December 31, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


'How did they get so close?': Analysts ask if Iraqi security forces turned a blind eye during attack on US Embassy in Baghdad (Joel Gehrke, December 31, 2019 , Washington Examiner)

An Iranian-controlled militia couldn't have breached the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad without the tacit acquiescence of some Iraqi security forces, according to American government sources and analysts.

"It shows just how fragile that relationship is with the U.S. and Iraq," a U.S. government source who has worked in Baghdad told the Washington Examiner. "It's not an Iraqi government, it's an Iranian satellite."

Such frustrations have simmered for months amid rocket attacks on bases that house American troops in Iraq. The attacks were launched by Iranian-controlled militias that are supposed to report to the Iraqi central government. Those tensions erupted Tuesday when the militias succeeded in breaching the Green Zone in Baghdad.

"I don't think there is any way that protesters could have gotten so close to the wall and breached the compound without the Iraqi security forces turning a blind eye," Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Washington Examiner. "The fact that they got so close to the wall ... geographically, that could not have happened without some level of turning a blind eye by security forces."

Some members of Iraqi security services tasked with protecting the embassy appear to have joined the assault, as local photographers caught uniformed men helping smash windows at the compound. "This is a major catastrophic image and an indicator of how things are in Baghdad," Steven Nabil, a correspondent with Alhurra, a U.S.-backed media outlet in Iraq, tweeted of the photos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Which Enlightenment?: a review of The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments by Gertrude Himmelfarb (Keith Windschuttle, March 2005, New Criterion)

[I]t explains the source of the fundamental division that, despite several predictions of its imminent demise, still doggedly grips Western political life: that between the left and the right. From the outset, each side had its own philosophical assumptions and its own view of the human condition. Roads to Modernity shows why one of these sides has generated a steady progeny of historical successes while its rival has consistently lurched from one disaster to the next.

Most historians have accepted for several years now that the Enlightenment, once popularly characterized as the Age of Reason, came in two versions, the radical and the skeptical. The former is now generally identified with France, the latter with Scotland. It has also been acknowledged that the anti-clericalism that obsessed the French philosophes was not reciprocated in Britain or America. Indeed, in both these countries many Enlightenment concepts--human rights, liberty, equality, tolerance, science, progress--complemented rather than opposed church thinking. [...]

Moreover, unlike the French who elevated reason to the primary role in human affairs, British thinkers gave reason a secondary, instrumental role. In Britain it was virtue that trumped all other qualities. This was not personal virtue but the "social virtues"--compassion, benevolence, sympathy--which the British philosophers believed naturally, instinctively, and habitually bound people to one another. In the abstract, this difference might seem merely one of degree but, as it worked itself out in the subsequent history of the Continent and the British Isles, it was profound.

In making her case, Himmelfarb defines the British Enlightenment in terms that some might find surprising. She includes people who in the past have usually been labeled part of the Counter-Enlightenment, especially John Wesley and Edmund Burke. She assigns prominent roles to the social movements of Methodism and Evangelical philanthropy. Despite the fact that the American colonies rebelled from Britain to found a republic, Himmelfarb demonstrates how very close they were to the British Enlightenment and how distant from French republicans.

These differences have remained to this day, and over much the same issues. On the one hand, in France, the ideology of reason challenged not only religion and the church but all the institutions dependent upon them. Reason was inherently subversive. On the other hand, British moral philosophy was reformist rather than radical, respectful of both the past and present, even while looking forward to a more enlightened future. It was optimistic and had no quarrel with religion, which was why, in both Britain and the United States, the church itself could become a principal source for the spread of enlightened ideas. [...]

Apart from the different philosophical status they assigned to reason and virtue, the one issue where the division between the British and Continental Enlightenments was most sharply contrasted was their attitude to the lower orders. This is a distinction that has reverberated through politics ever since. The radical heirs of the Jacobin tradition have always insisted that it is they who speak for the wretched of the earth. In eighteenth-century France they claimed to speak for the people and the general will. In the nineteenth century they said they represented the working classes against their capitalist exploiters. In our own time, they have claimed to be on the side of blacks, women, gays, indigenes, refugees, and anyone else they define as the victims of discrimination and oppression. Himmelfarb's study demonstrates what a façade these claims actually are.

The French philosophes thought the social classes were divided by the chasm of poverty and, more crucially, of superstition and ignorance. They despised the lower orders because they were in thrall to Christianity. The editor of the Encyclopédie, Denis Diderot, declared the common people had no role in the Age of Reason. "The general mass of men are not so made that they can either promote or understand this forward march of the human spirit." Indeed, "the common people are incredibly stupid," he said, and were little more than beasts: "too idiotic--bestial--too miserable, and too busy" to enlighten themselves. Voltaire agreed. The lower orders lacked the intellect required to reason and so must be left to wallow in superstition. They could be controlled and pacified only by the sanctions and strictures of religion which, Voltaire proclaimed, "must be destroyed among respectable people and left to the canaille large and small, for whom it was made."

In Britain and America, by contrast, the chasm between rich and poor was bridged by the moral sense and common sense the Enlightenment attributed to all individuals. Everyone, including the members of the lower orders, had a common humanity and a common fund of moral and social obligations. It was this social ethos, Himmelfarb argues, that in the English-speaking world was the common denominator between Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, secular philosophers, religious enthusiasts, Church of England bishops, and Wesleyan preachers.

"Man is by constitution a religious animal," Edmund Burke famously wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. For Burke, religion itself--religious dissent in particular--was the very basis of liberty.

Once you appropriately disaggregate the two that way, in what sense is the British an Enlightenment rather than just the organic culmination of Christianity as it moved from purely theological matters to economics, politics, and social reform?

[originally posted: 4/12/05]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 PM


Reflections on Burke's Reflections: Revisiting the lasting, provocative wisdom of Edmund Burke (Gertrude Himmelfarb, February 2009, New Criterion)

Edmund Burke was, and still is, a provocative thinker--a provocation in his own day, as in ours. At a time when most right-minded (which is to say, left-inclined) English literati were rhapsodizing over the French Revolution--Wordsworth declaring what "bliss was it in that dawn to be alive"--Burke wrote his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a searing indictment of the Revolution. He was accused then, as he often is now, of being excessive, even hysterical, in his account of the Revolution:

a ferocious dissoluteness in manners, an insolent irreligion in opinions and practices, ... laws overturned, tribunals subverted, industry without vigor, commerce expiring ... a church pillaged ... civil and military anarchy ... national bankruptcy.

All this, one must remember (it is sometimes hard to remember), was said in November 1790, three years before the Reign of Terror, which Burke was so presciently describing.

While others were witnessing what they took to be a natural and much needed political revolution, the transformation of an absolute monarchy into a limited monarchy, Burke saw nothing less than a total revolution--a social, religious, and economic revolution as well as a political revolution. And beyond that, a cultural revolution, "a revolution," he said, "in sentiments, manners, and moral opinions." This was well before the momentous events: the abolition of the monarchy and establishment of the republic; the execution of the king and queen; the declaration of war against much of Europe (and England); the confiscation of the property of dissidents and emigrés; the imprisonment, expulsion, and assassination of more moderate (and not so moderate) revolutionaries; and, finally, the establishment of the Reign of Terror. Three years before Robespierre came to power, Burke took the measure of the man and his regime.

Justifying perfidy and murder for public benefit, public benefit would soon become the pretext, and perfidy and murder the end; until rapacity, malice, revenge, and fear more dreadful than revenge could satiate their insatiable appetites.

This was the Revolution Burke described--or, rather, predicted--in his Reflections on the Revolution in France--an extraordinary feat of political imagination. Burke's critics have never forgiven him for that "premature" account of the Revolution, for recognizing the seeds of the Terror so early and so dramatically. Nor can they forgive him for revealing the flawed philosophy and the temper of mind that had inspired the Revolution and had made it so total. In this sense, the Reflections was even more provocative than it seems on the surface, for it was an indictment not only of the French Revolution but of the French Enlightenment, which was even more revolutionary, aspiring to create nothing less than an "age of reason." This is why so much of the Reflections went well beyond the Revolution itself, reflecting upon the nature of man, society, politics, religion, and much else--reflections, I may add, that are as provocative and challenging to conservatives as to liberals. [...]

[H]e deliberately chose to shock his readers, to oblige them to confront the issues more boldly by expressing them more starkly--to confront not only the French Revolution, but the inevitable cultural revolution that he believed to be even more subversive than the political revolution.

More subversive, indeed, for England as well as France, which is why so much of the Reflections is a vigorous critique of those Englishmen who were reinterpreting their own revolution a century earlier in the spirit of the French, as if their revolution had given the people the right to select (in effect, to elect) their king and depose him at will. On the contrary, Burke insisted, that "glorious Revolution" was designed to secure the dynastic succession by restoring legitimate government after the illegitimate usurpations of James II, thus preserving those "ancient indisputable laws and liberties, and that ancient constitution of government" which are "the only security for law and liberty." The French, Burke argued, could have reformed their government in the same manner, but chose instead the fatal path of revolution--total revolution.

It is this Burke, the author of the Reflections, who is often pilloried as reactionary--quite wrongly, I obviously believe. No one could attach that label to the Burke who, as a Whig, not a Tory, sided with parliament and party against the King and his ministers. Nor does it apply to the Burke who was a friend and disciple of Adam Smith, who is reputed to have said that Burke was "the only man who, without communication, thought on these topics [a free economy] exactly as he [Smith] did." Nor does it apply to the Burke who defended John Wilkes, the radical Member of Parliament who was expelled from the House of Commons for libeling the king. Nor to the Burke who conducted a long campaign against Warren Hastings and the East India Company for abusing their charter and exploiting the people of India. Nor to the Burke who joined William Wilberforce in the campaign to abolish the slave trade. Nor, most notably, to the Burke who was an eloquent champion of America before and during the American Revolution. [...]

It might have been Burke, in the Federalist Papers, observing that "a man must be far gone in Utopian speculations ... to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious." Or reflecting upon "the veneration which time bestows on everything ... without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability." Or remarking that "the reason of man, like man himself, is timid and cautious when left alone, and acquires firmness and confidence in proportion to the number with which it is associated" (and fortified, too, by "ancient" opinion as well). Or that "the most rational government will not find it a superfluous advantage to have the prejudices of the community on its side." Or that experience is "that best oracle of wisdom." Most telling, and most Burkean, is Alexander Hamilton's advice in the last of the Papers:

I should esteem it the extreme of imprudence to prolong the precarious state of our national affairs, and to expose the Union to the jeopardy of successive experiments, in the chimerical pursuit of a perfect plan. I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man.

If Burke could have penned those words in the Federalist Papers, Hamilton or Madison could have written that memorable passage toward the end of the Reflections--a passage that could well serve as an epigraph to the Federalist Papers:

To make a government requires no great prudence. Settle the seat of power; teach obedience; and the work is done. To give freedom is still more easy. It is not necessary to guide; it only requires to let go the rein. But to form a free government, that is, to temper together these opposite elements of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires much thought, deep reflection, a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind.

A "sagacious, powerful, and combining mind"--Burke might have been describing the authors of the Federalist Papers, who had collectively displayed just such a mind.

The genius of the Federalist Papers was to devise a constitution for the new republic which made the United States the most enduring and most successful republic in modernity. The genius of the Reflections was to provide a philosophical critique of that other revolution, so different from the American, which produced another republic, ill-conceived and ill-fated. "You chose to act," Burke told the French, "as if you had never been molded into civil society, and had everything to begin anew." The Americans never made that mistake.

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[originally posted: 2/03/09]

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


The Once-Born and the Twice-Born : The militant quest for certitude among the New Atheists has a peculiarly old-fashioned feel about it (GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB, 9/28/12, WSJ)

To anyone even casually familiar with the perennial debate between religion and science, both the New Atheism of the four horsemen and the "Neo-Atheism," as it might be dubbed, of Mr. de Botton seem peculiarly old-fashioned--retro, as we now say. And it is old-fashioned enough to recall a participant in that debate more than a century ago. The Harvard philosopher William James did not identify himself as an atheist. On the contrary, it was as a believer that he defended religion--but a believer of a special sort and a religion that the orthodox, then and now, would not recognize as such. If Mr. de Botton is a Neo-Atheist, James qualifies as a Neo-Believer.

His 1896 lecture "The Will to Believe" was prompted, James said, by the "freethinking and indifference" he encountered at Harvard. He warned his audience that he would not offer either logical or theological arguments supporting the existence of God or any particular religion, ritual or dogma. His "justification of faith" derived instead entirely from the "will" or the "right" to believe, to "adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, despite the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced." James knew this would not go down well with the students and philosophers in the eminent universities. To the obvious objection that the denial of the "logical intellect" is to give up any claim to truth, he replied that it is in defense of truth that faith is justified--the truth provided not by logic or science but by experience and reflection. Moral questions, he pointed out, cannot be resolved with the certitude that comes from objective logic or science.

...and the poor Materialists have never surmounted the problem that objective truth can only be derived via Faith, not Reason.

[originally posted: 9/29/12]
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Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Meet Mr. Bagehot : How 'the greatest Victorian' speaks to us. (Gertrude Himmelfarb, September 9, 2013, Weekly Standard)

After graduating from college (University College London, not Oxford as his mother would have preferred, because his father objected to its religious requirement), Bagehot started the study of law, but found that uncongenial--starving, he complained, his "higher half thoughts, half instincts." A visit to Oxford acquainted him with the followers of John Henry Newman and prompted him to read and admire the man, although not to agree with him. Reflecting on the division in his own life between his mother's Anglicanism and his father's Unitarianism, Bagehot came to a view of religion that transcended any doctrinal creed: "In religious matters, it is prudent to venerate what we do not comprehend. .  .  . We cannot prove that God is infinite, omnipotent and good, but we require the assumption that He is so or all is dark." "Despite my doubting temper," he concluded, "I sought a rational, consoling creed."   

Another visit, this time to Paris, brought to the fore the political side of his "doubting temper." He came there in 1851, at the age of 25, just in time to witness the coup d'état of Louis-Napoleon and report upon it in a series of articles for the Inquirer, a Unitarian weekly. In a mood that might be interpreted, he confessed, as "satiric playfulness," even "cynicism," he proceeded to shock his "high-minded" liberal readers by defending the coup. "I am pleased to have seen a revolution, but once is enough," he told them. 

That "revolution" turned out to be for the young Bagehot what the momentous French Revolution was for Edmund Burke, moving him to entertain ideas that were at odds not only with those of his friends but with those of most of his countrymen. Unlike Burke, however, Bagehot approved of this revolution. "The first duty of society is the preservation of society," he reminded his readers. It was in the face of a threatening social anarchy that Napoleon was justified in taking over the government and asserting a strong executive power tantamount to dictatorship. 

Almost apologetically, Bagehot introduced another theme to account for the coup: "national character .  .  . the least changeable thing in this ever-changeful world." It was the distinctive national characters of the two countries that made French politics so volatile and the English so stable. It was at this point that Bagehot "provocatively," as he said, used the word "stupidity" to explain the character of the English people and thus the stability of their regime: 

The most essential mental quality for a free people whose liberty is to be progressive, permanent, and on a large scale, is what I provocatively call stupidity. .  .  . Stupidity [is] the roundabout common sense and dull custom that steers the opinion of most men. .  .  . Nations, just as individuals, may be too clever to be practical, and not dull enough to be free. Dullness is the English line, as cleverness is that of the French. 

Many years later, expressed somewhat more delicately, but still provocatively, this was to be one of the leading themes of The English Constitution.

[originally posted: 08/31/13]
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Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


The French Connection : How the Revolution, and two thinkers, bequeathed us 'right' and 'left.' (Gertrude Himmelfarb, December 9, 2013, Weekly Standard)

Hard cases, it is said, make bad law. So, too, extreme situations make bad policy and worse philosophy. The French Revolution was just such a situation; compared with the French, the English and American revolutions are almost unworthy of the title of revolution. No one took the measure of the extremity of that revolution better than its contemporaries Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. And nobody drew the most far-reaching, antithetical, and enduring political and philosophical lessons from that revolution.

"The Great Debate" between Burke and Paine, Yuval Levin demonstrates, has persisted to this day in the form of the great divide between right and left. Levin is uniquely qualified to deal with both the political and philosophical aspects of that debate, then and now. As a writer, editor, and former policy staffer in the White House (where he dealt with such "wonkish" issues, he explains, as health care, entitlements, and the budget), he is himself a combatant in that debate. He is also a credentialed political philosopher, having earned his doctorate from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. It is a formidable task Levin has set himself: to appreciate not only the exigencies and complexities of that historic moment (sometimes obscured by the passionate rhetoric of the protagonists), but also the underlying philosophical assumptions that drove the debate and continue to inspire it today.

Edmund Burke does not make that task easy. On the contrary, he almost defies it. He made no secret of his contempt for "metaphysicians." "I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions," he wrote in his defense of the American Revolution. "I hate the very sound of them." Twenty years later, the French revolutionaries provoked him even more: "Nothing can be conceived more hard than the heart of a thoroughbred metaphysician. It comes nearer to the cold malignity of a wicked spirit than to the frailty and passion of a man."

Nor was it only philosophy in the formal "metaphysical" sense that he derided. On one occasion after another, he expressed his distrust of "principles" and "abstractions." "History is a preceptor of prudence, not of principles," he declared. 

Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.

The issue is complicated by the charge leveled against Burke, in his time and since, that he was inconsistent, most notably in his support of the American Revolution and condemnation of the French Revolution. Burke anticipated such criticism when he described himself, in the concluding words of his Reflections on the Revolution in France, as "one who would preserve consistency by varying his means to secure the unity of his end." That did not satisfy Thomas Jefferson, who, upon reading the Reflections, remarked that "the Revolution in France does not astonish me so much as the revolution in Mr. Burke." Nor did it satisfy Thomas Paine, who opened the preface to Rights of Man by explaining that he had thought of Burke, the defender of the American Revolution, as "a friend to mankind," and, as their acquaintance had been founded on that ground, he would have found it "more agreeable .  .  . to continue in that opinion, than to change it." 

200-Year-Old Dispute Erupts Today in Battle Between Left and Right, But Beware of Burke (IRA STOLL,  December 2, 2013, NY Sun)

Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France" and his other writings also include some keepers: "What is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness..." And also: "The idea of forcing every thing to an artificial equality has something, at first view, very captivating in it."

However, "Those who attempt to level never equalize" -- the very attempt is a "monstrous fiction, which by inspiring false ideas and vain expectations into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life serves only to aggravate and embitter that real inequality."

Americans just wanted their God-given rights as Englishmen.  The French wanted the state to force equality.  It doesn't seem that difficult to differentiate.

[originally posted: 12/03/13]

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Corey Lewandowski forgoes bid to unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire (MATTHEW ROZSA, DECEMBER 31, 2019, Salon)

Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager of President Donald Trump, announced Tuesday that he will not run for the Senate seat in New Hampshire currently held by Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Gertrude Himmelfarb, influential conservative scholar, dies at 97 (HILLEL ITALIE, 12/31/19, AP)

Himmelfarb was the widow of neoconservative "godfather" Irving Kristol. Her son, neoconservative publisher-commentator William Kristol, says the cause was congestive heart failure.

A manufacturer's daughter, Himmelfarb was born in New York City in 1922. She attended Brooklyn College as an undergraduate, while also studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The enemy at this time of her life was not the welfare state, but capitalism. She was a Trotskyist who attended meetings of the Young People's Socialist League, if only because she enjoyed the company of the "smartest people around."

One was a fellow traveler named Irving Kristol, who proposed to her after just four dates. They married in 1942. She received a master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and her first book, "Lord Acton: A Study In Conscience and Politics," came out in 1953. Other works included "Victorian Minds," "The Idea of Poverty" and "Marriage and Morals Among the Victorians."

She taught for years at City College of New York and served at various times as an adviser for the Library of Congress, the National Council on the Humanities and the American Enterprise Institute.

Kristol and Himmelfarb remained together until his death in 2009 and had two children: Elizabeth and William. Himmelfarb, known privately as Bea Kristol, did allow for at least one modern detail in her life: she continued to write under her maiden name. The decision was practical, she would explain, not political, since she already was known professionally as Gertrude Himmelfarb. But it didn't keep reviewers from comparing her to her husband.

"Critics never fail to mention the fact that I am married to the notorious conservative Irving Kristol and so on," she told C-Span's Brian Lamb during a 1991 interview. "One critic ... the whole theme of his essay on me was, 'Gertrude Himmelfarb is a brilliant historian so long as she's Gertrude Himmelfarb, but she fails dismally as soon as she becomes Mrs. Irving Kristol.'"

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Hanukkah Stabbing Suspect Appears To Have Been Driven By Anti-Semitism, FBI Says (Bobby Allyn, 12/30/19, NPR)

Family and loved ones of Thomas are offering a vastly different picture of the man whose motivation for the attack was likely explained by severe mental delusions, according to his lawyer.

Thomas was class president at his high school in Queens, N.Y., and then joined the Marine Corps. According to his lawyer, he sustained unspecified injuries while in the military. Afterward, he held down a series of jobs before his mental health severely declined.

At the time of the attack, Thomas was being medicated for depression and psychosis, said his attorney, Sussman, who interviewed Thomas in jail on Monday.

"His explanations were not entirely coherent," Sussman said.

The Rev. Wendy Paige, who is Thomas' pastor, was stunned by news of his violent actions. To Paige, Thomas was always "a gentle giant with mental illness," she said.

He is a vegan and a "germophobe" who incessantly washes his hands, Paige said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


Susan Collins is "open" to calling witnesses in President Trump's Senate impeachment trial (SHIRA TARLO, DECEMBER 31, 2019, Salon)

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Monday appeared to break with some of her GOP colleagues when she stated that she is "open" to calling witnesses as part of the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Collins, in separate interviews with Maine Public Radio and WCSH, a Maine TV station, said a decision on potential witnesses should wait until after senators hear opening arguments from both  House impeachment managers and Trump's legal team.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Reasons to be Hopeful (Tony Morley, 12/31/19, Quilllette)

We are living through the healthiest, wealthiest, best-educated, and most abundant time in the history of human civilisation. No age has seen more humans experience a higher standard of material, physical, and mental well-being than the one in which we are now living. If that statement strikes you as counterintuitive, uncomfortable, or even offensive, then you are not alone. Many people dispute or outright reject the positive indicators of global progress, expressing a vivid scepticism or wholesale rejection and even hostility to this news. A great many others see the human progress around them and feel ashamed or embarrassed to promote it, incorrectly assuming that only the rich countries are flourishing, often or entirely at the expense of developing and poor countries.

However, around the world vast numbers of people are escaping poverty, gaining access to advanced healthcare, paid work and banking, clean water, cleaner air, more nutritious food, electricity, education, and much more. Today the life expectancy, healthcare, nutrition, available resources, and standards of living in the world's poorest countries largely exceeds that of the world's wealthiest countries at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. On the morning of January 1, 1800 in Britain, life expectancy was 36.6 years and GDP was just $3,430 per capita. Today, life expectancy in Zambia, one of the world's poorest countries, exceeds 50 years, and GDP per capita is greater than $3,800.

Quite the opposite dynamic appears to be in play: many First Worlders resent that there's nothing intrinsically special about us and everyone can do as well if they adopt our beliefs and systems.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Team Trump's Furious Hunt to Find Out Who 'Liked' a Chelsea Clinton Tweet
 (Erin Banco & Asawin Suebsaeng, Dec. 31, 2019, Daily Beast)

That week in July, Trump drew criticism for his decision to let his daughter Ivanka fill his seat at the G20 meeting of top economic powers in Hamburg, Germany. After days of the pile on, Trump took to Twitter the morning of July 10 to claim his decision to have Ivanka represent the U.S. at the G20 was "very standard" and that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany agreed. Not more than 15 minutes later, he switched his tenor and began attacking Clinton and the press. "If Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother, as her mother gave our country away, the Fake News would say CHELSEA FOR PRES!," Trump said. 

Clinton shot back: "It would never have occurred to my mother or my father to ask me. Were you giving our country away? Hoping not."

That tweet garnered more than half a million likes, including by the account for the U.S. mission to the European Union. That kickstarted a weeks-long investigation, prompted by the secretary's office, into who exactly at the Brussels mission had access to the Twitter account and hit "Like" on Clinton's tweet, according to two former U.S. officials. (Full disclosure: Clinton sits on the board of IAC, The Daily Beast's parent company.) Nearly 10 people were interviewed about whether they, as administrators of the account, had mistakenly or deliberately pressed the "Like" button. All of them denied any wrongdoing, those sources said. One individual familiar with the exchanges said the Secretary of State's top managers in Washington "wanted blood" and called Brussels numerous times demanding the name of the culprit.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


U.S. airstrikes on Iran-backed militia have sparked anti-America blowback in Iraq (Peter Weber, 12/31/19, The Week)

Iraq's prime minister and top Shiite cleric both denounced the U.S. airstrikes Monday and warned they could lead to a proxy war between Iran and the U.S. in Iraq.

Iraqis viewed the 24 militia deaths for one U.S. contractor as an overreaction on America's part. "And while the militia is closely tied to Iran, many Iraqis see it primarily as an Iraqi force and were angered by an attack on it by an outside power," the Times reports. "For Iran, the reversal comes at an opportune moment, as it has faced pushback around the region and unrest and economic distress at home."

December 30, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


For Palestinians, sudden wave of election talk rekindles hope (Joshua Mitnick, 12/30/19, CS Monitor)

For an entire generation of Palestinians, participating in national elections is something never before experienced. Many barely recall the last time a parliamentary vote was held, 14 years ago.

But with a steady stream of pronouncements about elections back in the national dialogue, there's an uptick in optimism among Palestinians that they may finally go back to the polls to elect a legislature and a president.

And after years of infighting and acrimony between President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party and the Islamist Hamas that has paralyzed domestic Palestinian politics, the two bitter rivals have agreed in principle to hold a long-awaited election as a step toward mending the rift.

"Yes, I'm excited. I'm 25, and I've never voted before. I'm waiting to see who's going to be the next president and who I'm going to vote for," says Anas Tzahboub, a soccer coach. "It's important for Palestinians to choose their leader."

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


AP Exclusive: Trump ally may have broken Venezuela sanctions (JOSHUA GOODMAN, 12/30/19, AP)

Erik Prince, a major Republican donor and founder of controversial security firm Blackwater, has been referred to the U.S. Treasury Department for possible sanctions violations tied to his recent trip to Venezuela for a meeting with a top aide of President Nicolas Maduro, two senior U.S. officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Prosecutors charge Monsey stabbings suspect with federal hate crimes (Jacob Knutson, 12/30/19, Axios)

Authorities said they recovered journals with anti-Semitic entries they believe belong to Thomas that included references to Adolf Hitler, "Nazi culture" and drawings of a Star of David and a swastika.

The criminal complaint against Thomas said the FBI recovered a phone they believe belonged to the suspect that had online searches with phrases like "Why did Hitler hate the Jews" and "German Jewish Temples near me."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Exclusive poll: Black Americans motivated by Trump to vote in 2020 (Alexi McCammond, 12/30/19, Axios)

A majority of black Americans are more interested in voting in the 2020 presidential election than they were in 2016, according to a national survey of 1200 black voters and non-voters conducted by Third Way and the Joint Center.

Why it matters: Black voter turnout declined significantly in 2016 nationally and in key swing states, ultimately contributing to Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump. New details from focus groups and polling suggests that the motivation to remove Trump from office is firing up black Americans to head to the polls next November.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The White House always knew Trump's order to freeze Ukraine aid could blow up, New York Times details (The Week, 12/30/19)

Everyone but Trump was eager for the aid to be released, and White House lawyers eventually crafted but never released a legally dubious argument for why Trump could continue to withhold it, defying Congress and federal laws on spending allocated funds, the Times reports. "The Democratic-led inquiry into Mr. Trump's dealings with Ukraine this spring and summer established that the president was actively involved in parallel efforts -- both secretive and highly unusual -- to bring pressure on" Kiev by withholding desperately needed funds and forcing the public launch of politically advantageous investigations.

Now, key officials are claiming they either knew about only one of those efforts or never connected the dots. But from the beginning, the White House knew Trump's order could be explosive, emails show.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


When John Solomon was Rudy Giuliani's toughest critic (DANIEL LIPPMAN and TINA NGUYEN, 12/30/2019, Politico)

Long before they entered a symbiotic relationship to pick apart the Bidens' alleged ties to Ukrainian corruption, John Solomon and Rudy Giuliani had a completely different dynamic: an investigative reporter focused on uncovering Giuliani's potential corruption, chasing after a presidential candidate whose campaign was unhappy at his muckraking in Rudy-world.

As the national investigative correspondent for the Washington Post, where he was hired in early 2007, Solomon's byline graced the top of multiple critical stories about Giuliani, who was then pursuing a presidential bid on the strength of his reputation as a crime-fighting mayor who soothed a grieving New York City after the 9/11 attacks.

Solomon's stories, often co-written with other Post reporters and some of which appeared on the front page, bolstered his own career as an investigative journalist. But they also caused considerable damage to Giuliani's presidential ambitions, along with other reporting from The New York Times.

Several of Solomon's stories detailed the close relationship between the campaign and his firm Giuliani Partners, which was billed for campaign services such as security and which possibly violated campaign finance laws, and where he continued to work despite his pledge to leave the firm during the campaign.

Other reports focused on Giuliani's relationship with Bernard Kerik, the former commissioner of the NYPD, whom he'd recommended for the top job at the Department of Homeland Security only to see the nomination collapse amid concerns that Kerik had hired an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper and nanny. (He has claimed that he was unaware of her immigration status.)

Solomon reported in April 2007 that Giuliani was well aware of a host of issues with Kerik before he suggested his former police chief to George W. Bush: "questionable financial deals, an ethics violation, allegations of mismanagement and a top deputy prosecuted for corruption, [and a] friendship with a businessman who was linked to organized crime," who "told federal authorities that Kerik received gifts, including $165,000 in apartment renovations, from a New Jersey family with alleged Mafia ties."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The New York Times defends its decision to publish a controversial op-ed exploring why 'Jews are smart' (Rosie Perper and Kat Tenbarge, 12/30/19, Business Insider)

The New York Times defended an op-ed written by columnist Bret Stephens on Friday which provoked heavy criticism and led to canceled subscriptions. 

In the column, titled "The Secrets of Jewish Genius," Stephens explores the idea that Jewish people, in particular the Ashkenazi Jewish ethnic group, are predisposed to be more intelligent than other groups. 

Notably, the article referenced a 2005 paper measuring IQ which was scientifically questioned and written by a professor with ties to white nationalist groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Backlash to the article argued that the assertion also promoted a school of thought called eugenics, which suggests that the human race can be improved by encouraging the reproduction of people with "desirable traits." This same ideology has been used to justify atrocities like slavery and the Holocaust. 

The Brights are always being hoist on their own canard.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kant's Imperative (Eva Brann, December 29th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

I have called this lecture "Kant's Imperative" so that I might begin by pointing up an ever-intriguing circumstance. Kant claims that the Categorical Imperative, which is the Moral Law, is implicitly known to every fully formed human being. And yet its formulation is absolutely original with him. Thus, to study that hard philosophical gem, the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, the little work in which Kant first sets out his imperative in its various versions, is to be in the curious position of laboring to acquire an utterly new principle which yet makes the almost persuasive claim of having been always in our possession. Out of this arises a common experience which, I am sure, you will have--or are already having--with the Categorical Imperative: you will probably find yourself ultimately unable to accept it, but you will never be able to forget it. But what we can neither accept nor ignore, it only remains for us to understand. The purpose of this lecture is to offer you some help with Kant's Imperative.

At the point where you think you're improving on, "Love one another," as an imperative you've already lost the plot.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Swedish nuclear power reactor shuts down for good (The Local, 30 December 2019)

The pros and cons of nuclear power have formed part of a long-running debate in Sweden, but the decision to close the reactors was based purely on business, declining profitability and increased costs.

Its owners, state-owned Swedish energy group Vattenfall and Uniper, said in 2015 that they would close the two reactors more than five years earlier than previously planned - a result of falling demand, the plunging price of electricity and the reactors being in need of costly maintenance.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


*Capital and Ideology*, by Thomas Piketty (Tyler Cowen, December 30, 2019, Marginal Revolution)

3. The sentence "Real wages are much higher in America than in Western Europe" does not come easily to his pen.  Nor does "The United States is a remarkably successful innovator, let's see what we can learn from that."  Or even "Raising wages is more important than merely limiting inequality."  Those seems to be banished thoughts in the Piketty intellectual universe.

4. The sections on Soviet and socialist experience can only be called "delusional."  In his account, if only a few political decisions had gone the other way, the USSR might have ended up on a path similar to that of Norway (p.603 and thereabouts).

You know, maybe you think that the inequalities of the current day are much worse than people had been expecting.  but that should not revise your view of socialism and the Soviet Union, two matters fairly well settled by historical research.

5. Give these lenses, it is impossible for Piketty to offer any commentary on recent events (about the last 400 pp. of the book) that is anything other than distorted and unreliable.  There is massive distrust of the wealthy in this book, and virtually no distrust of concentrated state power.

December 29, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Kremlin: Putin calls to thank Trump for help on terrorism (RISHIKA DUGYALA, 12/29/2019, Politico)

The Kremlin on Sunday posted a readout of a thank you call from President Vladimir Putin of Russia to President Donald Trump.

According to the readout, Putin thanked Trump for information -- "transmitted through the channels of U.S. special services" -- that "helped thwart terrorist acts in Russia."

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Why No One Can Talk About The Attacks Against Orthodox Jews (Batya Ungar-Sargon, December 29, 2019, The Forward)

After the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Shabbat that killed 11 people last year, and another fatal shooting at a shul in Poway, California six months later, one often heard that the great threat to Jews - even the only threat - comes from white supremacy. Conventional wisdom said it was the political right, and the right's avatar in the White House, that was to blame for the rising levels of hate against Jews.

But the majority of the perpetrators of the Brooklyn attacks, and the suspects in Jersey City -- who were killed in a shootout with the police -- and now Monsey, were not white, leaving many at a loss about how to explain it or even talk about it. There is little evidence that these attacks are ideologically motivated, at least in terms of the ideologies of hate we are most familiar with.

And therein lies the trouble with talking about the violent attacks against Orthodox Jews: At a time when ideology seems to rein supreme in the chattering and political classes, the return of pogroms to Jewish life on American soil transcends ideology. In the fight against anti-Semitism, you don't get to easily blame your traditional enemies -- which, in the age of Trump, is a non-starter for most people.

Of course, the rise in anti-Semitism is not incidental to the times we live in. While the Brooklyn attackers are, at least according to demographic trends, extremely unlikely to be Trump supporters, our president, who has a penchant for anti-Semitic tropes, is a conspiracy theorist, and anti-Semitism often manifests as a conspiracy theory about secretive Jewish power.

But conspiracy theories flourish on the left as well in today's day and age. They twist and torque those rigid ideologies to which so many are enslaved, reshaping the extremes from polar opposites into a horseshoe whose ends meet -- again and again -- to justify, excuse, or muzzle criticism of anti-Semitism.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Paul Volcker: The Stabilizer, 1927-2019 (LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS, 12/29/2019, Politico)

When double-digit inflation became an important contributor to a sense that America was not in control of itself, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan turned to Volcker, then chair of the Federal Reserve, to bring down inflation. Today, we think of long-term inflation expectations as stable and take stable prices for granted, not just in the United States but throughout the industrial world. That is because of what Paul Volcker did.

Story Continued Below
Those under age 50 might not fully appreciate what the world was like before Volcker's accomplishment. I remember well when Harvard recruited me to its faculty in 1982. In addition to the quality of its faculty and students, the key inducement it offered was a 9 percent mortgage rate--well above today's average, but no small thing when the best I could get on my own was between 13 and 14 percent.

People often talk about the importance of accepting short-term pain for long-term gain. No one else I have ever seen in public life stood so strong for so long against so many as Volcker did as he restored, in the United States and around the world, predictable and stable prices. Volcker adjusted monetary policies to be less inflationary and, more important, was credible in his assurance that inflation would be contained whatever was necessary to do it.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Trump's Don Quixote Moment: President Trump's baseless attacks on wind power show a complete departure from any sense of reality. (César Chelala, December 29, 2019, The Globalist)

Trump's misdirected fury against wind power plants isn't supported by reality. While he is blaming wind power plants for tremendous (one of his favorite words) amounts of carbon pollution, the American Wind Energy Association found that wind farms around the world generated last year enough energy to counteract 200 million tons of carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels.

Suddenly, Trump has become a protector of bird life. As he said, referring to wind power plants:

They are noisy. They kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard? Go under a mill someday. You'll see more birds than you've ever n in your life. You know, in California, they were killing the bald eagle. If you shoot a bald eagle, they want to put you in jail for 10 years. A windmill will kill many bald eagles. It's true.

Well, the reality is otherwise. According to a study published in the 2015 Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics that has the most recent research data on direct bird mortalities in the United States, wind turbines kill far fewer birds than cats, buildings or cars.

Cats, particularly, are the No. 1 bird killer by a long shot, with an estimated 2.4 billion bird deaths annually. Perhaps, we should start protecting cats, should Mr. Trump, in his zeal to protect birds, decide to eliminate them.
He's more Renfield.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Liberman: The solution to anti-Semitism is immigration to Israel (Times of Israel, 12/29/19)

In a Hebrew-language tweet, he writes: "Again and again, we are witnesses to the dire consequences of anti-Semitism, this time in Monsey, New York. Alongside the deep sadness and wishes for a speedy recovery to the injured, it's important to know that the main solution to these trends is immigration to Israel."

December 28, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


At Christmas, Christians and Muslims take time to talk about loving Jesus, and each other (Omar Suleiman, 12/27/19, Religion News Service)

Rev. Andy and I had started with the birth of Christ, then went on to his life, ending with our differences on the meaning of the crucifixion, then finally came to Jesus' second coming. In the first two weeks, we found little difference in how our two faiths viewed Jesus in birth and life.

Jesus is no ordinary figure to Muslims. He is one of the highest prophets and messengers of God, born of a virgin, chosen as the one to restore justice to this earth in its final days, and distinguished in the hereafter with a special place in paradise. He is mentioned in the Quran 25 times, with an entire chapter named after his honored mother, Mary.

Muhammad said about his relationship to him, "Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one."

In the last two weeks of study, however, we found many points of divergence, but we managed to focus on the similarities we'd expressed in the first two weeks to carry us through in the same spirit of friendship. As we reached our final class, the Christians who attended had developed relationships with some of the Muslims in the room, as well as a deep sense of admiration for the lofty regard that Muslims have for Jesus. Many hadn't known that Jesus occupied a place in Islam at all.

I ended the sessions by talking about the Muslim belief that after Jesus returns, he will die a natural death and occupy a grave next to Muhammad in Medina that has been preserved for him for more than 1,400 years. I asked the audience to put aside their personal beliefs about Jesus for a moment and think how much the Muslims must adore this man to have saved a space for him preserved over centuries next to the grave of Islam's most central figure.

While I was nervous to make the point, in that I feared it would be misunderstood or come across as insensitive, I was shocked at how well everyone in the church had received it.

The differences between how Christians and Muslims view him and his place are not trivial. They are core to our theology. In most forms of Christianity, the belief in Jesus as the begotten son of God and his death for the sins of humanity are central to eternal salvation. In Islam, the trinity is a violation of the Abrahamic monotheism meant to be upheld through the synchronized messages of all the prophets of God.

But as core as those differences are to our theologies, Jesus is as well. And if our two faiths could start from a place of understanding that the two largest faiths in the world share a love for Jesus, maybe we could learn to love one another a little bit more.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


'I don't believe in violence, but...': Trump's most rabid supporters warn of 'civil war' if he loses in 2020 (Matthew Chapman, 12/28/19, Raw Story)

On Saturday, The New York Times profiled an October gathering of Trump supporters in Golden Valley, Arizona, at least some of whom are prepared for violence if the president is not re-elected in 2020.

"Great American Pizza & Subs, on a highway about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas, was busier and Trumpier than usual. On any given day it serves 'M.A.G.A. Subs' and 'Liberty Bell Lasagna.' The 'Second Amendment' pizza comes 'loaded' with pepperoni and sausage. The dining room is covered in regalia praising President Trump," wrote Times reporter Astead W. Herndon. "But this October morning was 'Trumpstock,' a small festival celebrating the president. The speakers included the local Republican congressman, Paul Gosar, and lesser-known conservative personalities. There was a fringe 2020 Senate candidate in Arizona who ran a website that published sexually explicit photos of women without their consent; a pro-Trump rapper whose lyrics include a racist slur aimed at Barack Obama; and a North Carolina activist who once said of Muslims, 'I will kill every one of them before they get to me.'"

"They label us white nationalists, or white supremacists," said California right-wing activist Guy Taiho Decker. "There's no such thing as a white supremacist, just like there's no such thing as a unicorn. We're patriots." Decker, according to Herndon, was previously arrested "on charges of making terrorist threats."

Speakers at the event whipped the crowd into a frenzy of hate by portraying Democrats as an existential threat to their future.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Fed study finds Trump tariffs backfired (GREG ROBB, 12/28/19, MarketWatch)

President Donald Trump's strategy to use import tariffs to protect and boost U.S. manufacturers backfired and led to job losses and higher prices, according to a Federal Reserve study released this week.

"We find that the 2018 tariffs are associated with relative reductions in manufacturing employment and relative increases in producer prices," concluded Fed economists Aaron Flaaen and Justin Pierce, in an academic paper.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Amy McGrath Is Now Officially Challenging Mitch McConnell (Noah Lanard, 12/28/19, Mother Jones)

Amy McGrath, a Democrat and former Marine fighter pilot, has officially filed to challenge Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky's 2020 US Senate election. 

In the 2018 midterm elections, McGrath narrowly lost to Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) to represent the state's 6th Congressional District. During her first months on the campaign trail before officially establishing her candidacy, McGrath outraised McConnell and other Democrats by bringing in nearly $11 million. 

And he's already the least popular Senator in America.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


'I said everything I needed to say' -- Don Imus, who worked nearly 50 years without a net, changed everything in radio (Mike Lupica, 12/27/19, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

For 40 years, people have asked me what Don Imus was really like. And I would ask them if they listened to his show. And if they did I would say, "Then you know what he's really like."

"Everybody thinks it's funny until it's about them," he always said.

He worked without a net for nearly 50 years, on WNBC and then on WFAN and finally WABC.

WFAN was another place where he changed everything. It was an all-sports station before he got there. Just not between six and 10. That was Imus' time, and space. He showed up there and before long the station was the No. 1 in billing in America. It wasn't because the other guys were giving the scores, or telling you what they thought of George Steinbrenner.

People of a certain age remember him best from his years at WFAN. But you had to be listening in the 70s and the 80s when he was at WNBC, one of the iconic places of all time on a radio dial. His studio was like one large, permissive room. One day Howard Cosell came walking in when I was in the studio with Don and his longtime sidekick Charles McCord. Then the old basketball player Daryl Dawkins showed up. Somehow it was as if they'd all been working together the way Imus and McCord did. And was all funny as hell.

In 1983, after the Russians shot down a Korean Air flight, Imus went down one morning and took down the Russian flag from the array of flags at Rockefeller Center. Then he went on the air and said, "I'll give the Commies back their flag when they apologize for shooting innocent people out of the sky."

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Donald Trump has violated his oath. Mitch McConnell is about to violate 2 (Kent Greenfield, Dec. 26, 2019, Louisville Courier Journal)

The third oath is the rarest. In Article I, the Constitution gives the Senate the "sole" power to "try all impeachments," and the Constitution requires that "when sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation." This special oath only kicks in when the Senate tries an impeachment, and this will be only the third time when a president has been so tried. The framers wanted to make sure the Senate would never take such a trial lightly -- this oath requirement is over and above the oath each senator has already taken to support the Constitution.

The Constitution does not set out the text of the trial oath, but the Senate rules do. Senators will ''solemnly swear ... that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.''

The presidential oath and the senatorial oath to be taken before an impeachment trial are kin. The president must act faithfully and without corruption. In those (presumably) rare situations in which the president has failed to be faithful, the Senate is required to be faithful in its adjudication of the case against him.

But we have already seen indications that McConnell has no intention of doing impartial justice. He has said that he does not consider himself an "impartial juror." He is coordinating strategy with the White House. He has already called the case against the president "thin" and "incoherent."

Every senator has a constitutional obligation of impartiality. But McConnell's role as Senate leader makes his obligation even more important and crucial to the constitutional framework. This is not a time for political cynicism or constitutional faithlessness. McConnell's loyalty to Trump should not overwhelm his loyalty to the Constitution. If he fails in this, he is not only violating his Article I oath but his Article VI oath.

It's all going to make their whingeing about the next president and Congress especially pitiful.
Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Trump's quest to shatter GOP economics reached its culmination in 2019 (Jeff Stein , Dec. 27, 2019, Washington Post)

President Trump shattered Republican orthodoxy on an extraordinary range of economic policies in 2019, setting up a more populist record for him to tout during a 2020 campaign in which Democrats already are accusing him of abandoning working people.

From trade to spending, from the Federal Reserve to paid parental leave, Trump has embraced policy changes that historically are more in line with the approach of Democrats -- establishing a forceful role for government in setting the terms of the economy -- than of Republicans.

No one will ever know what a terrific dancer Donald was.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


America's Proud Legacy of Liberty (Peter Berkowitz, December 28, 2019, Real Clear Politics)

Reformers can draw inspiration from Richard Brookhiser's "Give Me Liberty: A History of America's Exceptional Idea." A veteran senior editor at National Review and author of 13 previous books, Brookhiser concisely and compellingly relates the stories of "thirteen documents, from 1619 to 1987, that represent snapshots from the album of our long marriage to liberty."

He rejects the view -- once a staple of the left and recently embraced on the right -- that classical liberalism, which holds that government's purpose is to protect individual freedom, is inherently incompatible with nationalism, which champions government's promotion of a particular people's traditions and political aspirations. Certainly, national traditions can be chauvinistic and authoritarian, rooted in subjugation of the individual to the collective good, and bound up with conquest of other peoples. But the United States, notwithstanding the blemishes and flaws it shares with all countries, is different.

"The unique feature of America's nationalism is its concern for liberty," writes Brookhiser. "We have been securing it, defining it, recovering it, and fighting for it for four hundred years.  We have been doing it since we were a floundering settlement on a New World river, long before we were a country.  We do it now on podiums and battlefields beyond our borders." [...]

Religious liberty and free speech gained strength in pre-revolutionary America. The 1657 Flushing Remonstrance rebuked Peter Stuyvesant, director-general of New Amsterdam (the Dutch colony headquartered on what would become Manhattan), for intolerance of Quakers. Signed by 26 town residents, none of whom were Quaker, the Remonstrance argued that religious freedom was a biblical imperative. In the 1735 trial of New York newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger for seditious libel, which resulted in a verdict of not guilty, defense lawyer Andrew Hamilton stirringly rejected the idea that speaking the truth about government, however critical, was punishable by law.

America's founding documents, Brookhiser emphasizes, put freedom at the center. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that legitimate government is grounded in the consent of the governed and has as its proper purpose the protection of unalienable rights, which by definition inhere in all persons. In 1787, the drafters of the Constitution presented for ratification to the people of the 13 states a charter of government carefully crafted to secure those rights. And in 1863 at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln paid tribute to the fallen soldiers who fought to preserve a "nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," while summoning his fellow citizens to rededicate themselves to the equality in freedom in which the nation was born.

Two of the documents to which Brookhiser devotes chapters illustrate citizens' role in extending freedom. The 1785 constitution of the New-York Manumission Society maintained that slavery had no place in a free society because God gave to all human beings an "equal right to life, liberty, and property." The 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments rallied support for women's equality by appealing to the unalienable rights that inspired the nation's founding.

American views about immigration and the economy also reflect an enduring commitment to freedom. In "The New Colossus," composed in 1883 and installed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, Emma Lazarus connects freedom to refuge for the oppressed: "Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/ Send them, the homeless, tempest-tost to me/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door."  In his 1896 "Cross of Gold" speech delivered in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention, William Jennings Bryan presented equal treatment for workers as an imperative of freedom.

Great interview with Mr. Brookhiser here.  Of course, two basic point: (1) subjugation of individual freedom to the common good is the definition of liberty; and, (2) liberty is the opposite of Nationalism, which only pertains to "a particular people."  That is why our liberty has been so easily extended both at home and abroad to encompass all peoples.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


'Jesus is Born,' the Christmas album Kanye West promised, is actually here (Jennifer McClellan, Julia Thompson, David Oliver, 12/29/19, USA TODAY)

It's a Christmas miracle - "Jesus is Born," the album Kanye West promised two months ago is here.

But the album's artist is notably the Sunday Service Choir and not West himself. The gospel choir tours with West for his Sunday Service events, which have a worship atmosphere and often feature celebrities (beyond West himself).

The nearly hour-and-a-half-long album, which dropped on several streaming services Wednesday afternoon, opens with the gospel choir singing "Count Your Blessings." 

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Why Trump Vilifies Whistle-blowers and Venerates War Criminals (Eric Levitz, 12/28/19, New York)

That the U.S. president venerates lawlessness in the pursuit (or maintenance) of power is alarming; that the party he leads increasingly shares that ideal is even more so.

Two recent news items put this point into sharp relief. One is this New York Times piece on the Navy SEALs who reported their Special Operations chief's alleged war crimes. The other is a Washington Post story on the administration's efforts to intimidate or oust civil servants who complied with the House's impeachment investigation.

The former tells us little we did not already know. The fact that several Navy SEALs had accused SOC Edward Gallagher of murdering women, children, and prisoners of war in Iraq has long been public knowledge. And the fact that those SEALs suffered from a sense of profound moral injury and helplessness as they witnessed their chief's (alleged) war crimes has also been publicly aired. But the Times's curation of those soldiers' tearful video interviews and anxious text messages makes the truth of Gallagher's presidential pardon viscerally clear: In pardoning Gallagher, Trump did not put support for the troops above fidelity to the Geneva Convention, but rather, support for a war criminal above respect for the law-abiding service members he tormented.

As the Times reports:

In cramped interview rooms in San Diego, SEALs who spoke to Navy investigators painted a picture of a platoon driven to despair by a chief who seemed to care primarily about racking up kills. They described how their chief targeted women and children and boasted that "burqas were flying."

... Some of the SEALs said they came to believe that the chief was purposefully exposing them to enemy fire to bait ISIS fighters into revealing their positions. They said the chief thought that casualties in the platoon would increase his chances for a Silver Star.

Special Operator Vriens told investigators he had wanted to confront the chief in Iraq but had worried that if he did, he would be cut from missions and no longer be present to protect other SEALs from the chief. As he spoke, he struggled to keep his composure.

"I can speak up, stand my ground," he said in the interview. "He's just going to do this to a new guy who he can manipulate. So I was like, I'm going to be his right-hand man, so -- so no one else got hurt."

He pressed his forehead into his fists and started to cry. Then he took several deep breaths, rubbed his hands together and tried to continue.

"So I worked for him and I kept my mouth shut," he said.

Few will be surprised by this president's indifference to the (alleged, though not legally proven) wanton slaughter of Iraqi civilians. Trump's belief that unconstrained viciousness toward one's enemies is the definition of "strength" has led him to publicly champion such slaughter on multiple occasions. "We're fighting a very politically correct war," Trump told Fox & Friends in December 2015. "And the other thing with the terrorists -- you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families! They care about their lives, don't kid yourselves. They say they don't care about their lives. But you have to take out their families." Later in the campaign, the GOP candidate praised the mass murder of Muslim prisoners of war with bullets dripped in pig's blood as a uniquely effective method of counterinsurgency.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


December 27, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Don Imus, Legendary 'Imus in the Morning' Host, Dies at 79 (Duane Byrge , Katie Kilkenny. 12/27/19, Hollywood Repoter)

Imus was loved or hated for his caustic loud-mouth. Outspoken in an age of political correctness, his often coarse satire offended sensibilities. Yet, his listeners included those whom he often ridiculed. His call-in guests included: President Bill Clinton, Dan Rather, Tim Russert, Bill Bradley, David Dinkins, 

Rudy Giuliani and political analyst Jeff Greenfield, who once remarked: "He's out there talking the way most of us talk when we're not in public."

He sparked national outcry in 2007 when he made derogatory, racist remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Both CBS Radio and MSNBC dropped his show. 

He rebounded by signing a multi year contract with the Fox Business Network in 2009 to simulcast his radio program Imus in the Morning from 6 a.m. - 9 a.m., with Fox anchors appearing during the program.

Imus battled a lifelong addiction to drugs and alcohol. In 2009, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

Imus was often compared to syndicated shock jock Howard Stern who appeared on WNBC also from 1982-85. Imus and Stern frequently appeared on each other's shows. Although Imus could not match Stern's audience in terms of numbers, advertisers were well aware of Imus' better-educated and richer demographic, often preferring him.  

Imus in the Morning debuted in 1971 at WNBC in New York. On the program, which sandwiched music around his in-your-face commentary, Imus mocked authority figures and ridiculed social and political problems. His no-holds-barred humor, including gags and pranks, spurred the onset of "shock jocks," such as Howard Stern. A mix of rock'n'roll, raunchy humor, call-ins and hard barbs, Imus in the Morning was a huge hit.  

He also performed stand-up at the time, garnering favorable reviews from such unlikely reviewers as the New York Times. 

An active philanthropist, Imus and his wife Deirdre founded the Imus Ranch in 1999, where each summer children with cancer could enjoy the outdoors.

John Donald Imus, Jr., was born July 23, 1940 in Riverside, Calif. He was raised in Prescott, Ariz. where his family owned a large ranch. He dropped out of high school to join the Marines and after basic training won a chair in the Marine band.

Following discharge he worked at an array of odd jobs: window dresser (he was fired for staging mannequin striptease shows), uranium miner and railroad brakeman, where he suffered a serious neck injury and won a large cash settlement.

While recovering, he set his sites on becoming a disc jockey, ostensibly to play his own rock'n'roll on the airwaves. He moved to Los Angeles, enrolled in a Hollywood broadcasting school and landed his first deejay job at KUTY, a station in Palmdale. 

During an eight-month stint he developed a skill for comic patter and moved to KJOY in Stockton where he staged satirical social and political gags, including an Eldridge Cleaver look-alike contest when the Black Panther was on the lam. His station manager did not see the humor and fired Imus.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


How Robert Moses Democratized the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Michael Gross,  Dec. 27, 2019, Daily Beast)

Wags had taken to calling the Met the Necropolitan and said it suffered from hardening of the galleries. The New Yorker sniped that the acting director still wrote with a quill pen and considered theories about the democracy of art to be "so much parlor Socialism." Moses disdained the old families who'd run the place since its founding. "The arrogance and conceit of those people were phenomenal," he would later say. "They really felt they were the lords of creation and that nobody had the right even to question what they did." They were particularly arrogant when it came to efforts by the public or its representatives to exercise any oversight over the museum--which sits on city land and occupies a public building--or its finances. 

The museum's president, investment banker George Blumenthal, was dictatorial. He occupied a commanding oak armchair at the head of the board table, with the senior trustees (average age 75) closest to him, and younger members like Nelson Rockefeller at the far end. Blumenthal would inform the trustees what he wanted done, expected them to approve, and was rarely disappointed. Discussion was kept to a minimum. It was among those younger board members that Moses found allies, notably Marshall Field, Vanderbilt Webb, and Rockefeller. 

Moses began "studying the relationship" and concluded that "the city's supervision [of museums]... should be tightened rather than loosened." Realizing that the various local museum boards simply rubber- stamped decisions made by their executive committees, he demanded and won the right to send a representative to the executive meetings at the American Museum of Natural History and, after "a hell of a row," elbowed his way into the inner council of the Met, too.

Moses soon discovered that he had a real edge over the trustees: due to the Depression, attendance and membership were down; the Met was desperately short of funds (its 1939 deficit would be $75,000) as the city had cut its subsidies and put off repairs and maintenance. Moses seized the opportunity to trade his power to fix things for influence over the museum's affairs.

One thing that made the trustees squirm was Moses' insistence that the museum needed to be more democratic, more entertaining, more popular, more representative of the community, and more responsive to its needs. And he made it clear that the trustees would need to court the general public--not just their own society--if they expected continued financial support from the city's purse. And this wisdom could have been the deciding factor behind the stellar, if belated, choice the trustees finally made for the museum's next director.

Though he offered the familiarity of a good family background, Francis Henry Taylor was a breath of fresh air. Changes began even before Taylor moved to New York in the summer of 1940. Rockefeller and his allies agreed they had to immediately commission a future-facing study they'd suggested so it wouldn't be delayed or canceled by Taylor's arrival. Moses must have been pleased by this; his 1940 Parks budget included money for museum roof and skylight repair and a new freight elevator, though museum officials would remain unhappy with the slow-moving appropriations process. No wonder; after a decade of neglect, the building was simply obsolete.

After he arrived, Taylor impressed Moses by suggesting that the museum needed to do more outreach to the public. Taylor, Moses told an aide, "seems to be an alert, progressive and cooperative fellow. I want to keep the new man in this frame of mind before he gets a chance to settle down and follow in the footsteps of some of his stiff shirt predecessors." 

Robert Caro, of course, charts how progressive the builder was earlier in his career.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


L.A. rent rose 65% over the last decade, study shows (JACK FLEMMING, DEC. 27, 2019, LA Times)

The report -- which synthesized data from PropertyShark, Yardi Matrix and the U.S. Census Bureau -- found that the average rent in the city of L.A. has ballooned to $2,527, a whopping 65% increase since 2010. That's significantly higher than the national average rent increase of 36%. [...]

Over the course of the decade, 2.4 million apartment units were built to meet the rising demand, the study found. Roughly 98,000 of those were constructed in L.A., good for fifth-most in the country. The high mark is due to a flurry of notable developments that moved forward this year, including a controversial project that's adding 725 units across five seven-story apartment buildings in Chinatown.

Other developers are taking advantage of a city program that allows for larger-than-usual projects near transit if developers ensure some units are affordable for people with lower incomes. On Venice Boulevard, one such builder is erecting an eight-story building with 79 units on a site zoned for 46 units by reserving eight for low-income households.

No one ever moves there anymore; it's too crowded.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Eddie Gallagher 'Is Freaking Evil' Says Fellow Navy SEAL in Damning Leaked Videos (PETER WADE, 12/27/19, Rolling Stone)

"The guy is freaking evil," Special Operator First Class Craig Miller said of his platoon Chief Edward Gallagher in video recordings obtained by The New York Times.

"You could tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody that was moving," Special Operator First Class Corey Scott told Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents in interviews describing Chief Gallagher.

The video interviews, leaked to the Times, along with a trove of Navy investigative materials including text messages, come on the heels of Gallagher's case rising to national prominence after President Donald Trump intervened on Gallagher's behalf, letting him retire with full honors, even though fellow SEAL members said they witnessed Gallagher murder a teenage Islamic State captive with a hunting knife.

The leaked video testimonies show Navy SEALs tense and stressed recounting Gallagher's brutal behavior while deployed in Iraq in 2017. Miller, trying to hide his tears, apologized for his emotions, saying, "Sorry about this. It's the first time -- I'm really broken up about this." Although it's part of SEAL culture not to report teammates for misconduct, in texts between Gallagher's teammates, they encouraged each other to tell the truth.

Murdering Muslims is the brand.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Why Are Academics Ignoring Iran's Colonialism? (A. J. CASCHETTA, December 27, 2019, National Review)

Khomeini's Islamic Revolution was an imperialist project from the beginning, as one of his first moves after taking power (even before the collapse of the post-shah provisional government in November 1979) was to establish the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to spread his ideas. Shortly thereafter he made moves in Lebanon, dispatching "1,500 IRGC advisers [to] set up a base in the Bekaa Valley as part of [his] goal to export the Islamic Revolution to the Arab world," as Matthew Levitt put it. Those advisers were instrumental in creating Hezbollah, which has served to spread Iran's influence throughout the world.

In 1998, the al-Quds Force, the IRGC's unconventional-warfare unit, got a new leader when Qassem Soleimani was appointed commander. Soleimani has ramped up Iran's colonial enterprise, capitalizing on the U.S. toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 to take over Iraq in a way Iran could never have accomplished on its own. The so-called Arab Spring offered Soleimani the opportunity to stake out territory in Syria using Hezbollah and in Yemen using the Shia Houthi rebels, completing the goal of a "Shia Crescent" stretching from the Gulf to the Mediterranean.

Ignoring them? We're helping them.  Empowering the Shi'a has been the main effect of the WoT, since they were already predisposed to Anglospheric ideals of self-determination and crushing Salafism aids them.  .

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Four Tests for Impeachment (RAMESH PONNURU, December 19, 2019, National Review)

When the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the scope of the impeachment power, the Republicans called George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley as their only witness. Even Turley conceded that the "use of military aid for a quid pro quo to investigate one's political opponent, if proven, can be an impeachable offense." He opposes impeachment because he believes the standard of proof should be high (an unexplained departure from his previously stated views) and has not been met.

He argued, additionally, that impeachments have greater legitimacy if at least partly based on a statutory crime. That claim might be correct in our legalistic political culture. It is related to the argument that abuse of power is too subjective a standard for removing a president. There is no getting around the fact that applying the impeachment power requires members of Congress to make a judgment, not merely a set of deductions.

The impeachment-and-removal power itself can be abused. We have protections against its abuse -- including the consciences of congressmen, their election by voters, and the requirement of a House majority and a large Senate supermajority to use the power -- but they are not and cannot be airtight.

Which brings us to the final wall. The strongest arguments against removing Trump fall under the heading of prudence. They hold that while he abused his power, it would be better to let voters judge that abuse in the upcoming election than for Congress to remove him; that his removal would be bitterly divisive; that it would set a dangerous precedent, encouraging Congress to strike against presidents over trivial disagreements. Like a nuclear weapon, in short, impeachment should be deployed extremely sparingly if at all.

The analogy is common but inapt. It is a nuclear weapon that replaces the president with his own handpicked ally, making it less potentially devastating in that respect than a general election. It also can't be deployed unless the public has a much larger level of support for it than it has mustered for any presidential candidate in decades. Only once in U.S. history has a president left office because Congress was going to remove him. The possibility of impeachment is a weak check on the presidency and cannot be made into a strong one.

It might be possible to regard Trump's Ukraine misadventure as a lapse of judgment, with little harm done, if he showed any repentance or even understanding of what he has done wrong. Instead it looks more like a window into tendencies of his that are incompatible with performing the functions of his office.

Whether Trump should be removed from office over the objections of nearly half the country is not an important question. He can't be. There are better questions. Would it be good for the country if a large majority of Americans were to be persuaded that it is unacceptable for a president to use his office to encourage foreign governments to investigate his political opponents? Assuming that the necessary level of support to remove a president from office for that offense will not be reached, should we prefer that more elected officials go on record that it is unacceptable -- or that fewer do?

If you have read this far, you know my answer to these questions. The Constitution provides for impeachment and removal to protect us from officials, including presidents, who are unable or unwilling to distinguish between the common good that government is supposed to serve and their own narrow interests. Though he has done some good things in office, Trump is just such a president. Congress should act accordingly.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Beating Donald Trump in the 2020 election isn't everything; it's the only thing (The Editorial Board, 12/26/19, USA TODAY)

In just a few short years, Trump has promoted the interests of U.S. foes, needlessly run up massive government debts, thwarted progress on climate change, done palpable harm to America's health care system, and turned the once-proud party of Abe Lincoln and Ronald Reagan into an adulation cult.

Ridding the nation of his unfit leadership is far more important than who has the most extensive plan to hand out free money (we're looking at you, Andrew Yang) or require everyone to get their health care through an expanded Medicare (Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders).

The Democrats need a nominee who can go toe-to-toe with Trump, explain to the electorate why he is so wrong in so many ways, and build a consensus on taking the nation in a new direction.

This is not to say issues don't matter. If the candidates merely criticized Trump and touted their own electability, they would come off as lacking substance. But the ideas and issues they present in the primaries need to be the kind that can garner widespread support in a general election -- particularly in crucial states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

These would include practical proposals to preserve and expand health coverage, rebuild America's standing in the world, adopt sounder fiscal policies and address climate change.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


The most radical Americans of 2019 are the ethical conservatives (Ephrat Livni, 12/27/19, Quartz)

While the American left debates just how socialist to go, Republicans and the political right are in an existential fight, a veritable crisis.

They must decide between power and principle, politics and conscience. They have to choose whether to stand with US president Donald Trump, no matter what he has done, or for the ideals they claim to believe in.

The most bold among them have already chosen the latter and have been leading by example. That makes them radicals, more so than any Democratic presidential candidate promising the end of student loan debt and Medicare for all because conservatives, by definition, don't hasten change or disrupt the status quo.

But American conservatism is different, or so says former Republican commentator George Will, who argues that in the United States, looking to the past, to the Constitution and its framers' ideals, ensures change and dynamism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


John Solomon Named 2019 'Misinformer Of The Year' (Julie Millican and John Whitehouse, December 26, 2019, National Memo)

Solomon is one of the most critical figures in Trump and Giuliani's plot to extort the Ukrainian government into meddling in our 2020 election to help the president. Giuliani -- who the president hired in late 2018 as part of his legal team responding to the Mueller investigation -- claims to have stumbled upon information late last year regarding former Vice President Joe Biden's alleged prior corrupt behavior in Ukraine as well as evidence that it was really Ukraine that interfered with our 2016 election, doing so to hurt Trump and benefit Clinton. With a heavy assist from two Soviet-born con men who have since been federally indicted for alleged campaign finance violations, Giuliani set out to "investigate" these claims by enlisting a series of corrupt Ukrainian political figures.

In March 2019, Giuliani completed his "investigation" into Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine and sent the results to the Department of State -- and also to Solomon. Solomon then began laundering Giuliani's claims through his opinion columns in The Hill. The conspiracy theory they wove was complex, but it fit neatly into the right wing's ongoing campaign to absolve Trump as having benefited from Russia's interference in the 2016 election. The theory roughly boils down to this: Corrupt Ukrainian officials worked with equally corrupt American officials to frame Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort in order to discredit Trump and benefit Clinton. As with most conspiracy theories on the right, George Soros is supposedly involved, through anti-corruption organizations funded by his foundations that worked to expose Manafort's illegal activities stemming from his work in Ukraine. (Manafort is currently serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence due to these activities.) Additionally, the conspiracy theory posits that not only was the Ukrainian government working to do Trump dirty, but it was also aiding Biden in supposedly getting investigations into the Burisma gas company shut down because his son Hunter served on the board. Of course, consistent with Solomon's history, none of this is true.

Starting on March 20, Solomon published 45 columns in The Hill aimed at discrediting the Russia investigation, 12 of which were primarily focused on planting the seeds of this new Ukrainian element of the conspiracy theory. These stories relied on Giuliani's sources (like disgraced former Ukrainian prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko) and spelled out Giuliani's conspiracy theory in detail. Solomon helped Giuliani not only to plant the seeds of a disinformation campaign against Biden, but to make public a behind-the-scenes smear campaign targeting the then-American Ambassador to the U.S. Maria Yovankovitch. The campaign was championed by Giuliani's now-indicted associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, as they viewed Yovankovitch as an obstacle to a shady oil and gas deal the two hoped to broker in Ukraine. Parnas worked closely with Solomon, assisting in and helping to secure interviews with Giuliani's sources and sometimes listening in as they occurred. Also consistent with Solomon's reporting, at least three of these columns featured information that may have been leaked from Ukrainian pro-Russia oligarch Dmitry Firtash, a client of lawyer Toensing and her husband/legal partner Joseph diGenova. The material Giuliani gave to the State Department included an email in which Solomon forwarded a draft of one of his columns to Toensing, diGenova, and Parnas.

Turns out Toensing and diGenova were working closely with Giuliani on his disinformation campaign, even employing Parnas as part of their efforts. After word of these relationships began to come out following the release of a whistleblower report about the July 25 phone call in which Trump pressured Ukraine's president -- which led to the launch of the impeachment inquiry -- we learned for the first time that Solomon himself is a client of theirs as well.

We know now that Parnas had been working with diGenova, Toensing, and Firtash and that Parnas would eventually be paid $1 million by the Russian government. ProPublica reported that Parnas closely worked with Solomon during this entire endeavor.

None of this information was disclosed when Solomon brought the conspiracy theory to Fox News and Fox Business, where he has appeared at least 92 times since March 20 to push elements of the conspiracy theory, in some cases alongside his attorneys diGenova and Toensing. Hannity gushed over Solomon's work, hosting him at least 65 times during this same time period. Solomon's efforts paid off when Fox News announced in October that it was hiring him as a contributor; he had recently announced his departure from The Hill.

Solomon wasn't the only one to cash in on this conspiracy theory. While Giuliani claims to represent Trump for free, he reportedly was paid at least $500,000 by Parnas last year, ostensibly for assisting him with a sham oil and gas import startup. Toensing and diGenova have also reportedly earned at least $1 million to represent Firtash and to use his case to further the smear campaign against Biden, while also reportedly kicking Parnas another $200,000 to help with that case.

After the whistleblower flagged Trump's phone call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Solomon's work became a critical part of the subsequent impeachment inquiry.

Multiple witnesses (former diplomat Kurt Volker, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman) testified that Solomon's reporting was inaccurate. The three diplomats and Hill said the corruption claims Solomon published about Yovanovitch (which came from Lutsenko) were lies, and the former ambassador said his fabricated columns put so much pressure on her that the State Department couldn't defend her and she was removed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


My Semester With the Snowflakes: At 52, I was accepted to Yale as a freshman. The students I met there surprised me. (James Hatch, Dec 21, 2019, Medium)

Let me address this "snowflake" thing. According to the "Urban Dictionary" a "snowflake" is a "term for someone that thinks they are unique and special, but really are not. It gained popularity after the movie "Fight Club" from the quote "You are not special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else."

I hear the term occasionally from buddies of mine who I love, they say things like; "how are things up there with the liberal snowflakes?"

Let me assure you, I have not met one kid who fits that description. None of the kids I've met seem to think that they are "special" any more than any other 18-22-year-old. These kids work their a[***] off. I have asked a couple of them to help me with my writing. One young woman volunteered to help me by proof-reading my "prose" and, for the record, I believe she will be the President someday. I recently listened while one of my closer pals, a kid from Portland, Oregon, talked to me about the beauty of this insane mathematics problem set he is working on. There is a young man in our group who grew up in Alaska working on fishing boats from a young age and who plays the cello. There is an exceptional young woman from Chicago who wrote a piece for the Yale Daily news expressing the importance of public demonstrations in the light of a recent police shooting. She and I are polar opposites. I am the "patriarchy" at first glance, and she is a young black woman who is keen on public protests. Not the type of soul I generally find myself in a conversation with. We come from different worlds and yet we both read classic works with open hearts and minds.

We recently met with a prominent writer from a think tank who is researching the state of the humanities in the university setting. There were four of us students, two other young men, the young woman from Chicago, and me, the old guy. As the younger students started to express their thoughts, the young woman (truly a unicorn of a human) used the word "safe space" and it hit me forcefully. I come from a place where when I hear that term, I roll my eyes into the back of my vacant skull and laugh from the bottom of my potbelly. This time, I was literally in shock. It hit me that what I thought a "safe space" meant, was not accurate. This young woman, the one who used the phrase, "Safe Space" isn't scared of anything. She is a life-force of goodness and strength. She doesn't need anyone to provide a comfortable environment for her. What she meant by "safe space" was that she was happy to be in an environment where difficult subjects can be discussed openly, without the risk of disrespect or harsh judgement. This works both ways. What I mean is, this young woman was comfortable, in this University setting, wrestling with things like the Aristotelian idea of some humans being born as "natural slaves." She was quite comfortable in that space. The question was, how comfortable was the 52-year-old white guy in that discussion? Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes. I'm grateful for the discomfort. Thinking about things I don't understand or have, for most of my life, written off, is a good thing.

Being uncomfortable is KEY in this world of ours. Not altogether different from the world of special operations, where the work needs to be done, regardless of weather or personal feelings. The climate in this educational institution is one where most students understand that there HAS to be a place where people can assault ideas openly and discuss them vigorously and respectfully in order to improve the state of humanity. I'll call that a "safe space" and I'm glad those places exist.

Here in the "Directed Studies" program, instead of "tuning in" to our favorite self-confirming "news" source, we are given a timeless text with heavy ideas and then we throw them out on the floor and discuss them with people who have, as I mentioned earlier, made these works and their meaning, their vocation.

In my opinion, the real snowflakes are the people who are afraid of that situation. The poor souls who never take the opportunity to discuss ideas in a group of people who will very likely respectfully disagree with them. I challenge any of you hyper-opinionated zealots out there to actually sit down with a group of people who disagree with you and be open to having your mind changed. I'm not talking about submitting your deeply held beliefs to your twitter/facebook/instagram feeds for agreement from those who "follow" you. That unreal "safe space" where the accountability for ones words is essentially null. I have sure had my mind changed here at Yale. To me there is no dishonor in being wrong and learning. There is dishonor in willful ignorance and there is dishonor in disrespect.

December 26, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Public support for Trump conviction at all-time high, poll finds (Zoe Tidman, December 26, 2019, Yahoo News)

Public support for Donald Trump's removal from office is the highest it has ever been, according to a new poll.

Fifty-five per cent of those asked said they were in favour of the US president's conviction by the Senate, a figure which has shot up from 48 per cent the week before.

Meanwhile, the number of people against Mr Trump's removal has dropped to an all-time low, according to the MSN poll.

On Christmas Day, 40 per cent were opposed to the Senate voting to convict the president, who has been impeached over his dealings with Ukraine and an alleged subsequent attempt to obstruct congress. whether Mitch realizes cutting Donald loose is the only way to save the Senate majority.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


The GOP's nightmare scenario (Mike Allen, Alayna Treene,Oct 29, 2019, Axios)

House Republicans in swing districts are retiring at a very fast pace, especially in the suburbs of Texas and elsewhere. (Republicans talk grimly of the "Texodus.") Rep. Greg Walden -- the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the only Republican in Oregon's congressional delegation -- yesterday shocked the party by becoming the 19th GOP House member to not seek re-election.

The Republican Senate majority, once considered relatively safe, suddenly looks in serious jeopardy. Democrats are raising more money, and polling better, than Republican incumbents in battleground after battleground.

President Trump trails every major Democratic candidate nationally and in swing states -- and his favorable ratings remain well under 50%.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Democrats seize on anti-Obamacare ruling to steamroll GOP in 2020 (ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN and JAMES ARKIN, 12/26/2019, Politico)

 At least a half-dozen GOP senators are up for reelection, and Democrats need to net three seats to win back control of the chamber if they also win back the presidency. Democratic strategists and candidates are eager to run a health care playbook that mirrors that of the party's House takeover in 2018, and say Republicans are uniquely vulnerable after admitting this year that they have no real plan for dealing with the potential fallout of courts striking down Obamacare.

Within a day of the ruling, the pro-Obamacare advocacy group Protect Our Care cut a national TV and digital ad featuring images of Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), warning that if the lawsuit succeeds, "135 million Americans with preexisting conditions will be stripped of protections, 20 million Americans will lose coverage and costs will go up for millions more."

Other state-based progressive groups told POLITICO they're readying their own ads going after individual Senate Republicans over the 5th Circuit's ruling.

Protect Our Care director Brad Woodhouse predicts that it's just a preview of the wave of attention the issue will get in the months ahead, as Democratic candidates and outside groups alike hammer the GOP on the threat their lawsuit poses to Obamacare.

"If there is one issue in American politics that is going to flip the Senate from Republican to Democratic in 2020, it's this issue," he said. "Our message is simple: President [Donald] Trump and Republicans are in court right now, suing to take away the ACA, take away your health care. And if Cory Gardner or Thom Tillis or any of them don't think that's an indefensible position, they should ask the 40-plus House Republicans who lost their seats in 2018."

Had the court given the GOP what it wants the election would be over.

December 25, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


In aftermath of Ukraine crisis, a climate of mistrust and threats (Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, Dec. 24th, 2019, Washington Post)

The acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., returned to Kyiv after his Nov. 14 testimony only to watch Trump's lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, arrive weeks later to resume his quest for dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Giuliani's sojourn while filming a documentary for a right-wing television network made clear to officials in Ukraine that Taylor and the U.S. Embassy had no standing with the U.S. president.

Taylor has since announced that he will step down by Jan. 2, clearing out of the Ukrainian capital on an accelerated schedule in part to spare Secretary of State Mike Pompeo -- scheduled to visit Kyiv next month -- from having to appear in pictures alongside a diplomat Trump branded as disloyal.

The ambassador had taken the job only after Pompeo promised him that U.S. policy would remain firmly grounded in fighting Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, an assurance that now seems uncertain at best.

Veterans of the Foreign Service are bewildered. "These attacks -- I've not seen anything like this since I joined the Foreign Service," said John Heffern, a former senior State Department official who entered the department when Ronald Reagan was president. "Our work is promoting international universal values -- freedom of the press and rule of law. Considering what's happened in the United States, it undermines our ability to project that message to our foreign counterparts."

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top adviser on Ukraine at the National Security Council, has continued to work at the White House since testifying that he was so disturbed by Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky that he reported his concerns to White House lawyers.

"Vindictive Vindman is the 'whistleblower's' handler," Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a Nov. 22 tweet. The baseless charge was a sign of how Trump has influenced his party's tactics and illustrated the intense pressure on Republicans to back the president.

In 2017, Blackburn chastised Trump for his fixation on score-settling and petty insults, writing on Facebook that "civility in all our interactions -- both personal and digital -- is not only proper but fundamental to a respectful and prosperous society."

Fiona Hill, the former top Russia adviser at the White House, has endured obscene phone calls to her home phone, according to people familiar with the matter, and vicious assaults from far-right media. Alex Jones, the conspiracy monger who operates the Infowars website, devoted much of his Nov. 22 broadcast to smears against Hill. "I want her ass indicted," Jones said. "I want her indicted for perjury. Today. Indict that whore."

For Hill, the attacks were a continuation of an astonishing level of hostility she witnessed during the two years she served in the White House. Trump loyalists drafted internal "enemies" lists, co-workers were purged, and NSC security teams logged hundreds of external threats against Hill and other officials, all fueled by a steady stream of far-right smears.

Hill, a former U.S. intelligence official and co-author of a biography of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, was little known outside foreign policy circles when she joined the White House. Within weeks of joining the administration, she faced a wave of internal and external efforts to discredit or neutralize her.

A former Republican congressman, Connie Mack IV of Florida, approached aides of Vice President Pence's, warning that Hill was tainted by her prior work for an organization funded by George Soros. A billionaire financier and Holocaust survivor, Soros has used his fortune to fight the spread of authoritarianism and bigotry. He has also become associated with a "globalist" agenda opposed by many on the right, and his name is frequently invoked in anti-Semitic slurs.

At the time, Mack was working as a paid lobbyist for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an autocratic leader seeking to shut down a Soros-funded international university in Hungary. Orban was concerned that Hill might use her position at the White House to object.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Is There Actually 'Peace on Earth' Today? The Answer May Shock You (John A. Tures, 12/25/19, Observer)

War does make the news a lot, but maybe there's a reason. Perhaps it's because conflict has become rarer, instead of routine. The Center for Systemic Peace (CSP) backs that up. Since WWII, international conflict has declined. And domestic wars, which rose throughout the Cold War, have seen a steady decline since 1992. Even the number of states going to war have fallen, despite the fact that there are more states in the international system, according to the CSP.

Some of this is because there are international organizations more capable of resolving disputes. There are also more democracies in the world, and scholars have strong evidence that democracies are much less likely to fight each other than other types of governments.

Free to Live a Better Life

While it is true that democracy is not on the rise, and more states have backslid toward authoritarianism, there is still some good news. Free states make up the largest category of countries, as nearly half are democratic, according to Freedom House.

What we need to do instead of harp on the shortcomings of democracy is acknowledge that politically and economically free states not only generally care for their citizens better, but also tend to be better for business, care for the environment more, and even defend themselves effectively. [...]

Divorce on the Decline

You'll hear about couples splitting up, wondering what the state of love is, and whether we ever seem capable of staying together. Plus, there are fears about what will happen to a generation of kids with split-up parents.

Yet, the divorce rate isn't skyrocketing, as some alarmists would have you believe. It's actually been on the decline since the 1990s. And it never reached 50% in the first place, as reports will often exaggerate. The CDC and NCHS found the divorce rate was 4.0 per 1,000 in 2000, and it's down to 2.9 as of 2017. There have been 200,000 fewer divorces per year since that time, too.

Here's another thing. It's not that half of all married people get divorce. In an Australian survey of many couples, they dispelled some myths. Women working, and both in a marriage being educated actually boosts marriage, the opposite of what the divorce myth preaches.

U.S. household net worth $113.8 trillion in third quarter 2019  (Reuters, 12/12/19)

The U.S. economy is experiencing its longest expansion on record and households and households are benefiting from unemployment near a 50-year low.

It's an especially odd time for the Left/Right to think we're going to heck in a handcart.
Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Tourists Mean Hope for Palestine (RULA MAAYAH, 12/25/19, Project Syndicate)

Palestine's religious landmarks attract increasing numbers of religious tourists from all over the world each year. In addition to Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, Palestine is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, as well as the Ibrahimi Mosque in nearby Hebron.

Already, hotel reservations for 2020 signal even bigger numbers of tourists than we have seen before, which would be recognition of all the hard work that has been done in this crucial area. The government of Palestine has been taking steps to augment the traditional religious pilgrimages with new forms of tourism, including environmental and alternative tourism to marginalized areas, especially those communities threatened by Israel's settlement program and the building of the wall in the West Bank. Palestinians in those frontline locations cherish the politically minded tourists who come to show support and solidarity.

With the finalization of the renovation of Hisham's Palace in Jericho, our cultural tourism is expected to see a boost from people looking to gaze upon one of the world's largest mosaics covering an area of 827 square meters. This year also marked the removal of the Church of the Nativity and the pilgrimage road from UNESCO's list of endangered sites. This followed the conclusion of the renovation of the Church of the Nativity that has taken more than five years to complete. President Mahmoud Abbas's efforts alongside Pope Francis to return a remnant of the 2,000-year-old crib to the Church of the Nativity will no doubt be another big draw for local and foreign tourists.

The growth in the number of tourists coming to Palestine is inevitably putting pressure on our many heritage sites. Pilgrims visiting the Church of the Nativity have had to wait more than three hours for access to the Nativity Grotto. This has prompted us to step up efforts to coordinate with all the relevant church and civil institutions to extend the opening hours and make visiting easier. An unprecedented extension of three hours has been agreed to, while we have also instituted an electronic reservation system to allow tour companies to reserve visitation times so as to lower waiting times and allow tourists to engage not only with the Christian historical sites, but the living sites of the many Christians and Muslims who reside side-by-side in Bethlehem and the other Palestinian towns.

But while every effort is being made to ease travel to the holy places, the Israeli authorities continue to restrict the movement of Palestinians. This year, the small Christian population in Gaza has been partly barred from visiting Bethlehem. And residents of Bethlehem itself are unable to visit nearby Jerusalem unless they obtain the often hard-to-get Israeli permit.

Meanwhile, Israeli settlements encircle Bethlehem and have stunted any chance of development and growth of the city and its surrounding district. Currently, there are 22 illegal Israeli settlements established on Bethlehem land. And in the district of Bethlehem, Israel has confiscated around 22,000 dunums of land (about 22 square kilometers), effectively turning the town into an open-air prison.

Iran will, likewise, be a tourism magnet.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Weare, NH 1772: Rebellion Before the Revolution-The Pine Tree Riot (Janice Brown, Mar. 21st, 2006,

General Court passed an act (which was enforced until the American Revolution) making it a penal offense to cut any trees that were twelve inches or more in diameter.  The fine for doing so was five pounds, and all lumber made from such trees was forfeited to the king. [...]

Samuel Blodget, Esq. of Goffstown was sent by the mill owners to settle. According to the History of Weare NH, while there, the governor won Mr. Blodget over, and in February 1772, made him a deputy 'Surveyor of the Kings Woods," which included a commission and a large territory to look after. He made an agreement with the governor that the men involved would pay a sum, the logs would be given to them, and the case dropped, then Blodget returned home. On February 24, 1767 Mr. Blodget sent a letter to each man involved indicating his new status, and urging them to pay the fines.  Three men from Bedford and fourteen from Goffstown came at once, paid the settlement, and obtained their logs.

But the "obstinate" men of Weare did not come.

Benjamin Whiting, Esquire, of Hollis, who was then sheriff of Hillsborough County, and his deputy Mr. John Quigley, Esq. of Francestown, went to Weare to serve the warrant on Ebenezer Mudgett, who was considered the chief of these offenders.  He was living on the north road from Clement's Mill in the Oil Mill section of South Weare.  When arrested, it was late in the day, and Mudgett agreed to provide bail in the morning. They allowed Mudgett to go home, while the two law men went to Aaron Quimby's inn nearby to spend the night.

13 April 1772. News of Mudgett's arrest spread throughout the town. Many said they would provide bail for him, and they gathered at his house to create a plan. At dawn, Mudgett went to the inn and woke the sheriff, saying his bail was ready. Whiting jumped out of bed, berated Mudgett for coming so early, and started to dress.  Suddenly more than twenty men rushed in.  Their faces were blackened and they held switches (rods made of green tree limbs) in their hands.  Whiting went for his guns but they were taken from him, and the men beat him.  These same men also beat his deputy, Mr. Quigley. Later Whiting would say, "They almost killed me."

When the beating was over, the horses of the sheriff and his deputy were saddled and bridled, but not before their ears, manes and tails were shaved. (This act made the value of the horses worthless). The King's men were placed on their horses, and sent down the road with the sound of jeers, jokes and shouts in their ears.

Sheriff Whiting quickly sought out Colonel Moore of Bedford and Edward Goldstone Lutwytche of Merrimack [the history of Weare said they also approached John Goffe of Derryfield].  A posse or party of men assembled and with muskets in hand, marched to Weare to find the rioters. But not a soul could be found, as they had fled to the woods.  Soon, one of them was captured and jailed, then the rest discovered when they posted bail, and ordered to appear in His Majesty's Superior Court.

The eight "rioters" from Weare who were brought before the court were: Jotham Tuttle,  Timothy Worthley, Jonathan Worthley, Caleb Atwood, William Dustin, Abraham Johnson, William Quimby and Ebenezer Mudgett.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


John Stark: A Hero for His Time and Ours: To remind us what a true hero looks and acts like, we've enlisted a local historian and an entire class of illustration students from the NH Institute of Art to illuminate the essential words and deeds of the man who set the standard for selfless heroics. (Janice Webster Brown, 3/13/17, NH Magazine)

His knack of creating fierce and memorable quips continued. Stark's most famous saying is, of course, our state motto. Unlike his battle cry, the motto comes from an 1809 toast, offered in a postscript to a letter to the committee planning a celebration on the anniversary of the Battle of Bennington (he was actually declining to attend due to poor health). "Live Free or Die. Death is not the greatest of evils" is an oft-quoted portion of the letter. It should not be forgotten that he also wrote: "As I was then, I am now -- The friend of the equal rights of men, of representative Democracy, of Republicanism, and the Declaration of Independence, the great charter of our National rights -- and of course the friend of the indissoluble union and constitution of the States. I am the enemy of all foreign influence, for all foreign influence is the influence of tyranny. This is the only chosen spot for liberty -- this is the only Republic on earth."

December 24, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM



It was a truly revolutionary act at the end of the Revolutionary War. An act that defied precedent, history and human nature itself. When General George Washington resigned his commission on December 23, 1783, in front of the Continental Congress in Annapolis--America's capitol at the time--he did what no conquering general had done since Cincinnatus back in ancient Rome: He returned to civilian life.

Even King George III was stunned by the news. "If Washington does that, he will be the greatest man in the world," he told American-born artist Benjamin West. King George III was right. It was--and still is--one of the most important moments in American history. To understand the nature of Washington's selfless act, it's best to give some historical context about the moment. And the man. [...]

It was a short, beautiful speech, which ended with these words:

"I consider it as an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping. Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and, bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life."

"It's this final action by him that makes him the most respected general in history, at least for me," explained Lieutenant Colonel Sean Scully, academy professor and American division chief at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM



"This is a really strange situation with Barr, who has so many conflicts and is up to his eyeballs in all of the corruption surrounding Trump," attorney Nick Akerman told Newsweek. Akerman served an assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon.

The attorney general plays no official role in impeachment, but that hasn't stopped Barr from coming to Trump's defense on multiple occasions. The Justice Department's top official often protected the Trump administration throughout the inquiry and went so far as to suggest that Democrats are "trivializing" impeachment by using it as a "political tool."

Michael J. Stern, a former federal prosecutor, asserted that Barr's loyalty to the White House is a "perversion" of his job as attorney general.

"There is an inherent conflict in Barr's designated role as the chief law enforcement officer of this country and his efforts to protect the man who gave him his job. It is unfortunate that Bill Barr never misses an opportunity to place his thumb on the scales of justice in favor of Donald Trump. That's not how it is supposed to be," Stern told Newsweek. [...]

Akerman argued that Barr is a "major player" in the obstruction case against Trump because he advised the White House not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to Congress. That complaint jump-started the House's impeachment probe, outlining the president's troubling communication with the Ukrainian leader.

Barr was one of several White House officials to be implicated in the whistleblower's complaint. He was also brought by Trump during his July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy. The two leaders agreed that Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, should work with Ukrainian officials.

"[Barr] should be performing no role here. He has a clear conflict of interest," Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, told Newsweek. Gerhardt testified alongside other legal scholars before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month during the impeachment hearings. He did the same when the House impeached President Bill Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Adalbert Stifter's Rock Crystal (1846) (Public Domain Review)

All is not darkness and gloom, however, in Stifter's prose. He was, to quote Hannah Arendt, "the greatest landscape painter in literature...someone who possesses the magic wand to transform all visible things into words and all visible movements--into sentences". (Indeed Stifter's calmness -- his willingness to write about anything and everything -- served as an inspiration for Sebald in books such as The Rings of Saturn.)

The story of Rock Crystal is quite sweet, simple, and altogether transfixing. A shoemaker from a small Alpine village called Gschaid marries a dyer's daughter from Millsdorf, which lies on the far side of a mountain pass. This transmountain marriage displeases many in Gschaid and Millsdorf, including the bride's father, who withholds most of his daughter's dowry and refuses to visit her in Gschaid. The bride's mother, however, is not so hard-hearted, especially after the children, Conrad and Susanna, are born:

If mothers love their children and long for them, this is frequently, and to a much higher degree, the case with grandmothers; they occasionally long for their grandchildren with an intensity that borders on morbidness. The dyer's wife very frequently came over to Gschaid now, in order to see the children and to bring them presents. Then she would depart again after giving them kindly advice. But when her age and health did not any longer permit of these frequent journeys and the dyer for this reason objected to them, they bethought themselves of another plan; they changed about, and now the children visited their grandmother.
On the day before Christmas one year, Conrad and Susanna go to have a holiday meal with their grandparents in Millsdorf. They are warned by both their parents and grandparents to "take good care" not to get chilled or overheated, and above all not to go to sleep outdoors. Sure enough, halfway home between Millsdorf and Gschaid, they are surrounded by blinding snow.

Stifter's descriptions of the children's brave journey through the snowstorm are unforgettable:

The footprints they left behind them did not remain visible long, for the extraordinary volume of the descending snow soon covered them up. The snow no longer rustled, in falling upon the needles, but hurriedly and peacefully added itself to the snow already there. The children gathered their garments still more tightly about them, in order to keep the steadily falling snow from coming in on all sides.
Taking shelter beneath rocks "as large as churches", they wait out the storm, which after several bone-chilling hours gives way to an "enormous which no snow-crystal seemed to move" and the now-cloudless sky is lit up by "thousands and thousands of simple stars".

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM

FOR $1.87:

The History of O. Henry's 'The Gift of the Magi' (Patrick Sauer, 12/23/19, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)

Nestled away on 18th St. near Gramercy Park, just a couple blocks from the bustling Union Square holiday markets, Pete's Tavern welcomes tipplers with an awning reading "The Tavern O. Henry Made Famous." The writer lived across the street at 55 Irving Place in a first floor apartment featuring three large windows where he could look out at his second home across the street, which was then named Healy's Cafe. (First opened in 1864, the bar would be renamed Pete's in 1922 after Peter Belles purchased the establishment, which today claims itself as the longest continuous tavern in New York City. During Prohibition, the flower shop in front led to the booze in the back, likely protected from police raids by its nearby proximity to Tammany Hall.)

The hard-drinking Henry became a regular at Healy's and was said to consider it an extension of his office at the New York World, who hired him for $100 a week for a single story. Healy's even made it into O. Henry's story 'The Lost Blend,' but in disguise as "Kenealy's," perhaps to keep his favorite watering hole to himself.

According to biographer David Stuart, in late autumn 1905, a new World editor decided Henry's salary far exceeded his output and ordered him fired. Unbeknownst to Henry, the World still wanted him to write up until his contract expired in December. So it came as a shock to Henry when, shortly before the World's big Christmas special edition came out on December 10, an office boy knocked on his apartment door looking for a contribution. The lackey wasn't leaving without a story so O. Henry sat down and banged out "Gift of the Magi" in "two feverish hours" according to the faded plaque outside his apartment building. It fit Henry's pattern of writing overnight, on deadline, and delivering at the last minute, but usually with pristine copy that didn't require much editorial heavy lifting.

On the whole, "Gift of the Magi" encapsulates the best of what O. Henry stories accomplish, a brief lived-in human experience. One that is often, for good, bad, or in-between, given over to an unwanted fate, only to be rescued through a combination of sentimentality and his patented surprise ending.

"O. Henry had a strong sense of form; if you read a story of his blind, you'd be able to identify it as an O. Henry story by the movement of the action, leading up to his famous trick--the twist at the end," says Furman. "The twist is really a wringing out of the plot elements and revealing something that was there all along but the reader hadn't noticed. He was less interested in style than in getting a reaction from his reader. That performative aspect of his stories and his relationship to the reader as audience has appeal to writers now."

Despite the plaque on 55 Irving Place, the question of where O. Henry scribbled down his masterwork remains an open one. Folklore handed down from generations of the tavern's owners claims it was authored inside Pete's--a sacred booth includes multiple pictures and a handwritten letter O. Henry wrote as William Sydney Porter deferring on a dinner invitation--but at least one dissenter claims it was authored in Henry's apartment. Written in 1936, The Quiet Lodger of Irving Place is a series of reminisces about O. Henry's time in New York City by his friend and colleague William Wash Williams. In it, Williams says "Gift of the Magi" was written in the room O. Henry rented. No official documentation exists either way, but what truly matters is the story has become synonymous with Pete's Tavern, the New York City holiday season, and the wonderfully brighly festooned intersection of the two.

"Some of the decorations we have are over 50 years old, so I'd say the Christmas season has always been important to us here at Pete's," says general manager and tavern historian Gary Egan, who started working there as a waiter and bartender in 1987. "Every year, five of us put up all the lights and decorations. We close early and go from midnight to eight in the morning for three weeks straight. And at home, I make gallons and gallons of eggnog and bring it in. It's brutal."

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Toll of the Bells: The forgotten history of nationalism, oppression, and murder behind a Christmas classic. (LYDIA TOMKIW, DEC 19, 2019, Slate)

A group of men and women in traditional embroidered dress took the stage at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 5, 1922, for a performance that the New York Tribune dubbed "a marvel of technical skill." The New York Times called the music they made "simply spontaneous in origin and artistically harmonized." The New York Herald described the costume-clad singers as expressing "a profound unanimity of feeling that aroused genuine emotion among the listeners." The audience that cheered for encores and threw flowers on the stage didn't know it at the time, but they had just heard what would eventually become one of the world's most beloved and recognized Christmas songs: "Carol of the Bells."

Onstage was the Ukrainian National Chorus conducted by Alexander Koshetz. At the end of Part 1 of the program at Carnegie Hall, they performed composer Mykola Leontovych's arrangement of a traditional Ukrainian song the playbill called "Shtshedryk." The audience likely also did not know that just over a year before the New York premiere, Leontovych had been assassinated by the Cheka--the Bolshevik secret police.

The song's journey onto the world's stage and its transformation into an American Christmas classic is a tale of musical inspiration, nationalism, and political violence. At its center is a beautiful, haunting melody that has captivated audiences for over a hundred years and spawned countless versions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Africa is converting China (Christopher Rhodes, December 24, 2019, UnHerd)

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens have gone to work in Africa, where they have encountered foreign cultures that leave many of them feeling alienated. For some of these disaffected Chinese workers, a source of comfort has come from religion, most notably the Evangelical Christianity that pervades much of sub-Saharan Africa. Evangelicalism prioritises conversion of non-believers, and the Chinese, heavily discouraged from practicing religion at home, are attractive potential converts.

Many local African churches have reached out to Chinese workers, including incorporating Mandarin into services.  A number of Chinese, in turn, have welcomed the sense of community and belonging that these Christian churches offer. And a small but growing number of ethnically Chinese missionaries from Taiwan and other countries are specifically targeting Chinese nationals in Africa, preaching to them with a freedom they'd never be allowed in the People's Republic.

Many of these Chinese workers are returning home, and they're bringing their newfound religion with them. Visitors to the coastal province of Fujian, for example, now hear South African accented English and see houses adorned with crosses.  African migrants are also moving to China in larger numbers, many of them practitioners of very evangelistic forms of Pentecostal Christianity who are willing to flout the rules placed on religious activity in China.

This new dynamic is creating a headache for the Communist Party, which heavily regulates state-recognised religious bodies and considers non-sanctioned religious activity illegal. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ex-Trump staffer suing over pregnancy discrimination (JOSH GERSTEIN, 12/23/2019, Politico)

A spokeswoman and outreach staffer on Donald Trump's 2016 presidential bid, A.J. Delgado, is suing Trump and his campaign for pregnancy and sex discrimination.

Delgado's suit, filed Monday in federal court in Manhattan, claims she was sidelined by campaign officials about six weeks after the 2016 election -- shortly after she told senior officials that she was pregnant.

December 23, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Russia's State TV Calls Trump Their 'Agent' (Julia Davis, Dec. 17, 2019, Daily Beast)

Appearing on Sunday Evening With Vladimir Soloviev, Mikhail Gusman, first deputy director general of ITAR-TASS, Russia's oldest and largest news agency, predicted: "Sooner or later, the Democrats will come back into power. The next term or the term after that, it doesn't matter... I have an even more unpleasant forecast for Trump. After the White House, he will face a very unhappy period." 

"Russia's state television uses every opportunity to demoralize the Ukrainians with talking points based on Trump's distaste for their beleaguered country."
The host, Vladimir Soloviev, smugly asked: "Should we get another apartment in Rostov ready?" Soloviev's allusion was to the situation of Viktor Yanukovych, former president of Ukraine, who was forced to flee to Russia in 2014 and settled in the city of Rostov-on-Don.

Such parallels between Yanukovych and Trump are being drawn not only because of their common association with Paul Manafort, adviser to the first, campaign chairman for the second, but also because Russian experts and politicians consider both of them to be openly pro-Kremlin. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Impeachment 2? House lawyers say more charges possible (Dareh Gregorian, 12/23/19, NBC News)

Lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee floated the possibility that the panel could take up additional articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, according to a document filed in a federal appeals court Monday.

Urging the court to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify, the committee's lawyers said that his testimony could lead to more revelations about the president's behavior.

"If McGahn's testimony produces new evidence supporting the conclusion that President Trump committed impeachable offenses that are not covered by the articles approved by the House, the committee will proceed accordingly -- including, if necessary, by considering whether to recommend new articles of impeachment," the lawyers said.


When President Donald Trump ordered a halt to aid to Ukraine last summer, defense officials and diplomats worried first that it would undermine U.S. national security. Ukraine is, as some of them later testified before Congress, on the front lines of Russian aggression, and only robust American support would fend off aggressive Moscow meddling in the West. This worry eventually helped galvanize congressional support for one of the two impeachment articles approved by the House of Representatives on Dec. 18.

But there was also a separate, less-noticed facet of the internal administration uproar set off by Trump's July 12 order stopping the flow of $391 million in weapons and security assistance to Ukraine. Some senior administration officials worried that by defying a law ordering that the funds be spent within a defined period, Trump was asking the officials involved to take an action that was not merely unwise but flatly illegal.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


A leaked State Department memo opposes a bill that would resettle Syrian refugees in the US (Nicole Narea,  Dec 23, 2019, Vox)

Syrians are seen on the mud covered road between tents at a refugee camp, where Syrian refugees live, after heavy rain at winter season in northeastern Idlib, Syria, on December 13, 2019. Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The Trump administration opposed a bill that would allow Kurds and other Syrian refugees to immigrate to the US more easily as Turkey's recent offensive in the war-torn country has left tens of thousands of civilians displaced, according to a leaked State Department memo first reported by the Daily Beast's Betsy Swan.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Risch of Idaho and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, would allow certain Syrians to obtain US visas in return for aiding US military efforts in the ongoing Syrian civil war, and to come to the US as refugees more quickly. It would also impose sanctions on Turkey for buying Russian missiles in defiance of the US and NATO allies.

The unsigned State Department memo asserts that the bill would infringe upon President Donald Trump's authority to determine which refugees can be admitted to the US and would not give the administration sufficient time to effectively screen Syrians for security threats. It's yet another signal that Trump is unwilling to open the US's doors to even the most vulnerable immigrants.

Sure, he keeps losing, but as long as Donald keeps fighting immigrants, Muslims, Jews, blacks, Asians, women, etc, he'll keep the Trumpbots on-side.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


This Is Why Your Holiday Travel Is Awful : The long, sordid history of New York's Penn Station shows how progressives have made it too hard for the government to do big things--and why, believe it or not, Robert Caro is to blame. (MARC J. DUNKELMAN, 11/29/2019, Politico)

I first encountered Penn Station as a college student in the mid-1990s. Back then, a stream of stories promised that the station was about to undergo a transformation. A decade and a half later, the station had barely changed at all. Having spent years in and around Democratic politics, I wanted to understand why going into Penn Station was like walking through a time warp.

So I began calling friends who'd had senior roles in state and federal government, and then sought out some on the long list of people who had spent a portion of their careers working on the project. No one had ever traced the full sweep of the efforts to remake the station, and why they always failed. Trying to make sense of the swirl, I built a timeline on a spreadsheet, which grew to nearly 600 entries. After years of research, a picture began to emerge--one that, beyond the scope of any given anecdote, told a dispiriting story about the futility of present-day American government, and reshaped my view of progressive politics.

The story of Penn Station's halting redevelopment comes in three separate waves of effort that rose up to replace the current squalor--and then, in the first two cases, crumbled into nothing. Pundits and editorials have tended to blame a rotating cast of characters for the rot--the railroad that owns the station, the state bureaucracies that have neglected it, the private real estate interests that have hemmed it in. But Penn Station has actually languished at the hands of another simple reality: No one has the leverage to fix it. The sad state of America's most important train station stems more from a failure of power than a failure of leadership. And shockingly enough, that's not by mistake--it's by design.

The roadblocks that prevent projects like Penn Station from quick completion were erected after a quiet but enormously consequential shift in progressive thinking--a transformation that began in the 1960s and still reverberates today. For the previous century, reformers ranging from Teddy Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson had sought to combat the pernicious influence of political machines and corporate trusts by consolidating public power in the hands of expert technocrats, men (and, to be clear, they were mostly white men) driven to pursue the broader public interest. But by the early 1970s, the old progressive vision had shattered. No single event may have pointed the new way more clearly than the publication, mere months before Richard Nixon's resignation, of Robert Caro's The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.

Caro's 45-year-old masterpiece, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, is often billed as a biography of New York's most important 20th-century builder, an unelected official who remade the city's landscape between the mid-1920s and the late 1960s. But the 1,296-page book was also an indictment of government power that has since become a core tenet of progressive thinking. Since the 1970s, even as progressives have championed Big Government, they've worked tirelessly to put new checks on its power--to pull it away from imperious technocrats who might use government to bulldoze hapless communities. And it's that impulse to protect the powerless from the abuse of public power that is most responsible for the morass that is Penn Station.

Since the mid-1960s--really since the opening of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island--no major new piece of public infrastructure has been built within the five boroughs of New York City. New York has managed to rebuild when bridges and subways failed and, in the case of the World Trade Center, when buildings were destroyed by terrorists. A handful of new subway stops have opened on Second Avenue, and the 7 Line was extended into Manhattan's Far West Side. Gov. Andrew Cuomo managed to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. And he's rebuilding terminals at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. But those changes are a pittance of what New York once built year upon year, and just a fraction of the public infrastructure a booming city demands. The subway system is falling apart. Entire neighborhoods are transit deserts. Century-old tunnels that connect New York and New Jersey are beginning to fail.

Why aren't there new subway lines connecting impoverished corners of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens? Why does freight traveling from New Jersey to Long Island travel by truck across Manhattan and not by rail? Why does the Port Authority Bus Terminal languish amid calls for an upgrade? Why does luxury housing sprout like weeds while institutions that serve the middle and working classes are left to languish? Why, as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in a letter to Gov. George Pataki in 1995, does it seem as though America has "lost the touch for famous things"?

Penn Station, like so much of the region's infrastructure, remains in tatters today not because men like Robert Moses are no longer on the scene, but because the system in which Moses operated has been replaced by an entirely new, and remarkably dysfunctional, architecture. Beneath America's deep frustration with government is something else: a deep-seated aversion to power. Progressives resolved decades ago to prevent the public from being bulldozed by another Robert Moses--and the project to diffuse power to the public has succeeded. But the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. The left's zeal to hamstring government has helped to burnish the right's argument that government would mess up a one-car parade. The new protections erected to guard against Moses' second coming have condemned new generations to live in civic infrastructure that is frozen in time.

The Big Dig was a spectacular success, by getting rid of or hiding Mosesian infrastructure and making the city more livable. And New Yorkers love High Line Park.  How about tearing out more ugly infrastructure in exchange for redoing the train station?

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


LETTER: Einstein to Schrödinger 22 XII 1950

Dear Schrödinger,

You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue, who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality--if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality--reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. They somehow believe that the quantum theory provides a description of reality, and even a complete description; this interpretation is, however, refuted, most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + Geiger counter + amplifier + charge of gun powder + cat in a box, in which the ψ-function of the system contains the cat both alive and blown to bits. Is the state of the cat to be created only when a physicist investigates the situation at some definite time? Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation. [...]

Best regards!


A. Einstein

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


A Conversation With Rudy Giuliani Over Bloody Marys at the Mark Hotel (Olivia Nuzzi, 12/23/19, New York)

As we sped uptown, he spoke in monologue about the scandal he co-created, weaving one made-up talking point into another and another. He said former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, whom he calls Santa Maria Yovanovitch, is "controlled" by George Soros. "He put all four ambassadors there. And he's employing the FBI agents." 

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:23 AM


Christmas Jazz Playlist:

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump campaign plagued by groups raising tens of millions in his name (MAGGIE SEVERNS, 12/23/2019, Politico)

As President Donald Trump raises money for his reelection campaign, he's competing for cash with a growing mass of pro-Trump PACs, dark money groups and off-brand Facebook advertisers neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Trump's campaign, which have pulled in over $46 million so far.

The groups mimic Trump's brand in the way they look and feel. They borrow the president's Twitter avatar on Facebook pages, use clips of Trump's voice in robocalls asking for "an emergency contribution to the campaign" and, in some cases, have been affiliated with former Trump aides, such as onetime deputy campaign manager David Bossie. But most are spending little money to help the president win in 2020, POLITICO found.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Year Socialism Became a Dirty Word--Again (Flavia Krause-Jackson, 12/22/19, Bloomberg)

This year ends with the humiliation of the Labour Party in the U.K.'s Dec. 12 election and Germany's Social Democrats more unpopular than at any time in living memory. In Italy and Spain, the center-left are in government only thanks to precarious alliances with the anti-establishment groups that grew from the 2008 financial crisis.

For Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, the malaise runs deep, indeed as far back as the Cold War era of the early 1970s. "There has not been a charismatic and genuine left-wing leader who made a true difference in Europe since Willy Brandt," who won a Nobel prize for building bridges between east and west and paving the way for German reunification.

The possibility of a Socialist revival was killed be the ease with which W, the UR and Ben rescued the world economy in '08-'09.

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Will there ever be another recession? (Allison Schrager, 12/23/19, Quartz)

Economic booms don't die of old age and studies show the odds of a recession don't increase over time. A recession is usually caused by some external shock. Past examples include a sudden increase in oil prices (in the 1970s), a collapse in housing prices (2008), or the US Federal Reserve suddenly and unexpectedly increasing interest rates by a few percentage points (1930s and early 1980s). And there are recession-causing candidates milling about now. The primary one is political uncertainty, with the outcome  of November's election--between an unpredictable president and a democrat who might raise taxes--a potential trigger. The possibility of a trade war is non-trivial, which could cause a recession. Economic instability in China could leak out. A hard Brexit could have spill over impact and rattle shaky markets.

The '08 credit crunch was likewise precipitated by rate hikes into the teeth of deflation, which exposed the securities fraud of bundling more subprime loans than were being revealed to investors.  Provided central bankers accept the fact of deflation, only Donald's policies can slow the boom that W and the UR restored for us.

December 22, 2019

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How The Travel Ban Is Ruining Lives (DANIEL LARISON, 12/22/19, American Conservative)

The New York Times has published the testimonies of a number of Americans affected by the travel ban. These include spouses who have been separated from each other, as well as those that have been cut off from being able to see their parents and other relatives in person for almost three years. These testimonies represent just a fraction of the people whose families and marriages have been harmed in some way by the arbitrary decision to ban nationals from Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and Libya from entering the U.S. The testimony from Masoud Abdi, a doctor from Illinois, is particularly moving:

My wife is 42 years old and desperately wants to be a mother, but her time for this is very limited. Every day, when we talk to each other, she tells me how badly she wants to be a mother. It consumes her, and it breaks my heart that I cannot give her this wish.

My wife has become very depressed and she cries every day. She is so depressed that we no longer have good talks with each other.

I cannot explain in words how it all weighs on me emotionally. I am desperate. This makes me feel so helpless. I am destroyed inside, knowing this is even affecting her physical health. As a physician, I am familiar with the symptoms of depression, which I clearly see manifested in myself.

I am so disappointed in life. I wake up to support my wife, but really don't have any hope to continue my life.

The travel ban is causing enormous hardship to many thousands of families like this one. There is no excuse for what is being done to these people, and it is all the more infuriating when we understand that the travel ban has absolutely no merit as a security measure. What we have seen over the last three years is the result of a policy that seeks to penalize innocent people solely because of where they happen to have been born.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Trump repeats attacks on windmills, saying they are "noisy" and "kill the birds" (MATTHEW ROZSA, DECEMBER 22, 2019, Salon)

President Donald Trump repeated one of his more infamous claims during a speech on Saturday to the Turning Point USA conference in West Palm Beach, Fla. -- namely, that windmills are a major problem in the United States.

"They are noisy. They kill the birds," Mr. Trump said when speaking of windmills in the address to the gathered young conservative activists, according to The New York Times. "You want to see a bird graveyard, go under a windmill someday. You will see more dead birds than you've ever seen in your life."

The president also claimed that windmills have killed bald eagles in California and produce noxious fumes when being manufactured, according to the Miami Herald.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Poll: Majority approve of Trump's impeachment and removal from office (Nicholas Wu, 12/22/19, USA TODAY)

In the first poll to be conducted following the House's passage of impeachment articles, 52% of respondents said they supported the Houses' articles of impeachment, with 43% opposing.

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


Netanyahu ad copies Trump, who ripped off Modi (Times of Israel, 12/22/19)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put out a new campaign ad. But it may not be that new.

The graphic, posted on his social media accounts Saturday, includes a black-and-white photo of Netanyahu pointing, with a Hebrew caption reading, "They're not only after me, they're after us."

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Buttigieg campaign talks pathway to citizenship, reforming ICE and other immigration issues (MATTHEW ROZSA, DECEMBER 22, 2019, Salon)

The document includes a number of policy promises that directly respond to initiatives begun by President Donald Trump. On one occasion the document harshly denounces the policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border.

"On Day One of my administration, we will reverse this administration's cruel and counterproductive immigration actions that take infants out of their mothers' arms, argue against children having toothpaste or soap, deport veterans, break up families, and sweep up workers in raids while heaving exploitative employers unpunished," the Buttigieg campaign writes.

The campaign also says in its position paper that "in his first 100 days, Pete will push for legislation that provides a mechanism to gain legal status and ultimately citizenship, including for people with temporary protections -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), and withholding of removal." Buttigieg's campaign also promises to "restore and extend temporary protections" that had been imperiled or eliminated by Trump.

As mayor of the medium-sized Indiana city of South Bend, Buttigieg attempted to help undocumented immigrants who were worried about being picked up by federal authorities.

"Parents had grabbed their kids from Harrison Primary Center and small shops closed for the day," Buttigieg recalled in his memoir "Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future." "After that day working the phones to verify this was all a false alarm, my staff and I added to our mayor's office to-do list the creation of a phone tree in the event of immigration raids."

Only Donald's hardest core opposes the path.

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N.Y. prosecutors charge nearly 100 alleged MS-13 gang members, associates (Sommer Brokaw, 12/21/19, UPI) 

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini announced the charges in a news conference Friday against 96 alleged MS-13 gang members, including alleged gang leaders of nine cliques within the organization in Suffolk County. Officers investigated the gang for 23 months, resulting in a special grand jury convened last month.

"The goal of this investigation was to deliver a major blow to the gang's leadership, operations and recruitment in our region," Sini said. [...]

"This operation helped end the New York program, which was orchestrated by the leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador to develop a greater presence here on Long Island," Sini said. "Additionally, as a result of the reliable intelligence generated throughout this investigation law enforcement prevented countless acts of violence over the past 23 months including seven murder plots rights here in Suffolk County."

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Why the English should support Scottish independence (Lincoln Allison, 22 December, 2019, The Critic)

[I]t is worth asking what a rational English person would lose from Scottish independence. One way of answering that question is to consider the arguments against Irish independence a century ago. People worried about a repressive, theocratic government and about the repression of minorities including Northern protestants and the ascendancy, but also smaller groups (as in the Limerick anti-Jewish "pogrom" of 1904). There were also concerns that the island would prove to be hostile to Britain and a security risk. In fact, of course, all of these concerns turned out to be valid. But none of them remotely apply to Scotland in the twenty first century. We aren't in any doubt either that Scotland is a nation and one lucky enough to have no dissenting minorities -- in sharp contrast to the bitter situation in Catalonia. Nor are we in any doubt that the Scots could run an open and outward-looking country and do so pretty efficiently.

But it does all depend on what you mean by "independence". I write these words with a smile on my face because in 2014 a referendum was held on the subject during which it became clear that nobody had a clue what they meant and if there is another referendum it must surely be on the basis of a full and clear blueprint. From an English point of view there are two essential conditions which independence must meet. The first, obviously, is that the "West Lothian question" must be dismissed forever: Scotland cannot continue both to have a parliament in Edinburgh and to have representation in Westminster. The second, equally non-negotiable, is that it must have its own currency. Proper countries have currencies and by analogy with the Euro I cannot imagine anything worse for Anglo-Scottish relations than having to send commissions up to Edinburgh to curb public expenditure. To clarify, there might well be private employers paying Scots in other currencies (many people in Aberdeen are already paid in dollars) and, of course, Scots should be able to hold savings in any currency they choose, but Scottish government accounts and the payment of public employees must only be in groats (or whatever).

Naturally there should be a plethora of arrangements which represent the remaining Britishness of Scotland without impinging on the essence of independence. These should include the retention of the monarchy as in Canada and many other places. Normal movement should continue between the two countries as it did between Britain and Ireland following the 1949 Government of Ireland Act which said that the Irish were not foreigners even if they had a sovereign state. There would have to be very close relations on defence and diplomatic representation: the emergent Scottish state and its electorate are hardly likely to want to fund a modern navy or air force let alone 123 embassies and 154 consulates as Britain does. They would also be expected to be members of NATO and the Commonwealth.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Poll: 43% Of Evangelicals Approve Of Trump's Removal From Office (JUSTIN CARUSO, December 21, 2019, Daily Caller)

Among registered voters in general, 42% of voters strongly approve of Trump's removal, 9% somewhat approve, 4% somewhat disapprove, and 38% strongly disapprove.

Looking at evangelical voters, 34% would strongly approve of the president's removal, 9% somewhat approve, 4% somewhat disapprove, and 49% strongly disapprove.

Non-Protestant/Catholic voters approve of Trump's removal in general by 67%, while 32% disapprove. Non-Christians in general would approve of  Trump being removed with 72% approving, and 26% disapproving.

December 21, 2019

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NASCAR Legend Junior Johnson Dead At 88: How North Carolina's Bootleggers Invented Stock-Car Racing (Guy Martin, 12/21/19, ForbesLife)

NASCAR champion driver and team owner Robert Glenn Johnson, Jr. -- aka Junior Johnson -- was the lead-footed, lightnin' fast son of a North Carolina bootlegger whose talents for the gritty hairpin turn and relentless drive for speed and dominance has died in the North Carolina hills from which he sprang, aged a robust 88. He had more wins as a driver and owner than he could care to count, and along with the Frances, Sr. and Jr., Dale Earnhardt Sr., Richard Petty, and a handful of other good ol' boys, he was there at the beginnings of NASCAR, as lovingly chronicled by the almost-as-legendary Southern journalist Tom Wolfe.

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


David Hume: Natural, comfortable thinking (Jane O'Grady, Footnotes to Plato: TLS Online)

David Hume, a master of paradox and wit, is often said to be the greatest English-speaking philosopher who has ever lived. He was a figure of the eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment, and yet, like the Romantics, he deflated the status of reason, and elevated that of emotion, the natural, and human animality. Once regarded as the great arch-sceptic, he is now considered to be a naturalist, incorporating humans into empirical enquiry, as part of, rather than transcending, nature. [...]

The corollary of Hume's system is that, because we lack the impressions that are required to be the initial foundations to our ideas, our most fundamental beliefs are baseless. We have impressions (and subsequent ideas) of colours, shapes, etc, but lack any impression of their continuous and self-standing existence when not perceived - so why are we so confident that there is a world beyond our experience? Similarly, when we introspect, we encounter numerous fluctuating impressions ("of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure"), but an impression of self eludes us; therefore our idea of it is invalid. "Ourself, independent of the perception of every other object, is in reality nothing", just "a bundle of perceptions", or something like "a republic or commonwealth", the citizens of which are only nominally united.  Again, we see one type of thing or event constantly preceding another type of thing or event, and say the first causes the second, but however many times we experience that sequence of things or events, nothing new is added to our initial experience of it. The first time we witness a conjunction of events/objects is no different from the next and the next; each is just a repetition of the same kind of impressions we've already had; and, if one instance of cause and effect doesn't show us necessity, then many such instances won't either. We have no impression of what makes the second follow from the first; yet, without an impression of the necessity that connects them, we have no basis for believing in causation. In any case, just because up until now bread has always nourished us, or we have incessantly seen medium-sized things fall when let go of in mid-air, what reason do we have to assume that these hitherto "constant conjunctions" will go on happening? To argue that the future will be like the past because it always has been is "taking that for granted, which is the very point in question" - why should it be? There is "no known connexion between [a loaf's] sensible qualities and [its] secret powers", for instance. Why assume that, because certain sensible qualities are now, and have always been, attended with the power to nourish, they always will be? "Your appeal to past experience decides nothing in the present case", said Hume.

Every great English-speaking thinker has denied Reason; it's what prevented us from lapsing into the Materialist disaster of the Continent..

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New Zealand police say 56,000 guns and 194,000 parts handed over in buyback (Alison Rourke, 20 Dec 2019, The Guardian)

"As of midnight, 20 December 2019, 56,240 firearms and 194, 245 parts have been handed in," said deputy police commissioner, Mike Clement.

He also confirmed that 2,717 guns had been modified to make them lawful. [...]

Almost NZ$100m ($66.1m) was paid in compensation to gun owners.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Trump adviser: Expect more aggressive poll watching in 2020 (SCOTT BAUER, 12/21/19, AP) 

"Traditionally it's always been Republicans suppressing votes in places," Clark said at the event. "Let's start protecting our voters. We know where they are. ... Let's start playing offense a little bit. That's what you're going to see in 2020. It's going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program."

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IS militants exploit political unrest in Iraq to rise again (Adnan Abu Zeed, December 21, 2019, Al Monitor)

Irrespective of the differing views on IS's role in the demonstrations, IS is obviously investing in the popular outburst and ensuing political, security and even social turmoil. Speaking to Al-Monitor, Ahmed al-Sharifi, a military analyst and former member of the United Iraqi Alliance, indicated that "IS is active in Baghdad, taking advantage of the security forces' preoccupation with the demonstrations." He said, "IS cells were already able to attack with a grenade the Central Bank in Baghdad, located among the crowds on al-Rashid Street in the center of Baghdad." Sharifi has even anticipated that "IS would carry out major terrorist attacks in Baghdad, the southern and central provinces as well."

Sharifi's point of view on IS's role during the protests is in line with remarks made by the spokesperson of the Joint Operations Command Spokesman Maj. Gen. Tahsin al-Khafaji. Khafaji told Al-Monitor, "IS is trying to activate sleeper cells, taking advantage of the security forces' preoccupation with securing the demonstrations." He revealed that "[slain IS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi's deputy chief in Kirkuk, who was arrested, stated in the interrogation that he was plotting to infiltrate the demonstrations to carry out military attacks."

Hanin al-Qadu, a member of parliament for Ninevah province, told Al-Monitor, "Bearing in mind the security forces' preoccupation with the demonstrations in the southern and central provinces, IS would plan attacks in the northern areas where its moves and capabilities [required] to carry out attacks are greater than those in the central and southern areas."

Fallah al-Khafaji, a parliament member who worked on the security and terrorism dossier in Babil province, told Al-Monitor that "IS views the demonstrations as a window of opportunity to conduct attacks by activating its sleeper cells, particularly in the northern and western parts and on the outskirts of the provinces where the environment is favorable."

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Immigration Will Shift Electoral College in Favor of Democrats, Study Finds (Jason Hopkins, December 21, 2019, Daily Signal)

A new analysis finds that immigration will dramatically reshape the Electoral College map in favor of the Democratic Party after completion of the 2020 census.

Rising immigrant populations around the United States will result in several solidly Democratic states gaining more seats in the House of Representatives at the expense of solidly Republican states, the study by the Center for Immigration Studies finds. The shift ultimately will give the Democratic Party more influence in the Electoral College, CIS says.

As the 2020 census approaches, the Center for Immigration Studies conducted the study to predict what the Electoral College map will look like after the counting is done.

Under current policy, all individuals are included in the population count, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. Democrat-dominated states are expected to be bolstered with more congressional representation--thus giving them more influence in the Electoral College--thanks to their burgeoning immigrant populations.

All immigrant populations--including naturalized citizens, legal residents, and illegal aliens--and their American-born children will redistribute 26 House seats in 2020, the CIS study predicts.

Of the 26 seats predicted to shift, 24 are expected to be taken away from states that voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Ohio is expected to lose three seats; Pennsylvania and Michigan likely will lose two; and 18 states likely will lose one seat: Arkansas, Alabama, Idaho, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin, and West Virginia, according to the study.

California, already a behemoth of the Electoral College, is predicted to gain 11 seats after the 2020 census is completed. New York likely will gain four more seats. New Jersey likely will come out with two more seats, and Massachusetts and Illinois likely will each gain one more seat.

The only traditionally red state to see gains is Texas, which is expected to notch four more House seats. Florida, which is considered a swing state but trends toward the GOP, will earn three more seats, under the CIS analysis.

And Texas and Florida are low hanging fruit.  It is precisely because this is the cost of Trumpism that he will leave no footprint in American life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


An unexpected decade of prosperity (The Week, December 21, 2019)

Hold the champagne: Investors don't want this decade to end, said Lu Wang at Bloomberg Businessweek. "Stocks in the S&P 500 have returned 249 percent in the past 10 years." That's not just better than the historical average -- it's happened without the stomach-churning dips the stock market has delivered in other periods. Not every day was smooth sailing. "There was the May 2010 flash crash, Europe's sovereign debt crisis in 2011 and 2012, and China's currency devaluation in 2015." But ultimately the 2010s turned out be "the first decade without a bear market" -- the market never fell more than 20 percent from its peak. Even through a trade war and global recession jitters, "magically, the bull market has endured."

In the near term, economists believe that "the more than decade-old bull market still has room to run," said Martha White at NBC News. Many of the experts who in the spring predicted a recession for 2020 have changed their tune, and last month's robust jobs report has made economists much more optimistic. Most analysts now forecast one of three outcomes, said Paul Davidson at USA Today. 

There are inevitably parts of the response to the credit crisis they could have handled better--for instance, paying down consumer debt as the means of bailing out banks--but the fact that they turned what in the past would have beemn a depression into a minor recession followed by a return to the sustained growth begun by Reagan/Thatcher/Greenspan is a staggering achievement.     

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Lebanon, Hanover consider diversity, workforce as leaders vote to welcome refugees (TIM CAMERATO, 12/20/19, Valley News)

LEBANON -- Two Upper Valley communities voted this week to welcome new refugees resettling in the Granite State, a move that officials hope will someday attract new residents who could ease the region's workforce shortage and increase diversity.

The Hanover Selectboard on Tuesday passed a motion signaling the town's willingness to host refugees through government-approved resettlement programs.

On Wednesday, the Lebanon City Council followed suit with all nine members voting in favor of a resolution allowing for the resettlement of "refugees within the City who have the authority to enter and remain in the United States."

"This is as American as apple pie," City Manager Shaun Mulholland said on Friday, adding that many Americans can trace their lineage to refugees and immigrants. [...]

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in September that requires both states and municipalities to approve refugee resettlement. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu announced last month he had given statewide consent but left it to municipalities to decide whether to opt in.

At least one Upper Valley business is exploring how it can help New Hampshire's existing refugee population while also attracting new workers.

Elizabeth Asch, owner of the Lebanon-based River Valley Club, said she's had difficulty finding new employees over the past two years, a challenge that becomes more pressing as the business looks to expand its child care center.

She recently reached out to Ascentria Care Alliance, a nonprofit that resettles refugees in Concord, and they're now working to offer jobs to refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Asch said several refugees made the trip to River Valley Club for a tour on Tuesday, and she's hoping to put together a program that could provide both jobs and English lessons.

The Upper Valley is welcoming and can offer refugees the services and employment they need to thrive, she said.

"I believe our community can offer them more than they've been able to get in the southern part of the state," she said in a phone interview.

December 20, 2019

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Pro-Trump Publisher Booted Off Facebook for Doing The Bad Thing (Whitney Kimball, 12/20/19, Gizmodo)

Facebook has put an end to the brainwashing of innocent Trump supporters who have been told to support Trump by a Chinese spiritual group. And thus, it puts a bow on 2019.

Today, Facebook announced that it's taken down hundreds of sock puppet accounts and pages-610 Facebook accounts, 156 groups, 89 pages, and 72 Instagram accounts-operated from both the US and Vietnam and operated by a newspaper-style, pro-Trump entity called the BL, or the Beauty of Life, with indirect ties to the Falun Gong religious sect. the BL has paid Facebook less than $9.5 million for ads in numerous currencies; Facebook claims that the BL used "a combination of fake and authentic accounts of local individuals in the US to manage Pages and Groups" in order to evade detection. The violations include "inauthentic behavior, spam, and misrepresentation."

Zito, Solomon, Epoch Times...who's a true believer supposed to turn to now?

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Trump administration demanded Democrats strip Ukraine aid language from spending package (Erica Werner, Dec. 20, 2019, Washington Post)

Senior Trump administration officials in recent days threatened a presidential veto that could have led to a government shutdown if House Democrats refused to drop language requiring prompt release of future military aid for Ukraine, according to five administration and congressional officials. [...]

The White House this year refused to release congressionally appropriated defense aid to Kyiv during a period when President Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president and 2020 candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Trump's request of Zelensky as the White House delayed the aid was at the heart of House Democrats' decision to impeach Trump this week on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Poll: Majority approves of Trump's impeachment (STEVEN SHEPARD, 12/20/2019, Politico)

A majority of voters approve of the House of Representatives' impeachment of President Donald Trump earlier this week, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

The narrow majority who approve, 52 percent, is greater than the 43 percent who disapprove of the House voting to impeach Trump, the poll shows.

Which looks like Donald's 2020 vote % too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Why Biden's Retro Inner Circle Is Succeeding So Far (RYAN LIZZA, 12/19/2019, Politico)

Since the start of Biden's campaign, he's relied on a core group of half a dozen people. Like any presidential campaign, Biden's is sprawling--more than 400 people across the country--and it includes key advisers with ideological and racial diversity and is outfitted with all the accoutrements of a modern enterprise. But when the upper echelons of the Biden operation assemble at campaign headquarters in Philadelphia's Center City, the group looks a lot like Biden: old and white and with long experience in Democratic party battles of a bygone era.

The average age of those six--Steve Ricchetti, Mike Donilon, Ron Klain, Valerie Biden Owens, Bruce Reed and Anita Dunn--is 62.

They are the key to understanding the big things about the Biden campaign: its centrist ideology, its old-fashioned view of the Democratic electorate, how the campaign came together and how Biden might govern.

Like Biden, those advisers came up in politics during the Reagan revolution, when Democrats were often taught that they needed to be ideologically cautious to win. Like Biden, they are contemptuous of the revolutionary left. Like Biden, they like to think of the Democratic coalition as still anchored in the white working class.

And a lot of smart people thought they, like Biden, would fail.

A year ago, Biden's retro campaign, with its retro staff and retro view of who Democratic voters are, was predicted to have a swift demise. It didn't happen. And it if it succeeds in the coming months, Biden and his team will have challenged everything people thought they knew about the Democratic Party in the age of Trump.

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Moqtada al-Sadr: The 'firebrand' cleric who could calm Iraq (Jim Muir, 12/20/19, BBC)

Barely had the Americans and their allies settled in than Moqtada al-Sadr shot to prominence as the loudest voice calling for their ouster.

Words were followed by action, as he mobilised his followers into the Mahdi Army (a name with messianic Islamic connotations) which US commanders rapidly came to see as their biggest threat in Iraq.

From 2004 onwards, the Mahdi Army clashed repeatedly with US-led coalition forces and was blamed for numerous roadside bombings and other attacks. Moqtada al-Sadr also lambasted Iraqi leaders co-operating with the Americans.

His followers were deeply involved in the Shia-Sunni sectarian atrocities and general gangsterism of 2006-7. In 2008 his men fought pitched battles with Iraqi army troops sent in to tame Basra by then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Through successive phases of turmoil since then, Moqtada al-Sadr has been adept and pragmatic in both the military and political spheres.

The Mahdi Army has been through several mutations, and is currently labelled the Peace Companies.

Politically, the Saeroun is the latest morph produced by the broader Sadrist movement.

Such shake-ups have allowed Moqtada al-Sadr to keep a grip on both spheres and prevent complacency.

In the 2018 elections he forbade any of his 34 incumbent MPs from standing again and ran a successful list which, astonishing for a supposedly Shia clerical-based outfit, included communists, secularists and Sunnis.

His decisions have often seemed fickle and bizarre, not least when it comes to relations with outside powers.

While he has been consistently against American interference in Iraq, he has often criticised Iran too, for its interference both in Iraq and in Syria. In 2017 he even visited Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional arch-rival.

Yet he took refuge in Iran from 2007 until 2011, studying in the Qom seminaries to try to upgrade his clerical credentials; and in September this year, he was filmed sitting with the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the mastermind of Iran's regional influence, Gen Qasem Soleimani - images that caused a frisson through much of Iraq.

For Patrick Cockburn, author of a biography of Moqtada al-Sadr, there is no real contradiction in all this.

"He and his father have pursued a pretty consistent line as populist nationalist religious leaders in the context of Iraqi politics with its multiple power centres at home and abroad. This means that nobody is a permanent friend or a permanent enemy."

"In Moqtada's case, political ambivalence is exacerbated because he is, at one and the same time, leader of the biggest party in parliament, while his followers are playing a central role in the protest movement.

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U.S. Releases Aid to Lebanon Despite Fears Money Could Help Hezbollah Terrorists (Adam Kredo, DECEMBER 20, 2019, Free Beacon)

The Trump administration released hundreds of millions in key American aid dollars to Lebanon this week despite growing concerns in Congress that these taxpayer funds are bolstering the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group, according to U.S. officials and congressional sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

The administration informed Congress this week that a tranche of aid money being held up by Trump loyalists at the U.S. Agency for International Development would be sent to the Lebanese government, which has long been penetrated at the highest levels by senior Hezbollah operatives. Hezbollah is a U.S. designated terror group that is funded, armed, and directed by Iran's military leadership.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


New Hampshire shows signs of growth amid uncertainty ( Bob Sanders, 12/19/19, NH Business Review)

Raka, a digital marking firm in Portsmouth, offers its employees free local brews on tap, not to mention some hard cider.

The Great NH Restaurants chain last year bought condos to house its workers in Laconia. Now it wants to purchase an apartment building for them, not to mention offering them a signing bonus.

Liberty Hill Construction, a high-end Bedford remodeler, has had to turn away work because it lacks workers.

"We are literally not able to produce the stuff we can sell," said Greg Rehm, Liberty's owner. "We are being held back by the lack of a workforce."

Years after recovery from the recession began, it's still workers, not jobs, that the New Hampshire economy needs. Despite some concerns of a slowdown, particularly when it comes to manufacturing, the state's economy is still "red hot," said Tom Boucher, CEO of Great NH Restaurants, which is building yet another T-Bones in Concord and adding a new brand, Bull and Bear, in the old Shorty's in Bedford, in addition to its CJ's and Copper Door restaurants. "And I don't see it slowing down anytime soon."

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4 Things To Know About The N.H. Coal Plant Targeted By Climate Protesters (ANNIE ROPEIK, DEC 19, 2019, NHPR)

[O]ver the past 20 years, amid a growing sense of urgency about combating climate change, all of New England's biggest coal plants have shut down. 

Some switched over to natural gas. Others were demolished. The site of one plant, razed in 2018, may one day host offshore wind infrastructure. Many coal plants just couldn't compete while paying for required environmental upgrades.

That's left three coal-fired power plants in the region. 

Two are in New Hampshire, owned by Granite Shore Power: Merrimack Station in Bow, and the much smaller Schiller Station in Newington, which also burns oil and woodchips. The third is Bridgeport Station in Connecticut, which is being replaced with natural gas and will retire by 2021.

2. The power plant now runs more rarely than ever - though "rare" is relative. 

Merrimack Station was built as a "baseload" plant - one that supplies a large, steady supply of power regardless of conditions on the grid. These days, it's become what's known as a "peaker" - a resource that only comes on when the grid is stressed and in need of extra electricity.

These days, New England's grid mostly runs on natural gas and nuclear power.  Merrimack Station is typically fired up only on the hottest days of the summer months - when air conditioning use drives up energy demand - and on the coldest days of winter - when natural gas supplies are put toward heating demand, and the electric grid needs a boost.  

To put that in context: Twenty years ago, when bigger coal plants were still online, New England burned several million tons of coal a year to meet nearly a fifth of its total electric demand. 

Last year, that was down to about half a million tons of coal burned to meet about 1 percent of total electric demand.

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California's growth keeps rolling with 28,400 jobs added in November (MARGOT ROOSEVELT, DEC. 20, 2019, la tIMES)

California's record job expansion continued last month as the number of unemployed sank to the lowest level in three decades despite large gains in the state's population.

State payrolls expanded by 28,400 jobs on top of October's revised gain of 32,000 positions. The November tally contributed to a 117-month job surge, surpassing the long expansion of the 1960s, the Employment Development Department reported. [...]

The state's job market compared favorably with the nation's. Year-over-year, California added 321,800 positions -- a 1.9% increase, compared with a U.S. gain of 1.5% over the same period.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


We're Getting a Clearer Picture of the Climate Future -- and It's Not as Bad as It Once Looked (David Wallace-Wells, 12/20/19, New York)

A few weeks ago, the International Energy Agency released its annual World Energy Outlook 2019. The IEA is not known to be optimistic, at least to climate advocates, who have, for years, mocked its projections for future renewable growth: Every year, the agency basically predicts a plateau for renewable use, and every year renewables keep dramatically growing. This made the most noteworthy prediction in this year's report even more so. According to the IEA report, given only current carbon policies, which nearly everyone studying climate considers terribly weak, the world is on track for as little as 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100 -- about one and a half degrees less warming than is suggested by the U.N.'s IPCC reports in what is often referred to as the "business as usual" "RCP8.5" scenario.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What Makes Lab-Grown Diamonds A More Affordable And Sustainable Alternative To Mined Diamonds? (Ann Binlot, 12/20/19, ForbesLife)

A number of companies creating lab-grown diamonds have emerged on the market, including Great Heights, the New York-based start-up founded by Ryan Bonifacino and Alex Weidling. Lab-grown diamonds are created in a tiny fraction of the time it takes natural diamonds to form, which results in lower costs. But just what is a lab-grown diamond, and why should consumers explore them as an alternative to mined diamonds? I quizzed Bonifacino about the process behind creating lab-grown diamonds, the difference in pricing, and why he thinks they're more ethical than mined diamonds.    

What is a lab-grown diamond and why is it less expensive than mined diamonds?  

A lab-grown diamond is exactly what it sounds like, which is a real, authentic diamond that is formed with scientists duplicating nature's process above ground. A lab-grown diamond is just as real and contains the exact same properties as one that is formed underground. The only thing that makes a lab-grown diamond different from a mined diamond is its origin. A lab-created diamond touches fewer hands than in the mining process so it's more cost-effective. Great Heights diamonds are priced by 40 to 60 percent less compared to mined diamonds. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Exclusive: Phrase 'White Nationalists' Cut From Measure To Screen Military Enlistees (Christopher Mathias, 12/19/19, HuffPo)

A measure in the National Defense Authorization Act meant to keep white nationalists out of the U.S. military no longer mentions "white nationalists" after Congress quietly altered the text after it initially passed the House.

The change, which has not been previously reported, could water down a House-passed amendment meant to address the threat of white nationalists in the military. The House language was specifically drafted to encourage screening for white nationalist beliefs in military enlistees. But after the Republican-controlled Senate passed its own version of the massive military spending bill and the two chambers' bills were reconciled, the final NDAA instead requires the Department of Defense to study ways to screen military enlistees for "extremist and gang-related activity."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Washington Rep. Matt Shea engaged in domestic terrorism against U.S., says state House report (David Gutman  and Jim Brunner, 12/19/19, Seattle Times)

State Rep. Matt Shea planned and participated in domestic terrorism against the United States before and during the armed takeover at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, an investigation commissioned by the Washington state House found.

The 108-page report found that beginning in November 2015, Shea, working with militia leader Ammon Bundy, helped "in the planning and preparation" of the Malheur takeover, a six-week conflict in which dozens of armed protesters occupied the refuge in rural Eastern Oregon. The standoff ended after one protester was shot and killed and dozens were arrested.

"Representative Shea, as a leader in the Patriot Movement, planned, engaged in and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States Government in three states outside the state of Washington over a three-year period," according to the report released Thursday. "In one conflict Representative Shea led covert strategic pre-planning in advance of the conflict."

Where's General Reno when we need her again.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why doesn't McConnell want witnesses at Trump's trial? Because he's guilty. (Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman,  Dec. 19, 2019, Washington Post)

[T]rump and McConnell don't want a Senate trial that includes the handful of witnesses that Democrats have demanded because Trump is flagrantly guilty of all of the corruption for which he's now been impeached. Trump got caught, and they all know he did everything he's been accused of doing.

Such a trial would risk exposing this further -- or worse. That's because Trump's conduct is without question even more corrupt than we currently know -- probably much more so -- and such a trial would risk additional revelations to this effect. [...]

When McConnell blithely vowed on Fox News to run Trump's trial in "total coordination" with the White House legal team, McConnell revealed he's determined to structure the trial with a single goal in mind: making sure it creates as few revelations as possible -- since that means political pain for Trump and for McConnell's majority -- no matter how absurdly it must be structured to pull this off.

To that very end, McConnell rejected Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's call for witnesses at the trial, which included acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.

We know why McConnell rejected that demand: because those witnesses almost certainly can testify to Trump's state of mind in freezing military aid to Ukraine, at precisely the moment when he and his personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani were implementing an elaborate plot to extort Ukraine into announcing investigations that would help Trump politically.

Indeed, this is exactly why the White House also blocked their testimony when House Democrats demanded it during the impeachment inquiry.

At bottom, this is a simple matter. Democrats are demanding to hear from witnesses whom we have not yet heard from, and who have direct knowledge of what may be the most corrupt act at the core of the scheme -- the freezing of the aid -- which Republicans claim was an entirely innocent act. Senate Republicans are refusing to hear from them, just as the White House wants.

December 19, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Rep. Jim Jordan Uses Anti-Muslim Activist's Email List to Fundraise on Impeachment (Jared Holt, December 19, 2019, Right Wing Watch)

Loomer was suspended from many major social media platforms and tech services for spreading anti-Muslim hate speech. She is also an ardent conspiracy theorist who has worked with Alex Jones' Infowars outlet, and she has used her platform to endorse a white nationalist running for office in Canada. Loomer is currently running for office in Florida's 21st Congressional District.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


IBM Research Created a New Battery That Outperforms Lithium-Ion--No Problematic Heavy Metals Required (Andrew Liszewski, 12/19/19, Gizmodo)

IBM Research's Battery Lab came up with a new design that replaces the need for cobalt and nickel in the cathode, and also uses a new liquid electrolyte (the material in a battery that helps ions move from one end to the other) with a high flash point. The combination of the new cathode and the electrolyte materials was also found to limit the creation of lithium dendrites which are spiky structures that often develop in lithium-ion batteries that can lead to short circuits. So not only would this new battery have less of an impact on the environment to manufacture, but it would also be considerably safer to use, with a drastically reduced risk of fire or explosions.

But the benefits of IBM Research's design don't stop there. The researchers believe the new battery would have a larger capacity than existing lithium-ion batteries, could potentially charge to about 80 percent of its full capacity in just five minutes, would be more energy-efficient, and, on top of it all, it would be cheaper to manufacture which in turn means they could help reduce the cost of gadgets and electric vehicles.

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We've just had the best decade in human history. Seriously (Matt Ridley, 21 December 2019, The Spectator)

Perhaps one of the least fashionable predictions I made nine years ago was that 'the ecological footprint of human activity is probably shrinking' and 'we are getting more sustainable, not less, in the way we use the planet'. That is to say: our population and economy would grow, but we'd learn how to reduce what we take from the planet. And so it has proved. An MIT scientist, Andrew McAfee, recently documented this in a book called More from Less, showing how some nations are beginning to use less stuff: less metal, less water, less land. Not just in proportion to productivity: less stuff overall.

This does not quite fit with what the Extinction Rebellion lot are telling us. But the next time you hear Sir David Attenborough say: 'Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth on a planet with finite resources is either a madman or an economist', ask him this: 'But what if economic growth means using less stuff, not more?' For example, a normal drink can today contains 13 grams of aluminium, much of it recycled. In 1959, it contained 85 grams. Substituting the former for the latter is a contribution to economic growth, but it reduces the resources consumed per drink.

As for Britain, our consumption of 'stuff' probably peaked around the turn of the century -- an achievement that has gone almost entirely unnoticed. But the evidence is there. In 2011 Chris Goodall, an investor in electric vehicles, published research showing that the UK was now using not just relatively less 'stuff' every year, but absolutely less. Events have since vindicated his thesis. The quantity of all resources consumed per person in Britain (domestic extraction of biomass, metals, minerals and fossil fuels, plus imports minus exports) fell by a third between 2000 and 2017, from 12.5 tonnes to 8.5 tonnes. That's a faster decline than the increase in the number of people, so it means fewer resources consumed overall.

If this doesn't seem to make sense, then think about your own home. Mobile phones have the computing power of room-sized computers of the 1970s. I use mine instead of a camera, radio, torch, compass, map, calendar, watch, CD player, newspaper and pack of cards. LED light bulbs consume about a quarter as much electricity as incandescent bulbs for the same light. Modern buildings generally contain less steel and more of it is recycled. Offices are not yet paperless, but they use much less paper.

Even in cases when the use of stuff is not falling, it is rising more slowly than expected. For instance, experts in the 1970s forecast how much water the world would consume in the year 2000. In fact, the total usage that year was half as much as predicted. Not because there were fewer humans, but because human inventiveness allowed more efficient irrigation for agriculture, the biggest user of water.

Until recently, most economists assumed that these improvements were almost always in vain, because of rebound effects: if you cut the cost of something, people would just use more of it. Make lights less energy-hungry and people leave them on for longer. This is known as the Jevons paradox, after the 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons, who first described it. But Andrew McAfee argues that the Jevons paradox doesn't hold up. Suppose you switch from incandescent to LED bulbs in your house and save about three-quarters of your electricity bill for lighting. You might leave more lights on for longer, but surely not four times as long.

Efficiencies in agriculture mean the world is now approaching 'peak farmland' -- despite the growing number of people and their demand for more and better food, the productivity of agriculture is rising so fast that human needs can be supplied by a shrinking amount of land. In 2012, Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and his colleagues argued that, thanks to modern technology, we use 65 per cent less land to produce a given quantity of food compared with 50 years ago. By 2050, it's estimated that an area the size of India will have been released from the plough and the cow.

Land-sparing is the reason that forests are expanding, especially in rich countries. In 2006 Ausubel worked out that no reasonably wealthy country had a falling stock of forest, in terms of both tree density and acreage. Large animals are returning in abundance in rich countries; populations of wolves, deer, beavers, lynx, seals, sea eagles and bald eagles are all increasing; and now even tiger numbers are slowly climbing.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that Britain is using steadily less energy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Trump Should Be Removed from Office: It's time to say what we said 20 years ago when a president's character was revealed for what it was. (MARK GALLI, DECEMBER 19, 2019, Christianity Today)

[T]he facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president's political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone--with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders--is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

Trump's evangelical supporters have pointed to his Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things, as achievements that justify their support of the president. We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president's moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president's positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.

This concern for the character of our national leader is not new in CT. In 1998, we wrote this:

The President's failure to tell the truth--even when cornered--rips at the fabric of the nation. This is not a private affair. For above all, social intercourse is built on a presumption of trust: trust that the milk your grocer sells you is wholesome and pure; trust that the money you put in your bank can be taken out of the bank; trust that your babysitter, firefighters, clergy, and ambulance drivers will all do their best. And while politicians are notorious for breaking campaign promises, while in office they have a fundamental obligation to uphold our trust in them and to live by the law.

And this:

Unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered this administration morally unable to lead.

Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president. Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election--that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Putin Says Trump's Impeachment Is Based on 'Absolutely Made-Up Reasons' (PETER WADE , 12/19/19, Rolling Stone)

Putin also expressed doubts the Republican-controlled Senate would vote to impeach one of their own, saying, "I doubt they will want to expel from power their party representative based on what I think are absolutely made-up reasons." Putin continued echoing Republican talking points (which are from Putin himself) and said, "It then turned out that there was no collusion and it could not form the basis for impeachment, and now there is this made-up pressure on Ukraine."


Former White House officials say they feared Putin influenced the president's views on Ukraine and 2016 campaign (Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey and  Carol D. Leonnig , Dec. 19, 2019, Washington Post)

Almost from the moment he took office, President Trump seized on a theory that troubled his senior aides: Ukraine, he told them on many occasions, had tried to stop him from winning the White House.

After meeting privately in July 2017 with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him, according to multiple former officials familiar with his assertions.

The president's intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign -- and the blame he cast instead on a rival country -- led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine's culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because "Putin told me."

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Cats is a baffling, humourless CGI nightmare--and the people deserve an explanation (Caspar Salmon, December 19, 2019, Prospect)

History books of the future will tell of the twin disasters in December 2019. The first, the Labour Party's results in a pivotal general election. The second, Cats.

In each case, the early portents (opinion polls; a trailer) loomed large, seeming to augur an impending fiasco. Yet throughout, hopeful campaigners and cinephiles clung desperately to the increasingly threadbare delusion that... maybe... it wouldn't be... so bad? And then--on 12th December at 10pm, and again on 17th December at 6:30pm--the sheer scale of the catastrophe descended upon us with a crash. This was not just any old failure, but a cataclysmic one, which could set back democracy in Britain/the art-form of cinema for a generation.

In Cats the exit poll moment comes in the very first scene, where we drop alarmingly from the sky, down to a sort of papier-mâché Soho, where humans dressed, painted and CGI'd so as to convey the outward appearance of cats, cavort and sing a song about being jellicles. The song lasts for about five or six minutes, crescendoing to a harrowing level of insanity, while never doing any of the following things: setting the scene; introducing a character; being pleasant to look at or listen to. The central dilemmas of the film already throb like a wound: 1) what does any of this mean?, and 2) the people, actors, who have been styled and instructed to play the part of cats, are, it is clear at all times, actually humans.

The story of the film is only very barely explained, after four or five loud and quite staggering songs by would-be comical (Rebel Wilson) or sexy (Jason Derulo) cats. The idea is that the cats are all jellicles, whatever that means, and one of them gets to go to heaven. They are each introduced in turn, and each sings a song explaining who they are--a curious cat, for instance; or a magical cat; or a (let me check my notes) "railway cat." One of the cats is a sex worker.

Throughout these early scenes, as the realisation dawns that the whole film is going to be like this, a kind of hysteria is released, and a sort of slack-jawed, punch-drunk stupor envelops you. You watch the film through clenched fingers, or start in your seat, or find yourself shaking your head in private wonder. At times I snuck a glimpse down my row of seats, which presented a gallery of faces frozen in shock and horror.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Brazil's debt under control, tax reform next: economy minister (Reuters, 12/19/19) 

Brazil's Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said on Wednesday he had reached agreement with Congressional leaders on modernizing the country's complex tax system next year and one option could be taxing on-line transactions.

Brazil has brought its snowballing public debt under control with reform of the costly pension system and spending cuts, he said, while interest rates are at record lows after the central bank cut its benchmark Selic rate to 4.50% on Dec. 11.

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U.S. household net worth $113.8 trillion in third quarter 2019  (Reuters, 12/12/19) 

Rising real estate prices helped drive U.S. household wealth to $113.8 trillion in the July through October period, a report by the Federal Reserve showed on Thursday. [...]

The U.S. economy is experiencing its longest expansion on record and households and households are benefiting from unemployment near a 50-year low.

On Wednesday, the Fed kept interest rates unchanged after cutting them three times this year and reiterated it now plans to keep rates where they are for the foreseeable future. The U.S. central bank reduced borrowing costs this year to boost the economy in the face of slowing global growth and the ongoing U.S.-China trade war.

We have nowhere near enough debt.

December 18, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


The Republican judges who were widely expected to kill Obamacare got cold feet: Sometimes, people who stare into the abyss blink. (Ian Millhiser  Dec 18, 2019, Vox)

Then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (left) shares a laugh with Republican members of Congress after signing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act on January 7, 2016, in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
When Texas v. United States, a lawsuit over Obamacare, was argued last summer, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit appeared determined to repeal the entire law root and branch.

Instead, in their opinion Wednesday, they punted on the biggest question: whether the entire law should be repealed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Despite criticism, Attorney General Bill Barr calls secretive FISA court a 'critical' tool (Alexander Mallin, December 18, 2019, ABC News)

"I think [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] is a critical tool to protecting Americans," Barr said at a news conference in Detroit. "We are committed to preserving FISA and we think all Americans should be committed to preserving FISA. It is essential to protect the security of the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Rudy Giuliani Flew To Ukraine On A Budget Flight. But He Left On A Private Jet. (Christopher Miller,  December 18, 2019, Buzz Feed News)

Flying WizzAir, which demands that customers pay for everything a la carte and forces them to fight for unassigned seats and overhead bin space often feels like a particularly chaotic Black Friday at Best Buy.

After experiencing that, it's no wonder Giuliani wanted to fly out of Kyiv on a private jet.

According to flight data, videos and photographs analyzed by BuzzFeed News, and confirmed by a Giuliani associate who joined him, the former mayor of New York left on a flight from Kyiv to Vienna on the night of December 6, aboard a Beechcraft Premier 1A light business aircraft with tail number T7-UTS.

That number ties the jet to ICS Aero, a company that's registered in the tiny state of San Marino, famous for its corrupt business practices, but operates out of Kyiv. Ukrainian media have reported that the company's owner is Ukrainian-American businessman Alexander Rovt. The logo of another Rovt company, IBE Trade Corp, which adorns the tails of the company's jets provides further evidence of Rovt's ownership

Rovt has done business in the past with Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with ties to organized crime and the Kremlin who is currently under house arrest in Vienna and is fighting extradition to the US, where he faces federal bribery charges. While those charges are unrelated to the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, Firtash has been at the nexus of Trump and Giuliani's effort to undermine their enemies.

On Tuesday, prosecutors said in court that a lawyer for Firtash paid $1 million to one of Giuliani's Ukraine campaign cohorts, Lev Parnas, and Parnas's wife.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Trump Administration Battles New Sanctions on Russia (Betsy Swan, Dec. 18, 2019. Daily Beast)

The Trump administration is quietly fighting a new package of sanctions on Russia, The Daily Beast has learned. A Trump State Department official sent a 22-page letter to a top Senate chairman on Tuesday making a wide-ranging case against a new sanctions bill. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM

TOTALLY NOT A CULT!!!!!!!!!!!:

GOP congressman compares Trump's impeachment to the crucifixion of Jesus (The Week, 12/18/19)

[Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.]  wanted to people look not to 18th century colonial America, but 1st century Roman-governed Judea to get a better understanding of the impeachment saga. Specifically, the congressman highlighted the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, which he argued saw Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea at the time, afford Jesus more rights than Democrats have provided Trump, since Jesus was given the "opportunity to face his accusers."

The Right has the Savior it deserves. The rest of of us are stuck with Christ and that love your neighbor guff.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Impeachment Is So Boring "You Wish for a Nice School Shooting," Says Denver Radio Host (Jason Salzman, December 18, 2019, Colorado Times Recorder)

Denver radio host Chuck Bonniwell began a segment of his afternoon radio show Tuesday by lamenting the "never-ending impeachment of Donald Trump," and then saying, "You know, you wish for a nice school shooting to interrupt the monopoly." [...]

Bonniwell's comment came as KNUS is facing accusations that a staffer is a Nazi.

Super on-brand.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


NBC/WSJ poll: Public remains split on Trump's impeachment and ouster from office (Mark Murray, 12/18/19, NBC news)

Looking ahead to next year's 2020 general election, a plurality of registered voters -- 48 percent -- say they are certain to vote against Trump, while 34 percent say they are certain to vote for him.

Eighteen percent of voters say their choice will depend upon whom Democrats decide to nominate.

Those numbers, which are essentially unchanged from October, are worse for Trump than what the Dec. 2011 NBC/WSJ poll showed for Barack Obama and his re-election prospects heading into the 2012 presidential contest.

In that poll, 34 percent of voters said they were certain to back Obama's re-election; 37 percent said they were certain to oppose him; and 27 percent said it depended on the Republican nominee.

The new NBC/WSJ survey also shows 50 percent of voters say they are "very uncomfortable" with Trump when it comes to the 2020 election.

That's compared with 28 percent who say they are "enthusiastic" about the president, as well as another 12 percent who are "comfortable" with him.

And the poll finds Democrats enjoying a 7-point lead over Republicans in congressional preference, with 49 percent of voters preferring a Democratic-controlled Congress after next year's elections, versus 42 percent who want Republicans in charge.

That 7-point edge for Democrats -- within the margin of error for registered voters -- is identical to their advantage in last October's NBC/WSJ poll, as well as right before the 2018 midterms, when they won control of the U.S. House.

Finally, 44 percent of all respondents in the poll say they approve of President Trump's job performance, including 33 percent who strongly approve.

But that's compared with 54 percent who disapprove, including 44 percent who do so strongly.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


The executive order on anti-Semitism is illegal (Joshua Z. Rokach, DEC 18, 2019, Times of Israel)

The president had no authority to issue the order. It requires an Act of Congress. The Orthodox Union wrote in its statement, "Legislation to enact this policy has been supported... for years and sponsored by a broad set of bipartisan leaders... Yet, it has failed to pass Congress."

To quote Shakespeare, "Aye, there's the rub."

The US Supreme Court's landmark case rejecting as unconstitutional President Harry Truman's seizure of steel mills, under his war powers, at the height of the Korean War established the modern boundaries between executive and congressional authority. Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 US 579 (1952). Justice Robert Jackson's concurring opinion, setting out the most expansive view of the majority, listed three circumstances in which the issue arises. 1) A president acting under a law; 2) A president acting when no law exists on the matter; and 3) A president acting incompatibly with the law. The president has the most power in the first instance and the least, if any, in the third.

Here, since members of Congress advocating for the new policy thought they needed to pass a law to achieve that result, the first category does not apply. Not only does no law exist, but Congress failed to pass the proposal the executive order enshrines. Nowadays, rather than reject a bill,Congress does not take it up. In effect, Congress rejected the provisions that found their way into the executive order.

Moreover, the executive order runs counter to the provisions of Title VI.

The mechanics work as follows. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 USC §2000d, et seq., prohibits recipients of federal funds or financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of "race, color, or national origin." In contrast, Title VII of the Act, which prohibits discrimination in employment includes "religion" as well as race, color and national origin. To reach its result, the administration had to classify Jews, not only as members of a religion, but having a distinct "national origin." Jared Kushner wrote in the New York Times that his father-in-law's order does not classify Jews as a nation. Yet Mr. Kushner claimed that Title VI applies to Jews. He put forth the following convoluted argument: Title VI applies "to the extent that Jews are discriminated against for ethnic, racial or national characteristics."

In fact, "national origin" within the meaning of Title VI does not cover Jews. Neither the conservatives' version of statutory interpretation, nor that of progressives allows for such a reading. Conservatives place sole reliance on the "original intent" of laws. For that, they look to the meaning of the words at the time of the law's enactment. Not just the dictionary, but prior usage, determines the result. Using that standard, "national origin" means "country of birth."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Is Mitch McConnell Afraid of This Man? (A.B. STODDARD,  DECEMBER 16, 2019, The Bulwark)

Senate Republicans--such as Lindsey Graham, who just bragged he is "not trying to pretend to be a fair juror"--are intent on racing through an impeachment trial. One of the reasons for this rush may be a desire to be done with impeachment before any more news connects Russian money to President Trump. We now know Rudy Giuliani's indicted ex-business partner Lev Parnas--who paid Rudy $500,000 to do Trump's Ukraine election meddling--had a Russian funding stream.

No wonder that, after the latest Parnas news broke last week, Graham said of the Senate trial, "I will do everything I can to make it die quickly."

Of course he will. [...]

[T]he real reason for getting the impeachment trial done fast is defensive: Republicans want to dispense with their Constitutional responsibility before the public realizes there is a second Russia-focused federal criminal investigation underway and that Trump, once again, is at the center of it.

And the more Giuliani--who is also being investigated, along with Parnas and others, by the FBI as well as the Southern District of New York for his work as Trump's "attorney," flies around the world ranting about what he and Trump are up to and shows up at the White House (as he did last Friday), the more incentive Republicans have to get the trial over with.

The ironic part is that Trump and Giuliani don't seem to understand their own best interests quite as clearly as their Senate enablers do.

The president and his personal lawyer have delighted in updating the press about Rudy's latest jaunt to Kyiv--where Trump said he "found plenty," and has been making a TV series about Burisma Holdings and the Bidens. Giuliani boasted to reporters that his plane had just landed before Trump called last week to ask what Rudy had dug up in Ukraine, to which he responded "more than you can imagine."

This must drive McConnell and his colleagues slightly meshuggah. Because while Trump and Giuliani are having fun with their out-in-the-open election interference, sooner or later people are going to start wondering whether or not this work is also being indirectly financed by the Russians.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Associate of Rudy Giuliani received $1 million payment from Ukrainian oligarch -prosecutor (Reuters, 12/17/19) 

U.S. prosecutors said in court on Tuesday that Lev Parnas, an associate of U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, received a $1 million payment from Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash.

The Dark Heart Of The Impeachment Investigation Is A Powerful Oligarch -- With Close Ties To Vladimir Putin (Miriam Elder, 10/24/19, BuzzFeed News)

Dmytro Firtash is usually described as a Ukrainian oligarch with admitted ties to organized crime, but he is much more than that. He has direct ties to Russia, and to President Vladimir Putin in particular, and those have only grown since he was arrested five years ago, awaiting extradition to the United States.

Now Firtash is at the nexus of Trump and Rudy Giuliani's effort to undermine the president's enemies -- and behind Firtash is a whole lot of Russian money and cover. [...]

Firtash was arrested in Austria in 2014, and has been fighting extradition to the US ever since. He swiftly posted 125 million euros ($140 million) in bail and promised not to leave the country. The bail was the highest ever paid in Austria -- and he got the funds to cover it via a loan from Russian billionaire Vasily Anisimov, who made his money in metals before switching to property development. Anisimov owns the luxury grounds on which a number of wealthy, well-connected Russian men have built their homes, including Putin's childhood friend, billionaire Arkady Rotenberg. Anisimov also heads Russia's Judo Federation -- Putin often awards his associates plum spots on Russia's sports leagues, and judo is his favorite of them all. Anisimov told Reuters, in a massive investigation into Firtash's Russia ties, that the loan "was a purely business transaction."

Why the interest from Russia? As one former US official who closely followed Firtash's case put it: "He knows where all the bodies are buried."

Firtash built himself up to become a key player in the tug-of-war between Russia and Ukraine. In a State Department cable written in 2008 and publicized in a dump by WikiLeaks, then-ambassador Bill Taylor -- who would go on to give explosive testimony in the impeachment inquiry this week -- wrote up a meeting with Firtash and said, "he acknowledged ties to Russian organized crime figure Seymon Mogilevich, stating he needed Mogilevich's approval to get into business in the first place." Mogilevich, one of Russia's most powerful organized crime figures and listed as most wanted by the FBI, lives freely in Moscow, under cover of the Kremlin.

When people talk about Russia being a "mafia state," this is sort of what they mean -- if the mob ran wild in the post-Soviet 1990s, in Putin's era it has been co-opted, and some of its tactics absorbed and deployed by the state. Subsequent court documents filed in the US called Firtash and his associate Andras Knopp -- now also living freely in Moscow -- "two upper-echelon associates of Russian organized crime."

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Edmund Burke and the Dignity of the Human Person (Bradley J. Birzer, December 17th, 2019, The Imaginative Conservative)

Contrary to much modern conservative and traditionalist misunderstandings, Burke embraced completely the concept of natural rights, though he feared that any attempt to define such rights as this or that would end in a disaster of abstractions. "I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well as any gentleman of that society," Burke wrote in 1790. "I think I envy liberty as little as they do, to any other nation. But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to any thing which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction." Properly understood, rights come from the laws of nature, Burke wrote, but they did so not as a direct line, but rather as refracted light. Rights must always and everywhere take into account the complex nature not only of man but, especially, of men. "The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned."

Thus, when he challenged the French Revolutionaries, he shocked the contemporaries of his generation. What made the French so different from the Americans, the Irish, the Indians, or the Africans? The French and their allies--even those in England--"are so taken up with their theories about the rights of man, that they have totally forgot his nature." They desire a gift without the giving, an advantage without a corresponding duty. "A cheap, bloodless reformation, a guiltless liberty, appear flat and vapid to their taste," he charged.

Perhaps, most tellingly, however, the French Revolutionaries and their allies denied not just the complexity but the romance of human nature. Famously, Burke rallied against the supposed gentlemen of France who did not defend the queen. "Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and cavaliers," he wrote. "I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult." Yet, Burke had to admit, such an age of honor had passed, and that of the utilitarians--those who would use man and men to their own advantage and, horrifically, as a means to an end--had arrived.

Not content merely to criticize, Burke also offered solutions to such dreadful actions and inactions by the French. First, one must see the human being not for what he is, or the worst that is within him, but rather, clothed in the "wardrobe of moral imagination," a glimpse of what the person could be and is, by God, meant to be. [...]

Second, Burke argues here and elsewhere that our true affection must begin at the most local and immediate level possible, recognizing what the Roman Catholics call subsidiarity, a manifestation of power at its most personal. We do not love abstractions such as nation, for example, but we do love our fathers, our mothers, our siblings, our uncles and aunts, our cousins, our friends, our mentors, and our neighbors.

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Universal Basic Income: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Grayson Quay, DECEMBER 18, 2019, American Conservative)

First, it avoids nanny-state paternalism. Yes, it's "free money" from the government, but it's free money that everyone gets. And even better, UBI is designed to replace every other entitlement program. Libertarians might gag at such extensive redistribution of wealth, but even they should clap their hands at the thought of no more bureaucrats deciding who gets what and how much and how they're allowed to spend it. Also, no more exhausting debates over work requirements and drug testing for welfare. You want to spend your entire thousand-dollar Freedom Dividend on hookers and blow? Go ahead! Most people won't, and even if they do, I'd rather see that than watch the government micromanage their lives while they shun work to avoid sacrificing their benefits.

Second, it shows real concern for people in rural areas and small towns who have watched their jobs vanish and their neighbors die of suicide and opioid overdoses. "Things are disintegrating in communities around our country, and our government does not care. ...Trump's victory was a giant cry," Yang said in one interview. While other candidates like Pete Buttigieg continue to trot out the old "basket of deplorables" talking point, Yang truly gets it. His Freedom Dividend policy proves that he does. In her video on the topic, conservative commentator Lauren Chen questioned whether it made sense to give everyone the same amount of money no matter where they live. After all, $1,000 goes a lot further in rural Mississippi than it does in New York City. This isn't an oversight on Yang's part though. It's a deliberate choice to incentivize people to live where their Freedom Dividend has the most purchasing power. This proposal could help breathe new life into dying towns that have lost many of their best and brightest to swollen megacities. It's no surprise that Ben Shapiro says Yang has much in common with Tucker Carlson.

Third, it might be the only way to deal with coming economic changes. In The Jetsons, which premiered in 1962, George Jetson worked as a "digital index operator," a job that consists entirely of pushing a single button to start and stop the manufacturing process of an otherwise entirely automated factory. "You gotta have it up here," George says, pointing to his forehead as he tries to convince himself that his job is meaningful, "to know how to start these things and stop 'em." What was a punch line in 1962 is reality today. Truckers, Uber drivers, customer service representatives, manufacturing workers, and even radiologists could all lose their jobs to automation over the next few decades. By one estimate, 50 percent of the work that people are currently paid to do could be taken over by automated systems using just the technology we already have. What happens when those jobs disappear or cease to pay a living wage? I imagine a dystopian future in which the underemployed masses foment revolution while Jeff Bezos rules over a robot empire of factories, drones, and delivery trucks without employing a single human being.

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Anti-Israel stalwarts blame Zionists and Jews for Corbyn's defeat in UK election (CNAAN LIPHSHIZ, 12/18/19, Times of Israel)

More anti-Israel stalwarts across Europe are coming forward to blame the Jewish state and Zionism for the defeat of Britain's Labour Party in last week's elections.

Chris Williamson, a former Labour lawmaker and ally of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, added his voice to the choir in a video he posted Tuesday on Twitter.
"A hostile foreign government has mobilized its assets in the UK - which Israeli diplomats call their 'power multiplier' - in an attempt to prevent a Corbyn-led Labour government" from being elected in Thursday's vote," said Williamson, who left the party earlier this year after saying it had been too apologetic about its anti-Semitism problem.

Jersey BOE trustee refers to Greenville's Jewish community as 'brutes' in deleted FB post (John Heinis -December 17, 2019, Hudson County View)
Jersey City Board of Education Trustee Joan Terrell-Paige called Greenville's Jewish community "brutes" in a Facebook comment that has since been deleted, prompting Mayor Steven Fulop to call for her resignation.

The social media posting, even though it has since been removed, was enough for Fulop to call for her to step down.

" ... My opinion is that she should resign. That type of language has no place in our schools and no place amongst elected officials. Her comments don't represent Jersey City or the sentiment in the community at all," the mayor told HCV.

"The African American community has been nothing short of amazing over the last week. Countless people have reached out to support their neighbors and express the sentiment that we are all working towards a better city together," he added, also calling those efforts, "inspirational."

Additionally, the trustee's remarks come at a time where racial tensions between the black and Jewish have been highlighted in the aftermath of last week's gun violence in Greenville that took four innocent lives: Police Det. Joseph Seals, Mindy Ferencz, Moshe Deutsch, and Douglas Rodriguez.

December 17, 2019

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Legal Experts Hammer Rudy Giuliani for Admitting to 'Rank Corruption' (Colin Kalmbacher, December 17th, 2019, Law & Crime)

"You just confirmed the exact point of Yovanovitch's testimony: that you needed her taken out so you could carry forward with your scheme," noted former Southern District of New York assistant U.S. Attorney and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig.

"[I]f only we all had a nickel for every time Rudy contradicted himself or said something incriminating or insane," cracked George Conway.

"It is an utter indictment of the GOP that Giuliani can go on the record admitting to rank corruption, but rather than being the final nail in the coffin, by lunchtime it will be their core talking point," said former Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesperson Matthew Miller.

"If this is what Giuliani talks about openly, I'd love to know what his 'insurance policy' consists of," pondered University of Alabama Law Professor and MSNBC contributor Joyce White Vance.

Vance, however, was actually referring to another slate of Giuliani admissions vis-à-vis Yovanovitch's ouster reported Monday by the New York Times.

"There's a lot of reasons to move her," Giuliani told the outlet, boasting that his campaign against Yovanovitch likely moved Trump to remove her. "I think my information did. I don't know. You'd have to ask them. But they relied on it."

"I just gave them the facts," he continued. "I mean, did I think she should be recalled? I thought she should have been fired. If I was attorney general, I would have kicked her out. I mean-secretary of state."

Amidst the swirling mass of Giuliani news, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough made an argument that the Overton window has substantially shifted in favor of corruption.

"Once again, Rudy Giuliani just admitted out loud something that in previous administrations you would have congressional investigations about," he said.

Giuliani's recent admissions have even upset at least one member of the congressional GOP.

"I think what was in the article about Giuliani today was very disturbing," Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Florida) told CNN, "And I think it argues again for slowing down, putting these guys under the threat of perjury under oath, and testify. And find out what's all the things he was doing over there. Why was he so interested in getting ambassador Yovanovitch anyway?"

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Secret Surveillance Court Rebukes FBI, DOJ With Order To Re-Validate Their Work (PHILIP EWING, 12/17/19, NPR)

The secret court that oversees intelligence collection upbraided the FBI and Justice Department on Tuesday with a highly unusual order for them to re-validate their work.

The extraordinary order, signed by Judge Rosemary Collyer, presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, requires officials to submit an explanation in writing about how they're remediating the problems identified by the recent inspector general report about the Russia investigation.

Federal law enforcement leaders have until Jan. 10 to file a sworn submission about what they have done, or plan to do, "to ensure the statement of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI that is material to any issue presented by the application," she wrote.

Collyer also ordered a timetable for reforms and "an explanation of why, in the government's view, the information in FBI applications submitted in the interim should be regarded as reliable."

The reforms will, however, just be a restatement of existing standards. No one is willing to take the heat for the next terrorist attack.

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Former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates sentenced (Ali Dukakis, December 17, 2019, ABC News)

In the lead up to the sentencing delivery. Judge Jackson said "Gates' information alone warranted, indeed demanded further investigation from the standpoint of our national security, the integrity of our elections and the enforcement of our criminal laws," and noting that they did not cooperate with the special counsel and instead used encrypted apps to conceal digital communication.

"I believe he has in a very real way accepted responsibility for his actions," said Jackson of Gates. "He's been at this long enough and under such onerous circumstances that one can believe in the transformation." She added.

The special counsel's office had charged Gates and his former business partner, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, in 2017 with crimes including lying to the government about his foreign lobbying work in Ukraine, tax evasion and money laundering.

Gates subsequently struck a plea deal with Mueller prosecutors in late February 2018, pleading guilty to two felony counts: conspiracy against the U.S. and lying to federal authorities about a laundry list of items related to the work he and Manafort did in Ukraine.

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Intel: Trump administration distances itself from Congress' recognition of Armenian genocide (Bryant Harris, December 17, 2019, Al Monitor)

The State Department is distancing itself from Congress' decision to recognize the Ottoman Empire's massacre of more than a million, mostly Christian Armenians as a genocide.

After the White House failed to thwart the Senate's effort to unanimously recognize the massacre as genocide on Dec. 12, the State Department released a terse statement today reiterating that the Donald Trump administration still does not believe the event qualifies as a genocide. The brief, unprompted statement does not refer to Armenia or to the title of the Senate resolution recognizing the genocide. Instead it simply refers to the legislation by number: Senate Resolution 150.


Having left the administration, Bolton said at a private event he was frustrated by the president's Turkey strategy. He also suggested that Trump's personal financial interests might be influencing his decisions as they were so far removed from his aides' advice.

Trump's relationship with Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came back into focus last week as the pair attended the NATO leaders summit in London.

The day after the event ended, Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen told Newsweek concerns remain over Trump's business in Turkey.

"I think the fact that his former National Security Advisor John Bolton referenced that as an element in the president's approach is very telling," Van Hollen explained, referring to Trump's supposed conflicts of interest.

"This is the president's national security adviser," he continued. "I know he didn't elaborate a lot, but the fact that he mentioned that as an influence on President Trump's policy towards Turkey is incredibly disturbing."

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The World The Economist Made : a review of Liberalism at Large by Alexander Zevin (PATRICK IBER, December 17, 2019, New Republic)

Today, Hobson is best remembered for his 1902 work Imperialism, the major thesis of which was cribbed by Lenin. (They agreed that the drive for empire was caused by the search for profits under capitalism.) Yet the parallels between Hobson's analysis and the widespread "crisis of liberalism" literature of our own times are striking. Hobson's '80s were not the Reagan years but the 1880s, of course, but his complaints about laissez-faire individualism find their echoes in today's critiques of neoliberalism. Even his eventual refuge feels contemporary: After trying to convince liberals to include more socially protective programs, Hobson eventually gave up and became a socialist.

That this 110-year-old complaint seems to speak to our own times is a testament both to the longevity of liberalism and to the difficulty--perhaps impossibility--of resolving its tensions. 

One would have thought the failure of Socialism and the explosive growth of the neoliberal era would have resolved the "tension."

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Former Likud lawmaker Begin: Netanyahu must resign  (The Times of Israel, 12/17/19)

Former Likud lawmaker and cabinet minister Benny Begin, son of the party's iconic founder, Menachem Begin, called on Tuesday for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign over impending corruption charges.

"We can't have a situation where a prime minister serves while this kind of indictment is weighing on his shoulders," Begin told Army Radio.
Nearly alone among current and former Likud leaders, Begin has issued scathing condemnations of Netanyahu's conduct over the past year, including accusing him in March of "attempting to assassinate the public's trust in law enforcement institutions."

Bibi and Donald have to destroy our institutions because their plans are anti-democratic.

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How Medicaid Expansion Is Transforming Politics As We Know It: Even in deep-red states, voters vigorously defend the program--and they know which party is attacking it. (Bryce Covert, 12/17/19, The Nation)

In the 37 states that have decided to take part, Medicaid coverage is open to everyone living at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. By March of 2018, nearly 672,000 more people were enrolled in Kentucky's Medicaid program and Children's Health Insurance Program than in 2013, most of them thanks to the expansion--a more than 110 percent increase. That's 15 percent of the state's population, including close to a fifth of the voting-age population. "If you don't have Medicaid yourself, you're interacting with people covered by Medicaid every single day," said Emily Beauregard, the executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health. By 2017, the state's uninsured rate dropped from 20 percent to 7.5 percent, the largest decrease in the country.

Those enormous gains make the deep-red state of Kentucky a particularly powerful example of an unexpected outcome: Beyond improving people's health and finances, the Medicaid expansion is changing how they view politics and their government. It's prompting them to get out and vote, and it has become a winning issue for Democrats, even in heavily Republican areas. And it could be transforming the way Americans view publicly funded health insurance itself.

Kentucky's Medicaid expansion means that more than a quarter of the state's population now gets coverage through the program. But just a year after its implementation, Republican Matt Bevin ran for governor promising to end the Medicaid expansion completely. "The fact that we have one out of four people in this state on Medicaid is unsustainable. It's unaffordable," he said on the campaign trail. "And we need to create jobs in this state, not more government programs to cover people." He won with 49.2 percent of the vote. After taking office, he sought a waiver from the federal government to allow him to impose a work requirement on Medicaid recipients, require monthly premiums, and eliminate retroactive eligibility, among other punitive changes. A judge struck down the waiver, but Bevin signed an executive order that would reverse the entire expansion if he didn't get his way in court.

Even so, he never carried out his threat. "There has not been one serious bill filed to end the Medicaid expansion," Beauregard said. "There was the sense that it wasn't a winning issue to take coverage away from people."

Now Bevin's efforts appear doomed. Six years after the expansion, Medicaid played a huge role in this year's gubernatorial contest between Bevin and Democrat Andy Beshear, the former governor's son. "Medicaid expansion and health care were front and center in the campaign," Beauregard noted. For Beshear, "it was a platform issue": He not only supported the Medicaid expansion but also repeatedly asserted that health care is a human right.

Voters paid attention. In a survey conducted by Beauregard's organization, many of those who said they cared about the issue were not enrolled in Medicaid themselves; they were just "concerned citizens who understood this was an economic issue, a social justice issue, an issue of neighbors taking care of neighbors," Beauregard said. "It was really striking to read so many comments from people who were not going to be directly affected and who could just as easily say, 'I'm the taxpayer footing the bill.' But instead they recognized there was value in their neighbors and coworkers having access to health care coverage."

December 16, 2019

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Xi Jinping's Annus Horribilis (MINXIN PEI, 12/16/19, Project Syndicate)

Further risks arise from Hong Kong, which is engulfed in its worst political crisis since its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. It all started when Hong Kong's China-backed chief executive proposed a bill that would make it easier to extradite criminal suspects from the city to the mainland. Viewing this as part of a broader central-government campaign to assert tighter control over the special administrative region, people poured into the streets to protest.

The government refused to budge, so the protesters became angrier, and their numbers grew. Asia's commercial hub quickly became a battle zone, with riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets at black-clad protesters, who responded with Molotov cocktails and bricks. By the time the bill was formally withdrawn, months had passed, and it was too late to return the genie to the bottle. Despite thousands of arrests, the protesters have shown no signs of backing down.

In late November, after more than six months of unrest, China's government suffered the ultimate indignity, when nearly three million voters turned out to hand an overwhelming victory to pro-democracy forces in local district-council elections (which won 388 of the 452 contested seats). At this point, a crackdown reminiscent of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre would be likely to backfire, leaving Xi with few options.1

Xi suffered another serious blow in November, when The New York Times obtained more than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents concerning the mass incarceration of ethnic minorities - particularly Muslim Uighurs - in the Xinjiang region. Only Chinese government insiders had access to such sensitive materials, suggesting that Xi's political enemies may have deliberately leaked them to the Western press in order to undermine his international standing.

Xi is also losing his grip in Taiwan. At the end of last year, Taiwan's ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, led by President Tsai Ing-wen, was dealt a painful general election defeat. But, since the protests erupted in Hong Kong, Tsai has portrayed herself as defending Taiwan from a Chinese-government stooge who would accept a "one country, two systems" model. Tsai now seems set to secure a landslide victory in next month's presidential election.

Xi can blame only himself - or, more specifically, his excessive centralization of power - for the challenges of the last year.

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Trump campaign says impeachment backfiring. Not really, polls suggest (Chris Kahn, Tim Reid, 12/16/19, Reuters)

[I]f the Republican president is hoping for a public backlash like the one against the 1998 impeachment of Democratic President Bill Clinton, it has so far not worked out that way, Reuters/Ipsos polling data over the past few months shows.

In fact, the House of Representatives' impeachment investigation has fueled an equally fervent demand among Democrats to hold the Republican president accountable for his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden, according to a review of polls conducted every week since Sept. 24 when the Ukraine scandal broke. [...]

Clinton, who was impeached for lying about a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern, emerged in a stronger political position after he was acquitted in a Senate trial in early 1999.

But Americans are reacting much differently in 2019.

Trump's approval rating has hovered around 40% all year, changing little during the past three months. Furthermore, his support has been flat over the past several months among whites without a college degree - his core political base - and he was less popular in rural America in November than he was in June.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll also shows that Democrats are even more committed to impeaching Trump now than they were earlier this year and worry less about the impact it may have on the 2020 election.

While total support for impeachment has been steady over the past several weeks at around 45%, it has risen by 12 percentage points among Democrats since late September, with 78% saying in the latest poll on Dec. 9 and 10 that Trump should be impeached.

Among Republicans, opposition to impeachment has been relatively unchanged throughout the same period, with about 82% saying in the latest poll that he should not be impeached.

Every outlier poll has GOP opposition at 90%.

Swing District Democrats Move to a Yes on Impeachment, As Poll Shows Majority of Public Is in Favor (Matt Stieb, 12/16/19, New York)

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Mitt Romney and Michael Bennet just unveiled a basic income plan for kids (Dylan Matthews, Dec 16, 2019, Vox)

On Sunday, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) announced a bipartisan plan to do something pretty extraordinary: establish a basic income for children in the United States.

The plan is relatively modest. Parents would get a guaranteed $1,500 in cash every year per child under the age of 7, no matter their income, and $1,000 per child aged 7 to 17. Another $1,000 in benefits per child, regardless of age, would phase in with income, as occurs under the Child Tax Credit already in the federal tax code. [...]

While the proposal hasn't been formally analyzed yet for its impact on poverty, analysis of earlier, more generous proposals by Bennet and allies for a universal child allowance suggests this plan would reduce child poverty by millions of children, and make it less severe for millions more. A recent National Academy of Sciences report on child poverty found that an American child allowance would be an evidence-based, high-impact way to cut the child poverty rate.

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Russian state media says Trump is their 'agent' as they weaponize Giuliani's schemes to demoralize Ukraine (Sky Palma, 12/16/19, Raw Story)

In the wake of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to the Oval Office last week, Russian state TV aired a segment titled "Puppet Master and 'Agent'--How to Understand Lavrov's Meeting With Trump" and characterized the visit as an example of President Trump being subservient to Russian interests. As The Daily Beast's Julia Davis points out, "President Vladimir Putin's propaganda brigades enjoy watching the heightened divisions in the United States, and how it hurts relations between the U.S. and Ukraine."

That enjoyment manifested itself in the segment, which aired on the Russian Sunday news show Vesti Nedeli, where host Vladimir Soloviev quipped that Trump would have to seek refuge in Russia once he's out of office.

"State-television news shows use every opportunity to demoralize the Ukrainians with a set of talking points based on the U.S. president's distaste for their beleaguered country," Davis writes before citing another state-funded TV show where the host boasted about the meeting between Trump and Lavrov to a Ukrainian panelist.

"There are no disagreements or contradictions between Trump and Russia," said Valery Korovin, director of the Center for Geopolitical Expertise, appearing on the state-television channel Rossiya-24.

The Kremlin is even promoting the work of Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. After Giuliani's return to US from his "evidence gathering" trip to Ukraine, Russian state TV began airing clips of his OAN (One America News Network) "documentary," which claims to provide evidence that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 US election and that former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch of lied under oath to Congress "to whitewash [Joe] Biden's corruption."

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PODCAST Daniel Darling on The Characters of Christmas (Matt Lewis, 12/13/19, Matt Lewis and the News)

Daniel Darling talks about his new book, The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught Up in the Story of Jesus.

December 15, 2019

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Xcel sees financial payoff in push for wind-power development (LEE SCHAFER, 11/30/19, Star-Tribune)

On the last Friday before Thanksgiving, Xcel Energy filed a document with Minnesota's Public Utilities Commission called a Renewable Energy Standard Rider. In two read-throughs, a reasonably informed layperson would have only an even-money shot at understanding it.

The gist, though, is that Minneapolis-based Xcel asked regulators to approve bringing more than $100 million of wind-energy projects into the calculations of regulated electricity rates. And the news is that the new power will be cheaper.

"People tend to focus on what goes up and not what goes down," said Chris Clark, president of the Xcel's Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota region. "That wind coming into service is actually displacing other generation sources, so we are actually saving customers money with the wind we're bringing on to the system."

An unconscious focus on only what increases in price doesn't really explain the intensity of arguments over electric energy, which can seem more like the Wars of Religion than a discussion of costs. Yet the case the industry makes -- renewables are cheap enough, and getting cheaper -- is getting clearer in the latest numbers.

"The pricing that we are seeing on this build-out that we are doing -- and we are doing one of the largest build-outs in the nation of wind -- is substantially undercutting the price of our coal units," Clark said. "We had thought it would be mixing it up with them, but it is actually undercutting the coal units."

The cost to generate electricity from the new wind projects falls in the range of $15 per megawatt hour to $25, Clark said. The same electricity from a coal-fired generating station costs between $25 and $35 per megawatt hour.

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Why Labour lost - and how it can recover from an epic defeat (GEORGE EATON, 12/15/19, New Statesman)

At a Momentum activist training session I attended on 21 November, members were invited to "start shouting out the things that you're worried about coming up". The answers were swift: "Anti-Semitism, tactical voting for the Lib Dems in Tory areas, magic money tree, IRA, racism, position on Brexit, going backwards to the 1970s, high taxes. Momentum, people hate, people don't like Momentum. Immigration, Corbyn not being a leader, economic impact of a four-day week."

As I noted at the time, "successful political movements identify their vulnerabilities and work ruthlessly to neutralise them. But that Momentum activists can readily name so many perhaps augurs less well." 

Lynton Crosby, the former Conservative campaign manager, is fond of remarking that "you can't fatten a pig on market day". Political strength must be honed long in advance of an election, not during it. Labour entered the campaign with far too many weaknesses to ever have any hope of supplanting the Conservatives. 

Foremost among these was Jeremy Corbyn's unpopularity - the worst ratings of any opposition leader in polling history (a net rating of -60 in an Ipsos MORI survey). In an increasingly presidential system, leaders matter. A post-election Opinium survey found that 43 per cent of those who did not vote Labour cited its leadership, compared to 17 per cent for its stance on Brexit and 12 per cent for its economic policies. 

Corbyn's unpopularity had many facets: he was never trusted to manage national security (his response to the Salisbury poisoning did particular damage) or the economy, and even polled behind Johnson on public services. He presided over a permanently divided party, many of whose MPs never regarded him as fit to be prime minister, the scandal of anti-Semitism wounded his claim to moral authority, and his equivocation on Brexit undermined his promise of "straight-talking, honest politics".

Labour was vulnerable to exactly the extent it has abandoned the Thatcher/Blair Third Way.

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The Problem of Nationalism (Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D., 12/13/19, Heritage)

I think I understand why some people will be attracted to the concept of nationalism. President Trump used the term nationalism. National conservatives think that President Trump has tapped into a new populism for conservatism, and they want to take advantage of it. They think that traditional fusionist conservatism and the American exceptionalism idea are not strong enough. These ideas are not muscular enough. They want something stronger to stand up to the universal claims of globalism and progressivism that they believe are anti-American. They also want something stronger to push back on open borders and limitless immigration.

I understand that. I understand very well the desire to have a muscular reaction to the overreach of international governance and globalism, and I have no trouble at all arguing that an international system based on nation-states and national sovereignty is vastly superior, especially for the United States, to one that is run by a global governing body that is democratically remote from the people.

So what's the problem then? Why can't we just all agree that nationalism defined in this way is what we American conservatives have been and believed all along--that it's just a new, more fashionable bottle for a very old wine? Well, because the new bottle changes the way that the wine will be viewed. Why do we need a new bottle at all? It would be like putting a perfectly good California cabernet in a bottle labeled from Germany or France or Russia or China. 

The problem lies in that little suffix, "ism." [...]

That brings me to the idea of American exceptionalism, which is, I believe, the answer to the question of America's national identity and what it should be. 

It's a beautiful concept that captures both the reality and the ambiguity of the American experience. It's based on a universal creed. It is grounded in America's founding principles: natural law, liberty, limited government, individual rights, the checks and balances of government, popular sovereignty not the sovereignty of the folkish nation-state, the civilizing role of religion in civil society and not an established religion associated with one class or one creed, and the crucial role of civil society and civil institutions in grounding and mediating our democracy and our freedom.. 

We as Americans believe these principles are right and true for all peoples and not just for us. That was the way that Washington and Jefferson understood them, and it was certainly the way that Lincoln understood them. That's what makes them universal. In other words, the American creed grounds us in universal principles.

But what, you may ask, makes us so exceptional then? If it's universal, what makes us exceptional? It is, in fact, the creed. 

We believe that Americans are different because our creed is both universal and exceptional at the same time. We are exceptional in the unique way we apply our universal principles. It doesn't necessarily mean that we are better than other peoples, though I think probably most Americans do believe that they are. It's not really about bragging rights. Rather, it's a statement of historical fact that there is something truly different and unique about the United States, which becomes lost when talking in terms of nationalism.

A nationalist cannot say this, because there is nothing universal about nationalism except that all nationalisms are, well, different and particularistic. Nationalism is devoid of a common idea or principle of government except that a people or a nation-state can be almost anything. It can be fascist, it can be authoritarian, it can be totalitarian, or it can be democratic.

Some of the new nationalists doubt explicitly the importance of the American creed. They argue that the creed is not as important as we thought it was to our national identity.  Let's just think about that for a minute. 

What does it mean to say that the creed really isn't all that important? If the creed doesn't matter, what is so special about America? 

Is it our language? Well, no. We share that with Britain, and now much of the world.

Is it our ethnicity? Well, that doesn't work either because there's no such thing as a common American ethnicity. 

Is it a specific religion? We are indeed a religious country, but no, we have freedom of religion, not one specific religion. 

Is it our beautiful rivers and mountains?  No. We've got some beautiful rivers and mountains, but so do other countries. 

Is it our culture? Yes, I suppose so, but how do you understand American culture without the American creed and the founding principles?

Lincoln called America the world's "last best hope," because it was a place where all people can and should be free. Before Lincoln, Jefferson called it an empire of liberty. 

Immigrants came here and became true Americans by living the American creed and the American dream. You can become a French citizen, but for most Frenchmen, if you are foreign, that is not the same thing as being French. It's different here. You can be a real American by adopting our creed and our way of life.

After World War II, the American way and our devotion to democracy became a beacon of freedom for the whole world. That was the foundation of our claim to world leadership in the Cold War, and it is no different today. If we become a nation just like any other nation, then frankly I would not expect any other nation to grant us any special trust or support.

Another benefit of American exceptionalism is that it is self-correcting. When we fail to live up to our ideals as we did with slavery before the Civil War, we can appeal as Lincoln did to our "better nature" to correct our flaws. That is where the central importance of the creed comes in. Applying the principles of the Declaration of Independence correctly has allowed us to redeem ourselves and our history when we have gone astray. 

There is no American identity without the American creed. However, the nationalists are correct about one thing, in suggesting that the American identity is more than just about a set of ideas. These ideas are lived in our culture--that is true. It is also true, as Lincoln said about his famous "mystic chords of memory," that our common experience and our common history form a unique story. It is a story that embodies the very real lives and relationships of people and a shared cultural experience in a shared space and time in history that we call the United States.

On his terrific Remnant podcast, Jonah Goldberg has often admitted his dissatisfaction with his interviews of Yoram Hazony and Patrick Dineen, and his failure to confront them sufficiently about the implication of their ideas.  Things went even worse with Rich Lowry--perhaps understandably given their relationship--who made a series of necessarily nonsensical arguments about American Nationalism.  [The need not to call it Nastionalism being the first tell.] Hilariously, he tried making a case that a nation is marked by a common language but that it was an inevitable function of nationhood that America spread to the Pacific.  Obviously, this involved incorporating such Spanish-speaking territory as Florida, California, Arizona, etc;; French-speaking Louisiana; all the Indian territories; etc.  But, oddly, stopped at arbitrary borders with Canada and Mexico.  And the less said about his attempt to differentiate Succession from the Revolution, the better.   But the fact that the Right keeps arguing in favor of Nationalism even as they deny its nature when confronted suggests a profound level of disingenuousness

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


New Poll Shows Sen. Graham 'Extremely Vulnerable' To Challenger Harrison (Dan Desai Martin, December 15, 2019, National Memo)

According to a Change Research/Post and Courier poll, Graham holds a 47 percent to 45 percent lead over Harrison, with 9 percent of voters still undecided.

"Senator Lindsey Graham's favorability is exceptionally low among Independent voters and in hypothetical general election match-ups," the poll notes. "He looks extremely vulnerable against Democratic contender Jaime Harrison."

Only 38 percent of South Carolina voters have a favorable view of Graham, with 53 percent viewing him unfavorably. His numbers are even lower among Independents, with a mere 28 percent viewing him favorably and 60 percent with unfavorable views.

It would be delicious if he sold out to Donald only to be ushered out of Washington with him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Why Do Trump's Defenders Deny What He So Clearly Did? (Jacob Sullum December 15, 2019, RCP)

During Monday's impeachment hearing, Republican lawyer Stephen Castor denied that Donald Trump had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender to oppose Trump in next year's election. "I don't think the record supports that," Castor said.

That jaw-dropping moment starkly illustrated the lengths to which Republicans have gone in rebutting the charge that Trump abused his powers for personal gain. The president's defenders have repeatedly contested well-established facts in a way that makes fair-minded nonpartisans despair of having an impeachment debate based on a shared understanding of reality.

According to the White House's own transcript of Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into the claim that Biden pressed the Ukrainian government to replace Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin with the aim of thwarting an investigation of Burisma, an energy company that employed Biden's son Hunter as a board member. "There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution," Trump said, adding that "it sounds horrible to me."

...they'll never get another racist in the White House. Why wouldn't they defend the indefensible?

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Gollum and the Spirit of Christmas (Joseph Pearce, December 14th, 2019, Imaginative Christmas)

Like Scrooge, Gollum is possessed by his possessions. In Gollum's case, having been possessed by his possession of the Ring, he is possessed by his desire for its re-possession after the Ring is taken from him. Like Scrooge, he is a slave to the darkness of sin to which he is addicted. "A slave," writes the philosopher, Thomas S. Martin, "is a person who cannot restrain himself before the appetites of the body and the excessive desire for external possessions." Such a person can either be held in scorn and contempt, or he can be pitied. What, therefore, is to be done with Gollum? More to the point, what is to be done with all those gollumized souls who have enslaved themselves narcissistically and pridefully to themselves? What is to be done with those who are so addicted to their own self-empowerment, that they no longer have the power to give themselves to others in the love that will set them free? Are they to be scorned or are they to be pitied? Do we loathe them or do we love them? The hobbits in The Lord of the Rings learn to pity Gollum and to show him mercy. They know "the agony of Gollum's shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again." They know his affliction and they pity him for it, showing him mercy. In doing so, they love the miserable sinner, even as they loathe his miserable sin. This is the spirit of giving ourselves to others which is the spirit of Christmas. May we all be blessed with it this Christmas.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Greta Thunberg apologises for 'put leaders against the wall' comment (BBC, 12/15/19)

After some initial concern over her use of the phrase - which usually means to execute people by firing squad, against a wall - she tweeted a clarification.

"Yesterday I said we must hold our leaders accountable and unfortunately said 'put them against the wall'," she wrote.

"That's Swenglish: 'att ställa någon mot väggen' (to put someone against the wall) means to hold someone accountable."

She continued: "Of course I apologise if anyone misunderstood this. I cannot enough express the fact that I - as well as the entire school strike movement - are against any possible form of violence. It goes without saying but I say it anyway."

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Thrift stores and resale shops like Listen's are booming in the Upper Valley (JOHN LIPPMAN, 12/14/19, Valley News)

Since opening 14 months ago, Listen's thrift store in the former Bridgman's Furniture building has been ringing up sales of clothing, housewares, furniture, jewelry, appliances, books, home decor, trinkets and tchotchkes to thousands of customers, some who travel from more than an hour away to cruise the racks and shelves looking for bargains or that rare treasure.

"I love this store. You don't always find what you want, but you can get lucky," said Edith Labonte, of Cabot, Vt., one day last week as she wheeled a cart out of the store with two white plastic bags of items she had just purchased.

Labonte proudly pointed to her purchases in the cart, including a standing sun lamp she bought for $3.75 and a lace ribbon Christmas bow flecked with a gold design that cost "only $1.25," she noted, showing off the price tag.

"Are you kidding me?" she exclaimed.

While retail businesses are suffering due to the shift to online shopping -- numerous storefronts remain vacant along the Route 12A commercial corridor in West Lebanon years after their tenants have left, and downtown Hanover has seen numerous longtime shops close -- the "resale" industry is flourishing. From cast-off clothes to used furniture and appliances, consumers are embracing the thrift economy.

As market analysts predict that the industry will continue to grow, when it comes to thrift stores, the Upper Valley might be the Rodeo Drive of resale outlets.

Crowned by Listen's $2 million, 32,000-square-foot thrift store that opened last year in Lebanon, the nonprofit also operates two satellite thrift stores in White River Junction -- one for furniture and the other for apparel and other goods -- and one in Canaan.

Other thrift stores -- to name only a sampling -- include a Salvation Army location in West Lebanon; The Good Buy Stores operated by Southeastern Vermont Community Action in Hartford and Springfield, Vt., known as SEVCA; Cover Home Repair in White River Junction; Turning Point's Changes Thrift Store in Claremont (closed until February while it undergoes renovation); the Bridgewater Mill thrift store; and the Gifford Medical Center Auxiliary Thrift Shop in Randolph.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Trump tells story of Jewish friend 4 times, but changes the name on each telling (Times of Israel, 12/15/19)

US President Donald Trump has been telling the same story in speeches to different pro-Israel audiences in the past few months, but has each time changed a critical detail: the name of the character appearing in it.

In the speeches -- most recently, twice on the same day -- Trump recalls a conversation he allegedly had with a Jewish friend about what his biggest accomplishment for Israel has been.
Each time, Trump says he had asked whether it was moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or recognizing the Jewish state's sovereignty in the Golan Heights. He is then answered that neither -- it was nixing the Iran nuclear deal.

The problem? Each time he tells the story, the person he is talking to in it changes, casting a certain doubt over the authenticity of the anecdote.

December 14, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


A Conservative Definition of Diversity Avi Woolf, 11/29/19, James G. Martin Center)

[The fact that Turning Point USA, one of the most popular conservative student groups, repeatedly gets caught in scandals involving support for white supremacy and open and covert bigotry toward their fellow citizens means that too many young conservatives hear conservative leaders rallying against the liberal conception of "diversity" and think they mean diversity as such.

It's more than odd or embarrassing that this is the case--it's tragic. Ever since the rise of modernity in the form of the French Revolution, conservative thinkers of all stripes and across the globe argued fiercely for the diversity and variety of human life against the pulverizing flattening of modernity and of progressive thinking.

Edmund Burke famously railed against the French destruction of its local traditions and regional identities in favor of mathematical départements. British conservatives fought for local variety in their country in the nineteenth century against the utilitarians seeking to flatten everything based on mathematical formulas. America's own conservative movement in the '50s arose against the crushing political conformity of that era. All throughout, conservatives everywhere celebrated or at least tolerated a degree of human variety as a bulwark against uniformity and as an expression of human wonder and growth.

One would think, then, that the now-dominant liberal idea of diversity, while not necessarily aligning with conservative views, would be a welcome sight and a matter of negotiation between the two sides rather than an all-out war.

We may not agree with the Millian approach arguing for constant disruptive social experiments or the Marxian obsession with power relations among groups one can see nowadays, but that is a matter of the practice and parameters, not the overall principle.

So why is this not the case? Why do conservatives not actively celebrate diversity and variety in a way that aligns with their own principles?

There is of course the sad and tragic reality that some on "our side" oppose diversity measures because they oppose diversity, period. This includes a belief that being "too open" to people around the world could result in America's losing its identity and Republican unease at other kinds of diversity in American life. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Russia and the Republicans: How Vladimir Putin got an American subsidiary (LUCIAN K. TRUSCOTT IV, DECEMBER 14, 2019, Salon)

The Russians wasted decades infiltrating the left attempting to gain purchase in American political life. There was the Communist Party USA, of course. Established in 1919, the CPUSA grew through the 1930s and boasted a membership of about 100,000 at the beginning of World War II. A hundred thousand! Whoop-de-doo! 

Then there were the spinoff lefty parties like the Socialist Workers Party, the Progressive Labor Party, the Workers World Party, the Socialist Labor Party, the Progressive Labor Party -- we could go on listing one splinter group after another with "socialist" or "labor" or "workers" in its title. They were tiny groups with memberships that were sometimes less than 100, and they would all deny being infiltrated by the Russkies, naturally. So would the "New Left" groups that came later, like SDS and The Weathermen. Nobody wanted to admit they were under Russian influence. Everything they were doing, from opposing the war in Vietnam to civil rights to fighting for free speech, was being done for completely pure reasons.

The Democratic Party would deny being under Russian influence as well, of course. But every American political party on the left was jointly infiltrated by Russian agents and the FBI or other American intelligence operations. There was a joke back in the '70s that without membership by Russian infiltrators and FBI agents, the Socialist Workers Party would have gone out of existence. I covered a meeting of the SWP in a loft on lower Broadway in the early '70s for the Village Voice. It looked to me like everyone there suspected everyone else of being either a COINTELPRO agent for the FBI or a KGB agent. You could have cut the paranoia with a butter knife.

I can't even begin to tell you how boring the Socialist Workers Party meeting was. The loft on lower Broadway was dusty, cluttered with back issues of The Militant and International Socialist Review. I asked someone if there was any beer, and he gave me a stern look and said they didn't allow drinking at their meetings.

Of course, we're talking about the Soviet Union back in those days. People on the American left, and even "liberals" to some extent, had an idealized vision of the Russian Revolution and the country it spawned. Some of this idealism was born out of the grim years of the Depression, when farmers were struggling to hold onto their land, factories were closing all over, and people were going hungry and homeless in the streets. Russia, with its Communist version of "a chicken in every pot" and a job for everyone (even if it was on a collective farm) must have looked pretty good compared to the deprivation all around.

Moscow used dissension in the American political ranks to gain a foothold in the left which they would pursue until the House Un-American Activities Committee, Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and the Red Scare drove the communist-linked left even further underground than it already was.  

I knew some people on the left back in the day. I had a friend in Brooklyn who was a labor organizer in textile factories in the Deep South for "the party." If he had enough to drink, he would admit to taking his orders from some guys with "connections," and he wasn't talking about mob connections. There was a guy I knew from drinking at the Lion's Head who had been a maritime union organizer who -- again, under the influence of a little too much to drink -- would admit to knowing a few people with connections "overseas." He had spent most of the 1950s dodging the FBI. I asked him one night if he really believed he was changing the world, or was he into it for the intrigue and the action. A smile crossed his face as he answered, "Ah, my boy, that's always been the great question, hasn't it?"

I remember wondering at the time why Moscow was even bothering with the splintered, weakened left of the '60s and '70s, and yet there they were, wasting their time in Broadway lofts and on factory floors in small towns in North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. It must have seemed to the KGB and Soviet leaders that they would find allies among those working for integration and voting rights during the Civil Rights movement, and they did. The Republican Party of that era would hardly have been a fertile hunting ground.

But it would turn out that they were sniffing around the wrong end of the political spectrum. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the new batch of Russian hardliners who replaced them would find their natural-born allies about 250 miles south in the Republican National Committee in Washington -- and eventually in the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Devin Nunes lives on a congressman's salary. How is he funding so many lawsuits? (KATE IRBY, DECEMBER 14, 2019, Fresno Bee)

[N]unes is either paying for the lawsuits out of his own pocket, promising to pay his lawyer a portion of any money they're awarded in court at a later date, or flouting House Ethics rules that would require him to publicly disclose who is funding the legal work.

Nunes, R-Tulare, has filed lawsuits against Twitter, anonymous social media users known as Devin Nunes' Cow and Devin Nunes' Mom, a Republican political strategist, media companies, journalists, progressive watchdog groups, a political research firm that worked for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and a retired farmer in Nunes' own district.

All but one of those lawsuits -- the one filed in California by Nunes' campaign against retired farmer Paul Buxman, who accused Nunes of being a fake farmer -- is still active. Nunes filed most of the cases in Virginia.

All were filed by Virginia attorney Steven Biss, alleging the journalists, media companies and political operatives conspired to defame Nunes or undermine his ability to lead the House Intelligence Committee.

The only lawsuit with a public record indicating payment is the one against Buxman, which Nunes withdrew within weeks of filing it.

Nunes' third quarter campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission showed he paid a Fresno law firm representing him in that suit about $3,400.

Nunes campaign finance reports with the FEC do not have records of any payments that appear affiliated with Biss.

Nunes has also said he will "definitely" be filing a seventh lawsuit against AT&T, Verizon and House Democrats for releasing records of phone calls that showed Nunes communicated with allies of President Donald Trump who are now central figures in Democrats' impeachment inquiry. Democrats published the records in a report summarizing evidence they collected at impeachment hearings.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Taking Sex Differences in Personality Seriously: New approaches are shedding light on the magnitude of sex differences in personality and the results are so strong and pervasive that they can no longer be ignored. (Scott Barry Kaufman, December 12, 2019, Scientific American)

Personality is multidimensional, which has implications for calculating sex differences in personality. Relatively small differences across multiple traits can add up to substantial differences when considered as a whole profile of traits. Take the human face, for example. If you were to just take a particular feature of the face-- such as mouth width, forehead height, or eye size-- you would have difficult differentiating between a male face and a female face. You simply can't tell a male eyeball from a female eyeball, for instance. However, a look at the combination of facial features produces two very distinct clusters of male vs. female faces. In fact, observers can correctly determine sex from pictures with greater than 95% accuracy [4]. Here's an interesting question: does the same apply to the domain of personality?

Interestingly, yes. You can calculate a metric called D which is a summary of how statistically separate two groups are from each other (i.e., how good of a line you can draw between groups from a statistical point of view). This metric allows you to take into account how all of the personality traits tend to be related to each other in the general population. For instance, people who are conscientious also tend to be more emotionally stable, so if you find someone who is very conscientious and also super neurotic, that person stands out more (has a more unusual personality profile) given the overall correlational structure. With more traits, things get even more interesting. You can have a combination of traits that are less expected, and thus more informative, because they go against the trends of the correlational structure [5].

There now exists four large-scale studies that use this multivariate methodology (see here, here, here, and here). All four studies are conducted cross-culturally and report on an analysis of narrow personality traits (which, as you may recall, is where most of the action is when it comes to sex differences). Critically, all four studies converge on the same basic finding: when looking at the overall gestalt of human personality, there is a truly striking difference between the typical male and female personality profiles.

Just how striking? Well, actually, really striking. In one recent study, Tim Kaiser, Marco Del Giudice, and Tom Booth analyzed personality data from 31,637 people across a number of English-speaking countries. The size of global sex differences was D = 2.10 (it was D = 2.06 for just the United States). To put this number in context, a D= 2.10 means a classification accuracy of 85%. In other words, their data suggests that the probability that a randomly picked individual will be correctly classified as male or female based on knowledge of their global personality profile is 85% (after correcting for the unreliability of the personality tests).

Consistent with prior research, the researchers found that the following traits are most exaggerated among females when considered separately from the rest of the gestalt: sensitivity, tender-mindedness, warmth, anxiety, appreciation of beauty, and openness to change. For males, the most exaggerated traits were emotional stability, assertiveness/dominance, dutifulness, conservatism, and conformity to social hierarchy and traditional structure.

This basic pattern of findings was replicated in another recent large-scale survey of narrow personality traits conducted on nearly a million people across 50 countries. Using different personality tests, and averaging across all countries, Tim Kaiser found a D = 2.16, which is very similar to the effect size found in the other study on English-speaking countries. While there was cross-cultural variation in the effect, there was a general trend for more developed, individualistic countries with higher food availability, less pathogen prevalence, and higher gender equality to show the largest sex differences in global personality [6].

In particular, Scandinavian countries consistently showed larger-than-average sex differences in global personality, together with the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, and other Northern and Eastern European Countries. The countries with the smallest sex differences in global personality included several Southeast Asian countries. To be sure, there wasn't a perfect correlation between more developed, gender-egalitarian countries and sex differences (e.g., Russia displayed the largest sex difference with D = 2.48). But even Pakistan-- the country with the smallest sex differences in global personality in the world according to this study-- had a D = 1.49. This means that even when you look around the world for the country with the smallest sex difference in global personality, the classification accuracy of that country is still 77%!

These numbers dovetail with a number of studies showing a similar level of classification looking at whole brain data. By applying a multivariate analysis of the whole brain, researchers are now able to classify whether a brain is male or female with 77%-93% accuracy (see here, here, here, here, and here). In fact, some recent studies using the most sophisticated techniques have consistently found greater than 90% accuracy rates looking at whole brain data (see here, here, and here). While this level of prediction is definitely not perfect-- and by no means do those findings justify individual stereotyping or discrimination-- that's really high accuracy as far science goes [7].

All of this data is really hard to ignore and dismiss out of hand.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Germany's Mesut Özil condemns Muslim silence over Uighurs (Deutsche-Welle, 12/14/19)

Former Germany international footballer Mesut Özil expressed support for Uighurs in Xinjiang, China, on Friday and criticized Muslim countries for their unwillingness to speak out on the poor treatment faced by the Uighur people, a Muslim minority group.

"Qurans are being burnt. Mosques are being shut down. Muslim schools are being banned. Religious scholars are being killed. Brothers are forcefully being sent to camps," the Arsenal player posted in Turkish on Twitter and Instagram.

"The Muslims are silent. Their voice is not heard," he wrote on a background of a blue field with a white crescent moon, the flag of what Uighur separatists call East Turkestan.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Don't Let the First Amendment Forget DeRay Mckesson: An activist is on trial for being an activist, and the Supreme Court needs to protect anti-police protesters. (Garrett Epps, 12/13/19, The Atlantic)

In this decision, a conservative panel of the Fifth Circuit--without even hearing oral argument--mounted a frontal offensive on a venerable First Amendment precedent that has protected unpopular speakers for four decades. The panel's three judges (E. Grady Jolly from Mississippi, Jennifer Walker Elrod from Texas, and Don Willett from Texas) flatly defied that precedent and allowed a punitive lawsuit to proceed against DeRay Mckesson. Mckesson is one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, a speaker whose ideas are not merely unpopular among conservative, southern whites like the judges, but are seen to be truly "fraught with death," as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once described speech that, though abhorrent, deserves protection.

Mckesson's case goes back to July 5, 2016, when police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, shot and killed a street vendor named Alton Sterling under unclear circumstances (Sterling was carrying a gun, but witnesses denied police accounts that he had been aggressive; no charges were brought against the officers). On the night of July 9, Black Lives Matter activists, including Mckesson, took part in a protest outside the police headquarters and blocked the highway. Police responded in force, arresting about 70 people or more, including Mckesson. (This protest is where Reuters photographer Jonathan Bachman took the iconic photo, "Taking a Stand in Baton Rouge," depicting Pennsylvania nurse Ieshia Evans facing down a line of armored police.)  During the demonstration, someone threw a hard object that injured Officer Doe.

The arrested protesters sued city and county law enforcement for excessive force, and received a settlement totaling around $100,000 and an agreement that their arrest records would be expunged. Then Officer Doe (he received court permission to proceed under a false name) brought a suit against Mckesson and the entire Black Lives Matter movement, arguing that "Black Lives Matter leadership ratified all action taken during the protest. DeRay Mckesson ratified all action taken during the Baton Rouge protest." Mckesson "incited the violence," the suit alleged. But it offered no specific evidence--Mckesson's alleged "incitement" was, the suit said, telling The New York Times that "The police want protestors to be too afraid to protest."

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Is Donald Trump a supporter of Israel? Sure -- he's also an anti-Semite (MATTHEW ROZSA, DECEMBER 14, 2019, Salon)

Trump has demonstrated on a number of occasions that he views groups of people in terms of generalities; when a person does this for some groups, the odds are better than not that they do so for all of them.

When it comes to Jews, Trump has a tendency to forget that being Jewish does not automatically mean that one identifies with Israel. In a speech to the Israeli American Council last Saturday, Trump said, "You have people that are Jewish people, that are great people -- they don't love Israel enough. You know that. You know that." In that same speech he commented that American Jews need to support Trump in order to prevent a wealth tax (presumably the one advocated by Sen. Elizabeth Warren), arguing, "You're going to be my biggest supporters because you'll be out of business in about 15 minutes" if such a tax is enacted.

These remarks were not an anomaly for Trump. In August he said, "Any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty" because specific Democrats (such as Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota) have been critical of Israel. In 2015 he told the Republican Jewish Coalition that "you're not going to support me because I don't want your money" and remarked, "Is there anyone in this room who doesn't negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I've ever spoken." (Incidentally, this author was targeted by America's most notorious neo-Nazi, Andrew Anglin, after writing an article criticizing that speech.)

The president has not only been guilty of overt anti-Semitism. He has tended to define himself as a "nationalist" and his adversaries as "globalists," a term often used as an anti-Semitic dog whistle. Near the end of the 2016 campaign, Trump released an ad that denounced "those who control the levers of power in Washington" and "the global special interests" while showing pictures of philanthropist George Soros, then-Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are Jewish. The only non-Jew shown in the ad was the Hillary Clinton, with the clear insinuation that she was the puppet of a Jewish conspiracy.

Israel's current politics, which endorses taking over Palestine and treating non-Jews as second class citizens--even arguing that a government that included Arab parties would be illegitimate--is a natural for Nationalist approval.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Trump's Racist Ban on Anti-Semitism (IAN BURUMA, 12/13/19, Project Syndicate)

Trump just signed an executive order requiring that federal money be withheld from educational institutions that fail to combat anti-Semitism. Since Jews are identified in this order as a discriminated group on the grounds of ethnic, racial, or national characteristics, an attack on Israel would be anti-Semitic by definition. This is indeed the position of Jared Kushner, Trump's Jewish son-in-law, who believes that "anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism."

There are, of course, as many forms of anti-Semitism as there are interpretations of what it means to be Jewish. When Trump and his supporters rant in campaign rallies about shadowy cabals of international financiers who undermine the interests of "ordinary, decent people," some might interpret that as a common anti-Semitic trope, especially when an image of George Soros is brandished to underline this message. Trump even hinted at the possibility that the liberal Jewish human rights promoter and philanthropist was deliberately funding "caravans" of refugees and illegal aliens so that they could spread mayhem in the US. In Soros's native Hungary, attacks on him as a cosmopolitan enemy of the people are unmistakably anti-Semitic.

Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense.

The history of extreme anti-Zionism is not so long. In the first years of the Jewish state, Israel was popular among many leftists, because it was built on socialist ideas. Left-wing opinion in Europe and the United States began to turn against Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967, when Arab territories were occupied by Israeli troops. More and more, Israel came to be seen as a colonial power, or an apartheid state.

One may or may not agree with that view of Israel. But few would argue that occupation, as is usually the case when civilians are under the thumb of a foreign military power, has led to oppression. So, to be a strong advocate for Palestinian rights and a critic of Israeli policies, on college campuses or anywhere else, does not automatically make one an anti-Semite. 

December 13, 2019

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At White House Hanukkah party Trump hails pastor who says Jews going to hell (RON KAMPEAS, 12/13/19, JTA)

Robert Jeffress, a pastor who has said Jews and other non-Christians were destined for hell, was a guest at US President Donald Trump's Hanukkah party. [...]

"Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, not only do they lead people away from the true God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell," he said in 2009.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called out the Trump administration last year for inviting Jeffress to give the convocation at the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM

INCEL-IN-CHIEF (deviance alert):

Trump Doesn't Think Much of Young Women (Zak Cheney-Rice, 12/13/19, New York)

Far from aberrant, Trump's impulse to diminish young girls in particular by characterizing their accomplishments as worthwhile primarily in terms of whether their outward appearance pleases him is part of a pattern. His misogyny is well documented: From his leering behavior at Miss America events to the myriad accusations of sexual assault he faces, not to mention his proud declaration that he grabs women by the genitals unprompted, loom as large over his presidency as they did his 2016 campaign. And despite his repeated denials of physical misconduct, Trump's rhetoric indicates an almost uniformly reductive view of women that privileges how they look above all else. His criticism of Thunberg's seriousness is scarcely different from men on the street imploring women passersby to smile for them. This outlook is no more apparent than in how he's spoken about his own daughters. In a 2006 interview on The View, he said he would "perhaps" date Ivanka Trump were she not related to him. In a 1994 interview with Robin Leach, he was asked which traits then 1-year-old Tiffany Trump inherited from her parents, himself and Marla Maples.

His response, via HuffPost:

"Well, I think she's got a lot of Marla, she's a really beautiful baby," said Trump, who sat next to Maples. "She's got Marla's legs. We don't know whether or not she's got this part yet, but time will tell," Trump added, while cupping his hands to his chest to indicate breasts.

On the subject of girls and what makes them notable, Trump has been fairly consistent throughout his adult life. A man who proudly anticipates his infant daughter's breast size while sitting next to her mother on national TV should surprise no one by criticizing a 16-year-old Time magazine cover star on the basis that she looks too glum. Perhaps less predictable is that casting pejoratives against children would become such a reliable line of attack for conservatives who lack substantive responses to the issues on whose behalf those children advocate. 

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Abbas urges Arab Israelis to vote for Knesset: They can have 'major influence' (ADAM RASGON, 12 December 2019, Times of Israel)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently asserted that Arab Israelis would become a "major influencer" in Israel's politics, if only they would turn out for national elections at similar levels as they do for municipal votes.

He also expressed criticism of Arab Israelis who he said shun the elections in Israel because they consider the Knesset to be a "Zionist council," and lashed out at members of the majority-Arab Joint List party for quarreling over what he described as "trivial matters."

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The Strange History of the Black Hebrew Israelites, as Group is Tied to Jersey City Murders (Mark Potok, Dec. 12, 2019, Daily Beast)

Perhaps the most bizarre thing about Black Hebrew Israelism is the way it mirrors, with only a change in color, the ideas of Christian Identity. Identity is an important white supremacist theology practiced in many Klan groups, along with other entities like the once-important Aryan Nations. Its hardline version describes Jews as the offspring of a literal sexual union between Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, always at work on behalf of their progenitor, Satan.

Black Hebrew Israelism is not the only strand of organized black anti-Semitism in America. The largest black hate group, the Nation of Islam, does not traffic in bible stories but it is heavily anti-Semitic, with its leaders offering a string of vicious comments about Jews along with falsely accusing them of being the primary purveyors of the transatlantic slave trade.

Bizarrely, the Jersey attack came the same day it was reported that President Trump was expected to sign an executive order that effectively treats Jews as a "nationality" rather than a religious group -- despite the undisputed fact that Jews are not a single ethnicity. The vast majority of Jews, for instance, accept that Ethiopian Jews, who are black, are in fact Jewish.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Another GOP state senator won't seek re-election (Times Union, Dec. 11, 2019)

For the fourth time in two weeks, a state Senate Republican incumbent has announced they won't seek re-election in 2020.

Wednesday morning's news came from Rochester-area Sen. Joe Robach, who has served in the chamber since 2003. [...]

Democrats won a significant majority in 2018, taking back control of the chamber for the first time since 2010. The GOP's prospects for recovery next year face the challenge of expected high voter turnout in a blue state during a presidential election year.

Since Thanksgiving, three other GOP senators have made the same announcement: George Amedore of Rotterdam, Betty Little from the North Country and Michael Ranzenhofer of western New York.

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Bevin pardons a KY man convicted of beheading a woman and stuffing her in a barrel ( DANIEL DESROCHERS, 12/12/19, Lexington Herald-Leader)

It's not clear if Betty Carnes was killed by asphyxiation or by the eight blows to her head that Delmar Partin delivered with a metal pipe. The coroner couldn't tell which killed the mother of three first, but it was very clear that her head was then chopped off and placed on her lap in a 55-gallon barrel that was destined for a toxic waste site.

On Monday, departing Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin pardoned and commuted the sentence of Partin, who was convicted of killing her at the factory where they both worked in Barbourville in 1994.

In his order, Bevin said he pardoned Partin because potential DNA evidence had not been tested. [...]

The prosecutor on the case, Tom Handy, said he hasn't been this angry in a long time. He called the governor's pardon "mystifying." [...]

In the Partin case, Handy painted the picture of a grisly murder, one where no blood was found because Partin used a hook meant for hunting alligators to cut off the blood flow to Carnes' head.

Partin and Carnes worked together at the Tremco Plant in Barbourville and had been having an affair that she had recently ended.

"He hated her so much and he wanted to punish her with her looking at him before he cut her head off," Handy said. "The evil is unimaginable."

There's nothing more on-brand than Donald and his minions raging at women, or girls.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Anti-Semitism and Brexit shatter Corbyn's dreams of global far-left revolution (ALICE RITCHIE and ROBIN MILLARD, 12/13/19, Times of Israel)

[T]he wider public failed to warm to him, a situation made worse by his refusal to take a position on Brexit and accusations of anti-Semitism and sympathizing with terrorists.

With two seats left to declare, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives inflicted Labour's worst loss since 1935.

One of the first results emphasized Labour's woes, with the former safe seat of Blyth Valley in a one-time mining area in northeastern England voting Tory for the first time in its history.'d better have an attractive personality.

December 12, 2019

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China accuses US of double standards on anti-Muslim bigotry, counterterrorism (Aysha Khan, 12/12/19, RNS)

Hua dismissed those concerns during China's Foreign Ministry daily news conference Tuesday.

"Certain people in the U.S. show unusual concern over Uighurs in China's Xinjiang, but they seem to forget that the United States is the only country that issued a Muslim ban," she said.

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Federal judge rules American Samoans are US citizens by birth (Priscilla Alvarez,  December 12, 2019, CNN)

A federal judge in Utah said Thursday that American Samoans are US citizens and should be issued new passports reflecting that.

"This court is not imposing 'citizenship by judicial fiat.' The action is required by the mandate of the Fourteenth Amendment as construed and applied by Supreme Court precedent," wrote Judge Clark Waddoups in the US District Court for the District of Utah. [...]

American Samoa has been a US territory since 1900. Those born in the other US territories -- Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Marianas -- all get citizenship at birth, but that was determined by statute in Congress. No such law exists for American Samoa.

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Greta Thunberg changes Twitter profile to mock Trump tweet (Deutsche-welle, 12/12/19)

Greta Thunberg, fresh off being named Time magazine's Person of the Year, has changed her Twitter biography to reference the most recent unprovoked critique of the 16-year-old by US President Donald Trump.

"A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend," says the climate activist's profile, using almost the exact same words Trump did in response to her winning Time magazine's Person of the Year win.

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Report: Trump's Ukraine Extortion Scheme Was Financed by Russia (Jonathan Chait, 12/12/19, New York)

Trump and his allies insist he has actually pursued a hawkish line in Ukraine. "Mr. Trump didn't withhold military aid to Ukraine, and even if he had he would have merely been returning to Barack Obama's policy of denying lethal aid," argues a Wall Street Journal editorial. "No one has done more to limit Russia's ability to engage in mischief than President Trump," insists Representative Matt Gaetz in a Fox News segment retweeted by the president.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors charged yesterday evening that Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump who represented him in Ukraine, was wired $1 million from a Russian bank account weeks before his arrest. Which is to say, Trump's Ukraine plot appears to have been financed by Russia.

Parnas met repeatedly with Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Parnas claims Trump pulled him aside at last year's White House Hanukkah party and personally directed his activities in Ukraine. That allegation remains unproven. What is proven, though, is that Parnas met with Trump numerous times (there are photographs), was Giuliani's official business partner, and represented himself to Ukrainians as an agent of both Trump and Giuliani.

Rudy has worked as Trump's lawyer for "free," but Parnas paid him half a million dollars for his work. If Parnas himself was being paid by Russian sources, this means the Russians were essentially subsidizing Trump, paying for the work themselves so he didn't have to lay out a dime of his own money.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New rocket attack targets Iraq base housing US troops (AFP, 12/12/19)

Two rockets were fired at a military base near Baghdad airport housing US troops, the 10th such attack since late October, the Iraqi army said on Thursday.

There were no casualties in the overnight attack, which follows one on the same base on Monday that wounded six members of Iraq's elite US-trained counterterrorism force, two of them critically, the army said.

It's not interfering when we do it.
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DOJ IG Michael Horowitz: Investigation into anti-Clinton FBI leaks "continues to this day" (IGOR DERYSH, DECEMBER 12, 2019, Salon)

"Rudy Giuliani and others appeared to receive highly sensitive leaks from the New York FBI field office, leaks that likely contributed to Director Comey's public announcement he was reopening the Clinton investigation days before the election," Leahy said. "What can you tell us about the New York field office's leaks to Rudolph Giuliani and others?"

"We were very concerned about that," Horowitz said, adding that his office has been investigating the alleged leaks. "This continues to this day. We are investigating those contacts."

Horowitz said that his office learned that some FBI employees "violated FBI policy," adding that "we have some investigations ongoing."

These leaks would obviously have been politically motivated, unlike the technical errors on the FISA warrant.
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Judaism is not a nationality: Trump's executive order will lead only to US Jews feeling unsafe and strangers in a land we have called home since we came in 1654 (Michael Harvey, DEC 11, 2019, Times of Israel)

 As CNN reports:

The move would trigger a portion of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 that requires educational institutions receiving federal funding to not discriminate based on national origin, according to senior administration officials. The Department of Education can withhold federal funding from any college or educational program that discriminates based on race, color or national origin, according to the Civil Rights Act. Religion is not covered in that portion of the law so the administration would have to interpret Judaism as a nationality in order to potentially punish universities for violations.

While there are many conversations to be had about anti-Semitism on college campuses, the criticism of Israel, and free speech, what most Jews should be concerned about is the move by a governmental body defining Judaism. It is certainly possible that the move to define Judaism as a nationality was made in good faith, the repercussions are complicated and dire.

For one, it is not the role of any country or government to define Judaism. In Jewish history, when Jews have been defined as a race, a religion, or a nationality, it has not been for positive reasons; rather, quite the opposite. Jews have been "classified" as certain types throughout the centuries in order to marginalize and remove citizenship. Additionally, Jews do, and should, feel uneasy when a government makes laws about them at all. From the Laws of Constantine (337-361) to the Nuremberg Laws (1935), governments have targeted Jews with laws and definitions for unsightly purposes. Even if President Trump's order was meant with good intentions to curb anti-Semitism, it very well may lead to a misunderstanding of what Jews in America are, and create more problems than solutions.

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Andrew Yang's Campaign Fires Staffer Over Alleged Misconduct As Alyssa Milano Pulls Out of Fundraiser (Julia Arciga & Scott Bixby, Dec. 11, 2019, Daily Beast)

Andrew Yang's 2020 campaign fired an unnamed staffer over alleged misconduct that first surfaced publicly when actress and #MeToo activist Alyssa Milano announced she would be pulling out of a fundraiser for the Democratic presidential candidate over the incident. [...]

The candidate's remarks came one day after Milano announced in a Twitter thread that she would be pulling out of a Dec. 21 fundraiser for Yang over "repeated allegations of sexual misconduct" made by a campaign staffer against another staffer that were allegedly "not appropriately addressed."

"While I have not endorsed any candidate, I do believe Andrew Yang is a good man with progressive, smart, interesting ideas," she wrote. "But this issue is too important and too prevalent. The buck stops at the top."

No wonder the Trumpbots hate her.

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">One by one today, Republicans took turns condemning the FBI&#39;s use of surveillance powers they long supported.<a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Dustin Volz (@dnvolz) <a href="">December 11, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

The fun part will be when all the same people whine about surveillance failures after the next terrorist attack--if it's by Salafists, not Nationalists.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Justice Dept Inspector Urges Change To Allow Probe Of Attorney General (Cody Fenwick, December 11, 2019, Alternet)

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) elicited an important and revealing response from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Wednesday when she raised the prospect of Attorney General Bill Barr's potential wrongdoing.

Harris noted that one of Barr's ongoing investigations was "launched to do the bidding of President Trump, [and] has two objectives: One, to undermine the integrity of our intelligence community; the goal, to cast doubt on the finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to benefit the Trump campaign. And two: to intimidate the men and women of our intelligence committee by suggesting that our national security professionals will face serious consequences if they investigate wrongdoing on the part of this president or his operatives."

She said that Horowitz has an obligation "to investigate misconduct committed by the attorney general of the United States, who is doing the bidding of the president to undermine our intelligence community. I trust you take that duty seriously."

Horowitz said that he takes it seriously but that he's legally prevented from looking at the misconduct of DOJ lawyers, which includes the attorney general himself.

"The law has to change, senator," Horowitz said. 

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Trump blocks UN from scrutinising North Korea human rights record for second year in a row (Kate Ng, 12/11/19, The Independent)

This will be the second year in a row the US has failed to support scrutiny by the UN into North Korea's human rights violations.

The move signals a continued desire by President Donald Trump to cajole the hermit kingdom into giving up its nuclear and missile programmes, reported Foreign Policy.

White House persuades Congress to ease up on Saudi Arabia (Bryant Harris, December 11, 2019, Al Monitor)

While both amendments had some degree of bipartisan support, Democrats agreed to remove the substantive impact of each Saudi provision from the final version of the bill during negotiations with the Republican-held Senate. Al-Monitor has learned that Republican negotiators successfully fought to keep the Saudi provisions out of the final defense bill after the White House marked it as a red line.

Oppression of despised groups is the goal of Donald's policies.

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After long delay, lawsuit by Sandy Hook families against gun maker Remington Arms will go to trial in 2021 (Dave Altimari, 12/11/19, HARTFORD COURANT)

A lawsuit by nine families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings against the company that made the gun used in the massacre will go to trial in September 2021.

On Wednesday lawyers for Remington Arms and the families agreed to the date after nearly two hours of haggling before Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis. Remington sought a court date in 2022 while Attorney Josh Koskoff, who is representing the families, wanted September 2021.

Bellis said the case has been on the docket too long -- the lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 -- to wait until 2022.

Filing suits--against owners and manufacturers--after every gun incident can raise the costs to an intolerable level.

December 11, 2019

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Who are the Black Hebrews, the group linked to Jersey City shooter? (RON KAMPEAS, 11 December 2019, Times of Israel)

Are they anti-Semites?

Not generally. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies some Black Hebrew Israelites as a hate group, naming one branch in particular, the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ. A 2008 report from the center warned that extremism within the movement was on the rise.

"Although most Hebrew Israelites are neither explicitly racist nor anti-Semitic and do not advocate violence, there is a rising extremist sector within the Hebrew Israelite movement whose adherents believe that Jews are devilish impostors and who openly condemn whites as evil personified, deserving only death or slavery," the SPLC said. [...]

Extremist Black Hebrew Israelites hate whites. But some have claimed that the rise of far-right groups is empowering black extremists.

The Southern Poverty Law Center told the Forward last month that black extremism, manifest through groups like Black Hebrew Israelites, is feeding off the rise in white nationalist extremism and attracting recruits.

Tom Metzger, a white supremacist leader, once called the movement "the black counterparts of us."

All Nationalism is the same.
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Prosecutors say Giuliani associate Lev Parnas hid $1 million payment from Russia (Zachary Basu, 12/11/19, Axios)

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York asked a judge on Wednesday to revoke bail for Lev Parnas for making false statements about his assets, including a $1 million payment he allegedly received from Russia in September.

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Ukrainians: Trump Just Sent Us 'a Terrible Signal' (Betsy Swan, Dec. 11, 2019, Daily Beast)

People working closely with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have been in contact with Trump administration officials over the past several weeks discussing the relationship between the two presidents, according to four people with knowledge of the talks. Based on those conversations, Ukrainian officials came to expect that Trump would make a statement of support before Zelensky met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in France for peace talks. A statement might even come via Twitter, they said they were told. 

"Through all the signals we got, we firmly believed there would be a statement," a senior Zelensky administration official told The Daily Beast. 

But as Saturday and Sunday ticked by, there was only silence from the White House. Even as Ukrainian officials have publicly been loath to criticize Trump's pressure campaign on their country, frustrations with Washington have quietly percolated. And last weekend, they were especially acute. 

The novel Trumpist theory that it's not a crime if you do it publicly. Though, in fairness, the Right loves Vlad so it hates Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


You Wanted Same-Sex Marriage? Now You Have Pete Buttigieg. (Shannon Keating, December 11, 2019, Buzz Feed News)

To me, and to a lot of other gay progressives -- from ACT UP activists to the queer wing of the DSA -- that moment in March made it suddenly and disappointingly clear that Buttigieg's rise was made possible by a gay civil rights movement that has focused above all else on marriage equality and assimilating LGBTQ people into the mainstream. In lieu of working toward a radically different vision of a more just society, Gay Inc. agreed to settle for the same bad deal that unwealthy straight people already have.

In general, Buttigieg makes the case that gay people like him, and like me, deserve to belong -- in our families, in our churches, and in our communities -- just as much as straight people do. He's right; we do deserve to belong. But Buttigieg is also effectively arguing that queer people's rights should derive from the very institutions we've only recently gained (tenuous) access to, like marriage and the job market. He's insisted that universal coverage for things like pre-K, Medicare, and college education -- policies I believe in, which would guarantee coverage to every individual, regardless of their marital or employment status -- isn't only financially impossible, but wasteful and unnecessary. (Why rely on the state when you've got private corporations or the conservative-approved nuclear family?)

It's not all that surprising, then, that I or other progressive voters who might have been initially optimistic about the prospect of a viable queer candidate quickly soured on Buttigieg after the brief thrill of his early rise. Since March, the mayor has steadily shuffled toward an open spot in the center of the field, and pivoted to attacking further-left candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for what he positions as their pie-in-the-sky, unrealistic plans for gun law reform, universal free college, and Medicare for all. This week, he released the names of his clients from his time working as a consultant at McKinsey following intense public scrutiny over his involvement at the firm. But the disappointment -- and even anger -- of the "Let's Get Buttigieg To Quit" faction is different, and much more specific, than general progressive frustration with a more moderate candidate.

For decades now, queer radicals "against equality" have argued that, from marriage to the military, "seeking inclusion in a system that's based on institutional and economic exploitation is an unacceptable path forward." LGBTQ people, particularly the most marginalized among us, will never thrive in a country powered by capitalism, the military-industrial complex, and mass incarceration. But they -- we -- are clearly a minority within a minority.

...than the way homosexuality was stripped of its transgressiveness and institutionalized.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Kelly leads McSally in Arizona Senate race: poll (REID WILSON, 12/11/19, The Hill)

 Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D), leads among women by a 53 percent to 38 percent margin, while McSally leads among men by a smaller 51 percent to 41 percent margin.
Kelly holds a 10-point lead in Maricopa County, which contributes about 60 percent of the statewide vote. Only one statewide candidate in recent memory has won Arizona without carrying Maricopa. 

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Michelle Obama Talks Bond with George W. Bush After Controversy Over Him Sitting with Ellen: 'Our Values Are the Same' (Adam Carlson, December 10, 2019, People)

"Our values are the same," she said of herself and President Bush. "We disagree on policy, but we don't disagree on humanity, we don't disagree about love and compassion. I think that's true for all of us -- it's just that we get lost in our fear of what's different."

Speaking with PEOPLE in a recent at-home interview, Hager said much the same when asked about the debate.

"I personally, and I think so many of us, miss a time where people who have different opinions get along," she said. "And I yearn for that. I want my kids to realize that we live in a world when people are think tons of different things and we treat everybody with respect and kindness."

The UR had even learned enough in his later years to be an effective chief-of-staff.

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Bougainville votes overwhelmingly for independence from Papua New Guinea (Deutsche-Welle, 12/11/19)

Almost 98% of the 181,067 votes cast backed independence for the Melanesian island. 

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Trump campaign video with Thanos shocks artist who created villain: 'How sick is that?' (The Week, 12/11/19)

Comic book writer and artist Jim Starlin, who created Thanos in 1973, told The Hollywood Reporter that the tweet irked him. "After my initial feeling of being violated, seeing that pompous fool using my creation to stroke his infantile ego, it finally struck me that the leader of my country and the free world actually enjoys comparing himself to a mass murderer," he said. "How sick is that? These are sad and strange times we are going through. Fortunately, all things, even national nightmares, eventually come to an end."

Let's give Donald credit for a personal insight about what he represents.
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Trump to define Judaism as a race or nationality in executive order for college campuses (The Week, 12/10/19)

Since the relevant federal law, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, doesn't mention religion, the Trump administration is effectively defining Judaism as a race or nationality -- both protected under Title VI, along with "color."

Extremely on brand.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Judge blocks Trump from using billions in Pentagon funds to build border wall (Orion Rummler, 12/11/19, Axios)

A federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction on Tuesday blocking President Trump from using a national emergency declaration to reprogram $3.6 billion in funding for military projects toward building the border wall.

Why do our elites hate racism and defend the rule of law?

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The Great Debate: Chiang Kai-shek's Role in 21st Century Taiwan (James X. Morris, October 29, 2018, The Diplomat)

The debate over where Chiang fits into Chinese and Taiwanese history has many factions. Some believe he was the only leader capable of holding off an invasion of Mao's People's Liberation Army in the 1950s, and without martial law the island would have been infiltrated by saboteurs. Some argue Chiang was a distracted adventurist who got in over his head, which cost him China. Others believe he was a leader who was given a bad hand repeatedly and could only play the cards he was dealt. Kerr wrote how many Western governments were prepared to write Chiang off in the late 1940s, their consular offices in China anticipating a Communist takeover of the mainland and eventually Taiwan. The Korean War helped Chiang's fortunes.

Despite his wartime nickname "Cash My Check," in Washington there existed a significant Taiwan lobby, and Chiang's wife, U.S.-educated Soong Mei-ling, was his strongest diplomatic asset. The Truman Doctrine of containment demanded Chiang's Republic of China could not fall to Mao.

At the end of World War II, Taiwan came under the control of the Republic of China, headed by Chiang. Kerr writes about the initial excitement of Taiwanese to become a leading part of the new China. Prior to 1945 they had been living modernized lives as part of the Japanese Empire. At the retrocession of Taiwan to the mainland, Kerr describes Taiwan as the only place in all of the Republic of China where one could find elevators. The hopes of the Taiwanese were soon dashed as carpetbaggers from the mainland seized authority over the island's industries, self-rule was revoked in favor a special KMT-dominated Governor-General administration, and infrastructure and wealth on the island was plundered for a failing war effort. After less than two years under the Nationalists, protests led to the 228 Incident.

In 1948, the Nationalists placed all of mainland China under a general martial law. This was extended to Taiwan in 1949 in preparation for the Herculean task of evacuating some 2 million Nationalist soldiers, officials, and elites from the mainland to Taiwan. The mainland was lost, but for the 2 million mainlanders, Chiang was a hero. For the next 38 years, as the Taiwan Strait remained a flashpoint, Taiwan remained under martial law. The White Terror, a period coterminous with military rule, saw the arrest and imprisonment of more than 100,000 on the island and the executions of an estimated 3,000 to 4,000. Native Taiwanese and mainlanders were both targets. Disappearances under martial law were common, and memories of late night knocks on the door and the sounds of firing squads along riverbanks are still very real.

Not only did he preserve the conditions that allowed an easy transition to democracy but an economy that is three times China's in GDP per capita. 

December 10, 2019

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Trump attacks handpicked FBI director for accepting results of inspector general report on Russia (IGOR DERYSH, DECEMBER 10, 2019, Salon)

President Donald Trump lashed out at his handpicked Christopher Wray on Tuesday after his handpicked FBI director did not put a positive spin on a Justice Department inspector general report that refuted many of his allegations about the origins of the Russia probe. [...]

"I don't know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn't the one given to me," the president tweeted. "With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!"

It was not the first time Trump complained that his FBI chief had not touted the administration's talking points. When Wray broke with Trump and Barr earlier this year by saying he would not use the term "spying" to describe the FBI's dealings with the Trump campaign, the president slammed him for giving a "ridiculous answer."

Washington Post columnist and political science professor Brian Klaas noted that Trump's remarks were an example of "how disinformation works."

"The president invents conspiracy theories which are amplified by Fox News & Republicans trying to get on Fox News," he tweeted. "Then, a neutral report debunks the conspiracy theories, but they all just lie and pretend it vindicates them instead. Rinse, repeat."

Former State Department official Richard Stengel urged others to "speak out like Director Wray."

"It shouldn't take such courage to simply speak the truth like Director Wray, but other Republicans and political appointees must follow his lead," he wrote on Twitter. "Follow the law."

Multiple current and former Trump administration officials told Axios' Jonathan Swan that Trump "would like to" fire Wray but "can't stomach the trouble of firing another FBI director."

Fun to listen to the Trumpbots claim vindication while Donald and bob Barr raise at the conviction.
Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Donald J. Trump Pays Court-Ordered $2 Million For Illegally Using Trump Foundation Funds  (Attorney General's Press Office)

New York Attorney General Letitia James today released the following statement after Donald J. Trump was forced to pay more than $2 million in court-ordered damages to eight different charities for illegally misusing charitable funds at the Trump Foundation for political purposes:

"Not only has the Trump Foundation shut down for its misconduct, but the president has been forced to pay $2 million for misusing charitable funds for his own political gain. Charities are not a means to an end, which is why these damages speak to the president's abuse of power and represent a victory for not-for-profits that follow the law. Funds have finally gone where they deserve -- to eight credible charities. My office will continue to fight for accountability because no one is above the law -- not a businessman, not a candidate for office, and not even the president of the United States."

There are no bad reasons to impeach him.

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The Case For Impeachment Is Overwhelming (DANIEL LARISON, 12/10/19, The American Conservative)

The case for Trump's impeachment seemed quite strong more than two months ago, and the evidence provided to the House's impeachment inquiry has strengthened it further. The president's abuse of power is not in dispute. It is clear that he used the powers of his office in an attempt to extract a corrupt favor for his personal benefit, and this is precisely the sort of offense that impeachment was designed to keep in check. It doesn't matter if the attempt succeeded. All that matters is that the attempt was made. It is also undeniable that he has sought to impede the investigation into his misconduct. The president has committed the offenses he is accused of committing, and the House should approve both articles of impeachment.

The president doesn't have a credible line of defense left. That is why his apologists in Congress and elsewhere have been reduced to making increasingly absurd and desperate claims. The president's defenders want to distract attention from the fact that the president abused his power, violated the public's trust, and broke his oath of office, but these distractions are irrelevant.

The central question at the heart of this matter has always been whether we will tolerate the president corruptly using the powers of his office for personal benefit. The president's defenders have answered loudly that they will tolerate corruption of the presidency. If we have any respect left for the Constitution and the rule of law, it is imperative that the president is not allowed to escape without facing serious consequences for his abuses. This is important not only to hold the current president in check, but it is also necessary to warn future presidents that such corruption will not be permitted to flourish.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


Obamacare had an unusually good day at the Supreme Court: As many as six justices appeared bothered by a Republican effort to undercut the Affordable Care Act. (Ian Millhiser  Dec 10, 2019, Vox)

Maine Community involves about $12 billion in payments owed to health insurers under a program known as "risk corridors." Obamacare's risk corridors program sought to encourage insurers to enter an uncertain new market by agreeing to reimburse a portion of their losses if the insurance company set premiums too low.

After many insurers agreed to sell plans on the Obamacare marketplace, Congress enacted a provision in an appropriations bill -- a provision known as a "rider" -- seeking to prevent the government from making most of the payments under the risk corridor program. The question in Maine Community is whether the government is still obligated by the Affordable Care Act's original promise to make these payments, or whether the rider effectively ended the requirement.

A bipartisan mix of justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Justice Samuel Alito, all had difficult questions for Paul Clement, the lawyer representing the insurers. Ginsburg, in particular, asked whether Obamacare's language, which provides that the government "shall pay" its obligations under the risk corridor program, also permits the insurance companies to sue the government if the money is not paid.

Yet only Alito appeared to be a certain vote against the insurers. By the end of arguments, six justices -- Roberts and Ginsburg, plus Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Brett Kavanaugh -- all appeared likely to rule in favor of the insurers. Neither Justice Clarence Thomas nor Justice Neil Gorsuch spoke up during the session.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


The South is the epicenter for officers killed by felony gunfire in 2019, FBI data shows (Julia Jacobo, December 10, 2019, ABC News)

Twenty-two police officers in the Southern United States have been killed by guns used by offenders in 2019 -- more than the rest of the United States combined, according to data from the FBI.

Nine officers were killed by felony gunfire in both the West and the Midwest, two were shot and killed in Puerto Rico and none were killed in the Northeast, according to the FBI's Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted program.

The point of their gun policies is that people should be able to kill John Law.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Only About 3% Of Americans Actually Fought About Politics On Thanksgiving (Ariel Edwards-Levy, 12/09/19, HuffPo)

Just 16% of Americans who had a Thanksgiving dinner say politics came up at all this year. Only 3% say things devolved into an actual argument ― a number so trifling that the sample size for a few follow-up questions about the nature of the fights was actually too small to report on.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


U.S. backs out of UNSC meeting on North Korea's human rights (Japan Times, DEC 10, 2019)

The United States changed its mind and is now refusing to sign a letter that would have authorized the U.N. Security Council to hold a meeting Tuesday on the human rights situation in North Korea, diplomats said Monday.

Without support from the United States, European and other countries that wanted the U.N.'s most powerful body to discuss human rights in North Korea can't go ahead because they are now one vote short of the minimum nine "yes" votes required, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Are Trump supporters anti-Muslim? (George Hawley, December 4, 2019, Brookings)

In other papers in this project, we learned about increasingly powerful political parties dedicated to immigration restrictions, of well-known political entrepreneurs focused entirely on restricting Islam's influence in European societies, and of right-wing populist governments consolidating their power. Although further right-wing populist victories in Europe are not inevitable, in recent years these movements have effectively shifted the political conversation in their own direction. Many mainstream parties have begun to embrace talking points once relegated to the far-right.

This is less the case in the U.S. Trump's victory has not fundamentally changed the Republican Party or led to substantively significant immigration policy changes. Trump's electoral base furthermore does not seem particularly concerned about Muslim immigration as such -- which is not to say it is especially tolerant.

We can reasonably criticize President Trump for promoting anti-Muslim prejudice, and he may have played a role in promoting these attitudes. A recent poll published by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding showed a small but statistically significant increase in its Islamophobia index over the last year. A poll conducted by the think tank New America additionally found that Republicans are especially likely to view Muslims with suspicion. On the other hand, we should remember that, on average, Republicans have long been likely to express negative views of Muslims and Islam. We should therefore investigate whether we saw a spike in these attitudes after Donald Trump entered the political arena. In my own analysis of the American National Election Survey data, I found little evidence that this occurred. In the 2012 survey, the mean feeling thermometer score for Muslims among all Republican identifiers was about 38. In the 2016 survey, conducted after then-candidate Trump called for a total ban on Muslim immigration, the mean score among all Republican identifiers was a bit higher -- about 45. This is not a definitive finding, of course, but it does indicate that President Trump has not ushered in an unprecedented era of anti-Muslim animus, even among Republicans.

In my own interviews, I came across no subjects seriously concerned about the "Islamification" of the United States. Such sentiments exist in this country, and there is a large audience for Islamophobic rhetoric. However, this particular fear is apparently less politically significant in the U.S. than in Europe. This is likely because Muslims remain a very small percentage of the U.S. population, and are only a small part of the ongoing and dramatic demographic change occurring here. In much of Europe, Muslim immigration is a key source of demographic shifts, and thus of great concern to European nativists. In the U.S., Muslims are just one small part of the broader phenomenon.

Even if anti-Muslim sentiments are just as strong in the U.S. as elsewhere, there are compelling historical reasons to doubt the long-term sustainability of any right-wing populist movement in the United States. Political expressions of these kinds of right-wing sentiments have rarely led to successful long-term organizations. These movements typically form around the personality of a charismatic politician, and then recede from political significance after that politician is defeated or otherwise fades from the scene. Although they had different agendas and styles, this was the case with George Wallace, David Duke, Ross Perot, and Patrick Buchanan.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Lighthouse: New England Dread Meets Greek Myth (MARK JUDGE, 12/09/19, Law & Liberty)

The film could be a tale of a man slowly going crazy, or it could be an old New England nautical folk tale about the inscrutability and danger of the sea, or it could be a clever story that brings together a god and a man from ancient Greek mythology. Not being completely clear on the answer is part of the intrigue of the film, which is the work of a young director who over two movies has tapped into what one critic calls "New England dread." A New Hampshire native, Eggers is fascinated with the history of New England, particularly the supernatural history. His first feature The Witch, set in 1630, features period language and was called "perhaps the most painstakingly realized film ever made about colonial Massachusetts, with all the austerity, religious hysteria, and demon goats that implies." "New England is where the European white Protestant culture has been around for the longest," Eggers recently said. "I grew up in a clapboard house in the middle of the woods, and my grandpa lived in a house from the 1740s. You're around creepy stone walls, it's just-it's everywhere. I mean, Paul Revere's house looks pretty creepy."

This cold, haunting Northeastern aesthetic saturates the film. Two men, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), have a four-week assignment at a lighthouse on a small island off the coast of New England. Thomas is a briny tyrant right out of Moby Dick who occupies Ephraim's days with endless chores, all the while preventing the younger man from access to a close-up view of the heavenly glow at the top of the lighthouse. The previous assistant, Thomas explains, went mad because he "saw some enchantment in the light." This film earns the appellation of horror because of its portrayal of a slow descent into madness. The fading ship at the opening was just the beginning, as Ephraim soon begins to second-guess his sanity because he is seeing things, including a mermaid who emits a siren wail that Ephraim finds both irresistible and terrifying.

This is only Eggers' second feature, but the director shows masterful control here. Every creak in the lighthouse itself sounds authentic, and the sweeping rain sounds are so punishing they threaten to spill into the theater. The actors are shot in tight, claustrophobic places. Sound designer Damian Volpe deserves an Oscar for his work, especially for the jarring foghorn noise that shakes Ephraim throughout the film. Actors Dafoe and Pattinson are both excellent.

A key to discovering what is going on in The Lighthouse comes from researching the screenwriters, Eggers and his brother Max. They based the dialogue in the film on passages out of Herman Melville, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Louis Stevenson, and writings by the New England novelist and poet Sarah Orne Jewett. Thomas seems to relish this farrago of New England writers and primary sourced journals from workers at the time. Barking his words behind a wet and bushy beard (for example: "Damn ye! Then let two strike ye dead, Winslow! Hark!"), Dafoe's character is a force of nature here, and his performance could be considered over-the-top until the viewer realizes that he may indeed be playing a god. (Spoilers ahead, so stop reading if you want to see the film fresh).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What Explains Trump's Twisted Embrace Of Saudi Arabia? (Daniel Larison, 12/10.19, American Conservative)

We are daily becoming aware of the extent of the administration's corruption, and we still do not fully know the role of foreign money and influence from these countries in shaping the administration's policies. If a president consistently puts the interests of another government ahead of American interests, there is probably something else going on beyond extremely bad foreign policy judgment. Trump's absurd pro-Saudi bias is not inexplicable, but it is still in need of a fuller explanation. 

The Sa'uds oppress Muslims.  Full stop.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump to meet Lavrov, 2 years after he reportedly divulged Israeli intel to him (Times of Israel, 12/10/19)

According to a Vanity Fair report, Trump revealed details of a daring top-secret mission into northern Syria by Israel's Mossad spy agency and elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit in a May 2017 meeting with Russian officials, sticking a dagger into the robust Israeli-American intelligence-sharing apparatus.

December 9, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


A Perennial Congressional Candidate Beloved by Trump World Was Just Arrested on Stalking Charges (Will Sommer, Dec. 09, 2019, Daily Beast)

A perennial Republican House candidate whose doomed bids against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) have become a cause celebre on the right was arrested Saturday on three felony charges. 

Businessman Omar Navarro has leveraged his frequent campaigns against Waters to become a prominent voice on the far-right, earning more than $1 million in campaign contributions and the backing of Trumpworld figures like controversial former sheriff Joe Arpaio, former Trump adviser Roger Stone, and Ret. Gen. Michael Flynn. 

Despite that support, Navarro lost both his 2016 and 2018 runs against Waters by more than 50 percentage points each. Faced with unanimous voter rejection, Navarro has chosen to run again in 2020. But now, he faces significant legal troubles related to alleged stalking of his ex-girlfriend.

appealing to the Trumpbots is about hating the right people: Latinos, Muslims, Jews, women...

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM

PITY THE FLUFFER NUTTERS (profanity alert):

Justice Department Watchdog Crushes Trumpworld's Deep State Dreams: We were told Russia was a hoax, the president was persecuted by Obama, and the real traitors would be locked up. So much for all that. (Rick Wilson, 12/09/19, Medium)

For months, President Trump and his allies have been salivating over a report from the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, outlining what they expected would be a tale worthy of a John Le Carre novel. Taking a cue from Trump, Fox News and a constellation of right-wing media have promised us the report would reveal the smoking guns in the Deep State's plot to destroy the president. The report, a product of Trump's insistence that his servile Department of Justice investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, would unleash the hounds of hell on the Democrats, the Obama administration, and the intelligence community.

Well, the report's finally been released and the results are underwhelming, to put it mildly. Burn this phrase, lifted directly from the report, into your mind: "No evidence political bias influenced the decision to open the Russia probe." As has happened time and again, Trump's ludicrously overwrought promise -- that this was to be a tentpole of his ongoing (and entirely imaginary) war against the Deep State -- was followed by an utterly underwhelming outcome.

The vast enterprise of formerly conservative media outlets now dedicated to trafficking in baroque QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories in defense of Trump will try their best to polish this turd into a diamond, but the chances are slim they'll be able to convince even their own audience of credulous Trump rubes and conspiracy nuts this report means all that much.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


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So Much for the Deep State Plot Against Donald Trump (GARRETT M. GRAFF, 12.09.2019, Wired)

Shocking precisely no one who has been paying attention to the facts, the IG report finds in broad strokes that the FBI's investigation of Trump's campaign in 2016 was properly predicated, opened under correct evidentiary procedures, and conducted lawfully. Horowitz did find at least 17 violations of various Justice Department procedures--relating to FISA surveillance applications for Trump campaign adviser Carter Page--but nothing that would give credence to the Trump's long-running grievance that the entirety of the US government was out to get him in 2016.

Instead, Horowitz concludes, the FBI was rightly troubled by the signals it picked up in 2016 that Russia had nefarious designs on that year's presidential election. The FBI had an "authorized purpose" to launch the investigation, Horowitz says, which was briefed to bureau leaders and designated a "sensitive investigative matter." The FBI's use of confidential sources was appropriate, and there is no "documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation" played a role in the case. One by one, Horowitz undermines the key conspiracy talking points of Trumpland--including that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was approached by a CIA plant.

That said, Horowitz does find the numerous failures in the Page surveillance applications troubling enough to merit a review of the FBI's FISA procedures more broadly. "Although some of the factual misstatements and omissions we found in this review were arguably more significant than others, we believe that all of them taken together resulted in FISA applications that made it appear that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually the case," the report states.

Perhaps more than anything, the IG report concludes that the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane investigation was beset by the normal problems of government, large bureaucracies, and team projects, more incompetence and rushed work than conspiracy. At multiple junctures, Horowitz's report stresses that the errors it found were accidental rather than malicious--although, he argues, that should be no excuse.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


A nation's remarkable recovery of trust (The Monitor's Editorial Board, 12/09/19, CS Monitor)

Take it from a country that knows - it is possible to restore lost trust.

On Dec. 9, a day designated as International Anti-Corruption Day, a new Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, hailed his country's latest step in battling corruption. For the first time, Greece will have a single, independent body to probe government wrongdoing. The so-called Transparency Authority, Mr. Mitsotakis said, will also help restore the qualities needed in public life to regain Greece's credibility.

The new graft-busting agency is one more milestone in Greece's odyssey to redeem its reputation. A decade ago, the government admitted it had been lying about the size of the national debt. Instead of being 3.7% of gross domestic product, it was more than 15%. The falsification of official data shook financial markets and almost broke up the European Union's single-currency zone.

Europe's economy spiraled into recession. Its leaders then worked hard to instill a culture of integrity in Greece along with providing it with massive bailouts - the largest ever to a country on the brink of bankruptcy.

That work is steadily paying off. Almost every political party now supports open and rational economic policies, such as creation of the new anti-corruption agency. The government is running a budget surplus that is verifiable. This year, the Athens stock exchange could be the world's best performer. Greece is again borrowing from financial markets on very favorable terms. And its economic growth could reach 3% next year.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Paul Volcker, the Fed chairman who reined in runaway inflation, dies at 92 (DON LEE, DEC. 9, 2019, LA Times)

When Volcker, a Democrat, was appointed in the summer of 1979 by President Carter to become the Federal Reserve's 12th chairman, the nation had lived for years with high inflation, caused in part by oil crises stemming from geopolitical and economic shocks.

Consumer prices were soaring at an annual rate of more than 13% that year. And Americans had become almost numb to the problem: families reacted by making purchases before their money lost value, and businesses routinely bumped up prices and wages.

Volcker wasn't alone in viewing this as inherently unstable for the economy or in thinking that the Fed needed to lift short-term interest rates to rein in runaway inflation. But few had advocated -- or anticipated -- the kind of quick and tough medicine that the new chairman would administer.

Within days of taking office, Volcker began the first of what would be repeated efforts to reduce the money supply and ratchet up interest rates, which would climb to more than 20% in 1981.

The aggressive policy made borrowing costs very expensive, and many feared that Volcker's bold strategy would prove to be too costly. In fact, the economy fell into recession, first in mid-1980 and then again in 1982.

Volcker came under withering criticism. Consumers decried the double-digit unemployment. Lawmakers from both parties vilified the Fed as an enemy of America.

Businesses went even further. Some plastered "Wanted" posters of Volcker and his colleagues. Farmers drove their rumbling tractors along Constitution Avenue in downtown Washington, D.C., near the Fed's marbled building, and home builders dumped piles of two-by-fours at the central bank to show their unsold lumber and the housing market's woes.

"This guy was berated by an awful lot of people, and day after day he just shrugged," Lyle E. Gramley, who watched Volcker's steely performance while serving as a Fed board governor in 1980-85, said in 2014. "He was one very tough guy." (Gramley died in 2015.)

Volcker's approach carried a heavy political price for Carter, contributing to his landslide defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Carter acknowledged as much in a statement issued Monday through the Carter Center: "Paul was as stubborn as he was tall, and although some of his policies as Fed chairman were politically costly, they were the right thing to do," he said. "His strong and intelligent guidance helped to curb petroleum-driven inflation, easing a strain on all Americans' budgets. We are grateful for his service to our country."

In the early 1980s, as the recession deepened, the Reagan White House grew anxious as well, with some top aides deriding Volcker and seeking to pressure him to back off.

But as George P. Shultz, Reagan's economic advisor and secretary of State from 1982 to early 1989, recollected, none of that mattered because Volcker had Reagan's backing.

"He put a political umbrella in effect on Paul," Shultz said in an interview with The Times in 2014, adding that Reagan and others in the administration knew that a solid economy depended on getting control of inflation.

Although Reagan and his Republican Party lost a number of congressional seats in the midterm elections in 1982, the next year, the nation's inflation rate -- which had peaked at nearly 15% in 1980 -- was brought down to about 3%. And the economy began a growth spurt that would last to the end of the decade.

"Paul could think long and act on that basis," Shultz said.

Presidents Carter and Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher provided the cover, but it was the bankers who had to steer the policies that broke inflation and gave us the boom we continue to live in.  Godspeed, Chairman. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Trump dossier author Christopher Steele had a "friendly relationship" with Ivanka: report (IGOR DERYSH, DECEMBER 9, 2019, Salon)

The anticipated report on the Russia investigation conducted by the Department of Justice's inspector general revealed that Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous Trump dossier, had a "friendly" relationship with one of President Donald Trump's family members.

That family member was subsequently revealed as Ivanka Trump by ABC News, and the inspector general's report said that Steele denied having a bias against then-candidate Donald Trump when he wrote the dossier.

"He stated that if anything he was 'favorably disposed' toward the Trump family before he began his research, because he had visited a Trump family member at Trump Tower and 'been friendly' with [the family member] for some years," the report reads.

"He described their relationship as 'personal' and said that he once gifted a family tartan from Scotland to the family member," the report continues.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 3:22 PM


Recorded 55 years ago today at Rudy Van Gelder's studio: 

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


DOJ Report Has Trump Fanboys Quivering With Anticipation (Justin Baragona & Will Sommer, Dec. 09, 2019, Daily Beast)

All of which could become a bit awkward for right-wing media types who have been consumed with political fantasies and thirsting for vindication over the promise that Horowitz's report contains damaging revelations about the Justice Department and the Obama administration. It could prove even more embarrassing for QAnon fans who have become convinced that Horowitz's report will set off mass arrests against top Democrats.

Many of Trump's most loyal boosters and sycophants at Fox News have long promised that Horowitz's report was not only going to expose FISA abuses and reveal that the Russia investigation was a politically motivated hoax by the Obama administration, but would also lead to actual jail time for those in the Deep State.

There's a reason we are the elite.  The notion that these yokels could expose us is actually just another silly idea we planted.  Wait'll we reveal that Q is Sidney Blumenthal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Man Behind the Right Wing's Favorite Conspiracy Theories: Meet David Booth, the fake news peddler who is helping Russia spread its lies. (SETH HETTENA, December 9, 2019, New Republic)

No one is sure where President Trump got the idea that the Democratic National Committee's hacked server was hidden in Ukraine. As the impeachment saga unfolds, even the president's most ardent defenders, from Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, would rather talk about quid pro quos or revive the discredited claim that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 United States presidential election--anything to avoid discussing an evidence-free case that borders on lunacy. In her powerful testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Fiona Hill, a former White House foreign policy adviser, characterized the story of the "missing" server as one of the fictions propagated by Russia's security services, and Trump's own staff had made a point of debunking it for the president. Nevertheless, in his fateful phone call of July 25, when the president asked Ukraine's newly elected president to "do us a favor" and track down the DNC server, U.S. foreign policy was officially replaced by a conspiracy theory.

As tends generally to be the case with most of the overheated conspiracy theories lighting up the internet and our political culture at large, the story of the Ukraine-based server is something of an urban legend for the digital age--caroming across our badly warped systems of news delivery from some great Oz-like font of right-wing misinformation, and just as abruptly alighting on our president's diplomatic to-do list. Internet anonymity hides the identities of those behind the curtain who push this and scores of other coordinated assaults on consensual reality, from the insane anti-Semitic libels that inspire­ armed young men to march into synagogues and open fire, to the unhinged speculations of the mysterious "Q" who posts cryptic messages revealing Trump's secret war against a cabal of pedophiles in the American government and Hollywood.

There are exceptions, however. In a handful of cases, it's possible to trace some of the most destructive theories back to their source. Take, for example, the conspiracy theory that DNC staffer Seth Rich was killed in 2016 by a "hit team"; or the campaign seeking to tar Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Justice Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school, as deeply tied to the CIA; or the report that the bones of children were found on Jeffrey Epstein's island--all these myths lead back to one person. In each of these cases, we can confidently trace the confabulation in question to a man named David Lawrence Booth.  

A 64-year-old retired chemical plant control-room operator, Booth is one of the world's foremost purveyors of conspiracies and fake news. Writing under the nom de plume of Sorcha Faal on his website What Does It Mean, Booth and his wife have spent the past 15 years cooking up fabricated tales of impending war, government cover-ups, looming financial collapse, alien arrivals, Satanic acts, earthquake weapons, man-made hurricanes, global apocalypse, and "deep state" machinations of all descriptions. On his website, Booth has falsely suggested that he is an officer in the Mossad or the CIA. The truth about his life is equally fascinating--Booth happens to have been the youngest person ever to attempt to hijack a plane in the U.S.--and an examination of his past, with its links to both Russia and Russian disinformation campaigns, opens a rare window into how and why someone can be drawn into the world of conspiracies.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


American Education's Great Stagnation: Despite higher spending, achievement has flatlined (Charles Fain Lehman - DECEMBER 9, 2019, Free Beacon)

American schoolchildren's educational attainment has stagnated in the 21st century, according to data from two recently updated assessments of reading, math, and science skills.

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), released in November, and from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), released Tuesday, indicate that American kids have seen minimal improvement in their academic abilities since the early to mid-2000s.

It's obviously wrong to give NCLB all the credit, but the fact that despite the massive increase in Latino children we've been able to maintain test scores is remarkable.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Expresses Anti-Semitic Sentiments Before a Jewish Audience Again (Matt Stieb, 12/09/19, New York)

In February 2017 -- in case past and future comments proved otherwise -- newly inaugurated President Trump told reporters: "I am the least anti-Semitic person you've ever seen in your entire life." The sweeping pronouncement from the president, who once suggested that Jews might be committing fake hate crimes in order to make him look bad, has not stood the test of his presidency.

On Saturday, speaking before the Israeli American Council in Hollywood, Florida, President Trump engaged in the anti-Semitic trope of a Jewish obsession with wealth. Discussing Senator Elizabeth Warren's plan for a wealth tax, he said that Jews in the audience should "be my biggest supporters because you'll be out of business in about 15 minutes." Trump incorrectly said that the plan -- which requires households to pay an annual 2 percent tax on every dollar of net worth over $50 million -- would take "100 percent of your wealth away" and that "you're not going to vote for the wealth tax."

He doubled down on the bigoted tropes, broadcasting a harmful claim about Jewish business dealings. "A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well, you're brutal killers," Trump said. "You're not nice people at all, but you have to vote for me. You have no choice." He then switched gears, engaging in the ancient, yet enduring anti-Semitic claim surrounding Jewish loyalty, which he also evoked in August.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


In the US, the 'groyper army' seeks to make anti-Semitism mainstream (RON KAMPEAS, 12/09/19, Times of Israel)

At events around the country, groypers have heckled mainstream conservatives and asked provocative questions -- often about Israel, immigration and LGBTQ rights -- in an effort to unmask them as "fake" conservatives and "frauds." Named for a more grotesque version of the cartoon Pepe the Frog, which has been coopted by white nationalists, the goal appears to be to move conservatism closer to white nationalism, according to Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.

In an interview last year, Fuentes said he avoids the term "white nationalist" for purely tactical reasons.

"The reason I wouldn't call myself a white nationalist -- it's not because I don't see the necessity for white people to have a homeland and for white people to have a country," Fuentes said. "It's because I think that kind of terminology is used almost exclusively by the left to defame and I think the terminology and the labels that we use -- I don't think that we can look at them outside of the context of their connotations in America."

The strategy appears to be bearing some fruit. In April, Ann Coulter retweeted a Fuentes tweet on immigration. Michelle Malkin, a Fox News regular, criticized efforts to silence groypers, who she described as "truth-tellers." that the Trumpbots are Racist in Name Only, which is completely unfair.

December 8, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


The 2020 Democrats and the New Politics of Gun Violence: The movement for tighter gun legislation has been revitalized, and supporting gun control is not the risk it once was. (Margaret Talbot, 12/08/19, The New Yorker)

Public support for stricter gun laws is substantial, and growing. This isn't surprising in a country as haunted as ours is by gun violence. As of December 6th, there have been more mass shootings in the United States in 2019--three hundred and ninety-one--than there have been days in the year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a research organization that tracks these incidents. (The G.V.A. defines a mass shooting as one involving a minimum of four victims.) At the beginning of this school year, TuffyPacks, a company that makes "bullet-resistant" backpacks for schoolchildren, reported that its sales were up three hundred per cent. The C.E.O. told USA Today, "A lot of parents go, 'This is a great product and a great idea' and the other half go, 'What a sad world that we have to think about this for our children.' " And, after decades of increasing longevity, Americans are dying at younger ages, a phenomenon in which the rising number of suicides--made possible, in many cases, by easy access to guns--plays a key role.

Despite the relentless efforts of special-interest groups such as the National Rifle Association to defeat virtually any gun regulation, many Americans will no longer accept a brittle and suspect interpretation of the Second Amendment at the expense of human lives. A Fox News poll taken in August, after the killings in El Paso and Dayton, showed that two-thirds of Americans favor a ban on assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons. In a survey of likely 2020 voters, conducted earlier in the summer by the polling group GQR, more than one in four said that their views on guns had changed during the past five years, and, of those, seventy-eight per cent said that they had shifted toward stronger laws curbing guns. Asked if they would support a voluntary-buyback program of the kind that Australia instituted in 1996, encouraging people to give up their assault-style weapons, forty-two per cent of the likely voters said that they "definitely" would, and twenty-nine per cent said they "probably" would. Other polls have shown overwhelming support for universal background checks and gun-owner licensing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Different Drums: a review of 'Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice' & 'Judy' (Rand Richards Cooper, November 9, 2019, Commonweal)

In 1964, at the age of eighteen, Ronstadt moved to Los Angeles, where she joined the exploding folk-rock scene (the movie makes an excellent companion piece to Echo in the Canyon, featuring many of the same places and faces). With Bobby Kimmel and Kenny Edwards she formed the Stone Poneys, quickly becoming known for her mini-skirted, barefooted performances at The Troubadour and other clubs. In 1967 the group did a cover of the Mike Nesmith song "Different Drum," turning it into a hit on their second album. The Poneys originally performed it to a slow-paced, minimal accompaniment that Ronstadt far preferred to the highly orchestrated, up-tempo version the record company released (she was wrong, as she admits fifty years later, with a laugh), and the difference in the two versions nicely glosses the era's transition from folk to rock, the song's mellow folky mournfulness (which echoed the original 1965 rendition by the Greenbriar Boys) transmogrified into pop exuberance. 

After "Different Drum," music execs clamored for Ronstadt. Leaving the group to go out on her own, she proceeded to become the first female mega pop star, racking up five platinum records and no fewer than ten Grammys, and was the first singer ever to be No. 1 on country, pop, and R&B lists simultaneously. Though hugely successful, Ronstadt spurned the personal craziness and decadence of the rock-star lifestyle; making music always remained the whole of it. Her brashness as a performer notwithstanding, she was in fact modest, and prone to persistent doubts about her ability as a singer. (Her manager, Peter Asher, recalls that if Ronstadt saw two people in the front row of a concert whispering to one another, she worried they were saying she wasn't good enough.) Yet once she started singing, those doubts disappeared, vaporized by her voice with its vaulting range, its flexible but always recognizable timbre, its intermittent adornments of vibrato, and its ability to imbue a pop lyric with fierce longing. She was the kind of powerful singer who filled the air and commanded the room.

A rewarding turn in Ronstadt's career, and in the movie, comes at the peak of her fame, when she decided to drastically change her tune and explore interests outside the range of pop music--unexpected efforts that followed the lines of her parents' musical passions. She made three albums of songbook standards with Nelson Riddle, the famed bandleader she grew up listening to. She appeared in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance in New York's Shakespeare Festival. And in 1987 she released Canciones de mi Padre, a collection of traditional Mexican songs of her childhood, which became the all-time top-selling Spanish-language album in the United States. As Ry Cooder comments, these quixotic undertakings were brave moves for a pop singer to make. "Her career from then on," Cooder observes, "was music companies telling her she couldn't do it, then her doing it anyway, and the music companies jumping on board just as it took off." You have to love Ronstadt's sheer enthusiasm for music. As the singer herself says, many of her choices "didn't fit anywhere but my heart." We even see her singing with the Muppets on Sesame Street.

Almost in passing, the film captures a quiet feminism, reminding us that Ronstadt rose to prominence in a male-dominated profession in which casual misogyny and the crass exploitation of women were rampant. Her collaborations with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris reverberate with shared pride and pleasure in their accomplishment: strong voices, strong women. And comments Ronstadt offered as a young singer--interviewed on the beach in front of her Malibu home by an even younger Cameron Crowe--include penetrating insights into both the strutting misogyny and the heedless self-destruction of the male rock-star persona. In a later scene, asked on a TV talk show about her willingness to perform in apartheid South Africa, she bristles, then launches into a notably astute analysis of the moral shortcomings of other nations, including the United States.

The Ronstadt who emerges from The Sound of My Voice is not merely a supreme pop diva, but a fearless experimenter and a passionate lover of music. Though she eventually ran into health trouble (a closing and poignant scene shows a faltering attempt to sing in her living room with a musician nephew), she emerges as one of the least troubled pop stars ever, and confronts her setbacks with settled serenity. The film is worth watching merely for its parade of hits--"You're No Good," "When Will I Be Loved," "Blue Bayou," "Love is a Rose," "It's So Easy," "Heat Wave," "Desperado," "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"--many of which originated with other groups, and several of which I had forgotten. But for me the high point of the film is seeing Ronstadt sing one of her Mexican ballads, performing with a full orchestra, in a wildly kitschy mariachi outfit. As she belts the song out with fierce, delighted passion, nimbly mastering the complicated Spanish lyrics, you realize you are in the presence not only of a supremely gifted singer, but an irrepressible human being.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


The Battle for the GOP Starts in Georgia (Josh Kraushaar, 12/03/19, national Journal)

On paper, Loeffler is a GOP dream candidate. She's a successful businesswoman, hails from the vote-rich Atlanta suburbs, owns a WNBA team, and has the ability to self-finance an expensive campaign. A longtime GOP donor (including to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign), she hails from the establishment wing of the party. But the same credentials that make her more electable are also drawing hackles from the president and some of his top lieutenants.

Trump wanted Kemp to pick conservative Rep. Doug Collins, one of his closest allies in the House, for the vacancy. Collins, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, had been openly campaigning for the seat. Collins reflects the Trump playbook: He's a partisan fighter defending the president from impeachment, hails from a heavily Republican rural district, and has a near-perfect conservative voting record in Congress.

Loeffler's pathway to winning the special election would be through improving the GOP's standing with women and suburbanites, while making inroads with nonwhite voters. A Collins campaign would rely on rallying the base in a state that still leans Republican, despite recent Democratic gains. Trump, his son, and prominent allies like Sean Hannity have all been championing Collins' candidacy.

What's ironic about Kemp's apparent decision to tap Loeffler is that he won his own election by running a Collins-esque, base-first campaign. Kemp ran as an unwavering Trump ally during his insurgent campaign last year, boasting about his support for gun rights and his hard-line stance on illegal immigration. He wouldn't have won the primary without Trump's surprise endorsement. Without strong GOP turnout in rural counties, he would have risked falling short of Stacey Abrams in the closely contested governor's race.

But Kemp recognizes that Republicans can't win future elections in his diversifying state without appealing to suburban voters in the diverse, fast-growing Atlanta suburbs. He appreciates that deteriorating GOP support among women would be politically devastating to the party in Georgia.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Exclusive: Head of Jewish Democratic Council of America denounces Trump speech as anti-Semitic (MATTHEW ROZSA, DECEMBER 8, 2019, salon)

The executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America told Salon on Sunday that President Donald Trump's recent comments about Jewish voters continue "what has been a very negative stereotype of Jews and money and power."

"He has said in the past that he wants Jews to be the ones counting his money," Halie Soifer told Salon. "He has repeatedly made references to what has been a very negative stereotype of Jews and money and power." After saying that "I think that he must believe it, and that is why he continues to repeat it," Soifer noted that Trump was repeating claims that he has made when "typically speaking extemporaneously, and clearly he's speaking from his heart. It's clear that there's quite a bit of hatred in it." Soifer also criticized Trump for having "views of Jews as driven largely by money, which is why he said at this events that Jews have no choice but to support him, referring to tax cuts."

She added that Trump said "those who don't support Israel, they should -- and this is not a direct quote -- but essentially, they should leave. And then we saw hateful figures like Ann Coulter retweet that video and suggest that Jews are unpatriotic, that they don't love America either. That is a good example of how the president's hatred is amplified by others in the media to continue to spread these anti-Semitic tropes. And this is exactly why anti-Semitism and white nationalism have grown during his presidency."

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Democrats, GOP move in opposite directions on Russia views (Dante Chinni, 12/08/19, NBC News)

In February of 2015, Gallup data showed that more Democrats held a favorable view of Russia (26 percent) than did Republicans (19 percent). But by February of 2019, those numbers had reversed, with 30 percent of Republicans saying they held a favorable view of Russia -- an 11-point increase from 2015. And only 17 percent of Democrats said they had a positive view, a nine-point drop.

There is likely a near 100% overlap of support for Vlad with opposition to immigration, Islam, etc., in the GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


People hate shopping for health insurance (Bob Herman, 12/03/19, Axios)

Reality check: During any insurance program's annual enrollment period, most people end up staying with the status quo, if it's an option, instead of picking a new plan.

Fewer than one out of 10 seniors voluntarily switch from one private Medicare Advantage plan to another, according to new research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The same holds true for Medicare's private prescription drug plans.

Most employers don't usually change insurance carriers, often out of fear of angering workers, and keep plan options limited.

Employees, after several reminders from HR, usually default to what they had.

Fewer than half of people in the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces actively re-enroll in new plans, even though the market was designed for comparison shopping.

Medicaid enrollees in some states have no say in the private plans they get.

Between the lines: Buying health insurance -- a $20,000 decision for the average family -- is more complicated than buying furniture.

Which is why the GOP is so out of touch on healthcare.  People don't choose a plan, they get stuck in one by the employer who's paying for it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


Fox News Poll: Biden has edge over Dems in Nevada, bests Trump by 7 points (Dana Blanton, 12/08/19, Fox News)

Fifty-three percent of Nevada voters rate the economy positively, including 22 percent calling it excellent.  For comparison, 14 percent of voters nationally rate the economy as excellent.

Meanwhile, more disapprove (52 percent) than approve (45 percent) of the job Trump is doing. His 45 percent approval roughly matches his 2016 vote share, as Hillary Clinton won the Silver State 48-46 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM

IT'S NOT A pROGRESSIVE PARTY (profanity alert):

How the Cool Kids of the Left Turned on Elizabeth Warren (RUAIRÍ ARRIETA-KENNA, 12/08/2019, Politico)

It wasn't so long ago that you could read an article in Jacobin that argued, "If Bernie Sanders weren't running, an Elizabeth Warren presidency would probably be the best-case scenario." In April, another Jacobin article conceded that Warren is "no socialist" but added that "she's a tough-minded liberal who makes the right kind of enemies," and her policy proposals "would make this country a better place." A good showing by her in a debate this summer was seen as a clear win for the left in the movement's grand ideological battle within, or perhaps against, the Democratic Party. Even staff writer Meagan Day, probably the biggest Bernie stan on Jacobin's masthead, found nice things to say about Warren.

No more. A selection of Jacobin headlines from November: "Elizabeth Warren's Head Tax Is Indefensible," "Elizabeth Warren's Plan to Finance Medicare for All Is a Disaster" and "Elizabeth Warren Is Jeopardizing Our Fight for Medicare for All." In October, a story warned that a vote for Warren would be "an unconditional surrender to class dealignment." Even a recent piece titled "Michael Bloomberg? Now They're Just F[****]g with Us" went out of its way to say that Warren is insufficiently confrontational to billionaires.

Bernie is the only Progressive and he's conspicuously not a Democrat.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


For the Israeli right, Jewish-Arab partnership is the stuff of nightmares: As far as Israel's right is concerned, the very real possibility that the country will be led by a Jewish-Arab partnership is the greatest threat of all. (Eli Bitan December 7, 2019, +972)

In such a government, the ultra-Orthodox parties wouldn't be able to deliver on their campaign promises of gender segregation and ending public transportation on the Sabbath. The secular majority in the Knesset could make regulations for civil marriage, and possibly undo the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on religion in the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was charged with bribery, fraud and breach in late November, wouldn't be able to secure immunity and might even have to resign. Policies regarding Palestinians could be decided by those outside the settler enterprise.

Even though the center-left bloc has much to gain, while the right has more to lose, the heads of the right-wing parties are doing all they can to form a unity government. In speeches, interviews and press releases they describe it as the need of the hour, the people's will, the reasonable and right thing to do. Netanyahu even agreed to be a member of such a government under the leadership of the head of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, merely five months after its establishment. [...]

As far as Israel's right is concerned, the "demon" -- the urgent concern they will present to their voters -- is this: the now very real possibility that the country will be led by a Jewish-Arab partnership. Such cooperation can begin with limited support from the Joint List, the majority-Palestinian party, and continue with an agreement on base lines, then manifest in achievements on the ground, and so on. This is the very development that would collapse the right's empowerment in Israel.

Such a partnership signals a new political agenda: it undoes the segregation and animosity between Jews and Palestinians. It brings light after many years of political darkness that resulted in poor Jews, occupied Palestinians and fearful ultra-Orthodox, mediated by those seeking conflict and oppression. Jewish-Arab partnership is the highlight of the September elections, and it's what's preoccupying right-wing leaders now.

The daily war against such partnership is in full swing. It's taking place on billboards with Arabic letters removed, in hospital departments, in student groups, in colleges and universities, in acceptance committees and cultural events, and in the enactment of the Jewish Nation-State Law.

For right-wing parties, there is a direct link between the cycles of violence in Gaza, the settler enterprise, and quashing any hope for peace; and between supporting  authoritarian leaders around the world and the racial segregation against Palestinians here. A Jews-only politics is one in which the right always wins. Striving for a unity government -- even at the expense of stopping annexation and laws on religion and "loyalty" -- is worth it for the right, even if just to slide the possibility of Jewish-Arab partnership off the table.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Suburban Legend: Contrary to the media narrative, an urban resurgence has not come at the expense of other communities. (Steven Malanga, Autumn 2019, City Journal)

For more than a decade, leading urbanists and their media disciples have touted the idea that a resurgence of cities was occurring at the expense of suburbs, a trend that amounted to a historical reversal of American living preferences. The revival of some central business districts and the gentrification of old industrial neighborhoods into hip new urban enclaves fed a back-to-the-city narrative, while an exodus of the poor into nearby suburbs and a Great Recession-era plunge in housing values sparked conjecture that the classic suburb was in decline. Much of this narrative is anecdotal, however, or relies on selectively chosen data. Comprehensive research on hundreds of urban and suburban neighborhoods over the last four decades, published earlier this year, tells a different story. While the demographics of cities and suburbs are changing, the suburbs have continued to outperform urban neighborhoods on multiple economic and demographic variables, solidifying their hold on American wealth and status. The good news is that the urban revival in many places is real. The better news is that it hasn't come at the expense of other communities.

The terms "city" and "suburbs" are often used imprecisely. To get at the heart of the way communities are changing, Harvard researcher Whitney Airgood-Obrycki examined the nation's 100 most populous metropolitan areas in detail--classifying census tracks within each area as either urban, inner-ring suburb, or outer-ring suburb. She also subdivided suburban communities based on when they were developed: pre-World War II, postwar, and modern. Airgood-Obrycki then graded each neighborhood on factors like income levels, education, occupations of residents, and housing values, and tracked communities' progress over time.

What the data yield is illuminating. Most of the nation's "high-status" communities--neighborhoods in the top quartile of economic and demographic performance--are suburban. And the suburbs' advantage over cities has increased over time, from 68 percent of the top-performing neighborhoods in the 1970s to 74 percent by 2010. Incomes are considerably greater, moreover, among suburban communities that rank among the highest-status neighborhoods than among city districts that also fall into that category. At the same time, the suburbs have done a better job of holding off decline. Among areas that have seen average household incomes shrink, the declines have been deepest in city neighborhoods, not struggling suburban areas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the suburbs maintained their advantage to some degree because of development. Some of the biggest gains recorded in the study came in newer suburbs. By contrast, older suburbs--typically, inner-ring areas closest to cities--accounted for fewer gains.

The most effective anti-poverty/educational reform program would be to move inner city residents to the suburbs. Of course, the prospect of minority kids attending our kids' schools is why the idea of just busing is greeted with such hysteria.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


In Baghdad, protesters wary amid growing atmosphere of suspicion (Middle East Eye: 7 December 2019)

"There are good people here, but also bad people, drunk people and people on drugs. Each person does what he likes," said Mohamed, a protester at a bookstand near Tahrir Square. "It's the same with the Molotov cocktails being used by some protesters, which is really wrong, especially because some of us just want to carry the Iraqi flag."

Mohamed accused troublemakers at the demonstrations of increasingly using what started out two months ago as largely peaceful protests as a cover for their own ends. 

"At night, some people come with knives and light weapons and try to destroy the protest from within," Mohamed said. "We don't know what to do, and there's no one here to say what's wrong and what's right."

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


After Stephen Miller's white nationalist views outed, Latinos ask, 'where's the GOP outrage?' (Suzanne Gamboa, 12/07/19, NBC News)

It wasn't the content of White House adviser Stephen Miller's leaked emails that shocked Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from El Paso, Texas, but the silence of her Republican colleagues that has followed.

Miller is the architect of President Donald Trump's hardline immigration policies that have separated children from parents, forced people seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico under squalid conditions, instituted the Muslim ban and poured money from the military into border wall construction. The administration is currently under fire for the deaths of migrant children and teens who have died while in government custody.

In a trove of emails provided to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, Miller cited and promoted white nationalist ideologies of white genocide, immigrants as criminals and eugenics, all of which were once considered fringe and extreme. White nationalists embrace white supremacist and white separatist views.

Three weeks after the emails were made public, Miller still is in the White House. Only Democrats have called on the White House to rid itself of white nationalism.

"It really has been jarring (that) the president's enablers and Republicans have not stood up and said, Mr. President, this is unacceptable," Escobar said in an interview. "I would implore my Republican colleagues to join us in calling for Stephen Miller's resignation," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


R Is For Republican -- And Russian (Cynthia Tucker, December 8, 2019, National Memo)

Because Trump has completely taken over the Republican Party, so has Putin. His GOP lackeys are going around repeating the discredited propaganda that Putin must have whispered into Trump's ear: that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Earlier this month, on NBC's Meet the Press, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), insisted that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 election to assist Hillary Clinton. Newsman Chuck Todd, the astonished host, pointed out that U.S. intelligence experts had given lawmakers a briefing to warn them that the lie about election interference by Ukraine was "a Russian intelligence propaganda campaign in order to get people like you to say these things about Ukraine."

Kennedy told Todd he had not attended that briefing. It probably would not have mattered, anyway. Kennedy already had his directive: Go forth and spew the lies that Russia has given Trump and Trump has given to his lapdogs. If that isn't treason, what is?

Putin could not have wreaked so much havoc without help from other sources -- some, perhaps, unwitting. During the 2016 presidential campaign, American journalists enthusiastically spread details of stolen emails that were damaging to Clinton and to Democratic Party elites, though it is now clear that some were likely stolen by Russian hackers. Then there is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who ignored President Barack Obama's warnings that Putin's propagandists were abusing his internet infrastructure. Still, of all Putin's accomplishments inside our country, his takeover of the Republican Party is the most staggering -- and the most dangerous.

...Mitch just wants election help.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


New drive to honor Europe's forgotten Muslim soldiers (Deutsche-Welle, 12/08/19)

The giant Menin Gate in the Belgian town of Ypres echoes with the mournful tune of the Last Post played by buglers from the local fire brigade.

The ceremony, watched by hushed school groups, has been repeated every night at eight o'clock since 1928 apart from the years of German occupation during the Second World War. It commemorates soldiers who fought and died for Britain in the First World War.

The walls of the gate are covered with the names of 54,607 soldiers who were killed in Belgium and have no known grave. Among them are 412 soldiers from India including Muslims such as Bahadur Khan of the 57th Wilde's Rifles, who fell during the First Battle of Ypres on October 28, 1914, and Nur Alam of the 40th Pathans, killed on April 26, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres. 

The role played by these soldiers and their 2.5 million fellow Muslims who fought for Britain, France and Russia in a war not of their making has been under-researched in comparison with the extensive accounts of Western troops in poems, diaries and histories.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Katz says military strike to stop Iran remains 'an option' (Times of Israel, 12/08/19)

Israel is prepared to attack Iran militarily if sanctions don't force it to curtail its nuclear program and attacks on Israel, Foreign Minister Israel Katz told an Italian daily over the weekend.

Asked by the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on Friday if a military strike on Iran were a possibility, Katz affirmed "it's an option. We will not allow Iran to produce or obtain nuclear weapons. If the only option left to us is the military option, we'll act militarily."

The central fact of the iran hysteria is that they have nukes targeted at them but none aimed at anyone.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Massive leak debunks UK Labour's claim it is dealing with anti-Semitism (MICHAEL BACHNER , 12/08/19, Times of Israel)

Documents refuting claims by Britain's Labour party that it is adequately dealing with rampant anti-Semitism within the party have been leaked and were reported Sunday, days before the country's general election.

The leaked files from the main UK opposition party's internal disciplinary department show that many Labour members, several of whom had called for the extermination of all Jews, remained in the party for months and even over a year and were given a lenient punishment or none at all, according to The Sunday Times.

Speaking to Israeli-American group, Trump slams Jews who 'don't love Israel enough' (JOSEFIN DOLSTEN, DECEMBER 7, 2019, JTA)

President Donald Trump slammed American Jews who he said did not sufficiently "love Israel."

"So many of you voted for the people in the last administration. Some day you will have to explain that to me because I don't think they like Israel too much," the president said Saturday evening at the Israeli-American Council's annual conference.

December 7, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Horowitz report expected to clear FBI of misdeeds in Russia probe (MARTY JOHNSON, 12/07/19, The Hill)

The Justice Department's report that is expected to conclude that the FBI's federal investigation into potential links between Russia and President Trump's 2106 campaign wasn't politically motivated will be released Monday. 

Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who wrote the report, is said to have found that there was enough evidence to justify the FBI wiretapping Carter Page, Trump's former campaign adviser who reportedly had contact with Russian officials multiple times.

People familiar with the report told the Los Angeles Times that the contents of the report will not only exonerate the FBI but also largely dismiss claims from the Trump administration and its allies that the federal agency broke the law in search of evidence and purposely went after Trump's campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Tucker Carlson's New Crush: The Fox News host goes full anti-Semite in his latest rant, a love letter to Henry Ford (Liel Leibovitz, December 7, 2019, The Tablet)

On a ten-minute-long segment of his show earlier this week, Tucker Carlson lamented the state of American capitalism. "During the last gilded age, 125 years ago," he told his viewers, "America's ruling class may have been ostentatiously rich, but it was still recognizably American." He checked off a few of that class's most luminous names--Carnegie, Rockefeller, et al--before stopping to heap praise on one man in particular: Henry Ford.

"In January of 1914," Carlson lectured, "Henry Ford more than doubled the prevailing factory wage, to a then-astounding five dollars for an eight hour day. Ford didn't have to do it, but his company was succeeding and he thought he should. Some historians trace the creation of the American middle class to Henry Ford's decision."

Among other things historians trace to Henry Ford is The International Jew, a 91-article series he had his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, publish. The Jewish plan, Ford's paper enlightened its readers, was "to control the world, not by territorial acquisition, not by military aggression, not by governmental subjugation, but by control of the machinery of commerce and exchange." Adolf Hitler called Ford an inspiration and kept a portrait of the American industrialist by his desk.

Over on Fox News, the admiration flowed along the same path on Carlson's show. Unlike the all-American Ford, the TV host continued, our nation today was being ravaged by one greedy moneyman in particular: venture capitalist Paul Singer.

In contrast to past and Protestant paragons of American civic-mindedness, Carlson thundered, Singer made his wealth "feeding off the carcass of a dying nation," rapaciously robbing hard-working and industrious folks in America and the world over by acquiring their enterprises and sucking their lifeblood.

you don't have to scratch much of the veneer off a Trumpbot before you get to the traditional hates.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Special report: The coming health care collision (Sam Baker, 12/07/19, Axios)

Health insurance through an employer -- the way most Americans get it -- costs an annual average of almost $23,000 to cover a family. That's enough to buy a new Volkswagen every year.

While those costs keep rising, Americans' life expectancy is falling.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Sock It To Me: In Praise Of An Evergreen Holiday Gift (Scott Simon, December 7, 2019, Weekend Edition)

It's the holiday gift for when you can't think of what else to give. Good for old, young, women, men, north, south -- NPR even sells 'em! Socks. And they are having their moment. "Socks have gone through their ups and downs and have had very very many different moments in the fashion world, and there's certainly a resurgence today, as you have probably noticed," says Steven Frumkin, a dean at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. "People want to make a statement, and one of the nice ways of doing it is to have a pair of socks that says something."

...than a pair of Darn Tough socks.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Trump's Plot To 'Investigate The Investigators' Is A Flop (Jefferson Morley, December 7, 2019, National Memo)

For months, the names of Michael Horowitz and John Durham have figured in the pounding rhythms of right-wing media in which a heroically afflicted president faces down his perfidious enemies. A steady drumbeat of reports from Fox News, echoed by President Trump and Republican loyalists in Congress, proclaimed these two obscure Justice Department officials would get to the bottom of an alleged conspiracy against the Trump presidency.

They would, in Trump's words, "investigate the investigators." It was oh so promising.

"I will tell you this," Trump blustered on October 25. "I think you're going to see a lot of really bad things," he said. "I leave it all up to the attorney general and I leave it all up to the people that are working with the attorney general who I don't know. ... I think you'll see things that nobody would've believed."

Horowitz, as the DOJ inspector general, had the narrower assignment. He was tasked with investigating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants issued to intercept the communications of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Horowitz had to answer the question: Was Page targeted for political reasons, perhaps based on the famous "Steele Dossier"?

Durham, a senior U.S. attorney in Connecticut, has a broader brief: to review the FBI's decision to open an investigation of the Trump campaign's contacts with Russians in 2015. Durham was selected for the job by Barr.

For those inclined to believe Fox News and the president, the "deep state cabal" that allegedly targeted Trump was running scared. In early October, Fox News reported that "Barr and Durham traveled to Italy recently to talk to law enforcement officials there about the probe and have also had conversations with officials in the U.K. and Australia about the investigation." From this report, the Daily Caller imaginatively extrapolated that Durham's probe had expanded to include "looking at the activities of foreign intelligence agencies." (One British official told the Independent that Barr and his minions asked, "in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services.") On October 22, the Washington Examiner said Durham was "scrutinizing four key figures"; the Spectator, a right-wing British magazine, claimed former CIA director John Brennan was in "Durham's crosshairs."

And so on.

Trump's words, ironically, are coming true. Horowitz, it is now reliably reported, found that the Trump/Fox News talking points about a "deep state" conspiracy against Trump are, in fact, "things that nobody would've believed."

Horowitz's report, says USA Today, is "expected to conclude the FBI was justified in launching its two-year inquiry into the Trump campaign and possible ties to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election."

The Washington Post reports that Durham has already disappointed Trump.

you'll have to excuse Donald and the Trumpbots for being so hysterical this week, their fever dreams are breaking.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Gov. Laura Kelly's approval rating in Kansas tops President Donald Trump's (Tim Carpenter, Dec 6, 2019, Topeka Capital-Journal)
Kansans participating in a statewide political survey expressed greater satisfaction with the job performance of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly than Republican President Donald Trump, who finds himself underwater in the deeply red Midwest state.

The annual survey by Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute of Public Affairs showed 44.1% were satisfied with the president who easily carried the state three years ago and that 44.3% were dissatisfied with the investigation-tarnished president.

Kelly, who took office in January after eight years of GOP leadership in the governor's office, held support of 52.7% surveyed. At the same time, 26.4% were dissatisfied with her performance as Kansas' chief executive.

On Friday, Kelly said she would continue to operate in a bipartisan manner to "rebuild the state and ensure that everyone has a seat at the table."

"Kansans value strong schools, safe roads, fiscally responsible policies and they expect their elected officials to work together," she said. "I ran for governor of this great state because I share these same values. And, it is how I've governed since taking office."

In 2016, Trump captured 56.6% of the vote in Kansas to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's 36%, a gap of 20.6 percentage points. Kelly prevailed in the November 2018 election by winning 48% of the vote compared to Republican gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach's 42.9%.

All the battlegrounds are red.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Trump's Approval Rating Should Worry Republicans (Jonathan Bernstein, December 4, 2019, Bloomberg)

[T]hrough 1,048 days, his average approval rating is back to being the very worst of the polling-era presidents. According to FiveThirtyEight, he's at 41.6%; the next worst at this point was Barack Obama at 44%. Disapproval ratings tell an even worse story: At 53.5%, Trump is the only president through 1,048 days topping 50% (with Obama again the next-worst at 49.7% and no one else above 42%).

This is dangerous territory for Republicans. Even if Trump rallies between now and November, it may be too late to help his party much. Candidate-recruitment season is already well underway, and those updates at Inside Elections mostly reflect how certain seats are becoming easier for Democrats to defend or harder for Republicans to hold based on decisions by politicians who are anticipating a tough contest for the president's party.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Schiff: Pence aide provided new impeachment evidence -- but VP's office classified it (ANDREW DESIDERIO and KYLE CHENEY, 12/06/2019, Politico)

A national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence submitted additional classified evidence to House impeachment investigators about a phone call between Pence and Ukraine's president, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff revealed Friday.

In a letter to Pence, Schiff (D-Calif.) asked the vice president to declassify supplemental testimony from the aide, Jennifer Williams, about Pence's Sept. 18 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, arguing that there is no "legitimate basis" to keep it secret.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Loving the "other" (Greg Weeks, Dec 4, 2019, St. Loiuis Post-Dispatch)

New York Magazine's Intelligencer ran an article titled, "The Trump-Loving Town and Its Favorite Undocumented Immigrant." The author interviewed some of the Bluff's residents who got to know him. They were impressed both by Garcia's hard work ethic and his compassion for others, such as mowing lawns for the elderly free of charge.

"He changed me," one person said. Another added, "I didn't grow up around people like him, but if the world had a few more people like him, the world would be a better place."

This has no doubt initiated an inner struggle among some of these residents. How do you reconcile a get-tough policy of blanket deportations when you know that people like Garcia -- who make the world a better place -- will be sent back?

Dealing with such a conflict can lead to plowing under the barrier to simple human compassion. Stereotypes fly when you have the opportunity to get to know a person.

I am proud of the people in Poplar Bluff who played the Good Samaritan to Alex. Giving him food, shelter, a job and respect. They reached out to someone different from themselves and gave him a chance. It doesn't matter what political party you're from. It matters what's in your heart. And they, in turn, were rewarded by a broader world view that welcomes the stranger.

It is wrong to stoke fear of the stranger in our midst or on our border. The people from my hometown demonstrated that the surest antidote to ungrounded fear is risk-taking love, which treats people as persons and not as labels.

Speaking of labels, perhaps the most inaccurate of all is the label "stranger." There are really no strangers, as if they're from another planet. We are all on this planet. We all share the amazing human experience.

It's not a burden or obligation to welcome a fellow traveler; at least an innkeeper provided a stable for Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem. It's a privilege, and getting to know their stories and personalities enables us to live more deeply in our own lives. If we work on including and learning, not excluding and judging, we might be surprised by the number of Alex Garcias in our midst.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


The Rise of the New House Labels Is Reshaping Retail (Shira Ovide, November 4, 2019, Business Week)

Store brands have come a long way from blah boxes of knockoff Cheerios: Americans are increasingly piling their virtual and IRL shopping carts with in-store brands of everything, whether coffee, batteries, suit jackets, or midcentury modern sofas. Because stores don't have to hand over part of each purchase price to Coca-Cola Co. or Levi Strauss & Co., they're often able to sell their own brands for less--and make more money.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The secret of creating happy societies (Sam Wren-Lewis, 12/07/19, The Conversation)

More recently, New Zealand introduced its first "wellbeing budget," with a focus on improving the wellbeing of the country's most vulnerable people.

Such initiatives tend to broadly agree over the conditions required for a happy society. According to the World Happiness Report, there are six key ingredients for national happiness: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. Scandinavian countries--which typically top the global happiness rankings (Finland is currently first)--tend to do well on all these measures.[...]

The more we focus on our list of desired things, the more we fail to see what really matters. When we are certain of the things that make us happy, and urgently try to achieve them, we fail to appreciate the value of the things we already have and the multiple unknown opportunities we have yet to discover. When things inevitably go wrong in our lives, we blame others or ourselves instead of learning from what happened.

Psychologists are beginning to understand the limits of this. Happy individuals tend to have humility as well as certainty; curiosity as well as urgency; and compassion as well as blame.

We can apply these same lessons on a national scale. Creating a happier society requires not just promoting what matters, but also promoting the capacities for discovering what matters.

We know this on an institutional level. In education, we know that it is important to promote curiosity and a love of learning as well as good exam results. In academia, we know that, although we can discover important scientific truths, almost all of our current scientific theories might be surpassed by other theories and we should remain open minded. We know that the appeal and relevance of religious institutions depends on balancing dogmatic teachings with mystery and curiosity--order and faith on the one hand, openness and flexibility on the other.

Creating a happy society does not just depend on creating the right conditions. It also depends on creating the right institutions and processes for discovering those conditions. The irony is that members of the happy society described at the beginning of this article--who tend to be at ease, untroubled, quick to laugh, expansive and self-assured--are probably less focused on what makes them happy and more focused on exploring what really matters--with humility, curiosity, and compassion.

Eliminating the labor component from wealth production will not only relieve economic stress but afford time to focus instead on what matters spiritually.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


American freed by Iran in prisoner exchange (NAHAL TOOSI, 12/07/2019, Politico)

An American graduate student who had been detained in Iran for more than three years has been freed after the Trump administration agreed to a prisoner exchange with Tehran. [...]

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, meanwhile, tweeted out a picture of himself and Soleimani in a plane, with the phrase "going home." He also confirmed Wang's release in another tweet.

Iran is ideally positioned to exploit Donald's desperation for any kind of foreign policy deal.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


The quest for national sovereignty (Deutsche Welle, 12/07/19)

Bougainville, an island of just 250,000 inhabitants, belongs to Papua New Guinea -- but it may not be for long. The tiny Pacific island has held an independence referendumand, according to experts, Bougainville's residents look set to overwhelmingly back the nonbinding vote. The results are expected later this month. 

While independence movements like those in Catalonia and Scotland have made headlines in Europe lately, independence referenda and movements are much more widespread in Oceania and the surrounding area today. East Timor, previously annexed by Indonesia, was the first country in the region to gain independence in the 21st century.

"There is one thing that unites all pacific island states: namely their colonial past," said Hermann Mückler, a professor of social and cultural anthropology at Vienna University.

...the reality is that support for Transnationalism--outside the sphere of trade--is virtually nonexistent: all of the forces are centrifugal..

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Report: NH growing older, more diverse (DAVID CORRIVEAU, 12/07/19, Valley News)

As of July 1, 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 1,356,458 people lived in New Hampshire, about 3% more than than the 2010 Census had counted.

Many of those who have been moving in -- from abroad as well as from other states -- "have been better educated than those leaving and thus increase the state's store of intellectual capital," Johnson wrote. "Even during the worst of the (recent) recession, New Hampshire had a net gain of migrants with a college degree or more." [...]

Johnson reports that the decline of the white majority from 95.1% in 2000 to 90% in 2018 represents "a doubling of the proportion of the state that is minority, from 61,600 ... to 136,000, and this growth accounted for two-thirds of the small increase in the entire population" over those 18 years.

Johnson added that Hispanics now account for 3.9% of Granite Staters, to 2.9% for Asians and 1.4% for African Americans, living particularly "in the Concord-Mancheser-Nashua urban corridor, as well as in the Hanover-Lebanon region and in a few areas of the Seacoast," he wrote.

People of color of child-bearing age are repopulating at a much higher rate than their white peers in the state.

"In all, 15.5% of New Hampshire's children belonged to a minority population in 2018," Johnson wrote. "As we look to the future, the proportion of New Hampshire's population that is minority will continue to grow."

December 6, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


A Saudi Military Trainee Killed 3 People In Florida In The Second Shooting At A Navy Base This Week  (Julia Reinstein & Otillia Steadman, BuzzFeed News)

Three people were killed and eight others injured when a trainee from the Saudi Arabian Air Force opened fire at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida early Friday.

Two people died at the scene, and another died after being transported for treatment. At least seven others were taken to local hospitals. Officials said the shooter was also killed.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Staff fired, protest planned after Bettendorf forum features far-right nationalist (GIANG NGUYEN, UPDATED AT 07:43PM, DECEMBER 5, 2019, WQAD)

BETTENDORF, Iowa -- Iowa congressional candidate Bobby Schilling has fired his campaign political coordinator. The blowback comes after an immigration forum at a church in Bettendorf on Monday that featured a far-right activist with links to nationalists. [...]

Athena Galbraith, a Davenport mom, was not at the event, but learned about it in the media. She said she felt compelled to speak out.

"It was scary that it hit close to home." She said her concern was not just Fuentes' presence, but the general rhetoric against immigrants at the forum.

"They were issuing hate statements against immigrants and illegal immigrants."

"If you're Christian, if you go to church, you know that everything that was said that night goes against everything you know, as far as Christianity. This is not the place for that. The Quad Cities are a diverse beautiful inclusive community. This is the place we celebrate each other's differences, we don't hate."

She plans to organize a protest against hate on Sunday at 9am at Pleasant View Baptist Church.

Pastor Ed Hedding of Pleasant View Baptist Church said a last-minute venue cancellation led to his church being used for the forum.

"We did not plan nor organize the event. Nicholas Fuentes' presence was a surprise to us and the entire audience. His veiled speech masked ideas that are quite unchristian and unsupported by Pleasant View Baptist Church," he said in a statement.

Based on his NumbersUSA score, there's no reason he wouldn't invite Fuentes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


"We made it up": Ex-Infowars editor says he published lies about Muslim community to spread hate (IGOR DERYSH, DECEMBER 6, 2019, Salon)

The day before Jones interviewed then-candidate Donald Trump on his show in 2015, Owens wrote that he traveled to Islamberg, a Muslim community in rural upstate New York, where Jones had instructed him to investigate what he called "the American Caliphate."

Though the Muslims that lived in the community had not been connected to any violence and some had publicly denounced ISIS, Jones wanted to push the far-right rumor that the community was a "potential terrorist-training center," Owens wrote.

Owens said he and a reporter tried to lie their way into the settlement but were unable to get in after the community had come under threat. Days before the trip, the FBI had issued an alert for a man named Jon Ritzheimer, who had threatened a terrorist attack against Muslims.

After a law enforcement agent called to confirm their identities, Jones wanted to spin the incident as "an attempt to intimidate us into silence," Owens wrote.

"He even went so far as to include Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, in the purported conspiracy, claiming he wanted to abolish the Second Amendment -- and that somehow intimidating us would achieve that," he added.

Owens and the reporter did speak to a nearby sheriff and mayor, who both told them that the people of Islamberg "were kind, generous neighbors who welcomed the surrounding community into their homes, even celebrating holidays together."

"The information did not meet our expectations, so we made it up, preying on the vulnerable and feeding the prejudices and fears of Jones's audience," he wrote. "We ignored certain facts, fabricated others and took situations out of context to fit our narrative."

Infowars soon published headlines like "Shariah Law Zones Confirmed in America," "Report: Obama's Terror Cells in the U.S.," and "The Rumors Are True: Shariah Law Is Here!"

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How John Solomon Undermined Journalism: He been acting as a political operative, not a reporter. (Nancy LeTourneau, December 6, 2019, Washington Monthly)

I first noticed stories by Solomon when I began tracking down the origin of the smears about the Clinton Foundation. He wrote volumes spreading those lies. As it turns out, one of his sources was Victoria Toensing, a pattern that has persisted to the current impeachment hearings about Ukraine. At the time, Toensing was representing an undercover FBI informant who claimed he could blow the whistle on Clinton corruption.

What we eventually learned is that the Justice Department determined that they had "serious credibility concerns" with Toensing's client and that there were inconsistencies between his testimony and the documents they had obtained as part of their investigation.

You might, however, notice a pattern here when I point out that, while Solomon was collaborating with Toensing, the same lies about the informant were being repeated by Trump on Twitter and by Representative Devin Nunes on Fox News. The cast of characters looks very familiar, doesn't it?

Solomon went on to write about the Trump-Russia investigation. He specifically focused in on the Steele dossier and often quoted anonymous sources that sounded an awful lot like members of the House Intelligence Committee.

Since March, Solomon has been writing articles related to Giuliani's Ukrainian racket - including smears against Ambassador Marie Yavanovitch, claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, and attacks on the Bidens. He admitted that Lev Parnas is the one who connected him to the source of much of his material--former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko.

Documents shared with congress by the State Department inspector general give us an inside look at how these kinds of stories were coordinated.

Included in the roughly 50-page packet was an email from Solomon to Toensing, diGenova, and Parnas previewing an article he'd written that was not yet published...

After that email became public, Solomon claimed he was simply fact-checking the piece before it was published. But Toensing, diGenova, and Parnas are not mentioned in the article, raising the possibility that the trio, who had been working to find evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens in Ukraine, had been working directly with Solomon on the story.

In other words, Solomon was running the article by his handlers to get their input and/or approval prior to publication.

Just as we saw with the efforts to smear the Clinton Foundation, the team of Toensing and diGenova would sign on as lawyers to represent people who had dirt on Trump's opponents to sell, usually in exchange for favorable treatment by Trump's Justice Department. Parnas or Toensing connected those people with Solomon, who wrote the stories that were spread by Devin Nunes, Donald Trump, and a whole host of right wing news outlets. In the midst of all of that, Solomon was also a client of Toensing and diGenova.

He really should have just gone to work at Fusion if this is what he wanted to do for a living instead of journalism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Schiff: No, We Didn't Subpoena John Solomon's Phone Records (Sam Stein, Dec. 05, 2019, Daily Beast)

Patrick Boland, the top spokesman for Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, told The Daily Beast on Thursday that investigators "did not subpoena call records for any member of Congress or their staff... or for any journalist," including--Boland added--the committee's ranking member, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) or John Solomon, a columnist formerly of The Hill whose reporting formed much of the public case for Rudy Giuliani and others to do their muckraking in Ukraine. 

"Any questions about the fact that Members, congressional staff, or journalists appear in call records released by the Committee should be directed at those individuals, who were in contact with individuals of investigative interest to the impeachment inquiry," Boland added. 

In the impeachment report released on Tuesday, a number of call logs were made public showing conversations between Giuliani, officials at the White House and other agencies, and Lev Parnas, an associate of Giuliani's who is now indicted on campaign finance violations. The records appear to have been obtained via a subpoena of AT&T, which released a statement on Wednesday saying that it is "required by law to provide information to government and law enforcement agencies."

The report indicates that all of the call records obtained by the committee belonged to Parnas or Giulini. Every call mentioned in the report includes one or both of them. And the numbers assigned in the report's footnotes to each document that AT&T produced to the committee appear sequential and grouped according to calls involving Parnas and Giuliani--in the case of the latter, numbers 02131 through 02139, and for the former, 00909 through 00914.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The World Is Getting Better. It's Just That No One Tells You About It. (JIM GERAGHTY, December 5, 2019, National Review)

Turning our attention to the American economy, you've heard about the low unemployment rate. What you may not have heard is that the workforce participation rate for those between 25 and 54 years old is up to 80.1 percent -- the highest since early 2007.

If that's eleven, then twelve would be the U.S. Census Bureau's latest report on income and poverty, which came out in October. That report found real median family income up 1.2 percent from 2017 to 2018, real median earnings up 3.4 percent, the number of full-time, year-round workers increased by 2.3 million, and the poverty rate declined from 12.3 percent to 11.8 percent, with 1.4 million people leaving poverty.

Thirteen: Despite predictions that Amazon was going to put bookstores out of business, the number of independent bookstores keeps rising each year -- the most recent figures are 1,887 independent bookselling companies running 2,524 stores.

Fourteen: The cost of lithium-ion batteries is down about 87 percent over the past decade -- which makes electric vehicles a more cost-effective option for transporting goods and people.

We were solemnly assured battery prices would never fall, just like 3D printers would only ever make shower curtain rings....

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Will Europe Ever Trust America Again? (Ivan Krastev, 4th December, 2019, ECFR)

[E]uropean liberals have come to understand that American democracy no longer produces a consensual politics with a predictable foreign policy. The change of president means not only a new figure in the White House but also, in fact, a new regime. Were the Democrats to triumph in 2020 and a Europe-friendly president to take the helm, there is no guarantee that in 2024 Americans will not elect a president who, like Mr Trump, will see the European Union as an enemy and will actively try to destabilise relations with Europe.

The self-destruction of the American foreign policy consensus was powerfully demonstrated not only during the recent impeachment hearings, which have seen the politicisation of policy towards Ukraine, but also by the fact that the spectre of Russian subversion did not provoke a bipartisan allergic reaction. When Trump voters were told that President Vladimir Putin of Russia supported their candidate, they started admiring Mr Putin rather than abandoning Mr Trump.

To be fair, Europe faces no external threats and can safely disarm completely.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Yes, Trump is guilty of bribery (Richard Blumenthal, Dec 4, 2019, The Herald News)
When presidents trade public actions for political favors, the proper punishment is not a matter of opinion; it's a matter of law. President Donald Trump solicited a bribe. And the Constitution makes clear that a president who engages in bribery "shall be removed from office." In fact, along with treason, it is one of only two crimes specifically mentioned as conduct that would necessitate impeachment and removal.

Before I joined the Senate, I spent decades in law enforcement deciding when bad conduct rises to the level of illegality. Any good lawyer starts with the legal text, and when the Constitution was drafted, bribery was defined broadly as any "undue reward" for a public action. As illustrated during the House impeachment inquiry, which moves to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, a political investigation ginned up to reward Trump for providing needed military aid would certainly fit the bill.

But even under the narrower definition of bribery currently in the criminal code, Trump's actions clearly qualify. Federal law defines bribery as the solicitation of "anything of value personally" by a public official "in return for" an official act. It also specifies that a bribe can be a reward for an act the public official would have done anyway. In short, merely soliciting a bribe is bribery.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


In shift, State's Hook says Yemen's Houthis independent from Iran (Laura Rozen, December 5, 2019, Al Monitor)

In a shift that analysts said reflects progress in Saudi talks with Yemen's Houthi rebels to end the Yemen war, State Department Iran envoy Brian Hook said today that Iran does not speak for the Houthis, whom he described as playing a more constructive role in issuing a cease-fire proposal.

"We should recall that the Houthis proposed a cessation of missile and air attacks with Saudi Arabia just days after the Iranians struck Saudi oil installations on Sept. 14," Hook told journalists at the State Department. 

Likewise, Britain was independent from us when we beat the Nazis for them.

December 5, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Why IBM Is Joining the Corporate Chorus Calling for a Carbon Tax (Katherine Dunn, December 3, 2019, Fortune)

A carbon tax as a concept is far from new--it's been doing the rounds in Washington since at least the early 1990s, when a similar policy was proposed during the Clinton Administration. Some major companies, including ExxonMobil, have incorporated the possibility of such a tax into their long-term planning since at least 2013. What's different now is that the idea of a carbon tax continues to gain widespread momentum in the U.S. business community--even as the country's policy on climate change has broadly been rolled back under the Trump administration.

Padilla says IBM backs the escalating carbon dividends plan proposed by the Climate Leadership Council, a conservative-leaning industry group, which starts at $40 per ton of CO2 emissions and increases every year at 5% above inflation. The revenue from that tax will be returned as a dividend to all Americans and will exceed what the public would pay in higher energy costs, the Council says.

The system advocated by the Council has also been backed by four former chairs of the Federal Reserve--Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker--alongside a wide slate of economists, who argue that it would be more efficient in reducing emissions than regulations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Ohio finds 77 illegal ballots among nearly 4.5M cast in 2018 (Chandelis Duster, December 5, 2019, CNN)

The announcement from Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose -- coming after years of GOP warnings of massive voter fraud -- means that of the 4,496,834 ballots cast in Ohio on November 6, 2018, just .002% of them were illegal. [...]

LaRose acknowledged "both voter fraud and voter suppression are exceedingly rare and certainly not as systemic as some claim."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


It doesn't look like anyone can find evidence that the Trump campaign was set up in Russia probe (Jen Kirby, Dec 5, 2019, Vox)

Even the prosecutor personally selected by Attorney General Bill Barr to review the Russia probe couldn't find evidence to back up right-wing conspiracy theories about the origins of the investigation.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Connecticut US Attorney John Durham, whom Barr tapped in May to examine the origins of the Russia inquiry, said he doesn't have evidence to back up the allegation that the FBI planted an informant to "spy" on the Trump campaign.

He reportedly told that to Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Justice Department's independent watchdog, who is carrying out a separate investigation from Durham. Horowitz's long-awaited report on the Russia probe is expected on Monday.

Reports have suggested the inspector general's report will criticize the FBI's handling of some matters relating to the Russia probe, including the alleged falsification of a document by an FBI attorney in the wiretapping of a former Trump aide.

But Horowitz is also expected to broadly say the FBI met the bar to launch the investigation, and that federal law enforcement did not pursue the probe because of political bias against Trump.

The report is also supposed to discredit this idea that the FBI placed informants or spies within the Trump campaign. Trump and his GOP allies have claimed that law enforcement illegally "spied" on the campaign so it could launch an investigation to damage Trump. They argue that this makes the entire Russia investigation illegitimate, or in the president's parlance, "a hoax."

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


Former Infowars editor recalls Alex Jones threatening to ban laughter (The week, 12/05/19)

Josh Owens, an ex-video editor for Infowars, has written a piece in The New York Times Magazine describing bizarre behind-the-scenes details about working for the fringe conspiracy theorist, such as that Jones allegedly once dumped a bag containing an employee's pet fish in the trash, "wildly" stabbed a moldy water cooler, ripped blinds off the wall, yelled at employees to hit him, regularly removed his shirt, and "threatened to send out a memo banning laughter in the office," with his reasoning apparently being that "we're at war."

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Why Nancy Pelosi doesn't hate the president and prays for him instead (Thomas Reese, 12/05/19, RNS) 

Pelosi strongly rejected the question, which she saw as an insult to her faith and her upbringing.

"I don't hate anybody," responded Pelosi. "I was raised in a Catholic house. We don't hate anybody, not anybody in the world. Don't accuse me of hate."

Being accused of hatred was, in Pelosi's mind, the same as accusing her of being a bad Catholic.

"As a Catholic, I resent your using the word 'hate' in a sentence that addresses me," she said. "I don't hate anyone."

Hatred was not part of her upbringing, she said. "I was raised in a way that is a heart full of love."

On the contrary, she said, she always prays for the president. "I still pray for the president. I pray for the president all the time."

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


National-religious leaders call on Netanyahu to quit (Danny Zaken December 5, 2019, Al Monitor)

In the Nov. 29 edition of Makor Rishon, the leading newspaper of the religious Zionist movement, editor Haggai Segal published a column under the headline, "Time to resign." In it, he wrote, "The right cannot wait. Time is against us in a terrifying way ... [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's] enemies have already succeeded in defeating him, so if he doesn't want them to defeat the entire right, he has no choice but to surrender, instead of dragging us into a new election."

A third election would be salutary.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Republicans angry, concerned about Schiff release of phone records (Byron York, December 04, 2019, Washington Examiner)

The Intelligence Committee Democrats' Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry report, released publicly Tuesday, included records of some phone calls by presidential lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, Nunes, journalist John Solomon, Fox News host Sean Hannity, indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, National Security Council aide and former Nunes staffer Kash Patel, lawyer Victoria Toensing, and unidentified people at the White House and Office of Management and Budget.

The published records consisted only of the two parties on each call, plus the date and duration of the call. No content from any call was released.

Schiff subpoenaed AT&T and Verizon for the information. Sources involved in the matter have only minimal information of exactly what Schiff did, but they believe the chairman subpoenaed a total of five phone numbers -- it is not clear who each number was associated with -- from which the published information was taken.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


California's economy will grow faster than the nation's, UCLA forecast predicts (MARGOT ROOSEVELT, DEC. 5, 2019, LA Times)

California's economic growth will slow next year, but it is likely to outshine that of the nation overall, as Golden State employers boost payrolls, according to a new UCLA Anderson School forecast. [...]

California's major population regions experienced job growth above 2% this year, except for Sacramento and Los Angeles. The U.S. outside of California experienced just 1.35% growth, the same as Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, the forecast noted, the high cost of housing and the Trump administration's immigration restrictions threaten to hamper growth in the Golden State. Many California businesses ranging from Silicon Valley tech firms to the Central Valley farms to Los Angeles' restaurants and hotels rely heavily on immigrant labor.

Growth rates vary in different parts of the job market, the forecast notes. High-value-added sectors, such as information, professional and business services, and construction, grew more slowly in recent months. Hiring in government, temporary and administrative services, private education and durable goods manufacturing grew more quickly.

Two bright spots: California's logistics industry, propelled by its giant Southern California ports, and its booming tech sector are likely to continue to grow faster than those industries in the rest of the nation.

In 2020 and 2021, the forecast predicts average unemployment rates of 4.3% and 4.6% respectively. In October, California joblessness stood at 3.9%, the lowest rate since 1976, when the state changed its statistical methodology, adding new data to its calculations.

The UCLA economists expect state payrolls to grow in 2020 and 2021 by 1.9% and 0.9% respectively.

At the same time, real personal income is forecast to grow by 2.1% and 1.9% in 2020 and 2021, reflecting a changing mix of employment in California and a tight labor market in high-wage occupations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


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Turley's Weak Critique: The legal scholar's case against impeaching Trump doesn't hold water. (BENJAMIN PARKER  DECEMBER 4, 2019, The Bulwark)

1) In making the case that the factual record is incomplete, Turley suggested that the Democrats should issue more subpoenas. That would be a more helpful suggestion if the White House weren't currently blocking key figures in the Ukraine scandal--including former National Security Advisor John Bolton, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and others--from complying with congressional subpoenas. Turley also never made clear what kind or amount of additional information would bridge the gap between what he considers unsubstantiated assertions and what he conceded would be an impeachable offense.

2) Regarding the offenses President Trump is accused of: Back when President Clinton was facing impeachment, Turley argued that an act didn't have to meet the definition of a crime to be impeachable, as Paul Rosenzweig pointed out to The Bulwark today. Rosenzweig, a former lawyer on Ken Starr's Whitewater investigation staff, noted by email: "Twenty years ago, Professor Turley wrote that a crime did not have to be committed for an action of the President to be an impeachable offense." Today, though, Turley insists that for an action to count as bribery under the impeachment clause, it must satisfy the legal definition of the criminal offense of bribery--"an opinion," Rosenzweig says, "that is manifestly wrong, if only because the impeachment clause was written before we created federal criminal law." So, Rosenzweig asks of Turley, "What changed? One suspects that the only relevant change was the party affiliation of the President. Situational ethics are . . . situational."

3) Even if Turley were correct in his contention that the impeachment hearings have so far not allowed the president's supporters to make their case, the president's lawyers could have defended him in the hearings today, if only President Trump hadn't declined the opportunity to let them do so.

The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee were able to point out each of the flaws in Turley's testimony. The other three panelists, too, were happy to explain why Turley's interpretation was wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's tariffs are coming to a store near you. It turns out Mexico won't pay for those either. (Evan Siegfried, 12/04/19, NBC)

Instead, their cost -- initially paid by the company producing the good -- is passed on to you and me: the consumer. Companies who sell goods subject to tariffs raise their prices in accordance -- which in turn means that the cost is being passed on to us, the consumer, via what is a shadow tax. (That is basic capitalism.)

And it is not just French wine that will be seeing its price increase: Everything from luxury items to durable goods -- such as food and clothing -- imported from a multitude of countries throughout the world will be subject to these new taxes ultimately paid by Americans.

So not only will there be political ramifications for the president and those who support the trade war, but, and more important, there will be economic consequences that will affect all Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


DOJ Inspector General Horowitz has reportedly shot down another GOP theory about the Russia probe (The Week, 12/04/19)

Horowitz reportedly contacted Durham to ask if he had uncovered any evidence that Joseph Mifsud, a shadowy Maltese professor who told Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton, was secretly a Western intelligence asset. "Durham said he had no such evidence," the Post reports. "U.S. officials suspect that Mifsud has ties to Russian intelligence," but Papadopoulos has claimed "he believes Mifsud is some type of Western intelligence asset and that he was set up." U.S. intelligence agencies also reportedly told Horowitz he was not one of their assets.

Trump's allies have latched on to that theory as proof the Trump-Russia investigation was launched on false pretenses. According to reports from people who have read drafts of Horowitz's report, he concluded that the FBI had adequate cause to launch its investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, though he also uncovered some irregularities in the FBI's applications for surveillance warrants. CBS News reports that the issue he focused on was whether the FBI withheld exculpatory information when renewing those warrants.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why black voters never flocked to Kamala Harris (MAYA KING, 12/04/2019, Politico)

Months later, with Harris out of the 2020 race and Cory Booker lagging in the polls, the only black candidates in the field are set to miss the next Democratic debate -- but Biden, the candidate getting by far the most backing from African American voters, will be center-stage thanks to their support in polls.

That collective choice by black voters so far in this campaign has been one of the most misunderstood dynamics of the Democratic primary. Harris' campaign and others initially expected South Carolina, with its majority-black Democratic electorate, to be a source of strength for her. But Biden has prevented any other candidate from breaking through there this year, even as his poll numbers have flagged in other, whiter early primary and caucus states.

A review of public polling and interviews with black strategists, activists and Democratic officials explains why African American voters have largely gotten behind non-black candidates: a medley of concerns about Harris' and Booker's electability, their authenticity and their campaign styles, all of which prevented them from effectively challenging Biden's enduring -- and, to some, surprising -- strength among African Americans.

"The affinity voters in these groups feel for Joe Biden is deep and strong, rooted in his relationship with Barack Obama, who is the ultimate validator," Buttigieg pollster Katie Connelly wrote in a July report, obtained this fall by McClatchy, that garnered attention for probing how Buttigieg's sexual orientation was affecting his chase for African American voters. "The power of the Obama association with these voters" was paramount, Connelly added.

December 4, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Odd the way conservatives had faith that the bureaucrats would pursue these investigations honestly while the Right insisted they'd adopt Vlad and Donald's line.
Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


"WINNING CAMPAIGNS HAVE A MESSAGE": THE SELF-SABOTAGING OF KAMALA HARRIS: Playing to Twitter and the political press, testing new messages seemingly every week, the perfect candidate couldn't help but get lost. (PETER HAMBY, DECEMBER 4, 2019, Vanity Fair)

It was obvious that women of color would be key to the Harris campaign, a theme you'd have to be blind to miss. Throughout that day, and during the campaign, her identity was the message. At her launch the campaign offered two versions of its "For the People" signage: one in conventional red, white, and blue, and another in purple, yellow, and red, a thoughtful homage to Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for president in 1972. Harris's campaign stressed then, and every day after, that being a black woman would make her the obvious choice for primary voters in South Carolina and beyond, where African Americans comprise much more of the electorate than in Iowa and New Hampshire. [...]

An unfortunate byproduct of Twitter's chokehold on elite discourse is that it forces otherwise smart people to focus so deeply on niche arguments and savvy takes that we often forget things that used to be rather obvious in politics. Among them: Winning campaigns have a message. It's not a complicated or sexy piece of analysis, but the four Democratic front-runners--Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg--have all defined for voters and the media why they are running for president and what separates them from other choices on the ballot. Regardless of ideology or background, they can answer the question in a tidy and easy-to-understand fashion. No other Democrat besides Andrew Yang has done so. The front-runners have organizing principles. They get attention without relying on "moments." They can raise money. Their policies, personality, talents, and biography all gel together in a way that makes sense. Their ability to explain why they are each running for president gives them a permanent safe harbor-- an ability to change the subject, to go on offense, to ignore the utter smallness of Twitter, and to beat into the brains of voters an uncomplicated framework that they can carry with them to the caucus precinct or ballot box come Election Day.

Harris failed to do any of these things. Much like her slogan--"For the People!"--Harris came off as standing for everything and hence nothing. Her shifting positions on Medicare for All, abolishing private insurance, federally mandated busing, and elements of the Green New Deal reinforced the percolating idea that she was too calculating and too political--like Clinton before her--with no principled core beyond winning the next election. Her ideological squishiness offended Sanders ideologues, who roasted her for changing positions on a Sanders-crafted Medicare for All bill that she rushed to endorse in 2017. Her stumbles gave comfort to Warren supporters, who smartly understood that Harris and Warren voters are actually pretty similar: college-educated women who like the idea of a woman running for president. Harris staffers and surrogates, preoccupied with the permanent soul suck of Twitter and elite opinion, spent time complaining about sexism and publicly fighting with reporters, blaming the media for "erasing" Harris even after she had tumbled to low single digits on her own merits. Warren's campaign never engages in those fights: Its candidate has a message that prevents them from getting sucked into internet quicksand and squabbles over left-wing purity tests. On many days it felt like Harris's first and only audience was the political press and self-appointed Twitter pundits, not voters. Few people would say the same about Biden, Sanders, Warren, or Buttigieg, who are squarely focused on Iowa along with their own media strategies. Their poll numbers reflect it.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


George Zimmerman sues family of Trayvon Martin, publisher, prosecutors for $100 million (DOUGLAS HANKS, DECEMBER 04, 2019, Miami Herald)

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer acquitted of homicide charges in the 2012 fatal shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, is suing Martin's family, prosecutors and others involved in the case he claims rested on false evidence, according to a copy of the suit sent to the media Wednesday.

Zimmerman is represented by Larry Klayman, a high-profile legal crusader tied to conservative causes and the founder of Judicial Watch before splitting with the activist group.

Conservatives like to try and absolve ourselves of blame for Donald by pretending we had no idea our allies on the Right were so racist.  But the defeat of W's immigration reform, the Tea Party and the celebration of Zimmerman murdering Trayvon left no doubt about who we were in bed with.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


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State lawmaker's comments raise questions about Texas GOP's ability to compete in a diverse state (Erica Grieder, Dec. 3, 2019, Houston Chronicle)

"He's a Korean," Miller said of Jetton. "He has decided because, because he is an Asian, that my district might need an Asian to win. And that's kind of racist in my mind, but anyway, that's not necessary, at least not yet."

Miller surmised that Chan, who he has never met, decided to enter the fray "probably for the same reason."

"He has not been around Republican channels at all, but he's an Asian," he said. [...]

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, swiftly rescinded his endorsement of the incumbent's bid for re-election. His spokesman John Wittman explained that the governor deemed Miller's comments "inappropriate and out of touch with the values of the Republican Party."

Linda Howell, the chair of the Fort Bend County GOP, expressed concerns about Miller's ability to represent such a diverse district in a statement asking Miller to consider withdrawing from the race. And Miller himself acknowledged their validity, in his own statement that afternoon.

"I do not want to be a distraction for my party or my constituents, and therefore have decided not to seek re-election," he said, after apologizing to Jetton, Leonard, and his supporters.

What Miller's GOP critics have not acknowledged, however, is that Republicans across the nation have been fretting about the kind of demographic change that has already happened in Texas, a "majority-minority state" since early in the 21st century. Many of them seem to have a sense that diversity is inevitably a threat to their party's future prospects.

"He represents the old traditional Texas GOP that you saw for much of the last 20 years, especially in Fort Bend," said Jay Kumar Aiyer, a political scientist based in Houston. "He thinks the party tapping a younger minority candidate is giving into political correctness, and not the reality of the district and county being so diverse."

But that reality is not a threat to Republicans such as Jetton or Chan--not because they are Americans of Asian descent, but because they have shown a commitment to representing a diverse district, and have, as candidates, focused on issues of interest to the entire community, such as public education, transportation, and infrastructure.

And Miller's downfall illustrates that his weakness is not a function of the much-discussed demographic changes in Fort Bend County, but of his own struggles to respond to such changes as a more effective leader might.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What if Democrats Have Already Won Back Enough White Working-Class Voters to Win in 2020? (Joshua Holland, Dec. 4th, 2019, The Nation)

Since the 1980s, Democratic candidates have proven that they can win elections while losing whites without a college degree by a significant margin. Obama won 36 percent of their votes in 2012. Bill Clinton averaged 41 percent in his two victories. And in 2020, the candidate will likely need to win a smaller share of white people without a degree, because that group has long been declining as a share of both the electorate and the broader population. According to Gallup, their share of the population has declined by three percentage points since 2014. And a study released by the Center for American Progress in October projects that next year their share of the electorate will be 2.3 points lower than it was in 2016.

The reality is that the Democratic candidate is unlikely to do as poorly with this group as Hillary Clinton did. In 2016, despite winning the national popular vote by a significant margin, she won just 28 percent of these voters, according to Pew, and that wasn't enough to deliver Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. According to a data set that combines survey and voter registration data with election results, Clinton lost non-college-educated whites by a 28-point margin in 2016, significantly worse than Obama's 10-point deficit in 2008 or his 21-point gap in 2012.

A similar analysis looking back further found that Al Gore lost working-class whites by 17 points in 2000, and they went for George W. Bush over John Kerry by 23 points in 2004. Clinton also fared significantly worse among this group in 2016 than Democrats did overall when Republicans crushed them in midterm waves in 2010 (by 23 points) and 2014 (by seventeen points).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Kremlin Dismisses Climate Change as the World Heats Up (Natasha Doff,  
December 4, 2019, Bloomberg)

The slow pace of Russia's shift away from carbon is increasingly risky as the European Union, the biggest buyer of the country's oil and gas, prepares a plan to reduce net emissions to zero by 2050. A key proposal is a carbon tax on energy imports into the EU, which the Center for Environmental Investments, a Russian research house, says could cut Russia's energy exports by a third in the coming decade.

With prices for renewable energy in some places below those for power from burning carbon, some forecasters predict oil demand will start falling within five years, about a decade earlier than Russia planned for. That could render obsolete a dozen multibillion-dollar oil and gas projects in Siberia and the Arctic. "Russia risks being caught out by the speed of change," says Kingsmill Bond, a strategist at Carbon Tracker, a London researcher that estimates major energy companies must reduce production by a third by 2040 to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal of the Paris Agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. "They're anticipating that everything is going to be fine for the foreseeable future."

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Malmö crime at lowest level in two decades - so why do people still feel so unsafe? (The Local, 4 December 2019)

Crime in Malmö has reached its lowest level in 20 years, but still almost three quarters of the southern city's inhabitants feel worried about being exposed to crime, according to an annual safety survey. [...]

A local police chief in northern Malmö, Andy Roberts, said that an unbalanced depiction of Malmö in the media also contributed negatively to residents' perceived safety.

"There are often dark newspaper columns about Malmö, we shouldn't underestimate the image and the psychological impact that creates. There is really a lot of focus on the negative, both in the mass media and from police," said Roberts.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


IDF admits it fudged ultra-Orthodox enlistment tallies for years (MICHAEL BACHNER, 12/04/19, Times of Israel)

The Israel Defense Forces admitted Wednesday that it had published inflated numbers of ultra-Orthodox enlistment for years, after a report in Hebrew-language media claimed officers had purposely lied to cover up slumping recruitment tallies.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, officials in the army department responsible for tracking enlistment numbers in the Haredi community have been lying about how many of them join up, doubling and even tripling the tally, to make is seem like the military was meeting the quotas set by the law.

December 3, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Court sides with Congress in battle for Trump's bank records (LARRY NEUMEISTER, 12/03/19, AP)

A federal appeals court in New York handed President Donald Trump another legal defeat, ruling Tuesday that Congress can see his banking records for investigations into possible foreign influence in U.S. politics or other misdeeds.

A panel of 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges said two banks, Deutsche Bank and Capital One, should comply with subpoenas from the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees seeking records related to Trump's business ventures.

The court said Congress was acting within its constitutional authority to investigate a series of significant issues, including whether Trump was "vulnerable to foreign exploitation."

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Lev Parnas' lawyer publicly shames Devin Nunes for not recusing himself from impeachment hearing (Kathryn Krawczyk, 12/03/19, The Week

On Tuesday, and after weeks of impeachment hearings, the House Intelligence Committee released its report on President Trump's dealings with Ukraine. It revealed Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani made calls back and forth between Ukrainian operatives and the White House, and even that one of the committee's top members engaged with one of the Ukrainians Giuliani had tasked with digging up damaging information on Democrats.

Call records obtained by the committee show Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) talked multiple times with Lev Parnas, one of the two indicted operatives Giuliani sent to Ukraine to research about the Bidens. Parnas' lawyer responded to this revelation by condemning Nunes for not recusing himself from the impeachment investigation.

Yeah, but a couple bureaucrats sent each other mash notes!
Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


I Me Mind: The unending quest to explain consciousness (MICHAEL ROBBINS, 12/03/19, Book Forum)

THE HARD PROBLEM, DAVID CHALMERS CALLS IT: Why are the physical processes of the brain "accompanied by an experienced inner life?" How and why is there something it is like to be you and me, in Thomas Nagel's formulation? I've been reading around in the field of consciousness studies for over two decades--Chalmers, Nagel, Daniel Dennett, John Searle, Jerry Fodor, Ned Block, Frank Jackson, Paul and Patricia Churchland, Alva Noë, Susan Blackmore--and the main thing I've learned is that no one has the slightest idea.

the English-speaking world is uniquely unbothered by the problem.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


The scientific case for eating bread (Markham Heid, December 8, 2018, Quartz)

Bread has long been a foundational part of the human diet, but a revolt against it has been building for years--and seems to be reaching a crescendo. Today, many regard bread as a dietary archvillain--the cause of bigger waistlines and the possible origin of more insidious health concerns. Popular books and health gurus claim that bread and the proteins it harbors can cause or contribute to foggy thinking, fatigue, depression, and diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to cancer.

But go digging through the published, peer-reviewed evidence on bread and human health, and most of what you'll find suggests that bread is either benign or, in the case of whole-grain types, quite beneficial.

"We have conducted several meta-analyses on whole-grain consumption and health outcomes like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature mortality," says Dagfinn Aune, a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. "When looking at specific sources of grains, whole-grain bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, brown rice, and wheat bran were all associated with reduced risks."

Asked if bread should be considered a "junk" food, Aune says the opposite is true. "Whole-grain breads are healthy, and a high intake of whole grains is associated with a large range of health benefits," he says, citing links to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and mortality. In fact, his research has found that eating the equivalent of 7.5 slices of whole-grain bread per day is linked with "optimal" health outcomes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


North Carolina's new House districts will likely give Democrats 2 more seats (The Week, 12/03/19)

Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics revised its predictions for four North Carolina House races on Tuesday, all in districts currently held by Republicans. Three of those districts moved left, while two of them shifted soundly into Democrats' favor. All in all, that amounts to a likely two-seat gain for Democrats in North Carolina come next year, with a slight chance to grab a third.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


There Has Been No Retrenchment Under Trump (DANIEL LARISON, 12/03/19, American Conservative)

Paul MacDonald and Joseph Parent explain in detail that Trump hasn't reduced U.S. military commitments overseas:

But after nearly three years in office, Trump's promised retrenchment has yet to materialize. The president hasn't meaningfully altered the U.S. global military footprint he inherited from President Barack Obama. Nor has he shifted the costly burden of defending U.S. allies. To the contrary, he loaded even greater military responsibilities on the United States while either ramping up or maintaining U.S. involvement in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere. On practically every other issue, Trump departed radically from the path of his predecessor. But when it came to troop deployments and other overseas defense commitments, he largely preserved the chessboard he inherited--promises to the contrary be damned.

MacDonald and Parent's article complements my earlier post about U.S. "global commitments" very nicely. When we look at the specifics of Trump's record, we see that he isn't ending U.S. military involvement anywhere. He isn't bringing anyone home. On the contrary, he has been sending even more American troops to the Middle East just this year alone. 

Other than caging immigrants, inspiring shootings, betraying freedom fighters, returning the GOP to minority status and damaging the economy, there's little evidence Donald is president.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Macron Uses Toddler Reverse Psychology Trick to Fool Trump Into Supporting NATO (Jonathan Chait, 12/03/19, New York)

And now Trump is lashing out at Macron. "NATO serves a great purpose," he declared today. "And I hear that President Macron said NATO is 'brain dead.' I think that's very insulting to a lot of different forces ... When you make a statement like that, that is a very, very nasty statement to 28 -- including them -- 28 countries."

Manipulating children into doing what you want by pretending to demand they do the opposite thing is a trick most parents learn to use. It usually stops working around the age of 5.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


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Newly released documents shed light on Mueller-Trump meeting (Dareh Gregorian, 12/02/19, NBC News)

In the interview, according to the notes published by BuzzFeed News, Rosenstein described feeling "angry, ashamed, horrified and embarrassed" at how the abrupt firing of then-FBI director James Comey on May 9, 2017 was handled. "It was also humiliating for Comey," his interviewers quoted Rosenstein as saying.

Rosenstein said he spoke to Mueller, a former FBI director, about becoming special counsel the next day.

He had a separate conversation with Mueller and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions on May 13 to see if Mueller would be interested in returning to his old job as director, the notes say.

"Mueller informed them he did not want to be interviewed for FBI director position," but told them his views about "what should be done with FBI," the document says. "Sessions thought Mueller's comments were 'brilliant,'" Rosenstein is quoted as saying.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bernie splits from Warren with embrace of far-left foreign leaders (ALEX THOMPSON and HOLLY OTTERBEIN, 12/03/2019, Politico)

In a race in which their domestic agendas are viewed as very similar, Sanders' and Warren's foreign policy views mark a clear line of distinction. Left-wing leaders around the world see an ally in Sanders -- Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recently thanked him for his "solidarity" and Bolivia's ousted Evo Morales called him "hermano Bernie Sanders" -- but have not publicly embraced Warren the same way.

"Bernie is the only candidate who has a comprehensive foreign policy vision to stand up to the growing movement of anti-democratic authoritarianism worldwide and find solidarity with working people around the world who, in many cases, share common needs," said Josh Orton, Sanders' national policy director. 

It's the difference between a Socialist and the Democratic Party.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


From crying "witch hunt" to a guilty plea, calls for Trump ally Duncan Hunter to resign immediately (JULIA CONLEY, DECEMBER 3, 2019, Salon)

Government watchdogs on Monday called for Rep. Duncan Hunter's immediate resignation after it was reported that the California Republican would change his "not guilty" plea to "guilty" in the case of his alleged campaign finance violations.

The earlier you joined Team Trump the more likely you are a criminal.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Inequality is exploding, except that it might not be (James Pethokoukis, December 2, 2019, AEIdeas)

A long piece in The Economist about inequality research ("Economists are rethinking the numbers on inequality") ends with this question: "Will this flurry of new research change people's minds about inequality?" Well, maybe some change among some academics, probably not much among most activists or politicians. As for the latter, too much of the current political environment seems driven by the idea that massive inequality signals "late capitalism" and the end of the American Dream as we know it. Mostly on the left, but also on the populist right.

But even if minds are hard to change, perhaps strong evidence can at least make certain beliefs less strongly held. Has income inequality surged to record levels? As the below chart shows, adjusting for taxes and transfers  finds the income share of America's top 1 percent "has barely changed since the 1960s," The Economist points out.

On the other hand, everyone's quality of life has improved dramatically.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Stefanik's impeachment dive into Trump's MAGA nihilism reveals dark Republican future (Reed Galen, 11/26/19, USA Today)

Like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California before her, Stefanik's transformation from thoughtful conservative to frontline Trump defender should worry lifelong Republicans, NeverTrumpers and conservative-leaning independents. They once claimed an ideal, if built only on one-liners. That foundation has been shed and shredded, replaced by the GOP's increasing nihilism.

We're already seeing the electoral consequences of this shift within the Republican Party. Last year, Cruz survived by a hair against a hard charge by then-Rep. Beto O'Rourke. And while Cruz survived to tilt at more deep-state windmills, many suburban Texas Republicans in the House and legislature were turned out of office.

Just this month we've seen important wins in three Southern states go to Democrats. The Virginia suburbs handed the state legislature to the Democrats for the first time in nearly 20 years. While Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky was thoroughly unpopular, his defeat was not preordained. Nor was Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' reelection in Louisiana. Had Trump been perhaps only half as ugly as he is, Richmond, Frankfort and Baton Rouge would be firmly in Republican hands.

Go for broad appeal:If 2020 Democrats want to beat Trump, they shouldn't ignore moderates and indulge the left

Much of what we see from Stefanik and her ilk, beyond the easy path of the Dark Side, is a fear of Trump's vaunted "base." Today, this group makes up about 40% of the country. The urban core detests him.

The suburbs are experiencing a different version of white flight as college-educated white voters flee the GOP. The irony for Trump's congressional minions is that they've chosen to plant their flag in a decidedly eroding coastline: political lemmings waiting for that final leap.

As with the Left, but I repeat myself, it is the America we have that they hate.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Watch a GOP congressman learn Ukrainians don't own CrowdStrike live on CNN
(The Week, 12/03/19)

Cuomo got Weber to acknowledge that Russia -- not Ukraine -- hacked the DNC server in 2016. "Nobody has ever suggested as a matter of fact that Ukraine had anything to do with that," Cuomo said. "The only person who has suggested it, in the ugliest of ironies, is Vladimir Putin. He made up a story about Ukraine wanting to go after Trump, and now members of your own party are parroting it." Weber tried to counter with a series of questions, starting with whether CrowdStrike investigated the hack for the Democrats. "Yes," Cuomo said.

"Is CrowdStrike in part owned by a Ukrainian?" Weber asked. "No," Cuomo replied. "Really?" Weber said. "That's not the information that we have." "You have bad information," Cuomo said, adding that Trump's former homeland security advisers Tom Bossert called the Ukraine conspiracy theory a joke and U.S. intelligence, the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller all corroborated CrowdStrike's conclusion that Russia hacked the DNC's servers.

To be as ignorant of reality as a Trumpbot requires careful cultivation.

December 2, 2019

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Republicans in turmoil as redistricting looms (ALLY MUTNICK, 12/02/2019, Politico)

The GOP group charged with winning state legislatures is in turmoil -- sparking concerns that the party is at risk of blowing the next round of redistricting.

The Republican State Leadership Committee has seen an exodus of top staff in recent months, has lagged behind its Democratic counterpart in fundraising and is struggling to explain why its new president, Austin Chambers, was also moonlighting as a general consultant for Louisiana businessman Eddie Rispone's failed bid for governor.

The troubles come on the cusp of a crucial opportunity for the party to amass political power for the next decade: the 2020 state-level elections, which will determine which party controls the process of redrawing the political maps for the next decade.

Republicans are reeling after major 2019 losses in Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana -- as Democrats are organizing and fundraising at a record-breaking clip. Led by former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder, they are working to prioritize state-level races after getting clobbered in the post-2010 redistricting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Prosecutor who aided Giuliani's hunt for damaging details on Biden fired in anti-corruption purge (IGOR DERYSH, DECEMBER 2, 2019, Salon)

Kostiantyn Kulyk, one of Giuliani's earliest contacts in Ukraine, was given a dismissal notice last week after failing to show up for an exam that was part of a review process for prosecutors held over from the previous administration, The Washington Post reported. More than 500 prosecutors have been fired as part of the review.

Kulyk has denied meeting Giuliani, but his former associates say he prepared a seven-page dossier, which was passed along to Giuliani, according to The Post.

The former prosecutor later appeared in a report by The Hill's John Solomon, to whom Giuliani fed dubious claims to fuel the debunked narrative that Biden had a prosecutor terminated while he was investigating a Ukrainian firm that employed his son. Kulyk also helped fuel what former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch described as a Giuliani-led smear campaign to get her fired. The prosecutor told Solomon that Yovanovitch blocked him and other officials from getting a visa to travel to the U.S. to share information about his findings.

Giuliani told The Blaze host Glenn Beck last month that he used Solomon to push the claims in the U.S. Senior State Department official George Kent also testified last month that Solomon's reporting, "if not entirely made up in full cloth," was filled with "non-truths and non-sequiturs."

That feeling when everything you whole-heartedly believe is non-truth.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


UN: Israeli occupation costs Palestinians $48 billion (MEMO, December 2, 2019)

A UN report found that the fiscal cost of Israeli occupation for the Palestinian people in 2000-2017 period is estimated at $47.7 billion, or three times the size of the Palestinian economy in 2017, reports Anadolu Agency.

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Senate panel look into Ukraine interference comes up short (NATASHA BERTRAND, 12/02/2019, Politico)

[T]he Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee thoroughly investigated that theory, according to people with direct knowledge of the inquiry, and found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin's efforts to help Trump win in 2016.

The committee's Republican chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said in October 2017 that the panel would be examining "collusion by either campaign during the 2016 elections."

But an interview that fall with the Democratic consultant at the heart of the accusation that Kyiv meddled, Alexandra Chalupa, was fruitless, a committee source said, and Republicans didn't follow up or request any more witnesses related to the issue.

The Senate interview largely focused on a POLITICO article published in January 2017, according to a person with direct knowledge of the closed-door hearing, in which Chalupa was quoted as saying officials at the Ukrainian Embassy were "helpful" to her effort to raise the alarm about Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort in 2016.

"If I asked a question, they would provide guidance, or if there was someone I needed to follow up with," she said at the time. She cautioned, however, that the embassy was "very careful" not to get involved politically because of the bipartisan support Ukraine has traditionally enjoyed from U.S. lawmakers. As the POLITICO article noted, there was "little evidence" of a "top-down effort" by the Ukraianian government to sabotage Trump's campaign. And the article did not allege that Poroshenko "actively worked" for Clinton, as Kennedy claimed.

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Historians uncover fourth Soviet spy who stole US atomic secrets in WWII (RICH TENORIO, 12/02/19, Times of Israel)

As a mushroom cloud illuminated the sky over the top-secret Trinity test site in New Mexico, an engineer named Oscar Seborer was part of a United States Army unit monitoring seismological activity at the site.

But, it turns out, Seborer was not merely a technician and has recently been named as a fourth Soviet spy at Los Alamos in a recent paper, joining Klaus Fuchs, Theodore Hall, and David Greenglass in an alleged espionage ring. And while there is no established link between the spy rings, Greenglass' sister was notably the ill-famed Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed along with her husband Julius Rosenberg in 1951, after a controversial espionage trial.

The paper, "Project SOLO and the Seborers: On the Trail of a Fourth Soviet Spy at Los Alamos," was written by Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes for Studies in Intelligence -- a publication of the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


How to Get Solar Power on a Rainy Day? Beam It From Space (Daniel Oberhaus, 12/02/19, Wired)

Like fusion energy, space-based solar power seemed doomed to become a technology that was always 30 years away. Technical problems kept cropping up, cost estimates remained stratospheric, and as solar cells became cheaper and more efficient, the case for space-based solar seemed to be shrinking.

That didn't stop government research agencies from trying. In 1975, after partnering with the Department of Energy on a series of space solar power feasibility studies, NASA beamed 30 kilowatts of power over a mile using a giant microwave dish. Beamed energy is a crucial aspect of space solar power, but this test remains the most powerful demonstration of the technology to date. "The fact that it's been almost 45 years since NASA's demonstration, and it remains the high-water mark, speaks for itself," Jaffe says. "Space solar wasn't a national imperative, and so a lot of this technology didn't meaningfully progress."

John Mankins, a former physicist at NASA and director of Solar Space Technologies, witnessed how government bureaucracy killed space solar power development firsthand. In the late 1990s, Mankins authored a report for NASA that concluded it was again time to take space solar power seriously and led a project to do design studies on a satellite system. Despite some promising results, the agency ended up abandoning it.

In 2005, Mankins left NASA to work as a consultant, but he couldn't shake the idea of space solar power. He did some modest space solar power experiments himself and even got a grant from NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program in 2011. The result was SPS-ALPHA, which Mankins called "the first practical solar power satellite." The idea, says Mankins, was "to build a large solar-powered satellite out of thousands of small pieces." His modular design brought the cost of hardware down significantly, at least in principle.

Jaffe, who was just starting to work on hardware for space solar power at the Naval Research Lab, got excited about Mankins' concept. At the time he was developing a "sandwich module" consisting of a small solar panel on one side and a microwave transmitter on the other. His electronic sandwich demonstrated all the elements of an actual space solar power system and, perhaps most important, it was modular. It could work beautifully with something like Mankins' concept, he figured. All they were missing was the financial support to bring the idea from the laboratory into space.

Jaffe invited Mankins to join a small team of researchers entering a Defense Department competition, in which they were planning to pitch a space solar power concept based on SPS-ALPHA. In 2016, the team presented the idea to top Defense officials and ended up winning four out of the seven award categories. Both Jaffe and Mankins described it as a crucial moment for reviving the US government's interest in space solar power.

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An interview with historian Gordon Wood on the New York Times' 1619 Project (Tom Mackaman, 28 November 2019, World Socialist web Site)

Gordon Wood is professor emeritus at Brown University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, as well as Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, and dozens of other books and articles on the colonial period, the American Revolution and the early republic.

Historian Gordan Wood speaks with WSWS about American Revolution and the NYT 1619 Project

Q. The claim made by Nikole Hannah-Jones in the 1619 Project that the Revolution was really about founding a slavocracy seems to be coming from arguments made elsewhere that it was really Great Britain that was the progressive contestant in the conflict, and that the American Revolution was, in fact, a counterrevolution, basically a conspiracy to defend slavery.

A. It's been argued by some historians, people other than Hannah-Jones, that some planters in colonial Virginia were worried about what the British might do about slavery. Certainly, Dunmore's proclamation in 1775, which promised the slaves freedom if they joined the Crown's cause, provoked many hesitant Virginia planters to become patriots. There may have been individuals who were worried about their slaves in 1776, but to see the whole revolution in those terms is to miss the complexity.

In 1776, Britain, despite the Somerset decision, was certainly not the great champion of antislavery that the Project 1619 suggests. Indeed, it is the northern states in 1776 that are the world's leaders in the antislavery cause. The first anti-slavery meeting in the history of the world takes place in Philadelphia in 1775. That coincidence I think is important. I would have liked to have asked Hannah-Jones, how would she explain the fact that in 1791 in Virginia at the College of William and Mary, the Board of Visitors, the board of trustees, who were big slaveholding planters, awarded an honorary degree to Granville Sharp, who was the leading British abolitionist of the day. That's the kind of question that should provoke historical curiosity. You ask yourself what were these slaveholding planters thinking? It's the kind of question, the kind of seeming anomaly, that should provoke a historian into research.

The idea that the Revolution occurred as a means of protecting slavery--I just don't think there is much evidence for it, and in fact the contrary is more true to what happened. The Revolution unleashed antislavery sentiments that led to the first abolition movements in the history of the world.

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When Harry Met Sally, They Both Should've Run (Noah Berlatsky, 12/02/19, Splice)

When Harry Met Sally, directed by Rob Reiner and written by Nora Ephron, is getting a 30th anniversary screening this month. It remains an iconic romantic comedy--for reasons that are understandable, but depressing.

In a good romantic comedy, you fall in love with both characters as they fall in love with each other. Pride and Prejudice is a delight because it's impossible not to be swept away by Elizabeth Bennett's sly wit, or Darcy's stiff but sincere gallantry. In His Girl Friday, Hildy (Rosalind Russell) and Walter (Cary Grant) compete in flights of dazzling verbiage to make you swoon in admiration. [...] A romantic comedy has to create characters that you want to spend time with. If it can't do that, it's a failure.

Or so you'd think. Yet, When Harry Met Sally hangs its romance on two of the least appealing main characters Hollywood has ever commanded audiences to embrace.

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What happens when people win this basic income raffle? They have time find meaning in their lives (JULIA HOTZ, 12/02/19, FastCompany)

The idea started five years ago when Michael Bohmeyer, then a 29-year old web developer, crowdfunded his own salary. In an interview with The Local, Bohmeyer said that year helped him improve his health, read more often, join nonprofit projects, and recognize the importance of "time over money." So, rather than wait on a politically unmotivated Germany to do it, Bohmeyer launched an independent basic income campaign to help others recognize their "great potential."

Since then, more than 150,000 individuals have donated to Mein Grundeinkommen's online fund--which will have awarded nearly 500 basic incomes by the end of 2019. The process works like a raffle; any person anywhere in the world, for no fee at all, can register to receive €1000 (about $1,100) per month for a year.

"It's kind of a reset button for people in the middle of their life," says Steven Strehl, Mein Grundeinkommen's Platform Development Associate. "Most people continue to work, but when they do, they can take a step back, look at themselves, and analyze what's going on." [...]

About half (47%) say the basic income has helped them reimagine their work as a contribution to society, and even greater majorities say it's made them less anxious (80%), and more energetic (81%), courageous (80%), and curious (60%). Though only four surveyed winners either changed or quit their jobs, more than half say that the basic income allowed them to continue their education, and 35% say they've since become more "motivated" at work.

Tonći Vidović, another winner, is among the re-"motivated." As a 48 year-old freelance software developer living in Bournemouth, England, he says he's never short of work, but sometimes has the opposite problem. "I'm in this business because I enjoy doing it, but the reason I haven't been enjoying it is because I have this pressure to keep my family alive."

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Will Iran's 50% gas price hike pay off for the economy? (Bijan Khajehpour,  December 1, 2019, Al Monitor)

There were three key economic drivers to change the fuel pricing system in Iran: to contain smuggling, reduce energy consumption and improve the government's financial position.

As the introduction of fuel cards a year ago indicated, the government was concerned about fuel being smuggled into neighboring countries, which also facilitates money laundering. There are diverse data on the quantity of smuggled fuel, but based on an average estimate of 20 million liters of gas and diesel being smuggled out daily, and benchmarking the old gas price against the new higher one of 30,000 rials, the annual damage to the Iranian economy would have been about $1.3 billion. On top of that, in most cases, revenues generated through smuggling return to the country in the form of imported goods, hence functioning as money laundering for perpetrators. Such smuggling also imposes a heavy burden on local industries and employment in the country. 

As for energy consumption, the debates that took place in advance of the 2010 law on removing subsidies produced one key conclusion: The only path to containing consumption in the transportation sector would be through fuel prices. Later studies showed that in the Iranian year 1390 (which started March 21, 2011), fuel consumption in the transportation sector declined by 9.2% compared with 1388, the last year in which old subsidized prices prevailed through the whole year.

Obviously, the relationship between fuel consumption and price isn't linear; there are many other factors involved including the availability of public transportation, fuel efficiency and the increased use of vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas. Nonetheless, there is a degree of price sensitivity and the government hopes the higher prices will reduce consumption. According to Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, the country has recorded a 20 million liter decline in daily consumption of gasoline since the price hikes.

One of the main objectives of the latest reforms is to improve the government's overall financial position by reducing the cost of subsidizing people's fuel purchases. According to Vice President Mohammad Nobakht, who heads the government's Management and Planning Organization, the fuel price hikes will annually inject an additional 300 trillion rials ($2.6 billion at the free market exchange rate) into state coffers, which officials said would then be allocated to citizens in the form of cash handouts. At the same time, the government has revamped the handout system to increase payments to the poorer social classes and discontinue those for richer families. Some 60 million citizens (about 73% of the population) will receive the new higher monthly payment, which has been adjusted based on the number of family members.

Even if the government allocates all of the new resources to cash handouts, it will still benefit from the expected decline in smuggling and, more importantly, the opportunity to export fuel to neighboring markets. In fact, officials in the Ministry of Petroleum expect the country to be able to generate $5.5 billion in annual revenues from exporting the surplus fuel that will be freed as a result of reduced consumption and reduced smuggling activity. This would compensate for some of the loss of crude oil exports as a result of US sanctions.  

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Are you as grateful as you deserve to be? (Richard Gunderman, 11/26/19, The Conversation)

As a physician, I have helped to care for many patients and families whose lives have been turned upside down by serious illnesses and injuries. In the throes of such catastrophes, it can be difficult to find cause for anything but lament. Yet Thanksgiving presents us with an opportunity to develop one of the healthiest, most life-affirming and convivial of all habits - that of counting and rejoicing in our blessings.

Research shows that grateful people tend to be healthy and happy. They exhibit lower levels of stress and depression, cope better with adversity and sleep better. They tend to be happier and more satisfied with life. Even their partners tend to be more content with their relationships.

Perhaps when we are more focused on the good things we enjoy in life, we have more to live for and tend to take better care of ourselves and each other.

When researchers asked people to reflect on the past week and write about things that either irritated them or about which they felt grateful, those tasked with recalling good things were more optimistic, felt better about their lives and actually visited their physicians less.

It is no surprise that receiving thanks makes people happier, but so does expressing gratitude. An experiment that asked participants to write and deliver thank-you notes found large increases in reported levels of happiness, a benefit that lasted for an entire month.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Georgia governor set to buck Trump on Senate appointment (ALEX ISENSTADT and MELANIE ZANONA, 12/01/2019, Politico)

[K]emp has held firm. Those close to the governor say he believes Loeffler will help the party appeal to suburban and female voters who've drifted from the GOP since Trump took office.

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Ron DeSantis isn't on Donald Trump's TV anymore. That's on purpose. (Steve Contorno, 12/01/19, Tampa Bay Times)

DeSantis' absence from Fox News is a drastic shift in media strategy. DeSantis' allies say it's intentional, allowing the governor to avoid questions that could suck him into polarizing partisan battles and divert him from his new job of governing 21 million residents. [...]

It's smart for a governor to sidestep national political fights, said Adam Goodman, a longtime media consultant for Florida Republicans, and it seems to be working. Early in his first term, DeSantis has ridden a spate of positive reaction to his proposals on the environment and teacher pay to become one of the country's most popular governors.

"If I had to lay out a branding game plan for Ron DeSantis as a relatively new member of the gubernatorial class, I would take the plan they've been on and double down," Goodman said. "Build a resume of achievement, which is something public leaders are in short supply of these days. Then, he can say he's all action, less talk."

But DeSantis' exodus from the national airwaves comes at the most perilous moment of the Trump presidency. As the impeachment investigation marches forward in the House of Representatives, DeSantis is no longer on the front lines defending Trump, who is known to keep tabs on who has his back -- and how they perform on TV.

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The White House Says Nursing Home Regulations Are Too Tough (Ina Jaffe, November 30, 2019, Weekend Edition)

SIMON: These are proposed changes. What might change if they're approved?

JAFFE: Well, one proposal that's attracted a lot of attention would change the way antipsychotic drugs can be prescribed. Now, Scott, these are drugs that are approved for treating serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia. They also come with a black box warning that says they can raise the risk of death in older people with dementia. But in nursing homes, that's usually who gets them. It's a practice that's widely criticized. So the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS, has spent years trying to get nursing homes to reduce the use of antipsychotics. But critics say the proposed new rule would actually make it easier to prescribe them.

SIMON: Why would the government make it easier to do something they've been discouraging?

JAFFE: Well, currently, if a nursing home resident gets a new prescription for an antipsychotic, it can't be renewed after two weeks without a doctor's exam. But under the proposed rule, the doctor could keep renewing the prescription without seeing the patient again for a month or two. This has been condemned by elder rights organizations like the Long Term Care Community Coalition. Their executive director, Richard Mollot, told me that the physician he's consulted also condemns the proposal.

RICHARD MOLLOT: What he said was that no other insurance company would ever accept that a doctor didn't have to see a patient before continuing a prescription for medicine. But CMS is saying now that that's OK for nursing homes in this very vulnerable population. And people die from this. They're affected so catastrophically.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


White House won't take part in first House Judiciary impeachment hearing (ANDREW DESIDERIO and KYLE CHENEY, 12/01/2019, Politico)

Nadler had asked Trump to indicate by Sunday whether the president himself or a White House attorney would attend Wednesday's hearing, an offer that Democrats said was an attempt to afford due process to Trump as he faces a likely impeachment vote before the end of the month.

The President having confessed, released transcripts of the crime and repeated it in public, there is no defense to offer.

December 1, 2019

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Lisa Page Speaks: 'There's No Fathomable Way I Have Committed Any Crime at All' (Molly Jong-Fast, Dec. 1st, 2019, Daily Beast)

By February 2016, she was working on one of the most important investigations at the FBI-the Hillary Clinton email case. "We knew that the case was going to get picked apart," she says. "And we know there's not a person on the FBI team or the DOJ team who thinks this is not the right result. There is no case to be brought here. But it's very busy. It's very intense. Director [James] Comey was very clear he wanted this completed as soon as humanly possible and outside of the political environment. So there was a real focus to get it done before the conventions that were happening that summer. And so that's what we did." 

"But her emails" would soon give way to an actual threat to national security, one that existed not in the fever dreams of Fox and the Breitbart comments section, but in the real, dangerous world the FBI exists to protect us from, where things like foreign meddling in our elections takes place: strong evidence of Russian interference in the election on behalf of Trump.

"There are two things that happen in the late summer of 2016," Page says. "The first, of course, is that the FBI gets the predication [courtesy of loose-lipped George Papadopoulos], which starts the Russian investigation. We learn about the possibility that there's someone on the Trump campaign coordinating with the Russian government in the release of emails, which will damage the Clinton campaign." 

"Predication" sounds mild for what it really means; in the summer of 2016, the FBI and the intelligence community were seeing increasing signs from a variety of intelligence sources and programs (that Page cannot and will not discuss due to classification reasons) that members of the Trump campaign were tied to a variety of Russian intelligence services, and that the Russian Federation was in the midst of trying to manipulate the 2016 United States election with a sweeping information warfare and propaganda effort. As The New York Times reported on Nov. 22, "U.S. intel services concluded, and have told Senate Republicans, that Russia mounted a massive disinformation campaign to implicate Ukraine in 2016 meddling and hide its own role."

At the end of July 2016 Page finds herself transitioning from one investigation, the Hillary Clinton email inquiry, to another the Russian government disinformation probe. The president is not under investigation, but the FBI is trying to determine if someone associated with his campaign is working with Russia.

"We were very deliberate and conservative about who we first opened on because we recognized how sensitive a situation it was," Page says. "So the prospect that we were spying on the campaign or even investigating candidate Trump himself is just false. That's not what we were doing." 

From summer 2016 to spring 2017, Page worked for McCabe, who had become deputy director. They were very busy, but things were largely normal. And then, on May 9, 2017, FBI Director Comey was fired. What was that like?

"It was horrible," Page said. "It was a devastating moment at the FBI. It was like a funeral, only worse, because at least when someone dies, you get to come together and celebrate and talk about that person. He was still alive. But he was inaccessible to us. It jolted the ranks and the investigation. It was so abrupt. He was there one day and gone the next."

Was that very unusual?

"Well, I mean, all of it was!" she replied. "The FBI director had just been fired. Yes, it was totally within the authority of the president, but it was unprecedented and unimaginable given the circumstances. The president fired him with the knowledge that, of course, we were investigating Russian contacts with his campaign. I mean, it just gave the aura of an obstructive effort."

Page would have probably just been another FBI lawyer if it wasn't for the extraordinarily politicized environment and a President who had a habit of attacking career government employees.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list ranks the 150 top-selling titles each week based on an analysis of sales from U.S. booksellers. 

1. A Warning by Anonymous

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">"It would be a mistake to view Trump's pardons as stemming from a deep reverence for the military...Rather, he views these crimes as acts of nationalist solidarity against Muslims, against whom crimes are not simply acceptable but praiseworthy." <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Adam Serwer🍝 (@AdamSerwer) <a href="">December 1, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>
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As Iraq bloodshed spreads, Sistani calls for early elections (Ali Mamouri, November 29, 2019, Al Monitor)

"Given the difficult circumstances the country is going through and the clear failure of the authorities in dealing with the last two months' developments, the parliament that formed the current government is invited to reconsider its options and act in the interest of Iraq," Sistani's representative Sayyed Ahmad Safi said during the Nov. 29 Friday prayer. He went on, "The parliament is invited to accelerate the preparation of the new electoral legislation package in a way that satisfies the people and then hold free and fair elections whose results sincerely reflect the will of the Iraqi people."

Sistani slammed the government for attacking the protesters and preventing them from making their reform demands. He also warned that Iraq's "enemies" are working to spread chaos in the country and push it to civil war so as to bring back the "disgusting dictatorship."

In a similar statement on Nov. 28, controversial Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr also urged Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign before Iraq follows in Syria's footsteps.

Sistani's statements were clear, leaving no choice for the government and the parliament but to give in to the protesters' and Sistani's demands.

Only two hours after Sistani's statements, Abdul Mahdi announced that he would hand his resignation to the parliament very soon.

Several political parties in the parliament have expressed support for dismissing the government and moving forward with new elections under a new electoral law, among them Qais Khazali's Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, Haider al-Abadi's Nasr Coalition, Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party and Muqtada Sadr's Sairoon.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Fusion GPS Founder: Spreading Corruption Is Kremlin Foreign Policy (Andrea Bernstein, December 1, 2019, Pro Publica)

[WNYC's Andrea Bernstein]n: In the last three years, what have we learned that is either confirmed, or refuted, or somehow changed in your understanding of Trump and business dealings with the former Soviet Union?

Simpson: I mean, most simply that he is in business with a lot of people who are in organized crime and that he -- in some cases -- clearly knew that. And I'd say that's the broadest observation you can make about it.

Bernstein: You're talking about something we've learned in the last three years?

Simpson: Actually, some of it dates back before that. I mean, the start of our inquiry was really just into his business and whether he was a good businessman, whether he was as rich as he said he was. Then one of the first things we came across was Felix Sater. Frankly, it was no great investigative coup. I just was reading old New York Times clips.

And there was an article about this guy with this criminal past who appeared to be close to Donald Trump. And that set me off looking into court records to see what else I could find out about [Sater]. And eventually it became clear that this guy was indeed really close to Trump. His family is Jewish, but they're from Russia. He immigrated to the United States as a child. His father had a criminal history, seemed to be involved in some sort of organized crime activity. So that was the beginning. That was the first dot in what turned out to be a long dot connecting exercise.

Bernstein: So let's just back up one second. For people who don't know or really understand what Fusion GPS is, what is it?

Simpson: I left The Wall Street Journal in 2009. I had a really great job as a free-range investigative reporter, and I tended to cover financial crime, international organized crime. But the business was changing, the newspaper was changing. It had been acquired by News Corp. And I decided it was time to try something else. And I thought about what I really loved about journalism. And the thing that stayed with me over the years and never got old was the reporting aspect of digging into stuff and trying to figure out what was going on. So I decided to try to set up a business where I could continue to do that.

We set up Fusion in 2010 and began marketing our services as acquirers of reliable information for people who need information to make decisions -- figure out why they're not winning in a contract competition, to help them manage a complex piece of litigation. And, as it turned out, it's a useful service that is in demand and is economical for a lot of clients, given the other alternatives, like using a paralegal or someone else to collect documents. I mean, you know, we collect documents, that's essentially what we do for the most part.

Bernstein: How do you sort of square the idea of doing research for hire with the journalistic practice that you're carrying out?

Simpson: Well obviously a newspaper has a special status in our society as a sort of independent entity and struggles to be fair and impartial. And obviously, if you're working for a private company, the relationship is different. However, the service that we sell is neutral in the sense that what we promise people is that we will acquire the information they need to make a decision.

We don't sell outcomes. We gather information. And part of the pitch when we talked to a new client is: Please don't tell us what you think is happening or what you want to try to prove or any of that. Let us just hoover up all the information and we'll tell you what we think is happening.

Bernstein: So you say in your book -- and you've talked about -- how most of your clients are litigation clients. How did you end up with a Trump assignment?

Simpson: Well, I spent most of my adult life in Washington, much of it covering politics, political corruption campaigns and elections. So I know a lot of people in that world on both sides. So in 2012 when the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney, some people on the other side asked us to look into his business career -- how much taxes he paid, whether he shipped jobs overseas, that sort of thing. And we were able to produce a lot of interesting, reliable material that was in the public domain but not easy to find.

In 2015, along comes another tycoon who wants to be the Republican nominee for president. And we thought, well, you know, we did this four years ago. It was a lot of fun. Let's see if someone wants us to do it again. In this case we thought of doing it in the Republican primaries instead of in the general election. So the natural client would be someone on the Republican side who wanted to stop Donald Trump.

Bernstein: And that was your client?

Simpson: That was, yeah. We reached out to a Republican friend of mine and I said, "Hey, would you guys be interested in procuring some research on Donald Trump's business career? You know, his lawsuit, how he treats his employees, his multiple bankruptcies," that sort of thing.

Bernstein: At that time, did you have an idea where the research would take you?

Simpson: Absolutely none. It was, I mean, the way we structure our agreements with most clients is that it's a 30-day agreement.

You did not have to sign a long-term contract and basically you get to taste the cooking and if you like it you can keep going. So it was originally just a 30-day assignment to write up, you know, what we could find on his business career and an overall assessment. It was an amazing sort of first month.

I had never, ever seen so many lawsuits involving one person in my life. There was just so much litigation. It was really unbelievable. But in general, the litigation was over his lousy business practices. I mean, he's just a dishonest person. He doesn't pay his vendors. He goes bankrupt repeatedly. He misstates the financial condition of his properties. And in the beginning it was just a picture of a guy who was not a reliable person and not a good businessman.

Bernstein: Now you had done -- as a journalist -- a number of stories on Paul Manafort. Long before he went to work for Trump.

Simpson: So when Peter [Fritsch] and I worked together in the Brussels bureau of The Wall Street Journal -- from about 2005 to 2008 -- what was fresh and new in Europe at the time was Russian organized crime and kleptocracy and the transition of the former Soviet Union to market economies.

A lot of criminal groups were sort of seeping eastward or moving up in their own countries and getting in legal trouble, having problems with Western law enforcement, needing influence in the West. And one of the first people to recognize that this was a booming market for his talents was Paul Manafort. And so he began doing political consulting in Ukraine working for Russian oligarchs. And part of that work was in fact exercising influence on their behalf in Washington. [...]

Bernstein: One of the things, I think, that people have reacted to since the release of the dossiers [is the idea that] Putin has some big thing on Trump's business. And I mean, we know a lot more. We know, for example, that they were secretly negotiating a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow and asking the Kremlin for favors during the presidential campaign. But I don't think that we understand, like: Is there some incredibly bad business deal gone wrong or is there something else that Putin has that we should be looking for that's still out there? What do you think?

Simpson: I think we definitely don't know the whole story. I think that we can make a couple of observations. You know, one of the big ones is what you referred to, which is Trump was negotiating a secret business deal to do a development in Russia while running for president, and he hid that fact from the American people. That is kompromat. That's the definition of kompromat. Kompromat is not sexual blackmail. It's a shared secret. Any shared secret that is embarrassing, incriminating. So if I know something about you -- and you know I know -- then I got kompromat on you. So --

Bernstein: And that's a Russian term, kompromat.

Simpson: Correct.

Bernstein: And it's used all the time in Russian politics.

Simpson: All the time. So [Steele's] primary concern was that the Russians had kompromat on Trump. And you know, he's clearly right. They did have kompromat on Trump. We didn't know what it was, or what all of it was. But this was one of the possibilities. It's in the original early memos. Whether there's more, and whether it also involves money, we don't know. He's gone to great lengths to prevent people from finding out what else there might be there. I'll add parenthetically that, you know, Peter and I sort of saw things a little differently than [Steele] and Orbis with regard to the famous pee tape, which was, you know, it seemed just to be unprovable.

And from my perspective, sex is probably the one thing you can't blackmail Donald Trump over. 'Cause he seems to want everyone to know that he engages in lots of sex. So, you know, I think [Steele's] training as an intelligence professional caused him to focus more on that than we did.

Bernstein: You have said that this -- what's now known as the dossier -- this collection of memos was raw intelligence and that people have misunderstood it. In fact, in the book, you outline some pretty colorful language that was used when it was released. You were not happy.

Simpson: Absolutely not.

Bernstein: Why?

Simpson: Well, so you know, Peter and I worked at The Wall Street Journal most of our careers, and it was a very exacting place. And you know, you would do so much reporting that would end up on the cutting room floor before you publish anything. And when we deliver our work to clients, it is like a term paper. It's got footnotes, it's got supporting documentation.

And things like this, they go into the research, but they're not intended to be read by anyone, including our clients sometimes. It was professionally horrifying. It was also reckless, we think, because it seemed as if very little consideration was given to the possibility that -- if this document was true -- whether they were going to get some people killed.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Report: Newsweek Reporter Fired After Inaccurate Report On Trump's Thanksgiving Plans (Summer Concepcion, November 30, 2019, TPM)

A Newsweek reporter was reportedly fired shortly after inaccurately reporting on President Trump's Thanksgiving plans.

On Thursday morning, Newsweek political reporter Jessica Kwong initially published an article with the headline "How is Trump spending Thanksgiving? Tweeting, golfing and more," before Trump's surprise visit to Afghanistan was announced publicly.

It's the difference between reporting on the Administration and working in it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


An adult view of monarchy (Mark Le Fanu, November 2019, The Critic)

The magnificence touched on here and in other scenes -- for example, the extended Coronation sequence at Westminster Abbey in Season One -- is an important if not essential aspect of the impact, one could almost say the meaning, of the series. For what is a monarchy without magnificence? Republicans, and not just republicans, complain about how much it must cost in real life to keep the whole show on the road. But this is to fail to see (or else to see only too clearly) that without a certain amount of extravagance there wouldn't be a monarchy worth talking about. Its mystique is tied up in some complicated way with the wealth that sustains it, and with the beauty, the settings and the ceremonial it draws upon.

In a democratic age such as ours, it is strange, perhaps, that we continue to be impressed by such things, but there it is: we are children in such matters. I think it is good that the writing of The Crown takes all this for granted. The lavishness of the monarchical mise en scène is neither politicised nor satirised. By all rights, the conspicuous consumption of the royals (on a truly grand scale) should be out of bounds in an epoch of equality. Yet, deliberately it seems to me, the series hasn't over-emphasised this side of the matter.

 A similarly magisterial neutrality, or evenness of tone, is observable in Morgan's approach to the show's dramatis personae. He wants to demonstrate, in each case, the human complexity of the make-up of the inhabitants of the institution. They are absolutely not to be portrayed as marionettes. While one or two characters seem not to be liked under any circumstance (I am thinking of the show's portrayal of Harold Macmillan and, oddly enough, of the Queen Mother), the series as a whole specialises in enabling us to see even the most monstrous instances of arrogance and privilege in contexts that fail to rule out generous doses of broad human sympathy.

How else are we to explain the curiously wistful pathos surrounding characters as reprehensible as the Duke of Windsor, Princess Margaret (together with her bisexual husband Tony Armstrong-Jones) and Prince Philip? Their actions are one thing; their frailties -- their demons -- another. In each case, the writing of the series encourages them to emerge as fully-rounded human beings.

At the centre of the series is the Queen herself, incarnated in the first two seasons by the luminously beautiful actress Claire Foy (the role is about to be taken over by Olivia Colman). What praise could be eloquent enough to encompass the elegance, irony, wisdom and discretion of this performance of Foy's? Such acting, of course, can't be conceived of without appropriate writing to sustain it, and here I would argue Morgan excels himself.

There are two things that needed to be got right and he gets them right. On the one hand there is the Queen's private life -- her ordinary affections: her hopes, troubles and disappointments in the midst of a complicated family nexus. On the other hand - subliminally present, so to speak, at all times -- is her conception of the meaning of the institution she heads, and how that is to be put into practice in each of her actions and decisions.

Her behaviour overall is never less than principled: the steeliness of her will, combined with the gentleness of her general demeanour, has been immensely moving at all times. She gives orders crisply, but at the same time, as incarnated by Foy, she is the most wonderful listener and questioner. Meanwhile, the series as a whole derives a kind of immense ongoing pathos from the strand of the narrative which shows the monarch -- daringly, one might think (how can the writers know the truth of the matter?) -- attempting to attract, to rekindle, and to keep up the affections of an ever-ready-to-roam husband. Will Colman, I wonder, be able to maintain the exquisite delicacy of this posture?

Faithfulness, then, is a mainstay -- the mainstay -- of the Queen's character as presented in The Crown. And faith too, in the more religious sense. An episode in Season Two shows her saying her prayers at night, kneeling by her bedside. It is an extraordinary conception: how many of us, after all, keep up this ritual after childhood?

That the Queen should be pictured engaged in intimate private devotion is one of the most original strokes of the series so far. For it silently makes the connection that, in order for the institution to have meaning and heft, there needs to be some kind of belief in the sacred. To put it another way, monarchy doesn't make sense without religion. It is an extraordinarily sophisticated aspect of the series, in the midst of the varied populist pleasures it offers, to understand this notion of anointed obedience so perfectly, and at the same time to put it across to the audience with such clarity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM



 As the two of them spar over questions of faith and reason it feels like a spiritual striptease, with each character becoming increasingly vulnerable. It would be easy to supply rationalizations were Bouchard and Acosta to give in to the resulting mutual attraction. They're both attractive, her husband is AWOL, Acosta hasn't yet taken a vow of celibacy. Would it be so wrong?

That question exemplifies the lines Evil draws between the familiar situations of day-to-day life and the inscrutable, possibly cosmic, roots of evil and suffering. If the Church is just another, deeply flawed, employer, then the flirtation between Acosta and Bouchard might be just another workplace romance frowned upon by HR. In this context, however, it might be a weak spot ripe for diabolical exploitation. An apparent resurrection might be an unexpected artifact of unconscious systemic racism; a Boss-from-Hell might in fact be under the influence of a devil. The mysteries of digital technology and the Internet give grim plausibility to what once seemed like obvious paranoia. Is the voice coming from that virtual assistant an impersonal algorithm, a malicious hacker, or something worse? The serial killer might not be possessed, but what if the person chatting with him on 4chan is? The line between the human and the demonic is a fuzzy one, particularly in the case of Bouchard's professional rival, Leland Townsend. His description of the eventual fate of a teenage boy he hopes to have tried and convicted as an adult is so monstrous and yet so utterly convincing that even hardened skeptics might ask whether possession isn't a real possibility.

Whether it's the mysteries of technology or the inscrutable malice of the people around us, Evil explores the individual's sense of powerlessness. However problematic, the Catholic Church, as represented by Acosta, Bouchard, and Shakir, is proffered as hope when scientific reason offers little. As one woman explains, she and her family "aren't good Catholics," but she's called upon the Church because she's exhausted every other option in dealing with a nine-year-old son whose behavior, whether psychopathic or demonic, is terrorizing his family. Believers or not, viewers can't help but hope that Acosta, Bouchard, and Shakir will succeed in helping. It's to the show's credit that it offers no false assurance that they will. By the end of the fourth episode, the team of investigators have, at best, a 50% success rate. Ultimately, the fear that inspires Evil is that they, and the deeply flawed Church for which they work, will fail.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


It's a Wonderful Time to Be Alive (MICHAEL TANNER, November 27, 2019, National Review)

We can debate who -- if anyone -- is responsible, but we can't argue with the fact that unemployment is down and wages are up. Unemployment is at the lowest level since 1969. There were 2.3 million more full time, year-round workers this year than last. And those workers are earning more. Median earnings for full-time workers rose by more than 3 percent last year. Since 2009, average hourly earnings for all employees is up 5.6 percent, while real average weekly earnings rose by 6.9 percent.

Inequality remains a big political issue, but poverty rates continue to decline. In 2018, the official Census Bureau poverty measure fell to just 11.8 percent, down a full half percentage point from the year before, and the lowest rate since 2001. Using other, arguably more accurate poverty measures shows even better results. Consumption-based poverty measures put the real poverty level at as low as 2.8 percent.

Of course, too many people still struggle, but we are doing our best to help them. Last year, Americans donated $427 billion to charity, and more than 63 million people gave their time and talent to help others -- over 8 billion volunteer hours.

Politicians also like to conjure up images of crime and carnage. But we are safer today than we've been in decades. Violent crime has declined by 51 percent since 1993, while property crime has declined by even more (54 percent). The United States still imprisons far too many people -- almost twice the incarceration rate of any country except the Seychelles. However, between falling crime rates and criminal-justice reform, 100,000 fewer Americans will spend this Thanksgiving in prison than did ten years ago.

Health care is another issue the politicians fight over, and with good reason. Our health-care system is deeply flawed for many reasons. Yet we are healthier than ever. Infant mortality has declined by 14 percent since 2007. Death from cancer has dropped from 168 per 100,000 people in 2000 to just 146 per 100,000 today. More Americans are exercising and eating healthfully, and smoking is at the lowest level since 1965.

Even in those areas where we still have improvement to make, we should not ignore how far we've come. Racism and other forms of bigotry are still far too prevalent, but let's remember how much progress we've made. The alt-right and their fellow travelers are noxious and noisy, but they are still a tiny minority. The worst forms of overt discrimination have largely been consigned to the dustbin of history, and there is a growing push for still more fully realized justice and equality. Within my lifetime, both interracial and gay marriage were outlawed. Today all Americans are free to marry the person they love. Almost 9 percent of Americans have two or more races in their background. It may be halting and uneven, but we are making progress toward a more inclusive society.

It's a popular pundit pastime to pretend that our current politics are complicated, but they're really as simple as the fact that classical liberalism has prevailed in the economic and cultural spheres, contra the dreams of Socialists and Nationalists.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


In possible climate breakthrough, Israel scientists engineer bacteria to eat CO₂ (SUE SURKES , 11/29/19, Times of Israel)

In a remarkable breakthrough that could pave the way toward carbon-neutral fuels, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have produced a genetically engineered bacteria that can live on carbon dioxide rather than sugar.

The extraordinary leap -- reported Wednesday in Cell, and quickly picked up by prestigious publications such as Nature -- could lead to the low-emissions production of carbon for use in biofuels or food that would also help to remove excess CO₂ from the atmosphere, where it is helping to drive global warming.

Within our kids' lifetimes, scientists will be trying to figure out how to artificially pump CO2 into the atmosphere to replace what we put there for tens of thousands of years.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Hamilton Recalls the American Ideals History Failed to Deliver: Don't miss your chance to see Miranda's masterpiece this holiday season (JIM SHAHENON NOVEMBER 29, 2019, Consequences of Sound)

Hamilton is not a "hip-hop musical," nor is it an unconventional piece that changes the very essence of musical theater. Viewing it through either prism is a setup for disappointment, confusion, and statements like, "This isn't rap." If anything, the core of the story and its structure is classic Broadway through and through. What makes it special is how those conventions are reinvigorated through the use of musical forms atypical of the theater experience.

That influence takes the shape of '90s NYC hip-hop and R&B-rooted pop. Those are the sounds that Miranda listened to as a kid in Washington Heights. But he also grew up with his parents' record collection of Broadway cast recordings. It's the way those two seemingly disparate cultures, urban and theater music, are seamlessly incorporated that make Hamilton sound so bold.

Just take a look at its primary anthem, "My Shot". The vehicle through which Alexander Hamilton reveals his mental acuity and intense drive to create a legacy, even if it kills him, is referential to both Notorious B.I.G. AND "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. "My Shot" is the most obvious past-present musical convergence, but you can hear that marriage of ideas throughout the soundtrack, whether it's "The Story of Tonight" sung by Hamilton and his cohorts or "Satisfied", the heartsick ballad sung by Hamilton's sister-in-law. The tunes are hooky like pop songs for sure, but ultimately they are very much show tunes. They just happen to be as beholden to the melodic sensibilities of Shawn Carter as those of Stephen Sondheim.

This convergence of past conventions and mores with the real world's cultural present permeates throughout the story and particularly in its casting. In fact, more than any sort of devotion to its titular character or fealty to the Founding Fathers, Hamilton is really about how history can be viewed through a modern lens.

The New York City of Hamilton mirrors the New York City of today, a city teeming with possibilities and diversity of opinion and people. This is reflected in the dialogue of Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, and military leaders of the late 18th century, and it's connected to the current moment by having these words expressed by a multi-racial cast.

For some, this diversity is seen as a needed shot in the arm to a form of entertainment that, aside from West Side Story, is viewed as a cultural fiefdom for white America. To others, however, it's seen as a cover for what is, once again, a story that deifies the accomplishments of white men. The former perspective is technically accurate, just very, very narrow in scope. As for the latter, that criticism has some validity, but ultimately misses the mark. And the casting is a large reason why.

Having actors of color portray Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Aaron Burr (to name a few of the historical figures presented onstage) and speak to issues of freedom sends a message. It compels you, the viewer, to reconcile the fact that the words of the men credited with founding America weren't matched by their deeds. Seeing a second-generation Puerto Rican immigrant play Alexander Hamilton or a first-generation Nigerian-American as James Madison is symbolic, a message that America exists and persists because of the efforts of oft-marginalized people striving to reach an American ideal that its leaders and founders failed to live up to themselves. Hamilton the real man is the protagonist of Hamilton, but the actual heroes are his ideals and passions as embodied by a skin that doesn't receive enough recognition for possessing the same qualities attributed to historical icons.

Of course, the Founders did not consider the work of America to be done once the ideal was enunciated.  It is the job of every generation to work towards its realization, here and abroad.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Ultra-Orthodox enlistment in IDF plummeted in 2018 -- report (Times of Israel, 12/01/19)

Ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the IDF declined precipitously in 2018 in the first drop in more than a decade, with 2018 seeing a 20 percent decrease in the number of Haredi recruits over the previous year, according to the Haaretz daily, which saw as-of-yet unreleased recruitment figures gathered by the IDF's Manpower Directorate,

Many in the ultra-Orthodox community shun military service, which is mandatory for other Jewish Israelis, and the community has historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from the army in favor of religious seminary studies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Make a killing in the Upper Valley's cookie-based economy with 2019 walks and swaps (ELEANOR KOHLSAAT, 12/01/19, Valley News)

A holiday dessert table wouldn't be complete without a platter of assorted Christmas cookies. Shortbread, pecan sandies, chocolate crinkles, sugar cookies, spritz -- everyone has their favorites.

But with all the other preparations going on, only the most dedicated bakers have time to make all those different kinds of cookies. Fortunately, there are a number of upcoming cookie walks and cookie exchanges where you can find cookies to suit every taste.

While the goal of both walks and swaps is the same (you go home with cookies!), the two events are conducted differently.

At a cookie walk, participants bring their own containers, select the cookies they want from a variety of offerings, and then pay by the pound.

At a cookie exchange, each person bakes and brings one type of cookie, and everyone leaves with an assortment of all the different varieties. No money changes hands.

At both events, bakers may be asked to share their recipes, or at least to list their ingredients for the benefit of those with dietary restrictions.

Certain other rules may apply. For instance, at the cookie exchange taking place at Weathersfield Center Church from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturday, Dec. 14, each participant is responsible for bringing two dozen cookies -- one dozen to sample at the party, and one dozen to swap. All contributions must be baked from scratch. Mixes, commercial ready-to-bake cookies and no-bake types (such as Rice Krispies treats) are not allowed.