December 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Hamas bolstering its capabilities and coming up with new strategies in the wake of the war, reports say (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 19, 2014)

The Hamas terror group has been redoubling its efforts to restore the cross-border offensive tunnels that were destroyed by Israel during last summer's war in the Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported Friday morning.

According to the reports, some of the cement and other materials being delivered to the coastal Palestinian territory, as part of an international rebuilding effort, has been diverted to the tunnels.

Hamas has realized that the tunnels, which were used to stage attacks on Israeli military targets during the war, provide it with a psychological edge over residents of Israeli border towns in the area, Israel Radio reported in an unsourced report.

However, military sources told The Times of Israel on Friday that Hamas was being careful not to divert cement that is being supplied to the Strip for rebuilding. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Gaza group has also begun restocking its depleted rocket arsenal, the Hebrew media reports said. Some rockets are imported through smuggling tunnels from Egypt and others are manufactured in the Strip. Many of the smuggling tunnels -- one of Hamas's main sources of revenue -- were still open for business, despite massive efforts by Egypt to crack down on them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Obama says he wants to work with GOP Congress on tax reform, infrastructure spending (Associated Press, Dec. 19, 2014)

President Barack Obama says he will try to undertake an overhaul of the tax system with the new Republican majorities in Congress. He says the "devil is in the details."

He says the tax system needs to be simpler and fairer.

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


U.S. ends TARP with $15.3 billion profit (Chris Isidore, December 19, 2014, CNNMoney)

The U.S. government essentially closed the books on TARP with a $15.3 billion profit.

Treasury sold its remaining shares Friday in Ally Financial, its last remaining major stake from the $426 billion bailout of banks and the U.S. auto industry.

...that it would be too successful.

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Romney: Release 'The Interview' for free online (Cory Bennett - 12/17/14, The Hill)

Mitt Romney, the Republican's 2012 presidential nominee, wants Sony Pictures to release its controversial comedy, "The Interview," for free online.

The movie studio decided Wednesday to pull the film, which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in response to violent threats from hackers.

Hours later, the former Massachusetts governor tweeted at Sony.
".@SonyPictures don't cave, fight: release @TheInterview free online globally. Ask viewers for voluntary $5 contribution to fight #Ebola."

...why not buy the rights, post it online, and precede it with a one minute ad extolling our 1st Amendment rights.

Posted by orrinj at 2:47 PM



Bette Davis once said, "When a man gives his opinion, he's a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she's a b***h." But the films that champion strong females break the rule with so many exceptions. From Eleanor of Aquitaine (The Lion in Winter) to Cheryl Strayed (Wild), this series puts independent, clever and brave women front and center.


Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:26 AM


Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, I'm in the Mood for Swing


Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, When Lights Are Low

Both sessions in their entirety are available in various compilation CD's, including The Lionel Hampton Story.
Although these 2 sides are identified as Lionel Hampton sessions, they owe their greatness in large part to the compositions, arrangements and playing of Benny Carter  After spending almost 4 years in the mid-1930's living and playing in Europe, Benny returned to the United States in 1938.  Although his time in Europe was personally and professionally rewarding, the truth is that, with the exception of a half dozen songs recorded with group featuring guitarist Django Reinhardt and his old friend and compatriot Coleman Hawkins (found on Django with his American Friends), the quality of the musicians on the other side of the Atlantic was not up to the standards of their American counterparts, especially the rhythm players.  When Benny returned to the U.S., he was eager to once again play with, and have his music played by, the world's best jazz musicians. 
He didn't have to wait long.  Less than two months after he returned, Benny recorded four sides with Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra (with "Orchestra" perhaps overstating it since the group consisted of Hampton on vibes, one trumpet, three saxophones and a rhythm section).  Benny provided the arrangements for all four tunes, played solos on three of them and composed one, the session's first number, I'm in the Mood for Swing.  The record starts with Benny's catchy A-A-B-A melody.  The theme is played on open trumpet by Harry James, supported by riffing saxophones, with the saxes taking the bridge in harmony before James plays the recap of the A section.  The melody is followed by terrific solos from Benny and Hampton, both propelled along by the still-riffing sax section.  Carter's solo is particularly notable for its use of space, which gives each phrase its own special weight and, paradoxically, helps create a sensation of forward movement.  The solos are followed by 16-bars of the saxes playing in harmony a melodic line that sounds like it could have been one of Benny's improvised solos.  (This type of sax "soli" was a Carter trademark and one of his great contributions to the art of jazz arranging.)  Finally, Hampton comes in to solo over the bridge and final eight bars while the band (the saxes and James) play a counter melody.  Drummer Jo Jones keeps things swinging with his elegant timekeeping.  Here, in less than three minutes, are all of the elements of a great swing band recording: a fine tune, an arrangement which neatly balances ensemble playing with terrific individual solos and a first-rate rhythm section providing a danceable beat.
A little over a year later, Benny returned to the studio with another group called "Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra."  And although the lineup for the 1938 session was impressive (Hampton, Benny, Harry James, Herschel Evans on tenor and Jo Jones), this time Hampton assembled a truly astounding collection of talent: in addition to the leader, there was an all-time, all-star sax section of Carter and the great tenor men Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry and Ben Webster; Charlie Christian on guitar; Milt Hinton on bass; Cozy Cole on drums; and, oh yeah, some kid named Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet.  As with the 1938 session, this date started with an arrangement of a Benny original, this time his best-known and most enduring composition, When Lights Are Low.  After the first two A sections of the melody are played by the band, Hampton solos on the bridge, and Benny solos over the last eight bars.  After Hampton's 32 bar solo, Hawkins rides an interlude into his own 16 bar statement.  The final eight bars (plus four bar tag) have the horns re-imagining the melody while Hampton improvises on top.
In his book Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence musicologist Andre Hodeir wrote that this recording of When Lights Are Low may be regarded as "the apex of the ascending curve that symbolizes the evolution of swing."  I've never actually tried to plot the evolution of swing on graph paper (clearly, "year" would go on the x-axis, but what is the y-axis?), but I will say that as much as I love the great hits of Ellington, Basie, Goodman and the rest, I'd be hard-pressed to name two swing band records I like more than these versions of I'm in the Mood for Swing and When Lights Are Low.
Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all and thanks for reading these posts and sending comments.

December 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


More bad news for Putin: Russia's banks need to be bailed out now (Matt O'Brien, December 18, 2014, Washington Post)

The latest news is that Russia's banks are going to need a bailout, and soon. The interest rate they charge each other on short-term loans--which shows how much they believe in each other's solvency--shot up to 28.3 percent on Thursday, higher than it was even during the 2008 crisis. And, to give you an idea how big the black hole in Russian bank balance sheets must be, this is all happening despite the fact that the central bank just said that banks could pretend that they don't have losses. Okay, it didn't exactly say that, but close enough. Specifically, Russian banks can stop marking their losses to market, and use the old exchange rate to calculate the "value" of the assets on their books. Potemkin balance sheets, though, aren't enough to fool the bankers themselves. They know how screwed their banks are, so they don't trust any others. The Russian government is going to have to inject money--and real money, like dollars--into the banks to end this credit crunch.

That's money that Russia is going to start running out of. It spent $80 billion unsuccessfully defending the ruble this year, and although it has over $400 billion left, only half of that may really be useable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Iran unveils monument to Iran-Iraq War Jewish 'martyrs' (JTA, 12/18/14)

Iran unveiled a monument to Jews who died during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

IRNA, the official Iranian news agency posted photos of the ceremony Monday, headlined "Monument to Jewish Martyrs Unveiled in Tehran."

The page was captioned, "Iran on Monday unveiled a monument to the Jewish citizens who lost their lives in the 8-year Iraqi imposed war on Iran."

The monument, a gold colored slab with inscriptions in Persian and topped by an artistic representation of the Hebrew phrase, "Peace Forever," appears to be set in a Jewish cemetery.

Another slab bears a tiled depiction of a gold seven-stemmed Menorah set against a royal blue background.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Are Drone Strikes More Defensible Than Torture? (Victor Davis Hanson, December 18, 2014, Real Clear Politics)

Since 2004, drones have killed an estimated 2,400 to 3,888 individuals in Pakistan alone, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London. An estimated 345 to 553 individuals in Yemen have been killed in drone strikes over the same period. The BIJ reports that the Obama administration has "markedly stepped up the use of drones. Since Obama's inauguration in 2009, the CIA has launched 330 strikes on Pakistan -- his predecessor, President George Bush, conducted 51 strikes in four years."

On some occasions, drones blew up women and children in the target area. According to the BIJ, casualties of the drone strikes include 480 to 1,042 civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.

How is assassinating a suspected terrorist -- and anyone unfortunate enough to be in his general vicinity -- with a drone missile morally or legally different from waterboarding a confessed terrorist at Guantanamo Bay? At least the waterboarded suspect survives the ordeal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Stephen Hawking's God-Haunted Movie (Robert Barron, 12/18/14, Real Clear Religion)

The great British physicist Stephen Hawking has emerged in recent years as a poster boy for atheism, and his heroic struggles against the ravages of Lou Gehrig's disease have made him something of a secular saint. The new bio-pic A Theory of Everything does indeed engage in a fair amount of Hawking-hagiography, but it is also, curiously, a God-haunted movie.

In one of the opening scenes, the young Hawking meets Jane, his future wife, in a bar and tells her that he is a cosmologist. "What's cosmology?" she asks, and he responds, "Religion for intelligent atheists." "What do cosmologists worship?" she persists. And he replies, "A single unifying equation that explains everything in the universe." Later on, Stephen brings Jane to his family's home for dinner and she challenges him, "You've never said why you don't believe in God." He says, "A physicist can't allow his calculations to be muddled by belief in a supernatural creator," to which she deliciously responds, "Sounds less of an argument against God than against physicists."

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


This Is Now the Average Life Expectancy Worldwide (Justin Worland, Dec. 17, 2014, TIME)

Life expectancy across the globe has increased by more than six years since 1990 to 71.5 years, according to a new study.

"The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better," said lead study author Christopher Murray, a University of Washington professor, in a press release.

The study, published Wednesday in the Lancet journal, showed declines in the number of deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease in high-income countries as well as in deaths from diarrhea and neonatal complications elsewhere. Both of these trends contributed to the overall decline. Importantly, medical funding for fighting infectious diseases has grown since 1990 and helped drive the improvement, according to Murray.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Norks Nix Yanks' Pix (Mark Steyn, December 17, 2014)

I was barely aware of The Interview until, while sitting through a trailer for what seemed like just another idiotic leaden comedy, my youngest informed me that the North Koreans had denounced the film as "an act of war". If it is, they seem to have won it fairly decisively: Kim Jong-Un has just vaporized a Hollywood blockbuster as totally as if one of his No Dong missiles had taken out the studio. As it is, the fellows with no dong turned out to be the executives of Sony Pictures.

I wouldn't mind but this is the same industry that congratulates itself endlessly - not least in its annual six-hour awards ceremony - on its artists' courage and bravery. Called on to show some for the first time in their lives, they folded like a cheap suit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Why Liberals Really, Really Hate Us (Spengler, December 18th, 2014, PJM)

The antics of the "small and arrogant oligarchy" that controls the temples of liberal orthodoxy have turned into comic material that Monty Python couldn't have dreamed up a generation ago. There are now dozens of prospective genders, at least according to the gender studies departments at elite universities. What do the feminists of Wellesley College do, for example, when its women become men? The problem is that no-one quite knows what they have become, as a recent New York Times Magazine feature complained:

Some two dozen other matriculating students at Wellesley don't identify as women. Of those, a half-dozen or so were trans men, people born female who identified as men, some of whom had begun taking testosterone to change their bodies. The rest said they were transgender or genderqueer, rejecting the idea of gender entirely or identifying somewhere between female and male; many, like Timothy, called themselves transmasculine.

Use the wrong terminology and you're burned for a bigot. There used to be jokes such as: "How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, and it's not funny." You can't tell that sort of joke about  Wellesley because the LGBTs never will agree on the lightbulb's gender. There are rare cases of babies born with ambiguous genitalia, to be sure. There also are a few individuals obsessed from early childhood with the idea that they were born in the wrong body. They have difficult lives and deserve sympathy (but not public mandates for sex-change operations). Gender ambiguity in its morphological infinitude as a field of personal self-development, though, has become the laboratory for cutting-edge liberal thinking, the ultimate expression of self-invention. LGTB Studies (or "Queer Studies") departments have or soon will be established at most of America's top universities, classifying, advocating and defending an ever-expanding number of newly-categorized gender identities.

Newly-invented identities are as fragile as flower petals, and those unfortunate enough to bear them know it better than anyone else. The Queer Studies crowd is particularly ripe in that regard, but the same applies to all the ethnic-cum-racial identities incubated in American universities. Look at them cross-eyed, and you're a racist. That accounts for the new Inquisition against covert racism, whose silliest expression is "Micro-Aggression." Heather Mac Donald at City Journal reports on the witchhunt at Berkeley against a professor of impeccable liberal credentials, Val Rust, for such micro-aggressive crimes against "scholars of color" as encouraging them to employ the punctuation and capitalization standards of The Chicago Manual of Style in their PhD. dissertations. "Asking for better grammar is inflammatory in the school," Mac Donald quotes a teaching assistant.  "You have to give an A or you're a racist."

For the crime of imperialist punctuation, the unfortunate Prof. Rust was confronted with a "Manifesto" that stated:

The silence on the repeated assailment of our work by white female colleagues, our professor's failure to acknowledge and assuage the escalating hostility directed at the only Male of Color in this cohort, as well as his own repeated questioning of this male's intellectual and professional decisions all support a complacency in this hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.

People who write such rot know they are ridiculous, and demand from the rest of us that we do not giggle. Berkeley recalls the scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian where the centurions try desperately not to laugh at the name of Pontius Pilate's friend.

Can you microapologize for a microaggression?

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


How modern art became trapped by its urge to shock : There are two kinds of untruth - lying and faking. The person who is lying says what he does not believe. The person who is faking says what he or she believes, though only for the time being and for the purpose in hand (Roger Scruton, 12/06/14, BBC)

With the decline of religion during the 19th century there came about a new kind of faking. The romantic poets and painters turned their backs on religion and sought salvation through art. They believed in the genius of the artist, endowed with a special capacity to transcend the human condition in creative ways, breaking all the rules in order to achieve a new order of experience. Art became an avenue to the transcendental, the gateway to a higher kind of knowledge.

Originality therefore became the test that distinguishes true from fake art. It is hard to say in general terms what originality consists in, but we have examples enough: Titian, Beethoven, Goethe, Baudelaire. But those examples teach us that originality is hard: it cannot be snatched from the air, even if there are those natural prodigies like Rimbaud and Mozart who seem to do just that. Originality requires learning, hard work, the mastery of a medium and - most of all - the refined sensibility and openness to experience that have suffering and solitude as their normal cost.

To gain the status of an original artist is therefore not easy. But in a society where art is revered as the highest cultural achievement, the rewards are enormous. Hence there is a motive to fake it. Artists and critics get together in order to take themselves in, the artists posing as the originators of astonishing breakthroughs, the critics posing as the penetrating judges of the true avant-garde.

In this way Duchamp's famous urinal became a kind of paradigm for modern artists. This is how it is done, the critics said. Take an idea, put it on display, call it art and brazen it out. The trick was repeated with Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes, and then later with the pickled sharks and cows of Damien Hirst. In each case the critics have gathered like clucking hens around the new and inscrutable egg, and the fake is projected to the public with all the apparatus required for its acceptance as the real thing. So powerful is the impetus towards the collective fake that it is now rare to be a finalist for the Turner Prize without producing some object or event that shows itself to be art only because nobody would conceivably think it to be so until the critics have said that it is.

Original gestures of the kind introduced by Duchamp cannot really be repeated - like jokes they can be made only once. Hence the cult of originality very quickly leads to repetition. The habit of faking becomes so deeply engrained that no judgement is certain, except the judgement that this before us is the 'real thing' and not a fake at all, which in turn is a fake judgement. All that we know, in the end, is that anything is art, because nothing is.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


America should be more like Disneyland : The country needs Walt Disney's optimism and investment in infrastructure and human happiness ( David Cay Johnston, 12/12/14, Al Jazeera)

Every night Disneyland gets freshened up. When the park closes at midnight, the lights go up, and crews steam gum off the sidewalks, daub fresh paint where needed, water the flowers, polish the streetlights and examine the walkways. I had to look hard just to find unrepaired cracks on Main Street and the paved walkways. By chance, I got to walk backstage, where the asphalt and concrete surfaces were in near perfect shape, the walls painted, the handrails free of rust.

The Walt Disney Co. invests in infrastructure because it makes the company money. The park draws on average 43,000 people a day willing to bear a basic ticket price of $92 for those 10 or older.

Yet outside the gates, America fails to invest in its infrastructure, costing us lives from accidents, floods, sinkholes from water-main failures and explosions from faulty natural gas lines. Sidewalks buckle or heave after winter freezes, making many hazardous to walk on. America's roads deteriorate, costing the economy in efficiency, though the front-end-alignment shops and tire dealers do well. How strange that the roads I traveled this year in the impoverished Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa were smoother than those I drove in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Boston; Cleveland; New Orleans; Syracuse, New York; and Los Angeles.

The water fountains at Disneyland all worked, while in city halls and airports, many barely dribble because there is no budget to replace their filters before sediment clogs them. Instead, we give tens of billions in subsidies to profitable corporations.  

People are willing stand in line for half an hour or so for about 90 seconds on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the flying Dumbo elephants and a bit longer on the Autopia, the Matterhorn bobsleds and the Mark Twain Steamboat. But as a society, we resist paying a bit more in taxes so that our mass transit works on time and traffic flows smoothly.

Like Disneyworld, cities should host jobs and entertainment then empty out at night, refilling daily via rail.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Why Has Switzerland Switched Rates to Negative? ( Brian Blackstone, 12/18/14, WSJ)

Why did the Swiss take this step?

Switzerland is a small, open economy with a strong banking system, making it a safe haven in times of global financial stress. That puts upward pressure on its currency as more money pours into its banks. Because Switzerland is highly export intensive, particularly to the eurozone, a higher Swiss franc weakens the economy and raises deflation risks. The Swiss have, since 2011, had a ceiling on the franc's value against the euro. "The introduction of negative interest rates makes it less attractive to hold Swiss franc investments," the SNB said.

Who else has tried this?

Denmark installed a negative deposit rate in 2012 and after briefly taking it positive in April, moved it back into the red three months ago. The European Central Bank took its deposit rate to -0.1% in June and cut it an additional 10 basis points in September.

Who might be next?

Sweden's Riksbank may be under pressure to follow suit, particularly if its currency strengthens on the back of the Swiss move. The bank has said a negative interest rate is one option if it needs to loosen policy further.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


No Sign Yet of Labor Cost Inflation in U.S. or U.K. (PAUL HANNON, 12/18/14, WSJ)

Despite falling unemployment rates, there are few signs that rising wages will soon start to push inflation higher in either the U.S. or the U.K., where central banks are expected to raise their benchmark rates next year and in early 2016 respectively. [...]

[A]n internationally comparable measure of labor costs released Thursday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed no sign of a buildup in inflationary pressures from that source in either country.

Indeed, the Paris-based research body recorded a 0.1% drop in unit labor costs in the U.S. during the third quarter, which followed a 0.6% decline in the second quarter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


3 Senior ISIS Leaders Killed in US Airstrikes in Iraq (LUIS MARTINEZ, 12/18/14, ABC News)

Three senior ISIS leaders have been killed in recent weeks by U.S. airstrikes inside Iraq, including the terror group's right-hand man, the Pentagon confirmed. The news comes as the American commander leading the U.S. effort against ISIS in Iraq and Syria says coalition efforts are having a "significant impact" on the terror group's operations.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disclosed the strikes against the ISIS leaders in an interview Thursday with the Wall Street Journal.

"It is disruptive to their planning and command and control," Gen. Dempsey said. "These are high-value targets, senior leadership."

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


India's bride trafficking fuelled by skewed sex ratios (Anu Anand, 17 December 2014, The Guardian)

Just 90 minutes' drive from the thriving city of Gurgaon, near Delhi, a business hub in India and home to corporate giants Google and Microsoft, Hari Singh Yadav, landowner, farmer and eldest of seven brothers sits outside his front door and bemoans his bachelor status.

"There are not enough girls from my caste in our village, and I'm already 34 years old, so now no one wants to marry me," he says. Only three of his brothers have found wives. "Here, if you don't marry, people shun you. I want to go to [the southern city of] Hyderabad and get a wife but it will cost $1,500. Will you loan it to me?"

In the north-west of India, the business in brides is booming. Skewed sex ratios in states including Haryana, where there are only 830 girls for every 1,000 boys (pdf) and young women being lured away to jobs in India's booming cities, means men like Yadav are increasingly left with few options when it comes to finding a wife.

"Among land-owning castes in rural areas, female foeticide is rampant because people bitterly oppose laws which say girls should inherit equally," said Reena Kukreja, who teaches gender studies at Queens University in Ontario, Canada. "So they make sure daughters are never born."

Nearly 50 years after the introduction of ultrasound technology, which campaigners say has led to the sex-selective termination of up to 10 million healthy female foetuses, families in search of wives are increasingly turning to traffickers to counter their sons' diminishing marriage prospects.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Deflation Stalks the Globe (Mark Gilbert, 12/19/14, Bloomberg View)
In the U.S. Treasury market, dealers have dissected the securities into so-called STRIPS -- Separately Traded Interest and Principal Securities -- at a pace that's swollen the market to $211 billion, its biggest since 1999. Strips, which lose value quicker than just about anything else if inflation accelerates, have instead posted returns approaching 50 percent this year, Susanne Walker reported for Bloomberg News this week. U.S. bondholders are so relaxed about inflation that they're almost horizontal.

And in Germany, investors are paying for the privilege of stashing their cash in government debt -- another sign that they don't expect inflation to erode the value of their returns.

Some countries are already in deflation. In Sweden, consumer prices dropped for a fourth consecutive month in November, prompting the central bank yesterday to commit to keeping its main interest rate at zero until the second half of 2016. Spain, which is at the mercy of the ECB's policies, has seen deflation for the last five months, with prices dropping by 0.4 percent in November.

Even in the U.K., where the economic recovery is relatively robust, figures yesterday showed inflation at its slowest in more than a decade, with November consumer prices rising just 1 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Judd Gregg sizes up Jeb Bush (John DiStaso on Dec 17, 2014, NH Journal)

"We are going to have an extremely strong field this time around," Gregg said, "as opposed to last time, when we had only one candidate qualified to be President and the others were writing their next book.
"This is a deep and talented field," he said. "There is a first tier and a second tier and undoubtedly, Governor Bush is in the top tier.
"I would not call him a prohibitive favorite, but I would call him a substantive favorite," Gregg said, also naming Mitt Romney, should he decide to run, and New Jersey Gov. Christie in that category. But he said, "It's going to be a wide open field." Gregg said he did not hear from Bush prior to his announcement on Tuesday that he "actively explore" running for President.
"I do tend to think that the next nominee will come from a governorship rather than Congress," Gregg said, "because Congress has been somewhat dysfunctional and I believe the American people are tired of the dysfunction."

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Poll: GOP gets a bounce from midterm wins (Dan Balz and Scott Clement, December 17, 2014, Washington Post)

Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party's image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. [...]

In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Trade Costs, Conflicts, and Defense Spending (Michael Seitza, Alexander Tarasovb, Roman Zakharenkoc, Journal of International Economics)

This paper develops a quantitative model of trade, military conflicts, and defense spending. Lowering trade costs between two countries reduces probability of an armed conflict between them, causing both to cut defense spending. This in turn causes a domino effect on defense spending by other countries. As a result, both countries and the rest of the world are better off. We estimate the model using data on trade, conflicts, and military spending. We find that, after reduction of costs of trade between a pair of hostile countries, the welfare effect of worldwide defense spending cuts is comparable in magnitude to the direct welfare gains from trade.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


After years of effort, Vermont gov. reportedly gives up pursuing single-payer health care (Sarah Kliff, December 17, 2014, Vox)

Vermont has long had a two-pronged approach to building a single-payer health care system. First, they would figure out what they would want the system to look like. Then, they would figure out how to pay for it.

The state passed legislation outlining how the single-payer system would work in 2011. And ever since, the state has been trying to figure out how to pay for a system that covers everybody. Most estimates suggest that the single payer system would cost $2 billion each year. For a state that only collects $2.7 billion in revenue, that is a large sum of money.

What Shumlin appears to be saying today is that the "time is not right" to move forward on the financing of the single-payer system. And that means putting the whole effort aside, with no clear moment when the debate would be reopened.

Back to the universal HSA drawing board...

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Governor in Chief : Jeb Bush's remarkable eight years of achievement in Florida. (FRED BARNES, 6/12/06, Weekly Standard)

Why is Jeb Bush the best? It's very simple. His record is the best. No other governor, Republican or Democrat, comes close. Donna Arduin, perhaps the most respected state budget expert in the country, has worked for four big-state Republican governors--John Engler of Michigan, George Pataki of New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and Bush. Even while she worked for Schwarzenegger, she told me Bush is "absolutely" the nation's premier governor. "He's principled, brilliant, willing to ignore his pollsters, and say no to his friends," she says.

Engler, now head of the National Association of Manufacturers, knows Jeb Bush well and has watched the course of his governorship. He says flatly: "Jeb Bush is the finest governor in the country." Jim Gilmore, the ex-governor of Virginia, declines to rank governors. But he says Bush, as governor of a big state, "had a big challenge and he met it."

In a state with a surging population, Bush has presided over a booming economy with the highest rate of job creation in the country and an unemployment rate of 3.0 percent (the national average is 4.6 percent). Florida has no state income tax, but Bush has nonetheless found a way to cut taxes every year of the eight he's been in office. Meanwhile, he's trimmed the state employment rolls by 11,000.

"Politics is a game for risk takers," says Mike Murphy, a political strategist for Bush and other governors, including Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Schwarzenegger. And Bush is an extraordinary risk taker and innovator. He's made Florida, in the jargon of bipartisan experts, a "laboratory of democracy." He's mined state and local think tanks for ideas that might streamline state government and make it more effective.

He's the first governor to impose stringent testing and accountability on Florida elementary and secondary schools, along with three voucher programs, the most ambitious of which was struck down this year by the (liberal and majority Democratic) state supreme court. This achievement went beyond the No Child Left Behind program of his brother, President Bush, who dropped vouchers in a compromise with Democrats in 2001.

On health care, no governor has attacked Medicaid, whose costs are swamping state budgets, more boldly than Bush. He wangled a breathtakingly broad waiver from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to privatize Medicaid in two populous counties, Duval (Jacksonville) and Broward (Fort Lauderdale). The new program, affecting more than 200,000 Medicaid recipients, goes into effect July 1.

Two more things. Bush, after handling eight hurricanes and four tropical storms in 14 months in 2004 and 2005, has become the undisputed national leader in emergency management. Imagine if he had been governor of Louisiana when Katrina hit last summer.

He really just doesn't have a peer in the GOP field.

December 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Inflation basically does not exist (Paul R. La Monica   @lamonicabuzz December 17, 2014, CNNMoney)

If you still have one of those Whip Inflation Now buttons lying around from the 1970s, you can probably throw it away. Inflation pretty much doesn't exist.

The government reported Wednesday morning that consumer prices have risen just 1.3% over the past 12 months. When you exclude the prices of food and energy, prices were up just 1.7%.

Overall prices fell 0.3% in November, driven largely by the dramatic fall in gas prices. This is the biggest drop in the monthly inflation rate and gas prices since December 2008. Prices actually rose 0.1% last month when you factor out oil and food costs. [...]

And with inflation being so low right now, Americans do have more purchasing power. Although average wages are up just 2.1% over the past 12 months, that's still much higher than the increase in consumer prices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


The promise for American businesses if Cuba sanctions are lifted (Jose Pagliery, December 17, 2014, CNNMoney)

"Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean, so there's some exciting possibilities," said Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell, noting that there are ports and some cruising infrastructure already on the island.

The news sent the value of Herzfeld Caribbean Basin (CUBA) soaring 35%. It's a mutual fund that's invested in companies likely to benefit from increased trade with Cuba, such as cargo-ship operator Seaboard Corp. (SEB) and Watsco 
(WSO), which would distribute air conditioning equipment to the tech-challenged island.

American companies that make consumer products -- such as soap and packaged foods -- are likely to benefit first, said Andres Diaz, a former Obama administration trade official who now does management consulting in Latin America. 
They're inexpensive, and the Cuban population can't currently afford much.

"And we'll be seeing these legendary Cuban products -- like cigars and rum -- circulating in the U.S.," he said. Although the embargo persists, travelers can now return to the United States with $100 worth of cigars or alcohol and $400 of any other item.

Also, Cuban-Americans can now send more money back to family and friends on the island, given that Obama has risen the cap on remittances. And there's a lot of potential for telecommunications companies to connect more Cubans to the Internet.

A national trade group of American farmers -- who notably receive U.S. government subsidies that make their products cheaper for foreigners -- says they'll stand to benefit if banking and credit restrictions are lifted.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Vladimir Putin vs. the Currency Markets: What to Know About the Ruble's Collapse (Neil Irwin, 12/15/14, NY Times)

The continued slide of the ruble is all the more remarkable given economic sanctions imposed in retaliation for Russian aggression toward Ukraine that make Russian money unwelcome at many global banks.

Perhaps the higher interest rates will make those moving money out of Russia think twice, and a resulting reversal in currency markets will lead speculators to conclude that betting against the ruble is no longer a sure thing.

But the move shows how Russian policy makers are stuck with no good options. Already the central bank has reportedly been intervening to try to short-circuit the sell-off, buying rubles to try to arrest the declines.

The problem is that if you try to defend your currency and lose, you are essentially throwing your money at currency traders for nothing. As Russia has deployed its reserves to (so far unsuccessfully) stop the currency collapse, it has made traders betting against the ruble richer while leaving the Russian government poorer. Poorer by $80 billion, to be precise.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


The other Bush on taxes (Jeanne Sahadi, 12/17/14, CNNMoney)

 As Florida governor, from 1999 to 2007, Bush signed a number of tax cuts and tax-break expansions.

Biggest among them was a reduction and then a repeal of the state's tax on personal assets such as investments, said Kurt Wenner, vice president of research at Florida Tax Watch, a government watchdog group.

Don't tax what you do want.

December 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Pakistan attacks draw worldwide condemnation (Deutsche welle, 12/16/14)

At home in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the attack a "national tragedy unleashed by savages."

"These were my children. This is my loss. This is the nation's loss, " said Sharif. He pledged to step up efforts against the Taliban. "The fight will continue. No one should have any doubt about it," Sharif warned. "We will take account of each and every drop of our children's blood."

The leaders of Pakistan's neighbors, Afghanistan and India, also voiced their solidarity. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to denounce the violence.

The attack has been claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as revenge for Pakistan's major military offensive against it in the region. The group said it had told the attackers to target older children.
Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan decried the killing spree, calling it "un-Islamic."

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