March 24, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Man who toppled headstones at Jewish cemetery in U. City gets probation (Erin Heffernan, 3/23/19, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

A man who told police he toppled more than 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in University City in 2017 because he was drunk, on drugs and mad at a friend was sentenced Thursday to three years probation and a suspended sentence. 

Alzado M. Harris, 35, of Northwoods, confessed to knocking over the headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in February 2017, causing more than $30,000 in damage, according to court documents. [...]

Tarek El-Messidi, a Muslim social justice advocate from Philadelphia, and another volunteer raised $160,000 for restoration efforts at the cemetery within a few weeks of the vandalism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


An Interview With Lisa Littman, Who Coined the Term 'Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria' (Jonathan Kay, 3/19/19, Quillette)

In your own words, how would you describe the central focus of your research?

This research explores, through the reports of parents, a phenomenon whereby teens and young adults who did not exhibit childhood signs of gender issues appeared to suddenly identify as transgender. This new identification seemed to occur in the context of either belonging to a group of friends [in which] multiple--or even all--members became transgender-identified around the same time, or through immersion in social media, or both. The findings of the research support the hypotheses that what I have described could represent a new type of gender dysphoria (referred to as Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria [or ROGD]); that, for some teens and young adults, their gender dysphoria might represent a maladaptive coping mechanism; and that peer and social influences might contribute to the development of gender dysphoria. More research will need to be done to confirm or refute these hypotheses.

What was the professional background that brought you to this research into gender dysphoria?

I'm a physician who is trained in both obstetrics and gynecology, and in preventive medicine and public health. I spent the first few years of my career delivering babies and providing gynecologic care to women, and I spent the most recent decade of my career involved in public health and reproductive health research. I am currently an Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the Brown University School of Public Health in Rhode Island. Until recently, I was working as a physician-consultant on a variety of public-health projects mostly related to the health of pregnant women (immunizations, smoking cessation, oral health, premature births) with the Rhode Island Department of Health. I am also a mother, a spouse, a daughter and sister who has been extremely fortunate to have healthy, happy and strong relationships with my family. My core beliefs about the importance of family relationships comprise a central part of who I am. Caring about the health and well-being of individuals and families has been one of the guiding principles of my professional and personal life.

Why did you decide to conduct research in this area?

I became interested in studying gender dysphoria when I observed, in my own community, an unusual pattern whereby teens from the same friend group began announcing transgender identities on social media, one after the other, on a scale that greatly exceeded expected numbers. I searched online and found several narratives of parents describing this type of pattern happening with their teen and young adult kids who had no history of gender dysphoria during their childhoods. I searched numerous websites, and found only three posting these types of parent accounts at that time. Then, I spoke with a clinician who was hearing her clients describe this phenomenon as something happening in their families. The descriptions of multiple friends from the same pre-existing group becoming transgender-identified at the same time were very surprising. Parents reported that, after announcing a transgender identity, the kids became increasingly sullen, withdrawn and hostile toward their families. They also said that the clinicians they saw were only interested in fast-tracking gender-affirmation and transition and were resistant to even evaluating the child's pre-existing and current mental health issues.

I found these stories compelling and heartbreaking. Gender dysphoria has been studied for a long time, and I recognized that this presentation was not consistent with the existing research. I saw that kids, parents and families were suffering, and I felt that I needed to do something to help. If these descriptions of clinicians refusing to evaluate and treat trauma and mental health issues were true, it means that a vulnerable population was being deprived of much-needed mental-health services. As a physician and researcher trained in public health, I knew I had an important skill set and perspective to bring to the discussion. I felt that the best way that I could contribute was to conduct research to better understand what, where, and why this might be happening.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Wake Up, American Jews: You've Enabled Israel's Racism For Years. (Joshua LeiferFebruary 25, 2019, The Forward)

For years, the men who make up Otzma Yehudit -- Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben Gvir, Benzi Gopstein, Michael Ben-Ari -- stalked the outer limits of Israeli political discourse. But what distinguished them from the rest of the right was not so much substance as style; to borrow New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie's phrase about President Trump, they took the subtext of the right's agenda and made it text.

They said loudly what many on the Israeli right, at least in the past, preferred to whisper, and certainly never to say in English: that Israel would be a Jewish supremacist state, not a democracy; that the Palestinians would forever live subjugated under military occupation, confined to isolated Bantustans, or they would be expelled from the West Bank and into Jordan; that leftists and peaceniks were traitors, and that traitors would be dealt with accordingly.

Today, even without Otzma Yehudit, there is no shortage of Knesset members -- ministers in Netanyahu's outgoing government -- who say these sorts of things. For example, Miri Regev, Israel's culture minister, joined Otzma Yehudit's Michael Ben-Ari in inciting a vicious pogrom against African asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv in 2012.

Naftali Bennett, minister of education and the diaspora, boasts of how many people he's killed and has a plan to annex large portions of the West Bank.

Betzalel Smotrich, deputy speaker of the Knesset, calls himself a "proud homophobe" and proposes paying Palestinians compensation for trucking them out of the West Bank and into Jordan.

Then there is Avigdor Liberman, the former minister of Defense, with a long history of inflammatory racist comments, who proposed transferring Palestinian citizens of Israel into the West Bank and once remarked of Arab MKs, "there is no reason for them to remain Israeli citizens."

Israeli politics during the successive Netanyahu governments has become a parade of hate speech, with right-wing politicians competing over who will do the worst to "the Arabs." During the Likud primaries, Yaron Mazuz, the deputy minister of the environment, even campaigned with the proud endorsement of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier jailed for nine months for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the head.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Netanyahu sought an alliance with the far-right, Kahanist Otzma Yehudit, and his own Likud: the rhetoric of the two parties is increasingly indistinguishable. Likud, nominally a center-right party, has lurched far to the right, and not just in rhetoric but also in policy. Last year, the party's central committee unanimously voted in favor of annexing parts of the West Bank.

March 23, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


In rare TV interview, PM lashes out at opponents, accuses them of 'blood libel' (TOI STAFF and MICHAEL BACHNER, 3/23/19, Times of Israel)

In a rare television interview on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at his main political rivals in the upcoming national election, accusing them of  "a campaign of lies," of issuing "a blood libel" against him, and even of "endangering the security of the State of Israel."

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


South America leaders form Prosur to replace defunct Unasur bloc (Deutsch-Welle, 3/22/19)

Seven right-wing presidents of South American nations gathered in Chile's capital Santiago on Friday to announce a new political association dubbed Forum for the Progress of South America, or Prosur.

The bloc would function "without ideology and bureaucracy, but with a total commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights," Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said.

Prosur includes Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Guyana. Leftist governments in Bolivia and Uruguay sent representatives to the Santiago meeting, but did not join the bloc.

Consider the superhuman effort it took for Donald to lose Congress.
Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Mueller Cannot Seek an Indictment. And He Must Remain Silent. (Ken Starr, 3/22/19, The Atlantic)

As the nation awaits the Mueller report, a return to first principles is in order. One relevant first principle was dramatically illustrated in the breach during the waning weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Then-FBI Director James Comey announced at a press conference that no criminal charges would be brought against Hillary Clinton. Comey didn't stop there, however. In that press conference, which will continue to live in infamy, Comey sharply criticized the former secretary of state for her ill-considered conduct in housing a server in her private residence, only to receive official and--not infrequently--classified information.

The nation should have risen, as one, in righteous indignation in the aftermath of the Comey press conference. In a single misadventure, Comey both seized power that was not his--the power to seek an indictment, a prerogative that was entrusted to the attorney general--and then violated one of the fundamental principles of public prosecution: Thou shalt not drag a subject or target of the investigation through the mud via public criticism. Prosecutors either seek an indictment, or  remain quiet.

Robert Mueller is not your everyday prosecutor, however. Under Department of Justice policy, a sitting president cannot be indicted. This prosecutor, unlike other prosecutors, cannot indict if he finds an indictable offense. And in contrast to the practices and policies that govern thousands of federal prosecutors around the country, this former FBI director--now a special counsel--has a specific reporting obligation. That solemn obligation is not to produce a public report. He cannot seek an indictment. And he must remain quiet.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Shanahan's nomination to head Pentagon on ice (DAVID BROWN, DANIEL LIPPMAN and GABBY ORR, 03/22/2019, Politico)

Patrick Shanahan's expected promotion to permanently head the Defense Department has stalled amid an ethics investigation and a series of unimpressive public performances, according to four people with knowledge of internal White House discussions.

Shanahan, who has served as the Pentagon's acting chief since Jim Mattis resigned in December, has also been hampered by the deadly crashes of two airliners manufactured by his former employer, Boeing -- the company that's also at the heart of his ethics problems.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Trump's son-in-law Kushner cooperating with U.S. House probe: source (David Morgan, Mark Hosenball, 3/22/19, Reuters)

Democrats in the House of Representatives have launched numerous inquiries into Trump, his presidency, his family and his business interests. The Mueller investigation has been focused on the election and whether Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow in its effort to sway U.S. voters in Trump's favor.

Although Mueller's report is finished, its contents were not yet known late on Friday. Details were expected soon.

Russia has denied U.S. intelligence agencies' findings that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 campaign. Trump has denied any collusion and dismissed Mueller's probe as a "witch hunt."

Among the Judiciary Committee's aims are determining if Trump obstructed justice by ousting perceived enemies at the Justice Department and abused his power by possibly offering pardons or tampering with witnesses.

It was not clear how much material Kushner provided to the committee. But investigators sought documents from him on more than two dozen topics. Those topics ranged from a June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to any Trump transition team contacts with Russia.

Stone's lawyer Grant Smith said in the letter to Nadler that Stone faces federal criminal charges and that it "is not in Mr. Stone's best interest" to participate in any other proceedings.

Explainer: Why Trump's legal woes go beyond the Mueller report (Jan Wolfe, 3/22/19, Reuters) 


Mueller charged 34 individuals and three companies. Several of those cases resulted in guilty pleas and one case went to trial, with former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort convicted in August 2018 of eight criminal counts, including bank fraud and tax fraud. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was indicted in January of this year and pleaded not guilty, but his trial is still pending. There are other cases involving indicted Russians that have not gone to trial. Other prosecutors within the Justice Department will likely take over criminal cases begun by Mueller, legal experts said.


Trump may face significant peril from federal prosecutors in Manhattan, according to legal experts. His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said in Feb. 27 congressional testimony that the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York is examining Trump's business practices and financial dealings. Cohen already has implicated Trump in campaign finance law violations to which he pleaded guilty in August 2018 as part of the Southern District investigation.

Cohen admitted he violated campaign finance laws by arranging, at Trump's direction, "hush money" payments shortly before the 2016 presidential election to porn film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal to prevent damage to Trump's candidacy. Both women said they had sexual relationships with Trump more than a decade ago. He has denied that.

Prosecutors said the payments constituted illegal campaign contributions intended to influence the election. Under federal election laws, such donations cannot exceed $2,700 and need to be publicly disclosed. Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, received $130,000. McDougal received $150,000.

The New York investigation has involved longtime Trump ally David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper, who admitted to paying McDougal for the rights to her story and then suppressing it to influence the election, an arrangement called "catch and kill."

During his Feb. 27 congressional hearing, Cohen said he was in "constant contact" with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and said other crimes and wrongdoing by Trump are being investigated by them, though he did not offer details. Cohen said he could not testify about the nature of his last conversation with Trump in early 2018 because it was under investigation by the federal prosecutors in New York.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


The colossal problem with universal basic income (Douglas Rushkoff, 3/23/19, Big Think)

So what really happens what is universal basic income? It's just a way of perpetuating our roles as consumers at the bottom of the pyramid, not as owners. If we're going to go to anything, I would say, what about universal basic assets? What about actual participation? What if the workers owned the means of production? So you don't just give them a handout so that the money ends up in the same corporate coffers and going into the same shares. That's not the point.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Headless Goat Polo Is A Top Sport At World Nomad Games (JOEL GOLDBERG, 3/22/19, NPR)

Two bare-chested men on horseback wrestle. The goal is to pull your opponent off the horse so a part of his body touches the ground.

Three dogs chase a dummy clad in a fox or hare skin to see who's fastest. Biting an opponent is grounds for disqualification.

And then there is this sport: "Each team seeks to throw as many goat carcasses as possible into the tai kazan (goal) of the opposing team."

They're definitely not Olympic sports but they are a part of another global competition: The World Nomad Games, held in Kyrgyzstan last September. That's the landlocked central Asian nation of 6.2 million that, centuries ago, was a stop on the Silk Road traveled by traders from China to the Mediterranean. In modern times, it was part of the Soviet Union until it declared independence in 1991.

This was the third iteration of the games, which were spearheaded by former Kyrgyzstani president Almazbek Atambayev and highlight both unusual regional sports as well as more traditional ones like archery. According to the local press, 2,000 athletes from 80 countries competed before an audience of 150,000, about a third of whom were foreign tourists. The overall cost was about $6.7 million, with $2.3 million covered by private sponsors and the rest picked up by the government.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Kudos to Lamar Alexander for Criticizing Trump's 'Free Speech' Executive Order (JIM SWIFT, MARCH 23, 2019, The Bulwark)

The general consensus is that this action is largely redundant, mostly for show. To get funding for research, universities already have to protect free speech on campus. This executive order, vague as it is, doesn't seem to add anything else to that. And it doesn't interfere with financial aid, which is in itself interesting in a way.

Those old enough to remember might think back to Grove City College v. Bell. Which is to say that this is about power and intimidation, even if it's largely toothless and for show. Conservatives used to appreciate keeping the government out of these things.

That's where Alexander weighs in:

And I agree that colleges should punish hecklers who veto free speech, and stop coddling students to protect them from disagreeable points of view. But I don't want to see Congress or the President or the department of anything creating speech codes to define what you can say on campus. The U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech. Federal courts define and enforce it. The Department of Justice can weigh in. Conservatives don't like it when judges try to write laws, and conservatives should not like it when legislators and agencies try to rewrite the Constitution.

Amen. They're not making any more Lamar Alexanders these days. Instead, we're raising a crop of Charlie Kirks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


'We want real democracy': Thailand's youth voice hopes ahead of election (ABBIE O'BRIEN, 3/23/19, SBS)

Young Thais have grown up in climate of political instability, marked by two military coups over the past decade. The events have divided the country into two camps - supporters of the pro-military royalist parties and those who back the ousted leaders. 

Thailand has not held a general election in eight years and as a consequence there are over 7 million first time voters - a record number. 

This election is their first taste of democracy. 

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said many are embracing Thanathorn with a level of political enthusiasm not seen in years.  

"I have not seen a kind of collective voice and pent-up disenchantment with the status quo that I'm seeing today," he told SBS News.

"A lot of young people - 25 and under and even 40 and under - they're more politically active, conscious [voters]. 

That is certainly the case at Bangkok's Thammasat University, where SBS News asked students how they are feeling about the vote. 

"Very excited!" said one female student. 

"Since we were young, we didn't see any change [but] we've seen lot of coup d'états. It's like a circle, it never ends. We want to see change - real democracy," a male student explained. 

And it is no surprise who they want to see lead that change.  

"Thanathorn's campaign respond to our needs," said a student for the university's school of political science. [...]

While the Future Forward Party are not the front-runners in this race, many at the rally hope they will win enough seats in tomorrow's vote to give Thai politics a new voice.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


The Mueller Report Is Done, But Investigations Related To Trump Will Go On (PHILIP EWING, 3/23/19, NPR)

The Justice Department is undertaking several cases related to Trump that are likely to continue:

Prosecutors have charged GOP political consultant Roger Stone with obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress in connection with his work in 2016 on behalf of Trump's campaign. Stone has pleaded not guilty, and that case could go to trial later this year.

The case against the Russian company Concord Management and Consulting, which has been linked to Russia's social media disinformation campaign, continues in Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors are charging former business partners of Trump's ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn in a case in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Flynn -- who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and cooperated extensively with the FBI -- hasn't been sentenced. The government said it would be fine with a lenient sentence, but it will be up to a judge how and when to finally decide Flynn's punishment.

Another important outstanding case is that of Rick Gates, a business associate of onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Gates also has been cooperating with investigators since pleading guilty last year to conspiracy and making false statements. Justice Department officials have said in court documents that he has given so much good information they want his sentence to be delayed so their work can continue.

Prosecutors in Washington secured a guilty plea from a Russian woman, Maria Butina, who admitted to conspiring to serve as a Russian agent inside the U.S.

Her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, has been indicted on fraud charges in South Dakota -- but the question remains open as to whether he might also be charged in a case related more closely to Butina's.

Erickson has pleaded not guilty and said he has done nothing wrong. His attorney called him a "good American."

Then there is the matter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Assange's anti-secrecy website released material in 2016 stolen by Russia's military intelligence agency as part of its scheme to interfere in the presidential election in support of Trump. There may be a sealed indictment in his case -- or a grand jury may be working now to compile more information for new charges.

Assange's attorney has said he doesn't know whether there is a sealed indictment but calls it unacceptable that authorities might try to charge Assange for publishing truthful information.

In New York City, prosecutors have charged the Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign officials at Trump Tower in June 2016 to provide a political tip about Democrats.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has been charged with obstruction of justice in an unrelated case that revealed how closely she worked with the Russian government -- although she isn't expected to appear in court.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan and other investigators also are reportedly investigating Trump's 2017 inaugural committee, looking to establish whether it may have broken the law by, among other ways, raising money from foreigners.

Investigators also may continue looking into other broad areas, including lobbyists and advocates who worked on behalf of Ukraine's government but didn't report that appropriately.

Several people and at least one big law firm have been swept into the Russia imbroglio over problems with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. [...]

Democratic members in the House, meanwhile, are pursuing a number of investigative avenues with their majority control of the Judiciary, oversight and intelligence committees.

Oversight committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., fired a blast of requests for information from a number of people and entities in early March. He wants to know more about everything from the White House's protocols on handling security clearances to the Trump Organization's business practices to the conduct of Trump's sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., meanwhile, presides over the committee that would have the responsibility of introducing articles of impeachment against Trump.

Nadler has said he believes there's already evidence that Trump committed acts that may rise to the level of impeachment, especially what Nadler has called potential obstruction of justice.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says: In conversation, the 2019 Templeton Prize winner does not pull punches on the limits of science, the value of humility and the irrationality of nonbelief (Lee Billings, March 20, 2019, Scientific American)

Why are you against atheism?

I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It's a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. "I don't believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don't believe." Period. It's a declaration. But in science we don't really do declarations. We say, "Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that." And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god (What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?) But on the other hand, an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn't know about. "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," and all that. This positions me very much against all of the "New Atheist" guys--even though I want my message to be respectful of people's beliefs and reasoning, which might be community-based, or dignity-based, and so on. And I think obviously the Templeton Foundation likes all of this, because this is part of an emerging conversation. It's not just me; it's also my colleague the astrophysicist Adam Frank, and a bunch of others, talking more and more about the relation between science and spirituality.

So, a message of humility, open-mindedness and tolerance. Other than in discussions of God, where else do you see the most urgent need for this ethos?

You know, I'm a "Rare Earth" kind of guy. I think our situation may be rather special, on a planetary or even galactic scale. So when people talk about Copernicus and Copernicanism--the 'principle of mediocrity' that states we should expect to be average and typical, I say, "You know what? It's time to get beyond that." When you look out there at the other planets (and the exoplanets that we can make some sense of), when you look at the history of life on Earth, you will realize this place called Earth is absolutely amazing. And maybe, yes, there are others out there, possibly--who knows, we certainly expect so--but right now what we know is that we have this world, and we are these amazing molecular machines capable of self-awareness, and all that makes us very special indeed. And we know for a fact that there will be no other humans in the universe; there may be some humanoids somewhere out there, but we are unique products of our single, small planet's long history.

The point is, to understand modern science within this framework is to put humanity back into kind of a moral center of the universe, in which we have the moral duty to preserve this planet and its life with everything that we've got, because we understand how rare this whole game is and that for all practical purposes we are alone. For now, anyways. We have to do this! This is a message that I hope will resonate with lots of people, because to me what we really need right now in this increasingly divisive world is a new unifying myth. I mean "myth" as a story that defines a culture. So, what is the myth that will define the culture of the 21st century? It has to be a myth of our species, not about any particular belief system or political party. How can we possibly do that? Well, we can do that using astronomy, using what we have learned from other worlds, to position ourselves and say, "Look, folks, this is not about tribal allegiance, this is about us as a species on a very specific planet that will go on with us--or without us." I think you know this message well.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


NOTHING FAILS LIKE SUCCESS (Dwight R. Lee, 3/20/19, Intercollegiate Review)

Ironically, one reason for the problem of obesity is that most agricultural jobs have been eliminated in response to market incentives. Private-sector entrepreneurs and firms have found profit in developing ways to grow more food at less cost by substituting capital and chemicals for farm labor. The result is more food grown on less land by fewer workers. Tens of millions of agricultural workers have been released to innovate new products, improve old products, and expand the production of both in jobs that are far more interesting, safe, and productive than the ones they replaced. Increasing agricultural productivity, along with the general increase in wealth, clearly allowed people to purchase more calories in fresher, more nutritious, and tastier foods for steadily decreasing amounts of labor.

Possibly even more important than the declining cost of purchasing food has been the declining cost of converting it into tasty meals. Preparing foods for consumption used to be a laborious and time-consuming chore, one performed primarily by women. As market incentives generated technological advances and more productive employment opportunities for women, businesses found it increasingly attractive to introduce products and services that reduced the time and drudgery of preparing meals in the home, as well as doing household chores in general. Shopping for food became more convenient as grocery stores became bigger with larger varieties of food, as well as many other household products, under one roof. Appliances for storing and cooking foods became bigger, less troublesome (self-defrosting refrigerators), and faster (microwave ovens). A larger variety of prepared foods are now available for home consumption. And eating out, which used to be a luxury, is now a common occurrence, with options available for every taste and budget.

Given that people evolved to avoid starvation, not obesity, it is difficult for many of us to avoid gaining weight when surrounded by an abundance of convenient, low-cost, and tasty food. Our natural ­response when food is available is to store as many calories in our fat cells as possible to sustain us until the next successful hunt. Of course, the next successful "hunt" ­almost always occurs three times a day, not to mention those trips to a vending machine. Couple this with the sedentary jobs that economic progress has allowed us to substitute for physically ­demanding ones, and it is hardly surprising that a large percentage of the population has become overweight or obese.

Until quite recently, being significantly overweight was considered a personal problem, if a problem at all. An overweight adult was assumed competent to evaluate the personal costs and benefits of eating more than was consistent with his recommended weight, and he could alter (or not alter) ­caloric intake accordingly. I remember a talk in the 1970s at the University of Colorado by Israel Kirzner in which he pointed out that the market is often criticized for giving people what they want. Kirzner ­defended the market against this criticism by saying it is analogous to blaming the waiter for obesity. I was impressed at the time with how effective this argument was. I fear it would be less effective today.

Increasingly it is not those who are overweight who are seen as responsible for their condition. They are more likely to be considered the victims of "waiters" in the form of those who are responding to consumer demand by making more and tastier food conveniently available at ever-lower real prices. Instead of seeing this as a significant victory in the battle against poverty and hunger, we hear from trial lawyers, health officials, and other politically influential activists that it is a national crisis requiring immediate government action. [...]


Unfortunately, the obesity "crisis" is only one of many examples of the success of markets and freedom being widely, and effectively, portrayed as failures demanding more government controls over our economic choices. Consider the innovations in medical care that have extended our lives and improved their quality into the older ages we are now more likely to achieve. This is clearly a triumph of the innovation and entrepreneurship made possible by the incentives and freedom of market economies--an improvement in our well-being over the last century that is unprecedented in human history and which holds out the promise of continued improvement. But the public hears much more about problems resulting from this triumph than about its enormous benefits. The constant refrain is that the high cost of medical care is a failure of markets, which has become a serious problem--­indeed, another national crisis--demanding a government remedy.

In fact, the cost of medical care is ­greatly overstated. Instead of increasing the cost of medical care, improvements in medical technologies have actually ­reduced that cost and reduced it considerably. In the 1960s the cost of heart-­bypass surgery needed to save your life was ­infinite--­unavailable at any price. The same is true of many other procedures, medicines, and diag­nostic equipment that improve and prolong the lives of untold millions ­today, including the poor. People are confusing the increasing amount being spent on medical care with the costs of that care when claiming that medical costs are higher today than ever. People are spending more on medical care because the success of markets and freedom has increased their wealth and made medical care worth more than ever. No sensible person would argue that transportation costs are higher now than ever, even though we spend a far higher percentage of our income on transportation than in the past. The reason we are spending more is that transportation costs have decreased so much over the past century that today almost everyone in market-based economies can routinely ­afford travel options that were available to only the very rich a few decades ago, and available to no one a little over a hundred years ago, with all those ­options safer, faster, and more reliable than ever before.

March 22, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


A Jewish case for Brown Divest (EVAN LEHMANN, SAM FROLICHSTEIN-APPEL, NOAH BYCK MLYN and BRIAN SOLOMON, March 20, 2019, Brown daily Herald)

Next month, we will celebrate Passover, commemorating the exodus from Mitzrayim and the bondage we experienced there. The Torah reads, "and you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim" (Exodus 23:9). If we're committed to the Torah's call for tikkun olam (repairing the world), to ger toshav (treating strangers as neighbors) and to chesed (loving-kindness), these values must extend to Palestinians.

Jews throughout history have mobilized to stand in solidarity with other oppressed peoples. From the Jewish Labor Bund in 19th century Europe to Jewish students and clergy who participated in the Freedom Rides in the 1960s, progressive Jews have often seen their history of marginalization and oppression as reason to band together with other vulnerable groups, rather than isolate themselves or ally with state violence. While some argue that Israel's aggression toward Palestinians is necessary in order to protect Jews both in the nation and elsewhere, we resist cynical, zero-sum calculations of Jewish safety that lead to isolation -- and insist that we find the greatest safety in solidarity with oppressed people around the world.

We are also compelled to speak out against Israel because Israel claims to speak for us. On March 11, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu stated that "Israel is the national state, not for all of its people, but for Jews alone." It is this rhetoric that compels us, as Jews, to act. We refuse to be spoken for by a nation-state whose policies too often rest on dispossession, displacement and violence against Palestinian people.

While we are critical of the state of Israel and the policies his government pursues, we also implore all students to think deeply about how criticism of Israel can, and sometimes does, intersect with anti-Semitism. For example, claims that Israel's oppressive policies are inherently tied to its Jewish character are anti-Semitic. However, calls for divestment and critiques of Israel and its policies are not inherently anti-Semitic. As Jewish students, we stand both resolutely in support of Brown Divest and against anti-Semitism in all of its forms. We believe that our opposition to human rights abuses and our abhorrence of religious persecution and bigotry can coexist.

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


Trump unexpectedly cancels new sanctions on North Korea (tHE wEEK, 3/22/19)

The Treasury Department on Thursday said sanctions would be imposed on two Chinese shipping companies that it said were helping North Korea evade international sanctions, as reported by The New York Times and CNN. National Security Adviser John Bolton said that "everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea's sanctions evasion."

But Trump on Friday suddenly and unexpectedly announced that "additional large scale sanctions" previously announced by the Treasury Department would be withdrawn.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Fox News has reportedly banned Sebastian Gorka from its hard news shows (The Week, 3/22/19)

[M]ediaite reports that Fox News has banned Gorka from appearing on its hard news shows; The Daily Beast previously reported in August that Gorka was under what it called a "soft ban" on the news side. He's not the only one: Mediaite also writes that reporter Sara Carter isn't allowed to appear on the news shows anymore even though she's a current Fox News contributor. Fox reportedly keeps asking Hannity not to introduce her as an investigative reporter since her "reporting is not vetted" and it "passes none of the network's editorial guidelines," Mediaite writes, but he keeps doing so anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New Zealanders wear headscarves in solidarity with mourning Muslim community (SBS, 3/22/19)

Organisers for the Headscarf for Harmony initiative have called on people to wear headscarves in solidarity with the Muslim community following the Christchurch mosque shootings.

 The movement calls on people to wear headscarves on Friday 22 March, a week on from the Christchurch twin mosque shootings that killed 50 people. 

Headscarves are also being worn as a mark of respect by policewomen and non-Muslim volunteers directing the crowds around a site in Christchurch holding communal prayers.

March 21, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


MAGABomber Pleads Guilty to Sending Explosives by Mail to Trump Critics (Alberto Luperon, March 21st, 2019, lAW & cRIME)

Cesar Altieri Sayoc, the Florida man known as the MAGAbomber, pleaded guilty on Thursday to sending bombs to perceived enemies of President Donald Trump.

Targets included former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, actor Robert de Niro, billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and former President Barack Obama, prosecutors say. The defendant's social media activity showed he was a huge Trump fan. He seemed to subscribe to conspiracy theories that teenage gun control advocate David Hogg was a "paid protester." He also endorsed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Soros.

Most targets were Democratic politicians, but all were perceived to be Trump critics. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 PM


Cummings demands docs on Kushner's alleged use of encrypted app for official business (ANDREW DESIDERIO and KYLE CHENEY 03/21/2019, pOLITICO)

House Democrats are raising new concerns about what they say is recently revealed information from Jared Kushner's attorney indicating that the senior White House aide has been relying on encrypted messaging service WhatsApp and his personal email account to conduct official business.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 PM

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


Marine Corps commandant says deploying troops to the border poses 'unacceptable risk' (MOLLY O'TOOLE, MAR 21, 2019, LA Times)

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, center, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and Undersecretary of Defense David Norquist, right, appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Michael Reynolds / EPA-Shutterstock)
The commandant of the Marines has warned the Pentagon that deployments to the southwest border and funding transfers under the president's emergency declaration, among other unexpected demands, have posed "unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency."

In two internal memos, Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said the "unplanned/unbudgeted" deployment along the border that President Trump ordered last fall, and shifts of other funds to support border security, had forced him to cancel or reduce planned military training in at least five countries, and delay urgent repairs at bases.

The border deployment and funding transfers, as well as recovery costs from hurricanes Florence and Michael, new housing allowances and civilian pay raises, are taking a toll on combat readiness, Neller wrote to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. [...]

"It's pretty unusual for the commandant to be raising concerns that... a top political priority for the president is undermining the ability of the Marine Corps to do the training they need," said Mandy Smithberger, a defense expert at the Project for Government Oversight, a nonpartisan independent watchdog group.

"It looks like from Commandant Neller's perspective, he does think these policies are undermining readiness," she added.

"This is a pretty strongly worded memo," said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

In any normal administration it would be problematic that the armed services have such open contempt for the commander-in-chief and he for men who serve.
Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Judge Blocks Wisconsin Republicans' Power Grab, Rules "Extraordinary Session" Convened Illegally (MARK JOSEPH STERN, MARCH 21, 2019, Slate)

Shortly after Wisconsin voters replaced Republican Gov. Scott Walker with Democrat Tony Evers in 2018, GOP lawmakers scrambled to strip the incoming governor of power. In a special session, Republicans revoked Evers' ability to make dozens of appointments throughout the executive branch, reducing his authority over state commissions. They hobbled incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul's ability to represent the state in litigation. And they slashed early voting across the state in violation of a federal court order. Walker approved the power grab weeks before leaving office.

On Thursday, Circuit Judge Richard G. Niess blocked every single law the Republican legislature passed in late 2018. In his ruling, Niess held that the sessions was convened in violation of the state constitution, rendering the bills it produced unlawful and void. The decision vacates 82 of Walker's last-minute appointments, restores Evers' oversight over the executive branch, and allows Kaul to represent Wisconsin in court.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


What America can learn from the world's happiest countries (Ryan Cooper, March 21, 2019, The Week)

[T]he annual United Nations report on the world's happiest nations was released Wednesday, where the U.S. fell from 18th to 19th place. Meanwhile, the happiest country for the second straight year was Finland. Filling out the rest of the top 5 were Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and the Netherlands.

This raises the question: What might the U.S. learn from the world happiness grandmasters? A good place to start would be copy-pasting their economic and social welfare institutions.

On first blush, there are some obvious big differences that almost certainly explain much of the difference. All these nations have extensive welfare states, with universal health care, generous benefits for parents, seniors, disabled people, the unemployed, and so on. If someone in Finland has an accident or run of bad luck, the state will catch them -- and it will also help new parents out with the enormous expenses of child-rearing. That means both a better life for people who have kids, lose their job, or get sick, plus lower stress for everyone else who knows society will protect them from misfortune. But in the U.S., with its grossly dysfunctional health-care system and tattered safety net, such events can be personally devastating. For instance, children cause fully 36 percent of U.S. poverty, and some 42 percent of American cancer patients lose their entire life savings after diagnosis. [...]

Citizens of the Nordic states also work far less than Americans. If Americans cut their hours-worked figure down to the levels of Denmark or Norway, that would mean over two additional months of vacation (again associated with happiness) every year.

Additionally, a proper welfare state means all these countries have very low poverty rates. All the top five are in the bottom seven of the OECD poverty rankings, while the U.S. has the third-highest poverty rate among those countries (behind South Africa and Costa Rica). Poverty is both soul-crushing and physically harmful, and certainly drags down the U.S. happiness average.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


The Navy Wants to Shrink Its Aircraft Carrier Fleet (Justin Bachman  and Dave Merrill, March 21, 2019, Bloomberg)

Visiting the USS Gerald R. Ford two years ago, U.S. President Donald Trump extolled the importance of an enlarged naval force featuring a dozen aircraft carriers--including the Ford, the most expensive ship ever built.

Having 12 of these behemoths--sometimes accompanied by a half-dozen other ships--would send an international signal of U.S. resolve and restore the fleet to its post-Cold War size during the 1990s.

The Pentagon's latest budget proposal, however, seems to do the opposite.

The Defense Department is seeking to--at least for now--shrink the carrier fleet, proposing that the USS Harry Truman be effectively decommissioned in 2024. This would mean that a multibillion-dollar, nuclear-powered super-carrier deployed in 2000 would be mothballed two decades before the end of its service life.  

Nikki stands to inherit a massive Peace Dividend.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


The Unsaid Threat to Iran During Netanyahu's Navy Cadet Speech (SHEMUEL MEIR, 3/21/19, Atlantic Council)

The first issue in Netanyahu's naval ceremony speech was widely covered and quoted around the world. Netanyahu unexpectedly set the Israeli navy a task that, to date, has not been announced: to participate in the enforcement of unilateral sanctions regime by preventing Iranian oil trading in the Persian Gulf. According to Netanyahu, Iran is bypassing US sanctions by covert oil smuggling and that the international community, including Israel, should work to stop this sanctions violation.

Netanyahu's statement is problematic and raises a number of questions. First, it's unclear how the Israeli navy could enforce sanctions in the Persian Gulf, when according to its traditional doctrine, its role is to operate in the Mediterranean. Second, it's not certain that the US navy could give its blessing to a joint operation. Third, it's also unclear whether Netanyahu's declaration is based on an orderly decision-making process or if it received backing from the security cabinet and the chief of staff. Fourth, were the implications of international law examined? Enforcement of sanctions through searches and boarding foreign merchant vessels in international waters without permission is a violation of the Convention on High Seas. Finally, it's unclear if the implications were weighed of an action that is likely to be interpreted as a naval blockade and a declaration of war against Iran. This is an especially sensitive issue for Israel that set out to war in 1967 using casus belli of the closing of the Straits of Tiranand international sea lanes for its commercial fleet. 

Within days of Netanyahu's declaration, the Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami reacted to the Israeli navy's new mission and declared that Tehran would protect its shipping lanes and that it had the means to give a "crushing response." 

This saber-rattling exchange between Israel and Iran is not without danger. An intense public exchange that includes threats and military offensive scenarios can lead to war through miscalculation. A misunderstanding is likely to push the other side into a preventative war. Neither Iran nor Israel has a monopoly on threatening declarations--which are often made for internal consumption--and in turn could lead to local tactical confrontations that can easily deteriorate into a strategic complication.

During his speech, Netanyahu also raised a second issue which was removed from the Prime Ministers Office's official publications. 

At the naval cadets ceremony, the prime minister referred directly to the Iranian nuclear threat and said in an unambiguous tone that "thanks to the navy above and below the sea--those who aspire to annihilate us will not succeed and will put themselves in terrible danger." This was not reported in the international press, but only reported in the Hebrew press. Paradoxically, and in spite of the stern tone, this line did not receive particular attention in Israel. It was treated as if deterrence strategy messages are simply something that should be repeated at every opportunity.

Declarations about strategic deterrence in the Iranian context are central for Netanyahu. For example, at the name unveiling ceremony of the Dimona Nuclear Research Center in honor of Shimon Peres during August 2018, Netanyahu declared that "those who threaten to wipe us out put themselves in a similar danger." Nevertheless, the prime minister was careful not to repeat this declaratory threat in the context of submarines. 

The last time Netanyahu did this was during the 2016 ceremony for the new Rahav submarine purchased from Germany. On this occasion, Netanyahu referred in the most detailed and concrete manner to the special deterrent and striking role of the submarine fleet in distant and global quarters against "the enemies who want to destroy us," adding that they "need to know that Israel is capable of striking in a very great strength at all those who would harm it." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


The Secret Political History of Queen Esther: From Queen Elizabeth to Abraham Lincoln, the story of Purim has shaped our most contentious debates (Ari Lamm, March 21, 2019, The Tablet)

[T]he image of Esther as reactive protector who sought merely to save her people is incongruous with the actual biblical narrative. Esther's response to Haman's assault on the Jewish people is not simply to request that her people be spared. Esther demands that the perpetrators be held to account. She has Haman charged and hanged for his crimes. She ensures that the Jews of Persia take up arms against those who sought to kill them. And many other people within the empire, seeing justice done, even ally themselves with their Jewish fellow citizens. Esther's story is not one of reactive hunkering down, but of confident, assertive action in maintaining a decent society in which injustice would not be tolerated.

But if the Elizabethans overemphasized Esther's reactive, self-protective posture, the opposite mistake featured at a crucial moment in American history, three centuries later. About a week and a half before issuing a preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spent a quiet Saturday morning meeting with prominent abolitionist Rev. William Weston Patton. A few months earlier, at a June cabinet meeting, Lincoln had declared his intention to issue an edict of emancipation. But his worry over the Union's military prospects, and the accompanying concern over seeming to act from a position of desperation, had so far prevented Lincoln from publishing any such edict. In the hopes of encouraging him in the right direction, Patton met with Lincoln to make the religious case for emancipation. Patton concluded his remarks to the President by comparing him to Queen Esther. Drawing upon Chapter 4 in the Book of Esther, in which her cousin Mordechai exhorts Esther to seize the moment and exercise moral leadership, Patton beseeched Lincoln to recognize the wondrous opportunity presented to him by the Almighty to right an historic wrong: "[we] believe that in Divine Providence you have been called to the Presidency to speak the word of justice and authority which shall free the bondman and save the nation." As Patton saw it, as soon as Esther was made aware of an injustice, she took action and damn the consequences. He felt Lincoln should do the same, assuring the president: "If the Leader will but utter a trumpet call, the nation will respond with patriotic ardor."

Patton's interpretation of Esther as zealous idealist is, like the Elizabethans before him, difficult to square with the Book of Esther itself. According to the biblical narrative, when Mordechai informs Esther of Haman's murderous intentions, she does not immediately confront the king and demand that he rectify the situation. Instead, she devises a political strategy that takes into consideration Haman's power and influence in the royal court. Counting on Haman's growing sense of complacency, Esther waited for a moment of maximal opportunity to make her case before Xerxes. Far from throwing caution to the wind and depending upon a miracle, Esther was a deeply strategic thinker who knew that the arc of history does not bend toward justice of its own accord. It must be bent with human participation.

In the end, it was Lincoln himself who best captured the nuances of the biblical Esther. In his response to Patton's invocation of the biblical queen, Lincoln replied: "Whatever shall appear to be God's will I will do." This is a striking, likely deliberate echo of Esther's words upon hearing from Mordechai of Haman's plot: "I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish." Like Esther, Lincoln knew the dire risks his proposed course of action entailed for his people, and nevertheless resolved to do the right thing. But, also like Esther, Lincoln refused to take impulsive action. The president had already determined that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation months before he met with Patton. He felt, however, that it would take a decisive battlefield triumph by Northern forces to vest his edict with the necessary legitimacy in practice. He therefore kept a draft of the edict in his drawer for the entire summer of 1862, biding his time, waiting for the moment when doing the right thing would not only feel good, but be effective. In this respect, Lincoln embodied the legacy of Queen Esther. And if David Gilmour Blythe's 1863 painting of Lincoln writing the Emancipation Proclamation--in which Lincoln looks for inspiration to two documents: the Constitution and the Bible--is any guide, perhaps Lincoln knew it, too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tech Platforms Obliterated ISIS Online. They Could Use The Same Tools On White Nationalism.: Christchurch could be the moment Silicon Valley decides to finally treat white nationalism the way it's been treating ISIS for years. (Ryan Broderick, 2/20/19, BuzzFeed News)

A 2016 study by George Washington University's Program on Extremism shows that white nationalists and neo-Nazi supporters had a much larger impact on Twitter than ISIS members and supporters at the time. When looking at about 4,000 accounts of each category, white nationalists and neo-Nazis outperformed ISIS in number of tweets and followers, with an average follower count that was 22 times greater than ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts. The study concluded that by 2016, ISIS had become a target of "large-scale efforts" by Twitter to drive supporters off the platform, like using AI-based technology to automatically flag militant Muslim extremist content, while white nationalists and neo-Nazi supporters were given much more leeway, in large part because their networks were far less cohesive.

Google and Facebook have also invested heavily in AI-based programs that scan their platforms for ISIS activity. Google's parent company created a program called the Redirect Method that uses AdWords and YouTube video content to target kids at risk of radicalization. Facebook said it used a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning to remove more than 3 million pieces of ISIS and al-Qaeda propaganda in the third quarter of 2018.

These AI tools appear to be working. The pages and groups of ISIS members and supporters have almost been completely scrubbed from Facebook. Beheading videos are pulled down from YouTube within hours. The terror group's formerly vast network of Twitter accounts have been almost completely erased. Even the slick propaganda videos, once broadcast on multiple platforms within minutes of publication, have been relegated to private groups on apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.

The Christchurch attack is the first big instance of white nationalist extremism being treated -- across these three big online platforms -- with the same severity as pro-ISIS content. Facebook announced 1.5 million versions of the Christchurch livestream were removed from the platform within the first 24 hours. YouTube said in a statement that "Shocking, violent and graphic content has no place on our platforms, and is removed as soon as we become aware of it," though the video does continue to appear on the site -- a copy of it was being uploaded every second in the first 24 hours. Twitter also said it had taken down the account of the suspected gunman and was working to remove all versions of the video.

The answer to why this kind of cross-network deplatforming hasn't happened with white nationalist extremism may be found in a 2018 VOX-Pol report authored by the same researcher as the George Washington University study cited above: "The task of crafting a response to the alt-right is considerably more complex and fraught with landmines, largely as a result of the movement's inherently political nature and its proximity to political power."

March 20, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


'Various Prosecution Offices' Have Advised Top Mueller Witness Not to Talk to Congress -- Yet (Matt Naham, March 20th, 2019, Law & Crime)

Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign deputy chairman, former Paul Manafort business associate and current cooperating witness for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and other prosecutors, will not be talking to Congress -- yet. Gates's attorney Thomas Green said that this is how "various prosecution offices" have advised his client to proceed.

The comment from Team Gates comes days after Mueller filed in court to push back Gates' sentencing for at least another two months, because Gates continues to cooperate in "several ongoing investigations." The House Judiciary Committee recently contacted Gates and 80 other people or entities as part of its investigation into "alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Trump, his associates, and members of his Administration."

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