November 16, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Russia enters recession as GDP shrinks by 4% (TRT World, 11/16/22)

Russia has entered a recession, nine months after launching its offensive in Ukraine as Western sanctions weigh on the economy, according to official data.

Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shrank four percent in the third quarter, according to a preliminary estimate by the national statistics agency Rosstat published on Wednesday.

And that's even with them lying.
Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


Gulf states splurged on Trump hotel rooms during Qatar blockade 'lobbying blitz' (Simon Hooper, 16 November 2022, Middle Easy Eye)

Newly released documents reveal the extent of rival Gulf states' spending at Donald Trump's Washington DC hotel as they sought to influence the US president at the height of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.

The documents are set to raise fresh questions about Trump's dealings with Gulf states, and whether he sought to profit from those relationships, as he announced on Tuesday that he would run again for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

They show that the governments of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates spent more money than previously known at the Trump Hotel in Washington DC at the same time as all three Gulf states were publicly lobbying for Trump's support during the blockade. 

The documents were released this week by a congressional committee that obtained them as part of an investigation into whether Trump distorted US foreign policy to serve his own financial interests during his 2017-2021 presidency.

So ong as they oppress their populations they didn't even need to bribe him for support, but he'll always take cash.
Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Federal judge blocks Title 42 rule that allowed expulsion of migrants at US-Mexico border, puts order on hold for 5 weeks (Priscilla Alvarez and Tierney Sneed, 11/16/22, CNN)

Sullivan faulted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued the public health order, for "its decision to ignore the harm that could be caused" by issuing the policy. He said the CDC also failed to consider alternative approaches, such as letting migrants self-quarantine in homes of US-based friends, family, or shelters. The agency, he said, should have reexamined its approach when vaccines and tests became widely available.

"With regard to whether defendants could have 'ramped up vaccinations, outdoor processing, and all other available public health measures,'... the court finds the CDC failed to articulate a satisfactory explanation for why such measures were not feasible," Sullivan wrote.

The judge also concluded that the policy did not rationally serve its purpose, given that Covid-19 was already widespread throughout the United States when the policy was rolled out.

"Title 42 was never about public health, and this ruling finally ends the charade of using Title 42 to bar desperate asylum seekers from even getting a hearing," American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, who argued the case, said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM


The GOP had terrible Senate candidates and it really did sink them: Mitch McConnell was right. (Andrew Prokop, 11/16/22, VOX)

Senate candidate quality, as compared to the national environment

Another context worth keeping in mind is the national one -- that all these candidates were running in a year when the national popular vote appears to have shifted from favoring Democrats to favoring Republicans.

In 2020, Democrats won the House of Representatives popular vote by 3 percentage points. This year, Republicans are currently leading it by 4.5 points, though that margin will shrink as California tallies more votes. We don't know what the final number will be, but let's be conservative and assume the national environment shifted four points in favor of Republicans, as compared to 2020.

With that baseline, every Republican in a competitive Senate race underperformed because no one managed to improve on Trump's margin by four points. (Budd in North Carolina, who improved the most, only did so by 2.2 percentage points.)

Yet that doesn't necessarily mean all the GOP nominees were bad candidates. Perhaps it points to a broader problem with the party's brand that made voters in all these states hesitant to grant that party control of the Senate. Then, perhaps, some candidates did better than others in dealing with that constraint.

Senate candidate quality, as compared to GOP governor nominees

Still, a national popular vote shift might be a misleading baseline because there were some very different trends in different states. In particular, Republicans sharply improved in New York and Florida, two populous states that affect the nationwide vote count significantly, but the GOP made more limited gains elsewhere.

So another potentially useful comparison is to check how Republican Senate candidates in competitive races did compared to their own party's governor nominees in 2022.

Here we see that in five of these seven contests with a governor's race on the ballot (there was none in North Carolina), the GOP's Senate candidates did worse.

Posted by orrinj at 10:52 AM


The House Rules Committee holds a historic hearing today on whether to honor a 1835 treaty and seat a delegate from the Cherokee Nation.  (Politico, 11/16/22)

The House Rules Committee hears testimony Wednesday on whether to follow through on a nearly 200-year-old treaty promising the Cherokee Nation a non-voting delegate in the U.S. Congress.

"No constitutional or prudential barrier prevents the House from complying with its treaty obligation, and seating the delegate would be consistent with the text of the Constitution, with House's precedents, and historical practice dating back to the Founding era."

-- Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in his opening statement

Some background here: The Treaty of New Echota, which catalyzed the forcible removal of tribal members on the Trail of Tears, says the Cherokee "shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same." The Senate ratified the agreement in 1836 and President Andrew Jackson signed it into law, but the delegate has never been seated.

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


QAnon Is Not Very Happy With Trump's 2024 Announcement (David Gilbert, November 16, 2022, Vice News)

Not only did he invite QAnon influencers to attend the event at his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida, Trump repeated several QAnon dog whistles during the 70-minute long speech, including multiple references to the storm, a well-known trope within the conspiracy movement. But while influential adherents to the movement were thrilled, most QAnon-ers posting on Telegram last night, in fact, reacted angrily to Trump's announcement. This could be a worrying sign for Trump's 2024 campaign, coupled with the growing resentment against the former president inside the Republican party after major GOP midterm election losses.

Certainly, the response among the major figures within QAnon, a group of influencers and grifters who have driven the movement in recent years, was almost universally positive. "Make NO mistake...President Trump is absolutely UNSHAKABLE," an influencer known as QAnon John wrote on his popular Telegram channel, adding: "That's WHY God picked him."

 Jordan Sather, a QAnon influencer who uses his popularity within the movement to shill vitamin supplements, also hyped Trump's return. Sather was actually in the Mar-a-Lago ballroom for the announcement and excitedly wrote on Telegram that during lunch earlier in the day Trump had passed his table and gave the group a thumbs up.

But for rank-and-file QAnon supporters, who have spent the last two years loudly voicing their anger at having the 2020 election stolen, the announcement was a bitter blow. The majority, who voiced their opinions on Telegram channels and fringe message boards, viewed Trump's speech as a tacit admission that the 2020 election wasn't stolen.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:29 AM


Benny Carter - Princeton Concerts (and Beyond)


Robin's Nest:

Those of you who read these All That Jazz posts know that one of my great heroes (both for his music and for his personal qualities) is Benny Carter (1907-2003). 

Recently, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem issued this 8-volume collection of never-before-released Carter concerts recorded between 1973 and 1997.  In addition to Benny's great playing, these concerts also feature jazz great such as Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Jones, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, Barry Harris and Bucky Pizzarelli. More information can be found on the Museum's website.

These recordings, which are available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music and the other major streaming services, and are in the process of being uploaded to YouTube (volumes 1-3 posted as I write this).

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Trump destroyed the guardrails against antisemitism -- and there's no going backWe used to ostracize public figures for even loose affiliations with antisemitism. Those days are long gone (Larry Cohler-Esses, November 11, 2022, The Forward)

For me, the reality that the fences might no longer hold first hit home in 2017, nearly 30 years after I marveled at the Bush campaign's quick reaction to my earlier story. That year, with a feeling of history repeating itself, I exposed the antisemitic associations of Sebastian Gorka, President Trump's White House counterterrorism advisor. 

This time, however, despite high gates and physical fortifications, the White House had no fences around it.

Gorka himself never said anything antisemitic that I, or my journalistic partner, Lili Bayer, could find. This was a point I tried to stress at the time. 

But few seemed to catch the nuance: What Gorka represented -- metaphorically -- was the breach of the fence around the White House that had stood from the rise of Hitler in 1933 until the Trump administration.

Until Trump, no one could get anywhere near a U.S. president's ear if they had sworn allegiance to an organization classified as a Nazi-allied group, written regularly for an infamous anti-Semitic newspaper, launched a political party with the former head of a neo-Nazi organization, or voiced support for a racist vigilante militia organized by that same organization.

That Gorka -- an immigrant who came to America from Hungary -- had never himself uttered an antisemitic word would have been deemed laughably irrelevant in any previous administration. A healthy concern about guilt by association -- in a positive guise here -- forced anyone with political, social or business ambitions to ensure that their affiliations remained above reproach when it came to antisemitism.

Set aside for a moment the endless debates about remarks by Donald Trump that play on classic antisemitic tropes, such as dual loyalty. No less important is the fence he dismantled that prevented anyone around the president -- never mind the president himself -- from saying anything that smacked of anti-Jewish prejudice; or from even from affiliating with entities that did so.

In the end, Gorka was dismissed from his post in August 2017. But antisemitism wasn't the reason, according to insider accounts at the time; rather, it was Gorka's sheer incompetence.

Today, I see Gorka as the pioneer who first breached the fence through which so many others have now followed. But it's business leaders and other politicians who pose the real problem. They have taken their cue from Trump by lowering or even dismantling that fence themselves. Antisemitism, unfortunately, will always be with us. It's reconstructing those fences that will pose the real challenge in the years ahead.

No one hates just Mexicans.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Dirt-cheap solar evaporation could provide soil pollution solution  (SPX, Nov 14, 2022)

A UniSA-led team including Associate Professor Haolan Xu and Dr Gary Owens has developed a new remediation technique that uses a super-efficient solar evaporation surface to draw water from the soil through a sponge-like filter that traps contaminants, mimicking the process of transpiration that occurs in natural plants, but at a greatly accelerated rate.

"Plants naturally draw mineral components out of the soil when they move water from their roots into their stems, leaves and flowers, where those mineral components are trapped," Dr Owens says.

"This means plants can be used to extract contaminants from soil, but the process is very, very slow, often taking multiple growing seasons, particularly in heavily contaminated situations, where the soil toxicity means the plants struggle to grow and often die.

"We have created a system that mimics this process - a form of biomimetic plant - but one that does so at a much faster rate and without any of the problems caused by toxicity."

Worldwide, more than 10 million sites are considered soil polluted, with more than half contaminated by heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, or metalloids such as arsenic.

The new system can remove such contaminants in as little as two weeks by using a super-efficient solar evaporation surface to rapidly draw water and contaminants from the soil into the biomimetic plant body.

"The solar evaporator used in this system is a variation of technology we are developing for many purposes, including desalination and wastewater purification," Assoc Prof Xu says.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Christian Origins of Free Market Thought: Early thinkers sought to turn religious self-interest into a counterbalance to earthly greed (JACOB SOLL, OCTOBER 24, 2022, Tablet)

The Scottish Franciscan monk and Scholastic philosopher John Duns Scotus took a more nuanced view of pricing than Aquinas, proposing that prices came neither from balanced exchange nor from moral rules. Rather, he believed they came from a freely working secular market process. Private property was not the purview of the Church, which was ill-equipped to understand all the market activities that went into creating value. As Scotus saw it, prices came from quantity and the value of labor and expertise. To understand a price, one had to take into account "diligence, prudence, care, as well as the risk one accepts in doing such business." Therefore, it was very difficult for churchmen to calculate market prices. And because this was the case, it was equally difficult for Franciscans to be sure that they were truly obeying their vow of poverty. To keep their vows, they needed to consult with merchants and those expert in secular market prices.

This meant that Franciscans began thinking about market mechanics in a theoretical way before even merchants. As it happened, Franciscans often came from well-educated, commercial backgrounds, which meant that some had a particular awareness of the workings of commerce and pricing.

Franciscan leaders and sympathizers came to believe that the way to manage the vow of poverty was to more carefully codify it. The Franciscan theologian Saint Bonaventure's Constitutions of Narbonne (1260) was a detailed analysis of wealth and poverty meant to create strict rules to hold Franciscans to their vows. One of the most important areas of inquiry was clothing, a prominent sign of wealth in Italy where cloth production was at the center of its flourishing economy. Saint Francis himself considered clothing a material impediment to poverty, and a sign of riches. The rules of the Constitutions thus decreed that each brother own only one tunic, even going so far as to specify what a friar should do if a tunic fell apart, for instance, or if one had to use pieces of other cloth to repair it.

In 1286, the Franciscan Order began to examine how books--vellum manuscripts, which were very expensive--could be viewed not as valuables, but purely as tools of learning. The Franciscans calculated that an expensive book, if it was used for strictly utilitarian spiritual purposes, was not an object of wealth within the strict economy of the order. Thus, a layman could give books as gifts to individual monks or monasteries, but the institutional leader or custodian would have to decide who could actually use them, and to what ends.

Pope Nicholas III (tenure 1277-1280) defended the Franciscan vow, which he believed had been proved valid by the examples of so many pious members of the order. In his Exiit qui seminat (Confirmation of the Rules of the Friars Minor) of 1279, he came up with a revolutionary approach to realizing the vow of poverty. Franciscans could not break their vow, Pope Nicholas maintained, because the pope was the actual owner of all Franciscan property, meaning that the Franciscans themselves never actually "owned" anything. But Nicholas went further, using market valuation to explain that, even if the Franciscans had goods and property at their disposal, the value of these assets was not inherent, but dependent on where, why, and how friars used them. Each thing's value changed according to its practical and spiritual utility. The abdication of property, Nicholas insisted, did "not seem to lead to a renunciation of the use of things in every case." The value of objects, he explained, comes from "places and seasons," and according to specific duties. "Science requires study," he noted, and this exercise was impossible without the use of books. Nicholas thought that religious authorities could oversee this valuation process not only to make sure that Franciscans owned things only out of necessity, but also to lighten their fears of breaking their vows. With his decree, Pope Nicholas embraced a belief in market mechanisms in order to solve this conflict within the Church.

That same year, a French Franciscan, Peter John Olivi, wrote Usus pauper--a work on the restricted use of goods within the vow of poverty--in which he specifically addressed the question of how to keep the vow while owning worldly things. Olivi created some of the earliest, most innovative concepts of specific self-regulating market mechanisms. Olivi was originally from Montpellier, and spent time in both Florence, Italy, and Narbonne, a city of 30,000 people in Provence. This placed him in the center of the Mediterranean world of commerce where Franciscans often worked as confessors to merchants. Having served in Nicholas III's papal administration, Olivi sought to defend the Franciscan vow and, to this end, created the first theory of the law of diminishing marginal utility, by which a good loses value as access to, and consumption of it, increases. Olivi said that if people used things "generally" or "conventionally" it would affect their value. The more available something is, the less it is worth. Commodities like oil and vegetables, produced in great quantity for a great number of people and obtained "with ease," are worth less than rarer products.

Utility and value were based on the number of those who benefit from a product. If hundreds of people had access to something, it was not of great worth. Olivi claimed if something were so rare than only one person owned it--a rare manuscript, or a jewel--then its scarcity made it precious. Olivi noted that "durability," too, affected price. With foodstuffs, for example, freshness was a key factor as recently harvested food was more valuable than older "corrupted" products which rapidly lost value. Longevity mattered too. Storable goods like grain were also worth more. Things like clothing, or houses, were more lasting, and their value had to be calculated according to their durability. What this meant is that no single authority could assign or fix a fair price to something.

Olivi's concept that utility and not morality created value was a challenge to the Church and even to secular authorities that had for so long seen it as their role to judge such things. Add to this, Olivi had also critiqued Saint Augustine's idea that human cognition relied on divine illumination, insisting instead that judgment in the human mind comes from free will. This idea took agency away from God and the Church and centered it more on the individual. This was too much for the leaders of the Church and especially for the powerful doctors of the University of Paris, who declared Olivi's thought heretical. Authorities brought him before a tribunal of seven Franciscan judges in Paris, who condemned him, ruining his chances of teaching there.

Olivi eventually cleared his name, however, managing to win a teaching position in Narbonne, and in 1293 wrote what is arguably one of the most visionary works of economic theory of the Middle Ages, his Treatise on Contracts. In it, he insisted that churchmen could not understand pricing, and thus needed to rely on secular merchant "experts" to illuminate the workings of the market. One of his main concerns was that if people did not understand contracts, they could not understand their sins. This was also true for Franciscans who, in their administrative duties, inevitably had to sign contracts while keeping their vow of total poverty. Olivi was also worried his brethren could be damned if they could not effectively describe their failings to keep their vow in confession--without economic expertise they could not confess to sin. Thus, it was essential to understand contracts both in order to manage one's vow, but also to confess to having broken it.

Olivi believed that only the "judgments" of the merchant "community" could fairly establish prices, for only they knew the relationship between "goods and services" and the demands of "the common good." Olivi believed that honest and accurate business decisions were the causal spark of market mechanisms. Of course, merchants were not always honest and Olivi never explained if fraud could also drive markets. Still, he did have the insight to understand that businessmen knew the value of labor in a specific market, and that this value could be added into prices. He reminded his readers that traveling for business was dangerous, and required significant background knowledge. Merchants had to know their trade routes, not to mention the customs and currencies of the foreign countries they dealt with. Long-distance commerce also entailed serious capital investment and risk.

Nearly 900 years before Karl Marx, Olivi was the first thinker to discuss the market concept of capital. Money lacked intrinsic value, he observed, "because money alone, by itself, is not lucrative." Value came, rather, "through the activity of merchants in their business dealings." He saw money as capital for future investment, whose value could grow, but this value was uncertain and subject to the skill of merchants and their decision-making, along with the more diffuse dynamics of the market. A new age dawned that called for a theory of wealth creation for wealth creation's sake.

Then you just apply the same theory to religion and politics and authoritarianism is over.