July 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 PM

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM


Republican senator recorded criticizing Trump (Amanda Becker, 7/25/17, Reuters) 

[U.S. Senator Susan] Collins discussed Republican President Donald Trump and the federal budget with Democratic Senator Jack Reed at the end of a Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing, according to a tape obtained by the Washington Post. [...]

"No thinking about it, no metrics, no nothing. It's just incredibly irresponsible," Collins said, according to a Post report and accompanying audio.

"I think -- I think he's crazy," Reed replied in an apparent reference to Trump.

"I don't think he knows there is a BCA (Budget Control Act) or anything," Collins later said, apparently referring to the president and a 2011 budget law.

Nothing so becomes Americans as our desire to excuse Donald as mentally ill.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Boehner predicts Republicans will 'never' repeal and replace Obamacare (Robert Costa July 25, 2017, Washington Post)

Former House speaker John A. Boehner, who has mostly avoided public commentary since leaving Congress two years ago, told a business gathering last week that Republicans are "not going to repeal and replace Obamacare" because "the American people have gotten accustomed to it."

"Here we are, seven months into this year, and yet they've not passed this bill. Now, they're never -- they're not going to repeal and replace Obamacare," Boehner told a private crowd in Las Vegas, according to video footage obtained by The Washington Post. "It's been around too long. And the American people have gotten accustomed to it. Governors have gotten accustomed to this Medicaid expansion, and so trying to pull it back is really not going to work."

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Pro-Trump media furious over Trump's treatment of Sessions (Oliver Darcy, 7/25/17, CNNMoney)

Breitbart is incensed. Rush Limbaugh hates to see it. And Fox News host Tucker Carlson thinks President Donald Trump is engaged in a "self-destructive act."

Trump's recent attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions has touched off a firestorm of outrage inside the pro-Trump media universe where the Alabama Republican is revered as a conservative icon.

After all, Beauregard hates all the right people...

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Tory Porn : The Hobbesian anti-art of Christopher Nolan (Jonathon Sturgeon,  July 25, 2017, The Baffler)

For Nolan, perhaps the last Tory propagandist in cinema, "society" and "the people" do not exist except as a mass to be manipulated, a paying audience. "I have a faith," he told the New York Times, "that any audience can tell the difference between something that's consistent to rules versus something that's totally made up and anarchic." Here the kiss warms over the slap: the audience is smart if it follows Nolan's rules, lest it lapse into anarchy. Order, by way of control, is opposed to chance. In this respect, Nolan's every film, from Following (1998) to Dunkirk (2017), reverses the anti-tradition of Roberto Rossellini, whom Jean-Luc Godard, in Godard on Godard, celebrates as a great artist because he trusts chance. "To trust chance is to hear voices," Godard wrote, by which he meant the voices of other people. If Christopher Nolan hears any voice, it's Margaret Thatcher's from 1987.

There is no notion, in the films of Nolan, that people may surprise you, perhaps with their intelligence or solidarity, and so no hope for chance. It's not a matter of ideology: Nolan insistently casts his work against art, chance, and therefore any idea of "the people." This renders each of his films a manifesto, an ars technica, because he wants nothing more than to choke out art and control his audience. In Following, his debut, this intention is literalized when a young novelist (an artist) is rused by a criminal manipulator named Cobb, a Nolan stand-in who reappears, by name, in Inception (2010). In The Prestige (2006), a film about dueling materialist wizards, Nolan presents the director-magician: the survivor who tricks his audience best and last--voila, Christian Bale is doubled. The Nolans are proliferating.

A team of manipulative nerds is called upon to rescue the human race, but they can't be just any nerds.
In Nolan's One Percent Quartet, "the people" are revealed to themselves, in evolutionary order, as criminals (Batman Begins), anarchists (The Dark Knight), self-immolating revolutionaries (The Dark Knight Rises). In the third of these, Nolan scratches his Burkean itch: the mob-audience applauds a show trial, an anglicized scene from the French Revolution reminiscent of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. For its part, the quartet's conclusion offers the final insult: "the people" aren't even real; they're weaponized figments of Nolan's imagination. ("Who are the people?" Ariadne asks, in Inception. "They're projections of my subconscious," Cobb-Nolan replies.) No longer beholden to audience reception, Nolan is now a master of Inception--he manipulates the audience as an object.

By this point Nolan is rich, the rightful heir of New Hollywood, the most fastidious, self-possessed director in town. With this in mind, the quartet--which begins as a story about a billionaire anti-hero and concludes with a corporate-espionage gothic about squeezing money out of the ultra-rich--reveals itself as autobiography. Nolan will never again lack for investors, which is why he next pursues outer space, the dream of any businessman flush with capital.

In Interstellar (2014), the people have sunk low; they can no longer feed themselves, and they burn each other's corn. A team of manipulative nerds is called upon to rescue the human race, but they can't be just any nerds. Pitched against the nefarious Dr. Mann, a belligerent survivalist who carries the Hobbesian virus (hence his name) into distant galaxies, we get Cooper and Murph, a romantic father-daughter couple, a reunited family. "There is no such thing as society," said Thatcher. "There are individual men and women"--explorers, scientists, useless farmers--"and there are families."

The truths behind Christopher Nolan's lauded World War II epic 'Dunkirk' (DAN GUNDERMAN, July 25, 2017, NY Daily News)

Christopher Nolan's visceral World War II film "Dunkirk" won last weekend's box office and remains one of the best-reviewed war films in history. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


What Happens When Doctors Only Take Cash (Haley Sweetland Edwards, Jan 26, 2017, TIME)

The catch is that the whole facility is cash-based. It doesn't take insurance of any kind. Not Aetna. Not Cigna. Not Medicare or Medicaid. Patients or their employers pay whatever price is listed online, period. There are no negotiated rates, no third-party reimbursements and almost no paperwork. "We say, 'Here's the price. Here's what you're getting. Here's your bill,'" says Keith Smith, who co-founded the Surgery Center in 1997 with fellow anesthesiologist Steven Lantier. "It's as simple as that."

To Villa, the model seemed refreshingly subversive. The Surgery Center would charge $19,000 for his whole-knee replacement, a discount of nearly 50% on what Villa expected to be charged at his local hospital. And that price would include everything from airfare to the organization's only facility, in Oklahoma City, to medications and physical therapy. If unforeseen complications arose during or after the procedure, the Surgery Center would cover those costs. Villa wouldn't see another bill.

Sometimes called direct pay, and closely related to concierge care, this sort of business model was once seen as the perquisite of rich folks and medical tourists from foreign lands. But nowadays many of the people seeking cash-based care are middle-class Americans with high-deductible insurance plans. For a patient with an $11,000 family deductible, for example, it might make more sense to seek out a cash-based center like the Premier Medical Imaging facility in Minneapolis, which offers a basic MRI for $499, than to cough up the several thousand dollars that the same procedure generally costs at a traditional hospital. Cash payments don't count toward a patient's deductible, but for some it's worth the gamble.

Self-insured companies, like the trucking and storage firm where Villa is the chief administrative officer, are also fueling the trend. Because such companies pay their employees' medical bills out of their operating budget, it's in their interest to steer everybody to the cheapest option. Villa, for example, says his decision to go to the Surgery Center saved his company money, since his $19,000 bill is less than it would have been charged, even with a negotiated discount, by a traditional hospital. The Oklahoma state public employees' insurance fund, which covers 183,000 people, recently did similar math. In 2015 it announced a new rule: If patients go to a traditional hospital, they pay their deductible and co-payment. If they go to a cash-based provider that meets the fund's criteria, including the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, they pay nothing at all.

While no organization keeps track of how many cash-based medical centers have cropped up nationwide in recent years, Smith and Lantier say they've witnessed an explosion. In Oklahoma City alone there are roughly three dozen centers that are all or partly cash based, specializing in everything from radiology to oncology. Texas has two dozen such facilities, and in Torrance, Calif., the Ocean Surgery Center posts many of its prices online. Thousands of cash-based primary-care practices have also sprung up across the country. [...]

[E]ven without a new Republican system, cash-based care has been growing under Obamacare, which required insurers to provide more-comprehensive coverage and to offer plans to anyone who wanted one. Insurers made up for having to cover a more expensive patient population by getting customers to contribute more out of pocket with higher deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance. While Obamacare imposed limits on how high deductibles could be--$7,150 for an individual and $14,300 for a family--the out-of-pocket contributions rose for many Americans, turning more patients into price hounds. If you're paying cash for that mole removal anyway, why not find the cheapest dermatologist in town? The Surgery Center of Oklahoma, among the first in the country to post its prices online in 2008, saw an uptick in business after Obamacare. "I guess it's ironic that Obamacare created this market for us," Smith says, with a laugh.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Scaramucci Attacks Media for Reporting on News That He Leaked (Alex Griswold, July 25, 2017, Free Beacon)

"This is the problem with the leaking," Scaramucci said. "This is actually a terrible thing."

"Let's say I'm firing Michael Short today," he continued. "The fact that you guys know about it before he does really upsets me as a human being and as a Roman Catholic."

But Scaramucci's complaint was an odd one. The news of Short's firing was first reported by Politico, which cited Scaramucci himself as its source.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Jobs lift U.S. consumer confidence to near 16-year high (Lucia Mutikani, 7/25/17, Reuters) 

U.S consumer confidence jumped to a near 16-year high in July amid optimism over the labor market while house prices maintained their upward trend in May, which could boost consumer spending after recent sluggishness.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index surged to 121.1 this month, the second highest reading since 2000, from 117.3 in June. The rise in confidence came despite the healthcare impasse in Washington.

Fundamentals trump all.

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


Anthony Scaramucci surprises White House staffer Michael Short with news of his own impending firing (The Week, 7/25/17)

Freshly minted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Tuesday told Politico that he intends to fire Assistant Press Secretary Michael Short. Scaramucci's announcement, it seemed, was the first that Short had heard of his own impending firing. "No one has told me anything and the entire premise is false," Short said, shortly after Scaramucci spoke to Politico.

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


Fears Obamacare Would Be a Job Killer Were Wrong, Study Finds (Michael S. Derby, 7/25/17, WSJ)

Projections that the Obama administration's signature health-care legislation would drive workers out of the labor force have proved wrong, according to a new paper by researchers at Stanford University. [...]

[S]everal years into the ACA's implementation, the CBO's expectations have not been borne out, the researchers found.

While the paper noted a "substantial" increase in those who gained health insurance, "our findings indicate that the average labor supply effects of the [Affordable Care Act] were close to zero."

The paper's findings "weakens one of the arguments against the ACA," that it was a job killer, Mr. Duggan said in an interview. Based on the evidence, the law "doesn't look like it hurts the economy." [...]

Among critics' arguments against the ACA was that government-subsidized access to health insurance and expanded access to the government-provided Medicaid health-coverage program would cause some workers to leave the labor force, because they would no longer have to rely on employer-provided plans. Supporters of the legislation said it could create jobs because entrepreneurs would be able to start their own firms without worrying about going without coverage.

Any ACA-driven reduction in labor force participation would have come on top of a long-running decline driven largely by the retirement of baby boomers, and would be an unwanted, additional headwind to economic growth.

Drilling down, the paper found the law drove people to make different choices about work. "Middle-income individuals reduced their labor supply due to the additional tax on earnings while lower income individuals worked more in order to qualify for private insurance," the authors wrote. "In the aggregate, these countervailing effects approximately balance" in terms of their impact on overall participation rates.

While the paper finds the CBO projections were wrong, Mr. Duggan stressed that he has no issue with the agency's work. "Their estimates are quite reasonable" and many of the CBO's Obamacare forecasts were right on the money, he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Many conservatives enraged over Obama school speech (Alan Silverleib, 9/05/09, CNN)

The White House found itself on the defensive Friday over what would ordinarily be considered the most uncontroversial of events: a back-to-school speech to the nation's children.

The White House said the address, set for Tuesday, and accompanying suggested lesson plans are simply meant to encourage students to study hard and stay in school.

Many conservative parents aren't buying it. They're convinced the president is going to use the opportunity to press a partisan political agenda on impressionable young minds.

"Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me," suburban Colorado mother Shanneen Barron told CNN Denver affiliate KMGH. "I'm an American. They are Americans, and I don't feel that's OK. I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now." 

July 24, 2017

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U.S. Agency Promoting Trade With Iran Despite Trump Opposition (Adam Kredo, July 24, 2017, Free Beacon)

A July report released by USDA praises the Obama administration's efforts to open trade with Iran following the landmark nuclear agreement that dropped major sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The report contradicts White House policy on Iran, which has taken an increasingly hardline against increased relations with Iran under President Donald Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM



In the first six months of 2017, Scotland set a new wind power record, solidifying the country's role as a leader in renewable energy. In June alone, the nation's wind turbines generated over one million megawatt hours of electricity--enough to power 118 percent of Scottish households. 

Over the last six months, wind energy has supplied 57 percent of the country's total energy needs, including electricity consumption from homes, businesses, and industry. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


The US produces 40% more factory output today vs. 20 years ago with 5M fewer workers. (Mark J. Perry, 7/24/17, AEI Ideas)

 The chart above shows that over the last 20 years, the real value of US manufacturing output has increased by 40% (and by $544 billion in 2009 dollars). During the same period, factory employment in the US decreased by 29% (and by 5.1 million jobs). US manufacturing output was near a record high last year at $1.91 trillion, just slightly below the 2007 level of $1.92 trillion, and will likely reach a new record high later this year.

So that's the real story of US manufacturing and the loss of jobs: We'll likely produce a record level of manufacturing output this year, with fewer than 12.5 million factory workers - the same manufacturing employment as in the early 1940s. The US will produce about four times more factory output this year than in the 1940s with about the same number of factory workers! And it's that phenomenal increase in factory worker productivity, thanks to innovation and advances in technology, that explains most of the manufacturing job losses over time. 

Less work.  More wealth.  That's what passes for a crisis at the End of History.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


In 47 states, a smaller part of the population now approves of Trump than voted for him (Philip Bump July 24, 2017, Washington Post)

Donald Trump eked his way into the White House last fall on the strength of 78,000 votes in three states. He lost the popular vote by about two percentage points, earning the support of just under 46 percent of voters who cast a ballot.

Since Nov. 8, polling has consistently shown that an even smaller percentage of the country thinks the president is doing a good job. The most recent weekly approval rating average from Gallup, for example, has Trump at 39 percent approval -- seven percentage points lower than the support he got at the ballot box.

On Monday, Gallup offered a more detailed set of data. Using interviews conducted over Trump's first six months in office -- during which his approval slipped slightly nationally -- Gallup determined the average approval in each of the 50 states.

In 17 states Trump's approval rating was at or above 50 percent. In 31 states, more people disapproved of his job performance than approved. [...]

If Trump were to win only states where he had at least 50 percent approval in the first six months of this year, he'd end up with 99 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win the presidency. (As we've seen so often before, not many people live in the big states Trump won in 2016.)

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Mass. Supreme Court Rules State Officers Can't Hold People on ICE Detainers (Madeleine Weast, July 24, 2017, Free Beacon)

The Massachusetts Supreme Court on Monday ruled that state law does not allow local officials to detain illegal immigrants and others at the request of federal immigration authorities.

Federal immigration detention orders are not enough for state officers to hold individuals, according to the court ruling.

"Nothing in the statutes or common law of Massachusetts authorizes court officers to make a civil arrest in these circumstances," the ruling stated. [...]

"Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigrations detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody," the court ruled.

The court left it up to the legislature to change the law if state lawmakers see fit, writing that it is not the court's place to create or define a new authority for officers to arrest and detain people under federal immigration law.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


White House Floats Rudy Giuliani As Attorney General (Benjamin Hart, 7/24/17, New York)

After President Trump trashed Jeff Sessions on Twitter Monday morning, the White House appeared to twist the knife into the "beleaugured" attorney general even harder by leaking the name of a possible replacement: Rudy Giuliani.

Axios's Mike Allen reports that "President Trump is so unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he has raised the possibility of bringing back Rudolph Giuliani to head the Justice Department, according to West Wing confidants."

Now he's just testing how little self-respect the AG actually has.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Jonathan Gruber disputes idea that mortgage interest deduction boosts homeownership (Joseph Lawler, Jul 24, 2017, Washington Examiner)

The tax deduction for mortgage interest does not increase homeownership, according to a new study based on an experiment in Denmark.

That finding, which is highly relevant for the tax reform that Republicans are currently mulling that could curb the deduction over the housing lobby's objections, comes from a working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research Monday. The paper, which has not gone through peer review, is co-authored by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, often referred to as the architect of Obamacare.

The mortgage interest deduction "has a precisely estimated zero effect on homeownership, even in the very long run," concludes the study, written by Gruber and economists from Princeton and the University of Copenhagen.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows takes a seat at the top table (Al Weaver | Jul 24, 2017, Washington Examiner)

After the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape was leaked to the press, setting off scandalized and electorally dangerous discussion about Trump's treatment of women, Republicans of many stripes, especially those facing tough re-election battles, abandoned Trump. But Meadows and his wife stayed on board, literally and figuratively. Debbie Meadows boarded a "Women for Trump" bus with 10 other wives of congressmen, and defended the candidate. Trump and the White House have not forgotten this, and are unlikely ever to do so.

"We will always remember how tenacious and loyal Mark and Debbie Meadows were, especially after Oct. 7. They're definitely members of what we call the 'Oct. 8th coalition,'" said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, in an interview.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Forget Russia. I'd fire Jeff Sessions over civil forfeiture. (Glenn Harlan Reynolds, July 24, 2017, USA Today)

Under "civil forfeiture," law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. ("Legal fiction" sounds better than "lie," but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It's also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.

As Drug Enforcement Agency agent Sean Waite told the Albuquerque Journal, "We don't have to prove that the person is guilty. ... It's that the money is presumed to be guilty."

"Presumed to be guilty." Once in America, we had a presumption of innocence. But that was inconvenient to the powers that be.

As the party platform said : "[W]e will reform the civil asset forfeiture system to protect people and remove perverse incentives for law enforcement to 'police for a profit.'"

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Putin told Trump that Russian hackers were too good to get caught: report (ROBIN EBERHARDT,  07/24/17, The Hill)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Trump that Russian hackers wouldn't have gotten caught if they did hack Democratic groups because they're too skilled at spying, the New York Times reported Monday.

Trump has since repeated the claim, according to White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Dude, no one flies Aeroflot.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


U.S. Inflation Remains Low, and That's a Problem (BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, JULY 24, 2017, NY Times)

The Federal Reserve thinks modest inflation has important economic benefits, and it has aimed since 2012 to keep prices rising at an annual pace of 2 percent. The problem is that the Fed is on track to fail for the sixth straight year. Inflation has been stubbornly sluggish.

A little inflation can brighten the economic mood, causing wages and corporate profits to rise more quickly. Economists like to point out that this is an illusion. If everyone is making more money, then no one can buy more stuff. Prices just go up. But the evidence suggests people enjoy the illusion and, importantly, they respond to the illusion by behaving in ways that increase actual economic growth, for example by working harder.

When our biggest problem is that technology and trade are creating too much wealth too cheaply for prices to go up, it's no wonder our partisan differences are so trivial.

After 40 years of this though, it would be helpful if the Fed admitted they won the war on inflation and prepared people for neoliberal/neoconomic reality.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


EXCLUSIVE: FBI Seized Smashed Hard Drives From Wasserman Schultz IT Aide's Home (Luke Rosiak, 07/23/2017, Daily Caller)

FBI agents seized smashed computer hard drives from the home of Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's information technology (IT) administrator, according to an individual who was interviewed by Bureau investigators in the case and a high level congressional source.

Pakistani-born Imran Awan, long-time right-hand IT aide to the former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman, has since desperately tried to get the hard drives back, the individual told The Daily Caller News Foundation's Investigative Group.

The congressional source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, confirmed that the FBI has joined what Politico previously described as a Capitol Police criminal probe into "serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network" by Imran and three of his relatives, who had access to the emails and files of the more than two dozen House Democrats who employed them on a part-time basis.

Thankfully, they're government drives so they're only 80mb.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Trump's First 6 Months Were Terrible, But He Got 3 Things Right (DEREK CHOLLET, JULY 21, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Three areas stand out. Let's start with the easy one: the leadership of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the performance of the U.S. military. Mattis has become the go-to talking point for Republicans trying to defend Trump, and is the life-preserver for observers and allies worried about the direction of the United States. Heaping praise on him has become a cliché. Is he the second coming of General George Marshall? No. But we're lucky he's there.

Mattis gets credit mainly because his first six months at the Pentagon have been the most "normal" part of the Trump national security effort. [...]

In his revealing recent interview with the Islander, a high school newspaper in Washington state, Mattis was asked about the differences between the Obama and Trump approaches to the Middle East. "I think the two administrations are more variations on a theme than they are dramatically different approaches," he said. In the same interview, Mattis expressed admiration for Hillary Clinton's accomplishments as Secretary of State, such as her diplomacy that led to crippling sanctions against Iran, which brought it to the negotiating table. It is worth asking what would be different in defense policy today if Clinton were sitting in the Oval Office. I think that so far, the answer is not a lot.

The most notable shift in military policy under Trump has been the ceding of virtually all decision-making authorities to the Pentagon. This inclination to delegate doesn't stem from an informed consideration of the proper civilian-military balance on decisions about the use of force. It is simpler. Congenitally uninterested in details and allergic to accountability, Trump is ceding authority on military decisions not necessarily to help things go right, but to give himself an out if things go wrong. Military leaders understand this risk -- and cringe watching the president go after his own law enforcement leaders (many of whom were and are their close colleagues around the Situation Room table), knowing they could be next. If he'll throw Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the bus, then no one is safe.

A second policy area that's still good is counterterrorism cooperation with key partners. It is easy to lose sight of this amid the pileup of talk about how bad things are going with allies, especially in Europe. But counterterrorism officials on both sides of the Atlantic say that relationships remain unchanged, and that they are still sharing information, coordinating activities, and disrupting plots. [...]

A third part of Trump's foreign policy that at least one can say the Trump administration is giving it a try, although it is too soon to conclude that it's going well, is diplomacy. This may seem preposterous. As I have argued before, despite high hopes for success, Rex Tillerson is off to the worst start of any modern secretary of state, suffering from a self-generated quintuple whammy of problems with a gutted budget, lack of personnel, no apparent influence over big White House decisions (despite a lot of time invested in building a relationship with Trump), little juice with allies or Capitol Hill, and anemic leadership. For the most part, Tillerson treats career diplomats like they are Siri -- there to provide information when asked. Despite all this, there are signs that on certain issues, the Trump team is ready to give diplomacy a chance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


The future of hydrogen fuel (Alan Finkel, 7/23/17, Cosmos)

When the hydrogen is used for stoves, or space heating, the only combustion product is water vapour! So what's standing in the way of this utopian fuel? Problem one is that producing hydrogen from electricity is only 70% efficient, so you need a very cheap electricity supply. It could be coming.

As our electricity is increasingly sourced from wind and solar, the amount available will often exceed the electrical load. Owners of the generators will seek an economically worthwhile purpose for this excess, such as charging batteries, desalinating water, or making hydrogen.

Problem two is that the current large-scale electrolysis units are so expensive that the cost of producing hydrogen is several times more than natural gas. But one thing we know for sure is that as manufacturing volumes increase, costs come down. We've seen it already in related industries. Wind turbine prices have halved in the past five years and solar prices have dropped even faster. Similar cost reductions are likely for electrolysis units.

Problem three is that steel pipes - a major part of the current gas delivery infrastructure - aren't suited to transporting hydrogen. They become brittle because the hydrogen molecules work their way into the spaces between the iron atoms and eventually cause cracks to form.

Fortunately, modern piping used for gas distribution is mostly made from polypropylene and does not suffer from this problem. Hydrogen can be mixed at up to 10% with the methane in the existing gas distribution network without any risk of corrosion nor need to change the nozzles on stoves or space heaters. Above 10% hydrogen concentration it's easier to commit and convert all gas appliances to run on pure hydrogen.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


The unspeakable evil of the Tennessee eugenics program (Matthew Walther, July 24, 2017, The Week)

[T]here is actually nothing amusing about Judge Sam Benningfield's standing order signed on May 15 awarding inmates 30 days worth of credit toward their jail sentences if they agree to undergo a sterility-inducing procedure -- a vasectomy for male offenders, a Nexplananon implant for females. Both procedures are available free of charge courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Health.

This is not some kind of innovative crime-reduction plan. It is eugenics.

How exactly it is possible for a judge in a general sessions court with juvenile jurisdiction to impose this order and arrange the gratis performance of these operations with state funds is a question best left to legal experts. The ACLU has released a statement denouncing the program as "unconstitutional." The local district attorney has called it "concerning," citing the difficulties of reversing a procedure undergone by impressionable young offenders looking for a speedy way out of their difficulties. But I am not interested in the constitutionality of the program.

It is evil. [...]

The closest we ever come to having it out about birth control is when the question of eugenics is raised. But the two questions cannot be separated from one another given the history of what used to be the contraceptive movement in this country. I will never understand why reputable mainstream politicians eagerly receive awards from Planned Parenthood, an organization founded by a woman who explicitly recommended the enforced sterilization of those she considered "unfit" or "feeble-minded" or "idiots." It would take an act of willful obtuseness to pretend that the practice of hawking free contraception and abortion today can be neatly separated from the ideology out of which the practice arose. Contraception and sterilization are eugenics.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, would certainly agree with Judge Benningfield about our moral duty to prevent those convicted of crimes from having children. "I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world that have disease from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically," she once told an interviewer. "Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they're born. That to me is the greatest sin that people can commit."

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


The Trump-Russia problem no one's talking about (Edward Burmila, July 24, 2017, The Week)

In 2004, President Trump paid $41.35 million for a Palm Beach, Florida, mansion formerly owned by Abe Gosman, a health-care executive. Dubbed "Maison de L'Amitie," the property at 515 N. County Road was classic Trump -- huge, flashy, and resplendent in the "late Baroque brothel" style he favors. It is unclear how much time Trump or his family spent living in the property, being only one of many under his control at the time.

Barely four years later and without having made improvements, Trump sold the property to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. The sale to Rybolovlev, who made billions in an unglamorous industry by cornering the Asian market in potash (a fertilizer) with his company Uralkali, raised eyebrows for two reasons. First, the purchase price of $95 million was not only by far the most ever paid for a home in swanky Palm Beach, but also more than twice what Trump paid four years earlier. More curiously, Rybolovlev has never seen or visited the property -- not before he agreed to pay that staggering price, nor since the sale was completed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Trump rebukes Republicans who do 'very little to protect their President' (The Week, July 23, 2017)
President Trump ended his weekend lamenting in the third person the lack of support he has from his fellow members of the GOP.

His biggest problem--other than what he is--was always going to be that he ran behind the party everywhere, making him indebted to them, not vice versa.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


This Isn't the First U.S. Opiate-Addiction Crisis (Stephen Mihm, 7/23/17,  Bloomberg)

The first great U.S. opiate-addiction epidemic began much the same way, with medications handed out by well-meaning doctors who embraced a wondrous new class of drugs as the answer to a wide range of aches and pains.

The pharmacologist Nathaniel Chapman, writing in 1817, held up opium as the most useful drug in the physician's arsenal, arguing that there was "scarcely one morbid affection or disordered condition" that would fail to respond to its wonder-working powers. That same year, chemists devised a process for isolating a key alkaloid compound from raw opium: morphine.

Though there's some evidence that opiate dependency had become a problem as early as the 1840s, it wasn't until the 1860s and 1870s that addiction became a widespread phenomenon. The key, according to historian David Courtwright, was the widespread adoption of the hypodermic needle in the 1870s.

Before this innovation, physicians administered opiates orally. During the Civil War, for example, doctors on the Union side administered 10 million opium pills and nearly 3 million ounces of opium powders and tinctures. Though some soldiers undoubtedly became junkies in the process, oral administration had all manner of unpleasant gastric side effects, limiting the appeal to potential addicts.

Hypodermic needles, by contrast, delivered morphine directly into a patient's veins with no side effects, yielding immediate results. As Courtwright notes: "For the first time in the entire history of medicine near-instantaneous, symptomatic relief for a wide range of diseases was possible. A syringe of morphine was, in a very real sense, a magic wand."

An enthusiastic medical profession began injecting morphine on a vast scale for all manner of aches and pains, much the way that a more recent generation of doctors began prescribing Oxycontin and other legal drugs in a reaction against widespread undertreatment of pain.

Wounded veterans became addicts, but so, too, did people suffering from arthritis. Women also became addicts en masse, thanks to the practice of treating menstrual cramps -- or for that matter, any female complaint of pain -- with injections of morphine.

Skeptics in the medical profession warned about the dangers of administering too much morphine. Yet these warnings generally fell on deaf ears. Some of the problem lay with the doctors themselves.

One well-regarded doctor put it this way: "Opium is often the lazy physician's remedy."

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