August 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM

WHEN DO THEY GET THE KITCHEN SINK?:

PA to pay Hamas staff 'as soon as possible' (AFP, August 31, 2014)

 The Palestinian Authority will pay its employees' August salaries on time and Hamas civil servants in Gaza "as soon as possible," a spokesman for the unity government said Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM

OUR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT:

Obama: Bush-Cheney 'Security Apparatus' Makes Us 'Pretty Safe' (DANIEL HALPER, 8/30/14, Weekly Standard)

"I don't have to tell you, anybody who has been watching TV this summer, it seems like it is just wave after wave ofupheaval, most of it surrounding the Middle East.  You're seeing a change in the order in the Middle East.  But the old order is having a tough time holding together and the new order has yet to be born, and in the interim, it's scary."

Then he told the Democratic donors not to worry because measures put in place by Bush and Cheney "make us ... pretty safe." 

"The good news is that we actually have a unprecedented military capacity, and since 9/11 have built up a security apparatus that makes us in the here and now pretty safe.  We have to be vigilant, but this doesn't immediately threaten the homeland.  What it does do, though, is it gives a sense, once again, for future generations, is the world going to be upended in ways that affect our kids and our grandkids."

Thanks, W.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM

IT'S A PURITAN NATION:

Our Secular Baptism (Nathan Nielson, 8/30/14, Real Clear Religion)

The ALS "ice bucket challenge" has become our new rite of social participation. But it's so much more. Mass public movements have many ancestors, including religious ones. This phenomenon is tapping into something deep in the human spirit, feeding on the desire to order our ethical and social lives by ritual. In a time when traditional religiosity may be losing its appeal and religious experience is becoming more diverse and pluralistic, we now see a practice that unites everyone, regardless of religious, political or socio-economic status.

In short, we have a new baptism -- the renewal of life delivered by bucket.

All the elements are there: cleansing by water, the call to act, absolution of our affluent guilt, commitment to a cause, charity that suffereth long and endureth all things, hope in philanthropic perpetuation, and faith in the efficacy of donations, performed one by one, for all the community of believers to see and enjoy.



Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM

THE SHARK BENEATH THE SURFACE:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at 50 (Lucy Mangan, Friday 29 August 2014, The Guardian)

[S]hortly after his son Theo was born in 1960, Dahl sent a revised version of the story, entitled "Charlie's Chocolate Boy" to his agent Mike Watkins, in which the eponymous hero visits the factory with nine other children and is accidentally made into a chocolate figure and delivered to Mr Wonka's house, where he foils a burglary and is rewarded with a sweet shop of his own "nine storeys high".

The others include Augustus Pottle (Gloop's precursor), Miranda Grope (disappears up the pipe with Augustus), Wilbur Rice, Tommy Troutbeck (whose fates you will learn in the never-before-published chapter cut from the draft that accompanies this piece); Violet Strabismus (had been Glockenberry, would become Beauregarde, always ends up violet); Clarence Crump, Bertie Upside, Trevor Roper (who all overheat after ingesting an unwise number of Warming Candies), and Elvira Entwhistle (gets booted down a rubbish chute but would eventually be known as Veruca Salt as she went) - an unwieldy group and it is obvious that some of them need to go, but it is still great fun while they're around.

But then Theo was almost killed when a cab hit his pram in New York. He survived, but developed hydrocephalus. The shunt put in his head to drain the fluid kept clogging, nearly killing him each time. Dahl mined Theo's neurosurgeon Kenneth Till for every ounce of his knowledge then took the problem to his friend Stanley Wade who, in a twist you wouldn't dare write, was an engineer whose hobby was making miniature engines for toy aeroplanes and whose job was running a factory that produced precision hydraulic pumps.

Together, the three men invented the Wade-Dahl-Till valve for Theo and the thousands of other children in his situation. In June 1962, the first one was inserted into the head of a patient in London's Great Ormond Street hospital. It worked beautifully. Theo was well enough not to need it by then, but over the years it was used to treat thousands of children all over the world.

Dahl went back to his book.

The publishers Knopf were reading a second draft when Olivia and Tessa arrived home from school with a note warning parents about a measles outbreak. Vaccination programmes would be introduced a year later in America, but that was too late for the Dahls. Seven-year-old Olivia caught the bug and died. It is perhaps both impossible and unwise to try to describe the depths of anyone's grief at losing a child: recalling it 20 years later in her autobiography As I Am, Neal still struggled to articulate hers; of her husband, she says simply that he "all but lost his mind".

Eventually, however - and it's not quite clear how long after, because Dahl did not date his drafts - the need, both financial and personal, to work reasserted itself and another draft of Charlie took shape. And another, and another.

Reading them now is like watching a familiar landscape slowly emerge out of the mist, or the coloured chips of glass in a kaleidoscope before a final turn of the lens aligns them in the proper pattern. The chocolate river is there, but there's no waterfall or minty grass-meadow setting (though the latter has its precursor in a garden Wonka makes for a rich woman, full of trees with barley sugar branches, fudge trunks and mint crisp leaves). The inventor is the central figure, not Charlie. There are uniformed workers in the factory and disembodied voices whispering the songs that accompany each child's departure instead of a musical tribe of tiny, cacao-loving Loompaland natives.

What we think of as the "real" Dahl is there, moving underneath the story like a shark but only occasionally breaking the surface to show his grinning teeth (one mother objects to her child being made into fudge on the grounds that "we've spent far too much on his education already"). But it is only after a letter from his former agent and confidante Sheila St Lawrence that you can see him start to really trust his instincts. Although she says now that "he was going to get there anyway ... If someone else hadn't alerted him, I'm quite sure he would have alerted himself", she made a variety of specific suggestions - including making the uniformed assistants "something more surprising than they are" - but also encouraged him more generally to let rip. "I'd like to see more humour, more light, Dahlesque touches throughout," ends the letter. "I hope some of my remarks will produce counter remarks in you that will stir you to flights of fancy to make the book take off and really fly, as it undoubtedly will."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM

LUCKY BUGGER:

Werner Franz, Survivor of the Hindenburg's Crew, Dies at 92 (BRUCE WEBER, AUG. 29, 2014, NY Times)

Mr. Franz was believed to be the last surviving crew member. At least one other survivor of the crash, Werner Doehner, who was 8 years old and traveling with his family at the time, is thought to be still living.

The Hindenburg, 800 feet long (more than three times the length of a Boeing 747) and 135 feet in diameter, had its maiden voyage on March 4, 1936, and made 62 safe flights before its destruction. Mr. Franz had made four round-trip crossings on it, to both North and South America. As he recalled his experience of the crash in a book published in Germany a year later, he had been clearing dishes in the officer's mess when the Hindenburg began to burn.

"Franz heard a thud, and he felt the ship shake and point sharply upward as the burning tail crashed to the ground," Mr. Grossman wrote on his website, airships.net, summarizing the German account. "Hydrogen flames roared above and behind him as the ship tilted more steeply, and then a ballast tank ruptured, dousing Franz with water."

The inadvertent soaking was Mr. Franz's good fortune, offering a buffer against the mounting heat and flame. He kicked open a hatch used to bring supplies onto the ship, and when the ground loomed close enough, he leapt to safety, running from the wreckage before it could entrap him. He suffered no injuries.

August 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM

CURRENCY IS A FUTURE AND RUSSIA HAS NONE:

Ruble Hits New Low as Ukraine Tensions Rise (ANDREY OSTROUKH and CHIARA ALBANESE, Aug. 29, 2014, WSJ)

The ruble eased to a low of 37.07 versus the dollar, losing around 0.7% on the day. That took the ruble below its previous record of 37 per dollar, which it hit on the first trading day of March after the West had threatened to punish Moscow for its annexation of Crimea.

Analysts say the Russian unit could plumb new depths should the crisis in Ukraine escalate further as foreign players are the main sellers of the ruble.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM

OUR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT:

Rick Perlstein: By the Book (AUG. 28, 2014, NY Times)

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? 

The Book of Job, maybe. It's the best story I know at driving home the fact that the world just isn't always a reasonable place. Not grasping that, I think, is Barack Obama's tragic flaw: He still seems to stubbornly believe that if he just explains clearly and calmly enough to his friends across the aisle why his ideas will bring the greatest good to the greatest number, there'll finally be no more Red America and no more Blue America. But my 18 years studying conservatism has convinced me the right just doesn't work that way -- they're fighting for civilization stakes, and he's a liberal, so, Q.E.D., he's the enemy. His longing to compromise with them just ends up driving the political center in America further to the right.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM

WHICH INFLATION MEASURES DON'T CAPTURE:

How we shop for food is changing, in three charts (Sarah Halzack, August 28, 2014, Washington Post)

While the traditional supermarket still reigns as the top destination for grocery shopping, this chart effectively illustrates just how fierce the competition for your grocery dollars has become.  FMI found that the traditional way of shopping-with one major weekly trip to the same neighborhood grocery-is becoming less common.

The shopping experience is becoming highly fragmented, the study found.  For example, a consumer might do a large trip to a traditional supermarket every other week, but do "fill-in trips" in between those outings to a drug store or a convenience store.  Another shopper might purchase produce at an organic food store, but get packaged items at a warehouse club store such as Costco or Sam's Club.

Our decreased loyalty to a single store is also evident in the number of people who say they have a "primary store" where they do most of their shopping.  In 2014, the number of people who do not have a primary store rose to 9 percent, up from 3 percent in 2013 and 2 percent in 2011.

As these patterns continue to shift, the pressure is on food retailers of all kinds to react nimbly to give shoppers an experience that will keep them coming back.

It's all about the dollar store....
Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM

WHY WOULD ANYONE LIVE THERE?:

Landrieu claims parents' home as her own, raising questions of Louisiana residency (Philip Rucker, August 28, 2014, Washington Post)

In Washington, Sen. Mary Landrieu lives in a stately, $2.5 million brick manse she and her husband built on Capitol Hill.

Here in Louisiana, however, the Democrat does not have a home of her own. She is registered to vote at a large bungalow in New Orleans that her parents have lived in for many decades, according to a Washington Post review of Landrieu's federal financial disclosures and local property and voting records.

On a statement of candidacy Landrieu filed with the Federal Election Commission in January, she listed her Capitol Hill home as her address. But when qualifying for the ballot in Louisiana last week, she listed the family's raised-basement home here on South Prieur Street.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM

THE CLOTTHES HAVE NO EMPEROR:

What If There's No There There? (JAY COST, 9/08/14, Weekly Standard)

Toward the end of Ronald Reagan's second term, a friend of Vice President Bush encouraged him to think carefully about what a Bush presidency should look like. According to Time, Bush responded, "Oh, the vision thing." Fairly or unfairly, this phrase came to characterize the Bush 41 tenure. Despite his impressive résumé spanning three decades in government, he seemed not to have a clear view of what he wanted to do.

When Barack Obama campaigned for the White House in 2008, that hardly seemed like his problem. Obama would take in the whole sweep of American history in his speeches to suggest that his candidacy was its culmination. His heavy-handed propaganda​--​from the Greek columns to Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster​--​suggested a man with a vision surplus.

In the sixth year of his presidency, it is clear that Obama does not have much of a vision at all. Sure, he is a man of the left and possesses a commitment to its goals; he thinks government should grow larger and taxes should increase. Beyond that, he does not seem to have a firm sense of the reforms he should implement, how to implement them, how he fits into the constitutional schema, what a sensible U.S. foreign policy should be or how to execute it.

The Left was so busy hailing the Messiah and the Right decrying the Anti-Christ they never stopped to recognize that he believes in nothing and follows wherever he's lead. In America, the public leads you towards moderate Republicanism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM

THE ANGLOSPHERIC TRADITION:

Was Wittgenstein Right? (PAUL HORWICH,  MARCH 3, 2013, NY Times)

Wittgenstein claims that there are no realms of phenomena whose study is the special business of a philosopher, and about which he or she should devise profound a priori theories and sophisticated supporting arguments. There are no startling discoveries to be made of facts, not open to the methods of science, yet accessible "from the armchair" through some blend of intuition, pure reason and conceptual analysis. Indeed the whole idea of a subject that could yield such results is based on confusion and wishful thinking.

This attitude is in stark opposition to the traditional view, which continues to prevail. Philosophy is respected, even exalted, for its promise to provide fundamental insights into the human condition and the ultimate character of the universe, leading to vital conclusions about how we are to arrange our lives. It's taken for granted that there is deep understanding to be obtained of the nature of consciousness, of how knowledge of the external world is possible, of whether our decisions can be truly free, of the structure of any just society, and so on -- and that philosophy's job is to provide such understanding. Isn't that why we are so fascinated by it?

If so, then we are duped and bound to be disappointed, says Wittgenstein. For these are mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking. So it should be entirely unsurprising that the "philosophy" aiming to solve them has been marked by perennial controversy and lack of decisive progress -- by an embarrassing failure, after over 2000 years, to settle any of its central issues. Therefore traditional philosophical theorizing must give way to a painstaking identification of its tempting but misguided presuppositions and an understanding of how we ever came to regard them as legitimate. But in that case, he asks, "[w]here does [our] investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (As it were all the buildings, leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble)" -- and answers that "(w)hat we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand."

Given this extreme pessimism about the potential of philosophy -- perhaps tantamount to a denial that there is such a subject -- it is hardly surprising that "Wittgenstein" is uttered with a curl of the lip in most philosophical circles. For who likes to be told that his or her life's work is confused and pointless? Thus, even Bertrand Russell, his early teacher and enthusiastic supporter, was eventually led to complain peevishly that Wittgenstein seems to have "grown tired of serious thinking and invented a doctrine which would make such an activity unnecessary."

But what is that notorious doctrine, and can it be defended? We might boil it down to four related claims.

-- The first is that traditional philosophy is scientistic: its primary goals, which are to arrive at simple, general principles, to uncover profound explanations, and to correct naïve opinions, are taken from the sciences. And this is undoubtedly the case.

--The second is that the non-empirical ("armchair") character of philosophical investigation -- its focus on conceptual truth -- is in tension with those goals.  That's because our concepts exhibit a highly theory-resistant complexity and variability. They evolved, not for the sake of science and its objectives, but rather in order to cater to the interacting contingencies of our nature, our culture, our environment, our communicative needs and our other purposes.  As a consequence the commitments defining individual concepts are rarely simple or determinate, and differ dramatically from one concept to another. Moreover, it is not possible (as it is within empirical domains) to accommodate superficial complexity by means of simple principles at a more basic (e.g. microscopic) level.

-- The third main claim of Wittgenstein's metaphilosophy -- an immediate consequence of the first two -- is that traditional philosophy is necessarily pervaded with oversimplification; analogies are unreasonably inflated; exceptions to simple regularities are wrongly dismissed.

-- Therefore -- the fourth claim -- a decent approach to the subject must avoid theory-construction and instead be merely "therapeutic," confined to exposing the irrational assumptions on which theory-oriented investigations are based and the irrational conclusions to which they lead.

It's not that Wittgenstein was right, but that Hume was.  Wittgenstein just reiterated.

August 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM

THE FINAL NAIL:

The euro has failed to boost trade between the countries that adopted it (Allister Heath, 27 Aug 2014, The Telegraph)

Nobody today can argue that the past 15 years have been anything other than disastrous for the eurozone, but many ardent supporters still maintain that the single currency has been good for trade. It is hard to know what would have happened to imports and exports had the euro not replaced the franc, lira and mark, of course, but fresh research demonstrates that the eurozone is actually less integrated today than it was when the euro was launched.

The note, produced by the Bruegel think-tank, is devastating. It measures integration on one simple metric: the share of exports from members of the eurozone and EU that go to other eurozone and EU countries, as derived from the IMF's Direction of Trade Statistics database. The figures have been adjusted for the changing membership of both those regions.

During the 1980s, as Bruegel's researcher Giulio Mazzolini points out, EU countries' exports increasingly went to one another. Intra-EU exports rose by eight percentage points of the total to peak in the early 1990s at around 68pc of the total. The share then fell back to around 65pc before stagnating for a while and then returning to the 67-68pc level, where it remained until the end of the 2000s. It then collapsed and is now back to around 64pc, a level of integration last seen in the mid to late 1980s.

As to the eurozone, which was launched on January 1, 1999, the results mirror those for the broader EU almost perfectly, suggesting, as Bruegel puts it, that "the common currency might not have had the expected effect on trade between euro area members". Intra-eurozone exports peaked at around 52pc of the total in the late 1990s and have been in decline ever since. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 PM

MAKING THE GAME SECONDARY:

Huskers football train for the NU-Miami game is a nod 
to past and sign of future (Steve Jordon, 8/26/14, World-Herald)

If you're feeling nostalgic about those special trains that carried fans to Nebraska football games, you're in luck.

An Omaha group is organizing a 10-car, 500-seat "Big Red Amtrak Special" that will travel the rails from the Durham Museum in Omaha to Lincoln's Haymarket district and back for the Sept. 20 NU-Miami game. [...]

Special trains have been hauling Husker fans between Omaha and Lincoln, off and on, for at least a century. About 700 fans boarded a special train for the Nebraska-Kansas game on Nov. 11, 1914, and hundreds more rode "regular trains" to the game, according to a World-Herald account at the time.

From 1958 to 1974, Omahan William Kratville, a Union Pacific and Amtrak photographer, saw to it that trains carried fans to the Nebraska home games and frequently to Big Eight road games, too.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM

THE CULTURE WARS ARE A ROUT:

Remember the Wendy Davis Filibuster? The Law She Fought Is Driving Dozens of Abortion Clinics Out of Business (Hannah Levintova and Kristine Stolakis, Aug. 28, 2014, Mother Jones)

[C]ome next week, abortions can no longer legally be performed at that old facility thanks to HB 2, the omnibus abortion bill that made national headlines last summer after Texas Sen. Wendy Davis' 11-hour filibuster. The law requires that abortions--though not vasectomies--be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, hospital-like facilities that specialize in outpatient surgery. This provision goes into effect on September 1.

Ahead of this deadline, women's health care providers have raced to meet HB 2's burdensome requirements, spending millions of dollars and countless hours of fundraising and construction labor. Converting a medical facility into a full-blown ambulatory surgical facility can be very expensive. Texas has 114 pages of regulations governing ASCs, which mandate wide, gurney-accommodating hallways, larger operating rooms, and sterile ventilation. According to one Texas provider, it will cost them about $40,000 more each month to operate an ASC than it would a regular clinic.

In the face of the law's requirements, all but eight abortion clinics in the state will close by September 1. Many were forced to lock their doors earlier this year as other HB 2 provisions went into effect, including a rule that required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform abortions by the end of October 2013.

Apparently being in favor of women's health means opposing quality health care standards.

August 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM

HOW ABOUT THE SEAPORT?:

Qatar says it's ready to rebuild Gaza Strip (AFP, August 27, 2014)

Qatar, a key backer of Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, hailed the Gaza ceasefire accord and offered to help rebuild the enclave battered by seven weeks of Israeli bombardment in response to rocket fire emanating from the Strip.

The accord for a long-term ceasefire which came into effect on Tuesday was thanks "firstly to the resistance and the sacrifices" of the Palestinians, the gas-rich Gulf emirate said in a statement.

It said Qatar, which is home to Khaled Mashaal, the political chief of the Islamist movement Hamas, was "ready to contribute to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip as soon as possible,"

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM

JOBS DOGS WON'T DO:

Sheepdogs could be replaced by robots after scientists crack simple process (theguardian.com, 27 August 2014)

Sheepdogs could lose their jobs to robots after scientists learned the secret of their herding ability.

Rounding up sheep successfully is a simple process involving just two basic mathematical rules, a study found.

One causes a sheepdog to close any gaps it sees between dispersing sheep. The other results in sheep being driven forward once the gaps have sufficiently closed.

A computer simulation showed that obeying these two rules alone allowed a single shepherd - or sheepdog - to control a flock of more than 100 animals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM

GNORTS:

Gaza War's Clear Loser: Netanyahu (Daniel Gordis, 8/27/14, Bloomberg View)

The political right smells blood. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who coupled his Yisrael Beitinu ("Israel is our Home") party to Netanyahu's Likkud for the January 2013 elections but has since insisted he would not do so again, has demanded that the Israeli Defense Forces retake the Gaza strip. Few Israelis wanted to do that -- the losses would have been extremely high (some estimates projected 500 to 1000 soldiers killed), and it wasn't clear how Israel would eventually extricate itself or bear the international condemnation. Still, in the Morning After, some Israelis who thought that Lieberman was behaving like a thug who are now muttering: "Maybe he was right." [...]

The other likely winner on the right is Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Habayit Hayehudi ("The Jewish Home") party was a surprisingly strong player in recent elections. There has always been bad blood between Netanyahu and Bennett (some attribute it to Netanyahu's wife detesting Bennett), and Bennett, like Lieberman, had also urged the use of much greater force. Bibi not only ignored him, but publicly smacked him down for creating a wartime rift in the cabinet. It's virtually inconceivable that Bennett will not try a little jujitsu after that humiliation; he, too, is almost guaranteed to climb in the polls.

With Hamas celebrating in the streets, and Israelis who live near Gaza still insisting they're too afraid of rockets and tunnels to go home, the potential for Bennett and Lieberman to challenge Bibi has never looked better. Ironically, Hamas may have just ushered in a much more hard-line Israeli government.

But the political left is equally unhappy. Israel bombed Gaza into smithereens for seven weeks, killed thousands of people -- many of them terrorists, but many of them civilians, women and children (as was inevitable, given that Hamas stationed itself in neighborhoods, mosques and hospitals). To do all of that without having achieved victory, the left insists, is a moral and political catastrophe. Haaretz, Israel's left-leaning paper of record, led this morning with an opinion piece noting that after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Netanyahu castigated then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, saying that Hamas should have been toppled and security restored to Israel. Bibi insisted that only he could do it, which was when that "A Strong Leader for a Strong Nation" manta re-appeared. "Reality is a bit more complicated, isn't it?" Haaretz derisively castigated him this morning.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM

...AND CHEAPER...:

Medicare: Not Such a Budget-Buster Anymore (NY Times, AUG. 27, 2014)

The changes are big. The difference between the current estimate for Medicare's 2019 budget and the estimate for the 2019 budget four years ago is about $95 billion. That sum is greater than the government is expected to spend that year on unemployment insurance, welfare and Amtrak -- combined. It's equal to about one-fifth of the expected Pentagon budget in 2019. Widely discussed policy changes, like raising the estate tax, would generate just a tiny fraction of the budget savings relative to the recent changes in Medicare's spending estimates.

In more concrete terms, the reduced estimates mean that the federal government's long-term budget deficit is considerably less severe than commonly thought just a few years ago. The country still faces a projected deficit in future decades, thanks mostly to the retirement of the baby boomers and the high cost of medical care, but it is not likely to require the level of fiscal pain that many assumed several years ago.

The reduced estimates are also an indication of what's happening in the overall health care system. Even as more people are getting access to health insurance, the costs of caring for individual patients is growing at a super-slow rate. That means that health care, which has eaten into salary gains for years and driven up debt and bankruptcies, may be starting to stabilize as a share of national spending. [...]

[M]uch of the recent reductions come from changes in behavior among doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients. Medicare beneficiaries are using fewer high-cost health care services than in the past -- taking fewer brand-name drugs, for example, or spending less time in the hospital. The C.B.O.'s economists call these changes "technical changes," and they dominate the downward revisions since 2010.

In all, technical changes have been responsible for a 12 percent reduction since 2010 in the estimates for Medicare spending over the decade ending in 2020. In dollar terms, that's over $700 billion, which is more than budget cutters could save by eliminating the tax deduction for charitable giving or by converting Medicaid into a block-grant program or cutting military spending by 15 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM

IN DUTCH:

François Hollande's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week (ARTHUR GOLDHAMMER, AUGUST 25, 2014, American Prospect)

At the center of Hollande's domestic policy is the so-called Responsibility Pact, which proposes shifting employer-paid payroll taxes to individual taxpayers, coupled with unspecified cuts in government spending. The measure is deeply unpopular, especially on the Left, so much so that it triggered a fronde, or insurrection, in the ranks of the president's own Socialist Party. Prime Minister Manuel Valls nevertheless succeeded in mollifying the hundred or so dissident deputies, only to see the provisions of the Pact that were intended to ease the additional tax burden on the poorest taxpayers struck down by the Constitutional Council, a French judicial body that determines whether legislation conforms to the nation's Constitution.

The president's uncompromising interview with Le Monde may have been intended to send a signal of resolute firmness, but its immediate result was to stiffen the resistance of the frondeurs.
The government was therefore already facing a restive majority, half of whose members were insisting on a major revision of this key measure before voting on a new draft designed to pass muster with the Constitutional Council. The president's uncompromising interview with Le Monde may have been intended to send a signal of resolute firmness, but its immediate result was to stiffen the resistance of the frondeurs. Then, on Thursday, the day after the interview, a new book harshly critical of the president's leadership appeared. The author was Cécile Duflot, a leader of the Green Party, who had been the environment minister until she walked out in protest, ending her party's coalition with the Socialists.

On Friday, Arnaud Montebourg, the minister of the economy, also spoke to Le Monde, openly repudiating the president's "stay-the-course" rhetoric. Hollande had called for "an acceleration of the reforms," but as far as Montebourg was concerned, the reforms were leading France straight into a wall--although unemployment was continuing to rise, the deficit was only getting worse, not better--and acceleration would simply increase the damage. On Saturday, education minister Benoît Hamon joined Montebourg in calling for a change of policy, and on Sunday evening the two appeared together at Montebourg's Festival of the Rose, an annual event in which he celebrates socialism in his Burgundian fiefdom with lofty rhetoric lubricated by good red wine.

For Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the sight of his two ministers on the evening news, wine glasses in hand, jocularly proclaiming loyalty to a president whose policy they simultaneously denounced, was the last straw. He had made "governmental solidarity" a tenet of his leadership and had no intention of tolerating the open insubordination that had made his predecessor, Jean-Marc Ayrault, with whom Montebourg had previously locked horns, a laughingstock. On Sunday night he informed the president that it was "either Montebourg or me," and on Monday morning he announced the dissolution of the government.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM

HE NEEDS THE UR TO BE ENOUGH OF A DRAG TO SAVE HIM:

Poll: Gov. Scott Walker in tight race in Wisconsin, trailing among likely voters (Eric Kleefeld, 8/27/14, The Week)

The new poll from Marquette University Law School, conducted from Aug. 21 to 24, notably shows different results among registered or likely voters -- but not in the way one might expect. Among registered voters, Walker leads with 47.5 percent, against Burke with 44.1 percent. But among likely voters, Burke is the one who is ahead with 48.6 percent, compared to Walker at 46.5 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM

LOSING A WAR HAS CONSEQUENCES:

Ceasefire sparks storm of criticism against Netanyahu : Disapproval from allies, opposition exposes rifts in Netanyahu's coalition (SPENCER HO, August 27, 2014, Times of Israel)

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's allies trumpet Tuesday's ceasefire agreement as a clear win for Israel over Hamas, Israeli politicians in the opposition called for his job Wednesday and even allies warned that elections could be on the horizon.

August 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 PM

IF MAN HAD PLANNED FEMINISM IT COULDN'T HAVE WORKED OUT ANY BETTER (nudity alert):

UFO Believers Organize Another Successful Topless Day (NSFW) (Frank Kobola, Cosmopolitan)

Vancouver just wrapped up another successful Go Topless Day, where women and men alike paraded down the street without shirts.

Go Topless Day is designed to protest the double-standard that men can go topless in many public places while women get shamed for public breastfeeding, let alone going topless at a beach. 

All that and we conned them into being breadwinners.
Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM

NO ONE HAS IT HARDER THAN THEIR MOTHER DID:

In US, a decline in domestic violence (Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, AUGUST 26, 2014, CS Monitor)

Annual rates of nonfatal domestic violence fell by 63 percent between 1994 and 2012 - from 13.5 victimizations per 1,000 people to 5 per 1,000. This is a count by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of such crimes as rape, assault, and robbery committed by intimate partners, former partners, or family members. The figures are based on a national survey and include both reported and unreported crimes against people over age 12.

In a BJS count of serious intimate partner violence against women, the numbers dropped 72 percent between 1994 and 2011. And from 1993 to 2007, the annual number of female victims of homicides by intimate partners declined from 2,200 to 1,640; male victims from 1,100 to 700.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM

NO ONE NEEDS IT, BUT IT'LL STILL BE OPENED:

Who needs Keystone XL? Oil sands flow to US via loophole. (Nick Cunningham, AUGUST 26, 2014, CS Monitor)

Pipeline operations giant Enbridge has figured out how to avoid having to go through the regulatory process with the U.S. State Department for approval of an oil sands pipeline.

According to EnergyWire, the company plans to build several interconnections on either side of the border between Manitoba and Minnesota. The interconnections will allow the company to transfer heavy oil from its Alberta Clipper pipeline to another pipeline known as "Line 3." It will then be transferred back to the Alberta Clipper line once it is safely across the border in Minnesota.

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM

WHEN TWO SIDES SIT DOWN TO NEGOTIATE...:

Israel, Palestinians reportedly agree to new cease-fire  (JTA, 8/26/14)
.
According to reports, the open-ended cease-fire would see the immediate opening of border crossings from Gaza into Israel and Egypt, and the expansion of Gaza's fishing zone.

The second phase would begin in a month, with discussion of the construction of a Gaza seaport and the Israeli release of Hamas prisoners.

August 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM

CONSERVING THE REPUBLIC:

Ceaser's 14 Conservative Points (Peter Augustine Lawler, August 24, 2014, National Review)

[A]fter considerable reading, I think I've found the tightest and most illuminating summary of Ceaser's conservative public philosophy (or political science?). I've reduced what he says in his Designing a Polity (pages 149-51) to fourteen propositions. [...]

1. "American conservatism is devoted to conserving the American republic. It can have no higher or nobler goal." [...]

6. "Conservatism conserves the American republic by giving appropriate support to biblical religion. Biblical religion has been the main source of our ethical system, one of self-restraint and belief in something beyond material existence. . . . Original liberal theory was in some formulations cool to religion, and it often failed to acknowledge or appreciate how much liberal society had borrowed from its storehouse of religious capital."

7. "Liberalism does not require . . . neutrality [between faith and nonbelief], and conservatism does not recommend it."

8. "Conservatism conserves the American republic by promoting 'the tradition,' which refers, beyond religion and the Enlightenment, to the classical Greek and Roman ideals of virtue and excellence."

9. "Conservatives subscribe to the liberal principle of equality of rights, but they do so in no small part because it makes room for the emergence of inequalities and excellences."

10. "The tradition also provides a theoretical basis for a hierarchy of standards, allowing conservatives to criticize without apology the vulgarity that pollutes any society and runs rampant in ours."

11. [Conservatives see that] "original liberalism often had such [hierarchical, anti-vulgar] inclinations . . ., but it engaged too easily on attacks on the classics and, in rationalist exuberance, went too far in elevating utility at the expense of nobility. . . . Modern liberalism, with its focus on compassion . . . allied itself culturally with relativism, which is the application of the idea of equality to all thought."

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM

POSEURS:

In search of libertarians (JOCELYN KILEY, 8/25/14, Pew Research)

Self-described libertarians tend to be modestly more supportive of some libertarian positions, but few of them hold consistent libertarian opinions on the role of government, foreign policy and social issues.

Men were about twice as likely as women to say the term libertarian describes them well and to know the meaning of the term (15% vs. 7%). More college graduates (15%) than those with no more than a high school education (7%) identified as libertarians. There also were partisan differences; 14% of independents and 12% of Republicans said they are libertarian, compared with 6% of Democrats.

Some of these differences arise from confusion about the meaning of "libertarian." Just 42% of those with a high school education or less answered the multiple-choice question correctly, compared with 76% of college graduates.

In some cases, the political views of self-described libertarians differ modestly from those of the general public; in others there are no differences at all.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM

A LIFE OF MODERATION:

Dash of Salt Does No Harm. Extremes Are the Enemy. (Aaron E. Carroll, 8/25/14, NY Times)

Americans consume, on average, 3.4 grams of sodium per day, or about the equivalent of three and a half tablespoons of soy sauce. This is on the low end of the "safe zone" of 3-6 grams in the study. The United States Food and Drug Administration thinks that's not low enough. It recommends 2.3 grams per day. The World Health Organization says it should be 2.0 grams. The American Heart Association goes even further and recommends we consume no more than 1.5 grams.

Why? There's surprisingly little rationale for this belief. Last year, experts convened by the Institute of Medicine assessed the evidence concerning sodium intake around the world. They agreed that efforts to reduce excessive sodium were warranted. But they cautioned that no such evidence existed to recommend a very low salt diet. They hoped that future research would assess the potential benefits of a diet where sodium intake was 1.5 to 2.3 grams per day.

The second New England Journal of Medicine study did just that. In addition to looking at high sodium diets, it also compared the health outcomes of those who had very low sodium diets. What they found was worrisome. When compared with those who consumed 3-6 grams per day, people who consumed less than 3 grams of sodium per day had an even higher risk of death or cardiovascular incidents than those who consumed more than 7 grams per day.

This result would be shocking if we in the medical community hadn't seen it before. But we have. In 2011, researchers published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Asssociation after following 3,681 people over almost a decade. They, too, found that excessive salt intake was associated with high blood pressure. They also found that a low-sodium diet was associated with higher mortality from cardiovascular causes.

Why experts and organizations feel the need to go from one extreme to the other is unclear. But it's unfortunately something we do far too often in medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM

OUR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT:

Cornel West: "He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency"  (THOMAS FRANK, 8/24/14, Salon)


No, the thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he's just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. [...]

[W]e ended up with a brown-faced Clinton. Another opportunist. Another neoliberal opportunist. It's like, "Oh, no, don't tell me that!" I tell you this, because I got hit hard years ago, but everywhere I go now, it's "Brother West, I see what you were saying. Brother West, you were right. Your language was harsh and it was difficult to take, but you turned out to be absolutely right."

Amen, brother.


August 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM

SAVING SOCIAL SECURITY:

A Simple Tax Reform Can Help Families and Promote Economic Growth (AMITY SHLAES And CHRIS EDWARDS, Aug. 24, 2014, WSJ)

Canada's TFSAs are like Roth IRAs--but supercharged. Citizens may deposit up to $5,500 after-tax each year, and all account earnings and withdrawals are tax-free. However, unlike Roth IRAs, funds can be withdrawn at any time for any reason with no penalties or taxes. Another feature: The annual limit on a contribution carries over from year to year if a citizen doesn't reach it. So if a Canadian contributes $2,000 this year, he can put away up to $9,000 next year ($3,500 plus $5,500).

There are other attractive features: Unlike in a Roth, there are no income limits for individuals contributing to a TFSA, and there are no withdrawal requirements at retirement. The accounts can be opened easily at any bank branch or online. They can hold bank deposits, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other types of assets.

There are several reasons the U.S. is primed for its own TFSA. The first is legislative: Creating such an account would not be difficult for lawmakers, certainly not compared with revamping the whole tax system. Congress can simply expand eligibility and lift limits on the Roth IRA format.

We believe this new tax vehicle--call it the Universal Savings Account--would be so attractive that Americans would select it over education savings accounts or traditional programs, especially if its annual contribution limit is $7,000 or $8,000, which is higher than the current $5,500 for Roth IRAs. There would be no need to cut off access to or abolish the Roth IRA or other programs. Merely let citizens choose a new one.

Another virtue of a Universal Savings Account is simplicity. Savers would spend more time evaluating investments and less time mastering the twists and turns of tax law.

A Universal Savings Account would also give citizens the incentive to save. Without withdrawal penalties hanging over them, people would be less likely to hesitate before putting money into these accounts. Some people might use their accounts to fund an expensive vacation. But it's much more likely they would use the money for serious projects, to build up a retirement fund, or even to invest in a new enterprise.

If people aren't forced to save the money for retirement they won't.

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