March 31, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 PM


Patrick's political pit (Scot Lehigh, April 1, 2009, Boston Globe)

THE First Rule of Holes goes this way: When you're in one, stop digging.

Yesterday, Governor Patrick finally put his shovel down.

He and state Senator Marian Walsh met the press outside his office, where Walsh announced that she wouldn't take the job as assistant executive director at the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority (HEFA).

Her withdrawal, the second exercise in damage control in recent days over the controversial, administration-engineered appointment, was done with the usual thank-yous and regrets and attempts at face-saving.

Still, the political pit Patrick dug for himself on this one reaches halfway to China.

Certainly this episode demolishes the notion that the governor has finally acquired a working political antenna. If this farce had a title, it would be: The Gang That Couldn't Keep Its Story Straight.

...when the highlight of your administration is the time you took out of the public spotlight so you could tend to your spouse's nervous breakdown.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


Men can 'laugh women into bed' with GSOH, say psychologists (Kate Devlin, 31 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Men really can laugh women into bed, because a sense of humour makes them seem more intelligent, psychologists have found.

A new study shows that women think that funny men are smarter and more likely to be honest than more dour counterparts.

...if they're laughing when they leave the bed?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 PM


Netanyahu to Obama: Stop Iran—Or I Will: The message from Israel's new prime minister is stark: if the Obama administration doesn't prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, Israel may be forced to attack. (Jeffrey Goldberg, 3/31/09, Atlantic Monthly)

In an interview conducted shortly before he was sworn in today as prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu laid down a challenge for Barack Obama. The American president, he said, must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and quickly—or an imperiled Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself.

“The Obama presidency has two great missions: fixing the economy, and preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told me. He said the Iranian nuclear challenge represents a “hinge of history” and added that “Western civilization” will have failed if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

In unusually blunt language, Netanyahu said of the Iranian leadership, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”

...he knows he can dictate policy to him in a way he never could Bill Clinton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 PM


My Manhattan Project: How I helped build the bomb that blew up Wall Street. (Michael Osinski, Mar 29, 2009, New York Magazine)

I wrote the software that turned mortgages into bonds.

Because of the news, you probably know more about this than you ever wanted to. The packaging of heterogeneous home mortgages into uniform securities that can be accurately priced and exchanged has been singled out by many critics as one of the root causes of the mess we’re in. I don’t completely disagree. But in my view, and of course I’m inescapably biased, there’s nothing inherently flawed about securitization. Done correctly and conservatively, it increases the efficiency with which banks can loan money and tailor risks to the needs of investors. Once upon a time, this seemed like a very good idea, and it might well again, provided banks don’t resume writing mortgages to people who can’t afford them. Here’s one thing that’s definitely true: The software proved to be more sophisticated than the people who used it, and that has caused the whole world a lot of problems.

The first collateralized mortgage obligation, or CMO, was created in 1983 by First Boston and Salomon Brothers, but it would be years before computer technology advanced sufficiently to allow the practice to become widespread. Massive databases were required to track every mortgage in the country. You needed models to create the intricate network of bonds based on the homeowners’ payments, models to predict prepayment rates, and models to predict defaults. You needed the Internet to sail these bonds back and forth across the world, massaging their content to fit an investor’s needs at a moment’s notice. Add to all this the complacency, greed, entitlement, and callous stupidity that characterized banks in post-2001 America, and you have a recipe for disaster. [...]

At Lehman, I began a thirteen-year effort to streamline the process of securitizing home mortgages, as well as other forms of debt. That was 1988, around the time of the savings-and-loan crisis. Remember that one? Lenders had gone nuts with, what else, real estate, and as they went bust, the government was stepping into the breach. Mortgage securitization was the answer. Retail lenders could make the loan, take a fee, then sell the mortgage to an investment bank. The bank, after bundling thousands of the mortgages together, could, through a little software magic, issue bonds based on that bundle of loans. Now, an investor does not want a single person’s mortgage, much the same as you may not want to underwrite your sibling’s purchase of an overpriced McMansion. But when 1,000 similar loans are combined, and the U.S. government, through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, absorbs the default risk, you now have a nifty little AAA-rated piece of paper paying one or two points above Treasury bills. And if the value of the loans is in excess of the limit set by the government agencies, your savvy friends on Wall Street can create a class of subordinated bonds that will absorb all the defaults in the deal. With friends like these … [...]

CMOs became more complicated, my job was to make everything seem simple—to, in effect, mask the complexity that would’ve made the bonds difficult to trade. We invented a language for mortgage-backed bonds. I called it BondTalk. [...]

Up until that point, almost all my securitization work had involved prime mortgages—those mortgages given to people who had an extremely high probability of paying them back. When a client wanted me to enhance my software to include “subprime” debt, well, that was something new, and I have to admit, I was kind of excited. This would greatly enlarge my universe of clients, because the subprime market was then split among many smaller players, each of whom needed my software.

I quickly learned how fishy this world could be. A client I knew who specialized in auto loans invited me up to his desk to show me how to structure subprime debt. Eager to please, I promised I could enhance my software to model his deals in less than a month. But when I glanced at the takeout in the deal, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Normally, in a prime-mortgage deal, an investment bank makes only a tiny margin. But this deal had two whole percentage points of juice! Looking at the underlying loans, I was shocked.

“Who’s paying 16 percent for a car loan?” I asked. The current loan rate was then around 8 percent.

“Oh, people who have defaulted on loans in the past. That’s why they’re called subprime,” he informed me. I had known this guy off and on for years. He was an intelligent, articulate, pleasant fellow. He and his wife came to my house for dinner. He had the comfortable manner of someone who had been to good schools—he was not one of the “dudes” trying to jam bonds into a Palm Beach widow’s account. (Those guys were also my clients.)

“But if they defaulted on loans at 8, how can they ever pay back a loan at 16 percent?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” he confided. “As long as they pay for a while. With all that excess spread, we can make a ton. If they pay for three years, they will cure their credit and re-fi at a lower rate.”

That never happened.

...but the debt merchants required complexity and obfuscation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM


Why the Democrats Can't Govern: Look who's killing Obama's agenda now. (Jonathan Chait, 4/15/09, The New Republic)

The last Democrat who held the White House, Bill Clinton, saw the core of his domestic agenda come to ruin, his political support collapse, and his failure spawn a massive Republican resurgence that made progressive reform impossible for a decade to come. The Democrat who last held the White House before that, Jimmy Carter, saw the exact same thing happen to him.

At this early date, nobody can know whether or not Barack Obama will escape this fate. But the contours of failure are now clearly visible. In Obama's case, as with his predecessors, the prospective culprit is the same: Democrats in Congress, and especially the Senate. At a time when the country desperately needs a coherent response to the array of challenges it faces, the congressional arm of the Democratic Party remains mired in fecklessness, parochialism, and privilege. Obama has made mistakes, as did his predecessors. Yet the constant recurrence of legislative squabbling and drift suggests a deeper problem than any characterological or tactical failures by these presidents: a congressional party that is congenitally unable to govern.

George W. Bush came to office having lost the popular vote, with only 50 Republicans in the Senate. After his disputed election, pundits insisted Bush would have to scale back his proposed massive tax cuts for the rich. Instead, Bush managed to enact several rounds of tax cuts that substantially exceeded those in his campaign platform, along with two war resolutions, a Medicare prescription drug benefit designed to maximize profits for the health care industry, energy legislation, education reform, and sundry other items. Whatever the substantive merits of this agenda, its passage represented an impressive feat of political leverage, accomplished through near-total partisan discipline.

If we were capable of learning from history Mr. Chait would grasp that just as Bill Clinton saved his presidency by reverting to the essentially conservative politics he ran on and a position in open opposition to his own party, so too can Barrack Obama be re-elected--which is all he cares about--by helping re-elect a GOP majority and governing from the Center-Right, a la W.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


Anarchists Organize to Spread the Word (JENNIFER MARTINEZ, 3/31/09, WSJ)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


Sebelius tax problems surface (AP, 3/31/09)

Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius has corrected three years of tax returns and paid more than $7,000 in back taxes after finding “unintentional errors” — the latest tax troubles for an Obama administration nominee.

The Kansas governor explained the changes to senators in a letter dated today that was obtained by The Associated Press.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 PM


Terror's Next Wave? (Joe Klein, 3/31.09, TIME: The Swamp)

The Mumbai effort required no local infrastructure--no sleeper cells in India, nothing more than a few boats to ferry the attackers into Mumbai harbor, plus communications equipment and smalls arms. Similarly, and unlike the elaborate planning that preceded 9/11, Al Qaeda or Taliban terrorists could sneak across the porous Mexican or Canadian borders and hit a shopping mall, a government building, a sports event, a school anywhere in the United States. The effect of such an attack--the immediate call to beef up security everywhere--would be staggering.

Our enemies may have increased motivation now that President Obama has focused on the Taliban safe havens in Northwest Pakistan, and has also decided to put increased pressure on Pakistan--especially its Army and intelligence services--to stop aiding the terrorists. Obama's low-key reasonableness has the extremists on the defensive and more likely to try to change the conversation with new attacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Guantanamo a 'lot of fun': Miss Universe (Pascal Fletcher, 3/31/09, Reuters)

A "relaxing, calm, beautiful place" may not be everyone's description of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States holds about 240 prisoners in a detention center that has drawn condemnation from around the world.

But this was the opinion of reigning Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela, who visited the U.S. naval facility in eastern Cuba this month on a trip organized by the United Service Organizations (USO) which supports U.S. troops. [...]

"It was a loooot of fun!," Mendoza wrote, describing how she and Stewart met U.S. military personnel and took rides around the camp, which is encircled by a barbed-wire fenced, minefields and watchtowers. She said they also visited a bar on the base and the "unbelievable" beach there.

"We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the(y) recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting," she wrote.

"I didn't want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful," she added.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


No, the economic crisis is not good for America: When even Time hopes the downturn will teach ‘childish, irresponsible, fat’ Americans a lesson, it’s clear recession porn has gone mainstream. (Sean Collins, 3/31/09, Spiked)

Time magazine’s current cover story is headlined ‘The End of Excess: Is This Crisis Good for America?’, and its author, the novelist and commentator Kurt Andersen, answers in the affirmative. [...]

Andersen blames people for taking on excessive mortgage and consumer debt; in other words, for living beyond their means. In doing so, he ignores systemic factors, such as government promotion of home ownership, the Federal Reserve’s lowering of interest rates, and the general expansion of credit facilities. Moreover, it is not a sin for people to want to take a bet on their own future success (especially when offered credit at very low interest rates): it is a personal financial judgment call. People should have the freedom to make their own decisions, including those that prove to be unwise ones.

But Andersen is not content to state that Americans took on too much personal debt; he has to add insults. He dredges up the stereotype of the fat American (‘we started living large literally as well as figuratively’), and he says we all acted like stupid, naive children (‘we all clapped our hands and believed in fairies’). We were warned by popular culture, but did not listen: ‘For 20 years we’ve had Homer Simpson’s spot-on caricature of the quintessential American: childish, irresponsible, wilfully oblivious, fat and happy. And more recently we winced at the ultra-Homerized former earthlings of Wall-E.’ It is here that Andersen reveals his bigoted prejudices against working-class Americans, and where I have to fight to control my urge to swear.

Andersen goes on. He believes that the Great Recession is a good thing, because ‘we will be chastened and begin behaving more wisely’. We will rediscover the ‘common good’. But to do so, we must go through ‘addiction recovery’, because ‘we are like substance abusers coming off a long bender’. He fully embraces the therapeutic outlook, but being a knowing, hip guy, he presents ‘a streamlined, secularised Three-Step Program for America’:

* ‘Admit that we are powerless over addiction to easy money and cheap fossil fuel and living large; [and] that our lives had become unmanageable’;
* ‘Believe that we can, individually and collectively, restore ourselves to sanity and normal living’;
* ‘Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and be entirely ready to remove our defects of character.’

So, after complaining that Americans are ‘childish’, Andersen treats us like children. His calls for us to reform are sickeningly patronising. He goes to great lengths to stress that he is ‘secular’ and ‘reality-based’, but he is as sanctimonious as any preacher telling us to repent.

In 1978, Susan Sontag published Illness as Metaphor, in which she criticised the notion that one’s character causes disease. Today, people like Andersen blame character for the economic crisis, a kind of Recession as Moral Fable. In Andersen’s world, there are no larger economic forces in play, no credit derivatives, no state intervention. Just immoral individuals who are getting what they deserve, and who need to reform.

All economic crises are opportunities to blame the people you hate. Inconveniently for the political ideologues, our modern crises are solved by simple structural tweaks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Ben Nelson: a help or a hurdle? (LISA LERER, 3/30/09, Politico)

For organized labor, the most powerful politician in America right now isn’t President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden or even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Instead, it might just be the man in the middle: Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

In a Senate where Democrats are just two votes shy of a filibuster-proof margin, the support of the party’s most conservative senator can pave the way to legislative success — or a long, slow legislative death.

The plain-spoken Nebraskan sees his role in the Senate as one of a mediator trying to bridge partisan divides. But in private conversations, labor leaders are more likely to view him as a hurdle.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Is She Selling the Wrong Plan? (Reza Aslan, 3/31/09, Daily Beast)

President Barack Obama finally unveiled his administration’s Afghanistan strategy last week and in some ways the new plan looks a lot like the old plan: vigorously pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban militants holed up in the forbidding mountains and valleys of the Northwest Frontier Province, build up Afghanistan’s police and security forces, invest heavily in reconstruction projects, secure Kabul and help the weak federal government to extend its reach to rural areas, and reach out to Afghanistan’s neighbors to help secure and stabilize the country. [...]

Beyond all this, however, there is a glaring difference in emphasis, if not in policy, between Bush’s and Obama’s conception of “victory” in Afghanistan. This president appears to have no interest whatsoever in anything akin to “democracy promotion.” His outline for the war effort makes no mention of nation-building and contains no serious commitment to bolstering the country’s lagging democratic institutions. Indeed, Obama barely mentioned the word democracy when presenting his new strategy to the press.

The Unicorn Rider is fortunate in being able to just ape the successful policies of his predecessor, but due to the differences betrween the two men he drains them of their vital moral content.

Jimmy Carter's Spirit of Notre Dame (Jeffrey Lord, 3.31.09, American Spectator)

So what did Carter say at Notre Dame, where he was invited by the university's president, the Reverend Theodore Hesburgh? What signal did he send that wound up getting him, the country and the entire world in such trouble over the next four years and well beyond that? More to the point, how does it compare with the direction already being signaled by President Obama as he approaches his own already controversial appearance at Notre Dame?

The most notable single sentence in Carter's Notre Dame speech was this one:

We are now free of that inordinate fear of Communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in our fear.

Carter went on to insist that it was time to govern with a "wider framework of international cooperation" because "the world today is in the midst of the most profound and rapid transformation in its entire history."

He also added this about the American approach to the Soviet Union in the Carter era: "Our goal is to be fair to both sides, to produce reciprocal stability, parity, and security." In other words, in Carter's view, a view widely held among leftward-leaning elites, both the United States and the Soviet Union had genuinely competing claims. They were morally equal to each other.

The speech was the lead story in the news the next day. By the time Carter left the White House after four years of promoting moral equivalence, the world was in murderous chaos. The unintended consequences of Carter's policies as enunciated at Notre Dame were both considerable and long lasting. Some would argue they are reverberating right up until today. [...]

If this approach of Carter's sounds vaguely familiar these days, it should. Carter's words at Notre Dame bear a striking resemblance to the substance if not the actual words of President Obama.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Car Dealer in Chief (DAVID BROOKS, 3/31/09, NY Times)

Some companies are in the steel business, some are in the cookie business, but General Motors is in the restructuring business. For 30 years, G.M. has been restructuring itself toward long-term viability.

For all these years, G.M.’s market share has endured a long, steady slide. But this has not stopped the waves of restructuring. The PowerPoints have flowed, and always there has been the promise that with just one more cost-cutting push, sustainability nirvana will be at hand.

There are many experts who think that the whole restructuring strategy is misbegotten. These experts think that costs are not the real problem. The real problem is the product. The cars are not good enough. The management is insular. The reputation is fatally damaged.

But if you are in the restructuring business, you can’t let these stray thoughts get in the way of your restructuring. After all, restructuring is your life. Restructuring is forever. Restructuring is like what dieting is for many of us: You think about it every day. You believe it’s about to work. Nothing really changes.

Ronald Reagan's protectionism come home to roost.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Contagious Crime: The source: “The Spreading of Disorder” by Kees Keizer, Siegwart Lindenberg, and Linda Steg, in Sciencexpress, Nov. 20, ­2008. (Wilson Quarterly)

Kees Keizer, Siegwart Lindenberg, and Linda Steg of the social science faculty at the University of Groningen attached annoying “Happy Holidays” flyers to the handlebars of bicycles parked in an alley with a big “No Littering” sign on the wall. No trash can was provided. When the alley walls were pristine, 67 percent of the bicyclists took the flyer with them to dispose of properly. When the same area was scribbled with graffiti, only 31 percent did.

The researchers conducted an experiment with an envelope, allowing it to protrude out of a mailbox with a five-euro bill visible through the clear window showing the address. When the mailbox was free of graffiti, 13 percent of passersby pocketed the money. When it was covered with graffiti, 27 percent did so. In another experiment, the research­ers partially blocked the en­trance to a parking lot with a temporary fence. Customers were ordered by the parking lot’s owner not to lock their bikes to the fence and to walk about 220 yards to an alternate entrance. When four nearby bikes were clearly not locked to the fence, 73 percent of the people walked the extra distance; when the bikes were locked to the fence, in violation of the posted order, only 18 percent ­did.

Watch a movie from the 70s or early '80s and you'll be struck both by how run-down the backgrounds tend to be and by the omnipresence of at least the threat of crime. A quarter century later, after 25 years of broken-window policing, three strikes laws, mandatory sentencing, and jailing two million people, crime doesn't even register as a concern in the modern American psyche. It's a remarkable turnaround.

Broken Windows: The police and neighborhood safety (George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, March 1982, Atlantic Monthly)

[A]t the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. (It has always been fun.)

Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, reported in 1969 on some experiments testing the broken-window theory. He arranged to have an automobile without license plates parked with its hood up on a street in the Bronx and a comparable automobile on a street in Palo Alto, California. The car in the Bronx was attacked by "vandals" within ten minutes of its "abandonment." The first to arrive were a family—father, mother, and young son—who removed the radiator and battery. Within twenty-four hours, virtually everything of value had been removed. Then random destruction began—windows were smashed, parts torn off, upholstery ripped. Children began to use the car as a playground. Most of the adult "vandals" were well-dressed, apparently clean-cut whites. The car in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week. Then Zimbardo smashed part of it with a sledgehammer. Soon, passersby were joining in. Within a few hours, the car had been turned upside down and utterly destroyed. Again, the "vandals" appeared to be primarily respectable whites.

Untended property becomes fair game for people out for fun or plunder and even for people who ordinarily would not dream of doing such things and who probably consider themselves law-abiding. Because of the nature of community life in the Bronx—its anonymity, the frequency with which cars are abandoned and things are stolen or broken, the past experience of "no one caring"—vandalism begins much more quickly than it does in staid Palo Alto, where people have come to believe that private possessions are cared for, and that mischievous behavior is costly. But vandalism can occur anywhere once communal barriers—the sense of mutual regard and the obligations of civility—are lowered by actions that seem to signal that "no one cares."

We suggest that "untended" behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls. A stable neighborhood of families who care for their homes, mind each other's children, and confidently frown on unwanted intruders can change, in a few years or even a few months, to an inhospitable and frightening jungle. A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed. Adults stop scolding rowdy children; the children, emboldened, become more rowdy. Families move out, unattached adults move in. Teenagers gather in front of the corner store. The merchant asks them to move; they refuse. Fights occur. Litter accumulates. People start drinking in front of the grocery; in time, an inebriate slumps to the sidewalk and is allowed to sleep it off. Pedestrians are approached by panhandlers.

At this point it is not inevitable that serious crime will flourish or violent attacks on strangers will occur. But many residents will think that crime, especially violent crime, is on the rise, and they will modify their behavior accordingly. They will use the streets less often, and when on the streets will stay apart from their fellows, moving with averted eyes, silent lips, and hurried steps. "Don't get involved." For some residents, this growing atomization will matter little, because the neighborhood is not their "home" but "the place where they live." Their interests are elsewhere; they are cosmopolitans. But it will matter greatly to other people, whose lives derive meaning and satisfaction from local attachments rather than worldly involvement; for them, the neighborhood will cease to exist except for a few reliable friends whom they arrange to meet.

Such an area is vulnerable to criminal invasion. Though it is not inevitable, it is more likely that here, rather than in places where people are confident they can regulate public behavior by informal controls, drugs will change hands, prostitutes will solicit, and cars will be stripped. That the drunks will be robbed by boys who do it as a lark, and the prostitutes' customers will be robbed by men who do it purposefully and perhaps violently. That muggings will occur.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Party leaders stressed about Dodd (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 3/31/09, Politico)

Interviews with a dozen Democratic state legislators, party officials and operatives in Connecticut indicate there is deep concern back home over whether the incendiary American International Group bonuses issue has delivered a mortal blow to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the five-term senator already facing tough scrutiny over his role as Senate Banking Committee chairman and his personal financial dealings.

Many of them describe a palpable fury among the party rank and file — anger that’s led some to wonder if the party would be better served with a different Democratic nominee in 2010— though they note that, at the moment, Dodd still retains the loyalty of Democratic activists and the political class.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


The Sickening State: The source: “The Health Crisis in Russia’s Ranks” by Murray Feshbach, in Current History, Oct. ­2008. (Wilson Quarterly)

The cause of much of Russia’s problem is demographics. Births fell by 50 percent between 1987 and 1999, and Feshbach predicts that this decline will produce an “echo” in a depressed birthrate starting in 2012 and continuing for decades to come. The most optimistic national estimates show Russia’s population falling to 136 million in 2020, down from 141 million today. Life expectancy in Russia is among the lowest in the developed world: for men, officially 61 years; for wom­en, between 72 and 73 years. In the Netherlands, by contrast, men and women typically live to be 77 and 82, ­respectively.

“Drugs and alcohol use, crime, illiteracy, and health ­problems—­in­cluding HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis B and C, psychological disturb­ances, and ailments related to ­muscular-­skeletal structures and central nervous ­systems—­are increasing marked­ly,” Feshbach reports.

An unusual child health census in 2002 showed that prenatal problems were rampant within the generation now approaching the prime conscript ages of 18 to 27. Only 30 percent of children are born healthy, Russian statistics show, with half lacking sufficient iodine or calcium during gestation—deficiencies that can lead to mental retardation and weak bones. Tuberculosis nearly quadrupled in the 15-to-17-­year-­old age group between 1989 and 2002. Mental disorders almost doubled in the decade be­fore 2002 among the same co­hort, and alcoholism went up by nearly a third in two years. Even cases of cancer and cerebral palsy increased ­dramatically.

Life expectancy, birth and death rates, labor productivity, and reproductive and child health re­flect the health status of the population, and that status is not good. For some groups within Russia, it is distinctly worsening, a situation the government was late to recognize. Russia, Feshbach concludes, has “a huge military arsenal and major ambitions—but very low human potential to realize these ambitions.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Vatican raps Obama medieval mystic (ANSA, 3/27/09)

The Vatican on Friday rapped the teachings of a medieval Christian mystic cited three times by Barack Obama as someone who wanted a better world.

''Few of those who expound on Gioacchino da Fiore (Joachim of Fiore, 1130-1202 AD) on the Internet know, or go to the trouble of finding out, what this character really said,'' said Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household.

According to the most ''vogueish'' interpretations, Cantalmessa said, the utopian mystic proposed a new liberal and spiritual Church able to move beyond dogmas and hierarchies.

This was a ''false and heretical'' view, Cantalamessa said, because believers must be guided not only by the spirit but also by the laws of the Church.

March 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


Angie Harmon: I'm Not Racist Because I Disagree With Obama (Hollie McKay, 3/30/09, Fox News)

Angie Harmon is not afraid to come out and say she doesn’t like how President Obama is handling the job — but she’s sick of having to defend herself from being deemed a racist.

"Here's my problem with this, I'm just going to come out and say it. If I have anything to say against Obama it's not because I'm a racist, it's because I don't like what he's doing as President and anybody should be able to feel that way, but what I find now is that if you say anything against him you're called a racist," Harmon told Tarts at Thursday’s Los Angeles launch of the new eyelash-growing formula, Latisse. "But it has nothing to do with it, I don’t care what color he is. I’m just not crazy about what he's doing ..." [...]

And in spite of the scornful opinions most of her Tinseltown counterparts have shared on Gov. Sarah Palin, Harmon remains a true fan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


Minding your business: Immigrants embracing entrepreneurship (Ann Meyer, 3/30/09, Chicago Tribune)

Many educated immigrants provide the United States with a competitive advantage and ultimately create jobs when they start businesses, said Vivek Wadhwa, a engineering professor at Duke University and researcher for the Kauffman Foundation

Immigrant-founded technology and engineering companies employed 450,000 workers in the U.S. and generated $52 billion in revenue in 2006, according to a Kauffman study released this month.

And immigrants are more likely to start businesses than native-born Americans, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, which measures the rate of business creation in the U.S. About 46 per 10,000 immigrants started businesses in 2007, up from 37 per 10,000 the prior year, while the rate among all adults was 30 per 10,000 in 2007, the index found.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Europe spurns the beloved Obama (Gideon Rachman, March 30 2009, Financial Times)

Europeans have long worshipped Barack Obama from afar. Now the beloved one is paying his first visit as US president to the old continent. Yet there is every indication that Europe’s leaders are about to stiff him.

Mr Obama is on a rapid-fire tour that will take him from the Group of 20 meeting in London to a Nato summit in Strasbourg, then on to a US-European Union meeting in Prague and, finally, a state visit in Turkey. But he will be lucky to return from Europe with much more than commemorative photos and some presents for the kids. (“I went to the G20 summit in London and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”)

If you look at Mr Obama’s top priorities, you get a sense of just how little the Europeans are prepared to give him. More help in Afghanistan? Most Europeans will do the bare minimum. A co-ordinated fiscal stimulus? Sorry, Europe is out of cash as well as troops.

...supposed to make them a serious continent?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


A FRIENDLY CROWD: President's Audience Heavy on Supporters (Washington Post, 3/28/09)

While any member of the public with an Internet connection could submit a question for the event, the five identified questioners called on randomly by the president in the East Room shared commonalities. They included: a member of the pro-Obama Service Employees International Union; a member of the Democratic National Committee who campaigned for Obama in the Hispanic community during the primary; a former Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates who endorsed Obama last fall in an op-ed in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star; and a Virginia businessman who was a donor to Obama's 2008 campaign.

One of the questioners, Sergio Salmeron, became involved with the Obama campaign early in 2008, writing on his blog: "We need to mobilize towards changing the trend of '2 to 1 Latinos favoring Hillary over Barack.' Let's make a resolute commitment."

He was a volunteer canvasser for the Obama campaign, he told The Washington Post, and did voter registration work and translated materials for the campaign. A partner at Global Paradigm Strategies, Salmeron is a volunteer "member of the Democratic National Committee" and continues to be active with the Obama campaign's successor, Organizing for America, which is how he got the White House invitation, he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


Handwashing 'more effective at controlling MRSA than isolating patients'
(Kate Devlin, 30 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)

A new study of intensive care units suggests that ensuring that staff keep their hands clean could be the best way to halt MRSA.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Twins Suspected in Spectacular Jewelry Heist Set Free: Saved by their indistinguishable DNA, identical twins suspected in a massive jewelry heist have been set free. Neither could be exclusively linked to the DNA evidence. (Der Spiegel, 3/19/09)

German police say at least one of the identical twin brothers Hassan and Abbas O. may have perpetrated a recent multimillion euro jewelry heist in Berlin. But because of their indistinguishable DNA, neither can be individually linked to the crime. Both were set free on Wednesday.

In the early morning hours of February 25, three masked men broke into Germany's famous luxury department store Kaufhaus Des Westens (KaDeWe). Video cameras show how they climbed into the store's grand main hall, broke open cabinets and display cases and made off with an estimated €5 million worth of jewelry and watches.

When police found traces of DNA on a glove left at the scene of the crime, it seemed that the criminals responsible for Germany's most spectacular heist in years would be caught. But the DNA led to not one but two suspects -- 27-year-old identical, or monozygotic, twins with near-identical DNA.

German law stipulates that each criminal must be individually proven guilty. The problem in the case of the O. brothers is that their twin DNA is so similar that neither can be exclusively linked to the evidence using current methods of DNA analysis. So even though both have criminal records and may have committed the heist together, Hassan and Abbas O. have been set free.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


carseat driver (n.) : someone who keeps correcting your driving despite not even being old enough to drive himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Critics claim John Murtha is capitalizing on a corrupt system, but he's not apologizing (Dennis B. Roddy, 3/29/09, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

No one has tallied the amount Mr. Murtha has steered into his district, which sprawls well beyond the Conemaugh Valley and reaches the West Virginia border. Conservative estimates are in the billions of dollars, most of it lobbied from federal agencies or won through open bidding or, more controversially, steered home directly during his 35-year career.

Mr. Murtha, a 76-year-old Marine veteran schooled in the blunt-knuckle deal-making that defined politics here, is contrition-free when it comes to his success.

"If I'm corrupt, it's because I take care of my district," Mr. Murtha said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


GOP must call Obama’s bluff on immigration (JACOB MONTY, 3/29/09, Houston Chronicle)

Even in a year when total voter turnout increased dramatically, Hispanics managed to boost their share of the vote from 8 percent to 9 percent, giving Barack Obama a lopsided margin of 68 percent to 31 percent, the most for a Democrat since 1996. The numbers represented a sharp dropoff in Hispanic support for Republicans since the Bush-Cheney high water mark of 40 percent just 4 years ago.

What’s received less attention is the impact Hispanics had on down-ticket races. Latinos supported Democrats in races for the Senate and House by even slightly higher margins than they gave Obama. The Pew Hispanic Center, using exit polls published by CNN, has estimated that Hispanics’ share of the vote increased most significantly in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, where they helped elect two new Democratic senators and four new Democrats to the House. All four states were carried by Bush in 2004.

If Republicans don’t reverse these trends, Hispanic voting patterns could change the political landscape well into the next decade and beyond. Increasing numbers of Hispanic voters could play a critical role in the 2010 Senate races in Colorado and Florida, where they comprised 13 percent and 14 percent of the vote in 2008 and gave Obama 61 percent and 57 percent of their votes, respectively. Arizona, Colorado and Nevada will also be likely battlegrounds for the 2010 governors’ races, which will be critical in setting district lines for congressional and legislative races for the next decade.

Hispanics — entrepreneurial, family-oriented, suspicious of labor unions, strongly anti-abortion and supportive of traditional marriage — are a natural constituency for the GOP. Nevertheless, the extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric of many in the so-called Republican “base” has created a huge obstacle to the party’s appeals. For Hispanics, the Republican brand is tarnished if not toxic.

...and go to the polls in 2008 with John McCain building on W's performance and running against a black Democrat and you had the ideal scenario for the Republicans becoming the party of Hispanics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


The Price of Moving Closer to Hezbollah (Tariq Alhomayed, 3/30/09, asharq alawasat)

The reasons behind Britain's negotiation with the so-called political wing of Hezbollah have begun to be revealed. The available information indicates that the reasons for negotiations between Britain and Hezbollah are contrary to what had previously been announced. It seems that the main reason is London's desire to secure the release of the 5 Britons kidnapped in Baghdad two years ago, in return for the release of prisoners affiliated to Muqtada Al-Sadr's organization, as well as Hezbollah leaders held by the Americans in Iraq, rather than for the sake of Lebanon's stability.

The Swastika and the Cedar (Christopher Hitchens, May 2009, Vanity Fair)
Lebanon is the most plural society in the region, and the “March 14” coalition, the group of parties that leads the current government, essentially represents the Sunnis, the Christians, the Druze (a tribe and creed unique to the region), and the Left.

What interest does the West have in maintaining the "stability" of an artificial and antidemocratioc state like The Lebanon?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


The Inheritance: With a doomsday clock ticking for newspapers as we know them, no one has more at stake than fourth-generation New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., who is scrambling to keep his family’s prized asset alive. Some see him as a lightweight cheerleader, others as the last, best defender of quality journalism. Talking to company insiders, the author examines the nexus of dynasty and character that has brought the 57-year-old Sulzberger to the precipice. (Mark Bowden May 2009, Vanity Fair)

In 2001, The New York Times celebrated its 150th anniversary. In the years that have followed, Arthur Sulzberger has steered his inheritance into a ditch. As of this writing, Times Company stock is officially classified as junk. Arthur made a catastrophic decision in the 1990s to start aggressively buying back shares ($1.8 billion worth from 2000 to 2004 alone). This was considered a good investment at the time, and had the effect of increasing the stock’s value. Shares were going for more than $50. Now they are slipping below $4—less than the price of the Sunday Times. Arthur’s revenues are in free fall: the bottom has dropped out of both newspaper and Internet advertising. He has done more than anyone in the business to showcase newspaper journalism online. It hasn’t helped much. The content and page views of the newspaper’s Web site,, may be the envy of the profession, but as a recent report from Citigroup explained, “The Internet has taken away far more advertising than it has given.” Layoffs have occurred in the once sacrosanct newsroom.

Having squandered billions during the newspaper’s fat years—buying up all that stock, buying up failing newspapers, building a gleaming new headquarters—Arthur is scrambling to keep up with interest payments on hundreds of millions in debt, much of it falling due within the next year. To do so, he is peddling assets on ruinous terms. Arthur recently borrowed $250 million from Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications billionaire, who owns the fourth-largest stake in the Times Company. Controlling interest is held closely by the Sulzberger family, which owns 89 percent of the company’s Class B shares. These shares, not traded publicly, are held by a family trust designed to prevent individual heirs from selling out, and ultimately to shelter editorial matters from strict concern for the bottom line. The family owns about 20 percent of the Class A shares, which is about the same percentage owned by the hedge funds Harbinger and Firebrand. The third-largest Class A shareholder is T. Rowe Price, with 10 percent. Slim comes next, with 7 percent. Given the current state of the investment and credit markets, Slim would appear to have the inside rail should the paper ever be sold, a prospect once unthinkable. It is now very thinkable. Among the other prospective buyers whose names have surfaced in the press are Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York; Google; and even, perish the thought, the press baron Rupert Murdoch, whose Wall Street Journal has emerged as journalistic competition for the Times in a way it never was before. (Murdoch has publicly dismissed reports of his interest in the Times as “crap,” which has served only to heighten speculation.) This quarter, for the first time since Times Company stock went public, in 1969, the fourth- and fifth-generation Sulzbergers who hold shares (there are 40 of them in all) received no dividends. As recently as last year they divvied up $25 million.

Beyond these professional trials, Arthur has personal ones. He has separated from his wife of more than three decades, Gail Gregg, a painter, and embarrassing speculation about his sleeping partners has surfaced in the tabloid columns. His son, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, is now working as a reporter at the paper, as his father and grandfather once did, but, for the first time in five generations, the heir apparent’s inheritance is in doubt.

While the crushing forces at work in the newspaper industry are certainly not Arthur’s fault, and many other newspapers have already succumbed to them, the fate of The New York Times is of special importance: it is the flagship of serious newspaper journalism in America. The Times sailed into the economic storm that began in 2001 in good financial shape, bearing the most respected brand name in the profession. It was far better equipped than most newspapers to adapt and survive. What is increasingly clear is that the wrong person may be at the helm. Arthur Sulzberger’s heart has always been in the right place, but he assumed leadership from his father uniquely ill-equipped for this crisis—not despite but because of his long apprenticeship. To their credit, the Sulzbergers have long treated the Times less as a business than as a public trust, and Arthur is steeped in that tradition, rooted in it, trained by it, captive to it. Ever the dutiful son, he has made it his life’s mission to maintain the excellence he inherited—to duplicate his father’s achievement. He is a careful steward, when what the Times needs today is some wild-eyed genius of an entrepreneur.

The Sulzbergers embody one of the newsroom’s most cherished myths: Journalism sells. Arthur says as much at every opportunity, and clearly believes this to his core. It encapsulates his understanding of his inheritance and of himself. But as a general principle, it simply isn’t true. Rather: Advertising sells, journalism costs. Good journalism costs more today than ever, while ads have plummeted, particularly in print media. This is killing the Times, and every other decent newspaper in America. Arthur has manfully tied himself to the wheel, doggedly investing in quality reporting and editing even as his company loses more and more money. Few investors or analysts consider this to be sound business practice.

...that the Other Brother found a recent story about how it would cost the Times half as much to give every subscriber a Kindle as it does top print and deliver the paper edition. The death of newspapers raises a dilemma that conservatives seem not to be addressing as our schaudenfreude clouds our judgment. The Founders considered the press to be a sufficiently important check on the power of the state and necessary to an informed electorate that they gave it explicit protection in the Bill of Rights. But media has become big business and politically powerful in its own right. Or at least it had. Now that it's failing we're presented with some awkward choices. We need the services the press provides but don't appear willing to pay for them. We can't bail them out, because that would amount to giving the state an unacceptable level of control over that is supposed to be an independent information source about the state. So what is the business model that will keep "newspapers" viable?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Obama to shake-up GM, Chrysler (MIKE ALLEN & JOSH GERSTEIN | 3/30/09, Politico)

In surprising findings to be outlined at the White House on Monday, President Obama has concluded that neither GM nor Chrysler as they now exist deserve more bailouts. But the White House is sparing them for a month or two, and is promising American consumers that the government will stand behind warranties if the automakers fail.

Most remarkably, the administration demanded that GM CEO Rick Wagoner resign so the company could remake itself “with a clean sheet of paper.” And he did, effective immediately. The administration also said GM has been given a “goal of replacing a majority of the board over the coming months.”

The administration found that both carmakers had failed to prove their “viability” as required under the terms of the massive government loans they’ve already received, and determined that neither should receive another bailout.

“We have unfortunately concluded that neither plan submitted by either company represents viability, and therefore does not warrant the substantial additional investments that they requested,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call Sunday night.

Easy enough to follow W's lead there, but he deserves credit for doing so. How about being just as decisive with the banks?

Balancing Banks (James Surowiecki April 6, 2009, The New Yorker)

Not long ago, many of America’s biggest banks made terrible bets on overpriced real estate and suffered huge losses. While the banks insisted that they were fundamentally healthy, economists and politicians declared many of them to be insolvent. Government regulators, though, allowed the banks to stay in business. The banks hunkered down and cut back sharply on new lending, and the resulting credit crunch made an already weak economy worse.

That sounds like the story of what just happened to the U.S. economy, but actually it’s the story of what happened at the beginning of the nineteen-nineties, after banks found themselves sitting on billions in worthless loans to Sun Belt developers and other commercial builders. And, if you tweak the details a bit, it’s also the story of what happened in the early eighties; that time, it was loans to developing countries that got the banks in trouble. In other words, while the current banking crisis is exceptionally severe, it’s not exactly new. It’s the third major banking crisis in the past thirty years, which is at least a couple of crises too many. And that’s forcing the Obama Administration to confront two huge tasks at once: rescuing the economy from the current meltdown, and figuring out how to prevent the next one.

The rescue effort, surprisingly, may be the easier of those tasks; although recurrent financial turmoil is hardly a confidence-booster, the fact that the U.S. economy—unlike, say, Japan’s—has recovered well from previous banking disasters offers hope that the government’s strategy will work. Many economists and pundits have argued that the only solution is to nationalize the weakest big banks, wiping out shareholders and management.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


States of Mind: a review of The Road to Democracy in Iran (Boston Review Books) by Akbar Ganji (Negar Azimi, 3/24/09, The Nation)

Ganji recently published a slim volume born of his time in prison. Immodestly called The Road to Democracy in Iran, it opens -- chillingly -- with the words "Today, June 29, 2005, is the nineteenth day of my second hunger strike." The book is not a collection of prison notes, however, but rather a sketch of a future Iranian state, one that would have the most basic human rights principles at its core. This is not Ganji's first prison manuscript. In 2002 he penned the opening notes of his six-part "Republican Manifesto," in which he lamented the trampling of individual rights in contemporary Iran and made his best case for a secular democracy. Ganji's touchstones are Karl Popper and Immanuel Kant. He may owe more to the Age of Reason than to the Koran.

Like many Iranians of his generation, Ganji was at one time an ardent follower of the late Ali Shariati, a fiery and charismatic figure who put forward a reading of Shiism that evoked Marxism and shades of revolutionary Third Worldism. Shariati flourished in the heady climate of early 1960s Paris, as France's turbulent war with its Algerian colony raged. He collaborated with the Algerian National Liberation Front in its revolutionary struggle, was coddled by Marxist scholars, translated Sartre into Farsi and cavorted with Frantz Fanon. He returned to Iran in 1965 and soon thereafter began delivering rousing lectures to budding revolutionaries at Husseinieh-e Ershad, a blue-domed religious institute in central Tehran that has since become inextricably tied to Shariati's image. Shiism, Shariati told his listeners, has a core set of values that stands to resolve many of society's ills. He distinguished this original Shiism from the pernicious faith he saw propagated by the clerics around him, what he contemptuously referred to as "Safavid Shiism," after the Safavids, who established Shiism as Iran's state religion in the sixteenth century. Cassettes of Shariati's lectures were distributed en masse, and Shariati, inadvertently or not, became a primary intellectual architect of the Islamic revolution to come. He was arrested in 1974 -- accused of being everything from a Wahhabi to a Communist to a SAVAK collaborator. Upon release he traveled to England, where he subsequently died of a heart attack (his supporters believe he was eliminated by the shah's secret police).

The Road to Democracy in Iran testifies to Ganji's movement away from Shariatism toward a firm belief that religion cannot possibly survive as the foundation of a modern democracy. Nor can culturally specific conceptions of rights, whether African, Confucian or Islamic in nature. "We are not relativists," he writes. Rather, a chastened Ganji insists that democracy can only be rooted in a universal recognition of the most basic human rights -- perhaps most prominent, the right to shape one's fate. Ganji goes on to ponder the role of the intellectual in bringing about this brave new order ("We must struggle"), but in the same breath he warns that "human rights will not be achieved through academic polemics." He decries the more fundamentalist readings of religion, though he stresses that modernity and religiosity are not mutually exclusive. (Kant's dictum of religion existing only within the confines of reason seems most fitting here.)

It's an open question whether a successful liberal democracy can be built on Shi'ism -- though it meets the requirements on paper -- but we know one can't be built on Reason.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Killing Opportunity (Nat Hentoff, 3/30/09, Washington Times)

President Obama's huge stimulus bill includes about $100 billion for education. And he insists his criteria for supporting reforms is not "whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works."

Applauding, Randi Weingarten, powerful head of the American Federation of Teachers (1.4 million members), calls Mr. Obama the "education president." However, when congressional Democrats recently doomed the Opportunity Scholarship Program for poor children in the District, the education president didn't say a word.

Of the 1,700 students, starting in kindergarten, in this private-school voucher program, 90 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic. First the House and then the Senate inserted into the $410 billion omnibus spending bill language that will eliminate the $7,500 annual scholarships for these poor children after the next school year. It could only be reauthorized by the same Democratic-controlled Congress and the anti-voucher D.C. Council. Fat chance!

Just as the GOP opposes vouchers because their suburban white voters don't want minorities in their kids' classrooms, so do Democrats oppose them because their donors -- teachers unions and the like -- don't want them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Mortgage Defaults, Delinquencies Rise (JAMES R. HAGERTY, 3/30/09, WSJ)

Defaults on home mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration in February increased from a year earlier.

A spokesman for the FHA said 7.5% of FHA loans were "seriously delinquent" at the end of February, up from 6.2% a year earlier. Seriously delinquent includes loans that are 90 days or more overdue, in the foreclosure process or in bankruptcy.

...and its hysteria about the undeserving poor.

March 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 PM


The gods are stupid (Spengler, 3/31/09, Asia Times)

A man came to the caliph claiming to be a prophet, goes a 9th-century joke. "By Allah, you are a stupid prophet!" exclaimed the caliph. "That," the prophet replied, "is why I was sent to people like you." That God might send a stupid prophet to a stupid people is one thing. But what if the prophet were sent by a stupid god? Stupid is, as Forrest Gump said, as stupid does, and what I mean specifically by stupid is not getting the joke.

To avoid confusion, I want to make clear that I do not believe in stupid gods, but only in the one and unique God of the Bible. [...]

We go looking for love in all the wrong places because it is terrifying to love the God of the Bible. Simply to evoke this fear is to put the fear God into us, as it were, and I found cold shivers shooting down my spine while reading the new English translation of a 20th-century classic of Hebrew literature, From There You Shall Seek, by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (Ktav Publishing: New York 2008).

Divine love, we flatter ourselves, is a comforting thing, a warm emanation of a beneficent presence in the universe. The Bible's lovely pastoral, the Song of Songs, teaches us divine love by a sort of analogia amoris, an analogy between the love between God and his congregation and the love of bridegroom and bride. That this love is interlaced with fear and withdrawal is the central theme of Soloveitchik's book. It is far beyond my competence to review it, although I recommend it - with trepidation. It is not hard to grasp even from a layman's reading why its author dominated the Modern Orthodox branch of Judaism for decades as the Rav of Yeshiva University in New York.

All of us in some sense are unhappy lovers, even God's congregation in pursuit of its union with God as in the Song of Songs, Soloveitchik argues.

The Song of Songs is not only an idyll but also a complaint, Soloveitchik observes. The bride and bridegroom cannot be united. Despite their love which is as strong as death, they hesitate or hide from each other at the crucial moment. A few excerpts from Rabbi Soloveitchik's summary:

"You are beautiful, my beloved, your eyes are doves," he sings (Song of Songs 1:15), hidden among the ancient, glorious hills. He sees her, but cannot be seen. He is very, very close to her, but also immeasurably distant ... their love cannot be realized, their yearning cannot be fulfilled completely. But why? Why must he flee from her at the moment that she pursues him? Why does he not look and see that she is made with longing and yearning? ...

"Where has my beloved gone?" Her entire self pleads, "If you meet my beloved, tell him this: that I am faint with love” (Song 5:8). She sobs in her agony, loneliness and suffering. Suddenly her lover appears from the obscurity of the dark night, knocking on his dear one's door ... Nevertheless the beloved refuses to rise from her bed and open the door to her lover (Song 5:3) ... Yet, after a moment the beloved leaps off her bed, her hands dripping myrrh on the handles of the bolt. She opens her abode to her lover .... The door opens - but the lover is not there. "I rose to let in my beloved .... But my beloved had turned and gone! (Song 5:5-6).

Soloveitchik's commentary on the Song of Songs helps explain why Jewish literature has no interest in romance in the usual sense of the word. One will ransack Jewish fiction without finding an Isolde, a Juliet, an Anna Karenina or an Emma Bovary. The canonical Jewish joke on the subject concerns an elderly Jewish couple. "Let's to go the theater!" says Sadie. "I don't want to go to the theater," counters Abe. "It's boring."

"What do you mean, 'It's boring'?" Sadie protests. "Theaters are for entertainment. Entertainment is the opposite of boring. If it was boring, why would they have theaters?"

"I don't care," Abe replies. "It's boring."

"Why is it boring?"

Abe sighs and explains: "When he wants, she doesn't want. When she wants, he doesn't want. And when they both want, it's over."

Like most Jewish jokes, this one works on several levels, but the truly esoteric level might be this: the cosmic drama of divine love is infinitely more absorbing than any earthly affair. The ruddy lad and the Shulamite maiden search for each other, leaping across hills like a hart, and wandering the streets of Jerusalem at night, but shun the moment of consummation. When he wants, she doesn't want; when she wants, he doesn't want.

In the Christian reading of the Song of Songs, eg, in the sermons of St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the lover hides behind the lattice to gaze at the beloved because love remains trapped in the body. The lattice, explains St Bernard, represents corrupt and sinful flesh, in which love may dwell imperfectly. Only when the soul sheds the body can it find true union with God. Rabbi Soloveitchik's account, which draws on Jewish traditional sources, offers less comfort: union with God would annihilate the soul, which draws back from the divine presence, whereas as God himself must withdraw from the world in order to allow creation to exist.

There is a reason that there are stupid gods who send stupid prophets to people like us. We flatter ourselves with the stupid gods of our own creation, because such gods are far more manageable than the terrifying, all-consuming love of the God of Creation.

One of the delicious ironies of the Richard Dawkins' sort of atheism--which claims that Christianity just a pleasant sporific for the weak-minded -- is that its proponents hide from God in terror.

Pope Benedict XVI and the Jews (David Rosen, 3/29/09, THE JERUSALEM POST)

In December 2000 in an article entitled 'The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas" published in L'Osservatore Romano, he wrote: "Abraham, father of the people of Israel, father of faith, has become the source of blessing, for in him 'all the families of the earth shall call themselves blessed.' The task of the Chosen People is therefore to make a gift of their God - the one true God - to every other people. In reality, as Christians we are the inheritors of their faith in the one God. Our gratitude therefore must be extended to our Jewish brothers and sisters who, despite the hardships of their own history, have held on to faith in this God right up to the present and who witness to it..."

In this same article, the then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the question of anti-Semitism and the degree to which Christianity has been associated with it. He stated: "Down through the history of Christianity, already strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth in many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes which throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent loathsome experience of the Shoah was perpetuated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians."

THIS CONDEMNATION of anti-Semitism includes a description of Nazism that not everyone would share. The pope repeated this idea when he visited the site of the extermination camps in Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 2006.

In describing the intentions of Nazism, he declared: "Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down the principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to Himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone - to the men who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, they ultimately wanted to tear out the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention..."

While many would argue with Pope Benedict XVI's analysis, there surely can be no more powerful an argument for Christians to avoid all anti-Semitic prejudice than the one he provides in these statements.

It is significant to condemn anti-Semitism as evil and it is remarkable to condemn it as "a sin against God and man" as did Pope John Paul II (words that have been reiterated by Pope Benedict XVI himself). However to describe anti-Semitism as an assault against the very roots of Christianity means that for a Christian to harbor such sentiment is to attack and betray his or her own faith - a message of enormous pedagogical importance in the struggle against hatred directed toward Jews and Judaism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 PM


Louisiana sees shift in cleaning out corruption: The state ranks third in corruption convictions per capita, but since Hurricane Katrina, people don't want to tolerate it anymore, officials say. 'It's no longer a spectator sport.' (Howard Witt, March 29, 2009, LA Times)

Ranked according to corruption convictions per capita from 1998 to 2007, Louisiana is No. 3. (Only Washington, D.C., and North Dakota ranked higher -- and those results were skewed because of their small populations.)

The jobbery here is so much like elevator music -- ubiquitous and inevitable -- that the state Legislature declined to pass a law in the last session that would have cut off state pensions for public officials convicted of corruption. Why, the legislators reasoned, should they have to pay twice if they get caught stealing from the public purse?

In the last six years, the U.S. attorney for the New Orleans district has issued 236 corruption indictments, and many more may be on the way.

Prominent scandals under investigation by the FBI include a federally financed New Orleans housing agency set up to rehabilitate houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina that allegedly spent millions but did little or no work, and a City Hall contract to install a network of crime-surveillance cameras that the New Orleans inspector general says resulted in $4 million in mysterious overpayments for a system that mostly doesn't function.

"I am absolutely certain we have increased the paranoia level on the part of those who would abuse the public trust," said U.S. Atty. Jim Letten, who cemented his reputation as a corruption fighter as the prosecutor who sent former Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards to prison. "If you're a corrupt public official, we want you to be nervous. You will never know if the businessman or woman you are trying to shake down is wearing a wire."

Law enforcement officials believe that the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when 80% of New Orleans flooded after the city's crumbling levees failed, was a turning point. Residents and businesspeople returned to New Orleans determined to cleanse their hobbled city of the mildew of decades of public corruption.

Suddenly victims started picking up their phones to report attempted shakedowns or sliding incriminating documents over to law enforcement, officials say.

And in 2007, Louisiana voters elected Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal on a reformist anti-corruption platform -- and Jindal promptly pushed through a package of legislative reforms including expanded whistle-blower protections, new limits on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and prohibitions against state officials taking state contracts.

"The average person out there understands now that public corruption has adversely affected his or her quality of life, whether it's the crumbling streets they drive on, the dismal state of the public school system, the crime rate or the lack of jobs," Letten said.

"The tolerance of corruption was partly a belief that it was a way of life, that it was so entrenched and endemic that it was untouchable and unreachable," Letten added. "Now the average citizen believes that something can be done about it."

You can hear the Left choking on the horrifying idea that W--and his Justice Department--did more for Louisiana than any other president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


Obama's domino theory: The president sounds like he's channeling Cheney or McCain -- or a Cold War hawk afraid of international communism -- when he talks about the war in Afghanistan. (Juan Cole, Mar. 30, 2009, Salon)

This latter-day domino theory of al-Qaida takeovers in South Asia is just as implausible as its earlier iteration in Southeast Asia (ask Thailand or the Philippines). Most of the allegations are not true or are vastly exaggerated. There are very few al-Qaida fighters based in Afghanistan proper. What is being called the "Taliban" is mostly not Taliban at all (in the sense of seminary graduates loyal to Mullah Omar). The groups being branded "Taliban" only have substantial influence in 8 to 10 percent of Afghanistan, and only 4 percent of Afghans say they support them. Some 58 percent of Afghans say that a return of the Taliban is the biggest threat to their country, but almost no one expects it to happen. Moreover, with regard to Pakistan, there is no danger of militants based in the remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) taking over that country or "killing" it.

The Kabul government is not on the verge of falling to the Taliban. The Afghan government has 80,000 troops, who benefit from close U.S. air support, and the total number of Taliban fighters in the Pashtun provinces is estimated at 10,000 to 15,000. Kabul is in danger of losing control of some villages in the provinces to dissident Pashtun warlords styled "Taliban," though it is not clear why the new Afghan army could not expel them if they did so. A smaller, poorly equipped Northern Alliance army defeated 60,000 Taliban with U.S. air support in 2001. And there is no prospect of "al-Qaida" reestablishing bases in Afghanistan from which it could attack the United States. If al-Qaida did come back to Afghanistan, it could simply be bombed and would be attacked by the new Afghan army.

While the emergence of "Pakistani Taliban" in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is a blow to Pakistan's security, they have just been defeated in one of the seven major tribal agencies, Bajaur, by a concerted and months-long campaign of the highly professional and well-equipped Pakistani army. United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates replied last summer to the idea that al-Qaida is regrouping in Pakistan and forms a new and vital threat to the West: "Actually, I don't agree with that assessment, because when al-Qaida was in Afghanistan, they had the partnership of a government. They had ready access to international communications, ready access to travel, and so on. Their circumstances in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and on the Pakistani side of the border are much more primitive. And it's much more difficult for them to move around, much more difficult for them to communicate."

As for a threat to Pakistan, the FATA areas are smaller than Connecticut, with a total population of a little over 3 million, while Pakistan itself is bigger than Texas, with a population more than half that of the entire United States. A few thousand Pashtun tribesmen cannot take over Pakistan, nor can they "kill" it.

In a certain sense, the situation can be compared to Vietnam if we think of the regime in Kabul as South Vietnam and al Qaeda/the Taliban/the tribes as the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese. The danger then becomes clear, that President Obama abets a coup against a popular leader who he doesn't like working with -- as Jack and Bobby did to our ally Diem -- and later withdraws military support for the state -- as Ted did over President Ford's objections. Of course, the differences are far more important. There is no USSR/PRC to support an Islamicist government, so if they tried to take over they'd just make themselves into more easily acquired targets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 PM


Dozens killed or injured in stampede at Ivory Coast football match (Amy Fallon, 30 March 2009, The Guardian)

At least 22 people have been killed and 132 wounded in a crush at a World Cup qualifying match in an Ivory Coast stadium.

Fans at the Félix Houphouet-Boigny arena pushed against each other shortly before the game between Ivory Coast and Malawi, setting off a panic that led to the stampede, interior minister Desire Tagro said on state television.

"They started pushing to get in because the match was about to start and every one of them wanted to get in," Tagro said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


Does Dark Energy Really Exist?: Or does Earth occupy a very unusual place in the universe? (Timothy Clifton and Pedro G. Ferreira, March 23, 2009, Scientific American Magazine)

In science, the grandest revolutions are often triggered by the smallest discrepancies. In the 16th century, based on what struck many of his contemporaries as the esoteric minutiae of celestial motions, Copernicus suggested that Earth was not, in fact, at the center of the universe. In our own era, another revolution began to unfold 11 years ago with the discovery of the accelerating universe. A tiny deviation in the brightness of exploding stars led astronomers to conclude that they had no idea what 70 percent of the cosmos consists of. All they could tell was that space is filled with a substance unlike any other one that pushes along the expansion of the universe rather than holding it back. This substance became known as dark energy.

It is now over a decade later, and the existence of dark energy is still so puzzling that some cosmologists are revisiting the fundamental postulates that led them to deduce its existence in the first place. One of these is the product of that earlier revolution: the Copernican principle, that Earth is not in a central or otherwise special position in the universe. If we discard this basic principle, a surprisingly different picture of what could account for the observations emerges.

Most of us are very familiar with the idea that our planet is nothing more than a tiny speck orbiting a typical star, somewhere near the edge of an otherwise unnoteworthy galaxy. In the midst of a universe populated by billions of galaxies that stretch out to our cosmic horizon, we are led to believe that there is nothing special or unique about our location. But what is the evidence for this cosmic humility? And how would we be able to tell if we were in a special place? Astronomers typically gloss over these questions, assuming our own typicality sufficiently obvious to warrant no further discussion. To entertain the notion that we may, in fact, have a special location in the universe is, for many, unthinkable. Nevertheless, that is exactly what some small groups of physicists around the world have recently been considering.

The poor Rationalists go flitting, hither and yon, wherever the latest bright idea takes them, when all along they could have stayed right in the same place.

If you wonder how thoroughly the Copernicans/darwinists have been routed in the culture wars, we went to the Museum of Science in Boston today and saw an IMax film called greatest places. It ended by saying that Earth has incredible diversity of life, maybe the greatest diversity of any planet, in fact, may itself be the greatest place in the Universe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


TS Eliot rejected George Orwell's Animal Farm because of its 'Trotskyite' politics (Stephen Adams, 29 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Animal Farm concerns a group of talking pigs who take over a farm, purportedly for the benefit of all its inhabitants, but end up running it for their own selfish ends.

Its plot sees the pig Napoleon, based on Stalin, forcing out his rival Snowball, who genuinely works for the good of the farm. Many commentators have concluded that Snowball was based on Stalin's rival Leon Trotsky, who was expelled from the Communist Party in 1927.

In his dismissive letter, Eliot wrote that Orwell's view "which I take to be generally Trotsykite, is not convincing".

He argued: "We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the current time."

He went on: "After all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore are the best qualified to run the farm – in fact there couldn't have been an Animal Farm without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs."

Utopias don't fail because they are implemented imperfectly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


Rudd on the road to disaster (Henry Ergas, March 30, 2009, The Australian)

DURING the 1979 oil shock, the great French political scientist Raymond Aron noted that in crises, governments usually had little to fear from Oppositions but everything to fear from themselves. Only rarely did governments display the intellectual rigour to adapt to the new circumstances. Their tendency, catastrophically evident in the presidency of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, was to retain commitments that were even more economically costly than when first made. Emerging difficulties then led to half-baked populism, with all its long-term costs.

Kevin Rudd could teach Giscard d'Estaing a thing or two.

Rudd's errors are not merely the odd concession to economic folly, they go to the core of our economic prospects. [...]

Ultimately, all government spending must be paid for from taxes that have high economic costs. To claim that Keynesian multipliers create magic puddings that can make this all come good is nonsense on stilts. A dollar misspent is a dollar misspent, and reduces incomes by at least that amount. The employment "created" by that dollar, when it could have been used for more worthwhile alternatives, is part of the waste, not a benefit. The quality of public expenditure is therefore crucial and on this count alone the Government's record is distressingly poor.

It hardly seems fair to blame this on Rudd or d'Estaing or Obama when the point is that a crisis is the least likely time that you can convince folks in a democracy that the product of your intellectual rigor is better medicine than what they're used to. Indeed, the best you can probably hope for is the sort of stasis that our checks and balances can provide. Crises are the worst times for parliamentarism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


Tiger returns to winning at Bay Hill (ASSOCIATED PRESS, March 30, 2009)

With those familiar back-nine heroics and a putt most everyone knew he was going to make, Woods holed a 15-footer for birdie to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory since returning from knee surgery.

Woods closed with a 3-under 67 for a one-shot victory over hard-luck Sean O'Hair, matching his largest comeback on the PGA Tour.

"It feels good to be back in contention, to feel the rush," Woods said. "It's been awhile, but God, it felt good."

I'm sorry, but if the Devil wins your soul unless the player of your choice can beat him at golf, no one is picking Yahweh over Tiger as his stand-in for the match.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 PM


Obama to sign lands bill before 5 days of comment (Stephen Dinan, March 30, 2009, Washington Times)

President Obama on Monday will sign the omnibus land conservation bill - yet again breaking his vow to allow five days for public comment before he affixes his signature to legislation.

The bill passed the House on Wednesday, but the White House didn't post the measure for comments until Friday, leaving just two weekend days and parts of Friday and Monday for the public to register comments - short of the president's five-day pledge. The bill was posted for only several hours before the White House announced that Mr. Obama would sign it, indicating the president had made up his mind well before many comments could have been submitted.

The cretins complaining about the Unicorn Rider just don't understand the nature of magic: it's been five days if he says it has and he knows what we would have said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


Risk Mismanagement (JOE NOCERA, 1/04/09, NY Times Magazine)

VaR DIDN’T GET EVERYTHING right even in what it purported to measure. All the triple-A-rated mortgage-backed securities churned out by Wall Street firms and that turned out to be little more than junk? VaR didn’t see the risk because it generally relied on a two-year data history. Although it took into account the increased risk brought on by leverage, it failed to distinguish between leverage that came from long-term, fixed-rate debt — bonds and such that come due at a set date — and loans that can be called in at any time and can, as Brown put it “blow you up in two minutes.” That is, the kind of leverage that disappeared the minute something bad arose.

“The old adage, ‘garbage in, garbage out’ certainly applies,” Groz said. “When you realize that VaR is using tame historical data to model a wildly different environment, the total losses of Bear Stearns’ hedge funds become easier to understand. It’s like the historic data only has rainstorms and then a tornado hits.”

Guldimann, the great VaR proselytizer, sounded almost mournful when he talked about what he saw as another of VaR’s shortcomings. To him, the big problem was that it turned out that VaR could be gamed. That is what happened when banks began reporting their VaRs. To motivate managers, the banks began to compensate them not just for making big profits but also for making profits with low risks. That sounds good in principle, but managers began to manipulate the VaR by loading up on what Guldimann calls “asymmetric risk positions.” These are products or contracts that, in general, generate small gains and very rarely have losses. But when they do have losses, they are huge. These positions made a manager’s VaR look good because VaR ignored the slim likelihood of giant losses, which could only come about in the event of a true catastrophe. A good example was a credit-default swap, which is essentially insurance that a company won’t default. The gains made from selling credit-default swaps are small and steady — and the chance of ever having to pay off that insurance was assumed to be minuscule. It was outside the 99 percent probability, so it didn’t show up in the VaR number. People didn’t see the size of those hidden positions lurking in that 1 percent that VaR didn’t measure.

EVEN MORE CRITICAL, it did not properly account for leverage that was employed through the use of options. For example, said Groz, if an asset manager borrows money to buy shares of a company, the VaR would usually increase. But say he instead enters into a contract that gives someone the right to sell him those shares at a lower price at a later time — a put option. In that case, the VaR might remain unchanged. From the outside, he would look as if he were taking no risk, but in fact, he is. If the share price of the company falls steeply, he will have lost a great deal of money. Groz called this practice “stuffing risk into the tails.”

And yet, instead of dismissing VaR as worthless, most of the experts I talked to defended it. The issue, it seemed to me, was less what VaR did and did not do, but how you thought about it. Taleb says that because VaR didn’t measure the 1 percent, it was worse than useless — it was downright harmful. But most of the risk experts said there was a great deal to be said for being able to manage risk 99 percent of the time, however imperfectly, even though it meant you couldn’t account for the last 1 percent.

“If you say that all risk is unknowable,” Gregg Berman said, “you don’t have the basis of any sort of a bet or a trade. You cannot buy and sell anything unless you have some idea of the expectation of how it will move.” In other words, if you spend all your time thinking about black swans, you’ll be so risk averse you’ll never do a trade. Brown put it this way: “NT” — that is how he refers to Nassim Nicholas Taleb — “says that 1 percent will dominate your outcomes. I think the other 99 percent does matter. There are things you can do to control your risk. To not use VaR is to say that I won’t care about the 99 percent, in which case you won’t have a business. That is true even though you know the fate of the firm is going to be determined by some huge event. When you think about disasters, all you can rely on is the disasters of the past. And yet you know that it will be different in the future. How do you plan for that?”

One risk-model critic, Richard Bookstaber, a hedge-fund risk manager and author of “A Demon of Our Own Design,” ranted about VaR for a half-hour over dinner one night. Then he finally said, “If you put a gun to my head and asked me what my firm’s risk was, I would use VaR.” VaR may have been a flawed number, but it was the best number anyone had come up with.

Of course, the experts I was speaking to were, well, experts. They had a deep understanding of risk modeling and all its inherent limitations. They thought about it all the time. Brown even thought VaR was good when the numbers seemed “off,” or when it started to “miss” on a regular basis — it either meant that there was something wrong with the way VaR was being calculated, or it meant the market was no longer acting “normally.” Either way, he said, it told you something useful.

“When I teach it,” Christopher Donohue, the managing director of the research group at the Global Association of Risk Professionals, said, “I immediately go into the shortcomings. You can’t calculate a VaR number and think you know everything you need. On a day-to-day basis I don’t care so much that the VaR is 42. I care about where it was yesterday and where it is going tomorrow. What direction is the risk going?” Then he added, “That is probably another danger: because we put a dollar number to it, they attach a meaning to it.”

By “they,” Donohue meant everyone who wasn’t a risk manager or a risk expert. There were the investors who saw the VaR numbers in the annual reports but didn’t pay them the least bit of attention. There were the regulators who slept soundly in the knowledge that, thanks to VaR, they had the whole risk thing under control. There were the boards who heard a VaR number once or twice a year and thought it sounded good. There were chief executives like O’Neal and Prince. There was everyone, really, who, over time, forgot that the VaR number was only meant to describe what happened 99 percent of the time. That $50 million wasn’t just the most you could lose 99 percent of the time. It was the least you could lose 1 percent of the time. In the bubble, with easy profits being made and risk having been transformed into mathematical conceit, the real meaning of risk had been forgotten. Instead of scrutinizing VaR for signs of impending trouble, they took comfort in a number and doubled down, putting more money at risk in the expectation of bigger gains. “It has to do with the human condition,” said one former risk manager. “People like to have one number they can believe in.”

Brown told me: “You absolutely could see it coming. You could see the risks rising. However, in the two years before the crisis hit, instead of preparing for it, the opposite took place to an extreme degree. The real trouble we got into today is because of things that took place in the two years before, when the risk measures were saying that things were getting bad.”

Contra Taleb, the problem, one again, wasn't some unforseen or unforseeable eventuality, but the exact same one that has recurred repeatedly over the last twenty years: the devices became so complex that they misstated the actual risk investors were assuming--often intentionally so. When the tool you're using to minimize risk is creating it instead the breakdown is always coming.

But the even more telling thing is that when the "black swan" returns, as they generally do, since they aren't unusual, the tendency is to react to them as if they were sui generis anyway, Does Obama Have a Plan B? (Adam S. Posen, 3/29/09, Daily Beast)

[I]t is with some irony if not humility that we should approach Treasury Secretary Geithner’s Public Private Investment Plan presented on March 23. A number of major American banks have lost huge amounts of money, and clearly have insufficient capital if they are not literally insolvent. Why else would they be pushing so hard to change the accounting rules to avoid showing what they really have on their books instead of raising private capital? Why else is the US government taking so long to perform “stress tests” and trying to get expectations of overpayment for some of the bad assets on the banks’ books before the test results are out? In short, the US government is looking to shovel capital into the banks without sufficient conditions, hiding rather than confronting the actual situation.

That is just like the Japanese government in their lost decade, or the US officials during the 1980s before they really tackled the savings-and-loan crisis. In those cases the delay simply made the problem worse over time and in the end the government had to put more money into the troubled banks directly, taking over or shutting down the weakest of them. Whatever the political culture, it would seem we have not learned from experience. Or perhaps we cannot act on our learning. The universal barrier would appear to be the political difficulty of recapitalizing banks. That seems obvious, but the constraint it puts on good policy is enormous.

That is why the Geithner plan is so complex and jury-rigged, to avoid the need for public requests for more money for banks. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to succeed absent additional public money and more intrusive government action. The plan will buy some time and certainly some appreciation in bank share prices. Current shareholders will be getting a new lease on life with subsidies from taxpayers. For that reason alone, the plan certainly will cost the taxpayer more in the end than a more direct recapitalization with public control would have.

A year or two down the road we will know for certain whether it worked. By then the banks will either return to normal pre-crisis lending or they will be both too distrusted and too distrustful even to borrow from each other again. As we have seen over the last eighteen months, the latter is what near- insolvent banks do.

It just doesn't much matter that we know exactly how we should respond to this current perfectly typical credit crunch, we still have trouble doing it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


Spies In The Sky (B. Raman, 3/26/09, Outlook)

There have been two more missile strikes from Predator (unmanned) aircraft on suspected terrorists in the South and North Waziristan areas of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. With these, there have been seven Predator strikes carried out by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the tribal belt of Pakistan since President Barack Obama assumed office on January 20,2009.

The first of these strikes carried out on March 25, 2009, targeted two vehicles--a pick-up and a car--which were moving on a kacha road (non-metalled country road) near the Makeen area of South Waziristan. Seven terrorists, believed to be Uzbecks and Arabs, were reportedly killed. While there is no doubt about their links with Al Qaeda, they seem to be low-level operatives of the organisation.

The second of these strikes targeted the house of a tribal leader by name Malik Gulab Khan in an area called Essokhel, 30 Kms from the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, on March 26, 2009, killing four persons. All of them are believed to be Pakistani supporters of the Taliban. There have been no local protest demonstrations against the two strikes indicating a lack of local anger over the deaths of these persons. This would indicate that the locals do not believe that those killed were innocent civilians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


India's New-Found Irrelevance: Clearly, the new Administration in Washington has little time for New Delhi. India, however, needs to put its own house in order before crying hoarse over the changing winds in Washington. (Harsh V. Pant, 3/24/09, Outlook)

India is realizing it’s difficult to be out of the limelight after getting used to it. For the last eight years under the Bush Administration, India occupied a pride of place in the strategic calculus of the US. India was wooed as a rising power, it was seen as a pole in the emerging global balance of power, it was acknowledged as the primary actor in South Asia, de-hyphenated from Pakistan, and then it was given what it had long desired -- a de facto status as a nuclear weapon state. From a problem state that could never say yes, India emerged as a state that the US could do business with. It was all too good to last for long. And now one of the architects of the US-India strategic partnership during the Bush period, Shyam Saran, who was the Indian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy during the negotiations over the nuclear pact, is asking India to hedge its bets in light of what he views as Sino-US strategic convergence.

Clearly, the new Administration in Washington has little time for New Delhi. From a nation that was just a few weeks back seen as an emerging power that can provide answers to global problems, India is now viewed primarily as a problem that the Obama Administration needs to sort out. It is instructive that the only context in which Obama has talked of India yet is the need to sort Kashmir out so as to find a way out of the West’s troubles in Afghanistan. Most astonishingly, the Obama Administration has asked India to make the first move towards peace in the region by pulling back troops from its Pakistan border. This is just so that the US can get more Pakistani support when it decides to launch a bigger military offensive in Afghanistan in a few months time. The talk of a strategic partnership between the two democracies, meanwhile, has all but disappeared. The new Administration is so busy fighting day to day battles that it has little time for grand strategy.

...for any lesser significance on your part. Even the Obamanauts will figure things out eventually.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


U.S. Seizure Slams Market for Dollars in Venezuela (JOHN LYONS and JOSE DE CORDOBA, 3/29/09, WSJ)

Venezuela's economically crucial black market for dollars was all but frozen Friday following the money-laundering arrest of an owner of a small Florida financial firm, adding to tensions between the U.S. and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

The arrest has reverberated through the Latin American country because the firm, Rosemont Finance Corp., serves as a key U.S. clearing house for dozens of black-market brokerages -- trading houses that exploit loopholes to sell dollars despite an official Venezuelan ban on private firms buying and selling currency at unofficial rates. The federal case has ensnared millions of dollars from these trades and the brokerages that relied on Rosemont.

The black market is a crucial cog in the nation's financial system and counts giants such as state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA among its key players. If the market remains shut down for long, it could add to problems in Venezuela's increasingly chaotic economy. Venezuela, the fourth-largest supplier of oil to the U.S., has already been hurt by the decline in crude prices, rampant corruption and overspending on social programs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Graveyard Myths (PETER BERGEN, 3/28/09, NY Times)

The Soviet experience in Afghanistan weighed heavily on the minds of Bush administration policymakers, who kept a “light footprint” lest Afghans rebuff American and allied soldiers as hated occupiers. But as it turned out, the Afghans were widely enthusiastic about being liberated from the Taliban. In an ABC/BBC poll conducted in 2005, a full four years after the fall of the Taliban, 8 in 10 Afghans expressed a favorable opinion of the United States — an extraordinary proportion in a Muslim nation — and the same number supported the American-led overthrow of the Taliban in their country.

And just last month, in a new poll by ABC and the BBC, 58 percent of Afghans named the Taliban as the greatest threat to their nation. Only 8 percent said it was the United States. And while only 47 percent of Afghans still had a favorable opinion of America, the Taliban fared far worse, with just 7 percent approval.

What Afghans want is for international forces to do what they should have been doing all along — provide them the security they need to get on with making a living. That means building up the Afghan Army and police, which are only about one-fourth the size of the security services in Iraq. This will not come cheap, but the cost of putting an Afghan soldier in the field is only one-seventieth that of sending an American. President Obama, who will travel to Europe for NATO’s 60th anniversary in early April, can ask those European countries that are reluctant to send additional troops to Afghanistan to instead contribute to a permanent fund to help pay for the expanded Afghan security services.

The United States should also focus on projects that will bring both security and economic benefits to Afghans. A key task is to secure the all-important road between Kabul and Kandahar, a once-pleasant freeway that has become a nightmarish gantlet of potential Taliban ambushes.

Afghanistan’s vast opium/heroin industry finances the Taliban and feeds rampant government corruption. The American Drug Enforcement Administration should make public the names of the top Afghan drug lords, including government officials, so that they can no longer act with impunity. And because Afghanistan’s court system is still incapable of handling major drug cases, Kabul should sign a treaty with Washington that would allow key heroin traffickers to be tried in the United States.

Measures like these would help return Afghanistan to something like the state it was before the Soviets invaded in 1979: a relatively peaceful country slowly building itself into something more than a purely agricultural economy.

Color us dubious that the will exists for the sort of punitive invasion Mr. Bergen invokes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Is outsourcing exploitation?: Just ask Indian shoemakers whether they would prefer to work for themselves or for an overseas company. (Xavier Rodrigues, 25 March 2009,

Just imagine that company X, which employs 50 of these shoe makers (mochis as they are called here) goes out of business:

Each of these mochis would then have to set up his own shop as other thousands of mochis in the city do. He would be sitting in a corner protected from rain and sun with some rags as a roof. The “shop” is barely 3 by 3 feet and perhaps just 4 feet high. They are very efficient, working with both arms and legs (thus they need to be sitting on the floor), and don't charge much... perhaps Rs. 10 US$0.20) for a 15-minute job. Hopefully he will get enough clients so as to make 2,000 or 3,000 Rupees ($40 to US$60)in a month.

This is not really too bad, but the guys in the outsourced workshop are better off. It is true they still sit at the floor and work in a cramped space. But this is how they learned their job in the first place. Besides, those fellows have a stable job; they have accommodation (the workshop itself); their salary is secure and thus their children can go to school... The accommodation factor is very important, even though they may not get to see their family for the full week. Otherwise they would have to spend about four hours a day in jam-packed public transport and spend a few precious Rupees in the process.

I have used shoe manufacturing as an example, but a very similar line could be drawn for other labour-intensive manufacturing processes, or even for services where professionals work.

Contributing to those businesses as clients is certainly not cooperating with something against human dignity.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Syria Calling: The Obama Administration’s chance to engage in a Middle East peace. (Seymour M. Hersh, April 6, 2009, The New Yorker)

American and foreign government officials, intelligence officers, diplomats, and politicians said in interviews that renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights are now highly likely, despite Gaza and the elections in Israel in February, which left the Likud Party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the head of a coalition that includes both the far right and Labor. Those talks would depend largely on America’s willingness to act as the mediator, a role that could offer Barack Obama his first—and perhaps best—chance for engagement in the Middle East peace process.

A senior Syrian official explained that Israel’s failure to unseat Hamas from power in Gaza, despite the scale of the war, gave Assad enough political room to continue the negotiations without losing credibility in the Arab world.

Rather than attacking democrats in Palestine and collaborating with the dictatorship in Syria, Israel ought to have declared Palestinian statehood and regime-changed Damascus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Senate bucks campaign transparency (Washington Times, March 29, 2009)

The transparency zeal that has gripped some Washington politicians in recent years has yet to engulf the Senate's campaign funding disclosure process, and the delinquency is to the detriment of the election process.

Opening up the government to greater public scrutiny has yet to apply to most Senate candidates. Few have voluntarily joined their House counterparts, presidential candidates and even most state-level public office-seekers, who are required by statute to electronically file their campaign finance information. Instead, most incumbents and challengers still, as allowed by Senate regulations, use 1970s-era paper filings to submit their campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Surprising insights from the social sciences (Kevin Lewis, March 29, 2009, Boston Globe)

Better thinking through gum

BECAUSE OF ITS association with the carefree attitude of youth, chewing gum can convey an immature or unprofessional air. New research suggests that it may be time to change that preconception. People who chewed gum while working through challenging mental tasks showed higher alertness and lower stress and anxiety (including lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone) than those who weren't chewing gum. Although the exact mechanism is unclear, the authors speculate that chewing gum may increase blood flow or metabolism.

Scholey, A. et al., "Chewing Gum Alleviates Negative Mood and Reduces Cortisol During Acute Laboratory Psychological Stress," Physiology & Behavior (forthcoming).

Where were these guys when we were kids?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


How Old Are You Really? Can You Pick Up a Pencil? (NEIL GENZLINGER, 3/29/09, NY Times)

Considerable attention has fallen lately on RealAge, a wildly popular online questionnaire that claims to calculate your body’s true age by factoring in your diet, medical history, exercise habits and less obvious indicators of longevity like how many close friends you have. Critics complain that the test is used by pharmaceutical companies to identify potential customers and bombard them with e-mailed ads.

No one, though, has warned about the danger inherent in the questionnaire itself: the mere act of slogging through its more than 85 questions could subtract years from your life. And the test gives short shrift to the adage “You’re as young as you feel” — few questions address what might be thought of as one’s mental age. Below, a more focused quiz that should save you precious hours:

...but haven't watched a single episode since Carson retired?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


U.S. rallies for 2-all tie with El Salvador in World Cup qualifier (AP, 3/29/09)

Two goals down and 20 minutes from what would have been one of the worst defeats to a regional rival in years, the United States rallied for a dramatic draw. [...]

Ranked just 106th in the world, El Salvador built a 2-0 lead against the No. 17 Americans before a boisterous crowd of 30,500 at Estadio Cuscatlan on goals by Eliseo Quintanilla in the 15th minute and Crisian Castillo in the 72nd. [...]

Altidore entered in the 61st minute and beat backup goalkeeper Juan Jose Gomez, who entered two minutes earlier after cramps felled Miguel Montes for the second time. Altidore scored on a header from 3 yards off a cross from Hejduk, who made an overlapping run and took a feed from Ching, who had taken a headed pass from Clint Dempsey.

"The ball came to the back post, and I was just at the right place at the right time," said Altidore, who scored his three goal in eight international appearances. "I was just trying to put in on frame. When you are that close, you don't have to place it that well."

Hejduk scored his seventh international goal on an open 3-yard header -- his first goal in qualifying since a 1996 match against Guatemala in El Salvador -- after Landon Donovan's corner kick bounded off defender Marvin Gonzalez.

"Typically at that point I don't go up on corner kicks, but it was the dying moments," Hejduk said. "I made a near post run and then ducked to the far post and no one was with me. I don't know what happened, but the ball came to the back post and next thing you know it was on my head."

Apparently our coach isn't aware how wide a soccer field is. With El Salvador clogging the middle for the whole game, just trying to hold down our score in a sure loss, he had us play up the middle for 75 minutes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Who Counts?: A conversation with Jean Bethke Elshtain (Interview by Agnieszka Tennant, March 27, 2009, Books & Culture)

In Sovereignty, you observe the following irony: "In our own liberal society at the moment, and in most of the Western democracies in general, we are pursuing a paradoxical project: We are most aware of those with physical and mental disabilities; we want to provide them access. Yet at the same time, our most enthused-about and ideologically fraught projects aim at creating a world with no such persons in it." How did we arrive at the point of convergence of such opposites?

These kinds of opposites have been embedded in the great Western project from the beginning. If you put a premium on certain kinds of developed capacities—let's say, those who can enact projects of freedom, who have achieved a certain level that we recognize as definitively human—and tethered to that you have philosophies that measure us by our capacity to engage in rational operations, then those who can never maximize their capacity and who lack certain capabilities are going to be a huge problem. You can see that in the social contract literature. John Locke doesn't know what to do with idiots and imbeciles, in the tender language of the day. Where do they belong? They can't sign the contract. They're outside of the rationally interacting universe. Once you set that in play, an ongoing devaluation of certain categories of people takes hold.

Because we want to be compassionate and we feel badly about this, we say we've got to make things fairer for these kinds of people. I don't want to negate the importance of those projects for access. But even as those go on, at the present moment we're rapidly aiming for a more and more strenuous norm of perfection, with the promise and the possibilities of eugenics—or positive genetic enhancements, as we're supposed to call it. We can get more people of an ideal type, where we try to tweak off the bad bits of the genome. That's why a number of ethicists from the Netherlands have said that if you're a parent of a child with disabilities in a liberal Western democracy, particularly if they're mental disabilities, you have reason to be worried—precisely because of the devaluation that's placed on such human beings. Think about what it says to an adult with Down syndrome that the society in which she lives aborts 90 percent of Down pregnancies, and that in an ideal world there wouldn't be any like her left. That says something about how she is valued. [...]

What do you say to the argument that allowing people with disabilities onto this planet places an undue burden on society?

That's the old utilitarian calculation. It's entirely illegitimate because it suggests that the strong and able-bodied have more right to the things of the earth than those who are weak and not able-bodied. If you believe in the moral quality of persons, that's obviously not an argument you can credit. In practice, it's also a very dangerous argument because it's been made historically for warehousing people or euthanizing people. The Nazi programs had prudential utilitarian reasoning as well. [...]

The idea of human dignity seems to have taken a beating lately. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker ridiculed it in his article "The Stupidity of Dignity" in The New Republic. His target was the President's Council on Bioethics report "Human Dignity and Bioethics," to which you contributed.

You're right, there's an assault on the very notion of dignity. Pinker knows, because it came up in the discussion when I was sitting next to him, that human dignity was very much in play for those who wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, given what they took to be assaults on human dignity by the Nazi regimes and the Soviet tyranny. Hitler never defended human dignity; it was about race privilege, about being fierce beasts that go out and devour the weak.

-REVIEW: The Origins of Power: Jean Bethke Elshtain's 'Sovereignty' (ADAM KIRSCH, June 18, 2008, NY Sun)
-REVIEW: Why Me?: The case against the sovereign self. (Alan Wolfe, June 9, 2008, Slate)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Delay in Immigration Raids May Signal Policy Change (Spencer S. Hsu, 3/29/09, Washington Post)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has delayed a series of proposed immigration raids and other enforcement actions at U.S. workplaces in recent weeks, asking agents in her department to apply more scrutiny to the selection and investigation of targets as well as the timing of raids, federal officials said.

A senior department official said the delays signal a pending change in whom agents at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement choose to prosecute -- increasing the focus on businesses and executives instead of ordinary workers.

It's especially important for a pro-abortion administration to compensate for our losses via immigration.

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March 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:09 PM


Krugman: the left's new anti-Obama (MIKE ALLEN, 3/28/09, Politico)

A stark image of Paul Krugman, the bearded New York Times op-ed columnist and Princeton economist, appears on the cover of next week’s Newsweek, with the headline “OBAMA IS WRONG: The Loyal Opposition of Paul Krugman.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Do the honourable thing, Mr Brown. Run away: An appalling speech in Strasbourg, embarrassments at home and abroad... this Prime Minister must sacrifice himself (Matthew Parris, 3/28/09, Times of London)

I've just read one of the worst speeches by a British prime minister it's been my misfortune to encounter in 40 years following politics. Wilson had folksy evasiveness; Heath, wooden principle; Thatcher, tin-eared persistence; Blair, slimy charm. In every case you could tell why they'd got the job, even when you hated what they were doing with it.

But this? This hole in the air encased in a suit of clunking verbal armour? This truck-load of clichéd grandiloquence in hopeless pursuit of anything that might count as the faintest apology for an idea? Words fail me.

They certainly failed Gordon Brown, addressing the European Parliament this week. No wonder everybody's now watching the MEP Daniel Hannan's riposte, uploaded on to YouTube - for the sheer, blessed relief of finding anyone still standing as the grey ash came bucketing down.

Where shall I begin? Shall I bother? Is he worth it?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Markets again bet the worst is past: This is the fifth time U.S. blue-chip stocks have risen more than 10% since October 2007. The previous four rallies all gave way to more selling and new market lows. (Tom Petruno, March 28, 2009, Los Angeles Times)

Did they cancel Great Depression II? So soon?

That's one message investors might choose to take away from the sharp rebound in stock markets worldwide over the last three weeks.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index has pared its year-to-date loss from a stunning 25% as of March 9 to just under 10% at Friday's close. [...]

This shock-and-awe campaign impresses Jim McDonald, chief investment strategist at Chicago-based Northern Trust, which manages $560 billion for clients.

"We think that what the Fed and the Treasury have done has reduced the risk of the worst happening" to the financial system and the economy, McDonald said. Enough so, he said, that he shifted a chunk of Northern Trust's portfolio out of cash and into stocks and other investments this month, trimming his cash holdings to 11% of assets from 16%.

Also still mostly in the pipeline are the effects of the nearly $800-billion economic stimulus bill Congress approved in February. Ditto for this year's mortgage refinancing wave, with home loan rates at record lows.

At a minimum, if the financial and economic meltdowns have been arrested it makes sense that investors would have to think twice about sending stocks down further, after taking the S&P 500 and the Dow industrials to 12-year lows March 9.

Once a market bounce begins it can fuel buying by bearish "short sellers" who had borrowed stock and sold it, betting on lower prices. As they rush to buy shares to close out their trades they feed the rebound.

Short-covering helped drive the previous four rallies. But the effect wasn't long-lived.

The difference this time, however, is that even the short sellers have to wonder if they're overestimating how much more damage the economy and the stock market are likely to sustain.

Reports this week showed that sales of both new and existing homes rose in February, albeit from deeply depressed levels in January. Likewise, orders for big-ticket manufactured goods were up last month, the first increase since July. On Friday the government reported that consumer spending inched up in February, the second consecutive gain.

Economy Raises Tentative Hopes a Trough Is Finally in Sight (KELLY EVANS, 3/28/09, WSJ)
This week, though, has brought a spate of good economic news. Consumer spending rose marginally in February, the Commerce Department said Friday, as did consumer sentiment in a household survey by Reuters and the University of Michigan. The housing market also appears to have stabilized from its free fall, and an uptick in orders for big-ticket items is helping raise hopes of a future pickup in manufacturing.

During a meeting with President Barack Obama and other bank executives Friday at the White House, Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Ken Lewis and Northern Trust Corp. CEO Rick Waddell expressed cautious optimism that the economic downturn was either at or near the bottom of the cycle, according to people at the meeting.

Click on the image for state-by-state unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with year-over-year change in percentage points.

"There's growing evidence supporting the optimists' view, and I am surprised at that," said Robert J. Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University and a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research committee that is the official arbiter of when recessions begin and end. "I was sort of in the pessimists' camp until I started looking at things."

He points to one indicator in particular with a remarkable track record: the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits. In past recessions, it has hit its peak about four weeks before the economy hit a trough and began to grow again. As of right now, the four-week average of new claims hit its peak of 650,000 in the week ended March 14. Based on the model, "if there's no further rise, we're looking at a trough coming in April or May," he said, which is far earlier than most forecasts currently anticipate.

The most important thing to keep in mind about the credit crisis is that it has nothing (or little) to do with underlying economic conditions. As Richard Bookstaber writes in his extraordinarily useful book, A Demon of Our Own Design:
Stunning as such crises (the 1987 crash and the Long-Term Capital Management debacle) are, we tend to see them as inevitable. The markets are risky, after all, and we enter at our own peril. We take comfort in ascribing the potential for fantastic losses to the forces of nature and unavoidable market uncertainty.

But that is not the case. More often than not, crises aren't the result of sudden economic downturns or natural disasters. Virtually all mishaps over the past decade had their roots in the complex structure of the financial markets themselves. [...]

One of the curious aspects of worsening market crises and financial instability is that these events do not mirror the underlying real economy. In fact, while risk has increased for the capital markets, the real economy, the one we live in, has experienced the opposite. In recent decades the world has progressively become a less risky place, at least when it comes to economics. [...]

[B]reakdowns come about not in spite of our efforts at improving market design, but because of them. The structural risk in the financial markets is a direct result of our attempts to improve the state of the financial markets; its origins are in what we would generally chalk up as progress. The steps that we have taken to make the markets more attuned to our investment desires--the ability to trade quickly, the integration of the financial markets into a global whole, ubiquitous and timely market information, the array of options and other derivative instruments--have exaggerated the pace of activity and the complexity of financial instruments that makes crises inevitable. Complexity cloaks catastrophe.

Thus, we have the unfortunate spectacle of the Right trying to blame subprime borrowers, or Democrat congressmen, or federal rules and regulations, or budget deficits or whatever for a crisis that was actually brought on by the "capitalists" they consider their own natural constituency. The problem was not that the drive to increase home ownership requires lending to inherently riskier borrowers but that Wall Street used complex instruments to try to disperse said risks--if we put a charitable face on it--or disguise that risk from unwary investors, in the worst reading of their actions.

Mapping the Market Genome (Rick Bookstaber, 2/28/09)

A market crisis occurs when there are highly leveraged investors in a market that is under stress. These investors are forced to sell to meet their margin requirements. Their selling drops prices further – especially because the market was under stress to begin with. So you get a cascade down in the price of that market. A shock that might have initially led to only a five percent drop gets amplified, and the market might drop multiples of that. We have seen this in various guises in the current crisis, from the banks' 'toxic waste', to the downward spiral in housing prices, to the deleveraging of the carry trade, to the quant fund crisis in August 2007.

And the dynamic gets worse. Many of those under pressure to liquidate will discover they no longer can sell in the market that is under stress. If they can’t sell what they want to sell, they sell whatever else they can. So now they move to a second market where they have exposure and start selling there. If many of those who are in the first market also are in the second one, and if the investors in that market are also leveraged, then we see the contagion occur.

Here are two examples of what I am talking about.

Example one is LTCM. The proximate cause of LTCM’s demise was the Russian default in August, 1998. But LTCM was not highly exposed to Russia. A reasonable risk manager, aware of the Russian risks, might not have viewed it as critical to the firm. So how did it hurt them? It hurt them because many of those who did have high leverage in Russia also had positions in other markets where LTCM was leveraged. When the Russian debt markets failed and these investors had to come up with capital, they looked around and sold their positions in, among other things, Danish mortgage bonds. So the Danish mortgage bond market went into a tail spin, and because LTCM as big in that market, it took LTCM with it.

Example two is what happened with the Hunt silver bubble. When the bubble burst in 1980, guess what market ended up being correlated almost one-to-one with silver. Cattle. Why? Because the Hunts had to come up with margin for their silver positions, and they happened to have large holdings of cattle that they could liquidate.

Could we have ever anticipated beforehand that we would see a huge, correlated drop in both Russian MinFins and Danish Mortgage bonds? Or in silver and cattle? There is no way these dynamics can be uncovered with conventional, historically based VaR type of analysis. The historical return data do not tell us much if anything about leverage, crowding and linkages based on position holdings.

This is not to say VaR is not of value. I think everyone who is involved in risk management understands the limitations of VaR, what it can and cannot do. It is sometimes put up as a straw man because it is not doing things it was not designed to do, things it cannot do, such as assess these sorts of liquidity crisis events and the resulting cascade of correlations that result.

But the proper use of mark up languages along the lines of XBRL can give us the data we need to address market crises as they start to form. What we must do is have a regulator that extracts the relevant data – in this case position and leverage data – from major investment entities. These would include, as a start, the large banks and largest hedge funds. With assurances of data security – the data would not be revealed beyond the regulator – a government risk manager would then be able to know what currently cannot be known: where is there crowding in the markets, where are there ‘hot spots’ of high leverage, what linkages exist in the event of a crisis based on the positions these investors hold?

For these reasons, the first recommendation in both my Senate and House testimony was “get the data”. How can we do that? Well, first, by legislative demands to require investment firms -- including large hedge funds -- to provide the data. Then by the proper application of a mark up language so it can be done in a consistent, aggregatable way.

To give an analogy for this, one that came out in the conference and that illustrates how far behind we are in financial markets, a mark up language for risk would do for the financial products what bar codes already do for real products. If we discover a problem with peanuts being processed in some factory, we can use the bar codes to know where each product containing those peanuts is in the supply chain, all the way down to the grocery store shelf.

Having the proper tags – the proper bar code, if you will – for financial products, ranging from bonds and equities to structured products and swaps will allow us to understand the potential for crisis events and system risk. It will help us anticipate the course of a systemic shock. It will identify cases where many investors might be acting prudently, but where their aggregate positions lead to a level of risk which they on their own cannot see.

They Tried to Outsmart Wall Street (DENNIS OVERBYE, 3/10/09, NY Times)

The Physics of Money

Physicists began to follow the jobs from academia to Wall Street in the late 1970s, when the post-Sputnik boom in science spending had tapered off and the college teaching ranks had been filled with graduates from the 1960s. The result, as Dr. Derman said, was a pipeline with no jobs at the end. Things got even worse after the cold war ended and Congress canceled the Superconducting Supercollider, which would have been the world’s biggest particle accelerator, in 1993.

They arrived on Wall Street in the midst of a financial revolution. Among other things, galloping inflation had made finances more complicated and risky, and it required increasingly sophisticated mathematical expertise to parse even simple investments like bonds. Enter the quant.

“Bonds have a price and a stream of payments — a lot of numbers,” said Dr. Derman, whose first job was to write a computer program to calculate the prices of bond options. The first time he tried to show it off, the screen froze, but his boss was fascinated anyway by the graphical user interface, a novelty on Wall Street at the time.

Stock options, however, were where this revolution was to have its greatest, and paradigmatic, success. In the 1970s the late Fischer Black, then at the University of Chicago, and Myron S. Scholes and Robert C. Merton, both then at M.I.T., had figured out how to price and hedge these options in a way that seemed to guarantee profits. The so-called Black-Scholes model has been the quants’ gold standard ever since.

In the old days, Dr. Derman explained, if you thought a stock was going to go up, an option was a good deal. But with Black-Scholes, it doesn’t matter where the stock is going. Assuming that the price of the stock fluctuates randomly from day to day, the model provides a prescription for you to still win by buying and selling the underlying stock and its bonds.

“If you’re a trading desk,” Dr. Derman explained, “you don’t care if it goes up or down; you still have a recipe.”

The Black-Scholes equation resembles the kinds of differential equations physicists use to represent heat diffusion and other random processes in nature. Except, instead of molecules or atoms bouncing around randomly, it is the price of the underlying stock.

The price of a stock option, Dr. Derman explained, can be interpreted as a prediction by the market about how much bounce, or volatility, stock prices will have in the future.

But it gets more complicated than that. For example, markets are not perfectly efficient — prices do not always adjust to right level and people are not perfectly rational. Indeed, Dr. Derman said, the idea of a “right level” is “a bit of a fiction.” As a result, prices do not fluctuate according to Brownian motion. Rather, he said: “Markets tend to drift upward or cascade down. You get slow rises and dramatic falls.”

One consequence of this is something called the “volatility smile,” in which options that benefit from market drops cost more than options that benefit from market rises.

Another consequence is that when you need financial models the most — on days like Black Monday in 1987 when the Dow dropped 20 percent — they might break down. The risks of relying on simple models are heightened by investors’ desire to increase their leverage by playing with borrowed money. In that case one bad bet can doom a hedge fund. Dr. Merton and Dr. Scholes won the Nobel in economic science in 1997 for the stock options model. Only a year later Long Term Capital Management, a highly leveraged hedge fund whose directors included the two Nobelists, collapsed and had to be bailed out to the tune of $3.65 billion by a group of banks.

Afterward, a Merrill Lynch memorandum noted that the financial models “may provide a greater sense of security than warranted; therefore reliance on these models should be limited.”

That was a lesson apparently not learned.

Respect for Nerds

Given the state of the world, you might ask whether quants have any idea at all what they are doing.

Comparing quants to the scientists who had built the atomic bomb and therefore had a duty to warn the world of its dangers, a group of Wall Streeters and academics, led by Mike Brown, a former chairman of Nasdaq and chief financial officer of Microsoft, published a critique of modern finance on the Web site last fall calling on scientists to reinvent economics.

Lee Smolin, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, who was one of the authors, said, “What is amazing to me as I learn about this is how flimsy was the theoretical basis of the claims that derivatives and other complex financial instruments reduced risk, when their use in fact brought on instabilities.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Pun for the Ages (JOSEPH TARTAKOVSKY, 3/28/09, NY Times)

Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion. Most resemble mathematical formulas: clever, perhaps, but hardly occasion for knee-slapping. The worst smack of tawdriness, even indecency, which is why puns, like off-color jokes, are often followed by apologies. Odds are that a restaurant with a punning name — Snacks Fifth Avenue, General Custard’s Last Stand — hasn’t acquired its first Michelin star.

How have the great comic writers regarded puns? Jane Austen puns once, in “Mansfield Park,” and it serves to impeach the moral character of the offender. Mark Twain’s first book, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” enamored reviewers with its punlessness. There are “no contortions of words,” said a London paper. “His fun is entirely dependent upon the inherent humor in his writings.” The 20th century’s finest humorist, P. G. Wodehouse, doesn’t use them. [...]

The true punster’s mind cycles through homophones in search of a quip the way small children delight in rhymes or experiment babblingly with language. Accordingly, the least intolerable puns are those that avoid the pun’s essential puerility. Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin, was a specialist. He could effortlessly execute the double pun: Noah’s Ark was made of gopher-wood, he would say, but Joan of Arc was maid of Orleans. Some Whately-isms are so complex that they nearly amount to honest jokes: “Why can a man never starve in the Great Desert? Because he can eat the sand which is there. But what brought the sandwiches there? Why, Noah sent Ham, and his descendants mustered and bred.”

Whately shows us that it is the punner himself who gives his art a bad name, by so frequently reaching for the obvious. Nothing vexes so much as a pun on a name, for instance. Yet even these can rise to wit if turned with finesse. Jean Harlow, the platinum-blond star of the 1930s, on being introduced to Lady Margot Asquith, mispronounced her given name to rhyme with “rot.” “My dear, the ‘t’ is silent,” said Asquith, “as in Harlow.” The writer Andrew Lang asked his friend Israel Zangwill if he would take a stand on an issue. Zangwill wrote back: “If you, Lang, will, I. Zangwill.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


A hockey exhibit's cold, hard facts: Yes, Newtonian laws are in play on the ice. 'The Science of Hockey' exhibit in Santa Ana takes a slap shot at explaining them. (Billy Witz, March 28, 2009, LA Times)

The exhibit marries the twin passions of Henry Samueli, an engineering professor who made his fortune developing computer software and spent some of it buying the Ducks. Samueli has donated $2 million of the $2.9 million that has gone into constructing the 3,000-square-foot permanent exhibit.

"We want to use sport to inspire children to think of the science in everything," said Janet Yamaguchi, the museum's vice president of education.

The exhibit attempts to find the science in almost every aspect of hockey, from feeling the weight of uniforms to absorbing the 360 degrees of sound a goalie hears to learning about the physical properties of ice.

Of course, the three most popular displays figure to be the most hands-on: trying to shoot a puck past goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, trying to skate with center Ryan Getzlaf and trying to stop one of winger Corey Perry's slap shots.

The three Ducks were hooked up with sensors and wires that monitored their movements, and then they were filmed extensively while shooting, skating and stopping shots on the ice. The results have been translated into life-size images that are projected onto a screen or wall.

Not that it's an exact science. During a recent tour, the shots that were fired by Perry, coming out of three spots in the wall, were easy enough for a sportswriter to turn away.

But these displays attempt to go beyond blown-up Wii games.

The "You Be the Shooter" display also explains the science of a slap shot, how kinetic energy is transferred from the body to the stick to the puck. "You Be the Goalie" is accompanied by a display that tests reaction times and explains how the brain processes what the eyes see.

A person's math skills, such as percentages and fractions, are tested while he's seated in the penalty box. Answer four questions correctly and the other team doesn't score a power-play goal -- perhaps the most plausible explanation of how George Parros, the Ducks' tough guy, might have earned an economics degree from Princeton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Arrogant? Moi?: He might be amused by The Wire's success in Britain but he isn't surprised by it. After all, David Simon isn't one for modesty. Oliver Burkeman meets him (Oliver Burkeman, 3/28/09, The Guardian)

One irony of The Wire's global success is that there are now, presumably, plenty of middle-class Britons more familiar with the drugs economy, failing schools and corrupt politicians of Baltimore than they are with any part of inner-city Britain. So faithful is The Wire to the specific vernacular of its setting, indeed, that there may be Londoners or Mancunians whose knowledge of west Baltimore drugs slang exceeds that of dealers in Philadelphia or New York.

They will have a new opportunity to embellish their vocabularies next month with the first UK publication of The Corner, the 1997 non-fiction book that inspired The Wire. Written by Simon and his collaborator Ed Burns, a former Baltimore police detective, it is a forensic document of one year in the inner city, told through the prism of a single street corner, and the addicts and dealers for whom it's the frontline in the struggle to survive. The publication is part of a high-profile year for Simon in Britain: he will appear at this year's Hay literary festival, while BBC2 will give The Wire its first airing on mainstream television.

Simon purports to be amused by his British success - "It's hilarious to me that there are two people walking through Hyde Park right now, arguing about The Wire" - but it would be wrong to imply he's surprised by it. Modesty isn't part of the Simon repertoire. He freely describes The Wire as revolutionary television, capturing "the truth" about the "universal themes" of life in the era of unrestrained capitalism; you sense that, ultimately, he considers the global adulation only fitting. When people call The Wire Shakespearean, he demurs, but only because he considers it a Greek tragedy instead: Aeschylus updated, with urban institutions as the Olympian gods, destroying human lives on a whim. "It's the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no decent reason," he has said. (In a show loaded with symbolism, it's no coincidence that the coldest expression of pure capitalism in The Wire is the criminal mastermind of season two, The Greek.) You can watch The Wire, of course, as no more than a gritty soap opera, charting the lives of the alcoholic-but-brilliant detective Jimmy McNulty, the sociopathic kingpin Marlo Stanfield or the heartbreaking dope fiend Bubbles. But don't imagine Simon isn't also operating on another plane entirely.

It's part of the price of admission to Simon's worlds, both fictional and non-fictional, that you'll have almost no idea what's going on for the first few episodes, or the first few hundred pages. Turning on the subtitles will help you only marginally with the Baltimore-speak of The Wire; within the first few pages of The Corner, Gary McCullough, the real-life inspiration for Bubbles, is shown concluding that "the issue is 30 on the hype", no explanation provided. The soldiers of Generation Kill - Simon's Iraq war mini-series, based on a Rolling Stone journalist's book-length account of being embedded with the US marines during the 2003 invasion of Iraq - speak for minutes on end in impenetrable military lingo, and Treme, a show about the New Orleans music scene on which he's currently working, promises similarly opaque music jargon. This is quite deliberate. The key principle of Simon's storytelling was encapsulated in a remark that caused raised eyebrows when he uttered it, late last year, on BBC2's Culture Show: "F[***] the average viewer."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Get Smart : a review of INTELLIGENCE AND HOW TO GET IT: Why Schools and Culture Count By Richard E. Nisbett (Jim Holt, 3/29/09, NY Times Book Review)

[Nisbett] grants that I.Q. tests — which gauge both “fluid” intelligence (abstract reasoning skills) and “crystallized” intelligence (knowledge) — measure something real. They also measure something important: even within the same family, higher-I.Q. children go on to make more money than their less-bright siblings.

However, Nisbett bridles at the hereditarian claim that I.Q. is 75 to 85 percent heritable; the real figure, he thinks, is less than 50 percent. Estimates come from comparing the I.Q.’s of blood relatives — identical twins, fraternal twins, siblings — growing up in different adoptive families. But there is a snare here. As Nisbett observes, “adoptive families, like Tolstoy’s happy families, are all alike.” Not only are they more affluent than average, they also tend to give children lots of cognitive stimulation. Thus data from them yield erroneously high estimates of I.Q. heritability. (Think: if we all grew up in exactly the same environment, I.Q. differences would appear to be 100 percent genetic.) This underscores an important point: there is no fixed value for heritability. The notion makes sense only relative to a population. Heritability of I.Q. is higher for upper-class families than for lower-class families, because lower-class families provide a wider range of cognitive environments, from terrible to pretty good.

Even if genes play some role in determining I.Q. differences within a population, which Nisbett grants, that implies nothing about average differences between populations. The classic example is corn seed planted on two plots of land, one with rich soil and the other with poor soil. Within each plot, differences in the height of the corn plants are completely genetic. Yet the average difference between the two plots is entirely environmental.

Could the same logic explain the disparity in average I.Q. between Americans of European and of African descent? Nisbett thinks so. The racial I.Q. gap, he argues, is “purely environmental.” For one thing, it’s been shrinking: over the last 30 years, the measured I.Q. difference between black and white 12-year-olds has dropped from 15 points to 9.5 points. Among his more direct evidence, Nisbett cites impressive studies in population genetics. African-Americans have on average about 20 percent European genes, largely as a legacy of slavery. But the proportion of European genes ranges widely among individuals, from near zero to more than 80 percent. If the racial gap is mostly genetic, then blacks with more European genes ought to have higher I.Q.’s on average. In fact, they don’t.

Nisbett is similarly skeptical that genetics could account for the intellectual prowess of Ashkenazi Jews, whose average I.Q. measures somewhere between 110 and 115. As for the alleged I.Q. superiority of East Asians over American whites, that turns out to be an artifact of sloppy comparisons; when I.Q. tests are properly normed, Americans actually score slightly higher than East Asians.

If I.Q. differences are indeed largely environmental, what might help eliminate group disparities? The most dramatic results come from adoption. When poor children are adopted by upper-middle-class families, they show an I.Q. gain of 12 to 16 points. Upper-class parents talk to their children more than working-class parents do. And there are subtler differences. In poorer black families, for example, children are rarely asked “known-answer questions” — that is, questions where the parents already know the right answer. (“What color is the elephant, Billy?”) Consequently, as Nisbett observes, the children are nonplussed by such questions at school. (“If the teacher doesn’t know this, then I sure don’t.”)

The challenge is to find educational programs that are as effective as adoption in raising I.Q.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Patrick aides directed hiring: Set Walsh's salary, wrote job description E-mails detail their level of involvement (Frank Phillips, March 28, 2009, Boston Globe)

Contradicting a series of steadfast denials, internal e-mails show that Governor Deval Patrick's top aides controlled the appointment of state Senator Marian Walsh to a high-paying job at a state authority, from setting her salary to crafting her job description.

They also provided the agency's talking points for the news media in an attempt to quell a public uproar.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


How to Train a Governor (GAIL COLLINS, 3/28/09, NY Times)

This week, a survey taken by Siena College’s Research Institute found that Gov. David Paterson of New York had a positive job-approval rating of 19 percent. [...]

The most remarkable thing of all is that while Paterson certainly did mess up on that Caroline Kennedy-Senate thing, he achieved this political free fall without help from any big personal scandal. In a state capital where anybody who is anybody is under indictment, he managed to completely alienate the public just by being terrible at his job.

Who knew people were paying that much attention?

Old-timers in Albany say this is the worst legislative session they have ever seen, which is like a prisoner on a chain gang saying he really hates Mondays. Still, things are a mess. Paterson’s aides come and go, his commitments ebb and flow. He hasn’t been able to rescue the downstate mass transit system, and the budget is being put together in darkened rooms by people you would not trust to do your mortgage closing.

Meanwhile, the 32 Democrats who control the State Senate by one vote have discovered that a party with a one-vote majority is exactly as good as its weakest, dumbest and most venal member. This in a group where one guy is about to stand trial for beating up his girlfriend and several others give the impression of being willing to trade their vote for a television someone handed them from the back of a stolen truck.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Obama Afghanistan Plan Breaks Old Ground (Bobby Ghosh, 3/28/09, TIME)

Did George Bush leave one of his old speeches in the Resolute Desk? As President Obama unveiled his Afghanistan-Pakistan policy Friday, it was hard to miss the echoes of his predecessor's "surge" strategy in Iraq. Indeed, says James Dobbins, the State Department veteran who served as President Bush's first envoy to Afghanistan, Obama's plan is "largely an extension of where the Bush Administration, in its last years, was heading,with some refinements and additions."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Britain becoming only-child nation (Sarah Knapton, 28 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Latest figures show homes with just one child now make up 46 per cent of all families and could soon be in the majority of the current trend continues.

Currently there are some 3.43 million homes with only-children and 2.91 million with two youngsters. Families with three or more children are also in decline.

The change has been partially blamed on more women putting off pregnancy for their careers and so limiting the amount of time they have to safely conceive.

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March 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


Obama Administration Says Treaty Text Is State Secret (Grant Gross, IDG News Service)

The Office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), part of President Barack Obama's office, has denied a company's request for information about a secretive anticounterfeiting trade agreement being negotiated, citing national security concerns.

The USTR this week denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Knowledge Ecology International, an intellectual-property research and advocacy group, even though Obama, in one of his first presidential memos, directed that agencies be more forthcoming with information requested by the public.

The USTR under Obama seems to be taking the same position about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) as it did under former President George Bush, that the treaty documents are not open to the public. One of Obama's campaign promises was to make government more open and responsive to the public.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Obama raised cash after leaving Senate: Bailout beneficiary gave maximum (Jim McElhatton, March 27, 2009, Washington Times)

President Obama continued collecting money for his 2010 Senate re-election campaign even after he resigned his seat from Illinois, including a maximum $2,300 donation the day after Christmas from a top executive of a Wall Street firm that had received a government bailout.

Four contributions - $4,800 in all - were donated to the Obama 2010 fund on Dec. 26, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

The money came from some of Mr. Obama's top presidential fundraisers: Bruce A. Heyman, managing director at Goldman Sachs, which received a $10 billion bailout last year; Steven Koch, vice chairman at Credit Suisse First Boston; and John Levi, a lawyer at the law and lobbying firm of Sidley Austin LLP.

And now that folks have seen him in action he can hardly claim to be uniquely suited to the job....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


In Dem war vs. Paterson, the GOP wins (Errol Louis, March 26th 2009, NY Daily News)

True to its reputation as a fractured, fratricidal bunch of hotheads, a crowd of left-leaning community activists and union leaders staged an ill-advised protest yesterday against Gov. Paterson, who easily ranks among the most progressive New York Democratic politicians of the past 50 years.

The rally, designed to pressure the governor into supporting a sweeping revocation of the harsh Rockefeller drug laws, was the latest chapter in a reckless, short-sighted organized campaign against the governor by Paterson's former grass-roots allies in the political clubs, neighborhood churches, advocacy organizations and union halls.

One speaker after another - including Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Rev. Calvin Butts of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons - hectored and lectured the governor, emphasizing that Paterson, as a state senator, felt so strongly about reform that he'd voluntarily been arrested on the same site a few years earlier when Republican George Pataki was governor.

...could possibly be responsible for the Democratic Party's sudden decision to identify itself with drug use again? Talk about a wedge issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


Obama's Afghanistan proposal under fire (ALEX ISENSTADT, 3/27/09, Politico)

Russ Feingold, the liberal and often defiant Wisconsin senator, said today that that Obama’s plan “could make the situation worse, not better.”

Peace Action, a liberal anti-war organization, is organizing a coalition to petition Congress to oppose Obama’s Afghanistan plan.

“It’s a shame President Obama believes he can pursue the same militaristic strategy as his predecessors and produce a different result,” said Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action.

And Win Without War, another anti-war group, also slammed Obama.

“I regret that President Obama, in his desire to protect our nation from a genuine threat, has outlined a policy that will undermine our security, not enhance it,” said Tom Andrews, the organization’s executive director. “In short, the president’s policy is playing into the hands of Al Qaeda and the Taliban by providing them with a cause that unites and strengthens them."

The criticisms of the troop expansion in Afghanistan are similar to the liberal concerns over the slower than expected pace of withdrawal from Iraq.

...take George W. Bush, subtract the eloquence, the sense of humor, the moral seriousness, the political savvy and the decisiveness and you've got the UR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:19 PM


Everything Bad Is Good Again (GAIL COLLINS, 3/26/09, NY Times)

National Consensus Update: [...]

Barack Obama — Kinda boring. Did you see the news conference? Same thing over and over again. Not that we mind. In these troubled times, we like stability. Thank God we didn’t elect somebody who was all charisma and exciting speeches. [...]

[T]here appear to be only two constants in our ever-changing world. One is that Barack Obama is going to be on television every day forever. No venue is too strange. Soon, he’ll be on “Dancing With the Stars” (“And now, doing the Health Care, Energy and Education tango ...”) or delivering the weather report. (“Here we see a wave of systemic change, moving across the nation ...”)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 PM


Learning the hard way: Barack Obama's Learning Curve (The Economist, 3/26/09)

[A]t home Mr Obama has had a difficult start. His performance has been weaker than those who endorsed his candidacy, including this newspaper, had hoped. Many of his strongest supporters—liberal columnists, prominent donors, Democratic Party stalwarts—have started to question him. As for those not so beholden, polls show that independent voters again prefer Republicans to Democrats, a startling reversal of fortune in just a few weeks. Mr Obama’s once-celestial approval ratings are about where George Bush’s were at this stage in his awful presidency. Despite his resounding electoral victory, his solid majorities in both chambers of Congress and the obvious goodwill of the bulk of the electorate, Mr Obama has seemed curiously feeble.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is Mr Obama’s failure to grapple as fast and as single-mindedly with the economy as he should have done. His stimulus package, though huge, was subcontracted to Congress, which did a mediocre job: too much of the money will arrive too late to be of help in the current crisis. His budget, though in some ways more honest than his predecessor’s, is wildly optimistic. And he has taken too long to produce his plan for dealing with the trillions of dollars of toxic assets which fester on banks’ balance-sheets.

The failure to staff the Treasury is a shocking illustration of administrative drift. There are 23 slots at the department that need confirmation by the Senate, and only two have been filled. This is not the Senate’s fault. Mr Obama has made a series of bad picks of people who have chosen or been forced to withdraw; and it was only this week that he announced his candidates for two of the department’s four most senior posts. Filling such jobs is always a tortuous business in America, but Mr Obama has made it harder by insisting on a level of scrutiny far beyond anything previously attempted. Getting the Treasury team in place ought to have been his first priority.

Second, Mr Obama has mishandled his relations with both sides in Congress. Though he campaigned as a centrist and promised an era of post-partisan government, that’s not how he has behaved. His stimulus bill attracted only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House. This bodes ill for the passage of more difficult projects, such as his big plans for carbon-emissions control and health-care reform. Keeping those promises will soon start to bedevil the administration. The Republicans must take their share of the blame for the breakdown. But if Mr Obama had done a better job of selling his package, and had worked harder at making sure that Republicans were included in drafting it, they would have found it more difficult to oppose his plans.

If Mr Obama cannot work with the Republicans, he needs to be certain that he controls his own party. Unfortunately, he seems unable to. Put bluntly, the Democrats are messing him around.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


Re-emerging As an Emerging Market (Desmond Lachman, March 29, 2009, Washington Post)

[I] still recall the shock I felt at a meeting in Russia's dingy Ministry of Finance, where I finally realized how a handful of young oligarchs were bringing Russia's economy to ruin in the pursuit of their own selfish interests, despite the supposed brilliance of Anatoly Chubais, Russia's economic czar at the time.

At the time, I could not imagine that anything remotely similar could happen in the United States. Indeed, I shared the American conceit that most emerging-market nations had poorly developed institutions and would do well to emulate Washington and Wall Street. These days, though, I'm hardly so confident. Many economists and analysts are worrying that the United States might go the way of Japan, which suffered a "lost decade" after its own real estate market fell apart in the early 1990s. But I'm more concerned that the United States is coming to resemble Argentina, Russia and other so-called emerging markets, both in what led us to the crisis, and in how we're trying to fix it. [...]

The parallels between U.S. policymaking and what we see in emerging markets are clearest in how we've mishandled the banking crisis. We delude ourselves that our banks face liquidity problems, rather than deeper solvency problems, and we try to fix it all on the cheap just like any run-of-the-mill emerging market economy would try to do. And after years of lecturing Asian and Latin American leaders about the importance of consistency and transparency in sorting out financial crises, we fail on both counts: In March 2008, one investment bank, Bear Stearns, is bailed out because it is thought to be too interconnected with the rest of the banking system to fail. However, six months later, another investment bank, Lehman Brothers -- for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from Bear Stearns in its financial market inter-connectedness -- is allowed to fail, with catastrophic effects on global financial markets.

If it is the case, as seems apparent now, that the sources of the credit crisis lie in allowing the creation of derivatives and other devices that were so complex that risk was obscured -- coupled with the Fed once again chasing the dragon of non-existent inflation -- and that the long term solution is to restore transparency while the short term one is to nationalize the banks, it is also the case that we uniquely have strong enough institutions to deal with these problems.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 AM


Time for Honesty About the Great Derek Jeter (Allen Barra, March 26, 2009, NY Observer)

Though the New York press and Yankee fandom don’t seem to realize it, Jeter has been on a sharp decline over the last couple of seasons, and 2009 is going to determine a lot about how the next generations of fans remember him. Thirty-four—he’ll be 35 in June—isn’t old for a bottle of wine or even a first baseman, but it’s like dog years for a shortstop, and right now Jeter is acting like an old dog refusing to learn new tricks.

He just finished the World Baseball Classic hitting .276 and without an RBI or stolen base. If the starting assignment has been based on merit, Jeter would have sat out every game and watched Jimmy Rollins play. Jeter’s devotion to the WBC is admirable, but the truth is if he weren’t one of the most popular players in the history of the Yankees—and I don’t take that lightly since he’s been my daughter’s and my favorite player for the last 13 seasons—he wouldn’t be shortstop right now. I don’t know who would be, but Derek Jeter would be playing another position.

Let’s go ahead and say it: No major league team has ever won a pennant with a 35-year-old shortstop.

This will be Jeter’s 14th season (not counting 1995, when he only played 15 games), and judging from the blogs and radio call-in shows, Yankee fans are assuming that he is a walking Hall of Famer, but I don’t necessarily think that’s true.

That he's a player in obvious decline who should have been moved off shortstop when the team acquired Alex Rodriguez doesn't mean he's not a lock for the Hall. Nevermind that he's a shortstop with a career OPS over .800--better than Allan Trammel, not as good as Barry Larkin--consider that he's essentially played another season in the playoffs (495 at bats) and gone: .309 17 49 16 (.377/.469). Just as Curt Schilling's astonishing level of post-season burnishes his other credentials, so too does Jeter's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


The Coming Democratic Civil War: Control of the president’s liberal-leaning agenda has been snatched by centrist Democrats in the Senate. They may just save his presidency. (John Avlon, 3/27/09, Daily Beast)

The most important debate in Washington today isn’t happening between Democrats and Republicans—it’s happening between centrist Democrats and liberal Democrats. Not just the budget, but control of congress in the 2010 elections could hang in the balance.

Late last week, 16 Democratic senators declared independence by forming a new centrist caucus. Led by Indiana’s Evan Bayh, Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln and Delaware’s Tom Carper, the group includes senators from every region and some of the party’s rising stars, including Virginia’s Mark Warner and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill. Together, their numbers are more than sufficient to deny liberals a rubber-stamp majority in the Senate. The center is flexing its muscle and now holds the balance of power. [...]

We’ve seen this movie before. A charismatic new Democrat president blessed with unified control of Congress gets his legs cut out from under him when the electorate decides that the combined package is more liberal than they’d like.

Americans actually like the checks and balances of divided government—that’s why we’ve voted for it almost two-thirds of the time since 1955. And Obama’s job is made more difficult by the fact that he is trying to create a durable center-left coalition is what is essentially a center-right nation.

Committed liberals hate hearing that last point, but consider the facts: Exit polls in 2008 showed that 44 percent of American voters are self-described moderates, while 34 percent call themselves conservatives and 22 percent describe themselves as liberal. These numbers were basically unchanged from four years before. Obama managed to win not just 90 percent of liberals, but 60 percent of moderates and 20 percent of conservatives, building bridges across partisan divides to win virtually all the swing states in the nation. That brought his victory total to 28 states, compared to Reagan’s first-term 44-state win in 1980 and Bill Clinton’s 32 states in 1992. President Obama has a mandate to govern from the center, not the far-left.

So here's a question for you: given what an embarrassment the Obama presidency has already turned into, how long until we start hearing that he's not really black?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Savings Rate Continues to Be High (JEFF BATER, 3/27/09, WSJ)

Personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income was 4.2% in February, the Commerce Department said. It was 4.4% in January. The last time the saving rate exceeded 4.0% two straight months was August and September 1998, up 4.3% and 4.2%, respectively.

Saving money is healthy for households and the economy over time, a path to prosperity.

One of those things your belief forces you to state even though it's controverted by the evidence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


A risky new push for immigration legislation: Advocates of legalization have crafted a plan that could alienate businesses and key Republicans, including Sen. John McCain. But it is designed to lure a powerful new ally -- organized labor. (Peter Wallsten, March 27, 2009, LA Times)

With their prospects in Congress sinking along with the economy, liberal advocates of giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship are launching a risky strategy to push lawmakers and the White House to take up their cause.

They are devising a proposal in which millions of undocumented workers would be legalized now, while the number of foreign workers allowed to enter the country would be examined by a new independent commission, and probably reduced.

It is a calculation designed to win a new and powerful ally, organized labor, which favors a limit on foreign worker visas. But it risks alienating businesses that rely on temporary workers and could turn off key Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who in the past has crafted his own compromise plan for legalization.

Take the amnesty now, then ignore the commission.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


The Monarch Who Declared His Own Revolution: King Abdullah, 85, is racing to reform Saudi Arabia. How much can he accomplish—and will it last? (Christopher Dickey, 3/21/09, NEWSWEEK)

For years the pace of reform in Saudi Arabia has reflected what seemed to be denial. Change has been almost imperceptibly slow, like a dune moving across the desert, even as the kingdom's festering problems nourished extremism. In the past few weeks, however, things have suddenly accelerated as the king has moved to show the ultraconservative Saudi religious establishment quite literally who's boss. He sacked the head of the feared religious police and the minister of justice, appointed Nora al-Fayez as deputy education minister, making her the highest-ranking female official in the country's history, and moved to equalize the education of women and men under the direction of a favored son-in-law who has been preparing for years to modernize the nation's school system. "Abdullah waited," says Robert Lacey, who wrote "The Kingdom," the classic 1981 study of Saudi Arabia, and is now working on a sequel. "He bided his time until it was appropriate for him to make the changes he wanted." Whatever the reason, the 85-year-old monarch has begun acting like a leader whose vision is becoming clear just as time is running short.

The question is how much he can accomplish before his death or dotage. [...]

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has credited the king and his men with providing some of the most productive and effective cooperation that the United States has with any country in the world. "Aggressive efforts by the Saudi security forces between 2003 and 2006 led to the death or capture of most Al Qaeda leaders and operatives within the kingdom," Hayden told a think tank late last year. "Financing networks were disrupted. The Saudi Interior Ministry undertook what is perhaps the world's most effective counterradicalization programs." Hayden added: "I am struck, maybe even surprised … by the degree of emotion in my Islamic counterpart's voice when he is talking about Al Qaeda and how un-Islamic Al Qaeda really is."

Abdullah essentially looks on his subjects with paternal indulgence, and his affection is reciprocated by much of the population. But such a personalized relationship between king and people provides an uncertain foundation for some of the reforms Abdullah now wants to push through. Speech is freer than ever before, but dissidents still risk being thrown in jail for speaking out publicly. Book fairs and poetry festivals have become gathering places for men and women, but they're also what one British expatriate in Riyadh calls "battlegrounds" where young hard-liners express outrage at the distribution of popular romances. The king has made history by meeting with the pope (after demanding and getting the acquiescence of Saudi Arabia's religious authorities), but Christian churches are still forbidden on Arabia's sacred soil.

Women are still forbidden to drive. They're required to keep their bodies covered (though they may expose their face if they like), and their choices in every aspect of life, personal and professional, are more limited than those of men. Saudi law treats women, at best, as second-class citizens. The fiery Princess Adelah, playing an ever more assertive role, is an inspiration to some. "She listens," says a young mother of two girls. "The king likes her a lot. She has become his public face."

And the old man himself? "I met him once," the mother says. "He's very quiet. I was with a delegation. We all shook hands with him." In puritanical Saudi Arabia, that's a serious gesture in itself. "He said we were all his daughters. And he actually listened and tried to solve each one's problem: 'Talk to this person or that person'." Still, change like that is hardly systemic. "Look, I would like to have a more effective role for women in society," says Adelah, who presides over numerous Saudi charities and whose husband, Faisal bin Abdullah, is the new minister of education. "We are finding it hard. We find lots of resistance. But we will not give up. These things aren't given to you. You need to pull them out of society."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


AN AMERICAN EXPORT TO JAPAN: The Culture of Death & the Death of a Culture (Michael Thomas Cibenko, 2/09, New Oxford Review)

For four years, from 1996 to 2000, I was employed as a teacher of English in Kumamoto Prefecture in southern Japan. During that time I met and married a Japanese woman, and our first son was born there. I vividly recall going with my wife to the clinic to verify that she was indeed with child. After confirming that she was, the first thing the doctor asked us, in a rather matter-of-fact manner, was whether we wanted to keep the baby. I remember with equal clarity my offense to the question as, in my mind, there really was no question about it. A baby had been conceived and, in accordance with natural law, that child would be nurtured and brought into the world. To this day, I don't know whether the doctor's question was a matter of protocol within the Japanese healthcare system, but it left a lasting impression on me.

The first time I saw my newborn son was from behind the large window of the post-delivery room in which there were some twenty-five little beds. But only two of those beds were occupied: one by my son and one by a baby girl who had been born the same day. Though filled with the joy of becoming a new father, I couldn't help but be struck by the image of this room with so many empty little beds. I didn't give the matter too much thought at the time, reasoning that perhaps it was just a "slow" time of the year.

Several weeks later, my wife and I received an unexpected sum of money from the prefectural government. At that time, it was roughly the equivalent of $3,000. When I asked why we were being given this money, my wife discovered that it was an incentive to encourage couples to have more children. This fascinated me because (as I confess with some embarrassment), until that time, I had been oblivious to the fact that Japan was facing a low-birthrate crisis. The subsequent research I conducted on this issue caused me further embarrassment, as the data is plain as day for anyone with eyes to see.

What also struck me was the stark contrast between our doctor's initial question and the cash "reward" we received. It seemed I was living in a culture that, on the one hand, did not wholeheartedly embrace the sanctity of new life but, on the other hand, recognized that there was a problem stemming from the lack of it. It was like some kind of cultural schizophrenia that can be likened to a race in which an official at the finish line holds out a prize, yet another official at the starting gate asks runners whether, in fact, they really want to run at all.

Once my eyes were opened to the reality of Japan's low birthrate, it was amazing how many more telltale signs I observed over the subsequent months and years. Though I primarily taught at a junior high school, I was also asked to periodically visit area kindergartens and nursery schools. Almost without exception, the schools I visited were ones that had been built to accommodate relatively large numbers of children. But the number of children actually present at any of these schools was far, far fewer than what had been anticipated. I visited one nursery school, for example, that had been built twenty years earlier to accommodate fifty children, but had an enrollment of only eight.

The starkest example I encountered was an elementary school that had been built for a student population of at least one hundred. There were several full-size classrooms, a large gymnasium, library, playground, swimming pool, and parking lot. But I was astounded to discover on my first visit that there was only one student. One student with one teacher. Not wanting to seem impolite, yet unable to suppress my curiosity, I asked the teacher why this large school remained open for a single student. He explained that, by law, the school had to remain open until transportation arrangements could be made to bus the boy to a neighboring village. There had been a time, he reminisced with obvious sadness, when the school was filled with the sounds of children at play and the teachers who instructed them. My mind flashed back to the birth of my son and the room full of empty beds.

I later attended an autumn festival in my village at which elders traditionally take turns calling out the names of babies born that year. But that portion of the festival was very short and somewhat awkward, as there were dozens of senior citizens but only three names to be called. I heard similar stories from other towns and villages in the area in which there were no names at all. I also recall a trip to the city of Fukuoka where I witnessed the bizarre sight of elderly women cuddling robotic dolls. It was explained to me that women buy these expensive dolls because they have no grandchildren to dote on. The dolls, which apparently sell in huge quantities, tell their owners how much they love them, and welcome them when they walk back into the room. The more I saw sights such as these, the more I realized that, despite all the beauty of Japan and her rich culture, something had gone terribly wrong. [...]

According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's annual report on world demographics, Japan's population peaked in 2005, and will plunge from its current 127 million to just 89 million in 2050 -- a decline of 30 percent. In terms of median age, Japan is currently the oldest nation on earth. The median age in Japan today is 43 years old, which, from the data I've read, is twice the age of many African nations. Japan will continue to hold this title through the year 2050, when the average age in Japan is projected to be 61 years old.

...that aliens landed here today and decided to study our recent history. As they looked at the post-war/post-occupation of continental Europe and Japan wouldn't they be likely to conclude that we, the victors, had achieved our aim of destroying these societies so that they wouldn't bother us again?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Deval Patrick tanks in new poll (Joe Dwinell, March 26, 2009, Boston Herald)

A wave of voter disgust at business as usual on Beacon Hill has swamped Gov. Deval Patrick, dealing the first-term governor a devastating credibility blow that leaves his re-election hopes shaken, a new 7News poll has found.

Patrick’s standing with voters is so weak that he is locked in a dead heat with his main political rival, scoring 30 percent to state Treasurer Tim Cahill’s 35 percent if the general election were held today - even though Cahill hasn’t even said he’s running.

March 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


'Obama's war' - New troops and new plan (MIKE ALLEN, 3/26/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama plans to commit to sending 4,200 more troops and hundreds more civilians to Afghanistan in a speech at the White House on Friday morning, and also to embrace a new system of benchmarks to measure progress.

“He’s gone all in,” said an official briefed on the plan. “This is Obama’s war. He’s pushed all the chips to the center of the table.”

The 4,200 troops will be trainers to help expand the Afghan army. “We’ll see if we ultimately need to go beyond that,” the official said.'s that, quite unlike Iraq, there is no eventual peace that the war is working towards. Iraq was just a matter of establishing the conditions under which Kurds and Shi'a could govern themselves. What is the goal in Afghanistan?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


Stephen Strasburg Is Ready To Bring It: Out-of-shape and overlooked coming out of high school, the San Diego State righthander now throws triple-digit heat to go with pinpoint control, making him the likely first pick in June (Lee Jenkins, 3/26/09, Sports Illustrated)

Erik Castro has a Wilson A2000 catcher's mitt, black with tan webbing, made of steerhide so supple it can absorb a 102-mph fastball and barely make a sound. Castro is a catcher for San Diego State, and on the night of March 13, as the Aztecs hosted UNLV, he dropped into his crouch and extended his A2000 into the light fog at Tony Gwynn Stadium. San Diego State junior righthander Stephen Strasburg, he of the 102-mph heater, aimed for the leather. As horsehide met steerhide, a string on the glove snapped. The webbing came unhinged. Castro, oblivious to the tattered piece of equipment dangling from his left hand, threw the ball back to Strasburg. The Aztecs ace fired again, and by the grace of God, the pitch was fouled away. "If not," Castro says, "I think I would have died." Chances are, his chest protector would have saved him, but his point is well-taken: Stephen Strasburg has killer stuff.

Over a 40-year career a major league scout of amateur talent will raise his radar gun perhaps a million times at high school and college games. And almost every time only two digits will pop up on his screen. So in the rare instance when he sees a third digit, it is like witnessing the elusive green flash that follows a perfect sunset. After Strasburg touched 101 in the first inning against UNLV, scouts behind home plate reacted with a torrent of hyperbole. Or was it hyperbole? "I've never seen anyone like him," said one. "He's a once-in-a-lifetime talent." "He doesn't need the minor leagues," added another. "He's ready for the majors right now." "The only pitcher I could even compare him to is Roger Clemens in his heyday," offered a third. "This is something you have to see to believe."

Unless MLB wants to end up like the NFL, with bad teams getting screwed because they have to spend so much to sign top draft choices, they need to figure out a way to make sure whoever drafts him gets him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Obama tries to defuse pot questions (Jon Ward, March 26, 2009, Washington Times)

President Obama responded to a surge of interest about legalizing marijuana in his online "virtual town hall" meeting Thursday, saying with a chuckle that it's not a way to improve the economy. [...]

"I don't know what this says about the online audience," said the president, laughing softly.

That the netroots are stoners?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Obama Points Back to the GOP's Future: The president has made taxes and spending the big issues again. (KARL ROVE, 3/26/09, WSJ)

Federal spending will under Mr. Obama top $4 trillion this year. This translates into 28.5% of GDP -- a level exceeded only at the height of World War II. According to the president's plans, spending will thereafter slow for three years, but then grow faster than the economy for the next seven years and beyond. Spending rises by $3.1 trillion from 2009-19, including $911 billion for legislation signed during his first two months in office, including the stimulus bill and the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (and not including interest on the mushrooming debt). Mr. Obama is violating every tenet of his promise "to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day."

Americans are also worried about Mr. Obama's plans for $1.9 trillion more in taxes. These tax hikes won't just affect the "rich," as he claims. His cap-and-trade carbon tax will hit everyone who consumes energy -- that is, every American. Taxes on the top 5% of filers will result in lost jobs and wages for small businesses and less charitable giving. The administration claims higher taxes are required for deficit reduction. But its spending increases are half again as large as its tax hikes.

Nothing has deterred the administration from pursuing its staggeringly expensive agenda. Mr. Obama brushed off any concerns Tuesday night. He is quite openly using the economic crisis to launch a massive, permanent expansion of government financed by ever-more borrowing and ever-higher taxes. This may mean that his goal is to cause taxes to rise to European levels, transforming America into a European-style social democracy.

The dynamic he has set in motion could spur the emergence of strong competitors to Mr. Obama in 2012 who take a strong, principled stand against record-setting deficits, debt and taxes. It may also strengthen Republican chances in next year's midterm elections.

Democrats should, for example, be troubled by a new National Public Radio poll showing Republicans tied or ahead in generic matchups for Congress. And while the midterms are 20 months off, Republican gubernatorial hopefuls in Virginia (Attorney General Bob McDonnell) and New Jersey (former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie) are ahead in two states Barack Obama carried last year that vote this fall.

...and we know how to run against Tax/Spend/Kill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


The Civil Heretic (NICHOLAS DAWIDOFF, 3/29/09, NY Times Magazine)

FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson has quietly resided in Prince­ton, N.J., on the wooded former farmland that is home to his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study, this country’s most rarefied community of scholars. Lately, however, since coming “out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned,” as Dyson sometimes puts it, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors’ letter boxes and Dyson’s own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as “a pompous twit,” “a blowhard,” “a cesspool of misinformation,” “an old coot riding into the sunset” and, perhaps inevitably, “a mad scientist.” Dyson had proposed that whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow. Then he added the caveat that if CO2 levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred “carbon-eating trees,” whereupon the University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner looked through the thick grove of honorary degrees Dyson has been awarded — there are 21 from universities like Georgetown, Princeton and Oxford — and suggested that “perhaps trees can also be designed so that they can give directions to lost hikers.” Dyson’s son, George, a technology historian, says his father’s views have cooled friendships, while many others have concluded that time has cost Dyson something else. There is the suspicion that, at age 85, a great scientist of the 20th century is no longer just far out, he is far gone — out of his beautiful mind. [...]

Dyson says he doesn’t want his legacy to be defined by climate change, but his dissension from the orthodoxy of global warming is significant because of his stature and his devotion to the integrity of science. Dyson has said he believes that the truths of science are so profoundly concealed that the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won’t come to pass. In “Infinite in All Directions,” he writes that nature’s laws “make the universe as interesting as possible.” This also happens to be a fine description of Dyson’s own relationship to science. In the words of Avishai Margalit, a philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Study, “He’s a consistent reminder of another possibility.” When Dyson joins the public conversation about climate change by expressing concern about the “enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories,” these reservations come from a place of experience. Whatever else he is, Dyson is the good scientist; he asks the hard questions. He could also be a lonely prophet. Or, as he acknowledges, he could be dead wrong. its hostility to rational skepticism about its assertions. One is reminded on the portrait of Kurt Godel in John L. Casti's One True Platonic Heaven, his appointment as a full professor being held up because Incompleteness subverts so much of his colleagues' faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


India's emerging power makes Chinese army worried: Pentagon (PTI, 3/26/09)

India's emergence as an economic, political and military power has left Chinese army worried, even as the two countries in the recent years have increased their economic and military cooperation, a report released by Pentagon said.

"The PLA (People's Liberation Army) remains concerned with persistent disputes along China's shared border with India and the strategic ramifications of India's rising economic, political, and military power," the Pentagon said in its Congressional mandated annual report on China's army.

Indian Army fears China attack by 2017 (Rahul Singh, 3/26/09, Hindustan Times)
The Indian military fears a ‘Chinese aggression’ in less than a decade. A secret exercise, called ‘Divine Matrix’, by the army’s military operations directorate has visualised a war scenario with the nuclear-armed neighbour before 2017.

“A misadventure by China is very much within the realm of possibility with Beijing trying to position itself as the only power in the region. There will be no nuclear warfare but a short, swift war that could have menacing consequences for India,” said an army officer, who was part of the three-day war games that ended on Wednesday.

In the military’s assessment, based on a six-month study of various scenarios before the war games, China would rely on information warfare (IW) to bring India down on its knees before launching an offensive.

India is our hostage to fortune, giving us pre-texts for strikes against China to the East and Pakistan to the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Taliban lose 130 in three day battle with Marines (Thomas Harding, 26 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Royal Marines have killed 130 Taliban fighters during a major three-day battle in Afghanistan in which a key enemy stronghold was destroyed, the Ministry of Defence has said.

A force of 700 troops from 42 Commando along with Danish and Afghan troops swooped on the Taliban base of Marjah in a helicopter air assault that took three waves to offload the men. [...]

Only two commandos were injured during Operation Blue Sword compared to an estimated 200 to 300 Taliban wounded. It is believed that the enemy dead included a Mullah regarded as a “high value target” by the military.

The Taliban were said to have been so determined to hold onto the stronghold that reinforcements were called for from the Pakistan border 160 miles away.

“This was a very successful, deliberate joint operation that demonstrated clearly to the enemy that the Task Force continues to operate where and when it chooses,” said Lt Col Al Lister, chief of operations for Helmand Task Force.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Retirement Math: How would personal Social Security accounts fare in the current market? (Andrew G. Biggs, 03.25.09, Forbes Magazine)

Obama's question deserves an answer. How would personal Social Security accounts have fared in the current market? Surprisingly, careful analysis shows that even individuals retiring today would have increased their total Social Security benefits by holding a personal account. Here's why.

First consider a plan in which workers could voluntarily invest four percentage points of the 12.4% Social Security payroll tax in a personal account. The account would follow a "life-cycle portfolio," shifting from 85% stocks through age 29 to 15% stocks by age 55. At retirement the account balance would be converted to a monthly annuity.

However, workers who chose personal accounts would also receive reduced traditional Social Security benefits. Those would be cut by the amount the individual contributed to the account, plus interest at the government bond interest rate. This benefit offset would compensate Social Security for the reduced taxes paid by account holders. Total Social Security benefits would increase if personal accounts returned more than the interest rate on government bonds.

To answer Obama, I simulated individuals who held accounts their entire lives and retired this year at age 65. A typical retiree would be entitled to a traditional Social Security benefit of $15,700 per year. For workers who chose personal accounts, this traditional benefit would be reduced by $7,800. However, the worker's personal account balance of $161,500 would pay an annual annuity benefit of $10,100. That's a $2,300, or 15%, net increase in Social Security benefits.

But we can go further. Using stock and bond data since 1871, I simulated 94 additional cohorts of account holders, retiring from 1915 through 2007. By holding personal accounts every single group of retirees would have increased their benefits, by between 6% and 23%, with an average increase of 15%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Obama Asks Democrats to Preserve Budget Priorities (GREG HITT and NAFTALI BENDAVID, 3/26/09, WSJ)

Notably, Democratic leaders in both chambers are pushing packages that call for narrower deficits and less spending than proposed by the White House. And those levels could go lower, especially in the Senate, where moderate Democrats from conservative states will be an important factor in the debate on the floor next week.

Democratic moderates are pressing for even further spending cuts, especially in domestic programs. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of those centrists, said more needs to be done to rein in spending. "This is a good direction, but I'd like to see it even lower," Mr. Nelson said.

Significantly, both the House and Senate decided to abandon a White House request for additional money for the Wall Street rescue. The two chambers also don't intend to invoke special legislative powers -- known as "reconciliation" -- that would allow climate-change legislation to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. That means any bill designed to control harmful emissions will have to attract 60 votes in the Senate, essentially ensuring any climate-change bill will require Republican support.

Still up in the air is whether legislation designed to expand access to health care, another major Obama administration priority, will receive those filibuster-proof protections. The House budget does provide such protection, and sets a Sept. 29 deadline for committees to act on a bill. The Senate budget, however, is silent on the issue.

Will the last person who takes Barack Obama seriously please shut off the lights on the way out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Pakistan set to reap $35 billion windfall from terrorism (Chidanand Rajghatta, 3/26/09, TNN)

Terrorism pays. That may well be the message the United States and its allies send out to the world this week as they line up billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan despite the country’s military and intelligence agencies being implicated by American officials in acts and practice of terrorism.

Ignoring confirmation about the Pakistan’s continued support and use of terrorism obtained through electronic surveillance and informants, and even brazen affirmation by Pakistani officialdom itself, the Obama administration is set to lavish a bonanza that might eventually add up to more than $ 30-$ 35 billion over the next decade.

About half the windfall will come from the US and the other half from its allies such as Japan, EU, and Gulf countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Geithner's Gaffe Briefly Hits Dollar (MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS, 3/26/09, WSJ)

Taking questions at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Mr. Geithner said he was "quite open" to the idea of a larger global-finance role for Special Drawing Rights, a melded currency used by the International Monetary Fund. Currency traders took the comment as implied support for a suggestion this week by People's Bank of China Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan that the SDR, or some other cross-border currency, take the dollar's place in central-bank reserves around the world.

The euro surged more than 1% against the dollar immediately after Mr. Geithner's remarks; the dollar also fell against the Japanese yen.

The event's moderator, former Treasury official Roger Altman, appeared to recognize the potential impact of Mr. Geithner's comments and later asked him to clarify his view about the dollar's reserve role. "The dollar remains the world's dominant reserve currency," Mr. Geithner then said. "I think that's likely to continue for a long period of time."

His new remarks calmed the markets.

Thankfully someone who understands economics was there to save him from himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


That Grand Maple Flavor (Warren Johnston, 3/25/09, Valley News)

A spell of warm days and cold nights has the sap flowing for sugar makers in Vermont and New Hampshire, and that's good news for anyone who likes to cook with maple syrup.

This time of the year, it seems especially fortunate that we live in the one of the best places in the world to find fresh maple syrup: It will add an interesting layer of flavor to almost any recipe, particularly those that benefit from sweeteners.

And if you know a sugar maker or know how to tap a tree, you might use the maple sap to brew a pot of coffee or to make tea or even follow an old sugarhouse tradition and boil eggs and cook hotdogs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM

Chuck Steak Goulash
(Miami Herald, 3/26/09)

• 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 pound boneless chuck blade steaks, trimmed of fat

• 1 tablespoon butter

• 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced (2 cups)

• 2 tablespoons sweet paprika

• 1 teaspoon caraway seeds

• 1 (14-ounce) can beef broth

• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

In a shallow dish, combine flour, salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Dredge steaks on both sides, shake off excess flour and fry until well browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Melt butter in skillet. Sauté onions until well browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in paprika and caraway seeds; cook 1 minute. Stir in broth. Return steaks to the skillet and cover pan. Reduce heat and simmer until steaks are tender and sauce is thickened, 45 to 55 minutes. Stir in parsley.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


When a withdrawal is not a withdrawal (Gareth Porter, 3/27/09, Asia Times)

Despite United States President Barack Obama's statement at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, on February 27 that he had "chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months", a number of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), which have been the basic US Army combat unit in Iraq for six years, will remain in Iraq after that date under a new non-combat label. [...]

Gates has hinted that the withdrawal of combat brigades would be accomplished through an administrative sleight of hand rather than by actually withdrawing all the combat brigade teams. Appearing on Meet the Press on March 1, Gates said the "transition force" would have "a very different kind of mission", and that the units remaining in Iraq "will be characterized differently".

"They will be called advisory and assistance brigades," said Gates. "They won't be called combat brigades."

Obama's decision to go along with the military proposal for a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops thus represents a complete abandonment of his own original policy of combat troop withdrawal and an acceptance of what the military wanted all along - the continued presence of several combat brigades in Iraq well beyond mid-2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Breasts (From Carole Kotkin's Technique, 3/26/09)

• 2 slices white or whole wheat bread, dried

• 1/3 cup pecans or walnuts

• 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

• Salt and freshly ground pepper

• ½ cup flour

• 1 large egg

• 2 tablespoons canola oil (divided)

• 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (6 to 8 ounces each), pounded ¼- to ½-inch thick

• 1 tablespoon canola oil

• Lemon slices

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Pulse the bread, nuts, cheese and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor until fine bread crumbs form. Transfer to a shallow bowl. Place flour in a second shallow bowl and the egg in a third. Beat the egg with the olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt until frothy.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dip each breast into flour, then into egg mixture, letting excess drip off, and then into crumb mixture, pressing to adhere.

Heat oil over medium heat in a large, nonstick, oven-proof skillet. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned, 1 to 3 minutes. Carefully turn chicken over and put skillet in oven. Bake until golden brown and cooked through, 8 to 12 minutes. Serve with lemon slices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Obama aide had stint at Freddie:
Rahm Emanuel served on the mortgage giant's board during an accounting scandal that triggered reforms. (Bob Secter and Andrew Zajac, March 26, 2009, LA Times)

Before its portfolio of bad loans helped trigger the housing crisis, mortgage giant Freddie Mac was the focus of a major accounting scandal that led to a management shake-up, huge fines and scalding condemnation of passive directors.

One of those board members was Rahm Emanuel, now chief of staff to President Obama. Emanuel earned at least $320,000 for his 14-month stint at Freddie Mac.

Emanuel plays a critical role in addressing the nation's mortgage woes and fulfilling the administration's pledge to impose responsibility on the financial world -- the type of responsibility that appeared to be absent at Freddie Mac.

Emanuel, 49, is a veteran Democratic strategist and fundraiser who served three terms in the U.S. House after helping elect President Clinton and serving as his White House political director. The Freddie Mac money was part of $16 million that Emanuel earned in three years as an investment banker a decade ago.

Clinton appointed him to the Freddie Mac board in February 2000.

The board met no more than six times a year. Unlike most directors, Emanuel was not assigned to any of the board's working committees, according to company proxy statements.

March 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Democrats vs. Democrats (PATRICK O'CONNOR & MANU RAJU, 3/25/09, Politico)

Among the targets of Americans United for Change is Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who declared the ads “not very helpful.”

“The liberal groups need to understand that we are not elected to represent the president,” Pryor said. “We’re elected to represent our states, and we are trying to reflect the attitudes and values of the people who sent us to Washington.”

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is also unhappy with the friendly fire. Bayh announced last week that a group of centrist Democrats had come together to negotiate as a bloc with the White House and party leaders on major legislation. He promptly found himself targeted by an ad accusing him of “standing in the way of President Obama’s reforms.”

“We literally have no agenda,” Bayh shot back. “How can they be threatened by a group that has taken no policy positions?”

But liberal groups that worked hard to elect Obama are unhappy with the prospect of having moderate Democrats like Pryor, Bayh and the Blue Dogs in the House trying to slow down his agenda.

...and you get the entirely accurate equation that the Obama agenda isn't representative of what these states want.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Obama Stiffs the Arts: The arts world is fuming over Obama's underqualified "arts czar," and a humanities appointee who fudged his college degree on a résumé. (Judith H. Dobrzynski, 3/25/09, Daily Beast)

Memo to President Obama, from the arts world: This is not what we had in mind. [...]

[F]or the most part, it’s been politics as usual. With the nation’s economic woes front-and-center, no one expected Obama to focus on the arts right away. Appointments to the NEA and NEH chairs could be weeks or even months away; in the meantime, they have acting chairpeople appointed by Obama, both seen as adequate for the short-term.

But the three lesser appointments Obama has so far made in the cultural arena—a Chicago lawyer named Kareem Dale, a Hollywood fund-raiser named Jeremy Bernard, and an Obama Senate staffer named Anita Decker—have been strange at best and, at worst, deflating. None has much arts expertise; what they do have are political connections. Bernard, appointed to a key post at the academically minded NEH, never graduated from college, though he claims a bachelor’s degree on his résumé.

...the arts is another area where W had raised the bar impossibly high...unless Mr. Obama can coax Dana Gioia into coming back....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 PM


Hulu to add British TV... for US viewers only (Brad Linder Mar 25th 2009, Download Squad)

Hot on the heels of the announcement that Hulu has hired a new VP in charge of international business, paidContent is reporting that Hulu has signed a deal to distribute several TV shows from the UK's Channel 4. But for now, they'll only be available to US viewers.

The deal covers several programs including Peep Show, Rude Tube, Queer as Folk, Green Wing, and Underbelly.

But you still need The Box for Inspector Lewis....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:31 PM


No, he can’t: The wheels are already coming off Obama’s Trojan horse revolution. Will he, like Jimmy Carter, be seen as a one-term disaster? (Bartle Bull, April 2009, Prospect)

Barack Obama was always going to disappoint. When you promise almost everything to almost everybody—I’ll stop the fighting in Iraq but I’ll also keep going after al Qaeda there; I’ll make the economy grow more but I’ll spread the wealth around, and so on—you will inevitably let many people down. Human beings, even those who read fluently from teleprompters, simply cannot walk on water.

But few expected the wheels to come off the new administration so quickly. Just weeks into its existence, the Obama White House is in trouble. The US stock market has lost a quarter of its value since Obama’s election. While a Rasmussen poll in early March had his approval rating at 56 per cent, his net approval (the number of people who strongly approve of what he’s doing subtracted from the number who strongly disapprove) had contracted from 28 per cent the day after his inauguration to around 6 per cent for March—worse than Bush at the same time in his first term. The administration is in a fully fledged staffing crisis: having lost a record ten high-profile picks, it has scores of senior executive jobs unfilled—including every single treasury position below the department’s top job. The head of Britain’s civil service, Gus O’Donnell, has complained about the trouble he’s had finding key administration personnel ahead of the G20 conference in April. “There is nobody there,” he said. “You cannot believe how difficult it is.” Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner looks terrified before executives and television cameras alike. Five months after the election he has yet to deliver a plan for the banking system, much less restructure a single financial asset.

Even the sympathetic press is starting to speak of an “incompetence” crisis. Abroad, North Korea, Russia, China and Iran have all turned up the heat, as have Hamas and Chavez. At home, Obama’s Trojan horse agenda—using the economic crisis as an excuse to advance radical social change in areas unrelated to returning growth to the economy—threatens to pull his government into ideological quicksand when all the public really want are jobs. Centrist Democrats are deeply concerned about what Obama’s poor start means for the long-term, moderate Democratic majority whose possibility was glimpsed in the Clinton years. [...]

President Obama’s plan, then, represents a radical realignment of America’s political economy. His challenge today is to sell this big debt, big government revolution to a public that thought—or rather hoped—that it was electing a post-partisan centrist. [...]

Obama’s dismantling of President Clinton’s economic legacy is injurious. For moderate Democrats who recognise the national mainstream as the party’s best hope of a long-term majority, it is highly dangerous to be associated with such an ideological presidency. It is even worse when the ideology is the one least likely to work. Weakness and inexperience abroad is already causing a dangerous escalation in tensions. At home, the president’s policies represent a history-making, debt-fuelled arrogation of vast territories of private life and the economy. More war and less growth is bad leadership and bad politics.

31.1 Million Watch Obama News Conference on Broadcast Nets (Media Bistro, 3/25/09)

Based on Nielsen Fast National data, 31.1 million viewers tuned in across the big four broadcast networks at 8pmET to watch President Obama's second prime time news conference of his presidency. That's down more than two million viewers from his first news conference February 24.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


Czech PM destroys Brown's hopes of unity and upstages Wall Street trip (Philippe Naughton, 3/25/09, Times of London)

Gordon Brown found his G20 roadshow upstaged once again today, as the man who will officially represent the European Union at next week's London summit destroyed any last hope of a united continental approach to the economic crisis. [...]

[A]s Mr Brown was taking part in a breakfast debate hosted by The Wall Street Journal, Mirek Topolanek, the Czech Prime Minister, was astonishing MEPs in Strasbourg when he described Barack Obama's financial recovery plan - backed by Mr Brown - as "the road to Hell".

Ignoring an appeal made yesterday by Mr Brown to his EU partners for a unified response to ensure economic recovery, Mr Topolanek said that the American recovery package would "undermine the liquidity of the global financial market” and "the United States did not take the right path".

He also slammed the widening budget deficit and protectionist trade measures - such as the “Buy America" policies included in the stimulus bill - although Mr Obama has said he opposes protectionism in principle.

The road to Hell is paved with pork barrel projects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Top 10 Obama Gaffes (TIME, 3/25/09)

How can you not count his disastrous Inaugural Address?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 AM


Man survived both atomic bombings (BBC, 3/25/09)

Japan has certified a man aged 93 as the only known survivor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both hit by atomic bombs towards the end of World War II.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip on 6 August 1945 when a US plane dropped the first atomic bomb.

He suffered serious burns and spent a night there before returning to his home city of Nagasaki just before it was bombed on 9 August.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Euro MPs in move to block Le Pen (BBC, 3/25/09)

Mr Le Pen, 80, heads the National Front (FN). As the oldest MEP, he is in line to chair parliament's inaugural session after June's European elections.

Under the rules, the oldest MEP - the "doyen" - chairs the session until a new parliament president is elected.

...Robert Byrd was the Democrats' Senate Majority Leader as recently as 1980.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Samuel Johnson's message to America: What a novel written in despondency says about the pursuit of happiness (Thomas Keymer, 3/25/09, Times Literary Supplement)

Rasselas is a book about happiness, and for all the famous despondency of its author it caught the mood of its time. It was published 250 years ago next month, but no early edition so well reflects the practical as well as philosophical importance that early readers found in Johnson’s theme as the first American edition, published in 1768 by Robert Bell, a radical Irish bookseller who had moved to Philadelphia following the bankruptcy of his business in Dublin. Bell’s Rasselas was a noisily transatlantic, democratizing affair (“AMERICA: PRINTED FOR EVERY PURCHASER”, screams the imprint), and his title page makes a further appeal to common readers with a tag from La Rochefoucauld: “The Labour or Exercise of the Body, freeth Men from Pains of the Mind; and ’tis this that constitutes the Happiness of the Poor”.

Never mind that the narrative to follow was conspicuously less sanguine than this about the blessings of poverty, and indeed about everything else. Bell’s choice of Rasselas as the inaugural publication of his New World career, and as a text that might open the way to felicity for even the humblest of his fellow colonists, was inspired. At a time when the pursuit of happiness was shortly to be defined by Thomas Jefferson as a natural individual right and a collective political aim, here was a work that directly addressed the most enduring, yet also the most pressing, of human concerns.

Johnson was quick to grasp the implications of Bell’s edition when he was sent a copy five years later, and expressed pleasure “because the Printer seems to have expected that it would be scattered among the People”. He would have deplored any attempt to find common ground, however, between Rasselas and the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, with its well-known insistence “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness”. Duties, not rights, were at the centre of Johnson’s ethics, and as a staunch conservative (though also a vocal abolitionist) he became the foremost British polemicist against the American Continental Congress in the 1770s. Pieties about equality for all enraged him especially, and in his most scathing denunciation of congressional proceedings, Taxation No Tyranny, he demands to know, with thunderous frankness, “how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”. Yet Johnson and Jefferson may have been closer in their thinking about the pursuit of happiness, if not about equality or slavery, than either would have cared to admit.

Even before Rasselas, Johnson was writing about social as well as personal felicity as an imperative for the American colonies, no less than for the mother country. “Every society is intitled to all the happiness that can be enjoyed with the security of the whole community”, he declared in 1756, as war for colonial supremacy broke out between Britain and France, and “from this general claim the Americans ought not to be excluded.” For his part, Jefferson seems to have shared with Johnson the central insight of Rasselas that, although pursuing happiness was a necessary endeavour, obtaining it was something else. A standard formula about “pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety” is common to several documents in the swirl of republican rhetoric from which the Declaration emerged, but it was “pursuit” only that entered the text prepared by Jefferson and adopted by the Congress. No mention was made of secure possession, and, as historians of American independence have observed, to speak of pursuit alone was to render problematic our relationship to the happiness we seek, and to emphasize our distance from it.

In his recent book Happiness: A history, Darrin McMahon quotes the unsettling definition of pursuit that Johnson included in his Dictionary of 1755 – “The act of following with hostile intention” – and notes the etymological links with prosecution and persecution. Further connotations are called to mind by the alternative spelling, persuit, favoured in early editions of Rasselas, and in this context – “Yet what, said Nekayah, is to be expected from our persuit of happiness, when . . . happiness itself is the cause of misery?” – it becomes clear that perseverance, and persistent self-persuasion, must also form part of the quest. As Johnson implies in his final chapter, headed “The conclusion, in which nothing is concluded”, the pursuit may derive more meaning from the activity itself than from its prospects of reaching fruition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


The economics of the madhouse: We live in difficult times, but protectionism is not the answer (Philippe Legrain, March 2009, Prospect)

The failures of global finance have brought the world economy to its knees, threatening a rerun of the great depression. But such a terrible outcome is much more likely if policymakers follow Ha-Joon Chang’s suggestion that the world needs a dose of protectionism to see it through these troubled times.

Around the world, we are witnessing the devastating impact of globalisation going into reverse. What was once a virtuous circle of rising trade and booming economic growth has become a vicious spiral of collapsing demand and plunging exports. The question is: how to break this spiral? The answer, in my view, is coordinated government action to boost global demand, combining large fiscal stimulus packages, unconventional monetary policy measures, and the nationalisation and restructuring of zombie banks that are dragging the economy down with them. Most governments are scrambling to boost spending and cut taxes to stimulate demand.

Chang, in contrast, favours limited protectionism—in effect, a tax on imports. The immediate impact would be to reduce people’s purchasing power in a highly regressive way. And since Chang proposes that all governments agree to raise their import taxes, demand would be dealt a further knock by the fall in demand for our exports. Higher taxes and lower exports as a cure for the global recession? This is the economics of the madhouse.

Chang is surely aware of this. After all, even he concedes that an all-out trade war would be a bad thing. But the difference between limited protectionism and a trade war is a matter of degree: the former would involve fewer casualties, for sure, but it would not lead to economic resurrection. And history shows that limited protectionism is often a precursor to much larger conflicts.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Crowds in S.F. protest Iraq war, bank bailouts (Heather Knight,Steve Rubenstein, March 22, 2009, SF Chronicle)

"It's really important for people around the world to see Americans standing up against this war," said Noel Juan, 52, of the Mission District, as he stood near a 10-foot cardboard figure of Uncle Sam wearing President Obama's likeness.

"Obama has rebranded this war and made it cool for people to wave the flag again," Juan said. "But all the things people hated about Bush are being continued with a slightly different flavor."

Richard Ivanhoe and Cathy Bellin of San Francisco enjoyed the protest from a metal table at Justin Herman Plaza, taking in the "1, 2, 3, 4, we don't want your racist war" chants while snacking on blueberry muffins and coffee.

"My heart goes out to the Iraqi civilians," Bellin said. "The election of Obama doesn't mean we don't have to be here. The war is still happening."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Noel's Chicken Adobo (Gretchen McKay, 3/25/09, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

* 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small pieces
* 3 cloves garlic, minced

* 1 shallot, finely chopped

* 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

* 1 bay leaf

* 6 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

* 1/2 cup chicken broth

* 1/4 cup soy sauce

* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

* 1 red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized strips

* 1 cup coconut milk (shake can before measuring)

* 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a deep nonstick pan, combine chicken, garlic, shallot, black pepper, bay leaf, vinegar, chicken broth and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until chicken is mostly cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl and remove chicken pieces from the sauce.

Wipe out pan, add the oil, and heat over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add chicken and saute for about 11/2 minutes per side. Add bell pepper and saute until softened, about 3 minutes.

Return sauce to pan. Add coconut milk and red pepper flakes and simmer until sauce is heated through and the flavors blend, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve at once.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Handling Of 'State Secrets' At Issue: Like Predecessor, New Justice Dept. Claiming Privilege (Carrie Johnson, 3/25/09, Washington Post)

Civil liberties advocates are accusing the Obama administration of forsaking campaign rhetoric and adopting the same expansive arguments that his predecessor used to cloak some of the most sensitive intelligence-gathering programs of the Bush White House.

The first signs have come just weeks into the new administration, in a case filed by an Oregon charity suspected of funding terrorism. President Obama's Justice Department not only sought to dismiss the lawsuit by arguing that it implicated "state secrets," but also escalated the standoff -- proposing that government lawyers might take classified documents from the court's custody to keep the charity's representatives from reviewing them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Five-Minute Tiramisu (Recipe from Elaine Magee, The Recipe Doctor)

1 1-ounce box Jell-O [...] Cheesecake Instant Pudding

1½ cups cold nonfat milk

2 tablespoons cold espresso or extra-strong coffee

1½ cups light whipped topping

12 [...] ladyfingers

1 tablespoon dark rum or ½ teaspoon rum extract

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat pudding mix into 1½ cups cold milk and espresso with a wire whisk until blended and thickened; about 2 minutes. Fold in ½ cup of the whipped topping.

2. Spread a heaping ¼ cup of the mixture into the bottom of four individual dessert cups. Lay about 2 ladyfingers (broken in half if necessary to fit) over the top of pudding in each dish.

3. In small bowl, blend 1 cup whipped topping with rum and spoon one-fourth of the mixture into each of the serving cups, on top of the ladyfingers.

4. Top the rum-spiked whipped topping with the remaining pudding mixture, about ¼ cup for each dessert cup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Benny Goodman Rides Again (WILL FRIEDWALD, 3/24/09, WSJ)

In 1940, the aspiring lyricist Alan Bergman was 15; he had a family friend who worked for NBC, and he was able to sneak into a rehearsal by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra. "I heard Benny call something called 'Benny Rides Again,' which they were apparently playing for the first time. I just absolutely fell out of my chair! It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard in my life. I had never heard music like that before -- no one had."

Mr. Bergman describes the Goodman Orchestra of the early '40s as "Benny's all-time greatest band," and he's not alone in this opinion. To more casual fans, the Goodman band that played the historic Carnegie Hall concert of January 1938 had more sheer star power. But the ensemble of the immediate prewar period was something else again. This is shown in a seven-CD collection of that band's essential recordings, "Classic Columbia and OKeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions 1939-1958" (, released just in time for the Benny Goodman Centennial.

As Loren Schoenberg writes in the set's excellent liner notes, Goodman's intention with this band was nothing less than "the reinvention of the jazz orchestra." So the clarinetist hired and encouraged a staff of brilliant young, forward-thinking composer-orchestrators. Although Goodman had no shortage of star soloists in this period -- such as trumpeter Cootie Williams and drummers Dave Tough and Sid Catlett -- the real stars of the band were arrangers like Mel Powell, and especially Eddie Sauter.

March 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 PM


Barack Obama shows his anger over AIG bonus criticism (Ewen MacAskill, 3/25/09,

In a press conference dominated by his handling of the recession, Obama was asked why, after being informed of the bonuses, he had waited several days to inform the public.

The CNN White House correspondent, Ed Henry, who asked the question, also suggested that the New York attorney-general, Andrew Cuomo, was doing a better job of dealing with AIG than the White House.

Obama gave a general answer and Henry asked again why he had taken a few days to inform the public. The normally cool and controlled president replied sharply: "It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak."

The exchange was unusual, both because it is rare to hear US journalists ask Obama hard questions and rare to see Obama in a testy mood. Much of the rest of the press conference was so carefully choreographed, with a long opening statement, it seemed at times like an extended political broadcast.

Obama was taking a risk in holding a prime-time press conference amid mutterings of overexposure.

The media is there to adore him, not question him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 PM


GOP revisits Obama campaign pledges (MANU RAJU & MARTIN KADY II, 3/25/09, Politico)

Senate Republicans are trying to create a wedge between President Obama and candidate Obama in a growing campaign to undermine his ambitious agenda.

On Tuesday morning, the National Republican Senatorial Committee unveiled an ad titled “Change We Can Believe In?” that attacks Obama for flip-­flopping on spending, taxes and earmarks and his handling of the lavish bonuses for AIG.

These attacks represent a new front for Senate Republicans, who are building a financial and political infrastructure for the 2010 midterm elections, which they believe will be a referendum on President Barack Obama’s agenda.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 PM


Democrats in Congress Are Ready to Pare Budget (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and CARL HULSE, 3/24/09, NY Times)

Alarmed by rising deficit predictions, Congressional Democrats prepared Tuesday to pare spending in President Obama’s budget and limit some middle-class tax cuts even as Republicans stepped up their criticism of the plan as irresponsible. [...]

The Democrats’ budget does not provide for Mr. Obama’s signature middle-class tax cut, called Making Work Pay, of $400 for individuals earning $75,000 and $800 for couples with incomes up to $150,000 after 2010.

“We show what our numbers would accommodate, and they would not accommodate Making Work Pay,” said Mr. Conrad.

Because breaking tax promises to the middle class worked so well in '92 and '94?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 PM


How Jon Stewart Went Bad: There is a virtual ban on criticism of him in the press. Uncritical praise corrupts absolutely. (Tucker Carlson, 3/24/09, Daily Beast)

Cynics might assume that the fury was a pose. Humor requires ironic detachment, and nobody as funny and sophisticated as Jon Stewart could possibly be getting that mad on TV over something so abstract. A fair assumption, but wrong. Stewart really was enraged. It was all entirely, strangely real.

I know this from my own run-in with Stewart, on CNN’s Crossfire a few weeks before the 2004 election. Stewart spent a couple of segments lecturing Paul Begala and me about how we were somehow “helping the politicians and the corporations,” a charge that baffled me then (I’ve never particularly liked either one), as it does now.

Unlike most guests after an uncomfortable show, Stewart didn’t flee once it was over, but lingered backstage to press his point. With the cameras off, he dropped the sarcasm and the nastiness, but not the intensity. I can still picture him standing outside the makeup room, gesticulating as the rest of us tried to figure out what he was talking about. It was one of the weirdest things I have ever seen.

Finally, I had to leave to make a dinner. Stewart shook my hand with what seemed like friendly sincerity and continued to lecture our staff. An hour later, one of my producers called me, sounding desperate. Stewart was still there, and still talking.

The mysterious bit here is the notion that anything has changed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Are Independents Hedging Their Bets?: If Republicans really have pulled even among independents, it's an ominous sign for Democrats. (Charlie Cook, March 21, 2009, National Journal)

In the new National Public Radio poll conducted by the Democratic polling company Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and its Republican counterpart, Public Opinion Strategies, 42 percent of the 800 likely voters surveyed March 10 to 14 said that if the next congressional election were held today they would vote for the Republican candidate; an identical percentage of respondents said they would vote for the Democratic one. For several years, Democrats held a substantial lead on this question. [...]

[V]oters who call themselves independents gave GOP candidates the edge by 14 points, 38 percent to 24 percent.

...but suddenly realizes he punished himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


Poll of change: Obama’s job approval slipping to ‘50-50’ (Joe Dwinell, March 24, 2009, Boston Herald)

The honeymoon is over, according to a national poll out today as President Obama’s job approval stumbles to about 50 percent over the lack of improvement with the crippled economy.

The sobering numbers come as the president backpedals from two prime-time gaffes - one comparing his bowling score to a Special Olympian and another awkwardly laughing about the economy, which prompted Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” to ask “are you punch-drunk?”

Pollster John Zogby said his poll will show Americans split on the president’s performance. He said the score factors out to “about 50-50.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Specter deals blow to card check (Mark Murray, 3/24/09, NBC First Read)

Did the campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act (a.k.a. "card check") end before it truly began?

It looks like it after Sen. Arlen Specter (R) signaled today that he would vote against cloture on the measure, denying Democrats 60 votes to break a GOP filibuster on the legislation -- even if Al Franken gives Democrats a 59th vote. Specter was the only Republican to vote for cloture on the legislation in 2007.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM

Oat scones (Allison Boomer, March 25, 2009, Boston Globe)

1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal (not quick-cooking)
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons butter, cut up
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Extra unbleached all-purpose flour (for shaping)

1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In large bowl, stir together the oatmeal, whole-wheat and all-purpose flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.

3. Using a pastry blender or two blunt knives, cut butter into the flour mixture until the texture is crumbly.

4. In a bowl, beat the eggs and buttermilk. With a rubber spatula, stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture with a few quick strokes.

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Shape it into a flat cake. With your hands, press the cake into a 6-inch round that is about 1-inch thick. With a long chef's knife, cut the round in half, then cut each half into 3 triangles. Transfer the triangles to the baking sheet.

6. Bake the scones for 20 minutes or until they are lightly browned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


Triumph of the Geeks and Tough Guys (Tina Brown, 3/24/09, Daily Beast)

One of the many bummers of our ongoing miseries at the moment is that they have deprived Obama devotees of their expected post-electoral nirvana. Stem-cell research is restored, torture is stopped, diplomacy is back, high-speed rail is on the way! But where are the balloons and high fives and Yes We Did parties? Buried under an avalanche of toxic assets.

Obama is the only person walking around with a big smile on his face. That onset of wild laughter on 60 Minutes about how humorous it is that no one in America, I mean no one, wants a bailout for the auto companies was one of the more surreal presidential performances lately. Why has Obama suddenly turned into the Paris Hilton of teachable moments? that they aren't getting the same laughs out of the Unicorn Rider's bumbling as the rest of us. Personally, I've had several Democrat friends greet me as follows: "I was going to commiserate with you about the election results but you must be loving this..."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


Miami vets get procedures with unsterile equipment (MATT SEDENSKY, 3/24/09, Associated Press)

A Veterans Affairs hospital here has notified thousands of patients that their colonoscopies were performed with improperly sterilized equipment, officials said Monday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


Split Districts of ’08 Key To GOP Rebound Hopes (Greg Giroux, 3/24/09, CQ)

Republicans are more likely than not to make gains in next year’s elections, if only because the past says it will be so.

Since the Civil War, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 and George W. Bush in 2002 are the only elected presidents who saw their own parties pick up additional House seats in the first election after their moving into the White House. In every other such midterm, when the energy and enthusiasm has been with the motivated outsiders, the party locked out of the White House has gained more strength in the House. [...]

And so the road toward a GOP return to power begins in the 49 congressional districts where the most people split their vote; they were the places that were carried by John McCain at the top of the ticket but that also elected a Democrat to the House. [...]

Republicans, who now hold 178 House seats, need a net gain of 40 to win a majority.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


Murky report for W.H. transparency (JOSH GERSTEIN, 3/23/09, Politico)

[L]ast month, the White House asked government workers to submit suggestions for greater openness — through a website inaccessible to the public.

That’s a bit like Obama’s transparency push, eight weeks into his presidency — lots of major promises and some fairly significant actions, mixed in with a few flat-out dodges.

It’s left open-government advocates grateful for what they’re getting from Obama — who is, in their view, miles ahead of the Bush administration — but also left some feeling let down that his often lawyerly actions are falling short of his soaring words.

“What the president said on his first day in office was obviously promising and positive, but there comes a point — I don’t think that we’re there yet, but we’re getting close — where you have to ask whether the reality matches the rhetoric,” David Sobel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said during a conference on transparency last week at American University. [...]

Ironically, White House officials did not respond to questions about the transparency drive or the request for openness suggestions.

Erase "Ironically"--insert "Tellingly".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


Home-Price Measure Shows Monthly Rise (REX NUTTING, 3/24/09, WSJ)

U.S. home prices rose 1.7% in January compared with December, the Federal Housing Finance Agency reported Tuesday. It was the first monthly increase in a year.

Home prices are down 6.3% in the past year and are down 9.6% from the peak in April 2006, the agency said. In December, the year-over-year decline was 8.8%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM


About-Face: Whittaker Chambers, Lionel Trilling and the anti-Communist turn (Adam Kirsch, 3/23/09, Nextbook)

In The Conservative Turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism, the historian Michael Kimmage offers a rich and detailed account of one of the great intellectual dramas in 20th-century American history: the left’s romance with Soviet Communism, and its painful disillusionment. It is a story that took place long ago, in the Depression Thirties and the war-torn Forties, and it may seem like ancient history to a generation that has grown up after the fall of the USSR. Yet you only have to look at the ideological debates of the last few years to see how central that history remains to American politics, and especially to American Jewish politics.

When Bush administration figures like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle urged America to fight Islamic fundamentalism and build democracy in Iraq, and when Jewish liberals, in turn, denounced those figures as neoconservatives, they were reenacting some of the same battles the New York intellectuals fought seventy years ago, when the combatants were called anti-Communists and anti-anti-Communists. Indeed, as Kimmage notes, the label “neoconservative”—which in the last decade has become almost a kind of anti-Semitic code word—was coined in 1943 by Dwight Macdonald, a charter member of the New York intellectuals, to describe former leftists who had abandoned their radical aspirations. [...]

[I]n the mid-1930s, both Trilling and Chambers underwent a crisis of conscience about Communism. Like many radicals, they were troubled by the show trials in which Stalin eliminated many of his fellow Bolsheviks. It was becoming increasingly hard for anyone paying attention to deny that Stalin, like Hitler, was a totalitarian dictator. Yet in the late 1930s, the so-called Popular Front, which united liberals and Communists in a common crusade against fascism, had blinded many American leftists to the true nature of the Stalin regime. For Trilling and Chambers, it now became imperative to repent of their former error, and to convince those who still believed in the USSR to do the same. Even more than the Soviet Union itself, their target was the Popular Front mentality so common among literary and intellectual people—the belief that Communism was just an advanced form of liberalism, rather than liberalism’s greatest enemy. [...]

Kimmage recounts the well known story of how Hiss—a member of Chambers’s old spy network, who had risen to become a leading member of the New Deal establishment—was denounced by Chambers as a Communist and a traitor. The ensuing trials, in which the disreputable, unattractive Chambers testified against the well-connected, personable Hiss, polarized the country. To the anti-Communists, Hiss was a perfect example of the way liberalism, fellow travelling, and active support of the USSR all bled into one another. To most liberals, by contrast, Hiss was the innocent victim of Chambers’s ideologically motivated denunciations. Even after Hiss was convicted, the left remained convinced of his innocence. Not until the end of the Cold War and the opening of the Soviet archives was it established beyond a doubt that Hiss was indeed a spy.

In the aftermath of the trial, Chambers became a hate-figure to the left and a hero to the right. The spectacle of the liberal elite rallying around Hiss helped to galvanize the nascent conservative movement; to this day, Kimmage shows, when a gutter polemicist like Ann Coulter writes that liberals are traitors, she is drawing on tropes from the Hiss case.

Whahappen? Mr. Kirsch has just finished describing the precise way in which the mainstream Left with its enduring loyalty to Communism and the USSR was traitorous to even their own beliefs, nevermind to their country and the innocent victims of Communism in foreign countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 AM


Twilight of the Autocrats: Will the financial crisis bring down Russia and China? (Joshua Kurlantzick, March 16, 2009, American Prospect)

Gansu is one of interior China's most forlorn provinces, one that has gone largely unnoticed by the outside world. When I worked in rural Gansu two years ago, I met few people who had ever left their hometown. In one tiny village, ethnic minority Muslims were eking out a living as farmers in the dusty, arid climate and sleeping in simple stone huts that looked like they'd been built centuries earlier. Most villagers had never met a foreigner before.

Then last fall, Gansu suddenly hit the news. Some 2,000 people rioted in one district, torching cars, smashing up the local Communist Party offices, and attacking policemen with iron rods, chains, and axes in protest of a local government decision that might have forced some of them to resettle.

Gansu isn't the only Chinese province that has erupted in social unrest lately. Taxi drivers have gone on strike in several Chinese cities, people who lost money in illegal fundraising have protested in Beijing, and demonstrators have gathered across the country to demand unpaid back wages. Protest has even spread to the Pearl River Delta, the manufacturing center that abuts Hong Kong, traditionally one of the most prosperous parts of the country. In some years, the Delta's factories have produced 5 percent of all manufactured goods made in the world. But orders for the Delta's products have dried up, and angry factory workers, many owed back pay, have taken to looting warehouses. As these protests turn violent, they could provoke a violent response; Chinese factory owners are increasingly hiring thugs to hit back at demonstrators.

The protests hint at something even bigger than China: The economic downturn has created a profound threat to the autocratic regimes of the world, from China and Russia to Venezuela and the Persian Gulf states. Already, the Russian police have been placed on alert to crack down on demonstrators. Several of Russia's prominent human-rights activists have been killed in recent weeks. Protests, once rare, have spread from eastern Russia to the heart of the Kremlin itself.

Modern autocracies are very different from those of the past. Rather than ruling by strict ideology, ruthless internal police, and tight control of information, authoritarian regimes like Beijing and Moscow have remained in power primarily by making an implicit bargain with their most critical middle-class citizens -- you might not have freedom, but you will have money. As long as the broad middle class, which is where the most dangerous dissent would take hold, is gaining ground economically, the regime is safe.

So while in the West, leaders worry that the global economy faces a second Great Depression, such an economic crisis poses a major threat to some of the world's most resilient autocracies. A strong economy was their only backstop. Now, starved of the growth that keeps them in power and unable to repress their people as old-fashioned dictators did, these autocracies may have nothing left to fall back on.

Demographics will finish them off, not economics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


We'll be running an NCAA Basketball pool through Facebook again this year. I think you can just join if you're a Facebook user, but can send invites if needed: BrothersJudd Group

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


White House Cheat Sheet: Obama In Primetime (Chris Cillizza, 3/24/09, Washington Post: The Fix)

Over the past five days Obama has conducted several one-on-one interviews -- one with Jay Leno on the "Tonight Show", another with Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes" -- and hosted a series of town hall meetings on the west coast in which he addressed the AIG brouhaha but tonight will be his toughest audience yet in his recent push to quell anger over the bonuses and return the focus to passing his budget blueprint.

Expect Obama to follow the outline utilized in his first prime-time press conference on February 9 -- introductory remarks designed to frame the context for those watching at home followed by a dozen (or so) questions from reporters. (In his first press conference Obama took 13 questions -- five of which centered on the economy.)

Obama likely will filibuster a question or two, spending considerable time expounding on his economic policies in order to limit the total number of questions asked.

The more he talks the lower he falls in the estimation of even his fans in the press, so why trot him out again?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM



A new, wide-ranging report from the RAND Corp. last week serves to underscore what we know about charters: They help kids, improving their performance on average and providing some shining success stories all without taking away from traditional public schools.

The RAND study looked at charters in Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Diego and the states of Florida, Ohio and Texas. Its most striking finding: Charter-school kids graduate high school and attend college between 7 and 15 percent more often than their traditional public-school counterparts.

That higher graduation and college-attendance rate comes on top of modest test-score bumps that charters have long been shown to produce.

What's more, charters do all this not by "skimming" the brightest students from traditional public schools, as their critics like to contend but by taking in students who are below average and doing a better job educating them.

With charters doing such a good job, what reason could there be for capping their growth? Other than the obvious: Democratic (and, yes, plenty of Republican) legislators doing the unions' bidding.

That Obama is implicitly challenging the unions' power is why school reformers have enjoyed the president's tough talk on topics such as the need for merit pay, moving failed teachers out of the classroom, lengthening the school day and year, etc. On charter "caps" like New York's, Obama was particularly blunt: "That isn't good for our children, our economy or our country."

To be clear: The president's rhetorical support of school reform alone has helped to shift the education debate, putting teachers unions on notice: Even under a Democratic president, they can't safely stick to the status quo. It's also given the cover of the president's enthusiastic support to state and local legislators who'd like to come out strongly in favor of charters.

But it's not enough.

The Advance Path Academy: learning that clicks: An innovative program using computers and self-motivation offers a second chance to potential dropouts. (LA Times, March 21, 2009)
At first, the Advance Path Academy looks more dreary than dramatic: Long institutional tables with computer stations fill a warehouse that previously served as a hide-out where kids smoked marijuana while ditching classes. The 160 students in the academy, mostly juniors and seniors, are divided into two shifts, each shift sitting at the computers for four hours a day. On one wall hangs a blue cap and gown, a constant reminder of the goal. On another is a chart listing all the students, with gold stars representing the number of classes passed.

Green Dot contracts with education company AdvancePath Academics, which provides similar programs in the Glendale, Sacramento and San Bernardino public schools. At Locke, AdvancePath remodeled the warehouse, supplied the course work, which is aligned with California's curriculum, and paid for the computers. Students take their "classes" and some of their tests on the computers, pacing themselves and organizing their time as they wish. Most take one course for four hours a day until they pass. Others split the time among several courses. They consult one of the four teachers when they're stuck; the teachers also grade most of the tests and papers and walk the aisles, prodding students who spend too much time chatting or gazing off into space.

You'd think this would be the educational model least likely to work for these students. How are teenagers who struggled to pass classes taught by flesh-and-blood teachers going to master course work by reading computer screens? The answer comes in conversations with them. One after another, they tell nearly identical stories: They flunked because they seldom went to class. They hid amid the rows of portable buildings, or on rooftops or in closets.

Besides, they say, they weren't learning anything. Instead of instructing them, teachers would hand out work sheets and then ignore them. They didn't get to ask enough questions. With the computer, they're in charge. If they don't understand something, they can click a few steps back. There's always a teacher willing to answer as many questions as they have, working one-on-one or in small groups.

The four-hour school day helps too. Many students hold part-time jobs to help their parents, or have children of their own. Some simply can't stand being in school for a full day. Others do their classwork on home computers, and within weeks pass classes they flunked in years past. Suddenly, they discover their own quick-mindedness. Many have passed eight classes this academic year, more than one a month. For the first time, they also understand the direct correlation between effort and success. The harder and longer they work, the faster they rack up credits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


House bonus bill is buried by the Senate (Alexander Bolton, 03/23/09, The Hill)

President Obama and Senate Democrats have buried a bill passed last week by the House that would have heavily taxed executive bonuses at bailed-out firms.

Despite the public outcry over $165 million in bonuses awarded at troubled insurer AIG, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) showed little inclination Monday to bring the explosive issue to the floor this week or next. Instead, Reid is likely to delay action on executive compensation until late April, after the Senate returns from a two-week recess starting April 4.

Now that's intelligent design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Obama seeks filter-free news (JONATHAN MARTIN, 3/24/09, Politico)

At a time when his Washington honeymoon is turning into a hazing, President Barack Obama and his team are launched on a strategy to sail above the traditional White House press corps by reaching out to liberal commentators, local reporters and ethnic media.

The highest-profile moments in the new approach have been well-noted, such as the president giving an interview to progressive radio host Ed Schultz and Obama calling on a reporter from the liberal-leaning Huffington Post at his first news conference.

But those moves are only part of a much larger strategy aimed at communicating directly with audiences the White House believes are more sympathetic to the president’s agenda — and one in which much of the work is being done by Obama’s top advisers.

It may well be realistic to give up on convincing Middle America that the Unicorn Rider represents them, but it's lunatic politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Don't Fear the Swedish Model: Bo Lundgren, Sweden’s minister for fiscal and financial affairs, stared down a financial crisis in the 1990s and lived to tell the tale. In a Daily Beast interview, he says the US could learn a thing or two from his famed solution. (Benjamin Sarlin, 3/24/09, Daily Beast)

Before today’s news, The Daily Beast called Bo Lundgren, who, as minister for fiscal and financial affairs, conceived and implemented the famed "Swedish model" in the 1990s. Lundgren said the American fears of a Swedish planet are largely misguided.

"I'm a market liberal. My party that I used to lead, the Moderate Party, is the conservative party in Sweden and the parallel to the Republican Party in America," Lundgren said. "When I nationalized the banks, it wasn't because I wanted to: It was crisis management. Their owners had been wiped out, the banks were black holes, they had no equity left, and there was no alternative but to take them over."

He added that foreign observers often confuse Sweden's socialized income distribution and government services with its privatized business environment, leading to inaccurate claims that their government is fundamentally different than other free-market economies. One example of Sweden's privatization chops: The government is refusing to bail out the famed car company Saab this week, as officials say they don't think running an auto manufacturer is within the state's job description.

"From the market liberal's perspective, don't be afraid of Sweden being a socialist example because in this respect we are not," he said. "Governments shouldn't interfere in business life other than to build the legal framework within which our businesses have to work. They should otherwise leave businesses alone and that's what we mainly do."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Hezbollah Spends Millions to Rebuild Stronghold (AFP, 3/24/09)

Salam Hassoun is thrilled by the new flat Hezbollah has built for her to replace the one Israeli bombs destroyed during the 2006 summer war on the Lebanese Shiite movement.

The war ravaged Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold that includes the teeming neighbourhood of Haret Hreik, where a mammoth Hezbollah-orchestrated reconstruction drive is underway.

The deafening explosions of Israeli bombs have been replaced by the grinding cacophony of earth-movers and cement mixers contracted to rebuild 241 of the 282 buildings destroyed in the bombing.

The project, dubbed Waad (pledge in Arabic), has won the heart of Hassoun but has also raised a storm of political dust between Hezbollah and the government, whose authority in the southern suburbs has lagged for decades.

"I used to dream of an apartment where the living room was separated from the dining area and where the kitchen would be much bigger, and Waad gave me that," Hassoun told AFP during a Hezbollah-organised tour of Haret Hreik.

"May God protect (Hezbollah chief Hassan) Nasrallah. He has kept his promise," she said from her ninth-storey flat in one of several spanking new towers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


American Capitalism Besieged (Robert J. Samuelson, March 23, 2009, Washington Post)

Schumpeter, one of the 20th century's eminent economists, believed that capitalism sowed the seeds of its own destruction. Its chief virtue was long-term -- the capacity to increase wealth and living standards. But short-term politics would fixate on its flaws -- instability, unemployment, inequality. Capitalist prosperity also created an oppositional class of "intellectuals" who would nurture popular discontents and disparage values (self-enrichment, risk-taking) necessary for economic success.

Almost everything about Schumpeter's diagnosis rings true, with the glaring exception of his conclusion. American capitalism has flourished despite being subjected to repeated restrictions by disgruntled legislators. Consider the transformation. In 1889, there was no antitrust law (1890), no corporate income tax (1909), no Securities and Exchange Commission (1934) and no Environmental Protection Agency (1970).

We have subordinated unrestrained profit-seeking to other values. "We've gradually taken into account the external effects (of business) and brought them under control," says economist Robert Frank of Cornell University.

But our moment in time would be freighted with meaning if it were the instant of capitalism's death....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


The 1966 Election's Warning to Obama (Jeffrey Lord, 3.24.09, American Spectator)

IN RETROSPECT, 1966 TURNED OUT TO BE a rare moment in American political history. It was in fact the beginning of a realization by everyday Americans that massive government spending programs, the backbone of the New Deal, Truman's Fair Deal, JFK's New Frontier and LBJ's Great Society, must finally be paid for -- by them. In the cost of their groceries, their gas, their housing and everything else from clothes to college educations to steadily rising taxes.

They were furious.

The day after the election, shell-shocked Democrats looked around at the sight of what would become an ongoing political nightmare, a nightmare that, however momentarily suppressed, still haunts today. Serious damage had been done to the underlying political foundation of their party as it had existed since the 1930s. After three decades of campaigning successfully on the idea that government could be an endless cornucopia of programs with no visible negative economic consequence to average Americans, failure was abruptly at hand. No longer could Democrats simply assume success by campaigning with the famous strategy of FDR aide Harry Hopkins: "We shall tax and tax, and spend and spend, and elect and elect."

Across the board in 1966 Republicans were victorious. Forty-seven new House members were on their way to Washington, along with three new U.S. Senators. Eight new Republican governors were headed for state capitals, along with over 700 new GOP state legislators.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


The Thunderbirds garage (Sri Carmichael, 24.03.09, Evening Standard)

DEEP beneath Tracy Island, somewhere in the Pacific, International Rescue's rocket-powered craft lie ready to emerge from their hidden hangars.

But this sort of hi-tech subterranean concept is no longer the sole preserve of the Tracy family and their fleet of Thunderbirds - you too can park futuristically, if you have £50,000 to spare.

The garage, which pops up" from underneath a garden, has become the latest home-improvement craze. It uses a hydraulic platform and can be hidden under a water feature, flowerbed, or patch of gravel - or a second car.

...duplicating Tracy Island would be totally cool.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


The Toxic Assets We Elected (George F. Will, March 24, 2009, George F. Will)

The tale of two political figures was written one day last week when Pelosi went down into the well of the House and pitched the bill to heavily tax the bad people at AIG who received big bonuses. Using the tax code to exact punishment for political reasons is both bad policy and bad law -- why not put gun-shop owners and cigarette manufacturers in the 100 percent bracket? -- but it hurtled through Pelosi's branch of the government with nary a hearing and few discouraging words, and only the mildest suggestion from the president that the bill was really a dumb idea.

The pressure for the legislation was great. In just a day, Charlie Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, went from opposing the idea to introducing the very bill he had earlier denounced. Rangel had all the stock phrases ready -- stuff about shattered dreams and greedy executives, which is all true enough -- but he was right when he first said that the tax code should not be used as a "political weapon." With such an about-face, it's a miracle he did not wind up in traction.

As for Obama, around the time this extremely ill-considered piece of legislation was flying through Congress and Pelosi was waxing very hot indeed on television, the cool president went on the Jay Leno show. His appearance was historic, we were solemnly told, but it also turned out to be useful for him to get out of town. The most toxic asset in Washington was fast becoming Congress, where the Democratic leadership was threatening to send him an awful bill that could be very hard to veto. With friends like these . . .

Positioning himself as the defender of the United States from the Democrats in Congress is just good politics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Komodo Dragons Kill Apple Picker: The apple picker from Indonesia fell down from a tree where komodo dragons were that attacked him. (Javno, 3/24/09)

Muhamad Anwar, 31, was picking apples on the island of Komodo in the eastern part of Indonesia, the GMA television channel reported. His fall would not have been so tragic had not two komodo dragons been waiting on the ground.

Their attack was, unfortunately, deadly. Police sergeant Kosmas Jalang said the big reptiles seemed to have been waiting for Anwar to fall from the tree.

Thus the Time-zone Rule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Underbelly nominated for writing prize (Australian Associated Press, 3/24/09)

THE writers of Underbelly, the screen dramatisation of Melbourne's infamous gangland war, have been shortlisted for Australia's richest literary awards.

Greg Haddrick, Felicity Packard and Peter Gawler, who penned the popular Nine Network television series, are on the shortlist for a $30,000 script writing prize in this year's NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

“For all its demotic language and popular appeal, this series is television drama at its literary best,” judges said.

March 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


British press watching Rudd-Obama visit (Mark Simkin, March 24, 2009, ABC News au)

Kevin Rudd has touched down in Washington to meet with the new US President, Barack Obama, but what sort of reception will he get? The Prime Minister should not get his hopes up, given the way British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was treated at the White House, reports Washington correspondent Mark Simkin for AM.

British reporters are furious at a series of perceived snubs, including a so-called "gift gaffe", during Mr Brown's visit to Washington last month, and say they will be watching Mr Rudd's meeting with Mr Obama closely.

The rumbling began before Mr Brown's visit when Mr Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. [...]

Three weeks later, Mr Rudd is about to visit the White House and Tim Shipman, a Washington-based correspondent with the Telegraph, says the British press will be watching closely.

"I hear from White House sources that President Obama is very busy at the moment, obviously with the economic meltdown. He is personally quite tired but that only goes to show that you only have a new guy in town who is not used to jumping through some of these diplomatic hoops," Shipman said.

Yet the elderly Gipper managed to treat our allies with the respect they're due.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Congress isn't feeling much heat from Obama's 'army' (David Lightman and William Douglas, 3/23/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

President Barack Obama's army of canvassers fanned out across the nation over the weekend to drum up support for his $3.55 trillion budget, but they had no noticeable impact on members of Congress, who on Monday said they were largely unaware of the effort.

"News to me," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, a House Budget Committee member, of the canvassing. Later, his staff said that his office had heard from about 100 voters. [...]

"How many of these folks have read the budget?" wondered Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., a House Financial Services Committee member.

Exactly the same number as congressmen have?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


Arkes - Kmiec Debate Available Online (P. Langdale Hough, March 23, 2009,

The Matthew J. Ryan Center at Villanova University has posted the video recordings of the Cicero Podium Debate between Professor Hadley Arkes (Amherst College) and Professor Douglas Kmiec (Pepperdine Law School). This event took place on February 13, 2009, and was a session of the conference “The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Legacy of Abraham Lincoln”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Holy rollers: The Blind Boys of Alabama and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (TED DROZDOWSKI, March 23, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

The double bill of the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Symphony Hall on Friday is a match made in New Orleans, where the two venerable groups met to record the Blind Boys' 2008 album. But the music they make together, insists Blind Boys tenor singer Jimmy Carter, comes from a higher place. "When I am singing, I am an instrument of God, and all of the music we make is carrying his message. I am his spirit. And when people hear our songs and tell me that we have touched their lives, well, that's what me and the rest of the band are all about."

If that seems a bit pretentious, consider the band's history, which Carter describes as a "mission." It began in 1939 when a group of students at the Talladega Institute for the Blind led by lion-voiced baritone Clarence Fountain banded together as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. Carter joined five years later, while the group were touring the tent-revival circuit and performing on radio like their heroes, the Golden Gate Quartet.

"We were influenced by them and the Soul Stirrers and the Pilgrim Travelers," he explains over the phone from his 102-year-old mother's house in Alabama. "My voice was a little less scratchy back then, but it's still in good shape. The secret is getting plenty of rest." Even though these singing septuagenarians play 150 to 200 shows a year, Carter does get more sleep than he did during his first 57 years with the band — especially in the early years, when low-paying one-nighters in churches, tents, and community centers were the norm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


High Seas Ditherers: Conservatives who oppose the Law of the Sea treaty only help their own worst enemies (Cmdr. James Kraska, February 2009, Foreign Policy)

The real threat to U.S. oceans interests is not the United Nations, but the relentless campaign by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace in conjunction with certain coastal countries, including close U.S. allies such as Canada and Australia, to unilaterally impose maritime rules to restrict international shipping on the oceans and aircraft overflight of the seas for purported environmental reasons. For example, a group of Western European states pushed for a ban on single-hull tankers from a vast area of international waters in the Eastern Atlantic, and in 2006 the European Commission suggested in a report that the navigational freedoms in the Law of the Sea Convention should be revised to expand coastal state jurisdiction over transiting vessels.

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, describes this type of partnership between NGOs and some like-minded governments as "norming ... the idea that the U.S. should base its decisions on some kind of international consensus, rather than making its decisions as a constitutional democracy." He adds, "It is a way in which the Europeans and their left-wing friends here and elsewhere try and constrain U.S. sovereignty." The rules emerging from this process weaken the navigational freedoms the United States relies on to ensure submarines can transit through the world's choke points and ships serving as sea bases in coastal waters can launch military operations.

Similarly, less friendly countries such as China, Iran, and North Korea have sought to impose control over the ocean out to 200 miles off their coastlines by establishing security zones. Both types of proposed coastal-state regulations place at risk U.S. economic prosperity and national security by attempting to close off to U.S. ships and aircraft vast swaths of ocean, allowing coastal states at their whim to deny use of the global commons. These proposed restrictions by coastal states attempt to diminish or impair the right of freedom of navigation enjoyed by mariners for two millennia.

All of the countries mentioned above already belong to or have signed the convention, but are trying to change it through reinterpreting its terms. China, for example, is a party to the Law of the Sea, but denies that foreign warships have the right to enjoy high-seas freedom and overflight in the East China Sea. Beijing is patiently but steadily pushing to change standard interpretations of international law. By declining to become a member of the treaty, the United States has so far ceded the opportunity to influence and shape international norms, thereby yielding to states trying to popularize their restrictive approach to navigational rights.

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, when leading the opposition to the treaty as it was being debated in 2007, said "We know from international groups like the U.N. that many signers of these agreements do not act in the best interest of the United States or the world." He is correct, of course, but the United States' failure to ratify only empowers these states to set maritime rules without a U.S. seat at the table. DeMint's argument is akin to refusing to engage in debate on the future direction of the U.S. Constitution because one's political opponents have already staked out objectionable positions.

Furthermore, the treaty's critics badly misunderstand history in trying to paint the measure as somehow un-American. The United States has long championed freedom of the seas. President Thomas Jefferson built a navy to resist the Barbary pirates when European governments paid tribute to safely transit the Mediterranean. The War of 1812 was fought largely over the right of U.S. merchant ships to ply the seas freely, engaging in nascent global trade. Freedom of the seas was a feature of Wilson's Fourteen Points in World War I and was one of the war aims included in the Atlantic Charter by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II.

During negotiations of the Law of the Sea Convention, U.S diplomats were successful in ensuring that these time-honored principles were incorporated into the treaty in 1982, advancing U.S. interests in naval power and fueling the trade globalization of the 1990s. This is a core U.S. national interest in the oceans, and the Law of the Sea locks in generous navigational provisions that apply throughout the globe -- both for naval vessels and merchant shipping.

You need to have a social contract even on the water. As in the original, this means that we surrender some sovereignty over ourselves in exchange for our neighbors acceptance of being bound by rules that we can all live by.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


February existing home sales rise by 5.1 percent (Associated Press, March 23, 2009)

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales of existing homes grew 5.1 percent to an annual rate of 4.72 million last month, from 4.49 million units in January. It was the largest sales jump since July 2003.

Sales had been expected to fall to an annual pace of 4.45 million units, according to Thomson Reuters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 PM


The Lobby Falters (John Mearsheimer, 3/26/09, London Review of Books)

Predictably alarmed, the Israel lobby launched a smear campaign against Freeman, hoping that he would either quit or be fired by Obama. The opening salvo came in a blog posting by Steven Rosen, a former official of Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, now under indictment for passing secrets to Israel. Freeman’s views of the Middle East, he said, ‘are what you would expect in the Saudi Foreign Ministry, with which he maintains an extremely close relationship’. Prominent pro-Israel journalists such as Jonathan Chait and Martin Peretz of the New Republic, and Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, quickly joined the fray and Freeman was hammered in publications that consistently defend Israel, such as the National Review, the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard.

The real heat, however, came from Congress, where Aipac (which describes itself as ‘America’s Pro-Israel Lobby’) wields enormous power. All the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee came out against Freeman, as did key Senate Democrats such as Joseph Lieberman and Charles Schumer. ‘I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him,’ Schumer said, ‘and I am glad they did the right thing.’ It was the same story in the House, where the charge was led by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Steve Israel, who pushed Blair to initiate a formal investigation of Freeman’s finances. In the end, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, declared the Freeman appointment ‘beyond the pale’. Freeman might have survived this onslaught had the White House stood by him. But Barack Obama’s pandering to the Israel lobby during the campaign and his silence during the Gaza War show that this is one opponent he is not willing to challenge. [...]

When pro-Israel forces clashed with a major political figure in the past, that person usually backed off. Jimmy Carter, who was smeared by the lobby after he published Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was the first prominent American to stand his ground and fight back. The lobby has been unable to silence him, and it is not for lack of trying. Freeman is following in Carter’s footsteps, but with sharper elbows. After stepping down, he issued a blistering denunciation of ‘unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country’ whose aim is ‘to prevent any view other than its own from being aired’. ‘There is,’ he continued, ‘a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.’

Sharper elbows? He gave up when confronted with his own statements. If they were defensible he'd have defended them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Counting the cash from love of Underbelly-style true crime books (Holly Byrnes, March 23, 2009, Daily Telegraph au)

The success of Underbelly and its TV and literary spin-offs has delivered local writers and producers a gangster-led economic boom.

As one of the godfathers of the original book Leadbelly: Inside Australia's Underworld Wars - which inspired last year's hit TV series - author Andrew Rule has banked more than industry kudos for the phenomenon.

With co-author John Silvester, Rule confirmed the pair has another Underbelly book on the drawing board - "a companion'' to the third TV series which Channel 9 has commissioned for next year.

That follows the sale of the first TV series to the UK - airing to critical acclaim on FX channel now _ and negotiations with a London publisher to distribute the 12 books by the pair using the Underbelly title.

I can't praise it any more highly than to say: Underbelly is every bit as good as The Wire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 PM


Schilling Announces Retirement (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 3/23/09)

Schilling won a World Series with Arizona in 2001 and with Boston in 2004 and 2007. For his career, he has the 14th most strikeouts in baseball history. He leaves with a 216-146 record and 3.46 ERA.

..he's a marginal Hall-of-Famer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Manchester United are a bunch of spoiled brats (Peter Bills, 23 March 2009, Independent)

[They're] a bunch of spoiled brats who lose the plot when they lose a game. They can't handle defeat and so they can't call themselves great.

The best teams, the greatest of all, have a composure, a calm about them. Ryan Giggs epitomises such qualities; even in defeat at Fulham on Saturday, he went calmly about his business, trying to soothe the furrowed brows and petulant brats around him.

It is said that Ferguson was incensed with Rooney after the Liverpool defeat, hence his decision to drop him for the Fulham match. What he really thought about the child-like Rooney after his two stupid bookings which brought a red card at Craven Cottage, remains a secret.

Rooney completely lost the plot because United were losing the match. When they're winning, he's a bundle of joy, smiling, running, linking and jinking. But when things are going against United, he's like a dirty bomb waiting to explode. That's not the hallmark of a great player. He needs only to glance at Giggs to see what greatness is all about.

To have one player like that might seem an expensive luxury but Ferguson has two. Cristiano Ronaldo never fancied it from the start at Fulham, waving his arms petulantly, getting booked for a wild lunge at Danny Murphy and then arguing with the referee so repeatedly that he could also have got a second yellow.

You can't both have a normal testosterone level and act like these players do. The one bright side for Manchester United is that the useless Berbatov is hurt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Kroft to Obama: Are you punch-drunk? (CRAIG GORDON & JONATHAN MARTIN, 3/22/09, Politico)

His remarks came in a“60 Minutes” interview in which he was pressed by Steve Kroft for laughing and chuckling several times while discussing the perilous state of the world’s economy.

“You're sitting here. And you're— you are laughing. You are laughing about some of these problems. Are people going to look at this and say, ‘I mean, he's sitting there just making jokes about money—’ How do you deal with— I mean: explain. . .” Kroft asked at one point.

“Are you punch-drunk?” Kroft said.

There's a reason they try to keep him on a teleprompter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Rudd's neo-liberal hat (Michael Stutchbury, March 24, 2009, The Australian)

AFTER some unsolicited advice on fixing America's banks, Kevin Rudd needs to give Barack Obama a good neo-liberal talking-to on free trade when the two leaders meet this week. The Prime Minister claims the US is "back in the game of providing global economic leadership". But there's little evidence of this from Obama or his new trade negotiator ina policy area of intense concern toAustralia. [...]

Rudd, of course, acknowledges what has become so mainstream a notion that a French socialist intellectual, Pascal Lamy, now cheerleads free trade as head of the World Trade Organisation. Even Brazil's left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has become one of Australia's important free-trade allies.

Australia cast off protectionism in the mid-'80s, embracing international competition as the best way to lift national living standards. The incoming Rudd Government was even more purist or neo-liberal, so to speak, than the Howard government, which was accused of chasing bilateral deals to the detriment of the WTO's multilateral Doha Round. And the WTO's very existence belies Rudd's claim that neo-liberals, whoever they may be, are "intrinsically suspicious of all forms of multilateral governance". Some American libertarians may be. And some who trail-blazed Australia's free trade conversion maintain that the WTO's horsetrading discourages unilateral "disarmament" of import barriers. But, by and large, it is the loopy Left that most seeks to undermine the global institution of free-trade rules. A social democratic rich nation calls for "fair trade" - which essentially seeks to restrict competition by imposing higher labour standards on poor nations - now robs the world of a free-trade booster shot just when it needs it most.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Econ board has yet to meet publicly (JOSH GERSTEIN, 3/23/09, Politico)

Six weeks after President Barack Obama appointed a blue-ribbon panel to help him dig America out of its economic crisis, the board has yet to hold an official public meeting.

The White House initially said that the 16-member Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, would meet “every few weeks.” Last month, a spokesperson told POLITICO the group would meet monthly. And more recently, the White House said the high-powered board, set up to address what Obama has called the worst economic emergency since the Great Depression, would gather only about four times a year, with the next session due in “late spring.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Obama tacitly honours Chirac's stance against Iraq war (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Mar 19, 2009)

In a letter described by [former French president Jacques] Chirac as 'very nice,' Obama wrote, 'I am certain that we will be able to work together, in the coming four years, in a spirit of peace and friendship to build a safer world.'

They're having trouble delivering the one to DeGaulle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Britain is 'uncomfortably haunted by memory of religion', says Archbishop of Canterbury (Daily Telegraph, 3/22/09)

[T]he Archbishop of Canterbury] dismissed ideas that Britain is "secular" or "religiously divided" were cliches and said: "I don't believe we are living in a secular society and I don't believe we are living in a deeply religiously divided society.

"I believe we are living in a country that is uncomfortably haunted by the memory of religion and doesn't quite know what to do with it and I believe we are living in a society which is religiously plural and confused and therefore not necessarily hostile."

He said church attendance may not be as high as it once was but although Britain may have become "secularised" it is not yet "secular."

"We are haunted, we need somewhere to put certain bits of our humanity and there's nowhere else except religious language and imagery," he said.

"The piles of flowers that you see on the site of road accidents are the most potent symbols of a society haunted by religion and not clear on what to do about it.

"The church is still a place where people have got the emotions that won't go anywhere else."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Hellhole: The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture? (Atul Gawande, March 30, 2009, The New Yorker)

The problem of isolation goes beyond ordinary loneliness, however. Consider what we’ve learned from hostages who have been held in solitary confinement—from the journalist Terry Anderson, for example, whose extraordinary memoir, “Den of Lions,” recounts his seven years as a hostage of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Anderson was the chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press when, on March 16, 1985, three bearded men forced him from his car in Beirut at gunpoint. He was pushed into a Mercedes sedan, covered head to toe with a heavy blanket, and made to crouch head down in the footwell behind the front seat. His captors drove him to a garage, pulled him out of the car, put a hood over his head, and bound his wrists and ankles with tape. For half an hour, they grilled him for the names of other Americans in Beirut, but he gave no names and they did not beat him or press him further. They threw him in the trunk of the car, drove him to another building, and put him in what would be the first of a succession of cells across Lebanon. He was soon placed in what seemed to be a dusty closet, large enough for only a mattress. Blindfolded, he could make out the distant sounds of other hostages. (One was William Buckley, the C.I.A. station chief who was kidnapped and tortured repeatedly until he weakened and died.) Peering around his blindfold, Anderson could see a bare light bulb dangling from the ceiling. He received three unpalatable meals a day—usually a sandwich of bread and cheese, or cold rice with canned vegetables, or soup. He had a bottle to urinate in and was allotted one five- to ten-minute trip each day to a rotting bathroom to empty his bowels and wash with water at a dirty sink. Otherwise, the only reprieve from isolation came when the guards made short visits to bark at him for breaking a rule or to threaten him, sometimes with a gun at his temple.

He missed people terribly, especially his fiancée and his family. He was despondent and depressed. Then, with time, he began to feel something more. He felt himself disintegrating. It was as if his brain were grinding down. A month into his confinement, he recalled in his memoir, “The mind is a blank. Jesus, I always thought I was smart. Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized? There’s nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery. My mind’s gone dead. God, help me.”

He was stiff from lying in bed day and night, yet tired all the time. He dozed off and on constantly, sleeping twelve hours a day. He craved activity of almost any kind. He would watch the daylight wax and wane on the ceiling, or roaches creep slowly up the wall. He had a Bible and tried to read, but he often found that he lacked the concentration to do so. He observed himself becoming neurotically possessive about his little space, at times putting his life in jeopardy by flying into a rage if a guard happened to step on his bed. He brooded incessantly, thinking back on all the mistakes he’d made in life, his regrets, his offenses against God and family.

His captors moved him every few months. For unpredictable stretches of time, he was granted the salvation of a companion—sometimes he shared a cell with as many as four other hostages—and he noticed that his thinking recovered rapidly when this occurred. He could read and concentrate longer, avoid hallucinations, and better control his emotions. “I would rather have had the worst companion than no companion at all,” he noted.

In September, 1986, after several months of sharing a cell with another hostage, Anderson was, for no apparent reason, returned to solitary confinement, this time in a six-by-six-foot cell, with no windows, and light from only a flickering fluorescent lamp in an outside corridor. The guards refused to say how long he would be there. After a few weeks, he felt his mind slipping away again.

“I find myself trembling sometimes for no reason,” he wrote. “I’m afraid I’m beginning to lose my mind, to lose control completely.”

One day, three years into his ordeal, he snapped. He walked over to a wall and began beating his forehead against it, dozens of times. His head was smashed and bleeding before the guards were able to stop him.

Some hostages fared worse. Anderson told the story of Frank Reed, a fifty-four-year-old American private-school director who was taken hostage and held in solitary confinement for four months before being put in with Anderson. By then, Reed had become severely withdrawn. He lay motionless for hours facing a wall, semi-catatonic. He could not follow the guards’ simplest instructions. This invited abuse from them, in much the same way that once isolated rhesus monkeys seemed to invite abuse from the colony. Released after three and a half years, Reed ultimately required admission to a psychiatric hospital.

“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” And this comes from a man who was beaten regularly; denied adequate medical treatment for two broken arms, a broken leg, and chronic dysentery; and tortured to the point of having an arm broken again. A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.

And what happened to them was physical. EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.

On December 4, 1991, Terry Anderson was released from captivity. He had been the last and the longest-held American hostage in Lebanon. I spoke to Keron Fletcher, a former British military psychiatrist who had been on the receiving team for Anderson and many other hostages, and followed them for years afterward. Initially, Fletcher said, everyone experiences the pure elation of being able to see and talk to people again, especially family and friends. They can’t get enough of other people, and talk almost non-stop for hours. They are optimistic and hopeful. But, afterward, normal sleeping and eating patterns prove difficult to reëstablish. Some have lost their sense of time. For weeks, they have trouble managing the sensations and emotional complexities of their freedom.

For the first few months after his release, Anderson said when I reached him by phone recently, “it was just kind of a fog.” He had done many television interviews at the time. “And if you look at me in the pictures? Look at my eyes. You can tell. I look drugged.”

Most hostages survived their ordeal, Fletcher said, although relationships, marriages, and careers were often lost. Some found, as John McCain did, that the experience even strengthened them. Yet none saw solitary confinement as anything less than torture. This presents us with an awkward question: If prolonged isolation is—as research and experience have confirmed for decades—so objectively horrifying, so intrinsically cruel, how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of our own citizens to it than any other country in history has?

Recently, I met a man who had spent more than five years in isolation at a prison in the Boston suburb of Walpole, Massachusetts, not far from my home. Bobby Dellelo was, to say the least, no Terry Anderson or John McCain. [...]

Bobby Dellelo is sixty-seven years old now. He lives on Social Security in a Cambridge efficiency apartment that is about four times larger than his cell. He still seems to be adjusting to the world outside. He lives alone. To the extent that he is out in society, it is, in large measure, as a combatant. He works for prisoners’ rights at the American Friends Service Committee. He also does occasional work assisting prisoners with their legal cases. Sitting at his kitchen table, he showed me how to pick a padlock—you know, just in case I ever find myself in trouble.

But it was impossible to talk to him about his time in isolation without seeing that it was fundamentally no different from the isolation that Terry Anderson and John McCain had endured. Whether in Walpole or Beirut or Hanoi, all human beings experience isolation as torture.

The main argument for using long-term isolation in prisons is that it provides discipline and prevents violence. When inmates refuse to follow the rules—when they escape, deal drugs, or attack other inmates and corrections officers—wardens must be able to punish and contain the misconduct. Presumably, less stringent measures haven’t worked, or the behavior would not have occurred. And it’s legitimate to incapacitate violent aggressors for the safety of others. So, advocates say, isolation is a necessary evil, and those who don’t recognize this are dangerously naïve.

The argument makes intuitive sense. If the worst of the worst are removed from the general prison population and put in isolation, you’d expect there to be markedly fewer inmate shankings and attacks on corrections officers. But the evidence doesn’t bear this out. Perhaps the most careful inquiry into whether supermax prisons decrease violence and disorder was a 2003 analysis examining the experience in three states—Arizona, Illinois, and Minnesota—following the opening of their supermax prisons. The study found that levels of inmate-on-inmate violence were unchanged, and that levels of inmate-on-staff violence changed unpredictably, rising in Arizona, falling in Illinois, and holding steady in Minnesota.

Prison violence, it turns out, is not simply an issue of a few belligerents. In the past thirty years, the United States has quadrupled its incarceration rate but not its prison space. Work and education programs have been cancelled, out of a belief that the pursuit of rehabilitation is pointless. The result has been unprecedented overcrowding, along with unprecedented idleness—a nice formula for violence. Remove a few prisoners to solitary confinement, and the violence doesn’t change. So you remove some more, and still nothing happens. Before long, you find yourself in the position we are in today. The United States now has five per cent of the world’s population, twenty-five per cent of its prisoners, and probably the vast majority of prisoners who are in long-term solitary confinement.

Remind us again why people tasked with defending us from al Qaeda should be criminally charged for a couple minutes of waterboarding?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


More Satchmo (Colin Fleming, March 30, 2009, The New Yorker)

As a trumpet player, there was no one to touch Armstrong, but Bing Crosby was an apt vocal foil. The two had their summit meeting in 1960, resulting in “Bing and Satchmo” (DRG Records), previously unavailable on compact disk. “Dardanella” suggests how keenly these men must have listened to each other: Crosby’s sly syllabic upticks at the end of each line show how readily he had absorbed Armstrong’s methodology, while Armstrong’s vocal is a blend of full-on melody and smart, conversational tones, a Crosby staple. Throughout, Billy May’s arrangements have plenty of starch to them, but “Lazy River” borders on a kind of laconic grace, two voices whiling the day away before drifting home.

Great Encounters: When Bing Crosby met Louis Armstrong (Excerpted from Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams: by Gary Giddins)
To hip musicians in Chicago, scat had been the rage for months. Bing and some of the other adventurous musicians in Whiteman's band heard it that very week from the master himself, Louis Armstrong. If mobster Al Capone ruled the city, Armstrong ruled its music. Whatever he played was instantly picked up by other musicians. The previous spring Okeh issued his Hot Five recording of "Heebie Jeebies," and it caused a sensation, selling some 40,000 copies thanks to his inspired vocal chorus - a torrent of bristling grunts and groans in no known language. Pianist Earl Hines later claimed he knew musicians who tried to catch cold so they could growl like Louis; and Mezz Mezzrow, the marijuana-pushing clarinetist, recalled, "You would hear cats greeting each other with Louis's riffs when they met around town…scatting in each other's face." Before Louis, scat singing could be heard on records by Cliff Edwards (Ukelele Ike) and Red McKenzie (Mound City Blue Blowers); Bing and Al had admired and imitated them in Spokane. But the ad libs on those records were often disguised by kazoo or comb. They had little of Armstrong's rhythmic thrust and none of his melodic ingenuity.

At the time Whiteman pulled into town, Louis was fronting the Sunset Café band, with Hines as his musical director. The place was run by Joe Glaser, a Capone acolyte who several years later would become Armstrong's manager, building the powerful Associated Booking Agency in the process. In Chicago he billed his star in lights as "The World's Greatest Trumpet Player." The Sunset was located on the main stem of black Chicago but served an integrated audience. Because its band played a good two hours after most others retired, the club became a second home to many of the best white musicians in town, among them Bix Beiderbecke, Hoagy Carmichael, Tommy Dorsey, and Frank Trumbauer.

Whiteman introduced Bing and Al (Rinker) to the Sunset and other hot spots in Chicago. One can only imagine Bing's initial response to Louis's irrepressible genius, especially if Mildred Bailey had primed him for an experience bordering on the Second Coming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Obama Implies Rejection of Bonus Tax Plan (STEVEN R. HURST, Mar. 23, 2009, AP)

President Barack Obama wagered significant political capital on Sunday as he bucked a highly popular House measure to slap a punitive 90 percent tax on bonuses to big earners at financial institutions already deeply in hock to taxpayers.

Obama defended his stance by saying the tax would be unconstitutional and that he would not "govern out of anger."

It can be argued, though disingenuously, that certain provisions of the Constitution are opaque. But it's not possible to misconstrue this one: "No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Dreaming of President Petraeus and an American surge (Andrew Breitbart, March 23, 2009 , Washington Times)

When the going gets tough, the weak go on Leno.

I can't get out of my head that the leader of the free world gave the British prime minister 25 films on DVD that don't even work in U.K. machines.

I can't wrap my head around the fact that the commander in chief tried (for a minute anyway) to require injured warriors to pay to have private insurers take care of their treatment.

I can't believe the president would allow the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to dictate the terms of his budget - and Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd, the symbols of government kowtowing to Wall Street - to be spokesmen for his financial bailout.

And did President Obama really produce a YouTube video to appease President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs of Iran?

Yes, he did.

These aren't beginner's mistakes. These are his core incompetencies.

The media that got him elected knows it is responsible for the gathering debacle, and so Jon Stewart, a so-called comedian and exemplar of the groupthink of the governing elite, is desperately hunting for scapegoats. Now that their secular savior is in charge, the "Dissent is Patriotic" bumper-sticker crowd is figuring out ways to stamp out criticism.

I admit, I am now officially freaking out.

The last time I felt this hopeless was when the Democratic Party and its cohorts in the media sold us on the false premise that we lost the war in Iraq. In the process, they also sought to demonize the very man that led us out of our peril.

His name is Gen. David H. Petraeus.

March 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 PM


Study Backs Bosnian Serb’s Claim of Immunity (MARLISE SIMONS, 3/22/09, NY Times)

Every time Radovan Karadzic, the onetime Bosnian Serb leader, appears in court on war crimes charges, he has hammered on one recurring claim: a senior American official pledged that he would never be standing there.

The official, Richard C. Holbrooke, now a special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Obama administration, has repeatedly denied promising Mr. Karadzic immunity from prosecution in exchange for abandoning power after the Bosnian war.

But the rumor persists, and different versions have recently emerged that line up with Mr. Karadzic’s assertion, including a new historical study of the Yugoslav wars published by Purdue University in Indiana.

Charles W. Ingrao, the study’s co-editor, said that three senior State Department officials, one of them retired, and several other people with knowledge of Mr. Holbrooke’s activities told him that Mr. Holbrooke assured Mr. Karadzic in July 1996 that he would not be pursued by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague if he left politics. that such is the nature of their man Holbrooke that it's easier to believe a war criminal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


Internal Affairs: Just where does East Bay Rep. Pete Stark live, anyway? (The Mercury News, 03/22/2009)

Republicans danced on tabletops last week after Bloomberg News reported that longtime Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, claims a Maryland home as his "principal residence," thereby snaring a tax break. [...]

A senior member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, Stark saved $3,853 in state and county taxes on a Maryland waterfront home in 2007 and 2008. But Maryland officials are now reviewing Stark's eligibility for the tax break; new rules require that property owners who qualify for the residential tax credits must use their homes for voting, obtaining a driver's license and filing income tax returns.

Stark votes in California and has a California license plate. But he told IA his family spends 70 percent of each year in Maryland, where the kids attend school.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:42 PM


Former POWs mark 'Great Escape' anniversary (Allan Hall, 22 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Adolf Hitler ordered 50 recaptured Allied airmen to be shot as a deterrent to others seeking to escape after their spectacular bid for freedom from Stalag Luft III.

Only three men made 'home runs' to safety through a tunnel which, nevertheless, tied up tens of thousands of Germans, who would otherwise be fighting, in the search for the escapers.

Tuesday will be the 65th anniversary of the spectacular freedom bid and the men involved will be honoured by several prisoners who were in the camp that was formerly in Germany but now lies near the town of Zagan in Poland.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 PM


Cool dudes, secret basketball games and Michelle's toned biceps ... Welcome to Obamalot (David Rose, 22nd March 2009, Daily Mail)

Approaching the marine who stood at attention by the helicopter steps, wearing full dress uniform and gleaming white gloves, the President gave a salute. But then, before the marine could return it, America's Commander-in-Chief shook his hand warmly.
Barack and Michelle Obama

Oblivious to this departure from protocol, Obama's White House audience, long-serving but youthful veterans of his election campaign, cheered and clapped.

Jon Favreau, 27, the speechwriter who popularised the President's 'yes we can' catchphrase, seemed to speak for them all. 'That was so awesome,' Favreau said, shivering in his shirtsleeves as Marine One took to the air. 'That was so cool.'

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 PM


Friendly fire: NYT hits Obama (JONATHAN MARTIN, 3/22/09, Politico)

The leading liberal voices of the New York Times editorial pages all criticized—and, in some cases, clobbered—President Obama on Sunday for his handling of the economy and national security.

It's not unusual for Barack Obama to take a little friendly fire from the Times. But it's perhaps unprecedented for him to get hit on the same day by columnists Frank Rich, Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd—and in the paper's lead editorial. Their critique punctuated a weekend that started with a widely circulated blog post by Paul Krugman that said the president’s yet to be announced bank rescue plan would almost certainly fail.

The sentiment, coming just two months after the president was sworn in, reflects elite opinion in the Washington-New York corridor that Obama is increasingly overwhelmed, and not fully appreciative of the building tsunami of populist outrage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Yankees Grass Is Now a Brand (JOHN BRANCH, 3/22/09, NY Times)

Yankees Sod.

A tuft for the windowsill? A pallet for the backyard? Officially licensed grass is about to be sold, in the form of sod or seeds, to fans who want a patch to call their own.

“It’s just capitalizing on what we have and what we’ve done,” said Rick DeLea, vice president of DeLea Sod Farms, which his grandfather founded in 1928 and has supplied turf for Yankee Stadium since the 1960s.

On a recent morning, Mr. DeLea swept his hand across a portion of the 80 acres of Yankees Sod on a vast hillside in South Jersey. Last fall, some of the secret blend of bluegrass was peeled in broad strips, hauled north on trucks and laid inside the new Yankee Stadium. But most of it was still here, greening under a late-winter sun.

“It’s going to be one of those ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ stories,” said David Andres, the energetic and entrepreneurial man who came up with the idea of selling sod and grass to fans.

When the Mets clinched the pennant in 1969 fans mobbed the field and tore out pieces of the sod. Savvy fans planted it in their own yards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


The Rise And Fall Of Cristiano Ronaldo (Nathan Low, March 22, 2009, EPL Talk)

His head is nowhere near the pitch.

His attacking is indirect. His tantrums are ubiquitous. His emotions run completely unchecked.

Where he once out-smarted most defenders, most now out-muscle him, sending the winger downward again into the whining spirals which mar his ever-declining reputation.

His free-kicks sail well off course. His runs to the byline are rare. The extempore cuts and shifts are gone. The sleight and trickery are gone, replaced with forecast, boastful, and inconsequential step-overs and leg fakes before usually passing square or backwards.

John O’ Shea is in the side—presumably—to pass sideways. Ronaldo is not!

In fairness to the player, while he should have been sent off yesterday, his coach lost the game when he filled out the line-up sheet. A squad with Berbatov and Park up front is not even trying to score and by making the "attack" so dependent on Ronaldo you're virtually begging for him to descend into a petulant fit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


W.H. dials back support for bonus tax (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 3/22/09, Politico)

But on Sunday, a top administration economist was much less enthusiastic, calling the bill “dangerous.”

“The president would be concerned that this bill may have some problems in going too far – the House bill – may go too far in terms of some legal issues, constitutional validity, using the tax code to surgically punish a small group of people,” Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden's chief economic adviser, told George Stephanopoulos, host of on ABC News' "This Week.”

Okay, we're going to need a motorcycle, a shark tank, and Pinky Tuscadero....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


McInnis tells pals: "I'm in" governor race (Lynn Bartels, 3/22/09, The Denver Post)

Former Congressman Scott McInnis has been saying for weeks that it's too early to announce whether he's running for governor next year, but privately he's telling his friends: "I'm in."

McInnis made that clear when he schmoozed with fellow Republicans at a state GOP dinner and committee meeting over the weekend, and in talks in recent weeks.

"He told me he was in," said state Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, after talking to McInnis on Friday night at the GOP dinner.

...the GOP is having the easiest time recruiting candidates in modern memory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


Obama saturation (Jennifer Harper, March 22, 2009, Washington Times)

There are those who wonder if Mr. Obama is already overexposed, not 100 days in office. He is the first sitting president to Twitter, get cozy on the "Tonight Show" and be seen or heard on average every 10 seconds somewhere on the global airwaves. Could Obama fatigue be setting in?

I don't have it. Yet. A civility freak, I have a certain wistful naivete that makes me wish the esteemed Office of the President of the United States was not subject to the constant rude probe of news and celebrity hunters. I pine for a line between viable watchdog journalism and snarky commentary or personal invasion. Yeah, well. Dream on.

"For a president who ran more as a megastar than any kind of working politician, the dangers of overexposure are greater than average. Charisma alone rarely withstands the kind of scrutiny movie stars get these days," says Lisa Schiffren of National Review.

"And it is only diminished when paired up with the ordinary, run-of-the-mill celebs who come on late-night TV to hawk movies or other projects. To be sure, speech is Obama's talent. But, sooner or later, people will understand the limits of words. For now, enough."

Unfortunately, the Unicorn Rider's seeming determination to turn himself into an irrelevancy with record speed for a president could end up mattering if a situation arises where a national leader would be useful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Obama struggles as communicator (Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, March 19, 2009, Politico)

Of all the pitfalls Barack Obama might face in the presidency, here is one not many people predicted: He is struggling as a public communicator.

The sluggish and unsteady response to the uproar over AIG bonuses highlights a larger problem of his White House: Obama’s surprisingly uneven campaign to educate people about the economic crisis and convince Washington and the broader public that he is in command of circumstances.

...required not paying any attention to what he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


That First Step is a Doozy: The Obama administration is finding that greenhouse gas control is hard in practice, especially the very first step. (Kenneth P. Green Sunday, March 22, 2009, The American)

[R]eductions could be achieved in a number of ways. One could use regulation, as the EPA is preparing to do, requiring energy users to increase their efficiency. But regulations can only nibble around the edges of the issue, and it is well known that regulations are costly, economically damaging, and prone to creating perverse consequences.

Alternately, one could slap a tax on the carbon content of fuels and let the market sort out how it wants to cut emissions in order to avoid the tax. That is the approach that most economists (and policy wonks such as myself) agree would be the most efficient. Environmentalists dislike the tax for several reasons. They think it is politically unsalable and will not guarantee a given certain level of reductions: those stubborn energy-using humans might simply opt to pay the tax and keep emitting. Even worse, taxes are entirely too transparent. Environmentalists do not want people to see the cost of greenhouse gas mitigation too clearly, because the public might reject it as too costly.

Finally, one could use a mechanism called emission trading, or “cap and trade,” which ostensibly harnesses the power of the market to find least-cost emission reduction approaches and allows a great deal of obfuscation and special-interest politics into the process. This is the favored approach of environmentalists, the Democratic leadership, and President Obama. But the administration is already stumbling at the very first step, which suggests that it should take a deep breath and think things through.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Thank God America Isn't Like Europe -- Yet (Charles Murray, March 22, 2009, Washington Post)

The stuff of life -- the elemental events surrounding birth, death, raising children, fulfilling one's personal potential, dealing with adversity, intimate relationships -- occurs within just four institutions: family, community, vocation and faith. Seen in this light, the goal of social policy is to ensure that those institutions are robust and vital. The European model doesn't do that. It enfeebles every single one of them.

Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticulously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government. And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. The nations of Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their "child-friendly" policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. They are countries where jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And with only a few exceptions, they are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.

Call it the Europe Syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. Afterward, a few of the 20-something members of the audience came up and said plainly that the phrase "a life well-lived" did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and they saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.

It was fascinating to hear it said to my face, but not surprising. It conformed to both journalistic and scholarly accounts of a spreading European mentality that goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.

If that's the purpose of life, then work is not a vocation, but something that interferes with the higher good of leisure. If that's the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble? If that's the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that's the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Mutual respect between US and Japan: Semifinal matchup features two nations with storied baseball history (John Schlegel, 3/22/09,

The U.S.-Japan relationship in baseball has seen players exported and imported each way over the last few decades, from the current wave of Japanese players making their mark on the Major Leagues dating back to when some American players -- called gaijin, or foreigners -- began extending their careers in Japan.

Players such as Davey Johnson, now manager of Team USA.

The former third baseman was the first gaijin ever to play for the storied Yomiuri Giants, joining them in 1975 and '76.

"I really had a good time playing for the Tokyo Giants. Many tomodachis, many friends," Johnson recalled Friday as his team began preparations to play the defending Classic champs in the semis. "It was a great experience. I had a great teammate in Oh-san [Japanese home-run king Sadaharu Oh], and a great manager in Nagashima-san [former star third baseman and manager Shigeo Nagashima]. And I know the team playing there now is managed by a great third baseman, Hara-san, currently managing the Tokyo Giants.

"I'm looking for it to be a great ballgame. A lot of my tomodachis now are doing other things, Takada-san, managing the Yakult Swallows, so I try to keep up with what they're doing over there, and I talked to Hara-san and wished him luck and he did the same to me."

Johnson -- who struggled through '75 but led the Giants to the postseason in '76 -- and Hara shared common ground that goes beyond their resumes as managers in international competition.

That would be the dirt surrounding third base at Korakuen Stadium, where the Giants played before Tokyo Dome opened in 1988. Hara was the team's third baseman starting in 1982 until he retired in 1996.

"I really don't know [Johnson] well myself, but I understand he was wearing the Tokyo Giants uniform in Japan, so in that sense he was an "old boy" of the Tokyo Giants. I feel familiar with him," Hara said. "And Reggie Smith [who played for the Giants for two seasons after his 17 years in the Majors] is also a coach on the U.S. team, so those are two people that I respect that we have to play against. So I would like to be able to fight against them, and Japan to be proud of us."

During the tournament, Hara has mentioned several times his respect for the American game, since, after all, that was where it all began.

And Hara remembers the star who caught his eye -- Babe Ruth, who incidentally made appearances in Japan as a player, helping the early internationalization of America's pastime.

"At first, I read the story about Babe Ruth," he said. "And, of course, before that, Major League Baseball, I knew about that. I had some knowledge about that. And then when I read the Babe Ruth book, and I was so interested about that, that was when I was in grade school, a student, maybe second grade, maybe third grade."

More to the present issue, there is a rivalry brewing on the international stage. In the last 13 meetings between the clubs, Japan has won six times. But Team USA's four-game winning streak includes a victory in the 2006 Classic and two wins in the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


SO SAYETH THE TELEPROMPTER (Kyle Smith, 3/22/09, NY Post)

The masters and lords of AIG have become like unto pharaohs, and the people who toil in the valleys of the taxpayer are like unto the Israelites who are building for these pharaohs Jacuzzis and Gulfstreams.

Now it is who point the righteous finger of blame. It is I who call out, "J'accuzzi!"

I castigate AIG for this decision, which I signed off on. Mine Apostle Geithner did approve the bonuses, but with great reluctance in his heart. Now there is great reluctance, across this fair land, to believe I know what I'm doing.

So I ask my faithful flock of Democrats in Congress to join hands with me in toiling to eradicate this scourge and pestilence from the land, as soon as they have cashed their campaign checks from AIG.

I wouldst ask thou to smite from thine memory the $100,000 in AIG checks I cashed long ago.

For today I am enraged and outraged at the bonus payments, which were for favors exchanged and prearranged.

I say onto my disciple Christopher Dodd that he has strayed and betrayed. For it was he who welcomed the moneychangers into the temple of government. Yea, he did rend and blaspheme the passage in the Book of Stimulus that did decree no big bucks for bailout Beelzebubs.

I shall pursue every possible legal angle to stamp the wrath of nullification on these contracts, which were legal and binding.

I vow to stop payment on these checks, which have already been cashed and deposited.

Sordid sinners shall not prosper. I will change the AIG wine back into water. I will change the golden calf back into lowly peasant beef, of the Arby's grade. I will summon the power of IRS transubstantiation, call forth the redemptive force of 100 percent taxation of the bonuses. Though mine own disciple Charlie Rangel questions how the thing canst legally be done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Seeing the future in an old rail line (Mark Bowden, 3/22/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

I like people who think big. Working without pay out of a cluttered little office off the back porch of his house just outside Oxford, Stevenson and his partner are reimagining the future of this region. Using a mostly dormant rail line that here and there along its route vanishes into a tangle of multifloral rose, milkweed, and rusted debris, they envision a project that would solve a number of long-range problems for this rapidly developing tristate corridor, where exurban creep is slowly colliding like tectonic plates, southwest from Philadelphia, west from Wilmington, north from Aberdeen, and east from Lancaster.

"If you look at projected growth patterns through 2035 it looks like somebody vomited all over Chester County," said Stevenson, a man given to vivid metaphor.

The line itself was built in stages in the mid-19th century, interrupted by the Civil War. Celebrated by grand-opening jubilees in towns along the way - Concordville, Chadds Ford, Avondale, Kennett Square, Oxford - the Philadelphia and Baltimore Central Railroad was a symbol of a modern world whisking travelers out of horse-drawn wagons and into a new century.

The new century, of course, brought the car, which starved the railroad of passengers. By the time Stevenson was growing up in Oxford after World War II, rail traffic along the line was a distant memory. For teenage kicks, he and his buddies would drive a car up on the rails, deflate the tires - the width of an auto matched the width of a railcar - and zip up to Lincoln University.

He is a burly fellow with a great white beard who retired from his work as a railroad architect in 1996. Saranetz has a long thick mane of white hair and worked for many years in statistical analysis and computer modeling, commuting back and forth into Philadelphia from Media - "I had a three- to five-minute walk to the train station; I was spoiled." They teamed up two years ago. Where others see an abandoned weedy corridor, perfect, perhaps, for a bike or hiking trail, these two see a priceless opportunity. They have put together planning charts, projected costs, maps, and a plan of action that is just this side of dazzling in its vision, if not its prospects.

At the rejuvenated corridor's southern terminus, Aberdeen, the U.S. Army plans to add more than 5,000 civilian jobs over the next two years. Restoring freight and passenger service to the rail line would help concentrate this coming tide of humanity in a neat corridor, revitalizing townships like Oxford that have been in long decline, preserving the area's rural appeal, providing a strong tax base for schools and municipal services for communities up and down the line, and easing automobile traffic on county roadways that are already strained to their limits. Serving commuters from three states, it would qualify for attention as a regional improvement, always a plus when angling for federal dollars.

"Sure, it's a little pie-in-the-sky," said Stevenson. "When we first started proposing it, the reaction was, like, bring in the doctors and the white jackets."

I doubt it will happen in my lifetime, but I hope to be proved wrong, and I love the idea of Stevenson and Saranetz hustling to beat the odds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


The Art of Political Distraction (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 3/22/09, NY Times)

Mr. Obama is hardly the first American president to grapple with a distraction, a diversion — an outright red herring, some might call it — that grew bigger than itself. Ronald Reagan had the Air Force’s $7,622 coffeepot and the Navy’s $435 claw hammer, as well as an ill-fated effort to save money by classifying ketchup as a school lunch vegetable. Bill Clinton had midnight basketball and a high-priced haircut from a Beverly Hills stylist aboard Air Force One. George W. Bush was blindsided by an executive branch decision to contract with Dubai Ports World, an Arab-owned company, to manage terminals in six American ports. [...]

Some distractions are cynical political maneuvers, manufactured by one political party to throw a wrench into the agenda of another. But the ones that pose the greatest political danger are those that seem to erupt spontaneously, crossing political boundaries by putting a president at odds with his own party.

That was the case in 2006, when the Bush administration was caught flat-footed by news of its own Dubai ports deal. Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat, picked up on it, accusing Mr. Bush of outsourcing port security. But the issue really took off when Republicans, fed up with the administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq, turned on the president.

“It matched the meta-narrative that this administration can’t handle Iraq and the Middle East,” said Eric Ueland, who was chief of staff to one Republican critic, the former Senate majority leader Bill Frist. “A lot of elements combined, so that when somebody said, quite simply, ‘The Bush administration is turning ports over to a Middle Eastern government,’ you got a lot of resonance.”

...that he shouldn't have underestimated the bigotry of the congressional GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


U.S. missile strikes take heavy toll on Al Qaeda, officials say: Predator drone attacks in northwest Pakistan have increased sharply since Bush last year stopped seeking Pakistan's permission. Obama may keep pace as officials speak of confusion in Al Qaeda ranks. (Greg Miller, March 22, 2009, LA Times)

An intense, six-month campaign of Predator strikes in Pakistan has taken such a toll on Al Qaeda that militants have begun turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say.

The pace of the Predator attacks has accelerated dramatically since August, when the Bush administration made a previously undisclosed decision to abandon the practice of obtaining permission from the Pakistani government before launching missiles from the unmanned aircraft.

Since Aug. 31, the CIA has carried out at least 38 Predator strikes in northwest Pakistan, compared with 10 reported attacks in 2006 and 2007 combined, in what has become the CIA's most expansive targeted killing program since the Vietnam War.

Because of its success, the Obama administration is set to continue the accelerated campaign despite civilian casualties that have fueled anti-U.S. sentiment and prompted protests from the Pakistani government.

March 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


Brussels ‘recreating Soviet bloc in Europe’: The outspoken Czech leader has warned of a ‘democratic deficit’ (Bojan Pancevski, 3/22/09, Sunday Times of London)

THE leader of the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, has warned that a “Europe of states” is in danger of turning into a “state of Europe”, legislating on almost every aspect of people’s lives but lacking in democracy and transparency.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, President Vaclav Klaus drew parallels between Brussels and the failed communist dictatorships of eastern Europe.

“My criticism is based on the sensitivity towards attempts to restrain freedom and democracy, and it does relate to the fact that for most of my life I lived in a political, social and economic system which was not free and was not democratic,” he said. [...]

He talked of a “democratic deficit” in the EU when he addressed the European parliament last month. In his interview, conducted by e-mail, he explained: “I see the democratic deficit in a growing distance between the citizens of the EU member states and the EU political elite, as well as in the shift of decision making from the member states’ capitals to Brussels.”

About 75% of legislation was made in the EU by unelected officials, he said. The Lisbon treaty would give the EU its own legal personality and would abolish important rights of veto: “This certainly is not a solution to the democratic deficit. It makes the democratic deficit even greater.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 PM


Obama Seeks to Soften the Punitive Legislation (JONATHAN WEISMAN and DAN FITZPATRICK, 3/21/09, WSJ)

The Obama administration wants to soften the impact of bills speeding through Congress that would impose heavy new taxes on Wall Street bonuses. But some potential allies in the Senate are reluctant to cooperate, fearing the political consequences of watering down the legislation.

Financial-industry officials launched a campaign Friday to fight back but are finding their hands tied: Anti-Wall Street sentiment following the American International Group Inc. bonus payouts is making it difficult to reach once-friendly lawmakers to make their case. Key senators and their staffers, nervous about appearing to support the industry, are refusing all meetings, and, in some cases, turning away phone calls. "Unless you have a pitchfork and a noose nobody's listening to you" on Capitol Hill, said one financial lobbyist.

The White House has yet to publicly criticize the bonus tax proposals. But administration officials say privately they are concerned the House and Senate bills could lead to an exodus of employees or whole companies from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, as well as other government-sponsored financial rescue efforts.

...that the law is so manifestly unconstitutional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 PM


Obama criticizes Cheney's approach to terrorism in '60 Minutes' interview (Mark Silva, March 21, 2009, LA Times)

President Obama, rejecting former Vice President Dick Cheney's contention that he has put the nation at greater risk of terrorism, suggests in a "60 Minutes" interview that the previous administration's stance was an "advertisement for anti-American sentiment."

"How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney?" Obama asks. "It hasn't made us safer."

...the second is, "How much safer could we have been the past 7 years than 0 successful attacks?" A more secure leader would have just ignored Mr. Cheney's nattering. Kind of the way W ignored him whining about Scooter Libby.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 PM


Britain set to become most populous country in EU (Robin McKie, 3/22/09, The Observer)

Britain will become one of the world's major destinations for immigrants as the world heats up and populations continue to soar. Statistics from the United Nations show that, on average, every year more than 174,000 people will be added to the numbers in the UK and that this trend will continue for the next four decades.

By then, only the United States and Canada will be receiving more overseas settlers, says the UN

There's the Anglosphere and there's the declining world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


'Wild, energetic sex is key to conception' (Denis Campbell, 03/22/09, The Observer)

"Couples who are trying to have a baby often mention that the sex becomes a bit of a chore, a bit mechanical and routine. That's the wrong thing to be doing," said Dr Allan Pacey, a senior lecturer in andrology at Sheffield University.

"The sex should be as wild and thrilling as it was when they first met, when they weren't thinking about babies, to give them the maximum possible chance of having a baby," added Pacey, secretary of the British Fertility Society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Democrat anger at Obama overkill: Concern is mounting at the president’s tactics (Tony Allen-Mills , 3/22/09, Sunday Times of London)

“Stop, please stop, Mr O, we can’t take much more,” one angry viewer wrote on an Idol-related website. “Not again!” complained another. “It’s the same speech he’s been giving for the past year.”

There were dark mutterings that by commandeering evening programming only a few days after he appeared on Jay Leno’s popular late-night chat show, Obama was “just like Fidel Castro [of Cuba] and Hugo Chavez [of Venezuela] - always on camera, always giving speeches and lecturing”.

The barbed response to the prospect of yet another mass-media dose of Obama’s economic prescriptions underlined the dangers the president is facing as he struggles to sell his recovery efforts to a country seething with anger and anxiety over the costs, effectiveness and potential abuse of the government’s trillion-dollar bailout programme.

He's blowing through his political capital faster than Congressional Democrats are squandering federal dollars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


The Joshua Generation: Race and the campaign of Barack Obama. (David Remnick November 17, 2008, The New Yorker)

Barack Obama could not run his campaign for the Presidency based on political accomplishment or on the heroic service of his youth. His record was too slight. His Democratic and Republican opponents were right: he ran largely on language, on the expression of a country’s potential and the self-expression of a complicated man who could reflect and lead that country.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama rhetoric, reality clash (LIZ SIDOTI, 3/21/09, AP)

Barack Obama's optimistic campaign rhetoric has crashed headlong into the stark reality of governing.

In office two months, he has backpedaled on an array of issues, gingerly shifting positions as circumstances dictate while ducking for political cover to avoid undercutting his credibility and authority. [...]

For now at least, Obama's deviations have served only to invite occasional cries of hypocrisy from some Republicans and infrequent grumbles of disappointment from some Democrats. He has popularity on his side, and it seems people mostly are chalking up his moves to much-needed flexibility at a difficult time.

But the shifts could take a toll over time if they become a persistent pattern and the public grows weary. His overall job-performance marks could suffer and jeopardize his likely re-election campaign in 2012. People could perceive him as a say-one-thing-do-another politician and the Democratic-controlled Congress could see him as a weak chief executive.

Obama's moves and maneuvering for political cover run the gamut.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Population: Some Boom, Some Decline: Wildly varying fertility rates among nations threaten global stability (Joseph Chamie, 18 March 2009, YaleGlobal)

India alone accounts for 21 percent of global population growth, followed by China, which contributes 11 percent. As a consequence, India’s population is expected to exceed China’s in about 20 years. [...]

In contrast, among the more developed regions, little demographic growth is taking place. Many European countries and Japan are entering a period of population decline, and these trends are likely to continue. In contrast, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US are projected to continue growing due to relatively higher fertility and international migration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Obama's Turnabout On Vets Highlights Budgeting Nuances (Philip Rucker, March 21, 2009, Washington Post)

[T]he leaders of veterans service organizations warned the president that their goodwill would vanish if he pursued a budget proposal to bill veterans' private insurance companies for treatment of amputations, post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related injuries.

One Vietnam veteran summoned his deep voice to address Obama, calling the change "a dumb move." [...]

On Wednesday, trying to gain control of the situation, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel summoned the same group of veterans back to the White House. "We said, 'Look, don't give [Republicans] an opportunity to slam you,' " said one veteran, who detailed the conversation only on the condition of anonymity. "I really don't think there was malicious intent there. I think it was more a matter of a bad political judgment."

In the Situation Room, with Emanuel seated in the president's chair, they reached an agreement that would take the issue off the table. Emanuel called Obama, who was on Air Force One bound for California, who signed off. The veterans hurried to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the Capitol, where she stood and read a statement from Obama saying he would drop the third-party billing proposal. The veterans responded with a boisterous ovation.

The 48 hours between the Roosevelt Room meeting and Obama's reversal, described in interviews with leaders of veterans' groups and White House and congressional aides, illustrate the delicate dance required of a new president trying to change government and cut costs where efficiencies can be found without alienating key constituencies.

Well, the UR has learned one thing about being an executive: leave it to your underlings to cave-in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


Five Signs of a Flailing Presidency: The White House tries its hand at damage control. (Fred Barnes, 03/30/2009, Weekly Standard)

Bonuses for AIG executives are like the infamous Bridge to Nowhere--an issue that's broken through outside Washington. And we know it's become a major political problem for the president because he and his administration act as if it has. Here are five signs of this:

1. His allies are moving to protect the president. In a political emergency, this is the highest obligation of everyone in the administration. The president must be distanced as far as possible from decisions that led to the problem, even if he is made to look out-of-touch or actually incompetent. [...]

2. The president gets out of town. [...]

3. Top spokesmen dismiss the crisis as a distraction. [...]

4. Administration figures can't keep their stories straight. [...]

5. The president indulges in hyperbole. [...]

One more thing. If Obama is showing the effects of a political crisis, how can he josh about basketball and bowling and other light subjects with Jay Leno? When in trouble, play to your strengths, such as being a likeable, regular guy. It worked with Leno. "Mr. President," he said, "I must say this has been one of the best nights of my life."

Can anyone think of a presidency that was ever in deeper trouble quicker except for Lincoln's?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Natural Gas, Suddenly Abundant, Is Cheaper (CLIFFORD KRAUSS, 3/21/09, NY Times)

The decline in crude oil prices gets all the headlines, but the first globalized natural gas glut in history is driving an even more drastic collapse in the cost of gas that cooks food, heats homes and runs factories in the United States and many other countries.

Six giant plants capable of cooling and liquefying gas for export are due to come on line this year just as the economies of the Asian and European countries that import the most gas to run their industries are slowing.

Energy experts and company executives say that means loads of gas from Qatar, Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria that otherwise would be going to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Spain are beginning to arrive in supertankers in the United States, even though there is a gas glut here, too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM

IF ONLY WE HAD A PRESIDENT (via Glenn Dryfoos):

The Problem With Flogging A.I.G. (JOE NOCERA, 3/20/09, NY Times)

By week’s end, I was more depressed about the financial crisis than I’ve been since last September. Back then, the issue was the disintegration of the financial system, as the Lehman bankruptcy set off a terrible chain reaction. Now I’m worried that the political response is making the crisis worse. The Obama administration appears to have lost its grip on Congress, while the Treasury Department always seems caught off guard by bad news.

And Congress, with its howls of rage, its chaotic, episodic reaction to the crisis, and its shameless playing to the crowds, is out of control. This week, the body politic ran off the rails.

There are times when anger is cathartic. There are other times when anger makes a bad situation worse. “We need to stop committing economic arson,” Bert Ely, a banking consultant, said to me this week. That is what Congress committed: economic arson.

How is the political reaction to the crisis making it worse? Let us count the ways.

IT IS DESTROYING VALUE During his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Liddy pointed out that much of the money the government turned over to A.I.G. was a loan, not a gift. The company’s goal, he kept saying, was to pay that money back. But how? Mr. Liddy’s plan is to sell off the healthy insurance units — or, failing that, give them to the government to sell when they can muster a good price.

In other words, it is in the taxpayers’ best interest to position A.I.G. as a company with many profitable units, worth potentially billions, and one bad unit that needs to be unwound. Which, by the way, is the truth. But as Mr. Ely puts it, “the indiscriminate pounding that A.I.G. is taking is destroying the value of the company.” Potential buyers are wary. Customers are going elsewhere. Employees are looking to leave. Treating all of A.I.G. like Public Enemy No. 1 is a pretty dumb way for a majority shareholder to act when he hopes to sell the company for top dollar. [...]

IT IS DESTABILIZING How can you run a company when the rules keep changing, when you have to worry about being second-guessed by Congress? Who can do business under those circumstances?

Take, for instance, that new securitization program the government is trying to get off the ground, called the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility — or TALF. Although it is backed by large government loans, it requires people in the marketplace — Wall Street bankers! — to participate.

This program could help revive the consumer credit market. But at this point, most Wall Street bankers would rather be attacked by wild dogs than take part. They fear that they’ll do something — make money perhaps? — that will arouse Congressional ire. Or that the rules will change. “The constant flip-flopping is terrible,” said Simon Johnson, a banking expert who teaches at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Music Review | Anonymous 4: Together Again, Sweet Voices Join in Medieval-Style Praise of Mary (ALLAN KOZINN, 3/21/09, NY Times)

The program was a rebirth of sorts. Mostly, it was drawn from Anonymous 4’s 1992 debut recording, “An English Ladymass.” As on that recording, the singers assembled a Mass in honor of the Virgin, using plainchant and polyphonic songs and motets from disparate 13th- and 14th-century anonymous British sources. (This was how it was done at the time; it wasn’t until Machaut, in 14th-century France, that composers began writing complete Masses and signing their names to them.)

From the opening “Gaude, Virgo, Salutata” chant sequence to the final “Ave Maris Stella” hymn, the performance had all the polish, dynamic suppleness and warmth of tone that have always been Anonymous 4’s hallmarks.

The purity of its blend was intact as well. The ensemble’s lively account of “Edi Beo Thu Hevene Quene” — a sweetly melodic devotional song in medieval English, the only vernacular piece to find its way into this Latin Mass — was especially pleasing, as was the graceful melismatic singing in “Salve Sancta Parens.”

The quartet closed the program with an appealing preview of “The Cherry Tree,” including another medieval English song, “Hail Mary Ful of Grace,” and an 18th-century American song, William Billings’s “Bethlehem.”

-CONCERT: Anonymous 4 Thanksgiving (NPR)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


U.S. Moves to Patch Mexico Rift (CHRISTOPHER CONKEY, 3/20/09, WSJ)

The administration's move comes after Mexico earlier this week slapped tariffs on $2.4 billion in U.S. goods ranging from grapes to toilet paper. Mexico said its action was retaliation for a provision in a budget bill Mr. Obama signed earlier this month that effectively shut down a pilot program that had allowed some Mexican truckers to transport cargo beyond a 25-mile commercial zone inside the U.S. border. Mexico says the U.S. is failing to meet its obligations to cut barriers under Nafta.

Business interests ranging from Pennsylvania-based Hershey Co. to the USA Rice Federation are urging the White House to permit qualified Mexican truckers to drive on U.S. roads. Exporters affected by the tariffs say the government is causing economic damage by catering to unions that are more concerned with protecting jobs than improving safety.

"This is the Obama administration trying to appease the Teamsters union without taking into account the effect it's going to have," said John Crossland, chairman of the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

The results of the pilot program, while limited, suggest that Mexican truckers in it operated safely. A year into the program, the Transportation Department's inspector general and independent examiners reported no major crashes caused by Mexican participants. They said Mexican truckers passed inspections at a much higher rate than U.S. carriers.

Is there any ally the UR hasn't alienated yet?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Battle of the west (Martin Kelner, March 20. 2009, The National)

I have an American friend who visits the UK on business from time to time, and, in between trying to give a boost to what is left of the British economy, he usually makes time to go along with me to a sporting event of some sort.

Our conversation naturally turns to the difference between American and European sports, and unsurprisingly his efforts to fire me with enthusiasm for baseball and American football meet with limited success.

While the Americans continue to regard “soccer” as a game for girls and asthmatics, I refuse to plunge myself whole-heartedly into their national pastimes. [...]

Unfortunately, he arrived in Britain too late for Liverpool’s victory over Manchester United, and I was picking him up from the airport when the England rugby team put five tries past France.

Our consolation was a pair of tickets for Monday night’s Premier League match between West Ham and West Brom.

If you are familiar with the character Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, try saying this in his voice: “Worst….game…ever.”

Some goalless draws can be quite diverting. Not this one. It was turgid, drab, beyond redemption.

...for that title, "Worst game ever."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Our Two Cultures (PETER DIZIKES, 3/22/09, NY Times)

Few literary phrases have had as enduring an after­life as “the two cultures,” coined by C. P. Snow to describe what he saw as a dangerous schism between science and literary life. Yet few people actually seem to read Snow’s book bearing that title. Why bother when its main point appears so evident?

It was 50 years ago this May that Snow, an English physicist, civil servant and novelist, delivered a lecture at Cambridge called “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” which was later published in book form. Snow’s famous lament was that “the intellectual life of the whole of Western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups,” consisting of scientists on the one hand and literary scholars on the other. Snow largely blamed literary types for this “gulf of mutual incomprehension.” These intellectuals, Snow asserted, were shamefully unembarrassed about not grasping, say, the second law of thermodynamics — even though asking if someone knows it, he writes, “is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?” [...]

Yet “The Two Cultures” actually embodies one of the deepest tensions in our ideas about progress. Snow, too, wants to believe the sheer force of science cannot be restrained, that it will change the world — for the better — without a heavy guiding hand. The Industrial Revolution, he writes, occurred “without anyone,” including intellectuals, “noticing what was happening.” But at the same time, he argues that 20th-century progress was being stymied by the indifference of poets and novelists. That’s why he wrote “The Two Cultures.” So which is it? Is science an irrepressible agent of change, or does it need top-down direction?

This question is the aspect of “The Two Cultures” that speaks most directly to us today. Your answer — and many different ones are possible — probably determines how widely and deeply you think we need to spread scientific knowledge. Do we need to produce more scientists and engineers to fight climate change? How should they be deployed? Do we need broader public understanding of the issue to support governmental action? Or do we need something else?

Snow’s own version of this call for action, I believe, finally undercuts his claims. “The Two Cultures” initially asserts the moral distinctiveness of scientists, but ends with a plea for enlisting science to halt the spread of Communism — a concern that was hardly limited to those with a scientific habit of mind. The separateness of his two cultures is a very slippery thing. For all the book’s continuing interest, we should spend less time merely citing “The Two Cultures,” and more time genuinely reconsidering it.

Though in his time he was both a renowned novelist and a respected scientist, C. P. Snow may be best remembered for the distinction that he drew, in a 1956 essay for the New Statesman (The Two Cultures) and in this 1959 Rede Lecture, between the culture of science and the culture of intellectuals (mostly of the literary/artistic world), two cultures that he was one of the few to straddle. Snow traced the divide to the belief of non-scientists that scientists were "shallowly optimistic" and of scientists that the intellectuals of the day were in turn "totally lacking in foresight, peculiarly unconcerned with their brother men, in a deep sense anti-intellectual, anxious to restrict both art and thought to the existential moment."

I have to admit, that threw me when I first read it. After all, the intellectuals of the 20th Century were predominantly Leftists, whether merely liberal, socialist, or actually Marxist. And the defining characteristic of the Left sensibility is optimism about Man's nature, the belief that Man is essentially good but has been corrupted by an oppressive and unfairly hierarchical economic system. But then as you read on you find that he's talking about conservative intellectuals--Eliot, Yeats, Pound, Wyndham Lewis--who he, quite improbably and totally inaccurately, calls the most famous of twentieth-century writers. At any rate, taking this as his jumping off point, Snow argues that the gulf that exists between science and his version of "intellectuals" is a result of scientists complete disregard for traditional culture and the "intellectuals" refusal to look at what the natural world might teach us about potential problems with that culture.

Snow goes on to call these intellectuals "natural Luddites", men who refuse even to understand the industrial revolution (the transition from agriculture to manufacturing). He's of course right that most conservatives are at least somewhat hostile to the industrial revolution, precisely because of the damage it did to traditional culture, but that's a very different matter from not understanding it. Snow decries their failure to celebrate this revolution because in his view "Industrialization is the only hope of the poor." He believed that the problem of his own age was that this revolution was being followed by a pure "scientific revolution" in the area of electronics, atomics, and automation, that was widening the cultural divide still further as pure scientists lost the ability to communicate with even the mechanics and artisans of industry, who had at least understood the industrial revolution.

Snow also took note of another divide plaguing the modern world, that between rich and poor nations. And he blamed that divide on the failure of poor nations to industrialize. Thus, he included the USSR and other communist nations in the group of rich nations, because they had made the transition to heavy industry.

He located the solution to all of these problems in education. He thought that simply by making education in the West, specifically in Britain, less specialized that the breach could be healed, with scientists learning about culture and intellectuals learning science. And he thought that making poor nations rich would be merely a matter of educating their populations.

I'd like to think that it's not only in retrospect that we can see how profoundly wrong Snow was in everything except for his initial metaphor, of a divide between science and the rest of the culture, about which more later. Firstly, as noted above, the real intellectual class, the Left of literature, art, and academia, shares the optimism of scientists. This is the case for one obvious reason, that neither group believes in the Judeo-Christian biblical world view, most specifically the belief that Man is Fallen, is by nature sinful. It is this belief, more than any other, that undergirds the pessimistic conservative intellectualism that Snow was apparently bothered by. But this is a decidedly minority view and became more so with every passing year of the 20th Century. In fact, the shallow optimism of the intellectuals of the Left and of scientists had largely prevailed by the time Snow wrote--as witness the triumph of communism, socialism, and liberalism across the globe.

Even today, it is basically only in the U.S (the West's last Christian nation), that there exists a vibrant and powerful conservative movement, but it is significant that America is the exception because it proves the conservatives to have been on the right side of this cultural divide. We need only look at the social pathologies that the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Age unleashed--crime, violence, illegitimacy, deviancy, drugs, etc.--to see that Man was not a plastic waiting to be perfected by science. We need only look at the basket case that the Communist worlds became to see how mistaken Snow was about the inevitability of industrialization improving peoples' lives. We need only look at the education levels achieved in places like the Soviet Union and Cuba to realize that no amount of education can compensate for a misguided political philosophy. We need only look at America's stubborn resistance to the worst excesses of the optimists and our corresponding predominance in the political and economic realms to realize how closely that success has been tied to the conservative pessimism that is built into our very system of government. The great educational task turns out not to be getting conservatives to understand why they should be optimistic, but instead to teach scientific and Leftist utopians why they should be at least skeptical of their own optimism.

Snow did though tip toe right up to the edge of a profound truth in his metaphor of the two cultures. Because while the scientists and the intellectuals (now we speak of the real intellectuals, those of the Left) share a common optimism, they do not any longer have any way of communicating with each other and, more importantly, neither any longer communicates with the rest of us. This is so because of an unnecessary but understandable sequence of events. As Snow notes, as late as say the 1850s, any reasonably well-educated, well-read, inquisitive man could speak knowledgeably about both science and the arts. Man knew little enough that it was still possible for one to know nearly everything that was known and to have been exposed to all the religion, art, history--culture in general--that mattered. But then with the pure science revolution of which Snow spoke--in biology and chemistry, but most of all in physics--suddenly a great deal of specialized training and education was necessary before one could be knowledgeable in each field. Like priests of some ancient cult, scientists were separated out from the mass of men, elevated above them by their access to secret knowledge. Even more annoying was the fact that even though they had moved beyond what the rest of us could readily understand, they could still listen to Bach or read Shakespeare and discuss it intelligently. The reaction of their peers in the arts, or those who had been their peers, was to make their own fields of expertise as obscure as possible. If Picasso couldn't understand particle physics, he sure as hell wasn't going to paint anything comprehensible, and if Joyce couldn't pick up a scientific journal and read it, then no one was going to be able to read his books either. And so grew the two cultures, the one real, the other manufactured, but both with elaborate and often counterintuitive theories, requiring years of study.

Snow was an entirely conventional novelist so perhaps it's not surprising that he missed this point. He was also a member of both elites, the scientific and the intellectual, and to a significant degree they've reached an implicit agreement whereby each accepts the others judgment in their given fields. Artists don't question the likelihood of the Big Bang and scientists simply accept that Finnegan's Wake is brilliant, and everyone's happy. Everyone that is except for those of us who think that both sides, though the intellectuals much more than the scientists, know far less than they'd like us to think they do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Ahmadinejad's lucky day: Obama was right to respond to Tehran in a non-Islamic way, but he has accidentally helped the Iranian president (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 3/20/09,

[A]hmadinejad should be very happy with Obama's message as he can now steal the reformists' thunder and claim that he was the one who reconnected US-Iran relations after 30 years, achieved Iran's nuclear rights and empowered Iran to exert control over Iraq (the US having paid the price for removing Saddam Hussein and Iran having gained the benefits).

Ahmadinejad has been always willing to re-establish ties between Iran and the US, but he may have been surprised how Obama's message helps him to boast about his achievements in Iran-US relationship and use it to further his effort to win a second presidential term.

March 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Obama's Afghan Struggle (FOUAD AJAMI, 3/20/09, WSJ)

The Afghan struggle was in truth a rod to be held up in the face of the Bush administration's quest in Iraq. Some months ago, Democratic Party strategist Robert Shrum owned up to this fact. "I was part of the 2004 Kerry campaign which elevated the idea of Afghanistan as the 'right war' to conventional Democratic wisdom. This was accurate as criticism, but also reflexive and perhaps by now even misleading as policy."
[Obama's Afghan Struggle] Getty Images

The opponents of the American project in Iraq did not know much about Afghanistan. They despaired of Iraq's sectarianism and ethnic fragmentation, but those pale in comparison with the tribalism and ethnic complications of Afghanistan. If you had your fill with the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiites of Iraq, welcome to the warring histories of the Pashtuns, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, and the Hazara Shiites of Afghanistan.

In their disdain for that Iraq project, the Democrats and the liberal left had insisted that Iraq was an artificial state put together by colonial fiat, and that it was a fool's errand to try to make it whole and intact. Now in Afghanistan, we are in the quintessential world of banditry and tribalism, a political culture that has abhorred and resisted central authority.

Speak of colonial fiat: It was the Pax Britannica that drew the Durand Line of 1892 across the lands of the Pashtuns and marked out a meaningless border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It should have taken no great literacy in the theories and the history of "state-building" to foresee the favorable endowments of Iraq and the built-in disadvantages of Afghanistan.

The brutal truth is that if tribalism makes Pashtunistan ungovernable then arming the tribes so they can concentrate on killing each other is a viable option for the rest of the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


...with George W. Bush speaking accurately if sometimes awkwardly but is Mr. Weisberg really not aware that there's a new president who is not only staggeringly ineloquent but himself implies that he's retarded? Ignoring such a target rich environment smacks of the worst sort of PC cowardice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


Couldn't they at least respect us enough to pretend?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


US uses video to hand Iran olive branch (Ed Harris, 20.03.09, This is London)

BARACK Obama made an unprecedented video appeal to Iran today, offering a "new beginning" of diplomatic engagement with one of America's long-term enemies.

The White House released the video to Middle Eastern broadcasters to coincide with spring celebrations in Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Barack Obama faces the same problems with ‘Old Europe’ (Tom Baldwin, 3/20/09, Times of London)

[M]r Obama’s proposals to steer a new course are running into the hard rock of self-interested resistance from some of the same countries that did so much to damage the agenda of his predecessor.

Just as France and Germany led international opposition to the Iraq war seven years ago, Mr Obama is discovering that what Donald Rumsfeld once branded “Old Europe” is a significant obstacle to his ambitions for the global economy, the unfinished war in Afghanistan or reaching out to the Muslim world. And, just as Tony Blair backed Mr Bush in the fractious debates over Iraq, Gordon Brown is generally siding with Mr Obama rather than Britain’s EU partners.

Robert Kagan, a foreign policy strategist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “It was premature and foolish to believe that the only problem with relations between Europe and the United States was the existence of the ‘wrong American President’. That has, I think, already been demonstrated as untrue.

Why, it's almost as if Europe is the problem, not W....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Obamas to plant a White House veggie patch (Rebecca Cole, March 20, 2009, LA Times)

This year, the vegetables served at the White House will be as locally grown as possible -- some right on the South Lawn.

After a campaign by gardeners and sustainable-food activists, the first family has decided to dig up part of the White House grounds for a vegetable garden. In a ceremony today, First Lady Michelle Obama and local elementary students will break ground for the project.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Twelve steps to a new grand strategy: a review of Great Powers: America and the World after Bush by Thomas P M Barnett (Benjamin A Shobert , 3/21/09, Asia Times)

Noticeably absent from most of these is an attempt to penetrate the fog of past mistakes and advocate a path forward based on what the errors of Iraq tell us. Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, Thomas P M Barnett's newest book, works to correct this inadequacy by adding clarity to the challenges facing the world, recasting them as opportunities and reminding Americans that we are "the source code for globalization". (pg 423) Barnett's passionate belief comes across clearly in this book: Americans need to be reminded that even those things which make us feel insecure, such as China's rise, can only be understood as the American model having won over the decrepit model of communism. But this equally means that Americans are in a unique position to set the process back, in particular in response to the country's financial instability.

Given the current economic turmoil, when baser instincts are to look outside our borders for others to blame, Barnett's book is a well-reasoned argument for America to re-imagine itself and re-engage with the world's problems, precisely when our impulses are to retract and disengage. Barnett believes that America has insights on politics, economic development and fostering innovation which are unique to our history. Many of the lessons of our development - in particular the uglier chapters of America's Civil War period - should be reminders to us of the challenges emerging countries will face. These memories should also empower a gracious patience on our part towards them as they develop.

Equally important, at time when many Americans question both the nature of their country's power and the means by which it should be used, Barnett reminds his readers that the US still has the military, diplomatic and economic power to make the world safer. In many ways, he wants to remind his readers that America is still a "Great Power".

INTERVIEW: Redefining America's global role (Asia Times, 3/21/09)
The February release of Tom Barnett's latest book, Great Powers: America and the World after Bush, is the most recent in a line of bestselling books that have advocated a different model of engagement for US military power coupled to a new structure of how America can deal with threats to its safety and security. Benjamin A Shobert interviewed Dr Barnett. [...]

Benjamin A Shobert: I think some readers might struggle with your thoughts on the "exact nature of our mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan" (pg 52). Specifically, if you knew America didn't have, as you call it, a "department of everything else" to deal with the aftermath of Iraq, don't you run the risk of leaving behind an even more unstable situation than the one you inherited?

Tom Barnett: Absolutely, that was a risk. My argument was that there is no way the US military was ever going to break its Vietnam syndrome (we self deter and limit our impact on regime changes because we're not comfortable with the post-war requirements of nation-building and counter-insurgency), unless something along the lines of Iraq occurred. That's easy to say from where I'm sitting, but the long hard slog in Iraq was going to trigger a process of evolution the military needed to go through.

Looking at it as a sequence of unfolding events, Iraq will be judged by history to be relatively unimportant in a strategic sense, not unlike Britain's Boar War. It is not game-changing in the sense it is not a conflict where American "empire" had gone to die. Rather, it serves as a crucial turning point in the US military's evolution: yielding the type of military that we need so that we can step up to future challenges in this global security environment.

Benjamin A Shobert: But doesn't that mean it was going to get out of control?

Tom Barnett: Truthfully, you could say to the region, "I can't control this." If you look at what was happening in the region around 2005, the events in Iraq were triggering a load of positive change in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, etc. Granted not all of it was going to turn out well, but overall there was this sense that there was no going back and that some of the change was going to be quite meaningful.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Japan scores three in eighth to win Pool 1, will meet U.S. in semis (, 3/20/09)

The World Baseball Classic is heading to Hollywood, and what could be more marquee than Daisuke Matsuzaka against Jake Peavy at Dodger Stadium?

That's the expected pitching matchup for the second semifinal Sunday night in Los Angeles, when defending WBC champion Japan will face hobbled Team USA. [...]

Although the Japanese haven't announced Dice-K as the starter, it's his turn in the rotation and he hasn't pitched since throwing six brilliant innings in a 6-0 victory against Cuba on Sunday. The Boston Red Sox ace is 5-0 in five appearances during two WBCs. He's 2-0 this year after going 3-0 in leading Japan to the inaugural WBC championship in 2006, when he was named tournament MVP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Commanding The Heights Of Hypocrisy (Michael Gerson, March 20, 2009, Washington Post)

AIG's November SEC filing set out its intention to provide more than $469 million in "retention payments" to employees, eliciting a smattering of congressional protest. Concerns on the broader compensation issue were serious enough to ensure unanimous Senate passage of an amendment to the stimulus bill sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe and Ron Wyden that penalized bailout bonuses in excess of $100,000.

But the Snowe-Wyden amendment disappeared into the misty bog of a House-Senate conference committee, only to be trumped by language that grandfathered in AIG's retention bonuses. At first, this seemed to be an example of immaculate legislation -- miraculously fatherless. After explicitly denying responsibility, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd eventually admitted to including the exception under pressure from the administration. But it doesn't sound like there was much of a fight. Administration input came from unnamed staffers at the Treasury Department, not high-level officials. Dodd said he viewed these as "innocent modifications." [...]

"This is an example," thunders Rep. Barney Frank, "of people at the commanding heights of the economy misbehaving, abusing the system" -- which is completely true . . . of the conference committee that reshaped the stimulus bill in secret.

...the GOP said "no" to all this.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


New Canadians flock to better life in suburbs (Nicholas Keung and Lesley Ciarula Taylor, 3/20/09, Toronto Star)

Recent immigrants in smaller suburban communities are faring better than those setting roots in big cities when it comes to jobs, incomes and homeownership, says a new study that measures newcomers' life quality across Canada.

The report shows immigrants to the Greater Toronto Area are increasingly choosing the 905 regions as their destination over Toronto. Even those initially settling in the city are then moving on to the suburbs.

The study, conducted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, compared how newcomers who have been in the country for five years or more and living in the suburbs fared against their counterparts in the city. It found those living outside big cities were less likely to be living off social assistance, less likely to be unemployed, twice as likely to have a university degree and more likely to own homes.

Getting them to choose America is only the first step. Next we need to help them move to our neighborhoods and escape the cities we fled.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Little change in survival rates despite cancer spending plan: Cash injection has failed to have impact, study shows (Sarah Boseley, 1/20/09,

The government's national cancer plan, backed by a massive injection of cash for cancer services in England, has failed to boost survival rates substantially, a major study shows today.

The findings will dismay government ministers, who have secured a tripling of spending on cancer over the last decade with the ambition of bringing the UK from among the worst countries up to the standard of the best in Europe. But the authoritative study, from a team led by Professor Michel Coleman at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, shows that survival rates have barely shifted since the cancer plan was launched in 2000.

"We are at best keeping track with improvements elsewhere rather than closing the gap," says an editorial in the journal which publishes today's study, Lancet Oncology.

...but by testing people so that you can find ever more non-threatening "cancers."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


'Throw that cheese' (Daniel Hartill, March 20, 2009, SunJournal)

Despite the sandlot rules and the tiny, plastic snap of the bat, Wiffle ball is serious stuff.

"You have no idea how much this means to me," 16-year-old Aaron Olsen said, squirming Thursday as he waited for his at-bat in a tied semifinal game. "I'd rather do this than the prom."

Praise and good-natured trash talk mixed and echoed across the Lewiston High School gym, where the intramural sport was nearing a run.

"Throw that cheese!" someone yelled from the bleachers to pitcher Conroy LeBlond of team Notorious.

A moment later the plastic ball dodged the head of the yellow bat, ending the inning. As Notorious left the gym floor, LeBlond shared a grin with Olsen, his opponent from team 3 Fresh 3 Clean.

"Nice pitch," Olsen said, his nerves on pause.

For a month, the two teams and 10 others have been meeting for games after each school day.

About 90 kids have built the informal sport - played in the March doldrums between winter and spring sports - into a thriving contest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Democrats blame each other on AIG bonuses (AP, March. 19, 2009

The case of the missing AIG bonus limits has become a tale of political intrigue and Democratic infighting that could threaten the re-election chances of a top senator and the credibility — if not the career — of one of President Obama's top advisers.

As the House passed new legislation Thursday to crack down on the outrage-inspiring bonuses, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, the Banking Committee chairman, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner engaged in finger-pointing about who was responsible for Congress' failure to prevent them in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Poll: Americans Have Come Full Circle On Iraq (CBS, 3/19/09)

Sixty-four percent of Americans now say U.S. efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq are going at least somewhat well. That's the highest percentage since December 2003, shortly after the U.S. capture of Saddam Hussein.

Just one year ago, only 43 percent described things in Iraq as going well. In June 2007, the percentage who said as much was just 22 percent. Americans began feeling more positive about the situation in Iraq last fall.

While one man stayed the course.

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March 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Millard Kaufman, 92, a Creator of Mr. Magoo, Dies (WILLIAM GRIMES, 3/19/09, NY Times)

Millard Kaufman, who wrote Oscar-nominated screenplays for “Take the High Ground!” and “Bad Day at Black Rock,” helped create the cartoon character Mr. Magoo and made a belated debut as a novelist at 90, died in Los Angeles on Saturday. [...]

The taut, punchy screenplay for “Take the High Ground!” (1953), in which Karl Malden and Richard Widmark play drill sergeants whipping raw recruits into shape during the Korean War, earned Mr. Kaufman the first of two Oscar nominations.

The second came with “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955), a racially charged drama, part western and part film noir, about a desert town whose residents have murdered a Japanese immigrant. Spencer Tracy, as the one-armed World War II veteran who comes to give the Japanese man his dead son’s war medal, encounters duplicity, hatred and moral cowardice in a film credited with helping to change the depiction of Asians in Hollywood films.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


Mexico Bites Back (INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY, March 19, 2009)

Congressional Democrats have a bad habit of viewing treaty obligations as favors, forgetting that trade is a two-way street. Now that they've broken NAFTA, the Mexicans are about to educate them.

Responding to Congress' scrapping of a North American Free Trade Agreement obligation to let Mexican trucks enter the U.S., Mexico's government retaliated with $2.4 billion in tariffs on 89 U.S. goods that had gone to Mexico duty-free since 1994.

The Mexicans made no bones about why they were doing it: If the U.S. won't honor the treaty it signed in 1993, then they won't either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 PM


Never again should he be allowed to speak without a teleprompter, even if it does reduce him to Gaelic.

Champion Special Olympics bowler Kolan McConiughey challenges Obama after the president's "Tonight Show" remark (Jo Mathis, 3/20/09, The Ann Arbor News)

OK, Mr. President. You think your pitiful bowling skills are something you'd see at the Special Olympics?

An Ann Arbor man has a challenge for you.

"Bring it on, Obama!" says Kolan McConiughey, who is proud of the six Special Olympics bowling medals he's won as well as the fact that he's bowled five perfect games. "I challenge him! I'll show him how to do it." [...]

As the media descended on him Friday morning at his favorite bowling alley - Colonial Lanes Bowling Center - McConiughey switched from his denim Busch's shirt to one from the Special Olympics, then donned a couple medals, took out his bowling ball and walked to a lane.
News file photoMcConiughey with a bowling pin ackowledging one of his perfect games.
Then he threw strike after strike and a few spares as well, impressing the crew from "Inside Edition."

His foster mother, Jan Pardy, said that Special Olympics has given him a chance to shine, and that all the recent attention has been good for him."

"He's being recognized for what he does well," he said. "And not just bowling. He does his job well too, and he has lots of friends."

The Unicorn Rider, by contrast, can't bowl, can't do his job, and has no friends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


Obama envoy Holbrooke served on AIG's board (RICHARD LARDNER, 3/19/09, AP)

Obama administration special envoy Richard Holbooke was on the American International Group Inc. board of directors in early 2008 when the insurance company locked in the bonuses now stoking national outrage. Holbrooke, a veteran diplomat who is now the administration's point man on Pakistan and Afghanistan, served on the board between 2001 and mid-2008.

During that period, AIG undertook the aggressive investment strategies that led to a near-collapse and forced a multibillion-dollar federal bailout.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


Another lobbyist waiver for W.H.? (JEN DIMASCIO, 3/19/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama’s pledge to outlaw lobbyists from his administration is being tested again. His pick for assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs is Richard Verma, a partner at the Steptoe & Johnson law firm.

Obama’s lobbying rules, though, forbid appointees from working in government on issues they had advocated for. An administration official told Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog that a waiver would not be required for Verma because he had not lobbied the State Department.

Senate records, however, indicate that Verma had lobbied the State Department last fall on behalf of the U.S.-India Business Council, which was actively trying to win congressional approval of a deal between the two countries on civilian nuclear cooperation.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Republicans Show Startling Strength in Race for Michigan Governor (Michael Barone, 3/19/09, Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

Barack Obama carried Michigan 57-41 percent and in 2006 Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, ineligible to run in 2010, won her second term in 2006 by a margin of 56-42 percent and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow was reelected by a margin of 57-41 percent: a pretty clear pattern. But now Democratic Lt. Gov. John Cherry seems to be running behind Republicans like Attorney General Mike Cox and Rep. Pete Hoekstra—with none of the three particularly well known to most Michigan voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Gordon Brown is frustrated by 'Psycho' in No 10 (Tim Walker, 18 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)

While not exactly a film buff, Gordon Brown was touched when Barack Obama gave him a set of 25 classic American movies – including Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins on his recent visit to Washington.

Alas, when the PM settled down to begin watching them the other night, he found there was a problem.

The films only worked in DVD players made in North America and the words "wrong region" came up on his screen. Although he mournfully had to put the popcorn away, he is unlikely to jeopardise the special relationship – or "special partnership", as we are now supposed to call it – by registering a complaint.

It still makes you ashamed of your country, but it wasn't a PM we owe much.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:45 PM


’07 U.S. Births Break Baby Boom Record (ERIK ECKHOLM, 3/19/09, NY Times)

More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than in any other year in American history, according to preliminary data reported Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The 4,317,000 births in 2007 just edged out the figure for 1957, at the height of the baby boom. The increase reflected a slight rise in childbearing by women of all ages, including those in their 30s and 40s, and a record share of births to unmarried women. [...]

Teenage abortion rates have been falling for years and are not believed to be a major factor in the birth trends. “The decline resulted from less sex and more contraception,” Ms. Brown said. “So the new trend must involve some combination of more sex and less contraception.”

Teen abortion rates fall but the rise in births to teens is unrelated?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Obama Choice Surprises Europeans (Gregor Peter Schmitz, 3/19/09, Der Spiegel)

Traditionally, the United States appoints the supreme commander and the Europeans pick the NATO secretary general. The decision to appoint Mattis appeared to be a logical one. He has long carried the title "Supreme Allied Commander Transformation."

In the end, though, Mattis didn't get the appointment. Instead, Defense Minister Robert Gates announced that Admiral James Stavridis would be nominated for the highly prestigious position. The US Senate and the NATO Council must approve his nomination, but it appears likely he will get through. Gates said Stavridis was "probably one of the best senior military officers" in the US.

In Brussels, though, many felt bluffed. "America treats this like it's purely an American matter -- and they didn't even give any hints about the appointment," one NATO employee said. "The conspiratorial manner of the personnel search was almost reminiscent of the way the pope is selected," Stefani Weiss, a NATO expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation in Brussels, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

There's nothing wrong with showing the Europeans how trivial they are, but it is funny that they expected different from the UR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


A Dangerous European Export : Several European nations are turning away from vaccination and are now spreading disease. (Roger Bate, March 19, 2009, The American)

Steadily weakening vaccination coverage in Britain and four other countries is undermining efforts to eradicate measles across Europe and increasing the threat to the United States. An unfounded fear that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is causing autism is making rising numbers of people sick.

For example, British measles infections are rising rapidly today. In the United States, in the first seven months of last year, 89 percent of the 131 cases of measles reported “were imported from or associated with importations from other countries, particularly countries in Europe, where several outbreaks are ongoing,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. “Measles is one of the first diseases to reappear when vaccination coverage rates fall,” CDC noted.

EUVac, a European network for tracking vaccine-preventable diseases, found Europeans have also taken measles to South America, which was previously free of the disease. EUVac blamed Britain, Germany, Romania, Switzerland, and Italy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Chinese spy who defected tells all: Says mission is to 'control' (Bill Gertz, 3/19/09, Washington Times)

A veteran Chinese intelligence officer who defected to the United States says that his country's civilian spy service spends most of its time trying to steal secrets overseas but also works to bolster Beijing's Communist Party rule by repressing religious and political dissent internally.

"In some sense you can say that intelligence work between two countries is just like war but without the fire," Li Fengzhi told The Washington Times in an interview aided by an interpreter. [...]

Mr. Li said he left China's intelligence services to protest the agency's role in government repression of political dissidents and religious groups that are outside of the ruling communist system.

The MSS, mainly a foreign intelligence service, is "deeply" involved in domestic repression of nonofficial Christian churches and the outlawed Falun Gong religious group, Mr. Li said.

"The Ministry of State Security is actually not doing things for the security of the country, but rather they spend a lot of effort to control the people, the dissidents, the lower-class Chinese people, and make these people suffer and also make their life miserable," he said.

In the interview, he also said:

• China's spy agency is focused on sending spies to infiltrate the U.S. intelligence community, and also on collecting secrets and technology from the United States. "China spends a tremendous effort to send out spies to important countries like the U.S. to collect information," Mr. Li said.

PETER LOCKLEY/THE WASHINGTON TIMES Li Fengzhi, who worked for years as a Ministry of State Security intelligence officer inside China, is in the U.S. awaiting political asylum.

• China is censoring the Internet to prevent the population from knowing about what occurs outside the country.

• An internal MSS manual that is kept secret from most officers outlines the primary role of the service as the promotion of Communist Party's interests.

• Ongoing cooperation between the CIA and FBI and the MSS in countering international terrorism can be constructive, but U.S. agencies need to be cautious because the MSS is mainly an organ of the Chinese Communist Party, and does not directly serve the interests of the Chinese nation or people, he said.

Like the USSR, China has to steal what it can't innovate and use its power to control its own population, not to fight us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Topple Somali leader - Bin Laden (BBC, 3/19/09)

Osama Bin Laden has called for the overthrow of Somalia's moderate Islamist president in an audio recording published on the internet.

Bin Laden said President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed had "changed to partner up with the infidel".

...though we don't know our allies.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Monstrously Anti-Life (Quin Hillyer, 3.19.09, American Spectator)

Abortion is a tough, tough topic.

That's why I've never written a single column, in all my years as a journalist, directly about abortion. Oh, sure, I've touched on it in passing -- quick lamentations about the pathetic legal reasoning of Roe v. Wade and its embarrassing progeny such as the Casey case; reminders that the public strongly supports social-conservative positions on satellite issues such as partial-birth abortion, parental notice laws, and informed consent; utter opposition to making taxpayers finance abortions even if it violates their deepest beliefs -- but I've always avoided the central issue itself.

Until now.

The most radically anti-life administration in American history is on the march, trampling over every moral qualm of the pro-life community by forcing taxpayer funding of various abortion-related services here and abroad, weakening (and threatening to eliminate) the rights of conscience of those who do not want to aid abortions, making Catholic hospitals fear they might need to close down rather than abet what they consider to be mortal sins, appointing radically pro-abort officials to high positions, and reversing President Bush's elegant and thoughtful executive order on embryonic stem cell research. All of which should not surprise, considering that our president is so monstrously -- yes, monstrously -- anti-life that he opposed legislation to protect infants born alive after "botched" abortions. There's a more precise term for the actions defended by his Illinois legislative position: murder.

So the Darwinian Right got what it wanted from opposing Sarah Palin and her running mate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Getting Their Kirk On (THOMAS VINCIGUERRA, 3/19/09, NY Times)

Serious Trekkies have long fashioned copies of their favorite costumes and props, and, back in the ’70s and ’80s, a few even put together homemade knockoffs of the captain’s chair, using reference materials like the “Starfleet Technical Manual” and “U.S.S. Enterprise Bridge Blueprints.”

But lately fans like Mr. Veazie have been building or buying more sophisticated versions of the command module from which James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner, ordered “Ahead, warp factor six.” Moreover, they are making them the centerpiece of their homes, thus conquering what is for them a final frontier of domestic décor.

...what's really troubling is their Ayn Rand blow-up dolls.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Hill Democrats blame W.H. (LISA LERER & VICTORIA MCGRANE | 3/19/09 , Politico)

Congressional Democrats took aim at the Obama administration Wednesday, blaming the president’s economic team for creating a loophole that allowed AIG to pay its employees millions of dollars in bonuses and then not doing enough to stop the bonuses when it could.

And their warp-speed effort to get the money back made it clear that congressional Democrats don’t think the White House is moving fast enough to solve the problem now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM

Scrumptious Slow-Cooker Beef Stew (From Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross' Desperation Dinners)

• 1 cup cubed white potatoes (peel first if desired)

• 1 cup (about 20) baby carrots

• 1 cup diced celery

• 8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms

• 1 ½ pounds lean beef cubes for stew

• ½ envelope ( ¼ cup) dry onion-soup recipe mix

• 2 bay leaves

• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

• ½ teaspoon dried thyme

• ¼ teaspoon pepper

• 1 (14 ½-ounce) can fat-free beef broth

• 1 (10 ¾-ounce) reduced-fat, reduced-sodium cream of mushroom soup

• 1 (14 ½-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice

• ½ cup frozen green peas

• 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Place potatoes evenly in bottom of slow-cooker pot. Scatter carrots, then celery over potatoes. Add remaining ingredients except peas and cornstarch in order given.

Cover pot, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender.

Remove lid, and stir stew well. Rinse frozen peas with warm tap water to defrost slightly, and add to pot. Mix cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water in a small jar that has a lid. Cover and shake to combine well. Gradually add half of cornstarch mixture to stew, stirring gently but well. Add remaining cornstarch as needed to reach desired consistency. Serve at once.

March 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


US rejects deal to end long Gitmo hunger strike (BEN FOX, 3/18/09, Associated Press)

The U.S. has rejected a Guantanamo prisoner's proposal to end his 3 1/2-year hunger strike in exchange for easing his conditions at the American prison in Cuba, saying such a deal would undermine security and encourage similar protests.

A federal judge in Washington had urged U.S. authorities to consider the proposed deal in the case of Ahmed Zuhair, a Saudi prisoner who has refused to eat since the summer of 2005 and is force-fed a liquid nutrient mix to keep him alive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 PM


Dodd: Administration pushed for language protecting bonuses (CNN, 3/18/09)

Senate Banking committee Chairman Christopher Dodd told CNN Wednesday that he was responsible for language added to the federal stimulus bill to make sure that already-existing contracts for bonuses at companies receiving federal bailout money were honored.

Dodd acknowledged his role in the change after a Treasury Department official told CNN the administration pushed for the language.

Both Dodd and the official, who asked not to be named, said it was because administration officials were afraid the government would face numerous lawsuits without the new language. [...]

On Tuesday, Dodd denied to CNN that he had anything to do with adding the language, which has been used by officials at bailed-out insurance giant AIG to justify paying millions of dollars in bonuses to executives after receiving federal money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


Generic Congressional Ballot (Rasmussen Reports, March 17, 2009)

Support for the Democratic Congressional candidates fell to a new low over the past week, allowing the GOP to move slightly head for the first time in recent years in the Generic Congressional Ballot.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 41% said they would vote for their district’s Republican candidate while 39% would choose the Democrat.

Investors now favor Republicans by a 46% to 36% margin, while non-investors would vote Democratic by a 45% to 33% margin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM

THEY'RE JUST ROUND SUZY-Q's (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Whoopie! Cookie, Pie or Cake, It's Having Its Moment (MICHELINE MAYNARD, 3/18/09, NY Times)

FOR generations, vacationers in Maine and visitors to Pennsylvania’s Amish country have found a simple black and white snack in restaurants and convenience shops and on nearly every gas station counter: whoopie pies.

They were found in other pockets of the country, too, from New England to Ohio. But in most of the United States, people could be forgiven for not knowing that the whoopie pie is not, in fact, a pie at all. (It is sometimes described as a cookie, but that is not quite right, either. The closest description may be a cake-like sandwich, or perhaps a sandwich-like cake.)

Now whoopie pies are migrating across the country, often appearing in the same specialty shops and grocery aisles that recently made room for cupcakes. Last fall, they even cracked the lineup at Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan, which helped turn cupcakes into a national craze thanks to the bakery’s exposure on “Sex and the City.” Under the name “sweetie pies,” heart-shaped whoopie pies showed up in the February catalog from Williams-Sonoma. Baked in Maine with local butter and organic eggs, they sell for $49 a dozen.

Whoopie Pies (NY Times, 3/18/09)

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1 cup buttermilk


3 large egg whites

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), at room temperature

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon sea salt.

1. For the cakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until light and creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the baking soda, salt, flour and cocoa. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in three parts, alternating with buttermilk, and combining well after each addition.

2. Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, scoop out 12 1/4-cup mounds of batter and place about 6 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before filling.

3. For the buttercream filling: For best results, follow directions carefully, paying attention to required temperatures. Fill bottom half of a double boiler (or a medium saucepan) with an inch or two of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. In top half of double boiler (or a metal bowl), combine egg whites and sugar. Place over simmering water and whisk just until sugar is dissolved and temperature reaches 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

4. Using a whisk attachment on a heavy-duty mixer, whisk egg whites and sugar on high until they double in volume and become thick and shiny. Continue to whisk until cool. Reduce speed to medium and begin to add butter about 1/2 tablespoon at a time, until all the butter is incorporated. Add vanilla and salt. If mixture looks curdled, continue to whisk until it is smooth. Increase speed to high and whisk for 1 more minute. Use immediately or place in an airtight container and chill for up to 3 days, whisking buttercream again before using.

5. For assembly: Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, place 1/4 cup buttercream on flat side of each of 6 cakes, spreading it to edges. Top filled half with another cake to sandwich the buttercream. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or wrap individually and freeze for up to 3 months.

But can they perform miracles, like these bad boys can?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Obama Open to Special Bonus Tax (Shailagh Murray, Paul Kane and Michael D. Shear, 3/18/09, The Washington Post)

As Geithner and other Obama aides continued to scramble to pull back the bonuses and calm the public furor they sparked, Congress was preparing its own remedies. In what they acknowledged would be an extraordinary move, leading Democrats proposed using the tax code to punish executives at the firm, in which the federal government controls an 80 percent stake, unless those payouts are surrendered voluntarily. [...]

On Monday, Obama expressed his unhappiness with the bonuses and directed government lawyers to review the company's contracts to determine whether provisions guaranteeing the payments could be overturned. Last week, the administration persuaded the company to restructure some of the payments, and AIG's top seven executives had earlier agreed to forgo their bonuses through this year.

Yesterday, Gibbs said Obama was open to the idea of a special tax on the bonuses, along with other options that lawmakers were floating, including legal action against AIG. “Obviously, the president is committed to working as quickly as possible with Congress to find ways to recoup this money.”

...and President of the Harvard Law Review might have some passing acquantaince with the concept of a bill of attainder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


Word to the Blogosphere: On Not Preaching to the Choir (Ron Rosenbaum On March 18, 2009, PJM)

Preaching to the choir: that’s what so many bloggers in the increasingly stultified, conformist, Crips-and-Bloods gang war atmosphere of liberal and conservative blogs do. As someone who reads both liberal and conservative blogs, I find the comments a sad echo chamber that often does little more than mouth the pieties of each position with little more than smug bile to add, thus reaffirming the blogger’s own self-satisfied, inside-the-box predictability for fear of the lynch mob mentality with which any dissent from the accepted position is punished.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Bestiality Soon to Be Outlawed in Florida (BRIAN HAMACHER, Mar 18, 2009, NBC Miami)

The State's Senate agriculture committee, in a long overdue measure, has voted unanimously to charge anyone who has sex with animals with a third-degree felony.

Amazingly, Florida is one of 16 states that still permits bestiality, despite the obvious harm caused to the victim - in most cases the family pet or farm animal.

"There's a tremendous correlation between sexually deviant behavior and crimes against children and crimes against animals," said Sen. Nan Rich, a Sunrise Democrat, told the Miami Herald. "This is long overdue. These are heinous crimes. And people belong in jail."

Pretty rare these days for Democrats to define deviancy up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:48 PM


White House, Dems backpedaling on AIG (David Espo, 3/18/09, AP)

"It's shocking that they would -- the administration would come to us now and act surprised about these contracts," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate GOP leader. "This administration could have and should have ... prevented this from happening. They had a lot of leverage two weeks ago."

That would be when the Treasury Department decided to make an additional $30 billion available to American International Group Inc., the huge insurance conglomerate deemed too big to fail by two administrations.

Which goes to the crux of the Democrats' current political problem.

Gone are the days when they could merely bludgeon the Bush administration and promise to seek bipartisan solutions to the nation's economic problems.

Now, in control of the White House and Congress, they are struggling to come up with an explanation for what no one in either party seems moved to defend.

...and they can't blame W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Irish PM Brian Cowen left red-faced after delivering Obama speech at White House (Times of London, 3/18/09)

As the Irish Taoiseach delivered his St Patrick's Day speech at a White House dinner party, it emerged that he was accidentally reading off the teleprompter one made by President Obama only minutes earlier.

"We begin by welcoming today a strong friend of the United States," he began and continued in that vein for about 20 seconds before - realising he was experiencing more than the usual case of déjà vu - he looked back at the US President and said: "That's your speech!"

Gesturing at the teleprompter, he said: "Why don't these things work for me? Who said these things were idiot-proof?"

Mr Obama is becoming known as the 'teleprompter president' for his excessive use of the prompting screens, which retract when speeches are finished.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 PM


Center Stage for the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean (Robert D. Kaplan, March/April 2009, Foreign Affairs)

So in what quarter of the earth today can one best glimpse the future? Because of their own geographic circumstances, Americans, in particular, continue to concentrate on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. World War II and the Cold War shaped this outlook: Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, the Soviet Union, and communist China were all oriented toward one of these two oceans. The bias is even embedded in mapping conventions: Mercator projections tend to place the Western Hemisphere in the middle of the map, splitting the Indian Ocean at its far edges. And yet, as the pirate activity off the coast of Somalia and the terrorist carnage in Mumbai last fall suggest, the Indian Ocean -- the world's third-largest body of water -- already forms center stage for the challenges of the twenty-first century.

The greater Indian Ocean region encompasses the entire arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Although the Arabs and the Persians are known to Westerners primarily as desert peoples, they have also been great seafarers. In the Middle Ages, they sailed from Arabia to China; proselytizing along the way, they spread their faith through sea-based commerce. Today, the western reaches of the Indian Ocean include the tinderboxes of Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan -- constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug smuggling. Hundreds of millions of Muslims -- the legacy of those medieval conversions -- live along the Indian Ocean's eastern edges, in India and Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.

While we have China and the Arab world surrounded, you can see from the map that while we're wrapped around about 2/3rds of the Indian Ocean (Australia, Indonesia, India) we do need a couple allies in East Africa. That's why Kenya, in particular, matters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 PM


Migrants still the lifeblood of economies (New Zealand Herald, Mar 19, 2009)

During fraught economic times, competition for jobs can have malign consequences. One of these is hostility to migrants, who are accused of stealing employment opportunities. Already, there has been evidence of this in Britain, with demonstrations outside oil refineries, and a reaction in Australia, where the migrant intake is to be slashed. Stirrings of a similar resentment have also begun in this country. It is to the Government's credit, therefore, that it has stated that not only will it not follow Australia's lead but it will make it easier for business and investor migrants to come here.

Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman will be building on a repair exercise begun two years ago. This saw the previous Government removing obstacles placed in front of investor migrants in 2005 when it was spooked by an outbreak of Winston Peters-inspired anti-immigration sentiment.

The calamitous outcome was the almost total evaporation of investor migrants and their investment dollars. Now, Mr Coleman says that, within months, he intends to offer even greater encouragement by lowering English language requirements and bringing minimum investment levels to "more realistic levels".

...that their denial reveals much about the denier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


Ice Water and Sweatboxes: The long and sadistic history behind the CIA's torture techniques. (Darius Rejali, March 17, 2009, Slate)

In the 20th century, there were two main traditions of clean torture—the kind that doesn't leave marks, as modern torturers prefer. The first is French modern, a combination of water- and electro-torture. The second is Anglo-Saxon modern, a classic list of sleep deprivation, positional and restraint tortures, extremes of temperature, noise, and beatings.

All the techniques in the accounts of torture by the International Committee of the Red Cross, as reported Monday, collected from 14 detainees held in CIA custody, fit a long historical pattern of Anglo-Saxon modern.

Mr. Rejali's book, Torture and Democracy, like this essay, is useful precisely because it refutes the notion that torture is a departure from liberal democratic norms and demonstrates the great care we've taken to devise and implement "clean" (humane) methods for when we are forced by our enemies to resort to such unpleasantness.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


Growing up: Australia population hits 21.5 million (David Uren and Nicolas Perpitch, March 19, 2009, The Australian)

The growth rate of 1.84 per cent was the highest since 1970, after which advances in birth control and lower migration sent population growth plunging, dropping below 1 per cent for most of the following 30 years.

Although both birth and immigration rates can decline with a recession, the rapid population growth of recent years is expected to soften the impact of the global downturn.

"The faster rate of population growth means that the economy can grow at a faster pace," Commsec chief economist Craig James said. "More people in Australia means greater demands for houses, roads, schools, hospitals and a raft of retail goods, and as such is providing much needed stimulus in trying times for the global economy."

It's easier for the House GOP to blame subprime borrowers than to face the effects of their own nativism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


"Rape" and "holocaust" have no role in describing football (Simon Bird 18/03/2009,

Pundits are always searching for new words to describe footballing action, but Alan Pardew's use of the word "rape" on Match of the Day 2 at the weekend was mind-blowingly inappropriate. [...]

[I]t is the buffoons using words like rape and holocaust in the context of football who need censoring and educating. does seem more appropriate to assume such contact was consensual.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


Secrets of the Wizard of Oz : The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of the world's best-loved fairytales. As Judy Garland's famous film nears its 70th birthday, how much do its followers know about the story's use as an economic parable? (Rumeana Jahangir, 3/18/09, BBC News)

Baum published the book in 1900, just after the US emerged from a period of deflation and depression. Prices had fallen by about 22% over the previous 16 years, causing huge debt.

Farmers were among those badly affected, and the Populist political party was set up to represent their interests and those of industrial labourers.

The US was then operating on the gold standard - a monetary system which valued the dollar according to the quantity of gold. The Populists wanted silver, along with gold, to be used for money. This would have increased the US money supply, raised price levels and reduced farmers' debt burdens.

In 1964, high school teacher Henry Littlefield wrote an article outlining the notion of an underlying allegory in Baum's book. He said it offered a "gentle and friendly" critique of Populist thinking, and the story could be used to illuminate the late 19th Century to students.

Since its publication, teachers have used this take on the tale to help classes understand the issues of the era.

And Littlefield's theory has been hotly debated. He believed the characters could represent the personalities and themes of the late 1800s,with Dorothy embodying the everyman American spirit.


Dorothy: Everyman American

Scarecrow: Farmer

Tin Woodman: Industrial worker

Lion: William Jennings Bryan, politician who backed silver cause

Wizard of Oz: US presidents of late 19th Century

Wicked Witch: A malign Nature, destroyed by the farmers' most precious commodity, water.
Or simply the American West

Winged Monkeys: Native Americans or Chinese railroad workers, exploited by West

Oz: An abbreviation of 'ounce' or, as Baum claimed, taken from the O-Z of a filing cabinet?

Emerald City: Greenback paper money, exposed as fraud

Munchkins: Ordinary citizens

-ESSAY: The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism (Henry M. Littlefield, Spring 1964, American Quarterly)
-ESSAY: The Rise and Fall of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a "Parable on Populism" (David B. Parker, 1994, JOURNAL OF THE GEORGIA ASSOCIATION OF HISTORIANS)
-ESSAY: So Was the Wizard of Oz an Allegory for Populism? (Quentin P. Taylor, Feb 2005, Independent Review)
-ESSAY: Colors/ Ruby (and beyond) (Darren Wershler-Henry, Fall 2001, Cabinet)
-ESSAY: The Fork in the Yellow Brick Road (David B. Parker, 49th Parallel)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Don't Repeat Japan's Mistake: We know how to fix banks. We did it the 1990s. So why aren’t we taking that approach again? (Stephen Robert, 3/18/09, Daily Beast)

As is now well-known, by refusing to recognize the dire condition of Japan’s banks until the late 1990s, Japanese policy makers prolonged their country’s malaise and made economic recovery more difficult.

In the same decade, things were done dramatically differently in the US, when many savings and loan associations failed, and in Sweden. In both cases, the government quickly took control of the banks, cleaned up bad assets, and returned the banks to private ownership, a strategy that resulted in shorter and far less severe economic declines. Sweden had to choose between hoping its banks could earn their way back to solvency or taking them over for a brief period. The Swedish government decided that the former path was too dangerous because it could be lengthy or things could get worse—something that with each passing day may now be dawning on the new Obama administration. In the US in the early 1990s, the government set up the Resolution Trust Corp. to deal with the toxic assets infecting the balance sheets of failing S&Ls.

This time around, however, the US Treasury Department appears to be veering toward the problematic Japanese approach. [...]

This bank-cleansing process could happen relatively quickly. IndyMac, seized in late 2008 by the FDIC, is already in the process of being returned to private ownership. Washington Mutual, another recent ward of the government, was restructured and quickly sold to JP Morgan Chase. Nor does the government have to get in the position of trying to manage these institutions over an extended time period, something critics have argued, probably correctly, that it is incapable of doing. The government can, and often has, financially restructured banks and changed boards and managements before privatizing them once again. And there is another hopeful precedent to proceeding in this fashion: When the US government took over scores of S&Ls in the 1990s, the cost to the taxpayers turned out to be only about 20 percent of what was predicted.

With every passing day of White House indecision, George H. W. Bush looks better, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


The Hunting of the Denby: a review of Snark by David Denby (Mark Steyn, March 2009, Commentary)

[I] confess to some misgivings about the mode of public discourse in 21st-century America.

I am, therefore, amenable to the premise of Snark, * a 144-page treatise by the film critic of The New Yorker (no, not Anthony Lane; the other one). Where I part company with David Denby is with David Denby. With the best will in the world, he doesn’t seem the obvious go-to guy for a “polemic in seven fits.”

What’s a “fit”? It’s the sub-division of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting Of The Snark. Carroll’s nonsense had eight fits, but Denby sputters to a close after seven—that’s all the fits that fit, and even then you feel maybe three or four of them don’t really fit. Snark’s sub-title is “It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation,” but he never quite pins down what “it” is. It’s not “nasty comedy, incessant profanity, trash talk, any kind of satire, and certain kinds of invective,” all of which he claims to be in favor of, but rather “the bad kind of invective.”

“Perhaps,” says the author on page one, “a few contrasts will make the difference clear.” So he contrasts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert with Penn Jillette and Adam La-Duca. Just for the record, Messrs Stewart and Colbert are kings of the late-night “ironic” news shows that form the primary source of information on current events for 79 percent of Americans under the age of 30 or whatever it’s up to now. By “contrast,” Jillette is one half of Siegfried & Roy—no, wait, Penn & Teller, the Vegas illusionists. And LaDuca is, er, a student who used to be president of the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans and now has a Facebook page.

Why a bigshot New Yorker writer is hanging out on the Facebook pages of obscure Pennsylvania students, I have no idea. But that sounds rather snarky, so let’s move on. The point is: These are apples and sausages. One might usefully contrast two liberal satirists starring in their own nightly TV shows with two conservative satirists starring in their own nightly TV shows, but unfortunately there aren’t any of the latter. Hence, the author’s complaint that a Pennsylvania student’s Facebook page isn’t as devastatingly witty as The Daily Show. Golly, maybe Adam LaDuca has a smaller writing staff than Jon Stewart. [...]

Back in the 90’s, David Letterman did a Top Ten list about a Clinton/Yeltsin summit. It wasn’t going down so well, so, midway through, the host stopped to explain it to the audience: “The one guy eats, the other guy drinks. That’s all you need to know.” Indeed. Denby’s “layer of knowingness” is really a wafer-thin veneer—knowingness for the unknowing. Bush? Dumb. McCain? Old. Palin? Hang on: Also dumb. When Denby bemoans “the feebleness of snark” by citing Maureen Dowd’s arthritic walker-dependent “running jokes” about “Poppy” Bush and “Babysitter” Cheney, he is, almost, on to something: This is sophisticated cynicism for the gullibly naïve.

Nevertheless, it is surely ironic that a writer who coos at every opportunity his appreciation of irony (“the most powerful of satiric weapons”) seems to lack the vital precondition for irony—the ability to imagine the other. Why is Bush so obviously a buffoon and Gore so profoundly a “serious man”? Well, because Denby voted for one and despises the other. Say what you will about the creators of the British magazine Private Eye, to whom he devotes considerable space, but they’re equal-opportunity jeerers. In American terms, Richard Ingrams, Private Eye’s founder, would be reviled as a homophobe, a racist, and an anti-Semite. When co-owner Peter Cook’s comedy partner Dudley Moore went off to California in the late 1970’s to romance Bo Derek in 10, Cook was sympathetic: “I suppose if you’re a lower-middle-class midget from Dagenham with a club foot, being a Hollywood star must seem quite a good deal.” [...]

For my own part, I find the divide between Colbertian “irony” and Dowd-esque “snark” less of a chasm than Denby imagines: Both are part of a self-referential present-tense culture bobbing around in circles on the surface, and it’s foolish to argue degrees of precedence between flotsam and jetsam.

The humor of Mr. Colbert is ironic in a very particular way. Because he ostensibly adopts a fictional persona he is free to say and his audience to laugh at the things that being PC in "real life" forbids them. He is just saying what they really think beneath the surface. He doesn't do comedy, he does political commentary.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The 5 biggest myths about Obama (ALEX CONANT, 3/18/09, Politico)

1. Obama is bold. Actually, he is overly cautious. It’s no coincidence the first bills he signed into law were the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, two populist favorites. Signing these bills was not an act of courage any more than attacking lobbyists or selecting Joe Biden as a running mate. In fact, Obama’s entire agenda is cautious (sometimes to a fault, in the case of his housing and banking bailouts). [...]

2. Obama is a great communicator. Cut away the soaring rhetoric in his speeches, and the resulting policy statements are often vague, lawyerly and confusing. . [...]

4. Obama is smooth. Despite being deliberate, Obama is surprisingly gaffe-prone. Reporters on my e-mail lists last year know he consistently mispronounced, misnamed or altogether forgot where he was. (In one typical gaffe in Sioux Falls, S.D., he started his speech with an enthusiastic “Thank you, Sioux City!”) His geographic gaffes are not just at routine rallies but at major events, including the Democratic National Convention and his first address to Congress. Any politician occasionally misspeaks, but the frequency of Obama’s flubs is notable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Martinez heats up immigration debate (GEBE MARTINEZ | 3/18/09, Politico)

Though Obama has promised to reform the immigration system, he has not decided when, leaving Martinez to conclude the delay shows a “lack of direction or interest.” But clearly, the Republican senator is putting pressure on the Democratic White House because there is little hope of changing the minds of his own party members standing under the incredible shrinking Republican Party tent.

Conservative Republicans rejected Martinez’s previous work with Kennedy on immigration bills that failed in the Senate in 2006 and 2007. (The second bill went down during Martinez’s 10-month stint as national party chairman, which he jokingly described to talk show host Jon Stewart as a “misguided adventure.”)

“I think that the reality of all that’s happened to our party in the last four years is beginning to dawn on people,” though not enough people, Martinez said later.

“I don’t want to be too optimistic, but at the same time, I think there are [Republican] folks who understand the importance of this issue as a human rights issue as well as a political issue. I am sure many minds have not been changed as well, but I think it’s possible.”

Pushing ahead, the Republican senator plans to keep bringing up the subject that few in Washington are ready to take on. “I want to be a little bit of an irritant until someone at the White House decides this needs to be on the agenda,” Martinez said.

The Senator wildly overestimates the decency and political savy of his House colleagues.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Brodeur The Goaltending Gold Standard After Record: Brodeur`s wins have all come as a member of the New Jersey Devils and he helped them to three Stanley Cup titles. (Javno, 3/18/09)

A champion, a winner, the gold standard for goaltending -- Martin Brodeur was bathed in accolades within seconds of setting a new record for NHL netminders by notching his 552nd career victory on Tuesday. [...]

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offered Brodeur the highest of praise after the Devils' 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in front of an adoring home crowd.

"Martin Brodeur is the gold standard of goaltending -- the model of character, consistency and commitment to the craft," Bettman said in a statement. "A champion. A winner above all.

"It is difficult to imagine any player who is more universally, and deservedly, respected. The National Hockey League is extremely proud of Martin, his historic achievement and his enduring contribution to our game."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Bush 43: I Want Obama to Succeed, Won't Criticize Him (Jake Tapper, March 17, 2009, Political Punch)

Today in Calgary, Alberta, former President George W. Bush said he would refrain from criticizing the Obama administration and he wants President Obama to succeed.

“I'm not going to spend my time criticising him. There's plenty of critics in the arena. I think it's time for the ex-president to tap dance off the stage and let the current president have a go at solving the world's problems,” the former president said in remarks to business executives. “He deserves my silence. And if he wants my help, he can pick up the phone.” [...]

The former president said he wants President Obama to succeed. “I love my country a lot more than I love politics. I think it is essential that he be helped in the office.”
Pure class.

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March 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


Jim Wallis: "Making Abortion Provision Part of Healthcare Reform Will Kill Healthcare Reform" (David Brody, March 17, 2009, CBN)

In a one on one interview, Jim Wallis, the president of Sojourners tells me the following:

“Making abortion provisions part of healthcare reform will kill healthcare reform.”…There are a number of people who believe this is an issue of deep moral conviction and conscience and there are firewalls that if they are breached will really destroy common ground.”

Reverend Wallis is considered progressive on many social issues including poverty reform which has been a driving force in his life. But on the abortion issue he is pro-life and when I asked him where he stands on abortion coverage as part of healthcare reform he told me, “I’m against it”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 PM


What Your Doctor Really Thinks Of You (Rebecca Ruiz, 03.16.09, Forbes)

Some patients are notorious for "bad" behavior. They arrive late to appointments. They insist on diagnosing themselves using information found on the Internet. They demand a prescription drug they saw in a TV ad, despite their physician's advice to the contrary.

Doctors are required to treat high-maintenance patients the same as well-liked ones, of course. But a recent study revealed that doctors who experience a high number of difficult encounters also reported more adverse outcomes, while another study showed that patients with weak ties to their primary physician were less likely to receive care consistent with established guidelines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


Girls do better without boys, study finds: Single-sex schools improve GCSE results and help struggling pupils (Polly Curtis, 3/18/09, The Guardian)

Girls are far more likely to thrive, get GCSEs and stay in education if they go to a single-sex school, according to new research, which reveals pupils who are struggling academically when they start secondary school reap the biggest rewards of girls-only schooling.

The analysis of the GCSE scores of more than 700,000 girls taught in the state sector concludes that those at girls' schools consistently made more progress than those in co-ed secondaries.

The fact that pupils with the lowest test scores when they started secondary made the biggest leap in girls' school will reopen the debate about whether more children should have access to a single-sex education in order to drive up results.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:02 PM


Best of all worlds (The National, March 18. 2009)

Flexitarianism is the now popular term for a diet which, while mainly consisting of vegetarian meals, supplements these with the occasional bit of meat and fish.

Would you be an inflexitarian if you mainly eat meat, grain and dairy with the occasional vegetable if The Wife is browbeating the kids?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Strained Ties (Emily Lowe, March 17, 2009, Slate)

But a surprising jump in home construction stops Obama from going into the red, bringing the Change-o-Meter to the first-ever score of 0.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Barack Obama will back a federal Europe: America's support for a more united Europe betrays both US and British interests (Nile Gardiner, 17 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Barack Obama heads to Britain and Europe in two weeks’ time as the leader of the first U.S. Administration to wholeheartedly back the creation of a federal Europe. In contrast to earlier U.S. administrations, including those of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Obama administration is avowedly Euro-federalist in outlook, and is keen to help build a European Union defense identity as well as support the foundations of a European superstate in Brussels.

This dangerous shift in U.S. policy is a betrayal of both U.S. and British interests that will threaten the long-term future of the Anglo-American Special Relationship, weaken the NATO alliance, and undermine the defence of British sovereignty in Europe. It will also undercut opposition across the EU to the Treaty of Lisbon, including in countries such as Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic, and may set the scene for a major confrontation between the Obama White House and a future Conservative administration in London. is because a united Europe would be so self-destructive that Anglo-American interests--considered solely as selfish security interest--would be served. As Brother Cohen was fond of pointing out, using Marshall Plan money to prop up the European social welfare states and NATO to take over their defense from them can best be seen as an American plot to neuter a Europe whose affairs we grew tired of sorting out. Encouraging a real EU would just be more aggressive euthanasia.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


ART AND HUMAN REALITY: A Talk With Denis Dutton (Introduction By Steven Pinker, Edge)

What we regard as the modern human personality evolved during the Pleistocene, between 1.6 million and 10,000 years ago. If you encountered one of your direct ancestors from the beginning of the Pleistocene moseying down the street today, you would probably call the SPCA and ask for a crew with tranquilizer darts and nets to cart the beast off to the zoo. If you saw somebody from the end of the Pleistocene, 10,000 years ago, you'd call the Immigration & Naturalization Service—by that time our ancestors wouldn't have appeared much different from any of us today. It is that crucial period, those 80,000 generations of the Pleistocene before the modern period, which is the key to understanding the evolution of human psychology. Features of life that makes us most human—language, religion, charm, seduction, social status-seeking, and the arts—came to be in this period, no doubt especially in the last 100,000 years.

The human personality—including those aspects of it that are imaginative, expressive, and creative—cries out for a Darwinian explanation.

...if art conveys an advantage such that increases your chance of natural selection, then why are so many artists queer?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Anger Over Firm Depletes Obama's Political Capital (Michael D. Shear and Paul Kane, 3/17/09, Washington Post)

President Obama's apparent inability to block executive bonuses at insurance giant AIG has dealt a sharp blow to his young administration and is threatening to derail both public and congressional support for his ambitious political agenda.

Politicians in both parties flocked to express outrage over $165 million in bonuses paid out to executives at the company, demanding answers from the president and swamping yesterday's rollout of his efforts to spark lending to small businesses.

The populist anger at the executives who ran their firms into the ground is increasingly blowing back on Obama, whom aides yesterday described as having little recourse in the face of legal contracts that guaranteed those bonuses.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, peppered with questions about why the president had not done more to block the bonuses at a company that has received $170 billion in taxpayer funds, struggled for an answer yesterday afternoon.

You can see why his fellow pols would want to demagogue the issue, but are voters really likely to connect these bonuses to the UR?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


Looming Stagnation (Minxin Pei, 3/03/09, National Interest)

A vicious circle exists in which the Communist Party’s survival is predicated on the neglect of fundamental aspects of society’s welfare in favor of short-term economic growth. And many of the same social, economic and political risk factors the government has thus far sidestepped—heavily subsidized industries, growing inequality, poor use of labor—remain. Some are becoming worse.

Because the party relies on growth for legitimacy, Beijing invests in tangible signs of progress—factories, industrial parks and the like. This emphasis on “visible” gains has in turn led to huge social deficits. By focusing on short-term growth instead of long-term sustainability, health care, education and environmental protection have all been neglected. Not a cause for optimism.

The end result is a state built on weak political, economic and societal foundations with a potentially unhappy and restless people. Reducing these economic and social deficits will require both additional financial resources and politically difficult institutional changes. Allowing such deficits to accumulate is simply not viable.

Worse, China’s difficulties will be compounded by the future deterioration of some of what have thus far been structural and political strengths—a large, young population; underpriced natural and environmental resources; and a public consensus in support of economic growth. With fewer people entering the workforce, a rapidly aging population and ongoing environmental damage, China faces the choice between stagnation, even disaster, or fundamental change.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


US gives a long overdue nod to Indonesia
(Ann Marie Murphy , 3/18/09, Asia Times)

Hillary Clinton deserves credit for making Indonesia the second country she visited as secretary of state. Indonesia may be the world's fourth most populous country, third largest democracy, and home to the world's largest community of Muslims, but it is also the most important country Americans know virtually nothing about. [...]

The US and Indonesia both signaled a desire to forge a "comprehensive partnership" that would expand and deepen all aspects of the bilateral relationship and create a framework to advance common interests, such as environmental protection, climate change, trade and investment, democracy, health, education, counter-terrorism, and regional security issues. Precisely how this might evolve is unclear. Despite strong Indonesian opposition to the Bush administration's military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, relations improved dramatically during Bush's second term. Washington lifted the military embargo against Indonesia, extended US$157 million of educational aid, rescinded its travel ban, and supported the Aceh Peace Process. Officials on both sides agree that US-Indonesian relations are the best they have been in decades.

In a December 2008 speech in Washington, President Yudhoyono called for a "strategic partnership" with the US, but Indonesian officials have backed away from this term in favor of "comprehensive partnership". Indonesians remember with gratitude US relief efforts in the wake of the devastating 2004 tsunami. US restrictions on military-to-military relations and on sales of equipment in earlier years, however, have created a perception among Indonesian defense officials that the US is unreliable and made them wary of over-dependence on the US as a supplier of military equipment.

Watching the current administration try to shaft our Eastern European friends is enough to make you wary of the US.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Moderate Is Said to Be Pick for Court (NEIL A. LEWIS, 3/16/09, NY Times)

President Obama is expected to name his first candidate to an appeals court seat this week, officials said, choosing David F. Hamilton, a highly regarded federal trial court judge from Indiana, for the appeals court in Chicago.

Judge Hamilton, who is said by lawyers to represent some of his state’s traditionally moderate strain, served as counsel to Senator Evan Bayh when Mr. Bayh was the state’s governor; he is also a nephew of former Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana.

A senior administration official said Judge Hamilton would have the support of both Mr. Bayh, a Democrat, and the state’s other senator, Richard G. Lugar, a Republican. He will be nominated for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, based in Chicago.

...for the UR would come if he chose a Leftwing Scalia for a Supreme Court vacancy. Publicly associating himself with even mainstream liberal legal doctrine would finalize the emerging voter recognition that he isn't who they'd convinced themselves he was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Bad Bet on Medical Records (Stephen B. Soumerai and Sumit R. Majumdar, March 17, 2009, Washington Post)

The recently enacted stimulus package included $20 billion for health IT, and, indeed, the $50 billion the administration initially earmarked is almost twice the annual budget of the National Institutes of Health. Yet while this sort of reform has popular support, there is little evidence that currently available computerized systems will improve care. In short, it's the wrong investment to make at this time.

The assumption underlying the proposed investment in health IT is that more and better clinical information will improve care and save money. It is true that computerized records in some settings might improve care, such as by preventing duplicative prescriptions, medical errors caused by illegible handwriting and even inappropriate treatments. But the benefits of health IT have been greatly exaggerated. Large, randomized controlled studies -- the "gold standard" of evidence -- in this country and Britain have found that electronic records with computerized decision support did not result in a single improvement in any measure of quality of care for patients with chronic conditions including heart disease and asthma. While computerized systems seek to reduce the overapplication or misuse of care, they do little to prompt greater and more widespread health-care practices that are known to be effective. Health IT has not been proven to save money. [...]

What's more, evidence suggests that adoption of some computerized systems has not helped but harmed patients. After the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh added automated prescribing recommendations to a commercial electronic records system, the institution documented a more than threefold increase in the death rate among child patients. Another leading system contributed to more than 20 different types of medical errors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


A Hand in the Health Debate (Eugene Robinson, March 17, 2009, Washington Post)

The last thing the surgeon said to me before they rolled me into the operating room was, "You know, if you and Obama had your way with health care, it wouldn't be me doing this operation. It would just be some guy." [...]

Did the experience change my thinking about the health-care debate? Probably.

My misadventure wasn't relevant to one of the central questions, which is whether the most expensive high-tech tests and procedures will somehow have to be rationed if health-care costs are to be brought down. The most exotic test that was done on my hand was an X-ray. The antibiotics I was given are widely used.

What is relevant is that I have good insurance, which I obtain through my employer, and haven't paid a dime out of pocket for my treatment. If I were among the 46 million Americans who are uninsured, I'd be looking at a huge hospital bill. No one should face financial ruin because of a mishap with a fork and an avocado. The way we ration health care now -- according to the individual's ability to pay -- is immoral, and if higher taxes are needed to ensure that no one has to choose between health and bankruptcy, I'll pay. That was my position all along, but now it's personal.

What's changed is that I also feel more strongly about the ability to make my own choices. I decided where I would be treated and, ultimately, what would or wouldn't be done. I'm willing to pay for that, too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Feelies back in touch with indie '80s (Jonathan Valania, 3/16/09, The Inquirer)

The Feelies are one of those beloved band's bands whose influence far exceeds their royalty statements, and, as a consequence, the period on the last sentence in their bio keeps turning into a comma.

Born of the suburban garages of North Haledon, N.J., they released Crazy Rhythms in 1980 to massive acclaim and minimal sales, then promptly split off into myriad minor side projects, only to resurface again in 1986 with the altogether wonderful The Good Earth. It was coproduced by Peter Buck, guitarist for R.E.M., whose early sound is deeply indebted to the inviting ambiguities and pretty persuasions of the Feelies' aesthetic.

Two major-label releases followed - 1988's Only Life and 1991's Time for a Witness - and that was pretty much all she wrote. Except a funny thing happened on the way to the cut-out bin, as the Feelies pretty much wrote the template for much of the indie rock to come: a dense web of jangling guitars and zooming raga-like drones, percussion-heavy rhthyms played at double-latte tempos, incantatory lead vocals mixed as understatement of the year.

Fast forward to 2008, when the reactivated Feelies again turned the period at the end of their bio into a comma. Friday night at Johnny Brenda's, the band was living proof that not much has really changed all these years later.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


UK diplomat 'goes native' with North Korea eulogy (Nicholas Cecil, 17.03.09, Evening Standard)

BRITAIN'S ambassador to North Korea has been accused of "going native" after writing an extraordinary eulogy of life under dictator Kim Jong II.

Peter Hughes waxed lyrical about the "festive" atmosphere at elections in the Communist dictatorship this month.

Glossing over the fact that opposition parties are not allowed to stand in elections, he devoted a page on the Foreign Office website to an admiring portrait of polling day in capital Pyongyang.

"There was a very festive atmosphere throughout the city..." he wrote.

"Outside the central polling stations there were bands playing and people dancing and singing to entertain the queues of voters waiting patiently.

"The booths selling drinks and snacks were very popular with the crowds and everyone seemed to be having a good time."

Mr Hughes added: "There was a reported turn-out of over 99 per cent of the voters and all the candidates, including Kim Jong Il, were elected with 100 per cent approval." that the bureaucrats always end up representing those they're supposed to be overseeing instead of the electorate they're supposed to be serving.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


New-home construction logs unexpected gain (The Associated Press, March 17, 2009

The government says construction of new homes rose sharply in February, defying economists' forecasts for yet another drop in activity.

This isn't necessarily the point, but the anti-housing bubble has to burst. We have too little infrastructure to house our population going forward.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Salazar says he would consider tapping oil in Alaska refuge (Associated Press, March 17, 2009)

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday he would consider tapping oil from Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by drilling outside its boundaries if it could be shown that the refuge's wildlife and environment would remain undisturbed. [ ...]

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has introduced legislation that would allow companies access to oil beneath the Arctic refuge's coastal plain through directional drilling from platforms outside the refuge itself. Murkowski contends such drilling would leave the refuge surface undisturbed.

Ugh, Wilderness!: The horror of “ANWR,” the American elite’s favorite hellhole. (Jonah Goldberg, 3/18/05, National Review)

[B]efore you can appreciate what a small presence human beings have up here, you need to understand how mind-bogglingly huge — and devoid of people — Alaska really is. Alaska has a population not much greater than that of the nation's capital, but you could fit the District of Columbia into it more than 9,000 times. You could squeeze California into it almost four times; New York State, more than eleven times. A former Army Ranger who now works in Prudhoe Bay as a doctor put it to me this way: "We don't even bother trying to put out Connecticut-sized forest fires up here. Maybe we start to worry when they get to be the size of Virginia."

Over 60 percent of the official wilderness areas of the U.S. are in Alaska alone (which is one reason native Alaskans resent bureaucrats four time zones away who try to turn their state into a federally protected theme park). Anchorage, on the southern coast, is Alaska's biggest city, accounting all by itself for more than a third of the state's population.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is way over on the other side of Alaska, past several mountain ranges. ANWR is 19.6 million acres, about the size of South Carolina. And it's beautiful. Well, most of it is. But more about that in a moment. On the very northern cusp of ANWR is what is commonly called the coastal plain, a tract of flat tundra largely indistinguishable from other spots along the coast and throughout the region. This comprises about 8 percent of the refuge-but an even smaller fraction of its pretty scenery. Some of this area is already off-limits to oil exploration, permanently. Nonetheless, the U.S. Geological Survey — seconded by industry experts-believes there could be untold billions of barrels of oil in the swath still legally available. The oil industry says it would need to use only 2,000 acres-an area no bigger than Dulles Airport, outside D.C.-to get that oil. This footprint would be 50 times smaller than the Montana ranch owned by Ted Turner, who helps bankroll efforts to keep ANWR off-limits.

Why do affluent Ted Turner types oppose exploration? Well, there's a simple explanation and a complicated one. The simple one is that it could be bad for the Porcupine River caribou herd, the second smallest of the four major caribou herds that sometimes use the area to calve their young; in turn, a tribe of Indians called the Gwich'in claim this would destroy their way of life because they live off the Porcupine caribou (but nowhere near where the drilling would be). The more complicated explanation is that this is all a convenient and bogus cover for the simple fact that Americans generally — and environmentalists like Turner specifically — are more than a little daft when it comes to ANWR.

The most striking thing about this part of the world is how much meaning we impose on it. I don't even mean simply the ideological baggage of environmentalists or rank capitalists. Human beings impose meaning at the most basic level. Take, for example, something as mundane as the calendar. "Day" and "night" are total abstractions up here. When I arrived in Deadhorse, it was "early morning" according to my watch. But the reality is that the sun has not set into night, nor will it rise into a new day, for weeks.

The sun beats down on the North Slope more or less constantly for another month or two as the Northern Hemisphere eases itself into winter. When winter comes, there is no sunlight whatsoever for 56 straight days, and long after that, the sun is barely a momentary gift of orange and (later) yellow. If you wanted to set your clock ahead for daylight savings, you'd need to turn the big hand to "May."

In this sense the whole area is really just a Rorschach test for the imagination. There's little doubt that for much of human history most reasonable people would have considered this spot the definition of the word "godforsaken." You need not look back, for evidence, to the ancient pilgrims who died on the frozen tundra. You could simply read an old copy of the Washington Post from 14 years ago: "[T]hat part of the [ANWR] is one of the bleakest, most remote places on this continent, and there is hardly any other where drilling would have less impact on the surrounding life."

Two decades have intervened, and an environmental fatwa has been issued declaring that the word "pristine" is synonymous with "beautiful" or "sacred."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Behind the Lace Curtain: How the GOP blew it with the Boston Irish. (Helen Rittelmeyer, 3/17/09, National Review)

In 1938, John Danaher of Connecticut became the first Irish Catholic elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican. When word got out that Danaher had joined the GOP, one Irish grandmother was incredulous: “It can’t be true. I saw him at Mass just last Sunday!”

For most Americans, St. Patrick’s Day is a chance to pretend to be from the South End of Boston. This is hard for a Republican to do. The Boston Irish have one of the most impressive and inspiring political traditions in American history, and the GOP can’t claim any of it.

But did things have to be that way? Were the Irish always destined to find their home in the Democratic party, or was it that the GOP passed up the chances it had to win them over?

All this St. Patrick's falderol is a reminder of how poorly we assimilated them, right?

An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland (Andrew Marvell)

THE forward youth that would appear
Must now forsake his Muses dear,
Nor in the shadows sing
His numbers languishing.

'Tis time to leave the books in dust,
And oil the unused armour's rust,
Removing from the wall
The corslet of the hall.

So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the inglorious arts of peace,
But through adventurous war
Urged his active star:

And like the three-fork'd lightning, first
Breaking the clouds where it was nurst,
Did thorough his own side
His fiery way divide:

For 'tis all one to courage high,
The emulous, or enemy;
And with such, to enclose
Is more than to oppose.

Then burning through the air he went
And palaces and temples rent;
And Caesar's head at last
Did through his laurels blast.

'Tis madness to resist or blame
The face of angry Heaven's flame;
And if we would speak true,
Much to the man is due,

Who, from his private gardens, where
He lived reserved and austere
(As if his highest plot
To plant the bergamot),

Could by industrious valour climb
To ruin the great work of time,
And cast the Kingdoms old
Into another mould;

Though Justice against Fate complain,
And plead the ancient rights in vain—
But those do hold or break
As men are strong or weak—

Nature, that hateth emptiness,
Allows of penetration less,
And therefore must make room
Where greater spirits come.

What field of all the civil war
Where his were not the deepest scar?
And Hampton shows what part
He had of wiser art;

Where, twining subtle fears with hope,
He wove a net of such a scope
That Charles himself might chase
To Caresbrooke's narrow case;

That thence the Royal actor borne
The tragic scaffold might adorn:
While round the armed bands
Did clap their bloody hands.

He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe's edge did try;

Nor call'd the gods, with vulgar spite,
To vindicate his helpless right;
But bow'd his comely head
Down, as upon a bed.

This was that memorable hour
Which first assured the forced power:
So when they did design
The Capitol's first line,

A Bleeding Head, where they begun,
Did fright the architects to run;
And yet in that the State
Foresaw its happy fate!

And now the Irish are ashamed
To see themselves in one year tamed:
So much one man can do
That does both act and know.

They can affirm his praises best,
And have, though overcome, confest
How good he is, how just
And fit for highest trust.

Nor yet grown stiffer with command,
But still in the republic's hand—
How fit he is to sway
That can so well obey!

He to the Commons' feet presents
A Kingdom for his first year's rents,
And, what he may, forbears
His fame, to make it theirs:

And has his sword and spoils ungirt
To lay them at the public's skirt.
So when the falcon high
Falls heavy from the sky,

She, having kill'd, no more doth search
But on the next green bough to perch;
Where, when he first does lure,
The falconer has her sure.

What may not then our Isle presume
While victory his crest does plume?
What may not others fear,
If thus he crowns each year?

As Caesar he, ere long, to Gaul,
To Italy an Hannibal,
And to all States not free
Shall climacteric be.

The Pict no shelter now shall find
Within his particolour'd mind,
But, from this valour, sad
Shrink underneath the plaid;

Happy, if in the tufted brake
The English hunter him mistake,
Nor lay his hounds in near
The Caledonian deer.

But thou, the war's and fortune's son,
March indefatigably on;
And for the last effect,
Still keep the sword erect:

Besides the force it has to fright
The spirits of the shady night,
The same arts that did gain
A power, must it maintain.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Not by Accident: Building a sustainable New Orleans. (Mark Davis, March 17, 2009, American Prospect)

New Orleans was built in a place that is both insane and inevitable. The culture of the City and the region is both parochial and cosmopolitan. The swamps and marshes that define the region's landscape seem timeless -- even primordial -- yet are mere thousands of years old and incredibly dynamic, geologically and hydrologically. New Orleans can be simultaneously inspiring, romantic, and frightening. No wonder virtual cottage industries of defenders and critics of the city and its future have emerged with such passion and numbers in the years since Hurricane Katrina roared across the landscape in August of 2005. In the bipolar world of post-Katrina New Orleans, I have found myself in both camps -- sometimes on the same day -- but I keep coming back to one fact: New Orleans was not an accident. It was not founded by mistake. It did not grow to be a great city by happenstance. It was not ruined by random forces.

That simple fact, the city's un-accidental nature, is what makes New Orleans important.

...use your own money and don't expect the rest of us to feel sorry for you when the inevitable occurs.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Obama wavers on pledge to declare Armenian genocide (Paul Richter, March 17, 2009, LA Times)

The Obama administration is hesitating on a promised presidential declaration that Armenians were the victims of genocide in the early 20th century, fearful of alienating Turkey when U.S. officials badly want its help.

President Obama and other top administration officials pledged during the presidential campaign to officially designate the 1915 killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide. Many Armenian Americans, who are descendants of the victims and survivors, have long sought such a declaration.

But the administration also has been soliciting Ankara's help on Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and other security issues amid Turkish warnings that an official U.S. statement would imperil Turkey's assistance.

Administration officials are considering postponing a presidential statement, citing progress toward a thaw in relations between Turkey and neighboring Armenia.

It was a genocide in just the way Lincoln putting down the Irish Draft Riots was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Emirates Slams Airbus over A380 Defects (Dinah Deckstein, 3/17/09, Der Spiegel)

Emirates has presented Airbus with a damning list of defects in the new A380 super-jumbo jet. The airline, which has ordered 58 of the aircraft, warns of a possible "loss of confidence" in the giant plane.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Magglio Ordonez booed by Venezuelan crowd (RICARDO ZUNIGA, 3/14/09, The Associated Press)

The catcalls started from the moment Magglio Ordonez was introduced Saturday, a nasty serenade by a mostly Venezuelan crowd at the World Baseball Classic.

One of Venezuela's biggest baseball stars, Ordonez was booed because of his political views in favor of President Hugo Chavez. The All-Star outfielder recently appeared in a television ad supporting a Venezuela referendum to eliminate term limits for the president and other elected officials.

I'm going to have to burn my Tigers hat.

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March 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Home: New stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets. (Paul Goldberger March 23, 2009, The New Yorker)

In 1921, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the co-owner of the New York Yankees, needed to get his team out from under the thumb of the New York Giants, his landlords at the Polo Grounds, in Harlem, and build his own stadium. Having looked at a plot occupied by an orphan asylum in upper Manhattan, some land in Long Island City, and an area on the West Side, over the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, he settled on the Bronx. Just across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds, he erected the largest and grandest stadium in baseball. Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923, was a haughty structure designed to give the game a feeling of permanence lacking in earlier, scrappier ballparks, like Fenway Park, in Boston, Wrigley Field, in Chicago, and Ebbets Field, in Brooklyn. Unlike the builders of older ballparks, Ruppert didn’t have to contort the stadium to fit the lines of city streets. The stadium could spread out and lift high; it was the first ballpark to have three full tiers of seats. Nestled beside elevated subway tracks and across from the playgrounds and basketball courts of Macombs Dam Park, Yankee Stadium rose above its surroundings.

There is nothing so revolutionary in Yankee Stadium’s replacement, which opens just to the north, across 161st Street, on April 3rd, when the Yankees host the Chicago Cubs for an exhibition game. (The first regular-season game is on April 16th, against the Cleveland Indians.) The new Yankee Stadium, designed by the architectural firm HOK Sport, is effectively an attempt to atone for the brutal 1973 renovation of Ruppert’s building, which removed the historic ambience without adding much in the way of modern amenities. HOK has reincarnated the old stadium, but with clearer sight lines, luxury suites, plenty of places to eat, and, finally, sufficient bathroom facilities. [...]

Also about to open is the New York Mets’ new home—the first time that two major-league stadiums have opened in the same city at the same time. Citi Field, which people are already calling TARP Field, or Bailout Park, opens on March 29th, with a college game. (The Mets play an exhibition game there on April 3rd and their first regular-season game on April 13th.) Like the new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field is right next door to its predecessor and was designed by HOK Sport. The firm has pretty much cornered the market in sports facilities in recent years; in 1992, it designed the most influential ballpark of modern times, Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles insisted that the new park have the ambience of an old-fashioned one and feel connected to the city, and HOK, scrapping an earlier design, obliged. Camden Yards launched a generation of so-called retro-classic ballparks, a style to which both of New York’s new stadiums conform, even though they look vastly different from each other.

The previous home of the Mets, Shea Stadium, opened in 1964, at a time when architects seemed to think that their mission was to purge baseball fields of asymmetry, idiosyncrasy, and anything that seemed remotely related to a park’s surroundings, and to offer up instead gigantic doughnuts of concrete that looked like highway interchanges. (Other notable examples of the genre sprang up in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.) Citi Field is pleasanter in every way than the harsh stadium it replaces. The park has a casual feel, with warm red brick inside, lots of amenities, great sight lines, and a layout that’s easy to navigate. There are forty-two thousand seats, fifteen thousand fewer than Shea had, all a calm dark green and arranged in somewhat irregular tiers, bringing you much closer to the field than before. The complex has an energetic composition of brick façades, and dark-gray steel elements, which are said to have been designed with the great steel arch of Hell Gate Bridge in mind, and give the place a feel that is as much industrial as retro.

As for the retro-classic side of Citi Field, the Mets, having no ancient ballpark of their own to evoke, have appropriated someone else’s. The architects, whose Camden Yards design incorporated features of several historic ballparks, have here wrapped an imitation of the façade of the much mourned Ebbets Field around the southern corner of the new structure, and the old Brooklyn stadium likewise inspired the form of the entry rotunda.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Stellar show by faithful Torres eclipses Ronaldo's self-service (James Lawton, 17 March 2009, Independent)

Was it really just that Rafa Benitez picked up Sir Alex Ferguson, put him in his pocket, and administered the mother of all tactical tours de force? Or could it also have been of some significance that Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning world player of the year, was at times made to look like an inconsequential bit player beside his potential successor Fernando Torres?

Naturally, given all the previous, the Benitez-Ferguson issue had most play, and certainly it is true that the master of Anfield's deployment of both Torres and Steven Gerrard achieved a remarkable coup in the disintegration, for a day at least, of Nemanja Vidic.

But then we can go only so far with Benitez versus Ferguson, partly because the Liverpool manager, except for urging potential allies to attack the centre of United's defence with as much resource as they can muster for the rest of the season, largely resisted the urge to give back some of the recent ridicule aimed at him by the Old Trafford commander.[...]

Less speculative is the fact that Benitez has in Torres a brilliant centrepiece to all his hopes while Ferguson in Ronaldo does not. [...]

[T]here can be no dispute about the fact that against Real Madrid and United, Torres was nothing less than luminous as he made Fabio Cannavaro, Italy's captain and the man of the 2006 World Cup, look old and distraught, and then proceeded to undermine so severely the Player of the Year candidacy of Vidic. This was not so much a surge of form as confirmation of both superb talent and a burning competitive spirit.

Among his other woes, Ferguson could only have yearned for even hints of such commitment from his own superstar.

In a few weeks of fragile fitness Torres has become a fierce disciple of Benitez's cause. He wears a Liverpool heart on his sleeve, while, it it is difficult not to conclude, Ronaldo mostly sports one kind of advertisement or another for himself.

Unfortunately, it's the nature of this game that just having the superior side would not necessarily have been enough had it not been for an episode that the Brits refer to as "Rafa's rant." A couple months age, Liverpool's manager ripped into the favorable treatment that Manchester United consistently gets from referees. Thus, on Saturday, when Man U was whistled for a foul in their box it was the first penalty kick given to an opposing team on their home ground in a year. Absurd as it must seem to anyone but an NBA fan, the officiating really is that unbalanced and often decisive.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 PM


Seeing Crises Clearly: Prakash Loungani profiles economist Nouriel Roubini (Prakash Loungani, March 2009, Finance and Development)

[Nouriel ] Roubini picked Cambridge, Mass., but went to Harvard rather than MIT. Why? “I didn’t get into MIT,” he says. “But please make it clear that I take no offense. These things happen.” In fact, he got the benefits of interactions with both Harvard’s superstars—“Jeff Sachs, Larry Summers, Robert Barro, and Greg Mankiw were around”—and MIT’s. “I would attend classes [at MIT] by Rudi Dornbusch, Stan Fischer, and Olivier Blanchard,” he says. His first job after graduating from Harvard in 1988 was at Yale.

Influenced by the saga of Italy’s struggle with large and persistent budget deficits, Roubini was drawn to the study of fiscal policy—how governments decide how much to spend and how to pay for it. It was a time when governments were spending and not paying for it, at least not right away.

“It was quite striking,” says Roubini. “In the 1970s and early 1980s, many countries in Europe had deficits of about 4 percent of GDP, and in some, such as Belgium, Greece, and Italy, deficits were as high as 10 percent of GDP.” As a consequence, government debt increased significantly: the debt of the countries that would later make up the euro area “nearly doubled, from something like 30 percent to 60 percent” of their combined incomes. The United States and Japan also ran persistent deficits.

Two views prevailed in the academic arena of what gave rise to these government deficits and how much to worry about them. One view, put forward by Nobel Prize winner James Buchanan, was that there was a chronic tendency toward budget deficits because warring politicians competed for the votes of special interest groups by promising them a continuous IV drip of government spending.

The other view, whose main proponent was Robert Barro, was that on deficit spending governments tended to do the right thing over the long run: they ran up deficits in times of need, such as during wars and recessions, and paid back the debt—albeit fairly slowly—in tranquil times. This view was supported by the behavior of the U.S. and U.K. governments, which had behaved in roughly this fashion over the long sweep of history.

Roubini’s contribution, in work done in the mid-1980s with Alberto Alesina and Jeffrey Sachs, was to carve a middle passage between these two views. he looked carefully at the political situation in countries to understand when it was more likely that governments would be captured by special interests, but did not downplay the economic factors that also contributed to deficits.

In a series of papers, Roubini demonstrated that when power is dispersed, say across many political partners in a coalition government, there was a greater tendency toward out-of-control budget deficits; the shorter the expected tenure of the coalition government, the greater this tendency. Adverse economic conditions raised the odds that fights would break out among coalition partners, further exacerbating the loss of fiscal control.

This marriage of politics and economics made it possible to explain better the behavior of government deficits across the range of industrial democracies. It explained why Italy, which had decades of short-lived coalition governments, found it difficult to control budget deficits. But it also explained why Japan was able to sustain its plan to reduce budget deficits in the 1980s—the unbroken majority control of the ruling party there, and its expected longevity in office, gave it the political space to pursue such a policy.

Apply the analysis to our current regime and the massive spending can be seen as a function of the Left's recognition that it holds power only temporarily, because of a peculiar set of circumstances. Pretty insightful.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


Safety in Numbers - The “New World Order” (Rod Paschall, 3/16/09, MHQ)

[T]he startling fact [is] that the world—because of that new order imposed by America and its allies—is a far safer place today than it was during the cold war. There have been many fewer combatant deaths and wars in recent years, period. In fact, recently released figures indicate a 60 percent decline in major war battle deaths during these last two decades than were suffered in the much bloodier cold war era, chiefly due to a 57 percent decline in the number of major wars.

Why? First, there has been an enormous reduction in the number of innocent civilian deaths through acts of genocide. Second, the United States and its allies have laid the groundwork for and have overseen the dramatic worldwide increase in electoral governance. Indeed the age-old practice of territorial conquest has practically disappeared, whatever deadly saber rattling there has been in the Gaza Strip and South Ossetia. And the rule of law, an essential component of security and stability, is also on the rise: a permanent institution is now steadily investigating, indicting, convicting, and punishing those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. In short, it has been a brief but extraordinary era, one vastly different and far more peaceful than the preceding 40-year-long cold war.

The central fact about Ronald Reagan is that he loathed the Cold War and was devoted to ending it--on our terms, of course.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Irish Beef Stew With Guinness Stout (SEATTLE PI, 3/16/09)

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 bay leaves

2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 1/2 -inch to 2-inch cubes (with some fat)

1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1/4 -inch slices

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme, whole

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup beef stock

1/2 cup Guinness stout

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1/2 pound carrots, sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a 6-quart stove-top casserole and add the oil and bay leaves. Cook the bay leaves for a moment and then add the meat.

Brown the meat on both sides on high heat. Add the sliced onion and cook for a few minutes until it is clear. Reduce the heat to low and add the garlic, thyme, rosemary and flour, and stir well until smooth.

Add the beef stock and stout; simmer, stirring, until the stew thickens a bit. Add the remaining ingredients and cover.

Place the pot in a 275-degree oven for about 2 hours, stirring a couple of times. Correct seasoning before serving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:35 PM


Patriots appear primed to make a deal with Panthers for Peppers (Vic Carucci, 3/16/09,

Once the Patriots were convinced that Brady would be fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury he suffered last year, they were comfortable with trading his replacement to the Chiefs and putting the wheels in motion to bolster a defense that has gotten particularly old at linebacker. Vrabel and fellow linebacker Tedy Bruschi are well into the twilight of their respective careers.

NFL sources say the Panthers would welcome the chance to unload Peppers for a second-round draft pick, even though it would be well below his market value, because it would be less costly than signing a first-rounder. The Panthers already have made some belt-tightening financial moves within their front office.

This, in part, could help answer the lingering question of why the Patriots were willing to take only a second-round pick for Cassel and Vrabel rather than possibly go for a higher choice as part of a three-way deal involving the Denver Broncos, who were ready to give up Jay Cutler for Cassel. Without an additional second-round pick, the Patriots might not be able to pursue Peppers.

You get the same player but pay a fraction of the price. The NFL has actually figured out a way to punish bad teams and reward good ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


Is the Israel Lobby Running Scared?: Killing a Chicken to Scare the Monkeys (Robert Dreyfuss, Mother Jones)

From Rosen's blog, the anti-Freeman vitriol spread to other right-wing, Zionist, and neoconservative blogs, then to the websites of neocons mouthpieces like the New Republic, Commentary, National Review, and the Weekly Standard, which referred to Freeman as a "Saudi puppet." From there, it would spread to the Atlantic and then to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, where Gabriel Schoenfeld called Freeman a "China-coddling Israel basher," and the Washington Post, where Jonathan Chait of the New Republic labeled Freeman a "fanatic."

Before long, staunch partisans for Israel on Capitol Hill were getting into the act. These would, in the end, include Representative Steve Israel and Senator Charles Schumer, both New York Democrats; a group of Republican House members led by John Boehner of Ohio, the minority leader, and Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican Whip; seven Republican members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; and, finally, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who engaged in a sharp exchange with Admiral Blair about Freeman at a Senate hearing.

Though Blair strongly defended Freeman, the two men got no support from an anxious White House, which took (politely put) a hands-off approach. Seeing the writing on the wall—all over the wall, in fact—Freeman came to the conclusion that, even if he could withstand the storm, his ability to do the job had, in effect, already been torpedoed. Whatever output the National Intelligence Council might produce under his leadership, as Freeman told me in an interview, would instantly be attacked. "Anything that it produced that was politically controversial would immediately be attributed to me as some sort of political deviant, and be discredited," he said.

On March 10th, Freeman bowed out, but not with a whimper. In a letter to friends and colleagues, he launched a defiant, departing counterstrike that may, in fact, have helped to change the very nature of Washington politics. "The tactics of the Israel lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth," wrote Freeman. "The aim of this lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views."

Freeman put it more metaphorically to me: "It was a nice way of, as the Chinese say, killing a chicken to scare the monkeys." By destroying his appointment, Freeman claimed, the Israel lobby hoped to intimidate other critics of Israel and U.S. Middle East policy who might seek jobs in the Obama administration.

we all know that in America the Israel lobby includes journals and newspapers of Left and Right and the elected representatives of both parties and that Americans are so uniformly pro-Israel that it's unwise politically to be anti-Israel. The real news here is the possibility that the Obama Administration could, despite that, be seeking to hire other Freemans. Is he privy to such clandestine schemes?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


For Blue Dogs, Health Budget Raises Questions of ‘When,’ Not Just ‘How’ (Congressional Quaterly, 3/16/09)

As congressional budget panels prepare to write their fiscal 2010 blueprint, members of the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats want to make sure any expansion of health care coverage is fully paid for with tax or spending offsets guaranteed to yield savings down the road.

Leaders of the 51-member coalition wrote to the House and Senate Budget committees and congressional leaders stating their support for President Obama’s goal of offsetting the cost of a planned health care overhaul. But the Blue Dog leaders said they do not want the savings to be achieved too far in the future if new spending in the short term is going to exacerbate already high federal deficits.

“While we agree that reforming our health care system will eventually lead to savings, it would be irresponsible to take on additional large-scale deficit spending in the short term without the ability to definitively quantify future savings,” Blue Dog leaders wrote March 13 in a two-paragraph letter.

The Blue Dogs are major boosters of the congressional “pay as you go” budget rule that requires new mandatory spending or tax cuts to be fully offset with increases in revenue or spending cuts elsewhere.

The GOP should sign the letter en masse. Requiring reform to be paid for up front is the same as killing it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM

1994 REDUX:

Documents: Penn. Center Funneled Federal Funding to Rep. Murtha's Supporters (Carol D. Leonnig, 3/16/09, Washington Post)

A Pennsylvania defense research center regularly consulted with two "handlers" close to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) as it collected nearly $250 million in federal funding through the lawmaker, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and sources familiar with the funding requests. The center then channeled a significant portion of the funding to companies that were among Murtha's campaign supporters.

The two advisers included a lobbyist for PMA, a firm with close ties to Murtha that is under federal investigation for allegedly making illegal contributions by reimbursing donors to the Pennsylvania lawmaker and other members of Congress. The Electro-Optics Center also relied on advice from a longtime Murtha friend who now works on the congressman's appropriations staff.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


Pew poll: Obama's public support is eroding (Steven Thomma, 3/16/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

A new poll by the independent Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has found that President Barack Obama's popular support is eroding, with his approval rating dropping below 60 percent. [...]

One reason for the erosion of support could be that a plurality sees Obama aligned more with the liberal wing of his party as he pushes an agenda that calls for broad increases in government spending and taxes.

Pew found that Americans think by 44 percent to 30 percent that the president listens more to liberals than to moderates in his party. The sentiment was a mirror image of what it was in January, when 44 percent thought he listened more to moderates and 34 percent thought he listened more to liberals.

Just about every ad they ran here in NH accused John McCain of wanting to tax health care benefits. Pick up the paper this weekend and the UR is going to do that himself.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


Ron Silver, 62, Persuasive Actor and Activist, Dies (BRUCE WEBER, March 15, 2009, NY Times)

Ron Silver, a versatile actor and independent-minded political activist who played Henry Kissinger, Alan Dershowitz and Angelo Dundee on the screen and supported Bill Clinton, Rudolph W. Giuliani and George W. Bush on the stump, died at home in Manhattan on Sunday. He was 62.

The cause was esophageal cancer, which was diagnosed two years ago, said his brother Mitchell.

Mr. Silver, who won a Tony Award in 1988 in David Mamet’s high-speed Hollywood sendup “Speed-the-Plow,” was known for playing verbally deft, charmingly manipulative characters, and his persona off stage was, if not Machiavellian, then certainly engaging and persuasive. Intellectually curious and informed — he spoke Spanish, studied Chinese and served on committees for the Council on Foreign Relations — he was nearly as connected in Washington as he was in Hollywood and on Broadway, and he had a life away from performing that few other actors could match. Actually he had a performing life that not many actors could match, either.

In Memoriam - Ron Silver (Roger L. Simon, 3/16/09, PJM)
We all knew Ron had cancer and most of us, I suspect, had some idea how bad it was. The summer before last (I think it was then) I remember him telling me about his recent operation. He was out for about six hours, he told me, and when he woke up he looked at the doctor and asked her how it went. She told him she couldn’t take out the cancer. It had metastasized. The six hours were for nothing. She had to sew him back up. They gave him about three to four months to live at that point.

My heart went into my toes, but Ron told me that matter-of-factly and then he went on to apologize for not writing some article or other for Pajamas Media and then asked me how I was doing. That was Ron.

We had a close relationship that came from a strange confluence of events. Perhaps the best movie that either of us worked on was the same one. – Enemies, A Love Story. But that wasn’t the real reason – it was politics. We had stayed friends after Enemies, as movie folks sometimes do when they have worked on something together that was successful, critically or commercially. We discussed other projects, but our relationship was fairly superficial then and gradually we drifted apart during the nineties.

Then 9/11 came and Ron and I were thrown together once again. We were 9/11 Democrats. We talked on the phone about our journey and the alienation we were feeling from some our friends, but we didn’t come face-to-face until the Republican Convention of 2004. I was a blogger there and feeling rather weird – an old leftie gone right – but there was Ron, far more out than I was, speaking to the entire convention. And he was brilliant. The man could speak in public as well as almost any politician and he had more intellectual background than almost all of them too. He swept the convention audience off their feet.

Ron and I renewed our friendship in the corridors of Madison Square Garden that year and that friendship became faster than it ever was. I think I knew better than most what he was going through in the political sphere, had some sense of his feelings when confronting his peers in the entertainment industry. He gave me tremendous strength. I hope I give him back even a hundredth of what he gave me.

Actually, Reversal of Fortune was his best.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


Dirt Poor in the Workers' Paradise (Blake Hurst, 03/23/2009, Weekly Standard)

Cuban agriculture in the age of the USSR was crazy. The Soviets sold Cuba fertilizer at below-market prices, with which to raise sugar--on inefficient, irrational, ideologically correct collective farms--that Cuba then sold back to the Soviets at above-market prices. The improvements since the end of the Soviet era have come not because a sense of community has been engendered by the necessity of adapting premodern kinds of farming, but because market incentives are sneaking in around the edges of a moribund and cruel system.

Even so, promoters of present-day Cuba tend to gloss over a few facts. Like the fact that the ration coupons allow for only about half of the needed calories and that agriculture is so inefficient that Cubans spend about 50 to 70 percent of their gross income supplementing the food available through the state system. More than a quarter of the Cuban work force is, moreover, involved in agriculture.

A recent article in the Cuban press, noted in a study by the USDA's Office of Global Analysis, quoted a high-level Cuban ministry of agriculture official who revealed that 84 percent of all food consumed in Cuba is imported. CNN reports that Raúl Castro is moving to boost food production by putting more land under the control of private farmers. State-run television claims that half of all agricultural land in Cuba is not farmed or is farmed in an unproductive manner. According to CNN, "A thorny bush called marabu fills many of the unused fields and has become a symbol for the failure of agriculture. Last year, Raúl Castro himself bitterly joked about how much of it he could see along the highway."

So, according to American visitors, the symbols of Cuban agriculture are full markets and happy farmers tilling their urban plots of organic vegetables. According to the Cubans themselves, the symbol is the marabu bush.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM


Giant sand worms lived in Torbay, scientists claim (Daily Telegraph, 3/16/09)

Scientists have found evidence of a giant prehistoric sand worm in an English seaside resort.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 PM


White House: Economy Fundamentals Are 'Sound,' Despite Campaign Rhetoric (AP, March 15, 2009)

The economy is fundamentally sound despite the temporary "mess" it's in, the White House said Sunday in the kind of upbeat assessment that Barack Obama had mocked as a presidential candidate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Mr Jazz's penchant for cut and paste: LOUIS Armstrong was one of a kind. That wide grin, inimitable trumpet sound, gravelly voice and irrepressible optimism combined to make him one of the most influential cultural figures in 20th-century America. (Ashleigh Wilson, March 17, 2009, The Australian)

A passion for collage was one of the least known aspects of Armstrong's life. Viewed out of context - that is, solely as art - the merits of these collages are mixed. But as a visual diary his collages offer a uniquely personal insight into Armstrong's world. The collages feature photographs of Armstrong and others, newspaper clippings, pictures, telegrams, postcards and handwritten notes, all stuck together with sticky tape. "My hobbie is to pick out the different things during what I read and piece them together and (make) a little story of my own," he once said.

Armstrong created about 500 collages between 1953 and 1971. Brower uses dozens of them to illustrate his book, described as a "biography in the form of an art book".

The collages accompanied another hobby Armstrong began about the same time: talking into a reel-to-reel tape recorder for hours at a time, reminiscing and discussing his life and music. On these cardboard tape boxes - as well as in scrapbooks - he would make collages to comment on "African-American life and accomplishments, his career and Hollywood". "For someone who declared himself steadfastly non-political, these pages stand in direct contradiction to that assertion," Brower writes.

The origins of Armstrong's interest in collage are unknown, Brower writes. But he says the works represent a perfect mixture of high and folk art, "the most jazz-like of all visual art forms".

"As he had done throughout his career, he was creating at once a self-aware art form and a record of the events themselves," he writes. It also wasn't clear whether Armstrong was making these collages, some of which he sent to friends and family, for public display. "As he did with his writing, Louis recorded his personal history and travels, adding to his own myth," according to Brower.

In one collage, he uses newspaper headlines that record his brush with death in 1971, including his quote: "Tell all the cats the Choirmaster up there in Heaven will have to wait for old 'Louis'." Another features a photograph of him and his wife Lucille meeting pope Pius XII.

At the time, the pope had asked Armstrong whether he had any children. "No, but we keep tryin'," he replied.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Simmons Says He'd Vie For Dodd's Senate Seat In 2010 (CHRISTOPHER KEATING, March 16, 2009, Hartford Courant)

Former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, buoyed by a poll showing that he is in a dead heat in a possible matchup against Sen. Christopher Dodd, announced Sunday that he would challenge the longtime Democratic senator in 2010.

Simmons, a Republican, has won eight of the 10 political races he has run in his career, including three terms for the U.S. House of Representatives from the 2nd District, which covers more than 50 towns from Madison to Stonington and Enfield.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Crude futures drop as OPEC decides to leave production unchanged (Platts, 16 Mar 2009)

Global crude futures slumped in early European trading Monday, following
OPEC's decision on Sunday to leave production targets unchanged, sources said.

"The selloff is almost entirely linked to OPEC's decision to leave production unchanged," a London-based broker said. "Brent will stay in a range. There is not enough demand to drive prices above $50/barrel but recent cuts will keep Brent above $40/barrel," he added.

US natural gas storage may face big 2009 capacity test: analysts (Platts, 13Mar2009)
With US gas storage inventories well above 1.6 Tcf as the withdrawal
season winds down, most observers are anticipating a major gas glut in 2009,
one that could test the capacity limits of the domestic gas storage system.

Analysts with LCM Commodities said that, assuming an end-of-March storage
level of 1.6 Tcf, excess gas from domestic production and liquefied natural
gas imports could boost storage supplies to 4.1 Tcf by the end of October,
"bumping up against and perhaps surpassing useable storage capacity."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Why the GOP Can't Win With Minorities (SHELBY STEELE, 3/16/09, WSJ)

So here stands contemporary American conservatism amidst its cultural liabilities and, now, its electoral failures -- with no mechanism to redeem America of its shames, atavistically resisted by minorities, and vulnerable to stigmatization as a bigoted and imperialistic political orientation. Today's liberalism may stand on decades of failed ideas, but it is failure in the name of American redemption. It remains competitive with -- even ascendant over -- conservatism because it addresses America's moral accountability to its past with moral activism. This is the left's great power, and a good part of the reason Barack Obama is now the president of the United States. No matter his failures -- or the fruitlessness of his extravagant and scatter-gun governmental activism -- he redeems America of an ugly past. How does conservatism compete with this?

The first impulse is to moderate. With "compassionate conservatism" and "affirmative access" and "faith-based initiatives," President George W. Bush tried to show a redemptive conservatism that could be activist against the legacy of America's disgraceful past. And it worked electorally by moderating the image of conservatives as uncaring disciplinarians. But in the end it was only a marketer's ploy -- a shrewd advertisement with no actual product to sell.

What drew me to conservatism years ago was the fact that it gave discipline a slightly higher status than virtue. This meant it could not be subverted by passing notions of the good. It could be above moral vanity. And so it made no special promises to me as a minority. It neglected me in every way except as a human being who wanted freedom. Until my encounter with conservatism I had only known the racial determinism of segregation on the one hand and of white liberalism on the other -- two varieties of white supremacy in which I could only be dependent and inferior.

The appeal of conservatism is the mutuality it asserts between individual and political freedom, its beautiful idea of a free man in a free society. And it offers minorities the one thing they can never get from liberalism: human rather than racial dignity. I always secretly loved Malcolm X more than Martin Luther King Jr. because Malcolm wanted a fuller human dignity for blacks -- one independent of white moral wrestling. In a liberalism that wants to redeem the nation of its past, minorities can only be ciphers in white struggles of conscience.

While Mr. Steele's analysis of the GOP's problem with minorities is sound, W was on exactly the right track. Personalized SS, home ownership, school vouchers, HSAs, Amnesty, etc. were all aimed at empowering people, building wealth, conveying dignity. It is the pushback that he received within the Party that stalled some of these efforts, though it was Democrats who thwarted Social Security reform. The difficulty going forward is the same that W faced--the more explicitly you pitch programs too "minorities" the less likely conservatives are to embrace them, irrespective of the content.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Massachusetts Faces Costs of Big Health Care Plan (KEVIN SACK, 3/16/09, NY Times)

Three years ago, Massachusetts enacted perhaps the boldest state health care experiment in American history, bringing near-universal coverage to the commonwealth with Paul Revere speed.

To make it happen, Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, made an expedient choice, deferring until another day any serious effort to control the state’s runaway health costs.

The day of reckoning has arrived. Threatened first by rapid early enrollment in its new subsidized insurance program and now by a withering economy, the state’s pioneering overhaul has entered a second, more challenging phase.

Thanks to new taxes and fees imposed last year, the health plan’s jittery finances have stabilized for the moment. But government and industry officials agree that the plan will not be sustainable over the next 5 to 10 years if they do not take significant steps to arrest the growth of health spending.

...government can't lower the cost of something while spending more on it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Europe’s Hedging on Inmates Clouds Guantánamo Plans (WILLIAM GLABERSON and STEVEN ERLANGER, 3/16/09, NY Times)

European countries that have offered to help the Obama administration close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have begun raising questions about the security risks and requirements if they accept prisoners described by the Bush administration as “the worst of the worst,” according to diplomats and other officials.

The concerns, and a deep suspicion of whether the American intelligence community will share full information on the prisoners, are likely to complicate the resettlement effort, which is critical to President Obama’s fulfilling his pledge to close Guantánamo within a year of his taking office.

Fortunately, no one sensible expected them to do anything different.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Iran`s Khatami Withdraws From Presidential Vote (Javno, March 16, 2009)

"He has decided to withdraw ... but he will back another moderate candidate who will be announced shortly in a statement by Khatami," one close ally, who declined to be named, told Reuters. [...]

Another ally said Khatami pulled out from the race because of his desire to unite the reformist front against Ahmadinejad, a conservative politician who often rails against the West.

"For the sake of the reformist front ... and to avoid splitting the vote, Khatami withdrew," said the other ally, who also asked not to be named before the statement was published.

Khatami's aides did not name the politician who Khatami would back but the former president had a meeting with another moderate candidate, former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi, on Sunday.

Mousavi's office said Khatami backed Mousavi's candidacy and his withdrawal was aimed at "not depriving Mousavi of much-needed votes".

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Friend Perlstein's excellent Barry Goldwater book is back in print:

March 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


So, Barry Glendenning, a very amusing soccer commentator and writer, is supposed to be providing live coverage of Chelsea vs. Manchester City on-line for the Guardian today, but if you check the transcript, you'll note that he stops paying attention to the game in order to argue rugby with the other guys in the press box.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Refinancing Boom Under Way (Chris Fleisher, 3/15/09, Valley News)

Home sales in the Upper Valley may have slowed, but local lenders have their hands full with another part of their business: refinancing.

“It's been very busy,” said Ginny Eames, a mortgage loan officer with Chittenden Bank in Woodstock. “We're probably doing at least two to three times the normal volume.”

“We've seen a dramatic increase over the last three months,” said Sharon Whitaker of Lake Sunapee Bank.

Thirty-year mortgage rates that have hovered around a historically low 5 percent in recent weeks and have convinced homeowners that now might be a good time to refinance.

Refinancing -- taking out a new loan to cover an existing one -- has seen a surge of activity in recent months, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The MBA's refinance index, which measures activity, was up 19 percent at the end of February over the same time last year. And the refinance share of mortgage activity is now about two-thirds of all mortgage activity nationwide.

It is the biggest refinancing boom that Eames has seen in her 29 years of banking. While it doesn't make sense for everybody, Eames said, a lot of people should be considering refinancing if they aren't already.

“Anybody's whose interest rate is 6 percent or above should be looking at doing it,” she said.

For instance, we moved (three houses down the street) this Summer, right at the point where the Feds inflation hysteria had pushed rates that absurdly high, so we refinanced half a year later and have lower payments on a 20 year mortgage than we did on a 30. The contrast explains how central banks precipitated the credit crisis because they didn't understand gas prices.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Scholar, Lawyer, Catcher, Spy: Moe Berg, baseball's Renaissance man of the '20s and '30s, was a U.S. atomic spy in World War II (Nicholas Dawidoff, 3/23/1992, Sports Illustrated)

Friendship can be the best of distractions, and that is how it was when Flute met Remus in Switzerland in 1944. Flute, a Swiss citizen, had traveled far and met a great many people, but never had he encountered the likes of Remus. There was something irresistible about this tall, sturdy American whose eyebrows cut straight across his face in one thick stroke and whose wardrobe—charcoal-gray suit, white shirt, black tie, gray fedora—never varied no matter what the season. Languages, physics, politics, women—if there was a subject worth talking about, Remus could discuss it with acumen. Unless, of course, the subject was himself.

Riding bicycles through sun-swept Swiss villages, skiing in the Alps or just strolling beside Lake Geneva, Remus made Flute forget for a moment that his friends in the European scientific community were being ripped away from their research to build bombs for Adolf Hitler. And what the American taught him! The day after Christmas, at Flute's laboratory in Zurich, Flute spent hours diagramming atomic chain reactions. Then Remus took the pencil, sketched a diamond and proceeded to explain the American sport of baseball. Remus had played a lot of baseball, and Flute could see that he cared deeply about the game.

Flute didn't keep that sketch. Remus took it and, perhaps, sent it off to Washington with Flute's scribbled formulas. Such was Remus's obligation, and Flute understood that anything he told Remus might well end up on President Roosevelt's desk in the White House. Flute was, after all, the code name that the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, had given to Dr. Paul Scherrer, director of physics at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and a pioneer of atomic energy research. Remus was an OSS spy whose task was to assess Nazi Germany's progress toward building an atomic bomb. Remus's real name was Moe Berg, and just three years earlier he could have been found on most any summer day seated holding his catcher's mitt in the Boston Red Sox bullpen, telling stories to the relief pitchers.

There was a protean quality to Moe Berg. He graduated with high honors in modern languages from Princeton in 1923 and then summered in Brooklyn, playing shortstop for the Dodgers. That October, he was off to Paris to study experimental phonetics at the Sorbonne. Over the next few years his time was divided between baseball and Columbia Law School in New York. He graduated and passed the New York State bar exam, but instead of signing up full time with a law firm, he devoted 13 more years to baseball, spending most of them as a third-string catcher.

His best year was 1929, when his batting average (.288) and RBIs (47) were career highs. That season he caught 106 games for the Chicago White Sox and allowed only five stolen bases. Besides a strong arm, Berg had fast reactions and shrewd judgment. The best White Sox pitchers, Ted Lyons and Tommy Thomas, always requested Berg as their batterymate. "In the years he was to catch me, I never waved off a sign," said Lyons, a Hall of Fame righthander.

When World War II began, Berg was first a U.S. goodwill ambassador in Latin America and then a spy in Europe, where, as Remus, he met Flute. [...]

Travel was always invigorating to Berg. He first went to Japan with Lyons and Dodger outfielder Lefty O'Doul in 1932. Baseball was just catching on in that country, and the three men gave pitching, catching and hitting clinics together at six Japanese universities. Berg studied some Japanese before he left the U.S. and kept it up on the way over. He learned enough to flatter his hosts and to needle the irrepressible O'Doul. In a restaurant one day Berg wrote some Japanese characters on a napkin and handed it to a waitress, who recited phonetically, "O'Doul is ugliest mug I have ever seen. He is also lousy ballplayer. Some day he will get hit with fly ball and get killed."

"They loved him in Japan," wrote Lyons in a letter to Ethel Berg. The feeling was mutual. Berg wrote his family that he had never enjoyed anything as much as visiting Japan.

When Berg returned to Washington, he set an American League record by catching in 117 consecutive games (from 1931 to 1934) without making an error. (The record lasted 12 years.) Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson, Berg's manager with the Senators, said that "barring Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane, Berg has caught as well as any man in the American League."

In 1934 he was back in Japan. A team of American All-Stars that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig was invited to tour the country, and Berg was asked to come along. When he boarded the Empress of Japan in Vancouver on Oct. 20, he carried a contract to write travel pieces for the Boston American, and a small 16-mm Bell and Howell movie camera. It was a highly successful trip. In the American, Berg marveled at the Japanese love of baseball. He posed with geisha girls, impressed his teammates with his Japanese and made a speech to students at Meiji University. "I someday hope that our innocent junket through Japan will serve to bring the countries whom we represent...closer together," he said. Meanwhile, Berg quietly performed his first known act of espionage.

He was seeing very little action on the field during the tour, and one day it was scarcely noticed that he failed to show up for the game. Instead, he walked to St. Luke's International Hospital, one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, carrying some flowers. In the reception area he asked to see the daughter of the U.S. ambassador, who had just given birth. Berg was directed to the seventh floor, but he rode the elevator to the top floor, climbed to the roof and, from beneath his clothes, withdrew the movie camera. It was a powerful instrument, and as he panned across the refineries and factories of Tokyo and the shipyards of Yokohama, he also recorded an image of Mount Fuji, more than 55 miles away. Finished, he left the bouquet on the roof and departed. Eight years later, when General Jimmy Doolittle's bombers raided Tokyo, their targets were plotted by referring to Berg's film.

During the remainder of the trip Berg talked baseball with anyone who approached him, advised Mizuno on the manufacture of baseball gloves (there was a sudden demand) and enthralled Tokyo reporters, who wrote about him with glee. Today there is a Moe Berg collection at the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, and his biography, long out of print in the U.S., continues to sell in its Japanese translation. For Berg, fanatic loyalty to his country never displaced the warm feelings he had for the Japanese.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


The Intel Czar’s Picks: Not Too Intelligent? (Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, 3/23/09, NEWSWEEK)

Add president Obama's national intelligence czar, Dennis Blair, to the list of embattled top-level appointees. Blair, a retired four-star Navy admiral who attended Oxford with Bill Clinton, courted controversy among pro-Israel and anti-China activists this month when he named Charles (Chas) Freeman, an outspoken former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to chair the National Intelligence Council, a committee of the government's top intel analysts. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other pols complained to the White House, Freeman abruptly withdrew. Now both Republican and Democratic intel experts are raising questions about another Blair pick: John Deutch, a former CIA director once accused of major security lapses, who's been appointed to a temporary panel reviewing troubled, top-secret spy-satellite programs.

After Deutch resigned as CIA director in 1996, agency officials discovered he had stored hundreds of pages of classified files on his home computers, despite repeated warnings that they could be intercepted via the Internet. Because of the incident, Deutch was stripped of his high-level security clearances, and a criminal probe into the matter culminated in January 2001, when the ex-spy chief agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of mishandling classified material. (The next day, Clinton, in one of his final acts as president, pardoned him.) Given Deutch's history, congressional officials want to know why Blair placed him on a panel so sensitive that its work should require an ultra-top-secret security clearance known as SI/TK (Special Intelligence/Talent-Keyhole). "The decision to grant [Deutch] a security clearance again is an affront," GOP Sen. Kit Bond, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told NEWSWEEK, adding that it "should be reversed immediately."

Okay, I get why Jon Stewart is so mad at economic reporters for biffing the credit story, and not warning Americans that there were potential problems. But why isn't he just as mad at himself, and the rest of the political press, for biffing the Obama story, and not warning that he was unqualified for the job?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Cancer Screening May Do More Harm Than Good (SHANNON BROWNLEE, Mar 15, 2009, NBC)

It's hard to believe, but some researchers wouldn't call Bull lucky at all. They say that yearly mammograms are not nearly as effective at reducing the risk of dying of breast cancer as most women think, and that mammography leads many women to get unnecessary treatment -- especially those diagnosed with DCIS. The problem is bigger than just mammography: They say the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test may do men more harm than good if they don't already have symptoms of prostate cancer. And they have similarly grim things to say about other widely used cancer screening tests.

Their view stands in stark contrast to the message being put out by groups like the American Cancer Society and even the federal government, which say that finding and treating tumors as early as possible is the surest way to avoid a cancer death. But a growing group of scientific heretics -- published in highly respected medical journals, working at some of the most august institutions -- strongly believe that it's time to rethink our whole approach to cancer screening.

That's because screening tests pick up many small cancers that would never have caused any symptoms. "Screening for cancer means that tens of thousands of patients who never would have become sick are diagnosed with this disease," says H. Gilbert Welch, MD, codirector of the Outcomes Group at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont, and a leading expert in cancer screening. "Once they're diagnosed, almost everybody gets treated -- and we know that treatment can cause harm." Tamoxifen for breast cancer can trigger life-threatening clots in the lungs, for instance. Surgery for prostate cancer leaves 60 percent of men unable to have an erection. For that matter, some of the screening tests themselves carry risks: Up to 5 out of every 1,000 people who get a colonoscopy have a serious complication, such as a colon perforation or major bleeding.

Most people diagnosed with cancer undoubtedly see these risks as the price they must pay to avoid dying of cancer. "The reality is not so simple," says Dr. Welch. Screening tests are very good at catching tumors that would never bother us, he notes, but they're actually pretty bad at catching the fastest-growing and most deadly cancers in time to cure them. The bottom line, says researcher Floyd Fowler, Jr., PhD, president of the Boston-based nonprofit Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making: "Screening's power to cut your risk of dying has been wildly overinflated."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


End of the Honeymoon (David S. Broder, March 15, 2009, Washington Post)

[I]t is not too soon to say that the Obama honeymoon is over. His critics in Washington and around the world have found their voices, and they are subjecting his administration to the kind of skeptical questioning that is normal for chief executives once they settle into their jobs.

Obama still enjoys broad public support, but it is stronger for him personally than for his policies. Some of those policies are bafflingly complex, and all of them are untested.

Among those who follow government closely, there has been an unmistakable change in tone in the past few weeks. These are not little Rush Limbaughs hoping that Obama fails. They are politicians and journalists measuring him with the same skeptical eye they apply to everyone else.

So they're following where Rush led?

More than a bad day: Worries grow that Barack Obama & Co. have a competence problem (Michael Goodwin, March 15th 2009, NY Daily News)

Not long ago, after a string of especially bad days for the Obama administration, a veteran Democratic pol approached me with a pained look on his face and asked, "Do you think they know what they're doing?"

The question caught me off guard because the man is a well-known Obama supporter. As we talked, I quickly realized his asking suggested his own considerable doubts.

Yes, it's early, but an eerily familiar feeling is spreading across party lines and seeping into the national conversation. It's a nagging doubt about the competency of the White House.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Mideast Press Questions Obama: Top Intelligence Pick's Pullout Blamed on 'Pro-Israel Hawks' (Walter Pincus, March 15, 2009, Washington Post)

A commentary in Abu Dhabi's the National, a newspaper owned by an investment fund controlled by the government, said Freeman's decision Tuesday to withdraw as chairman of the National Intelligence Council "threw the Obama administration into the heart of a long-running controversy over the alleged supremacy of pro-Israel hawks in determining U.S. foreign policy after having taken a cautious approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so far consistent with previous administrations."

The Daily Star in Beirut went further, saying Freeman's action "is likely to be viewed as a significant victory for hardliners within the so-called 'Israeli lobby,' who led the movement to scuttle his appointment, and a blow to hopes for a new approach to Israel-Palestine issues under the Obama administration."

An analyst in the National pointed out that the Israel lobby may have had a Pyrrhic victory. Noting that vocal Freeman opponent Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had publicly said, "I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing," the analyst wrote, "A lobby that has thrived through its covert operations can claim another victory in reversing Freeman's appointment, but this time its workings may have been too transparent for its own good."

Other Arab publications echoed that analysis, while at least one Israeli commentator questioned the views of Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, who made the appointment and supported it after questions were raised about Freeman's previous critical statements about Israel.

Gosh, where would they have gotten that idea?, A Parting Shot That Maligns Obama, Too (Charles Lane, March 15, 2009, Washington Post)
To be sure, Freeman protested his "respect" for both Obama and Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence directly responsible for picking Freeman. But if Freeman's attack on the "Israel Lobby" means anything at all, it is that the president and his staff are either too weak to resist the machinations of these foreign agents -- or are in cahoots with them. The same would go for the senators and House members who also opposed Freeman.

Freeman himself wrote that the affair "will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues. I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide, what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government."

So far, however, President Obama has had exactly nothing to say about this extraordinary claim -- either in his own defense, or in defense of the American citizens whom Freeman has impugned.

Whether the UR chooses to defend himself might be considered a personal matter. Whether he defends us is a constitutional one.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Cracker: Clever, Arrogant, Plump and Enduring (MIKE HALE, 3/15/09, NY Times)

THE early 1990s were a bit of a golden age for the British television crime drama: “Inspector Morse” was at its peak; the first and best “Prime Suspect” mini-series appeared in 1991; and in 1993 a corpulent, arrogant, gambling-addicted psychologist named Fitz, fully embodied by the Scottish actor Robbie Coltrane, made his debut in the series “Cracker.”

Those three shows, all carried on the ITV network, would earn 6 of the 10 British Academy awards for best drama series or mini-series from 1992 to 1996. “Cracker” won the best series prize in 1995 and ’96 and then ended after just 10 installments, as Mr. Coltrane and Jimmy McGovern, the show’s creator and primary writer, walked away. Now Acorn Media has collected the entire run, including the 2006 one-off “A New Terror,” in “Cracker: The Complete Collection” (10 discs; $119.99).

From the perspective of 2009 it’s startling to note that when “Prime Suspect” and “Cracker” arrived, the only Top 10 crime drama on American television was “Murder, She Wrote.”

Still can't bring myself to read or watch The Remorseful Day, but thankfully they brought Lewis back.

You can find all these series at The Box: Cracker; Inspector Morse; and Prime Suspect

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The royal treatment: NBC's "Kings" is a rare and beautiful thing -- cinematic, poetic, ambitious television on prime time network TV. (Heather Havrilesky, Mar. 15, 2009, Salon)

"Kings" creator Michael Green isn't shy about blessing his characters with nearly supernatural powers: Regular country boy and mechanic David Shepherd is visited by an odd religious figure with an expensive car that needs fixing, along with some hints that Shepherd is destined for greatness. The next time we see him, Shepherd is dodging behind enemy lines to singlehandedly rescue a handful of war hostages, one of whom turns out to be King Silas' son, Jack (Sebastian Stan). Everything Shepherd does is earnest and humble, yet perfectly timed to bestow adoration and glory on his shoulders.

In other words, Shepherd isn't another deeply flawed, conflicted hero, the likes of which have populated our TV dramas for the past decade. But for all of his unrealistic good luck and perfection, Shepherd feels like an unexpected breath of fresh air among the more angst-ridden protagonists of the small screen. Sure, he makes mistakes and stumbles on his words and feels outmatched by his suddenly posh and self-important surroundings. But just as flawed, conflicted heroes once made the white-hat-crowned good guys of the '50s and '60s look hopelessly one-dimensional, David's simple purity makes all of the carefully invented weaknesses of his fellow TV heroes seem oddly formulaic and outdated. As the world looks poised to sink into economic and spiritual quicksand of its own making, this is the hero we're in the mood for: humble, sharp, self-reliant, but also passionately inspired to heed his calling, blessed with some palatable mix of jittery boyishness and determined swagger. Picture Matt Damon's first confused but still efficient moments in "The Bourne Identity" -- only this time, the fate of an entire kingdom rests in his hands, and God is on his side!

That sounds awful, I realize, as do all of the words devoted to "Kings" in its press releases and on its Web site, where the drama is described as "an epic story of greed and power" and "a contemporary retelling of the timeless tale of David and Goliath." But such publicist-scripted prose doesn't come close to doing justice to the romantic sweep and scope of Green's creation.

And that's before we even start to tackle Ian McShane's incredible turn as King Silas. Of course, if King Silas were as scheming and evil as Shepherd is heroic and special, we'd be plunged back into the dark ages of kings and knights and cowboys and Indians. Instead, McShane bestows on Silas the same haunted edge that made Al Swearengen the poetically tragic and endlessly transfixing demigod of HBO's prematurely guillotined "Deadwood." [...]

[M]cShane brings such a palpable mix of swagger and sweetness to King Silas that his character rivals the most complicated, touching yet terrifying patriarchs to inhabit any screen, small or large. Think of Robert Duvall as "The Great Santini" or Jack Nicholson in "Heartburn" (or even "The Shining"). McShane is just as convincing when Silas is kissing his children and calling them "puppy" as he is when Silas is threatening his foes, with his wild eyes and that predatorial set to his teeth. McShane savors each line or spits it out with brute force, but either way, he absolutely owns the script. He moves like a shark or a teddy bear, depending on his mood. Even those viewers who find the notion of aristocracy disturbing will accept this man as a king. McShane's Silas was born to nurture and protect a struggling nation!

But McShane also works magic to make King Silas' political pragmatism and his ferocity look undeniably appealing, even under the harshest circumstances. Take this uncharacteristically blunt lecture Silas delivers to his son, Jack, who up until now assumed his father didn't know anything about his sexual leanings: "What you do at night, with your boys, after your show of skirt-chasing, is a disgrace. If you were my second son I wouldn't care, but for a king it's not possible. Not possible! We give up what we want when we want power. Believe me. Now you want to show me you have the heart to be king? Show me you can control it. Wrestle it to the ground, numb it with ice, but you cannot be what God made you, not if you mean to take my place. Celebrate, Jack. It's what you're good at." Silas doesn't have personal or moral feelings about his son's sexuality, but he almost seems to enjoy informing him, in a seething tone, that who he is, by nature, is impractical if he wants to wield power on a public stage. Again, in another actor's hands, this scene might come off as overly cruel or melodramatic, but McShane hisses and growls and scares the living daylights out of us, and we're left wanting more.

As difficult as it should be to get wrapped up in such a lofty mythical tale, the gorgeous art direction and stunning cinematography of "Kings" draw us in. Every shot is clean and pretty, or stark and bold, with breathtaking CGI-aided views of the sparkling city of Shiloh, where Silas and the royal family live, punctuated by extreme close-ups of Shepherd's nervous smile or King Silas' piercingly confident visage. The creative imagery used to signify the divine -- butterflies or flocks of pigeons or black clouds dramatically parting to reveal a ray of sunshine -- are so beautifully shot that they conjure the ethereal. There's a perfectionist in the mix here, either director Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend") or creator Green or both. Someone had exacting standards and such a clear idea of how they wanted this drama to look that the results are just incomparable, in terms of modern TV shows.

Don't know if anyone else had the same reaction, but I found both Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven to be terribly distracting on first viewing because they play so fast and loose with history. But if you watch them a second time as if they were sci-fi/fantasy instead of historical epics the underlying films and their stories are quite good. If you're borrowing the story of David but reluctant to do it straight, the more stylized the better.

-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Kings (Metacritic)

But "Kings" may be too campy for some, not campy enough for others.

"Dynasty" didn't weigh down its audience with a lot of allegory about, say, the moral exhaustion of the Israeli-Arab conflict. One kingdom calls a key city the Port of Prosperity; its rival says no, it's the "Port of Sorrow," which sounds like kind of argument you'd hear in Jerusalem today.

The show sparkles with imagination, though, as you try to figure out just how our reality differs from the kingdom's, as you gaze upon a digitally-enhanced New York City (the king's palace is the Apthorp building on the Upper West Side - maybe he lives in Nora Ephron's old apartment?) that suggests the terrible mysteries of power.

McShane can command legions by floating an eyebrow. More than a few viewers will come away thinking, "I know he's evil, but at least he knows what he's doing."

I'm just gonna throw it out there - Silas for king in 2012? At least we wouldn't have to worry about any more election seasons.

Kings is an old parable with a modern twist (ALESSANDRA STANLEY NEW YORK TIMES)
The story of David works so well as a modern parable of power and corruption that it seems remarkable that there aren’t more biblical adaptations around. So many Shakespeare plays and even Homer’s works have been turned into popular modern-day plays, novels and movies. The Taming of the Shrew inspired Kiss Me Kate, as well as the Heath Ledger comedy 10 Things I Hate About You. Jane Smiley’s novel and its movie adaptation, A Thousand Acres, was King Lear transferred to an Iowa farm. Clueless was based on Jane Austen’s Emma, and the Coen brothers’ comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?? was ripped from the headlines of Homer’s Odyssey.

It’s harder to find contemporary scripts based on Scripture. Mainstream filmmakers are reluctant to tinker with religious sensibilities, and even 1960s musicals like Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar took few liberties with plot, setting or characters. Even the most daring interpretations, whether it’s Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ or Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, are set in ancient times — Gibson even insisted on filming his dialogue in Aramaic.

Yet plenty of Old Testament stories carry temptingly modern (even sitcomy) themes: Ruth, after all, stayed and took care of her Jewish mother-in-law, and Queen Esther was picked by Ahasuerus after winning a beauty contest. (Queen Esther was invoked in the HBO movie Recount, when Florida’s secretary of state, Katherine Harris (Laura Dern), likens her situation in the 2000 election to that of the queen, who, she says, “was willing to sacrifice herself to save the lovely Jewish people.”)

Most biblical epics are just that, epic costume dramas that are literal, highly respectful accounts of the lives of Moses, Noah, John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

And that is one of the problems with Kings. The reinterpretation is bold, but the narrative pace is as stately and plodding as an Easter pageant’s. And that slow, ponderous approach makes weaknesses in the dialogue all the more obvious. McShane, who was so riveting as Al Swearengen on Deadwood, doesn’t have David Milch’s writing to work with; he gives the part of Silas everything he has, including bulging eyeballs and twitching eyebrows, and does the best he can.

'Kings' updates David and Goliath (Tim Goodman, March 13, 2009, SF Chronicle)
It's hard to put your finger on just what this series is trying to say. "Kings" takes elements from the biblical story of David and Goliath and Shakespeare and puts them in an ultramodern setting.

Starting with a two-hour premiere on Sunday, "Kings" is a curious piece of television that ultimately may not end up going anywhere satisfying. But in the premiere and two subsequent episodes, it keeps you wondering just what in the world it wants to be. And in a TV landscape of cookie-cutter formulas, that's a rare feat indeed.

The New Old Testament (James Poniewozik, Mar. 12, 2009, TIME)
Is it better for a TV show to be consistent or surprising? Is it worse for it to be ridiculous or boring? NBC's unorthodox new drama Kings (Sundays, 8 p.m. E.T.) comes down solidly on the latter side of those questions. Some viewers will say it's fascinating. Others will say it's pretentious hoo-ha. Allow me to split the difference: Kings is fascinating pretentious hoo-ha.

The premise of Kings is unlike that of anything else on TV: a reimagining of the biblical story of David, set in the modern world. Or an alternative version of it, where democracy never developed, where a King holds court in a skyscraper, where God speaks to man with signs and portents while man uses cell phones and the Internet.

'Kings': An ambitious but puzzling take on the Old Testament (ROBERT LLOYD, March 13, 2009, LA Times)
“Kings,” which begins Sunday on NBC, is certainly the strangest series to be offered by a major network in this slowly unrolling winter season, a parallel-world modernizing of the biblical story of King Saul and little David, who with his sling slew Goliath and later became king himself. (Goliath in this case is the name of a kind of tank, and the sling is a bazooka.)

Playing like some weird mix of "Dirty Sexy Money" and "Battlestar Galactica" -- though I doubt that was the pitch -- it is an interesting muddle of a show, smart and silly by turns. It's corny, ponderous, literary, ambitious, obvious and, at the beginning at least, as slow as molasses, but continually re-energized by Ian McShane as King Saul, or, as he's known here, King Silas Benjamin, possibly because Saul Benjamin sounded too Jewish.

Unconventional 'Kings'
Power and its abuses charge modern-day royal family drama
(Matthew Gilbert, March 13, 2009, Boston Globe)
"Kings" is very odd, kind of cool, and probably totally doomed.

This ambitious new drama resembles little else on TV right now, and that may make it something of a prime-time albatross. Get a load of the detectable influences in the first few episodes: The Bible, Aaron Spelling, ABC's now-canceled "Dirty Sexy Money," Shakespeare's history plays, "I, Claudius," Showtime's "The Tudors," and retro-futuristic science fiction.

Did I forget to mention George W. Bush as an influence? Because "Kings," which has its two-hour premiere on Sunday at 8 on Channel 7, is also a loosey-goosey allegory of the Bush era. In the fantasy premise, Ian McShane (from "Deadwood") plays the monarch of a country called Gilboa that looks a lot like America. McShane's Silas Benjamin locks Gilboa into an unpopular war with a country called Gath. Abuses of power ensue.

Amid all the "Kings" atmospheric strangeness - which includes castle-like architecture for the royals against a slick New York City-like skyline - there is much human nature afoot.

Ian McShane rules over 'Kings' (Maureen Ryan, Chicago Tribune)
All “Kings” had to do was give me an excuse to watch Ian McShane.

Happily, this generally well-told tale of a modern-day king and his restive court has more going for it than a charismatic performance from the dependably wonderful “Deadwood” star.

“Kings” isn’t much like anything else on TV, and that’s one of the good things about it. Visually and thematically, however, this tale of royal intrigue does contain echoes of “Heroes,” the series that “Kings” creator Michael Green worked on previously.

Both shows tell the stories of flawed humans who are given great power and who struggle with the moral consequences of their choices. At their best, both are epic tales told with aesthetic flourish.

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March 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 PM


Stop Saving Now!: As consumers hibernate and investors hoard cash, the economy is withering. This new age of thrift is understandable. But for a recovery to take hold, Americans will need to start taking risks again (Daniel Gross, 3/14/09, NEWSWEEK)

Call it a flight to safety, a rush from risk, the new sobriety. "People have run with their money to banks that they think are still healthy," said Ronald Hermance, CEO of Hudson City Bancorp, where deposits have soared by nearly one third since the beginning of 2008. In January, Americans saved 5 percent of disposable personal income, up from 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007—and our newfound desire to squirrel away cash seems likely to continue. When pollster Scott Rasmussen asked investors what they'd do with new money in February, 32 percent said they'd save it, and only 16 percent said they'd invest in stocks. Even though they offer virtually no returns, money-market mutual funds, now guaranteed by the federal government, have attracted $3.8 trillion, up from $3.4 trillion a year ago. The global rush for U.S. government bonds, the world's safest and most liquid investments, has pushed rates so far down—the 10-year bond yields just 2.9 percent— that investor (and Washington Post Company board member) Warren Buffett has warned of a "U.S. Treasury bond bubble."

...just demonstrates how little debt we were carrying.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


Salmond claimed Bush was 'calm in a crisis' (Eddie Barnes, 3/15/09, Scotland on Sunday)

HE LEFT office as one of the most unpopular presidents in US history, but George Bush has received a vote of support from an unusual source: First Minister Alex Salmond.

Salmond was heard talking of how he was "impressed" by Bush, praising him for being "calm in a crisis" and "humorous". "We've all been misled about Bush," the future First Minister declared.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Unwelcome back Carter: a review of We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land By Jimmy Carter (JONATHAN SCHANZER , Jerusalem Post)

Part of the problem is that Carter is a man who once enjoyed prominence as a peacemaker - he presided over the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt - but now lacks access to most of the power brokers in the Middle East. If one can somehow ignore the incessant snipes at Israel's defense policies, the book reads like a tedious and depressing political diary of an elderly man who can't quite remember where and when he misplaced his clout.

By Carter's own admission, many high-level Israeli officials refused to meet with him during his "fact-finding" missions to the region. Similarly, officials from the George W. Bush administration kept their distance. The Palestinians, however, have Jimmy's number. They continue to roll out the red carpet for him so he may regurgitate their narrative in provocative books in America.

By blindly embracing the Palestinian narrative, Carter does a grave injustice to the complex history and vexing dynamics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This short book may well have more errors and inaccuracies than pages.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 PM


Obama is taking 2nd look at tax on benefits: It would help pay for a health system overhaul. He had opposed a similar plan. (JACKIE CALMES and ROBERT PEAR, 3/15/09, New York Times)

The Obama administration is signaling to Congress that the president could support taxing some employee health benefits, as several influential lawmakers and many economists favor, to help pay for an overhaul of the health care system.

The proposal is politically dicey for President Obama, however, since it is similar to one he denounced in the presidential campaign as "the largest middle-class tax increase in history." Most Americans with insurance get it from their employers, and taxing the benefit is strongly opposed by union leaders and some businesses.

In millions of dollars worth of television advertisements last fall, Obama criticized his Republican rival for the presidency, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, for proposing to tax employer-provided health benefits. The benefits have long been tax-free, regardless of how generous they are or how much an employee earns. The attacks did not note that McCain, in exchange, wanted to give all families a tax credit to subsidize the purchase of coverage.

At the time, even some Obama supporters said privately that he might come to regret his position if he won the election; in effect, they said, he was potentially giving up a meritorious and lucrative option to help finance his ambitious health care agenda to reduce medical costs and expand coverage to the 46 million uninsured Americans. Now that Obama has begun the health debate, several advisers say that while he will not propose changing the tax-free status of employee health benefits, neither will he oppose it if Congress does so.

In his defense, Mr. Obama has so little experience and knowledge about running a government that he was just talking through his hat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


The torrent is already posted at The Box

Just email us if you need an invite.

Or you can get the audio at Radio Archive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Liverpool emblem

Image via Wikipedia

Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool (Premier League, 3/14/09)
Liverpool came from behind at Old Trafford to re-ignite the Barclays Premier League title race with a stunning victory.
Man Utd 1-4 Liverpool (Phil McNulty, 3/14/09, BBC)
Sir Alex Ferguson's side looked on course to stretch their advantage at the top of the table when Cristiano Ronaldo's penalty gave them an early lead after Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina fouled Ji-Sung Park.

But Fernando Torres hounded Nemanja Vidic into a mistake eight minutes later and raced through to coolly beat Edwin van der Sar.

And the transformation was complete a minute before the interval when Steven Gerrard scored from the spot after he had been upended by Patrice Evra.

United's day of misery was summed up 15 minutes from time when Vidic, who had a nightmare afternoon at the hands of Torres, was sent off for fouling Gerrard and Fabio Aurelio brilliantly curled home the resulting free-kick from 25 yards.

The day ended in humiliation for United when substitute Andrea Dossena lobbed a composed finish over Van der Sar after being allowed to race unchallenged on to Reina's goal-kick.

The big flaws of the purported best club in the world were all exposed today: their goaltender is shaky, their two great defenders rely on not having fouls called, they can't score from open play, and Berbatov is a stiff.

Liverpool performance shows how much Torres has been missed (Andy Hunter, 3/14/09, Guardian Sports Blog)

On a day like today it's easy to admire the Reds and wonder what might have been had injury not hampered Fernando Torres's season.

Fernando Torres's suspect hamstrings are not an excuse for Liverpool squandering the initiative in the title race. They are, as Rafael Benítez is so fond of stating, a fact. And Anfield would harbour more than an outside chance of becoming home to the Premier League title had they remained intact this season.

Liverpool thrash Manchester United as Steven Gerrard's title hopes live on
(Rory Smith, 14 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)
Just five minutes after Old Trafford exploded, Liverpool were level. Nemanja Vidic made almost his first mistake of the season, misjudging Martin Skrtel’s long punt, allowing Torres to rob him and coolly slot home. Just as against Real Madrid on Tuesday night, the Spaniard had that glint in his eye that suggested this was not a game he was prepared to lose.

It was Torres who was at the heart of the action again when his clever through ball enabled Gerrard to speed past Evra, the Frenchman tripping him as he burst into the box. The Liverpool captain duly stood up and scored from a penalty against United at Old Trafford, the first man to do so since Gary Speed for Bolton almost two years ago.

Half-time probably was not a pleasant time for United’s players. Ferguson reserves a special loathing for Liverpool, but that is as nothing when compared to his distaste for seeing his own players underperform.

Four-goal Liverpool crush United to keep title race alive (Paul Wilson, 3/14/09, The Guardian)
[L]iverpool, and Fernando Torres in particular, had no intention of following the usual script. When Nemanja Vidic made the mistake of letting a long clearance from Martin Skrtel bounce, Torres was through him in a flash, surprising the defender with his pace and coolly clipping the ball past the advancing Edwin van der Sar. Torres embarrassed Vidic on two or three more occasions as Liverpool grew in confidence and was unluckly not to be awarded a penalty at one stage when he headed the ball past the Serbian and was manhandled to the floor.

Undeterred, Torres helped win a penalty for Liverpoool on the stroke of the interval when his measured pass into the box for Steven Gerrard tempted Patrice Evra into a rash foul. This time there was even less doubt about the decision, and Gerrard himself stepped up to send his side in with a deserved half-time lead.

Liverpool held on to it surprisingly comfortably in the second half, with Wayne Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo all proving ineffectual up front and United coming no nearer to an equaliser than a couple of handling mistakes by Reina. After 70 minutes Sir Alex Ferguson sent on the cavalry, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov all coming on together in a rare triple substitution, but to no avail.

No sooner had United's reinforcements arrived than they went down to 10 men, Vidic completing a dismal afternoon by pulling back Gerrard to stop a clear run on goal.

Man United 1-4 Liverpool: Premier League Title Race Is Back On (The Gaffer, March 14, 2009, EPL Talk)
To me, the man of the match was Alan Wiley. The Premier League referee had the balls to award a penalty against Manchester United at Old Trafford. The last time that happened was two years ago when Bolton were awarded a penalty, which was converted by Gary Speed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Charles Freeman Orchestrated His Own Fall (Frank R. Wolf, March 14, 2009, Washington Post)

For almost four years, Freeman served on the advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), receiving $10,000 a year for his service. The communist government of China, along with other state-owned companies, are majority stakeholders in CNOOC. Yet Freeman claims that he never received money from a foreign government. The connection may not be direct, but it is certainly there. The same can be said of the paycheck he received from the Middle East Policy Council, which received ample funding from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia -- whose regime is responsible for funding madrassas around the globe that have given rise to Islamic fundamentalists such as Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban.

CNOOC's investment in Sudan's oil sector is part of the lifeline that has sustained the regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court this month on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2004, Sen. Sam Brownback and I were the first two members of Congress to travel to Darfur, where we saw the suffering and destruction that have taken place under the Bashir regime.

We witnessed the haunting reality of the terror and destruction that have been inflicted on Darfuris. We listened to the accounts of women who were brutally abused and raped by janjaweed forces when they ventured beyond the refugee camps to gather firewood for their families.

Congress voted unanimously in December 2007 to authorize state and local governments to divest assets in companies that do business in Sudan. President Bush signed this legislation into law on Dec. 31, 2007. Yet Freeman's appointment to this high-level post would have undermined the policy of U.S. divestment from the genocidal regime of Sudan.

On top of all this, Freeman gave a speech at the National War College Alumni Association last April 25 in which he described the uprisings in Tibet the previous month as "race riots." A year after those uprisings, 1,200 Tibetan protesters remain missing. Representative Wolf a Likudnik or just a dupe of the Zionists?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Capello: English Teams More Physical Than Italians (Javno, 3/14/09)

"They (English teams) are used to a more physical game," Italian Capello told Rai television in a programme due to be aired on Saturday. "Our teams in this respect are lacking compared to the English.

"There is another problem, there are so many interruptions in the Italian league and very often tricks like throwing yourself to the floor ... get rewarded.

"The referees in this sense should let the game flow more. This is another problem compared to British football where the rhythm is quicker and more fluid," added Capello.

Sadly, Manchester United games are essentially decided by the refs too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Hedge-Fund Regulation Splits G-20 as Conference Begins (DAMIAN PALETTA in Horsham, England and JONATHAN WEISMAN in Washington, 3/14/09, WSJ)

National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers, President Barack Obama's top economic adviser, laid out some key elements of U.S. regulatory proposals Friday in Washington. He called for levels of capital and liquidity in the banking sector to be kept fixed, even in economic downturns. Under existing rules, capital requirements tend to go up in bad times, making it harder for banks to survive.

Mr. Summers said the U.S. wants large hedge funds and private-equity firms to be subjected to "rigorous public scrutiny," compared with the minimal oversight they now face.

Overall, Mr. Summers pledged that the president will press for tougher regulation when heads of the Group of 20 leading economies meet in London on April 2. "The United States must lead a leveling-up of regulatory standards, not as has happened all too often in the recent past, trying to win a race to the bottom," Mr. Summers said in a speech at the Brookings Institution. [...]

German and French officials have called for hedge funds to be regulated much more closely, in some cases overseen like banks. But U.S. and U.K. officials have been more cautious, suggesting instead that these companies be required to register with the government and disclose much more information to increase transparency. Current U.S. law makes it voluntary for hedge funds to register with the government.

Mr. Summers said governments should play a bigger role in discouraging what he called "improper risk taking," but that the discouragement should come from "transparency and accountability for errors."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Salazar's Wolf Decision Upsets Administration Allies (Juliet Eilperin, 3/14/09, Washington Post)

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision to stick with a controversial Bush administration move that took gray wolves off the endangered species list in most of the northern Rockies reflects the independent streak that has defined his career. But it has alienated key Obama administration allies, including environmentalists and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Salazar's March 6 decision surprised environmental leaders as well as some of the administration's traditional opponents, and it provoked a protest letter from 10 senior House Democrats as well as a literal howl of delight from Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Milla Jovovich protects Oliver Cromwell (Tim Walker, 13 Mar 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Accustomed to winning new fans, Milla Jovovich admits that she has, however, lost friends over the name of her new pet dog: Oliver Cromwell.

"Cromwell was the hammerer of the Irish, so all of my Irish friends are offended," says the Ukrainian-born actress and supermodel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Chocolate Guinness cake (Susan Sampson, 3/14/09, Toronto Star)


1/3 cup Guinness draught stout

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

5 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla extract


1/4 cup Guinness draught stout

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1/2 tsp vanilla extract


3/4 cup heavy cream

6 oz (170 g) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped


For cake, liberally grease and lightly flour 9-inch cake pan. If desired, line bottom with parchment circle, as cake tends to stick.

In small pan, whisk together stout and cocoa powder on medium-low heat until smooth. Cool. Stir in buttermilk.

Sift flour, baking soda, powder and salt into medium bowl.

In large bowl, beat butter until creamy with electric mixer on medium-low speed. Gradually beat in sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one a time, until blended. Beat in vanilla.

With mixer on medium-low, add third of flour mixture until moistened. Beat in half of stout mixture until blended. Beat in half of remaining flour mixture until moistened. Beat in remaining stout mixture until blended. Beat in remaining flour mixture until moistened. Scrape bowl. Beat just to blend.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated 350F oven about 30 minutes, until cake starts to pull away from sides of pan and tester comes out clean.

Set wire rack over sheet of waxed paper. Cool pan on rack 10 minutes. Slide blunt knife around edge of pan. Invert to release cake onto rack. Cool.

For syrup, whisk ingredients in small pan over low heat until smooth and warm, at least 5 minutes.

If you used parchment, peel it off cake. Use fork or toothpick to poke holes in bottom of cake. Pour three-quarters of syrup over cake, spread with bottom of spoon and let it seep in, at least 5 minutes.

Invert cake onto serving platter. Poke holes in top. Spoon remaining syrup over top and let it seep in for 5 minutes. Reserve syrup pan.

For ganache, pour cream into syrup pan. Bring to simmer on medium heat. Remove from burner. Stir in chocolate until smooth and creamy. Cool briefly, until thickened but still pourable.

Pour ganache gradually onto centre of cake, smoothing with offset spatula until it runs down sides. (You will have some left over.) Cool cake until ganache sets.

Place pan with remaining ganache on low heat. Stir until pourable. Drizzle zigzag or whirly lines across top using whisk or fork. Or pour ganache into zip-lock bag, snip off one corner and squeeze lines or design onto cake. Refrigerate to set before serving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


A Little More Drama for Syracuse, a Lot Less Overtime (PETE THAMEL, 3/14/09, NY Times)

After playing 67 minutes in Syracuse’s epic victory six-overtime victory over Connecticut on Thursday night, Jonny Flynn wolfed down a double quarter pounder from McDonald’s at the team hotel and drank enough Gatorades that the cleaning lady commented on the amount of empty bottles.

The Orange did not return to their hotel until 2:30 a.m., but the combination of excess adrenaline and his greasy late supper kept Flynn up past 6 a.m. SportsCenter highlights of the Orange’s heroics against Connecticut provided the entertainment, including Andy Rautins’s clutch 3-point shots.

“We just watched all of Andy’s 3-pointers and my missed layups,” said Paul Harris, Flynn’s road roommate.

The lack of sleep did not slow down Flynn, however, as the constants of the Orange’s six-overtime victory returned Friday night. In the No. 6 Orange’s 74-69 overtime victory against No. 7 West Virginia in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, Flynn brought his indomitable will, incandescent smile and, of course, the feeling that no period would end without the score tied. He played near-flawless maestro, scoring 15 points, adding 8 assists and turning the ball over just twice. His backcourt mate Eric Devendorf complemented him with countless big shots, including a 55-point heave at the halftime buzzer. He finished with 23 points.

Flynn played all 45 minutes of yet another classic tussle.

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March 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Interview with Charles Freeman (Robert Dreyfuss on 03/13/2009, The Nation)

Since February 26, I've written several times (here, here, here, and here) about the battle over the nomination of Charles W. ("Chas") Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Committee. On Tuesday, he withdrew his name from consideration after what I called a "thunderous, coordinated assault" against him by the Israel lobby and its neoconservative allies.

On Friday, three days after he withdrew -- in the midst of a media storm, including front page stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post -- Freeman and I spoke in an exclusive interview for The Nation. [...]

The only thing I regret is that in my statement I embraced the term ‘Israel lobby.' This isn't really a lobby by, for or about Israel. It's really, well, I've decided I'm going to call it from now on the [Avigdor] Lieberman lobby. It's the very right-wing Likud in Israel and its fanatic supporters here. And Avigdor Lieberman is really the guy that they really agree with. And I think they're doing Israel in.

He's been making the comments that got him in trouble--about China, al Qaeda and Israel--for years--yet he blamest johnny-come-lately Avigdor Lieberman? Way to take responsibility for your own opinions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


European Leaders Push Back on Obama's Calls for Aid (JONATHAN WEISMAN in Washington and MARC CHAMPION in Brussels, 3/13/09, WSJ)

Ahead of a high-stakes economic meeting of the Group of 20 nations, European countries are striking an uncompromising tone toward Washington, bolstering President Barack Obama's political opponents at home and pouring some cold water on Europe's love affair with the new U.S. president.

In Berlin Thursday, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at his side, French President Nicolas Sarkozy explicitly rejected Mr. Obama's push for more global fiscal stimulus, declaring, "the problem is not about spending more, but putting in place a system of regulation so that the economic and financial catastrophe that the world is seeing does not reproduce itself."

Regulate the derivatives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Obama Outlines New Rationale for Holding Detainees (Keith Perine, 3/13/09, CQ)

Obama abandoned former President George W. Bush ’s argument that the president’s status as commander-in-chief of the military entitles him to imprison detainees as “enemy combatants.” Instead, Obama defends indefinite detention under the international laws of war, and the use-of-force authorization (PL 107-40) Congress passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But the end result is the same: a muscular claim of executive authority to detain the Guantánamo prisoners as suspected terrorists.

...then you adopt the Bush rationale.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Obama's 'Science' Fiction (Charles Krauthammer, March 13, 2009, Washington Post)

Last week, the White House invited me to a signing ceremony overturning the Bush (43) executive order on stem cell research. I assume this was because I have long argued in these columns and during my five years on the President's Council on Bioethics that, contrary to the Bush policy, federal funding should be extended to research on embryonic stem cell lines derived from discarded embryos in fertility clinics.

I declined to attend. Once you show your face at these things you become a tacit endorser of whatever they spring. My caution was vindicated.

Has to be scary to wake up and realize you're in bed with the Death Lobby.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Maple syrup has long been a healthy, sweet treat (Gay Cook, 3/13/09, The Ottawa Citizen)

Many Canadians remain unaware of the health benefits of maple syrup, which has antioxidant properties comparable to a serving of broccoli. Studies attribute maple syrup's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to its high content of phenols.

I just officially ate my last floret.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


Wrong Move: Obama's Liberal Agenda (Michael Gerson, 3/13/09, Real Clear Politics)

Following Obama during the New Hampshire primary, I saw a candidate who -- though I disagreed with him on many issues -- defended idealism and rhetoric against the supremely cynical Clinton machine, who brought a religious sensibility to matters of social justice, who took care to understand and accommodate the arguments of others, who provided a temperamental contrast to culture war politics.

After just weeks of governing, that image seems like a brittle, yellowed photograph, buried at the back of a drawer.

Obama's proposed budget shows all the vision, restraint and grace of a grasping committee chairman, using the cover of a still-unresolved banking crisis to push through a broad liberal wish list before anyone notices its costs and complications. The pledge of "responsibility" has become the massive expansion of debt, the constant allocation of blame to others and the childish cultivation of controversy with conservative media figures to favorably polarize the electorate. The pledge of "honesty" and "sacrifice" has become the deceptive guarantee of apparently limitless public benefits at the expense of a very few. The pledge of "bipartisan" cooperation has become an attempt to shove Republicans until their backs reach some wall of outrage and humiliation.

None of this is new or exceptional -- which is the point. It is exactly the way things have always been done.

Obama's stem cell decision was worse, because it is a thing that has never been done before. incompetence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


Brazil leader takes regional clout to White House (BRADLEY BROOKS, 3/13/09, Associated Press)

[T]he White House made several moves interpreted as snubs by the Brazilian media.

Silva aides said the trip was pushed forward from Tuesday because of the St. Patrick's Day holiday - making Latin America once again look like an afterthought. Then, the White House announcement misspelled his name as "Luis Ignacio" and put "Lula" - a nickname that decades ago became a legal part of the Brazilian leader's name - in quotes.

The White House quickly corrected the mistake. long it will take President Jeb Bush to undo the damage the Unicorn Rider is doing to our standing with the allies...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Fundamentalists poised for power: A Hezbollah-led alliance is expected to win power in an echo of events four years ago today (John Lyons, March 14, 2009, The Australian)

In return for pulling Hezbollah's fighters off the streets and avoiding another civil war, a ceasefire deal gave the organisation a one-third blocking veto. This means that only one-third of the parliament is needed to reject any government decision. Hezbollah has those numbers, so it effectively took control of the national agenda.

Hezbollah is a fundamentalist Islamic organisation in the Shia tradition. It is as bitterly contested in Lebanon by its Sunni Muslim rivals as it is by its Christian rivals. And it is in a position where it may win the upcoming elections, so a leader who cannot appear in public looks set to take his party to an extraordinary victory.

Although Fouad Siniora remains the nominal Prime Minister, he can make no key decisions unless Nasrallah agrees with them. Nasrallah also controls what is widely regarded as the most formidable fighting force in Lebanon.

"There's only one force who can fight a war if there is a war: Hezbollah," American University of Beirut professor Ahmad Moussalli tells Inquirer.

Asked if he is saying Hezbollah is more powerful than Lebanon's army, Moussalli replies: "Of course." He says that during the five days of fighting in Beirut last May, "even the army could not come near Hezbollah".

If the Sunni and Christians don't want to be governed democratically they should end the fiction that is The Lebanon.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


David Peace, author of Red Riding and The Damned United: profile (Daily Telegraph, 13 Mar 2009)

Few authors can claim to have invented a new genre of fiction, but David Peace is one of them. With "Yorkshire Noir" - his particular fictional take on Leeds and its environs in the Seventies and Eighties - Peace is currently dominating not just the bestseller lists, but also the television schedules and cinema listings.

Peace is most famous for his Red Riding Quartet of novels which, confusingly, have been made into a trilogy of single films by Channel 4. Each of the four books - Nineteen Seventy-Four, Nineteen Seventy-Seven, Nineteen Eighty and Nineteen Eighty-Three - is set in the year of its title, with a loose narrative thread of police corruption in the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police running through the whole series. The TV adaptations (which finish this coming Thursday) have been a critical and ratings success, with critics already nodding towards next year's Baftas.

In two weeks, the controversial film of Peace's book The Damned United, about Brian Clough, will open in cinemas. [...]

The television adaptations of Red Riding have attracted some of British television's most achingly hip talent, from director James Marsh (who won an Oscar for the documentary Man on Wire) to actor Andrew Garfield, who won a Bafta for another Channel 4 project, Boy A. Nineteen Eighty-Three, which will be shown on Thursday, stars David Morrissey, Saskia Reeves and Daniel Mays. Marsh describes Peace's prose as "extraordinary".

To train himself to write well, Peace says that he sits with books by his favourite authors and literally copy-types passages from them. He says that he is influenced by American crime writer James Ellroy, as well as Northern writers such as Alan Sillitoe and Stan Barstow. His own style became increasingly quirky through the four Red Riding books, to the extent that Channel 4 is rumoured to have found Nineteen Seventy-Seven too hard to adapt for the small screen.

The first came off as a less coherent version of the excellent Zodiac. The second is available at The Box today.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Lawmakers deny Freeman's Israel lobby charges (Alexander Bolton, 03/12/09, The Hill)

Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said pro-Israel lobby groups did not spur their opposition to Charles Freeman.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), a senior member of the House intelligence panel, also denied that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was involved in derailing Freeman’s appointment to head the National Intelligence Council. [...]

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the vice chairman of the Intelligence panel, said Freeman’s accusations against pro-Israel lobbying groups were off base.

“Unfortunately Ambassador Freeman is suffering from some kind of delusion. I think a lot of people objected to his previous statements regardless of any lobbying.”

Bond said he did not receive any contact from AIPAC and said he had not even heard of two Jewish groups that came out against Freeman’s nomination: the Zionist Organization of America and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

The very absence of evidence Jewish lobbying just demonstrates their fiendish cleverness....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Obama vs. the Democrats: Fighting with the GOP is nothing compared to battles that await the president in his own party—over Iraq, health care, and entitlement reform. John Avlon on the coming Democratic wars. (John Avlon, 3/13/09, Daily Beast)

Southern Democrat Lyndon Johnson passed civil-rights legislation. Nixon went to China. Bill Clinton enacted welfare reform. Often it’s a president’s struggle with his own party that results in real progress. And now it’s President Obama’s relationship with liberal special interests and the House Democrats like Nancy Pelosi that will shape the narrative of his administration, for better and for worse. [...]

Obama has cleverly shifted the rhetoric for the rationale of health-care reform to fiscal responsibility and international competitiveness in the global economy. Following through on the promise of a public-private solution with minimal big government mandates will be essential to avoiding yet another patented perfect-is-the-enemy-of-the-good Democratic defeat. Areas ripe for post-partisan negotiation include allowing individuals to purchase insurance across state lines and including medical-malpractice reform in any package to reduce the costs of defensive medicine while winning doctors’ support for the plan.

But the biggest Nixon-in-China move for President Obama will be following through on entitlement reform. Despite liberal sacred-cow status, it is the looming cost of Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare that casts the longest shadow over the U.S. economy. You can’t talk about an era of responsibility while kicking the costs of an aging population’s entitlements to the next generation. When Presidents Clinton and Bush attempted to address Social Security’s impending insolvency, it got caught up in partisan politics as usual and went nowhere. We can’t afford to pass the buck any longer and President Obama is the best positioned of all to enact real reform. He’ll likely appoint a bipartisan commission and a BRAC-style up-or-down vote on the entire package. The stiffest opposition he will face will come from the left—with a few predictable ideologues on the far-right complaining that the reforms don’t go far enough. But those are the most worthwhile fights when you’re attempting to do what’s right and responsible for the long-term national interest. directly proportional to his opposition to the Left.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


A Simple Guide to the Banking Crisis (Michael Mandel, March 12, Business Week: Economics Unbound)

Proposition 2: Foreign investors preferred to put their money into investments that were perceived as having low risk.

Here’s the story. Suppose you are investing in a different part of the world. You are likely a bit skittish about putting your money so far from home, so you are likely to choose relatively safe investments.

In the same way, foreign investors in the U.S. flocked to investments which offered decent returns and high (perceived) safety. This demand for safety showed up in the Fed statistics. Between 1998 and 2007, foreign investors poured roughly $10 trillion into acquiring financial assets in this country. Out of that total, only about $3 trillion went into supposedly-risky equities, mutual funds, and direct investment in U.S. businesses. The rest went into perceived less-risky investments, such as Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (after all, housing never goes down!).

But there’s more. Wall Street catered to this foreign demand for safety. Many hedge funds, for example, promised “positive absolute returns”, meaning that they would do well even in down markets (see here). That’s one important reason why hedge funds boomed in this decade—they promised safety to foreign money, which were willing to pay big fees to get it. Many hedge funds were pitched directly to foreign investors. When John Paulson testified before Congress in November, he said that 80% of his $36 billion in assets came from foreign investors.

And when there wasn’t enough “safe assets” to sell to willing foreigners, the intrepid investment bankers created more. Consider, for example, credit default swaps, which pay off if a bond defaults—in effect, insurance on debt. Wall Street saw this as a ‘two-fer.’ They would sell corporate bonds to foreign investors, and at the same time collect fees on credit default swaps on the bonds in order to reassure those apparently too-nervous investors from another part of the world.

But the joke in the end was on Wall Street. The foreign investors bought the bonds, but they also bought the protection—which much to everyone’s surprise was needed. And the U.S. banks and investment banks were left with piles of ‘toxic assets’—the obligation to pay off all sorts of bonds and derivatives.

As much as the Right would like to blame Washington and Main Street, the fault lies on Wall Street.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Vikings lived 'harmoniously with our ancestors' (Daily Telegraph, 3/13/09)

Viking warriors who raided and colonised Britain in the 11th century went on to form harmonious relationships with our ancestors, scientists claim.

The Scandinavian invaders are remembered in history books as barbaric savages who pillaged towns and villages, and raped their women.

But new evidence shows that following their violent arrival, the Vikings lived in relative harmony with their Anglo-Saxon and Celtic counterparts.

According to researchers at Cambridge University, they swapped technology with our forefathers and enriched their culture.

Of course things went well once we made them our b'atches.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Bipartisan Senate Group Making Progress on Health Care (Jay Newton-Small , Mar. 13, 2009, TIME)

[T]he two main sticking points remain how to pay for a plan that some estimate could cost as much as $1 trillion and how to integrate a public, government-run plan into the private system, two aides say.

Last June's Senate health care summit helped spark the closed-door gatherings, which at first involved just six members: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and the committee's top Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa; Ted Kennedy and the HELP Committee's top Republican, Mike Enzi of Wyoming; and Senators Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Orrin Hatch of Utah, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Finance Committee's Subcommittee on Health Care. In recent months Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a top HELP Committee Democrat, was added as Kennedy's understudy as the Massachusetts Democrat sought treatment for brain cancer. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota and his GOP counterpart Judd Gregg of New Hampshire were also added after President Obama included his $634 billion outline for health care reform in his 2010 budget request. Other senators from the Democratic leadership and the HELP and Finance Committees have been intermittently involved, and the core group has encouraged participation of as many members as possible.

So other than how to pay for it, how not to nationalize it and how to pass it they're done?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


'Cuse, UConn stage instant classic (Jeff Goodman, March 13, 2009, Fox Sports)

Eric Devendorf just laughed in a mini-fit of frustration when trying to recall in which overtime he fouled out. His Syracuse teammate, Paul Harris, couldn't figure out whether he was set to play again that same day or the next.

It was all a blur after the Orange outlasted UConn, 127-117, in a six-overtime Big East quarterfinal affair on Thursday night-Friday morning.

On a day in which two potential No. 1 seeds went down, it took UConn — potentially another — 70 minutes to fall to Syracuse in what tied the second-longest known Division I college basketball game. [...]

Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn logged 67 minutes. Devendorf played 61 before fouling out. This contest made Kobe's 61 and LeBron's triple-double at Madison Square Garden earlier this year seem rather ordinary.

The only college basketball game that went longer was when Cincinnati beat Bradley, 75-73, back in a seven-overtime affair in 1981. Believe it or not, the Garden was still nearly full when the final buzzer sounded at 1:22 a.m.

No one cared that Round 3 of Pittsburgh vs. UConn wasn't going to go down on Friday night in the semifinals.

This game was far more entertaining than watching another heavyweight battle between Hasheem Thabeet and DeJuan Blair.

It had a bit of everything.

It should have been a sign that something special was on the horizon when Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku, the worst foul shooter in America and a guy who makes Shaq look like, well, Rick Barry, knocked down two straight from the charity stripe.

The stars were aligned.

I'm so old I used to watch Andy Rautins's dad play when I was in college and I went to bed in the 2nd Half.

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March 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


An American Giant (Steve Forbes, 3/11/09, Forbes)

Paul Harvey was similarly dismissed by elitists as simplistic and corny. But this seeming simplicity masked the achievements of a communications genius. No broadcaster before or since has matched Harvey's ability to make listeners feel he was actually conversing with them. He spoke to you, not at you. Yes, Harvey had a resonant voice, was known for his trademark pauses and packed a lot of information into his twice-daily "News and Comment" broadcasts. Yet his delivery was given at a relaxed pace. He knew the value of personal stories (Harvey once did a touching tribute to my father's service in WWII), which can offer powerful moral lessons. Like Winston Churchill, Harvey knew the power of brief, declarative sentences. He was a wordsmith, coining or popularizing such terms as "skyjackers" and "guesstimate." He laced his plain-talk broadcasts with humor. One of his classics: "White House occupants come and go. They are just like diapers. They should be changed often, and for the same reasons."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Christie Opens 9-Point Lead Over Corzine In NJ Gov Race (Quinnipiac University, 3/12/09)

Christopher Christie, the Republican challenger in this year's New Jersey Governor's race, leads Democratic incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine 46 - 37 percent, even though 61 percent of voters don't know enough about the former U.S. Attorney to form an opinion of him, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. This compares to a 44 - 38 percent Christie lead in a February 4 poll by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 PM


Jonathan Papelbon Grinds His Teeth: You would, too, if you had his strength and intensity and unguarded rage. But now that he has a big contract to go with that rage, will the Boston Red Sox closer still be able to summon it? (Chris Jones, Esquire)

Jonathan Papelbon has a few days left before his summer begins, before he becomes the character in a comic book. He has a few days left to summon the rage.

It will threaten everything around and about him, including his teeth. It will surface when he makes his annual drive to spring training, his mid-February blood rite. He will throw a bag with his gloves and cleats into his trunk and turn out his driveway; Ashley will be safely removed in the car behind him with Parker and the dog. Except for a brief pit stop in Jacksonville to see his parents, he will spend the next fourteen hours listening to Metallica, to Tupac, full blast. “Sometimes, I’ll roll down my windows and just start yelling,” he says. He will feel his heart begin to flutter, and his eyes begin to pulse, and he will begin grinding his teeth, peeling back the enamel in layers. “I’m going to have them down to the gums pretty soon,” he says. “But I’m willing to sacrifice my teeth for this game.” By the time Papelbon arrives in Fort Myers, Florida, he will be fully gone under, a man possessed. He will start sleeping badly, and he will sometimes not even see the hitter he’s trying to murder — won’t even register who’s at the plate — and he will feel the tension take hold in his spine and neck muscles and crawl up the back of his skull. That’s when the headaches will come.

The Red Sox, like interventionists, have tried to protect him from the burdens of being Papelbon. Two years ago, they decided to make him a starting pitcher, after he nearly threw his shoulder out of its socket during his rookie season in 2006, and so he could take vacations from himself, three or four nights off between the frenzies. They also offered him the number 21, Roger Clemens’s old number, because they thought the favorable comparison might help Papelbon take to the idea. But the role didn’t sit right with him, and neither did the number. He kept 58, the nobody’s number that had been randomly assigned to him by the clubhouse attendant, just another rookie destined to flame out. That’s the sort of slight that motivates him. Hate is gas. Before spring was over, he had asked to be returned to his cage beyond the outfield fence.

Failing there, the Red Sox tried next to fit him with a mouth guard to cut down on the gnashing, but Papelbon decided it didn’t feel right, either. He chose the headaches. The mouth guard didn’t dull the rage; it trapped it, and Jonathan Papelbon is the sort of man who would be doomed without release. He needs outlets. He needs winter.

Papelbon needed this winter especially. It came one series too soon, after the Red Sox lost the American League Championship Series to the Tampa Bay Rays in seven games. “I’m not afraid to call that what it was: a failure,” he says — but he was relieved for the exit all the same. “I came down here as soon as I could,” he says. “This is where all the hot air gets let out of the balloon.” By his measure, it took about a month, most of November, before he could feel his jaw unclench, before he felt almost human again.

Even by Papelbon’s standards, his summer had been hotter than most. After he and the Red Sox won the 2007 World Series in four games — after he had thrown the final pitch past Colorado’s Seth Smith and squatted and screamed like an angry sumo wrestler, after he had worn a box on his head and broken out his pseudo-Irish jig on the field, after he had confessed shortly thereafter that Boss had nosed out the winning baseball and eaten it — he emerged as the latest Boston folk hero, a lightning rod in a city that attracts black clouds. Papelbon found himself at the center of a season-long storm. It reached one of its peaks at the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, when he let it be known that he felt he deserved to close the game — never mind that the hosting Yankees had a pretty good closer of their own in Mariano Rivera.

“That was really just my competitive nature coming out,” he says. “I understand all about paying dues, I really do, but if I went there and I told everybody I didn’t want the ball, who’s going to want to have that guy on their team? I don’t think I said anything that crazy. If I pitched anywhere but Boston, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.” Except that he does pitch in Boston, and it was a big deal. papelbum! read the headline in the next day’s Daily News (Papelbon had it framed), and something as benign as the pregame parade became a horror show. Ashley, then pregnant with Parker, heard death threats yelled at her, and Papelbon is so enraged by the memory that today, months later, the new millionaire eating a tuna-fish sandwich turns crimson. “I should never have taken Ash to that damn parade,” he says.

Suddenly, it’s as though his last days of cool have passed in an instant, a memory having done something even the offer of millions of dollars couldn’t: After months of dormancy, Papelbon’s pilot light is once again naked and aflame. There’s something about him that’s strangely open that way, even vulnerable, as though his nervous system runs on the surface of his skin. He has no defense. In this age of athletes-turned-automatons, he remains unguarded enough to admit that his dog ate a million-dollar baseball and then wonder why everyone made such a fuss. (“The worst thing is, he ate another one,” Papelbon says, almost as an aside. “The one we clinched the American League with. I was like, Boss, what did you do?”) Curt Schilling famously suggested Papelbon was stupid — “not exactly a charter member of Mensa,” was how the Red Sox Republican nominee for president described his teammate to Sports Illustrated — but Papelbon’s not stupid. He just hasn’t acquired professional mechanisms, an understanding of consequence: He says all the dumb things most of us probably think but keep back. [...]

He is less a vessel, more a conduit: Everything that goes in has to find its way out.

Witness Papelbon’s take on last summer’s Manny Ramirez drama — the endless cycle of love and hate that culminated in Ramirez being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July — unedited: “The beautiful thing about our team is, we don’t let anybody get above the team. He wasn’t on the same train as the rest of us.” And here Papelbon starts banging his kitchen table for emphasis, the punctuation marks in his sentences changing: “He was on a different train! And you saw what happened with that. We got rid of him, and we moved on without him. That comes from the manager, and it comes from guys like Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield and David Ortiz. Nobody is ever going to be allowed to do that. Even a guy like me, just heading into my fourth year in the big leagues — if David Ortiz gets a little, you know — I’ll tell him what’s up! I’m not afraid to do that. I’m not afraid to put him in his place, because I think everybody needs that. And if somebody does it to me, I understand that. I most certainly understand that. Varitek tells me all the time, ‘Just shut up. Do what you’re supposed to do.’ So Manny was tough for us. You have somebody like him, you know at any point in the ball game, he can dictate the outcome of the game. And for him not to be on the same page as the rest of the team was a killer, man! It just takes one guy to bring an entire team down, and that’s exactly what was happening. Once we saw that, we weren’t afraid to get rid of him. It’s like cancer. That’s what he was. Cancer. He had to go. It sucked, but that was the only scenario that was going to work. That was it for us. And after, you could feel it in the air in the clubhouse. We got Jason Bay — Johnny Ballgame, plays the game right, plays through broken knees, runs out every ground ball — and it was like a breath of fresh air, man! Awesome! No question.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


FBI searches DC government office (AP, 3/12/09)

FBI agents are conducting a search of the offices of the District of Columbia's chief technology officer.

The head of that office, Vivek Kundra, recently left to take a job with the Obama administration.

...maybe the UR should grant people blanket pardons before appointing them?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


Blairism has destroyed the Labour party: David Selbourne says that New Labour won elections but eradicated all that was good in the party’s traditions. The Cameroons should learn from this terrible lesson (David Selbourne, 11th March 2009, Spectator)

In Britain and elsewhere market liberalisation has landed the public exchequer in mountains of debt. But at the same time, public bodies are still being invited to submit to the ‘disciplines of the market’, while company executives have trousered fortunes even as the taxpayer was bailing them out. ‘Give a capitalist enough rope and he will hang himself,’ said Lenin.

Yet at the very time when socialist and quasi-socialist methods have been adopted to deal with the crisis, Labour, gripped by defeatism, flounders. The reason is not hard to find: Labour as a popular movement, as a party, and as the embodiment of an ethic, was destroyed by Blairism.

Labour was not so much modernised as Mandelsonised. With electoral rehabilitation as the prize — today’s Tories beware! — Labour’s old purposes were transformed. This process was driven by the perceived need to shake off its ‘old-fashioned statism’, to ‘go with the flow’ of market forces, and to change Labour’s ‘brand’.

New Labour’s handlers, some of them ex-Marxists, declared that we were living in ‘post-ideological’ times. Producer interests — code for what used to be called the working class — had become a political albatross. Donkey-jackets and proletarian vowel-sounds were out, sleek haircuts and rimless specs were in. The citizen had been replaced by the consumer, and the political realm was to be treated as a marketplace like any other.

More important, ‘rebranding’ sidelined many of Labour’s old beliefs in the virtues of community, the dignities of productive work and the ethics of public service. A seedy construct, Blairism nevertheless brought New Labour and its hangers-on office and personal benefit. But it left much of the public domain ransacked and inefficient.

Under Gordon Brown’s aegis, New Labour’s privatisations went further than those of the Tories. The disenfranchised trade unions, already hit for six by Thatcherism’s ruthless way with manufacturing and local government, gradually faded from the public scene.

It's a very rare thing for a political analyst to forecast the future as presciently as Geoffrey Wheatcroft did in the Atlantic Monthly of June 1996, where he wrote:
Blair became the Labour leader in July of 1994, at the age of forty-one, projecting glamour, youth, freshness. His slogan was "modernization," and he unofficially but definitely renamed his party "New Labour." It may have looked more like a marketing strategy than a political philosophy, but it worked. Within a year Labour was so far ahead in the polls that if (in the political commentators' illusory hypothesis) an election had been held then, the Tories would have suffered the kind of wipeout their Canadian counterparts experienced not long ago.

Almost more startling than what Blair did was how he did it. He took over a party all but terminally demoralized by endless defeat, presenting himself as the man who could make the party electable once more. What wasn't clear at first was that he meant to do so by utterly transforming the party, by uprooting its traditions, by effectively destroying Labour as it had been known since its beginnings. There had long been struggles between the left and the right of the party, between advanced socialists and cautious reformists, and some leaders were more radical than others. But Labour had always had a sentimental tradition to which all paid homage, embodied in totems such as the state-socialist Clause Four of its old constitution and the singing of "The Red Flag" at the end of conferences.

Blair is the first Labour leader who barely pretends to be a socialist. He determined to ditch Clause Four, and duly did so. In the process he caused what one writer has called "the collapse of Labour as the party of organised labor"--an outcome that, as the oddly oxymoronic phrase suggests, is as though the Pope caused the collapse of the Church as the medium of organized Christianity. Even more brazenly, Blair has courted figures ranking high in the demonology of the British left, from the rulers of the East Asian "tiger" countries to the Prince of Darkness himself, Rupert Murdoch.

Above all, he did what no leader of the "progressive" side in British politics had done since the 1840s. Every Tory leader since Sir Robert Peel had implicitly agreed with his opponents that the future belonged with their side; that at best a rearguard action could be fought; that conservatism's role was to make concessions as slowly, and with as good grace, as possible. That is, until Margaret Thatcher. She was the first Tory leader who did not share this belief.

And Blair agrees with her. He is the first of the Tories' political opponents ever to concede that they have largely won the argument. An anthology of Blair's recent reflections speaks for itself.

"I believe Margaret Thatcher's emphasis on enterprise was right."

"A strong society should not be confused with a strong state."

"Duty is the cornerstone of a decent society."

"Britain needs more successful people who can become rich by success through the money they earn."

"People don't want an overbearing state."

Any of these could have been uttered by a Tory, or by a none-too-liberal Democrat or, indeed, by a none-too-liberal Republican. Come to think of it, Patrick Buchanan's main disagreement with the Labour leader would be over Blair's uncritical admiration for "wealth creators" and free trade. It has been a breathtaking achievement--but a paradoxical one. Political parties have changed character before now, and have sometimes been taken over from the outside. This is a unique and much stranger case: a party has been captured from the inside, and by a man who in his heart despises most of that party's traditions and cherished beliefs. [...]

It is plainly the case that by the 1970s the unions had become an arrogant and destructive force, and that their connection with Labour was politically damaging for the party. When the Thatcher government curbed the unions' power by removing their privileged status outside the law (originally conferred by Disraeli, of all people), the step was welcomed by almost everyone except the union bosses. Any Labour leader who wants to become Prime Minister must accept that.

He must also accept that heavy taxation is unpopular, that rainbow coalitions of ethnic and sexual minorities arouse little enthusiasm among ordinary voters, and that the kind of liberalism that appears better disposed toward criminals than toward their victims doesn't win many votes either. Hence Blair's insistence that there will be no return to the taxation rates of the last Labour government, hence his fulsome tribute to a policeman murdered on duty and his almost-too-neat promise to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime."

There is also a growing consensus, way beyond neo- or paleo-conservatism, that Dan Quayle Was Right: that the hedonistic individualism of the 1960s and 1970s was socially destructive, and that its ultimate victims have been not the well-to-do bohemians who first propagated it but the poor. Hence also Blair's language of responsibility, duty, and self-discipline. This was shrewd as well as sincere. [...]

Many people claim to have disliked some aspects of "Thatcherism," even if the claim is a little hypocritical, since they often went on voting for it. Blair's strategy is to appropriate the economic gains of the 1980s but to mitigate the worst side effects, differentiating himself from the Tories by shifts of emphasis, by a rhetoric of community and civic virtue, and by simply playing on the undoubted disenchantment or weary boredom of the electorate after seventeen years of Tory rule. [...]

He has not explained in detail what his government would do. Instead he has conducted a brilliant marketing operation for a product no one quite understands, known as New Labour--or Labour Lite, as someone has unkindly called it. And in the process he has lorded it over the party he now leads, and rubbed his colleagues' noses in it. It was right to recognize (as the chattering classes are still reluctant to do) that the Tories have some genuine achievements to their credit in these past seventeen years. It is another thing to say so in the way Blair does: to insist that "the Thatcher-Reagan leadership" of the 1980s "got certain things right. A greater emphasis on enterprise. Rewarding, not penalizing, success. Breaking up vested interests." [...]

"During the sixties and seventies the left developed, almost in substitution for its economic prescriptions, which by then were failing, a type of social individualism that confused, at points at least, liberation from prejudice with a disregard for moral structures. It fought for racial and sexual equality, which was entirely right. It appeared indifferent to the family and individual responsibility, which was wrong.

"There was a real danger, occasionally realized, that single-issue pressure groups moved into the vacuum. Women's groups wrote the women's policy. Environmental groups wrote the environmental policy, and so on. This was the same elsewhere. I remember a telling intervention of a speaker at the Republican Convention of 1984 in the U.S. asking rhetorically, `When was the last time you heard a Democrat say no?' It was too close to the truth for comfort."

When the leader of a party of "the left" approvingly quotes Republicans, something very funny is going on. [...]

[Alan Watkins] observed not long ago that although Labour MPs have gone along with Blair, the truth is that most of them hate what he is doing to their party. But, then, the feeling is mutual. Someone who knows him says, "You have to remember that the great passion in Tony's life is his hatred of the Labour Party."

It is the nature of the Third Way beast though that Tories can't accept that he was one of them and that when David Cameron positions himself as Blair's heir it is Maggie's mantle he'll inherit.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Red Sox: Five things to know (Danny Knobler, 3/12/09,

Five things to know about the Boston Red Sox:

1. The pitchers in camp with the Red Sox have 721 combined wins, 12 All-Star appearances and 12 World Series rings. And yet, the most talked-about pitcher in camp hasn't spent a day in the big leagues. Daniel Bard isn't likely to break camp with the team, either, but he sure has made an impression. "Best fastball I've ever seen," one veteran scout said. "For one inning, he's unhittable. It takes off at 100 mph. You're not going to hit it."

Let us suppose an 11 man staff and Brad Penny healthy enough to be the 5th starter. Consider then the Sox AAA staff:

Rotation: John Smoltz (while he rehabs), Justin Masterson, Clay Bucholz, Michael Bowden, Junichi Tazawa (when he moves up from AA)

Closer: Daniel Bard

How many major league teams wouldn't prefer to trot out that top 6 to what they'll actually send to the mound? Maybe a handful?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


Times Hires New Conservative Columnist (RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA, 3/12/09, NY Times)

[Ross G. Douthat's] writing steers away from partisanship — he frequently criticizes Republicans — or doctrine, showing a concern for income inequality that is usually the terrain of more liberal writers. On abortion, he said in an interview, “I’m sort of a squishy pro-lifer,” interested in finding areas of compromise. He initially favored the war in Iraq, but later opposed it.

In the spirit of the Age of Obama, he's a quota hire but mixed breed enough not to scare the Timesmen.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


The Nationalization Paradox: Americans are rightly skeptical of bank nationalization. But we might need to proceed anyway. (Vincent R. Reinhart, March 12, 2009,The American)

Despite our squeamishness about the term, nationalization will most likely have to be done. Until the financial institutions at the center of the global trading system revive, the greater economy will be held hostage because lending will be crimped and financial market activity will be impaired. In a perfect world such a step would not be necessary. We are far from a perfect world. [...]

Rewarding the bad behavior of management and the presumption of investors is not a welcome legacy for the future. But rewards should remain on the table for those who trusted their funds to firms with underlying value.

This is a problem as old as the Republic. At Alexander Hamilton’s urging, the new constitutional government honored the pensions of Revolutionary War veterans. Some had doubted they would be paid and sold their pension claims to speculators, who fed those doubts along the western frontier. To Hamilton, the precedent of repayment was critical. Fairness was not about how the current holders of the debt fared but about the perceived willingness of the United States to pay its obligations. The fair price of Revolutionary debts was the one that built in a certainty of payment. That is, his sense of fairness was about the burden of his precedent on future generations.

Expecting the current Treasury Secretary to match the first might be hoping for too much. But Hamilton’s successor should have the same concern for precedent that signals a well developed sense of fairness for current and future generations.

...holding off on the off chance you might not eventually need to do the deed is a mistake. Better an early unnecessary nationalization than a late vital one.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


How al-Qaeda stoked our Massereene fury: Public anger in support of the Armed Forces shows that our attitude to terrorism has moved on (Melanie Reid, 3/12/09, Times of London)

So let us be honest. When we saw the TV footage of Muslim demonstrators in Luton greeting the returning soldiers as butchers and rapists and cowards, didn't we feel a sudden wash of anger? Didn't we, inside ourselves, hear a voice we recognised as our own cry: “You bastards!”

The people of the town, out on the streets to welcome home the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, clearly did. Their visceral reaction was to turn on the anti-war protesters. There was, for a few minutes, the remarkable sight of the spirit of peaceful, respectable middle-Britain, in its M&S anorak and its sensible shoes, provoked into physical violence.

The scene was brief, but its resonance huge. You can bet that any clever politician who watched will know they witnessed this unassuming, easygoing society of ours reaching the limits of its tolerance. This was the tipping point; the no-go area; the discourtesy too far. You may hate our policies, and disagree with our wars, the people cried, but do not insult our young men and women in uniform. the notion that Britain any longer has a tipping point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


The Israel lobby's Lexington and Concord: Chas Freeman's resignation is the first skirmish in what will be a long war between the Obama administration and the Israel lobby (Richard Silverstein, 3/11/09,

The Israel lobby and Republican neocons have scored their first triumph of the Obama administration by derailing the appointment of Chas Freeman as director of the National Intelligence Council. [...]

The next time anyone qvells about how moderate a Republican Olympia Snowe is, just remember that she signed a highly partisan letter attacking Freeman that every Republican member of the Senate intelligence committee also signed. Given her status as a swing vote and party moderate, her participation may have sealed his fate. She caved to rightist pressure at the drop of a hat.

But Democrats like Charles Schumer also led the charge against Freeman. that secretive Zionist cabal comprised not just of Jews but of the entire Republican party and most elected Democrats.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


The Man Obama Double-Crossed (Sally Denton, 3/12/09, Daily Beast)

Just over a year ago, Bill Richardson was a credible, if dark horse, Democratic presidential candidate and possible Barack Obama vice-presidential running mate. Five months ago, he was stunned when he did not become Obama's secretary of State; several people close to him say he thought he had been promised it. Then, in a humiliating and historically ironic slight to the man who had helped Obama win the Iowa caucuses and then the primary election, Obama passed over Richardson for State in favor of their mutual nemesis, Hillary Clinton. Still reeling from what he considered a double cross—Richardson told confidants he had been promised secretary of State—he gamely accepted the consolation prize, secretary of Commerce. But even that was to elude him. In early January, amid revelations that a federal grand jury was investigating a pay-to-play scheme involving a California-based financial company and Richardson’s political action committee, Richardson withdrew his nomination.

In the span of a few short months, Richardson has gone from a luminous star in America’s political galaxy to a powerless pariah in the twilight zone. The second-term governor of New Mexico, whose term does not expire until 2011, is now plagued by the aura of scandal and is the lamest of lame ducks. Fending off a plethora of accusations, Richardson has watched his in-state approval ratings plummet to his all-time low of 41 percent. His political clout with the state legislature is severely weakened, and party leaders are discreetly lobbying for his resignation so that Democratic Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish can ascend as planned. “His popularity has really declined in the state,” says Democrat Timothy Jennings, the state senate’s president pro tempore.

The madcap search by Left and Right for the real Obama--"He's a Socialist!" "He was Supposed to be a Socialist not a New Democrat!"--completely misses the reality that has been on full view for his entire career. Barrack Obama believes in what;s good for Barrack Obama and nothing nor no one else matters.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Smithsonian Uncovers Secret Message Inside Abraham Lincoln’s Watch (Smithsonian News, 3/10/09)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced it has found a “secret” message engraved in President Abraham Lincoln’s watch by a watchmaker who was repairing it in 1861 when news of the attack on Fort Sumter reached Washington, D.C.

In an interview with The New York Times April 30, 1906, 84-year-old Jonathan Dillon recalled that he was working for M.W. Galt and Co. on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, where he was repairing Lincoln’s watch. The owner of the shop announced that the first shot of the Civil War had been fired. Dillon reported that he unscrewed the dial of the watch, and with a sharp instrument wrote on the metal beneath: “The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try.” He then signed and dated the inscription and closed the dial. Dillon told The New York Times in 1906 that to his knowledge, no one ever saw the inscription.

After being contacted by Dillon’s great-great-grandson, Doug Stiles of Waukegan, Ill., the museum agreed to remove the dial to see if the watchmaker’s message was inside.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Why successful English teams have made the Champions League predictable and boring (John Cross 12/03/2009 , Daily Mirror)

This is a time when English football should be revelling in the fact that it has never been stronger and dominates European football. It is fantastic for the Premier League.

But let me ask you this: if you were French, Portugese, Spanish or even Italian, would you watch the Champions League? No.

The Champions League has become boring and predictable. Brilliant for us but whatever happened to the days when we had upsets and drama?

It's kind of an odd experience to watch a year of soccer because people say you're too hard on the game and then put up with a year of soccer enthusiasts explaining why the game sucks.

Jose punch probe! (Sportsmail, 12th March 2009)

Jose Mourinho is at the centre of a police investigation over claims that he punched a fan after last night's Champions League defeat at Manchester United.

It has been alleged that the Inter Milan boss struck a supporter outside Old Trafford shortly before midnight.

No English jury will be convinced that anyone from Inter had a strike on target on Wednesday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Poland Hopes to Complete US Shield Talks in April (Javno, 3/12/09)

Under the deal, agreed last year, Poland will host 10 ground-based interceptors. In return, Warsaw secured a U.S. promise that a Patriot missile battery would be stationed on its territory for a period before the end of 2009.

Warsaw sees the Patriot commitment as a symbolic security guarantee from its U.S. ally to counter an assertive Russia.

"I believe the Americans will stand behind their earlier declarations and that the Patriot rocket battery will come to Poland before the end of this year," Klich said.

Hopefully, President Obama won't backstab them to trucklr for favor with Russia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Classic field narrowed to great eight (Doug Miller, 3/12/09,

Three more World Baseball Classic games captivated a global audience Wednesday, and we now have the octet of teams that will move on to Round 2 in Miami and San Diego.

The last nation to book its ticket to Round 2 was Mexico, which earned its spot with some sweet revenge against Australia in Pool B in Mexico City.

After losing their first game to the Aussies by mercy rule in a 17-7 rout, the Mexicans returned the favor with a 16-1 mercy-rule pasting that lasted only six innings. [...]

Mexico moves on to Round 2 but not before meeting Cuba tonight to determine the winner of Pool B at 9 p.m. ET. The winner will play Japan in San Diego on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET in the first game of Round 2's Pool 1, and the loser will meet Korea there at 11 p.m. ET. [...]

Elsewhere in the Classic on Wednesday, Venezuela closed out Pool C play in Toronto by beating the United States, 5-3, and clinching the top seed in Round 2 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, where the Venezuelans will meet the upstart Dutch in the first game of Pool 2 on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. [...]

And in San Juan, home team Puerto Rico remained undefeated in the Classic by knocking off the surprising Netherlands team, 5-0, to take Pool D and open up their Round 2, Pool 2 adventure against the United States at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday in Miami.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Obama decries earmarks, signs bill with 9,000 of them (Steven Thomma and David Lightman, Mar. 11, 2009, McClatchy Newspapers)

As a candidate, Barack Obama once said that a president has to be able to do more than one thing at a time. Wednesday he proved it, though not in the way he had in mind.

He criticized pork barrel spending in the form of "earmarks," urging changes in the way that Congress adopts the spending proposals. Then he signed a spending bill that contains nearly 9,000 of them, some that members of his own staff shoved in last year when they were still members of Congress.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Sarkozy Breaks with De Gaulle and Tradition: France wants to give up its special role after 43 years and reintegrate into all structures of NATO. The decision by President Nicolas Sarkozy represents a break from his predecessors, but it has drawn heavy criticism across partisan lines in Paris. (Stefan Simons, 3/12/09, Der Spiegel)

Citing his "responsibility for the nation's strategic decisions" and noting that strategic conditions in the world have changed considerably, Sarkozy pledged France's "full commitment" at the side of its partners -- 43 years after former President and General Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from the Atlantic alliance.

France's reintegration into NATO creates a largely symbolic orientation, with which Sarkozy, a committed friend of the United States (and Israel), seeks to liberate himself from the doubts of his European friends. [...]

Now Paris has put an end to the "French exception" and is turning its back on an "anti-American" reflex.

Imagine how confused people will be a generation from now when they try to reconcile Sarkozy, Merkel, Harper, etc. with the Left's mantra that W alienated our allies?

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March 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


Chafee Chides Obama Over Bipartisanship (Sam Stein, 3/11/09, Huffington Post)

"The whole appeal of the Obama candidacy was post-partisan, and to get off to that start I thought was surprising," said the Rhode Island Republican. "Ultimately, the chief executive has so much power, and just as a spectator, I thought the onus was on him to just to make it happen. Get 80-or-so votes on your first big initiative, whatever it is."

"To get off to that start, really, I was stunned about that vote in the House. Oh, come on! You've got to get that first vote, whatever it takes," Chafee added. "It was kind of sloppily put together or something and it just gave to partisan oxygen."

Chafee's remarks get at an interesting subtext to the political developments of the president's first 50 days in office. While Obama has benefited greatly from the enhanced Democratic majorities in Congress -- passing, for instance, a $787 billion stimulus in a matter of weeks -- he lacks Republican support to bolster his post-partisan agenda. The White House and Democratic Party would, of course, prefer the sure thing -- legislation that is passed on party lines rather than stuck in limbo to accommodate crossover votes. And the Obama White House has always insisted that the process of erasing partisan lines in Washington will take time.

In that regard, Chafee's criticism underscores just how limited Obama's post-partisan appeal in Washington is currently. A moderate Republican who has voted against his party on major economic matters (see: Bush tax cuts), he would seem naturally sympathetic to the president he endorsed. And yet, he has gone further in blaming Obama than many Republicans in Congress, who have focused their critiques largely on Democratic congressional leadership.

Behind the Cell Curve (Kathleen Parker, 3/11/09, Real Clear Politics)

As he lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research Monday, President Barack Obama proclaimed that scientific decisions now will be made "on facts, not ideology."

This sounds good, but what if there were other nonideological facts that Obama seems to be ignoring? One fact is that since Obama began running for president, researchers have made some rather amazing strides in alternative stem cell research. [...]

The objectification of human life is never a trivial matter. And determining what role government plays in that objectification may be the ethical dilemma of the century.

In this case, science handed Obama a gift -- and he sent it back.

President Palin wouldn't have lifted the ban, but then, she's morally serious.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


DE Sen: Castle Leads Biden (Kyle Trygstad, 3/12/09, Real Clear Politics)

While one PPP poll finds the state's elected Democrats rather popular, another new PPP poll finds Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) leading Atty. Gen. Beau Biden (D) in a potential 2010 Senate special election.

Castle leads Biden by 44%-36% margin, with 20% undecided. Castle (54%/33%) holds slightly higher approval and disapproval ratings than Biden (49%/27%).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


NYT's Baquet defends handling of Freeman (Michgael Calderone, 3/12/09, Politico)

[O]ne outlet that didn’t weigh in until last night was the New York Times.

Dean Baquet, the Times Washington bureau chief, told POLITICO that there had been “a relentless effort to get coverage for Freeman and his issues," but the paper had to make choices with how to best use resources and personnel.

“The main reason we haven’t covered it until something happened is that this is not high enough a job for us to cover relentlessly with all the things going on Washington,” Baquet added.

They had room on their front page today for a murder trial and a story about smartphones, but they couldn't cover the dysfunction in a new presidency as an appointee went down in flames?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM



Problem is, the administration's preening about its own scientific purity just isn't justified.

Consider, for instance, Eric Lander and Harold Varmus - the co-chairmen of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, which helps steer decisions on issues like the stem-cell matter.

Lander is a renowned stem-cell researcher at MIT, a world-class university that stands to get even more federal funding, thanks to Obama's stem-cell move. An MIT spokeswoman says the university takes conflict-of-interest precautions when its faculty serve in government positions - but added that it won't recuse itself from funding opportunities related to Obama's decision.

More of the public-relations legwork on the Obama stem-cell decision has been done by the advisory council's oth- er co-chairman, Harold Varmus.

What of Varmus? The president lauded him Monday as an example of the type of "outstanding scientists" who "will guide us in the years to come." He's a Nobel-prize winning scientist who now serves as president of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

And a spokeswoman says Sloane Kettering's Stem-Cell Research Facility didn't qualify for federal funds under the Bush policy, because it uses tissues that violate the Bush ethical guidelines. Now that Obama has reversed that policy, the federal funding floodgates are open.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


What Left Turn? (Ruth Marcus, March 11, 2009, Washington Post)

On the war in Iraq, Obama has, wisely, stepped back from his brigade-a-month withdrawal plan and stretched his 16-month departure timetable to 19 months. It turns out that the residual force Obama discussed, sketchily, during the campaign will total 50,000 troops.

A "broken promise . . . more like occupation-lite," charged the antiwar group Code Pink.

On the legal issues entwined in the war on terrorism, Obama is, again wisely, proceeding more slowly than many civil libertarians demand. Guantanamo will be closed -- eventually. Military commissions have been halted, torture policies renounced and secret memorandums released.

Yet the Obama Justice Department backstopped the Bush Justice Department's assertion of the state secrets privilege to block lawsuits challenging wiretapping and extraordinary rendition. The administration argued that prisoners in Afghanistan cannot challenge their detention in court. It leaned on the British government to keep evidence of alleged torture secret.

"Hope is flickering," lamented Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


WBC Five Cuts: Netherlands shocks Dominican, puts event on the map (Tom Verducci, 3/12/09, SI)

1. The World Baseball Classic arrived Tuesday night. Baseball became a truly global game when the Netherlands, the international baseball version of Buster Douglas, the 1980 U.S. hockey team and the Milan Indians rolled into one, put the tournament on the map by upsetting the heavily favored, star-studded Dominican Republic team, 2-1. Talk about shocking the world. Go crazy, Rotterdam, go crazy.

The Netherlands is a country that may be the best baseball Europe has to offer, but is a country that has never finished higher than fourth in the history of IBAF World Cup competition. Its WBC roster included just one major leaguer. A 29-year-old third baseman named Yurendell DeCaster, with the grand sum of zero major league hits, became their Lorenzo Charles with a two-out infield grounder to first base -- it was scored an error by Willy Aybar -- to cap a two-run, bottom of the 11th rally for the historic 2-1 victory. The winning run was scored by Eugene Kingsale, a 32-year-old outfielder who had washed out of the major leagues and had escorted home the go-ahead run in the top of the inning for the Dominicans with a misplay in right field. It was a single by the redemptive Kingsale that had tied the game.

Major League Baseball can work all of its machinations to pump up interest in the tournament, such as marketing and broadcasting. But there is nothing more powerful to sell the tournament than the unscripted magnificence of the game itself, never more so than when what we regard as the meek overtake the mighty. The Dominicans, because of the country's abiding love for baseball, will bear grief and shame for the defeat.

But for the Dutch, and for those who saw the WBC as a means to grow the game, victory is eternal. Van Gogh. Escher. DeKooning. And now make way for a new Dutch master: DeCaster.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Inequality is bad for your health: A new international report reveals that mental health problems are far worse in 'rich' nations, such as the UK, that are socially unequal - and that individual treatment is not the solution. (Mary O'Hara, 3/11/09, The Guardian)

It has been acknowledged for some time that poverty can be a trigger for poor mental health, but a new study published today by the World Health Organisation (WHO) argues that it is inequality that has the most profound and far-reaching consequences for individuals and wider society. The study, which draws on research from throughout Europe, concludes that mental health difficulties are most pronounced in countries such as Britain, which, although rich, have high levels of income and social inequality. [...]

"There is overwhelming evidence that inequality is a key cause of stress, and also exacerbates the stress of coping with material deprivation," the report says.

"The adverse impact of stress is greater in societies where greater inequality exists and where some people feel worse off than others. We will have to face up to the fact that individual and collective mental health and wellbeing will depend on reducing the gap between rich and poor."

So-called happiness league tables frequently show that people who live in countries without gaping income inequalities between rich and poor - Sweden tends to be at the top of such surveys, with the UK hovering towards the bottom - are generally more content, but Friedli is keen to point out that the WHO research goes "much deeper" than many of the surveys that make the news. [...]

Looking at the trends on physical health outcomes when a country becomes richer - which point to a positive impact on factors such as mortality rates - it found the opposite to be true of mental health. "As countries get richer, rates of mental illness increase." It argues that the level of mental distress among communities "needs to be understood less in terms of individual pathology and more as a response to inequalities involving relative deprivation across society".

The report concludes that high levels of inequality when it comes to "social status" can have a serious impact on how individuals within a society see themselves, and how this manifests itself in their overall mental health. Echoing some of the conclusions reached by the academic Richard Wilkinson in his latest book on inequality, The Spirit Level, the report also concludes that "greater inequality heightens status competition and status insecurity across all income groups and among both adults and children".

The problem isn't just that inequality can feed unhappiness and thereby undermine support for the regime but that, contra free marketeers, inequality has a negative correlation to economic growth, rather than being a necessary evil. On the other hand, the threat of extreme egalitarianism is no less significant than that of extreme inequality. Thus the peculiar genius of the Third Way, which would redistribute and/or force savings of small amounts of wealth from birth and then take advantage of markets to grow that into substantial wealth over a lifetime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Science Over All?: The Temptation in Obama's Stem Cell Policy (Yuval Levin, March 10, 2009, Washington Post)

If (as modern biology informs us) conception initiates a human life, and if (as the Declaration of Independence asserts) every human life is equally deserving of some minimal protections, government support for the destruction of human embryos for research raises profound moral problems. But if you think an embryo is not quite a person, or that its immaturity or inability to suffer pain or its other qualities mean that destroying an embryo does not amount to taking a life, the promise of stem cell science might well outweigh any doubts.

That legitimate dispute underlies the stem cell debate. But that is not the ground on which the president made his case yesterday. He argued that to deny free rein to stem cell science is to ignore and reject the promise of science as such. In a barely concealed swipe at his predecessor, he pledged that his administration would "make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

The executive order Obama signed omits any mention of ethical debate. The entirety of the case it makes for itself is that "advances over the past decade in this promising scientific field have been encouraging, leading to broad agreement in the scientific community that the research should be supported by Federal funds." And while Obama promised that his policy would be bound by ethical guidelines, he left it to the scientists of the National Institutes of Health to define the rules. The issue, he suggested, is a matter of science, not politics.

But science policy is not just a matter of science. Like all policy, it calls for a balancing of priorities and concerns, and it requires a judgment of needs and values that in a democracy we trust to our elected officials. In science policy, science informs, but politics governs, and rightly so.

...then nothing is forbidden.

The President Politicizes Stem-Cell Research: Taxpayers have a right to be left out of it. (ROBERT P. GEORGE and ERIC COHEN, 3/11/09, WSJ)

"Moderate" Mr. Obama's policy is not. It will promote a whole new industry of embryo creation and destruction, including the creation of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are destroyed. It forces American taxpayers, including those who see the deliberate taking of human life in the embryonic stage as profoundly unjust, to be complicit in this practice.

Mr. Obama made a big point in his speech of claiming to bring integrity back to science policy, and his desire to remove the previous administration's ideological agenda from scientific decision-making. This claim of taking science out of politics is false and misguided on two counts.

First, the Obama policy is itself blatantly political. It is red meat to his Bush-hating base, yet pays no more than lip service to recent scientific breakthroughs that make possible the production of cells that are biologically equivalent to embryonic stem cells without the need to create or kill human embryos. Inexplicably -- apart from political motivations -- Mr. Obama revoked not only the Bush restrictions on embryo destructive research funding, but also the 2007 executive order that encourages the National Institutes of Health to explore non-embryo-destructive sources of stem cells.

Second and more fundamentally, the claim about taking politics out of science is in the deepest sense antidemocratic. The question of whether to destroy human embryos for research purposes is not fundamentally a scientific question; it is a moral and civic question about the proper uses, ambitions and limits of science. It is a question about how we will treat members of the human family at the very dawn of life; about our willingness to seek alternative paths to medical progress that respect human dignity.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Heads should roll: President Obama's clumsy, smirky staff is sinking him -- and resurrecting a deflated GOP! (Camille Paglia, Mar. 11, 2009, Salon)

Heads should be rolling at the White House for the embarrassing series of flubs that have overshadowed President Obama's first seven weeks in office and given the scattered, demoralized Republicans a huge boost toward regrouping and resurrection. (Michelle, please use those fabulous toned arms to butt some heads!)

First it was that chaotic pig rut of a stimulus package, which let House Democrats throw a thousand crazy kitchen sinks into what should have been a focused blueprint for economic recovery. Then it was the stunt of unnerving Wall Street by sending out a shrill duo of slick geeks (Timothy Geithner and Peter Orszag) as the administration's weirdly adolescent spokesmen on economics. Who could ever have confidence in that sorry pair?

And then there was the fiasco of the ham-handed White House reception for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, which was evidently lacking the most basic elements of ceremony and protocol. Don't they read the "Iliad" anymore in the Ivy League? Check that out for the all-important ritual of gift giving, which has cemented alliances around the world for 5,000 years.

President Obama -- in whom I still have great hope and confidence -- has been ill-served by his advisors and staff.

Blaming the staff is the last place people put their hope that the president is who they wanted him to be, not who he is. Those of a certain age will recall that the "real Ronald Reagan"--the conservative warrior of Richard Viguerie's and Howard Phillips's dreams--was constantly being thwarted by James Baker and Dick Darman and made to appear moderate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Mr. President, Time to Rein In The Chaos (Andrew S. Grove, March 11, 2009, Washington Post)

In less than two months, the hopeful enthusiasm that welcomed the Obama administration has given way to growing worry and frustration. I find myself wringing my hands, not over the goals President Obama has set but over the ineffectual ways the administration has pursued them. I have no qualifications to judge how well the Obama team manages the political dynamics, but as a business executive with 40 years' experience, much of it managing change, and a part-time academic dedicated to studying why so few corporations succeed in navigating change, I feel compelled to comment not on the what of the Obama team's efforts but on the how.

I have found that to succeed, an organization must travel through two phases: first, a period of chaotic experimentation in which intense discussion is allowed, even encouraged, by those in charge. In time, when the chaos becomes unbearable, the leadership reins in chaos with a firm hand. The first phase serves to expose the needs and options, the potential and pitfalls. The organization and its leaders learn a lot going through this phase. But frustration also builds, and eventually the cry is heard: Make a decision -- any decision -- but make it now. The time comes for the leadership to end the chaos and commit to a path.

We have gone through months of chaos experimenting with ways to introduce stability in our financial system. The goals were to allow the financial institutions to do their jobs and to develop confidence in them. I believe by now, the people are eager for the administration to rein in chaos. But this is not happening.

Until the administration does this, we should not embark on attempting to fix another major part of the economy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Clash Over Labor-Rights Bill Appears Likely (Alec MacGillis, 3/11/09, Washington Post)

President Obama has hinted that although he supports the Employee Free Choice Act, he would be open to revised legislation that commands broader support, and is not exactly burning to push the labor-rights bill anytime soon.

But as the legislation, which would make it easier for unions to organize, was re-introduced yesterday, all signs were pointing to the kind of incendiary clash the president hoped to avoid. [...]

[Business owners, drawn from the states of key senators, got their marching orders at U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters, where leaders of the organization and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) praised them as the "first Marines hitting the beach" to defeat a "job killer" bill.

"Go up and tell them what will happen [if the bill passes], that no one is going to add a single job in the United States," Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue said. "Will I put a job here where it'll get unionized in an illegal way? No, I'll put it somewhere else."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Sage Advice: Barack Obama needs Warren Buffett more than Buffett needs Barack Obama. (John Dickerson, March 10, 2009, Slate)

Obama could use a little Buffett validation right now as he seeks to bolster investor and consumer confidence about the plans he has enacted and the plans he has yet to unveil. He didn't really get it Monday as Buffett gave his views on the economic crisis during a lengthy interview on CNBC. Buffett made a broad critique of the politicians in Washington. And while he called out Republicans for being obstructionist, his most specific remarks were aimed at congressional Democrats and the president. "I think that the Democrats—and I voted for Obama and I strongly support him, and I think he's the right guy—but I think they should not use this—when they're calling for unity on a question this important, they should not use it to roll the Republicans." He also said it was unproductive to blame the Bush administration and use the crisis to get funding for "pet projects."

March 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 PM


Atlantic stimulus rift grows (Tony Barber in Brussels, Alan Beattie in Washington and George Parker in London, March 10 2009, Financial Times)

The US-European differences are casting a shadow over next month’s summit in London of leaders from the G20 group of advanced and emerging economies, an event to be attended by Barack Obama on his first visit to Europe as US president.

It also emerged that Gordon Brown, UK prime minister, was struggling to organise the summit. Britain’s most senior civil servant claimed it was hard to find anyone to speak to at the US Treasury. Sir Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary, blamed the “absolute madness” of the US system where a new administration had to hire new officials from scratch, leaving a decision-making vacuum.

“There is nobody there. You cannot believe how difficult it is,” he told a conference of civil servants.

Even Hillary didn't think that 3am phone call would just go unanswered.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


The Intel Czar Stumbles: Outcry in Congress derails Dennis Blair's choice for top post (Michael Isikoff and
Mark Hosenball, Mar 10, 2009, Newsweek)

The resignation of Freeman represents another serious "vetting" embarrassment for the White House and a personal blow to Dennis Blair, President Obama's national intelligence director. After choosing Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council, Blair had publicly defended his choice and insisted as recently as this week that he had no intention of withdrawing the selection. On Monday, Freeman himself was telling people on Capitol Hill that the more criticism was heaped on him, the more intent he was on fighting to stay at the intelligence council.

A former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Freeman has faced questions over the past two weeks about financial ties between members of the Saudi royal family and the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), a Washington think thank he heads that has been critical of U.S. support for Israeli government policies. But Pelosi's objections reportedly focused on Freeman's ties to China. A well-placed Democratic source said Pelosi, a strong supporter of the Chinese human rights movement, was incensed about public remarks that Freeman once made that seemed to justify the violent 1989 Chinese government crackdown on democracy protestors at Tiananmen Square. The source, who asked not to be identified, said Pelosi thought Freeman's views were "indefensible" and complained directly to President Obama about his selection.

...and who the choke-ball.

And just in case you weren't convinced that his Jew-hatred was virulent, Freeman speaks out on his exit (Foreign Policy: The Cable, 03/10/2009)

I am not so immodest as to believe that this controversy was about me rather than issues of public policy. These issues had little to do with the NIC and were not at the heart of what I hoped to contribute to the quality of analysis available to President Obama and his administration. Still, I am saddened by what the controversy and the manner in which the public vitriol of those who devoted themselves to sustaining it have revealed about the state of our civil society. It is apparent that we Americans cannot any longer conduct a serious public discussion or exercise independent judgment about matters of great importance to our country as well as to our allies and friends.

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel. I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel.

See? It isn't his's that Jewish cabal!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


Torres lights up Anfield with his sheer brilliance (James Lawton, 11 March 2009, Independent)

Rafa Benitez no doubt mentioned it to all his players. It was time to lay down a little bit of intimidation, the kind that might reach into every corner of Europe. But then, who knows, he might have had a special word with Fernando Torres.

What isn't in doubt is that in the kind of form which washed like breaking surf over his old Madrid rivals Real here last night Torres could scare the life out of any team who happens to stand in Liverpool's path – even the one which threatens to dress them down at Old Trafford at the weekend.

Last summer Torres made the case for himself as the game's outstanding striker in Spain's European Championship triumph. Against Real, the former Atletico striker made a similar announcement. his play. Unlike the guys who can only score on penalty and free kicks, he actually creates goals in open play.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


Obama: 'I am a New Democrat' (JONATHAN MARTIN & CAROL E. LEE, 3/10/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama firmly resists ideological labels, but at the end of a private meeting with a group of moderate Democrats Tuesday afternoon he offered a statement of solidarity.

“I am a New Democrat,” he told the New Democrat Coalition, according to two sources at the White House session.

Obama made his comment in discussing his budget priorities and broader goals, also calling himself a “pro-growth Democrat” during the course of conversation.

White House officials stressed that Obama was not making any declarations, but rather pointing out that he was in sync with many of the group's principles.

If there's one thing his biography teaches us, it's that he has no idea what he is.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


Obama White House Discloses Two More Lobbyist Waivers Granted (Jake Tapper, March 10, 2009, Political Punch)

The White House Tuesday evening disclosed that almost three weeks ago the Obama administration granted ethics wavers for two additional officials who had previously worked as lobbyists. On February 20 the administration signed waivers for Jocelyn Frye, former general counsel at the National Partnership for Women & Families, and Cecilia Muñoz, the former senior vice president for the National Council of La Raza, allowing them to work on issues for which they lobbied.

These two are in addition to deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn, a former Raytheon lobbyist whose waiver was granted two days after President Obama announced on January 21 what he heralded as the most sweeping ethics rules in American history -- ones that would "close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


Sita Sings the Blues: The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told (Tim Heffernan, 3/10/09, Esquire)

Around 400 B.C., an unknown Indian began compiling the verses of a traditional epic poem. Six hundred years later, the Ramayana was finished. It runs roughly 24,000 stanzas, and is a masterpiece.

In 2002, an American artist named Nina Paley began animating the story of Sita, the lovelorn princess at the heart of the Ramayana. Six years later Sita Sings the Blues was finished. It runs for roughly 80 minutes. And it's also some kind of masterpiece. (Don't rely on my word. Rely on Ebert's.)

I say "some kind" because the film is essentially unclassifiable. On one level, as noted, Sita is about Sita, the lovely, loving wife of prince Rama, for whom the epic is named. They get banished to the jungle, she gets kidnapped, he rescues her, and then he banishes her again. Standard broken-hearts stuff, though the monkey armies and magic arrows and ten-headed kings add plenty of flare.

But Sita is also about Paley's own brutal 2002 dumping by her then husband, who'd moved to India on business. ("Dear Nina — don't come back" read the e-mail.)

Paley tells her own story briskly, straightforwardly, and without a shred of self-pity. Sita, however, tells her tale of woe mostly through song. But not just any songs: actual 1920s-era recordings by jazz pioneer Annette Hanshaw. Amazingly, the trick works. Sita plus Annette equals musical perfection. [...]

Don't even get me started on the animation, all of which Paley did herself, and which alternately resembles Mughal miniatures, traditional Indian shadow-puppetry, a Technocolorized Betty Boop short, or a collaboration between Charles Schulz and Richard Linklater. It's brilliant.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


Chas Freeman’s Out (Spencer Ackerman 3/10/09, Washington Independent)

...someone on the Left claims he was ground into motzah balls?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Ethics turnabout is fair play, GOP says (JOHN BRESNAHAN, 3/10/09, Politico)

House Republicans are stepping up their attacks on Democrats over ethics issues — and they’re stealing a page from Nancy Pelosi’s playbook to do it.

Over the past three weeks, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has filed three privileged resolutions calling for a House ethics committee probe into the connection between earmarks and campaign contributions. [...]

The rat-a-tat resolutions are aimed at the relationship between Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and PMA Group, a lobby shop raided by federal authorities last year. But they’re also a not-so-subtle shot at Pelosi, who as minority leader personally filed a dozen privileged resolutions calling for ethics investigations into former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and other Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:45 PM


White House official's home repairs questioned (KAREN MATTHEWS, 3/10/09, AP)

The new White House director of urban affairs hired an architect for his own home at the same time that a project the architect was working on was up for approval by his office.

Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, tapped by President Obama last month to head the Office on Urban Policy, hired architect Hugo Subotovsky in 2006 to design a renovation for his two-family house.

Subotovsky was part of a team seeking approval of a development called Boricua Village that included a 14-story college building and 679 units of housing. Carrion recommended approval of the project in 2007, and it then went to the city Planning Commission.

Carrion, 47, oversaw rapid development in the Bronx including 40,000 new units of housing and 50 new schools. Real estate developers were among his biggest campaign donors, and campaign finance records show that Subotovsky and the team behind Boricua Village gave Carrion tens of thousands of dollars.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:42 PM


Senate Democrats Try to Thwart GOP Move on Pay (AP, 3/10/09)

Senate Democrats are trying to thwart Republican efforts to force a vote on congressional pay raises on a must-pass spending.

Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter's amendment to the stopgap legislation would ban congressional pay raises unless lawmakers vote to increase their own salaries. He argues that these automatic salary boosts are inappropriate while the nation is mired in a recession.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:27 PM


India: America's indispensable ally: Washington will need New Delhi's cooperation on a host of critical issues, so the Obama administration must not risk neglecting the relationship. (Xenia Dormandy, March 11, 2009, CS Monitor)

At a time when so much of the broader Middle East and South Asia is in disarray, it may be tempting to put India – an ally and friend of the United States – on the back burner. But it is precisely because India is a friend and ally, and because of the severity of regional and global problems, that the US needs to nurture this relationship. If President Obama is to achieve many of his ambitious foreign-policy objectives, he will need to forge an even stronger relationship with India – and that will take work.

As things stand, however, Washington's bandwidth for India seems to be overwhelmed by concerns about its neighbors to the west, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He's walking and you expect him to chew gum?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Obama's National Intelligence Crackpot: What does the Jewish lobby have to do with China's dissidents? (BRET STEPHENS, 3/10/09, WSJ)

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal published a letter from 17 U.S. ambassadors defending the appointment of Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. The same day, the leaders of the 1989 protests that led to the massacre at Beijing's Tiananmen Square wrote Barack Obama "to convey our intense dismay at your selection" of Mr. Freeman.

If moral weight could be measured on a zero to 100 scale, the signatories of the latter letter, some of whom spent years in Chinese jails, would probably find themselves in the upper 90s. Where Mr. Freeman and his defenders stand on this scale is something readers can decide for themselves.

So what do Chinese democracy activists have against Mr. Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia? As it turns out, they are all, apparently, part-and-parcel of the Israel Lobby.

In a recent article about Mr. Freeman's nomination in the Huffington Post, M.J. Rosenberg of the left-wing Israel Policy Forum writes that "Everyone involved in the anti-Freeman effort are staunch allies of the lobby." Of course: Only the most fervid Likudnik mandarins could object to Mr. Freeman's 2006 characterization of Mao Zedong as a man who, for all his flaws, had a "brilliance of . . . personality [that] illuminated the farthest corners of his country and inspired many would-be revolutionaries and romantics beyond it." It also takes a Shanghai Zionist to demur from Mr. Freeman's characterization of the Chinese leadership's response to the "mob scene" at Tiananmen as "a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Centrist Democrats Are Forcing Moderation in Party’s Liberal Agenda (Alan K. Ota, CQ)

New Democrats, ascendant during the Clinton administration, largely support President Obama’s job creation strategy: upgrades in the nation’s electric-power grid, better schools, incentives for “green jobs” and expanding renewable energy. But the group is willing to slow other Democratic priorities.

“We’re Democrats. We will stand for small businesses and little people. But we’ll do it in a way that keeps in mind how the economy works and how capitalism works,” said Rep. Dan Maffei , D-N.Y.

The group flexed its muscle on March 5 when Sen. Evan Bayh , D-Ind., and other New Democrats balked at supporting the $410 billion omnibus spending bill (HR 1105), forcing Senate Democratic leaders to delay a vote on the legislation, which would fund the government through the end of fiscal 2009. [...]

In upcoming legislative showdowns, New Democrats may wield the balance of power on several Obama priorities: a health care overhaul, a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, and a $3.6 trillion budget, as well as the reauthorization of the 2001 No Child Left Behind law (PL 107-110).

The group counts former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman , I-Conn., among its charter members. The group has long been identified with efforts to press free trade and provide incentives to spur growth in high technology industry.

The agenda has grown to embrace an array of policies that spur growth in fast-growing industries, do not always hew to the demands of labor, and stress issues important to suburban voters rather than those in inner cities.

“We want the right policy balance. . . . We want to make sure things are done a practical way. It’s going to take all of working together to get to 60 votes to make things happen,” Bayh said.

The balance is First Way means to achieve Second Way ends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Hank Locklin, Country Singer, Is Dead at 91 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 3/10/09, NY Times)

At his death, Mr. Locklin was the oldest member of the Grand Ole Opry, where he performed for nearly a half-century. He recorded 65 albums and had 70 charted singles, including six No. 1 songs on the Billboard country chart. He sold 15 million records worldwide. His songs were recorded by hundreds of artists, including Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Roy Rogers.

With a style influenced by Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb, he had one of his first hits in 1949 for 4 Star Records with “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On,” which he both wrote and recorded. He took the title line from a song written by Claude Casey and had a much bigger hit when he re-recorded it for RCA in 1958.

Mr. Locklin’s 1960 hit “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” was Billboard’s No. 1 country song for 14 weeks and spent 36 weeks on the country charts. It also climbed to No. 8 on the pop charts. Other hits included “Geisha Girl,” “Let Me Be the One,” “It’s a Little More Like Heaven,” “Happy Birthday to Me” and “Country Hall of Fame.”

Mr. Locklin was one of the first to travel the globe playing country music and is particularly credited with helping popularize the genre in Ireland.

For “ Please Help Me, I’m Falling,” the pianist Floyd Cramer developed his celebrated version of the “slip-note” piano style, in which the piano seems almost to slur notes. That style became Mr. Locklin’s signature backup sound in many more recordings.

Lawrence Hankins Locklin was born on Feb. 15, 1918, just south of Brewton in McLellan, Fla., a village so small it is not shown on most maps. Hoedowns with guitars and fiddles were a common occurrence in the family living room.

He was hit by a school bus when he was 9. “It almost mashed me flatter than a fritter,” he told the Birmingham paper.

During his recuperation, he learned to play the guitar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 AM


Labor Bill Faces Threat in Senate (MELANIE TROTTMAN and BRODY MULLINS, 3/10/09, WSJ)

At least six Senators who have voted to move forward with the so-called card-check proposal, including one Republican, now say they are opposed or not sure -- an indication that Senate Democratic leaders are short of the 60 votes they need for approval. [...]

Sen. Lincoln is one of several moderate Democrats expressing doubts about the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill would allow unions to organize workers without a secret ballot, giving employees the power to organize by simply signing cards agreeing to join. A second provision would give federal arbitrators power to impose contract terms on companies that fail to reach negotiated agreements with unions. Both provisions are strongly opposed by business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor are among the Democratic lawmakers who have backed off their previous support. [...]

Several of the lawmakers face tough re-election races in 2010, or represent states with few unionized workers. Mrs. Lincoln is running for re-election in a state that Mr. Obama lost, 59% to 39%. Mr. Specter could face a more conservative Republican in a primary in Pennsylvania next year.

Business groups spent more than $30 million last year on TV ads opposing the idea, mainly in states represented by moderate Democrats, such as Arkansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Radio Reinvented: New devices make the most of digital broadcasts (Amanda Schupak, 03.10.2009, Political Science)

Many ordinary FM and AM stations transmit small amounts of digital data, such as song titles. And nearly 1,800 channels are entirely digital. Radio manufacturers are starting to take advantage of this extra information, creating gadgets that can not only play music, but also take notes, help you shop, or even save your life.

One of the reasons people can't wrap their minds around the fact of the deflationary epoch is that they compare the price of the car they bought today to the one their dad bought in 1962. But if those cars were animals we'd not even consider them to be the same species.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


A Turning Tide?: Obama still has the approval of the people, but the establishment is beginning to mumble that the president may not have what it takes. (Howard Fineman, 3/10/09, Newsweek)

Luckily for Obama, the public still likes and trusts him, at least judging by the latest polls, including NEWSWEEK's. But, in ways both large and small, what's left of the American Establishment is taking his measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lack-ing.

They have some reasons to be concerned. I trace them to a central trait of the president's character: he's not really an in-your-face guy. By recent standards—and that includes Bill Clinton as well as George Bush—Obama for the most part is seeking to govern from the left, looking to solidify and rely on his own party more than woo Republicans. And yet he is by temperament judicious, even judicial. He'd have made a fine judge. But we don't need a judge. We need a blunt-spoken coach.

Obama may be mistaking motion for progress, call-ing signals for a game plan. A busy, industrious over-achiever, he likes to check off boxes on a long to-do list. A genial, amenable guy, he likes to appeal to every constituency, or at least not write off any. A beau ideal of Harvard Law, he can't wait to tackle extra-credit answers on the exam.

Let's do the math here: He'd have made a fine judge + we don't need a judge = We don't need Barrack Obama. Ouch.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


In a Tough Sell, Corzine Works to Connect (DAVID W. CHEN, 3/10/09, NY Times)

Mr. Corzine is unlikely to win many new friends on Tuesday, when he is expected to propose a series of difficult steps to help the state close a $7 billion budget deficit: raising income taxes among the wealthiest residents, demanding that state workers agree to a wage freeze and take 12 unpaid days off, and reducing spending by billions. Small wonder, then, that Republicans are optimistic that they can win their first statewide election since 1997; one leading contender, a former United States attorney, Christopher J. Christie, is already ahead in at least two polls.

Mr. Corzine, 62, may in part be a casualty of anxieties about the economy, as are elected officials around the country. But what complicates his second-term aspirations is the fact that Mr. Corzine, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, has never been particularly popular. His highest approval ratings in Quinnipiac University’s poll, 51 percent, came shortly after his car accident, a figure that political analysts now attribute to pity, and Mr. Corzine’s public service announcement urging seat belt use.

Yet now, with the political clock ticking fast against the backdrop of a national recession, Mr. Corzine, a lumbering public speaker, must do something that he has always struggled with: connect with the average resident.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Dalai Lama warns of Tibetan culture's 'extinction': On 50th anniversary of failed uprising against Chinese rule, spiritual leader says martial law devastated Himalayan region (Tania Branigan, 3/10/09,

The Dalaia Lama today warned that Tibetan culture and identity were "nearing extinction" as he spoke on the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising against Chinese rule which led to his flight into exile.

In an unusually forceful speech to thousands of supporters in India, he accused Beijing of bringing "hell on Earth" to the region at times through periods of martial law and hardline policies such as the cultural revolution.

"These thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth," he said, adding that the policies had caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Chinese rule is 'hell on earth' (The National, March 10. 2009)
“The immediate result of these campaigns was the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans.” Tibetan culture and identity are “nearing extinction,” he told about 2,000 people, including Buddhist monks, Tibetan schoolchildren and a handful of foreign supporters. [...]

“Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them,” the Dalai Lama said, blasting the “brutal crackdown” in the region since protests last year turned violent.

While his comments were unusually strong for a man known for his deeply pacifist beliefs, he also urged that any change come peacefully and reiterated his support for the “Middle Way,” which calls for significant Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule.

“I have no doubt that the justice of Tibetan cause will prevail if we continue to tread a path of truth and non-violence,” he said. After his speech, thousands of young Tibetans took to the streets of Dharmsala chanting “China Out!” and “Tibet belongs to Tibetans!”

Protesters also marched in support of the Tibetans in New Delhi, Seoul and Canberra, the Australian capital, where they scuffled with police outside the Chinese embassy. Four of about 300 protesters were arrested there.

While Beijing claims Tibet has been part of Chinese territory for centuries, Tibet was a deeply isolated theocracy until 1951, when Chinese troops invaded Lhasa, the regional capital.

Yet violence would have saved the hundreds of thousands and liberated Hell.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Despite Promises, German Birthrate Falls: A drop in the number of births in Germany during the months of October and November suggests there may have been a birth rate decline in the country during 2008, despite lavish government benefits for new parents. (der Spiegel, 3/10/09)

For months, it looked like Germany might have put a stop to its shrinking birth rate. Indeed, in 2007, the country actually managed a bit of population growth. And, with a fast graying population that will be knocking on the door of the local pension office in the next few decades, it was high time, too.

But a reversal of Germany's demographic fortunes has proven to be a mirage. In October 2008, the number of births in Germany suddenly dropped. And in Novemnber, as preliminary numbers released by the German Federal Statistical Office, released on Wednesday, show, the number dropped again. [...]

Under the new benefit, introduced in January 2007, the state pays the parent who stays home with the child 67 percent of that parent's current net income, up to a maximum of €1,800 ($2,810) a month for up to 12 months. If both parents elect to take time off, the total number of months the benefit is paid, split between both parents, goes up to 14 -- a measure intended to encourage fathers to take time off work.

Was commodifying life really supposed to create greater regard for it?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Luc Besson's Growing Film Empire: The box-office successes of Europacorp's Taken and Transporter have put the studio on a fast-growth trajectory (Carol Matlack, 3/09/09, Business Week)

There's nothing like a recession to make Americans go to the movies. U.S. box-office receipts in February were a record $770 million. But the top-grossing movie of the month wasn't American—it was French. Taken, an action thriller starring Liam Neeson, is the first U.S. megahit for French film mogul Luc Besson. And Besson is working hard to make sure it won't be the last.

Besson, 49, best known until now as the director of such films as The Big Blue and The Fifth Element in the 1980s and 1990s, has worked mainly as a producer for the past decade. His Paris-based Europacorp (ECP.PA) studio posted $186 million in revenues last year, making it second only to Germany's Constantin Film (CFAG.DE) as Europe's largest independent studio.

Nearly one-third of Europacorp revenues come from box-office and DVD sales outside France—no surprise, since many of Besson's productions, including Taken, are in English. "We have a diplomatic passport; we're equally at ease in France, Japan, Germany, and the U.S.," Besson says in an interview at his headquarters in an elegant mansion a few blocks from the Champs-Elysées.

Just watched a curious film written by Mr. Besson: Banlieu 13 (aka District B13). It's like a Tom Tancredo wet dream turned nightmare.

In the Paris of 2010, the banlieu's have become so violent and dangerous that the authorities wall them up and withdraw all law enforcement personnel. Among those to be left behind are Leito, a sort of Robin Hood character waging a one man war on the drug baron, Taha Bemamud. The receding police cut a deal with Taha, jailing Leito and leaving his sister, Lola, enslaved by the gangster. But when Taha manages to get his hands on a neutron bomb, it's up to Leito to lead supercop, Captain Damien Tomaso, through Banlieu 13 to find the crook, defuse the bomb and free the sibling.

As with all Mr. Besson's movies, the action is well choreographed and sometimes thrilling. The opening chase in particular, with Leito running up walls and jumping from one tenement roof to the next, is worth watching. But, like many of these modern action movies, the running and the chop-socky are ultimately exhausting. Even coming in under 90 minutes, it's overlong. And such moments of exposition as there are only give the viewer a pause to consider how little there is going on beneath the surface. In effect, the film treats District B13 like the Roman Colosseum and us like voyeurs who should just sit back and enjoy the circus.

That makes it all the more jarring when the filmmakers tack on a preachy climax. Their political point may be valid, but their treatment of the subject has only served to undercut the message. They've just exploited District B13 as surely as the bad guys in the film. Strange.

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Posted by Orr