Month: December 2016

Chip Kelly’s Second Act

Thanksgiving Day 2014, it looked like the NFL had found its coach of the future. Armed with a diabolically clever spread offense and fueled by a sports science program that had somehow made smoothies a topic of national conversation, Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles smashed the Dallas Cowboys 33–10, all but sealing the 9–3 Eagles’ second straight NFC East title under Kelly. But now, in 2016, the idea that Kelly — whose team made the playoffs just once in three years and who ultimately was fired with a game left in the 2015 season — could personally usher in a football revolution seems almost quaint.

Bill Parcells once said football “is not a game for well-adjusted people,” but Kelly, now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is unusual even by the standards of football coaches. From his puzzling power plays and bizarre roster moves to his odd backstory (it took Kelly 10 years to get his undergraduate degree and most — including Kelly’s biographer — thought he was a lifelong bachelor until The Washington Post discovered last year that Kelly had been married for seven years in the ’90s), Kelly is one of the most enigmatic figures in football. But analysis of Chip Kelly the person and Chip Kelly the general manager has obscured a more straightforward question: What happened to Chip Kelly the offensive guru?

Kelly’s vaunted spread offense incinerated his opponents when he coached at Oregon — including college defenses coached by NFL-pedigreed luminaries like Pete Carroll (613 yards and 47 points), Monte Kiffin (730 yards and 62 points; 599 yards and 53 points), and current Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (626 yards and 52 points) — and it dazzled the NFL as his 2013 Eagles team finished first in rushing yards, rushing yards per attempt, and yards per play, third in offensive efficiency (per Football Outsiders), and fourth in scoring. But in the two years since Kelly’s offense has gotten progressively worse, bottoming out in 2015 as the Eagles ranked a putrid 26th in efficiency, 23rd in yards per play, and 28th in adjusted yards per pass attempt.

And now Kelly — stripped of any oversight over personnel — is in charge of a 49ers offense that boasts arguably the worst skill-position talent in the NFLand will be led at quarterback by Blaine Gabbert, whose 71.9 career passer rating puts him behind such exalted figures as Geno Smith and Brandon Weeden. While Kelly’s Oregon and early Eagles offenses broke records by weaving together multiple formations, adaptable running schemes, and multifaceted read-options, all powered by an ingenious spread offense philosophy and a frenetic, up-tempo pace, in the past two years those elements have been undermined or simply fallen away, and Kelly’s offense has become, in Evan Mathis’s words, the most “never-evolving, vanilla offense” in the NFL. How did that happen?

The fast-paced no-huddle is fundamental not only to Chip Kelly’s offense, but to Chip Kelly the person. Jon Gruden once remarkedthat Kelly’s Oregon teams were “as fast as any team that plays football.” Kelly’s Ducks practiced fast, played fast, and were fast. Everything about Kelly was so rapid-fire that he managed to encapsulate his entire coaching philosophy in a single 30-second commercial for UPS, complete with jump cuts and a drum beat.

Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota (Getty Images)

At least for a season, the story was much the same in the NFL, and Kelly’s methods quickly garnered the NFL’s attention. “They go really fast and try to wear the defense down or force [a] communication issue on defense so … even if you’re aligned right, if you’re not able to get your assignments done quickly [and if] there’s space in there, somebody gets free,” New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Kelly’s offense in December. “The speed that they go at, it’s hard to get much communication in. It forces you to kind of simplify things defensively.”

But defenses adjust, and by the end of 2015, Kelly’s opponents barely seemed affected by his tempo. As Belichick pointed out, the biggest benefit of fast tempo is that it takes play-calling away from defensive coordinators, putting the onus on defensive players to communicate and adjust on the fly. But, as other NFL offenses have increasingly used the no-huddle, defenses have gotten comfortable playing fast themselves, and can now communicate their complex schemes and adjustments with just a word or two. The defenses Kelly’s team faced in 2015 were exponentially more sophisticated than what Kelly faced in 2013, a direct result of defensive coaches and players being better at communicating.

But another element is that while the no-huddle works in the NFL — and Kelly’s 2013 opponents were largely unprepared for Kelly’s pace — it’s not as effective as it is in college football for a very simple reason: The NFL doesn’t permit teams to ever reach the warp speeds Kelly’s Oregon teams typically operated at. While NFL coaches aren’t permitted to openly critique officials or league policy, it’s well understood in coaching circles.

“In the NFL, what they did is the officials stand over the ball until the officials are ready to call the game,” Alabama head coach (and Kelly friend) Nick Saban explained in 2014. “The coach at Philadelphia ran 83 plays a game at Oregon, and runs 65 a game in Philadelphia. … When they went to Philadelphia in the NFL and they were going so fast, the officials said, ‘We control the pace of the game.’ The league said, ‘The officials control the pace of the game, not a coach.’”

So while defenses had to adjust to Kelly’s tempo, they never had to adjust to the tempo Kelly wanted, only what the NFL allowed. But it’s not like the NFL has singled out Kelly, as it applies just as much to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady when they go no-huddle. Good coaching is about adapting. Kelly has failed to adjust.

While Kelly’s Oregon quarterbacks didn’t run as often as people think — Oregon QB Darron Thomas averaged a mere 346 rushing yards per season from 2010 to 2011 — everyone understands that the threat of the QB run is integral to Kelly’s offense. “We run a ton of zone reads,” Kelly said at a coaching clinic in 2011. “[The quarterback] has to read one of the defenders, in effect blocking him. We can block five defenders and read the sixth one.”

Indeed, a major reason Kelly’s offense was so difficult to defend at Oregon was because he would combine a small handful of basic, sound blocking schemes — inside zone, outside zone, and his patented sweep — with a flurry of QB reads of everyone from defensive tackles to linebackers and even safeties. As used by Kelly, the read-option provides an offense with a multitude of advantages: It’s easier to read a defender than it is to block him, the reads become built-in misdirection as the defense doesn’t know who has the ball, and, as Kelly pointed out, a QB who is a threat to run alters the fundamental arithmetic of football.

But in the NFL, the calculus is different. It’s not that different on the field, but it’s the off-field numbers that become more salient, namely the shockingly small number of qualified starting QBs and the exorbitant cap hits the good (and some not-so-good) ones command. In the NFL, repeatedly running your QB may be good X’s and O’s, but it’s bad economics, as losing your franchise QB to injury in exchange for an extra first down is one of the surest ways to lose your coaching job.

Kelly seems to have sensed this. At Oregon he said he wanted “a quarterback who can run and not a running back who can throw”; in the NFL, Kelly seems to have gone out of his way to start immobile QBs, drafting Matt Barkley, signing Mark Sanchez (twice!), and trading for Sam Bradford. Kelly even reportedly refused to offer a tryout to then-free agent (and current Buffalo Bills starter) Tyrod Taylor, who ran for over 2,100 yards at Virginia Tech. And in San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick — at one point the most dangerous dual-threat QB the NFL had ever seen — has been limited this offseason by a variety of injuries. The QB competition between him and Blaine Gabbert never blossomed, with Kelly naming Gabbert his starter after the preseason finale. This isn’t to say Kelly should ask his NFL QBs to tote the ball 15 times a game — the read-option is best used in the NFL to complement a team’s base offense like draws and screen passes — but if Kelly wants to de-emphasize the read-option, then his offense must evolve to counterbalance the loss of a potent tactic.

Instead, Kelly’s answer has been to simply run plays that look like read-options, but without any reads or options. This has not gone well. Defenders who used to stand and watch the QB as the running back ran free now immediately collapse toward the runner to stuff the play.

Kelly once said that the shotgun inside zone “is not a great play if the quarterback hands off to the running back and everyone in the stadium knows who has the ball.” He was right, and his NFL offense is now proof.

The predictability of Kelly’s offense has gone beyond the defense knowing who would get the ball, as defenders frequently now know which play is coming. Kelly, who has long relied on his tempo and the threat of the QB run to keep defenses honest, has done little to hide his offense’s tendencies. Watch Philadelphia’s remarkable 70-yard, four-play (all runs), touchdown drive from 2014, which took a grand total of one minute and 20 seconds off the clock.

A great drive, but the alignment of the tight end and running back gives away the play: If the tight end and running back lined up on opposite sides of the line, Kelly’s team ran a sweep toward the tight end; if they lined up on the same side, it was an inside zone away from the tight end. This giveaway hasn’t always been in Kelly’s offense, but as he phased out read-options he increasingly kept the tight end backside to block the defensive end on inside zone plays. Defensive coaches with experience against spread offenses will tell you that the tight end often gives away the play, and that has certainly become true for Kelly’s offense.

Sam Bradford and Chip Kelly (Getty Images)

The tide truly turned on Kelly’s offense in the Eagles’s 24–14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, just one week after Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day win over the Cowboys. Seattle stuffed the Eagles offense, holding them to 139 total yards, and after the game Seahawks players were not shy about telling the media they knew what to expect.

“We knew what plays were coming,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said after the game. “Their offense is kind of predictable. They have a lot of plays where they can only run one way.”

This wasn’t an isolated incident. After losing to the Cowboys early in the 2015 season — a game in which the Eagles managed only 7 rushing yards — Eagles receiver Josh Huff said Dallas’s players were calling out Kelly’s plays before the snap. Another example came in Week 1 of 2015, as the Atlanta Falcons repeatedly checked into defenses designed to stop whichever play Kelly called. Whenever he called an inside zone — again, with the running back and tight end aligned to the same side — the Falcons, in turn, checked to a defensive stunt designed to blow up that specific play.

Philadelphia’s opponents seemed to know what was coming throughout 2015, even when he tried to mix in other plays. For example, as long as he’s been in the NFL, whenever Kelly’s opponents have geared up to stop his inside zone play, he has typically gone to his counterpunch, a sweep play in which the guard and center both pull to lead the way. But, tipped off by the alignment of the running back and the tight end, defenses were ready for that, too.

It’s one thing for a team to miss a block or for the play caller to guess wrong, but these are abysmal, totally hopeless plays rarely seen in the NFL. Yet Kelly repeatedly deflected criticism that his offense had become predictable by saying that the issue came down to only one thing: “We need to execute.”

Execution was certainly also an issue for Kelly’s offense — what wasn’t? — but it didn’t arise in a vacuum. Kelly’s 2015 opponents were unafraid of his QBs as run threats and could accurately guess his play calls; it’s no surprise they were also able to exploit errors in his team’s execution. “You cannot just fool defenses with tempo,” University of Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman said at a coaching clinic, summing up the experience of middling up-tempo spread offenses at every level of football. “There is a difference in a fast playing team playing crisp and a fast playing team playing sloppy.”

Strangely, the predictability and unoriginality of Kelly’s offense is a recent phenomenon. Kelly routinely introduced new wrinkles at Oregon, and, most impressively, he dramatically shifted his offense midway through his first season in Philadelphia. After a 15–7 loss to the Giants in 2013 — a game in which the Eagles mustered a mere 200 total yards and which dropped the Eagles to a disappointing 3–5 record — Kelly marched into the locker room and delivered a message:

“I’ll never forget this in all my years in the NFL,” former Eagles quarterback Michael Vick recalled last year. “He said, ‘We will never look that way on offense the way we looked today, ever again.’”

And, at least for the rest of that 2013 season, Chip was right. The very next week, Kelly’s team bombed the Raiders with 49 points, while QB Nick Foles tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes. And the offense was off to the races, smashing team records and finishing at or near the top of every major offensive category en route to a 7–1 record to close the season. Kelly did it by adapting, as he increasingly folded in NFL passing concepts brought by his assistants, particularly Pat Shurmur, and found new ways to run the ball from under center. Kelly had created a blend of shotgun spread and pro-style offenses that looked like the future.

Then … nothing. Kelly’s 2015 Eagles offense was essentially unchanged from 2013 (and the 49ers offense this preseason looked identical as well), and what two or three years prior was fresh is now stale and easily defended. If anything, Kelly’s later offenses were more simplistic than his earlier ones, as the creative motions and formations that Kelly once used so well largely vanished.

And it’s not only the running game — Kelly’s pass game has been in stasis since 2013 as well. Though Kelly’s teams have always been run-first affairs — at Oregon he frequently admitted that “we run the ball better than we throw the ball” — to win in the NFL you must be able to throw when the other team gears up to stop the run. And, despite showing the flexibility to experiment in 2013, there has been zero evolution in Kelly’s passing offense since, and, like Kelly’s running game, most defensive coaches can identify what pass play is coming based on how his players align.

One of the most effective plays for Kelly’s offense in 2013 was his “mesh” concept, in which two receivers run quick crossing routes — designed to pick off defenders chasing them — while another receiver curls over the middle and the running back runs a “wheel” route up the sideline. It’s a great play … except when the defense knows it’s coming, something that happened far too often last season.

It’s impossible to win in the NFL if the defense knows the play beforehand. But for Kelly, the problem is amplified because of his tempo: If you stop Kelly’s offense, you also stop his team. While Kelly’s Eagles teams went 24–8 when they rushed for more than 100 yards, they were just 2–13 when they failed to hit the century mark, including 0–7 in 2015. (Kelly’s Oregon teams went 0–3 when rushing for fewer than 100 yards, versus 46–4 when they rushed for more than 100.) In part this is because his passing game cannot carry the load (the 2015 Eagles were fifth worst in the NFL on traditional dropback passes at 5.5 yards per pass), but also because if Kelly’s offense can’t run the ball, his defenses are stuck on the field.

“Chip Kelly is a friend, but I could not run the offense he runs,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said this summer at a coaching clinic. “If you run an up-tempo offense, you better be good at staying on the field. If you cannot get first downs, your defense will play the entire game.” Indeed, the 2015 Eagles defense defended an incredible 1,148 plays, while the team that defended the fewest, the Seahawks, played just 947 snaps. At an NFL average of around 65 plays a game, Kelly’s defense effectively played three more games than Seattle’s.

Albert Einstein once advised his students to “make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler,” and Kelly’s offense, increasingly unable to benefit from either tempo or QB runs, is simply, well, too simple. But he doesn’t need to change his core philosophy and suddenly start using a 700-page playbook. Rather than add a bunch of new schemes, Kelly could better protect the plays he currently runs, by mixing in additional formations, motions, and shifts with his tempo to keep defenses off balance.

Chip Kelly (Getty Images)

Bill Belichick once spoke glowingly about Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs’s Washington teams that were, like Kelly’s, built around one-back formations and an elegantly simple running game. “Honestly, they [Gibbs’s Washington teams] only had three plays, running plays,” Belichick explained. “But they had a million different ways to run them: every formation, personnel group, motion, shifting. And it was hard to recognize because it was always different every week. … It’s unbelievable the amount of success they had running, really, running the inside zone, running the outside zone and running the counter [trey]. They won a lot of games doing that.” A little variety would go a long way to helping Kelly’s offense get back on track.

But the question is whether or not Kelly is ready to evolve. As the new coach of the San Francisco 49ers, the man who was at one time football’s leading innovator seeks redemption in the heart of Silicon Valley, America’s current cradle of disruptive innovation, a fitting landing spot given that it appears Kelly is seemingly hurtling toward being the next victim of the “Innovator’s Curse.”

The first idea of the curse is that innovations that can’t be protected frequently don’t benefit the innovator, an issue for Kelly given that one can’t patent football play, and any play that works one week is sure to be used across the league by the next. Indeed, NFL coaches as diverse as Hue Jackson, Pete Carroll, Mike McCarthy, Mike McCoy, Bill O’Brien, Adam Gase, and even Belichick have co-opted Kelly’s ideas, and Kelly’s former quarterbacks coach, current Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, said frankly that “the majority of what we’re doing [on offense] is Chip Kelly stuff.” The history of football is in many ways the history of men who watched others win with their ideas.

But the second idea behind the Innovator’s Curse is that, having once innovated, it’s increasingly difficult for the innovator to continue innovating. To use Silicon Valley examples, there are countless IBMs, Xeroxes, and Yahoos: one-time disruptors whose cultures and ideas ossified and who eventually became the disrupted.

If Kelly fails to innovate and evolve, he’ll just be yet another in a long line of football coaches, once considered cutting edge, who themselves were disrupted. But there is some reason for hope. Kelly is a smart coach in a sport where those are in short supply, and, in his first press conference as 49ers head coach, he hinted at introspection when he said he was performing an “autopsy” on what exactly went wrong during his Eagles tenure. But Kelly’s actions since — from his uninspired assistant-coaching hires to his team’s play this preseason — showed nothing that would indicate anything except more of the same, and just Thursday Kelly said the only thing he’s done differently since his time in Philadelphia is “put a lot more sunscreen on.” If Kelly 2.0 fails in San Francisco, it will be a shame for those of us who continue to admire what he did to push the game of football forward, but it certainly won’t be a surprise.


Year in weed: The five most important medical marijuana research studies of 2016

In legalization-speak, 2016 will always be remembered as the year cannabis broke wide open.

While pot prohibition officially ended in 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington said yes to legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana, that was only the beginning. Adult-use cannabis’ steady trickle continued in the 2014 election, when Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. all joined the 420-friendly ranks.

But this year the legalization gates sprang open as eight of the nine states with marijuana measures on their ballots voted to legalize it — four on the retail side, four on the medical side.

As these states begin to write and implement their marijuana regulations, and as their predecessors continue to sell billions of dollars of heavily taxed legal cannabis annually, they’re doing so in something of a public health vacuum. What does legal marijuana mean for the long-term health of our communities?

We still don’t know.

In these still-early days, there’s still more we don’t know about cannabis and its components’ complicated relationship with our bodies and minds than what we do know. With other recreational substances, alcohol and tobacco included, we have reams of top-level public health research — studies that dissected the habits of tens of thousands of Americans, giving scientists an accurate, big-picture focus on those drugs’ impacts on our health.

With weed, that research has yet to be conducted. In fact, not a lot of research has been done to determine the medical efficacy of cannabis — primarily because of federal prohibition.

But that’s starting to change.

In 2016, we saw some important cannabis research published in top medical journals — research that flips the script on previously held beliefs and research that backs up what we’ve already seen anecdotally with medical cannabis.

And so here are some of the year’s most important scientific studies on cannabis.

Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use In Medicare Part D, published in Health Affairs

As Kaiser Health News reported:

New research found that states that legalized medical marijuana — which is sometimes recommended for symptoms like chronic pain, anxiety or depression — saw declines in the number of Medicare prescriptions for drugs used to treat those conditions and a dip in spending by Medicare Part D, which covers the cost on prescription medications …

The researchers found that in states with medical marijuana laws on the books, the number of drug prescriptions dropped for treating anxiety, depression, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity. Those are all conditions for which marijuana is sometimes recommended. Prescriptions for other drugs treating other conditions, meanwhile, did not decline.

Check out actual the research.

Pot-Smokers Harm Gums; Other Physical Effects Slight, published in Duke Today

As The Washington Post reported:

Long-term marijuana use is not associated with a raft of physical health problems, according to a new study, with one surprising exception: gum disease.

Researchers led by Madeline Meier of Arizona State University tracked the marijuana habits of 1,037 New Zealanders from birth to middle age to see what effect those habits have on some common measures of physical health, including lung function, systemic inflammation, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body weight, blood sugar and dental health.

What they found was surprising: After controlling for other factors known to affect health, especially tobacco use and socioeconomic status, marijuana use had no negative effect on any measure of health, except for dental health. People who smoked more weed had a higher incidence of gum disease.

Check out the actual research.

Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population, published in Pharmacotherapy

As 7News reported:

Migraines can really hamper productivity when they strike but for the first time, Colorado researchers have proof that medical marijuana can help ease that dreadful pain.

“We were not expecting the decrease in frequency in migraine that we saw. It was pretty dramatic,” said Dr. Sarah Anderson with Skaggs School of Pharmacy at CU Anschutz.

Researchers at CU Anschutz looked at dozens of charts from patients treated at “Gedde Whole Health,” a private Colorado clinic that prescribes medical marijuana for a variety of ailments.

Of the 121 patients studied, 103 reported a decrease in their monthly migraines. To put it another way, the frequency of migraines dropped from about ten per month to less than five.

Check out the actual research.

Subjective Aggression During Alcohol and Cannabis Intoxication Before and After Aggression Exposure, published in Psychopharmacology

As The Washington Post reported:

What about a link between marijuana use and aggression? Most pot smokers will tell you that marijuana helps them relax. The popular stereotype of a heavy marijuana user is the guy stoned out of his mind on the couch, eating Funyuns and watching cartoons.

But surprisingly, research on the link between marijuana and aggression has been mixed. Marijuana seems to make most people relaxed, but it can also cause anxiety and paranoia, conditions which can occasionally manifest themselves in violent ways. There are occasional reports out of Colorado of marijuana users causing harm to themselves or to others.

So a recent study from the Netherlands, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, attempts to put this question to bed using the gold standard of scientific research: a random controlled trial. They recruited a group of 20 heavy alcohol users (3+ drinks a day for men, 2+ for women), 21 heavy marijuana users who smoked at least 3 times a week, and 20 controls who didn’t use either drug heavily at all.

They then got the alcohol users drunk until their BAC measured 0.8, the standard threshold for impairment. They got the marijuana users high, by dosing them with 300 micrograms of THC per kilogram of bodyweight delivered via a vaporizer. The control group didn’t get to do any of this fun stuff, because they were controls.

Then they made all three groups complete a number of tests designed to get people riled up. The first, known as the “single category implicit association test,” had people match positive and negative words to photos depicting aggressive and violent behavior — punching, kicking, etc. In the second test, respondents played a computer game in which they were told they could win money by pressing buttons. They were pitted against an adversary who could undermine the players by taking money from them. The players were unaware that the “adversary” was actually controlled by the computer.

The researchers measured aggression, before and after the respondents took the test, by asking them how aggressive they felt on a 100-point scale. For good measure, they had the marijuana and alcohol users go through the whole thing again one week later, this time without getting high or drunk, as a kind of separate control.

They found, first of all, that “alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression in the alcohol group.” The alcohol users, in other words, acted more aggressive when they were drunk than they did when they were sober. By contrast, the smokers became less aggressive when they were high.

Check out the actual research.

GW Pharmaceuticals Announces Second Positive Phase 3 Pivotal Trial for Epidiolex (cannabidiol) in the Treatment of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, not published

As The Cannabist reported:

Experimental marijuana-based drug Epidiolex significantly reduced convulsive seizures among epilepsy patients in a recent clinical trial, according to GW Pharmaceuticals, the U.K. company that makes the drug.

Among the drug’s primary ingredients is cannabidiol, better known as CBD, a non-psychoactive marijuana derivative that is anecdotally known for helping some patients suffering from epilepsy, Crohn’s and other diseases. There is little scientific evidence backing up patients’ experiences with CBD, which is one of the reasons GW Pharmaceuticals’ first-of-its-kind study is so important.

Epidiolex is being studied to treat Dravet syndrome, a rare type of epilepsy for which there are currently no treatments approved in the U.S. GW Pharmaceuticals is currently in talks with federal regulators, hoping that Epidiolex will be introduced to the U.S. market — which would make it the first prescription drug in America that is extracted from cannabis.

“The results of this Epidiolex pivotal trial are important and exciting as they represent the first placebo-controlled evidence to support the safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical cannabidiol in children with Dravet syndrome, one of the most severe and difficult-to-treat types of epilepsy,” Orrin Devinsky, M.D., of New York University Langone Medical Center’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and the trial’s principal investigator, said in a statement. “These data demonstrate that Epidiolex delivers clinically important reductions in seizure frequency together with an acceptable safety and tolerability profile, providing the epilepsy community with the prospect of an appropriately standardized and tested pharmaceutical formulation of cannabidiol being made available by prescription in the future.”

Check out the actual research.

Wait a Moment, 2016 Will Be a Second Longer

By Darryl Veitch

To the time-poor of the world: take heart, for 2016 is a generous year. Not only were you granted a leap day on February 29, you will soon score a New Year’s Eve countdown bonus, a leap second, to hold off 2017 for a final sip or regret.

Whereas leap years add a day to align the calendar with the seasons, leap seconds align our everyday clocks with the Sun’s position in the sky, that is, with the Earth’s rotation.

Currently our planet takes roughly 86,400.00183 seconds (on average) to turn, instead of the expected 86,400 seconds you get by multiplying 24 hours by 60 minutes by 60 seconds. This may not sound like a great difference, but it amounts to a full second every 18 months. If left unchecked, it would become noticeable over time, and ultimately become problematic.

How did we get into this awkward situation? Why not just define a second so that there are exactly the right number? This sensible idea was tried in 1874, but hit a snag: the Earth keeps changing.

In terms of today’s standard SI second (defined via atomic physics), the above discrepancy is due to the fact that the day is losing about 0.0015 seconds per century, due largely to tidal friction.

Not only that, it also changes quite erratically due to mass redistribution. For example, it is slowed by oceanic thermal expansion due to global warming, just as a playground spinning seat slows, via the conservation of angular momentum, when you place your body farther from the center.

Leap seconds are used to make sure our usual timekeeping system, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), never gets more than 0.9 seconds away from the Earth-tracking alternative, Universal Time (UT1).

But unlike leap years, leap seconds cannot be calculated centuries in advance. Because the Earth moves erratically, it must be observed closely, and leap seconds scheduled on an as-needed basis.

In UT1, seconds actually vary in duration, being stretched and compressed to match the Earth’s variations. In UTC, all seconds are standard SI seconds, which is much simpler, but it means that if you want to slow down or speed up UTC, there is no alternative but to jump.

All the leap seconds so far have been “positive”, meaning that an extra second is inserted, corresponding to jumping the clock back, and so slowing it down.

Time’s up for the leap second?

The leap second system has been with us since 1972. It represents an important chapter in the entangled history of civilian timekeeping, and of the definition of the second itself. Its days, however, may well be numbered.

For a number of years, support has been growing within the International Telecommunications Union, the standards body governing leap seconds, to abolish it.

The chief reason is complexity. Simply put, hardware and software can and do get things wrong. And the potential impacts are serious, from failures in navigation leading to collisions, to erroneous financial transactions, computer crashes and the inability to specify UTC times reliably into the future, because the leap second times are not yet known!

Because UTC jumps back at a leap second, effectively the second before the leap is repeated. Managing such “time travel” is inherently complex and error prone, so much so that in many cases the recommended action is to simply shutdown the system and restart it after the leap.

<p> FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, file photo, an American flag flies in front of the New York Stock Exchange. U.S. stocks are mixed early Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, as large drugmakers take losses and most other industries move slightly higher. Bond yields are falling, and investors are buying stocks that pay large dividends. That's leading to gains for real estate investment trusts, utilities and phone companies. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) </p>

Mark Lennihan/AP

Ho Hum 2016 Draws to a Close

With a new year in sight, 2016 is primed to wrap up as a mixed bag of incremental economic achievements and setbacks.

On the one hand, the economy tacked on nearly 2 million new jobs between January and November, averaging more than 180,000 additions per month and extending the labor market’s job gain streak to 74 months.

Average hourly earnings were up more than 2.4 percent on the year, home prices surged to all-time highs, and major stock indexes climbed to record-setting levels after a bumpy start to the year. The Federal Reserve even felt comfortable raising its benchmark interest rate for only the second time in a decade.

But the U.S. wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. Exports were made less desirable because of a strong dollar, economic growth stagnated during the first half of the year, and 2016 began as the worst-ever start to a calendar year on Wall Street. Improvement in wages and home values have varied nationally and left some out to dry. And business investment and productivity gains – which are considered to be drivers of quality of life increases for workers – were few and far between.

Political rhetoric at times made it difficult to decipher exactly how well the economy performed in 2016 and the years immediately preceding it. But most analysts tend to think the U.S. is on pretty stable footing in the midst of a long-running recovery with more fuel left in the tank.

Still, 2016 in some ways was a disappointing year, especially during its first six months. Click through to look back on the single biggest drags on America’s economic performance this year.

1. Political and International Uncertainty

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.

(Joe Raedle/AP Photo)

1. Political and International Uncertainty

Uncertainty was the name of the game in 2016. Uncertainty over the health of the Chinese economy dragged on stocks at the start of the year and generated international trade turmoil. Uncertainty over the U.K.’s Brexit vote sent the stock market reeling and bloated domestic bonds.

And uncertainty over the U.S. presidential election dragged on consumer confidence metrics and, according to some analysts, spooked consumers into pulling back on spending, at least in the immediate buildup to Election Day.

“The election campaign has probably created a degree of uncertainty that has impacted growth. We’ve seen financial markets reacting to pretty much every twist and turn in the campaign, so it’s logical that there would be some feed-through to growth,” Luke Bartholomew, fixed income investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, said in a statement in October.

Consumer confidence has soared to a 15-year high in the aftermath of the presidential election, and America’s major stock indexes have climbed to never-before-seen levels, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing in on the significant 20,000-point benchmark.

Analysts generally expected consumers to feel more optimistic once a particularly divisive campaign season came to a close, and it’s not terribly surprising to see Republicans’ views of the economy perk up in the aftermath of the election.

Expectations of decreased private sector regulations and lower corporate and personal tax rates under President-elect Donald Trump have stoked investor sentiment, and expectations are high for next year.

But 2017 will not be without uncertainty. Trump’s ability to push legislation through Congress – particularly infrastructure spending plans that aren’t likely to be welcomed with open arms by GOP lawmakers – remains a question mark. And just how much he’ll be able to help the economy is anyone’s guess. He has suggested he’ll be able to get economic growth as high as 4 percent, but the Federal Reserve expects growth to actually slow under Trump, hitting an expansionary clip of just 1.9 percent by 2019.

2. Productivity

<p> FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2011 file photo, a worker inspects bottles of Sprite at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Cibitung , West Java, Indonesia. When beverage giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo turned in their quarterly results last week, both blamed the dollar for cutting into their profits because, like most U.S. corporations, they rely on overseas sales. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, File) </p>

Achmad Ibrahim/AP

2. Productivity

One of the single largest – and simultaneously least discussed – drags on economic growth in recent years has been productivity stagnation.

Productivity measures U.S. workers’ output per hour and can lead to wage gains for employees. Companies that produce more goods or services without increasing working hours turn a higher profit and are then free to boost compensation.

But the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ productivity tracker has declined in three of the last four quarters and in 10 of the last 23 quarters dating back to 2011.

“The importance of productivity growth to the economy would be difficult to overstate. For example, gains in labor productivity – the amount of real [gross domestic product] produced per hour of work – are the only known way to increase standards of living over the long run,” said a report published last week by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. “Since the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the average rate of productivity growth has been low compared to the long-run average that prevailed before.”

Productivity is driven by corporate investment into equipment, structures and technology that allow employees to work more efficiently. But such nonresidential fixed business investment only appeared to turn a corner as 2016 wore on, climbing slightly in the second and third quarters after declining for two consecutive quarters. Such a back-to-back decline hadn’t occurred since the Great Recession.

Investment appeared to be trending up at the end of 2016 and could improve further as 2017 gets underway, considering investment in physical structures enjoyed its best quarter in a year and a half during July, August and September. But general investment and productivity sluggishness undoubtedly restricted economic growth and hourly earnings metrics this year, especially in the first half of 2016.

3. Strong Dollar

An Indian money changer counts U.S. dollars at a foreign exchange counter in Bangalore on Aug. 8, 2011.

Strdel/AFP/Getty Images

3. Strong Dollar

The strong dollar has been great news for Americans traveling abroad, as they get more bang for their buck when exchange rates are factored in. It’s also been positive for imports, as companies and consumers can bring items into the country more affordably.

But the strong dollar has been bad news for domestic exporters, particularly in the goods-production sector. U.S. manufacturing outfits ended November with 78,000 fewer employees than they started the year with, in part because demand for American-made goods dropped in an already volatile international market.

The strong dollar also hurt domestic companies operating overseas as their goods became relatively more expensive internationally. Currency strength was regularly cited in earnings reports throughout 2016 as a primary contributor to underwhelming corporate performance.

Exports are ultimately a net boon to GDP calculations, while imports are a drag. The strong dollar effectively stymied demand for American exports while increasing the viability of imports into the country, thereby contributing to the national trade deficit and weighing on quarterly GDP reports.

And emerging market countries and international bodies indebted to the U.S. weren’t particularly eager to see the dollar remain strong, since debt repayment becomes more expensive for countries whose currency isn’t going up.

4. Inequality

A new report suggests some rural communities in the South lag behind many coastal and western regions in terms of economic security, educational access and even life expectancy.


4. Inequality

The rich-poor divide and the decline of the American middle class have been playing out for years. And although new wage metrics indicate lower-income Americans have seen larger-than-normal gains in recent months, U.S. citizens have nonetheless gravitated toward the poles of the income spectrum over the course of the past decade.

The middle class has traditionally been counted on as a significant driver of domestic consumer spending, so its decline has undoubtedly hurt consumption metrics.

But inequality is more than just wages. Job growth in much of 2016 was dominated by the services sector, particularly low-paying retail and food services jobs. The U.S. created nearly 2 million new positions between January and November, but not all of them are what many Americans would consider to be “good” jobs.

The rural-urban divide came to the forefront during election season, as cities have enjoyed disproportional growth in the aftermath of the Great Recession, while those outside of major city centers have seen labor markets dry up. Even housing prices, which nationally rose to all-time highs in the latter half of 2016, have not enjoyed an even recovery. Home price metrics consistently indicate that the housing markets in significant portions of the country have yet to return to where they sat before the real estate bubble burst.

The inequality prevalent in the U.S. in 2016 allowed a candidate like Trump to tout a message of economic malaise that seemed reasonable to millions of Americans, even though national employment and wage metrics indicated the country was broadly headed in the right direction. Economic indicators are the sum of their parts, and not all aspects of the U.S. economy were firing on all cylinders.

5. Inventories

<p> In this Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, photo, a ship to shore crane unloads a shipping container at the Georgia Ports Authority Garden City terminal, in Savannah, Ga. The Commerce Department releases wholesale trade inventories for December on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) </p>

Stephen B. Morton/AP

5. Inventories

America’s inventory correction made progress in unwinding itself as the year went on, but inventory dynamics were a significant factor in the weak economic growth seen in the first half of the year.

Through a combination of factors – notably a West Coast port slowdown that was resolved last year but made it difficult for companies to import and export products from major ports in trade hubs like California and Washington – companies ended up with an excess of product and supplies on factory shelves.

But storing materials can become expensive over a prolonged period of time, so an inventory correction developed in which domestic companies sold off their excess products rather than ordering more, leaving suppliers out to dry and ultimately undercutting economic growth metrics.

The tail end of 2015 was hit by the inventory correction, as was the first half of 2016. Lingering effects by the end of the third quarter weren’t considered to be a significant impediment to expansion.

A dramatic illustration of the problem can be found in the internet. All computers have software clocks that generally rely on communication with time servers over the network to synchronize to UTC. Network timekeeping is a core internet service, and at its heart are the Stratum-1 servers, which have direct access to reference hardware such as atomic clocks.

We collected data from around 180 such servers around the world during the June 2015 leap second event, and assessed them from two points of view.

First, the clocks themselves: did they jump cleanly and sharply exactly as required?

Second, at the protocol level, that is with respect to the messages the servers send to the computers that rely on them: did they inform them properly of the upcoming leap?

Overall, we found that, at most, 61% of the servers were performing correctly. Many of the servers are well known and highly utilized, potentially impacting thousands of clients, possibly resulting in security vulnerabilities.

An expanded experiment is currently underway for the 2016 event, involving almost 500 servers, including from the widely used ntppool project.

This is part of a broader network timing project at UTS led by myself together with Dr Yi Cao, which aims to refashion the global system, and in particular to make it scale in a trusted way to the Internet of Things.

Finally, we must point out that leap seconds occur simultaneously across the globe, and it can’t be midnight everywhere.

Thus, as I confirmed with Dr Michael Wouters, responsible for Australia’s reference time at the National Measurement Institute, for us it will occur at 11am AEDT on January 1, 2017. Save the last sip till then.

This article was written by Darryl Veitch, professor of computer networking at the University of Technology Sydney, for The Conversation on Dec. 29, 2016. It is republished with permission.

2017 could be another good year for Wall Street’s bull market


The bull market enters the new year with a bit more spring in its step, but 2017 is not without its risks.

Stocks rang out 2016 with an unexpected late-year surge, rallying in the postelection Trump trade. The Dow rose 13.4 percent for the year, and the S&P 500 saw a 9.5 percent gain. Nasdaq was up 7.5 percent, but is about 2 percent off its all-time high.

While stocks had a strong year, the rally fizzled out in the final days, as investors made portfolio adjustments and pension funds reallocated money out of equities because of the strong gains.

Investors will get back to work fast when markets reopen for the new year on Tuesday. There is a deluge of economic reports, starting with ISM manufacturing data Tuesday; auto sales Wednesday and the important December employment report Friday.

The final trading week of the year was the worst week for the Dow and S&P 500 since Nov. 4, the week before the election. For the first time since then, the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 all lost ground for three consecutive sessions.

The Dow flirted with 20,000 early in the four-day week but was down 0.8 percent to close at 19,770 Friday. The S&P 500 lost 1.1 percent to 2,239, and the Nasdaq was off 1.5 percent for the week at 5,383. As stocks sold off, buyers went into bonds and the 10-year yield ended the year at 2.44 percent, up from 2.27 percent in 2015.

“As for the short-term, I think you could still see some optimism for the new year,” said Paul Hickey, co-founder of Bespoke. “You could see some short-term upturn.”

But the soggy trading of the final days of 2016 could also see some follow-through if investors who want to position for 2017, held off to sell in the new year in anticipation of lower taxes on capital gains.

“Last year, we were anticipating a rough start to the year because of earnings, and then stability. This year we could see the opposite,” Hickey said. Stocks have rallied hard on expectations that President-elect Donald Trump will push through corporate tax reform, eliminate regulations and launch a fiscal spending program, but Hickey said the market will start to trade on his ability to deliver and the timing.

Strategists mostly expect single-digit gains for the market, and many forecasts are between 2,300 and 2,400 for the S&P 500.

Citigroup’s Tobias Levkovich says he has become more bullish after the election, because of what he sees as a better environment for business, and therefore stocks, in 2017. Corporate tax cuts should help boost earnings, which he already sees growing by 6 or 7 percent for the S&P 500 because the drag from energy has ended.

Levkovich bumped up his S&P forecast to 2,425 for 2017, but he also says the market may have borrowed some of 2017’s gains in the run up to the new year.

“In the near term, I’m a buyer on any weakness, because I still see the market going higher. I don’t think anybody’s really euphoric. They worry about trade issues with Trump. They worry about geopolitical dynamics,” and whether Trump appears to be too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Levkovich.

“There are things we’re going to have to worry about. What’s the timing of the legislation? What happens to the dollar? Does the economy slow in Europe ahead of the French election?” said Levkovich, who is chief U.S. equities strategist. But overall, the improving economy and business climate should be supportive for stocks.

“There’s very little question that a reduced regulatory backdrop with reduced taxes should encourage corporate animal spirits. The two things businesses are concerned by are high taxation and high regulation,” said Levkovich.

Economic data in the coming week will be watched but is unlikely to influence the market as much as some other events, unless there are big surprises either way.

“It’s going to be all about what’s going on with Trump. Does this turn into a real fight with McCain and others going after Trump?” said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS.

Arizona Sen. John McCain set a hearing for next week on foreign cyberthreats, after the White House sanctioned entities and individuals believed to be involved in alleged Russian interference with the election. The U.S. also ejected 35 Russian diplomats, but Putin said he would not retaliate yet with a similar move. Trump, in atweet, praised the Russian president for being “very smart,” and said he would look into the allegations in intelligence briefings next week.

The saga is not affecting the market, but traders are watching it closely as an early test case for President-elect Trump.

“The Fed minutes will be somewhat important but they’re changing the voters,” said Cashin. The minutes are from the December meeting where the Federal Open Market Committee voted to raise rates for the second time since the financial crisis.

There are several Fed speakers next week, with Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker and Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan all speaking on Friday.

The big economic release will be the December jobs report, expected to show 170,000 nonfarm payrolls and a slightly higher unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, according to Thomson Reuters.

“The jobs number almost doesn’t count unless there’s a major surprise. The Fed is as curious as anybody as to what’s in Trump’s program and how fast does he move on it,” said Cashin.

Cashin expects new money to come into the market for the new year.

Hickey said there’s some apprehension that January will be negative since the past three Januarys have been weak for stocks. But he said he does not expect January to be down, and the old adage “so goes January, so goes the market” has proven itself to no longer relevant. The S&P was down 5.1 percent last January and the market bottomed hard in February.

Oil was a big story in 2016, bottoming in February below $30, and finishing the year with a 45 percent gain. West Texas Intermediate crude futures for February ended the year at $53.72 per barrel.

Transition From Barack Obama to Donald Trump Turns Tense

President Barack Obama and his successor Donald Trump are making moves that tread on each other’s turf and complicate the other’s agenda, creating one of the messiest White House transitions in recent years.

Since Election Day, Mr. Obama has taken some of the most far-reaching actions of his eight-year presidency, leaving Mr. Trump to manage the fallout and narrowing his options once he takes office. He also plans a final major address the week before the inauguration that will reflect on his policy agenda, according to people familiar with the speech. The address could contrast his approach with Mr. Trump’s.

This week, Mr. Obama slapped Russia with a series of sanctions and diplomatic censures in response to a U.S. intelligence assessment that Moscow used cyberattacks to try to interfere with the presidential election. Last week Mr. Obama broke with decades of U.S. policy and let pass a United Nations resolution condemning Israel for building settlements.

Mr. Trump has made clear he doesn’t believe punitive sanctions against Russia are needed, and he has questioned the evidence of Moscow’s meddling. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he would hold off on taking retaliatory action and wait to see how relations take shape in a Trump administration. Mr. Trump commended the decision in a tweet Friday: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”

Past transitions played out with far less conflict on core national issues.

The 2000 transition was abbreviated because of the recount in Florida. Incoming officials in George W. Bush’s White House said they enjoyed the luxury of building an administration behind the scenes, with much of the press and public focused on ballot counts in Florida precincts.

Once the Bush team moved into the White House, they accused President Bill Clinton’s aides of vandalizing in prank fashion some office equipment—including removing the ‘W’ from some typewriters— but the two teams didn’t contradict each other’s final and first acts.

The Bush-Obama transition in 2008 is viewed as among the most seamless. After he won the election, Mr. Obama sought to steer clear of commenting publicly on the financial crisis and steep job losses that consumed Mr. Bush’s final months in office. In the weeks before his inauguration, Mr. Obama repeatedly said the nation has only “one president at time,” and he praised his predecessor in his inaugural address.

Watching from the White House in recent days, Mr. Obama’s team has made plain it would like Mr. Trump to wait his turn.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said recently that the president and his aides “believe that it’s important that there’s a principle here that the world understands who is speaking on behalf of the United States until Jan. 20 and who is speaking on behalf of the United States after Jan. 20.”

Confusion is evident in some foreign capitals.

At a government news conference in Berlin this week, the German foreign ministry spokesman took a question about a tweet from Mr. Trump saying the U.S. should “expand its nuclear capability.”

“We cannot conclude how policy will look after Jan. 20 based on half a tweet and a comment,” the spokesman, Sebastian Fischer, said. “It is good state practice always to have only one president at a time.”

The transition started out on an auspicious note. Two days after the election Messrs. Obama and Trump met in the Oval Office for 90 minutes—longer than Mr. Trump planned. They have been talking by phone about weekly ever since.

But beneath the cordial conversations are serious policy disputes. Mr. Trump wants to repeal the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s domestic legacy: the health-care overhaul aimed at insuring the millions of Americans who lacked coverage.

Next week Mr. Obama will head to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats to discuss ways they can try to preserve the Affordable Care Act, with hopes of stiffening their resolve in the face of Mr. Trump’s efforts to roll back the health law.

Mr. Obama has been taking other steps that could potentially circumscribe Mr. Trump’s action once in office.

Last week, the Obama administration said it would indefinitely block drilling in broad swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, an attempt to cement his environmental legacy and potentially stymie a move by the incoming Trump administration to expand drilling.

Mr. Trump seemed to be making reference to these moves when he tweeted Wednesday that he was “doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks.”

“Thought it was going to be a smooth transition – NOT!” he added.

Kellyanne Conway, an incoming senior adviser to Mr. Trump, told Fox News on Thursday: “I hope this isn’t motivated by politics even a little bit.”

She added: “We do wonder about the rush to do all of these things in the next couple of weeks by the Obama administration and how that may upend longstanding U.S. policy, as it seems to be.”

White House officials stress that while there are policy differences between the president and president-elect, that is are separate from the logistical preparations for the transition, of power which Mr. Obama has pushed his aides to ensure is seamless.

Part of what is motivating Mr. Obama, White House aides say, is a desire to lock in pieces of his legacy. He had been considering taking a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the U.N. long before Mr. Trump’s election victory, White House officials said.

With respect to Russia, he became convinced the nation meddled in the election in ways that pose a genuine threat to the country and can’t go unpunished.

White House aides talk of “nailing down the furniture” so that policy goals that Mr. Obama methodically pursued can’t be undone once Mr. Trump takes power. The president, when he took office eight years ago, did just that to his predecessor, Mr. Bush.

Trump’s praise of Putin could signal a new day for US policy

HONOLULU — Moscow is hoping Donald Trump will reconsider the sanctions the U.S. is levying in response to its finding of election hacking, a wait-and-see strategy bolstered by the American president-elect’s own approving words for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin has essentially put relations with the U.S. on hold until Trump replaces President Barack Obama on Jan. 20. Though his foreign minister encouraged him to slap back at Washington for the sanctions imposed by Obama, Putin decided that Russia wouldn’t immediately retaliate.

“Great move on delay (by V. Putin),” Trump wrote Friday on Twitter. “I always knew he was very smart!”

Praise for a longtime adversary at odds with a sitting American president is remarkable for a president-elect — and the latest signal that U.S.-Russia relations, among other policies, could be getting a makeover from Trump.

Whether he steers the U.S. toward or away from Russia is shaping up as the first major test of his foreign policy disposition and his willingness to buck fellow Republicans, who for years have argued Obama wasn’t being tough enough on Russia.

In response to the election hacking he blames on Russia, Obama ordered sanctions on Russian spy agencies, closed two Russian compounds and expelled 35 diplomats the U.S. said were really spies. Brushing off Obama, Putin said Russia would plan steps to restore U.S. ties “based on the policies that will be carried out by the administration of President D. Trump.” Not only would Russia not kick Americans out, Putin said, he was inviting the kids of all U.S. diplomats to the Kremlin’s New Year’s and Christmas parties.

“At this point, they’re trolling Obama,” said Olga Oliker, who directs the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Obama administration said it had seen Putin’s remarks but had nothing more to say.

Russia denies the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that in an attempt to help Trump win the presidency, Moscow orchestrated cyber breaches in which tens of thousands of Democrats’ emails were stolen and later made public. Trump, too, has refused to accept that conclusion and insisted the country should just “move on,” though he has agreed to meet next week with intelligence leaders to learn more.

Notably, after the U.S. on Thursday issued a report it said exposed Russia’s cyber tactics, Putin’s aides didn’t offer any specific rebuttal. The report included detailed technical information like IP addresses and samples of malware code the U.S. said Russia uses.

One utility company, Burlington Electric Department in Vermont, reported Friday that it had detected the malware on a company laptop that was not connected to its grid systems. Burlington said, “We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”

There’s little certainty about how Trump will actually act on Russia as president. Though he’s praised Putin as a strong leader and said it would be ideal for the two countries to stop fighting, he also suggested this month the U.S. might mount a new nuclear arms race, triggering fresh anxieties about a return to Cold War-style tensions.

Ambassador Michael McFaul, Obama’s former envoy to Russia, said while Trump has defined his top objective as “getting along with the Kremlin,” Putin has higher goals, including the lifting of economic sanctions and, ideally, U.S. recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“Obviously, Putin’s not responding because he’s waiting for Jan. 20,” McFaul said in an interview. “He’s got these much more important objectives to him than getting into a tit-for-tat response with the outgoing administration.”

Trump’s warm outreach to Putin, combined with picks for secretary of state and national security adviser who are seen as friendly to Russia, have left hawkish Republicans with a particularly unpleasant choice: look hypocritical for backtracking on their own tough talk, or risk a public rift with their party’s new president.

In the House, many Republicans who have long called for tougher sanctions have been silent or vague about Obama’s penalties and Trump’s positions. But a handful of GOP senators have shown they have no intentions of letting up pressure on the Kremlin.

“We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia,” Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement. McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, scheduled a hearing next week on “foreign cyber threats” in an attempt to further spotlight Russia’s actions.

Even if Trump opts to pull back Obama’s sanctions and overlook hacking allegations, he may find rapprochement with Russia isn’t that simple. The past two presidents both tried to reach out to Russia early in their terms but left office with relations in no better shape.

Though Trump has suggested the U.S. and Russia should align strategies in Syria by focusing on their mutual enemy, the Islamic State group, Russia’s military campaign has almost exclusively targeted American-backed Syrian rebels, the U.S. has said. Nor is it clear whether Trump and Putin share a common approach to Europe’s security issues.

And if Trump follows through on his vow to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, he won’t find a receptive audience in Moscow. Putin’s government brokered the deal with the U.S., Iran and other world powers and has no intention of slapping sanctions back on Iran.

Analysis: Will the Trump era be Bennett’s finest hour?


“Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” so the saying goes, and on Wednesday night one man, US Secretary of State John Kerry, took an hour to denounce the settlement enterprise as ruinous to the hopes of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

Of no little significance were the pains Kerry took to cite the recent comments of another man, Bayit Yehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, regarding the implications of recent developments in Israel and the US.

Although Kerry did not mention Bennett by name, he noted that the Bayit Yehudi chairman had said the election victory of US President- elect Donald Trump meant “the era of the two-state solution is over,” and that the preliminary approval of the settlement regulation bill meant Israel was moving toward establishing sovereignty in the West Bank.

In so doing, the secretary of state was essentially fingering Bennett as the leading proponent and architect of plans to do away with the two-state solution, which has formed the diplomatic basis of all solutions to the conflict for the last quarter century.

If indeed the election of Trump is the beginning of an era, then is this now Bennett’s hour, and will his proposals for annexing Area C of the West Bank become a reality? In terms of the political will and intent, Bayit Yehudi has, according to party officials, already received a promise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to advance the settlement bill once Trump has taken office.

Bennett has said that such a law would be “the tip of the iceberg” of efforts to establish Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and the party has already submitted further legislation to the Knesset which would annex the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement and the surrounding E1 zone.

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan told The Jerusalem Post that Bayit Yehudi was demanding that Netanyahu “think of new ideas” since the two-state idea had not worked, insisting that the Palestinians could not accept the maximum Israel can offer.

Numerous senior Likud MKs, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin, have expressed opposition to the two-state solution and support for establishing Israeli sovereignty, at least in part, over the West Bank.

Indeed, it was 25 Likud MKs who in September demanded legislation to legalize settlement outposts and save Amona.

Speaking to the Post on Thursday, Likud MK Yoav Kisch, head of the Knesset Land of Israel Lobby, reiterated his opposition to the two-state solution and said there were “many other options” available in place of the Oslo paradigm.

Kulanu and its chairman, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, are more concerned with creating economic opportunity for the Palestinians than advancing the idea of a Palestinian state.

These figures all believe that the future depends on what stance Trump takes when he comes into office.

His vocal support for Israel in the face of the UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements, and his vocal public criticism of Kerry, are certainly comforting for those proposing to scrap the two-state solution, as is his selection of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel.

Although the position Trump ends up taking on the diplomatic possibilities for the region can only be guessed at for now, what is clear is that Bennett, for one, has formulated a plan for what will happen afterward.

His party, and elements within the Likud, have devised strategies and propositions for how to act in a post-two-state-solution era, and have planned new paradigms beyond the one which has been pursued for the last 25 years.

If Trump does indeed bring a new approach to the diplomatic conundrum, then Bennett’s hour, and that of those like him, may be drawing closer.

In strong attack on Israel, German foreign minister says settlements jeopardize peace (GOOD!!!!)


German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a staunch proponent of the Iran nuclear deal, has slammed Israel in a series of tweets and statements since last Friday’s Security Council resolution condemning Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.

In a statement issued to Germany’s largest circulation daily, Bild, after the UN resolution, the Foreign Ministry claimed that “a democratic Israel is only achievable through a two-state-solution.”

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The statement prompted the editor-in-chief of Bild’s digital outlet, veteran journalist Julian Reichelt, to express astonishment at the harsh wording.

In response to Reichelt’s criticism, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffan Seibert wrote on his Twitter feed: “Israel is a Jewish democratic state.”

Steinmeier, a Social Democratic politician who is jockeying to be the next president of Germany, later said on Twitter: “Israeli settlements in occupied territories jeopardize possibility of peace process.”

The same English-language tweet was issued again. The flurry of messages attacking Israel appeared on the German- and English-language Twitter feeds of the Berlin-based Foreign Ministry.

Steinmeier also endorsed US Secretary of State John Kerry’s Wednesday speech, writing that the “speech is a warning and a reminder that the #2StateSolution must not become an empty phrase. #MiddleEast.”

The foreign minister added on Twitter that “since he came into office, John Kerry has tirelessly worked toward a peaceful solution for the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict.”

Steinmeier had lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015 for his “very coarse” criticism of the Iran nuclear deal. Steinmeier, in an unusual attack on an US presidential candidate, slammed Donald Trump as a “hate preacher.”

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, who teaches political studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, “In many ways, the Obama-Kerry perception of the conflict has been shaped by European conventional wisdom. So it is not surprising to see European leaders embracing Kerry’s speech. In Germany, Foreign Minister Steinmeier has been particularly critical of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu (taking Germany farther away from its post-Holocaust role).”

Steinberg, who is president of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, added, “Steinmeier, like powerful German NGOs such as Brot fur die Welt, [‘Bread for the World’] echoes the Palestinian victimization narrative. In addition, Steinmeier’s personal attacks on Netanyahu reflect German eagerness to do business with Iran, which was facilitated by Kerry.”

Writing in the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel on Thursday, Volker Beck, a leading Green Party lawmaker and head of the German-Israel Parliament Group in the Bundestag, said, “No, settlement construction is not the most difficult problem on the way to a two-state solution. It is one of many.”

Beck voiced understanding for the outrage in Israel to the UN resolution. Beck termed the measure “counterproductive,” adding that the decisive factor is the “security question,” because after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the US- and EU-designated terrorist organization Hamas, which controls the Palestinian enclave, fired many missiles at Israel.

Pentagon: Islamic State leader Baghdadi ‘still alive and leading’


The head of international terrorist organization Islamic State is still alive and remains in charge of the murderous militant group, AFP reported Friday, citing officials in the US Pentagon.

Despite efforts by the United States and its coalition partners to kill the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been able to operate his terrorist organization, keeping a low-profile, all the while doling out orders to his top surrogates.

Baghdadi was last heard only a month ago when audio of the terrorist commander surfaced – containing a pronouncement declaring himself the leader of a renewed Muslim caliphate. Baghdadi can also be heard urging his supporters to defend the city of Mosul, which the Iraqi Army is currently fighting to recapture.

Mosul was first seized by ISIS in 2014, shortly after the group began snatching up large swaths of territory in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

“We do think Baghdadi is alive and is still leading [ISIS] and we are obviously doing everything we can to track his movements,” said Pentagon Spokesperson Peter Cook.

“If we get the opportunity, we certainly would take advantage of any opportunity to deliver him the justice he deserves.”

“We’re doing everything we can. This is something we’re spending a lot of time on,” he added.

Cook later stated that Baghdadi was most likely in hiding due to US-coalition efforts that have seen numerous Islamic State leaders perish over the past year.

“He’s having a hard time finding advisers and confidants to speak with because a lot of them are no longer with us,” the spokesman said.

According to AFP, citing official Iraqi documents, Baghdadi was born in Samarra in 1971. He later joined the Iraqi insurgency that arose after America’s invasion of the Middle Eastern country in 2003.

The United States recently announced it has increased its reward offer for Baghdadi’s head to $25 million.

Congress (White Freemasons, Christian Zionists) looks at options against UN over Israel action


NEW YORK — Republicans in both houses of Congress are preparing resolutions that would condemn the United Nations for its recent actions on Israel, as their leadership considers more drastic legislative measures that would sanction the international body.

The Senate and House resolutions— which are non-binding documents that put the sense of each chamber on the record— are intended to rely bipartisan disapproval of a vote in the Security Council last week that condemned Israel over its settlement enterprise, including its continued building in eastern sections of its declared capital, Jerusalem.

Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida and Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas both expressed their intentions to introduce condemnatory resolutions within weeks. They are both hopeful they will receive support from across the aisle, as many Democrats have already come out against US President Barack Obama’s decision to abstain from the vote, allowing it to pass.

Republicans are also discussing additional legislation that would cut US funds to the UN based on its moves on Israel. Congress appropriates roughly a quarter of the entire UN budget on an annual basis.

The topic is likely to be a significant point of questioning during the confirmation hearings of Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state.