January 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Obama's Unnecessary Wars and 'Humanitarian' Interventionism (DANIEL LARISON, January 17, 2017, American Conservative)

The U.S. intervened in Libya in 2011 in the name of the "responsibility to protect." No one even tried to pretend that U.S. interests were at stake in the Libyan war, and yet Obama committed the U.S. to an avoidable war anyway. The U.S. started ISIS bombing targets in Iraq and then in Syria. ISIS didn't pose a threat to the U.S. then and still doesn't, but Obama ordered a bombing campaign against them all the same. The U.S. wasn't threatened by the Houthis in Yemen, but Obama has backed the Saudi-led war on Yemen in order to "reassure" Riyadh even though it is making the region more unstable and it is making America more enemies than we had before. The direct costs to the U.S. of all these bad decisions have so far been limited, but they are all costs that the U.S. didn't need to pay for wars that we shouldn't have been fighting. This is why I have difficulty crediting Obama as a "reluctant" hawk when someone genuinely reluctant to resort to force would not have involved the U.S. in any of these conflicts.

It's like W served 4 terms...

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM

PODCAST : Higher Education and the American Soul: A Conversation with Peter Lawler (Liberty & Law)


This edition of Liberty Law Talk is a conversation with Peter Lawler about his new position as editor of Modern Age and his just released book, American Heresies and Higher Education

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Obama Commutes Bulk of Chelsea Manning's Sentence (CHARLIE SAVAGE, JAN. 17, 2017, NY Times)

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men's military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

...but the guy is, by definition, insane.  Now how about commuting the sentences of some of the incompetents on death row.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


CNN panelist says on air that fellow panelist is a 'mediocre Negro' for supporting Trump (Sara Gonzales, 1/17/17, The Blaze)

Levell asked Hill: "Pastor Darryl Scott, Mike Cohen, they are in the process of bringing all types of people from all over the country, from all different backgrounds. Remember the diversity coalition where we reached out to all different types of people?"

"Yeah, it was a bunch of mediocre Negroes being dragged in front of TV as a photo-op for Donald Trump's exploitative campaign against black people. And you are a prime example of that," Hill retorted.

As the panelists all began raising their voices at one another Symone Sanders, former press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign came to Hill's defense. Levell criticized Hill for hurling insults, to which Hill responded, "I'm not name calling."

"mediocre" is a wild overestimation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


In This 2009 Trump Interview, He Said There Was Just One Phrase Of The Declaration Of Independence He Didn't Understand (AARON BANDLER JANUARY 17, 2017, Daily Wire)

"They say all men are created equal," Trump said. "It doesn't get any more famous but, is it really true?"

Trump then said it wasn't true that all men are created equal.

"Some people are born very smart, some people are born not so smart," Trump said. "Some people are born very beautiful and some people are not so you can't say they're all created equal."

The Founders wept.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


The Transition from Obama to Trump Brings a Nosedive in Public Approval for the President (SAM WANG, JANUARY 17, 2017, American Prospect)

We won't have a job approval number for Trump yet until he is sworn in. But we do have a closely related survey number, his personal approval. Trump has the lowest approval rating of any incoming president in decades. In the past, presidents started out with majority approval--that even includes Richard Nixon, who is remembered for his ignominious ending in the Watergate scandal. Now, for the first time, fewer than half of Americans--43 percent--approve of the president-elect. Nixon ended up with lower approval--but Trump is not president yet, so he still has time to break that record.

The change from Obama to Trump, a drop of 14 percentage points, is a rare instance of a decrease in approval, and it is the largest decline on record.

Gotta love all the Donald fanboys who think he's winning these exchanges with the press, intelligence agencies, civil rights leaders, actresses, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Study: Number of Abortions in US Hits 40-Year Low (ANDREW FOLLETT,  January 17, 2017, The Stream)

The number of abortions in the U.S. is at a 40-year low, according to a new study published Tuesday by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute.

The report counted 926,200 abortions in 2014, down by 12.5 percent from Guttmacher's previous survey in 2011, which tallied 1.06 million abortions across the country. Only 14.6 abortions occurred per 1,000 American women between the ages of 15 and 44, which is the lowest rate since abortion was legalized nationally in 1973 by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM

TRINITARIAN (profanity alert):

All the Small Things (Kevin Clark, Jan. 17th, 2017, The Ringer)

Belichick's diverse background may be rare among head coaches, but it's common among his assistants. He gravitates toward staff members who possess similar flexibility, whether it comes from working with the offense and defense alike or from working in different parts of the organization. Current defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, for instance, was the team's assistant offensive line coach in 2005 before becoming the linebackers coach a year later. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio was the team's wide receivers coach. Linebackers coach Brian Flores used to be a Patriots scout. League-wide, it's uncommon for coaches and scouts to switch career paths like that once they're at the NFL level, but in Belichick's house, it's routine.

Possessing expertise across the organization doesn't just make coaches and execs smarter; it helps earn players' trust. "He's done everything, so when he's talking about anything you have to listen," New England pass rusher Rob Ninkovich says of Belichick. "Offensive coach, defensive coordinator, special teams, it's unbelievable. He can know anything."

The Patriots have finished in the top seven in special teams DVOA in every season since 2011, and that's no coincidence: They're obsessed with that phase of the game. Belichick talks breathlessly about its intricacies, and that passion has translated into field position: This season, their opponents' average drive began on the 26, best in the league, while their own average drive started at the 31, third-best in the league.

Committing to special teams excellence is a conscious choice: The Patriots paid Matthew Slater, the special teams ace tasked with flying down the field to make the tackle on punts and kickoffs, more than $2 million this season, an extremely uncommon expenditure in a league in which teams are loathe to spend more than the minimum on special teams players. They spent a fourth-round pick on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who's been with the team since 2006, and a fifth-round pick on long snapper Joe Cardona despite only four exclusive long snappers ever being drafted. They didn't draft punter Ryan Allen, but that won't stop Belichick, who believes the spin Allen generates makes the ball harder to catch, from gushing about the left-footer.

Every team knows that there are three phases to the game, but few care more about the third one than the Patriots.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


For Trump, Three Decades of Chasing Deals in Russia (Megan Twohey and Steve Eder, Jan. 16th, 2017, NY Times)

As the Russian market opened up in the post-Soviet era, Mr. Trump and his partners pursued Russians who were newly flush with cash to buy apartments in Trump Towers in New York and Florida, sales that he boasted about in a 2014 interview. "I know the Russians better than anybody," Mr. Trump told Michael D'Antonio, a Trump biographer who shared unpublished interview transcripts with The New York Times.

Seeking deals in Russia became part of a broader strategy to expand the Trump brand worldwide. By the mid-2000s, Mr. Trump was transitioning to mostly licensing his name to hotel, condominium and commercial towers rather than building or investing in real estate himself. He discovered that his name was especially attractive in developing countries where the rising rich aspired to the type of ritzy glamour he personified.

While he nailed down ventures in the Philippines, India and elsewhere, closing deals in Russia proved challenging. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. praised the opportunities in Russia, but also called it a "scary place" to do business because of corruption and legal complications.

Mr. Sater said that American hotel chains that had moved into Russia did so with straightforward agreements to manage hotels that other partners owned. Mr. Trump, by contrast, was pursuing developments that included residential or commercial offerings in which he would take a cut of sales, terms that Russians were reluctant to embrace.

Even so, Mr. Trump said his efforts put him in contact with powerful people there. "I called it my weekend in Moscow," Mr. Trump said of his 2013 trip to Moscow during a September 2015 interview on "The Hugh Hewitt Show." He added: "I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top of the government people. I can't go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary."

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


The Alt-Right Comes to Washington (Ben Schreckinger, Jan. 17th, 2017, Politico)

Of course, coming in from the cold can also bring financial rewards, and some in the movement have a more old-fashioned ambition: that their coziness with the new administration will result in government contracts, and friendly regulators who won't interfere with planned business ventures like a social media platform for people with high IQs.

For a movement that feeds on outsider energy, its members already enjoy surprising access to the inside of the incoming White House. Yiannopoulos' official title is technology editor of Breitbart, the website formerly run by top Trump adviser Steve Bannon, with whom both Yiannopoulos and internet troll Charles Johnson say they keep in touch. Yiannopoulos and Johnson also both say they know Trump's most influential megadonor, Rebekah Mercer. While I was spending time with another movement figure in California, he took a phone call from the son of Trump's incoming national security adviser. (A shared spokeswoman for Bannon and Mercer did not respond to requests for comment about their relationships with Johnson and Yiannopoulos.)

But the new young nationalists also have a problem: They need to re-brand, urgently. In the first theatrical arrival of the alt-right in Washington, days after Trump's election, Richard Spencer, the originator of the term "alt-right" and an open white nationalist, held a conference at the Ronald Reagan building, a couple of blocks from the White House. After dinner, once most of the national media had departed, Spencer rose to deliver a speech that crescendoed with him raising his glass in a kind of toast. As he held his arm up, he proclaimed, triumphantly, "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!" In response, several attendees erupted in Nazi salutes, indelibly associating the alt-right with jackbooted white supremacy and provoking an instant schism in the movement. In a video produced from the conference, the Atlantic blurred out attendees' faces, as if the footage had been smuggled out of a criminal enterprise. Soon, the Associated Press and the New York Times issued memos that officially defined alt-righters as white nationalists.

Now, as its members move on Washington, an already fragmented movement is further split between those who embrace Spencer's racial politics and those who, for reasons of pragmatism or principle, reject the "alt-right" label for its associations. Said Paul Ray Ramsey, a blogger who flirts with white nationalism but found the Nazi associations a bridge too far, even for him: "You don't want to tie your brand to something that's ultimate evil."

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Blockchain could save investment banks up to $12 billion a year: Accenture (Anna Irrera and Jemima Kelly, 1/17/17, Reuters)

Blockchain technology could help the world's largest investment banks cut their infrastructure costs by between $8 to $12 billion a year by 2025, according to a report by Accenture.

The report, published on Tuesday jointly with benchmarking firm McLagan - part of consultancy Aon Hewitt - is based on an analysis of cost data from eight of the world's ten largest investment banks, and provides a rare concrete estimate of blockchain's potential savings.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


North Korea's Kim Jong Un Facing A Rebellion? (Seerat Chabba, Jan. 17th, 2017, IBT)

A senior North Korean diplomat in London who defected to South Korea last year said Tuesday that a much larger number of Pyongyang's civil servant defections have taken place recently than have been made public, South Korean media reported.

"A significant number of diplomats came to South Korea," Thae Yong-ho said at a conference hosted by the conservative Bareun Party, Yonhap News Agency reported. "Even now, there are a number of (North Koreans) waiting to head to the South."

"There will be an increase in the number of elite-class defectors seeking a better life," Thae added. "I am the only high-ranking official whose identity has been revealed to the public. South Korean media do not know but North Korean diplomats are all aware of it."

More than economic reasons, the political situation in Pyongyang has been the main factor for North Koreans fleeing the country, the Wall Street Journal quoted South Korea's Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo as saying in an interview Monday.

Vietnam Seen Moving Closer to Emerging Upgrade With Bank Opening (Giang Nguyen, Jan. 16th, 2017, Bloomberg)

The opening up of Vietnam's banks to more foreign investment is expected to speed the country's ascent to emerging-market status and boost a stock index that's already near a nine-year high.

The country's lenders surged on Tuesday after Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said offshore ownership caps would be raised from the current level of 30 percent as early as this year. The government may exit completely from some troubled banks, Phuc said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Hanoi on Friday, without saying what the new limit would be.

Meet Chiran (The Economist, 1/17/17)

The automotive industry is the 18th-largest in the world. The country has more than 50 pharmaceutical producers, many of which are listed on Tehran's stock exchange. Tourism has the potential to flourish thanks to 21 ­UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The food and carpet industries are already internationally competitive. Throw in an expansion of trade ties with friends old (in Europe) and new (in Asia), and rapid economic modernisation is not hard to imagine.

China also grew on the back of a huge demographic dividend. Iran is in a similarly favourable position: 60% of its population is under the age of 30. This wealth of labour will keep wage growth contained during the upcoming economic recovery, especially if it is accompanied by a rise in women's participation in work. Reversing Iran's brain drain--around one in four Iranians with college degrees currently lives abroad--would also help productivity.

The rapid rise of China's silicon dragon has allowed domestic firms like Alibaba to dominate the home market. Tehran's young, urbanised and tech-savvy population is already supporting a growing number of startups. Digikala, the local equivalent of Amazon, is a prime example. Launched in 2007, it focused at first on electronics but has since diversified into selling an array of consumer goods.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


The Iran nuclear deal is a success - and the whole world is safer for it (Federica Mogherini, 
Jan. 17th, 2017, The Guardian)

The deal, one year after its implementation, is delivering on its main purpose: ensuring the purely peaceful, civilian nature of Iran's nuclear programme. The International Atomic Energy Agency - the United Nations' nuclear watchdog - has issued four reports on the matter and has regularly verified that Iran is complying with its nuclear-related obligations. This means that the Iranian nuclear programme has been significantly reformatted and downsized and is now subject to intense monitoring by the IAEA. The joint commission - which I coordinate - oversees constantly the implementation of the agreement, meeting regularly, which allows us to detect even minor possible deviations and to take necessary corrective measures if the need arises.

The deal is also working for Iran. Major companies are investing in the country: the oil sector, the automotive industry, commercial aircraft, just to give a few examples, are areas where significant contracts have been concluded. The International Monetary Fund has forecast real GDP growth in Iran to rebound to 6.6% in 2016-17.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


DeVos will deliver on school reform (Jeb Bush, Jan. 17th, 2017, USA Today)

While the vast majority of K-12 spending is done by state and local governments, the bulging layers of bureaucracy that administer education policy are the direct result of federal overreach into our education system. As a result, too many education dollars are wasted on bureaucrats and administrators instead of being driven down into the classroom where they could make a bigger impact on learning.

Instead of defending and increasing Washington's power, Betsy will cut federal red tape and be a passionate advocate for state and local control of schools. More importantly, she will empower parents with greater choices and a stronger voice over their children's education. In the two decades that I have been actively involved in education reform, I have worked side-by-side with Betsy to promote school choice and put the interests of students first. I know her commitment to children, especially at-risk kids, is genuine and deep.

Given her longstanding support for school choice, it is not surprising that Betsy's nomination has drawn strong opposition from teachers' unions. While America is blessed with many great teachers who are motivated by doing the right thing for students, the unfortunate reality is that their union leadership is out of touch with reality and reflexively opposed to reforms that empower parents. Betsy has the courage to take on the entrenched special interests and stand strong for the president-elect's proposal to dedicate a significant stream of federal funding to promote school choice in the states.

To the teachers' unions and liberal naysayers who continue to reject the benefits of school choice and are trying to derail the DeVos nomination, I point to the example we established in Florida. During my first term as governor, we passed bold education reforms that held public schools accountable, set high standards and expanded parental choice, including establishing the first statewide voucher program in America.  These reforms provided parents in failing schools, low-income parents and parents with children with learning disabilities with the right to use scholarships to attend high-performing public or private schools. We also tripled the number of charter schools during my eight years in office, making Florida the national leader in school choice. The unions fought us every step of the way, just as they will attempt now, but we fought back and succeeded in advancing our reforms. As a result, Florida has seen dramatic across-the-board gains in student achievement and our high school graduation rate has increased by 50%. Florida is one of the few states that is closing the achievement gap.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


How machine learning is ushering in a new age of customer service (Graham Cooke, Jan. 17th, 2017, Next Web)

While machine learning itself is nothing new, the speed at which data can now be processed, analyzed and actioned has completely changed the machine-learning game. Readily affordable computing power, the quantity of data available, and algorithms we never thought we could use are now possible.

Though the fundamental concept remains the same, machine-learning is now far more sophisticated, efficient and easily deployable - and the potential it offers to revolutionize customer experience is truly exciting.

Harnessing machine learning allows businesses to revolutionize the way we all engage with their store or use their service. Forget product recommendations as we know them today, this takes us far beyond that, into the realms of much more hyper-personal and sophisticated experiences.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Trump Health Plan Is So Top Secret HHS Pick Reportedly Doesn't Know What's In It (Margaret Hartmann, 1/17/17, New York)

A senior transition official tells CNN that Price is being kept out of discussions about Trump's strategy to ensure Americans are "beautifully covered." They don't want senators to question Price about the plan during his hearing before the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday, and he can't reveal what he doesn't know.

Price actually released his own detailed health care reform plan two years ago, but he doesn't want to talk about that during his confirmation hearing either. The Georgia congressman reportedly wants to avoid the appearance that he's encouraging lawmakers to get behind his proposal.

Also, his plan likely bears no resemblance to the president-elect's - though it's hard to say, since Trump has only revealed a few vague, impossible aspects of the plan. For instance, as Politico notes, Price's plan does not attempt to provide universal coverage, though that appears to be a feature of Trump's proposal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


To Obama, from a conservative: Thank you for being a great role model (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Jan. 17th, 2017, The Week)

Michelle and Barack Obama clearly and obviously love each other and are tender towards each other. They find ways to humorously poke fun at each other. They visibly work as partners leading the difficult endeavor that was Obama's political career, presidential campaigns, and mandate as president.

Meanwhile, the Obamas have also been assiduous at protecting their daughters from the public eye and have refrained from using them as props. Famously, President Obama has drawn a red line around family dinner time and respects it. This is a red line he's actually kept, and it rightly puts all of us dads to shame. If the freakin' president of the United States is not too busy to spend dinner with his family, neither are you.

In an era where scripts for fulfilling gender roles get ever more twisted in knots, there are much worse scripts for a heterosexual male to follow than that of Obama, who is faithful, loves books as much as sports, and isn't afraid to shed a tear in public.

Even Obama's much-derided aloof, professorial demeanor is not a bad pointer. While it probably didn't serve him well in politics and (especially) foreign affairs, an anecdotal survey of those around me suggests a lot of families could do with less drama.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Obama's Africa legacy: more trade than democracy (Deutsche-Welle, 1/17/17)

He also continued US drone strikes against alledged Islamic militants in Somalia, begun by his predecessor George W Bush.

He was also the host of the first US-Africa summit in August 2014 that brought some 50 African leaders to Washington. At the summit, Obama lauded Africa as a continent of opportunities and announced a $33 billion (31 billion euros) investment package for Africa.

"Underpinning it was a shift of US policy moving away from being particularly focused on humanitarianism and counterterrorism to emphasizing that Africa was a continent of the future and it was also about trade and growth," said Alex Vines of Chatham House.

For Vines, its clear what parts of President Obama's Africa policy will be remembered. "It will be trade rather than aid or security. That is President Obama's key Africa legacy in my opinion, " he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Trump Labor Pick Andy Puzder May Be 'Bailing' on Nomination: Report (Margaret Hartmann, 1/17/17, New York)

It's been a rough day for Donald Trump's appointees. Earlier on Monday, Monica Crowley said she will not take a communications job at the National Security Council amid a plagiarism scandal. Then a CNN report claimed Georgia Congressman Tom Price invested in a medical-device company shortly before introducing legislation that would benefit it. 

Now another CNN report says that Andy Puzder, CEO of the company that owns Hardee's and Carl's Jr., is having second thoughts about becoming labor secretary. "He may be bailing," said a Republican source close to the Trump transition team. "He is not into the pounding he is taking, and the paperwork."

January 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Adidas's high-tech factory brings production back to Germany : Making trainers with robots and 3D printers (The Economist, Jan 14th 2017)

BEHIND closed doors in the Bavarian town of Ansbach a new factory is taking shape. That it will use robots and novel production techniques such as additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing) is not surprising for Germany, which has maintained its manufacturing base through innovative engineering. What is unique about this factory is that it will not be making cars, aircraft or electronics but trainers and other sports shoes--an $80bn-a-year industry that has been offshored largely to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. By bringing production home, this factory is out to reinvent an industry.

The Speedfactory, as the Ansbach plant is called, belongs to Adidas, a giant German sports-goods firm, and is being built with Oechsler Motion, a local firm that makes manufacturing equipment. Production is due to begin in mid-2017, slowly at first and then ramping up to 500,000 pairs of trainers a year. Adidas is constructing a second Speedfactory near Atlanta for the American market. If all goes well, they will spring up elsewhere, too.

The numbers are tiny for a company that makes some 300m pairs of sports shoes each year. Yet Adidas is convinced the Speedfactory will help it to transform the way trainers are created. The techniques it picks up from the project can then be rolled out to other new factories as well as to existing ones, including in Asia--where demand for sports and casual wear is rising along with consumer wealth.

Currently, trainers are made mostly by hand in giant factories, often in Asian countries, with people assembling components or shaping, bonding and sewing materials. Rising prosperity in the region means the cost of manual work outsourced to the region is rising. Labour shortages loom. Certain jobs require craft skills which are becoming rarer; many people now have the wherewithal to avoid tasks that can be dirty or monotonous.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


People Are Bailing on Chris Christie's New Jersey. How Is Your State Holding Up? (Peter Coy, January 5, 2017, Bloomberg)

United Van Lines announced this week that New Jersey had the nation's widest gap last year between people moving out and people moving in, according to a study based on household moves United handled within the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. Sixty-three percent of moves were outbound, meaning two people moved out of the Garden State for every person who moved in, roughly speaking. United has been conducting the study for four decades, and New Jersey has led the nation in this metric each year since 2012.

If it's any consolation to Christie, Illinois and New York were a hair's breadth behind New Jersey in last year's results, with outbound moves rounding off to 63 percent. Behind them came Connecticut and Kansas.  [...]

And the winners? South Dakota had the biggest share of inbound moves, followed by Vermont, Oregon, Idaho, and South Carolina. California was right around the middle, with an even split between the inbound and the outbound.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Understanding the Republicans' corporate tax reform (William Gale, Jan. 10th, 2017, Brookings)

Here are 11 things to know:

1. The truly radical part is the proposal to effectively abolish the corporate income tax.  The United States would become the only advanced country without a corporate income tax, making it a very attractive location for international investors.

2. The DBCFT is essentially a value-added tax (VAT), but with a deduction for wages.  Every advanced country except the U.S. has a VAT alongside a corporate income tax.  The U.S. would in effect be replacing the corporate income tax with a modified VAT.  A VAT taxes consumption, not income - it has the same effects as a national retail sales tax, but works better administratively.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


The (Almost) True Legend of a Lost, Cursed Honduran City : When Douglas Preston joined an expedition searching for the ancient Ciudad Blanca, he realized there may have been some truth to the warning not to enter the place (Eric Killelea  Jan 16, 2017, Outside)

In 2015, writer Douglas Preston was on assignment for National Geographic in Honduras, navigating the deep jungle of La Mosquitia with a team using lidar, a laser-based mapping technology. They were searching for the legendary Ciudad Blanca, or White City, where indigenous Hondurans were said to have fled from Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century. Preston's new book, The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story ($28; Grand Central Publishing), recounts the expedition, which included a team of scientists, researchers, filmmakers, and soldiers. After traveling through a lawless region filled with risks like jaguars and parasitic diseases, they found no evidence of the White City. Instead, what they found were the remains of what was likely a much larger, unique civilization near the edge of the Mayan empire. [...]

In the months after you returned home to Santa Fe, New Mexico, you fell ill from bug bites and were eventually diagnosed with leishmaniasis, one of the deadliest known parasitic diseases in the world. How is your health today?

It took a couple months for the disease to develop. The parasite is flesh eating. It's truly disgusting. I wouldn't recommend you Google images of this. The expedition team and I have received the best medical treatment in the world at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. We're part of a research project there. The treatment is very difficult and very physically demanding.

Unfortunately, it appears the disease is coming back in me and a couple of others. It's incurable. It creates a horrible, open ulcer on your skin. That healed up--there's a big scar on me now--but there are these red nodules again, showing that the parasite is multiplying again. I am going back to the NIH, but I'm essentially in total denial. I feel fine. I feel absolutely physically fit.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


These NATO countries are not spending their fair share on defense (Ivana Kottasova, July 8, 2016, Money)

According to NATO statistics, the U.S. spent an estimated $650 billion on defense last year. That's more than double the amount all the other 27 NATO countries spent between them, even though their combined GDP tops that of the U.S.

...why are any of them spending anything?

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Ex-MI6 agent so worried by his Donald Trump discoveries he started working without pay (Kim Sengupta, Jan. 13th, 2017, The Independent)

Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who investigated Donald Trump's alleged Kremlin links, was so worried by what he was discovering that at the end he was working without pay, The Independent has learned.

Mr Steele also decided to pass on information to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Mr Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries. [...]

It is believed that a colleague of Mr Steele in Washington, Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who runs the firm Fusion GPS, felt the same way and, at the end also continued with the Trump case without being paid. [...]

[M]r Steele produced a memo, which went to the  FBI, stating that Mr Trump's campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow's intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow's annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party's election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country. 

Mr Steele claimed that the Trump campaign was taking this path because it was aware that the Russians were hacking Democratic Party emails. No evidence of this has been made public, but the same day that Mr Trump spoke about Crimea he called on the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton's emails. 

By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton's email transgressions. 

The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


The Faith of Barack Obama (The Economist, 1/16/17)

He appeared comfortable not merely with the theist generalities required by the country's civil religion but with some of the tough specifics of Christian theology. As is pointed out in a forthcoming book of essays* about world leaders and faith, George W. Bush did not mention the words "Jesus", "Christ" or "Saviour" once during the eight National Prayer Breakfasts at which he presided. Compare that with the credal language of President Obama at the Easter Prayer Breakfast of 2013, when he described Jesus of Nazareth as "our Saviour, who suffered and died [and] was resurrected, both fully God and also a man." [...]

All that can be said with certainty is that there are politicians who speak about the things of God with a vulnerability and integrity that compels respect, and there are politicians who lack that gift. President Obama assuredly fell into the former category, just as certainly as his successor falls into the latter one. And as far as anyone can tell, it was not with any human audience in mind that Mr Obama penned a prayer that he left in the stones of Jerusalem's Western Wall:

Lord -- Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.

These words would have remained between Mr Obama and his maker if they had not been recuperated and published in an Israeli newspaper.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


In feud with John Lewis, Donald Trump attacked 'one of the most respected people in America' (Cleve R. Wootson Jr., January 15, 2016, Washington Post)

The Lewis-Trump fracas started Saturday, when Lewis told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he didn't see Trump as a legitimate president and wouldn't be attending the inauguration for the first time in 30 years.

...the estimable Mr. Lewis and the Constitution, first of all?  

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Obama's Unsung Bipartisan Legacy (Bill Scher, Jan. 16th, 2017, RCP)

The Recovery Act - the economic stimulus law that blunted the recession - only passed after Obama accepted the demand from three Senate Republicans to reduce the size of the package by about $100 billion, mostly by paring back spending proposals. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill also squeaked through the Senate with three Republican votes. Obama sealed the deal after making a key concession to newly elected Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, scrapping an outright ban on commercial banks investing in high-risk funds in favor of allowing limited investments.

In his second term, Obama withstood the civil libertarian outcry that followed the Edward Snowden leaks and shaped a bipartisan surveillance reform law - supported by more than three out of every four House Republicans -- that made some small concessions to privacy advocates without hindering the National Security Agency's core counter-terrorism work. [...]

Finally, there are two particularly consequential acts of bipartisanship that are poorly understood. One is the 2010 tax cut deal.

Obama was accused of capitulation when, after the 2010 midterms in which Republicans claimed the House, he agreed to extend George W. Bush's signature tax cut law, which was due to expire, for two more years. In exchange, Republicans accepted a temporary extension for long-term unemployment insurance and a one-year payroll tax cut. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman claimed it was a recipe to make the Bush tax cuts permanent: "if Democrats give in to the blackmailers now, they'll just face more demands in the future." Bernie Sanders famously seized the Senate floor for eight hours in a desperate attempt to derail the compromise. Then in his own presidential bid, he criticized Obama for trying to be "reasonable" with Republicans.

But Obama wisely played the long game. He didn't have the votes to repeal the tax cuts in 2010, before or after the midterms (vulnerable Democrats on the ballot in 2010 were nervous about forcing the issue before Election Day). So he punted until the end of 2012 when, if he won re-election, he would regain the whip hand.

And the agreement was critical to winning that re-election. The extension of tax cuts and unemployment benefits amounted to about $300 billion of additional economic stimulus. In 2012, GDP growth in the first and second quarters, the quarters that election modelers believe have the greatest impact on the presidential outcome, were a middling 2.0 and 1.3 percent, respectively. Without extra stimulus, the economy could have stalled out or tipped back into recession just before the election, destroying Obama's chances.

Instead, Obama became first Democrat to win consecutive popular vote majorities since FDR. And his first order of business was to finish what he started two years prior.

He dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to hash out an agreement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's desire to hold out for more). The final deal, largely repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, created a tax code that the New York Times said could be "by some measures ... the most progressive in a generation." And nearly every Senate Republican, and one-third of House Republicans, voted for it.

The other underappreciated bipartisan success is one that neither party likes to talk about: the across-the-board budget cuts known as "the sequester."

The sequester happened as an outgrowth of a 2011 budget deal signed after House Republicans threatened to force an economically dangerous default on the national debt unless spending was deeply cut. Obama and then-Speaker John Boehner tried to work out a "grand bargain" - involving changes to entitlement programs and the tax code -- to resolve the impasse, but failed. The finger-pointing on both sides remains to this day.

What was agreed upon was the "super-committee" - a bipartisan task force designed to come up with a deficit reduction plan worth $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Otherwise, the sequester would chop domestic and military spending equally to achieve a similar result. In other words, the deficit would be shrunk, either the easy way or the hard way.

They did it the hard way. The super-committee was gridlocked. The sequester came down. And the budget was cut. While a subsequent 2013 budget deal somewhat loosened the sequester caps, the trajectory of the annual budget deficit is sharply down from the days of the stimulus: from 9.8 percent of the gross domestic product in 2009 to 3.2 percent in 2016. That's the exact number (after rounding down) Obama set in 2010 as his ultimate goal.

Obama will take credit for the statistic, but he, like everyone else in Washington, ran as far from the sequester as possible. No one wanted to admit that both parties came together to design the mechanism for ham-fisted cuts that made so many constituencies squeal.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have any real interest in acknowledging how Republican the Obama presidency was.
Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


NASA spots 'coronal hole' creeping over the centre of the sun (Rob Waugh, January 13, 2017, Yahoo)

A huge black hole which looks alarmingly like it's splitting the sun in half was captured by a NASA sun-watching satellite this week. [...]

NASA says, 'Coronal holes are low-density regions of the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona. Because they contain little solar material, they have lower temperatures and thus appear much darker than their surroundings.

Maybe burgeoning solar power is using up the sun too fast!

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Trump's Big Health Care Promise: "Insurance For Everybody" (Reuters, Jan. 16th, 2017)

"It's very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven't put it in quite yet but we're going to be doing it soon," Trump told the Post, adding he was waiting for his nominee for health and human services secretary, Tom Price, to be confirmed.

The plan, he said, would include "lower numbers, much lower deductibles," without elaborating.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," Trump said. "There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us."

The strokes will mostly be among those who expected Obamacare to be repealed instead of massively expanded....

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