November 24, 2017

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Anatomy of a Fake News Scandal : Inside the web of conspiracy theorists, Russian operatives, Trump campaigners and Twitter bots who manufactured the 'news' that Hillary Clinton ran a pizza-restaurant child-sex ring (Amanda Robb, November 16, 2017, Rolling Stone)

According to a sample of tweets with Pizzagate or related hashtags provided by Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics at Indiana University, Pizzagate was shared roughly 1.4 million times by more than a quarter of a million accounts in its first five weeks of life - from @DavidGoldbergNY's tweet to the day Welch showed up at Comet Ping Pong. The vast majority of tweeters in our sample, just 10 percent of all possible hits, posted about the story only a few times. But more than 3,000 accounts in our set tweeted about Pizzagate five times or more. Among these were dozens of users who tweet so frequently - up to 900 times a day - that experts believe they were likely highly automated. Even more striking: 22 percent of the tweets in our sample were later deleted by the user. This could be a sign, Woolley says, of "someone sweeping away everything so that we can't follow the trail."

Next, we decided to cross-reference the most frequent Pizzagate tweeters with a list of 139 handles associated with Trump campaign staffers, advisers and surrogates. We also ran our entire sample against the list of accounts linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency. We found that at least 14 Russia-linked accounts had tweeted about Pizzagate, including @Pamela_Moore13, whose avatar is, aptly, an anonymous figure wrapped in an American flag; that account has been retweeted by such prominent Trump supporters as Donald Trump Jr., Ann Coulter and Roger Stone, the political operative who recommended Paul Manafort as Trump's campaign manager. (Special Counsel Robert Mueller recently indicted Manafort for money laundering as part of his investigation into possible collusion with Russian efforts to influence the presidential race.) "Well! Well! Well!" "Pamela Moore" tweeted on November 19th, 2016, above the fake news headline "FBI: Rumors About Clinton Pedophile Ring Are True."

The campaign's engagement went far deeper. We found at least 66 Trump campaign figures who followed one or more of the most prolific Pizzagate tweeters. Michael Caputo, a Trump adviser who tweeted frequently about Clinton's e-mails, followed 146 of these accounts; Corey Stewart, Trump's campaign chair in Virginia, who lost a tight primary race for governor in June, followed 115; Paula White-Cain, Trump's spiritual adviser, followed 71; Pastor Darrell Scott, a prominent member of Trump's National Diversity Coalition, followed 33. Flynn's son, Michael Flynn Jr., who followed 58 of these accounts, famously took the bait and was ousted from the Trump transition team in early December after tweeting, "Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it'll remain a story."

Many of the Pizzagate tweeters had the characteristics of political bots - Twitter handles made up of random or semi-random letters and numbers and twin passions for conservative politics and pets (puppies and kitties win audience, Watts says). Others were all too human. Crystal Kemp, a 50-year-old grandmother who lives in Confluence, Pennsylvania, tweeted about the story more than 4,000 times in five weeks. I reached out to her via Facebook to ask why. "Didn't want Hillary to win at any cost," Kemp tells me, "but liked Trump from day one. I don't really know that much about the Pizzagate thing. Everything I tweeted or retweeted was stuff that I found through my own research or from another follower."

Kemp tweeted links to articles from well-known right-wing sites like Fox News and Breitbart. But she also shared stories from obscure outlets like, which appears to be among the fake-news sites that operated from Macedonia during the election. Buzzfeed had found that teenagers in the deindustrialized town of Veles published pro-Trump stories because they were profitable as click-bait. When I traveled to Macedonia last summer, Borce Pejcev, a computer programmer who has set up dozens of fake-news sites - for around 100 euros each - said it wasn't quite that simple. Macedonians don't invent fake news stories, he told me. "No one here knows anything about American politics. They copy and paste from American sites, maybe try to come up with more dramatic headline." Fox News,,, InfoWars and Breitbart, he said, were among the Macedonians' most common source material ("Breit-bart was best"). Macedonians would've happily copied anti-Trump fake news too, he said. "Unfortunately, there weren't any good U.S. pro-Clinton fake-news sites to copy and paste."

That was exactly how the right-wing-media ecosystem worked during the 2016 campaign, explains Yochai Benkler, who directs the Berkman-Klein Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard. After the election, he and his colleagues mapped about 2 million campaign-news stories. He found that far-right-media outlets were organized extremely tightly around Breitbart and, to a lesser degree, "The right paid attention to right-wing sites, and the more right-wing they were, the more attention they got," Benkler says. More extreme sites would distort and exaggerate the claims, but they would use a "relatively- credible source" such as Breitbart as a validator. "Because they were repeated not only on the very far-fringe sites but also by sites that are at the center of this cluster, the right-wing disinformation circulated and amplified very quickly." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


A Russian Journalist Explains How the Kremlin Instructed Him to Cover the 2016 Election (Ryan Lizza, November 22, 2017, The New Yorker)

In his telling, it was the 2011-2012 protests in Moscow that changed everything. Those protests, which Putin blamed on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spooked the Russian President, according to Skorobutov. "People were imprisoned. Media were taken under control of the State. Censorship introduced," he said. "It was a point of reflection for me. The state was against its people. Human freedoms, including freedom of speech, were gradually eliminated." (Others would note that this is a self-serving chronology, as Putin's dismantling of democracy began long before 2011, and that Skorobutov remained at state TV through the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, when Russian media propaganda was especially noxious.)

After the suppression of the 2012 protests, Skorobutov said, he became increasingly disturbed by his role in "helping the state to create this new and unpleasant reality," resigned his job as the press secretary at the Russian Geographical Society, and began looking for a new job, but without any luck.

As is often the case with state censorship, the workings of Kremlin-controlled media, as Skorobutov described them, were far more subtle than is popularly imagined. He described a system that depended on a news staff that knew what issues to avoid and what issues to highlight rather than one that had every decision dictated to it. "We knew what is allowed or forbidden to broadcast," he explained. Any event that included Putin or the Russian Prime Minister "must be broadcast," while events such as "terroristic attacks, airplane crashes, arrests of politicians and officials" had to be approved by the news director or his deputy. He offered a list of embargoed subjects: "critique of the State, coming from inside or outside of Russia; all kinds of social protests, strikes, discontent of people and so on; political protests and opposition leaders, especially Alexey Navalny," an anti-corruption figure despised by the Kremlin. Skorobutov said that he overcame censorship rules and convinced his network to cover stories only twice: for a story about a protest against the construction of a Siberian chemical plant and for one about the food poisoning of children at a kindergarten.

During the 2016 election, the directions from the Kremlin were less subtle than usual. "Me and my colleagues, we were given a clear instruction: to show Donald Trump in a positive way, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a negative way," he said in his speech. In a later interview, he explained to me how the instructions were relayed. "Sometimes it was a phone call. Sometimes it was a conversation," he told me. "If Donald Trump has a successful press conference, we broadcast it for sure. And if something goes wrong with Clinton, we underline it."

Skorobutov said in his speech that the pro-Trump perspective extended from Kremlin-controlled media to the Moscow élite.

"There was even a slogan among Russian political élite," he said. " 'Trump is our president.' 

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM

THAT '70's SHOW:

Poll: Voters Not Interested in Tax Plan (Lisa Mascaro, 11/24/17, Tribune)

Republicans are investing enormous amounts of political capital and dollars to pump up support for their tax bill in a risky, last-ditch legislative undertaking ahead of next year's midterm elections.

A group aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has spent $20 million so far on ads and outreach in communities across the nation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is set to fast-track the bill through the chamber next week.

The problem is, voters just don't seem to be that interested.

Polls show most Americans view the tax bill as benefiting the wealthy and corporations, skeptical that it would do much for middle-class taxpayers. Outside analyses of the bill echo those assessments despite revisions.

The economy is and has been booming, taxes never go up, and deflation stretches your paycheck for you.  

November 23, 2017

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Galapagos finches caught in act of becoming new species (Rory Galloway, 11/23/17, BBC)

In 1981, the researchers noticed the arrival of a male of a non-native species, the large cactus finch.

Professors Rosemary and Peter Grant noticed that this male proceeded to mate with a female of one of the local species, a medium ground finch, producing fertile young. [...]

In the past, it was thought that two different species must be unable to produce fertile offspring in order to be defined as such. But in more recent years, it has been established that many birds and other animals that we consider to be unique species are in fact able to interbreed with others to produce fertile young.

"We tend not to argue about what defines a species anymore, because that doesn't get you anywhere," said Prof Butlin.

Comic gold.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Hezbollah hails PM's suspension of resignation (Middle East Online, 11/23/17)

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah organisation on Thursday welcomed Prime Minister Saad Hariri's decision to suspend his resignation pending talks, after he returned from a mysterious, nearly three-week-long stay abroad. [...]

Hezbollah's parliamentary group said in a statement that the party was "very satisfied with the political developments".

"The return of the head of government, his positive comments and the consultations offer a glimpse of a return to normalcy," it said.

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The Mayflower Compact's relevance to us today (Keene Sentinel, Nov 23, 2011)

 Consider the actual language:

"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."

The meaning of those words that principally resonates today is this: We are all in the same boat.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Motorcycle crashes are alarmingly common -- and incredibly costly (MEGAN THIELKING @meggophone NOVEMBER 20, 2017, STAT)
Here's a deeper look at the analysis, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

Motorcycle accidents are far more common than car accidents, relatively speaking. There were 2,194 motorcycle injuries each year per 100,000 registered motorcycles. That's triple the rate of automobile injury.

Those injuries were far more serious. There were 125 severe injuries each year per 100,000 motorcycles, compared to just 12 severe injuries per 100,000 cars. People injured in motorcycle accidents were much more likely than those injured in car crashes to be hospitalized. They were also more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Motorcycle crashes are more often deadly. There were 14 deaths per year for every 100,000 motorcycles, compared to three deaths per 100,000 cars.

The mean cost of a motorcycle injury was $5,825. The mean cost of an automobile accident was $2,995.

Those numbers might be underestimating the costs. The study only followed people for 30 days after they were treated for an injury, which means the numbers don't take rehabilitation or other types of continuing care into account.

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THE FUTURE OF AMERICA'S SUBURBS LOOKS INFINITE (Joel Kotkin and Alan Berger 11/20/2017, New Geography)

Less than a decade since the housing crisis, notes demographer Wendell Cox, barely 1.3 percent of metropolitan regions live in the urban cores we associate with places like New York City, Boston, Washington or San Francisco.

Counting the inner ring communities built largely before 1950, the urban total rises to some 15 percent, leaving the vast majority of the population out in the periphery. More important still, the suburban areas have continued to grow faster than the more inner-city areas. Since 2010, the urban core has accounted for .8 percent of all population growth and the entire inner ring roughly 10 percent; all other growth has occurred in suburban and exurban areas.

Much of this has been driven by migration patterns. In 2016, core counties lost roughly over 300,000 net domestic migrants while outlying areas gained roughly 250,000. Increasingly, millennials seek out single-family homes; rather than the predicted glut of such homes, there's a severe shortage. Geographer Ali Modarres notes that minorities, the primary drivers of American population growth in the new century, now live in suburbs.

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The Real Refugees of Casablanca : When it came to gathering refugees, the waiting room of the U.S. consulate was probably the closest thing to Rick's Café Américain. (Meredith Hindley, November 2017, Longreads)

On Thanksgiving Day, 1942, an audience stuffed full of holiday cooking settled into the plush seats at the Hollywood Theatre on New York's Fifty-First Street to watch the premiere of Casablanca, a new film from Warner Brothers. During the summer, the studio had finished shooting the movie, which featured noir favorite Humphrey Bogart and up-and-coming Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, and made plans to release it in early 1943. With few Americans knowing Casablanca was a city in French Morocco -- let alone how to find it on a map -- the studio banked on audiences' love of wartime intrigue, along with the star power of Bogart and castmates Claude Rains and Paul Henreid, to sell the film.

But on November 8, reports began to trickle in that the Americans and British had launched Operation TORCH with the goal of seizing Algeria and French Morocco from Vichy France. The assault was a new phase in the war against Nazi Germany, one designed to help the Soviets, who fought a bloody battle against the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. Over the next few days, headlines and radio reports buzzed about the fighting in and around Casablanca, as the U.S. Navy battled the French fleet and 33,000 American soldiers stormed Moroccan beaches under the command of Major General George S. Patton, Jr.

Warner Brothers could hardly believe its luck -- it had a movie in the can about a city that had just become the site of a major Allied victory. The studio couldn't buy that kind of publicity. Rather than premiering the film in 1943, Warner Brothers hastily arranged a screening in New York on November 26, 1942, two weeks after the French surrendered Casablanca to the Americans.

As the lights went down, viewers were thrust into cinematic Casablanca, an exotic city teeming with refugees, collaborators, and resistance fighters. They meet Rick Blaine, a jaded barman and sometimes gun runner; Ilsa Lund, an idealistic young woman torn between duty and love; and Victor Laszlo, a magnetic resistance leader anxious to evade the Nazis. Seeking a way to leave Casablanca, Victor and Ilsa find their way to Rick's Café Américain and inquire about purchasing two letters of transit, which would allow them to depart for Lisbon and then possibly, for America. Captain Louis Renault, a Vichy officer, also seeks the letters, which have been pilfered from the bodies of two dead German couriers. The Nazis soon arrive on the scene to threaten Victor with imprisonment in a concentration camp. But Ilsa's past relationship with Rick, however, may seal Victor's fate.

If audience members didn't become verklempt watching Victor lead the patrons of Rick's Café Américain in a stirring rendition of "La Marseillaise," they received another opportunity when the lights came up. Before the premiere, members of the Free French had marched down Fifth Avenue, and at the end of the movie, they assembled on stage and belted out the revolutionary anthem in front of a flag emblazoned with the Cross of Lorraine. "The occasion took the tone of a patriotic rally rather than the premiere of a timely motion picture," noted the Hollywood Reporter. Sentiments about Vichy France ran deep -- even in New York.

The Free French who raised their voices that day embraced the movie as a condemnation of the bastard regime that collaborated with the Nazis, but it's the plight of the refugees who find themselves in Casablanca and the choices they face that drives the movie's plot. Despite being the product of Hollywood backlot magic, the film contains elements of truth about how these refugees came to be stranded in a North African colonial city thousands of miles from their homes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


A Split From Trump Indicates That Flynn Is Moving to Cooperate With Mueller (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MATT APUZZO and MAGGIE HABERMAN, NOVEMBER 23, 2017, NY Times)

Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, notified the president's legal team in recent days that they could no longer discuss the special counsel's investigation, according to four people involved in the case, an indication that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating such a deal.

Mr. Flynn's lawyers had been sharing information with Mr. Trump's lawyers about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether anyone around Mr. Trump was involved in Russian efforts to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

That agreement has been terminated, the four people said. Defense lawyers frequently share information during investigations, but they must stop when doing so would pose a conflict of interest. It is unethical for lawyers to work together when one client is cooperating with prosecutors and another is still under investigation.

The Trumpies are so inept, even Ty Cobb is batting .000

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EXCLUSIVE: WHAT TRUMP REALLY TOLD KISLYAK AFTER COMEY WAS CANNED : During a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, the president betrayed his intelligence community by leaking the content of a classified, and highly sensitive, Israeli intelligence operation to two high-ranking Russian envoys, Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov. This is what he told them--and the ramifications. (HOWARD BLUM. NOVEMBER 22, 2017, vANITY fAIR)

It was against this reassuring backdrop of recent successes and shared history, an Israeli source told Vanity Fair, that a small group of Mossad officers and other Israeli intelligence officials took their seats in a Langley conference room on a January morning just weeks before the inauguration of Donald Trump. The meeting proceeded uneventfully; updates on a variety of ongoing classified operations were dutifully shared. It was only as the meeting was about to break up that an American spymaster solemnly announced there was one more thing: American intelligence agencies had come to believe that Russian president Vladimir Putin had "leverages of pressure" over Trump, he declared without offering further specifics, according to a report in the Israeli press. Israel, the American officials continued, should "be careful" after January 20--the date of Trump's inauguration. It was possible that sensitive information shared with the White House and the National Security Council could be leaked to the Russians. A moment later the officials added what many of the Israelis had already deduced: it was reasonable to presume that the Kremlin would share some of what they learned with their ally Iran, Israel's most dangerous adversary.

Currents of alarm and anger raced through those pres­ent at the meeting, says the Israeli source, but their superiors in Israel remained unconvinced--no supporting evidence, after all, had been provided--and chose to ignore the prognostication.

The covert mission into the forbidden plains of northern Syria was a "blue and white" undertaking, as Israel, referring to the colors of its flag, calls ops that are carried out solely by agents of the Jewish state.

Yet--and this is an ironclad operational rule--getting agents in and then swiftly out of enemy territory under the protection of the nighttime darkness can be accomplished only if there is sufficient reconnaissance: the units need to know exactly where to strike, what to expect, what might be out there waiting for them in the shadows. For the mission last winter that targeted a cell of terrorist bombers, according to ABC News, citing American officials, the dangerous groundwork was done by an Israeli spy planted deep inside ISIS territory. Whether he was a double agent Israel had either turned or infiltrated into the ISIS cell, or whether he was simply a local who'd happened to stumble upon some provocative information he realized he could sell--those details remain locked in the secret history of the mission.

What is apparent after interviews with intelligence sources both in Israel and the U.S. is that on the night of the infiltration the helicopters carrying the blue-and-white units came down several miles from their target. Two jeeps bearing Syrian Army markings were unloaded, the men hopped in, and, hearts racing, they drove as if it had been the most natural of patrols into the pre-dawn stillness of an enemy city.

"A shadow unit of ghosts" is what the generals of Aman, Israel's military-intelligence organization, envisioned when they set up Sayeret Matkal. And on this night the soldiers fanned out like ghosts in the shadows, armed and on protective alert, as the Mossad tech agents did their work.

Again, the operational details are sparse, and even contradictory. One source said the actual room where the ISIS cell would meet was spiked, a tiny marvel of a microphone placed where it would never be noticed. Another maintained that an adjacent telephone junction box had been ingeniously manipulated so that every word spoken in a specific location would be overheard.

The sources agree, however, that the teams got in and out that night, and, even before the returning choppers landed back in Israel, it was confirmed to the jubilant operatives that the audio intercept was already up and running.

Now the waiting began. From an antenna-strewn base near the summit of the Golan Heights, on Israel's border with Syria, listeners from Unit 8200 monitored the transmissions traveling across the ether from the target in northern Syria. Surveillance is a game played long, but after several wasted days 8200's analysts were starting to suspect that their colleagues had been misinformed, possibly deliberately, by the source in the field. They were beginning to fear that all the risk had been taken without any genuine prospect of reward.

Then what they'd been waiting for was suddenly coming in loud and clear, according to Israeli sources familiar with the operation: it was, as a sullen spy official described it, "a primer in constructing a terror weapon." With an unemotional precision, an ISIS soldier detailed how to turn a laptop computer into a terror weapon that could pass through airport security and be carried on board a passenger plane. ISIS had obtained a new way to cause airliners to explode suddenly, free-falling from the sky in flames. When the news of this frightening ISIS lecture arrived at Mossad's headquarters outside Tel Aviv, officials quickly decided to share the field intelligence with their American counterparts. The urgency of the highly classified information trumped any security misgivings. Still, as one senior Israeli military official suggested, the Israeli decision was also egged on by a professional vanity: they wanted their partners in Washington to marvel at the sort of impossible missions they could pull off.

They did. It was a much-admired, as well as appreciated, gift--and it scared the living hell out of the American spymasters who received it.

On the cloudy spring morning of May 10, just an uneasy day after the president's sudden firing of F.B.I. director James B. Comey, who had been leading the probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, a beaming President Trump huddled in the Oval Office with Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak.

And, no less improbably, Trump seemed not to notice, or feel restrained by, the unfortunate timing of his conversation with Russian officials who were quite possibly co-conspirators in a plot to undermine the U.S. electoral process. Instead, full of a chummy candor, the president turned to his Russian guests and blithely acknowledged the elephant lurking in the room. "I just fired the head of the F.B.I.," he said, according to a record of the meeting shared with The New York Times. "He was crazy, a real nut job." With the sort of gruff pragmatism a Mafia don would use to justify the necessity of a hit, he further explained, "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off." Yet that was only the morning's perplexing prelude. What had been an unseemly conversation between the president and two high-ranking Russian officials soon turned into something more dangerous.

"I get great intel," the president suddenly boasted, as prideful as if he were bragging about the amenities at one of his company's hotels. "I have people brief me on great intel every day."

He quickly went on to share with representatives of a foreign adversary not only the broad outlines of the plot to turn laptop computers into airborne bombs but also at least one highly classified operational detail--the sort of sensitive, locked-in-the-vault intel that was not shared with even Congress or friendly governments. The president did not name the U.S. partner who had spearheaded the operation. (Journalists, immediately all over the astonishing story, would soon out Israel). But, more problematic, President Trump cavalierly identified the specific city in ISIS-held territory where the threat had been detected.

The only safe assumption anyone can make is that Donald is an active Russian asset.

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The Nationalist's Delusion : Trump's supporters backed a time-honored American political tradition, disavowing racism while promising to enact a broad agenda of discrimination. (ADAM SERWER, NOV 20, 2017, The Atlantic)

Duke's strong showing, however, wasn't powered merely by poor or working-class whites--and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke "clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers," The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke's popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had "one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession," The Post stated.

By accepting the economic theory of Duke's success, the media were buying into the candidate's own vision of himself as a savior of the working class. He had appealed to voters in economic terms: He tore into welfare and foreign aid, affirmative action and outsourcing, and attacked political-action committees for subverting the interests of the common man. He even tried to appeal to black voters, buying a 30-minute ad in which he declared, "I'm not your enemy."

Duke's candidacy had initially seemed like a joke. He was a former Klan leader who had showed up to public events in a Nazi uniform and lied about having served in the Vietnam War, a cartoonishly vain supervillain whose belief in his own status as a genetic Übermensch was belied by his plastic surgeries. The joke soon soured, as many white Louisiana voters made clear that Duke's past didn't bother them.

Many of Duke's voters steadfastly denied that the former Klan leader was a racist. The St. Petersburg Times reported in 1990 that Duke supporters "are likely to blame the media for making him look like a racist." The paper quoted G. D. Miller, a "59-year-old oil-and-gas lease buyer," who said, "The way I understood the Klan, it's not anti-this or anti-that."

Duke's rejoinder to the ads framing him as a racist resonated with his supporters. "Remember," he told them at rallies, "when they smear me, they are really smearing you." [...]

A few days after Duke's strong showing, the Queens-born businessman Donald Trump appeared on CNN's Larry King Live.

"It's anger. I mean, that's an anger vote. People are angry about what's happened. People are angry about the jobs. If you look at Louisiana, they're really in deep trouble," Trump told King.

Trump later predicted that Duke, if he ran for president, would siphon most of his votes away from the incumbent, George H. W. Bush--in the process revealing his own understanding of the effectiveness of white-nationalist appeals to the GOP base.

"Whether that be good or bad, David Duke is going to get a lot of votes. Pat Buchanan--who really has many of the same theories, except it's in a better package--Pat Buchanan is going to take a lot of votes away from George Bush," Trump said. "So if you have these two guys running, or even one of them running, I think George Bush could be in big trouble." Little more than a year later, Buchanan embarrassed Bush by drawing 37 percent of the vote in New Hampshire's Republican primary.

In February 2016, Trump was asked by a different CNN host about the former Klan leader's endorsement of his Republican presidential bid.

"Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. Okay?," Trump said. "I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don't know."

Less than three weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump declared himself "the least racist person you have ever met."

Even before he won, the United States was consumed by a debate over the nature of his appeal. Was racism the driving force behind Trump's candidacy? If so, how could Americans, the vast majority of whom say they oppose racism, back a racist candidate?

During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate's remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans--those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue--had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters' most profound beliefs--combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.

It was not just Trump's supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation--outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety--to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump's most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of.

Shame is, after all, a conservative construct.  Accept that there is no such thing as morality and there is no basis for shame.

Posted by orrinj at 11:54 AM


Islamic State beheads 15 of its own fighters: Afghan official (Reuters, 11/23/17) 

Islamic State beheaded 15 of its own fighters due to infighting in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar, officials said, while a separate suicide attack on Thursday tore into a crowd in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, killing at least eight.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Trump, CNN, and the Corruption of Conservatism (NOAH ROTHMAN, NOV. 22, 2017, Commentary)

On Monday, Trump's DOJ announced that it would sue to prevent the "vertical merger" between AT&T, a content distributor, and Time Warner, a content provider and the company that owns CNN. It was a strange decision by an administration that has so far been unflappably friendly toward big business. It contradicts a move by the FCC last week, which made it easier for local-market media companies to consolidate by doing away with dated ownership restrictions. What's more, as the Wall Street Journal editorial board noted, this is the first effort by the Justice Department to sue to block a vertical merger since 1977's United States v. Hammermill Paper Co., which the government lost.

In a recent interview predating the DOJ's announcement, the Trump administration's top antitrust regulator, Makan Delrahim, insisted that politics must not interfere with enforcement matters. "That would be antithetical to everything I've stood for," he said, adding that the government could risk upsetting the marketplace by issuing abrupt changes to standing U.S. antitrust legal theory. Usually, the government seeks an out-of-court settlement that would mitigate a vertical deal's potentially negative consequences for consumers and competitors. Not in this case. For Trump, this deal must not go through.

He said as much himself. "I'm not going to get involved in litigation," Trump declared before promptly involving himself in litigation. "Personally," he added in the same breath, "I've always felt that was a deal that's not good for the country." Delrahim has since changed his tune on the potential threat to the marketplace posed by abrupt and seemingly arbitrary shifts in its antitrust theory. "[T]here is an instinctive reaction to big business these days," Delrahim said in the interview he now insists was taken out of context. "There are people who think big is just bad." Yes, those people are called liberals.

In January, a group of 13 Democratic senators signed a letter indicating that they were skeptical of how an AT&T/Time Warner merger would "serve the public interest." Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, Cory Booker, and others demanded that these two companies demonstrate how their joining would benefit consumers and serve the "broader policy goals of the Communications Act."

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Rep. Joe Barton Apologizes After Lewd Photo Becomes Public (MAGGIE PENMAN, 11/23/17, NPR)

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, apologized to his constituents in a statement Wednesday for a lewd photo of him that was published anonymously Tuesday on Twitter. The congressman said that he sent the photo to a woman he was in a consensual relationship with while separated from his second wife.

"I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down," the statement read.

According to The Washington Post, Barton threatened to report the woman to the Capitol Police if any explicit materials became public. The Post reports that in a recorded phone call from 2015, he warned her against using the material "in a way that would negatively affect [his] career."

...why are we supposed to protect people from their decision to create the porn in the first place? Keep your junk hidden like a decent human being.

Posted by orrinj at 11:36 AM


Sadat to Salman: Israel at the expense of Palestine (Marwan Bishara, 11/23/17, Al Jazeera)

The attraction between the Wahabi and Zionist leaders may be neither halal nor kosher, but it's nonetheless strong and getting stronger. And it's nothing new.

Their rapprochement is born out of necessity and driven, primarily, by mutual aversion rather than mutual attraction: aversion to the Iranian regime and fear of its expanding influence in the region. As those feelings grow, so does their relationship, in accordance with the realist proverb: my enemy's enemy is my friend.

Indeed, US President Donald Trump noticed with great satisfaction the "really good feeling towards Israel" in Saudi Arabia after his May visit to both countries. Since then he's been godfathering a trilateral arrangement with Israel and Saudi Arabia to confront Iran's "fanatical regime"and its regional aggression.

The Trump administration will fail to produce a credible and comprehensive peace strategy.
In an interview with the Saudi publication Elaph earlier this month - yet another sign of normalisation - Israel's military chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, explained how Iran threatens both Saudi Arabia and Israel through not one but two parallel (Shia) crescents of influence that cross the region. To the north, one goes through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea; and to the south, a second goes through the Gulf region, Yemen and to the banks of the Red Sea.

Marriages of convenience have been built on much less. 

Judging from their public declarations, Israelis are terribly impatient. They want to take the Saudi relationship to a whole new level; they want to "go steady" and they want to come out. And they want it yesterday. Their generation-old (wet) dream of public strategic engagement with moderate Sunni Arab regimes is finally coming true.

Israel has everything to gain and, if it can help it, nothing to lose, from the normalisation of relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. It could see its relations improve dramatically with many of the other 55 Muslim-majority countries, just as it saw a huge spike in its diplomatic and economic relations around the world after the 1993 Oslo Accords, including with the likes of Jordan and Qatar. Doha shut down Israel's trade office in the Gulf country in 2009 after the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

For Israel, shared strategic interests and shared goals with Saudi Arabia should suffice to normalise their relations and strengthen their union. 

Opposed to them are those whose shared interest is self-determination for Arab peoples : the US and Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Scientists Genetically Engineer a Form of Gluten-Free Wheat : Removing disease-causing proteins from the grain could make it safe for celiacs to consume (Yasemin Saplakoglu, November 23, 2017, Scientific American)

Genetically modified crops are the subject of fierce debate around the world; some countries, including France and Germany, outlaw their cultivation. The biggest concern involves the practice of inserting DNA from one species into another, says Francisco Barro, a plant biotechnologist at the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Spain. To avoid this genetic crossover, Barro and his colleagues used the gene-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 to cut selected genes from a wheat genome.

Their study zeroed in on alpha-gliadins, gluten proteins believed to be wheat's major troublemakers in the immune system. The researchers designed bits of genetic material that directed the scissorlike Cas9 protein to cut out 35 of the 45 alpha-gliadin genes. When the modified wheat was tested in a petri dish, it produced an 85 percent weaker immune response, the team reported online in September in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

When your phoney-baloney gluten intolerance collides with your GMO hysteria....

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM



Having moved over from England a few years ago, Thanksgiving has taught me what it actually means to be American.

From the outside, all that most foreigners see of America is a stereotypically brash, greedy "number one!" mentality, with a giant soda-drinking mouse mascot, overly padded sportsmen, and an earnest desire to police the world. Sure -- you win lots of medals at all the Olympics. Congratulations! But is there any real need to be quite so LOUD about it?

At first, I was puzzled about why this holiday was even a thing -- with Christmas around the corner, why have two turkey-based holiday dinners in the space of two months? And WHY ON EARTH are we serving peas in vinegar and a whole artichoke? Where are the roast potatoes?

How naïve I was. I have worked out a few things since then (including the fact that most Americans don't eat turkey on December 25th, that's a British quirk.)

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


'Cheers' Has The Greatest (And Messiest) Thanksgiving Episode Of All Time (Brett White, Nov 23, 2017, Decider)

Written by Cheri Eichen and Bill Steinkellner and directed by multi-cam master James Burrows, "Thanksgiving Orphans" is a delicious sitcom turkey stuffed with the holiday spirit. It checks off all the holiday boxes while also saying something really profound about family-and there are also a dozen or more A+ jokes that hold up 31 Thanksgivings later.

As the title implies, this Cheers episode brings the entire cast together for a holiday dinner after they all realize they have nowhere else to go. Carla's (Rhea Perlman) kids are with their father, Frasier's (Kelsey Grammer) alone and bitter, Cliff's (John Ratzenberger) mom is volunteering at the rescue mission, and Woody's (Woody Harrelson) spending his first Thanksgiving away from home (if you don't count last year). Others have a place to be (Sam has a date on Thanksgiving!), but they would rather spend the day with their friends. Norm (George Wendt) just wants to get away from his in-laws' no-fun-zone (there's no beer, no TV and the heat is turned up to 80). Diane (Shelley Long), excited that she's been invited to spend the holiday with a stuffy professor she's keen on impressing, suggests that Carla host dinner for everyone else. Carla obliges, even allowing her archenemy Cliff to come over for yams (so long as he never tells anyone).

Plenty of sitcoms focus on friends and found families, and those resonate with me way more than any of the TGIF shows. But Cheers feels different from, say, Friends. The characters in Cheers really don't have anything in common outside of a place, whereas most of the Friends are lifelong buds and, in some cases, literal family. Would Woody and Carla ever hang out were it not for this bar? Or Frasier and Norm, or Cliff and Diane? The characters of Cheers are bonded together by a place. They're a subtly disparate bunch, a fact you don't consider until they're off their common ground. And just like IRL Thanksgivings, this episode, plucks everyone out of their comfort zone and drops them in a new context: Carla's house.

Once the episode relocates, the characters start to slowly fall into a familial rhythm. Carla plays host in her own aggressive way while her guests sit on the couch and alternate between football games and the parade. There's even a moment where Cliff musses a wonder-filled Woody's hair, a fatherly gesture between two men that are usually bartender and patron.

Now that they're spending a holiday together, these characters are connecting. Woody even asks "Who needs family?" Frasier responds with the episode's entire thesis, stating that family is more than just blood relations. That proves to be true as the rest of the cast shows up, having been abandoned by their plans. Norm couldn't convince Vera to come to Carla's, even though he said this was important to him. Sam (Ted Danson) shows up stag because his date's sister showed up in town (and they weren't into his suggestion of how to spend Thanksgiving). They're welcomed into Carla's house and immediately start drinking beer and subconsciously fighting over the TV-and then this makeshift family's "nutty old aunt" shows up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


...the End of History and the Deep State, which make our noisily partisan politics almost completely meaningless.

When historians of our era write, the thing they will emphasize is that an Evangelical Democrat, a New Deal Republican, a Realist liberal Republican, a conservative Democrat, an Evangelical Republican, a liberal Democrat and a Nationalist all oversaw virtually identical economic regimes.  And the triumph of capitalism, protestantism and democracy has been so comprehensive that the rest of the world has been converging on that same regime for those forty years.

The result is compelling, Chart of the day: US trade deficits vs. US household net worth -- they've risen in tandem over the last half century (Mark J. Perry, 11/13/17, AEI Ideas)

As can be seen in the chart, the steady increase in the US trade deficit over the last nearly half-century to a peak of $770 billion in 2006 before falling to an average of about $525 billion during the last seven years has been accompanied by a steady increase in the value of US household net worth, which has increased nearly four-fold in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1970. In dollar terms, America's household net worth last year rose to another fresh record high of almost $90 trillion, which is an average of more than $700,000 per US household and represents the total value of all household assets (real estate, vehicles, stock, savings, mutual funds, bonds, consumer durable goods, etc.) minus all debt (mortgages, car loans, consumer credit, etc.).

Thanks to the stock market rally to all-time record highs this year, household net worth topped $96 trillion in Q2 of this year, which was an $8.2 billion (and 9%) increase over a year ago. 

Why the world is more at peace (The Monitor's Editorial Board, JUNE 1, 2017, CS Monitor)

The causes of violence vary and are numerous. And scholars have long debated if humans are innately violent or peaceful. But Steven Pinker, the Harvard University scholar and author of the 2011 book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined," says societies are becoming more "enmeshed" and seeking "a higher good," resulting in less violence.

Building on his work, a team of Spanish scientists published a study in the journal Nature last year that found a marked drop in violence over the past 500 years. The research estimates about 2 percent of prehistoric humans died from violence. But as societies became better organized, and handed over the control of violence to police, courts, and elected officials, the rate has fallen far below 1 percent. They attribute the decline to better "cultural practices."

Is democracy in a worldwide decline? Nope. Here's our data. (Mélida Jiménez November 15, 2017, Washington Post)

Data from the Lexical Index of Electoral Democracy show that in 2016, no less than 68 percent of the world's countries -- home to 62.2 percent of the world population -- government power is determined by genuinely contested elections. That's actually an increase from 62 percent in 2006. What's more, 56 percent of the democracies established after 1975 have not seen democratic reversals. No country with over 40 years of electoral democracy -- with the prominent exception of Venezuela -- has slid back into nondemocratic governance. Democracy remains the most widespread and legitimate form of government.

As Americans, we'd like to believe that those ideas that drive the Anglospheric consensus are so compelling that they'd be worth adopting regardless, but the fact that they've been so successful certainly hasn't hurt.

And the combination of their beauty and efficacy has made it so that our institutions are pretty nearly impervious to attempted deviations from the norm.  Even a president who despises America and those ideas can do nothing much to contravene them.  Donald Trump should be removed from office for moral/aesthetic reasons, not for existential ones.  But, in the meantime, he simply does not matter.  

This year we are particularly thankful that God has a Special Providence for America while also being cognizant of the fact that, unlike His grace,, we've earned it.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

The partisan divide in America is widening : But on some issues, and across party lines, agreement is growing (Democracy in America, Nov 22nd 2017, The Economist)

For all that Republicans and Democrats may increasingly dislike each other, meanwhile, the partisan divide over attitudes towards other social groupings is shrinking. Only 3% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans believe that increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in America makes the country a worse place to live. The proportion of Republican supporters who see immigrants as a burden on the country has fallen from 64% in 1994 to 44% today, which means that a majority in both parties now have positive views towards migrants. Democrats profess greater tolerance of sexual minorities, but the percentage of Republicans who think homosexuality should be accepted, at 54%, now matches the percentage of Democrats who favoured tolerance in 1994. According to analysis of the General Social Survey by Landon Schnabel and Eric Sevell of Indiana University, Republicans are also moving towards acceptance of gay marriage at similar rates to Democrats, if from a lower base level of support.   

On the importance of racism in determining outcomes for African Americans, partisan disagreement remains. Yet most supporters of the Republican Party back affirmative action (along with 84% of Democrats). Because of shifting attitudes that have spread across partisan divides, Gallup surveys also report that 87% of people backed inter-racial marriage by 2013; more recent statistics show 73% of Americans back divorce and 69% find unmarried sex morally acceptable. That suggests that whatever the marital history, colour, nationality or gender of the partner that Americans turn at up at home with for Thanksgiving, they are more likely to be welcomed with open arms than in the past. 

There also seems to be an improvement in the way that Americans think their own lives are going. Some 86% of Republicans believe they are on the way to achieving the "American Dream" or have achieved it, along with 80% of Democrats. In 2017 the proportion of Americans who reported they were satisfied with the way their life was going reached 87%, up from 78% in 2011 and only one percentage point below the highest number reported since the poll question was first asked by Gallup in 1979.

Sad songs have become less common all over the world (Ephrat Livni, 11/23/17, Quartz)

Researchers from Indiana University-Bloomington performed analyzed about 90,000 songs in English from different genres (such as classic rock, pop, punk, metal, R&B, and religious) written by musicians around the world, published since 1950, and posted on They assessed the chords used in the songs and judged the emotional valence of lyrics using a common social-science scale that rates 222 different words on a scale of 1-9 in terms of their emotional positivity. "Love" for example is a high-valence word that rates a 9, while "pain" is a low-valence word that rates a 1.

It turns out that worldwide, moody tunes are on the decline.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Deep fat fryers may help form cooling clouds (Matt McGrath, 11/23/17, BBC)

Molecules from deep fat frying may have a cooling effect on the climate

Fatty acids released into the air from cooking may help form clouds that limit global warming, say scientists.

Researchers believe these molecules arrange themselves into complex 3-D structures in atmospheric droplets.

These aerosols persist for longer than normal and can seed the formation of clouds which experts say can have a cooling effect on the climate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Palestinian factions agree on elections in 2018 (Al Jazeera, 11/23/17)

Palestinian factions led by Fatah and Hamas have agreed to hold general elections no later than at the end of 2018, as part of the latest round of reconciliation talks held in Cairo.

In a statement released after the conclusion of the talks on Wednesday, representatives of the factions urged the Central Election Commission to complete preparations for the presidential and legislative elections by the end of next year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


How a homeless man's selfless act paid off in ways he couldn't imagine (PRISCILLA DEGREGORY & DANIKA FEARS, 11/23/17, NY Post)

A homeless man used the last $20 in his pocket to buy gas for a stranded motorist because he feared for her safety -- and what she did next changed his life.

Kate McClure, 27, and her boyfriend, Mark D'Amico, 38, made it their mission to get ex-Marine and firefighter Johnny Bobbit Jr. back on his feet with a fundraising campaign that has raised more than $65,000.

Bobbit came to McClure's aid last month, when she ran out of gas on I-95 at night while driving to meet a pal in Philadelphia.

As she walked toward the nearest gas station, he told her to get back in her car and lock the doors.

Bobbit then spent his last $20 to buy her gas so she would get home safe.

"He came back and I was almost in shock," McClure told The Post.

Bobbit asked for nothing in return -- but McClure and her boyfriend stopped by his spot several times in recent weeks, repaying him for the gas money and dropping off clothes.

"We went to Target and got him a big backpack filled with stuff, and he opened the granola bars and offered us one," she said. "We are like, 'We just got this for you.' He's extremely generous."

Touched by his selflessness, they started the fundraising campaign for Bobbit with a goal of $10,000 -- enough to cover "first and last month's rent at an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and 4 to 6 months worth of expenses."

They had no idea it would climb toward $70,000.

"This is nuts," McClure said of the money they've raised through GoFundMe. "It has changed my entire outlook about people, my outlook about people has skyrocketed. It's the best Thanksgiving that I've ever had."

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


'The Bad Food Bible' Says Your Eating Might Not Be So Sinful After All (Weekend Edition Sunday, 11/19/17)

Dr. Aaron Carroll is the director of the Center for Health Policy at Indiana University and author of The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully. In it, he explains that there might be less evidence against some notoriously bad foods than we think. In fact, maybe we should be eating some of them more often.

Weekend Edition host Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke with Carroll about why "bad" food may not be so bad after all. Excerpts of the interview follow, edited for length and clarity.

You cover a lot of foods in your book that get a bad rap - butter, salt, diet soda and even alcohol. What's your main advice when it comes to these sinful eats?

I think the best thing you can do is realize is that the evidence base, all the data that's behind making you think these foods are bad for you, is pretty weak. And that if you just take some sensible ideas and try to eat in moderation and to not worry about it too much, you'll probably be much healthier and certainly much happier.

When you say that basically there's no evidence that some of these foods are bad, is all the information we've been getting for all these years wrong? Or is it just that people, doctors in particular, don't know what they're talking about?

It's a little bit of both. Part of it is that for a long time we've just had a very weak evidence base when it comes to nutrition. We take studies that are done in animals, or we take studies that can really only show us associations, and then we extrapolate them to make it out to be that there's causation, that we know these foods are making us unhealthy. ... At the end of the day there's just not as much evidence for demonizing these foods as people would have you believe.

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