July 31, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


Israel's stated aims in Gaza make no sense... : ...and cannot secure a just future. (Stephen Chan | 31 July 2014, MercatorNet)

"Israel has a right to defend itself". This is of course true; Israel is a recognised state and nothing will change that. Notwithstanding huge controversies as to where its state borders are, it has the same rights to self-defence as any other state. [...]

The question in Gaza, then, is: what are the objectives?

This is where the waters get really murky. One obvious objective, the destruction of Hamas's tunnel systems, has never been satisfactorily accomplished by military means; the tunnels cannot be destroyed by bombing suburbs and neighbourhoods above ground. 

Hamas's rocket-launching capacity, similarly, has scarcely been undercut by the previous Israel-Hamas skirmishes. Aside from the obvious point that the rockets kept in the tunnels are rendered all but ineffectual by Iron Dome, because they are simple systems, no amount of degradation now will prevent the rebuilding of capacity tomorrow. Secondary school children can build what Hamas builds.

The aim of undercutting Hamas as a credible governing body makes little sense either. Resistance to Israeli attacks tends to strengthen Hamas - which, after all, was democratically elected by a highly frustrated and besieged people. Degrade Hamas beyond the point of total impotence and other more radical groups will arise, just as Hamas arose to counter the corrupt ineptitude of Fatah.

The last thing Israel needs, after all, is ISIS on its doorstep.

Something must be done

The kneejerk reaction, the sense that "something must be done", is understandable - but the "something" will have consequences that will haunt the Middle East for decades to come.

"Because they started it": in fact, ever since Hamas and Fatah announced a form of unity government, Israel has been looking for new ways to degrade Hamas and its capacity to govern.

The July killing of three Israeli teenagers was immediately blamed on Hamas, even though it was more likely the work of an autonomous Hebron brigade. In retaliation, vengeful Jewish extremists burned to death a Palestinian teenager - and the stage was set for war.

If the key objective is "to teach Hamas a lesson", then it is a lesson inflicted upon over 1.8m people who have no means of escape.

Charlie Rose Talks to Hamas's Khaled Meshaal (Charlie Rose, July 31, 2014, Businessweek)
Will you pledge not to eradicate Israel? Do you want to live in coexistence with Israel?

I do not coexist with occupation and with settlements. Do you think that Palestinians who suffer from occupation and settlements can eradicate Israel? No, this is beguiling, misleading propaganda. ... We in Hamas believe in moderation of Islam. We are not fanatics. We do not fight the Jews because they are Jews per se. We fight the occupiers. I'm ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians, with the Arabs, with the non-Arabs. I do coexist with other religions. ... When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian people can have their say. There are disproportionate standards, but we have the upper hand. Every single occupation ends, and the people are victorious.

Arafat couldn't accept a state because the PLO couldn't win elections.  Hamas can, so it will.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


This is the perfect antidote to all that scary news out of North Korea ()

Recent news out of North Korea has mostly been of the scary sort: It's threatening to nuke the White House! It's firing missiles into the sea! It's opening up a summer camp!

But here's the thing: The North Korean military is not in great shape. Despite its bluster, it's actually quite decrepit, plagued by "antiquated" and "outdated" equipment, according to a 22-page report released by the Pentagon in March. For the latest illustration, you need look back no further than today.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports that the North has had to ground half its fighter jet drills after three of its MiG-19s crashed due to "aged fuselages," according to an unidentified source. The MiG-19, for the uninitiated, is a Soviet fighter jet from the 1950s -- and such museum-ready MiGs make up about three quarters of its fighters. Now, the North Korean military is increasingly counting on commandos, hackers, and nukes to make up for its aging conventional forces -- but still, it's flying out your grandfather's air force.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


What If Obamacare Isn't the Reason Medicare Spending Slowed? (JOHN FEEHERY, 7/28/14, WSJ)

In 2003, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law a Medicare modernization bill that included a benefit that aimed to keep older patients out of the hospital by providing them with prescription drugs.

And guess what: It has worked. Medicare Part D is one of the most popular government programs, and using free-market principles to lower costs and to provide greater choice to consumers, it has come in under budget.

President Bush and my former boss, then-House Speaker Denny Hastert, took a lot of grief from conservatives and liberals for their efforts to give seniors a break on high drug prices.

More important was the liberation of HSAs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM

60(%) in '14:

Republicans' Senate Chances Rise Slightly to 60 Percent (The Upshot, JULY 27, 2014, NY Times)

For the last month, we've been adding one or two polls a day to The Upshot's Senate forecasting model. Today, we update all 36 races, based on estimates from a YouGov online panel that covers every congressional and governor's race across the country.

The panel, asked for its preferences in collaboration with CBS and The New York Times, is unusual in its scope: It comprises more than 66,000 people living in states with a Senate race this year. YouGov, a polling firm, also conducted online interviews with roughly half of the panelists in previous years, allowing it to know how they voted in the past.

With the addition of the YouGov estimates to our model, the overall outlook for the Senate remains roughly the same. The Republicans appear to have a slight advantage, with the most likely outcome being a Republican gain of six seats, the minimum they need to finish with a 51-to-49-seat majority. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Electric Utilities Get No Jolt From Gadgets, Improving Economy (REBECCA SMITH, July 28, 2014, WSJ)

Five years and an economic recovery later, electricity sales at the Columbus, Ohio-based power company still haven't rebounded to the peak reached in 2008. As a result, executives have had to abandon their century-old assumption that the use of electricity tracks overall economic conditions.

"It's a new world for us," says Chief Executive Nick Akins.

Utility executives across the country are reaching the same conclusion. Even though Americans are plugging in more gadgets than ever and the unemployment rate had dropped at one point to a level last reported in 2008, electricity sales are looking anemic for the seventh year in a row.

Sluggish electricity demand reflects broad changes in the overall economy, the effects of government regulation and technological changes that have made it easier for Americans to trim their power consumption. But the confluence of these trends presents utilities with an almost unprecedented challenge: how to cope with rising costs when sales of their main product have stopped growing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


U.S. Pressures India on WTO Trade Agreement (RAYMOND ZHONG, July 31, 2014, WSJ)

U.S. officials pressed India anew Thursday to back away from demands on farm subsidies that risked scuttling a global trade agreement and undermining the World Trade Organization.

"There's been a real effort to try and find a common ground, because going forward is really in the best interest of all the members of the WTO, and particularly for India," U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker told the NDTV network.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


The road to recovery: a first-hand account of beating chronic fatigue syndrome (Alice Haine, July 31, 2014, The National)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also referred to as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), is a long-term debilitating illness dominated by fatigue, muscular and joint pain, flu-like symptoms, poor concentration and headaches. Fibromyalgia, a similar condition, causes tenderness and pain in the muscles and fibrous areas of the body, with sufferers experiencing a heightened reaction to pain because of subtle changes in the brain and nervous system. [...]

Just 10 weeks after the devastating diagnosis, however, I returned to full-time work, and today, 11 months on, I am almost fully recovered. So how did I do it?

I used a combination of treatments, but the most significant was to rewire my brain using the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) - a Canadian programme that remaps the brain away from a constant cycle of illness and back to full health over a period of six months. When I completed the programme in April this year, I became the first person in the UAE to do so. I heard about the programme from a close friend in the United Kingdom, an ME sufferer whose health was finally improving after 20 years of illness. I had always relied on conventional medicine, but, by then, I was ready to try anything.

The programme was launched in 2009 by Annie Hopper, a counsellor and psychotherapist from Toronto, after she recovered from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Using her professional experience and the latest research in neuroscience, she concluded that she was suffering from a limbic-system disorder where the brain is locked into a permanent trauma loop (or state of fight or flight), which makes it see everything around it as some form of threat.

Placebo is even more effective on fake stuff than real.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


12 Signs It's Time to Get Out of Gaza (William Saletan, 7/31/14, Salate)

2. You're killing too many civilians. Last time I checked, on a per-strike basis, Israel's rate of inflicting civilian casualties was lower than NATO's in the Kosovo war. But in just three weeks, Israel has launched so many strikes that its civilian casualty toll has eclipsed NATO's.

Even if you set aside mass-casualty incidents for which Israel has denied responsibility (sometimes with independent evidence), there are too many other cases in which its excuses don't begin to justify the death toll. On Wednesday, when the U.N. cited evidence that the Israel Defense Forces had killed 19 civilians in an artillery strike on a U.N. school, Israel said it was only shooting back at militants who had fired mortars "from the vicinity." On Thursday, an airstrike apparently injured 15 Gazans at a U.N. school during a strike on a nearby mosque (presumably targeted for housing military assets). Another 17 people died in a strike on a market on Wednesday. An Israeli military source told reporters that in two of these cases, terrorists "fired at IDF troops ... and our troops returned fire. It may be that one of our shells fell in the market." [...]

8. You're picking fights with everyone. First it was the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. Then it was the U.N. Security Council. Everyone who speaks up, no matter how carefully, about the pain Israel has inflicted in Gaza gets an insulting rebuke from Israel. As if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's face-to-face, on-camera lecture of President Obama three years ago wasn't enough, government sources have reportedly leaked to the Israeli press a cease-fire proposal from Secretary of State John Kerry and a fabricated transcript of an Obama-Netanyahu phone call, apparently in an attempt to embarrass Kerry and Obama. In the last week, Israeli columnists have derided Kerry in articles that implicitly channeled the contempt of Israeli officials. One article said that "very senior officials in Jerusalem" had called Kerry's proposal a "strategic terrorist attack." Israel's deputy transportation minister said it was as though "the United States is working in the service of Hamas."

This kind of escalation against anyone who doesn't affirm all your beliefs, including your friends, is mental illness. In foreign policy, the damage and self-destruction are that much greater. Now Kerry is wondering aloud whether he can take Netanyahu's stated support for a cease-fire "at face value," and the U.S. State Department is expressing dismay at the accusations from Israeli ingrates. The department's spokeswoman says, "It's simply not the way partners and allies treat each other." And Israel doesn't have any other genuine ally.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on? (PAUL HIEBERT, July 31, 2014, Pacific Standard)

In the 1970s, the Canadian Government gave a lot of money to several families living in a small town in Manitoba. The goal of the experiment, which cost $17 million and lasted for four years, was to see if the community's overall health and well-being would benefit from many of its members receiving a guaranteed minimal annual income.

It worked, apparently. Life in that small pocket of the province improved. Researchers noted a decline in accidents, injuries, and visits to doctors and hospitals for mental health reasons--most likely due to the town's new-found financial security.

This past June, a group of academics and advocates gathered in Montreal to discuss and debate the advantages of governments providing citizens with basic income--an idea somewhat similar to what occurred in Manitoba a number of decades ago, except on a much larger scale. Presently, Switzerland is taking steps toward making this a reality. [...]

So the government sends an identical monthly check to every U.S. citizen regardless of whether they earn $100,000 or $20,000 per year?

Exactly. It goes to everybody. It's universal, unconditional, and paid individually. These are the three core tenets of basic income.

Now, the amount of a basic income is something that different advocates have different opinions about. My position is that basic income should be tied to basic needs. While people's needs differ depending on whether they are disabled or unable to earn another income, the amount should, in a broad sense, cover the essentials. In the U.S., for example, you could tie basic income to the poverty threshold, which is about $12,000 per person. It could be a bit lower or a bit higher, but that's a good ballpark figure.

Would the amount take into account that some parts of the country are more expensive to live in than others?

Basic income would need to be a federal benefit. It would need to be uniform across the United States; otherwise we might have the problem of people wanting to move to higher basic income areas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Israel and Palestinians Locked in Vicious Circle of War, Terror and Occupation (Reuters, July 31, 2014 )

When Israel ended its 38-year ground occupation of the Gaza Strip by withdrawing settlers in 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hailed it as a "disengagement" from conflict with Palestinians in the densely populated coastal enclave.

But the conflict did not end, it only changed.

Israel kept expanding settlements in the West Bank where the Palestinians also seek a state. Hardline Islamists seized control of Gaza in 2007 and periodic U.S. efforts to broker a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under secular President Mahmoud Abbas have proved fruitless.

In the diplomatic vacuum, confrontation has festered.

Israel sealed Gaza in an economically choking blockade and the territory's ruling Hamas movement and other militant factions fired rockets with increasing frequency and range, though not accuracy, into the Jewish state.

Israel in turn has bombarded Gaza countless times from the air and sent in armored columns on occasion to ferret out and destroy rocket batteries and tunnels used to smuggle in arms from Egypt or infiltrate Israel for guerrilla ambushes.

Mediated ceasefires under which Israel pulled out forces and rocket fire abated brought periods of relative calm, only for the two sides to relapse into bouts of bloodshed.

Conflict management has won out over peacemaking.

Israel's current Gaza incursion, in which it aims to cripple the Hamas rocket and tunnel threat before Western opprobium over a soaring Palestinian civilian death toll boils over and forces it to pull back, echoes past offensives since 2007.

At least 1,390 Palestinians had been killed in three weeks, mostly civilians in packed urban areas hammered by Israeli air strikes and shelling. The scale of destruction of Palestinian housing and infrastructure is greater than in past offensives.

Israel has lost 56 soldiers and three civilians hit by cross-border rocket fire.

July 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Here's Proof That the Anti-Abortion Movement Is Winning : Anti-abortion restrictions slowed down in 2014. That's not good news. (Lane Florsheim, 7/30/14, New Republic)

Though the rate of passage for restrictive laws has slowed down this year, in certain states, this is because much of the damage has already been done. In these states, it seems, the pro-life movement is winning. Reproductive rights were one of many issues for which the 2010 midterms served as a turning point, thanks to the wave of newly elected conservative state legislators taking office around the country. "We've seen 226 abortion restrictions enacted over the past four years," Elizabeth Nash, State Issues Manager at Guttmacher, told me. "That speaks to some states enacting multiple restrictions, and perhaps the urgency in some of those states to adopt further restrictions is just not there." In other words, the pace of anti-abortion legislation has slowed down not because the movement has stalled, but because they've already got much of what they want.

Take Arizona. Arizona hasn't always been an overwhelmingly pro-life state; Janet Napolitano vetoed numerous abortion restrictions during her 2003-2009 governorship. When Jan Brewer became governor, however, a dramatic shift occurred. Between 2009 and 2012, Governor Brewer signed numerous bills into law that made several changes to abortion regulations: Partial-birth abortions were banned except when necessary to save the mother's life, notarized parental consent became a requirement for minors seeking an abortion, and women had to meet with a doctor at least 24 hours before a scheduled abortions. The state began to require women to get an ultrasound before an abortion and banned telemedicine abortions. That summary isn't even exhaustive. Though the breakneck speed at which Arizona passed abortion restrictions between 2009 and 2012 hasn't stopped entirely, it has since slowed significantly in the past year and a half. Despite setbacks like its failure to defund Planned Parenthood, the pro-life campaign in Arizona is succeeding. The state currently has seven abortion clinics, down from 19 in 2010.

Other states have followed a comparable trajectory. "We've seen something similar in that we saw states such as Oklahoma, Indiana, Kansas adopt multiple restrictions in 2011 and 2012 and have a bit of a dropoff in 2013, 2014," said Nash. Anti-choice crusaders in these states have gotten a lot of what they want.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Gaza's Future (Max Boot, 07.30.2014, Commentary)

The "post Hamas, what?" question is one that I think is a major deterrent to the kind of action that Morris advocates, probably an even bigger deterrent than fear of casualties in clearing operations. Actually, support for the war in Israel has soared even as IDF casualties have mounted. But Israelis remember how easily they got into Lebanon in 1982 and how hard it was to get out. They don't want to repeat that experience. The U.S. invasion of Iraq provides a similar cautionary lesson; the U.S. had no firm idea who would replace Saddam Hussein and wound up getting sucked into a costly war.

Unless someone in Israel can figure out what comes after Hamas, the Israeli government will, for better or worse, leave Hamas in place after the current round of fighting.

Ultimately, America supports a democratic Palestine and Israel will have to accept one.  The war is just a delaying action.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


GOP Senator: We Could Build on Health Exchange Concept (KRISTINA PETERSON, 7/30/14, WSJ)

Exchanges where people can shop for health insurance is a "step in the right direction," Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said Wednesday, suggesting that if Republicans retake the Senate in November, they might seek to rework rather than gut the 2010 health care law.

"There are some things I feel could be built on," Mr. Corker said at a Wall Street Journal breakfast Wednesday. While critical of the plans offered on the exchanges, a key part of the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Corker defended the basic concept underpinning the marketplaces as sound.

"Don't we really want individuals in our country to have their own health insurance?" Mr. Corker said, backing the ability of individuals to take their health insurance with them as they change jobs and "move away from being dependent on employers where people feel locked in."

The key is to default people into the HSA option and make them pay more for the others.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Independance Day: A British perspective on Major League Soccer (JAMES RODGERS, 7/30/14, Backpage Football)

The MLS, founded in 1993 ahead of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, seems to have learnt from its predecessors mistakes and is now one of the most successful leagues in America. Despite early losses and rumours of its premature demise, the MLS gained more and more prestige and popularity. David Beckham marked the resurgence of European veterans to American football when he arrived at LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007 and as more and more ex-superstars joined, the more attention was devoted to the league both nationally and worldwide. A trade was established where young, exciting hopefuls from the league, such as Clint Dempsey were sold to European heavyweights, while individuals such as Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Tim Cahill became Designated Players in the league.

Now, with average attendances higher than both NBA and NHL and an ESPN poll finding Baseball equally popular with 12-17 year olds, soccer's popularity is at an all-time high in the states and this has coincided with increase in quality and ability to attract top players. The MLS is starting to be recognised as a competitive, high quality league and in recent months Clint Dempsey returned to Seattle Seahawks for $6,500,000, while his Team USA compatriot Michael Bradley went back to Toronto from Serie A heavyweights AS Roma.

What is especially noteworthy about that move and also the expensive capture of Jermaine Defoe from Spurs is that they both had the capacity to continue at a so called "higher-level" as JD was still the Europa league top scorer at the time of purchase and Michael Bradley was in his prime at 26. In recent weeks both Frank Lampard and David Villa agreed to join the new franchise New York City, two individuals who have played and succeeded at the highest levels. The former Champions League winners will be able to impart priceless advice to the younger players and also attract a bigger following of the sport and the league in the city and worldwide. Furthermore, Brazilian former Ballon d'Or winner Kaka signed for another new franchise in Orlando City in an attempt to resurrect his stagnating career.

It was this talented and rapidly progressing league which formed the backbone of Jürgen Klinsmann's US team which progressed to the Round of 16 in the World Cup, with 8 out 11 starters in their 2-2 draw with Portugal being MLS players. They were one of the surprise packages of the tournament along with a lot of CONCACAF nations beating strong Portugal and Ghana to the second qualification spot before a heroic and stubborn performance against a technically superior Belgium side eventually saw their elimination. It is a youthful side which is sure to only improve under the excellent eye of their German coach.

However, what truly marks the sign of change is the fact that exciting, young players who impressed during the tournament have remained in their domestic league and not accepted any of the offers from traditionally bigger more prestigious league. For example, the combative Sporting Kansas duo Matt Besler and Graham Zusi stayed put at the current Eastern Conference Champions.

In this recent spate of mid-season friendlies, the MLS contingent have acquitted themselves well on the whole. Sounders drew 3-3 in a thriller against a club with lots of US connections in Tottenham Hotspur, while the Lilywhites' deadly rivals Arsenal were vanquished by ex-hero Thierry Henry and Ian Wright's son Bradley Wright-Phillips's New York Red Bulls 1-0. Bar Manchester United's 7-0 mauling against LA Galaxy none of the Premier League sides have completely dominated or embarrassed their opponents. This shows that the games are not only an attempt to tap into an emerging and potentially lucrative American soccer market but a strong test for managers to pit their players against and judge any areas of weakness.

What struck me personally was the fervency in some of the support over there. The average attendance is 18,000 and at some clubs such as the Seattle Sounders you could be forgiven for thinking that the club was from Premier League or Bundesliga judging from the fans. There is a 44,000 strong average crowd, which is higher than all but six Premier League teams.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Europe Won't Admit It's Spiraling Into Deflation (Mark Gilbert, 7/29/14, Bloomberg View)

Back in March, European Central Bank Governing Council member Jens Weidmann said that the "deceleration of prices" seen in the euro region was a temporary phenomenon caused by a drop in energy and food prices. What sounded unlikely then now looks myopic, misinterpreted or disingenuous, depending on how charitable you're feeling.

Figures today show Spanish consumer prices dropped at an annual pace of 0.3 percent this month. Inflation there has been below 1 percent for a year. If the technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of shrinking gross domestic product, it seems fair to suggest that a further slowdown in Spanish prices next month would put the country in deflation.

Moreover, prices are dropping even though growth figures also released today show the economy expanded by 0.6 percent in the second quarter, beating the 0.5 percent anticipated by the Spanish central bank. All of which bodes badly for the ECB's efforts to avert deflation in the euro area.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


From Prune Packers to pro ball (JANIE McCAULEY, 7/29/14, AP)

In one of their craziest scouting experiences, the Minnesota Twins have reached a deal with a 24-year-old pitching prospect who has thrown 100 mile per hour fastballs but has never been drafted.

Brandon Poulson was pitching earlier this month for the Healdsburg Prune Packers in a collegiate summer league. His manager was Joey Gomes, the brother of big leaguer Jonny Gomes.

Now, the Twins are about to give him $250,000.

"It's a great story," Twins West Coast scouting supervisor Sean Johnson said Tuesday. "This kid came out of nowhere."

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Chevy Volt is insurance group's Top Safety Pick (Patrick M. Sheridan, July 30, 2014, CNNMoney)

What's the safest car on the road? It's the one that can avoid getting into a crash all together.

That's why General Motors' (GM) Chevy Volt won top marks for safety in small cars.

The Volt was named "Top Safety Pick Plus" Wednesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, because besides earning an "acceptable" rating in an actual crash test, the hybrid electric vehicle also has an optional forward collision warning system. It was the only car out of the 12 models tested to have the crash prevention technology.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Break up the states! The case for the United Statelets of America : Here's how Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota are exercising tyranny over the rest of us -- and how to stop them (MICHAEL LIND, 7/29/14, Salon)

A ballot initiative that would support breaking California into six smaller and more coherent states is being backed by Timothy Draper, a tech investor.  It's a great idea.  But why stop with California?  Breaking up all of the too-large states would increase both the accountability and efficiency of the U.S. government.

America's state governments are too big to be democratic and too small to be efficient.  Given an adequate tax base, public services like public schools and hospitals, utilities and first responders are best carried out by cities and counties.  Most infrastructure is either local or regional or national.  Civil rights, including workers' rights, should be handled at the federal level, to eliminate local pockets of tyranny and exploitation.  Social insurance systems are most efficient and equitable when they are purely national, like Social Security and Medicare, and inefficient and inequitable when they are clumsily divided among the federal government and the states, like unemployment insurance, Medicaid and Obamacare.

So what are state governments particularly good at?  Nothing, really.  They interfere in local government, cripple the federal government, shake down lobbyists and waste taxpayer money.

Few if any state borders correspond to the boundaries of actual social communities with a sense of shared identity.  A look at county-level voting maps shows that, in terms of politics, rural Americans everywhere generally have more in common with their fellow hinterlanders than with their urban fellow citizens in their own states -- and vice versa.  Arbitrary state boundaries merely insure that state legislatures will be the scenes of endless battles between country mice and city mice, resulting in stalemates that don't serve the interests or reflect the values of either mouse species.

July 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Far-right Israelis celebrate Gaza kids' deaths (STUART WINER July 29, 2014, Times of Israel)

Video has emerged of far-right Israeli protesters celebrating the death of children in Gaza during a counter-demonstration to an anti-war rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square over the weekend.

"There is no school tomorrow; there are no children left in Gaza," the men can be seen chanting as part of a roughly formed song that also included the stanzas "I hate all the Arabs" and "Gaza is a cemetery."

The mob also called for Israeli Arabs to be stripped of their citizenship.

One of the ways we supporters of Israel like to differentiate it from Palestine is by saying that they are the sort of people who celebrate the deaths of children.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Why Leisure is the Remedy for Sloth (DUSTY GATES, 7/29/14, Crisis)

Leisure is the remedy for sloth. Leisure is, perhaps paradoxically, the antithesis of both sloth and labor. A leisurely person is the opposite of a lazy one, and is also the opposite of a work addict. To be leisurely is to freely choose to engage in efforts dedicated not to the pursuit of financial compensation (which is the goal of servile labor), but to pursue the more lofty goals of life which truly benefit those engaged in them and the cultures in which they live. Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler described this type of activity in The Capitalist Manifesto (1958) when they wrote that "leisure, properly conceived as the main content of a free, as opposed to a servile, life, consists in activities which are neither toil nor play, but are rather the expressions of moral and intellectual virtue--the things a good man does because they are intrinsically good for him and for his society, making him better as a man and advancing the civilization in which he lives."

The pursuit of leisure has been esteemed by philosophers throughout the ages as something praiseworthy, precisely because it is not, to them, the same thing as merely doing nothing. According to Kelso and Adler, "leisure is misconceived as idleness, vacationing (which involves vacancy), play, recreation, relaxation, diversion, amusement, and so on. If leisure were that, it would never have been regarded by anyone except a child or a childish adult as something morally better than socially useful work." In other words, if we are just going to waste our free time, we would be better off working.

By restoring leisure, we restore mankind to his proper place before God as recipient and steward of his good gifts, to be cultivators and co-creators with him. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP (James Pethokoukis | July 23, 2014, The Week)

[T]he inflation alarmism driving them is taking a weird turn. Some Republicans and conservatives now argue that Washington is figuring inflation all wrong, maybe even intentionally. Better, they say, to trust independent outside sources such as the website ShadowStats, which "exposes and analyzes flaws" in government economic data. According to one set of ShadowStats calculations, the true inflation rate is nearly 10 percent today. The inflation truth is out there.

In a recent National Review Online article, conservative author Amity Shlaes approvingly cites ShadowStats as supporting her thesis that "inflation is higher than what the official data suggest." Others fans include conservative intellectual Niall Ferguson, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and a good chunk of the conservative blogosphere.

ShadowStats' popularity on the right is crazy -- because the site's methodology has been roundly ridiculed by both economists and business journalists. Critics also note that the subscription price for the ShadowStats newsletter has remained unchanged for years. Inflation for thee, but not for me. Beyond that, MIT's Billion Price Project, which tracks prices from online retailers every day, puts U.S. inflation at just over 2 percent. And consider this: If inflation were really 10 percent, that would mean the real economy, adjusted for inflation, has been sharply shrinking -- yet somehow still adding 2 million net new jobs a year.

If GOP inflationistas had their way, the weak U.S. recovery would almost surely be even weaker. Just look at Europe. Unlike the Fed, the inflation-phobic European Central Bank sat on its hands despite weak growth. The result has been an unemployment rate nearly twice America's and a nasty double-dip recession. Of course, inflation is lower than in America -- so low, in fact, that the region risks a dangerous deflationary spiral of falling prices and falling wages.

July 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


De Blasio: Broken Windows Policing Is Here To Stay (Christopher Robbins, Jul 28, 2014, Gothamist)

Eric Garner died in police custody in part because for several decades the NYPD has doggedly enforced smaller, seemingly innocuous "quality-of-life" crimes. According to Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton, the NYPD will continue to strictly enforce laws against loosie peddlers and subway dancers. "I can understand why any New Yorker may say, that's not such a big deal," de Blasio said. "But a violation of the law is a violation of the law." [...]

Left unsaid was the fact that the high number of minor marijuana arrests under Mayor Bloomberg's tenure have not budged since de Blasio took office.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Israeli concerns about Turkey and Qatar fuel dispute with Kerry (Ron Kampeas, July 28, 2014, JTA)

Behind the feud between John Kerry and Israel over the secretary of state's efforts to broker a Gaza cease-fire is a larger tension concerning the role of Turkey and Qatar in Palestinian affairs.

Israeli officials rejected the proposal for a cease-fire advanced by Kerry in part because of what they see as the outsize influence on his diplomatic efforts of these two regional powers with agendas increasingly seen as inimical to Israeli interests. While both countries are traditional U.S. allies, they are also supportive of Hamas.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


The Non-Eclipse of America (Norton A. Schwartz and John K. Hurley, JUL 28, 2014, Project Syndicate)

Perhaps the best indication of America's enduring stature is the dollar's dominance in international financial transactions. Last year's Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index, based on a survey of more than 300 executives from 28 countries, showed that, for the first time since the Iraq War began in 2003, foreign investors view the US as the world's most attractive destination for future investment.

The ability to project power internationally begins at home. And, despite its historically slow economic recovery, there is plenty of reason for optimism in the US.

According to the US Federal Reserve Board, the index of industrial production, which had declined by 17% during the recession, returned to its pre-crisis peak in the fourth quarter of last year. The US has also made some progress in "on-shoring" manufacturing activities, and the energy sector is booming, owing to a sharp increase in natural-gas production.

Moreover, new discoveries in life sciences, particularly biotechnology, are nearing commercial breakout. Reforms in primary education, especially at the state and local levels, have bolstered test scores. And American institutions of higher education, though often prohibitively expensive, consistently rank among the best in the world. [...]

According to the International Monetary Fund, the recent recession is the first in the US since the early 1980s to be followed by a significant recovery in the GDP share of value-added manufacturing. The report cites factors like a weaker dollar relative to emerging-market currencies, a narrowing gap between labor costs in the US and emerging economies, and a significant reduction in domestic energy prices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Hillary Clinton tacks right: praises Bush, criticizes Obama, cozies up to Wall Street (Bonnie Kristian, 7/28/14, The Week)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an expected contender in the 2016 presidential election, has positioned herself to appeal to more moderate or even neoconservative audiences in recent days. Speaking to CNN on Sunday, she praised President George W. Bush's AIDS relief programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, saying his initiatives there make her "proud to be an American."

In the same interview, Clinton distanced herself from President Obama's foreign policy, suggesting that he has not made it clear how D.C. "intend[s] to lead and manage" international affairs. Clinton advocated a more interventionist approach, arguing that, "We have to go back out and sell ourselves" as guarantors of worldwide stability. Currently, the U.S. military has as many as 900 bases worldwide, and has ground troops or drones active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen.

Meanwhile, despite objections from supporters within her own party, Clinton has repeatedly spoken to audiences at large Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Ameriprise Financial.

If she ran as a doppleganger of her husband and the GOP nominated a Paul, she'd get 60%.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Kurds hope for a brighter future (Deutsche Welle, 7/28/14)
Billed as "Irbil's newest jewel that glitters under one of the region's largest glass domes," the Family Mall is a Western-style shopping arcade a few miles from the Kurdistan regional capital's city center. Opened in 2010, it's now home to an amusement park, a vast new cinema complex and over 100 different stores, including international brands such as Carrefour, Mango, and DKNY.

In short, wandering through the neon-lit halls, you could be at any mall anywhere in the world.

And while that might disappoint foreign visitors hoping for a taste of Middle Eastern culture, for many locals the mall symbolizes Kurdistan's rapidly developing economy and the success of its first decade as a fully autonomous region within an increasingly unstable and fragmented Iraq.

Kurdistan's economic boom also provides the ground for the regional government's recent announcement that it plans to seek full independence from Baghdad and set itself up as its own nation state, says Mewan Dolamari, a 21-year-old student at the University of Kurdistan-Hewler.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats (BILL CURRY, 7/27/14, Salon)

In 1985 moderate Democrats including Bill Clinton and Al Gore founded the Democratic Leadership Council, which proposed innovative policies while forging ever closer ties to business. Clinton would be the first Democratic presidential nominee since FDR and probably ever to raise more money than his Republican opponent. (Even Barry Goldwater outraised Lyndon Johnson.) In 2008 Obama took the torch passed to Clinton and became the first Democratic nominee to outraise a GOP opponent on Wall Street. His 2-to-1 spending advantage over John McCain broke a record Richard Nixon set in his drubbing of George McGovern.

Throughout the 1980s Nader watched as erstwhile Democratic allies vanished or fell into the welcoming arms of big business.  By the mid-'90s the whole country was in a swoon over the new baby-faced titans of technology and global capital. If leading Democrats thought technology threatened anyone's privacy or employment or that globalization threatened anyone's wages, they kept it to themselves.  In his contempt for oligarchs of any vintage and rejection of the economic and political democratization myths of the new technology Nader seemed an anachronism.

His critics would later say Nader was desperate for attention. For certain he was desperate to reengage the nation in a debate over the concentration of wealth and power; desperate enough by 1992 to run for president. His first race was a sort of novelty campaign -- he ran in New Hampshire's Democratic and Republican primaries "as a stand in for none of the above." But the experience proved habit-forming and he got more serious as he went along. In 1996 and 2000 he ran as the nominee of the Green Party and in 2004 and 2008 as an independent.

The campaigns defined him for a new generation, but he never stopped writing. His latest book, "Unstoppable," argues for the existence and utility of an "emerging left-right alliance to dismantle the corporate state." The book is vintage Nader and ranks with his best. The questions it poses should greatly interest progressives. The question is, will any read it.

It's a question because on top of all the hurdles facing even celebrity authors today, Nader is estranged from much of his natural readership. It goes back, of course, to his third race for president, the one that gave us George W. Bush, John Roberts, Sam Alito, the Iraq War and a colossal debt. Democrats blame Nader for all of it. Some say he not only cost Al Gore the 2000 election but did it on purpose. Nader denies both charges. Both are more debatable than either he or his critics allow.

In 1996 I served as counselor to President Clinton and met often with Nader to discuss that campaign. Early on he told me he wouldn't be a spoiler. Judging by his message and schedule and the deployment of his meager resources, he was true to his word. In 2000 his allocation of resources was little changed: He spent 20 days in deep blue California, two in Florida; hardly a spoiler's itinerary. But he was in Florida at the end and his equation throughout of Gore with Bush -- "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" -- outraged Democrats.

The Democrats' dismissal of Nader in 2000 was of a piece with our personality-driven politics: a curmudgeon on steroids; older now and grumpier; driven by ego and personal grievance. But Nader always hit hard; you don't get to be the world's most famous shopper by making allowances or pulling punches. The difference was that in 2000 Democrats as well as Republicans bore the brunt of his attacks. What had changed? It says a lot about the Democratic Party then and now that nobody bothered to ask the question, the answer to which is, a whole lot.

Between 1996 and 2000 the Wall Street Democrats who by then ruled the party's upper roosts scored their first big legislative wins. Until then their impact was most visible in the quietude of Congress, which had not enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early '70s. It was the longest such stretch since the 19th century, but no one seemed to notice.

In the late '70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late '90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the "modernization" of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.

The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR's historic banking reform. You'd think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life's work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what's got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.

The furor over Nader arose partly because issues of economic and political power had, like Nader himself, grown invisible to Democrats. As Democrats continued on the path that led from Coehlo to Clinton to Obama, issues attendant to race, culture and gender came to define them. Had they nominated a pro-lifer in 2000 and Gloria Steinem run as an independent it's easy to imagine many who berated Nader supporting her. Postmortems would have cited the party's abandonment of principle as a reason for its defeat. But Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader's issues.

Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party's long Wall Street tryst. Obama's economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.

Even the former parties of the Left in the Anglosphere noticed the End of History.
Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Why Is Israel Losing a War It's Winning? (JEFFREY GOLDBERG, JUL 27 2014, The Atlantic)

Things change, of course--the only constant in the Middle East is sudden and dramatic change--but as I write it seems as if Israel is losing the war in Gaza, even as it wins the battle against Hamas's rocket arsenal, and even as it destroys the tunnels meant to convey terrorists underground to Israel (and to carry Israeli hostages back to Gaza). 

This is not the first time Israel has found itself losing on the battlefield of perception. Why is it happening again? Here are six possible reasons:

1. In a fight between a state actor and a non-state actor, the non-state actor can win merely by surviving. The party with tanks and planes is expected to win; the non-state group merely has to stay alive in order to declare victory. In a completely decontextualized, emotion-driven environment, Hamas can portray itself as the besieged upstart, even when it is the party that rejects ceasefires, and in particular because it is skilled at preventing journalists from documenting the activities of its armed wing. (I am differentiating here between Hamas's leadership and Gaza's civilians, who are genuinely besieged, from all directions.)

2. Hamas's strategy is to bait Israel into killing Palestinian civilians, and Israel usually takes the bait. This time, because of the cautious nature of its prime minister, Israel waited longer than usual before succumbing to the temptation of bait-taking, but it took it all the same.

People will accept civilians casualties if your war aim warrants them--like intentionally fire-bombing German and Japanese civilians to end World War II.

Israel's problem is that it is killing civilians in a war that is only about tunnels. Moreover, if Israel continues the occupation the tunnels will be rebuilt.  If Israel ends the occupation and recognizes the democratically elected government of a nation of Palestine, it will open the borders and obviate the need for tunnels.  It's a Helleresque exercise.

The Gaza Trap (Shlomo Ben-Ami, JUL 28, 2014, Project Syndicate)

The superior power in an asymmetrical conflict always has a problem defining its objectives. In this case, Israel aspires to achieve "quiet" with few enough Palestinian civilian casualties to minimize international criticism. But the failure to achieve this goal is precisely where the superior power is defeated in asymmetrical conflicts. Moreover, "quiet" is not a strategic goal; nor is Israel's way of pursuing it - a war every two or three years - particularly convincing.

The real question is this: Assuming that Israel gets the quiet that it wants, what does it intend to do with Gaza in the future? And what does it intend to do with the Palestinian problem of which Gaza is an integral part?

The question of Palestine is at the root of the asymmetrical wars that Israel has been facing in recent years, not only against Hamas, Qatar's Palestinian client, but also against Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in the region. These wars are creating a new kind of threat to Israel, for they add to the conflicts' strictly military dimension the domains of diplomacy, regional politics, legitimacy, and international law, in which Israel does not have the upper hand.

As a result, in asymmetrical conflicts, Israel finds its military superiority vitiated. These are political battles that cannot be won by military means. The asymmetry between the nature of the threats and Israel's response ends up putting the superior military power in a position of strategic inferiority. The spread of violence to the West Bank - and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's support of Hamas's objectives - means that Israel cannot avoid the conflict's political consequences. Hamas, a neglected opponent of Abbas's diplomatic strategy, is gradually becoming the avant-garde of Palestine's struggle for liberation.

Contrary to what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu believes, the main existential threat facing the country is not a nuclear-armed Iran. The real peril is to be found at home: the corrosive effect of the Palestinian problem on Israel's international standing. The devastation caused by Israel's periodic asymmetrical confrontations, combined with the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and the ever-growing expansion of settlements, has fueled a growing campaign to undermine Israel's legitimacy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Ground Zero cross can stay at 9/11 museum, appeals court rules (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, July 28, 2014, RNS)

A cross-shaped beam from the wreckage of the World Trade Center can remain on display in the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, dismissing a lawsuit brought by atheists.

American Atheists filed a federal suit in 2012 claiming the 17-foot display at the museum built with a mix of public and private funds was unconstitutional. The group said its members suffered from both physical and emotional damages from the presence of the beamed cross, resulting in headaches, indigestion and mental pain.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Only Blue States Need Apply : Courts could allow a system in which Obamacare only exists in part of the country. (Eric Schnurer, July 28, 2014, US News)

When the law was enacted, it was anticipated that all states would create such exchanges. After all, why wouldn't they? These were a cornerstone of the act, and, unlike the mandate and Medicaid expansion, quite uncontroversial. In fact, when Democrats like to point to the core of Obamacare being based on a conservative think tank's idea that Mitt Romney then implemented in Massachusetts, this is what they're talking about. Rather than setting up government-run or government-provided health insurance, such a system creates a free market of private providers, competing against each other, with the government providing merely the "marketplace" (here virtual) and standards for the competition, as governments have done in creating markets across the world for most of recorded history.

But a funny thing happened on the way to making health insurance affordable for every American: Republicans decided to offer massive resistance to any and every provision of Obamacare, including those that were, essentially, Republican. These exchanges, unlike the employer and individual mandates that became the catalyst for a libertarian resurgence, involve voluntary participation. And unlike the Medicaid expansion, they are aimed not at near-poor Americans but the middle class. In fact, everyone, even the wealthiest, can use the exchanges to shop for the best deal on insurance, although the most likely users are those forced into the individual market because their employers don't offer group plans. Voluntary, market-based, competition-enhancing, purely private, middle-class-oriented, Republican-designed - what's not to like? Well, basically, that they're part of Obamacare.

About one-third of states - largely those under Democratic control, in the Northeast or along the West Coast - elected to set up such exchanges, and another half-dozen (not coincidentally, the group next-most-likely to go Democratic in a presidential election) worked with the feds in doing so. But half the country - you can guess which half - refused to participate in construction of an exchange at all. The effect under the law was to leave this task to the federal government.

Most of the refusenik states also have rejected Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid to cover the near-poor rather than just the dire poor. Under the law as enacted, this was not an option: Medicaid expansion was mandatory, unless a state didn't want to take any Medicaid dollars (which all do). But the U.S. Supreme Court, in upholding Obamacare two summers ago, rewrote it (you know, what Speaker John Boehner now wants the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional when Obama does it) to allow states to opt out of that, too. Near-poor in these states now can't get Medicaid coverage, but they also aren't eligible for the subsidies to make insurance affordable through the exchanges because Congress intended them to get Medicaid, not exchange-based, coverage, making them too poor for a government handout.

Small consolation to the citizenry, but letting these states keep their people poorer than the rest of us is federalism at its purest. Not that they will, States Try to Protect Health Exchanges From Court Ruling ( LOUISE RADNOFSKY
July 25, 2014, WSJ)

A number of states are scrambling to show that they--not the federal government--are or will soon be operating their insurance exchanges under the 2010 health law, in light of two court decisions this week.

The efforts are aimed at ensuring that millions of consumers who get insurance through the exchanges would be able to retain their federal tax credits if courts ultimately rule against the Obama administration. [...]
Among the 36 states, the level of federal involvement varies. That means states see gray areas to work with, if they want to, though the ultimate decision about their status would likely hinge on additional court decisions and determinations by the Obama administration.

For example, two states, Idaho and New Mexico, had intended to set up their own exchanges but turned to the federal government to handle their technology in May 2013. The Obama administration has described them as "federally supported state-based" exchanges and often issues data on their behalf, in which it groups them with the other 34 states with "federally facilitated" exchanges.

Two other states, Nevada and Oregon, are currently considered to be among the 14 "state-based" exchanges, but have had technological problems and are now looking to the U.S. to operate their technology for the coming year.

Idaho, Nevada and Oregon have issued statements in recent days saying they are state-based exchanges, regardless of who operates their technology. New Mexico didn't respond to inquiries.

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