September 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


This time around Scott Walker less dominant in rural Wisconsin (Craig Gilbert, 9/20/14, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

One big reason this race for governor is closer than the last one is that Walker has lost ground in the Green Bay, Wausau and La Crosse media markets, according to an analysis of 2014 polling data.

For example, the governor won the Green Bay media market by 23 points in the 2012 recall election. But this year he is leading the region by 14 points in the combined polling that Marquette University Law School has done from May through September of this year.

In 2012, Walker won the Wausau/Rhinelander market by 18 points. But he is leading by only 1 point in the 2014 polling.

And two years ago, Walker won the La Crosse/Eau Claire markets by 9 points. But he is trailing Democrat Mary Burke by 3 points in the 2014 polling.

Why the drop-off?

Much of the answer lies in the fact that the governor over-performed in these areas in 2012 compared to how Republicans typically do in big statewide races, and even compared to his earlier 2010 victory.

That performance was always going to be hard to duplicate. Strategists on both sides believe it was boosted by at least two factors that aren't present today.

One was running against the mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett. Walker highlighted Milwaukee's crime and joblessness in his campaign ads, and that message may have resonated in many rural and suburban areas far from the state's biggest city. Republicans also attacked Barrett over his support for gun control.

But perhaps a bigger factor involved voter attitudes about the recall itself. Many voters throughout the state had reservations about the recall process. Those concerns were especially strong among rural voters, the 2012 exit poll shows. Walker ended up winning the rural and small-town vote by 28 points -- the biggest margin in any race for governor or president in Wisconsin since the 1990s.

Reservations about the recall were especially sharp in northeastern Wisconsin, home to a mix of mostly suburban and rural voters from the Fox Valley north. In the 2012 exit poll, 76% of voters in northeastern Wisconsin said recalls should only be used for "misconduct" or "never" -- the highest number of any region in the state.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Hezbollah drones wreak havoc on Syrian rebel bases (ADIV STERMAN September 21, 2014, Times of Israel)

For the first time in its history, Shiite terror group Hezbollah carried out a successful unmanned aircraft strike, targeting al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel bases near the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal early Sunday, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency. [...]

The group's unprecedented drone attack was reported to have killed at least 23 fighters from the extremist al-Nusra Front.

Hezbollah ground troops continued the offensive on the rebel bases, and several al-Nusra operatives were held captive by the Lebanese militia, the semi-official Iranian news agency reported. Abu Leith al-Shami, a Lebanese national, and a high ranking al-Nusra official, was also said to have been killed in battle with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah's push-back against the al-Nusra Front comes a day after a suicide bomber killed a number of people at a checkpoint near Lebanon's border with Syria, only hours after the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda had reportedly executed a Lebanese soldier.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Innovators: a lightbulb moment for Dyson and son : Innovation runs in the Dyson family, with Jake refining a last-a-lifetime LED light that can illuminate a whole kitchen (Shane Hickey, 21 September 2014 , The Guardian)

The younger Dyson, one of three children of the inventor, has recently unveiled the latest addition to his high-end lighting units designed to save energy by slimming the number of lights required in the home and the office.

It has taken him 10 years to get this far. He set up his design studio in London in 2004 and produced a halogen light, before switching his focus to light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which are lauded for their long life.

But while other manufacturers were claiming their lights could last for 30,000 hours, Dyson wanted to make one for life. The problem was that the semiconductor chips that produce the light also generate intense heat which damages the chip, reducing the brightness and changing the light's colour.

A cooling system was needed to stop the chips overheating and thus lengthen their life span, Dyson said. The system he developed works much like technology in laptop computers and satellites, extracting the heat from the chip to "calm" it.

The key is heat pipe technology that can move the high heat created by the LED away from the chip. Keeping the temperature of the chip low in turn allows more powerful LEDs to be used, and their brightness, colour and energy efficiency maintained Dyson said.

Each copper pipe in the cooling system contains a drop of water - which heats up inside the pipe, turns to steam and disperses the heat as it moves down the pipe and away from the chip. It allows the LED chip to be kept at about 45C, well below previous temperatures.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


What will make stocks go even higher? (Jesse Solomon, September 21, 2014, CNN Money)

Here's what needs to happen for stocks to climb even higher:

1. A 'not too hot, not too cold' economy: For stocks to keep going up, the Fed has to cooperate and not hike interest rates before investors expect it to, which right now is the summer of 2015.

The Fed is likely to play along if the economy continues moving at a "not too hot, not too cold" rate, according to Jim Russell, Senior Equities Strategist for U.S. Bank Wealth Management.. [...]

2. Real earnings growth: In addition to the Fed, earnings have been the mother's milk of the bull market. Companies are growing their bottom lines, but most of the healthy profits of the past few years have come largely through cost-cutting.

As the overall economic picture gets better, stocks could see a real boost if companies can show that they're actually growing revenue because people are buying more things.

"If the economy continues to improve, I want to see organic top line growth from corporate America," said Robert Landry, a money manager with USAA investments in San Antonio, Texas.

3. Geopolitical stability: Geopolitical risk has been responsible for various market shocks this year, but they have all been short-lived. That trend should continue as long as the these situations don't spin out of control.

4. Immigration amnesty, which would put upward pressure on real estate values

5. Pacific and European trade agreements, which would open new markets and further reduce the cost of imports.

6. Tax reform, reducing the complexity of the current income tax system and getting rid of corporate taxes in particular

7. Corresponding hikes in gas taxes, which would put further downward pressure on gas prices and spur adoption of alternative energy sources

8. Gutting defense spending and returning the money to investment instead of consumption

9. Reforming Obamacare to push more Americans into HSAs, which would increase investment and savings

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Inequality and the narrowing tax base : Taxes are best raised on a broad base, but in many countries it is worryingly narrow (The Economist, Sep 20th 2014)

"I LIKE to pay taxes," said Oliver Wendell Holmes. "With them I buy civilisation." Most people recognise that taxes pay for public services, but few are as keen to stump up for them as Justice Holmes was. High income taxes tend to discourage effort and entrepreneurship, while encouraging all manner of activity to avoid them. That is why a basic principle of good tax policy has long been to charge a low rate over a broad base.

It is a target which many countries miss, and the gap is growing. Income taxes--one of the main sources of tax revenue across the rich world--are increasingly paid by a small minority of the most affluent. In Britain, employment has risen by 1.3m in the past five years, but the number of taxpayers has fallen by 2.2m. More than 40% of American households pay no income tax. In contrast, the most highly paid 1% of workers in Britain pay 28% of all income tax, while in America it is 46%. In 1979 those shares were 11% and 18% respectively. Corporate income taxes show the same concentration. In Britain just 830 firms pay almost half of all corporation tax. Five American industries account for 81% of the country's corporate tax revenue, but just a third of its companies.

Consumption taxes are universal but allow the consumer to decide how much he'll pay in taxes (once some level of food, clothing and housing are exempted).

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Catalonia's referendum : Getting to "si" (Charlemagne, Sep 19th 2014, The Economist)

[W]hile the Scottish referendum was jointly proposed by the British and Scottish governments, Mr Mas is treading a more dangerous path. Madrid has refused to hold a referendum, so he is going it alone. On Friday Catalonia's parliament passed a so-called "law of consultations", with a view to allowing Mr Mas to call a referendum on November 9. Spain's conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, will try to block the referendum by sending the law to the constitutional court for study. They will almost certainly suspend it for several months, and may strike it down. 

Mr Mas may try to call the referendum over the weekend, before the court has a chance to suspend it. But the court could then ban the referendum. If Mr Mas obeys and cancels the referendum, his minority nationalist government, propped up by the separatist Catalan Republican Left (ERC), may fall. The ERC has called for civil disobedience if the referendum does not take place.

In the mildest scenario, Mr Mas may go through the motions of rebelling for several weeks before finally bowing to the law. In the most extreme one, Mr Mas could stage an illegal referendum, with police moving in to remove urns and Madrid suspending the Catalan regional government's right to rule. That is unlikely, but not impossible. Much depends on the attitude of ERC.

A final option might be for Mr Mas to call early Catalan elections, turning them into a clear demand for an independence referendum, as Scottish leader Alex Salmond did. A large "yes" vote would be hard to ignore. If national elections next year weaken Mr Rajoy or produce a Socialist victory, Madrid might become more malleable. But Mr Mas's own Democratic Catalan Convergence party (CDC) is likely to do badly in those elections; the likely winner would be the separatist ERC.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Why the world is getting safer (Simon Kuper, 9/19/14, Financial Times)

Deaths in warfare have been falling for decades and probably centuries, as the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has charted. The global rate of war deaths, Pinker writes, slid "from almost 300 per 100,000 world population during world war two, to almost 30 during the Korean war, to the low teens during the era of the Vietnam war, to single-digits in the 1970s and 1980s, to less than 1 [this] century".

True, deaths in conflict rebounded after 2005. Nearly 200,000 people were killed in Syria alone from 2011 through April this year, estimates the UN. Yet Pinker says we're still at "a tiny bit over one" war death per 100,000 humans per year. Homicides, far more common than war deaths, are falling across the west.

And deaths from violence in recent years are vastly outnumbered by lives saved from infectious disease. Three great killers of poor people, Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, are in retreat.

Moreover, the worldwide death rate of children under five "roughly halved" between 1990 and 2012, says Unicef. The average human now lives to nearly 70. That's 20 years more life than in the early 1950s. Liberians have gained those 20 years since just 1992. On average, they now live to about 60.

In fact, a study published by the World Bank showed that from 1970 through 2008, death rates tended to fall even in war zones. The reason: gains from better healthcare trumped deaths from fighting.

At the End of History, there's nothing left to fight about and you're too wealthy to care even if there was.
Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The time is ripe for English devolution (John Redwood, 9/17/14, Financial Times)

The UK constitution was left unbalanced by the last Labour government. They expelled most of the hereditary peers from the Lords but otherwise left the unelected House largely unreformed. They gave substantial devolution to Scotland, less devolution to Northern Ireland and Wales, and nothing to England. They decided not to answer the so-called West Lothian question: why should Scottish MPs vote on English matters such as health and education, which they cannot determine for their own constituencies?

England decided to put up with the injustice in the interests of the union. Today there is a new mood abroad. While the majority of us would like Scotland to stay in the UK, a large majority of us in England now want devolution for our country too.

The easiest way to rebalance the UK would be to grant an English parliament identical powers to those granted to Scotland. We could either have an English parliament at Westminster, formed from the MPs elected from English constituencies, or work towards an entirely new parliament with additional politicians.

This way of sorting out the issue does not appeal to some in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, who rely on non-English MPs to give them more weight in parliament. They have come up with other proposals. But all now agree that there is an English problem.

It's a winning argument for the Tories to insist that the English get as good a deal as the Scots.
Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Does Abenomics Work? - The Doubts Grow (Edward Hugh, 9/19/14, Fistful of Euros)

What makes people like me nervous is the thought that if the central bank can't deliver on its promise to deliver inflation and revive the economy, or if the Japanese voters decide they have had enough of the experiment, then a loss of confidence might ensue, and all those dubious risky asset positions might unwind suddenly, just like an earlier set did in 2008.

And there are plenty of people in Japan who have been pointing this out all along. Seki Obata, a Keio University business school professor for example, who in 2013 published a book "Reflation is Dangerous," argues exactly this, that "Abenomics" is exposing Japan to considerable risk without any clear sense of what it can accomplish. Obata also makes the extremely valid point that there is simply no way incomes can rise across the entire economy because the baby boomers are now retiring to be replaced by fewer young workers with post labour reform entry-level wages. Japan's overall consumer spending power will therefore fall, rather than rise as Abe hopes. "Individual companies may offer wage increases, but because of demographics it is simply impossible to increase the total amount that is paid out in wages," says Obata. "On the contrary, that amount will shrink."

And as these countries die and take their economies down with them, the only safe place top put their money is in the US.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Ken Kesey's Exhausted Heroes : Randle Patrick McMurphy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Hank Stamper of Sometimes a Great Notion: two men of incredible strength whom Kesey brings to their knees. Why? (J. FRANCIS WOLFE, 9/17/14, Airship)

For all of their bluster and egotism, both characters find themselves exhausted beyond comprehension -- so much so that they nearly go against their very nature and consider doing something completely unfathomable by giving up. But why was Kesey, a man who battled the social mores of his time as much as anyone, so fond of building up characters so strong and indefatigable only to allow them to be torn down by the very things they were fighting against?

The rationale is simple: Until we, as readers, see these characters as flawed and sometimes weak, we have a very difficult time relating to them. McMurphy is especially reminiscent of a comic book hero or TV cowboy, though this could also be said of Hank. It is only after we see these characters in their moments of weakness that we can really believe that they could be real people.

There is another reason as well, one founded in the Christian symbolism that Kesey so often imbues his novels with. Both characters, though more clearly McMurphy, are Christ-like figures that must sacrifice themselves -- or at least some part of themselves -- in order to save those around them. McMurphy allows himself to be lobotomized by Nurse Ratched, but only after he demonstrates to the other patients how to permanently regain their manhood. 

The Messiah's sacrifice would be meaningless if He weren't broken first and fully cognizant of what it is to be us.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Stuck on Inflation (Jeff Madrick, 9/16/14, NY Review of Books)

It is far too early to start tightening policy, but to these three Fed presidents, who help set Fed policy, it is never soon enough. The three bankers do not always sit on the Fed's Open Market Committee, where Fed policy decisions are made, but they are vocal about their hawkish views, and their comments have had wide reverberations in public debate.

It's instructive, therefore, to examine what they were saying back in 2008, the year the economy slid into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The Fed did not cut interest rates that summer and failed to help save Lehman Brothers that September, in part due to over-optimism about the economy. By the fourth quarter of 2008, the nation's Gross Domestic Product was falling at an annual rate of more than six percent. Consumer inflation was negative.

At the time, rising inflation should have been the last thing on anyone's mind. But what were the inflation hawks saying during those calamitous months? Along with the seven governors of the Fed and a few other bank presidents, Fisher, Lacker, and Bullard participated in many of the Fed's Open Market Committee meetings that year--the meetings at which decisions about interest rates and other policies, such as quantitative easing, are made. The complete minutes of the committee's 2008 meetings were released earlier this year.

Let's begin with Fisher, who this July said, "I believe we are at risk of doing what the Fed has too often done: overstaying our welcome by staying too loose too long"--in other words, apparently, we should raise interest rates as soon as possible.

Here are a few comments Fisher made at an Open Market Committee meeting in the summer of 2008 as the economy was collapsing:

The real bad news is that our patient appears to be acquiring a staph infection in this hospital that we have created, and that staph infection is inflation. I believe inflation is upon us. I believe expectations are discounting more inflation. Very importantly --and this is tough to get from the models--I believe that behavioral changes are beginning to manifest themselves. Now, some would argue that this infection is temporary and may well go away. Others will argue that it will be stayed by strong rhetoric. Still others say that it will require --I don't know if it's an antibiotic or an antidote--further tightening, lest the infection spread and counteract the good that we have done.

Fisher voted to raise interest rates in the summer of 2008, as the economy was plunging. He said at a meeting, "I think it is important to take a shot across the bow" to halt inflation. "I think we have to put some substance behind our words."

Many economists have noted that employment is too weak these days to suggest there are inflation pressures. Wages in particular have not risen. To the contrary, they're down several percentage points after inflation from mid-2009, when the recession technically ended. In a recovery, they should rise sharply.

But in the summer of 2008, Lacker criticized just such thinking as a failure to see signs of inflation ahead.

It is popular, as many have noted around the table, to cite the stability of compensation gains as evidence that we are not seeing a wage-price spiral. I have done it myself recently. But I share the concerns expressed [by some others] around the table about that being a lagging indicator. I am concerned that, if we wait until we see rising inflation expectations showing up as wage pressures, we will have waited too long. I noted in just a casual glance at the data from the 1970s that, although wage acceleration was a prominent component of the acceleration of inflation in the late 1960s, it was largely absent in the accelerations that occurred in '74 and '79.

Lacker doesn't believe that the failure of wages to rise suggests inflation is not a threat. Wrong then, and probably wrong now.

As for James Bullard, he calls himself the "North Pole of inflation hawks," according to an interview in Bloomberg News. In July of this year he too warned that inflation is coming back. Any unemployment rate below 6 percent will stimulate it, he believes. For him 6 percent is simply full employment. This is despite the fact that the unemployment rate fell below 4 percent in the late 1990s and inflation stayed low.

The liberation of productivity from labor is not reversible.
Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


THE JERUSALEM APPROACH : After a summer of war, we need a different way to think about Israeli-Palestinian peace. It starts with the holy city. (GERSHOM GORENBERG, 9/13/14, National Journal)

On a midsummer afternoon, at the King George Street station in the center of downtown Jewish Jerusalem, I boarded one of the silver four-car trams of Jerusalem's only light-rail line. The electric train swooshed east along Jaffa Road to the City Hall stop, just before the narrow, now-unmarked no-man's-land that divided the city before 1967. The next stop was the Damascus Gate station, serving downtown Arab Jerusalem. From there the train headed north toward outlying Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods.

It was a normal rush-hour trip--except that there were no Palestinians on the train. No father spoke Arabic to the son sitting next to him; no teenage girls chattered in Arabic about their purchases on Jaffa Road. The women who wore head scarves had them tied behind their necks, Orthodox Jewish style, not wrapped under their chins, Muslim style. No one got on or off at Damascus Gate. In the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat, a mourning banner with a huge picture of murdered Arab teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir hung from an apartment building facing the tracks. A sign on the ticket machine on the platform said it was out of order--as it has been since angry young residents smashed it during the violent protests that followed the murder of Abu Khdeir at the beginning of July. No one got off there or at Beit Hanina, the northernmost Palestinian neighborhood on the line.

The missing passengers weren't participating in an organized boycott. They were simply afraid. The kidnap-murder of Abu Khdeir by Jewish terrorists was part of the wave of anti-Arab harassment and violence that erupted in Jerusalem at the end of June, after the bodies of three Jewish teens who'd been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank were discovered. Bands of young Jewish toughs harassed and assaulted Arabs on Jaffa Road and on the light rail. The revenge attacks have now become infrequent--in part because time has passed, but in part because there are fewer Arabs in what was once shared space. "You feel you're closed up in the train," a Palestinian pharmacist who works at a hospital on the Jewish side of town told me. If you're attacked, she said, you've got nowhere to run. A Palestinian friend who lives in Beit Hanina told me that his son used to take the train home from school in the Old City. This year, he said, he told his son to come home the slow way, on a bus line run by an Arab company. The train had become too dangerous.

When construction of the rapid-transit line began in 2002, the choice of the route fit an established trend: Major planning decisions in Jerusalem have as much to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as they do with mere urban needs. The light rail would not only cross the invisible border; it would also string together Arab neighborhoods that Israel annexed in 1967 and the Jewish neighborhoods that it has built between them. The tracks were an implied declaration in steel by the municipal and national governments that the city would never be divided. More specifically, they were a rejection of the parameters for a peace agreement that President Clinton laid out at the end of 2000, stating that Jewish-populated areas of the city should be under Israeli sovereignty and Arab-populated areas should be under Palestinian rule. The route could be read as an inscription on the tombstone of the Oslo process.

Yet the light rail had other, perhaps unintended, consequences. Arab Jerusalem can seem like a distant country for most Jewish Jerusalemites. Without the train, fewer of them would ever have seen the main street of Shuafat, much less the huge picture of Abu Khdeir now hanging there. The transit line made more visible the fact that Jerusalem straddles a cultural, religious, and ethnic border, even if the political border has been erased from Israeli maps.

Palestinians wave a national flag as they celebrate in the streets of East Jerusalem the long-term truce reached between Israel and the Palestinians on August 26. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)Let me stress the word "straddles": There are two Jerusalems, yet they are connected; or they are one city, riven. The city defies Israeli and Palestinian slogans--not to mention American politicians' declarations of support for "undivided Jerusalem." Despite the official Israeli stance that it has "unified" Jerusalem, the Arab city has never become part of Israel. To call what happens in Jerusalem coexistence would be a mistake. As one astute Israeli advocate of coexistence told me, it can't be created "when one side rules and one is ruled over."

Yet East Jerusalem is less separate than the standard Palestinian story claims. There are human ties across the line. There are many people--particularly Palestinians--whose lives bridge the divide. Jerusalem is fragmented, roiling, more multicultural than any other place between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. And while it is constantly described in terms of its history, its future matters more: The stunning, unrealized, possibly wasted potential of Jerusalem is to be a bridge between two societies.

Since the Oslo process began, the expectation of many, perhaps most, Israeli proponents of a two-state agreement has been that it would lead to separation of Israelis and Palestinians. That attitude is easy to take in what Israelis call the "center" of the country: Tel Aviv and its environs, the unofficial economic and cultural capital. Here in Jerusalem, however, that view never made sense. And when the peace process someday resumes--after this cruel summer, it seems very far away, but eventually it must begin again--I believe it will have to be based not on separation but on more openness, on more cross-fertilization, on more shared seminar rooms, concert halls, laboratories, and parks. These are things that can only be fairly and responsibly achieved through political division into two states--but they must be two states that are intertwined rather than coldly standing apart.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


U.S., Iraqi Militias Join In Uneasy Alliance (ALICE FORDHAM, September 21, 2014, NPR)

A decade ago in Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite suburb of Baghdad, the Mehdi Army, led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, began to fight bitterly against American forces, calling them occupiers.

Now the Mehdi army has been re-branded the Peace Brigades, and it's fighting alongside Iraqi security forces against the Sunni extremists known as the Islamic State. American warplanes support their operations.

But even in Sadr City, not everyone's sure about militias playing such a big role. In a shop selling doves, canaries and birdseed, Abbas Naim expresses some doubts. He volunteered for the Peace Brigades after swaths of Iraq fell to the Islamic State earlier this year; right now he's on leave from duties in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

"Not everyone is as disciplined as the Peace Brigades," he says.

September 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Iran open to new US proposals on Tehran's uranium programme (Associated Press, 20 September 2014)

With Iran refusing US demands that it gut its uranium enrichment programme, the two sides are discussing a new proposal that would leave much of Tehran's enriching machines in place but disconnected from feeds of uranium, diplomats told the Associated Press Saturday. [...]

While only a proposal, the plan would allow the Iranians to claim that they did not compromise on vows that they would never emasculate their enrichment capabilities, while keeping intact American demands that the programme be downgraded to a point where it could not be quickly turned to making bombs.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Is Obama really going back to war with a worse legal rationale than Bush? (Trevor Timm, 9/20/14,

It was equal parts ironic and tragic watching US Secretary of State John Kerry testify before the Senate Foreign Relations committee this week, as he shamelessly made the case for a war without end against Isis. It was the same place he sat 43 years ago, as a young soldier, bravely and eloquently calling for an end to American fighting in Vietnam, his generation's endless war - the same war that led to Congress passing the War Powers Resolution, the law the Obama administration has now decided it can completely disregard.

As with much of the White House's secret and possibly illegal march back to Iraq and beyond, almost every aspect of Kerry's testimony on Wednesday was riddled with holes. The Obama administration's case for intervention begins and ends with the fantastical idea that it thinks it can use a law passed 13 years ago - before Isis even existed, and meant for the perpetrators of 9/11 - to start a war that White House officials freely admit will last for years, yet is aimed at a group that virtually all intelligence analysts agree is not an imminent threat to the United States.

Exactly how the administration thinks it can manage to go to war without getting Congress to vote on it is so perplexing, apparently they can't even figure it out. Last week, "a senior administration official" floated the idea to the New York Times that the White House was claiming authority to wage war on Isis based on the Iraq War Resolution from 2002 - the very statute the Obama administration wanted to repeal just a year ago. But this week, with the Pentagon and Congress knocking, it seems Team Obama has abandoned that premise for going to war and returned to one of its initial justifications: the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that declared war on "those nations, organizations, or persons responsible for 9/11".

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:46 AM


Welcome to "All That Jazz," a weekly (I hope) feature on where I will provide short reviews of some of my favorite jazz recordings. My goals are to introduce you to musicians and music you may not be familiar with, entice you to listen to some great music and, perhaps, spark your own quest to learn about this great and uniquely American art form.   (I know that the "uniquely American" thing is overused...but in this case, it really is true.)  I will try to make these pieces accessible to both jazz fans and casual listeners.

A few things before we get to our first installment:

·      When I say these will be "short" reviews, I mean short...ranging from a few sentences to maybe 2 paragraphs.  This will be a test for me, as I could go on and on about any of these recordings, spinning off into background on each of the players, comments about the songs and their composers and all sort of tangents and anecdotes.   But I have a real job and family, and despite OJ's predictions about the imminent demise of labor, I'm guessing most of you have jobs or other obligations, too.  So the quicker you get through my notes and start listening to the music, the better for all of us.  (This intro will be far longer than anything I write about a given recording.)

·      I will alternatively refer to the subject of my pieces as "recordings," "CD's," "albums" and, G-d help me, I may even slip sometimes and call them "records."   I do most of my listening on via iTunes over my laptop, iPad or may still have a vinyl fetish...but whatever I call them, you'll know what I mean.

·      My taste in jazz runs the gamut of the music from Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings in the 1920's through whatever was debuted by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra last night.  But the focus of most of what you see here will be "straight ahead" jazz...the mostly acoustic, mostly swing-standards-and-blues-based music that arose in the 1930's and continues to be the primary form of jazz performed today.  This music encompasses genres such as swing, bebop, hard bop, cool, West Coast and others.  I may sometimes write about earlier forms of the music, more "out" or avant garde styles, or jazz "fusion", but it won't be too often.

·      I will usually comment on albums...that is, compilations of individual songs...although sometimes I will focus on one particular recording of a song that blows me away or, perhaps, various recordings of the same composition by different players.  (For those of you who are new to this, there is a canon of standard songs familiar to all jazz musicians and most fans...many written by the great early- and mid-century pop and Broadway composers such as the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter and Rogers & Hart and many by jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.  In jazz these written "standards" are used as springboards for improvised solos based on the melodies and harmonies of the songs.)

·      The CD's chosen will not always be the greatest (whatever that means) or most famous examples of the music...although sometimes they will be.  What they will be are personal favorites of mine or the music I'm listening to at the time. 

·      For every recording, I will provide a link to or other online seller and, if available, a link to a YouTube post of a tune from the album or at least a representative video of the same artist.

·      I enjoy all instruments that jazz is commonly played on...heck, the subject of my first review below is a harmonica player... but my real love is the saxophone.  So expect to see sax players over-represented here.  My all-time favorites and personal heroes are Benny Carter and Sonny Rollins.  I won't bury you with the music of these titans, but if you were to only study their output (Benny's recording career spanned from 1927 - 1990 and Sonny's started in 1949 and continues to this day), you'd have a have a deep understanding of the beauty, intelligence, humor, elegance and exuberance that can be found in great jazz performances.

·      I'm calling this feature "All That Jazz" after the Benny Carter tune of the same name (and not in honor of the lame and non-jazzy Kander & Ebb song from the musical "Chicago").  I couldn't think of anything better...although given the time of day I will write most of these, "Round Midnight" was also in the running.  If you have a better suggestion, I'm open.

·      I welcome comments, feedback, debate, opinions or whatever.  I'm not sure whether the best way to do this will be through the "comments" section or some other system the Brothers Judd will set up.  But if you write a comment, I will read it and respond (if appropriate), and if requested, will recommend other albums by the same artist or other worthwhile recordings in the same genre.

That's it.  I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I'm looking forward to writing them.
Jean "Toots" Thielemans, Man Bites Harmonica (1958)

YouTube: East of the Sun

Even if you've never listened to jazz, I promise you that you have heard Toots Thielemans.  It was his harmonica playing the theme songs to the TV shows Sesame Street and Sanford and Son and the film Midnight Cowboy, and his whistling (!) in commercials for Old Spice, Pinesol and other products.  But foremost, Toots is a first rate jazzman on harmonica and guitar.   Born in Brussels, he recently retired from active touring and recording at the age of 92.  

My favorite Toots' album is Man Bites Harmonica, a 1958 release featuring Toots on a front line with the great baritone sax player Pepper Adams and supported by a top-notch rhythm section of Kenny Drew (piano), Wilbur Ware (bass) and Art Taylor (drums).   The band plays a nice mix of lightly swinging standards (kicked off by my favorite tune, "East of the Sun"), ballads and blues.  Toots shows off his sax-inspired bebop-ish chops on the harmonica and a fluid technique and ringing tone (reminiscent of Herb Ellis or Kenny Burrell) on guitar, Pepper is at his gruff, discursive best, and the rhythm section cooks at just the right temperature throughout.  The YouTube clip above is the opening tune, "East of the Sun," and will give you the flavor of this album.  Another favorite of mine is their rendition of "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," a song recorded by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five in the late 20's, and not a tune usually played in more modern settings.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


John Kerry Fronts for Illegal War (Matthew Rothschild, 9/18/14, The Progressive)

At his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry used two weak arguments to justify President Obama's war-making in Iraq and potentially in Syria.

First, he said the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress approved right after 9/11, gives the President the right to go after ISIS, even though ISIS had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and wasn't even around then.

What's more, Kerry's boss, Barack Obama, just last year warned of the dangers of misusing this authorization.

In a speech at the National Defense University, Obama called for an "eventual repeal" of that law.

"The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old," he said. "Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states."

Kerry's second justification was equally disturbing. He said, "The President has the right under Article Two to defend this nation." Article Two of the Constitution states that "the President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." But Article One says that Congress has the sole power to declare war.

Kerry's invocation of Article Two is eerily reminiscent of the rationales offered by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their Justice Department lawyers, who claimed that the President in time of war could do anything he wanted abroad and even at home. (John Yoo, the White House is on the line...)

For liberals, it was an embarrassing day. 

No one is a liberal once they're responsible for national security.
Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


New Zealand election: John Key leads National to overwhelming victory (Toby Manhire,  20 September 2014, The Guardian)

The John Key led National party will return to power in New Zealand for a third consecutive term, having survived waves of scandal during a volatile and antagonistic election campaign to secure an overwhelming victory.

With almost all of the vote counted, National is on the brink of securing the first single-party parliamentary majority since New Zealand moved to its Mixed Member Proportional electoral system in 1996.

The result is a disaster for the main opposition Labour party, while the Mana-Internet party experiment, backed by German entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, has spectacularly backfired, and may fail to win so much as a single seat.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


The Looming Death of Homo Economicus  (Dennis J. Snower, 9/18/14, Project Syndicate)

This is a transformation on the scale of the shift, more than 8,000 years ago, from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to settled agricultural ones, which eventually led to the rise of cities. A similar transformation occurred in Europe in the tenth century, with the emergence of guilds - associations of skilled workers who controlled the practice of their craft in a particular town - which paved the way for the Industrial Revolution. [...]

Mainstream economics offers a straightforward analysis of and policy response to such a transformation. Whenever technological or other changes allow for people to be compensated for the benefits that they confer on one another (minus the costs), the price-based market system can adjust. When the changes create externalities, economic restructuring is required - say, adjustments in taxes and subsidies, regulatory shifts, or property-rights upgrading - to offset the costs and benefits for which the market cannot compensate. And when the changes give rise to particularly high levels of inequality, redistributive measures are needed.

This approach is based on the assumption that, if everyone is fully compensated for the net benefits that they confer on others, individuals pursuing their own self-interest will, as Adam Smith put it, be led, "as if by an invisible hand," to serve the public interest as well. According to this view, everyone is Homo economicus: a self-interested, fully rational individualist.

But, as past "great transformations" demonstrate, this approach is inadequate, because it neglects the social underpinnings of market economies. In such economies, contracts tend to be honored voluntarily, not through coercive enforcement. What makes these economies function is not a policeman protecting every shop window, but rather people's trust, fairness, and fellow-feeling to honor promises and obey the prevailing rules. Where this social glue is lacking - such as between Israelis and Palestinians - people cannot exploit all of the available economic opportunities.

This link is apparent in the deep social significance of most of an individual's economic transactions. When people acquire expensive cars, designer clothing, and opulent houses, they generally seek social recognition. When couples or friends give gifts to one another or take vacations together, they perform economic transactions inspired by affiliation and care.

In short, mainstream economics - and the concept of homo economicus - recognizes only half of what makes us human. We are undoubtedly motivated by self-interest. But we are also fundamentally social creatures.

This oversight is particularly crippling in view of the impending transformation, which will upend the underpinnings of contemporary society. Indeed, at present, despite unprecedented economic integration and new opportunities for cooperation, our social interactions remain atomized.

No one--beyond the libertarian fringe--has believed in homo economicus for a while now.  The notion that economic decisions are rational never bore much scrutiny.

But what's really interesting, and disconcerting, is that the transformation that is occurring has the potential to render us even more atomized, unless we maintain a culture as powerful as our economics.  That's because the Third Way reforms being undertaken throughout the Anglosphere and Scandinavia (Protestant Northern Europe) borrow so much from the classical economics of Adam Smith.  Essentially, they are premised on a personalized welfare net, wherein individuals use their own savings accounts to fund education, housing, unemployment, health care and retirement, although the funding of said accounts may come from the broader society.  They exploit the miracle of compound interest to make virtually every member of society affluent.  But, given the extent to which human relationships have been built around the interdependence required to get us through difficult times and difficult lives, liberating everyone from such cares is a two-edged sword.

Built into the emerging new system is one massively helpful reality, ownership of accounts that are dependent on economic performance gives everyone a literally vested interest in same.  This is a tremendous force for stabilization, giving everyone some skin in the game.  But it will need to be accompanied by socially conservative politics--restoration of marriage; defense of life; depopulation of cities and integration of suburbs; devolution of political power to more local polities; support for civic organizations; maintenance of public education as a vehicle for civics lessons; non-interference with religion; etc.--if we are to maintain and refurbish familial, religious and civil social networks.

This is one of the main reasons why the Third Way is not utopian. There are inherent dangers in even so promising an economic transformation. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


American performers receive standing ovation at Iranian puppet festival (NASSER KARIMI, 9/19/14, Associated Press)

Hundreds of Iranian art lovers gave a troupe of Chicago-based puppeteers flowers and a lengthy standing ovation at the Tehran City Theater at the end of their historic performance this week during a rare visit by American performers to the Islamic Republic.

The artists from the Manual Cinema group presented Ada/Ava, a live cinematic shadow puppet show at the Tehran Mobarak Puppet Festival, in the first such performance by an American troupe at the Tehran event in nearly 17 years.

"You are the best audience we have ever had and met. We have been so impressed by all the artists and puppeteers here," Drew Dir, the co-director of the 10-member group, told the audience after the performance. [...]

Sarah Fornace, one of the troupe's members, said she was surprised by the standing ovation.

"It is a real honor and it does not happen all the time. So I felt really lucky to get one here," she said.

The presence of the group in at the festival led to another rare event -- an American flag was hoisted over the entrance gate of the City Theater building in downtown Tehran.

Saeed Leilaz, a Tehran-based political analyst believed the American attendance at the puppet show was an indication of improving relations after decades of mistrust.

"People on both side have no particular problem with each other," he said. "Iranians in general and the middle class in particular seek better ties with the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


David Suchet: 'Part of Me Died With Him' (Interview by HOPE REEVES, 9/19/14, NY Times Magazine)

After 25 years on the air, "Agatha Christie's Poirot" recently broadcast the final five episodes in the United States on Acorn TV. I read that you filmed the final episode first. 

To have him die at the same moment I finished the role would have been a very negative thing for me to go through. So I asked the producers if I could film him dying first. Then I would leave him as I want to remember him, alive and kicking.

Did you mourn for him? 

Filming his actual death was the hardest day of the whole 25 years. Part of me died with him.

If you get a chance to see his BBC series, In the Footsteps of St. Paul, the similarities to Poirot are amusing, but the differences make the man.
Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Prominent jihadi ideologue urges Islamic State group to release British hostage Alan Henning (MAAMOUN YOUSSEF, 9/19/14, Associated Press)

A renowned jihadi ideologue on Saturday urged the Islamic State group to release British aid worker Alan Henning, saying Islam forbids harming non-Muslims who work with relief agencies.

Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, who was released by Jordan in June after serving a five-year sentence on terror charges, said in a statement posted on his website that non-Muslims who aid needy Muslims should be protected. [...]

Also known as Essam al-Barqawi, al-Maqdisi was the mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006.

Al-Maqdisi said Henning worked with a charitable organization led by Muslims which sent several aid convoys to help the Syrian people. "Is it reasonable that his reward is being kidnapped and slaughtered?"

It's like SuperMax inmates doing a Monty Python skit.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


This glorious failure could yet be Scotland's finest hour : Forget Bannockburn or the Scottish Enlightenment, the Scots have reinvented and re-established the idea of true democracy (Irvine Welsh, 9/19/14, The Guardian)

At the start of the campaign, a narrow win for the political-class-led no would have been a nightmare result for the establishment. They originally expected a rout - the rationale behind Cameron leaving devo max off the ballot paper, before he had a humiliating rush north, in realisation that his abiding political legacy might be the end of the union.

The vibrant and euphoric yes movement, which, during the debate, evolved from a small base to come within a whisker of a sensational victory, will be massively disappointed that they didn't manage to get it done.

They will have to cool their ardour a while longer, although anybody believing they'll stop now is indulging in wishful thinking. Why would they? The process and the subsequent debate, which they won handsomely, took support for independence from around 30% to 45% and heading north. It's now established as the compelling narrative of the post-devolution generation, while no dominates only in a declining constituency of elderly voters. Yes may have lost this battle, but the war is being won.

There was much talk of how ineffective the no campaign was. In some ways this is unfair: you can only go with what you've got and they simply weren't packing much heat. The union they strove to protect was based on industry and empire and the esprit de corps from both world wars, and you can't maintain a political relationship on declining historical sentiment alone. With the big, inclusive postwar building blocks of the welfare state and the NHS being ripped apart by both major parties there's zero currency in campaigning on that, especially as they're only being preserved in Scotland by the devolved parliament. The boast of using oil revenues to fund privatisation projects and bail out bankers for their avarice and incompetence is never going to be a vote winner. Going negative was the only option. [...]

Though defeated in the poll, the independence movement emerged far stronger - from the narrow concern of a bourgeois civic nationalist party, to a righteous, vibrant, big-tent, pro-democracy movement. The referendum galvanised and excited Scots in a way that no UK-wide election has done. Like it or not, unless they come up with a winning devo max settlement, every general election in Scotland will now be dominated by the independence issue.

Scotland's post-devolution generation is a different breed to their predecessors; they've been building a new state in their imagination, from the basis of a limited but tangible parliament in Edinburgh. They see the possibilities in full statehood, and came from nowhere to deal a body blow to Britain's tired and out-of-touch elites. The smartest of them have always seen independence as a process, not an event, and having come so unexpectedly close, they won't be going into a depressive hungover funk. They'll be keen for a rematch, and they'll get it soon.

September 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Modern Attitudes Toward Marriage Lead to Loneliness (RACHEL LU, 9/19/14, Crisis)

Two stories last week (one amusing and one sobering) provided material for (gloomy) reflection on love and marriage in the modern world.

The first came from Auckland, Australia, where heterosexual best friends Travis McIntosh and Matt McCormick celebrated their nuptials this last Friday. A radio station competition provided the motivation for their decision to wed. By tying the knot in an official ceremony, the two heterosexual men became eligible to win a trip to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. Many happy returns?

Unsurprisingly, LGBT activist groups were angered by a festivity that, to their minds, trivialized a hard-earned "right," and mocked the homosexual community. This, however, did not appear to be the two friends' intention. "We are not here to insult anyone," said McIntosh to the New Zealand Herald. "We are here to do our own thing and travel our own path.It's just seeing how far two good mates would go to win a trip to the Rugby World Cup."

The second story, from here in the US, was a report that, as of last month, more than 50 percent of American adults (over age 16) are now single. What percentage of American adults want to be married? Considerably more than 50 percent. But wishes, it turns out, are not weddings. We live in a world that claims to embrace romantic love as a good and even a "right," and yet, ironically, less and less people are actually finding their way to love and happiness.

It is not good for man to be alone. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Scotland Teaches a Lesson in Democracy (Marc Champion, 9/16/14, Bloomberg View)

A question that was often put to me and other reporters by Serbs during the early stages of the wars in Yugoslavia asked what would happen if Scotland were to secede from the U.K. It was impossible to convince them that, no, unlike the Serbs and now Russia, England would not respond by rolling tanks into Dundee, but would allow a free vote. Now we have proof.

The vote in Scotland is important not just for the U.K., but also for the signal it sends to the Balkans and other secession-minded regions and their governments around the world at a particularly fragile time. First, it tells Catalans and others that it is possible for a nation that has existed since 834 to decide that resuming full independence isn't inevitably in their best interests. To the governments, it says that granting the right of self-determination can produce the best of all results: A nation that actually votes to remain united with yours.

All that's required is the choice.
Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Biden Praises Former GOP Senator Infamous for Sexual Harassment at Women's Forum (RUSSELL BERMAN, 9/19/14, The Wire)

Gaffe-loving Vice President Joe Biden picked the wrong former Republican senator to praise at a Democratic women's luncheon on Friday.

Bemoaning the demise of reasonable GOP dealmakers in Congress, Biden cited former Sen. Bob Packwood (Ore.), who resigned in 1995 after  19 women accused him of making unwanted sexual advances toward them. It didn't help that he made the reference at the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum. that he thought this man a peer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Carbon Taxes Really Do Work (TOM JACOBS, September 19, 2014, Pacific Standard)

A research team led by Ralf Martin of Imperial College London examined energy usage at U.K. plants over the first three years of the plan, and found far greater reductions in electricity use and carbon dioxide emissions among those that were taxed at the higher rate. What's more, the reduced emissions had no significant impact on employment, revenue, or overall productivity.

When it comes to cutting greenhouse gases, this study strongly suggests taxes are more effective than targets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


When to Say No to Your Doctor (JOSEPH HOOPER, Oct 2014, Men's Journal)

It's been a couple of years, so you decide to see your primary-care physician for a physical.

You feel fine, but it's the responsible thing to do. You get your blood pressure measured and your blood drawn. Within a few days you'll get the lab report that will give you the readout on the amount of cholesterol and sugar in your blood. (This drill is so routine that you and your doctor don't even discuss the implications of a possible bad test result.) If you've entered your middle years, he'll probably ask if you want the lab to test your blood for PSA, a screening test that can tell you if you're at an elevated risk for prostate cancer.

You figure it's probably good to get out in front of these things, so you nod yes. Insurance covers it anyway.

Congratulations - you've just stepped onto a conveyor belt pulling you into a broken system that delivers disappointing results at ever-increasing cost. To wit: The United States spends roughly twice as much per capita as most of the nations of Western Europe, whose citizens on average outlive us by a couple of years. Our own national Institute of Medicine says we waste $210 billion annually on treatments of no or marginal benefit. In a study last year, researchers from the Mayo Clinic went through 10 years of the New England Journal of Medicine, from 2001 through 2010. Of the established tests and procedures reevaluated in studies in the journal, 40 percent were found to be worthless.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Yes, it's official, men are from Mars and women from Venus, and here's the science to prove it (Lewis Wolpert, 14 Sep 2014, The Telegraph)

The first big surprise happens before birth. All men in the world today are essentially biologically modified women, because we all start our embryonic lives as females (that is why, for example, men still have breasts, even though they serve no function). The biological differences that can be found between the bodies and brains of males and females are largely due to the way these embryos develop in the womb.

We all come from a single cell, the egg, from the female. The early development of the human embryo is similar in males and females, and is essentially female, with male features appearing only at later stages. Whether we develop as a female or male depends on whether the sperm brings in an X or Y chromosome. The genes on the Y chromosome cause testes to develop, which secrete the hormone testosterone and suppress female development.

There are also fundamental differences in brain development between men and women, which are clear from the early behaviour of children. A few hours after birth, girls are more sensitive than boys to touch, and 40 hours after birth girls look longer at a face than boys, while boys look longer at a suspended mechanical mobile. At four months old, if babies are frightened in a strange room, twice as many girls as boys cry. Children's play provides further evidence for genetic differences. At 12, 18 or 24 months, girls look at dolls much more than boys, while boys look at cars much more than girls. It is hard to attribute these basic differences at such young ages to purely social influences.

The development of the brain leads to many other differences and it has been claimed that clear sex differences exist in every brain lobe. There are some visible structural differences, such as a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus that is believed to relate to sexual behaviour and which is twice as big in men as in women.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Hitler's food taster reveals horrors (, 9/19/14)

Every meal could have been her last. And when she had finished eating the bland vegetarian dishes put before her, 25-year-old Margot Wölk and her young female colleagues would burst into tears and "cry like dogs" because they were grateful still to be alive.

Margot Wölk was no Nazi, but she was one of 15 young women who were employed at Adolf Hitler's heavily guarded Prussian "Wolf's Lair" headquarters during the Second World War. Her job was to taste the Nazi leader's food before it reached his lips, to make sure it wasn't poisoned.

She was the only one to survive. All her colleagues were rounded up and shot by the advancing Red Army in January 1945. Now a frail 96-year-old widow, Margot Wölk has overcome feelings of shame and broken decades of silence about her time as Hitler's food taster to tell her story to German television.

"The food was always vegetarian," she told Berlin's RBB television channel, for a programme about her harrowing and sometimes horrific experiences, which was aired on Tuesday. "There were constant rumours that the British were out to poison Hitler. He never ate meat. We were given rice, noodles, peppers, peas and cauliflower," she recalled.

But she added: "Some of the girls started to shed tears as they began eating because they were so afraid. We had to eat it all up. Then we had to wait an hour, and every time we were frightened that we were going to be ill. We used to cry like dogs because we were so glad to have survived."

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