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BrothersJudd Blog

Blog of the Brothers Judd

Last Build Date: Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:43:39 -0500

Copyright: Copyright 2017


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:43:39 -0500

"It's an unbelievably complex subject," Trump said, while outlining the plans his administration has come up with to repeal and replace ObamaCare. "Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated."


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:31:06 -0500

Asked whether he supported Trump's travel ban on people from seven majority Muslim countries, Bush said, "I am for an immigration policy that is welcoming and that upholds the law."

Bush, whose presidency was shaped by the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on America, also called for religious tolerance.

"One of our great strengths is for people to be able to worship the way they want to or not worship at all," he said.

After the attacks, Bush had made a point of supporting Muslims and praising Islam's teachings as peaceful.

Trump has branded some news outlets as "the enemy of the people" but Bush said: "I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy, that we need an independent media to hold people like me to account," he said.

"It's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power."

He said that during his presidency he tried to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept the concept of an independent news media. "It's kind of hard to tell others to have an independent, free press and we're not willing to have one ourselves," Bush told NBC.

NO ONE HATES JUST MEXICANS (self-reference alert)

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:18:08 -0500

Miami Beach residents find swastikas etched on their cars (DAVID J. NEAL AND CARLI TEPROFF, 2/27/17, Miami Herald)

Miami Beach detectives are investigating after several people came outside Sunday to find that their cars at swastikas etched on them. [...]

Doug Eaton said his wife was leaving for the gym when she discovered that there was a swastika drawn on the hood of their Range Rover.

"Obviously, it was to offend our neighbors," said Eaton, who isn't Jewish. "They didn't know we weren't Jewish, but a majority of the neighborhood is Jewish and it was designed to offend them. It's a very offensive sign." [...]

The vandalism comes at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise. In the last two months, more than 50 Jewish Community Centers in 26 states and one Canadian province received a total of 68 bomb threats over the phone, according to the JCC Association of North America.

Happen to have been there for a Bar Mitzvah on Saturday and it was sad to see armed security in front of the temple, but obviously necessary.  


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 11:12:36 -0500

Leaked DHS Report Contradicts White House Claims on Travel Ban (Nora Ellingsen, February 27, 2017, Lawfare)

[W]hen the Department produced its draft report, later leaked to the Associated Press, the White House wasn't pleased with the results--and for good reason. The assessment does not support the administration's position that individuals from the affected countries disproportionately threaten the United States. The Wall Street Journal quotes at least one White House official as expressing dissatisfaction: "The president asked for an intelligence assessment. This is not the intelligence assessment the president asked for."

Relying on unclassified and publicly available information, the three-page assessment concluded that citizens of the seven affected countries are rarely implicated in U.S.-based terrorism plots. Indeed, the conclusions are similar to ones I drew earlier this month when I wrote about the conclusions we can draw from FBI international terrorism arrests. Like the DHS analysts, I also relied on the publically available Justice Department press releases, and this data only support one broad conclusion: foreign-born individuals from the affected countries are not a particular terrorism threat to the United States.

But in the next two pages, the DHS assessment takes the analysis several steps further than I went. First, the report found that country of citizenship, more generally, is not a reliable indicator of terrorist activity. [...]

In addition, the assessment challenges the administration's claim that the affected countries have a history of "exporting terrorism" to the United States. In fact, these countries aren't actually exporting very many people at all. [...]

Finally, the assessment draws an important distinction between the countries on the list that face a significant terrorism threat that is reasonably contained within their borders and those who struggle with terrorist groups that also target the United States. Of those seven countries, the assessment indicates that most aren't harboring terrorist groups actively targeting the United States. 

Comic gold.


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:37:26 -0500

Public pensions are in better shape than you think (Ryan Cooper, February 27, 2017, The Week)

[A] fascinating new paper from Tom Sgouros at UC Berkeley's Haas Institute makes a compelling argument that the crisis in public pensions is to a large degree the result of terrible accounting practices. (Stay with me, this is actually interesting.) He argues that the typical debate around public pensions revolves around accounting rules which were designed for the private sector -- and their specific mechanics both overstate some dangers faced by public pensions and understate others.

To understand Sgouros' argument, it's perhaps best to start with what "fully-funded" means. This originally comes from the private sector, and it means that a pension plan has piled up enough assets to pay 100 percent of its existing obligations if the underlying business vanishes tomorrow. Thus if existing pensioners are estimated to collect $100 million in benefits before they die, but the fund only has $75 million, it has an "unfunded liability" of $25 million.

This approach makes reasonably good sense for a private company, because it really might go out of business and be liquidated at any moment, necessitating the pension fund to be spun off into a separate entity to make payouts to the former employees. But the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), a private group that sets standards for pension accounting, has applied this same logic to public pension funds as well, decreeing that they all should be 100 percent funded.

This makes far less sense for governments, because they are virtually never liquidated. Governments can and do suffer fiscal problems or even bankruptcy on occasion. But they are not businesses -- you simply can't dissolve, say, Arkansas and sell its remaining assets to creditors because it's in financial difficulties. That gives governments a permanence and therefore a stability that private companies cannot possibly have. [...]

A future pension liability is determined by calculating the "present value" of all future benefit payments, with a discount rate to account for inflation and interest rates. But this single number makes no distinction between liabilities that are due tomorrow, and those that are due gradually over, say, decades.

Fundamentally, a public pension is a method by which retirees are supported by current workers and financial returns, and one of its great strengths is its long time horizon and large pool of mutual supporters. It gives great leeway to muddle through problems that only crop up very slowly over time. If huge problems really will pile up, but only over 70 years, there is no reason to lose our minds now -- small changes, regularly adjusted, will do the trick.

Finally, a 100-percent funding level -- the supposed best possible state for a responsible pension manager -- can actually be dangerous. It means that current contributions are not very necessary to pay benefits, sorely tempting politicians to cut back contributions or increase benefits. And because asset values tend to fluctuate a lot, this can leave pension funds seriously overextended if there is a market boom -- creating the appearance of full funding -- followed by a collapse. Numerous state and local public pensions were devastated by just this process during the dot-com and housing bubbles.


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:31:27 -0500

Republican leaders, of course, are dead set on repealing ObamaCare, but feel political pressure to avoid throwing people off of their insurance. That will require continuing to subsidize people who cannot afford insurance on their own. To that end, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan recently released an outline of a plan that would provide refundable tax credits to help people afford coverage.

This is actually very similar to how ObamaCare works. A key part of the Affordable Care Act is that it provides tax credit subsidies, called "advance refundable tax credits," to help individuals afford health insurance. These subsidies can be substantial depending on your income -- for some people, the subsidies cover the entire cost of their health insurance premiums. The biggest difference between ObamaCare and Ryan's subsidies is who will receive the bulk of the credits -- ObamaCare's gives more to the poor; Ryan's to the elderly, irrespective of income -- but the mechanism is largely the same.


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:22:34 -0500

[I] ask you to believe me when I say that the five whiskies I've selected here are worth trying, neat.

All  can be found for under £25 pounds in the U.K. (and under $30 in the U.S.) - most, in fact, under £20 ($25).

Even though they won't knock your socks off - let's be reasonable - they're definitely enjoyable and worth their prices.

I stand by these choices. For added pleasure, serve them to whisky-snob friends. Don't tell them what they're drinking. Then sit back and enjoy their surprise at something they may have previously sneered at. 


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 07:54:04 -0500

A German Clash over Trump's NATO Demands (Konstantin von Hammerstein, 2/24/17, Der Spiegel)

The country is the clear economic leader in Europe, but Berlin only spends 1.2 percent of its GDP on the military, less even in absolute terms than the United Kingdom, France and a host of other European countries.

That's the historical norm for the US too and we're going to get back there; Europe is not going to resume wasting money on defense.



Mon, 27 Feb 2017 07:02:11 -0500

France's National Front scandal has exposed the dirty little secret of Europe's far right (Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman, Feb. 23rd, 2017, Washington Post)

Right-wing populists like the National Front typically hate the European Union. They advocate radical changes to the European Union -- or outright withdrawal from it. Yet without the support of the European Union, they almost certainly would have a far weaker voice in national politics. Many far-right parties rely on Europe both for elected positions and for money.

The first key resource that Europe offers to far-right parties is the chance to get elected. Far-right parties often have a tough time getting launched into politics. They are not part of the political mainstream, which means that they may face a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. People are unlikely to vote for these parties, even if they agree with some of the parties' positions, because they don't know much about them, and likely think the parties don't have any real chance of success.

European Parliament elections have boosted far-right parties like the National Front and the UK Independence Party. European voters don't take European Parliament elections very seriously, treating them as what political scientists call "second-order elections." This means that voters are more willing to use their European Parliament votes to protest the government and the political mainstream, making it more likely that they will vote for fringe parties, giving these parties greater credibility. When the National Front won a third of France's seats in the European Parliament elections in 2014, it sent shock waves through France and Europe.

The second key resource that Europe offers to fringe parties is money. Parties elected to the European Parliament or categorized as "Europarties" can receive European funding. This again can be very valuable -- especially to parties that do not have parliamentary funds or wealthy backers in their home countries. In theory, this money is supposed to go to Europe-level activities -- such as hiring assistants who help members of the European Parliament research legislation and do their jobs. In practice, there is not as much supervision over spending as there ought to be.

This is what has gotten the National Front into trouble. Le Pen is accused of having paid her chief political counselor and her bodyguard on the pretense that they were parliamentary assistants, when they were nothing of the sort. Other members of the National Front are accused of similar abuses. fears coloreds will get the government largesse that we ofays deserve.  


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 06:55:48 -0500

US drone strike in Syria kills top al-Qaida leader, jihadis say (Martin Chulov in Beirut and Tom McCarthy in New York, 27 February 2017, The Guardian)

One of al-Qaida's most senior leaders has been killed by a US drone strike in north-west Syria, jihadi leaders have said.

Abu al-Khayr al-Masri - who has been part of the global jihadi organisation for three decades and was a son-in-law of its founder, Osama bin Laden - was killed on Sunday when a missile fired from a drone hit the small car in which he was travelling. Masri had also been a close aide to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a fellow Egyptian.


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 06:47:45 -0500

Three years ago, the EPA struck a deal with the owners of the largest coal plant in the Western U.S. to close the plant by 2044. Now--because of economics, not regulation--the owners plan to shut the plant down by 2019 instead.

The Navajo Generating Station, 12 miles from the Grand Canyon near Page, Arizona, is the seventh largest individual source of climate pollution in the country, pumping out more than 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year. It's also a major source of air pollution for people living nearby; by some estimates, shutting it down will also save more than $127 million a year in health costs.


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 06:40:38 -0500

Sean Spicer targets own staff in leak crackdown : The push includes random phone checks overseen by White House lawyers. (ANNIE KARNI and ALEX ISENSTADT 02/26/17, Politico)

Last week, after Spicer became aware that information had leaked out of a planning meeting with about a dozen of his communications staffers, he reconvened the group in his office to express his frustration over the number of private conversations and meetings that were showing up in unflattering news stories, according to sources in the room.

Upon entering Spicer's office for what one person briefed on the gathering described as "an emergency meeting," staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a "phone check," to prove they had nothing to hide.

...when you really are all out to get each other.  The administration is essentially a ratking.


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 06:29:15 -0500

How Life (and Death) Spring From Disorder : Life was long thought to obey its own set of rules. But as simple systems show signs of lifelike behavior, scientists are arguing about whether this apparent complexity is all a consequence of thermodynamics. (Philip Ball, 1/26/17, Quanta)According to thermodynamics, the capacity to extract useful work from the energy resources of the universe is always diminishing. Pockets of energy are declining, concentrations of heat are being smoothed away. In every physical process, some energy is inevitably dissipated as useless heat, lost among the random motions of molecules. This randomness is equated with the thermodynamic quantity called entropy -- a measurement of disorder -- which is always increasing. That is the second law of thermodynamics. Eventually all the universe will be reduced to a uniform, boring jumble: a state of equilibrium, wherein entropy is maximized and nothing meaningful will ever happen again.Are we really doomed to that dreary fate? Maxwell was reluctant to believe it, and in 1867 he set out to, as he put it, "pick a hole" in the second law. His aim was to start with a disordered box of randomly jiggling molecules, then separate the fast molecules from the slow ones, reducing entropy in the process.Imagine some little creature -- the physicist William Thomson later called it, rather to Maxwell's dismay, a demon -- that can see each individual molecule in the box. The demon separates the box into two compartments, with a sliding door in the wall between them. Every time he sees a particularly energetic molecule approaching the door from the right-hand compartment, he opens it to let it through. And every time a slow, "cold" molecule approaches from the left, he lets that through, too. Eventually, he has a compartment of cold gas on the right and hot gas on the left: a heat reservoir that can be tapped to do work.This is only possible for two reasons. First, the demon has more information than we do: It can see all of the molecules individually, rather than just statistical averages. And second, it has intention: a plan to separate the hot from the cold. By exploiting its knowledge with intent, it can defy the laws of thermodynamics.At least, so it seemed. It took a hundred years to understand why Maxwell's demon can't in fact defeat the second law and avert the inexorable slide toward deathly, universal equilibrium. And the reason shows that there is a deep connection between thermodynamics and the processing of information -- or in other words, computation. The German-American physicist Rolf Landauer showed that even if the demon can gather information and move the (frictionless) door at no energy cost, a penalty must eventually be paid. Because it can't have unlimited memory of every molecular motion, it must occasionally wipe its memory clean -- forget what it has seen and start again -- before it can continue harvesting energy. This act of information erasure has an unavoidable price: It dissipates energy, and therefore increases entropy. All the gains against the second law made by the demon's nifty handiwork are canceled by "Landauer's limit": the finite cost of information erasure (or more generally, of converting information from one form to another).Living organisms seem rather like Maxwell's demon. Whereas a beaker full of reacting chemicals will eventually expend its energy and fall into boring stasis and equilibrium, living systems have collectively been avoiding the lifeless equilibrium state since the origin of life about three and a half billion years ago. They harvest energy from their surroundings to sustain this nonequilibrium state, and they do it with "intention." Even simple bacteria move with "purpose" toward sources [...]


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 06:15:12 -0500

5 Strategies for Evidence-Based Policymaking : There's plenty of bipartisan support for the idea. Implementing it requires some concrete steps. (QUENTIN PALFREY | FEBRUARY 27, 2017, Governing)

Despite the hyperpartisan climate of American politics today, the notion that policy decisions should be informed by solid evidence continues to garner bipartisan support at the local, state and national levels. Last year, for example, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and President Obama came together to enact legislation creating a federal Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. Governments across the country are experimenting with new methods for developing and using data and evidence in their decision-making.

Compare, for example, the evolution of modern medicine with the typical approach taken in government. In the 20th century, randomized controlled trials revolutionized medicine, replacing guesswork with a rigorous, scientific method to determine what works and what does not. But in government and philanthropy, all too often decisions about how to allocate scarce resources have continued to be been informed by hunch and anecdote. Replacing hunches with facts has dramatic consequences for the efficacy of government programs, particularly those that deliver services to assist the poorest in our society.

But how do you go about building a system of evidence-based policymaking? In an era of tight budgets and hard choices, here are five concrete steps that state and local policymakers can take to ensure that taxpayer money is being used in the most effective ways possible...

Ideology can seldom withstand the evidence.


Mon, 27 Feb 2017 06:08:12 -0500

In the quantum world, identity is a hazy concept : Physicists have discovered that making one atom look like another is all a trick of the light. (Cathal O'Connell, 2/27/17, Cosmos)

For 200 years scientists have identified chemicals by the light they emit. You can recognise a sodium lamp from its orange glow. It's the same orange you get by holding salt to a flame, a standard trick of chemistry. Astronomers can deduce the components of stars or dust clouds from their particular light fingerprint.

Now, the Princeton team show that, in theory at least, these fingerprints can be forged.

As the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and others worked out in the early 20th century, atoms and molecules emit light when the electrons around them shuffle about between different levels of energy. An electron falling from a high energy level to a lower one gives out the colour of light that exactly matches the energy difference.

It's a bit like a dog's squeaky toy tumbling down the stairs, making a different sound depending on the height of the steps.

What Campos's team realised was that they could use lasers to excite an atom into a state of any energy, at least temporarily, by hitting it with a specially designed light pulse. When the electron fell back down, it would then emit whatever light colour the physicists chose.

Reality is a function of choice, not randomness.