment and "every month 1,000-2,000 aspiring volunteers were knocking at its doors". In this sense, IS-K could afford to be selective.

Chapters six and seven detail IS-K's expansion, as well as its source of funding, with the support of maps and graphics. The author includes meticulous information on the local jihadist factions that pledged allegiance to IS-K, including non-Afghan and non-Pakistani groups such as Iranian Baluchis, Central Asians as well as Chinese. IS-K received most of its funding from the Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan, highlighting how regional rivalries came into play as many Arab donors, both state and private, sent funds to IS-K as part of a proxy war with Iran. Overall, for 2016, external funding for IS-K was estimated at 238 million USD.

The final two chapters offer some reflections on the consequences of IS-K's establishment for the Afghan jihadist landscape. Ordinary Afghans saw IS-K as a more oppressive force than the Taliban as, in Giustozzi's words, they "perceived the Taliban's imposition of Shari'a as much more tolerable than IS-K's version of it". Interestingly, people also seemed to oppose the group's Salafi inclination, which they regard as contrary to true Islam. In this respect, the book could have better detailed the religious subtleties behind its analysis of local resistance and cooperation.

Just because the Caliphate was so easily defeated does not lessen the value of our alliance with the Shi'a to do so.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


The World's Biggest Electric Vehicle Company Looks Nothing Like Tesla (Matthew Campbell and Ying Tian April 16, 2019, Bloomberg Businessweek)

Americans associate electric cars with the luxury of Tesla, the unrivaled conveyance of choice for the Sand Hill Road set. But these newly assembled vehicles, part of a family of SUVs called the Tang that retails from about 240,000 yuan ($35,700), are aimed squarely at middle-class drivers in the world's largest electric vehicle market, China. Their manufacturer, BYD Co., is in turn the No. 1 producer of plug-in vehicles globally, attracting a tiny fraction of the attention of Elon Musk's company while powering, to a significant extent, a transition to electrified mobility that's moving faster in China than in any other country. Founded in Shenzhen in the mid-1990s as a manufacturer of batteries for brick-size cellphones and digital cameras, BYD now has about a quarter-million employees and sells as many as 30,000 pure EVs or plug-in hybrids in China every month, most of them anything but status symbols. Its cheapest model, the e1, starts at 60,000 yuan ($8,950) after subsidies.

BYD's cars and other vehicles--a Tonka set of electric buses, forklifts, utility vans, street sweepers, and garbage trucks--run exclusively on batteries the company manufactures itself. Its sprawling Chinese facilities can produce almost 30 gigawatt-hours of power annually, more than enough to run every iPhone ever made. Last year, BYD opened one of the world's largest battery plants, a 10 million-square-foot facility in Qinghai province, and in February it broke ground on another of similar size. This empire has made a billionaire of its founder and chairman, a former government chemist named Wang Chuanfu. It's also been a boon for another high-net-worth individual, Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. bought a 10 percent stake in BYD a decade ago.

Even for a nation of superlatives, China has adopted EVs at a stunning pace. Thanks to generous government subsidies and municipal regulations that make owning an internal combustion vehicle in many cities inconvenient, expensive, or both, China accounts for more than half the world's purchases of electric cars. More EVs were sold in Shanghai last year than in Germany, France, or the U.K.; the city of Hangzhou, smallish by Chinese standards, had higher sales than all of Japan. Virtually all of Shenzhen's 20,000 taxis are electric BYDs, compared with fewer than 20 of any make in New York. More than 500,000 electric buses ply Chinese roads, compared with fewer than 1,000 in the U.S.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Poll: Roy Moore leading Alabama GOP field (REID WILSON, 04/16/19, The Hill)

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore leads the field of potential Republicans vying for the chance to challenge Sen. Doug Jones (D), a year and a half after Moore lost what was supposed to be an easy election in a deep-red state.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


White Supremacists Embrace "Accelerationism" (ADL, April 16, 2019)

Accelerationism is a term white supremacists have assigned to their desire to hasten the collapse of society as we know it. The term is widely used by those on the fringes of the movement, who employ it openly and enthusiastically on mainstream platforms, as well as in the shadows of private, encrypted chat rooms.  We have also recently seen tragic instances of its manifestation in the real world.

The concept of acceleration has existed for years as a fringe philosophy.  Some of the earliest examples are rooted in a Marxist notion that the intensification of an unhinged force, such as capitalism, for example, will inevitably result in that force's own self-destruction. However, some white supremacists have adopted the terminology and determined that a societal collapse is both imminent and necessary. On March 21, 2019, one anonymous 8chan user, who promoted white supremacist views, wrote, "I used to think acceleration was a marxist [sic] trick...Now, however, I see its value." [...]

Fueled by the perception that the future of the white race is bleak, these white supremacists believe they must employ any means necessary to expedite the collapse of the current system.  Solutions to bring down the system range from the most extreme form, violence, to deliberate political engagement that supports destructive and divisive societal elements. For example, Tarrant referenced the need to bring about collapse by leaning in to disruptive forces, even those antithetical to white supremacist beliefs, writing, "A vote for a radical candidate that opposes your values and incites agitation or anxiety in your own people works far more in your favour than a vote for a milquetoast political candidate that has no ability or wish to enact radical change." 

Accelerationists believe that setting off a series of reactions, even if they result in changes that directly threaten the white race, can actually be a useful tool for motivating more reticent white supremacists. Following an extremist terrorist attack such as the Tree of Life shooting or Christchurch rampage, accelerationists identify a domino effect that is set into motion - a chain of societal reactions that further exacerbate the feeling of alienation among white supremacists, and, theoretically, a greater impulse to engage in violence or other destructive behavior.

[A]t the core of accelerationism is the goal of creating societal chaos.  Tarrant wrote, "True change and the change we need to enact only arises in the great crucible of crisis. A gradual change is never going to achieve victory.  Stability and comfort are the enemies of revolutionary change.  Therefore [sic] we must destabilize and discomfort society where ever possible."  Tarrant presumably believed his murder of 50 worshippers at New Zealand mosques was helping to bring this extreme theory into the real world.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Campaign Targets Seniors With Anti-Immigrant Facebook Ads (Oliver Willis April 16, 2019, National Memo)

Trump's re-election campaign is spending millions of dollars on Facebook ads targeting senior citizens with racist immigration lies and smears.

A data-mining analysis of public Facebook data by the firm Bully Pulpit Interactive uncovered where Trump's money is going on the social media platform. According to Facebook, Trump has spent at least $11.3 million in the last month on advertising on their site.

A full 44 percent of the money Trump is spending on Facebook ads is targeting voters over 65 years old. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Republicans Get Lion's Share of Blame for Current Immigration Policy (ELI YOKLEY, April 17, 2019, Morning Consult)

A new Morning Consult/Politico poll found nearly half (48 percent) of voters said President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are most responsible for current immigration policy, while 28 percent said the blame rests with Democrats in Congress.

W and/or the UR should have just issued blanket amnesty.

April 16, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Republicans reject Democratic attempts to tighten vaccine law (ARTHUR ALLEN, 04/16/2019, Politico)

Most Republicans are rejecting Democrat-led state bills to tighten childhood immunization laws in the midst of the worst measles outbreak in two decades, alarming public health experts who fear the nation could become as divided over vaccines as it is over global warming.

Democrats in six states -- Colorado, Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, New York and Maine -- have authored or co-sponsored bills to make it harder for parents to avoid vaccinating their school-age children, and mostly faced GOP opposition. Meanwhile in West Virginia and Mississippi, states with some of the nation's strictest vaccination laws, Republican lawmakers have introduced measures to expand vaccine exemptions, although it's not yet clear how much traction they have.

In Washington state, which has one of the biggest measles outbreaks, a bill in the state Senate to narrow vaccine exemptions passed through the health committee without the support of a single Republican. The same thing happened in legislative committees in Colorado and Maine over the past week.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


Everyone's Talking About Basic Income. Here's 8 Problems It Could Fix (GUY STANDING, 4/16/19, time)

We should consider basic income from the perspective of what it would do for individuals and society. Let's start by admitting social policy is in crisis -- not unlike the mess it was in during the late 1930s in the U.S. and Western Europe.

Then in 1942, as the U.S. entry into World War II helped turn the tide in favor of the Allies, the British government commissioned a report on post-war social protection that went on to influence thinking on both sides of the Atlantic. Its author, the respected economist William Beveridge, said it was "a time for revolutions, not tinkering," in which the challenge was to slay "five giants" on the road to social progress: Disease, Idleness, Ignorance, Squalor and Want.

In America and Western Europe, the income distribution system built in the post-war era went a long way to slaying those giants, helping to put the horrors of fascism and state communism in the past. But today we face another crisis, in which the distribution system has broken down. One way of putting it is that we are confronted by eight modern giants blocking the path to a Good Society. Let's consider each in turn.

Distributing that wealth is a political question.

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


AI Robot paints its own moonscapes in traditional Chinese style (Reuters, 4/16/19) 

Victor Wong took three years to build and program the robot called A.I Gemini and teach it artistic techniques.

Randomness has been written into its algorithm, meaning Wong does not know what it will paint before it begins. 

The project is called 'Far Side of the Moon'. The robot's AI was fed NASA 3D images of the moon and imagery taken by China's Chang'e-4 lunar rover. It captured images of the dark side of the moon in January.

A.I Gemini takes an average of 50 hours to create a blend of landscapes on traditional, fresh xuan paper made from bark and rice straw. The average price for a piece on sale in London is £10,000 ($13,000). 

Wong designed the robot to use the ancient Chinese art of shuimo to create its paintings, using mainly black ink and water.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


How Hispanics really feel about Trump (Stella Rouse & Shibley Telhami, 4/16/19, The Conversation)

No, most Hispanic voters don't back Trump and his policies. In fact, Hispanics oppose his immigration policies in larger numbers than the rest of the population.

For example, right before the 2018 midterm election, we asked respondents to identify the most important factor in their vote choice. Among Hispanics, the most popular choice was "a vote against President Trump and his agenda," with 39% of Hispanics selecting this option, compared to 32% of non-Hispanics.

However, Hispanic preferences do diverge across partisan lines. Over half of Hispanics who aren't Republicans said "a vote against President Trump and his agenda" was their main reason for voting. Conversely, 45% of Hispanic Republicans chose "a vote to support President Trump and his agenda" as the most important reason for their vote - a significant number, but still lower than the number of non-Hispanic Republicans who said the same.

Attitudes toward the president's immigration policies were also striking.

We asked respondents, "Would you say immigration helps the U.S. more than it hurts it, or immigration hurts the U.S. more than it helps it?" Just over half of Hispanics said that immigration helps the U.S. more than it hurts it. Meanwhile, 35% of non-Hispanics said the same.

On the question of immigrants who immigrated illegally, more than two-thirds of Hispanic respondents reported that "illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and obtain citizenship," compared to just 54% of non-Hispanics. Hispanics are also much less likely to believe that undocumented immigrants commit more crimes than American citizens.

We asked respondents about their opinions regarding the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents at the border. Only 16% of Hispanics see this policy as acceptable, compared to 25% of non-Hispanics.

Hispanics are not monolithic. When it comes to immigration, they are divided strongly across partisan lines.

For example, 57% of Hispanic non-Republicans say that immigration helps the U.S. Only 34% of Hispanic Republicans say the same.

What's more, Hispanic non-Republicans are almost twice as likely as Hispanic Republicans to say that "illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and obtain citizenship."

However, Hispanic Republicans are still more likely to take positions that are pro-immigration than Republicans who aren't Hispanic. For example, 40% of Hispanic Republicans agree that "illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and obtain citizenship." The same is true for just 29% of Republicans who aren't Hispanic.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Fox News Anchors Shut Down Conspiracy Theories About Notre Dame Fire: Neil Cavuto hung up on a guest mid-conversation while Shepard Smith openly scolded one who echoed baseless speculation about the horrific fire. (Justin Baragona, 04.15.19, Daily Beast)

During two separate occasions on Monday afternoon, Fox News anchors Shepard Smith and Neil Cavuto had to dump out of interviews after their guests wildly speculated and parroted conspiracy theories that the blaze that suddenly destroyed much of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was an intentionally malicious act.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Immigrants Make Exodus, Then Find Struggle And New Start In Passover Cleaning (Ari Feldman, April 16, 2019, tHE fORWARD)

For twenty years, two very different communities have been meeting on the corner of Marcy and Division avenues in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ultra-Orthodox Jews go there to find cleaning ladies; Latina immigrants to find work.

Gloria Puma, 35, is one of the latter, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador. One morning almost exactly four years ago, her cousin, a cleaner in ultra-Orthodox homes, brought her to "la esquina" -- the corner.

After three hours, a woman approached Puma and offered her $11 an hour for seven hours of cleaning to help her family prepare for Pesach, or Passover, the Jewish festival that commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt. The first day, she scrubbed the kitchen floor by hand, from her knees. The next, the woman asked her to clean her apartment's windows from the outside. Puma had to crouch in the window grate installed to keep children from falling out.

"I was really scared, because it wasn't a low house, it was on the seventh floor," Puma said.

Looking back, Puma said she feels the job she did that day was poorly paid, humiliating and even dangerous. Such conditions are the reasons why Latino domestic workers in Orthodox communities in New Jersey and New York are organizing into groups that are a bit like unions. They're educating one another and their employers about their rights, and seeking respect and the pay they deserve. The weeks leading up to the holiday shine a light on the importance of these groups, which have extracted concessions from the communities that employ them.

Cleaning for Passover, which starts Friday night, is commanded by Jewish law, and it can be a big, hard job. The ancient Israelites were in such a rush to leave Egypt that they couldn't wait for their bread to rise. Observant Jews refrain from leaven for eight days and eat cracker-like matzo instead. Some, including the ultra-Orthodox, also banish it from their lives completely by doing a spring cleaning on steroids.

Houses and apartments must be cleaned room by room, from corner to corner. Domestic workers are frequently asked to scrub tile grout, the gaps between floor boards and corners with a toothbrush, on their knees. Mattresses are flipped and bed frames are scrubbed down; closets and drawers are emptied for the same treatment. Bathrooms may get bleached from the floor tiles all the way up the walls. Refrigerators are emptied out; ovens are cleaned to the heating element.

This tends to be women's work. To do it right, and to save their sanity, many of those women hire domestic help like Puma.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Cory Booker unveils plan to cut taxes for half the country (Benjy Sarlin, 4/15/19, NBC News)

Fresh off launching a national campaign tour over the weekend, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., unveiled a new proposal on Monday to cut taxes for over 150 million Americans.

The Rise Credit, as the campaign has dubbed it, would expand on the existing Earned Income Tax Credit, which supplements wages for lower-income workers.

Booker's plan calls for expanding the tax credit's benefits to higher incomes -- from a maximum income of $54,000 to $90,000 for married couples -- and raising the maximum benefits as well. Joint filers could receive a 25 percent higher maximum credit, topping out at about $8,000 per year. The plan includes a bigger bump in benefits for childless workers, whose tax credit payout is currently capped at about about $500, but would rise up to about $4,000 under Booker's plan.

In 2019, Socialism is basically Reaganism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The world's happiest people have a beautifully simple way to tackle loneliness (Jenny Anderson, 4/16/19, Quartz)

According to Julie Vorsaa, volunteer coordinator for Ventilen, the idea for the organization can be traced back to 1999, when two volunteers (whose names no one remembers) were working for a help line. They noticed a lot of people weren't as much in need of help as they were in need of friends. They were lonely, and the help line could only be a band-aid, not a cure. They formed a support group called Bright Point, aimed at facilitating IRL conversation. But when people came together, no one talked. The idea seemed destined to fail. 

Then someone had the idea of introducing games. "They had a catalyst, and they started to talk over the game," she says. Later, the group added the idea of making meals, and then exercising. "They found out food was a good thing to bring people together," she says. "You talk when you eat. It's more cozy."

Since 2011, Ventilen, which gets funding from the government and private donors, has been measuring its results. Through 2017, nearly 700 people had participated in Ventilen (55.7% men, 44.3% women), with the average age being 20.9. According to its self-reported survey, 70% of participants said they felt less lonely after coming, while 74% reported higher self-worth after coming. Sixty-four percent said they were better at social situations, and 80% said they were more likely to meet other people. 

About one in 10 young people in Denmark report that they are lonely. While this may seem surprising in a country that is frequently rated one of the happiest in the world, it mirrors data from around the world showing a spike in loneliness among the young as well as the old.

While some argue there is no new crisis of loneliness, Murthy says a few things are contributing to raised awareness of the problem. More people are talking about it, creating a snowball effect, while research is showing its ill effects on health and well-being. "It's not new--people have been lonely for hundreds of years," he says. "But I think the fact that it is an almost universal experience makes it easier for people to be open to thinking about it, even if they don't want to talk about it."

The program is not without challenges. Many lonely people may too intimidated to come to a venue; some who come won't return. But designating a space for gathering and having activities to bring people together is an effective way to tackle loneliness, says Claire O'Shea, a campaign manager for the UK's Campaign to end Loneliness. "You can't just bring a roomful people together, you have to find a common purpose," she says. "It takes the pressure off finding something to say, and that's talking about the moment, or the activity." She cites Men's Sheds, an organization that promotes community spaces for men to "connect, converse and create." They gather in areas--empty offices, portable cabin's, warehouses, garages, and in one case, an out-of-use mortuary--to do things like woodworking, metalworking, and repairing and restoring things. They're also there to be together.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'It was bound to happen': Notre-Dame cathedral was beloved but long neglected (The Local, 16 April 2019)

[T]he reality is that Notre-Dame had been neglected for too long and one French heritage expert believed the disaster was on the cards.

"What happened was bound to happen," said Jean-Michel Leniaud, president of the scientific council at the national Heritage Institute. "The lack of real upkeep and daily attention to such a major building is the cause of this catastrophe.

"This is not about looking for people to blame. The responsibility is collective because this is the most loved monument in the country," said Leniaud

Middle Ages specialist Claude Gauvard, also the author of a book on the Gothic masterpiece that dates from the mid-12th century, told AFP there was no overstating the site's cultural resonance.

But she added it had not always been treated with due reverence.

Gauvard also is of the opinion that not enough has been spent on maintenance. 

"The ongoing works finally got started -- and it was high time, and perhaps even a little late.

"I went up to the foot of the spire (before the renovations began) and some of the brickwork was disjointed, held in place by a grate to prevent it falling..." she said.

Centuries of time as well as acid rain and pollution and taken their toll on the cathedral's exterior.

In 2017 The Local reported how Gargoyles that had lost their heads were fixed up with unsightly plastic tubes for water drainage. Elsewhere, an entire stone balustrade was missing, replaced by plywood; a pinnacle has crumbled and a stained-glass window's frame was in a sorry state of repair.

Decorative details that had fallen away from flying buttresses were set aside for safekeeping.

The central lead-clad wooden spire, which had risen 93 metres (300 feet) above the cathedral roof and weighed 250 tonnes, was also in need of costly restoration. It now needs to be rebuilt completely after dramatically collapsing during the fire.

The lead, meant to protect the spire from the elements, had been wearing thin.

Paris sounded the alarm about the need to restore Notre-Dame several years ago, seeking donations notably from US patrons to help pay for the work, pledging to match up to four million euros donated to a heritage fund.

Through the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris group, Paris's Roman Catholic diocese is reaching out to Americans "who have a culture of giving and are very attached to this monument", Andre Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, said in 2017.

April 15, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Pelosi: Progressive Dem wing represented by Ocasio-Cortez is 'like five people' (ZACK BUDRYK, 04/14/19, The Hill)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CBS's "60 Minutes" that the left flank of the House Democratic caucus represented by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is "like five people" in a Sunday interview.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Stephen Moore once slammed Trump's 'dangerous' immigration position (Andrew Kaczynski, April 15, 2019, CNN)

President Donald Trump's pick to serve on the Federal Reserve Stephen Moore once criticized Trump's positions on immigration, describing them as "extreme nativist" and calling them "crazy" and "dangerous."

Moore made the comments in an August 2015 radio interview with Larry Kudlow, who now serves as the President's top economic adviser. In that interview, Kudlow compared Trump's immigration plans to the worst parts of World War II -- in an apparent reference to the Holocaust -- and said Trump's only real supporters came from "the nativist fringe."

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Israeli Researchers Print 3D Heart Using Patient's Own Cells (Michael Arnold, April 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

Israeli researchers have printed a 3D heart using a patient's own cells, something they say could be used to patch diseased hearts -- and possibly, full transplants.

To get some sense of the scale of deflation, consider what a 3-D printed heart transplant would have cost in 1950.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 2:19 PM


Repost from 2017:

Jackie Robinson Day


Major League Baseball's Opening Day now falls about 2 weeks earlier than it did in the days of the 154-game schedule and when a "western swing" meant a trip to St. Louis and Chicago. For me it means that baseball now has 2 Opening Days - one on the first day of the regular season and a second on April 15, the anniversary of Jackie Robinson's 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Jackie Robinson Day is wonderfully commemorated each year throughout MLB by having every player and umpire wear Jackie's number 42. What's the tie-in with this column? Robinson's skill and daring as a ballplayer are celebrated in Buddy Johnson's 1949 novelty "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" Here are two versions, the first by Count Basie and his Orchestra, with the vocal by the great blues shouter, Jimmy Rushing. The second features Natalie Cole with a big band led by John Clayton.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Structural Realism Has No Clothes (PAUL D. MILLER, 4/15/19, Law & Liberty)

[M]ost of this book is not a work of international relations scholarship; it is a straightforward engagement with classical issues of political theory, focusing on the relationship between liberalism, realism, and nationalism. Mearsheimer here lays his cards on the table with admirable clarity. He is a realist and a nationalist. He enjoys liberalism at home but thinks it is ruinous when used as a guide to foreign policy. The short version is that "Nationalism is more in sync with human nature than liberalism" because nationalism "satisfies individuals' emotional need to be part of a large group with a rich tradition and a bright future."

That nations exist and command primary allegiance over human lives is important for Mearsheimer's overall argument. He is a realist because he believes we cannot arrive at a common understanding of the good life across cultural and national lines; we therefore band together in tribes or nations that serve as survival vehicles; and these national units compete with one another for power, wealth, and survival in an anarchic world. The nation "fundamentally shapes [people's] identities and behavior," he argues, elsewhere going so far as to claim that nations "help shape their essences and command their loyalties," and that "nationalism is much like a religion."

Despite the importance of the concept of the "nation," Mearsheimer spends strikingly little time interrogating it. Mearsheimer seems to think that the existence of mutually distinct and internally coherent nations is too obvious to need defense or empirical demonstration. "The human population is divided into many different nations composed of people with a strong sense of group loyalty," he says, and now that nations have acquired states, "The world is now entirely populated with sovereign nation-states."

That is an extraordinary claim because of how much evidence there is against it. Excluding micro-sovereignties, there are almost no nation-states in the world today. Virtually every state in the world today is a pluralistic, multiethnic, multilingual polity in which questions of who or what defines membership generate intense debates. Perhaps only Japan and a few smaller European countries have the strong sense of oneness and a cultural consensus that Mearsheimer says defines nations (and Europe is in the midst of a fractious debate about immigration and national identity). Nationalism--the correspondence between nations and states--has always been more aspiration than reality, in part because of the ambiguity surrounding what exactly a "nation" is.

Nationalism is better understood as internal imperialism, the rule by a majority group over minority groups under the ruling group's language, culture, or religion. As a nation's definition gains specificity--as it settles on a particular language, culture, or religion--it necessarily excludes those who do not share the nation's identity. That is why everywhere a full-bodied nationalism has actually been tried, it has rarely resulted in states that are at peace with themselves and their neighbors. Historically, nationalism has an unsettling tendency to attract racist, xenophobic, and sectarian fellow-travelers. The age of nationalism is the age of civil wars, insurgencies, terrorism, and "national" liberation movements, to say nothing of inter-national competition and war.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


U.S. Farmers Fear China Deal Will Leave Them Worse Off Than Before Trade War (Mike Dorning, April 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

Some U.S. farm groups fear that President Donald Trump's terms for easing his trade war with China risk leaving large swaths of American agriculture worse off than before the conflict began.

Many producers are alarmed by signs that the administration would accept Chinese purchase target pledges for commodities like soybeans and pork without a promise to lift retaliatory tariffs, said industry representatives, some of whom spoke only on condition of anonymity to avoid consequences for publicly criticizing the administration.

"This is of great concern to producers out here facing another year of tariffs," said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents cherry, pear and apple growers in the Pacific Northwest. "We're disappointed. Clearly the priority lies elsewhere."

Farmers are unnerved by Trump's enthusiasm for tariffs and his tendency to pick industry winners and losers...

...now they're getting it...with the bark on.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump striking out on coal and nuclear energy (Amy Harder, 4/15/19, Axios)

President Trump is coming up empty handed on his promises to bolster America's ailing coal and nuclear power industries. [...]

Nuclear power and coal don't share many attributes in common other than they're both economically struggling for similar reasons: competition from cheap natural gas and, to a lesser extent, renewables.

On top of inaction, trade policies under consideration could make matters even worse for the nuclear industry -- like new restrictions on uranium they use for fuel.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Sink the Jones Act: It's not helping anyone. (DAN GRANFIELD  APRIL 15, 2019, The Bulwark)

Banning foreign ships from delivering supplies from the American mainland to other American territories obstructs our disaster relief operations because an old and depleted fleet of Jones Act-eligible ships has to perform the entire lift. This causes delays and price increases during natural disaster recovery.During disasters, Congress and the president frequently waive the Jones Act in order to deliver aid. (During Hurricane Maria, President Trump waived the law to speed up support for Puerto Rico.) But these short-term waivers expire long before the relief and rebuilding processes are complete.

And it's not just disaster relief that's hampered by the Jones Act. It costs 3 to 5 times more to ship oil from the Gulf Coast to New England than it does to ship the same oil to Europe. Because of the Jones Act. This year the state of Massachusettsasserted that "no Jones-Act qualified carriers" were available to ship gas to the Northeast. Governors from all six New England states--three Republicans and three Democrats--came together torequest a Jones Act waiver.

Natural gas and oil shortages in the Northeast create price increases. And to alleviate these, New England states sometimes seek oil and gas from other sources. They often import oil from foreign countries like Trinidad and Tobago and even sometimes Russia.

And it's not like the Jones Act is still protecting America's shipbuilding industry. Since World War II, we've lost about two-thirds of our eligible shipyards and almost 95 percent of qualified ships. Jones Act-compliant ships are eight times more expensive than their foreign competitors. When the numbers are that big, no government is going to be able to make up the difference. In the end, the market simply moves elsewhere.

In March, Mike Lee introduced the"Open America's Water Act of 2019," which would repeal the Jones Act. It would allow all qualified vessels, both foreign and domestic, to trade between U.S. ports. so long as they cooperate with the security measures already in place.

There's no reason this shouldn't be a bipartisan issue. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Exclusive: U.S. waters down demand China ax subsidies in push for trade deal - sources (Alexandra Alper, Chris Prentice, Michael Martina, 4/15/19, Reuters) 

U.S. negotiators have tempered demands that China curb industrial subsidies as a condition for a trade deal after strong resistance from Beijing, according to two sources briefed on discussions, marking a retreat on a core U.S. objective for the trade talks.

April 14, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Trump peace package for Middle East likely to stop short of Palestinian statehood (Anne Gearan and Souad Mekhennet April 14, 2019, wASHINGTON pOST)

President Trump's proposal for a "deal of the century" to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict promises practical improvements in the lives of Palestinians but is likely to stop short of ensuring a separate, fully sovereign Palestinian state, according to people familiar with the main elements of the effort. [...]

"He seemed to have been surprised when he learned that the majority of people in the room were critical of his plan and told him that King Salman emphasized the rights of the Palestinians," the person said.

When the Salafi is more interested in self-determination than you are it's best to give up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


Health-care law more popular despite Trump's repeated attempts to destroy it (Paige Winfield Cunningham April 13, 2019, Washington Post)

[T]rump and Republicans face a major problem: The 2010 law known as Obamacare has become more popular and enmeshed in the country's health-care system over time. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid -- including more than a dozen run by Republicans -- and 25 million more Americans are insured, with millions more enjoying coverage that is more comprehensive because of the law.

Even Republicans who furiously fought the creation of the law and won elections with the mantra of repeal and replace speak favorably of President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement.

"Quite obviously, more people have health insurance than would otherwise have it, so you got to look at it as positive," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a recent interview.

Ten years ago, Grassley was at the forefront of GOP opposition to the law, ominously pushing the debunked claim that it would allow the government to "pull the plug on grandma" by creating "death panels."

Today, Grassley is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the panel that would be responsible for drafting a new health-care law, and he has shown little enthusiasm for Trump's call for congressional Republicans to produce a replacement for the ACA.

Republicans from states that embraced the law's Medicaid expansion also concede that it has benefited large portions of the low-income population, many of whom were previously uninsured.

Posted by orrinj at 10:45 AM

60-40 NATION:

Politics and the Practice of Warm-Heartedness: A review of Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks (Matthew Lesh, 4/14/19, Quillette)

Brooks blames America's bitter politics on the "outrage industrial complex": the media, politicians and commentators who entice voters, attract television viewers, and sell books and event tickets premised on hatred of the other side. These individuals take advantage of "motive attribution asymmetry": the belief that you are motivated by love and your opponent is motivated by hate. This moral righteousness makes for aggressive conflict. Shockingly, research suggests that Democrats and Republicans in America display similar levels of motive attribution asymmetry to Israelis and Palestinians. In Britain, the conflict between Remainers and Brexiters appears to be reaching similar levels of fury.

The tendency to believe in the righteousness of your own side links closely with New York University professor Jonathan Haidt's "moral foundations theory," which identifies how political views are motivated by divergent moral appetites. Haidt found that progressives exclusively prioritize care and fairness, and while conservatives consider these first two moral foundations important, they also value loyalty, authority and sanctity. So it's not that conservatives don't care about refugees, they just place greater importance on protecting the nation from perceived danger. Meanwhile, it's not that progressives want to steal your money and spend it on useless government, it's that they genuinely care about the poor and believe more government is the solution. In sum, both sides believe they have their views for the morally correct reasons--but those on the Right are marginally better at understanding their opponents because they attach some value to care and fairness, whereas those on the Left often struggle to see the point of loyalty, authority and sanctity altogether.

This sense of righteousness and the associated conflict grows when we only interact with, and therefore only understand, people similar to ourselves. Brooks points to the growing tendency to cocoon ourselves in like-minded social groups and the herding effects of Facebook and Twitter. The lack of exposure to different viewpoints--other than when they are presented in the most negative light--allows us to dehumanise the other side.

Brooks does not just bemoan the state of political debate in America, he explains how to reduce tensions and improve the quality of public debate. The solution, he says, is to remember that your political opponent is not evil and that you and she have quite a lot in common--we are certainly more similar than we are different. 

It's also worth remembering that even the most supposedly divisive issues in our politics--immigration; abortion; universal health; gun control--are 60-40 to 80-20. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


The Division of Labor Is the Meaning of Life (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, April 14, 2019, National Review)

I  would like you to entertain, for a moment, an idea that might sound a little eccentric, or maybe as plain and obvious as a thing can be. It is this:

The division of labor is the meaning of life.

I do not mean this metaphorically or analogically, but literally. [...]

The division of labor among human beings is not a purely economic phenomenon--it is also a social and emotional one. The human need for other human beings is so deep as to be fundamental. This should, properly understood, complicate our understanding of individualism and our rhetoric about it.

In 21st-century human society, the mode of social life is so closely identified with the particularities of the division of labor that the two are practically identical. Even many of the so-called social issues are ultimately questions of the division of labor, for instance within marriage and family life, where changing attitudes toward sex (gender is a grammatical term) in relation to marriage, child-rearing, homosexuality, and other questions challenge ancient divisions of labor between men and women.

Which is to say, changes in the division of labor are by necessity changes in the mode of social life; radical, far-reaching, and sudden changes in the division of labor are, in the favorite term of Silicon Valley, "disruptive." [...]

What we call "globalization" is a sudden radical expansion in the worldwide division of labor--a miracle of human cooperation that, as such miracles so often are, goes mostly unappreciated and unloved, and often hated. Our globalization is hated for the same reason that Renaissance globalization was hated: It disrupts existing status arrangements and introduces new elements of insecurity and anxiety into communities whose members had believed their situations to be fixed, if not ordained--and who believe that they have a natural right to the fixity of those situations, and that the duty of the state is to secure them. Our Silicon Valley billionaires are denounced as "rootless cosmopolitans" (the phrase itself derives from the anti-Semitic socialist purges of the 1940s and 1950s) and are resented for their transnational lives and transnational interests, as well as for their preference for self-regulation and their slipperiness in the face of merely national mandates. Like the merchant princes of Florence, they lead lives that seem impossibly indulgent and patronize cultural and political forces that perplex, irritate, and offend the partisans of peasant conservatism.

At the other end of the economic spectrum, special vitriol is reserved for a new kind of division of labor: the casual "gig" work associated with firms such as Uber. This opportunistic work provides important income to many people who could not otherwise get it as conveniently, and it performs the important function of allowing people of more modest means to convert their property into capital. But this comes with none of the old assurances: health insurance, pensions, the gold watch at the end of a long tenure of service, etc. It is easy to be sentimental about those old assurances, and to forget that almost nobody in 2019 really wants a 1950 standard of living (you can have it--cheap!), but we should keep in mind that the economy has evolved the way it has because people have made certain choices that comport with their preferences in the face of the unalterable reality that is scarcity.

That makes some of us uneasy, if not enraged.

And just as the alienated Europeans of the Renaissance turned to new sources of identity and meaning, so do we, in everything from the slightly comical turn to neo-Paganism in the quest for a unified "European" identity (which is not entirely distinct from the white-nationalist tendency, even if not quite subsumed by it) to more serious forms of political and cultural radicalism. Of course the feudal way of life was not as ancient as its practitioners imagined, and if God had a stronger preference for it, He has not made Himself heard on the issue. But neither was the immediate postwar economic and social order of the United States divinely ordained, or even normal, being, as it was, based on extraordinary economic and political conditions related to the destruction of Europe and its productive capital by the war.

By any meaningful standard of measurement, these are, materially speaking, the best years the human race has ever experienced--and the best years the American people have ever experienced, too. Health, wealth, safety, freedom, opportunity--never better. When Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States of America and hence the most powerful man in the world, his son died because of a blister on his toe acquired during a game of tennis. It's a different and better world.

The division of labor giveth, but it also taketh away. The pains we are feeling in the developed world are growing pains, but they are painful nonetheless. We may like the fruits of disruption--forget that "may," we like and love the fruits of disruption--but the process itself is uncomfortable and bewildering, and it imposes real losses on some people, too, mainly those who are not well-positioned to adapt themselves to a new mode of work and hence a new mode of life.

Globalization is building a bigger beehive. It is recruiting new cells into the organism, with new and very fine modes of specialization. In that sense, it is growth, literally: smaller political economies growing into a larger one.

There is no alternative to the division of labor, because there is no alternative to life.

Except the obvious one.

The history of the economic division of labor is a tale of declining labor and increasing wealth.  At first blush, this would seem an unalloyed good.  As we progressively overcome the curse of Cain, how can we not be enjoying the mindless labor-free Eden we're achieving? Well, the truth is we didn't enjoy it when it was given to us in the first place, thus, The Fall. So it can come as no surprise that we are restless now.

We proved ourselves great at producing better and cheaper widgets, altering the reality of scarcity of which Mr. Williamson speaks.  Through a better redistribution of that wealth we can alleviate the real material losses of the some people and smooth out the merely financial disruption.  But what then? 

Happily, we have a great advantage over the first men, we have a culture, societies, communities, and institutions into which we can direct our social and emotional labor. Indeed, this labor can/must replace the economic labor that we are decreasingly called to provide.  Society must value it and we must engage in it. The hard part is that we must do so in the terrifying face of a world without scarcity to drive us. We must self-motivate to be good, which all of human history and the Bible tells us is not our strong suit.

As Francis Fukuyama warned, the End of History is no guarantee of human happiness.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


The Gospel According to Game of Thrones (JENNIFER C. BRACERAS, April 14, 2019, National Review)

Jon's Christ allegory and Jamie's redemption story are the most obvious Catholic themes in Game of Thrones, but there are many others. The phrase Valar morghulis, for example, is a Braavosi greeting frequently used on the show. In the "Common Tongue," it means "All men must die." Valar dohaeris, the customary response, means "All men must serve."

These phrases call to mind the Catholic practice of memento mori, Latin for "remember your death." As part of this practice, which dates from medieval times, some Catholics keep small clay skulls or other symbols of death as a reminder of life's fleeting nature. The intent is not to be morbid but rather to inspire reflection and acceptance. As Saint Ambrose noted, death is "due to us all." It is life's only certainty and part of our common humanity. Memento mori teaches us to treat each day not only as a gift from God but as an opportunity to serve others in the hope of achieving salvation.

So, what does the trailer for Season 8 of Game of Thrones tell us about death? Arya Stark says that death has "many faces" and that she looks "forward to seeing this one." And while fans have long wondered who will survive the long night and rule Westeros, perhaps the answer was there all along: Valar morghulis. All men must die.

Something to think about during Holy Week -- because Easter is coming.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Donald Trump's Idea to Ship Illegal Immigrants to Sanctuary Cities Is Ridiculous and Wrong (DAVID FRENCH, April 12, 2019, National Review)

First, to the extent that the order applies to immigrants seeking asylum, we have to remember that they're exercising a legal right. The relevant statute is broad and clear:

Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including analien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

The idea that we will then punish people who are exercising legal rights granted by our own government by shipping them to domestic locations chosen for purely partisan and punitive purposes is plainly wrong. Depending on the circumstances, it can even be cruel.

If a person who lacks resources has a place to stay with, say, an aunt in Waco, is it right or reasonable to ship them to Silicon Valley?

Moreover, if the actual goal is to deport an illegal immigrant rather than use him or her to punish your enemies, then why send them to sanctuary cities that make deportation more difficult? And if Trump truly believes his hyperbole about illegal immigrant crime, how can we interpret his tweet as anything other than floating an intentional effort to sow chaos in specific American cities?

From a purely political standpoint, how does this not backfire? It's remarkable the extent to which he seems to think that if he's just mean enough, his foes will fold. San Francisco will not cry "uncle" if Trump starts bussing migrants to the city. Instead, I can predict what will happen. Compassion will become an act of resistance, and the city (and broader Bay Area community) with perhaps the most formidable private philanthropic resources in the world would certainly rally to publicly support the men and women involuntarily removed to their town.

Imagine the media circus when the first bus arrives, and it's greeted by a constellation of activists, church leaders, and regular citizens.

Just use Donald to get them to safety and Americans willl figure out the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Iraq unearths mass grave of Kurds killed by Saddam  (Reuters, 4/14/19)

The grave, found in the desert about 170 km (106 miles) west of the city of Samawa, contained the remains of dozens of Kurds made to "disappear" by Saddam's forces, Salih's office said.

They were among up to 180,000 people who may have been killed during Saddam's "Anfal" campaign that targeted Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s when chemical gas was used, villages were razed and thousands of Kurds were forced into camps.

"He killed them because they did not accept the continuation of this regime, because they wanted to live a free and dignified life," Salih, a Kurd, told a news conference at the grave site.

April 13, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 PM


Trump sanctuary city idea could help migrants stay in US (ASTRID GALVAN and MORGAN LEE, 4/13/19, AP)

An idea floated by President Donald Trump to send immigrants from the border to "sanctuary cities" to exact revenge on Democratic foes could end up doing the migrants a favor by placing them in locations that make it easier to put down roots and stay in the country.

The plan would put thousands of immigrants in cities that are not only welcoming to them, but also more likely to rebuff federal officials carrying out deportation orders. Many of these locations have more resources to help immigrants make their legal cases to stay in the United States than smaller cities, with some of the nation's biggest immigration advocacy groups based in places like San Francisco, New York City and Chicago. The downside for the immigrants would be a high cost of living in the cities.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University announced this week that an analysis found that immigrants in sanctuary cities such as New York and Los Angeles are 20% less likely to be arrested out in the community than in cities without such policies.

Bring them all.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


Algeria in revolt: "We woke up and you will pay!": The abdication of President Bouteflika is a historic victory for the Algerian people -- but the struggle for a true democratic transition is far from over. (Hamza Hamouchene, 12 April 2019, Open Democracy)

Nine years ago, Algeria seemed to be immune to this revolutionary fever and was viewed as the exception to the rule, despite harboring the same set of conditions for revolt. At the time, the government suggested that Algeria already had its "spring" over two decades earlier, referring to the short-lived democratic transition following weeks of demonstrations in October 1988 that forced the regime to give way to political pluralism and an independent press. However, these gains in civil liberties and the "democratic transition" were aborted by the military coup and the civil war of the 1990s.

In addition to ongoing forms of repression, collective memories of hundreds of thousands of deaths and brutal state violence underpinning the eradication of the Islamist opposition may help explain the failure of an uprising to take root in Algeria during the 2010-2011 period. The spectre of the civil war and the fear of bloody violence have been further exacerbated by the intervention in Libya, the counter-revolution in Egypt and the carnage and foreign interference in Syria.

Additionally, oil and gas revenues -- which prices peaked in the late 2000s -- were used to purchase social peace domestically and to secure international acquiescence. Domestically, the hydrocarbon bonanza was used to pacify the population and prevent the intensification of popular anger. Externally, by virtue of being the third largest provider of natural gas to Europe after Russia and Norway, and given the dwindling production in the North Sea and the Ukrainian crisis, Algeria hoped it could leverage this position to play an even more important role in securing Europe's energy supplies, and by extension Western collusion and approval.

These factors do no longer constitute a brake on people's desire for meaningful change as popular discontent from below converged with a deep crisis within the ruling classes leading to the indignation of the oppressed to burst forth and find its expression in the streets.

Algeria has been undergoing an acute multi-dimensional crisis for some time now. The country has been experiencing a political crisis for decades -- in particular since the 1992 military coup and the ensuing brutal civil war. The origins of this crisis date back to the colonial era, though its most recent manifestations are the direct result of the politics of a parasitic accumulation and entrenched corruption: a militaro-oligarchic nexus that denies the Algerian people their right to self-determination and dispenses with popular legitimacy for the benefit of domestic and international capital.

This crisis has been exacerbated by several factors, not in the least by the ailing Bouteflika's general absence from the political stage. The crisis has been compounded by intra-elite power struggles, culminating in the fall of Algeria's long-term king maker, the Military Intelligence Agency (DRS) Chief in 2015 and the cocaine scandal of 2018, which led to the sacking of the head of police, a few generals and other high functionaries in the Ministry of Defense.

In a context of the failure of the institutionalized opposition and social movements to articulate and carry out a viable alternative, we predicted in 2016 that the slump in oil prices may just hammer the final nail in the coffin of a rentier, non-productive and de-industrialized economy that is highly dependent on oil and gas exports, the main source of foreign currency.....With the oil prices plummeting and with foreign currency reserves (estimated at $179 billion at the end of 2014) deemed to not last beyond 2016-2017, the 1988 experience could easily be replicated and the crisis has the potential to escalate into a full explosion that will threaten the country's national security and possibly its territorial integrity.

The recent events come at a time of an acute economic crisis characterized by crippling austerity measures following the decline of oil and gas export revenues, coupled with an intensification of infighting and divisions within the ruling elites after the imposition of the candidacy of Bouteflika for a fifth term at the helm of the state.

The triad of power consisting of the presidency, military intelligence (DRS) and the armed forces' high command showed its first signs of weakness in 2008 when the DRS started clashing with the two other centers of power. In 2019 the split was complete, when the decisive entrance of the people unto the political stage effectively forced the armed forces' high command to distance itself from the presidency. The military clearly intervened to put an end to Bouteflika's reign in order to safeguard the regime in place.

Such public displays of rivalry and dispute are symptomatic of the deep-seated contradictions and instability of the current ruling block and the crisis of hegemony within it, which has opened up new spaces for resistance.

This is a significant moment in the popular dynamic that started in February 2019 as this is only one victory in the long struggle for radical change that must include the overthrow of Major General Gaid Salah too; a key loyal figure in Bouteflika's regime and a supporter of his fifth term before backtracking under the pressure of the growing popular movement. The army leadership is definitely not to be trusted, as was made clear by Major General Salah's initial threats towards movement before adopting a more conciliatory tone. The Algerian people need to be more vigilant and determined than ever in order to halt the counter-revolutionary forces from hijacking this historic uprising.

Now that Bouteflika resigned, it is absolutely necessary to implement a truly democratic transition, and the people should not yield to calls for applying article 102 of the constitution, which would allow the leader of the upper house to take over and to organize elections in 90 days after the presidency has been declared vacant by the constitutional council (as the incumbent is too ill to exercise his functions).

Basically, if applied to the letter, this will keep the current system in place and will not guarantee free and transparent elections. The people are asking for popular sovereignty which cannot be curtailed by rigid legalistic and constitutionalist arguments. This is a unique moment in Algeria's history to impose a new revolutionary paradigm, which go beyond legal and constitutional frameworks in order to radically challenge the status quo and create a fundamental break with the oppressive system in place.

There are already several proposals to resolve the crisis and to initiate a kind of a transition that will satisfy peoples' demands and give them back their stifled sovereignty. The army command must not interfere with this process and must stick to its constitutional role of guaranteeing national security. Algerians did not revolt to replace some oppressors with others.

For this reason, the balance of forces must be shifted significantly towards the masses by maintaining the resistance (marches, occupations of public spaces, general strikes, etc) to force the army command to yield to people's demand for system change entailing the removal of the entire old political guard.

Converting the most brutal dictatorship in the region into a multi-confessional democracy demonstrated that no regime is immune.

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


Trump Contradicts White House Over Sending Migrants to Sanctuary Cities (Davis Richardson, 04/12/19, NY Observer)

"Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities," tweeted the president on Friday. 

No one has ever accused him of having a functioning brain cell, but it's cute how he thinks people who brave the gangs of the four Mexicos won't cross from VT to NH.

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


What is next for Turkey after the local elections? (Fahrettin Altun, 4/13/19, Al Jazeera)

The People's Alliance - between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - received over 53 percent of the national vote and maintained its popularity. Meanwhile, opposition candidates made some gains, notably in the capital Ankara. The mayorship in Istanbul is still contested and the Supreme Electoral Council, an independent legal body, is handling challenges as per Turkish law in a transparent fashion.

After Turkey wrapped up the municipal vote, for the first time in many years, it is entering a long election-free period that will last until 2023. In these four-and-a-half years, the Turkish presidency will focus on three main issues: the economy, the crisis in Syria and its defence capabilities.

On the home front, getting the Turkish economy back on track will be the administration's top priority. In recent months, Turkey experienced an unprecedented and potentially devastating economic assault that it managed to survive.

The lesson learned from that episode was that the Turkish government needed to take necessary steps to make the nation's economy more resilient to external shocks. By 2023, Turkey hopes to have strengthened its economy through export-driven growth, investment in technology and job creation.

Last week, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak unveiled the administration's plan for structural transformation, which places emphasis on strengthening Turkey's free market economy, implementing tax reforms and promoting a more just distribution of wealth.

Reiterating the country's commitment to fiscal discipline, Albayrak pledged to deliver debt securities worth $4.92bn to capitalise state banks and help private banks to raise their capital levels to address short-term issues. In the long run, the administration plans to introduce a new individual pension system based on income level. The Turkish government will unveil a plan to combat inflation on food prices next month.

Once you secure a revolution you have to deliver on its promises.

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 AM


Ilhan Omar Falls Victim to the Outrage Exhibitionists (Conor Friedersdorf, 4/13/19,  The Atlantic)

When the ideological left engages in what is variously denigrated as "political correctness," virtue-signaling, performative wokeness, or "social-justice warrior" cry-bullying, many on the right find it easy to spot the flaws in those modes of discourse. But that discernment vanishes when the populist right indulges in the same vices (even as progressives become unusually attuned to their downsides).

Last month, Representative Ilhan Omar attended a banquet hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, where she delivered remarks for roughly 20 minutes.

A major theme was prejudice against Muslims. "Here's the truth," she said. "For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen. Frankly, I'm tired of it. And every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties."

Omar's meaning was clear: Many Muslims felt collectively blamed for something that was indisputably perpetrated by a tiny fraction of their coreligionists and marshaled new resources to protect their civil rights in response.

it's just a choice of PCs between the wings.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


REVIEW: SOMNOX: This fuzzy robot promises to help its bedtime companions fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, and wake up more refreshed--all by simply cuddling.  (ARIELLE PARDES, 4/13/19, Wired)

LET'S GET THIS out of the way: I am sleeping with a robot. (No, not like that, you sicko.) I hold it in my arms each night and feel its chest rise and fall against mine. Without arms to hold me back, it is forever my little spoon. Without a voice to bid me sweet dreams, it simply sits there, purring against me.

The robot with which I sleep is called the Somnox. The $600 device promises to help its bedtime companions fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, and wake up more refreshed--all by simply cuddling. It is shaped like an oversized butternut squash and covered in baby-soft fabric; contained within is a motorized breathing mechanism, which expands and contracts like a lung in miniature. Hold it against you and, without much effort, your breathing begins to synchronize with it. This slows down your heart, which makes you feel relaxed, which guides you gently and swiftly toward sleep.

The Somnox was created by four engineering students in the Netherlands who, in their course of study, were left "personally exposed to the effects of sleep deprivation.". They put the Somnox on Kickstarter in 2017, offering better sleep in exchange for €100,000 (about $113,000) in crowdfunding. The internet, desperate to wake up feeling more rested, doubled their goal within a month.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Iraqis leading efforts to enrich Arabic Wikipedia (Gilgamesh Nabeel, April 13, 2019, Al Monitor)

Leading enlightenment efforts is not something new to Iraqis, who are the inhabitants of Mesopotamia -- once the cradle of civilization. In ninth-century Baghdad, Abbasid ruler Harun al-Rashid established Bayt al-Hikmah -- the Arabic name for the House of Wisdom -- to house the monumental activity of the translation of Greek and Persian works into Arabic. This institution flourished in the reign of his son al-Ma'mun, making Baghdad the world's biggest hub of science.

"We chose this name for its historical significance," said Rayyis. He added, "That institution was a beacon of science, tolerance and exchange of cultures. The passion for science brought people of different religions and cultures -- all Jews, Muslims, Christians and others -- into one institution altogether."

Rayyis dreams of recreating that atmosphere. "We want to rekindle our people's golden age and join the global civilization," he said.

For Omar Mohammed, a Paris-based Iraqi scholar and creator and administrator of Mosul Eye, translation is such a valuable magical means. "We need it to build a new future -- a future devoid of dictatorship and ignorance," he said.

This project reminded Mohammed of Farah Antoun, a pioneer Tripoli-born enlightenment figure, writer and translator in the 19th century when he translated works into Arabic. "Hearing of Mutar's translation project made me very happy, for the freedom to access knowledge is a way to achieve eternal freedom," said Mohammed.

Upon meeting Mutar in New York this month, Mohammed suggested some books be translated into Arabic.

"Mutar promised to dedicate the project to Mosul University," he said, adding, "We are trying to make the website accessible in Mosul with more contributions from Mosul University scholars."

Currently, the House of Wisdom 2.0 project has a Facebook community of some 84,000 fans.

"We have added more than 900 articles to the Arabic Wikipedia and translated 12 books," said Mutar. He noted, "We lifted the ranking of the Arabic language to the 17th language in Wikipedia from the 19th."

While Arabic is the fourth most spoken language among internet users, only 6% of online content is available in Arabic.

"With our project, the Arabic Wikipedia is ranked 17th, preceded by the Ukrainian Wikipedia," said Rayyis. He added, "There are more than 400 million Arabic speakers, while Ukrainian is spoken by about 35 million people worldwide. We are proud of translating the full English Wikipedia content on biological evolution into Arabic -- more than 500 essays."

What is special about the House of Wisdom 2.0, according to Rayyis, is that it is a nonprofit project. "We translate hundreds of articles every month, voluntarily upload them to the Arabic Wikipedia and make them available to everyone for free," he said.

While concentrating on topics debunking conspiracy theories, topics banned in some Arab countries and content that makes people question more, Mutar emphasizes that they have no agenda other than spreading knowledge.

"We are not a political or anti-religion organization, but we embrace some of these controversial books and content because we believe Arab youth should be allowed to make up their own minds about how they want to live their lives," he said.

The reactions they get are quite encouraging.

"Within a few months, 80,000 fans followed us on Facebook," said Rayyis. "The majority of them are from Iraq, especially Baghdad, Najaf, Mosul and Basra. We have received hundreds of supportive messages so far," Rayyis added.

"It is a forum for those who adore knowledge and want to be part of an enlightened society," wrote Ismail Berwari, a lawyer from Dahuk in Iraqi Kurdistan, advising people to follow the project's page on Facebook.

April 12, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


U.S. mayors decry Trump sanctuary city threat, 'prepared to welcome' migrants (Reuters, 4/12/19) 

Democratic U.S. mayors said on Friday their cities would welcome illegal immigrants, dismissing President Donald Trump's threats to transport people detained at the border to "sanctuary cities" as illustrating the White House's callous approach to the issue.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Trump told CBP head he'd pardon him if he were sent to jail for violating immigration law (Jake Tapper,  April 12, 2019, CNN)

President Donald Trump told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan he would grant McAleenan a pardon if he were sent to jail for having border agents block asylum seekers from entering the US in defiance of US law, senior administration officials tell CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Head of Sudan's military council steps down, a day after Bashir toppled (Khalid Abdelaziz, 4/12/19, Reuters) 

Sudan's defense minister stepped down abruptly on Friday as head of the country's transitional ruling military council after only a day in the post, as protesters demanded quicker political change following President Omar al-Bashir's ouster by the armed forces.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Do you compute?: We're certainly on to something when we say the brain is a computer - even if we don't yet know what exactly we're on to (Kevin Lande, 4/12/15, aeon)

[T]he claim that the brain is a computer is not just a metaphor. The cognitive sciences are full of hypotheses to the effect that the brain computes such-and-such in so-and-so a way. Many of our perceptual capacities, for example, are understood in computational terms, and there aren't any viable alternatives around. Here are a handful of widely accepted hypotheses about what the brain computes, though I will leave out the details:

Direction of sound from interaural time difference: if a loud crash occurs directly in front of you, its soundwaves will reach your left and right ears at the same time. If it occurs to your left, its soundwaves will reach your left ear slightly before they reach your right ear. When you hear a loud crash as being to your left or your right, your auditory system is computing, according to trigonometric principles, an estimate of that crash's direction on the basis of the difference in times between when the sound waves arrived at your right and your left ears.

Depth from disparity (or stereopsis): most things reflect light to both your eyes. Take one of your fingers and hold it arm's length away from you, and take another finger and hold it halfway between the farther finger and your face. Now fix your gaze on the closer finger. Your farther finger will reflect light to a different part of your left eye (relative to its centre) than it will to your right eye (relative to its centre). To see this, keep fixating on your closer finger. Close one eye and pay attention to the space that's visible between your nearer and farther finger. Now switch the eyes - open one and close the other. You'll notice that the visible space between your fingers is different. If you now bring your farther finger a bit nearer to you and repeat the eye-closing experiment, the effect is less dramatic. When you see one thing as twice as far away as another, part of what is happening is that your visual system computes an estimate of depth by first computing which retinal cells are responding to the same point in the world, and then determining the relative difference ('disparity') in the positions or coordinates of those retinal cells (greater disparities = greater depth).

Contour integration: when looking at the outline shape of an object in a cluttered scene, your visual system initially registers a bunch of tiny, individual segments of lines or contours (imagine lots of dashed lines). The visual system has to determine which line segments go with each other - which segments are parts of a common object's outline, and which belong to different ones. The visual system computes outlines from line segments on the basis of, among other things, how close together those segments are, how similar in orientation they are, and whether they form an approximately straight line.

Surface colour from illumination: the light that reaches your eye from a surface is a product of that surface's colour and the colour of the illumination. So, your white shoes will reflect different types of light depending on whether it is daytime or dusk, or whether you are on the dance floor or in a fluorescent-lit bathroom. Still, you can usually tell that your shoes are white under these different conditions. When you see something as having a certain colour, your visual system is computing an estimate of the object's colour by taking into account the nature of the illumination. The reason some people saw that dress as blue and black, and others saw it as white and gold, is that their visual systems are computing colours from different estimates of what the illumination is like.

Progress in cognitive science regularly consists in saying with mathematical precision exactly what is being computed - what direction should be estimated from some interaural time difference? - and exactly how the computation is performed. Hypotheses concerning these details can be and are tested against experimental observations, both of how people perform on tests (point to the loud noise, please) and of how populations of neurons respond to stimuli. There's pretty stable agreement about what would count as evidence for or against hypotheses of this sort. Nobody has any real idea of how else to understand our abilities to, for example, perceive the locations of sounds or the depths, outlines and colours of objects.

That's a level of clarity and commitment to a premise that is uncharacteristic of metaphorical claims.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Our Political Fights Are Bad Because We Don't Agree on the Rules (JIM GERAGHTY, April 12, 2019, National Review)

One of the reasons our politics is so contentious and angry is that we can't agree on what the rules are. Some of us want to argue that certain policies are good and certain policies are bad. But a vocal chunk of Americans don't really care about what the policies are; they would much rather argue that their side is right. They don't care if these are the same policies or comparable to those they denounced earlier. The system is clogged with bad-faith arguments, hypocrisy, and flip-flopping.

What do most Americans and most American policymakers think of running trillion-a-year deficits? It depends upon whether their party's president is the one running up the debts. When the other guys are in power, it's reckless endangerment of our children's future. When their own guys are in power, it's a necessary step to ensure economic growth.

When someone prominent is accused of a crime, is the bigger concern the rights of the accused and the burden of proof, or the rights of the victim to have her account heard and for the crime to be punished? For many people, it depends upon the partisan status of the person accused. Some people believed the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh instantly and adamantly insisted his confirmation to the Supreme Court was a great injustice; some of those same people take little interest in the women accusing Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax -- and some people reversed their responses in the other direction.

The antiwar movement around Iraq and Afghanistan proved to be an anti-Bush movement; once Obama was in office, the protests grew more sparse and less covered. When one side's leaders take military action, it's protecting Americans in a dangerous world; when the other side's leaders take military action, it's irresponsible warmongering.

For many Americans, when the side they like uses heated rhetoric, it's speaking truth to power. When the side they don't like uses heated rhetoric, it's hate speech and dangerous incitement.

We have so few policy differences at the End of History that all we have left to argue about is which sneeches have star bellies. After all, the deficit doesn't matter; Bret Kavanaugh is indistinguishable from Merrick Garland judicially; and we all agree that Saddam needed to be removed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


How migrants' values change after moving to Sweden (The Local, Apr. 12th, 2019)

A majority of those questioned (57 percent) in the survey, which was carried out on the request of the Swedish government, reported feeling 'very at home' in Sweden. A further 32 percent felt 'quite at home' and only six percent didn't feel at home at all. Almost as many (55 percent) felt at home in the specific municipality they were living in. 

When these responses were broken down by nationality, people from Somalia felt most at home, followed by those in Eritrea and Turkey (only seven countries had enough respondents to be included individually: Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, Iran and Turkey). The majority of respondents came from Middle Eastern and North African countries, while around one fifth were from Sub-Saharan Africa, and others came from South Asia, South East Asia and East Asia, and from Central and Eastern Europe. [...]

Puranen explained that in the World Values Survey and two other major surveys (the European Values Study and the European Social Survey) carried out since 1981, only a tiny proportion of interviewees in Western countries have been Muslims who have moved to those countries (including Western European countries, North America, Australia and New Zealand) from overseas. 

"It's a democratic issue that we should have a better representation of these groups," said Puranen, explaining the motivation for the study, which focused primarily on Muslim migrants.

Around 6,500 non-EU migrants living in 54 municipalities, from Piteå in the north to Vellinge at the southern tip of Sweden, answered questions about their personal values and how they felt in Sweden. The survey included people who had moved to Sweden for a variety of reasons: more than half or 52 percent had arrived as refugees, while 37 percent moved to join a partner in Sweden and eight percent moved for work.

Most of those questioned felt equally proud of Sweden and their home countries, with 72 percent saying they were proud to be Swedish and 77 percent proud to be from their country of origin. [...]

One interesting finding was that respondents were typically closer to Sweden on the cultural map than their home countries, which could be due to people being more likely to move to a country where their values were similar, or could be a marker of integration of these groups.

"The relatively fast switch to some parts of the emancipated values also surprised, like acceptance of equality (but not segregated choices), acceptance of women's work, democracy, (making your voice heard, et cetera)," the researcher said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


U.S. political consultant tied to Russia probe sentenced to 36 months of probation (Reuters, 4/12/19)

 A U.S. judge on Friday sentenced Republican political consultant Samuel Patten to 36 months of probation, 500 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine in a case spun out of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


New Government Data Shows Trump Wanted to Close the Wrong Border (Noah Lanard, 4/12/19, Mother Jones)

Last week, Trump threatened to close officials ports of entry along the Mexican border, citing security concerns. But of the foreigners convicted of crimes in the United States or abroad who were stopped by CBP at ports of entry from October 2016 to February 2019, 43 percent arrived at the northern border, 42 percent at airports or ports, and just 15 percent at the southern border, according to a CBP spokeswoman.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Welcome to the Yeehaw Agenda: The Black Cowboy Trend Behind the Internet's Favorite Song (RACHEL TASHJIAN, April 9, 2019, GQ)

And then, suddenly, a "country-trap" song called "Old Town Road," by a 19-year-old Atlanta rapper who called himself Lil Nas X, was everywhere. Since early December, it had been humming along as a meme on TikTok, but became known to the rest of the world in late March, when, after it charted on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Country Songs, and Hot R&B/Hip Hop charts, it was unceremoniously plucked off the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, with the company telling Rolling Stone that, "While 'Old Town Road' incorporates references to country and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today's country music to chart in its current version." The move ignited a conversation about genre and race, and last week, Billy Ray Cyrus jumped on a remix, adding to Lil Nas X's descriptions of his "Cowboy hat from Gucci / Wrangler on my booty" with lines about "Fendi sports bras" and "ridin' down Rodeo in my Maserati sports car." The song is currently Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Finally, the yeehaw agenda has its anthem.

The yeehaw agenda wasn't the only piece of internet ephemera behind the explosion of Lil Nas X's song, though. In fact, the song is a perfect, algorithmically engineered combination of internet savvy and trends. As New York reported last week, Lil Nas X started as a Tweetdecker, or an anonymous account that creates and rips off viral content from smaller accounts in a kind of "forced, gamed virality." In October of last year, Lil Nas X spent $30 on the beat, created by a producer from the Netherlands, that would become "Old Town Road," and wrote the lyrics with Twitter in mind, he told Rolling Stone. (Truly: a song that mentions both Gucci and Wrangler is basically daring you not to tweet about it.) He was thinking about the cowboy video game Red Dead Redemption 2, he said, although he wasn't necessarily responding to the "yeehaw agenda," which "definitely wasn't at the level it's at now," he told Rolling Stone. By the time he was ready to release it, he had the audience to make it go viral, and, as multiple reporters have pointed out, was smart enough to label the song as country rather than hip-hop, thereby giving himself a less competitive playing field.

But even if Lil Nas X geniusly Svengali'd his single, it was the fervor for cowboy clothing that propelled "Old Town Road" to worldwide popularity. On TikTok--the Chinese social media platform that has everyone above 25 scratching their heads, and every teenager in suburban America coordinating complex dances with large groups of friends after football practice--the song emerged in December as the "yeehaw challenge," a 10-second-long fantasy about total cowboy transformation. By allowing users to view videos based on the soundtrack, and by making relatively complex editing techniques--you know, the quick jumps and cuts that made comedy gold on Vine--easy to use, TikTok is built for memes, making it easier than ever for someone, or something, to go viral. In the yeehaw challenge, a user stands in front of the camera for the song's first few banjo plucks, and--after taking a swig of liquid labeled "yeehaw juice"--is suddenly dressed into head to toe cowboy apparel when the beat drops.

It seems crazy that teens across suburban America have enough cowboy apparel laying around their house for so many of them to make this meme--what kind of 16-year-old has a Stetson and leather boots just sitting in their closet? But whether the song revealed that most bored teens do, indeed, harbor a secret stash of Americana gear, or that they were simply compelled to head to their nearest costume store or Western clothing dealer and cop the goods, the virality of the meme makes it clear that the internet was primed to embrace the style.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Inside the Russian effort to target Sanders supporters -- and help elect Trump (Michael Kranish, April 12, 2019, Washington Post)

 After Bernie Sanders lost his primary campaign for president against Hillary Clinton in 2016, a Twitter account called Red Louisiana News reached out to his supporters to help sway the general election. "Conscious Bernie Sanders supporters already moving towards the best candidate Trump! #Feel the Bern #Vote Trump 2016," the account tweeted.

The tweet was not actually from Louisiana, according to an analysis by Clemson University researchers. Instead, it was one of thousands of accounts identified as based in Russia, part of a cloaked effort to persuade supporters of the Vermont senator to elect Trump. "Bernie Sanders says his message resonates with Republicans," said another Russian tweet. 

While much attention has focused on the question of whether the Trump campaign encouraged or conspired with Russia, the effort to target Sanders supporters has been a lesser-noted part of the story. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, in a case filed last year against 13 Russians accused of interfering in the U.S. presidential campaign, said workers at a St. Petersburg facility called the Internet Research Agency were instructed to write social media posts in opposition to Clinton but "to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump." 

Bernie is Donald. More importantly to Vlad, neither is Hillary, his enemy.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Netanyahu Is King Of Israel Now -- But Not King Of The Jews (Jane Eisner, Apr. 11th, 2019, The Forward)

I've been saying for some time that we need to recalibrate the relationship between Israel and what is known as the Diaspora -- a term I increasingly dislike. The very language of Israel and Diaspora, hub and spoke, center and periphery, homeland and exile no longer speaks to the lived reality of the majority of Jews who reside outside Zion, and likely always will.

The consolidation of politically right wing, religiously conservative power in Israel accelerates the process. It is not my place to tell Israelis how to vote; nor is it their place to shape my political values and behaviors as an American. For many decades, I didn't have to choose, because those values and behaviors were generally compatible. Increasingly now, it seems, they are moving in opposite directions.

Responsibility for this growing divide lies with American Jews as much as with Israeli politicians. In the short term, I don't see how it can be reversed.

Netanyahu's re-election, while not surprising, is revealing. It tells us that many Israeli Jews see the world as he does: so hostile externally that allies can be forged with anyone, regardless of their autocratic and fascist tendencies; so hostile domestically that democratic norms can be disparaged and destroyed; so devoid of Palestinians that their suffering can be ignored.

Even a coalition of centrist former military men in macho black leather jackets couldn't galvanize enough of the voting public to deny Netanyahu another term.

As American Jews, we have to respect that democratic choice -- while decrying the attempts to suppress Arab voters -- and seek to understand it. But it should not change who we are. [...]

I'm not sure that these American trends would be much different had the Blue and White coalition won enough votes to form the next government, as their policies were roughly similar to Netanyahu's, even if their rhetoric was notably more civil and inclusive.

The prime minister has embodied Israel's rightward lurch, encouraged and enabled it, but like all political trends, it is driven by a combination of sociological and demographic factors along with his leadership. Similarly, the trends among American Jews are propelled by a variety of factors, and some -- including rapid assimilation and intermarriage -- don't necessarily bode well for our sustainability, either.

And yet a distinctively American Jewish vernacular has begun to flourish in the last few years, and while it references Israel, it is not always rooted there. I predict that we will see more money, effort, creativity and intention focused on nourishing the Judaism here, while -- I fervently hope -- maintaining an engagement with Israel that transcends politics.

We are witnessing the establishment of two central "homes" for the Jewish people. Netanyahu firmly rules one. He does not rule the other.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Ilhan Omar targeted with racist insults and conspiracy theories over 9/11 comments (Rex Santus, Apr 11, 2019, Vice News)

The New York Post published a front page Thursday morning that used imagery from the 9/11 attacks to criticize Omar's remarks.

A day earlier, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade pondered if Omar was an American. "You have to wonder if she's American first," Kilmeade said. (Like the New York Post, Fox News is also owned by Rupert Murdoch.)

Even a sitting member of Congress -- Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican -- joined the pile-on by calling Omar's comments "unbelievable."

Additionally, Donald Trump Jr. called Omar a disgrace and retweeted a racist, Islamophobic conspiracy theory that linked the congresswoman to terrorism. Laura Loomer, a far-right media figure who's been banned from Twitter, used Instagram to accuse Omar of treason and asked her fans to "rise up" against the congresswoman.

...that the Islamophobes can't distinguish between Islam and terrorism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Are we living in a simulation? This MIT scientist says it's more likely than not (Dyllan Furness, April 9, 2019, Digital Trends)

Digital Trends: The simulation hypothesis is a complex and controversial topic. What first got you interested in writing a book about it?

Rizwan Virk: I had an experience playing virtual reality ping pong and the responsiveness was very real to the point where I forgot that I was in a room with VR glasses on. When the game ended, I put the paddle on the table but, of course, there was no paddle and there was no table, so the controller fell to the floor. I even leaned over onto the table and almost fell over. That experience really got me thinking about how video game technology is evolving and how it could end up being so fully immersive that we would be unable to distinguish it from reality.

Describe the simulation hypothesis for people who aren't familiar with it.

The basic idea is that everything we see around us, including the Earth and the universe, is part of a very sophisticated MMORPG (a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) and that we are players in this game. The hypothesis itself comes in different forms.

In one version, we're all A.I. within a simulation that's running on somebody else's computer. In another version, we are "player characters," conscious things that exist outside the simulation and we inhabit characters, just like you might take on the character of an elf or dwarf in a fantasy RPG.

So, for example, in The Matrix there's that famous scene where Morpheus gives Neo the choice between the red pill or the blue pill. When he takes the red pill, he wakes up (in a vat) in the real world, where he controlled his (simulation) character. He was jacked in through a physical cable in his neocortex. In that particular version of the simulation hypothesis, we are conscious or biological beings outside of the simulation and each of us controls a character. 

When The Matrix first came out, the simulation hypothesis seemed purely science fictional. Why do you think it's taken more seriously today?

The first reason is that video game technology has advanced and we can now have millions of players on a shared server. Also, 3D-rendering technology has gotten really good. We can actually represent 3D objects in 3D worlds. In the '80s and early '90s, there wasn't enough computing power to render a world like World of Warcraft or Fortnite. It relied on us being able to build optimization techniques that allowed us to render just what the character sees. A third of [my] book is dedicated to video game technology, how it evolved in the past, and what the stages are to get from where we are today to a "simulation point," (where simulation is indistinguishable from reality).

The other big reason why scientists and academics are starting to take it seriously is Oxford professor Nick Bostrom, who wrote an article in 2003 called "Are You Living in a Simulation?" He came up with a clever statistical argument for the simulation hypothesis. He says, suppose some civilization somewhere gets to the simulation point and can create highly realistic "ancestor simulations." With more computing power, they can spin off new servers and new civilizations really quickly. Each of those servers can have billions or trillions of simulated beings within them. Therefore, the number of simulated beings is way more than the number of biological beings. If just one civilization reaches the simulation point, probability says you are likely a simulated being because there are way more simulated beings in existence than biological ones.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


A Charred Gas Can, a Receipt and an Arrest in Fires of 3 Black Churches (Alan Blinder, Richard Fausset and John Eligon, April 11, 2019, NY Times)

OPELOUSAS, La. -- While the victims prayed for the soul of the arsonist who burned down their houses of worship, investigators rushed to assemble clues, worried the assailant would strike again.

The detectives had noticed the same pickup truck in surveillance video footage near each of the three predominantly black churches that had been set ablaze and destroyed. They found the charred remains of a particular brand of gas can sold at a local Walmart.

Then the pieces came together, and the authorities announced the arrest of a 21-year-old white man who is the son of a local sheriff's deputy and an aficionado of a subgenre of heavy metal, called black metal, whose most extreme practitioners in Norway have engaged in church burning, vandalism and killing.

...for these fires to be hate crimes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Letters from Joe Biden reveal how he sought support of segregationists in fight against busing (Jeff Zeleny,  April 11, 2019, CNN)

In a series of never-before-published letters from Biden, which were reviewed by CNN, the strength of his opposition to busing comes into sharper focus, particularly how he followed the lead of -- and sought support from -- some of the Senate's most fervent segregationists.
"My bill strikes at the heart of the injustice of court-ordered busing. It prohibits the federal courts from disrupting our educational system in the name of the constitution where there is no evidence that the governmental officials intended to discriminate," Biden wrote to fellow senators on March 25, 1977. "I believe there is a growing sentiment in the Congress to curb unnecessary busing."

Biden, who at the time was 34 and serving his first term in the Senate, repeatedly asked for -- and received -- the support of Sen. James Eastland, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a leading symbol of Southern resistance to desegregation. Eastland frequently spoke of blacks as "an inferior race."

"Dear Mr. Chairman," Biden wrote on June 30, 1977. "I want you to know that I very much appreciate your help during this week's committee meeting in attempting to bring my anti-busing legislation to a vote."

Two weeks later, Biden followed up with a note to Eastland "to thank you again for your efforts in support of my bill to limit court ordered busing."

Biden, who would go on to lead the Judiciary Committee a decade later, got his start on the panel under Eastland. Few senators were more virulently outspoken against desegregation than the Mississippi senator, who was known for incendiary floor speeches on race.

Yet Biden invited Eastland to speak on the Senate floor in support of his anti-busing bill.
"I want to personally ask your continued support and alert you to our intentions," Biden wrote on Aug. 22, 1978. "Your participation in floor debate would be welcomed."

April 11, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 PM


White House proposed releasing immigrant detainees in sanctuary cities, targeting political foes (Rachael Bade and Nick Miroff April 11, 2019, The Washington Post)

White House officials have tried to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees onto the streets of "sanctuary cities" to retaliate against President Trump's political adversaries, according to Department of Homeland Security officials and email messages reviewed by The Washington Post.

Trump administration officials have proposed transporting detained immigrants to sanctuary cities at least twice in the past six months -- once in November, as a migrant caravan approached the U.S. southern border, and again in February, amid a standoff with Democrats over funding for Trump's border wall.

Let's start going to the three Mexicos to fetch them, which will make their migration safer.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Bashir is out in Sudan, but 'protesters are not satisfied' with military rule (PRI's The World, April 11, 2019)

President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan in autocratic style for 30 years, was overthrown in a military coup on Thursday, but protesters' jubilation was short-lived as they took to the streets demanding military leaders hand over power to civilians.

Bashir, 75, had faced 16 weeks of demonstrations against his rule. Announcing the ouster, Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf said Sudan would enter a two-year period of military rule to be followed by presidential elections.

Ibn Auf announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution. Seated on a gold-upholstered armchair, he said Sudan's airspace would be closed for 24 hours and border crossings shut until further notice.

The main organizer of protests against Bashir, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), rejected the minister's plans. It called on protesters to maintain a sit-in outside the defense ministry that began on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Palestinian Authority wary of Hamas intentions toward US (Adnan Abu Amer April 11, 2019, Al Monitor)

Hamad's statement is, nonetheless, in line with Hamas' updated founding charter issued in May 2017. The charter states, "In its relations with world nations and peoples, Hamas believes in the values of cooperation, justice, freedom and respect of the will of the people." It adds, "Hamas welcomes the stances of states, organizations and institutions that support the rights of the Palestinian people. ... At the same time, it denounces the support granted by any party to the Zionist [Israel]."

The charter makes no mention of the United States. This seems to imply a consensus among members not to object to a meeting with Washington aimed at improving Hamas' international image.

Hasan Youssef, a Hamas leader in the West Bank, reasserted to Palestinian news website al-Modon on March 31 that Hamas doesn't object to meeting any US official, even Trump himself, despite the latter's bias toward Israel. He noted, however, that the aim of such a meeting would be to convey the Palestinian version of the conflict with Israel.

Meanwhile, PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Majdalani, who is close to Abbas, told Al-Monitor, "Hamas' desire to open a dialogue with the US is not surprising. The movement sees itself as an alternative to the Palestinian leadership. Hamad's statements aim to pave the way for the 'deal of the century,' [an as-yet unveiled US peace proposal]. This proves our convictions that Hamas is a party to this deal. Hamas is a pragmatic organization, it has flexible political positions, and does not oppose the rapprochement with Washington."

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Objective reality may not exist, European researchers say (KEVIN DICKINSON, 11 April, 2019, Big Think)

Objective reality cannot be known. It's the kind of statement you expect to hear from a sophomore postmodernist or nihilists after they've torched your car. Not a group of scientists.

Yet that is the result of a recent study published in the preprint journal arXiv. Basing their investigation on a famous thought experiment developed by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Eugene Wigner in 1961, the study's researchers devised a way for observers to measure a photon's state differently, despite each measurement being equally valid.

The primacy of Faith has always been obvious, just hard to accept.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM



Plenty of Jeopardy! champions have rung up six-figure payouts. But until James Holzhauer put up his $110,914 total on Tuesday, no one had done it in a single game. He did with with smarts, sure--but also with a nearly flawless command of Jeopardy! game theory.

The Jeopardy! board is arranged in a grid featuring 30 total clues across six categories. You'll often see players work their way through a single category, from easiest clue to hardest--and least to most valuable--before moving on to another column and repeating the process. That's one way to play, sure, in the same way that a light jog is one way to complete an Olympic steeplechase course.

Holzhauer does not jog. He blitzes the bottom of the board, where the hardest and most valuable clues reside. He staggers from category to category, stalking the invaluable so-called Daily Double clues that let players bet any portion of their winnings to that point. And he goes all in as often as he can.

"My approach isn't complicated: Get some money, hit the Daily Doubles, bet big, and hope I run hot," Holzhauer said in an email to WIRED. And if you think he sounds more like a gambler describing his craft than a gameshow contestant, that's no coincidence: Holzhauer, a Nevada resident, bets on sports for a living.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West's Secrets (Jo Becker, Steven Erlanger and Eric Schmitt, Aug. 31, 2016, NY Times)

United States officials say they believe with a high degree of confidence that the Democratic Party material was hacked by the Russian government, and suspect that the codes may have been stolen by the Russians as well. That raises a question: Has WikiLeaks become a laundering machine for compromising material gathered by Russian spies? And more broadly, what precisely is the relationship between Mr. Assange and Mr. Putin's Kremlin?

Those questions are made all the more pointed by Russia's prominent place in the American presidential election campaign. Mr. Putin, who clashed repeatedly with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state, has publicly praised Mr. Trump, who has returned the compliment, calling for closer ties to Russia and speaking favorably of Mr. Putin's annexation of Crimea.

From the outset of WikiLeaks, Mr. Assange said he was motivated by a desire to use "cryptography to protect human rights," and would focus on authoritarian governments like Russia's.

But a New York Times examination of WikiLeaks' activities during Mr. Assange's years in exile found a different pattern: Whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence, WikiLeaks' document releases, along with many of Mr. Assange's statements, have often benefited Russia, at the expense of the West.

Among United States officials, the emerging consensus is that Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks probably have no direct ties to Russian intelligence services. But they say that, at least in the case of the Democrats' emails, Moscow knew it had a sympathetic outlet in WikiLeaks, where intermediaries could drop pilfered documents in the group's anonymized digital inbox.

In an interview on Wednesday with The Times, Mr. Assange said Mrs. Clinton and the Democrats were "whipping up a neo-McCarthyist hysteria about Russia." There is "no concrete evidence" that what WikiLeaks publishes comes from intelligence agencies, he said, even as he indicated that he would happily accept such material.

WikiLeaks neither targets nor spares any particular nation, he added, but rather works to verify whatever material it is given in service of the public, which "loves it when they get a glimpse into the corrupt machinery that is attempting to rule them."

But given WikiLeaks' limited resources and the hurdles of translation, Mr. Assange said, why focus on Russia, which he described as a "bit player on the world stage," compared with countries like China and the United States? In any event, he said, Kremlin corruption is an old story. "Every man and his dog is criticizing Russia," he said. "It's a bit boring, isn't it?"

Since its inception, WikiLeaks has succeeded spectacularly on some fronts, uncovering indiscriminate killing, hypocrisy and corruption, and helping spark the Arab Spring.

To Gavin MacFadyen, a WikiLeaks supporter who runs the Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of London, the question for Mr. Assange is not where the material comes from, but whether it is true and in the public interest. He noted that intelligence services had a long history of using news organizations to plant stories, and that Western news outlets often published "material that comes from the C.I.A. uncritically."

Recent events, though, have left some transparency advocates wondering if WikiLeaks has lost its way. There is a big difference between publishing materials from a whistle-blower like Chelsea Manning -- the soldier who gave WikiLeaks its war log and diplomatic cable scoops -- and accepting information, even indirectly, from a foreign intelligence service seeking to advance its own powerful interests, said John Wonderlich, the executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group devoted to government transparency.

"They're just aligning themselves with whoever gives them information to get attention or revenge against their enemies," Mr. Wonderlich said. "They're welcoming governments to hack into each other and disrupt each other's democratic processes, all on a pretty weak case for the public interest."

Others see Mr. Assange assuming an increasingly blinkered approach to the world that, coupled with his own secrecy, has left them disillusioned.

"The battle for transparency was supposed to be global; at least Assange claimed that at the beginning," said Andrei A. Soldatov, an investigative journalist who has written extensively about Russia's security services.

"It is strange that this principle is not being applied to Assange himself and his dealings with one particular country, and that is Russia," Mr. Soldatov said. [...]

It was the first of several times that Mr. Putin would take up Mr. Assange's cause. He has called the charges against Mr. Assange "politically motivated" and declared that the WikiLeaks founder is being "persecuted for spreading the information he received from the U.S. military regarding the actions of the U.S.A. in the Middle East, including Iraq."

In January 2011, the Kremlin issued Mr. Assange a visa, and one Russian official suggested that he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Then, in April 2012, with WikiLeaks' funding drying up -- under American pressure, Visa and MasterCard had stopped accepting donations -- Russia Today began broadcasting a show called "The World Tomorrow" with Mr. Assange as the host. [...]

Many of the documents WikiLeaks has published are classified, such as a C.I.A. tutorial on how to maintain cover in foreign airports. But what may be WikiLeaks' most intriguing release of secret documents involved what is, on the surface, a less sensational topic: trade negotiations.

From November 2013 to May 2016, WikiLeaks published documents describing internal deliberations on two trade pacts: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would liberalize trade between the United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries, and the Trade in Services Agreement, an accord between the United States, 21 other countries and the European Union.

Russia, which was excluded, has been the most vocal opponent of the pacts, with Mr. Putin portraying them as an effort to give the United States an unfair leg up in the global economy.

The drafts released by WikiLeaks stirred controversy among environmentalists, advocates of internet freedom and privacy, labor leaders and corporate governance watchdogs, among others. They also stoked populist resentment against free trade that has become an important factor in American and European politics.

The material was released at critical moments, with the apparent aim of thwarting negotiations, American trade officials said.

The overlapping goals of Vlad, Assange and Donald make them natural allies.

Did Trump really mention WikiLeaks over 160 times in the last month of the election cycle? (Gabrielle Healy, April 21st, 2017, PolitiFact)

President Donald Trump reveled in WikiLeaks' disclosures against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the closing argument of his presidential campaign.

His CIA director, Mike Pompeo, revealed a different attitude in a tough April 13 speech which addressed the anonymous hacking website.

The group "walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service," Pompeo said.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., was one of many voices who noticed the administration's hardened view toward WikiLeaks.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviewed Speier, a member of the House intelligence committee, on April 13 about Pompeo's characterization of WikiLeaks.

How much did Trump the candidate love WikiLeaks in the last days of the campaign? She attempted to count the ways.

"If you recall during the election cycle, in the last month of the campaign, I believe that President Trump as a candidate hailed WikiLeaks as the new savior, had mentioned it over 160 times in speeches during that period of time.

Really, that many times? We decided to check it out.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange arrested (BBC, 4/11/19)

Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange arrested after seven years in Ecuador's embassy in London, UK police say

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Why the Zionist left died this week:  Stuck in a Zionist paradigm, Israel's mainstream left-wing parties are unable to put forth a vision of equality and inclusion for all in Israel-Palestine. (Edo Konrad |Published April 10, 2019, +972)

Labor and Meretz lost voters to Gantz's "anyone but Bibi" campaign. But there is something far more fundamental at play here: neither party has been able to come up with a compelling vision because they are unable to grapple with two issues that haunt Israeli society: the dark legacy of 1948, and five decades of military rule in the occupied territories.

They are afraid because Netanyahu has shifted the discourse so far to the right that discussing the occupation has now become a taboo. Because those who want to talk about human rights violations in the West Bank or Gaza are now labeled traitors. Because talking about the Nakba or the fate of Palestinian refugees is beyond the pale.

There are, of course, other reasons for the downfall of the once-dominant liberal parties. For much of the past two decades, with the demise of the peace process that it once led, Labor has attempted to position itself as a centrist party with a dovish pedigree, abandoning left-wing politics altogether. While Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reached out to Arab citizens in the early 90s -- the Arab parties helped ensure he could push through the Oslo Accords while keeping his government intact -- any talk of a real alliance with Israel's Palestinian community has never been on the table.

Beset by years of accusations that it was too Ashkenazi-dominated, that it was corrupt, and that it did too little to undo the damage caused by institutionalized discrimination against Israel's Mizrahi population during the early years of the state, Labor brought in Avi Gabbay to head the party. Gabbay is not the first Mizrahi to head the party, but many on the inside believed that his rags-to-riches story -- born to Moroccan parents in a working-class Jerusalem neighborhood, he rose to become the CEO of Israel's largest telecommunications company -- would speak to voters in the economically depressed towns in Israel's periphery who for decades turned their back on Labor.

But neither an increase in diversity nor a relatively moderate social democratic economic agenda brought Labor the redemption it yearned for. On the contrary, Gabbay's middle-of-the-road politics, which never truly meshed with the youthful, idealistic image of some of its younger hopefuls, was a turn-off for classic Labor voters. When it came to the issue of Israel's 52-year-old military occupation, Labor offered little: more building in the settlement blocs, pledges to evacuate outposts, and a referendum for Israeli citizens over Palestinian neighborhoods and refugee camps on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Gabbay also declared that he would not sit in a coalition with the Arab parties.

Given its lack of a clear vision, many veteran Labor and Meretz voters drifted toward Gantz -- the retired IDF chief of staff who led a campaign bereft of any real promises apart from taking down Netanyahu.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Retiring as a Judge, Trump's Sister Ends Court Inquiry Into Her Role in Tax Dodges (Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig, April 10, 2019, NY Times)

President Trump's older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, has retired as a federal appellate judge, ending an investigation into whether she violated judicial conduct rules by participating in fraudulent tax schemes with her siblings.

The court inquiry stemmed from complaints filed last October, after an investigation by The New York Times found that the Trumps had engaged in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the inherited wealth of Mr. Trump and his siblings. Judge Barry not only benefited financially from most of those tax schemes, The Times found; she was also in a position to influence the actions taken by her family.

It's a RICO case.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ex-Obama White House counsel expected to be indicted in relation to work with Paul Manafort (Catherine Garcia, April 10, 2019, The Week)

Under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act, individuals must let the Justice Department know if they are lobbying or advocating in the United States on behalf of a foreign government or political entity. The expected indictment is connected to work Craig did in 2012 with President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, on behalf of the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, The Associated Press reports. Last year, Manafort pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his Ukrainian lobbying. 

April 10, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Trump campaign adviser was wiretapped under secret court orders: CNN (Reuters, 9/18/17)

 U.S. investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the 2016 election, CNN reported on Monday.

...who ordered that the Intelligence agencies discontinue the spying on a known foreign asset who was running a US presidential campaign during the race.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Barr: I think FBI 'spying did occur' on Trump campaign (ANDREW DESIDERIO 04/10/2019, Politico)

Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday appeared to back up President Donald Trump's assertion that the Justice Department "spied" on his presidential campaign...

This is a reiteration of fact.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Another Mock Putin Gravestone Reported In St. Petersburg (RFE/RL, 4/10/19)

Another mock gravestone with the name Vladimir Putin on it has reportedly appeared in Russia's second-biggest city, St. Petersburg, which is the hometown of the Russian president.

A group called Pyatnitsa (Friday) posted on the Telegram social network on April 9 a picture of the mock gravestone with Putin's picture on it and an inscription reading "A political corpse of the Russian Federation."

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Frank Hamer vs. Bonnie and Clyde (JOHN BOESSENECKER, March 2019, True West)

Frank Hamer's career began during the closing years of the Texas frontier, and saw him transition from a horseback Ranger into a motorized gangbuster of the 1930s. In between, he served decades as a lawman, in and out of the Texas Rangers: city marshal of the rowdy east Texas town of Navasota, special officer in Houston, deputy sheriff of Kimble County, U.S. prohibition officer and Texas Ranger captain. Among his countless exploits, he played a prominent role in the so‑called Bandit War of 1915, when Mexican revolutionaries surged across the border and raided in south Texas. In 1917 he got mixed up in the Johnson‑Sims feud, killing one man in the feud's climactic gunfight in Sweetwater. Hamer's role in a violent vendetta was certainly the low point in his professional life. In 1921, as a Texas Ranger captain, he and his men crossed the Mexican border and ambushed and killed the gang of Rafael Lopez, who had murdered five lawmen in Utah's worst law enforcement tragedy. Captain Hamer then led the Rangers who tamed the oil boomtowns of Mexia and Borger, and investigated--and solved-- some of the most sensational Texas murders of the 1920s.

-- Courtesy of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas --
Although a white supremacist of the Jim Crow era, Hamer was sympathetic to black Americans. Beginning in 1908, he saved 15 black men from certain death at the hands of lynch mobs in various towns and cities in east Texas. During the Roaring Twenties, Hamer led an unpopular fight against the Ku Klux Klan in Texas. In 1930, at the courthouse in Sherman in north Texas, Hamer and three of his Rangers held off a mob of 6,000 intent on lynching a black man who had raped a white woman. When the rioters burned down their own courthouse in order to kill the prisoner locked up inside, Frank Hamer became the first and only Texas Ranger to lose a prisoner to a lynch mob. He and his men barely escaped the raging inferno alive. Nonetheless, Hamer's stubborn refusal to back down against massive odds, and his shooting of two of the Sherman mob leaders, constitute one of the greatest displays of raw courage in the history of American law enforcement.

But to many people in Jim Crow‑era Texas, saving the lives of black suspects really did not matter. Hamer's actions in Sherman were quickly forgotten. What the public did remember was a much more famous--and by comparison, a much less important--exploit. That was Hamer's 1934 manhunt for Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The true story of his manhunt was long muddied by myth, misinformation and unreliable reminiscences from old-timers. Then, in 2006, the voluminous FBI file on Bonnie and Clyde was discovered in Dallas and declassified in 2009. The special agents' reports described in detail the twists and turns in the Barrow manhunt, and made obsolete much of what had been written before about Frank Hamer's leading role in tracking down the love‑struck outlaw duo.

The Legendary Maney Gault: Frank Hamer's best friend and partner in tracking down Bonnie and Clyde should be remembered as one of the greatest Texas Rangers. (JOHN FUSCO, March 2019, True West)

Maney Gault's career as a Texas Ranger started in 1929 after his friend, Texas Ranger Capt. Frank Hamer, recruited him into the Headquarters Company in Austin. Like Hamer, Gault was as comfortable enforcing the law on horseback as in a patrol car.
Frank Hamer had known Maney Gault since the mid-1920s, when they were neighbors in Austin. The diminutive, steely-eyed Gault had been a stock and dairy farmer until crashing milk prices forced him to find work in a sawmill. Regardless, he was a man after Hamer's own heart--laconic, loyal, modest, conservative, sardonic and perfectly unbreakable. Hamer appreciated the fact that Maney was from a "Travis County pioneer family."

As neighbors in the Riverside area of Austin, Hamer and Gault became tight, as did their feisty wives, Gladys and Rebecca. The late Frank Hamer Jr., a preteen then, remembered Gault being as "smooth as satin with a pistol," but also proficient on the guitar. Captain Hamer was also a competent hill country fiddler, and the two spent many a night playing cards or dominoes, blue grass music, and sharing terse, wry, Texas-style stories. Gladys Hamer had a parrot in a cage who repeated every damn thing a body said; Frank had a pet javelina named Porky who had free run of the house. It was a lively time on Riverside Drive. Hamer, whom Gault called "Pancho," was a casual and careful sipper while Maney "enjoyed his whiskey" and both were known to "cuss up a storm," much to the amusement of young Frank Jr., who came to think of Maney Gault as an uncle.

This was years before Gault joined the Texas Rangers, but Hamer was already using his friend and neighbor for specialized undercover work. Maney might have been a cow man and mill worker, but Hamer recognized in him the ability to blend in and "talk his way through," his lack of fear and the principled moral compass that Hamer valued above all else. He could also kick ass--literally, on more than one occasion. Hamer privately put his friend Maney underground during the rough-and-tumble days of Prohibition, illegal gambling and in lawless oil boomtowns like Mexia and Borger.

As the Great Depression grew near and private sector jobs dried up--even the sawmills--Hamer offered his friend a job in the Texas Rangers Headquarters Company. Hamer and Gault now began to team together in earnest, particularly in the violent Jim Crow climate when African-American men were frequently lynched before due process and trials. Gault was likely among the handful of Rangers who stood with Hamer when he protected a black rape suspect from a lynch mob of 6,000 in Sherman, Texas. As senior captain, Hamer was leading the fight in Texas against the Ku Klux Klan.

Hamer and Gault worked seamlessly together as Rangers up until Miriam "Ma" Ferguson was re-elected as governor of Texas. Hamer and the  Rangers had sup-ported rival Governor Ross Sterling, so when the truculent "Ma" won, she fired every Ranger (that is, those who had not already resigned in protest like Hamer and Gault) for their partisanship. Texas became a haven for lawless types, from Machine Gun Kelly to the Barrow Gang. Ma Ferguson was known for generously granting furloughs to prisoners, issuing more than 4,000 pardons during her two non-consecutive terms as governor.

While Gault found work with the Texas Highway Patrol, Hamer took on sporadic detective and security assignments. That's what he was doing when when Lee Simmons, head of the Texas Prison System, recruited Hamer to hunt down the Barrow Gang.

By April 14, 1934, Frank and Maney were back together--this time as Highway Patrol officers--sharing the cramped space of Hamer's Ford and hunting down the notorious killers. Like their quarry, they slept in their car, drove 500 or more miles per day, and mostly lived on crackers and sardines. According to the late Frank Jr., they took guitar and fiddle with them--along with modern firepower.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Are You Sure You Need a Human?: A Form From the Future looks at what humans and machines do best. (ROSE EVELETH, APRIL 10, 2019, Slate)

Let's say you're a manager at a big box store or a fast-food franchise or even a hospital. You might also need to fill out paperwork justifying your request for an actual person to pull boxes from a shelf, check people out at a store, deliver medication, or make a hamburger. How long do you think you'll need this human for, and who is responsible for her safety? Do you really need a human? Or could a machine do the same job for longer and for cheaper?

Trying to quantify the projected length of a person's working life can be traced back to the early 1900s in the United States. Nineteenth-century life insurance companies relied on mortality tables provided by cities and churches to calculate their policies and payouts. In the early 1900s, AT&T became one of the first huge companies to adopt the idea of a "service life" for its machinery--keeping track of things like telephone poles and vehicles and gear and trying to predict when they might fail. Today, the concept of a "service life" for a piece of equipment is commonplace, but at the time it was relatively unusual. "These graphs allowed them to predict the lives of their machinery," says Dan Bouk, a historian and the author of How Our Days Became Numbered. They meant that the company could replace things before they were run into the ground and failed. Then, in 1927, the opportunity arose to apply the same thinking to people.

The late 1920s saw the rise of pensions beyond the military in the United States. Which meant that huge companies like AT&T suddenly had an incentive to predict how much work they were getting out of their employees and how much they might be expected to pay them back once they retired. Just like with their telephone poles, vehicles, and gear, AT&T began collecting data on everything from employment tenure to wages. The company designed tables to better understand its workforce, "which they can use to predict what the service life of their various employees will be," Bouk says. With this data, it was able to offer retirement to workers who might not have been thinking about it but who the company predicted would no longer provide enough work or efficiency to be worth employing.

Today, the conflation of service life and human life is less about pensions and more about mitigating other kinds of financial risks. Gone are the days when many workers spent their entire professional career at a single company. In a world where Amazon has patented (although doesn't seem to have actually developed) a cage to protect humans from their robotic co-workers, companies looking to get more work for less money (and trouble) are turning to machines that won't complain or get sick or unionize. Machines usually have a higher upfront cost, but they don't require health care or safe working conditions. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


The Growing Obsession With Linking Iran to Terrorism: Iran has not posed a serious terror threat to the United States since the 1980s. Sunni terrorism, on the other hand, has. (JEFFERSON MORLEY, April 10, 2019, New Republic)

For the past twenty years or so, the annual reports of the National Counterterrorism Center have attributed the vast majority of the Islamic terrorist attacks around the world since 2001 to "Sunni extremists"--jihadists inspired by the anti-imperialist Salafist theology of Saudi Arabia. ISIS and other fundamentalist militias fall under this category of Sunni extremism, often funded by wealthy Persian Gulf Arabs. They hate the heretical--as they see them--Shia Muslims of Iran almost as much as they hate the "Crusaders and Jews" of Washington and Tel Aviv. The fanatics behind the attacks of 9/11, Madrid, London, Paris, and San Bernardino were all Sunni extremists. None of the terrorists involved in those bloody attacks was Iranian.

This is an uncomfortable fact for the Zionist-Saudi intersection of interests in Washington right now--a group including Mike Pompeo, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Israeli allies as well. All have reason to want to confront and destroy Iranian power, which represents a threat to Israel and a rival to Saudi Arabia. So the party of war in Washington (and Tel Aviv and Riyadh) needs to change the subject. They need to divert U.S. news media coverage from Saudi-funded Sunni terrorism (as well as the state-backed assassination of Jamal Khashoggi) to Shiite terrorism. [...]

The idea that Tehran was Terror Central originated in 1979 when Iranians held 52 American diplomats hostage for some 400 days. When Iran then used covert operatives and proxy forces to wage war on Western targets after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Reagan administration depicted Iran as the biggest state sponsor of terrorism. The charge stuck, even as Iran's revolutionary fervor cooled and factions within the government pursued better relations with Washington.

Since 9/11, however, Iran's attacks on Western targets have dwindled while the violence of non-state anti-Iranian terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS has gone global. Read the NCTC reports of the last 20 years, and you will see Iranian/Shiite terrorism is not even a category in U.S. counterterrorism reporting. By any objective measure, it is a much smaller threat to Americans and the world than either Sunni terrorism or white nationalist terrorism.

Looking for specifics, I emailed a couple of experts and asked for their take on the State Department claim. Which Americans were killed by Iran? When?

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA station chief, replied by email, "The best case is in Iraq after 2003 when IRGC supported Iraqis [who] killed US troops." Bruce Hoffman, counterterrorism expert at Georgetown University, told me via email that the State Department was probably referring "to the intense fighting in Sadr City in Baghdad in 2008 between IRGC and U.S. military forces."

Iranian terror, like American, is liberationist.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Bolsonaro targets deadly gangs run from Brazil's prisons (Gabriel Stargardter, 4/10/19, Reuters) 

Before Brazilian prosecutors could conduct an inspection last year of the prison considered the country's worst, its warden had to clear their visit with the jail's de facto authorities: in-house prison gangs.

As Brazil's incarcerated population has surged eight-fold in three decades to around 750,000 inmates, the world's third-highest tally, its prison gangs have come to wield vast power that reaches far beyond the jailhouse walls.

New President Jair Bolsonaro's vow to crack down on spiraling crime has put him on a collision course with the jail gangs. In a strategy detailed to Reuters for the first time, top security officials said they plan to isolate gang bosses, ramp up surveillance, build more lockups and deploy federal forces to beleaguered state prison systems.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Ray Dalio is wrong about capitalism (James Pethokoukis, April 10, 2019, The Week)

Right off the bat Dalio writes, "There has been little or no real income growth for most people for decades." It's a gloomy statistic that many policymakers on the left and right accept as inarguable fact.

But they shouldn't, and neither should Dalio. If you use an inflation adjustment like the one preferred by the Federal Reserve -- it assumes consumers alter their buying habits in response to changing prices -- then it turns out that real wages for production and nonsupervisory workers have risen by a quarter since the mid-1970s, according to 2017 research by Dartmouth University economist Bruce Sacerdote. (Or maybe even twice as much.) And if you broaden things out to income rather than just wages, then the stagnation argument looks even weaker. According to the Congressional Budget Office, middle-class incomes after government transfers and federal taxes rose by 46 percent from 1979 to 2015. And incomes in the bottom fifth did even better, rising 79 percent.

And if those numbers seem too abstract, there's the simple reality that lower income folks are living better today than decades ago. For instance: The number of cars per household with below median income has doubled since 1980, notes Sacerdote, and the number of bedrooms per household has grown 10 percent despite decreases in household size.

Dalio also cites research that finds that only half of 30-year-olds today earn more than their parents at the same age. Or to be more specific, half of Americans born in 1984 grew up to earn more than their parents did at age 30, adjusting for inflation, vs. 92 percent of children born in 1940. So clearly upward mobility isn't what it used to be. But, again, Dalio offers the worst possible interpretation of the data. If you adjust that 50 percent stat for all sorts of reasonable tweaks -- changes in family size, a better inflation measure, increasing employer and federal benefits -- researcher Scott Winship concludes, "roughly three in four adults -- and the overwhelming majority of poor children -- live better off than their parents after taking the rising cost of living into account."

Accounting for deflation is a psychological roadblock, not just a mathematical one.  Equally difficult is accounting for how little actual labor our jobs entail now.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Iran and Iraq lead way in reducing executions in the Middle East (James Reinl, 9 April 2019, MEE)

The Middle East saw far fewer executions in 2018 than it did the previous year, driven largely by sharp reductions in the number of people being put to death in Iran and Iraq, according to Amnesty International.

A report from the human rights group released on Tuesday found that the number of executions in the Middle East fell by 41 percent in one year, from 847 in 2017 to 501 in 2018. [...]

"A 50 percent drop in Iran shows that when legal reforms take place, executions can fall."

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Inside Trump's 'truly bizarre' visit to Mt. Vernon: The 45th president -- no student of history -- marveled at the first president's failure to name his historic compound after himself. (ELIANA JOHNSON and DANIEL LIPPMAN 04/10/2019, Politico)

During a guided tour of Mount Vernon last April with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trump learned that Washington was one of the major real-estate speculators of his era. So, he couldn't understand why America's first president didn't name his historic Virginia compound or any of the other property he acquired after himself.

"If he was smart, he would've put his name on it," Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. "You've got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you."

The VIPs' tour guide for the evening, Mount Vernon president and CEO Doug Bradburn, told the president that Washington did, after all, succeed in getting the nation's capital named after him.

Donald will be remembered only as the butt of jokes, like Spiro Agnew.
Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


A country can never be too rich, too beautiful or too full of people (Jay L. Zagorsky, 4/09/19, The Conversation)

The first economist to suggest there were limits to how many inhabitants a country could support was Thomas Malthus, who wrote his most famous work, "An Essay on the Principle of Population," in 1798.

Malthus believed that each country had a "carrying capacity," a maximum number of people it can support. When the population is above its carrying capacity, it is full.

Carrying capacity is based on environmental factors, such as the amount of food resources that can be grown on land or harvested from the sea. If Malthus were alive today, he would point out there is a fixed amount of oil in the Earth and a fixed amount of farmland to grow crops. Sooner or later the oil will run out, and if population grows without bound, there will not be enough food to feed everyone.

Malthus' predictions about what happens after a country rises above its carrying capacity were dire: Disease, famine and wars break out to bring the population back down to a sustainable level. In simple terms, Malthus' theory was that the population in a country cannot grow indefinitely. Death will constrain it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Big gods came after the rise of civilisations, not before, finds study using huge historical database (Harvey Whitehouse, Patrick E. Savage, Peter Turchin, Pieter Francois, 3/20/19, The Conversation)

One of the earliest questions we're testing is whether morally concerned deities drove the rise of complex societies. We analysed data on 414 societies from 30 world regions, using 51 measures of social complexity and four measures of supernatural enforcement of moral norms to get to the bottom of the matter. New research we've just published in the journal Nature reveals that moralising gods come later than many people thought, well after the sharpest rises in social complexity in world history. In other words, gods who care about whether we are good or bad did not drive the initial rise of civilisations - but came later. [...]

Our statistical analysis showed that beliefs in supernatural punishment tend to appear only when societies make the transition from simple to complex, around the time when the overall population exceed about a million individuals.

Social complexity tends to increase more rapidly before the appearance of moralising gods, not after. Whitehouse, Francois Savage et al. Nature., Author provided
We are now looking to other factors that may have driven the rise of the first large civilisation. For example, Seshat data suggests that daily or weekly collective rituals - the equivalent of today's Sunday services or Friday prayers - appear early in the rise of social complexity and we're looking further at their impact.

If the original function of moralising gods in world history was to hold together fragile, ethnically diverse coalitions, what might declining belief in such deities mean for the future of societies today? Could modern secularisation, for example, contribute to the unravelling of efforts to cooperate regionally - such as the European Union? If beliefs in big gods decline, what will that mean for cooperation across ethnic groups in the face of migration, warfare, or the spread of xenophobia? Can the functions of moralising gods simply be replaced by other forms of surveillance?

Such is the narrative arc of the Bible.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A First for Florida: GOP Governor Appoints Chief Science Officer (David Fleshler, 4/04/19, Tribune News Service)

"Obviously as many of you know, we have had persistent water problems, and I've been very clear that the time for us to address this is now," the governor said at a news conference at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach. "We have taken action. We're going to take more today."

Frazer said he understood that addressing the water problems would be his priority.

"Our water-dominated environment is inextricably linked to the health and happiness of all Floridians and the state's economic well-being," he said. "In fact, the legacy of our leadership will rest squarely on an ability to ensure the water resources in this state are restored, protected and conserved to meet the needs of current and future generations." [...]

In an interview, the governor's new science officer said the head of his department, Florida Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, took climate change seriously and so did he.

"The secretary is clearly on the record that climate change is real and that humans are responsible for it, and my view is consistent with that," he said. "I feel comfortable, after talking with Noah, that we'll have the freedom to talk and discuss science in an open, collegial manner like you would do anywhere, so I feel really good about that."

Initial reaction to the announcement was favorable.

"Science is back in the state of Florida," said Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of Everglades Trust, who attended the news conference. "Science is back with a vengeance."

April 9, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Twelve days of chaos: Inside the Trump White House's growing panic to contain the border crisis (David Nakamura, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim April 9, 2019, Washington Post)

Trump was souring again on Nielsen over her opposition to his demands that DHS reinstate the family separation policy that the president had reversed last summer after a political backlash. Trump considered firing her upon her return, aides said, and though he held off briefly, Nielsen's demise was sealed.

In the end, Trump chose not to close the border but instead turned his ire on his senior DHS leadership team: He forced out Nielsen and rescinded the Senate nomination of a career official to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Trump named CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to take over DHS in an acting capacity.

The goal, White House aides said, was to create a more assertive agency, but some administration officials are privately concerned that Trump, influenced by senior adviser Stephen Miller, a border hawk, will only hire "yes men" who will not stand up to a president whose orders have, in many instances, been blocked by federal courts.

Trump's increasingly erratic behavior over the past 12 days -- since he first threatened to seal the border in a series of tweets on March 29 -- has alarmed top Republicans, business officials and foreign leaders who fear that his emotional response might exacerbate problems at the border, harm the U.S. economy and degrade national security.

The stretch also has revealed that a president who has routinely blamed spiking immigration numbers on others -- past presidents, congressional Democrats, Mexican authorities, federal judges, human smugglers -- is now coming to the realization that the problems are closer to home. Though his aides have taken the fall, and it is unlikely that Trump will blame himself, the president is facing an existential political crisis ahead of his 2020 reelection bid over the prospect of failure on his top domestic priority.

"He was politically grandstanding for his base, for his reelection, and not thinking through a plan," said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who has met with White House senior adviser and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner to discuss immigration reform. "He has no plan except to talk about immigration as a political piñata to score points with the far right. But illegal immigration has increased in the two years he has been president."

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Understanding the Houthi Faction in Yemen (Sama'a Al-Hamdani, April 7, 2019, LawFare)

The Houthis emerged in Yemen as an opposition movement in the early 1990s; however, they did not present a significant military threat to the Yemeni state until the early 2000s. The group, originally organized as the "Believing Youth Group," claimed to "revive" Zaydism, a branch of Shiite Islam, and aimed to counter the increasing presence of Sunni Wahhabi schools in Sa'dah, the northern province of Yemen, and particularly in the city of Dammaj. As the organization grew, it planned insurgencies against the state and became known as "the Houthis," a reference to the family that led the movement. The Houthis fought six wars, called the Sa'dah wars, with the government between 2004 and 2010. These conflicts gave the rebel group combat experience and compelled them to build a military organization. However, their true rise to power occurred during and after the Arab Spring in 2011.

When the protests in Yemen began, the Houthis were present in "Change Square." After President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down and initiated a political transition after months of pressure, the Houthis participated in Yemen's National Dialogue Conference (NDC), where one of the eight committees formed was dedicated exclusively to addressing their grievances. The political process was fraught. Sana'a had never been host to so many dissenting groups in its modern history and the transition championed by the NDC was an unpopular departure from Yemen's traditionally decentralized, consociational mode of governance. In the absence of state control, a vacuum emerged that politically ambitious groups in the capital, including the Houthis, worked to exploit.

Eventually, in September 2014, the Houthis seized Sana'a, but this turn of events was anything but sudden. In the months before Houthi forces entered the capital, its militia threaded through the mountainous regions of Arhab and Amran, fighting several battles against rival military units headed by General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the tribal and Islamist political coalition Islah, and independent Salafi fighters. When the Houthis entered Sana'a, it was reported that "not a single shot was fired." The takeover was slow moving and cushioned with political settlements, not only with the government but also with the Joint Meeting Party (JMP), a coalition of opposition political parties created in 2005.

The civil war expanded into a regional war with the intervention of the Arab coalition in 2015. Despite this increased pressure, the Houthis' political ambitions proved greater than expected and they quickly gained several advantages over other competing factions.

They had already captured the capital of Sana'a, where they seized control of all existing state institutions. They also benefited from the accumulated experience of Saleh, the ousted president of 33 years and the Houthis' former enemy. Saleh, became an unlikely ally who joined forces with the Houthis to retain his influence. As the Arab coalition ramped up their intervention, the Houthis also exploited the coalition's, turning it into one of their raisons d'etre.

Today, more than five years after taking Sana'a, the Houthis have complete control of the capital and the governorates of Amran, Dhamar, Rima, Ibb and al-Mahweet. They also control much of the northwest province of Hajjah, except near the Saudi border, and are present in the central province of al-Bayda. The war has devastated Sa'dah, the northern stronghold of the Houthis, but the province remains almost exclusively under their control.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Putin's Russia feels increasingly like a fortress under siege (Vladimir Kara-Murza, April 8, 2019, Washington Post)

Of all the ways that Putin's rule has transformed the country, perhaps the most troubling is its state-driven paranoia. It was also the most pervasive characteristic of the organization where Putin had spent his formative years, the KGB. In Putin's Russia, opposing the government is equated with betraying the country -- just what Nikitin was accused of when he published his report. In his own words, Putin views political opponents as "national traitors" who "scavenge at foreign embassies." Their goal, in his worldview (or, at least, in the depiction of his propaganda) is not to improve life in the country, but to advance the interests of their foreign puppeteers.

Last month, the chief of Russia's armed forces, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, took the accusation a step further, asserting that the U.S. Department of Defense had launched a new strategy code-named "Trojan Horse," which relies on "using the protest potential of the 'fifth column' in order to destabilize" the country from within ("fifth column" being a term from the Spanish Civil War describing saboteurs and hostile agents inside one's territory). Gerasimov went on to say that the United States is using "color revolutions" and "soft power" to topple governments it dislikes.

The general was only echoing his commander in chief. Speaking at the FSB's annual board meeting, Putin declared that foreign intelligence agencies are ramping up activities "on the Russian front" and claimed that, in 2018 alone, his former colleagues exposed nearly 600 foreign intelligence officers and their agents inside the country. The Kremlin leader urged his security services to be even more active, including by "increasing the security of national informational resources."

This work has already begun. Earlier this year, Russia's rubber-stamp legislature took up a bill that would disconnect the Russian Internet from the Web. The measure, proposed by KGB officer-turned-legislator Andrei Lugovoi -- who is wanted by British police over the 2006 fatal radioactive poisoning of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London -- would make Russia's online space autonomous from global networks, as has been done in China. The difference is that the Chinese Communist Party has been constructing that country's "Great Firewall" for years, since the beginnings of the Internet. It is highly doubtful a similar action could be taken in a country where the online space has been largely unfettered, and where 75 percent of the adult population use the Internet on a regular basis. A prominent Russian journalist has compared these attempts to "cutting electricity off all over the country . . . it is simply impossible." Last month, thousands of Russians rallied in downtown Moscow, in what became one of the largest opposition demonstrations in recent years, to denounce Kremlin attempts to "isolate Russia" and to demand online freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM



California Representative Devin Nunes is being mocked on Twitter after filing a $150 million lawsuit over a May 2018 story featuring the headline: "A yacht, cocaine, prostitutes: Winery partly owned by Nunes sued after fundraiser event."

The article detailed a lawsuit by a former female employee of Alpha Omega, a Napa Valley winery, in which Nunes is an investor. The employee alleged that while working for the winery during a charity cruise she saw some of the guests using cocaine and procuring sex workers, some of whom were underage. Nunes was not apparently on the cruise or knew it was happening.

As a result of Monday's lawsuit against The Fresno Bee, the McClatchy Company and others, the hashtag #YachtCocaineProstitutes began trending on the social media platform on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Newly released testimony: Former top FBI lawyer says agency concerned Trump obstructed justice (KYLE CHENEY 04/09/2019, Politico)

James Baker, the former top lawyer of the FBI, told lawmakers last fall that there were widespread concerns inside the FBI that President Donald Trump had attempted to obstruct the bureau's investigation into his campaign's links to Russians, according to a newly released transcript of Baker's testimony.

Under questioning in 2018 from a Democratic committee lawyer, Baker described numerous officials who were distressed that the president may have obstructed justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. Baker said he had personal concerns and that they were shared by not just top FBI brass but within other divisions and at the Justice Department as well.

"The leadership of the FBI, so the acting director ... The heads of the national security apparatus, the national security folks within the FBI, the people that were aware of the underlying investigation and who had been focused on it," Baker said, running through a list of officials he said were worried that the president may have fired Comey to hinder the Russia investigation.

Baker said other FBI executives informed him that Justice Department officials raised concerns about obstruction by Trump as well.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Who's Afraid of Low Inflation? (DANIEL GROS, 4/09/19, Project Syndicate)

A year ago, the European Central Bank took advantage of a temporary uptick in prices to declare victory in its fight to bring eurozone inflation up to its target of "below, but close to, 2%." But the triumph proved short-lived. Headline inflation has since come down again, and core inflation, which strips out volatile energy prices, is back to about 1%. Yet this should not be a major concern for the ECB. 

The ECB's staff projections still see eurozone inflation reaching close to 2% by 2021-2022. But, having wrongly predicted a pickup in inflation for the past several years, these forecasts now have little credibility. This is apparent in financial-market expectations of eurozone inflation as measured by so-called inflation swap rates, which are stuck below 1% even five years into the future. And markets predict that euro-area inflation will still be below 1.5% a decade from now.

This puts the ECB in a quandary. The eurozone economy is weakening, which might further diminish inflationary pressures. But the ECB does not dare to restart its sovereign bond-buying program with the aim of providing additional economic stimulus, because national central banks in the eurozone already hold large amounts of their own governments' bonds. Making these central banks buy even more would put them in a very difficult position if any government were to experience financial stress. This is why the ECB has so far limited itself to announcing that it will continue to provide commercial banks with longer-term, three-year financing at ultra-low rates.

The ECB is not alone in facing unexpectedly low inflation. The Bank of Japan launched an even larger bond-buying program and capped interest rates at zero, and yet inflation remains minimal. And although inflation in the United States is much closer to 2%, it is still far lower than expected.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Let's Go Die Tonight: The Highwaymen, Bonnie and Clyde, and different approaches to teenage killers in movies. (Emina Melonic, 4/05/19, Splice Today)

Cinephiles will be familiar with Arthur Penn's 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in the title roles. Here, Bonnie and Clyde have been placed permanently into an arena of American folklore. Their exploits were glorified and sexualized and they became American martyrs and symbols of anti-authoritarianism. In some instances, Penn took a comedic approach to the story, as well as many artistic liberties. For instance, in Penn's film, Hamer is captured, beaten, and humiliated by Bonnie and Clyde. None of that actually happened.

With The Highwaymen, Hancock is not discounting Penn's film. In fact, this earlier take on the story isn't even on Hancock's directorial radar. Rather, he takes a historical approach in order to shed light onto the men who went after the outlaws and what drove them to do that in the first place. It's not meant to be an antidote to Penn's film. Rather, we're becoming privy to the interior lives of Hamer and Gault in order to find the meaning in all of the evil and mayhem brought about by Bonnie and Clyde. Even the faces of the outlaws are purposely obscured throughout the entire film until the very end, revealing them as a couple of kids on a shooting spree.

It'd be too easy to categorize this film as a Western (since it deals with Texas Rangers) and yet it certainly has the elements of one--quiet men seeking justice, not following any kind of protocol, existing in a world of unspoken honor codes, and taking the law into their own hands. But reducing it to a Western genre would be a disservice, not only to the dazzling and expansive cinematography (which at times is reminiscent of the singular and beautiful work of Néstor Almendros) as well as the profound performances of both Costner and Harrelson as the lead characters.

Costner portrays Hamer as a loner, serious about justice, with no qualms about killing any perpetrator. His focus is solely on the innocents who were killed and isn't interested in how the outlaws are supposed to be captured. Gault's also concerned with justice but he audibly asks existential questions along their journey, whereas Hamer's interiority comes through his body language and silence. When Wade McNabb, one of the members of the gang gives clues to Hamer and Gault of Bonnie and Clyde's whereabouts, the rangers find him dead shortly after. Gault wonders whether they could've protected him but Hamer isn't interested in this reflection. "He made his own choices," Hamer responds.

It's a terrific film in its own right--an old-fashioned celebration of the manly virtues--but the contrast with the earlier film demonstrates how completely we've rejected the ethos of the 60s-70s.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


Factbox: Guilty pleas, indictments abound in Trump-Russia probe (Reuters, 4/09/19) 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election has ensnared dozens of people, including several advisers to President Donald Trump and a series of Russian nationals and companies. [...]

The following are those who have pleaded guilty or have been indicted in Mueller's inquiry. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


Trump praises Egypt's Sisi despite concerns about human rights, Russian arms (Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton, 4/09/19, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump praised his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a "great president" on Tuesday despite U.S. lawmakers' concerns about his record on human rights, efforts to keep him in office until 2034 and planned Russian arms purchases.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Cool roofs reduce urban heat; green ones, not so much (Cosmos, 4/09/19)

The term "cool roof" denotes one that reflects sunlight, thereby reducing local temperatures. This can be achieved by a simple low-tech fix - painting it a lighter colour. The effect is cumulative: the more cool roofs, the greater the albedo, and thus the more solar radiation reflected rather than absorbed.

This can potentially reduce urban temperatures, the researchers say, and may also lower building energy consumption for cooling, both of which are projected to increase in future due to a combination of rising temperature and increasing incomes.

The researchers found that over a summer season, the difference between simulated urban and rural temperature was 1.1 degrees Celsius on average, and 1.8  degrees when including only night times. The maximum difference was nine degrees.

"Our results suggest that the UHI contributes up to 40% of heat-related mortality over the summer period and that cool roofs implemented across the whole city [of Birmingham] could potentially offset 18% of seasonal heat-related mortality associated with the UHI," the researchers conclude.

The figure corresponds to 7% of the total heat-related mortality recorded during the study period.

During heatwaves, modelling suggested that cool roofs could reduce city-centre daytime air temperature by 0.5 degrees on average, up to a maximum of about three  degrees.

The researchers say cool roofs reduced average UHI intensity by about 23%, and reduced heat-related mortality associated with the UHI by about 25%, during a heatwave. They also found that temperature reductions varied according to the type of buildings on which cool roofs were applied.

Targeting only commercial and industrial buildings contributed more than half of the reduction for heatwave periods.

"Our modelling suggested that modifying half of all industrial/commercial urban buildings could have the same impact as modifying all high-intensity residential buildings in the West Midlands," the researchers note.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Why This Conservative Loves Baseball (JOHN DUNCAN • April 8, 2019, American Conservative)

Sometimes you can be in the right place at the right time.

For me, it was in the middle of the summer of 1958--a few days short of my 11th birthday.

I was at Bill Meyer Stadium to see our minor league Knoxville (Tennessee) Smokies, wearing my little league uniform as I had come straight from my own game. In a strange turn of events, Joe Seymour, the visiting team batboy, fell and broke his arm running to get a stretcher for a visiting team pitcher who had been hit in the head.

Very bad for them, very good for me. I took over as the visiting team batboy for that game and then the remaining half of the 1958 season. The next year, I became the home team batboy. Johnny Pesky, the Boston Red Sox icon, was the manager and the Smokies won the league championship.

I spent five and a half seasons as a batboy. I have jokingly said I should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, because I don't know of anyone else who was ever a batboy longer than I was. I hung on as long as I did because I didn't believe the team could have found anyone else to work as cheaply as I did. I worked for free in the first season and a half, and for $1.50 a game for all the remaining years.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


As Mueller release nears, White House renews attacks (JONATHAN LEMIRE, ZEKE MILLER and MARY CLARE JALONICK, 4/09/19, AP)

With the goal to discredit what's coming, Trump and his allies have unleashed a series of broadsides against Mueller's team and the Democrats pushing for full release of the final report. No longer is the president agreeing that Mueller acted honorably, as he did the day after the special counsel's conclusions were released. Instead, he's joining his allies in trying to undermine the integrity of the investigators and the credibility of their probe.

"You're darn right I'm going after them again," Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's attorneys, told The Associated Press. "I never thought they did their job in a professional manner. ... Only because there is overwhelming evidence that the president didn't do anything wrong, they were forced to admit they couldn't find anything on him. They sure tried."

After Washington waited nearly two years for Mueller to conduct his investigation, Barr released a letter last month stating that the special counsel found no evidence the Trump campaign "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election. Moreover, while Mueller did not reach a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined that the president did not.

Mueller's team, which was barely quoted in Barr's letter, has made clear that it did not exonerate the president. And Democrats immediately called for Mueller to testify and for his entire 400-page report to be released.

Mr. Mueller's adherence to DOJ guidelines confused the Trumpbots.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Trump's Fed threats meet a firewall: GOP lawmakers (VICTORIA GUIDA, 04/08/2019, Politico)

GOP lawmakers -- who often showed little restraint in lambasting the Fed for near-zero interest rates in the Obama era -- are signaling publicly and privately their intent to keep politics out of the central bank. They generally support Chairman Jerome Powell, and many have expressed opposition to serious political meddling in setting rates. The lawmakers plan to press Trump nominees about their allegiance to the Fed's data-based approach, amid concern that the president wants the central bank to pursue policies that will goose the economy.

Rates have pretty consistently been artificially high for 30 years. Of course Janet Yellen would have had the leeway to lower them that Chairman Powell has not yet earned from inflation hawks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Three reasons why the Iraqi PM's visit to Iran is important (Hamidreza Azizi, April 8, 2019, Al Monitor)

First and foremost, the visit came amid increased pressure from the United States to limit Iran's influence in Iraq, giving the visit a symbolic aspect. Although the US administration agreed on March 20 to extend the sanctions waiver for Iraq, so it can import gas and electricity from Iran for a 90-day period, it has been pressuring Baghdad to eliminate its energy dependence on Tehran.

However, Iraq's parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi said March 30 that his country needs at least three years to become "economically independent." Until then, Iraq needs to continue importing energy. Furthermore, Abdul Mahdi himself previously emphasized that his country is "not obliged" to abide by US sanctions against Iran. One of the main topics of discussion during both Rouhani's visit to Baghdad and Abdul Mahdi's visit to Tehran was how to bypass the sanctions in bilateral economic ties.

Apart from the sanctions, Washington has tried to dissuade Iraqi officials from expanding relations with the Islamic Republic by trying to depict Iran's role in Iraq as negative and destructive. Following Rouhani's visit to Iraq in March, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook claimed that Iran wants to turn Iraq into a province. Before Abdul Mahdi's departure to Tehran, Hook said Iran was responsible for the deaths of more than 600 American troops in Iraq.

Under such circumstances, Abdul Mahdi's visit and his expressed willingness to develop ties with the Islamic Republic were interpreted by the Iranian media as signs of Baghdad's indifference toward US positions. For instance, IRIB news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's state broadcaster, wrote that Abdul Mahdi's "visit to Iran has a special message for the United States." Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri expressed the same view. During his meeting with Abdul Mahdi April 7, he said, "The clear message is that despite the American hostilities, Tehran and Baghdad are determined to comprehensively expand their ties."

The diplomatic aspect of Abdul Mahdi's visit was no less important. Two days before his trip, he hosted a high-ranking Saudi delegation, headed by Saudi Trade Minister Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi. The Saudi official was not only tasked with reopening the Saudi Consulate in Baghdad after nearly three decades of closure, but also with strengthening economic ties between the two countries, including providing Iraq with $1 billion in loans. The visit, a clear sign of Riyadh's desire to initiate a rapprochement with Baghdad, was interpreted as being aimed at curbing Iran's influence in Iraq. 

However, not only did the Saudi charm offensive not affect Abdul Mahdi's bid for closer relations with the Islamic Republic, it apparently made him eager to play a mediating role between the two rivals. Upon the Iraqi leader's arrival in Tehran, the media reported that an Iraqi mediation plan was to be presented to Tehran. According to media reports, the plan has been in the works since Abdul Mahdi's visit to Egypt in March, and it will be discussed with Saudi officials during his visit to Riyadh next month.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM



When the U.K.'s largest subsidy-free solar farm opens later this year, there will be something a bit different about its panels: Unlike traditional panels that absorb energy on only one side, these panels will be absorbing sunlight from both sides.

The new solar farm in York, developed by Gridserve, uses "bifacial" modules, a technology that has become one of the fastest-growing trends in solar because it helps solar panels generate more electricity.

The 35-megawatt plant will generate enough power for 10,000 homes. "Bifacial panels are a no-brainer," says Toddington Harper, chief executive of Gridserve. "In our opinion, they will be the panel of choice for the utility-scale market." He estimates the solar farm will generate 20 percent more energy due to its combination of bifacial solar panels and trackers that enable each panel to follow the sun, compared with traditional static photovoltaic panels.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump pushed to close El Paso border, told admin officials to resume family separations and agents not to admit migrants (Jake Tapper, April 8, 2019, CNN)

Two Thursdays ago, in a meeting at the Oval Office with top officials -- including Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, top aides Jared Kushner, Mercedes Schlapp and Dan Scavino, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and more -- the President, according to one attendee, was "ranting and raving, saying border security was his issue."

Senior administration officials say that Trump then ordered Nielsen and Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso the next day, Friday, March 22, at noon. The plan was that in subsequent days the Trump administration would shut down other ports.

Nielsen told Trump that would be a bad and even dangerous idea, and that the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, has been very supportive of the President.

She proposed an alternative plan that would slow down entries at legal ports. She argued that if you close all the ports of entry all you would be doing is ending legal trade and travel, but migrants will just go between ports.

According to two people in the room, the President said: "I don't care." [...]

Behind the scenes, two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don't have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, 
"Sorry, judge, I can't do it. We don't have the room."

After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told. [...]

According to multiple sources, the President wanted families separated even if they came in at a legal port of entry and were legal asylum seekers. The President wanted families separated even if they were apprehended within the US. He thinks the separations work to deter migrants from coming.

Sources told CNN that Nielsen tried to explain they could not bring the policy back because of court challenges, and White House staffers tried to explain it would be an unmitigated PR disaster.

"He just wants to separate families," said a senior administration official.

April 8, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 PM


Trump's DHS purge floors Republicans: Even GOP allies of the president are distressed by the chaos unleashed on federal immigration policy. (BURGESS EVERETT, JOHN BRESNAHAN and MELANIE ZANONA 04/08/2019, Politico)

The president's frantic four days of bloodletting at DHS and other agencies blindsided senior Republicans who are already fretting about difficult confirmation battles ahead. Some are worried about the rising influence of top White House aide Stephen Miller. And after November elections in which suburban voters rejected Trump's hard-line immigration agenda, the president is once again making it the centerpiece of the GOP's platform.

"It's a mess," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, summing up the dynamic on the border and in Washington. [...]

"Strikes me as just a frustration of not being able to solve a problem. Honestly, it wasn't Secretary Nielsen's fault. It wasn't for lack of effort on her part. I don't know if there's anybody who's going to be able to do more," said Cornyn, who spoke to Nielsen on Monday and planned to speak to her interim replacement, Kevin McAleenan, later in the day.

Cornyn said he has no idea what Miller's "agenda" is in determining immigration policy because he isn't Senate-confirmed and doesn't correspond with the Hill.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Conservatives Elected Trump with SCOTUS in Mind, But Is Kavanaugh Just a Roberts Mini-Me? (Elura Nanos, April 8th, 2019, Law & Crime)

For many conservatives, one major allure of a Donald Trump presidency was the president's determination to pack the Supreme Court with right-leaning justices. Indeed, conservatives and liberals alike took it as a foregone conclusion that freshman Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh could be counted upon to further a Trump agenda by rounding out a predictable majority.

But there's something that such hopefuls may have overlooked: the one-two punch of a John Roberts swing-vote and Kavanaugh as the chief justice's mini-me. Now, after Kavanaugh has taken part in 25 official SCOTUS opinions, recognition of a potentially budding bromance between the senior and junior justices is captivating court-watchers.

Kavanaugh and Roberts, both alumni justices of the D.C. Circuit Court, have voted together on the high bench in all but one official decision. The cases in which a Roberts- Kavanaugh duo have sided with the court's liberals include both civil and criminal cases, and range from the sensational to the mundane.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Thwarted on Immigration, Trump Is Firing Everyone: Even America's biggest opponents of immigration warn that he's on the verge of a "colossal mistake." (Noah Lanard, 4/08/19, Mother Jones)

The Washington Post reported last week that Trump has told Stephen Miller, his top immigration adviser, that he is now in charge of all immigration and border policy. With the number of families crossing the southern border at a record high, Miller is deflecting blame away blame from the White House and onto DHS. On Friday, Miller succeeded in getting Trump to pull his nominee for ICE director, the agency's acting head, Ronald Vitiello. On Sunday, Trump forced out DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whom Miller also disliked, and announced that he would replace her on an acting basis with CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. In the midst of what Trump has declared to be a national emergency at the southern border, the United States will have no permanent leader at DHS, CBP, or ICE. At DHS, ICE, and USCIS, the deputy directors are also serving on a temporary basis.

Now Miller is reportedly pushing Trump to fire Lee Francis Cissna, the head of USCIS, the DHS agency that handles legal immigration. Cissna is a methodical hardliner who is arguably doing a more effective job of keeping immigrants out of the United States than any other Trump official. USCIS is in the process of implementing a rule to deny green cards to immigrants who are likely to use public benefits like Medicare, a move that could reshape the future of legal immigration. What Miller hopes to gain by getting rid of Cissna is unclear. Even the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Miller ally that seeks to eliminate almost all legal immigration, believes firing Cissna would be a "colossal mistake." The New York Times reported on Monday that Cissna is expected to leave government soon.

Miller and Trump had no clear endgame in getting rid of Vitiello and Nielsen, either. Nielsen was the face of the administration's disastrous--and ultimately abandoned--family separation policy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Judge Blocks Trump Policy That Forces Asylum-Seekers to Wait in Mexico (NOAH LANARD & FERNANDA ECHAVARRI, 4/08/19, mOTHER jONES)

The preliminary injunction was issued by San Francisco district court judge Richard Seeborg. The administration's policy, known as Remain in Mexico, was announced in December and went into effect in late January. It forces migrants to wait in dangerous border cities and makes it impossible for many of them to find lawyers. [...]

"We're thrilled that the judge agreed with our arguments and has blocked this heinous policy," said Melissa Crow, attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented the plaintiffs challenging the policy. "It's a huge statement that he agreed with our arguments."

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Trump Administration Set to Tighten Rules for Baseball Players From Cuba (Vivian Salama and Jared Diamond, April 8, 2019, WSJ)

The Trump administration has informed Major League Baseball that it may impose a new waiver system that makes it tougher for Cuban baseball players to play professionally in the U.S., citing what it called the dangers of doing business with Havana.

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Iran designates U.S. military forces as 'terrorist' group: state TV (Reuters, 4/08/19) 

Iran's top security council has designated U.S. military forces a "terrorist organization" in reaction to Washington's decision to blacklist Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist group.

It's the Salafi we're terrorizing together.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Few Americans think they're getting a Trump tax cut: NBC/WSJ poll (John Harwood, 4/08/19, CNBC.com)

No wonder the 2017 Republican tax cut remains so unpopular -- the vast majority of Americans don't think they got one at all.

As the annual IRS filing deadline of April 15 approaches, just 17% believe their own taxes will go down, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll found. By contrast, 28% believe they'll pay more, 27% expect to pay about the same and 28% don't know enough to say.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Democratic freshmen already posting huge fundraising numbers (David M. Drucker, April 08, 2019, Washington Examiner)

Democrats collectively raised more than $1 billion in 2017 and 2018 on their way to flipping 40 House seats and winning control of the chamber after eight years in the minority. The party lost a net of two Senate seats but successfully defended a handful of targeted seats while capturing two from the GOP in the key battlegrounds of Arizona and Nevada. In doing so, Democrats vastly outraised the Republicans.

Some Republicans assumed that the progressive energy fueling the Democratic Party's green wave of fundraising and activism in 2018 would cool down post-election. According to this line of this line of thinking, seizing the House, and exercising the power it afforded, would satisfy some of the hunger to combat Trump.

But some Republicans are warning colleagues to ignore this conventional wisdom after seeing the initial wave of first quarter fundraising figures from House Democrats who were elected just last November and are far from household names. "Democrats are serious about defeating the president and they want a House that will be helpful," said a veteran Republican strategist, who requested anonymity to avoid publicly criticizing the party.

"In 2018, Democrats were just getting started," this operative added.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


POLL: Warren Trailing In Her Home State of Massachusetts (Michael Graham, 4/07/19, NH Journal)

A new poll from Boston-based Emerson University finds Sen. Elizabeth Warren in third place among Democratic primary voters in her home state of Massachusetts, yet another sign that the one-time front runner's 2020 POTUS bid has failed to launch. It also raises the stakes in New Hampshire for her presidential campaign.

According to the poll released on Sunday, Warren trails Sen. Bernie Sanders (29 percent) and former Vice President Joe Biden (26 percent) with just 14 percent support among Massachusetts Democrats.  That puts Warren just three points ahead of political newcomer Pete Buttigieg, mayor of the small Indiana city of South Bend.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


An analysis of nearly 4 million pitches shows just how many mistakes umpires make (Mark T. Williams, 4/08/19, The Conversation)

All 30 Major League Baseball stadiums are outfitted with triangulated tracking cameras that follow baseballs from the pitcher's hand until it crosses home plate. Ball location can be tracked up to 50 times during each pitch, and accuracy is said to have a margin of error of 1 inch. This information is used to evaluate players, but MLB doesn't share the results in a way that allows fans to easily evaluate the performance of umpires.

We analyzed nearly 4 million pitches over the course of the last 11 regular seasons. This data, which had been collected by MLB-owned Statcast and  Pitch f/x, was sorted, formatted and superimposed on a standard strike zone map.

Using this available technology, we measured ball and strike calls for accuracy. We then ranked the error rates for each active umpire, creating a "Bad Call Ratio." The higher the ratio, the worse the umpire.

The findings were troubling.

Botched calls and high error rates are rampant. MLB home plate umpires make incorrect calls at least 20% of the time - one in every five calls. In the 2018 season, MLB umpires made 34,246 incorrect ball and strike calls for an average of 14 per game, or 1.6 per inning. Last season, 55 games - 2.2% of the total played - ended with an incorrect call.

When batters had two strikes, the error rate for all umpires increased - incorrect calls happen 29% of the time, almost double the error rate when the batter had one or no strikes.

We also found that the highest error rates did not come from younger, less experienced umpires; they came from the older, veteran umpires. The average MLB umpire is 46 years old, with 13 years of experience. But the top performers between 2008 and 2018 had an average age of 33 years old and had less than three years of experience at the big league level. Like professional baseball players, professional umpires seem to peak at a certain age.

Despite years of data-driven evidence, MLB has notoriously resisted retiring poorly performing umpires and hiring better-performing ones. The league remains top heavy with aging umpires, making it difficult for fresh new talent to make impact.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Trump says America 'is full!' A new report says 4 in 10 U.S. counties are suffering Japan-level population decline. (The Week, 4/08/19)

[A] report released last week suggests that, in fact, much of America -- especially America's rural "heartland" -- is increasingly, troublingly empty.

The report, from Washington think tank the Economic Innovation Group, found that 80 percent of U.S. counties lost prime working-age adults (25-54) between 2007 and 2017, and 65 percent of counties will lose more prime workers in the next decade. Forty-one percent of U.S. counties, home to 38 million people, are "experiencing rates of demographic decline similar to Japan's," the report found. And "the demographic challenges facing large parts of the country are not benign," the authors add. "Demographic decline and population loss are not just symptoms of place-based economic decline, they are direct causes of it."

For example, "a shrinking supply of working-age people can prompt employers to look elsewhere to expand, making it harder for local governments to raise enough taxes to pay for infrastructure and education, and encouraging those younger people who remain to head elsewhere for more opportunity," New York Times economics correspondent Neil Irwin explains. These "left-behind" communities "can get stuck in a vicious cycle," potentially hitting "a point of no return that undermines the long-term economic potential of huge swaths of the United States."

The bidding war is going to really drive the MAGAs crazy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM

WHEN MARCH USED TO MATTER (profanity alert):

The Legacy of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird's NCAA Championship Showdown, 40 Years Later: In 1979, two generational talents faced off on college basketball's biggest stage. The game sparked a rivalry that helped shape the landscape of the sport as we know it, and four decades later it still serves as a cultural touchstone. (Michael Weinreb, Apr 8, 2019, The Ringer)

During a March weekend in 1978, Bob Ryan covered what was, in retrospect, the most prophetic back-to-back of his decadeslong writing career. This came three months before the Boston Celtics would use the sixth pick in that June's NBA draft to select a forward from a state university in Indiana, and 15 months before the Los Angeles Lakers would use the first pick in the following year's draft on a guard from a state university in Michigan. And it came a year before those two players would converge in the 1979 NCAA championship game, a moment that would forever alter the trajectory of college basketball, the NBA, and America's cultural and racial fabric.

There is, of course, no earthly way that Ryan could have contemporaneously grasped the full context of what he was about to witness during those two days. He was merely a Boston Globe journalist on assignment, headed to Indianapolis to cover Providence's first-round NCAA tournament matchup against Michigan State and its ebullient point guard, Earvin "Magic" Johnson. That game was on a Saturday, but Ryan decided to fly to Indiana on Friday, rent a car with a pair of colleagues, and drive the roughly 75 minutes down Interstate 70 to Terre Haute to catch another game featuring a young prospect who had been gathering buzz despite having never appeared on national television. That night, not long after Ryan took his seat for Indiana State's first-round NIT game against Illinois State, a lanky forward named Larry Joe Bird rebounded an Illinois State miss, dribbled to half court, cocked his right hand, and seamlessly whipped a 45-foot bullet pass to a teammate streaking to the basket for a layup.

It was in that instant that Ryan first became an evangelist, the one, he says, who was "beating the drums" for the Celtics to draft Bird, who finished that night with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. The next day, Ryan watched Johnson put up 14 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds in Michigan State's 77-63 victory over Providence. Ryan could not have known then that he would spend a large portion of his career chronicling the interplay between these two men; he could not have known, either, that he would watch them go head-to-head in Salt Lake City for the national title a year later. But after watching Bird make that pass, Ryan felt--for the first time, but not for the last--like he was witnessing something almost supernaturally ordained.

"Oh my god," he exclaimed.

Forty years later, that 1979 NCAA championship game, with all of its narrative threads and lasting mythology, feels more like the starting point of a Great American Novel than a real-life occurrence. The funny thing is that the game itself was an unmitigated dud: Michigan State led virtually the entire way and defeated Indiana State, 75-64. Johnson played very well, scoring 24 points, and Bird shot uncharacteristically poorly, going 7-of-21 from the field and finishing with 19. But the game stands as perhaps the greatest historic convergence in college basketball history, an origin story of Marvelesque proportions that affected everything that came after.

Here was the first meeting between two players whose careers would soon become intertwined--as nemeses (and later friends), as stylistic mirrors, and as avatars of America's racial obsessions. Here was the moment when the NCAA tournament graduated into something larger than life, and here was the moment when the NBA, without even realizing it, first bore witness to the path that would lead to its own resurrection in the midst of declining ratings and fan interest--much of it driven by the open discussions among both fans and executives about the lack of star white players like Bird and the lack of passing-driven guards like Magic. "In the late 1970s, the NBA was in trouble," says former Chicago Tribune columnist David Israel. "And the reason why people decided it was in trouble was because they had too many black players."

By the time Magic and Bird reached that title game, they were already burgeoning celebrities and potential avatars of basketball's future; their names alone, says former Washington Post columnist Dave Kindred, "suggesting flight and sleight of hand," felt as if they'd always been destined to meet. "It was Phantom of the Opera and Gone With the Wind and the Olympics all in one," former NBC commentator Al McGuire, whose network televised the game, told the Los Angeles Times a decade later.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Modernity's Projects and the Loss of Human Dignity : a review of Rémi Brague's The Kingdom of Man  (LEE TREPANIER, 4/07/19, Law & Liberty)

The third and final section of the book examines the consequences of the modern project. While conferring many benefits, the domination of nature also included destructive effects on individuals, classes of people, and humanity itself (e.g., slavery, colonialism). But perhaps more insidious was the countervailing tradition in modernity that belittled human dignity, making people slaves to nature in them (e.g., Freud) or to historical forces (e.g., Marx) that they do not control. This "ironic dialectic" that Brague calls made the modern person not master over the earth but master only over others and even over oneself by one's own project. Human beings were controlled and conquered by the projects they had created: they were no longer the subject of creation but its object.

As the object of creation, the modern person was remade, an idea that existed since antiquity. But this aspiration was restrained by the Greek's account of nature and the Christian's belief that humans were made in the "image" of God. In this new view, with God banished from the modern cosmos, humans were to be transformed with the only problem being, as asked by André Malraux (1901-76), "what form we can re-create man."

The creation of a new view of the human person inevitably raised the question which characteristics were to be selected and which ones disregarded, which easily was broaden to questions of which types of people were to be preserved and which ones eliminated. Thus, eugenics, fascism, and the "new Soviet man" were logically consequences of this project. Human nature was not to be fulfilled, but rather surpassed, unleashing a destructive dialectic that reversed the project of a domination of nature by man into a domination by nature over man. The final result is a humanism that has transformed itself into anti-humanism, with thinkers proclaiming "the death of man" (Michel Foucault, 1926-84), "to go beyond man and humanism" (Jacques Derrida, 1930-2004), and "the final goal of human sciences is not to constitute man, but to dissolve him" (Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1908-2008). As Brague puts it, "The project of the kingdom of man ends with a dispossession of man, in the name of the kingdom to realize."

But one wonders whether this is the complete story, for Brague neglects those thinkers, organizations, and movements that have pushed back against anti-humanism. The Abolition and Civil Rights Movements and the widespread acceptance of human rights have preserved features of human dignity that protects humans from the anti-humanist forces of slavery, segregation, and human right abuses. Religion, particularly the growth of evangelical Christianity in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, also challenges the "ironic dialectic" of modernity by claiming humans are made in the image of God and therefore are to be cherished. Finally, "traditionalist" thinkers like Leo Strauss  (1899-1973), Eric Voegelin (1901-85), and Michael Oakeshott (1901-90) have presented philosophies that critique modernity and present alternative answers to the modern anti-humanist project. While anti-humanism may reign in academia and in other aspects of western culture, its dominance is far from complete.

For Brague, humanism was possible, realized in the pre-modern world where humans were afforded dignity and superiority and made technological advances without an intention to dominate the world. It was only in the deployment of the modern project where certain ideas were chosen by philosophers, scientists, and rulers to go further in mastery of the world that led to the banishment of nature and God as normative guides. However, the modern project has not only run up against an external critique, some of which has labeled "reactionary," but also an internal self-destructive dialectic by which the modern project has produced something other than it had wanted. The result is an anti-humanism that cannot affirm the goodness of the human: modernity can produce material, cultural, and moral goods but is incapable of explaining why they are good for human beings to enjoy.

Brague closes his book with thoughts on "Athens" and "Jerusalem" and how humans originally had a metaphysical foundation that they did not produce but rather produced them. Nature and God provided the task for humans to be human, whereas modernity repudiated these natural and divine origins for projects of human desire. The question for our time is whether the modern person has the will to survive in this project--to be able to grant legitimacy to oneself without the need of nature or God. Believing otherwise, Brague thinks only a return to nature and the divine will enable humans to be able to restore their dignity, singularity, and, most importantly, humanity.

No matter how much we have changed about ourselves and the world around us the one fundamental reality is that we have not managed to make ourselves good and all the rational schemes aimed at that end only bring out the worst in us.  Our Fallen natures are impervious to human endeavor, casting us back on the divine forever. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Margaret Thatcher 'changed the economy of the world' (Louise Armitstead, 08 Apr 2013, The Telegraph)

Lady Thatcher died on Monday aged 87, bringing praise for her efforts to transform Britain's moribund economy with ground-breaking policies such as privatisation, reducing trade union power and cutting taxes. [...]

Lord (Digby) Jones, former head of the CBI and DTI, said: "She set the business environment free; she gave a dictator a bloody nose; she freed up the individual from the undemocratic grasp of unrepresentative trades unionism. She changed a nation and very few people can say that about their time on this earth." [...]

Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: "The reforms Lady Thatcher introduced, though deeply controversial at the time, have subsequently become accepted wisdom."

John Cridland, the director general of the CBI, said Lady Thatcher "took the UK out of the economic relegation zone and into the first division. What Baroness Thatcher did to reshape the British economy gave us a generation of growth."

Sir David Lees, chairman of the court of the Bank of England and former GKN chairman, said: "She was prime minister in that awful period of 1979 with inflation rushing away and the trade unions being a significant menace to business. Her strength and courage are the two things I would pick out in dealing with them and giving business the confidence to address the trade unions. It is a huge legacy."

City veteran Brian Winterflood: "She was at the forefront of Big Bang. That put us in better shape, made us big and the pre-eminent financial centre of the world. She introduced the share owning and property owning democracies and gave us Sid."

Though, obviously, the central achievement of Thatcher/Reagan was permanently breaking inflation via central bank rate hikes and the assault on unions/wages.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kirstjen Nielsen reportedly sought to mend ties with Trump in meeting that ended in her resignation (The Week, 4/08/19)

Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had requested Sunday evening's meeting with President Trump to work out "a way forward" at the U.S.-Mexico border and came prepared with "a list of things that needed to change to improve the relationship with Mr. Trump," The New York Times reports. Instead, during the "cordial" 30-minute meeting, "Trump was determined to ask for her resignation. After the meeting, she submitted it." The resignation was effective immediately.

April 7, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM

THE CULTURE WARS ARE A ROUT (profanity alert):

Why Are So Many Bisexuals On TV Also Sociopaths?: Villanelle in Killing Eve is the latest in a long line of bisexual characters for whom lust and bloodlust go hand in hand. (Hannah Harris Green, April 5, 2019, Buzzfeed)

Amoral, deeply disturbed bisexual characters have become so common that GLAAD has repeatedly noted the trope in its "Where We Are on TV" surveys. Other leading bisexual characters who are way too comfortable with manipulation and murder include Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who does both these things to gain the presidency on Netflix's House of Cards, and Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), who goes far beyond her duties as a defense lawyer when it comes to protecting known killers on ABC's How to Get Away With Murder. All three characters are obsessed with control; they are pathological liars, they are unfaithful, and, without giving away too much, they're all at best blasé if their "loved" ones end up dead. Given the growing -- but still small -- number of bisexual characters onscreen, viewers might not be able to avoid internalizing the idea that bisexual lust and bloodlust go hand in hand.

Annalise, Frank, and Villanelle not only embody these characteristics to a T they are such well-known and prominent characters that they have the potential to become iconic. Together they create a kind of new archetype for sociopathic bisexual characters. Their sexuality is explicit, not implied -- setting them apart from many queer villains past. Not only are they amoral but they arrogantly prescribe different sets of rules for themselves -- think of Frank Underwood justifying puppy murder to the camera in the first scene of House of Cards. They are unable to control their appetite -- for food (Villanelle is obsessed with sweets, Annalise drinks vodka and can't get enough ice cream, Frank eats ribs for breakfast), sex, or control.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


New NAFTA deal 'in trouble', bruised by elections, tariff rows (Dave Graham, David Ljunggren, 4/07/19, Reuters) 

More than six months after the United States, Mexico and Canada agreed a new deal to govern more than $1 trillion in regional trade, the chances of the countries ratifying the pact this year are receding.

The Trump presidency barely exists.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


The Jones Act: A Drag on America's Economy (GEORGE WILL, April 7, 2019, National Review)

Using national security as an excuse for economic foolishness, in the service of cupidity, is nothing new. What is novel nowadays is a legislator standing athwart foolishness, yelling "Stop!" Although it is impossible to imagine Senator Mike Lee yelling.

The Utah Republican, he of the white shirts, blue suits, subdued ties, and measured words softly spoken in stately cadences, lacks the demeanor of a brawler spoiling for a fight. He has, however, just picked one concerning a small sliver of something vast -- crony capitalism disguised as patriotism.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a.k.a. the Jones Act, was passed after one war and supposedly in anticipation of others. Its purported purpose was to encourage the development of a merchant marine sufficient for war or other "national emergency." Ninety-nine years later, the nation is in a "national emergency" (presidential disappointment regarding his wall); emergencies and national-security crises multiply as the ease of declaring them increases. Never mind. The Jones Act has failed to achieve its stated aims while inflicting substantial unanticipated costs, enriching a few businesses and unions, and pleasing the 16 congressional committees and six federal agencies that have oversight jurisdiction under the act.

Lee's Open America's Waters Act of 2019 would repeal the Jones Act's requirements that cargo transported by water between U.S. ports must travel in ships that are U.S.-built, U.S.-owned, U.S.-registered and U.S.-crewed. Colin Grabow, Inu Manak, and Daniel Ikenson of Washington's Cato Institute demonstrate that under -- and largely because of -- the Jones Act, the following has happened:

One of the nation's geographic advantages -- tens of thousands of miles of coastline and inland waterways -- has been minimized by making it off-limits to foreign competition in transportation. This increases transportation costs, which ripple through the production process as a significant portion of the costs of goods. Because of the Jones Act's costly mandates, less cargo is shipped by water, merchant mariners have fewer jobs, and more cargo is carried by truck, rail, and air, which are more environmentally damaging than water transportation. Two of America's most congested highways, I-95 and I-5, are along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, respectively. Yet the amount of cargo shipped by water along the coasts and on the Great Lakes is about half the volume of 1960. Since then, railroad freight volume has increased about 50 percent, and volume by intercity trucks -- responsible for 75 percent of federal highway-maintenance costs -- has increased more than 200 percent.

A hog farmer in North Carolina purchases corn feed from Canada rather than Iowa because delivery costs make the Iowa corn uncompetitive. A Hawaiian rancher flies cattle to West Coast feedlots and slaughterhouses to avoid Jones Act shipping costs. Although the United States is the world's second largest producer of rock salt, Maryland and Virginia buy theirs for winter use from Chile because of Jones Act shipping costs.

As for military considerations: Troops get to today's wars by aircraft. And the antiquated maritime fleet carried just 6.3 percent of the cargo in the 2002-03 buildup for the Iraq War.

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In Speech to Republican Jews, Trump Refers to Netanyahu as "Your Prime Minister" (DANIEL POLITI, APRIL 06, 2019, Slate)

President Donald Trump spoke to members of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas Saturday and seemed to suggest that Jews and Israelis are one and the same. "I stood with your prime minister at the White House to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights," Trump said referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Former Maldives president makes comeback from exile with landslide win (SBS, 4/07/19)

Mohamed Nasheed, 51, made a dramatic return to the top of the national parliament, with his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) headed for a two-thirds majority in the 87-member assembly.

Mr Nasheed promised to use his party's mandate to usher in a new era of stability and democracy in the Indian Ocean archipelago as it emerges from years of strongman rule, political crises and corruption scandals miring the government and judiciary.

"Our foremost duty is to bring peace to the government", Mr Nasheed told supporters in the capital Male on Sunday. 

The comprehensive victory was another rebuke for Mr Nasheed's arch-rival and autocratic former president Abdulla Yameen, who was dumped in a shock election defeat in September under a cloud of corruption and embezzlement allegations.

Mr Yameen did not run, but his party - the Progressive Party of Maldives - ended with a poor showing and is projected to only secure four seats in the People's Majlis, or parliament.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


How Far-Right Extremists Abroad Have Adopted Trump's Symbols As Their Own (Nick Robins-Early, 4/06/19, HuffPost)

Alexandre Bissonette wore the hat. 

A Canadian, Bissonette hadn't voted for Donald Trump. He lived in a French-speaking province, far from the U.S. president's campaign rallies and "America first" appeals. But some of the first photos to emerge of the 27-year-old after he stormed a Quebec City mosque and killed six Muslim men in January 2017 showed him wide-eyed with a slight smirk and a red "Make America Great Again" cap casting a shadow over his pallid face.

"Make America Great Again" has become more than a U.S. political slogan. For Bissonette and other white nationalist, radical right and anti-immigrant extremists all over the world, it's a symbol; a kind of political messaging that transcends the specifics of country and language. 

"The hat and the MAGA acronym have really become shorthand for this white nationalist movement," said Barbara Perry, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and an expert on the far right.

Searching for MAGA symbolism is one of the easiest ways to notice online extremists and members of hate groups, Perry and other researchers have found -- a game of "Where's Waldo?" for racists. A 2018 study by extremism researcher J.M. Berger that analyzed tens of thousands of alt-right Twitter accounts found the most common word in their profiles was "MAGA" and the most frequent pairing of words was "Trump supporter."

And this embrace of pro-Trump symbols isn't limited to social media. MAGA hats and slogans have shown up in Britain at rallies supporting anti-Muslim activist Tommy Robinson, on banners in Australia following the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, and as an accessory for prominent European white nationalists who wear it to troll their fellow citizens.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Impossible Burger becoming a reality (PATRICK MAY, 4/06/19, The Mercury News)

1) The meaty flavor of the Impossible Burger comes from a soy ingredient called leghemoglobin, which Impossible Foods says "is a protein found in plants that carries heme, an iron-containing molecule that is essential for life. Heme is found in every living being -- both plants and animals. And although heme has been consumed every day for hundreds of thousands of years, Impossible Foods discovered that it's what makes meat taste like meat. We make the Impossible Burger using heme from soy plants -- identical to the heme from animals -- which is what gives it its uniquely meaty flavor." [...]

4) Last January, Impossible Foods introduced a new version of its signature burger. Called Impossible Burger 2.0, the latest iteration, said the company, is "tastier, juicier and more nutritious -- featuring 30 percent less sodium and 40 percent less saturated fat than our current recipe and just as much protein as 80/20 ground beef from cows." It's also gluten-free, replacing wheat with soy protein.

5) During the January launch, Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown told The Spoon Newsletter that there's more innovation where that came from: "R&D has been going at a blazing pace since Day One," said Brown, adding that his team was now working on producing "whole cuts of beef," including steak. "(Steak) has huge symbolic value," Brown told the blog. "If we can make an awesomely delicious world-class steak ... that will be very disruptive not just to the beef industry, but to other sectors of the meat industry."

6) The company says it plans to release a "raw" version of the burger in grocery stores by the end of the year and claims it will be cost about the same as USDA premium ground beef.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


NATURAL JUSTICE (Annabel Murphy, 7th April 2019, Daily Sun)

A POACHER hunting rhinos in the Kruger National Park met a gruesome end after being trampled to death by an elephant and then eaten by a pride of hungry lions.

Four other poachers who fled the game reserve in South Africa in terror were picked up by police and explained how a member of their gang had been killed.

They described how an angry elephant surprised them as they stalked endangered rhino and stamped their friend to death giving them a chance to run for safety.

Kruger Park Rangers immediately set out for the area known as Crocodile Bridge and sent up their airwing helicopter in a bid to find the dead man's remains before it got dark.

KNP ranger Don English led the team out again at first light on Wednesday to recover the body.

But with no luck the police officers in the case re-interviewed the captured poachers to try and get more detail as to where the elephant attacked and killed their friend.

This sends out a powerful message to poachers that you will not always be the winner

They found what was left of the poacher on Thursday but it appeared he had been eaten by a lion pride.

All that was left to bring back to the camp was the poacher's bloodied head some clothes.

April 6, 2019

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Baseball books that hit it out of the park: Seven baseball writers share their favorite classic books about the game.  (Randy Dotinga, 4/03/19, CS Monitor)

WRITER John Thorn, official historian, Major League Baseball ("Baseball in the Garden of Eden")

FAVORITE BOOK "The Universal Baseball Association Inc., J Henry Waugh, Prop.," by Robert Coover (1968)

COMMENT "It's not only the greatest of baseball novels, but a crystal-ball view into the brain of the obsessed fantasy-baseball player - and all of us who often prefer baseball to real life."

Mr. Coover ultimately loses control of the narrative, but what makes this the closest thing we have to the GMN is that it's not just a book about baseball but about God and Man. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Against the Statheads: Major League Baseball's statistics revolution benefits the bosses most of all  (Kyle Paoletta, April 4, 2019, The Baffler)

THE MOST TALKED ABOUT PLAYER in baseball doesn't exist. It's not Mike Trout, the LA Angel widely viewed as the most meteoric talent to stride across an outfield in decades, and it's not Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, the two free agents who signed to $300 million deals this offseason. Each of these players may rate among the most recognizable in the sport, but in terms of attention from baseball writers, general managers, and owners, none of these superstars can approach the Replacement Level Player.

Not that the Replacement Level Player is a gold standard--just the opposite. The concept has its origins in 2001, when Baseball Prospectus's Keith Woolner attempted to articulate a not particularly intuitive concept: how terrible can a player be and still make the major leagues? The metric he developed to answer that question, Value Over a Replacement Player, or the positively Star Trekian VORP, posed the Replacement Player as a minor league lifer, the sort that's useful for little beyond spending a week in the majors filling in for an injured star. VORP was later refined into Wins Above Replacement--WAR-- a more all-encompassing figure that measures how many extra wins a player contributes to a team's record as compared to what that Triple-A scrub could. If one can't "play above replacement level," then they surely can't hack it in the big leagues, and no appellation is more cutting than that of being "worse than replacement level," a subprime distinction held by only thirty-nine players last season. The best of the best are the players like Trout, who routinely lifts the Angels to ten more wins each season than they would have recorded with a Replacement Level phantasm.

Baseball-Reference--an encyclopedic source heavily relied upon by baseball writers--introduced their version of WAR in 2010. Since then, it has completely overtaken the sport. Over the next three years, Bleacher Report would call it "Baseball's Most Perfect Statistic" and ESPN proclaimed, "WAR is the Answer." Last season, a debate briefly surfaced over which Red Sox deserved the American League's MVP award more, WAR darling Mookie Betts or the power-hitting J.D. Martinez, who surpassed him in home runs and runs batted in: two marks of hitting prowess that have reigned since the sepia-tinted years of Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Martinez' gaudy numbers didn't cut it. He slipped all the way to forth in the MVP vote, behind Betts and two other players who lapped him in WAR. In a few short years, WAR has gone from a peripheral stathead obsession to baseball's most irreplaceable metric.

Despite its name, the rise of WAR has influenced today's baseball fans and writers to think about the sport not in terms of wins and losses but dollars and cents. As Rick Paulas pointed out in Vice last year, even as the reliance on analytics has led to some "players who once weren't appreciated getting their just due," it has more importantly precipitated a discourse that comes "down to who's worth the money and who's not." Paulas nods to the emergence of the concept of "surplus value," analysis that determines which teams are winning more games than you'd expect based on their payroll. Which is to say, the teams underpaying their players the most. The need to identify arbitrage opportunities is in the DNA of these stats: when he introduced the concept of the Replacement Level Player back in 2001, Woolner wrote "A commodity which is easily available to all teams at no or low cost confers no competitive advantage, and therefore is of minimal value."

The type of "value" all these teams are searching for is exemplified by pitcher Gio Gonzalez's 2017 campaign. That year, he recorded a remarkable 6.5 WAR for the Nationals, a mark that, if you believe the number crunchers, was worth $68 million in value to his team's billionaire owner--while Gonzalez was paid only $12 million. Likewise, a similar notion of value allowed the Angels to justify the jaw-dropping twelve-year, $430 million contract extension Trout recently signed to. Sure, that's DuckTales money, but based on Trout's yearly WAR, he could easily outplay the money he's being paid in a third of the time he's signed for.

WAR (worker above replacement value) is, of course, driving the entire global economy and the fact that a machine can do your job more cheaply than you is why you'll support UBI:

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Economic Growth from Octavian to Obama (Marian L. Tupy, 4/13/18, @HumanProgress) 

As the population of Western Europe recovered, incomes waxed and waned, neither falling to their pre-plague levels, nor rising above their mid-14th century maximum. Thus, as late as 1831, the average GDP per person in France was only $1,534. Put differently, in the 18 centuries that separated the reigns of the first Roman Emperor and the last French king (Louis Phillipe), incomes rose by a paltry 50 percent. The Industrial Revolution, a British import, changed French fortunes considerably. Between 1831 and 1881, incomes rose by 100 percent ($3,067). As such, France made twice as much economic progress in 50 years as it did in the previous 1,800 years. In 2016, French GDP per capita stood at $38,758, meaning that a modern Frenchman is roughly-speaking 24 times better off (in real terms) than his ancestor 200 years ago. Remarkable.

France, of course, was not alone. Similar stories unfolded in other parts of the West.  A year before the Declaration of Independence, American GDP per person stood at $1,883. By the time Barack Obama left office, U.S. GDP per person stood at $53,015 - a 27 fold increase. Today, abundance is no longer restricted to the West. As previously under-developed countries embraced industrialization and trade, they prospered. In 1978, when China started to reform its failing communist economy, its GDP per person stood at $1,583 (French levels in the early 1830s). By 2016, it rose to $12,320 (the French level in 1964). To put that progress in perspective, China grew as much in 38 years, as France did in 130 years. That, too, is noteworthy, for it demonstrates that, given correct policies, countries don't have to reinvent the wheel. They can adopt ideas and technologies that took advanced countries millennia to develop and leapfrog from extreme poverty into the Age of Abundance within a couple of generations.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


How Trump Betrayed the General Who Defeated ISIS (Robin Wright, April 4, 2019, The New Yorker)

The United States had struggled to identify or create a credible rebel force in Syria. Mazloum had a standing militia that proved it could fight, even with only vintage weapons. Between 2011 and 2013, without foreign support, it had pushed Syrian government forces out of northern Kurdish towns during the Arab Spring and fought off an Al Qaeda franchise that moved on Kurdish turf. A senior U.S. military official looked for an introduction. The United States was not the only country interested in the Kurdish general, U.S. officials told me. On the morning of August 18th, Mazloum met Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran's Quds Force, the most élite unit in the Revolutionary Guard. The Iranians had rushed in--faster than the Americans did--to help the Iraqis hold off the isis juggernaut. Hours after meeting the Iranian commander, Mazloum rendezvoused with the American official in Suleimaniya, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq.

Mazloum came with complications, however. His original militia was the People's Protection Units, or Y.P.G.; it was Kurdish. Its political arm sought autonomy in Syria. Many of its members, including Mazloum, had trained with a militant Turkish movement--the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or P.K.K.--which was waging an insurgency to win autonomy in Turkey. The P.K.K. was on the U.S. and Turkish lists of terrorist organizations. Its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, had lived in the Kurdish region of Syria for two decades before he was imprisoned, in 1999, in Turkey. Öcalan was a personal friend of Mazloum's; they were once photographed swimming together in the Euphrates River. "For a period of time, I served in P.K.K. ranks," Mazloum told me. "Öcalan was working here, and the people here had loyalty to him. But the Y.P.G. is not a terrorist organization. Always the Turks like to paint everything in Syria like it's the P.K.K., but this is not true." Yet Mazloum has relatives who are still with the P.K.K. Huge posters of Öcalan adorned every Y.P.G. and S.D.F. base I visited.

The American overture to Mazloum had both conditions and limits, senior U.S. officials told me. The U.S.-backed coalition could provide strategic advice but no major arms, because of the Y.P.G.'s history. If the Kurds took territory from isis, they had to include other ethnic or religious groups, notably Arabs and Christians, in setting up governance and security. The Kurdish militia had to accept that its region would remain part of Syria--and not try to break away into an independent Kurdish state. And they had to vow not to attack Turkish interests. If any of those terms were violated, the U.S. would walk away. Mazloum opted for an alliance with the Americans. "At the time, isis was getting stronger every day," he told me. "We were at capacity just stemming the tide and protecting our area. The United States intervening in this fight changed the balance of power between us and isis."

The makeshift alliance was tested a few weeks later, when isis invaded Kobani, a strategic town built as a whistle stop on the Berlin-Baghdad railway. Kobani is Mazloum's home town. He incorporated it into the nom de guerre by which he is known. (His real name is Ferhat Abdi Şahin.) isis seized sixty per cent of the city, forcing most of its forty thousand residents to flee across the border to Turkey. In October, 2014, I watched from a nearby hill in Turkey as isis pounded Kobani with thundering artillery. isis's black-and-white flag billowed on the horizon.

Kobani proved to be a turning point for Washington. The Obama Administration expanded its intervention, from Iraq into Syria, with air strikes on isis forces in Kobani. Among the targets was Mazloum's home. isis had seized it as an operations center. Mazloum approved the U.S. decision to destroy it, a senior U.S. official told me. The marriage of American air power and a tough local militia on the ground--dubbed the "hammer and anvil" strategy--succeeded. After a gruelling five-month battle, isis experienced its first defeat. In January, 2015, Mazloum's militia hoisted its yellow banner atop Kobani's highest hill; fighters, both male and female, danced by firelight amid the city's bombed-out ruins. Kobani, where more than thirteen hundred Kurds perished, still ranks as the longest, deadliest, and most vicious battle with the Islamic State. It later became a base used by U.S. Special Forces and a small team of U.S. diplomats.

The partnership deepened in the second phase. In April, 2015, the U.S. approached Mazloum about leading the war against isis beyond Syria's Kurdish regions. The Obama Administration was on the verge of abandoning a separate Pentagon program to train fifteen thousand Syrians in Turkey and Jordan. Five hundred million dollars had been allocated for the program; ultimately, fifty million dollars were spent, and it produced only a handful of trained soldiers. "I wasn't happy with the early efforts," Secretary of Defense Ash Carter admitted at a news conference in Washington at the time. "So we have devised a number of different approaches." They relied heavily on Mazloum's militia. [...]

The joint campaign faced sporadic challenges--menacing warnings from the Syrian government, the deployment of Russian mercenaries nearby, and constant criticism from Turkey. In November, 2017, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Trump, who was in Florida, preparing for a round of golf with Tiger Woods, to complain about U.S. arms flowing to Kurds in the S.D.F., which Erdoğan considered a terrorist group. Surprising his aides, Trump promised to stop the shipments. Former U.S. officials familiar with the call told me that the President did not fully grasp the details, players, or regional politics of his own decision to arm the Kurds--or that it was the decision that enabled the Kurdish-led S.D.F. to liberate Raqqa. U.S. officials had to convince Trump that the weapons were essential because the war with isis was not over, a former Pentagon official told me The U.S. arms shipments to the Kurds continued.

The campaign against isis was nearly derailed again when Turkish-backed fighters invaded Afrin, one of three Kurdish cantons in northern Syria, in January, 2018. The offensive followed news that the U.S. planned to create a border force of several thousand--half from the S.D.F. and half new recruits--to better secure the Syrian borders with Turkey and Iraq. Tens of thousands of foreign fighters had passed through Turkish territory to join the caliphate. The U.S.-backed border force was designed to deal with a problem that Erdoğan had not addressed. Erdoğan countered that the U.S. was "creating a terror army" and vowed to "suffocate" it.

The Turkish-backed invasion forced Mazloum to pull S.D.F. troops away from the front line with isis, to defend Afrin--this time without U.S. air power to support them. Washington disapproved of Ankara's offensive, but Turkey was a nato ally. The S.D.F. was no match for Turkey's tanks, artillery, and warplanes. After two months, Mazloum's militia retreated. Relations soured with the United States; the offensive against isis stalled. U.S. intelligence predicted that Mazloum might even end the partnership. "We're on the two-yard line," a senior U.S. Special Forces commander told NBC News. "We could literally fall into the end zone. We're that close to total victory, to wiping out the isis caliphate in Syria. We're that close, and now it's coming apart."

The S.D.F. was also scrambling to administer and secure the region--roughly a third of Syria--that it had liberated. Towns were war-ravaged. Basic services were destroyed. Many residents had fled. In Arab areas, the S.D.F. turned to tribal sheikhs to help form new city councils. "The S.D.F. did not just clear territory. They held it," McGurk, the former lead coördinator of the campaign, told me. "They recruited locals to govern and established a permissive security environment. That's what allowed us to be in Syria with a very light U.S. footprint."

Mazloum's militia, which included a large female force, returned to the isis battlefront last fall. The final hurdle was to clear Deir Ezzor province, which is home to Syria's most valuable oil fields. In December, the S.D.F. captured Hajin and began mapping out the next two months of operations with U.S. Special Forces. Their focus was on eliminating the stubborn Islamic State pockets near the Iraqi border and stabilizing liberated areas to prevent an isis resurgence. "We have obviously learned a lot of lessons in the past, so we know that once the physical space is defeated we can't just pick up and leave," McGurk told reporters on December 11th. "We're prepared to make sure that we do all we can to ensure this is enduring." U.S. goals, he added, "will take some time."

Six days later, Mazloum was summoned by General Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. operations in the Middle East, for a video conference. The timing, at midnight in Syria, was unexpected. So was the message. "I was the first one to hear the words," Salar Malla, Mazloum's aide-de-camp and translator, told me. "Before you translate anything, you have to absorb it. I spoke the words, but I didn't believe them."

General Votel informed Mazloum that he had received a letter from the White House two hours earlier, ordering the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Votel did not know the details, he told Mazloum, but he had wanted the Kurd to hear it from him rather than from the media. "It was a surprise," Mazloum told me, at his forward operating base. "We didn't believe that in the middle of the battle, when we're fighting against isis, when we're fighting against all the others, that our partners would abandon us. To be honest, the painful point for us was that America is a great country. How could a great country behave like that and abandon its allies in the middle of the fight? And, from that time on, how are people going to trust in the Americans or partner with them in any fight in the future?"

Trump had made the decision unilaterally, U.S. officials told me. There had been no interagency review, no conferring with military brass, no discussions with the dozens of other countries in the U.S.-led coalition. Many were as surprised as Mazloum was. The pivot had been another telephone conversation with President Erdoğan. The Turkish leader asked why the U.S. needed two thousand troops in Syria if the caliphate was collapsing. Two days later, Trump tweeted, "We have defeated isis in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency." The problem was that isis had not yet collapsed. It still had tens of thousands of fighters, families, and fans in pockets of the Euphrates River Valley.

In Washington, the backlash to Trump's abrupt decision was immediate. Defense Secretary James Mattis pleaded with the President to change his mind; when he didn't, Mattis resigned. So did McGurk. Even Trump's Republican allies expressed outrage. Lindsey Graham called the decision a "stain on the honor of the United States." A bipartisan group of senators appealed to the White House. "If you decide to follow through with your decision to pull our troops out of Syria, any remnants of isis in Syria will surely renew and embolden their efforts in the region," they wrote.

In a rare public statement, Mazloum also appealed to Trump, asking him to keep at least half of the two thousand troops in place until all of the Islamic State's territory was liberated. "We would like to have air cover, air support and a force on the ground to coordinate with us," Kobani told reporters travelling with an American military delegation. "American forces must remain beside us." Trump had once pledged to protect the S.D.F., Mazloum said. "I want him to live up to his word." In a separate conversation, he admitted to me, "We're worried about being alone again."

Mazloum did not waver, however. "Immediately, we started thinking of the phase after the American presence in Syria, and how we're going to distribute our forces and depend on our own capacity to preserve those gains," he told me. "At the end of the day, this is an internal American decision, and we cannot intervene in it. So we started thinking about how we're going to be able to fight and do policy without them."

A senior U.S. official who had worked closely with Mazloum reflected, "Never once did he not live up to exactly what he said he was going to do." The S.D.F. fought on as the United States quietly began pulling out troops and equipment. The final front line was Baghouz, the farming hamlet near the Iraqi border. It was a long slog, with repeated pauses to allow civilians, including the families of isis fighters, to leave. "We don't want the images from our last battle to be bloody," Mazloum told me. "We're not isis."

When Baghouz finally fell, on March 23rd, Mazloum hosted a small liberation ceremony at his base. "It was a great day that we celebrated with all our friends and allies," he messaged me on WhatsApp. "We are proud about what we did, that victory is not just for Kurds. It is for all humanity." Mazloum invited his American counterparts to attend. In front of the stars and stripes, a band of young Syrians dressed in red-and-gold uniforms played the American national anthem.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Finland gave people free money. It increased their trust in social institutions.: New results are in for a landmark experiment in basic income. (Sigal Samuel  Apr 6, 2019, Vox)

After the government chose 2,000 unemployed citizens at random and gave them a check of 560 euros ($635) every month for two years ending last December, the recipients reported less stress than the control group. That was true even for recipients who felt they were still struggling to make ends meet, according to new findings released by Kela, a Finnish government agency.

The recipients also reported that they felt more trust toward other people and social institutions -- from political parties to the police to the courts -- than they did before getting a basic income.

The new findings add to initial results released in February that showed receiving free money made recipients happier without making them any less likely to join the workforce. Although this wasn't everything the Finnish government was hoping for -- its stated goal was to boost employment -- it still offered an important counter to critics of basic income, who often claim getting free money will induce people to work less. The evidence does not support that.

It may seem intuitive that getting a guaranteed, regular infusion of cash will make people happier and less stressed (even if that cash isn't enough to cover all their needs). But that's kind of the point: This is a pretty obvious way to increase citizens' well-being, yet most countries aren't doing it.

...giving them a stake in a proftable economy.
Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Do Democrats Want a U.S.-Saudi Alliance or Not? (Eli Lake, April 5, 2019, Bloomberg)

Does it matter to America which side wins the civil war in Yemen? It most certainly does -- although congressional Democrats seem to need a reminder why.

The question arises after the House passed a resolution Thursday to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in that conflict by a vote of 247 to 175. While some Republicans in both chambers supported the resolution, it enjoyed near unanimous support from Democrats in Congress.

As Senator Chris Murphy put it last month during the debate over the resolution in the Senate, where it passed by a vote of 54 to 46: "We should not be associated with a bombing campaign that the U.N. tells us is likely a gross violation of human rights."

Murphy is not wrong that Saudi Arabia has caused famine and misery in Yemen. It has destroyed not just schools but school buses, and prevented the delivery of humanitarian aid. Add to this the Saudis' murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and their lies and half truths about it, and it's easy to see why members of Congress would want to end U.S. support for the Saudis' war in Yemen.

Nonetheless, this approach is short-sighted. To focus solely on Saudi Arabia's role in the Yemen conflict is to give Iran a pass for making it worse -- by, for example, giving its Houthi clients missiles capable of reaching Riyadh. If the Houthis prevail, then Iran will have access to a port in the Red Sea, from which it can make more mischief in the Middle East.

The American war is against Salafism not self-determination.

Yemen Cannot Afford to Wait (ROBERT MALLEY &  STEPHEN POMPER, 4/06/19, Defense One)

[H]owever indirectly the U.S. may be culpable for the calamity befalling Yemen, it is culpable nonetheless. The roots of the country's failure go deep: from Sanaa's repeated neglect of Houthi and southern grievances, to Yemeni elites' betrayal of the promises of the 2011 uprising, to President Hadi's ineffective and corrupt governance before the war, to the Houthi's toppling of the government in late 2014 and subsequent conquest of the rest of the country, and finally to the Saudi-led coalition's reaction to that move in the aftermath. At so many of these turns, the U.S. arguably mishandled its response. From the outset, it focused on the fight against Al-Qaeda. That blurred its vision of Hadi's failings and helped it miss the fact that, however obliging a counterterrorism partner he might have been, he widely was perceived by Yemenis as having let them down as their nation's leader. But at none of those turns was the price ultimately to be paid higher than in the American decision to support the coalition's battle.

Why the U.S. got entangled in this war--and why a president so determined to keep the country out of another Mideast military mess nonetheless got caught in this one--makes for a painful a story. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia came to the U.S. with a request for support in a campaign it vowed to conduct regardless. After that, and although events took place a mere four years ago, memories blur. In our conversations, many former U.S. officials found it hard to recall what precisely the Saudis asked for, what specific commitments the administration made in response, and when certain types of assistance started to flow. Some, including one of us who attended the deliberations, recall a deeply ambivalent president who greenlighted U.S. support but insisted it be confined to the defense of Saudi territory and not extend to the war against the Houthis. Others don't recall hearing about that instruction, and struggle to reconcile it with what the U.S. actually did during the war--including refueling coalition sorties and replenishing weapons stocks.

Yet all agree the decision ultimately came without much debate. The reason, at bottom, was straightforward: Here was a partner (Saudi Arabia) seeking help in restoring a government (that of President Hadi) the U.S. regarded as legitimate and a loyal ally in the war against al-Qaeda. That government had been toppled by an insurgent group (the Houthi or Ansar Allah); although the extent of its ties to Iran was debatable and debated, their existence was indisputable. Plus, all this came at a time when relations between Washington and Riyadh already were deeply damaged by disagreements over the Obama administration's response to the Arab uprisings and, even more so, its negotiations over a nuclear deal with Tehran. As Riyadh saw it, doing nothing would mean permitting control by a Hizbollah-like organization of its southern border, ensconcing a perpetual threat. Rebuffing the Saudi request at any time likely would have provoked a serious crisis in Saudi/U.S. bilateral relations. Doing so while the U.S. was seeking a landmark agreement with the kingdom's sworn enemy could have brought them to breaking point. That was a risk even a president skeptical of the wisdom of Saudi policies and willing to call into question elements of the relationship was not prepared to take.

it's exactly like Shi'a self-determination in Lebanon.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Homeland Security Disbands Domestic Terror Intelligence Unit (Betsy Woodruff, 04.02.19, Daily Beast)

The Department of Homeland Security has disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism, The Daily Beast has learned. Numerous current and former DHS officials say they find the development concerning, as the threat of homegrown terrorism--including white supremacist terrorism--is growing.

In the wake of this move, officials said the number of analytic reports produced by DHS about domestic terrorism, including the threat from white supremacists, has dropped significantly. People in and close to the department said this has generated significant concern at headquarters.

"It's especially problematic given the growth in right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism we are seeing in the U.S. and abroad," one former intelligence official told The Daily Beast.

The group in question was a branch of analysts in DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A). They focused on the threat from homegrown violent extremists and domestic terrorists. The analysts there shared information with state and local law enforcement to help them protect their communities from these threats.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Rouhani says Iran ready to expand gas, power trade with Iraq (Reuters, 4/06/19) 

President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for Iran and neighboring Iraq to expand their gas and electricity dealings and boost bilateral trade to $20 billion, state TV reported, despite difficulties caused by U.S. sanctions against Tehran.

"The plans to export electricity and gas and hopefully oil continue and we are ready to expand these contacts not only for the two countries but also for other countries in the region," Rouhani said after a meeting with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, in remarks carried by state television.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Rituals of Honor in Hospital Hallways (Tim Lahey, M.D., April 2, 2019, NY Times)

The double doors of the surgical intensive care unit opened into a hallway crowded with dozens of hospital employees. A hospital bed emerged, and we all fell silent.

Most beds roll out of the I.C.U. briskly, en route to radiology or an operating room, whirring with the beeps and blinks of monitors and the quick conversation of busy nurses.

This bed was different. It moved at a stately pace, and the team that accompanied it was changed as well. Nurses steered, but there was no chitchat this time. A tall anesthesiologist leaned over the head of the bed to squeeze a bag valve oxygen mask with clocklike regularity.

People in street clothes trailed close behind the bed, unsure of where to look. These were the parents of the young woman in the bed, the one we had all come to honor.

This was an "honor walk" for a dying patient about to donate her organs to others.

Whether in Idaho or Tennessee or Oregon, hospitals across the United States are holding honor walks as dignified ways to honor each patient's final contribution.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane (Lona Manning, 4/06/19, Quillette)

Sports reporters Joel Hammer and Steve Crossman spent 18 months researching and reinvestigating the case and promised listeners of the BBC's podcast that they would provide the "full" and "true" story. Their in-depth look at the crime provides far more detail about the murders than can be gleaned from Bob Dylan's 1975 protest song or the hagiographic 1999 Norman Jewison film starring Denzel Washington. Dylan accused the prosecution team of framing Carter for the slayings and called them "criminals in their coats and their ties" who were "free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise." Crossman and Hammer are likewise very critical of the prosecution; for example, they think that Alfred Bello should never have been allowed to testify. How could the life of such a man, be in the palm of some fool's hand? And they argue that the prosecution ignored--or perhaps even suppressed--an investigation into a very plausible suspect, Eddie Rawls (who is now deceased). But they stop short of calling it a frame-up and an attempt at judicial murder.

On the other hand, Crossman and Hammer think the "racial revenge motive" was a reasonable one. The very first newspaper accounts of the slaughter at the Lafayette Grill included the speculation that the murders were committed in revenge for the slaying, earlier that night, of black bartender Roy Holloway and this would also be the prosecution's contention. That Crossman and Hammer now accept the plausibility of this theory is a significant concession to the prosecution's version of events, not least because it was Judge Lee Sarokin's rejection of this motive which led him to overturn the second conviction--the prosecution's case, he ruled, had been based on "racism rather than reason."

Coincidentally, on the front page of the East Bergen Record, under the murder story, there was a wire service article about Stokely Carmichael proclaiming "Black Power" at a rally in Mississippi, an event which marked the transition from the peaceful civil rights tactics of Dr. Martin Luther King to the radical activism of the Black Panthers. These two articles encapsulated all the elements of the Lafayette Grill case that continue to be debated over 50 years later. Why did someone walk into a working-class bar and slaughter the occupants? Was the black community in Paterson in a ferment that night because a white man blew off Holloway's head with a shotgun? And what, if anything, did this have to do with the state of race relations in America at the time?

In addition to conducting lengthy interviews with people connected to the case, including Carter's co-defendant, John Artis, Hammer and Crossman studied trial transcripts, newspaper accounts, and books in their search for answers about a case which has come to be synonymous with wrongful convictions and racial injustice. They found an unpublished investigator's report. They uncovered a forgotten stash of cassette tapes of interviews with Carter (who died in 2014). We hear Carter's rich, bombastic utterances throughout the podcasts, hence the podcast series name, "The Hurricane Tapes."

While reviewing the tapes, which Carter made with his co-author Ken Klonsky for his 2011 memoir Eye of the Hurricane, the reporters came to realize that Carter wasn't always truthful, or, as they put it, he is a "complicated" man. Consequently, they warn their listeners that Carter's claims should be taken with a grain of salt. This--evidently unbeknownst to the BBC and their research staff--is the understatement of the decade.

Everything Carter says has to be checked against the record, and checked against what he himself has said over the years. Did he grow up in a nightmare of poverty, violence and racism, as he says on the tapes, or was he telling a reporter the truth in 1975 when he said, "I grew up at a time and in a locality where racism didn't exist... I never knew what racism was. I grew up in a multi-racial situation." (It is true that the violent street gang he led, the Apaches, was integrated.)

Carter's accounts of his movements on the night of the murders were inconsistent and changed significantly from the night of his arrest to the trial a year later. He coached alibi witnesses to lie for him--but most significantly, he rewrote his entire life story to claim that he was an outspoken civil rights activist, which is why he was framed for murder. This particular lie was so successful that he managed to enlist Bob Dylan and other celebrities as supporters. Later, he attracted the loyal support of a group of people called "The Canadians," pro bono legal representation, and he ended up with his arm around Denzel Washington, who proclaimed, "this man is love."

So, Carter's stories deserve more scrutiny than they receive from Crossman and Hammer.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Victimology 101: Rousseau, Victimhood, and Safe-Spaces (Steven Kessler, 4/06/19, Imaginative Conservative)

Rousseau believed Man lived in "the state of nature," which was a fictitious utopia. Human beings were naturally benevolent, naturally equals, independent of their fellow beings, and uninhibited when it came to self-expression. It wasn't until a person took private property for himself did society commence, and with it, the loss of Man's qualities associated with the state of nature.

As Rousseau proclaimed:

The fundamental principle of all morality, upon which I have reasoned in all my writings and which I developed with all the clarity of which I am capable is that man is a being who is naturally good, loving justice and order; that there is no original perversity in the human heart, and the first movements of nature are always good.[1]

Man is born benevolent, but corrupted by society. Evil comes not from Man's fallen nature, but is introduced from external forces, via society.

This is the philosophical basis of liberal victimhood. We are not responsible for our choices, but rather are victims of circumstance. We are not responsible for our portions via our choices, but they are instead dictated to us via society. To those who uphold this belief, our portions in life are not earned, nor are our portions something we are capable of changing via our choices, hard work, or good fortune. Instead, our portions in life are dictated to us via society, and we are either dealt a winning hand as victors, or are left with a losing hand as victims.

The centuries long conflict between the Anglosphere/Scandinavia and continental Europe proceeds from this rejection of fundamental Christian faith. The End of History consists of nothing more than the universal return or journey to the insight we maintained throughout.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM

Cheesy Crustless Quiche with Broccoli and Ham  (SALLY VARGAS, March 11, 2019, Simply Recipes)

Prep time: 15 minutesCook time: 30 minutesYield: 4 to 6 servings

Vegetable oil spray (for the pan)
1 medium stalk broccoli, stem and crown
5 ounces ham steak, cubed
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar (about 7 ounces)
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Special equipment:
9-inch round baking dish or pie pan

1 Prepare the oven and baking dish: Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 9-inch round ceramic baking dish or pie pan with vegetable oil. Have a baking sheet on hand.

2 Prepare the broccoli: Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cut a sliver off the bottom of the broccoli stem and peel the stem with a vegetable peeler. Slice the stem into 1/2 inch-thick, bite-size pieces. Cut the broccoli crown into small florets.

Cook the broccoli in the boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Strain the broccoli to remove the water, and spread the broccoli over the bottom of the baking dish.

3 Add the ham and cheese to the baking dish: Distribute the ham cubes over the broccoli. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cheese to sprinkle on top of the filled quiche. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the broccoli.

4 Make the custard: In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks together. Whisk in the cream, salt, and pepper. Pour the cream mixture over the filling in the pan and sprinkle the top with the reserved cheese.

5 Bake the quiche: Set the baking dish on the baking sheet and place it in the oven. Decrease the oven temperature to 350ºF.

Bake the quiche for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden and the center puffs, but is still slightly wobbly in the center.

6 Cool the quiche: Set the baking dish on a wire rack to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into wedges. Quiche can be served warm or at room temperature.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


It May Be the Most Cursed Film Ever. These 5 Crew Members Saw It Through. (Sopan Deb, April 4, 2019, NY Times)

When Terry Gilliam began work on "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," one of its producers was about 11 years old.

That would be Gilliam's daughter, Amy, who is now 41.

The movie has to be one of the unluckiest passion projects in history: In a three-decade stretch, Gilliam, now 78, endured several financing stops and starts, a rotating cast of committed and uncommitted cast members, and a brutal flash flood that wiped out an entire set. In fact, a documentary about the failure to make the movie -- the 2002 "Lost in La Mancha" -- was completed before the actual movie.

But finally, "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" is no longer just a project. Sisyphus moved the boulder to the top of the hill. After debuting at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it is a completed work that will make its American debut on April 10 in a one-night showing at 700 theaters across the country, before a limited theatrical run with a currently unknown date.

Gilliam himself, in his effort to make the film, has been likened to Quixote, but he prefers a different comparison: "The film is Quixote. I'm Sancho Panza because I'm the guy who just keeps pushing it forward," he said in a phone interview from London. "My feet are on the ground most of the time."

While he didn't make the journey alone, Gilliam had very little of the same company along the way. Only a few people involved in the final product were there when he first tried to film it in 2000: They include his daughter; a co-writer, Tony Grisoni; the cinematographer, Nicola Pecorini; and the production designer, Benjamín Fernández. The Quixote costume designed for the original production was used in the finished version.

In interviews, those who had stayed with Gilliam on this ride could be described as the director's own Sancho Panzas: equal parts loyal and astounded that Gilliam kept pressing on, even under the most challenging circumstances. [...]

But Gilliam spent nearly two more decades trying to bring it to fruition. "It's partly that everybody else says, 'Forget it, move on,'" Gilliam said. "I think that's the main driving force. I don't like reasonable people telling me to be reasonable."

The entire point of Don Quijote, to Cervantes's eternal chagrin, was that the Don's rejection of Reason is a gift to the world:

Ah, sir, may God forgive you for the damage you've done to the whole rest of the world, in trying 
    to cure the wittiest lunatic ever seen!  Don't you see, my dear sir, that whatever utility there might 
    be in curing him, it could never match the pleasure he gives with his madness?  But I suspect that, 
    despite all your cleverness, sir, you cannot possibly cure a man so far gone in madness, and, if 
    charity did not restrain me, I would say that Don Quijote ought never to be rendered sane, because 
    if he were he would lose, not only his witticisms, but those of Sancho Panza, his squire, any one of 
    which has the power to turn melancholy into happiness.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Biographer Robert Caro Pauses as He Prepares His Final Lyndon B. Johnson Volume (KARL VICK,  APRIL 4, 2019, TIME)

The desk in Robert Caro's office has a rounded notch, a clean little half circle that lets him snug his wooden chair into his custom-made workstation. Instead of legs, the top rests on a pair of sawhorses. Shims raise the surface to where his elbows naturally rest when Caro's pen rolls across the white legal pads on which he writes the first drafts of his epic biographies.

The height was calibrated by President John F. Kennedy's personal physician, Janet G. Travell, M.D., a specialist in back pain whom Caro sought out after hurting himself playing basketball. Travell decided to assess his condition by watching him work. "So she sat on the floor in my office, and she said to me, 'Do you know you sat at your desk for three hours without moving?'" Caro recalled. "She said, 'I've never seen anyone concentrate like you.'" When he finished The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974), Caro dedicated it to his researcher, Ina, who is also his wife, and to Travell, who made possible all that would follow.

"The most comfortable position in the world is not lying in bed," Caro says. "It's sitting at this desk."

It's where America's most honored biographer has spent much of the past five decades, grinding out the first four books of what was conceived as a trilogy, the magisterial The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Now 83, Caro has paused in the work of the final volume to publish Working, a conversational, behind-the-scenes compendium addressing the questions he hears most often, starting with, Why do your books take so long to write? Eight years passed between The Path to Power, the first in the Johnson series, and Means of Ascent (1990), a dozen more before Master of the Senate and another 10 until The Passage of Power, which delivered LBJ to the White House.

The first 100,000 words of the untitled finale lie in a wooden inbox on the desk. I read the first words upside down and, since he didn't tell me not to, will report that Chapter 1 begins, "When he was young ..."

April 5, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Muhammad: an anticlerical hero of the European Enlightenment (John Tolan, 4/05/19, Aeon)

Publishing the Quran and making it available in translation was a dangerous enterprise in the 16th century, apt to confuse or seduce the faithful Christian. This, at least, was the opinion of the Protestant city councillors of Basel in 1542, when they briefly jailed a local printer for planning to publish a Latin translation of the Muslim holy book. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther intervened to salvage the project: there was no better way to combat the Turk, he wrote, than to expose the 'lies of Muhammad' for all to see. 

The resulting publication in 1543 made the Quran available to European intellectuals, most of whom studied it in order to better understand and combat Islam. There were others, however, who used their reading of the Quran to question Christian doctrine. The Catalonian polymath and theologian Michael Servetus found numerous Quranic arguments to employ in his anti-Trinitarian tract, Christianismi Restitutio (1553), in which he called Muhammad a true reformer who preached a return to the pure monotheism that Christian theologians had corrupted by inventing the perverse and irrational doctrine of the Trinity. After publishing these heretical ideas, Servetus was condemned by the Catholic Inquisition in Vienne, and finally burned with his own books in Calvin's Geneva.

During the European Enlightenment, a number of authors presented Muhammad in a similar vein, as an anticlerical hero; some saw Islam as a pure form of monotheism close to philosophic Deism and the Quran as a rational paean to the Creator. In 1734, George Sale published a new English translation. In his introduction, he traced the early history of Islam and idealised the Prophet as an iconoclastic, anticlerical reformer who had banished the 'superstitious' beliefs and practices of early Christians - the cult of the saints, holy relics - and quashed the power of a corrupt and avaricious clergy. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


'Our country is full': Trump says migrants straining system (ZEKE MILLER and JONATHAN LEMIRE, 4/05/19, AP)

Declaring "our country is full," President Donald Trump on Friday insisted the U.S. immigration system was overburdened and illegal crossings must be stopped as he inspected a refurbished section of fencing at the Mexican border.

Always fun when they accidentally admit they're anti-immigrant. Period.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


In bid to remain out of jail, Michael Cohen tells Congress he has more to add (Jeremy Herb, 4/04/19, CNN)

Cohen provided several financial documents to corroborate his accusations against Trump, including a $35,000 reimbursement check signed by Trump that was displayed during his public testimony. Cohen's attorneys wrote that his testimony has sparked new requests for information and assistance from both Congress and New York state authorities.

But now Cohen is claiming he had found a new hard drive that contains millions of additional files.

"Working alone, Mr. Cohen has only had the time to go through less than 1 percent of the drive, or approximately 3,500 files," Cohen's attorneys wrote. "Mr. Cohen needs time, resources, and assistance to separate out privileged and personal documents from these 14 million files to make the rest available for review by various congressional committees."

When Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison, the Manhattan US Attorney's office did not give Cohen a cooperation agreement that could have helped reduce his sentence.

In prosecutors' statements in court and their sentencing submission, they stressed that Cohen shouldn't be considered a cooperating witness. Cohen did assist the special counsel's investigation, they said, but he "repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge."

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Does China have feet of clay? (Joseph S. Nye, 4/05/19, The Strategist)

First, there is the country's unfavourable demographic profile. China's labour force peaked in 2015, and it has passed the point of easy gains from urbanisation. The population is ageing, and China will face major rising health costs for which it is poorly prepared. This will impose a significant burden on the economy and exacerbate growing inequality.

Second, China needs to change its economic model. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping wisely switched China from Maoist autarky to the East Asian export-led growth model successfully pioneered by Japan and Taiwan. Today, however, China has outgrown that model and the tolerance of foreign governments that made it possible. For example, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is focusing on the lack of reciprocity, subsidies to state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and coerced intellectual property transfer that have allowed China to tilt the playing field in its favour. Europeans are also complaining about these issues. China's intellectual property policies and rule-of-law deficiencies are discouraging foreign investment and costing it the international political support such investment often brings. And China's high rates of government investment and subsidies to SOEs disguise inefficiency in the allocation of capital.

Third, while China for more than three decades picked the low-hanging fruit of relatively easy reforms, the changes it needs to make now are much more difficult to introduce: an independent judiciary, rationalisation of SOEs, and liberalisation or elimination of the hukou system of residential registration, which limits mobility and fuels inequality. Moreover, Deng's political reforms to separate the party and the state have been reversed by Xi.

That brings us to the fourth problem. Ironically, China has become a victim of its success. The Leninist model imposed by Mao in 1949 fit well with Chinese imperial tradition, but rapid economic development has changed China and its political needs. China has become an urban middle-class society, but its ruling elites remain trapped in circular political reasoning. They believe that only the Communist Party can save China and that any reforms must strengthen the party's monopoly on power.

But this is exactly what China does not need. Deep structural reforms that can move China away from reliance on high levels of government investment and SOEs are opposed by party elites who derive tremendous wealth from the existing system. Xi's anti-corruption campaign can't overcome this resistance; instead, it is merely discouraging initiative. On a recent visit to Beijing, a Chinese economist told me that Xi's campaign cost China 1% of GDP per year. A Chinese businessman told me real growth was less than half the official figure. Perhaps this can be countered by the private sector's dynamism, but even there, fear of losing of control is increasing the party's role.

Finally, there is China's soft-power deficit. Xi has proclaimed a 'Chinese Dream' of a return to global greatness. As economic growth slows and social problems increase, the party's legitimacy will increasingly rest on such nationalist appeals. Over the past decade, China has spent billions of dollars to increase its attractiveness to other countries, but international opinion polls show that China has not gained a good return on its investment. Repressing ethnic minorities, jailing human-rights lawyers, creating a surveillance state and alienating creative members of civil society such as renowned artist Ai Weiwei undercut China's attraction in Europe, Australia and the US.

Nor are Hong Kong, Tibet, Uighurstan, etc. even part of China.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM

60-40 NATION:

Poll: Majority of voters don't trust Trump on health care (STEVEN SHEPARD, 04/03/2019, Politico)

Voters are broadly skeptical of President Donald Trump's renewed push to dismantle the 2010 health care law, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. [...]

The poll shows that any health care battle will be fought on Democrats' turf. Asked whom they trust when it comes to health care, 45 percent of voters pick Democrats in Congress, while 35 percent choose Republicans in Congress. A majority of voters, 54 percent, have "a lot" or "some" trust in congressional Democrats to protect the health care system or make improvements to it -- significantly more than have those levels of trust in congressional Republicans (41 percent) or Trump (41 percent) on the issue.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the GOP has been super-secretive about its opposition to Obamacare...

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Trump suddenly pulls ICE nominee to go with someone 'tougher' (Priscilla Alvarez, Geneva Sands, Kaitlan Collins, Jeremy Diamond and Jim Acosta, 4/05/19, CNN)

The move to withdraw the nomination came as a surprise to the Department of Homeland Security and members of Congress, sources familiar with the nomination told CNN. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was unaware what was happening until after the nomination had been pulled, a person familiar with the news said

Vitiello did not come into the office Friday, according to an ICE official. He had been scheduled to travel with Trump on the President's trip to the US-Mexico border, and was told Thursday he would not be attending.

The White House on Thursday evening informed the Senate it was withdrawing its nomination of Vitiello to lead ICE, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

ICE leadership was under the impression, even Friday morning, that it was a clerical error, according to someone with knowledge of the nomination process. The agency was anticipating a positive outcome in the next couple of weeks.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Trump Tourism: How Charlottesville enabled Cindy Yang to market Mar-a-Lago in China (SARAH BLASKEY,  NICHOLAS NEHAMAS, AND  CAITLIN OSTROFF, MARCH 29, 2019, Miami Herald)

In Yang's new world of selling access to the Trump family any Mar-a-Lago event would do, not only ones that would benefit his 2020 campaign for reelection.

She pitched a pro-Israel event -- planned last minute by a local activist -- as an opportunity to meet top American politicians. A Mar-a-Lago New Year's party became an invite to an exclusive dinner with the president's family. A fundraiser for orphaned babies by a Virginia-based Christian group became a chance to meet the president, according to her company website.

On her website, which was taken down after initial reporting, Yang said she invites "elites from various places, including Chinese elite in the U.S., Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Europe and other countries and regions." One online advertisement for a planned 2019 event listed different levels of sponsorship; the top two with the most perks, Diamond Title Sponsor and Gold Sponsor, were reserved for foreigners only.

Yang's ads caught the eye of Dr. Charles Lee, an event bundler and seller of access to Chinese clients looking for face time with major politicians.

Lee bundled Yang's 2018 Safari Night invitation into an all inclusive eight-day "business travel diplomacy package" that for $13,000 would take guests from Beijing to visit the United Nations, U.S. Congress, and finish at Trump's South Florida residence. He brought three more Chinese businessmen to the pro-Israel event.

Jon Deng, who knew Yang through Florida's small but growing Asian-American Republican community, said it was common knowledge that Mar-a-Lago events are packaged and advertised online in China.

"It's sort of a known fact that there are buyers, and there are sellers," he said.

In the 14 months after they were pictured together at Safari Night 2018, Lee would recruit clients for five more events advertised by Yang as opportunities to pay for face time with Donald Trump.

Together Yang and Lee brought more than 20 guests to Mar-a-Lago in 2018, according to their posts on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook.

According to his website, Lee's honored guests included an executive of a line of beauty products who settled for a photo with future Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after Trump did not attend the pro-Israel event and a Chinese actress, Sun Ye, who The New York Times first reported took a picture with both adult Trump sons on New Year's Eve. She said she was staying with Yang at the time.

Yang and Lee also promoted access to a March 2018 fundraiser for Trump's reelection campaign, an event only citizens and green card holders could legally pay to attend. On the list of attendees was the owner of a chain of preschools in China who also served in the lower body of the Chinese legislature.

Yang has maintained that she has no allegiance to the Chinese government. But Lee's travel packages were explicitly intended to promote Chinese President Xi Jinping's 2015 business diplomacy agenda. The initiative included pushing Chinese business owners to promote China's Communist Party through their connections abroad, according to Lee's website. The website was taken down after Lee spoke with a Herald reporter.

Lee, who sometimes calls himself Prince Charles, is the founder of United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, which gives out "U.S.-China Ambassador" awards to clients who attend Trump events. Despite the name of the organization, no such group is listed as affiliated with the United Nations. On his website, Lee also claimed that two prominent Asian-American members of Congress, Reps. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Judy Chu, D-Calif., served as members of the group's advisory board. Their staffs told the Miami Herald that was not true and said they would ask Lee to remove their names. [...]

Presidential tourism has historically involved the homes or estates of dead presidents. But living, breathing sightseeing -- like what is on offer at Mar-a-Lago -- seems to be a new phenomenon, said June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science and China expert at the University of Miami.

"This is the first time I've heard of sitting presidents and their homes being put on tour," Teufel Dreyer said. "I think it's definitely new for China. I don't think this was done for Ronald Reagan or even somebody who was very nice to the Chinese like Barack Obama."

Yang and Lee are not alone in their efforts to capitalize on their access to the Trump family. According to a Herald analysis of Chinese social media and classified advertisements, at least five other groups are marketing Trump-related tours to Chinese elites. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Supreme Court Refuses to Block Bump Stock Ban Over Thomas and Gorsuch's Dissent (MARK JOSEPH STERN, APRIL 05, 2019, Slate)

[T]homas and Gorsuch may be irritated that the D.C. Circuit upheld the rule by applying Chevron deference. Both justices publicly oppose this doctrine, which they recently decried as "letting an interested party [an executive branch agency] ... dictate an inferior interpretation of the law that may be more the product of politics than a scrupulous reading of the statute." Thomas and Gorsuch would prefer that a court "buckles down to its job of saying what the law is" without deferring to the government's reading of an ambiguous measure. By deferring to the Trump administration's view of the federal machine gun ban, the D.C. Circuit surely rankled both justices.

Regardless of the dissenters' views, it's apparent that there is little appetite by a majority of the court to protect a device that aided a recent, horrific, and notorious massacre. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh do not seem eager to use this case to bolster the Second Amendment or curtail Chevron deference. And so hundreds of thousands of gun owners will now need to dispose of their bump stocks--or become federal criminals. 

Which is a limitation on guns.

April 4, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM

DONALD WHO (profanity alert):


General Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, let two internal Defense Department memorandums leak to The Los Angeles Times and NBC News in the past two weeks, two Pentagon sources, who asked not to be named due to U.S. military media regulations, told Newsweek.

The letters underscore the fiscal challenges the service is facing as it struggles to support security operations at the southwest border while "unplanned/unbudgeted" line items plague the general's fiscal agenda, a burden Neller asserts is an "unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency."

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Trump's border bottom line (Axios, 4/04/19)

A source who has been talking to Trump about the border situation throughout the past week said that the president remains skittish about doing anything to disrupt the markets.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Voter ID laws don't seem to suppress minority votes - despite what Republicans might want (Ben L. Pryor, James Davis, Rebekah Herrick, 4/04/19, The Conversation)

Support and opposition to these laws primarily fall along party lines. Proponents - mainly Republicans - argue they are needed to protect the integrity of the electoral process. Opponents, who tend to be Democrats, say they're not necessary to reduce voter fraud.

Democrats have a point: In-person voting fraud is almost nonexistent. President Donald Trump's now-defunct Voter Fraud Commission, which was supposed to investigate voter fraud during the 2016 election, was unable to unearth any significant evidence.

Critics claim Republicans don't really care about electoral integrity - that voter ID laws are about suppressing the turnout of minority voters, since these voters are less likely to possess legal forms of identification. Democratic candidates and activists routinely evoke these laws as tools of voter suppression.

But a growing body of evidence - which includes a new study we just published - finds that strict voter ID laws do not appear to disproportionately suppress voter turnout among African Americans, Asian Americans or people of mixed races.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Arab Regimes Are the World's Most Powerful Islamophobes: Middle Eastern governments have forged alliances with right-wing groups in the West dedicated to anti-Islam bigotry. (OLA SALEM, HASSAN HASSAN | MARCH 29, 2019, Foreign Policy)

It's just one example of an often-overlooked trend: the culpability of Arab and Muslim governments in fueling anti-Muslim hate as part of their campaigns to fight dissent at home and abroad. By trying to justify repression and appease Western audiences, some of these regimes and their supporters have forged an informal alliance with conservative and right-wing groups and figures in the West dedicated to advancing anti-Islamic bigotry.

Arab regimes spend millions of dollars on think tanks, academic institutions, and lobbying firms in part to shape the thinking in Western capitals about domestic political activists opposed to their rule, many of whom happen to be religious. The field of counterextremism has been the ideal front for the regional governments' preferred narrative: They elicit sympathy from the West by claiming to also suffer from the perfidies of radical jihadis and offer to work together to stem the ideological roots of the Islamist threat.

Based on dozens of conversations conducted over several years, we found that autocratic regimes in the region carefully cultivate conservative and far-right circles in the West that they believe lean toward their own anti-Islamist agendas. The two sides' political goals don't completely overlap: Western Islamophobia can be far more vehement and sweeping than the variety supported by Arab governments. Nevertheless, both sides find the partnership beneficial. Arab propagandists claim there is an inherent connection between so-called political correctness and a tendency to downplay ideologies that lead to terrorism--claims that are seized on by Western conservatives to legitimize their own arguments. "Our threshold is quite low when we talk about extremism," the Emirati foreign minister told Fox News a month after the 2017 panel discussion in Riyadh. "We cannot accept incitement or funding. For many countries, the definition of terror is that you have to carry a weapon or terrorize people. For us, it's far beyond that."

Such campaigns by Arab governments go beyond an effort to simply explain the precise threats posed by Islamists--which do indeed exist. Instead, they often involve scare tactics to play up the threat and create an atmosphere in which an alternative to these regimes becomes unthinkable from a Western policy standpoint. Such an environment also enables these regimes to clamp down on dissent at home with impunity. Terrorism becomes a catchall term to justify repression. In Saudi Arabia, even atheists are defined as terrorists under existing anti-terrorism laws.

Repression quiets their fears.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


The Era of the Old Athlete Is Over (Will Leitch, 4/03/19, New York)

In 2012, pitcher Jamie Moyer started ten games in April and May for a lousy, dull Colorado Rockies team. He was terrible. He had an ERA of 5.70, giving up almost a hit and a half an inning, and, in his final start of the season, he was drilled for four homers and seven runs in five innings. The Rockies mercifully released him after that game, a journeyman let go by a team that was already going nowhere. It was an entirely unremarkable transaction that nevertheless depressed just about every person I knew.

The reason for this was simple: Jamie Moyer was old. He was 49 years old -- he would turn 50 at the end of the season -- which, when he earned the latter of his two wins that May, made him the oldest pitcher in Major League Baseball history to win a game. It wasn't his skills that made him beloved among baseball fans, though: It was that he was pitching at all. The fact that a 49-year-old was still an active major leaguer made everyone I knew feel younger than they really were. The end of Moyer meant the end of the illusion of youth.

Every sports fan goes through this, the accelerating aging process of sports, watching our own cycle of birth, life, and death play out with our favorite players right in front of us. Athletes essentially age like dogs: Take how many years they've been playing, multiply it by seven, and that's how old their career is in normal human time, before retirement, i.e. death. (In football the life cycle is more like tsetse fly's.) A player's career is nearly over by the time many of us are still figuring out what the hell we're doing in our lives. (We're all now old enough that the players we watched in college are now running for president.) My marker was former Phillies/Tigers/Cardinals infielder Placido Polanco, who was born on October 10, 1975, the same day as me; he quit the game three years ago, though I like to kid myself he's got a comeback left in him. The day the last athlete older than you retires is a dark one indeed.

I bring all this up because sports, more than at any other time I can remember, have become deeply, almost obsessively preoccupied with youth. 

If a single WAR is worth around $8 million, it makes little sense to sign declining expensive players.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Donald Trump wrongly claims his father was born in Germany - again (Jessica Glenza, 3 Apr 2019, The Guardian)

Trump's father, Fred Trump, was born in New York. Trump's grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was born in the German village of Kallstadt.

According to a German historian, Friedrich Trump immigrated to the US in 1885, escaping poverty and allegedly catering to miners during the Gold Rush in the western US. He returned to Germany in 1901, fell in love with Elisabeth Christ. The two married and returned to the US.

Friedrich attempted to return to Germany in 1905 when Christ became homesick, but was ejected from Germany and ordered not to return after it became apparent he failed to perform mandatory military service.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


ALL ABOUT PETE: Only accept politicians who have proved they actually care about people other than themselves... (NATHAN J. ROBINSON, 3/29/19, Current Affairs)

When he is asked about what his actual policies are, Buttigieg has often been evasive. He has mentioned getting rid of the electoral college and expanding the Supreme Court, but his speech is often abstract. In this exchange, for instance, a VICE reporter pressed Buttigieg to better specify his commitments:

VICE: I listened to you talk today. On the one hand, you definitely speak very progressively. But you don't have a lot of super-specific policy ideas.

BUTTIGIEG: Part of where the left and the center-left have gone wrong is that we've been so policy-led that we haven't been as philosophical. We like to think of ourselves as the intellectual ones. But the truth is that the right has done a better job, in my lifetime, of connecting up its philosophy and its values to its politics. Right now I think we need to articulate the values, lay out our philosophical commitments and then develop policies off of that. And I'm working very hard not to put the cart before the horse.

VICE: Is there time for that? They want the list. They want to know exactly what you're going to do.

BUTTIGIEG: I think it can actually be a little bit dishonest to think you have it all figured out on day 1. I think anybody in this race is going to be a lot more specific or policy-oriented than the current president. But I don't think we ought to have that all locked in on day 1.

This is extremely fishy. First, while there's a valid argument that "technocratic liberal wonkery" disconnected from values is uninspiring and useless, the left is not usually accused of being too specific on policy. Quite the opposite: The common critique is that behind the mushy values talk there are too few substantive solutions to social problems. Why does Buttigieg think telling people your values and coming up with plans are mutually exclusive? Why does he think having a platform means you believe you've got it "all figured out on Day 1"? Why treat policy advocates as "dishonest"? Why mention the extremely low bar of being "more policy-oriented than the current president?" And what use are values statements if you don't tell people what the values mean for action? I've seen plenty of progressive policy agendas that don't sacrifice values (e.g., Abdul El-Sayed's plans, the U.K. Labour Party's 2017 manifesto). A candidate who replies to this question with this answer should set off alarm bells.

The first thing to say about Shortest Way Home is that while it is extremely well-constructed, it is not tremendously exciting. This is because Buttigieg's life has been squeakily bland and respectable. He was born in an upper-middle-class family. His parents were both professors at Notre Dame. He did extremely well in school and took piano lessons and became the high school student body president. He won the "Profiles in Courage" essay contest. He went to Harvard.

To give a bit of color to the "from elite school boyhood to elite school undergraduate years" story, Buttigieg portrays himself as an Indiana hayseed for whom the bustling metropolis of Cambridge, MA was an alien world. So, even though he grew up on the campus of a top private university 90 minutes from Chicago, the Boston subway amazed him. "My face would[...] have stood out amid the grumpy Bostonians, betraying the fact that I was as exhilarated by the idea of being in a 'big' city as I was by the new marvels of college life." He claims to have always found something "distant and even intimidating about the imagery" of being a student. His dorm was a "wonder" because it had exposed brick, "a style I'd only ever seen in fashionable restaurants and occasionally on television." In a ludicrous passage, he suggests that he found the idea of a clock on a bank a wondrous novelty: "Looking up overhead, I could note the time on a lighted display over the Cambridge Savings Bank building. I felt that telling the time by reading it off a building, instead of a watch, affirmed that I was now in a bustling place of consequence." Uh, you can tell time off a building on the Notre Dame campus, too, albeit in analog form--clock towers are not a unique innovation of the 21st century megalopolis. (I enjoy reading these "simple country boy unfamiliar with urban ways" sentences in the voice of Stinky Peterson from Hey! Arnold.) Calculated folksiness runs through the whole book. On the cover he is literally in the process of rolling up his sleeves, his collar blue, in front of a Main Street Shopfront. There is a smattering of exaggerated Hoosierism on many a page: "You can read the progress of the campaign calendar by the condition of the corn."

But okay, that's not unexpected. He's a politician, from time to time they all have to stand by a truck on a dirt road and talk about corn. The first time I actually became concerned was when Buttigieg described Harvard Square. He writes that when he emerged off the Big City Subway, his "eyes darted around the lively scene." He mentions the newsstand where you can "get exotic newspapers like La Repubblica or Le Monde" and the motley mix of characters he saw, like the "teenage punks" and someone passing out flyers for "something edgy like a Lyndon LaRouche for President rally or a Chomsky talk down at MIT." (Same kind of thing, apparently.) There's something amiss here though. These are indeed some of the impressions you might get setting foot in the Square. But there's another fact about the world outside the Harvard gates that is instantly apparent to most newcomers: It has long had a substantial population of homeless people. In fact, it's a scene as grotesque as it is eclectic: Directly outside the Corinthian columns of the richest university on earth, people wrapped in dirty coats are begging for a buck or two from passing students. Most of the university population has trained themselves to ignore this sub-caste, to the point where they don't even see them at all, and Buttigieg is no different. The closest he gets is reporting "a mix of postdocs, autodidact geniuses, and drifters" at the Au Bon Pain. He doesn't mention seeing injustice.

Perhaps just an oversight, though every time I've passed through Harvard Square it has been my signature impression. But there was soon something even more disquieting. Talking about politics on campus, Buttigieg says:  

In April 2001, a student group called the Progressive Student Labor Movement took over the offices of the university's president, demanding a living wage for Harvard janitors and food workers. That spring, a daily diversion on the way to class was to see which national figure--Cornel West or Ted Kennedy one day, John Kerry or Robert Reich another--had turned up in the Yard to encourage the protesters.

Striding past the protesters and the politicians addressing them, on my way to a "Pizza and Politics" session with a journalist like Matt Bai or a governor like Howard Dean, I did not guess that the students poised to have the greatest near-term impact were not the social justice warriors at the protests [...] but a few mostly apolitical geeks who were quietly at work in Kirkland House [Zuckerberg et al.]

I find this short passage very weird. See the way Buttigieg thinks here. He dismisses student labor activists with the right-wing pejorative "social justice warriors." But more importantly, to this day it hasn't even entered his mind that he could have joined the PSLM in the fight for a living wage. Activists are an alien species, one he "strides past" to go to "Pizza & Politics" sessions with governors and New York Times journalists. He didn't consider, and still hasn't considered, the moral quandary that should come with being a student at an elite school that doesn't pay its janitors a living wage. (In fact, years later Harvard was still refusing to pay its workers decently.)

If you come out of Harvard without noticing that it's a deeply troubling place, you're oblivious. It is an inequality factory, a place that trains the world's A-students to rule over and ignore the working class. And yet, nowhere does Buttigieg seem to have even questioned the social role of an institution like Harvard. He tells us about his professors, his thesis on Graham Greene. He talks about how how interesting it is that Facebook was in its infancy while he was there. But what about all the privilege? Even Ross Douthat finds the school's ruling class elitism disturbing! Buttigieg thought the place fitted him nicely.

9/11 happens while Buttigieg is an undergraduate and the rest of the book's Harvard portion is spent musing on war and peace. One of the few things that does disturb him about the school is that its students are no longer expected to serve in the military. (In an extreme conservative tone, he suggests there was no excuse for a student like him not to voluntarily join the armed forces.) He says that he would spend time looking at the names of Harvard students who died in the Civil War, and that "I sometimes paused to recite a few of them, under my breath, between eating breakfast and going to class."

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Finally, Fake Bacon That Tastes Good (AC Shilton, Apr 3, 2019, Outside)

Meet Outstanding Foods' PigOut Pigless Bacon Chips, a salty-smoky-crunchy marvel of plant-based culinary craftiness. The architect behind these chips is chef Dave Anderson, who helped Impossible Foods launch its meat-free burger patty that has gone mainstream and is being sold at White Castle and Carl's Jr. and will be soon at Burger King nationwide. Now Anderson had partnered with serial entrepreneur Bill Glaser to bring home the fake bacon with their own line of meat-free products.

Anderson loved working on the Impossible Burger. It's made with heme, a molecule that comes from the roots of legumes and gives fake meat its meaty flavor. But building a burger off a specific molecule was mostly lab-based scientific work. He missed the simplicity of working with whole foods, the way he used to coax meat-like flavors from mushrooms at his restaurant, Madeleine Bistro, in Los Angeles. "Our goal is that we want to use more whole-ingredient stuff and not be so heavily reliant on the science," he says.

For PigOut's first product, Anderson kept things simple. The main ingredient in the bacon chips is king oyster mushrooms. "I came to mushrooms because there's a lot of umami and meaty texture and flavor going on," he says. Plus, mushrooms are full of health benefits, adds cofounder Glaser, who points to studies showing a range of reasons to eat more fungi: possibly slowing cognitive decline, acting like a statin and reducing blood cholesterol, and maybe even boosting the immune system.  

To make the bacon chips, Anderson deep-fries paper-thin mushroom slices in sunflower and safflower oil. The resulting texture is shockingly bacon-like. It crumbles in your mouth like the tastiest of crispy meat candy. And while nothing will ever taste exactly like the real thing, these are a damn good substitute. Heavy on the smoke, with plenty of salt and just a hint of sweetness, they're so addicting that you may find yourself powering through a bag in one sitting.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


The Story of Migration Is More Positive Than We've Been Led to Believe (MO IBRAHIM, 4/03/19, TIME)

Data shows that migrants support GDP growth in destination countries and are valuable, often indispensable parts of the workforce. Their economic contribution is considerable. Migrants' contribution to GDP is estimated at 19% in Côte d'Ivoire, 13% in Rwanda and 9% in South Africa.

Migration can invigorate growth, plug labor market gaps and offer constructive opportunities for energetic and growing youth populations. Today, 60% of Africa's population is under the age of 25 and by 2100, Africa's youth could be equivalent to twice Europe's entire population. However, the match between education and the skills needed by employers is worse than in any other world region. Technological progress in recent years has created new jobs and business models, but opportunities for young African's to master this innovation are still lacking across the continent.

This is a huge challenge we must take on. If we do not manage and foster mobility, we run the risk of losing our greatest asset: our young people.

Refusal to create legal migration routes, insufficient policies and weak mobility frameworks mean criminal networks often profit from migration more than governments. When migration is poorly managed, we all lose out. In 2016, illegal smuggling generated $7 billion in income, equivalent to the amount spent by the United States or European Union countries on global humanitarian aid in the same year. These are sobering numbers.

Humanity has always been on the move. Migrations are the fabric of our shared existence and have strengthened continents, countries and communities for millennia. Supporting migration, rather than thwarting it, is essential if we wish to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and end poverty.

The political challenge for Africa -- and, indeed, the world -- is to incentivize migration in the right way, be it geographical, educational or professional.

The African Union's recent protocol on free movement, adopted a year ago, is a key step. This commitment to removing some of the barriers to migration will allow employers to recruit the skills they need, supporting economic development across Africa. But in Africa as elsewhere, the popular political will needs to press ahead. Attitudes in Africa towards migration are more positive than anywhere else in the world. African citizens are ready.

One of the ways Nativists obfuscate is to claim they're just worried about the homogeneity of recent immigration: here's a way for them to embrace diversification.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Limited information Barr has shared about Russia investigation frustrated some on Mueller's team (Ellen Nakashima, Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman April 4, 2019, Washington Post)

Members of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's team have told associates they are frustrated with the limited information Attorney General William P. Barr has provided about their nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether President Trump sought to obstruct justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

The displeasure among some who worked on the closely held inquiry has quietly begun to surface in the days since Barr released a four-page letter to Congress on March 24 describing what he said were the principal conclusions of Mueller's still-confidential, 400-page report. [...]

But members of Mueller's team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant.

"It was much more acute than Barr suggested," said one person, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity.

No worries: information wants to be free.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bolton Builds Anti-China Campaign at the U.N. (COLUM LYNCH, APRIL 3, 2019, Foreign Policy)
John Bolton, the U.S. national security advisor, is leading a campaign to contain China's growing influence in the United Nations and other international organizations, a move that reflects growing alarm that Beijing is taking advantage of the U.S. retreat from the world stage to build diplomatic alliances and promote its own global interests.

April 3, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Mar-a-Lago arrest spotlights security risks at Trump estate (JONATHAN LEMIRE, COLLEEN LONG and TERRY SPENCER, 4/03/19, AP) 

As palm trees swayed in the ocean breeze, Yujing Zhang approached Secret Service agents in the Mar-a-Lago parking lot.

She said she was going to the swimming pool at the Palm Beach presidential estate and presented agents with two Chinese passports in her name. That raised suspicions with her screeners, but a call to the front desk at Mar-a-Lago revealed a club member with a similar last name and with that, and a possible language barrier, reception waved her through.

Not long after, Zhang was arrested carrying four cellphones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive and a thumb drive containing computer malware in an incident that is shining a spotlight on the unique difficulty of fortifying the oceanside Florida estate of President Donald Trump -- who was staying at the club that weekend but golfing elsewhere at the time.

Zhang's arrest has revived concerns about security -- particularly cyber security -- at a presidential refuge that mixes social functions, world diplomacy and extraordinary access to the president. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Why a lab-grown BK Whopper™ is cause for excitement (ROBBY BERMAN, 03 April, 2019, rightly Understood)

The health case

This section contains, among other things, a list of the things we won't get from lab-grown cell-ag foods, including:

pathogens like Salmonella and E. Coli
fecal contamination
meat and seafood growth hormones
mad-cow disease prions
swine and avian flu, and other illnesses
plastic particles in "seafood"
mercury in "seafood"
animal-production antibiotics that accelerate the development of resistant superbugs

Cell-ag also looks to promote greater food production stability and predictability, and can scale to help feed the planet's growing population. Their contaminant-free growing environment gives cell-ag foods a longer shelf life. Critical shortages can be more efficiently addresses after disasters, and famines can be avoided, and geographically independent production solves current supply issues in areas that struggle to import food.

(Brooke Becker/Shutterstock)

The environment case

Land use

We know that the extensive land-use requirements of animal-based products are among the main drivers of climate change. For some animals, it's an issue of grazing land. For others, such as seafood, it's processing. Here's how much less land Gasteratos estimates we'll use after switching to cell-ag.

cattle -- 99%
dairy -- 97%
poultry -- 66%
pigs -- 82%
seafood -- 55%
land overall -- 80%

It's much the same story with water use.

cattle -- 98%
dairy -- 99.6%
poultry -- 92%
pigs -- -95%
seafood -- 86%
water overall -- 94%
Greenhouse gasses

Here's the reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG) a switch to cell-ag may produce:

cattle -- 96%
dairy -- 65%
poultry -- 74%
pigs -- 85%
seafood -- 59%
GHG overall -- 76%

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Biden Opposed Historic Black DOJ Nominees In Anti-Busing Crusade (Amanda Terkel, 4/03/19, HuffPo)

In 1977, two black men nominated for key Justice Department posts by President Jimmy Carter easily won approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. After confirmation by the full Senate, Drew Days III became the nation's first black head of the department's civil rights division and Wade McCree became the second black solicitor general. 

Only one member of the committee voted against them. It wasn't segregationists Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) or James Eastland (D-Miss.). It wasn't even former Ku Klux Klan member Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

The lone Judiciary Committee vote against the two men was Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Stocks up on hopes for U.S.-China trade, soft Brexit (Chuck Mikolajczak, 4/03/19, Reuters) 

World stocks climbed for a fifth session on Wednesday on optimism over U.S.-China trade talks and for a softer British exit from the European Union, while oil prices retreated after an unexpected rise in inventories.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Sides With Donald Trump and Rand Paul Over Syria Withdrawal (Davis Richardson, 04/03/19, NY Observer)

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined a list of high-profile politicians offering "bipartisan support" for President Donald Trump's withdrawal from Syria.

In a letter coauthored by Senator Rand Paul (R-K.Y.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), lawmakers urged the Trump administration to leave Syria within the next six months, noting the deployment of military forces was not approved by Congress in 2015.

The Left is the Right.
Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Old, Online, And Fed On Lies: How An Aging Population Will Reshape The Internet (Craig Silverman, 4/03/19, BuzzFeed News)

Although many older Americans have, like the rest of us, embraced the tools and playthings of the technology industry, a growing body of research shows they have disproportionately fallen prey to the dangers of internet misinformation and risk being further polarized by their online habits. While that matters much to them, it's also a massive challenge for society given the outsize role older generations play in civic life, and demographic changes that are increasing their power and influence.

People 65 and older will soon make up the largest single age group in the United States, and will remain that way for decades to come, according to the US Census. This massive demographic shift is occurring when this age group is moving online and onto Facebook in droves, deeply struggling with digital literacy, and being targeted by a wide range of online bad actors who try to feed them fake news, infect their devices with malware, and steal their money in scams. Yet older people are largely being left out of what has become something of a golden age for digital literacy efforts.

Since the 2016 election, funding for digital literacy programs has skyrocketed. Apple just announced a major donation to the News Literacy Project and two related initiatives, and Facebook partners with similar organizations. But they primarily focus on younger demographics, even as the next presidential election grows closer.

This means the very people who struggle the most with digital information and technology risk being left to fend for themselves in an environment where they're being targeted and exploited precisely because of their vulnerabilities.

Older people are also more likely to vote and to be politically active in other ways, such as making political contributions. They are wealthier and therefore wield tremendous economic power and all of the influence that comes with it. With more and more older people going online, and future 65-plus generations already there, the online behavior of older people, as well as their rising power, is incredibly important -- yet often ignored.

Four recent studies found that older Americans are more likely to consume and share false online news than those in other age groups, even when controlling for factors such as partisanship. Other research has found that older Americans have a poor or inaccurate grasp of how algorithms play a role in selecting what information is shown to them on social media, are worse than younger people at differentiating between reported news and opinion, and are less likely to register the brand of a news site they consume information from.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Why Do Women Earn Less Than Men? Evidence from Bus and Train Operators (Bolotnyy V, Emanuel N., Harvard University)

Even in a unionized environment where work tasks are similar, hourly wages are identical, and tenure dictates promotions, female workers earn $0.89 on the male-worker dollar (weekly earnings). We use confidential administrative data on bus and train operators from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to show that the weekly earnings gap can be explained by the workplace choices that women and men make. Women value time away from work and flexibility more than men, taking more unpaid time off using the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and working fewer overtime hours than men. When overtime hours are scheduled three months in advance, men and women work a similar number of hours; but when those hours are offered at the last minute, men work nearly twice as many. When selecting work schedules, women try to avoid weekend, holiday, and split shifts more than men. To avoid unfavorable work times, women prioritize their schedules over route safety and select routes with a higher probability of accidents. Women are less likely than men to game the scheduling system by trading off work hours at regular wages for overtime hours at premium wages.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


I Tried the Impossible Burger. White Castle, Burger King, and Cheesecake Factory Are Onto Something Big. (Peter Economy, 4/02/19, Inc)

I recently had one of those burger cravings, and decided to track down an Impossible Burger and give it a taste test. Using the locator on the company's website, I quickly found a surprisingly long list of restaurants that sell the burgers in my area. I picked the closest location and headed out.

I placed my order: an Impossible Burger on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions. About 7 minutes later, my burger arrived and I took a moment to admire it. It looked like a burger, smelled like a burger, and felt like a burger while I eagerly held it in my hands. As my salivary glands kicked into overdrive, and dove in.


The Impossible Burger didn't just look, smell, and feel like a burger, it tasted like one too. I don't mean "sort of" or "kind of" tasted like a burger -- I mean it really did taste like a real, cow-based burger.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump tells House GOP to be more 'paranoid' about vote counts (Eli Watkins, April 2, 2019, CNN)

President Donald Trump -- who has previously issued baseless claims about ballot-counting and voter fraud -- warned House Republicans on Tuesday night to be "more paranoid" about vote tallies.

Shortly after taking the stage at the National Republican Congressional Committee's spring dinner, Trump said, "We've got to watch those vote tallies," and implied, without citing a specific example, that close races had been wrongly decided for Democrats.

"I don't like the way the votes are being tallied," Trump said. "I don't like it, and you don't like it either. You just don't want to say it because you're afraid of the press. You're afraid of the press."

...but it appears the opposition defeated Erdogan fair and square.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Like a Ferrari, you don't need it': New Zealanders set to turn in guns (Jorge Silva, 4/02/19, Reuters)

For 14 years Womersley has worked at "home kill," shooting beasts for small farmers and cutting them up, but tough new gun laws to be adopted after the nation's worst mass murder by a lone gunman will require him to surrender another of his guns.

"Guns are a way of life for me, really," says Womersley, 48, who received his first firearm, a .22-calibre rifle, for his 12th birthday, and now hunts with his 15-year-old daughter.

"It's pretty much what I live and breathe. I (shoot) on the weekends for fun and then I do it during the week for a job."

As the first beast slumps, he rapidly draws back and pushes forward his riflebolt, firing again and then a third time. In seconds, three cattle are dead on the damp ground. He gathers his knives and begins to cut them up.

"I shoot animals, I don't shoot targets. I shoot food," says Womersley. [...]

"I don't think we need military-style weapons in our society. I definitely don't need them in my job," he says. "It's like driving around in a Ferrari, you don't need it."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Hind Makki is changing the conversation around women's inclusion in mosques (Aysha Khan, 4/01/19, RNS)

When women are cut off from the rest of the congregation, they lose the experience of group prayer, which is considered critical for a community's social and spiritual development in Islam, she said.

That's part of why Makki has spent the past seven years bringing the discussion on women's inclusion in Muslim spaces into the mainstream -- from launching Side Entrance, her popular blog contrasting men's and women's prayer spaces in mosques around the world, to training Muslim leaders around the country on how to foster a women-friendly mosque culture. [...]

"As an American, the idea of separate but equal is just so anathema to me, and I think that that is often physically shown in mosques just by where women enter the mosque," she said.

Makki's blog helped lead the way for a broader push among young Muslims to make mosques more inclusive.

In London, a group of female activists launched the Inclusive Mosque Initiative around the same time to organize women-led community programming and alternative worship spaces.

Research from the 2011 American Mosque Study, conducted by a coalition of organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America and the Islamic Circle of North America, offered in-depth data on women's participation in mosques around the country.

And shortly after, the 2014 watershed documentary "UnMosqued" showed how disconnected many young Muslims felt from mainstream Muslim institutions.

Rose Aslan, an Islamic scholar and the second woman to ever deliver a Friday sermon at the Women's Mosque of America, said Makki's work follows the path paved by activists like prominent Islamic scholar Amina Wadud.

In 2005, Wadud drew headlines for leading a public mixed-gender prayer service in New York City. Because most Muslims believe that women cannot lead men in performing prayer, a slew of fatwas were issued declaring her actions heretical.

"She really angered a lot of people, and many people around the world remain upset about what she did," said Aslan, an assistant professor at California Lutheran University. "But she set the stage for less provocative actions down the line."

In the wake of her "radical and controversial" actions, initiatives like Side Entrance, the Women's Mosque of America and the Muslim women's education program Rabata now "seem so mild," said Aslan.

"It's harder for people to complain as much when they're not violating any Muslim legal doctrines," she said.

Programs focused on women's empowerment and education, whether they're from a liberal or conservative religious perspective, are relatively new, said Aslan.

Those programs include the rise of women-centered mosques, like the Women's Mosque of America and Masjid al-Rabia, as well as the emergence of so-called "third spaces" among young professional Muslims. These alternative Islamic communities have now cropped up in virtually every major metropolitan area in the country, whether it's a formal organization like Washington, D.C.'s MakeSpace or a new group that cropped up in L.A. last month and is meeting in restaurants.

"Young professionals are just moving away from their mosques if they're not changing fast enough," Aslan said. "These spaces just speak more to what younger generations say they need and want."

Just as Catholicism and Judaism previously, we're remaking Islam in our image.

April 2, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Algeria's Bouteflika quits after protests (SBS, 4/02/19)

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has resigned, succumbing to a groundswell of pressure after weeks of protests against his 20-year rule.

The ailing 82-year-old leader announced he was standing down in a statement carried by state news agency APS on Tuesday, shortly after the army chief of staff demanded action to remove him from office.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Trump's aides warn him border shutdown would be disastrous (NANCY COOK and ANDREW RESTUCCIA, 04/02/2019, Politico)

President Donald Trump's senior economic aides are scrambling to impress upon him the potentially dire economic costs of his threat to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Both Kevin Hassett and Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic advisers, have shared papers and data with Trump over the last 36 hours, illustrating the way economic growth could slow down even if the president shut down the border for just one day -- not to mention the effect on the flow of goods, raw materials and the U.S. supply chain.

Inside the White House, officials frantically spent the day searching for ways to limit the economic impact of shuttering the border, according to two senior administration officials and one Republican close to the White House. One possibility involved closing the border to cars but allowing commercial trucks to continue to pass through. Officials stressed, however, that no final decisions had yet been made.

Publicly, Republican leaders expressed their own dismay at the threats, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called potentially "catastrophic."

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Democrats mock Trump over healthcare delay, prepare for 2020 battle (Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, 4/02/19, Reuters) 

Democrats mocked President Donald Trump on Tuesday for pushing back his promise of sweeping healthcare reform until after the 2020 election, and said they were happy to make it a central campaign issue. [...]

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said he told Trump on Monday that the party was not about to restart work on comprehensive healthcare legislation, noting they were unable to pass a plan when they controlled both chambers of Congress in the first two years of the Trump presidency.

"I made it clear to him we were not going to be doing that in the Senate," McConnell told reporters.

Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in November elections after campaigning heavily on healthcare.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Chicago Police Department Says Murders Down 30 Percent, Shootings Down 17 Percent Through March  (CBS, 4/01/19) 

Police said burglaries, robberies, and car thefts also are at a 20-year low.

Johnson said violent crime has been going down in Chicago for the past three years, and pointed to the creation of new "strategic decision support centers," which the department began installing in district stations in 2017. The so-called "nerve centers" are equipped with ShotSpotter gunshot detection systems and other high-tech crime-fighting tools.

"Since we initiated the strategic decision support centers in 2017, we're down about 50 percent in terms of gun violence overall," Johnson said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


White House spokesman twice calls Puerto Rico 'that country' in TV interview (John Wagner April 2, 2019, Washington Post)

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley twice referred to Puerto Rico as "that country" during a television appearance Tuesday in which he defended a series of tweets by President Trump lashing out at leaders of the U.S. territory.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Healthcare Once Again Tops List of Americans' Worries (JIM NORMAN, 4/01/19, Gallup)

Fifty-five percent of Americans worry "a great deal" about the availability and affordability of healthcare, topping Gallup's list of potentially worrisome issues for the fifth straight year. A majority of Americans have said they worry a great deal about healthcare in each of the 18 years the question has been asked since 2001, more than twice as often as any of the other 12 issues most often measured.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


Germany's crime rate fell to lowest level in decades in 2018 (Deutsche-Welle, 4/02/19)

The crime rate in Germany has fallen for the second year in a row, according to the 2018 crime report that was published on Tuesday. [...]

The Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) detailed the number of reported criminal acts for 2018, including the following takeaways:

5.56 million criminal acts were recorded in 2018 -- down 3.6 percent from the previous year.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


God is an SJW (yOSEIF bLOCH, APR 2, 2019, tIMES OF iSRAEL)

The most prominent speaker was House Minority Leader, Republican Kevin McCarthy, whose latest campaign called out three Jewish billionaires and warned "We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election!" I could have sworn there was a hubbub recently about antisemitic tropes...

Of course, the sitting Republican president of the United States suffered no ill effects after telling Jewish Republicans: "You're not going to support me because I don't want your money. You want to control your politicians, that's fine."

Then, once he was in office, he told his guests at the White House Hanukkah Party about how much the Second Couple loves Israel: "And they go there and they love your country. They love your country. And they love this country. That's a good combination, right?" Hm, dual loyalty much?

Then there was the Dinner Chairman, Rabbi Yechezkel Moskowitz, who declared that the worst antisemitic attack in American history was not the result of anti-immigrant hysteria fueled by white supremacy and encouraged by the president. No, it was the fault of Torah Trumps Hate, an organization of progressive Orthodox Jews. "The Pittsburgh shooting as horrifying as it was, was in my opinion a sad but direct result of their actions." In fact, progressive Jews should be defined as moserim, collaborationist traitors marked for death, according to Moskowitz. (He later retracted that part of the accusation, as McCarthy deleted his tweet. Yay?)

Now, it shouldn't shock me how quickly "All Antizionism is antisemitic" morphed into "Only Antizionism is antisemitic." As an American-born Orthodox Jew, I have watched that pernicious idea bloom over the last four decades. But hey, that's just politics, right?

Unfortunately, it no longer is. Far more disturbing than Moskowitz, McCarthy or Messiah ben Fred, is the report that the term tikkun olam was booed at this event.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


One Month In, 'Jexodus' Group Has Trump's Support - And Not Much Else (Aiden Pink and Jenny Singer, April 2, 2019, Forward)

A little over a month after being promoted - twice - by President Trump, the right-wing Jewish advocacy group formerly known as "Jexodus" has changed its name and slowly begun its programming.

Now known as "The Exodus Movement," the group's leader, 23-year-old activist and model Elizabeth Pipko, has a shiny new website and two events lined up already - at Yeshiva University and a Republican women's club in Boca Raton, Florida. Pipko has also made the rounds on conservative TV shows and podcasts, and has so far been promoted by Eric Trump's wife Lara in addition to the president.

However, the organization has been criticized for being a so-called "astroturf" organization founded by a longtime Republican operative, and having little grassroots support in a largely-liberal community - and indeed, the cover image on their social media pages is not a supporter but rather a stock photo model. The organization's Facebook and Twitter pages only have around 6,000 combined followers.

Jews have consistently voted for Democrats in the last few elections - with a 79%-17% Democratic split in the 2018 midterms, according to an exit poll commissioned by the left-wing Israel group J Street.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Trump Lives by Ratings. He Won't Like This One. (Annie Karni, April 1, 2019, NY Times)

[M]r. Trump may not like how his brand is faring in one important metric: his "E-Score," a number compiled by E-Poll Market Research that is not publicly available, but which marketing executives, network television stations and advertisers rely on to figure out which personalities appeal to audiences -- and which do not.

Like the Q Score, which measures the appeal of celebrities, the E-Score calculates awareness and appeal of individuals in the public eye. But it also tracks how individuals score on more than 40 personality and physical attributes.

In terms of those attributes, Mr. Trump was most often described as "aggressive" (48 percent) and "mean" (38 percent), according to his scores from December that were obtained by The New York Times. He also scored high for being "insincere," "confident" and "creepy." But he scored between 0 and 4 percent for the attributes of "sexy," "impartial," "handsome" and "physically fit."

About 29 percent of people described Mr. Trump as "overexposed." And his overall strong positive appeal is 14 percent, compared with an overall strong negative appeal of 39 percent.

Among adults over the age of 55, Mr. Trump consistently held more positive appeal than among those who are younger. Mr. Trump also consistently held more positive appeal with men than with women, across all age groups.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Trump's threat to close border stirs fears of economic harm (CEDAR ATTANASIO, April 1, 2019. AP) 

Politicians, business leaders and economists warned that such a move would block incoming shipments of fruits and vegetables, TVs, medical devices and other products and cut off people who commute to their jobs or school or come across to go shopping.

"Let's hope the threat is nothing but a bad April Fools' joke," said economist Dan Griswold at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia. He said Trump's threat would be the "height of folly," noting that an average of 15,000 trucks and $1.6 billion in goods cross the border every day.

"If trade were interrupted, U.S. producers would suffer crippling disruptions of their supply chains, American families would see prices spike for food and cars, and U.S. exporters would be cut off from their third-largest market," he said.

While the Deep State has stopped most of Trumpismj, he has been able to impose record taxes and regulations unilaterally.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Got No Bump From Mueller. He Should Worry. (Jonathan Bernstein, April 1, 2019, Bloomberg)

On March 22, the day Mueller's report was delivered, FiveThirtyEight estimated that Trump's approval rating was at 41.9 percent and his disapproval at 52.9 percent. By March 31, he had inched up to 42.1 percent approval and stayed flat at 52.9 percent disapproval. [...]

Here's why that's bad news for Trump. His approval rating is the second-worst of any president on record after 801 days in office, which is where Trump was on Sunday. Only Ronald Reagan, at 41.1 percent, was worse. Trump is dead last in disapproval rating. No other president was over 50 percent. He's also last in net approval (that is, approval minus disapproval) at -10.7.

Trump's numbers have been unusually steady. His poor rating, and his low ranking among the 13 presidents of the polling era, isn't a temporary fluke caused by recent bad news. It's just where he always is. He's been net negative since the earliest days of his presidency, and his disapproval has been over 50 percent for two years now. In fact, he's been last in disapproval for all but about a month of his presidency. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump punts health care until after 2020: Just last week the president had seemed to go all in on a new effort to wipe out Obamacare. (QUINT FORGEY and JOHN BRESNAHAN 04/01/2019, Politico)

President Donald Trump signaled Monday that congressional Republicans would wait until after the 2020 elections to vote on a GOP replacement for Obamacare -- putting off a presumably savage legislative battle on a hot-button campaign issue until after his re-election bid.

He's the Washington Generals.

April 1, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


White House whistleblower says 25 security clearance denials were reversed during Trump administration  (Rachael Bade April 1, 2019, Washington Post)

A White House whistleblower told lawmakers that more than two dozen denials for security clearances have been overturned during the Trump administration, calling Congress her "last hope" for addressing what she considers improper conduct that has left the nation's secrets exposed.

Tricia Newbold, a longtime White House security adviser, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that she and her colleagues issued "dozens" of denials for security clearance applications that were later approved despite their concerns about blackmail, foreign influence or other red flags, according to panel documents released Monday.

Newbold, an 18-year veteran of the security clearance process who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, said she warned her superiors that clearances "were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security" -- and was retaliated against for doing so.

The problem is not that everyone in Donald's orbit serves foreign governments, it's that the American people don't get to see the information too.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fall in February (Reuters, 4/01/19) 

U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell in February, the latest sign economic growth has shifted into low gear as stimulus from $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and increased government spending fades.

The GOP has warned for decades that taxes and regulations suppress growth, but Donald isn't a Republican.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


The unlikely similarities between the far right and IS (Frank Gardner, 3/30/19, BBC)

Since the middle of last year, MI5, the security service, has been tasked with helping the police tackle the growing threat from British far-right extremists.

Counter-terrorism officers have been using a range of methods, including phone taps, to gather intelligence on what the most violent individuals have been planning or aspiring to do.

In some cases, arrests have been made after suspects have been caught downloading child pornography. But officials say that neo-Nazis and other extremists have also been accessing material to plan attacks published by their ideological enemies, Islamic State.

This may seem strange, but it should not come as a surprise.

Their ideologies may be diametrically opposed to each other but there are some disturbing similarities between them, some of which are obvious, others less so.

Hateful ideologies are all numbingly similar.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Need a new ear? Technion opens 3D tissue printer for researchers (SHOSHANNA SOLOMON, 4/01/19, Times of Israel)

A 3D center for the printing of cells, tissues and organs has been set up in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa to enable researchers to print complex tissues and improve their integration into human organs, the university said.

The 3-D Bio-Printing Center for Cell and Biomaterials, part of the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, is open to all Technion researchers and "will lead the Technion's tissue engineering research into new areas," said faculty dean Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, who heads the center, in a statement.

Tissue engineering has made "dizzying progress in recent decades," the Technion said. It is the field in which a combination of cells, engineering and materials are joined with biochemical and physiochemical factors to create biological tissue that can improve or replace real tissue.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


This Is Your Brain on Nationalism: The Biology of Us and Them (Robert Sapolsky, March/April 2019, Foreign Affairs)

He never stood a chance. His first mistake was looking for food alone; perhaps things would have turned out differently if he'd been with someone else. The second, bigger mistake was wandering too far up the valley into a dangerous wooded area. This was where he risked running into the Others, the ones from the ridge above the valley. At first, there were two of them, and he tried to fight, but another four crept up behind him and he was surrounded. They left him there to bleed to death and later returned to mutilate his body. Eventually, nearly 20 such killings took place, until there was no one left, and the Others took over the whole valley.

The protagonists in this tale of blood and conquest, first told by the primatologist John Mitani, are not people; they are chimpanzees in a national park in Uganda. Over the course of a decade, the male chimps in one group systematically killed every neighboring male, kidnapped the surviving females, and expanded their territory. Similar attacks occur in chimp populations elsewhere; a 2014 study found that chimps are about 30 times as likely to kill a chimp from a neighboring group as to kill one of their own. On average, eight males gang up on the victim.

If such is the violent reality of life as an ape, is it at all surprising that humans, who share more than 98 percent of their DNA with chimps, also divide the world into "us" and "them" and go to war over these categories? Reductive comparisons are, of course, dangerous; humans share just as much of their DNA with bonobos, among whom such brutal behavior is unheard of. And although humans kill not just over access to a valley but also over abstractions such as ideology, religion, and economic power, they are unrivaled in their ability to change their behavior. (The Swedes spent the seventeenth century rampaging through Europe; today they are, well, the Swedes.) Still, humankind's best and worst moments arise from a system that incorporates everything from the previous second's neuronal activity to the last million years of evolution (along with a complex set of social factors). To understand the dynamics of human group identity, including the resurgence of nationalism--that potentially most destructive form of in-group bias--requires grasping the biological and cognitive underpinnings that shape them.

Such an analysis offers little grounds for optimism. Our brains distinguish between in-group members and outsiders in a fraction of a second, and they encourage us to be kind to the former but hostile to the latter. These biases are automatic and unconscious and emerge at astonishingly young ages. They are, of course, arbitrary and often fluid. Today's "them" can become tomorrow's "us." But this is only poor consolation. Humans can rein in their instincts and build societies that divert group competition to arenas less destructive than warfare, yet the psychological bases for tribalism persist, even when people understand that their loyalty to their nation, skin color, god, or sports team is as random as the toss of a coin. At the level of the human mind, little prevents new teammates from once again becoming tomorrow's enemies.

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.

The Right eagerly dons the chains.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Erdoğan's party loses Ankara in Turkish local elections blow (Bethan McKernan,  1 Apr 2019, The Guardian)

What should have been routine municipality elections morphed into a referendum on Erdoğan's decade and a half in office as economic woes began to bite into his support.

Erdoğan's leadership has been marked by consistently strong economic growth, but last year's currency crisis triggered an official recession last month. Inflation is hovering at about 20%, sending the cost of living soaring for working-class AKP voters.

Opposition hope that dissatisfaction at inflation and rising unemployment would be enough to dissuade working-class AKP voters from turning up to vote appeared to be well-founded.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Training A Computer To Read Mammograms As Well As A Doctor (Richard Harris, 4/01/18, NPR)

"These are the sorts of things that we can also teach a model, but more importantly we allow the model to teach itself," she says. That's the power of artificial intelligence -- it's not simply automating rules that the researchers provide but also creating its own rules.

"The optimist in me says in three years we can train this tool to read mammograms as well as an average radiologist," she says. "So we'll see. That's what we're working on."

This is an area that's evolving rapidly. For example, researchers at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands spun off a company, ScreenPoint Medical, that can read mammograms as well as the average radiologist now, says Ioannis Sechopoulos, a radiologist at the university who ran a study to evaluate the software.

When machines replace them it's efficiency.  When they replace us it's time for UBI.