May 31, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


Syria Looks to Iraq for an Economic Boost: Thaw in Relations Lifts Hopes of More Trade, Amid Plans to Improve Shipping and Rail-Freight Routes (JULIEN BARNES-DACEY, 6/01/09, WSJ)

Suffering from dwindling oil revenue and a sluggish, state-dominated market, Syria is banking on an economic boost from an unlikely source: Iraq.

A recent thaw in the countries' political relations is raising hopes in Damascus of an increase in trade.

Syrian Minister of Economy and Trade Amer Hosni Lutfi said during a recent trip to Iraq that he hopes to more than triple bilateral trade, now estimated at $800 million, far behind Syria's biggest trade partners, China and Turkey, at $2 billion each.

Syrian officials also have said that a railway line from the coastal city of Tartous to Umm Qasr port in southern Iraq is opening this month. The railway promises a faster and cheaper route to the Mediterranean for regional goods typically shipped through the Suez Canal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


Cleric 'bans' Muslim use of nuclear weapons (BBC, 5/31/09)

Muslims should not use weapons of mass destruction and possess them only as a deterrent, a top Islamic cleric says.

Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa said using such weapons would violate Islamic teachings as Muslims as well as non-Muslims could be killed.

He issued the religious ruling, or fatwa, following reports that the use of such weapons was legitimate, the state news agency MENA said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


Unable to bend the ball, am I as wrong in my self-belief as Man United? (Will Buckley, 31 May 2009, The Observer )

United's fatal mistake was to believe the hype. They believed they were the equals of Barcelona. They believed they could play them at their own game. They believed wrongly.

None more so than Alex Ferguson, who allowed this delusion to influence his selection. In the Premier League you can get away without picking a midfield if you defend properly and have an array of talented strikers. You cannot afford such laxity against a team as fluent as Barcelona. Guus Hiddink realised this and picked a Chelsea side chosen to frustrate in the first leg and one which limited his rivals to one shot in the second. Rafa Benítez, with Gerrard, Alonso and Mascherano at his disposal for Liverpool, would never have made the same mistake. Either team would have given Barcelona a match; they might even have won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


Prayer May Reshape Your Brain ... And Your Reality (Barbara Bradley Hagerty, 5/20/09, All Things Considered)

Now it's time for Newberg to take a peek at McDermott's neural connections, sliding him into a SPECT scanner, which will create an image of which parts of McDermott's brain lit up and which went dark while he prayed.

A few minutes later, Newberg has preliminary results on his computer screen. He notes some areas of increased activity in the frontal lobes, which handle focused attention — precisely what Newberg would expect from a person praying intently. But he adds that this needs further analysis — and he'll need to find more volunteers to do this kind of interpersonal prayer before he can come to any conclusions.

Afterward, I ask McDermott if any of this challenges his beliefs. Not at all, he says.

"I think we're wired for the supernatural," he says. "I think we're meant to sense a world beyond our five senses. Come on! Taste and see that God really is good."

Newberg says he can't prove that McDermott or anyone else is communing with God, but he can look for circumstantial evidence.

"What we need to do is study those moments where people feel that they're getting beyond their brain, and understanding what's happening in the brain from a scientific perspective, what's happening in the brain from their spiritual perspective," he says.

Then he'll compare the mystical feelings with the brain physiology.

A Sense Of Oneness With The Universe

Newberg did that with Michael Baime. Baime is a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania and a Tibetan Buddhist who has meditated at least an hour a day for the past 40 years. During a peak meditative experience, Baime says, he feels oneness with the universe, and time slips away.

"It's as if the present moment expands to fill all of eternity," he explains, "that there has never been anything but this eternal now."

When Baime meditated in Newberg's brain scanner, his brain mirrored those feelings. As expected, his frontal lobes lit up on the screen: Meditation is sheer concentration, after all. But what fascinated Newberg was that Baime's parietal lobes went dark.

"This is an area that normally takes our sensory information, tries to create for us a sense of ourselves and orient that self in the world," he explains. "When people lose their sense of self, feel a sense of oneness, a blurring of the boundary between self and other, we have found decreases in activity in that area."

Newberg found that result not only with Baime, but also with other monks he scanned. It was the same when he imaged the brains of Franciscan nuns praying and Sikhs chanting. They all felt the same oneness with the universe. When it comes to the brain, Newberg says, spiritual experience is spiritual experience.

"There is no Christian, there is no Jewish, there is no Muslim, it's just all one," Newberg says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 PM


Eurabia Has A Capital: Rotterdam: Here entire neighborhoods look like the Middle East, women walk around veiled, the mayor is a Muslim, sharia law is applied in the courts and the theaters. An extensive report from the most Islamized city in Europe (Sandro Magister, 5/19/09, Chiesa)

Holland is an extraordinary test case. It is the country in which individual license is the most extensive – to the point of permitting euthanasia on children – in which the Christian identity is most faded, in which the Moslem presence is growing most boldly.

Here, multiculturalism is the rule. But the exceptions are dramatic: from the killing of the anti-Islamist political leader Pim Fortuyn to the persecution of the Somali dissident Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the murder of the director Theo Van Gogh, condemned to death for his film "Submission," a denunciation of the crimes of Muslim theocracy. Fortuyn's successor, Geert Wilders, has lived under 24-hour police protection for six years.

There is one city in Holland where this new reality can be seen with the naked eye, more than anywhere else. Here, entire neighborhoods look as if they have been lifted from the Middle East, here stand the largest mosques in Europe, here parts of sharia law are applied in the courts and theaters, here many of the women go around veiled, here the mayor is a Muslim, the son of an imam.

This city is Rotterdam, Holland's second largest city by population, and the largest port in Europe by cargo volume.

...but only by recognition that Pim Fortuyn was considered a viable alternative, Fortuyn favoured depraved (MARCELLO MEGA AND JUSTIN SPARKS, 5/12/02, Scotland on Sunday)
PIM Fortuyn, the charismatic right-wing Dutch politician murdered last week was a powerful advocate for paedophilia, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

His controversial views on race, immigration, liberalisation of drug laws and his open homosexuality were well-known. But his approval of paedophilia, while not a secret, was ignored by Dutch journalists covering his election campaign.

[Ireen Van Engelen, an anti-paedophile campaigner in Holland,] cites a column Fortuyn wrote for the Dutch current affairs magazine, Elsevier, in 1999. It was so on-message for pro-paedophile campaigners that it was reproduced by Koinos, a magazine for homosexual paedophiles.

In his article, Fortuyn wrote: "Paedophilia is just like hetero and homosexuality. It is something that is in the genes. There is little if anything that you can do about it or against it. You are who you are… sooner or later the proclivity makes its irresistible appearance. It is not any more curable than hetero or homosexuality."

The column concludes: "The law philosopher and paedophile [Edward] Brongersma, for years senator of the Labour party, spent his life campaigning for understanding of the paedophile fellow man. He launched this effort fearlessly after serving a sentence for sexual harassment of a minor. The minor in question had not considered it harassment, but the justice department judged otherwise in the 1950s.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, Brongersma slowly but surely gained ground. After the invention of the Pill came sexual liberation. Gay sex became accepted, and why then should paedo sex not be allowed – under the strict condition that the child is willing and that there is no coercion? This enlightened point of view has meanwhile been abandoned, and under the influence of the ologists, the child is defined as totally devoid of sexual desires, at least where adults are concerned.

"We are far removed from the understanding that Brongersma tried to foster, to our own detriment, for that matter. For everything which can be discussed is in principle also manageable, one would think!"

In societies caught between the Scylla of extreme permissiveness and the Charybdis of extreme prohibition, it's not at all clear why the former is preferable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


Anti-populationists - the new imperialists (Malcolm King, 1 June 2009, Online Opinion)

This is a story about the rise of anti-humanism and imperialism in the Australian environmental movement. The anti-populationists represent environmental politics gone mad. And they are coming to a forum or blog near you.

The national president of the Sustainable Population Australia, Sandra Kanck recently called for a one child per family policy to avoid “environmental suicide”. She wants the population to fall back to seven million people - about what it was in the Great Depression.

“Population stabilisation and then reduction has to be part of a suite of measures that ensure the cuts in emissions the Government has promised,” the former SA Democrat said recently.

It’s the population “reduction” part of Kanck’s comment that has interested media commentators, academics and bloggers. [...]

The anti-pops use a curious form of syllogism in their arguments which have been used by cults since time immemorial. It goes like this:

a. population is killing the environment;
b. we can save the environment;
c. help us rid the earth of population.

The fact that we are people in an environment traps us in the set called “population”. So they can link any human activity such as growing wheat, mining iron ore, building hospitals or picking your nose with environmental degradation. Who says? They do. What’s the internal pay off for the recruit? They feel like they’re saving the earth. It’s both an illogical and untrue syllogism.

The anti-pops play on the fear of an unknown future. They say that instead of waking up in the morning and having mangos and cereal for breakfast, the world will take a Hobbesian turn. It will be brutish with dog set against dog. Fear is their lever. Where’s the proof? They offer none.

The anti-pops are anti-immigration. They believe that the Australian environment - which many doubt they have seen - cannot take more refugees. Refugees of all types are portrayed as rabid consumers of goods and energy. Here the anti-pops meet One Nation. It’s a curious pairing. Their position sails dangerously close to the old “blacks and Asians out!” chant of the National Front.

The anti-pops have enemies and none harsher than Professor Frank Ferudi from the University of Kent in the UK.

“These (anti-populationist) environmentalists are fundamentally misanthropic. Their sociobiological stance is arguably more influential today than ever before. It reflects a loss of confidence in human potential and agency and indicates that humanist ideals enjoy little cultural affirmation,” Professor Ferudi says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Abortion doctor George Tiller is killed; suspect in custody: The late-term abortion provider was shot at church in Wichita, Kan. A suspect was arrested three hours later about 170 miles away, police say. Tiller, 67, had been a victim of violence in the past. (Robin Abcarian, May 31, 2009, LA Times)

For years, Tiller, 67, was a lightning rod in the struggle over legalized abortion.

He had previously been the victim of violence. In 1993, he was shot in both arms by an abortion protester as he drove away from his clinic. In 1986, his Women's Health Care Services clinic was severely damaged in a bomb blast. In 1991, the clinic was blockaded for six weeks by anti-abortion protesters.

And this month, Tiller's attorneys told the Associated Press, the doctor had asked the FBI to investigate an incident where vandals cut wires to security cameras, cut holes in the roof and plugged downspouts, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage to the clinic.

In addition to fending off abortion protesters for years, Tiller had been pursued by public officials opposed to abortion.

In March, he was acquitted of charges that he broke a Kansas law requiring a second doctor to affirm that a late-term abortion was necessary to preserve the health of the woman. That second doctor must be financially and legally independent from the first physician.

In a trial that lasted five days -- and in which the jury took less than an hour to return its verdict -- Tiller was cleared of charges that he had improper ties to Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus.

Today, Neuhaus said that she had expected further violence after Tiller's acquittal. "I knew it was going to antagonize these people that he quote, unquote, got off the hook," she said. "Dr. Tiller really was a warrior. " [...]

[W]arren Hern, a Colorado physician and close friend of Tiller's who said he is now "the only doctor in the world" who performs very late-term abortions, said Tiller's death was predictable.

"I think it's the inevitable consequence of more than 35 years of constant anti-abortion terrorism, harassment and violence. George is the fifth American doctor to be assassinated. I get messages from these people saying, 'Don't bother wearing a bulletproof vest, we're going for a head shot.' "

Suspect in slaying of abortion provider George Tiller being returned to Wichita (STAN FINGER AND JOE RODRIGUEZ, 5/31/09, The Wichita Eagle)
A suspect in this morning's fatal shooting of George Tiller is in custody and on his way back to Wichita, deputy chief Tom Stolz of the Wichita Police Department said today at a news conference.

The 51-year-old male suspect was arrested about three hours after the shooting without incident near Gardner on Interstate 35. [...]

Tiller has long been a focal point of protest by abortion opponents because his clinic, Women's Health Care Services at 5107 E. Kellogg, is one of the few in the country where late-term abortions are performed.

While the shooters in such cases obviously ought to be arrested and tried, it's less clear what the responsibility is of anyone who believes that Dr. Tiller was not just a murderer but an especially heinous one. The reality is that in past incidents killers of abortionists have not so much been acting from considered moral positions but out of insanity, like John Salvi, and/or, have been so indiscriminate as to threaten the innocent themselves, as Eric Rudolph. Were we on the juries considering what to do with such actors it would be a simple enough matter to determine that they needed to be locked away.

Suppose though a Valkyrie scenario, where a decent man or men, for noble motives, acted so as to stop an evil man and try to save lives? Wouldn't we be obligated to act as nullifying jurors refusing to vote for a conviction?

And given the very real possibility that the climate of violence against abortion providers had a salutary effect on the willingness to provide the procedure can the life-saving component of such violent acts be dismissed out of hand?

Ideas, as conservatives are fond of noting, have consequences, and we need to be honest about confronting the consequences of our own even if the Left won't do likewise. Dr. Tiller believed some of us should be killed for the good of others. It is quite possible that he died today because someone agreed with him on the principle, but differed on the application. His is a death that raises difficult questions for all of us.

Gravely Wicked (Robert P. George, 5/31/09, National Review)

Whoever murdered George Tiller has done a gravely wicked thing. The evil of this action is in no way diminished by the blood George Tiller had on his own hands. No private individual had the right to execute judgment against him. We are a nation of laws. Lawless violence breeds only more lawless violence.

That may or may not be the case, while it is indisputable that the lawful violence of abortion--wait, we can't really say "breeds" here--leads to more lawful violence. What was done can certainly be said to have been wrong but how was it "wicked"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM


Tatum's Art Changed Jazz (WILL FRIEDWALD, 5/31/09, WSJ)

There's a remarkable photo in the booklet accompanying "Art Tatum," the new 10-CD boxed set of rare music by the legendary pianist now out on the Storyville Records label. We see the jazz icon at work, surrounded by three heavyweight keyboardists: Albert Ammons, the boogie-woogie pioneer; Teddy Wilson, a star of the swing era and master of the American songbook; and Hazel Scott, whose specialty was swinging the classics. All three of them are looking over Tatum's shoulder with a look in their eyes that seems to acknowledge that here is a musician who can do -- all by himself -- everything that the three of them can do collectively, who can play more piano than all of them put together, and a great many others besides.

Tatum is unchallenged as far as sheer musical density is concerned: He played so many notes in a given performance that just counting them would be difficult, and actually transcribing one of his solos would be next to impossible.

Who knew the number of notes was the point?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


We are lucky this Pope is 'ecclesiastically incorrect': Benedict XVI is prepared to suffer ridicule in his battle against relativism (Alcuin Reid, 22 May 2009, The Catholic Herald)

On April 18 2005 a 78-year-old cardinal, at the end of his working life, preached the sermon for the cardinal-electors before they entered the conclave to elect a new pope. Joseph Ratzinger spoke that evening of the Church "moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires", and reminded the cardinals that the Church's true role is "to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth".

His remarks were direct and incisive. They were the words of a man utterly without ambition who was ready to retire under the new pope. So "ecclesiastically incorrect" were they that one cardinal-elector, a strong supporter of his candidacy, later remarked that he wondered whether, by speaking thus, Ratzinger was deliberately trying not to be elected pope. [...]

[E]vents this year have shown that this honeymoon, within and without the Church, is well and truly over. We now have world figures such as Alain Juppé presuming to assert that "this Pope is becoming a real problem', and Catholic journals publishing articles lamenting that Benedict XVI stands "like a solitary monarch in a curia that has lost its bearings". Why? Yes, one can point to some real mismanagement of papal initiatives in the Vatican which do require urgent remedy. The handling of the Regensburg address and of the recent lifting of the excommunication from the SSPX bishops was unsatisfactory. The appointment of Fr Wagner as an auxiliary bishop in Austria may not have been wise (less unwise, though, than Pope John Paul II's 1986 appointment of Hans Hermann Groër to Vienna). And perhaps the Pope should have addressed the "condom question" in an extended discourse rather than in a brief reply on an aeroplane.

But these matters of management are not the root cause of the discontent. When Pope Benedict freed the older liturgical rites from legal restrictions in July 2007, one Catholic commentator stated that "this is the strongest indication so far that the theological conservatism of Cardinal Ratzinger... is still in place in the papacy of Benedict XVI". Until then it was hoped that it was not. "A secret liberal at heart he is not," they lamented.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


Health Reform's Savings Myth (Washington Post, May 31, 2009)

"Health-care reform is entitlement reform" has become a mantra of the Obama administration. The idea is that Congress can add a massive health-care program this year -- covering the uninsured -- and use the same measures that pay for the health reform to fix the broader budget problems. If that sounds too good to be true, there's a reason.

Expanding insurance to cover the 46 million Americans who are uninsured would probably cost more than $100 billion a year -- more than the federal government spends on education, training, employment and social services combined. It is an immense undertaking at a time when the budget is under terrible strain. So it's no surprise that Democrats and the Obama administration do not want to portray it simply as another big entitlement program.

Some argue that universal coverage would decrease costs by expanding the risk pool (bringing healthy young people into the system) and by decreasing emergency room costs, because more people would get care before their illnesses become acute. There's truth to both, but the savings are vastly outweighed by the costs of treating so many people who today get little or no care. Expanding insurance coverage would increase health-care spending by those who acquire insurance and add to overall health cost inflation.

...something generally unneeded will be consumed driving costs astronomically higher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Susan Boyle Loses on British Talent TV Show (SARAH LYALL, 5/31/09, NY Times)

She is an internationally acclaimed Internet phenomenon and a symbol of the folly of underestimating people because of the way they look. But in a shocking upset, Susan Boyle, the 47-year-old Scottish church volunteer whose stunning audition for the “Britain’s Got Talent” TV show last month has been viewed something like 90 million times on YouTube, lost in the final round of the program on Saturday night.

After the audience votes had been tallied, Ms. Boyle placed second, beaten by a joyfully innovative dance troupe named Diversity.

...what chance did a white woman of faith have against Diversity?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


Obama walks a fine line over mining: Environmentalists feel betrayed by the EPA's decision not to block new mountaintop mining projects. (Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, May 31, 2009, LA Times)

With the election of President Obama, environmentalists had expected to see the end of the "Appalachian apocalypse," their name for exposing coal deposits by blowing the tops off whole mountains.

But in recent weeks, the administration has quietly made a decision to open the way for at least two dozen more mountaintop removals. [...]

The administration's decision is not the final word on the projects or the future of mountaintop removal. But the letter, coupled with the light it sheds on relations between the mining industry and the Obama White House, has disappointed environmentalists. Some say they feel betrayed by a president they thought would end or sharply limit the practice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Mexican facing deportation finds new calling as pastor (Richard Ruelas, May. 28, 2009, The Arizona Republic)

Manuel Maldonado illegally crossed the border a decade ago to flee drug dealers in his native Mexico who wanted him dead. He found refuge in the United States. He also found Jesus Christ, leading him to a new calling: pastor in the immigrant community.

"People are living here with a lot of fear from the authorities," he said in Spanish, sitting in his west Phoenix trailer home, minutes before an evening service. "God is using me to give them the word of God. And that word can give them peace in their life, can give them tranquillity."

Maldonado knows firsthand about the fear of authorities. Last year, he was arrested in Prescott while leading a church retreat. Deputies with the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office responded to complaints of noise and possible fighting at a campground where Maldonado was leading a sunrise prayer service.

Most of the group was deported, but not Maldonado, something he chalks up to divine intervention. The married father of five wants to gain permanent residency, but to do so he has to win a long, slow battle through the federal immigration system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Sotomayor Would Be Sixth Catholic Justice, but the Pigeonholing Ends There (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 5/31/09, NY Times)

Four of the Catholics on the court are reported to be committed attenders of Mass, and they make up the court’s solid conservative bloc — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. The fifth Catholic, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, often votes with them.

There are indications that Judge Sotomayor is more like the majority of American Catholics: those who were raised in the faith and shaped by its values, but who do not attend Mass regularly and are not particularly active in religious life. Like many Americans, Judge Sotomayor may be what religion scholars call a “cultural Catholic” — a category that could say something about her political and social attitudes.

Interviews with more than a dozen of Judge Sotomayor’s friends from high school, college, law school and professional life said they had never heard her talk about her faith, and had no recollection of her ever going to Mass or belonging to a parish. [...]

Studies have consistently shown that the 57 percent of Catholics who rarely or never attend Mass are far more liberal on political and cultural issues than Catholics who attend weekly or at least once a month.

In fact, 52 percent of Catholics who do not attend church regularly say abortion is morally acceptable, compared with 24 percent of churchgoing Catholics, according to a Gallup study released in March based on polling over the previous three years. Gallup found that 61 percent of non-churchgoing Catholics found same-sex relationships morally acceptable, compared with 44 percent of churchgoers.

...even Stephen Breyer goes to Mass and he's Jewish. It wouldn't be shocking to see Justice Scalia convert her.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Obama Justice Department Continues Bush's 'State Secrets' Argument...Again (Jake Tapper and Jason Ryan, 5/30/09, Political Punch)

In a court filing submitted in the middle of the night, President Obama's Justice Department is continuing the "state secrets" argument of his predecessor in litigation over the National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program.

The al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, investigated for terrorist financing out of its Oregon offices, sued the government alleging it was targeted under the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program.

In the middle of the night the Justice Department filed its response in the court case, telling a federal judge, who has ordered it to disclose information in the case, that Justice is still asserting the state secrets privilege.

"The Government must continue to oppose the disclosure of state secrets in any further proceedings," the Justice Department wrote. [..]

We've looked before at the President's frequent invocation of the "State Secrets" argument despite the pledge on the Obama-Biden campaign Web site where "The Problem" is described in part as the Bush administration having "invoked a legal tool known as the 'state secrets' privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Pakistan driving Taliban from Swat (The National, May 31. 2009)

The Taliban have abandoned their positions in the Swat Valley’s main town of Mingora under the advance of the Pakistani army, delivering the military a strategic prize in its offensive against militants in the country’s Northwest, according to army commanders.

Taliban fighters had dug themselves into bunkers built into hotels and government buildings in Mingora, and initially offered stiff resistance as troops first closed roads leading to the town and then began moving in earlier this week, army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


North Korea, the dead land: Hyok Kang, who escaped from his oppressive homeland in 1998, provides a unique and harrowing insight into Kim Jong-il's dictatorship, which can build nuclear weapons - but not feed its people (Hyok Kang, 31 May 2009, Daily Telegraph)

In our house, as in all the others, there was a loudspeaker that delivered broadcasts from the capital, Pyongyang. They told you the news, always devoted to the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, alternated with songs composed in his honour or to the glory of his father. We also had a radio that received these broadcasts, which was fixed by the authorities to that single station. A radio imported from abroad had to be taken to a security office where it was switched to the official station so that we wouldn't hear any other programmes.

We were fortunate as we also had a TV. As we were close to the Chinese border, we were able to pick up the Beijing channels. That was forbidden, so we did it at night, with the curtains drawn. Chinese television gave us an incredible view of the world. There were cars everywhere, rich people who ate all the time, lovely homes piled with household appliances. That said, we were suspicious of these pictures, because North Korean television also produced pseudo-documentaries that showed us as prosperous and happy, which we certainly weren't.

Motorised vehicles were rare. The richest travelled by bicycle, but most people went on foot. People often walk for 40 kilometres without grumbling. And they had many reasons for travelling, chief among them being the black market. You bought merchandise that was cheaper in one place to sell at a higher price elsewhere.

In North Korea, nursery school is followed by four years of primary and six years of secondary school. After that, everyone joins the army for 13 years. You leave at the age of 30, and it's only then that you can start thinking about girls and marriage.

In each classroom there hung a photograph of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, side by side. These pictures were very large, and placed just above the blackboard so that we could always see them, which gave us the impression that the rulers' eyes were on us at all times. Our uniforms were navy blue and cut in a military style. We put our fountain pens in our breast pockets, from which they had to show slightly.

School was from Monday to Saturday afternoon. After class, every day, we had to do agricultural work for two or three hours. On Sunday we laboured all day, with a picnic at lunchtime. There were hardly any adults around when we were working, and at times I got the impression that we children did most of the work in the fields.

As we hoed, sowed or harvested, we were subjected to a continuous flood of revolutionary songs, always very cheerful, broadcast by a propaganda lorry equipped with enormous loudspeakers. Although there are very few vehicles in Onsong, there were at least three propaganda lorries, which travelled the city and the surrounding villages. On top of that, in every district pylons fitted with loudspeakers broadcast party orders and martial music that woke us every morning. On holidays, the loudspeakers in the village broadcast uninterruptedly throughout the day.

Food was scarce, even before the famine. Every two weeks, the national system of food distribution allowed us a food ration made up of crushed maize and rice. There were often delays in supply. They had begun as early as 1985. But shortly before the death of Kim Il-Sung, in 1994, the system began to break down.

...but the "peace" with North Korea may be our most disgraceful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Fla. priest who left Catholic Church preps sermon (AP, May 31, 2009)

A popular Miami priest nicknamed "Father Oprah" was set to give his first sermon Sunday since leaving the Roman Catholic Church after photographs surfaced of him kissing his girlfriend on the beach.

The Rev. Alberto Cutie will preach at his new church, the Episcopal Church of The Resurrection. The church allows its priests to marry, unlike the Catholic Church.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Why are they trying to gag a top British science writer?: When chiropractors drag a top science writer into the libel courts, the country has lost its backbone ( Nick Cohen, 5/31/09 The Observer)

[Simon] Singh is a serious and amiable man, whose accounts of the solving of Fermat's last theorem and code breaking won high praise and provoked no controversy. Last year, he published Trick or Treatment? with Professor Edzard Ernst on the reliability of "alternative medicine", and devoted a chapter to the strange history of chiropractic treatments. One Daniel David Palmer invented the therapy in Davenport, Iowa, in 1895, when he convinced himself that he had cured a janitor's deafness by "racking" his back.

Inspired by this miracle, Palmer developed the theory that "95% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae", rather than, say, the germs that so bothered conventional doctors of the time. Chiropractic therapy was a new religion, Palmer declared, and he was a successor to Christ, Muhammad and Martin Luther. At home, he practised vigorous racking on his children.

His son, Bartlett, described how he beat them with "straps until we carried welts, for which Father was often arrested and spent nights in jail". Bartlett bought the first car Davenport had seen and paid his father back by running him down on the day of the Palmer School of Chiropractic Homecoming Parade.

Palmer died of his injuries a few weeks later, but his ideas lived on. In 2008, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) announced that its members could help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying. Writing in the Guardian, Singh said the claim was "bogus". Chiropractic treatments may help relieve back pain, but Professor Ernst had examined 70 trials and found no evidence that they could relieve other conditions.

Singh is hardly a lone sceptic. A few weeks ago, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against a chiropractor who claimed he could treat children with colic and learning difficulties. Nevertheless, the BCA took Singh on and told me it had "numerous documents which demonstrate the efficacy of chiropractic" treatments.

Fair enough, you might think. Reputable medical authorities could test the evidence and decide whether the treatments work or not. Instead of arguing before the court of informed opinion, however, the BCA went to the libel courts and secured a ruling from Mr Justice Eady that made Singh's desire to test chiropractors' claims next to impossible. Because Singh used the word "bogus", the judge said he had to prove that chiropractors knew they were worthless but "dishonestly presented them to a trusting and, in some respects perhaps, vulnerable public".

The learned judge did not seem to understand that the worst thing about the deluded is that they sincerely believe every word they say.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


The Dignity of George W. Bush: He won’t criticize Obama’s policies, his popularity polls are rising, and Democrats are hailing him as a “statesman.” Nicolle Wallace asks, is Bush becoming history’s classiest ex-president? (Nicolle Wallace, 5/31/09, Daily Beast)

Friends and former advisers who have spent time with him recently report that he’s “more relaxed than they’ve seen him in years” and “truly at peace” with life as a “former.” Events showcasing the warmth between Bush and Clinton shine a spotlight on Bush’s comfort with membership in the ex-president’s club. In fact, recent news coverage of Bush’s public events depicts an openness and generosity, especially toward those who disagree with him, that was often obscured by the office.

In two public speeches this week, Bush repeatedly refused to criticize President Obama on national security and on his management of the economy. He reiterated a pledge he made in March to maintain his silence, saying that “it is essential that he [Obama] be helped in office.” This comes from a place of deep respect for the office he once held, but also from genuine goodwill toward President Obama. “I love my country a lot more than I love politics,” Bush added. There are few public signs of that goodwill or respect being reciprocated from Obama, but that’s not likely to alter Bush’s conduct.

In answering a question from an audience member at a speech in front of the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan about what he wanted his legacy to be, Bush said: “I hope it’s this: the man showed up with a set of principles and he was unwilling to compromise his soul for the sake of popularity.”

With his approval numbers inching upward, George W. Bush is doing all the right things to ensure that his legacy is as he wishes. [...]

[W]hile no politician willingly sacrifices public support for his agenda if he can avoid it, George W. Bush relished traveling the politically treacherous path. Being a man of deep conviction was as central to Bush’s presidency as any other personal trait or outside event. I asked Senior Advisor David Axelrod once to what extent Obama was driven by his convictions.

“He’s pragmatic,” was his response, and it’s in keeping with something I’ve written about before—Axelrod’s belief that every winning candidacy is a ‘remedy’ to the previous administration.

And pragmatism is nothing if not unprincipled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


After Waterboarding: How to Make Terrorists Talk? (Bobby Ghosh, Jun. 08, 2009, TIME)

The most successful interrogation of an Al-Qaeda operative by U.S. officials required no sleep deprivation, no slapping or "walling" and no waterboarding. All it took to soften up Abu Jandal, who had been closer to Osama bin Laden than any other terrorist ever captured, was a handful of sugar-free cookies.

Abu Jandal had been in a Yemeni prison for nearly a year when Ali Soufan of the FBI and Robert McFadden of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrived to interrogate him in the week after 9/11. Although there was already evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, American authorities needed conclusive proof, not least to satisfy skeptics like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whose support was essential for any action against the terrorist organization. U.S. intelligence agencies also needed a better understanding of al-Qaeda's structure and leadership. Abu Jandal was the perfect source: the Yemeni who grew up in Saudi Arabia had been bin Laden's chief bodyguard, trusted not only to protect him but also to put a bullet in his head rather than let him be captured.

Abu Jandal's guards were so intimidated by him, they wore masks to hide their identities and begged visitors not to refer to them by name in his presence. He had no intention of cooperating with the Americans; at their first meetings, he refused even to look at them and ranted about the evils of the West. Far from confirming al-Qaeda's involvement in 9/11, he insisted the attacks had been orchestrated by Israel's Mossad. While Abu Jandal was venting his spleen, Soufan noticed that he didn't touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: "He was a diabetic and couldn't eat anything with sugar in it." At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandal's angry demeanor. "We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him," Soufan recalls. "So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures."

It took more questioning, and some interrogators' sleight of hand, before the Yemeni gave up a wealth of information about al-Qaeda — including the identities of seven of the 9/11 bombers — but the cookies were the turning point.

So if you have an unlimited amount of time and are only interested in obtaining intelligence that is no longer of any use you can use tea and sympathy.

May 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 PM


Wayne Rooney may need to complain to avoid becoming the odd-job man: Marginalised on the left against Barcelona, Wayne Rooney is fast becoming a victim of his own versatility (Paul Hayward, 28 May 2009, The Guardian )

Wayne Rooney's eagerness and versatility were two of his best calling cards until a starting berth on the left against Barcelona reduced him to the role of spectator. Among Sir Alex Ferguson's many dilemmas now is whether he should bring England's leading striker in from the cold to attack through the middle.

With Barcelona imperious in Rome, Rooney looked more than ever a victim of his own gift for multitasking. Even his usual hyperactiveness was missing as the game passed by without him, in the central midfield areas where Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Sergio Busquets eclipsed the Manchester United trio of Anderson, who was a passenger for the 45 minutes he stayed on the field, Michael Carrick, who had an off day, and the 35-year-old Ryan Giggs, who was asked to perform a task beyond his defensive abilities and ageing legs.

In this dispiriting scenario Rooney was a remote presence on the left, while Park Ji-sung scuttled fruitlessly up and down the right and Cristiano Ronaldo filled a centre-forward's role which, he grumbled in the mixed zone, is not his real vocation. At the end, United were chasing the game in a 4-2-4 formation, with Rooney, Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov all failing to pose much of a threat.

Obviously the best player in the world--which is what Man U is desperate to believe Christian Ronaldo is--ought to play through the middle. But, as even Ronaldo apparently concedes, you can't put him there and create offensive chances. His scoring is, to a stunning degree, a function of kicking the ball only when it's stationary.

Their weaknesses had become glaringly apparent by mid-Winter, but they managed to win the EPL again on muscle memory--they just know how to win the League better than others because of their experience doing it--and the role their reputation plays in refereeing. In many ways, it is their actual mediocrity by comparison to other recent iterations of the team that makes their league championship all the more remarkable.

If Alex Ferguson is extremely fortunate, Ronaldo will leave now that he's not only not getting the calls he used to get for diving but starting to be targeted by refs for his petulance. Such a departure would afford an opportunity to rethink the entire attack and liberate Rooney, who's easily their best player.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


An Ongoing Fungoer: California Coach Jimmie Reese is the oldest and best fungo hitter around (Bill Colson, 8/29/79, Sports Illustrated)

For the information of fans who never arrive at a game before the national anthem, fungoes are the balls a coach hits to fielders during pregame drills. The derivation of the term "fungo" is somewhat obscure. According to one explanation, it comes from an old game in which the hitter would yell, "One go, two go, fungoes." Whatever the source, White Sox Coach Bobby Winkles says that when it comes to fungoes, "Jimmie Reese is No. 1 and the rest of us are eighth, ninth and 10th." Minnesota Manager Gene Mauch adds, "He's got a swing any tournament golf pro would envy."

Mauch's praise helps explain how Reese once shot an 82 for 18 holes using only a fungo bat and a putter. In 1968, while coaching Seattle in the minors, Reese beat a golf pro in a test of accuracy. Standing at home plate, he stroked four out of 15 baseballs into a circle in centerfield with his bat, while the golfer dropped in two golf balls with a nine iron.

In another esoteric test, Reese won a bet from current Pirate skipper Chuck Tanner, when Tanner was the Seattle Rainiers' manager, by hitting a flagpole from 100 feet away on his first swing. But Reese's fungo skills have not always been employed so frivolously. Until 1972 he "pitched" batting practice in the minors with a fungo bat—and without a protective screen. "He hit strikes with 90% accuracy," says Cleveland Second Baseman Duane Kuiper. "That's better than most pitchers." Reese's mound career ended prematurely after a line drive whistled dangerously close to his head. "If that ball had hit me," recalls Reese with a shudder, "it would have sent me to the great beyond."

Reese broke into baseball in 1917 as a bat boy, a clear indication of destiny's call. The highlights of his playing career came as a Yankee rookie in 1930 when he hit .346 in 188 at bats and roomed with Babe Ruth. "I probably roomed with his bed more than with Babe," recalls Reese. "He had one of those unusual constitutions. He could stay up all night and still hit a ball 500 feet."

Since retiring as a player in 1938, Reese has banged out some two million short hoppers, towering pop-ups, long flies and sinking line drives—most of them with bats he makes in his workshop at home. That's right, Jimmie Reese, the game's premier fungo hitter, doesn't use a store-bought fungo bat. A wood-carver in his spare time, he fashions his own by splitting a regular bat through the middle with a band saw. "Tan oak doesn't crack or split as easily as the ash or poplar they use in the fungo bats today," explains Reese, "and mine is heavier. Normal fungo bats are 16 to 25 ounces; mine is 27 and has greater balance." Reese hits the ball with the rounded side and uses the flat surface to scoop up balls as the fielders throw them in to him. "Not having to bend down to pick up those balls has added two or three years to my career," he says. He also pops 80 vitamin pills daily and never lights the cigars he chomps.

For the most part, Reese has used the same fungo bat the last nine years, unlike other coaches, who go through at least three or four a season. But this one is not really his favorite. He almost lost that bat in 1967 when he made the mistake of lending it to a young player. Without Reese's knowledge, the player took the bat into the batting cage and—oh no!—broke it. Because of their light weight, fungo bats are easy to swing and control, but they cannot withstand the impact of a major league fastball. Reese was able to put the broken bat back together, and now he keeps it under lock and key.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Pro-life shift not surprising (Cheryl Wetzstein, May 26, 2009, Washington Times)

What's new is that when asked flat-out, most Americans now say they are pro-life.

I find this believable for two reasons.

First, my 2007 research showed that young Americans are skewing pro-life. A 2003 Gallup poll, for instance, compared the abortion views of 517 teens, aged 13 to 17, with those of more than 1,000 adults. When asked whether abortion should be allowed under "any" circumstance, adults were more likely to say yes than teens (26 percent to 21 percent). More stunningly, when asked whether abortion should be allowed under "no" circumstances - i.e., be outlawed - 33 percent of teens said yes, compared with only 17 percent of adults.

Another poll, released in January 2006 by Hamilton College and Zogby International, asked 1,000 high-school seniors about the morality of abortion. Two-thirds said it was immoral, with 23 percent saying it was "always" morally wrong and 44 percent saying it was "usually" morally wrong.

My experience with youth, both personally and professionally, is that they often recoil at abortion. So I find a pro-life trend in youth to be quite plausible.

Second, I think some aging baby boomers are changing their views. People generally become more conservative and self-reflective with age. Legacies matter. Hindsight is 20/20. Regrets appear.

My suspicion is that in more than a few cases, baby boomers who were willing to have abortions are not at ease with the idea of losing their grandchildren, too. It may be that in the autumn of life, being "pro-life" has a whole new meaning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


This epochal crisis requires us to resolve the paradox of capitalism: At work, we're told to be diligent and disciplined; elsewhere, hedonistic and self-indulgent. We need a sustainable model (Timothy Garton Ash, 5/06/09,

What do we want to see emerge from the greatest crisis of capitalism for 70 years? If I had to answer in a single phrase, I would say: new models for a sustainable social market economy. This requires us to change as well as our states.

Capitalism will not end in 2009 as communism ended in 1989. It is too deep-rooted, too diverse and too adaptable to suffer such a sudden death. There are far more varieties of capitalism in the world today than there ever were of communism, and that diversity is one of its strengths. The rainbow reaches from wild west to wild east, and extends to major national variants of a market economy, such as China, that purists would say are not capitalism at all. So some versions of capitalism will weather the storm; others will be left in ruins or at least very substantially transformed.

See, Darwinism actually works in systems with intelligent design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Faith in the future: Contrary to what evangelical rationalists preach, it is perfectly possible both to be modern and to believe in God. But there is no reason to assume that the American religious model will prevail: a review of God Is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith Is Changing the World by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (John Gray, 21 May 2009, New Statesman)

Whether Marxian or Millian, socialist or liberal, secular rationalists have held one tenet in common: religion belongs to the infancy of the species; the more modern a society becomes, the less room there is for religious belief and practice. Never questioned, this is what lies behind the hot-gospel sermons of evangelical atheists: if you want to be modern, say goodbye to God.

At bottom, the assertion that religion is destined to die out is a confession of faith. No amount of evidence will persuade secular believers that they are on the wrong side of history, but one of the achievements of God Is Back is to show how implausible, if not ridiculous, their view of history actually is.

The notion that modernity and religion are at odds is a generalisation from the experience of some parts of Europe. Europe is now largely post-Christian and the majority no longer follows any conventional creed, but things are otherwise in much of the rest of the world, and notably so in the US, which, during most of its history, has been intensely religious and self-consciously modern.

European Enlightenment thinkers have tended to see the US as the exception that proves the rule – an unexplained lag in a universal trend towards secularisation.

Against this view, Micklethwait and Wool­dridge show that modernisation and an increase in religiosity go together in much of the world. Some of the most powerful sections of the book feature narratives of religious communities in improbable places – prosperous, highly educated Chinese, among them scientists and academics, coming together in contemporary Shanghai to read and discuss the Christian Bible, for example.

If there is any trend that can be discerned in the parts of the world that are most rapidly modernising, it is that secular belief systems are in decline and the old faiths are being reborn.

As usual, Mr. Gray's multiculturalism prevents him from accepting that, in fact, only the authors' concept of religion works

May 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


Some Industries Deserve Bankruptcy: 'Newsweek' and Katie and Maureen--oh my! (Andrew Ferguson, 06/01/2009, Weekly Standard)

It was that kind of week: While flipping the pages of the new Newsweek, it began to occur to everybody that, hey, this is a pretty stupid idea for a magazine. Are there really 1.5 million magazine readers--the number of subscribers Jon has promised advertisers--who want a liberal opinion magazine written by liberals who don't want to admit they're liberals? Last week everybody looked at one another and pondered a world without Newsweek.

Monday wasn't even over yet before everybody found out that Maureen Dowd, who as everyone knows writes a column for the New York Times, had lifted a paragraph from a popular blog and put it into her column and passed it off as her own work. Everybody loves Maureen. She's everybody's favorite. More important, everybody wants to be Maureen's favorite. So everybody pretended this didn't happen. Instead everybody believed Maureen when she said she'd been "talking to a friend of mine" who made a point in a "cogent--and I assumed spontaneous--way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column." That's why it was woven word for word in her copy.

Her explanation was implausible in every particular, compounding her original offense. Normally everybody loves it when this happens, because everybody gets to say to one another, "In Washington the cover up is often worse than the crime!" But this was Maureen. The unthinkable began to emerge as the implausibility sunk in. Everybody's favorite was not only lazy and unimaginative but dishonest too--a bit of a fraud. Just in time the "media critic" for the Washington Post stepped in to deliver summary judgment. Maureen, he announced, had made an "inadvertent mistake." Relieved, everybody went back to loving Maureen and wanting to be loved by her. [...]

Then Helen Thomas was hoisted to the podium to present her award to Katie [Couric]. Everybody admires Helen, though nobody can tell you why. Helen mentioned the Palin interview too. She said Katie's skewering of Palin had ensured that John McCain would lose the election to Barack Obama. You know how everybody feels about Barack Obama--he's the guy the world bends itself to.

"Katie had the right stuff to do that game-changing interview," Helen said. "After that, the ballgame was over."

Helen gave a dramatic pause, then said: "She saved the country."

Helen got a standing ovation, from everybody.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


The Successful Poet: How Leonard Cohen made it big. (Lionel Tiger, 05.20.09, Forbes)

As at any college, we had the usual group of baffled arrogant self-selected earnest artiste-intellectuals who circulated around the town. We wanted, at the same time, to keep people out and expand our group, but always the criteria were about creative skill, surprising knack and sustained and socially critical activity. And stubbornness--otherwise known as ambition or high standards--which made the difference decades later.

One fellow was especially athletic and knowing in his aesthetic drive, and he wrote the finest poetry in the group. He took up singing poetry to music, and we would sometimes troll the same parties with music to try to attract the attention of women who were over-clothed against the fierce winter of the college season. We did some national broadcasting work together--it was sheer pleasure for lads without a business plan for life.

He lived a life untroubled by surface perturbations. He always sustained profound uncertainties about faith, the surprises of time and loyalty, questions that he continues to mine. When I came back from three years away from town, we met for a long walk, and then he offered to sing me the new songs he had written, which he said he felt obligated to perform for anyone who asked. We sat in the furnished room in which he lived to hear what were to become classic song poems of our time--which it was clear then they were going to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Competitiveness: The U.S. and Europe Are Tops: Developed countries still enjoy huge advantages in economic competitiveness, based on their advanced infrastructure, education, and laws (Mark Scott, 5/19/09, Business Week)

Among the nations of the world, developed countries still enjoy considerable advantages in fundamental economic competitiveness—whether based on the quality of their infrastructure and educational systems or the sophistication of their business laws and bureaucracy.

That's the conclusion of the 2009 World Competitiveness Yearbook, an annual report published by IMD business school in Lausanne, Switzerland. Based on a detailed analysis of economic output, government and business efficiency, skills, and infrastructure, the researchers ranked 57 of the world's economies to determine which are best placed to succeed in the 21st century economic race.

Topping the list for the 16th consecutive year, unchanged from its No. 1 ranking in the 2008 report, was the U.S.—despite a tough economic situation and rising unemployment. With its world-class higher-education system, enormous and diverse economy, and powerful infrastructure, the U.S. continues to be the world's biggest economic engine and top destination for foreign direct investment.

The U.S. shared top billing with plenty of other developed and competitive countries whose economies also are shaky these days. Among the top 20 on the list, only oil-rich Qatar, ranked 14, and China, ranked 20, can be considered emerging economies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


The emptiness of Obama's pragmatism: Policy devoid of clear ethical theory creates a nation without principle, and a nation without principle is a nation on stilts. (Jacob Bronsther, May 26, 2009, CS Monitor)

Obama has governed so far as though Pragmatism 1 entails Pragmatism 2. He presumes that policies forged by reason, evidence, and "unbiased" expertise (Pragmatism 1) – those policies that "work" – will garner the support of all reasonable members of Congress and thus bridge partisan divides (Pragmatism 2). He bases his belief in the possibility of national and political consensus on this faulty argument.

Consensus has not emerged in Washington because disagreement exists over the definition of Pragmatism 1. What "works" for liberals doesn't work for conservatives. Did Reagan's policies "work"? Did Clinton's?

The most divisive public policy issues are not that way because liberals and conservatives solve math differently. Economists cannot specify the rights and duties of citizenship. The deeper partisan disagreements are ethical and philosophical. Liberals and conservatives have conflicting intuitions and moral arguments about how we ought to distribute the burdens and benefits of a free society.

Such fundamental disagreement helps explain why Chief Justice John Roberts's bid for more unanimous Supreme Court rulings has faltered. And it sheds light on the Republicans' vigorous opposition to Obama's pragmatic agenda, which they see as a liberal plan to radically reshape American society.

For Obama and other Democratic leaders to be the harbingers of a lasting American liberalism, they need to unite their pragmatism rhetoric with real moral argument about the meaning of rights, freedom, and equality. They need to prove that their understanding of what works is connected to what is right and just beyond mere assertion.

...because we're Judeo-Christians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Liberated and Unhappy (ROSS DOUTHAT, 5/26/09, NY Times)

In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.

This is “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” the subject of a provocative paper from the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. The paper is fascinating not only because of what it shows, but because the authors deliberately avoid floating an easy explanation for their data. [...]

Feminists and traditionalists should be able to agree, for instance, that the structures of American society don’t make enough allowances for the particular challenges of motherhood. We can squabble forever about the choices that mothers ought to make, but the difficult work-parenthood juggle is here to stay. (Just ask Sarah and Todd Palin.) And there are all kinds of ways — from a more family-friendly tax code to a more accommodating educational system — that public policy can make that juggle easier. Conservatives and liberals won’t agree on the means, but they ought to agree on the end: a nation where it’s easier to balance work and child-rearing, however you think that balance should be struck.

They should also be able to agree that the steady advance of single motherhood threatens the interests and happiness of women. Here the public-policy options are limited; some kind of social stigma is a necessity. But a new-model stigma shouldn’t (and couldn’t) look like the old sexism. There’s no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can’t join forces — in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the “fallen women” of a more patriarchal age.

Just get rid of divorce.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


An Overleveraged Presidency: Barack Obama's risky initiatives. (Fred Barnes, 06/01/2009, Weekly Standard)

The difficulty is that some of his policies are likely to hinder others. Tax hikes, increased energy costs, and new regulations work against the economic recovery that soaring spending and peacetime deficits at historic highs are supposed (by Obama at least) to spur. A more likely result: stagflation, a simultaneous surge in inflation and interest rates.

Obama is now trying to deleverage. The purpose of his speech last week was to take the risk--or at least the appearance of risk--out of his policy on Guantánamo and terrorists. He insisted the safety of Americans would never be put in jeopardy by the release of prisoners from Guantánamo or their transfer to prisons in this country.

In his appearance with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama toughened his policy toward Iran. His position, a risky one, had been that friendly diplomacy is the best policy for persuading the Iranians to abandon their effort to build nuclear weapons. But Obama indicated he'd turn to stronger measures if the Iranians haven't responded favorably by the end of 2009.

Obama has set "energy independence" as a goal. But his policies make that goal harder to achieve. His administration has refused to open new areas in the United States and offshore for oil exploration and production. It favors lavish subsidies for renewable energy (wind, solar) that will do little in the foreseeble future to make up for the shortfall in domestic production of gasoline. As the demand for gasoline increases, as it almost certainly will, there will be only one place to turn: foreign oil.

His takeover of the Big 2 in Detroit, General Motors and Chrysler, poses another risk: downright failure. The auto companies are a money pit, requiring tens of billions in federal subsidies just to stay alive. The public opposes the continued bailout of the auto companies, but Obama is stuck with it. And the chance that either company will soon return to profitability is slim.

Taken together, Obama's policies on energy, health care, and financial institutions are risky for still another reason. They require more government control of the economy, which leads inevitably to a less dynamic and innovative economy and to less growth.

...failing to recognize that what seems radical to them is actually too minimal to have much effect on a pent up economy just waiting to grow again, especially with a peace dividend in the pipeline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Obama makes 'em sob again (Janet Albrechtsen, May 27, 2009, The Australian)

FEW leaders have brought so many tears to the eyes of so many people as US President Barack Obama. Oprah Winfrey says she almost cried her eyelashes off when the young Democrat from Chicago accepted the party's nomination. Jane Fonda admits she became a bundle of nerves, crying all night at the thought of Obama losing the election.

Our own Guy Rundle summed up the election of Obama for many progressives. Writing last November, he described how he and the young desk clerk in the lobby of his Washington hotel, who had just come off a 12-hour shift ("because that's how you work in (George W.) Bush's America"), "just held hands and wept for a minute or so, in happiness, in relief, in the victory of something larger than both of us, that contained us both". "It is a victory for the global Left," Rundle wrote. "These are the great days."

More likely those were the salad days. Now, plenty of Obama's most ardent admirers are rethinking their exuberance. Rundle has attacked the "small stuff" - gaffes over gifts to Russians and bad jokes about the Special Olympics - and the "big stuff": complaining at the paltry size of Obama's $1.2trillion stimulus package. Democrats are meant to spend more. Bob Dylan, who once described Obama as "redefining the nature of politics", is shrugging hisshoulders, describing politicians as "interchangeable".

Al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is also disappointed: "America came to us with a new face." But it was a ruse, he says. They have not "changed their crimes, aggressions, thefts and their scandals", he says in a statement released by the SITE Intelligence Group.

And Wall Street bankers - who barracked for Barack by bankrolling his campaign to the tune of $US9.9million (not to mention giving Hillary Clinton $US7.4 million) - whine about getting hit by higher taxes. What did they expect? Democrats lowering taxes for the uber-rich?

Of course, Obama could never meet the great expectations surrounding his presidency. Indeed, the greatness of Obama's presidency will depend on him disappointing Rundle's "global Left", not to mention al-Qa'ida. The responsibility of power means the 44th President has already proved he is more pragmatic than ideological. As much as the Left will loathe this, the unfolding of his presidency is a lesson in the old adage that the office changes the man more than the man changes the office.

...there's little evidence that the UR was the man he told the Left he was and much that he was the organization man he's governing as.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 AM


Happy Like God (Simon Critchley, 5/25/09, NY Times)

For the philosophers of Antiquity, notably Aristotle, it was assumed that the goal of the philosophical life — the good life, moreover — was happiness and that the latter could be defined as the bios theoretikos, the solitary life of contemplation. Today, few people would seem to subscribe to this view. Our lives are filled with the endless distractions of cell phones, car alarms, commuter woes and the traffic in Bangalore. The rhythm of modern life is punctuated by beeps, bleeps and a generalized attention deficit disorder.

But is the idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation really so ridiculous? Might there not be something in it? I am reminded of the following extraordinary passage from Rousseau’s final book and his third (count them — he still beats Obama 3-to-2) autobiography, “Reveries of a Solitary Walker”:

If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul.

This is as close to a description of happiness as I can imagine. Rousseau is describing the experience of floating in a little rowing boat on the Lake of Bienne close to Neuchâtel in his native Switzerland. He particularly loved visiting the Île Saint Pierre, where he used to enjoy going for exploratory walks when the weather was fine and he could indulge in the great passion of his last years: botany. He would walk with a copy of Linneaus under his arm, happily identifying plants in areas of the deserted island that he had divided for this purpose into small squares. don't deserve happiness.

May 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Capitolism: Bankers' Paradise (Christopher Hayes, June 8, 2009, The Nation

[I]n the midst of a global financial crisis largely abetted by the opacity of bank balance sheets, Congress, at the behest of Wall Street, bullied FASB into changing the rules so companies could make their balance sheets more opaque.

If you believe that collective manias can produce systematic mispricing (like the housing bubble), you won't find the banks' complaints implausible. But whatever drawbacks there might be with mark to market, the alternative--allowing banks to decide what their securities are worth--is certainly worse. "My fear is that you can't trust the banks to decide if the loan is going to be impaired," said a hedge-fund analyst who has studied the issue.

The technical merits of the accounting change aside, the procedural precedent--Congress stepping in to push a change in accounting standards--is far more disturbing. There aren't many industries able to manipulate the measurements used to assess their worth. "There's a heck of a lot of folks in Washington that mistake standards as policy," one FASB official told me. "It's not policy. It's about measurement."

Democratic Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, who opposed the change, made precisely this point during the hearing, joking that changing accounting rules to deal with depreciated assets was like dealing with cramped airline seating by redefining the size of an inch.

The partial relaxing of the standards was a victory for the banks, but they're still not satisfied; they continue to push the committee for another hearing and more rule-relaxing. And there is no organized, powerful opposition to their demands. In the case of mark to market, the banks faced the opposition of institutional investors who control more than $3 trillion, not to mention Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke. They still won.

"These members of Congress are being told what it is the banks want them to hear without having an effective counter," says Allen Weltmann, a senior adviser at FASB. "It's not unique to this issue--it's typical of Washington on matters like this." In the absence of broad-based organized opposition, the president stands as just about the only possible counterbalance. The one legislative battle the banks have lost, over a credit card reform bill recently passed by both houses, was also the only bill on which the White House expended any real political capital. But the president, to put it charitably, tends to pick his battles, so relying on the White House isn't a strategy for success. Battles over the future of finance capitalism continue to be shockingly one-sided affairs. Unless and until this dynamic changes, nothing else will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Flail of the left: The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost Its Way by Peter Hitchens (Anthony Howard, 21 May 2009, New Statesman)

If there is one thing that can be counted on from the reconstructed Hitchens, it is his eagerness to go tooth and nail for political timidity wherever he detects it – and, in his view, “compassionate Conservatism” is every bit as vulnerable in this respect as was New Labour back in 1997.

He writes with much of the verve and brio of his elder brother and with a greater regard for detail and accuracy. (He is plainly, however, slightly overawed by him – witness his uncharacteristically rueful admission that he is not prepared to pick any further quarrel on the family front.)

But what is it that he is really trying to say?

That his subtitle should appear in one form on the dust jacket (How British Politics Lost Its Way) and then in quite another on the book’s title page (How Left and Right Lost Their Meaning) argues a certain confusion of purpose – and not only on the part of the publisher.

For what we are eventually served up with is a hotchpotch of separate essays – some addressing familiar targets such as the group of Westminster journalists who form the parliamentary lobby, others drawing on the author’s experience as a foreign correspondent, and all culminating in almost a cry of despair at the lack of a confrontational element in contemporary British politics.

On this last, unfashionable point, Hitchens may well discover that it commands assent in surprising quarters. Whatever may be true of scripture, in politics there is something repellent about the notion of the lion lying down with the lamb.

Indeed, many would go further and argue that, by turning the old poster colours of interparty combat into pastel shades, Tony Blair performed a singular disservice to British democracy. It is not, after all, only governments that have to “choose” (to borrow Pierre Mendès-France’s phrase); so do voters – and they can only do so if confronted with a real choice.

With what I take to be Hitchens’s core argument I confess, therefore, to having a sneaking sympathy.

...but that choice is generally between the party that was denied power because trapped in the 1st or 2nd Way and the party whose leader forced it into the 3rd Way. Eventually the ideologues always react and reclaim the party for the Way that voters have rejected and then the opponent seizes the opening, though always unwilling on the part of the party faithful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


The Ditchkens Delusion (Thomas Hibbs, May 18, 2009, First Things)

Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate is an engaging, witty, and largely successful critique of the new atheists, especially Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great) and Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion), whose delusional grandiosity earns them the hybrid nickname Ditchkens. The text of his Terry Lectures at Yale, Eagleton’s book has received smart, generally warm reviews in recent days from Andrew O’Hehir at Salon and from Stanley Fish on his NY Times blog, Think Again. The book certainly merits our attention both for its hilarious send-up of the pompous Ditchkens and for its less successful attempt to infuse revolutionary politics with the spirit of the gospel.

Eagleton’s devastating critique focuses on Hitchens and Dawkins’ theological illiteracy, ignorance of how science works, and naive faith in rational progress. The crisis of Enlightenment reason, which was apparent to secular philosophers long before it became part of the popular Christian response to modernity, is little noted in Ditchkens. Having exalted himself above nature and placed himself at the high point of history, Enlightenment man falls prey to the chief “bourgeois fantasy,” that of the “self-authorship.” He can “extract from the world only the values he has placed in it.” The deracination of traditional sources of meaning in our increasingly rational civilization sends citizens scurrying to the realm of culture. The privatization of sex, art, and religion has freed these up as sources of cultural meaning independent of politics and as weapons of political critique, but at a great cost. Their “isolation from the public world causes them to become increasingly pathologized.”

Civilization, Eagleton insists, never fully leaves barbarism behind; purely instrumental, technical reason, having no roots in anything other than itself, can easily generate barbarism. Even science has roots; following a host of contemporary philosophers of science, Eagleton argues that science is built on assumptions, on a certain kind of faith. Even as it bestows enormous benefits—political, scientific, medicinal—modernity occludes from view certain incorrigible features of the human condition. Ditchkens is forced to treat the non-religious political horrors of the twentieth century as mere blips in the unfolding of evolutionary progress.

...certainly the most incoherent part is their insistence that while everything they disagree with is a mere affect of evolution, nothing they believe is, least of all the notion of Darwinism itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


REVIEW ESSAY: How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower
(Robert Messenger, Barnes & Noble)

The number of serious work in the recent surge of "Roman decline" books is attributable to the generation of scholars who came of age after Peter Brown's pioneering work -- his World of Late Antiquity was published in 1971 -- offering mature thoughts on Late Antiquity. One of the most individual is Bryan Ward-Perkins's essayistic The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization, which considers the horrific realities of this age of "continuity" -- technology and learning basically vanished in the West thanks to the collapse of civil society. Almost all reviewers paired Ward-Perkins's book with another 2005 book, Peter Heather's full and dynamic portrait of the age, The Fall of the Roman Empire. Heather, the author of major works on the barbarians' ways of warring against Rome, has no doubts about the cause: It was the Huns that did it. Attila's empire may have collapsed within a decade of its founding, but it undid all of the careful layers of civil and military organization that held Rome and the barbarian groups in balance.

Heather seemed likely to hold the field for a generation, but this year has seen several new contenders. James O'Donnell's The Ruin of the Roman Empire is a fine synthesis of Late Antiquity scholarship. Focused more on the Eastern Empire and the fifth and sixth centuries, O'Donnell makes a compelling defense of the Gothic kingdoms and a hero of Theodoric, who tried to maintain Roman-style order in Italy. Christopher Kelly's The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome is marvelous account of the rise and fall of Hunnic power (and a superb narrative supplement to Heather).

Receiving the most attention is Goldsworthy's How Rome Fell, and expectedly so: the author's last book, Caesar: Life of a Colossus, took serious classical history to a broad international audience. Here, though, Goldsworthy is troubled by the sheer scope of the material -- he is covering the four centuries from the reign of Marcus Aurelius to that of Justinian, far different from the focused Caesar -- and his narrative comes across as workmanlike in a field where elegance is much prized. Goldsworthy, moreover, favors political reasons for Rome's collapse. (Rome-Washington parallelists like to cite the vast increase in the Roman bureaucracy in the wake of Diocletian and the attendant loss of efficiency.) The Roman state did evolve into an institution concentrated on protecting the emperor from usurpation and enriching an inner circle. But as compelling as this argument seems in detail, it is utterly undone by even a cursory comparison with the Eastern Empire, which lasted another thousand years with a bureaucracy even more inefficient and calcified than that in the West. It survived because its borders were defensible and were defended.

The West collapsed for many reasons, but the catalyst was the barbarian invasions. As Peter Heather, rejecting Gibbon, so clearly notes in his conclusion: "Without the barbarians there is not the slightest evidence that the Western Empire would have ceased to exist in the fifth century." Goldsworthy's is a steady survey, well aimed at a general audience that his books are doing much to establish, but the vastness of the material requires an impeccable guide. In a field dominated by figures like Gibbon and A.H.M Jones, Peter Heather is a worthy heir.

Rome didn't fall in a day
: Peter Jones reviews and The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather and The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins (Peter Jones, Daily Telegraph)
Heather sets the scene in the early fourth century AD. The Roman army was still the most ruthlessly proficient in the world, and it had to be: frontiers needed guarding. To finance it, a vastly increased bureaucracy was in place. The provinces - stretching from Hadrian's Wall to Iraq, from the Rhine to the Atlas Mountains - were now thoroughly Romanised and demanding a say in imperial politics. A single emperor simply could not handle the workload. So in 295 Diocletian created a system of emperors and sub-emperors.

One important result of all this was that decisions were now taken in the great imperial palaces that sprang up all over the empire (Ravenna, Trier, Split, Constantinople, etc). The city of Rome was too far from the action. The Senate still met there, but was a shadow of its former self.

As for the barbarians (the northern Germanic tribes stretching from the Rhine to the Black Sea), they had nothing to offer Rome and after the destruction of Varus' legions in AD 9 were no longer thought worth taking on. They still raided from time to time, and Romans were not averse to doing deals (Germans made excellent soldiers). But the tribes were too disunited to pose a serious threat.

Edward Gibbon argued that this world was inherently unstable, doomed to collapse. Heather disagrees. Multiple emperors, admittedly, did cause sporadic and dangerous civil wars. But the problems generated by, for example, slow communications over massive distances, rigid economies and reactive bureaucracies were not new; tax increases to pay for the military did not lead to revolt, since provincials still saw benefits outweighing disadvantages; nor did Rome's Eastern (or "Byzantine") empire collapse - indeed, in the sixth century it fought back in the West under the emperor Justinian; and so on.

According to Heather, the collapse in the West was triggered in summer 376 by one event with huge ramifications: the sudden and quite unexpected irruption of a new and terrifying people into barbarian territory on Roman borders - the Huns. It was pressure from them that drove barbarians (Goths, Visigoths, Franks, Alans) into the Western empire over the next 60 years. The Romans were helpless to stop them.

The result was the establishment within the empire of barbarian kingdoms from Gaul to Spain, from Italy to North Africa. As its tax revenue dried up, Rome lost the capacity to raise troops to force these kingdoms back into the imperial fold. Stripped of the power to compel, it was thereby stripped of its authority. Local élites, so supportive of Rome when Rome could support them back, saw that their only option now was to collude with their new masters, whose forced migration had had the effect of forging them into cohesive barbarian "supergroups" capable of establishing permanent kingdoms that were to form the basis of modern Europe. In 476 the last Roman emperor, called (ironically) Romulus Augustulus ("little Augustus"), was quietly pensioned off by the barbarian Odoacer, and that was that.

-ESSAY: The Fall of Rome: Was the collapse of the Roman empire in the west a series of gradual adjustments or a catastrophic event that brought violent change? (Dr Peter Heather, BBC)
-INTERVIEW: Peter Heather, author of The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Roman and the Barbarians, fielded a few questions at the OUP blog (Marshal Zeringue, July 14, 2007, OUP)
-REVIEW ESSAY: Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History and Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Reviewed by James J. O'Donnell, Georgetown University, Bryn Mawr Classical Review)

Peter Heather's bulky (and, in the UK cheap-paper hardcover edition, clunky) volume might very well have been titled Barbarians and Romans, 332-489, were it not that this would come too close to the title of his own first book, Goths and Romans, 332-489. The focus is essentially the same in time and space, with the difference that Heather is more concerned now to speak synoptically of barbarian-Roman relations and their deterioration. This limitation must be emphasized, because a reader might reasonably be surprised to learn that a book of this title would deal with almost nothing that happened anywhere east of the great land walls of Constantinople -- including events in the imperial city itself. And a reader who remembered that Arnaldo Momigliano and Brian Croke wrote important articles in the 1970s and 1980s on the factitiousness of the tradtional 476 CE date for "the fall of the Roman empire" (the selection of the date was made in Constantinople in the sixth century for quite specific political reasons that would be familiar to students of US-Iraq relations of 2001-2003) -- such a reader would be surprised to find the old date resurrected and defended here.

Heather is at heart a military historian and he does that job well. His narrative of the events of the century and a half under review is clear and direct and accompanied by 16 quite excellent maps. In English there has been nothing comparable since J.B. Bury about a century ago, and it is high time to get a better account. The maps are worth emphasis because they so helpfully elucidate the text. They are very clearly and accurately drawn and they exactly match and make visible what Heather is saying in his prose. I do not see that they are credited anywhere in the book and that is a shame, for it is exceedingly difficult to embody the best of intentions when it comes to adding maps to a book like this. (The illustrations, by contrast, are predictable in the extreme: good for those new to the subject, but provoking no thought or interest in the scholarly reader.)

The main line of argument for Heather is a standard one: that the arrival of the Huns on the west Eurasian scene had the effect of dislodging and nudging other populations along the Roman frontiers, propelling them to seek refuge and residence inside traditional Roman domains. In a series of contingent events, Roman ability to manage and control the refugees and would-be residents collapsed; this was followed by collapse of the tax base on which armies could be raised to resist; and with additional Hunnic pressures and then (perhaps his nicest innovation in interpretation) when the Huns themselves were no longer available either as bugbears or as mercenaries, the "Roman empire" ended. P. 432: "What did come to an end in 476 was any attempt to maintain the western Roman Empire as an overarching, supra-regional political structure." Heather insists that the exogenous causes are of the greatest importance, minimizing blame for overtaxation, moral decay, or religious zealotry.

What is missing in the book is a reflective sense of the context, particularly as informed in the last generation's work. Though Heather is assiduous in reading and praising the last generation of scholarship, it has had little effect on him. He is well aware, e.g., of the work of C.R. Whittaker on the symbiotic relations and evolution of relations back and forth across the Roman frontiers, but I suspect that the general reader of this volume will benefit little from it -- it takes the sharp scholarly eye to notice that the qualification is being made and then dropped. He makes almost no mention of the effusion of work on late antique "nation-building" except to demur at the conclusions drawn by Walter Goffart and Patrick Amory, but not at all engaging the work of Richard Wenskus, Herwig Wolfram, and Patrick Geary.

And the focus of the narrative is relentlessly Roman. In that regard more than any other, Heather is eminently traditional.

-REVIEW: The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather: Rome didn't really fall - it was pushed (William Napier, Independent)
The complex answer to why the western Roman Empire fell in AD476 would embrace sluggish population growth, manpower shortages, decline in military efficiency, training and matériel, fiscal incompetence and corruption, devaluation, hyperinflation and other dull stuff. The simple and much more Hollywood answer is: Rome was destroyed by Attila the Hun. Peter Heather's achievement is to show that both answers are valid.

Some historians, convinced that the drier they can make history sound, the higher their credentials in the world of academe, argue that the Roman Empire didn't really fall. Thanks to "change and continuity", it gently mutated into the kingdoms of early medieval Europe. Heather allows a modicum of truth in this, but also insists that 476 marked a calamitous end. The culture of Romanitas survived, tenuously, and still does to this day, despite the best efforts of loutish Education Secretaries; but Rome as an organising political force was finished.

"The Romans," as he puts it, "had central heating, a form of banking based on capitalist principles, weapons factories, even spin-doctors, whereas the barbarians were a simple people with a penchant for decorative safety-pins."

-REVIEW: The barbarians move in: Peter Heather makes deft work of a complex era in his masterly updating of Gibbon, The Fall of the Roman Empire (John Man, The Guardian)
As every schoolboy used to know, Rome fell to the barbarians in the late 5th century. But why? Two centuries ago, Gibbon argued that the Romans had been turned into decadent sissies by Christianity. Others have blamed causes as varied as lead-poisoning and taxation. Yet in 375 an observer looking around would not have seen much amiss. Crisis? What crisis? The empire, though divided, was doing fine.

A hundred years later, it was all over. Here, in this magisterial new history, Peter Heather explains what went wrong. Yes, of course it was the barbarians, Germanic tribes from across the Rhine and Danube. But these tribes had long been troublesome and had been managed, by trade, intermarriage, bribery, brute force and employment in Roman armies. Something happened to upset the precarious balance.

The first adumbration of disaster came in the spring of 376, when the empire suddenly faced a problem with a modern resonance. Asylum-seeking Goths by the ten thousand gathered on the northern banks of the Danube, begging for entry. Hoping the refugees would make good soldiers and slaves, Rome let the Goths in. Lacking land and food, they went on a rampage through the Balkans which culminated two years later in the Battle of Hadrianople, in which the Romans suffered one of their most disastrous defeats.

But this was not the real problem. In the words of the historian Ammianus, the Goths were fleeing "an unknown race of men [who] had appeared from some remote corner of the earth, uprooting and destroying everything in its path". The Huns were coming.

-REVIEW: Ancient world: The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather; The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilisation by Bryan Ward-Perkins (TOM HOLLAND, Times of London)
Peter Heather, in his monumental history, has no doubt that what he terms “the strange death of Roman Europe” constitutes “one of the formative revolutions of European history”. Bryan Ward-Perkins goes even further. In his book, he argues for the traditional perspective: that “with the fall of the empire, Art, Philosophy and decent drains all vanished from the West”.

The wit of this phrase is typical of Ward-Perkins’s style, but not even a taste for cricketing metaphors unusual in books on ancient history can obscure the apocalyptic quality of his arguments. No mealy-mouthed talk of transformation for Ward-Perkins. Instead, all is violence, horror and cataclysm.

Which is, of course, to restore to the history of the 5th century AD both a corpse and a mystery. Heather, presenting his solution, consciously employs the language of the courtroom thriller. “To get to grips with what was actually going on, the reader is invited to become a member of the jury . . . to become involved in the process of evaluating and synthesising the different kinds of evidence that will be presented.” Nor does it take him long to finger the prime suspects. Far from tottering effetely beneath the weight of its own greatness, he argues, the 4th-century empire was in fact as strong as it had ever been, and only an immigration crisis beyond Michael Howard’s worst nightmares served, in the following century, to bring about its ruin.

The barbarians, who are portrayed in current academic orthodoxy as integrating themselves seamlessly into a still-Roman world, are restored by Heather to their more traditional role of violent assassins. They may not have set out to destroy classical civilisation — most wanted only to share in its benefits — but they destroyed it all the same. As Ward-Perkins, who concurs in this analysis, puts it, “the invaders were not guilty of murder, but they had committed manslaughter”.

For Heather, in particular, this renewed emphasis on the role played by the barbarians has numerous literary benefits. It justifies him in shining a powerful searchlight upon the whole shadow-dimmed panorama of the empire’s end, from the bejewelled splendour of the imperial court to the dripping forests of “Barbaricum”, the lands of the barbarians. Even more refreshingly, it enables him to impose upon the complex events of the 5th century what academics so often shrink from: narrative. By tracing the exploits of Stilicho, Alaric and Attila, he provides the reader with drama and lurid colour as well as analysis. Like a late Roman emperor, he is determined to impose order on a fabric that is always threatening to fragment and collapse into confusion; unlike most late Roman emperors, he succeeds triumphantly.

Both his and Ward-Perkins’s book are part of what is a hugely encouraging trend in classical scholarship: a determination by specialists to communicate their passion and expertise, rather than hug them to themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Bach With A Twist Of Afro-Cuban Jazz (All Things Considered, May 25, 2009)

Johann Sebastian Bach's music has been played on everything from banjos to marimbas. There's something so elemental and sturdy about his melodies — whether solo or intertwined with rigorous counterpoint — that makes the music hard to mess up, even when played on a singing saw.

The members of the Miami-based Cuban group Tiempo Libre don't play Bach with singing saws, but they do employ bongos, congas, saxophones and gourds — instruments of Afro-Cuban jazz. Their new CD, Bach in Havana, blends Bach melodies from pieces such as the Mass in B minor and the Well-Tempered Clavier with infectious Cuban rhythms including the cha-cha-cha, the son and the danzon.

It would be easy to write off Bach in Havana as just another cross-cultural, crossover gimmick, but the musicians of Tiempo Libre come by their blend honestly. In Cuba, they studied classical music at a venerable Havana music conservatory by day and played Latin jazz rumbas under the cover of night, as the Afro-Cuban style was forbidden at the school.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Can California Make A Comeback? (Joel Kotkin, 05.26.09, Forbes)

Middle-class Californians are asking, with justification, why we should be increasing taxes--we're ranked sixth-highest in the nation--to pay for gold-plated state employee pensions as well as an ever-expanding social welfare program. Although state spending has grown at an adjusted 26% per capita over the past 10 years, it is hard to discern any improvement in roads, schools or much of anything else. [...]

In my mind, California's revival depends on three key things. First, the lobbyist-dominated Sacramento cabal needs to be shattered, perhaps turning the legislature into a part-time body, as proposed by one group. Perhaps the cleverest plan has come from Robert Hertzberg, a former Speaker of the Assembly who heads up the reformist California Forward group.

Hertzberg proposes a radical decentralization of power to the state's various regions, as well as cities and even boroughs in urban areas like Los Angeles. This would break the power of the Sacramento system by devolving tax and spending authority to local governments.

With a population around 35 million, California is simply too large to be a successful state. It should divide in three or four

May 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


What I Do Is Play Soccer: Over the next 13 months - from Champions League final to the 2010 World Cup - Lionel Messi will have the chance to prove he does that better than anyone on Earth. (Chad Nielsen, ESPN the Magazine)

The diminutive Argentine may not look like the best player in the world, but that designation--subject to the hottest debate on the sports planet--is as elusive as Messi himself. His speed, ball control, vision and style draw him comparisons to legendary countryman Diego Maradona, even if their personalities are so different. Messi is as understated as Maradona is flamboyant. And yet, in turning 2009 into the Year of the Flea, he has transcended individual skill, elevating FC Barcelona and Argentina's national team with his clutch scoring and brilliant play. Thanks to Europe's most potent offense, Barça is poised to complete a rare triple crown: After winning the Copa del Rey on May 13, the Catalans look to wrap up La Liga, Spain's top circuit, for the first time since 2006, while eyeing a Champions League final against Manchester United on May 27. And with the World Cup coming next June, Messi can put his stamp on a football era.

Just don't ask him to talk about it.

Lionel Messi is not the next David Beckham, someone more valuable as a brand than as a player. He is not a paparazzi magnet like A.C. Milan's Ronaldinho or a silky pitchman like Parisian teammate Thierry Henry. The soccer universe, with its huge endorsement power, fawns over articulate pop stars like Man U's Cristiano Ronaldo, who once declared, "I am the first, second and third-best player in the world."

But Messi would rather practice than sit for photos. "What I do is play soccer," he says, "which is what I like."

He avoids eye contact and speaks quietly in Spanish, letting his Argentine lilt soften curt answers. He stops talking when he gets bored, sometimes in the middle of a thought. But with a ball at his feet, the 21-year-old Messi is a genius of self-expression, stringing together tricks and techniques like words in impromptu poetry: right cut, left cut, give-and-go, between-the-legs…all at top speed. "I never think about the play or visualize anything," he says. "I do what comes to me at that moment. Instinct. It has always been that way."

Instinct has already earned Messi a spot upstairs in the FC Barcelona Museum, where rows of championship trophies gleam next to memorabilia dating back a century. While Messi talks, a plasma screen cycles through some of the greatest plays in club history, including his 60-yard weave past five defenders against Getafe in the 2007 Copa del Rey, Spain's playoff-style championship, open to teams from all pro levels. "Leo simply goes one way with his body and another with the ball," says Barça center back Gerard Piqué. "You have to either guess right or foul him." Barcelona is scoring 2.9 goals a game this season, the fourth-highest output in the history of Europe's pro leagues. Messi is the catalyst. He attacks defenses, draws men out of position and sets up the setup passes, creating chances no statistic can track. "The way he runs past people, it's just effortless," Henry says. Messi had 37 goals in 50 games through May 16, including eight in the Champions League, Europe's annual showdown of top clubs. Persistent fouling has Barça execs calling on refs to protect him, but he refuses to drop and roll. "Messi never dives," Piqué says. "Not even in the area, where he could draw a penalty. In this sense, he is simple: 'I may be small, but you're not going to knock me down.'"

For all the hype around Christiano Ronaldo--which is just a function of a goal total fed by free and penalty kicks--he isn't even his team's best player, Iniesta: We fear Rooney (Pete Jenson, 5/26/09, Independent)
For all the talk of Cristiano Ronaldo's duel with Lionel Messi, Barcelona players have left nobody in doubt about the man they fear more than any other tomorrow night – Wayne Rooney.

The England striker's appetite for a battle, his insatiable energy and raw power make him, in the eyes of Barcelona's players, the perfect foil for Ronaldo's moody genius.

Central defender Gerard Pique said: "I've never seen a player as powerful as Rooney – the way he goes past people, the intensity of his play, the runs he makes from the first minute to the last and the shot he has. He is world class. Perhaps he does not get the credit he deserves because he should score more goals but he offers so much. When he is focused he is unstoppable."

If they had Rooney take those kicks no one would rank Ronaldo in the top 100.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


In defeat, Colo. GOP gets set for victory (Valerie Richardson, May 26, 2009, Washington Times)

Experienced Republican hands like former Gov. Bill Owens and former Sen. Wayne Allard recently met with the party's emerging leaders to brainstorm, trouble-shoot and plot strategy. In the past few months, at least two Republican-themed organizations have emerged, founded not by the usual Republican suspects, but by newcomers to the political scene.

"One of the prerequisites for victory is to go through a defeat," said Mr. Owens, who served two terms as governor in the Republicans' heyday from 1998 to 2006. "I would have preferred it not happen, but that definitely lays the groundwork for victory."

"Being in the minority focuses the mind," Mr. Owens said. "It allows us to bring new people into the coalition and reminds us we have more in common with each other than we do with the Democrats." [...]

[D]emocratic Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. is seen as vulnerable. An independent survey released last month by Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, N.C., showed former Republican Rep. Scott McInnis leading Mr. Ritter in a hypothetical 2010 match-up by a margin of 48 percent to 41 percent.

There's also opportunity for Republicans in 2010 on the Senate side. Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, appointed in January by Mr. Ritter after Sen. Ken Salazar was named secretary of the interior, must face the voters in 2010 to keep his seat.

While the former Denver Public Schools superintendent has raised an impressive $1.4 million, this is his first bid for public office. "They [Republicans] have the benefit of weak-appearing Democratic incumbents," said pollster Mr. Ciruli. "They're still searching for the right candidates and perhaps a theme, but they're better off than they were in the fall when [Republican presidential nominee] John McCain was struggling."

On the gubernatorial side, Mr. McInnis has already declared his candidacy, as has Evergreen businessman Dan Maes. State Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry is considering entering the race.

Two Republicans have lined up for the opportunity to challenge Mr. Bennet in 2010: Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck and Aurora City Council member Ryan Frazier. Neither has much in the way of statewide name recognition, but then again, neither does Mr. Bennet.

Republicans are also making a bid to oust Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey, who defeated Mrs. Musgrave in the predominantly Republican district. State House Minority Whip Cory Gardner and University of Colorado regent Tom Lucero have both entered the Republican primary race.

Recall that in 1992 the Right was powerful enough to defeat a sitting Republican president by mounting primary and general election challenges, yet when the Party returned to the White House it was under an open borders, open trade, strong government leader.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Indian Outsourcer May Send Work to Egypt: With Egyptian costs up to 15% lower than India's, Wipro is looking to the country as an outsourcing alternative (Pankaj Mishra and Peerzada Abrar, 5/26/09, Business Week)

India, the offshoring capital of the world, is now outsourcing software and back-office projects to Egypt as vendors like Wipro plan to send more domestic work to the most populous Arab country to leverage lower costs and availability of skilled professionals.

Wipro, which counts Bharti Airtel, Unitech Wireless and Dena Bank among its top customers, said with 10-15% lower costs than India, and availability of required technical skills across different programming languages including Windows and Unix, Egypt is emerging as an attractive location for offshoring.

"We believe that 20% of our work can be offshored to Egypt," said Anand Sankaran, senior VP and business head, India and Middle East Business, Wipro. "We are offshoring jobs from Middle East and India to Egypt."

If even mildly-skilled jobs can be moved imagine how short the Chinese "economic miracle" will be?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


The Consolations of Pessimism: In our age, as in Seneca’s, the worst is always possible. (Alain de Botton, Spring 2009, City Journal)

The Roman philosopher Seneca should be the author of the hour. Living in a time of continuous financial and political upheaval under the emperor Nero, Seneca interpreted philosophy as a discipline to keep us calm against a backdrop of continuous danger. His consolation was of the stiffest, darkest sort: “You say: ‘I did not think it would happen.’ Do you think there is anything that will not happen, when you know that it is possible to happen, when you see that it has already happened?” Seneca tried to calm the sense of injustice in his readers by reminding them, in ad 62, that natural and man-made disasters would always be part of their lives, however sophisticated and safe they thought they had become.

If we do not dwell on the risk of sudden calamity, in the markets and otherwise, and end up paying a price for our innocence, it is because reality comprises two cruelly confusing characteristics: on the one hand, continuity and reliability lasting across decades; on the other, unheralded cataclysms. We find ourselves divided between a plausible expectation that tomorrow will be much like today and the possibility that we will meet with an appalling event after which nothing will ever be the same. It is because we have such powerful incentives to neglect the second scenario that Seneca asked us to remember that our fate is forever in the hands of the Goddess of Fortune. This goddess can scatter gifts, and then, with terrifying speed, make a 50-year-old company disappear into a worthless asset, or let a balance sheet be destroyed by an evaporation of demand.

Because we are hurt most by what we do not expect, and because we must expect everything—“There is nothing which Fortune does not dare”—we must, argued Seneca, keep in mind at all times the possibility of dire events. No one should make an investment, undertake to run a company, sit on a board, or leave money in a bank without an awareness, which Seneca would have wished to be neither gruesome nor unnecessarily dramatic, of the darkest possibilities.

Secure in our financial prowess, we have for too long thought of ourselves as masters of our destiny.

Let us suppose for a second that we are a citizen of Rome of impossibly long life and have dwelt in the city from Seneca's time until today. what single thing must we say is true of that existence? Despite some temporary bad news at the margins we will have enjoyed the highest or very nearly the highest living standard of any human community for very nearly two thousand uninterrupted years. How then can one justify pessimism?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Empathy Triumphs Over Excellence (John Yoo, May 26, 2009, The American)

President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor shows that empathy has won out over excellence in the White House. Sotomayor has sterling credentials: Princeton, Yale Law School, former prosecutor, and federal trial and appellate judge. But credentials do not an excellent justice make. Justice Souter, whom Sotomayor would replace, had an equally fine c.v., but turned out to be a weak force on the high court.

Obama had some truly outstanding legal intellectuals and judges to choose from—Cass Sunstein, Elena Kagan, and Diane Wood come immediately to mind. The White House chose a judge distinguished from the other members of that list only by her race. Obama may say he wants to put someone on the Court with a rags-to-riches background, but locking in the political support of Hispanics must sit higher in his priorities.

Sotomayor’s record on the bench, at first glance, appears undistinguished. She will not bring to the table the firepower that many liberal academics are asking for. There are no opinions that suggest she would change the direction of constitutional law as have Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, or Robert Bork and Richard Posner on the appeals courts. Liberals have missed their chance to put on the Court an intellectual leader who will bring about a progressive revolution in the law.

Advice on Consent (The Editors, 5/26/09, National Review)
Judge Sonia Sotomayor is female, Hispanic, liberal, and mediocre. Conservatives should draw attention to the third adjective while understanding that the first two are likely to be politically decisive during her confirmation hearings.

No, conservatives should be elated about the 4th.

I actually though that the one place where the UR would truly seek excellence was in his Court appointments. Ms Sotamayor isn't an excellent pick, just a politically savvy one.

She'll be a reliable 4th vote for the liberal wing but will leave no mark whatsoever on the Court. She lacks the collegiality and intellect that her rivals for the seat have.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Stabbing casts shadow over United's dreams of glory in Rome (Nick Pisa, 27th May 2009, Daily Mail)

The tension leading up to the Champions League Final increased today after it was revealed a Manchester United fan was stabbed in the early hours of this morning.

There has been serious fears over violence ahead of United's clash with Barcelona in Rome - nicknamed Stab City - because of the threat of hardcore Italian supporters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Obama ducks promise to delay bill signings: Complete bills not on Web for pledged 5 days (Stephen Dinan, May 26, 2009, Washington Times)

It seemed among the easiest of his transparency pledges and is entirely under his control, but President Obama is finagling his promise to post bills on the White House Web site for comment for five days before he signs them.

Mr. Obama last week signed four bills, each just a day or two after Congress passed and sent it over to him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Democrats in power hand victories to NRA (S.A. Miller, May 26, 2009, Washington Times)

President Obama and his allies in Congress have given the gun lobby a string of victories - from forgoing new gun laws to easing restrictions already on the books - since Mr. Obama took office and Democrats assumed complete command of political power in Washington.

Democratic leaders in Congress tend to support more restrictive gun laws but have yielded on the issue since a majority of their rank-and-file members increasingly side with the National Rifle Association (NRA) when votes involve the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Court Says Suspects Can Be Interrogated Without Lawyer (WSJ, 5/26/09)

The high court, in a 5-4 ruling, overturned the 1986 Michigan v. Jackson ruling, which said police may not initiate questioning of a defendant who has a lawyer or has asked for one unless the attorney is present.

The Michigan ruling applied even to defendants who agree to talk to the authorities without their lawyers.

The court's conservatives overturned that opinion Tuesday, with Justice Antonin Scalia saying "it was poorly reasoned, has created no significant reliance interests and [as we have described] is ultimately unworkable."

Justice Scalia, who read the opinion from the bench, said their decision will have a "minimal" effects on criminal defendants. "Because of the protections created by this court in Miranda and related cases, there is little if any chance that a defendant will be badgered into waiving his right to have counsel present during interrogation," Justice Scalia said.

The Michigan v. Jackson opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the only current justice who was on the court at the time. He dissented from the ruling, and in an unusual move read his dissent aloud from the bench. It was the first time this term a justice had read a dissent aloud.

"The police interrogation in this case clearly violated petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to counsel," Justice Stevens said. Overruling the Jackson case, he said, "can only diminish the public's confidence in the reliability and fairness of our system of justice."

The decision comes in the case of Jesse Jay Montejo, was found guilty in 2005 of the shooting death of Louis Ferrari in the victim's home on Sept. 5, 2002.

He was appointed a public defender at his Sept. 10, 2002, hearing, but was never indicated that he accepted the lawyer's help. Mr. Montejo then went with police detectives to help them look for the murder weapon. While in the car, Mr. Montejo wrote a letter to Mr. Ferrari's widow incriminating himself.

When they returned to the prison, a public defender was waiting for Mr. Montejo, irate that his client had been questioned without him being present.

Mr. Montejo was convicted and sentenced to death.

One suspects Justice Stevens would find that in real life there are very nearly no Americans who think that fairness requires that his lawyer have been present.

May 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor well known in sports (Ted Keith, 5/26/09,

In March 1995, Sotomayor, then serving as a District Court judge, issued an injunction requested by the National Labor Relations Board ordering baseball owners to restore bidding on free agents, a resumption of salary arbitration and the anti-collusion rules which were a part of the collective bargaining agreement that had recently expired. As President Obama noted in his remarks introducing Sotomayor as his nominee, she deliberated for just 15 minutes before making a decision that, in the President's words, "saved baseball."

Replacement players were scheduled to begin the season two days after Sotomayor's ruling, but once she issued the injunction, the MLBPA voted to end the strike. When the owners didn't have the votes necessary to lockout the players, the major league players returned to their teams. Spring training camps opened shortly thereafter and Opening Day was played in late April, the beginning of an abbreviated 144-game season.

To the owners, Sotomayor's ruling was, according to one replacement player, "a fastball under the chin and their knees buckled."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:37 PM


Prior Senate Support Bodes Well for Sotomayor (Congressional Quarterly, 5/26/09)

Retaining the help of eight key senators who supported Sonia Sotomayor more than 10 years ago could give President Obama a filibuster-proof first nomination to the Supreme Court.

The eight senators — all Republicans at the time — who voted to confirm Sotomayor to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998 following her nomination by President Bill Clinton: Judd Gregg of New Hampshire; Robert F. Bennett and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah; Thad Cochran of Mississippi; Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine; Richard G. Lugar of Indiana.

Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, then a Republican, now a Democrat, also supported her confirmation.

Sotomayor was confirmed by 67-29 on Oct. 2, 1998.

Sotomayor Blurs Lines in Abortion War (Dan Gilgoff, 5/26/09, US News)

"She is a radical pick that divides America," Americans United for Life said this morning. [...]

Despite the purported outrage by conservative groups, Sotomayor's thin record on abortion is most likely a relief to those groups—and may actually wind up making abortion-rights groups anxious. In light of today's AUL statement, for instance, it may come as a surprise that Sotomayor receives the kindest treatment of nine potential Obama Supreme Court nominations the group examined.

AUL notes that Sotomayor upheld a ban on federal funds going to abortion providers overseas. "The Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the antiabortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds," Sotomayor wrote in the decision. She has also ruled in favor of antiabortion protesters who sued West Hartford, Conn., claiming that police there used excessive force against them at a demonstration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Sotomayor: A Moderate on Business Issues: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's record is mixed on issues important to the business community (Steve LeVine and Theo Francis, 5/26/09, Business Week)

"Judge Sotomayor has a track record of moderation on issues of importance to the business community," said Evan M. Tager, an appeals specialist at Mayer Brown in Washington, D.C.

One issue certain to be raised by conservative U.S. senators in the confirmation process is the issue of punitive damages in civil suits. Tager, whose firm examined the records of the handful of top candidates to succeed retiring Justice David Souter, says that on the bench Sotomayor has "expressed unease" about large punitive awards, yet has upheld large awards "when the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages is modest."

Souter himself voted against what critics called excessive punitive awards. Thomas H. Dupree Jr., an appellate lawyer with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said he expects Sotomayor to "recognize the need to rein in arbitrary and excessive punitive damage awards."

Such a position fits with the alignment of the court on business issues. In social and civil cases, the court has routinely split 4-4, on conservative-liberal lines, with one of the justices serving as a swing vote. But the lines have blurred significantly in business cases. "Based on her record, it is very likely that she will align herself with the more liberal side of the court" on social and civil cases, Dupree said. "[Yet] while no one would call Judge Sotomayor stridently pro-business, there are many business issues that cut across the traditional liberal and conservative ideological lines."

In class actions, Sotomayor has occupied a strict middle ground, her record reflecting sympathy neither for those in favor of such issues, nor skepticism of them. "She looks at each case on its unique facts to determine whether a class action is appropriate," said Tager.

Another hot-button issue is preemption, or the right of federal courts to step in to cases involving state law. Tager said on this issue, too, Sotomayor has been centrist. "She has been evenhanded in cases raising federal preemption as a defense, finding preemption about half of the time and rejecting preemption about half of the time," Tager said. [...]

On discrimination in employment, Sotomayor has probably sided more with employees than employers, but has been "balanced overall," said Patricia Millett, co-leader of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld's Supreme Court and appellate practice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


And the Angels Rejoice (DAVID BROOKS, 5/26/09, NY Times)

A few weeks ago, we were privileged to see a gathering of health care executives standing behind the president as he announced that they would be donating $2 trillion in future revenue to the cause of health care reform.

Recently we were uplifted when the president informed Chrysler’s secured creditors that they had agreed to donate their ownership stake in the company to the United Auto Workers. Just last week, we were enthralled to see a group of auto executives beaming with pride as the president announced that in order to reduce gas consumption, they would henceforth be scaling back on all those car lines that consumers actually want to buy.

These events have heralded a new era of partnership between the White House and private companies, one that calls to mind the wonderful partnership Germany formed with France and the Low Countries at the start of World War II.

That's almost too funny to have been written by Mr. Brooks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Obama Selects Sotomayor for Court (PETER BAKER and JEFF ZELENY, 5/27/09, NY Times)

President Obama has decided to nominate the federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, choosing a daughter of Puerto Rican parents raised in Bronx public housing projects to become the nation’s first Hispanic justice, officials said Tuesday.

The decision, to be announced Tuesday morning, will be Mr. Obama’s first selection to the Supreme Court and could trigger a struggle with Senate Republicans who have indicated they may oppose the nomination. But Democrats control nearly the 60 votes necessary to choke off a filibuster and even Republicans said they have little hope of blocking confirmation barring unforeseen revelation

So he goes with a lighterweight pick, less likely to influence the Court, but one who not only helps with his bona fides among Latinos but, if he's really lucky, one who the GOP damages itself among Latinos by its opposition. It's a cynical move, but outstanding politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


FEC Pick Raises Eyebrows (Shawn Zeller, 5/28/09, CQ)

When candidate Barack Obama decided last year that he was so flush with donations that he would spurn public financing for both the nomination and general election campaigns, he worried many of those who were trying to reduce the influence of big money on elections. Obama seemed to reassure them, though, by promising that if he became president he would push to fix the system.

By naming labor lawyer John Sullivan to the Federal Election Commission this month, however, Obama’s got the advocates of tough campaign finance enforcement fretting again.

“The gusto with which Mr. Sullivan has bashed important elements” of the 2002 campaign finance law “and repeatedly taken radical deregulatory positions does not inspire confidence,” says J. Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Somali Pirate Fears Good Times Maybe Finished (Javno, 5/26/09)

[T]he crime wave has prompted a hurried deployment in the region by foreign navies, thwarting several attacks -- and now the weather is turning too, making the seas rougher and the pirates' prey harder to hunt.

"My biggest fear is that the piracy business will have to stop. The weather will be terrible in the coming days and the warships have increased in number," Said told Reuters in Eyl.

"I have experienced the bitter-sweetness of piracy," he added, pointing out that his car, satellite telephone and speedboat were all paid for with his cut from ransoms.

But the last few weeks have not been so successful. He knows he was lucky to get off scot-free after being captured once.

"I recently went to sea ... but all of my last three attempts have been in vain. I was even caught by a Portuguese warship, but fortunately they released me and my friends."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Reasons to be hopeful After years of failure, Pakistan's leaders are starting to expose the Taliban for what they are (Peter Preston, 5/24/09,

It ought to be damnably difficult to defeat the Taliban, but it seems strangely easy. The Pakistani army moves in its heavy battalions and moves 1.7 million civilians out of Swat, and the Taliban make conventional stands in little enclaves and get blasted out of sight. It's the mistake they made as ­government army-in-residence in Afghanistan, lines of men formed in fatuous attack, ragged troops cut to ribbons by superior weapons and air assaults. When they come out into the open, they lose. And in a Swat Valley cleared of innocent bystanders, they are losing badly.

This tells us three interesting things. One is that Taliban tactics are pretty stupid, which means that their leaders are pretty stupid too. Another is that US alarm about zealot hordes seizing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is equally foolish. But a third element provides positive hope rather than familiar despair. We deceive and delude ourselves every time we write about the Taliban (or al-Qaida) as a coherent force under a single command.

...and, paradoxically, that requites that they be "winning."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Moderate Tamils chart new course (Ameen Izzadeen, 5/26/09, Asia Times)

[V Anandasangaree, leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), a party which in 1976 adopted a resolution for a separate state] said the only way forward was the introduction of a power-devolution system based on the Indian model. "The Indian model is a big success. It has silenced the voices that raised the cry of a separate state in Tamil Nadu state in the 1960s. It will work here, too," he said, adding that he strongly believed that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would come up with a solution acceptable to the Tamils.

"When the president said in his victory speech in parliament on Tuesday that there are no minorities in Sri Lanka today, he was speaking from his heart. I am confident, he will offer a solution that meets the Tamil aspiration," he said.

Anandasangaree said he did not believe that the Tamil struggle would return to violence. He said he believed that this was the time for the moderate Tamil voices to speak.

Over the past two decades, the LTTE hijacked the Tamil cause. It not only did not allow moderate Tamil leaders who believed in democratic approach to speak up, but it also intimidated and killed them.

The moderate Tamil voice is now coming to the fore. The Tamil National Alliance, the party which was forced to act as the mouthpiece of the LTTE in parliament, is now free to chart its own course. Tamil leaders who fled the country to escape from the LTTE are willing to return.

It's hard to concede a state to an armed group, easy to popular pols.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Liberals' frustration grows as agenda stalls: Guantanamo closure, gun bans lag as president 'picks his fights' (Charles Babington, 5/26/09, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Frustrated liberals are asking why a Democrat-controlled Congress and White House can't manage to close the Guantanamo prison or keep new gun rights laws from passing.

After all, President Obama pledged to shut down the detention center for terrorism suspects at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And Democratic control of the government would suggest that any gun legislation leads to tighter controls on weapons, not expanded use.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Corzine's woes offer GOP a chance: Handling of economy sinks governor's popularity (Donald Lambro, May 26, 2009 , Washington Times)

The former Wall Street financier who spent more than $50 million of his own money to capture the governorship has seen his disapproval scores rise to 54 percent, the highest ever measured for a New Jersey governor, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

The growing dissatisfaction has opened up an opportunity for Republicans to win back a state that has been in Democratic hands since 2002 but is now considered a tossup by election analysts. Republicans were also leading in this fall's only other governor's race - in Virginia, where Democrats have held the Statehouse for the past eight years.

May 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


And Obama's Nominee Is... (Benjamin Sarlin, 5/25/09, Daily Beast)

Sure it's easy for armchair enthusiasts of the federal courts system to casually throw out their guesses as to President Obama's upcoming pick to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. But what are people saying who have actually put their money where their mouth is?

Moseying over to political futures site Intrade, a Dublin-based gambling hub for newsy predictions, and the two clear favorites are federal appeals court Judge Diane Wood and Solicitor General Elena Kagan. Kagan in particular is on a major upswing in just the last few days, leaping from a closing price of 28.0 on Friday ($2.80 for a share worth $10 if she is chosen) to as high as 39.0 on Monday. Wood had been riding a steady upward trend, but now she’s on a downward slope that seems to mirror Kagan's rise. She dropped today from close to 38.0 to 28.0 in a matter of hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Empathy and the Law (Stanley Fish, 5/24/09, NY Times)

Obama’s invocations of empathy combine a concern for the less advantaged with a theory of constitutional interpretation. Speaking to his choice to fill the seat soon to be vacated by Justice Souter, Obama said, “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives.” That kind of judge, Obama explained, will have empathy: “I view the quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”

The phrase “just decisions and outcomes” seems beyond reproach (who could object to it?), but many will hear it with suspicion and say, “Just outcomes would be nice and let’s hope we have some, but what courts should deliver is legal outcomes.” You might think that “legal” and “just” go together, and sometimes they do; but in the real world “just” and “legal” can come apart. A decision is just when it reflects an overarching vision of what is owed is to each man and woman. A decision is legal when it can be said to follow from established rules, statutes, precedents.

It is possible then that a legal decision, a decision that has a source and a pedigree in the laws that have been formally set down, could offend one’s sense of justice. And, conversely, it is also possible that a decision widely regarded as substantively just — yes, that’s the way things should be — could at the same time be seen as illegal, that is, as not following from the rules and principles of settled law. This is precisely the criticism that has been made of Brown v. Board of Education (most notably by Herbert Wechsler in his influential Harvard Law Review article “Toward Neutral Principles”); yes, the result is good, the critics acknowledge, but where, they ask, is its legal — as opposed to its empathetic — basis? And on the other side it was said, and is still said, that any jurisprudence that cannot accommodate Brown v. Board is a jurisprudence we must reject.

Indeed it has been argued, by Lon Fuller in a famous debate with H.L.A. Hart (Harvard Law Review, 1958), that a jurisprudence which generates outcomes offensive to justice doesn’t deserve the name of law. It may come fully equipped with procedures, tests, distinctions and all the other marks of law, but it isn’t law because, at its heart, it isn’t good. The question Fuller and Hart debated is whether Nazi law was law. The positivist Hart said that law and morality are two distinct registers and that a system of law could be procedurally legitimate and at the same time rest on an immoral foundation. Fuller replied by distinguishing between “mere order” and “good order,” and declared that a legal system “which clothes itself with a tinsel of legal form can so far depart from . . . the inner morality of law itself that it ceases to be a legal system.”

It is into these thickets of controversy that Obama steps (as he well knows) when he elevates empathy — a fellow feeling for those who have long been on the wrong end of the stick — above “abstract legal theory,” and insists that in addition to being legally competent the judge he approves must have justice in his or her heart. This is the criterion he applied when voting against Chief Justice Roberts. “Legal process alone,” he said in explanation of that vote, “will not lead you to a rule of decision.” Another way of putting this would be to say, it’s not really law if it’s merely legal.

But is there such a thing as “merely” or purely legal? Is there such a thing as the system of law? Is law a self-contained body of thought that rests on its own bottom? Or is what we call law inevitably influenced and even structured by forces and imperatives it does not contain? To put it in a nutshell, is law autonomous? Should it be?

Law would be autonomous if its operations proceeded without reference to norms that reside elsewhere — in religion, morality, economics, social justice, etc.

More: What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would
you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?

This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down (and you're just the man to do it!), do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


When will Barack Obama stop fudging it?: Barack Obama's reluctance to begin confronting difficult decisions is creating the impression that his administration is simply hoping for the best (Simon Heffer., 5/25/09, Daily Telegraph)

What followed was a classic Obama manoeuvre. With protesters heckling him from the audience, and many graduands having boycotted the ceremony because of the President's support for abortion, Mr Obama simply appealed for understanding on both sides. While to many it may seem that abortion is not an issue on which there can be compromise – you either have one or you don't – the President appealed for those in opposing camps to have respect for each other's point of view. Then, in a gesture to his predominantly pro-life audience, he won applause for suggesting that there should be more help for disadvantaged women who wish to carry their children to term, and more support for adoption agencies. He had not changed his views at all, but was assailed afterwards by the pro-abortion lobby for surrendering to the pro-lifers.

The speech gave a crystal-clear view of Mr Obama's approach to politics, but was also a token of how increasingly difficult he will find it to govern so long as he persists in thinking he is still on the campaign trail, rather than in the White House and actually running the country. Despite having won his election nearly seven months ago, and perhaps because of grumblings from critics that he could emulate Jimmy Carter and be a one-term Democrat president, Mr Obama cannot help but try to court popularity. He often does this, as in the abortion speech, by seeking to create an idea that he is somehow above differences within the American nation, and that he can represent neither camp or both camps on any question, however tendentious. It won't work.

The cracks were starting to show in the days before he went to Notre Dame. Having been roundly attacked for undermining those who sought to defend America against its enemies, the President suddenly reversed his campaign pledge to scrap military tribunals for trying terrorist detainees, which brought howls of protest from liberals who had supported him.

His ideal would be a presidency where he never had to make a decision and, therefore, everyone would continue to see in him whatever they wished to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Why Obama owes Bush an apology (Clive Crook, May 24 2009, Financial Times)

The left’s complaints make far more sense than Mr Cheney’s. Mr Obama is adjusting the Bush administration’s policies here and there and seeks to put them on a sounder legal footing. This recalibration is significant and wise, but it is by no means the entirely new approach that he led everybody to expect.

Mr Obama is in the right, in my view, but he owes his supporters an apology for misleading them. He also owes George W. Bush an apology for saying that the last administration’s thinking was an affront to US values, whereas his own policies would be entirely consonant with them. In office he has found that the issue is more complicated. If he was surprised, he should not have been.

W never took him seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


New Justice Could Hold the Key to Presidential Power (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 5/25/09, NY Times)

[J]udge Diane P. Wood of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, has expressed doubts about claims of sweeping executive powers in national security matters. Another, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, has a history of advocating for presidential powers in domestic matters, along with a mixed record of statements on counterterrorism issues.

The scope of executive power has become the subject of a profound debate since the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush administration lawyers argued that the president’s war powers could override laws and treaties, a theory at the heart of policies on harsh interrogations, surveillance without warrants and the detainees at the prison at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Some of former President George W. Bush’s greatest setbacks came when the Supreme Court rejected such arguments. And while Mr. Obama has not embraced the Bush administration’s most expansive theories, he appears to be on his own collision course with the court.

His administration is appealing a ruling that some detainees in Afghanistan have habeas corpus rights. And he has announced other policies, including revised military commissions and a system of prolonged preventive detention without trial, that are likely to be challenged.

Moreover, the broad powers Mr. Obama has employed in the economic crisis, like his virtual takeover of the American auto industry, could generate a new category of cases that would turn on how much deference the court gives to the executive branch.

“If Obama is really serious about national security, he ought to be looking for a justice who won’t try to micromanage in this area,” said Ed Whelan, a Bush administration lawyer. “He’ll also want a strong proponent of executive power to review his aggressive domestic measures.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 AM


Teen's efforts ID vets' graves (Ralph Montaño, May 29, 2004, Sacramento Bee)

Two years ago, Eagle Scout Samuel Nassie of Paradise spent most of Memorial Day alone in a cemetery raising flags on veterans' graves.

Two other Scouts helped but said they had to leave early, Nassie recalled. He refused to leave the task unfinished. Sweat poured off his body as he wandered the grassy grounds to post the last of about 1,600 flags. He discovered that many graves at the Paradise Cemetery could not be identified using existing maps.

"The veterans deserved to be honored for what they did," said Nassie, now 16. "I knew there had to be a better way."

That day, Nassie began a quest of honoring those who served the nation during war and are buried in Paradise. He would spend hundreds of hours locating and documenting veterans scattered across 23 acres.

Because of Nassie's efforts, almost 2,000 flags will fly in the cemetery this weekend. About two dozen local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will begin placing flags today using a massive two-volume guide that Nassie organized.

"It has been the best education for him," said Samuel Nassie's mother, Linda. "He sat down recently with some survivors of the Bataan Death March (of World War II), and a few told him their stories. It has been a real journey."

MORE (via Jim Siegel)
Subject: Memorial Day

Words don't see to come as easy for me as they do for others. Might explain why I went Infantry and not Military Intelligence.

I just got home and my arm is a little stiff and my back a bit sore. 40 plus doesn't bounce back like a 20 year old.

I spent two hours or more today placing flags on graves in the cemetery. 12 inches, center, push down, two steps right, repeat, flag after flag. It's hot here, getting up to 90 today, not much when you compare to 115 in Iraq. Row after row

It really hits home. The first hour I was in the Phoebus cemetery. Veterans of the Spanish American War, WWII, Vietnam. Row after row.

Lots of volunteers, but never too many. The VFW, the Boy Scouts, a bus from

the local school, and of course Soldiers. Some by themselves, some in uniform, some with their children. Row after row.

Looks like we are about done. No, sir, we still have the Hampton side, that's another 30,000 graves, only 23,000 over here. Row after row.

Hampton is half done by the time I arrive. Grade school children, middle school and the Cub Scouts have started already. They place a flag and move on. Row after row.

The children have forgotten to mark the backsides of the stones so we head out. The backside contains the names of the widows and the children; they too get a flag. Row after row.

Our beloved son CJ, we will miss you so much. Lou Ann, wife. Susan, daughter. Infant son. Simple words, simple stones. Row after row.

Christians, Jews and a Buddhist, side by side, under the shade of a tree. Fresh flowers mark a grave from yesterday. The backhoe beeps as they start to dig one for tomorrow. Row after row.

The Sergeant notices some of the children have placed the flags 6 inches from the stones. He bends over, pulls it up, and starts down the row, moving each flag to the required distance. Row after row.

Memorial Day is special, every day, every year, but even more so when we have troops in combat. I hope to help do this every year. But I pray we don't add any more rows.

May God bless and keep our troops safe from harm.

Michael S. McGurk
Lieutenant Colonel, Infantry
Fort Monroe, VA

Remarks from Colin Powell, US Secretary of State (World Economic Forum, On 26 January 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell (profile) spoke at the Annual Meeting 2003 in the session Dialogue with the US Secretary of State.)

We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own, you know, to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. But there comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works.

[Originally posted: 5/31/04]

May 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


Bush speaks at AHS Chase scholarship ceremony (Cid Standifer, 5/22/09, Roswell Daily Record)

Bush told the soon-to-be-graduates that it was a strange experience walking his dog Barney in his new neighborhood after he moved back to Texas.

"I realized this was the first time I'd been walking in a neighborhood for 14 years," he said. "It's not all that hard, by the way. You take one step, and then you take another."

It was the first time Barney had ever been in an ordinary neighborhood, and Bush had to stop when the dog took liberties with a neighbor's yard.

"And there I was, former President of the United States of America, with a plastic bag on my hand," he recalled. "Life is returning back to normal."

The former president expressed few regrets. He told the crowd the story of Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge, a soldier who lost both legs fighting in Iraq.

"He went into combat because his commander in chief sent him into combat, for a reason I still know is a noble and necessary reason," he said.

Bush used the story to encourage the scholarship recipients. When he visited Bagge in the hospital, Bush told him that someday he would get out of his bed and run, and when he did, he should give the White House a call. Then, one day, an aide went into Bush's office and said that Bagge was waiting on the South Lawn and wanted to go running with the president.

If Bagge could do that, Bush said, "You can go to college."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


A Night At The SuperMax (David R. Stokes, 5/24/09, Townhall)

One of the president’s great ideas would be to send many of the current Gitmo detainees to one of our “federal, supermax prisons.” But if his goal is to see that these misunderstood men escape unpleasant confines, anyone who knows anything about Gitmo and the federal prison system will tell you that conditions and treatment are worse in a supermax facility than at Gitmo. How will this play when the “affiliates” find out how bad the new home is and then use the new conditions as a recruitment tool. Where next?

People who have been to Gitmo tell me that the detainees there are treated better than anyone in our federal system.

One of the President's main selling points for closing Gitmo could be that he's acting punitively.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


The call to have a family and serve God (Jeff Jacoby, May 24, 2009, Boston Globe)

'I would like to have a family and at the same time serve God."

By all accounts, the man who recently spoke those words is more than capable of doing both. The Rev. Alberto Cutié, a 40-year-old Roman Catholic priest, built a devoted international following through his service as pastor of the St. Francis de Sales parish in Miami Beach, his immensely popular Spanish-language radio and television ministry, and his widely distributed advice column. "Father Oprah," he was nicknamed, both for his gifts as a broadcaster and his empathy for the struggles so many face when it comes to love, sex, and relationships.

Such struggles, it turns out, were of more than just academic interest to the telegenic priest. Cutié's career imploded this month after a magazine published photos showing him kissing and embracing a brunette on the beach. In the uproar that ensued, Cutié admitted that he and the woman were in love, and that for nearly a year he had been struggling to resolve his feelings for her with his commitment to the church. The Archdiocese of Miami had little choice but to suspend him from his parish and media duties, and Cutié is now faced with an agonizing decision. Does he leave the priestly vocation that means so much to him and for which he has shown such flair? Or does he break with the woman he loves and yearns to share his life with?

Inevitably, the scandal in Miami has reopened the longstanding debate over celibacy and the Catholic priesthood. Cutié himself has said that he does not want to become an anti-celibacy "poster boy" - "I believe that celibacy is good, and that it's a good commitment to God," he told CBS - but it is hard not to wonder whether the Catholic Church loses much more than it gains by continuing to deny its priests the blessings of marriage.

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. [...]

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM



On paper, the Waxman-Markey bill puts a cost on carbon dioxide by imposing a ceiling, or cap, on greenhouse gas emissions and then setting up a market for regulated industries -- such as the electric power sector -- to buy and sell allowances to pollute under that cap. As the cap is reduced each year, market participants will exchange allowances in a complex auction market.

If you liked what credit default swaps did to our economy, you're going to love cap-and-trade. Just read Title VIII of the bill, which lets investment banks, hedge funds and other speculators participate in the cap-and-trade market. They don't have emissions to cut; they have commissions to make.

The real hidden catch of the cap-and-trade system, though, is that it will require consumers to pay twice: first for emission allowances and then for the construction of new low- and zero-carbon power plants.

Just tax gasoline directly. That gets all the results we're looking for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Anyone but Ahmadinejad: The unlikely candidacy of Mir Hossein Mousavi. (Maziar Bahari, 6/01/09, NEWSWEEK)

"The choice is now between democracy and an authoritarian government," said Mohammed Javad Mozafar, a historian in the crowd at Milad Hall. "If Ahmadinejad wins, that means the end of this reformist dream for a while. Many of these young people will be depressed and even leave the country. But if Mousavi wins, that means the citizens have won despite Ahmadinejad's deceitful policies and the support he receives from above." Although Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn't stoop to publicly endorsing a candidate, few Iranians doubt that Ahmadinejad is his man.

But whose man is Mousavi? Even by the baffling standards of Iranian politics, he and his candidacy are a puzzle. His revolutionary zeal made him a leading figure in the Islamic Republic's early years. Trained as a painter and architect, he accomplished a protean feat after the fall of the shah in 1979, building a name for himself as both a committed leftist and a fiercely loyal follower of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He served as prime minister throughout most of the 1980s until he dropped out of politics in 1989, after Khomeini's death. Most supporters at this year's Milad Hall rally were too young to remember those times; the crowd's average age looked to be about 25. In fact, roughly 75 percent of Iranians are under 30. Mousavi is 68. [...]

Many of Iran's young reformists want action, not compromise. Ex-president Khatami is begging them to be more realistic. "I'm sure those young people in Milad Hall who were chanting idealistic slogans know in their heart of hearts that those ideals are not realizable at the moment," says Khatami. The rally, billed as "the meeting of supporters of Khatami to support Mousavi," was their first public appearance together since Mousavi declared his candidacy. "We all would have preferred someone younger to be the reformist candidate," Khatami confesses. "But in the absence of that person, Mr. Mousavi is the best candidate. He can prepare an environment in which people like us can act as reformers."

The youngsters in Milad Hall seemed to know exactly what they wanted. "Anyone but Ahmadinejad!" whooped Somayeh Khodabandeh, a 19-year-old university student wearing a black chador that covered all but her giggly face. She was at the rally with her friends Elnaz and Fatima, also in chadors. They elbowed their way to the front of the hall and raised a poster showing Mou-savi in the foreground and Khatami hovering angel-like behind him. "Peace upon Khatami! Long live Mousavi!" the crowd chanted, and the girls joined in. On stage, Mousavi and Khatami raised the hands of another 19-year-old first-time voter. The kids went wild. Khatami looked utterly comfortable in his new role as kingmaker. As for Mousavi, that wan smile kept haunting his face. It was almost as enigmatic as his platform—or, for that matter, his prospects.

They May Not Want The Bomb: And other unexpected truths. (Fareed Zakaria, 6/01/09, NEWSWEEK)
Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program (which could make the challenge it poses more complex). What's the evidence? Well, over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime's founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were "un-Islamic." The country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that "developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam." Last year Khamenei reiterated all these points after meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. Now, of course, they could all be lying. But it seems odd for a regime that derives its legitimacy from its fidelity to Islam to declare constantly that these weapons are un-Islamic if it intends to develop them. It would be far shrewder to stop reminding people of Khomeini's statements and stop issuing new fatwas against nukes. [...]

Iran isn't a dictatorship. It is certainly not a democracy. The regime jails opponents, closes down magazines and tolerates few challenges to its authority. But neither is it a monolithic dictatorship. It might be best described as an oligarchy, with considerable debate and dissent within the elites. Even the so-called Supreme Leader has a constituency, the Assembly of Experts, who selected him and whom he has to keep happy. Ahmadinejad is widely seen as the "mad mullah" who runs the country, but he is not the unquestioned chief executive and is actually a thorn in the side of the clerical establishment. He is a layman with no family connections to major ayatollahs—which makes him a rare figure in the ruling class. He was not initially the favored candidate of the Supreme Leader in the 2005 election. Even now the mullahs clearly dislike him, and he, in turn, does things deliberately designed to undermine their authority..

Tehran or Bust: A journey through the heart of Iran. (Hooman Majd, 6/01/09, NEWSWEEK)
The layers of contradiction that make up the modern Islamic Republic of Iran are both pervasive and confounding, and not any less so in Yazd. Set amid the blistering deserts of central Iran, the city is home to the kind of fierce religiosity bred in Islam's starker landscapes, and many of its sons were sacrificed to the bloody war with Iraq. Yet it is also a capital of pre-Islamic Persia, and is well known for its Zoroastrian temples and grave sites. (At one fire temple, priests continue to tend a flame that they claim has burned for more than 500 years.) It is the only city in the world that can boast two native sons, Khatami and Moshe Katsav, who simultaneously served as presidents of Iran and Israel. Even the mosque where Sadoughi leads prayers is named after a Jewish convert.

The sermon that Sadoughi had delivered that morning had been equally impossible to categorize. He defended the inflammatory speech that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had delivered earlier that week at a United Nations conference on racism, chiding Western nations who "allegedly are … defenders of free speech" for walking out. But he also criticized the government, in this case for failing to ensure that Iranian pilgrims traveling to Iraq were adequately protected, a large number of them having been killed the day before in a suicide bombing near Baghdad. And he conceded that the United States had elected a new president who had promised to change its relationship with Iran. He declared that Iranians were waiting to witness real deeds from Washington, not mere rhetoric. But at the end of his 30--minute sermon, unlike past Friday prayers and prayers that same day in Tehran, there were no chants of "Death to America" or "Death to Israel," not even halfhearted ones. Later that night in his office he repeated, wistfully, the same sentiment—that words alone were not enough from the United States, not for Iranians, who are master rhetoricians, and who well understand the many uses to which they can be put.

Anyone reading a translation of Sadoughi's sermon would quite likely miss the sincerity of his appeal, the doors it carefully left open. After 30 years of enmity, the United States and Iran have almost entirely lost the capacity to interpret such subtle signals. Very few serving U.S. officials have met their Iranian counterparts, and almost none have ever visited Iran. Yet such expertise is more critical than ever, as the administration of President Barack Obama prepares to embark on what could be months of difficult negotiations aimed at halting Iran's nuclear-enrichment program.

After Obama videotaped a Persian New Year's message for the Iranian people, reiterating his offer of unconditional talks, most Western commentators interpreted Khamenei's lengthy and defiant response as a slap in the face. But what would have been most significant to any Iranian listening was a passage at the very end of the speech, when Khamenei said, "If you change, our behavior will also change." Iran's supreme authority had never before used the word "change" in such a context, for up until now the Islamic Republic's position has been that there is nothing objectionable about its behavior. If the Obama administration truly wants to forge a new relationship with Iran, it will have to learn to hear the things Iranians are saying to them, whether it be the Supreme Leader or the rifle-toting Sadoughi.

I had come to Yazd to begin a road journey north, to Tehran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Nuance Is a Fine Word Until It’s Pronounced Flip-Flop (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 5/24/09, NY Times)

It was the kind of careful, nuanced argument that is a hallmark of Mr. Obama’s communications style — a methodical laying-out of the facts by a president who seems convinced that if he simply explains himself to the American people, they will surely understand his position and forgive him for changing, or seeming to change, his mind.

It is a tactic Mr. Obama has employed repeatedly as president, as he has recalibrated his approach to positions on any number of issues. He told Planned Parenthood that his first act as president would be to sign an abortion rights bill into law; now he says it is “not my highest legislative priority.” He promised gay rights advocates that he would work for the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but he has pushed action into the future. A proponent of transparency, he released previously classified memos describing the C.I.A.’s harsh interrogation techniques. But then he moved to block the release of photos showing abuse of detainees — a 180-degree turn from his administration’s previous position.

On all these fronts, Mr. Obama and his aides have offered detailed explanations of the factors that shape his decision-making. So far, the public seems on board. But in a sound-bite culture, there are limits to how much nuance the public can absorb.

And that raises a question: at what point is President Thinker in danger of being perceived as President Flip-Flop? that he's breaking promises that most voters didn't even realize he'd made to special interest groups and which they would have held against him had they known. He's dissing the Left and moving to the Center, which isn't likely to create a firestorm in the great American Middle. What would be dangerous politically would be to, like Bill Clinton, ditch his tax cut promise and raise them instead or to actually fulfill one of those promises.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Dawn of a new era for superhero born in the ghetto (Dan Bilefsky, 5/24/09, Scotland on Sunday)

There are now Golem hotels, Golem door-making companies, Golem clay figurines (made in China); a recent musical starring a dancing Golem; and a Czech strongman called the Golem who bends iron bars with his teeth. The Golem has also infiltrated Czech cuisine: the menu at the non-kosher restaurant called the Golem features a "rabbi's pocket of beef tenderloin" and a $7 "crisis special" of roast pork and potatoes that would surely have rattled the venerable Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, credited with creating the Golem.

Even US first lady Michelle Obama paid her respects when she visited Loew's grave last month and placed a prayer on a piece of paper and put it near his tombstone.

His creation is well known to the millions of readers of author Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, in which Golems, derived from Jewish tradition, play a starring role.

Eva Bergerova, a theatre director who is staging a play about the Golem, said it was no coincidence that this central European story is ubiquitous at a time of swine flu and economic distress.

"The Golem starts wandering the streets during times of crisis, when people are worried," Bergerova said.

The old silent, Der Golem is worth watching.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Sen. Harry Reid may need all the help he can get: The Senate majority leader is calling in President Obama for his upcoming fundraiser. A new poll shows Reid is not well-liked in Nevada. All the GOP needs now is a viable candidate. (Andrew Malcolm, May 24, 2009, LA Times)

A new statewide poll of 625 Nevadans confirms previous research that the four-term Democrat is not well-liked. In fact, he's downright disliked.

Fully half the respondents think of him unfavorably. Only 38% think of him positively; 11% didn't care, according to the survey by Mason-Dixon for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

About 45% said they'd vote to oust the 69-year-old Senate majority leader, 17% said they'd consider somebody else, and about a third would vote for him. Going into such elections, incumbents prefer 2-to-1 favorable-to-unfavorable ratios.

You can't be identified with the national Democratic Party and win in swing or Red states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Linked to Haddix’s Perfection by Western Union Ticker Tape (GERALD ESKENAZI, 5/24/09, NY Times)

The ticker tape in the bell jar began to click.

It was May 26, 1959, my first night at The New York Times. I was a $38-a-week copy boy.

I knew that Western Union ticker was important — it was the sports department’s lifeline to baseball games that were increasingly being played at night. Why, they were even playing on the West Coast now.

The yellow ribbon unfurled out of the jar. Usually, it gave bare information, a line score. This time, it read, in shorthand, as I recall: “Harvey Haddix Pittsburgh Pirates pitching perfect game through eight innings.”

Wow! What a business, I thought. What a way to start what was to be a sportswriting career with the paper for more than 40 years.

May 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


What Are We Stimulating? (Mark Steyn, 5/23/09, National Review)

I was in Vermont the other day and made the mistake of picking up the local paper.

...the mistake was violating the State Border Rule to begin with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


But Enough About Me . . .: Does Obama understand that the office of the presidency is bigger--much bigger--than he is? (William Kristol, 06/01/2009, Weekly Standard)

Who cares? Who cares about Barack Obama's father, his mother, or his "own American journey"? Is his journey so noteworthy that it needs to be intruded into a presidential speech on weighty matters of constitutional law and public policy, of civil liberties and national security? After all, tens of millions of other Americans have ancestors who came to these shores in search of the promise of a better life. Tens of millions of other Americans have lived in a foreign land--and some of them were presumably awakened early by their mothers.

And so what? Are those Americans who didn't live abroad as youths any less attached to the principles of the Declaration? Didn't the rest of us study the Constitution as well? Haven't millions of other Americans also been bound by it as lawyers and legislators--to say nothing of tens of millions who have sworn oaths to it when serving in the military and other public and civic roles?

And isn't the point of the Declaration and the Constitution--and of the various oaths we swear, the pledges of allegiance we make--that our individual backgrounds should recede as we assume the duties of public office or when we exercise our rights as citizens? Perhaps not in the eyes of Barack Obama. Even by the standard of political types, he seems strikingly self-preoccupied and self-referential.

Doesn't Obama's self-regard sometimes seem greater than his regard for the position he occupies? Does he understand that the office of the presidency is bigger--much bigger--than he is? Or does Obama think of the presidency primarily as a vessel through which to exercise his political gifts and pursue his personal achievements?

Mr. Kristol doesn't get it? The presidency is the achievement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Cheney Seeks Book Deal on Bush Years and More (JIM RUTENBERG and MOTOKO RICH, 5/23/09, NY Times)

Mr. Cheney is actively shopping a memoir about his life in politics and service in four presidential administrations, a work that would add to what is already an unusually dense collection of post-Bush-presidency memoirs that will offer a collective rebuttal to the many harshly critical works released while the writers were in office and beyond.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


I Want To See If It`s Torture: One of USA`s conservative champions decided to experience `simulated drowning` himself. (Javno, 5/23/09)

Since the debate on whether a “little water” can truly constitute torture has reached its crescendo, [Erich `Mancow`] Mancow, unlike Hannity, decided to experience it himself and see what makes the “drowning simulation” so horrible. [...]

The setting was prepared, Muller was elevated on a table, his feet were tied up and lifted.

Marine Sergeant Clay, who looks like and speaks like an experienced marine, explained to the audience that “the average person can take this for 14 seconds”.

- He`s going to wiggle, he`s going to scream, he`s going to wish he never did this - said the marine in high spirits.

Watching the recorded footage of the event, one cannot but wonder that this is not such a dreadful ordeal after all. Medical staff was present in the studio as a precaution and it was soon revealed why.

Laid down on the table, Mancow had a rubber cow toy in his hand which he could use to signalise when he has had enough. He was rather self-confident before the treatment and claimed it would be like a walk in the park and that he would make it at least 30 seconds.

The marine then placed a wet towel on his head, covering us his eyes and nose, but not his mouth and then the water rushed…

Mancow lasted six or seven seconds of the “simulated drowning” experience and the video footage clearly shows he threw the “emergency tool” cow instantaneously as the torture began.

Like many, the volunteer martyr believed that the “drowning simulation” was no big deal, but in the end, he summarised his experience:

- It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that`s no joke. It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture – Mancow said.

To make the experiment more interesting, Muller drowned as a child. He testified that the feeling caused by waterboarding was equal to the one he experienced as a child.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


Adaptation: On Literary Darwinism (William Deresiewicz, June 8, 2009, The Nation)

The appeal of evolutionary psychology is easy to grasp. Just think of Annie Hall. The last few decades have left us so profoundly disoriented about the most urgent personal matters--gender roles, sexual norms, the possibility of creating lasting romantic relationships, not to mention absolutely everything to do with family structure--that it's no surprise to find people embracing a theory that promises to restore order. Once we had religion to tell us who we are. Then, for a while, we had Freud. Now we have evolutionary psychology, which, as an attempt to construct a science of human nature on Darwinian principles, marshals two of the most powerful ideas in contemporary culture: science, our most authoritative way of knowing, and nature, our highest ground of moral appeal. No wonder the field is catnip to journalists and armchair theorists alike. Equip yourself with a few basic concepts--natural selection, inclusive fitness, mating choice--and you, too, can explain the mysteries of human existence. That evolutionary psychology has no real intellectual credibility, that mainstream biology regards it as a house of sand, rarely seems to come up. EP is the Malcolm Gladwell of science: facile and glib, but so persuasive and charming that no one wants to ruin the fun.

To be fair, the problem lies less in the field's goals than in its claims. Much of its opposition is misguided and out-of-date. For a long time, evolutionary approaches to human behavior were discredited by the specter of Social Darwinism. More recently, the concept of a unitary human nature has been condemned as a form of bourgeois universalism--that is, of disguised ethnocentrism. But those who reject the notion of human psychology as a product of evolution (that is, of nature rather than culture) would undoubtedly recoil at the idea that human physiology is not a product of evolution. The only alternative is creationism.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


The Wordsmith: Questions for Frank Luntz (Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON, 5/24/09, NY Times Book Review)

What do you think of Dick Cheney’s new identity as a TV regular?

My issue with Cheney is that he was at one time a great communicator. But when he was asked the question “Over 70 percent of Americans disagree with this war, what is your response?” do you remember what his reaction was?

He said, “So what?”

Even worse than that. “So.” So! One-word answer, one syllable, two letters. To the American people it was a slap in the face.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


REVIEW: of The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars by Richard Overy (Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph)

Richard Overy’s book examines the intellectual currents that coursed through British life in the Twenties and Thirties, but also picks out the thinkers and other characters who pursued them. He does not confine himself to those who had intellectual sympathies with either Hitler or Stalin; one of the most illuminating parts of the book is his dissection of the philosophy of the contraception activist Marie Stopes, to this day regarded by the women’s movement as something of a liberator.

Stopes was also a eugenicist, and so devoted to that way of thinking that she refused to attend her own son’s wedding. He was marrying a woman who wore glasses (and who happened to be the daughter of the distinguished scientist Sir Barnes Wallis) and Stopes accused him of squandering his own allegedly magnificent genetic inheritance. For good measure, she cut him out of her will, too.

Overy’s title is well chosen, for the principal obsessions he catalogues during these decades are with death and the disease of the race.

One was not aware that Europe had moved past those obsessions.

While Europe Slept (Jean Bethke Elshtain, March 2009, First Things)

Europe cannot remember who she is unless she remembers that she is the child not only of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds and the Enlightenment but also of Judaism and Christianity—the child, therefore, of Catholicism and the Reformation. If Europe abandons her religious heritage, the idea of Europe dies. And Europe has abandoned, or forgotten, her religious heritage. Europe is now “post-Christian.” What does this mean? What does it portend?

If a culture forgets what it is, as I believe Europe has done, it falls first into an agnostic shrugging of the shoulders, unable to say exactly what it is and believes, and from there it will inevitably fall into nihilism. Detached from its religious foundations, Europe will not remain agnostic. The first result is manifest in those ideologies of multiculturalism that make “difference” a kind of sacred, absolute principle, although no principle is considered to have any such status. Difference tells us nothing in and of itself. Some ways of life and ways of being in the world are brutal, stupid, and ugly. Some a human rights-oriented culture cannot tolerate. A culture must believe in its own enculturating responsibility and mission in order to make claims of value and to institutionalize them in social and political forms. This a post-Christian Europe cannot do.

Multiculturalism is then, in practice, a series of monoculturalisms that do not engage one another at all; rather, the cultural particulate most enamored of gaining and holding power has an enormous advantage: One day, it proclaims, we will bury you. A sign carried by radical Islamist protestors in London during the fracas over the Dutch cartoons proclaimed, “Europe is a cancer / Islam is the answer.” A perverted idea of Islam confronts a Europe that has lost a sense of who she is and what she represents.

For that Europe, the window to transcendence is slammed shut. Human values alone pertain. But these human values are shriveled by a prior loss of the conviction that there is much to defend about the human person, and they are seen as so many subjectivist construals without any defensible, objective content. Unsurprisingly, what comes to prevail is a form of reduced utilitarianism that rationalizes nihilism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Affordable Steaks That Make the Cut (Tony Rosenfeld, 5/20/09, The Washington Post)

Affordable cuts of beef tend to fall into three groups: hanger and flatiron steaks, long prized by chefs; flank, flap, tri-tip and skirt steaks, which used to be even cheaper when they were less popular; and gems such as chuck eye, chuck shoulder and top sirloin steaks, which are, for the moment, the least expensive of the lot (less than $5 per pound).

One thing they all have in common is their tough texture. They come from well-exercised muscles of the animal, which tend to be the most flavorful. There are other cheap cuts to consider, but they suffer from a lack of beefy flavor or from lots of gristle and bones. Attentive prep work, intense marinades and closely watched grill time can do wonders for the bargain cuts we're focusing on here.

First, the marinades: Conventional culinary wisdom holds that these liquid mixtures flavor and tenderize tough cuts. Recently, food scientists have begun to question not only whether marinades tenderize meat, but also just how far the marinades actually are able to infuse flavor.

In the face of what science may or may not show, experience and many generations of cooks have proved that a good marinade can dress up ordinary meat. Even if the effect is only skin-deep and non-tenderizing, flavors such as soy-ginger and rosemary-red wine give affordable cuts a richer color and an intense, savory crust.

Grilling's the way to go for this kind of beef, and that merely demands organization and attention to detail. Little things make a difference, such as pulling the steaks out of the refrigerator while the grill heats up so the meat is not chilled when it hits the grate. That helps achieve the ultimate goal: steaks cooked to a uniform doneness. When the meat goes straight from the fridge to the grill, it takes longer for its center to reach medium-rare or medium, during which time the outside starts to char and the interior can go gray.

The fire itself can guide the grilling process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


In the President's Hunt for 'Common Ground' on Abortion, a Fault Line Emerges (Jake Tapper, May 22, 2009, ABC News: Political Punch)

The goal, as President Obama said on Sunday in his address at Notre Dame, is, "Let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”

Today, however, one of the conservative activists attending these meetings said she didn't buy it, and she wrote about the meetings about which many attendees had been asked not to share details. (Wright said no one told her to keep information from the meetings confidential.) [...]

Writing at the conservative Web site Human Events, Wright recounts the meeting in an essay titled, "Obama Aide: Not Our Goal to Reduce Abortions."

Barnes led the meeting and as "the dialogue wound down, she asked for my input," Wright writes. "I noted that there are three main ways the administration can reach its goals: by what it funds, its messages from the bully pulpit, and by what it restricts. It is universally agreed that the role of parents is crucial, so government should not deny parents the ability to be involved in vital decisions. The goals need to be clear; the amount of funding spent to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions is not a goal. The U.S. spends nearly $2 billion each year on contraception programs -- programs which began in the 1970s -- and they’ve clearly failed. We need to take an honest look at why they are not working."

Wright writes, "Melody testily interrupted to state that she had to correct me. 'It is not our goal to reduce the number of abortions.' The room was silent. The goal, she insisted, is to 'reduce the need for abortions.'"

Oops, that's a tad too truthful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Obama's IMF pledge meets congressional resistance: Loans to the International Monetary Fund to shore up the global economy are key to the president's foreign policy vision, but his promises may be imperiled by House and Senate differences. (Janet Hook, May 23, 2009, LA Times)

President Obama's initiative to shore up the developing world through a global fund, the cornerstone of an international economic recovery effort begun last month, is meeting with resistance in Congress. [...]

Obama is seeking the IMF infusion as part of a measure to provide $90 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Senate included IMF funding in its bill; the House did not.

The differences between the two bills must be resolved after Congress returns from its weeklong Memorial Day recess.

When the House passed its version of the war funding bill last week, Obama depended heavily on support from Republicans. GOP support made up for the 51 Democrats who voted against the bill because they opposed the war in Iraq and Obama's plan to step up the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan.

However, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) warned that the additional funding for the IMF threatened to erode support from Republicans, including those who believe the money should not be included in the war funding bill and those skeptical of Obama's game plan in Afghanistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


The Gordian knot of Guantánamo Bay (Christopher Caldwell, May 22 2009, Financial Times)

On Wednesday, Mr Obama had a meeting with civil-liberties activists that left many of them dissatisfied, because he tried to put forward a concept of “preventive detention”. As he put it in his speech the next day: “There may be a number of people [at Guantánamo] who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States ... Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people.” Few politicians have been as honest as Mr Obama in exposing the contradictions of their own policies. But contradictions they are. If you hold people without trial, you violate due process. You have the Bush policy, diluted only by the passage of time. [...]

Mr Obama hit the rock of public opinion last week. The Senate, which his party controls, voted 90-6 against closing Guantánamo. The Democrats’ Senate leader, Harry Reid, explained that he did not want terrorists released in the US. “No one’s talking about releasing them,” said an incredulous reporter. “We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.” Mr Reid replied laconically: “Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.”

Bloggers snorted at the stupidity and cravenness of this remark and, in his speech, Mr Obama repeated the bloggers’ red herring that “nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal, supermax prisons”. But Mr Reid is right. Bringing Guantánamo prisoners to the US is safe only if you assume they will not receive a fair trial. In a system that guarantees due process, if you cannot charge a person or if a judge finds his interrogation unconstitutional, you release him. Mr Obama’s constitutionalism is underwritten by the Bush war on terror.

That is why Mr Cheney’s big push has been successful. It confronts Mr Obama with a Gordian knot that he dare not cut. A constitution that enshrines rights is an asset, but it does not come free. If it did, every country would have one. Eight years ago, Americans reckoned that some rights were worth trading for security. If they want those rights back, they will probably have to trade some security. That is the bargain. Until Mr Obama admits it he will be tangled up in an illogic from which no oratory can extract him.

...but the Constitution doesn't enshrine any rights for our foreign enemies. So, in fact, the security we gain by denying them any rights would actually be free.

May 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


American Girl To Unveil Jewish Doll (Debra Nussbaum Cohen, 5/18/09, The Forward)

The pre-tween set is abuzz with the rumor that the newest American Girl doll is Jewish. Officials at the Wisconsin-based company confirm that she is, indeed, a Jewish character, calling her “a lively girl from New York City,” but have embargoed her name and most other story details until May 29th.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 PM


Obama in Bush Clothing (Charles Krauthammer, May 22, 2009, Washington Post)

"We were able to hold it off with George Bush. The idea that we might find ourselves fighting with the Obama administration over these powers is really stunning."

-- Unnamed and dismayed human rights advocate, on legalizing indefinite detention of alleged terrorists, the New York Times, May 21

If hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, then the flip-flops on previously denounced anti-terror measures are the homage that Barack Obama pays to George Bush. Within 125 days, Obama has adopted with only minor modifications huge swaths of the entire, allegedly lawless Bush program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Barack Obama pledges to keep U.S. 'dominance' (Carol E. Lee, 5/22/09,

Barack Obama told graduates at the U.S. Naval Academy that of all of his duties as president, there is no higher honor than serving as their commander-in-chief, and in that role, he promised to maintain American military superiority.

“I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy, the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support you need to get the job done,” Obama said before an audience estimated at 30,000. “We will maintain America’s military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


The Cheney Fallacy: Why Barack Obama is waging a more effective war on terror than George W. Bush. (Jack Goldsmith, 5/18/09, The New Republic)

Former Vice President Cheney says that President Obama's reversal of Bush-era terrorism policies endangers American security. The Obama administration, he charges, has "moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe for nearly eight years from a follow-on terrorist attack like 9/11." Many people think Cheney is scare-mongering and owes President Obama his support or at least his silence. But there is a different problem with Cheney's criticisms: his premise that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


Women in battle against Taliban in Swat (Isambard Wilkinson and Emal Khan, 21 May 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Women joined villagers in a revolt against the Taliban in Pakistan's Swat Valley where a major military offensive against fundamentalist fighters has been launched.

An attempt by the Taliban to infiltrate Kalam village was repulsed in the first sign that the army's action is encouraging residents to stand up against the militants. Kalam's deputy mayor, Shamshad Haqqai, said that about 50 Taliban fighters tried to enter Kalam on Wednesday but that locals had fought them off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


An Idea in Every Pot: Can Marco Rubio's ideas—he has 100 of them!—help revive the Republican Party? (Christopher Beam, May 22, 2009, Slate)

In 2006, Rubio wrote and published a book called 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future. It was the product of a yearlong campaign to get Floridians to submit their own ideas for government (and, of course, to elect Rubio). There were three criteria: The ideas had to be relevant to daily life, they had to focus on the future, and they could not "unnecessarily expand government." The 1,500 submissions were whittled down to 100 concrete proposals, and the book became a template for his two-year tenure as speaker. [...]

Some ideas do stand out as novel. Rubio proposes free parking or reduced tolls for hybrid cars (No. 76). He wants to the state government to have a highly fuel-efficient fleet of cars (No. 77). He proposes cutting tuition for students who pursue careers that are experiencing shortages, like math, science, nursing, engineering, and teaching (No. 26). (Jeb Bush tossed out this idea at the first meeting of Cantor's National Council for a New America in Arlington, Va., earlier this month. Bush also blurbed Rubio's book.)

In the book, Rubio shies away from social issues. There's an emphasis on family—parental notification for social networking sites (No. 66), building "Children's Zones" for at-risk kids (No. 69), creating a "family-friendly Hollywood" in Florida (No. 90)—but he doesn't touch gay marriage or abortion. "The reason it's not in the book is we didn't hear a lot about it at that moment," Rubio says. But, he tells me, he believes marriage is between a man and a woman. As for the federal marriage amendment, "I have mixed feelings about that."

Rubio shares many goals of many liberals and moderates—better schools, safer streets, healthier children—but insists on market-based incentives to get there. Some of his proposals could even be part of an Obama platform, until you see the "how." Other goals are classic supply-side economics, like his doomed quest against the property tax (No. 96). [...]

The analytical frame of the moment describes a split between big-tent Republicans who would compromise and reach out to independents—particularly on social issues—and GOPers who would double down on conservative fundamentals. Rubio rejects that dichotomy. "I don't think that's how the debate is shaping up," he says. "I think it's between leadership and popularity. Between people who want principles, and people who think we should have focus groups and polls and make our policy based on that."

It makes sense that Rubio would reject the big tent/small tent split, since it's not clear which side he'd fall on. Yes, he's more conservative than Charlie Crist. He's pro-life, anti-stimulus, and anti-gay marriage. But he favors reaching out to independents as much as anyone. And as a Hispanic, he represents the GOP's best hope to avoid losing an entire demographic the way it lost African-Americans.

The Right hates Martinez and Crist because they know them. They like Rubio because they don't know him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


The Godfather of American Liberalism: H. G. Wells: novelist, historian, authoritarian, anticapitalist, eugenicist, and advisor to presidents (Fred Siegel, Spring 2009, City Journal)

Modern American liberalism, as it emerged in the 1920s, was animated by a revolt against the masses. Liberal thinkers accused the great unwashed of smothering creative individuals in a blanket of materialist, spiritually empty cultural conformity. The liberal project was, so to speak, to refound America by replacing its business civilization—a “dictatorship of the middle class,” as Vernon Parrington put it—with a new, more highly evolved leadership. But along with the ideal of the spontaneous, creative individual, liberals also embraced government economic planning, which depended on making people more predictable. The tension between the two aspirations was resolved, rhetorically at least, by proposing to place power in the hands of scientists, academics, artists, and professionals, a new and truly worthy aristocracy that could govern based on what was good for both leaders and the led.

These antidemocratic and elitist assumptions were nowhere better illustrated than in the extraordinary career of a Briton, H. G. Wells. [...]

In A Modern Utopia, written in 1905, Wells updated John Stuart Mill’s culturally individualist liberalism in light of the horizons opened by Darwin and Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics. Biologically, argues the book’s narrator, the “species is the accumulation of the experiments of all its successful individuals since the beginning.” That means, he says, that the “people of exceptional quality must be ascendant.” Further, “the better sort of people, so far as they can be distinguished, must have the fullest freedom of public service.”

What provides the possibility for such freedom is eugenics. Wells has no use for the iron laws of Marxism, but he replaces them with the iron laws of Malthus and Darwin. “From the view of human comfort and happiness, the increase of population that occurs at each advance in human security is the greatest evil of life,” he writes. “The extravagant swarm of new births” that created the masses was “the essential disaster of the 19th century.” Man’s propensity to reproduce will always outstrip his productive capacity, even in an age of machinery. Worse, the “base and servile types,” who are little more than the “leaping, glittering confusion of shoaling mackerel on a sunlit afternoon,” are the most fecund.

In Anticipations, Wells had already argued horrifyingly that the “nation that most resolutely picks over, educates, sterilizes, or poisons its People of the Abyss” would be ascendant. For the base and servile types, death would mean merely “the end of the bitterness of failure.” It was “their portion to die out and disappear.” The New Republicans would have “little pity and less benevolence” for the untermenschen, “born of unrestrained lusts . . . and multiplying through sheer incontinence and stupidity.”

In A Modern Utopia, Wells, stung by criticism of Anticipations, backed off, but only partway. “Idiots,” “drunkards,” “criminals,” “lunatics,” “congenital invalids,” and the “diseased” would “spoil the world for others,” Wells again argued. But their depredations required “social surgery,” not total extermination. That meant preventing people below a set income and intelligence from reproducing, as well as isolating the “failures” on an island so that better folk could live unfettered by government intrusion. Remove the unfit, and there will be no need for jails or prisons, which are places “of torture by restraint.” Illiberalism enables liberalism.

For many, Darwinism is just another way of saying the world would be a better place with more of me and less of you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Out of Touch: Most Americans disagree with Obama on abortion and the Supreme Court. (David Freddoso, 5/22/09, National Review)

Pollster Kellyanne Conway recently conducted a survey to measure public opinion about Obama’s impending choice of a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. What is most interesting about her poll is that respondents reject precisely the kind of nominee that President Obama is almost certain to pick. Far from preferring “empathy,” 92 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of Independents, and 84 percent of Democrats said they prefer a nominee who “will interpret the law as it is written and not take into account his or her personal viewpoints and experiences.”

But Conway’s most striking finding is just how out of touch President Obama is on the huge, hot-button issue that always plays an oversized role in Supreme Court confirmation hearings: abortion. [...]

Conway’s poll suggests that a vast majority of Americans want President Obama to nominate someone who disagrees with nearly everything he believes about abortion. Of those surveyed, 82 percent said they oppose a nominee who “supports late-term abortions, which are abortions in the seventh, eighth or ninth months of pregnancy and are also known as ‘Partial-Birth Abortions.’” When the Supreme Court upheld a congressional ban on partial-birth abortion in 2007, then-candidate Obama said that even such a modest restriction on abortion is completely unacceptable:

This ruling signals an alarming willingness on the part of the conservative majority to disregard its prior rulings respecting a woman’s medical concerns and the very personal decisions between a doctor and patient. I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman’s right to choose, and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women.

In the new poll, 69 percent said they do not want a new justice who opposes “making it illegal for someone to take a girl younger than the age of 18 across state lines to obtain abortions without her parents’ knowledge.” Then-senator Obama voted against precisely such a ban in 2006, known as the Child Custody Protection Act. The bill received 65 Senate votes, including those of many pro-choice Democrats. have to convince folks you're part of the 60, which makes it awkward to govern as part of the 40.

New National Poll Shows 14 Percent Pro-Life Majority on Abortion, Fifth Survey in May (Steven Ertelt, May 22, 2009,

The results of a new national poll are the fifth survey this month to confirm a majority of Americans take a pro-life position on abortion or show movement in the pro-life direction. The latest poll was conducted by the Polling Company of 800 adults from May 17-18 and it has a 3.5 percent margin of error.

The poll, which also found the public does not want President Barack Obama to appoint a pro-abortion activist to the Supreme Court, featured two questions directly about abortion. [...]

A Rasmussen Reports survey released May 5 found that 58 percent of Americans say abortion is morally wrong most of the time and a seven percent increase in the number of Americans who say abortions are too easy to obtain.

A May Gallup poll found 51% of Americans calling themselves pro-life and just 42 percent saying they are "pro-choice" and supporting legal abortions.

A Fox News poll conducted May 12-13 found 49 percent of Americans say they are pro-life while just 43 percent say they are "pro-choice.

And a Pew poll released at the end of April found the support for legal abortions has dropped to its lowest level in 15 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


Run, Dick, Run (The Daily Beast, 5/14/09)

The Daily Beast gathers eight clues that Cheney—and his doggedly loyal supporters—are paving the way for his presidential run in 2012.

1. The media blitz

At this point, someone should just give him his own show. The former vice president has been carpet-bombing network news, taking to the airwaves to criticize President Obama every chance he gets. In the past few weeks, he’s spoken with Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, Bob Schaeffer, and radio host Scott Hennen. He’s also scheduled to give a major address to the American Enterprise Institute next week. The thrust of his message? “Obama is making us less safe.” Never mind that, as Republican Lawrence Wilkerson points out: “More Americans were killed by terrorists on Cheney's watch than on any other leader's watch in U.S. history.” It seems like we should expect more of Cheney, not less. “I'm not trying to start any rumors,” wrote Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, “but Cheney is certainly acting like a guy who plans to run for something. He's doing lots of media interviews, cultivating his connection with Limbaugh, attacking the president, lying about Democratic ideas, and giving at least one speech at a major conservative think tank about his vision for the future.”

2. His old fans are coming out of the woodwork

The New York Sun's editors love Dick Cheney so much that they recently brought their deceased publication briefly back to life, apparently just to praise the idea of a presidential run by the former VP. An infamous Sun editorial in 2007 suggested Cheney run in 2008. And though that didn’t happen, the paper printed a reprise of said editorial last month on its previously defunct Web site, arguing that it made the right call at the time. "Our own view is that Mr. Cheney just might have beaten Mr. Obama, particularly if he had broken with Mr. Bush on the bailout of the banks and the seizure of AIG and Fannie Mae, actions that both Messrs. McCain and Obama backed.” And while the Sun stopped short of endorsing Cheney for 2012, writing instead that "a new generation of leaders" was needed, famed neocon Bill Kristol went all the way this week on his Weekly Standard blog, writing, "Of course, everyone’s first choice for president in 2012 is Dick Cheney." Given his close ties to the Bush administration, it is at least somewhat possible he wasn't being sarcastic.

3. He hasn’t said he’s not running for president [...]

6. He’s younger than John McCain

That’s right. Despite his four heart attacks (the first one suffered at age 37) and his geezerly stoop (complete with an inauguration stint in a wheelchair), the former vice president is only 68 years old—four years younger than John McCain. And come 2012, he would be 72, the same age McCain was in 2008.

...if you were Mitt or Sarah it would be a bad idea to accept an invite to go duck hunting with him....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 AM


Conservatives Bash Cornyn, Threaten to Withhold Donations to GOP (Jonathan Allen and Bart Jansen, 5/22/09, CQ)

As soon as Gov. Charlie Crist made the long-anticipated announcement that he would run, John Cornyn , chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, gave Crist a quick and hearty endorsement, even though another Republican, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, wants the job.

For Cornyn, the calculus was simple math: Crist is a proven statewide vote-getter who can raise money on his own. [...]

A Web site known as “Not One Red Cent” — and connected to popular Republican activists Erick Erickson and John Hawkins — is encouraging conservatives to withhold their money from the NRSC and call for Cornyn’s resignation. Rubio, 37, has become the site’s cause célèbre.

“The leadership of the Republican Party keeps saying we need to get back to our principles and talking about how important it is to attract more young voters and Hispanic Americans. Then, we get a viable, young, conservative, Hispanic candidate running for Senate and they arrogantly try to shove him aside to make way for a better connected, moderate pol who’s more acceptable to the GOP establishment,” Hawkins said in a statement released Thursday.

“This cuts to the core of what’s wrong with today’s Republican Party.” [...]

Cornyn defended his decision to get behind Crist as a practical move that will benefit the party’s efforts in the Senate and across the country.

“It’s because he can win,” he said of Crist. “Money we don’t have to spend in Florida could pull somebody over the finish line and can be used to help Republicans in other parts of the country. For me, the most important imperative for Republicans now in the Senate is to improve our numbers so we can be an effective check on single-party government.”

...Senator Martinez wouldn't even be retiring if they (including Friend Hawkins) hadn't hounded him over the issue. Meanwhile, Mr. Rubio could be an excellent candidate once he runs and wins a couple statewide races.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


Mortal Remains: The wisdom and folly in Albert Jay Nock’s anti-statism (JONAH GOLDBERG, 5/04/09, National Review)

There is a stock character in fiction, particularly science fiction, who might be called the Immortal. Whether he be vampire or angel, alien or just some everyman blessed — or cursed — with Methuselah-like longevity, certain traits define the Immortal. He is polite, generous, even kind, but also resigned to the fact that life is often none of these things. Sometimes he is dismissive or condescending, or perhaps bemusedly indulgent of men’s political or ideological passions, the way old professors relate to freshmen who insist upon the novelty of their ideas and the audacity of their fervor. He’s seen it all before, maybe done it himself when he was a younger man, and he knows deep in the subterranean reservoirs of his soul that there is indeed nothing new under the sun. His own passions are more like cultivated tastes, hard-learned lessons formed by trial and error over many decades. He is disgusted by harmful stupidity but reluctant to correct what can only be gleaned from firsthand experience. He understands Edmund Burke’s insight that “example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” [...]

A large part of Nock’s mystique stems from the fact that he was mysterious, and deliberately so. He wore a cape, thought as well of Belgium as he did of America, knew nearly everything but pretended that he didn’t read the newspaper (William F. Buckley Jr. recounted how his father once stumbled on the proudly anti-newspaper Nock sitting on the floor poring over the Sunday papers). Nock’s memoirs say nothing about his failed marriage or neglected children and do not disclose his parents’ names or even mention that he played minor-league baseball. The joke at The Freeman was that the only way he could be contacted was to leave a note under a certain rock in Central Park.

He wrote a few books, including biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Rabelais. His most famous and successful works were Our Enemy the State and Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. But he was not prolific. As Chodorov put it, he “had a rare gift of editing his ideas so that he wrote only when he had something to say and he said it with dispatch.”

There is something almost hypnotic about Nock’s prose. When the hypnotist first waves the pocket watch in front of your eyes, there’s a simplicity to the ritual that is almost insulting: The swaying of this trinket is going to bewitch me? And yet moments, or in this case pages, later you are ensorceled. Nock, observed H. L. Mencken, “thinks in charming rhythm. There is never any cacophony in his sentences as there is never any muddling in his ideas. It is accurate, it is well ordered, and above all, it is charming.”

This is not, first and foremost, an observation about his gifts as a writer. To be sure, there are greater writers with even more timeless prose. Rather, Nock’s prose conveys a sense of timelessness. His motto was “See the world as it is,” and for Nock the world is, in the most fundamental sense, unchanging. In short, Nock writes like an Immortal, a traveler who has seen it all before. And I do not mean this in the way we say “the immortal Socrates.” Nock would be the first to admit that there were few new ideas in his writing. He took pride in the fact that he was merely reminding those willing to be reminded that whatever is fashionable and new in the ideas of men is little more than a rebranding effort. We may change the wardrobe of humanity, but not its nature. And yet, to Nock’s exasperation, humanity’s innate folly is the belief that the clothes will somehow remake the man.

Nock's most profound insight is the following:
Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase. 'For us to love our country,' he said, 'our country ought to be lovely.' I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the irresistible attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.

But there's a corollary to his observation about the basic immutability of ideas that the Right too often misses because reactionary. It is precisely because you can get people to buy your old ideas just by rebranding them that the effort is worthwhile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


Cheney Lost to Bush (DAVID BROOKS, 5/22/09, NY Times)

Cheney and Obama might pretend otherwise, but it wasn’t the Obama administration that halted the practice of waterboarding. It was a succession of C.I.A. directors starting in March 2003, even before a devastating report by the C.I.A. inspector general in 2004.

When Cheney lambastes the change in security policy, he’s not really attacking the Obama administration. He’s attacking the Bush administration. In his speech on Thursday, he repeated in public a lot of the same arguments he had been making within the Bush White House as the policy decisions went more and more the other way.

The inauguration of Barack Obama has simply not marked a dramatic shift in the substance of American anti-terror policy. It has marked a shift in the public credibility of that policy.

In the first place, it is absurd to say this administration doesn’t take terrorism seriously. Obama has embraced the Afghan surge, a strategy that was brewing at the end of the Bush years. He has stepped up drone activity in Pakistan. He has promoted aggressive counterinsurgency fighters and racked up domestic anti-terror accomplishments.

As for the treatment of terror suspects, Jack Goldsmith has a definitive piece called “The Cheney Fallacy” online at The New Republic. He lists a broad range of policies — Guantánamo, habeas corpus, military commissions, rendition, interrogation and so on. He shows how, in most cases, the Obama policy represents a continuation of or a gradual evolution from the final Bush policy.

The other fascinating link between Messrs Cheney and Obama is that they are both so resume driven, though the former seems a bit undone by the fact he's never going to get to top his with that final job title. Indeed, the only sensible explanation for his current campaign is that he's positioning himself to run in 2012.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Bringing Iran In From the Cold (Nader Mousavizadeh, May 21, 2009, Washington Post)

Our goal should be a new geostrategic environment in the Persian Gulf, in which Iran has fewer reasons to pursue overt nuclear weapons status, and in which it won't trigger a cascade of conflict if it nonetheless decides to do so. Rather than allow capabilities over which we have little control to force our hand, we should seek a new framework of intentions in our diplomacy with Iran.

This means opening direct bilateral talks without preconditions, focused on the many areas of common urgent concern, beginning with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. By building trust through joint efforts in arenas where Iranian and U.S. interests greatly coincide, we can move toward candid acknowledgment of each side's legitimate interests.

From Iran, this would require acceptance of the U.S. regional role; agreement that Hezbollah and Hamas pursue their interests through political, and not military, means; and a return to its previous policy of supporting whatever deal the Palestinians make with Israel. From the United States, this would require recognition of the sources of strategic paranoia in Tehran -- the legacy of its 10-year war with Iraq; being surrounded by nuclear powers, including Pakistan, India, Russia, Israel and the United States; and a 30-year history of antagonism with the world's greatest power. From this can flow acceptance of a legitimate Iranian role in Gulf security brokered by the United States and including Iran's Arab neighbors; and over time, Iran's reintegration into the international community and the lifting of sanctions -- all conditioned upon unequivocal security guarantees for U.S. allies in the region.

A shift of this magnitude in national security policy will require a leap of faith. Ahmedinejad failing in his re-election bid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


'Vengeance' Bites Back at Jared Diamond (Michael Balter, 5/14/09, Balter's Blog)

IN APRIL 2008, THE WELL-KNOWN biologist and author Jared Diamond penned a dramatic story in The New Yorker magazine, a violent tale of revenge and warfare in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Titled “Vengeance is Ours” and published under the banner “Annals of Anthropology,” the 8000-word article tells the story of a clan war organized by a young Papua New Guinean named Daniel Wemp to avenge the death of Wemp’s uncle, Soll. In Diamond’s telling, the war started in the 1990s over a pig digging up someone’s garden, went on for 3 years, and resulted in the deaths of 29 people. In the end, Diamond wrote, Wemp won: His primary target, a man Diamond referred to as “Isum,” had his spine cut by an arrow and was confined to a wheelchair. [...]

The affair has raised concerns among anthropologists familiar with PNG, who worry that the New Yorker’s “Annals of Anthropology” banner has tarnished the field’s reputation. Anthropologist Pauline Wiessner of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, a leading expert on tribal warfare in PNG, thinks Diamond was naïve if he accepted Wemp’s stories at face value, because young men in PNG often exaggerate their tribal warfare exploits or make them up entirely. “I could have told him immediately that it was a tall tale, an embellished story. I hear lots of them but don’t publish them because they are not true.”

Diamond stands by his story, arguing that it was based on detailed notes that he took during a 2006 interview with Wemp as well as earlier conversations the two men had in 2001 when Wemp served as his driver in PNG. “The complaint has no merit at all,” Diamond told Science in an interview in his office at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is a professor of geography. Diamond adds that he still considers Wemp’s original account to be the most reliable source for what happened.

...but there may be no piece of data with less evidentiary usefulness than a verbal account from a single participant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


All your bases belong to US: a review of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia by David Vine (Justin Vogt , The National)

Diego Garcia is the largest of the 64 coral islands that comprise the isolated Chagos Archipelago, located 1600 kilometres south of India, the closest continental land mass. The majority of Americans have surely never heard of it, but the island is a crucial outpost in the vast “empire of bases” that both ensures and defines America’s global hegemony. The rapid transformation of Diego Garcia from postcolonial backwater to strategic asset – which forced every single one of its indigenous inhabitants into exile – is the subject of David Vine’s Island of Shame, a devastating account of the human costs of empire-building.

The story begins in 1960, when Stuart Barber, a civilian working at the Pentagon in the Navy’s long-range planning office, devised what he called the “Strategic Island Concept”. Barber was a “defence intellectual”, one of a cadre of academics and experts who, in the early years of the Cold War, helped expand the notion of national security into a far-reaching vision of American power and influence. Like others in Washington, he feared that as former European colonies achieved independence, they would become inhospitable sites for military outposts, limiting America’s ability to project power into regions – like the Middle East – critical to the struggle against the Soviet Union.

The United States, Barber argued, needed to build bases in remote locations, close to hot spots but at a safe remove from local troublemakers– the only places, Barber wrote in a memo to his superiors in the John F Kennedy administration, that “could be safely held under full control of the West”. Islands were the natural solution, but it would be necessary to select those whose indigenous populations would not cause what Barber delicately referred to as “political complications”.

Diego Garcia fit the bill. By 1963, when American planners resolved to build a base in the Chagos Archipelago, the islands were home to roughly 1000 people, British subjects employed on the island’s coconut plantations. The Chagossians – also known as the Ilois – comprised a genuine indigenous community, descended from the African slaves and Indian indentured servants brought to the islands by 18th- and 19th-century French and British colonists.

As Vine relates, the United States had dealt swiftly and mercilessly with other inconveniently-placed native populations: in the 1940s and 1950s, indigenous communities in Puerto Rico, Okinawa, the Marshall Islands and elsewhere had been “relocated” in order to make way for American military installations or nuclear test sites, often with disastrous results. This time around, the Americans found a willing partner in Britain, a declining power eager to free itself of the burdens of empire without renouncing its presence in the Indian Ocean. The Americans told the British that they wanted “exclusive control” of the islands – delivered “without local inhabitants”. In exchange, the United States forgave a $14 million bill for assistance it had provided to the British nuclear missile programme.

To meet their obligations to the United States, the British needed to remove the natives without appearing to violate the rights of colonised people enshrined in international law. The solution was a breathtakingly cynical act of bad faith. As a UK Foreign Office legal adviser described in an internal memo, all the British had to do was “maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of Chagos are not a permanent or semi-permanent population”. Thus, the Chagossians – a community whose roots on Diego Garcia stretched back for generations – were transformed into mere “transient workers”. Vine reveals that this bit of semantic dispossession was an explicit part of the secret agreements between the two allies regarding the fate of the islanders. The US embassy in London was instructed in a memo from Secretary of State Dean Rusk to use the term “migrant labourers” when discussing the Chagossians with the British, since “withdrawal of ‘inhabitants’ obviously would be more difficult to justify”.

Once the justification was in place, the depopulation could begin.

...that the Left never defines whites as the indigenous people no matter how many generations we stay somewhere?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Yankees Insecurity: Off field meanies are in play (Bob Raissman, May 22nd 2009,, NY DAily News)

The combination of food and security collided inside the Stadium Wednesday night. This had nothing to do with high-profile broadcasters or players' wives. This was a rebellion of the rich. In that expensive area downstairs - the one with the empty seats - there are seemingly more waiters and waitresses, serving free food, than there are patrons.

On Wednesday, it got so crazy that the fan-elite started tossing ice cream sandwiches over the moat to peasants sitting in the $400 "cheap" seats. This did not sit well with Toastie security forces, who began scolding their most prized customers. The lecture from security prompted a guy in the rich seats to say: "I paid for this food, I can do with it what I want!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Nothing new in Obama's speech (JAMES CARAFANO, 5/22/09, Politico)

You would think it would be hard to argue that President Barack Obama’s Notre Dame speech and his speech at the National Archives on combating terrorism were the same speech.

But it’s not. Both, the more you examine them, really said nothing. And both were given for the same reason — to patch holes in the president’s seemingly impenetrable force field of popularity. [...]

In the National Archives speech, Obama could have been honest and said, “Look, we are a band of brothers with the last administration, struggling to find the best way to keep us both free and safe.” But he didn’t. Instead he whined, basically saying: “Look at the mess they left me. Feel for me, people.”

It is undoubtedly true, but nonetheless grating, that the President continually mentions how much harder it is to govern than he thought it would be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Cruise passengers fought off pirates with deckchairs (Daily Telegraph, 5/22/09)

Holidaymakers fought off gun-wielding Somali pirates with deckchairs and tables when their cruise ship was targeted near the Seychelles.

May 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


What Does the Greendex Tell Us About America? (Maura Judkis, 5/21/09, US News)

The results are in for National Geographic's second annual Greendex, and they aren't pretty: Though the study found that Americans are slightly greener than last year, we're still coming in at the bottom of the pack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Obama Reaches Out to GOP on Supreme Court Pick (Paul Bedard, 5/21/09, US News: Washington Whispers)

In the calls, welcomed by the GOP, the president is not making any commitments, and Republicans aren't offering potential names. But there has been a sense from the GOP side that the president is interested in a speedy nomination and confirmation and one without a bloody fight. Republicans say that should Obama pick a "mainstream" judge to replace the retiring David Souter, it's likely confirmation could come in about three months.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM

I, I, I:

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON NATIONAL SECURITY (President Barack Obama, National Archives Washington, D.C., 5/20/09)

Good morning, everybody. Please be seated. Thank you all for being here. Let me just acknowledge the presence of some of my outstanding Cabinet members and advisors. We've got our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. We have our CIA Director Leon Panetta. We have our Secretary of Defense William Gates; Secretary Napolitano of Department of Homeland Security; Attorney General Eric Holder; my National Security Advisor Jim Jones. And I want to especially thank our Acting Archivist of the United States, Adrienne Thomas.

I also want to acknowledge several members of the House who have great interest in intelligence matters. I want to thank Congressman Reyes, Congressman Hoekstra, Congressman King, as well as Congressman Thompson, for being here today. Thank you so much.

These are extraordinary times for our country. We're confronting a historic economic crisis. We're fighting two wars. We face a range of challenges that will define the way that Americans will live in the 21st century. So there's no shortage of work to be done, or responsibilities to bear.

And we've begun to make progress. Just this week, we've taken steps to protect American consumers and homeowners, and to reform our system of government contracting so that we better protect our people while spending our money more wisely. (Applause.) The -- it's a good bill. (Laughter.) The engines of our economy are slowly beginning to turn, and we're working towards historic reform on health care and on energy. I want to say to the members of Congress, I welcome all the extraordinary work that has been done over these last four months on these and other issues.

In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe. It's the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It's the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night.

And this responsibility is only magnified in an era when an extremist ideology threatens our people, and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential to do us great harm. We are less than eight years removed from the deadliest attack on American soil in our history. We know that al Qaeda is actively planning to attack us again. We know that this threat will be with us for a long time, and that we must use all elements of our power to defeat it.

Already, we've taken several steps to achieve that goal. For the first time since 2002, we're providing the necessary resources and strategic direction to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We're investing in the 21st century military and intelligence capabilities that will allow us to stay one step ahead of a nimble enemy. We have re-energized a global non-proliferation regime to deny the world's most dangerous people access to the world's deadliest weapons. And we've launched an effort to secure all loose nuclear materials within four years. We're better protecting our border, and increasing our preparedness for any future attack or natural disaster. We're building new partnerships around the world to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates. And we have renewed American diplomacy so that we once again have the strength and standing to truly lead the world.

These steps are all critical to keeping America secure. But I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in this very hall -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights -- these are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity around the world.

I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to these shores in search of the promise that they offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn their truths when I lived as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words -- "to form a more perfect union." I've studied the Constitution as a student, I've taught it as a teacher, I've been bound by it as a lawyer and a legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never, ever, turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.

I make this claim not simply as a matter of idealism. We uphold our most cherished values not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens our country and it keeps us safe. Time and again, our values have been our best national security asset -- in war and peace; in times of ease and in eras of upheaval.

Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world.

It's the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they'd receive better treatment from America's Armed Forces than from their own government.

It's the reason why America has benefitted from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp, moral contrast with our adversaries.

It's the reason why we've been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism and outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free peoples everywhere in the common cause and common effort of liberty.

From Europe to the Pacific, we've been the nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law. That is who we are. And where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and our institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology.

After 9/11, we knew that we had entered a new era -- that enemies who did not abide by any law of war would present new challenges to our application of the law; that our government would need new tools to protect the American people, and that these tools would have to allow us to prevent attacks instead of simply prosecuting those who try to carry them out.

Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. I believe that many of these decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us -- Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens -- fell silent.

In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach -- one that rejected torture and one that recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Now let me be clear: We are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability. For reasons that I will explain, the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable -- a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions, and that failed to use our values as a compass. And that's why I took several steps upon taking office to better protect the American people.

First, I banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States of America. (Applause.)

I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As Commander-in-Chief, I see the intelligence. I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe. And I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. (Applause.) What's more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counterterrorism efforts -- they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all. (Applause.)

Now, I should add, the arguments against these techniques did not originate from my administration. As Senator McCain once said, torture "serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us." And even under President Bush, there was recognition among members of his own administration -- including a Secretary of State, other senior officials, and many in the military and intelligence community -- that those who argued for these tactics were on the wrong side of the debate, and the wrong side of history. That's why we must leave these methods where they belong -- in the past. They are not who we are, and they are not America.

The second decision that I made was to order the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. (Applause.)

For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system of military commissions that were in place at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists. Let me repeat that: three convictions in over seven years. Instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setback after setback, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system. Meanwhile, over 525 detainees were released from Guantanamo under not my administration, under the previous administration. Let me repeat that: Two-thirds of the detainees were released before I took office and ordered the closure of Guantanamo.

There is also no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world. Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. In fact, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law -- a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

So the record is clear: Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That's why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign, and that is why I ordered it closed within one year.

The third decision that I made was to order a review of all pending cases at Guantanamo. I knew when I ordered Guantanamo closed that it would be difficult and complex. There are 240 people there who have now spent years in legal limbo. In dealing with this situation, we don't have the luxury of starting from scratch. We're cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess -- a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant, almost daily basis, and it consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.

Indeed, the legal challenges that have sparked so much debate in recent weeks here in Washington would be taking place whether or not I decided to close Guantanamo. For example, the court order to release 17 Uighurs -- 17 Uighur detainees took place last fall, when George Bush was President. The Supreme Court that invalidated the system of prosecution at Guantanamo in 2006 was overwhelmingly appointed by Republican Presidents -- not wild-eyed liberals. In other words, the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place. (Applause.)

Now let me be blunt. There are no neat or easy answers here. I wish there were. But I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo. As President, I refuse to allow this problem to fester. I refuse to pass it on to somebody else. It is my responsibility to solve the problem. Our security interests will not permit us to delay. Our courts won't allow it. And neither should our conscience.

Now, over the last several weeks, we've seen a return of the politicization of these issues that have characterized the last several years. I'm an elected official; I understand these problems arouse passions and concerns. They should. We're confronting some of the most complicated questions that a democracy can face. But I have no interest in spending all of our time relitigating the policies of the last eight years. I'll leave that to others. I want to solve these problems, and I want to solve them together as Americans.

And we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue. Listening to the recent debate, I've heard words that, frankly, are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country. So I want to take this opportunity to lay out what we are doing, and how we intend to resolve these outstanding issues. I will explain how each action that we are taking will help build a framework that protects both the American people and the values that we hold most dear. And I'll focus on two broad areas: first, issues relating to Guantanamo and our detention policy; but, second, I also want to discuss issues relating to security and transparency.

Now, let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can: We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders -- namely, highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety.

As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following face: Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal, supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Republican Lindsey Graham said, the idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.

We are currently in the process of reviewing each of the detainee cases at Guantanamo to determine the appropriate policy for dealing with them. And as we do so, we are acutely aware that under the last administration, detainees were released and, in some cases, returned to the battlefield. That's why we are doing away with the poorly planned, haphazard approach that let those detainees go in the past. Instead we are treating these cases with the care and attention that the law requires and that our security demands.

Now, going forward, these cases will fall into five distinct categories.

First, whenever feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts -- courts provided for by the United States Constitution. Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of terrorists. They are wrong. Our courts and our juries, our citizens, are tough enough to convict terrorists. The record makes that clear. Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up the World Trade Center. He was convicted in our courts and is serving a life sentence in U.S. prisons. Zacarias Moussaoui has been identified as the 20th 9/11 hijacker. He was convicted in our courts, and he too is serving a life sentence in prison. If we can try those terrorists in our courts and hold them in our prisons, then we can do the same with detainees from Guantanamo.

Recently, we prosecuted and received a guilty plea from a detainee, al-Marri, in federal court after years of legal confusion. We're preparing to transfer another detainee to the Southern District Court of New York, where he will face trial on charges related to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania -- bombings that killed over 200 people. Preventing this detainee from coming to our shores would prevent his trial and conviction. And after over a decade, it is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we intend to do. (Applause.)

The second category of cases involves detainees who violate the laws of war and are therefore best tried through military commissions. Military commissions have a history in the United States dating back to George Washington and the Revolutionary War. They are an appropriate venue for trying detainees for violations of the laws of war. They allow for the protection of sensitive sources and methods of intelligence-gathering; they allow for the safety and security of participants; and for the presentation of evidence gathered from the battlefield that cannot always be effectively presented in federal courts.

Now, some have suggested that this represents a reversal on my part. They should look at the record. In 2006, I did strongly oppose legislation proposed by the Bush administration and passed by the Congress because it failed to establish a legitimate legal framework, with the kind of meaningful due process rights for the accused that could stand up on appeal.

I said at that time, however, that I supported the use of military commissions to try detainees, provided there were several reforms, and in fact there were some bipartisan efforts to achieve those reforms. Those are the reforms that we are now making. Instead of using the flawed commissions of the last seven years, my administration is bringing our commissions in line with the rule of law. We will no longer permit the use of evidence -- as evidence statements that have been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods. We will no longer place the burden to prove that hearsay is unreliable on the opponent of the hearsay. And we will give detainees greater latitude in selecting their own counsel, and more protections if they refuse to testify. These reforms, among others, will make our military commissions a more credible and effective means of administering justice, and I will work with Congress and members of both parties, as well as legal authorities across the political spectrum, on legislation to ensure that these commissions are fair, legitimate, and effective.

The third category of detainees includes those who have been ordered released by the courts. Now, let me repeat what I said earlier: This has nothing to do with my decision to close Guantanamo. It has to do with the rule of law. The courts have spoken. They have found that there's no legitimate reason to hold 21 of the people currently held at Guantanamo. Nineteen of these findings took place before I was sworn into office. I cannot ignore these rulings because as President, I too am bound by the law. The United States is a nation of laws and so we must abide by these rulings.

The fourth category of cases involves detainees who we have determined can be transferred safely to another country. So far, our review team has approved 50 detainees for transfer. And my administration is in ongoing discussions with a number of other countries about the transfer of detainees to their soil for detention and rehabilitation.

Now, finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people. And I have to be honest here -- this is the toughest single issue that we will face. We're going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who've received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture -- like other prisoners of war -- must be prevented from attacking us again. Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can't be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. That's why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges. And other countries have grappled with this question; now, so must we. But I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred. Our goal is not to avoid a legitimate legal framework. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight. And so, going forward, my administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.

Now, as our efforts to close Guantanamo move forward, I know that the politics in Congress will be difficult. These are issues that are fodder for 30-second commercials. You can almost picture the direct mail pieces that emerge from any vote on this issue -- designed to frighten the population. I get it. But if we continue to make decisions within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes. And if we refuse to deal with these issues today, then I guarantee you that they will be an albatross around our efforts to combat terrorism in the future.

I have confidence that the American people are more interested in doing what is right to protect this country than in political posturing. I am not the only person in this city who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution -- so did each and every member of Congress. And together we have a responsibility to enlist our values in the effort to secure our people, and to leave behind the legacy that makes it easier for future Presidents to keep this country safe.

Now, let me touch on a second set of issues that relate to security and transparency.

National security requires a delicate balance. One the one hand, our democracy depends on transparency. On the other hand, some information must be protected from public disclosure for the sake of our security -- for instance, the movement of our troops, our intelligence-gathering, or the information we have about a terrorist organization and its affiliates. In these and other cases, lives are at stake.

Now, several weeks ago, as part of an ongoing court case, I released memos issued by the previous administration's Office of Legal Counsel. I did not do this because I disagreed with the enhanced interrogation techniques that those memos authorized, and I didn't release the documents because I rejected their legal rationales -- although I do on both counts. I released the memos because the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known, the Bush administration had acknowledged its existence, and I had already banned those methods. The argument that somehow by releasing those memos we are providing terrorists with information about how they will be interrogated makes no sense. We will not be interrogating terrorists using that approach. That approach is now prohibited.

In short, I released these memos because there was no overriding reason to protect them. And the ensuing debate has helped the American people better understand how these interrogation methods came to be authorized and used.

On the other hand, I recently opposed the release of certain photographs that were taken of detainees by U.S. personnel between 2002 and 2004. Individuals who violated standards of behavior in these photos have been investigated and they have been held accountable. There was and is no debate as to whether what is reflected in those photos is wrong. Nothing has been concealed to absolve perpetrators of crimes. However, it was my judgment -- informed by my national security team -- that releasing these photos would inflame anti-American opinion and allow our enemies to paint U.S. troops with a broad, damning, and inaccurate brush, thereby endangering them in theaters of war.

In short, there is a clear and compelling reason to not release these particular photos. There are nearly 200,000 Americans who are serving in harm's way, and I have a solemn responsibility for their safety as Commander-in-Chief. Nothing would be gained by the release of these photos that matters more than the lives of our young men and women serving in harm's way.

Now, in the press's mind and in some of the public's mind, these two cases are contradictory. They are not to me. In each of these cases, I had to strike the right balance between transparency and national security. And this balance brings with it a precious responsibility. There's no doubt that the American people have seen this balance tested over the last several years. In the images from Abu Ghraib and the brutal interrogation techniques made public long before I was President, the American people learned of actions taken in their name that bear no resemblance to the ideals that generations of Americans have fought for. And whether it was the run-up to the Iraq war or the revelation of secret programs, Americans often felt like part of the story had been unnecessarily withheld from them. And that caused suspicion to build up. And that leads to a thirst for accountability.

I understand that. I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what I said. And that's why, whenever possible, my administration will make all information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable. But I have never argued -- and I never will -- that our most sensitive national security matters should simply be an open book. I will never abandon -- and will vigorously defend -- the necessity of classification to defend our troops at war, to protect sources and methods, and to safeguard confidential actions that keep the American people safe. Here's the difference though: Whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions -- by Congress or by the courts.

We're currently launching a review of current policies by all those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers -- especially when it comes to sensitive administration -- information.

Now, along these same lines, my administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the "state secrets" privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It's been used by many past Presidents -- Republican and Democrat -- for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary in some circumstances to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. It is also currently the subject of a wide range of lawsuits. So let me lay out some principles here. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government. And that's why my administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

And we plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the state secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following our own formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. And each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why because, as I said before, there must be proper oversight over our actions.

On all these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there was some simple formula out there to be had. There is not. These often involve tough calls, involve competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: We will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it's uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don't know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why. (Applause.)

Now, in all the areas that I've discussed today, the policies that I've proposed represent a new direction from the last eight years. To protect the American people and our values, we've banned enhanced interrogation techniques. We are closing the prison at Guantanamo. We are reforming military commissions, and we will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more information and embracing more oversight of our actions, and we're narrowing our use of the state secrets privilege. These are dramatic changes that will put our approach to national security on a surer, safer, and more sustainable footing. Their implementation will take time, but they will get done.

There's a core principle that we will apply to all of our actions. Even as we clean up the mess at Guantanamo, we will constantly reevaluate our approach, subject our decisions to review from other branches of government, as well as the public. We seek the strongest and most sustainable legal framework for addressing these issues in the long term -- not to serve immediate politics, but to do what's right over the long term. By doing that we can leave behind a legacy that outlasts my administration, my presidency, that endures for the next President and the President after that -- a legacy that protects the American people and enjoys a broad legitimacy at home and abroad.

Now, this is what I mean when I say that we need to focus on the future. I recognize that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past. When it comes to actions of the last eight years, passions are high. Some Americans are angry; others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, in some cases debates that they have lost. I know that these debates lead directly, in some cases, to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an independent commission.

I've opposed the creation of such a commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws or miscarriages of justice.

It's no secret there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And it's no secret that our media culture feeds the impulse that lead to a good fight and good copy. But nothing will contribute more than that than a extended relitigation of the last eight years. Already, we've seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides to laying blame. It can distract us from focusing our time, our efforts, and our politics on the challenges of the future.

We see that, above all, in the recent debate -- how the recent debate has obscured the truth and sends people into opposite and absolutist ends. On the one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and would almost never put national security over transparency. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: "Anything goes." Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants -- provided it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty and care and a dose of common sense. That, after all, is the unique genius of America. That's the challenge laid down by our Constitution. That has been the source of our strength through the ages. That's what makes the United States of America different as a nation.

I can stand here today, as President of the United States, and say without exception or equivocation that we do not torture, and that we will vigorously protect our people while forging a strong and durable framework that allows us to fight terrorism while abiding by the rule of law. Make no mistake: If we fail to turn the page on the approach that was taken over the past several years, then I will not be able to say that as President. And if we cannot stand for our core values, then we are not keeping faith with the documents that are enshrined in this hall. (Applause.)

The Framers who drafted the Constitution could not have foreseen the challenges that have unfolded over the last 222 years. But our Constitution has endured through secession and civil rights, through World War and Cold War, because it provides a foundation of principles that can be applied pragmatically; it provides a compass that can help us find our way. It hasn't always been easy. We are an imperfect people. Every now and then, there are those who think that America's safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building. And we hear such voices today. But over the long haul the American people have resisted that temptation. And though we've made our share of mistakes, required some course corrections, ultimately we have held fast to the principles that have been the source of our strength and a beacon to the world.

Now this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. And unlike the Civil War or World War II, we can't count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case a year from now, five years from now, and -- in all probability -- 10 years from now. Neither I nor anyone can stand here today and say that there will not be another terrorist attack that takes American lives. But I can say with certainty that my administration -- along with our extraordinary troops and the patriotic men and women who defend our national security -- will do everything in our power to keep the American people safe. And I do know with certainty that we can defeat al Qaeda. Because the terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies, and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are, if we forge tough and durable approaches to fighting terrorism that are anchored in our timeless ideals. This must be our common purpose.

I ran for President because I believe that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together. We will not be safe if we see national security as a wedge that divides America -- it can and must be a cause that unites us as one people and as one nation. We've done so before in times that were more perilous than ours. We will do so once again.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

It's a peculiar argument that: a series of decisions were made during the national emergency immediately after 9-11 that, while well-intentioned and effective, may have been made hastily enough that they aren't always consistent with our Founding texts. However, you aren't going to be hasty in reforming them, not least because the problems presented are so complex. He's just trying to have it too many ways here. He wants to blame the Bush Administration for a legal regime he basically accepts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


McConnell rips Obama's 'flowery' security speech (J. Taylor Rushing, 05/21/09, The Hill)

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday called President Obama’s national security address “a big flowery campaign speech” that lacked specifics and put politics over security.

Speaking to a Senate press conference, McConnell (Ky.) suggested Obama was ignoring the Bush administration’s success in preventing a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was dangerously close to putting his overseas popularity over America’s security.

“With all due respect to the president, what we need is not a speech but a plan,” McConnell said. “The plan is what was clearly missing from the speech today. What is driving this issue, in my view, is a quest for popularity in Europe more than continuing policies that have demonstrably made America safe since 9/11. Clearly these policies and practices worked.”

Harry Reid: We still need Gitmo details (MANU RAJU & ALEX ISENSTADT | 5/21/09, Politico)
After being pounded all week by Republicans over Guantanamo Bay, Democrats are reacting cautiously to President Barack Obama’s high-profile speech imploring Congress to help him close the detention facility.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that Obama’s still needed to lay out a detailed plan for closing the detention center.

The White House is really on the horns of a dilemma. The President himself is the only thing they have going for them but they're having to trot him out every time they're in trouble. He's given so many speeches and press conferences already that the fact of him giving one isn't especially meaningful and they're using up the American attention span on trivialities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM


Despite Rhetoric, Obama Still Following Cheney's Lead in Dictatorial Justice: It seems like the former vice-president is the one piggybacking on the new president's detainee policy spotlight, but a top foreign-policy analyst argues that, when it comes to tribunals, it's the other way around: the Obama administration is maintaining the practice of inventing justice as America sees fit. (Thomas P.M. Barnett, 5/21/09, Esquire)

[D]espite more answers than ever before on the most controversial issue of the day, the president might as well have been talking to himself when he said "there are no neat or easy answers here." In fact, when it comes to the thorniest nuance of the detainee issue — not their release, but their trial in Bush administration-invented military commissions — he didn't offer many good answers at all.

President Obama's decision to stick with a modified version these tribunals — "an appropriate venue for trying detainees," as he called them today — seriously undermines his campaign pledge to turn the page on Bush-Cheney's deeply flawed approach to terrorism. No matter how many times he enumerates the "swift changes" by his administration to ditch its predecessor's out-of-thin-air concepts — "war on terror," "enhanced interrogation methods," "unlawful enemy combatants" — Obama continues to promote Bush-Cheney's isolating notion that detainees should be tried in a special, U.S.-executive-branch-controlled system of alternative justice that lies outside of two proven pillars of traditional justice: the military's ever-effective courts martial and our civilian court system, which is held in place by the same safeguards of the Constitution that Obama invoked so many times this morning.

Beyond the rhetoric, then, Obama has told the world that America's definitions of terror remain its own. He says it's not a reversal? It is. The president has reminded the world of a Cheney-ism: We know terrorism when we see it, and when we see it, we'll let you know. that standard is completely acceptable to Americans. After all, what's the danger? That we'll be a bit rough on evildoers who don't quite fit some transnationalist's technical definition of a terrorist?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


Police: Men planned terror attack in New York to avenge deaths of Muslims: Four self-styled jihadists arrested for planning to bomb two synagogues and shoot down a military plane in New York (Ed Pilkington, 5/21/09,

According to the federal case against the men, the plot began to take shape as early as June last year. James Cromitie, a petty criminal with numerous convictions who is identified as the ringleader, is alleged to have begun making inquiries about buying explosives through a mosque in Newburgh, a town about 60 miles north of New York City where he lived. He said he was upset about the war in Afghanistan, as his father was an Afghan immigrant to the US.

Cromitie said he wanted to do "something to America", lamenting that "the best target was already hit" in an apparent reference to the World Trade Centre.

Even at that early stage the police was aware of his intentions. An informant posing as a member of an extreme Pakistani group was in contact with Cromitie at the mosque and remained closely associated with him, using hidden audio and video equipment to record conversations over the next 11 months.

In October, according to the charges, Cromitie began discussions with his three fellow conspirators whom he had met in prison. Two of the three are US citizens and the third Haitian; they are all converts to Islam.

The informant tracked the meetings of the four men, and arranged with FBI help to supply them with C-4 plastic explosives and a Stinger anti-aircraft missile. The men were unaware that all the weaponry, including the explosives which had been made up into a bomb-like object by FBI agents, was dud and utterly harmless.

...that John Ashcroft is just inventing threats?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


Hooked on a Feeling: This is your brain on a placebo. (Sharon Begley, Jun 1, 2009, NEWSWEEK)

As far as the body is concerned, a placebo is nothing—a sugar pill, a sham treatment, an inert compound. But try telling that to the brain, as scientists led by Daniel Cherkin of Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle recently saw. They assigned 638 adults with chronic lower-back pain to receive either standard acupuncture therapy, customized acupuncture (tailored to the individual, such as by using nonstandard acupuncture points), sham acupuncture (toothpicks in acupuncture-needle guide tubes that mimic the feel of real acupuncture) or standard back-pain care, such as anti-inflammatory drugs and massage. As the scientists reported this month in Archives of Internal Medicine, pain diminished significantly for 60 percent of the people in all three acupuncture groups—but for just 39 percent of patients receiving usual care. On average, both fake and real acupuncture reduced pain more than twice as much as standard care. Weirdly, this is being spun as "acupuncture is better than standard medical care for back pain!" I say "weirdly" because the key finding is that sham acupuncture delivered as much benefit as real acupuncture. And the most parsimonious explanation for that finding is inescapable: it is possible to think yourself out of pain.

In fact, the power of thought to relieve pain has been known since 1978, when neuroscientists began studying placebo responses in earnest. Now they have even mapped the brain processes that underlie it. When people expect their pain to diminish, typically because a doctor tells them that a little pill or other treatment will do so, that mere expectation produces activity in the prefrontal cortex, site of higher mental function, which in turn activates other regions to release the brain's own homemade opioids, says Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin Medical School, a pioneer in placebo research. (A big advance in understanding placebo was showing that a drug that blocks the effects of opioids also blocks the placebo effect on pain, prima facie evidence that the brain's endogenous opioids are in play.) The higher the expectations, the greater the pain relief, too. When scientists led by Dan Ariely of Duke University gave volunteers identical dummy pills before and after an electric shock, and told some of their human guinea pigs that the pills were analgesics costing $2.50 and others that they cost 10 cents, more of those getting the expensive placebo than the cheaper one reported pain relief (85 percent vs. 60 percent). too embarrassing to be contemplated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


Mitch Daniels: Republican Revolutionary (Chris Cillizza, 5/19/09, Washington Post: The Fix)

[I]n a year where President Obama swept to a 192-electoral-vote victory on the idea of hope and change, Daniels ran on an almost identical platform, painting himself and the Indiana GOP more broadly as the reformers and Democrats as the old guard. "We were the party of purpose," said Daniels.

Voters responded, handing Daniels a second term by a whopping 18 points over former Rep. Jill Long Thompson (D) who struggled to find cracks in the Daniels's armor throughout the race.

What lessons can the national GOP -- still struggling to find its identity and leaders after two devastating elections cycles -- take from what Daniels did?

First, that Republicans must regain the high ground as the party of new ideas. "We need to be conceiving ideas all the time, not just sit there and hold office," said Daniels.

Second, that reflexive partisanship and name-calling rarely brings about those ideas and solutions. Daniels insisted that during his five years in the governor's mansion he has not said the word "Democratic" more than three times and has never uttered the words "liberal" or "conservative."

Third, and this goes to Daniels's populist streak, "use your own words." Daniels staked his political career on convincing voters that he was not a consultant-driven phenomenon -- he wrote his own ads -- nor was he angling for some other office.

Actually, what the Right is advocating is offering no ideas and not holding office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 AM


1 in 7 Freed Detainees Said to Be Militant Fighters (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 5/20/09, NY Times)

An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.

The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama’s plan to shut down the prison by January. Past Pentagon reports on Guantánamo recidivism have been met with skepticism from civil liberties groups and criticized for their lack of detail.

The Pentagon promised in January that the latest report would be released soon, but Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said this week that the findings were still “under review.”

Two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the report was being held up by Defense Department employees fearful of upsetting the White House, at a time when even Congressional Democrats have begun to show misgivings over Mr. Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo.

Talk about politicizing intelligence....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


REVIEW: of THE FUTURE OF ­LIBERALISM by Alan Wolfe (Theo Anderson, Spring 2009, Wilson Quarterly)

Wolfe believes ­that anti­statism has become a dysfunctional dogma among conservatives. Its logical outcome was put on full display by Hurricane Katrina, which tested the ­idea—­one of conservatism’s first ­principles—­that private charities and local governments are best suited to delivering relief and supporting communities. The disastrous aftermath of the storm, and the failures of government at all levels, he writes, “should therefore be viewed as a decisive event in the history of political philosophy, at least as far as the United States is concerned.”

It may well be possible to base your political philosophy on the idea that we need a state so massive that it is prepared for every occurrence, no matter how rare, and that we should have one that is prepared to cover all your losses even if you build below sea level in a hurricane corridor, but you won't get very far with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Obama Huddles With Human Rights Groups Before Security Speech (Sam Stein, 5/20/09, Huffington Post)

There was much to probe. According to Massimino, Obama had "two baskets of issues he wanted to talk about: one was Guantanamo and all of the things pertaining to closing it. And the other was transparency."

On Gitmo, Massimino said, the President "emphasized that he was in this for the long game. He said he realized that you can't change people's misperceptions overnight, that they have had eight long years of a steady dose of fear and a lack of leadership and that is not something that you wave a magic wand and make it go away."

As for the criticism of Senate Republicans, who suggest that moving terrorism suspects to America would be tantamount to releasing them on the streets, Massimino recalled Obama's remarks as being relatively brief. He dismissed it, she said, "as really an unfounded fear that is being fanned by people who are seeking political advantage."

While acknowledging that she did not have verbatim quotes from the president, Massimino nevertheless relayed some of the remarks he made on other key foreign policy topics. On the administration's decision to reverse course and oppose the release of photos depicting abuse of terrorist suspects, she said that Obama brought it up without being prompted. "He raised it," she said. "We didn't have to ask."

"He said that he became convinced that the particular timing of what we were dealing with in Afghanistan right now made this a particularly bad time to release those photos," she explained. "And he said that we should not conclude from his decision right now that those photos will not end up getting released. There are many ways that might happen. The court might order it. Circumstances might change the balance of consideration that would weigh in favor of transparency, which he reiterated would be his default position."

On his decision to maintain and improve the use of military tribunals to try terrorist suspects, Obama, she said, "seemed to imply that some of the circumstances of capture of some of the people of Guantanomo would lend themselves to trial in a military commission." He reiterated, she added, that "despite the announcement of military commissions on Friday, his strong preference was that we use Article III courts..."

Taking place in the West Wing, the meeting was a chance for the president and some of those most disappointed by his recent policies to come to grips with the contentious events in recent weeks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


POLL: an unfavorable opinion of former Vice President Cheney (TIME, 5/21/09)

CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey: 55% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of former Vice President Cheney.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Slouching towards balkanization (Pepe Escobar, 5/22/09, Asia Times)

Washington is focused on Balochistan like a laser. One of high summer's blockbusters will be the inauguration of Camp Leatherneck, a vast, brand new US air base in Dasht-e-Margo, the “desert of death” in Helmand province in Afghanistan. Quite a few of Obama's surge soldiers will be based in Camp Leatherneck - a cross-border, covert ops stone's throw from southeast Iran and Pakistani Balochistan.

Under McChrystal, the new US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization top commander in Afghanistan, one should expect a continuous summer blockbuster of death squads, search-and-destroy missions, targeted assassinations, bombing of civilians and all-out paramilitary terrorization of tribal Pashtun villages, community leaders, social networks or any social movement for that matter that dares to defy Washington and provide support for the Afghan resistance.

"Black Ops" McChrystal is supposed to turn former Chinese leader Mao Zedong upside down - he should "empty the sea" (kill and/or displace an untold number of Pashtun peasants) to "catch the fish" (the Taliban or any Afghan opposing the US occupation). There couldn't be a better man for the counter-insurgency job assigned by Obama, Petraeus, Clinton and Holbrooke.

American journalist Seymour Hersh has detailed how McChrystal directed the "executive assassination wing" of the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command. No wonder he was a darling of former vice president Dick Cheney and secretary of defense Rumsfeld. The Obama administration's belief in his extreme terrorization methods qualifies as no more than Rumsfeldian foreign policy.

And McChrystal still has the luxury of raising any amount of calibrated hell in neighboring Balochistan to suit Washington's plans - be they to provoke Iranians or incite Balochis to revolt against Islamabad.

According to Pakistani writer Abd Al-Ghafar Aziz, writing for al-Jazeera's Arabic website, Balochistan has been accused by the US for years of "supporting terrorism and harboring the leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaeda". US Predator drones "have been striking 'precious targets', resulting in the death of over 15,000 people". Aziz described Balochis as "orphans without shelter and without protection".

Neighboring Iran is taking no chances; it is testing sophisticated border patrolling techniques this week in its southeast province of Sistan-Balochistan, along the 12,500 kilometers of border with both Afghanistan and Pakistani Balochistan. One of Tehran's ultimate national security nightmares is US-cross border covert ops launched from Pakistani Balochistan, the kind of stuff that's music to McChrystal's ears.

...and we used to be assured that it isn't America they oppose, just W, does that mean they're all now just anti-Obama?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Administration opposes Plame appeal (Ben Conery, May 21, 2009 , Washington Times)

The Obama administration Wednesday took the side of top Bush administration officials - including most-vocal recent critic, former Vice President Dick Cheney - in the ongoing fight over the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. [...]

"We are deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has failed to recognize the grievous harm top Bush White House officials inflicted on Joe and Valerie Wilson," said Melanie Sloan, one of the couple's attorneys and the executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "The government's position cannot be reconciled with President Obama's oft-stated commitment to once again make government officials accountable for their actions."

There's no bigger waste of time than trying to reconcile candidate Obama's commitments to President Obama's actual policies.

May 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 PM


Salazar Yields in Showdown Over Utah Leases (SIOBHAN HUGHES, 5/20/09, WSJ)

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday acquiesced in a showdown with Senate Republicans over oil and gas leases in Utah, promising to review leases canceled earlier this year "one by one" to determine which, if any, are appropriate for development.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


National Memorial Day Parade

I am working with the American Veterans Center here in Arlington and was wondering if you might be willing to make a blog post about the National Memorial Day Parade. It will take place on Monday, May 25, 2009 at 2:00PM on Constitution Avenue between 7th and 17th streets NW. The parade has been going on since it was re-established in 2005 after a 70 year hiatus in our nation's capital.

It is the largest Memorial Day Celebration in America and will have more the 250,000 in attendance honoring those who have served and sacrificed. There will be marching bands, veterans units, and uniformed military personnel from around the country. The parade will also feature a special tribute to the U.S. Navy, and include Navy vet and Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine, fellow actors and veterans' supporters Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna, and music star Lee Greenwood. Also participating is Edith Shain, the nurse from the famous World War II “V-J Day in Times Square” kiss photograph. For more information, visit

Ian McConnaughey

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


Catching up with the Baseball Boogie (Jim Caple, 5/20/09, ESPN)

Orel Hershiser broke Don Drysdale's scoreless innings streak record in 1988, and he did so in dramatic fashion by throwing 10 scoreless innings in his final start of the season. Could I find any of his 59 scoreless innings on YouTube? No. Hershiser won three games (and saved another the day after pitching seven innings) in the 1988 postseason, threw two complete-game victories in that World Series and was on the mound to retire the final batter in the Game 5 clincher. Could I find those games on YouTube? No. He won 204 games in his career, pitched in six postseasons and won a Cy Young award. Could I find any of that on YouTube? No.

But his singing and dancing performance in the 1986 Dodgers' tragically humiliating "Baseball Boogie"? Oh, yes. That's on YouTube, out there for everyone in the world to pull up, view, snicker at, ridicule, share, and then do what everyone else has done (all of them certain they are the only one to come up with the idea): show it to Hershiser as a painful reminder of just how awesome the '80s were.

"Great. Thanks a lot," Hershiser said when I told him I was writing about the video. "Why would you want to do that me? ... Let's not promote this video. This could be a nice thing. I'm sitting in Yankee Stadium, getting ready for a game and you're bringing that up?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


GOP Senator on Un-harsh Life At Gitmo: 'Anyone Over 55 Can Have a Colonoscopy' (Political Punch, May 20, 2009)

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports that on Capitol Hill, during a GOP presser in which Senators were talking about the need to keep the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay open, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., argued that "anyone, any detainee, over 55 has an opportunity to have a colonoscopy" as an example of how un-harsh life at Gitmo can be.

Can I have the waterboarding instead?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Why God is back: In America, modernity has not meant forcing religion into the private sphere, but letting it thrive in all its variations (Mark Vernon, 5/18/09,

Micklethwait and Wooldridge pursue the knotty question of why modernity generates religious pluralism, particularly in the US. A number of possibilities are explored, beneath a welter of statistics and facts that they provide. The more modernity undermines people's sense of identity, through the levelling forces of globalisation, the more they seek a distinctive identity through religious commitment. The more turbulent people's work lives become, the more appealing a stable church life can seem. The more people suffer under a harsh capitalism, the more religious organisations offer welfare and help, thereby drawing folk in.

In short, religion in America has thrived because it understands the nature of what Micklethwait and Wooldridge call "soulcraft", which might roughly be translated as taking care of people, body and soul.

But there are certain political conditions that have aided God's return too, or rather sustained his presence, for he never really went away. Top of the list, the two authors argue, is America's constitution, and its First Amendment: "that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The first part of that clause is the one that is commonly remembered, in effect, the separation of church and state. But the second part is equally important when it comes to creating the right conditions for religion to thrive. It forms what might be called a free market for religion, in which everyone can set out their stall, and moreover can do so in the public square. What America's modernity has not tried to do is force religion into the private sphere, a tendency that has characterised European reactions to belief. At the same time, though, it has ensured that there is at least a theoretical distance between religion and the exercise of political power. That balance is the genius of the American solution, which Micklethwait and Wooldridge commend to a plural world.

If that free market doctrine is right, it would have consequences for the future of religion in the UK. For example, if secular forces succeed in continuing to drive church and state apart on this side of the Atlantic, that could actually be good for belief. Free of establishment shackles, religious commitment would turn a corner and start to grow again. The strong tradition of freedom of speech in the UK would ensure religion was not forced from the public square, for all that the more militant secularists would like to do so. That said, it is likely that certain forms of religion would respond better than others to the new environment. They would be those that exhibit what David Hume called "enthusiasm". In an essay, Of Superstition and Enthusiasm, he noted that religious enthusiasts do well when "free from the yoke of ecclesiastics". Moreover, whilst they can appear "furious and violent" at first, they tend to become more "gentle and moderate" in time, for enthusiasts enjoy the spirit of civil liberty. that it has made it more clear to Americans than to any other people since Hume's time that
">Rationalism just another faith, something Hume had conclusively demonstrated
. Its failure in the marketplace has saved us from many of the worst damages modernity has dealt Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 AM


Poll: Crist has commanding early lead in Fla. Senate race (Michael O'Brien, 5/19/09, The Hill)

Crist has a 53-18 lead over former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the state's Republican primary, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released Tuesday. 29 percent of Florida voters said they were undecided.

The popular governor maintains similarly strong leads over two potential Democratic opponents.

Crist leads Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) 55-24 with 21 percent undecided, while he gains 57 percent to state Sen. Dan Gelber's (D) 22 percent with the same percentage undecided in a potential matchup.

...he's a winning nominee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


A handshake shakes a region: Turkey's warming with Armenia stirs up ethnic and energy issues in the strategic Caucasus. (The Monitor's Editorial Board, May 19, 2009, CS Monitor)

Over the past few weeks, energy-rich Azerbaijan has turned up the flame under this geographic cauldron. It was furious with Turkey for agreeing in April to a "road map" to normal relations with Armenia, which backs a separatist Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh. The area was the site of a bloody war in the early 1990s after the Soviet empire broke up, and has since become the oldest "frozen conflict" in the south Caucasus. Armenia-supported separatists hold additional Azeri territory outside the enclave.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 AM


Potential Justice’s Appeal May Be Too Bipartisan (ERIC LICHTBLAU, 5/18/09, NY Times)

When Elena Kagan went before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February as President Obama’s nominee for solicitor general, Republicans were almost as effusive as the Democrats in their praise for her.

There was no daylight between Ms. Kagan, who was the dean of Harvard Law School, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, as he led her through a six-minute colloquy about the president’s broad authority to detain enemy combatants. “Do you believe we’re at war?” the senator asked. “I do, senator,” she answered crisply.

Indeed, there was so much adulation in the air from Republicans that one Democrat, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, joked at the hearing that she understood how Ms. Kagan “managed to get a standing ovation” from the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

But with Ms. Kagan now regarded as one of the leading contenders for a seat on the Supreme Court, her reputation for finding the middle on difficult legal and political issues could prove both a strength and a liability. As much as some Republicans praise her, a number of liberals say they are suspicious that she may lean too far toward the middle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


Politics Punctuate the Terrorism Debate (PEJ News Coverage Index: May 11 - 17, 2009 )

Terrorism coverage accounted for 22% of the newshole from May 11-17, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. But the story was much bigger on the ideological, debate-oriented talk shows on radio and prime-time cable. Indeed, terrorism filled 50% of the airtime for the 13 talk shows studied by PEJ last week. Those discussions were doubtless driven in part by a political dynamic: Cheney is deeply disliked by many liberals and Pelosi provokes the ire of many conservatives.

Ever since the April 16 release of memos detailing the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation techniques—triggering an intense and often partisan debate over the practice—coverage of terrorism has increased dramatically. Last week marked the second time in a month the subject was the top story. And in the period from April 13-May 17, terrorism issues have been the second-biggest topic (11% of the newshole), trailing only the economic crisis.

Last week, the economic meltdown was the No. 2 story at 12%. But that represents a significant drop from the previous week when the release of the much-awaited bank stress tests drove the coverage. Two other subjects integral to the nation’s economic well-being—health care (6%) and the auto industry (5%)—also made the list of top stories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM

FORGIVE THEM FATHER... (via Qiao Yang):

A House Divided (Ralph McInerny, 5/18/09, The Catholic Thing)

If the Obama invitation has stirred such passionately prayerful reaction from an heroic band of students, from alumni and Catholics across the country, and – mirabile dictu – from more than seventy bishops, it may prove to have been providential, an opportunity for Catholics to recognize that their house is indeed divided.

Anathemas have been called for. Some long to have Notre Dame declared non-Catholic. Perhaps it will come to that, but the awakening of the laity, simple priests, a large number of the bishops, suggests that this is a possible epiphany. The sad fact is that people act contrary to the faith without realizing that that is what they are doing. A heretic chooses the opposite of the faith, but when in the present confusion as to what is in and what is out, heresy is not the appropriate word.

And so, on Sunday, surrounded by priests and all the panoply of Notre Dame, the smiling Caesar, thumb turned down on life, was engulfed in allegedly Catholic applause. Elsewhere on campus, faithful Catholics gathered and sent up prayers of reparation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Exclusive First Listen: Vieux Farka Toure: Hear 'Fondo' In Its Entirety (Banning Eyre, 5/19/09, NPR)

In 2006, Vieux Farka Toure released his self-titled debut album not long after the death of his father, the iconic Malian guitarist and singer Ali Farka Toure. It was an impressive opening to a career and a heartfelt passing of the torch. The ailing father sat in on two songs, as did Malian kora maestro Toumani Diabate, who shared a Grammy Award with the elder Toure in 2005. There was a mix of tradition and originality, a little reggae, a little pop and some very fine guitar playing. If the album felt a tad reserved and refined, that was appropriate for a young man taking the stage with large shoes to fill.

The long-awaited follow-up, Fondo, accomplishes many things. First and foremost, it firmly establishes young Toure as a bona fide African guitar hero. Africa — and Mali in particular — is a guitar paradise, but few of its famous axe-men can rock like this.

From the blistering opener "Fafa" to a closing duet with Diabate called "Paradise," Toure reveals effortless fluency with Malian traditions, from the bluesy, elliptical strains of his ancestral Sonrai music to the elegant melodicism of Diabate's Mande tradition.

What's more, Toure has learned something powerful from the long months he's spent touring the world with his band in recent years. He knows how to stretch out with a guitar solo, and how to appeal to the pumped-up sensibilities of rock fans without compromising his natural vibe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Glee soars with heartfelt musical comedy (Daniel Carlson, 5/19/09, Hollywood Reporter )

Ryan Murphy's "Glee" is as far from his "Nip/Tuck" as possible, and that's a good thing.

"Nip/Tuck" was a groundbreaking FX drama that's become lost in its tired desire to shock, but Fox's "Glee" is a tightly done hybrid of musical and comedy-drama that's unabashedly heartfelt and possessed of an honest sweetness.

Murphy's sharp wit is still present, and the show certainly doesn't shy away from the darkness in some of the plot lines. But instead of wondering why you're spending time with these characters, you'll wish you could spend more. Previewing Tuesday after "American Idol" before returning in the fall, the series is smart, fun and completely winning.

...but the consistently fabulous reviews suggest this may be fun

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Senate passes credit card reform: What's in it for consumers (Consumer Reports, 5/20/09)

Here’s a summary of the bill’s measures:

•Interest rates can’t be raised during the first year of an account
•Customers will be notified 45 days in advance of any change in interest rates
•Bills can be paid online or over the phone without incurring a processing fee
•Customers must be over 60 days late on payments before their interest rate can be raised on balances; if the rate is raised, it will go back to the lower rate if customers make the minimum payment on time for six months in a row.
•Overlimit fees can’t be charged unless cardholders are told that the purchase will put them over their limit and they authorize it to go through anyway
•If your card has more than one interest rate on balances, then payments must be applied to the highest interest rate first
•Gift cards can’t expire for five years, and issuers can’t charge dormancy fees for unused amounts left on the card
•Credit card statements must be mailed out 21 days before they’re due
•Individuals under 21 will need a co-signer on their cards unless they can prove that they have the means to make payments on their own
•Credit card agreements will have to be posted on the internet

The banking industry, however, is unhappy with some of the provisions and warns that cards will become harder to get and carry higher interest rates.

Wanna bet? They make too much off them to worry about a cut in the profit margin. A nicely puritan measure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


California's electorate as dysfunctional as Legislature? (James P. Sweeney, 5/19/09, San Diego Union-Tribune)

A few weeks ago, a voter at a gathering organized by campaign consultants said he believed cutting schools, police and fire departments would be disastrous.

But that didn't mean he was ready to vote for the budget-related measures on Tuesday's ballot.

“The moderator said 'You just said these things would be horrible. How can you still vote no?' ” recalled Rick Claussen, chief strategist for the campaign in favor of Propositions 1A-1F. “He said, 'Because I'm mad and I want to send Sacramento a message and I want to punish the politicians.' ”

Despite more than $31 million spent on behalf of the measures, all but Proposition 1F, a largely symbolic measure to prohibit legislative pay raises when the state is running a deficit, were soundly rejected. [...]

[V]oters seemed not to heed, or to care, about the potential consequences. Or they simply didn't buy the threats.

“It appears to me that the electorate is every bit as dysfunctional as our Legislature,” Hoffenblum said. “They're confused. They're mad. They're distrustful of anything that Arnold or the legislative leaders say.”

To Hoffenblum and Claussen, the defiant mood in the face of doomsday scenarios from political leaders was reminiscent of the public sentiment 31 years ago, when property-tax-cutting Proposition 13 passed despite similar warnings.

“It was very difficult to have a rational dialogue with a voter who is so overwhelmingly angry and surly and absolutely convinced that Sacramento is a totally dysfunctional operation,” Claussen said of the recent campaign.

Others believe the measures' fate was sealed in the negotiations that produced a complex package designed to avert a repeat of 2005, when voters rejected an earlier batch of Schwarzenegger “reform” measures.

“Schwarzenegger and the legislators put together an initiative package designed to either win over or sideline most of the likely opposition,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “In doing so, they ended up with something way too complicated for people to understand.”

The defeat of Proposition 1A, which would have extended a series of tax increases for another two years, will be interpreted as clear sentiment against higher taxes as part of the solution to the state's financial troubles.

The Republican governor and the Legislature's GOP leaders already have said additional tax increases are out of the question. Majority Democrats say the magnitude of the problem requires another look at all options, but they can't muster the two-thirds vote required to raise taxes without Republican support.

...if other states generally spend about a quarter of their budgets on public education and California spends almost 60% it doesn't seem like identifying the solution is particularly complex. Mustering the political will is a different matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Barack Obama's biggest critic: Charles Krauthammer (BEN SMITH, 5/20/09, Politico)

[K]rauthammer has emerged in the Age of Obama as a central conservative voice, the kind of leader of the opposition that that economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman represented for the left during the Bush years: A coherent, sophisticated, and implacable critic of the new president.

Obama, he has written in his syndicated Washington Post column, is committed to "radical health-care, energy and education reforms," central to a "social democratic agenda" that promises deep - and ominous - transformations to American life. The columnist has offered, in five installments, a "unified theory of Obamaism."

At a moment when the right is decimated and divided, and unsure what to think of the new administration, Krauthammer's confidence is much in demand. His columns circulate widely on conservative e-mail lists and blogs, and even his utterances on Fox News are received as gospel: National Review Online's group blog, The Corner, posts long transcripts of his remarks without comment, under the heading, "Krauthammer's Take."

"He's the most important conservative columnist right now," said Times columnist David Brooks. [...]

"He became Ground Zero among the neo-cons, but he's vastly smarter than most of them," said Time's Joe Klein, an admirer and critic who praised Krauthammer's "writing skills and polemical skills" as "so far above almost anybody writing columns today."

"There's something tragic about him too," Klein said, referring to Krauthammer's confinement to a wheelchair, the result of a diving accident during his first year of medical school. "His work would have a lot more nuance if he were able to see the situations he's writing about."

Huh? If it actually worked that way we could have avoided that whole New Deal mess.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Left decries move towards centre ground (Edward Luce, May 19 2009, Financial Times)

[W]here some see the new US president making an abrupt change from the policies of George W. Bush, a growing band of liberal critics see continuity. Among their ranks, there is a new moniker for Mr Obama’s administration: “Bush 2.0”.

Groups such as, the anti-war movement that is at the core of the liberal “netroots”, compare Mr Obama’s policies in the “war on terror” with those of Mr Bush. These include the president’s decision last week to revive the military tribunals to try alleged terrorists, which he had condemned on the campaign trail. [...]

Some critics see continuity in Mr Obama’s approach to the financial crisis. More specifically, they see a Paulson-Geithner approach (after Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner, the successive Treasury secretaries) which, they say, is scripted by Wall Street.

On the broader economic front, critics say Mr Obama is reviving “Clintonomics” without the budget surpluses. [...]

Mr Obama’s real test, however, is likely to be over the contents of his healthcare plan, which will be made clear in the next few weeks. Some are nervous that he will jettison his promise of including a government-run insurance plan in the bill, which the White House is hoping will pass the House of Representatives by the end of July.

A number of centrist Democrats in the Senate, including Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh and Max Baucus, have echoed the complaints of health insurance companies, which say that a competing public plan would eventually drive them out of business. But supporters of the public plan, which is rapidly becoming the ultimate measure among liberals of Mr Obama’s reformist credentials, say that without it the insurance companies would quickly revert to their tried and tested ways of making money – outsmarting the regulators to exclude the sick and those with “pre-existing” medical conditions.

“If President Obama shows courage and sticks to the public plan against the opposition of the insurance companies then these other liberal complaints, which are mostly about dealing with the Bush legacy, will be forgotten,” says Jim Morone, a political scientist at Brown University in Rhode Island. “If he ducks on this once-in-a-generation moment to overhaul US healthcare, then liberal disenchantment will harden.”

Bill and W got re-elected--of course he's aping them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Time for the GOP to become green (ROB SISSON, 5/20/09, Politico)

Republicans believe in protecting the environment. And we believe in playing it straight with the facts.

There are plenty of us green Republicans out here, including leaders like Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman — President Barack Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to China — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, to name a few.

As Huntsman said last year, “If we’re going to survive as a party, we need to focus on the environment.”

But protecting the environment isn’t just political expediency; it’s core philosophy. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that “conservative” and “conservationist” sound so much alike.

Mr. Sisson then goes on to make exactly the mistake--ludicrous overclaims that he insists are facts--that makes conservatives react so hostilely to environmentalism. A true conservative environmentalism would be quite uninterested in all the academic falderol about "man-made global warming" yet would take significant steps to punish gasoline usage for principled reasons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


War over, Sri Lanka must win peace: The island nation must reconcile both sides of an ethnic divide after 25 years of civil war. Reprisals are feared. (Mark Magnier, May 20, 2009, LA Times)

President Rajapaksa, elected in 2005, is in a good position to tackle the reconciliation challenge. As a hard-line leader who did what it took to win a war, he's got the credentials to extend a hand to the other side without facing accusations of being soft on militants.

He has had no shortage of advice from Asian and Western envoys urging him to be magnanimous in victory. "The big question is whether he'll listen," said one South Asian diplomat. In his speech Tuesday, Rajapaksa pointedly warned foreigners not to meddle.

An early bridge-building step, analysts said, would be to streamline humanitarian aid and quickly allow Tamils to return home from displacement camps. This would help blunt suspicions that they'll be locked in for years or that their lands will be redistributed to Sinhalese.

"For Tamils, land is crucial," said a religious leader who asked not to be identified for fear of government reprisal. "It's more important than anything."

Another step would be to empower local councils, approved in 1987 but never implemented. Turning more power over to their districts would give Tamils a degree of autonomy in the northern and eastern parts of the country where they are in the majority.

Recognized territory + Autonomy = Sovereignty = Nationhood

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Obama in no hurry to end 'don't ask, don't tell': He made a campaign pledge to lift the ban on gays in the military. But neither he nor Congress appears ready to reopen the debate. (Carol J. Williams, May 19, 2009, LA Times)

President Obama's campaign vow to end the ban on gays in the military -- and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that forces thousands of military personnel to stay in the closet -- appears to be driven now by a strategy of "don't rush." [...]

[N]either Congress nor the White House appears eager to reopen the bitter debate over gays in the military that rocked the early months of the Clinton administration.

"They're caught in a political double bind. If they move too quickly, they will expend political capital with the military and Congress. Yet if they move too slowly, they will alienate a core constituency and fail to deliver on a very clear campaign promise," said Aaron Belkin, director of the UC Santa Barbara institute.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said recently that if the ban were lifted, it would be difficult for the military to restructure its units to accommodate homosexuals. National security advisor James L. Jones Jr. also has reacted coolly to the prospect of lifting the ban.

There's nothing in it for the UR in changing the policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


California Stages Trial Run for U.S. Health-Care Overhaul (GERALD F. SEIB, 5/20/09, WSJ)

The California plan, hammered out jointly by Mr. Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders in the legislature, bore many similarities to approaches now being tried in Congress. It required most individuals to acquire health insurance; subsidized that coverage for many low-income residents; required employers to either provide insurance or pay a fee to the state to help underwrite it; and attempted to introduce cost-control measures on both public and private plans while imposing an increased tobacco tax and other fees to cover costs.

In California then, as in Washington now, the chief executive enlisted insurers, doctors and hospitals to take part, particularly in discussing how to control costs. Many industry players, sensing change was in the air, participated because they preferred to shape the outcome rather than be clobbered by it.

Not all agreed, of course. Some liberals pushed a government-run health plan, while conservatives preferred tax incentives to make it easier for individuals to buy their own coverage. Still, the middle-ground approach moved ahead.

In the fall of 2007, Mr. Schwarzenegger called a special legislative session that produced a compromise health bill. It passed the Assembly but the effort died in January 2008 in a state senate committee.

The two major causes of death were a dearth of Republican support and a declining economy that raised fears both about paying the bill and residents' willingness to approve the required new taxes.

With the dust now settled, Marian R. Mulkey and Mark D. Smith of the California HealthCare Foundation, an independent philanthropy, have written a lucid analysis of the lessons learned. They cite first of all the need for bipartisanship to change something as complex and controversial as the health-care system. Noting that California's plan got no GOP votes on the Assembly floor, they write that "the array of concerned stakeholders and complex issues associated with health reform demand broad bipartisanship and compromise across party and ideological lines."

On the other hand, they note that one reason the proposal got as far as it did was that its authors were careful to reassure those who already had insurance that they wouldn't be hurt as coverage was extended to those who didn't have it. That's one lesson the Obama administration appears to have taken to heart, as seen by the president's regular insistence that any change allow those happy with their current coverage to keep it.

Ultimately, though, California's experience shows that success requires convincing lawmakers and citizens that any overhaul will curb costs for all. Ms. Mulkey said in an interview that the attempt to do that was hampered by limits on what any single state can do to corral costs, but also by the fact that supporters spent energy talking about spreading coverage than showing the effort could shrink costs.

In the end, she said, the difficulty in persuading people that costs could be kept down "was the Achilles' heel."

...that anything other than market forces will put downward pressure on costs?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Barack Obama's nonideological pragmatism will backfire (MICHAEL LERNER, 5/20/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama’s very nonideological pragmatism, which has received so much praise inside the Beltway and which has given him public support in his few months in office, will ultimately be the downfall of his presidency.

This approach and the free pass it generates from the media may indeed allow him to push through programs that here and there make significant advances toward a more generous and caring society. But it guarantees that he will not be able to gain mass support for a coherent worldview that can form the basis for an alternative to “let the marketplace decide,” which has been the guiding principle for American domestic politics, and “let our power shape the world,” which has been our primary approach to foreign policy.

The nonideological approach implicitly encourages us to believe in Obama himself — he will be our savior, our refuge, our deliverer from the bad times of the Bush administration.

Which is all he cares about, himself. He's the avatar of the Me Generation.

May 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


Poll says 45 percent of Nevadans would vote against Harry Reid (GLENN THRUSH, 5/20/09, Politico)

The Las Vegas Review-Journal/Mason-Dixon poll found that 45 percent of Nevada voters would “definitely” vote against Reid next year — with only 30 percent saying they want to see him return to office.

What’s curious here is that Nevada voters seem to view Reid through the negative prism of his role as a congressional leader, not as the bring-home-the-bacon guy he portrays when he’s back in the desert.

Another alarm bell is his support among independents, which has fallen to 30 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


Senate Democrats won't fund Gitmo closing for now (ANDREW TAYLOR, 5/19/09, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama's allies in the Senate will not provide funds to close the Guantanamo Bay prison until the administration comes up with a satisfactory plan for transferring the detainees held there, top Democrats said Tuesday. And in a further break with Obama, the Senate's top Democrat said he opposes transferring any Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for their trials or to serve their sentences. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said 50 to 100 Guantanamo detainees may be transferred to U.S. facilities.

"I can't make it any more clear," Reid said. "We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


Sri Lanka's untold story: The Tamil cause still lives – growing global awareness will ensure Sri Lanka is held accountable for the slaughter of civilians ( Suren Surendiran, 5/19/09,

In 1977, after three decades of discrimination and state-backed mob violence, the entire Tamil political leadership united behind a demand for an independent state comprising the Tamil homeland as the only way to escape oppression and discrimination in Sri Lanka. This fight for freedom followed another three decades through armed struggle. Today, Sri Lanka believes that it has crushed it, forgetting the 1.5 million Tamil diaspora from Sri Lankan decent living around the world, and the strength of over 60 million Tamils living just next door in Tamil Nadu of India.

Since independence, over 61 years, successive governments of Sri Lanka have demonstrated to the Tamil people that they have no genuine intentions of resolving this fundamental problem through a just and reasonable political power-sharing agreement. Institutions and the world powers, including regional players, have pretended to believe successive governments and their supposed sincerity.

However the liberation struggle has taken a turn beyond anyone's wildest imaginations in the recent months. People locally and internationally have decided to take the struggle forward, with or without the support of international governments and institutions. An initially non-violent struggle turned to an armed struggle, and has now taken a further shift – with the active involvement of people around the world. The lack of political will and the military aggression by the government of Sri Lanka has converted the unconvertible – particularly the second generation Tamils overseas – towards the separatist movement. World media has woken up to report the untold story of more than half a century. These developments cannot be quashed by the military might of Sri Lanka or the very people and governments around the world who have been assisting such brutal suppression.

A day will come that will see a new and free nation being born in the Indian Ocean, just as Bangladesh was created and others around the world such as Kosovo, East Timor and Eretria.

Sri Lanka, after the war (Boston Globe, May 19, 2009)
Once the humanitarian crisis is addressed, the European Union must follow up on its call for an investigation of war crimes against civilians. The Rajapaksa government has tried to draw a screen around its actions, banning independent journalists and international aid groups from the war zone. But the United Nations adopted a resolution in 2005 on the "responsibility to protect" populations that are not protected by their own governments. The massive killing and wounding of civilians on Sri Lanka represents exactly the sort of case that resolution was meant to address.

Ultimately, the only way for Sri Lanka to avoid another Tamil rebellion is to grant the Tamils some form of local autonomy in their region. Now that the Tigers have been crushed, the Sinhalese majority of Sri Lanka has no excuse for not addressing the legitimate grievances of the Tamil minority.

The armed struggle only delayed the inevitable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


REVIEW: State of Play (James Bowman, 5.19.09, American Spectator)

There were two things that I particularly disliked about Kevin Macdonald's State of Play. What? I seem to hear you ask, only two? I'll get round to them in a minute. This is a big-screen adaptation of a British TV series transplanted from London to Washington, so presumably, its big themes of political corruption and the plight of the newspaper business are the same the world over, or at least the media world over, and therefore quite unaffected by the change of nationality. Actually, this makes three things I disliked, but against the main one, which is the movie's very movieish glorification of journalists and journalism, I'm afraid it is futile to protest. The presence of a journalist in a movie nowadays is like that of a priest 50 or 60 years ago. That is to say, he is automatically a lodestar of moral certainty in world of corruption and ambiguity. Come to think of it, a priest (or devout religious believer) is still an infallible indicator of moral certainty, only now he indicates the presence of evil rather than of good.

The heroes of the original British miniseries are likewise journalists, but they are often unheroic and the portrayal of Labour politicians is just scathing. It's available at The Box and not only features pre-Life on Mars John Simm and Philip Glenister---but a brilliant turn by Bill Nighy as the editor of the paper and engaging performances by as his black sheep son and Kelly MacDonald as the cub reporter with a conscience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Detainee Stance Represents Political Gamble for Obama (EVAN PEREZ and NAFTALI BENDAVID, 5/19/09, WSJ)

President Barack Obama's decision to adopt many Bush administration national-security tactics--albeit with new legal trappings--could turn into a political coup by bringing him Republican support. Or it could produce a political mess by alienating liberals who favor a more complete break from the Bush era.

That is the gamble Mr. Obama has taken as he pushes restart the military commission trials established by President George W. Bush, while closing the prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Already, Democrats in Congress are wrestling with the White House by threatening to withhold funding from the administration's move to close Guantanamo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Obama Pursues Trade Pacts Set Up by Bush (GREG HITT, 5/19/09, WSJ)

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said he is seeking to wrap up some lingering trade initiatives launched by the Bush administration, but signaled a new priority for the Obama administration would be deepening U.S. trade ties with Asia.

Mr. Kirk, in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday, said the administration is "working furiously" to finalize a free-trade pact with Panama, and to push forward on a deal with Colombia. Both agreements had been initiated under the Bush administration but got bogged down after Democrats took control of Congress in 2007. [...]

Mr. Kirk said he would work to push forward with a proposed trade deal with South Korea, which was also initiated under the Bush administration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Bush-Cheney 2012! (Reihan Salam, 5/20/09, Daily Beast)

The missing candidate, then, is Jeb Bush, a successful two-term governor of a big swing state with sterling conservative credentials, a record of appealing to Latino voters, and the raw brainpower and rhetorical skill to match Barack Obama.

While it's common to dismiss Jeb as the heir to a tarnished political dynasty, it's worth remembering that dynasties emerge for a reason. While any number of sane Republicans will bow out of the 2012 race in order to maintain domestic peace and their bank accounts, political heirs tend to have a sense of duty that transcends such considerations. A few months back, Jeb Bush bowed out of Florida's 2010 U.S. Senate race, but only after gently suggesting that he might jump in the fray. Now that Gov. Charlie Crist is running for the seat, many Florida conservatives believe that Jeb is conspiring against him. I doubt it. With Obama's popularity in the stratosphere, with his family's legacy under threat, and with private life proving more boring than expected, Jeb has bigger fish to fry.

I'll also note that there's a reason Bushes have succeeded where other Republicans have failed. The family, and Jeb Bush in particular, manages to reconcile many of the tensions and contradictions that have rankled the party. For example, the GOP is anti-elitist. Yet Mike Huckabee, an authentic by-his-bootstraps populist, was dismissed by the party's actual elite as a country yokel. Republicans are increasingly a Southern and evangelical party, yet they do best when they appeal to non-Southern suburbanites and Catholics. The Bush family, with its Yankee and Ivy League origins and its oil-patch mythology, is both Northern and Western. Jeb himself is a convert to Catholicism, who speaks fluent Spanish and is very much a creature of the Sun Belt. It helps that he is, as even his rivals will acknowledge, dazzlingly intelligent. He does have skeletons in his closet, including supposed ties to anti-Castro extremists. But for Republicans there really is no better candidate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Obama Must Stop Neglecting India: The president should reach out quickly to the government in New Delhi. (Tunku Varadarajan, 05.18.09, Forbes)

[T]he one part of America's foreign policy that Obama can be argued to have flubbed so far is its relations with India. Since taking office in January, he has paid India scant attention. India--which for the first time in its history is in a position to regard the U.S. as its closest big-power ally, thanks to the evangelical efforts of George W. Bush--has noted Obama's froideur. It noted, too, that the one time the American president made an India-related public pronouncement, it was a critical (and fatuous) reference to India's role in the outsourcing of employment. (On May 4, he criticized the U.S. tax code for--in his view--saying that "you should pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, N.Y.")

There are two ways to read Barack Obama's neglect of India. The first reading--one that gives him the benefit of the doubt that he's not keen, by disposition, on India--is that he was maintaining a prudent distance from New Delhi as India went to the polls. [...]

The second, darker reading of Obama's coolness toward India rests on a sense that the president is punishing the Indian political establishment for its closeness to George W. Bush. Given the excellence of India's relations with the Bush White House--and clear indications from John McCain that India could expect no change in relations if he were to win--it was hardly surprising that New Delhi viewed candidate Obama as the less attractive.

Yet if there is any pique at all in Obama's approach to India, he needs to get over it fast. The alliance is too valuable to jeopardize.

...most of which don't understand what W did.

May 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 PM


Ronaldo's shock snub! Giggs picks his greatest United XI but there's no room for Cristiano (Christopher Davies, 18th May 2009, Daily Mail)

Asked to picked a best ever XI from his Old Trafford pals, Giggs left out of the reigning World Player of the Year. Ronaldo was overlooked for the right midfield slot in favour of David Beckham. [...]

The forward pairing of Eric Cantona and Wayne Rooney completes his all-conquering side

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


U.S. to Issue Tougher Fuel Standards for Automobiles (JOHN M. BRODER, 5/19/09, NY Times)

Under the new standard, the new combined fuel efficiency standard for cars and light trucks will be about 35 miles per gallon by 2016, roughly in line with the California rule. [...]

The current standards are 27.5 miles a gallon for cars and about 24 miles a gallon for trucks. The new mileage and emissions rules will gradually tighten, beginning with 2011 models, until they reach the 2016 standards.

The auto industry is not expected to challenge the rule, which provides two things they have long asked for: certainty on a timetable and a single national standard.

The administration has faced a June 30 deadline set by Congress to decide whether to grant California’s application to impose new emissions rules. President Obama became personally involved in the issue because he is also trying to find a way to rescue the American automobile companies from their financial crisis.

One top industry official said the administration wanted to get the new mileage rules in place before General Motors makes a decision on a bankruptcy filing, which could happen by the end of the month.

The new rules also provide some certainty for Chrysler, which is already under bankruptcy protection, so that it can plan its future models.

They weren't going to give up the CA market, so it's like no change at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


Correction: Times-Dowd story (AP, 5/18/09)

In a May 17 story about New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's admission that she used a paragraph virtually word-for-word from a prominent liberal blogger without attribution, The Associated Press misstated the year of her Pulitzer Prize. She won in 1999, not 1990.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


Poll: Democrats think CIA lied to Nancy Pelosi (ANDY BARR, 5/18/09, Politico)

A majority of Democratic voters believe House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claim that the CIA lied to her about interrogation techniques used on detainees in 2002, according to a new poll released Monday.

The Rasmussen Reports survey reports that 62 percent of Democrats believe Pelosi’s account. In contrast, the same number — 62 percent — of Republicans believe the California Democrat is not telling the full truth.

Among all voters, 43 percent believe Pelosi while 41 percent do not.

...when it comes to a question of honor between Ms Pelosi and Leon Panetta it isn't even a contest. He's always been one of the most decent men in that town.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Obama and the ‘Real’ Catholics: The president inserts himself into a religious debate. (George Weigel, 5/18/09, National Review)

Cardinal Bernardin gave a moving and powerful testimony to Christian faith in his gallant response to the cancer that finally killed him. Prior to that last, great witness, however, the late archbishop of Chicago was best known publicly for his advocacy of a “consistent ethic of life,” in which the abortion issue was linked to the abolition of capital punishment and nuclear arms control. And whatever Bernardin’s intentions in formulating what came to be known popularly as the “seamless garment” approach to public policy, the net effect of the consistent ethic of life was to validate politically the intellectual mischief of Mario Cuomo’s notorious 1984 Notre Dame speech and to give two generations of Catholic politicians a virtual pass on the abortion question by allowing them to argue that, hey, I’m batting .667 on the consistent ethic of life.

The U.S. bishops abandoned the “seamless garment” metaphor in 1998, substituting the image of the “foundations of the house of freedom” to explain the priority to be given the life issues in the Church’s address to public policy — and in the consciences of Catholic politicians. The foundations of the house of freedom, the bishops argued, are the moral truths about the human person that we can know by reason. Those truths are embodied in law in what we call civil rights. Thus, the life issues are the great civil-rights issues of the moment. This powerful argument did not, however, sit well with Catholics comfortable with the Cuomo Compromise (“I’m personally opposed, but I can’t impose my views on a pluralistic society”), for these good liberals and progressives had long prided themselves on being — like Father Hesburgh — champions of civil rights.

So the “seamless garment” went underground for a decade, only to be dusted off by Douglas Kmiec and others in the 2008 campaign; there, a variant form of the consistent ethic was used to argue that Barack Obama was the real pro-life candidate on offer. As casuistry, this was risible. But it worked well enough that Catholic Obama-supporters on the Notre Dame board saw their chances and took ‘em, arranging for the president to come to Notre Dame to complete the seamless garment’s dust-off and give it a new lease on life by presenting the late Cardinal Bernardin — “a kind and good man . . . a saintly man” — as the very model of a real Catholic in America. Not the kind of Catholic who would ever criticize Notre Dame for bestowing an honorary doctorate of laws on a man determined to enshrine in law what the Catholic Church regards as a fundamental injustice. Not the kind of man who would suggest that, with the life issues, we’re living through the moral equivalent of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, with Barack Obama unhappily choosing to play the role of Stephen A. Douglas. Not a man, in other words, like Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Cardinal Bernardin’s successor, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and one of the most articulate critics of Notre Dame’s decision to honor a president who manifestly does not share what Notre Dame claims is its institutional commitment to the Church’s defense of life.

Even by Cardinal Bernardin's standard the President is a tatterdemalion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


No More Mr. Nice Guy: The Supreme Court’s stealth hard-liner (Jeffrey Toobin, 5/25/09, The New Yorker)

The first Democratic nominee to the Court in fifteen years will confront what is now, increasingly, John Roberts’s Court. Along with Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and (usually) Anthony Kennedy, the majority of the Court is moving right as the rest of the country—or, at least, the rest of the federal government—is moving left. At this low moment in the historical reputation of George W. Bush, his nominee for Chief Justice stands in signal contrast to what appears today to be a failed and fading tenure as President. Roberts’s service on the Court, which is, of course, likely to continue for decades, offers an enduring and faithful reflection of the Bush Presidency.

The Justices of the Supreme Court, as a rule, spare themselves unnecessary tedium. Their public hearings are lean and to the point; they hear lawyers’ arguments and, later, announce their decisions. Still, one relic of more leisurely times remains. Several times a month, before the start of the day’s oral arguments, the Justices allow attorneys to be sworn in as members of the Supreme Court bar in person, a process that can take fifteen minutes. (Most lawyers now conduct the swearing-in process by mail.) Rehnquist barely tolerated the practice, rushing through it and mumbling the names, and several colleagues (notably Souter) display an ostentatious boredom that verges on rudeness.

John Roberts, in contrast, welcomes each new lawyer with a smile, and when fathers or mothers put forth their lawyer children for admission—a tradition of sorts at the Court—the Chief makes sure to acknowledge “your son” and “your daughter” on the record. Everyone beams. It’s a small thing, of course, but just one example of Roberts’s appealing behavior in public, much as the nation viewed it during his testimony before the Judiciary Committee. At the time, Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who voted against Roberts’s confirmation, nonetheless observed that he was so ingratiating that he had “retired the trophy” for performance by a judicial nominee. When, early in his tenure, a light bulb exploded in the courtroom in the middle of a hearing, Roberts quipped, “It’s a trick they play on new Chief Justices all the time.” Laughter broke the tension.

Roberts was born in Buffalo on January 27, 1955, and raised in northern Indiana, where his father was an executive with a steel company and his mother a homemaker. (He has three sisters.) Jackie, as he was known, was educated at Catholic schools, and graduated from La Lumiere, at the time an all-boys parochial boarding school in LaPorte. He was the classic well-rounded star student—valedictorian and captain of the football team. He went on to Harvard, majored in history, and graduated in three years, summa cum laude.

At Harvard Law School, Roberts continued to excel, in an even more competitive atmosphere. “He was extremely smart,” said Laurence Tribe, the liberal scholar who taught Roberts constitutional law and grew to know him through his work on the Law Review. “He was really very good at being thoughtful and careful and not particularly conspicuous. He was very lawyerly, even as a law student.” In the mid-seventies, the atmosphere at Harvard still reflected the tumult of the sixties. Roberts stood out as a conservative, though not a notably intense one. “On the Law Review, John was the managing editor, so that meant he gave us our work assignments every day,” Elizabeth Geise, who was a year behind Roberts in law school, said. “He was very honest, straightforward, lot of integrity, fair. He was conservative, and we all knew that. That was unusual in those days. You couldn’t think of a guy who was a straighter arrow.” After graduating magna cum laude, in 1979, Roberts first clerked for Henry J. Friendly, of the federal appeals court in New York, who was legendary for his scholarship and erudition, but was not known as an especially partisan figure.

From New York, Roberts moved to the Supreme Court, where he became a clerk for Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist, and it was in Washington that his political education began. Rehnquist, appointed by Richard Nixon in 1972, was, in his first decade as a Justice, almost a fringe right-wing figure on the Court, which was then dominated by William J. Brennan, Jr. But Ronald Reagan’s election to the Presidency, which took place just a few months into Roberts’s clerkship, lifted Rehnquist to power and, more broadly, gave flight to the conservative legal movement.

At that early stage of the Reagan era, conservatives had a problem, because there were no institutions where like-minded lawyers could be nurtured; the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group, was not founded until 1982. “Roberts got a lot of attention because he clerked for Rehnquist,” said Steven Teles, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins and the author of “The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement.” “Without the Federalist Society, there were not a lot of other ways for the Administration to make sure that they were getting true conservatives. The Rehnquist clerkship marked Roberts as someone who could be trusted.”

As a former law clerk to Rehnquist, not to mention his immediate successor as Chief Justice, Roberts was an obvious choice to deliver the annual lecture named for Rehnquist at the University of Arizona law school in February. Roberts is a gifted public speaker—relaxed, often funny, sometimes self-deprecating—and he began his speech with a warm remembrance of his mentor. Like Barack Obama, Roberts can make reading from a prepared text look almost spontaneous. “I first met William Rehnquist more than twenty-eight years ago,” he told the audience in Tucson. “The initial meeting left a strong impression on me. Justice Rehnquist was friendly and unpretentious. He wore scuffed Hush Puppy shoes. That was my first lesson. Clothes do not make the man. The Justice sported long sideburns and Buddy Holly glasses long after they were fashionable. And he wore loud ties that I am confident were never fashionable.”

Before long, though, Roberts steered away from nostalgic reverie and into constitutional controversy. He maintained his relaxed and conversational cadence, but his words reflected a sharply partisan world view. “When Justice Rehnquist came onto the Court, I think it’s fair to say that the practice of constitutional law—how constitutional law was made—was more fluid and wide-ranging than it is today, more in the realm of political science,” Roberts said. “Now, over Justice Rehnquist’s time on the Court, the method of analysis and argument shifted to the more solid grounds of legal arguments—what are the texts of the statutes involved, what precedents control. Rehnquist, a student both of political science and the law, was significantly responsible for that seismic shift.” Rehnquist joined the Court toward the end of its liberal heyday—the era when the Justices expanded civil-rights protections for minorities, established new barriers between church and state, and, most famously, recognized a constitutional right to abortion for women. This period, in Roberts’s telling, was the bad old days. that collegial justices are more influential than "brilliant" ones. That's why the two greatest were former politicians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Gen. Jones and the Anonymous Long Knives (Sally Quinn, May 18, 2009, Washington Post)

The knives are out. The tom-toms are beating. And by Washington standards it's soon. Usually the trashing of the national security adviser takes longer.

In recent days articles have appeared in The Post and the New York Times questioning the abilities of retired four-star Gen. Jim Jones, the former commandant of the Marine Corps and former NATO commander. Of all the power games in Washington, this one probably has the highest stakes. This is dangerous to the players and to the country.

The national security adviser is the person who sees the president most often and has his ear. Each adviser has his or her own style. Jones is reserved, confident and low-key; this does not sit well with his detractors. Traditionally the job of the national security adviser is to synthesize information between the secretary of state and the secretary of defense. This person is meant to listen to all voices and then present them to the president along with his own advice. Success or failure depends on the adviser's relationship with the president. Period. National security adviser is the most coveted job in foreign policy, even more so than secretary of state, under the thinking that while the secretary is traveling the globe, being America's ambassador to the world and eating a lot of bad food at boring banquets, the adviser is in Washington making and overseeing policy.

Today, the sniping is reportedly coming mostly from State Department officials and some staffers at the White House. Jones, not surprisingly, has a good relationship with the Pentagon. So who's out to get him?

The revealing thing is that the UR recognized he needed to fill that spot with a Republican military man rather than a Democrat diplomat. Of course the rest of the Administration wants his scalp.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


What is Driving Rising Healthcare Costs?: Our healthcare system is in trouble today because we have consistently ignored market-oriented solutions and instead sought out policies based on public finance and top-down regulation. (Dustin Chambers, May 18, 2009, The American)

The drivers of high healthcare costs are manifold, and include the perverse incentives associated with an insurance-based payment system, low labor-productivity growth in the provision of care, and the closely related issue of a constrained supply of healthcare providers. The expense of treating the uninsured or under-payments from Medicare and Medicaid is shifted onto private healthcare providers, as is the expense of litigating and/or settling malpractice lawsuits. While significant ink has been dedicated to all of these topics over the years, I will focus my attention on the first three.

The United States relies on a third-party payment system whereby individuals and employers purchase insurance that allows patients to receive healthcare services that are in turn paid for by insurance providers. For the elderly and disabled, the government assumes the role of the insurer, using funds from payroll taxes (rather than insurance premiums) from current workers to pay medical providers for care provided to those currently enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and other public healthcare programs.

The current system overextends and perverts the use of insurance. The purpose of insurance, whether public or private, is to spread catastrophic risks over a large pool of individuals. Automobile insurance provides a great illustration of this. When was the last time you submitted a claim to your auto insurer asking to be reimbursed for an oil change or a tire rotation? Never. But that begs the question, why do you have auto insurance? For most of us, the answer is to cover the cost of a new car if we total our current one or to cover the expense (both property and medical) of the other party if we are involved in a multivehicle crash.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that auto insurance did pay for routine maintenance. How would this affect your behavior? Most consumers are very price conscious and will only take their cars to repair shops they believe to be honest, and they are quick to question recommended repairs. If, on the other hand, auto insurance began to pay maintenance bills, I suspect that most drivers would select the most convenient shop, and would cease to be concerned with the price or the necessity of recommended repairs, because after all, it is being billed to the insurance company. We would end up with drivers unwilling to do any due diligence regarding the price or efficacy of auto repairs, and thus as a nation we would grossly overspend on them. With time, auto insurers would significantly increase premiums to cover these high repair costs, and would likely seek to screen out the owners of older cars that are more likely to need significant repairs. Soon, poorer Americans who simply want basic liabilitycoverage would find it difficult to afford the premiums and would become uninsured drivers.

Health insurance should not cover basic or routine medical services, but instead should cover major illnesses, surgeries, etc. Moreover, the government should require that healthcare providers charge all patients the same fees for out-of-pocket medical procedures (insurance companies and the government should be free to negotiate discounted prices for the services for which they directly pay, but these preferred rates would not apply to the services paid out-of-pocket by their members). This would bring normal, competitive market forces to bear on the provision of routine medical services. Insurance would then provide (as it is properly intended) coverage against significant and expensive maladies. This helps the poor in two ways. First, routine services would be much cheaper, and so the poor and uninsured would be able to afford (out-of-pocket) basic services. Second, the price of catastrophic medical insurance would be within reach of many more Americans. While high-deductible insurance plans already exist (in which the insured pays the first $1,500 to $2,000 in medical expenses and the insurer pays everything above this amount), what is really needed is for Medicare and Medicaid along with most employer-provided plans to adopt this high-deductible model. Although the current system epitomizes the overuse or misuse of insurance, the Obama plan fails to recognize this, and instead seeks to expand the size and scope of this distorted system. need a medical insurance system that doesn't pay for most of the junk that passes for health care nowadays. People are stuck in the mode of thinking about medicine as if it were an essential rather than just another consumer product.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM



A 14-year-old boy from India was admitted into a hospital for pain in his penis and difficulty urinating over a period of 24 hours, which was caused by a fish that crawled up his penis, The News reported.

The fish was two centimetres long and 1.5 centimetres wide and is believed to belong to the Betta species.

As he was cleaning out his aquarium at home, he was holding the fish in his hand and went to urinate. As he was urinating, the fish slithered out of his hand and into his penis, developing all these symptoms – doctors Vezhaventhan and Jeyaraman said.

The terrific travel writer Redmond O'Hanlon shares the story of the candiru fish -- in his book In Trouble Again -- which while you whiz into the river:
...attracted by the smell, will swim excitedly up your stream of uric acid, enter your urethra like a worm into its burrow, and stick out its retrorse spines. Nothing can be done. The pain is spectacular. You must go to a hospital before your bladder bursts; you must ask a surgeon to cut off your penis.

Thus the State Border Rule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


The innovators of today's GOP (LOU ZICKAR, 5/18/09, Politico)

Over the past 30 years, conservatives have successfully branded anyone who supports raising taxes as a liberal.

Now many on the right are trying to do the same with regard to government. In short, if a person supports a government program, that individual is not just a liberal but also a socialist.

The result is that many Republicans have become hesitant to acknowledge one of the most basic obligations of elective office: Lawmakers are hired to run the government, not run away from it. [...]

[R]epublicans have to develop a more innovative approach toward the role of government, one that not only recognizes the risk of big government but also acknowledges the importance of better government. A good place to start is by looking toward Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels has undertaken an ambitious plan to remake the structure of local government.

As John Krauss notes in the latest edition of The Ripon Forum, in pushing to make government smaller and smarter, Daniels is not driven by some Al Gore utopian fantasy that an efficient bureaucracy can cure all the world’s ills. Rather, he is driven by the very Republican notion that a more efficient government can save taxpayers money — in this case, savings in the form of lower property taxes. It is an uphill fight — the Democratic-controlled Legislature adjourned for the year without voting on it. But it is also a fight any Republican can — and should — support.

And so Daniels pushes on with his plan. In doing so, he is proving himself to be to the Republican Party what Bill Walsh was to the game of football: an innovator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Liberals Fret Over Obama's Compromises (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 5/18/09, WSJ)

President Barack Obama's decision to maintain Bush-era military commissions is the latest in a series of compromises and delays that allies on the left see as a disappointing shift away from campaign pledges.

On everything from national security to climate change to immigration, liberal groups are saying the president's recent actions contradict his soothing ability to convince them that he will move dramatically on their issues.

...about the White House leaving Nancy Pelosi to twist in the wind?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Club for Growth Wears on Some Republicans (NAFTALI BENDAVID, 5/18/09, WSJ)

"If their goal is to increase the Democrats' numbers in Congress, they're doing a very good job," said Rep. Steven LaTourette (R., Ohio), a moderate who won his seat in 1994. "Do they want a permanent minority of 140 people as pure as Caesar's wife, or a Republican majority that can get them 70% of the issues that are important to them?" [...]

Other Republicans say the Democrats have the right idea with their approach toward the past two elections of fielding candidates even though they deviated from some elements of party orthodoxy such as abortion rights and gun control.

"I'm not looking to be a member of a club," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) told reporters the day of Mr. Specter's defection. "The difference between being a club and a national party is being able to play outside your traditional areas."

Critics of the group say there are several elections in which the Club defeated or weakened a Republican candidate. Republican Reps. Joe Schwarz of Michigan and Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland lost primary bids in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Both districts are now represented by Democrats.

"It brings a smile to our face when we see the Club For Growth going in, because in some instances it improves the prospects for our candidates," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), who spearheads the Democrats' House campaigns.

It's like something out of the old Communist Bloc where party members are put on trial for deviation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Obama's Court Jesters: As Wanda Sykes showed, comedians aren't funny when they try to flatter the president. (Christopher Hitchens, May 18, 2009, Slate)

As he showed at the Al Smith dinner last year—the one minor round in the entire campaign that went decisively to John McCain—Barack Obama may be graceful and charming on the podium, but he is not a natural wit. And on May 9 Obama made the same point in a different way: by pausing for a smile-break to mark his every punchline. It may be a fetching-enough smile, but we old stand-up artists learned long ago that if you have to signal a joke, then it is a weak one. Any audience that is being cued or prompted to applaud is also likely to say to itself, "Actually, we'll be the judge of that."

Still, the president did intermittently grasp the main point of the evening, which is that any humor must in some way be at the expense of the guest of honor: namely and on this occasion, himself. He showed he understood this when he opened with a gag about his famous reliance on teleprompters and when he told his audience, deadpan, "Many of you cover me. All of you voted for me." The whole point of self-deprecation is that it disarms: You do not have to be a masochist to know how to practice it.

Now, Wanda Sykes didn't get this point at all. She used up almost all her time with loud attacks, not all of them thigh-slappingly funny, on the previous administration and on the critics of the incumbent one. I am pretty sure that this is a first. Anyone with a memory even of the Clinton-Bush years will be able to remember that the comic talent, whether funny or not, was always engaged to "roast" the chief executive to some degree. And this in turn prompts my question: Did the inviting committee fail to explain this to Ms. Sykes? How does it come about that the whole point of the annual press beano was negated by a performer who is more than 100 percent in the president's corner?

...which is that the folks like Ms Sykes are the butt of the jokes, not the jokers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


GOP sounds alarm on Latino voter gap (BEN SMITH, 5/18/09, Politico)

Driven by some Republicans’ sharp attacks on illegal immigration and — as many Hispanics perceived it, immigrants in general — Latino voters fled the GOP en masse in the midterm elections, then turned on John McCain, as well.

He got 31 percent of the Latino vote to the 44 percent that George W. Bush took in 2004, according to exit polls. And it was enough to put much of the West and Southwest out of reach for the Republican Party, to give Florida to the Democrats and to hand Barack Obama the presidency. [...]

“They’re making no overt efforts to appeal to Hispanics again,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, whose new book cites the defection of Hispanics from the Republicans as a central cause of Obama’s victory. “They all know it’s a problem. They aren’t talking about it, because they fear the anti-immigration wing of their party.”

“They’re afraid to even mention the word ‘Hispanic,’” he said.

The Republican Party’s difficulty in clawing back to parity with Hispanic voters is illustrated most clearly in Florida, the heartland of Hispanic Republicanism, where its core is an aging, dwindling Cuban émigré base.

There, the GOP’s brightest Hispanic star, Sen. Mel Martinez, is retiring after taking a beating from fellow Republicans during the bitter immigration battles of 2005 and 2006.

Will gay marriage cause blacks to divorce the Democratic Party? (Bill Myers, 5/17/09, Washington Examiner)
A local bishop wants to use black anger over gay marriage to reshape black politics in America.

“[Gay rights advocates] have used race as a litmus test — that if you’re black, you will follow liberal, predominately Democratic, rules of engagement,” Harry Jackson told The Examiner. “I’m saying, ‘Black people, be free.’ ”

Jackson is a District resident and the bishop of a mega-church in Lanham. He’s already inserted himself into the debate in California and Florida and is emerging as a national leader in the rearguard fight against gay marriage. He says the Democratic Party has taken black Americans for granted for too long and that the push for gay marriage is potential grounds for divorce. [...]

“I believe there is a counter-revolution for righteousness that is happening among religious African-Americans, which will spill over to commonsense-thinking African-Americans, who will ask themselves, ‘Why am I going to let any party determine what is best for my community?’ ” he said.

It's easy enough to understand why special interest groups in the Democratic Party are hostile to Latinos (cheap labor, fertility, and social conservative) and blacks, after all, it's the coalition party and has no unifying ideas. Your group and your agenda always threaten to take money and power from mine.

When portions of the Republican Party, the party of ideas, oppose groups that agree with those conservative ideas that are universal across all peoples, it's time to start looking at that portion as a Democrat-style special interest group. In this case, it's just white folk making special racial pleadings. And to the degree that the GOP is just a club for white men it ought to fail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Washing kids' hands can keep everyone healthy: Children are thought to transfer their illnesses to older children and adults. (Shari Roan, May 18, 2009, LA Times)

Scientists at the Cochrane Library, which reviews research results, looked at 51 studies of ways to contain respiratory virus epidemics. Frequent hand washing; using gloves, gowns and masks with filtration; and isolating sick people were all found to be effective. But children's hygiene had the biggest effect.

One large study involved 4,332 children in Pakistan. Those who washed their hands several times a day with soap had 50% fewer episodes of respiratory illness than children with standard hygiene practices. Another study found those who used alcohol hand gels plus hand washing had a 43% lower absenteeism rate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


German Foreign Minister Opposes Taking Uighur Guantanamo Inmates: The US wants Germany to take a group of nine Guantanamo inmates of Uighur origin. But now German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is getting cold feet -- he's worried that taking the Uighurs could cause a spat with China. (Der Spiegel, 5/18/09)

The fate of a group of Guantanamo inmates of Uighur origin is threatening to drive a wedge between the US and Germany. The US has asked Germany to take in nine ethnic Uighur detainees. But now German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who had previously supported taking Guantanamo prisoners, is trying to prevent the group from coming to Germany, SPIEGEL has learned. [...]

[S]teinmeier is concerned that taking the men would cause a diplomatic spat with China, which considers the men to be terrorists and has demanded their extradition.

Odd as it is that some folks took Obama at his word, even stranger is that he took Europeans at theirs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


FACT CHECK: Are US students really that bad? (LIBBY QUAID, 5/18/09, AP)

The U.S. does trail the most high-achieving countries, mostly developed nations in Asia such as Singapore, Taiwan and Japan.

But the U.S. holds its own in the group that comes next, a group of developed countries that, depending on the test, includes England, Germany and Russia.

In fact, the U.S. has gained on some of its toughest competitors since 1995, making bigger strides in math than Singapore and Japan, and in science than Japan.

That is according to the most recent international tests, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, the study Obama was citing. A lead TIMSS researcher took issue with the idea the U.S. is trailing.

"Certainly, our results do not show the United States trailing the developed world by any stretch of the imagination," said Ina V.S. Mullis, a Boston College research professor and co-director of the study.

"The Asian countries are way ahead of the rest of developed countries, but mostly the developed countries are relatively similar," Mullis said. "And the United States might be one of the leaders of that group, depending on whether you're talking about math or science in the fourth- or the eighth-grade."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Rising Incomes May Help Democrats Avert 2010 Election Debacle (Matthew Benjamin, May 18, 2009, Bloomberg)

Personal disposable income, which has dropped in seven of the last 12 months, is forecast to begin growing steadily by early this fall, and it counts more than unemployment when voters go to the polls, research shows. Gross domestic product is also predicted to edge up by 0.5 percent in the three months ending September, after contracting in the past three quarters, and continue improving in the fourth quarter and next year.

“If economic growth picks up reasonably well starting in the first quarter of 2010, then that would be a plus for the Democrats in Congress,” says Ray Fair, a Yale University economist whose forecasting model has called the top vote-getter in the last three presidential races.

Since 1945, the party that controls the White House has lost an average of 16 seats in the House of Representatives in a president’s first midterm election, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Recessions have made the damage worse, as former President Ronald Reagan learned in 1982, when an election-year slump cost Republicans a net 26 representatives, erasing gains the party made two years earlier.

Democrats currently control 59 seats in the 100-member Senate and have a 256-to-178 margin in the House. A Republican gain of 40 seats there would swing the majority to the opposition and present President Barack Obama with a major obstacle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Obama backs away from reforming free trade deal (Susan Ferrechio, 05/17/09, Washington Examiner)

Just last month, Obama’s trade representative, Ron Kirk, backed off the much tougher stance on the 15-year-old trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada that the president took last year as he vied for votes in some of the most economically depressed areas of the country. [...]

Kirk’s words also surprised Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who accompanied candidate Obama last year though places like Youngstown and Toledo, which she says have been devastated by cheap Mexican imports.

When Obama was trying unsuccessfully to close the gap on Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Ohio Democratic primary, he pushed hard against the trade agreement Clinton’s husband had championed.

Obama not only verbally promised voters there a NAFTA re-do, he did it in writing. “Bad Trade Deals Hit Ohio Harder Than Most States and Only Barack Obama Consistently Opposed NAFTA,” declared an Obama campaign leaflet picturing a shuttered factory.

“He made those statements in the Youngstown area,” Kaptur recalled. “And when these words are heard, they mean something. Now people are waiting for the results of that.”

In December, Obama decided to appoint Kirk to the job of U.S. trade representative. The former mayor of Dallas is a vocal supporter of NAFTA, as trade with Mexico has created jobs in Texas and a steady stream of truck traffic through his city.

Nothing he says means anything, only what he does.

May 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Republicans in Senate Lower Expectations of a Court Fight (NEIL A. LEWIS, 5/18/09, NY Times)

While there is growing anticipation that the summer will bring the spectacle of a pitched Supreme Court confirmation battle, some Senate Republicans are lowering expectations that they are planning any major political fight. [...]

Some of the senior Republican Senate officials said there was a widespread understanding that the conservative groups would use the occasion of a Supreme Court nominee by a Democratic president as an issue both to rally supporters and to raise political donations, much as liberal groups did with Republican court nominees.

“We’re not lowering expectations as much as setting them realistically,” one aide said. “They have their own agendas as well,” the aide added, referring to the use by outside groups of a Supreme Court nomination to fire up supporters. Republican officials all said that they expected Mr. Obama’s nominee to be a supporter of abortion rights and that that fact by itself would not be an obstacle to confirmation.

If the UR's pick is as cautious as early reports suggest it may be the GOP should praise him and keep their powder dry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Sen. Webb reverses on Obama's Gitmo plans (Sam Youngman, 05/17/09, The Hill)

With Capitol Hill Republicans cranking up the volume on the issue of where to send alleged terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) reversed himself Sunday, and questioned President Obama's "artificial timelines" for closing the facility.

Webb, appearing on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" with Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, said that after reviewing Obama's plans to close the facility within one year, he doesn't agree with the president's time schedule and he opposes bringing any detainees to U.S. soil.

"We spend hundreds of millions of dollars building an appropriate facility with all security precautions in Guantanamo to try these cases," Webb said. "There are cases against international law. These aren't people who were in the United States, committing a crime in the United States. These are people who were brought to Guantanamo for international terrorism. I do not believe they should be tried in the United States."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


Flourishing eagles feast on Maine's rare seabirds (CLARKE CANFIELD, 5/17/09, Associated Press)

Bald eagles, bouncing back after years of decline, are swaggering forth with an appetite for great cormorant chicks that threatens to wipe out that bird population in the United States.

The eagles, perhaps finding less fish to eat, are flying to Maine's remote rocky islands where they've been raiding the only known nesting colonies of great cormorants in the U.S. Snatching waddling chicks from the ground and driving adults from their nests, the eagles are causing the numbers of the glossy black birds to decline from more than 250 pairs to 80 pairs since 1992.

"They're like thugs. They're like gang members. They go to these offshore islands where all these seabirds are and the birds are easy picking," said Brad Allen, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. "These young eagles are harassing the bejesus out of all the birds, and the great cormorants have been taking it on the chin." [...]

In the Midwest, eagles have targeted young blue herons, said Jody Millar, the national eagle recovery coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, based in Moline, Ill.

And in Alaska, researchers have documented a shift in bald eagles' diet from fish to marine birds that's linked to changes in the coastal ecosystem.

A growing number of killer whales caused a chain of ecological events that reduced the number of otters and amount of kelp providing habitat for fish, Robert Anthony reported in the journal Ecology. With fewer fish and baby otters to eat, eagles began raiding nests of other birds.

In Maine, eagles have been spotted eating loon chicks and have occasionally been known to carry off adult loons, said Sally Stockwell, director of conservation at Maine Audubon.

Off the coast, eagles have taken to eating all types of seabirds on rocky remote islands and ledges where, in years past, the seabirds didn't have any predators.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


Annals of Innovation: How David Beats Goliath: When underdogs break the rules. (Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker)

David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”

...but that he has military superiority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Gen Stanley MacChrystal, America's new army chief in Afghanistan, under fire over rough tactics and 'prisoner abuse' (Leonard Doyle, 17 May 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The general chosen by Barack Obama to run the war in Afghanistan permitted abusive treatment and interrogation of detainees in Iraq, according to human rights investigators.

Soldiers have described beatings, psychological torture and other physical mistreatment at a camp near Baghdad where General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of US Joint Special Operations forces in Iraq, was frequently seen. [...]

According to Mr Garlasco's report, which was based on soldiers' evidence, inmates at the camp were regularly stripped naked, subjected to sleep deprivation and extreme cold, placed in painful stress positions, and beaten. Gen McChrystal is lionised in the US as a warrior-scholar. Last week the media has carried admiring reports on how he eats just one meal a day and operates on a few hours' sleep. He led Task Force 121, the Special Operations units in Iraq which caught Saddam Hussein and killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

His appointment signals a dramatic shift in US tactics, from reaching out to the Taliban in favour of a more aggressive military approach. [...]

One senior official who asked for the identity of the respected international organisation for which he works to be withheld said: "Expect to see secret, dead of night raids in Afghanistan, with more civilians getting hurt and no one being held accountable. Its a big tactical shift. Because of his history in Iraq we were very alarmed when we heard he was going to be in charge in Afghanistan."

Heck, that's nothin', 'You can't authorise murder': Hersh (Abbas Al Lawati, May 12, 2009, Gulf News)
GULF NEWS: You have spoken about an assassination unit that reported to Cheney called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). There have been allegations that this unit was responsible for former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I can't verify [that]. What I said was, and what I have written more than once, is that there's a special unit that does high-value targeting of men that we believe are known to be involved in anti-American activities, or are believed to be planning such activities.

In Cheney's view this isn't murder, but carrying out the "war on terror". And in the view of me and my friends, including people in government, this is crazy. The vice president is committing a crime. You can't authorise the murder of people. And it's not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's in a lot of other countries, in the Middle East and in South Asia and North Africa and even central America.

In the early days, many of the names were cleared through Cheney's office. One of his aides, John Hanna, went on TV and acknowledged that the programme exists, and said killing these people is not murder but an act of war that is justified legally.

The former head of JSOC has just been named the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan, which is very interesting to me.

Shouldn't we be hearing all kinds of outrage from the Democrats over the president's brutal prosecution of the WoT?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Biden Reveals Location of Secret VP Bunker (, May 17, 2009 )

Vice President Joe Biden, well-known for his verbal gaffes, may have finally outdone himself, divulging potentially classified information meant to save the life of a sitting vice president.

According to a report, while recently attending the Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, an annual event where powerful politicians and media elite get a chance to cozy up to one another, Biden told his dinnermates about the existence of a secret bunker under the old U.S. Naval Observatory, which is now the home of the vice president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Aaron Lordson

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Fritz Lang, Trailing Nazis (DAVE KEHR, 5/17/09, NY Times)

AN English sportsman (Walter Pidgeon), dressed in the full gentleman-hunter uniform of corduroy jacket and puttees, moves silently through a dark Bavarian forest, a high-powered rifle in hand. He lies on the ground to line up his shot, and through his telescopic sight we see his target moving into the crosshairs: no less than Hitler, strutting on a balcony at his mountain retreat. Pidgeon squeezes the trigger, but no shot rings out; he is merely on a “sporting shoot,” to see if he can get within range of his difficult quarry, and his gun is empty.

The opening sequence of Fritz Lang’s “Man Hunt” is still powerful today; imagine how it must have struck the audience on June 13, 1941, when “Man Hunt” opened at the Roxy in Times Square. The United States was still officially a neutral country, reluctant to be drawn into the conflicts raging in Europe and Asia, and Pidgeon’s empty gun was, in a sense, ours as well. America had the power to intervene but not, for the moment, the will.

“Man Hunt,” based on the Geoffrey Household novel “Rogue Male,” was one of many interventionist films produced by the Hollywood studios before Pearl Harbor, but it may be the best of them: clean and concentrated, elegant and precise, pointed without being preachy. Much of its air of authority comes from Lang, who had been Germany’s leading filmmaker (“Metropolis,” “M”) before he left the country in 1934. Lang became a naturalized American citizen in 1939, the year in which the action of the film takes place, backdated to precede the invasion of Poland.

These are Nazis as observed by someone who knew them intimately.

There's a BBC reading of the book that's quite exciting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Kuwait Women Enter Parliament, Islamists Lose Out: The gains at the expense of Islamists, who have led parliamentary opposition to the government`s economic reform efforts. (Javno, 5/17/09)

Women won four seats in Kuwait's parliament, a first for the Gulf Arab state, in an election that also saw liberals and Shi'ites claw five seats away from Sunni Islamists who have long dominated the 50-seat assembly.

The gains at the expense of Islamists, who have led parliamentary opposition to the government's economic reform efforts and who are allied to conservative tribal figures who won 25 seats, may not be enough to end the long-running tussle. [...]

Sunni Islamists won just 11 seats on Saturday, down from 21 in the last assembly. Liberals won eight seats, up from seven last year. Lawmakers representing the Shi'ite community, which comprises a third of Kuwait's population, rose by four to nine.

Kuwait's first women lawmakers include Massouma al-Mubarak, who became Kuwait's first female minister in 2005, the year women were first given the right to vote and run for office. The others are U.S.-educated professors Salwa al-Jassar and Aseel Awadhi and leading economist Rola Dashti.

Top Pak clerics declare suicide attacks un-Islamic (Times of India, 17 May 2009)
An influential group of Pakistani scholars and religious leaders on Sunday declared suicide attacks and beheadings as un-Islamic and called on people to unite for a struggle against the militancy plaguing the country.

'Ulema' (clerics) and 'mushaikh' (spiritual leaders) of the Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunnah, who gathered here for a convention, declared suicide attacks and beheadings as un-Islamic in a unanimous resolution.

They backed the military operation being conducted in Swat and Malakand to flush out the Taliban and restore peace. They described the operation as important, saying it was a war for Pakistan's integrity and sovereignty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Carolina's Dustin Ackley has 'it' (Peter Gammons, May 16, 2009, ESPN)

Eastern League scouts all love Jhonatan "The Onion" Solano, the 23-year-old Harrisburg catcher who is hitting .298 for the Nationals' Double-A club. Why "The Onion"? Solano couldn't get signed playing at home in Barran Quilla, Colombia. He heard about a tryout across the border in Venezuela, but because he didn't have a visa, he climbed aboard a truck carrying onions, hid out beneath the produce, smuggled his way into Venezuela and got signed. [...]

When Ryan Zimmerman had his hit streak end at 30 games Wednesday, players across all eras reminded us that one reason Joe DiMaggio's 56-game streak may be untouchable is that hitters today face so many different pitchers, not only because of the bullpen specialization, but also because of expansion, which means that whereas in an eight-team league clubs played one another 22 times, now, outside of their own divisions, clubs get one look at some opposing starters. When Joe D got to 56 games in 1941, he had faced 53 pitchers in the 56 games. When Pete Rose got to 44 games in 1978, he had faced 60 pitchers in those 44 games. Zimmerman faced 68 different pitchers in his 30 games.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


GOP Sees Opportunity in N.J. Governor's Race (Keith B. Richburg, 5/17/09, Washington Post)

[I]n an echo of the party's national internal debate, New Jersey Republicans aren't certain whether their best chance for success is with a candidate who can appeal to independents or with a staunch conservative who advocates a flat tax, would ban abortion and expresses disdain for moderates.

Much of New Jersey's Republican establishment has lined up behind Christopher Christie, a former U.S. attorney who built a reputation as a crusader against political corruption, putting 130 New Jersey politicians behind bars. Christie said he would bring that prosecutor's toughness to the state government with a plan to cut taxes, reduce regulation and trim the size of government. "There'll be a new sheriff in town when I come in January," he told factory workers at a recent event here.

"I think my background and my personality fit these times," Christie said later in an interview. "I don't really care about being popular. I care much more about being respected."

Recent polls show him defeating Corzine 45 percent to 38 percent in a hypothetical November matchup, and GOP leaders see him as the most electable Republican in a reliably Democratic state.

But first Christie must win the Republican primary, a smaller universe of voters more conservative than the statewide electorate. And Christie's main primary opponent is an unabashed conservative, Steve Lonegan, a former mayor of the small town of Bogota. Lonegon's main campaign proposal is a 2.9 percent flat tax, and he has the support of some national conservative groups. [...]

From the mid-1990s until the early part of this decade, Republican governors were in charge in Trenton, Albany, Harrisburg and even Boston, with moderate or business-minded leaders such as Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey, George E. Pataki in New York, Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania, and William F. Weld, Paul Cellucci and later Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

The intraparty dispute is over how to win now. Some Republicans say the key is to run candidates with crossover appeal, like those past successful governors, who can win among independents and some Democrats while holding the Republican base. Conservatives such as Lonegan and his backers say the formula is to run staunch conservatives and paint a sharp ideological difference between the parties.

For the true believers, it isn't about winning elections but validating their own ideology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


As President, Obama Is Unafraid to Disappoint His Allies (Dan Balz, May 17, 2009, Washington Post)

Through much of last year's campaign, Barack Obama enjoyed the acclaim of a politician who seemed adept at making himself all things to almost all people. Liberals, moderates, even some conservatives, Democrats, independents and even some Republicans all found in Obama change they could believe in.

That was the mark of a skillful candidate who leaves enough unsaid to attract the maximum support possible. But it isn't possible to maintain that posture once presidential decision making begins and choices have to be made. [...]

Obama owes his victory last year in part to the enthusiastic support of an energized left. His opposition to the Iraq war and his condemnation of Bush's treatment of terrorism suspects and enemy combatants signaled a new path in foreign policy that the left wholeheartedly applauded. By announcing in his first days as president his determination to close Guantanamo and ban torture, Obama symbolically made good on those campaign promises.

Then the hard work began. Closing Guantanamo is one thing; figuring out what to do with the detainees is another. The administration still has no clear plan, and there is restiveness on Capitol Hill. Bringing an end to the contentious debate over the interrogation tactics also has left Obama in the crossfire between two sides determined to have a more public airing of all those Bush policies. Obama has tried to steer carefully through this minefield, but it's not clear how long he will be able to do so.

But it was two decisions last week that touched off a controversy with the left. The first was a reversal by the president. After saying he favored the release of damaging photographs showing prisoners being abused while in U.S. custody, he announced that he would not seek their release. Public disclosure, he said, would threaten the safety of U.S. military personnel abroad and could inflame the rest of the world as he is trying to win new respect for the United States.

Then on Friday came the decision to resume, with some modifications, the military tribunals used by the Bush administration since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This was not a total reversal, and administration officials insisted that prisoners would be given more rights. But human rights and civil liberties groups condemned the decision. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was left to complain that after starting the week under fire for breaking with the Bush administration on anti-terrorism policy, the administration was being criticized for embracing Bush-era policies.

The decisions underscored an important facet of Obama's decision making, which is his capacity to rethink positions and to change his mind as he learns more or conditions change.'s that no one, except the Left, thought he was serious when he announced his initial positions. This isn't a matter of rethinking, but of misleading his own true believers. That's a very good thing for the country and we should all be thankful, but it eventually has to catch up to him personally. As General Odierno found out, he just isn't a man of principle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


What Israel Learned From Arafat: Tomorrow's Netanyahu-Obama summit has Iran, Gaza and settlments on the agenda, but the Isreali leader will bring a new tactic learned from an old nemesis. Matt Rees explains "the Arafat." (Matt Beynon Rees, 5/17/09, Daily Beast)

When he was Israeli Prime Minister the first time round, Benjamin Netanyahu was endlessly frustrated by the way the late Yasser Arafat used to obfuscate in peace talks. Specifically, Arafat’s favored technique was to pretend something entirely unexpected was actually on the agenda, as a way of deflecting discussion of a topic on which he felt he’d have to concede. It was a big contrast with Netanyahu’s confrontational way of doing business. In his decade out of office, however, Netanyahu says he learned a lot and that he’s a different kind of Prime Minister this time. One clear difference: he learned how to pull an Arafat. [...]

Arafat constantly shifted the negotiating ground under the feet of one Clinton -- ultimately with the disastrous consequences of a second intifada. Netanyahu’s trying to do the same to the other Clinton, switching the debate to issues the U.S. and Palestinians thought had been conceded long ago. Now if he agrees to a two-state solution, it'll make him look flexible. If he opens Gaza's checkpoints to allow in all food aid, he'll look compassionate. Meanwhile on the ground nothing will have changed and the new administration will have lost a chance to shift the peace process out of Bushie neutral.

“Bibi will let Obama have a charade of progress,” says Dan Schueftan, director of Haifa University’s National Security Studies Center, referring to Netanyahu’s boyhood nickname, which he’s universally known by here. “There’ll be no substance.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Utah Governor Chosen as Ambassador to China (JEFF ZELENY, 5/17/09, NY Times)

Mr. Huntsman, 49, learned to speak Mandarin Chinese from his time as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan. He has worked in the two Bush administrations, serving as ambassador to Singapore in the final year of President George Bush’s term and as a deputy trade ambassador for President George W. Bush. Mr. Huntsman’s name was floated as a possible ambassador to China for the second President Bush, who instead sent Clark T. Randt Jr., a longtime friend and a lawyer with Asia experience.

Political and diplomatic veterans called Mr. Huntsman a good choice.

“China is a place where we really need to have more of a bipartisan approach and I think he would contribute to that,” said James Sasser, a former Democratic senator from Tennessee who was ambassador to China under President Bill Clinton. “I think it does take the politics out of it to a considerable degree.”

Michael Green, who was the top Asia adviser to the younger Mr. Bush, said Mr. Huntsman was well suited for the challenges ahead. “U.S.-China relations can get rough and tumble over the next few years,” Mr. Green said, citing Beijing’s economic and military expansion. “All of that is going to be harder, not easier, so putting someone in who knows China but is seen as firm is a good thing — particularly someone who can bring along moderate Republicans.”

For Mr. Obama, the selection of Mr. Huntsman is something of a political coup. Mr. Huntsman has emerged as one of the nation’s most visible Republican governors since he won a second term last year and was expected to at least consider seeking his party’s presidential nomination to run against Mr. Obama.

It seems doubtful that the President understands what a risk he's taking with this move. Both his personal beliefs and his political ambitions give Mr. Huntsman good reason to speak out about human rights in China, especially the treatment of the religious. This would hardly be welcomed by the ChiComs and, because Mr. Obama would be forced to side with his Ambassador, cedes significant political ammunition to a member of the other party.

On the other hand, if Mr. huntsman has been purposely chosen to trouble China precisely so that the UR can defend him and attack them then it's a move of genius.

Which do you bet on?

China finds Rudd 'more difficult' than Howard (Rowan Callick, May 18, 2009, The Australian

INTERNATIONAL analysts in China are starting to claim that Beijing is finding it difficult to deal with Kevin Rudd, and the Chinese leadership was more comfortable with John Howard than the current Prime Minister.

The claim, from one of China's most influential security experts, comes as the federal Opposition starts to break away from the bipartisanship on China, with Malcolm Turnbull taking a different approach on investment and on security.

Controversies have swirled around the Australia-China relationship this year, including the $26billion Chinalco bid for 18 per cent of Rio Tinto, the defence white paper's focus on China's military rise, the unheralded visit of propaganda chief Li Changchun and Chinese-Australian businesswoman Helen Liu's sponsorship of Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. Zhu Feng, deputy director of the School of International Studies at Beijing University and a frequent consultant to the Chinese Government and corporate sector, said: "When Mr Rudd was elected, there was an expectation that a more intimate relationship between the countries would result, because he knows China so well and speaks Chinese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Not a Cop Out: Southland is pretty good, and thus temporarily halts the sad decline of NBC. (Troy Patterson, May 13, 2009, Slate)

Though certainly not a hit, the new cop show Southland (NBC, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET) is not a ratings abomination either, much to the vexation of some of us on the TV beat. NBC—soundly established as the fourth-place network, headed by a dude widely believed to be a total clown—is growing more pathetic by the sweeps week. For the TV season currently drawing to a close, its failures include the Knight Rider remake, Crusoe, Kings, My Own Worst Enemy, Kath & Kim, and Chopping Block. In their particular awfulness—in the extravagant crassitude of their conception—these new shows inspired a hostility that needs purging.

Chuck and 30 Rock are the only regular shows--not on USA or TNT [or foreign television]--that we watch. But who's ever even heard of the rest of this slop?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Some on left souring on Obama ( JOSH GERSTEIN, 5/17/09, Politico)

Barely four months into his presidency, Obama is confronting growing dissatisfaction among members of his liberal base, who feel spurned by a series of his early decisions on issues ranging from guns to torture to immigration to gay rights.

The list got longer last week as Obama reversed his earlier decision to release photos of detainees abused in U.S. military custody and announced plans to try some terror suspects before military commissions – though on the campaign trail he railed against earlier versions of the tribunals.

A few, like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, have even hurled the left’s ultimate epithet – suggesting that Obama’s turning into George W. Bush.

The building anger comes at a critical moment – just as Obama’s about to announce his choice for the Supreme Court. Fulfill their dreams of a “liberal Scalia,” a firebrand from the left, and much would be forgiven.

May 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


Obama puts pragmatism over promises: His willingness to consider new perspectives and change his position, even when it angers his supporters, is a stark contrast to predecessor George W. Bush's inflexibility. (Christi Parsons and Janet Hook, May 17, 2009, LA Times)

For weeks, Army Gen. Ray Odierno had passionately pressed his point with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates: President Obama's plan to release photographs depicting the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners would be a costly mistake.

Last week, when Odierno was in Washington for a meeting with the president, the top U.S. commander in Iraq was pleased and grateful when Obama revealed that he had changed his mind and would oppose release of the photos.

"Thanks," Odierno said. "That must have been a hard decision."

"No," Obama replied, "it wasn't at all."

It was a telling moment -- a glimpse into one of the most striking features of the new president's approach to decision-making.

Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, who styled himself as "the Decider" and took pride in sticking with decisions come what might, Obama is emerging as a leader so committed to pragmatism that he will move to a new position with barely a shrug.

It hasn't been five months yet and they're already having to pretend that his lack of core beliefs and eagerness to follow the polls is a sign of strength. Imagine how appalled General Odierno must have been by the UR's response? You know that leak came from the Pentagon, not the Oval.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Special Forces : a review of HORSE SOLDIERS: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan By Doug Stanton (BRUCE BARCOTT, NY Times Book Review)

The heroes of “Horse Soldiers” are members of the Army’s Fifth Special Forces Group based in Fort Campbell, Ky., an elite corps trained to be both guerrilla fighters and wartime diplomats. In the weeks after 9/11, Fifth Group soldiers scrambled to prepare for the coming war in Afghanistan. Intelligence on the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Northern Alliance was so thin that the men resorted to old Discovery Channel shows and back issues of National Geographic. There wasn’t time to requisition supplies through the Army, so they scooped up tents at REI, ordered fleece jackets direct from the North Face and bought every Garmin eTrex GPS unit they could find.

As the soldiers stocked their kits, C.I.A. paramilitary officers slipped into northern Afghanistan and met with local warlords who, when they weren’t feuding among themselves, came together as a loosely knit anti-Taliban coalition known as the Northern Alliance. A deal was struck: a small number of Special Forces soldiers would fight alongside the Alliance, calling in precision smart-bomb airstrikes on Taliban positions.

There was only one problem. Nobody told the Special Forces guys about the horses. Northern Alliance soldiers traveled and fought on horseback, which was why they hadn’t had much success against the Taliban, who fought with heavy artillery, including anti-aircraft guns that when pointed groundward proved exceptionally effective at cutting men and horses in half. Upon being dropped in country, Special Forces Capt. Mitch Nelson climbed in the saddle and gave his men an impromptu lesson:

“ ‘Listen up,’ Nelson croaked. ‘Here’s how you make this thing go.’ He heeled the horse in the ribs and it walked a few steps. ‘And here’s how you turn,’ he said, pulling a rein and drawing the narrow muzzle around. ‘And here’s how you stop.’ He pulled back the reins and sat looking at the guys. ‘Got it?’ ”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


Critics Still Haven't Read the 'Torture' Memos: The CIA proposed the methods. The Justice Department gave its advice. (VICTORIA TOENSING, 5/16/09, WSJ)

In the mid-1980s, when I supervised the legality of apprehending terrorists to stand trial, I relied on a decades-old Supreme Court standard: Our capture and treatment could not "shock the conscience" of the court. The OLC lawyers, however, were not asked what treatment was legal to preserve a prosecution. They were asked what treatment was legal for a detainee who they were told had knowledge of future attacks on Americans.

The 1994 law was passed pursuant to an international treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The law's definition of torture is circular. Torture under that law means "severe physical or mental pain or suffering," which in turn means "prolonged mental harm," which must be caused by one of four prohibited acts. The only relevant one to the CIA inquiry was threatening or inflicting "severe physical pain or suffering." What is "prolonged mental suffering"? The term appears nowhere else in the U.S. Code.

Congress required, in order for there to be a violation of the law, that an interrogator specifically intend that the detainee suffer prolonged physical or mental suffering as a result of the prohibited conduct. Just knowing a person could be injured from the interrogation method is not a violation under Supreme Court rulings interpreting "specific intent" in other criminal statutes. [...]

The Gonzales memo analyzed "torture" under American and international law. It noted that our courts, under a civil statute, have interpreted "severe" physical or mental pain or suffering to require extreme acts: The person had to be shot, beaten or raped, threatened with death or removal of extremities, or denied medical care. One federal court distinguished between torture and acts that were "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment." So have international courts. The European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ireland v. United Kingdom (1978) specifically found that wall standing (to produce muscle fatigue), hooding, and sleep and food deprivation were not torture.

The U.N. treaty defined torture as "severe pain and suffering." The Justice Department witness for the Senate treaty hearings testified that "[t]orture is understood to be barbaric cruelty . . . the mere mention of which sends chills down one's spine." He gave examples of "the needle under the fingernail, the application of electrical shock to the genital area, the piercing of eyeballs. . . ." Mental torture was an act "designed to damage and destroy the human personality."

The treaty had a specific provision stating that nothing, not even war, justifies torture. Congress removed that provision when drafting the 1994 law against torture, thereby permitting someone accused of violating the statute to invoke the long-established defense of necessity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


Living Up to His Name (FRED BIERMAN and BENJAMIN HOFFMAN, 5/17/09, NY Times)

Noticed mostly for his revival of green stirrups with a gold sanitary sock, Josh Outman, the Oakland reliever, is starting to catch on with the club in his second season, posting a 2.95 earned run average over the last four weeks, and a 4.05 E.R.A. over all through Friday.

As a pitcher, Outman joins a fraternity of players whose name goes well with their chosen profession.

Bob Walk famously walked 606 batters over 1,666 innings from 1980 to 1993, mostly for Pittsburgh. Less famous was Darcy Fast of the 1968 Chicago Cubs, who must not have pitched fast enough, as his 5.40 E.R.A. in 10 innings earned him only one season in the majors.

Horace Speed was clearly misrepresenting himself, stealing only four bases in 113 games for the San Francisco Giants and the Cleveland Indians in 1975, ’78 and ’79. And John Strike of the 1886 Philadelphia Quakers had a hard time living up to his name, striking out 11 and walking 7 in 15 career innings.

Two players in major league history were named Hitt (Roy with the 1907 Cincinnati Reds and Bruce with the 1917 St. Louis Cardinals).

Both were pitchers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


On a Sunny Day at Wrigley, a Perfect Storm of Offense (TYLER KEPNER, 5/16/09, NY Times)

Lamp had the grim task of throwing the first few pitches of the best game for hitters in the last 87 years. He got one out, allowed two three-run homers and bolted the howling winds for the shelter of the clubhouse.

The Old Style beer was ready, Lamp said, and it was needed. Every few minutes, it seemed, the door would open and another sullen Cubs pitcher would shuffle in, his earned run average bloated and his spirits broken.

“We were all thinking, what’s going on?” Lamp said.

What unfolded was a 23-22 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, less a major league game than a T-ball exhibition. In the decades since, baseball has added teams and umpires have squeezed the strike zone. Cities have built cozier ballparks and players have bulked up on steroids. Yet nothing has matched that day.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one game since 1900 featured more runs — a 26-23 circus on Aug. 25, 1922. In that one, the Cubs defeated the Phillies at Wrigley.

“There’s something about the Phillies and the Cubs,” said Mick Kelleher, a Yankees coach who played for the 1979 Cubs. “Man, I’m telling you.”

The box score is a thing of beauty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


Obama picks GOP's Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China: Obama calls the post 'as important as any in the world.' Huntsman, governor of Utah and co-chair of John McCain's presidential campaign, says he feels an 'obligation' to accept the Democrat's offer. (Richard Simon, May 16, 2009, LA Times)

President Obama today reached into the Republican ranks for a key foreign policy position in his administration, tapping Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to be ambassador to China.

"Given the breadth of issues at stake in our relationship with China, this ambassadorship is as important as any in the world," Obama said in announcing the ambassadorship at the White House with Huntsman at his side.

While Huntsman has served as an ambassador to Singapore, speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese and has an adopted Chinese daughter, Obama noted that his selection of "not only a Republican, but a Republican who co-chaired my opponent's campaign for the presidency" wouldn't be the easiest move to explain to some people. send a Mormon missionary to China as our official representative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


Guns, Geysers and Mr. Reid (GAIL COLLINS, 5/16/09, NY Times)

This is exactly the sort of procedural roadblock that you need 60 votes to overcome, and people are beginning to ask why the majority leader can’t handle these things since Arlen Specter’s defection gave the Democrats 60 votes. Do not say this to Harry Reid! For one thing, Al Franken is still in court in Minnesota, and when you ask the Republicans how long they’re going to litigate the results of an election that took place last November, they murmur vaguely about how Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Anyhow, Ted Kennedy is sick and Robert Byrd is 91 and it’s a miracle some of the other ones can find their way to the Capitol. Even if you eventually get all 60 Democratic votes in the same room, how do you get them to do the same thing? You will remember that when Specter came over, Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska instantly said: “They might have a 60-member majority. That doesn’t mean they have 60 votes.” Reid must have found the point Nelson was making less chilling than the fact that the senator kept referring to his own party as “they.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Why Obama Isn't Funding Needle Exchange Programs (Maia Szalavitz, May. 16, 2009, TIME)

Buried on page 795 of President Obama's budget, released last Thursday, is a paragraph banning the federal funding of needle-exchange programs for drug addicts — an apparent about-face on his campaign promise to overturn that longstanding ban. To the further consternation of AIDS and addiction activists, a statement of support for needle exchange was recently removed from the White House website. [...]

The funding ban was introduced by conservative Senator Jesse Helms, and Democrats — wary of being cast as soft on drugs — have been reluctant to reverse it ever since. In 1998, President Clinton said he intended to lift the ban, under a provision in place at the time that allowed the President to do so if the science proved convincing. Although the Clinton Administration admitted the evidence was there, at the last minute, drug czar Barry McCaffrey managed to convince the President that "sending the right message" on drugs was more important — a move that Clinton later said he regretted.

(When candidate Hillary Clinton was asked during the last presidential campaign whether she would lift the ban, she, too, punted, conceding that the choice was political. Pressed at a campaign stop in July 2007, she said she would "as much spine as we possibly can" on AIDS funding and needle exchange.)

Now that it's up to him, Obama's spine appears to have weakened too.

He can't afford to be seen as Superfly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


Abortion, gay marriage complicate Supreme Court selection: President Obama hopes for a candidate who won't galvanize conservatives over hot-button issues. That could lead to problems for some considered to be on his short list. (James Oliphant and David G. Savage, May 16, 2009, LA Times)

Even as President Obama flies to the University of Notre Dame this weekend to give a commencement speech that promises to be marked by bitter abortion protests, he will be grappling with one of the most critical decisions of his presidency.

With a new poll out Friday showing that for the first time a majority of Americans call themselves "pro-life," the decision of whom to nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court has grown even more complex.

Obama is determined to avoid a "culture war" over the choice, White House aides and Democratic lawyers say, and he hopes to select a candidate who will not galvanize conservative activists over wedge issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

With that in mind, the White House is poring over the records of leading candidates for the high court, looking for potential flash points. That could lead to problems for some who are thought to be on Obama's short list.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Premier League: Manchester United 0 Arsenal 0 (Scott Murray, 5/16/09,


75 min: United look happy enough with the 0-0 here, sitting back and allowing Arsenal to pass it around as much as they like.

So I nearly made it on my vow to follow a full season of English Premier League soccer and see if I was really missing anything. Of course, as soon as baseball started again my attention drifted (okay, sped) away. At some point I may write up a more thorough critique of the game, but here the couple things in its favor and a couple of the biggest problems, displayed this week.

The one thing that's really enjoyable about the game is all the stuff that happens when they aren't playing it. The personnel stuff is so overblown and melodramatic you expect a team to sign Susan Lucci next. Because they generally play only once a week, like the NFL, people read far too much into each performance, rather than looking at who the game was played against, the state of the two teams, etc. But it's amusing to hear them pronounce a team dead or invincible on the basis of one 90 minute spasm. And the coverage--podcasts, columns, call-in shows, etc.--is so voluminous and obsessive that they have to fill all that downtime with absurd speculation about what rather trivial signings and performances mean for the future. It makes the culture of soccer hilarious to observe from without.

But it's truly bizarre that they just crowned a champion that can't beat the other good teams in the league head-to-head. The 2nd place team has no losses to any another top 4 team while the champion mustered just 5 points (you get one for a tie and three for a win) against their peers. They basically won the title on the back of a long string of one goal victories over lesser opponents, most of them a function of referees decisions. Until very late in the season--when an opposing manager and the antics of their own players made the phenomenon too visible for further unfairness--they benefited from an unbalanced number of foul calls when their stars fell down and non-calls when their stars and central defenders committed fouls. In the NBA the home team notoriously gets good calls. In soccer the prestige teams and players get good calls, even when they're on the road. And the champion just happens top be the prestige team. So you ended up with a team that can't beat good clubs winning because of the unfair advantage they enjoy against the bad ones.

Now, if there were a playoff you'd have the opportunity to rectify that situation. The officiating in championship games would be scrutinized in a way it isn't on a Wednesday night in February in Sunderland. But, even though the World, European, and English soccer titles are decided by playoff competitions, the EPL is decided solely on regular season results and ties count. Thus you end up with the oddity that the team with just two losses all year isn't going to win because it tied a few too many games and the team that did win was playing for a tie today. There's something deeply unsporting -- though profoundly European -- about a competition where you don't need to win in order to win.

Compounding these problems, the champions also played a game on Wednesday against a team whose manager had acknowledged after a loss the preceding weekend that he couldn't make his players care about winning games because they'd shut down after guaranteeing they wouldn't be relegated to a lower league. They were just playing out the string -- a common enough occurrence in the League -- and so you had the title being decided in non-competitive games.

It is the case in several sports that the best team may not win the championship. In particular, a team that squanders early opportunity but plays best later in the season may deprive itself of the playoffs and a chance to prove its superiority (this year's Patriots, for example). But, generally, the playoffs afford teams that underperformed for some portion of the season a shot at redeeming themselves and often exposes those that fattened up on inferiors. Rarely, though not never, would you end up with a situation, as today in the EPL, where bookmakers would give you prohibitive odds against the champs if they played the runner-up tomorrow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Decline and Fall: THE WEIGHT OF A MUSTARD SEED: The Intimate Story of an Iraqi General and His Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny By Wendell Steavenson (ROBERT F. WORTH, NY Times Book Review)

One of the many sad facets of Iraq’s descent into sectarian warfare has been the loss of a proper reckoning with the recent past. Over the last five years, journalists and Iraqis alike have been too busy chronicling — and surviving — the horrors of the present conflict to spend much time thinking about Saddam Hussein’s murderous quarter-century in power. This is a shame, not just because Iraqis need a chance to rest and confront their history, but also because the violence that erupted after 2003 made limited sense to those who did not live through its prelude. Too much American reporting from Iraq reads like the dispatches of a group of astronauts on a vicious foreign planet, leavened only by bland historical paragraphs about the Sunnis and the Shiites and their regrettable hatreds.

So it’s a relief to read Wendell Steavenson’s “Weight of a Mustard Seed,” a masterly and elegantly told story that weaves together the Iraqi past and present. Her subject is Kamel Sachet, an Iraqi general and war hero who came to despise Hussein, and was finally executed in 1999. Steavenson, a journalist who has written for many English and American publications, set herself a difficult task: Sachet died long before she ever set foot in Iraq. The country began to implode soon after she arrived in 2003, making it even harder to piece together his life. But she succeeds, and makes his story a powerful inquiry into the moral question at the heart of Hussein’s Iraq and so many other dictatorships: Why did people go along with it? Did any resist? And if so, what made them different?

W. Those who opposed the war were just going along with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Diminished Returns (NIALL FERGUSON, 5/17/09, NY Times Magazine)

There are just three problems with this story, [that it was all the fault of deregulation]. First, deregulation began quite a while ago (the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act was passed in 1980). If deregulation is to blame for the recession that began in December 2007, presumably it should also get some of the credit for the intervening growth. Second, the much greater financial regulation of the 1970s failed to prevent the United States from suffering not only double-digit inflation in that decade but also a recession (between 1973 and 1975) every bit as severe and protracted as the one we’re in now. Third, the continental Europeans — who supposedly have much better-regulated financial sectors than the United States — have even worse problems in their banking sector than we do. The German government likes to wag its finger disapprovingly at the “Anglo Saxon” financial model, but last year average bank leverage was four times higher in Germany than in the United States. Schadenfreude will be in order when the German banking crisis strikes.

We need to remember that much financial innovation over the past 30 years was economically beneficial, and not just to the fat cats of Wall Street. New vehicles like hedge funds gave investors like pension funds and endowments vastly more to choose from than the time-honored choice among cash, bonds and stocks. Likewise, innovations like securitization lowered borrowing costs for most consumers. And the globalization of finance played a crucial role in raising growth rates in emerging markets, particularly in Asia, propelling hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

The reality is that crises are more often caused by bad regulation than by deregulation. For one thing, both the international rules governing bank-capital adequacy so elaborately codified in the Basel I and Basel II accords and the national rules administered by the Securities and Exchange Commission failed miserably. It was the Basel system of weighting assets by their supposed riskiness that essentially allowed the Enronization of banks’ balance sheets, so that (for example) the ratio of Citigroup’s tangible on- and off-balance-sheet assets to its common equity reached a staggering 56 to 1 last year. The good health of Canada’s banks is due to better regulation. Simply by capping leverage at 20 to 1, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions spared Canada the need for bank bailouts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Purged Chinese Communist chief wrote secret memoir: Zhao Ziyang, who reached out to Tiananmen protesters in 1989, issues a posthumous call for democracy. The book is not available in China, but readers are getting excerpts on the Internet. (Barbara Demick, May 16, 2009, LA Times)

Despite the Chinese government's intent to keep the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square out of public discourse, audio recordings and excerpts of a memoir by the Communist Party chief who was purged for opposing it have begun circulating quietly on the Internet.

Before his death in 2005, Zhao Ziyang secretly recorded 30 hours of tapes that have been turned into a memoir, "Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang."

Among his revelations, Zhao contradicts the widely held belief that the Standing Committee of the Communist Party's Politburo made a formal vote to call in the military. And he lays out clearly the defiance that got him sacked.

"I refused to become the general secretary who mobilized the military to crack down on students," Zhao declares.

The last time Zhao was seen in public was the early morning of May 19, 1989, at Tiananmen Square. With a bullhorn in hand and tears in his eyes, Zhao, who had resigned as premier two years earlier to focus on his job as party chief, begged demonstrating students to end their hunger strike. Later that day, Premier Li Peng called in the military, leading to the events of June 4, when soldiers killed hundreds of protesters.

The memoir is clearly intended as something of a manifesto for change. In his last year, the tapes reveal, Zhao became more convinced that China could not become a successful market economy without allowing democracy.

"In fact, it is the Western parliamentary democratic system that has demonstrated the most vitality," he says.

No regime with a one-child policy can even be argued to care about vitality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Health Costs Are the Real Deficit Threat: That's why President Obama is making health-care reform a priority. (PETER R. ORSZAG, 5/15/09, WSJ)

[H]ealth-care costs vary substantially across regions of the United States and across hospitals and doctors within a region -- even for patients with a similar diagnosis. Medicare spending in 2006 varied more than threefold across U.S. regions, mostly due to variation in the volume and intensity of services provided for similar types of patients. The kicker is that Medicare enrollees in areas with higher spending do not appear to have better health outcomes on average than those in areas with lower spending. We don't seem to be getting anything in exchange for the extra costs except more intensive tests and procedures, and additional days in the hospital -- and who would want any of that if the additional tests and procedures do not actually help to promote health?

The consumers. Health care is just another commodity now and most of it unnecessary. People consume it because they want to, not because of any benefits. And since they don't bear the costs--at least not directly--they consume mass quantities.

Now, Mr. Orszag could achieve his dream of reducing expenditures by controlling what health care people can have delivered. But that's a political non-starter. The only reason anyone supports universal health care is because they perceive it as the promise that they'll got lots more medicine, not drastically less.

Or, we could make those who consume health care back into normal consumers again. Put everyone into HSAs and make them draw upon their own accounts, their own money, to pay medical bills. There's a big difference between the pointless cancer screening that you're buying for me and the one I have to pay for myself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Does Walmart Make You Skinny? (Radley Balko, 5/15/09, Daily Beast)

It isn’t that low-income people can’t afford to eat healthy: A 2005 USDA study found that you can fulfill your requirement of fruits and vegetables for 64 cents per day--less than the cost of a candy bar. But access to healthy food in poor, urban areas really is a problem. There are stretches of U.S. cities where you’ll pass three Wendy’s and five convenience stores before you’ll find a produce stand.

In the popular imagination, a big-box store such as Wal-Mart is more often seen as part of the problem than part of the solution: We associate Wal-Mart with large women in stretch pants, fat kids sucking down tubs of soda, and morbidly obese men inching down the snack-food aisle in motorized shopping carts. The store makes candy, chips, and soda ridiculously cheap—so wouldn’t Wal-Mart contribute to the obesity problem?

That’s what economists Art Carden of Rhodes College and Charles Courtemanche of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro suspected. So they conducted a study to find out. Carden and Courtemanche have done a number of studies on Wal-Mart. Carden insists they get no funding from the company, directly or indirectly. Rather, he says, the two free-market economists have been intrigued by the Wal-Mart debate and wanted to test some of the more common criticisms of the store. Generally, they’ve found that the worst fears about Wal-Mart are unfounded, and that the stores have a mostly positive impact on their communities.

But they thought this one might be different. “We expected the study to show an increase in obesity in communities with a Wal-Mart,” Carden says. “We know that Wal-Mart lowers the cost of food, but we figured it’s not always the best food for you.”

To their surprise, they found the opposite—there was a small but statistically significant reduction in obesity rates in communities with a Wal-Mart, perhaps because the store also sells fresh produce of good quality at a good price.

What ever happened to the Wal-mart psychosis of a few years ago? Remember how deranged Democrats were about it? You hardly hear them rave anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Notes Toward a Theory of Obama: What we've learned so far about the president. (Jacob Weisberg, May 16, 2009, Slate)

Barack Obama began his presidency with an unusual attribute: that the country already understood him, or thought it did, from his books. The story he told in Dreams From My Father and reinforced in The Audacity of Hope was about a man of multiple worlds who struggles to come to terms with his father's abandonment and a confounding racial identity. Obama resolves his rootlessness and anger by committing himself socially, religiously, and, eventually, politically. He depicts his mature self as unusually grounded, able to see other points of view and to bridge chasms.

The protagonist of these books is a persuasive and appealing character—so much so that he left little demand for alternative explanations. As time goes by, though, Obama's Obama feels less and less satisfying. It's not that the author's projection of himself is distorted in any obvious way, but rather that it leaves too much unexplained—his ambition, his aloofness, his fundamental beliefs, if any.

That unexplained was the entire basis of his political appeal. He was the amorphous figure you could force into any shape in your own mind. Not only does he have no apparent fundamental beliefs he's always been very careful to avoid being trapped into seeming like he had any. The archetypal example was the speed with which he left his church lest anyone associate him with its tenets and note that, once folks were paying attention, he couldn't choose a new one because it would define him to some degree.

The problem he faces then is that the act of governing forces certain perceptions of you onto the public mind. The laws you sign become your policies, your policies your political persona. That is why, contrary to the expectations of Left and Right and in direct contravention of his empty mantra, far from being about "Change" his presidency has been and will be about preservation of the status quo. If he does nothing perhaps people will continue to find nothing when they look at him and keep filling the abyss with the Obama of their desires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


The SAT and Its Enemies: Fear and loathing in college admissions (Andrew Ferguson, 05/04/2009, Weekly Standard)

[P]latitudes--truisms--are everywhere in the anti-SAT literature. Truisms lull the reader so reassuringly that you might miss other stuff that isn't true at all. Martha Allman, Wake Forest's admissions director, announced the school's decision to drop its SAT requirement with self-flattering banalities. "After months of discussion and study and reflection," she said, "we decided it was time to stand up on the side of fairness." Meanwhile, the material Wake Forest issued to support its new test-optional policy was a series of statements that are demonstrably untrue: that SATs aren't good predictors of college success, that they're merely an indicator of socioeconomic status rather than aptitude, that they're a barrier to college for "many well-qualified students," that they're crippled with cultural and racial bias, and so on. Each of these is contradicted by mountains of data and common sense.

The banality and misstatement obscure one truth so obvious that hardly anyone mentions it: If test-optional schools like Wake Forest truly want to admit those "well-qualified students" with low SAT scores, they could just choose to admit them. Admissions officers have access to a vast, multimillion-dollar industry of direct mailers and enrollment management consultants that do nothing all day but help schools find the kinds of applicants they want. And the school could admit them without depriving itself, as a matter of policy, of the valuable information that the SAT provides.

Instead the war on the SAT continues and intensifies. But why?

In addition to the obvious political reasons, there are compelling institutional ones as well. The deans may be progressives, but they're also bureaucrats. A test-optional admissions policy boosts department budgets and staff, since the personal interviews and graded essays used in place of test scores require much more manpower. It also gives a boost in the infamous college rankings published each year by U.S. News and World Report. When a school no longer requires the SAT, the number of applications typically increases, but the number of available slots stays the same. So the percentage of acceptances drops. The school suddenly looks more selective, pushing it up the U.S. News charts. The incoming class's "average SAT score"--another important measure for U.S. News--rises too, since low scorers usually don't submit their scores, leaving the average to be calculated from only the high-scoring applicants.

Best of all, without SAT scores, a dean's discretion is greatly enlarged. He is released from the tyranny of objective numbers. For the progressive admissions director, aching to make his school a gorgeous mosaic of multiculturalism, the SAT must chafe like a manacle. It offers a datum with which outsiders can second-guess his judgment: Why'd you accept Billy with a 1200 SAT and deny Jane with a 1500? He'll face no more questions like that if he can persuade his school to drop the SAT.

Inevitably, I suppose, the demotion of the SAT and what it represents begins to carry a whiff of the same postmodernism that has overtaken the humanities in most elite colleges. We shouldn't be surprised if it's seeped through the ventilators and under the door jambs into the admissions office next door. An attack on the traditional notion of aptitude is also an attack on one long-standing and widely accepted notion of what higher education is for, as a place where academic excellence is pursued both for its own sake and as a preparation for life. If higher ed is not defined this way it's hard to see what it will be defined by--beyond the whims of school presidents and progressive deans. But maybe that's the whole idea.

Where it used to be that whatever grades you got, no matter how subjective and how--literally--incomparable, standardized tests were waiting to objectively expose you and measure you against the universe of your fellows.

It seems likely that the enormous explosion in cheating we've seen in schools over the past couple decades is directly tied--though not exclusively--to the manner in which grades are becoming the be-all and end-all. The ever increasing emphasis on an instrumentality that you can easily shape via misconduct creates the incentives to do so.

May 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


The World's Best Illusion: The Secret of the Curve Ball (Devin Powell, 5/13/09, Inside Science News Service)

The three best visual illusions in the world were chosen at a gathering last weekend of neuroscientists and psychologists at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Florida.

The winning entry, from a Bucknell University professor, may help explain why curve balls in baseball are so tricky to hit.

A properly thrown curve ball spins in a way that makes the air on one side move faster than on the other. This causes the ball to move along a gradual curve. From the point of view of a batter standing on home plate, though, curve balls seem to "break," or move suddenly in a new direction.

This year's winning illusion, created by Arthur Shapiro of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, may explain this phenomena. His animation shows a spinning ball that, when watched directly, moves in a straight line. When seen out of the corner of the eye, however, the spin of the ball fools the brain into thinking that the ball is curving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


CIA director says Pelosi received the truth (Sam Youngman, 05/15/09, The Hill)

CIA Director Leon Panetta challenged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s accusations that the agency lied to her, writing a memo to his agents saying she received nothing but the truth.

Is the UR going to stand up for the Executive Branch, like Mr. Panetta, or cowtow to the party hack, Ms Pelosi?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


LeMay and the Tragedy of War: When basic survival trumps civil liberties. (WARREN KOZAK, 5/15/09, WSJ)

Between March and August of 1945, 38-year-old Gen. Curtis LeMay ordered the deaths of more civilians than any other man in U.S. history. No one else comes close, not William Tecumseh Sherman, not George S. Patton -- no one.

On the night of March 9, 1945, LeMay sent 346 huge B-29 bombers loaded with napalm from the Mariana Islands (Guam, Saipan and Tinian) to Tokyo. The first planes dropped their incendiaries on the front and back of the target area -- like lighting up both ends of a football field at night. The rest of the planes filled in the middle. More than 16 square miles of Japan's capital city were gutted, two million people were left homeless, and 100,000 were dead.

It didn't end there. Washington gave LeMay the green light as his bombers burned 64 more cities. He used the World Almanac and just went down the list by population. Altogether, an estimated 350,000 people lost their lives. Anyone hearing this for the first time in 2009 would be hard pressed to defend such an action.

Yet at the time, newspapers across America heralded the event as a tremendous achievement -- not unlike the moon landing 24 years later. The New York Times ran the story of the bombings on its front page for 10 straight days. Its lead editorial on March 12, 1945, warned the Japanese that if they didn't give up more was on the way. The New Yorker magazine ran a glowing three part series on LeMay. Time magazine put him on its cover.

Today Japan, which has been one of the most successful and responsible nations on earth for the past 64 years, doesn't seem like it should ever have received such punishment. Without understanding the context, some people would argue that the U.S. was just a wild, racist nation bent on payback after Pearl Harbor.

What many Americans today do not know was that for almost 10 years prior to LeMay's bombing, Japan was on a genocidal tear throughout Asia. There was a second Holocaust in World War II that most Americans are unaware of -- one that killed upwards of 17 million Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and other Asians.

So when LeMay finally figured out a way to bring the war to a faster end, there was jubilation not just in the U.S. but throughout Asia. LeMay also knew that both the U.S. and Japan were preparing for what would be the largest invasion (and most horrific bloodbath) in history.

The real tragedy is that because General LeMay wasn't allowed to add a few hundred thousands more lives to his tally we bear responsibility for tens of millions more lost. Not only did he lobby for a first strike on the USSR but showed how easily he could pull it off by flying fake bombing raids over real Soviet cities. Had he been allowed to finish WWII--by toppling the other ism--humankind would have been saved decades of the disastrous Cold War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM


The Nation's Embracing, and Embraceable, Arms (Sally Quinn. 5/10/09, Washington Post)

"May I change the subject," said a prominent Washington theologian at a recent dinner. The conversation had been high-minded -- religion, philosophy, the nature of evil. "I'd like to talk about Michelle Obama's arms," he said.

He is a big fan of those arms. We then began a discussion about the significance of the first lady's arms. Actually, it turned out to be equally serious. Michelle Obama's arms, we determined, were transformational. Her arms are representative of a new kind of woman: young, strong, vigorous, intelligent, accomplished, sexual, powerful, embracing and, most of all, loving.

Remember back when our betters used to tell us that it was racist to reduce black people to their mere physicality and degrading to objectify women? Ms Quinn is right though that this is what passes for religion inside the Beltway cocktail circuit, Obama Worship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


Struggling old guys, the value of D and the most improved player (Tom Verducci, 5/15/09, Sports Illustrated)

There are seven players aged 33 and older who switched teams last winter who have posted an OPS below .750: Orlando Cabrera, David Eckstein, Ramon Hernandez, Edgar Renteria, Jason Giambi, Mark DeRosa and Bobby Abreu. The ones with upside? That's a short list; pretty much Russell Branyan and Raul Ibanez.

Five weeks do not a trend make. But it's also difficult to remember a time when so many star players in their mid-30s were looking old all of a sudden. The dimming stars include David Ortiz, 33; Derrek Lee, 33; Renteria, 33; Cabrera, 34; Abreu, 35; Magglio Ordonez, 35; Jason Kendall, 35; Giambi, 38; and Brian Giles, 38. Combined home runs for those nine players: 11. Are they merely slumping or are they toast?

Meanwhile, no club has wanted old free agents such as Jim Edmonds, Frank Thomas, Ray Durham and Paul Lo Duca.

Is it age bias? You bet. With not only steroid testing but also amphetamine testing in place, clubs no longer can count on players extending their prime years through their mid- and late-30s. The Astros are in trouble because they counted on way too many old players. The Yankees have scuffled because of injuries to old players. The Tigers have tried to remake themselves since the middle of last year by losing some old players (Kenny Rogers, Gary Sheffield, Ivan Rodriguez) and hoping others bounce back from slow starts (Ordonez, Placido Polanco). The Red Sox are swimming against the tide with four regulars age 33 or older (Ortiz, Jason Varitek, J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell). The bottom line, in case you weren't paying attention to the World Series last year: It's a young man's game.

Well, when I was young there was really only one other challenger for the title of the slowest kid in the school, Danny Krasner. So, to save us humiliation, the gym teacher had us run only against each other--everyone else ran earlier. Of course, this had the exact opposite effect, since kids just gathered to watch the spectacle. Suffice it to say, you could have timed us with a sundial instead of a stopwatch.

At any rate, Danny and I would do no worse than 8 for 10 stealing bases off of Jason Varitek.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 PM


Gallup: More Americans Oppose Abortion Rights (Susan Davis, 5/15/09, WSJ: Washington Wire)

A majority of Americans now say they oppose abortion rights, according to a Gallup poll released today. It is the first time since the polling outfit began asking the question in 1995 that a majority of Americans have held that position.

...lies in governing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


Trade Wars Brewing In Economic Malaise: Outrage in Canada as U.S. Firms Sever Ties To Obey Stimulus Rules (Anthony Faiola and Lori Montgomery, 5/15/09, Washington Post)

Is this what the first trade war of the global economic crisis looks like?

Ordered by Congress to "buy American" when spending money from the $787 billion stimulus package, the town of Peru, Ind., stunned its Canadian supplier by rejecting sewage pumps made outside of Toronto. After a Navy official spotted Canadian pipe fittings in a construction project at Camp Pendleton, Calif., they were hauled out of the ground and replaced with American versions. In recent weeks, other Canadian manufacturers doing business with U.S. state and local governments say they have been besieged with requests to sign affidavits pledging that they will only supply materials made in the USA.

Outrage spread in Canada, with the Toronto Star last week bemoaning "a plague of protectionist measures in the U.S." and Canadian companies openly fretting about having to shift jobs to the United States to meet made-in-the-USA requirements. This week, the Canadians fired back. A number of Ontario towns, with a collective population of nearly 500,000, retaliated with measures effectively barring U.S. companies from their municipal contracts -- the first shot in a larger campaign that could shut U.S. companies out of billions of dollars worth of Canadian projects.

This is not your father's trade war, a tit-for-tat over champagne or cheese. With countries worldwide desperately trying to keep and create jobs in the midst of a global recession, the spat between the United States and its normally friendly northern neighbor underscores what is emerging as the biggest threat to open commerce during the economic crisis.

...though it's pretty sad that we need transnationalist institutions to protect the world from an American political party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


Former Oklahoma great Tisdale dies at 44 (MURRAY EVANS, 5/15/09, AP)

After basketball, he became an award-winning jazz musician, with several albums making the top 10 on the Billboard charts.

"Wayman Tisdale is one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing," Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said in a statement. "He had an incredible gift of making the people who came in contact with him feel incredibly special." [...]

Last month, Tisdale was chosen for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

He was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American since freshmen were allowed to play again in 1971-72. He was also one of 10 three-time All-Americans: The others were Oscar Robertson, Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor, Pete Maravich, Patrick Ewing, Tom Gola, Jerry Lucas, David Thompson and Ralph Sampson. Ewing and Tisdale were the last to accomplish the feat, from 1983-85.

Tisdale played on an Olympic team that sailed to the gold medal in Los Angeles, winning its game by 32 points. The squad was coached by Bob Knight and featured the likes of Ewing, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Chris Mullin. that Knight's '84 team plays the Dream Team. Put your manna on the former.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 PM


Pakistan on the Brink (Ahmed Rashid, 6/11/09, NY REview of Books)

"We are not a failed state yet but we may become one in ten years if we don't receive international support to combat the Taliban threat," Zardari indignantly says, pointing out that in contrast to the more than $11 billion former president Pervez Musharraf received from the US in the years after the September 11 attacks, his own administration has received only between "$10 and $15 million," despite all the new American promises of aid. He objects to the charge that his government has no plan to counter the Taliban-led insurgency that since the middle of April has spread to within sixty miles of the capital. "We have many plans including dealing with the 18,000 madrasas"—i.e., the Muslim religious schools—"that are brainwashing our youth, but we have no money to arm the police or fund development, give jobs or revive the economy. What are we supposed to do?" Zardari's complaints are true, but he does acknowledge that additional foreign money would have to be linked to a plan of action, which does not exist.

The sense of unrealism is widespread. As the Taliban stormed south from their mountain bases near the Afghan border in northern Pakistan in late April, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the parliament that they posed no threat and there was nothing to worry about. Interior Minister Rehman Malik talked about how the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai was supporting the Taliban and how India and Russia were sowing more unrest in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the inscrutable, chain-smoking army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, remained silent. By the time Kiyani made his first statement on the advance of the Taliban, on April 24, the army was being widely and loudly criticized for failing to deploy troops in time.

Pakistan is close to the brink, perhaps not to a meltdown of the government, but to a permanent state of anarchy, as the Islamist revolutionaries led by the Taliban and their many allies take more territory, and state power shrinks. There will be no mass revolutionary uprising like in Iran in 1979 or storming of the citadels of power as in Vietnam and Cambodia; rather we can expect a slow, insidious, long-burning fuse of fear, terror, and paralysis that the Taliban have lit and that the state is unable, and partly unwilling, to douse.

In northern Pakistan, where the Taliban and their allies are largely in control, the situation is critical. State institutions are paralyzed, and over one million people have fled their homes. The provincial government of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has gone into hiding, and law and order have collapsed, with 180 kidnappings for ransom in the NWFP capital of Peshawar in the first months of this year alone. The overall economy is crashing, with drastic power cuts across the country as industry shuts down. Joblessness and lack of access to schools among the young are widespread, creating a new source of recruits to the Taliban. Zar-dari and Gilani have spent the past year battling their political rivals instead of facing up to the Taliban threat and the economic crisis.

According to the Islamabad columnist Farrukh Saleem, 11 percent of Pakistan's territory is either directly controlled or contested by the Taliban. Ten percent of Balochistan province, in the southwest of the country, is a no-go area because of another raging insurgency led by Baloch separatists. Karachi, the port city of 17 million people, is an ethnic and sectarian tinderbox waiting to explode. In the last days of April thirty-six people were killed there in ethnic violence. The Taliban are now penetrating into Punjab, Pakistan's political and economic heartland where the major cities of Islamabad and Lahore are located and where 60 percent of the country's 170 million people live. Fear is gripping the population there.

The Taliban have taken advantage of the vacuum of governance by carrying out spectacular suicide bombings in major cities across the country. They are generating fear, rumor, and also support from countless unemployed youth, some of whom are willing to kill themselves to advance the Taliban cause. The mean age for a suicide bomber is now just sixteen.

American officials are in a concealed state of panic, as I observed during a recent visit to Washington at the time when 17,000 additional troops were being dispatched to Afghanistan. The Obama administration unveiled its new Afghan strategy on March 27, only to discover that Pakistan is the much larger security challenge, while US options there are far more limited. The real US fear was bluntly addressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Baghdad on April 25:

One of our that if the worst, the unthinkable were to happen, and this advancing Taliban...were to essentially topple the government for failure to beat them back, then they would have the keys to the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan.... We can't even contemplate that.

Pakistan has between sixty and one hundred nuclear weapons, and they are mostly housed in western Punjab where the Taliban have made some inroads; but they are under the control of the army, which remains united and disciplined if ineffective against terrorism. In his press conference on April 29, President Obama made statements intended to be reassuring after the specter of Pakistani weakness evoked by Clinton, saying, "I feel confident that that nuclear arsenal will remain out of militant hands."

If decent folks in Pakistan are unrealistic about the threats facing them...and the state is a fiction that needs to be carved into constituent pieces...and terrorists are given nearly free rein...and we can't trust Pakistan with nuclear weapons...but no one is doing anything about those things...then what would be so bad about events forcing everyones' hands?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Unions vs. Taxpayers: Organized labor has become by far the most powerful political force in government. (STEVE MALANGA, 5/14/09, WSJ)

Across the private sector, workers are swallowing hard as their employers freeze salaries, cancel bonuses, and institute longer work days. America's employees can see for themselves how steeply business has fallen off, which is why many are accepting cost-saving measures with equanimity -- especially compared to workers in France, where riots and plant takeovers have become regular news.

But then there is the U.S. public sector, where the mood seems very European these days. In New Jersey, which faces a $3.3 billion budget deficit, angry state workers have demonstrated in Trenton and taken Gov. Jon Corzine to court over his plan to require unpaid furloughs for public employees. In New York, public-sector unions have hit the airwaves with caustic ads denouncing Gov. David Paterson's promise to lay off state workers if they continue refusing to forgo wage hikes as part of an effort to close a $17.7 billion deficit. In Los Angeles County, where the schools face a budget deficit of nearly $600 million, school employees have balked at a salary freeze and vowed to oppose any layoffs that the board of education says it will have to pursue if workers don't agree to concessions.

Call it a tale of two economies. Private-sector workers -- unionized and nonunion alike -- can largely see that without compromises they may be forced to join unemployment lines. Not so in the public sector.

...than revoking the "right" of civil service employees to unionize.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Europe's Social Benefits Are at Risk (MARCUS WALKER, 5/15/09, WSJ)

The European Union's top economy official, Joaquin Almunia, warned Thursday that fast-rising public debts will force governments to cut back their spending, including those on social benefits that many countries now are expanding to protect voters from the downturn. The crisis could leave Europe with a combination of "subdued growth potential, high unemployment and public finances under severe strain," forcing countries to rethink their pension systems and welfare benefits, Mr. Almunia said in a speech. [...]

High social spending has reduced the pressure on European governments to adopt bigger stimulus measures like the U.S.'s, but policy makers acknowledge it is also a long-term burden. [...]

The financial and economic crisis is leading to ballooning budget deficits across Europe. A combination of costly banking bailouts, economic-stimulus measures, and the automatic effect of rising social benefits and falling tax revenues in a recession are set to push up public debt massively in all major European countries.

Reversing the trend and complying with EU rules that limit debt and deficits will require politicians to raise taxes, angering businesses and employees who already complain of suffocatingly high tax burdens, or to cut spending, challenging powerful interest groups, including retirees and public-sector workers.

They need to not let this crisis go to waste or it's hard to see how they ever get back on track.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


A Young Slugger’s Great Potential and Uncertainties (JOHN BRANCH, 5/15/09, NY Times)

The fans were chanting: “Al-i-bay! Al-i-bay!” It was the bottom of the last inning. The tying run was on base. And, again, Alibay Barkley was right where he wanted to be, holding a bat in his hands and potential in his back pocket.

It seems as if it has always been this way. Barkley was a sweet-faced, oversize kid on a Harlem team that went to the Little League World Series in 2002. Now he is a 6-foot-5, 255-pound high school senior who is being compared to the Phillies’ Ryan Howard, slugging home runs for one of the top teams in New York City and wondering just how far those arcing baseballs can carry him.

The last seven years have not always been kind. Friends in the Bronx have died, his mother and three younger siblings live in a Queens shelter and Barkley skipped school and spent a lost year in Texas unsuccessfully trying to fast-forward his baseball career.

He is home now, planning his latest getaway from New York. For all the time and effort spent getting this far — on the verge of graduation, with the baseball draft a month away and colleges making offers — everything still seems so uncertain.

“All I wanted was to get away from New York,” Barkley, 19, said while sitting in the stands at George Washington High, the hilltop campus in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood with a baseball heritage that stretches from Rod Carew to Manny Ramirez.

“New York is home, but it’s always good to get away from home, understand?” he said. “It’s always good to get away and go somewhere where you don’t have to worry about one of your friends being killed or how your family or your mom is going to eat, or how we’re going to pay the light bill or the rent. Just get away and have fun. And play baseball.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


New Rules for Derivatives (NY Times, 5/15/09)

In apparent deference to those who have made major profits from unfettered derivatives trading, the proposal stops shy of creating a fully transparent market.

Transparency is the best way to avoid a repeat of the disaster triggered in recent years by these unregulated financial products, which are supposed to help investors manage risks, like the possibility of default or of interest-rate swings. As the financial bubble burst mid-decade, many of these derivatives didn’t work as advertised. Rather than reduce risk, they created or amplified it, to the point — as in the case of the American International Group — that the failure of one party to various derivatives contracts threatened to topple the entire system. [...]

For all that, the proposal pulls its punches. It does not call for trading derivatives on fully regulated exchanges, the most visible and reliable way of reining them in. It also makes a distinction between standardized and customized derivatives and proposes a lighter regulatory touch for the custom variety. That could open the door to gaming the new system, a door that would be shut if all derivative contracts were traded on exchanges. In some important respects, it appears to give regulators the discretion, though not the duty, to police markets more closely.

The proposal also seems to invite tension between the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the main regulators that would oversee derivatives. Regulatory jurisdiction must be clarified if the new rules are to have any teeth.

,,,but about what's being marketed. Go to the grocery store and every prepared food lists all its ingredients. Buy derivatives to protect yourself from financial ruin and none are. Make the product transparent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


President of the American Hospital Association says the White House misstated deal (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN & CHRIS FRATES, 5/15/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama described the agreement this week with six major health care organizations as a “watershed event,” hailing what the White House said was their promise to reduce spending by 1.5 percentage points annually for a decade, which he said could save as much as $2 trillion over that span.

But in a conference call Thursday, President Richard Umbdenstock told 230 member organizations that the agreement had been misrepresented. The groups, he said, had agreed to gradually ramp up to the 1.5 percentage-point target over 10 years – not to reduce spending by that much in each of the 10 years, .

“There has been a tremendous amount of confusion and frankly a lot of political spin,” Umbdenstock said on the call.'s just as likely that he didn't understand the discussion as that he intentionally misrepresented it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Pelosi Says She Knew About Waterboarding (Edward Epstein, 5/15/09, CQ)

If Nancy Pelosi hoped to use a news conference Thursday to get past the controversy over whether she was aware that the CIA was waterboarding terrorism suspects, she appears to have done just the opposite.

By publicly acknowledging for the first time that she learned in 2003 that waterboarding had been employed during the George W. Bush administration and charging that the CIA had repeatedly misled Congress, Pelosi might have helped fuel the controversy that is shaping up as the messiest of her 2½ years as House Speaker.

...then why's she submitting herself to it instead of just saying: "Of course, I knew. They're terrorists. We tortured them. We'll do it again next time."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


...but if you buy or own one of these: can get this:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


How Mossad helped Hamas: A botched assassination attempt by seven Israeli agents and the rise to power of Khalid Mishal (Duncan Campbell-Smith, 5/14/09, Times Literary Supplement)

The undisputed leader of Hamas today, barricaded with his family inside a fortified office complex on the outskirts of Damascus, is Khalid Mishal. The racy title of McGeough’s book sums up his central thesis, that Mishal came to power largely as the result of a botched assassination attempt by seven Mossad agents in September 1997.

Eschewing the more familiar air-to-ground missile, car bomb or silent bullet in the night, Israel’s secret service opted for a poison that would supposedly result in death a day or so later, while leaving no clues for the autopsy. Stepping out of his car on the way to the office one morning, Mishal encountered a couple of men posing as tourists. One caught his attention by noisily pulling open a soda can; the other leapt up and squirted a deadly toxin into his ear. At this point, however, Mossad’s plan went awry. A bodyguard chased and caught the two assailants, who were handed over to the police. Mishal himself was taken to hospital in time to halt, and eventually reverse, the usually fatal after-effects. And four Mossad accomplices were run to ground in the local Israeli embassy.

Unfortunately for all concerned, except Mishal, this was the embassy in Amman. The intended victim was a Jordanian citizen, living openly in the capital with the tacit approval of the government. Worse than a crime, the assassination attempt was a blunder with calamitous consequences. It had been ordered not only in total contravention of the existing understandings between Jordan and Israel, but also days after Hussein – in a last desperate bid for a breakthrough – had sent a plan to the Israeli Prime Minister for a thirty-year truce that he hoped might conceivably win support from all Palestinian factions, including Hamas.

The attack was therefore seen as the crudest possible rebuff. Hussein and his government reacted accordingly, while Arabs in the street rejoiced at the sight of Mossad operatives caught behaving like Keystone Cops. Only after the intervention of President Clinton and secret midnight visits to Amman by Netanyahu and several senior colleagues, including Ariel Sharon, was the crisis eventually brought to an end.

For Netanyahu himself, the episode was hugely damaging. He had authorized the assassination personally, in defiance not only of that private letter from Hussein six months earlier but also of wiser councils within his own government. (Thus did Hussein discover, in Professor Shlaim’s words, that Netanyahu “was devious, dishonest and completely unreliable” – a judgement McGeough amply endorses at several points.) The ensuing breach with Hussein undermined Netanyahu’s credibility with his colleagues and the wider public, and contributed directly to his defeat and temporary withdrawal from politics less than two years later.

Whom you treat as a peer his people assume is one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Obama and the Middle East (Hussein Agha, Robert Malley, 6/11/09, NY Review of Books)

By virtually every measure—name, race, origins, and upbringing—Barack Hussein Obama was a revolutionary presidential candidate. In Mideast policy at least, there is little reason to imagine that he will be a revolutionary president. [...]

The new millennium began with the near-universal acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian state, which is precisely when its support among Palestinians began to slip. President Bush, the first US president to have ardently endorsed it, framed it as the answer to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and then hurriedly narrowed the challenge to the mundane task of building state institutions. Gone was the revolutionary aura with which Arafat imbued the idea; the struggle, no longer about freedom and the end of occupation, became about erecting responsible structures of government.

One of Bush's least noticed but most profound and pernicious legacies in the region might well turn out to have been this transformation of the concept of Palestinian statehood from among the more revolutionary to the more conservative, from inspiring to humdrum.

What could possibly be revolutionary to America about the notion of self-determination?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Debt of Honor (George H. Wittman, 5.15.09, American Spectator)

In a world of seemingly perpetual conflict to be able to depend on an unwavering ally is beyond value. This is the special bond between the British Crown and the Gurkhas. In a distinctly un-British manner, therefore, the UK's Home Office had ruled that only some of the retired members of the famed Gurkha Brigades could resettle in Britain.

The Home Secretary, while never using the word "mercenary," clearly implied that as loyal as these barely over five foot tall Nepalese soldiers had been for nearly 200 years, they nonetheless were not eligible for citizenship as were soldiers of the Commonwealth countries -- to say nothing of the millions of British citizens and residents who emigrated from former colonies.

The result has been, to use a British term, "a right cock-up." Joanna Lumley, the co-star of the television series, Absolutely Fabulous, who was born in Srinagar, Kashmir, India while her father was a serving officer in the 6th Gurkha Rifles, has launched her not inconsiderable vigor into the campaign to challenge the government ruling. Joined by other notables including her fellow actor Virginia McKenna, whose late husband was a major in the 9th Gurkha Regiment, Ms. Lumley has charged in the best Gurkha style through Whitehall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


'Bacon Tastes Good, Get Over It' (Julie Powell, 5/15/09, Daily Beast)

[I] was skeptical when I picked up Bacon, A Love Story. Still, Lauer, a self-professed “lifelong bacon enthusiast,” started off decently enough. Her first chapter, “On the Eighth Day, God Created Bacon,” covers the history of hog domestication and the development of the process of curing and smoking pork belly from ancient China to the European Middle Ages to early America. The overly chipper and insufficiently witty tone can be overlooked when you’re discovering that, for instance, France passed laws against urban pig-raising in 1131 when Prince Philip, son of Louis VI, “was killed when his horse threw him after being startled by a stray pig.” Theories on the origins of phrases such as “bringing home the bacon” and “chew the fat”—which Cockney slang shortened to “chat”—kept me reading happily enough, until the historical timeline reached the present day. This is where I began to feel uncomfortable.

For people who write and think seriously about food, the ethics, health concerns, and environmental issues surrounding where our meat comes from has become an increasingly fraught issue in the last few years. In fact, the current bacon mania sweeping a nation of foodies is in large part an offshoot of this. The availability of local, heritage pork raised ethically by small farmers is part of what has gotten people interested in making their own bacon at home, for instance. So it’s odd that Ms. Lauer has no particular concerns about how her pork is raised. In fact, she seems to have no point of view that she’s trying to get across at all, beyond that bacon is the “Best Meat Ever.”

...his novel would have a single redeeming sentence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Obama to revive Guantánamo military tribunals (Damien Pearse, 5/15/09,

Obama suspended the tribunals within hours of taking office in January, ordering a review of the military commission system. But he stopped short of abandoning the process altogether. [...]

"It's disappointing that Obama is seeking to revive rather than end this failed experiment," said Jonathan Hafetz, a national security lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.

"There's no detainee at Guantánamo who cannot be tried and shouldn't be tried in the regular federal courts system."

Human rights campaigners point out that during last year's presidential campaign Obama called the tribunal system "an enormous failure" and that he vowed to "reject the Military Commissions Act".

...and you'd like to be able to take him at least mildly seriously...but you can't.

May 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


In breakaway Somaliland, a bid to be stable regional citizen: The unrecognized territory hosts tens of thousands of Somali refugees and is trying and imprisoning pirates. (Shashank Bengali, 5/14/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

In Hargeisa, a visitor can walk the asphalt roads at dusk and freely breathe the sharp mountain air. The street markets are busy and boisterous, and hanging out there isn't likely to get you killed. Cellphone companies advertise mobile Internet service and the good hotels have wireless hot spots.

If this doesn't feel like Somalia, residents say that's because it's not. This is Somaliland, a northern former British protectorate that broke away from chaotic southern Somalia in 1991, established an admirably stable government, and hoped never to look back.

No country has recognized Somaliland's independence, however. The argument has always been that to do so would further destabilize Somalia, even as Somalia seems to be destabilizing well enough on its own.

Yet we destabilized Somalia by giving Ethiopia the green light to drive out the UIC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


...who are rolling this poor clown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Westerners and Muslims differ on morals: report: Survey finds Muslims welcome democracy, reject homosexuals (al Arabiya, 5/07/09)

Muslims living in Europe feel far more loyalty to their country than they are often perceived to feel but have differing views on what is considered morally acceptable than their non-Muslim counterparts, a survey on coexistence said on Thursday. [...]

A seemingly counterintuitive finding was that European Muslims not only accepted but also welcomed the freedoms, democratic institutions, justice and human rights that characterize their societies.

Some researchers pointed out in the report that "the greatest differences between Muslims and westerners lie more in eros than demos. In other words, the Muslim-west gap rests on differences in attitudes toward sexual liberalization and gender issues rather than democracy and governance." [...]

Most Muslims had little tolerance for the moral acceptability of homosexuality, abortion, pornography, sex outside of marriage and suicide.

Britain's Muslims showed zero tolerance for homosexual acts, while even in France, with the highest percentage of tolerance, only 35 percent said such acts were "morally acceptable."

On the issue of sexual relations between unmarried men and women, non-Muslim populations believed it was acceptable whereas Muslim populations generally characterized it as immoral, with a mere three percent in Britain believing it was moral.

It can't go Eurabic fast enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


Rome the scene of violence after Lazio cup win (Independent, 5/14/09)

Lazio fans clashed with police and tried to smash shops in Rome city centre following their team's Italian Cup final win over Sampdoria, police said in a statement today.

Rome's Stadio Olimpico will host the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona on 27 May despite several episodes of soccer violence in the city in recent years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


U.S., Allies Set October Target for Iran Progress: If Benchmarks on Nuclear Negotiations Aren't Met, Sanctions Would Follow; Move Is Meant to Reassure Israel, Arab States (JAY SOLOMON, 5/14/09, WSJ)

The Obama administration and its European allies are setting a target of early October to determine whether engagement with Iran is making progress or should lead to sanctions, said senior officials briefed on the policy.

They also are developing specific benchmarks to gauge Iranian behavior. Those include whether Tehran is willing to let United Nations monitors make snap inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities that are now off-limits, and whether it will agree to a "freeze for freeze" -- halting uranium enrichment in return for holding off on new economic sanctions -- as a precursor to formal negotiations.

The moves are partly driven by concerns in Israel and among Washington's Arab allies that Tehran could drag out negotiations indefinitely while advancing its nuclear program, the officials said.

When they talk about President Obama approaching the world with greater humility than W does it really have to mean that the junior partners in the Axis of Good have to beg him to do the right things?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 PM


(Adam Sage, 4/15/09, Times of London)

It is a dilemma with which many men are familiar: the football or the family? But when President Sarkozy let it be known he was to miss the French Cup final for an evening with Carla Bruni, his wife, it took on a new dimension.

As outrage greeted an announcement seen as an insult to tradition, to football and to Brittany, the region that provided the two finalists, Mr Sarkozy was forced to perform a last-minute U-turn.

He abandoned plans to spend the weekend with Ms Bruni at her family’s villa on the Côte d’Azur and returned to Paris in time to see the game and present the cup to Guingamp, the second-division side that beat Rennes, from the first division, 2-1 in the biggest Gallic cup upset for 50 years.

You'd at least have to think on an offer to spend the night with Roseanne Barr if it would get you out of a soccer game, nevermind your wife offering you the rescue line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Detroit schools 'ground zero': Duncan airs 'outrage' over failing system (ASSOCIATED PRESS | Thursday, May 14, 2009)

"I think Detroit is ground zero" for education in the United States, [Education Secretary Arne Duncan] later told reporters. "Detroit is New Orleans two years ago without Hurricane Katrina, and I feel a tremendous sense of both urgency and outrage."

That's an unusually profound insight from a Democrat, that Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Democrats' bill would bar Guantanamo transfers to U.S. (Associated Press, May 14, 2009)

A bill by Senate Democrats would fund the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but it would block the transfer of any of the detainees to the United States.

The move is aimed at sidestepping a political minefield that President Obama has confronted in his promise to close the military prison during his first year in office. Lawmakers of both parties have bristled at the notion of bringing Guantanamo terrorism suspects to detention facilities in the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Sex-based abortions (Washington Times, 5/14/09))

Swedish women will be permitted to abort their children based on the sex of the fetus, according to a ruling by Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare.

The ruling was spurred by a request from Kai Wedenberg, head of the clinic where a woman twice requested, and received, an abortion based on sex.

Mr. Wedenberg asked for clarification from health officials after a woman, who already had two girls, requested amniocentesis and to be told the sex of her unborn child. She found out she was pregnant with another girl and asked for an abortion six days later.

The woman then became pregnant again, returned to the clinic and asked for another amniocentesis, which was not performed. Later, at her ultrasound, she asked the nurse to reveal the sex of her fetus, which was a girl. After learning this, the mother requested an abortion later that day and received it later that week.

...I think we can all agree that we can never have too many Swedish babes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Free trade as a stimulus strategy (Kim R. Holmes, May 14, 2009, Washington Times)

Most people agree that, when it comes to economic recovery, more economic activity is better than less. When companies buy and sell more goods and services, we get more jobs and growth.

Yet, for some reason, this obvious fact eludes those who want to constrain America's access to overseas markets. At a time when government is spending hundreds of billions of dollars it doesn't have on doubtful "stimulus" initiatives, you've got to wonder why some politicians continue to argue against free trade agreements. After all, these pacts have a proven track record. Trade has created millions of jobs and is responsible for almost a third of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP).

Three free trade agreements (FTA) are currently in play in Washington. Two of them - pacts with Colombia and South Korea - are in trouble due to union opposition. Despite claiming to be in favor of free trade, the Obama administration has not been willing to buck big labor and push for these deals. The third pending agreement, with Panama, has brighter prospects. President Obama seems willing to push Congress on this one because it has the least opposition from Democrats and unions, and also because it is an economic "no-brainer."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Rhubarbarians, unite: It's time to stalk the ruby red (or green) stems (Patricia Lowry, 5/14/09, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

When I was growing up, we didn't have room for much more than tomatoes and peppers in our little city back yard. But we always had rhubarb, divided from plants that grew at my aunt and uncle's country place near Slippery Rock.

My dad, who grew up eating it from the back yard of his friend's house across Shadyside's Myrtle Way in the 1930s, had to have his rhubarb each spring. Still does.

Mostly my parents stewed it; we spooned it, hot or cold, stringy and sweet-tart, onto toast and vanilla ice cream. My mother made pies, too.

So we were initiated early into the tribe. Not everyone likes rhubarb, you know. Some people pucker up just thinking about it, and not in a good way.

The rhubarb patch was where our deck is now, and I never replaced it. But I know where to forage for it, and as soon as it becomes available and affordable at the grocery store or farmers market, I'm all over it.

That time is now. It's rhubarb season.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/14/09)
For the filling

* 2 cups thickly sliced hulled fresh strawberries
* 2 cups coarsely chopped rhubarb (no leaves!)
* 1/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1 tablespoon cornstarch
* 2 teaspoons tapioca
For the topping
* 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 3/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 cup coarsely chopped whole almonds with skins
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut up

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set out a 9- to 91/2-inch deep-dish pie plate.

For filling: Mix strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch, tapioca and 2 tablespoons water in heavy medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until juices thicken, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour into pie plate.

For topping: Put flour, sugar, almonds and butter in medium bowl and rub with fingers until butter is thoroughly blended. Mixture will be lumpy. Sprinkle evenly over fruit. Put pie plate on a baking sheet to catch any spillovers.

Bake until topping is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


W.H. challenges court orders on Gitmo (JOSH GERSTEIN, 5/14/09, Politico)

The Obama administration is trying to overturn court orders requiring that lawyers for Guantanamo detainees receive full access to information being used by a presidential task force charged with reviewing prisoner detention at the base in Cuba.

In court filings late Tuesday and early Wednesday, at least six government officials, including Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta, urged reversal of the orders. The officials argued that the task force, set up by President Barack Obama in January, would effectively have to suspend work to fulfill the information requests, which could aid about 200 detainees pressing habeas corpus cases seeking release.

Existing court orders insisting that task force lawyers search for exculpatory information about detainees “could grind the progress of the reviews to a virtual halt,” Justice Department attorneys James Gilligan and Terry Henry wrote in a brief filed just before midnight Tuesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


REVIEW: of Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr. by Burt Boyar (Doug Black, Cool Hunting)

Acting like a reverse paparazzo, Sammy Davis Jr. used his position within the Hollywood elite to collect images for his own personal viewing. Rarely without a camera at hand, Davis snapped pictures of his famous friends, as well scenes from his private life. Perhaps more significantly, he also captured huge historical moments from his role endorsing political campaigns and as a key figure in the Civil Rights movement. A portion of his extensive collection was released as "Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.," published in 2007 under the Regan imprint. Though not new, the book's images have an offhanded charm and palpable intimacy that make it a must-have for anyone interested in mid-century America.

-AUDIO: 'Photo by Sammy Davis,' Scenes in Black and White (News & Notes, May 3, 2007, NPR)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Q&A: Nicholas Mosley (Jonathan Derbyshire, 14 May 2009, New Statesman)

[A]dam, the protagonist in your new novel God’s Hazard, is obsessed by the problem of free will and tries to reimagine the God of the Old Testament.

That’s right. I use Adam to put over some questions of my own. It struck me many years ago how extraordinarily unpleasant we make all our gods. And even after I became a practising Christian after the Second World War, I remained obsessed with the question why the Old Testament God is so odious – in fact, he’s one of the most unpleasant characters in fiction. I don’t feel much personal relationship with God the Father, an old man up in the sky. And in a world that is dominated by this vengeful father, free will doesn’t make much sense. But I wanted to see how the notion does make sense.

Did you conceive your memoir Paradoxes of Peace as an accompaniment to the novel? It is a very powerful record of your coming to religious faith.

I did. I went to and fro between the two books as I was writing them. As a young man, I had some rather conventional misgivings about Christianity – especially the Atonement. How did God the Father think he could make things better by getting his son to suffer the worst kind of evil? I’ve always found that hard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


The Straw Men of Social Security (Andrew G. Biggs, May 14, 2009, The American)

[W]hy should we fix Social Security today? Three reasons:

First, fairness: Social Security’s treatment of different generations of Americans is declining, such that those who retire in the near future will receive much higher benefits relative to their taxes than those who retire later. For instance, this study from the Social Security Administration shows that a typical couple retiring today will receive around a 2.3 percent rate of return from Social Security, while a typical couple retiring in 2050 will receive around a 1.7 percent return. Compounded over a full career of paying taxes, these differences amount to a lot. By acting today, we can lower returns a little for near-retirees so we do not need to hit future retirees as hard.

Second, economic efficiency: The necessary tax increases or benefit cuts I cited above are if we act today—and only if we act today. If we wait, the necessary changes will be larger. If we waited until the system became insolvent in 2037, we would need to increase taxes by around 3.9 percentage points, with further increases to come. It is a standard finding in economics that the “deadweight loss” of a tax rises with the square of the tax rate. Whatever we are going to do, it hurts the economy less if we do a little to every generation rather than hit certain generations a lot harder.

Third, uncertainty: People planning for retirement know that something will happen to Social Security, but they do not know what, when, or to whom. The sooner we act, the sooner people can adjust their plans to account for those changes.

Because of rising life expectancy generations ought not be treated the same. Retirement age needs to be raised as drastically as expectancy has gone up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Iran to US: 'It's a culture thing' (Shahir Shahidsaless , 5/15/09, Asia Times)

The term "cultural aggression", which is broadly and frequently used by the Iranian government, especially the commanders of the Sepah (the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Council) and Basij (gigantic part-time militia organization controlled by Sepah), is a reference to cultural infiltration by the West in general and the United States in particular, with the goal of ruining Islamic values in Iranian society.

Although parts of the Iranian government, even at the highest ranks (for example Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Assembly of Exports and head of the Expediency Discernment Council) is favorable to opening a dialogue with the US. They are also hesitant and appear perplexed by one troubling question: would establishing relations with the US provide an opportunity to the pro-Western elements - as they are called by the government - to rise and possibly challenge their authority?

American culture has benefited from an unprecedented level of capital and technology during the globalization process. Part of this culture, such as pop and rock music, Hollywood and clothing brands such as Gap, is seeping into Iranian society. Numerous Persian satellite television stations broadcast Hollywood movies, fashion and relations between young men and women, which are symbols of moral corruption in the eyes of the ruling power and its traditional religious supporters. But they are seen as symbols of freedom and modernity in the minds of a sizable and undeniable section of urban Iranian society.

One of the main tasks of Sepah is to combat "organized cultural aggression" and "soft subversion". These concepts refer to the attack and corruption of Islamic values within society in an organized and deliberate manner. In late March, in its biggest crackdown Sepah arrested a network of 26 men and women who were involved in producing pornographic movies and stories mocking Islamic beliefs. One of the seized porn sites had 300,000 registered Iranian users, and some porn clips were downloaded six million times, according to Sepah.

The government of Iran is convinced that pursuant to a new plan, the US is now plotting to corrupt Iran's very young population. According to the Woodrow Wilson Center, 70% of the population is under the age of 30. In the eyes of the Iranian authorities, this gradual process of cultural imposition and domination has replaced the doctrine of militarily force and regime change.

We don't plan the corruption. It's a function of communications and superior culture.

May 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


Illiberal Arguments: a review of The Tyranny of Liberalism by James Kalb. (William English, 05/13/09, First Principles)

“Liberalism,” according to Kalb is based on the ultimate goals of freedom and equality, which may sound good in the abstract, but become pernicious because their total achievement requires the destruction of other substantial goods. Moreover, the ideal of equality within liberalism masks a serious sleight of hand. Ostensibly, equality ought to entail treating everyone equally. That is, it should mean being tolerant of all and neutral between our specific claims. But, of course, this notion of neutrality can’t go all the way down. Your freedom comes to into conflict with my freedom, and government needs to draw a line somewhere to demarcate legitimate boundaries. All laws constrain some parties, and the idea that government can remain neutral with regard to all of our particular claims is chimera. At the end of the day all governments must make decisions about the hierarchy of goods that will be expressed in legal protections and administrative decisions.

So, liberalism, in Kalb’s view, wreaks havoc in two ways. First, it promotes a vision of itself as substantially neutral, with the implication that it is illegitimate for citizens to publicly advocate (and in some cases even privately act) on behalf of their own particular ethical convictions. Thus it has the effect of robbing our communal life of recourse to our deepest sources of meaning. Second, liberalism in fact holds and advances its own ethical system, based on what Kalb calls the “equal satisfaction of preferences”—a kind of vulgar, hedonistic utilitarianism that is dismissive of many “traditional” boundaries. Kalb thinks liberalism’s intrinsic values are ultimately nihilistic and destructive of “higher” human goods, and that these liberal values find increasingly expression in and power through government bureaucracies, judicial elites, and technological rationality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 PM


Life On Venus: Europe’s Last Man (Adam Kirsch, Spring 2009, World Affairs Journal)

The Elementary Particles (1998) is the book that comes closest to confirming Nietzsche’s vision of the Last Man. Indeed, the novel opens with a portentous preface, written as though in the distant future, informing us that the character we are about to meet—Michel Djerzinski, “a first-rate biologist and a serious candidate for the Nobel Prize,” who is also an emotionally autistic, sexually stunted wreck of a human being—literally brought about the end of the human race in the late twentieth century. For his discoveries in genetics allowed humanity to replace itself with a new species that is not dependent on sexual reproduction, and is therefore free from suffering and death. Houellebecq gives us a glimpse of that future felicity in a poem: “We live today under a new world order . . . / What men considered a dream, perfect but remote, / We take for granted as the simplest of things.”

The novel, then, is Houellebecq’s portrait of a society—contemporary European society, French division—so incurably miserable that it deserves, and needs, to be made extinct. Yet the ironic message of The Elementary Particles is that it is precisely the plenty and safety of French society that make it intolerable to inhabit. All the qualities that European social democracy prides itself on—its sexual liberation, political tolerance, and economic equality, free health care and the long paid vacations—become instruments of torture to Michel and his half brother, Bruno, the novel’s unlovable heroes.

They are victims of the zeitgeist—of “Western Europe, in the latter half of the twentieth century,” which Houellebecq describes in the novel’s very first lines as “an age that was miserable and troubled,” when “the relationships between . . . contemporaries were at best indifferent and more often cruel.” The most destructive agent of this indifference is Bruno and Michel’s mother, Janine, who Houellebecq describes as an early adapter of the hedonistic, materialistic lifestyle that would become routine after the 1960s and the sexual revolution. (This is the character that prompted Houellebecq’s mother—who shares Janine’s last name—to publicly disown him.) Concerned only with her own pleasure, Janine has no interest in mothering her children, literally abandoning the infant Michel in a pile of his own excrement. No wonder he grows up to be incapable of love or sexual connection; or that Bruno, similarly maltreated, becomes a loathsome pervert, obsessed with pornography and public masturbation, prevented only by his own cowardice from becoming a child molester.

Bruno and Michel are the prime exhibits in Houellebecq’s programmatic indictment of modern European sexual mores. Starting in the 1960s, he writes, “a ‘youth culture’ based principally on sex and violence” began to drive out the ancient Judeo-Christian culture that valued monogamy, mutual devotion, and self-restraint. The innovative element in Houellebecq’s argument is to link this new hedonism with the triumph of the European welfare state. Freed from all concern about politics and economics, men and women had nothing to occupy themselves with but the pursuit of sensual gratification. But this pursuit quickly developed into a Hobbesian war of all against all, in which the young and attractive are the objects of worship while the ugly and shy, like Bruno, are utterly despised. “Of all worldly goods,” Bruno rages, “youth is clearly the most precious, and today we don’t believe in anything but worldly goods.”

“It is interesting to note,” Houellebecq writes in one of many passages of armchair sociology, “that the ‘sexual revolution’ was sometimes portrayed as a communal utopia, whereas in fact it was simply another stage in the historical rise of individualism. As the lovely world ‘household’ suggests, the couple and the family would be the last bastion of primitive communism in liberal society. The sexual revolution was to destroy these intermediary communities, the last to separate the individual from the market. The destruction continues to this day.” No wonder that “in the last years of Western civilization,” the “general mood [was] depression bordering on masochism.”

Houellebecq’s powerful nostalgia for the “household,” for genuine love and romance instead of sexual adventure, naturally leads him to an extremely sentimental view of women. Michel and Bruno each encounter a saintly, self-sacrificing woman who longs to heal their psychological trauma. But both of them are unable to return the love they are offered, so profoundly have they been ruined by their mother and the age she represents. By the novel’s end, Bruno has gone into an insane asylum and Michel has withdrawn to a hermit-like existence in Galway, Ireland, where he works out the scientific discoveries that will lead to the abolition of mankind. It is not a coincidence that Galway is the westernmost city in Europe, the point where the West culminates and disappears. Nor is Houellebecq’s reader surprised to learn that, in the future, humans greet their own extinction with “meekness, resignation, perhaps even secret relief.” The leisure-world that is contemporary Europe, Houellebecq argues, is a trial that human beings cannot bear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 PM


Obama Pushes Broad Rules for Oversight of Derivatives (STEPHEN LABATON and JACKIE CALMES, 5/13/09, NY Times)

The administration is seeking the repeal of major portions of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, a law adopted in December 2000 that made sure that derivative instruments would remain largely unregulated.

The law came about after heavy lobbying from Wall Street and the financial industry, and was pushed hard by Democrats and Republicans alike. It was endorsed at the time by the Treasury secretary, Lawrence H. Summers, who is now President Obama’s top economic adviser.

At the time, the derivatives market was relatively small. But it soon exploded, and the face value of all derivatives contracts — a measure that counts the value of a derivative’s underlying assets — outstanding at the end of last year totaled more than $680 trillion, according to the Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland. The market for credit default swaps — a form of insurance that protects debtholders against default — stood around $38 trillion, according to the international swaps group. That represents the total amount of insurance that has been written on various kinds of debt, but the amount that would have to be paid out if the debt went into default is considerably less.

As the credit crisis has unfolded, trading in credit default swaps has cooled, market participants said. The collapse of A.I.G. took a huge player out of the market and banks, hobbled by loan losses, have curbed their activities in the market. Still, derivatives trading desks have been one of the few profit centers at major banks recently.

The biggest banks and brokerage firms like JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, as well as major insurers, are all major players in derivatives.

Derivatives are hard to value. They are virtually hidden from investors, analysts and regulators, even though they are one of Wall Street’s biggest profit engines. They don’t trade openly on public exchanges, and financial services firms disclose few details about them. The new rules are meant to change most, but not all, of that opacity.

Used properly, they can reduce or transfer risk, limit the damage from market uncertainty, and make global trade easier. Airlines, food companies, insurers, exporters and many other companies use derivatives to protect themselves from sudden and unpredictable changes in financial markets like interest rate or currency movements. Used poorly, derivatives can backfire and spread risk rather than contain it.

The administration plan would not require that custom-made derivative instruments — those with unique characteristics negotiated between companies — be traded on exchanges or through clearinghouses, though standardized ones would. If approved, the plan would require the development of timely reports of trades, similar to the system now used for corporate bonds.

Used properly the derivatives need not be so opaque. The ever increasing complexity--so complex that even the guys designing them couldn't explain them to the guys selling them, nevermind the ones buying them--was apparently driven more by the desire to make them unique and thus more easily sold than by any desire to make them perform their core functions better. Since, as a society, we have a vested interest in having the derivatives function but none in having them be exotic, why not just require that the precise formula by which they were derived be public information and not subject to copyright protection?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Republican lawmakers back carbon tax (yes, that's right) (James Rosen, 5/13/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

Reps. Bob Inglis of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona on Wednesday became the first Republican lawmakers to introduce legislation imposing a carbon tax on producers and distributors of fossil fuels.

The bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, would set a tax of $15 a ton of carbon dioxide produced in its first year in effect, with the tax rising to $100 a ton over three decades.

"The first axiom of economics is if you want less of something, you tax it," said Flake, a leading fiscal conservative, in an interview. "Obviously, we want less carbon, so we tax it."

Inglis noted that several prominent conservatives support a direct carbon tax: Arthur Laffer, a former economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan, and Gregory Mankiw, who advised President George W. Bush and is now a Harvard University economics professor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


The Luxury City vs. the Middle Class (Joel Kotkin, May 13, 2009 , The American)

A demographic analysis conducted by my colleagues at the Praxis Strategy Group over the past decade found that New York and other top cities—including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston—have been suffering the largest net out-migration of residents of virtually all places in the country, albeit the pattern has slowed with the recession.

It’s astonishing that, even with the many improvements over the past decade in New York, for example, more residents left its five boroughs for other locales in 2006 than in 1993, when the city was in demonstrably far worse shape. In 2006, the city had a net loss of 153,828 residents through domestic out-migration, compared to a decline of 141,047 in 1993, with every borough except Brooklyn experiencing a higher number of out-migrants in 2006.

Since the 1990s virtually all the gains made in the New York economy have accrued to the highest income earners. Overall, New York has the smallest share of middle-income families in the nation, according to a recent Brookings Institution study; its proportion of middle-income neighborhoods was smaller than any metropolitan area, except for Los Angeles.

Much the same pattern can be seen in what has become widely touted as America’s “model city,” President Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago. The city has also experienced a rapid loss of its largely white middle class at a rate roughly 40 percent faster than the rest of the country.

Although there has been a considerable gentrification in some pockets around Lake Michigan, Chicago remains America’s most segregated big city. In contrast to the president’s well-integrated cadre of upper-class African Americans, Chicago’s black population remains among the poorest, and most isolated, of any ethnic population in America.

And like other American cities, Chicago now has a growing glut of “luxury” condos, a pattern that became evident as early as 2006 and has now, as Chicago magazine put it, “stalled” as a result of a “perfect storm” of toughened mortgage standards, overbuilding, job losses, and rising crime. [...]

In doing scores of interviews recently for a report on New York’s middle class, my coauthor Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future and I ran into many people who were considering moving out of the city or had friends who had recently left. This seems particularly true in the remaining middle-class enclaves in the outer boroughs.

“Almost all the friends I grew up with have moved to Mahopac or Yorktown [in the Hudson Valley],” says Jimmy Vacca, a member of the City Council who represents communities in the Northeast Bronx such as Throgs Neck and Pelham Parkway. “There’s a flight out of many middle-class people because of the schools. A couple gets married and by the time their children gets to age five, they move.”

Costs, particularly relating to child-raising, are killing the urban middle class. Urban residents generally pay higher taxes and more for utilities, insurance, trash, and sewer than those living elsewhere. Manhattan is by far the most expensive urban area in the United States, with an average of cost of living that is more than twice as much as the national average; San Francisco, another city that has seen large-scale middle-class flight ranks second. The Washington, D.C. area, Los Angeles, and Boston also suffer extremely high living costs.

These costs are most onerous on the middle class, particularly those with children. This can be seen in the rapidly declining numbers of students in most urban school districts, including such hyped success stories as Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Washington, and San Francisco. Over the past seven years, for example, Chicago’s school system, which was run by new Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has declined by 41,000 students.

America’s core cities—including the borough of Manhattan in New York—boast among the lowest percentage of children under 17 in the nation. Although Manhattan had a much discussed “baby boomlet” (the borough’s number of toddlers under the age of 4 grew 26 percent between 2000 and 2004), once children over 5 are taken into account, Manhattan’s under-age population is well under the national average. This indicates there may be a process of exhaustion—both mental and financial—as the costs of raising children drain family resources.

The real issue for the urban middle class is not having babies but being able to sustain their families as the children age and as families expand. One reason: many middle class urbanites spend tens of thousands of dollars a year in additional expenses that those in other cities as well as surrounding suburbs often avoid. For instance, since most middle-class families in big cities today need to have two working parents just to get by, child care becomes a necessity for those without grandparents or other relatives to look after young children. In places like Chicago, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles these costs typically run from $13,000 to $25,000 per child annually.

Later many of these same families, if they choose to stay, must then contemplate shelling out considerable sums to send their children to private schools, particularly after the elementary level. This can add from a few thousand dollars to $30,000 a year to their annual costs—and with no tax benefit. [...]

The University of Chicago’s Terry Nichols, one of the most articulate advocates for this new urban pattern, says cities should focus not so much as being vehicles for class mobility, but as an “entertainment machine” for the privileged. For these elite residents, the lures are not economic opportunity, but rather “bicycle paths, beaches and softball fields,” and “up-to-the-date consumption opportunities in the hip restaurants, bars, shops, and boutiques abundant in restructured urban neighborhoods.”

In this formulation cities become the domicile primarily of the young, the rich (and their servants), as well as those members of the underclass who persist in hanging around. What emerges, in the end, is a city largely without children, particularly of school-age, and with a diminishing middle class. Ironically, these are places that, despite celebrating diversity, actually could end up as hip, dense versions of the most constipated suburb imaginable.

The future of cities is this Magic Kingdom model. You take mass transportation into the park, where vehicles are prohibited, and though it employs many people they leave the grounds at night.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


How Torture Helped Win WWII: All the fretting over waterboarding obscures a crucial truth: "enhanced interrogation techniques" have been used in every war ever fought—and have saved lives by the thousands. (Andrew Roberts, 5/13/09, Daily Beast)

A slight air of unreality has permeated the debate over “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the war against terror, with historians embarrassedly studying their toecaps over the issue. For the truth is that there has not been a war in history in which torture has not been employed in some form or another, and sometimes to excellent effect. When troops need information about enemy capabilities and intentions—and they usually need it fast—moral and ethical conventions (especially the one signed in Geneva in 1929) have repeatedly been ignored in the bid to save lives.

In the conflict generally regarded today the most ethical in history, World War II, enhanced interrogation techniques were regularly used by the Allies, and senior politicians knew it perfectly well, just as we now discover that Nancy Pelosi did in the early stages of the war against terror. The very success of the D-Day landings themselves can largely be put down to the enhanced interrogation techniques that were visited upon several of the 19 Nazi agents who were infiltrated into Great Britain and “turned” by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) between 1939 and 1945. Operation Fortitude—the deception plan that fooled the Germans into stationing 450,000 Wehrmacht troops 130 miles north of the Normandy beaches—entirely depended upon German intelligence (the Abwehr) believing that the real attack was going to take place at the Pas de Calais instead. The reason that Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, was utterly convinced of this, was because every single one of his 19 agents, who he did not know had been turned, told him so.

If anyone believes that SIS persuaded each of these 19 hard-bitten Nazi spies to fall in with Operation Fortitude by merely offering them tea, biscuits, and lectures in democracy, they’re being profoundly naïve. An SIS secret house located in Ham Common near Richmond on the outskirts of London was the location where the will of those agents was broken, using advanced interrogation techniques that reportedly started with sleep deprivation but went on to gross mental and physical abuse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


Obama U-turn on abuse photographs (BBC, 5/13/09)

The US government had previously said it would not fight a court ruling ordering the release of the pictures.

Mr Obama now believes the release of the photos would make the job of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan more difficult, White House officials said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Pakistan gets a say in drone attacks on militants: Islamabad and the U.S. military team up to carry out Predator attacks on the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The program marks broad new roles for both. (Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller, May 13, 2009, LA Times)

The U.S. military has launched a program of armed Predator drone missions against militants in Pakistan that for the first time gives Pakistani officers significant control over routes, targets and decisions to fire weapons, U.S. officials said.

The joint effort is aimed at getting the government in Islamabad, which has bitterly protested Predator strikes, more directly engaged in one of the most successful elements of the battle against Islamist insurgents.

It also marks a broad new role for the U.S. military in hunting the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies, who pose a growing threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. For years, that task has been the domain of the CIA, which has flown its own Predator missions over Pakistan.

Under the new partnership, a separate fleet of U.S. drones operated by the Defense Department will be free for the first time to venture beyond the Afghan border under the direction of Pakistani military officials, who are working alongside American counterparts at a command center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Pesto (Contra Costa Times, 5/13/09)

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed

¼ cup walnuts

2 tablespoons pine nuts

½ garlic clove

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 tablespoon butter, softened

1. In a blender or a food processor, combine the olive oil, walnuts, pine nuts, garlic, and salt. Pulse or blend until smooth. Add the basil in small handfuls, pulsing to combine. When all of the basil has been incorporated, transfer the mixture to a bowl.

2. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and softened butter, mixing well to combine. The olive oil should form a 1-inch layer above the pesto when it settles. If this is not the case, add more olive oil as necessary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


All about aebleskivers: The traditional Danish pastry is a snap to make, once the right pan and technique are in hand. (Reinhard Kargl and Yuko Kitazawa, May 13, 2009, LA Times)

Aebleskivers are a type of pancake cooked in a special stove-top pan with half-spherical molds. The center is soft and fluffy, almost creamy. The crust is crisp and browned. In Denmark, aebleskivers are traditionally plated in threes, dusted with powdered sugar, topped or filled with tart jams of Nordic berries and served with mellow Scandinavian coffee.

There, aebleskivers (pronounced "able-skEEvers") have typically not been served in restaurants or for breakfast, but rather at the family table for afternoon coffee breaks. On long and cold Nordic winter evenings, they are served with glögg. In the wintertime, aebleskivers are often sold by street vendors. A symbol of community and hospitality, they are very popular at Scandinavian charity and open-air events.

Grandmother's aebleskivers: adapted from a recipe by Arne Hansen (LA TImes, May 13, 2009)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon lukewarm milk

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

3 eggs, at room temperature

2 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons butter, melted, plus additional for buttering the pan

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Juice and zest of one-half lemon

1 3/4 cups flour

Powdered sugar

Tart berry jam

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the warm milk and yeast; set aside until the mixture begins to bubble, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the eggs and sugar until combined, then add the butter, vanilla, lemon juice and zest. Finally, add the flour and whisk until the batter is smooth.

2. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the batter is at least doubled in size, about 30 minutes. The batter will be thick and slightly sticky.

3. Heat the aebleskiver pan over medium heat, then brush each mold lightly with melted butter. When the butter just begins to brown, pour the batter so each mold is filled almost to the rim. (Start with the middle mold as it receives the least amount of heat and remember the sequence in which you fill each mold in the pan, as the aebleskivers will need to be turned in that order.)

4. When a solid crust has formed on the bottom of each mold, reduce the heat slightly and use a skewer to loosen and turn each aebleskiver by one-third. As the crust continues to form, turn each by one-third again. Finally, turn each mold again so the entire crust is formed. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the interior of each aebleskiver is cooked through. A toothpick or skewer inserted should come out clean.

5. Use a skewer to remove the aebleskivers from the pan. Plate in arrangements of three; sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with tart berry jam. Serve immediately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Green tea is more than a way of life in South Korea: The farming, harvesting and drinking of the beverage dates back about 1,500 years. (Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, May 13, 2009, LA Times)

Seasonal changes are subtle in Los Angeles. Having lived here most of my life, I appreciate the delicate, small signs that signal a new season. Spring rains bring fluffy white clouds that gather above our surrounding mountains. Large bunches of basil make their way into our farmers markets in the summer. The autumn brings cooler nights. And the Southern California winter yields fragrant lemons and tangerines, ripe for the picking.

Although I love the mild climate of my adopted Southland, the cool breezes and early morning fog this time of year sometimes find me reaching for a cup of green tea and longing for the verdant hills of my birth country, South Korea.

In early spring, the first leaves from the tea plant poke their heads into the sunshine of Boseong, a tiny town in the southern part of the country known for its tea fields. The leaves are harvested from early April through the first part of September, but these earliest leaves are the most prized. Handpicked by the local women who live in the South Jeolla Province, they're sold for exorbitant prices at fancy tea shops throughout the country.

Tea drinking has been part of Korean culture since at least the 7th century. There are historical documents that describe Emperor Suro (he founded the Gaya Kingdom, during Korea's Three Kingdom Period) and Queen Seondeok (the first female ruler of the neighboring Silla Kingdom) enjoying cups of green tea. The seeds most likely traveled to the peninsula in the luggage of monks from China's Yunnan province, who imported Buddhism along with the precious plants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


A Driving Desire To Lose (Michael Gerson, May 13, 2009, Washington Post)

Of the two main American political parties, Republicans are now clearly distinguished by their driving desire to lose. Every faction seems determined to rule the kingdom of irrelevance.

Witness the reaction to the National Council for a New America -- an anodyne "listening tour" by Republican officials recently kicked off at a pizza parlor in Northern Virginia. Social conservatives attacked this forum on education and the economy for the offense of not being a forum on abortion and the traditional family. Neo-Reaganites searched the transcript for nonexistent slights: How dare former Florida governor Jeb Bush criticize "nostalgia" for the "good old days"? Why didn't he just spit on Ronald Reagan's grave? Other conservatives criticized the very idea of a listening tour, asking, "What's to hear?"

During a recent conversation, Bush described himself as "dumbfounded by the reaction." He added: "I don't think listening is a weakness. People are yearning to be heard. Perhaps we should begin with a little humility."

There is much for Republicans to be humble about. The party, says Bush, faces "dramatically changing demographics, especially Hispanics in swing states," the "alienation of young voters" and an unprecedented drop in support among college graduates.

The Right heard Reagan say that, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." But they're not just stuck in time--imagining that the crises of the '70s persist--they also ignore what he actually did as president: massive growth of government and deficits, propping up Second Way entitlements, and immigration amnesty. They aren't Reaganites and what they're nostalgic for never happened. Theirs is the politics of delusion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


The Supreme Court’s Hostility to the Voting Rights Act (ADAM COHEN, 5/13/09, NY Times)

It is hard to imagine an area in which Congress has more express constitutional authority to act than in protecting the right of minorities to vote.

When the Civil War ended and the hard work began in creating a nation with a single standard of citizenship, the 14th Amendment was adopted to make it clear that blacks had equal rights. The 15th Amendment said the right to vote could not be denied or abridged on account of race.

Both amendments gave Congress the “power to enforce” them “by appropriate legislation.” [...]

There is a lot of talk in conservative circles about judicial modesty and deferring to the political branches. That view of judging often overlooks the important role that courts have in protecting people’s rights. But if there was ever a time to defer, it is when Congress is protecting voting rights in the exact way the Constitution directs it to.

...those cases "only" invent new "rights" out of thin air. They don't directly contradict express provisions of the Constitution the way the Court's awful voting rights rulings do. To read "one man, one vote" into a document that establishes a regime featuring both the Senate and the Electoral College is an attack on the constitutional order itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Crisis of confidence in US-Israel ties (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 5/14/09, Asia Times)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington on May 18 and, by all indications, for the first time in many decades his White House trip coincides with a growing crisis of confidence in relations between the United States and Israel.

Spoiled by eight years of unconditional support by the previous administration of George W Bush, who was hailed in Israel as the "staunchest pro-Israel US president" in Israel's 60-year history, the Israeli government must now face the reality that the US can no longer afford to support its policies against the Palestinians without suffering serious backlashes against its interests in the Middle East.

...when has the US ever had a better 8 years in the Middle East than W's? Even if you set aside the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan you still have things like Libya coming in from the Cold and Syria begging to be allowed to--though W wisely refused them--as well as favorable election results in Indonesia, Palestine and Pakistan and the establishment of a firm alliance with India on the Eastern Front.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Spinning Caesar's murder: Putting the ideology – and the people – back into our understanding of Roman political life (Mary Beard, 5/13/09, The Times Literary Supplement)

The watching senators, several hundred of them, were at first stunned by the attack. But, as soon as Brutus turned away from the body to address them, they regained their wits and took to their heels. In their flight from the Senate house, they must have almost bumped into the thousands of people who were just at that moment pouring out of a gladiatorial show in a nearby theatre. Hearing rumours of the murder, this crowd too panicked and ran home, shouting “Bolt the doors, bolt the doors”. Meanwhile Lepidus, a leading Caesarian loyalist, left the Forum to rally the troops stationed in the city, just missing the blood-stained assassins who turned up there to proclaim their success – closely followed by three loyal slaves carrying Caesar’s body home on a litter, with such difficulty (you really need four people to carry a litter) that his wounded arms trailed over the sides. It was two days before the Senate dared to meet again, and perhaps another two before Caesar’s body was cremated on a bonfire in the Forum.

Shakespeare’s version of the confusion, in Julius Caesar, is not far short of the truth – though the murder of Cinna the poet, which Shakespeare based on the Greek biographer Plutarch’s account of events, does not pass Wiseman’s scrutiny. For him, this ghastly case of mistaken identity (“I am Cinna the poet . . . not Cinna the conspirator”, as Shakespeare put it) comes from one of Livy’s additions to the story. Livy himself, he suggests, probably took it from some lost Roman drama on Cinna the conspirator and on the aftermath of the assassination more generally. Wiseman has become renowned for “reconstructing” lost plays to fill gaps or explain puzzles in the Roman historical narrative. Here he is typically ingenious, yet implausible. Intriguing as it would be to picture the ancient Romans themselves sitting down to watch a tragedy on Caesar’s death, or to trace a memorable scene in Shakespeare back to a scene in an ancient Roman play, there is no evidence whatsoever for any such thing – beyond the fact that some incidents recorded in the historical accounts of the period are so vivid that it is easy to imagine them in performance or in dramatic form. But “dramatic” writing exists both off and on stage. There is no strong reason here to suppose a direct reference back to the theatre at all.

What is certain is that, within a few months, the assassins managed to give this chaotic mess a positive spin, and to recast an almost bungled murder into a heroic blow against tyranny. In 43 or 42 BC, Brutus, who had negotiated an amnesty and safe passage out of Rome, issued what was to become the most famous Roman coin ever minted. It carried an image of two daggers, and between them a “cap of liberty” or pileus, the distinctive headgear worn by Roman slaves when they were freed. The message was obvious: through the violence of these daggers, the Roman people had gained their freedom. Underneath was written the date, “Ides of March”. Despite the political failure of the assassination in the medium term (Caesar’s nephew Octavian soon established exactly the kind of one-man rule that the assassins had wanted to destroy), the Ides of March became as resonant a date in ancient Rome as July 14 in modern France. In fact, when Galba, the elderly governor of Spain, led a coup in AD 68 against the corrupt, murderous and possibly mad Emperor Nero, he issued a copy of Brutus’ coin, showing the same two daggers and a “cap of liberty”, with the slogan “The Liberty of the Roman People Restored”. Caesar’s murder, in other words, offered a template for resistance to imperial tyranny more generally.

If you watch Ridley Scott's Gladiator for a second time--having gotten over your disgust at the historical distortions the first--you get a feel for how thoroughly the Anglosphere has incorporated that template from our Roman forbears.

May 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


'Why Can't a Girl Have a Penis?': and other major issues in educational research. (Charlotte Allen, 05/18/2009, Weekly Standard)

There he was, Bill Ayers himself, sitting in a Marriott conference room waiting to partake in a session of the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). The former Weatherman, "unapologetic" (his own word) fugitive from justice, and hot potato of the far left whose acquaintance with Barack Obama in Chicago during the 1990s and unrepentant boasting about Weatherman bombings at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol in the 1970s, prompted the Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to accuse Obama of "palling around with terrorists"--and the University of Nebraska to cancel a planned speech by Ayers last October. [...]

During my four days at the AERA meeting, I vainly searched for a single session whose panelists expressed some dissent from the baseline principle of progressive education: that teachers shouldn't directly impart information to their students but instead function as "guides," gently coaching them to "construct" their own knowledge about the subject at hand out of what they already know or don't know.

"Everyone here is a constructivist," Gabriel Reich, a genial education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told me at a reception sponsored by the John Dewey Society. (Dewey, a pragmatist philosopher who died in 1952 and taught for years at Columbia Teachers College, is regarded, alongside the Swiss cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget, as one of the fathers of progressive education.) Reich was trying to explain to me why it was presumptuous for professional mathematicians (and many parents) to be up in arms about the currently fashionable constructivist idea that instead of explaining to youngsters, say, how to do long division, teachers should let them count, subtract, make an educated guess, or otherwise figure out their own ways to solve division problems. College math professors may complain that young people taught the constructivist way arrive in their classrooms unable to perform the basic operations necessary to move on to calculus, but so what? "Why should we privilege professional mathematicians?" Reich asked. Long division, multiplication--"those are just algorithms, and a calculator can do them faster than we can. Most of the people here at this meeting don't think of themselves as good at math, and they don't think math is creative. [The constructivist approach] is a way to make math creative for many people who never thought of it that way."

There are no wrong answers in constructivist theory, so Reich, pursuing his mathematical theme, had a tough sell the next day when he presented a paper to his fellow educators arguing that the principles of constructivism should be modified a bit in teaching arithmetic. "I know some constructivists might take issue with what I'm saying," was his delicate way of telling his audience that when a student says two and two equals five, there might be a problem, if only with the child's non-constructivist parents who might have "right-answer" concerns. Reich was suggesting that the youngster's incorrect (or "incorrect") answer be "vetted by the class" to see if it "works." That way, he explained, "the students are learning to act as members of a mathematical community--they are becoming mathematicians."

It might strike an outsider to the world of ed schools as absurd to spend multiple minutes of precious math-class time having other students "vet" answers to problems that a teacher could explain quickly using simple objects. But a sense of disconnect between the pedagogic theory taught to ed-school students (nowadays called "preservice teachers") and their lived classroom experience after graduation pervaded the AERA sessions.

This was most evident at a session on "restorative justice," a trendy new technique for "classroom management" and dealing with teachers' biggest headache: disruptive and disobedient kids. Brenda Elizabeth Morrison, an education professor at Simon Fraser University, demonstrated "circle time," a restorative-justice alternative to expelling, suspending, or otherwise disciplining students who indulge in antisocial behavior. The aim was to create what Morrison called "communities of relationships instead of communities of rules."

In order to make us feel what circle time feels like (education theorists believe that future teachers should personally experience everything they teach their students), Morrison arranged the 15 of us in the room (four panelists plus an audience of 11) in a circle and had us pass around a small boulder on which was painted the all-caps word "HOPE." The mini-boulder was our "talking piece"--an "indigenous way of sharing stories and ideas," Morrison explained. Via the talking piece students are supposed to devise their own sanctions for "mistakes," as the restorative-justice people call actions like text-messaging in class, throwing objects, threatening the teacher, stealing, and other acts of malfeasance. Call me cynical, but I immediately thought of another good use for the talking piece besides restorative justice: dragging out circle time until it was too late for that history quiz I forgot to study for.

In a session titled "Cross-Cultural Conversations," Margaret Zidon and Jill Shafer of the University of North Dakota presented a research paper about exposing "Euro-American" students in a required adolescent-development class to "cultural diversity." Since nearly 100 percent of the population of North Dakota is of Scandinavian origin, the pair had a tough time finding culturally diverse people on campus to whom their students could be exposed. They eventually came up with a mostly Muslim group of foreign students studying English as a second language.

Like much research under ed-school auspices, Zidon's and Shafer's paper consisted mostly of a narrative description of their diversity experiment larded with citations to other scholarly papers. (The No Child Left Behind Act tried to set more rigorous standards for "scientifically based" educational research by requiring the retesting of observational data, but in 2008 AERA issued its own looser definition of "scientifically based" that gives broader license to anecdotal studies.)

Of course they oppose rigorous standards--they can't meet them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


What Makes Us Happy?: Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant. (Joshua Wolf Shenk, June 2009, Atlantic)

Having survived so many eras, the Grant Study is a palimpsest of the modern history of medicine and psychology, each respective era’s methods and preoccupations inscribed atop the preceding ones. In the 1930s, Arlie Bock’s work was influenced by the movement called “constitutional medicine,” which started as a holistic reaction to the minimalism engendered by Pasteur and germ theory. Charles McArthur, who picked up the study in the mid-1950s, was principally interested in matching people to suitable careers through psychological testing—perfect for the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit era. Vaillant’s use of statistical technique to justify psychoanalytic claims reflected the mode of late-1960s academic psychiatry, and his work caught on in the 1970s as part of a trend emphasizing adult development. Gail Sheehy’s 1976 best seller, Passages, drew on the Grant Study, as well as on the research of Daniel Levinson, who went on to publish The Seasons of a Man’s Life. (Sheehy was sued for alleged plagiarism by another academic, Roger Gould, who later published his own take on adult development in Transformations; Gould’s case was settled out of court.)

As Freud was displaced by biological psychiatry and cognitive psychology—and the massive data sets and double-blind trials that became the industry standard—Vaillant’s work risked obsolescence. But in the late 1990s, a tide called “positive psychology” came in, and lifted his boat. Driven by a savvy, brilliant psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania named Martin Seligman, the movement to create a scientific study of the good life has spread wildly through academia and popular culture (dozens of books, a cover story in Time, attention from Oprah, etc.).

Vaillant became a kind of godfather to the field, and a champion of its message that psychology can improve ordinary lives, not just treat disease. But in many ways, his role in the movement is as provocateur. Last October, I watched him give a lecture to Seligman’s graduate students on the power of positive emotions—awe, love, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, joy, hope, and trust (or faith). “The happiness books say, ‘Try happiness. You’ll like it a lot more than misery’—which is perfectly true,” he told them. But why, he asked, do people tell psychologists they’d cross the street to avoid someone who had given them a compliment the previous day?

In fact, Vaillant went on, positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they’re future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs—protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections—but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak.

To illustrate his point, he told a story about one of his “prize” Grant Study men, a doctor and well-loved husband. “On his 70th birthday,” Vaillant said, “when he retired from the faculty of medicine, his wife got hold of his patient list and secretly wrote to many of his longest-running patients, ‘Would you write a letter of appreciation?’ And back came 100 single-spaced, desperately loving letters—often with pictures attached. And she put them in a lovely presentation box covered with Thai silk, and gave it to him.” Eight years later, Vaillant interviewed the man, who proudly pulled the box down from his shelf. “George, I don’t know what you’re going to make of this,” the man said, as he began to cry, “but I’ve never read it.” “It’s very hard,” Vaillant said, “for most of us to tolerate being loved.”

The important stuff doesn't need to be verbalized.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM

NO REVOLUTION? (via Glenn Dryfoos):

From Blog Stuff

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Obama Endorses Health Industry's Goal to Rein In Costs: Despite Fanfare, Experts Say Plan Lacks Key Details (Ceci Connolly and David Hilzenrath, 5/12/09, Washington Post)

Though experts agree that the health system is inefficient, squeezing out savings has proven difficult. Yesterday's announcement, despite the fanfare, shed little light on precisely how the industry and government might achieve $2 trillion in savings over the next decade.

Despite the high-profile attention -- complete with a photo opportunity in the White House State Dining Room -- the industry offered just a handful of ways to achieve significant cost reductions, most of which were included in Obama's budget proposal.

"An unrivaled set of abstractions and posturing," said Alan Sager, a professor of health policy and management at Boston University. Among the specific money-saving items listed in a White House document are streamlining billing procedures, investing in preventive care and offering financial incentives to hospitals that reduce readmission rates.

"It would be difficult to wring 1.5 percentage points out of this list of proposals," said Robert D. Reischauer, former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Many experts say it is possible to reduce the rate of growth in medical spending, but that it could take years to accomplish and it could involve painful trade-offs for patients and providers.

"We know that there's a lot of wasteful spending, but it's incredibly hard to identify it and then to figure out ways to eliminate it without putting some administrator in the doctor's office," said Dana Goldman, director of health economics at the Rand Corp.

J. James Rohack, president-elect of the American Medical Association, however, is optimistic that even more inefficiency could be rung out of the health system.

He described the 1.5 percent reduction as "a floor" to what could be achieved. "We can slow that growth even more."

Lowering the rate of growth of health-care spending by 1.5 percentage points would leave the federal budget deficit in the hundreds of billions of dollars, based on government data, and would leave health-care spending growing faster than the overall economy, said G. William Hoagland, vice president for public policy at the insurer Cigna, which is a member of one of the trade groups that signed the letter.

Consumer advocates and some analysts also were doubtful the industry would implement such steep cost reductions on its own.

"How is it we'll know these promises are actually implemented?" asked DeAnn Friedholm, campaign director of health-care reform at Consumers Union.

Speaking of the industry groups represented at the White House yesterday, Princeton University health economist Uwe E. Reinhardt predicted that when specific cost-control proposals come up in Congress, "They'll be right at the witness table arguing against it."

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the President is just being cynical in pretending to believe this nonsense. After all, his entire campaign was based on promising the Left stuff he had no intention of delivering. He must recognize the same ploy coming from industry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


'Choice' neighborhoods to combat poverty cycle (Christina Bellantoni, May 12, 2009, Washington Times)

The Obama administration is proposing a new program that aims to transform the nation's poorest neighborhoods from head-to-toe: taking 10 urban centers with high concentrations of public housing and improving it while adding day care centers and even farmers markets, sidewalks and parks.

The $250 million proposal is a planning experiment and one of the most progressive proposals under consideration for the next budget year, building upon the Hope VI program, which over the past 17 years has torn down nearly 100,000 of the worst public housing projects in the country. [...]

Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond, Missouri Republican, said he would advocate for the new program because it expands on the successful Hope VI initiative he has championed since its creation in 1992.

...but that seems a lot of effort to keep folks trapped in public housing. Why not just use the money to buy homes and give them to people? The prices are right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


45 Centrist Democrats Protest Secrecy of Health Care Talks (ROBERT PEAR, 5/12/09, NY Times)

Forty-five House Democrats in the party’s moderate-to-conservative wing have protested the secretive process by which party leaders in their chamber are developing legislation to remake the health care system.

The lawmakers, members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said they were “increasingly troubled” by their exclusion from the bill-writing process.

They expressed their concerns in a letter delivered Monday to three House committee chairmen writing the bill, which House leaders hope to pass this summer.

Representative Mike Ross, an Arkansas Democrat who is chairman of the coalition’s health task force, said: “We don’t need a select group of members of Congress or staff members writing this legislation. We don’t want a briefing on the bill after it’s written. We want to help write it.”

Mr. Ross and eight other lawmakers who signed the letter are on the committees responsible for writing the legislation.

They have to run for re-election in the naturally Republican districts that elected them.

New Healthcare Poll Shows Voter Comfort Impedes Reform: They don't think it works well for others, but it does for them (Laura Carstensen, May 12, 2009, US News)

[T]he simple fact is this: The degree of national concern about the problems in the system has not been mirrored with equally thoughtful conversation about the spectrum of solutions or the trade-offs required. If the outcome is to be more successful than the last time the nation took on large-scale healthcare reform, it is time to talk in depth about solutions, not just problems. It's time to extend the discussion out of Washington and engage the public about the options for change and what they mean.

A nationwide survey to be released this week by the Stanford Center on Longevity shows that when the issues and tradeoffs are clearly articulated, the voting public understands the issues and raises legitimate concerns. Voters voice great concern about both access and cost. Democratic respondents are relatively more concerned than Republicans about universal access to healthcare; Republicans are relatively more concerned than Democrats about cost. But there is bipartisan concern about both. The voters are correct. To increase access without controlling costs would drive the system to collapse under its own weight. Indeed, it will do so even without greater access.

Why then is health reform so hard? The answers may lie in psychology more than economics. While 62 percent of Americans feel the healthcare system works well for them, 68 percent believe it does not work well for most Americans, a fairly consistent finding in surveys and polls of the past.

More revealing, however, is that while voters believe healthcare reform should be among the top priorities of lawmakers, the majority question whether the advantages of specific potential solutions justify the risks of changing the system. When people feel personally comfortable with the present system even though others are not, change for them is very risky.

The uninsured "crisis" is a media and political creation, not a reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


Immigration raid leaves damaging mark on Postville, Iowa: A year after the crackdown at a kosher meatpacking plant, the town is struggling with the bankrupt business, unemployment and high anxiety. (Antonio Olivo, May 12, 2009, LA Times)

Since federal helicopters raced over cornfields on May 12, 2008, en route to arresting 389 illegal workers at a sprawling kosher meatpacking plant, what was a center of commerce in northeastern Iowa teeters toward collapse as the plant sputters in bankruptcy, its managers face prison time and the town fights to stay solvent.

Since the landmark raid, an economic squeeze has destroyed several businesses. Postville's population has shrunk by nearly half, to about 1,800 residents, and townsfolk say the resulting anxiety -- felt from the deli to the schoolyard -- has been relentless.

"It's like you're in an oven and there's no place to go and there's no timer to get you out," said former Mayor Robert Penrod, who, overwhelmed, resigned earlier this year.

The aftermath of the Postville raid has rippled across the country, rupturing the nation's kosher meat supply and setting back Midwest livestock farmers who supplied the plant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Family Raises Wild Boar Piglet with Pet Dog (Der Spiegel, 5/12/09)

"When Manni was found he was very skinny," Wilhelm Karl Dahlhaus, a fireman by profession, told the mass circulation daily Bild. "But he's coming along nicely now."

The family also introduced the perky porker to their Jack Russell terrier Candy. It turned out to be a match made in hog heaven. According to Dahlhaus, "the pair play together every day. They play hide and seek, romp around in the hedges and bushes and just have a lot of fun together." Apparently Manni, who is now five weeks old, is even figuring out how to communicate with Candy -- he's learning to bark.

...than when spinning fairy tales about the reasons for altruism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Population, Economy, and God (Tom Bethell, May 2009, American Spectator)

SO WHAT IS CAUSING these dramatic declines? It’s under way in many countries outside Europe too. In Mexico, fertility has moved down close to replacement level—having been as high as six babies per woman in the 1970s.

Obviously economic growth has been the dominant factor but there are other considerations. Young couples hardly read Paul Ehrlich before deciding whether to have children, but scaremonger- ing authors have played a key role in creating our anti-natalist mood. Books warning of a (then) newfangled emergency, the “population explosion,” began appearing soon after World War II. Consider Road to Survival (1948), by William Vogt, or People! Challenge to Survival, by the same author. An anti-people fanatic before his time, Vogt was hypnotized by the Malthusian doctrine that population growth would overtake the food supply. That would lead to a war of all against all. Paul Ehrlich projected that the 1980s would see massive die-offs from starvation. (Obesity turned out to be the greater health threat.)

In that earlier period, the population controllers didn’t feel they had to mince words. Vogt wrote in 1960 that “tens of thousands of children born every year in the United States should, solely for their own sakes, never have seen the light of day.… There are hundreds of thousands of others, technically legitimate since their parents have engaged in some sort of marriage ritual, but whose birth is as much of a crime against them as it is against the bastards.”

At a time when the world population still had not reached 3 billion—today it is 6.7 billion—Vogt thought “drastic measures are inescapable.” He warned of “mounting population pressures in the Soviet Union,” where, by the century’s end, “there may be 300 million Russians.” It was time for them “to begin control of one of the most powerful causes of war—overpopulation.”

Note: the population of Russia by 2000 was 145 million; today it is 141 million. (Fertility rate: 1.4.) Population alarmists have long enjoyed the freedom to project their fears onto whatever cause is uppermost in the progressive mind. Then it was war. Today it is the environment, which, we are told, human beings are ruining. This will be shown to have been as false as the earlier warnings, but not before our environmental scares have done much harm to a fragile economy (at the rate things are going with Obama). All previous scares were based on faulty premises, and the latest one, based on “science,” will be no different.

I believe that two interacting factors shape population growth or decline: economic prosperity and belief in God. As to the first, there is no doubt that rising material prosperity discourages additional children. Fewer infants die; large families are no longer needed to support older parents. The welfare state—which only rich countries can afford—has greatly compounded this effect. When people believe that the government will take care of them, pay their pensions and treat their maladies, children do seem less essential.

A rise in prosperity also encourages people to think that they can dispense with God. Religion diminishes when wealth increases—that’s my theory. But with a twist that I shall come to. Wealth generates independence, including independence from God, or (if you will) Providence. God is gradually forgotten, then assumed not to exist. This will tend to drive childbearing down even further. Hedonism will become predominant. Remember, Jesus warned that it’s the rich, not the poor, who are at spiritual hazard.

The legalization of abortion reflected the decline of religious faith in America, but it must also have led others to conclude that God was no longer to be feared. That’s why I don’t quite believe Djerassi when he tries to disassociate the pill from fertility. The ready availability of the pill told society at large that sex without consequences was perfectly acceptable. Then, by degrees, that self-indulgent view became an anti-natalist worldview.

It became so ingrained that many people now think it obvious. Sex became a “free” pastime as long as it was restricted to consenting adults. Furthermore, anyone who questioned that premise risked denunciation as a bigot.

THE U.S. HAS BEEN SEEN AS the great stumbling block to any theory linking prosperity, lack of faith, and low fertility. Prosperity here has been high, and overall fertility is at replacement. But I am wary of this version of American exceptionalism. How much lower would U.S. fertility fall without the influx of Latino immigrants and their many offspring? Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at AEI, tells me that Mexican immigrants now actually have a higher fertility rate in the U.S. than they do in Mexico.

The anti-natalist and the nativist are perhaps the most unsavory marriage of political convenience going.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


The New Hampshire Motorcycle Fetish (Henry Gekonde, 5.12.09, American Spectator)

In New Hampshire -- this little triangle where winter chills linger well beyond April and summers are too short -- they begin to emerge at the first hint of the spring warmth to launch yet another season of burning gas and showing off their two-wheeled rumblers. They ride around, helmets optional, on these curiously built machines, setting off car alarms, rousing babies from their slumber and making your heart forget its rhythm.

The motorcycle fetish is big here (an annual weeklong spectacle known as Motorcycle Week, held in the central NH city of Laconia, is scheduled for mid-June). Strangers -- many donning elaborate outfits of leather and boot -- gather in the sun outside specialty shops that serve the needs of fetishists, or outside coffee shops, sipping their stimulants, chatting casually about their immaculately clean steel-and-rubber monsters. The rituals awe, puzzle, and disgust the non-rider. the machinations that go on at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to get out of call that weekend so you don't have to be one of the ones treating the buffoons when they hurt themselves by the score.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM

VAUBAN AUTOBAN (via Buttercup):

In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars (ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, 5/12/09, NY Times)

VAUBAN, Germany — Residents of this upscale community are suburban pioneers, going where few soccer moms or commuting executives have ever gone before: they have given up their cars.

Street parking, driveways and home garages are generally forbidden in this experimental new district on the outskirts of Freiburg, near the French and Swiss borders. Vauban’s streets are completely “car-free” — except the main thoroughfare, where the tram to downtown Freiburg runs, and a few streets on one edge of the community. Car ownership is allowed, but there are only two places to park — large garages at the edge of the development, where a car-owner buys a space, for $40,000, along with a home.

As a result, 70 percent of Vauban’s families do not own cars, and 57 percent sold a car to move here. “When I had a car I was always tense. I’m much happier this way,” said Heidrun Walter, a media trainer and mother of two, as she walked verdant streets where the swish of bicycles and the chatter of wandering children drown out the occasional distant motor.

It's even easier to do in cities and the unhappiness there is much worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Sources: Records had key evidence (Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn, 5/11/09,

The Ramirez saga, as described by three sources with direct knowledge of the case, began to play out in spring training when the 36-year-old outfielder provided a urine sample for testing.

The test came back showing elevated levels of testosterone. Every individual naturally produces testosterone and a substance called epitestosterone, typically at a ratio of 1:1. In Major League Baseball, if the ratio comes in at 4:1 during testing, a player is flagged. In Ramirez's case, his ratio was between 4:1 and 10:1, according to one source.

At that point, MLB notified Ramirez of his elevated levels and began further investigation, including taking two primary actions:

First, MLB asked the World Anti-Doping Agency lab in Montreal, which conducts its testing, to perform a carbon isotope ratio test to determine whether the testosterone spike resulted from natural variations within Ramirez's body or from an artificial source. The test revealed the testosterone was synthetic -- in other words, it was ingested somehow.

Secondly, as per the drug-testing policy, MLB requested all of Ramirez's medical records, including those from doctors he might have consulted outside of MLB. Addendum C of the policy is authorization by every player to provide "health information" from "all health care providers (including but not limited to [add Club orthopedist and medical internist], other physicians, laboratories, clinics and Club trainers) with whom I have consulted pursuant to my Uniform Player's Contract or the Basic Agreement."

Ramirez and his representatives were prepared to appeal the synthetic testosterone results, intending to argue he had taken a steroid precursor known as DHEA, according to two sources. The drug is akin to the now-banned substance famously known as Andro, but it is not on baseball's banned list.

Baseball had geared up to dispute the argument, and a Ramirez appeal was scheduled for last Wednesday. MLB's legal team intended to use expert testimony to cite evidence it believed showed DHEA could not have been the cause of the synthetic testosterone.

However, in the days before the hearing, the union turned over Ramirez's medical records -- and they turned out to be a boon for MLB.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Obama threatens to limit U.S. intel with Brits (Eli Lake, May 12, 2009, Washington Times)

The Obama administration says it may curtail Anglo-American intelligence sharing if the British High Court discloses new details of the treatment of a former Guantanamo detainee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Riddle of the Sands: A review of A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East, by Kenneth M. Pollack; The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East, by Olivier Roy; and Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East, by Gilles Kepel (Andrew C. McCarthy, Spring 2009, Claremont Review of Books)

None of George W. Bush's alleged treacheries more riles leftists than that, on the international stage, he was one of them. For his dreamy Wilsonian trouble, he was savaged mercilessly, the Left having ceased to see the wisdom in democracy evangelism, military adventures, and edgy security tactics once the Clinton Administration closed shop.

Bush's exodus was marked by historically low approval ratings, his party ejected from power after successive electoral routs. Yet, as the heat of campaign cant gave way to the cold reality of governing, President Barack Obama retained his predecessor's defense secretary while filling other top posts with Iraq invasion supporters and democratization devotees. "Progressives" are painting new lipstick on the enlightened interventionism they've spent the last several years deriding as a pig. And so the rush is on to reclaim Woodrow Wilson from the Bush legacy. The problem, it turns out, was not the ambitious project to remake the Muslim Middle East. It's just that the noble effort was horribly implemented by incompetent, moralistic dullards who never really believed in it and who, in their arrogant disregard for the rule of law, came to mirror the terrorists they were fighting.

That is the collective story of three new books addressing post-Bush Middle East policy.

Not only did FDR and Truman cede Eastern Europe to Communist domination and Democrats since JFK pursue a fairly isolationist foreign policy, but even Wilson threw the colonies the mercy of the European imperialists to try and get support for his pet project, the League of Nations. The great liberators have been the two moral conservatives--Reagan and Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Star Trek Review: Who Would Captain James T. Kirk Vote for? JFK, of Course (James P. Pinkerton, May 8, 2009, US News)

Chris Pine (born 1980), who stars as the new Captain Kirk, spoke diplomatically to Entertainment Weekly as he compared current film fare: "You've got apocalyptic movies like Watchmen and Dark Knight—movies that explore the darker side of human psychology—and they're great. But this is not going to be one of those movies," he added. "This is not nihilistic. This is not grim. This is a bright vision of the future, full of hope and optimism."

And that's a far cry from not only the politics of the last few decades, but also from much recent science fiction, which has descended from techno-inventiveness into pseudo-Wagnerian mysticism. The six alternate-franchise Star Wars movies, for example, stretching from 1977 to 2005, are of a different ilk, owing more to the "sword and sorcery" genre than to Jules Verne.

By contrast, the creator of "Star Trek," Gene Roddenberry, was that rare breed—a tech poet. He had been a B-17 pilot during World War Two, so it was easy for him to see military machinery as a valuable companion to human valor. And like his fellow vet John F. Kennedy, Roddenberry saw no contradiction between flag-waving patriotism and what has since been called "big government." Indeed, it was only a muscularly robust Uncle Sam, in the view of the Greatest Generation, who could defeat fascism abroad and racism at home—with help, of course, from the popular culture; the original Trek series featured the first inter-racial kiss on TV, between Kirk and Lt. Uhura.

By contrast, George Lucas' Star Wars films put forth the bleakest possible genetic determinism. The Phantom Menace (1999), for instance, tells us that membership in the Jedi Knights is reckoned not by virtue, but by the presence of "midi-chlorians" in the blood. In other words, if the Star Trek series was about equal opportunity—including an equal chance for all females anywhere in the galaxy to enjoy a fling with Captain Kirk—Star Wars was about something dark and drear: immutable race-based destiny.

On the other hand, the new "Star Trek" vindicates the high call of duty, summoning all who hear it. At the beginning of the film, a veteran space commander tells Kirk, then still in his young-punk phase, "Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes. He saved 800 lives, including yours. I dare you to do better. Enlist in Starfleet." And Kirk does.

Mr. Pinkerton gets himself a little bit confused here--he's calling for a rejection of Science.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


A Table for Tyrants (VACLAV HAVEL, 5/11/09, NY Times)

The council was supposed to be different. For the first time, countries agreed to take human rights records into account when voting for the council’s members, and those member-states that failed to, in the words of the founding resolution, “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” would find themselves up for review and their seats endangered. For victims of human rights abuses and advocates for human rights worldwide, the reforms offered the hope of a credible and effective body.

Now, it seems, principle has given way to expediency. Governments have resumed trading votes for membership in various other United Nations bodies, putting political considerations ahead of human rights. The absence of competition suggests that states that care about human rights simply don’t care enough. Latin America, a region of flourishing democracies, has allowed Cuba to bid to renew its membership. Asian countries have unconditionally endorsed the five candidates running for their region’s five seats — among them, China and Saudi Arabia.

In past years, Western countries encouraged rights-respecting states from other regions to compete for election. This year, they have ceded the high ground by presenting a non-competitive slate for the council elections. New Zealand withdrew when the United States declared its candidacy, leaving just three countries — Belgium, Norway and the United States — running for three seats. [...]

Like the citizens of Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia, I know what it is like to live in a country where the state controls public discourse, suppresses opposition and severely curtails freedom of expression. It is thus doubly dismaying for me to see the willingness of democracies in Latin America and Asia to sit by and watch the council further lose its credibility and respect.

Activists and journalists in Azerbaijan and Cuba have already appealed to the international community not to elect their nations to the Human Rights Council. States committed to human rights and the integrity of the council cannot remain indifferent. Countries must express solidarity with the victims of human rights abuses and reclaim the council by simply refusing to vote for human rights abusers in this shamefully uncontested election.

The problem is admitting non-democracies to the UN in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


What to Do with the Stranger?: Two evangelicals argue for more generous immigration policies.: Welcoming the Stranger By Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang (Tony Carnes, 5/11/2009, Christianity Today)

I had an intense reaction to Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press) because my great-grandfather, born in England, may not have informed the U.S. government that he had arrived on American soil. He traveled by Conestoga wagon to Texas and became a successful rancher. And some years later, my dad assigned me to work alongside Mexican illegals on a farm crew.

So how could I not love this book from Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, who are involved in immigration work through World Relief? They advocate a generous, biblically based invitation to all immigrants to take part in America. [...]

Welcoming the Stranger also examines the immigration narrative of God's own people: Abraham, an immigrant; Joseph, a slave, then an immigrant success story; Moses, the emigration advocate; Jesus, the immigrant from heaven and refugee to Egypt; and the migrating apostles, traveling at will and getting into trouble.

From a biblical point of view, Soerens and Hwang argue cogently for greater immigration.

May 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


ABC to ‘Flash Forward’ (BRIAN STELTER, 5/11/09, NY Times)

ABC is turning the Robert J. Sawyer novel “Flash Forward” — about what happens when people see glimpses of the future — into a series. The network said on Friday it had ordered 13 episodes of the series, expected to make its debut in the fall. Appropriately enough for a show titled “Flash Forward,” ABC began foreshadowing its existence last month during an episode of “Lost,” in five-second commercials that flashed an image and asked, “What did you see?” (Viewers thought they saw a school, a wedding, a funeral and other snapshots from people’s lives.) According to Variety, the series will explore the effects of a worldwide 2-minute-17-second period of unconsciousness in which people are able to see themselves six months in the future. produce his Calculating God.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM

WHILE IT IS FUNNY... (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Feherty under fire for joke (Associated Press, 5/09/09)

CBS Sports golf analyst David Feherty came under sharp criticism Saturday for a joke he wrote in a Dallas magazine article that suggested American soldiers would be just as likely to knock off House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid as they would Osama bin Laden.

Feherty was among five Dallas residents who wrote for "D Magazine" on former President George W. Bush moving to Dallas, where the former Ryder Cup player from Northern Ireland has been living the last dozen years.

"From my own experience visiting the troops in the Middle East, I can tell you this though," Feherty wrote toward the end of his column. "Despite how the conflict has been portrayed by our glorious media, if you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it, and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden, there's a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death."'s not really fair to our men at arms, who have managed to control themselves through far worse Congresses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Pakistan's Ethnic Fault Line (Selig S. Harrison, May 11, 2009, Washington Post)

While army leaders fear the long-term dangers of a Taliban link-up with Islamist forces in the heartland of Pakistan, they are more worried about what they see as the looming danger of Pashtun separatism.

Historically, the Pashtuns were politically unified before the British Raj. The Pashtun kings who founded Afghanistan ruled over 40,000 square miles of what is now Pakistan, an area containing more than half of the Pashtun population, until British forces defeated them in 1847, pushed up to the Khyber Pass and imposed a disputed boundary, the Durand Line, that Afghanistan has never accepted. Over Pashtun nationalist protests, the British gave these conquered areas to the new, Punjabi-dominated government of Pakistan created in the 1947 partition of India.

At various times since, Afghan governments have challenged Pakistan's right to rule over its Pashtun areas, alternatively pushing for an autonomous state to be created within Pakistan, an independent "Pashtunistan" or a "Greater Afghanistan" that would directly annex the lost territories.

Fears of Pashtunistan led Pakistan to support jihadist surrogates in the Afghan resistance during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and, later, to build up the Taliban. Ironically, during its rule in Kabul the Taliban refused to endorse the Durand Line despite pressure from Islamabad. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also resisted, calling it "a line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers."

The British got the most rebellious Pashtun tribes to acquiesce to their rule only by giving them formal autonomous status in their own "Federally Administered Tribal Areas" (FATA). This autonomy was respected by successive Pakistani governments until the Bush administration pressured former president Pervez Musharraf into sending his army into those areas in 2002, displacing 50,000 people. Since then, Predator strikes have killed more than 700 Pashtun civilians.

So how should the Obama administration proceed?

Recognize the independent state of Pashtunistan and offer them the opportunity to establish control and security within that state or we'll consider everyone within to be fair game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Taliban on the run in Swat (Syed Saleem Shahzad , 5/12/09, Asia Times)

Within hours, Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Pervez Ashfaq Kiani, launched an aggressive military operation - supported by gunship helicopters, heavy artillery and fighters jets - into northern North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), ransacking Taliban sanctuaries in Swat and other areas. Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the BBC that an estimated 200 militants were killed over the weekend, bringing the total killed in fighting in the region to 700.

Water, electricity and lines of communications were completely cut; the Taliban had no option but to flee. An exodus of the local population also began, with hundreds of thousands of residents leaving their homes. In the most affected districts of Swat, Buner and Shangla, some 70% of the population has fled for their lives. The number may soar to 1.5 million in the weeks ahead.

Elsewhere, the government sponsored anti-Taliban conferences across the country in which Shi'ite and Sufi clerics declared the Taliban rebels heretics and called for their destruction. All four of Pakistan's major political parties - including the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and the largest opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz - released statements in support of the military strike.

This was how the situation unfolded over the past week in Pakistan - a situation envisioned by the administration of former United States president George W Bush more than two years ago. The events are a culmination of years of political deals cut with Islamabad to form a consensus government and provide popular support for Washington's "global war on terror".

It would be nice to be able to give W more credit, but the advantages of having the enemy cluster in one essentially lawless area are too obvious. Even the Viet Cong never set up their camps in the free-fire zones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


King Abdullah of Jordan's ultimatum: peace now or it’s war next year (Richard Beeston and Michael Binyon, 5/11/09, Times of London)

America is putting the final touches to a hugely ambitious peace plan for the Middle East, aimed at ending more than 60 years of conflict between Israel and the Arabs, according to Jordan’s King Abdullah, who is helping to bring the parties together.

The Obama Administration is pushing for a comprehensive peace agreement that would include settling Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and its territorial disputes with Syria and Lebanon, King Abdullah II told The Times. Failure to reach agreement at this critical juncture would draw the world into a new Middle East war next year. “If we delay our peace negotiations, then there is going to be another conflict between Arabs or Muslims and Israel in the next 12-18 months,” the King said.

Details of the plan are likely to be thrashed out in a series of diplomatic moves this month. Chief among them is President Obama’s meeting with Binyamin Netanyahu, the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, in Washington a week today. The initiative could form the centrepiece for Mr Obama’s much-anticipated address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4. A peace conference could then take place involving all the parties as early as July or August. Such an ambitious project has not been attempted since 1991, when George Bush senior’s Administration assembled all the parties for a peace conference in Madrid.

“What we are talking about is not Israelis and Palestinians sitting at the table, but Israelis sitting with Palestinians, Israelis sitting with Syrians, Israelis sitting with Lebanese,” said the King, who hatched the plan with Mr Obama in Washington last month. He added that, if Mr Obama did not make good his promise for peace, then his credibility would evaporate overnight.

Oh, no, not war with the mighty Arabs.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Buzzwords: Rephrasing Obama's lexicon: Scratch 'cap and trade' and 'global warming,' some Democratic pollsters tell Obama. They're ineffective. Republicans are also rethinking how to use words to their advantage. (Peter Nicholas and Jim Tankersley, May 11, 2009, LA Times)

In the debate over his top environmental goals, President Obama is backing away from "cap and trade."

Not the policy. It's the phrase itself, deemed confusing by Democratic pollsters, that has all but disappeared from the president's vocabulary of late.

Now when Obama talks about forcing companies to bid at auction for the right to emit greenhouse gases, he is more apt to mention "market-based" proposals and "clean energy jobs," hinting at a rich new employment source. [...]

Words that have been vetted in focus groups and polls are seeping into the White House lexicon, while others considered too scary or confounding are falling away.

"There is value in trying to get the messaging right," said a senior White House environmental aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

Not right, Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Crist running for Senate (Josh Kraushaar, 5/11/09, Politico

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) will be announcing Tuesday that he will be running for the Senate, according to a source close to the governor, giving Republicans their most high-profile recruit of the 2010 election cycle.

Crist's decision puts Republicans in strong position to hold onto the seat held by retiring Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) Crist holds high approval ratings among both Republicans and Democrats, according to statewide polling, and has forged a moderate governing style that has won him widespread support.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


World Regains Taste for Risk: Stocks, Currencies in Emerging Markets Soar; China's Stimulus Spending Kicks In (JOHN LYONS, ALEX FRANGOS and ALASTAIR STEWART, 5/10/09, WSJ)

Investors are aggressively piling back into markets shunned as too risky just a few weeks ago -- driving up stocks in the developing world and raising concerns that the euphoria may be overdone.

As fears of a deepening global recession are pushed aside by expectations of recovery, investors have rediscovered their appetite for risk in places ranging from Brazil and China to Russia. Brazil's Bovespa stock index is up 75% since its October lows, and across the emerging-market world, stocks are up 50% since the beginning of March, according to the MSCI Emerging Markets index, which tracks 23 markets.

During the week ended May 6, investors plowed $4 billion into emerging-market investment funds, marking the biggest week for the funds since late 2007 -- and their eighth-largest week ever -- according to Bank of America-Merrill Lynch and EPFR Global. Meanwhile, investors withdrew $9.8 billion from U.S. funds in seven weeks.

...what are the old folks always complaining about?

May 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Taboo broken in first shot of US Middle East offensive (Harvey Morris, May 10 2009, Financial Times)

[R]ose Gottemoeller, US assistant secretary of state, told a non-proliferation meeting at the UN: “Universal adherence to the NPT [nuclear non-proliferation treaty] – including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea – remains a fundamental objective of the United States.”

Urging the four non-signatory nuclear weapon states to join the worldwide treaty did not represent a radical change in policy from previous administrations, but one expert said naming Israel marked a “major shift”. Since the US discovered Israel’s nuclear weapons ­programme in the 1960s, Tel Aviv has consistently refused publicly to confirm or deny that it has a nuclear arsenal.

“This is a very big issue to take on,” Stephen P. Cohen, a former Middle East adviser to the US National Intelligence Council told the Financial Times. He linked the naming of Israel to Mr Obama’s policy of opening dialogue with Iran, which Israel, western and Arab states fear is poised to join the nuclear weapons club.

One can hardly expect the Obamanauts to understand or accept this, but one of the reasons it is imperative that nukes be in the hands of allies like India and Israel is because were they ever needed at a time when we had a potentially feckless administration--like the current one may prove--we could count on these proxies to launch the strikes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


A Swedish Cop, Not a Danish Prince, but Still Melancholy (MARILYN STASIO, 5/10/09, NY Times)

“The man is an open wound,” Mr. Branagh said of Wallander, whose red-rimmed eyes and introspective gaze reflect his shock and amazement at the bestial acts of which human beings are capable. “His constant job contact with violence leads him, in a very human and nonheroic way, to question how he leads his life and to doubt the value of what he does.”

Mr. Branagh admires the mournful cops in Swedish, Icelandic and Norwegian crime novels for tackling the big social problems that globalization has created in their countries and in other supposedly stable governments around the world. “The Wallander novels are a sort of requiem for a lost utopia, for the lost innocence of Sweden,” Mr. Branagh said in a phone interview. “Using Sweden as his inspiration he writes of the larger loss of innocence for a world that is expanding in so many ways, but is unhappier than ever.”

Wallander’s morbid preoccupation with human suffering — essentially with how civilizations come to lose their values — carries a cost, however, one with Shakespearian overtones.

“Shakespeare always denies his characters sleep, which produces both heightened awareness and a proneness to melancholy,” said Mr. Branagh, whose extensive credits include a celebrated 1996 film performance of “Hamlet,” a film he also directed. “So while lack of sleep may give you intense insights, that vision is distended, leaving you in an altered state.”

This adaptation isn't bad--despite at least one overblown Lecteresque plot--and the opening scene of the first episode--which takes place in a field of rapeseed plants--is quite the most arresting visual you'll ever see on tv. But the Swedish tv version is readily available to download and this just seems like another case where folks ought to have bought the original and broadcast it rather than making their own.

Similarly, speaking of Scandinavian mysteries, sleeplessness and not bothering to Anglicize worthy material, the original of Insomnia is quite good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


In Court Pick, Obama Seeks to Be Bold but Not Provocative (Dan Balz and Robert Barnes, 5/10/09, Washington Post)

"He's less eager to send a message than to send a great justice," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod. "The people he's considering have something in common. They're rigorous and well qualified. But they all offer different qualities beyond that. He'll make a decision at the end of the process as to what combination of qualities he favors. He's not working off a set of specs."

Another senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to more freely discuss internal deliberations, said, "This is not going to be a bomb-thrower." Obama "may ultimately decide on a pick that is distinguished in being the first something. But I think they will be a pragmatist above all." [...]

Obama has begun to narrow his choices. A knowledgeable source outside the White House said the list of candidates who are being put through a thorough vetting numbers six. Most outside observers think that the president is almost certain to pick a woman, and the four thought to be under the most serious consideration are Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D). [...]

Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard constitutional scholar who is a mentor and adviser to Obama, said the choice can be bold without provoking a battle with Congress or disrupting the president's complicated legislative agenda.

Obama may not be able to avoid sparking partisan conflict among outside groups, and one adviser said the president will not shy away from a fight, if necessary, to win confirmation for his choice.

But a longtime adviser said he thinks that Obama would like to use this nomination to signal a change from the tone and tenor of recent confirmation battles. "More than anything, I think he wants . . . a pick that exemplifies that this city is changing, rather than going back to the old battles," this adviser said.

Though as a senator he opposed both of President George W. Bush's nominees, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., Obama also admonished liberal interest groups that attacked Democratic senators for supporting Roberts's nomination.

Given all this, it will be hard for Obama to find a candidate who can fulfill the expectations he has set, as well as the hopes of Democrats and liberals who have waited 15 years for the chance to appoint a justice.

In addition, Tribe said, "being persuasive, being a consensus-builder, matters a lot to the president." With the court split, the ability to persuade Kennedy and perhaps other conservatives is key to forging outcomes that liberals seek. Justice John Paul Stevens, 89, is currently the chief tactician on the liberal side.

Tribe thinks that Kagan showed such skills in her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School, where she quieted the fractious faculty and won the respect of conservatives by hiring across the ideological spectrum.

Besides her proven ability to work in such a setting--which was Chief Justice Roberts greatest asset--Ms Kagan also has been vetted for her willingness to defend the Obama line, Kagan's Supreme Court preview? (MANU RAJU | 3/20/09, Politico)
In a 21-page letter sent this week to Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kagan said she is not “morally opposed” to the death penalty, which she calls constitutional. “I would as strongly defend federal death penalty statutes as I would defend any other kind of federal legislation,” she said.

She says that foreign law can be used to interpret the U.S. Constitution in “some circumstances,” like the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. But she believes that the federal spying laws are constitutional and suggests that only on the rarest of circumstances could a president circumvent Congress to conduct warrantless spying.

Kagan also believes that terrorism detainees held at the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan should not have due process rights.

Regarding gun laws, Kagan says she has “no reason to believe that the court’s analysis was faulty” in the 2008 Supreme Court case striking down the District of Columbia’s strict gun-control laws. And she added that her office would likely “continue to defend” against constitutional challenges on various federal regulations concerning firearms.

She said that that she considered the controversial 2005 Supreme Court case, Kelo v. New London, which upheld a broad reach of the Constitution’s Takings Clause “settled” law, but said that she would side with Congress if it sought to curtail that ruling. That Connecticut eminent domain issue fired up the conservative base, which believed that the government trampled on property rights in this case.

Kagan also suggests that the U.S. government is on solid legal ground in its previous positions to uphold the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” recruitment policy concerning homosexuals.

“These findings satisfy the Equal Protection Clause’s rational basis test, and the government accordingly has had broad success in defending the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and its associated statute against constitutional challenge,” she said. Kagan was referring to language Congress enacted saying that “the prohibition against homosexual conduct is a long-standing element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Pro-Lifers Call Out Planned Parenthood's Hypocrisy in Mother's Day Appeal (Audrey Barrick, 5/09/09, Christian Post)

Children's author Judy Blume is the voice of this year's fundraising appeal for the nation's largest abortion provider.

In a letter requesting support, Blume writes: "There is no organization that I know of that supports motherhood and all that it means more than Planned Parenthood. That's why I'm honoring moms everywhere with my gift to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund today." [...]

Blume writes to potential donors, "It's not easy to be a mother these days. And right now – with more and more women seeking care from Planned Parenthood health centers – we need to do all we can to support them.

...more thoroughly than killing the kid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Evangelicals and Economics: Reflections of a Conservative Protestant (Hunter Baker, March 6, 2009, First Things)

Several months ago, I heard a story that forced me to give more careful thought to my views on the built-in morality of the market. A large airline on the brink of bankruptcy in 2002 asked employees to make substantial wage concessions. They agreed. The airline returned to profitability, and management acknowledged that it had the workers to thank, but in the subsequent years, instead of restoring the wage concessions, it awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives.

When pressed by reporters, the airline’s spokesman said the bonuses were necessary to retain top managerial talent. Pilots and other airline personnel could not leave because the airlines’ seniority systems would require them to start over at a new company. In effect, the workers could not easily punish the airline for failing to pay them back, so it was in no hurry to do so.

The story jarred me. Somehow, I had never applied my Christian conception of a sinful world to corporate behavior. In hindsight I realize my faith should have cautioned me against too easily deferring to the idea of the sufficiency of the invisible hand to produce justice.

Reading Christians from the past reinforces the idea that the fusion of quasi-libertarian economics with Christian ethics is not always an obvious fit. G.K. Chesterton, for example, was tremendously concerned with the dehumanizing effects of a rapidly advancing free market economy. Catholic social thought has long resisted socialism while still sharply pointing out abuses in market economies. Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum is an excellent example addressing the “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor.”

Conservative Protestants, on the other hand, are largely absent when it comes to criticizing unfair labor practices, questionable methods of executive compensation, and other varieties of irresponsible corporate citizenship. My guess is that we tend to stay out of these areas is because we generally accept the idea that the market, left unhindered, will produce good outcomes. (I think the left feels the same way about sex.)

Experience and prudence have demonstrated that free markets are demonstrably better than other alternatives. But the problem is that we have tuned our antennae in such a way such that they pick up market problems like the promotion of hedonistic vice but do not take adequate notice of other wrongs.

...and where it doesn't help achieve the ends we ought fiddle the means.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Memos shed light on CIA use of sleep deprivation: Though widely perceived as more effective and less objectionable than other interrogation methods, memos show it's harsher and more controversial than most realize. And it could be brought back. (Greg Miller, May 10, 2009, LA Times)

A CIA inspector general's report issued in 2004 was more critical of the agency's use of sleep deprivation than it was of any other method besides waterboarding, according to officials familiar with the document, because of how the technique was applied.

The prisoners had their feet shackled to the floor and their hands cuffed close to their chins, according to the Justice Department memos.

Detainees were clad only in diapers and not allowed to feed themselves. A prisoner who started to drift off to sleep would tilt over and be caught by his chains.

The memos said that more than 25 of the CIA's prisoners were subjected to sleep deprivation. At one point, the agency was allowed to keep prisoners awake for as long as 11 days; the limit was later reduced to just over a week.

According to the memos, medical personnel were to make sure prisoners weren't injured. But a 2007 Red Cross report on the CIA program said that detainees' wrists and ankles bore scars from their shackles.

When detainees could no longer stand, they could be laid on the prison floor with their limbs "anchored to a far point on the floor in such a manner that the arms cannot be bent or used for balance or comfort," a May 10, 2005, memo said.

"The position is sufficiently uncomfortable to detainees to deprive them of unbroken sleep, while allowing their lower limbs to recover from the effects of standing," it said.

In the Red Cross report, prisoners said they were also subjected to loud music and repetitive noise.

"I was kept sitting on a chair, shackled by hands and feet for two to three weeks," said suspected Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner captured by the CIA, according to the Red Cross report. "If I started to fall asleep, a guard would come and spray water in my face."

In the Justice Department memos, sleep deprivation was described as part of a "baseline" phase of interrogation, categorized as less severe than other "corrective" or "coercive" methods.

Within the CIA, sleep deprivation was seen as a method with the unique advantage of eroding prisoners' will to resist without causing lasting harm.

"Waterboarding was obviously the most controversial," said a former senior U.S. government official who was briefed extensively on CIA interrogation operations. But "sleep deprivation is probably the most effective thing they had going."

Facing congressional efforts in 2005 and 2006 to block the use of certain techniques, CIA lawyers and Bush administration officials lobbied to keep a core set of methods, including sleep deprivation.

In 2007, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling compelled the White House to bring the CIA program into compliance with the Geneva Convention, President Bush signed an executive order that outlined detainees' rights to the "basic necessities of life." The order listed "adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing" and protection from extreme heat and cold. But it made no mention of sleep as a basic necessity.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said sleep deprivation multiplied the coercive power of other techniques that included face-slapping and confinement in small boxes.

"It was viewed as a tool that enabled all the others," said a former CIA official directly involved in the program. The former official, like others, described internal thinking on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department memos also cited research that suggested sleep deprivation was not harmful.

"Experience with sleep deprivation shows that 'surprisingly, little seemed to go wrong with the subjects physically,' " said the May 10, 2005, Justice Department memo -- one of many instances in which government lawyers cited scientific papers in asserting that the program was safe.

...but which methods we think most humane.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Future fast approaching for Porcello (Jason Beck, 5/10/09,

The Tigers entered the season with the potential for a solid pitching staff if some of their key youngsters could emerge. Now that Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson seem to have broken out, it could be young Rick Porcello's turn.

Not since 1990, back at old Municipal Stadium, have the Tigers swept a three-game series in Cleveland -- the same season that Cecil Fielder broke the 50-homer milestone. The Tigers have managed just three wins at Progressive Field in each of the previous two seasons, a total they could match already with a win in Sunday's series finale.

If Porcello picks up where he left off earlier this week, however, Detroit could end up with one of their more dominant series -- from a pitching standpoint -- in recent years. In so doing, the Tigers could end up with a statement series for a pitching staff that was a question mark when the team broke camp little more than a month ago.

Last night they followed Jackson, who was throwing 98 in the 7th, with Joel Zumaya, who hit 100 in the 8th, with Fernando Rodney who was at 98 in the 9th.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM

$20 A DAY?:

A Game-Changer From Moscow: Hard-hitting Alex Ovechkin electrifies crowds in hockey's playoffs (REED ALBERGOTTI, 5/09/09, WSJ)

While some of the NHL's best Russian players, with their methodic style of play, have had trouble winning over fans, Mr. Ovechkin is delivering sellout crowds with his loose-cannon personality that permeates his interviews and off-the-ice behavior, as well as his style of play -- a hard-charging, vertical onslaught of physicality. He peppers goalies with pucks more than anyone else in the league with a shot so hard it seems as though he borrowed it from someone twice his 225-pound, 6-foot-2 build. He once broke his nose in the first period of a game and went on to score four goals. He celebrates after goals with moves that could be NFL touchdown dances. He has been scolded by his team for driving his Mercedes upwards of 150 miles per hour, and has gotten at least one ticket.

In a sign of the problems facing the NHL, which has been hit by labor disputes and team bankruptcy filings, the playoff matchup may go largely unseen. It is being broadcast on the Versus cable network which is available in 75 million U.S. households. Just about 1.26 million people tuned in Monday to see Messrs. Ovechkin and Crosby score three goals each. Some playoff games are available live on the NHL's "Game Center" Web site for $19.95 a day, but the remaining Washington-Pittsburgh series is not, because Versus has exclusive broadcast rights.

An NHL spokeswoman says it is happy with Versus and its regular season ratings are up 20% this year over last. [...]

A key to Mr. Ovechkin's play: he can stay on the ice for two minutes at a time. Most players go off after 45 seconds. As a result, teams must switch their defensemen, giving Mr. Ovechkin a shot at his opponent's weaker line.

Mr. Ovechkin, in a telephone interview Thursday, credited his dramatic increase in endurance over recent seasons to endurance and interval training with former Russian Olympic runner Dmitry Kapitonov, the current Russian record-holder for the half-marathon.

The season after Mr. Ovechkin began working with Mr. Kapitonov, the 2007-08 season, his average shift time jumped to 1:05 from 53 seconds the year earlier, an increase of 22.6%, according to data provided by the league.

Mr. Ovechkin's recovery is so fast that he can run all-out wind sprints on a track and his heart rate will drop down almost immediately, says his personal manager, Konstantin Selinevich. The quick recovery means Mr. Ovechkin can catch his breath between whistles.

"He has a second set of lungs," says Capitals teammate Sergei Fedorov.

One would be tempted to say the NHL should just start its own network, like the NFL and MLB have, but they'd price it so prohibitively no one but the hard cores would buy it.

May 9, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


The Power of the First Impression: When President Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, behind the diplomatic niceties, their encounter will have profound implications for confronting the threat of a nuclear Iran. (ELLIOTT ABRAMS, 5/09/09, WSJ)

The first thing to remember is that this meeting is far more important for Mr. Netanyahu than for Mr. Obama; Mr. Netanyahu has a lot more at stake. Foreign leaders come and go in the White House week in and week out, as fast as you can change the sheets in Blair House. (Blair House is for one-night stands, two if you're lucky. When the King of Jordan dropped by for a whole week in late April he had to stay at a fancy hotel instead. Mr. Netanyahu will happily take Blair House, a physical token of his return to the prime minister's office after 10 years in the wilderness.)

All those meetings with presidents, prime ministers and princes are valuable for the United States in many ways, yet none are really critical for our security and our future. For an Israeli prime minister, those relations are a matter of survival -- political survival because his opponents at home will quickly jump on any perceived gap with Washington, and physical survival because Iran's nuclear program tops Mr. Netanyahu's agenda.

...that US "interests" are never at stake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 PM


Democrats win Indonesia election (Lucy Williamson, 5/09/09, BBC)

Official results in Indonesia's parliamentary elections confirm the president's Democrat Party in first place with 20.85% of the vote.

Its two main rivals - the PDIP and Golkar - both trail with around 14% each of the vote.

The election marked a huge surge in support for the Democrats - who entered the political race just five years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 PM


God and Obama at Notre Dame: The clash between Catholic culture and Catholic colleges. (Joseph Bottum, 05/18/2009, Weekly Standard)

There's not much use in pretending that Obama doesn't support legalized abortion. This is the man, after all, who voted against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act when it was in the Illinois state legislature--the man who, by rescinding the Mexico City policy three days after he took office, now has American tax dollars paying for abortions in foreign countries, and the man who used a televised campaign appearance at an evangelical church to dismiss the moral question of abortion as "above my pay grade." Who was he kidding? He told the world flat out where he stands when he said he wouldn't want any daughter of his who made a mistake to be "punished" with a child.

For that matter, there's not much use in pretending that Catholic legal analysis isn't opposed to abortion. Do all the casuistry you want. Bring in the sharpest canon lawyers from Marquette, and the cleverest Catholic ward-heelers from Chicago, and the slipperiest Jesuits from Georgetown. Sit them all down and show them again the tape of Mario Cuomo's 1984 speech about abortion at Notre Dame--you remember, the famous "personally opposed, but publicly supportive" speech that has provided Catholic politicians with talking points for 25 years--and let them spin the president's May 17 visit to campus as hard as they can. Still, there's something peculiar about the honoring of Barack Obama with a Catholic law degree. Couldn't they have made it a degree in sociology or something?

Ah, well, an honorary doctorate of law it is, and now the Catholic faithful are up in arms across the nation. A couple thousand of them are camped out in South Bend, parading past the campus gates with rosaries and placards. A tiny Catholic group called the Cardinal Newman Society jumped on the story and in just over a month collected more than 350,000 signatures for a petition denouncing Notre Dame. Another website announced that it had received, in a single week, pledges to withhold from the school $8.2 million in planned donations.

Of course, the protesters are not the only ones angry. Obama has plenty of Catholic supporters: He won 54 percent of the Catholic vote in the last election, after all, and at least 45 percent of the vote of Mass-going Catholics. A once fairly respectable Catholic law professor named Douglas Kmiec had committed nearly every sin short of mopery to make Mitt Romney the 2008 Republican nominee, but when that campaign stumbled and fell, he took to Slate magazine to declare, "Beyond life issues, an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural."

And maybe even without going beyond the life issues: Two months before Election Day, Kmiec published Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Questions about Barack Obama--a book in which he insisted that Obama, in the secret places of his heart, is actually against abortion, and, anyway, unlike the evil John McCain, he wants to help the poor, and when the poor aren't poor anymore, they'll stop having abortions, so the pro-choice Obama is more objectively pro-life than any pro-life Republican could possibly be.

Unsurprisingly, Douglas Kmiec is not happy with the protesters at Notre Dame: "Jesus' method was one of inclusion, teaching with generosity, forgiveness, and truth--not snubbing those in high office," he recently observed, forgetting, perhaps, Jesus' encounter with that high-officeholder Pontius Pilate. And Obama's other Catholic admirers are equally irate. The left-leaning Jesuit magazine America, for instance, harrumphed its support of "Catholic intellectuals who defend the richer, subtly nuanced, broad-tent Catholic tradition."

Something in that adjectival pile-up--ah, the rich, subtle nuance!--makes it sound more like wine tasting than ecclesiology, but America was soon joined by the other old-line American Catholic magazine, Commonweal, which could not bring itself to express the least sympathy for the protesters. On the First Things website, a young woman named Lacy Dodd published an account of her pregnancy during her senior year and the pressure her boyfriend applied to talk her into an abortion. "Who draws support from your decision to honor President Obama," she reasonably asked her alma mater, "the young, pregnant Notre Dame woman sitting in that graduating class who wants desperately to keep her baby, or the Notre Dame man who believes that the Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is just dining-room talk?" Commonweal put a notice of the article on its own website, and 83 comments later, the young woman had been called everything but a slut. Her story was "flimsy," "manipulative," "hardly fair," a "negative stereotype," "polemical"--and she was just "a horny kid," one of the "victims of the Russian roulette moral theory of premarital sex" so rampant in the protesters' troglodyte version of Catholicism. note how much hate the fact that Sarah Palin hadn't had an abortion--nor her daughter--provoked. Fertility and morality really seem to terrify these people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Insurgents to End Jihad (Fox News, May 09, 2009)

Former terror chiefs have called on Al Qaeda-linked insurgents battling Algerian authorities to lay down their arms and benefit from a pardon, media reported Saturday. [...]

The three were formerly members of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC, one of the armed factions that battled Algerian authorities in the 1990s. Up to an estimated 200,000 people have been killed in the violence that erupted in 1992 — now sporadic but deadly.

They called on militants not to "blindly follow the actions of Al Qaeda" in the message published Saturday by Algerian newspapers — an unprecedented appeal by such high-profile leaders.

A letter was also read, allegedly written by Amar Saifi, known as Abderrazak El Para, a notorious detained terror chief held responsible for the 2003 desert kidnapping of 32 European tourists, mainly Germans.

"The jihad has no reason to continue," read the purported letter from El Para, once a special forces paratrooper. [...]

"I regret what I've done, and I pray God that those still fighting do the same," El Para was quoted as saying in the letter read by Omar Abdelber, a former GSPC spokesman.

The group appeal by the three was first broadcast Friday by national radio. Abou Zakaria, a former GSPC medical operations chief, claimed he was working with authorities to ensure judicial and financial guarantees for terrorists who choose to "reintegrate society."

...that W didn't win the WoT.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:31 PM


The Harlem Miracle (DAVID BROOKS, 5/09/09, NY Times)

[I] was startled when I received an e-mail message from Roland Fryer, a meticulous Harvard economist. It included this sentence: “The attached study has changed my life as a scientist.”

Fryer and his colleague Will Dobbie have just finished a rigorous assessment of the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children’s Zone. They compared students in these schools to students in New York City as a whole and to comparable students who entered the lottery to get into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools, but weren’t selected.

They found that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools produced “enormous” gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

Forgive some academic jargon, but the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy produced gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Why Is Russia's Productivity So Low?: Russian companies are still among the least productive in the industrial world, but the downturn could provide a catalyst for big improvement (Jason Bush, 5/08/09, Business Week)

According to one of the studies, by Strategy Partners, a Moscow management consultancy, Russia's average labor productivity is just 17% of the U.S. level. The amount varies by sector, from a low of 6% in machine building to a high of 22% in the natural resource industries. But the room for improvement is colossal everywhere. "If, in Russia, a mere 10% of workers had the same level of productivity as in the U.S., Russia's GDP would increase by one and a half times," notes Alexander Idrisov, managing partner of Strategy Partners.

Similar conclusions have been reached by the U.S. consultancy McKinsey, which has also just published a report examining Russian productivity. McKinsey, which focused on six sectors, concluded that Russian productivity was around 26% of the U.S. level. That's an improvement on 10 years ago, when McKinsey estimated Russian productivity at 18% that of the U.S. But widespread inefficiencies remain. For example, it takes three times as many workers to produce a ton of steel in Russia as it does in the U.S.

Russia's productivity looks bad even in comparison with other emerging markets. In 2007, the World Bank estimated that revenues per worker in Russia were only around $7,000 per head per year. That's around 20% lower than in India, and 40% lower than in China. The figure is especially troubling when you consider that Russia's labor costs are about double the level in either India or China.

Why would a people who believe in nothing, have no children and die early choose to be productive at work?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' Live, With Strings (JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater, May 7, 2009, NPR)

A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane and his powerful quartet, remains a towering and seemingly untouchable jazz classic. But the virtuosic genre-benders in the Turtle Island Quartet have done it justice, re-working the seminal album for strings and winning a Grammy for their trouble. They recently performed a live version, captured live for JazzSet, at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City. [...]

[V]iolinist and arranger David Balikrishnan explains his approach to A Love Supreme and each of the movements: "Acknowledgment," "Resolution," "Pursuance" and "Psalm." The first is a transcription of the entire Coltrane saxophone solo, in which Balikrishnan hears melodic material that reminds him of Sibelius and Shostakovich, and orchestrates it for the four strings.

In the second and third movements, Balikrishnan returns to "our jazz thing," with improvisation over a rhythm section. The fourth movement, "Psalm," is a prayer to God. Legend has it that Coltrane brought a Psalm to the studio and set it on a music stand, then played the prayer note for note. Uniting the composition, Balikrishnan uses the "mantra, a heartbeat" — the four-note figure "A Love Su-preme" that underscores the original.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


The Orientalist Express: a review of THE COLLECTOR OF WORLDS By Iliya Troyanov, Translated by William Hobson (BEN MACINTYRE, NY Times Book Review)

In the heyday of Victorian expansionism, a certain sort of Englishman believed he could do anything, go anywhere, discover everything, rule every­where. None believed in that credo more passionately than Sir Richard Francis Burton: adventurer, linguist, soldier, archaeologist, poet, spy, mystic, fencer, diplomat, pederast (possibly), sexual explorer (certainly), translator, controversialist and master of disguise. Indestructible, charismatic and extravagantly scarred (the legacy of a Somali spear that passed through both cheeks), Burton was also irascible, domineering, unquenchably curious and slightly unhinged.

Burton mastered, it was said, at least two dozen languages. He adopted Muslim customs and Islamic ritual so perfectly that he was able to complete the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1853 undetected, having completed his disguise by the radical precaution of having himself circumcised. He scandalized London by privately publishing an unexpurgated translation of the Kama Sutra. He plunged into the African interior in search of the source of the Nile, a journey of almost unimaginable discomfort and courage that ended, predictably enough, in a celebrated public feud with his companion, John Hanning Speke.

This strange and brilliant man constantly invented and reinvented himself, and despite his voluminous writings, he remains an enigma. In “The Collector of Worlds,” Iliya Troyanov has turned Burton’s unbelievable life into believable fiction, achieving a rounded and satisfying portrait that traditional biography could never match.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Most Fundamentalist: KHOMEINI’S GHOST: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam By Con Coughlin (AZADEH MOAVENI, NY Times Book Review)

[I]n measuring the success of Khomeini’s supranational project, Coughlin overreaches. He describes in sweeping terms how Khomeini’s vision for an Islamic state “became the manifesto for Islamic fundamentalist regimes throughout the world.” That can hardly be the case, since the ayatollah’s concept of rule by the clergy (“velayat-e faqih”) is enshrined in a Shia reading of jurisprudence, and can hold no such direct, universal relevance for the majority of the Islamic world, which is Sunni. Coughlin argues that the legacy of the revolution is “as powerful today” as it was when Khomeini came to power in 1979. Such endorsements would brighten any Tehran bureaucrat’s day, but in reality Iran’s ability to extend its ideological influence around the region has never matched its ambitions.

Coughlin tends to define Iran in black-and-white terms, writing that Khomeini “accomplished his lifelong ambition of creating an Islamic state based on the strict interpretation of Shariah law.” He ignores the fact that, despite Khomeini’s best intentions to vest absolute power in the state’s religious leader, the Constitution provides for an elected legislature and declares that the country must be run “on the basis of public opinion.” Though elections have never been free, they remain fiercely contested, and myriad institutions force an opaque but real rule by consensus.

This unworkable, dual sovereignty of the divinely appointed and the popularly elected lies at the heart of Iran’s problems and is the cause of its debilitating factional strife. Coughlin has little feel for the role Iran’s warring factions play in its foreign policy, and often relates only half the story. He paints a picture of Iran as a state in cahoots with Al Qaeda, writing that Tehran masterminded the escape of operatives fleeing from Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden’s son Saad, and provided them safe haven. He states that “the presence of such prominent Al Qaeda militants in Iran . . . was yet another issue that would undermine Khatami’s attempts to improve relations with the West.”

This is a misleading presentation of the facts. It is true that Iranian hardliners played a cat-and-mouse game with the moderate government of Mohammad Khatami, concealing Qaeda fugitives who had fled to Iran. But the Khatami government dispatched agents to hunt down at least 200 fugitives, and put them on planes back to their home countries.

Iranian officials complained at that time that they could not repatriate all of the fugitives. In the case of Saad bin Laden, for example, Iran faced a quandary — Saudi Arabia refused to accept him, and there was no framework in place to hand him over to a third country or party. Tehran sought America’s help in handling these awkward cases, but was rebuffed by the Bush administration.

The remaining question is whether the Grand Ayatollah can save the Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Democrats Assail Obama's Hit List: Lawmakers Vow to Protect Pet Programs (Lori Montgomery and Amy Goldstein, 5/08/09, Washington Post )

President Obama's modest proposal to slice $17 billion from 121 government programs quickly ran into a buzz saw of opposition on Capitol Hill yesterday, as an array of Democratic lawmakers vowed to fight White House efforts to deprive their favorite initiatives of federal funds.

He can't even get such puny cuts past his own caucus? What sort of magical creature is that?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Escape From Guantanamo: Shouldn't Republicans want terrorists dumped into the abusive U.S. prison system? (Christopher Beam, May 8, 2009, Slate)

The administration has not specified where exactly it would relocate detainees. It's generally assumed that most of them would land in a maximum-security facility. The federal "supermax" prison in Florence, Colo., already home to such unsavories as Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard "Shoe Bomber" Reid, and Ramzi Yousef, the man responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, would be a logical destination. [...]

Wherever the detainees land, they're likely to encounter some of the less savory aspects of the U.S. prison system. It's something of a lose-lose situation: Either they get stuck in the harsh isolation of a maximum-security prison, or they get exposed to the dangers of less secure state and federal prisons.

Let's start with the supermaxes. (There is only one federal supermax prison, though several states have them, too.) There, detainees stay in 80-square-foot cells for 22½ hours a day. There are no windows except for a skylight outside the cell. For exercise, they get to spend an hour and a half in a cement room five days a week. According to a federal court ruling in 1995, "many, if not most, inmates in the [secure housing unit] experience some degree of psychological trauma in reaction to their extreme social isolation and the severely restricted environmental stimulation."

Some maximum-security facilities allow prisoners more freedom if they behave well. For example, in some maximum-security prisons in California, prisoners can leave their cells and read in a library. They can also watch TV or listen to the radio. Some even live two-to-a-cell and are allowed visits from family members.

The trade-off, of course, is that with more freedom comes higher risk. A 2007 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 4.5 percent of all state and federal inmates suffer some degree of sexual victimization. (Others put the estimate far higher.) The risk goes way up under certain conditions. When there is more than one inmate to a cell, says David Fathi of Human Rights Watch, "you worry much more about assault."

Prisoners accused of particularly heinous crimes—like, say, masterminding 9/11—could be especially endangered "My guess is they'd be at risk by virtue of the nature of their crime, and the stigma against them," says Linda McFarlane of Just Detention, a group that monitors sexual crime in prisons. "Even if they're being placed in high security isolation situations, which they would be, we know those are situations where abuse has occurred." Some anecdotal evidence: Just Detention has received letters from 91 people in maximum-security or supermax prisons since 2004 claiming sexual victimization.

Build a SuperMax outside of the US proper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Women only hear properly when gossiping or eavesdropping (Daily Telegraph, 09 May 2009)

More than two thirds of women admitted that a gossip with friends is the only time they are properly listening to what is being said.

The same percentage think they hear most intently when they are trying to eavesdrop on an argument taking place nearby. [...]

[W]omen admitted they only really hear 70 per cent of the conversations they have with their partner.

But when it comes to talking to their best friend, women give their full attention to more than three quarters of what is spoken.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Purification rites: With nationalist demagogues rising to power in both India and Israel, Pankaj Mishra examines the parallel histories of violent partition, ethnic cleansing and militant patriotism that have led both countries into a moral wilderness. (Pankaj Mishra, 3/27/09, The National)

My grandfather had no interest in Judaism, or in any of India’s many faiths. Like many Hindu nationalists and Zionists, he was a secularist, impatient with religion’s unworldliness. He admired Israel for its proud and clear national identity – for the sharply defined religious and cultural ideology of Zionism and the patriotism it inculcated in Israel’s citizens. Israel, which was building a new nation in splendid isolation, surrounded by Arab enemies, knew what India did not: how to deal with Muslims in the only language they understood, that of force and more force.

India, by comparison, was a pitiably incoherent and timid nation-state, its claims to democracy, socialism and secularism compromised by a corrupt government’s appeasement of minorities (mainly Muslim) and neglect of Hindu heritage.

Hindu nationalism was much less about venerating Hinduism – most nationalists were not religious – than about constructing a strong, culturally homogenous nation state of the kind that had begun to emerge in post-Enlightenment Europe in the 19th century. Like many Hindu nationalists, past and present, my grandfather was led by his obsession with national cohesion into an admiration for Nazi Germany.

Reverence for Adolf Hitler – who is hailed as a hero in textbooks in the Hindu nationalist-ruled state of Gujarat, while Mein Kampf remains popular at bookstores – is one of the many sinister aspects of “rising” India today. This cult of Hitler as a great “patriot” and “strategist” grew early among middle-class Hindus. MS Golwalkar, the much-revered Hindu leader and ideologue, wrote in 1938 that Nazi Germany had manifested “race pride at its highest” by purging itself of the “Semitic races” – and yet Golwalkar was also an admirer of Zionism.

This simultaneous veneration of Hitler and Israel may appear a monstrous moral contradiction to Europeans or Americans who see Israel as the homeland of Jewish victims of Nazi crimes. However, such distinctions are lost on the Hindu nationalists, who esteem Nazi Germany and Israel for their patriotic effort to cleanse their states of alien and potentially disloyal elements, and for their militaristic ethos. Many Indians and other colonised peoples hoped for Nazi Germany and Japan to at least undermine, if not defeat, the British Empire. My grandfather was among the Indians with a misplaced faith in Germany’s military capacity. He would have been horrified by the facts of the Holocaust if he had encountered them. But like so many Hindu nationalists, his main political anxiety during those years after the Second World War was whether Mother India would be partitioned into two countries; the subsequent creation of Pakistan as a separate state for Indian Muslims pushed all other historical traumas, especially those of distant Europe, out of view.

The emergence of an independent India with an overwhelmingly non-Muslim population did not appease Hindu nationalists like my grandfather. Pakistan occupied part of Muslim-majority Kashmir, and tens of millions of Muslims remained in India, an apparently formidable fifth column for Pakistan (their present population is more than 150 million). Hindu nationalists also believed that Indian Muslims were breeding fast, subsidised by plutocratic Arabs and treacherous Pakistanis. Apart from cunningly outpacing a docile Hindu population, their rising and unproductive population was a drag on India, which was destined to be the greatest superpower of the 21st century.

Today, more than a decade after Hindu nationalists finally assumed political power in India and accelerated India’s shift to a free-market economy, Muslims are visibly the most depressed and vulnerable community in India. Terrorist attacks mounted by a small radicalised minority among them increasingly contradict India’s claims as a superpower; but they are far from posing, except in the paranoid Hindu nationalist imagination, an existential threat to India. They tend to be worse off than even low-caste Hindus in the realms of education, health and employment. After dying disproportionately in many Hindu-Muslim riots, more than two thousand Muslims were the victims of a pogrom in 2002 in the Western Indian state of Gujarat. Their main tormentor, Narendra Modi, the business-friendly chief minister of Gujarat (who is also an outspoken admirer of Israel), is now heralded as India’s likely prime minister while tens of thousands of his Muslim victims languish in refugee camps, too afraid to return to their homes.

Toynbee cautions:
There are, of course, other Western ideas and institutions which are doubtful blessings; and one of these is our Western Nationalism.

May 8, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 PM


Top Pelosi Aide Learned Of Waterboarding in 2003 (Paul Kane, 5/09/09, Washington Post)

A top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attended a CIA briefing in early 2003 in which it was made clear that waterboarding and other harsh techniques were being used in the interrogation of an alleged al-Qaeda operative, according to documents the CIA released to Congress on Thursday.

Pelosi has insisted that she was not directly briefed by Bush administration officials that the practice was being actively employed. But Michael Sheehy, a top Pelosi aide, was present for a classified briefing that included Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), then the ranking minority member of the House intelligence committee, at which agency officials discussed the use of waterboarding on terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida.

A Democratic source acknowledged yesterday that it is almost certain that Pelosi would have learned about the use of waterboarding from Sheehy. Pelosi herself acknowledged in a December 2007 statement that she was aware that Harman had learned of the waterboarding and had objected in a letter to the CIA's top counsel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 PM


Obama Set to Revive Military Commissions (Peter Finn, 5/09/09,Washington Post)

The administration's plan to reinstate the commissions with modifications reflects the fear that that some cases would fail in federal courts or in standard military legal settings.

"It looks a lot more difficult now than it did on Jan. 20," said one government official.

Civil liberties advocates, who insist federal courts can handle terrorism cases, vowed to challenge any new process.

"We'll litigate this before they can proceed, absolutely," said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

...he now need a Court appointee who agreed with W on military trials for terrorists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 PM


Reporters Jonesin' for NSC profiles (Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith, May 8, 2009, Politico)

[W]hat looked on the surface like a publicity offensive by [President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, retired four-star Marine Gen. James L. Jones Jr.] on Thursday was likely more of a publicity defensive — an effort to contain a PR brushfire before it becomes a blaze.

The White House provided an interview to the Times’ Helene Cooper on Monday, and to the Post’s Karen DeYoung on Tuesday. Both are veteran diplomatic reporters, well-known in press and foreign policy circles. (On Wednesday, Jones gave a briefing from the press room podium on Obama’s meetings that day with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan.)

The resulting stories helped underscore the difficulty that Jones — who once held the rarefied titles supreme allied commander Europe and commandant of the Marine Corps — has had adjusting to the insular Obama operation. In this case, the media strategy might have backfired a bit, because some of the clearest examples of Jones’ troubles fitting in were evident in his own words.

“I'm not only an outsider,” he told the Post, “but I'm a 20-years-older-than-anybody-around outsider.”

The articles included accounts of Jones occasionally biking home to suburban Virginia for lunch, speaking distantly of the "Obama Nation" campaign hands who are now his colleagues, and deriding those fellow aides who put in longer hours than he does.

“Congratulations. To me, that means you’re not organized,” he told the Times.

"That was not the profile they were looking for of their national security adviser," said one prominent Democrat and Obama ally, barely suppressing a laugh.

Steve Clemons of New America Foundation, who writes the foreign policy blog The Washington Note, said Jones had blundered by criticizing his colleagues who work past 7 p.m.

"It was a mistake to make that kind of statement,” Clemons said. “The world is complex. Lots of stuff is happening.”

Clemons, noting the remarkable congruence between the articles, said: "There seems to be a campaign to dislodge him.”

There's nothing happening that requires that every flunky be at his desk at 7pm. Such a notion represents a wildly inflated sense of one's own importance on their part and of the bureaucracy's importance on Mr. Clemons's part.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 PM


The Day the Tigers Tipped Pitches for the Mick (ALAN SCHWARZ, 5/09/09, NY Times)

A few weeks from retirement and tied with Jimmie Foxx with 534 career home runs, Mantle came to the plate in the eighth inning with the Tigers comfortably ahead, 6-1. Detroit had already clinched the American League pennant — this was before leagues were split into two divisions, let alone three — and McLain had already won his 30th game.

[Jim] Price, a second-year reserve who was playing to give Bill Freehan a rest, walked out to the mound to give the 9,063 fans in Tiger Stadium one last chance to pay their respects.

“When I got there, Denny said, ‘Hey, big guy, should I let him hit one?’ ” Price recalled Thursday night in a telephone interview. “I said it was a great idea. Mickey was always nice to me. So I went back behind the plate and Mickey, like he always did, was tapping the plate with his bat when I said, ‘Want us to groove one for you?’ ”

Mantle apparently didn’t believe Price, but when he saw McLain nodding on the mound, he understood what was going on.

“High and tight, mediocre cheese,” Price said Mantle responded.

McLain served up a few that were apparently not gift-wrapped quite as neatly as the Mick preferred. But then came exactly what Mantle was looking for, and he hit a rocket into the upper deck in right field, the next-to-last home run of his career.

“McLain was clapping as Mickey was rounding the bases,” Price said. “And when he crossed home plate, Mickey thanked me. The next batter was Joe Pepitone, and he said, ‘Give me one, too.’ And I go, ‘No way, you’re not Mickey Mantle.’ ”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


Obama and the 9/11 Families: The president isn't sincere about 'swift and certain' justice for terrorists. (DEBRA BURLINGAME, 5/08/09, WSJ)

On Feb. 6, the president arrived in the Roosevelt Room to a standing though subdued ovation from some 40 family members. With a White House photographer in his wake, Mr. Obama greeted family members one at a time and offered brief remarks that were full of platitudes ("you are the conscience of the country," "my highest duty as president is to protect the American people," "we will seek swift and certain justice"). Glossing over the legal complexities, he gave a vague summary of the detainee cases and why he chose to suspend them, focusing mostly on the need for speed and finality.

Many family members pressed for Guantanamo to remain open and for the military commissions to go forward. Mr. Obama allowed that the detention center had been unfairly confused with Abu Ghraib, but when asked why he wouldn't rehabilitate its image rather than shut it down, he silently shrugged. Next question.

Mr. Obama was urged to consult with prosecutors who have actually tried terrorism cases and warned that bringing unlawful combatants into the federal courts would mean giving our enemies classified intelligence -- as occurred in the cases of the al Qaeda cell that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and conspired to bomb New York City landmarks with ringleader Omar Abdel Rahman, the "Blind Sheikh." In the Rahman case, a list of 200 unindicted co-conspirators given to the defense -- they were entitled to information material to their defense -- was in Osama bin Laden's hands within hours. It told al Qaeda who among them was known to us, and who wasn't.

Mr. Obama responded flatly, "I'm the one who sees that intelligence. I don't want them to have it, either. We don't have to give it to them."

How could anyone be unhappy with such an answer? Or so churlish as to ask follow-up questions in such a forum? I and others were reassured, if cautiously so.

News reports described the meeting as a touching and powerful coming together of the president and these long-suffering families. Mr. Obama had won over even those who opposed his decision to close Gitmo by assuaging their fears that the review of some 245 current detainees would result in dangerous jihadists being set free. "I did not vote for the man, but the way he talks to you, you can't help but believe in him," said John Clodfelter to the New York Times. His son, Kenneth, was killed in the Cole bombing. "[Mr. Obama] left me with a very positive feeling that he's going to get this done right."

"This isn't goodbye," said the president, signing autographs and posing for pictures before leaving for his next appointment, "this is hello." His national security staff would have an open-door policy.

Believe . . . feel . . . hope.

We'd been had.

Binyam Mohamed -- the al Qaeda operative selected by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) for a catastrophic post-9/11 attack with co-conspirator Jose Padilla -- was released 17 days later. In a follow-up conference call, the White House liaison to 9/11 and Cole families refused to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding the decision to repatriate Mohamed, including whether he would be freed in Great Britain.

The phrase "swift and certain justice" had been used by top presidential adviser David Axelrod in an interview prior to our meeting with the president. "Swift and certain justice" figured prominently in the White House press release issued before we had time to surrender our White House security passes. "At best, he manipulated the families," Kirk Lippold, commanding officer of the USS Cole at the time of the attack and the leader of the Cole families group, told me recently. "At worst, he misrepresented his true intentions."

No matter how hard he tries to be a Rorschach inkblot, there's one emerging consensus about the UR from the Left, Right and Center: no one thinks he's ever sincere.

Indeed, it seems fair to wonder whether someone who seemingly has no personal core ought ever be expected to be sincere. To what exactly would he be genuine in the absence of any coherent self?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


Interior Department lets stand Bush ruling limiting polar bear protection (Associated Press, May 8, 2009)

The Obama administration today let stand a Bush-era regulation that limits protection of the polar bear from global warming, saying that a law protecting endangered species shouldn't be used to take on the much broader issue of climate change.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that he will not rescind the Bush rule, although Congress gave him authority to do so. The bear was declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act a little over a year ago, because global warming is harming its habitat.

Salazar said rescinding the Bush rule "would provide no more protection for the polar bear and result in uncertainty and confusion about the management of the species."

The iconic polar bear was declared a threatened species because global warming is causing a severe decline in Arctic sea ice. But the Bush administration rules limit that protection, saying no action outside the Arctic region could be considered a threat to the bear under the law.

Environmentalists have strongly opposed the rule as have many members of Congress.

How long until the UR chokes on a pretzel himself?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


Why Darwin? (Richard C. Lewontin, 5/28/09, NY Review of Books)

Why do we call the modern theory of organic evolution "Darwinism"? Charles Darwin certainly did not invent the idea of evolution, that is, of the continuous change in time of the state of some system as a fundamental property of that system, or even the idea that a process of evolution had occurred in the history of life. The study of the evolution of the cosmos itself was founded in Kant's Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science in 1786 and Laplace's nebular hypothesis of 1796. Sadi Carnot's second law of thermodynamics, the principle that over time all differences in energy between bits and pieces of the universe decrease, was published in 1824. The idea that the various geological formations observed on earth were not the result of a unique catastrophe or Great Flood, but the consequence of repeated and continual geological processes still going on at present, was postulated before the turn of the nineteenth century by James Hutton and long since accepted by 1859.

By the time of the appearance of the Origin, the physical sciences had become thoroughly evolutionary. Living beings were not seen as an exception. In 1769, Diderot had his dreaming philosopher d'Alembert wonder what races of animals had preceded us and what sorts would follow. He provided the motto of evolutionism as a worldview: "Everything changes, everything passes. Only the totality remains." Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus, in his epic The Temple of Nature of 1803, invokes his Muse to tell "how rose from elemental strife/Organic forms, and kindled into life," and the Muse completes the evolutionary story by telling him that even "imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd,/...Arose from rudiments of form and sense." By the younger Darwin's time, the idea of organic evolution had become a common currency of intellectual life. Two years before the publication of the Origin, Herbert Spencer argued for a belief in organic evolution on the basis of the agreed-upon universality of evolutionary processes:

It is now universally admitted by philologists that languages, instead of being artificially or supernaturally formed, have been developed. And the histories of religion, of philosophy, of science, of the fine arts, of the industrial arts, show that these have passed through stages.... If, then, the recognition of evolution as the law of many diverse orders of phenomena has been spreading, may we not say that...evolution will presently be recognized as the law of the phenomena we are considering?

If Darwin (and Wallace) did not invent the idea of evolution or its application to the history of life, then at least it might be claimed that they invented a natural historical theory of the cause of that evolution. But they were not the first to do so. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, in a succession of works between 1801 and 1809, provided a biological theory of adaptive organic evolution based on the supposed inheritance of changes acquired by organisms in the course of their individual lives. The example often cited is the roughly six-foot increase in the length of giraffes' necks from their ancient origin as deer-like animals. If giraffes in any generation stretched their necks, even slightly, to feed on leaves higher up in trees, and if that slight increase in length were passed down to their offspring, then over many generations the cumulative effect would be the extraordinary shape of the modern giraffe.

Lest the sophisticated readers of TheNew York Review of Books regard this as a hopelessly outmoded nineteenth-century view of biology, it should be pointed out that until about fifteen years ago a neo-Lamarckian institution affiliated with the University of Paris, the Laboratoire d'Évolution des Êtres Organisés, carried out scholarly research on evolution that took seriously the possibility of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

The Darwin-Wallace explanation of evolution, the theory of natural selection, is based on three principles:

1) Individuals in a population differ from each other in the form of particular characteristics (the principle of variation).

2) Offspring resemble their parents more than they resemble unrelated individuals (the principle of heritability).

3) The resources necessary for life and reproduction are limited. Individuals with different characteristics differ in their ability to acquire those resources and thus to survive and leave offspring in the next generations (the principle of natural selection).

It seems amazing that two naturalists could independently arrive at the same articulated theory of evolution from a consideration of the characteristics of some species of organisms in nature, their geographic distribution, and their similarities to other species. This amazement becomes considerably tempered, however, when one considers the social consciousness and economic milieu in which the theory arose, a milieu marked by the rise of competitive industrial capitalism in which individuals rose in the social hierarchy based, presumably, on their greater entrepreneurial fitness.

One of the reasons that Darwinism is so seldom considered in context is because to do so is fatal to the theory. Darwin was, after all, just the product of a culture soaked in, even premised on, evolutionary ideas. Even Genesis is a tale of common descent, morphological change and Adam as the ur-Taxonomist. Nothing could have been more natural than that biologists would try to apply these ideas, especially as they'd been outlined and applied in the economic sphere, to their own discipline. But the fundamental problem is obvious: Darwin was borrowing from theories of intelligent design while trying to avoid the reality of the intelligence and the design. This amounted to an act of faith, as opposed to science. Having, thus, never grounded his theory rationally there was little chance it would pan out or withstand even cursory scientific scrutiny. It suffices for those who share his faith, but is, unfortunately, laughable to everyone else.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:20 AM


Obama's Ideal Justice: Nominating a crusading liberal activist could seriously jeopardize the president's own best interests. (Stuart Taylor Jr., May 9, 2009, National Journal)

Many hope, and many others fear, that President Obama will choose a crusading liberal activist to energize the Supreme Court's progressive wing.

Such an appointee might push to expand racial preferences, abortion rights, and especially welfare rights for poor people; to strike down the law barring openly gay people from the military; to recognize gay marriage (which Obama has opposed); to end the death penalty and curtail gun rights (both of which he has supported); to free Guantanamo detainees unless they can be convicted of crimes (which would reject Obama's policy); and much more.

The preceding parentheticals suggest some of the reasons I'm cautiously betting that Obama will choose a moderate liberal who believes in judicial restraint. By this I mean deference to elected officials unless they violate clear constitutional commands or show gross irresponsibility. The lack of such restraint is what I mean by "judicial activism."

A restrained liberal justice might, for example, hope for legislative recognition of same-sex marriage (as do I) but decline to rewrite the Constitution to override the democratic process on the issue by judicial decree.

This is not to suggest that the president will pick a centrist, let alone a conservative. Filling moderately left-of-center Justice David Souter's seat with anyone seen as more centrist would be a stunning abandonment of Obama's campaign stance that would infuriate his liberal base.

But nominating a crusading liberal activist could seriously jeopardize the president's own best interests, in terms of policy as well as politics. And although some of Obama's past statements are seen by critics as a formula for judicial activism, he has also shown awareness of its perils.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


National Right to Life Slams Obama White House for Urging Repeal of Ban on Tax-Funded Abortion-on-Demand in Nation's Capital (

Today's White House budget submission explicitly urges the House and Senate -- which the President's party currently controls with nearly three-fifths majorities -- to repeal a law (sometimes called the Dornan Amendment) that has prevented tax-funded abortion in the District of Columbia for many years.

The pro-abortion folks aren't generally so clear about their purposes, but funding abortion in the 55% black District would be a real feather in their caps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Predicting the death of Islam: a review of The Crisis of Islamic Civilization by Ali A Allawi (Spengler, Asia Times)

Allawi's book provides an antidote for the superficial, condescending sort of reform-mongering that too often characterizes Western discussions of Islam. The previous administration in Washington, for example, seemed to think that simply by appropriating the democratic norms of the West, Muslim countries could join the modern world. But the differences between Islam and the Judeo-Christian West run far deeper than the political surface, Allawi argues, and they begin with a radically different view of the individual, or more precisely, the view that the individual human being really does not exist to begin with.

"Islam departs from the mainstream of modern constructs of the individual and the group," Allawi observes. The notion of a human individual is absent from Islamic thinking and impossible to describe in the Arabic language, he argues. Only God has individuality and uniqueness; the individual is merely an instrument, as it were. Many Western readers will skim uncomprehending over this material, and thus miss the radical thrust of Allawi's argument. Western political scientists do not learn theology, whereas Allawi argues that in the Islamic world, politics is theology. Even if it is a bit technical, Allawi's discussion is worth quoting at length:

In classic Islamic doctrine, the problem of the nature of the individual as an autonomous entity endowed with free will simply does not arise outside of the context of the individual's ultimate dependence on God. The Arabic word for "individual" - al-fard - does not have the commonly understood implication of a purposeful being, imbued with the power of rational choice. Rather, the term carries the connotation of singularity, aloofness or solitariness. The power of choice and will granted to the individual is more to do with the fact of acquiring these from God, at the point of a specific action or decision - the so-called iktisab - rather than the powers themselves which are not innate to natural freedoms or rights. Al-fard is usually applied as one of the attributes of supreme being, in the sense of an inimitable uniqueness. It is usually grouped with others of God's attributes (such as in the formula al-Wahid, al-Ahad, al-Fard, al-Samad: The One in essence, state and being, and the everlasting), to establish the absolute transcendence of the divine essence. Man is simply unable to acquire any of these essential attributes.

"Therefore," concludes Allawi, "to claim the right and the possibility of autonomous action without reference to the source of these in God is an affront." This is a remarkably clear formulation of a central premise of Islam, worth the price of the book alone, for it makes clear why individuality in the Western sense is inconceivable within Islam: an absolutely transcendent God leaves no room at all for the individual. The individual acquires from God whatever appearance of individuality he might have, but has no autonomy, in sharp contrast to the Western notion. "The entire edifice of individual rights derived from the natural state of the individual or through a secular ethical or political theory is alien to the structure of Islamic reasoning. The individual has a reality, but this is contingent upon a greater reality."

It is a commonplace to compare Islamic theocracy to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. That has been the approach of such critics as Daniel Pipes and Paul Berman, among others. But Islam is much older than modern totalitarian forms, and Allawi, like Tariq Ramadan and other modern Islamic philosophers, offers a persuasive case that the "totalitarian" character of Islamic society requires no emulation of European models, but stems directly from Islam itself.

Allawi's explanation of why the individual disappears into the Islamic whole bears comparison to Franz Rosenzweig's account of Islam as a pagan parody of revealed religion. Analytically, Allawi's explanation of the mere contingency of the individual is identical to Rosenzweig's; they differ only whether they think this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Just finished (and reviewed)an extraordinary little book by Arnold Toynbee, The world and the West. In it he makes two points central to this discussion. The first, almost in passing, is that Islam and Marxism are both just Christian heresies. And what he says directly of the Communist heresy also applies to the Islamic:
A theologian might put it that our great modern Western heresiarch Karl Marx has made what is a heretic's characteristic intellectual mistake and moral aberration. In putting his finger on one point in orthodox practice in which there has been a crying need for reform, he has lost sight of all other considerations and therefore has produced a remedy that is worse than the disease.

It was this losing sight of all the other considerations that left the Islamic world (like the Communist world) so retarded and deprived it of the benefits--liberal democracy, capitalism, protestantism--that went with Christianity, especially once it had Reformed itself. Now--in a process accelerated by the communications revolution--its leaders find themselves having to deal with restive populations that demand all or part of these benefits but with a worldview incapable of delivering them. To put it bluntly, Islam has failed by its own terms and must import aspects of Westernism in order to elevate its civilization to the point that it can compete with the West.

Ah, but there's the rub...for, Toynbee makes clear, you can't actually make yourself partially Western and maintain the rest of your anti-Western civilization anymore than you can be a little bit pregnant. It goes almost without saying that a system that is premised upon totalitarianism can not adopt political, economic, and religious freedoms without ceasing to exist. Nor can it, in the long run, allow freedom in one sphere but totally control the others:

If a splinter is flaked off from one culture and is introduced into a foreign body social, this isolated splinter will tend to draw in after it, into the foreign body, in which it has lodged, the other component elements of the social system in which this splinter is at home and from which it has been forcibly and unnaturally detached. The broken pattern tends to reconstitute itself in a foreign environment into which one of its components has found its way.

We can see this process at work most clearly in Iran, which wanted to be at least somewhat democratic in politics but authoritarian everywhere else. Now, despite the rejectionism of an accidental lunatic as president, the common people are demanding that Western economic reforms be undertaken and the Grand Ayatollah recognizes that they are necessary if anything is to be preserved of the Republic. Similarly, the Gulf states, for which Allawi has such contempt, may have only wanted to import some capitalism to aid their economies, but have ended up with an increasingly liberal personal sphere as well. Democracy will be next.

Contra Spengler, this is the genius of W's insistence that the Islamic world will be Reformed by importing even discrete particulars of the Western model. Unlike swine flu, Westernism is lethal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Pelosi Briefed on Use of Interrogation Tactics in Sept. ’02 (Rick Klein, 5/07/09, ABC News)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah in September 2002, according to a report prepared by the Director of National Intelligence’s office and obtained by ABC News.

The report, submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee and other Capitol Hill officials Wednesday, appears to contradict Pelosi’s statement last month that she was never told about the use of waterboarding or other special interrogation tactics. Instead, she has said, she was told only that the Bush administration had legal opinions that would have supported the use of such techniques.

The report details a Sept. 4, 2002 meeting between intelligence officials and Pelosi, then-House intelligence committee chairman Porter Goss, and two aides. At the time, Pelosi was the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.

The meeting is described as a “Briefing on EITs including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of particular EITs that had been employed.”

EITs stand for “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a classification of special interrogation tactics that includes waterboarding.

Pelosi, D-Calif., sharply disputed suggestions last month that she had been told about waterboarding having taken place.

The one big point in her favor is that she's quite believable when she claims to have been incompetent in her oversight duty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM

ISN'T IT A TAD LATE... (via Lou Gots):

Germany aims to ban paintball (News 24, 07/05/2009)

The German government wants to tighten gun laws and ban paintball games in response to a school shooting in which 16 people were killed in March, coalition sources said on Thursday.

Experts from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners had agreed to ban paintball games, in which players shoot at each other with pellets containing paint, the sources said.

The governing parties say games like paintball trivialise violence and risk lowering the threshold for committing violent acts, the sources said.

...for the Hun to take action against mass-murdering painters?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Police Blotter (Elise Quinones, 5/08/09, The Dartmouth)

South Main Street

A Hanover Police officer on patrol observed a female wrapped in toilet paper and balloons walking near the Hanover Inn. When approached by the officer, the female explained that she was on campus to surprise a friend for her birthday and the costume was supposed to represent a sheep.

...give real sheep.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Conservative rival raps Iran president on economy (AP, May 8, 2009)

[Mohsen Rezaei, a] conservative challenger to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed Friday to "save" Iran's economy if elected, accusing the hard-line leader of pushing the country "on the edge of a precipice."

Rezaei made clear Friday his campaign would focus on economic complaints against Ahmadinejad, and even suggested he would work with reformists, saying he would form a coalition government if he wins.

"We've come to save the country's economy. The economy is in need of fundamental changes. We will cure it through formation of a coalition government," he told a press conference after formally registering as a candidate.

"Iran's economy has derailed. It is a centralized economy and managed poorly. There is recession and low productivity ... any efforts to bring development in national economy faces challenges from the government. We want to get the economy out of this situation," he said.

Notably, Rezaei was accompanied by his top adviser, Davood Danesh Jafari, an economist who was Ahmadinejad's economy minister but turned into a critic, blaming Ahmadinejad's policies for high inflation and growing economic hardships.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Former Red Sox great Dom DiMaggio dies at 92 (Associated Press, May 8, 2009)

Known as the “Little Professor” because of his eyeglasses and his 5-foot-9, 168-pound frame, the younger brother of New York Yankees Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio hit in 34 consecutive games in 1949.

Dom’s streak was broken on Aug. 9 when his big brother caught a sinking liner in the eighth inning of a 6-3 Red Sox win over the Yankees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Ed Driscoll points out how short a step it is from absurdity to core liberal ideology

May 7, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Chelsea v Barca Game Reveals Blatant Flaws Of Football (The Gaffer, EPL Talk)

The last time I visited my relatives in England, I was so embarrassed after I switched on the television and The Jerry Springer Show came on. I sat with my cousins and uncle as we watched the host, guests and audience members on TV going through their disgusting charade of ridicule and comedy at the expense of a few members of the human race. I was embarrassed because how could you defend that, as an American citizen? Yes, it’s entertainment, but it only gives Americans a bad name.

A similar level of embarrassment swept over me yesterday after the end of the Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona. Yes, the climax of the game was breathtaking, but the mistakes made by the referee were appalling and the behavior of Chelsea players such as Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack were disgraceful. This time, I was embarrassed because the game brought to the forefront the flaws of our favorite sport.

...big-breasted lesbians to divert your attention. Soccer's got nuthin'.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


Asharq Al-Awsat Goes Inside Al Qaeda's Hideout (Turki Al-Saheil, 5/07/09, asharq alawasat)

It appears that members of the Al Qaeda terrorist cell whose activities were disrupted by Saudi security forces last month were in the process of trying to revive their Afghan experience by hiding out in the southern region of Saudi Arabia, which is the closest thing in Saudi Arabia to the rugged Afghan Tora Bora mountainside. [...]

This Afghan experience was reflected in members of the Al Qaeda cell that has become known as the "southern cave" cell choosing this location for its hide-out. Asharq Al-Awsat was recently the first newspaper to visit the southern cave.

The main cave was used by members of the cell for the storage of arms and foodstuffs, and occasionally as a temporary place of shelter also. The cave is located 155 km or two hours from the city of Abha, which is the capital of the Asir province. The cave is one of a series of small isolated caves in the Sarwat mountainside, which stretches from the Western region of Saudi Arabia to Yemen. This mountain range is 1000 meters above sea level at its lowest point and 2200 meters above sea level at its highest.

Access to the region where the Al Qaeda cell's cave is located requires detour around villages such as Ballahmar and Ballasmar, as well as travelling through the region of Al-Namas. Al Namas is only a stones throw away from the opening of the cave where the terrorist cell that was planning on carrying out a series of assassinations against senior security figures was holed up.

One of the [governmental] escorts that accompanied Asharq Al-Awsat on the trip to the cave which took approximately 8 hours, revealed that "The security services operation to uncover [the location of] the cave took place quietly without any of the local population being aware of it" or even "the local residents knowing about the existence of the cave, or its location."

The rugged terrain of this mountainous region does not suggest that life can easily flourish under these harsh geographical conditions, and this is not to mention the cold atmosphere at these heights. It is clear that this is what made it easy for the members of the Al Qaeda cell to move around in this mountainous region. Indeed the majority of those arrested are originally from mountainous regions, and so traversing such areas is not difficult for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Democrats face hard time over Guantanamo: Obama's decision to close the detention facility puts lawmakers on the hot seat as word spreads that some detainees could be relocated to the U.S. (Janet Hook, May 7, 2009, LA Times)

States and municipalities around the country are saying "not in my backyard," and Republicans are raising the prospect of relocated detainees putting Americans in danger.

"By releasing trained terrorists into civilian communities in the United States, the administration will, by definition, endanger the American people," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

In several states, legislators have introduced or passed resolutions opposing the transfer of detainees to correctional facilities or military bases in their areas. One Montana town volunteered to take detainees into its empty prison, only to be denounced by the state's entire congressional delegation.

"Not on my watch," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). [...]

The GOP effort to spotlight the issue is part of a campaign to sow anxiety about Obama's stewardship of national security. Shifting their focus from the economic issues that have dominated the Washington debate, Republicans have been trying to portray Obama's presidency as one that has made the nation less secure.

In a Web video that includes images of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) asks, "Just what is the administration's overarching plan to take on the terrorist threat and to keep America safe?"

To ask the question is to answer it: this is an administration that has done no long term thinking on any topic, they follow W's lead and they react to minutiae.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Go See Star Trek: It's logical. (Dana Stevens, May 6, 2009, Slate)

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek (Paramount Pictures) is a gift to those of us who loved the original series, that brainy, wonky, idealistic body of work that aired to almost no commercial success between 1966 and 1969 and has since become a science fiction archetype and object of cult adoration. For fans who grew up watching the show in ubiquitous after-school reruns and who commandeered the La-Z-Boy as an impromptu captain's chair, Star Trek is neither a franchise nor a property. It's a world. Abrams' cannily constructed prequel respects (for the most part) the rules of that world and, more importantly, retains the original Star Trek's spirit of optimism, curiosity, and humor.

The near-universal enthusiasm for Abrams' film (it currently has a critical rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes) may partly spring from sheer relief that it isn't awful. The idea of "rebooting" Star Trek seemed ill-augured, not only because the 40-year-old show has been through so many big- and small-screen recyclings already, but because—well, how do you "reboot" something that's so thoroughly analog? The very charm of the old Star Trek was its low-tech rendering of a high-tech world, with futuristic medical implements represented by salt shakers and aliens fashioned from nothing but green body paint or a glued-on pair of ears.

Star Trek's vision of the future, as guided by creator Gene Roddenberry, was also a relic of its time, the age of NASA and the Cold War and Kruschev pounding his shoe on a podium at the UN. The show's faith in diplomacy and technology as tools for not just global but universal peace might seem touchingly dated in our post-9/11 age of stateless jihad, loose nukes, and omnipresent danger. Yet in a weird way, Star Trek's cheerfully square naiveté makes it the perfect film for our first summer of (slimly) renewed hope. It's a blockbuster for the Obama age, when smarts and idealism are cool again. In fact, can't you picture our president—levelheaded, biracial, implacably smart--on the bridge in a blue shirt and pointy ears?

Yes, as a useful subordinate to the passionate, idealistic, maverick commander.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


REBRANDING THE LONG WAR: Obama does his Bush impression (Pepe Escobar, 5/08/09, Asia Times)

The "lasting commitment" Washington war-time summit/photo-op between United States President Barack Obama and the AfPak twins, "Af" President Hamid Karzai and "Pak" President Asif Ali Zardari was far from being an urgent meeting to discuss ways to prevent the end of civilization as we know it. It has been all about the meticulous rebranding of the Pentagon's "Long War".

In Obama's own words, the "lasting commitment" is above all to "defeat al-Qaeda". As an afterthought, the president added, "But also to support the democratically elected, sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan." To have George W Bush's man in Kabul and former premier Benazir Bhutto's widow defined as "sovereign", one would be excused for believing Bush is still in the White House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


In-N-Out: Can perfection survive?: As the burger company's future is sorted out, a connoisseur columnist urges, 'Don't change!' (Michael Hiltzik, May 7, 2009, LA Times)

The In-N-Out cult -- is there any other word for it? -- is rooted in its patrons' appreciation for its simple menu and its sedulous devotion to fresh, high-quality ingredients.

To be sure, there are other fascinations. These include the mystique created by its management's traditional refusal to ever speak to the press (including for this column).

Then there are the biblicalcitations imprinted on the edges and seams of its burger wrappers and disposable cups, a practice started by the late Richard Snyder, the born-again younger son and onetime heir apparent to In-N-Out's founders, Harry and Esther Snyder.

Finally, there are the intertwined issues of In-N-Out's colorful past and its unsettled future, which are touched on in a new book titled simply "In-N-Out Burger," by BusinessWeek writer Stacy Perman.

Perman observes that In-N-Out has prospered by hewing close to the stolid principles of controlled growth, limited menu, fresh food and regional focus -- with the exception of one store in Utah, its 232 locations are all in California, Nevada or Arizona -- set in stone by its founders, like commandments. (Harry died in 1976, his widow in 2006.) As a private company, In-N-Out doesn't release financial figures, though the trade press estimated sales in 2005 at $370 million -- a healthy sum for a small chain.

Southern Californians have grown up appreciating the company's virtues, while the rest of the country slavers from afar: In-N-Out generally pays better than other burger chains, in return for which employees are held to rigorous standards of appearance and behavior. It's a fair bet you'll never see a video on YouTube of workers adulterating In-N-Out food even in jest, as recently befell another chain.

In-N-Out management, from corporate headquarters in Baldwin Park and Irvine down to store level, is first class.

The Wife and I serendipitously found that one in Utah. The burgers were perfect, the fries awful, the staff almost Stepford Wivish in their blank politeness. It's hard to describe though the greatest aspect of the place, which is the simplicity of the menu. It seems not unlikely that the limited number of choices is central to the superior quality of the dining experience

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


EXCERPT: from "Photography and Representation" (Roger Scruton)

It seems odd to say that photography is not a mode of representation. For a photograph has in common with a painting the property by which the painting represents the world, the property of sharing, in some sense, the appearance of its subject. Indeed, it is sometimes thought that since a photograph more effectively shares the appearance of its subject than a typical painting, photography is a better mode of representation. Photography might even be thought of as having replaced painting as a mode of visual representation. Painters have felt that if the aim of painting is really to reproduce the appearances of things, then painting must give way to whatever means are available to reproduce an appearance more accurately. It has therefore been said that painting aims to record the appearances of things only so as to capture the experience of observing them (the impression) and that the accurate copying of appearances will normally be at variance with this aim. Here we have the seeds of expressionism and the origin of the view (a view which not only is mistaken but which has also proved disastrous for the history of modern art) that painting is somehow purer when it is abstract and closer to its essence as an art.

Thus is modern art nothing more than a form of surrender by folks who decided it was easier to produce obscure crap and pretend that it has artistic value than to strive to reCreate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


'Hobbit' was a dwarf with large feet: Studies suggest Flores man was a distinct species. (Rex Dalton, 5/06/09, Nature)

The foot was long in relation to lower limb length, [William Jungers of Stony Brook University in New York] says. The big toe was in line with the other toes, but it was short, whereas the other toes were long.

...the absurdity that toe size is speciation.

May 6, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM

50 IN '10:

It's Alive!: Obituaries For The Republican Party In The Northeast Appear To Have Been Premature (John Mercurio, May 6, 2009, National Journal)

If Democrats are quietly concerned about Pennsylvania, they're openly terrified about Connecticut, where President Obama took 61 percent last fall. Perhaps no Senate Democrat is more vulnerable in 2010 than the Nutmeg State's Christopher Dodd, a 29-year incumbent who has never been re-elected with less than 59 percent. Through a series of missteps, Dodd now trails his likely GOP challenger, former Rep. Rob Simmons, by double digits, according to some recent polls. How vulnerable is Dodd? So much so that he's frequently mentioned these days in the same breath as former Sens. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and John Sununu, R-N.H., two Northeast Republicans who were trounced in re-election bids earlier this decade.

But one of those Republicans may have reason to consider a comeback. In New Hampshire, a new Granite State Poll shows Sununu leading Rep. Paul Hodes, the likely Democratic nominee in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (R). If he decided not to retire, the poll shows, Gregg could win that race in a cakewalk.

Even in Massachusetts, one of the country's most solidly blue states, Democrats are increasingly nervous about Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who recently drew a wealthy GOP challenger and has seen his approval ratings plummet since February.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


Democrats to hold majority on meltdown commission (ANNE FLAHERTY, 5/06/09, Associated Press)

Democrats will hold sway on a new independent commission to investigate the cause of the financial meltdown and chart the nation's path ahead, with the majority party picking six members and Republicans four.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 PM


Limbaugh to Powell: 'Become a Democrat' (Lauren Kornreich, 5/06/09, CNN)

Rush Limbaugh fired back at Colin Powell for his critical comments earlier this week, saying Wednesday that the former secretary of state should join the Democratic Party.

...the party is too crowded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Poll: Don't investigate torture techniques (CNN, 5/06/09)

A new national poll indicates that most Americans don't want to see an investigation of Bush administration officials who authorized harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, even though most people think such procedures were forms of torture.

Six in ten people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday believe that some of the procedures, such as water boarding, were a form of torture, with 36 percent disagreeing.

But half the public approves of the Bush administration's decision to use of those techniques during the questioning of suspected terrorists, with 50 percent in approval and 46 percent opposed.

...terrorists who haven't been waterboarded have told us all they know?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Indiana's Daniels On Changing The 'Party Of No' Image: Popular Republican Governor Reflects On The GOP's First 100 Days As The Opposition Party (National Journal, May 2, 2009)

While Barack Obama carried Indiana last November -- the first time since LBJ that a Democrat accomplished that feat -- Republican incumbent Gov. Mitch Daniels rolled up the largest vote total of any statewide candidate in Hoosier history. The governor is also steeped in Washington politics, having served as the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, chief of the political and intergovernmental affairs shops in Ronald Reagan's White House, and George W. Bush's first Office of Management and Budget director. Daniels spoke recently with National Journal's James A. Barnes about how his party was faring during Obama's first 100 days in office. Edited excerpts follow. [...]

NJ: What do you think is the biggest lesson that the Republicans haven't quite learned yet from the last election?

Daniels: Always have a better idea. Let me tell you how this looks from out here -- and we're anomalous. In Indiana, Republicans are the party of change and reform; ask anybody -- our opponents, the press, everybody. In the rhythm of life here, four years ago we replaced a 16-year regime that had gone stale.

And so we are the party that restored fiscal integrity. We are the party that addressed health care for the uninsured. We are the party that rebuilt an attractive business environment. We are the party that cleaned up the ethics issues in government -- that and much more. We attacked our infrastructure problem in a novel and taxpayer-friendly way.

NJ: That you took a little heat over...

Daniels: Yes, yes, but you know, the results are in -- and incidentally, we just won with the largest vote total in the history of elections in our state for any office any year.

NJ: A tough year, too...

Daniels: In a tough year. Obama won the state -- you know that. I guess what I'm saying is that when Indiana Republicans meet, I always tell them we cannot control what the party looks like in other places or nationally, but here in Indiana if we don't remain the party always defining the agenda, bringing the new ideas and standing for constructive change, then people will excuse us from duty. And they should. ...

People want to know first of all that you hear them and understand what's going on in their lives. I work at this incessantly.

When we addressed health care for the uninsured, or insurance for those without, it's a very free-market solution -- it's basically HSA's for poor people -- and it's extraordinarily popular. I had a lady hugging me and crying down in a coffee shop in Connorsville Saturday morning because she got coverage -- I've had this experience a thousand times -- she got coverage and she couldn't possibly have had it any other way. I just think that the image problems we have are very real, but also addressable, by a Republican Party that goes out of its way to show that it cares about average people and the least advantaged.

Let me just go off on another one my little sermons I always give. Here's a political fact of life: You can be a blue-blood, silver spoon, coastal elitist, and if you have the Democratic label, you start with the presumption that you are connected to average folks. And the Republicans start with the negative presumption. So don't whine about it being unfair, just recognize it and go work on it.

NJ: Democrats and their allies have labeled the Republicans as "the party of no." Do you think that can stick?

Daniels: Do you know what's interesting about that? That's exactly the word I've been using for the last four years in Indiana. You can go Google it. In Indiana, the Democratic Party -- and by the way, it fits -- I've said they are the party of no, they are the party of yesterday. That's exactly our comment about our opponents here. So it shows that being negative or being without new ideas is not the province of any side.

...there's the governing party that ran on the Third Way and won and the losing party that says, "no" to it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


Obama Proposes Extending D.C. Voucher Program (Shailagh Murray, 5/06/09, Washington Post)

President Obama will seek to extend the controversial D.C. school voucher program until all 1,716 participants have graduated from high school, although no new students will be accepted, according to an administration official who has reviewed budget details scheduled for release tomorrow.

The budget documents, which expand on the fiscal 2010 blueprint that Congress approved last month by outlining Obama's priorities in detail, would provide $12.2 million for the Opportunity Scholarship Program for the 2009-2010 school year. The new language also would revise current law that makes further funding for existing students contingent on Congress's reauthorization of the program beyond its current June 2010 expiration date. Under the Obama proposal, further congressional action would not be necessary, and current students would automatically receive grants until they finish school.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan had told reporters that it didn't make sense "to take kids out of a school where they're happy and safe and satisfied and learning," but Democrats effectively terminated the program by requiring its reauthorization. prevent unhappy kids who aren't learning from utilizing such a program? Man, those teachers unions really got what they bought: the Democratic Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Study plunges standard Theory of Cosmology into Crisis (, May 5th, 2009)

As modern cosmologists rely more and more on the ominous “dark matter” to explain otherwise inexplicable observations, much effort has gone into the detection of this mysterious substance in the last two decades, yet no direct proof could be found that it actually exists. Even if it does exist, dark matter would be unable to reconcile all the current discrepancies between actual measurements and predictions based on theoretical models. Hence the number of physicists questioning the existence of dark matter has been increasing for some time now.

Competing theories of gravitation have already been developed which are independent of this construction. Their only problem is that they conflict with Newton’s theory of gravitation.

“Maybe Newton was indeed wrong”, declares Professor Dr. Pavel Kroupa of Bonn University's Argelander-Institut für Astronomie (AIfA). “Although his theory does, in fact, describe the everyday effects of gravity on Earth, things we can see and measure, it is conceivable that we have completely failed to comprehend the actual physics underlying the force of gravity”.

One of the things that Darwinists fundamentally misconstrue is that just because you don't believe in the validity of a theory doesn't mean you reject the facts it's trying to describe. You can accept that life forms have evolved and that stones don't fall upwards while scoffing at the fables scientists use to explain the phenomena.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


L.A. Unified pays teachers not to teach: About 160 instructors and others get salaries for doing nothing while their job fitness is reviewed. They collect roughly $10 million a year, even as layoffs are considered because of a budget gap. (Jason Song, May 6, 2009, LA Times)

For seven years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has paid Matthew Kim a teaching salary of up to $68,000 per year, plus benefits.

His job is to do nothing.

Every school day, Kim's shift begins at 7:50 a.m., with 30 minutes for lunch, and ends when the bell at his old campus rings at 3:20 p.m. He is to take off all breaks, school vacations and holidays, per a district agreement with the teacher's union. At no time is he to be given any work by the district or show up at school.

He has never missed a paycheck.

In the jargon of the school district, Kim is being "housed" while his fitness to teach is under review. A special education teacher, he was removed from Grant High School in Van Nuys and assigned to a district office in 2002 after the school board voted to fire him for allegedly harassing teenage students and colleagues. In the meantime, the district has spent more than $2 million on him in salary and legal costs.

Last week, Kim was ordered to continue this daily routine at home. District officials said the offices for "housed" employees were becoming too crowded.

About 160 teachers and other staff sit idly in buildings scattered around the sprawling district, waiting for allegations of misconduct to be resolved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


I Want To GOP to There: 30 Rock's weird conservative streak. (Jonah Weiner, May 6, 2009, Slate)

The show's central tension remains the tug of war between Fey's Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. Their head butting doubles as an argument about the viability of liberal ideals and the allure of a pragmatic, colder-eyed conservatism—and it's remarkable how often the show sides with the latter.

The terms of the debate are established in the pilot. Whereas Jack is a wealthy dater of models with an arsenal of problem-management skills honed over decades of corporate retreats, Liz has only a checking account to her name and clings to a fantasy of presexual, junk-food-munching adolescence. Jack adores the political right for its merciless expedience—he fires Liz's longtime producer, Pete, without a blink—while Liz's liberalism is presented as another symptom of her prolonged adolescence. "Lemon," a stupefied Jack asks later in the season, "what happened in your childhood to make you think that people are good?"

Beyond the comedic possibilities of such an odd couple, what's the show getting at here? In one light, Liz's self-infantilizing might reflect an urge toward equality: The man-child is a venerable comic tradition, from The Jerk to Billy Madison to everything Will Ferrell does, and 30 Rock proves that an eternal 13-year-old tomboy—scared of sex, obsessed with Star Wars and meatball subs—can be just as funny as her male counterpart. It might reflect an ethos of resistance, too: Liz, fearing that she's a brunette caught in a blonde's game, incapable of (and feeling icky about) using her sexuality to get ahead the way her friend Jenna Maroney does, tries to drop out of the race altogether, to barricade herself in a world where wheels of cheese, not sex, wealth, and power, are the brass rings.

But Liz's would-be adolescent paradise—and, with it, her liberal-feminist instincts—is ultimately cast as a neurosis she needs to escape, lest she die alone and unloved in her apartment, choking on a sandwich.

All you needed to know is that it's funny to know it's conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Firing tenured teachers can be a costly and tortuous task: A Times investigation finds the process so arduous that many principals don't even try, except in the very worst cases. Jettisoning a teacher solely because he or she can't teach is rare. (Jason Song, May 3, 2009, LA Times)

It's remarkably difficult to fire a tenured public school teacher in California, a Times investigation has found. The path can be laborious and labyrinthine, in some cases involving years of investigation, union grievances, administrative appeals, court challenges and re-hearings.

Not only is the process arduous, but some districts are particularly unsuccessful in navigating its complexities. The Los Angeles Unified School District sees the majority of its appealed dismissals overturned, and its administrators are far less likely even to try firing a tenured teacher than those in other districts.

The Times reviewed every case on record in the last 15 years in which a tenured employee was fired by a California school district and formally contested the decision before a review commission: 159 in all (not including about two dozen in which the records were destroyed). The newspaper also examined court and school district records and interviewed scores of people, including principals, teachers, union officials, district administrators, parents and students.

Among the findings:

* Building a case for dismissal is so time-consuming, costly and draining for principals and administrators that many say they don't make the effort except in the most egregious cases. The vast majority of firings stem from blatant misconduct, including sexual abuse, other immoral or illegal behavior, insubordination or repeated violation of rules such as showing up on time.

* Although districts generally press ahead with only the strongest cases, even these get knocked down more than a third of the time by the specially convened review panels, which have the discretion to restore teachers' jobs even when grounds for dismissal are proved.

* Jettisoning a teacher solely because he or she can't teach is rare. In 80% of the dismissals that were upheld, classroom performance was not even a factor.

When teaching is at issue, years of effort -- and thousands of dollars -- sometimes go into rehabilitating the teacher as students suffer. Over the three years before he was fired, one struggling math teacher in Stockton was observed 13 times by school officials, failed three year-end evaluations, was offered a more desirable assignment and joined a mentoring program as most of his ninth-grade students flunked his courses.

As a case winds its way through the system, legal costs can soar into the six figures.

Meanwhile, said Kendra Wallace, principal of Daniel Webster Middle School on Los Angeles' Westside, an ineffective teacher can instruct 125 to 260 students a year -- up to 1,300 in the five years she says it often takes to remove a tenured employee.

"The hardest conversation to have is when a student comes in and looks at you and says, 'Can you please come teach our class?' " she said.

When coaching and other improvement efforts don't work, she said, "You're in the position of having to look at 125 kids and just say, 'I'm sorry,' because the process of removal is really difficult. . . . You're looking at these kids and knowing they are going to high school and they're not ready. It is absolutely devastating."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Pakistani Army Poised for New Push Into Swat (CARLOTTA GALL, 5/06/09, NY Times)

Two weeks ago, the Taliban used the territory all but ceded to them under the accord to push into another district, Buner, just 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad, prompting American calls for tougher action.

A new operation in Swat may signal the harder stance American officials have been looking for. But the question remains whether the Pakistani military has the will and ability to sustain its operations against the insurgents, the vast majority of whom are Pakistani.

The American special envoy for the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, said Tuesday that the situation in Pakistan was fragile, but he welcomed the turn toward wider military action.

“Until yesterday, the momentum did not appear to be in the right hands,” he told Congress. “The army has now begun a major offensive. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes.”

The Pakistani military has battled the militants reluctantly in the past, but it is now engaged in heavy fighting with the Taliban in two other districts, Buner and Dir, that border Swat in the North-West Frontier Province.

Those campaigns are daunting enough. But the task in Swat remains hugely difficult, not least because the military had already failed to drive out the Taliban in two years of fighting before it finally conceded to the February truce and agreed to allow Islamic law to be imposed in the valley.

But public opinion in Pakistan has undergone an important shift against the Taliban since the deal, and it has now apparently given the military more confidence to move with full force.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Why Chrysler Failed: Chrysler has been America's automotive problem child for many decades. What's amazing is that the carmaker has lasted this long (Ed Wallace, 5/06/09, Business Week)

The consultants made numerous recommendations, most of which would prove near-disastrous for Chrysler. The first was to develop a decentralized management system that gave executives full authority over their divisions, just like at GM.

By setting up distinct Plymouth, DeSoto, Chrysler, and Imperial lines, Chrysler had emulated GM's concept of "a car for every purse and purpose." But the GM of the early '50s had nearly 30 years of practical experience with decentralization. Chrysler had nearly as many car divisions as GM, but Keller had micromanaged each of them.

Tex Colbert, who took over when Keller left, tried to implement decentralization but found the concept too alien for his executives. By 1958 they had reverted to using the old, failed system.

McKinsey had also suggested that Chrysler needed to become far less dependent on the U.S. market—that it needed to take on a foreign partner to become international like GM and Ford. But most of the best foreign car companies were either strongly independent or so troubled that the consultants' advice should have been ignored. Colbert approached both Rolls-Royce and Volkswagen, but they rejected his offer to buy in. Chrysler settled for a 25% stake in France's Simca.

With the American Century in full swing and the automobile age roaring ahead, Chrysler was badly losing market share. In 1954, Chrysler was forced to turn to Prudential for a 100-year loan of $250 million, the first sign that its future would be hampered by debt.

When everything fails in the automobile industry, one should always go back to the basics. This truism led Chrysler to hire Virgil Exner. One of the nation's premier styling experts, Exner had been responsible for designing Studebaker's new look of 1947. It was this outsider's vision of the future that finally gave Chrysler the attractive new "forward" look its vehicles boasted for 1955. Although the response was encouraging, the look may have been too little, too late for Chrysler. The corporation had started the decade with 23% of the new car market and ended 1959 with a mere 11% share.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Lawmakers Seeking Consensus On Social Security Overhaul (Lori Montgomery, 5/06/09, Washington Post)

"I know what it takes to get a solution," [Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)] said. "I think we can get double-digit Republican support for a reasonable compromise. But the key to this, at the end of the day, is presidential leadership."

Graham described Social Security as "a math problem" that could be easily solved if both parties were willing to work together. He sketched out a plan that would include lower benefits for wealthy Americans, a higher retirement age and additional revenues. With the stock market devastated by the recession, the traditional Republican option of diverting Social Security taxes to new private retirement accounts is, he said, "off the table."

"You can do a combination of things, give a little here and give a little there, and get it done," Graham said.

Hoyer is expected to sketch out a similar plan in a speech today to the Bipartisan Policy Center, which was established in 2007 by former Senate majority leaders Howard H. Baker Jr., a Republican, and Thomas A. Daschle, a Democrat, and former senators Robert J. Dole, a Republican, and George J. Mitchell, a Democrat. The center's goal is to promote bipartisan solutions to pressing public challenges.

According to an advance copy of the speech, Hoyer will suggest that Congress could approve "more revenues," "restrain the growth of benefits, particularly for higher-income workers," "and/or we can raise the retirement age, recognizing that our life expectancy is higher today."

"What is missing here is not ideas -- it is political will," the speech says.

Too much Reagan, too little W, but if you raised retirement age high enough and penalized early retirement heavily you'd force people to pursue other options..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Texan Is Second to Die of the New Flu Strain in U.S. (BETSY MCKAY and STEPHANIE SIMON, 5/06/09, WSJ)

A woman living near the Mexican border in south Texas became the second person in the U.S. to die of a new strain of flu, as the virus causing it continued to spread around the globe. [...]

The woman, who was a U.S. citizen in her early 30s, had "chronic underlying health conditions," according to Texas authorities. She had been hospitalized for about three weeks, after falling ill around April 14. None of her immediate family is ill, they said. They declined to elaborate further.

Texas has been hit hard by the H1N1 virus. The state has had 61 confirmed cases overall, including the only two fatalities in the U.S. Last month, a Mexican toddler who had crossed into Texas with his family to visit relatives succumbed to H1N1 in a Houston hospital. He, too, was described by state officials as being weakened by unrelated health conditions.

Yeah, it's like Europe during the Black Death....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Basic Formula for Meatloaf (Regina Dennie, 5/06/09, Contra Costa Times)

1 pound ground meat

1 egg

2 stale slices white bread (can substitute stale saltines or other breadstuffs)

1 small onion, chopped

½ cup ketchup, barbecue sauce, milk or other liquid

2 ribs celery, chopped (can substitute anything else that you like — cooked veggies, a bit of spaghetti sauce, tomato paste)

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Basil, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, thyme, pepper until it "smells right"

Bacon strips optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix meat with egg, then add all other ingredients and mix well.

2. Press mixture into a 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Pour additional barbecue sauce or ketchup on top and top with bacon strips if you like. Bake 1 hour and don't forget to scrub some nice potatoes and bake them alongside.

3. When meat is thoroughly cooked, remove dish from the oven. Pour off fat and enjoy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Obama budget puts security first at the border: He'll ask Congress to help curb the flow of arms to Mexico before seeking any immigration reform. (Anna Gorman and Peter Nicholas, May 6, 2009, LA Times)

President Obama will ask Congress for $27 billion for border and transportation security in the next budget year, fulfilling a promise to the Mexican government to battle the southbound flow of illegal weapons and setting the stage for immigration reform by first addressing enforcement, administration officials said Tuesday. [...]

In devoting more money to security and enforcement, Obama may be creating some political space needed to revamp the immigration system. The president risks alienating many conservatives if he doesn't emphasize strong border and immigration enforcement before taking action on a reform package that would create a path to legalization for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

"If the American people don't feel like you can secure the borders," Obama said during a prime-time news conference last week, "then it's hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here, because the attitude of the average American is going to be, 'Well, you're just going to have hundreds of thousands of more coming in each year.' "

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


President Obama is morphing into old rival Hillary Clinton (ALEX CONANT, 5/6/09, Politico)

[S]ince taking office, he has dropped virtually every position that distinguished him from Clinton.

Granted, there were not many policy differences between Obama and Clinton during the campaign. But those that existed were sharply debated and helped Obama define himself as the pragmatic change agent that many voters now believe him to be.

Take Iraq. Obama never missed an opportunity on the campaign trail to remind Democrats that he was the sole candidate to oppose the war in 2002, and — unlike Clinton — he had a hard date for ending the war. Clinton repeatedly questioned the wisdom and sincerity of Obama’s pledge to remove all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. It was the biggest difference between the two candidates — and one of the top reasons Obama won the nomination.

Yet just weeks after entering office, Obama largely dropped his campaign plan. Rather than withdraw all combat troops on a set timeline, Obama opted for a conditions-based withdrawal that will leave as many as 50,000 troops in the war zone at the end of 2011 — exactly the sort of drawdown he maligned Clinton for proposing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Muqtada comes in from the cold (Sami Moubayed , 5/07/09, Asia Times)

Muqtada is eyeing the day the Americans start leaving Iraqi towns and cities this summer, and like everybody else in the Iraqi scene, he wants to fill the vacuum. In other words, he is dying to be recognized by the world around him as a seasoned statesman, rather than a guerilla warrior, and to break the stereotype of him in the US media of being an Iranian puppet good for nothing except armed warfare.

Muqtada sees himself as another Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader in Lebanon, a man able to become an all-Iraqi, and eventually, pan-Arab statesman. Very noticeable is that he went to Turkey after having visited Iran, and he is likely to show up in Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, before December.

This repeats what has happened to leaders of military groups throughout history, when they reach a point where they are fed up with war and want regional or international legitimacy to rule, rather than be members of an underground movement.

Hamas in Palestine was a clear example in 2006. Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, now regarded as the leading pro-Western party in Palestine, is another example. In 1974, Arafat went to the United Nations and made his famous speech, "I come to you carrying an olive branch, and a freedom fighter's gun. Don't let the olive branch fall from my hand."

And now, Muqtada has gone to Turkey - perhaps somewhat unwillingly - carrying an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun - for everybody to see, Arabs, Iranians and Iraqis too. He is also telling them, "Don't let the olive branch fall from my hand."

We must remember that Muqtada is an Islamic and Arab nationalist at heart, who has always dreamt of establishing an Iran-like theocracy in Iraq, but which is nevertheless free of Iranian influence. He still sees Iraq as part of the greater Arab nation and cannot dislocate it from its neighbors.

May 5, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


Classroom Cop: Mayoral control of the schools is put to the test in Chicago. (Dirk Johnson, 5/05/09, Newsweek)

It has been 13 years since Mayor Richard M. Daley seized control of Chicago's school system, creating a new template for urban education. City hall now runs the classrooms in New York, Boston, Cleveland and a handful of other major American cities. The Chicago model has also gone federal. President Obama reached into the city's system to tap Arne Duncan as education secretary; he brings to the national stage a penchant for merit pay and charter schools, a determination to close failing schools—and a reasonably amiable relationship with the powerful teachers' unions, which may soon be put to the test. Duncan recently warned that he may withhold federal education stimulus money from states that limit the number of charter schools—caps typically backed by the unions. Success won't come easy.

"We're going to see some real drama on the education horizon," said Timothy Knowles, the director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, which has designed some new schools for the city. "This is the first time we're hearing some of these calls—for more parent choice and competition—coming from the Democratic side nationally." [...]

The Chicago schools were considered virtually a lost cause when the Illinois Legislature shifted control to the mayor in 1995. Robert Bennett, the secretary of education during the Reagan administration, had labeled Chicago's the worst classrooms in the nation. "The schools were a disaster, just poison," said Paul Green, a professor at Roosevelt University. "Some of them didn't even have toilet paper."

At the time, Republicans controlled both chambers of the Illinois Legislature. "They thought they were handing Daley a dead-bang loser of an issue," Green said.

Daley, adopting a bottom-line, business-oriented approach to the schools, changed the title of the top job from superintendent to chief executive officer. He put his budget director, Vallas, in charge, and ended the practice of "social promotion." In 1997, a whopping 25 percent of eighth graders were held back. Until then, more than 90 percent of eighth graders were being passed along, even with poor grades and scores.

Backers of mayoral control point to successes in Chicago, where 64 percent of the students met or exceeded state standards on achievement tests in 2008, compared to 36 percent in 2000. Under Duncan's leadership, test scores improved overall, and the city revamped dozens of schools, typically dismissing administrators, teachers and staff in underperforming schools, and starting over from scratch.

In his fifth-floor office in city hall, Daley told NEWSWEEK that the teachers union for too long had operated as if it only had "to answer to God."

"You need competition in education," the mayor said. "When you have a monopoly, it just doesn't work."

Some 60 charters now operate in Chicago, and the long lists for admission seem to indicate their popularity with parents. But many of these schools rely heavily on idealistic young teachers expected to perform on shoestring budgets. It is a situation that can lead to burnout. Turnover at charters tends to be very high. Three charter schools in the city have recently taken steps to form unions.

In the view of union president Stewart, the Daley model of running the schools has made a scapegoat of unions. "We have some Chicago public schools that are humming along beautifully," she said. "It's unconscionable to blame the teachers' union for the problems we see in some schools."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Specter Wants Coleman to Win (CQ, 5/05/09)

In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) said he hopes Norm Coleman (R) prevails in his Senate recount court fight against Al Franken (D) in Minnesota.

Said Specter: "There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Poll: Castle over AG Biden in Senate race (Frank Gerace, 5/05/09, 1150 AM WDEL)

A just-released poll shows Congressman Castle with a sizable lead over Attorney General Beau Biden in a hypothetical Senate race.

The survey by Pennsylvania-based Susquehanna Polling and Research shows Castle, an 8-term Republican Representative, with an overall 55-to-34-percent lead over Biden, a Democrat and the son of Vice President Joe Biden.

...that Arlen Specter would have been the 51st Republican vote in the next Senate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


Democrats duel over climate bill (PATRICK O'CONNOR & LISA LERER, 5/4/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama’s ambitious first-year agenda has some House Democrats fearing a repeat of 1994, when the priorities of a new president collided headfirst with the prerogatives of senior leaders on Capitol Hill and the party lost control of both the House and the Senate.

While few leaders would predict a similar collapse at this early stage in his presidency, those fears provided the backdrop for a leadership meeting Thursday in the speaker's Capitol conference room, people present said.

In the run-up to the meeting, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) argued in several newspaper interviews that the House should move cautiously on a cap-and-trade bill if it doesn’t look like the Senate will approve it. Van Hollen doesn’t want vulnerable House Democrats — especially the freshmen under his care — to be forced to take difficult votes on the measure if it’s not going to pass anyway.

...hasn't stalled them then why will the reality that their bill can't become law?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 PM


Punching above his weight: Filipino boxing champ Manny Pacquiao wows his fans with gloves and God. (Zen Udani | Tuesday, 5 May 2009,

Boxing is a sport which often brutalises its practitioners. But Manny is different and that’s part of the reason why Filipinos love him. First of all, he is pious, even disconcertingly so. He has no qualms about wearing a rosary around his neck before and after a match or of making a sign of the cross at the start of a round. He entrusts himself and his professional work to God. He started Saturday off by attending Mass and at the end of the fight you could see a member of Team Pacquiao pointing down to the corner, reminding him to kneel down and give thanks before acknowledging the cheers of the ecstatic crowd. And when Arum praised him for his phenomenal performance. Manny responded, "Don’t forget God."

Afterwards Manny was quick to give credit where it was due. "Everything comes from God. I owe everything to God. He gives me strength. With God on your side, anything is possible. You can do things you thought you could only dream about." But the self-deprecating boxer also deserves some of the credit. His training regime is incredibly demanding.

Pacquiao also regards his 90 million countrymen and his fans as part of his team. He’s not into the air-pumping egoism of some sportmen. "Manny Pacquiao as a person is a very dedicated person," he said in a pre-bout interview. "My fight, I’ve always dedicated to the people, especially my countrymen, and to all the people who love boxing,"

He also seems to be a genuine family man devoted to his wife and four children. His wife Jinkee watched the fight in Las Vegas. His mother came also as well. "It’s great to have her here," says Manny. " It gives me more inspiration to do my best and try my best to win." But during the clash, she stayed in her hotel room praying rosaries.

Finally, he’s not into boxing to humiliate and destroy his opponent. He always spoke respectfully of Hatton. "I was never afraid of him. But I knew I had to be careful because he’s a great champion." As soon as Hatton staggered to his feet, Manny extended a helping hand. He even expressed gratitude. "I thanked Ricky for giving me the opportunity to fight him because he put his championship at stake. I told him it’s nothing personal, that I just had to do my job, like he has to do his. I’m only a boxer so this is my job."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Mary Ann Glendon's Address to Benedict XVI: "Our Central Focus Has Always Been on the Dignity of the Human Person" (, 5/04/09)

Here is the text of the address given today by Mary Ann Glendon, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, to Benedict XVI upon being received by the Pontiff during the plenary session of the academy. The members of the academy are gathered in the Vatican through Tuesday, focusing on Catholic social doctrine and human rights. [...]

We have also been mindful of the fact that in today's world, ironically, many threats to the dignity of the person have appeared in the guise of human rights. As you pointed out in your memorable speech to the United Nations last year, there are mounting pressures to "move away from the protection of human dignity towards the satisfaction of simple interests, often particular interests."

The lady is not for decoration: America's leading Catholic woman declines to 'balance' Notre Dame's decision to honour a pro-abortion president. (Sheila Liaugminas, 5 May 2009, MercatorNet)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


U.S. Gas Fields Go From Bust to Boom (BEN CASSELMAN, 4/30/09, WSJ)

A massive natural-gas discovery here in northern Louisiana heralds a big shift in the nation's energy landscape. After an era of declining production, the U.S. is now swimming in natural gas.

Even conservative estimates suggest the Louisiana discovery -- known as the Haynesville Shale, for the dense rock formation that contains the gas -- could hold some 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That's the equivalent of 33 billion barrels of oil, or 18 years' worth of current U.S. oil production. Some industry executives think the field could be several times that size.

"There's no dry hole here," says Joan Dunlap, vice president of Petrohawk Energy Corp., standing beside a drilling rig near a former Shreveport amusement park.

Huge new fields also have been found in Texas, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. One industry-backed study estimates the U.S. has more than 2,200 trillion cubic feet of gas waiting to be pumped, enough to satisfy nearly 100 years of current U.S. natural-gas demand.

...who don't even realize that they're another world-is-ending cult.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Supplemental Battle Begins (Steven T. Dennis, 5/05/09, Roll Call)

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) on Monday outlined a $94 billion war spending bill — $9 billion more than President Barack Obama has requested — without a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq or binding restrictions on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obey also refused to provide $80 million for closing the detainee facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, saying the plans for doing so are not yet ready. And he did not give Obama the authority to invest $100 billion in the International Monetary Fund.

The supplemental blueprint, which was endorsed Monday afternoon by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) through a spokesman, could present Democratic liberals with a quandary.

Many left-leaning Members had signed letters in previous years refusing to support any more funding for Iraq unless a timeline for withdrawal was included, and many have expressed concern both at the lack of binding benchmarks for Afghanistan and Pakistan and the emphasis on military spending over economic and humanitarian aid.

...but the UR is well on his way to being the most trivial president in quite some time. All he really wanted was to have his name at the top of the organizational chart and everyone seems happy enough to oblige as long as he stays out of the way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


The Recession Is Over: Indicators point to a fast-approaching end date: May 2009. (Brian S. Wesbury and Robert Stein, 05.05.09, Forbes)

If you want a bone to pick--or an economic argument to have--it should be about when the current recession actually began. The National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S.'s semi-official recession arbiter, says it started in December 2007. But real gross domestic product grew at a 1% annual rate from then through August 2008. That doesn't look like a recession to us.

Nonetheless, when Lehman Brothers ( LEHMQ - news - people ) collapsed and the $700-billion TARP plan was proposed, a very rare "panic" ensued. Monetary velocity collapsed. From September 2008 through March 2009, the economy shrank at a rate of 5.5%. That's why we think the recession started in September 2008, not in December 2007.

Once the "real" recession started--the one that began in September--we consistently forecast it would be over by mid-2009, earlier than many (including the Federal Reserve) predicted. Now it looks like our V-shaped recovery is underway. When the NBER eventually gets around to declaring the recession end date, we think it will be May 2009.

Bernanke: Recession Losing Steam (BRIAN BLACKSTONE, 5/05/09, WSJ)
The U.S. recession appears to be losing steam, with growth likely to resume later this year on the back of firmer household spending, a bottoming housing market and an end to inventory liquidation, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Tuesday.
The faux flu was more virulent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


'Outrage': Kirby Dick kicks open Washington's closet door (Patrick Goldstein, Apr 23 2009, LA Times)

Would a host of key members of the Washington political establishment be less hostile to gay rights if they came out of the closet and acknowledged being gay themselves?

That's the question at the heart of "Outrage," Kirby Dick's rabble-rousing new documentary that debuts tonight at New York's Tribeca Film Festival. [...]

I know what you're thinking. If you've seen the film, spill it already. So who does he out? Dick's targets include Florida's current governor, Charlie Crist, who was viewed for a time as a front-runner to be John McCain's vice-presidential pick; David Dreier (R-San Dimas), who was once a leading candidate for the House majority leader post when the Republicans still controlled Congress; Ken Mehlman, George Bush's campaign manager during the 2004 election and former Republican National Committee chairman; former New York City mayor Ed Koch; the now-retired Idaho Sen. Larry Craig; Jim McCrery (R-La.), a ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee who retired last year; Ed Schrock (R-Va.), who retired in 2004; and -- gasp -- the prominent Fox News anchor Shepard Smith.

It is pretty obvious from this list of names that the film's real issue is hypocrisy. With the exception of Koch, the outed politicians are all conservative Republicans who have repeatedly voted against gay rights legislation that would allow gay marriage, gay adoption or include gays among those protected in hate crimes laws. (Though he wasn't an elected official, Mehlman is included because he ran the Bush re-election campaign of 2004, which was propelled by a push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which was seen by many as a cynical effort to lure evangelical conservatives to the voting booths.)

Dick's world view is best expressed in the film by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the few gay congressmen who has voluntarily come out of the closet, who says: "There is a right to privacy, there's no right to hypocrisy."

...for a smoker or an alcoholic to urge others not to make the same mistake? Who knows better the consequences of evil than those drawn to it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


A Taxing Argument: Republicans think they'll revive their party by repeating the refrain of "small government, lower taxes." Unfortunately for them, taxation isn't quite the problem they imagine it to be. (Paul Waldman, May 5, 2009, American Prospect)

[W]e have some of the lowest tax rates in the developed world. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranks 26th out of 30 developed countries in the amount of taxes its citizens pay as a proportion of gross domestic product:

(Credit: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

While the right warns that President Barack Obama's plan to raise the top income-tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent would be a socialist transformation of our society, the top rate in most other developed countries is considerably higher. And just like all of our friends on that list, we get what we pay for. People in places like Denmark or Sweden pay a lot more in taxes than we do, but they're not just flushing that money down the toilet -- their high rates mean they don't have to pay for a lot of things that we do, like health insurance, preschool, and college.

We could examine each of these programs individually and argue about whether government should or shouldn't be paying for them. We might come up with different answers in each case. And we should keep arguing about these questions -- the debate over appropriate taxation is at the heart of the ideologies that compete for Americans' loyalty. But what makes no sense is to assume that government provision of a service is problematic before you even take a look at how it works.

Yet this is what so many conservatives do. For instance, they believe that paying taxes to government, and getting health coverage in return, is somehow more "oppressive" than paying money to an insurance company … and getting health coverage in return. Health insurance is just one example, but the point is that the potentially oppressive aspects of government spending are in the details. When we design policies, we can decide what they will look like and how burdensome they'll be. Coming up with the best policies requires one to offer more than the simple argument "Government is bad."

Thus, W was successful because his Ownership Society sought to use the levers of government to transfer the tax money back to voters to fund the social programs a modern democratic electorate demands. As regards healthcare, a universal HSA program would obviously represent an extension of government power--requiring you and your family and/or your employer and/or your fellow citizens to set aside money from birth to find the delivery of health services throughout your life. But such universal healthcare is cheaper than your current plan and ultimately makes you less dependent on government bureaucracies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Beware Of Empathy: What we should expect of our next Supreme Court nominee. (Richard A. Epstein, 05.05.09, Forbes)

More disturbing, however, are Obama's own words on judicial selection, dating from 2007:

"We need somebody who's got the heart to recognize--the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."

It might be smart politics for Obama to play to his natural constituencies, but intellectually there is, I think, no worse way to go about the selection process. Empathy matters in running business, charities and churches. But judges perform different functions. They interpret laws and resolve disputes. Rather than targeting his favorite groups, Obama should follow the most time-honored image of justice: the blind goddess, Iustitia, carrying the scales of justice.

Iustitia is not blind to the general principles of human nature. Rather her conception of blindness follows Aristotle's articulation of corrective justice in his Nicomachean ethics. In looking at a dispute between an injurer and an injured party, or between a creditor and debtor, the judge ignores personal features of the litigant that bear no relationship to the merits of the case.

So in a tort action, determining the fault of a driver doesn't turn on whether he or she is rich or poor, citizen or alien. It's simply turns on who was in compliance with the rules of the road. And in a collection case the first order of business is whether the debtor has paid his debt, not his or her wealth or citizenship.

Equally important, the scales of justice indicate that legal rules depend on balancing interests. But how? Not by ad hoc sympathy, but by the orderly introduction of various defenses to the plaintiff's claim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Barney Frank Backs Off: A sign that previous notions of government regulation might no longer make sense. (Peter J. Wallison, 05.05.09, Forbes)

Among the more significant recent developments in financial market regulation was the announcement by Barney Frank, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, that he was deferring action on the Obama administration's plan to create a government agency, like the FDIC, to resolve "systemically important" failing financial institutions. His reason was that the idea should be included in a comprehensive bill to deal with financial regulation, but in fact the policy support for the idea is so weak that the proposal should be consigned to a much-deserved oblivion. It's unlikely that Frank's announcement was made for this reason, but one can hope.

The administration's resolution plan assumes that the current crisis was caused by the failure of Lehman Brothers, and that if Lehman Brothers had been resolved by a government agency--the way the FDIC resolves banks--the ensuing chaos in the international capital markets would not have occurred. This view of recent history, however, is faulty.

It is certainly true that after Lehman failed the markets froze, but to say that this was caused by Lehman is true in only a very limited sense. The crisis did not begin when Lehman failed; it began in the summer of 2007 with the markets' sudden realization that the triple-A ratings on asset-backed securities were not accurate. The resulting loss of confidence in ratings was a powerful external shock to the market, causing a collapse in trading of all asset-backed securities.

It was a crisis of information, not regulation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Is Chrysler's bankruptcy cloud becoming GM's silver lining?: Now that Chrysler is in bankruptcy, bondholders at GM may see that threat as real, and be willing to negotiate a deal as the firm tries to reduce obligations to the union and creditors. (Ken Bensinger, May 4, 2009, LA Times)

GM Chief Executive Fritz Henderson said in an interview Monday that he expected a deal with the union, but he admitted that the bondholders posed a bigger hurdle.

Negotiations with those creditors have gotten nowhere, and until late last week, signs pointed to the possibility that GM would have no choice but to appear before a judge to wipe away its $27 billion in debt.

Then Chrysler went into bankruptcy.

By pushing the smaller automaker into Chapter 11, restructuring experts argue, the Obama administration sent a strong message to bondholders that the nuclear option is indeed on the table.

Since the GM bonds those groups hold are unsecured by collateral -- unlike in the case of the owners of secured Chrysler debt, who could recover money through asset sales -- they stand to lose nearly the entire value of their investment if forced to go to court.

"I now believe it is more probable that a GM filing can be avoided," said Van Conway, of restructuring firm Conway, MacKenzie and Dunleavy in Birmingham, Mich. "There was a feeling by some that the government was bluffing on bankruptcy. But now it's clearly real."

If only the UR would learn the lesson he's just taught, that using your nukes on one party makes the others play by your rules. Nuke North Korea's facilities and everyone else will fall in line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Dazzling divisions of the Hitchens brothers (Michael Gove, 5/05/09, Times of London)

[T]he tension between freedom and order, while it absorbs Peter, is not the heart of his book. The real confusion between Left and Right that concerns him is the way in which the War on Terror shook up old allegiances. When Charles Moore and Nick Cohen applaud the invasion of Iraq while Peter Hitchens and Harold Pinter oppose, the only thing that remains certain is that we’re in for some fantastic polemic.

Of course, while these precise alliances are unprecedented, our history is rich with examples of conflicts provoking realignments. While Peter objects to the fellow-travelling of churchgoing neocons with muscular liberals, he skips lightly over the 1930s alliance between the old Imperialist Churchill and the trade unionists who opposed appeasement. Throughout the 19th century both parties, Liberal and Conservative, had isolationists and expansionists, arguing against each other within their own ranks. Foreign policy has always had the potential to make party lines blur.

Of course, if we are thinking of the curious new alignments that the Iraq war created, few are as striking as the embrace of George W. Bush by Peter’s elder brother, Christopher. The story of the militant atheist and “drink-soaked Trotskyist popinjay” Christopher joining the teetotal and born-again Bible- belt Republican Dubya, and finding himself fighting a new ideological battle against his deeply Anglican brother Peter, is a compelling drama crying out for a sharper pen than my own.

Peter’s, in fact. For those of you who may not like his journalism, let me assure you that this book has some passages of quite brilliant writing and it is at its best when Peter reflects on his own life and his disillusionment with the left-wing ideology of his youth. I long to see him take the next stage in his writer’s journey and examine, with his unsparing honesty, the rich human reality of the division he believes is now more important than the split between Left and Right — the deeper gulf between the restless progressive and the Christian pessimist. This division, the difference between between Prometheus and St Paul, the chasm that divides Shelley from T. S. Eliot, Lloyd George from Lord Salisbury, is nowhere better encapsulated than in the contrast between Hitchens major and minor. While Peter may feel that the choice between Left and Right needs proper definition, for many of us the choice between Christopher Hitchens and Peter Hitchens is the truly difficult one to make.

What Peter, not surprising in a Brit, doesn't grasp is that the peculiar genius of the American Republic is that it is progressive (small 'p') because it proceeds from universalist Christian pessimism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Two Bushes, Two Wars: In a candid interview, Richard Haass talks to Warren Hoge about what he learned on the policy frontlines of both Iraq conflicts—and why he finally decided to quit W.’s administration. (Warren Hoge, 5/05/09, Daily Beast)

Why was the first Iraq War one of necessity and the second one of choice?

The first Iraq War was one of necessity because vital U.S. interests were at stake and we reached the point where no other national-security instruments were likely to achieve the necessary goal, which was the reversal of Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait. The second was a war of choice simply because U.S. vital interests were not engaged at that point.

That's the sort of complete nonsense that only a Realist can convince himself of. Gulf I, like all America's wars, was a war of choice. All that was at issue was who we'd buy our oil from. Even the notion that the quality of the regime mattered is a smokescreen, else Mr. Haas and company would be demanding that we remove the enemies who control Venezuela and Iran's oil.

But he's quite right that Gulf II involved no interest that his ilk recognize. It was, more typical of our wars, exclusively a matter of democratic liberalization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


For political comedians, the joke's not on Obama: Conservatives see switch to 'hero worship' (Christian Toto, May 5, 2009 , Washington Times)

The Great Presidential Comedy Drought of 2009 can't be chalked off to a lack of satirical fodder, said comic Jeffrey Jena, founder of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy blog. ("Looking at politics and life from the right side," proclaims its motto.)

"Letterman used to do a 'Bushism of the Week.' " Why hasn't he started one with Obama?" Mr. Jena said. "There's plenty of those moments, the 'Ohs, and 'Umms' or 'I don't speak Austrian.' "

"Late Show" host David Letterman was scathing in his mockery of President George W. Bush. But on his show recently, he scolded those who would mock the new president's reliance on the teleprompter for "political nitpicking," saying Mr. Obama is "at least out there trying" to cope with "impossible" political challenges.

Speaking of nitpicking, here's the UR biffing his own joke yesterday:

THE PRESIDENT: Bienvenidos. Welcome to Cinco de Cuatro -- (laughter) -- Cinco de Mayo at the White House. We are a day early, but we always like to get a head start here at the Obama White House.

He, of course, was supposed to say Cuatro de Mayo but obviously didn't understand the joke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Taos events mark 'Easy Rider' anniversary, '60s (DEBORAH BAKER, 5/04/09, Associated Press)

Never mind that the original Summer of Love was 42 years ago and almost 1,000 miles away: Taos is offering its own version this year.

The summerlong celebration marks the 40th anniversary of the iconic counterculture film "Easy Rider" _ some of which was shot here _ and the influx of hippies that added yet another spicy ingredient to Taos' multicultural stew.

....given how clear an end to the 60's the film (released July 14, 1969) marked. After all, the riders finally find the America they've been looking for when they are shotgunned in the triumphal final scene of the movie. It was followed in short order by the similar attacks on the Kent State protestors (May 4, 1970) and then, by the New York City hardhats, on those protesting Kent State (May 8, 1970).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Was the Alarm over Swine Flu Justified? (Bryan Walsh, May. 04, 2009, TIME)

[T]here have been no deaths and few serious cases reported outside Mexico — and even there, the epicenter of the H1N1 outbreak, officials reported that the spread has slowed. As labs slogged through the backlog of suspected H1N1 flu cases, the number of confirmed cases and deaths dropped precipitously, indicating that the initial outbreak that so alarmed world health officials might not have been as serious as first feared. (See the top five swine flu don'ts.)

As a global network of flu experts began to take a good look at the genetic structure of the H1N1 virus, there were indications that the bug might turn out to be little more dangerous than an average flu.

The problem here is that officials will now convince themselves that this was a good test of the response system and that we handled things well, as proven by how little damage the flu did. In reality, it wasn't much of a test because the bug wasn't much of a threat.

May 4, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 PM


Kempism: Who is the next Jack Kemp? (Jerry Bowyer, 05.04.09, Forbes)

I remember one of the big media liberal pundits speaking about the GOP convention in 1984, I think, after Kemp spoke. It might have been Sam Donaldson. He said "These Republicans think they can take born-again Christians and combine them with high-tech entrepreneurs. It won't work."

But it did work. It worked because high-tech entrepreneurs needed lower taxes, and Reagan gave it to them. Born-again Christians were right, the sexual revolution didn't liberate the culture; it degraded it. These two groups didn't have a lot of personal chemistry between them, nor either with the foreign policy hawks who were the real "realists" of the cold war. Personal chemistry didn't bring these people together--reality did. All reality needed was a guy who was willing to search for the truth about the way the world works, to disconnect his flinch reactions about how the political culture would react to the truth, and then explain the basic truths of things over and over again with joy. Jack Kemp was that guy.

Now, of course, smaller men divide up the coalition that Kemp conceived and Reagan created. Some of them talk at length about the sanctity of life but then lash out at the "Club for Greed." Some will cut taxes to the bone, but are bored by dead babies. They believe in "divide and conquer," but of their friends, not their opponents.

Let me offer some thoughts on where the next Kemp will (and will not) come from: probably not from the establishment. Washington doesn't grow problem-solvers, it grows power-accumulators. I'm talking about the right and the left. I'm talking about those in the network of think tanks, lobbying firms and advocacy groups, which constitute the government in exile. The first group crowds around the president; the second group crowds around the money. Neither actually face anything like economic reality. The next Kemp will really get economics, but will be an outsider to the profession. Economics is often best learned outside of a graduate school of economics. Kemp learned it while cooking breakfast for Art Laffer and peppering Art with questions. Of course, Kemp really learned his economics by growing up in an entrepreneurial household.

Laffer is still with us, and still a generous teacher. So are Kudlow and Forbes. My guess is that the next Kemp will be a reader of Laffer, a watcher of Kudlow and a subscriber of Forbes. This person will not have to try to remarry faith and entrepreneurship, because the two were never properly divorced. The conservative establishment will say, "who is that? I've never met them at any of our gatherings." But he (or she) will have energy, and enthusiasm, and problem-solving ability, and more ambition for ideas than for power.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 PM


New Democratic Senator Tops Toomey By 20 Points (Quinnipiac University Poll, 5/04/09)

Newly-minted Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter would whip old Republican rival Pat Toomey 53 - 33 percent if the 2010 Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race were held today, but if popular former Gov. Tom Ridge becomes the Republican candidate, he trails Specter by just 46 - 43 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Independent voters, who back Sen. Specter over Toomey 45 - 36 percent, switch to Ridge 47 - 37 percent if he becomes a candidate. The former Republican Governor also gets 14 percent of the Democratic vote, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

But Toomey's so viable.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


Jack Kemp, 1935-2009 (David P. Goldman, May 4, 2009, First Things)

Jack’s coach in matters of economics was a flamboyant Wall Street Journal editorialist, Jude Wanniski. In 1975, Jude published the first manifesto of what later become known as supply-side economics in Irving Kristol’s ideas journal, The Public Interest. Shortly afterward he met Kemp, then representing Buffalo in the House of Representatives after a decade as the star player for the Buffalo Bills. The rest is history. It was a marriage made in that low but solid heaven known as American politics. A devout Catholic, Jude was convinced that God had chosen him to bring prosperity to the oppressed masses of 1970s of America. Jack bragged that he had taken more showers with black guys than anyone in the U.S. Congress and, as a professional athlete, was the Republican least tainted by racism.

What attracted Jack Kemp to supply-side economics was the promise of advancement for ordinary people. At the end of a long cycle of economic expansion, it is easy to forget how it all began. Jack had been associated with future President Reagan since 1969, when he worked on the California governor’s staff in Sacramento. As a U.S. Congressman representing a working-class constituency in the traditionally Democratic city of Buffalo, Jack got elected on his sports-hero credentials. He passionately believed in individual opportunity and free markets, and he needed an argument to take to the union rank-and-file who made up the bulk of his district’s voters. Supply-side economics, the premise that tax cuts and corresponding regulatory reform would unleash the creative energies of Americans, persuaded him, and he became its great missionary.

The transmission of ideas in the Reagan Revolution was one of the stranger developments in intellectual history. Robert Mundell, the Canadian economist who in 1999 would win the Nobel Prize, had already been chief economist of the International Monetary Fund and was teaching at the University of Chicago. Arthur Laffer (whose famous “Laffer Curve” would summarize supply-side economics) was Mundell’s colleague at Chicago. Mundell is an authentic genius who sported shoulder length prematurely gray hair, with Siamese-cat blue eyes that had an unnerving way of fixing on his conversation partner. The professionals in economics shunned him because his views were so novel as to threaten all their settled opinions.

Laffer translated Mundell’s insights into terms that Jude Wanniski could understand, and Jude then explained it all to Kemp. Through this game of telephone, there emerged the 1981 Kemp-Roth Tax Cuts, one of the few really decisive turning points in American economic history. And it was accomplished entirely outside the usual channels of policy transmission. There were no Wall Street gurus, no strings pulled by investment banks, no academic consensus, only a broken-down actor, a broken-down quarterback, an outsider of an economist, and a newsman with pronounced messianic tendencies.

Knowing the story in detail is one of the empirical observations that led me to conclude that there is a special providence for the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Early Calculations Show Swine Flu Hard to Transmit (Michael Fumento, 5/04/09,

It SEEMS like swine flu isn't particularly infectious by looking at case numbers and consulting news stories that continue to find a strong link to Mexico. But there's a scientific way of measuring using what's called a "basic reproductive number."

That essentially means the measure of how many secondary cases a typical patient will cause in a population with no immunity to the pathogen. Keep in mind that as an epidemic progresses, the number drops because the pathogen finds fewer and fewer susceptible victims. That's why all epidemics can be roughly plotted on the shape of a bell curve. (When I wrote that about U.S. AIDS epidemic, I was called a fruitcake. AIDS subsequently followed the shape of a bell curve.)

The director of Mexico's National Center for Epidemiology and Disease Control, told the Washington Post "According to the preliminary models, the reproductive number that we have in the Mexico City metropolitan area is 1.5," noting, "It's a fairly low number, and that's good news."

Indeed for SARS, which caused only 8096 cases and 774 deaths over a period of about 170 days (115 cases and 4.5 deaths per day), the figure was 3.0.

For other contagious diseases, according to the CDC, it's vastly higher: 6-7 for diphtheria, 12-18 for measles, 4-7 for mumps, and 6-7 for Rubella.

Most importantly for our purposes the basic reproductive number for seasonal flu seems to range from 1.5 to 3.0. (Although you do see much higher numbers.)

That means no swine flu pandemic.

Mexico says flu epidemic over the worst (Louise Egan and Luis Rojas Mena, 5/03/09, Reuters)
Mexico announced on Sunday its swine flu epidemic had passed the worst and experts said the new H1N1 virus might be no more severe than normal flu, although it could still have an impact on world health.

Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova showed journalists a graph indicating infections in Mexico, the epicenter of the H1N1 flu outbreak, had fallen sharply from a peak on April 24.

"The admittance of patients to hospitals has decreased and the health of patients in hospitals has improved," he told a news conference.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


Iran supreme leader rebukes president over powers (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 5/04/09, Associated Press)

The flap centered around control of a body that organizes the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, traditionally part of responsibilities under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's vast powers. Khameini overturned the government's removal of the head of the organization.

The rebuke, issued in the press on Monday, comes at a time when Iranians are watching carefully for any sign as to whether Khamenei's support for Ahmadinejad is weakening as the president faces a tough battle for a second term in June 12 elections. Khameini's backing is important for any presidential candidate to win. [...]

Khamenei holds ultimate power in Iran, at the top of the Muslim clerical hierarchy above elected figures such as the president. If his support for Ahmadinejad is clear, then it would likely rally conservatives behind the president. If not, conservatives could take it as a signal to back an alternative candidate.

The dispute began last month when Ahmadinejad's government put the hajj committee under Iran's tourism authority. One of Ahmadinejad's vice presidents then dismissed the hajj organization chief, Mostafa Khaksar Qahroudi, and installed a replacement.

That brought a protest from the supreme leader's representative on hajj affairs, Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammadi Reishahri, who called the government's move illegal.

Khamenei issued a statement backing his representative and ordering Qahroudi be restored.

"Regarding the replacement in the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, the president was strongly notified that the annexation of this organization to the tourism committee is not appropriate," the government daily "Iran" quoted Khamenei as saying. He ordered that the "situation remain as it was before."

Perhaps more humiliating was that Khamenei addressed Reishahri and not the president in the notification.

It was undeniably a rebuke, and not the first.

In January 2008, Khamenei reversed a decision by Ahmadinejad and ordered him to implement a law supplying natural gas to remote villages. The order was seen as a stinging blow to the president, who was facing deep public anger over fuel shortages during a particularly cold winter.

Khamenei didn't want him to win and doesn't want him re-elected. Ahmedinejad isn't the economic reformer that the Ayatollah needs to save the Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


The Case Against Sotomayor: Indictments of Obama's front-runner to replace Souter. (Jeffrey Rosen, 5/04/09, The New Republic)

Her former clerks report that because Sotomayor is divorced and has no children, her clerks become like her extended family--working late with her, visiting her apartment once a month for card games (where she remembers their favorite drinks), and taking a field trip together to the premier of a Harry Potter movie.

But despite the praise from some of her former clerks, and warm words from some of her Second Circuit colleagues, there are also many reservations about Sotomayor. Over the past few weeks, I've been talking to a range of people who have worked with her, nearly all of them former law clerks for other judges on the Second Circuit or former federal prosecutors in New York. Most are Democrats and all of them want President Obama to appoint a judicial star of the highest intellectual caliber who has the potential to change the direction of the court. Nearly all of them acknowledged that Sotomayor is a presumptive front-runner, but nearly none of them raved about her. They expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.

The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench," as one former Second Circuit clerk for another judge put it. "She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue." (During one argument, an elderly judicial colleague is said to have leaned over and said, "Will you please stop talking and let them talk?") Second Circuit judge Jose Cabranes, who would later become her colleague, put this point more charitably in a 1995 interview with The New York Times: "She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media."

Her opinions, although competent, are viewed by former prosecutors as not especially clean or tight, and sometimes miss the forest for the trees. It's customary, for example, for Second Circuit judges to circulate their draft opinions to invite a robust exchange of views. Sotomayor, several former clerks complained, rankled her colleagues by sending long memos that didn't distinguish between substantive and trivial points, with petty editing suggestions--fixing typos and the like--rather than focusing on the core analytical issues.

Some former clerks and prosecutors expressed concerns about her command of technical legal details: In 2001, for example, a conservative colleague, Ralph Winter, included an unusual footnote in a case suggesting that an earlier opinion by Sotomayor might have inadvertently misstated the law in a way that misled litigants. The most controversial case in which Sotomayor participated is Ricci v. DeStefano, the explosive case involving affirmative action in the New Haven fire department, which is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court. A panel including Sotomayor ruled against the firefighters in a perfunctory unpublished opinion. This provoked Judge Cabranes, a fellow Clinton appointee, to object to the panel's opinion that contained "no reference whatsoever to the constitutional issues at the core of this case." (The extent of Sotomayor's involvement in the opinion itself is not publicly known.)

An intellectual featherweight with so few personal connections she'd promptly fall into the Catholic cabal? We'll take her!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


As a Professor, Obama Held Pragmatic Views on Court (JODI KANTOR, 5/03/09, NY Times)

Many American presidents have been lawyers, but almost none have come to office with Barack Obama’s knowledge of the Supreme Court. Before he was 30, he was editing articles by eminent legal scholars on the court’s decisions. Later, as a law professor, he led students through landmark cases from Plessy v. Ferguson to Bush v. Gore. (He sometimes shared his own copies, marked with emphatic underlines and notes in bold, all-caps script.)

Now Mr. Obama is preparing to select his first Supreme Court nominee to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter. In interviews, former colleagues and students say they have a fairly strong sense of the kind of justice he will favor: not a larger-than-life liberal to counter the conservative pyrotechnics of Justice Antonin Scalia, but a careful pragmatist with a limited view of the role of courts.

“His nominee will not create the proverbial shock and awe,” said Charles J. Ogletree, a Harvard professor who has known the president since his days as a student.

Mr. Obama believes the court must never get too far ahead of or behind public sentiment, they say. He may have a mandate for change, and Senate confirmation odds in his favor. But he has almost always disappointed those who expected someone in his position — he was Harvard’s first black law review president and one of the few minority members of the University of Chicago’s law faculty — to side consistently with liberals.

Former students and colleagues describe Mr. Obama as a minimalist (skeptical of court-led efforts at social change) and a structuralist (interested in how the law metes out power in society). will upset the Left.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


How Maggie Came to Power: The Soviets dubbed her the "Iron Lady," US President Ronald Reagan called her "England's best man" -- 30 years ago Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of Britain. It was the start of a radical free-market revolution which hasn't yet been turned back. (Carsten Volkery, 5/04/09, Der Spiegel)

In the following winter came Thatcher's breakthrough. It would become known as Britain's "winter of discontent." In its fight against inflation, the government set a limit of five percent on pay rises during the wage bargaining round. Companies that failed to stick to the limit would lose their public contracts.

The five-percent rule led to massive strikes. Truck drivers, garbage collectors and hospital workers took to the streets. Even gravediggers went on strike in Liverpool. Gas stations and shops went unstaffed, hospitals only took emergency patients, and public squares were piled with garbage. For several weeks in January 1979, anarchy ruled. On January 22, unions held a "National Action Day" and around 1.5 million people refused to work.

Thatcher's moment had arrived. Until then she hadn't felt confident enough to challenge the unions. She was a careful politician, worried about her electoral chances. But now she sensed that the public would accept a sharper tone. She presented herself as a leader who was ready, in the name of the nation, to fight militant unionists. "If someone is confronting our essential liberties, if someone is inflicting injury, harm and damage on the sick, my God, I will confront them," she said in a radio speech on January 31, 1979.

Thatcher hit a nerve. Her poll numbers rose, and soon the Tories led Labour by 20 percentage points. [...]

Thatcher now counts as the founder of modern Britain. All prime ministers since have been her heirs, above all Tony Blair, who changed the Labour Party as radically as she changed the Tories. "The real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two," said Geoffrey Howe, Thatcher's earlier finance minister, at the celebration of her 80th birthday.

In the absence of Margaret Thatcher the UR would already have bailed out the Automotive Unions and the car companies they depend on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


The nerds of Scottish indie have created an irrestible debut album, but Zoe Van Goey will still have to cadge a lift to their gigs (Chitra Ramaswamy, 26 April 2009, Scotland on Sunday)

"I couldn't be in a death metal band, or a really manly band," says bespectacled and shirted drummer Matt Brennan, stating the bleeding obvious. "We did try and do a rock tune once," recalls the shy singer, keyboardist and viola player Kim Moore, "but we never played it again." Brennan, who is the most affable drummer I've ever encountered (and the only one with a PhD in the history of music journalism), apparently tried his best to be angry but "ended up sounding like Kermit the frog".

The third member of Zoey Van Goey is Michael John McCarthy, by day a sound designer and composer for theatre and by night guitarist and noisemaker in the band. Currently in the Hague playing accordion on stage in his girlfriend's show, The Art Of Swimming, a Fringe hit last year, he is evidently the go in Zoey Van Goey. "I wish he was here to put us right," says Moore at one point when she confuses black light theatre with black magic. The band have their own credentials in the theatre too, writing music and playing onstage in a National Theatre of Scotland production, Dolls, earlier this year.

Friends of Zoey Van Goey extend beyond the footlights to writers – after our interview Brennan is off for dinner with Rodge Glass and Alan Bissett – and, of course, musicians. Stuart Murdoch produced their first single, 'Foxtrot Vandals', and Paul Savage, ex-Delgados drummer who has worked with Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Arab Strap, produced their record in Chemikal Underground's studio. Moore plays viola with Frightened Rabbit, lends backing vocals to Murdoch's upcoming album of girl singers, and McCarthy is set to tour Japan with Alun Woodward (another ex-Delgado) and Aidan Moffat. Not bad going for three people who had never been in a band before.

"We all bumped into each other around Glasgow University," explains Moore, who is from Edinburgh but grew up in Shrewsbury. Somehow, you can't imagine this band meeting anywhere but the learned environs of a creaky old university.

-Zoey Van Goey (Lucky Number Nine Records)
-INTERVIEW: Hinterland - Interview with Zoey Van Goey (April 23, 2009)
-INTERVIEW: Five questions for Zoey Van Goey (MALCOLM JACK, July 2, 2008,
-INTERVIEW: Sunny side on the top - Zoey Van Goey interview: Zoey Van Goey's playful impulses begin with their name (FIONA SHEPHERD, 7/12/08, The Scotsman)
-INTERVIEW: Zoey Van Goey: Michael John McCarthy from the Glasgow band talks about the soundtrack to Dolls. (Sean Bell, The Sunday Herald)

Name Your Link

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


The Specter switch: The incredible shrinking Republican Party (Lanny Davis, May 4, 2009, Washington Times)

There is a vague deja vu for me in seeing the right taking down a Republican lawmaker who voted 70 percent of the time with his party's Senate colleagues. I am reminded of how the Democratic left treated incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in 2006. Mr. Lieberman had voted with his fellow Democrats not 70 percent of the time, but rather 90 percent of the time. Yet he was opposed by the Democratic left and lost a close race for the party's nomination in the 2006 primary. But he went on to win as an independent in the general election by a substantial margin.

While Mr. Lieberman offended many liberals by his support for the Iraq war, the fact is, on all the critical domestic litmus test issues, he had, indisputably, one of the most liberal voting records in Congress: pro-choice, pro-labor (including the so-called "card-check" bill), pro-social-spending programs, pro-environmental regulation, pro-civil rights and affirmative action, pro-women's rights and gay rights, and so on.

And yet, despite this record, people on the left, particularly on the most hateful liberal blogs, continue to hate him and mischaracterize him as a conservative, and are still planning to oppose him again if he chooses to run in 2010. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, whose liberalism and intelligence I admire, rarely misses a chance to criticize Mr. Lieberman, sometimes with very personal overtones. But she never mentions or credits his liberal voting record, including his support for President Obama in the first 100 days.

So, once again, we see the irony that the sanctimonious far right and the sanctimonious far left seem to have more in common than with their fellow conservatives and liberals, respectively. Clearly they agree that it is better to lose a general election and win a primary than to allow any variation from what they define as true conservatism or true liberalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


U.S. Media See a Path to India in China’s Snub (TIM ARANGO, 5/04/09, NY Times)

After many years of fervent lobbying and deal-making in China, American media companies have little to show for their efforts there and are increasingly shifting their attention instead to India.

Media executives still believe that Chinese audiences are receptive to Western culture — “SpongeBob SquarePants” is a big hit in China — but many companies have been pulling back out of frustration over censorship, piracy, strict restrictions on foreign investment and the glacial pace of its bureaucracy. [...]

Increasingly, that focus is India, a country with a fast-growing economy and fewer government impediments for foreign media companies. In March, the Motion Picture Association of America opened an office in India for the first time, in Mumbai. A little over four years ago, Dan Glickman became the head of the association, and he has visited China several times.

“The feeling was that there were greater opportunities then than there are now,” he said.

This is a stark reversal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Test for a reluctant pope (Damian Thompson, May 01. 2009, The National)

These days, no one thinks that Benedict XVI is by nature a cruel enforcer. Now that his job no longer involves snapping at liberal heels, he has changed breed. As they say in Rome, the Rottweiler has revealed himself to be a German shepherd.

This does not mean, however, that Pope Benedict’s liberal opponents inside the Church have been won over to his policies. They realise that many of his instincts are profoundly, even radically, conservative. [...]

Cardinal Ratzinger saw the papacy of the charismatic John Paul II as an opportunity to reassert the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church while reaching out to new audiences. His own project depends less on personal charisma or the thunderous condemnation of modern society.

At the heart of Benedict’s papacy is the belief that Catholics must worship God properly. He wants to heal the wounds caused by the liberals’ cruel repudiation of beautiful Latin services. In 2007 he dramatically removed all the restrictions on the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. Old and new worship should live side by side, enriching each other, he believes.

This policy has alarmed a generation of middle-aged and elderly Catholics (including bishops) brought up to regard Vatican II as a new beginning, a year zero. And Benedict has paid a price for his lack of allies in the Vatican: some cardinals sought to exploit the crisis.

However, the new generation is on the side of the Pope, for younger active Catholics are surprisingly conservative. They see the Pope as a grandfatherly figure who is introducing them to ancient treasures rejected by their hippy parents. Rome these days is full of black-clad seminarians inspired by this “Benedictine” conservatism.

There are interesting parallels here with Islam. Benedict does not believe that Christianity and Islam can converge theologically, but he shares an understanding with Muslim leaders who believe that the strength of a religious community lies in its traditions. Liberal Catholicism and liberal Islam have one thing in common: they have a very poor track record of attracting followers.

Benedict rejects extremists of all faiths, but he is also unimpressed by diluted religion. And he is curious to learn more about how Islam is walking the tightrope of modernising without surrendering its identity because he is walking a similar tightrope.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Flu's reach is nearly nationwide (Liz Szabo, 5/04/09, USA TODAY)

Doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expressed caution about the outbreak even as Mexican health officials said that the new flu strain appears to have peaked, with fewer cases overall and fewer people being hospitalized.

Mexico has 506 confirmed flu cases and 19 deaths. Worldwide, tests confirm 898 cases of swine flu in 18 countries and 20 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Tests of Banks May Bring Hope More Than Fear (DAVID LEONHARDT, 5/04/09, NY Times)

The results of the bank stress tests to be released by the Obama administration this week are expected to include more detailed information about individual banks — assessing specific parts of their loan portfolios — than many analysts have been expecting.

Using these results, the administration seems prepared to argue that, while a few banks may need additional money, the broad financial system is healthier than many investors fear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


'No Child' in Action: Rising Scores Show Why We Can't Retreat (Margaret Spellings, May 4, 2009, Washington Post)

Student achievement results from the "nation's report card" published last week show that we are on the right track. Since enactment of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act, which called for all students to be on grade level in reading and math by 2014, students have been making progress in reading and math in elementary and middle school. Improvement has been greatest for African American and Hispanic students and those students who are lowest-achieving. [...]

It's no accident that the United States has had nine straight years of increasing scores for elementary school students. In the decades before No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002 and the state reforms that led to it, taxpayers spent hundreds of billions of dollars on education and hoped for the best. Since No Child Left Behind, we have expected results. The law required that every student in grades three through eight be assessed annually in reading and math, that those results be disaggregated and that the information be provided to educators and parents. And that is exactly the age group for which we are seeing results. Consider: In the 10 years since 1999, reading scores for 9-year-olds have risen eight points; in the nearly three decades before that, scores rose only four points. In the past 10 years, math scores have increased 11 points, while in the nearly three decades prior, scores rose only 13 points.

Teachers and principals who have embraced accountability have made these increases possible. And while this is good progress, we should not be satisfied. The achievement gap continues to plague our country. Because of the state and federal assessment data we now have, we know precisely which districts, schools, teachers and students need help and which are doing well. We've diagnosed the problem -- the approximately 4,000 schools that have failed to meet their annual goals for five straight years and the 2,000 high schools that produce more than half of all dropouts. Now we have to deal with those chronically low-performing schools -- the ones that need more than just tinkering around the edges.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


New pension scheme: Good over the long term (Rediff, May 04, 2009)

The New Pension Scheme is one of the more ambitious programmes tried out by the government. If successful, it has the power to transform India's savings habits.

Millions of Indians who, today, don't have a long-term flexible savings option will now have one, irrespective of where they live and where they are employed. Unlike post office accounts and the Employees Provident Fund Organisation, opening and operating an NPS account is relatively easy since there are a host of banks (16 already) and six others (like the Life Insurance Corporation and Reliance Capital [Get Quote]) that offer these services across the country.

More important, the service follows you where you go.

Anyone who enrolls gets a unique number from the Central Recordkeeping Agency; each payment made to any bank branch automatically generates a credit in the unique account at the CRA; this number is retain by the saver, irrespective of change of location.

There is a choice of six fund managers as well as a menu of different investment strategies, with varying degrees of risk.

According to the provident fund regulator, the addressable market for the NPS is as many as 80 million people (about 20 per cent of the total workforce).

According to the Invest India Foundation, which is the source of the 80 million figure, the total investible amount is Rs 55,000 crore (Rs 550 billion) per annum; a decade from now, the assets under management will be Rs 12 lakh crore (Rs 12 trillion); within just three years of its existence, its corpus will equal that of the existing, decades-old EPFO.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


God Talk (Stanley Fish, 5/03/09, NY Times)

In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

Eagleton acknowledges that the links forged are not always benign — many terrible things have been done in religion’s name — but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its “subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to be its transcendent source of life.” And it is only that great subject, and the aspirations it generates, that can lead, Eagleton insists, to “a radical transformation of what we say and do.”

The other projects, he concedes, provide various comforts and pleasures, but they are finally superficial and tend to the perpetuation of the status quo rather than to meaningful change: “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.” [...]

Science, says Eagleton, “does not start far back enough”; it can run its operations, but it can’t tell you what they ultimately mean or provide a corrective to its own excesses. Likewise, reason is “too skin deep a creed to tackle what is at stake”; its laws — the laws of entailment and evidence — cannot get going without some substantive proposition from which they proceed but which they cannot contain; reason is a non-starter in the absence of an a prior specification of what is real and important, and where is that going to come from? Only from some kind of faith.

“Ditchkins,” Eagleton observes, cannot ground his belief “in the value of individual freedom” in scientific observation. It is for him an article of faith, and once in place, it generates facts and reasons and judgments of right and wrong. “Faith and knowledge,” Eagleton concludes, are not antithetical but “interwoven.” You can’t have one without the other, despite the Satanic claim that you can go it alone by applying your own independent intellect to an unmediated reality: “All reasoning is conducted within the ambit of some sort of faith, attraction, inclination, orientation, predisposition, or prior commitment.” Meaning, value and truth are not “reducible to the facts themselves, in the sense of being ineluctably motivated by a bare account of them.” Which is to say that there is no such thing as a bare account of them. (Here, as many have noted, is where religion and postmodernism meet.)

If this is so, the basis for what Eagleton calls “the rejection of religion on the cheap” by contrasting its unsupported (except by faith) assertions with the scientifically grounded assertions of atheism collapses; and we are where we always were, confronted with a choice between a flawed but aspiring religious faith or a spectacularly hubristic faith in the power of unaided reason and a progress that has no content but, like the capitalism it reflects and extends, just makes its valueless way into every nook and cranny. of which can not ground morality. So the choice is amorality or Judeo-Christianity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


GOP turns to Bush aides for revival (ALEX ISENSTADT, 5/4/09, Politico)

Republicans looking to recover from Bush-era defeats are turning to an unlikely source for advice: top aides to former President George W. Bush.

Former White House press secretary Dana Perino, former Bush counselor Ed Gillespie and former White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto are among those set to provide words of wisdom to House Republican press secretaries at their annual workshop this Friday.

GOP House Conference Communications Director Matt Lloyd said Perino, Gillespie and Fratto represented “the gold standard for Republican communications professionals” and were obvious choices to advise the party’s messengers. turning to the flunkies instead of to the architects of the greatest electoral successes in post-Depression Republican history. It's W and Karl Rove they should be seeking guidance from and compassionate conservatism they should be running on. The Party has been declining since it turned against President Bush on SS Reform, Dubai Ports, immigration, and the Miers nomination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Washington Request Launches Political Debate in Berlin: US President Barack Obama's request that Germany accept up to 10 prisoners from the Guantanamo prison camp has triggered a political debate in Berlin. Chancellor Merkel's party says it is America's problem to solve. (Der Spiegel, 5/04/09)

Germany has long been expecting such a request and the debate over how to respond fractured along party lines long ago, with Merkel's CDU opposed to taking Guantanamo prisoners and the SPD in favor. The US request has now heated up the debate.

"In my opinion, the responsibility still lies with the US," Wolfgang Bosbach, the deputy floor leader of the CDU, told the newspaper Berliner Zeitung. "Germany didn't set up Guantanamo and didn't operate it either." He also wondered why innocent prisoners weren't released long ago.

'Obama Discrediting Himself and the US': Many had hoped that US President Barack Obama would undo all the damage done by his predecessor. Now, it looks like he might continue the Bush-era practice of trying terror suspects in military tribunals. German commentators are disappointed. (Der Spiegel, 5/04/09)
Any return to using such military commissions would be a major disappointment to human rights groups who were hoping that Obama's election signalled a new era in America's handling of terror suspects. As German editorials show on Monday, frustration across the Atlantic is equally high.

In an editorial entitled "Obama's Great Mistake," the center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Obama's people certainly imagined things differently. But reality has caught up with them. What should they do with people who … are in fact horrifying criminals but whose confessions came as a result of brutal interrogations? No regular court would accept the testimony. Should suspected masterminds of the 9/11 attacks and other terrible attacks be set free? That can't be the solution either. Obama is thus considering holding on to the military commissions with a couple of extra rights for the suspects. Bush light, so to speak."

"Obama is thus discrediting both himself and the US. It would be better were he to gather the necessary political courage to initiate criminal proceedings before regular courts. Legally, it will be incredibly complicated and possibly untenable in some cases. But the country cannot get around the purification process. Otherwise, the poison from the Bush era could continue to infect America's image for years to come."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The US government has asked Germany to accept former Guantanamo prisoners. Exactly the same government is apparently planning to continue the military commissions to try those prisoners. One could hardly be more contradictory."

"It is the same tactic that President Barack Obama has already used when it came to the torturers from the CIA -- punish with one hand, stroke with the other. Whenever he takes a step forward, he stumbles backwards as well. That will likely be enough to disappoint all those Europeans who had expectations that Obama would be an almost messiah-like healer. It was expected that he would demolish all of the ugly monuments from the Bush era and then, together with Al Gore, plant a Garden of Eden over the top, through which he would drive fuel-efficient compacts from Chrysler."

Why should the responsible listen to the irresponsible?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Exposed jihadis put Pakistan on the spot (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 5/05/09, Asia Times)

The high-profile arrest of a group of Pakistani militants in mid-April in the restive Afghan province of Helmand by the Afghan army and their subsequent handover to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for grilling exposed a jihadi network running to the heart of urban Pakistan.

In the course of interrogation, the militants confessed to being recruited, trained and then launched into Helmand after spending some time in places such as the southern port city of Karachi and Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province.

They also gave details of their Pakistani leaders and their activities, including how these leaders could move around freely and how they owned huge religious establishments.

The report of the interrogation of the militants, circulated to all tiers of NATO command, including the top military and diplomatic command, raises immediate questions on the competence and the commitment of the Pakistani government in controlling militants.

How can there be questions when no one thinks they are committed?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


High gas prices drive changes in California fuel consumption: Drivers are turning to alternative fuels and cutting consumption. (Ronald D. White, May 4, 2009, LA Times)

Gasoline consumption in California began falling in April 2006, and for 11 straight calendar quarters dropped below gas use in the year-earlier period even though the state added 790,000 new licensed drivers. First-quarter gasoline use hasn't yet been released by the California State Board of Equalization, which on Thursday said Californians consumed 1.21 billion gallons of gasoline in January, down 22 million gallons, or 1.8%, from the previous January.

Agency statistics show the pattern began between January and September 2005, when the average gas price climbed from $1.96 to $3.06.

That was California's first brush with $3-a-gallon gas. It lasted just two weeks in 2005, according to the Energy Department's weekly survey of filling stations, but it was long enough to trigger behavior changes.

For all of 2005, gasoline consumption rose by just 30 million gallons to 15.95 billion gallons, according to the state equalization board, which gathers the numbers from taxes paid by fuel distributors. The pace was well off the boom years from 2000 to 2004, when gas use grew by an average of 343 million gallons a year.

"The tipping point is $2," said Amy Myers Jaffe, senior energy analyst at Rice University's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy in Houston. "People start to respond to fuel prices and make changes at $2 a gallon. At $3 a gallon, it becomes noticeable. It really gains in momentum. The longer the price stays higher than $3, the deeper and more lasting the structural changes."

In 2007, with gasoline prices above $3 a gallon for 34 weeks, California consumption fell 270 million gallons below 2005 levels. In 2008, with gasoline topping $4.58 a gallon in July and the depth of the nation's economic crisis beginning to sink in, Californians used 910 million fewer gallons than they did in 2005.

Messer turned to a different fuel. Stephen Stone of Norwalk bought an all-electric Zap Xebra. Robert Cruz of Oxnard went back to a 1970 Volkswagen because it got better mileage than anything else he's driven. Alan Thomas of Oxnard adds a few gallons of transmission fluid to his tank to cut fuel costs.

"Sometimes I just used to go out and take a drive," Thomas said. "When was the last time you heard anyone say, 'I'm going out for a drive'? I don't drive any more than I have to now."

Millions of other Americans also are parking more. A 2008 Brookings Institution report called "The Road . . . Less Traveled" found that "consistent annual growth" in vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. leveled off in 2004. By 2007, miles driven declined for the first time since 1980 and at the fastest rate since the end of World War II, said Robert Puentes, senior fellow at Brookings' metropolitan policy program and a co-author of the report.

"Americans have simply been driving less. . . . At the same time driving has declined, transit use is at its highest level since the 1950s, and Amtrak ridership just set an annual ridership record in 2008," Puentes wrote.

May 3, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


LAPD ties 72-year-old man to two waves of serial killings: DNA leads detectives to John Thomas Jr., 72. He is held in two slayings, but police suspect he may have killed up to 30 elderly Westside and Claremont women a decade apart. (Andrew Blankstein and Joe Mozingo, April 30, 2009, Los Angeles Times)

The first wave of slayings haunted Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. The killer slipped mostly unseen through the night, preying on older women who lived alone. He raped them and squeezed their necks until they passed out or died. On the 17 who were killed, he placed pillows or blankets over their faces.

The second wave hit a decade later in Claremont -- five older women raped and strangled, faces again covered.

Even with at least 20 survivors, police never connected the two homicide-and-rape rampages nor solved either of them. The victims gave conflicting descriptions of the rapist, police in different jurisdictions didn't communicate, and DNA technology had not come into use.

Now authorities say they have linked John Floyd Thomas Jr., a 72-year-old state insurance claims adjuster who twice has been convicted of sexual assault, to five of the slayings. Detectives also describe him as a suspect in up to 25 more based on the circumstances of those crimes.

"When all is said and done, Mr. Thomas stands to be Los Angeles' most prolific serial killer," said LAPD Robbery-Homicide Cold Case Det. Richard Bengston.

A Cold Case Gets Hot: Is This L.A.'s Westside Rapist? (Alison Stateman, 5/03/09, TIME)
To former co-workers at the State Compensation Insurance Fund, where Thomas worked as a claims adjuster, the charges against him seem unfathomable. "This is certainly not the man that we knew. The man that we engaged with was always a very pleasant, very personable. We never ever saw him lose his temper. Never. He always had a pleasant smile, always had a kind word," says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who retired from State Fund last December and is president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. He said Thomas was married with children. "I knew he was quite a bit older than myself. I used to ask him what was the secret to his youthful appearance. He'd always laugh, with that smile of his and essentially say 'just good living.'"

However, Los Angeles Police detectives say good was far from how Thomas lived. Thomas allegedly preyed on elderly women who were living alone, according to police, beating and raping his victims before strangling them to death. Unbeknown to his co-workers, Thomas, 72, had an extensive criminal history. He was arrested a number of times between 1955 and 1978. His previous criminal convictions consist of multiple burglaries, many of which involved sexual assaults of his victims. According to Jennifer Vargen, a spokeswoman for the State Insurance Compensation Fund, where Thomas worked from 1989 up until his arrest, they were unaware of his past criminal history. Back when Thomas was hired Vargen said mandatory criminal background checks weren't in effect. They weren't instituted for new employees until the mid-1990s. Now, in light of the case against Thomas, she says the human resource department is re-evaluating whether to conduct criminal background checks for employees hired before the mandatory practice went into effect.

It was Thomas' past background, however, that appears to have come back to land him in jail. He was tied to the latest charges through DNA samples taken from him in October 2008, as part of California's ongoing process to swab registered sex offenders. Thomas was required to give the sample because of a rape conviction in 1978 in Pasadena. He was also convicted of burglary and attempted rape in Los Angeles in 1957. On March 27, the California Department of Justice DNA Laboratory notified detectives that his DNA matched evidence form the rape and murder of Ethel Sokoloff, 68, in the mid-Wilshire area in 1972. On March 31, they were told that his DNA matched four other slayings.

Thomas is also charged with raping and murdering Elizabeth McKeown, 67, in Westchester in 1976. Detectives believe Thomas is not only likely connected to additional murders, but may in fact be the infamous Westside Rapist, who terrorized the city in the 1970s. Cases associated with the Westside Rapist investigation with available, if partial, DNA profiles appear to match Thomas's DNA. At a news conference Thursday, police said they soon plan to file charges against Thomas for three Inglewood slayings 33 years ago, including that of Maybelle Hudson, and are combing through cold case files dating back to the 1950s to see if he's linked to at least 25 more in Hollywood, West Los Angeles and the Wilshire area.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Officials: Gitmo court system likely to stay open LARA JAKES, 5/03/09, Associated Press)

The Obama administration may revamp and restart the Bush-era military trial system for suspected terrorists as it struggles to determine the fate of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and fulfill a pledge to close the prison by January.

The move would further delay terrorism trials and, coupled with recent comments by U.S. military and legal officials, amounts to a public admission by President Barack Obama's team that delivering on that promise is easier said than done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


Rules of game changing: Israelis officials can’t keep up with dramatic changes in America’s Mideastern policy (Shimon Shiffer, 05.03.09, YNet)

The reports about the rapprochement between the Obama administration and Syria left Israeli policy makers stunned.

“What’s going on here?” asked a senior figure in Jerusalem last night. “The Syrians are not providing reasons that could justify the rush of administration emissaries to visit Damascus. The Syrian regime continues its involvement in Iraq and enables terrorists to cross the border and carry out attacks against the US Army. The Syrians bribe anything that moves in Lebanon in order to affect the election results there.”

In Israel, it appears that officials can’t keep up with the dramatic changes that are taking shape in America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. The intimate relations with the US, at least the way it seems right now, are no longer what they used to be.

The Israelis have no one to blame but themselves, having played footsie with Damascus and attacking Palestine when the opposite was sage policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


Israel Considers Pullout From Lebanon Village (Javno, 5/03/09)

Israel's Haaretz newspaper said the United States was pressing Netanyahu for a pullout from Ghajar, which straddles the border between Lebanon and territory Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. [...]

Israel annexed Ghajar in 1981 along with the occupied Golan Heights in a move that has not won international recognition.

A pullout from Ghajar could also open a broader debate about the nearby Shebaa Farms, a stretch of territory controlled by Israel that Lebanon claims as its own but which the United Nations recognises as belonging to Syria.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Swine Flu Outbreak Could Have Started In USA: Tests showed that two children, who did not travel to Mexico, were infected with the swine flu in March. (Javno, 5/03/09)

The swine flu virus, which is not as dangerous as it was initially believed, did not originate from Mexico, but the United States of America, The Wall Street Journal writes.

- As we do our investigations here in the US, we may find that there were cases earlier – Scott Bryan, spokesperson of the Centers for Disease control (CSC) said.

There have been several cases of infection in California before the virus spread in Mexico, where 16 persons died.

The first case discovered in California was a 10-year-old boy in San Diego, who fell ill on March 30. The second case was that of a 9-year-old girl who had a high temperature on March 28, while tests confirmed on April 17 that she was infected with the new flu virus.

You know it's from America and not Mexico because it's so lazy and ineffective.

Dire warnings were premature, experts suggest (TODD ACKERMAN, 5/02/09, Houston Chronicle)

By the week’s end, an increasing number of experts were questioning whether it was overreaction.

“I don’t see anything to justify this panic,” said Robert Krug, a flu researcher at the University of Texas in Austin. “From all the evidence, this doesn’t look like a particularly lethal virus. People need a little more perspective.”

The perspective involves the seasonal patterns during which flu thrives and dies off, evidence that this virus lacks the kind of killer molecular features seen in some pandemics, cultural factors that could explain Mexico’s fatalities and the stark contrast between the annual U.S. toll from seasonal influenza and this outbreak’s mild severity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Calvin Harris interview: Leap of faith (Aidan Smith, 5/03/09, Scotland on Sunday)

This giant of Caledonian dance culture – just don't call him the Hen Broon of retro-electro – is relaxing before a sold-out show at Glasgow's Òran Mór, his first on home turf since his success with 'I'm Not Alone'. Although Harris has shared a No1 before – 'Dance Wiv Me', last summer's collaboration with Dizzee Rascal, or as Jeremy Paxman prefers, Mr Rascal – this is the first under his own name. Now he's thinking back to the time, alone with a keyboard in his bedroom in Dumfries, when he dreamed about pop fame.

"I was well into the charts as a boy but in all honesty I didn't think that being No1 was something completely unattainable," says the 25-year-old former lettuce stacker for Marks & Spencer. "Right from a young age I had a cockiness that I kept hidden. I'd hear a hit record and think, I can do that. Sometimes I thought, I can do better. So when I finally got signed I wasn't blown away. My attitude was: 'About bloody time.'"

He would lose that teenage arrogance later. And if, after his first hit, he thought he'd made it, he was quickly disabused of that notion as well. "I've never worked so hard in my life," he says of the two years since his breakthrough. "If I was to add up everything I'd done until that point – school, the fish factory, Safeway, M&S – then it doesn't compare." He adds, jokingly I hope, that he's been so run down recently he thought he had swine flu.

Dressed in leather jacket, skinny jeans and swooshy and doubtless highly covetable trainers, Harris is friendly, funny, considered – nothing like as dumb as his music can make him seem, and always only ever five seconds away from a knowing smirk at, a) his good fortune, and b) the sometimes fatuous nature of pop. [...]

Harris burst on to the scene with 'Acceptable In The 80s', the first of a run of catchy, goofy stompers that continued with 'The Girls' and 'Merrymaking At My Place'. He called his debut album I Created Disco but not everyone got his irony, or his music.

"There were some one-star reviews; in the worst of them I only got half a star," he admits. "I'm not making excuses, but that album was made at home on a crappy little Amiga for my own entertainment." In Dumfries, the reaction was "Who's this galoot?", or words to that effect.

"Nobody in the town knew who I was – for eight years I hardly ever went out. The old boys at M&S were made up for me but my peers, guys my age, weren't loving the music – it wasn't getting any admiration at all. Maybe there was some jealousy, and I can understand that. If I was in a little local indie band pouring my heart into songs in the traditional manner but not getting anywhere, I'd be raging the first time I heard a big arse singing 'I get all the girls, I get all the girls.'"

He got Kylie Minogue. That is, they enjoyed a fruitful musical partnership, Harris penning a couple of songs for her. Two days before they teamed up in the studio, a tabloid claimed they were already lovers. "It's still the funniest story I've read about myself," he says, before adding: "I think her people planted it." He's kept the cutting, and maybe it should now be inserted in that dug-up file marked 'Music'. He's been with the same girlfriend since he was an unknown, even in Dumfries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


The Taliban's perversion of sharia law: The Taliban have perverted sharia law in a way that shames Islam and contravenes human rights (Houriya Ahmed, 5/03/09,

Muslims who want to lead a life based on God's guidance from the Quran and Sunnah (Prophetic tradition) comply with sharia, which literally means "way", not law. Central to sharia are the aims of preserving life, property, intellect, progeny and religion. Going against this traditional understanding, extreme elements like the Taliban incorporate concepts of state and law into sharia by claiming that God's law is sacrosanct. Questions then arise as to who decides which Islamic schools of thought or practice are to be followed, and which criteria used to determine what is "Islamic" or not. When and where sharia law has been adopted, the tendency has been to force narrow and backward opinions upon society, in contravention of sharia's aims as well as human rights standards.

If the Taliban were to contextualise the Qur'an and Sunnah, they would realise that Islam's Prophet Muhammad aimed to reform 7th-century Arab society by giving women and weaker groups greater rights and relative equality. For instance, women were granted rights to hold property and slavery was discouraged. Whilst maintaining sharia as a set of norms, bearing in mind that it is not God but humans who legislate, Islamic practices can be re-interpreted to meet today's moral standards, where freedom and equality can and should form the basis of sharia principles. To legislate and structure society based on medieval rules and norms now actually contradicts Muhammad's message, which is avoid tyranny, oppression and injustice.

Down the centuries Islam has maintained and promoted pluralism, which extremists like the Taliban deny. That is why we see such a diversity of Muslim practice today, because Islamic scholars have understood that the eternal message of God needs to be interpreted in reference to geographical and temporal contexts. By legalising a twisted understanding of sharia, the Taliban are actually politicising religion.

Spengler has pointed out that the particular difficulty for Islam is that arguments that the Koran must be read literally are powerful because it basically holds the position that Christ/God does within Christianity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Manny Pacquiao stuns Ricky Hatton with second round knockout (Brian Doogan, 5/03/09, Times of London)

Manny Pacquiao underlined his status as the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer with a stunningly destructive second round knockout of Britain’s Ricky Hatton this morning at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

The 30-year-old Filipino, a rare amalgam of brutal power and virtuoso artistry, dominated his bigger opponent with speedier, more precise, explosive punches which reduced the 30-year-old from Manchester to a stumbling, impotent, overwhelmed version of the proud fighter who had marched to the ring with a record of 46 wins, 32 by stoppage, against just one previous defeat.

Hatton was twice knocked down in the opening round before Pacquiao put together a savage sequence of punches which further diminished the Mancunian before a bombshell left to the jaw sent him crashing onto his back unconscious. Wisely, American referee Kenny Bayless chose not to complete the count before he waved it over at 2:59 of round two, with Hatton in a frighteningly endangered state.

Pacquiao knocks out Hatton in round two (The National, 5/03/09)
Coming off an overwhelming win over Oscar De La Hoya, the Filipino was even better against Hatton, knocking him down twice in the first round before stopping him with a devastating left hand in the light welterweight bout.

Referee Kenny Bayless took one look at Hatton and declared the fight over at 2min59sec of the round.

"I didn’t have to count," Bayless said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Reclusive Iraqi Cleric Al-Sadr visits Turkey (AP, 5/03/09)

An Iraqi cleric who led bloody rebellions against U.S. troops but stayed out of public view in the last two years has made an unusually visible appearance in Turkey, which is raising its own profile as a mediator in the region.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met about 70 fellow Iraqi Shiites in Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city, on Saturday in what representatives described as a discussion of ways to contribute to Iraq's future. [...]

Al-Sadr said last year that his withdrawal from public view was motivated in part by his desire to focus on his studies to become a mujtahid, or a religious authority. On Saturday, al-Obeidi said al-Sadr's whereabouts was kept secret, possibly reflecting concern for the cleric's safety.

"Turkey is a good, old friend," he said. "Trusting that, we have no hesitations to travel in Turkey."

May 2, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 PM


Indonesia’s Do-It-Yourself Campaign (ENDY M. BAYUNI, 5/03/09, NY Times)

This is only Indonesia’s third free and fair election since General Suharto resigned in 1998, but April’s election, along with those in 1999 and 2004, have proven to skeptics that democracy can be practiced here, in the world’s largest Muslim nation. Over the past decade, Islamist parties have not done particularly well; most Indonesians, including the majority of Muslims, obviously feel more comfortable with the secular parties. (Preliminary counts indicate three secular-centrist parties, including the Democratic Party of the incumbent president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will dominate the national Parliament.)

That said, things have not always gone smoothly. Although the election commission said 171 million people were registered, millions learned on April 9 that they could not vote because their names were not on the rolls. It’s not clear yet how many were disenfranchised, but if the number is sufficiently large, say 20 million or more, it would raise serious questions about the credibility of the polls and of the elected government.

Those who did vote found the task overwhelming. Typically, a voter would get four ballot papers, each as wide and almost as tall as an adult body, with the names and symbols of the parties and the lists of candidates fielded by the parties in their respective electoral districts. In my own confusion about whom to vote for, I went for women — we have not yet had a female lawmaker convicted for corruption, so I thought that was a good bet.

The names that stood out on the ballots were not of politicians but of celebrities and comedians. Not surprisingly, some of them won and some seasoned politicians lost or may lose their seats — for instance, a popular Jakarta comedian named Mandra is leading the House speaker, Agung Laksono. Presumably, after what seems like endless scandals, many people feel that if you are going to send a bunch of clowns to Parliament, then you may as well send in the real clowns this time. At least we will all get a good laugh.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 PM


Jack Kemp, Dole’s Running Mate in 1996, Dies at 73 (ADAM CLYMER, 5/03/09, NY Times)

[H]is greatest legacy may stem from his years as a Buffalo congressman, especially 1978, when his argument for sharp tax cuts to promote economic growth became party policy, one that has endured to this day.

The nation, Mr. Kemp told the House that year, having embraced a supply-side economic theory, suffered under a “tax code that rewards consumption, leisure, debt and borrowing, and punishes savings, investment, work and production.”

Ronald Reagan adopted the issue as a central one in his 1980 presidential campaign, and in 1981 he won passage of a 23 percent cut over three years. The legislation was known as Kemp-Roth, named for Mr. Kemp and William V. Roth Jr., the Delaware Republican and his Senate co-sponsor.

Mr. Kemp’s other great cause, in his 18 years in the House and for three decades thereafter, was to get his party to seek more support from blacks and other minorities.

“The party of Lincoln,” he wrote after the 2008 election, “needs to rethink and revisit its historic roots as a party of emancipation, liberation, civil rights and equality of opportunity for all.” [...]

Mr. Kemp first heard about supply-side theory, as advanced by Arthur B. Laffer, a University of Southern California economist, in 1976. Soon he immersed himself in the case for tax cuts, reading deeply from the works of the Laffer camp as well as its critics. When he debated the subject on the House floor, he cited studies on the money supply, the experience of Britain and Sweden, and the impact of past tax cuts in the United States.

He persuaded his House colleagues to bring the idea to a vote in 1977 and three times more, in 1978. Each time they sought to reduce taxes across the board, starting with the 70 percent marginal rate, which was then imposed on the highest incomes. They lost each time — once by only five votes — but they had an election issue.

Mr. Kemp had also convinced Bill Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, that the issue was political gold. “He said, in effect, we need to restore the essence of our party, which is growth, which is jobs, which is creativity,” Mr. Brock said in an interview earlier this year. “And the way to do that is to free people of the burden of excessive taxes.”

Mr. Brock said the issue was central to the Republicans’ gaining 15 seats in the House of Representatives and 3 in the Senate in the fall of 1978.

While some allies wanted him to seek the Republican nomination himself in 1980, Mr. Kemp supported Mr. Reagan. In 1979 he organized a seminar in Los Angeles to explain the intricacies of the policy to Mr. Reagan and his campaign advisers. Mr. Reagan, who thought his own taxes as a movie actor had been too high, seized on the idea as one that would appeal to blue-collar voters.

After his election, Mr. Reagan called for a three-year, 27-percent tax reduction, straight out of the Kemp-Roth bill, which had been introduced earlier. The three-year, 23 percent reduction that the president ultimately agreed to was supported by Mr. Kemp. Although its formal name was the Economic Recovery Tax Act, it became known as the Kemp-Roth tax cut.

-OBIT: Jack Kemp, an original pillar in Republican 'big tent,' dies at 73 (Jon Thurber and Ari B. Bloomekatz, May 3, 2009, LA TImes)

"Jack more than any other person made Reagan aware of the potential appeal of supply-side economics, but Reagan probably would have come to that conclusion on his own because that's where the Republicans were headed," said Reagan's biographer Lou Cannon.

Kemp, as much as anybody, helped convince Reagan to embrace supply-side economics, designed to stimulate growth through tax reduction.

Kemp's tax bill was defeated in the House, but a similar measure was approved two years later, offering a 25% cut in taxes. He favored a return to the gold standard and took a hard line against the Soviet Union, supported aid for the Nicaraguan Contras and was a firm friend of Israel.

In many ways Kemp was ahead of his time in Republican circles, calling for the party to embrace all races and ethnicities and pushing for inclusion of blacks, Latinos and Jews.

"He was viewed very much as not only the carrier of supply-side economics, going back to the Reagan days, but he was really the guy who always talked about the 'big tent,' " Feulner said Saturday.

Kemp always thought about how to "add and multiply" the party, Feulner said.

Viewing himself as a neo-conservative, Kemp forged a new conservative activism among younger Republicans, breaking with the moderate old guard of the party that included George H.W. Bush, Dole and House stalwarts like Robert Michel. In the process, he became an ideological model for a generation of leaders that included future House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

"Jack rose to be a major national political figure and somebody considered as a presidential candidate on the strength of his personality, his drive and ideas," Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Times some years ago. "That's not something that happens very often for House members."

But despite his looks and charisma, he did poorly on the national stage. His economic concepts, which he sold on the stump with the zeal of a fundamentalist preacher, seemed wonkish and failed to convert voters. His campaign style was seen as undisciplined and impatient. Political analysts saw him as unwilling to play politics in a manner what would bring victory at the polls.

"If I could remove two-thirds of your knowledge and three-fourths of your vocabulary, I could make you into a decent candidate," veteran Republican consultant Edward J. Rollins recalled telling him.

He was Theo, not Neo.
-PROFILE: Paving the Way for Reagan: Jack Kemp's enduring influence. (Kenneth Tomlinson, 02/16/2009, Weekly Standard)
There are some people you cannot imagine ill. One such person is Jack Kemp, the onetime Buffalo Bills quarterback, longtime House Republican leader and godfather to the supply-side -economics movement. Whatever he was doing, Jack always has been in perpetual motion.

But the shock of his serious battle with cancer has prompted many of us to reflect on one indisputable fact. Without Jack Kemp, there would have been no Reagan Revolution. He was John the Baptist to "the Oldest and Wisest"--and in doing so became one of the most influential political figures of our time.

Had it not been for the radical 30 percent across-the-board tax rate cut that Kemp sold to candidate Reagan, America never would have realized the prosperity of the Reagan era and beyond. (Looking back, can you imagine a society that had accepted the legitimacy of 70 percent tax rates on our best producers?) By the sheer force of his evangelistic personality, he brought supply-side economic theories to influential journalists and politicians--and also to Ronald Reagan--legitimizing the concept that tax rate cuts were essential to unleash the creativity and innovation of the American dream.

Considering the crushing egos of the brilliant band of volatile individuals who constituted the supply-side movement, it is hard to imagine how anyone kept them in the same room long enough to influence mainstream political thought. But Kemp was, after all, the old quarterback who knew the importance of molding all sorts of individuals into a team.

-TRIBUTE: An appreciation of Jack Kemp (Gregg Easterbrook, 5/03/09, ESPN)
"So you favor socialism!" Jack Kemp had his arm around my shoulder and was pressing tight. I'd just told him, last October, that I would vote for Barack Obama. "You favor using the tax code to redistribute wealth! You want a president who will seize income and penalize success! So that's what you favor!" His health failing, Kemp still possessed boundless enthusiasm for talking politics and public policy. I couldn't get him off the topic even by trying to change the subject to football.

Jack Kemp, star quarterback and innovative public-policy thinker, died Saturday. The Associated Press AFL MVP of 1965 as quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, Kemp went on to serve 18 years in the House of Representatives, became Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, then ran as the Republican Party's vice presidential candidate in 1996. Kemp was a leading factor in the rise of Ronald Reagan conservatism in American life, and remained active in public-policy debates until the final months before his death. His were two singular achievements: First, to accomplish more after leaving athletics than he had before; second, to join that small fraternity of sports stars who have gone on to significant careers in serious pursuits.

Byron "Whizzer" White, who twice led the NFL in rushing, became a Supreme Court justice; Bill Bradley, who played for the New York Knicks, became a three-term United States Senator and 2000 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination; Alan Page, who played for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, made the Pro Football Hall of Fame, went to law school and is now a justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court; Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher with the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, is in his second term as a U.S. Senator from Kentucky; Ken Dryden of Canada and Roger Bannister of the United Kingdom are the other sports celebrities whose lasting achievements came after they tied their sneakers for the final time. Kemp's after-the-grandstands achievements rank with anyone in sports lore. Most star athletes spend their second act signing autographs and waving to fans; the real work of Kemp's life began when he put the football down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


John King, Who Made Ukulele Ring With Bach, Dies at 55 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 4/27/09, NY Times)

John King adored Hawaii, though he lived there for only a few years as a boy. The “Hawaiian room” in his Florida home was stuffed with hundreds upon hundreds of hula dolls, leis and other artifacts. He once owned 400 Hawaiian shirts, more than enough to wear a different one every day of the year — which he was proud to do. Is it a surprise that Mr. King played the ukulele?

And boy, did he play that ukulele. His huge hands and stocky wrists darted and danced up, down and across the tiny instrument’s strings in a way that few, if any, players have ever attempted.

Mr. King resurrected a guitar technique from the time of Bach to play a piece that was almost certainly never before tried on a ukulele, Bach’s Partita No. 3, and went on to play other difficult classical works with dazzling mastery. He opened pathways of sound unimaginable to those whose memories of the ukulele involve Arthur Godfrey, Elvis Presley and, of course, Tiny Tim.

The Journal of the Society for American M