March 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Red States Will Suffer (Walter Dellinger, 3/05/15, Slate)

During the oral argument in King v. Burwell on Wednesday, at least some of the Supreme Court justices seemed concerned about the consequences of a ruling against the government. Largely unstated was the most dramatic likely consequence of such a ruling: Citizens in blue states would continue to have major federal income tax breaks that are not available to their fellow citizens who live in red states. The result would be an extraordinary and anomalous federal tax regime. Moreover, it is one that neither Congress nor the states would be likely to cure, at least not in the foreseeable future.

First, a ruling against the government would not be a national disaster for Obamacare. It would be a disaster, to be sure, but basically only in red states in which conservative politicians might find it politically impossible to set up state-run insurance exchanges. Obamacare is doing just fine in the states that have established their own exchanges. They may be fewer than a third of the states by number, but they include major jurisdictions such as California and New York. And they are likely to be joined by a few other major states such as Pennsylvania where the politics will allow the establishment of state exchanges.

If the court's majority were to rule against the government, I would guess that when all this shakes out over the next year, states with (very roughly) half the population would have well-functioning health insurance markets because the working-class citizens in those states would be entitled to federal income tax subsidies enabling them to purchase affordable health insurance. Almost all of the states whose citizens will continue to receive those hundreds of millions of dollars in health insurance subsidies will be blue states. In most red states, the dollar amount of the subsidies would be zero, and the private insurance market would collapse.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Women Are Being Overmedicated So They'll Stop Being...Women? (CAROLYN MOYNIHAN, 3/04/15, Aleteia)

The most emailed article on the New York Times website over the weekend, " Medicating Women's Feelings," was by a female psychiatrist concerned about a boom in the number of Americans taking psychiatric medications and, in particular, the number of women. Julie Holland reckons that at least one in four women now takes such medication, and one in seven men. 
This is "insane," she says, and one has to agree with her. But it is her opening that really amazed me: 
Women are moody. By evolutionary design, we are hard-wired to be sensitive to our environments, empathetic to our children's needs and intuitive of our partners' intentions. This is basic to our survival and that of our offspring.

You could have knocked me down with a feather. Ruled by our emotions rather than reason? By evolutionary design? Hard-wired, indeed? Aren't we supposed to believe these days that behaviour is all by social conditioning, that the body has very little to do with it, and that it's time to give women their head and men their heart? 
Perhaps 90 percent of those emails were sent by feminists and gender studies professors fuming at the biological drift of Julie Holland's assertions: 
Some research suggests that women are often better at articulating their feelings than men because as the female brain develops, more capacity is reserved for language, memory, hearing and observing emotions in others.

Oh? What about all the female brains that are getting better every day at analyzing the stock market and manipulating genes? What about the enlightened view that the human race is not just male and female but expresses itself in a spectrum of genders which we are now seeing in all its beautiful diversity? 

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Misunderstanding the millennials (JOEL KOTKIN, 2/20/15, OC Register)

Urban theorists, such as Peter Katz, insist that millennials (the generation born after 1983) have little interest in "returning to the cul-de-sacs of their teenage years." Manhattanite Leigh Gallagher, author of "The Death of Suburbs," asserts with certitude that "millennials hate the suburbs" and prefer more eco-friendly, singleton-dominated urban environments.

Such assessments thrill the likes of real estate speculators, such as Sam Zell, who welcomes "reurbanization" as an opportunity to cash in by housing a generation of Peter Pans in high-cost, tiny spaces unfit for couples and unthinkable for families. Others of a less-capitalistic mindset see in millennials a post-material generation, not buying homes and cars and, perhaps, not establishing families. Millennials, for example, are portrayed by the green magazine Gris as "a hero generation" - one that will march, willingly, even enthusiastically, to a downscaled and, theoretically, greener future.

In reality, these views reflect more fantasy than reality, as a host of surveys of millennials demonstrate. When asked - in a 2010 survey by Frank Magid and Associates - where would be their "ideal place to live," more millennials identified suburbs than previous generations, including boomers. Another survey, published last year by the National Association of Homebuilders, found that 75 percent of millennials favor settling in a single-family house, 90 percent preferring the suburbs or even a more rural area but only 10 percent the urban core.

This, not surprisingly, is not what you read about regularly in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Young reporters, virtually all of whom live in dense, expensive places like New York or Washington, instinctually believe the world they know first-hand, the one in which they and their friends reside, epitomizes their generation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Top al-Qaida leader killed in air strike, says militant group in Syria (Reuters, 5/05/15)

Al-Qaida's official Syrian wing, the Nusra Front, announced on Thursday the death of its top military commander, who insurgent sources said fell victim to a blast targeting a high-level militant meeting.

Abu Humam al-Shami, a general military commander and veteran of Islamist militant fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, was the senior-most member of the group to die in the Syria war, an insurgent source said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Did John Roberts Tip His Hand? (JEFFREY TOOBIN, 3/05/15, The New Yorker)

Roberts's one question may turn out to be extremely important. The issue in the case is whether the Obama Administration, in implementing the Affordable Care Act, violated the terms of that law. The plaintiffs assert that the A.C.A. only authorizes subsidies for individuals who buy health insurance on the fourteen state-run exchanges, or marketplaces. Under their reading of the law, the eight million or so people in the other thirty-six states who currently buy their insurance from the federal marketplace should be denied their subsidies. Most of the justices' questions dealt with the issue of how to read the law correctly, but Roberts, in his single substantive question, took a different tack.

Anthony Kennedy had asked about "Chevron deference," a doctrine of law that describes how much leeway the executive branch should have in interpreting laws. Verrilli, not surprisingly, said that the Chevron doctrine gave the Obama Administration more than adequate permission to read the law to allow subsidies on the federal exchange. "If you're right about Chevron," Roberts said, at long last, "that would indicate that a subsequent Administration could change that interpretation?" Perhaps it could, Verrilli conceded.

The question suggests a route out of the case for Roberts--and the potential for a victory for the Obama Administration. Roberts came of age as a young lawyer in the Reagan Administration, and there he developed a keen appreciation for the breadth of executive power under the Constitution. To limit the Obama Administration in this case would be to threaten the power of all Presidents, which Roberts may be loath to do. But he could vote to uphold Obama's action in this case with a reminder that a new election is fast approaching, and Obamacare is sure to be a major point of contention between the parties. A decision in favor of Obama here could be a statement that a new President could undo the current President's interpretation of Obamacare as soon as he (or she) took office in 2017. In other words, the future of Obamacare should be up to the voters, not the justices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Russia Accuses U.S. of Plot to Oust Putin Via Opposition Aid (Evgenia Pismennaya & Henry Meyer, March 4, 2015, Bloomberg) 

Russia's Security Council accused the U.S. of plotting to oust President Vladimir Putin by financing the opposition and encouraging mass demonstrations, less than a week after a protest leader was murdered near the Kremlin.

The U.S. is funding Russian political groups under the guise of promoting civil society, just as in the "color revolutions" in the former Soviet Union and the Arab world, council chief Nikolai Patrushev said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday. At the same time, the U.S. is using the sanctions imposed over the conflict in Ukraine as a "pretext" to inflict economic pain and stoke discontent, he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


DNA reveals bird habitat shift surprise (Mark Kinver, 3/05/15, BBC News)

A "dramatic" shift in behaviour and appearance obscured the identity of two birds on remote Indonesian islands.

The forest-dwelling birds are members of the pipit and wagtail families, but were not recognised as such, partly because they live in very different habitats to their relatives. [...]

DNA samples confirmed the their true identities, and it suggests that birds can change appearance in short periods of time.

"This is surprising because these birds do not look anything like a pipit or wagtail," explained co-author Per Alstrom from the Swedish Species Information Centre, based at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

He told BBC News that the birds also occurred in "completely different habitats".

Adaptation is not speciation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


The Forgotten Emancipation (AMY DRU STANLEY,  MARCH 4, 2015, NY Times)

March 4, 1865, is remembered as the day of Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural address, but it was also a moment that has been forgotten in the long history of slave emancipation in America.

As Lincoln spoke of malice toward none, almost 100,000 slaves went free in states loyal to the Union. All were women and children, emancipated by an act of Congress designed to "encourage Enlistments" by black men in the Union Army.

This wartime liberation has disappeared from public memory. But it was a turning point in the downfall of American slavery - in which slaves played a leading part in transforming the Civil War into a war for abolition.

The Enlistment Act reached beyond the Emancipation Proclamation, which applied only to areas in rebellion. By declaring "forever free" the black soldier's wife and children, the act brought liberation to slaves owned by loyal masters in the border states - human property that Lincoln had pledged the Civil War would leave untouched.

By 1865, saving the Union had become inseparable from destroying slavery. But men still enslaved in the border states refused to wage war for the Union unless, in exchange, they won their families' freedom as well as their own.

The Enlistment Act was revolutionary. In a world in flux, where constitutional change flowed from the tides of war, it based abolition on slave marriage. It assumed precisely what slavery denied - the right of chattel property to marry and have a family. And, for the first time, Congress stripped loyal slaveholders of property without compensation, a challenge to the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment.

And at the heart of the revolutionary law lay the aspirations of slaves. The question of who freed the slaves is a longstanding one; whether it was Lincoln, or Congress, or Union generals or fugitives who fled from masters. Yet it is clear that the enlistment act originated in claims pressed by slaves.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Could sweat-free exercise be in our future? (AFP, 5 March 2015)

Diet-free weight management could be in the pipelines, for the hormone dubbed "MOTS-c" appears to let your body tolerate a high fat diet without gaining weight.

It works by targeting muscle tissue, restoring insulin sensitivity and neutralising insulin resistance that comes with age and as a result of diet, and could become important in preventing diabetes.

"This represents a major advance in the identification of new treatments for age-related diseases such as diabetes," says senior author Pinchas Cohen, dean of the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

Supplementation with the hormone, which has yet to be tested on humans, kept laboratory mice trim and healthy on a diet that would make them obese under normal circumstances, according to the study.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Spain welcomes energy deal with Portugal, France as a step toward EU independence from Russia (Associated Press March 5, 2015) 

Spain says that a new agreement to connect its energy networks with Portugal and France is a major step toward breaking Europe's dependence on Russian gas supplies.

Spanish Energy Minister Jose Manuel Soria said Thursday that the deal to double the electricity interconnection capacity between the three countries and kick start a major gas project is "a very important political agreement."

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


How Iran's feminist genie escaped (Amy Guttman, 3/04/15, BBC Magazine)

Farah talks of the major changes Iranian women have experienced in the last 30 years, while I imagine the morning commute back home... a sea of heads face-down in tablets, others dozing to iTunes lullabies. On Tehran's metro, I'm getting a spontaneous, unprompted lesson about gender equality in Iran.

Farah tells me it all began, not with imports from the West, but with the 1979 revolution. A confluence of access, education and a bad economy created a society where women now have independence, careers and husbands happy to help around the house with chores and children.

The revolution, Farah says, was very good for women.

"The revolutionists supported women coming out of their homes to demonstrate. They used women to show their strength, but they never anticipated these women also believed in their right to exist outside the home," Farah remembers.

Iran's genies were let out of the bottle. The same genies have gone on to become active members of theological schools and hold positions as judges and engineers. "I don't care what they spread, radical or fundamental, whether I believe in it or not, they have a voice, it makes me happy," Farah says proudly.

Women, Farah says, now outnumber men in their pursuit of graduate degrees"

There's no greater evidence of women in the workplace, than where we're sitting, surrounded by women on their way to work. It's another outcome the Ayatollah hadn't expected, but with Iran's economy battered by the revolution, women had no choice but to join the workforce.

"It forced men to acknowledge that their wives could go out and earn money," Farah says. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


A Bright Future for Clean Technology (Jon Creyts & Martin Stuchtey, 3/05/15, Project Syndicate)

The convulsions in the clean-tech sector are simply symptoms of a cycle that characterizes emerging technologies: excitement, inflated expectations, and consolidation - ultimately followed by stability and the resumption of growth. Indeed, underlying recent developments are signs of a much more significant transformation: clean tech is becoming commercially viable.

Confidence in the clean-tech sector's future is rooted in the need for sustainable solutions for a planet that is supporting an ever-wealthier population. Over the next 20 years, the number of middle-class consumers is expected to rise to some three billion, from 1.8 billion today. Their new lifestyles will require resources, including energy.

This surge in demand will occur at a time when finding, developing, and extracting new sources of energy and resources will be increasingly challenging and expensive. Over the last 12 years, for example, the average real construction cost of an oil well has doubled, and in recent years new mining discoveries have been few, despite the industry's best (and often expensive) efforts. But clean-energy costs are trending in the opposite direction, ripening these solutions at a time when need - particularly in some of the world's largest developing cities - is becoming acute.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Brownback softens stance on Medicaid expansion (Peter Hancock, March 4, 2015, Lawrence Journal-World)

Kansas is currently one of only 14 states that has not adopted a plan to expand its Medicaid program.

Brownback's comments, which came in response to a question from one of the insurance agents, stood in stark contrast to his remarks on the campaign trail last year when he said he strongly opposed the federal health care law, also known as Obamacare, and criticized his Democratic opponent Paul Davis for supporting it. [...]

His softened tone also came amid mounting pressure at the Statehouse from hospitals and other health care providers who want Kansas to take part in the expansion because it would mean additional reimbursements for them, offsetting losses they suffer from providing uncompensated care, as well as reduced reimbursements from Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Look Out Below, Copper's Falling (A. Gary Shilling, 3/05/15, Bloomberg View)

The commodity price boom that began after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 has turned to bust. Copper prices are down 41 percent from their 2011 peak and probably have a lot further to go. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Saudis in unusual agreement with Netanyahu about Iran, but question Israel's motives (AYA BATRAWY, 3/05/15, Associated Press)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's fiery speech this week before the U.S. Congress, in which he argued against an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, has received tacit support from an unlikely quarter -- Saudi Arabia.

The oil-rich Sunni kingdom views Shiite Iran as a regional rival that is perhaps even more menacing than Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


Rand Paul bailed on a Parks and Recreation cameo because he thought he'd get ridiculed (Jon Terbush, 3/05/15, The Week)

March 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 PM


Why an SNP surge at Westminster could mean the end of Britain (Alex Massie, 2/28/15, The Spectator)

Anyone seeking to understand the strength of the SNP should look to those parts of Scotland where the party is supposed to be weakest. At the last election, the nationalists took just under 10 per cent of the vote in the Scottish Borders. This year, Tory canvass returns suggest the SNP may treble its share of the vote in one of the most staunchly unionist seats in Scotland.

For months, opinion polls have made unremittingly gloomy reading for unionists. The nationalists are heading for a victory on a scale still not fully comprehended in England. The polls suggest the SNP could win as many as 55 of Scotland's 59 seats, up from six at present. No one can quite bring themselves to believe an earthquake of such magnitude is about to strike Scottish politics. Bookmakers' odds forecast a smaller SNP landslide, but winning even 35 seats might be enough to prevent Ed Miliband from winning a majority. Without its Celtic base, Labour would struggle to govern Britain -- unless a deal is cut with the nationalists.

Far from finishing the SNP, the referendum campaign has left them stronger than ever. Indeed, the SNP is no longer just a party, it is a movement -- and one boasting, per capita, more than twice as many members as the three main unionist parties combined.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


The spy who came in from al-Qaeda : Aimen Dean is a founder member of al-Qaeda, who changed tack in 1998 and became a spy for Britain's security and intelligence services, MI5 and MI6. Interviewed by Peter Marshall, he describes his years working in Afghanistan and London as one of the West's most valuable assets in the fight against militant Islam. (Peter Marshall, 3/02/15, BBC)

Dean was at a training camp in Afghanistan when the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam took place in 1998. He was concerned to learn that as well as the 12 American casualties, 240 or more local people died, and 5,000 were wounded.

I think that is when the horror of it started to sink in. And this is when I realised that if this is the opening salvo of this war, where is the next target? Argentina, South Africa, Mozambique? Are we going to fight Americans in Africa in order to expel them from the Middle East, from the Arabian peninsula? It just didn't make sense.

And as a theologian, that's when I started to have doubts about the legality of the whole thing. So I started to ask questions. I went, I remember, to Abdullah al Mohaja, who was the de facto mufti of al- Qaeda... I said, "It's not that I have doubts or anything but can you please enlighten me about the religious justifications for attacking an embassy belonging to the enemy, yes, but at the same time the fact that it's surrounded by potentially huge collateral damage?"

And he said to me, "Well look, there is a fatwa issued in the 13th Century AD throughout the Muslim world, which legitimises attacking an enemy even if it means there are civilian deaths because the enemy is using them as a human shield." And he said, "This fatwa is comprehensive, it gives us justification and there is no doubt about the legality of what we have done."

So I decided to go and look for myself, and this is when I received a big shock. The fatwas were issued in response to questions sent by Muslim cities in Central Asia, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, asking this particular question: "Look, the Mongols are invading. Every time they sack a city, they take a segment of the population from that city, a thousand or two or three, and make them push the siege towers towards the walls of the next city. So do we shoot at our fellow Muslims, who are against their wills pushing the siege towers into the walls of our city, or not?"

And then the fatwa came: "Yes, this is a case where the Mongols are using civilian Muslims as human shields in order to achieve a military aim and if you don't shoot at them, you will end up being killed yourself if the attacks succeed."

Now when I learned of this, I was thinking: "OK, how do I reconcile this fatwa which applies to a life-and-death situation, regarding a vicious enemy using people as human shields to sack another place and to kill every man, woman and child in that city, with what happened really in Nairobi and Tanzania?" There is no resemblance here.

Q: And this fatwa based on siege towers from 800 years ago, that's what's used to justify all acts of jihadi terrorism?

A: That would result in civilian casualties, yes.

Q: So it's important?

A: It is important but you know I'm not going to say it has shaky foundations. It has no foundations at all. It's basically castle of sand in the air.

Q: It's nonsense?

A: Absolutely, and two months down the line I decided that it's no longer for me and that I wanted to leave.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Wall Street Has Its Eyes on Millennials' $30 Trillion Inheritance (Michael P. Regan, March 3, 2015, Bloomberg)

It seems that the millennials are going to inherit a lot more from their baby boomer parents than just some tie-dyes, Steely Dan LPs, and Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic books. To the tune of $30 trillion, according to Federated. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Iran Talks Closer on One-Year Nuclear 'Breakout' Demand (LAURENCE NORMAN, March 4, 2015, WSJ)

An understanding is emerging between Iran and six major powers that a final nuclear deal between the two sides must be structured around a key demand of the U.S. and its European partners: that Tehran stay at least a year away from amassing enough fuel for a nuclear weapon, according to people familiar with the negotiations. [...]

[I]n recent weeks, people familiar with the talks say that Iran's position is shifting. While there is no explicit agreement on the 12-month breakout period, officials say there is a growing understanding on all sides that it must be part of a deal.

Critically, some officials say, Iran has also accepted that in order to achieve that, it will have to agree to a reduction in the nearly 10,000 centrifuges it now operates and cut its enriched-uranium production.

The narrowing of gaps on this principle, and other potential compromises, have helped encourage a shift in sentiment among diplomats in recent weeks that a nuclear deal is finally possible after more than a decade of talks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Government Email (Ira Stoll, 3/04/15, Future of Capitalism)

Amid the furor over Hillary Clinton's reported use of a non-government email account as secretary of State, one issue I haven't seen raised is how much the government spends on running government email systems, and how much money might be saved if all government workers followed Mrs. Clinton's example and used their personal email accounts (or a free Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail account) for intra-governmental communication.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


How Jeb Bush is tweaking his brother's brand of 'compassionate conservatism' (Michael Brendan Dougherty, March 3, 2015, The Week)

 "Compassionate" implied that George would be solicitous of the economic interests of the working class and the poor. He even said that as president he would be the leading lobbyist on behalf of the poor. It was a concession that the chief problem for the Republican Party was that it was seen as the party of big business and the wealthy, not the little guy.

This perception still holds. A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of respondents said the Democratic Party "cares about the middle class." Forty-three percent of respondents said the same of Republicans, a 17-point gap.

But the same Pew survey found that 59 percent of respondents said that Democrats are "tolerant and open to all groups of people," and only 35 percent said the same of Republicans, a 29-point gap.

"Inclusive" is a word that says much less about economics. It's a cultural word, the kind used in college campus orientation literature. It is also corporate-speak, usually swiftly preceded or followed by phrases like "commitment to diversity." Intentional or not, Jeb's tweak of a re-brand gets at this larger partisan gap.

The compassion part is policy, the inclusive bit is politics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Shell unveils plan to replace union workers 2 days before talks (Bloomberg, 3/03/15)  

Two days before contract negotiations are scheduled to resume between Royal Dutch Shell and the United Steelworkers' oil union, the company announced plans to run its second-largest U.S. refinery without union labor.

Shell will have trained and deployed enough "relief workers" by mid-summer to keep the 327,000-barrel-a-day Deer Park refinery in Texas running at full operations, The Hague, Netherlands-based company said late Monday on its website. USW members went on strike at the complex on Feb. 1 after their contract expired and talks broke down.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Pro-Growth, Pro-Family Tax Reform : Cut the corporate rate to 25%.For individuals and families, reduce the current seven brackets to two: 15% and 35%. (MIKE LEE And  MARCO RUBIO, March 3, 2015, WSJ)

The tax code's failures are manifold--impeding growth, discouraging investment, and restricting freedom on the business and the individual side--but they are all rooted in the same fundamental unfairness and inequity of a government that picks winners and losers.

A tax code that works for, not against, American businesses, families and individuals must be built on the twin pillars of equal opportunity and fair treatment for all.

That was precisely our objective when we joined together to design a comprehensive tax-reform plan. We built our plan on the simple, yet powerful, truths at the heart of the free-enterprise system: that economic growth is a function of economic freedom, and that economic freedom depends on equal opportunity and fair treatment under the law. continuing taxes on income.

March 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


The Iranian nuclear deal looks like a reasonable compromise (Avner Cohen, Mar. 2, 2015, Ha'aretz)

True, the deal is not optimal for Israel, far from it, but overall there are potential advantages. True, a few matters may need improving and explaining here and there, but in general it's a reasonable compromise. [...]

For Israel, the biggest disadvantage of the agreement is that it does not strip Iran of its nuclear assets. Netanyahu has repeatedly demanded "no enrichment," but everyone knows this is just rhetoric with no political horizon or legal foundation. There is no source for such a demand in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Despite this disadvantage, the agreement still reduces and limits Iran's nuclear assets to a lower level than in the interim agreement.

True, the agreement also grants Iran legitimacy as a nuclear threshold state. But we must remember that Iran was already a nuclear threshold state before it signed the interim agreement. In any case, the question of a threshold state is the original sin that derives from the ambiguity in the Nonproliferation Treaty itself. The treaty bans the development of nuclear weapons but does not explicitly ban member nations from becoming threshold states.

The agreement also contains unique advantages barely discussed in Israel. It clearly distances Iran from a nuclear bomb -- from a few weeks as was the case in 2012 to about a year. Most importantly, it establishes a regime of safeguards and transparency for almost a generation. After that, Iran's nuclear status will be the same as for any other nonnuclear state under the Nonproliferation Treaty. True, this may not be ideal, but that's a problem for the very distant future, almost a generation away.

Despite its flaws, the proposed agreement is far from bad for Israel -- the only nuclear power in the Middle East -- but it is very bad for Netanyahu. The agreement offers Israel almost a generation, or even more if it succeeds, in which Netanyahu won't be able to sow fear about Iran as an existential danger. It would leave Netanyahu as a leader whose raison d'être has been taken away from him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Could Gas Prices Go Even Lower? (JONATHAN FAHEY, 3/03/15, AP)

[T]he U.S. has so much crude that it is running out of places to put it, and that could drive oil and gasoline prices even lower in the coming months.

For the past seven weeks, the United States has been producing and importing an average of 1 million more barrels of oil every day than it is consuming. That extra crude is flowing into storage tanks, especially at the country's main trading hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, pushing U.S. supplies to their highest point in at least 80 years, the Energy Department reported last week.

If this keeps up, storage tanks could approach their operational limits, known in the industry as "tank tops," by mid-April and send the price of crude -- and probably gasoline, too -- plummeting.

US oil keeps booming despite low prices - for now (Jared Gilmour, Staff writer  MARCH 3, 2015, CS Monitor)

"I'm not surprised we haven't seen production drop. Oil production lags oil drilling," says Severin Borenstein, a professor at University of California's Haas School of Business in Berkeley, adding that rig counts didn't begin declining until months into the price drop. "I am surprised we've continued to see increases in production, and I think that says something about how effective the technology is."

US crude output hit 9.23 million barrels per day in December, according to US Energy Information Administration data, more than any time since 1973. Production today is more than double the 3.98 million barrels the US extracted per day in September 2008, when the financial crisis threw oil prices and production - not to mention the rest of the economy - into a tailspin.

That production boom is partly what has pushed oil prices down more than 50 percent since last June. Over time, low prices could threaten the shale boom, analysts say, since shale producers require higher prices to turn a profit. So far production hasn't dipped, though, despite the fact that oil prices remain stubbornly low, particularly in the US. In fact, even with oil at $50 a barrel for the first half of this year, EIA expects crude production to rise from 8.6 million barrels per day in 2014 to 9.3 million barrels per day in 2015 and 9.5 million in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Jimmy Wales: The next billion people are coming online quicker than anyone thought (Amanda Connolly, 3/03/15, The Next Web)

Speaking today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales discussed how people in the developing world are joining the global conversation online at a rapid rate - quicker than anyone had anticipated.

According to Wales, this is a result of the improvements in the speed of connections and the falling prices of mobile devices.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Costco-Visa deal shows why Medicare should negotiate drug prices (David Lazarus, 3/03/15, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

Costco's deal to replace American Express with Visa as its exclusive credit-card company highlights an economic principle that should surprise no one.

Consumers benefit when a business uses its market power to negotiate lower prices and passes along the savings to customers.

Conservatives have championed such market forces for decades, arguing that if government regulators just got out of the way of businesses, consumers would be the big winners.

That is, unless we're talking about drug prices.

Medicare, the federal healthcare program, is prohibited by law from haggling with makers of prescription drugs over the prices paid by its 54 million beneficiaries.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


Employees not benefiting from slower growth in healthcare costs (NOAM N. LEVEY, 3/03/15, LA Times)

American workers already struggling with stagnant wages are being saddled with higher medical bills even as employers reap the benefits of a sustained slowdown in the growth of healthcare costs, a new report indicates.

While employees' insurance premiums and out-of pocket medical expenses shot up 21% from 2007 to 2013 to an average of $3,273 a year, employers' total healthcare costs rose only 14.5%.

"Almost everyone in the health system is realizing savings, but employees' costs are rising," noted the new report from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank.

They need to rise faster, which universal HSAs would achieve..

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Tikrit: Iran key in fight to wrest city from IS (Nafiseh Kohnavard, 3/03/15, BBC Persian)

As Iraqi and Shia militias try to recapture the city of Tikrit from Islamic State (IS), the key role of Iran in the campaign is becoming clearer.

Shia militia sources in Iraq have confirmed that Gen Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force is personally taking part in leading the operation. [...]

A Brigades commander told BBC Persian that Iranian forces under Gen Soleimani were training and morally preparing Iraqi Shia fighters for the operation long before it began.

Although Iran was left out by the US and its allies when they formed a coalition against IS last year, its direct involvement in fighting IS militants in Iraq was revealed long before the coalition was formed.

Since last summer, a number of Shia militia groups have emerged in Iraq that openly pledge their allegiance to Iran and declare themselves as followers of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian officials have always pointed out that their country is helping both Shia and Kurdish forces in the fight against IS but it was in a battle in late August 2014 that Iran's direct military involvement was made clear.

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