Journalist/developer. Interactive editor @frontlinepbs. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
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Jack Johnson, boxer jailed under Jim Crow, is being considered by Trump for pardon

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chrisamico
3 days ago
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I found a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but the idea of reading it didn't spark joy, so I gave it away.
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chrisamico
3 days ago
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3 public comments
smallfrogge
4 days ago
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This is freaky, I reached the "ah" stage today..
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
alt_text_at_your_service
4 days ago
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I found a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but the idea of reading it didn't spark joy, so I gave it away.
steelhorse
23 hours ago
Thankfully I listen to Tim Ferriss' podcast, so the alt text actually made sense!
zippy72
15 hours ago
I have, in fact, read it. We've given away several copies. Works for us.
alt_text_bot
4 days ago
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I found a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but the idea of reading it didn't spark joy, so I gave it away.

Arena — PÁRAIC MC GLOUGHLIN

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Film by Páraic McGloughlin
A brief look at the earth from above, based on the shapes we make, the game of life, our playing ground - Arena.

Created using Google Earth imagery.

Pearse McGloughlin and I collaborated on the audio resulting in something between music and a soundtrack. 

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chrisamico
8 days ago
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What Did You Do in the Trade War, Daddy?

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While Donald Trump has diverted his attention to other matters, here are some questions and answers to bear in mind, when he is back to talking about winning a trade war.

Q. Is there a “China problem” to be dealt with?

A. Yes. This was the theme of a piece I did just before the 2016 election: “China’s Great Leap Backward.” Its argument was that through the decades since the beginning of China’s post-Mao reform movement, in the late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping, two assumptions had guided U.S. policy toward China—but that China’s recent behavior was calling both of them into question.

One assumption was that, over time, China would not necessarily become more “Americanized”  or even “democratic”—neither of which anyone who’d ever lived in China could reasonably think. Instead the assumption was that China would become steadily less of an outlier to the international system, more aligned with international standards in realms ranging from financial and banking standards to environmental protection. Its people would become steadily more exposed to educational systems, pop culture, tourism, everyday liberties in the rest of the world.

As China prospered, it would not necessarily become a liberal democracy—even though all the other rich countries in the world, from Europe to North America to Northeast Asia, happened to function that way. But it would become more rather than less integrated into the world order for which those liberal democracies had set most of the rules. And this would apply in areas from economics to strategic and military interactions.

The other assumption was that, despite the certainty of economic frictions and the larger dislocations that came with China’s emergence as a great power, the businesses relationship between the U.S. and China could be more complementary, and win-win, than it was an inevitable Darwinian fight to the death. And this, in turn, was because the structures of the U.S. and Chinese economies were so different, offering the potential for at least as many constructive relationships as mutually destructive ones.

The contrast with Japan was instructive. Japan had already become a world industrial power by the 1930s. Its rebuilding effort after World War II was, like Germany’s, mainly a matter of re-establishing a world-class business, technological, and educational establishment that had helped power the fascist war effort, was destroyed, and then was redirected into non-military competition.

By the 1980s, Japan had large, technically sophisticated companies with their own research centers and internationally recognized brands. They competed head-to-head with their U.S. counterparts: Toyota versus GM, Toshiba versus IBM, Hitachi versus Intel and Texas Instruments, and on down a long list. In the years since then, despite its political and demographic challenges and supposed economic collapse, Japan has grown steadily richer—its GDP per capita is up 35 percent in the past 20 years, versus about 25 percent for the United States— and it has retained or increased its market share in most of the advanced-technology areas its policy focuses on. Japan’s population was less than half as large as that of the United States (and a tenth as large as China’s), and it was nothing like an all-fronts rival or competitor. But for its biggest firms and their American counterparts, it was a genuine head-to-head, win-or-lose type of showdown in those days.

China had never gone through the industrial and corporate revolution that Japan pulled off in the late 1800s. As it began its interaction with the United States 40 years ago, it was a mainly peasant country striving to get into the age of low-end, low-wage manufacturing. Over the next two decades, that is mainly what it did. (This is a story that I told in my book China Airborne.)

China is vastly richer now than it was a generation ago. Its population now includes hundreds of millions of industrial and service-sector workers, instead of nearly a billion peasants, as it did before. But it still is far short of Japan and South Korea, Western Europe, or North America in “commanding heights” corporations with international brand-name power and technology leadership. The gap is closing—but still there is no Chinese brand name on the world market comparable to Mercedes or Apple, to Samsung or GE, to Oxford or Harvard, to BBC or the New York Times. The Chinese aerospace ministry is trying its best, but it is many years behind either Airbus or Boeing.

Exactly how, when, and whether China closes that gap, and what rules it works by in trying to do so, is (or should be) the heart of the trade friction now. Over the past half dozen years, complaints from Western companies and governments have mounted about the tools the Chinese government is using toward this end: selective regulations, “buy Chinese” policies, industrial espionage carried out either through high-tech hacking means or through contracts that obliged Western companies to “share” technology if they want to enter the Chinese market. This has coincided with Xi Jinping’s tightening grip on China’s political system and parts of civic life in the country.

Are these real problems? Yes. Which leads us to …

Q. Are tariffs a good way to deal with this?

A. No. Or at least not in the way they’re being discussed right now.

Q. Why not? Aren’t you just being anti-Trump?

A. Here’s the problem. What the U.S. is doing now won’t work.

A rhetorically escalating threat-and-counter-threat between the U.S. and China may be emotionally satisfying to those who believe, as Trump has said constantly over the decades, that China is “cheating” and “robbing” the United States.

But if the goal is to get the Chinese government to change its behavior, there is very little reason to think that public threats, lectures, and showdowns will do the trick.

You could go through lots of game-theory reasoning to get to this point—for instance, that while the Chinese economy is in principle more exposed to the pain of a trade war than the U.S. is (because China is poorer, and more dependent on exports), in reality its government faces no mid-term elections, or presidential re-election runs, or public elections at all. Also, it can more easily offset an economic downtown in the short run just by ramping up the infrastructure machine— building another new high-speed rail line someplace in China, building ports and railways through the rest of the world via its “One Belt One Road” program, or in other ways turning on the job spigot for long enough to last out a trade showdown.

And, as Paul Krugman has spelled out in The New York Times, even though manufacturers would adjust in the long run to a shift in international prices (from tariffs and other factors), right at the moment, factories to produce much of what’s made in China don’t exist in the United States. Companies could decide to build them—but that’s a matter of years of planning and construction, and billions of dollars, reliant on the idea that Trump-era tariffs would last.

I have no idea whether the strains and contradictions affecting the Chinese system of government will prove unsustainable within the next few years (as Minxin Pei has argued forcefully) or whether it will veer and manage its way through the next set of crises as it has so many before. But when it comes to withstanding short-term domestic pressures of a trade slowdown—a drop in growth rate in China, versus pressures on farmers, aircraft manufacturers, and ordinary shoppers in America—I’ll bet on the Chinese any time.

Also, if yelling at and threatening a Chinese government were a shrewd way of changing its behavior, presumably it would have worked at some previous time in history. I’m not aware of such examples.

Q. So what does work?

A. Ah, you would ask.

There’s a reason certain problems are considered “hard” problems. Holding down health-care costs. Reducing gun violence, in a country that already has hundreds of millions of firearms and where people have radically different views about gun “rights.” Reducing the influence of misleading information and phony news.

Establishing the right long-term relationship with China is a genuinely hard problem. That was the point of the article I wrote late in 2016: Whoever led the U.S. government, with whatever set of policies on other issues, would have to deal with a China that was too big to ignore, too strong to insult, too valuable a potential partner (on issues ranging from climate change to North Korea) and too threatening a potential adversary to approach with anything other than a well thought-out plan.

The core of such a plan, I said, was trying to shape reality in ways that encouraged and discouraged various forms of Chinese behavior. The much-loathed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, was one of those possible shaping tools. The TPP was the rare policy that Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders all opposed, but its idea was to ally the United States with enough other Pacific Rim trading nations to create a rule-based economic reality too great and influential for China to ignore. Long-term industrial strategies, like the one the Clinton administration applied (successfully) in the early 1990s to revive the U.S. info-tech industry relative to Japan, also can have effect—and can include precisely thought-through tariffs as part of their power. Different times and different details require ever-shifting strategies, but they have nothing in common with tweeted-out demands and threats.

It’s been 18 months since I wrote this passage, but I’d say more or less the same thing now:

Lectures and public scolding of China have no record of ever changing its government’s behavior; if anything, they make it worse.

What may work, however, is a strategy one former Western-country ambassador to China described as “shaping reality in a way that makes it unattractive for China to maintain its present course.” The clearest recent example involves the Chinese military’s hacking of U.S. corporate secrets.

A year ago [in 2015], when Xi Jinping visited Washington (just after Pope Francis, who drew more press and crowds), President Obama is widely believed to have informed him that the United States had had enough on this front. Government-on-government spying and hacking? Sure, that’s normal. But governmental spying on foreign companies, to help their domestic rivals, was different.

And if it didn’t stop, the U. S. government would find ways to make life more difficult for Chinese companies. Through use of America’s own formidable tools for cybermeddling? Through impediments to investments? Through shifts in visa policies for influential Chinese families and officials? Obama could leave the means to Xi’s imagination. It wasn’t specific, it wasn’t directly threatening, and it wasn’t public, but Obama’s talk was apparently effective. By most accounts, Chinese military hacking of U.S. corporations has decreased.

The hacking decreased then. (Last fall Wired ran a fascinating account of what changed, and what didn’t.) Public shouting and desk-pounding played absolutely no role in a quiet, coordinated, decisive plan to shape the reality within which the Chinese government made its choices.

If Chinese writers were putting this principle into a traditional chengyu, the four-character phrases that are popular vehicles for homilies and wisdom, they’d presumably work with the four characters meaning voice small, force great. Or, in turn-of-the-20th century American parlance, “speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

The tariff policy so far has been voice big, power small.  Yell loudly, armed with a twig.

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chrisamico
10 days ago
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How the Cohen Raids and Trump’s Reactions Edge Us Toward Confrontation

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The country is entering a dangerous moment—the moment of actual confrontation between the president of the United States and those who would investigate him.

This moment has been deferred for months through a combination of strategies. The president’s lawyers convinced their client for a spell that the investigation would wrap up and clear him if he just cooperated. Investigators refrained from antagonizing the president; they did not leak disparaging material about him or those close to him. They framed their indictments narrowly so as not to suggest more than they were immediately prepared to allege. Even as they moved forward, investigators left room for the president and his defenders to put off any showdown.

The result was that, for months, a confrontation has loomed over American political culture, but has ripened slowly and, while in plain view, in a fashion that has permitted  people to avert their gaze. Those who wanted to deny that the confrontation was coming at all could convince themselves that perhaps Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation would peter out; perhaps it would reveal only misconduct by expendable hangers-on in the president’s entourage; perhaps it would reveal only politically embarrassing conduct rather than conduct that required elements within the executive branch to lock horns over whether the special counsel would be meaningfully permitted to accuse the president.

On Monday, however, the space for such denial began to shrink markedly—and the time span for deferral of the confrontation has shrunk as well.

I will put this as bluntly as I know how: There is no way that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York would have sought or executed a search warrant against the president’s lawyer without overpowering evidence to support the action. The legal standard for such a search requires only probable cause that criminal activity is taking place. Under normal circumstances, which these are not, the prudential and policy factors counseling against such an action would be powerful.

For starters, the Justice Department is institutionally cautious about searches involving attorneys acting in their role as attorneys. As , “the U.S. Attorney’s Manual has . Realizing full well that such searches are in derogation of the value of the [attorney-client] privilege, the manual requires high-level approvals, the exhaustion of other investigative avenues, and specifies procedures that are to be followed to limit the intrusion on privileged documents.” Moreover, the Justice Department would have been additionally cautious about seeking any warrant against this particular lawyer—precisely because doing so makes clear that a ring is closing around the president. Going after a prominent person’s lawyer for matters related to his representation of the client is, after all, an aggressive act toward the client, not just toward the lawyer. And Trump is, as he puts it, a counterpuncher.

This is the kind of step that would predictably elicit a reaction. The Justice Department simply would not take such an action lightly or without evidence that emphatically supports it. Add these prudential, legal and policy factors together and they cumulatively suggest that the evidence supporting the warrant application likely exceeds—probably by far—what is legally required.

Put another way, Cohen’s situation, and thus Trump’s situation, is grave.

This seriousness is not simply a function of the apparently advanced state of some of the evidence involved. The nature of the warrant shows that the investigation itself is spreading. , “The F.B.I. agents who raided the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday were looking for records about payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Mr. Trump, and information related to the publisher of The National Enquirer’s role in silencing one of the women, several people briefed on the investigation said.”

In short, this search warrant is apparently not about L’Affaire Russe. The FBI raided the office of the president’s personal lawyer on a matter related to L’Affaire Stormy. That means that prosecutors were able to show probable cause of criminal activity connected to Cohen’s representation of the president on matters far removed from Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, obstruction of justice or any of the other matters within Mueller’s purview. Notably, this subject matter metastasis coincides with a bureaucratic metastasis as well. It was not, after all, Mueller who sought or received the warrant. As Rosenzweig notes:

Muller referred the matter to the Justice Department, where the investigation was assigned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. That office (run by a Trump appointee) then procured the warrant—with the approval of a magistrate judge—and worked with the FBI to conduct the search. In this regard, the special counsel’s actions, and the Justice Department referral are completely unlike the Starr investigation on which I worked many years ago. There, Attorney General Janet Reno kept expanding the Starr investigation into new areas—mostly, I think, as a matter of convenience. Here, the department seems intent on cabining the Mueller investigation to the scope it was originally initiated for—and to also be willing to spin off unrelated matters to the relevant local U.S. attorney’s office.

This bureaucratic distribution of the investigation is actually a good thing. It will have the effect of diffusing responsibility for the investigations as they develop away from Mueller. One of the problems with Reno’s decision to concentrate so many investigative matters in Starr’s hands was that Starr became the locus of all things related to investigations of Bill Clinton. This proved damaging to Starr’s credibility, as people were able to accuse him of being on a far-flung series of vendettas against Clinton. He was also accused of mission creep, and there was some truth to that charge. But Starr also suffered from the repeated assignments of unrelated matters to his office by Reno and the Justice Department.

Rosenstein, who worked for Starr, does not appear to be making the error of concentrating things in Mueller’s hands. Rosenstein made the decision to refer the Cohen raid to the Southern District of New York, rather than keeping it within Mueller’s exclusive purview. Likewise, the Times reports that Rosenstein “.” Rosenstein, in other words, chose to spread responsibility around, taking some of the heat of the president’s wrath off of Mueller. This was the right move. But it also carried risks—specifically, the danger of making Rosenstein himself so central to the investigations that he becomes a target of the president’s ire. The metastasis may protect Mueller, but it also may endanger Rosenstein.

Trump clearly understands the gravity of the situation. He Monday in which he openly contemplated the firing of Mueller, railed against Rosenstein and complained yet again about the decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. From the White House transcript:

It’s, frankly, a real disgrace. It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.

...

[T]his is the most conflicted group of people I’ve ever seen. The Attorney General made a terrible mistake when he did this, and when he recused himself. Or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have used a — put a different Attorney General in. So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country. But you’ll figure that out.

Q: Why don’t you just fire Mueller?

THE PRESIDENT: Why don’t I just fire Mueller?

Q: Yeah, just fire the guy.

...

Well, I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens. But I think it’s really a sad situation when you look at what happened. And many people have said, “You should fire him.” Again, they found nothing. And in finding nothing, that’s a big statement. If you know the person who’s in charge of the investigation, you know about that. Deputy Rosenstein — Rod Rosenstein — he wrote the letter, very critical, of Comey.

...

But he signed — as you know, he also signed the FISA warrant. So Rod Rosenstein, who’s in charge of this, signed a FISA warrant, and he also signed a letter that was essentially saying to fire James Comey. And he was right about that. He was absolutely right.

Trump has contemplated Mueller’s dismissal before; he reportedly in June 2017, and in December, albeit unsuccessfully. And he has certainly complained before about Mueller’s supposed “conflicts” and the Justice Department’s failure to investigate Hillary Clinton for her many infamies.

There was, however, something different about his performance Monday—and the difference involves both the ferocity of his comments and their timing. Prosecutors—not Mueller himself, but the Justice Department in response to information unearthed by Mueller—took an action that the president (correctly) perceived as threatening to him, and the president responded by threatening to remove Mueller from office and by once again menacing Rosenstein. CNN reported Tuesday that .

The risk to Mueller and Rosenstein is not new. It’s been obvious for a long time that Trump could wake up any day and decide to fire either or both of them. But the combination of the mounting investigative pressure on the president and his open contemplation of their dismissal makes the concern more acute. If the confrontation is upon us, or if it has grown imminent, the immediate question is whether the president will be content to let the investigation take its course—or whether he will use the powers of his office to frustrate it. And if he chooses the latter course, will our political system endeavor to stop him? While some congressional Republicans have pushed back against the president’s latest threats—Sen. Chuck Grassley declared that dismissing Mueller would be “,” and Sen. Thom Tillis has to take up his legislation protecting the special counsel—others responded with little more than .

To make the whole picture more unsettling, the confrontation is brewing against a backdrop of increasing policy instability. National security officials are dropping like flies. The most recent casualty is Tom Bossert, the president’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, who was in an apparent power play by incoming national security adviser John Bolton. Bossert has been a loyal servant of the president. He was also an establishment figure whose substantive views on national security matters are refreshingly conventional. His removal comes as the administration contemplates how to respond to the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria, and it extends the pattern of staff disruption that has left the administration shorthanded when dealing with the sort of major issues that arise in a world that isn’t getting less dangerous. In other words, in the past 24 hours the White House has not merely taken a few steps closer to a major confrontation with the Justice Department and the special counsel but has also made sure that the government is badly positioned to handle security crises that may erupt in tandem with that confrontation.

I’m not one to spend time psychoanalyzing Donald Trump. I don’t know whether he’s going to fire Mueller, Rosenstein, both or neither, and I also don’t know the pace at which the investigations will move. But the country has moved closer to confrontation—and the belief, particularly on the president’s part, that the confrontation is coming may well help to precipitate it.

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chrisamico
13 days ago
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The Last Generation

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“If the ice melts too much, water will bury the island. So, that’s when people have to move away.”

That is how 9-year-old Izerman describes the impact of climate change on his home in the Marshall Islands. The low-lying island nation is home to more than 50,000 people — about half of them are under 18. He says he is learning to climb trees to prepare for when the big waves come. But he’s mostly worried about the idea of his family having to move away.

In this interactive documentary, meet Izerman, Julia and Wilmer, three children whose homeland could become uninhabitable within their lifetime.


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chrisamico
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