October 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Jack Bogle and Nobel winner Richard Thaler both know this one thing about smart investing ; A nudge is great, but sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing (MITCH TUCHMAN, 10/21/17, Marketwatch)

Thaler and Sunstein make a relatively simple argument based on years of economic research about human biases. We are full of flaws forcing us to make mistakes that cost us health and wealth. We need help.

But we shouldn't be forced into better decisions, the authors argue. Rather, we should be "nudged" toward a selection of choices that are better than doing nothing, which tends to be the default.

For instance, people should be placed automatically into retirement plans at work but given the choice to opt out. In too many cases, the default is to opt in.

Likewise, our savings contributions should be automatic -- at a low level, with an opt-out choice -- in order to make sure people invest at least something. Those investments should be into a broad, easy-to-follow, low-cost portfolio, rather than piling up as uninvested cash.

Once a saver sees those investments growing, the impulse becomes to save more and to stay invested. They're already on the road toward a better retirement.

John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, has long made the same arguments based his decades of experience working with investors.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


G.M. and Ford Lay Out Plans to Expand Electric Models (BILL VLASIC and NEAL E. BOUDETTE, OCT. 2, 2017, NY Times)

China has said it will eventually ban gasoline-powered cars. California may be moving in the same direction. That pressure has set off a scramble by the world's car companies to embrace electric vehicles.

On Monday, General Motors, America's largest automaker, staked its claim to leadership. Outlining a fundamental shift in its vision of the industry, it announced plans for 20 new all-electric models by 2023, including two within the next 18 months.

G.M.'s announcement came a day before a long-scheduled investor presentation by Ford Motor that was also expected to emphasize electric models. After the G.M. news emerged, Ford let loose with its own announcement, saying it would add 13 electrified models over the next several years, with a five-year investment of $4.5 billion.

"General Motors believes in an all-electric future," said Mark L. Reuss, G.M.'s global product chief. "Although that future won't happen overnight, G.M. is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles. [...]

More than consumer demand, however, it is regulatory pressure that is revving up the electric push, with officials in China, Europe and the United States ratcheting up emissions standards and setting or discussing deadlines that could eliminate gasoline-powered cars within a generation.

The announcements by G.M. and Ford follow pledges by the German automakers Volkswagen and Daimler to build hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles in the coming years, and the decision by Volvo, the Chinese-owned Swedish luxury brand, to convert its entire lineup to either electric cars or hybrid vehicles that are powered by both batteries and gas.

The accelerated pace of development also reflects the symbiotic relationship between battery-powered cars and another technological frontier; auto companies are tying their electric-car plans to lofty goals of building fleets of autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing services.

The automakers believe they can solve the problem of achieving -- as G.M.'s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, has begun stressing -- a world with "zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion."

It is a stunning statement from a company that, together with Ford, sells more large pickup trucks and full-size sport utility vehicles than the rest of the global industry combined -- and from an industry that grudgingly got into building electric vehicles in the face of stricter fuel emissions standards.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Universe shouldn't exist, CERN physicists conclude : A super-precise measurement shows proton and antiproton have identical magnetic properties (Cathal O'Connell, 10/21/17, Cosmos)

One of the great mysteries of modern physics is why antimatter did not destroy the universe at the beginning of time.

To explain it, physicists suppose there must be some difference between matter and antimatter - apart from electric charge. Whatever that difference is, it's not in their magnetism, it seems.

Physicists at CERN in Switzerland have made the most precise measurement ever of the magnetic moment of an anti-proton - a number that measures how a particle reacts to magnetic force - and found it to be exactly the same as that of the proton but with opposite sign. The work is described in Nature.

"All of our observations find a complete symmetry between matter and antimatter, which is why the universe should not actually exist," says Christian Smorra, a physicist at CERN's Baryon-Antibaryon Symmetry Experiment (BASE) collaboration. "An asymmetry must exist here somewhere but we simply do not understand where the difference is."

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Robots Are Coming for These Wall Street Jobs| (Saijel Kishan, Hugh Son and Mira Rojanasakul, October 18, 2017, Bloomberg)

Wall Street is entering a new era. The fraternity of bond jockeys, derivatives mavens and stock pickers who've long personified the industry are giving way to algorithms, and soon, artificial intelligence.

Banks and investment funds have been tinkering for years, prompting anxiety for employees. Now, firms are rolling out machine-learning software to suggest bets, set prices and craft hedges. The tools will relieve staff of routine tasks and offer an edge to those who stay. But one day, machines may not need much help. It's no wonder most of the jobs Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s securities business posted online in recent months were for tech talent. Billionaire trader Steven Cohen is experimenting with automating his top money managers. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has said 100,000 financial workers aren't needed to keep money flowing.

This map of trading automation is based on interviews with about a dozen senior banking and investing executives on Wall Street, many of whom focus on adopting new tech. It offers a sense of their projects -- some of them just starting -- that will affect traders within big firms.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Donald Trump Is Rush-Shipping Condolences to Military Families : Three families of fallen servicemembers received next-day UPS letters from President Trump after a turbulent week in which Trump falsely claimed he had called "virtually all" of the families. (LENA FELTON AND TAYLOR HOSKING OCT 21, 2017, The Atlantic)

The Trump administration is scrambling to defend the president's characterization of his communications with grieving military families, including rush-delivering letters from the president to the families of servicemembers killed months ago. Donald Trump falsely claimed this week that he had called "virtually" all fallen servicemembers' families since his time in office.

Timothy Eckels Sr. hadn't heard anything from President Trump since his son Timothy Eckels Jr. was killed after a collision involving the USS John S. McCain on August 21. But then, on October 20, two days into the controversy over the president's handling of a condolence call with an American soldier's widow, Eckels Sr. received a United Parcel Service package dated October 18 with a letter from the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


The Future of Banking Probably Isn't Banking : With companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon getting involved in payment transactions, banking as we know it could dramatically change. (Andy O'Sullivan, 10/22/17, FEE)

Amazon Cash

This is a relatively new service from Amazon where consumers can load cash into their Amazon account via physical retailers, via a barcode. It's aimed at consumers that don't have bank cards -- but it raises some interesting possibilities, such as: If I was Amazon, what would I do next?

Right now, it works like this:

Consumers add money to their Amazon account by handing cash over in a retailer.

They can then spend it online.

But what if Amazon (or some other tech company) also:

Does a deal with retailers allowing consumers to use their Amazon (or similar) account in-store and not just online?

Allows consumers who actually do have bank cards/accounts to be paid, instead, into their Amazon account -- perhaps by offering no fees, or interest, or free services like Prime?

Then perhaps they mention that they also offer credit. Need a small loan to buy that TV in Walmart? No problem, we can do that. Just click here!

Note that there's no bank involved in any of that process, just a tech giant who already has a relationship with a consumer offering them some more services, on top of all the other services they offer.

Isn't That Just Amazon Being a Bank?

One could argue that what I just proposed is just Amazon becoming a bank -- and perhaps legally, they may require a banking license for certain products -- but I think that would be the same as saying that Netflix is a video store. Video stores are gone, replaced by a new way of consuming films and tv shows.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


5 Living Ex-Presidents Appear On Stage For Hurricane Relief Concert (DOREEN MCCALLISTER, 10/22/17, NPR)

The last time the five former presidents were together was in 2013 at the dedication of George W. Bush's presidential library in Dallas.

The concert at Texas A&M is not the first time former presidents have raised money for disaster relief.

In 2004, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton worked together to raise money after the tsunami in South Asia, and again the following year after Hurricane Katrina.

In 2011, Clinton and George W. Bush requested donations after Haiti's earthquake.

Jim McGrath, a spokesman for George H.W. Bush, says the hurricane relief effort has raised at least $31 million since it began Sept. 7.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


How the Russians pretended to be Texans - and Texans believed them (Casey Michel, 10/17/17, The Washington Post)

That was how I eventually found my way to the "Heart of Texas" Facebook page (and its @itstimetoecede Twitter feed as well). Heart of Texas soon grew into the most popular Texas secession page on Facebook - one that, at one point in 2016, boasted more followers than the official Texas Democrat and Republican Facebook pages combined. By the time Facebook took the page down recently, it had a quarter of a million followers.

The page started slowly - just a few posts per week. Unlike other secession sites I'd come across, this one never carried any contact information, never identified any of individuals behind the curtain. Even as it grew, there was nothing to locate it in Texas - or anywhere else, for that matter. It was hard to escape the suspicion that there might be Russian involvement here as well.

There were other oddities about the site. Its organizers had a strangely one-dimensional idea of its subject. They seemed to think, for example, that Texans drank Dr. Pepper at all hours: while driving their giant trucks, while flying their Confederate battle flags, while griping about Yankees and liberals and vegetarians.

But Heart of Texas, sadly, was no joke. At one point the page's organizers even managed to stir up its followers into staging an armed, anti-Islamic protest in Houston. As gradually became clear, this was part of a broader strategy. The sponsors of the page were keen to exacerbate America's own internal divisions. At certain moments they lent support to Black Lives Matter, while in others they would play to the latent (or obvious) racism of Donald Trump's base.

By the summer of 2016, other themes began to emerge. Posts began to follow a perceptibly hard-right course, stressing Texas's status as a "Christian state," or touting the Second Amendment as a "symbol of freedom . . . so we would forever be free from any tyranny." Some of the page's contributors talked about the need to "keep Texas Texan," whatever that meant. There was also a generous dollop of conspiracy theory. There were posts about the allegedly unnatural death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the supposed federal invasion orders behind the Jade Helm military exercise. Fake Founding Father quotes mingled with anti-Muslim screeds and paeans to Sam Houston. And the number of followers steadily crept into the hundreds of thousands.

Though the site's authors understood their audience well, there was something off about their writing. The page's "About" section proclaimed that "Texas's the land protected by Lord [sic]." Grammatical and spelling glitches were everywhere: "In Love With Texas Shape," "State Fair of Texas - Has You Already Visited?," "Always Be Ready for a Texas Size," "No Hypoclintos in the God Blessed Texas." (Or take this caption for a photo of country music star George Strait: "Life is not breaths you take, but the moments that take your breth [sic] away.") Yet the typos never seemed to raise any suspicions in readers' minds.

Even the page's calls for an early November protest across the state - part pro-secession, part anti-Clinton - were garbled. One post declared that "we are free citizens of Texas and we've had enough of this cheap show on the screen." The site called on those who showed up to "make photos."

Heart of Texas chugged on after the election, bringing in tens of thousands of new followers in 2017 who were unbothered by its mangled English, its rank nativism and its calls to break up the United States.

And then, in August, it was gone. Just like that, the most popular Texas secession page on Facebook was revealed to be a Russian front, operated by the notorious Internet Research Agency, with Facebook removing all of the posts from public view. (It's worth noting that another Instagram account started posting Heart of Texas material as soon as the original Facebook page was taken down.)

October 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Rep. Frederica Wilson didn't flinch at Trump's attacks. Her record explains why. (Derek Hawkins October 19 , 2017, Washington Post)

Wilson has a long track record of taking on her constituents' tragedies as her own, helping people grieve and rallying her community in tough times -- especially those who come out of her program, news archives show.

When a 22-year-old soldier from south Florida was killed in a car-bomb attack in the early days of the Iraq War, the news fell hard on Wilson.

It was spring 2004, and Wilson was then a state senator representing the Miami area. The soldier, Pfc. Jeremy Ricardo Ewing, was not only her constituent but a recent graduate of her mentoring program. She had known him since he was a middle-schooler.

At his funeral, she was overcome with grief and anger. She told the Miami Herald at the time that she believed Ewing died fighting in a senseless war, and she criticized the Bush administration's rationale for the U.S.-led invasion. "I could not help but think how we went into war when the president said there are weapons of mass destruction," she said. "And to this day, to this day, we have not found them. Now, Jeremy is gone."

Days later, the 5,000 Role Models program held a memorial service honoring Ewing. Wilson lit a candle for him, and offered more restrained remarks about his death. "It's unfortunate what happened to this young man," she said, "but I feel proud to say I knew him and that he was part of my organization."

Ewing's death came shortly after another graduate of the program, Edmond Randle, 26, was killed by an improvised explosive device on a road north of Baghdad. Wilson knew him, too, as local media noted at the time.

Two years later, in 2006, Miami-Dade County was rattled by an alarming spike in homicides. Three of the victims had taken part in Wilson's program. One was college-bound alum of 5,000 Role Models. Another was a wood shop teacher who served as a program mentor.

The third, Eviton Brown, 24,was a star football player who attended Florida A&M University, the Herald reported at the time.

When Brown was gunned down in northern Miami in October 2006, Wilson seized on the opportunity to call for gun control to curb the violence that killed the three men.

"He was killed with an assault weapon that probably only those fighting in a war should have access to," she told the Herald.

The same year, a 9-year-old girl was struck by a stray bullet and killed while she was playing in front of her house in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood. The morning of her funeral, Wilson announced that the girl's teenage brother would be awarded a full college scholarship, the Herald reported at the time.

Ending gun violence has been one of Wilson's signature campaigns since she became active in politics.

In the late 1990s, as a school board member, she founded Stop Day, a statewide cease-fire and anti-violence pledge. She has also marched in vigils and presided over community meetings on gun violence, and has long focused on keeping children safe from gunfire.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


NAACP Elects New President, Will Assume More Political Non-Profit Tax Status (CHRIS BENDEREV, 10/21/17, NPR)

The organization announced its new president and CEO and its intention to alter its tax status to a non-profit category that permits more aggressive political lobbying. [...]

During a phone call with reporters, Johnson also said the NAACP's national office would soon transition from the 501(c)3 non-profit status it currently holds to become a 501(c)4.

The change will lift significant restrictions on the NAACP's ability to engage in political lobbying. IRS rules permit political actions by 501(c)4 groups, though not as their "primary activity."

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


All former US presidents to appear at hurricane relief concert; Trump sending his thanks (Caroline Kenny, 10/21/17, CNN)

All five living former US presidents will take part in a benefit concert Saturday in Texas to raise money for hurricane relief efforts.

Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter will attend the event at Reed Arena at Texas A&M University.

Reminds of the story when Reagan sent Ford, Carter & Nixon to Sadat's funeral.  Bob Dole said : there go See No Evil, Speak no Evil and Evil.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Hey, Virginia! You've got a governor to elect in three weeks! (Marc Fisher October 15, 2017, Washington Post)

As the nation's only competitive statewide contest this year, the Virginia race has been viewed by people in the politics business as a crucial bellwether, an early measure of whether voters are motivated to push back against an unpopular president or double down on their drive to disrupt Washington and "drain the swamp."

But far fewer Virginia voters are closely following the campaign than at similar stages in the past three gubernatorial elections, according to Washington Post polling.

Even those who might be assumed to be searching for a way to send a message about a president they consider inept or dangerous say they are paying little attention to the Virginia race.

Martin Cox, who works for a defense contractor in Leesburg, is a steady Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton last fall and considers Trump "bombastic and noisy." Cox, 35, usually follows campaigns for governor closely, taking weekend time to thoroughly research the candidates' views.

Not this year.

"Given Trump's penchant for sucking the air out of the room, this election could be a way to send a message that he needs to start listening to all sides and tone down the way he speaks," Cox said. "But I haven't really heard much about the candidates and I haven't done my research. When I look at the news now, it's about Trump saying the latest crazy thing, and that's where the attention focuses."

It's how he won the Republican primaries--he was, in effect, the only one running.

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


After strikes, Syria says Israel is backing anti-regime 'terrorists' (Times of Israel, 10/21/17)

Syria on Saturday issued letters of complaint to the United Nations in which it denounced the day's Israeli strikes on Syrian army targets, accusing the Jewish state of conspiring with local "terror groups," the Ynet website reported.

In the morning the Israeli army hit three Syrian artillery targets in the Golan Heights, in a response hours after five projectiles landed in open ground in Israel as a result of spillover fire from the fighting in Syria.

Foreigners who joined IS face almost certain death in Raqqa : World governments are loathe to let jihadists come back home, and may even be encouraging local forces to see that they die in battle (LORI HINNANT and SARAH EL DEEB, 10/20/17, AP)

The forces fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group in Syria have tacit instructions on dealing with the foreigners who joined the extremist group by the thousands: Kill them on the battlefield.

As they made their last stand in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, an estimated 300 extremists holed up in and around a sports stadium and a hospital argued among themselves about whether to surrender, according to Kurdish commanders leading the forces that closed in. The final days were brutal -- 75 coalition airstrikes in 48 hours and a flurry of desperate IS car bombs that were easily spotted in the sliver of devastated landscape still under militant control.

No government publicly expressed concern about the fate of its citizens who left and joined the Islamic State fighters plotting attacks at home and abroad. In France, which has suffered repeated violence claimed by the Islamic State -- including the Nov. 13, 2015, attacks in Paris -- Defense Minister Florence Parly was among the few to say it aloud.

"If the jihadis perish in this fight, I would say that's for the best," Parly told Europe 1 radio last week.

Those were the orders, according to the US.

"Our mission is to make sure that any foreign fighter who is here, who joined ISIS from a foreign country and came into Syria, they will die here in Syria," said Brett McGurk, the top US envoy for the anti-IS coalition, in an interview with Dubai-based Al-Aan television.

"So if they're in Raqqa, they're going to die in Raqqa," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


The White-Minstrel Show : 'Acting white' for white people (Kevin D. Williamson, October 20, 2017, National Review)

[I] do have something to say about the subject of white people acting white.
We rarely used to put it in racial terms, unless we were talking about Eminem or the Cash-Me-Ousside Girl or some other white person who has embraced (or affected) some part of black popular culture. With the Trump-era emergence of a more self-conscious form of white-identity politics -- especially white working-class identity politics -- the racial language comes to the surface more often than it used to. But we still rarely hear complaints about "acting un-white." Instead, we hear complaints about "elitism."

The parallels to the "acting white" phenomenon in black culture are fairly obvious: When aspiration takes the form of explicit or implicit cultural identification, however partial, with some hated or resented outside group that occupies a notionally superior social position, then "authenticity" is to be found in socially regressive manners, mores, and habits. It is purely reactionary.

The results are quite strange. Republicans, once the party of the upwardly mobile with a remarkable reflex for comforting the comfortable, have written off entire sections of the country -- including the bits where most of the people live -- as "un-American." Silicon Valley and California at large, New York City and the hated Acela corridor, and, to some extent, large American cities categorically are sneered at and detested. There is some ordinary partisanship in that, inasmuch as the Democrats tend to dominate the big cities and the coastal metropolitan aggregations, but it isn't just that. Conservatives are cheering for the failure of California and slightly nonplussed that New York City still refuses to regress into being an unlivable hellhole in spite of the best efforts of its batty Sandinista mayor. Not long ago, to be a conservative on Manhattan's Upper East Side was the most ordinary thing in the world. Now that address would be a source of suspicion. God help you if you should ever attend a cocktail party in Georgetown, the favorite dumb trope of conservative talk-radio hosts.

We've gone from William F. Buckley Jr. to the gentlemen from Duck Dynasty. Why?

American authenticity, from the acting-even-whiter point of view, is not to be found in any of the great contemporary American business success stories, or in intellectual life, or in the great cultural institutions, but in the suburban-to-rural environs in which the white underclass largely makes its home -- the world John Mellencamp sang about but understandably declined to live in.

Shake your head at rap music all you like: When's the last time you heard a popular country song about finishing up your master's in engineering at MIT?

White people acting white have embraced the ethic of the white underclass, which is distinct from the white working class, which has the distinguishing feature of regular gainful employment. The manners of the white underclass are Trump's -- vulgar, aggressive, boastful, selfish, promiscuous, consumerist. The white working class has a very different ethic. Its members are, in the main, churchgoing, financially prudent, and married, and their manners are formal to the point of icy politeness. You'll recognize the style if you've ever been around it: It's "Yes, sir" and "No, ma'am," but it is the formality of soldiers and police officers -- correct and polite, but not in the least bit deferential. It is a formality adopted not to acknowledge the superiority of social betters but to assert the equality of the speaker -- equal to any person or situation, perfectly republican manners. It is the general social respect rooted in genuine self-respect.

Its opposite is the sneering, leveling, drag-'em-all-down-into-the-mud anti-"elitism" of contemporary right-wing populism. Self-respect says: "I'm an American citizen, and I can walk into any room, talk to any president, prince, or potentate, because I can rise to any occasion." Populist anti-elitism says the opposite: "I can be rude enough and denigrating enough to drag anybody down to my level." Trump's rhetoric -- ridiculous and demeaning schoolyard nicknames, boasting about money, etc. -- has always been about reducing. Trump doesn't have the intellectual capacity to duke it out with even the modest wits at the New York Times, hence it's "the failing New York Times." Never mind that the New York Times isn't actually failing and that any number of Trump-related businesses have failed so thoroughly that they've gone into bankruptcy; the truth doesn't matter to the argument any more than it matters whether the fifth-grade bully actually has an actionable claim on some poor kid's lunch money. It would never even occur to the low-minded to identify with anybody other than the bully. That's what all that ridiculous stuff about "winning" was all about in the campaign. It is might-makes-right, i.e., the politics of chimpanzee troupes, prison yards, kindergartens, and other primitive environments. That is where the underclass ethic thrives -- and how "smart people" came to be a term of abuse.

This involves, inevitably, a good deal of fakery.

The man at the center of all this atavistic redneck revanchism is a pampered billionaire real-estate heir from New York City, and it has been something to watch the multi-millionaire populist pundits in Manhattan doing their best impersonations of beer-drinkin' regular guys from the sticks. I assume Sean Hannity picked up his purported love for country music in the sawdust-floored honky-tonks of . . . Long Island.

As a purely aesthetic enterprise, none of this clears my poor-white-trash cultural radar. I'm reminded of those so-called dive bars in Manhattan that spend $150,000 to make a pricey spot in Midtown look like a Brooklyn kid's idea of a low-rent roadside bar in Texas. (There's one that even has Lubbock license plates on the wall. I wonder where they got them -- is there some kind of mail-order dive-bar starter kit that comes with taxidermy, Texas license plates, and a few cases of Lone Star? Maybe via Amazon Prime?) The same crap is there -- because the same crap is everywhere -- but the arrangement isn't quite right.

The populist Right's abandonment of principle has been accompanied by a repudiation of good taste, achievement, education, refinement, and manners -- all of which are abominated as signs of effete "elitism." During the Clinton years, Virtue Inc. was the top-performing share in the Republican political stock exchange. Fortunes were made, books were sold by the ton, and homilies were delivered. The same people today are celebrating Donald Trump -- not in spite of his being a dishonest, crude serial adulterer but because of it. His dishonesty, the quondam cardinals of Virtue Inc. assure us, is simply the mark of a savvy businessman, his vulgarity the badge of his genuineness and lack of "political correctness," and his pitiless abuse of his several wives and children the mark of a genuine "alpha male." No less a virtue entrepreneur than Bill Bennett dismissed those who pointed out Trump's endless lies and habitual betrayals as suffering from "moral superiority," from people on "high horses," and said that Trump simply is "a guy who says some things awkwardly, indecorously, infelicitously."

Thus did the author of The Book of Virtues embrace the author of "Grab 'Em By the P***y."

We need a Moynihan Report for conservative broadcasters. [...]

My mother despised the college professors for whom she worked in her last job, who were unfailingly kind and generous to her, because they were unfailingly kind and generous to her, which she understood (as she understood many things) as condescension. Hers was a world of strict tribal hierarchy: She would, for example, enact petty cruelties on waitresses and grocery-store clerks and other people in service positions, taking advantage of the fact that she had momentary social inferiors, and she must have been confused that the professors and deans did not behave that way toward her. In fact, they did the opposite, entrusting her with work far beyond her modest formal credentials or the official duties of her position. Class is funny in a small-ish town: The father of a school friend of mine became the dean of her college and her boss, and she spoke of the family as though they inhabited some faraway realm when in reality they lived three blocks north and two blocks east. That she herself could have had a life more like theirs, or that her children might yet, never occurred to her -- it was sour grapes raised to a state of psychosis.

Feeding such people the lie that their problems are mainly external in origin -- that they are the victims of scheming elites, immigrants, black welfare malingerers, superabundantly fecund Mexicans, capitalism with Chinese characteristics, Walmart, Wall Street, their neighbors -- is the political equivalent of selling them heroin. (And I have no doubt that it is mostly done for the same reason.) It is an analgesic that is unhealthy even in small doses and disabling or lethal in large ones. The opposite message -- that life is hard and unfair, that what is not necessarily your fault may yet be your problem, that you must act and bear responsibility for your actions -- is what conservatism used to offer, before it became a white-minstrel show. It is a sad spectacle, but I do have some hope that the current degraded state of the conservative movement will not last forever.

The thing about eternals truths is, they're eternal.

The really wicked thing here is the belief, on the part of these formerly conservative activists, is that they are embracing white trashiness because they think it gives them license to engage in racism/Nativism. It's a mark of how much they despise non-elite whites.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


John Kelly's Lies About Frederica Wilson Are Part of a Pattern of Not Believing Black Women (Shaun King, October 21 2017, The Intercept)

Not once did Wilson ever mention getting funding for the building; it was funded years earlier. She never even broaches the subject of money; she never mentions this $20 million line or getting funding from Obama. It never happened. Period. It's so dishonest that it's bizarre.

Instead, Wilson, who was thanked by FBI Director James Comey for helping the building be named posthumously after fallen officers, told the comical bipartisan story of how she and House Speaker Paul Ryan and so many others rushed to get the naming through Congress in record time, because the ribbon-cutting had already been scheduled. She thanked her colleagues in her congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats, by name. She honored the fallen officers and their families. She honored the FBI agents in the audience, then took her seat.

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., and others attend the April 10, 2015, opening of a new FBI South Florida field office named for office is named for two agents who were killed in an April 11, 1986, shootout with heavily armed bank robbers south of Miami. Photo: Wilfredo Lee/Pool/AP
WILSON WAS PROUD. She should've been. At a time where Congress gets nothing done, and partisan bickering jams up even routine business, that was put aside and the building was dedicated on time in the honor of the officers. It wasn't saving the world, but she never made it out to be. Her remarks were witty, beautiful, warm, and gracious. And they were filmed.

The actual speech makes Kelly's remarks all the more disgusting. That he started off his recollection of Wilson by calling her an "empty barrel" is beyond the pale. Beyond being a member of Congress, she is a hero in her community. She helped mentor Johnson, the soldier who died in Niger, and has done the same with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people in Florida. She has a doctorate. She was a celebrated school principal. No woman should be called an "empty barrel" -- that Kelly used that as his launching point was a gross insult to a woman with a distinguished life of public service.

What Kelly did followed a week in which the trusted words of black women were repeatedly called into question.
Second, Kelly lied. The man did not misunderstand her. He lied - not once but over and over again. He fabricated an entire story about what she told the audience that day. Wilson didn't brag about raising money or securing funding. It simply never happened. The lies from Kelly were so specific that one must wonder if he, like Trump, is either a serial liar, or if his mental faculties should be called into question.

Or, perhaps, the story he told is a disturbing insight into how his mind works. Consider that Kelly watched Wilson give the remarks she gave in the video. If by some chance he isn't lying, and he truly believes that's what he heard, then think about how her speech was transformed by Kelly's perception of her. He saw her tell, in real life, an amusing story about parliamentary maneuvering to name a building. Yet Kelly heard, in his mind, a story about a money-grubbing, credit-hogging grandstander. And consider that Wilson has been overcoming perceptions like that her entire life.

'Trump is messing with the wrong woman' : The president has never feuded with a politician quite like Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson. (MARC CAPUTO 10/20/2017, Politico)

[T]he technicolor clothes and flashy demeanor belies the grim legacy that made her an icon in the African-American community in Florida and, now, the nation: her advocacy for young black men, particularly those who end up dead. Since her time in the Florida legislature, Wilson's political identity has been forged by fights - often with a white, male-dominated establishment -- to figure out what happened to them and why.

More than 11 years before Sgt. La David Johnson was killed with three other soldiers in Niger, a 14-year-old named Martin Lee Anderson died after he was beaten by guards at a boot camp in Panama City, a Deep South city in northern Florida.

The sheriff's office ran the boot camp and was slow to investigate. So was the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Wilson, however, joining with other a bipartisan team of legislators, helped forced an independent investigation and an exhumation of the child's body for a second autopsy. While the boot camp guards and a nurse were acquitted of charges, the state legislature ultimately changed boot camp laws and compensated the family for the teen's death.

For the Anderson's family attorney, Benjamin Crump, the public relations tactics that snagged statewide headlines -- from a second autopsy to organized marches featuring Al Sharpton -- became a template for drawing national attention to another death of another 14-year-old seven years later, Trayvon Martin, who was shot by a neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman.

Wilson stood by the side of the parents of Trayvon, who hailed from her district based in the heavily African-American city of Miami Gardens in the shadow of the stadium where the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes play.

"Black men are targets. The system has the scope aimed directly at our backs and Frederica Wilson has devoted a life to exposing that," said Crump, who has allied with her in yet another case involving the shooting death of motorist Corey Jones by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer.

"From our first case with her, with Martin Lee Anderson, she was vocal. She would begin every press conference by saying, 'it's murder.' She would not be quiet. She demanded the truth," Crump said. "And it's similar to La David Johnson's case. She will not be quiet ... Trump is messing with the wrong woman."

Unlike all of the other high-profile cases Wilson has been involved with, Johnson's death after an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger had a deeply personal dimension.

Johnson had enrolled in Wilson's nonprofit, 5000 Role Models of Excellence, a program for at-risk African-American kids. His father had been a student when Wilson was a principal at a local school decades before. Johnson's mother is a constituent, as well as a bus driver with the school district where Wilson has deep roots.

When the congresswoman and the family tried to find out what happened, Wilson said, the Pentagon gave no answers. She joined with her fellow Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, a Democrat and fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and penned a letter seeking answers. Still nothing. Wilson said she wanted to know not just why Johnson and his fellow soldiers were so at risk, but why Johnson appeared to have been left behind when the others were evacuated shortly after the attack.

"Why was he separated?" Wilson asked. "Was he kidnapped? Was he lost? Was he already expired? What happened to him? Why, 48 hours later, did we still not know where he was?"

Johnson's family, meanwhile, had not heard from the president with a condolence call, either. When reporters finally asked about the attack in Niger, Trump, who had not acknowledged the deaths publicly, responded by inaccurately criticizing President Obama and suggesting his predecessor never called Gold Star families of the fallen.

"Throughout all this time, Trump had been tweeting and carrying on about NFL football players taking a knee and not one damn time did he say a word about Niger," Hastings said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


At Least 52 Egyptian Police Killed In Clash With Islamic Militants (Reuters, October 21, 2017)

Security sources said a convoy of police vehicles were following a lead to a suspected hideout of the Hasm extremist group when they were ambushed from higher ground by militants firing rocket-propelled grenades and detonating explosive devices.

That led to a shoot-out. Hasm later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that 28 members of the security forces were killed, with 32 injured.

October 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


360 video shot over North Korea shows a sprawling, empty metropolis (Tristan Greene, 10/20/17, Next Web)

I'm taken aback by the sterility of the environment in North Korea. In the video you barely see any traffic, there doesn't appear to be any masses of people anywhere, and there isn't a single piece of advertising in sight.

There's no risk of collateral damage because the regime is too paranoid to allow normal people to live there.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


The Bloody End of the Islamic State's Utopian Dream (GRAEME WOOD, 10/19/17, THE ATLANTIC)

The fall of Raqqa this week completed the slow-motion demolition of the world's only utopian movement worthy of the name. Like most utopian movements, the Islamic State was barbaric and iniquitous, precisely because it held its own refinement and egalitarianism in such high regard. Assume eventual absolution by history or God, and anything goes in the meantime.

The pleasure of dancing on the Islamic State's grave should not be denied, even if it is true, as experts remind us, that its zombified hand might yet emerge from the earth to grab our ankles as we do so. Having lost Raqqa (and before it Hawija, Tal Afar, and Mosul), it now still holds border areas between Iraq and Syria, plus isolated territory in Libya, Sinai, Afghanistan, and the southern Philippines. What it no longer controls is territory from which it can make its most important claim--that it has built a paradise on earth, where God's law is the only law, and Muslims can live lives that fully express their faith. It once boasted that women, children, and the elderly could live full and happy lives in Raqqa. Now an invitation to hijra--migration to Islamic State territory--is simply an invitation to die quickly on the field of battle.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Is Vladimir Putin Losing His Grip? (ANDERS ├ůSLUND, 10/19/17, Project Syndicate)

In many ways, Russia has been moving backward in recent decades. In the 1990s, Russia was a freewheeling place, where virtually everything was allowed. Moscow had 20 daily newspapers, with views ranging from liberal to Stalinist. Today, Russian civil society is severely stifled, and to watch television in Moscow is to find 20 channels controlled by the Kremlin.

In 1991, Boris Yeltsin, in one of his first actions as President, broke up the old KGB into several agencies, cut its staff by half, and slashed its budget. Today, the KGB's successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB), has seized complete control over Russia's security apparatus, including by arresting high-level generals in other law-enforcement agencies. The result is a single security service that is more powerful than at any time since Stalin - and viewed as independent from the Kremlin.

On the economic front, too, Russia has backtracked. In 2003, Russia's private sector produced 70% of the country's GDP. Today, the state sector generates most of the country's output, squeezing out small and medium-size enterprises, and five big state banks dominate the financial market.

Moreover, Putin's policy of "de-offshoring" has imposed such cumbersome controls on the business leaders of the 1990s that most have sold off their assets in Russia and decamped to London or Monaco. This trend has been accelerated by Russia's lack of any real property rights, which has enabled the Kremlin to cut Russia's wealthy down to size at will, often targeting the most law-abiding among them. Small wonder that forecasts for annual GDP growth are stuck at 1.5-2%.

The regime wants to change this pattern. In May 2016, Putin asked three expert groups to recommend economic-reform programs: a liberal group led by former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin; a technocratic group led by Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin; and the more statist Stolypin Club led by Putin's business ombudsman Boris Titov. Each group has delivered thousands of pages of expert reports.

But any shift toward respecting the rule of law would be incompatible with the kleptocratic character of Putin's regime, implying that genuine reform is out of the question. The mandate given to the three groups thus appears to have been little more than therapy for social scientists, a way to keep them busy - and out of the opposition.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


After Video Refutes Kelly's Charges, Congresswoman Raises Issue of Race (YAMICHE ALCINDOR and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, OCTOBER 20, 2017, NY Times)

Video of a 2015 speech delivered by Representative Frederica S. Wilson revealed Friday that John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, misrepresented her remarks when he accused her of bragging about securing $20 million for a South Florida F.B.I. building and twisting President Barack Obama's arm.

Ms. Wilson, in an interview on Friday, called Mr. Kelly a liar and hinted strongly that the altercation, prompted by a call from President Trump to the widow of a fallen black soldier, was racially charged.

"The White House itself is full of white supremacists," she said.

Mr. Kelly, escalating a feud between Mr. Trump and Ms. Wilson, had cast the congresswoman on Thursday as a publicity-seeking opportunist. However, the video, released by The Sun Sentinel, a newspaper in South Florida, showed that during her nine-minute speech, Ms. Wilson never took credit for getting the money for the building, only for helping pass legislation naming the building after two fallen federal agents.

She never mentioned pleading with Mr. Obama, and she acknowledged the help of several Republicans, including John A. Boehner, then the House speaker; Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo; and Senator Marco Rubio.

"I feel very sorry for him because he feels such a need to lie on me and I'm not even his enemy," Ms. Wilson said of Mr. Kelly. "I just can't even imagine why he would fabricate something like that. That is absolutely insane. I'm just flabbergasted because it's very easy to trace."

It's a shame to watch General Kelly destroy his own reputation in service to a cretin.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


John Kelly Just Showed Us Who He Is as a Human Being (Nancy LeTourneau, October 20, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Here is the distortion:

It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.

Wilson heard the conversation, which was on speaker phone, because she was in the car with the family headed to the airport to meet the casket of Sgt. La David Johnson. Apparently her ties with both he and his family are deep, including the fact that Johnson was a participant in the mentoring program she founded. You can make a case that she shouldn't have spoken up about the family's reaction to what Trump said, but the idea that Wilson took aim at something sacred by simply hearing the conversation is an absurd smear.

We now know that the next thing Kelly said was a lie. He tells a story about being at the dedication of a new FBI field office in Miami in 2015 that was dedicated to two men killed in a firefight in Miami against drug traffickers.

And a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money -- the $20 million -- to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.

The Miami Herald tells the real story.

Thursday night, Wilson said Kelly got the story flat-out wrong. In fact, she said Washington approved the money before she was even in Congress. The legislation she sponsored named the building after Grogan and Dove, a law enacted just days before the ceremony...

In 2015, Wilson won praise from Miami Republicans for sponsoring the bill to name the long anticipated federal building after two agents who became legends in local law enforcement.

At the dedication ceremony, James Comey, then director of the FBI, lauded Wilson's legislation, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama three days before the April 2015 ceremony.

"Rep. Wilson truly did the impossible, and we are eternally grateful," Comey said in his remarks.

In the big picture scheme of things, this isn't a story that has great impact on the lives of the American people. It is just another example of how Trump and his administration distract and divide us. But it tells us a lot about the man who currently serves as the president's chief of staff, and has been heralded as one of the adults in the room.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Trump personally interviewed U.S. attorney candidates (SEUNG MIN KIM and JOHN BRESNAHAN 10/19/2017, Politico)

The Southern District of New York is an especially notable position since it has jurisdiction over Trump Tower. Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney there, has said he had been told that Trump would keep him on despite the change in administrations. Yet he was among those abruptly fired by Trump in March.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Putin says Trump foes blocking White House's pro-Russia agenda (VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, 10/20/17, AP)

Russia rejoiced at Trump's victory in the 2016 US election, but its hopes for repairing ties with his administration have been shattered by congressional and FBI investigations into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia.

Speaking at the Valdai forum in Sochi, Putin said Trump's political adversaries "haven't allowed him to fulfill any of his election platforms and plans."

Should have known better than to invest with Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Following Bush, former president Obama rebukes Trump (Fast Company, 10/19/17)

It seems like the former presidents of the United States are growing concerned about the country's current leader. After former Republican president George W. Bush called out the current president's policies yesterday  (without mentioning Trump's name), former president Barack Obama has now done the same.

The UR's presidency was successful to precisely the extent he followed W's lead.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Putin Tells U.S. To Stop Making Fun Of Trump (Newsweek, 10/20/17)

"Inside the country, disrespect is shown for him. This is a regrettable negative component of the U.S. political system," Putin said, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.

No respect.  Not "dis".

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Trump's Old Lies Never Really Die (Nancy LeTourneau, October 19, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Here is the truth, though. The so-called "fake media" actually covered that one--quite extensively. It goes to the heart of how Steve Bannon weaponizes a story. Prior to publication of his co-worker's book, Clinton Cash, Bannon gave an advance copy to the New York Times, which published an article with the breathless title, "Cash Flowed to the Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal." That was later spun into a few weeks of controversy during the campaign where the media became obsessed with "questions" about contributions to the Clinton Foundation.

The story about the Russian uranium deal eventually garnered a lot of media attention from some folks this president isn't very fond of: fact checkers. In case you missed all of that, you can take your pick of which debunking you prefer: PoliticFact, the Washington Post, or Snopes.

The revival of this old story tells us that, when it comes to Trump, none of his old lies are ever really dead.

...passes for a fact on the Right.

October 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Obamacare Subsidy Cut-off May Actually Help Low-Income Americans : Healthcare subsidies will get slightly less complicated; unfortunately the market is no freer than before. (Eric  Schuler, 10/19/17, FEE)

While it's unclear in the short run whether many insurers will have the ability to successfully raise premiums, that is the most likely outcome in the long run. The rationale for doing this is straightforward. The net cost of all of their policies has gone up now that the CSR subsidies are cut off. And since they are not allowed to meaningfully tailor rates based on the risk or expense of individual policyholders, the way they make themselves whole is to raise premiums on everyone.

These premium hikes would appear to harm consumers, and they will indeed harm higher income participants in the exchanges. However, the price hikes will have a limited impact on lower income participants because the tax credits are designed to rise with the cost of the plans. Specifically, the amount of the tax credit subsidies for each consumer rise according to the premiums on the benchmark silver level plans available in their locale. So, as insurance companies raise premiums to compensate for the lack of CSR payments, the tax credit subsidies rise as well to defray the cost. This minimizes the possible harm to low-income individuals from the change, even in the long run.

In fact, it's possible that the order will actually expand access to health insurance in the long run for very low-income people. This result stems from the fact that the subsidies are pegged to grow based on the premiums of the silver level plans, the second cheapest tier of insurance policies. However, even cheaper bronze level plans also exist.

This means that the subsidy amounts will likely rise faster than the premiums of the cheapest plans - causing the net out-of-pocket cost for the bronze plans to actually fall. In this way, Trump's order may have the net effect of actually expanding access to health insurance in the long run for low-income individuals participating in the exchanges.

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