April 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Keystone Pipeline May Be Big, but This Is Bigger (CORAL DAVENPORT, APRIL 21, 2014, NY Times)

Experts say that Mr. Obama's eventual decision on the pipeline will have a marginal impact on global warming emissions, while those dull-sounding E.P.A. rules and treaty talks will determine his enviromental legacy.

Consider the numbers: In 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive international data is available, the global economy emitted 32.6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. The United States was responsible for 5.5 billion tons of that (coming in second to China, which emitted 8.7 billion tons). Within the United States, electric power plants produced 2.8 billion tons of those greenhouse gases, while vehicle tailpipe emissions from burning gasoline produced 1.9 billion tons.

By comparison, the oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline would add 18.7 million metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere annually, the E.P.A. estimated. In other words, the carbon emissions produced by oil that would be moved in the Keystone pipeline would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions, and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.

Within that context, "the Keystone pipeline is a rounding error," said Kevin Book, the founder of ClearView Energy Partners, an energy analysis firm.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


Hamas, Fatah reach deal on unity government, Israel reacts sharply (Deutsche Welle, 4/23/14)

Militant group Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) have agreed to form a technocrat unity government, according to a joint statement by the two groups.

"An agreement has been reached on the formation within five weeks of an independent government headed by president Mahmud Abbas," the statement said. Following the announcement, thousands of people in Gaza City took to the streets to celebrate.

The announcement came after Fatah and Hamas started their first reconciliation talks since 2007 when Hamas - an opponent to US-led peace talks with Israel - was voted into power in Gaza.

The agreement could pave the way for elections and a national strategy towards Israel. It could give Abbas some degree of sovereignty in Gaza but also help Hamas, which is hemmed in by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, to become less isolated.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


The policy proposals Thomas Piketty forgot to mention (Tyler Cowen, April 22, 2014, Marginal Revolution)

[T]here are more straightforward remedies.  Social Security privatization is another option, if r > g is truly such a likelihood.  Yet Piketty and his boosters won't mention this.  By the way, I am opposed to social security privatization -- scroll down in that link -- but I probably would favor it if it my views were closer to Piketty's.

We no longer have policy differences, only arguments over the pace of achieving the consensus position.

April 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


White Sox, Furthering Legacy, Provide Warm Home for Cubans Amid Chill (TYLER KEPNER, APRIL 19, 2014, NY Times)

"All I'm going to tell you is it was difficult," Abreu said of his ordeal. "But with God's help, you're able to do those things and feel good about them. It's a difficult thing once you leave your country and do those things. It's a difficult time in your life."

The White Sox helped Abreu with his diet in spring training; he would typically skip breakfast and lunch, feel depleted after workouts, and then be famished at night and eat a big dinner.

They have experience in such matters with Ramirez, who toasted his major league debut in Cleveland, Hahn said, with a creative pregame snack.

"He essentially made a mayonnaise and Krispy Kreme sandwich," Hahn said. "That's not really what we teach in terms of pregame meals. But it was just a matter of not having access to the nutritional programs that we have thoroughly researched."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Uncivil Disobedience (Weekly Standard, APR 28, 2014)

For the sake of argument, The Scrapbook is willing to concede that it is possible that Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher, ought to be allowed to graze his cattle on federal land in Nye County. And that protecting the desert tortoise as an endangered species on that same federal land is no good reason to impose a fee for grazing livestock. Reasonable people can disagree about these issues, and will do so.

But in the United States of America, since 1789, we have had ways of settling these disputes. We have a judicial system that gives citizens due process and the right to seek redress for grievances. We have a political system that encourages citizens to elect people to public office who will pass laws we like, or rescind laws we don't like, and uphold the laws they have enacted. We also have a Bill of Rights in our Constitution, the very first item of which protects the freedom of speech, allowing supporters and critics of laws to influence public opinion and government. All of these remedies have been, and remain, available to Cliven Bundy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Quantum-Dot Windows Harvest Solar Energy (R. Colin Johnson, 4/18/2014, EE Times)
Quantum dots are already revolutionizing displays, such as those used in widely praised Kindle Fire e-readers whose backlight uses a quantum-dot enhanced film (QDEF) manufactured by Nanosys. Now researchers are poised to revolutionize solar energy collectors with quantum dots.

By harvesting light coming from the sun with embedded quantum dots, the researchers hope to turn windows into efficient solar-panel concentrators. Their strategy is to place photovoltaic (PV) solar cells around the edges of quantum-dot-impregnated windows, thus turning them into luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs).

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


This Bot Does Windows (Seth Stevenson, 4/21/14, Slate)

Cleaning windows is so arduous and dangerous that it earned its own 20th-century catchphrase. "I don't do windows"--a warning that the speaker may be desperate but still has limits--was a frequent sitcom one-liner in the '70s. The meme grew popular enough that, according to William Safire, it likely spawned the entire "I don't do [mornings/Mondays/etc.]" phrasal construction.

How miserable is the chore? I'll let country songsmith Hank Cochran answer. In the 1980 ditty "I Don't Do Windows," he equated scrubbing panes with eternal damnation: "There's some things that I just won't do. I think it's time that I told them to you. I don't do windows and I won't go to hell for you."

My own windows are a source of mild shame. Anyone in the building across the way can observe how flecked with schmutz they've become. I haven't cleaned their exteriors since I moved in a couple of years ago. Partly that's because I'm lazy (as evidenced by the fact that I haven't cleaned their interiors either), but partly it's because to do so I'd need to wager life and limb by dangling out over a four-story drop.

Thus I was excited to borrow a Winbot--a robot that pledges to polish your windows, mirrors, and other glass surfaces without you rigging up a harness and going all human fly. This compact, square droid will vacuum-attach itself to a pane and then scuttle around squeegeeing off all the muck it encounters.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Dozens killed as Yemen, US mount air war on al-Qaeda (AFP, April 22, 2014)

An "unprecedented" US and Yemeni aerial campaign in Yemen killed at least 68 al-Qaeda militants in a bid to head off attacks by the network's local affiliate, officials said Monday. [...]

The Interior Ministry said the raids lasted several hours, adding that "terrorists of Arab and foreign nationalities are among the dead and are in the process of being identified."

The top official said Yemeni MiG-29 jet fighters took part in the raids, which tribal sources said involved unmanned drones.

The United States is the only country operating drones over Yemen, but US officials rarely acknowledge the covert drone program.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Thomas Piketty Revives Marx for the 21st Century : An 80% tax rate on incomes above $500,000 is not meant to bring in money for education or benefits, but 'to put an end to such incomes.' (DANIEL SHUCHMAN, April 21, 2014, WSJ)

So what is to be done? Mr. Piketty urges an 80% tax rate on incomes starting at "$500,000 or $1 million." This is not to raise money for education or to increase unemployment benefits. Quite the contrary, he does not expect such a tax to bring in much revenue, because its purpose is simply "to put an end to such incomes." It will also be necessary to impose a 50%-60% tax rate on incomes as low as $200,000 to develop "the meager US social state." There must be an annual wealth tax as high as 10% on the largest fortunes and a one-time assessment as high as 20% on much lower levels of existing wealth. He breezily assures us that none of this would reduce economic growth, productivity, entrepreneurship or innovation.

Not that enhancing growth is much on Mr. Piketty's mind, either as an economic matter or as a means to greater distributive justice. He assumes that the economy is static and zero-sum; if the income of one population group increases, another one must necessarily have been impoverished. He views equality of outcome as the ultimate end and solely for its own sake. Alternative objectives--such as maximizing the overall wealth of society or increasing economic liberty or seeking the greatest possible equality of opportunity or even, as in the philosophy of John Rawls, ensuring that the welfare of the least well-off is maximized--are scarcely mentioned.

There is no doubt that poverty, unemployment and unequal opportunity are major challenges for capitalist societies, and varying degrees of luck, hard work, sloth and merit are inherent in human affairs. Mr. Piketty is not the first utopian visionary. He cites, for instance, the "Soviet experiment" that allowed man to throw "off his chains along with the yoke of accumulated wealth." In his telling, it only led to human disaster because societies need markets and private property to have a functioning economy. He says that his solutions provide a "less violent and more efficient response to the eternal problem of private capital and its return." Instead of Austen and Balzac, the professor ought to read "Animal Farm" and "Darkness at Noon."

Of course, Mr. Piketty's own book suggests one obvious alternative objective to the "problem" that capital provides wealth : provide capital universally in order to make wealth universal.  Not equal, mind you, but universal.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:00 AM



I had first been drawn to Robert Moses out of curiosity, in a very idle, fleeting form. As a new reporter at Newsday during the early nineteen-sixties, I would, as the occupant of an extremely low rung on the city-room totem pole, occasionally be assigned to write a short article based on one of the press releases that poured in a steady stream from one or another of the twelve governmental entities he headed, and as I typed "New York City Park Commissioner Robert Moses announced today . . ." I would wonder for a moment what that title had to do with the fact that he was also building something that was not a park, and was mostly not even in the city -- the Long Island Expressway. I would type "Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman Robert Moses" and it would cross my mind that he was also chairman of some other public authority -- actually the New York State Power Authority -- that was building gigantic hydroelectric power dams, some of the most colossal public works ever built by man, hundreds of miles north of the city, along some place with the romantic name of the "Niagara Frontier." It gradually sunk in on me that in one article or another I was identifying him as chairman or "sole member" of quite a few authorities: the Bethpage State Park Authority, the Jones Beach State Park Authority, the Henry Hudson Parkway Authority, the Marine Parkway Authority, the Hayden Planetarium Authority -- the list seemed to go on indefinitely. And as, within a few months of my coming to Newsday, my interest began to narrow to politics, I began to wonder what a public authority was, anyway. They were always being written about simply as non-political entities that were formed merely to sell bonds to finance the construction of some public work -- a bridge or a tunnel, usually -- to collect tolls on the work until the bonds were paid off, and then to go out of existence, and, in fact, a key element of the image of Robert Moses that had for forty years been created and burnished by him and by an adoring press was that he was the very antithesis of the politician, a public servant uncompromisingly above politics who never allowed political considerations to influence any aspect of his projects. After all, the reasoning went, he built most of his projects through public authorities, which were also outside politics. 
No journalist or historian seemed to see authorities as sources of political power in and of themselves. I remember looking up every article on public authorities that had been written in newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals for some years past; there was not one that analyzed in any substantial way the potential in a public authority for political power. Yet, in some vague way, they certainly seemed to have some. Moreover, Robert Moses held still other posts -- city posts, such as New York City Construction Coördinator, and chairman of the city's Slum Clearance Committee; and state posts, such as chairman of the State Council of Parks, and chairman of the Long Island State Park Commission. I began to feel that I was starting to glimpse, through the mists of public myth and my own ignorance, the dim outlines of something that I didn't understand and couldn't see clearly, but that might be, in terms of political power, quite substantial indeed.

Then I was drawn to Robert Moses by my imagination -- by an image that lodged in it, and grew vivid.
The more I thought about Robert Moses, and about the power he exerted, and about my ignorance -- and, it seemed to me, everyone's ignorance -- concerning the extent of his power, and the sources behind it, the more it became apparent to me that trying to determine the extent and identifying the sources, and then to explain what I found out, was something beyond the scope of daily journalism; no newspaper, in the journalistic practices of that day, would give you the time to conduct such an exploration or the space to print what you found.

It would be necessary to do a book. And, while I was trying to decide whether I really wanted to write one on Robert Moses, I began reading material on him, and one of the things I read, in a typescript in the Columbia University Oral History Collection, was the oral history of Frances Perkins, who would later be Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor, but in 1914 was a young reformer, who often spent her Sundays walking around New York City with another young reformer, Robert Moses.

Born on December 18, 1888, to a wealthy German Jewish family active in the settlement-house movement, Moses had been educated at Yale and Oxford, and had returned to New York to earn his Ph.D. in political science at Columbia and join a municipal-reform organization as a researcher. In 1914, at the age of twenty-five, he was filled with idealism -- he had devised an elaborate plan to cleanse New York of Tammany Hall's influence by eliminating patronage from the city's corruption-ridden civil-service system -- and with ideas, many of them about public works. "Everything he saw walking around the city made him think of some way it could be better," Miss Perkins had told her oral history interviewer. "He was always burning up with ideas, just burning up with them." 
The biggest idea of all concerned the western shoreline of Manhattan Island from about Seventy-second Street up to about 181st Street. That six miles of shoreline, below the high cliff of Riverside Drive, was popularly called Riverside Park, but, unlike the park's landscaped upper level, in 1914 the part along the edge of the Hudson was nothing more than a six-mile-long wasteland of mud and rapidly eroding landfill, and through its entire length ran four tracks of the New York Central Railroad, lined by high, sharp-edged fences that for seventy years had cut the city off from its waterfront. Since the locomotives that towed the endless trains carrying cattle and pigs south to the slaughterhouses downtown burned coal or oil, the "park" seemed continuously covered with a thick, gritty, foul-smelling black smog. Huge mounds of raw garbage lay piled there, waiting for scows to collect it and carry it out to sea. There were several large shantytowns in it, inhabited by derelicts so intimidating that their shacks were avoided even by the police; at night, the residents of Riverside Drive apartment houses could see the derelicts' open fires glowing in the darkness by the river. But one Sunday in 1914, as a group of young men and women were taking a ferry to a picnic in New Jersey, Robert Moses was standing beside Frances Perkins on the deck, and as the ferry pulled out into the Hudson, and the bleak mudflats shrouded in smog spread out behind them, he suddenly said excitedly, "Isn't this a temptation to you? Couldn't this waterfront be the most beautiful thing in the world?" And, Miss Perkins was to recall, he began to talk, faster and faster, and she realized, to her amazement, that "he had it all figured out. How you could build a great highway that went uptown along the water. How you'd have to tear down a few buildings at Seventy-second Street and bring the highway around a curve," how the railroad tracks would be covered by the highway, and cars would be driving serenely along it with their passengers delighting in the river scene, how there would be long green parks filled with people playing tennis and baseball and riding bicycles, and elegant marinas for sailboats.
Looking up from the typescript (bound, I still remember, in a gray loose-leaf notebook), I realized that what Robert Moses had been talking about on that long-ago Sunday was what I knew as Riverside Park and the West Side Highway -- the great park and road that, as long as I could remember, had formed the western waterfront of Manhattan Island. Although many other plans had been conceived for this waterfront, this immense public work would be built by him -- in 1937, almost a quarter of a century after the ferry ride. And it would be built -- this urban improvement on a scale so huge that it would be almost without precedent in early-twentieth-century America, this improvement that would, in addition, solve a problem that had baffled successive city administrations for decades -- in very much the same form in which he had envisioned it as a young municipal reformer just out of college.

At the same time, moreover, from other oral histories, and brief references in articles, I was learning how Robert Moses had envisioned it -- where he was standing when he did so, even what he might have been wearing. He lived then with his parents on Central Park West, but often, after work, he would tell his taxi-driver to take him instead to Riverside Drive, at the end of Seventy-sixth Street, overlooking the Hudson. And then, as the sun set behind the Palisades across the river, he would get out and stand staring down at the smog-covered wasteland below him. He was a striking young man -- tall, very slim, darkly handsome, with olive skin and deep, burning eyes, elegant and arrogant -- and fond of white suits, wearing them from early spring well into the autumn. And he was passionate when, defending his plan for civil-service reform, he talked night after night before hostile, Tammany-packed audiences, speaking into storms of invective -- so passionate that another reformer was to say, "Once you saw him on those nights, you could never forget him." In my mind, I saw him now, staring down in the evenings on the Hudson waterfront, and I couldn't forget him. 

Sometimes, in my imagination, I saw him from below -- a tall, handsome, haughty figure in white, standing on the edge of a high cliff and gazing down on a vast wasteland with the eyes of a creator, determined to transform it into something beautiful and grand. Sometimes, I saw him from behind -- a tall black silhouette against the setting sun. Robert Moses gazing down on Riverside Park lodged in my imagination and, in my imagination, became entangled in a mystery. I had previously been aware only of the Robert Moses of the nineteen-fifties and sixties: the ruthless highway builder who ran his roads straight through hapless neighborhoods, the Robert Moses of the Title I urban-renewal scandals -- some of the greatest scandals of twentieth-century New York, scandals almost incredible both for the colossal scale of their corruption (personally "money honest" himself, Moses dispensed to the most powerful members of the city's ruling Democratic political machine what one insider called "a king's ransom" in legal fees, public-relations retainers, insurance premiums, advance knowledge of highway routes and urban-renewal sites, and insurance-free deposits in favored banks, to insure their coöperation with his aims) and for the heartbreaking callousness with which he evicted the tens of thousands of poor people in his way, whom, in the words of one official, he "hounded out like cattle." Now I saw something very different: the young Robert Moses, the dreamer and idealist. How had the one man become the other?

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April 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Obama Handles Russia Like Republicans: Overpromise, Under-Deliver, and Write Off (Ron Fournier, April 21, 2014, National Journal)

Being a fair-minded reporter, Baker gave space to the White House spin:

The prevailing view in the West Wing, though, is that while Mr. Putin seems for now to be enjoying the glow of success, he will eventually discover how much economic harm he has brought on his country. Mr. Obama's aides noted the fall of the Russian stock market and the ruble, capital flight from the country, and the increasing reluctance of foreign investors to expand dealings in Russia.

The White House makes the same case against Republicans, noting demographic trends that threaten the future of the GOP as a national party. The trouble with this thinking is that being right about the future doesn't assure success in the present. For instance, looking weak while being "right" on foreign policy can actually affect future outcomes.

In politics, being a bit more "right" than the GOP is no badge of honor. Voters want changes, not excuses.

I may be reading too much into it, but Baker's story on the Putin reset raises a series of familiar questions. Did the president promise too much? Deliver too little? Or a bit of both? As much as he might try, history won't completely absolve Obama for the sins of his rivals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Reading Burke in Sydney: Tony Abbott's Sensible Conservatism (Tom Switzer, May-June 2014, National Interest)

From the outset, I should acknowledge that I have known Abbott for fifteen years. I like him enormously and consider him a friend, or--in Australian parlance--a top bloke with a larrikin streak. He's been so faithful to his mates that he has not lost any. He is a volunteer bushfire fighter and lifeguard in his federal seat on Sydney's northern beaches. He is deeply committed to the welfare of indigenous Australians, and spends weeks living in remote Aboriginal communities in the outback. There is nothing phony about him.

But although I am not one of his many critics in Australia's media and intellectual community, neither am I an uncritical admirer. Among other things, his oratory tends to lack range and theatrical effect. At times, he is even rhetorically challenged, more likely to address his fellow citizens in simple sound bites than in an engaging conversational style. He gave unqualified support to the previous government's commitment of Australian troops in the depressing and endless war in Afghanistan. Never mind that our presence there had not been yielding lasting improvements that were commensurate with the investment of blood and treasure. (Australia lost nearly forty lives in the last four years.)

Moreover, despite his vaunted commitment to reducing the size and scope of the federal government, he is hardly the second coming of Milton Friedman. His government, not even three months old last December, controversially rejected a takeover bid by the U.S. agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland of Australia's GrainCorp. Given Abbott's declaration on the night he was elected that Australia was "open for business," it was an uncharacteristic move, one that earned an editorial rebuke from the usually sympathetic Wall Street Journal. His plan for an expensive paid paternal-leave program also suggests a social-engineering streak.

Still, one can concede Abbott's flaws and broadly support his political agenda. At the heart of his appeal is his brand of conservatism, something both his friends and foes misunderstand. Abbott does not subscribe to the left-liberal consensus, which explains why the well-educated folk of inner-city Sydney and Melbourne are full of scorn. But neither does he cleave as faithfully to the conservative "movement" as do many American conservatives. Nor could he genuinely be described as "right-wing" in any crude ideological sense. Such terms and labels are inappropriate ways of properly understanding the true nature of conservatism.

Conservatives, traditionally speaking, are essentially antidoctrinaire and opposed to programmatic laundry lists. Like Tories of old, and unlike Tea Partiers today, they prefer flexibility and adaptability to rigid consistency and purity of dogma. As Samuel Huntington observed in an important article in the American Political Science Review in 1957, the antithesis of conservatism is not simply left-liberalism or even socialism. It is radicalism, which is best defined in terms of one's attitude toward change. For conservatives, temperament should always trump ideology, and the single best test of temperament is a person's attitude toward change. Although conservatism accepts the need for change, the onus of proof is always on those who advocate for it.

Abbott more or less represents this tradition. He is temperamentally conservative, someone who likes to do things in settled and familiar ways, and he recognizes that radical change is fraught with the danger of unintended consequences. This is a man at ease quoting Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton and Paul Johnson, distinguished conservative writers who champion incremental and consensual change over the large and divisive variety.

That is why Abbott defends the monarchy and opposes a republic. His critics try to paint him as a romantic loyalist who is sentimentally attached to the queen and "Mother Country" (where he was born in 1957). But his position is based on a belief that a republican form of government could amount to radical tinkering with the constitutional arrangements that have undergirded the nation's stability and prosperity since 1901, when Britain granted formal independence to its colony.

Abbott's conservatism also explains why he is skeptical about alarmist claims of global warming: he has proposed to abolish the previous government's carbon tax on the grounds of its expense and uselessness. And it is why Abbott is wary of unfettered free markets and lax foreign ownership laws, lest they create a radical backlash from the losers involved in the process of what Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction."

On the other hand, many American conservatives, especially Tea Partiers, fail the temperament test abysmally. They do well on the doctrinal purity scale. They impatiently lust after radical change and upheaval. And they yearn to be consistent in the application of a fixed doctrine. But they attach little or no value to continuity. Nor do they place much emphasis on the role of changing circumstances and conditions in the course of devising policy. Given the intransigence congressional Republicans and presidential primary candidates have displayed in recent years, and their utterly unconservative refusal to ground ideological ambitions in political realities, there is much to be said for Abbott's mind-set.

What also distinguishes the Australian prime minister from his conservative brethren across the Pacific is his belief that a center-right party should represent a big tent, one capable of embracing a variety of beliefs and implementing a range of policies depending on the circumstances and conditions. He is fond of quoting a 1980 address by Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser on the natural compatibility between liberalism, understood in nineteenth-century terms, and conservatism, understood in eighteenth-century terms. (As it happens, the speech was written by Owen Harries, a fellow Australian conservative who became founding coeditor of The National Interest in 1985.)

Like many Australian Liberals before and since his tenure (1975-1983), Fraser believed that the Liberal Party is the custodian of the center-right tradition in politics. But he also stressed the importance of both liberal and conservative thought in shaping public policy. Liberalism "always emphasises the freedom of the individual and the absence of restraint," Abbott approvingly quotes Fraser (and Harries) as saying. "Conservatism . . . stresses the need for a framework of stability, continuity and order not only as something desirable in itself but as a necessary condition for a free society." And he further asserts: "The art of handling this tension, of finding that creative balance between the forces of freedom and the forces of continuity which alone allows a society to advance, is the true art of government in a country like ours."

Again, in striking contrast, Tea Party Republicans and many conservatives inside and outside the Beltway place more stress on classical liberalism as a rigid political ideology, à la John Stuart Mill and the Enlightenment, and less emphasis on the more classical conservative virtues of prudence, stability and measured change, à la Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton. This perhaps also helps explain why Tea Party Republicans exhibit a far deeper hostility toward the state than, say, Australian or indeed most Western conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Stop dressing so tacky for church (John Blake, 4/19/14, CNN)

 If the Rev. John DeBonville could preach a sermon to lift the souls of churchgoers across America, his message would be simple:

Stop dressing so tacky for church.

DeBonville has heard about the "come as you are" approach to dressing down for Sunday service, but he says the Sabbath is getting too sloppy.

When he scans the pews of churches, DeBonville sees rows of people dressed in their Sunday worst. They saunter into church in baggy shorts, flip-flop sandals, tennis shoes and grubby T-shirts. Some even slide into the pews carrying coffee in plastic foam containers as if they're going to Starbucks.

"It's like some people decided to stop mowing the lawn and then decided to come to church," says DeBonville, rector at the Church of the Good Shepard in Massachusetts. "No one dresses up for church anymore."

...but what would have sent our grandparents over the edge is the people with travel coffee mugs, water bottles and, of course, smart phones.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Our Neoliberal President : Obama wants to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority. (MELVYN DUBOFSKY, 4/21/14, In These Times)

Obama endorses higher minimum wages and offers rhetorical support of unions and collective bargaining, which cost not a penny of federal funds, but balks at a well-financed public works project that employs workers at good wages but might affect the federal budget.
President Obama's 2015 budget request last month revived his abortive 2014 budget proposal to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). What are we to make of a Democratic president repeatedly proposing to sell off the publicly financed and administered redevelopment program, widely seen as one of the great successes of the New Deal? This move tells us much about Obama. [...]

His proposal that TVA be privatized fits well into a neoliberal framework and satisfies Democratic Party circles in the financial world. As the nation's first black president, Obama may represent a greater triumph for the dormant Democratic Leadership Council--which moved the party from New Deal politics to neoliberalism--than its original standard bearer, Bill Clinton, the first figurative black chief executive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Searching For Paul Revere (G. Tracy Mehan, III, 7/03/10, Catholic Exchange)

Paul Revere, as described by Fischer, was a successful artisan and businessman, connected to all the various revolutionary cells active in the Massachusetts of 1775. In fact, he belonged to more groups and knew more operatives and political leaders than almost anyone, certainly in Boston. Moreover, he developed a significant intelligence and communications network for which he was one of the central nodes.

Fischer observes that "Paul Revere's primary mission was not to alarm the countryside. His specific purpose was to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were thought to be the objects of the expedition." The military stores at Concord were of secondary concern. Still, by morning thousands of fully-armed militia had arrived on the field at both Lexington and Concord ready for closed formation fighting.

"Paul Revere and the other messengers did not spread the alarm merely by knocking on individual farmhouse doors," says David Hackett Fischer. "They also awakened the institutions of New England. The midnight riders went systematically about the task of engaging town leaders and militia commanders of their region. They enlisted its churches and ministers, its physicians and lawyers, its family networks and voluntary associations....They knew from long experience that successful efforts requires sustained planning and careful organization."

A hurry of hoofs in a village street
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

By the way, Fischer notes that Paul Revere did not say, "The British are coming." New Englanders all considered themselves to be British. This is why they were so outraged at the loss of what they considered to be their traditional rights as such. Revere and his countryman would have called the advancing forces Regulars, Redcoats, the King's men or "Ministerial Troops." The split in national identity had not yet happened.

Notwithstanding the greatness of Longfellow's poem, it seems to have made quite a hash of the historical record, poetic license seemingly run riot. According to Fischer New England historians have been laboring to correct these errors for years.

We grew up with a print of the Copley portrait on our dining room wall, our grandparents having been caretakers at the Paul Revere House.

[originally posted : 7/03/2010]

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


The Verse Heard Round the World : Emerson's patriotic poetry captured the spirit of Lexington for generations to come. (AMANDA FOREMAN, April 18, 2014, WSJ)

At its heart lie the nameless "embattled farmers" who gave their lives to the cause of liberty. The question for Emerson was how to memorialize their selfless acts when their identities were lost to history. In part, he found the answer in his own act of writing. Memory won't last, he acknowledged, "When, like our sires, our sons are gone." He could only hope that the monument commemorating the battle, "Time and Nature gently spare." Instead, Emerson put his faith in the ineffable "Spirit, that made those heroes dare/ To die." It had inspired the farmers as it now inspired him--and would, he believed, have the same effect on future generations who read his poem.

On the eve of the Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow revisited the events surrounding the Battle of Lexington. Like Emerson, he was deeply convinced of the transformative power of poetry. Choosing the night before the battle as his subject, Longfellow offered a similar lament about the fragility of memory: "Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;/ Hardly a man is now alive/ Who remembers that famous day and year." He also revisited the nameless farmers, who "gave them ball for ball."

But Longfellow was recalling the spirit "borne on the night-wind of the Past" not as a celebration but a warning. The Union had been brought into existence by a single shot; the message in "Paul Revere's Ride" was that a similar event could trigger its destruction. Longfellow's poem could be described as a prayer, an invocation that "The people will waken and listen to hear...the midnight message of Paul Revere."

April 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


How to Energize a Lackluster Recovery (Edward P. Lazear, April 20, 2014, WSJ)

An easy way to remove the impediment to growth is to move toward a consumption tax by allowing the full and immediate deductibility of capital investment.

The argument rests on two points. First, consumption taxes are better for economic growth than are income taxes. Second, allowing full expensing (immediate deductibility) of investment turns the current tax system into a consumption tax.

Consumption taxes are better for economic growth because they create stronger incentives to save and invest than do income taxes. Under an income tax, a person who consumes what he earns immediately is taxed once, specifically on the earnings that he receives in that year. If instead he invests what he earns, the interest on that investment, which is compensation for deferring consumption, is also taxed. This pushes him toward consuming more now and saving less.

The reduced incentive to save that results from taxing returns drives up interest rates and retards investment. Incentives to invest would be improved if the returns were untaxed. By contrast, a consumption tax does not tax the returns to investment. It taxes only once, at the time that actual consumption occurs. Moving to a consumption tax eliminates the tax on returns to investment and improves investment incentives.

Allowing investment expenses to be fully and immediately deductible turns an income tax into a consumption tax, but the logic is subtle. All of an economy's output is used to produce either current consumption or investment goods. If all income, which must equal output, is taxed, then both consumption and investment are taxed. But if we tax only the part of output that is not investment by allowing investment expenditures to be deductible, all that remains is consumption so only consumption is taxed.

Making the transition to the Third Way easier is the happy fact that the Left has settled on just one objection to capitalism--that benefitting from it requires that one have capital.  All the Third Way does is require the citizenry to hold its own capital in investment accounts and use this to fund our own entitlements.  The beautiful irony is that the solution to the universally agreed flaw in capitalism--that on its own it produces excessive inequality--is more capitalism. 

The Most Important Book Ever Is All Wrong (Clive Crook, 4/20/14, Bloomberg View)

So what's the problem?

Quite a few things, but this to start with: There's a persistent tension between the limits of the data he presents and the grandiosity of the conclusions he draws. At times this borders on schizophrenia. In introducing each set of data, he's all caution and modesty, as he should be, because measurement problems arise at every stage. Almost in the next paragraph, he states a conclusion that goes beyond what the data would support even if it were unimpeachable.

This tendency is apparent all through the book, but most marked at the end, when he sums up his findings about "the central contradiction of capitalism":

The inequality r>g [the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth] implies that wealth accumulated in the past grows more rapidly than output and wages. This inequality expresses a fundamental logical contradiction. The entrepreneur inevitably tends to become a rentier, more and more dominant over those who own nothing but their labor. Once constituted, capital reproduces itself faster than output increases. The past devours the future. The consequences for the long-term dynamics of the wealth distribution are potentially terrifying ...
Every claim in that dramatic summing up is either unsupported or contradicted by Piketty's own data and analysis. (I'm not counting the unintelligible. The past devours the future?)

As he explains elsewhere, r>g isn't enough by itself to trigger the dynamic he describes. If capital grows faster than the economy, inequality will indeed tend to increase because ownership of capital is concentrated -- though much less so than in the past. But capital will outpace the economy only if owners of capital save a sufficiently large part of the income they derive from it. (Suppose they save none of it: Their wealth won't grow at all.)

You might say this misses the point. Wolf offers this clarification: Piketty "argues that the ratio of capital to income will rise without limit so long as the rate of return is significantly higher than the economy's rate of growth. This, he holds, has normally been the case." That's better: The gap between r and g has to be "significant." The bigger the gap, the more likely it is that saving will build capital faster than output rises -- and Piketty does show that the gap usually has been big.

The trouble is, he also shows that capital-to-output ratios in Britain and France in the 18th and 19th centuries, when r exceeded g by very wide margins, were stable, not rising inexorably. The same was true of the share of national income paid to owners of capital. In Britain, the capitalists' share of income was about the same in 1910 as it had been in 1770, according to Piketty's numbers. In France, it was less in 1900 than it had been in 1820.

What about the 21st century? Perhaps the capitalists' share will rise inexorably in future -- and that's what matters.

Perhaps it will, but Piketty advances reasons to doubt this too. He expects r to be a bit lower and g a bit higher than their respective historical averages. There are many other factors to consider, as he says, but on his own analysis the chances are good that the future gap between return on capital and growth will be smaller than the gap that failed to produce an inexorably rising capital share in the two centuries before 1914.

As I worked through the book, I became preoccupied with another gap: the one between the findings Piketty explains cautiously and statements such as, "The consequences for the long-term dynamics of the wealth distribution are potentially terrifying."

Piketty's terror at rising inequality is an important data point for the reader. It has perhaps influenced his judgment and his tendentious reading of his own evidence. It could also explain why the book has been greeted with such erotic intensity: It meets the need for a work of deep research and scholarly respectability which affirms that inequality, as Cassidy remarked, is "a defining issue of our era."

Maybe. But nobody should think it's the only issue. For Piketty, it is. Aside from its other flaws, "Capital in the 21st Century" invites readers to believe not just that inequality is important but that nothing else matters.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Income tax for low earners in Italy cut to boost growth  (Israel Herald Friday 18th April, 2014)

The 10 billion euros in income-tax cuts, which will affect 10 million Italians, will be a permanent measure providing approximately 80 euros monthly, effective next month. The decree, which contained no real surprises, also set a salary cap for senior officials at State-controlled companies of 240,000 euros,.

"This in general begins a process of reorganization of the State," Renzi said after his cabinet approved a major financial decree that included large tax cuts as well as minor government reforms.

The tax cuts will be funded by a 400 million euros reduction in defence spending and other savings including 150 million euros from a review of the F-35 fighter-jet programme.

...and why would Italy have a military?

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


If talks fail, Abbas said to be weighing dissolution of Oslo, PA (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AFP April 20, 2014)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly threatened to dissolve the PA and disband Palestinian security forces operating in the West Bank if peace negotiations with Israel fail, a move which would create huge security and diplomatic problems for Israel.

According to Palestinian sources cited by Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, Abbas and top PA officials are considering the drastic move, which would involve cancelling the 1993 Oslo Accords and announcing that the Palestinian Authority is a "government under occupation" without full sovereignty, which would technically move full responsibility for the Palestinians, in the West Bank at least, to Israel.

Do West Bank Israelis, Palestinians live under different set of laws? (Daniel Estrin; Josef Federman, 4/20/14, Associated Press)

While Israeli settlers in the West Bank fall mostly under civilian rule, Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law. Israeli and Palestinian youths face inequities at every stage in the path of justice, from arrests to convictions and sentencing, according to police statistics obtained by The Associated Press through multiple requests under Israel's freedom of information law.

The results can ripple for years.

"Jail destroyed his life," said the Palestinian boy's father.

Only 53 Israeli settler youths were arrested for stone-throwing over the past six years, the data shows, and 89 percent were released without charge. Six were indicted. Four of those were found "guilty without conviction," a common sentence for Israeli juveniles that aims not to stain their record. One was cleared. The sixth case was still in court as of October, the most recent information available.

By contrast, 1,142 Palestinian youths were arrested by police over the same period for throwing stones, and 528 were indicted. All were convicted. Lawyers say the penalty is typically three to eight months in military prison.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Three at a Time (Roger Angell, 4/19/14, The New Yorker)

I wasn't on hand on August 23, 2009, when Phillies second baseman Eric Bruntlett grabbed a low liner, tagged a nearby runner, and almost dazedly stepped on second for a game-ending unassisted triple play, becoming the first player to pull off this caper since 1927. The abruptly losing team against Bruntlett's play was the Mets, which simultaneously and perfectly illustrated the opposite of unexpected.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


How Does A Jewish Artist Tell The Ultimate Christian Story? (ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, March 17, 2013, NPR)

Golijov says that as a Jew reading the Christian Bible, he found a transcendental message: "When I asked within the Jewish community, 'What is so revolutionary?' they would say, 'Well, it was simply an extension of what Hillel did, what the Jewish rabbis have said.' But when I started to learn the New Testament for real, to prepare to write the Passion, I realized how transcendentally different the message was, even if there are things that you can tell are in a line that started by Hillel. The entire paradigm has changed with Jesus.

"The two most important things I learned were the shifting of the paradigm toward love as the foundation of life and transcending the fear of death."

To help convey that, the composer incorporated some pretty lively music -- sometimes in rather shocking ways. The introduction of Judas Iscariot is set to a hot Afro-Cuban dance; the crucifixion itself is accompanied by a samba that wouldn't be at all out of place at a Brazilian carnaval.

"I never expected a Passion to have this funk and Spanish and everything inside it. I never thought I would be able to sing them," says Andrew Farella, a 16-year-old bass in the chorus. He and his friend Jerry Ortiz, another 16-year-old bass, say they're thrilled to hear all these different kinds of music within Golijov's work -- ones they know well from their own lives.

"I'm actually very excited to do this piece, me being from the Latin culture," says Ortiz, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican. "Everything that's in here is based on my culture, my background. So I can feel the music when we sing it. I was kind of surprised to hear African and also Indian stuff. But he talked about how in Latin America we come from three places. There's our white side, our Native American side and there's our African side. And that's basically what La Pasión is -- coming from those three to combine into one, the Holy Trinity."

Golijov says evoking that mix was essential to his vision of the Passion. And it's not just in the music. He wanted the language he used to reflect the multiracial and multicultural reality of Latin America.

"The story is so well-known that you can almost sculpt the language," Golijov says. "I would say that 90 percent of the people listening to the Passion know what's going on. So therefore the language is not so much a conveyor of sense as it is of sound. You can rhythmicize the language. And that's what I did. For the translations to Spanish, rather than using the academic translations, I bought several copies that usually handicapped vendors sell in the subway stops and so forth, and you pay what you have for them."

"And then from those popular translations," the composer continues, "I still changed some words for synonyms that would end with the stresses on the last syllable, because to me it was almost like what in my mind is an Africanization of the Spanish. To me, it was very important to bring all the African, Yoruban traditions that merged with both the Spanish and the Portuguese colonizing traditions to create this metamorphosis of the Passion that has happened in Latin America."

It's ultimately a rather trifling work.
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Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Pipeline delay gives boost to Obama's political base (JEFF MASON AND STEVE HOLLAND, Apr 20, 2014, Reuters)

The latest delay to a final decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline will reinforce a White House strategy to energize President Barack Obama's liberal-leaning base before fall elections in which Democrats risk losing control of the U.S. Senate. [...]

The State Department's announcement on Friday that it would give government agencies more time to study the project was seen by strategists from both parties as a move to prevent that and boost Obama in the eyes of his supporters. Support for the president, or lack of it, is generally reflected in mid-term voter turnout.

Approval of the pipeline would also have risked dampening the enthusiasm of wealthy donors such as billionaire investor Tom Steyer, who is spending tens of millions of dollars to boost environmentally-friendly candidates.

Charlie Brown always thinks Lucy will leave the ball there.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis (Yossi Klein Halevi and Abdullah Antepli, 4/17/14, Times of Israel)

Brandeis' decision to rescind its offer of an honorary degree to former Dutch parliamentarian and women's rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, needs to be seen in that context. Ali crossed the line from critic of Islamist extremism to demonizer of Islam itself, repeatedly labeling the faith of more than a billion believers as an enemy against whom war must be waged.

Had the Jewish-affiliated university fulfilled its initial intention to honor Ali, it would have sent a message of contempt to its own Muslim students, to the Muslim American community and to Muslims around the world.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Bundy is no victor (Las Vegas Sun, April 20, 2014)

Since 1993, he has refused to pay grazing fees, as thousands of other ranchers do, and since 1998, he has been in violation of a string of court orders by continuing to run his cattle on federal land. Along the way, he has made vague threats about the BLM and what might happen should it ever move to enforce the courts' orders.

Early this month, the nation saw he was serious after the BLM moved in and started to move his cattle off federal land. Bundy and heavily armed self-appointed militiamen from throughout the country provoked a dangerous situation, confronting officers trying to uphold the law.

The pictures were frightening, particularly one of a man perched in a sniper pose, his rifle facing down toward law enforcement officers.

After the BLM wisely backed off, Bundy and his supporters gave air to views that this was a range war over states' rights and federal land management. Those are issues that should be discussed but not in this case. This wasn't a matter of a rancher pushing back against the government or a show of patriotism by Bundy and militia types; this was an open act of rebellion against the rule of law.

Bundy had his day in court and lost. He has actually had years in court, and he has laid out his arguments several times. Bundy claims that he has a right to the land and says the federal government doesn't own it. But each time, a judge has denied Bundy's claims, pointing to the law, the facts and decades of court cases that all contradict the rancher. Indeed, the federal government has controlled the land long before Bundy's family arrived on the scene.

Still, after years of loses in court, he had options. He could have gone to Congress to try to change the law and rally political support. He could have tried to work out a deal with the BLM. He could have staged an act of civil disobedience to garner help.

Instead, Bundy, who proudly says he doesn't "recognize" the federal government, became his own law and has followed his own beliefs as to what was right.

What he and his supporters are really doing is dismissing the American form of government.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


These 3D Printed Mini Apartments Could Be the Future of Mobile Homes (KAITLYN SCHAEFFER, APR 19, 2014, Complex)

The 3D printer has been revolutionizing everything from art to medicine to accessories, and its latest foray has been into the field of architecture. Peter Ebner, architect and UCLA professor, tasked his architecture students with a homework assignment for the ages: develop a 3D-printed apartment that's easy to transport and manage.

The class rose to the challenge and then some, constructing mini mobile homes that measure 50 square feet and are equipped with thermal insulation, electricity, water, heating, and sewage systems (which are also 3D printed). The living area comes with a collapsible counter, a foldaway toilet, a pullout bed, and a wall-sized entertainment system.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


5 Great Historical Myths And Traditions About Hot Cross Buns, a Pre-Easter Pastry : From solidifying friendships to driving evil spirits away, legends abound about these sweet dough balls (Rachel Nuwer, 4/20/14, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)

Here are five favorites: 

A 12th-century monk was the first person to mark the bun with a cross.

This monk baked the buns on Good Friday, in honor of the upcoming Easter holiday, IrishCentral reports, and they soon gained popularity around England as a symbol of the holiday weekend. However, the first definite record of hot cross buns comes from a 16th and 17th century text stating: "Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns." [...]

And cement friendships.

Those who share a hot cross bun are supposed to enjoy a strong friendship and bond for the next year. A line from an old rhyme captures this lore, says Irish Central: "Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be." 

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


What Easter Really Means (Robert Barron, 4/20/14, RCR)

When the risen Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples, they were, we are told, afraid. Their fear might not have been simply a function of their seeing something uncanny; it might have been grounded in the assumption that he was back for vengeance. However, after showing his wounds, the risen Jesus said to his friends, "Shalom," Peace. The teacher who had urged his followers to turn the other cheek and to meet violence with forgiveness exemplified his own teaching in the most vivid way possible. And what he showed, thereby, was that the divine manner of establishing order has nothing to do with violence, retribution, or eye-for-an-eye retaliation. Instead, it has to do with a love which swallows up hate, with a forgiveness which triumphs over aggression. It is this great Resurrection principle which, explicitly or implicitly, undergirded the liberating work of Martin Luther King, Jr. in America, of Gandhi in India, of Bishop Tutu in South Africa, and of John Paul II in Poland. Those great practitioners of non-violent resistance were able to stand athwart the received wisdom only because they had some sense that in opting for the way of love they were going with the deepest grain of reality, operating in concert with the purposes of God.

Secondly, the Resurrection means that God has not given up on his creation. According to the well-known account in the book of Genesis, God made the whole array of finite things -- sun, moon, planets, stars, animals, plants, things that creep and crawl on the earth -- and found it all good, even very good. There is not a hint of dualism or Manichaeism in the Biblical vision, no setting of the spiritual over and against the material. All that God has made reflects some aspect of his goodness, and all created things together constitute a beautiful and tightly-woven tapestry.

As the Old Testament lays out the story, human sin made a wreck of God's creation, turning the garden into a desert. But the faithful God kept sending rescue operation after rescue operation: Noah's Ark, the prophets, the Law and the Temple, the people Israel itself. Finally, he sent his only Son, the perfect icon or incarnation of his love. In raising that Son from the dead, God definitively saved and ratified his creation, very much including the material dimension of it (which is why it matters that Jesus was raised bodily from death).

Over and again, we have said no to what God has made, but God stubbornly says yes. Inspired by this divine yes, we always have a reason to hope.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


13 Suspected Militants Killed in Yemen (REUTERS, APRIL 19, 2014)

An airstrike killed 13 people suspected as Qaeda militants in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda on Saturday, a security official and tribal representatives said. Three civilians in a nearby car were also killed, they said.

"An airstrike targeted cars that suspected Al Qaeda militants were in and killed 13 of them in the Sawma'a area of al-Bayda," a security official said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


China on course to become 'world's most Christian nation' within 15 years (Tom Phillips, 19 Apr 2014, The Telegraph)

Officially, the People's Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao's death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world's number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

"By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon," said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.

"It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change."

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Greg Abbott takes poll position (Amarillo Globe-News, April 19, 2014)

If Texas Tech University's numbers are any indication, the race for Texas governor won't be all that competitive.

According to a poll released last week by Tech's Earl Survey Research Lab, GOP gubernatorial candidate and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has about lapped Democratic candidate state Sen. Wendy Davis.

Granted, there is a long way to go before the Nov. 4 election, but with 54 percent of respondents saying they would vote for Abbott -- and only 25 percent backing Davis -- the attorney general has reason for optimism, at least according to this poll.

So fares the leading spokesman for abortion.

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