February 29, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


Turkey's President Calls on Russia to Step Aside in Syria  (VOA News, February 29, 2020)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday called on Russia to get out of Turkey's way in Syria and allow Turkish forces to deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

In a speech to supporters, Erdogan said Turkey had "entered Syria at the demand of the Syrian people and not at the demand of Assad." 


Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Netanyahu aide in leaked recording: 'Hate is what unites our camp' (Times of Israel, 2/29/20)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's senior aide Natan Eshel said that "hate is what unites" the right-wing camp led by the Likud party and that negative campaigning works well on "non-Ashkenazi voters" in a leaked recording revealed by Channel 12 on Saturday.

Eshel, a former Netanyahu chief of staff who resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, continues to work with the premier, leading the previous two coalition negotiations over the past year.

In the newly revealed recording, he can be heard discussing the party's campaign strategy with an unnamed person whom he is trying to recruit as a political adviser, according to the report. In the tape, Eshel says that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit's decision to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases actually helped the premier in his campaign. "He went up by 20 percent" Eshel recalls, though it was unclear what numbers he was referring to.

"If you haven't stolen, what exactly have you come [into politics] for? We've checked this. And to my shock, they [the public] do not understand [this notion] of going into politics to do what's good for the nation. You go into politics in order to steal and you need to be a man," Eshel claims, not yet specifying which public he was referring to.

"Now, in this public, I'll call it... non-Ashkenazi...What gets them worked up? Why do they hate the press?...They hate everything and we've succeeded in whipping up that hatred. Hatred is what unites our camp," Eshel says plainly.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM

(self reference alert):

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Netanyahu saw Trump plan as asset, but now polls show surge of angry Arab voters (David Horovitz, 2/29/20, Times of Israel)

In April 2019, activists hired by his Likud sought to intimidate Arab voters by deploying with cameras at polling stations in Arab areas; the Arab turnout in April was a low 50%.

In September, however, the Israeli Arab community evidently decided not to be deterred and, apparently encouraged by the reunification of the Joint List of four largely Arab factions, its turnout rose dramatically, to 60%, and the Joint List won 13 seats -- up from 10 in April.

Ahead of Monday's elections, the Channel 12 survey gave the Joint List a record 14 seats, and Channel 13 predicted 15 seats, with pollsters assessing that Arab turnout could reach some 65% -- not far below the national average. (Overall turnout in April was 68.5%, and in September, 69.7%.)

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


C.S. Lewis On Why Myth Matters: a review of The Faun's Bookshelf: C.S. Lewis on Why Myth Matters by Charlie W. Starr (Carla Galdo, FORMA Review)

As the book unfolds, it becomes clear that for Lewis and his Inkling companions, myths were not merely invented stories for interested literary hobbyists. Many today might claim "myth" to be simply that which is primitive or untrue, and therefore easily dismissed as irrelevant in discussions of truth and meaning. However, beneath modern culture's facile dismissal of the genre, there simmers a longing for myth Starr sees as expressed in the resurgent popularity of Star Wars, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books and their film adaptations, and even the comic-superheroes-turned-film-stars trend of recent years. Modern man is divided against himself, longing for transcendence in a world that has evacuated meaning from all manner of things which used to inspire awe: stars are simply balls of gas, not beacons that draw forth men's dreams; our bodies are mere fodder for manipulation, not the holy dwellings of our souls; our children are commodities chosen, rather than gifts received. Scientific materialism's tidal wave of cold rationality has washed over and washed out modern existence. This is no small problem for Christians, in particular those who depend upon the grace conveyed through sacramental matter, and who look forward to eternity as the dwelling of glorified, embodied souls. 

Starr points out, in his musings upon the fictional title Nymphs and their Ways, that Lewis was fully aware of these modern trends when he crafted his tales. Starr links Lewis' interest in mythology to his belief that the resolution to modernity's dilemma of meaningless matter turns on the centrality of the Incarnation--for Lewis, the "grand miracle" par excellence. If the divine Word has united itself with the physical world in Christ, not only man but all of nature is engaged in the movement towards redemption. Matter itself has been glorified in the Ascension and thus cannot be empty of meaning. Starr posits that this unification of the divine with the world is echoed in Lewis' tales of mythological creatures like nymphs, said to be the indwelling spirits of trees and springs. Such creatures, imaginary though they may be, are an oblique reminder to moderns that matter can be "permeated by spirit" and that our "universe is far more organism than machine."  

Myth is also, for Lewis, an important way of knowing. It has "epistemological value" for "providing knowledge (in ways that other methods of communication cannot)." In one of the more challenging portions of The Faun's Bookshelf, Starr addresses Lewis' fascination with Owen Barfield's book Poetic Diction, which he uses to make the point that a myth is not a rational articulation of an abstract point, but rather a primal experience. For modern readers, experiencing a myth the "right way" is closer to the visual, non-verbal experience of a film, or the appreciation of a symphony, in which meaning is conveyed without words and understood without articulation, at a deep human level, prior to, and separate from, the experience captured by linguistic analysis. Lewis described his own experiences of this dynamic while he was reading Norse myth or wandering through nature as being "stabbed by joy," a feeling he later identified as a foretaste of the glory of God. This enlivening of the imagination by myth, nature, or poetry was key for Lewis, pivotal not only in his own conversion, but, as he asserts in various texts, is a crucial complement to theological reason on the journey of any Christian. Hearts ill-trained in relishing that which, on the natural level, precedes or even exceeds articulation, may indeed struggle to engage on the supernatural level in a life of genuine prayer--in swimming freely with the Spirit between verbal address, meditative pondering, and contemplative indwelling.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Why the Silent Spread of Coronavirus Might Actually Be a Good Sign (JEREMY SAMUEL FAUST, FEB 27, 2020, Slate)

[M]ost public health officials now feel that widespread infection outside of the current hot zones like China and South Korea is no longer a matter of if but when. Containing the virus is likely impossible. So the next question is: Just how bad will the cases here be? In China, the death rate has been reported as zero in children under 10 and very low, 0.2 percent, in healthy adults. Unfortunately, the rate is far higher, as high as 14.8 percent, in the sick and elderly (though as is always the case in outbreaks like this, it is hard to know how many of these older and often chronically ill hospitalized patients died with COVID-19, not of COVID-19). The reported overall death rate of 2 percent is essentially a weighted average of these numbers.

So what does the case of a young and otherwise healthy patient contracting the disease despite no obvious exposure to a contagious source patient imply? That there are likely many asymptomatic cases in our communities already. Asymptomatic transmission has already been reported in China. In the first reported case, the source patient transmitted the infection to others but never became sick herself.

If this turns out to be common, it's a good thing. It implies that the case fatality rate--the number of deaths divided by the number of infections--of this novel coronavirus is likely to be far, far lower than the reported statistics.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Eve, Milton's 'Bogey'   (MADELEINE KEARNS, February 29, 2020, National Review)

In the Book of Genesis, the account given of the Fall of Man is, in psychological terms, perplexing. We are told that Eve is approached by a serpent who contradicts God's instructions, promising that she and Adam "shall be as gods" if they eat the forbidden fruit. We are told that the tree appeared, in Eve's mind, "pleasant to the eyes" and desirable in lending her wisdom. We are told that Eve succumbed to temptation, ate the fruit first, and then gave it to Adam, who did the same. We are told that they realized their nakedness, felt shame, and confessed their sins:

And [God] said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

There is an almost comical absurdity in that. The entire fate of human nature thrown off course -- with thousands of years of murder, rape, and war to follow -- and for no discernible reason. [...]

In her essay about women writers, A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf made passing reference to "Milton's bogey." One possible interpretation of this was that she meant that Milton's Eve was not really about a woman at all, but about a man's perception of a woman. Why did Eve take the fruit? Genesis doesn't say. But in Milton's version Eve was either excessively stupid or vain while Adam's only sin was loving his wife too much (i.e., more than he loved God). It's no wonder the feminists don't like it.

Of course it's absurd; had God understood His creation he could not have made such a fundamental mistake.  But Genesis could hardly be more explicit about why we ate of the tree:

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. [...]

22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

No wonder Christians don't like it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


The unpalatable lesson of coronavirus: dictatorships can be effective: The discipline of public health inherently prioritises the collective good over individual freedom (Elizabeth Pisani,  February 28, 2020, Prospect)

Tedros has taken flack for his apparently contradictory stance: calls for transparency and solidarity on the one hand, praise for Beijing's authoritarian response on the other (roadblocks around major cities; potentially exposed people frog-marched to testing). Chinese social media is awash with images of him as the dog of President Xi Jinping. But his position highlights something we in the global health mafia do not admit: the discipline of public health inherently prioritises the collective good over individual freedom. Authoritarian regimes trample on individuals, but can also be good for public health.

Public and private welfare are not necessarily in conflict, and in the long run too much trampling is bad for everyone. But at the start of an outbreak, when resources are scarce and knowledge scarcer still, the authorities are never going to have the luxury of engaging in broad community consultations that might lead to a fair balance of interests. Their first concern is bound to be to avoid unnecessary public panic (the charitable view) and/or (more realistically) to save face and avoid damage to the economy. Hence the counterproductive early cover-up. When they can no longer close their eyes to the possibility that a new pathogen poses a real threat, however, those rare governments that care about the public good and have the clout to impose their will tend to do so rather rapidly. They'll do this even if it means sacrificing temporary freedoms, welfare or, in extremely unhappy cases, the lives of some individuals. Those sacrifices are emotionally devastating: witness the outpouring of fury over the injustice done to doctor Li--co-opted as a heroic whistleblower by the state only after his death, and long after it had tried to shut him down. But in terms of putting a brake on the spread of a pathogen of as-yet-unknown virulence, it behoves us to admit that they're probably quite effective. When Tedros says "in many ways, China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response," he's not just flattering Beijing.

Tedros's two-faced messaging highlights another fact, too: the WHO can't impose its will on its shareholder states, and tiptoes especially carefully around the more powerful of them. China will play ball internationally if and when it suits its interests. Chinese scientists quickly shared eye-watering amounts of genomic data, for example, not just to show off the country's extraordinary capacity for sequencing, but also in the hope that others would use it to speed up the development of new diagnostic tests, therapies and vaccines. It has been stingier with clinical data, which is needed to predict the course of the epidemic, but which also tends to highlight weaknesses in local health systems. And there's not a damned thing the WHO can do to get that data.

There are already anecdotal stories about anti-vaxxers hysterical over the prospect of mandatory vaccinations.  Tough.  Such precautions are a simple function of human society.

February 28, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 PM


'Anti-Greta' Activist Naomi Seibt Praises White Nationalist At CPAC (Christopher Mathias and Chris D'Angelo, 2/28/20, Huffington Post)

Naomi Seibt, the 19-year-old German climate science denier being marketed as the right's answer to activist Greta Thunberg, praised a white nationalist while speaking on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday.

During a question-and-answer session at the end of the panel entitled "Energy, Costs and Defeating the Climate Delusion," a Business Insider reporter asked Seibt if she is still a fan of white nationalist Stefan Molyneux, a Canadian vlogger.

"I am still a fan, absolutely," Seibt responded. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


A paranoid militia infiltrating Texas police is bent on rebellion, 'ready to rise up'  (BUD KENNEDY, FEBRUARY 28, 2020, Fort Worth Star Telegram0

A revolution-minded, conspiracy-bent militia group named the Oath Keepers is recruiting law officers in Hood County to take up arms in what the founder predicts will be a "bloody civil war" against the U.S. government.

A national director of the Las Vegas-based Oath Keepers, John D. Shirley, moved to rural Hood County in 2015 and has been appointed by county commissioners as a constable, giving him both access to confidential information and a political platform to recruit more militia members.

A regional recruitment rally announced for Monday was canceled by Harbor Lakes Golf Club, citing misrepresentation. It was supposed to launch Shirley's "Oath Keepers of Hood County" chapter.

The Oath Keepers' current recruiting pitch focuses on gun rights and the Second Amendment. But unlike other gun libertarians, the Oath Keepers promote paranoid fears of a "New World Order" conspiracy and spread veiled anti-Semitism in distrusting "elites," similar to discredited Austin showbiz personality Alex Jones.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


For the first time, there are fewer registered Republicans than independents (Aaron Blake , Feb. 28, 2020, Washington Post)

New data from Ballot Access News, which tracks registrations in the 31 states that require voters to register by party, shows that independents account for 29.09 percent of voters in them, compared with 28.87 percent for Republicans. As recently as 2004, Republicans outpaced independents by nearly 10 percentage points.

There are still way more registered Democrats; 39.66 percent of voters are registered with that party.

This marks the first time since party registration began in the early 1900s that the number of registered independents in the United States has surpassed members of either major political party, according to Ballot Access News.

Donald sells it as a cult for old white men.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Trump trashes Fox News poll that shows him losing to all Democratic candidates (Emily Singer, February 28, 2020, American Independent)

Trump is angry that the television network that usually fawns over him published a poll showing him losing reelection in 2020.

Donald Trump on Friday criticized Fox News for publishing a poll that shows every top-tier Democratic presidential contender would beat Trump if the election were held today. [...]

The Fox News poll found:

Former Vice President Joe Biden would beat Trump, 49% to 41%;
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) would beat Trump, 49% to 41%;
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg would beat Trump; 48% to 40%;
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would beat Trump, 46% to 43%; and
And former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg would beat Trump, 45% to 42%.

He has a 43% ceiling.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


The situation in China is even worse than you think, says this analyst with a history of accurate calls (ANDREA RIQUIER, 2/28/20, Market Watch)

MarketWatch: How bad is the situation in China?

Leland Miller: Since 2012, when we started collecting data, we have never seen our headline index turn negative. This month it did. Our flash data shows nearly every major measurement is in contraction. I do always stress that this is early data.

(Only about half of the roughly 3,500 firms that report in the full-month version contribute to the flash report.) [...]

MarketWatch: Which is the single data point that's most telling to you?

Miller: The numbers in the property sector are remarkable. It confirms this sector is at the bottom of the food chain in China right now, the last priority for Beijing in a long list of priorities. Property is extremely important because it's the sector in which most Chinese have large portions of their wealth. Chinese people can't get money out of the country so they're stuck with only a few opportunities to diversify. The bond market is scary. The stock market is scary. Property has always been the least scary thing and the Chinese government has always known how important it is as a store of household wealth. It shows they're more afraid of the bankruptcies of small and medium-sized enterprises. At least there may finally be a culling of the herd in terms of (real estate) developers and overleveraged firms allowed to die.

On the positive side, we're seeing the job growth numbers in slight contraction. It's remarkable they're not much worse than that. This is an economy that could be in contraction for a long time, yet firms aren't firing people. You can't pay your people, you have no cash flow, no customers, so you're paying them to stay home right now. (The lack of layoffs) is one reason you're not seeing central bank stimulus yet.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Israelis happy with democracy, but support for democratic rights is low - poll (MICHAEL BACHNER, 27 February 2020, times of Israel)

Israelis are satisfied with the way democracy is functioning, but support in the Jewish state is significantly lower than in most countries for freedom of expression, including an uncensored press, internet freedom and freedom for human rights groups to operate freely, according to a Pew Research Center report published Thursday.

Unlike in most nations polled, support for freedom of speech in Israel declined between 2015 and 2019. Only 51 percent say it is very important that people can say what they want without government censorship, compared with 58% of Israelis who said so four years earlier.

Support in Israel also dropped for internet freedom -- from 51% who said it is very important in 2015 to 40%.

The level of support in Israel for freedom for human rights groups to operate freely, 37%, was the lowest among all the 34 countries surveyed.

Rights; good for star-belly sneeches; bad for sneeches.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


The True Price of Carbon (GERNOT WAGNER, 2/28/20, Project Syndicate)

So, how should one approach the problem instead? Traditional economic models largely ignore how climate risk interacts with the state of the economy. But what if investments in emissions reductions followed the same logic used by professional asset managers? There is a good reason why investors put money into bonds despite their average returns falling well below those of stocks: bonds are less risky. Thus, even when the economy is faring poorly, some investments will still pay off.

In Climate Shocks, one of our main characters is Robert Litterman, a former top risk manager for Goldman Sachs who was shocked to find out how standard benefit-cost analyses of climate change were treating risk and uncertainty. Together with Kent Daniel of the Columbia Business School, Litterman and I set out to build a simple climate-economic model that takes seriously the basic insights from the financial industry.

Unlike the Stern Review, which simply selected a discount rate ex cathedra, we made the discount rate an outcome rather than an input in our approach. Treating atmospheric carbon as an "asset" (albeit one with negative payoffs), we calibrated a carbon price, following the methods used by the finance industry to price assets. In the end, no matter how hard we tried, we could not get the price of carbon below $100 per ton.

Meanwhile, other analyses have come up with carbon prices ranging from $200 to $400 or more per ton. But even if one stipulates that the price should be $100 per ton, that would translate into around $0.90 per gallon (3.8 liters) of gasoline - a charge at the pump that would feel more like a revolution than like a modest policy measure.

Round it up to $1, as a starter, and it renders $140 billion a year, which could be used to cut corporate income taxes in half..  

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


No, Bernie Sanders isn't authentic. Just like Trump. (Michael Gerson, Feb. 27, 2020, Washington Post)

Bernie Sanders's performance in the last debate before Super Tuesday was a bellowing, boorish mess. The Vermont senator's signature response when challenged was to pump up the volume, as though persuasiveness were measured in decibels. It was particularly excruciating to watch Pete Buttigieg attempt to inject some facts and reason into the proceedings, only to be interrupted again and again by Sanders's shouting.

When I expressed dismay to a Democratic friend, he assured me it was just "Bernie being Bernie." At least Sanders, the argument goes, speaks his mind. He is not scripted. He is true to himself. He may not play by the normal political rules, but he is the kind of outsider who will shake up the establishment.

This is further evidence of the disorienting, deja vu quality of our politics. In 2016, I was told by Republican friends that, at least, Donald Trump speaks his mind. He isn't scripted. He is true to himself. He doesn't play by the normal political rules, but he is the kind of outsider who will shake up the establishment.

I'm not contending that the moral character of the two men is comparable. Sanders's is clearly superior, though this is clearing only an ankle-high bar. But both men have benefited from a certain definition of political authenticity that allows them -- no, encourages them -- to be unpleasant, ill-mannered loudmouths.

 Their supporters being filled with self-loathing, all they're really looking for is an avatar to bellow at their enemies.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


When Robert Moses Wiped Out New York's 'Little Syria': What Happened to the Former Main Street of Syrian America (Matt Kapp, February 28, 2020, LitHub)

Roosevelt and Moses had been feuding as far back as 1924, when the two clashed over funding for the Taconic State Parkway. (Roosevelt was then chairman of the Taconic State Park Commission; Moses was president of the Long Island State Park Commission.) Now Moses wanted another soaring bridge--not an unsightly tunnel--to connect Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, and he was determined to prevail over his old nemesis, now president of the United States.

But the Power Broker met his match as community groups, civic leaders, historic preservationists, Wall Street executives, and the mayor and the governor, not to mention friends of the New York Aquarium at Castle Garden--which would have been demolished to make way for the bridge--closed ranks in opposition to his imperious plan. "A bridge with its terminus and approaches at the Battery will seriously disfigure perhaps the most thrillingly beautiful and world renowned feature of this great city," wrote one opposition group.

But it was ultimately the secretary of war Harry Woodring, who intervened, scuttling Moses's bridge because it was "seaward of a vital naval establishment," the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Reportedly out of spite, Moses took retaliatory aim at the aquarium, one of the city's most popular attractions, shuttering it on the dubious grounds that construction of the tunnel would undermine Castle Garden's fragile foundation.

The last remnants of Little Syria were demolished in the early 1940s to make way for the entrance ramps to the tunnel. "Expediting auto traffic to suburbia took priority over the community of politically powerless city dwellers," New York University professor Jack Tchen wrote in his 2002 essay, "Whose Downtown?!?" "The Syrians had to leave and restart their businesses and their lives somewhere else."

"Most [Little Syria] residents were Christian, their loyalties divided only between St. George's Syrian Catholic Church at 103 Washington Street and St. Joseph's Maronite Church at 57 Washington Street," wrote The New York Times' David Dunlap in 2012. St. George's is one of just three remaining buildings from the days of Little Syria and was declared an official landmark in 2009 by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission. "It remains Lower Manhattan's most vivid reminder of the vanished ethnic community once known as the Syrian Quarter," wrote the commission in its report, "and of the time when Washington Street was the Main Street of Syrian America."

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


When the People Investigate: How Citizen Science has Transformed Research: From saving monarch butterflies to documenting the climate crisis, citizen scientists are reshaping science -- and helping drive what questions are worth asking. (Darlene Cavalier, Catherine Hoffman, and Caren CooperFebruary 27, 2020, Discover)

Today, with the internet and smartphones, science is in flux again. Millions of people, each with their own occupation (and many too young to have an occupation yet), share their observations and help process data. Volunteers work online to transcribe thousands of old letters, some originating with Darwin, others from Shakespeare, and others from war diaries. People are needed to turn handwriting into digital text because automation with optical recognition so ware can't decipher handwriting as well as the human eye. 

Fields like biochemistry advance because people use their free time as players in online games because the human mind is better at spatial reasoning than computers. In the Eterna game, players design RNA, the blueprints that make proteins. In Foldit, a game to solve puzzles of how proteins fold, some players discovered the folded shape of a particular protein associated with aids in monkeys. 

As environmental and health sensors like Fitbits and air-quality monitors become lower cost, people without science credentials are assessing the quality of their environment, providing a check on industries to make sure regulations are followed. In ports like Oakland, California, with significant truck traffic, and in New Orleans, Louisiana, with petrochemical refineries, communities organized by the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and Louisiana Bucket Brigade have discovered excessive exposures to pollution where scientists and regulatory enforcers have failed to look. 

Across the world, eyes of citizen scientists have discovered that endangered monk seals were attempting to recolonize the Mediterranean Sea, that invasive ladybirds in England were rapidly expanding their range, and three new species of dancing peacock spiders in Australia. 

Looking across history, what's revealed is that in many areas of study the only way to keep advancing the frontiers is for scientists to collaborate, not just with each other, but with everyone.

This is a two-fer; not only does it demonstrate why we should Open Source intelligence, but the silliness of worrying that the end of jobs will deprive lives of meaning and value. We'll do what we love instead of what we can extract payment for.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Bring and Rauda: An Apology: We are the former leaders of the College Republicans -- and we apologize. (Alexander Rauda and Daniel Bring | 2/27/20, The Dartmouth)

We are the former leaders of the Dartmouth College Republicans, and we regret the impact of our actions and decisions on that organization and on the Dartmouth community. Let us make one thing perfectly clear: It was never our intention to hurt the organization that we worked so hard to build and grow. We recognize that recent events have brought scrutiny to the College Republicans, and we take any and all responsibility for the organization's failures during our tenure.

In today's political climate, it's easy to get carried away. Under our leadership, the College Republicans' public presence became purely oppositional, combatting the "radical left" and devoted to "owning the libs." When your only stance is to oppose that of others, you feel you have no meaningful choices but to escalate the rhetoric of political -- and interpersonal -- conflict. This compulsion leads to a vicious cycle of increasingly hostile and alienating provocations and interactions.

We have decided to break that cycle and sincerely ask the forgiveness of our colleagues and our campus. [...]

We hope that the College Republicans will now gain respect among the student body, maintain its independence from other organizations, hold fair and open elections each term, and wear its convictions on its sleeve. In any case, it must find new confidence by redefining itself. 

We can only hope that a more respectful and engaged College Republicans will now emerge. We wish the current leadership the best of luck.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


In Conversation: John Cleese: The comedy legend on Monty Python's legacy, political correctness, and the funniest joke he ever told. (David Marchese, September 2017, Vulture)

[T]he thing about political correctness is that it starts as a good idea and then gets taken ad absurdum. And one of the reasons it gets taken ad absurdum is that a lot of the politically correct people have no sense of humor.

Because they're scolds?

Because they have no sense of proportion, and a sense of humor is actually a sense of proportion. It's the sense of knowing what's important. In my stage show I tell jokes that make the audience roar with laughter, jokes about the Australians or the French or the Canadians or the Germans or the Italians. I make all these jokes and everybody laughs -- and we don't hate those groups of people, do we? Take this joke: "A guy walks into a bar and says to the barman, 'You hear the latest Irish joke?' The barman says, 'I should warn you, I'm Irish.' So the guy says, 'All right then, I'll tell it slowly.'" That's funny! But if you tell that joke and replace "Irish" with "barman who isn't very intelligent" it isn't funny at all. Why should we sacrifice laughter to the cause of politically correctness if that laughter isn't rooted in nastiness? This actually reminds me of an idea I had: Every year at the U.N. they should vote one particular nation to be the butt of the joke.

"This year, all cultural jokes will henceforth be made at the expense of the Danes."

That's right. They would just have to accept that they're the butt of the joke for a year. People find it hard to believe this, but unless we're talking about puns and wordplay, all humor is essentially critical. So to eliminate jokes that are at the expense of other people is to eliminate most jokes. If you laugh at someone, it's because his behavior is inappropriate. That's why you can't really be funny about Jesus Christ or St. Francis of Assisi, because everything they do is pretty appropriate.

February 27, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Bernie's Castro Worship Insults the Millions Who Learned to Read Under Right-Wing Dictators (Andrew Stiles, FEBRUARY 27, 2020, Free Beacon)

In Chile, for example, the right-wing administration of Gen. Augusto Pinochet oversaw a substantial decline in the country's illiteracy rate--from 11.7 percent in 1970 to just 4.5 percent in 1992--a remarkable achievement that, despite Sanders's expressed philosophy on authoritarian accomplishments, the candidate has yet to applaud on the campaign trail.

Sanders has similarly refused to acknowledge educational achievements under the bold right-wing leadership of Gen. Francisco Franco in Spain, where female literacy climbed from 72 percent in 1940 to 88 percent in 1970. Nor has Sanders remarked upon the dramatic increase in literacy among Portuguese children--from just 33 percent in 1930 to a whopping 97 percent in 1960--under António Salazar's Estado Novo in Portugal.

Indonesian dictator Suharto oversaw a violent anti-communist purge in the 1960s but is also "credited with greatly improving the country's economy, literacy rates, and public health," according to what is presumably Sanders's most trusted source of news (NPR). Millions were lifted out of poverty during Suharto's 30-year reign, yet Sanders maintains a deafening silence with respect to these achievements and those of other right-wing dictators. Sanders has similarly neglected Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, under whom the literacy rate increased from 60 percent in 1960 to 90 percent in 1990.

By refusing to acknowledge the full spectrum of dictatorial achievements, Sanders is not only betraying his own philosophy. He is also actively erasing the lived experience of millions worldwide who owe their educations to the benevolence of right-wing autocrats.

More importantly, GDP per capita:

Singapore  $64k

S. Korea $31.5k

Spain $30k

Taiwan $25k

Portugal $23k

Uruguay $17k

Chile $15k


Cuba $9k

China $10k

Russia $11k

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


Remembering when George H.W. Bush played for the Denver Bears back in 1984 (JEFF BAILEY, 12/05/18, The Denver Post)

Yes, former President George H.W. Bush played for the Denver Bears in 1984. Bush was the sitting vice president at the time and took part in an old-timers game on July 12 at Mile High Stadium with the Denver Bears.

Though he didn't start the game, Bush came in the fourth inning, played first base and got an at-bat. This at-bat was one for the books as Bush hit a line drive single off Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Insight of a prolix pluralist: Christopher Bray reviews The Philosophy of Isaiah Berlin by Johnny Lyons (Christopher Bray, March 2020, The Critic)

Following Machiavelli, Berlin came to see that certain values -- freedom and equality, say -- can both be true and in conflict with one another. Most people, that is, prize freedom -- but they champion egalitarianism too. But while you can want them both, you can't have them both (well, not unless you're Ronald Dworkin, says Lyons). Taxation, for instance, might make a society a little more egalitarian -- but in doing so it requires the surrender of some freedom on the part of those whose money is being taxed and redistributed. Whatever values we pursue, they cannot but come at a cost to other values, other people.

Worse, Berlin argued, ever since Plato the majority of philosophers had worked on the assumption that some kind of unified field theory of political philosophy that resolved everything for everyone forever was somewhere down the line. To believe that, he said, is to believe in just the same kind of fantasies that had mobilised the revolutions in France, Russia and Nazi Germany -- fantasies that had led not to utopia but to hell on earth.

Hoffer again: Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and
    die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions,
    that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded
    of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect.  The rejection of
    approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes
    freedom, tolerance, and equity.

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


4 science-based strategies to tame angry political debate and encourage tolerance (Beverly B. Palmer, 2/27/20, The Conversation)

1. Connect

Avoiding interactions with people who have different opinions perpetuates divisiveness. Risk connecting with these people. Relate through activities you enjoy such as volunteering, joining a "Meetup" group or starting a book club. You could even invite people from various backgrounds to a potluck dinner at your home. [...]

2. Find common ground

It's important to remember the basic need to feel secure is shared by all people. Focusing on commonalities can lead to a deeper understanding of another person, while focusing on differences will lead to arguments. [...]

3. Communicate

Listen more and talk less. Show the other person you have understood what they said before jumping in with your thoughts. [...]

4. Learn to critically evaluate media

Don't passively accept all that you see and hear. There are too many sources of distorted facts, unsupported opinions and outright lies available today. Critically evaluate what is being presented by considering the source and fact-checking the content.

The fact is that most issues after the End of History are pretty much settled (70-30, 80-20), so partisanship is all we have to separate ourselves.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Where was Bernie when Americans fought for Soviet Jewry? (Jonathan S. Tobin, 2/27/20, Jewish News Syndicate)

Cold War controversies seem irrelevant today. But it's worth asking why, when most American Jews were demanding freedom for Soviet Jewry and denouncing the anti-Semitic nature of the Communist regime, Bernie Sanders was not there. While Jews who cared about the fate of their brethren were demonstrating in the streets about Soviet tyranny and advocating for Prisoners of Zion, Sanders was denouncing American foreign policy aimed at pressuring his Russian friends. When some heroic Jews went to Russian to aid oppressed Jews and other dissidents, Sanders was traveling the world proclaiming his sympathy with Soviet allies and then honeymooning in the Socialist Motherland itself.

He may now depict himself as a champion of the underdog. But by the time Sanders became a public figure in the 1980s, the ideological romance of Socialism was long over, and all that was left was a struggle against tyranny in which his sympathies lay with the tyrants whom he imagined deserved support in their fight against American imperialism. There is no available evidence that he ever lifted a finger to fight for Soviet Jews.

We may not care today about the politics of the 1960s in which Sanders's identity was forged; however, the struggle for Soviet Jewry was the great Jewish moral test of the subsequent decades, and it is one he failed. If he asks us to trust him now to ensure that the 7 million Jews of Israel are not endangered by his policies, it's worth asking why he once thought defending Socialism was more important than the fate of millions of Soviet Jews. That is a question of morality, not ancient history.

...he's not Jewish and the fate of the oppressed in the USSR was not a Jewish issue but a human one.  That is the count Left/Right fail on.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR (self-reference alert):

China prepares 100,000 ducks to battle Pakistan's locust swarms (BBC, 2/27/20)

China is preparing to deploy 100,000 ducks to neighbouring Pakistan to help tackle swarms of crop-eating locusts.

Chinese agricultural experts say a single duck can eat more than 200 locusts a day and be more effective than pesticides.

When I was a caddy on Nantucket the course had a Japanese beetle infestation and you could barely putt because the green was like cobblestone.  Everyone rejoiced when swarms of seagulls came and ate them all...until they realized you were now putting through mounds of bird scat...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


An SEC football coach became a Trump-loving Senate hopeful. His players no longer recognize him. (Kent Babb, Feb. 27, 2020, Washington Post)

Has the former coach changed in the 11 years since he left Auburn? Or is Tuberville just recruiting again, a specialty that, for Tuberville anyway, involves saying whatever he needs to in exchange for a preferred result? (After agreeing to make Tuberville available for an interview, two campaign staffers stopped replying to The Washington Post's messages.)

"I've seen this guy in the heat of battle, and we've bled and cried together," said former Auburn quarterback Ben Leard, who's white and usually votes Republican. "It's a question on all of our minds. It's not just the African American minds; it's in all of our heads: 'Did he really mean that? Did Tubs type that?'"

...or is he faking hatred to recruit Trumpbots?

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Treasury note yields have never been lower.  (Jared Bernstein, Feb. 27, 2020, Washington Post)

What you may not have noticed is the sharp decline in another indicator, one that generates fewer fireworks than the stock market but to my mind is a more important economic variable: the interest rate. The yield, or interest rate paid, on the 10-year Treasury note fell to an all-time low of 1.33 percent Tuesday. Based on data since the early 1960s, the average yield on this type of security has been slightly north of 6 percent. [...]

[I]t is not incidental that even in the midst of all of our political craziness, from our volatile tweeter-in-chief to debate dynamics that would embarrass a third-grader, our public debt is still considered the safest in the world, meaning the risk of default (when the borrower fails to repay the lender) is as close to zero as you can get.

You might think that given their low returns -- yields were historically low even before the virus hit -- investors would think twice before boarding this flight to safety. But what matters in such times of stress is not just the absolute yield; it's the relative yield, meaning what's on offer from other countries lending low-risk debt. It so happens that in Europe and Japan, comparable rates to our low 10-year yield are negative, a weird situation of lenders paying borrowers to hold their money that predated the virus.

The main reason rates have been so low for so long is because economies here and abroad have hovered between pretty weak (Europe) and not that strong (United States). Interest rates tend to rise when economies threaten to overheat and push up inflation, but such pressures have been minimal for years.

This development is especially notable given that our unemployment rate is near a 50-year low and our fiscal deficits are unusually high. Econ 101 teaches that low unemployment and high deficits are a recipe for overheating, rising inflation and interest rates. But those textbooks hopefully are being rewritten, as reality says otherwise.

Globalization -- the much-increased integration of formerly dispersed economies -- means that everything, from exports and imports to viruses to capital, now flows much more freely around the globe. 

Of course, our rates should be negative as well.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Inside the dangerous world of the 'true believers' (Jenny McCartney, Feb. 26th, 2020, UnHerd)

In her recent book Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists, the author Julia Ebner describes how she infiltrated a number of extremist groups in order to understand from the inside what motivates and inspires their members. Whether Islamist or far-right, there are a striking number of similarities in their internal machinery. She describes how members are gradually radicalised in online forums and real-life meetings. Lines of argument or terminology that would be taboo in the wider world are regularly crossed and normalised. Meanwhile, the 'secrecy' of the group fosters a sense of belonging and special status: the feeling of being misunderstood and persecuted by the prevailing culture is constantly nourished.

An early chapter describes the chat on a white-power website, which is full of coded allusions and signifiers of Nazi sympathies: '88' referring to the initials 'HH' (Heil Hitler); WP (White Power); or W.O.T.A.N. (Will of the Aryan Nation). Many users have an intense interest in their genetics, she says, and are seeking out DNA-testing firms such as 23andMe and Ancestry in order to bolster their historical sense of white identity.

As might be predicted, however, white supremacists's genetic ancestry test results don't always match their own purity requirements, which can push them into profound identity crises. Sometimes, unexpected DNA results might lead them to question their existing racial philosophy -- but often instead they move into denial, reaching for "even more absurd conspiracy theories" to deny the validity of their test results, such as that Jews or 'global elites' are distorting the genetic tests as part of a plot to eradicate the white race. [...]

Anti-Semitism, of course, is one belief that white supremacists hold in common with Islamists. But both ideologies also dangle before followers the vision of a struggle, supercharged with importance and meaning, which will draw the devotee away from the contemptible, safe banalities of ordinary life.

The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.-Eric Hoffer

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump And Modi: Illiberal Birds Of A Feather?: Both subscribe to the idea that majorities rule and that their respective nations' identities must be preserved at all costs. (JAMES PINKERTON, 2/27/20, American Conservative)

Now, Trump and Modi, those two illiberals, have found delight in each other's company. During his visit, Trump was full of praise for the Indian leader, whom he called "tough"--that being the ultimate compliment in Trumpworld. And on worldwide TV, Trump couldn't resist a little campaigning to the folks back home, as when he said, "Our borders will always be closed to terrorists and any form of extremism."

Yet mindful also of his friend, Trump added, "Every nation has the right to secure and control borders." This is surely a thesis statement for both Trumpism and Modism, and the American was happy to further conjoin the two, adding, "The United States and India are committed to working together to stop terrorists and to fight their ideology." [...]

In the shared Trump-Modi worldview, it's the majority that makes the rules. So Trump's Middle East "peace plan," for instance, is a frank concession--maybe proclamation is the better word--that Israel is going to decide what the Palestinians get.

In India, the Hindus are the majority--and they know it. So Hindutva must prevail. As one of Modi's colleagues in the BJP, Ravi Kishan, an action film star-turned-lawmaker, explained his thinking to The New York Times last year, "There are Muslim countries, there are Jew countries, everybody has their own identity. And we are a billion-plus, right? We must have one identity."

It's why he gives Vlad, Bibi, the Sa'uds and Xi a free pass too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



U-Haul, an Arizona-based moving company with about 30,000 workers, this month became one of the country's largest employers to stop hiring nicotine users -- a term that includes not just smokers but users of "nicotine products." This potentially covers people who test positive for nicotine because they are trying to give up smoking using vaping, gum or patches.

Like the Cleveland Clinic, U-Haul will allow those hired before the restriction to keep their jobs. And the hiring ban will only apply in the same 21 states.

However, should a U.S. company choose to fire any workers who use nicotine, the employees would have little recourse, depending on where they work. Smokers are not a "protected class" safeguarded by federal law, such as racial minorities or people with disabilities. That means in "at-will" employment states, a capricious boss can fire an employee for practically any reason, whether that is smoking off-duty or something as arbitrary as wearing the wrong color shirt to work. [...]

As for U-Haul, the company says its new anti-nicotine policy is part of its commitment to employee "wellness," but there are also clear financial motives at work. In the U.S., where health insurance is typically provided by employers, companies pay more for health coverage if their workforce includes a lot of smokers, says Buesing.

About one in every four companies with more than 500 employees offers nonsmokers a reduced rate on their health care premiums, says Steven Noeldner, partner at consultancy Mercer.

Yet off-duty smoking bans are only one type of potentially invasive "wellness" programs offered by companies. So-called "fitness contests" are growing increasingly common, where employees use step counters or other tracking devices to prove how active they are in exchange for a discount on their health insurance.

Who would want an employee who's rather smoke than have a job?
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Amazon Is About to Upend This 104-Year-Old Industry in a Dramatic Way. (Jason Aten, 2/26/20, Inc)

On Tuesday, Amazon opened a full-size grocery store in Seattle. There are no cashiers. Instead, you use the Amazon Go app with your Amazon login credentials. You can't even visit the store without it, since you have to scan a QR code at a gate to enter.

As you walk through the aisles, you simply place things in your cart, and when you're done, you leave. Everything you've purchased is then charged to the payment method you have on file, and the receipt appears in your Amazon account. The store uses cameras and computer vision to keep track of everything you pick up and intend to purchase. 

It's impossible to overstate deflationary pressures.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Far-right extremists killed at least 38 in US in 2019, ADL says (MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, 2/26/20, AP)

White supremacists and other far-right extremists killed at least 38 people in the US in 2019, the sixth deadliest year for violence by all domestic extremists since 1970, according to a report issued Wednesday by a group that fights anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Defamation League counted a total of 42 domestic extremism-related slayings last year. The gunman who shot and killed 22 people in August 2019 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, accounted for more than half of them. Patrick Crusius, the suspect in that shooting rampage, is accused of targeting Mexicans at the store and faces federal hate crime charges.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


US School Aims to Preserve Embattled Uighur Culture (VOA NEWS, February 26, 2020)

A Sunday school in a northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. is teaching the Uighur language and culture to Uighur-American youngsters as a way to counter the repression in China against Uighurs in Xinjiang Province.  The school, Ana Care & Education, was founded in 2017 and was the first Sunday school in the U.S. to offer these courses, as VOA's Enming Liu reports.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



But let's go back. Back before the fictional complicated man who was understood by no one but his woman (John Shaft), there was a real man named Melvin Van Peebles. Van Peebles was the writer, director, producer, composer, and star of the 1971 film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which tells the story of Sweetback, and his journey from his childhood in a brothel to revolutionary on the run. It was, he told Life magazine that year, "the first black movie that doesn't cop out." He's right about one thing; it doesn't cop out. Its graphic and unwavering eye (the film earned an X rating, which Van Peebles used in its marketing "Rated X by an all-white jury") may very well have been the catalyst for the Blaxploitation movement.[1] The soundtrack featured music from the then little-known group Earth, Wind, and Fire, interspersed with dialogue from the movie. There are some notable tracks, but unlike some of the ones that came later, the soundtrack for Sweetback feels disconnected as a standalone album. That would change a few months later when the Gordon Parks-directed Shaft starring Richard Roundtree as a tough, sexy private detective hit the screens, and the double album composed and performed by Isaac Hayes hit turntables. Not only did the album function as an amazing film score, it also works all by itself as a piece of 70s funk/soul.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Israel builds new Jew-only road and steals more Palestinian land (February 25, 2020, MEMO)

Israel is building yet another bypass road for use by Jewish settlers only and, yet again, it is stealing Palestinian land to do so. The land in question is in Huwwara, to the south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank.

The 7-kilometre road will start from the village of Zaatara and pass through land owned by Palestinians in Huwwara, Beita and Odala. Until now, the access route in the area has been shared by Palestinians and Jewish settlers -- whose presence is illegal under international law -- who often use it to raid and terrorise the residents of the local villages.

Since the Israeli government decided to build the road last April, it has led to the seizure of more than 40 hectares of land from the surrounding Palestinian villages. According to Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official in charge of the settlements file in the northern West Bank, Israeli bulldozers have been razing everything on the land near a military checkpoint outside Huwwara.

Star-belly sneeches only.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

60-40 NATION:

These are the popular ideas progressives can win with (and some unpopular ones to avoid) (Matthew Yglesias, Feb 24, 2020, Vox)

In particular, three ideas to lower prescription drug prices -- revoking patent rights on the most expensive drugs, government-run manufacturing of generic drugs when there isn't much competition in the market, and a big boost in government funding for pharmaceutical R&D -- all hit the ball out of the park in terms of popularity. [...]

The most popular progressive ideas Data for Progress found were making the Clean Air Act stricter, capping credit card interest rates at 15 percent, giving 12 weeks of paid family leave, requiring companies to give worker salaries and benefits priority over creditors in bankruptcy, and passing commercial legalization of marijuana.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Canada is experiencing resurgent growth, according to the latest population estimates from Statistics Canada. Between 2015 and 2019, the nation added 1.30 percent to its population annually. This is up about one-third from the annual rate between 2010 and 2015. The growth surge has been even greater in the larger labor markets (the 44 Census Metropolitan Areas [CMAs] and Census Agglomerations [CAs] over 100,000 population), where the annual rate has risen about approximately 30 percent, from 1.20 percent to 1.57 percent. Given the urbanizing tendency throughout the world, it is surprising that areas outside the largest labor markets, which include both urban and rural areas, experienced the greatest population rate increase, at 38 percent, from 0.39 percent to 0.53 percent.

Statistics Canada explained the increased population growth as follows:

This trend is linked to higher targets for permanent immigration, as defined by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and to various government programs that draw many temporary workers and foreign students to the country. [...]

Statistics Canada further noted that urban expansion and suburbanization continued to be strong:

Urban spread, as measured by the expansion of peripheral municipalities in metropolitan areas, continued over the past year in Canada's largest CMAs. Most often, the municipalities with the strongest growth were in suburban areas. For example, the municipalities of East Gwillimbury (+9.5%) and Milton (+5.0%) had the highest growth in the Toronto CMA (+2.0%). Similarly, Carignan (+4.6%) and Mirabel (+4.1%) recorded the largest population growth in the Montréal CMA (+1.5%).

While the largest labor markets continued to grow (Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver), they experienced substantial levels of domestic outmigration to areas external, but nearby.

Moreover, the three largest CMAs experienced urban spread beyond their borders. In 2018/2019, the CMAs of Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver continued to post steady population growth, mainly due to international migration. However, they also continued to lose people through their migratory exchanges with other regions within their respective provinces. The losses in Toronto (-47,838), Vancouver (-14,241) and Montréal (-14,117) contributed to the growth of areas just outside these CMAs.

While we're in the midst of a minority-led Nativist spasm, the economic reality is that we're headed into a contest to attract the most immigrants.

February 26, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


The Trump administration says the coronavirus vaccine might not be affordable for all Americans (Eliza Relman, 2/26/20, Business Insider)

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday would not promise that a potential coronavirus vaccine would be affordable for all Americans. 

"We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can't control that price, because we need the private sector to invest," Azar told members of Congress during a hearing concerning the coronavirus outbreak and the administration's budget request.

This is literally what government exists to do.
Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


That's Donald's base number, the same as oppose immigration.
Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Woke eugenics: When eco-warriors talk of population control, they mean the world would be better off with fewer poor black people (Ella Whelan, March 2020, The Critic)

In an age of hypersensitivity about everything to do with race, it's quite remarkable that a campaign dedicated to stopping predominantly non-white nations from procreating to save the planet has passed without comment. But it's quite easy to see how we got here. Climate fetishists tell us we have to make sacrifices in relation to our cars, our gas, our showers or our flights abroad. It's merely the next step in the trend for curtailing your habits to suggest that some people should be encouraged to stop having kids. It's just that those people are never the town-house-dwelling protesters, and almost always poverty-stricken non-white people in countries far, far away.

This quasi-eugenicist privileging of the environment over human beings is nothing new. David Attenborough, who paraded on stage at Glastonbury last year to cheers from thousands of young progressives, is a long-time supporter of population control in its most Malthusian form. Back in 2011 in an interview with the Wellcome Trust, Attenborough declared that he "couldn't think of a single problem that wouldn't be easier to solve if there were less people". And who are these people he's talking about? They're those inhabiting "slums in South America, India, Africa" -- places that Attenborough describes as "huge areas occupied by people living, whole families, in tiny little apartments with no sanitation and no future".  Rather than arguing that those people living in poverty in parts of the developing world should be given access to the same resources that we enjoy in the West -- clean water, housing and job opportunities --Attenborough and those like him simply think there should be fewer of them.

Aside from the question of resources, population control enthusiasts are often keen to talk about women's reproductive rights. In the same interview in 2011, Attenborough said that the "only comfort" he found was in the "knowledge that wherever you empower women, wherever they have the vote, education, the free will and are in charge of their own lives and not dictated to by men, the birth rate falls -- which is a very good reason for getting rid of slums". In short, Attenborough's support for raising the level of education among women outside the Western world is dependent on the promise that they stop having children. Many of us will be familiar with the stereotype of the racist Little Englander, who bemoans the procreation of "them" -- usually Muslims or black people -- claiming that there's not enough housing or jobs or space for anyone who isn't one of "us". We condemn such views as racist, but why don't we criticise the "us and them" logic of environmentalists hellbent on bringing down population numbers in other parts of the world?

Is it a coincidence that many of the groups that support Thriving Together -- from Greenpeace to Marie Stopes International -- focus on the "marginalised communities" of developing countries, while their supporters on the front page of their website are people like Dr Jane Goodall? Of course, some of these institutions have form in the area of controversial support for population control. As Zoe Williams once pointed out in the Guardian, Marie Stopes herself was a zealous believer in sterilising the great unwashed: "Young married men of the professional classes are today often forced by conditions to remain sterile, though they passionately desire the healthy children they could have if they did not have hordes of defectives to support in one way or the other."

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


Three Republicans vote against bill that makes lynching a federal crime (Emily Singer, February 26, 2020, American independent)

Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Ted Yoho of Florida all voted against the bill -- a piece of legislation that Congress has tried and failed to enact nearly 200 times over the last century, according to the Washington Post. [...]

Among the GOP lawmakers who changed their vote at the last minute was Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who has had his committee assignments stripped last year over comments supporting white supremacism.

Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Chip Roy of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, and Ralph Norman of South Carolina also first voted against the bill before changing their vote to yea.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


The FBI Just Arrested a Bunch of Neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Members (Tess Owen, Feb 26 2020, Vice news)

Five "racially motivated violent extremists" with ties to the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen, including its current leader, have been arrested by the FBI, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

Of those, four were charged in the U.S. District Court in Seattle for allegedly sending racist and anti-Semitic threats to journalists and activists around the country and the fifth was charged in Virginia for his alleged participation in a swatting campaign.

Wednesday's news marks the biggest bust of the notorious group since it was founded five years ago, by a group of young, white men who met on the neo-Nazi site Iron March. 

It's Trump voter suppression!

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Coronavirus fatality rates vary wildly depending on age, gender and medical history (QUENTIN FOTTRELL, 2/26/20, Market Watch)

The medical journal JAMA released a paper this week analyzing data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention on 72,314 coronavirus cases in mainland China, the figure as of Feb. 11, the largest such sample in a study of this kind.

The sample's overall case-fatality rate was 2.3%, higher than World Health Organization official 0.7% rate. No deaths occurred in those aged 9 years and younger, but cases in those aged 70 to 79 years had an 8% fatality rate and those aged 80 years and older had a fatality rate of 14.8%.

No deaths were reported among mild and severe cases. The fatality rate was 49% among critical cases, and elevated among those with preexisting conditions: 10.5% for people with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer.

The latest China-based study, which was not peer-reviewed by U.S. scientists, found that men had a fatality rate of 2.8% versus 1.7% for women. Some doctors have said that women may have a stronger immune system as a genetic advantage to help babies during pregnancy.

The Chinese study is likely not representative of what might happen if the global spread of the virus worsens. In China, nearly half of men smoke cigarettes compared to roughly 2% of women, which could be one reason for the higher death rate among males.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Donald Trump's campaign SUES the New York Times for 'libel' over columnist's claim of a 'real Trump-Russia quid pro quo' (KATELYN CARALLE, 26 February 2020, Daily Mail)

The lawsuit stems from a March 2019 op-ed that claimed Trump had a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to help him win in the 2016 election in exchange for relief to Russia once he was in office

'The complaint alleges The Times was aware of the falsity at the time it published them, but did so for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process,' she continued.

The case stems from a March 2019 op-ed article by columnist Max Frankel, who also served as the Times' executive editor from 1986-1994.

He argues in the piece that there was an understood agreement between the Kremlin and Trump campaign to assist him in getting elected in exchange for relief toward Russia once he was in office.

'There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin's oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration's burdensome economic sanctions,' Frankel wrote at the time.

'The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo,' he continued.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


In Balloon, a Great Escape from Socialism (KYLE SMITH, February 26, 2020, National Review)

Two ordinary families living a routine existence in Poessneck, a small East German town in 1979, yearn to escape by making their own hot-air balloon and soaring south over the border into West Germany. Some 75,000 East Germans were imprisoned for trying to make their way into the West, and about 800 were outright murdered by their own security forces in such attempts. The peril level is set at maximum, then, for these average citizens, and layered atop that is the massive danger of sailing thousands of feet up in a rickety jury-rigged contraption built by amateurs. Balloon revels in exploring the details of every possible kind of danger these people face, so it's a nerve-wincher, a cracking good escape thriller, but that's not all it is.

As breathtakingly plotted as the film is, it is nevertheless based on the true story of Peter Strelzyk (Friedrich Mücke) and Günter Wetzel (David Kross), who together with their wives Doris (Karoline Schuch) and Petra (Alicia von Rittberg) schemed to become the first people ever to escape East Germany in a hot-air balloon. The story was previously filmed at Disney, in Night Crossing (1982), but that retelling was much less faithful to the facts.

Balloon takes care not to exaggerate the suffering of Peter and Günter and their families. Even in a police state, it's possible to muddle through. If they just keep their heads down, say nothing controversial and salute the Party on cue, they'll survive, even enjoy something in the ballpark of a recognizable standard of living to Westerners. Still, there are glimpses of how a centralized economy makes everything an endless gray trudge, in which glum women line up patiently for groceries but worry that the coffee will be gone by the time they get in the store.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Surprise: China's Economy Is Smaller Than You Think (Salvatore Babones, 2/25/20, National Interest)

Four intrepid economists--Wei Chen, Xilu Chen and Michael Song of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, along with Chang-Tai Hsieh of the University of Chicago--have taken a fine-toothed comb to Chinese economic data to try to tease out China's true rate of economic growth since 2008. Not surprisingly, they found that China has been over-reporting its growth rate by an average of 1.7 percentage points every year.

Shave off a little growth every year for the last dozen years ago, and the cumulative effect is that China is now overstating its true GDP by nearly 20 percent.

The four economists' "forensic examination" of China's GDP figures relied on hard-to-fake data like tax receipts, nighttime light intensity observed from satellites, electricity generation, railway cargo and merchandise exports to estimate China's true growth rate since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Their estimates are both much more volatile and nearly always lower than the figures reported by China's National Bureau of Statistics.

China's 2018 GDP on China's official statistical website shows that ¥93.15 trillion translates to around $13.4 trillion in U.S. dollars. That compares to $20.5 trillion for the United States, valuing China's economy at about 65 percent of the size of America's. Of course, China has more than four times the population of the United States, so in per capita terms China is still way behind at $9,800 compared to nearly $63,000 for the United States.

But at least they have a rapidly aging population with no safety net....

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Canterbury Tales is first major literary work developed as an appA University of Saskatchewan-led international team has produced the first web and mobile phone app of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales--the first major literary work augmented by new scholarship, in any language, presented in an app. (USASK RESEARCH PROFILE AND IMPACT, Feb 2, 2020, University of Saskatchewan)

"We want the public, not just academics, to see the manuscript as Chaucer would have likely thought of it--as a performance that mixed drama and humor," said University of Saskatchewan (USask) English professor Peter Robinson, leader of the project.

"We have become convinced, over many years, that the best way to read the Tales is to hear it performed--just as we imagine that Chaucer himself might have performed it at the court of Richard II."

The free app is the first edition in a planned series. The app features a 45-minute audio performance of the General Prologue of the Tales--the masterpiece work by the most important English writer before Shakespeare--along with the digitized original manuscript. While listening to the reading, users have access to supporting content such as a translation in modern English, commentary, notes and vocabulary explaining Middle English words used by Chaucer.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Christian leaders speak out as Trump's extended travel ban goes into effect (Samuel Smith, February 25, 2020, Christian Post)

While those on the political left have long been vocal in their opposition to the travel restrictions, the expansion of the policy drew responses from some Christian leaders who have been supportive of the Trump administration's push to promote international religious freedom. 

This includes David Curry, president of Open Doors USA, a global persecution watchdog organization active in over 60 countries. Six of the 13 countries included on the travel ban list are listed on Open Doors USA's 2020 World Watch List of the 50 worst countries in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. Eritrea is ranked No. 6, while Nigeria is ranked No. 12 and Myanmar is ranked No. 19. 

"Though I recognize there is an important discussion on how to best deal with terrorists who are present dangers to free societies, we must never restrict based on religious identification," Curry said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. "It's up to us to exemplify religious tolerance and freedom on a daily basis. To the degree we have failed in the past, let's never fail to fix the wrong and to keep raising the level of freedom."

Travis Wussow, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told The Alabama Baptist that SBC churches are among the "most committed people in the country" when it comes to "ministering to those fleeing persecution." 

Wussow asserted that while international religious freedom has been a priority to the Trump administration, any policy that "closes the door to refugees" undercuts such a priority. He stressed that the U.S. should find a way to balance "security and compassion." 

"[Our churches] recognize that all of those escaping tyranny are made in the image of God, and many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ," Wussow said in a statement. "That's why, from the beginning, the ERLC has asked our government to do everything possible to provide security without turning away from those in danger and need."

World Relief, an evangelical refugee resettlement agency and humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals that has helped resettle thousands of refugees since the 1980s, has long opposed the travel ban.

World Relief President Scott Arbeiter argued in a statement that the new restrictions "will mean families seeking reunification will be stymied."

"This overly broad policy unfairly targets individuals of particular nationalities in Africa and Asia, and sadly it's consistent with various other policies that have the effect of significantly restricting legal immigration to the United States," Arbeiter stated. 

Although the extended travel ban does not apply to the U.S. refugee resettlement program, World Relief fears how the ban will impact Myanmar. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been the top country of origin for refugees resettled to the U.S. in the past decade with over 150,000 resettled in the last 12 years. 

Many of those 150,000, World Relief notes, are persecuted Christians.

Prior to the official signing of the travel ban extension, Michael K. Le Roy, president of the reformed Christian institution Calvin University in Michigan, voiced concern with reports of Nigeria's inclusion in the travel ban with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. 

Le Roy raised the issue during a question and answer session at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Presidents Conference in Washington. He said that Calvin University's mission is to equip students "to think deeply, to act justly and to live wholeheartedly as Christ's agents of renewal in the world."

"I am really concerned about these reports that I have heard that Nigeria may be [put] on the banned country list," he said, adding that the university has students that come from Nigeria. "We have a long history of working with [Nigerian Christian students] to the extent that a ban would limit those students' opportunities to be a part of our community."

He argued that a ban on Nigeria and other countries would "rob" Christian students from those places of the opportunities.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A handful of US cities have passed soda taxes, but are they working? (Chase Purdy, 2/26/20, Quartz)

The logic behind a sin tax boils down to simple economics. If the price of a product increases, sales can be expected to decrease. But the end goal of a soda tax isn't simply to cut soda consumption--it's to reduce the health problems associated with sugar. So as the first round of soda taxes gains traction, it's time to ask: Are they working?

The answer is hard to find, because research is limited. And what evidence exists is mostly focused on consumption, not health.

A new study published in the May edition of the journal Economics & Human Biology, for example, explored how a tax on soda played out in Seattle. After adopting a 1.7-cent tax for every ounce of soda at the beginning of 2018, soda prices rose by about 59%--and correspondingly, sales fell by 30.5%. Similarly, a study published this week found that a penny-per-ounce soda tax passed (and repealed four months later) in Cook County, Illinois decreased purchases of sugary drinks by 21%. In Philadelphia, soda sales reportedly fell 46%.

Alone, those numbers don't tell you the soda tax caused the drop in drinking: Market data suggest people are voluntarily choosing other drinks over soda, particularly water. But having a tax in place does appear to encourage the switch. Compare Seattle to Portland, which does not have a tax: In the same time period after January 2018, the researchers found sugary drink sales in Portland only dropped by 10% compared to Seattle's 30.5%.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The US Government Has Sanitized War (William Astore, 2/26/20, The Nation)

Even though the United States now lives in a state of perpetual war, for most Americans it's a peculiar form of non-war. Most of the time, those overseas conflicts are literally out of sight (and largely out of mind). Meanwhile, whatever administration is in power assures us that our attention isn't required, nor is our approval asked for, so we carry on with our lives as if no one is being murdered in our name.

War without dire consequences poses a conundrum.

The great lesson of the WoT is that we basically only incur casualties if we occupy the countries we defeat.  The UR defeated ISIS without any and wisely eschewed putting troops on the ground afterwards, giving us our first bloodless war.  

This new reality is why we can withdraw from Afghanistan.  If the Taliban behaves in ways we disapprove of we can annihilate them at no cost to us.

It is what we should do with Assad and should have done in 2003.

February 25, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Havana gives front-page coverage to Bernie Sanders for praising Fidel Castro (NORA GÁMEZ TORRES, FEBRUARY 25, 2020, Miami Herald)

Bernie Sanders hopes that in 2020 his progressive message has sunk in so deeply that the Democratic Party is ready to make him its new leader. BY ADAM WOLLNER | PATRICK GLEASON
While presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has created a storm of criticism in the U.s. after his recent comments on Fidel Castro, there is a place where the Vermont senator has become front-page news, and in a positive light.

That place is Havana, where the newspaper of the Communist Party prominently displayed a report about Sanders and his praise of "some of the social programs implemented by the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro."

"US Senator Bernie Sanders, today one of the strongest candidates for the nomination of the Democratic Party to the November presidential elections, recognized Cuba's role in sending doctors worldwide," Granma said.

When a Socialist runs against a Nationalist Socialist, it's just a fight over which dictatorships you love more.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


Bernie Sanders's evolution on immigration, explained (Nicole Narea, Feb 25, 2020, Vox)

Sanders broke with prominent Democrats to oppose a key comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2007 that would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants living in the US. He opposed measures to increase the number of guest workers and offer green cards to citizens of countries with low levels of immigration. And he once voted for an amendment supporting a group of vigilantes that sought to take immigration enforcement into their own hands along the border (though he has since disavowed the group.)

Whether immigrants actually drive down wages for American workers, or put them out of jobs entirely, is a question that continues to divide economists. But Sanders's public statements and voting records over his nearly three-decade career in Congress suggest he thinks they do -- a belief historically shared by American labor groups but an uneasy fit with a modern Democratic Party positioning itself against President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Why Is Trump Attacking Justice Sotomayor? (Nancy LeTourneau, February 25, 2020, Washington Monthly)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Accuses Sotomayor of Using 'Shame' to Turn Conservative Justices against His Administration (TOBIAS HOONHOUT, February 25, 2020, National Review)

 "She's trying to shame people with perhaps a different view into voting her way..."

A rare insight from Little Finger; nearly all of the cases where the majority cast votes they should be ashamed of were decided wrongly.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The US Intelligence Community Is Caught in a Collector's Trap (ZACHERY TYSON BROWN, 2/25/20, Defense One)

By the time the modern intelligence community was established in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the scale of that challenge had grown so vast that Sherman Kent, one of the community's founding fathers, observed that "...to be able to deliver [intelligence] in the fashion apparently expected... would demand a research staff large enough to codify and keep up-to-date virtually the sum-total of universal knowledge." [...]

The classified collection model's architects built a sprawling intelligence-gathering armature whose ambitions, in time, would brush the limits of what was possible. But the model's fundamental logic stayed intact throughout the Cold War because the most useful information--war plans, missile designs, and the like--remained in the hands of a relatively small number of elites.

Today, the situation is reversed. In sharp contrast to Kent's era, useful information is now quite literally everywhere. Rather than belonging to few, it can come from practically anyone, anywhere on earth. And due to the growing complexity of international affairs, more information does not equate to more accurate forecasts.  [...]

Today, the intelligence community owns the collection platforms, as well as the exploitation and processing centers, the communications channels, and even the administrative infrastructure that controls access to classified information. 

The intelligence community is not a business, nor is it motivated by profit. But it should apply the lessons learned by other institutions adapting to change, and its efforts should profit the nation. The time to begin thinking about a pivot is long overdue. The intelligence community must chart a bold new model suited to the information-rich reality of our digital era, and finally, break free from the collector's trap. 

The nation's intelligence services should conform to the nation's needs. In the past, when useful information was scarcer, the need was to find pieces of it wherever they hid and use them to build a coherent picture. What today's America needs most, in contrast, is help making sense of a shapeless, increasingly discordant world where information is abundant but truth is in short supply.

Today, intelligence can no longer be synonymous with information, or even with secrecy--the very notion of which is dying. Soon, there will be no more hiding in an increasingly transparent world that is always monitoring, always tracking, and always listening. When information is cheap and easily accessible, what is valuable is discernment and curation. 

Let's get back to Clausewitz. He said critical analysis is "tracing effects to their causes," that is, illuminating the connections between things to determine "...which among the countless concatenations of events are the essential ones." This is a solid value proposition for intelligence in the information age. He further warned against treating separately what is more accurately viewed as a gestalt, and reminded us that individual actions, "however small their cause, must influence all subsequent military operations and modify their outcome to some degree, however slight." In other words: It's all connected, man.

My argument is not that we should stop collecting secrets, only that we should place less emphasis on doing so and realign limited resources accordingly.

Open Source it all and you'll have millions of sets of eyes and computer programs analyzing it.  The lesson of business is open markets.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Southern California home prices rise nearly 7% in January as market heats up (ANDREW KHOURI, FEB. 25, 2020, LA Times)

Southern California home prices shot up in January from a year earlier, as buyers fought over a meager supply of homes for sale across the six-county region.

The area's median price -- the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less -- clocked in at $533,000, DQNews said Monday. That was 6.6% higher than a year earlier. It's the latest indication that the housing market is heating up after muddling through much of 2019.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Say Amen, Somebody' Restoration Unveils The Wonder Of The Gospel Pioneers (HOWIE MOVSHOVITZ, 2/25/20, NPR: Morning Edition)

Say Amen, Somebody, a documentary about the men and women who pioneered African American gospel music, was widely praised upon its release in 1982; the late Roger Ebert called it "One of the most joyful movies I've ever seen." But it hasn't been seen in theaters in nearly 30 years. Now George T. Nierenberg's film has been restored and re-released to theaters and DVD.

At the time, Nierenberg was looking for a follow-up to his award-winning 1979 tap dance documentary, No Maps on My Taps, when he had dinner with musician Ry Cooder.

"I asked him for any suggestions that he had for another topic for an interesting film, and he said -- these were his exact words -- he said, 'You oughta look into gospel music; those cats are really neat,' " Nierenberg remembers.

February 24, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


A socialist is likely to win the 2020 election. No, not Bernie Sanders. (Catherine Rampell, Feb. 24, 2020, wASHINGTON pOST)

 Trump, meanwhile, has brainwashed his supposedly free-market party into backing a command-and-control-style economy. When it's commanded-and-controlled by Trump, anyway.

With nary a peep from his party, Trump has tried to prop up pet industries, such as coal, by government fiat. Indeed, other Republicans have since copied his strategy at the state level.

Likewise, in a move that once would have had Republicans screaming bloody murder, Trump has slapped tariffs on virtually every major trading partner around the world to protect favored industries, such as steel. This not only failed to rejuvenate steel but also led to widespread retaliation, including tit-for-tat tariffs aimed at farm country, a key part of the Republican base.

Trump then decided even more central planning was in order. Again, his party didn't stop him.

First, the president unilaterally decided to use taxpayer funds to bail out farmers hurt by his trade wars. When that didn't work, he did it again. In a tweet Friday, he suggested that a third bailout might yet be necessary.

Already, Trump's farmer trade bailouts are more than double the size of the 2009 auto bailout.

A decade ago -- with the global economy on the verge of another depression -- Republicans howled that this U.S. auto industry rescue package was "the leading edge of the Obama administration's war on capitalism" and would set us on "the road toward socialism."

Today, these same Republicans seem curiously unperturbed.

Republicans, too, once argued that we should encourage China to become more market-oriented. But Trump has demanded that China engage in even more centralized economic planning -- through minimum purchase commitments of U.S. goods regardless of market conditions.

It's as if the president is trying to provide proof of concept for President Dwight Eisenhower's domino theory. Republicans' response? Stand by and praise him.

Conservatives, likewise, complain that Sanders and his socialist allies wish to bloat budget deficits. Under Trump, of course, this has already happened. The deficit in fiscal 2019 was a whopping 48 percent higher than it was in fiscal 2017, thanks to GOP policies. And while "Crazy Bernie" does intend to jack up tax rates to (partly) offset his spending, Trump has raised some taxes on Americans, too -- he's just done it more regressively, through taxes on imports rather than income.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM



How about Joseph Mitchell?

The thing about Joe Mitchell is that he knew everything. No subject escaped him, from James Joyce to horse breeding, backcountry life, culture. A. J. Liebling, his close friend and colleague, resented this. So one day Liebling is wandering around Sixth Avenue--it still had the elevated track--and there was a little taxidermy shop under the subway, and he goes in and finds a little set of bones. The owner says, "These are very interesting. They're the bones of a young male opossum, which has a bone in its penis." Liebling buys this collection of bones for six dollars and brings it over to the office wrapped up in a paper bag. Mitchell is typing. Liebling knocks on the door, comes in, unwraps the package, and puts it on the table. Mitchell looks at it and says, "Pecker bone of a young male opossum--anything you want to know about that?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Why the U.S. Trade Deficit Can Be a Sign of a Healthy Economy (Roger L. Martin, July 27, 2018, Harvard Business Review)

Do a little thought experiment: Imagine that your country is the world's most attractive country in which to invest capital, because it has the biggest and richest market in the world, and the world's most used and tradable currency, and it is scrupulous about protecting the rights of investors. Imagine further that its advanced economy is leading the world in the transition to a service-based economy, and as a result, it runs the world's biggest services trade surplus -- by a factor of more than two over the next biggest surplus in the world.

Per standard macroeconomic theory, this imaginary country would run the world's biggest deficit in traded goods. And it would have absolutely nothing to do with its being uncompetitive or its people profligate. It can't be the best place to invest and the best service exporter without running a huge goods trade deficit. (Because, remember, all three things have to sum to zero.) Well, the mystery country is, of course, the U.S. -- and the U.S. trade deficit, according to this argument, is a logical consequence of America's success and superior know-how relative to other countries. On this basis, the trade deficit should be something to brag about rather than denounce.

In an inflows-causes-deficits narrative, the trigger for the rise in the U.S. trade deficit is not cheap overseas labor or American profligacy. Rather, it is President Nixon's 1971 decision to take the U.S. off of the gold standard and end the postwar Bretton Woods period of fixed exchange rates. That decision launched what has turned out to be a nearly half-century period of upward-trending deficits in the trade of goods with other nations. What President Nixon could never have guessed is that when he triggered the end of Bretton Woods, he made it much more important for global investors to choose wisely when deciding where to invest their capital internationally.

Prior to August 15, 1971, it didn't matter as much because your currency was fixed against the U.S. currency, and the U.S. promised to give you one ounce of gold if you used your currency to buy $35. So, you could invest in France and not have to worry about your francs becoming worth less in U.S. dollars than when you first invested. After 1971 it was really helpful to invest your capital in the most robust and open market in the world, and the world's investors have increasingly figured that market is the U.S. -- not Japan with its shrinking population, or China with its rampant corruption, or Europe with its economic sclerosis.

Since 2000 the U.S. has received, on average, a net capital inflow of over half a trillion -- per year! And to put more upward pressure on the goods trade balance, the U.S. services trade balance, which was trivial as late as 1985, is now in the neighborhood of one-quarter of $1 trillion dollars per year.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Weinstein convicted of rape, sexual assault in landmark moment for #MeToo (MICHAEL R. SISAK and TOM HAYS, 2/24/20, AP) 

Harvey Weinstein was convicted Monday at his sexual assault trial, sealing his dizzying fall from powerful Hollywood studio boss to arch-villain of the #MeToo movement.

He was found guilty of a criminal sex act for assaulting production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in 2006 and third-degree rape of a woman in 2013. The jury found him not guilty on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault, that could have resulted in a life sentence.

The verdict followed weeks of often harrowing and excruciatingly graphic testimony from a string of accusers who told of rapes, forced oral sex, groping, masturbation, lewd propositions, and "that's-Hollywood" excuses from Weinstein about how the casting couch works.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The jazz icon Sonny Rollins knows life is a solo trip. (David Marchese, 2/23/20, NY Times Magazine)

I only realized when I spoke to you a couple of years ago that you had to give up the saxophone. So much of your life had been about using music to fulfill your potential as a person. Now that you don't play, is fulfillment still possible? 

When I had to stop playing it was quite traumatic. But I realized that instead of lamenting and crying, I should be grateful for the fact that I was able to do music all of my life. So I had that realization, plus my spiritual beliefs, which I've been cultivating for many years. All that work went into my accepting the fact that I couldn't play my horn.

Tell me more about that work. 

I'm working toward why I'm here -- what it's all about. At this point in my life I'm -- well, I don't want to say satisfied, but I feel that I'm closer to an understanding. It's always been my idea that the golden rule is a good thing, but I wasn't quite able to understand if the golden rule was possible. If somebody is playing music and I'm playing music and we're in a saxophone battle, I still have to play my best, regardless of the other guy. It has nothing to do with my trying to make him feel bad because playing music is for a higher cause. So I believe living by the golden rule is possible. Not only possible but the reason we're here.

Were you playing for a higher cause on something like "The Serpent's Tooth" with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis? In your solo you quoted the melody of "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)." That wasn't intended as a provocation? 

If I was so stupid to have to implied that, then I was ignorant. I was in Miles's band at the time and "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)" was just one of the riffs that we played. It had nothing to do with my attitude about Charlie Parker. I would never say that to him. But I take your criticism. I might have been a foolish young boy playing that to his guru. If there was a little of that, it was sophomoric. I was ignorant. I am still ignorant about many things.

I'm also thinking about when you played with John Coltrane on "Tenor Madness." There's a part of that performance where you guys were trading fours and he played a lick and in response you played the same lick but with the notes reversed. That wasn't meant as one-upmanship? 

David, I don't believe I've mentioned this to many people. When I played with Coltrane, I had the impression -- and back then it was true -- that I was much more popular than him. I remember what Kamasi Washington said about "Tenor Madness": "Sonny, you weren't even really playing." I wasn't really playing. Coltrane was playing. I was only playing halfway, because I thought that I was the guy and that Coltrane was this young whippersnapper. That was my mind-set. It was immature.

So you were holding back to show your status? 

Exactly. I don't want people to think that I'm saying, "Oh, wow, I could have played much better," but that's the story of "Tenor Madness." My attitude on it wasn't right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Irony in Being Unable to Explain Irony: What makes something ironic? (Roger J. Kreuz, 2/24/20, National Interest)

In general, irony refers to a clash between expectations and outcomes. Typically, the outcome is the opposite of what someone wanted or hoped for. It's ironic, for example, when your boss calls you into her office, and you're expecting a promotion, but you instead find out you've been fired.

This clash carries over to verbal irony, in which people say the opposite of what they literally mean. But such expectations are subjective, and verbal ironists don't always mean the exact opposite of what they say. Insulting someone by saying they're the most intelligent person on Earth, for example, doesn't mean they are the least intelligent; it just means they're not all that bright.

Some cases, however, are relatively straightforward. Consider situational irony, in which two things become odd or humorous when juxtaposed. A photo of a sign in front of a school with a misspelled word - "We are committed to excellense" - went viral. And the January 2020 rescheduling of an annual snowball fight at the University of British Columbia was correctly described as ironic because of the reason for the cancelation: too much snow.

In other cases, however, a situation may lack an essential element that irony seems to require. It's not ironic when someone's home is burglarized, but it is if the owner had just installed an elaborate security system and had failed to activate it. It's not ironic when a magician cancels a show due to "unforeseen circumstances," but it is when a psychic's performance is canceled for the same reason.

In 1996, Alanis Morissette was roundly criticized by pedants who argued that the examples of situational irony in her song "Ironic" - "It's like rain on your wedding day" - were not, in fact, ironic.

Warnings abound in dictionaries and style guides. "The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage," for example, warns that "not every coincidence, curiosity, oddity and paradox is an irony even loosely."

One reason that irony is so confusing is that the word also refers to a certain perspective or style: one that is detached, aloof and seemingly world-weary. This affectation is often referred to as the "ironic attitude" and has come to be associated with adolescents or young adults.

Following 9/11, many pundits announced the "death of irony," arguing that a frivolous and flippant attitude, often described as ironic, was out of step with the times.

If this were true, irony didn't stay dead for long. In fact, the ironic attitude has been declared dead with almost every change in recent American politics. In 2008, Joan Didion worried that Barack Obama's election was fueled by a naïve belief in "hope" that would transform the country into an "irony-free zone." Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote in 2019 that Donald Trump's hypocrisy has - once again - killed irony.

Consider that God had to expel Man from paradise because He had Created us imperfectly and that when He came to live as a Man, to teach us to live perfectly, He instead sinned when confronted with mortality.  Existence is ironic.

February 23, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Who Can be An American? (Donald J. Fraser, 2/23/20, HNN)

There have always been two views of what makes America a nation. One is tied to a traditional racial or ethnic view, ethnonationalism for short. The other is an ideal of America, as expressed in Jefferson's natural rights section of the Declaration of Independence, which Gunnar Myrdal called the American Creed.

Today, the United States is religiously, culturally, and ethnically diverse. Yet we see ourselves as Americans in large part due to a creedal notion of America. In 2018, two scholars at Grinnell College "polled Americans on what they most associate with being a real American." They found that a "vast majority of respondents identified a set of values as more essential than any particular identity." As historian Mark Byrnes wrote for the History News Network back in 2016, "The United States is fundamentally an idea, one whose basic tenets were argued in the Declaration of Independence and given practical application in the Constitution." These ideas revolve around liberty, equality, self-government, and equal justice for all, and have universal appeal. They are not partisan, not tied to any particular political party. Men with such differing political ideologies as Barack Obama and Lindsey Graham share in the creedal notion of America.

The universal ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and memorialized in the law through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have not always been achieved, certainly not at the time they were written, and not today as we continue with the struggle to meet them. Nor are they self-actualizing. One way to view American history is as a struggle by individuals and groups to claim their share of these rights, from the abolishment of slavery, to the women's movement to gain the vote and a share of equal rights, to today's clash over gay and transgender rights. 

Despite the strong appeal of the American Creed, 25 percent of those polled by Grinnell College held nativist views similar to those espoused by Donald Trump.

It's why the Trumpbots defend him so fiercely; we haven't had a similarly anti-American leader since Wilson and aren't likely to ever have another.  He is as good as it gets if you are racist.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Trump's New Spy Chief Used to Work for a Foreign Politician the U.S. Accused of Corruption (Isaac Arnsdorf Feb. 21, 2020, ProPublica)

President Donald Trump's new acting intelligence director, Richard Grenell, used to do consulting work on behalf of an Eastern European oligarch who is now a fugitive and was recently barred from entering the U.S. under anti-corruption sanctions imposed last month by the State Department.

In 2016, Grenell wrote several articles defending the oligarch, a Moldovan politician named Vladimir Plahotniuc, but did not disclose that he was being paid, according to records and interviews. Grenell also did not register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which generally requires people to disclose work in the U.S. on behalf of foreign politicians.

FARA is the same law that Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates were convicted of violating.

If you aren't corrupt you don't work for him.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Public Support Grows for Higher Teacher Pay and Expanded School Choice (Michael B. Henderson, David Houston, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West, 2019, Education Next)

Free College

Calls to make public colleges tuition-free are on the rise. Bernie Sanders zeroed in on the issue in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, and now several contenders for the 2020 nomination are offering proposals of their own. At the same time, a number of states, such as Tennessee, have launched programs to make tuition free at public two-year community colleges, and others, such as New York, have waived in-state tuition at public four-year colleges and universities.

We asked survey respondents whether they favor or oppose making public colleges in the United States free to attend. Some participants were asked about two-year colleges while others were asked about four-year colleges. For both types of college, free tuition is a popular concept (see Figure 10). Sixty percent of Americans endorse the idea of making public four-year colleges free, and even more (69%) want free public two-year colleges.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Public Support Grows for Higher Teacher Pay and Expanded School Choice (Michael B. Henderson, David Houston, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West, 2019, Education Next)

Common Core. After several years of vigorous debate, support for the Common Core State Standards is rebounding (see Figure 9). Overall, 50% of Americans endorse use of the standards in their state, continuing a climb in approval from its low point of 41% in 2017. The resurgence in support is strongest among Republicans, rising to 46% from 32% over the past two years. Even so, Republicans remain divided over the standards, with 47% opposing their adoption. Democrats, who since at least 2014 have consistently expressed higher levels of approval for the standards than Republicans have, hold steady at 52% in favor and 36% opposed. Today, the party gap is the smallest it has been since 2013, when there was almost no difference between Republicans and Democrats over the Common Core. After opening to a 20-percentage-point chasm by 2015, the difference between Democrats and Republicans stands at just 6 percentage points today.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The 'New Right' Is Older Than You ThinkBlame a 150 year old French thinker. (Pablo de Orellana Nicholas Michelsen, National Interest)

Our new research shows that the nationalist far right arises from a deeper history. New Right ideas are clearly not a revival of 1930s fascism. Despite some similarities, today's nationalists are more directly inspired by a late 19th-century French line of thinking.

We spent the last two years analysing hundreds of documents written by New Right thinkers and their forebears to explain how and why these ideas take root. This ideological history is important if today's nationalists are to be understood, and if there is to be any hope of overcoming the racism and sexism inherent to their ideas.

What our research shows is that we are living through the latest battle in a 300-year long ideological war over the meaning of humanity itself. On one side is the belief in a universal idea of humanity, which produced notions of equal rights, humanism and liberalism. Opposing it is the belief that marks all forms of nationalism: that humanity is not a single entity but rather, one divided by nature into national identities.

Nationalism is the dark cousin of liberalism. Both seek to establish freedoms and rights. If the French Revolution gave rise to the "rights of man", Napoleon's subsequent coup and his idea of the "nation" argued that only the French, not all men, should enjoy those rights. Half a century later, nationalism was being regularly used by politicians like Otto von Bismarck to confront expanding claims to political rights with the argument that the national necessity of a vaguely defined identity trumped granting certain rights to citizens.

These ideas drew heavily on ethno-nationalist geopolitics, which treated each nation as a distinct species struggling for survival. International relations was viewed as a zero-sum game where the survival of a nation sometimes necessitates the destruction of others.

Then Maurice Barrès came along 1897. He was the thinker behind a very specific set of nationalist ideas that developed more restrictive definitions of national identity than those of the previous nationalist pioneers. His idea of nationalism was focused on birth and culture, rather than civil belonging (as for Napoleon) or loyalty (as for Bismarck). Our research has found that key ideas in today's New Right find their roots in Barrès and especially retain his ideas about culture and racial birth.

Barrès theorised that the culture and integrity of a nation was "eternal", and that any change to it, whether brought about by foreign influence or progressive politics, would bring about its demise. Any cultural change, be it to the arts, to the role of women, or to racial assumptions, was seen to erode the spirit of the nation and its way of life. Ideas about the state, belonging and politics, which emerged from Barrès and like-minded thinkers like Charles Maurrastended to advocate racial and cultural exclusion as necessary to national survival.

The key idea introduced by Barrès was the link between race and culture. It meant that culture needed to remain unchanged if it was to survive, as did the race that produced it. Even more importantly, it introduced the notion that any progressive, modern or culture-changing idea endangered the nation's survival. This idea has found its way to the heart of New Right nationalism today, which is why they attack liberals, socialists, feminists, progressives, and their institutions as much as foreigners.

The battle against Donald and all he stands for is just another skirmish in the Long War between Anglospheric and French/Continental ideas.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mulvaney says U.S. is 'desperate' for more legal immigrants (Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 20, 2020, Washington Post)

 Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told a crowd at a private gathering in England on Wednesday night that the Trump administration "needs more immigrants" for the U.S. economy to continue growing, according to an audio recording of his remarks obtained by The Washington Post.

"We are desperate -- desperate -- for more people," Mulvaney said. "We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth that we've had in our nation over the last four years. We need more immigrants."

The bidding war for immigrants is going to be lit.  

February 22, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


A very different, very clean energy source: thin air: A microbial organism pulls electricity from water in the air. (ROBBY BERMAN, 21 February, 2020, Big Think)

The rod-shaped microbe, Geobacter sulfurreducens is, as its name implies, a member of the Geobacter genus, a group referred to as "electrigens" for their known ability to generate an electrical charge. It was UMass Amherst microbiologist Derek Lovley who found and wrote about the microbe in the late 80s.

It was also Lovlley's lab that discovered the microbe has a talent for producing electrically conductive protein nanowires, and his lab recently developed a new Geobacter strain that could produce them more rapidly and inexpensively. "We turned E. coli into a protein nanowire factory," Lovley says. What this means, he says, is that "With this new scalable process, protein nanowire supply will no longer be a bottleneck to developing these applications."

Enter electrical engineer Jun Yao, also of UMass Amherst. His specialty had been engineering electronic devices using silicon nanowires. The two decided to work together to see if they could turn Geobacter's protein nanowires into something useful.

The fruit of their collaboration is a device they call "Air-gen." It employs a thin film of Geobacter nanowires less than 10 microns thick resting on an electrode. Another, smaller electrode sits on top of the film. The film collects, or adsorbs, water vapor, and its surface chemistry and conductivity produce a charge that passes between the two electrodes through the fine gaps between individual nanowires.

Yao's doctoral student Xiaomeng Liu recalls, "I saw that when the nanowires were contacted with electrodes in a specific way the devices generated a current. I found that that exposure to atmospheric humidity was essential and that protein nanowires adsorbed water, producing a voltage gradient across the device."

Says Yao, "We are literally making electricity out of thin air." The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7. "It's the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet." The two see their new technology as being non-polluting, renewable, and low cost- with distinct advantages over other developing energy sources such as solar and wind for at least one big reason, "it even works indoors" notes Lovley.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


US manufacturing jobs are not in demand any longer: Farmgirl Flowers CEO on moving jobs to Ecuador (Emily McCormick, 2/16/20, Yahoo Finance)

Last year, Farmgirl Flowers had a hiring problem.

The e-commerce flower delivery startup struggled to find people to fill open positions at its flagship distribution center in San Francisco.

"We had at least 30% of our positions open all of last year," Christina Stembel, founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, told Yahoo Finance in a Breakouts series interview. "We had no less than 40 positions open the entire year trying to find people, especially in San Francisco."

Farmgirl Flowers, a bootstrapped startup with more than 160 employees, delivers between 6,000 to 8,000 bouquets across 48 states in a typical week and brought in more than $30 million in revenue last year.

For a company that depends on shipping a highly perishable product to customers across the country, the lack of staffing was palpable.

"It's a universal problem in the United States right now," Stembel said. "Manufacturing jobs are not the ones that are in demand any longer, and so trying to find people that want to work at these types of jobs is very challenging."

Labor is for Cain.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM

COULD BE WORSE (self-reference alert):

When a county changed a Confederate highway name, some navigation apps were slow to change it (Andrew Zaleski, Feb. 18, 2020, Washington Post)

If you were driving through Arlington in September, you might have noticed a change that was almost five years in the making: Jefferson Davis Highway was no more. Instead, the stretch of U.S. Route 1 that runs through Crystal City -- where Jeff Bezos's Amazon empire is setting up a new headquarters -- had been renamed Richmond Highway. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

In renaming the road, Arlington was following Alexandria, where another portion of Route 1 lies; in 2018, the city council there unanimously voted to change the name of its stretch of Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway. Arlington's leaders would have acted sooner, but, because Arlington is a county, not a city, it wasn't clear whether they could do so without approval from Virginia's General Assembly. And so they were stymied until March 2019, when the state attorney general issued a legal opinion that said Arlington could bypass the legislature. "It felt great," Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey told reporters in September. "We are at a point now where we don't have to have these monumental signs hanging over the streets of Arlington."

But soon after the change, some drivers in Arlington noticed that when they typed a Richmond Highway address into Apple Maps, the app kept redirecting them to Richmond Highway in Alexandria. By contrast, Google Maps -- the most widely used navigation app, with about 150 million monthly users -- began employing the new name in January 2019, almost nine months before it went into effect.

This problem persisted for several months on Apple Maps, the third most widely used navigation app, with about 20 million monthly users. (As of press time, it will take you to Richmond Highway in Arlington, but only if you also type "Arlington.") The news didn't exactly stop traffic. A comment on a Sept. 10 story about the glitch on the hyperlocal site ARLnow.com summed up the public reaction: "Way to bury the lead! People actually using Apple Maps is a bigger story here."

Still, the incident points to ways in which maps, even in our digital age, can struggle to keep up with changing political realities on the ground. Satellites, after all, are indifferent to whether naming a highway after a Confederate leader in the early 1900s was a form of intimidation at a time when the Ku Klux Klan was spreading nationwide.

When I worked at an ur-digital mapping company in the 90s, one of the more unpleasant tasks was going through the database and changing offensive names, nearly all in the South and using the "n" word, like Dead "N"word Skull Creek.

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


The case for repealing FISA and reforming the FBI and CIA (Andrew C. McCarthy, February 20, 2020, Washington Examiner)

Enacted in the wake of Watergate and domestic spying scandals that led to Congress's Pike and Church Committee inquiries, FISA empowered federal judges to oversee the executive's foreign intelligence collection. Originally, this power was limited to the FBI's surveillance of clandestine foreign agents in the United States; later, it was dramatically expanded to cover intelligence collection targeting foreigners outside the U.S. Plainly, lawmakers calculated that the creation of a separate court to handle all applications for foreign-intelligence surveillance would grow judicial expertise, addressing the institutional incompetence problem to which Jackson had alluded. FISA is heedless, though, of the more serious constitutional problem: the transfer of responsibility for innately political national security decisions to nonpolitical unelected officials -- i.e., away from democratic accountability.

It is the culture of law enforcement to expect independence from politics. Such independence is imperative for the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, on which depend the rule of law and thus domestic peace and prosperity. The framers understood that nothing lends itself to tyranny more than police powers unmoored from political accountability. The FBI and the Justice Department (of which the bureau is a component) are part of the executive branch, answerable to the president, who is accountable to the public. Prudently, however, the executive branch's political leadership does not involve itself in day-to-day policing, content to set programmatic enforcement priorities (e.g., deciding whether to allocate more resources to violent crime or healthcare fraud). There is no political interference in decisions about what cases to bring and which defendants to charge. Those are left to police professionals, who apply Congress's penal statutes in proceedings overseen by courts.

National security, on the other hand, is an innately political responsibility. Indeed, the foreign counterintelligence mission is conducted solely to support the president's national defense duties, not to develop prosecutable court cases. If the FBI and the courts are doing national security, they are necessarily practicing politics. Arms of government that make political determinations cannot properly be independent of political oversight and accountability.

I've always believed the FBI could handle these related but different responsibilities. History proved me wrong. The bureau arrogantly insists on independence from political oversight not just in criminal cases but even when it is carrying out national security functions. It wants a free hand to act and even make policy judgments in the political realm, but it demands insulation from political accountability. The courts, analogously, have shed their healthy reluctance to become embroiled in national security policy disputes, as well as their formerly laudable line-drawing between political questions and controversies fit for judicial resolution.

FISA was a well-meaning effort to give a modicum of due process to Americans suspected of acting as foreign agents. In point of fact, it does not provide meaningful due process because it cannot replicate the adversarial search for truth that is the hallmark of judicial proceedings. The FBI and Justice Department appear ex parte before the court; the surveillance subject cannot be effectively represented, and the proceedings are classified, so the expectation is that no one will ever check the executive's representations. This is unlike criminal cases, which lead to prosecution, discovery, and significant legal consequences if government agents duped the judge into granting warrants.

More important, the FISA framework intended to provide more oversight of executive surveillance has had the opposite effect. Because the judges are not constitutionally responsible for national security, they are loath to second-guess the officials who are. The system perversely incentivizes those officials to seek warrants on questionable premises. They know that the judge will probably approve the warrants. Once that's done, the agents can brandish these judicial imprimaturs as proof that their actions are unimpeachable -- and thus to claim there is no legitimate reason for Congress, much less the public, to pierce the veil of secrecy.

The FISA framwork should certainly be done away with altogether.  By definition there is no right of foreigners to privacy from  the U.S. government and no American can have an expectation of privacy from our government when communicating with them.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


Where's the Savior?: Bloomberg and Trump: alike in dignity and almost everything else (Patrick Blanchfield, February 17, 2020, n+1

IN JOKES AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO THE UNCONSCIOUS (1905), his three-hundred page book on humor, Sigmund Freud shares his favorite yuks, none of which are funny to begin with, and then proceeds to slowly murder them by explaining their punchlines. The book is so turgid that modern interpreters sometimes argue that the whole enterprise is itself a kind of meta-joke, which may be true, but still doesn't make it funny. Reading the book in the election year of 2020, however, one bit stands out. Freud describes it as "an American anecdote":

Two not particularly scrupulous businessmen had succeeded, by dint of a series of highly risky enterprises, in amassing a large fortune, and they were now making efforts to push their way into good society. One method, which struck them as a likely one, was to have their portraits painted by the most celebrated and highly paid artist in the city, whose pictures had an immense reputation. The precious canvases were shown for the first time at a large evening party, and the two hosts themselves led the most influential connoisseur and art critic up to the wall upon which the portraits were hanging side by side, to extract his admiring judgment on them. He studied the works for a long time, and then, shaking his head, as though there was something he had missed, pointed to the gap between the pictures and asked quietly: "But where's the Savior?"

Getting this joke, such as it is, presumes familiarity with an implied reference: depictions of the crucifixion, wherein the savior (i.e., Christ), famously hangs on the cross between two thieves. Even then, it's not really laugh-out-loud funny. It is, however uncannily relevant. As we find ourselves in the quickening of our election season, we Americans are increasingly being asked to contemplate the prospect of voting for one of two unsavory businessmen. Redemption is nowhere to be found in this forced choice between two scoundrels; the savior isn't even absent. 

...which is the particular psychosis of the Left/Right.  Of course, the candidate being cast as a savior by the Left is Bernie, not Mike.  Mike is the opposite, just a competent executive of a city the size of a nation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Multiple studies show Medicare for All would be cheaper than public option pushed by moderatesYale and Harvard researchers: Medicare for All reduces costs, while public option makes health care more expensive (IGOR DERYSH, FEBRUARY 22, 2020, Salon)

Another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers at Harvard University, Hunter College and the University of Ottawa similarly estimated that switching to a single-payer system like Medicare for All could save up to $600 billion per year on administrative costs alone.

The study found that the average American pays $2,597 per year on administrative costs -- overhead for insurers and hospitals, salaries, huge executive compensation packages and growing profits -- while Canadians pay $551 per year.

Though Canada had costs similar to the United States and worse health outcomes before it adopted its single-payer system in 1962, Canada now has better health outcomes than the United States and only spends 17% of its health care spending on administrative costs, compared to 34% in the U.S.

"Americans spend twice as much per person as Canadians on health care. But instead of buying better care, that extra spending buys us sky-high profits and useless paperwork," lead author Dr. David Himmelstein, who teaches at Harvard and Hunter College, said in a statement. "Before their single-payer reform, Canadians died younger than Americans, and their infant mortality rate was higher than ours. Now Canadians live three years longer and their infant mortality rate is 22% lower than ours. Under Medicare for All, Americans could cut out the red tape and afford a Rolls Royce version of Canada's system."

Himmelstein told Time that the savings in administrative costs alone would be enough to eliminate "all copayments and deductibles" and still "have money left over."

But while Medicare for All would reduce these costs by eliminating private profit-seeking insurers, the public option alternative would add costs while leaving the bloated administrative costs in place.

"Medicare for All could save more than $600 billion each year on bureaucracy, and repurpose that money to cover America's 30 million uninsured and eliminate copayments and deductibles for everyone," said researcher Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, who also teaches at Harvard and Hunter. "Reforms like a public option that leave private insurers in place can't deliver big administrative savings. As a result, public option reform would cost much more and cover much less than Medicare for All."

Other studies have led to similar conclusions. A review of 22 single-payer studies published in PLOS Medicine found that 19 of them "predicted net savings ... in the first year of program operation and 20 ... predicted savings over several years; anticipated growth rates would result in long-term net savings for all plans."

Our medical system is basically a white-collar bureaucrat employment welfare syste, 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ilhan Omar's Challenger Is Literally on the Run From the Law (Will Sommer, Feb. 21, 2020, Daily Beast)

It's not unheard-of for members of Congress to resign their seats because of serious legal trouble. Now Republican House candidate Danielle Stella is trying to achieve the inverse: getting elected to Congress while being wanted by the law. 

Stella, one of the five Republicans competing for the right to take on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in November, has been wanted for months on an arrest warrant for felony shoplifting. Even while facing arrest, though, she's managed to achieve a respectable fundraising haul--nearly $84,000 as of the end of 2019--and built up a following on social media, where, well, she's made some waves. 

Stella first stirred the pot in July over tweets suggesting she supports the QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims that Trump is engaged in a ceaseless secret war against high-ranking pedophile-cannibals in the halls of power. At the same time, The Guardian reported that she had been arrested twice in the Minneapolis area's Hennepin County on shoplifting charges, including an allegation that she stole $2,300 from Target. 

A criminal who hates immigrants, blacks, Muslims, women....  She is Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kremlin Scrambles to Avoid Open Conflict With Turkey (Jamie Dettmer, February 21, 2020, VOA)

The Kremlin was scrambling Friday to reach a stopgap agreement with Ankara to halt fighting in northwest Syria amid growing fears that Russia and Turkey are on the brink of open warfare.  

Clashes between the Turks and their Syrian rebel allies with troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib province have already killed two Turkish soldiers this week and dozens of Syrian government troops.

Nevermind using them as mercenaries to defeat ISIS, just getting Vlad bogged down in Syria was an accidental  masterstroke.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Greyhound to stop allowing immigration checks on buses (GENE JOHNSON, 2/22/20, AP) 

Greyhound, the nation's largest bus company, said Friday it will stop allowing Border Patrol agents without a warrant to board its buses to conduct routine immigration checks.

The company's announcement came one week after The Associated Press reported on a leaked Border Patrol memo confirming that agents can't board private buses without the consent of the bus company. Greyhound had previously insisted that even though it didn't like the immigration checks, it had no choice under federal law but to allow them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Labour's history lesson (John Ashmore, 2/22/20, CapX)

[D]espite being far longer, the Blair years pale in Labour mythology compared to the one-term post-war administration of Clement Attlee. This, they will tell you, was a radical, reforming leftwing government that changed the face of the country. It's an assessment that is not so much untrue as overly partial.

To listen to some Labourites, the NHS and the welfare state were the epitome of a properly socialist approach to government.  But, as Blair notes, the National Health Service was not the fruit of pure socialism but "grew out of a whole lot of things already happening, being discussed and debated".

It was the Tories who proposed a 'free' and 'comprehensive' health service in their White Paper of 1944 - a point they only recently seem to have got round to emphasising - the difference was not whether a nationwide health service was desirable, but how it should be adminstered and by whom.  And, famously, the report laying the foundation of the modern welfare state was written by a Liberal, William Beveridge. Likewise,  Attlee, Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison were not socialist firebrands but, to quote Blair again, "very much on the moderate side of politics".

Far from being successful when it was most leftwing, Labour's most feted government reformed in line not just with the desires of its public, but the ideas of other parties (none of which prevented them losing the 1951 election anyway).

And Mr. Blair succeeded because he was the heir to Margaret Thatcher's Third Way.

February 21, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


Sanders condemns Russian interference in 2020 elections (MYAH WARD, 02/21/2020, Politico)

"Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend," the statement said. "He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia. Let's be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election."

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Arizona governor pulls immigration plan amid business revolt (BOB CHRISTIE, 2/21/20, AP)

Ducey -- a supporter of President Donald Trump, who has made immigration a signature issue -- denied that his push for lawmakers to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot was a sea change. And he bristled when questioned about whether his effort would again lead to boycotts of Arizona and other problems like SB 1070 did.

"The state is booming. I think what would hurt the state's reputation is sanctuary cities, which people have tried to put on the ballot," Ducey said Thursday before ending his plan. "The state's reputation is just fine -- we've got people moving here every day."

But opponents of the governor's plan say it was a major about-face from his first term, when he faced pressure from the business community to halt the Republican-controlled Legislature's anti-immigration efforts.

They lambasted the proposal Ducey asked for in last month's State of the State address as a return to "one of the darkest years in Arizona history." After then-GOP Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 in 2010, tens of thousands of people marched on the Capitol and some businesses boycotted the state.

The damage was deep, coming as Arizona reeled from the lingering effects of the Great Recession and a foreclosure crisis that was the worst in the nation.

Legal challenges to SB 1070 kept many of its provisions from being implemented, but courts upheld the law's ban on sanctuary policies and its key feature: a requirement that police officers, while enforcing other laws, question the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally.

Other than relatively minor proposals targeting immigrant criminals or border security, Ducey largely avoided the contentious issue after taking office in 2015.

Instead, he worked to repair Arizona's reputation, boosting its frayed relationship with Mexico and touting the state to businesses nationwide. His staff worked behind the scenes to make it clear that he was different than Brewer and didn't want divisive legislation to reach his desk.

Ducey says his motivation for a constitutional ban was a ballot measure to create a sanctuary city in Tucson that voters widely rejected last November. City leaders in the Democratic stronghold opposed the measure, citing SB 1070′s ban and the potential loss of state and federal dollars.

Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada said Thursday that Ducey had made a major political miscalculation and called it unnecessary because sanctuary policies are illegal already.

"I think he saw what happened in Tucson and he thought, 'Hey, this is low-hanging fruit and I can slam-dunk an issue that's really big with the Trump crowd and with the extreme element of his political base, and it's going to pass easily if it gets to the ballot,'" Quezada said.

The lawmaker said Ducey didn't think through the move and predicted the governor would backtrack "because the reality is the people in general are kind of sick of this stuff."

Quezada's was right: The governor and majority GOP legislative leaders announced the effort was dead Thursday night.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Stephen Miller: Stopping immigrants from entering US is 'all I care about' (Dan Desai Martin, February 21, 2020, American Independent)

"I didn't mean to come across as harsh," he told officials. "It's just that this is all I care about. I don't have a family. I don't have anything else. This is my life."

 A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business-Eric Hoffer

Posted by orrinj at 11:54 AM


In all-caps tweet, President Trump vows new farm bailouts as China purchases appear weaker than promised (Jeff Stein and  Laura Reiley, Feb. 21, 2020, Washington Post)

President Trump promised in an all-caps tweet Friday to provide additional bailout funding to American farmers if necessary, as questions arise over whether China's purchases of agricultural products will fall short of what it pledged in the recently signed trade deal.

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM

60-40 NATION:

ObamaCare favorability hits highest level: poll (PETER SULLIVAN,  02/21/20, The Hill)

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that 55 percent of the public views the health law favorably, the highest level since KFF began polling the question about 10 years ago. Just 37 percent said they view it unfavorably.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The richest people across America: Here's the wealthiest person in each state. (USA TODAY, Feb. 20, 2020)

...than that ours has no photo and no one knew she existed until someone was looking at tax records.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Truth still matters': Judge sentences Roger Stone to 3 years in prison for obstructing Congress' Russia investigation (Kristine Phillips, Kevin Johnson, Nicholas Wu, 2/20/20, USA TODAY)

Before announcing her sentence, Jackson rebuked Stone's conduct, saying he was "proud to act with impunity outside the law." She defended the integrity of the investigation.

"There was nothing unfair about the investigation and the prosecution," Jackson said, adding that Stone was not prosecuted because of his politics. "He was prosecuted for covering up for the president."

In a thinly veiled reference to Trump, Jackson said Stone's sentence should not be decided or influenced by someone who's a friend of the defendant and whose "political career was aided by the defendant."

Thanks, General Mueller.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Top White House economist admits the "uncertainty" caused by Trump's trade war hurt the economy (IGOR DERYSH, FEBRUARY 21, 2020, Salon)

Chief White House economist Tomas Philipson acknowledged Thursday that the trade war has hurt business investment, which the president wrongly predicted would spike after his 2017 tax cuts overwhelmingly benefited corporations and the rich.

"Uncertainty generated by trade negotiations dampened investment," Philipson told reporters during a briefing on the Economic Report of the President, according to Bloomberg News.

Despite the admission, the 435-page report "barely" mentions the harmful effects of the tariffs as it argues that Trump's policies have led to a "great expansion," the outlet reported.

Philipson, who heads the Council of Economic Advisers, did not say how much the trade war has impacted investment. He cited a Federal Reserve study, which found it could reduce economic growth by about 1%.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why electricity prices are set for record lows throughout 2020 in Sweden (The Local, 
21 February 2020)

"It's truly extreme," said Christian Holtz, an electricity analyst at Sweco. 

More wind power and windy weather, along with a lot of water in reservoirs, are two of the factors behind the forecasts.

On the Nordpool power exchange, a kilowatt-hour currently costs around 15 öre, which is extremely low for mid-winter.

The so-called futures, or prices for the second and third quarter, are currently set at around ten öre, and likely to rise to around 24 öre in the fourth quarter of 2020.

"You have to go back to the start of the millennium to find corresponding levels, and then the monetary value was different," said Holtz. In other words, ten öre today is cheaper than the same price in the early 2000s.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


10 interesting facts you may not know about the Miracle on Ice (JOE POSNANSKI, FEB 22, 2010, Sports Illustrated)

I did a story for SI this week on Bob Costas and Al Michaels. And to research the story, I asked if they could send me a DVD of the 1980 Olympic hockey game between the U.S. and Soviet Union -- the "Do you believe in miracles?" game. And they did. Of course, I have seen bits and pieces of that game many times since 1980 -- we all have -- but I have not seen the actual game, beginning to end (with extra commentary from Jim McKay), since I was 13 years old.

Watching that game (more than once) was incredible. And it inspired me to write up 10 things you may or may not know about the Miracle on Ice. You probably know most of this stuff. But it's fun just to remember.

10. The game was not broadcast live. Well, that's not exactly right... it was broadcast live on Canadian TV, so a few people up near the border saw it live. But most of the country -- almost all of the country, really -- saw it on tape delay, in prime time. The game had ended less than an hour before it was broadcast.

Funny, a lot of people still think they saw the game live. But I know that one of my strongest memories -- confirmed by the tape -- was of McKay saying that it was tape delay and that if even one person did not know the outcome, well, he wasn't going to be the one to break the news. I have seen polls through the years that suggested most of the people who watched the game on television did not know the outcome. I know that my father and I did not. That shows you how long ago 1980 was in terms of technology. There's no way you could keep that a secret now.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Companies are behaving like it's a recession (Dion Rabouin, 2/21/20, Axios)

Despite historically low interest rates, U.S. companies are being unusually frugal, holding back on issuing new debt and pumping up their balance sheets with cash.

Why it matters: Historically, when interest rates are low and the economy is strong, companies have levered up to increase capital expenditures and buy assets in order to expand. The opposite is happening now.

Of course, the fact that we are in the midst of a deflationary epoch means that rates are not especially low and that the dollar you borrow today will buy more tomorrow, not less.  Not borrowing is simply market wisdom.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump blasts Parasite's Oscars success because film is 'from South Korea' (The Irtish Times, 2/21/20)

"How bad were the Academy Awards this year?" asked Trump at the rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Imitating an Academy Awards presenter, he said: "And the winner is: a movie from South Korea." [...]

"Can we get Gone With the Wind back, please?" he said to thousands of supporters, referring to the film about the Civil War-era US that won the best picture Oscar 80 years ago.

...but that's enough for the Trumpbots, who will never forgive Lincoln.

February 20, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


California Apologizes for Internment of Japanese Americans (Associated Press, February 20, 2020)

"During the years leading up to World War II, California led the nation in fanning the flames of racism," said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who was born in Japan.

The resolution said anti-Japanese sentiment began in California as early as 1913, when the state passed the Alien Land Law, targeting Japanese farmers who were perceived as a threat by some in the massive agricultural industry. Seven years later, the state barred anyone with Japanese ancestry from buying farmland.

"We are specifically apologizing for wrongs that were committed on this floor," Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in the chamber.

"We are apologizing for what we have done."

Senators will take up a version of the resolution later in the year and send it to the governor to sign. California is providing no financial compensation.

A congressional commission in 1983 concluded that the detentions were a result of "racial prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership." Five years later, the U.S. government formally apologized and paid $20,000 in reparations to each victim.

Several California lawmakers noted the state's direct role in discriminating against Japanese Americans and carrying out the federal government's order to send residents to internment camps.

Two camps in the mid-1940s were in California: Manzanar on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and Tule Lake near the Oregon state line, the largest of all the camps.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Improving the prognosis of health care in the USA (Prof Alison P Galvani, PhD,  Alyssa S Parpia, MPH, Eric M Foster, Burton H Singer, PhD, Meagan C Fitzpatrick, PhD, February 15, 2020, The Lancet)

Although health care expenditure per capita is higher in the USA than in any other country, more than 37 million Americans do not have health insurance, and 41 million more have inadequate access to care. Efforts are ongoing to repeal the Affordable Care Act which would exacerbate health-care inequities. By contrast, a universal system, such as that proposed in the Medicare for All Act, has the potential to transform the availability and efficiency of American health-care services. Taking into account both the costs of coverage expansion and the savings that would be achieved through the Medicare for All Act, we calculate that a single-payer, universal health-care system is likely to lead to a 13% savings in national health-care expenditure, equivalent to more than US$450 billion annually (based on the value of the US$ in 2017). The entire system could be funded with less financial outlay than is incurred by employers and households paying for health-care premiums combined with existing government allocations. This shift to single-payer health care would provide the greatest relief to lower-income households. Furthermore, we estimate that ensuring health-care access for all Americans would save more than 68 000 lives and 1·73 million life-years every year compared with the status quo.

Given that we pay twice as much as anyone else a plan with just 15% savings lacks ambition.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Even the US government is forecasting that China will fail to deliver on their trade deal promises to Trump (Joseph Zeballos-Roig, Feb. 20, 2020, Business Insider)

[I]t falls far short of the Trump administration's outlook that China will purchase $40 billion of US farm goods in the first year of the agreement -- an amount it hasn't come close to in the past decade.

No one took it seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


After a congressional briefing on election threats, Trump soured on acting spy chief (Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 20, 2020, Washington Post)

President Trump erupted at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office last week over what he perceived as disloyalty by Maguire's staff, which ruined McGuire's chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Maguire with a vocal loyalist, Richard Grenell, who is the U.S. ambassador to Germany.

Maguire had been considered a leading candidate to be nominated for the post of DNI, White House aides had said. But Trump's opinion shifted last week when he heard from a GOP ally that the intelligence official in charge of election security, who works for Maguire, gave a classified briefing last Thursday to the House Intelligence Committee on 2020 election security.

Intelligence is only useful if it is shared widely with people who can understand it.  Giving it to Donald is useless.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Killing the Joke: On Andrea Long Chu's Females (Elena Comay del Junco, 2/13/20, The Point)

Jokes can go wrong in a number of ways. Here are two of them. When a joke is told too often, it stops being funny. Humor relies on the unexpected or at the very least incongruous, and once you've seen or heard something for the tenth time it's usually no longer surprising. Second, when one tries to explain the mechanics of a joke, it has already failed. If the audience didn't get it the first time, it won't do much good trying to present an argument for why it is supposed to be funny. Explaining your own jokes has the same aura of desperation as another comedic sin, laughing too hard at them. There are, of course, other ways that humor can go wrong. We flatter ourselves in thinking offensiveness is a uniquely contemporary malady, but the real problem with offensive jokes isn't that they are not funny; it's that they are too funny. Their issue is, as it were, external to their humor.

This is right in several regards--that comedy depends on a shared culture; is thereby exclusive; is, therefore, often offensive--but is wrong in one important way: the reason we retell the same joke hundreds of times is precisely because it reveals truths that are too funny for us to ever grow comfortable with.  It's why you can so often punctuate a discussion with just a punchline.  

Being There (Wilfred M. McClay, Fall 2018, Hedgehog Review)

The compulsive jokiness with which so many modern Americans deflect the subject of aging can get pretty tiresome. But perhaps it's not the worst way to handle the matter. At least one avoids the undignified excesses of self-pity and despair by making light of an admittedly unwelcome condition, even while implicitly confessing one's susceptibility to an all-too-human vanity. That was the approach taken by the great comedian Jack Benny, whose trademark shtick included the comic pretense that he was perpetually thirty-nine. There was irony built into the joke, a self-mockery that was at least honest enough to acknowledge itself. Laughing at Jack Benny, we were also laughing at ourselves; he was so much like us, merely offering up a silly and exaggerated version of what so many of us are tempted to do.

But even great comedy has its limits. A jokey evasion is still an evasion, one that tries not only to hide a great deal of anxiety but also to distract us from seeking the deeper meanings in our experience. A joke may be a civilized way of coping, but it is not an answer to much of anything, and it may even be a veiled way of confessing to the dread that there are no answers to be had. "I'm not afraid of death," said Woody Allen, "I just don't want to be there when it happens." A very funny line, but what makes it so funny is the way it confirms the overwhelming force of the very fear it claims to deny.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Trump's Beautiful Proposal for Federal Architecture (Andrew Ferguson, 2/20/20,  The Atlantic)

The classicists behind the draft order hope to address a problem that the architecture establishment does not see as a problem. The nonproblem problem is this: After World War II, the federal government adopted modernism in its many variations as a kind of house architectural style, and as a consequence has managed to build a very large number of unlovely buildings.

Many of these structures now scar the otherwise classically designed streetscape of Washington, D.C. They include such infamous examples as the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building, which is even more obnoxious than its namesake, along with the Hubert H. Humphrey Health and Human Services Building and the former Housing and Urban Development headquarters, which one former employee deathlessly described as "ten floors of basement." The government has extended the reach of its bad taste beyond the capital and into the provinces, with federal courthouses that don't embody the law's majesty but instead express contempt for ordinary taste or, just as often, advertise the architect's cleverness.

Why is this a problem? Willful, preventable ugliness is always a problem to one degree or another. Here the ugliness involves the self-conscious repudiation of commonly accepted notions of proportion, accessibility, appropriateness, and coherence. The problem doubles when the ugliness is created by government agencies spending the public's money while in thrall to a special interest like the architecture establishment--in this case, the architects who design the government's buildings, the critics who praise them, the academics who try to explain them, the trade associations that drape them in awards, and the wealthy civic boosters who like showing up for the ribbon cutting. Everyone wins except for the people who have to visit, work in, pay for, and look at the result.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


The movement to replace neoliberalism has lost a battle, but we can still win the war (Antonia Jennings, 20 February 2020, Project Syndicate)

We refer to it as the "Great Depression" because, after the Crash, Hoover and FDR tried to revive the economy by creating massive government programs, in line with classic Left thinking, which did nothing for an economy that was only saved by WWII.  We refer to the credit crisis because W, Ben and the UR used massive infusions of capital to make the recession brief and produced an unprecedented boom afterwards.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Far-Right Mass Shooting Targeting Immigrants in Germany Kills Nine (ELLIOT HANNON, FEB 20, 2020, Slate)

Local media reported the man suspected of carrying out the attack left a confession letter and a video, which have been recovered by police. The apparent xenophobic motive for the shooting again shines a spotlight on a troubling trend of far-right extremist politics in Germany that has until recently been governed from the center. "While violent crime is relatively rare in Germany, the country has experienced a rise in far-right and Islamist terrorism as well as an organized-crime wave," the Wall Street Journal reports. "According to Germany's domestic intelligence agency, far-right extremists committed 10,105 violent crimes in the last decade, as well as 83 murders since 1990. In comparison, Islamist terrorists killed 17 people in the same period. Around 12,000 people are listed as far-right extremists by law enforcement agencies in Germany... Last Friday, federal prosecutors arrested 12 people as part of a probe into a far-right extremist group suspected of plotting attacks on politicians, asylum seekers and Muslims."

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Arizona migrant detention facilities, where some sleep in bathroom stalls, are unfit for humans, judge rules (Meagan Flynn, Feb. 20, 2020, Washington Post)

A federal judge in Arizona has ruled that Border Patrol facilities in the Tucson sector deprive migrants of "basic human needs," saying the conditions at the temporary detention facilities are "substantially worse" than those in jails or prisons and violate the Constitution.

Overcrowding was at times so severe, U.S. District Judge David C. Bury found, that migrants were forced to sleep on the floor in bathrooms and in toilet stalls.

The Wednesday ruling permanently enjoins U.S. Customs and Border Protection from detaining migrants in holding cells at its Tucson sector stations for longer than 48 hours -- "unless CBP can provide conditions of confinement that meet detainees' basic human needs."

That means migrants staying any longer than two days must be provided a variety of things they have not been getting: sleep free from constant disruption, in a real bed with a blanket; nutritious food; access to a shower and a medical assessment by a medical professional.

The ruling also says CBP must immediately stop making migrants sleep in "toilet areas" due to overcrowding.

"Regardless of whether a detainee is sleeping on a mat or directly on the concrete floor, being forced to sleep in a toilet area due to overcrowding offends the notions of common decency," Bury, a George W. Bush appointee in the District of Arizona, wrote in the 40-page order. "It is unsanitary and degrading for all detainees who either have to sleep in the toilet area or try to use the toilet when others are sleeping there."

Judge Bury refused to get Stephen Miller a wedding gift too.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Where were you born? Sweden releases new immigration stats (The Local, 2/20/20)

For the past five years, Syria was the most common country of birth among new arrivals in Sweden, as people fled the war-torn region. But last year the number of Syrian immigrants (6,128 people) more than halved compared to 2018, and decreased by almost 90 percent on 2016.

Instead, Sweden, India and Afghanistan made up the top three countries of birth last year, with 7,389 Indian-born people moving to Sweden (an annual 1.1 percent increase) and 6,845 people from Afghanistan (a 15.4 percent decrease). 

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


The expansion of the Universe is faster than expected  (Adam G. Riess, Nature Reviews Physics)

The goal of modern cosmology is to explain the evolution of the Universe from its inception to the present time using our limited understanding of its composition and physical laws. This is even harder than it sounds! The first difficulty materialized in 1929 when initial estimates of the present expansion rate -- known as the Hubble constant or H0 -- rewound to the Big Bang singularity implied that the Universe was younger than the age estimated for the Earth and Sun. In retrospect, both figures were well off the mark, but there has been tremendous progress in the meantime. The measurement of H0 improved from 10% uncertainty at the start of the 2000s to less than 2% by 2019. In the past few years, reduced uncertainties from both the cosmic microwave background (CMB) -- the afterglow of the Big Bang -- and local Universe measurements have revealed an underlying discrepancy that is growing harder to ignore.

Scientists now have a 'standard model of cosmology', called ΛCDM (lambda cold dark matter), economically crafted from six free parameters and a number of well-tested ansatzes. The model characterizes a wide range of phenomena including the accelerating expansion, structure formation, primordial nucleosynthesis, flat geometry of spacetime, fluctuations of the Big Bang afterglow and the first combination of baryons into atoms. Remarkably, dark components (matter and energy) account for 95% of the Universe, as described by ΛCDM, their presence robustly inferred from their gravitational effects. Yet despite the success in better understanding our Universe confirmed by a wealth of precise measurements, in the past few years there has been growing evidence that the expansion of the Universe is still exceeding our predictions. [...]

If the Universe fails this crucial end-to-end test (it surely hasn't yet passed), what might this tell us? It is tempting to think we may be seeing evidence of some 'new physics' in the cosmos. Indeed, a large number of theoretical solutions have been proposed and are reviewed in ref.10. For example, if we lived near the middle of a vast and deep void in the large-scale structure of the Universe, this could cause excessive, local expansion. However, the odds of a void this large occurring by chance is incredibly low. Calculations show that it exceeds 10σ (ref.11) and is also strongly ruled out empirically by the lack of evidence of any end to the void from SNe Ia at greater distances12. Dark energy with an equation of state lower than vacuum energy could produce stronger acceleration and explain the discrepancy, but this possibility is disfavoured by other intermediate-redshift measurements.

Greater success in explaining the H0 measurement discrepancies has been achieved by altering the composition of the Universe shortly before the emergence of the CMB. An additional component in ΛCDM, such as a new neutrino or scalar field (the latter called early dark energy or EDE), could have increased the early expansion, decreased the sound horizon of primordial fluctuations and raised the predicted value of H0 depending on the approach used, to 70-73 km s−1 Mpc−1 (ref.10) in plausible agreement with the local value. New particles tend to create new conflicts with the CMB, whereas EDE is claimed to improve agreement with the CMB. A criticism of EDE is that its scales must be finely tuned, although the same may be said of the other two episodes of dark energy (inflation and present acceleration). This raises the question of whether apparent episodes of such anomalous expansion are common or even related

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


GOP's Susan Collins faces tough re-election fight as support plummets following vote to acquit Trump (IGOR DERYSH, FEBRUARY 20, 2020, Salon)

Gideon leads Collins 43-42 in the survey, which has a margin of error of 3%. Fourteen percent of Maine voters remain undecided.

The poll was the first conducted in Maine in many months. The last poll, conducted in June, showed Collins leading Gideon by 16 points. Collins has never lost re-election and won her last race by nearly 40 points.

The Colby College poll finds that 54% of Maine voters have an unfavorable opinion of Collins, compared to 42% who have a favorable opinion of the senator.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


New study asks: Should we replace mental health meds with exercise?: We knew exercise is necessary, but this research takes it to another level. (DEREK BERE, Big Think)

For this study, lead author David Tomasi, a psychotherapist and lecturer at the University of Vermont, alongside the center's Sheri Gates and Emily Reyns, built a gym for the hundred-or-so members of the inpatient psychiatry unit. Tomasi says that most patients in the U.S. are first treated with medications, with exercise-based treatments offered in either a limited capacity or not at all. The center is the first to prescribe exercise as the first form of treatment.

The results were stunning. After leading the patients in structured exercises -- each 60-minute session included a combination of strength training, flexibility training, and cardio -- 95 percent of patients reported feeling better, while 63 percent reported feeling happy or very happy instead of sad, very sad, or neutral. A whopping 91.8 percent said they were pleased with their bodies during the sessions. Tomasi continues,

The general attitude of medicine is that you treat the primary problem first, and exercise was never considered to be a life or death treatment option. Now that we know it's so effective, it can become as fundamental as pharmacological intervention.

Blame, in large part, Cartesian dualism. The mind-body split has destroyed our understanding of our inherent animal nature. The notion that there's an ethereal process inside the biological workings of our bodies -- the ambiguous "soul" -- has resulted in a severe disassociation between physical movement and psychology. We've come to believe we can treat the brain separately from the body.

The key to health reform is reducing consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


The story of "Lift Every Voice and Sing": A song many consider the black national anthem rises again in the United States. (ROBBY BERMAN, 19 February, 2020, Big Think)

The contemporary re-emergence of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" arguably began when Beyoncé sang its opening lines as she took the stage at the Coachella festival, a watershed moment in and of itself. The first black woman to headline the festival, the singer delivered a dazzling knockout performance that was dedicated to historically black colleges. When Beyoncé sings a song it gets heard, and this performance helped bring "Lift Every Voice and Sing" straight onto America's playlist.

The song was written long ago and began as a poem by James Weldon Johnson.

A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln's birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercises. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. -- James Weldon Johnson

According to "Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora" by Shana L. Redmond, Johnson later recalled, "I could not keep back the tears, and made no effort to do so."

Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us, and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children. Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used. -- James Weldon Johnson

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) named "Lift Every Voice and Sing" the "black national anthem" in 1919, but not everyone agrees with that designation since it implies the need for a separate American black anthem. Nonetheless, listening to this American hymn is a haunting, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting experience.

February 19, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Trump Offered Assange Pardon if He Covered Up Russian Hack, WikiLeaks Founder's Lawyer Claims (Nico Hines, Feb. 19, 2020, Daily Beast)

Edward Fitzgerald, Assange's lawyer, said Wednesday that a message had been passed on to Assange by former Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

Fitzgerald said a statement produced by Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, showed "Mr Rohrabacher going to see Mr Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr Assange... said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks."

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Stephen Miller's uncle trolled him by donating to a refugee-rights charity as a wedding gift (Tom Porter, 2/19/20, Business Iinsider)

Stephen Miller, the hardline advisor behind the Trump administration's child separation policies, tied the knot last weekend, and his uncle marked the occasion by protesting him.

In a Monday Facebook post, Miller's maternal uncle David Glosser said his wedding gift to his nephew was a donation to a refugee-rights charity and described their ancestors' struggle as migrants who found refuge in the US. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Steal This Intellectual Property (DEIRDRE MCCLOSKEY, MARCH 2020, reason)

I want you to steal what the lawyers self-interestedly call "intellectual property": Hoffman's book or my books or E=mc2 or the Alzheimer's drug that the Food and Drug Administration is "testing" in its usual bogus and unethical fashion. I want the Chinese to steal "our" intellectual property, so that consumers worldwide get stuff cheaply. I want everybody to steal every idea, book, chemical formula, Stephen Foster lyric--all of it. Steal, steal, steal. You have my official economic permission.

What?! A liberal (in the classical sense) wants people to steal? You bet. Here's why. An idea, after it is produced, has no opportunity cost. If one more person reads Hamlet, there's no less of it available for the next person. That's not true of, say, your house. If the neighbors treat your house as common property, there's less of it for you to use. George is in the bathroom right now. Sorry.

It's true of your labor, which also has an opportunity cost--an alternate use necessarily forgone--to you. If you become a slave, you can't use your own self. The master in Kentucky gets those hours in the field away from the little cabin floor, yet he doesn't pay you for their opportunity cost.

The correct price for such scarce items is their opportunity cost, because then, as Adam Smith said, "As every individual...endeavors as much as he can both to employ his capital [and labor and land and other items with opportunity cost so] that its produce may be of the greatest value, every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can."

But ideas have no opportunity cost. So the optimal price, socially speaking, is zero.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


How Houthi forces won key Yemeni district (Ammar al-Ashwal, February 19, 2020, Al Monitor)

The operation succeeded Jan. 26 after less than a week, taking over nearly 2,000 square kilometers (1,243 square miles) mostly consisting of mountains and rugged terrain. This means that any force's attempt to return to the land will require time, effort, money and sacrifice.

Because of Nahm's strategic and geographic importance, the Houthis have fought several fierce battles for the area over five years against the forces of the UN-backed government of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Despite intermittent calm, the battles kept reigniting, with neither side able to impose full control.

By capturing Nahm, the eastern gateway to Sanaa, the forces of the Houthi National Salvation Government secured all paths leading to the capital. During this recent battle, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, described Nahm on Twitter as "the most important front in the Sanaa governate."

Iran-backed Houthi militias already controlled the capital.

With the fall of the Nahm front, stretching more than 35 kilometers (21 miles), the Houthis warded off a major threat they have faced since the war began in March 2015.

Moreover, the Houthis -- officially known as Ansar Allah -- now control the chain of highlands overlooking the provinces of al-Jawf and Marib, most notably a strategic rim of the Yam Mountains and the camp of Hadi's 312th Armored Brigade. This position gives them an advantage in monitoring and controlling fire lines along these areas.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Random Critical Analysis on Health Care (Alex Tabarrok, February 19, 2020, Marginal Revolution)

The excellent Random Critical Analysis has a long blog post, really a short book, on why the conventional wisdom about health care, especially in the United States, is wrong. It's a tour-de-force. Difficult to summarize but, as I see it, the key points are the following. (I also drawn on It's still not the health care prices.)

1. Health care spending is well predicted, indeed caused, by income.

Notice that the United States doesn't look unusual when income is measured at the household level, i.e. Actual Individual Consumption, which measures the value of the bundle consumed by households whether the bundle items are bought in the market or provided by governments or non-profits. (AIC also avoids some issues with GDP per capita when a country has lots of intellectual property and exports, e.g. Ireland).

2. The price of health care increase with income but at a slower rate than income.

As a result of the above:

3. The price of health care relative to income is lower in rich countries, including the United States.

Let that sink in, health care prices are lower relative to income in richer countries. Health care in the United States is cheaper relative to income than in Greece, for example.

Since spending is going up faster than income but prices are not it must be the case that quantities are also increasing with income.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Cheap Nanoparticles Pave the Way for Carbon-Neutral Fuel (DANIEL OBERHAUS, 02.19.2020 , wired)

The idea for carbon dioxide recycling is to take the carbon emitted by power plants and use some chemical wizardry to turn it into useful fuels like propane or methane. PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES
The Svartsengi power station sits on the banks of the Blue Lagoon, an artificial geothermal spring and one of Iceland's most popular tourist attractions. For decades, it has supplied Icelanders with geothermal electricity and heat. The rub is that extracting this renewable energy from the ground requires fossil fuels to run the pumps. So in 2011, an Icelandic energy startup called Carbon Recycling International built the George Olah plant, which captures Svartsengi's CO2 emissions and turns them into a carbon-neutral fuel.

The idea for CO2 recycling was around long before the George Olah plant became the first to put it into practice. The idea is to take carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and use some chemical wizardry to turn it into useful fuels like propane or methane. Aside from CO2, the main ingredients in this process are hydrogen and a metallic catalyst. Cook it all together at high temperatures and voilà: You've got yourself a tank of liquid hydrocarbon fuel. Although emissions from hydrocarbon fuels are exactly the problem this process is trying to solve, in principle capturing the emissions from the newly made fuels can create a closed loop. The world pumps out nearly 40 billion tons of CO2 each year, so converting even a small fraction of that into carbon-neutral fuel would be a win.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


The Hill's review of John Solomon's columns on Ukraine (THE HILL STAFF - 02/19/20, The Hill)

While Solomon's columns on Ukraine were labeled as opinion, they largely read like news stories. Adding to the potential confusion between opinion and news, Solomon was identified as "an award-winning journalist" in his column tagline. When appearing on television to discuss his Ukraine columns, Solomon was not typically labeled an opinion writer by the broadcast programs. The Hill did not contact television producers to label Solomon as an opinion columnist. It should have. 

Lending further support to an impression that the columns were more like news stories, rather than opinion columns, Solomon's Ukraine columns were longer than typical opinion pieces, in many cases contained what could be viewed or was identified by him as original reporting, and stuck to one general topic. This may have suggested to many readers it was an investigative series, which normally resides in the news department, rather than opinion. Solomon's subsequent appearances on Fox News where he was often identified as an investigative journalist further potentially blurred the distinction between news and opinion in the minds of some readers.

Certain outlets, including The New York Times and ABC News, followed Solomon's work on Ukraine with news articles of their own.

In many of his columns, Solomon did include caveats that Ukraine is infamous for corruption and disinformation operations, including Russian interference, and he did seek comment from parties who were mentioned critically in his columns. While appropriate for news reporting, that is not typical of opinion writing; it had the consequence of further blurring the distinction between news and opinion for some readers.

Unlike other employees, Solomon had a hybrid role at The Hill, working in Hill.TV, opinion and/or news. Solomon did not report to a specific management official in the newsroom, which was an unusual personnel situation at The Hill. This hybrid role further undermined the distinction between opinion contributor and news-based journalist, since Solomon could be seen as writing an opinion column in one section while reporting news as an interviewer on Hill.TV.

In certain columns, Solomon failed to identify important details about key Ukrainian sources, including the fact that they had been indicted or were under investigation. In other cases, the sources were his own attorneys.

Solomon's first three Ukraine-related pieces ran on March 20, 2019. One was an opinion column titled, "As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges," and the two others were Hill.TV interviews with then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. All three pieces were derived from a Hill.TV interview with Lutsenko. In the Hill.TV interview, Lutsenko made two significant claims: that he had opened a probe into alleged attempts by Ukrainians to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and that then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch had given him a do-not-prosecute list. Solomon quoted the U.S. State Department as dismissing Lutsenko's assertions as unfounded and also supporting Ambassador Yovanovitch. Solomon went on Fox News the same day to promote the story, which was highlighted by Trump in a tweet.

Notable questions about Lutsenko being a reliable source have been raised, especially when the events of the last year are reviewed. Although Solomon identified Lutsenko as an anti-corruption crusader, State Department officials, more than a year before the interview, had deemed the prosecutor general's office to be an untrustworthy partner in that cause, suspecting him of undermining those very efforts. Most notably, Lutsenko's story has changed repeatedly. In April 2019, he told a Ukrainian newspaper that he himself had reached for pen and paper and asked Ambassador Yovanovitch for the do-not-prosecute list. He altered his comments again, in an interview with The New Yorker in November, when he said that he'd written the list himself, then ripped it up while Yovanovitch looked on.

According to Polygraph.info, a joint project of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, there was a "critical mistake" in the translation of Hill.TV's initial March interview. Polygraph.info said that Lutsenko said Yovanovitch did not provide a written list but, instead, "voiced" it -- using the Ukraine word "oholosyla."

Contradicting assertions in Solomon's columns, in Politico and in some other media reports, State Department officials, U.S. national security agencies and the Senate Intelligence Committee have concluded that Ukraine did not meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russian government officials, who have denied meddling in the 2016 election, have pushed the narrative that Ukraine interfered in that U.S. election.

To this day, Solomon has stood by his columns on Lutsenko, Yovanovitch and Ukraine meddling. He also has taken issue with assertions that he smeared Yovanovitch, noting that he included supportive remarks about her by the State Department in his columns.

Since the publication of Solomon's Lutsenko/Yovanovitch columns, numerous media reports and documents have disclosed that Giuliani was working with others inside and outside the U.S. government to oust Yovanovitch from her Ukraine post. U.S. diplomats testified in House impeachment hearings that Trump empowered Giuliani to play a leading role in Ukraine foreign policy, specifically as it related to Yovanovitch and the Bidens.

In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, administration officials described Solomon's articles about Yovanovitch as central to a "smear campaign," spearheaded by Giuliani on behalf of Trump, and characterized them as false or inaccurate.

Yovanovitch was recalled from Ukraine in May 2019 and recently retired from the State Department.

On April 1, 2019, The Hill published a Solomon column titled "Joe Biden's 2020 Ukrainian nightmare: A closed probe is revived." This column highlighted that Joe Biden was a key player in convincing Ukraine to fire its then-prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in 2016. Shokin was replaced by Lutsenko, who at the time was regarded highly by some U.S. officials and deemed to be someone the U.S. could work with.

The column suggests that Joe Biden was protecting Hunter Biden because Burisma was the subject of a "wide-ranging corruption probe." That account has been disputed by officials in both Kyiv and Washington and others who maintain the investigation had grown dormant, and that Joe Biden was pushing for Shokin's removal, not because he was investigating corruption allegations, but because he was neglecting to do so. British officials investigating fraud at Burisma backed this account, dropping a case against the company in early 2015 -- months before Joe Biden's push to remove Shokin -- citing a lack of cooperation from the prosecutor general's office in Kyiv. Furthermore, seeking Shokin's ouster was the official position of the U.S. and the European Union. The Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove Shokin in 2016. Like Lutsenko, Shokin's reliability as a source is in question. Shokin was among the figures Solomon interviewed during his research.

Hunter Biden, who had little to no energy expertise at the time he was hired by Burisma, has said it was "poor judgment" to accept the position on Burisma's board, acknowledging that he likely received the job offer because of his last name. State Department officials also said in impeachment inquiry testimony that they were concerned with Hunter Biden sitting on the company board while Joe Biden was overseeing the U.S. government's Ukraine policies.

There has never been any proof of legal wrongdoing by the Bidens. Pressed on the matter in a recent interview, Joe Biden said the Bidens' dual roles in Ukraine led some to say it set "a bad image."

Lutsenko himself in May 2019 said there was no evidence of legal wrongdoing. At the time of Lutsenko's initial interviews with Solomon in March 2019, there was tension between Lutsenko and Yovanovitch amid official U.S. concerns about Lutsenko's commitment to anti-corruption efforts.

Giuliani has indicated he was a key source of information for Solomon on Ukraine, telling The New York Times in November 2019 that he turned over information about the Bidens earlier in the year to Solomon.

"I really turned my stuff over to John Solomon," Giuliani said.

The former New York City mayor later told The New Yorker he encouraged Solomon to highlight information on the Bidens and Yovanovitch, stating, "I said, 'John, let's make this as prominent as possible,' " adding, "'I'll go on TV. You go on TV. You do columns.' "

Disputing this notion, Solomon has said that he began working on Ukraine stories in 2018 before the issue was mentioned by Giuliani, the Trump White House or other U.S. government officials, but he did not have enough information and on-the-record sources until 2019. Solomon has said the notion of Giuliani being a principal source for his Ukraine columns is a "bogus narrative." In November 2019, Solomon said Giuliani was "never an on-the-record, off-the-record or on-background source for any of those stories."

Since the publication of Solomon's columns, Parnas delivered Ukraine-related communications to Congress that show repeated contact among Parnas, Giuliani, Solomon, and Victoria Toensing of the Washington law firm of diGenova & Toensing, among others.

In one exchange released by the House Intelligence Committee, an aide to House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who frequently brings up alleged Ukrainian election interference, asks Parnas, "Any documents for us or are you going to keep working through Solomon?"

Solomon has denied any coordinated effort with Giuliani, Parnas or others, insisting that he was merely dealing with those individuals in the course of reporting for his columns, and he has called Parnas a "facilitator" who helped him in setting up interviews with Ukrainian officials, including Lutsenko and Shokin.

Joseph diGenova and Toensing are attorneys who have long represented Solomon. In an article that ran in October 2019, diGenova stated that Solomon has been a client of his firm "for a very long time." Aside from Solomon, diGenova and Toensing had other clients with interest in Ukraine. According to Bloomberg, diGenova and Toensing were paid $1 million by a Ukrainian oligarch, Dmitry Firtash, to find negative information on the Bidens. Firtash is fighting extradition to the U.S. on conspiracy charges, and the effort was designed to help win Giuliani's help in the case, Bloomberg reported. They have also met with Lutsenko, according to The New York Times.

In his Sept. 26 column, Solomon links to a Sept. 4, 2019, affidavit by Shokin that was made at the request of lawyers representing Firtash. According to media reports, diGenova and Toensing represented Firtash at that time.

Solomon also wrote about "Firtash's U.S. legal team" in a July 22, 2019, column and links back to that column in an Aug. 7, 2019, column. According to a July 2019 press account, Firtash cut ties with his prior counsel on July 20 and decided to be represented by diGenova and Toensing.

Solomon did not disclose that diGenova and Toensing represented him at the time of this column.

In addition, Solomon wrote several news articles for The Hill in 2017 that quoted Toensing but did not disclose that she was his attorney. Toensing and diGenova also appeared on Hill.TV at the time that Solomon was both their client and running the show.

In November 2019, Solomon said that diGenova and Toensing were his longtime lawyers during an appearance on Fox News. Pressed on why he did not disclose in his writings that Toensing was his attorney, Solomon initially denied he had quoted her while she served as his attorney and then said he would look into it and that if he did write about her, he should disclose the relationship. As part of this review, The Hill is adding disclosures -- to Solomon's news stories, opinion columns, and relevant Hill.TV appearances -- that should have been made at the time of publication.

In the fall of 2019, it was reported that before one of his columns was published in The Hill, Solomon emailed a draft of it to Parnas, diGenova and Toensing without the knowledge of editors at The Hill. Solomon has defended the email, saying he has long done this as a normal practice to ensure accuracy and for legal reasons. Parnas, diGenova and Toensing are not mentioned in the column. It is worth reiterating that The Hill has legal counsel who reviews certain articles and opinion columns before they are published.

In a recent podcast, Solomon said he was fortunate that his attorneys had key contacts in Ukraine: "I was lucky. It turns out Joe [diGenova] and Victoria [Toensing] have a lot of relationships in Ukraine."

The true nature and extent of Parnas's role in Solomon's work remain unclear but potentially troubling.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


POLITICO-Harvard Poll: Health care costs are top priority heading into elections (ADAM CANCRYN, 02/19/2020, politico)"

Roughly 80 percent of those surveyed ranked "taking steps to lower the cost of health care" as "extremely" or "very" important, including 89 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans. Reducing prescription-drug costs saw similar support at 75 percent, with majorities in both parties ranking it as extremely or very important. [...]

Americans' focus on health care costs is consistent with polling over the past two years, and has underpinned congressional Democrats' emphasis on passing legislation designed to lower drug prices and shore up the Affordable Care Act.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


How Liberalism Can Survive Left-Right Polarization (Jeffrey A. Tucker,  February 19, 2020, AIER)

 It was more than six years ago that my article "Against Libertarian Brutalism" raised a conjecture: a libertarianism, rendered simply as nothing more than a "leave me alone" outlook, with no larger aspiration for the good life, and no interest in the subject of social cooperation, could find itself divorced from a historical conception of what the advent of liberty has meant to human life and society as a whole. Without that, we fail to develop good instincts for interpreting the world around us. We are even reduced to syllogistic slogans and memes which can be deeply misleading and feed even illiberal bias.

And where does this bias end up? Where are the limits? I see them daily online. In the name of fighting the left, many have turned the other direction to embrace an alternative form of identitarianism, restrictions on trade and migration, curbs on essential civil liberties, and even toyed with the freedom of the press and the rights of private enterprise, in the name of humiliating and eliminating the enemy. Some go further to celebrate anything they believe the left hates, including even odious causes from the authoritarian past.

The rhetoric at the extremes approaches nihilism. The press isn't really free so why not impose restrictions, censorship, and litigated punishments? The borders aren't private so why not prohibit all entry? Some speech doesn't support freedom so why permit it the rights that freedom entails? Social media companies aren't really private enterprises, so why not force them to carry and promote some accounts that I like? That large company has a government contract so why not bust it up with antitrust? 

The gradual evolution of language has unleashed all kinds of confusion. Activists denounce "the establishment" without a clear distinction between government and influential media voices. They will decry "globalism" without bothering to distinguish the World Bank from an importer of Chinese fireworks. They promote identitarianism and racial collectivism without the slightest understanding of the illiberal origins and uses of these ideologies in 20th-century history. After all, they say, there is nothing "inherently un-libertarian" about casting down an entire people, religion, gender, language, or race, so long as you don't directly use violence.

It takes a special kind of circuitous sophistry to justify, in the name of liberty, collectivistic animus and state violence against voluntary association. But the history of politics shows people are capable of making huge mental leaps in service of ideological goals. All it takes is small steps, little excuses, tweaks of principle here and there, seemingly minor compromises, some element of confirmation bias, and you are good to go, ready to make as much sense as the old communist slogan that you have to break eggs to make omelets.

..after all, they reserve a particularly passionate loathing for Abraham Lincoln.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


I can think of no more honorable soldier than Alexander Vindman (R.D. Hooker Jr. , Feb. 18, 2020, Washington Post)

R.D. Hooker Jr., a retired Army colonel, served in the White House during the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. He worked in the National Security Council during the latter three presidencies.

In the late 19th century, a French army officer named Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason, in a national scandal that became a cause celebre affecting civil-military relations in France into modern times. The Dreyfus affair, as it was known, transfixed the nation, bringing to the surface the worst in French politics of the day. Dreyfus was a Jew, a rarity in the French officer corps. He was Alsatian and spoke German and, therefore, was suspect as not a "real" Frenchman. Though he was later proved innocent, Dreyfus was convicted on forged evidence, publicly degraded in a military ceremony and shipped to Devil's Island. Condemned by his government, his leaders and the public, Dreyfus maintained his innocence and patriotism with dignity and composure. Many years later, he was rehabilitated and served during the First World War. His is a cautionary tale that reverberates to this day.

The parallels between the Dreyfus affair and the treatment of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman are striking. As a senior director on the National Security Council staff early in the Trump administration, I recruited Alex based on his brilliance, language skills and remarkable military record. Alex is a Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union, and Russian was his first language. His is a quintessential American story. I know him to be a patriot and a professional military officer in the best sense: apolitical, nonpartisan, selfless and deeply committed to this country and its values. He proved his loyalty above all by serving this nation in combat in Iraq, where he was wounded. To this day, he wears the reminders of that service on his uniform and in his body.

He is among the finest officers I have ever known.

In fairness, Donald and the bots don't just hate him for his Judaism but for his placing his oath above fealty to their Dear Leader.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


1619, and Respecting the Facts of America's Founding (Peter Berkowitz, 2/19/20, RCP)

The project, which in the six months since its launch has already been incorporated into select curricula across the country, has its merits. Skillful storytelling forces readers to reckon with the horror of human beings ripped from their homes, families, and communities, only to find themselves -- if they survived the excruciating journey across the ocean -- in forced-labor camps in a distant land surrounded by strange people and practices. Short essays highlight the connections between the abominable institution of slavery and the economic development of the nation; Wall Street and the finance industry, for example, acquired vast sums mortgaging and insuring enslaved people as property. The essays also explore the widespread racial discrimination that persisted long after slavery was formally abolished -- the effects of which, the project argues, still linger.

Recovery of the truth about slavery and its painful legacy is laudable. But many of the Times' 18 original articles advance a false and inflammatory contention. That claim, which is rooted in fashionable academic theories about structural oppression, is that slavery -- not the idea of fundamental rights belonging to all persons heralded in the Declaration of Independence -- is the defining feature of America's founding.

The ambiguity at the core of the 1619 Project -- whether its goal is to recover the truth on behalf of the public interest or to promulgate a hyperbolic critique for partisan advantage -- is on display in the project's lead essay. Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine staff writer, asserts harshly but, in one sense, accurately, "The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie." The ideal is, "'all men are created equal' and 'endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.'" The founding lie, according to Hannah-Jones, is twofold: First, that "the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst"; and, second, that unalienable rights "did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country."

But Hannah-Jones's description of the lie distorts a complex reality. Yes, the American Constitution gave legal protection to slavery in violation of the Declaration's radiant promise. Yet, many of those who signed the Declaration -- among them principal drafter Thomas Jefferson -- believed that black Americans, like all people, possessed "unalienable rights." The government whose foundations those signers helped lay, moreover, provided the framework in which slavery would be outlawed. The lie at the founding was that black people were deprived of fundamental rights that, according to the principle inspiring the Declaration, did apply to them by virtue of their humanity. It was for this reason that, many years later, Jefferson wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." [...]

Although she obscures the role of white people who were on the side of justice in the centuries-long struggle to secure the rights of black Americans, Hannah-Jones writes powerfully about the larger and inspiring significance of that struggle. "Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves -- black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women's and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights."

With this crucial observation, Hannah-Jones confirms the centrality to the American experiment, and the continuing vitality, of America's founding principles. For her critique would have little force in a dictatorship or in a society dominated by an aristocracy based on blood and land -- or where racism permeated political idea and institutions. Only in a country dedicated to the Declaration's central convictions -- that all human beings are created equal, that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that the chief purpose of government is to secure those rights -- could her dire assessment appear in a marquee venue, singe her readers' consciences, and prompt fellow citizens to carry forward the work of improving the alignment of American practices with American ideals.

To preserve such an America, it will be necessary to tell the truth -- disguising none of the betrayals but also concealing none of the luster -- about the Declaration's essential truths and the nation's inspiring progress, born of shared struggle, in honoring them. 

Ever and always the one legitimate criticism of America concerns those moments where we are insufficiently American.  These are the sorts of public debates about the necessary extent of republican liberty that makes us unique.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Sanders: You can support Israelis without backing their 'racist' government (Times of Israel, 2/19/20)

"To be for the Israeli people and to be for peace in the Middle East does not mean that we have to support right-wing, racist governments that currently exist in Israel," Sanders responded, drawing applause from the audience.

Saying he feels "strongly about it as someone who is Jewish and knowing how much our people have suffered over the years," Sanders added that American foreign policy in the region should be "about bringing the Israelis, bringing the Palestinians together under the banner of justice."

US policy, he said, "cannot simply be one that we're just pro-Israel and we ignore the needs of the Palestinian people."

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Exclusive: Ahead of 2020 election, a 'Blue Wave' is rising in the cities, polling analysis shows (Chris Kahn, 2/19/20, Reuters)

Even as Trump commands rock-solid support among Republicans, voters' interest in going to the polls appears to be growing faster among those who disapprove of Trump than among those who approve of him, according to experts who reviewed the data.

The advantage in urban political engagement extends deep into the most competitive battleground states that Trump won by razor-thin margins four years ago, the data shows.

In large urban areas of the upper Midwest, a region that includes swing states Michigan and Wisconsin, for example, the number of people who said they were "certain" to vote in the upcoming presidential election rose by 10 percentage points to 67% compared with survey responses from 2015.

In smaller upper Midwest communities, the number of people similarly dedicated to voting rose by only about 1 point to 60% in that same four-year period.

Overall, the number of "certain" voters rose by 7 percentage points nationally from 2015 to 2019. It increased by more than that in the largest metropolitan areas, rising by 9 points in communities with between 1 million and 5 million people and 8 points in metros with at least 5 million people.

Smaller and rural communities lagged behind. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


U.S. Attorney General Barr considers quitting over Trump tweets: source (Reuters, 2/19/20) 

U.S. Attorney General William Barr is considering resigning over President Donald Trump's tweets about Justice Department investigations, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters, while the department said he was not leaving.

He's spent his whole career advocating for unlimited executive power and finally has a guy who refuses to be restrained by the Constitution or our laws; he's not going anywhere, no matter what Donald does.  Folks on the Right defend Donald to exactly the extent he enables their passions, like Nativism, misogyny and Islamophobia.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Monkey menace at Taj Mahal could spoil Donald Trump's trip (Siraj Qureshi, February 18, 2020, India Today)

Agra will be under a security lockdown when United States President Donald Trump arrives in the city. Nobody will be allowed to venture out of their homes on the route that Donald Trump would take from the Agra airport to the Taj Mahal. Even mobile communication is being expected to be interrupted along the route during Donald Trump's stay in Agra. However, this security lockdown does not apply to the hundreds of monkeys living in and around the Taj Mahal.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


12 days before election, left-wing party vows to renew Oslo peace process (Times of Israel, 2/19/20)

MK Nitzan Horowitz, head of Meretz and no. 3 in the joint Knesset slate, vows the faction would "renew the partnership with the Arab community in a Gantz government. The Oslo agreement that the right-wing loves to vilify is still in operation, and no one dares to cancel it, because its principles guarantee the future existence of both peoples."

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Trump Blasts Proposed US Restrictions on Sale of Jet Parts to China (Reuters, February 18, 2020)

In a series of tweets and in comments to reporters Tuesday, Trump said national security concerns, which had been cited as reasoning for the plans, should not be used as an excuse to make it difficult for foreign countries to buy U.S. products.

The president's comments came after weekend reports by Reuters and other news media that the government was considering whether to stop General Electric Co from further supplying engines for a new Chinese passenger jet.

His views on the issue contrasted with the sharp restrictions his administration has placed on U.S. companies trading with Huawei Technologies, the world's largest telecommunications equipment maker, also for national security reasons.

"We're not going to be sacrificing our companies ... by using a fake term of national security."

'Furious' US officials visit London to hand Boris Johnson a 'b******ing' over decision to allow Huawei to take part in UK's 5G network (DAVID WILCOCK, WHITEHALL, 2/19/20, MAILONLINE)

A delegation led by Donald Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is due to meet key No 10 figures amid a transatlantic row over the the Chinese tech giant.

The Trump administration is furious that a company it believes is a security risk has been approved for a role in the advanced telecommunications network, with Mr Trump on Sunday warning that intelligence sharing could be put at risk.

Fake term.

February 18, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Conservative intellectuals launch a new group to challenge free-market 'fundamentalism' on the right (James Hohmann, February 18, 2020, Washington Post)

"The goal, long term, is to think about what the post-Trump right-of-center is going to be," said Cass. "One of the reasons we think this is such an important project is that, even four-plus years after Trump emerged on the scene, there really has been very little new and interesting ferment in the right of center. It's pretty much the same set of institutions and publications and so forth. ... By and large, the establishment is what it was. And it seems to be keeping its head down and sort of hoping that everything can just go back post-Trump to the way that it was pre-Trump. To the extent that the future should sound different, and certainly I think it should, now is the time to start building the institutions and efforts that are going to make that a reality."

Cass acknowledges the problems animating populism are very real, but he argues that they won't be solved by the governing ideologies he blames for creating the crisis, nor by the populism itself, "which has demonstrated no ability to formulate or implement a coherent response."

"An earthquake clears a lot of space for rebuilding, but an earthquake does not rebuild," Cass explained. "And there are a lot of people who want to rush right back in and build what you already had after the earthquake. But something an earthquake shows you is which of the things that you'd already built were really not built very thoughtfully. It's important to learn lessons from this disruption that has occurred. It's important to go back to first principles and ask: What do we actually believe and why? What do we care about and why?"

Inside the GOP coalition, Cass argues, traditional economic conservatives ceded economic policy to libertarians as part of a "bargain" to win the Cold War. Ronald Reagan called it a three-legged stool: economic libertarians, social conservatives and national security hawks. Cass believes this "fusionism" worked well - in the past.


Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Does anyone understand the 2020 race? This scholar nailed the blue wave -- here's her forecast: Rachel Bitecofer predicted last year's midterms with incredible accuracy. Her 2020 forecast is ... not too bad (PAUL ROSENBERG, AUGUST 17, 2019, Salon)

This year you released your presidential prediction on July 1, showing the Democrats winning a bare majority of 278 electoral votes, just above the 270 needed to win. Trump is at 197, with four toss-up states. But Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are not toss-ups in your model. You write that Trump is in trouble in the Midwest and that there's a profound misunderstanding of how we won those states in 2016. What's at the heart of this misunderstanding, and why does it matter for 2020?

When we hear the punditry talk about what happened in the Midwest, generally speaking they'll say the Midwest swung toward Trump, right? Well, that's only true in two states. In Iowa and Ohio, where Trump cracked 50%, you can genuinely say he won over voters in those states. The others -- Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- Trump won those states by carrying only a plurality of the vote, and I would categorize that as a win by default. He won somewhere around 46 or 47% of the vote.

The reason that neither candidate was above 50% was that a huge numbers of voters in those states cast what we call protest ballots, and in the polarized era, the average that goes to a protest ballot is about 1.5%. The famous Ralph Nader election, the spoiler in Florida in 2000, that was about 1.5%. In Wisconsin, 6.2% of voters cast protest ballots in 2016. That's an extraordinary amount. 

So when you understand the role that third parties made in Trump's victory there in the Midwest, and his inability to crack 50%, you realize that it's a path to victory which was very complex. It becomes heavily tied to the fact that he was up against not just a Democrat, but that particular Democrat the GOP had managed to cause a public opinion backlash toward. That's certainly not going to be the case in the 2020 cycle.

So what about 2020. What does your model say? 

My model for 2020 starts off with Democrats at 278 Electoral College votes, and that's a problem for Trump, because of course you need 270 to win. It does that because of my model's prediction, based on turnout and predicted vote share, that Pennsylvania and Michigan will slip back to the Democrats. I'm uncertain about Ohio, but even if Trump wins Ohio, he can't win the other three Midwestern states. Then as you point out I have four tossup states: Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and Iowa. Even if he wins all four of them, the Democrats have already won the election -- and the idea that he would win all four is pretty unlikely. 

I will have a much better sense about this once we see the participation rates in the Democratic primary. But I think what we're going to be looking at is Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia as states where Trump is forced to play defense to hold on. I think by the time we get into September [of 2020] -- I don't think we're going to get to the point where Democrats are comfortable in the Midwest. I think we'll see a full-bore campaign and spending press in the Midwest all the way through to Election Day. But I think coming into September and October, they're also going to be spending resources in the Sun Belt and other states like that.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


'The most boring part': why the killer didn't matter to Georges Simenon: Identifying the murderer in Maigret and the Man on the Bench is of scant concern to a writer preoccupied with deeper secrets (Sam Jordison, 18 Feb 2020, The Observer

It isn't normal to begin reviews of detective novels by discussing their last chapter. But Maigret and the Man on the Bench is not a normal detective novel - and its conclusion is so striking that it demands immediate attention.

If you've read the novel, you'll know exactly what I mean. If you haven't, I don't think it's giving away too much to say that in just 10 pages in David Watson's (excellent) translation, Maigret discovers the identity of the murderer of Louis Thouret, the eponymous man on the bench. This murderer has barely been mentioned before in the novel, and Maigret doesn't care about his identity. "This was the most boring part," he reflects as he is writing up the case. Just six lines later, the book ends.

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


Trump commutes sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (John Haltiwanger, 2/18/20, Business Insider)

Blagojevich has been serving a 14-year sentence for corruption linked to his efforts to sell off Barack Obama's former US Senate seat, which he vacated to become president. He was seeking campaign contributions in exchange for filling Obama's vacant seat. 

If Donald released every prisoner who's in jail for the sorts of stuff he's done himself they'd be half empty.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Scientists Are Generating Virtual Universes to Study Strange Gigantic Structures (Becky Ferreira, Feb 18 2020, Vice)

Humans have decoded the basic structure of our home planet, our solar system, and even our galaxy, the Milky Way. Now, we have scaled our observations up to the entire universe, which is the biggest entity known to science and among the most challenging to map out and define.

Scientists think the universe is undergirded by a cosmic web of filaments and knots made of dark matter, a mysterious substance that accounts for most of the mass in the cosmos. These large-scale structures guide the evolution of galaxies, but their exact mechanics are currently unknown and hard to observe because dark matter, annoyingly, does not emit light like stars or galaxies.

Enter Dark Emulator: a sophisticated artificial intelligence tool created to model these immense cosmic processes. Using machine learning, the program is able to generate complex virtual universes that predict the behavior of large-scale structures, according to an October 2019 study in The Astrophysical Journal.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Why extremism is a question of psychology, not politics (QUASSIM CASSAM, 2/18/20, New Statesman)

To be an extremist is, first and foremost, to have an extremist mindset. It is often pointed out that people at opposite ends of the political spectrum have much in common. What they have in common is their mindset: their preoccupations, attitudes, thinking styles and emotions. To understand these elements is to understand why the extremist label is not one that anyone should be happy to own. 

A key extremist preoccupation is victimisation - the perception of themselves as victims of persecution. While extremism can be a reaction to genuine persecution, many extremists are obsessed with fantasies of persecution. For example, so-called "incels", men who describe themselves as "involuntarily celibate", believe that they are oppressed by women who refuse to have sex with them. This is a classic extremist persecution fantasy.  

Another extremist preoccupation is purity. The purity that extremists are obsessed with can be ideological, religious, or ethnic. Ideological extremists are not just strongly committed to a specific ideology or belief system. Their commitment is to what they see as the purest or most unadulterated version of their favoured ideology. Their biggest fear is dilution, and they see themselves as virtuous because of the purity of their beliefs. 

Extremism's preoccupation with purity explains one of its key attitudes: its attitude to compromise. Extremists hate compromise because it detracts from purity. Being an extremist is as much a matter of how one believes as what one believes. Extremists see compromise as a form of betrayal, and while extremists may hate their opponents, this is usually milder than their hatred of people on their own side who have, as they see it, "sold out". 

Another key extremist attitude is indifference to any adverse consequences of one's actions or policies. To not be deterred by the practical or emotional damage incurred is the essence of fanaticism, so it follows that extremists are also fanatics. The reverse, however, is not true; one might be indifferent to practicalities, but not preoccupied with purity and victimhood as extremists invariably are. 

[See also: How to get on with your political enemies]

As for extremist thinking styles, these are powerfully articulated in Richard Hofstadter's essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". Extremists are prone to both utopian and conspiracy thinking. They think in terms of a future utopia to which their policies will lead, and they see conspiracies everywhere. Many extremist conspiracy theories, such as the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, are anti-Semitic.

In Hofstadter's terms, extremists are also uncommonly angry, and this points to the emotional components of the extremist mindset. Extremist anger is rooted in feelings of resentment about their lot. Another fundamental extremist emotion is self-pity. Anger, resentment, and self-pity are a potentially lethal emotional cocktail, especially in combination with other elements of the extremist mindset.  

You can't actually embarrass extremists, but one of the delicious plaints from the Right is that "we don't necessarily agree with Donald but look at how the elites condescend to us! It's only natural we react."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Federal Judges to Hold Emergency Meeting on Trump Admin Interference in Politically Sensitive Cases (Kenneth Schwartz, February 17, 2020, VOA)

A national association of federal judges will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday after Justice Department officials intervened in the case involving a close confident of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The head of the independent Federal Judges Association, District Judge Cynthia Rufe, tells VOA the judges are "concerned about the attacks on individual judges" and it will be the main issue to be discussed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


EU Approves Trade Deal With Vietnam (VOA News, February 18, 2020)

The European Union has approved a trade agreement with Vietnam, disproving skeptics who thought the EU's divorce with Britain and Vietnam human rights concerns would delay the vote.

Members of the EU Parliament last week voted 401 to 192 in favor of ratifying the agreement, which would roll back almost all import tariffs between the bloc and Vietnam. The EU is looking for new economic tailwinds amid concerns with other partners: the British exit from the union threatens commerce, while U.S. President Donald Trump has turned his attention from the China trade war to issue more tariffs against the European Union this month. The vote was also welcomed as good news by Vietnam, which worries its economy will be hurt by the U.S.-China trade war and the spread of the new coronavirus.

February 17, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Charles Portis: True Grit novelist dies aged 86 (Clémence Michallon, 2/17/20, The Independent)

Portis was born in 1933 in El Dorado, Arkansas, one of four children of a school superintendent and a housewife whom Portis thought could have been a writer herself. As a child, he loved comic books and movies and the stories he learned from his family. In a brief memoir written for The Atlantic Monthly, he recalled growing up in a community where the ratio was about "two Baptist churches or one Methodist church per gin. It usually took about three gins to support a Presbyterian church, and a community with, say, four before you found enough tepid idolators to form an Episcopal congregation."

He was a natural raconteur who credited his stint in the Marines with giving him time to read. After leaving the service, he graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1958 with a degree in journalism and for the next few years was a newspaper man, starting as a night police reporter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal and finishing as London bureau chief for the New York Herald Tribune.

Fellow Tribune staffers included Wolfe, who regarded Portis as "the original laconic cutup" and a fellow rebel against the boundaries of journalism, and Nora Ephron, who would remember her colleague as a sociable man with a reluctance to use a telephone. His interview subjects included Malcolm X and JD Salinger, whom Portis encountered on an aeroplane. He was also a first-hand observer of the civil rights movement. In 1963, he covered a riot and the police beating of black people in Birmingham, Alabama. Around the same time, he reported on a Ku Klux Klan meeting, a dullish occasion after which "the grand dragon of Mississippi disappeared grandly into the Southern night, his car engine hitting on about three cylinders."

Anxious to write novels, Portis left the paper in 1964 and from Arkansas completed Norwood, published two years later and adapted for a 1970 movie of the same name starring Glen Campbell and Joe Namath.

Portis placed his stories in familiar territory. He knew his way around Texas and Mexico and worked enough with women stringers from the Ozarks in Arkansas to draw upon them for Mattie's narrative voice in True Grit. He eventually settled in Little Rock, where he reportedly spent years working on a novel that was never released. Gringos, his fifth and last novel, came out in 1991.

Portis published short fiction in The Atlantic during the 1990s, but was mostly forgotten before admiring essays in Esquire and the New York Observer by Ron Rosenbaum were noticed by publishing director Tracy Carns of the Overlook Press, which reissued all of Portis' novels.

OUR LEAST-KNOWN GREAT NOVELIST: Do Charles Portis's Trailways dreamers possess the mysteries of the universe? (RON ROSENBAUM, January 1998, Esquire)

LISTEN, I BOW to no one when it comes to expertise on the myth and reality of secret societies in America, in distinguishing the dark nimbus of paranoia and conspiracy theory surrounding them from the peculiar human truths at their heart.

As the author of the still-definitive study (which appeared first in these pages) of America's ultimate secret society, Skull and Bones, I have seen the much-whispered-about photos that the all-woman break-in team took of the interior of the Skull and Bones "Tomb"--complete with its candid shots of that sanctum sanctorum of America's clandestine ruling-class cult: the Room with the License Plates of Many States. I could tell you the secret Skull and Bones nicknames of the class year of D 154, in the coded Skull and Bones calendar of the years.

(Let's give a shout out to good old J. B. "Magog" Speed, for instance.)

I say I bow to no one, but that's not true. When it comes to knowing and limning the heart of the heart of the secret-society-esoteric-knowledge-weird-nickname-ancient-mysteries-ofthe-East racket, I bow--we should all bow--to one man, one novelist. Not Pynchon or DeLillo or any of the other usual suspects on the secret-society subject, but a maddeningly underappreciated American writer who in a brilliant and shockingly little-known novel has somehow captured more of the truth about this aspect of America, about the longing for Hidden Secrets, the seductions of secret societies, than all the shelves of conspiracy-theory literature. The only man to penetrate the true heart of dimness. I'm speaking of Charles Portis and his now-almost-impossible-to-find novel (suppressed by You Know Who?), Masters of Atlantis.

It's an indictment of the dimness of our culture that the film Conspiracy Theory made millions while Masters of Atlantis languishes in the recesses of secondhand bookstores, out of print, not even in paperback, and Portis gets neither the popular nor the literary-world acclaim that he deserves. In a way, Portis has not helped matters; he lives off the beaten path down in Arkansas with an unlisted phone number, doesn't do publicity, has never networked, and refused, politely but firmly, to talk to me for this piece.

Who is this man Portis? 

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Generating electricity 'out of thin air' (Nick Carne, 2/17/20, Cosmos)

Writing in the journal Nature, electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, introduce the Air-gen (or air-powered generator), which Lovely describes as "the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet".

Air-Gen has electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter, which Lovley discovered in the Potomac River three decades ago and has been working with ever since, in particular investigating its potential for "green electronics".

The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapour naturally present in the atmosphere.

It requires only a thin film of protein nanowires less than 10 microns thick. The bottom of the film rests on an electrode, while a smaller electrode that covers only part of the nanowire film sits on top.

The film adsorbs water vapour from the atmosphere. A combination of the electrical conductivity and surface chemistry of the protein nanowires, coupled with the fine pores between the nanowires within the film, establishes the conditions that generate an electrical current between the two electrodes.

Developed in Yao's lab, Air-gen is low-cost, non-polluting and renewable, and needs neither sun nor wind, the researchers say. It can work indoors, or in extremely low humidity of the desert.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Holden brand bites the dust as GM switches focus to electric and autonomous cars (Bridie Schmidt, FEBRUARY 17, 2020, The Driven)

The truth of the matter, it would seem, is that the cost of GM keeping up with the transition to electric mobility inevitable means it must prune what has become a dead branch - a fact that was made clear in a statement from GM boss Mary Barra.

"I've often said that we will do the right thing, even when it's hard, and this is one of those times," said Barra in a statement regarding the shutdown.

"We are restructuring our international operations, focusing on markets where we have the right strategies to drive robust returns, and prioritizing global investments that will drive growth in the future of mobility, especially in the areas of EVs and AVs."

General Motors, like other auto giants on a global scale, is increasingly making commitments to a transition to electric and autonomous vehicles.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why China must complete the transition to political democracy for the sake of Communist Party legitimacy - philosopher's new book (Martin Witte, 17 Feb, 2020, SCMP)

In Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis, Jiwei Ci, a philosophy professor at the University of Hong Kong, makes an elaborate but cogent argument about how the party will only overcome its illegitimacy, along with other tears in the national fabric, by choosing to usher in political democracy, a change that Ci declares is "of dire necessity rather than moral luxury".

Unlike those who predicate China's embrace of democracy on the fall of the party, Ci envisions that as the party continues to confront crises involving its legitimacy and strains to "perform well" for its population, top leaders will wisely seek out a parachute to stave off the party's annihilation. The party would still be indispensable, its eventual sharing of power and influence being essential not only to its own survival but to the health of Chinese society.

Ci argues that China, largely due to advances made since the early 1990s, is already democratic in the sense that society possesses "equality of conditions". That term, taken from Alexis de Tocqueville, entails a "basic human sameness ... captured in such notions as universal human rights, careers open to talents, and equality of opportunity".

Again borrowing from de Tocqueville, Ci notes how democracy is a social condition - part of a society's "nature and dynamic" - more than a political phenomenon or "regime type".

As Ci puts it: "The question is not whether China will be ready for democracy, as if democracy were something totally new and alien, but whether China will be able to complete a process that is already well under way - a comprehensive transformation for which only the last, political steps are yet to be taken."

Ci does not think China is near the brink of transitioning to political democracy. But he figures that within the next 10 to 20 years - depending on when President Xi Jinping leaves the stage - the party will face an unprecedented crisis of political authority and legitimacy, unable to draw on the two main factors that have allowed the one-party apparatus to largely resist challenge: its communist revolutionary past and its capacity to help boost the "quality of life" of Chinese people.

The Anglospheric redefinition of sovereignty means that only democratic regimes are legitimate.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A priest's anti-Muslim comments reveal US Catholics' Islamophobia problem (Jordan Denari Duffner, 2/13/20, RNS) 

On a day in which pastors were encouraged to remind their flocks of the Christian duty to "welcome the stranger," a Catholic priest in Minnesota used the opportunity to sow fear and suspicion about Muslims.

Calling Islam "the greatest threat" to Christianity and to America, the Rev. Nick VanDenBroeke argued that Muslim immigration to the United States should be curtailed.

"We do not need to pretend that everyone who seeks to enter into America should be treated the same," he said. 

February 16, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Key patents are starting to run out for Intuitive. That has spurred a range of new companies to move into the market. Medtronic, a massive medical device company employing more than 80,000 people, is moving into the space. U.K.-based CMR Surgical has raised $380 million in capital to challenge Intuitive. And both Alphabet -- Google's parent company -- and Johnson & Johnson are backing the startup Verb Surgical to push its own robots. It's little surprise then that the global market for surgical robots is expected to nearly triple, from $4.5 billion in 2016 to $12.1 billion in 2025.  

This push could make robotic surgery more accessible, and greater competition could prompt quicker innovation in the field, say experts. For patients, long recovery times might become a thing of the past for a range of surgeries.

"Robotic surgery is here to stay," says O'Reilly. "The biggest barrier to its global takeover is the fact that it has been monopolized by one company, and that it's been very expensive. But in the next two to three years, competition could bring the price down."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Is Why You Got Michael Avenatti (AMANDA CARPENTER,  FEBRUARY 16, 2020, The Bulwark)

There is only one reason why anyone even knows Avenatti's name, and it has nothing to do with Nike. It's because Trump had an affair with a porn star and paid her hush money to keep her from telling the story to voters before the 2016 election.

Remember that? Sorry, not sorry, Trumpsters. That story is always going to be newsworthy, despite attempts from the Trump campaign to make it about anything else. Trump's old lawyer Michael Cohen would love to tell you more about it . . . when his three-year prison term for perpetuating that falsehood and various other crimes on behalf of the president expires.

So, who is the good guy here? Trick question! None of them.

There are no heroes in this story. It's scuzzbucket politics, all the way down. Which is the type of thing that conservatives used to try to avoid. First there's Trump, the man who cheated on his lovely wife, who was at home caring for their new baby, with random women he met while "out on business." Then there are the two women who had affairs with him: porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal. They both knew Trump was married. They both tried to sell their stories before the election and they both accepted hush money to stay quiet.

Sprinkled here and there are skeezy men such as the National Enquirer's David Pecker, Trump fixer Michael Cohen, and, rushing onstage during the third act, to make sure he got some of the spotlight, too, Michael Avenatti--all of whom were facilitating the various deals while serving their self-interests, too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


February 15, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Trump eliminates funding for program honoring Ambassador Stevens, who was killed in Benghazi (Colby Itkowitz, Feb. 15, 2020, Washington Post)

The Trump administration has zeroed out of the State Department budget a request from a nonprofit entity set up in honor of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador killed in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 terrorist attacks.

The agency's fiscal 2021 budget proposal cuts $420 million from its educational and cultural programs, including $5 million for the Stevens Initiative, an organization created to memorialize the late ambassador's dedication to cultivating international exchanges.

This appears to be at least the third time that dedicated funding for the program has been removed by Trump's budget officials. For the past two years, Congress has restored it.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Gov. Scott gives endorsement in Presidential race (NBC5 News)

Vermont Governor Phil Scott has endorsed a Presidential candidate, just 3 weeks before the Vermont primary.

He said he is backing Bill Weld, President Trump's Challenger on the March 3rd Ballot.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Bangladesh: Headed in the Right Direction (Mohammad Ziauddin, February 15, 2020, RCP)

A recent poll conducted by the independent, U.S.-based International Republican Institute (IRI) spotlighted what many in Bangladesh already know: the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is immensely popular. Its approval rating in 2019 was 83 percent. Seventy-six percent of those polled said they believe the country is headed in the right direction.

The reason? Per capita income has nearly tripled. Extreme poverty has been cut in half. Educational opportunities abound, especially for women. The Asian Development Bank says Bangladesh has the fastest-growing economy in the Asia-Pacific region. Lately, Bangladesh's Gross Domestic Product has been closing in on double-digit annual growth.

Since 2009, Bangladesh's economy has grown 188 percent. Last year, Bangladesh posted record high GDP growth of 8.1 percent, up from 7.9 percent in 2018. By comparison, other South Asian countries suffered significant dips in GDP growth. HSBC Bank recently predicted that Bangladesh would be the 26th-largest economy in the world by 2030.

People from every walk of life have benefited from this success. Since 2009, 15.8 million people were lifted out of poverty. During that period, the poverty rate fell from 31.5 percent to 21.8 percent. Simultaneously, per capita income rose nearly threefold. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Vietnam Turns to Private Companies for Public Services Needs (VOA News, February 15, 2020)

Last year companies like Coca Cola and Tetra Pak, an international food packaging and processing company, collaborated with Vietnam's biggest city to lower garbage levels. Their work included putting recycling bins around Ho Chi Minh City and investing in the waste management system.

Garbage collection is still a local government responsibility.

The collaboration, though, shows how Vietnam is increasingly looking at private companies to fulfill its national development needs.

Vietnam is at a turning point. The country used to rely on aid from nations such as Sweden and Canada, and that foreign funding helped Vietnam improve education, health care, and other public goods, and transform into a lower middle-income nation.

Foreign governments are cutting aid budgets globally, though, and Vietnam no longer qualifies for as much aid, so it is trying a new approach to development, making it a business.

It matches marketing strategy to a need for investment dollars.

That means getting more companies involved in activities traditionally performed by government, with the intention of reaching Vietnam's development goals."

A series of ongoing market reforms is giving Vietnam a market-leading status in Southeast Asia, making it an increasingly attractive place for investors," Nirukt Sapru, who is the chief executive officer for Vietnam, Southeast Asia, and South Asia at Standard Chartered Bank, said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


She sat out the anthem in protest. Her teacher said 'go back to your country,' students say. (Reis Thebault, Feb. 15, 2020, Washington Post)

The students were assembled in the auditorium of their high school on Chicago's North Side, there to celebrate Hispanic heritage -- but first, their teachers told them, they had to stand for the national anthem.

A group of students, who thought the request unusual, decided to remain seated. It was a silent but recognizable condemnation of racial injustice. Yet, before the anthem had even ended, they said, their demonstration made them the target of just the sort of discrimination they were protesting.

When one student -- a Latina and U.S. citizen -- refused a teacher's pointed direction to stand, she said he replied with an infamously racist line: "Go back to your country." The same teacher turned to a black student, who was also sitting down, and asked whether she was part of the public school system's free and reduced lunch program, telling her she should stand for the people who have died for the country, the students said.

They were then told to leave the assembly.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Farewell to Hackery: When I had to choose between my principles and my blinding partisanship. (SHAY KHATIRI  OCTOBER 29, 2019, The Bulwark)

I got involved in politics in 2014, when I started college. In that world, I still would have been the guy who thought that the GOP was the party of the smart and honorable, and that everything that the Democrats did and said had a malicious angle.

Donald Trump changed that.

He ran against every principle that I, and virtually every other Republican, held dear. His character was flawed. His foreign policy was Obama 2.0 but open about intending to commit human rights violations and war crimes. He was against free trade. He ran against cutting entitlements. The list goes on--and never stops!

And, naturally, virtually every single of those Republican officeholders came out against him, making the same arguments I just made. You see? My party was great! Here were my party's leaders, the smart and the honorable, standing against the frontrunner of the field.

Then, Trump became the nominee. One by one, those honorable party leaders fell, and so did much of the conservative intelligentsia. As Jonah Goldberg likes to say, it was like the invasion of the body snatchers.

Beneath the tragic circumstances, there was a great awakening for the young college kid that I was: Politicians are human and prone to human temptations and failings, and party affiliation doesn't change that. Some are good, and some are not so good.

The Trump moment has taught me that politicians can be honorable no matter how wrong I think they are. And they can be complete hacks with zero principles, even if they like judicial originalism and entitlements cuts.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


US squeezes Iraq's economy with cash delays, short waivers over Iran ties (The New Arab, 15 February, 2020)

Irked by Iraq's close ties to neighbouring Iran, Washington has begun following through on threats to squeeze Baghdad's fragile economy with delays to crucial cash deliveries and shortened sanctions waivers.

This week, the US granted Iraq last-minute leave to import Iranian gas for its crippled power grids, despite American sanctions on Tehran.

But Washington's patience seems to be running out - the latest waiver was reduced from the usual 90 or 120 days to just 45.

"This is the beginning of death by a thousand cuts," warned financial analyst Ahmed Tabaqchali, of the Iraq-based Institute of Regional and International Studies.

"The shorter the waiver, the more we can't afford for things to go wrong in that time."

Iraq is at a crucial crossroads. Its new premier is struggling to form a cabinet, anti-government protests are filling the streets and skyrocketing tensions between its two main allies, Tehran and Washington, have already spilt blood on its territory.

While Iran enjoys tremendous political and military sway in Iraq, the US still holds a major trump card - the economy.

Nothing more on-brand than Donald waging war on Muslim democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


U.S. military isn't investigating Vindman, top Army official says (Paul Sonne, Feb. 14, 2020, Washington Post)

On Tuesday, when asked about Alexander Vindman's dismissal from the White House, Trump said that "the military can handle him." Asked what that meant, Trump replied, "If you look at what happened, they're going to certainly, I would imagine, take a look at that."

McCarthy, however, said Friday that there was no such move to look into Vindman, who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine as a child and went on to become a decorated combat veteran in his two decades in the U.S. military.

David Pressman, a lawyer for Vindman, rejected the notion that Vindman did anything wrong, noting in a statement last week that his client spoke publicly only once, pursuant to a subpoena from the U.S. Congress, and served in his post honorably.

"There is no question in the mind of any American why this man's job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House," Pressman said. "LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful."

"The truth has cost LTC Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy. He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day: he followed orders, he obeyed his oath, and he served his country, even when doing so was fraught with danger and personal peril," Pressman added.

Trump's former chief of staff, retired Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, earned the president's ire by defending Vindman in public remarks this week.

When Trump asked Ukraine's president to investigate Biden and his son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, it amounted to hearing an illegal order for Vindman, Kelly said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


The authors of 'A Very Stable Genius' discuss Trump's rage, ignorance, and the unprecedented dysfunction of his White House (Anthony L. Fisher, 2/15/20, Business Insider)

Insider: "A Very Stable Genius" has an episode where Trump meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the president tells him, "It's not like you've got China on your border." You wrote that a number of top White House officials were aghast at Trump's ignorance. Why was this particular instance such an issue for them?

Leonnig: We did interviews with more than 200 former and current senior level officials, advisers, friends, and aides to the president. The reason they shared these stories is they feel that the president rejects facts and information. It's like he can't be bothered with it. And his rejection of a briefing before he went to meet with Prime Minister Modi had terrible consequences.

Modi went from being a person who was trying to have a real serious negotiation with Trump about partnership, about how to protect himself from China and Russia and Pakistan. And as a result of the president not knowing that India shares a very significant border with China, Modi began to withdraw a little and, as told to us by aides, viewed Trump as just not serious enough to make a deal with.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


'Somebody is making money off those ladders': Smugglers use 'camouflage' ladders to cross border wall (Lauren Villagran, Feb. 14, 2020, El Paso Times)

Perhaps the quickest way around a billion-dollar wall is over it.

Smugglers in Juárez have engineered camouflage hook-and-ladders made of rebar that blend in so well with the border wall that it can be hard to detect, according to U.S. Border Patrol. The ladders are the same rust brown color as the mesh panels or steel beams of the fence.

El Paso's urban stretch of border is littered with the rusted rebar ladders at the base on both sides -- ladders lying in wait on the Mexican side, ladders pulled down by border agents or abandoned by smugglers on the U.S. side. One of the rebar ladders was poking out of a dumpster in a lot near the Chihuahuita neighborhood on Thursday. 

"Somebody is making money off those ladders," said Agent Joe Romero, pointing to a mangled version tossed in the dirt on the U.S. side. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Man accused of driving van into GOP tent says he's thankful no one was hurt  (Ashley Harding, 2/14/20, News4Jax) 
In an unredacted arrest report obtained by News4Jax, Timm admitted to purposefully driving into the tent because "someone had to take a stand" and said his disapproval of Trump was a motivating factor. Witnesses said he "flipped off" the people near the tent before driving away.

Timm spoke to News4Jax on Friday about the "divisiveness" of the current political climate in the United States and said it'll be interesting to see what's to come in the next year.

He said he intentionally waited about 20 minutes in the parking lot "for people to clear out" of the voter registration tent and that he never intended for anyone to get hurt. No injuries were reported after the incident.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


I wrote the law Bloomberg blames for the financial crisis. He's wrong. (Robert Kuttner, Feb. 15, 2020, Washington Post)

In the 1970s, community groups came to Congress to protest the fact that whole neighborhoods were being denied credit by banks. I happened to be working as chief investigator for Sen. William Proxmire, then the chair of the Senate Banking Committee. After several days of hearings and extensive investigation, we wrote and persuaded Congress to enact two laws.

The first, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975, required banks to disclose where they were lending. The second, the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA), created an affirmative obligation not to redline and to provide credit without regard to location, "consistent with the safe and sound operation of such institutions," which is to say with responsible lending standards.

We made sure to add that phrase so the legislation would neither pressure banks to make bad loans nor be faulted for doing so. Regulators defined that phrase to mean lenders should serve their entire communities, but not water down sound underwriting standards. The banks regularly received CRA scores, which were used to permit or deny mergers and acquisitions. One of the constructive effects of the CRA was the creation of a whole generation of loan officers who took pride in being able to extend credit to low- and moderate-income borrowers without subjecting the bank to undue risk.

It wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that Wall Street investment bankers and local mortgage originators came up with the scheme that led to the subprime collapse. This was all about inflating profits and passing along risks to someone else. It had nothing whatever to do with the Community Reinvestment Act.

The investment bankers would bankroll local mortgage bankers to make subprime loans with low "teaser" rates. By definition, a subprime loan is a loan to a customer who would not qualify for credit at the usual rates. After a few years, the interest rate on these loans would double or triple. Many borrowers defaulted.

How could lenders make money on a product with a high risk of default? The investment bankers packaged the loans into bonds, known as collateralized debt obligations. These were blessed with Triple-A ratings by private credit rating agencies and bought by unsuspecting investors all over the world.

The investment bankers got the loan originators off the hook, and the bond buyers got the investment bankers off the hook. So local lenders could make unsound loans and investors could underwrite them, making a lot of money and passing along the risk to someone else. The whole process was corrupt, but in an era of deregulation, the regulators looked the other way.

February 14, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


'Disturbing': Federal Judge Blasted DOJ for Leaving McCabe in 'Limbo' (Betsy Swan & Adam Rawnsley, Feb. 14, 2020, Daily Beast)

Justice Department attorneys struggled with mounting frustration and skepticism from a federal judge about producing documents related to the investigation of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, according to transcripts of closed-door conversations released in response to a lawsuit from a government watchdog group. 

The McCabe case--and President Donald Trump's personal involvement in it--prompted federal judge Reggie Barnett Walton to call the government's handling of it "disturbing," a "mess," and veering close to a "banana republic."

"I think it's very unfortunate," Judge Walton told prosecutors as the case hung in limbo in late September. "And I think as a government and as a society we're going to pay a price at some point for this."

The comments were made in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) against the Justice Department.

Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for CREW, said the eventual release of the court transcripts on Friday, after a lengthy court battle, showed that the government was "trying to cover up the fact that they were stringing this [lawsuit] along while looking for a reason to indict McCabe."

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Justice Department Declines to Charge Ex-FBI Deputy Director McCabe (Associated Press, February 14, 2020)

Federal prosecutors have declined to charge former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, closing an investigation into whether he lied to federal officials about his involvement in a news media disclosure, McCabe's legal team said Friday.

Pity the poor Trumpbots.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Barr pushes back against Trump's criticism of Justice Dept. (Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and  Josh Dawsey, Feb. 13, 2020, Washington Post)

Trump's tweet complaining that he believed his friend was being treated unfairly proved something of a last straw, they said, because it was so damaging to morale at the department.

Barr was comfortable not being universally loved by career employees, but he felt the tweet Tuesday raised a bigger problem, giving people reason to wonder whether the department had been corrupted by political influence...

Hush now, there are still boots to be licked.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's latest possible quid pro quo involves New York, airport travel, and his tax returns (The Week, 2/14/20)

Before the meeting, Trump floated what appeared to be an offer he hoped New York couldn't refuse. Cuomo "must understand that National Security far exceeds politics," he tweeted, an apparent reference to the administration's purported rationale for blocking New Yorkers from the programs. "New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment [sic]." New York Attorney General Letitia James -- who won a $2 million settlement from Trump over his canceled family charity and is suing him and his business on multiple fronts, including for his financial records -- clapped back.

February 13, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


California Capitalism (LAURA TYSON , LENNY MENDONCA, 2/13/20, Project Syndicate)

Once again, California, the world's fifth-largest economy, is leading the way. The state is developing its own distinctive political economy, "California Capitalism," through fiscal responsibility, innovation, and cross-sector partnerships to foster inclusive, sustainable, long-term growth. 

Since its last employment peak before the 2008 financial crisis, California has added more than two million payroll jobs, the unemployment rate has fallen to a record low of 3.9%, and average per capita income has increased almost 25%. Since the expansion began in 2010, California has added 3.4 million jobs, more than 15% of the nation's total. With almost four million small businesses, California also leads the country in new business formation, reflecting the fact that it receives more than half of all US venture-capital funding. Whereas national economic growth is projected to slow in 2020, California will continue to outpace the rest of the country, owing to forward-looking tax credits and its diverse set of global industries - from manufacturing, agriculture, and trade to technology and entertainment.

But "California Capitalism" is not just about raw economic growth. For policymakers, the real focus is on job quality, regional inclusivity, and environmental sustainability. Hence, one of the state's immediate concerns is to address a simmering housing and homelessness crisis. After creating a $1 billion affordable-housing fund last year, Governor Gavin Newsom's 2020-21 budget proposal includes an additional $750 million in emergency funding for the homeless, to encourage California companies to invest their own resources and work alongside state and local governments to address the housing problem.

California continues to lead the country in environmental and climate policies, too. With its commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, the state is deploying a variety of tools to slow the pace and reduce the risks of climate change. The proposed budget calls for $12.5 billion of additional government investment over five years in pursuit of these goals, around $4.8 billion of which would come under the state's innovative cap-and-trade system. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


Why Trump went all-out in New Hampshire and Iowa GOP primaries (Will Steakin, February 13, 2020, ABC News)

President Donald Trump's historic showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire wasn't an accident.

While Trump didn't have a serious Republican primary challenger in either state, the re-election team and the Republican National Committee launched a successful general election style effort to run up the score in both states.

Trump held preemptive rallies in both Iowa and New Hampshire and blanketed both states with dozens of top surrogates, including members of the first family, sporting red Trump 2020 hats and custom Team Trump quarter-zip pullovers who campaigned at caucus sites and polling stations while volunteers on the ground carried out a massive get-out-the-vote effort.

They couldn't get everyone to cancel their primaries.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


Shin Bet reportedly slams defence minister for giving 'green light to Jewish terror' (Middle East Monitor, February 13, 2020)

The Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, has issued a "rare public attack" on Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, reported the Jerusalem Post, over the cancellation of an administrative detention order for a radical Jewish Israeli right-wing activist.

According to the paper, the Shin Bet told Channel 12 that Bennett's decision to rescind the order "had given a green light to Jewish terror like the 2015 arson murder of a Palestinian family at Duma".

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


Jewish Harvard students form anti-Zionist organization (JTA, FEBRUARY 12, 2020)

A group of undergraduate students at Harvard University has formed what they call an "anti-Zionist Jewish organization" that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The Harvard Jewish Coalition for Peace introduced itself in a public statement posted Monday on Facebook as "a new organization founded in the idea that Jewish liberation is inextricably bound up with the liberation of all people."

The group said it will focus on Palestinian solidarity work; fighting anti-Semitism and for the safety of Jews and all people through solidarity; and creating Jewish spaces and events outside of Hillel.

"We build on a long history of Jewish anti-Zionism which teaches us that Jewish safety or liberation will never come at the expense of other people's lives and land, and are committed to following the leadership of Palestinians in supporting the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on and off Harvard's campus," the group said.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Memphis woman, head juror in Roger Stone trial, stands up for prosecutors (Laura Testino, 2/12/20, The Commercial Appeal)

Former Memphis schools board member Tomeka Hart is speaking out about her role on the jury that found Roger Stone, an ally of President Trump, guilty of lying to Congress and obstructing an investigation into Russia to protect Trump and his presidential campaign. 

Hart was the foreperson, or head juror, for the November 2019 trial. 

She spoke up about her experience in support of the four attorneys who recently quit the prosecution team after the Justice Department, in an unusual move, backed away from the stiff prison sentence recommended for Stone.

"I want to stand up for Aaron Zelinky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis - the prosecutors on the Roger Stone trial," Hart wrote. "It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors. They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice."

I was a juror in Roger Stone's trial. I am proud of how we came to our decision. (Seth Cousins, November 22, 2019, Washington Post)

Since we delivered that verdict, I have been taken aback by the accounts of pundits and politicians that our decision was somehow the product of a deeply polarized, partisan divide. Let me be clear: We did not convict Stone based on his political beliefs or his expression of those beliefs. We did not convict him of being intemperate or acting boorishly. We convicted him of obstructing a congressional investigation, of lying in five specific ways during his sworn congressional testimony and of tampering with a witness in that investigation.

Our jury was diverse in age, gender, race, ethnicity, income, education and occupation. I'm a 51-year-old white man from New England. My favorite person on the jury was an African American woman from Tennessee. Given that the trial took place in the District, the likelihood of having government employees in the jury pool was high and, indeed, we had such individuals. Like jurors everywhere, none of us asked for this responsibility but each of us accepted it willingly. We served the proposition that everyone is entitled to a fair trial and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Stone found guilty: The colorful, weird and bizarre parts of the indictment, explained
Roger Stone was found guilty on Nov. 15 of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of justice over remarks about WikiLeaks' 2016 email releases. (Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)
Interest in this case was high, and the court took special steps to prevent us from being harassed or improperly influenced. Each morning, we assembled at a building several blocks away and made our way to the parking garage, where federal marshals would load us into vans with tinted windows for the trip to court. On arrival, we moved through the building via a freight elevator and back corridors.

The evidence in this case was substantial and almost entirely uncontested. Stone's testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in September 2017 was a matter of record; both the prosecution and defense agreed on the facts. The real dispute was whether Stone had lied under oath and whether that mattered. The defense offered by Stone's attorney can be summed up in to two words: So what?

Our unanimous conclusion was this: The truth matters. Telling the truth under oath matters. At a time when so much of our public discourse is based on deception or just lies, it is more important than ever that we still have places where the truth can be presented, examined and discerned. Congress is one of those places. That's what the case was about.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Your employer is putting more of your money in a 401(k) -- that's a good thing (ALESSANDRA MALITO, 2/13/20, Market Watch)

About 35% of employers are enrolling new workers in 401(k) plans, according to 2019 fourth quarter data from Fidelity Investments, which analyzes its customers' investing and saving trends. Typically, the default rate for automatic contributions into 401(k) plans hovers around 3%, but more than a third of plans in the fourth quarter had default rates around 5% or 6%, according to the report, which was released on Thursday. Only about 12% of plans used that rate in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Choosing a higher default rate is critical for building an adequate nest egg for retirement, Murphy said. "The reality is, over the length of someone's entire career, that 1-3% difference can be massive for income in retirement," she said.

Employers are also increasingly boosting their employees' contribution rates each year, too. The number of plans that had auto-escalation more than doubled in the last decade, from 9% at the end of 2009 to 19% at the end of 2019.

And tie it to an O'Neill account that runs from birth to 18.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


The World That Christianity Made (GRAHAM MCALEER, 2/12/20, Law & Liberty)

For years, Tom Holland preferred the ancients over Christian "virtue." However, Dominion relates that these last few years, he has become increasingly disturbed and anxious when researching Athens and Rome. He is now disturbed by ancient cruelty and anxious after realizing that his kind-hearted, benevolent humanitarianism (his wokeness, in other words) is a Christian sentiment. Why are we sweeter than medieval Londoners? Not because we are heirs of Athens, but because we are even more Christian than they were.

Having fallen in love with stories of the glory of the ancients as a boy, Holland now recoils from the pervasive cruelty of the age. No longer a Nietzschean, Holland still thinks Nietzsche--who became a professor of classics at age 24--got his history right. Nietzsche:

It appears to me that the delicacy, even more the hypocrisy of tame domestic animals (by this, I mean modern man, I mean us) is loath to envisage to what extent cruelty constituted the great festivity and pleasure of mankind in earlier days, and even an ingredient in almost all of its pleasures.

Holland's thesis is that those least likely to feel comfortable acknowledging any debt to Christianity--the woke--are, in fact, Christian revolutionaries. Contrary to the commentariat, Dominion arrestingly claims that Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary--that Western (or even world) history is best viewed as a series of ruptures wrought by Christian revolutions making us all kinder: "to dream of a world transformed by a reformation, or an enlightenment, or a revolution is nothing exclusively modern. Rather, it is to dream as medieval visionaries dreamed: to dream in the manner of a Christian."

Put differently, history is really a contending with the writings of St. Paul. Paul's letters, argues Holland, are the most powerful letters ever written. Penned about a decade after the death of Jesus--the Gospels were written years later--Holland likens them to depth-charges sounding down the ages, scrambling settled patterns of life. For Paul, the crucified criminal Jesus is, in fact, a metaphysical, personal love structuring the core of reality. Love dissolves the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman. Henceforth, citizenship in the real kingdom would be a matter of belief, not social standing. Paul announced a Spirit permeating all people, no matter their status, and permeating the world: "You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Corinthians 3:3).

When set against corruption and injustice, this Spirit, by animating human hearts, has shaken dynasties and, in Holland's telling, still does. As Nietzsche puts it, the carpet-maker Paul defeated the Roman Empire.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Sweden sees sharp rise in gender dysphoria among young people (The Local, 13 February 2020)

The 1,500-percent rise was seen among teenagers defined as girls at birth and aged 13-17, but other groups also saw an increase according to the report.

In the same period, between 2008 and 2018, the number of registered men aged 18-24 and diagnosed with gender dysphoria grew by 400 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Federal prosecutors reportedly fear pursuing new cases involving Trump  (Tom Porter, 2/13/20, Business Insider)

Federal prosecutors have told The New York Times that they increasingly wary of pursuing new criminal cases relating to President Donald Trump or his allies. 

More than a dozen officials currently working in some of the 93 US Attorney's Offices around the country, who were unnamed, told the newspaper they had already been hesitant about prosecuting new cases that might "attract the president's attention."

But events this week -- in which senior Justice Department (DOJ) officials  interfered to reduce the minimum recommended sentence for former Trump adviser Roger Stone -- had increased their concern, The Times said.

They said they did not believe that Attorney General William Barr, a staunch Trump ally, would defend their independence in politically-charged cases. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


John Kelly defends Vindman: 'He did exactly what we teach them to do' (QUINT FORGEY, 02/13/2020, Politico)

"He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave," Kelly said at an event at Drew University in New Jersey, according to The Atlantic. "He went and told his boss what he just heard."

The remarks from Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, come after Vindman was removed Friday from his role as the top Ukraine specialist on the NSC and escorted from the White House grounds. Vindman's twin brother Yevgeny, who served as a senior lawyer on the NSC, was also forced from his post.

Their removals were widely viewed among Democratic lawmakers and administration critics as an act of political retribution after Vindman informed White House lawyer John Eisenberg of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and proceeded to cooperate with the House impeachment investigation.

Kelly, who served as White House chief of staff from 2017 until early last year, said Vindman's decision to escalate his concerns about the call were in line with military training.

"We teach them, Don't follow an illegal order. And if you're ever given one, you'll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss," Kelly said Wednesday of Vindman's flagging of the call, during which Trump pressured Zelensky to open foreign probes into his domestic political rivals.

Kelly also appeared to affirm that he believed Trump did indeed condition hundreds of millions of dollars in vital military aid to Ukraine on Zelensky's agreement to assist in the investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

"Through the Obama administration up until that phone call, the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against .... the Russians," Kelly said. "And so, when the president said that continued support would be based on X, that essentially changed. And that's what that guy [Vindman] was most interested in."

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Sanders Joins Trump in Telling the Media to Go to Hell (JOHN F. HARRIS, 02/13/2020, Politico)

Sanders' reversal on health records--just last fall he had pledged that he would "certainly" release "comprehensive" health information before votes were cast--is notable in at least three respects.

One, it shows how pervasive the Trump precedent is. Even politicians who stand against him on every issue, and who speak solemnly about the need to restore norms shattered during this presidency, are ready to follow trails he has blazed in taking flight from public accountability.

Two, the Sanders' evasion highlights the dilution of mainstream media's institutional power. There has been no aspirant or occupant of the White House during the modern presidency who has not wished to say go to hell to uncomfortable inquiries about health, finances, or aspects of personal lives that affect public duties. Trump and Sanders are hardly the first to do so. But the reason most politicians historically have refrained from the impulse is that it came with a high cost: It was unpleasant and politically expensive to be in the cross-hairs of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or a major broadcast network like NBC.

Three, the episode highlights how little public comprehension there is of the historic shift in political culture away from transparency, accountability, and the traditional levers used to enforce both. In an earlier generation, editors at major news institutions possessed enormous power--through their story selection and story framing--to summon sustained national attention on subjects they deemed important.

On both left and right, a lot of media criticism is based on the assumption--a fantasy, actually--that this editorial power exists in the same fashion it did three or four decades ago. 

People hate the media to exactly the extent that reality refuses to conform to their ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Senate GOP blocks election security bills as intel report warns of Russian meddling in 2020 (IGOR DERYSH, FEBRUARY 13, 2020, Salon)

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., blocked Democratic efforts to unanimously pass three bills related to election security despite warnings that Russia will interfere in the 2020 election.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., tried to pass a bill that would require campaigns to report offers of foreign election assistance to the FBI, and another that would require campaigns to report such offers to the Federal Election Commission.

"The appropriate response is not to say thank you, the appropriate response is to call the FBI," Warner said, according to The Hill.

"There is no doubt that [Trump] will only be emboldened in his efforts to illegally enlist foreign governments in his reelection campaign," Blumenthal added.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also tried to pass the Securing America's Federal Elections Act (SAFE Act), which would provide additional funding to the Election Assistance Commission and would ban voting machines from being connected to the internet as well as machines that were manufactured in foreign countries.

"America is 266 days away from the 2020 election, and Majority Leader McConnell has yet to take any concrete steps to protect our foreign elections from hacking or foreign interference," Wyden said.

At least the GOP is being consistent, for once, having just approved the extortion of foreign aid in elections.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Why did the primary go smoothly with record turnout? Low tech is good tech (GEOFF FORESTER and DAVID BROOKS,  2/12/2020, Concord Monitor)

A nationally known computer hacker, a term he wears proudly, helped keep an eye on New Hampshire's primary Tuesday but says you didn't need computer smarts to see that it went well.

"One big thing is no lines. When you go around the United States, usually the first thing you see if there are problems are long lines of people who can't get to vote," said Harri Hursti, a cybersecurity analyst who founded DefCon, the nation's best-known gathering of people interested in computer security.

Hursti has worked with the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office since about 2005, when he met Secretary of State Bill Gardner at a conference. His presence here for Tuesday's primary was of particular importance because of the meltdown of the Iowa caucuses caused largely by the use of an untested app. During a discussion Wednesday morning as election officials completed counting votes from around the state he was almost effusive about how things went.

"I talked to people ... There was only one person in the whole of yesterday who said, 'I'm not happy.' That is amazing! There's always that one, but normally it's, like, hundreds who are not happy ... with an election," said Hursti, who is Finnish. "I really like how people are happy and how smoothly everything went."

Hursti was quick to echo a comment that New Hampshire election officials have been making for many years: In voting, low-tech is often good tech.

"Paper ballots, they are important! That gives a lot of confidence, people understand what they're doing," he said. "It is a permanent mark of the vote, and it's understandable to transfer."

February 12, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 PM


Following his acquittal from both impeachment charges, President Trump's approval rating is unmoved (Reuters/Ipsos Core Political Survey, February 12, 2020)

This week's Reuters/Ipsos Core Political survey finds that after President Trump's acquittal, his approval rating among the general population remains unchanged (41%).

Forever let us hold our banner high.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


After legendary 53-year career, Brooklyn Federal Judge Jack Weinstein hangs up his robe at age 98 (NOAH GOLDBERG, 2/12/20, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Weinstein, who was appointed in 1967, was the last federal judge in the country named by President Lyndon Johnson.

Still sharp, with a clear memory -- but slower to speak than he used to be and relying on a walker -- the judge spoke with the Daily News while his wife, stepdaughter and two clerks looked on.

The levelheaded judge denied he was sad about leaving the job he's enjoyed for more than a half century. Asked if he'd miss being a judge, he paused.

"Yes, I think so, of course. This is an excellent court. I love my colleagues. And the ability to work with them on a daily basis was one that I treasured."

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


The theories that collapsed in New Hampshire (Megan McArdle, Feb. 12, 2020, Washington Post)

Equally untenable is the once-plausible "Bernie-Plus" hypothesis of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) campaign, in which the economic justice brigade, the social justice warriors and the party moderates would all choose her as the candidate they could live with. In practice, it turned out to be more like "Bernie-Minus": Most of the Bernie Brigades stuck with their guy, while moderates were repelled by the leftier positions she'd taken to woo his supporters.

Warren's experience suggests some other theories that probably ought to have died by now but somehow haven't. Such as the theory, already being floated Tuesday night, that Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) surprising strength shows that Cory Booker and Kamala D. Harris got out too soon. Since the beginning, Klobuchar has been running as the most moderate candidate, a strategy that paid off when voters got a close look at former vice president Biden and balked. But Harris, especially, ran a variant of the Bernie-Plus strategy, which wouldn't have worked any better with more candidates in the race trying to simultaneously mop up the same limited pool of voters.

The most important theory these primaries should have killed is that of our nascent socialist revolution. That theory was plausible in 2016, when Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won New Hampshire with 60 percent of the vote. It is less so now that he's leaving the same state with only a quarter of its votes. Even if every one of Andrew Yang's and Warren's voters had picked him, he'd still only have gotten a bit over a third, and his polls suggest that's about where he'd be nationally, too. So what looked, four years ago, like a sharp leftward shift in the electorate now seems more like a mass protest against the party's slavish fealty to the Clintons.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Senate poised to pass resolution to curb Trump's war authority on Iran (Mariam Khan, February 12, 2020, ABC News)

The Senate is expected to pass a bipartisan war powers resolution on Thursday aimed at reigning in President Trump's ability to use military action against Iran without prior Congressional approval.

Several Republican senators support the resolution, despite pushback from Trump and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


The Battle to Feed All of Humanity Is Over. Humanity Has Won (Marian L. Tupy, 2/11/20, Quillette)

In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, Stanford University biologist and "overpopulation" alarmist Paul Ehrlich famously predicted that "The battle to feed all of humanity is over ... hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Between 1968 and 2017, the world's population increased by 113 percent from 3.55 billion to 7.55 billion. Over the same time period, the average global food supply per person per day rose from 2,334 calories to 2,962 - a 27 percent increase.

To put the magnitude of that achievement into proper perspective, consider the basic food consumption needs of your fellow human beings. The U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for 2015-2020 estimate that calorie needs per person per day range from 1,600 to 2,000 for women and 1,900 to 2,500 calories for men. That amounts to an average of 2,000 calories per person per day across sexes and over the entire human lifespan. Hence the crude "2,000 calorie diet" that every American knows about. [...]

Since the discovery of agriculture some 12,000 years ago, most people worked from dawn till dusk to produce enough calories - from fieldwork and husbandry - to see the next day. English records suggest food consumption of 1,500 calories per person per day in the 13th century, rising to 2,000 calories in the 14th century (an unexpected consequence of Black Death, which made land cheap and labor dear), and then falling well below 2,000 calories until the 17th century. It was only in the 18th century that food consumption stabilized above 2,000 calories per person per day.

England was one of the world's most developed regions. In France, calorie consumption remained stuck below 2,000 until the beginning of the 19th century. Not only were people before the Industrial Revolution very inefficient in producing food, but access to food was very precarious. Many people were only one bad harvest away from starvation. Children were routinely employed in agricultural tasks at the age of 4, and woe unto an old or sick peasant without a family or charity to depend on.

According to the most recent estimates of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food supply in only two out of 173 countries surveyed stood below 2,000 calories per person per day in 2017 - the Central African Republic (1,758) and Madagascar (1,903). In Afghanistan it stood at 2,000. Everywhere else, it stood above 2,000 calories. Belgium and the United States topped the survey with 3,768 and 3,766 calories respectively.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Bannon: 'We need the Republican establishment on board' to reelect Trump (JOHN BOWDEN, 01/06/20, The Hill)

Former White House strategist Stephen Bannon said Monday that President Trump will need the GOP establishment on his side in order to secure reelection in 2020 given that the president has Republican challengers.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Bannon warned that GOP primary challengers such as former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld could pose a threat to Trump should they gain any traction among GOP moderates.

"We need the Republican establishment on board," Bannon told the AP.

"If these guys can peel off 3% or 4%, that's going to be serious," he said of Weld and other GOP candidates.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Strong turnout in New Hampshire could ease Democrats' fears of low enthusiasm (Jennifer Agiesta, Adam Levy and Caroline Kelly, February 12, 2020, CNN)

The turnout in Tuesday night's Democratic New Hampshire primary was the party's highest ever and provided a hopeful sign to Democrats disappointed by low enthusiasm demonstrated in Iowa last week.

The roughly 291,000 votes counted as of early Wednesday afternoon outpaced the 288,672 who voted in 2008, the previous high for Democrats in the Granite State. [...]

The turnout in New Hampshire Tuesday night well exceeded that of 2016, when 253,062 voted.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


THE QUEER OPPOSITION TO PETE BUTTIGIEG, EXPLAINED (Masha Gessen, February 12, 2020, The New Yorker)

[I] am not saying that L.G.B.T. people who don't pass are somehow morally superior to L.G.B.T. people who do. But these two distinct experiences are in some ways correlated with two divergent tracks in L.G.B.T. politics. One kind of queer politics is rooted in ideas of liberation, revolutionary change, and solidarity. The vision of this politics is a society that is radically changed by many kinds of people fighting many kinds of injustice, a society in which economic, social, political, and sexual relationships have been transformed. The roots of this politics are acknowledged in an open letter authored by a group called Queers Against Pete. (The letter was signed, according to the organizers, by more than two thousand people.) They wrote, "We are clear that LGBTQIA people are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality among other things." The strategy of this brand of politics is to work across differences to bring about change.

The other, more mainstream, and often more visible kind of L.G.B.T. politics aims to erase difference. Its message to straight people is "We are just like you, and all we want is the right to have what you have: marriage, children, a house with a picket fence, and the right to serve in the military." The vision of this politics is a society in all respects indistinguishable from the one in which we live now, except queer people have successfully and permanently blended in. 

That's what happens when transgressivism meets the most conformist society in the world. 
Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Trump Is Blowing Up Native Burial Grounds to Build His Wall (Camille Squires, 2/12/20, Mother Jones)

Ted Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, just east of Organ Pipe Cactus, decried the entire project as senseless destruction of ancestral land. "The Tohono O'odham Nation is adamantly opposed to the construction of the 30-foot, fortified border wall, which would irrevocably harm cultural sites, sacred sites and the environment," Norris said in a statement. "It is all the more tragic that billions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted on an empty campaign slogan that will do little to address border security challenges."

US Customs and Border Protection confirmed the activity. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Jim Jordan's name comes up during Statehouse testimony on OSU abuse victims bill (Andrew J. Tobias, 2/11/20, cleveland.com)

Adam DiSabato, a former captain of the OSU wrestling team during the late 80s and early 90s, told members of the House Civil Justice Committee that Jordan and other team officials knew about open-shower team facilities that facilitated sexual harassment and abuse of team wrestlers​, an allegation Jordan has denied.

He also said Jordan called him repeatedly in July 2018, after media outlets quoted his brother, Michael DiSabato, saying Strauss' abuse was common knowledge to those surrounding the wrestling program, including Jordan.

"Jim Jordan called me crying, groveling... begging me to go against my brother...That's the kind of cover-up that's going on there," he said.

A non-trivial proportion of his defenders are in it for the pardons.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Mike Bloomberg wants to be president, but he also has a fallback plan: Defeat Donald Trump and remake the Democrat Party (Michael Scherer, 2/12/20, The Washington Post)

The thing that makes Bloomberg different is he can knock on all doors at once. Bloomberg is running aggressively to win the Democratic nomination but he is simultaneously building out a general election machine to defeat President Donald Trump, with a new structure - data, field organizing, advertising and policy - that aims to elect Democrats up and down the ballot even if the party's voters reject the former New York mayor this spring.

The party he is moving to transform, which he only rejoined in October, has become little more than a bystander to his ambition. With more than 800 employees, $200 million in ad spending so far and a fully catered Times Square office that houses hundreds of employees, "Mike Bloomberg 2020, Inc." does not resemble a primary campaign in any traditional sense. It is an experiment in what happens to democracy when a single faction operates without economic constraints.

While most presidential efforts start early and poor, the Bloomberg project exists in an inverted dimension, a fact that has caught the attention of Trump, who spent years tracking Bloomberg's political career closely in New York. The president has been closely monitoring Bloomberg's campaign, impressed by his extraordinary spending and fearful of his potential rise, according to Trump confidants with whom the president has discussed Bloomberg.

Bloomberg's aides, in turn, have delighted in trying to find ways to get Trump's attention and increase his anxiety, like the recent purchase of an $11 million Super Bowl ad that will run against a similar spot purchased by Trump's campaign.

The extravagance is part of the message, an attempt to demonstrate his competence and show that he can manage something big with good intentions.

"We also want people to know that we are building a juggernaut pointed at Donald Trump and the Republican Party," said Tim O'Brien, a senior adviser to the campaign who has been taking the message to state parties around the country. "One of Mike's goals is to make a machine that lasts. This idea that he wants to do a vanity run or is just buying exposure is belied by that."

Most of the partisanship problems we have today are a function of campaign finance rulings weakening the parties.  Individuals should be able to contribute whatever they want to whoever they want.  All other donations should be legal only to political parties.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Trump Congratulates Barr After Intervention in Stone Sentencing (INAE OH, 2/12/20, Mother Jones)

President Donald Trump praised Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday for intervening to reduce Roger Stone's sentencing recommendation, a move that came after Trump complained on Twitter that the initial recommendation, put forward by the Justice Department's own career prosecutors, had been too severe against his longtime political adviser.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


The United States' European allies are no longer taking Trump's 'apoplectic' threats seriously (Adam Bienkov, 2/12/20, Business Insider)

[T]he threats, which included a plan to withdraw from the US intelligence-sharing relationship with the United Kingdom, appear to have failed, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreeing a deal with Huawei anyway.

Trump reportedly reacted with rage to Johnson's decision and slammed down the phone on the prime minister in a call last month.

However, far from fearing a similar reaction from Trump, other European countries are now moving to take a very similar position to Johnson.

This week Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats backed a positions paper which ruled out an outright ban on Huawei.

Christian Democrat sources told Reuters that party leaders decided against backing an outright ban on the company because: "state actors with sufficient resources can infiltrate the network of any equipment maker."

The paper added that: "the use of strong cryptography and end-to-end encryption can secure confidentiality in communication and the exchange of data."

Other European leaders are also set to follow the UK's lead in backing Huawei, Politico reported last month.

The development has prompted former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich to label Trump's failure to persuade allies on Huawei as "the biggest strategic defeat for the United States since the early days of World War II."

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


More US firms are boosting faith-based support for employees (DAVID CRARY, 2/12/20, AP)

It has become standard practice for U.S. corporations to assure employees of support regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. There's now an intensifying push to ensure that companies are similarly supportive and inclusive when it comes to employees' religious beliefs.

One barometer: More than 20% of the Fortune 100 have established faith-based employee resource groups, according to an AP examination and there's a high-powered conference taking place this week in Washington aimed at expanding those ranks.

"Corporate America is at a tipping point toward giving religion similar attention to that given the other major diversity categories," says Brian Grim, founder and president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation that's co-hosting the conference along with the Catholic University of America's Busch School of Business.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Fascist or Anti-Fascist? (Todd Seavey, 2/12/20, Splice Today)

People are often at their most authoritarian-sounding these days when condemning others as fascist, and this month provides a few choice examples. Donald Trump will reportedly release an executive order requesting that new federal buildings be done in a classical or neoclassical style instead of off-putting brutalist or modernist fashion, as has so often been the case for the past several decades. Contrary to the tone of much of the media coverage, this is hardly some crank or extremist position on Trump's part but a long-simmering reaction to some truly butt-ugly buildings you've paid for, structures that look more akin to fallout shelters, abandoned airport terminals, and Martian art projects than to anything recognizably and endearingly American, historically-rooted, or user-friendly.

The National Civic Art Society has championed this modest revolt against the modernist orthodoxy, but so have people like Tom Wolfe over the years, chronicling the modernists' arrogant insistence that buildings should look functional and geometric even when they aren't really all that functional, as when gleaming glass walls look so much like adjacent glass doors, with no obvious frames, lintels, or knobs, that hapless users repeatedly struggle to find the exit, as I've watched happen at the modernist temple that is the Guggenheim Museum in New York, fittingly. 

I was startled once to see panicked modernist architecture aficionados react to a very mild, low-key anti-modernist lecture as if heresy were being spouted in their midst and we should all perhaps clear out of the building early to escape it. I'd thought such debates happened in sedate, glacial fashion. The speaker was the quietest, most low-key heretic I've ever seen denounced, which is admirable, I think.

But here's a typical establishment reaction now that Trump has taken up the anti-modernist cause, in the form of the final words of a piece on the New Republic site by architecture blogger Kate Wagner: "[O]nly a specific kind of person looks at architecture and feels the need to talk about the Grecian ideal or the backbone of Western Society. That person is usually either a white supremacist, a stuck-up nitwit trapped in the 1980s, or, in the case of Trump himself, both."

The problem arises because people confuse Nazism with fascism, when Pinochet and France are more typical examples of the latter.  Fascist leaders generally use authoritarian means to preserve their society's institutions when they are under attack from the Left.  It is entirely fair to compare Donald's actions as president to those of Nationalist/racist regimes, like Afrikaaner South Africa, Nazi Germany, Bibi's Israel, etc.  But he has simultaneously led an assault on American/republican institutions, like the system of Justice, free trade, human rights and the election process.  It is only rarely, and in areas where he is not involved, that the Administration acts to conserve American society, as with the Federalist Society staffing the judiciary or, as here, plumping for architecture consistent with our republican ideals.

Is Trump's Classical-Architecture Policy Authoritarian? (THEODORE DALRYMPLE, 2/12/20, American Conservative)

This, said the architects, establishes an official style and therefore authoritarian or totalitarian in spirit. But the architects are mistaken on several grounds. First, federal buildings are a small minority of all buildings, and the order says nothing about how the other buildings should or must be built. Second, classicism in architecture is capable of almost infinite variation, such that uniformity will not result (no one has any difficulty in distinguishing the Jefferson from the Lincoln Memorial, for example, or from the White House). Third, it ignores the fact that, as a result of Moynihan's Guiding Principles, there has long existed de facto an official style, namely that which the architects impose on the government at any given time, all of it in the modern idiom with its desperate and egotistical search for originality as a virtue in itself. Fourth, it ignores the historical, and in my view aesthetic, connection between modernism and totalitarianism. Le Corbusier was a fascist, Philip Johnson a Nazi, and Oscar Niemeyer (the architect of Brasilia) a communist. The totalitarian sensibility of much modernist architecture is to me so obvious that I fail to understand how anyone could miss it. For lack of any other means to achieve grandeur, it deliberately employs sheer size and inhuman coldness of materials to achieve prepotency, in the process reducing the individual to insignificance, as mere intruders or bacteria in a Petri dish.

The Brutalist-style FBI Building in Washington (built 1963-1971). (Wikimedia Commons)
Far from being dictatorial, the order is profoundly liberating for clients, architects, and public alike. One of the arguments of the ideological modernists, and of their disciples and successors, is that, irrespective of any results from an aesthetic point of view, technology has dictated from the end of the nineteenth century onwards that we simply cannot as once we did, or in the same style. But it is clearly not the case that moderns cannot build classical buildings of distinction: the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and the National Gallery of Art, are by no means ancient, and there are people living who remember the time before the Jefferson Memorial existed. Rejection of classicism, or of any other style is therefore a choice, not a fatality. 

The order will give renewed courage to patrons of architecture, who for a long time have been cowed by the architects' mastery of high-sounding verbiage and gobbledygook to promote their inhuman work, so much of which these days looks like a snapshot taken of a huge shack in mid-collapse during an earthquake. Patrons, like the courtiers of the Emperor with no clothes, have hitherto been afraid to confront architects for fear of appearing ignorant and unsophisticated, but will no longer have to accept the dictation of architects. Examples will show that things can be done differently, that patrons do not have to accept what Thom Mayne, the architect responsible for some of the worst of recent buildings, called "demanding art-for-art's-sake architecture that only other architects can appreciate."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Among Democratic voters, an income divide in the Valley (JOHN P. GREGG, 2/12/20, Valley News)

 U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., brought the vote home in blue-collar towns across the Upper Valley, as voters there said they were drawn to his consistency and progressive message that many think can help oust Republican President Donald Trump in November.

"I want to get rid of Trump, and I think he's the only guy who can do it," said Stefanie Barton, a 56-year-old Claremont resident who also backed Sanders in the Democratic primary four years ago. "I think he has better plans for America, and I don't believe that socialism is communism, I think that people are confused."

But former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg won in many of the more prosperous towns in the Valley, including Hanover, as many voters signaled they are interested in a fresh perspective in Washington.

The 38-year-old Buttigieg took 1,397 votes in Hanover, while Sanders' 1,078 votes barely outpaced U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who won 1,064 votes in Dartmouth College's hometown. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren finished fourth there with 973 votes.

According to unofficial results, Sanders won 674 votes in Claremont to 516 for Buttigieg and 260 for Klobuchar, who ran a strong third across the state. Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden took 161 and 158 votes, respectively.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Sanders, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar Shine in New Hampshire (Declan Garvey, 2/12/20, The Dispatch)

Buttigieg's acknowledgment of Sanders' triumph--25.9 percent to the former South Bend mayor's 24.2 with 90 percent of the vote counted--mirrored that of many in the political world last night, in that he quickly moved away from it. Yes, Sanders' margin of victory--at just under 1.5 points--was significantly tighter than the 7 or 8 percentage points that polls had projected for the senator whose home state of Vermont is next door to New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. Yes, 25.7 percent is the worst showing ever for a New Hampshire primary winner and less than half the 60 percent of votes Sanders received in 2016. But the field is much bigger this time around, and with popular vote victories in each of the first two states, plenty of money in the bank, and strong national polling, it's hard to look at Sanders as anything other than the frontrunner.

But he's a weak one, with a high floor of (very passionate) support and--so far--a ceiling that would prevent him from amassing the necessary delegates once the field winnows further. With their impressive performances on Tuesday, Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota seem best positioned to convert the abstract campaign currency--momentum--into vote totals that could rival Sanders' base. But Nevada and South Carolina--with large Latino and black populations--will prove rockier terrain than Iowa and New Hampshire.

After pulling in 26.2 percent and 24.6 percent of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, Buttigieg will now bring his version of hope and change to states where he is currently polling in the mid-single digits. The campaign has proved more than capable of elevating the 38-year-old's profile thus far, but it has primarily had to appeal only to white voters, and college-educated white voters at that.

February 11, 2020

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">NEW: Republican primary challenger Bill Weld pulled in 23% of GOP voters with an advanced degree, 21% of moderates and 15% of independents, per preliminary exit poll results. <a href="https://t.co/hFi4d7KEPG">https://t.co/hFi4d7KEPG</a> <a href="https://t.co/25b5S6WBzF">pic.twitter.com/25b5S6WBzF</a></p>&mdash; ABC News (@ABC) <a href="https://twitter.com/ABC/status/1227410734679810050?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 12, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM

WHEN EUROPE MET TEXAS (profanity alert):

Lubbock Calling: Joe Ely Remembers the Clash: The only punk rock band that mattered, and why they still do (MARGARET MOSER, MAY 19, 2000, Austin Chronicle)

"Honky Tonk Masquerade had just come out, and we were in London playing the Venue Club when all the Clash showed up one night. They came backstage and I guess they'd heard me on the radio and knew every song on my record. This was 1978 and coming from Lubbock; we had no idea what was going on in London.

"Pete Townshend was there that night, but I didn't know the Clash from Adam. They introduced themselves, and after we talked backstage, they invited us to come to the studio where they were working the next day. So we went and afterward hit the clubs in the East End, staying up all night and having a good time. It was like the West Texas hellraisers meet the London hellraisers. We were from different worlds, but it was like, 'All right! Let's hang out some more!' We were playing three nights in a row at the Venue and hung out the whole time.

"They told me they were coming to America and I asked where they wanted to play. 'Laredo, El Paso' -- they were naming off all these gunfighter ballad towns from Marty Robbins songs. 'Well I don't know about that,' I said, 'but we could play Lubbock together.' And they were like, 'Lubbock! All right!' They told their booking agent they didn't care about Houston or Dallas, they wanted to play Laredo, Lubbock, El Paso, and Wichita Falls. Somehow he put it together and we played Houston, San Antonio, Laredo, Lubbock, and Juarez. It was a great Europe-meets-Texas meeting.

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Voters largely favor capitalism over socialism amid Sanders' rise in 2020 primary (Jacob Pramuk, 2/02/20, CNBC)

More than half of registered voters, or 52%, have a positive view of capitalism, the survey found. Meanwhile, 18% have a negative perception.

At the same time, only 19% of voters have a positive view of socialism. A majority, 53%, have a negative perception. [...]

Sanders leads Trump by a 49% to 45% margin in a potential general election matchup, the poll found.

...hate him more than Communism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Trump Fires Defense Official for Refusing to Break the Law on His Behalf (Jonathan Chait, 2/11/20, New York)

McCusker is losing her job because she attempted to follow the law. There's no cover story to rationalize it. That is the cover story. "This administration needs people who are committed to implementing the president's agenda, specifically on foreign policy, and not trying to thwart it," a White House official tells the paper.

McCusker's crime is quite literally having attempted to follow the law. Over the summer, the Office of Management and Budget was trying to hold up aid for Ukraine that Congress had passed into law, because it was trying to extort Ukraine to investigate Trump's rivals. Defense Department officials, who were supposed to allocate the funds, attempted to implement the policy. Just Security obtained the email chain through the Freedom of Information Act.

The emails show McCusker advising budget officials as to what the law said. She was not acting especially rigid about it. As Just Security's summary notes, "The emails show officials bending over backwards to make every conceivable accommodation to keep the process moving without actually being able to obligate the funding." One message shows McCusker writing to another official, "We need to continue to give the WH has [sic] much decision space as possible, but am concerned we have not officially documented the fact that we can not promise full execution at this point." That is, she was trying to do everything in her power to give White House officials room to set the policy as they saw fit, without violating the law.

Importantly, the Government Accountability Office later examined the question, and found that McCusker was right. Holding up the aid was indeed illegal. (It's not complicated: Congress passed a law providing the aid, so refusing to carry it out would obviously violate it.)

You can't work for him if you refuse to engage in illegal/immoral behavior.

3 Roger Stone prosecutors quit over Justice Department sentencing reversal (The Week, 2/11/20)

Upon learning the Department reversed course and said seven to nine years was "grossly disproportionate" given Stone's offenses -- which include lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstructing a House investigation related to 2016 Russian election interference -- prosecutor Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky withdrew from Stone's case. However, it looks like he'll be sticking with the Justice Department and returning to his old job in Maryland.

Another prosecutor, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Jed, is doing the same. Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis, is resigning from the department altogether.

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'The intelligence coup of the century': For decades, the CIA read the encrypted communications of allies and adversaries. (Greg Miller Feb. 11, 2020, Washington Post)
For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret.

The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software.

The Swiss firm made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company's devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

The decades-long arrangement, among the most closely guarded secrets of the Cold War, is laid bare in a classified, comprehensive CIA history of the operation obtained by The Washington Post and ZDF, a German public broadcaster, in a joint reporting project.

The account identifies the CIA officers who ran the program and the company executives entrusted to execute it. It traces the origin of the venture as well as the internal conflicts that nearly derailed it. It describes how the United States and its allies exploited other nations' gullibility for years, taking their money and stealing their secrets.

The operation, known first by the code name "Thesaurus" and later "Rubicon," ranks among the most audacious in CIA history.

"It was the intelligence coup of the century," the CIA report concludes. "Foreign governments were paying good money to the U.S. and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries."

From 1970 on, the CIA and its code-breaking sibling, the National Security Agency, controlled nearly every aspect of Crypto's operations -- presiding with their German partners over hiring decisions, designing its technology, sabotaging its algorithms and directing its sales targets.

Then, the U.S. and West German spies sat back and listened.

They monitored Iran's mullahs during the 1979 hostage crisis, fed intelligence about Argentina's military to Britain during the Falklands War, tracked the assassination campaigns of South American dictators and caught Libyan officials congratulating themselves on the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco.

And yet they were taken by surprise at the fall of the Shah, the attack on the Falklands, etc.  It's the problem with gathering intelligence but then not subjecting it to a wide range of readings.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Resistance or diplomacy? Iranians face crucial questions on 41st anniversary of Islamic Revolution (SOMAYEH MALEKIAN, February 11, 2020, ABC News)

"Negotiating with America was a big mistake that our president made. We should have not done that in the first place," said Ahmad's friend, Reza, who also talked on condition of anonymity.

"I am worried about my future and if I can find a job. I do not want to keep studying and I end up being jobless at the end," he added.

Still, he insisted the path to a booming job market is not through compromising the nuclear program with the West.

Reza and those who agree with him have had more opportunities to oppose Rouhani's foreign policy after President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal that Iran and six world powers had signed in 2015.

Despite international bodies' confirmation of Iran's commitment to the deal, Trump put up new struggles by withdrawing from the pact and resuming sanctioned on the Islamic Republic. Tensions continued after America killed the top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, leading to Iran's retaliation by targeting an American base in Iraq last month.

"The martyrdom of General Soleimani opened up the eyes of our younger generation to the political issues," said Sareh Mousavian 30, a housewife who had come to the march with her mother-in-law.

"It is our religious duty to defend our revolution, and we have to do it without America or any other country," she added.

Trying to combine the two strategies of "resistance" followed by hardliner parties versus "diplomacy" followed by reformists, Rouhani said the pathway is something in between the extremes.

"No to 'either resistance or diplomacy.' No to 'either interaction with the world or resistance.' No to 'either domestic self-sufficiency or trading with foreigners.' These are the samples of wrong dichotomies," he said.

Rouhani also said the system must embrace criticisms and freedom of speech, saying, "We might have criticisms over a decision. It is alright. There is no problem to disagree a decision. We must criticize, but we should not get passive and inactive."

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Driver survey points to shift towards electric and hybrid cars (MICHAEL MAZENGARB, 2/10/20, The Driven)

A new survey of Victorian drivers has found that more people would prefer to purchase a hybrid vehicle, over a petrol engined vehicle, for their next purchase, with a further third of drivers saying an all-electric vehicle would be their preferred choice.

The survey undertaken by toll road mangers EastLink found that around 40 per cent of motorists would prefer to buy a hybrid vehicle as their next vehicle, beating out petrol vehicles which were the preferred choice of around 32 per cent of motorists.

The results highlight the substantial shift that appears likely to occur in the passenger vehicle market, with a substantial proportion of petrol-fueled vehicle owners indicating they are keen to switch to an electric alternative.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg probably just dealt a fatal blow to the Equal Rights Amendment (Ian Millhiser  Feb 11, 2020, Vox)

At an event at Georgetown University's law school, moderator and federal appellate judge Margaret McKeown asked Ginsburg about an ongoing effort to revive the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which provides that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Three-fourths of the states, or 38 total, are required to amend the Constitution. Last month, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA and one of only three states to do so since 1977 -- but there's a catch. Congress imposed a 1982 deadline on states hoping to ratify the ERA, though there's doubt about whether this deadline is binding.

Ginsburg's comments on Monday suggest that she believes this 1982 deadline should be considered binding. "I would like to see a new beginning" for ERA ratification, the justice told McKeown.

"There's too much controversy about latecomers," Ginsburg added. "Plus, a number of states have withdrawn their ratification. So if you count a latecomer on the plus side, how can you disregard states that said 'we've changed our minds?'"

The Culture Wars are a rout.
Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM


Is change on its way in Azerbaijan? (Pieter Cleppe, 2/11/20, CapX)

What hasn't been widely reported yet is how Azerbaijan itself is diversifying its economy, moving away from its excessive reliance on the energy sector, a situation that means oil and gas represent a whopping 75% of government revenue. While Azerbaijani oil production has fallen over the last decade, it was the global crude oil plunge of 2014 that really refocused minds in Baku - as well as leading the country's central bank to devalue its currency, the Manat.

A reform process spearheaded by President Ilham Aliyev to boost the country's non-energy sector has seen  a number of high-profile ministers and administrators dismissed, while younger, Western-trained politicians were promoted. A good example is the US-educated Economy Minister, Mikayil Jabbarov, who is also responsible for taxation and the privatisation of state enterprises.

There is already evidence that the reforms are paying dividends. The World Bank's Doing Business Index ranked Azerbaijan among the top 20 reformers in the areas of registering property, obtaining credit, protecting minority investors and enforcing contracts, and the country's overall ranking is 34th out of 190 countries.

Sunday's elections were in keeping with this reform process, with the old guard making way for a younger group of legislators. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Defending Apartheid & Hating America? (February 11, 2020, Providence)

There's an odd column in American Greatness, on the 30th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's prison release, lamenting the fall of Apartheid in South Africa, which it portrays as a calamity negotiated by "conniving Communists in the ANC and their knavish collaborator, F. W. de Klerk."

Ostensibly, according to Ilana Mercer, as a "lesson for Americans today," we should recall that in 1990 "South Africa's last white president, turned the screws on his constituents, betraying the confidence we had placed in him."

Mercer says de Klerk prior to the presidency represented her district in South Africa's Apartheid era parliament, so she feels a special sense of betrayal. He "sold his constituents out for a chance to frolic on the world stage with Nelson Mandela," despite having "condemned crude majority rule." She faults him for having "caved to ANC demands, forgoing all checks and balances for South Africa's Boer, British, and Zulu minorities."

It's hardly coincidental that Apartheid South Africa is the model for the Administration's Palestine plan.

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Modi Prioritised Hindu Majoritarianism Over Economy (MILAN VAISHNAV, FEBRUARY 07, 2020, Carnegie Endowment)

What is clear is that, since clinching a historic re-election last May, the ruling party has prioritised Hindu majoritarianism over economic renewal.

The BJP has long promoted two core ambitions: Building a culturally Hindu-centric nation and aggressively advancing India's economic development. But, in the midst of a sustained slowdown and given the political dynamics at play, it has decided to subsume the latter to the former.

I have written elsewhere and believe it to be true that this strain of potent nationalism doesn't just distract from the economic task at hand; it actively undermines it. And, I think we are starting to see some of the costs show up.

The most basic lesson of the End of History is the unparalleled value of an open society/economy.  The point of Nationalism is to close society in order to exclude the other.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump looks to kill student loan forgiveness program (Annie Nova, 2/10/20, CNBC)

As student debt continues to climb, President Donald Trump on Monday released a budget for 2021 that would slash many of the programs aimed at helping borrowers.

Student loan spending would be cut by $170 billion in Trump's plan, titled "A Budget for America's Future." The reductions include "sensible annual and lifetime loan limits" for graduate students and parents and the end to subsidized loans, in which the government covers the interest for borrowers who are still in school or experiencing economic hardship.

It would also reduce the number of repayment options for borrowers and nix the popular, if challenged, public service loan forgiveness program.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


170 cars, mosque vandalized in northern Arab town, drawing rare Netanyahu rebuke (JACOB MAGID, 2/11/20, Times of Israel)

Police on Tuesday opened an investigation into an apparent hate crime in the northern Arab town of Jish, where the tires of some 170 vehicles were slashed and Hebrew graffiti condemning interfaith coexistence was daubed on buildings.

One of the phrases spray-painted on the wall of a mosque read, "Jews wake up. Stop assimilating!"

February 10, 2020

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Trump's First 3 Years Created 1.5 Million Fewer Jobs Than Obama's Last 3 (S.V. Date, 2/10/20, HuffPo)

As President Donald Trump takes the stage at his reelection rally here Monday and boasts of his economic record, there is one statistic he is likely to omit: He created 1.5 million fewer jobs in his first three years in office than predecessor Barack Obama did in his final three.

Newly revised figures from Trump's own Department of Labor show that 6.6 million new jobs were created in the first 36 months of Trump's tenure, compared with 8.1 million in the final 36 months of Obama's ― a decline of 19% under Trump, according to a HuffPost analysis.

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As Louisiana GOP censures Mitt Romney, David Duke laughs (Quin Hillyer, February 10, 2020, washington examiner)

The same Louisiana Republican Party that 30 years ago refused to censure former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke decided last Saturday to censure Sen. Mitt Romney.

The mind reels. The stomach sickens.

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"Parasite" Is a Preposterous Film Rooted in Class-Struggle Nonsense (John Tamny,  February 6, 2020, AIER)

In the years after World War II, Korea's economy was in tragic shape. In 1948, the country's per capita income of $86 put it on par with Sudan. Disastrous policies led to hyperinflation, snail-paced growth forced mothers to make choices about children along the lines of Sophie's, plus literacy rates in the country were among the lowest in the world. Analyzing the situation, one U.S. official concluded that "Korea can never attain a high standard of living." The reason, he observed, was that "there are virtually no Koreans with the technical training and experience required to take advantage of Korea's resources and effect an improvement over its rice-economy status." 

Happily, however, predictions are made to be discredited. The speculation about what became South Korea's future proved incorrect. Wildly so. Fast forward to the present, and South Korea now finds itself impressively prosperous. Though GDP isn't the most accurate or worthy of numbers, what was once wrecked by war (among other things) is now one of only two countries (along with Taiwan) to "have managed 5 percent growth for five decades" on the way to its economy presently ranking as the world's 13th largest. [...]

For background, Parasite is ostensibly the story of a down-on-its-luck Korean family that folds pizza boxes for a local chain as seemingly its primary source of income. The Kim family lives in a grungy basement apartment in Seoul, though old photos of the Pere Kim perhaps indicate a somewhat upwardly mobile past. Needless to say, the family struggles in the present.

Then luck of sorts find them. Even though none of the family members can find steady work, son Ki-woo is friends with a university student set to study abroad. For extra money, Ki-woo's friend works as an English tutor for the very rich Park family. The Parks have a daughter who aspires to learn English, so Ki-woo's friend tells him to pose as a university student in order to get the job. Right here it's fair to guess that those who haven't seen Parasite can see how thoroughly implausible the film is.

Simply stated, fluency in English is a rather lucrative skill to possess, Ki-woo ultimately gets the job tutoring the daughter, but if he's got these skills why on earth would he be folding pizza boxes? We're supposed to believe that the Kims are poor due to a lack of work options, but let's be serious. If Ki-woo is fluent in English such that he can immediately impress the rich Parks, why isn't he already lucratively employed by someone, somewhere in Seoul in consideration of English's seminal role in the global economy? More on this question in a bit.

Until then, it should be said that having secured the job as English tutor to Da-hye, Ki-woo is told that Da-hye's brother Da-song is obsessed with art. Sensing an opportunity for his strikingly beautiful sister, Ki-woo fibs to Mrs. Park that she's an "art" expert of some kind only for Ki-jeong to be hired to tutor Da-song. Once in the employ of the Parks, Ki-jeong frames Mr. Park's longtime driver for having sex in the car he chauffeurs Mr. Park around in by leaving a pair of underwear in the back seat, only for Pere Kim to become Mr. Park's driver. The three Kims then exploit the Park family cook's peach allergy to get Mrs. Kim hired as the cook.

To be fair, movies are supposed to be escapist to some degree. And the stories, to be good, must be a little bit implausible. Fine, except that with Parasite Bong Joon-ho is thoroughly insulting the intelligence of his viewers.

Up front, we're supposed to believe a son fluent in English, a daughter capable of betraying reasonable knowledge of art, a father knowledgeable of cars (and who can clean up to look the part of an elegant chauffeur), and a mother capable of cooking for those in possession of discerning palates, rate only the most menial of work unless they trick others into hiring them. We're then expected to believe that individuals so resourceful as to talk themselves into jobs by hyping their backgrounds can't do the same with the myriad high-end corporations based in Seoul?

The unemployment rate in South Korea is 3.5%.

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The New Hampshire Primary Might Be the Most Technophobic Election in the Country (AARON MAK, FEB 10, 2020, Slate)

There will be no app malfunctions during the New Hampshire primary for one simple reason: There will be no apps. In the troubled aftermath of the Iowa caucuses, officials in charge of the state's elections on Tuesday are touting their stubbornly analog approach to voting. Rather than overhauling polling places with mobile apps and voting machines, the Granite State has long opted to stick with democracy's old faithfuls: pencils and paper ballots. According to officials, not only does the state's electoral Luddism result in fewer glitches, but it also acts as an old-school cybersecurity measure. "You can't hack a pencil" has become something of a catchphrase for New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner in the run-up to the primary.

Most polling places in New Hampshire use printed voting registration lists, instead of tablets and laptops, to check people in (poll workers in North Carolina, in contrast, recently had trouble with getting poll books to function on laptops). People then receive a paper ballot, though voters with disabilities can use voting machines, as is required by federal law. The machines, however, ultimately mark a physical ballot. The ballots then go through optical scanners that have all their external ports except for the one for power disabled, and which are programmed by computers disconnected from the internet. (In its 2019 report on Russian election meddling, the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence found that paper ballots and scanners, while not perfect, are nevertheless the "least vulnerable to cyber-attack" compared to other voting systems.)

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Margaret Sanger and the Racist Roots of Planned Parenthood (Worth Loving, Feb. 10, 2020, Family Research Council)

The fact is that Margaret Sanger strongly believed the Aryan race to be superior and that it must be purified, a view that finds its roots from Charles Darwin's defense of evolution in The Origin of Species. Darwin argued that a process of "natural selection" favored the white race over all other "lesser races." Sanger advocated for eugenics by calling for abortion and birth control among the "unfit" to produce a master race, a race consisting solely of wealthy, educated whites. Sanger said she believed blacks were "human weeds" that needed to be exterminated. She also referred to immigrants, African Americans, and poor people as "reckless breeders" and "spawning...human beings who never should have been born."

Sanger once wrote "that the aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family, just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual satisfaction on the streets." In an effort to sell her birth control and abortion proposals to the black community, Sanger said: "We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population." In 1926, Sanger was also the featured speaker at a women's auxiliary meeting of the Ku Klux Klan in Silver Lake, New Jersey.

Sanger opened her clinics in largely minority neighborhoods because she believed immigrants and the working class were inferior and needed their population controlled so as to purify the human race. That trend continues today where almost 80 percent of Planned Parenthood facilities are located in minority neighborhoods. In fact, although only 13 percent of American women are black, over 35 percent of all black babies are aborted in the United States every year. Abortion is the leading cause of death for blacks in the United States. According to Students for Life of America, "more African-Americans have died from abortion than from AIDS, accidents, violent crimes, cancer, and heart disease combined." Black babies are about five times more likely to be aborted than whites. On Halloween in 2017, Planned Parenthood's "Black Community" Twitter account tweeted: "If you're a Black woman in America, it's statistically safer to have an abortion than to carry a pregnancy to term or give birth."

The Left is the Right.
Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


POSSESSED BY THE PAST (Noah Millman, Winter 2019, Modern Age)

To be haunted by history is ultimately to be haunted by phantoms of our own creation. Windows on the past turn into mirrors in which we see ourselves, our present concerns, reflected. That is why we looked in the first place. Likewise, when we tell stories about the past, we are most often talking to ourselves about ourselves, making of the past what we need it to be useful in the present. Increasingly, we seek to make a virtue of this natural tendency to anachronism, and simply recast the past culturally, ideologically and linguistically, as Lin Manuel Miranda did in his hit Broadway musical, Hamilton.

There's something to be said for that approach to binding past and present; Hamilton certainly deserves its accolades. But if this is the way the tide is going, then there's special value for us in artists who swim against it, who use modern forms to show us the strangeness of the past and thus refresh our nightmares with something once familiar but now eerily foreign.

Robert Eggers's first film, The Witch, did precisely that. Based on seventeenth-century New England folktales, it was in many ways a traditional horror film, with numerous elements familiar from the genre and copious references to classics like The Shining and Rosemary's Baby. But the film refused to cater to contemporary concerns or sensibilities. The witch that torments the isolated Puritan family is a solitary old woman, but the film doesn't treat her as a meaningful symbol, from a feminist or any other modern perspective. She is radical evil incarnate, an evil that finds purchase in entirely normal human frailty: in the husband's pride in his own rectitude, the wife's pain at losing a child, the son's just-awakening adolescence, even the littlest children's sense of imagination and play. And once active, the family cannot defeat it by courage or cunning, or even prayer; their earthly salvation is beyond human capacity to achieve. The story, which would ring terrible and true to a convinced Calvinist, to a modern audience might be irritatingly pre-psychological. The Witch is, in other words, the horror film that seventeenth-century Puritans might have made if they somehow had access to contemporary film technology and knowledge of film history.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Roger Kahn's Legacy Goes Beyond The Boys of Summer (ERIC NUSBAUM, FEB 10, 2020, Slate)

But The Boys of Summer was just one part of a longer project that defined Kahn's career. Kahn's great achievement was the way his work helped recast professional ballplayers as emotional, vulnerable human beings. He trafficked in the classical notion of athletes as mythical heroes, but he simultaneously was hip to the fact that maybe being a hero isn't all it's cut out to be.

At the time Kahn was working, the popular conception of the ballplayer more or less ended as soon as they took off their uniform. But it was exactly because Kahn so admired ballplayers in uniform that his portraits of their humanity out of uniform turned out to be so moving.

For example, in 1956, Kahn collaborated with the Dodgers' center fielder Duke Snider on an essay for the now-defunct magazine Collier's. The essay (which, full disclosure, I discuss a bit in my upcoming book, Stealing Home) is a remarkable document for the time: an exhaustive account of all the ways that it sucks to be a professional baseball superstar.

The essay grew out of a conversation between Kahn and Snider at a bar called Holiday House on some Dodgers road trip. You can see Kahn's fingerprints all over it, especially in how he places Snider in the lineage of historically great baseball legends, simultaneously signaling the importance of baseball mythology and undercutting it.

"Sometimes you hear talk about 'the good old days when there were fellows like Ruth and Cobb who really loved baseball,' " Snider (really Kahn) writes. "Maybe they did, but they didn't exactly go broke playing it."

The piece brought negative attention to both writer and ghostwriter. Snider was accused of being ungrateful and a whiner. Kahn was accused of making the whole thing up to get a story, and of using Snider as a sort of dupe. But none of that was true. Both men addressed the fallout from the Collier's essay in Peter Golenbock's oral history book Bums. What Snider really wanted people to understand was that he took baseball seriously. But for Kahn, the piece aimed to correct for much more: He recited to Golenbock the names of some of the sports writers who mocked the essay, including the legendary Red Smith. "As one who writes books learns," Kahn said, "newspaper commentary isn't very perceptive." Nevertheless, the Collier's essay was unprecedented, and it was a preview of what Kahn would do with The Boys of Summer.

In that book, Kahn pulled back the curtain on the lives and vulnerabilities of once-beloved Dodger players. But he did so in a way that made their glories seem ancient and gauzy and literary in an almost Victorian sense, even though he was writing less than two decades after the fact. Imagine a self-consciously literary book coming out now about the late-'90s Atlanta Braves that takes its title from Dylan Thomas and has a preface called "Lines on the Transpotine Madness." Then imagine that the book also lays bare with devastating detail the post-baseball lives of its subjects. Imagine, like, Jeff Blauser, tending bar at an American Legion in rural central Pennsylvania.

In many ways, The Boys of Summer resembles other in-depth, immersive nonfiction writing that was happening at the time it was published in 1972. Kahn was about the same age, and had the same predilections and credentials, as many of the "New Journalists." But his work was never read as new journalism. It just didn't feel anti-establishment. Instead it ushered in a new way of thinking and writing about baseball: a more complicated form of nostalgia that empowered players and humanized them.

..but Jim Brosnan, Jim Bouton and Mark Harris beg to differ.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


Only 33% of Americans agree with Trump's acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial (John Haltiwanger, 2/10/20, Business Insider)

Roughly one-in-three surveyed Americans agree with the Senate's vote to acquit President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment, a new Insider poll found. 

Meanwhile, roughly 44% disagreed with Trump's acquittal on some level, and said they supported the president's removal from office. 

...his floor is GOP devastation.

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Health Care Is a Trump Swing-State Vulnerability (DANIEL MCGRAW,  FEBRUARY 10, 2020, The Bulwark)

One poll that clearly spells out the problem for the president and his party is the Great Lakes Poll conducted published to little attention on January 21. It is important because it surveyed people in only four states--Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Trump won the last three states by a total of 77,000 votes in 2016, and their combined 46 electoral votes put him over the top. If the rest of the states were to vote in 2020 the same way they did in 2016 but just those three states flipped, Trump would lose in the Electoral College with 260 votes to his Democratic opponent's 278.

One question in the poll was especially relevant to health care, and unlike the questions in most previous national polls, phrased very directly: "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling healthcare policy?"

The results show Trump and the Republicans have a big problem in these key states. When the survey was weighted to match the demographics of the polled states, 51 percent of Pennsylvania respondents said they "somewhat" or "strongly" disapprove of how Trump has handled health care, as did 53 percent of Michigan respondents and 56 percent of Wisconsin respondents. By contrast, only around 35 percent of the respondents in those states "somewhat" or "strongly" approve of Trump's handling of health care.

As bad as those numbers might seem for Trump, his real vulnerabilities become clear when you look into the poll's details. Women really dislike his handling of health care, with 53 percent disapproval in Pennsylvania, 59 percent in Michigan, and 58 percent in Wisconsin. Exit polls in 2016 showed Trump lost to Hillary Clinton among women in each of those states (by 42-55 in Pennsylvania, 42-53 in Michigan, and 43-53 in Wisconsin); he can't afford to lose even more ground.

More striking is how this could play out among independents. In each of these three swing states, a plurality of independents says health care is the issue most important to them--more important even than the economy or national security or climate change. And the numbers don't look good for Trump:

In Pennsylvania, independents made up 20 percent of the 2016 electorate and Trump won them 48-41. In the Great Lakes Poll, he is now losing independents to "the Democratic Party's candidate" by 26-37 (with 36 percent still undecided). And they disapprove of his handling of health care by 52-32.

In Michigan, independents were 29 percent of the 2016 electorate and Trump won them 52-36. In the Great Lakes Poll, he's losing them 23-40 (with 37 percent still undecided.) They disapprove of his handling of health care by 54-26.

In Wisconsin, independents were 30 percent of the 2016 electorate and Trump won them 50-40. In the Great Lakes Poll, he's losing them 22-41 (with 37 percent still undecided). They disapprove of his handling of health care by 62-26.

Among all the respondents in the Great Lakes Poll--that is, not just the independents--Trump is currently losing Pennsylvania by 37-47, Michigan by 34-47, and Wisconsin by 34-48.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The evolution of Trump's Muslim ban (Stef W. Kight, 2/10/20, Axios)

While Myanmar has a relatively small Muslim population (4%), the populations of the other five are between 30% Muslim (Tanzania) and 86% (Kyrgyzstan), according to the Pew Research Center. [...]

Trump first announced a travel ban -- labeled by many as a "Muslim ban" -- in his first week in office.

It would have barred entry to refugees and immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- all Muslim-majority countries.

Mass chaos and large protests followed in airports across the country as refugees and travelers who had just arrived were told to return to their home countries.

The ban was temporarily blocked by a federal court, which began a more than year-long struggle between federal judges and the administration.

In June 2018, the Supreme Court upheld an amended version of Trump's ban.

The final version blocked most immigrants and many travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.

It's had a dramatic impact. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of permanent visas given every month to nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen fell by 72%, according to Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

Collectively, those countries are more than 92% Muslim.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How a simple computer game simulated the dizzying U.S. immigration process (Brandon Bouchillon, February 9, 2020, The Conversation.

People fear and mistrust what they don't know--including people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. That lack of trust causes social and political divisions in the US and around the world, especially when it comes to immigrants.

Inspired by research in Hungary that found computer games could help players reduce their prejudice toward immigrants, my colleague Patrick Stewart devised a role-playing game as part of an American national government course at the University of Arkansas. I helped to develop survey measures for tracking changes in trust during the game.

Our hope was that by playing the game over the course of a semester, students would come to understand a bit more about what immigrants go through in the US, and as a result, perhaps trust could develop.

We found that it was possible for a role-playing game to help simulate shared experiences with immigrants, even in a group of mostly white, conservative students. This helped trust in immigrants to grow.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The State of Secrecy by Richard Norton-Taylor review (Luke Harding, 10 Feb 2020, The Observer)

The "fetish" for keeping the public in ignorance is absurd and counterproductive, he argues. It led to disastrous wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya) and to egregious acts by the spooks (MI6's collusion with the US in the abduction and torture of terror suspects, denied for years). Secrecy doesn't enhance national security. It radically undermines it, he thinks.

Norton-Taylor is especially scathing about the "sclerotic" and "secretive" ministry of defence. It has wasted billions on "ill-conceived" weapons irrelevant to modern conflict. He's critical, too, of the foreign office, which won't release files on colonial-era abuses. They include the torture of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya and the murder of Malayan villagers in 1948. [...]

It is this mystical culture that possibly explains why the committee didn't leak its own recent report into Russian meddling ahead of last year's election. Boris Johnson cynically sat on it. You would have thought at least one MP would put the public interest above medieval vows. And yet none did. Voters are still in the dark.

Come back, Admiral Poindexter, all is forgiven. If intelligence is any good it will withstand the marketplace.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Cheap solar and wind send power prices to three-year low, as coal output falls (Sophie Vorrath, 10 February 2020, Renew Economy)

Australia's record renewables growth in 2019 has helped to deliver a dramatic decline in wholesale electricity prices in the year's final quarter - despite and possibly even because of a marked fall in output from the nation's coal-fired generator fleet.

In its Quarterly Energy Dynamics report for the fourth quarter of 2019, the Australian Energy Market Operator says spot wholesale electricity prices averaged $A72/megawatt hour (MWh), marking a 19 per cent fall from Q4 2018, and the lowest prices since Q4 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


It Only Took Apple 5 Years to Dominate this 265-Year-Old Industry. (Jason Aten, 2/10/20, Inc.)

Watches had been around for a long time before we started wearing Apple's version, but it only took a few years for the Apple Watch to become the most popular wearable timepiece on earth. That's according to a new report from research firm Strategy Analytics, which says that Apple shipped almost 31 million units last year, while the entire Swiss watch industry shipped a little over 21 million.

February 9, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


App Used by Netanyahu's Party Leaks Personal Data of Over 6 Million Israelis (Emma Tucker, Feb. 09, 2020, Daily Beast)

The personal information of over six million citizens was leaked after Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party uploaded the full register of Israeli voters to an app, Haaretz reported Sunday. The information includes full names, identity card numbers, addresses, genders, phone numbers, and other personal details. The registry was uploaded by Likud to the Elector app, which the party uses on election day.

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Buttigieg is the 'get-to-yes' candidate (Matt Bai, Feb. 9, 2020, Washington Post)

Having covered campaigns for a couple of decades, I've come to believe that some candidates are just get-to-yes candidates: Voters are looking for reasons to support them, because it feels ennobling. And the only question for the candidate is whether he or she can offer voters enough reassurance to make the leap.

Take, for instance, Barack Obama, whose age and lack of governing experience gave voters legitimate reasons, in both the 2008 primaries and in the general election, to choose someone else. They didn't, because Obama was a get-to-yes candidate; he made them feel good about themselves and the country. They found a way to overlook the rest.

For months now, a lot of Democrats have been telling us that Buttigieg inspires them. They love the idea of a Rhodes scholar with military credentials, a gay candidate who doesn't let identity define him, a candidate who came of age with social media and isn't pushing 80.

They just wish Buttigieg were even five years older or that he was the mayor of, you know, a real city. They'd like to be able to vote for him; it just seems like such a stretch.

But as we saw in Iowa, Buttigieg (who, full disclosure, was a friend of mine years before people started trying to pronounce his name) has given them enough reason to look past all that. He's lightning-quick on his feet, oddly self-confident, relentlessly disciplined and forward-looking. He's steadily getting them to yes, much as Obama did.

No one else in the field enjoys that advantage with voters who remain undecided at this stage.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Bernie Sanders: President Trump is a socialist, too, but here's the difference (SHAWN LANGLOIS, 2/09/20, Market Watch)
'The difference between my socialism and Trump's socialism is I believe the government should help working families, not billionaires.'

That's presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders responding on "Fox News Sunday" to President Trump calling him a communist.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Pete Buttigieg calls for deficit reduction, swiping Bernie Sanders (Sahil Kapur, 2/09/20, NBC News)

Pete Buttigieg called on Democrats to get more serious about lowering the national debt, portraying himself as the biggest fiscal hawk in the presidential field and taking a shot at chief New Hampshire rival Bernie Sanders for being too spendthrift.

Asked at a town hall here how important the deficit is to him, Buttigieg said it's "important" and vowed to focus on limiting the debt even though it's "not fashionable in progressive circles."

"I think the time has come for my party to get a lot more comfortable owning this issue because I see what's happening under this president -- a $1 trillion deficit -- and his allies in Congress do not care. So we have to do something about it," the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor said in a packed middle school gym, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


Sterilizing the Feebleminded (Richard Drooyan, MARCH 31, 2016, LA Review of Books)

IMBECILES, BY ADAM COHEN, harkens back to an earlier era of strong anti-immigrant sentiment and deep-seated racism when the institutions of law, medicine, and government combined to single out the "feebleminded," "epileptics," and others "genetically unworthy" for sterilization, using Virginia's eugenic sterilization law for the "prevention of this growing blight" on the state's population. This well-written narrative of legal history demonstrates what happens when the powerful and elite in society fail to protect the powerless and poor, and instead shower them with insults based upon pseudoscientific opinions and deprive them of their most basic rights to procreate and to receive due process under the law.

The title of Imbeciles is taken from what Cohen aptly describes as "one of the most notorious statements to appear in a Supreme Court opinion" authored by none other than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., in Buck v. Bell. In upholding Virginia's eugenic sterilization law of 1924, and the state's authority to sterilize a purportedly "feebleminded" institutionalized young woman "to prevent our being swamped with incompetence," Justice Holmes opined, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Although focused on the single case of Carrie Buck, Imbeciles provides historical context for the eugenics movement going back to the period following the end of the Civil War, the backdrop of social Darwinism, the anti-immigrant hysteria that swept the country in the early 1920s, the embedded racism in Virginia and elsewhere in the country at that time, and the racial theories that eventually culminated in the Nazi exclusion and extermination policies beginning in the early 1930s. Although the eugenics movement focused on the purportedly "feebleminded" and "epileptics," just below the surface was a strong anti-immigrant and racial bias. As Cohen points out, the exhibits at the Second International Eugenics Congress in 1921 included such eugenics subjects as "the relation between natural hereditary qualities and national greatness" and the "differences between white and Negro fetuses."

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Trump to propose cuts in foreign aid and social safety nets in budget: officials  (Jeff Mason, 2/09/20, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump will propose on Monday a 21% cut in foreign aid and slashing social safety net programs in his $4.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2021, according to senior administration officials.

Because running against health care in '18 worked so well.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Man arrested after allegedly driving van into GOP registration tent (Jon Haworth, February 9, 2020, ABC News)

Timm was arrested several hours later and charged with two counts of Aggravated Assault on a Person 65 Years of Age or Older...

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


'QAnon' conspiracy theory creeps into mainstream politics (MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, 2/09/20,  Associated Press)

President Donald Trump was more than halfway through his speech at a rally in Milwaukee when one of his hand gestures caught the eye of a supporter standing in the packed arena.

The 51-year-old woman believed the president had traced the shape of the letter "Q" with his fingers as a covert signal to followers of QAnon, a right-wing, pro-Trump conspiracy theory. She turned to the couple on her right and excitedly asked, "Did you see the 'Q'?"

"He just did it?" asked Diane Jacobson, 63, of Racine, Wisconsin.

"Was that a 'Q'?" added Jacobson's husband, Randy, 64.

"I think it was," replied their new friend, Chrisy. The Geneva, Illinois, resident declined to give her last name in part because she said she wanted to avoid negative "attention."

The Jacobsons met Chrisy and her husband, Paul, hours earlier in the line to get into the Jan 14 rally. The couples bonded over their shared interest in QAnon, which centers on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the "deep state" and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals.

What started as an online obsession for the far-right fringe has grown beyond its origins in a dark corner of the internet. QAnon has been creeping into the mainstream political arena for more than a year. The trend shows no sign of abating as Trump fires up his reelection campaign operation, attracting a loyal audience of conspiracy theorists and other fringe groups to his raucous rallies.

Trump has retweeted QAnon-promoting accounts. Followers flock to Trump's rallies wearing clothes and hats with QAnon symbols and slogans. At least 23 current or former congressional candidates in the 2020 election cycle have endorsed or promoted QAnon, according to the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America, which compiled online evidence to support its running tally.

Conspiracy theorists aren't the only fringe characters drawn to Trump rallies. The Oath Keepers, an anti-government group formed in 2009 after President Barack Obama's election, has been sending "security volunteers" to escort Trump supporters at rallies across the country.

In all fairness, Donald can't even spell Q,

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Secret of Bernie's Millions (MICHAEL KRUSE May 24, 2019, Politico)

In the wake of his 2016 presidential run, the most lucrative thing he's ever done, the 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist is a three-home-owning millionaire with a net worth approaching at least $2 million, taking into account his publicly outlined assets and liabilities along with the real estate he owns outright. In a strict, bottom-line sense, Sanders has become one of those rich people against whom he has so unrelentingly railed. The champion of the underclass and castigator of "the 1 percent" has found himself in the socioeconomic penthouse of his rhetorical boogeymen. This development, seen mostly as the result of big bucks brought in by the slate of books he's put out in the past few years, predictably has elicited snarky pokes, partisan jabs and charges of hypocrisy. The millionaire socialist!

Sanders has been impatient to the point of churlish when pressed about this. "I wrote a best-selling book," he told the New York Times after he releasing the last 10 years of his tax returns. "If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too." Asked on Fox News if this sort of success was "the definition of capitalism," he bristled. "You know, I have a college degree," he said.

Based on a deeper examination of his financial disclosures, tax returns, property records in Washington and Vermont, and scarcely leafed-through scraps of his financial papers housed at the University of Vermont, Sanders' current financial portrait is not only some stroke-of-luck windfall, it's also the product (with the help of his wife) of decades of planning. The upward trajectory from that jalopy of his to his relative riches now--as off-brand as it is for a man who once said he had "no great desire to be rich"--is the product of years of middle-class striving, replete with credit card debt, real estate upgrades and an array of investment funds and retirement accounts.

As an immigrant's son who started close to the bottom and has ended up near to the top, Sanders has a narrative arc that would form the backbone of the campaign story of almost any other candidate. But it's more complicated for him. 

...than to tell people not to follow their own example.  Get and stay married; work hard, save and invest and you're a millionare when you retire.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The US bought Sisi for $9bn, but the Egyptian people cannot be swayed (Amelia Smith, February 9, 2020, Middle East Monitor)

Since he came to power, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's rule has been decidedly anti-Palestinian. When Egypt's military overthrew Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013, one of the first things the generals did was close the Rafah Crossing and deport Palestinians arriving in the country through Cairo Airport. [...]

The price for Egypt's position was $9 billion, the amount promised at the economic workshop for the deal of the century in Bahrain last summer. It's a big chunk of money for Egypt, given the dire straits it has found itself in under Al-Sisi's mismanagement of the economy, and should provide some generous bonuses for the ruling generals, who we know through the whistleblower Mohamed Ali are getting rich through corruption and at the expense of their own people.

For its part, Israel has achieved political and economic gains it never imagined could be possible. This has been described as the golden age of Israeli-Egyptian relations symbolised by the transfer of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, which opened up the Straits of Tiran to Israel, and compounded by security cooperation between the Egyptian and Israeli army in Sinai.

As Yehya Okail, a former MP in Sinai, once told me:

Hosni Mubarak was a treasure to Israel, however Sisi is much more than that. Israel never imagined that it would be served by anyone in the history of Egypt as Sisi has done.

The opponents of democracy in the Middle East are natural allies too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Editorial: Support grows in New Hampshire for banning guns in schools (Valley News, 2/8/2020)

As staff writer Tim Camerato reported last week, delegates at the association's annual assembly voted 45-4 to back measures "to restrict possession of firearms on school property to authorized law enforcement personnel only."

Last month's vote now aligns the school boards association with the state's largest teachers union, NEA-NH, and the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, which is backing a bill now pending in the New Hampshire House that would ban carrying a firearm on school property. Its president, Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis, told Camerato, "Our view of this is that it is a common-sense safety bill."

New Polling: 81 Percent of Granite State Residents Support Extreme Risk Protection Order Legislation (Everytown, 3/07/19)

Among other findings, the poll found that:

90 percent of Granite Staters and 85 percent of Granite State gun owners support criminal background checks for all gun sales

81 percent of Granite State gun owners support ERPO legislation

ERPO legislation has strong bipartisan support: 71 percent of those who identify as strong Republicans and 88 percent of strong Democrats indicated support

75 percent of respondents support prohibiting guns in K-12 schools

81 percent of New Hampshire voters support a 7-day waiting period for gun sales

February 8, 2020

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Modi defeat in New Delhi state elections: exit polls (Deutsche-Welle, 2/08/20)

Modi's BJP faced Kejriwal's party as their main opponent. Over the last five years in power, Kejriwal's party has focused on helping the state's poor by refurbishing public schools and providing bus fares for women and electric and healthcare subsidies.

The BJP's Federal Home Minister Amit Shah called a meeting for party members late on Saturday. He had campaigned vigorously for BJP, highlighting their tough stance on national security.

The BJP's campaign has aggravated Hindu-Muslim relations and positioned the election as a referendum on nearly two months of protests over a controversial new law that excludes Muslims from a fast-track to citizenship. The night before elections began, the BJP sent messages to constituents urging them to vote for the party if they want the rallies to end.

The party also hopes that Modi's decision last summer to strip Muslim-majority Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status will gain Hindu votes. 

While these moves have proven favorable among BJP supporters, they have yet to make a difference at the polls. The party lost two state elections last year. Surveys by news networks predict another victory for the Aam Aadmi Party in the 70-seat state assembly. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Don Lemon, Charles Murray, and Anti-Elite Elitism (Matt Johnson, 2/08/20, Arc Digital)

In early 2018, Niall Ferguson moderated a conversation with Francis Fukuyama and Charles Murray at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. The subject was "inequality and populism," and Murray made one of his favorite arguments: "Along with not understanding the lives of ordinary Americans, the cognitive elite increasingly despises, has contempt for ... ordinary Americans. I think that is at the heart of Donald Trump's election."

To illustrate his point, Murray happened to mention a place I know well. After observing that members of the cognitive elite often have an "intense interest in the most oppressed, deprived segments of American society," he went on to explain that "what they don't understand is the life of a pharmacist and a plumber and an insurance agent in Topeka, Kansas." And he had a dark message for his fellow members of the cognitive elite: "To those of you who have not spent a lot of time in Topeka and places like that ... the unanimity with which we are viewed with anger is really astonishing."

I was the opinion page editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal for almost two years.

If Murray has done more than spend a few minutes at a Topeka gas station, he should know that the picture of the city he presented at Stanford was a grossly inaccurate caricature -- just the sort of thing a disconnected coastal elitist would imagine about the American Midwest.

Topeka is one of the state's largest and most politically diverse cities. Had he been talking about my hometown of Salina, Kansas, he might have had a point. But he instead assumed that everywhere is like everywhere else in Kansas.
While Trump carried Kansas by more than 20 points in 2016, his margin of victory in Topeka was a mere two points. In nearby Douglas and Wyandotte Counties, Clinton won by 30 points. Topeka is also the capital of a state that elected Laura Kelly governor in 2018. Kelly is a Democrat who defeated Kris Kobach -- one of Trump's most rabid acolytes, who received the president's endorsement in 2018 -- by five points. Kobach ran on Trumpian campaign slogans like "drain the swamp" and "Kansans first," humiliated the state by defending Trump's ludicrous claim that "millions" of people had voted illegally in 2016 (one of the reasons the president awarded him the dubious role of vice chair of his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity), and waged a long campaign of voter suppression as Kansas secretary of state. When Kobach announced his run for U.S. Senate, he did so in front of a banner that read, "Build the wall."

On Murray's analysis, Kobach is just the sort of politician that indignant plumbers and insurance agents in Topeka would predictably support -- his whole shtick is inflaming anti-elite resentment by ignoring the actual issues Kansas faces and focusing instead on conservative cultural grievances. During his gubernatorial campaign, the city of Shawnee apologized after he appeared at a parade in a Jeep with a fake .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the back. So how did he perform in the Kansas capital, where anti-elite sentiment is so powerful that it would "astonish" Murray's audience at Stanford? Kelly crushed him by 24 points.

Americans aren't as delicate as the Right/Left.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


Russia accuses Israel of using civilian flight as shield in Syria attack (Middle East Monitor, February 8, 2020)

"The recourse to civilian aircraft as cover or to block a riposte by Syrian forces during military air operations has become characteristic of the Israeli air force," Konashenkov disclosed in a statement reported by Russian media.

"At the time of the attack by Israeli planes... an Airbus-320 airliner was on approach to landing... in the death zone of airstrikes and artillery," Konashenkov added.

Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


Steve Bannon used his Bill Maher appearance to argue that Bernie Sanders supporters should vote for Trump (Kat Tenbarge, , 2/08/20, Business Insider)

The Breitbart founding editor and conservative political strategist has previously declared his intention to shape "the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement," and he clearly incorporates Sanders and his base into that vision. 

"I like Bernie," Bannon replied to Maher after the host expressed his own disapproval of Sander's socialist policies. "He's a populist."

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


John Quincy Adams Isn't Who You Think He Is (Hal Brands, February 8, 2020, Bloomberg View0

To break its addiction to war and overseas adventures, the argument goes, the nation needs only to rediscover its inner John Quincy Adams.

It is a curious argument, given the man's record. The Independence Day speech was not a blanket warning against American ambition and expansion. It was an argument against a specific policy proposal -- supporting a Greek rebellion against Ottoman rule -- that Adams worried would needlessly antagonize European powers at a sensitive time and divert the U.S. from more pressing matters.

It was also a provocative address that exhorted people everywhere to follow America's example in throwing off the chains of monarchy and absolutism: "Go thou and do likewise!" Most important, it was but one part of a broader diplomatic legacy characterized by vaulting ambition, audacious aggrandizement and the promotion of a distinctively American and deeply ideological form of realism.

Adams was a committed expansionist from the earliest days of his diplomatic career. He believed that the fate of U.S. security and democracy was tied to the creation of a strong, united country that would dominate the vast lands to the west. Attaining primacy within North America, Adams argued, was essential to avoiding the unhappy fate of Europe, where small, vulnerable states were constantly arming themselves and fighting one another.

The choice was between having "a nation coextensive with the North American continent, destined by God and nature to be the most populous and most powerful people ever combined under one social compact," and having "an endless multitude of insignificant clans and tribes at eternal war." Liberty and expansion went hand in hand.

As secretary of state, Adams focused on securing this continental empire. His most important diplomatic achievement was the Transcontinental Treaty with Spain of 1819. That pact was the product of wise tactical restraint -- namely, holding back from supporting South American rebellions against Spanish imperial rule. But it also resulted from not-so-subtle coercion, in the form of implicit threats to seize Spanish Florida and support for Andrew Jackson's military forays into Spanish territory.

The result was a treaty that ceded key Spanish territories in North America to the U.S. More critically, it secured recognition of America's claim to a western boundary on the Pacific Ocean, thereby paving the way for expansion across the continent and beyond. (It also paved the way for the spread of slavery into the American West, something Adams would come to regret.) There was nothing modest about Adams' statecraft.

That went doubly for Adams's other key diplomatic achievement. The Monroe Doctrine, issued in 1823, offered an assurance that America would not meddle politically in Europe's affairs. But it also advanced the radical idea that the U.S. would not tolerate European efforts to establish new colonies in the Western Hemisphere, or to re-subjugate the nations that had just overthrown Spanish rule.

This was an astonishing assertion of American primacy. It was all the more audacious because Adams insisted on making the statement unilaterally, rather than in concert with the British, who also had an interest in the independence of the new South American nations.

America, Adams argued, would do better "to aver our principles explicitly ... than to come in as a cock-boat in the wake of the British man-of-war." And here Adams also testified to the deep connection between American values and American interests, by arguing that the U.S. had a vital interest in keeping autocratic regimes (monarchies, in this case) as far away as possible from its shores. It was impossible, he wrote, that European monarchies "should extend their political system to any portion" of the Western Hemisphere "without endangering our peace and happiness."

This was indeed a form of what today is called "realism." But it was a quintessentially American realism: An assertion that government type matters profoundly in global affairs, that powerful autocracies are inherently threatening to a democratic republic, and that the U.S. will be more secure and influential to the extent that it is surrounded by relatively liberal states.

The Long War is nothing less than the Anglosphere forcing the End of History on the world for over two centuries.  Such a war will always have respites, as under Donald, but not for long.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Thatcher Warned Us to Go Slow on European Integration. Too Bad We Didn't Listen (Johan Wennström, 2/08/20, Quillette)

This November will mark 30 years since former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher left office. After she had narrowly failed to secure an outright win in a 1990 leadership contest triggered by a challenge from Michael Heseltine, her former defense secretary, the majority of Thatcher's Conservative cabinet colleagues withdrew their support and forced her departure following what she described as "eleven-and-a-half wonderful years."

For Thatcher, the "coup," as she referred to the events of 1990, had been unexpected. But as journalist Charles Moore explains in the third and final volume of his authorized Thatcher biography, Herself Alone (2019), the writing had been on the wall for some time. Thatcher's style, which some considered abrasive, had turned senior figures against her. And many younger party members believed that if the party were to win a fourth consecutive election victory, in 1991 or 1992, it should be under a new standard-bearer (who turned out to be John Major).

An important underlying factor was the long-standing policy conflict regarding the European Community (or the EC as the European Union was then known), which pitted Thatcher against many in her own government, as well as against continental European leaders and George H. W. Bush's White House. She was perceived as a "Cold Warrior" who was overly cautious in regard to the future of Europe, especially the project of European political and economic integration. [...]

Moore's latest volume, which focuses extensively on Thatcher's views about Europe, shows her in a more nuanced light. In some ways, in fact, she was actually ahead of her time. And some of the current problems facing Europe, and the West more generally, might have been mitigated had her opinions been given a more generous audience.

The fact that a genuine global free market requires some surrender of economic sovereignty requires that political sovereignty be defended even more firmly

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Americans consistently have expressed little confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin. But Republicans are now 21 points more likely than Democrats to express confidence him (31% vs. 10%), the widest partisan gap in our polling. <a href="https://t.co/WCXvZyswpX">https://t.co/WCXvZyswpX</a> <a href="https://t.co/RIIxmUzcjv">pic.twitter.com/RIIxmUzcjv</a></p>&mdash; Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) <a href="https://twitter.com/pewresearch/status/1225761635761037312?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 7, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Fox News Internal Document Bashes Pro-Trump Fox Regulars for Spreading 'Disinformation' (Will Sommer, Maxwell Tani, Andrew Kirell, Feb. 06, 2020, Daily Beast)

An internal Fox News research briefing book obtained by The Daily Beast openly questions Fox News contributor John Solomon's credibility, accusing him of playing an "indispensable role" in a Ukrainian "disinformation campaign."

The document also accuses frequent Fox News guest Rudy Giuliani of amplifying disinformation, as part of an effort to oust former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, and blasts Fox News guests Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova--both ardent Trump boosters--for "spreading disinformation."  

The 162-page document, entitled "Ukraine, Disinformation, & the Trump Administration," was created by Fox News senior political affairs specialist Bryan S. Murphy, who produces research from what is known as the network's Brain Room--a newsroom division of researchers who provide information, data, and topic guides for the network's programming.

The research brief is especially critical of Solomon, a former opinion columnist at The Hill whose opinion pieces about Ukraine made unsubstantiated claims about its government interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Solomon's pieces for The Hill fueled Giuliani's efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine, which eventually helped lead to President Donald Trump's impeachment. Trump has also frequently cited Solomon's questionable reporting on Twitter in his own defense.

While Solomon is portrayed on Sean Hannity's show as a crusading "investigative reporter"--despite The Hill overtly branding him an opinion columnist--the Brain Room document accuses the contributor of taking part in a Ukrainian smear campaign. "John Solomon played an indispensable role in the collection and domestic publication of elements of this disinformation campaign," the Fox briefing book notes. 

Those smears, according to the briefing, were driven by people like disgraced former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko and the allies of Dmytro Firtash, an indicted Ukrainian oligarch and accused high-level Russian mafia associate (an accusation he denies). Both Lutsenko and Firtash have been seen as forces driving Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine to dig up dirt on Trump's political enemies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Here are the buildings Trump's proposed executive order calls "ugly" (EVAN NICOLE BROWN, 2/08/20, Fast Company)

A controversial draft of an executive order from President Trump's office privileges traditional styles of architecture over more contemporary buildings. The document, "Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again," praises landmarks like the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial for their Greco-Roman pillars and stately, marble facades, whereas modern architecture is dismissed as "ugly."

So which buildings are seen as so offensive? Brutalist ones, for starters. The no-nonsense style was popular in the late 1950s and 1960s, and the proposed executive order points to three Brutalist federal buildings that "inspired public derision" when they were built: the Hubert H. Humphrey Department of Health and Human Services Building and the the Robert C. Weaver Department of Housing and Urban Development Building, both designed by Marcel Breuer, and the Frances Perkins Department of Labor Building, designed by Arthur Brown. 

At the point where you're defending buildings everyone hates and a style that brags about being Brutal, you're reacting to Donald, not thinking.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


How Dried Cod Became a Norwegian Staple and an Italian Delicacy (ROFF SMITH, FEBRUARY 7, 2020, Atlas Obscura)

It's cod season once again in the far north of Norway, and Røst--a remote scatter of rocky islets off the outermost tip of Norway's Lofoten Islands--is once more the honeypot for fishermen seeking jackpot paychecks in the lucrative dried cod trade, Norway's oldest export industry, dating back to the Viking days.

Every winter, for more than a thousand years, Norwegian fishermen have flocked to these parts to scoop up the bounty of big, meaty migrating cod that come streaming down by the millions from the Barents Sea to breed among the reefs and shoals around the Lofoten Islands, and most especially here around Røst.

The fish are cleaned and gutted and hung by their tails, in pairs, to dry in the traditional manner, on slatted wooden frames that can be seen all over the island. Then the catch is rendered into stockfish--the nutritious cod jerky that once sustained the Vikings on their long sea voyages and, today, is a highly prized delicacy in Italy, where it's a key ingredient in traditional regional dishes from Venice, Naples, Genoa, and Calabria.

"Stockfish isn't an Italian product, but sometimes you could almost imagine that it was," says Olaf Pedersen, a former CEO of Glea Sjømat, one of Røst's main stockfish companies, founded by his grandfather in 1936. "Over the centuries it has become deeply ingrained into their culinary and cultural traditions."

Indeed, the Ligurian town of Badalucco holds a stockfish festival every year to commemorate the time, back in the Middle Ages, when the townspeople survived a siege by Moorish invaders by eating only stockfish. And over near Venice, on the opposite side of the country, the town of Sandrigo hosts the world's largest stockfish festival--the Festa del Bacalà, held every September in celebration of the famed regional dish Baccalà alla Vicentina.

So important is the Italian market to Norway's stockfish producers that Pedersen recently moved from Røst to Milan, where he now looks after the interests of a collective of 22 stockfish producers. Lofoten stockfish was recently awarded Denomination of Origin status, meaning it enjoys the same legal protections as Parma ham and French champagne.

Any way you want to measure it, it's a long way from the warm Mediterranean sunshine to the moody skies over Røst, whose 365 islets and skerries are home to a few hundred hardy Norwegians and about a million seabirds. Yet the links between these two very different places go back nearly 600 years, to the shipwreck in 1432 of a Venetian merchant trader named Pietro Quirini. After his boat sank, he spent three enjoyable months with the islanders, and on his return to Italy, presented an account of his adventures to the Venetian senate.

He also brought back some stockfish. The rich, nutritious, intensely flavored cod jerky proved an instant culinary hit, finding its way into regional dishes all over the country. An improbable new trade route was born, linking the Renaissance city states then comprising Italy with the lonely windswept isles of Røst.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Anger at Trump plan seen as potential mobilizer of Arab voters (JOSEPH KRAUSS and MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, 2/08/20, AP)

Instead, the proposal has infuriated many of Israel's Arab citizens, who view it as a form of forced transfer. They want no part in the Palestinian state envisioned by the Trump administration, with many comparing it to the areas set aside for black South Africans as part of the apartheid government's policy of racial segregation. [...]

Arab citizens make up about 20 percent of Israel's population. They face discrimination and higher levels of poverty. 

Gosh, the Trumpbots were sure they'd leap at the Batustan Solution.  To make the proposal was to express contempt.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Khamenei says Iran 'does not pose threat to any country' (Times of Israel, 2/08/20)

Iran "does not pose a threat to any country," the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday.

He said the Islamic republic must become strong enough to ward off the "enemy's threats" and prevent a war.

"We must become strong so that there will not be a war, become strong so that enemies' threats will end," Khamenei told a gathering of air force commanders and staff aired on state television.

America and Iran are threasts to all the states that deny democratic rights to their citizenry.  It's not wrong for the Arab and Israeli regimes to fear us.

February 7, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 PM


Trump's trade war is making Americans' incomes decrease, government report says (IGOR DERYSH, FEBRUARY 7, 2020, sALON)

The CBO, a nonpartisan congressional research arm, projected that the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration and retaliatory tariffs imposed by countries like China will reduce economic growth while increasing prices to consumers.

"Tariffs are expected to reduce the level of real GDP by roughly 0.5 percent and raise consumer prices by 0.5 percent in 2020. As a result, tariffs are also projected to reduce average real household income by $1,277 (in 2019 dollars) in 2020," the report said. The figure is more than double the $580 projection in last year's CBO report.

By comparison, the median American household pays about $2,000 in federal income taxes, meaning the trade war effectively amounts to a tax hike of more than 60%.

But it's worth it to punish Muslims, Latinos, Asians...

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 PM


Trump fires key impeachment witness Gordon Sondland as EU ambassador (John Haltiwanger and Sonam Sheth, 2/07/20, Business Insider)

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Sondland's testimony: 

Sondland confirmed a quid pro quo and implicated Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former national security adviser John Bolton.

"Members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?" Sondland's opening statement said. "As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."

"Everyone knew" about the quid pro quo, Sondland said.

Sondland said he pressured Ukraine "at the express direction of the President of the United States."

He said Trump told him to work with Giuliani on the shadow policy campaign and that Giuliani was clear on what Trump's interests were -- get Ukraine to investigate Burisma Holdings and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as a bogus conspiracy theory suggesting Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.

Sondland's statement was significant because it undercut the GOP's attempts to paint Giuliani as a rogue agent who went off on his own to pressure Ukraine.

To that end, Sondland's claim that "everyone" -- including top brass at the White House and several government agencies -- was aware of the campaign also undermined the Giuliani defense.

Unlike Vindman, who's a nonpartisan career official and active-duty Army officer, Sondland had close ties to Trump and no government experience before becoming the EU ambassador. He got the role after donating $1 million to the president's inauguration committee.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Japan Eyes Free Trade Deal With Post-Brexit Britain (Mina Pollmann, February 05, 2020, The Diplomat)

With the United Kingdom having formally left the European Union on January 31, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab is traveling to the Asia-Pacific region this week with stops in Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia. The purpose of Raab's trip is to prepare the road for bilateral British free trade deals in a post-Brexit world, ideally finalizing these trade deals by January 2021, when Britain's transition period ends.

Japan already has an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the EU, which went into force last February. This deal will cover British-Japanese trade throughout the duration of the transition period, but the U.K. will need to strike its own bargain with Japan to replace it. Both the Japanese and British governments have expressed hopes that their bilateral trade deal will be more ambitious than the existing Japan-EU EPA. For the U.K., an aggressive trade deal with Japan is desirable as potential leverage to strengthen its position vis-à-vis the EU. But British desire for a comprehensive deal - and the very real deadline Brexit imposed - provides opportunities for Japan as well.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Jewish officer who testified against Trump escorted out of White House (DEB RIECHMANN, 7 February 2020, Times of Israel)

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Boris Johnson: 'Free trade needs a global champion' (JOSEPH SUNDE • FEBRUARY 07, 2020, Acton)

As Richard Turnbull recently wrote here at Acton, reflecting on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's path forward, "Leaving the EU will allow the U.K. to set its own trade policies, to renew commerce with the rest of the non-European world, to lower prices and open markets, and lead to new sources of prosperity."

This week, in a speech in Greenwich, London, Johnson further confirmed that path, proclaiming the promise of Britain's post-Brexit role as a "catalyst for free trade across the world." Far from promoting narrow insularity, Johnson made clear Britain's intentions for their newly regained autonomy.

"We have the opportunity. We have the newly recaptured powers," he says. "We know where we want to go, and that is out into the world."

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Impeachment witness Alexander Vindman and his twin brother were abruptly fired and escorted from the White House as part of Trump's payback (Sonam Sheth and John Haltiwanger, 2/07/20, Business Insider)

Here's the full statement from Pressman:

"Today, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House where he has dutifully served his country and his President. He does so having spoken publicly once, and only pursuant to a subpoena from the United States Congress.

"There is no question in the mind of any American why this man's job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House. LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.

"During his decades of service to this country, LTC Alexander Vindman has served quietly but dutifully, and he has served with honor. He came into the public eye only when subpoenaed to testify before Congress, and he did what the law demanded.

"In recent months, many entrusted with power in our political system have cowered out of fear. And, yet, a handful of men and women, not endowed with prestige or power, but equipped only with a sense of right borne out of years of quiet service to their country made different choices. They courageously chose to honor their duty with integrity, to trust the truth, and to put their faith in country ahead of fear. And they have paid a price.

"The truth has cost LTC Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy. He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day: he followed orders, he obeyed his oath, and he served his country, even when doing so was fraught with danger and personal peril. And for that, the most powerful man in the world -- buoyed by the silent, the pliable, and the complicit -- has decided to exact revenge.

"LTC Alexander Vindman leaves the White House today. But we must not accept the departure of truth, duty, and loyalty that he represents. In this country right matters, and so does truth. Truth is not partisan. If we allow truthful voices to be silenced, if we ignore their warnings, eventually there will be no one left to warn us."

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 PM


Virginia Legislature Passes Bill to End Day Honoring Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (MOLLY OLMSTEAD, FEB 07, 2020, Slate)

The Virginia House of Delegates voted on Thursday to approve a bill that would eliminate Lee-Jackson Day and replace it with an Election Day holiday. It is now almost guaranteed to be signed into law.

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


'Bombshell': Iraqi Officials Say ISIS--Not Iran--Likely Behind Rocket Attack Trump Used to Justify Soleimani Assassination (Jake Johnson, 2/07/20, Common dreams)

But Iraqi officials told the Times that "based on circumstantial evidence and long experience in the area where the attack took place," there is good reason to be skeptical about U.S. claims that Khataib Hezbollah was behind it.

As the Times reported:

The rockets were launched from a Sunni Muslim part of Kirkuk Province notorious for attacks by the Islamic State, a Sunni terrorist group, which would have made the area hostile territory for a Shiite militia like Khataib Hezbollah.

Khataib Hezbollah has not had a presence in Kirkuk Province since 2014.

The Islamic State, however, had carried out three attacks relatively close to the base in the 10 days before the attack on K-1. Iraqi intelligence officials sent reports to the Americans in November and December warning that ISIS intended to target K-1, an Iraqi air base in Kirkuk Province that is also used by American forces...

These facts all point to the Islamic State, Iraqi officials say.

"We as Iraqi forces cannot even come to this area unless we have a large force because it is not secure," Brig. Gen. Adnan said of the area from which the rocket attack was launched. "How could it be that someone who doesn't know the area could come here and find that firing position and launch an attack?"

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Pete Is a Serious Young Man. In N.H., it May Be Enough (Howard Fineman, February 07, 2020, RCP)

Buttigieg's best venues so far have been debates, where he can surprise observers and opponents with his tough counter-punching that belies his seeming geniality. Pete likes a fight. You wouldn't necessarily know it, but he does.

"The last big debate is always important," said Ray Buckley, the Democratic Party chairman in the state. "But this one may be more important than any I can remember." 

In the New Hampshire primary, everything decisive happens starting Friday.

The rise of Pete Buttigieg feels less like a New Hampshire explosion - in the tradition of Gary Hart in 1984 or John McCain in 2000 - than a process of elimination. Turnout is expected to be level with 2016, or even down.

For college students and other mostly young voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere, Sanders is the man. Those kids are facing a future of massive student debt, an economy that is "thriving" because wages are being kept down, and a health care and retirement system that could collapse on them.

Bernie's final big events are, not surprisingly, at the University of New Hampshire and Keene State College. They will be massive and fervent. In Iowa, he was unable to expand his youth brigade to other voting groups. Here, he has half the support he had in 2016, although admittedly in a much larger field. His poll numbers put him tied for the lead so far, but they aren't moving.

Elsewhere in the field, Joe Biden is slowly fading here. Elizabeth Warren's cadre admires her, but it feels as if she has lost the moment. Klobuchar, who was endorsed by the largest paper in the state, the conservative Union-Leader, is liked by many - especially independents and Republicans - but is having a hard time finding a path in the same lane as Pete.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Sen. Collins says retribution after impeachment acquittal would not be appropriate (ERIC RUSSELL, 2/07/20, Press Herald)

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, appearing in Maine for the first time since her vote not to impeach President Trump, said Friday that she disapproves of retribution against anyone who came forward with evidence during the process.

Trump is expected to fire Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide who testified against him during the House impeachment inquiry, the Washington Post reported Friday. He also has hinted, as have some supporters, that there should be payback against some of his critics.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Disney Didn't Just Buy 'Hamilton' for $75 Million; It Bought a Potential Franchise (Chris Lindahl, Feb 4, 2020, Indie Wire)

After Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical "Hamilton" opened in New York in 2015, getting your hands on tickets became a near-impossible feat. It went on to gross $500 million, won 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, and was staged for three US tours, a production in London's West End, and one in Chicago. Then there were the albums, remixed songs featuring the likes of Barack Obama, and the endless media coverage.

The modern retelling of founding father Alexander Hamilton's life is a full-blown cultural phenomenon, one that has rolled out like a well-planned military campaign. The target? The hearts and minds of America, and the world, as part of that thing every studio executive wants: hilariously lucrative branded IP.

And that's why Disney, perhaps the most skillful tactician of milking cultural touchstones for profit, would pay such an enormous sum for the worldwide rights of a filmed version of the stage production. [...]

And like "Star Wars," there's theme park opportunities. Disneyland could extend the "Hamilton" franchise to its own Hall of Presidents, the animatronic exhibit at Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom inside the Walt Disney World Resort, in Orlando, Fla.

Can't wait to be able to go back to the Hall of Presidents again.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Trump's Jobs Record Is Weaker Than Everyone Thought (JORDAN WEISSMANN, FEB 07, 2020, Slate)

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest batch of employment numbers, along with its annual benchmark revisions adjusting its estimates from prior months. Before, the government believed that the U.S. had added 223,000 jobs per month in 2018, the year that the GOP's tax cuts and new, higher spending levels took effect. It has now lowered that estimate to 193,000 per month, a significant drop.

Here's how this changes the story of the past few years. Based on the old numbers, it looked like Trump had inherited a steady economy but gave hiring a boost in 2018 through some deficit-fueled stimulus. Based on the new numbers, it looks like he inherited a steadily growing economy and didn't do much at all. Trump's deficits likely juiced employment growth a bit, while his trade war likely undercut it. (The Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes probably muted growth in 2018 a bit too.) In the end, the economy has added fewer jobs in every year of his presidency than it did during Obama's final one. There never was much of a Trump bump.

the Obamaconomy is so strong ev en Donald couldn't screw it up.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Trump Voters Have Found a Democrat They Can Get Behind in New Hampshire (Tim Murphy, 2/07/20, MoJo)

About a half-hour before Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard's town hall here on Thursday, a guest at the Fireside Inn & Suites in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, ducked into the conference room to inquire about all the signs. When a volunteer filled him in, he sounded skeptical. "She's running for...president?"

Yes, and to hear some of the folks here tell it, she might even win.

A Nationalist and a cult member? What's not for Trumpbots to like?

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bannon Spreads Conspiracy Theories About Origin Of Coronavirus (Madeline Peltz, February 7, 2020, National Memo)

War Room: Pandemic launched on January 25 as a spin-off to War Room: Impeachment, Bannon's rapid response operation defending President Donald Trump during his Senate impeachment trial. Since the new show began, Bannon has repeatedly pushed the false narrative that the coronavirus was leaked from a covert biological weapons program at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which includes a secure research facility where scientists study highly contagious and infectious diseases.

The unfounded narrative that the coronavirus was engineered and leaked from the lab has been wholly rejected by experts, with The Washington Post labeling it a "fringe theory," PolitiFact calling the claim made in the G News article "false," and Foreign Policy describing it as "an outbreak of nonsense." Rutgers University professor of chemical biology Richard Ebright told the Post that "based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus."

Donald should be adding Soros soon.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Manhattan DA Vance's office will revisit murder of Malcolm X as new Netflix doc airs (JOHN ANNESE, 2/06/20, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

I believe it was Robert Daley, in his phenomenal Target Blue memoir, who implicated Farrakhan directly in the assassination.  Though he only admits contributing to the climate of hate that triggered it.

February 6, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Gulf at risk of oil wealth vanishing by 2034: IMF (New Arab, 7 February, 2020)

Energy-addicted Gulf states must undertake much deeper reforms or risk seeing their wealth drain away in 15 years as global demand for oil slides, the IMF warned Thursday.

"At the current fiscal stance, the region's financial wealth could be depleted by 2034," the International Monetary Fund said in a study on "the future of oil and fiscal sustainability" in the region.

The quicker we strip oil of value the sooner the petrostates have to liberalize. Tax dictatorship.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


House Democrats drowning GOP in money chase (ALLY MUTNICK, 02/06/2020, Politico)

House Democrats are clobbering their Republican challengers in the fundraising race, dramatically reducing the GOP's chances of winning back the majority.

The roughly four dozen most endangered House Democratic incumbents raised a collective $28.5 million in the last three months of 2019, a staggering total that is nearly twice the sum of all of their Republican challengers combined, according to a POLITICO review of the fundraising filings.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Trump's latest "visa ban" poses a threat--and an opportunity--to Nigeria's tech ecosystem (Yomi Kazeem, 2/04/20, Quartz)

While focused only on immigrant visas, the net impact of the newly issued restrictions is far-reaching, from splitting families to hobbling employment opportunities. But there is also the general sentiment that there will likely be increased scrutiny on non-immigrant visa applications by Nigerians--as anecdotal data already suggests.

And this presents a unique problem for Nigeria's fledgling tech ecosystem, industry insiders say.

"More than anything else, it's the kind of thing that sends the wrong signal to investors that are interested in Nigeria," says Seni Sulyman, vice president of global operations at Andela, the developer outsourcing firm which has raised around $180 million in funding mostly from US investors. Visa restrictions and the negative connotations they often imply "creates extra skepticism among people that might be interested but are not already involved," Sulyman says.

The visa restrictions come at a time when Nigeria's tech ecosystem has grown into being the continent's most dominant. Over the past decade, global tech companies including Google and Facebook have looked to deepen their roots in Africa's largest internet market. Nigeria is also increasingly bagging more startup funding--most of which has so far come from US-based venture funds--than any other African country. With the growing number of startup success stories over the past decade, renowned accelerator programs like Silicon Valley's Y Combinator have also become a lot more recipient of applications from Nigeria.

But increased scrutiny on non-immigrant visa applications could inadvertently impact progress on these fronts. "We were just starting to find our stride in terms of foreign venture capital funding and inclusion in all of these opportunities like accelerators and speaking engagements," says Odunayo Eweniyi, co-founder of PiggyBank and speaker at the World Bank fall meetings in Washington D.C. late last year. "I think it will certainly make it harder to take advantage of opportunities in the US. There's a lot of good being done here that needs outside attention and amplification, I'm worried about what this means for that," she tells Quartz.

Those fears are supported by recent data too. Last year, Nigeria recorded the largest global drop-off in visitors to the US.

What Donald means by successes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


The US has reportedly held up roughly $30 million in arms sales to Ukraine, and no one knows why (John Haltiwanger, 2/06/20, Business insider)

The US government has held up nearly $30 million in arms sales to Ukraine, in some cases for over a year, and the Ukrainian government wants its money back, according to a new report from BuzzFeed News. 

the Senate GOP having declared that it is fine for Donald to extort an ally to get election help, why wouldn't he do it?

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Republican governor says Trump 'shouldn't be in office' (Associated Press, February 6, 2020)

"If they'd taken more testimony, maybe they'd have had more information and maybe other senators would have acted appropriately," Scott said.

When pressed about whether he would have voted to remove the president, Scott noted he isn't a member of the Senate.

"I believe that the president abused his powers. It's hard, in some respects for me, because I'm not a supporter," Scott said. "I didn't vote for the president, and I don't believe that he should be in office."

It's no coincidence that all the most popular governors in America are Republicans. If Donald were one he'd win handily.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


41 scholars studied U.S. mass shootings and found that most shooters are not mentally ill  (ARIANNE COHEN, 2/06/20, 

The scholars' outlook is not upbeat. "Mass violence has become one of the most alarming and defining crime issues of the twenty-first century," write the editors. "Mass shootings have plagued our country, and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. There are, however, measures that we can take to limit the harm and damage." For instance:

Media needs to limit coverage. News stories encourage copycats.

Threat assessments work. When mental health, law, and legal experts work together to identify high-risk individuals in places such as schools, colleges, governments, and workplaces, it's successful. Put another way, usually someone (peer, family member, therapist, cop, gun shop owner, or similar) suspects ahead of time. This has not been widely adopted.

High-capacity firearms need to be limited. States that restrict large-capacity ammunition magazines have fewer mass deaths. The researchers suggest that magazine capacities should be no higher than 10 rounds, and older large-capacity weapons should be prohibited or heavily restricted.

Dangerous individuals need gun prohibitions. Close to half of recent mass shootings have been perpetrated by people who, legally, should have been prohibited from gun possession. Recent research and pilot programs show that the following protections are effective when enforced: universal background checks for gun buyers that include rigorous state and local screenings; restrictions for those under domestic violence restraining orders or convictions; and extreme-risk protection orders, which temporarily disarm high-risk people.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


New York Times stock soars to 15-year high after earnings beat, dividend hike and debts paid off (TOMI KILGORE, 2/06/20, Market Watch)
Shares of New York Times Co. vaulted toward a 15-year high Thursday, after the media company reported a fourth-quarter profit that was well above expectations, hiked its dividend by 20% and paid off all its debt.

The media company also boasted that it succeeded in doubling its digital revenue, a target set back in 2015, but did so a year earlier than its original goal.

The stock NYT, +12.87%  shot up 13% in active afternoon trading, which puts it on track for the best one-day performance since October 2009. Trading volume swelled to 4.6 million shares, compared with the full-day average over the past 30 days of about 1.3 million shares.

The stock, which is headed for the highest close since February 2005, has now run up 30% over the past 12 months, and has nearly tripled (up 190%) since the end of 2016. In comparison, the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.32% has gained 22% this year and rallied 49% since the end of 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Obama team's response to Russian election interference fell short, Senate report says (Karoun Demirjian and  Devlin Barrett , Feb. 6, 2020, washington Post)

A bipartisan report released Thursday by the Senate Intelligence Committee says that the Obama administration mounted an insufficient response to Russia's election interference in 2016, but that its failures were "understandable" because the government lacked information and had limited policy options at the time.

The panel recommended that the government develop specific responses to foreign influence campaigns to better safeguard against future incursions, and integrate those efforts across agencies and with the governments of other countries contending with Russian aggression. Its report also said the president must be more direct with the American public about the nature of such threats, and "separate himself or herself from political considerations" when handling these issues.

"These steps should include explicitly putting aside politics when addressing the American people on election threats and marshaling all the resources of the U.S. Government to effectively confront the threat," the report states.

Amen. While the UR's fastidiousness about the Vlad/Donald collusion became him, he should have made everything public regardless of partisan advantage.  The government ought not have knowledge that the citizenry does not.

Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


What the Spotify Acquisition of The Ringer Says About Online Media (ALEX SHEPHARD, February 6, 2020, New Republic)

Both Spotify and Simmons are insistent that nothing will change on the editorial side of the equation. Simmons tweeted that the site will remain the same "in every respect," while there are signs that Spotify intends to increase The Ringer's already sizable staff (the site, as of acquisition, has about 90 employees). Still, the deal highlights a fraught moment in online media, in which websites are increasingly moving further away from text.

Despite its significant editorial presence, The Ringer is, in many ways, an inversion of a traditional media company: It is a podcast company first and an editorial one second. The majority of its revenue comes from its 40 or so podcasts. Its website is visited by around three million visitors a month, but its podcast audience is more than ten times larger. And while the majority of its staff contributes to the website, the written work is really a sideline--a feeder system for The Ringer's diverse array of sports and pop culture podcasts.

Having a podcast empire is arguably the best way to fund an editorial company in 2020. Facebook and Google have destroyed the digital advertising market for publishers, forcing them to look for other sources of cash. Subscriptions and paywalls are always an option, of course, but reading ads from MeUndies and Caspar mattresses to millions of listeners is much easier and more lucrative, particularly for companies that aren't The New York Times. There's a reason why every major publication, legacy or digital-only, is investing heavily in podcasts, from the Times to Slate. (The New Republic launched its first podcast, The Politics of Everything, this week.)

Money isn't in text anymore. The pivot to video may have been a disastrous scam, costing thousands of media jobs. But the pivot to audio--led, it should be said, by The Ringer--has been a bonanza.

One suspects most folks who either commute or exercise regularly are listening to podcasts.  Here are a few favorites.  What are yours?

The Rewatchables (from The Ringer)

ACFmovie podcast (Titus Techera

EconTalk (hosted by economist Russ Roberts at The Library of Economics and Liberty)

On the Corner (from Pitcher List)

Fantasy Baseball Today Podcast (from CBS Sports)

Conversations (with Bill Kristol)

The Remnant (hosted by Jonah Goldberg)

Slow Burn (a Slate podcast about the Nixon and Clinton impeachments and then the East Coast West Coast rap feud)

Blood Red (a Liverpool FC podcast from the Liverpool Echo)

Football Weekly (EPL, mostly, podcast from The Guardian)

Bruins Beat (Boston Bruins coverage from CLNS media)

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


Neo-Nazi Terror Group The Base Linked to the War in Ukraine (Ben Makuch, Mack Lamoureux, and Zachary Kamel, Feb 6 2020,  VICE Canada)

After a string of sweeping indictments and arrests, court documents have illustrated how the neo-Nazi terror group The Base discussed derailing trains and plotted the assassinations of anti-fascist activists in the United States.

But the group also had international ambitions. The Base and its leader wanted to form concrete links between Ukrainian ultra-nationalist military units and the global neo-Nazi movement.

And one American connected to The Base had already traveled to the war-torn country in search of wartime experience, VICE has learned.

It's no coincidence that Donald and the Trumpbots hate Ukraine and support Vlad.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Evolution & Racism (John P. Slattery, February 4, 2020, Commonweal)

In the mid-nineteenth century, racist ideas pervaded the scientific, philosophical, and religious worlds. Atheists and religious alike owned enslaved people, as did prominent scientists, politicians, and philosophers. While revolutions raged in Europe, the industrial revolution brought remarkable advances in technology and wealth, largely on the backs of the enslaved. Into this social context Charles Darwin introduced his theory of "evolution by means of natural selection" in 1859.  [...]

"Eugenics" (Greek for "well bred") was given its name in 1883 by Darwin's cousin Francis Galton, the creator of the IQ test. Galton gained widespread support for eugenics by arguing, theologically, that eugenics was a proper application of the Gospel parable of the talents, while also arguing, culturally, that Darwin's idea of natural selection helped explain why white European men had conquered the world and were thus the most advanced examples of humanity. This intermingling of racism, science, philosophy, theology, and politics laid a terrible groundwork for mainstream scientific thought in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. For Galton and most of the educated elite, the program of eugenics would allow humans to do intentionally what nature does randomly: favoring the most biologically capable, the "fittest," and gradually ridding the world of the unfit. Between 1883 and 1939--the year World War II began--eugenic philosophies, theologies, and laws spread like wildfire.

Before the rise of Nazi Germany, the most potent application of eugenics was in the United States, whose ruling class held tightly to racism, xenophobia, and cultural progressivism. Eugenics in the United States included campaigns to encourage the reproduction of the fittest human specimens, celebrations of the fittest babies, and efforts to determine, via Galton's IQ test and other measures, the "most fit humans." But it also included forced-sterilization and anti-miscegenation laws, forced birth control, forced abortions, concentration camps, and unethical scientific experiments on black and other nonwhite communities.

Beyond the United States, eugenics played into the hands of powerful people with sinister agendas. In Canada and Mexico, anti-indigenous biases determined the nature of most eugenic laws. In South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi, anti-black and anti-indigenous racism motivated both sterilization and anti-miscegenation laws, as well as death camps. In most of Europe, as well as Russia, China, Iran, Australia, and New Zealand, the eugenics movement channeled long-established hostility to Jews, Africans, indigenous peoples, women, and immigrants.

In all these countries, including the United States, people with disabilities and the poor were among the first to be sterilized, silenced, or killed. Thousands of scientific experiments were performed on people against their wills, and countless laws inspired by eugenics were passed in the name of scientific progress. The genocidal actions of Nazi Germany and all German-controlled countries were uniquely horrific in their implementation of eugenic ideas, but Hitler's program was largely inspired by the language and laws of the American eugenics movement.

While eugenics spread so quickly because of its standing as an accepted application of a scientific theory, it's important to remember that Christians played a large role in the dissemination of eugenics. Galton and many others used explicitly theological language to argue for eugenics from the beginning. As Christine Rosen writes in Preaching Eugenics, "one of the largest standing committees of the American Eugenics Society [in the first three decades of the twentieth century] was the Committee on Cooperation with Clergymen." In fact, clergy of many religious traditions joined in the cause, writing, preaching, and lecturing widely in support of eugenics.

Anti-modernist Catholics were one notable exception to this. Together with fundamentalist Protestants, most Catholics opposed both evolution and eugenics.

The theory was a product of the domination of some people by others.  It needed intellectual justification.  

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


Trump's closest foreign ally Boris Johnson is distancing himself from the president who he says is 'failing to lead' (Adam Bienkov, 2/06/20, Business Insider)

In the wake of that election, Johnson and senior members of his administration have staged a series of public attacks on the president and threatened to cut back on the country's longstanding alliance with the United States.

The interventions appear to be part of a co-ordinated attempt to put distance between the prime minister and Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


Senate Majority Agrees Trump Is Guilty -- And Acquits Him Anyway (Josh Israel, February 6, 2020, National Memo)

In a floor speech on Monday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced she would vote to acquit Trump even though he had acted improperly. "It was wrong for President Trump to mention former Vice President Biden on that phone call, and it was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival," she said. [...]

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) called Trump's behavior "shameful and wrong," but said she would not vote to convict a man whose name is already on printed 2020 ballots.

In a New York Times opinion piece on Wednesday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) noted that for four months he has "consistently said that Mr. Trump's request for an investigation of Joe Biden and any effort to tie the release of military aid to investigations were improper and shouldn't have happened," but that he did not believe it warranted removal from office.

"It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in a statement last Thursday. "When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law."

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) endorsed Alexander's criticisms, saying, "Let me be clear: Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us." On Tuesday, he wrote that Trump's call with Ukraine's president was "was certainly not 'perfect'" and his delay of security aid "was wrong."

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a loyal Trump defender who has fiercely opposed impeachment, endorsed Alexander's remarks.

"Long story short, @SenatorAlexander most likely expressed the sentiments of the country as a whole as well as any single Senator possibly could," Graham tweeted last Friday, adding in another tweet, "To those who believe that all was 'perfect,' Senator Alexander made reasoned observations and conclusions based on the evidence before him. He called it as he saw it to be."

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Why Doctors Are Fighting Their Professional Organization Over Medicare for All (Danielle Carr, 2/06/20, the Nation)

Last month, two major physicians' groups dealt a one-two punch in the fight for Medicare for All. On January 20, the 159,000-member American College of Physicians released a position paper arguing that a single-payer system or one with a robust public option would improve patient care and reduce costs. The next day, more than 2,000 doctors organized through Physicians for a National Health Program published a full-page letter in The New York Times prescribing Medicare for All for the nation.

Together, the actions signal the increasing militancy of doctors who no longer feel represented by the largest professional society in their field, the American Medical Association. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


Have humans evolved beyond nature - and do we even need it? (Manuel Berdoy, 2/06/20, the Conversation)

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


Trump Courts Black Voters, But Opposition Remains Deep (Associated Press, February 06, 2020)

But recent polls paint a bleak picture for Trump with black voters.

A Washington Post-Ipsos poll of 1,088 African Americans showed that more than 8 in 10 say they believe Trump is a racist and has made racism a bigger problem in the country. Nine in 10 blacks disapprove of his job performance, overall.

A Pew Research Center analysis of people who participated in its polls and were confirmed to have voted showed Trump won just 6% of black voters in 2016.

Trump's public denouncement of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other professional athletes who knelt during the national anthem in protest of police violence against African Americans did little to endear him to black voters. Neither did Trump's professions that there was "blame on both sides" following a 2017 clash between white nationalist demonstrators and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The stakes are especially high in Detroit. The city is 80% African American and in a traditionally blue state, Michigan, that Trump won in 2016 by 10,704 votes. Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes and Pennsylvania by about 44,000 votes, two other states that typically vote Democrat in national elections and where black turnout will be key.

Ninety-six percent of the city's registered voters cast ballots for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, but turnout was down in Detroit. It fell to 48% from 53% eight years earlier when Barack Obama won the presidency.

"People vote when they're passionate," said City Clerk Janice Winfrey. "People were passionate for Obama. And -- maybe not for the same reason -- they're passionate about Trump. And people are pretty mad." [...]

They are also frustrated by the racial climate under Trump, the toll of climate change on their neighborhoods and even Trump's past words and deeds before he became president.

Brown cites Trump's stance on the so-called Central Park Five in the 1980s, when five black and Latino teenagers were charged in the rape of a white jogger in New York's Central Park. That attack became a symbol of the city's soaring crime. Then-real estate developer Donald Trump took out full-page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty.

The teens said their confessions were coerced, and their convictions were overturned in 2002 after a convicted murderer and serial rapist confessed to the crime.

"He wanted 15-year-old boys murdered even though they were innocent," she said. "I don't think he's changed much."

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Two cheers for the dematerialising economy (Tim Harford, 2/05/20, Undercover Economist)

So the prospect of a doubling of world GDP matters, not for its own sake, but for what it implies -- an expansion of human flourishing, and the risk of environmental disaster. So here's the good news: we might be able to enjoy all the good stuff while avoiding the unsustainable environmental impact. The link between economic activity and the use of material resources is not as obvious as one might think. There are several reasons for this.

The first is that for all our seemingly insatiable desires, sometimes enough is enough. If you live in a cold house for lack of money, a pay rise lets you take off the extra cardigan and turn up the radiators. But if you win the lottery, you are not going to celebrate by roasting yourself alive.

The second is that, while free enterprise may care little for the planet, it is always on the lookout for ways to save money. As long as energy, land and materials remain costly, we'll develop ways to use less. Aluminium beer cans weighed 85 grammes when introduced in the late 1950s. They now weigh less than 13 grammes.

The third reason is a switch to digital products -- a fact highlighted back in 1997 by Diane Coyle in her book The Weightless World [pdf]. The trend has only continued since then. My music collection used to require a wall full of shelves. It is now on a network drive the size of a large hardback book. My phone contains the equivalent of a rucksack full of equipment.

Dematerialisation is not automatic, of course. As Vaclav Smil calculates in his new book, Growth, US houses are more than twice as large today as in 1950. The US's bestselling vehicle in 2018, the Ford F-150, weighs almost four times as much as 1908's bestseller, the Model T. Let's not even talk about the number of cars; Mr Smil reckons the global mass of automobiles sold has increased 2,500-fold over the past century.

Still, there is reason for hope. Chris Goodall's research paper "Peak Stuff" concluded that, in the UK, "both the weight of goods entering the economy and the amounts finally ending up as waste probably began to fall from sometime between 2001 and 2003". That figure includes the impact of imported goods.

In the US, Jesse Ausubel's article "The Return of Nature" found falling consumption of commodities such as iron ore, aluminium, copper, steel, and paper and many others. Agricultural land has become so productive that some of it is being allowed to return to nature.

In the EU, carbon dioxide emissions fell 22 per cent between 1990 and 2017, despite the economy growing by 58 per cent. Only some of this fall is explained by the offshoring of production. 

We can hasten the process and radically boost savings and investment by switching to 100% consumption taxes.
Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Europe Needs a DARPA (DALIA MARIN, 2/06/20, Project Syndicate)

In short, Germany needs an industrial revival of the sort it experienced in the late nineteenth century, when companies such as Daimler, Bayer, BASF, and Allianz emerged. But this will be possible only if the state offers technological backing to German firms. Here, the United States government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with its successful decades-long track record of high-tech innovations, should serve as a model for Germany and Europe to follow.

As the economist Mariana Mazzucato has pointed out, DARPA and other US government agencies have been instrumental in developing new technologies such as the Internet, GPS navigation, touchscreen displays, and voice-activated assistants such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. Without these state-backed research successes, today's US tech giants would not exist.

DARPA also buys innovations. For example, robotics company Boston Dynamics - which was spun off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, subsequently acquired by Google, and now owned by Japan's SoftBank Group - won a tender in 2013 to deliver robotic systems for the next DARPA Robotics Challenge. Under this contract, the company will deliver a range of autonomous humanoid Atlas robots that can be used in the event of natural disasters.

The US government thus plays an important role in shaping innovation. China, Israel, and South Korea have similar ecosystems of state-led research support geared toward military and intelligence applications, which helps to explain why they, too, have become world leaders in digital innovation.

A recent study of OECD economies by Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley, and MIT's Claudia Steinwender and John Van Reenen supports this anecdotal evidence. The authors investigate the impact of government-funded military research spending on privately funded corporate research activity, and its effect on productivity growth. In contrast to the "crowding out" of private investment that usually accompanies increased public investment, they find evidence of a "crowding in" of private research expenditure. Specifically, a 10% increase in publicly funded research spending generates an additional 4.3% increase in privately funded research. They conclude from this that the low level of private research spending observed in some OECD economies is also related to the lack of military-related research in these countries.

The clear implication is that Europe needs a European research agency with a budget similar to that of DARPA in order to keep pace with intensifying global technological competition. 

Ms Mazzucato is one of the few guests ever to leave Russ Roberts at a comlete loss on EconTalk.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


These are turbulent times. But we will persist and prevail. (Marie L. Yovanovitch, Feb. 6, 2020, Washington Post)

When civil servants in the current administration saw senior officials taking actions they considered deeply wrong in regard to the nation of Ukraine, they refused to take part. When Congress asked us to testify about those activities, my colleagues and I did not hesitate, even in the face of administration efforts to silence us.

We did this because it is the American way to speak up about wrongdoing. I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened with punishment or death. We must not allow the United States to become a country where standing up to our government is a dangerous act. It has been shocking to experience the storm of criticism, lies and malicious conspiracies that have preceded and followed my public testimony, but I have no regrets. I did -- we did -- what our conscience called us to do. We did what the gift of U.S. citizenship requires us to do.

Unfortunately, the last year has shown that we need to fight for our democracy. "Freedom is not free" is a pithy phrase that usually refers to the sacrifices of our military against external threats. It turns out that same slogan can be applied to challenges which are closer to home. We need to stand up for our values, defend our institutions, participate in civil society and support a free press. Every citizen doesn't need to do everything, but each one of us can do one thing. And every day, I see American citizens around me doing just that: reanimating the Constitution and the values it represents. We do this even when the odds seem against us, even when wrongdoers seem to be rewarded, because it is the right thing to do.

I had always thought that our institutions would forever protect us against individual transgressors. But it turns out that our institutions need us as much as we need them; they need the American people to protect them or they will be hollowed out over time, unable to serve and protect our country.

The State Department is filled with individuals of integrity and professionalism. They advance U.S. interests every day -- whether they are repatriating Americans vulnerable to a pandemic, reporting on civil unrest, negotiating military basing rights or helping a U.S. company navigate a foreign country. As new powers rise, alliances fray, and transnational threats require international solutions, our diplomats are more than ready to address these challenges.

But our public servants need responsible and ethical political leadership. This administration, through acts of omission and commission, has undermined our democratic institutions, making the public question the truth and leaving public servants without the support and example of ethical behavior that they need to do their jobs and advance U.S. interests.

The Right/Left hates our institutions precisely because they guard us against their ideologies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Report Finds At Least 138 Killed After Deportation From U.S. to El Salvador (ELLIOT HANNON, FEB 06, 2020, Slate)

The cost of President Trump's blinkered and punitive American immigration policy isn't just measured in dollars or dignity, it's costing people their lives. We, of course, already knew that to be true, but a new report from Human Rights Watch adds new data to help articulate the literal human cost of America's increasingly restrictive immigration stance--one that has all but eliminated migrants' right to asylum. The NGO's investigation into the fate of deported El Salvadoran migrants, forced to return to the country they fled, found that at least 138 El Salvadorans--and likely many, many more--were killed shortly after being deported.

Every dead Latino is a victory for Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


When Larry meets Greta... business better beware (PIERRE BRIANÇON, 2/06/20, MarketWatch)
Siemens has just discovered that it is hard to beat the formidable alliance of climate activists and sustainable investors.

The German engineering conglomerate had been criticized in recent months for having signed a rail-signaling contract for an Australian coal-mining project. Now it has been rebuked by its largest investor, BlackRock, who says that the contract made it "clear that [Siemens] requires a more thorough review of the potential risks, including ESG [environmental, social and governance] risks, presented by future projects."

Climate activist Greta Thunberg's "Fridays for Future" movement had already staged demonstrations in several cities to demand Siemens SIE, -0.73%  withdraw from the deal. But BlackRock's BLK, +1.54%  public scolding of a beacon of German industry clearly shows how careful chief executives should be when dealing with climate change concerns. It will not just be about government regulation, carbon taxes or penalties. Companies will find themselves in the crossfire of protesters and investors.

Why game developers are giving up on guns (SAMUEL HORTI, 2/05/20, New Statesman)

He may not be a household name, but Alex Hutchinson was behind some of the most popular entertainment products of the last decade. The two games of which he was the director - Assassin's Creed III, the story of a Native American assassin in the 18th century, and Far Cry 4, an explosive shooter inspired by the Nepalese Civil War - have jointly sold more than 20 million copies. But last year, Hutchinson told me he'd "made enough games about murdering".

Hutchinson is not alone. Developers from across the games industry have told me of their appetite to make games that are less violent. None have suggested that combat in games will, or should, disappear - "if I'm running a crime organisation, I expect to have a gun", says Hutchinson - but there's a growing sense that by eschewing violence, videogames can tell richer stories to their huge and growing audience.

Worldwide, the video gaming industry is worth roughly as much as the film and music industries combined; it is estimated that more than two billion people play. Developers, however, still talk about their medium as one that is finding its feet. Rami Ismail, co-founder of the independent Dutch games studio Vlambeer, says violence is partly a relic of early game development; pointing and shooting was the easiest mechanic to base a game around, and game-making tools grew up around this basic principle.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Rep. Matt Gaetz demands criminal probe of Pelosi for mutilating Trump speech. 'This is cute,' responds Laura Ingraham. (Fred Barbash, Feb. 6, 2020, Washington Post)

It fell to a Fox News host on Wednesday to inform an excited Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) that no, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can't be prosecuted and sent to prison or fined for ripping up a copy of President Trump's State of the Union address.

This, after Gaetz called for a House Ethics Committee investigation of Pelosi and a referral of her action to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. Gaetz cited a law that makes it a crime for anyone having custody of certain federal records to mutilate, obliterate or destroy them.

"There is no question that Speaker Pelosi 'mutilated, obliterated, or destroyed' the copy of the President's address provided to her," said a letter to the House Ethics Committee signed by Gaetz, a staunch and sometimes boisterous defender of Trump.

"The video evidence is clear and abundant, and the Speaker herself told reporters that she tore up the document," the letter said.

The Speaker deftly made this all that will be remembered of the speech.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM

February 5, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 PM


The Downfall of the Republican Party (Peter Wehner, 2/02/20, The Atlantic)

In 1991, when Václav Havel received the Sonning Prize for contributions to European civilization, he spoke about those "who are starting to lose their battle with the temptations of power." It is an insidious thing, Havel warned, to become captive to the perks of power. Politicians, he said, soon learn how easy it is to justify staying in power even as they give up bits of their soul in the process. It is easier than they think, he said, to get "morally tainted."

"Politics is an area of human endeavor that places greater stress on moral sensitivity," Havel concluded, "on the ability to reflect critically on oneself, on genuine responsibility, on taste and tact, on the capacity to empathize with others, on a sense of moderation, on humility. It is a job for modest people, for people who cannot be deceived."

To see men and women who in other spheres of their lives are admirable, who got into politics because they believed it was a noble profession and had a positive vision for the Republican Party, beaten down and broken by Trump is a poignant thing. Their weakness and servility, their vassalage to such a fundamentally corrupt man, is dispiriting to those of us who not only lament the injury Trump is inflicting on the nation as a whole but who still care about the Republican Party and worry that conservatism is in the process of being subsumed into angry, ethnic populism.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 PM


Rust Belt residents aren't as enthusiastic about fracking as the media depicts: A new poll finds Pennsylvania voters think the environmental risks of drilling outweigh the economic benefits (NICOLE KARLIS, FEBRUARY 6, 2020, Salon)

When asked if they believed that the potential economic benefits of natural gas drilling outweigh the possible environmental damage that drilling might cause, or if the potential environmental risks of drilling outweigh the potential economic benefits, 49 percent agreed with the latter. Thirty-eight percent believe that the economic benefits of drilling outweigh the environmental ones.

When asked if respondents would favor or oppose a ban on fracking in Pennsylvania, 32 percent said they would "strongly favor" a ban, and 16 percent said they would "somewhat favor" one. Interestingly, 21 percent said they would "somewhat oppose" a ban, while only 18 percent said they would "strongly oppose" a ban.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 PM


FBI Director: 2019 'Deadliest' Year for Domestic Terrorism (Masood Farivar February 05, 2020, VOA)

 According to the FBI, domestic violent extremists killed 39 people in five separate attacks during fiscal 2019. That compares with four victims in four extremist attacks during fiscal 2018. 

In the deadliest attack on Latinos in American history, a 21-year-old white supremacist last August killed 22 people and injured 24 others at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.  In April, another white extremist went on a shooting rampage at a synagogue in Poway, California, killing one worshipper and injuring three others.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Santorum finished 34 votes ahead of Romney in new Iowa tally; votes from 8 precincts missing (David A. Fahrenthold and Debbi Wilgoren, January 19, 2012, Washington Post)

Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses Thursday -- 16 days after the last vote was cast -- when the state Republican Party said a final count showed him 34 votes ahead of Mitt Romney.

That was a shift from the preliminary results the party announced after the Jan. 3 caucuses, which showed the former Massachusetts governor winning Iowa by eight votes. Iowa Republican leaders said that they had still not received results from eight of the state's 1,774 precincts.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How this Danish energy company is transitioning from oil and gas to all renewables (ADELE PETERS, 2/05/20, Co.Exist)

A decade ago, the largest energy company in Denmark based its business on fossil fuels and was responsible for a third of the country's carbon footprint. The company has since changed its name--from Danish Oil and Natural Gas (yes, that's DONG) to Ørsted, named after a Danish scientist--and is now among the largest renewable energy companies in the world. By 2025, it plans to be carbon neutral, making it the first major energy company in the world to reach that goal.

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Vietnam Goes Big on Solar Power (VOA News, February 05, 2020)

By the end of last year Vietnam had surpassed Malaysia and Thailand to reach the largest installed capacity of solar power in Southeast Asia, with 44% of the total capacity, according to figures from Wood Mackenzie, a firm that sells consulting services in the energy industry.

The figures show that Vietnam is serious about solar power, an issue that had been up for debate for years. Solar supporters were encouraged to see the government offer a high feed in tariff (FIT), a fee pioneered in Germany to let solar panel owners sell power to the grid. This helped push Vietnam to reach 5.5 gigawatts of solar capacity last year.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


February 4, 2020

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Buttigieg Leading Iowa Caucus with 62 Percent of Results Reported (MAIREAD MCARDLE, February 4, 2020, National Review)

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg holds a slight lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses with 62 percent of precincts reporting, after the state Democratic Party released partial results Tuesday afternoon following an unprecedented delay. [...]

"We don't know all the results," Buttigieg told supporters in his speech claiming a win. "But we know, by the time it's all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation, because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious."

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM

NO MO (profanity alert):

Iowa Might Have Screwed Up The Whole Nomination Process (Nate Silver, 2/04/20, 538)

Everything was a little weird in Iowa this year, however. And there were already some signs that the Iowa bounce -- which essentially results from all the favorable media coverage that winning candidates get -- might be smaller than normal. Iowa was bracketed by an extremely busy news calendar: President Trump's impeachment trial both before and after the caucuses, the Super Bowl on Sunday, the State of the Union address on Tuesday. There was not the usual climactic uptick in media coverage around Iowa. From initial indications -- to the extent any information at all is reliable at this point -- Democratic turnout there wound up being fairly low.

But we weren't prepared for what actually happened, which is that -- as I'm writing this at 3:15 a.m. on Tuesday -- the Iowa Democratic Party literally hasn't released any results from its caucuses. I'm not going to predict what those numbers will eventually be, although early indications are that Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and perhaps Elizabeth Warren had good results. The point is that the lead story around the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses is now -- and will forever be -- the colossal [***}show around the failure to release results in a timely fashion.

Maybe there will eventually be a decent-sized Iowa bounce despite all of this. But there's a good chance that the candidates who did well in Iowa get screwed, and the candidates who did poorly there get a mulligan. To repeat: There's very little importance in a mathematical sense to who wins 41 delegates. Iowa is all about the media narrative it produces and all about momentum, and that momentum, whoever wins, is likely to have been blunted.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


I used to cover Republicans who are cowering to Trump. I don't recognize them now. (Jill Lawrence, 2/04/20, USA TODAY)

Who would be more perfect for the moment than a man who had taken over a state amid a gubernatorial pardon-selling scandal so serious that he was sworn in three days early in a secret 1979 ceremony, to cut short outgoing Gov. Ray Blanton's corruption spree? So sensational they made a movie about it, called "Marie," in which a lawyer (and future senator) named Fred Thompson played himself? The obvious narrative was that Alexander knew how to restore trust in government -- he had already done it in Tennessee.

Alexander never became president, but in 2002, he was elected to his first of three terms in the Senate. He was known in Washington for pragmatic bipartisanship -- a senator who quit leadership in 2011 so he could work across the aisle more often, and who made good on that most recently in partnership with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on education and health policy.

Now Alexander's just another Republican cowering at the prospect of crossing President Donald Trump, one of the many people I don't recognize despite having covered and followed them for years or even decades.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is another. We first met on Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, when Graham and Thompson were all in with the McCain brand of "straight talk," rebellious independence and cross-party relationships.

There's also Florida's Marco Rubio, who was instrumental (with Graham) in getting a landmark bipartisan immigration bill through the Senate in 2013. Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, whose primary loss to a Tea Party candidate in 2010, and subsequent win as a write-in candidate, should have meant she'd never owe her party anything, and who played key roles in bipartisan negotiations I wrote about in "The Art of the Political Deal." There's even Susan Collins, who with her moderate Maine colleague Olympia Snowe was so notorious in conservative circles for occasionally going her own way, she evinced disgust from an Arizonan fed up with both McCain and "those two women who vote with the Democrats all the time."

Feeling like a jilted lover:Trump impeachment inspired the Senate I loved to commit institutional suicide

These politicians are now strangers to me. Their whole party is untethered -- not just from reality and its own history, but also from the Constitution itself.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


The Panic Over Chinese People Doesn't Come From Coronavirus (JANE C. HU, FEB 04, 2020, Slate)

As of Tuesday afternoon, only 11 people in the U.S. have been confirmed to have the virus, but Asian Americans across the country are reporting racist jokes ("They say we eat dogs," one Boston student told the Boston Globe) and being shunned (Asian Arizona State University students say white classmates have avoided them). Asians in the U.K. and Australia have described similar treatment, despite only a handful of few cases in each country, and in Canada, where there have been four confirmed cases of the virus, Toronto mayor John Tory went as far as to formally discourage racism against Chinese Canadians. And the profiling isn't limited to countries in which Asians are minorities: In Seoul, stores are posting "No Chinese allowed" signs; airlines are cancelling flights to mainland China. This level of panic befits a global pandemic, but so far, the Wuhan coronavirus has yet to reach that point. Outside of China, there have been fewer than 170 reported cases of the virus, and many of those infected have shown mild symptoms similar to the average flu, and have recovered at home.

Perhaps the most telling incident occurred last week at the University of California at Berkeley. Its student health center posted a list to Instagram of "normal" reactions to coronavirus including anxiety, hypervigilance, and xenophobia, which it defined as "fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about those feelings." After alumni complained that the post normalized racism, the university deleted the post and tweeted an apology. Nonetheless, the post makes explicit what has largely remained implicit: that because the Asians you encounter in your day to day are somehow more likely to be carrying the disease, it's reasonable to avoid them.

It's easy to read these incidents as the product of a knee-jerk fear and ignorance. But that fear isn't merely instinctive--it's acculturated. "There's a long history of thinking of Asians as disease carriers that's at least 200 years old," says Jason Oliver Chang, an associate professor of history and Asian American studies at the University of Connecticut. "People don't have to know that they've learned this racial story; it's already a part of how you react, and it shows how pervasive it is in our popular culture."

That belief started in the 1800s, as colonial powers conscripted Chinese laborers into the coolie trade. These laborers were typically living in cramped, unsanitary conditions without access to medical care, an environment ripe for disease. When outbreaks inevitably struck in coolie camps or on boats carrying laborers, local communities grew paranoid and associated the Chinese workers with disease. "It's always been a part of the racial fiction, the racial story that people tell about Asians in the 19th century: that they're the bad apples, the diseases are the result of bad food, bad culture--that it's an outcome of being racially inferior," says Chang. That stereotype can still be found in the current discourse around the Wuhan coronavirus: that the Chinese brought the disease upon themselves by eating the "weird" animals where the virus originated.

It wasn't long after the arrival of Chinese workers that the narrative of Chinese as disease carriers began to be deployed as a political device to justify Asian exclusion. Being clear about who was "out" also served to define who was "in." Marginalized communities like Irish Americans used anti-Chinese sentiment to align themselves with white communities in power. During the 1900s San Francisco outbreak of bubonic plague and the more recent 2003 Toronto SARS outbreak, people shunned city Chinatowns, leaving local businesses in dire straits. Chang, who has studied anti-Chinese racism in Mexico, says that some Mexican states chose to pass laws against Chinese immigration in the early 1900s, even though there were few Chinese residents at the time. "That shows it's not actually about [Chinese people] or the presence of them, but what the politics affords," he says. "Anti-Chinese politics is flexible."

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'Then why didn't you stay in Mexico?': A Latino dad was interrupted by a white man at meeting about racism in schools (Teo Armus, Feb. 4, 2020, Washington Post)

Adrian Iraola and his family are all too familiar with the ugly sentiments that have come their way since he immigrated to the United States four decades ago.

On Monday, he was telling a crowd of parents in Saline, Mich., about the harm these kinds of remarks had inflicted on his son yet again -- how classmates' taunts of "taco," "enchilada" and "dirty Mexican" had left the high schooler in tears.

"I went to his bedroom to say good night," Iraola said, turning to an audience that had been discussing diversity and inclusion in schools. "He was crying because of the abuse that he was enduring in this school system."

Suddenly, the man behind him interjected.

"Then why didn't you stay in Mexico?" he asked.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


George Steiner, influential culture critic, dies aged 90: The multilingual scholar was renowned for broadening English readers' horizons and for his passionate moral engagement (Alison Flood,  4 Feb 2020, The Guardian)

He became a US citizen in 1944, going on to study at the Sorbonne, the University of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford, before working for the Economist as a leader writer. When he was sent to interview J Robert Oppenheimer at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, he accepted a job there, spending two years at the university before taking on his role at Churchill College in Cambridge. He was also a prolific reviewer.

"He was an extraordinary figure. He was a critic in the Coleridge sense, not the Johnson sense. And he was a terrific performer," said McCrum. "I used to go to his lectures in Cambridge and they were sellouts, with applause at the end. We were all completely in his thrall. The performance was staggering."

In Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, Steiner wrote: "Great works of art pass through us like storm winds, flinging open the doors of perception, pressing upon the architecture of our beliefs with their transforming powers ... We seek to record their impact, to put our shaken house in its new order. Through some primary instinct of communion we seek to convey to others the quality and force of our experience. We would persuade them to lay themselves open to it. In this attempt at persuasion originate the truest insights criticism can afford."

Steiner was at times a controversial figure, drawing criticism for what some saw as elitism, others a lack of depth. As the critic Lee Siegel wrote for the New York Times in 2009, "his bracing virtue has been his ability to move from Pythagoras, through Aristotle and Dante, to Nietzsche and Tolstoy in a single paragraph," while "his irritating vice has been that he can move from Pythagoras, through Aristotle and Dante, to Nietzsche and Tolstoy in a single paragraph".

Steiner was criticised, in his own words, for being "a generalist spread far too thin in an age when this is not done any more, when responsible knowledge is specialised knowledge".

As for charges of elitism, he brushed them away, telling the Guardian in 2001: "To be part of an elite means loving passionately and not negotiating your passions. If that's elitism, I plead guilty."

We enjoyed his account of Fischer v. Spassky.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


In Iowa entrance poll, Buttigieg shows broad-based appeal (Gary Langer, February 4, 2020, ABC News)

Broad-based appeal lifted former South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa Democratic caucuses while younger participants, strong liberals and issue-focused voters pulled for Sen. Bernie Sanders. Former Vice President Joe Biden ran well among seniors in the ABC News entrance poll, but struggled mightily in some key groups, including those focused on electability.

The entrance poll results - reflecting initial preferences rather than the final outcome of the caucuses - represented a boost for Buttigieg while marking challenges facing Biden.

In a telling result, participants by a broad 61-37% said they'd rather see the party nominate the candidate with the best chance of winning in November than the one who "agrees with you on major issues." But Biden, who's campaigned on his ability to win, only split electability voters with Buttigieg.

But can he motivate black voters?

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Shays' Rebellion of 1786 (Robert Longley, October 30, 2018, Thought.co)

Shays' Rebellion was a series of violent protests staged during 1786 and 1787 by a group of American farmers who objected to the way state and local tax collections were being enforced. While skirmishes broke out from New Hampshire to South Carolina, the most serious acts of the rebellion occurred in rural Massachusetts, where years of poor harvests, depressed commodity prices, and high taxes had left farmers facing the loss of their farms or even imprisonment. The rebellion is named for its leader, Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays of Massachusetts.

Although it never posed a serious threat to the still loosely organized post-war United States federal government, Shays' Rebellion drew lawmakers' attention to serious weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and was frequently cited in the debates leading to the framing and ratification of the Constitution.

The threat posed by Shays' Rebellion helped persuade retired General George Washington to reenter public service, leading to his two terms as the first President of the United States.

The Founding is about securing a republic, not about freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The death of Iowa (TIM ALBERTA, 02/04/2020, Politico)

The disaster that unfolded here Monday night--improper recording of results, failed transmission of precinct tallies, botched management of the voting procedures themselves--will leave no recourse for the national parties. Iowa's blood has been in the water for years, its sacred-cow status a source of resentment for states like Florida and Michigan that claim to be more representative of the nation. Iowa has survived, cycle after cycle, on the strength of strategic alliances, none more critical than between the Democratic and Republican parties in the state, each one recognizing that one's failure could doom the tradition clung to by both.

There have been close calls before, but nothing approaching the catastrophe of Feb. 3, a date that will be remembered as the beginning of Iowa's end after a nearly half-century-long run kicking off the presidential primary process. As it became clear in the twilight hours of Monday that Democrats would not produce timely, trustworthy numbers by which to judge the candidates after two years of campaigning in the state, it was equally obvious that Iowa's day of reckoning had arrived.

"This will probably be the last caucus we'll have to worry about," David Yepsen, the longtime Des Moines Register scribe and dean of the Iowa press corps, wrote on Twitter.

With the rise of a Democrat in the GOP primaries and a Socialist in the Democrat, it's an ideal time for the parties to take back control of their own processes.  Dictate when each state can go and only seat delegates chosen according to approved party primaries.  The national parties need to be restored to power.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Pete Buttigieg declares VICTORY in Iowa amid Democratic vote fiasco (GEOFF EARLE and NIKKI SCHWAB, 4 February 2020, Daily Mail)

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg declared himself the winner in Iowa after technical glitches and snafus prevented the state party from announcing any caucus results Monday night.

Buttigieg, who was hoping to get a boost out of the nation's first caucus state to drive past more seasoned rivals, went beyond any of the other Democratic presidential contenders his his caucus-night speech.

'We don't know all of the results. But we do know that by the time it's all said and done, Iowa: you have shocked the nation. Because by all indications we are going on to New Hampshire victorious,' Buttigieg told cheering supporters - in the kind of statement that might ordinarily follow a strong measure of public information.

February 3, 2020

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The Palestinians will demand Israeli citizenship (Dan Perry, FEB 2, 2020, Times of Israel)

What is essential to Israel surviving is a separation from the Palestinians executed in a manner that minimizes security risks and allows the Palestinians enough independence, prosperity and dignity to calm them down. It might also enable all but the most extreme elements in the Arab world to accommodate themselves to Israel's existence; this is real long-term security for Israel.

The Trump proposal can achieve neither peace nor any such accommodation. It rather drags Israel closer to a future in which it is replaced by a binational entity that will initially not be democratic, ultimately not be Jewish, and never know a day of peace.

That is because the proposal does not create separation between Israel and the Palestinians. Rather, by allowing Israel to annex all the settlements, it creates a single-state dynamic and leads to single-state reality.

To be fair, Donald mapped the Bantustans for them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Sanders and Trump: Striking Similarities (SHAY KHATIRI  FEBRUARY 2, 2020, The Bulwark)

Both Sanders and Trump have affection for totalitarian dictators.

Both are into conspiracy theories.

Both despise American intelligence officers.

Both have spoken of their desire to end "the endless wars."

Both want to cut support for America's democratic allies.

And both demonize immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Amtrak's Downeaster breaks ridership records in 2019 (seacoastonline.com, 2/02/20)

A regional rail service that carries passengers from Maine to Boston broke its ridership record in 2019, when it attracted more than 570,000 passengers.

Amtrak Downeaster had 574,404 passengers last year, up nearly 8% from the previous year, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said on Friday. The service's previous record was a little less than 550,000, and it was set in 2017.

The month of August included the highest ridership in the history of the Downeaster, which started running in 2001, said Natalie Bogart, marketing director for the rail authority. The authority said the growth in ridership was due in part to increased frequency to Freeport and Brunswick, which are at the northern end of the line.

Passenger service between Boston, Exeter and Portland had ceased in 1965 as the popularity of the automobile surged.

The Downeaster runs from Brunswick to North Station in Boston, with stops along the way in Portland, Old Orchard Beach and other popular destinations in southern Maine and New Hampshire. Its ridership grew at record levels in nine of 12 months in 2019, the rail authority said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Liberman helped hundreds of ultra-Orthodox obtain military exemptions -- report (Times of Israel, 2/03/20)

Avigdor Liberman has become the biggest critic of the ultra-Orthodox political establishment since he refused last year to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, citing insurmountable differences with the Haredi parties.

Liberman's subsequent election campaigns have included strong, relentless criticism of the ultra-Orthodox and their elected politicians.

The disagreement has focused primarily on a bill regulating the draft of ultra-Orthodox men to the army -- Liberman demands that more seminary students be compelled to enlist, denouncing much of the Haredi community as "draft dodgers," while the ultra-Orthodox parties demand that a law that partially passed in the Knesset several years ago face significant revisions before being advanced further.

But an exposé published Monday indicates that while he was serving as defense minister between 2016 and 2018, Liberman's office generously granted exemptions from military service to many ultra-Orthodox men, primarily those with well-connected relatives.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Do the Iowa Democratic Caucuses Work? (MOLLY OLMSTEAD, FEB 03, 2020, Slate)

On Monday, 1,678 local gathering spots will be converted into caucus locations. Each candidate will be allowed one section of the gym, church, or library serving as the precinct. When the time comes, supporters will physically group themselves into the section belonging to their preferred candidate.

To be able to participate, registered Democrats will need to be lined up by 7 p.m (Iowans can also register with the party at the event itself). Doors open by 6:30, and each participant will be handed a "presidential preference card" that serves as a backup if a recount is needed. After local officials conduct some party business (representatives for the candidates may themselves be allowed to make speeches in a last-minute appeal to caucusgoers), the main event begins.

There are two rounds to the process. For the first, Iowans gather at the corner of the room representing their top candidate. As that happens, supporters are allowed to try to convince undecided voters to join them. Eventually, all participants will have settled into one of the camps or decided to hold off as an undecided voter.

Officials tally up the number of heads in each group. If a candidate has scored at least 15 percent of the room, that candidate is declared "viable" and made it to the second round. According to the new rules being implemented this year, the candidate's supporters are now locked in and unable to change their vote. This rule also creates an incentive not to hold back and wait to see how the first round plays out: If more than 15 percent of voters remain undecided, they become locked in with their undecided bloc, as well.

For the second round, those who committed to candidates who failed to reach that 15 percent threshold are released in a process known as realignment. They can choose to join an already viable candidate, try to win over other caucusgoers to make their preferred candidate viable, or withdraw from the process entirely. In previous years, multiple rounds of this process would follow, but under the new rules, the final result is sealed with this second round.

Each precinct is allocated a certain number of county delegates, based on the caucus turnout from previous election years. The final stage of the night involves electing those county delegates in proportion with the candidates' number of supporters.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New Christian-Muslim Political Alliances? (Paul Marshall, February 3, 2020, Providence)

The CDI's earlier incarnation was as the Christian Democrat International, a grouping founded in 1961 of Christian Democratic parties principally drawn from Europe and Latin America. It was established as a centrist or center-right alternative to the Socialist International and more conservative forces. Probably its most influential member is the German Christian Democratic Union, headed by Angela Merkel. The CDI's European division is the European People's Party (EPP), currently the largest political party in the European Parliament. The equivalent in Latin America is the Christian Democrat Organization of America. The Democratic Party in the US maintains links with CDI through the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

While the International was originally formed to study and enact Christian principles in politics, it attracted support from groups that were not Christian, so rechristened itself as "centrist." The vast majority of its members are still in the Christian Democrat camp, but it now has member parties from Algeria, Cambodia, Morocco, Senegal, and other countries. One recent addition to full membership in November 2018 was the National Awakening Party (PKB) from Indonesia.

Founded in 1999, the PKB is often described as an Islamic party, which is true but misleading. It is perhaps better described as a nationalist Muslim party that promotes inclusive and nationalist principles and upholds Indonesia's official state ideology of Pancasila. It has strong, if informal, connections to the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's and the world's largest Muslim organization. Its point person on relations with the CDI has been K.H. Yahya Cholil Staquf, general secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama and a member of Indonesia's Presidential Advisory Council. I have written previously about him in Providence.

Staquf continues to mince no words on the problems of terrorism in relation to Islam. Speaking on February 1, 2019, at a European Parliament joint meeting on "Innovative Approaches to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism," Staquf stated:

Islamist radicalism and terror continue to exert a strong appeal to many Muslims, because of the fact that these are directly linked to obsolete and problematic tenets within classical Islamic law (fiqh, often conflated with shari'ah), which Muslims generally regard as an authoritative source of religious guidance.

He urged his audience to "engage in frank discourse about these problematic tenets of Islamic orthodoxy, while encouraging Muslim religious authorities and Middle East governments to boldly acknowledge and reform them." In other meetings, he has criticized Western governments' tendency to ignore and even deny the obvious theological roots of violent and non-violent Islamist extremism.

The Reformation rolls on....
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


After Super Bowl, Trump congratulates wrong state (RISHIKA DUGYALA, 02/02/2020, Politico)

When President Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs, he initially expressed his pride for "the Great State of Kansas."

They should be flattered he knows they exist.

February 2, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


American Paganism: It's not what the Religious Right thinks it is. (David Albertson, January 30, 2020, Commonweal)

But there was at least one other account of paganism in the pages of First Things as Trump campaigned for the presidency--this time from Matthew Schmitz, an editor at the magazine. Over the summer of 2016, Schmitz displayed an admirable prescience while Christian conservatives were still hesitating to endorse the eventual Republican nominee. The "faith taught by Christ," he wrote, "is a religion of losers. To the weak and humble, it offers a stripped and humiliated Lord.... In Trump, it [Christian faith] has curdled into pagan disdain."

Schmitz's analyses from April and August of 2016 really must be considered at length, given where they were published. Take this representative passage:

At a campaign event in Iowa, Trump shocked the audience by saying that he had never asked God for forgiveness. All his other disturbing statements--his attacks on every vulnerable group--are made intelligible by this one.... Human frailty, dependency, and sinfulness cannot be acknowledged; they must be overcome. This opens up the possibility of great cruelty toward those who cannot wish themselves into being winners. A man who need not ask forgiveness need never forgive others. He does not realize his own weakness, and so he mocks and reviles every sign of weakness in his ­fellow men.

And here's another:

In his contempt for losers, he [Trump] embodies one of the most unchristian ideals ever advanced in American politics. With a unique consistency and vehemence, he expresses his hatred of weakness. He ridicules the disabled, attacks women, and defends abortionists. This is the opposite of Christianity, which puts the weak first and exalts every loser.... Liberalism, much as I hate it, has preserved this Christian inheritance. The GOP before Trump, despite all its contempt for the 47 percent, was leavened by the influence of sincere Christians and so was never so sneering. Trump is an altogether more pagan figure.

By 2019, however, in the wake of the midterm battles over immigration and the mythic "caravan" of refugees at the southern border, Schmitz joined others to cheer on the "new nationalism" that Trump promoted at his rallies. Within a few months, Schmitz had decided that Christianity and liberalism could never be reconciled, since modern society--wait for it--had become paganized. "The Church," he now saw, "is at odds with an increasingly pagan culture."

If there was an ancient paganism of sacred immanence, it was soon outstripped by the more radical immanence of Christians in their claims of an Incarnation, a Resurrection, and above all the enduring food of the Eucharist. In every Mass the priest washes his hands in imitation of the pagan Pilate, but now as an act of humility and celebration. The  Catholic repeats as her own the words of the pagan centurion--Lord, I am not worthy--but now as an intimate prayer on the threshold of Communion. That version of paganism was overtaken and dissolved from within by the Christian sacralization of the body. 

But there is another paganism that has survived into the present, and has emerged so vividly in contemporary politics that even First Things in 2016 could not miss it. This is not the paganism of immanence, but the paganism of cruelty and violence. It mocks the vulnerable, reviles the weak, and gains strength through hatred. We don't have to look too far to discover the "postmodern paganism" threatening American Christianity today. 

Last summer the Trump administration argued in court that more than two thousand migrant and refugee children should be separated from their parents, concentrated in crude detention camps with minimal supervision, and locked in chilled rooms with the lights left on all night. The administration has yet to condemn the petty cruelty of some camp guards and instead has mused that such violence might be politically useful. Hundreds of children as young as two are deliberately denied diapers, soap, and toothbrushes for months at a time to punish their parents. Community donations of the same are turned away. Young women are denied tampons. Young children are denied inexpensive flu vaccines, and if they contract a terminal cancer, they are deported without medical care. Chickenpox and shingles are common. Federal contractors win upwards of $700 per day for each imprisoned child. Seven children have died in custody to date, and many more have been hospitalized. Doctors worry they cannot serve in the camps without violating the Hippocratic oath. The camps themselves were continued from the Obama administration, but the withdrawal of basic necessities is Trump's innovation. What is this if not the very paganism conservatives decry?

This modern paganism ultimately means the nihilistic exercise of power for its own sake, especially power over weak and vulnerable bodies. In its purest form, it is expressed as conspicuous cruelty, both to render one's power maximally visible and to increase that power by engendering fear. The cruelty is the point. This is the joyful paganism that Nietzsche sought to revive as the Wille zur Macht, retrieving from ancient Rome the glorious pleasure in cruelty that rewards the strong who exercise their strength.

You can't be a Christian; may as well embrace paganism.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Descendants of extinct tortoise species found in Galapagos (The Canary, 02/02/2020

Conservationists working around the largest volcano on the Galapagos Islands say they have found 30 giant tortoises partially descended from two extinct species, including that of the famed Lonesome George.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM



As a first step toward conservative unity, we need a dissection of ideology, with its political fanaticism and utopian schemes. Happily, we have Russell Kirk, an apostle of prudence, to serve as our Virgil to guide us through the Inferno of today's politics.

Ideology, Kirk said, is a political formula that promises "an earthly paradise" but has created in cruel fact a "series of terrestrial hells." Here are its dominant vices:

It is "inverted religion," denying the Christian doctrine of salvation in the afterlife and promising "collective salvation here on earth."

It makes political compromise impossible because the ideologue will accept no deviation from the "absolute truth" of his revelation.

Its proponents vie with one another in fidelity to the Truth and are quick to denounce deviationists, as did the Stalinists and Trotskyites in the past and as progressives and socialists do now. See the differing rhetoric of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren about "Healthcare for All."

In contrast to the inherent flaws of ideology, Kirk outlined the politics of prudence:

Religion is for the soul, not the state. The prudential politician knows that human nature and human institutions are not perfectible: "We cannot march to an earthly Zion."

The prudential politician is well aware that "the primary purpose of the state is to keep the peace," which can only be achieved through a balance among the many interests in society. Prudential politics strives for conciliation, not extermination.

Unlike the ideological politician, the prudential politician rejects the illusion of an absolute Truth, understanding that political, economic, and social structures are developed over the years, even centuries, through trial and compromise.

The conservative mind and the ideological mind stand at opposite poles, and the contest between them, Kirk suggested, may be no less strenuous in the twenty-first century than in the twentieth century, when the Cold War was hot.
Pragmatic Conservatism

With the failure of ideology evident everywhere--from present-day Venezuela and Iraq to the former Soviet Union--how can it retain great power, especially among the intelligentsia? The French philosopher Raymond Aron provided an answer: "When the intellectual feels no longer attached either to the community or the religion of his forebears, he looks to progressive ideology to fill the vacuum." The Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote that we must set our faces against ideology because it denies "the possibility of truth" in politics or anything else, turning instead to economic motive and class interest. As for the millennials' infatuation with socialism, Kirk conceded that "ideology may enchant young people" who are badly educated and looking for an "exciting and violent cause." That is all the more reason to impart the truth about ideology, which promises utopia but produces serfdom.

As ever, Eric Hoffer put the indictment of Right/Left more succinctly:

    Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and
    die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions,
    that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded
    of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect.  The rejection of
    approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes
    freedom, tolerance, and equity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Lamar Alexander says House proved Trump withheld aid to pressure Ukraine (Jacob Knutson, 2/02/20, Axios)

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he believes President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine to "encourage" its government to investigate the Bidens...

The House did its job.  You can't fault her if GOP Senators don't.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


America's neo-Nazi Terrorists Have a Powerful New Patron: Vladimir Putin (Alexander Reid Ross, Feb 02, 2020, Ha'aretz)

In recent weeks, the FBI has cracked down on members of the fascist paramilitary network known as "The Base," the English translation of "Al-Qaida." Law enforcement officials described the group as seeking "to accelerate the downfall of the United States government, incite a race war, and establish a white ethno-state."

In the lead up to a large open-carry gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia, FBI agents busted Base members for planning to murder antifascist activists in their beds. Others faced arrest for plotting to initiate a civil war by killing police officers and gun advocates, potentially framing antifascists for the deaths.

Another Base member directed a 2019 campaign of "tagging" synagogues with swastikas, an effort he named "Operation Kristallnacht." A photo posted on social media by another suspected member shows a masked man shooting a target painted with a Star of David. 

But, surprisingly, this ultranationalist fascist network is not based in the United States at all. According to two independent investigations in The Guardian and the BBC, The Base's leader, Rinaldo Nazzaro, lives in Russia. 

Scratch a Nationalist....
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


DON'T CALL THIS 8-YEAR-OLD INDIA'S GRETA THUNBERG: Licypriya Kangujam is half Thunberg's age, but she has in spunk what she lacks in height. (Pallabi Munsi, FEBRUARY 2, 2020, OZY)

A crowd of men and women walked through the streets of Madrid behind two young girls as they held hands and spoke to each other animatedly. One of the girls was Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swede who has become the face of a new generation's fight against climate change. The other one was Licypriya Kangujam. 

On reaching their destination, Licypriya hurriedly rolled out a placard that read: "Dear Mr. Modi. Please pass the climate change law in the ongoing Parliament session. Save our future! Act now! Act now!" It was December 2019 and the group was on their way to the United Nations Climate Change Conference 25 (COP25), where both girls addressed world leaders and urged for immediate action against climate change.

Born in 2011, Licypriya is half Thunberg's age -- but she has in spunk what she lacks in height. The media calls her "Greta of the Global South," but, she tells me with a confident grin: "Really, I'm Licypriya of India." 

February 1, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Trump administration reveals it's blocking dozens of emails about Ukraine aid freeze, including President's role (Katelyn Polantz, 2/01/20, CNN)

The filing, released near midnight Friday, marks the first official acknowledgment from the Trump administration that emails about the President's thinking related to the aid exist, and that he was directly involved in asking about and deciding on the aid as early as June. The administration is still blocking those emails from the public and has successfully kept them from Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Welcome to the Trump defense team's impeachment trial nightmare (Ephrat Livni, 2/02/20, Quartz)

Yesterday, at Donald Trump's impeachment trial, one of the president's chief defenders--White House counsel Pat Cipollone--suddenly found himself exposed and all alone in the US Senate, naked as it were, before his fellow Americans.

New revelations that the lawyer was present during a discussion of Trump's allegedly corrupt Ukraine dealings suddenly thrust Cipollone into the awkward position of being simultaneously at the center of the case against the president and on the outs with co-counsel. "New facts suggest Mr. Cipollone was in the loop," argued lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff, urging senators to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton, whose upcoming book will reportedly show Cipollone's involvement.


"Just as we predicted--and it didn't require any clairvoyance," Schiff quipped, jabbing at the defense's recurring "mind-reading" theme. "The facts will come out."

Cipollone, meanwhile, sat with his arms staunchly crossed, a conspicuously blank legal pad staring back at him from the desk, as the president's other defenders gave him the freeze.

Deputy White House counsel Pat Philbin, brow furrowed, lips pursed, watched Schiff worriedly from behind glasses, never once glancing at his accused boss across the table who had apparently jeopardized the integrity of their entire defense. Philbin did, however, exchange pointed looks with Jay Sekulow, Trump's personal defense counsel.

All his lawyers are there for the pardons.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


How Nativism Went Mainstream: an excerpt from All-American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on Immigrants Explains Politics as We Know It   (Daniel Denvir, 2/01/20, Jacobin )

In the early 1990s, an anti-immigrant insurgency took root in California, the center of the movement to bar Chinese immigration more than a century earlier. A major economic slump had taken hold, thanks in part to declining defense industry jobs after the Cold War drew to a close. Chinese people had moved into the San Gabriel Valley, and Latinos into the San Fernando Valley, as area aerospace manufacturers spun into sharp decline. Immigrants joined black Americans in the racist white imaginary as lazy and unworthy welfare dependents.

As jobs became scarcer, the number of immigrants, authorized and not, was growing. In 1990, an estimated 3.5 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States, more than 40 percent of them in California. "Illegal immigration is the hottest issue in the state," said Republican assemblyman Bill Morrow, who represented a wealthy district encompassing portions of Orange and San Diego Counties, in 1993. "We've got to say to the Federal Government, 'If you don't close the border, we will.'"

In a familiar contradiction, immigrants were seen as both competing for scarce jobs and refusing to work at all, mooching off the state. Citizens identified as "taxpayers" were forced by a hostile government to fund the dangerous fecundity of non-white layabouts. One Republican legislator from an LA suburb circulated a ditty composed by a constituent to that effect:

Everything is mucho good.

Soon we own the neighborhood.

We have a hobby--it's called breeding.

Welfare pay for baby feeding.

Latina childbearing was a dominant theme, deeply enmeshed with the era's demonization of poor black mothers. It tied the government's fiscal irresponsibility to the encouragement of irrepressible and irresponsible reproduction. To many in Southern California, Mexicans illegally invaded by crossing the border, and then illegitimately expanded their numbers by having children who would consume benefits funded by, and thus rightly belonging to, hardworking taxpayers.

California was sold to turn-of-the-twentieth-century Anglos as an "Eden for the Saxon Homeseeker" and organized on profoundly racist principles from the inception of colonization. Spanish rule brutally reduced the indigenous population, which fell from 310,000 in 1769, to 150,000 in 1850, when California became a US state; Americans continued this trend, overseeing a fall to fewer than 20,000 by 1900. In 1950s Los Angeles, media and police stoked a panic that "wolf packs" and "rat packs" of Mexican American youth were "invading white communities to peddle drugs and commit violence," using the same cars that had enabled California's low-density utopia to trespass the racial boundaries that defined its social order. Criminal others, as historian Matthew Lassiter writes, made "pretty white females into heroin addict-victims who invariably descended into the living death of prostitution across the urban color line."

Racist criminalization recapitulated the events of a decade prior, when Mexican American youth dressed in Zoot Suits were portrayed as delinquents and assaulted by masses of rioting servicemen. The state of California officially endorsed residential segregation as the best way to prevent delinquency. Border enforcement, whether within American cities or along international boundaries, functioned and continues to function to protect the spatial organization of race and class hierarchy.

But a nativist revolt in California was not inevitable. In 1979, a poll had found that residents of the Southwest were much less likely than those in the Northeast to believe that undocumented workers took jobs from Americans, something that one expert credited to the concentration of immigrants in areas with the lowest unemployment rates. Anti-immigrant sentiment was by no means dominant.

California lieutenant governor Mike Curb, a Republican, told members of the Republican National Committee in 1979 that "undocumented workers are not committing crime, they are coming here to work. Very few of them are on welfare, very few of them are violating our laws, most of them are extremely good citizens. We should begin to treat them with respect. We should treat any worker who is putting in an honest day's work with respect." Imagine a Republican politician saying that in 2020.

Early 1990s California is the first chapter of a story about how such sentiments became politically impossible in the Republican Party. California proved for nativists that mass non-white immigration led to crime, the growth of a racialized underclass unassimilable to American culture, and, critically, excessive expenditures by hardworking taxpayers on behalf of an indolent minority shamelessly reproducing without the means to pay the costs of their offspring.

The nativist revolt culminated in voters' 1994 passage of Proposition 187, an act of spectacular cruelty that among other things denied public services to suspected undocumented immigrants -- even schools -- and required public officials to report those immigrants to the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service). The stated goal was to deter new undocumented immigrants from arriving by driving those already present out of bedrock services.

The measure began by asserting that the people of California "are suffering economic hardship caused by the presence of illegal aliens in this state" and from "personal injury and damage caused by [their] criminal conduct." The measure, originating in the right-wing suburban stronghold of Orange County, simultaneously conjured up a law-abiding and taxpaying victimized citizenry (the suffering people) and those who were to blame: criminal and moocher aliens. White injury was premised on white innocence, which in turn relied on ignorance: absent was the history of Mexican migration and its criminalization; also missing was a good explanation for why all these Anglos even lived in a state and cities with Spanish-language names, places that had in fact previously belonged to multiple indigenous peoples before European genocide.

Two of the key Prop 187 organizers, former border agent Bill King and soon-to-be leading nativist Barbara Coe, summed up the kaleidoscopic dynamic of immigrant threat and white victimhood in a 1992 ad they placed in the National Review. The ad sought out people who had "been victims of crimes either financial (welfare, unemployment, food stamps, etc.), educational (overcrowding, forced bilingual classes, etc.) or physical (rape, robbery, assault, infectious disease, etc.) committed by illegal aliens."

This was the moment that the movement's most right-wing demands entered mainstream conservative politics -- and thus mainstream politics as a whole -- in full force. 

Remember when?

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Poll: Support for Trump's removal remains steady (CAITLIN OPRYSKO, 02/01/2020, Politico)

As the Senate impeachment trial goes into its third week, support for removing President Donald Trump from office remains steady, with half of voters registering approval for his conviction despite his all-but-certain acquittal, according to the latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

The new poll conducted Jan. 29-30 and released Saturday shows minimal change in public opinion about the trial. While 50 percent approval and 43 percent disapproval for a Senate conviction represent a slightly wider gap than the last POLITICO/Morning Consult survey, both numbers remain within the poll's margin of error.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Second CIA Contractor Testifies in 9/11 Case at Guantanamo  (Associated Press, February 01, 2020)

A former CIA contractor who helped design a harsh interrogation program following the the Sept. 11 attacks sought Friday to minimize the severity of techniques used on the men facing war crimes charges for their alleged roles in the plot.

John Bruce Jessen, testifying in public for the first time about an interrogation program long shrouded in secrecy, told a military court at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that the techniques used against detainees had been shown to have no lasting effects and were used only a small portion of the time they were in captivity.

Jessen said the techniques, which included waterboarding and prolonged sleep deprivation, were employed only to gather intelligence aimed at preventing another terrorist attack.

"If at at any time they didn't want the techniques to be applied, all they had to do was talk, and most of them did that right away, " said the retired Air Force psychologist.

Abu Ghraib is what we should be ashamed of, where it was gratuitous.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Russell Kirk's Beauty and Civilization (Bradley J. Birzer, January 31st, 2020, Imaginative Conservative)

Such men--that is, those few conservatives who fought the tapioca conformity of the masses--believed in three things, though each to varying degrees and with varying levels of sincerity and understanding.

First, Kirk claimed, Western civilization rests upon its Judeo-Christian foundation. From this, it derives its understanding of human dignity, natural law, and natural rights. Or, as Kirk put it so beautifully: "The first of these is the Christian faith: theological and moral doctrines which inform us, either side of the Atlantic, of the nature of God and man, the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, human dignity, the rights and duties of human persons, the nature of charity, and the meaning of hope and resignation." Without these, one could never expect order nor liberty.

Second, Western civilization maintains itself through the promotion and cultivation of the liberal arts, seeking conversation with the ancients as well as with those persons of the future, recognizing the centrality of reason and the Logos to all of time and creation. Or, again, to quote Kirk: "The second of these is the corpus of imaginative literature, humane letters, which is the essence of our high culture: humanism, which, with Christian faith, teaches us our powers and our limitations--the work of Plato, Virgil, Cicero, Dante, Shakespeare, and so many others." This conversation kept us grounded as well as just.

Third, and finally, Western civilization accepts and perpetuates a set of laws that are at once natural and above nature. "The third is a complex of social and political institutions which we may call the reign of law, or ordered liberty: prescription, precedent, impartial justice, private rights, private property, the character of genuine community, the claims of family and of voluntary associations." These communities recognize that which is universal and universally true, but they spring--often haphazardly and gothically--from the ground up, spontaneously.

Together, these three things did not form or constitute any kind of counter ideology or even the shadow of an ideology. Rather, they are and always will be an ante- as well as an anti-ideology. Ideologies, not surprisingly, attack and attempt to hijack each aspect of true and beautiful civilization. "However much these three bodies of conviction have been injured by internecine disputes, nihilism, Benthamism, the cult of Rationalism, Marxism, and other modern afflictions, they remain the rocks upon which our civilization is built."

One of the hardest things to accept when you engage in political battle is that you have won.  Surely Mr. Kirk would be astonished that the main problem facing museums, cultural sites, national parks, and the like--after this long period of attack--is overcrowding.  Westerners spend vast sums, travel great distances and suffer cheek by jowl conditions just to see the Mona Lisa, the works of Gaudi, the Grand Canyon , Hamilton or the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  

Of course, you need only look at the list of -isms he fretted about to see that none are taken seriously any longer.  And, while church attendance has inevitably declined from its record highs in the face of clergy sexual abuse scandals, the faithfulness of Americans has hardly budged.

And something else has happened, rather than simply scorn popular culture as some kind of wasteland, our best conservative thinkers have engaged with it and found something quite different, high culture.  Consider Paul Cantor, Titus Techera or the late Peter Augustine Lawler.  Even the Glop crew.  Study the tastes of the unwashed masses and you find that the conformity we demand and consume is hardly hostile to Western values.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Why interest rates are free marketers' favorite tool (Jeff Spross, February 1, 2020, The Week)

Right now, inflation in the U.S. is remarkably low. As a practical matter, that's the justification for keeping interest rates low: As long as prices remain stable, why not leave credit cheap, and allow jobs to keep growing and wages to keep rising? But there's also the worry about financial bubbles: that higher interest rates discourage risk-taking by investors, while lower rates encourage it. Thus, even if inflation is low, maybe we should hike interest rates anyway in order to ward off the possibility of another 2001- or 2008-style bubble and burst?

Having conceded the facts about the lack of inflation, the notion that rates are particularly low disappears.  .

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Trump's expanded travel ban will hit Nigerians the hardest: It will effectively ban Nigerian immigration to the US. (Nicole Narea,  Feb 1, 2020, Vox)

Starting February 22, Nigerians will no longer be able to obtain visas allowing them to immigrate to the US permanently. They can still travel to the US on temporary visas, such as those for foreign workers, tourists, and students. But for the large Nigerian diaspora in the US, the policy could erode their deep family and cultural ties to their home country, Africa's most populous nation and one of its economic powerhouses.

Nigerians make up by far the largest population of African immigrants living in the US, numbering about 327,000. Cities with thriving Nigerian communities will be particularly hard hit, including Dallas, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, Phoenix and Houston, the latter of which has the largest Nigerian population outside Brazil and Africa.

Even more Nigerians have been choosing to settle here permanently in recent years: In 2018, the US granted Nigerians almost 14,000 green cards. By comparison, citizens from other countries included in the expanded travel ban were granted a combined total of fewer than 6,000 green cards. It's also one of the top sending countries for foreign students, with almost 13,000 Nigerians students coming to the US last year.

There's a reason Trumpbots love the Confederacy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


The paradox of Merkelism: How Angela Merkel became Europe's most popular leader--without Germany ever really understanding who she is (Philip Oltermann, January 29, 2020, Prospect)

It fitted into this picture that news weekly Der Spiegel revealed in 2014 that Merkel's government was far more heavily influenced by opinion polls than previously known. Following a freedom of information request by a young Green MP, Malte Spitz, it emerged that on average, the chancellor was commissioning three surveys per week to test how the German people felt about all sorts of things. Pollsters are sceptical about the newsworthiness of this revelation: Schröder too had a close relationship with them, and the budget of the federal press agency, which carries out these polls, had not suddenly increased.

What is fascinating, however, is the extent to which Merkel's spokespeople often worked with the exact terminology used in these surveys, and just how closely in keeping her policy decisions have been with their findings. In fact, they show the two big decisions that look likely to define the Merkel era--her announcement in May 2011 that Germany would close all its nuclear power stations by December 2022, and the decision in 2015 to allow in nearly a million refugees and migrants as part of what she christened a "culture of welcoming"--were entirely in keeping with the public mood at the time.

With her decision on the Energiewende, the "turn" against nuclear energy, Merkel U-turned on her government's decision to keep nuclear power stations open for longer--but she did so knowing that, after Japan's Fukushima accident, 58 per cent of voters were in favour of a phase-out, and furthermore that renewable energies were overwhelmingly popular.

And when thousands of Syrians marched towards Germany from Orbán's Hungary in September 2015, her leadership was hailed by liberals around the world as not only visionary but decidedly courageous. Yet a glance at a government poll a few months before prefigured exactly which way she would lean: only 17 per cent of Germans wanted the government to do less to help these people, 79 per cent thought it should stick to its course or do more.

For much of Merkel's reign, her idea of leadership was perfectly matched for a country that felt it deserved a holiday from the grand historical dramas that had played out so ruinously on its soil in both the first and the second half of the 20th century. Government by polling and focus groups has a bad reputation, but German history is full of bad leaders who were led by a gut feeling about what "the Germans" really wanted. And in Merkel's case there is a sense this has been an accumulative process, driven by a belief in the existence of stable moral laws, rather than a fluid sea of emotions and opinions.

At its best Merkel's mix of hesitancy in personal opinion and pro-active research into everyone else's meant she allowed the country to change and evolve, even if at times these changes went against her more conservative instincts. The ultimate example of this came in June 2017, when the Bundestag voted to legalise same-sex marriage. Germany was one of the last countries in Europe to do so, mainly because Merkel's CDU had spent years blocking opportunities to expand LGBT rights.

When the change inevitably came, Merkel was--to use a chemist's term--the catalyst. That summer, she said at a panel discussion that she was aggrieved that the debate on the subject had been mainly carried out along party lines; she now hoped it would be "headed towards a conscience vote." The ballot in parliament ended with 393 to 226 votes in favour of legalisation, including 75 votes in favour from previously silenced liberal delegates in the CDU. Merkel voted with her conscience too: against the motion. It was the finest moment of her own interpretation of leadership as an exercise in ego suppression, and yet another reminder of the extent to which her inner moral and intellectual universe has been kept under lock through her tenure.

One of the ironies of the Merkel era is that while few politicians in the world talk more about global challenges and the need for nations to rally together to meet them, her own style of leadership isn't well suited to this task. As global crises have come knocking on Germany's doors with increasing urgency, the less appealing aspects of Merkel's Arthur Dent-ism have become harder to ignore.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is ultimately the story of a man who discovers that democracy in the most scientifically advanced corners of the universe is as depressing and inefficient a business as it was in his own corner of now pulverised Little England. There are far-flung planets whose populations regularly vote to be governed by lizards, even though they hate the lizards. The much-coveted post of President of the Galaxy is a pointless one, filled by egomaniacs and sociopaths like the positively Trump-esque Zaphod Beeblebrox.

"It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it," Adams writes in his sequel, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. There have always been signs that Merkel is as defeatist about the possibility of global leadership as Adams. The notion that a politician could use a speech to project their norms of what is right and wrong out into the world has always struck her as naively utopian, or, as she told Der Spiegel in 2016, "the idea that a person can touch other people so much with words that they change their minds is not one I have ever shared--but it's a beautiful idea nonetheless."

After Barack Obama gave his famous Cairo speech in 2009, calling for a "new beginning" for relations between the US and the Middle East and intoning that "America is not and never will be at war with Islam," Merkel waved off the American president's rhetorical grandeur in front of a group of journalists, adding, according to one reporter present, "Oh, he's only talking."

The irony is that Populist leaders have to be dictatorial precisely because they choose the 17% position.