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  1. Tesla Model 3 Falls Short of a CR Recommendation Despite record range and agile handling, issues with braking, controls, and ride quality hurt the Model 3’s Overall Score Tesla’s Model 3 represents the electric automaker’s first attempt at a more affordable mass-market car. In Consumer Reports’ tests, we found plenty to like about the luxury compact sedan (which starts at $35,000 but goes all the way up to $78,000), including record-setting range as well as exhilarating acceleration and handling that could make it a healthy competitor to performance-oriented cars such as BMW’s 3 Series and the Audi A4. Our testers also found flaws—big flaws—such as long stopping distances in our emergency braking test and difficult-to-use controls. These problems keep the Model 3 from earning a Consumer Reports recommendation. The Tesla’s stopping distance of 152 feet from 60 mph was far worse than any contemporary car we’ve tested and about 7 feet longer than the stopping distance of a Ford F-150 full-sized pickup. A Tesla spokesperson told CR that the company’s own testing found stopping distances from 60 to 0 mph were an average of 133 feet, with the same tires as our Model 3. The automaker noted that stopping-distance results are affected by variables such as road surface, weather conditions, tire temperature, brake conditioning, outside temperature, and past driving behavior that may have affected the brake system. In a series of tweets on Monday night, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the braking issue CR identified could be fixed with a firmware update, which will be rolled out "in a few days." Musk went on to say that with further refinement "we can improve braking distance beyond initial specs." CR has reached out to Tesla for confirmation and will update this story as we receive more details. As its name implies, CR’s braking test is meant to determine how a vehicle performs in an emergency situation. The test is based on an industry-standard procedure designed by SAE International, a global engineering association. Our testers get a car up to 60 mph, then slam on the brakes until the car comes to a stop. They repeat this multiple times to ensure consistent results. Between each test, the vehicle is driven approximately a mile to cool the brakes and make sure they don’t overheat. The test is done at our 327-acre test facility on dedicated braking surfaces that are monitored for consistent surface friction. “Before each test, we make sure the brake pads and tires have been properly conditioned,” says Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at CR. “We’ve conducted it on more than 500 vehicles, and we are always looking for consistent, repeatable results.” In our testing of the Model 3, the first stop we recorded was significantly shorter (around 130 feet, similar to Tesla’s findings), but that distance was not repeated, even after we let the brakes cool overnight. Consumer Reports publishes a distance based on all the stops we record in our test, not just the shortest individual stop. Because we saw some inconsistency in the braking performance, we got a second Model 3 (a privately owned vehicle that was loaned to CR) to verify our results. CR has tested second samples in previous situations to double-check our findings. When we ran the second Model 3 through the same tests, we got almost identical results. In our tests of both Model 3 samples, the stopping distances were much longer than the stopping distances we recorded on other Teslas and other cars in this class. The Tesla Model 3’s 152 feet is 21 feet longer than the class average of 131 feet for luxury compact sedans and 25 feet longer than the results for its much larger SUV sibling, the Model X. CR’s experience with the Model 3’s braking is not unique. Car and Driver, in its published test of a Model 3, said it noticed “a bizarre amount of variation” in its test, including one stop from 70 mph that took “an interminable 196 feet.” “I’ve been testing cars for 11 years,” Car and Driver Testing Director K.C. Colwell said in an interview with CR, “and in 11 years, no car has stood out with inconsistent braking like this. Some trucks have. . . . It was just weird.” The Tesla spokeswoman says the company has the ability to update its vehicles over the air. “Unlike other vehicles, Tesla is uniquely positioned to address more corner cases over time through over-the-air software updates, and it continually does so to improve factors such as stopping distance,” she says. https://www.consumerreports.org/hybrids-evs/tesla-model-3-review-falls-short-of-consumer-reports-recommendation/ Personal Commet: This comes as Tesla continues to lose money, and production falls under expectations.
  2. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday pulled the United States out of an international nuclear deal with Iran in a step that will raise the risk of conflict in the Middle East, upset America’s European allies and bring uncertainty to global oil supplies. Trump, speaking in a televised address from the White House, said he would reimpose economic sanctions on Iran. “This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump said. “It didn’t bring calm. It didn’t bring peace. And it never will.” The 2015 deal, worked out by the United States, five other international powers and Iran, eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country limiting its nuclear program. The pact is seen by many in the West as a way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. But Trump complains that the agreement, the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor Barack Obama, does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 nor its role in conflicts in Yemen and Syria. He also said the agreement did not prevent Iran from cheating and continuing to pursue nuclear weapons. “It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” he said. “The Iran deal is defective at its core.” Trump said he was willing to negotiate a new deal with Iran, but Tehran already has ruled that out and threatened unspecified retaliation if Washington pulled out. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Iran will remain in the nuclear deal without Washington.
  3. By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN Updated 8:35 AM ET, Tue March 20, 2018 5 bombs in 19 days have Texas police, federal agents scrambling for answers (CNN) Five bombings in 19 days have left the Texas capital on edge, with Austin police warning the public not to take chances: If it looks suspicious -- whether it's a package, box or backpack -- do not approach it. While authorities are offering a six-figure reward for information leading to an arrest in the bombings, which have killed two people, the latest attacks followed different patterns. Where the first three package bombs were left on people's doorsteps or porches and killed or injured minorities, the fourth bomb was left on the side of the road in a predominantly white neighborhood and may have been triggered by a tripwire. The fifth bomb went off at a FedEx ground sorting facility, about an hour's drive from Austin. Still, investigators are operating under the belief all the bombs are related. They suspect a serial bomber is behind the violence. Here's a look at what police say about each attack: March 2 Anthony Stephan House was killed in the first of the bombings to rock Austin. The first blast was reported about 6:55 a.m. in the Harris Ridge neighborhood of north Austin. It was a powerful device, essentially a pipe bomb, in a normal-size delivery box, which would be a theme for the first three bombings. What we know about the first three bombings Anthony Stephan House, 39, died from injuries he suffered after opening the package. His LinkedIn profile said he was a senior project manager for Texas Quarries and participated in commercial projects throughout the state, including at University of Texas properties and the Phillips 66 headquarters in Houston. March 12 Draylen Mason was a promising student and bassist in a youth orchestra. The first of two bombs that day, it was detonated around 6:44 a.m. in the city's East MLK neighborhood. Like the bomb 10 days earlier, it had been left at the victim's home and it appeared to have been hand-delivered rather than by any courier service. The bomb detonated when the victim brought it inside and opened it. It killed 17-year-old Draylen Mason, a promising student who played stand-up bass in a youth orchestra and was taking college classes while in high school. His mother was injured in the bombing. Neighbors saw her in the yard covering her face with her hands and brought her blankets because the blast had ripped off some of her clothing, said Anne Marie Castillo, who lives five houses down from Mason. Mason and House were both African-American. "(Mason) was a young guy with so much future and potential. We talked a lot about college. He hugged me every morning before class," Austin Community College professor Samuel Osemene said. March 12 again Police were processing the scene at the East MLK bombing when another bomb erupted in the Montopolis neighborhood of southeast Austin, a few miles from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The midday blast left a 75-year-old Hispanic woman badly injured, spurring police to leave open the possibility of hate crimes, given the victims were, at this point, all minorities. "We believe that the recent explosive incidents that have occurred in the city of Austin were meant to send a message," Austin police Chief Brian Manley said. March 18 This was the first explosion to break with the pattern of doorstep deliveries. Instead, this bomb was left on the side of the road in the upscale Travis Country neighborhood of southwest Austin. It could have maimed any passer-by, police said. Two white men, a 22- and 23-year-old, who were walking alongside the road when the bomb detonated, were taken to a hospital with serious but non-life threatening injuries. Despite the new modus operandi, Manley said investigators believe the bombings are connected. Hundreds of federal agents are now involved in the investigation. March 20 "A single package" exploded at a FedEx facility in Schertz, Texas, outside San Antonio, injuring one of the company's employees. FBI San Antonio spokeswoman Michelle Lee said that, based on preliminary evidence at the scene, investigators suspect it could be related to the Austin explosions. If that's true, it would make this explosive device the first that was actually shipped. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/19/us/austin-explosions-bomb-timeline/index.html
  4. By Julia Manchester - 03/18/18 09:41 PM EDT DC councilman apologizes for promoting conspiracy theory that weather is controlled by Jews A Washington, D.C., lawmaker apologized on Sunday after he posted a video promoting a conspiracy theory that the weather is controlled by Jewish financiers. “I work hard everyday to combat racism and prejudices of all kinds. I want to apologize to the Jewish Community and anyone I have offended,” Councilman Trayon White Sr. (D) said in a statement to The Washington Post. “The Jewish community have been allies with me in my journey to help people. I did not intend to be anti-Semitic, and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues," he continued. White had posted a video of snowfall on Friday saying it was caused by the Rothschilds, a famous European Jewish banking family. A conspiracy theory suggests that the Rothschilds are causing global warming. “Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation,” White said in a video on his official Facebook page. “And D.C. keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.” The video prompted backlash, with one Washington rabbi saying it contributed to the growing intolerant environment in the U.S. “This kind of anti-Semitism is unacceptable in any public official. This so diminishes what America is about and adds to the oppressive feeling going on in the country right now,” Rabbi Daniel Zemel told the Post. The incident comes as other politicians have faced backlash for their ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has drawn criticism recently after a speech full of anti-Semitic remarks. http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/379056-dc-councilman-apologizes-for-promoting-conspiracy-theory-that?rnd=1521423712 Personal Comment From Bild: Hey goyim, slip me your weather requests and a little something extra and I might be able to get it to the head Weather-Jew. No promises though. ;)
  5. Michigan spent $80 million to improve early reading. Scores went down. Once a week, Amanda Price volunteers in a first-grade classroom in Lakeshore Elementary in Holland. “They’re doing great,” said the former Republican legislator of the kids she works with. But when Price, who chaired the House Education Committee until she retired in 2016, looks at tests revealing the reading skills of Michigan children in schools across the state, “I just want to cry. “I cry when I see these lives being wasted,” Price said. “I don’t think the average parent knows where we are with literacy.” The reading skills of Michigan’s third-graders are declining, according to the state’s standardized test, M-STEP. The first year M-STEP was given, in the 2014-15 school year, 50 percent of third-graders were proficient in English language arts. The following year, 46 percent of third graders were proficient. By 2016-17, the rate was 44 percent. That’s despite almost $80 million being spent by the state on early reading efforts during those years, and a looming deadline two years from now, when third-graders who are one year or more behind in reading skills will be retained in that grade, under a state law passed in 2016. Early literacy funds are given to school districts and intermediate school districts to pay for early reading efforts ranging from reading specialists to new curriculum to smaller class sizes in early grades. “We are in a furious crisis, and we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve done for decades,” said Amber Arellano, president of Education Trust-Midwest, a Michigan-based nonprofit education reform group. In a report released today, Education Trust-Midwest sounds the alarm about Michigan’s flailing K-12 system, focusing on the state’s inability to improve third-grade reading skills while most other states are making progress. Researchers and educators say that how well a child reads in third grade is a key indicator of future academic success. Michigan, and many other states, have focused efforts on improving early reading skills. Despite that focus, third-grade English language arts scores have dropped from 2014-15 to 2016-17 across the board: White students: 58 percent to 52 percent. Black students: 23 percent to 19 percent. Hispanic students: 37 percent to 32 percent. Economically disadvantaged: 35 percent to 29 percent. Non-economically disadvantaged: 66 percent to 60 percent. Bill DiSessa, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education, said the department believes there are no structural changes to the test that would account for the drop in reading scores. MDE has “identified no exact cause” for the decline, DiSessa said in an email to Bridge. DiSessa said English language arts scores are stagnant or dropping across the country, but data to back up the department’s claim is mixed at best. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the only national test that allows cross-state comparisons across all states, does not test third-graders. But it does test fourth-graders in reading. Michigan is one of only five states with declines in fourth-grade reading from 2003 to 2015. In that span, the state’s rank in fourth-grade reading plummeted from 28th to 41st. According to the Education Trust-Midwest report, among 11 states that give tests similar to M-STEP to students, five suffered declines in third-grade reading between 2014-15 and 2016-17. But Michigan had triple the size of decline of any other state. The other six states showed improvements. ‘Doesn’t make sense’ A low third-grade reading proficiency rate in the first year of the M-STEP, in 2014-15, wasn’t unexpected, Arellano said. “Traditionally, proficiency rates fall immediately” when a new test is put into the classroom, “because the tests are harder, and then they go up.” But Michigan proficiency rates continuing to drop in years two and three of the test “doesn’t make sense,” Arellano said. “That is completely counter to trends of other states.” That trend is particularly alarming in Michigan because, two school years from now, third-graders who are a year or more behind in reading skills will flunk. Last year, about one in every 150 third-graders in Michigan were held back. It’s unclear how many will be retained under the new law because cutoff scores haven’t been set and there are retention exemptions. But almost one in three students in 2016-17 had readings scores deemed “not proficient,” the lowest of four scoring categories. If those numbers hold, that would mean 31,655 third-graders in danger of flunking third grade two years from now. . Price was the sponsor of that bill, which passed in October 2016. “My hope is that kids are never held back,” Price told Bridge. “You have kindergarten, first, second and third grades to get kids to read. In my mind, we ought to be at 95 percent proficiency.” But we aren’t. More money, better strategies “Even if we don’t decline any more, we’re talking about most kids of color being retained,” said Arellano. “It’s a good thing that the Legislature made early literacy this huge priority. And I see the urgency, I see teachers trying to do this well. But poor implementation and weak strategies doesn’t move the ball. It just creates great anxiety.” “The need to get all children reading at grade level by third grade is urgent,” MDE’s DiSessa said. After three years of funding, “Michigan schools are in the early stages of using the state funds to develop reading intervention programs.” But what those programs look like, and if there are funds to implement those programs, is an open question. The General Education Leadership Network, a consortium of Michigan education leaders and researchers, published a report, “From Lagging to Leading,” that lays out a strategy for improving early literacy. “We have a three-year plan,” said William Miller, executive director of Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators. Miller is s heading up early literacy efforts for the General Education Leadership Network. “(But) what we’re spending is not enough.” Michigan has spent about $80 million total in the past three years on early literacy. It sounds like a lot of money, but, divided among the state’s third-grade classrooms, it isn’t enough to make a difference, Miller said. Florida, for example, has had a law that flunks third-graders who are below grade-level in reading. But that state spends three-times more per student on reading intervention help than Michigan. In 2003, the first year of third-grade reading retention, Florida held back one in seven third-graders; that rate has been cut in half since then. This school year, Michigan school districts received $210 for every enrolled first-grader to be used for early literacy, no matter their need. For example,Okemos, where 68 percent of third-graders were deemed proficient in 2016-17, received the same per-student allotment of early reading intervention dollars as Detroit Public Schools where just one-in-10 students were proficient. Dollars given to intermediate school districts, which oversee individual school districts typically on a countywide basis, are often not enough to make a difference. In Oakland Intermediate School District, early literacy money this year was able to fund just three part-time reading specialists to spread around 28 school districts and more than 20 charters. “We know what it takes, but we don’t have the resources,” said Michelle Farah, literacy consultant for Oakland ISD. “And we’re one of the best resourced ISDs in the state. Can you imagine what an ISD in the U.P. (is doing)?” “We’re in a crisis in early literacy,” Miller said. I don’t care what you want to do with career prep (for older students), if you don’t get this right, it’s not going to work.” http://www.bridgemi.com/talent-education/see-if-reading-scores-are-down-your-michigan-district Personal comment: On the one hand the racial distribution is incredible and terrifying. On the other hand the trend is across all racial groups.
  6. NEW YORK (Reuters) - As press releases go, it was vague and brief - six paragraphs, 394 words in all. In general terms, it described the beginnings of an effort by three big U.S. companies to team up to improve their employees’ healthcare services and save money. But it delivered a $69 billion body blow to stocks across the healthcare sector, driven in large part because of the first word: “Amazon.” The day long feared by executives and investors alike in the $3.47 trillion U.S. healthcare sector had arrived. And with an unsettling lack of specificity. “Everyone is still terrified of Amazon,” said Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager focusing on healthcare for Gabelli Funds. Earlier on Tuesday, Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) announced they will form a healthcare company aimed at cutting costs for their more than 500,000 U.S. employees. Investors for months have fretted over a potential Amazon entry into healthcare delivery, particularly selling prescription drugs, with stocks periodically selling off on headlines anticipating a move by the massive online retailer. But Tuesday’s news was short on details, creating the potential for the uncertainty over Amazon’s healthcare aims to linger over the sector. “The release that we have today is very cryptic and broad,” said John Schroer, U.S. healthcare sector head for Allianz Global Investors in San Francisco. “This is just one move amongst perhaps many more that Amazon could take in moving into the retail chain of drug delivery. I doubt it’s the only thing they are going to do,” he said. Among stocks in the drug supply chain, pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Co (ESRX.O) was down 3.3 percent in midafternoon, drug-store chain CVS Health Corp (CVS.N) was down 4.1 percent, and pharmaceutical distributor McKesson Corp (MCK.N) was down 3 percent. Health insurers, which had been relatively immune from previous Amazon-related jitters, were clobbered. Cigna Corp (CI.N) was down 7.2 percent, Anthem Inc (ANTM.N) slumped 5.3 percent and UnitedHealth Group (UNH.N) declined 4.2 percent, making it the biggest single drag on the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI. The news sent the S&P 500 healthcare sector .SPXHC down 2 percent in Tuesday afternoon trading, putting the group on pace for its biggest single-day decline since October 2016 and blunting the sector’s strong momentum to start the year. Through Monday, healthcare had risen 10.5 percent already in 2018, the best performance among all major sectors and well ahead of the 6.7 percent rise for the overall S&P 500 .SPX. ”Healthcare had been outperforming the market, at least year to date,“ Jonas said. ”It’s always a good excuse to sell and take some profit.” Jonas and others pointed to reasons the healthcare sector should be able to move past the Amazon threat, including a healthy climate for dealmaking that has particularly boosted biotech shares, benefits from U.S. tax reform, and a solid economy leading to use of medical services. Others shrugged off the Amazon announcement. RBC Capital Markets analyst George Hill, who covers drug distributors, said the initiative at first glance seems to have little market clout to impact healthcare costs and did not seem to be able to displace established players. “If this was the Amazon announcement drug supply chain investors have been fearing since early 2017,” Hill wrote in a research note, “consider us relieved.” Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Matthew Lewis Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-healthcare-stocks/health-investors-roll-out-unwelcome-mat-for-amazons-arrival-idUSKBN1FJ2TS Personal Comment From Bors: I wonder why they all suddenly shit their pants? Is it because of a new boy with new innovation planning to stick his wang in their cereal?
  7. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. communications regulator, wireless companies and some lawmakers oppose an idea by members of President Donald Trump’s national security team for the government to build a 5G wireless network to counter China spying on phone calls. Chairman Ajit Pai speaks ahead of the vote on the repeal of so called net neutrality rules at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, U.S., December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein The Trump administration has taken a harder line with China on policies initiated by predecessor President Barack Obama on issues ranging from Beijing’s role in restraining North Korea to Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. strategic industries. The option of a nationalized 5G network was being discussed by Trump’s national security team, an administration official said on Sunday. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday that discussions were at “the very earliest stages” to ensure a “secure network,” and “absolutely no decisions” have been made. The government has blocked a string of Chinese acquisitions over national security concerns and the 5G network concept is aimed at addressing what officials see as China’s threat to U.S. cyber security and economic security. But the option was rejected by several of those who would have a say. “Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future,” Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by Trump, said in a statement on Monday. CTIA, the trade group that represents AT&T Inc (T.N), Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Sprint Corp (S.N) and others, said in a statement on Monday that the “government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G.” Carriers have already spent billions of dollars acquiring spectrum and beginning to develop and test 5G networks, which are expected to be at least 100 times faster than current 4G networks and cut latency to less than one thousandth of a second from one one hundredth of a second in 4G, the FCC said. The more responsive networks could allow, for example, for real-time remote operations such as medical procedures and running large machines. A U.S.-built 5G network could in theory be more resilient to Chinese government intrusions. A leaked National Security Council memo published by Axios news website on Sunday said China is the dominant manufacturer of network infrastructure and notes the importance of building the network with “equipment from a trusted supply chain.” The primary suppliers for the 5G networks in the United States are expected to be firms such as Nokia (NOKIA.HE) and Ericsson (ERICb.ST), with networking firms such as Juniper Networks (JNPR.N), Cisco Systems (CSCO.O) and Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O) supplying chips and back end equipment. It was unclear whether the option discussed would involve working with those companies. The rules for 5G networks are still being worked out by industry players. The work has been complicated by an effective ban in the United States on two of the largest firms, Chinese suppliers Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] and ZTE Corp (000063.SZ) since a 2012 investigation over links to potential Chinese spying, something the companies have denied. Earlier this year, U.S. lawmakers urged AT&T to cut commercial ties with Huawei. U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat and vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that while he agreed there were “serious concerns relating to the Chinese government’s influence into network equipment markets” he thought the proposal for the federal government to build a standalone network would be “expensive and duplicative.” Any 5G nationalization plan would likely cost hundreds of billions of dollars, wireless carriers said. Representative Greg Walden, a Republican who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, dismissed the idea. “We’re not Venezuela. We don’t need to have the government run everything,” Walden said. He noted that government data has been hacked, but said it was important 5G networks are “safe and secure.” Shares of the biggest U.S. wireless carriers fell at the start of trade on Monday, with Verizon and AT&T down 1 percent. The administration official who spoke to Reuters confirmed the gist of the Axios report and said the option was being debated at a low level in the administration and was six to eight months away from being considered by the president. “This has been building for months. I don’t think the White House options papers do justice to the issue. It goes much deeper,” said Michael Wessel, a commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which works for Congress and follows China issues. Apart from FCC chairman Pai, three of remaining four FCC commissioners also said on Monday that they opposed nationalizing the 5G network, while the fourth expressed skepticism. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said the memo “correctly diagnoses a real problem. There is a worldwide race to lead in 5G and other nations are poised to win. But the remedy proposed here really misses the mark.” Reporting by Susan Heavey, Katanga Johnson and David Shepardson, additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Andrew Hay and Grant McCool Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Personal Comment From Bors: Cause Ajit is against it, his buddies can't make money of a nationalised system.
  8. SEATTLE (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) on Monday opened a rainforest-like office space in Seattle that it hopes will spark new ideas for employees. While cities across North America are seeking to host Seattle-based Amazon’s second headquarters, the world’s largest online retailer is still expanding its main campus. Company office towers and high-end eateries have taken the place of warehouses and parking lots in Seattle’s South Lake Union district. The Spheres complex, officially open to workers on Tuesday, is the pinnacle of a decade of development here. The Spheres’ three glass domes house some 40,000 plants of 400 species. Amazon, famous for its demanding work culture, hopes the Spheres’ lush environs will let employees reflect and have chance encounters, spawning new products or plans. The space is more like a greenhouse than a typical office. Instead of enclosed conference rooms or desks, there are walkways and unconventional meeting spaces with chairs. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s billionaire founder, officially opened the project in a ceremony with Amazon executives, elected officials and members of the media - by voice command. “Alexa, open the Spheres,” Bezos said, as a circle in the Spheres’ ceiling turned blue just like Amazon’s speech-controlled devices, whose voice assistant is named Alexa. Amazon has invested $3.7 billion on buildings and infrastructure in Seattle from 2010 to summer 2017, a figure that has public officials competing for its “HQ2” salivating. Amazon has said it expects to invest more than $5 billion in construction of HQ2 and to create as many as 50,000 jobs. “We wanted to create something really special, something iconic for our campus and for the city of Seattle,” John Schoettler, Amazon’s vice president of global real estate and facilities, said. Earlier this month, the online retailer narrowed 238 applications for its second headquarters to 20. The finalists, from Boston and New York to Austin, Texas, largely fit the bill of being big metropolises that can attract highly educated tech talent. Amazon started the frenzied HQ2 contest last summer and plans to pick a winner later this year. At the Spheres’ opening, Governor Jay Inslee said the project now ranked along with Seattle’s Space Needle as icons of Washington State. The Spheres, designed by architecture firm NBBJ, will become part of Amazon’s guided campus tours. Members of the public can also visit an exhibit at the Spheres by appointment starting Tuesday. Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in Seattle, editing by Peter Henderson and Marguerita Choy Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-spheres/amazon-com-opens-its-own-rainforest-in-seattle-idUSKBN1FI1D7 Personal Comment From Bors: Now when their employees mental health degrades from over work they have somewhere nice to go and top themselves.
  9. By Sara Jerde (@SaraJerde) and Allison Pries (@AllisonPries) NJ Advance Media for NJ.com Updated on October 25, 2017 at 9:17 AM Posted on October 24, 2017 at 11:20 AM 'Hateful' town illegally targeted Orthodox Jews, state says MAHWAH -- Fearing an influx of Orthodox Jews from New York State, the Township of Mahwah introduced two hateful and discriminatory ordinances that illegally targeted that community, the state Attorney General's office alleged in a stunning complaint filed against the town on Tuesday. The harsh public rebuke of both the actions of Mahwah's elected officials and the anti-Semitic sentiment of some residents likened the conduct of the town to the actions of "1950s-era white flight suburbanites who sought to keep African-Americans from moving into their neighborhoods." The nine-count complaint, filed in Bergen County Superior Court, seeks a return of more than $3.4 million in state Green Acres grants received by Mahwah and an injunction blocking the two ordinances. "This is an extensive complaint ... but the bottom line is very simple -- the township council in Mahwah heard the angry, fear-driven voices of bigotry and acted to appease those voices," Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said in a statement. The first ordinance, which went into effect at the end of July, limited the use of Mahwah's recreational facilities to New Jersey residents. The second, which was introduced but not passed, was the expansion of an existing ordinance that banned signs on utility poles, amended to include any "device or other matter." It effectively would have banned the formation of an Orthodox Jewish religious boundary known as an eruv, which is designated by white piping called "lechis" on utility poles, the state alleged. "I repeatedly warned the council of these consequences for months," Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet said Tuesday. The religious boundary, which in this case extended from Rockland County, allows Orthodox Jews to do everyday things such as carry house keys or push baby strollers outside of the home on the Jewish Sabbath. Despite approval from the utility company, the township ordered that the lechis be removed. A group called the Bergen Rockland Eruv Association and residents from Rockland County filed a federal lawsuit in August to allow the lechis to stay. A ban on an eruv, or threats to have it removed, is "tantamount" to housing discrimination because it could prevent Orthodox Jewish families from living in Mahwah, according to the complaint (which can be read at the end of this story). Many residents have come out in support of the township's decision, creating Facebook groups and online petitions. Here's what you need to know about the eruv dispute But the complaint takes Mahwah's residents to task for their alleged behavior. The council, the state says, was "influenced largely" by the "vocal anti-Orthodox Jewish sentiment" from some residents on social media and in public meetings. "I was wondering if there are any thoughts and procedures in place to keep the Hasidic Jewish people from moving into Mahwah?" one resident asked at a June 29 council meeting. "They have chased us out of two towns we lived in and now they are buying up houses in Suffern." "I don't know if you noticed, but the Hasidics have been making themselves very comfortable in our town parks," said another. A third suggested people bring their dogs to town parks in an effort to "scare them away." Residents also called Mahwah police to report that people who appeared to be Orthodox Jews were using parks, though the callers did not allege that the people were doing anything wrong, the complaint says. The ugly quotes attributed to Mahwah residents The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) commended Porrino on Tuesday and said the ordinances violated "the letter and spirit of the US and New Jersey constitutions as well as state anti-discrimination laws." "An eruv is a constitutionally permissible religious accommodation that allows one segment of a community to go about their lives while adhering to their core religious beliefs," said Joshua Cohen, ADL New Jersey regional director. "Attorney General Porrino's action sends the strong message that the religious freedom of all faiths in Mahwah should be protected against intolerance or exclusion." The state alleges in its complaint that council President Robert Hermansen received an email from a Mahwah resident not of Orthodox Jewish faith who was concerned that her mother, a New York resident, wouldn't be able to take her grandchildren to the park in Mahwah. Hermansen allegedly responded that the resident's mother shouldn't worry and that the park ordinance was not intended to "address her situation," according to the attorney general's news release. Hermansen went as far as to suggest a neighborhood watch, writing in a social media post that "the goal is to have everybody working together to make sure that our poles stay clean in Mahwah," according to the complaint. Hermansen took a swing at Porrino in an interview on Tuesday. "I find it absolutely appalling that the attorney general is making an inference about my email without even calling me to find out what I meant," he said. "To me, this is nothing more than a witch hunt." Hermansen, a former Republican county freeholder, said that he felt the complaint against Mahwah was politically motivated and designed to help Democrat Phil Murphy's chances of being elected governor. "I believe this has everything to do with trying to get Phil Murphy and [Laforet's] council candidates elected," he said. "Am I shocked that the mayor of Mahwah is backing Phil Murphy after having received a $2,600 check from him? Not really." Hermansen's comments come hours after Laforet, an independent, lashed out at Hermansen in a statement. "It has been a lonely and painful struggle for me and my family these past several months, having to deal with a reckless and oblivious council president, Rob Hermansen," Laforet said. "He personally led his council mates to this action by the state's highest law enforcement official, and is most accountable. ... His race-baiting bantering has now bitten him back. His disgraceful behavior is now worsened by the severe potential financial penalties facing the township's taxpayer. "But, I am sorrowed by the loss of reputation for Mahwah which is as diverse, tolerant and welcoming a community that you can find in NJ." Hermansen, however, says it was Laforet who, in the spring, pushed the council to pass the resolutions - even sending emails on the topic. "The fact that he is now out trying to blame the council for his missteps is absolutely ridiculous," the council president said. "We did not do these on our own and we did not do these without advice from our attorney. "I would like to remind everyone how ordinances get done. The township attorney writes the ordinance based off what they deem is good law. We pass the ordinance on the advice of our legal counsel." The complaint alleges that the parks ordinance and the amended sign ordinance are "abuses of municipal power" and violate the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution. "To think that there are local governments here in New Jersey, in 2017, making laws on the basis of some archaic, fear-driven and discriminatory mindset, is deeply disappointing and shocking to many, but it is exactly what we are alleging in this case," Porrino said. "Of course, in this case we allege the target of the small-minded bias is not African-Americans, but Orthodox Jews. Nonetheless, the hateful message is the same." The state seeks more than $3.4 million it claims Mahwah received and used in state Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres grants to purchase and maintain its parks. The land acquired in the state program cannot be restricted based on religion or residency, the attorney general's office said. "What's been happening in Mahwah with respect to the township's parks ordinance is not in accordance with the original intent of the Green Acres Program," DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. "As such, it is unacceptable, and it cannot be allowed to stand." Lechis exist in more than 20 towns in New Jersey, including East Brunswick, Englewood and Fair Lawn. But other towns, such as Upper Saddle River, are also fighting the issue. "Our message to those public officials in Mahwah who are leading or following this misguided charge is meant to be loud and clear: We intend to hold you accountable," Porrino said in the statement. "Our message to local officials in other towns who may be plotting to engage in similar attempts to illegally exclude, is the same: We will hold you accountable as well." Mahwah has introduced other rules or laws to protect against the Orthodox Jewish "invasion," including a "no knock" ordinance proposed on Sept. 14, 2017 that was created in response to rumors of door-to-door home purchase solicitations by "members of the Jewish faith," the complaint alleges. The park ordinance was roundly criticized by local law enforcement, including by Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli, who publicly questioned how he and his force would be able to enforce the rule without violating constitutional rights. Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal backed Batelli and responded in a letter to the chief that he thought the park rule "raises numerous constitutional concerns" and told him to not enforce the ordinance. The lawsuit maintains that enforcing the ordinance would "subject affected persons to an unreasonable search." Batelli went as far as to email council members over the summer to let them know that regardless of what some others might have thought about his decision, he determined that damage to the eruv would be investigated as a bias crime. The correspondence was revealed in a response to an NJ Advance Media records request that included hundreds of pages of emails, many of them redacted due to "attorney-client privilege." "I fully understand that there are differing opinions on this issue and I have received comments from people both agreeing and disagreeing with me, but as a law enforcement official this is not a decision I make based upon public opinion or sentiment," Batelli wrote in an email in August to council members, the town lawyer and Mayor William Laforet. Hermansen, the council president, also objected to the eruv vandalism being treated as a hate crime, the complaint alleges. Vandalism to the lechis occurred three times over the summer. In September, Batelli released a photograph of two people police had identified as suspects in the hopes that someone would come forward with more information. In an interview on Tuesday, Batelli said that he thought the complaint "spoke for itself." "Throughout our country, officials have to answer for their actions through these types of civil complaints," Batelli said. "Several months ago, I expressed my concerns about the ordinance that the council had submitted for enactment. From here, we'll have to see the response from the township." In an interview on Monday, before before the attorney general's complaint was made public, Batelli said his department was "very close" to identifying both parties believed to be involved in the vandalism. http://www.nj.com/bergen/index.ssf/2017/10/leaders_of_nj_town_acted_like_1950s_segregationists_state_charges.html Personal Comment From Bild: Can you imagine the absolute shitstorm this would be if instead of Jews it were a minority group that tumblr snowflake Liberals liked?
  10. Teacher handcuffed, arrested after questioning school board about superintendent’s contract. A teacher asking tough questions of school board members in the Vermilion Parish School District in Louisiana was escorted out of the meeting by a security officer and handcuffed on the floor and arrested, videos of the event show. Deyshia Hargrave, an English language-arts teacher at Rene Rost Middle School, asked board members Monday night why they were planning to vote to give Superintendent Jerome Puyau a raise when teachers had not had a pay increase in years. The meeting and arrest were videotaped by a crew from KATC-TV, as well as by someone else who was present, School Board President Anthony Fontana said in an interview that the security officer did nothing wrong. “He was just doing his job,” he said. Other members of the board and Puyau did not respond to queries about the arrest. Hargrave was at Rene Rost teaching Tuesday, according to a school spokesman, but the school would say nothing else about the case. A spokesman for the local marshal’s office could not be reached for comment. Hargrave waited to be called on to address the board. When she first spoke, she talked about why she did not want the board to give the superintendent a raise and said this about teachers in the parish, a unit of government similar to a county: “We work very hard with very little to maintain the salaries that we have. And as I’ve been teaching the last few years I’ve seen class sizes grow enormously. . . . It’s a sad, sad day to be a teacher in Vermilion Parish.” Her comments about the raise were ruled out of order by Fontana, who said Hargrave could not ask questions and expect answers during the public comment period. While some in the audience took issue with that, she sat down and the meeting went forward. Hargrave was called upon a second time for comment. Again, she asked board members how they could raise the salary of the superintendent when teachers and students did the work in the classroom, again noting that educators were not getting pay increases. Then, a security officer from the marshal’s office in Abbeville, La., walked up to Hargrave and asked her to leave repeatedly. They argued and at one point, the officer put his hand on Hargrave’s arm. She pulled back and soon left. The video does not show what happened immediately after the two got into the hallway but she can be seen on the floor, being handcuffed. She was then arrested. According to KATC, she was booked into the city jail on charges that included resisting an officer. She paid bond and left. According to Fontana, Hargrave had violated rules of the meeting. He said she was arrested because she started a skirmish with the officer in the hallway. Fontana said he had left his seat and gone to the door after Hargrave was led out of the meeting and saw the start of the skirmish, which was not shown on any of the videos. Puyau told KATC that the school district was not going to press charges against Hargrave and that he told police the same thing, but the teacher was booked anyway. She could be tried on the charges without the cooperation of the school board. Here’s a video of part of the board meeting leading up to the arrest. It is 12 minutes but worth watching. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2018/01/09/teacher-forced-out-of-school-board-meeting-for-asking-tough-questions-is-handcuffed-arrested-heres-the-riveting-video/?utm_term=.20a53b1d9b01 Personal Comment: I have to be honest, the standards for police conduct in the US always looked fishy, and to me this is another example of that.
  11. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former U.S. National Security Agency contractor has agreed to plead guilty to stealing classified information, according to court filings on Wednesday, in what may have been the largest heist of U.S. government secrets in history. Harold Martin is scheduled to plead guilty to one count of willful retention of national defense information at a federal court in Baltimore on Jan. 22, according to the filings. Prosecutors said Martin, who was indicted last February, spent up to 20 years stealing highly sensitive government material from the U.S. intelligence community related to national defense, collecting a trove of secrets he hoarded at his home in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Authorities said they seized 50 terabytes of data from Martin’s home, which officials said could be the biggest theft of classified information in U.S. history. The government has not said what, if anything, Martin did with the stolen data. He faces up to 10 years in prison on the single count. Martin has not struck a plea deal with prosecutors and could still be tried on the remaining 19 counts in the indictment, the court filings said. A lawyer for Martin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The NSA has been hit by a series of damaging data breaches in recent years. In December, former NSA employee Nghia Hoang Pho pleaded guilty to illegally taking classified information that an intelligence official said was later stolen from his home computer by Russian hackers. Martin worked for Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp when he was taken into custody in August 2016. Booz Allen also employed Edward Snowden, who leaked a trove of secret files to news organizations in 2013 that exposed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA. Martin was employed as a private contractor by at least seven companies, working for several government agencies beginning in 1993 after serving in the U.S. Navy for four years, according to the indictment. His positions, which involved work on highly classified projects involving government computer systems, gave him various security clearances that routinely provided him access to top-secret information, it said. The indictment also alleged that Martin stole documents from U.S. Cyber Command, the CIA and the National Reconnaissance Office.
  12. SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea reopened a long-closed border hotline with South Korea on Wednesday, hours after U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to mock the North’s leader by saying he has a “bigger and more powerful” nuclear button than he does. The North’s decision to open the border phone line came a day after South Korea proposed high-level discussions amid a tense standoff over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. That followed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year address in which he said he was open to speaking with the South and would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics to be held just across the border in Pyeongchang in February. U.S. officials said Washington would not take any talks between North and South Korea seriously if they did not contribute to denuclearizing North Korea. A State Department spokeswoman said North Korea “might be trying to drive a wedge of some sort”. Kim ordered the reopening of the hotline at the truce village of Panmunjom at 0630 GMT on Wednesday, when South Korean officials at the border received a call from the North, the South’s unification ministry said in a text message. Officials on both sides were checking the line and conducting a conversation for about 20 minutes, the contents of which were not disclosed by the ministry. That gesture came only hours after Trump, who has mocked Kim as “Little Rocket Man”, again ridiculed the North Korean leader on Twitter. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump tweeted. Trump and Kim have exchanged a series of bellicose comments in recent months, raising alarm across the world, with Trump at times dismissing the prospect of a diplomatic solution to a crisis in which North Korea has threatened to destroy the United States. While appearing to open the door to discussing taking part in the Winter Olympics, Kim also warned that he would push ahead with “mass producing” nuclear warheads in defiance of U.N. sanctions. South Korean soldiers patrol near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, January 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji His New Year’s Day speech came after a steep increase in missile launches in 2017, as well as the North’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test. Kim, who has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the United States, said he had a nuclear button on his desk. ‘SERIOUS AND SINCERE’ The hotline with the South was shut down by North Korea in February 2016 in retaliation against the closing of a border factory town that was jointly operated by the two Koreas. “We will try to keep close communications with the south Korean side from sincere stand(sic) and honest attitude, true to the intention of our supreme leadership, and deal with the practical matters related to the dispatch of our delegation,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, as saying. Slideshow (15 Images) The talks would aim to establish formal dialogue about sending a North Korean delegation to the Olympics, Ri said. South Korean presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan said the North’s decision to open the hotline had “significant meaning” because it could lead to constant communication. U.S. officials had voiced scepticism about the possibility of meaningful talks, particularly if they did not take steps towards banning North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned North Korea against staging another missile test and said Washington was hearing reports that Pyongyang might be preparing to fire another missile. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said both sides should seize the Olympics as an opportunity to improve ties and make concrete efforts toward alleviating tension. “All relevant sides should grab hold of this positive trend in the Korean peninsula and move in the same direction,” Geng told a daily news briefing in Beijing. North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the United States and Japan, and says its weapons are necessary to counter U.S. aggression. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. Additional reporting by Joyce Lee in Seoul, and Philip Wen in Beijing; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Apps Newsletters Reuters Plus Advertising Guidelines Cookies Terms of Use Privacy All quotes delayed a minimum of 15 minutes. See here for a complete list of exchanges and delays. © 2018 Reuters. All Rights Reserved.
  13. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal agents discovered four preserved fetuses in the Detroit warehouse of a man who sold human body parts, confidential photographs reviewed by Reuters show. The fetuses were found during a December 2013 raid of businessman Arthur Rathburn’s warehouse. The fetuses, which appear to have been in their second trimester, were submerged in a liquid that included human brain tissue. Rathburn, a former body broker, is accused of defrauding customers by sending them diseased body parts. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is set for January. How Rathburn acquired the fetuses and what he intended to do with them is unclear. Rathburn’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment, and neither the indictment nor other documents made public in his case mention the fetuses. “This needs to be reviewed,” said U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee who recently chaired a special U.S. House committee on the use of fetal tissue. Blackburn recoiled when a Reuters reporter showed her some of the photographs, taken by government officials involved in the raid. In four of the photos, a crime scene investigator in a hazmat suit uses forceps to lift a different fetus from the brownish liquid. In three other photos, a marker that includes a government evidence identification number lies beside a fetus. “The actions depicted in these photos are an insult to human dignity,” said U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. A Republican from Virginia, Goodlatte said that if individuals “violate federal laws and traffic in body parts of unborn children for monetary gain,” they should be “held accountable.” EDITOR’S NOTE: Reuters has pixelated this image; editors judged the original image to be disturbingly graphic. In a photograph obtained by Reuters, a fetus lies alongside a government evidence marker. The fetus and three others were found during a 2013 search of a Detroit warehouse operated by Arthur Rathburn, a businessman who sold human body parts for medical research and education. Rathburn has pleaded not guilty to selling infected body parts of adults. Government photo via REUTERS Blackburn said the discoveries in Rathburn’s warehouse raise questions about the practices of body brokers across America. Such brokers take cadavers donated to science, dismember them and sell them for parts, typically for use in medical research and education. The multimillion-dollar industry has been built largely on the poor, who donate their bodies in return for a free cremation of leftover body parts. The buying and selling of cadavers and other body parts — with the exception of organs used in transplants — is legal and virtually unregulated in America. But trading in fetal tissue violates U.S. law. In most states, including Michigan, public health authorities are not required to regularly inspect body broker facilities. As a result, it’s impossible to know whether body brokers who deal in adult donors are acquiring and profiting from fetuses. EDITOR’S NOTE: Reuters has pixelated this image; editors judged the original image to be disturbingly graphic. In this photograph obtained by Reuters, a government worker in a hazmat suit uses forceps to lift a fetus found during a 2013 search of a Detroit warehouse operated by Arthur Rathburn, a businessman who sold human body parts for medical research and education. Rathburn has pleaded not guilty to selling infected body parts of adults. Government photo via REUTERS Blackburn’s call for action came in response to a Reuters series that exposed abuses in the human body trade and what Blackburn called “lax oversight” and “lax enforcement” of the industry. Photos from inside Rathburn’s warehouse offered a stark example of government failures to police the industry. They include images of rotting human heads, some floating face up in a plastic cooler. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been investigating Rathburn and other body brokers, declined to comment. Blackburn said she found other Reuters stories about the body trade disturbing. As part of the news agency’s examination of the industry, for example, a Reuters reporter was able to purchase two human heads and a cervical spine from Restore Life USA, a broker based in Blackburn’s home state of Tennessee. The deals were struck after just a few emails, at a cost of $900 plus shipping. “It is sickening” how easily Restore Life sold the parts to Reuters, Blackburn said. Told of Blackburn’s concerns, Restore Life owner James Byrd said his company has “invited her to tour our facility and to review the policy and procedures we have in place.” Shiffman reported from Washington. Grow reported from Atlanta. Edited by Blake Morrison. Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Apps Newsletters Reuters Plus Advertising Guidelines Cookies Terms of Use Privacy
  14. America has become so anti-innovation – it's economic suicide The fall of Juicero isn’t just entertaining tech industry stupidity – it’s the sign of a country refusing to break new ground If you’ve used the internet at any point in the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard of Juicero. Juicero is a San Francisco-based company that sells a $400 juicer. Here’s how it works: you plug in a pre-sold packet of diced fruits and vegetables, and the machine transforms it into juice. But it turns out you don’t actually need the machine to make the juice. On 19 April, Bloomberg News reported that you can squeeze the packets by hand and get the same result. It’s even faster. The internet erupted in laughter. Juicero made the perfect punchline: a celebrated startup that had received a fawning profile from the New York Times and $120m in funding from blue-chip VCs such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Google Ventures was selling an expensive way to automate something you could do faster for free. It was, in any meaningful sense of the word, a scam. And it tickled social media’s insatiable schadenfreude for rich people getting swindled – not unlike the spectacle of wealthy millennials fleeing the cheese sandwiches and feral dogs of the Fyre festival. Juicero is hilarious. But it also reflects a deeply unfunny truth about Silicon Valley, and our economy more broadly. Juicero is not, as its apologists at Vox claim, an anomaly in an otherwise innovative investment climate. On the contrary: it’s yet another example of how profoundly anti-innovation America has become. And the consequences couldn’t be more serious: the economy that produced Juicero is the same one that’s creating opioid addicts in Ohio, maiming auto workers in Alabama, and evicting families in Los Angeles. These phenomena might seem worlds apart, but they’re intimately connected. Innovation drives economic growth. It boosts productivity, making it possible to create more wealth with less labor. When economies don’t innovate, the result is stagnation, inequality, and the whole horizon of hopelessness that has come to define the lives of most working people today. Juicero isn’t just an entertaining bit of Silicon Valley stupidity. It’s the sign of a country committing economic suicide. At the root of the problem is the story we tell ourselves about innovation. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a lone genius disappears into a garage, preferably in Palo Alto, and emerges with an invention that changes the world. The engine of technological progress is the entrepreneur – the fast-moving, risk-loving, rule-breaking visionary in the mold of Steve Jobs. This story has been so widely repeated as to become a cliche. It’s also inaccurate. Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs typically make terrible innovators. Left to its own devices, the private sector is far more likely to impede technological progress than to advance it. That’s because real innovation is very expensive to produce: it involves pouring extravagant sums of money into research projects that may fail, or at the very least may never yield a commercially viable product. In other words, it requires a lot of risk – something that, myth-making aside, capitalist firms have little appetite for. This creates a problem. Companies need breakthroughs to build businesses on, but they generally can’t – or won’t – fund the development of those breakthroughs themselves. So where does the money come from? The government. As the economist Mariana Mazzucato has shown, nearly every major innovation since the second world war has required a big push from the public sector, for an obvious reason: the public sector can afford to take risks that the private sector can’t. Conventional wisdom says that market forces foster innovation. In fact, it’s the government’s insulation from market forces that has historically made it such a successful innovator. It doesn’t have to compete, and it’s not at the mercy of investors demanding a share of its profits. It’s also far more generous with the fruits of its scientific labor: no private company would ever be so foolish as to constantly give away innovations it has generated at enormous expense for free, but this is exactly what the government does. The dynamic should be familiar from the financial crisis: the taxpayer absorbs the risk, and the investor reaps the reward. From energy to pharma, from the shale gas boom to lucrative lifesaving drugs, public research has everywhere laid the foundation for private profit. And the industry that produced Juicero has been an especially big beneficiary of government largesse. The advances that created what we’ve come to call tech – the development of digital computing, the invention of the internet, the formation of Silicon Valley itself – were the result of sustained and substantial government investment. Even the iPhone, that celebrated emblem of capitalist creativity, wouldn’t exist without buckets of government cash. Its core technologies, from the touch-screen display to GPS to Siri, all trace their roots to publicly funded research. More recently, however, austerity has gutted the government’s capacity to innovate. As a share of the economy, funding for research has been falling for decades. Now it’s being cut to its lowest level as a percent of GDP in forty years. And Republicans want to see it fall even further: the budget blueprint that Trump released in March promises deep reductions in science funding. Decades of tax cuts have also undermined innovative potential. Ironically, these cuts were sold as measures to stimulate innovation, by unleashing the dynamism of the private sector. The biggest drop in the capital gains tax came in the late 1970s, when the National Venture Capital Association successfully lobbied Congress to slash the rate in half by claiming that VCs had created the internet. This is how we got a tax code under which Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. VCs didn’t create the internet, of course – and they haven’t funded much innovation with the additional wealth they acquired from pretending they did. In fact, VCs are anti-innovation by design. They want a big payday for their partners on a short timetable, typically looking for start-ups headed for an exit – an IPO or an acquisition by a bigger company – within three to five years. This isn’t a recipe for nurturing actual breakthroughs, which require more patient financing over a longer timeframe. But it’s a good formula for producing nonsense like the Juicero, or overvalued companies that serve as lucrative vehicles for financial speculation. What about corporations? If VCs aren’t filling the void created by the collapse of public research, neither are big companies. Few of them put significant resources into basic research any more. It’s not like they don’t have the money – monopoly profits and tax evasion have enabled Apple to amass a cash pile of a quarter of a trillion dollars. But the conquest of corporate America by the financial sector ensures that cash won’t be put to productive purposes. Wall Street is more interested in extracting wealth than creating it. It would rather companies cannibalize themselves by shoveling out profits to their shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and dividends than let them invest in their capacity for growth. As the public sector starves, the private sector grows ever more bloated and predatory. The economy becomes a mechanism for making the rich richer, and the money that might be used to finance the next internet is allocated to sports cars and superyachts. The result isn’t just fewer miraculous inventions, but substantially weaker growth. Since the 1970s, the American economy has grown far more slowly than during its mid-century golden age – and wages have flatlined. Wealth has been redistributed upwards, where it piles up wastefully while the mass of the people who created it continue their downward slide. It’s hard to imagine a more irrational way to organize society. Capitalism prides itself on allocating resources well – if it creates inequality, its defenders argue, at least it also creates growth. Increasingly, that’s no longer the case. In its infinite wisdom, capitalism is eating itself alive. A saner system would recognize that innovation is too precious to leave to the private sector and that capitalism, like all utopian projects, works better in theory than in practice. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/11/tech-innovation-silicon-valley-juicero Personal Comment: It's not too surprising. Science has been government funded for a long time, and despite flashy products, the private sector was always reluctant to invest in fundamental research that might yield nothing for decades.
  15. Everyone likes to bash millennials. We’re spoiled, entitled, and hopelessly glued to our smartphones. We demand participation trophies, can’t find jobs, and live with our parents until we’re 30. You know the punchlines by now. But is the millennial hate justified? Have we dropped the generational baton, or was it a previous generation, the so-called baby boomers, who actually ruined everything? That’s the argument Bruce Gibney makes in his book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America. The boomers, according to Gibney, have committed “generational plunder,” pillaging the nation’s economy, repeatedly cutting their own taxes, financing two wars with deficits, ignoring climate change, presiding over the death of America’s manufacturing core, and leaving future generations to clean up the mess they created. I spoke to Gibney about these claims, and why he thinks the baby boomers have wrecked America. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. Sean Illing Who are the baby boomers? Bruce Gibney The baby boomers are conventionally defined as people born between 1946 and 1964. But I focus on the first two-thirds of boomers because their experiences are pretty homogeneous: They were raised after the war and so have no real experience of trauma or the Great Depression or even any deprivation at all. More importantly, they never experienced the social solidarity that unfolded during war time and that helped produce the New Deal. But it’s really the white middle-class boomers who exemplify all the awful characteristics and behaviors that have defined this generation. They became a majority of the electorate in the early ’80s, and they fully consolidated their power in Washington by January 1995. And they’ve basically been in charge ever since. Sean Illing So how have they broken the country? Bruce Gibney Well, the damage done to the social fabric is pretty self-evident. Just look around and notice what’s been done. On the economic front, the damage is equally obvious, and it trickles down to all sorts of other social phenomena. I don’t want to get bogged down in an ocean of numbers and data here (that’s in the book), but think of it this way: I’m 41, and when I was born, the gross debt-to-GDP ratio was about 35 percent. It’s roughly 103 percent now — and it keeps rising. The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it. They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children. We used to have the finest infrastructure in the world. The American Society of Civil Engineers thinks there’s something like a $4 trillion deficit in infrastructure in deferred maintenance. It’s crumbling, and the boomers have allowed it to crumble. Our public education system has steadily degraded as well, forcing middle-class students to bury themselves in debt in order to get a college education. Then of course there’s the issue of climate change, which they’ve done almost nothing to solve. But even if we want to be market-oriented about this, we can think of the climate as an asset, which has degraded over time thanks to the inaction and cowardice of the boomer generation. Now they didn’t start burning fossil fuels, but by the 1990s the science was undeniable. And what did they do? Nothing. Sean Illing Why hasn’t this recklessness been checked by the political system? Is it as simple as the boomers took over and used power to enrich themselves without enough resistance from younger voters? Bruce Gibney Well, most of our problems have not been addressed because that would require higher taxes and therefore a sense of social obligation to our fellow citizens. But again, the boomers seem to have no appreciation for social solidarity. But to answer your question more directly, the problem is that dealing with these problems has simply been irrelevant to the largest political class in the country — the boomers. There’s nothing conspiratorial about that. Politicians respond to the most important part of the electorate, and that’s been the boomers for decades. And it just so happens that the boomers are not socially inclined and have a ton of maladaptive personality characteristics. Sean Illing It’s interesting that Ronald Reagan is elected right around the time that boomers become a majority of the electorate. Reagan himself wasn’t a boomer, but it was boomers who put him into office. And this is when we get this wave of neoliberalism that essentially guts the public sector and attempts to privatize everything. Bruce Gibney Right. Starting with Reagan, we saw this national ethos which was basically the inverse of JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” This gets flipped on its head in a massive push for privatized gain and socialized risk for big banks and financial institutions. This has really been the dominant boomer economic theory, and it’s poisoned what’s left of our public institutions. Sean Illing So what’s your explanation for the awfulness of the boomers? What made them this way? Bruce Gibney I think there were a number of unusual influences, some of which won't be repeated, and some of which may have mutated over the years. I think the major factor is that the boomers grew up in a time of uninterrupted prosperity. And so they simply took it for granted. They assumed the economy would just grow three percent a year forever and that wages would go up every year and that there would always be a good job for everyone who wanted it. This was a fantasy and the result of a spoiled generation assuming things would be easy and that no sacrifices would have to be made in order to preserve prosperity for future generations. Sean Illing I’ve always seen the boomers as a generational trust-fund baby: They inherited a country they had no part in building, failed to appreciate it, and seized on all the benefits while leaving nothing behind. Bruce Gibney I think that’s exactly right. They were born into great fortune and had a blast while they were on top. But what have they left behind? Sean Illing Something that doesn’t get discussed enough is how hostile so many of these boomers are to science. It’s not hard to connect this aversion to facts to some of these disastrous social policies. Bruce Gibney This is a generation that is dominated by feelings, not by facts. The irony is that boomers criticize millennials for being snowflakes, for being too driven by feelings. But the boomers are the first big feelings generation. They’re highly motivated by feelings and not persuaded by facts. And you can see this in their policies. Take this whole fantasy about trickle-down economics. Maybe it was worth a shot, but it doesn’t work. We know it doesn’t work. The evidence is overwhelming. The experiment is over. And yet they’re still clinging to this dogma, and indeed the latest tax bill is the latest example of that. Time after time, when facts collided with feelings, the boomers choose feelings. Sean Illing What’s the most egregious thing the boomers have done in your opinion? Bruce Gibney I'll give you something abstract and something concrete. On an abstract level, I think the worst thing they’ve done is destroy a sense of social solidarity, a sense of commitment to fellow citizens. That ethos is gone and it’s been replaced by a cult of individualism. It’s hard to overstate how damaging this is. On a concrete level, their policies of under-investment and debt accumulation have made it very hard to deal with our most serious challenges going forward. Because we failed to confront things like infrastructure decay and climate change early on, they’ve only grown into bigger and more expensive problems. When something breaks, it’s a lot more expensive to fix than it would have been to just maintain it all along. Sean Illing So where does that leave us? Bruce Gibney In an impossible place. We’re going to have to make difficult choices between, say, saving Social Security and Medicare and saving arctic ice sheets. We'll have fewer and fewer resources to deal with these issues. And I actually think that over the next 100 years, absent some major technological innovation like de-carbonization, which is speculative at this point, these actions will actually just kill people. Sean Illing I hear you, man, and I’m with you on almost all of this, but I always return to a simple point: If millennials and Gen Xers actually voted in greater numbers, the boomers could’ve been booted out of power years ago. Bruce Gibney I think that’s fair. But given how large the boomer demographic is, it really wasn’t possible for millennials to unseat the boomers until a few years ago. And of course there are many issues with voting rights. But that’s not a complete excuse. More than voting, though, millennials have to run for office because people have to be excited about the person they’re voting for. We need people in office with a different outlook, who see the world differently. Boomers don’t care about how the country will look in 30 or 40 years, but millennials do, and so those are the people we need in power. Sean Illing I guess the big question is, can we recover from this? Can we pay the bill the boomers left us? Bruce Gibney I think we can, but it’s imperative that we start sooner than later. After 2024 or so, it will get really hard to do anything meaningful. In fact, I think the choices might become so difficult that even fairly good people will get wrapped up in short-term self-interest. So if we unseat the boomers from Congress, from state legislatures, and certainly from the presidency over the next three to seven years, then I think we can undo the damage. But that will require a much higher tax rate and a degree of social solidarity that the country hasn’t seen in over 50 years. That will not be easy, and there’s no way around the fact that millennials will have to sacrifice in ways the boomers refused to sacrifice, but that’s where we are — and these are the choices we face. Link: https://www.vox.com/2017/12/20/16772670/baby-boomers-millennials-congress-debt Personal Comment: B-b-b-but Millennials ruined everything!
  16. F.C.C. Plans Net Neutrality Repeal in a Victory for Telecoms The Federal Communications Commission released a plan on Tuesday to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for internet service companies to charge users more to see certain content and to curb access to some websites. The proposal, made by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration. The rules prohibit high-speed internet service providers, or I.S.P.s, from stopping or slowing down the delivery of websites. They also prevent the companies from charging customers extra fees for high-quality streaming and other services. The announcement set off a fight over free speech and the control of the internet, pitting telecom titans like AT&T and Verizon against internet giants like Google and Amazon. The internet companies warned that rolling back the rules could make the telecom companies powerful gatekeepers to information and entertainment. The telecom companies say that the existing rules prevent them from offering customers a wider selection of services at higher and lower price points. “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.” Mr. Pai, a Republican who has pursued an aggressive deregulation agenda, was widely expected to have his plan approved during a meeting on Dec. 14. The two other Republicans on the commission generally vote with Mr. Pai, giving them a majority over the two Democrats. Telecom and internet companies are expected to lobby hard in Washington — and directly to the public — as they did when the current rules were adopted. Some internet companies were expected to put up a fight to prevent the proposal from taking hold. The Internet Association, an industry group, joined a legal effort in 2015 to protect the existing rules. The agency has already received 20 million public comments, many of them in opposition of changing the rules, since Mr. Pai announced the broad outlines of his thinking early this year. The big companies that provide internet access to phones and computers have fought for years against broadband regulations. Under the new plan, broadband providers will be able to block access, slow down or speed up service for its business partners in some cases — as long as they notify customers. “This action will return broadband in the U.S. to a regulatory regime that emphasizes private investment and innovation over lumbering government intervention,” said Joan Marsh, a vice president at AT&T. Big online companies like Google and Facebook say the repeal proposal would allow telecom companies to play favorites by charging customers for accessing some sites or by slowing speeds to others. The existing rules were written to prevent such arrangements, adopting a policy often called net neutrality. “We are disappointed that the proposal announced today by the F.C.C. fails to maintain the strong net neutrality protections that will ensure the internet remains open for everyone,” Erin Egan, a vice president at Facebook, said in a statement. “We will work with all stakeholders committed to this principle.” Small online companies believe the proposal would hurt innovation, because telecom companies could force them to pay more for the faster connections. Only the largest companies, they say, would be able to afford the expense of making sure their sites received preferred treatment. Companies like Etsy and Pinterest, for example, credit their start to the promise of free and open access on the internet. And consumers, the online companies say, may see their costs go up if, for example, they want high-quality access to popular websites like Netflix, a company that depends on fast connections for its streaming videos. Netflix said on Tuesday that it opposed Mr. Pai’s proposal. The action “represents the end of net neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans,” said Michael Beckerman, chief executive of the Internet Association, a lobbying group that represents Google, Facebook, Amazon and other tech companies. Mr. Pai said the current rules had been adopted to stop only theoretical harm. He said the rules limit consumer choice because telecom companies cannot offer different tiers of service, for example. As a result, he said, internet service companies cannot experiment with new business models that could help them compete with online businesses like Netflix, Google and Facebook. “It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation,” Mr. Pai said Tuesday. Comcast, one of the country’s biggest broadband companies, said it would not slow websites that contain legally permitted material. “We do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content — and we will be transparent with our customers about these policies,” the company said. In a call with reporters, F.C.C. officials said the blocking and slowing of some content could be seen as anticompetitive. Those practices, they said, would be policed by the Federal Trade Commission or the Justice Department. The plan to repeal the existing rules, passed in 2015, would reverse a hallmark decision by the agency to consider broadband a public utility, as essential as phones and electricity. The earlier decision created the legal foundation for the current rules and underscored the importance of high-speed internet service. It was put in place by Tom Wheeler, an F.C.C. chairman under President Obama. Mr. Pai, who was appointed chairman by President Trump in January, has eliminated numerous regulations during his first year. The agency has stripped down rules governing television broadcasters, newspapers and telecom companies that were meant to protect the public interest. On Tuesday, in addition to the net neutrality rollback, Mr. Pai announced a plan to eliminate a rule limiting any corporation from controlling broadcasts that can reach more than 39 percent of American homes. The fight over net neutrality could end up being one of his biggest and most fraught decisions. For more than a decade, the agency has struggled with how to regulate internet service, leading to extended legal battles. The rules adopted under Mr. Wheeler were upheld in 2016 by a federal appeals court in Washington. The proposal released on Tuesday will probably make its way to court as well. And companies like Google and Facebook are expected to push the public to speak out against the plan. They coordinated a huge online protest against the possible changes in July. Some of the lobbying could take place in Congress, even though it may change little because Republicans control both houses. Nevertheless, Democrats have vowed to try to reconstruct the strict rules adopted by the F.C.C. in 2015. The next three weeks promise to hold intense lobbying from both sides, but that might not be the end of it. The regulation of internet providers has already swung once on a change in the Oval Office. “As good as the F.C.C.’s action is for I.S.P.s, it only assures nonregulation of broadband through 2020,” said Paul Gallant, an analyst at the research firm Cowen. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/technology/fcc-net-neutrality.html Personal Comment: R.I.P. the internet we know and love. Which should make sense when you look at what portion of web traffic goes to a few large sites.
  17. The most comprehensive tax reform bill in the past 30 years passed the Senate early this morning. Thoughts? Input? [ATTACH=full]7051[/ATTACH]
  18. Republicans still have a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate. But they may no longer have a real governing majority on every issue. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election in 2018 — an acknowledgement that his more moderate stances on issues like immigration and his sharp criticism of President Trump had made him a heavy underdog in the state’s Republican primary. Freed from the need to satisfy a conservative base, Flake can now vote and act however he wants for the next 14 months. And he’s not the only Republican with this kind of freedom. Tennessee’s Bob Corker is retiring rather than seeking a third term next year. Arizona’s other senator, John McCain, was recently diagnosed with brain cancer and seems unlikely to run for reelection when he’s up again in 2022. These three men are now effectively free-agents — electorally unbound from GOP voters and interest groups — at a time when Republicans have only a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate.The 48 Democratic seats include two independents who caucus with the party. ">1 If any of the three becomes more likely to break with the party, passing legislation gets that much harder for Trump and the GOP leadership. And any bill on which all three join with Democrats is dead. Corker, Flake and McCain, moreover, are Republicans more in the mold of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney than the president. All three seem to really hate Trump. Or, as Susan Hennessy of the legal blog Lawfare put it after Flake’s announcement: “Corker, Flake, McCain. It would seem that, for most intents and purposes, Trump has lost McConnell his majority.” Here are some of the big issues on which this new Corker-Flake-McCain bloc could cause the party problems. (Note: “Could” is the operative word there — Flake’s announcement makes the math work so that these three senators have the power to block legislation; that doesn’t mean they will. There are also a great many things Trump can do without congressional input.) 1. Taxes Corker has already said that he will vote against any tax bill that substantially increases the federal budget deficit. McCain has made less noise, but he voted against the tax cuts pushed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003, arguing that they disproportionately benefited the wealthy. And McCain’s enmity toward Trump may be the deepest of this trio. Voting down the tax cut would allow McCain to deny Trump a major legislative victory, just as he did in July by opposing a bill that would have repealed parts of Obamacare. Flake too has spoken in the past of the rising budget deficit and national debt as a huge problem. Now relieved from having to face Trump’s voters, Flake could insist on a deficit-neutral tax plan. If he does, that could create major headaches for Republicans, who are struggling to find ways to pay for the large cuts they want. The three senators have the power to either kill Trump’s tax planAssuming all 48 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are united against it. ">2 or force Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change it. They could, in theory at least, push for a non-deficit-busting bill that benefits the middle-class more than the wealthy. 2. Nominations Flake has more internationalist views on foreign policy than Trump. He was a strong advocate of then-President Obama’s decision to normalize relationships with Cuba, for example. McCain and Corker largely reject Trump’s more nationalist approach as well. The trio could try to push policy in their favor by exercising oversight over who serves in the executive branch. There is much speculation that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will resign in the next few months and that United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley would replace him. But Trump’s picks for Secretary of State or U.N. Ambassador, like any Cabinet post, would have to be confirmed by the Senate. The Flake-Corker-McCain triumvirate now has effective veto power over any nomination Trump makes, assuming all Democrats oppose it as well. It’s not just the Cabinet. Corker and McCain care deeply about national security issues, and if Flake joins them, any appointment Trump wants to make — from ambassadors to the assistant secretaries at the Pentagon — could be subject to their whims. That could serve as a check on Trump picking non-traditional or controversial figures for national security posts. Judicial nominations are also more interesting now. Corker, Flake and McCain are generally more conservative than, say, Maine Republican Susan Collins, who has also been willing to buck Trump and GOP leadership (including by repeatedly defending Medicaid during the Obamacare repeal process). They’re not going to demand liberal judges. But if one of the four justices on the U.S. Supreme Court who was appointed by a Democratic president either dies or retires, it’s possible to imagine this trio demanding that Trump push a more centrist nominee as a replacement instead of tapping the most conservative person possible. 3. Immigration Flake favors legislation that would protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by their parents from deportation, and he’s been critical of Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. McCain has similar views. It’s not clear if or when Congress will have a formal vote on either issue, and the real battleground will likely be in the House, which is more hawkish on immigration than the Senate. But if the border wall came up for a simple up-or-down vote, Flake would face no electoral pressure to vote yes. Similarly, he could easily back a pro-Dreamers bill. Here’s the big caveat to a Corker-Flake-McCain coalition stopping Trump’s agenda: Their pro-Trump voting behavior so far this year. All three men backed two of Trump’s most controversial cabinet picks, Education Secretary Betsy Devos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Corker and Flake supported Obamacare repeal. Overall, all three men have taken the same position as the Trump administration on the overwhelming majority of legislation to come to a vote since Trump’s inauguration, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump Score. (Corker 86 percent of the time; Flake 90 percent; and McCain 84 percent.) Even if they took these votes to support their party’s president and no longer feel the need to do that, we should not ignore their records. Also, these three have been stalwart Republicans for much of their careers. On tax cuts, which is a huge priority of not just Trump but also the broader GOP, would they really vote down a bill that almost all of their other Senate colleagues want to see passed? McCain did that on health care. But will he do that again? And would Corker and Flake join him? Here’s what we know for sure: Flake, Corker and McCain are likely to lean in a pro-establishment but anti-Trump direction, and McConnell and Trump can’t assume they will vote for bills just because they are Republicans. In some ways, Corker, Flake and McCain are now a three-person faction all their own — the Trump dissidents in the Senate, or the “Last Hurrah Caucus.” As a group, or individually along with moderate Republicans such as Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, they have a lot of sway over the nation’s legislative agenda. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-last-hurrah-caucus-in-the-senate-now-has-the-power-to-kill-trumps-agenda/ Personal Comments: My dad voted for Trump. He is, unfortunately, convinced Trump is a master businessman and therefore everything Trump does is simply a clever ruse -- that even with all the bullshit going on Trump would be able to pass meaningful legislation that would cement his position as President. But at this point Trump has made enough enemies in the Senate that his ability to get anything done before 2019 is now highly unlikely. Trump has made enemies out of Flake, Corker, and McCain and could never rely on the more moderate Republicans such as Collins and Murkowski. The chances of the Demos taking back the Senate in 2019 are minuscule, but if Trump is unable to get anything passed before then, the House might still be within the Democrats' reach.
  19. October 24, 2017 America’s 2017 fiscal gap will come in near $6 trillion, nine times higher than the $666 billion deficit announced by the US Department of the Treasury last week, says Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University. “Our country is broke,” says Kotlikoff, who estimates total US government debts at more than $200 trillion, when unfunded liabilities are included. “We are in worse shape than Russia, China or any developed nation.” Worse, says Kotlikoff, who has testified before Congress, government officials are well-aware that many of America’s debts and accruing liabilities are being written off the books. However, for the most part, they are keeping their mouths shut. A two-tier reporting system The upshot is a de facto “two-tier” financial reporting system, in which politicians and insiders have access to key data buried in footnotes about unfunded liabilities, which indicate that there are huge problems in the economy. The public, on the other hand, in slews of Presidential and Congressional Speeches and publications, is led to believe that while things are tough, overall everything is OK. According to Kotlikoff, a long-time activist for fiscal rectitude, the problem stems in large part from the fact that the US government has been spending almost all of Americans’ approximately $795 billion in social security payroll taxes to pay current bills, rather than investing them to fund retirees’ benefits. The upshot is that on a net basis, the US government has no money to pay all the benefits that have been promised. Politicians know that defaults will occur, they just haven’t figured out how to finesse this. Fiscal gap accounting: telling Americans how much government has borrowed Kotlikoff, unlike most, has a solution. He believes that the US government should adopt what he calls “fiscal gap accounting”, which involves putting all future receipts and expenditures on its books. The idea is that if Americans knew about all the money that their politicians were borrowing and spending, they would be able to make better decisions as to the usefulness of those policies. They would also be able to better protect themselves. If the US government produced a financial statement that listed the $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities that Kotlikoff says it owes, workers might make different decisions about how much they will save for retirement. Sadly, current de facto US government practice - inspired by Keynesian thinkers such as Paul Krugman - is for governments to spend, tax, borrow and print as much money as possible, in an effort to keep the economy perpetually running at full steam. The idea is to leave future generations to deal with the problems. The Clinton coverup Kotlikoff and many others have been trying to change this. More than 1200 of the country’s top economists have endorsed a bipartisan bill that requires the Congressional Budget Office to do both fiscal gap and generational accounting on an ongoing basis. David Howden, a professor of economics and academic vice-president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada, describes economic theory as crystal clear as to how to measure government liabilities, namely using the infinite-horizon fiscal gap. He says that Kotlikoff’s reasoning is “pretty sound.” In fact, the methodology has been tried before, by George Bush the Elder, who included fiscal gap accounting in some of his budgeting. However, the Clinton Administration killed the practice and scored huge political points in the process. Even today, decades later, few people realized that the only reason that the Clintons were able to balance their budgets was by not recording all of the US government’s debts. Republicans weren’t stupid, though. When they saw that there was no political penalty to be paid for cooking the books, they jumped on the bandwagon, a policy that the Trump Administration continues to this day. Information asymmetry: keeping Americans uninformed There are few pleasant takeaways from all this. True, some alternate fiscal gap accounting calculations suggest that things may not be as bad as Kotlikoff says. Others says that the problem does exist, but by eliminating the pensions of those who earn above a certain level, or by postponing retirement dates, the system could be set straight again. However even in the best of cases, Kotlikoff is correct on one crucial point: America is unable to meet its obligations as they become due. That is the definition of bankruptcy. In a sense, it should hardly come as a surprise that politicians are hiding this fact. Because if America is indeed in worse economic shape than Russia or China, voters might think twice about who they want to lead them. https://www.sprottmoney.com/Blog/kotlikoff-america-in-worse-financial-shape-than-russia-or-china-peter-diekmeyer.html Personal Comment: I've known for a while that there's some funny accounting going on but this does a good job of breaking it down. It's also a major alarm bell. The US government is basically stealing all current social security payments.
  20. You might think from recent press accounts that Steve Bannon is on the ropes and therefore behaving prudently. In the aftermath of events in Charlottesville, he is widely blamed for his boss’s continuing indulgence of white supremacists. Allies of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster hold Bannon responsible for a campaign by Breitbart News, which Bannon once led, to vilify the security chief. Trump’s defense of Bannon, at his Tuesday press conference, was tepid. But Bannon was in high spirits when he phoned me Tuesday afternoon to discuss the politics of taking a harder line with China, and minced no words describing his efforts to neutralize his rivals at the Departments of Defense, State, and Treasury. “They’re wetting themselves,” he said, proceeding to detail how he would oust some of his opponents at State and Defense. Needless to say, I was a little stunned to get an email from Bannon’s assistant midday Tuesday, just as all hell was breaking loose once again about Charlottesville, saying that Bannon wished to meet with me. I’d just published a column on how China was profiting from the U.S.-North Korea nuclear brinkmanship, and it included some choice words about Bannon’s boss. “In Kim, Trump has met his match,” I wrote. “The risk of two arrogant fools blundering into a nuclear exchange is more serious than at any time since October 1962.” Maybe Bannon wanted to scream at me? I told the assistant that I was on vacation, but I would be happy to speak by phone. Bannon promptly called. Far from dressing me down for comparing Trump to Kim, he began, “It’s a great honor to finally track you down. I’ve followed your writing for years and I think you and I are in the same boat when it comes to China. You absolutely nailed it.” “We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.” Bannon said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China. Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” Bannon went on to describe his battle inside the administration to take a harder line on China trade, and not to fall into a trap of wishful thinking in which complaints against China’s trade practices now had to take a backseat to the hope that China, as honest broker, would help restrain Kim. “To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover.” Bannon’s plan of attack includes: a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act against Chinese coercion of technology transfers from American corporations doing business there, and follow-up complaints against steel and aluminum dumping. “We’re going to run the tables on these guys. We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us.” But what about his internal adversaries, at the departments of State and Defense, who think the United States can enlist Beijing’s aid on the North Korean standoff, and at Treasury and the National Economic Council who don’t want to mess with the trading system? “Oh, they’re wetting themselves,” he said, explaining that the Section 301 complaint, which was put on hold when the war of threats with North Korea broke out, was shelved only temporarily, and will be revived in three weeks. As for other cabinet departments, Bannon has big plans to marginalize their influence. “I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.” But can Bannon really win that fight internally? “That’s a fight I fight every day here,” he said. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and [National Economic Council chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying.” “We gotta do this. The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s like, every day.” Bannon explained that his strategy is to battle the trade doves inside the administration while building an outside coalition of trade hawks that includes left as well as right. Hence the phone call to me. There are a couple of things that are startling about this premise. First, to the extent that most of the opponents of Bannon’s China trade strategy are other Trump administration officials, it’s not clear how reaching out to the left helps him. If anything, it gives his adversaries ammunition to characterize Bannon as unreliable or disloyal. More puzzling is the fact that Bannon would phone a writer and editor of a progressive publication (the cover lines on whose first two issues after Trump’s election were “Resisting Trump” and “Containing Trump”) and assume that a possible convergence of views on China trade might somehow paper over the political and moral chasm on white nationalism. The question of whether the phone call was on or off the record never came up. This is also puzzling, since Steve Bannon is not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press. He’s probably the most media-savvy person in America. I asked Bannon about the connection between his program of economic nationalism and the ugly white nationalism epitomized by the racist violence in Charlottesville and Trump’s reluctance to condemn it. Bannon, after all, was the architect of the strategy of using Breitbart to heat up white nationalism and then rely on the radical right as Trump’s base. He dismissed the far right as irrelevant and sidestepped his own role in cultivating it: “Ethno-nationalism—it's losers. It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.” “These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added. From his lips to Trump’s ear. “The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” I had never before spoken with Bannon. I came away from the conversation with a sense both of his savvy and his recklessness. The waters around him are rising, but he is going about his business of infighting, and attempting to cultivate improbable outside allies, to promote his China strategy. His enemies will do what they do. Either the reports of the threats to Bannon’s job are grossly exaggerated and leaked by his rivals, or he has decided not to change his routine and to go down fighting. Given Trump’s impulsivity, neither Bannon nor Trump really has any idea from day to day whether Bannon is staying or going. He has survived earlier threats. So what the hell, damn the torpedoes. The conversation ended with Bannon inviting me to the White House after Labor Day to continue the discussion of China and trade. We’ll see if he’s still there. http://prospect.org/article/steve-bannon-unrepentant Personal Comment: Apparently Bannon is capable of denouncing white supremacists but Trump isn't.
  21. Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are moving to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's job, putting forth new legislation that aims to ensure the integrity of current and future independent investigations. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware plan to introduce the legislation Thursday. The bill would allow any special counsel for the Department of Justice to challenge his or her removal in court, with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge. The bill would be retroactive to May 17, 2017 — the day Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Donald Trump's campaign. "It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations," Tillis said in a statement. "A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation's system of check and balances." Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May following Trump's abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey. Mueller, who was Comey's predecessor as FBI director, has assembled a team of prosecutors and lawyers with experience in financial fraud, national security and organized crimes to investigate contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Trump has been critical of Mueller since his appointment, and his legal team is looking into potential conflicts surrounding the team Mueller has hired, including the backgrounds of members and political contributions by some members to Hillary Clinton. He has also publicly warned Mueller that he would be out of bounds if he dug into the Trump family's finances. Mueller has strong support on Capitol Hill. Senators in both parties have expressed concerns that Trump may try to fire Mueller and have warned him not to do so. "Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation," Coons said. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another member of the Judiciary panel, said last week that he was working on a similar bill that would prevent the firing of a special counsel without judicial review. Graham said then that firing Mueller "would precipitate a firestorm that would be unprecedented in proportions." The Tillis and Coons bill would allow review after the special counsel had been dismissed. If the panel found there was no good cause for the counsel's removal, the person would be immediately reinstated. The legislation would also codify existing Justice Department regulations that a special counsel can only be removed for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or other good cause, such as a violation of departmental policies. In addition, only the attorney general or the most senior Justice Department official in charge of the matter could fire the special counsel. In the case of the current investigation, Rosenstein is charged with Mueller's fate because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters having to do with the Trump-Russia investigation. Link: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/article165122802.html Personal Comment: It is interesting to me that Trump has angered Senate Republicans enough to the point to where they'll so publicly defy him. One could argue that this is the Senate working to save Trump from himself, but I don't think Trump would be that interested in firing Mueller if he wasn't worried that Mueller would find something to nail him with. If does make it through the Senate, which at this point would take that much, I highly doubt it'd make it through the House.
  22. As divisions between the two main ideological camps within the GOP widened Tuesday, Republicans were scrambling to contain the political fallout from the collapse of a months-long effort to rewrite Barack Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment. President Trump predicted Tuesday morning that Republicans may wait for the federal insurance market to collapse and then work to broker a deal to rewrite the nation’s landmark health-care law, while Senate leaders pressed ahead with a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no immediate replacement. But it became quickly apparent that GOP leaders, who were caught off guard by defections of their members Monday night, lacked the votes to abolish parts of the 2010 law outright. Three centrist Republican senators — Susan Collins (Maine), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — all said they would oppose any vote to proceed with an immediate repeal of the law. “I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” Capito said on Twitter. She added, “I will only vote to proceed to repeal legislation if I am confident there is a replacement plan that addresses my concerns.” Collins said in a statement that she had urged Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to hold hearings in an attempt to fashion a new legislative fix for the ACA, while leaving it in place in the meantime. We can’t just hope that we will pass a replacement within the next two years,” she said. “Repealing without a replacement would create great uncertainty for individuals who rely on the ACA and cause further turmoil in the insurance markets.” Trump, for his part, blamed the demise of a plan to rewrite the ACA on Democrats “and a few Republicans,” but he suggested that the drive to overhaul the law was not completely over. Speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room on Tuesday afternoon, Trump said he was “disappointed” in the demise of the Senate bill. Now his plan is “to let Obamacare fail; it will be a lot easier,” he said. “And I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll let Obamacare fail.” “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it,” the president said. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us.” Trump’s latest comments intensified the current political uncertainty on Capitol Hill, where GOP leaders were debating what to do next, and they raised anxiety among insurers that must commit to staying on the federal health exchange within a matter of weeks. Republicans are reeling after two more GOP senators declared their opposition Monday to the party’s plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, likely ending their quest to make good on a GOP promise that has defined the party for nearly a decade and has been one of Trump’s top priorities. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opened the Senate on Tuesday morning touting his latest plan — to vote on a pure repeal, with a two-year delay, by taking up the House’s health-care bill. But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) didn’t even try to project confidence that the pure repeal vote would succeed, a further sign that it is little more than an exercise to dare members and demonstrate publicly that there is little appetite for such a move. “We will find out,” he said Tuesday morning when asked if leaders had the votes for it to work. And in a sign of the extent to which Senate leaders have lost control of the process, Cornyn, whose job is to count votes, said he had “no idea” that Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was suddenly going to join Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) in defecting Monday night. Cornyn learned about it that night “a little after 8 o’clock,” he said, after he and six other GOP senators dined with Trump at the White House. As Republicans tried to regroup, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) renewed his calls for the majority to work with Democrats to shore up the health insurance system. “It should be crystal clear to everyone on the other side of the aisle that the core of the bill is unworkable. It’s time to move on. It’s time to start over,” he said. “Rather than repeating this same, failed partisan process again, Republicans should work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the insurance markets and improves our health-care system.” “Now that their one-party effort has largely failed, we hope they will change their tune,” he said, noting that some Republicans have been calling for bipartisan talks. Schumer quoted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said Monday night that “Congress must return to regular order” and rewrite the health-care legislation with input from both parties. “The door to bipartisanship is open now. Republicans only need to walk through it,” Schumer said. As Schumer spoke on the Senate floor, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), one of the few in the chamber who has tried to be a bipartisan broker, was placing calls to fellow senators who, like him, are former governors — a total of 11 senators including Alexander, John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). Aides said Manchin was presenting nothing specific yet to his colleagues, just a plea to “sit down and start bipartisan talking.” Still, the White House and congressional leaders tried to press ahead Tuesday with a single-party solution. Vice President Pence, speaking at the National Retail Federation’s annual Retail Advocates Summit, challenged Congress to “step up” and repeal the current law “so that lawmakers can “work on a new health-care plan that will start with a clean slate.” And McConnell declared on the Senate floor, “This doesn’t have to be the end of the story.” McConnell said the Senate would next take up “a repeal of Obamacare combined with a stable two-year transition period.” He said that President Barack Obama had vetoed such legislation before but that “President Trump will sign it now.” While he noted that the measure had overwhelming support among Republican senators in 2015, the Senate leader also acknowledged that his party has suffered a political setback. “I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful,” he said. “We will now try a different way to bring the American people relief from Obamacare.” The sudden breaks by Lee, a staunch conservative, and Moran, a McConnell ally, rocked the GOP leadership and effectively closed what already had been an increasingly narrow path to passage for the bill. They joined Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Collins, who also oppose the latest health-care bill. With just 52 seats, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes to pass their proposed rewrite of the ACA. All 46 Democrats and two independents are expected to vote against it. Lee supports the idea of moving ahead with a straight repeal of the existing law, and his spokesman, Conn Carroll, said Tuesday he would back a motion to proceed on a bill that would achieve that aim. But many centrist Republican senators have said they oppose dismantling key aspects of the ACA without an immediate replacement, given that roughly 20 million Americans have gained coverage under the law. The confusion over next steps highlights the predicament now faced by Republicans, who have made rallying cries against Obama’s 2010 health-care law a pillar of the party’s identity. They may be forced to grapple with the law’s shift from a perennial GOP target to an accepted, even popular, provider of services and funding in many states, which could make further repeal revivals difficult. Meanwhile, Trump and other Republicans will confront a Republican base that, despite fervent support for the president, still seeks a smaller federal government and fewer regulations. All of these forces remained vexing factors Monday as senators bailed on the bill. And no evident solution was offered by the White House — which has been limited in its sale of the GOP plan — or from McConnell, for how to bring together a party in which moderates and conservatives are still deeply divided over the scope of federal health-care funding and regulations. In many ways, the leadership plan did not go far enough for those on the right, but was too radical for GOP centrists. It scaled back some key ACA requirements and made deep cuts over time in Medicaid, but preserved popular provisions of the law such as a ban on denying coverage to consumers with costly medical conditions. But the fact that it would reduce federal Medicaid funding and phase out the program’s expansion in 31 states and the District of Columbia rankled several key GOP governors and senators, who feared that their states would be saddled with the unpalatable choice of either cutting off constituents’ health coverage or facing a massive new financial burden. The opposing pressures have left McConnell in a tough position as he has struggled to find a solution, which is why he has now thrown out the idea of moving to an immediate repeal. Abolishing several of Obamacare’s central pillars — including the mandate that taxpayers buy coverage, federal subsidies for many consumers’ premiums and Medicaid coverage for roughly 11 million Americans — could wreak havoc in the insurance market. A Congressional Budget Office analysis in January estimated that premiums in the individual insurance market would rise between 20 and 25 percent next year and would roughly double by 2026. At the same time, according to the CBO, the number of uninsured would spike by 18 million next year and rise to 32 million by 2026. “For insurers, the worst possible outcome in this debate has always been a partial repeal with no replacement, which is exactly what Congress is about to take up,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, in an email. “Insurance companies would be on the hook for covering people with preexisting conditions, but with no individual mandate or premium subsidies to get healthy people to sign up as well.” While pursuing an immediate repeal would please conservatives, the fact that it lacks sufficient support leaves McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) with few good options. Another move, which McConnell threatened recently, would be to work with Democrats to prop up the insurance exchange markets that have been imploding in some states — which probably would win passage but would infuriate the conservative base that has been calling for the end of the Affordable Care Act. But Ryan showed little interest Tuesday in making common cause with Democrats, telling reporters that House leaders “would like to see the Senate move on something” to keep the repeal-and-replace process alive. In a closed-door conference meeting, according to several members present, Ryan told colleagues that the ball remains in the Senate’s court and announced no plans for further action on health care in the House. He also urged House members to be patient and not to openly vent frustration with the Senate, the members said. Publicly, he emphasized that the Senate had “a razor-thin majority” and that passing legislation is “a hard process.” Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said senators’ willingness to deny Trump one of his top priorities has less to do with the president’s political standing and more with home state pressures, “whether it’s their governors, or the way health care is structured in their individual states.” “This is the Senate. Leadership sets the agenda, but senators vote in the interests of their states,” Rubio added. “Republics are certainly interesting systems of government. But certainly better than dictatorship.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/trump-suggests-republicans-will-let-aca-market-collapse-then-rewrite-health-law/2017/07/18/5e79a3ec-6bac-11e7-b9e2-2056e768a7e5_story.html Personal Comment: Looks McConnell isn't cut out to play 7D Chess after all.
  23. The various investigations into the Trump administration and its alleged ties to Russia are hard to follow. The allegations are sometimes muddled, the probes are still ongoing, and all sides in the dispute are leaking information that favors their points of view. These stories are also hard to follow because few officials are willing to put their names behind their claims and comments, leading to a stream of stories rife with unnamed sources. What’s a reader to do? Well, here’s a guide to unnamed sources in government/politics/Washington stories — who they are, how reporters use them, and how to tell if you should trust what they say. Having covered Congress, the White House, several presidential campaigns and briefly the Education and State departments, I have begged (usually unsuccessfully) many sources to allow me to use their names, written a fair number of stories with unnamed sources, and spent a lot of time trying to decode stories with unnamed sources written by other journalists. For this piece, I also consulted other journalists and political types who have served in senior staff roles on campaigns, on Capitol Hill and in presidential administrations. This is part one of two. I’ll cover some general principles for reading anonymously sourced stories here and break down the different types of such sources in part two. I wrote this piece because of all the Trump-Russia stories, but the rules, terms and designations apply to other Washington stories as well. This is not a story meant to condone or encourage the use of unnamed sources. While President Trump and his defenders have bashed the use of anonymous sources, some journalists themselves also say the practice is overused. They argue that using unnamed sources limits journalistic accountability, since readers and other reporters can’t easily check the accuracy of an account if they don’t know where it comes from. Unnamed sources are often a feature of stories that I would argue are more about reporters showing how savvy and in the know they are than truly informing and enlightening readers. But major investigative stories, both in Washington and outside of it, are often impossible to write without unnamed sources. The alternative to stories with unnamed sources is often not having the story published at all, rather than the same story with names. Sources have a wide range of motives for not going public. Some reasons are noble (whistleblowers may face retribution for leaking details to a reporter). Some are not (White House aides, both in the Trump administration and previous ones, sometimes don’t like one another and complain anonymously about their colleagues to the press). Either way, there are many news outlets and often very few people who know the details of White House deliberations or the state of the Russia investigation. So the sources have the power to set the terms with the journalists, and one of those terms is often, “don’t use my name.” 5 tips for reading stories with unnamed sources 1. Multiple sources add up. When an outlet says “six White House officials” or “seven Department of Justice officials,” it’s providing a level of precision that makes me more likely to trust the story. This does not necessarily mean that the story is correct. But it does suggest it was thoroughly reported. A recent New York Times story, for example, described something top White House adviser Jared Kushner was saying in private meetings, according to “six West Wing aides.” Six people are less likely to be wrong than one — and this also indicates that the reporter was cautious and diligent enough to seek confirmation with more than one person. CNN’s recently retracted report that Congress was looking into a Russian investment firm with potential ties to people in Trumpworld, meanwhile, cited only a single anonymous source. And, obviously, if multiple reputable news organizations or reporters report out and confirm the same story (not just link to another outlet’s reporting), that’s a reason to assume it is accurate. Conversely, if another major publication is casting doubts on a story you read that quotes lots of unnamed sources, that should heighten your skepticism. For example, In the Iraq War era, even as The New York Times and other outlets often echoed the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq possessed large numbers of weapons of mass destruction, there were publications like McClatchy that were more skeptical of the government’s claims. 2. Unverifiable predictions are suspicious. Trust a source who says something happened; distrust a source who says something might happen. Axios and Politico, two publications targeted at political junkies, in particular often float “scoops” predicting that something will happen that never does. An April piece in Axios quoted “aides and advisers” to Trump who suggested that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon could soon be pushed out by Trump, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy potentially replacing Priebus. This would have been a huge shift of power on both Capitol Hill and in the White House and more than three months later has not happened. As early as February, Politico highlighted the potential of a broad shake-up of White House officials that included Priebus. Politico recently suggested that Priebus would be out of his job around July 4; that didn’t happen. The story was carefully hedged, of course, noting that Trump might not follow through on the idea of dumping his chief of staff. I’m more dubious of stories that claim insider knowledge about future events, for three reasons. First, they are almost impossible to disprove in any way. In the Priebus example, the reporter or news outlet (Politico) can always claim that Trump intended to fire his chief of staff around July 4 but then changed his mind. A second concern, related to the first, is that the nebulous nature of these speculative stories creates an incentive for reporters to write them. If Trump had fired his chief of staff on July 3 or July 5, Politico would have looked very prescient. The firing did not happen, and the reporter can claim that Trump just didn’t follow through without suffering any loss of credibility. This kind of story “gives [the journalist] a provocative scoop that cannot be readily disproven, since it purports to reflect someone’s state of mind, which can always change, as opposed to an actual thing that has occurred,” said Brian Fallon, a Democrat who has served in top communications roles on Capitol Hill, as well as for the Department of Justice and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Stories like these often get tons of buzz and attention, but reporters (both those who write these pieces and those who read them) know these stories are often just speculation. I’m not sure readers do. Thirdly, sources have an incentive to encourage these kinds of speculative stories. If you are someone in the White House who does not like Priebus or you want to take his job, anonymously leaking that Trump is considering replacing Priebus is a great tactic. Trump did not publicly commit to keeping Priebus on, and now you (the Priebus rival) have put in the minds of everyone in Washington that the White House chief of staff is on notice. “In instances like these, the anonymous report serves the source’s interests,” Fallon said. “It allows them to float a trial balloon without being accountable for it.” On the other hand, I would be more likely to trust a piece reporting, even with unnamed sources, that Trump was considering sending 20,000 troops to Syria. Why? Because the stakes for this claim are much higher. Staffers leave administrations all the time, while the U.S. does not as regularly deploy thousands of troops abroad. 3. Specifics matter. What information does the story give you about its sources? The more, the better. For example, trust “Department of Justice officials” more than “administration officials.” If a story includes claims from unnamed officials from the Justice Department, those claims are typically run by the department’s press office. I would interpret a story sourced to “Department of Justice officials” without a denial from the press team there to be accurate — and perhaps even leaked by the department’s press team itself. An “administration official,” on the other hand, covers a much bigger group of people with disparate interests and points of view. It’s easy for other reporters to call the Justice Department and verify the story, while it’s much harder to confirm a story attributed to administration officials, which could mean any agency or the White House. Then there are the descriptions of anonymous sources that essentially tell you nothing. A recent Washington Post story cited “U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports” — that could be almost anyone. Or, worse still: “people familiar with the investigation.” Broadly speaking, you, dear reader, are “familiar with the investigation” — you’re reading about it after all. 4. Consider the outlet and the reporters. If, say, Nate Silver, Harry Enten and I co-write a story with unnamed sources about Hillary Clinton’s campaign decisions in 2016, there are reasons for readers to trust that story. All three of us have long records covering electoral politics. If the three of us wrote an article claiming that Kushner had a secret meeting with a Russian oligarch, full of unnamed sources, you should be more skeptical, since we are not regularly breaking news about Kushner’s activities. There are valid reasons to question the practices of the “establishment media,” but at least for now, I’m more comfortable with stories using unnamed sources, particularly about major national security or intelligence issues, that come from outlets and reporters who have a history of covering these issues, such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. (And, yes, I’m fully aware of the big blunders of the major papers and networks, such as CNN’s bungled Russia report.) “Certain reporters have well-deserved reputations for being careful and not getting it wrong,” Fallon said. “Think Pete Williams at NBC in a breaking news situation when there is a major law-enforcement story.” The big outlets also have another advantage in terms of unnamed sources: Important people come to them. If a tiny blog or a reporter you’ve never heard of breaks a story on some kind of major White House policy shift, one reason to be skeptical is that most administrations would rather leak big news to the Times or the Post than a more obscure publication. “Top aides on campaigns or highly connected sources inside the law-enforcement community are just not spending a lot of time trusting some partisan blog or smaller digital outlet with sensitive information,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican who has served in senior press roles on Capitol Hill, in the Justice Department and on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. 5. Watch for vague or imprecise “denials” of these kinds of stories. That often means they are accurate. Another thing to make you trust a story: When an official spokesperson offers a “denial” that really isn’t a denial. Remember when the Post published a story in May, vaguely attributed to “current and former U.S. officials,” suggesting that Trump had disclosed “highly classified information” in a meeting with Russian officials? Responding to the story, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told the paper, “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” But the story had not actually claimed that the president had disclosed sources, methods or operations — only information, which McMaster did not deny. (Trump essentially confirmed that he had disclosed the information soon after the story ran.) “If the person implicated in the report is unable to outright deny it, that’s a sign it can be trusted, even if the sources are anonymous,” Fallon said. In conclusion, we think you should continue to read stories with unnamed sources, but carefully and cautiously. Even major outlets like CNN and The New York Times occasionally get things wrong when relying on unnamed sources. On the other hand, this article and its follow-up should help you understand why everyone in Washington knew that in February, then-national security adviser Michael Flynn was in deep trouble. He was accused of something that either happened or did not — a factual claim (talking on the phone with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and discussing sanctions imposed by the U.S. against Russia) — in a story in a traditionally reliable outlet (The Washington Post) that was written by reporters known for covering national security and intelligence issues (Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima), with multiple unnamed sources making the claim (“nine current and former officials”). A Flynn spokesman, asked to comment on the story, told the Post that Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.” That response was well short of, “no, sanctions were not discussed.” Flynn resigned from his job within a week. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/when-to-trust-a-story-that-uses-unnamed-sources/ Personal Comment: Pretty cool article on how to better figure out if what you're reading is fake news or not. I thought Diplo would enjoy it.
  24. Pretty cool interview from a high schooler who managed to get Sec. Mattis' contact information by accidental exposure. It's rather long, so I'm not going to bother copying it in here. LINK: http://mihsislander.org/2017/06/full-transcript-james-mattis-interview/
  25. https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/georgia-house-race-stokes-gop-identity-crisis--and-opportunity-for-democrats/2017/04/18/a2231a48-242f-11e7-b503-9d616bd5a305_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_georgia-9am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.78c5f6fa0082 CHAMBLEE, Ga. — Democrat Jon Ossoff fought to capture a Republican-held House seat in Atlanta’s wealthy, conservative suburbs Tuesday with a groundswell of grass-roots activism and millions in donations fueled largely by antipathy to President Trump. Although Ossoff had captured nearly 54 percent of the vote by 9:30 p.m., it remained unclear, with only 32 percent of precincts reporting, that he would retain that lead and win the seat outright. Failing to secure more than 50 percent of the vote would send him to a June run-off against the top Republican vote-getter in the special election in Tuesday’s 6th Congressional District. If he is forced into a run-off, Ossoff could find it difficult to sustain the momentum he witnessed this past week in a traditionally Republican district that has been in GOP hands since 1979. As of 9:30 p.m., Republican Karen Handel was in second place with more than 17 percent of the vote, while Republican Bob Gray was third with nearly 9 percent. If a run-off happens, veteran consultants from both parties expect GOP voters to coalesce around the Republican run-off contender in a way they did not Tuesday, when 11 Republicans split the party’s vote after weeks of squabbling. National GOP groups, meanwhile, are readying new waves of television advertising. Democrats had hoped to upend the national political landscape with a stunning victory in this round of voting, rousing their demoralized party just five months after Trump won the White House and stoking a burgeoning anti-Trump movement across the country. Ahead of next year’s mid-term elections, they saw an opportunity to raise expectations about possibly winning back majorities in Congress. Ossoff’s candidacy gave Democrats an exhilarating if brief taste of what it will be like to compete in a ruby-red district next year, when they have to win 24 seats to take back the House. Republicans, at war with each other as much as with Democrats, were hoping to escape with a reprieve in the turbulent age of Trump. Facing more battles to come in 2018, the contest gave them little clarity about the party’s ideological drift and how much it should be tethered to the president in the future. Many Democrats moved quickly to frame the energy around Ossoff’s bid as a damaging referendum on Trump as he nears the 100-day mark of a presidency so far defined by an early stumble on health-care legislation and a GOP split into bickering factions. Per Georgia law, a run-off ballot would feature the two top finishers from the crowded non-partisan primary, which was called after Republican Tom Price, who had represented the district since 2005, vacated the seat to become Trump’s secretary of health and human Services. The district is a bastion of white college-educated professionals and upscale shopping centers. Ossoff, 30, a former congressional staffer and political novice who catapulted to national notice, raised more than $8 million and drew heavy support from prominent Democrats and liberal organizers. They saw his campaign, as well as a special House election last week in Kansas where a Democrat narrowly lost, as symbolic battlegrounds for their recovering party. Trump personally intervened in the final days, which risked becoming a political squall. On Tuesday, he tweeted that Republicans “must get out today and VOTE in Georgia 6” and warned that “Dem Ossoff will raise your taxes” and is “very bad on crime.” White House officials, such as chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, paid close attention to the Georgia election, well aware of the implications for Trump’s political capital as the president attempts to jolt his agenda in the coming months. Trump continued to weigh in on the race in the late afternoon, pointing out in a tweet that Ossoff “doesn’t even live in the district.” Republicans, he implored at 4:38 p.m. Eastern, “get out and vote!” Ossoff acknowledged in a CNN interview that he lives with his girlfriend near Emory University, which is outside of the district. “I’ve been living with my girlfriend, Alicia, for 12 years now down by Emory University where she’s a full-time medical student,” Ossoff said. “As soon as she concludes her medical training, I’ll be 10 minutes back up the street in the district where I grew up.” CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, intrigued, then asked, “So when are you going to marry her?” “Well, I don’t want to give anything away,” Ossoff said. “I’ll give you a call when I have something to announce.” The clip was quickly picked up by news outlets. Looking ahead to a likely run-off, national Republicans seized on Ossoff’s statement as another example of his lack of roots in the district, a critique that has been made repeatedly against the Democrat throughout the campaign. The Drudge Report, a driver of conservative web traffic, made the story its banner, knocking the “Dem Trump slayer” as an interloper. When asked Tuesday on Air Force One whether the Georgia race was a referendum on Trump’s first 100 days, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I wouldn’t use the word referendum.” “I think [Trump] hopes to have a Republican elected to that seat, and hopefully it will be someone to follow in Tom Price’s footsteps and be a leader from that district,” Sanders told reporters. Earlier Tuesday, volunteers for Ossoff — mostly youthful, clad in navy blue T-shirts and carrying bundles of door-knocking materials — rushed excitedly around a low-slung campaign outpost in the Atlanta suburbs to stoke turnout. At Ossoff’s cramped phone bank in Chamblee, situated between dental offices and piled with doughnut boxes and campaign posters, his staffers joked that the tweets amounted to an in-kind contribution that would incite their party’s base to show up. Trump’s messages also reflected how this once sleepy race had landed at the center of the political universe. “The campaign has taken on a life of its own,” said Ossoff aide Alyssa Castillo, 20, who works in public relations for a distribution center in DeKalb County. “Whatever happens, this is the start of something bigger, that’s for sure.” Celia Henson, a stay-at-home mother from Decatur who identifies as an independent Democrat, said Tuesday night that Trump retains his support “from most people around here who like him since nothing he does seems to get him in trouble.” But more on-the-fence voters in the Atlanta suburbs, Henson said, have grown restless or uneasy about the president since his inauguration in January and since he has “kept tweeting.” “This is a district where people care about respect, people being respected and they don’t like how he acts,” she said. In the final, frantic hours of canvassing and phone calls, avoiding a runoff was the priority. “No run-off, vote for Ossoff,” read one poster at the Chamblee office. “Look at the map,” Tish Naghise, an Ossoff field organizer, said as she pointed to a green layout of the district on the wall. “Hillary Clinton came close to winning here, but you have to do really well in Chamblee and Tucker, do well in diverse areas, if you’re going to have a shot of competing throughout this whole area.” The Republican slate in the 6th District had been roiled in recent weeks by nerves about Trump and lingering internecine dramas over ideological purity and local loyalties. While some GOP candidates sought to align closely with Trump, others chose more cautious paths in an effort to navigate the president’s mixed popularity here. Trump has become a complicated figure in establishment Republican enclaves such as Chamblee, where Ossoff’s navy-blue campaign signs have sprung up along sidewalks and in apartment windows. Republicans’ failure to pass their plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system frustrated some suburban GOP voters about Trump’s effectiveness in cutting deals with lawmakers in Washington, as well as about the party’s promises. The National Republican Congressional Committee dispatched staffers to Georgia to boost turnout among core GOP voters amid those grumbles. The Congressional Leadership Fund, an outfit aligned with the House GOP, has spent more than $2 million on a spate of negative television spots about Ossoff. Several GOP candidates — Dan Moody, Gray, Bruce LeVell, Amy Kremer — embraced Trump and cast themselves as his would-be allies in Washington. Others were supportive but not always enthusiastic, such as Handel and Judson Hill. One Republican, David Abroms, opposed the president. Most of the leading candidates bounced between those poles depending on the day or the latest controversy. Voters veered between wanting a typical Republican to preferring a Trump-style hard-liner.Some tried to sidestep questions about loyalty to Trump, and the varying levels of support the President has seen from Republican candidates here in the 6th. “We didn’t support Karen based on who she supported for President,” says Allison Newman, a 42 year-old special education teacher, when asked why she and her husband supported Handel, “We supported Karen based on her track record, she’s ethical and she’s a good person.” Others embraced the president. “It’s important that he agrees with Trump on issues of trade and certain platforms of Trump’s campaign,” said Brendan Foy, 36, a volunteer for Gray who also served as a North Carolina field director last year for Trump. “I voted for him the same reasons Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania voted for him.” LeVell, an African American jeweler and former Trump campaign adviser, as well as Trump-aligned conservative activist Kremer, never gained traction in a Republican district that is not dominated by grass-roots nationalism. Abroms, who campaigned with anti-Trump independent Evan McMullin, also failed to land on the political map. Gray was seen by Republicans in recent days as having the best shot of outpacing Handel and making a runoff, since he began inching up in various eleventh-hour polls. At Gray’s campaign office in Johns Creek on Tuesday, his effort to tie himself to Trump was obvious. A massive poster of Vice President Pence greeted visitors at the office entrance. To the right, a yard sign from the Trump campaign was propped against a stack of “Gray for Congress” signs. In a conference room, a photo of the president gave a big thumbs-up to phone-banking volunteers. Brittany Evrard, 27, a volunteer for the Gray campaign, said Gray’s pro-Trump stance was “very much” part of what made up her mind. Personal Comments: Trump only won this district by 1.5 percentage in the general election last November. Looks to me like Ossoff has a really strong chance of making through this with over 50% and winning the seat outright.
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