April 30, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Pelosi Prays for George W. Bush to Be President Again Instead of Trump (Sam Dorman, April 30, 2017, Daily Beacon)

Pelosi appeared to start making a comment about Trump and how his priorities were different than the country's, but accidentally said "President Bush."

"I'm so sorry President Bush. I never thought I'd pray for the day that you were president again," Pelosi said, in an apparent dig at Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


South Korea says U.S. reaffirms it will pay THAAD costs; joint drills wrap up (Ju-min Park and James Pearso, 4/30/17, Reuters)

South Korea said the United States had reaffirmed it would shoulder the cost of deploying the THAAD anti-missile system, days after President Donald Trump said Seoul should pay for the $1-billion battery designed to defend against North Korea.

In a telephone call on Sunday, Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, reassured his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, that the U.S. alliance with South Korea was its top priority in the Asia-Pacific region, the South's presidential office said.

April 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Military plane crashes in Cuba killing all eight on board (Reuters, 4/29/17)

The aircraft, a twin-engined turboprop Antonov AN-26, had taken off at 6:38 a.m. (0638 ET) from Playa Baracoa, just outside Havana, and crashed into the Loma de la Pimienta mountain some 80 km (50 miles) westwards.

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Does Iran's Khamenei really have a preferred candidate? (Reza Marashi, April 27, 2017, Al Monitor)

Rather than Khamenei or the political establishment selecting a favorite among the 2013 contenders, it was Jalili who used Western media to portray himself as the supreme leader's preferred candidate. Indeed, Jalili announced his candidacy during a CNN interview in Istanbul. Moreover, on the same day that he was approved to run, Jalili gave an interview to the Christian Science Monitor in which he was declared the frontrunner. Western media and pundits ran with Jalili's self-serving depiction as Khamenei's man, which was reported back into Iran via hard-line media as fact -- citing Western news coverage as evidence.

But seeking to avoid a repeat of Iran's 2009 presidential election and the ensuing instability, Khamenei seemingly stayed above the fray in 2013. Perhaps pushing back against Jalili's efforts to appropriate his image and sell it to voters, Khamenei bluntly stated in a speech, "I do not favor anybody. From this moment onward, foreign media will say with ulterior motives that I favor a particular candidate. This is a lie. I do not favor anybody."

Contrary to Jalili's depiction, Khamenei emphasized the correlation between voter turnout and legitimacy of the political establishment by saying, "My first and foremost recommendation is participation through the ballot box. This is more important than everything else. It is possible that some people do not want to support the Islamic Republic for any reason, but in any way they would like to support their country. Therefore, these people should go to ballot boxes as well." In the end, Jalili lost -- receiving only 11.8% of the vote.

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


Islamic State kills senior Afghan Taliban official in Pakistan: militants (Reuters, 4/29/17)

Islamic State killed a senior Afghan Taliban official in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, the Afghan militants said on Saturday, in a rare clash between the rival Islamist groups inside Pakistan. [...]

The Islamic State, which at one point controlled huge chunks of territory across Syria and Iraq, has made some inroads into Afghanistan but the group has met tough resistance from the Taliban as well as U.S. and Afghan special forces.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


France Against Itself (Tim Judah, 4/29/17, NY Review of Books)

A visit to the Côte d'Azur gives some sense of how this situation came about. First was the abysmal performance of the current administration. By last year Hollande's ratings had dropped so low that he decided not to run for a second term. His promises of reform and economic rejuvenation were largely unfulfilled. France has first-rate infrastructure and heath care, but taxes are high. The country's growth has been lingering in the doldrums since the financial crash of 2008. Its unemployment rate is almost 10 percent, or about 2.8 million people. Its youth unemployment rate is close to 25 percent. (Britain's unemployment rate is 4.7 percent and Germany's is 3.9 percent.) Writing in Le Figaro on April 19, a group of economists noted that in 1980 France's per capita GDP was 20 percent higher than that of Britain but that by 2015 Britain had overtaken it.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


No, 'The Handmaid's Tale' Is Not 'Unexpectedly Timely' (Megan McArdle, 4/25/17, Bloomberg View)

Fictional dystopia is sort of the photonegative of the movies produced by actual totalitarian regimes. Masses of people wearing identical creepy clothes, forming into precise lines, chanting the same things. Yes, in regimes like North Korea and Hitler's Germany, those mass rallies occurred. The men marched and the girls danced in eerily infinite lines. But afterward, most of them went home to the banal, the ordinary, and the familiar -- altered by political fear and economic shortages, but not wholly transformed into something unrecognizably inhuman.

In interviews since its publication, Atwood has emphasized that all the details in the book were based on things that really happened in the world (or at least, are recounted in tales; the "handmaids" of the book, concubines given to elite men of Gilead's theocracy in order to bear them the children their barren wives could not, is based on the story of Rachel and Jacob in the Book of Genesis). One sees the historical referents when reading, and yet the entire effect is completely unrealistic, because she's drawn details from too many oppressive regimes and collaged them all together. Thus a regime that is clearly supposed to be some sort of fundamentalist Protestant theocracy is enthusiastically adopting extramarital sex, infanticide and Tibetan prayer wheels. This makes for some dramatic imagery, but not for what Mary McCarthy, in her review of the book, called "the essential element of a cautionary tale": "...recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock." Dystopian regimes in real life have common features, yes, but they are not actually interchangeable; indeed, they are surprisingly specific.

Reading accounts of those actual regimes, I'm always surprised at how culturally embedded they remained, even as they proclaimed that they were enacting a new world order in which everything would be different.

People still got married and settled into family domesticity under communist regimes that were supposed to be sweeping away all the vestiges of private lives in favor of creating "new Soviet man" or his many cousins; people in theocratic states still had considerable variance in the level of religious observance; theoretically internationalist ideologies fell back on nationalist sentiment to motivate the masses. All of which is to say: The Taliban certainly existed, but it could not exist in America, because it would have no popular base from which to launch its attacks, no historic practice of burqa-wearing to ratify bringing them back.

Nor could such a movement gain power here along the lines that Atwood outlines. I've seen her praised for actually thinking through the mechanism by which her fictional state might emerge, and kudos for the effort, but we must also acknowledge that, as written, it doesn't really make all that much sense. The inciting event is a lightly fictionalized version of the Reichstag fire, but a careful student of history would note that a decade after the Reichstag fire, most of German society still looked pretty much like it had in 1925. No, I'm not excusing Nazi atrocities in any way shape or form, nor discounting the sweeping changes that Hitler did make. But they didn't gut-renovate the economy, wipe out all religions that competed with the state, and completely reorganize society in the space of a few years; they left much of the economy and the culture alone. For structural reasons -- she needs her handmaid to remember the world before as an adult, and yet still be young enough to be fertile -- Atwood needs changes that are both unrealistically sweeping and ludicrously fast. 

To the contrary, it's hard to see how its anti-life/anti-religious politics could be any more timely: 

How Democrats Got Mired In A Nasty Internal Battle Over Abortion : The party's unity tour reopened wounds from the primary. (Daniel Marans, 4/29/17, The Federalist)

National reproductive rights groups counted it as a major victory last week when the Democratic National Committee doubled down on its commitment to abortion rights amid anger at its support for Heath Mello, an anti-abortion candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

But the groups' pointed criticism of DNC chair Tom Perez, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) for embracing Mello sparked a bitter public debate about the Democratic Party's values ― one that continues to simmer, overshadowing the large crowds the party drew on its cross-country tour and muddying efforts to present a united front against President Donald Trump.

Now even the DNC is clarifying that it never meant to suggest it would not back Mello or other anti-abortion Democrats.

Bill Nye, the Scientism Guy (KYLE SMITH, April 27, 2017, National Review)

An even more horrifying moment occurred in episode 13, which is devoted to the supposed problem of overpopulation. Nye featured Travis Rieder, of Johns Hopkins University, as a guest panelist ethicist. Rieder said that because people in poor countries (being poor) don't consume much energy (even though overpopulation is a driver of climate change), we should direct our population-control efforts at the rich world, where the population isn't growing, instead of at the poor world, where it is. This would, he reasoned, be the best way of reducing global energy demands.

Even though in Niger the average woman has seven children, Rieder said, "our two kids are way more problematic!" Congratulations, Travis Rieder's children, your dad thinks your very existence regrettable. Next time you're standing on a ledge, don't let Dad sneak up behind you.

"So should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?" Nye asks. "I do think that we should at least consider it," Rieder replies blandly. "'At least consider it' is, like, 'Do it!'" Nye responds, a demonic glint in his eye. Another panelist, Dr. Nerys Benfield, director of family planning at Montefiore Medical Center, spots a whiff of eugenics here: "We've gone down that road before and who winds up being penalized? It's poor women, minorities, disabled women. . . . So we really have not come at it from a place of justice necessarily in the past."

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Who Had the Better First 100 Days? (Ben Mathis-Lilley, 4/26/17, Slate)

On the 31st day of his presidency, William Henry Harrison died. This presented a major hindrance to his efforts to pass signature legislation and has generally been considered the worst "first 100 days" a president can have. Given how poorly Donald Trump's first 100 days have gone, however, it seems possible that being dead might have been a better strategy than whatever it is Trump's doing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Gorka's Departure From White House Said To Be 'Imminent' (Larry Cohler-Esses, April 28, 2017, The Forward)

According to a story posted late Friday afternoon by The Daily Beast, the administration is now "actively exploring options" to remove Gorka from the White House and place him at another federal agency. In the story, sourced to two unnamed administration officials, Gorka's departure is described by one of those sources as "imminent."

A third source told Daily Beast staff writer Lachlan Markay that Gorka has been excluded from day-to-day policy making at the National Security Council due to his lack of a security clearance. The security clearance issue prevents him from sitting in on national security meetings, a former Obama administration official in touch with staff still working there, told Markay. This "leaves him without much to do all day," he said.

Nevertheless, "the president really likes him and appreciates him as a good spokesperson for the administration," a senior administration official said of Gorka. And this may yet save his job. No decision has yet been finalized. "But he isn't part of the NSC policy making process," this official said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Ick, Ticks! (Becky Munsterer Sabky, 4/28/17,  Valley News)

It's that time of year again. While most people get excited about the first warm days of spring, I'm less thrilled. Sure, warmer spring weather means shorts and soft-serve maple creemees. But it also means the onslaught of bugs. (Remember the old saying "Black flies are worst from Mother's Day to Father's Day?") And while I welcome grasshoppers, centipedes and honeybees, I'm less enthused by some of their cousins. The scariest, of course, is the deer tick.

Spring in the Upper Valley is rife with ticks. This time of year, my backyard is covered in ticks. My dog is covered in ticks. My friends are covered in ticks. Even, my soft-serve ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles has one black "sprinkle" that actually moves. (BLECH.)

I have no compassion. As far as I'm concerned, ticks are the most no-good, terrible, horrible, worst creatures on Earth. (They are also technically arachnids rather than insects, which make them doubly horrific, in my mind.) Lyme disease has affected friends and family and I'm desperate to keep these disgusting little bloodsuckers at bay. And Lyme is only one of many tick-borne diseases they carry. While I know that some organic oils promise to minimize them, we live in a place where they can't seem to be completely controlled. (I'd love to fill my yard with guinea hens to feast on the bugs, but unfortunately, we're not meant to be a fowl family.)

And so, I do my best to keep the ticks away. I wear high white socks and long khaki pants on walks with my dog. I keep my lawn as short as possible. I try to avoid grassy areas where deer roam. But no matter what, they creep in.

I literally found two on me just while posting this morning.  Perhaps the only downside of NH.
Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Afghan Warlord Hekmatyar Calls For Peace In Public Speech (Radio Liberty, April 29, 2017 )

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one Afghanistan's most notorious warlords, has called on the Taliban to stop fighting government troops and begin peace talks.

"I invite you to join the peace caravan and stop the pointless, meaningless and unholy war," Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, told a gathering of Afghan politicians and his supporters in Laghman Province on April 29.

"I want a free, proud, independent, and Islamic Afghanistan," Hekmatyar added, in his first public appearance in nearly two decades.

Hekmatyar, the founder and current leader of the Hezb-e Islami political party, signed a peace deal with the Afghan government in September

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM



The Cleveland Browns' analytically minded front office has asked a lot of the team's fans and ownership. After a trying 2016 and an anxiety-filled draft offseason, that patience appears to have paid off in the form of a celebrated free-agent haul and talented draft class that could become the nucleus of a future title contender. Yes, you read that right.

The "trust the process" mantra proffered by rebuilding teams can frustrate fans, especially the long-suffering supporters of the Browns. The franchise has rebooted its staff more frequently than other in recent years, employing six different general managers and head coaches since 2008. Accordingly, Cleveland's decision to reorganize its front office around Sashi Brown and former baseball executive Paul DePodesta last offseason tested an already broken trust.

In the time since those changes, the Browns produced little on the field. They looked destined for much of last season to become just the second team ever to finish with an 0-16 record. When they did win late in the season, it all but eliminated their shot at the No. 1 overall pick. The San Francisco 49ers bailed out Cleveland with an inexplicable December victory of their own, but it did little to dispel the fans' concerns.

However, in the past few days, the Browns have gone a long way toward changing their narrative.

...almost any baseball guy was going to be the smartest.

April 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


DeMint set to be ousted from Heritage Foundation (NANCY COOK , KENNETH P. VOGEL and ELIANA JOHNSON 04/28/17, Politico)

The controversial president of The Heritage Foundation, former Sen. Jim DeMint, may soon be out of a job, following a dispute with board members about the direction of conservative think tank, according to three people with knowledge of the situation. [...]

In recent months, DeMint has raised the profile of the think tank by closely aligning it with President Donald Trump. Last July, DeMint met with Trump transition officials for several hours and made it clear that if Trump won, he wanted to have a close working relationship with the administration.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Bill Nye's View of Humanity Is Repulsive (David Harsanyi, April 28, 2017, Real Clear Politics)

"Here's a provocative thought," Rieder says. "Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them." This is provocative in the way a stoner wondering why airplanes don't run on hemp is provocative. That's because the entire case for capping the number of children rests on assumptions entirely devoid of scientific or historical basis.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote that "the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man." At that point, there were maybe a billion humans on Earth, so we might forgive him for worrying. In 1800, the life expectancy of the average British citizen -- Britain then being the leading light of the world -- was 39 years. Most humans lived in pitiless poverty that is increasingly rare in most parts of the contemporary world.

Now, had Nye been around in the early 19th century, he'd almost surely have been smearing anyone skeptical of the miasma theory of disease. The problem is he lacks imagination; he's unable to understand that science is here to help humanity adapt and overcome, not constrict it. Anyway, 7-plus billion people later, extreme poverty was projected to fall below 10 percent for the first time ever in 2015. Most of those gains have been made in the midst of the world's largest population explosion.

Additionally, it is reported that because of the spread of trade, technological advances and plentiful fossil fuels, fewer people are hungry than ever; fewer die in conflicts over resources; and deaths due to extreme weather have been dramatically declining for a century. Over the past 40 years, our water and air have become cleaner, despite a huge spike in population growth. Some of the Earth's richest people live in some of its densest cities.

It's worth remembering that not only was early progressivism steeped in eugenics but early '70s abortion politics was played out in the shadow of Paul Ehrlich's population bomb theory. Former Vice President Al Gore has already broached the idea of "fertility management." Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg mentioned a few years ago, "Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of."

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


State Department Wants to Clear Nikki Haley's Remarks Before She Speaks (SOMINI SENGUPTA and GARDINER HARRIS, APRIL 27, 2017, NY Times)

The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, has often been the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues, on everything from military strikes on Syria to sanctions against Russia and how to approach human rights.

Much of that has come as a surprise to the State Department, and the Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, has often been far from the limelight.

Now, in an apparent attempt to foster greater coherence in American foreign policy, State Department officials are urging her aides to ensure her public remarks are cleared by Washington first.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Trump's populist revolution is already over ... for now (Doyle McManus, 4/16/17, Los Angeles Times)

Two weeks of head-spinning policy reversals have put Trump squarely inside the chalk lines of conventional Republican conservatism on both economics and foreign affairs.

His impulsive management style and his fact-challenged rhetoric are still intact. But most of his policy positions are now remarkably similar to those espoused by the GOP's last establishment nominee, Mitt Romney, in 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Exclusive: Trump says he thought being president would be easier than his old life (Stephen J. Adler, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland, 4/28/17, Reuters)

He misses driving, feels as if he is in a cocoon, and is surprised how hard his new job is.

President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House.

"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going," Trump told Reuters in an interview. "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Some Reflections on Chaim Potok's 'The Chosen' : The novel, published 50 years ago today, shaped the American Jewish encounter with Hasidism and Orthodoxy, while giving a pretty good play-by-play account of a baseball game (Aaron R. Katz, April 28, 2017, The Tablet)

It is only fitting that a book that is so "Jewish" opens with a description of arguably the most Jewish of all sports in the most Jewish of all American communities: baseball in Brooklyn. Ever since Lipman Pike was a star Jewish baseball player in the 1870s, Jews have always had a connection to the game. Central to the novel is a highly detailed description of a softball game between Reuven Malter's Modern Orthodox school and Danny Saunders' Hasidic school. As Potok sets out for the reader, the game itself is a product of America's entry into World War II, as a number of teachers in the Jewish school system wanted to show the gentile world that yeshiva students were just as physically fit as public school students. The description of the game is riveting, especially when we are introduced to Malter and Saunders who meet for the first time during the heated game. Ultimately, Saunders smacks the ball right toward Malter on the pitcher's mound, knocking off his glasses and sending him to the hospital where the two begin to cultivate their friendship in earnest.

Potok, clearly versed in the sport of baseball, wears the hat of a professional sports commentator throughout this opening chapter, to the extent that one can literally prepare a detailed box score of the fictional game. (Personal disclosure: I've done it. Although, for the record, in the top of the fifth inning, the inning in which Malter gets knocked out, the No. 2 batter is skipped in the batting order, and instead the No. 3 batter leads off the inning.) His biases toward Hasidim are also apparent from the opening pages. Time and time again the aggressiveness and sense of superiority of the Hasidim are asserted. In perhaps one of the tensest scenes in the opening chapter, when Saunders and Malter meet, Saunders says, "I told my team we're going to kill you apikorsim this afternoon." In Rabbinic Hebrew and in Yiddish, apikores refers to a heretic. Potok has transformed the baseball game into a religious war, with a clear delineation from the perspective of Malter, from whose perspective the book is written in first person. [...]

One of the people whom Potok thanks on the opening page of The Promise is professor David (Weiss) Halivni, a Holocaust survivor and longtime Talmud professor at JTS and Columbia University who is universally acclaimed as one of the pioneers of the academic Talmudic approach. Havlin actually finds one of the cases that Malter cites in Halivni's 1969 work, Mekorot u-Masorot on Seder Nashim.

Halivni lives in the Shaarei Chessed neighborhood in Jerusalem, and I recently saw him one Shabbos morning at the Kahal Chassidim synagogue. While it may seem strange to run into one of the foremost academic Talmudists davening at an Ultra-Orthodox shul in Jerusalem, where the congregants would not generally support his scholarly approach, in praying there, Halivni is true to the sentiments he expressed in his 1983 resignation letter to JTS: "It is my personal tragedy that the people I daven with, I cannot talk to, and the people I talk to, I cannot daven with. However, when the chips are down, I will always side with the people I daven with; for I can live without talking. I cannot live without davening." After davening that Shabbos morning, I went up to Halivni to ask him about his relationship with Potok. After exchanging warm greetings and expressing his joy in being recognized, Halivni discussed the many ways the fictional Malter and the Talmudic methodology he uses in The Chosen were modeled after him and his own personal work. With a warm smile and a wink, Halivni told me: "I am Reuven Malter."

Which is all well and good, except that Rabbi Saunders is the hero of the novel.
Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


The Pond-Skater Presidency (David Brooks, APRIL 28, 2017, NY Times)

The problem is that Trump has now changed and many of his critics refuse to recognize the change. He's not gotten brighter or humbler, but he's gotten smaller and more conventional. Many of his critics still react to him every single day at Outrage Level 11, but the Trump threat is at Level 3 or 4.

These days a lot of the criticism seems over the top and credibility destroying. The "resistance movement" still reacts as if atavistic fascism were just at the door, when the real danger is everyday ineptitude. These critics hyperventilate at every whiff of scandal in a way that only arouses skepticism.

If you are losing a gravitas battle to Donald Trump, you are really in trouble. [...]

Don't get me wrong. I wish we had a president who had actual convictions and knowledge, and who was interested in delivering real good to real Americans. But it's hard to maintain outrage at a man who is a political pond skater -- one of those little creatures that flit across the surface, sort of fascinating to watch, but have little effect as they go.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Seoul rejects Trump demand it pays for missile system (Al Jazeera, 4/28/17)

South Korea's government has brushed aside US President Donald Trump's suggestion that it should pay for a $1bn missile defence system the two allies are installing in South Korea to guard against threats from North Korea. [...]

The two countries have been in a security alliance since the 1950-53 Korean war, and more than 28,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea.

Seoul retorted that under the Status of Forces Agreement that governs the US military presence in the country, South Korea would provide the THAAD site and infrastructure while the US would pay to deploy and operate it.

"There is no change to this basic position," South Korea's defence ministry said in a statement.

April 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Russian Navy Ship Sinks In Black Sea After Collision With Freighter (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 4/27/17)

Almost 80 Russian Navy sailors were rescued off the coast of Turkey Thursday when a military intelligence ship collided with a freighter carrying livestock.

At least wild boars are scary; Putin can't beat cows.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


France's new National Front leader doubted Nazis gassed Jews (JTA, 4/27/17)

The interim successor to Marine Le Pen at the helm of France's far-right National Front party reportedly claimed in 2000 that the poison used by Nazis to kill Jews in the Holocaust could not have been applied in reality.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Why President Trump is getting killed in court, in 1 astonishingly ignorant comment (Scott Lemieux, April 27, 2017, The Week)

On Tuesday, a federal district court judge blocked an executive order intending to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities. The president of the United States wasted little time in reacting, tweeting "[f]irst the 9th Circuit rules against the ban and now it hits again on sanctuary cities -- both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!" and criticizing the winners of the suit for "judge shopping." In a subsequent interview, he expressed agreement with "the many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit."

Both the order itself and Trump's reaction to the court's ruling indicated why he's had a rough ride in the courts so far: He has no idea what he's doing.

The most obvious problem is that while U.S. District Judge William Orrick lives in the geographic area covered by the 9th Circuit -- he is based in San Francisco -- he does not in fact serve on that court. He's a trial judge, not an appellate one. The fact that the same president issuing executive orders apparently doesn't understand basic facts about the structure of the American judicial system is rather sobering. [...]

In a 1987 case which upheld the use of federal highway funds to establish a de facto national drinking age, the Supreme Court gave Congress a broad (although not unlimited) ability to use its spending power to persuade states to advance federal objectives. One of the limits that the Court placed, however, was that if Congress wants to put conditions on federal funding it "must do so unambiguously" so that states "exercise their choice knowingly, cognizant of the consequences of their participation." In addition, any conditions placed on spending must be "relevant to federal interest in the project and to the over-all objectives thereof." Congress could withhold highway spending to compel states to raise their drinking ages because it was related to the federal interest in highway safety, but it could not accomplish the same goal by threatening to withhold Social Security spending.

These restrictions made it nearly inevitable that the courts would find Trump's order unconstitutional. Judge Orrick's holding that Trump's order is not sufficiently related to the federal grants in question is debatable, although the case is strong. But it's obvious that Congress did not "unambiguously" make clear that the grants in question were conditioned on local officials enforcing federal immigration law. The Supreme Court can revise its own precedents, but lower courts cannot -- hence, Orrick had no real choice but to find that the order was unconstitutional.

...ape his Court-packing fiasco!
Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Donald Trump's Massive Corporate Tax Cut Literally Cannot Pass Congress (Jordan Weissmann, 4/26/17, Slate)

[U]nfortunately for Trump, his plan to slash corporate tax bills has a fatal flaw: It's probably forbidden under the Senate's rules, and thus entirely incapable of passing Congress.

At least, so suggest some recent comments by George Callas, who serves as senior tax counsel to House Speaker Paul Ryan. Speaking at a panel event in Washington last week, which was previously reported on by the New Republic's Brian Beutler, Callas dismissed the idea of passing a corporate tax cut without paying for it in pretty much the harshest terms a tax wonk can muster, calling it a "magic unicorn" at one point. Feisty!

"A plan of business tax cuts that has no offsets, to use some very esoteric language, is not a thing," Callas said. "It's not a real thing. And people can come up with whatever plans they want. Not only can that not pass Congress, it cannot even begin to move through Congress day one. And there are political reasons for that. No. 1, members wouldn't vote for it. But there are also procedural, statutory procedural, legal reasons why that can't happen." [...]

 During his appearance, a very exasperated Callas explained that, in order to satisfy the Byrd rule, corporate tax cuts would probably have to sunset after just two years, making them utterly pointless. Here's how he put it:

    Here is a data point for folks. A corporate rate cut that is sunset after three years will increase the deficit in the second decade. We know this. Not 10 years. Three years. You could not do a straight-up, unoffset, three-year corporate rate cut in reconciliation. The rules prohibit it. You might be able to do two years. A two-year corporate rate cut--I'll defer to the economists on the panel--would have virtually no economic effect. It would not alter business decisions. It would not cause anyone to build a factory. It would not stop any inversions or acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign companies. It would just be dropping cash out of helicopters onto corporate headquarters.
Tell us how you really feel, George.

...to take anything he says seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Ivanka Trump Parts Ways With Her Father on Syrian Refugees (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, APRIL 26, 2017, NY Times)

Ms. Trump's comments, which seemed to question the basis for President Trump's two executive orders that tried to bar migrants from Syria and other predominantly Muslim nations, set off a minor scramble in the West Wing. Advisers grappled with a political problem unique to Mr. Trump's family-business White House: how to manage an officially empowered daughter who is prone to challenging elements of the president's conservative agenda.

"I think there is a global humanitarian crisis that's happening, and we have to come together and we have to solve it," Ms. Trump told NBC when asked about the refugee crisis in Syria, which has created a nativist backlash in European countries.

Asked whether that would include admitting Syrian refugees to the United States, she replied: "That has to be part of the discussion. But that's not going to be enough in and of itself."

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Russia condemns alleged Israeli missile strike in Syria (AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, April 27, 2017)

The Kremlin on Thursday called for restraint after Syria accused Israel of firing several missiles at a military position near Damascus airport.

Pitting anti-democratic allies against each other--just another benefit.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


Getting to a 15 Percent Corporate Tax Rate Will Require Hard Choices (Alan D. Viard, April 26, 2017, The Hill)

The distortions caused by the corporate income tax in today's globalized economy are legion.  [...]

A more sweeping approach would seek bigger economic gains by moving toward consumption taxation. Consumption taxes are more growth-friendly than income taxes because they do not penalize saving and investment.

Most consumption tax plans involve some form of value-added tax (VAT) -- a consumption tax used in 160 countries that involves taxing the value added at each stage of production. The tax blueprint that House Republicans presented last year would replace the conventional corporate income tax with a business cash flow tax, a modified VAT that allows firms to deduct their wage costs.

The Republican blueprint has encountered roadblocks because the cash-flow tax is not well understood and because it would not fit well with the rest of the federal tax system nor with international trade rules.

A more straightforward approach would adopt a full-fledged VAT. By itself, using a VAT to pay for corporate rate reduction would shift the tax burden toward middle-income and lower-income households. To address that problem, the change should be part of a bigger reform that includes individual income tax cuts and rebates or tax credits for low-income households. Several proposals along these lines have been put forward.

Of course, moving to a VAT would raise many design and transition issues. For example, the VAT should be prominently listed on customer receipts to keep it from becoming a stealth tax that politicians could repeatedly raise without public scrutiny.

Cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent in a fiscally responsible manner would provide a powerful boost to the American economy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Trump's new immigrant hotline trolled by callers reporting UFOs (Laurie Chen , 27 APRIL 2017, The Telegraph)

Pranksters have been mass-calling President Trump's new immigrant crime hotline to report UFOs and alien sightings on its first day. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Suspected U.S. drone strike targets Pakistani Taliban militants: sources (Saud Mehsud, 4/27/17, Reuters)

Abdullah Wazirstani, spokesman for North Waziristan Taliban, a group linked to the Pakistani Taliban, said the strike killed three civilian "laborers" and seven militants from the Pakistani Taliban, which is also known as TTP.

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