September 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:13 PM


The pro-choice argument against health care reform. (William Saletan, Sept. 30, 2009, Slate)

This week, the Senate finance committee is considering amendments that would bar coverage of abortions under federally subsidized health insurance. Pro-choice groups are up in arms. After all, says NARAL Pro-Choice America, "In the current insurance marketplace, private plans can choose whether to cover abortion care—and most do." If Congress enacts subsidies that exclude abortion, "women could lose coverage for abortion care, even if their private health-insurance plan already covers it!" The organization urges lawmakers to "vote against any plan that takes coverage for abortion away from women who already have it in their private insurance plans."

...unless they own stock in insurance companies, there's nothing in this bill for the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


Barack Obama’s great test: The American president’s attitude towards international allies, partners and adversaries reveals the limits of his political leadership, says (Godfrey Hodgson, 30 - 09 - 2009, Open Democracy)

A whirlwind week of international diplomacy in the United States, in which Barack Obama was at the very centre, provides as true a measure as any of the emerging character of his political leadership. The news is not good. For this intense series of high-profile events and meetings on 22-25 September 2009 - from the United Nations climate-change conference to the UN general-assembly circus and a range of bilateral meetings with foreign leaders - confirms the limitations of Obama's style and approach. [...]

Barack Obama is increasingly coming to look like Lyndon B Johnson, a brilliantly gifted politician whose ambition to build a "great society" was sacrificed because of the war in Vietnam. [...]

No one questions Barack Obama's personal goodwill, still less his political intelligence. But on the basis of his first nine months in office, his commitment to a serious reassessment of the limitations of American power - let alone to an acknowledgment of the implications of the country's relative decline - is not yet clear.

They repeat the notion of his intelligence like a mantra, but all it does is prevent them from analyzing him clearly. It's the flip-side of the insistence, likewise refuted by the facts, that W is an idiot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


The Limits of Charisma: Mr. President, please stay off TV. (Howard Fineman, Sep 26, 2009, Newsweek)

If ubiquity were the measure of a presidency, Barack Obama would already be grinning at us from Mount Rushmore. But of course it is not. Despite his many words and television appearances, our elegant and eloquent president remains more an emblem of change than an agent of it. He's a man with an endless, worthy to-do list—health care, climate change, bank reform, global capital regulation, AfPak, the Middle East, you name it—but, as yet, no boxes checked "done." This is a problem that style will not fix. Unless Obama learns to rely less on charm, rhetoric, and good intentions and more on picking his spots and winning in political combat, he's not going to be reelected, let alone enshrined in South Dakota.

The president's problem isn't that he is too visible; it's the lack of content in what he says when he keeps showing up on the tube.

...he'd have less chance of being re-elected if he achieved any of those goals. His best shot is to be an ineffective disaster until the GOP takes Congress in '10 and then work with them to pass W's unfinished business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:57 PM


Time to Act Like a President (Richard Cohen, September 29, 2009, Washington Post)

Sooner or later it is going to occur to Barack Obama that he is the president of the United States. As of yet, though, he does not act that way, appearing promiscuously on television and granting interviews like the presidential candidate he no longer is. The election has been held, but the campaign goes on and on. The candidate has yet to become commander in chief. [...]

The trouble with Obama is that he gets into the moment and means what he says for that moment only. He meant what he said when he called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" -- and now is not necessarily so sure. He meant what he said about the public option in his health-care plan -- and then again maybe not. He would not prosecute CIA agents for getting rough with detainees -- and then again maybe he would.

Most tellingly, he gave Congress an August deadline for passage of health-care legislation -- "Now, if there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town . . . " -- and then let it pass. It seemed not to occur to Obama that a deadline comes with a consequence -- meet it or else.

Obama lost credibility with his deadline-that-never-was, and now he threatens to lose some more with his posturing toward Iran.

...there was a reason that the UR ran a content free campaign--he doesn't want to be the Chief Executive, just to be able to add a line to his resume. He has no interest in command, nor ability to do so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Is Britain bust?: For 300 years our best minds have fretted over the threat of national bankruptcy. As government debt surges upwards, they are doing so again. How worried should we be? James Buchan, 7/27/09, Prospect)

Well, the country is not about to be invaded at the urging of irate foreign bondholders, as occurred in Mexico in the 1860s or Egypt in the 1880s. Nor is it yet subject to the civilised modern equivalent, last seen here in 1976, when the government of the time agreed to restrictions on its spending devised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But there have been anxious moments in recent months at both the treasury and the Debt Management Office. An auction of £1.75bn in super-long gilts on 25th March did not attract enough bids. Stheeman also suffered a bad quarter of an hour on 21st May when the rating agency Standard & Poor’s lowered its assessment on British sovereign debt from “stable” to “negative.” Yet Britain can borrow, and in its own currency, at 4 per cent interest and an average maturity of nearly 15 years which only a handful of countries in history have ever been able to do. The foreign appetite for the sterling liabilities of the British government is rising not falling. This appetite has not been soured by recent falls in the sterling exchange rate, which at points exceeded the great devaluations of 1931 and 1949, and the lesser of 1967 and 1992. “My opinion,” says Stheeman, “is that this thing has nothing to do with an excessive supply of gilts. It is to do with the market’s perception of the UK economy, which is not as dire as it was three months ago.”

Moreover the accumulated British national debt in relation to GDP—at 75 per cent—is still lower than in powerful trading countries such as Germany (about 78 per cent) and Japan (about 190 per cent). It is also lower in relation to the productive wealth of Britain than after the two world wars of the 20th century or in the elongated 18th century between the glorious revolution of 1688 and the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

During that period, England and then England and Scotland ran a national debt far higher in relation to its trade than the IMF would tolerate in a developing country today. The best minds in England and Scotland—Swift, Bolingbroke, Hume, Smith—forecast national bankruptcy. As if in mockery of their reasoning, Britain emerged from the field at Waterloo the richest and most powerful state on earth. The only time when Britain came close to grief was, perversely, when it attempted to liquidate the national debt in the speculation known as the South Sea bubble in 1720-21. In short, debt is as British as the village green or the public house.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Why Remaking the Auto Industry Makes No Sense: The auto industry doesn't work by the basic laws of the market—governments just won't let dead companies go (Maryann N. Keller , 9/29/09, Business Week)

This year, governments around the world have invested well over a hundred billion dollars to keep their auto champions afloat. Taxpayers everywhere lost, and auto companies, like Ford (F), were placed at a competitive disadvantage as a result of government self-interest. The only consolation may be that we can get back some of our money when we buy cheap cars made possible by excess capacity.

All this simply means that the future of the auto industry will look like the past: Neither theory of remaking the industry will come to pass. Upstart entrepreneurs will never achieve the mass scale necessary to produce vehicles at relevant prices for most consumers. While the startups may pioneer the use of some technology, any successes will be copied by the large manufacturers, which have greater resources, including government support, as well as an existing infrastructure. The startups will fail or remain relegated to niche markets. At the same time, governments around the world will continue to prop up their domestic automakers (either directly or through domestic market protections), thus distorting natural market forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Palmer, Favre and an unsung receiver added to Week 3 drama (Peter King, 9/28/09, SI)

I can't emphasize enough -- though I've said it a few times in this column over the years -- how marvelous train travel is up and down the Boston-New York-Washington corridor. I now take the train on Saturday at different times from Back Bay Station in Boston to Penn Station in Manhattan. Because we had no Saturday obligations at NBC this weekend, I took the regular Amtrak train at 4:45 p.m. from Boston to New York, stopping at the Kingstons and New Londons, and when we got into the little train station in Old Saybrook, Conn., just off Long Island Sound, there was a slight sunset struggling to be seen through the cloud cover.

Four placid hours, having a couple of Heineken Lights and banging through some elements of this column. I think you could save 60 or 90 minutes by taking the Delta shuttle, but then you wouldn't see the people walking on the seashore where Rhode Island meets Connecticut in a part of the country not many people know.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


The Dems in a circular firing squad (Joseph Curl, 9/29/09, Washington Times)

Democrat lashed out at Democrat on Tuesday, interrupting, snubbing and dissing each other before splintering apart over the issue of . . . a public health care option?

After months building up to the moment when the core of President Obama's health care agenda would take center stage on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats quickly devolved into petty intraparty bickering -- not quietly, in private, but right there in the capacious Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Beyond the Third Way: What Is Wrong with Social Democracy? (Matt Browne, Ruy Teixiera and John Halpin, 9/30/09, Der Spiegel)

One can discern four reasons, common to many social democratic parties in Europe, each rooted in shortcomings of the Third Way.

First, European social democrats have done a poor job of defining what they stand for or how it differs from conservatives. The Third Way reconciled progressive thought with the market economy, individualism and globalization. This helped Bill Clinton in the US, Tony Blair in Britain and Gerhard Schröder in Germany establish political hegemonies in an era of conservative dominance. All three projects were egalitarian, but in rejecting many signature policies of social democratic thinking, they allowed conservatives to blur the differences between themselves and social democrats. Moreover, the social democrats' current difficulties in defining an alternative economic paradigm stem from gaps in Third Way thought, most notably with regards to industrial renewal.

Second, social democrats have failed to connect with the values of voters and thus struggle to respond to the populist anger that is typically rooted in these values. The Third Way's rejection of ideology was once a strength; it has now become a weakness. Social democratic politicians often suffer from "seminaritis" -- treating the political process as a matter of compiling data, evidence and the best ideas.

You can reject ideology, but you can't reject morality and build a decent society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


The beginning of an electric car revolution: The founder of 'Better Place' said at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show that the electric transportation grid will go live in Israel in 2011 (Vandana Gombar, September 30, 2009, Times of India)

The first time I heard about what 'Better Place' wanted to do for sustainable transportation, I was impressed. To reduce the world's dependence on crude oil -- a commodity with a finite supply and volatile price -- this young company proposed to replace the liquid fuel transportation network with an all-electric network. The idea was so simple at the time that it was surprising no one had thought of it before.

Quintessentially, this California-headquartered company proposed a dare to replace petrol/diesel cars on the road with electric vehicles and petrol pumps with battery recharging/replacing vends. It wanted to yank out the oil model for transportation and replace it with an environment-friendly renewable energy model.

One of the first countries which committed to replace its petrol vends with battery feeders and substitute its liquid-fuel cars with battery-operated vehicles was Israel. For obvious reasons, Israel wants to end its dependence on oil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


'Reform' horrors: O's Total Disconnect (SALLY PIPES, September 30, 2009, NY Post)

For starters, every bill would make everyone buy a plan that offers a government-designed benefits package. So, while they wouldn't directly force people to shift plans, they'd force most employers to change what they offer their workers -- and employer-provided coverage is the top way Americans get insurance.

Worse, the mandates would price many employers out of the insurance market -- dumping their employees onto the government-provided backup, whether that's the "public option" that liberals prefer or the "co-ops" being offered as a compromise. The Lewin Group has estimated that "reform" will push 119 million people out of their current coverage.

Second, the Democratic plans largely come up with some cash by looting GOP-created programs. Democrats want to cut over $100 billion from Medicare Advantage, for example -- a "reform" that will force millions of seniors back into traditional Medicare, a state-of-the-art plan for 1965.

Obama's answer to this problem? Pure denial: Pressed by ABC's George Stephanopoulos on the issue, he replied, "No, these folks are going to be able to get Medicare that is just as good."

Other Democratic plans would restrict Health Savings Accounts -- which, when coupled with a high-deductible plan, now meet the health-care needs of millions of Americans. Same for Flexible Spending Accounts, which are also on Congress' chopping block. In both cases, "reform" is a two-fer -- a tax increase and reduction in coverage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Hakimullah's brother killed in US drone attack in Pak (PTI. 30 September 2009)

Pakistani Taliban new chief Hakimullah Mehsud's brother was among 15 militants killed in two US drone attacks in the country's lawless tribal belt, reports said on Wednesday.

Hakimullah's brother Kalimullah was among six militants who were killed in the first drone attack in the Sararogha area of South Waziristan Agency yesterday afternoon, Express 24/7 news channel reported.

Nine militants were killed in the second drone attack, which was carried out in the evening in the Dandey Darpakhel area of North Waziristan Agency.

September 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Senate Panel Rejects Pair of Public Options in Health Plan (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 9/29/09, NY Times)

The committee on Tuesday afternoon voted, 15 to 8, to reject an amendment proposed by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, to add a public option called the Community Choice Health Plan, an outcome that underscored the lack of support for a government plan among many Democrats.

Mr. Baucus voted no, as did Senators Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Bill Nelson of Florida, joining all 10 Republicans in opposition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Is it not possible that by eschewing all the traditional emblems of his office that he's squandering the opportunity to be identified with it? After all, if it's more important to him to be seen as the One than as the President then why should we see him as President? A continuous campaign based on the idea that he's not of the office may well make him not the occupant of it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


More women with breast cancer opt to remove healthy one, study finds: Researchers find a rising trend in prophylactic mastectomy among women with breast cancer, even though there is little evidence that it actually improves survival. (Shari Roan, September 28, 2009, LA Times)

Lead author Dr. Stephen B. Edge, a professor of surgery and oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., says there are no data to demonstrate that having prophylactic mastectomy actually improves survival.

Yet the study found almost 5,000 New York women chose a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy during the 11-year period, with the number more than doubling from 1995 through 2005.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Poles indignant that U.S. altered missile-shield plans: The American decision to back out of a Bush-administration agreement has played into fears that Obama is willing to sacrifice Central Europe to repair relations with Russia. (Megan K. Stack, September 29, 2009, LA Times)

Washington's decision to back out of the missile shield agreement forged by the Bush administration -- and opposed by Russia -- has evoked memories among Poles of Cold War helplessness, of being brushed aside as casualties of great power politics.

In Poland and among other members of the old Soviet bloc, the U.S. announcement played into a historical sense of uncertainty. Warsaw's political elite spoke of a visceral fear that the Obama administration is willing to sacrifice Central Europe in its eagerness to repair badly damaged relations with a resurgent Russia.

The indignation is partly fueled by bruised feelings over what many here describe as bungled American diplomacy in breaking the news to Warsaw. But there is also concern over the perception that the United States overhauled its defense strategy in part to appease Moscow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson to promise new crackdown on antisocial behaviour (Patrick Wintour and Andrew Sparrow, 29 September 2009, The Guardian)

Brown will concentrate on the issue in his conference speech, outlining a return to the Blairite agenda of tough measures on irresponsible parenting and social breakdown.

The speech offers the beleaguered prime minister an opportunity to reconnect with middle Britain and rescue his drifting leadership.

Labour has already ceded Thatcherism/Blairism to the Tories. Now they just seem desperate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Musharraf: Afghan debate shows U.S. weak (Sara A. Carter, 9/29/09, Washington Times))

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Monday that the U.S. would make a "disastrous" mistake if it withdrew from Afghanistan and warned that a delay in sending more troops would be seen as a sign of weakness. [...]

Asked by reporters and editors at The Washington Times whether the U.S. and its allies might be seen as weak because of the prolonged debate over whether to send more forces to Afghanistan, Mr. Musharraf said, "Yes, absolutely. ... By this vacillation and lack of commitment to a victory and talking too much about casualties [it] shows weakness in the resolve."

With Obama Wavering, Congress Seeks to Chart a Course on Afghanistan (Jay Newton-Small, Sep. 29, 2009, TIME)
President Barack Obama is taking out a blank sheet of paper this week as he weighs his options in Afghanistan, and Congress stands more than willing to fill it in. The Senate on Sept. 29 is expected to debate amendments to the 2010 defense appropriations bill that are likely to include everything from timelines for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to proposals to send upwards of 40,000 more. But, unlike health-care reform, this isn't a decision Obama can leave in the hands of the legislative branch — however undecided he remains today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


The Obama Show: Time to change the channel. (Matthew Continetti, 10/05/2009, Weekly Standard)

What's truly unusual is that the president persists in this media strategy even though it shows no signs of succeeding. Obama's job approval may be decent, but it has fallen quickly and dramatically and now hovers slightly above 50 percent in the Gallup poll. More people continue to disapprove than approve of the president's approach to health care, with significant numbers of seniors and independents turning against him. Last week's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that the Republicans have narrowed the Democrats' advantage in the congressional generic ballot to three points, the best number for the GOP since 2004. And Republicans are favored in November's elections in New Jersey and Virginia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Gasoline prices fall for second week in a row despite refinery fires (Ronald D. White, September 29, 2009, LA Times)

The U.S. average fell 5.3 cents to $2.499 a gallon, $1.133 lower than a year earlier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Passive-Aggressive at the U.N.: Obama boldly proclaims a new meekness (Andrew Ferguson, 10/05/2009, Weekly Standard)

The bipolar world of the "long-gone Cold War," in which two powerful nations pushed or pulled the world this way or that, is no longer possible, he said. And then he went an unexpected step further: Even the unipolar world, in which one country assumes leadership by virtue of its wealth or moral standing, isn't going to work, either. The president himself would see to that, by relinquishing any claim to indispensability. He was introducing us to the no-polar world.

In the no-polar world, according to the president, everybody is doing everything all at once. "Persistent action," the president called it. "The future will be forged by deeds and not simply words." The deeds, however, will entail a great many words; on most occasions, words exclusively. There will be summits, conferences, negotiations, and consultations. And in this important work, "America intends to keep our end of the bargain," which isn't to say we'll be bossing anybody around. [...]

Yet there's a kink in the logic of the president's performance, and it will become hard to ignore. For his speech was a particularly grandiose refusal to be grandiose--a high-handed refusal to be high-handed. Who is he, after all, to declare a no-polar world? Only the leader of the most powerful nation in the world would have the nerve to announce to the world that from now on, by his decree, no nation will be more powerful than any other.

...we're long past the point where it's fair to take one of his speeches seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


The end of the Pax Americana?: Obama has the chance to end our Cold War hangover, and start an era where the U.S. is not the sole global policeman (Michael Lind, 9/29/09, Salon)

It is too early to tell whether there is a real chance in Washington for an alternative to the Cold War Plus strategy of perpetually containing Russia and Germany, China and Japan, and Iran and Iraq that Democrats and Republicans alike have pursued since the Berlin Wall fell. But there are some encouraging signs.

The G-20 looks very much like a nascent concert of power. Its inclusive membership and flexibility might make it a de facto replacement for the rigid, outdated U.N. Security Council in the security realm. The coordination of their stimulus packages by the G-20 nations in the past year was a remarkable exercise in Keynesianism on a global scale. And the Obama administration, unlike its predecessor, has made it clear that the U.S. can no longer be the market of first resort for China and other export-oriented countries. The administration's tariffs on Chinese tires are a signal that the offer of unilateral market access is being reconsidered by the U.S.

While the brutality and militancy of the Iranian regime may foreclose a rapprochement, the Obama administration has backed away somewhat from the policy of encircling Russia by canceling NATO missile defense systems in Poland, whose purpose was to intimidate Russia, not Iran. And following a period of low-key military rivalries among the U.S. and China, Obama seems more interested in partnering with the world's most populous country than in provoking it into a needless arms race.

But there was a chance to move from confrontation to concert back in the early 1990s, as well. Let's hope that President Obama, unlike Presidents Clinton and Bush, will push for a genuine new world order rather than perpetual containment and perpetual cold war.

If only the Chicoms and Ba'athists hadn't reverted to form...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Angela Merkel, the new Maggie Thatcher: Free from the shackles of her centre-left coalition, Germany's leader can launch a bold new era (Alan Posener, 9/28/09,

Goodness knows, the country needs a shake-up. The economic crisis has exposed Germany's vulnerability to international markets. The social safety net may have cushioned the impact of the industrial downturn, but the costs are horrific, and the Opel fiasco illustrates the dangers of relying too much on engineering skills and industrial prowess. Anything we can do, the Chinese can do better. And cheaper. But the whole system, from education via immigration to taxation, is geared to producing, protecting and pampering the famed Facharbeiter, the skilled industrial worker, and the mammoth companies that employ him (it's still mostly him, as it is in the German boardroom).

Smaller entrepreneurs and professionals have been squeezed from all sides: overtaxed, burdened by high payments for the social system, strict rules on hiring and firing and minimum wages – and unable to get hold of credit. The resulting frustration has led to the rise of the liberal Free Democrats, Merkel's new partners in government.

As well as lower taxes, a reform of costly healthcare and a more Anglo-Saxon approach to the labour market, the new government will probably want to keep Germany's nuclear plants running longer, to keep energy prices down and meet carbon targets. Look for an emphasis on competitiveness rather than consensus; growth rather than greenery; smart social systems rather than solidarity.

Merkel II, as Germans are just beginning to realise, means the end of an era: 11 years of Social Democrats in power (seven with the Greens, four with Merkel's Christian Democrats). It's not far-fetched to say that the era of New Labour is coming to an end in Europe. Tony Blair hijacked Conservative positions and profited from capitalism's 20-year boom. In Germany, Gerhard Schröder did much the same. Now David Cameron is hijacking New Labour's positions, as Merkel has been hijacking Social Democrat positions, with devastating effect. In opposition, Labour and the Social Democrats will inevitably drift to the left; in Germany, this will include some kind of rapprochement with the ex-Communist Left party – which should make them unelectable for the next decade.

In Europe a triumvirate of Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Cameron – backed by José Manuel Barroso, the newly elected commission president – should ensure that the EU becomes leaner, meaner and more competitive. Germany's incoming foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, is inexperienced, but Merkel has always been her own foreign minister, so don't expect any major changes.

Every election is determined by which of the two parties is more Third Way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Japan's Prices Fall at Record Pace (MEGUMI FUJIKAWA, 9/29/09, WSJ)

Japan's core consumer price index fell at its fastest pace on record for the fourth straight month in August, as commodities prices became cheaper compared with a year earlier and economic uncertainty deterred consumers from spending.

The core CPI, which excludes volatile fresh food prices, fell 2.4% on year in August, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said Tuesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


U.S. Envoy's Outreach to Sudan Is Criticized as Naive (Stephanie McCrummen, 9/29/09, Washington Post)

[O]bama's special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, pushing toward normalized relations with the only country in the world led by a president indicted on war-crimes charges.

Although Gration describes the approach as pragmatic and driven by a sense of urgency, his critics here and in the United States say it is dangerously, perhaps willfully, naive. During a recent five-day trip to Sudan, Gration heard from southern officials, displaced Darfurians, rebels and others who complained uniformly that he is being manipulated by government officials who talk peace even as they undermine it.

Still, at the end of the visit, Gration maintained a strikingly different perspective. He had seen signs of goodwill from the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, he said, and viewed many of the complaints as understandable yet knee-jerk reactions to a government he trusts is ready to change.

"We've got to think about giving out cookies," said Gration, who was appointed in March. "Kids, countries -- they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement."

W liberates the South from him, the UR sucks up to him....

September 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 PM


The Fight Over Flexible Spending Accounts (RON LIEBER, 9/29/09, NY Times)

Flexible spending accounts allow people to take money out of their paychecks before paying taxes on it and to set it aside to use for health care expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. There is no legal limit on how much you can set aside each year, though employers generally set a cap around $4,000 or $5,000.

Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and author of the Senate health care bill, would like to place a much lower $2,500 annual limit on what people can save, among other restrictions. The House-Senate Joint Committee on Taxation figures this will allow the government to take in $14.6 billion from 2011 and 2019. So far so good right? We have to pay for the health care bill somehow.

The problem, however, is that to people who put more than $2,500 away each year, this looks an awful lot like a tax increase. After all, if they can’t put as much money aside, they’ll pay more in income and payroll taxes. And President Obama, when he was running for office, promised that no family earning under $250,000 would see higher taxes.

Now, a not-quite grass-roots effort has sprung up, led by companies that administer flexible spending accounts and others. At, the group encourages individuals to write their representatives in Washington and sound off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


For Brazil, Olympic Bid Is About Global Role (ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO, 9/28/09, NY Times)

Leaders here say winning the Olympics would be a transformational moment for Brazil, an affirmation of its rising global importance and a shot in the arm to the self-esteem of Cariocas, Rio’s residents, 85 percent of whom supported the Olympic bid in a recent poll by the International Olympic Committee.

“It would be overwhelming for our city, for our citizens and for Brazil as a whole,” said Carlos Osorio, the secretary general of Rio’s Olympic bid committee.

While three other finalists — Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo — have also mounted strong bids, Rio has drawn support outside of Brazil’s borders. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who has been negotiating military deals with Brazil, said he supported Rio’s bid “100 percent.” King Juan Carlos of Spain has said he will throw his support behind Rio if Madrid is eliminated in the first round of voting.

And some International Olympic Committee members have been reported to be enamored of the idea of correcting the Games’ historic neglect of South America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Swiss Move Against Polanski Outrages His Sympathizers (DAVID JOLLY and MICHAEL CIEPLY, 9/29/09, NY Times)

As European officials and artists lined up to defend the filmmaker, Mr. Polanski’s lawyer said he would fight extradition.

“There is no reason, either in law or in fact, nor on the terrain of the most elementary justice, to keep Roman Polanski in prison for even one day,” Hervé Temime, his lawyer in Paris, said on France Info radio. In a statement, he added: “Taking into account the extravagant circumstances of his arrest, his Swiss lawyer is seeking his release as soon as possible.” [...]

The reaction in Europe on Monday appeared to be one of astonishment. Nearly 100 entertainment industry professionals, including the movie directors Pedro Almodovar, Wong Kar Wai and Wim Wenders called in a petition for Mr. Polanski’s release, saying: “Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.”

Jack Lang, a former French culture minister, said that for Europeans the development showed that the American system of justice had run amok.

While Mr. Polanski had committed “a grave crime,” Mr. Lang said, “he is a great creator and artist...."

...we see how prescient Mary Eberstadt was

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


American striker wants to make a splash across the pond: Jozy Altidore, 19, raised in Florida by Haitian immigrants, is a starter on an English Premier League team. (Chuck Culpepper, September 28, 2009, LA Times)

Out-of-the-way Hull (population 257,000) was bombed horrendously during World War II and seriously deflated with the fishing industry's collapse during the North Sea "Cod Wars" with Iceland in the 1970s, and it continues to get up from that. It's friendly and unpretentious and possessed of a pretty Old Town, and it was unmistakably energized by Hull City's ascent from England's fourth division in 2003 clear to the top in 2008, even if one tour guide cheerfully says, "It's not really on the way to anything."

Yet the son of Haitian immigrants who met on a bus in Orange, N.J., lives temporarily in a modest hotel where the staffers all know him and chirp when he phones, "Hey, Jozy, what'll it be this time?" His BMW arrived from Spain, so he drives on the left with a steering wheel on the left ("I'm always hitting the curb."). He's absorbing everything while craving American morsels such as the upcoming NFL game in London two hours south, maybe a Jay-Z show in London and definitely the urge to stay up late for Lakers-Cavaliers games, his fondness for Kobe Bryant owing to Bryant's not being "a soccer hater."

Having dealt with the loneliness of the far-flung -- "I know how to handle it now," he said -- Altidore beams an enthusiasm that wanes only when he hops up to escape a pushy bee, explaining that such creatures terrify him.

Still, maybe the best part is the wide-eyed young man in the widely watched league.

He marvels at the pace: "I just think the league has an intensity about it and has a way about it that there's no other way to play in the league. You have to play at a high intensity or you're going to be punished." He marvels at the environment: "I played my first game, and just the energy, it was electrifying. . . . I think the players kind of feed off it and find a kind of second or third wind."

He marvels at the players: "The smallest guy on the field will head-butt you. . . . It's just gritty and just different. . . . They're not naive players." And he marvels at the fans: "There'll be fans walking by you in the city when you're with a friend and you're not even thinking about it and, 'Hey, you better win on Saturday!' It just shows you, it's a different type of responsibility" for a player.

Having navigated the work-permit wrangle plus wailing babies on the plane to finally arrive on Aug. 21, and then enter the game in the 60th minute on Aug. 22, he quickly set up Kamel Ghilas for the goal in the 1-0 win against Bolton. Manager Phil Brown called Altidore "a big, bubbly character" the fans would fancy. Altidore scored in a Carling Cup match just after, and he can't wait to see the colossal stadiums of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.

Of course, it's going to get very trying, so maybe the best part will be seeing what a young luminary on the U.S. national team can forge through the inevitable duress, even if his mighty body should help with the mighty physicality.

His first start in a 1-0 loss received mixed-to-dour notices. A Sky TV pundit thought he looked "lost." The Guardian noted that any creativity from Hull's 4-4-2 formation "invariably foundered" when reaching the strikers. Some fans thought Altidore got insufficient support, most cheered him upon his 63rd-minute exit and seemingly all say they don't expect too much because he needs games.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Polish Privatization Will Narrow Budget Gap: Treasury Is Planning to Raise $12.8 Billion by Selling State Assets (MALGORZATA HALABA, 9/28/09, WSJ)

Poland's government, faced with a 2010 budget likely to include a ballooning deficit and heavy borrowing, has little choice but to proceed with its ambitious privatization plan while hoping for a quick recovery, economists say. [...]

In late July, the Polish Treasury presented an updated privatization plan aimed at raising 36.7 billion zlotys ($12.8 billion) by the end of 2010 through the sale of state-owned assets. The ministry expects to sell 25 billion zlotys in assets next year, effectively drawing Poland's privatization process to a close 20 years after the end of communism.

"In the short term, accelerated privatization is the only way -- privatization, a fast economic recovery and a strong zloty," said Radoslaw Bodys, an economist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London. "If not, it will be impossible to avoid tax increases in the long term."

When capitalism has a "crisis" we respond with more capitalism and folks wonder whether this is really the End of History?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


An 'Election' Burma's People Don't Need (U Win Tin, September 9, 2009, Washington Post)

Much attention has been focused on Sen. James Webb's recent visit to my country and his meetings with Senior Gen. Than Shwe and incarcerated Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. I understand Webb's desire to seek a meaningful dialogue with the Burmese ruling authorities. Unfortunately, his efforts have been damaging to our democracy movement and focus on the wrong issue -- the potential for an "election" that Webb wants us to consider participating in next year as part of a long-term political strategy. But the showcase election planned by the military regime makes a mockery of the freedom sought by our people and would make military dictatorship permanent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Japan's 'Change' Agenda (Fred Hiatt, September 28, 2009 , Washington Post)

By voting for change, Hatoyama told me during an interview last week, "each individual in the United States has gained vitality within themselves. We too, by changing our closed politics, have been able to generate vitality within each individual in Japan." [...]

But is there a coherent agenda? To the United Nations last week, Hatoyama brought a promise to reduce Japan's greenhouse gas emissions by far more than his predecessors had pledged. At home, meanwhile, his government is reducing the gasoline tax, fulfilling one of many populist promises his party made to win election.

You can change undertakers, but you still end up buried.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Vermont GOP’s Gov Hopes Hinge on What Dubie Will Do (Jessica Benton Cooney, 9/28/09, CQ)

In order to compete, the Vermont Republicans will have to come up with a prominent candidate, and they don’t have a deep bench of prospects. Much rides on Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who is weighing whether to take a shot at the state’s top job.

Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately and not as a single ticket in Vermont, and Dubie points out that he received more popular votes than Douglas in 2008. He also predicts that any other Republican contemplating a possible bid for governor “would step aside for me.”

There has been some chatter about a possible GOP bid by state Auditor Tom Salmon, whose father, Democrat Thomas P. Salmon, served as governor from 1973 to 1977. The younger Salmon was elected as a Democrat in 2006 and 2008, but on Sept. 8 switched to the Republican Party — a rare move in Vermont these days — based on his view that the Democrats had moved too far to the left.

Salmon said at the time of his party switch that he would likely run for re-election for auditor, with “a 10 percent chance,” as he put it, that he will run for governor or lieutenant governor instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Justice for Polanski (Gerald Posner, 9/28/09, Daily Beast)

Back in March 1977, when Polanski was arrested at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and charged with six felony counts—two charges of rape, sodomy, oral copulation, child molestation, and furnishing drugs (Quaaludes, the 1970s’ version of a date rape drug), to a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer—the prosecutor’s case seemed ironclad.

But even those familiar with the details seem to have long since forgotten them.

Nearly two years after Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate was killed by Charles Manson’s cult followers, the director met Samantha’s mother and arranged for the girl to visit him alone, ostensibly to pose for French Vogue. At their first meeting, Polanski took pictures of Samantha, including some of her topless. At the second get-together, two weeks later, at Jack Nicholson’s empty Bel Air home, he gave her champagne and a Quaalude, and then had sex with her. By the time she returned home from that encounter, Samantha’s mother had discovered the topless Polaroids. After her mother quizzed her, the child broke down in tears, confessed the details of the attack, and her mother called the police. [...]

Polanski faced up to 50 years in prison. But he pleaded guilty, on August 8, 1977, to a single count of unlawful sexual contact with a minor: “I had sexual intercourse with a female person not my wife, under the age of 18,” he told the court. Many people concluded somehow that the prosecutor’s case was weak and that Polanski pleaded guilty only to get rid of the matter. In fact, the transcript from his guilty plea shows that only reason the prosecutors agreed to the arrangement was that Samantha and her parents were desperate to avoid the publicity of a full-blown trial. The press had kept Samantha’s identity a secret (years later, she herself disclosed it).

“Of course, if there were to be a trial in this case, the anonymity of my clients would be at an end,” said their attorney, Lawrence Silver. “[M]y view, based upon advice from experts, and the view of the girl’s parents, is that such a trial may cause serious damage to her.”

Because of the massive publicity, Silver argued that the harm to Samantha might be greater than the crimes committed against her, and said “a stigma would attach to her for a lifetime.” [...]

[H]ours before he was to be sentenced, Polanski fled to Paris. He was “exhausted,” said his friends, from the battery of psychiatric tests. “I’ve been tortured by this for a year and that’s enough,” he told the BBC.

That’s how it mostly remained—unfinished justice, Polanski a fugitive. [...]

Hollywood is split over Polanski. In 2002, he was awarded an Academy Award for directing The Pianist. And while some celebrities believe he has suffered enough by his three-decade ban from the U.S., others think he has never paid for his original crime. Polanski, for his part, has let it be known through friends that he thought the U.S. statutory rape laws are puritanical at best and utterly stupid at worst. The victim was, he is said to have told his closest friends, a temptress in the mold of Nabokov’s Lolita.

Just some facts to keep in mind when we see folks defending him....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


A new push to define 'person,' and to outlaw abortion in the process: Some abortion foes think the rationale for Roe vs. Wade is vulnerable. They're trying to amend state constitutions -- including California's -- to define personhood from conception. (Robin Abcarian, September 28, 2009, LA Times)

Across the country, [abortion foes] have revived efforts to amend state constitutions to declare that personhood -- and all rights accorded human beings -- begins at conception.

From Florida to California, abortion foes are gathering signatures, pressing state legislators and raising money to put personhood measures on ballots next year. In Louisiana, a class at a Catholic high school is lobbying state legislators as part of a civics exercise.

"We have big and small efforts going on in 30 states right now," said Keith Mason, co-founder of Colorado-based Personhood USA. "Our goal is to activate the population."

Critics deride the effort as the "egg-as-person" movement and say it threatens in vitro fertilization; some kinds of birth control, including IUDs and pills; and stem cell research. They say that Americans will reject it as a government intrusion into their privacy.

"It's a backdoor abortion ban," said Ted Miller, spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America, which has worked with Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups to defeat such measures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Mandate for Change in Germany: Merkel's Center-Right Coalition Wins, Opening Door to Tax Cuts and Labor Revamp (MARCUS WALKER, 9/28/09, WSJ)

A center-right alliance led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel was set for victory in Germany's national elections on Sunday, opening the door to modest tax cuts and labor-market changes that could help strengthen the fragile recovery in Germany's crisis-battered economy.

Ms. Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union and its pro-business ally, the Free Democratic Party, were set to win a small majority in Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, according to early results. [...]

"For corporate Germany, this is a good signal," said Thorsten Polleit, economist at Barclays Capital in Frankfurt. "The FDP, which will feel very confident now, and much of the CDU will want to bring down government spending in order to cut income taxes."

...could hardly be working out any better fir conservatives and capitalists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Despite pressure, McChrystal to hold firm on request for troops (Aaron Blake - 09/27/09, The Hill)

Gen. Stanley McChrystal said he will not back down from his request for additional troops in Afghanistan, even though Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration have been hesitant to embrace it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Bill Clinton Says Right-Wing Conspiracy Now After President Obama (KRISTINA WONG, Sept. 27, 2009, ABC News)

Former President Bill Clinton says the right-wing conspiracy that attacked him during his presidency now is after President Obama.

When asked whether the "vast right-wing conspiracy" is still present today, the former president answered without hesitation, "Oh you bet." that the majority is seldom considered part of a conspiracy. Typically, it's some minority group that is felt to wield power disproportionate to its numbers. Of course, the Left doesn't consider conservatism to be legitimate, so it can't fathom why Republicans win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Majority Report: Some liberals think Democrats should purge their more conservative members, but do they want to be in the minority? (Eleanor Clift, Sep 25, 2009, Newsweek)

Liberals are in no mood to give moderate Democrats a pass. Indeed, liberals sound a lot like Republicans did when Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties—good riddance, and don't let the door hit you on the way out. Imagine how much nicer life would be without all these apostates blocking reform. Purge the caucus, as many on the left would like to see, and there goes the majority. The price of acquired power for the Democrats is more conservatives on their side of the aisle and fewer liberal Republicans to offset the influx. Republicans are a lot more unified now, having purged their ranks of the more sensible members; they're also a minority party.

Obama has to deal with the Congress he has, not the one that liberals wish he had. The irony is that all those red-state lawmakers giving Obama fits are a result of a strategy set in motion by Rahm Emanuel, who as White House chief of staff now must search for a consensus that can keep enough of them together to pass Obama's agenda. Emanuel recruited candidates best suited for their district and state, which means they won, but they are not reliable votes for Obama.

The challenge for Democrats is whether they can turn their arithmetical majority into a governing majority, says Bill Galston, a veteran of the Clinton health-care fight who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank. Calling it "a test of liberal maturity," he points out that it's the minority of the majority—the newer,more conservative members—who make the Democrats a majority. "The simple fact that in the House liberals outnumber conservatives three to one doesn't mean they get three quarters of what they want," says Galston.

Especially when that's just within the Party.

September 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


    -OBIT: William Safire, Nixon Speechwriter and Times Columnist, Is Dead at 79 (ROBERT D. McFADDEN, September 27, 2009, NY Times)

Behind the fun, readers said, was a talented linguist who could not resist his addiction to alliterative allusions. There was a consensus too that his Op-Ed essays, mostly written in Washington and syndicated in hundreds of newspapers, were the work of a sophisticated analyst with voluminous contacts and insights into the way things worked in Washington.

Mr. Safire called himself a pundit — the word, with its implication of self-appointed expertise, might have been coined for him — and his politics “libertarian conservative,” which he defined as individual freedom and minimal government. He denounced the Bush administration’s U.S.A. Patriot Act as an intrusion on civil liberties, for example, but supported the war in Iraq.

He was hardly the image of a buttoned-down Times man: The shoes needed a shine, the gray hair a trim. Back in the days of suits, his jacket was rumpled, the shirt collar open, the tie askew. He was tall but bent — a man walking into the wind. He slouched and banged a keyboard, talked as fast as any newyawka and looked a bit gloomy, like a man with a toothache coming on.

Typical of a New York Times house conservative, he endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992. But his book, Freedom, is terrific.


    -OBIT: Pulitzer winner William Safire dies at 79 (AP, 9/27/09)

    -Columnist Biography: William Safire (NY Times)

    -TIMES TOPICS: William Safire

    -WIKIPEDIA: William Safire

    -GOOGLE BOOKS: William Safire

    -GOOGLE BOOK: Freedom by William Safire

    -REVIEW ESSAY: Reviews of New Lincoln Books: Lincoln Monuments (William Safire, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of NO PLACE TO HIDE By Robert O'Harrow Jr. (William Safire, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of A GOOD LIFE Newspapering and Other Adventures. By Ben Bradlee (William Safire, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of MAN OF THE HOUSE The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O'Neill. With William Novak (William Safire, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of WILLIAM COBBETT The Poor Man's Friend. By George Spater. Two-Volume Set (William Safire, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of ERIC PARTRIDGE IN HIS OWN WORDS Edited by David Crystal and WORDS FAIL ME By Philip Howard (William Safire, NY Times Book Review)

-TRIBUTE: In Memoriam: William Safire (1929–2009) (Jacob Neusner - 09/27/09, First Principles)
-TRIBUTE: Remembering Bill Safire (Morton Janklow, 9/28/09, Daily Beast)

    -PROFILE: WILLIAM SAFIRE: Prolific Purveyor Of Punditry (WALTER SHAPIRO, Feb. 12, 1990, TIME)

    -PROFILE: Apres Safire: Up from the ghetto. (Jonah Goldberg, 11/23/04, National Review)

For decades he was the only conservative at the Times, nominal or otherwise — which made him one of the country's most influential conservatives. Simply by adopting an argument he made it credible. When, for example, he tackled the fishiness of Vince Foster's suicide (or I should say the fishiness of the Clinton White House's reaction to it) he automatically made this line of inquiry credible in the eyes of the establishment media. With his writing talent and reporting skills he did invaluable service in the same cause our own Bill Buckley launched nearly 50 years ago: making conservatism not merely respectable but admirable.

I don't want to discuss Safire's motives because I don't know what they are. But I do know that he loved to declare that he was taking a position not because he necessarily believed it, but because it was the "contrarian" position. A quick Nexis search finds nearly 40 columns in which he essentially bragged about or celebrated being a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. And there have been countless others in which he may not have used the word, but the same spirit moved him. Now, I like contrary thinking, but contrary thinking for its own sake isn't admirable, it's silly: "Everyone says two plus two is four; I say it's a monster called Gamblor!"

More to the point, contrariness for its own sake is not remotely conservative. Conservatism is most often a defense of settled truths, not an instinct to topple them willy-nilly for entertainment value.

Again, I don't want to psychoanalyze. But by constantly calling himself a contrarian or — as he often did when convenient — a "libertarian," by going for the pun rather than the punch, for bending-over backward to appear "reasonable" and nonpartisan, Safire at times gave the impression that he wasn't comfortable calling himself a conservative. He endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992 (no doubt in part because he wanted a Pulitzer for his unending BCCI columns) on the grounds that George H. W. Bush was a liar. This was a bit like courting Helen Thomas because Cameron Diaz has bad skin some mornings. Safire was a godsend for conservatives when he was originally hired by the Times — which happened, ironically enough, in part because Safire had written Vice President Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism" speech. And he has done heroic service. But he is a hero of an old war.

    -ESSAY: The Safire tirade (William F. Buckley, Jr., 4/10/87, National Review)

    -PROFILE: The Propaganda of William Safire (David Corn, 2/25/04, The Nation)

    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: William Safire (Charlie Rose, PBS)

    -ARCHIVES: "william safire" (Find Articles)

    -REVIEW: of Freedom by William Safire (William S. McFeely, NY Times Book Review)

IT is a courageous author who begins a thousand-page novel with a learned discussion of a legal writ, but William Safire has done just that. Abraham Lincoln, alone in his capital in April 1861, senses that the city is as defenseless as he himself feels. To correct matters, he takes the bold, perhaps illegal action of suspending the writ of habeas corpus so that rebels in Baltimore, obstructing the passage of troops to Washington, can be jailed. In his courtroom in Baltimore, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney tries to force the Chief Executive to honor the civil rights of even those who would obstruct troop movements. Without backing down, the man in the Executive Mansion shrewdly avoids a direct constitutional confrontation with Taney.

''Great men grow in power,'' Secretary of State William Henry Seward declares early in ''Freedom,'' announcing its theme. From that moment on, we follow the President as, hand over hand, he grasps the elements of power necessary to win a war, though that victory lies beyond the book's close. If the Constitution needs bending, he will bend it.

The plot is familiar. We follow Lincoln in the first 21 months of the Civil War as he changes from a man determined to restore the Union without disturbing slavery to one committed to abolishing the institution in order to achieve reunion.

With his engrossing tale well told, a writer candid enough to call his history fiction would seem to have granted himself immunity from scholarly criticism. But the author's subjects - freedom, war, power - are too important to escape such scrutiny and questions arise whether we view ''Freedom'' as a study in politics, a novel or history, although it can be read as all three.

Many novels of the American Civil War, which saw the devastation of a vast region, bring to mind Tolstoy's ''War and Peace,'' but reading ''Freedom,'' my mind ran to Trollope and ''The Prime Minister.'' There is, of course, in an account of the mustering of sufficient force to fight a war growing more savage with each battle, little room for the Englishman's gentle, witty irony, but the scenes in Mr. Safire's book are remarkably reminiscent of Trollope's. At Francis Preston Blair's country seat, political arrangements are made; in Kate Chase's parlor (and bedroom) sex and power meet; in the house of a notoriously alluring hostess, Rose Greenhow, intrigue (to the point of lethal spying) occurs; and, finally, in the Executive Mansion, all power is gathered into one pair of strong hands.

It is not surprising that a one-time Presidential aide turned Washington columnist (for this newspaper) should have chosen the capital, and not the battlefield or beleaguered countryside, as his central canvas. On this, Mr. Safire has crowded vividly drawn Congressmen, generals, confidants and Cabinet members, all trying to impose their will on the President. (Interestingly, it is a woman, Anna Ella Carroll, the formidably aggresssive political theorist and military strategist, who comes closest to succeeding.) What the author achieves as a novelist is an imagining of motives and a depiction of personal tensions, as Lincoln, resisting those impositions, finds his own objectives and imposes his own will on the nation.

    -REVIEW: of Freedom (James W. Tuttleton, Commentary)

To anchor his novel in a sea of swirling facts, Safire provides the reader with a long appendix of 150 pages that he calls the “Under-book.” There he presents the historical sources of his imagined scenes, confesses to what is real and what is invented, provides a bibliography of Civil War readings, and clarifies the debates of the historians over the political meaning of Civil War events. Repeatedly in this appendix we are told things like: “The interview with [Benjamin] Wade is fictional, but Lincoln's dialogue is taken from his letter to Orville Browning.” Or “Some of my mind reading of [Salmon P.] Chase is fictional, and several meetings are telescoped into two, but on the whole the chapter is based on [Gideon] Welles's diary.” Or “Fiction. That is what I think Lincoln was thinking in late May 1862.” This stratagem, which allows us to discriminate between the actual and the invented, also delivers Safire from the charge of misleading readers and falsifying history for the sake of his plot.

But is the result historical truth? Since many readers are likely to get their information about the Civil War from novels like Freedom rather than from works of history, there is something ethically responsible about Safire's alerting us to where he deviates from the factual into the imaginary. In doing so, however, he is also implicitly acknowledging the legitimacy of the distinction, and paying obeisance as well to some ideal of historical truth which he as a novelist is trying to serve with no less devotion than would a professional historian. In all this Safire seems grandly oblivious to the attack, within the discipline of history itself, on the adequacy of any narrative history to tell the truth about the past.

For too many current historians, a historical narrative is itself a work of the imagination. An instance is the view of Hayden White of the University of California at Santa Cruz who complains in Tropics of Discourse (1978) that people are reluctant “to consider historical narratives as what they most manifestly are: verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found and the forms of which have more in common with their counterparts in literature than they have with those in the sciences.” For historians like White, it is naive to “expect that statements about a given epoch or complex of events in the past ‘correspond’ to some preexistent body of ‘raw facts.’” For White, all historians are novelists; and all history is an imaginary construction of found facts. Given such views, is it any wonder that the discipline of history is now collapsing into subjective ideologies and tending toward cognitive nihilism?

Luckily, Safire is innocent of this kind of academic skepticism. He may argue about the meaning of past events, but the existence of historical truth as such he never calls into question. Just as the responsible narrative history can tell a truthful story about the past, so the well-researched historical novel can recreate the continuity of intimate human relations, personal psychology, and public events. Happily indifferent to the inanities of current historical theory, Safire gets on with the task.

    -REVIEW: of Freedom (Joe Mysak, National Review)

    -REVIEW: of Scandalmonger by William Safire (Thomas Flanagan, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of Scandalmonger (Katharine Whittemore, Salon)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Barack Obama's churlishness is unforgivable (David Hughes, September 24th, 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The juxtaposition on our front page this morning is striking. We carry a photograph of Acting Sgt Michael Lockett - who was killed in Helmand on Monday - receiving the Military Cross from the Queen in June, 2008. He was the 217th British soldier to die in the Afghan conflict. Alongside the picture, we read that the Prime Minister was forced to dash through the kitchens of the UN in New York to secure a few minutes “face time” with President Obama after five requests for a sit-down meeting were rejected by the White House.

What are we to make of this? This country has proved, through the bravery of men like Acting Sgt Lockett, America’s staunchest ally in Afghanistan. In return, the American President treats the British Prime Minister with casual contempt. The President’s graceless behaviour is unforgivable. As most members of the Cabinet would confirm, it’s not a barrel of laughs having to sit down for a chat with Gordon Brown. But that’s not the point. Mr Obama owes this country a great deal for its unflinching commitment to the American-led war in Afghanistan but seems incapable of acknowledging the fact. You might have thought that after the shambles of Mr Brown’s first visit to the Obama White House - when there was no joint press conference and the President’s “gift” to the Prime Minister was a boxed DVD set - lessons would have been learned. Apparently not.

..the UR is going to need photo ops with the next British PM just as much as this one needs them with our president, but sine that'll be a Tory he'll have even less reason to offer them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Merkel’s Party Claims Victory in German Elections (NICHOLAS KULISH, 9/28/09, NY Times)

Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed victory in national elections Sunday, with projections by public television stations putting her conservative party on a path to form a new center-right government and achieve Mrs. Merkel’s goal of ending the country’s “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats.

If the slim lead for her conservative Christian Democrats and the pro-business Free Democrats holds after all the ballots are tallied, Mrs. Merkel will finally have the chance to enact the kind of liberalizing economic reforms she proposed when she first ran for chancellor four years ago. [...]

The Social Democrats’ chancellor candidate, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called the election night “a bitter defeat” for his party, which suffered the worst decline ever by a party in a German parliamentary election.

Gerhard Schroeder came out of the Iraq War about as well off as Chretien, Chirac, & Saddam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


SAUDIS WILL LET ISRAEL BOMB IRAN NUCLEAR SITE (Gordon Thomas and Camilla Tominey, September 27,2009, Sunday Express)

INTELLIGENCE chief Sir John Scarlett has been told that Saudi Arabia is ready to allow Israel to bomb Iran’s new nuclear site.

The head of MI6 discussed the issue in London with Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Saudi officials after British intelligence officers helped to uncover the plant, in the side of a mountain near the ancient city of Qom.

What's not for them to love about a war between Jews and Shi'ites?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


What Bush got right offers clues for Obama (Mark Bowden, 9/27/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

President Bush made a courageous decision in the summer of 2006 to reverse direction, but not the reversal sought by Congress (including then-Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden), the American public, the overwhelming majority of the press (including this newspaper), and even most of his own military advisers. Instead of cutting our losses and pulling out of Iraq, as we did in Vietnam, Bush doubled down. He invested more troops and, more important, embraced an entirely new strategy.

And Bush was right. What had happened beneath all of the politics was a small revolution in war-fighting philosophy, championed and implemented by an unlikely military leader, Gen. David Petraeus, a soldier/intellectual molded as much by the think tank as the battlefield. He calls the movement his "Counterinsurgency Nation," and it has rewritten the way America fights. It is not a completely new idea - there are few of those in the study of war - but its basic principles came into clearer and clearer focus as a new generation of military officers fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its guiding principle is simple: The prize in these countries is not territory, but people.

Now President Obama must decide whether to let this new generation of battle-tested soldiers apply what it has learned to Afghanistan. Those who argue that the methods employed in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan are right and wrong. They are right that the two conflicts are not identical. What worked in Iraq will not apply in all cases in Afghanistan. But they are wrong to assume the lessons of Iraq have no application in Afghanistan. The counterinsurgency consensus grew out of experience in both wars. America's new military leaders have been managing both conflicts simultaneously for most of this decade, and the hard-won lessons they have learned derive from both.

I am not a military expert, but I suspect that most wars that last for more than a few weeks follow a roughly similar trajectory. Established generals misjudge the war, and once the battle is joined, a generation of younger leaders discovers the truth, adapts by hard necessity, making life-and-death decisions on the battlefield, and learns, often by trial and error, how to define and fight the new war on its own terms. If the national leadership is smart enough to embrace this knowledge and experience, as Bush was, the tide turns.

...success for the UR lies in the degree to which he apes W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Let’s have a train that goes where we want to: Beauty of rail, as seen on East Coast, is that it can get right to cities’ hearts (Brian Greenspun, Sept. 27, 2009, Las Vegas Sun)

As a youngster I used to ride the train from what is now the Plaza on Main Street — that’s where the train station was — all the way to San Bernardino.

The conductors called it San Berdu and it took well over six hours to make the trip. It could have taken days because riding the trains was a treat for those us who knew what it was like to drive through Baker, Calif., in the summer without air conditioning in the car.

But, enough of my boyhood. Let’s talk about trains like adults.

This past week I rode the train from Washington, D.C., to New York City and back. I could have flown but, all in, that would have taken me three hours or more — most of it waiting and driving — to reach my destination.

Instead, I sat in a very comfortable chair, had breakfast, read my newspapers, talked politics and golf, stopped in places such as Baltimore, Wilmington, Del.; Philadelphia; and someplace in New Jersey — for no more than two minutes in each place — before we pulled into Penn Station in the middle of Manhattan.

...and he took the train here from California. Lucky stiff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Somali Pirates Pushed off Ship, But Kill Captain (Alan Boswell, 26 September 2009, VOA News)

Somali pirates attempted to hijack a ship Thursday night in the Mogadishu port but were eventually scared away by a rescue effort.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Tuning In Too Late (CLARK HOYT, 9/27/09, NY Times)

ON Sept. 12, an Associated Press article inside The Times reported that the Census Bureau had severed its ties to Acorn, the community organizing group. Robert Groves, the census director, was quoted as saying that Acorn, one of thousands of unpaid organizations promoting the 2010 census, had become “a distraction.”

What the article didn’t say — but what followers of Fox News and conservative commentators already knew — was that a video sting had caught Acorn workers counseling a bogus prostitute and pimp on how to set up a brothel staffed by under-age girls, avoid detection and cheat on taxes. The young woman in streetwalker’s clothes and her companion were actually undercover conservative activists with a hidden camera.

It was an intriguing story: employees of a controversial outfit, long criticized by Republicans as corrupt, appearing to engage in outrageous, if not illegal, behavior. An Acorn worker in Baltimore was shown telling the “prostitute” that she could describe herself to tax authorities as an “independent artist” and claim 15-year-old prostitutes, supposedly illegal immigrants, as dependents.

But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Smarts and Stiff Upper Lip in Times of War and Murder (MIKE HALE, 9/27/09, NY Times)

AMERICAN television has its share of taciturn policemen, but none quite like Christopher Foyle, the top cop in Hastings, England, who enforces the civilian laws while World War II rages not many miles away in France. As portrayed by the marvelous actor Michael Kitchen in the British series “Foyle’s War,” he is sometimes so reserved — not eerily quiet or threateningly quiet, just quiet — that he actually appears to be thinking, something few American telecops are likely to be accused of.

Mr. Kitchen has played the modest but prickly Foyle through 19 episodes, shown on ITV in Britain beginning in 2002 and repeated on PBS. The entire run has now been collected in a five-DVD box, “Foyle’s War: From Dunkirk to VE Day” (Acorn, $149.99), which comes out this week. [...]

[I]TV later commissioned three more, which were shot this year, will be shown in 2010 and will take Foyle to V-J Day.

I realize it's crazy, but I refuse to watch the last episode of such shows--still haven't seen the last Morse, Frost, etc. Now I can watch that 19th Foyle with more coming....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Rethinking Which Terror Groups to Fear (SCOTT SHANE, 9/27/09, NY Times)

[M]any students of terrorism believe that in important ways, Al Qaeda and its ideology of global jihad are in a pronounced decline — with its central leadership thrown off balance as operatives are increasingly picked off by missiles and manhunts and, more important, with its tactics discredited in public opinion across the Muslim world.

“Al Qaeda is losing its moral argument about the killing of innocent civilians,” said Emile A. Nakhleh, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency’s strategic analysis program on political Islam until 2006. “They’re finding it harder to recruit. They’re finding it harder to raise money.” [...]

[S]ome government officials do take quiet, if wary, satisfaction in two developments that they say underlie the broad belief that Al Qaeda is on a downhill slope. One is the success of military Special Operations units, the C.I.A. and allies in killing prominent terrorists.

Three days apart in mid-September, American special forces in Somalia firing from helicopters killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a leader of a Somalian organization, Al Shabab, which is allied with Al Qaeda, and the police in Indonesia killed the most-wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia, Noordin Muhammad Top, in an assault on a house in Java.

In Pakistan, missile strikes from C.I.A. drone aircraft have taken a steady toll on Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies since the Bush administration accelerated these attacks last year, a policy reinforced by President Obama. A count of such strikes, compiled by the Center for American Progress in Washington, found a handful in 2006 and 2007, rising rapidly to 36 in 2008, and another 36 so far in 2009, nearly all in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

In addition to thinning the ranks of potential plotters, the constant threat of attack from the air makes it far harder for terrorists to move, communicate, and plan, counterterrorism officials say. And while the officials say they worry about a public backlash in response to the civilians killed during the air attacks, those officials also say the strikes may be frightening away potential recruits for terrorism.

The second trend is older and probably more critical. The celebration in many Muslim countries that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has given way to broad disillusionment with mass killing and the ideology behind it, according to a number of polls.

Between 2002 and 2009, the view that suicide bombings are “often or sometimes justified” has declined, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, from 43 percent to 12 percent in Jordan; from 26 percent to 13 percent in Indonesia; and from 33 percent to 5 percent in Pakistan (excluding some sparsely populated, embattled areas). Positive ratings for Osama bin Laden have fallen by half or more in most of the countries Pew polled.

Peter Mandaville, a professor of government and Islamic studies at George Mason University, says a series of public recantations” by prominent Islamist scholars and militants in recent years have had an effect. But the biggest catalyst has been bombings close to home.

“Right after 9/11, people thought, wow, America is not invincible,” Mr. Mandaville said. “It was a strike against the U.S., and they were for it.” But when large numbers of innocent Muslims fell victim to attacks, “it became more and more difficult to romanticize Al Qaeda as fighting the global hegemons — basically, ‘sticking it to the man.’ ”

It turns out, the Far Enemy was much closer than they thought and fellow Arabs don't actually think of themselves as the Near Enemy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


UN leaders back nuclear resolution but grow impatient with Iran (Alex Spillius, 24 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

World leaders have backed a landmark resolution calling for a world without nuclear weapons at a United Nations Security Council hosted by Barack Obama. [...]

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, came close to mocking his American counterpart for the good intentions, which Mr Obama had heralded as an "historic" step towards nuclear abolition, even though it set no specific targets or fresh mandates.

"We live in a real world not a virtual world," the Frenchman told the 15-member council. "And the real world expects us to take decisions.

"President Obama dreams of a world without weapons ... but right in front of us two countries are doing the exact opposite.

"Iran since 2005 has flouted five security council resolutions."

When push last came to shove on a member state violating UN Resolutions, France bailed. Why should we or the Iranians take them seriously now? Internal politics forces Mr. Obama to act against Iran. Where will France be?

September 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Obama’s age of atonement (Christopher Caldwell, September 25 2009, Financial Times)

Mr Obama talks about giving “meaning to the promise embedded in the name given to this institution: the United Nations. That is the future America wants.” Well, if he is right, then Americans have been lying to pollsters for a long time. Naturally, there are good arguments that the US should submit to the same international norms as everybody else. But those arguments need to be made to Americans, not to foreign heads of state. [...]

Mr Obama has committed his citizens to an expensive and open-ended period of reparation and repentance, and placed himself in a logical contradiction. He promised in his speech that the US would “be a leader in bringing about change”, “lead by example”, move “from a bystander to a leader in international climate negotiations” and accept an “obligation to lead” on the environment. But US leadership is a political fact, not a law of nature. The thing that the US leads is the world system that Mr Obama wants us to repudiate. If “the old habits and arguments are irrelevant”, as he says, then why should the US lead? Why shouldn’t someone else lead? Systems that elevate one nation over another can indeed be unjust. But the only alternative on the horizon is to let groups of nations with common interests (whether “the international community” or the UN) harass small countries they disapprove of, from Serbia to Honduras to Israel. Some may like the outcomes better. But it is no advance for legitimacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Sex, Drugs, Music, Mud: Woodstock at 40. (P.J. O'Rourke, 08/31/2009, Weekly Standard)

No social phenomenon can be completely analyzed, thoroughly critiqued, and given its full philosophical due in just one word. Except Woodstock. Altamont.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Don’t Tell Congress What Comes After Trillion (Kurt Brouwer, September 23rd, 2009, Fundmastery)

[I]n less than a year, we have moved on from budget deficits in the billions to trillion dollar plus deficits. So, I wondered, what comes next? This Associated Press report gives us the answer...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


The Worst Economy Since…. the 1980s? (Mark J. Perry, September 25, 2009, The American)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


All About Obama (Michael Gerson, September 26, 2009, Washington Post)

[T]his address grows more disturbing on further reading. Some major presidential speeches deserve to be remembered, quoted and celebrated. Some deserve to be forgotten. A few deserve to be remembered and criticized, because they dishonor the history of presidential rhetoric.

Obama’s rhetorical method in international contexts -- given supreme expression at the United Nations this week -- is a moral dialectic. The thesis: pre-Obama America is a nation of many flaws and failures. The antithesis: The world responds with understandable but misguided prejudice. The synthesis: Me. Me, at all costs; me, in spite of all terrors; me, however long and hard the road may be. How great a world we all should see, if only all were more like…me.

On several occasions, Obama attacked American conduct in simplistic caricatures a European diplomat might employ or applaud. He accused America of acing “unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others” -- a slander against every American ally who has made sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan. He argued that, “America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy” -- which is hardly a challenge for the Obama administration, which has yet to make a priority of promoting democracy or human rights anywhere in the world.

...Mr. Obama's universal disavowal of democratization is unselective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


For Democrats, Cracks in a United Front (JACKIE CALMES, 9/26/09, NY Times)

The liberals do not expect to win in the moderate-to-conservative-leaning committee. But Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said, “That’s just the first battle of a war, and the least friendly battlefield.”

The Senate floor, and certainly a conference with the more liberal House, will be more receptive arenas, Mr. Schumer and others predict. Ultimately, the liberals in Congress, as well as their allies in organized labor, expect to be able to shape the final product more than they had hoped just weeks ago.

That unnerves the more conservative Democrats, many of them from Republican-leaning districts and states.

Liberals have been emboldened by two factors. One is the failure of Senator Max Baucus of Montana, a more conservative Democrat who heads the Finance Committee, to get any Republicans to support his draft legislation, after months of trying. That doomed President Obama’s goal of bipartisan backing for a health care overhaul, and now leaves party liberals arguing for a distinctly Democratic health plan.

...we may as well force the liberal one on our moderates?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


EXCERPT: The Tragic Misunderstanding of Atheist Humanism (Henri de Lubac | From Chapter One of The Drama of Atheist Humanism)

Man, to be sure, is made of dust and clay; or, as we should say nowadays, he is of animal origin--which comes to the same thing. The Church is not unmindful of this, finding a warrant for it in the same passage of Genesis. Man, to be sure, is also a sinner. The Church does not cease to remind him of that fact. The self-esteem that she endeavors to instill into him is not the outcome of a superficial and ingenuous view of the matter. Like Christ, she knows "what there is in man". But she also knows that the lowliness of his origin in the flesh cannot detract from the sublimity of his vocation, and that, despite all the blemishes that sin may bring, that vocation is an abiding source of inalienable greatness. The Church thinks that this greatness must reveal itself even in the conditions of present-day life, as a fount of liberty and a principle of progress, the necessary retaliation upon the forces of evil. And she recognizes in the mystery of God-made-man the guarantee of our vocation and the final consecration of our greatness. Thus in her liturgy she can celebrate each day "the dignity of the human substance" even before rising to the contemplation of our rebirth.

These elementary truths of our faith seem commonplace today--though we neglect their implications all too often. It is difficult for us to imagine the disturbance they created in the soul of man in the ancient world. At the first tidings of them humanity was lifted on a wave of hope. It was stirred by vague premonitions that, at the recoil, sharpened its awareness of its state of misery. It became conscious of deliverance. To begin with, needless to say, it was not an external deliverance--not that social liberation which was to come, for instance, with the abolition of slavery. That liberation, which presupposed a large number of technical and economic conditions, was brought about slowly but surely under the influence of the Christian idea of man. "God", says Origen, in his commentary on Saint John, "made all men in his own image, he molded them one by one." But from the outset that idea had produced a more profound effect. Through it, man was freed, in his own eyes, from the ontological slavery with which Fate burdened him. The stars, in their unalterable courses, did not, after all, implacably control our destinies. Man, every man, no matter who, had a direct link with the Creator, the Ruler of the stars themselves. And lo, the countless Powers--gods, spirits, demons--who pinioned human life in the net of their tyrannical wills, weighing upon the soul with all their terrors, now crumbled into dust, and the sacred principle that had gone astray in them was rediscovered unified, purified and sublimated in God the deliverer! It was no longer a small and select company that, thanks to some secret means of escape, could break the charmed circle: it was mankind as a whole that found its night suddenly illumined and took cognizance of its royal liberty. No more circle! No more blind destiny! No more Moira! No more Fate! Transcendent God, God the "friend of men", revealed in Jesus, opened for all a way that nothing would ever bar again.

Hence that intense feeling of gladness and of radiant newness to be found everywhere in early Christian writings. It is much to be regretted that this literature for so many reasons, not all of which are insuperable, should be so remote from us today. What wealth and force our faith is forfeiting by its ignorance of, for instance, the hymns of triumph and the stirring appeals that echo in the Protrepticus of Clement of Alexandria!

But if we look down the course of the ages to the dawn of modern times we make a strange discovery. That same Christian idea of man that had been welcomed as a deliverance was now beginning to be felt as a yoke. And that same God in whom man had learned to see the seal of his own greatness began to seem to him like an antagonist, the enemy of his dignity. Through what misunderstandings and distortions, what mutilations and infidelities, what blinding pride and impatience this came about would take too long to consider. The historical causes are numerous and complex. But the fact remains, simple and solid. No less than the Early Fathers, the great medieval scholars had exalted man by setting forth what the Church had always taught of his relation to God: "In this is man's greatness, in this is man's worth, in this he excels every creature." But the time came when man was no longer moved by it. On the contrary, he began to think that henceforward he would forfeit his self-esteem and be unable to develop in freedom unless he broke first with the Church and then with the Transcendent Being upon whom, according to Christian tradition, he was dependent. At first assuming the aspect of a reversion to paganism, this urge to cut loose increased in scope and momentum in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries until, after many phases and many vicissitudes, it came to a head in the most daring and destructive form of modern atheism: absolute humanism, which claims to be the only genuine kind and inevitably regards a Christian humanism as absurd.

This atheist humanism is not to be confused with a hedonist and coarsely materialist atheism--a commonplace phenomenon to be found in many periods of history. It is also quite contrary in principle-if not in its results-to an atheism of despair. But it would be dangerous to call it a critical atheism and let it go at that. It does not profess to be the simple answer to a speculative problem and certainly not a purely negative solution: as if the understanding, having, on the attainment of maturity, set itself to "reconsider" the problem of God, had at last been obliged to see that its efforts could lead to nothing or even that they were leading to an end that was the opposite of what they had long believed. The phenomenon that has dominated the history of the mind during the last few centuries seems both more profound and more arbitrary. It is not the intelligence alone that is involved. The problem posed was a human problem--it was the human problem--and the solution that is being given to it is one that claims to be positive. Man is getting rid of God in order to regain possession of the human greatness that, it seems to him, is being unwarrantably withheld by another. In God he is overthrowing an obstacle in order to gain his freedom.

Modern humanism, then, is built upon resentment and begins with a choice. It is, in Proudhon's word, an "antitheism".

The tragedy of humanism is the failure to recognize that freedom lies in the choice between Good and Evil, not in a right to decide which is which.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Spoonfuls of Sugar: Americans' continued love affair with the John Roberts Court (Dahlia Lithwick, Sept. 26, 2009, Slate)

Fifty percent of Americans currently believe the court is neither too liberal nor too conservative; that's up from 43 percent last year. And the number of Americans who believe the court is too conservative has dropped from 30 percent to 19 percent.

All this lavish new public affection for the court's moderation came the same week the court was hearing a hugely important case that may dismantle a long-standing system of campaign finance restrictions—including a ban on direct federal campaign spending by corporations that has existed for a century. But the issue in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, is not limited to the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. The reason court-watchers got themselves so worked up about this case is that it squarely tests Chief Justice John Roberts' stated commitments to preserving precedent, deference to the elected branches, and issuing narrow rulings instead of sweeping ones.

Oral argument in the Citizens United case revealed that the court's five conservatives feel nothing but contempt for campaign finance regulations that demonize corporations, restrict core political speech, and—to quote the chief justice—"put our First Amendment rights in the hands of FEC bureaucrats." Trying to square the tone of that argument with the Gallup pole results of the same week requires ignoring either one or the other almost entirely.

Because, as is obvious to anyone in Ms Lithwick's social milieu, the majority of Americans can't be contemptuous of the CFR regime.

[Of course, the problem with the specific case is that the Court will show deference to precedent instead of to the Constitution.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


PD James, Queen of Detective Fiction: Interview: PD James talks to Jake Kerridge about detective fiction, her new book, and the technical problems of murder (Jake Kerridge, 9/26/09, Daily Telegraph)

The 89-year-old Lady James is trying to recall what first drew the teenage Phyllis, along with millions of other readers in the Thirties, to the so-called Golden Age detective stories.

“Those books suggested we live in a moral, comprehensible universe, at a time when there was a great deal of disruption and violence at home and abroad, and of course the ever-present risk of war. And we live in times of unrest now, so perhaps we may soon enter another Golden Age.”

It is one thing to read detective fiction voraciously, another to write it for five decades in the spare moments of a busy life spent working first for the NHS and then the police and criminal law departments of the Home Office, while bringing up two daughters and coping with the stresses of being married to somebody who was mentally ill: her late husband, Connor Bantry White, developed a form of schizophrenia after he returned from war service.

She says that writing was a compulsion – and it had to be detective fiction. “I don’t think writers choose the genre, the genre chooses us. I wrote out of the wish to create order out of disorder, the liking of a pattern.” [...]

In her book, James makes somewhat austere fun of her beloved Dorothy L Sayers over the scene at the end of Busman’s Honeymoon in which Lord Peter Wimsey breaks down in tears when the murderer he has brought to justice is hanged.

I say that I can’t imagine James’s own creation, the poet-policeman Adam Dalgliesh, being similarly affected. “No, he wouldn’t weep as the murderer was taken off to be hanged, or now of course it would be off to 10 years in jail."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


The End of Oil?: a review of CRUDE WORLD: The Violent Twilight of Oil By Peter Maass (MICHAEL HIRSH, NY Times Book Review)

“Just as every un­happy family is unhappy in its own way, every dysfunctional oil country is dysfunctional in its own way,” he writes.

Equatorial Guinea’s savage leader, Teodoro Obiang, plunders virtually every cent of his nation’s wealth, aided by Riggs Bank of Washington, which sometimes sent employees to the embassy to pick up bulging suitcases of cash. Locals don’t even get the benefit of jobs because the manual labor is supplied by Indians and Filipinos brought in by Marathon Oil. Walking around the capital, Malabo, one night, Maass does manage to find a booming source of local employment: young Guinean girls called “night fighters” because they jostle for a chance to sell their bodies to the oilmen from Texas or Oklahoma. “The men in Malabo might not find jobs in the oil industry, but it is clearly possible for their desperate sisters to earn a few dollars,” he writes. Traveling to Ecuador, Maass discovers graffiti on one of the pipelines that cut through what was once pristine Amazonian rain forest: “Más Petróleo = Más Pobreza.” More oil equals more poverty. For him, it sums up the confiscatory approach that Texaco took to that country, leaving it a stripped land oozing with toxic pollutants.

The major oil producing nations have fared little better. Seventy years after the discovery of its first great reservoir, Saudi Arabia remains a medieval principality with a bare patina of modernity. The country’s long reign as the world’s No. 1 oil supplier has been good for the Saudi princes but a Faustian bargain for the rest of us, having led to the petrodollar-funded spread of extremism and the rise of Osama bin Laden. Post-Soviet Russia has become a kind of petro-fascist state where the head of Lukoil slavishly keeps a picture of Vladimir Putin on his desk rather than photos of his family. Venezuela is resurrecting socialism, this time as farce, under the buffoonish Hugo Chávez, who hosts a TV talk show called “Aló Presidente” while turning his national oil company into a “development agency with oil wells” that furthers his hold on power. Iran’s whole modern history has been twisted out of shape by its oil riches, starting with the American-British coup that toppled Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and restored Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

The unhappiest countries are those where oil has led to war, none more so than Iraq, even if no one will acknowledge the truth about America’s 2003 invasion. “The refining process transforms this black swill into a clear fluid without which our civilization would collapse,” Maass writes. “Quite often a corollary process of political refining occurs to sanitize the truth of what’s done to keep oil in the hands of friendly governments. Just as cars cannot run on unrefined crude, political systems choke at the unfiltered mention of war for oil.” He cites George W. Bush’s claims that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with oil. Still, the question hangs out there: Why was the Oil Ministry one of the only places guarded by United States troops in the early days of looting?

By the end of Maass’s long indictment, one wants the horror to end. Let’s all move on from oil already. Indeed, it is tempting to imagine what sort of globalization we might have today if Max Steineke and his exploratory team from Standard Oil of California hadn’t discovered quite so much petroleum when they pierced Saudi Arabia’s first great reservoir in 1938. If less human ingenuity had been applied to finding oil over the last 70 years, and more to developing other sources of energy, the world economy — and the environment — might be far healthier. The World Trade Center might even still be standing.

But Maass doesn’t fully deliver on the promise of his subtitle. Is this really the twilight of the oil economy? We still seem utterly drenched in the gunk...

...we'll never run out nor will we move away from such a cheap source because of any broad-based moral imperative--only government action can make it expensive enough to end the oil age.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Senate Leader Reid Becomes GOP Target in Nevada (JIM CARLTON, 9/26/09, WSJ)

As Senate majority leader, Harry Reid stands with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as part of a triumvirate that rules Washington. But back home in Nevada, the Democratic lawmaker is just another incumbent with a bull's-eye on his back.

Mr. Reid, 69 years old, is facing mounting criticism in his home state and is trailing in the polls against two Republican challengers for his Senate seat: former University of Nevada at Las Vegas basketball star Danny Tarkanian and Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden. According to an independent Mason-Dixon poll Aug. 23, Mr. Reid lagged behind Mr. Tarkanian by 49% to 38% and 45% to 40% against Ms. Lowden. Meanwhile, a Sept. 2 poll by liberal Web site Daily Kos found 52% of likely voters holding an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Reid.

Driving up Mr. Reid's unpopularity at home is the liberal agenda that he has been championing for Democrats nationwide -- including the health-care overhaul and $787 billion stimulus package -- which is alienating some residents in his mostly moderate state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Federal Tories pull away in new poll (Bruce Campion-Smith, 9/26/09, Toronto Star)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is outshining rival Michael Ignatieff and putting the Conservatives on track for a possible majority in the next election, a new Angus Reid Strategies/Toronto Star poll has found.

While party numbers remain static, Harper outscores Ignatieff on key questions of leadership that stand to give him a vital competitive edge among voters, said Jodi Shanoff, vice-president of public affairs for Angus Reid Strategies.

"This is not good news for Michael Ignatieff. ... Stephen Harper should be emboldened by numbers like these. They are pretty encouraging for him," she said yesterday.

Not that he deserves any, but it's impressive that Mr. Harper is avoiding any blame for the recent economic unpleasantness (it obviously helps that Canada is outperforming 6-7 peers).

One wonders if having President Obama and Congressional Democrats so nearby hasn't discredited a party of the Left as a viable alternative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


With conditions right, acorns go nuts: Bumper crop plumps up squirrels while humans duck and cover (David Abel, September 26, 2009 , Boston Globe)

[I]n many parts of the region this time of year, particularly this year, the sky is falling - or at least it feels that way. Hard-shelled orbs are cracking windshields, thwacking gardeners, and tripping up joggers on their daily slog.

They are also making squirrels and other rodents pleasantly plump, leading to a potential bulge in their population.

Given this year’s bountiful rains and the mysterious cycles of nature, oak trees are producing one of the region’s largest crops of acorns in memory, forcing people to run for cover or gingerly avoid what can feel like a carpet of marbles on sidewalks and backyards.

On a recent afternoon along the Muddy River, the spike-tipped, leathery shells plunged like cluster bombs with every gust of wind from the surrounding oaks, leaving thousands of them littering the paved paths that connect Boston and Brookline.

September 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


American libertarianism is dancing to the shock-jocks (Jurek Martin, September 25 2009, Financial Times)

[I]t is becoming increasingly evident that libertarianism is a common thread in the patchwork quilt of vocal opposition to Barack Obama’s attempts to change the way America is run. Not only does it pull many of the organisational strings behind the often raucous public protests of the last few months, but its essential philosophy, that the less government the better, is espoused by some of the titular leaders of the mob.

Chief among these is Glenn Beck, the radio and television demagogue who emotionally peddles socialist-and-worse conspiracy theories to an unquestioning audience four hours a day, five days a week.

[I]f you listen to his rambling rants, as I force myself to from time to time, the libertarian strain in his thinking becomes quite clear; far more so than Mr Limbaugh’s, whose shtick is much more of the authoritarian but orthodox anti-liberal variety. And where El Rushbo deploys bombast and heavy-handed sarcasm, Mr Beck, often near real or fake tears, comes over as much closer to Howard Beale in the film Network – “I’m as mad as hell and can’t take it any more.”

Garden variety libertarians devoted to notions of economic and personal liberty might be uncomfortable with this combustible approach, but they are not above going along for the ride. That certainly seems to be the case with former Congressman Dick Armey and his pressure group Freedom Works, as well as more established outfits such as the Ayn Rand Institute, named after the author. Both have been active in organising the tea party, town hall and Washington protest events that marked this summer.

Mr Armey, once number two Republican in the House of Representatives in spite of a sometimes very impolitic temper, has never hidden his libertarianism. Nor, for that matter, did Alan Greenspan, ruler of the Federal Reserve for so long. The fact that the role of government expanded so much in the presidency of George W. Bush induced Mr Armey to resign from Congress.

And don't the Libertarians and the Larouchies deserve each other?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


On The "Great Crime" of the Gentiles (Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., September 25, 2009, Ignatius Insight)

We might describe mankind over time as a body of truth-seekers who have not found the truth, or at least not all of it, or not yet. Implicit in that description can be the assumption we can find what we set out to find all by ourselves. That is, not a few people would evidently reject truth if they did not themselves "make" it. The idea that truth might be given to them and require honest acknowledgement strikes at the very foundation of much ancient and modern thought.

Still, the very fact we do seek to know the truth means that already something in us urges us to do so. Even when he holds that there is no truth, no man is comfortable with the proposition: "I do not seek truth." We have the power to recognize truth at least when we find it. No one wants to establish his dignity on the basis of his principled rejection of any truth. He must at least cling to the contradictory proposition, "It is true that there is no truth."

Benedict XVI would perhaps modify that last statement about recognizing truth by saying we have the power to know the Truth when it "finds us." We often assume "truth" is a kind of inert thing just sitting out there waiting to be found. And some of it is, no doubt. Yet, if Truth is a Person, there is the possibility of that Person finding us. We also recognize that the dynamics of accepting truth involve what can only be called a personal relationship, which we can accept or reject for any number of reasons. As the New Testament records, several of those who saw the Truth either went away sad or went out to kill He who proclaimed it.

The drama of our given being, created and fallen, is that each of us can in this life reject this Person who is the Truth.

Or, as Michael Oakeshott put it:
There are some minds which give us the sense that they have passed through an elaborate education which was designed to initiate them into the traditions and achievements of their civilization; the immediate impression we have of them is an impression of cultivation, of the enjoyment of an inheritance. But this is not so with the mind of the Rationalist, which impresses us as, at best, a finely tempered, neutral instrument, as a well-trained rather than as an educated mind. Intellectually, his ambition is not so much to share the experience of the race as to be demonstrably a self-made man. And this gives to his intellectual and practical activities an almost preternatural deliberateness and self-consciousness, depriving them of any element of passivity, removing from them all sense of rhythm and continuity and dissolving them into a succession of climacterics, each to be surmounted by a tour de raison. His mind has no atmosphere, no changes of season and temperature; his intellectual processes, so far as possible, are insulated from all external influence and go on in the void. And having cut himself off from the traditional knowledge of his society, and denied the value of any education more extensive than a training in a technique of analysis, he is apt to attribute to mankind a necessary inexperience in all the critical moments of life, and if he were more self-critical he might begin to wonder how the race had ever succeeded in surviving. With an almost poetic fancy, he strives to live each day as if it were his first, and he believes that to form a habit is to fail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


White House Regroups on Guantanamo: Counsel Craig Replaced as Point Man on Issue as Deadline for Closing Looms (Anne E. Kornblut and Dafna Linzer, 9/25/09, Washington Post)

White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, who initially guided the effort to close the prison and who was an advocate of setting the deadline, is no longer in charge of the project, two senior administration officials said this week.

Craig said Thursday that some of his early assumptions were based on miscalculations, in part because Bush administration officials and senior Republicans in Congress had spoken publicly about closing the facility. "I thought there was, in fact, and I may have been wrong, a broad consensus about the importance to our national security objectives to close Guantanamo and how keeping Guantanamo open actually did damage to our national security objectives," he said.

In May, one of the senior officials said, Obama tapped Pete Rouse -- a top adviser and former congressional aide who is not an expert on national security but is often called in to fix significant problems -- to oversee the process. Senior adviser David Axelrod and deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer were brought in to craft a more effective message around detainee policy, the official said. [...]

Three administration officials said they expect Craig to leave his current post in the near future, and one said he is on the short list for a seat on the bench or a diplomatic position.

When you decide not to change the policy, change the message and promote the incompetent who was in charge?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Mr. Policy Hits a Wall (David S. Broder, September 24, 2009, Washington Post)

[William Schambra, director of the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal], like many others, was struck by the "sheer ambition" of Obama's legislative agenda and by his penchant for centralizing authority under a strong White House staff replete with many issue "czars."

Schambra sees this as evidence that "Obama is emphatically a 'policy approach' president. For him, governing means not just addressing discrete challenges as they arise, but formulating comprehensive policies aimed at giving large social systems -- and indeed society itself -- more rational and coherent forms and functions. In this view, the long-term, systemic problems of health care, education, and the environment cannot be solved in small pieces. They must be taken on in whole."

He traces the roots of this approach to the progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when rapid social and economic change created a politics dominated by interest-group struggles. The progressives believed that the cure lay in applying the new wisdom of the social sciences to the art of government, an approach in which facts would heal the clash of ideologies and narrow constituencies.

Wow, we haven't had a president who undertook such a systematic approach to public policy since...the Ownership Society and Neconomics of George W. Bush. Indeed, if we grant for the sake of argument that the UR has a broad overview guiding him, the main difference between the two would appear to be that W's was based on the results that the social sciences rendered while Mr. Obama is stuck on failed theory. Take, for instance, health care: W's solution to the problems of people not being able to afford their own care when they sicken later in life and to the over-use of medicine by the healthy was HSAs, which allow the healthy young to save money for later and turn patients back into consumers, unleashing the market forces that no one any even bothers denying force down prices. Mr. Obama, by contrast, not only proposes that the healthy be forced to buy insurance--a nearly complete waste of their money--but that we consume even more useless health care in the form of "preventive medicine." In effect, money the young could be setting aside for when they'll need it is to be spent while they're healthy and rather than reduce the consumption of medicine we'll force its increase, driving costs higher in the absence of any market discipline. Mr. Obama isn't adopting a 19th century framework for testing policy prescriptions, he's adopting the policies of those 19th century progressives. It's as if we never saw the Second Way fail, never went through the 20th century.

There was a hilarious article in the Washington Post this week, that reflects this same level of obtuseness:

France has long been proud of its national health insurance, part of a many-tentacled and costly social protection system designed to embrace almost everyone who is legally in the country. Most French people have grown up with the idea that the government is the ultimate guarantor of health care, even for people who cannot afford to pay. The concept has become so ingrained over the past half-century that it is an untouchable part of the political landscape, making the debate over President Obama's proposals in Washington and the fading chances for a public option seem, in the words of the newspaper Le Monde, "altogether surreal."

But the fast-rising cost of drugs and medical care, particularly for the elderly in their final days, has raised the question of how long France can afford the health care it has come to expect. Seeking to beat back rising deficits, the government has reduced the reimbursement rate for many medicines and routine medical services, opening a growing market for private insurance policies, called mutuals, to cover the steadily increasing co-payments.

Without abandoning the bedrock of health care for all, therefore, the French system has begun to evolve toward something resembling Medicare, the health insurance for older people in the United States, except that it covers people of all ages. The shift is regarded as inevitable, specialists said, but increasingly it is raising the delicate question of how much the government will be forced to resort to even higher co-payments in the years ahead.

The French model is failing, why don't Americans want it?!?

Doubling Down on a Flawed Insurance Model: Obama's plan takes the problems of the current system—mandates, runaway spending and more—and makes them worse. (JOHN F. COGAN, R. GLENN HUBBARD, AND DANIEL KESSLER , 9/25/09, WSJ)

The administration's plan will impose mandates that employers provide coverage, mandates that individuals obtain coverage, and mandates about the form this coverage will have to take. These will remove the freedom to choose one's health-insurance plan, because government, in its effort to correct perceived inequities, will dictate which health-care services must be covered and which health-care providers must be used.

The proposed unprecedented intrusion of government into private markets will have adverse effects on people with insurance in both the short and the long run.

The mandates will lead to large increases in the cost of health insurance for everyone. Research studies have shown that as people become insured, especially under a health plan that offers broad coverage and low copayments, they consume more health-care services. The best estimates indicate that each newly insured person will approximately double his or her health spending.

With 30 million to 40 million newly insured persons under the administration's plan, aggregate health-care demand will increase significantly. But when demand expands prices increase. We estimate that the higher demand will increase health insurance premiums for the typical family plan by about 10%. Because an employer-sponsored family insurance plan cost $12,680 in 2008, this translates into an increase of about $1,200 in the typical annual premium.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


A Break In China's Communist Wall: The latest party meeting suggests fissures. (Gordon G. Chang, 09.25.09, Forbes)

Has a crack just appeared in China's mighty Communist Party?

The Fourth Plenum of the Party's 17th Central Committee ended on Sept. 18, and the big news is that virtually nothing happened during the four-day meeting of 357 top party members in Beijing. "Silence and inaction," one report termed the result. There was no post-meeting press conference, delegates were mum after the session ended and the official communiqué said almost nothing.

And why is this momentous? It is, perhaps, the most significant news to come out of China in years because it may mean that the world's largest political organization has ended two decades of internal unity and begun a long process of splintering.

Isn't the point of totalitarianism to get rid of divided government?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


It’s Easy Being Green (PAUL KRUGMAN, 9/25/09, NY Times)

Saving the planet won’t come free (although the early stages of conservation actually might). But it won’t cost all that much either.

How do we know this? First, the evidence suggests that we’re wasting a lot of energy right now. That is, we’re burning large amounts of coal, oil and gas in ways that don’t actually enhance our standard of living — a phenomenon known in the research literature as the “energy-efficiency gap.” The existence of this gap suggests that policies promoting energy conservation could, up to a point, actually make consumers richer.

Second, the best available economic analyses suggest that even deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would impose only modest costs on the average family. Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the effects of Waxman-Markey, concluding that in 2020 the bill would cost the average family only $160 a year, or 0.2 percent of income. That’s roughly the cost of a postage stamp a day.

If you aren't imposing any noticeable increased costs on the way we currently obtain and use energy then why would we change our behaviors?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Talking Transparency Isn't the Same as Seeing It Through (Dana Milbank, September 24, 2009, Washington Post)

Somewhere, in a secure, undisclosed location, John Ashcroft is chuckling.

President Obama campaigned on a promise to restore transparency to government. But now the time has come to renew the USA Patriot Act, the bete noire of civil libertarians. When the Obama administration's point man on the legislation came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, he sounded very much like his predecessors in the Bush administration. [...]

The performance must have been disheartening for Democrats, because [Assistant Attorney General David Kris] was supposed to be one of the good guys. Once a Clinton and Bush Justice Department official, he scolded his former Bush colleagues in 2006 for their "weak justification" of the warrantless wiretapping program.

But if disappointing, Kris's guardedness was to be expected. Obama may have promised new openness, but "so far, the continuities between the Obama and Bush administration overwhelm the differences," says Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

Apparently, responsibility makes you grow up fast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


The history wars: It is time for British politicians to stop bickering about the past and confront the future (Bagehot, Sep 24th 2009, The Economist)

[A]rguments about history are a kind of comforting displacement activity. Talking about the past, for some politicians, may be less a way of understanding the future than of avoiding it.

For more than a decade, the business of politics has been spending: the dispensation of baubles, pork and promises to assorted groups; the divvying up of an ever-expanding cake. This is the world most politicians on every front bench grew up in. It has now vanished. Suddenly everyone parrots the need for spending cuts, like courtiers paying hurried obeisance to a new king. But the two main parties are coy about the details, either because these are too alarming to share, or because nobody knows what they are. Likewise, another pressing worry—how to make the British economy less dependent on financial services—is mostly discussed in vapid generalisations about “green” jobs. Much easier to revisit bygone choices than confront new ones.

In democratic politics, it is not quite true that he who controls the past controls the future. In a way, the reverse is the case: opinions of a party’s image and prospectus retroactively alter the way their histories are regarded. At their conferences, Labour and the Tories need to end the history wars and, if they want to inherit it, concentrate on the future.

Whichever party is most closely identified with the Third Way politics that have dominated Britain since 1979 will win, so long as they pretend that they are doing something new to get their base to come along.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Democrats Are Jarred by Drop In Fundraising (Paul Kane, 9/25/09, Washington Post)

Democratic political committees have seen a decline in their fundraising fortunes this year, a result of complacency among their rank-and-file donors and a de facto boycott by many of their wealthiest givers, who have been put off by the party's harsh rhetoric about big business.

The trend is a marked reversal from recent history, in which Democrats have erased the GOP's long-standing fundraising advantage. In the first six months of 2009, Democratic campaign committees' receipts have dropped compared with the same period two years earlier.

The vast majority of those declines were accounted for by the absence of large donors who, strategists say, have shut their checkbooks in part because Democrats have heightened their attacks on the conduct of major financial firms and set their sights on rewriting the laws that regulate their behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


World Trade Volumes Surge in July (PAUL HANNON, 9/25/09, WSJ)

In another sign the global economy is emerging from its downturn, data released Friday showed world trade volumes rose at the fastest rate in over five years in July.

Trade volumes increased by 3.5% from June, the largest increase in a single month since December 2003, according to the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, known as the CPB.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Will House "De-Fund ACORN Bill" De-Fund Military Contractors? (Jake Tapper, September 24, 2009, ABC News: Political Punch)

"We can't have a situation where the laws of justice are applied to one organization and not to any of the others, particularly when there are organizations that are polluting water for our soldiers and electrocuting them," [Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida] says.

Contractor KBR installed electrical wiring in Iraq that led to electrocution deaths of US soldiers. One such death, of Green Beret Sgt. Ryan Maseth, was classified by the Army Criminal Investigations Division as a "negligent homicide," though the Pentagon ruled it would not pursue criminal charges.

The Florida Democrat says that the legislation the House passed characterized as banning federal funds from ACORN is actually much more broadly written than that, and could impact hundreds of companies if signed into law.

The House bill, offered by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., bans Federal contracts, grants, funds, and agreements from any covered organization -- including "(a)ny organization that has filed a fraudulent form with any Federal or State regulatory agency."

Using it to attack military contractors would cure any bill of attainder flaws.

September 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Poll: Health-care reform no big deal to most (CHRIS BRENNAN, 9/24/09, Philadelphia Daily News)

Want to know why President Obama continues to have trouble gaining traction in the national debate about health-care reform?

A Franklin & Marshall College poll to be released today offers a few key clues. The national survey of 1,046 people, including 900 registered voters, found that only one in five considered health care to be the most important problem facing their families today.

In case you wondered how they've managed not to pass a health care plan since Truman tried...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 PM


CRS: House ACORN ban may be unconstitutional (Glenn Thrush, 9/24/09, Politico)

The Congressional Research Service has analyzed the case law and other legal issues surrounding last week's ACORN ban passed in the House and found the measure could be interpreted as a "bill of attainder" and therefore unconstitutional, according to copy of the report obtained by POLITICO.

A bill of attainder – which is prohibited in Article 1 of the Constitution -- is a law targeted to hurt or help an individual. If a bill is regarded primarily as punitive, instead of being strictly regulatory, it could be interpreted as an attainder bill, according to legal experts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Jewish Bluegrass: Lovers of the banjo, fiddle and mandolin blend cultural identity and religious faith to create a uniquely American sound (Jen Miller, 9/24/09,

This Passover, my friend Lester Feder sat at the head of his family’s Seder table, strumming away on his banjo and belting out Hebrew lyrics with a big-voiced Appalachian twang. As a bluegrass and old-time musician myself, I was familiar with Lester’s wailing sound. As a Jew, I’d been to countless Seders. But the transposition of these traditions was like nothing I’d ever imagined.

For Feder, a Northern Virginia native, fusing his American identity with his religious heritage through music was a natural development. “I feel far more connected to the old time traditions of the upper South than the Ashkenazi traditions of Eastern Europe,” he said. “I wanted to make a Seder that was my own.”

“Jewgrass,” as this fusion is sometimes called, is played by a diverse group of old-time and bluegrass musicians. Among them are New York City Jews who grew up during the 1960s folk revival, orthodox Jews who sing Hebrew prayers set to bluegrass melodies and klezmer musicians who infuse their music with Appalachian fiddle tunes. These lovers of the banjo, the fiddle and the mandolin have found a uniquely American way to express their Jewish cultural identity and religious faith.

...don't you have to call yourselves The Hillelbillies?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:21 PM


Netanyahu Blasts Ahmadinejad at U.N. (CHRISTOPHER RHOADS, 9/24/09, WSJ)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a blistering attack on the floor of the United Nations Thursday on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying the hearing granted the Iranian president the night before amounted to a "disgrace of the U.N. charter."

Mr. Netanyahu dramatically held up copies of minutes of the meeting of Nazi officials in 1942 where plans were made for the extermination of the Jews, as well as constructions plans of Nazi concentration camps.

"Are these protocols lies?" he asked, waving them in his hand. "Are the successive German governments that have kept these documents for posterity all liars?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


Meet the man who changed Glenn Beck's life: Cleon Skousen was a right-wing crank whom even conservatives despised. Then Beck discovered him (Alexander Zaitchik, Sep. 16, 2009, Salon)

Beck has been furiously promoting "The 5,000 Year Leap" for the past year, a push that peaked in March when he launched the 912 Project. That month, a new edition of "The 5,000 Year Leap," complete with a laudatory new foreword by none other than Glenn Beck, came out of nowhere to hit No. 1 on Amazon. It remained in the top 15 all summer, holding the No. 1 spot in the government category for months. The book tops Beck's 912 Project "required reading" list, and is routinely sold at 912 Project meetings where guest speakers often use it as their primary source material. At one 912 meet-up I attended in Florida, copies were stacked high on a table against the back wall, available for the 912 nice price of $15. "Don't bother trying to get it at the library," one 912er told me. "The wait list is 40 deep."

[M]ore interesting than the contents of "The 5,000 Year Leap," and more revealing for what it says about 912ers and the Glenn Beck Nation, is the book's author. W. Cleon Skousen was not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it. At least, that was the judgment of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which maintained a file on Skousen for years that eventually totaled some 2,000 pages. Before he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen's own Mormon church publicly distanced itself from the foundation that Skousen founded and that has published previous editions of "The 5,000 Year Leap." [...]

By 1963, Skousen's extremism was costing him. No conservative organization with any mainstream credibility wanted anything to do with him. Members of the ultraconservative American Security Council kicked him out because they felt he had "gone off the deep end." One ASC member who shared this opinion was William C. Mott, the judge advocate general of the U.S. Navy. Mott found Skousen "money mad ... totally unqualified and interested solely in furthering his own personal ends."

When Skousen aligned himself with Robert Welch's charge that Dwight Eisenhower was a "dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy," the last of Skousen's dwindling corporate clients dumped him. The National Association of Manufacturers released a statement condemning the Birchers and distancing itself from "any individual or party" that subscribed to their views. Skousen, author of a pamphlet titled "The Communist Attack on the John Birch Society," was the nation's most prominent Birch defender.

Skousen laid low for much of the '60s. But he reemerged at the end of the decade peddling a new and improved conspiracy that merged left with right: the global capitalist mega-plot of the "dynastic rich." Families like the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds, Skousen now believed, used left forces -- from Ho Chi Minh to the American civil rights movement -- to serve their own power.

In 1969, a 1,300-page book started appearing in faculty mailboxes at Brigham Young, where Skousen was back teaching part-time. The book, written by a Georgetown University historian named Carroll Quigley, was called "Tragedy and Hope." Inside each copy, Skousen inserted handwritten notes urging his colleagues to read the book and embrace its truth. "Tragedy and Hope," Skousen believed, exposed the details of what would come to be known as the New World Order (NWO). Quigley's book so moved Skousen that in 1970 he self-published a breathless 144-page review essay called "The Naked Capitalist." Nearly 40 years later, it remains a foundational document of America's NWO conspiracy and survivalist scene (which includes Skousen's nephew Joel).

In "The Naked Communist," Skousen had argued that the communists wanted power for their own reasons. In "The Naked Capitalist," Skousen argued that those reasons were really the reasons of the dynastic rich, who used front groups to do their dirty work and hide their tracks. The purpose of liberal internationalist groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations, argued Skousen, was to push "U.S. foreign policy toward the establishment of a world-wide collectivist society." Skousen claimed the Anglo-American banking establishment had a long history of such activity going back to the Bolshevik Revolution. He substantiated this claim by citing the work of a former Czarist army officer named Arsene de Goulevitch. Among Goulevitch's own sources is Boris Brasol, a pro-Nazi Russian émigré who provided Henry Ford with the first English translation of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

"The Naked Capitalist" does not seem like a text that would be part of the required reading list on any reputable college campus, but some BYU professors taught it out of allegiance to Skousen. Terrified, the editors of Dialogue: The Journal of Mormon Thought invited "Tragedy and Hope" author Carroll Quigley to comment on Skousen's interpretation of his work. They also asked a highly respected BYU history professor named Louis C. Midgley to review Skousen's latest pamphlet. Their judgment was not kind. In the Autumn/Winter 1971 issue of Dialogue, the two men accused Skousen of "inventing fantastic ideas and making inferences that go far beyond the bounds of honest commentary." Skousen not only saw things that weren't in Quigley's book, they declared, he also missed what actually was there -- namely, a critique of ultra-far-right conspiracists like Willard Cleon Skousen.

"Skousen's personal position," wrote a dismayed Quigley, "seems to me perilously close to the 'exclusive uniformity' which I see in Nazism and in the Radical Right in this country. In fact, his position has echoes of the original Nazi 25-point plan."

Skousen was unbowed. In 1971, he founded the Freeman Institute, a research organization devoted to the study of the super-conspiracy directed by the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds. (The institute later changed its name to the National Center for Constitutional Studies, which has offices in Malta, Idaho, and continues to publish Skousen's books, including Glenn Beck's favorite work of history, "The 5,000 Year Leap.")

By the end of the 1970s, the death of Skousen's biggest allies within the Mormon church hierarchy cleared the way for an official disavowal of his work. In 1979, LDS church president Spencer W. Kimball issued an order to every Mormon clergyman in the U.S. stating "no announcements should be made in Church meetings of Freemen Institute lectures or events that are not under the sponsorship of the Church. [This] is to make certain that neither Church facilities nor Church meetings are used to advertise such events and to avoid any implication that the Church endorses what is said during such lectures."

Skousen may have been too extreme for the Quorum of the Twelve in Salt Lake City, but he soon found rehabilitation on the intellectual margins of Reagan's Washington. In 1980, Skousen was appointed to the newly founded Council for National Policy, a think tank that brought together leading religious conservatives and served as the unofficial brain trust of the new administration. At the Council, Skousen distinguished himself by becoming an early proponent of privatizing Social Security. He also formed relationships with other evangelical church leaders and aligned the LDS church with an increasingly religious GOP.

"Skousen worked to change Mormonism from a new and unique American-born faith into an evangelical form of fundamentalist Christianity," says Rob Lauer, a leader of the Reform Mormonism movement. "By arguing that biblical principles were the basis of the U.S. government, he was among those most responsible for the LDS church becoming part of the religious right political establishment over the past 25 years."

In 1981, Skousen published "The 5,000 Year Leap," the book for which, thanks to Beck, he is now best known. But it wasn't that Skousen book that made the biggest headline in the 1980s. Toward the end of Reagan's second term, Skousen became the center of a minor controversy when state legislators in California approved the official use of another of his books, the 1982 history text "The Making of America." Besides bursting with factual errors, Skousen's book characterized African-American children as "pickaninnies" and described American slave owners as the "worst victims" of the slavery system. Quoting the historian Fred Albert Shannon, "The Making of America" explained that "[slave] gangs in transit were usually a cheerful lot, though the presence of a number of the more vicious type sometimes made it necessary for them all to go in chains."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Labour’s betrayal of society: The dominant legacy of the left is state authoritarianism and private libertarianism (Phillip Blond, 24 September 2009, New Statesman)

Why and how is the political philosophy that is most evidently social, and claims all righteousness and power as a result in fact so asocial and unilateral? The answer is that, for the most part, socialism is founded on liberalism and liberalism is founded on a hatred of society. Modern liberalism begins with Rousseau and Rousseau begins with the idea that our emergence into society constitutes our original imprisonment: "Man is born free but he is everywhere in chains." Society so conceived is fundamentally sinister because it compels man to inauthenticity. As such, the task of an individual in a society is to construe a settlement that protects individual will and insulates its subjective desires from the corrupting influence of others. Society for a liberal is valid only if it is composed of others exactly like himself. Rousseau invents the "general will" through which the individual, in obeying others, is obeying only himself because all have become the same.

But this autonomy can be protected only if others do not violate its bounds; and this is a role that can be played by the state only. The state then becomes the great policer and equaliser of humanity, and through the general will it must reconcile each individual with every other. As such, the state must strip society and people of all differential ties, beliefs and values in order to ensure equality and fairness; naked and denuded we now stand equal and alone before the state as the ultimate guarantor of our freedom.

Thus does modern liberalism underwrite all the great totalitarianisms of our age, from the terror of revolutionary France to the Cultural Revolution of Mao in China. the recognition that the authentic man is evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


Free will is not an illusion after all (Anil Ananthaswamy, 9/23/09, New Scientist)

Long sceptical of Libet's interpretation, Jeff Miller and Judy Trevena of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, attempted to tease apart what prompts the RP using a similar experiment, with a key twist.

They also used scalp electrodes, but instead of letting their volunteers decide when to move, Miller and Trevena asked them

to wait for an audio tone before deciding whether to tap a key. If Libet's interpretation were correct, Miller reasoned, the RP should be greater after the tone when a person chose to tap the key.

While there was an RP before volunteers made their decision to move, the signal was the same whether or not they elected to tap. Miller concludes that the RP may merely be a sign that the brain is paying attention and does not indicate that a decision has been made.

Miller and Trevena also failed to find evidence of subconscious decision-making in a second experiment. This time they asked volunteers to press a key after the tone, but to decide on the spot whether to use their left or right hand. As movement in the right limbs is related to the brain signals in the left hemisphere and vice versa, they reasoned that if an unconscious process is driving this decision, where it occurs in the brain should depend on which hand is chosen. But they found no such correlation.

...that folks who deny free will still get upset if you punch them in the face and take their wallet?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


They're torturing me, Honduras' Zelaya claims: Honduras' fallen leader told The Miami Herald he is being subjected to mind-altering gas and radiation -- and that `Israeli mercenaries' are planning to assassinate him. (FRANCES ROBLES, 9/23/09,

Honduran police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said he knew nothing of any radiation devices being used against the former president.

"He says there are mercenaries against him? Using some kind of apparatus?'' Cerrato said. ``No, no, no, no. Sincerely: no. The only elements surrounding that embassy are police and military, and they have no such apparatus.''

Police responded to reports of looting throughout the city Tuesday night. Civil disturbances subsided Wednesday afternoon, when a crush of people rushed grocery stores and gas stations in the capital.

Israeli government sources in Miami said they could not confirm the presence of any "Israelis mercenaries'' in Honduras. [...]

The Obama administration suspended economic aid to Honduras and withdrew the visas of members of the current administration.

About 75 percent of Honduras' commerce depends on the United States, Zelaya said. And because powerful economic forces were behind Zelaya's ouster, Obama should hit those forces where it hurts most, Zelaya said.

"I have told this to Obama, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to the U.S. Embassy here and anyone else who will listen,'' Zelaya said. "They know how to act."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Europe's Center-Left Parties Stuck in a Dead End (Manfred Ertel, Hans-Jürgen Schlamp and Stefan Simons, 9/24/09, Der Spiegel)

The decline of left-leaning parties is more than a Scottish or even a British problem. The malaise, like a stubborn virus, has afflicted virtually every European social democratic party.

In a week in which left-leaning Germans are hoping that at least one in four voters will vote for the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) in next Sunday's election, their counterparts from Malmö to Lisbon face their biggest crisis ever. Some 26 years ago, the respected German-British sociologist Lord Ralf Dahrendorf predicted the end of the social democratic era. Now it looks like his prophecy is finally becoming reality.

At the beginning of the new century, social democrats and socialists, at the pinnacle of their power, controlled the governments in 12 of the European Union's 15 members. Reflecting the sentiments of then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, British Prime Minister Tony Blair proudly proclaimed: "We are the new radicals." The mantra of the modernization of their traditional political ideas was intoned in ponderous strategy papers. The frequently invoked "third way" was expected to lead to a "new center," in a bid to adapt social democratic policies to conform to a new social and economic reality -- and to make them appeal to new classes of voters.

The two model socialists, Schröder and Blair, met in Florence with Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, US President Bill Clinton, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and EU Commission President Romano Prodi for a "summit of modernizers" -- a meeting of the world's social democratic movers and shakers.

Today, none of these reformers is still in office, and their "third way" has proven to be a dead end.

Decline of the Left

Ironically, the decline of the social democratic movement began in Scandinavia, a model region for leftists. A center-right coalition has ruled Denmark since 2001, and in 2006 then Prime Minister Göran Persson lost the general election in Sweden to the conservatives. In Sweden, the conservatives call themselves the Moderates, are perceived as the real modernizers and -- an even sharper thorn in the side of Swedish leftists -- as "modern social democrats."

Finland, Greece and the Netherlands were next to shift into the conservative camp. In Italy, the leaders of a social-democratically oriented party alliance were brought down in rapid succession. After the fall of leftist politician Massimo D'Alema and then Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Walter Veltroni, the popular former mayor of Rome, resigned his leadership of the newly founded Democratic Party.

Lionel Jospin failed to win the French Socialist Party's nomination for president, and in 2007 Blair resigned to make way for Brown. Last September, then Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer lost another six points in a legislative election, marking his Austrian Social Democratic Party's worst result in postwar history. Gusenbauer's successor, Werner Faymann, only managed to hold onto power with a smaller grand coalition government.

Since the European election in June, Europe's social democrats and socialists now hold only a quarter of seats in the European Parliament -- a historic low -- and they could face their next series of disappointments in German and Portuguese parliamentary elections on Sunday. The only bright spot is in oil-rich Norway, which is not part of the EU and has remained largely untouched by the global economic crisis, where Social Democratic Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's coalition government won reelection in mid-September. [...]

On the one hand, the social democrats' zealous pursuit of modernization and reform has put off some of their traditional supporters. In the search for new voters, center-left parties have neglected their base. [...]

The conservative parties, for their part, abandoned their excursions into market radicalism, reduced their demands for deregulation and embarked -- rhetorically, at least -- on a return to the center.

The reality is that voters don't particularly care whether they're governed by a party traditionally of the Left or of the Right, so long as it is currently Third Way. But the party bases care passionately, even derangedly, and would rather lose power by forcing a return to outdated ideological purity than continue succeeding by compromising between the First and the Second. Thus, the Tories dispose of Maggie and Labour tires of Blair--though the voters don't--and Al Gore runs against his own vice presidency as surely as the House GOP rages against the most successful period in the Party's own history.

Logically, one would expect Third Way third parties to arise under such circumstances. But the divide between liberals and conservatives on religious faith and, therefore, on morality is so stark these days that it's not likely to happen. If Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Leon Panetta, Newt Gingrich, Joe Lieberman and a few others announced they were establishing a new party and nominating Jeb Bush and Evan Bayh as their presidential ticket, it would be truly formidable. But the party's platform on abortion, gay marriage, and the like would be so divisive it would struggle to cohere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Econoclasts: The following is excerpted from Chapter 1 of Econoclasts (Brian Domitrovic, 09/24/09, First Principles)

From 1968 to 1982, the American stock market nearly collapsed, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 70 percent of its real value. The “misery index,” whereby the inflation and unemployment percentages are represented as real numbers and summed, blew through the historical trend of 6 to 8 early in the 1970s, plateaued in the double digits, then hit unlucky 21 in 1980. Interest rates also hit 21—no misprint, a 21 percent prime rate—in 1980. Big things that never were supposed to go bust declared default: New York City, most famously, and Chrysler, too.

Those who tried to wait out the chaos by saving money were brutally punished. The greatest inflation since the Revolutionary War destroyed the value of funds in bank accounts, the stock market was in free fall, and municipal-bond issuers missed payments. The only thing to do was to stash cash in commodities. Because commodities originated in the geologic history of the planet, commodities had a guaranteed delimitation of supply and therefore could hold their value against inflation. Gold, oil, gas, land—everything in the commodities universe went up in the 1970s, as if everything in the earth had suddenly become impossibly scarce.

The halcyon “postwar prosperity” that had characterized the years after 1945 seemed to be in terminal decline, a brilliant flash that had lasted for an unusually long spell and had given the illusion of permanence. It was hard to put a finger on what was going on. Sometime around 1970, everything started getting worse, economically, with every passing year.

Inflation had hitherto been rather unheard of. Now it reliably hit double-digit rates. Unemployment, theoretically a converse of inflation, and low since World War II, went up, too. Unemployment in tandem with inflation led to the popularization of a new word, “stagflation” (from stagnation plus inflation), which was on everyone’s lips by the last days of disco. Entrepreneurial startups, the very stuff of the “American dream,” passed from the scene; venture capital was waiting things out in commodities.

Then there was the government. Throughout the long 1970s, the federal government of the United States preoccupied itself with such things as fixing prices, pressuring labor unions not to take wage increases, begging shoppers to rein in their spending, mistaking nominal for real income in the tax code, adding regulations, running deficits, reneging on the pledge to exchange dollars for gold, and gobbling up an ever-increasing share of the gross national product. This was no ordinary downturn. It was not exactly the Great Depression, either. And it was hard to pin the blame on “business” for what was going on.
WIN button

What was going on? Unsure, President Ford asked the nation in 1974 to “Whip Inflation Now.” He also asked people to sign a pledge saying that they would refrain from new purchases, in the interest of holding down inflation. Five years later, with the same problems still raging, a memo to President Jimmy Carter proposed that America had gotten caught up in a “malaise,” whatever that meant. In other words, leadership was befuddled. It had no answers.

What Happened?

The most important fact about the economic funk of the 1970s, the stagflation decade, was that it stopped. [...]

The unique ability of the United States to maintain a historic rate of economic growth over the long term is what has rendered this nation the world’s lone “hyperpower,” as the French are sometimes wont to say. The only other realistic aspirants to that status—China and India—will not see economic maturity for decades to come.

The exception to this trend was the stagflation decade: 1973–82. That was the only period since 1945 when the United States did not sustain a 3.3 percent rate of growth. Before and after this interregnum, there was the odd, mild recession or boom year, but the growth trend remained at that steady, historically high rate. Growth was 3.3 percent from 1945 to 1973, and it was 3.3 percent from 1982 to 2007. From 1973 to 1982, however, growth averaged 1.8 percent, essentially the rate that prevailed in the long semi-stasis that gripped Japan and Western Europe in the 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century.

That the 1973–1982 period proved to be an interregnum—as opposed to an augury of a new trend—is the most significant fact in the postwar economic history of the United States. It is also, from a geostrategic perspective, one of the most significant facts in the postwar history of world power relations. [...]

Supply-side economics was never meant to be a sustained policy requiring annual recalibration and reapplication. In this it differed markedly from Keynesianism. Rather, the purpose of supply-side economics was to solve one problem: the great stagflation. Establishing a high trend line of American growth was the furthest thing from the supply-siders’ minds in the 1970s, because that trend line already had been definitively established by history. The matter at hand was re-establishing the trend line. Once that discrete matter was dealt with, the supply-siders would allow the economy to achieve its healthy potential.

A metaphor from Spanish bullfighting can perhaps illustrate the point. A toreador can bring a muscular, energetic bull to a full stop simply by lowering a sash in front of its face. With the lifting of the sash, the bull surges forward for as long as it desires. So it was with the American economy. Bursting with potential in the 1970s, a potential inherent in the nation’s inherited entrepreneurial knack and enhanced by a technological revolution of historic dimensions, the American economy found itself held in place by a master wielding a sash. The master was the government, the sash a destabilized means of exchange and a punitive tax system. Come a certain juncture, the sash was lifted, the bull surged, and the lore since has been of the energy, dynamism, and insatiability of the bull.

Meanwhile, Paul Volcker--very nearly the only thing Jimmy Carter got right--was killing the bull of inflation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Prisoners get drunk on swine flu hand gel (Daily Telegraph, 9/24/09)

Inmates have been drinking the liquid soap placed on their wing after realising it contained alcohol.

The detergent was meant to beat off the threat of swine flu in the Verne Prison on Portland, Dorset.

However, instead of rubbing it into their hands, inmates at the category C prison have been placing their mouths over the dispensers and consuming it.

...though mainstream Academia and the commentariat still took the USSR seriously, we were fortunate enough to have a political science professor at Colgate who knew they were through. One of the things he'd have us do is read the journals (in translation) that the Soviets produced for their own citizens. One regular story that had us all laughing was where they'd admonish workers and pilots at military bases to stop drinking the jet fuel. As he said, a state that has made alcohol so scarce and life so bad that guys are willing to kill themselves that way just to escape for a few moments is doomed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Proposal would limit scope of new oversight agency (ANNE FLAHERTY, 9/23/09, Associated Press)

Ceding ground amid growing business opposition, the Obama administration on Wednesday signaled a willingness to exempt retailers, real estate brokers, lawyers, auto dealers, cable companies and accountants from oversight of its proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency. [...]

The proposed agency, CFPA for short, is the centerpiece of Obama's broader effort...

Suppose you bwere going to spoof a Democratic presidential administration; is there anything you'd do differently than what the UR has in real life?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Subaquatic homesick blues: Is Melville’s Moby-Dick the ultimate American novel? Even today, it haunts a nation’s thoughts and dreams (Greil Marcus, 24 September 2009, New Statesman)

Even without rereading the book, even with only a TV Guide sense of the tale, one is rereading the book when one chances on John Wayne's Tom Dunson in Red River on late-night TV, a movie made in 1948; or recalls Elvis Presley two decades later, facing an audience for the first time in years and against the blankness of that unknown hoisting a mike stand like a harpoon, thrusting it over the crowd, and shouting "Moby Dick!"; or watches a black boy, one "Woody", an early incarnation of Bob Dylan, pitched out of a boxcar by hobo thugs and into a river, only to see a right whale gliding towards him, in the 2007 film I'm Not There; or channel-switches into the 2008 episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent where the tormented police detective Bobby Goren comes face to face with the unmistakable handiwork of the escaped serial killer Nicole Wallace, once a literature professor whose speciality was Melville. She lectures in a flashback: "The descent into madness is usually preceded by obsession. What characterises Ahab's obsession? I always fancied it was man's unrelenting pursuit of his own potency." "I'm told she's your white whale," Goren's boss says to him - just before Goren receives a card postmarked Pittsfield, Massachusetts. When, early on in the book, Captain Peleg asks Ishmael, "Want to see what whaling is, eh? Have ye yet clapped eye on Captain Ahab?" and Ishmael answers, "Who is Captain Ahab, sir?" we're surprised he hasn't heard of him; we have.

Did Melville somehow know, or hope, that his country would always seek out the mysteries that, in his big book - the book that would for the rest of his life erase his name from the memories of his fellow citizens - he took down as if they were the plainest, most obvious facts, himself the sub-sub-librarian he so confidently laughed off? That letter from Hawthorne, the letter in which he showed Melville that he "understood the book", the letter that, unlike Melville's response to Hawthorne, does not survive - it could have been one of Poe's hoaxes, were he still around to forge it, a trick to keep the characters alive, running their histories through history yet unmade, unmaking history as they left it behind and continued
on their way.

What did Hawthorne say? No, Melville may not have kept letters, as Hawthorne did, but one can imagine a ceremony a little more to the point than taking out the trash. "Cool as an icicle," as Ishmael says of Queequeg sitting among the other sailors in the Spouter-Inn, his harpoon at hand, "reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him, and every one knows that in most people's estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly." So how cool, how genteel of you, Herman, sitting in your writing room late at night, with no one to glimpse a single word as you burned the pages!

There was no better way to keep us reading; with its author more than a century dead, the book is the sea we swim in.

In the scene following the Epilogue doesn't Ishmael have to rally the Rachel to go after the fish?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


The Miracle of Dullness (ROGER COHEN, 9/24/09, NY Times)

Every risk-averse fiber in Merkel’s body proclaims the social-market consensus has prevailed, even through financial crisis.

The extent of discord may be measured by the fact that Merkel’s chief opponent is also her foreign minister in the governing Grand Coalition: Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrat leader. He’s a likeable technocrat who always seems to be wondering how he ever ended up as a politician.

None of the above should suggest there’s nothing at stake. There is: a little. If Merkel gets her favored option — a center-right coalition with the liberal Free Democrats — tax cuts, nuclear power and support for the Afghan mission (Germany has sent more than 4,000 troops) will get a boost. If not, well, more of the same is in order. My sense is most Germans feel market reforms of recent years have gone far enough.

Germans are hunkered down, not unhappy but uninspired. This has been a campaign of astonishing intellectual nullity. I spoke of hope and concern: The former springs from Germany’s absorption of its eastern third and passage into normality, the latter from the country’s numbness.

Nothing — not the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, not the faltering direction of the European Union (once a German obsession, now a sideshow), not financial Armageddon — seems able to stir Germans from contemplation of their navels.

Usually when the Democrats see a body with a prognosis like Germany's they fight for the honor of pulling the plug.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


US, NZ and Australia storm out of UN (Mindfood, Sep 24, 2009)

"It is disappointing that Mr Ahmadinejad has once again chosen to espouse hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric," Mark Kornblau, a spokesman to the US mission to the United Nations, said.

Maybe Mr. Kornblau was just hustling to another room for the Administration's private meetings with Ahmedinejad?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Prof. discusses health care costs (Christina Wray, September 24, 2009 , The Dartmouth)

Reducing health care spending is both economically important and beneficial to health care quality, [Dartmouth Medical School professor H. Gilbert Welch] said, noting that excessive treatment can often have negative effects.

“Excessive intervention is particularly problematic at two extremes of health: the well and the dying,” Welch said. “Aggressive care for the dying is inhumane, and as for the well, it’s hard to make them any better.”

Welch cited a study by DMS professor Elliott Fisher, director of population health for TDI, that found effective care was provided equally to multiple patients with a particular illness, regardless of how much money the patients spent on care.

“The more money you spend, the worse patients tend to do,” Welch said, noting that aggressive treatment can often cause greater harm than the initial problem.

“Let’s not deliver services that don’t work, and let’s not deliver services that patients don’t want,” Welch said.

...but that the rationing regime wouldn't be strict enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Federal Reserve leaves interest rates near zero (Dion Lee, 9/24/09, LA Times)

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it would keep short-term interest rates near zero for the foreseeable future, even though the central bank acknowledged that the economy was recovering from its long downturn.

The announcement after a two-day Fed meeting makes clear that the agency is in no hurry to raise interest rates despite concerns that the federal government's soaring deficits and the Fed's extraordinary stimulus measures will eventually drive up inflation.

Oil stays below $69 as US crude supplies jump (GEORGE JAHN, 9/24/09, Associated Press)
Oil prices dropped further below $69 a barrel Thursday, after an unexpected jump in U.S. crude inventories suggested consumer demand remains in the doldrums.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


India's new class of entrepreneurs (Arvind Singhal , September 24, 2009, Times of India)

This new middle class of entrepreneurs is fundamentally different to entrepreneurs of yesteryears.

They are, in many ways, more "genuine" entrepreneurs since most of them are starting out in a field that is much more level than ever, and hence the competitive landscape for them is also much more challenging.

Further, the aspirations of most of this new breed of entrepreneurs are way beyond just achieving a comfortable living. They dream big, and while they may have respect for the mega-entrepreneurs of today -- which include, beyond the Tata, Birla and Godrej [ Get Quote ] families, the Ambanis and the Mittals, Mahindras, Ruias and Munjals -- they are not overawed by them. Indeed, many such till-recently "middle-class" entrepreneurs (Adani, GMR and GVK, to name a few) have already joined the ranks of mega-entrepreneurs.

Hundreds more will do so in the next decade.

These Gen Next entrepreneurs are also far more attuned to the emerging needs of the Indian (and global) economy and hence are more aggressively entering potentially exciting sectors such as agri- and biotechnology, food processing, healthcare delivery, education, clean and efficient energy, consumer-oriented services such as travel and hospitality, food services, micro-finance, etc, setting themselves up to join the ranks of the next decade's mega-entrepreneurs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


China opposes Iran nuclear sanctions (AFP, 24 September 2009)

China on Thursday reiterated its opposition to sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, as Tehran came under mounting pressure from world leaders at the United Nations to stop uranium enrichment.

"We always believe that sanctions and pressure are not the way out," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Did Netanyahu Best Obama in Mideast-Peace Tussle? (Tony Karon, 9/23/09, TIME)

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, President Barack Obama used his first-ever address to the U.N. General Assembly to try and reverse the impression that his ambitious Middle East peace effort had suffered a reversal at the hand of Israel's hawkish Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. "I am not naive," Obama told the gathered world leaders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


GOP gets big bump of donors in August (Fredreka Schouten and Matt Kelley, 9/24/09, USA TODAY)

Despite being in the minority in Congress, Republican campaign committees outraised Democrats by $1.7 million in August as they have aggressively collected political cash amid the rancorous debate over health care.

Republicans also held an edge over Democrats in the amount of money available, when counting debts, as both parties set the stage for the 2010 elections, in which more than three dozen competitive House and Senate seats are at stake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


The President Risks Getting Stale (Karl Rove, 9/24/09, WSJ)

Mr. Obama made a classic mistake of politicians on a downward-bending arc. He jumps out in front of the cameras without having something fresh to offer.

As a result, he was on the defensive and failed to win over the slice of America that opposes his plans. His refusal to sit down with Fox News's Chris Wallace made him look petulant if not fearful, and his answers weakened his credibility.

Take, for example, his dustup on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" over whether requiring Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine was a tax. Legislation in the House and Senate defines it as a tax, and Mr. Stephanopoulos said it fit Merriam-Webster's definition of a tax. But the president insisted it was not a tax. That's because by favoring the mandate Mr. Obama is breaking his pledge not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


White House backs accountability of 'No Child' law (LIBBY QUAID, 9/24/09, AP)

The Obama administration is committed to the testing and school accountability at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law championed by former President George W. Bush, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

In a speech prepared for delivery Thursday, Duncan gave the law credit for shining a spotlight on kids who need the most help. No Child Left Behind pushes schools to boost the performance of minority and poor children, who lag behind their white peers on standardized tests.

September 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


Oxy oil discovery could spark new interest in California's energy potential (Ronald D. White, September 23, 2009, LA Times)

In July, Occidental revealed it had found 150 million to 250 million barrels of oil and natural gas in an undisclosed part of Kern County using techniques that the oil company's executives would rather not talk about. It was California's biggest find in 35 years.

Some experts say it could herald a period of new exploration in California and the U.S.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


Barack Obama snubs Gordon Brown over private talks: White House spurned five requests from PM's aides for bilateral meeting (Patrick Wintour, 9/23/09, Guardian)

Gordon Brown lurched from being hailed as a global statesman to intense embarrassment tonight, after it emerged US President Barack Obama had turned down no fewer than five requests from Downing Street to hold a bilateral meeting at the United Nations in New York or at the G20 summit starting in Pittsburgh today.

The prime minister, eager to portray himself as a leading player on the international stage in America this week, was also forced to play down suggestions from inside his own party that he might step down early, either due to ill health or deteriorating eyesight.

Try to imagine W snubbing the British leader. You can't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 PM


Neo-conservatism: Irving Kristol’s living legacy: The pioneer of one of the United States’s most potent intellectual-political currents has died. But it is far too early for an obituary of the neo-conservative movement. (Cas Mudde, 23 - 09 - 2009, Open Democracy)

The Public Interest, an enterprise in which Kristol was joined by the renowned sociologist Daniel Bell (who would never fully embrace neo-conservatism), was at the outset a politically broad-based publication featuring both conservative and liberal authors. It published accessible social-scientific analyses of the relevant policy-issues of the day, with a particular emphasis on welfare. The basic intellectual framework was a kind of conservative liberalism: the goals conservative, the means to achieve them quite liberal. This generation appeared to be seeking a blueprint for a "conservative welfare state" (as one of Kristol's prominent essays was titled); opponents on the right would label it "big-government conservatism".

The Public Interest in its early years encompassed a range of political positions, and tended to be quite cautious in its recommendations. It exhibited a high degree of trust in social science (in sharp contrast to traditional conservatism); at the same time authors were aware of the complexities of human relations and society, and avoided overly strong and simplistic conclusions. [...]

[T]he modern neo-conservative movement has in a sense strayed from its originating outlook and priorities - though this was also true of Irving Kristol himself, who became increasingly partisan in later decades (to the extent of aligning with the religious right). In any event, Kristol and his contemporaries' achievement is considerable; it could be said with only a touch of exaggeration that while their foreign-policy agenda has been to a degree tainted by their offspring, their domestic agenda has become established at the heart of American politics and society.

Indeed, while many commentators have identified the Ronald Reagan era as the highpoint of neo-conservative power (notwithstanding contemporary criticism of the "feelgood president" from the ideological right), there is a case for arguing that Bill Clinton's administrations in the 1990s were a closer fit with the formative neo-conservative agenda of conservative liberalism. More generally, virtually all administrations since Reagan's have based their domestic agenda on the key values of initial neo-conservatism: including a strong belief in the market coupled with a conservative welfare state, as forces that together are expected to regulate socio-economic change and socio-cultural manners.

The ends are conservative but the means liberal? Sure, if the end is a stable society and the means a welfare net. But if the end is the safety net and the means capitalist innovations thereupon, then the ends are liberal and the means conservative. regardless, you see why he ended up allied mostly with the Christian Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


Barack at the UN: Was this Obama’s most naïve speech ever? (Niles Gardiner, 9/23/09, Daily Telegraph)

It’s always a bad sign when a US president gets several rounds of heavy applause at the UN General Assembly, as Barack Obama did this morning in New York. Needless to say, the loudest cheers from the gathering of world leaders came when he condemned the actions of a close US ally, Israel, in continuing to build settlements in the West Bank. You can always rely on attacks on the Israelis to generate the biggest roars of approval at any meeting of the United Nations, and Obama dutifully obliged.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


Science: Another Ice Age? (TIME, Jun. 24, 1974)

As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval. However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.

Telltale signs are everywhere —from the unexpected persistence and thickness of pack ice in the waters around Iceland to the southward migration of a warmth-loving creature like the armadillo from the Midwest. Since the 1940s the mean global temperature has dropped about 2.7° F. Although that figure is at best an estimate, it is supported by other convincing data. When Climatologist George J. Kukla of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory and his wife Helena analyzed satellite weather data for the Northern Hemisphere, they found that the area of the ice and snow cover had suddenly increased by 12% in 1971 and the increase has persisted ever since. Areas of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, for example, were once totally free of any snow in summer; now they are covered year round.

Scientists have found other indications of global cooling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


Obama’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly (President Obama, 9/23/09)

I have been in office for just nine months -- though some days it seems a lot longer. I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations are not about me. Rather, they are rooted, I believe, in a discontent with a status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences, and outpaced by our problems.

Is he really addressing Burma, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, the PRC, etc. and saying we aren't defined by our differences?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


Dems rejects GOP attempt at greater transparency (AP, Sep 23, 2009)

Senate Finance Committee Democrats have rejected a GOP amendment that would have required a health overhaul bill to be available online for 72 hours before the committee votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


Rahm's Precedent for Meddling (Lloyd Grove, 9/23/09, Daily Beast)

President Barack Obama’s amazingly awkward attempt to nudge damaged New York Gov. David Paterson out of the race to keep his job—as chronicled in lavish leaks over the weekend by top White House staffers to The New York Times—reminded me of another misstep by a different rookie administration.

It turns out that Paterson, a liberal African American from Harlem, shares a surprising kinship with Sen. Richard Shelby, a conservative white Republican from Alabama: Both have been targeted for extinction by Rahm Emanuel. If history is any guide, Paterson—just like Shelby—might benefit from the experience. [...]

Emanuel—then White House political director, and now President Obama’s chief of staff—eagerly quarterbacked the revenge play. Shelby milked it for all it was worth, casting himself as a courageous independent who couldn’t be muzzled or pushed around. There were two unintended consequences: 1) The senator’s home-state popularity, already robust, shot through the roof; and 2) After the Democrats lost the House and Senate in the next year’s disastrous midterms, Shelby switched parties.

Sixteen years later, Rahm seems to have forgotten the lesson of Shelby’s Teachable Moment.

As Teddy Davis's round-up at The Note demonstrates, there's nothing amazing about an Obama screw-up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM

THAT SHARK'S BEEN JUMPED (via Glenn Dryfoos):

President Obama -- Stop Talking! (Greg Easterbrook, 9/22/09, ESPN: TMQ)

[T]oo-frequent speechmaking devalues the presidential voice. When the president speaks occasionally, he commands attention; a president who speaks all the time becomes just another clanging cymbal in the background yammer. I bet Obama gives 10 speeches for every one given by John Kennedy. At the current rate, by 2010, an Obama speech will no longer be viewed as an important moment.

2010? It had happened by September of his first year, which is pretty nearly the point where W began giving big speeches (he'd already given the stem cell one), 32.1 Million Watch President Obama’s Health Care Address to Congress on TV (Nielsen, 9/10/09)
Viewership to last night’s address was down 38.6% from President Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress on February 24, which aired from approximately 9:00PM to 10:30PM.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Congressional Takeover by GOP Would Save, not Wreck, Obama Presidency (Michael Medved, September 23, 2009, Townhall)

Barack Obamas grandiose agenda offers the GOP a grand opportunity in the upcoming Congressional elections. Republicans shouldnt attack the President himself, who remains personally popular (according to all the polls) even while the voters disapprove of his policies. In any event, President Obama will retain the White House until 2013 and fulfill the term he was elected to serve, so the opposition and the public ought to make the most of it by providing President Obama with the balance and even keel that he desperately needs. The GOP should field candidates who promise to pull the president back to the center, back to the mainstream and who decry the ultra-liberal Pelosi-crats who have been dragging him to the extreme left. The nation will benefit, and Barack Obama will probably lead more effectively, when hes forced to cobble-together consensus with a revitalized opposition, rather than competing with his Democratic colleagues in Congress over who maintains the purest commitment to the doctrinaire liberal agenda.

Republicans can plausibly argue that a GOP comeback would help President Obama find a pragmatic, unifying path rather than continuing to pursue the shrill hyper-partisanship of a shallow hack like Harry Reid. If he continues with big Democratic majorities, he may go the way of over-reaching, imperious, ultimately discredited presidents like Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter (whose 292 House seats gave him a veto-proof, two-thirds majority) or even, arguably, George W. Bush. If his supporters want President Obama to enjoy the consistent popularity of practical, deft, consistently popular chief executives like Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton, they should welcome a GOP takeover of one or both Houses of Congress in 2010.

A Republican comeback a year from now wouldnt destroy the Obama presidency and it may, in fact, promise the best hope for saving it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Biblical Aspects of the Theme of Faith and Politics (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger | From Church, Ecumenism, & Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology , Ignatius Press)

The state is not the whole of human existence and does not encompass all human hope. Man and what he hopes for extend beyond the framework of the state and beyond the sphere of political action. This is true not only for a state like Babylon, but for every state. The state is not the totality; this unburdens the politician and at the same time opens up for him the path of reasonable politics. The Roman state was wrong and anti-Christian precisely because it wanted to be the totality of human possibilities and hopes. A state that makes such claims cannot fulfill its promises; it thereby falsifies and diminishes man. Through the totalitarian lie it becomes demonic and tyrannical. The abolition of the totalitarian state has demythologized the state and thereby liberated man, as well as politicians and politics.

But when the Christian faith falls into ruins and faith in mankind's greater hope is lost, the myth of the divine state rises again, because man cannot do without the totality of hope. Although such promises pose as progress and commandeer for themselves the slogans of progress and progressive thinking, viewed historically they are nevertheless a regression to an era antedating the novum of Christianity, a turning back along the scale of history. And even though their propaganda says that their goal is man's complete liberation, the abolition of all ruling authority, they contradict the truth of man and are opposed to his freedom, because they force man to fit into what he himself can make. Such politics, which declares that the kingdom of God is the outcome of politics and twists faith into the universal primacy of the political, is by its very nature the politics of enslavement; it is mythological politics.

To this, faith opposes Christian reason's sense of proportion, which recognizes what man really can accomplish in terms of a free social order and is content with that, because it knows that mankind's greater expectations are safe in God's hands. To renounce the hope of faith is at the same time to renounce political reason and its sense of proportion. Abandoning the mythical hopes of an authority-free society is not resignation but honesty, which sustains man in hope. The mythical hope of a self-made paradise can only drive man into inescapable anxiety-into fear of the failure of the illusory promises and of the immense emptiness that lurks behind them; into fear of his own power and of its cruelty.

Thus the first service to politics rendered by the Christian faith is that it liberates man from the irrationality of political myths, which are the real threat of our time. Taking a stand for sobriety, which does what is possible and does not cry with an ardent heart after the impossible, is of course always difficult; the voice of reason is not as loud as the cry of unreason.

The cry for the grandiose project has the cachet of morality; restricting oneself to what is possible, in contrast, seems to be the renunciation of moral passion, mere faint-hearted pragmatism. But, as a matter of fact, political morality consists precisely of resisting the seductive force of the big words for which humanity and its chances are being gambled away. The moral thing is not adventurous moralism, which tries to mind God's business, but rather honesty, which accepts man's limits and does man's work within them. Not the uncompromising stance, but compromise is the true morality in political matters. [...]

The Christian faith destroyed the myth of the divine state, the myth of the earthly paradise or utopian state and of a society without rule. In its place it put the objectivity of reason. But that does not mean that it brought an objectivity devoid of values, the objectivity of statistics and mere social dynamics. True human objectivity involves humanity, and humanity involves God. True human reason involves morality, which lives on God's commandments. This morality is not a private matter; it has public significance. Without the good of being good and of good action, there can be no good politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Omnipresent Obama (Brent Bozell, September 23, 2009, Townhall)

Following his usual mantra that "to watch me is to love me," Barack Obama appeared on five Sunday interview shows and since that wasn't enough, then the David Letterman show on Monday night. He remains convinced that the more he plays dust speck in the national eye, the further he'll get in passing his leftist agenda. [...]

Perhaps the most amazing thing Obama did -- over and over -- on Sunday was to scold the media for making the national dialogue coarser by allowing his critics to have a voice on the networks. "Let's face it, the easiest way to get on television right now is to be really rude," he said.

How about the media not covering either the UR or the Larouchies/Beckies for awhile?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Netanyahu: Iran is a Weakling (Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, 9/23/09,

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has labeled the Iran regime as “weaker than people think” and that is susceptible to international pressure. Speaking with Wolf Blitzer of CNN, the Prime Minister said, “The Iranian people detest this regime, as has been plainly evident in the recent election fraud. But, equally, I think that Iran is susceptible because its economy is susceptible. And the time for pressure is now, with or without talks.”

Pretending they're a threat serves the regime. Telling the truth undermines it. That's how Reagan won the Cold War on June 8, 1982.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Hydrogen Cars Are Still Headed for the Highway: Advances in fuel-cell technology and a commitment from the German government to build a fueling network mean automakers haven't given up on hydrogen (Jack Ewing, 9/22/09, Business Week)

Hydrogen was much hyped early in the decade only to be upstaged by hybrids and electrics. Yet on Sept. 10, the German government, along with Daimler (DAI) and a group of energy companies including Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) announced plans to build 1,000 hydrogen filling stations in Germany by 2015. Two days earlier, automakers Toyota (TM), Ford (F), General Motors, and Hyundai called on energy companies to build an international network of hydrogen filling stations. By then, automakers say, there could be hundreds of thousands of vehicles on the road that use fuel cells to convert hydrogen to electrical power, with no emissions except steam.

Electric cars will probably be commercially available sooner than hydrogen cars, and they certainly enjoy higher public awareness. But little-noticed advances have helped hydrogen regain credibility with carmakers. Daimler and other companies like Honda Motor (HMC) have reduced the size of hydrogen fuel-cell systems to the point that they fit into a standard midsize car. Honda has 35 test versions of its FCX Clarity fuel-cell cars on Japanese and U.S. roads. Daimler's prototype, a hydrogen-powered Mercedes B-Class compact, can travel 240 miles before taking three minutes to refuel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


The UN loves Barack Obama because he is weak (Niles Gardiner, 9/23/09, Daily Telegraph)

It is not hard to see why a standing ovation awaits the president at Turtle Bay. Obama’s popularity at the UN boils down essentially to his willingness to downplay American global power. He is the first American president who has made an art form out of apologizing for the United States, which he has done on numerous occasions on foreign soil, from Strasbourg to Cairo. The Obama mantra appears to be – ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do to atone for your country. This is a message that goes down very well in a world that is still seething with anti-Americanism.

It is natural that much of the UN will embrace an American president who declines to offer strong American leadership. A president who engages dictators like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez will naturally gain respect from the leaders of the more than 100 members of the United Nations who are currently designated as “partly free” or “not free” by respected watchdog Freedom House.

It's instructive that while pretty much every speech the UR has given has been forgettable, that notorious moron W gave just one of many great ones at the UN on September 12, 2002. And note, in particular, that it challenges the body to live up to its own supposed ideals:
The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?

The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material.
If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

If all these steps are taken, it will signal a new openness and accountability in Iraq. And it could open the prospect of the United Nations helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis -- a government based on respect for human rights, economic liberty, and internationally supervised elections.

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq.

We can harbor no illusions -- and that's important today to remember. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He's fired ballistic missiles at Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel. His regime once ordered the killing of every person between the ages of 15 and 70 in certain Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. He has gassed many Iranians, and 40 Iraqi villages.

My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced -- the just demands of peace and security will be met -- or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.

Events can turn in one of two ways: If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission. The regime will have new power to bully and dominate and conquer its neighbors, condemning the Middle East to more years of bloodshed and fear. The regime will remain unstable -- the region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom, and isolated from the progress of our times. With every step the Iraqi regime takes toward gaining and deploying the most terrible weapons, our own options to confront that regime will narrow. And if an emboldened regime were to supply these weapons to terrorist allies, then the attacks of September the 11th would be a prelude to far greater horrors.

If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government, and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time.

Neither of these outcomes is certain. Both have been set before us. We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress. We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather. We must stand up for our security, and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind. By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand. And, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand, as well.

Thank you very much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Obama and the Politics of Concession: Iran and Russia put Obama to the test last week, and he blinked twice. (Mark Helprin, 9/24/09, WSJ)

During last year's campaign, Sen. Joe Biden famously remarked that, if his ticket won, it wouldn't be long before "the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy" on foreign affairs. Last week, President Obama, brilliantly wielding the powers of his office, managed to fail that test not just once but twice, buckling in the face of Russian pressure and taking a giant wooden nickel from Iran.'s not like he's ever had to pass a test before to get what he wanted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Pelosi backs away from deal with Blue Dogs (Mike Soraghan, 09/22/09, The Hill)

Speaker Pelosi is backing away from a deal she cut with centrists to advance health reform, said a source familiar with talks.

Pelosi’s decision to move away from the agreement that was made with a group of Blue Dogs to get the bill out of committee would steer the healthcare legislation back to the left as she prepares for a floor vote.

Pelosi is planning to include a government-run public option in the House version of the healthcare bill. the Blue Dogs have a safety word or will they stay bound and choke-balled?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


A Cold Shoulder To Liberty (Michael Gerson, September 23, 2009, Washington Post)

In great-power politics, morality often gets its hair mussed. Every president needs room for diplomatic maneuvering. But rebuffing the Dalai Lama is part of a pattern. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has argued that pressing China on human rights "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis" -- a statement that left Amnesty International "shocked and extremely disappointed." Support for Iranian democrats has been hesitant. Overtures to repressive governments in Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria and Egypt have generally ignored the struggles of dissidents and prisoners in those nations. So far, the Obama era is hardly a high point of human rights solidarity.

Those who donate to Amnesty International and put "Free Tibet" stickers on their Volvos often assume these commitments are served by supporting liberal politicians. But it really depends. On human rights, modern liberalism is a house divided. In a recent, brilliant essay in the New Republic, Richard Just describes the "contradictory impulses of liberal foreign policy: the opposition to imperialism and the devotion to human rights. If liberals view anti-imperialism as their primary philosophical commitment, then they will be reluctant to meddle in the affairs of other countries, even when they are ruled by authoritarian governments . . . that abuse their own people. But if liberalism's primary commitment is to human rights, then liberals will be willing to judge, to oppose, and even to undermine such governments."

...but it's a truth neither the Right nor the Left can face, so we all pretend not to know it: if you believe in effecting human rights you have to vote for the Christianist Republican, not the secular Democrat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Irving Kristol's gone – we'll miss his clear vision: Irwin Stelzer pays tribute to the humanity and intelligence of the godfather of neoconservatism. (Irwin Stelzer, 22 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

It was Kristol, too, who realised an important fact that underlies much of David Cameron's thinking: culture affects economic performance. The family must be preserved, as it is the source of the stability that permits people to look to the future, save and invest. Crime must not be condoned, lest society unravels. Welfare that induces dependence is a disservice to the recipients, even if those who make it available feel good. And capitalism must produce results that are fair and seen to be fair, and be adapted to changing circumstances, which is why he never gave more than Two Cheers for Capitalism (the title of one of his books). To the end of his days, Kristol followed the British press, and worried about the future of the country in which he had lived after the Second World War, and much admired.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Irving is not the only influential Kristol. His wife, the Victorian historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, argues for Victorian virtues of community, help for the deserving poor, and a willingness to rely on shame to govern individual behaviour, prompting Prime Minister Gordon Brown to become an unabashed fan, even contributing an introductory essay to her book on the British, French and American Enlightenments. This worries Brown's Left wing, but anyone who knows the Prime Minister understands how Himmelfarb's extolling of Victorian morality appeals to his better angels.

Irving Kristol is gone. We will miss him, those whose lives were enriched by association with him, and the far greater number who benefited from his influence on economic and social policy, both in my country and in yours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Liberals and Civility (Thomas Frank, 9/23/09, WSJ)

Mr. Obama is probably the greatest orator my generation has produced; he swept into office last year with more of a mandate than any president since Ronald Reagan. Mrs. Pelosi commands a large majority in the House of Representatives. [...]

The health-care showdown should have been a one-sided blowout. And yet it is the Democrats who are running to the playground monitor and watching their support drain away.

Why? Because from the beginning they have understood the problem primarily as a technical consumer issue, not a bid for social justice in a manifestly unjust time.

Nevermind that the UR just had to go on 5 network shows to try and explain his greatest speech and, even at that, couldn't acknowledge that what his Senate colleagues refer to as a tax is one. Nevermind that the mandate he won was largely focused on just one issue: John McCain would tax health plans but Mr. Obama wouldn't. Nevermind that Rahm Emanuel made Ms Pelosi Speaker by recruiting Yellow Dog Democrats to run in conservative districts.

No, consider just one point: there are 12 to 14 million immigrants who not oinly won't be covered by the Left's health care plans but about half will lose the coverage they currently have through their employers if the Democrats prevail. Now try and square that with "social justice" and morality...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Obama wants worldwide end of fossil fuel subsidies (SETH BORENSTEIN, 9/24/09, AP)

President Barack Obama is calling on the world to end massive government subsidies that encourage the use of fossil fuels blamed for global warming.

The president, who is set to host the G-20 economic summit opening Thursday in Pittsburgh, will propose a gradual elimination, with the time frame to be determined, according to White House officials.

He's almost there. Now, he just needs to dump cap-n-trade and tax gasoline directly and he's got it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Obama to world: Don't expect America to fix it all (BEN FELLER, 9/23/09, AP)

Seizing a chance to challenge the world, President Barack Obama says the global community is failing its people and fixing that is not "solely America's endeavor."

If not us, then no one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


In Mideast Peace Bid, Obama Pivots in His Demands (HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER, 9/24/09, NY Times)

President Obama, who has met immovable resistance from Israel over his demand for a full freeze on settlements in the West Bank, is largely setting that issue aside as a first step toward restarting Middle East peace talks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Karpov v Kasparov: the Guardian's coverage of an epic world chess championship match: It had everything - accusations of foul play, political symbolism, heckling from the crowd, and a near nervous breakdown from one of the players, but it was also a terrific bore.
(Matthew Weaver, 9/22/09, Guardian)

When the Guardian's chess correspondent Leonard Barden reviewed the longest-running world championship chess match, the headline was "The bored game to end them all".

Sounding almost as exhausted as Karpov, who lost 8kg during the match, Barden wrote: "Proclaimed the chess match of the year, it was a bore for long periods ... Anatoly Karpov, classical stylist, and Garry Kasparov, young dynamic risk-taker, just didn't gel at the board."

The Moscow crowd took out their frustration on the grand masters. When Kasparov and Karpov agreed to one of their many draws after only 17 moves there were boos and whistles from the crowd, and accusations they were playing "anti-chess".

Chess audiences had grown used to more drama. The fireworks of the cold war match between Fischer and Spassky and the intrigue of Karpov versus Korchnoi - coded yoghurt pots and all - were still fresh in the memory.

But the marathon Karpov/Kasparov match ended with an episode to equal anything that had gone before.

...but international sport was an awful lot better when the USSR was around. Now the only evil opponents we have to root against are the Yankees, Manchester United and Jeff Gordon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Baby, You Can't Drive Your Car: A judge's favorite punishment for drunken drivers—ignition-interlock. (LaDoris Cordell, Sept. 22, 2009, Slate)

Early on, my fellow judges did not support my ignition-interlock sentences. Judges, no less than the rest of us, resist change. My colleagues who were assigned to calendars filled with drunken driving charges wanted to dispose of these cases quickly and quietly, obtaining guilty pleas as early in the process as possible. Completing the additional paperwork that went with ignition-interlock devices did not sit well with them.

Then came the totally unexpected opposition from the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In their view, the ignition-interlock devices weren't punitive enough; they preferred more jail time for drunken drivers. Incarceration, however, is a temporary remedy. As the recidivism numbers clearly demonstrate, convicted drunken drivers return to the roads in numbers too great to ignore.

And finally, in my own court, as I continued to order the installation of ignition-interlock systems, I started to worry about fairness, since the devices are expensive. (At the time, the installation fee was $150 and the lease fee was $50 per month; prices have gone up a bit.) Convicted drunken drivers are often low-income. I realized that by ordering them to use the devices, I was effectively raising their fines, so I lowered those to offset the fees. That proved unacceptable to Santa Clara County's district attorney's office, which took the position that judges could not lawfully reduce drunken-driving fines. The DA's office took me to court and obtained an order directing me to stop. When I was thereafter rotated to another assignment, no judges were willing to order the devices for convicted drunken drivers. In January 1988, seven months after it started, my ignition-interlock sentencing program came to an end.

Today, almost all 50 states have laws permitting the imposition of ignition-interlock devices as sentencing alternatives for drunken drivers. The devices have a proven track record as an effective deterrent. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine notes that five out of six studies found that interlocks reduced the rate of recidivism for DWI charges. Participants in the interlock programs were 15 percent to 69 percent less likely than other offenders to be rearrested for drunken driving.

And yet, as a recent New York Times op-ed noted, while the effectiveness of the devices is clear, judges often fail to order the installations, even when the law requires it.

Just make them mandatory on all cars and you obviate those inconsistencies, while saving tens of thousands of lives and preventing unmeasurable family sorrow for victims and perpetrators alike.

September 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 AM


Military growing impatient with Obama on Afghanistan (Nancy A. Youssef, 9/19/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

In Kabul, some members of McChrystal's staff said they don't understand why Obama called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" but still hasn't given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly.

Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he'd stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.

"Yes, he'll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far," a senior official in Kabul said. "He'll hold his ground. He's not going to bend to political pressure." aren't going to start with the US military. Democrats need to face facts: no matter what they'd like the UR to do, he simply doesn't have the political heft or moral gravitas for a fight like that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Seize the Pen: In his essays on the writing life, Michael Greenberg emerges as figure out of Bellow (Adam Kirsch, September 22, 2009, Tablet)

[G]reenberg is engaged with the very subjects that made the first generation of American Jewish writers so elementally vigorous. That is why this slender book makes such a strong impression: it is as though Bellow or Alfred Kazin were transported to post-millennial New York, bringing their toughness and romanticism to bear on our softer and more familiar world. Greenberg himself hints at this quality of his writing in a typically self-deprecatory piece about his early struggles to publish a novel. In the early 1980s, Greenberg writes, he sent his manuscript to the influential editor Ted Solotaroff, who returned it with a note: “This manuscript represents everything I hate in fiction.” Greenberg was devastated, of course; but years later, when he read Solotaroff’s memoir Truth Comes in Blows, he realized that his novel must have struck all too close to home. “With its complicated, immigrant-minded fathers and their sons,” Greenberg now sees, “my novel must have seemed old hat to him, a story of Jewish marginality that, in America at least, was passé.”

In a certain sense, the style of Jewish marginality that Greenberg writes about Beg, Borrow, Steal does seem passé, or at least to belong to the past, if only for socioeconomic reasons. We are accustomed to reading about Jewish peddlers on the Lower East Side in the 1890s, and their struggling intellectual sons in the 1930s. Follow that lineage down to the present, and the great-grandson who becomes a writer is likely to have an MFA from Iowa and a tenured teaching job; if he writes about Jewishness, it will be in a nostalgic, quasi-magical-realist style.

In Beg, Borrow, Steal, however, the familiar timeline of assimilation and upward mobility has been discarded. Instead of his grandfather, we find Greenberg himself working as a peddler (the time appears to be the early 1970s), selling knockoff cosmetics on Fordham Road in the Bronx. Greenberg befriends a Chilean food-vendor named Lucho, who teaches him the tricks of the trade—above all, which security guard to bribe to avoid being rousted. But this gesture of friendship, like most such gestures in Greenberg’s world, turns out to have been a con. The day before Easter, when Greenberg has done great business and is carrying a lot of cash, Lucho doesn’t show up to work; instead, three teenagers come and rob him, presumably on his friend’s instructions.

The moral is one Bellow would have approved: the life of the mind is okay for idealists, but real life is dog-eat-dog.

If you were putting together a short list of our best regular essayists, we'd at least include the following: Andrew Ferguson, Joseph Epstein, Peter Augustine Lawler, PJ O'Rourke, and Mark Steyn. These are the guys who you don't just read every week--or seemingly every day in Mr. Steyn's case--but whose essay collections you keep on the bedside table so you can dip into them over and over again.

So, I have to confess to some considerable chagrin when the publicist for Mr. Greenberg's column collection sent us a set of materials suggesting that he is one of the great essayists in America. I'd honestly never heard of him. The Google search quickly rendered the reason why: he splits the Freelance column in the Times Literary Supplement, appearing every other issue. Not exactly the most widely read pages around--a problem that kept Mr. Epstein out of the limelight for too long, when he write primarily for The American Scholar.

But I read a few of the pieces he has online and the reviews for his memoir about his daughter's schizophrenia--Hurry Down, Sunshine--are uniformly glowing, so we asked for a copy of this book. Taken in short doses, the essays do not disappoint.

Mr. Greenberg is a terrific writer and he's especially good at packing a punch into the final lines of each essay (a la Mr. Ferguson). Where the other guys listed are mostly political writers though, Mr. Epstein's columns, at least those collected here, probe his own personal life and those of the people around him. His honesty about himself, and about them, is downright discomfiting. Indeed, the title piece is about his high school friend and former landlord, Eric, who has been working on a novel for years and showing him updated versions which Mr. Greenberg commented on favorably mostly to avoid having his rent raised. The author included Eric in the recent memoir and revealed not just that he was lying in his assessment of the novel but that he personally never thought it would be finished. Since his own book was published. Mr. Greenberg had been avoiding his old "friend," realizing what he'd done, but a mutual friend tells him that Eric feels like he has been "stabbed." The closing lines of the essay read:

Eric had once commented on how closely I listened to him. Enough to steal a piece of his soul.

That's an honest enough self-assessment, but it is the author's apparent habit to latch onto characters he meets in real-life in order to make them grist for his essays, which makes this promo piece from YouTube seem appalling:

Are they all really just circus acts and freaks and he the ringmaster? That is how he treats them all too often. He comes across as a kind of Joseph Mitchell but without much empathy.

And that leads into the other curious aspect of the book. There's a revealing scene in William Styron's Sophie's Choice, where Nathan is talking to Stingo and says:

[H]istorically and ethnically, Jews will be coming into their own in a cultural way in this postwar wave. It's in the cards, that's all. There's one novel already that's set the pace. ... it's the work of a young writer of absolutely unquestionable brilliance."

"What's the name of it?" I asked. I think my voice had a sulky note when I added, "And who's the brilliant writer?"

"It's called Dangling Man," he replied, "and it's by Saul Bellow."

Just as Mr. Styron's book and his doppleganger, Stingo, seemed to be trying to borrow Jewishness because it was the in thing, so too does Mr. Greenberg, as Adam Kirsch says, seem stuck in the 1950s, trying to imitate Saul Bellow, or trying to recreate him in the here and now.

Writing in Harper's, Vivian Gornick offered a pretty devastating critique of Bellow and Roth:

As the social reality of Jewish outsiderness waned, the rage at the heart of Jewish-American writing began to lose its natural source of energy. This turn of events delivered an unexpected piece of information about the entire enterprise. The work was inextricably bound up not so much with being kept out as with the sickness of feeling kept out. [...]

In the nineteenth century, Jewish mockery was described by a critic of Yiddish literature as “the sick despair of [those for whom life is] a permanent witticism.” It could never get beyond the limited force of its own excoriating humor. That force held everyone and everything up to superior ridicule, but it could not penetrate its own self-deceptions; hence, it could not deepen psychologically. If you accept this observation as a given—and I do—you cannot help wondering how much of Ur-Bellow and Roth will prove to have transcended its moment of cultural glory. Somehow it’s hard to imagine yesterday’s savaging brilliance transforming into tomorrow’s wisdom.

Well, it is tomorrow now and if we can sort of accept that Bellow and Roth--who at least grew up when Jews were alienated from the prevailing culture--weren't capable of moving on, we do have to wonder why someone like Mr. Greenberg can't.

Norman Podhoretz has been fretting lately about why Jews are so overwhelmingly liberal. He has arrived at the conclusion that liberalism has actually replaced Judaism itself as their faith and that Jewishness for many is just a matter of ethnicity these days, not anything to do with religion:

[I]n virtually every instance of a clash between Jewish law and contemporary liberalism, it is the liberal creed that prevails for most American Jews. Which is to say that for them, liberalism has become more than a political outlook. It has for all practical purposes superseded Judaism and become a religion in its own right. And to the dogmas and commandments of this religion they give the kind of steadfast devotion their forefathers gave to the religion of the Hebrew Bible. For many, moving to the right is invested with much the same horror their forefathers felt about conversion to Christianity.

All this applies most fully to Jews who are Jewish only in an ethnic sense. Indeed, many such secular Jews, when asked how they would define "a good Jew," reply that it is equivalent to being a good liberal.

Obviously a politics that is unconsidered, just a "racial" birthright, is not a thing of much worth. And it sits so uneasily beside the sort of Bellowian mockery that Mr. Greenberg employs that it creates considerable psychic dissonance. Maybe liberal mockery can't help but be mean-spirited, rather than jokingly insightful?

For all the honesty about the deeds and words in his own life, Mr. Greenberg doesn't really penetrate to the motivations and attitudes that underlie them. And that leaves a huge void.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Green groups open 'climate war room' (MIKE ALLEN & JIM VANDEHEI, 9/21/09, Politico)

The cap-and-trade movement, spooked by the pounding health care reform took over the August break, is scrambling to persuade nervous Democrats they won’t suffer politically for taking another tough vote this year.

“When you get your butt kicked, like we did [after the House energy vote], it focuses the mind,” said Steve Cochran, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s National Climate Campaign. “We found out that this is not something to hide from but something to lean on — even in places where coal is king and Blue Dogs were perceived to be running for cover.”

...don't hold your breath waiting for Green.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


The most sublime constitution ever drafted (Daniel Hannan, 9/21/09, Daily Telegraph))

I love Philly, the city where my parents were married. I have a troop of brilliant, warm, generous (if largely Democrat-leaning) Scots-American cousins here. I never visit them without making my Hajj to the place where the highest concept of British liberty was distilled into the noblest constitution ever put on paper.

This time, I began my journey in Valley Forge, a few miles out of town, where the Campaign for Liberty was meeting. It was an apt place for them to withdraw, these proud sons of the Revolution, after their poor showing in the 2008 presidential poll. Valley Forge was where Washington took the remains of the Continental Army after his defeats at Brandywine and Germanstown. There, in the grip of winter, his soldiers came close to starvation, and their general came close to despair. But, although they didn’t know it, the patriots had turned the corner: from that moment, almost every engagement they fought was successful. In Great Britain, popular sympathy was with the colonists, and there was no stomach for a war against our kinsmen when there were urgent battles to fight against the Bourbons.

It took Washington the better part of a decade to make the short journey from Valley Forge to Philadelphia to sign of the Constitution. It took me half an hour. Thanks to some wonderful conservatives from Ohio - of whom more in a later blog - we had the room to ourselves, and filmed an interview inches away from Washington’s chair.

You all know how I feel about the US Constitution. It was the greatest document of its kind ever drafted, designed to prevent the concentration of power, and written in full awareness of man’s fallen nature.

Amen, Brother.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Is Afghan surge Obama's Cuba moment? (Giles Whittell , 9/22/09, Times of London)

There’s a great scene in Thirteen Days, the film about the Cuban missile crisis, in which Kevin Conway as General Curtis LeMay tells President Kennedy: “The big red dog is diggin’ in our backyard, and we are justified in shooting him!”

Kennedy takes a deep breath and a walk along the West Wing colonnade, and rejects LeMay’s advice.

If Barack Obama has seen the film, he will not have forgotten that scene. His generals are not urging him to rain nuclear bombs on the Taleban, but they are putting him in the desperately lonely position that only a President can know, in which as Commander-in-Chief he must give orders to military men who know vastly more about military affairs than he does.

...extended the life of the Soviet Union for forty years and of Castro for over forty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Emissions of CO2 Set for Best Drop in 40 Years (JAD MOUAWAD, September 21, 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Global carbon emissions are expected to post their biggest drop in more than 40 years this year as the global recession froze economic activity and slashed energy use around the world.

It's no coincidence that the Left and the Right opposed the bank bailout. After all, if you kill the economy you limit emissions and immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Another 60-day delay for Gitmo trials (Ben Fox, 9/21/09, AP)

A military judge agreed Monday to another delay in the war crimes trial of five Guantanamo prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 attacks to give U.S. officials more time to decide how to try them.

Army Col. Stephen Henley granted the 60-day continuance at the request of President Barack Obama's administration....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Plane crash mars Iran military parade (NASSER KARIMI, 9/22/09, Associated Press)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran is stronger than ever and warned that its military will "cut the hand" of anyone who attacks. But a military parade where he spoke was marred when an air force plane crashed, killing seven people, according to state radio.

State TV showed video footage of burning wreckage from the military plane surrounded by fire trucks in farmlands south of Tehran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Three Cheers for Irving (DAVID BROOKS, 9/22/09, NY Times)

Kristol championed capitalism and wrote brilliantly about Adam Smith. But like Smith, he could only give two cheers for capitalism, because the system of creative destruction has victims as well as beneficiaries.

Kristol championed middle-class virtues like faith, family and responsibility, especially during the 1960s when they were so much under attack. But he acknowledged that bourgeois culture could be boring and spiritually unsatisfying.

Kristol championed democracy but understood its limitations. He emphasized that the American founders believed in a democratic system, but were appalled by the democratic faith: the idea that the majority view should be followed in all circumstances. They built a system that was half-democracy and half a republic, designed to acknowledge and also subdue popular will.

Kristol embraced the welfare state (one of his great achievements was to reconcile conservatism with the New Deal), but he was skeptical of most individual proposals. Improving society is so intractably hard that all efforts to do so should be subject to the most careful scrutiny.

His goal, he wrote, was “not to dismantle the welfare state in the name of free-market economics but rather to reshape it so as to attach it to the conservative predispositions of the people.” He believed that government programs that were not paternalistic, but merely provided social insurance, would “engender larger loyalties,” which is “precisely what the art of government, properly understood, is all about.”

...than skepticism about the efficacy of human endeavors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Prince Charles urges people to abandon car in favour of walking and public transport (Andrew Pierce, 21 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Speaking about the “domination of the car over the pedestrian”, the future King said: “We must surely be able to organise ourselves... in ways in which we are not dependent on it to such a great extent for our daily needs."

Only a monarch keeps the big picture always in mind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


'The Most Popular Politician on Earth': For nearly seven years, he's done a spectacular job as Brazil's president. But can Lula resist the temptation to throw it away? (Mac Margolis, 9/22/09, Newsweek)

To convince lenders Brazil was serious, Lula increased the "primary budget surplus"—the money the government puts aside every year to pay debt and interest—and boosted lending rates to a scorching 26 percent a year, throttling growth in order to kill inflation. He also kept government wages and pensions under control. "The unions and many people in the party hated it," says Ricardo Kotscho, a friend and former press aide.

International money men still weren't sure. "We knew he'd been a union leader and the president of a political party. What I really wondered was if he had the guns to be president," says former World Bank president James Wolfensohn. So Wolfensohn sent out a feeler, offering to dispatch a team of experts to brief Lula's government on the key issues facing the international economy and Latin America. He didn't know how the new president would respond. "A lot of leaders throw the presidential seal at you," says Wolfensohn. "But Lula lapped it up. He was like a piece of blotting paper. He realized he had a major job to do and that running an election was different from running a country. For me, it characterized the man."

Da Silva has operated that way ever since, putting pragmatism ahead of ideology and, for the most part, fiscal restraint over the quick fix. "No one in their wildest dreams would have thought Lula would behave the way he has," emerging-market investment guru Mark Mobius, of Templeton Asset Management, told me a year ago. Now Templeton has $5 billion in Brazil, more than it does in China. For sure, Lula had plenty to work with. With a web of hydroelectric stations and half its fleet of cars running on clean-burning sugar-cane ethanol, the country has long been the benchmark in renewable energy. Clever agronomists have turned the harsh tropical backlands into a breadbasket, exporting more beef, soybeans, and frozen chickens than any other nation. But Lula also added value by stumping for Brazilian brands abroad. "We had to make it clear that Brazil is not a minor country," he says. "Brazil has the Amazon [rainforest], but also makes airplanes and cell phones." And just as his labor rallies once galvanized the hardhats in São Paulo, his aggressive diplomacy has rallied poorer nations to demand free trade and a new deal in the international economy.

His real genius, however, has been his ability to sell unpalatable reforms to a largely poor population that looked to him as something of a savior. "Lula's popularity helped him make risky decisions that often required sacrifices," says José Dirceu, a former Workers' Party commander who fell to a corruption scandal. More important, unlike the supremos and populist demagogues who abound in Latin America, he did it playing by the rules. "Lula's respect for democracy and elections is a big plus," says former Treasury chief Joaquim Levy. "Very often he has been able to translate key values of democracy in ways that make them more concrete to people." The president still has his work cut out for him, and not much time left to accomplish it. "This is a country that has suffered from low self-esteem," he says. "Brazil needs to recover its pride. And I think things are happening. I hope those who come after me can work to transform Brazil into a great economy."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Clinton on Gore: "I Thought He Was in Neverland": In a soon-to-be-released book based on taped interviews, Bill Clinton discusses his presidency, while dishing on Al Gore, Maureen Dowd, and GOPers (David Corn, 9/22/09, Mother Jones)

During the discussion, Clinton told his vice president that he was disappointed that Gore had not used him in the last ten days of the 2000 campaign in strategically significant states--Arkansas, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Missouri. But Clinton said he could understand that. What was more upsetting for him, Clinton remarked to Gore, was that Gore had not crafted a more winning message during the campaign, that he had not campaigned on any grand themes. Clinton insisted to Gore that he hadn't cared about how Gore had referred to Clinton—and his personal scandal—during the campaign. Paraphasing this portion of the conversation, Branch writes that Clinton told Gore, "To gain votes, he would let Gore cut off his ear and mail it to reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, the Monica Lewinsky expert."

At one point in the conversation, Gore told Clinton that he was still traumatized by having been caught up in the fundraising scandals of the 1996 Clinton reelection campaign, and he indicated that he blamed Clinton. Clinton could hardly believe this, and he told Branch that Gore was probably in shock from the election or unhinged, remarking, "I thought he was in Neverland." [...]

hen Clinton prepared for military strikes against Iraq in 1998, he griped about former President Jimmy Carter. "[Republican Senator Bob] Dole will support me," he told Branch. "Carter will probably criticize me. Carter always criticizes, but he doesn't have much positive to say." [...]

In 1997, after New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote an acerbic column about Clinton and golfer Tiger Woods—maintaining that the the two green-eyed hucksters deserved each other—Clinton told Branch, "She must live in mortal fear that there's somebody in the world living a healthy and productive life."

One of the ways God demonstrated the Special Providence was in Al Gore letting W run as the New Democrat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


The folly of the fence (San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22/09)

Consider these findings:

▪ The initiative had originally been scheduled for completion this year, but, according to the GAO, a major part of it is fully seven years behind schedule.

▪ More than $3.7 billion has been poured into the project so far and, once it is completed, GAO says it will cost an additional $6.5 billion to maintain for the next 20 years.

▪ Though the planned 661 miles of physical fencing is nearly complete, and the number of miles along the border considered to be “under control” has increased, Customs and Border Protection has no way to measure the fencing's effectiveness. Is illegal immigration down because of the fence or, more likely, because the severe economic recession means fewer jobs attracting undocumented laborers? CBP can't answer that question. But here's one clue: as of mid-May, there had been 3,363 breaches in the fence, with a cost to repair each one at about $1,300.

▪ The high-tech “virtual” fence, known as SBInet, was originally planned for completion along the entire Southwest border earlier this year. But because of technical problems, it has yet to be deployed anywhere. It is now scheduled to be launched in two areas of the Tucson border sector this November and next March. The virtual fencing in the San Diego sector, originally scheduled for this year, is now not expected until 2014 or 2015.

It's just a sop to the nativists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Health bill says 'tax' when President Obama said 'not' (CHRIS FRATES & MIKE ALLEN, 9/21/09, Politico)

In the most contentious exchange of President Barack Obama’s marathon of five Sunday shows, he said it is “not true” that a requirement for individuals to get health insurance under a key reform plan now being debated amounts to a tax increase.

But he could look it up — in the bill.

Page 29, sentence one of the bill introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont) says: “The consequence for not maintaining insurance would be an excise tax.”

Health Bill's Proposed Excise Tax Rallies Republicans (JANET ADAMY, 9/21/09, WSJ)
The issue is emerging as a rallying point for Republicans, who are calling for Democrats to scrap the current health overhaul proposals and start over. Mr. Obama has pledged not to increase taxes on families earning below $250,000 a year.

"If it looks like a tax and is enforced like a tax, it's a tax," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah).

The White House on Monday reiterated that it doesn't view the fee as a tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


General's Review Creates Rupture (Karen DeYoung, 9/22/09, Washington Post)

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's grim assessment of the Afghanistan war has opened a divide between the military, which is pushing for an early decision to send more troops, and civilian policymakers who are increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort.

Senior military officials emphasized Monday that McChrystal's conclusion that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure" without an urgent infusion of troops has been endorsed by the uniformed leadership. That includes Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command and architect of the troop "surge" strategy widely seen as helping U.S. forces turn the corner in Iraq. [...]

Obama's public remarks on Afghanistan indicate that he has begun to rethink the counterinsurgency strategy he set in motion six months ago, even as his generals have embraced it.

The problem for the President is that he has so little credibility of national security matters that he can easily be portrayed as selling out the US military and the Afghan people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Moving Forward in Honduras (Roberto Micheletti, September 22, 2009, Washington Post)

My country is in an unusual position this week. Former president Manuel Zelaya has surreptitiously returned to Honduras, still claiming to be the country's legitimate leader, despite the fact that a constitutional succession took place on June 28. Amid all of the claims that are likely to be made in coming days, the former president will not mention that the people of Honduras have moved on since the events of that day or that our citizens are looking forward to free, fair and transparent elections on Nov. 29.

The international community has wrongfully condemned the events of June 28 and mistakenly labeled our country as undemocratic. I must respectfully disagree. As the true story slowly emerges, there is a growing sense that what happened in Honduras that day was not without merit. On June 28, the Honduran Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya for his blatant violations of our constitution, which marked the end of his presidency. To this day, an overwhelming majority of Hondurans support the actions that ensured the respect of the rule of law in our country.

Underlying all the rhetoric about a military overthrow are facts. Simply put, coups do not leave civilians in control over the armed forces, as is the case in Honduras today. Neither do they allow the independent functioning of democratic institutions -- the courts, the attorney general's office, the electoral tribunal. Nor do they maintain a respect for the separation of powers. In Honduras, the judicial, legislative and executive branches are all fully functioning and led by civilian authorities.

Coups do not allow freedom of assembly, either. They do not guarantee freedom of the press, much less a respect for human rights. In Honduras, these freedoms remain intact and vibrant. And on Nov. 29 our country plans to hold the ultimate civic exercise of any democracy: a free and open presidential election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Senate Democrats Grapple with a Suddenly Less Promising 2010 (Jay Newton-Small, Sep. 21, 2009, TIME)

The political scandal surrounding Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and now Senator Roland Burris handicapped the Democrats' chances of keeping Obama's old Senate seat. Governors in Colorado and New York appointed two relative unknowns to fill Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar's shoes, respectively, both of whom left for the cabinet. And then Ted Kennedy died, prompting a Massachusetts special election due to be held in January.

Even worse, there are at least five incumbents that are facing competitive races: Barbara Boxer in California, who will be facing off with former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln, Pennsylvania's new Democratic Senator Arlen Specter, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Connecticut's Chris Dodd. Reid and Dodd both have some of the worst polls in the Senate - hovering near 30% approval ratings. "Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut: those will be the most expensive to defend," says Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, which tracks congressional races. "The more money you have to spend on defense takes away from what you're spending on offense."

In a best case scenario the party in power has to worry about seats like these in a midterm. Democrats are creating a worst case, which means it is some seemingly safe seats that they should be scared about, places like DE, HI, WA, etc..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Window of Opportunism (Richard Cohen, September 22, 2009, Washington Post)

The Defenestration of Prague occurred in 1618 when two royal officials were summarily thrown out of some rather high windows and landed, as luck would have it and history recorded it, on a pile of manure. The Defenestration of New York happened just the other day when Barack Obama tossed New York Gov. David Paterson out of a window, landing him not on a pile of manure but on the front page of the New York Times. In its political consequences, this is a distinction without difference.

The Times story, a deft and lethal leak, explicitly said that the White House had asked Paterson (D) to step aside -- not to seek a full term as governor but to content himself with a graceful exit. [...]

Some will be tempted to credit such hardball tactics to Chicago and its bare-knuckle politics. That, though, is not the case. Obama -- as opposed to Rahm Emanuel -- is not from Chicago. He is from the Land of Ambition. That is a storied realm where all the posted signs warn, "Don't Get Between Me and What I Want." Obama wants a second term, and neither racial fellowship nor bonhomie nor a touching consideration for the bruised feelings of others will, in the end, make a difference. Paterson had to go.'re in real trouble when even Richard Cohen has figured out that all you care about is your personal ambitions.

September 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


Abortion-rights forces vexed by health care debate (DAVID CRARY, 9/21/09, The Associated Press)

For some abortion-rights activists, the debate over health care reform has been frustrating, even disheartening, as they see their political allies on the defensive and their anti-abortion rivals on the attack.

Many in the abortion-rights movement had hoped that a health care overhaul would include a serious discussion of expanding access to abortion for low-income women. That would have included the possible lifting of a 33-year-old ban on federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother's life.

Instead, under pressure from anti-abortion conservatives, the Obama administration and majority Democrats in Congress have focused their recent public comments about abortion on promises that their reform proposals will conform with that ban, which is known as the Hyde Amendment. was only a serious discussion if we lifted the ban, not if we kept it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


Smoking ban heart gains 'massive' (BBC, 9/21/09)

Bans on smoking in public places have had a bigger impact on preventing heart attacks than ever expected, data shows.

Smoking bans cut the number of heart attacks in Europe and North America by up to a third, two studies report.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America? (David Von Drehle, 9/17/09, TIME)

Beck is 45, tireless, funny, self-deprecating, a recovering alcoholic, a convert to Mormonism, a libertarian and living with ADHD. He is a gifted storyteller with a knack for stitching seemingly unrelated data points into possible conspiracies — if he believed in conspiracies, which he doesn't, necessarily; he's just asking questions. He's just sayin'. In cheerful days of yore, he was a terrific host of a morning-zoo show on an FM Top 40 station. But these aren't cheerful times. For conservatives, these are times of economic uncertainty and political weakness, and Beck has emerged as a virtuoso on the strings of their discontent. Rush Limbaugh, with his supreme self-confidence, holding forth with "half my brain tied behind my back just to make it fair," found his place as the triumphant champion of the Age of Reagan. Macho Sean Hannity captured the cocky vibe of the early Bush years, dunking the feckless liberal Alan Colmes for nightly swirlies on the Fox News Channel. Both men remain media dynamos, but it is Beck — nervous, beset, desperate — who now channels the mood of many on the right. "I'm afraid," he has said more than once in recent months. "You should be afraid too."

His fears are many — which is lucky for him, because Beck is responsible for filling multiple hours each day on radio and TV and webcast, plus hundreds of pages each year in his books, his online magazine and his newsletter. What's this rich and talented man afraid of? He is afraid of one-world government, which will turn once proud America into another France. He is afraid that Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people" — which doesn't mean, he hastens to add, that he actually thinks "Obama doesn't like white people." He is afraid that both Democrats and Republicans in Washington are deeply corrupt and that their corruption is spreading like a plague. He used to be afraid that hypocritical Republicans in the Bush Administration were killing capitalism and gutting liberty, but now he is afraid that all-too-sincere leftists in the Obama Administration are plotting the same. On a slow news day, Beck fears that the Rockefeller family installed communist and fascist symbols in the public artwork of Rockefeller Center. One of his Fox News Channel colleagues, Shepard Smith, has jokingly called Beck's studio the "fear chamber." Beck countered that he preferred "doom room."

On the recent anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Beck grew afraid that Americans may no longer be the sort of people who cross mountain ranges in covered wagons and toss hot rivets around in bold bursts of skyscraper-building. Tears came to his eyes (they often do) as he voiced this last fear. But then he remembered that the fiber of ordinary Americans is the one thing Glenn Beck need never fear. So he squared his quivering chin to the camera and held up a snapshot of ground zero, still empty eight long years after the World Trade Center was destroyed.

And he said, "Let me tell you something. I believe that if it were up to you or me, just regular schmoes in America, the Freedom Tower would have been done years ago. And it wouldn't have been the Freedom Tower; it would have been the Freedom Towers — because we would've built both of these towers back the way they were before! Except we would've built them stronger! We would've built them in a way that they would've resisted attack. And you know what? My guess is they would've been 25 stories taller, with a big, fat 'Come and Try That Again' sign on top. We would've built it with our bare hands if we had to, because that's what Americans do. When we fail, when we face a crisis, we pull ourselves up and make things better. I believe the only reason we haven't built it isn't because of Americans. It's because we're being held back. And who is holding us back? Politicians. Special-interest groups. Political correctness. You name it — everybody but you."

Whoever is stopping us from rebuilding those godawful monstrosities is a hero.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


On-the-air prez seems like endless 'infomercial' (CHARLES HURT, September 21, 2009, NY Post)

During his first eight months in office, President Obama has sat down for three times as many television interviews as his most recent two predecessors combined.

And with yesterday's run of the Sunday-morning news show circuit and tonight's airing of "Late Night with David Letterman," Obama continues to blaze through the media hotter than any political figure in modern history.

"He's turning the presidency into an infomercial," warned former White House speechwriter Matt Latimer. "It's not just damaging to the White House. It will also ultimately hurt President Obama's image as a fresh, non-Washington leader."

People will vote against him just to shut him up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Kasparov and Karpov in chess duel (BBC, 9/21/09)

One of the greatest rivalries in the history of chess is due to resume as Garry Kasparov takes on Anatoly Karpov in the Spanish city of Valencia.

The 12-game rematch takes place 25 years after the two chess legends first competed for the world title.

That epic, gruelling encounter lasted five months in Moscow, before being called off without a clear winner.

...that match too signalled the end of the Soviet Union, as they had to intervene to save the apparatchick from the Jew.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


The Grand Ayatollah unleashes his wrath (Michael Theodoulou, 9/21/09, The National)

Small, frail and in his 80s, he looks no match for Iran’s tough regime. But Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri is made of steel. He wields considerable moral authority as the country’s highest-ranking and most fearless dissident cleric, representing a potent challenge to hardline authorities who have tried and failed to silence him for two decades.

He was once Ayatollah Khomeini’s designated successor but was unceremoniously cast aside by the founder of the Islamic Republic, just months before his death in 1989, because the Grand Ayatollah had criticised human rights abuses by the regime. Since then, despite official harassment of his aides and a six-year period of house arrest, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has remained the outspoken conscience of Iran’s religious community, an advocate of democratic pluralism and foreign policy moderation.

“Montazeri has refused to go away and is today more vocal and explicit in his criticism than ever,” said Anoush Ehteshami, an Iran expert and professor of international relations at Durham University in England. “If anything, his claim that he stands for freedoms and justice are even more important today,” Prof Ehteshami said in an interview.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Taking a wait and see approach to prostate cancer:
Treatment of men over 65 with locally confined tumors provides little survival benefit, a study finds.
(Thomas H. Maugh II, September 21, 2009, LA Times)

For most men over 65 with localized prostate cancer, conservative management of their tumor -- which might be characterized as "benign neglect," or wait and treat only if symptoms occur -- may be the best course of action, according to a new study that compares modern results with those obtained before 1990.

It's essentially a matter of cosmetics and the curious notion that there is a perfect human form.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


A Proposed Tax on the Cadillac Health Insurance Plans May Also Hit the Chevys (REED ABELSON, 9/20/09, NY Times)

As it turns out, though, many smaller fish would get caught in Mr. Baucus’s tax net. The supposedly Cadillac insurance policies include ones that cover many of the nation’s firefighters and coal miners, older employees at small businesses — a whole gamut that runs from union shops to Main Street entrepreneurs.

Under the Baucus plan, insurers selling a plan costing more than $8,000 for an individual and $21,000 for a family would have to pay a 35 percent excise tax on the excess amount.

Although the national average premium is currently $13,375 for a family policy, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, many are much higher than that — particularly in high-cost parts of the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Obama defends mandate to buy health coverage (Jennifer Haberkorn, 9/21/09, Washington Times)

In a blitz on the Sunday morning talks shows, President Obama rejected the criticism that his proposed mandate that all Americans carry health insurance coverage will burden poor Americans with a new tax and defended critics against claims that their remarks are based on race.

Mr. Obama, who opposed the insurance mandate during the 2008 presidential election, finds himself defending the measure against lawmakers who worry that the exemptions written into the requirement won't relieve enough poor Americans of the cost. [...]

He later denied that the insurance requirement, and subsequent fine for failing to meet it, would amount to a new "tax" on Americans.

"My critics say everything is a tax increase," Mr. Obama said on "This Week." "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase."

...the criminalization of disagreeing with the Democrats?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


A Life in the Public Interest: The view that we know less than we thought we knew about how to change the human condition came, in time, to be called neoconservatism. (James Q. Wilson, 9/21/09, WSJ)

It was the right moment. President Lyndon Johnson was trying to create a new political era by asking the government to do things that not even Franklin Roosevelt had endorsed, and to do it in a period of prosperity. The large majorities his party had in Congress as a result of Johnson's decisive defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 made it possible to create Medicare and Medicaid and to adopt major federal funding for local school systems. He created the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Johnson himself called what he was doing the creation of a "Great Society."

I was a small part of that world. I chaired a White House task force on crime for the president. It was a distinguished panel but after much effort we made very few useful recommendations. It slowly dawned on me that, important as the rising crime rate was, nobody knew how to make it a lot smaller. We assumed, of course, that the right policy was to eliminate the "root causes" of crime, but scholars disagreed about what many of those causes were and where they did agree they pointed to things, such as abusive families, about which a democratic government can do very little.

The view that we know less than we thought we knew about how to change the human condition came, in time, to be called neoconservatism. Many of the writers, myself included, disliked the term because we did not think we were conservative, neo or paleo. (I voted for John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey and worked in the latter's presidential campaign.) It would have been better if we had been called policy skeptics; that is, people who thought it was hard, though not impossible, to make useful and important changes in public policy.

Whatever the authors were called, their best essays reflected one general view: Let us use social science to analyze an existing policy to see if it works at a reasonable cost. This meant that these writings were backward looking in a world when liberals were relentlessly forward looking. If you look carefully at what has been done rather than announce boldly what ought to be done, you will be called, I suppose, a conservative. We were lucky, I imagine, not to be called reactionaries.

Irving Kristol smiled through all of this

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


EU: European army no closer as member states put own interests first. (Con Coughlin, 21 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

"The fundamental problem is that all this talk of European security and defence planning is a misnomer," explained Sebastian Giegerich, research fellow for European security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "It is not a defence policy – it is all about crisis management. Whenever there is a crisis everybody looks after their own national interests.

"There are those who are capable and willing, like Britain, and those who are capable but not willing, like the Germans. And there are those who are not capable and not willing, which unfortunately accounts for the overwhelming majority of EU states."

Europe’s inability to acquire a coherent and effective defence policy has been most evident in the conflicts that have arisen since the September 11 attacks in 2001. In the immediate aftermath of September 11 the leaders of Nato’s members states moved quickly to invoke Article 5 of the Nato treaty, by which they are obliged to support any member nation that comes under attack.

But just as happened in Bosnia and Kosovo, it soon became apparent that only a handful of European states, including Britain, were actually prepared to make a tangible military contribution to the campaign to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. And when it came to confronting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, deep divisions appeared among the major European powers over whether or not to support the war.

September 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Democrats squabble over who will pay health care bill (PATRICK O'CONNOR & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 9/20/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama caught at least one top Democrat by surprise when he told Congress its health care bill should cost less than $900 billion — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. [...]

With that one statement, Obama served notice that he wants the final compromise to come in at less — $100 billion to $200 billion less — than what the House had in mind, cuts that could lead to less coverage and smaller subsidies to buy insurance.

It shouldn’t shock anyone that the health care fight has boiled down to a clash over money — or, more particularly, who pays for what? The problem is that Democrats don’t see eye to eye on who’ll foot the bill, setting up yet another battle inside the party over the final shape of the legislation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


The real reason for the rage: Americans aren't racist - they're just furious at Obama and Washington (Frank Luntz, September 20th 2009, NY Daily News)

The real reason why 72% of the people I interviewed say that they're "mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore" has nothing to do with racism. No, their rage is about a lack of accountability, a lack of respect, and a lack of progress in the nation's capital.

Let's start with the absence of accountability, because that ranks No. 1 in the hearts and guts of the average American. Washington spends billions to bail out big business and then can't explain where the money went. Washington spends $800 billion on a stimulus package filled with earmarks and pork projects. And now Washington is trying to create a trillion dollar health care experiment when over 85% of Americans are satisfied with their health care just as it is.

This could be forgiven, perhaps, if those elected officials from Washington exhibited even an ounce of respect for the voters who pay their salaries. But the combination of a political class that ignores those with whom they disagree and a business class that ignores the very real suffering of the working class (if they are, in fact, working) while pocketing million-dollar bonuses has convinced the public that no one cares.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


Paterson Says He Will Run Despite White House Pressure (RAYMOND HERNANDEZ and JEFF ZELENY, 9/20/09, NY Times)

Gov. David A. Paterson defiantly vowed to run for election next year despite the White House‘s urging that he withdraw from the New York governor’s race.

He shall not be moved!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Breitbart: A conservative rebel with a cause (Jennifer Harper, 9/20/09, Washington Times)

He is hybrid journalist, content wrangler, glib analyst. But most of all, Andrew Breitbart relishes running against the grain. For starters, he is an unabashed political conservative in a Hollywood dominated by liberals.

The man has moxie.

Frustrated that like-minded players in his hometown felt too intimidated to speak their mind, he helped organize a support group called "Friends of Abe" as a haven and forum for colleagues with similar ideas and values. The group is now hundreds strong.

A pronounced loathing for celebrity journalists, media conglomerates and glitzy TV networks drew him to contribute to nimble, alternative media sites like the Drudge Report and Huffington Post and ultimately create, his own "news portal." All three compete with the mainstream media for news consumers on the Web.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Tim Pawlenty Gets Best of Class (Hunter Baker, 9.19.09, American Spectator)

Pawlenty's presentation of his own record as a budget-balancer in MN was impressive and he sounded like the kind of conservative candidate who knows how to handle himself in a debate. The Minnesota governor came off as smart, tough, and ready for prime time. If he keeps making the rounds speaking the way he did Friday night, he is going to gain supporters in every part of the Republican coalition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


America's next top role model: Lincoln is his idol. So why is Obama starting to talk so much like Jimmy Carter? (Kyle Smith, September 20, 2009, NY Post)

An episode of the PBS program American Experience said of Carter, "His tenacity, so admirable, could shift to stubbornness; his religious faith to self-righteousness. His brilliant mind could be bound up by intricate details." If these things were true of him, are they not even truer of the man who is currently waging a four-front war on the insurance industry, Wall Street, carbon emissions and the recession, not to mention a couple more wars overseas?

The transformation of Obama from Lincoln to Carter, from Great Emancipator to Bitter Scold was foretold by the wise political analysts we ignore at our peril: "The Simpsons."

In 1993, when Springfield yearned to erect a statue of Lincoln, all it got was a cheaper one — of Carter. As the people realized that they'd been had, one of them yelled of Carter, "He's history's greatest monster!" A riot broke out, a vision of tea parties yet to come. On Carter's pedestal were chiseled two words that are starting to sound like the motto of the Obama years: "Malaise Forever."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


President Barack Obama is beginning to look out of his depth (Edward Lucas, 9/20/09, Daily Telegraph)

Regimes in Moscow, Pyongyang and Tehran simply pocket his concessions and carry on as before. The picture emerging from the White House is a disturbing one, of timidity, clumsiness and short-term calculation. Some say he is the weakest president since Jimmy Carter.

The grizzled veterans of the Democratic leadership in Congress have found Mr Obama and his team of bright young advisers a pushover. That has gravely weakened his flagship domestic campaign, for health-care reform, which fails to address the greatest weakness of the American system: its inflated costs. His free trade credentials are increasingly tarnished too. His latest blunder is imposing tariffs on tyre imports from China, in the hope of gaining a little more union support for health care. But at a time when America's leadership in global economic matters has never been more vital, that is a dreadful move, hugely undermining its ability to stop other countries engaging in a ruinous spiral of protectionism.

Of course, he's just fulfilling the promise his resume held. It's not like you can say any of this is surprising.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Reading Iran by the Letter (David Ignatius, September 20, 2009, Washinton Post)

Ahmadinejad defies not only the United States but the entire system of international relations that was created in 1945 at the end of World War II. He sees the world "at the threshold of entering a new era." He wants a "reorganization" of the United Nations, the Security Council, global media networks and other institutions. "The existing mechanisms are not capable to meet the present needs of mankind," said Iran's message this month proposing negotiations.

There's an echo of Robespierre or Mao Zedong in his talk of a new order that enfranchises the dispossessed. It's a personal kind of messianism. "I congratulate you," he wrote to Barack Obama a day after the November presidential election, warning in the same breath that "the nations of the world expect an end to policies based on warmongering, invasion, bullying, trickery [and] the humiliation of other countries."

Ahmadinejad's most peculiar epistle was his rambling May 8, 2006, letter to President George W. Bush. "For some time now I have been thinking, how one can justify the undeniable contradictions that exist in the international arena," he began. Noting that he was once a teacher, he went on to prod Bush like a nettlesome inquisitor, asking how he could call himself "a follower of Jesus Christ" and yet pursue aggressive policies.

The Iranian president is even a "truther," insisting that there was a hidden hand behind Sept. 11, 2001.

Iran's Khamenei signals easing in election tension (NASSER KARIMI, 9/20/09, AP)
Iran's Supreme Leader warned government supporters on Sunday against accusing opposition members of wrongdoing without proof, an indication that the Islamic government may be easing up on critics of the June presidential election. [...]

"We do not have the right to accuse without any proof," Khamenei said in a speech marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in which he urged the judiciary and security forces to pursue offenders within the bounds of the law.

Most Iranians favour ties with US but distrust Barack Obama: Poll (AFP, 9/20/09)
Eight in 10 Iranians also say they consider President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be the country's legitimate president despite mass protests following the disputed June 12 vote, according to the survey by (WPO).

63% of the 1,003 people surveyed across Iran favoured restoring diplomatic relations with the US, a position at odds with the stance taken by Tehran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. [...]

But despite Obama's outreach to Muslims around the world, only 25% of those surveyed believe he respects Islam, while 59% said he does not.

Obama and Ahmadinejad: The Politics of Face Time (HELENE COOPER, 9/20/09, NY Times)
It was just over two years ago that Barack Obama, then the junior senator from Illinois with aspirations to the presidency, famously pronounced during a Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C., that he would be willing to hold direct talks, without preconditions, with the president of Iran.

This week, President Obama will have the chance to do just that, when Iran’s fiery, diminutive, Israel-bashing, legitimacy-challenged president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joins Mr. Obama and other world leaders who are descending on New York City to speak at the first United Nations General Assembly in the new kinder, gentler, Barack Obama era.

And guess what? Administration officials will be doing everything in their power to make sure the two don’t get within spitting distance of each other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Romney taunts Democrats with memories of Carter (The Associated Press, 9/20/09)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reflects conservatives' growing confidence when he taunts Democrats, saying "I'll bet you never dreamed you'd look back at Jimmy Carter as the good old days."

Why does he have to go hating on the cracker?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


PJ O'Rourke: a hellraiser who had to slow down: PJ O'Rourke, America's favourite living wit, talks to Philip Sherwell about drugs, cars and his recent brush with cancer (Philip Sherwell, 20 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

As a fervent foe of “big government”, he reluctantly accepts the need for the bank bail-out to prevent the entire financial system grinding to a halt. But he has no truck with the attempt to keep afloat the motor industry, most notably General Motors. “Saving GM was folly,” he says. “Millions of investors around the world were looking at GM and all agreed it was worthless. Then a guy who’s a lawyer with an Ivy League liberal arts education [Obama] comes along and tells me that my tax dollars are going to bail out GM. If I had wanted to own part of GM, I’d have a stockbroker.”

He looks across the Atlantic for evidence of where this policy will lead. “We have the British motor industry as a role model for what happens when you try to save an industrial dinosaur. Britain was the first country to industrialise and the first to de-industrialise. We should learn from this.” [...]

O’Rourke and his friends did much to shape modern political satire at National Lampoon. Surveying the impact three decades later, he notes: “We may have fostered it a little too well as I’m told now that a majority of young people get their news from The Daily Show [a topical comedy programme]. Or maybe I’m just jealous as there’s only room for so much humour, so my share might be reduced.”

Still, he criticises the smugness and self-importance that he feels has crept into some political satire – not surprisingly, a trait he sees more on the Left than on the Right. “It does not do for a political humourist to be smug. We’re not offering policy alternatives; we’re pointing out political absurdities. We’re the ones switching on the kitchen lights and watching the cockroaches scamper. But we’re not going in there to stamp on them. That shouldn’t be our role.”

His slew of witty one-liners has earned him the status of the most quoted living writer in The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations. “Note the emphasis on the living. The moment I die, I’ll drop way down the list.”

As for his own favourite, he opts for an observation he made in 1993 that is enjoying a new lease of life today: “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free,” he famously opined at a gala dinner for the libertarian Cato Institute as the then First Lady Hillary Clinton pursued her doomed efforts to reform the health care system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Obama asks New York governor not to run: report (Reuters, 9/20/09)

President Obama has asked New York Governor David Paterson to withdraw from the state's 2010 governor's race for fear that the embattled fellow Democrat cannot regroup from a series of political setbacks, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

Actually, the people of New York get to choose their governor, not the UR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


The Future of Global Finance (LIAQUAT AHAMED, 9/20/09, NY Times)

It has long been recognized that the global financial structure — built as it is around the dollar as the world’s reserve currency — has a fundamental design flaw that makes it inherently unstable. The problem was first identified back in the early 1960s by the Belgian-American economist Robert Triffin, in “Gold and the Dollar Crisis.” Writing about Europe’s accumulation of dollars, he argued that the system carried the seeds of its own destruction. Foreigners could acquire dollars only if the United States ran current account deficits — that is, spent more than it earned. But lending money to someone who lives beyond his means has obvious dangers, and the same is true of countries. Thus, the American deficits necessary to supply dollars to the world for international transactions simultaneously undermined confidence in the currency. It was only a matter of time, Triffin predicted, before the system would be hit by a crisis — which it duly was in the early 1970s.

At the beginning of the current decade a group of commentators, the most ­articulate being the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf, updated Triffin’s critique and applied it to current arrangements. Whereas Triffin had been primarily concerned about the European accumulation of dollars, the spotlight was now on Asia. In the wake of the 1997 financial crisis there, countries in East Asia set out to build up war chests of dollars as insurance against domestic banking runs or downturns in the global economy. At about the same time, China embarked on a program of export-led growth, engineered by keeping its currency artificially low.

Interpretations of what happened next differ. Some argue that to absorb these goods from abroad while avoiding unemployment at home, the United States very consciously stimulated consumer demand. The country, in effect, was forced to live beyond its means. Others believe that the Fed misread the fall in prices as a symptom of inadequate demand rather than for what it was — an astounding, once-in-a-generation expansion in the supply of low-cost goods — and kept interest rates low for an unusually long time, which provoked the real estate bubble.

In either case, the result was an enormous accumulation of dollars in the hands of Asian central banks. Those dollars, when invested in the American bond market, drove long-term interest rates even further down and made credit in the ­United States even more artificially cheap.

The build-up of dollars abroad was also the catalyst for a remarkable transformation in the flow of money around the world. The United States found itself literally operating as a gigantic bank, taking short-term liquid deposits from countries with surpluses and investing the money in long-term, risky assets at home and abroad. The numbers involved were staggering. In 1996, the United States had international assets and liabilities of around $5 trillion. By 2007 the figure was more than $20 trillion. Like any bank, it was vulnerable to a run. The main fear was that the United States at some point would be faced with a modern-day replay of Triffin’s dilemma and would have to deal with the consequences of a collapse in confidence in the dollar.

Instead, what led to the current mess was a somewhat different strain of the same disease. As Wolf traces out so well in his 2008 book “Fixing Global Finance,” the United States was able to absorb all the goods coming out of Asia only by letting its consumers go progressively deeper into debt — a process that had its own limits. Moreover, the flood of money simply overwhelmed the capacity of financial institutions to handle it. A lot, for example, ended up in the most unregulated segments of the global banking system, like off-shore deposits on the books of non-American banks. These banks, now awash with cash and desperate for places to put the money, became easy marks for American investment banks seeking to peddle securitized mortgages. When a large percentage of these loans went bad, instead of a dollar panic we had a global banking crisis.

The ease with which the crisis was dealt with; the immediate return to absurdly high personal savings rates; the reality that global deflation will continue, not end; and the demographics that will force foreigners to put their savings into our credit markets, not their own; all make nonsense of this. But the biggest problem with the theory that there's a design flaw in the system is that countries are generally nothing like someones. If a 70 year old man owes you $1000 you should be worried about ever seeing it--after all, he's no longer earning any money, just spending what he has left, and could die any minute. The 230 year-old democracy that owes you money will be around for centuries after your nation implodes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


John Calvin: Comeback Kid: Why the 500-year-old Reformer retains an enthusiastic following today. (Timothy George, 9/08/2009, Christianity Today)

The most remarkable thing about Calvin's theology is how unremarkable it is, especially when set against the Catholic, Augustinian, and Lutheran traditions he inherited, reframed, and passed on to others. In retrospect, Calvin stands out next to Luther as one of the two great shaping theologians of the Protestant movement. But we should not detach him from other seminal thinkers with whom he shared certain basic assumptions about God, the Bible, human beings, and the work of Christ in the world. Martin Bucer in Strasbourg, Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich, Johannes Oecolampadius in Basel, Peter Martyr Vermigli from Italy, and Luther's successor, Philip Melanchthon, were all Calvin's friends and colleagues in the work of reform.

Unlike the Anabaptists, who sought a New Testament church unencumbered by the baggage of history, Calvin and his peers wanted to be nothing more than faithful and obedient members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. This church, they believed, had fallen into disrepair. It had been led into captivity by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Yet there were points of continuity as well as discontinuity with the Catholic past, and the church needed to be reformed on the basis of the Word of God. Catholic historian Alexandre Ganoczy has said of Calvin: "He never stopped claiming his unshakable attachment to the unity of the Catholic Church, which he did not want to replace, but to restore."

Mark Twain has Huckleberry Finn refer to a perplexing Calvinist sermon he once heard on "preforeordestination." In agreement with Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Luther before him, Calvin did teach that God was sovereign in salvation no less than in creation, and that divine election was entirely gratuitous—ante praevisa merita, as the scholastic tag went, not based on God's foreknowledge of human achievement. Calvin held this view not because he was a mean man or a dour despot, but because he believed to have found it clearly taught in Holy Scripture. For Calvin, however, the doctrine of predestination was not an a priori metaphysical axiom from which everything else was derived. Rather, it had a Christological focus (with Christ as the mirror of election) and a pastoral import.

In discussing predestination, Calvin followed the method of Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. One does not begin with the inscrutable decrees of God, but rather with God's general revelation in creation and the conscience (Rom. 1). This leads to a discussion of human sinfulness (chapters 2-3), God's atoning work in Christ and justification by faith (chapters 4-7), followed by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the declaration of God's unfathomable love (chapter 8). Only then is it fitting to consider the theme of God's electing grace in the history of Israel and in our own lives (chapters 9-11). Only then, as we look back on our rescue from sin, can we exclaim with the non-Calvinist Charles Wesley, "Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me!"

The elect are not the elite. There is no place in Calvin's thought for the kind of spiritual snobbery reflected in the old camp-meeting ditty, "We are the Lord's elected few, / let all the rest be damned./ There's room enough in hell for you, / we don't want heaven crammed!" The true Calvinist preaches the gospel promiscuously to all persons everywhere, aware that God alone infallibly knows all those who belong to him.

Theology for Trekkers

In Calvin's day, Geneva became a great center for church planting, evangelism, and even "foreign" missions: a group of Protestants supported by Admiral de Coligny carried the message of Christ to the far shores of Brazil in 1557, more than 60 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. William Carey, the father of modern missions in the 18th century, went to India with a Calvinist vision of a full-sized God—eternal, transcendent, holy, filled with compassion, sovereignly working by his Holy Spirit to call unto himself a people from every nation, tribe, and language group on earth.

In Book Three of the Institutes, Calvin treats predestination and prayer in contiguous chapters (Institutes3.20-21). The universal appeal of Calvin's thought is expressed clearly in this petition he prepared for his liturgy "The Form of Prayers":

We pray you now, O most gracious God and merciful father, for all people everywhere. As it is your will to be acknowledged as the Savior of the whole world, through the redemption wrought by your son Jesus Christ, grant that those who are still estranged from the knowledge of him, being in the darkness and captivity of error and ignorance, may be brought by the illumination of your Holy Spirit and the preaching of your Gospel to the right way of salvation, which is to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).

One of the mysteries of the mystique of Calvinism is how such a high predestinarian theology could motivate so many of its adherents to such intense this-worldly activism. Calvinism was certainly a dynamic force in shaping the contours of the modern world, including features of it that most of us would not want to live without, such as the rule of law, the limitation of state power, and a democratic approach to civil governance. Though Max Weber was off the mark in identifying the "spirit of capitalism" with the Puritan desire to find assurance of election in a joyless acquisitiveness, he was right to point to the importance of Calvinist ideals—thrift, hard work, fair play, personal responsibility—in the development of a robust economic system.

Calvin's theology was meant for trekkers, not for settlers, as historian Heiko Oberman put it. In the 16th century, Calvinist trekkers fanned out across Europe initiating political change as well as church reform from Holland to Hungary, from the Palatinate to Poland, from Lithuania to Scotland, England, and eventually to New England. In its drive and passion, in its world-transforming vision, Calvinism was an international fraternity comparable only to the Society of Jesus in the era of the Reformation. It is perhaps ironic that Calvin and Ignatius Loyola studied at the same time in the same school in Paris.

Like the Franciscans and the Dominicans in the Middle Ages, Calvin's followers forsook the religious ideal of stabilitas for an aggressive mobilitas. They poured into the cities, universities, and market squares of Europe as publishers, educators, entrepreneurs, and evangelists. Though he had his doubts about predestination, John Wesley once said that his theology came within a "hair's breadth" of Calvinism. He was an heir to Calvin's tradition when he exclaimed, "The world is my parish."

September 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


Pigs produce crackling of electricity (Mark Smith, 9/20/09, Scotland on Sunday)

WHERE there's pig muck there's brass. A farmer has been given a £568,000 government grant to convert porcine dung into electricity and cash.

Bacon that cooks itself. Truly, we are not worthy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


Dems find what Obama wants on healthcare still anything but clear (Jared Allen, 09/19/09, The Hill)

Democrats hope President Barack Obama will use his multiple Sunday show appearances to clarify his demands for healthcare reform. [...]

“I do believe we’re at the point of the legislative process now, or we’re quickly going to arrive there, where the president of the United States is going to have to come down to Capitol Hill and say to individual members ‘Here’s why we need an element like a public option in the plan,’” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.).

Part of the problem, Weiner said, is that instead of being a declarative statement, Obama’s speech was the equivalent of an inkblot test.

It's demonstrative of what an appallingly awful communicator he is that he has to go on 5 shows to clarify the greatest speech of his career because no one understood what he meant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 PM


Good Will for Obama, but Few Policy Benefits (PETER BAKER, 9/19/09, NY Times)

As President Obama welcomes world leaders to the United States this week, he has gone a long way toward meeting his goal of restoring the country’s international standing. Foreign counterparts flock to meet with him, and polls show that people in many countries feel much better about the United States.

But eight months after his inauguration, all that good will so far has translated into limited tangible policy benefits for Mr. Obama. As much as they may prefer to deal with Mr. Obama instead of his predecessor, George W. Bush, foreign leaders have not gone out of their way to give him what he has sought.

...getting nothing in exchange for abasing yourself. Even prostitutes look down on whores.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Attack of the Drones: Now that congress has killed the F-22, the Air Force is facing another shock to the system: planes without pilots. (Fred Kaplan, Sep 19, 2009, NEWSWEEK)

For more than 60 years, the Air Force has trumpeted itself as the service of glamour, its pilots ruling the skies, soaring, diving, bombing, and strafing from far above—yet still commanding the clash of armies on the ground. In movies, they wore white scarves and set the girls' hearts aflutter.

But all that is changing in ways that few outsiders understand. A fierce fight is on for the mission, culture, and identity of the Air Force, and the Top Guns are losing. This is the real story behind a passionate political struggle this past summer over a major weapons system, the F-22 Raptor, the world's most sophisticated fighter plane. [...]

Just as the Vietnam War paved the way for the rise of the fighter pilot—before then, much higher status was given to pilots of nuclear bombers—the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are demanding a new Air Force culture. "War is the great teacher of innovation, the great stimulus to thought in military affairs," says Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and logistics. The present wars, he adds, "have challenged the cultures in all the services…There's a heated competition to be relevant."

Iraq and Afghanistan are very different wars from the war the F-22 Raptor was designed to fight. (Not one of the advanced aircraft has flown a single mission over either theater.) The enemy isn't a foreign government, but an insurgency; there are few "strategic" targets to bomb and no opposing air force to go after. So the main Air Force role is to support American and allied troops on the ground. This means two things: first, airlifting supplies (General Schwartz's specialty); second, helping the troops find and kill bad guys.

For this second mission, the Air Force has been relying more and more on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with names like Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk, and Warrior Alpha. Joystick pilots located halfway around the world operate these ghost planes. They pinpoint their targets by watching streams of real-time video, taken by cameras strapped to the bellies of the UAVs. Many of the aircraft also carry super-accurate smart bombs, which the joystick pilots can fire with the push of a button once they've spotted the targets on their video screens.

...what if war weren't terrible but were no big deal?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


How Obama Flubbed His Missile Message: Scrapping missile defense was the right thing to do, says former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski—but how the U.S. conveyed the decision to its Eastern European allies couldn’t have been worse. (Gerald Posner, 9/18/09, Daily Beast)

Is the fallout as bad if Israel preemptively strikes Iran?

Absolutely. That is the way, more importantly, how the Iranians would view it. They really can’t do much to the Israelis, despite all their bluster. The only thing they can do is unify themselves, especially nationalistically, to rally against us, and the mullahs might even think of it as a blessing.

How aggressive can Obama be in insisting to the Israelis that a military strike might be in America’s worst interest?

We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?

What if they fly over anyway?

Well, we have to be serious about denying them that right. That means a denial where you aren’t just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a Liberty in reverse. [Israeli jet fighters and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, off the Sinai Peninsula, during the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel later claimed the ship was the object of friendly fire.]

...apparently Carterites think it their duty to defend Iran from Western aircraft.

It's not worth worrying about, because he couldn't afford it politically, but if it ever got to the point where it was Obama and Ahmedinejad
vs, Israel, the country would split no worse than 60-40 in favor of our ally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Did we evolve because of cooking? ( Jemima Lewis, 9/19/09, Daily Telegraph)

There are many reasons to learn to cook, and here's the latest: a hot dinner, apparently, is what separates us from the apes. Richard Wrangham, a primatologist and anthropologist at Harvard, has written a book arguing that the human species could never have evolved so successfully had we not discovered fire, and mastered the art of turning raw food into cooked.

And so we become our own designers. Science is becoming the highest form of comedy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


From Bear to Bull: James Grant argues the latest gloomy forecasts ignore an important lesson of history: The deeper the slump, the zippier the recovery. (James Grant, 9/19/09, WSJ)

Americans are blessedly out of practice at bearing up under economic adversity. Individuals take their knocks, always, as do companies and communities. But it has been a generation since a business cycle downturn exacted the collective pain that this one has done. Knocked for a loop, we forget a truism. With regard to the recession that precedes the recovery, worse is subsequently better. The deeper the slump, the zippier the recovery. To quote a dissenter from the forecasting consensus, Michael T. Darda, chief economist of MKM Partners, Greenwich, Conn.: "[T]he most important determinant of the strength of an economy recovery is the depth of the downturn that preceded it. There are no exceptions to this rule, including the 1929-1939 period."

Growth snapped back following the depressions of 1893-94, 1907-08, 1920-21 and 1929-33. If ugly downturns made for torpid recoveries, as today's economists suggest, the economic history of this country would have to be rewritten. Amity Shlaes, in her "The Forgotten Man," a history of the Depression, shows what the New Deal failed to achieve in the way of long-term economic stimulus. However, in the first full year of the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (and the first full year of recovery from the Great Depression), inflation-adjusted gross national product spurted by 17.3%. Many were caught short. Among his first acts in office, Roosevelt had closed the banks. He had excoriated the bankers, devalued the dollar, called in the people's gold and instituted, through the National Industrial Recovery Act, a program of coerced reflation.

"At the business trough in 1933," Mr. Darda points out, "the unemployment rate stood at 25% (if there had been a 'U6' version of labor underutilization then, it likely would have been about 44% vs. 16.8% today. . . ). At the same time, the consumption share of GDP was above 80% in 1933 and the household savings rate was negative. Yet, in the four years that followed, the economy expanded at a 9.5% annual average rate while the unemployment rate dropped 10.6 percentage points." Not even this mighty leap restored the 27% of 1929 GNP that the Depression had devoured. But the economy's lurch to the upside in the politically inhospitable mid-1930s should serve to blunt the force of the line of argument that the 2009-10 recovery is doomed because private enterprise is no longer practiced in the 50 states. [...]

Our recession, though a mere inconvenience compared to some of the cyclical snows of yesteryear, does bear comparison with the slump of 1981-82. In the worst quarter of that contraction, the first three months of 1982, real GDP shrank at an annual rate of 6.4%, matching the steepest drop of the current recession, which was registered in the first quarter of 2009. Yet the Reagan recovery, starting in the first quarter of 1983, rushed along at quarterly growth rates (expressed as annual rates of change) over the next six quarters of 5.1%, 9.3%, 8.1%, 8.5%, 8.0% and 7.1%. Not until the third quarter of 1984 did real quarterly GDP growth drop below 5%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM

Yo La Tengo In Concert (All Songs Considered, 9/17/09, NPR)

When Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley first formed Yo La Tengo in 1984, neither could have predicted that the humble band from Hoboken, N.J., would still be making vital music a quarter-century later. But with the release of Popular Songs earlier this month, Yo La Tengo shows that it still has something to say, mostly in the form of dissonant rock and sweetly atmospheric, glittery pop. The group played songs from the new album, along with older favorites, in this full concert, originally webcast live on NPR Music Thursday, Sept. 17. The performance was recorded live from Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Virginia Moves Back to the Right (Fred Barnes, 9/19/09, WSJ)

A Republican victory here would signal that Mr. Obama may now be a liability for other Democrats running for office—or at least a neutral force incapable of transferring his support. For example, a Survey USA poll from earlier this month found that 13% of Obama voters from last year plan to vote for Mr. McDonnell this year.

Only one other state, New Jersey, has a governor's race this year. A Republican, Chris Christie, is leading there too. But he is running against incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, whose tenure and the state's record of corruption are the overriding issues.

Virginia has no incumbent and a more wide-open race. National issues are playing a bigger role here in part because the state borders Washington, D.C. Mr. McDonnell has pressed Mr. Deeds on card check legislation in Congress (which would allow unions to organize a company without holding a secret ballot election), the cap-and-trade energy tax that has passed the House, and other White House priorities. Mr. Deeds has hit back by saying that Mr. McDonnell echoes the economic ideas of George W. Bush.

A recent editorial in the Culpeper, Va., Star-Exponent captured the effect Mr. Obama could have on the race: "If this election were held a year ago, McDonnell wouldn't stand a chance. By party affiliation alone, Deeds would have surfed the 'change' tsunami straight into the governor's mansion. Funny how McDonnell could very well do the same now that public opinion has cooled toward Obama."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


The Scourge Persists (BOB HERBERT, 9/19/09, NY Times)

[T]he fact that a black man is now in the White House has so unsettled much of white America that the lid is coming off the racism that had been simmering at dangerously high temperatures all along.

It would obviously be convenient for Mr. Herbert if criticisms of the President could be written off to race rather than incompetence, because he could likewise claim that people regularly make fun of his column because he's black, not because he's insipid.

But you have to wonder if the unsettling aspect of the Obama presidency isn't that so many people had so much vested in his Magic Negroness, which his campaign exploited to its fullest, that the recognition that he's not only not a magical creature but not a very good leader is more traumatic than the normal disappointment with a politician.

Tired Protectionism (New York Times, 9/19/09)

After President Obama decided to impose a 35 percent tariff on Chinese-made tires, China reacted angrily and predictably: threatening to impose its own tariffs on American auto products and chicken meat. Nationalist bloggers urged China’s leaders to strike back even harder and to stop buying United States government debt.

Both governments need to make sure the situation doesn’t spin out of control. A trade war would have no real winners and millions of losers in both countries. [...]

Neither side can claim the high ground. Mr. Obama acted unwisely, invoking a never-before used section of American trade law that allows him to penalize even fair Chinese competition if it results in sharply increased imports and job losses in the United States.

Shattered Confidence In Europe (Ronald D. Asmus, September 19, 2009, Washington Post)
President Obama's decision to shelve the Bush administration's missile defense plans has created a crisis of confidence in Washington's relations with Central and Eastern Europe. The defense architecture the administration proposes may make more strategic sense in addressing the immediate Iranian threat. Nevertheless, it runs the risk of shattering the morale and standing of transatlantic leaders in the region who now feel politically undermined and exposed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


The Long Retreat: Our security will now depend on the kindness of strangers. (Mark Steyn, 9/19/09, National Review)

Was it only April? There was President Obama, speaking (as is his wont) in Prague, about the Iranian nuclear program and ballistic-missile capability, and saluting America’s plucky allies: “The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles,” he declared. “As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile-defense system that is cost-effective and proven.”

On Thursday, the administration scrapped its missile-defense plans for Eastern Europe. The “courageous” Czechs and Poles will have to take their chances. [...]

Moscow has concluded that a nuclear Iran is in its national interest — especially if the remorseless nuclearization process itself is seen as a testament to Western weakness. Even if the Israelis are driven to bomb the thing to smithereens circa next spring, that too would only emphasize, by implicit comparison, American and European pusillanimity. Any private relief felt in the chancelleries of London and Paris would inevitably license a huge amount of public tut-tutting by this or that foreign minister about the Zionist Entity’s regrettable “disproportion.” The U.S. Defense Secretary is already on record as opposing an Israeli strike. If it happens, every thug state around the globe will understand the subtext — that, aside from a tiny strip of land on the east bank of the Jordan, every other advanced society on earth is content to depend for its security on the kindness of strangers.

Some of them very strange. Kim Jong-Il wouldn’t really let fly at South Korea or Japan, would he? Even if some quasi-Talibanny types wound up sitting on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, they wouldn’t really do anything with them, would they? Okay, Putin can be a bit heavy-handed when dealing with Eastern Europe, and his definition of “Eastern” seems to stretch ever farther west, but he’s not going to be sending the tanks back into Prague and Budapest, is he? I mean, c’mon . . .

which makes it even more craven. We're betraying our allies because we're safe without them.

September 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM


Irving Kristol, conservative thinker, dies at 89 (CNN, September 18th, 2009)

Kristol, whom Esquire Magazine once hailed as the godfather of neo-conservatism, served as editor of several conservative publications over the last five decades including Commentary magazine and The National Interest.

In 2002, President Bush awarded Kristol the Medal of Freedom, calling him a "brilliant writer of remarkable insight and wit, [who] profoundly improved public discourse on the ideas he championed."

Irving Kristol, Architect of Neoconservatism, Dies at 89 (Adam Bernstein, 9/19/09, Washington Post)
Mr. Kristol and his historian wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, along with a group of sociologists, historians and academics including Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer, Richard Pipes and for a while Daniel P. Moynihan, emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s as prominent critics of welfare programs, tax policy, moral relativism and countercultural social upheavals they felt were contributing to America's cultural and social decay.

His father was an immigrant garment worker from Eastern Europe, and Mr. Kristol grew up under humble circumstances that shaped his beliefs. "Those who have been raised in poor neighborhoods -- the Daniel Patrick Moynihans, Edward Banfields, Nathan Glazers -- tend to be tough-minded about slums and their inhabitants," he told the New York Times.

Middle-class sociologists, he said, "are certain that a juvenile delinquent from a welfare family is a far more interesting figure -- with a greater potentiality for redeeming not only himself but all of us -- than an ordinary, law-abiding and conforming youngster who is from the very same household."

Mr. Kristol had grown dismayed by the fragmentation of the Democratic Party over the war in Southeast Asia and remained a vigorous defender of a strong military to combat communist threats. He championed a steady focus on economic growth that gives "modern democracies their legitimacy and durability" but cautioned against running deficits. He popularized supply-side economics, long considered a fringe belief that tax cuts would lead to widespread financial prosperity. Supply side became a leading conservative cause in the 1980s and influenced the Reagan White House tax policy.

Mr. Kristol and many of his colleagues were dubbed neoconservatives, a term introduced by social critic Michael Harrington to describe the rightward turn of onetime liberals such as Mr. Kristol, whose extraordinary political odyssey had taken him from Depression-era socialist to anticommunist Cold Warrior and Vietnam War hawk.

While Harrington's use of neoconservative was not intended as a compliment, Mr. Kristol embraced the term and became its widely accepted godfather. A cover story on Mr. Kristol in Esquire magazine in 1979 helped legitimize him as the leader of a full-fledged movement, even as he played down the idea that such a formal faction existed.

"We are not a movement," he once said. "There has never been a meeting of neoconservatives." He called it an "intellectual current" that came to prominence after a "gradual evolution."

Irving Kristol, 'Neoconservative' And Father Of William, Has Died (Mark Memmott, 9/18/09, NPR) -TRIBUTE: In Memoriam: Irving Kristol (1920–2009) (J. David Hoeveler, Jr. - 09/18/09, First Principles)

-AEI SCHOLAR: Irving Kristol (American Enterprise Institute)
-ESSAY: The Neoconservative Persuasion: What it was, and what it is. (Irving Kristol, 08/25/2003, Weekly Standard)

Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the "American grain." It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic. Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked. Of course, those worthies are in no way overlooked by a large, probably the largest, segment of the Republican party, with the result that most Republican politicians know nothing and could not care less about neoconservatism. Nevertheless, they cannot be blind to the fact that neoconservative policies, reaching out beyond the traditional political and financial base, have helped make the very idea of political conservatism more acceptable to a majority of American voters. Nor has it passed official notice that it is the neoconservative public policies, not the traditional Republican ones, that result in popular Republican presidencies. [...]

Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on "the road to serfdom." Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable. Because they tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology, they know that the 19th-century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his "The Man Versus the State," was a historical eccentricity. People have always preferred strong government to weak government, although they certainly have no liking for anything that smacks of overly intrusive government. Neocons feel at home in today's America to a degree that more traditional conservatives do not. Though they find much to be critical about, they tend to seek intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of Tocqueville, rather than in the Tory nostalgia of, say, Russell Kirk.

But it is only to a degree that neocons are comfortable in modern America. The steady decline in our democratic culture, sinking to new levels of vulgarity, does unite neocons with traditional conservatives--though not with those libertarian conservatives who are conservative in economics but unmindful of the culture. The upshot is a quite unexpected alliance between neocons, who include a fair proportion of secular intellectuals, and religious traditionalists. They are united on issues concerning the quality of education, the relations of church and state, the regulation of pornography, and the like, all of which they regard as proper candidates for the government's attention. And since the Republican party now has a substantial base among the religious, this gives neocons a certain influence and even power. Because religious conservatism is so feeble in Europe, the neoconservative potential there is correspondingly weak.

AND THEN, of course, there is foreign policy, the area of American politics where neoconservatism has recently been the focus of media attention. This is surprising since there is no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes derived from historical experience. (The favorite neoconservative text on foreign affairs, thanks to professors Leo Strauss of Chicago and Donald Kagan of Yale, is Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War.) These attitudes can be summarized in the following "theses" (as a Marxist would say): First, patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment and should be encouraged by both private and public institutions. Precisely because we are a nation of immigrants, this is a powerful American sentiment. Second, world government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny. International institutions that point to an ultimate world government should be regarded with the deepest suspicion. Third, statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies. This is not as easy as it sounds, as the history of the Cold War revealed. The number of intelligent men who could not count the Soviet Union as an enemy, even though this was its own self-definition, was absolutely astonishing.

Finally, for a great power, the "national interest" is not a geographical term, except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests. And large nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns. Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal. That is why it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II. That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary.

-ESSAY: On the Political Stupidity of the Jews: Whether in America or in their own sovereign country, Jews still have no idea what statecraft is. (Irving Kristol, 1999, Azure)
-VIDEO ARCHIVES: Irving Kristol (Charlie Rose Show, PBS)
-ESSAY: My Cold War (Irving Kristol, Spring 1993, The Public Interest)
-INTERVIEW: A Conversation With Irving Kristol [The following article was published in the May 1969 edition of The Alternative (as The American Spectator was then known)]
-The Public Interest
-ARCHIVES: Irving Kristol (Public Interest)
-ARCHIVES: Irving Kristol (Harper's)
-ARCHIVES: Remembering Irving Kristol (Weekly Standard, 9/18/09)
-ARCHIVES: Irving Kristol (Find Articles)
-ARCHIVES: irving kristol (NY Times Book Review)
-PROFILE: Irving Kristol (Arguing the World, PBS)
-PROFILE: Irving Kristol’s Long, Strange Trip (George Packer, 4/15/09, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea by Irving Kristol ( Harvey Mansfield, National Review)
Most important, the neoconservatives believed in ideas: "The truth is that ideas are all-important." Kristol contrasts his belief with the conservatism of Michael Oakeshott (among others), for whom the human resistance to ideas and the many parochial comforts of life not to be deduced from our universal nature are the main truth. One can make an idea out of the resistance we offer to ideas, and that might be the substance of Oakeshott's conservatism. Kristol considers that conservatism too European, not right for an America that must be a universal idea because it can attract and receive all kinds of immigrants -- including Jews.

Hardly any neoconservative is not a Jew, but then again, hardly any Jew is a conservative. So neoconservative Jews are above all critics of other Jews: they cannot be explained by their Jewishness unless it is Jewishness rightly understood by a very few. Kristol says that America must be an idea because the only alternative is plain luck, or Divine Providence: "I really cannot believe that Americans are a historically unique and chosen people. I am myself a Jew and an American, and with all due respect to the Deity, I think the odds are prohibitive that He would have gone out of His way to choose me twice over."

The American idea is democracy, a form of government that permits a man, as in the joke above, to say that he is a Jew before affirming he is an American. Most Jews are liberals, Mr. Kristol remarks, because they think that the secular humanism of liberals will guarantee Jews against anti-Semitism and make America their home. But the price exacted by liberalism is to transform Judaism into secular humanism. For Kristol, the price is prohibitively high for Jews and for liberals as well, since, as he repeats with emphasis, man is essentially religious, or "theotropic."

-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Arguing the World with Irving Kristol (Talk of the Nation, March 15, 1999, NPR)
-REVIEW: of Neoconservatism (Andrew Sullivan, NY Times Book Review)
[F]rom the beginning, his writing has exhibited a wealth of common sense and understated wit. This book is full of both. To take one example, his criticism of intellectualism in the conduct of foreign policy is as sharp now as it was in 1967: "The politics of American intellectuals . . . is more often than not a kind of transcendentalist politics, focusing less on the reform of the polity than on the perfection and purification of self in opposition to the polity."

His quiet understanding of the importance of family life, and the way in which it undergirds so much of our social cohesion, is all the more admirable for having been expressed when it was extremely unfashionable to do so, and in terms that were never likely to win the plaudits of the class of which he was, and is, a member. To read one 1971 essay is to be reminded of the benefits of reading political philosophy. He predicted what would take another decade or so to prove: that welfare in and of itself may not cure poverty, and may indeed merely create a new and more intractable form. He did so by reflecting on Tocqueville's "Essay on Pauperism," written in the 1850's, and contrasting it with the sociological cant of his own period. It is a masterly piece of journalism.

Mr. Kristol's writing, unlike that of some other polemicists, is not without the human touch, or the injection of mild, almost British humor, or that matter-of-fact world-weariness that has become his trademark. Here is one of the more memorable passages in this vein, an evocation of his father: "I don't recall ever having an extended conversation with him. He never read to me -- his command of English was too imperfect and, in any case, there were no children's books in our house. He worked long hours. . . . In the evening, he was too tired to do more than chat with my mother, leaf through the newspaper and listen to the radio while dozing off. He was always calm and genial -- but distant -- in demeanor, and was thought by all our relatives and his fellow workers to be wise, and fair, and good. I thought so, too. He was, and remains in memory, a version of the good father. And I never felt the need for a better one."

The latter phrase, it turns out, could also be applied to most of Mr. Kristol's life. Nowhere in this book is there much sense of struggle or incompletion, of passion or tension, of radical dissatisfaction or even genuine intellectual torment.

-REVIEW: of REFLECTIONS OF A NEOCONSERVATIVE: Looking Back, Looking Ahead. By Irving Kristol (Paul Johnson, NY Times Boom Review)
[T]he core of the book is the relationship between economics and society, and here Mr. Kristol is at his best and boldest. He has been called, and he accepts the term, a neoconservative. To my mind it is an ugly and inadequate label. Conservatives, whether new or old, are engaged in preserving as much of the past and present as possible, and there are many aspects of both that Mr. Kristol finds repugnant. He is not a romantic or an Arcadian; he does not suffer from an excess of nostalgia; he has no formal attachments to traditional religious or secular hierarchies. On the contrary, as these pages make clear, he warmly supports the sensible, empirical pursuit of progress and seems to believe that mankind, while far from perfectible, is capable of slow but indefinite improvement. But he distrusts the ories of almost any kind and disbelieves passionately in utopias. I would call him a skeptical liberal democrat, in the proper sense of these terms, and leave it at that. Mr. Kristol's thesis is as follows. In the second half of the 18th century, the formative period of the modern world, there were two distinct types of revolutionary thinkers, who were responsible for two quite different kinds of revolution. On the one hand, there were the French, the Encyclopedists, the men of the Gallic Enlightenment, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and so forth, the thinkers who precipitated the French Revolution and all its violent and totalitarian offshoots from that day to this. These men lived in a rigidly hierarchical and compartmentalized society, in which they occupied what Mr. Kristol terms a ''marginal situation.'' They were true intellectuals, a caste apart, different, ''at home in the Parisian salons but not in the society as a whole.'' They thus originated what Lionel Trilling called ''the adversary culture,'' seeing their life and work as a ''mission, to be achieved against the massive resistance of tradition, custom, habit and all the institutions'' of society. French rationalism, Mr. Kristol argues, ''identified the condition of being progressive with the condition of being rebellious.''

As he observes, the French concept of revolution and progress has become the dominant one in the 20th century, at any rate among intellectuals, and this has led to a needless fundamentalism in the pursuit of change and so in turn to needless violence. It has also led to the notion that progress is the peculiar property of an enlightened elite, who have a mission to promote it and, if necessary, to impose it on society, even against the will of the members of that society. Naturally, this has been destructive of democracy in any genuine form. The seeds of modern totalitarianism lie in the alienation of Rousseau and Voltaire from their social surroundings.

BY contrast, Mr. Kristol points to the ''other revolution'' of the 18th century, which has its origins in the Unites States and the Anglo- Scottish Enlightenment, a quite different affair from its French counterpart. He sees an appropriate significance in the fact that the Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith's ''Wealth of Nations'' were published in the same year, 1776. The one introduced bourgeois democracy in its most quintessential form; the other analyzed and illuminated in rational terms the capitalist system then springing into existence. The empirical politics of the one married the empirical economics of the other, and the result was the American Republic, citadel of democratic capitalism, the most stable and on the whole most successful framework for promoting human progress.

-TRIBUTE: Irving Kristol: 1920-2009: Neoconservative Pioneer Paved Way for Reagan (Stephen Miller, 9/19/09, WSJ)
-EXCERPTS: Irving Kristol's Reality Principles: A great mind exposes ideological illusions, while thinking through better alternatives. (Irving Kristol, WSJ)

The following are excerpts from essays that appeared in The Wall Street Journal by Irving Kristol, who died yesterday at age 89. An editorial on his legacy appears nearby.

-OBIT: Irving Kristol: The man who put 'neo' into conservatism. (WSJ, 9/19/09)
The tension between neoconservatism and its critics still lies at the heart of our political division today, or much of it. Irving Kristol was a monthly contributor to these pages for some 25 years, beginning in the early 1970s at the invitation of then editorial page editor Bob Bartley.

It was through this period, both as a contributor to the Journal Editorial Page and as the editor of The Public Interest magazine, that Kristol developed his critique of the welfare state, the often illiberal ambitions of liberal social science, and the Democratic Party's steady drift to the left. (See excerpts from those columns nearby.)

In late July 1998, he wrote a piece for the Journal titled "Politics Reaches an Endpoint." In it he described the evolution of the Democratic Party into what it remains today. In typical fashion, Kristol made his argument by looking for a counterintuitive truth. Here, it was that George McGovern had "won" the 1972 election:

"He did not win the White House but he won the Democratic Party. Again, it was his nomination that was the crucial event, not the election. His nomination meant that the left-liberal wing of the Democratic Party had finally seized control, ousting the more 'centrist' wing that had its base mainly in the South and West. Can anyone imagine Lyndon Johnson being terribly concerned about discrimination against homosexuals in the military, fighting tooth and nail against tax cuts or vetoing legislation limiting late-term abortions?"

The Kristol critique helped shape the basis for many opposition ideas to the modern political left, in both domestic and foreign policy. American politics rarely bends for long to the ideas of one person, a modest truth that Irving Kristol understood. So it should be noted that he enlisted a small army of similarly minded intellectuals ("like-minded" would be an oxymoron among this crowd) to carry the fight.

-TRIBUTE: Irving Kristol, 1920-2009 (Roger Kimball, 9/19/09, Roger's Rules)
His favored form, though, was the literary surgical strike. Irving could pack an extraordinary amount in 1200 – 1500 words. Whether the topic was the welfare state, foreign policy, the totalitarian temptation, or the terrible legacy of the 1960s, Irving always articulated exactly what was at stake in the subject under discussion. He was a practical man, consummately attuned to what, for lack of a more elegant term, I will call the “policy implications” of ideas. But he saw with unusual perspicacity that ideas mattered. In a 1973 essay called “On Capitalism and the Democratic Idea,” he put it thus:

For two centuries, the very important people who managed the affairs of this society could not believe in the importance of ideas — until one day they were shocked to discover that their children, having been captured and shaped by certain ideas, were either rebelling against their authority or seceding from their society. The truth is that ideas are all-important. The massive and seemingly solid institutions of any society — the economic institutions, the political institutions, the religious institutions — are always at the mercy of the ideas in the heads of the people who populate these institutions. The leverage of ideas is so immense that a slight change in the intellectual climate can and will — perhaps slowly but nevertheless inexorably — twist a familiar institution into an unrecognizable shape.

Well put, is it not? And how often we need to remind ourselves of that weighty moral.

Irving Kristol: The moral critic. (Steven Menashi, 09.19.09, Forbes)
Back in his college days, however, Kristol counted himself among the Trotskyists and the members of various socialist factions who met in Alcove No. 1 of the lunchroom at New York's City College. Yet what brought those students together and animated their debates was not a uniform political doctrine but their shared opposition to the much larger group of students who gathered in Alcove No. 2, where the Stalinists met. In a time and place where a serious, politically engaged student had only two alternatives--to join either the pro- or anti-Stalinist Left--one might say Kristol made the responsible, if not conservative, choice.

While the denizens of Alcove No. 2 had to twist the facts to fit their ideological loyalties--in order to justify the Moscow trials, to defend the purges, and so on--the students of Alcove No. 1 recognized how much the reality of Soviet terror fell short of socialist theory. Their task was to articulate a theory that corresponded to the real world. "We in Alcove No. 1 were terribly concerned with being 'right' in politics, economics, sociology, philosophy, history, anthropology, and so forth," Kristol once reflected.

That naturally led to general skepticism of Utopian ideals, and in articulating his politics, the ostensibly radical Kristol did not sound much different from the later conservative one. "Utopian political doctrines are to be deplored, and not only because of their unattainability; in practice they will have worse effects than those more conservative and cautious," Kristol wrote (under his Trotskyist party name, William Ferry) in one of his first published essays in 1943. The next year he denounced the "simplistic faith in perfectibility which cultivates the domineering arrogance of the self-righteous reformer, and which forgives in advance inhumanity disguised as humanistic zeal."

Against utopianism he endorsed "moral realism," which "foresees no new virtues" and is "interested in human beings as it finds them, content with the possibilities and limitations that are always with us." An effective politics, wrote the young Kristol, must accept people as they are and attempt to organize them to achieve social goals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:31 PM


Continental Drift: Pondering how a culture unmoored from its past copes with an influx of newcomers (Paul Marshall, 9/18/09, WSJ)

"When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines," Mr. Caldwell writes, "it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter." The book is not a polemic; it is at once nuanced and blunt, serious and witty, while also avoiding what Mr. Caldwell calls "the preemptive groveling that characterizes most writing about matters touching on ethnicity." He does not advocate positions but instead offers reflections on a mix of trends, misunderstandings and self-delusions.

He also ruminates on far more than the increasing radicalization of generations of Muslim immigrants. Just as Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France" (1790) predicted a dire fate for the mass insurrection then aborning, Mr. Caldwell looks with alarm at Europe's continuing rejection of itself. Without a rejection of the religion and culture that sustained Europe for centuries, he says, the immigration troubles might never have occurred, or at least would not have been so severe: His verdict is suicide rather than murder.

Though, assisted suicide is murder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


Hi-Ho, the Derry-O (Dana Milbank, September 18, 2009, Washington Post)

Let's say you're preparing dinner and you realize with dismay that you don't have any certified organic Tuscan kale. What to do?

Here's how Michelle Obama handled this very predicament Thursday afternoon:

The Secret Service and the D.C. police brought in three dozen vehicles and shut down H Street, Vermont Avenue, two lanes of I Street and an entrance to the McPherson Square Metro station. They swept the area, in front of the Department of Veterans Affairs, with bomb-sniffing dogs and installed magnetometers in the middle of the street, put up barricades to keep pedestrians out, and took positions with binoculars atop trucks. Though the produce stand was only a block or so from the White House, the first lady hopped into her armored limousine and pulled into the market amid the wail of sirens. [...]

There's nothing like the simple pleasures of a farm stand to return us to our agrarian roots.

The first lady had encouraged Freshfarm Markets, the group that runs popular farmers markets in Dupont Circle and elsewhere, to set up near the White House, and she helped get the approvals to shut down Vermont Avenue during rush hour on Thursdays. But the result was quite the opposite of a quaint farmers market. Considering all the logistics, each tomato she purchased had a carbon footprint of several tons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Beyond the insults: Swedish Model 2.0 (Olle Wästberg, 9/16/09, The Local)

[T]o compare with the US: Sweden has no inheritance tax, no wealth tax, and the tax on real estate is lower than in most US states.

Swedish pensions are nowadays partly financed by people themselves on a kind of individual basis.

Most new schools that open in Sweden are private, as are the preschools. [...]

But Sweden has privatised some of the tasks once carried out by the Swedish postal service and, recently, the pharmacies.

The next step is a broad privatisation and increased freedom of choice (for the customers) in the health care sector.

This development of competition and privatisation has been politically controversial at the level of details, but not when it comes to the overall course. Many of the liberal reforms were initiated under the last social democratic government.

So is there a “Swedish Model 2.0”? Yes, I would say so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


NYC crime down 40 percent from same time in '08 (COLLEEN LONG, 9/18/09, Associated Press)

Just how low can the crime rate go?

The New York Police Department says the city is heading toward a record low number of murders this year, about 457. That would break the low of 497 set in 2007. There have been 325 homicides in New York this year through Friday morning.

Even with fewer officers and budget cuts, overall crime is down nearly 40 percent from the same time last year.

Street Fighting Man (Victorino Matus, September 18, 2009, Weekly Standard)
Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and the subject of the 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary Street Fight, is once again at the center of a new 5-part docu-series, Brick City, airing on the Sundance Channel all next week.

In one way, Brick City is a sequel to Street Fight. Now that Booker is finally in power, how have the idealistic promises of that young Stanford football player/Rhodes Scholar/Yale law graduate been translated into action in a city like Newark, where one-third of its residents lived below the poverty line in 2002 and the high school graduation rate hovered around 40 percent? It's as if someone made a followup film to Robert Redford's The Candidate (whose very last lines are by the senator-elect who asks, "Now what?").

By 2008, homicides had been reduced by roughly 32 percent, and in no small part is this due to Police Director Garry McCarthy and a crime-reduction strategy involving street corner surveillance known as Operation Impact.

We're too safe to fear them or want them anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


Walt and Mearsheimer get a positive review that won’t be blurbed on the book jacket (Eric Fingerhut, September 17, 2009, JTA)

In the audiotape Osama bin Laden released earlier this week, he had some book recommendations for the American people -- Jimmy Carter's "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid" and John Measheimer and Stephen Walt's "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Clashes in Tehran as opposition defies regime warnings (Philippe Naughton, 9/18/09, Times of London)

Reports from Tehran said that Mr Mousavi himself had been forced to flee the rally after supporters of the regime attacked his car. That incident followed an assault on another leading reformist, the former president Mohammad Khatami, who was reportedly knocked to the ground. [...]

Defying the warning - and despite fresh evidence of the level of violence being used by the Islamic regime to quash dissent - tens of thousands of people joined the rally wearing green accessories, recognisable to all as Mr Mousavi's campaign colours.

Many chanted his name and demanded the release of political prisoners detained in post-election protests. They also chanted "Don’t be afraid, we are all together" and "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I will sacrifice myself for Iran," a witness said.

Calling out the regime for using Palestine and Lebanon as distractions is exquisite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Senior Democrat turns healthcare debate into fight over immigration (Alexander Bolton, 09/18/09, The Hill)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is putting Democrats in a bind by seeking to let illegal immigrants benefit from the healthcare overhaul. [...]

The Senate Finance Committee bill, drafted by centrist chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), does not allow illegal immigrants to purchase health coverage over an exchange set up to create competition within the insurance industry and reduce costs.

Menendez is troubled by that language and has joined Hispanic advocacy groups in criticizing the bill for placing too heavy a burden on legal and illegal immigrants.

Immigrants are not required to show proof of citizenship or legal residency to buy health insurance. If they were prohibited from participating in an insurance exchange, they would be forced to buy coverage at a significantly higher cost than legal residents.

Hispanic advocates argue that companies employing illegal immigrants would be tempted to opt out of the national health insurance exchange to avoid having to verify the immigration status of all their workers. Nearly half of illegal immigrants receive health insurance from their employers, according to one estimate.

Mr. Obama, like W before him, tackled the wrong problem first.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Mad at Max: Direct some anger at Max Baucus toward the president. (John Dickerson, Sept. 17, 2009, Slate)

But the tinkering can only go so far, because for all of its shortcomings, Baucus' bill is also what Senate Democrats are calling "the White House bill."

Perhaps some of the fire aimed at Baucus should be redirected at the president. The legislation accomplishes much of what Obama laid out in his speech before the joint session of Congress earlier this month. The bill is not only deficit-neutral, according to the Congressional Budget Office, but it also shrinks long-term health care costs. Both are key Obama pledges. The legislation also includes insurance reforms, expands coverage and has not upset the careful coalition of industry groups the White House worked so hard to align at the start of this process.

How can you hold Mr. Obama, who never produced a piece of legislation in his career, responsible for the bill?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


TV anchor's flub turns into catch phrase overnight (The Associated Press, 9/17/09)

Ernie Anastos of Fox affiliate WNYW was bantering with the weatherman Wednesday night when he cheerfully dropped an F-bomb on the air. What he likely intended to say was, "Keep plucking that chicken."

Anastos didn't appear to recognize the error, though co-anchor Dari Alexander's eyes bugged out after he said it.

Just before the flub, Anastos told weatherman Nick Gregory, "It takes a tough man to make a tender forecast," a play on an old chicken commercial.

...the network announced Mr. Anastos is being transferred to Emunclaw...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Indonesia strikes a blow against terror (Sara Schonhardt, 9/18/09, Asia Times)

Police dealt a blow to Indonesia's main terrorism network Thursday after confirming the death of top-ranked Islamic militant Noordin Mohammed Top following a raid on a home in Central Java.

The raid was carried out by Detachment 88, the anti-terror arm of the national police force which has received training and assistance from the United States and Australian governments. It represented the counter-terror squad's latest attempt to root out the al-Qaeda-linked network,Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

JI is believed to have orchestrated the twin bomb attacks on the Jakarta-based JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels on July 17. [...]

Analysts say Thursday's high-profile hit is good news for Detachment 88, which has had a difficult time winning support among a population that is typically suspicious of police operations.

"This is a major achievement in Indonesia's counterterrorism efforts," said Rizal Sukma, executive director of Indonesia's Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


A market for ideas : A pioneering “innovation marketplace” is making steady progress (The Economist, 9/17/09)

A PROBLEM shared is a problem solved: that is the belief that inspired InnoCentive, a firm that describes itself as the “world’s first open innovation marketplace”. Conceived in 1998 by three scientists working for Eli Lilly, a big drug company, InnoCentive was spun off as an independent start-up three years later. It is based on a simple idea: if a firm cannot solve a problem on its own, why not use the reach of the internet to see if someone else can come up with the answer?

Companies, which InnoCentive calls “seekers”, post their challenges on the firm’s website. “Solvers”, who number almost 180,000, compete to win cash “prizes” offered by the seekers. Around 900 challenges have been posted so far by some 150 firms including big multinationals such as Procter & Gamble and Dow Chemicals. More than 400 have been solved. InnoCentive reckons the approach can work for innovations in all sorts of fields, from chemistry to business processes and even economic development. It has formed a partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation, a charity, to help solve problems posted by non-profits working in poor countries, with some initial success.

Shut the CIA, open an intelligence market

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Baucus and the Threshold (PAUL KRUGMAN, 9/18/09, NY Times)

[T]hose who insist that we must have a single-payer system — Medicare for all — won’t accept any plan that tries, instead, to cajole and coerce private health insurers into covering everyone. But while many reformers, myself included, would prefer a single-payer system if we were starting from scratch, international experience shows that it’s not the only way to go. Several European countries, including Switzerland and the Netherlands, have managed to achieve universal coverage with a mainly private insurance system.

And right here in America, we have the example of the Massachusetts health reform, many of whose features are echoed in the Baucus plan. The Massachusetts system, introduced three years ago, has many problems. But as a new report from the Urban Institute puts it, it “has accomplished much of what it set out to do: Nearly all adults in the state have health insurance.” If we could accomplish the same thing for the nation as a whole, even with a less than ideal plan, it would be a vast improvement over what we have now.

The most useful aspect of this column is what it reveals about how warped the Left's priorities have become where health care is concerned. Note that Mr. Krugman, a serious economist in his other guise, doesn't care whether it makes economic sense for everyone to be insured, nor care what sort of coverage they have, nor care about the effects of any of this on actual health, nor on the economy, nor on the taxpayer, etc., etc., etc. Their passions have reduced them to the point where insurance coverage itself, irrespective of its nature, is the be all and end all. They have been consumed by the idea of coverage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Conservatives use liberal playbook (ANDIE COLLER & DANIEL LIBIT, 9/18/09, Politico)

At tea parties and town halls, conservative demonstrators oppose health care reform with signs bearing the abortion-rights slogan “Keep your laws off my body” or the line “Obama lies, Grandma dies” — an echo of the “Bush lied, they died” T-shirts worn to protest the Iraq war.

Conservative activists are yelling “Nazi!” and “Big Brother!” where they used to shout, “Nanny state!” and “Big Government!” [...]

Yes, the same folks that brought you Obama the Socialist have been appropriating the words and ways of leftists past — and generally letting their freak flag fly.

The left-wing rhetoric and symbolism is so thick on the right, in fact, that some conservatives have been taken aback by it: The logo for the Sept. 12 protest in Washington, which organizers called the “March on Washington,” featured an image that looked so much like those associated with the labor, communist and black power movements that some participants objected to it — until they found out that’s what the designers were shooting for. [...]

O’Keefe, the activist and filmmaker who posed as a pimp for an expose of several ACORN offices in the Northeast, told the New York Post earlier this week] that he, too, had been inspired by “Rules for Radicals,” which includes such tactical lessons as “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon” and “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.”

O’Keefe told the paper he was trying to expose the “absurdities of the enemy by employing their own rules and language.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


One nation, little trust ... (EDWARD SCHUMACHER-MATOS, September 18, 2009, North County Times)

As Erzo Luttmer, then of the University of Chicago, found using census surveys, Americans of all races support social welfare for members of their own race, especially those who live in close proximity. What many people oppose is giving added social welfare benefits to members of another race. This is due in part to perceptions that it would mean less for your own racial group, according to Harvard economist Alberto Alesina.

Behind this common racial loyalty is what academics call trust. In a massive, groundbreaking study that was released two years ago but is today's benchmark in the field, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam found that as diversity increases ---- and here Latinos and Asians are lumped with blacks ---- trust declines. [...]

And historian Daniel Tichenor of the University of Oregon notes that past immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe were literally considered "black" and faced restraints if suspected of becoming "public charges." The eugenic theories that influenced legislation a century ago even held that a reason to restrict immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe was that they were genetically disposed to going on welfare.

In the half-century after the Civil War, the predecessors of today's white Southerners and Westerners in Congress opposing universal health care used the possibility of blacks getting government benefits to defeat redistribution efforts. That same bloc amended the first version of Social Security and much of the New Deal measures in ways to exclude blacks, and then did the same for government home mortgage programs after World War II, red-lining entire black neighborhoods.

States with high racial diversity, such as in the South, tend to give out less in social welfare than do homogenous states, according to Alesina and another Harvard economist, Edward Glaeser, co-authors of a celebrated book, "Fighting Poverty in the U.S. and Europe: A World of Difference."

As Glaeser noted to me, even the supporters of the president's health care reform package are selling it not as something for the poor, who are mostly black and Hispanic, but as a cost-control program and protection for the middle class. Forget illegal immigrants: Legal ones who have been here less than five years are excluded under the current Democratic proposals.

Which is just another reason--though a huge one--that Democrats should back personal HSAs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Taking flight: This week we launch a new column on business and management. Why call it Schumpeter? (Schumpeter, Sep 17th 2009, The Economist)

Joseph Schumpeter was one of the few intellectuals who saw business straight. He regarded business people as unsung heroes: men and women who create new enterprises through the sheer force of their wills and imaginations, and, in so doing, are responsible for the most benign development in human history, the spread of mass affluence. “Queen Elizabeth [I] owned silk stockings,” he once observed. “The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within the reach of factory girls in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort…The capitalist process, not by coincidence but by virtue of its mechanism, progressively raises the standard of life of the masses.” But Schumpeter knew far too much about the history of business to be a cheerleader. He recognised that business people are often ruthless monomaniacs, obsessed by their dreams of building “private kingdoms” and willing to do anything to crush their rivals.

Schumpeter’s ability to see business straight would be reason enough to name our new business column after him. But this ability rested on a broader philosophy of capitalism. He argued that innovation is at the heart of economic progress. It gives new businesses a chance to replace old ones, but it also dooms those new businesses to fail unless they can keep on innovating (or find a powerful government patron). In his most famous phrase he likened capitalism to a “perennial gale of creative destruction”.

For Schumpeter the people who kept this gale blowing were entrepreneurs. He was responsible for popularising the word itself, and for identifying the entrepreneur’s central function: of moving resources, however painfully, to areas where they can be used more productively. [...]

The prophet of capitalism’s creative powers also understood the precariousness of the capitalist achievement. He pointed out that successful firms depend upon a complex ecology that has been created over centuries. He wrote extensively about the development of the joint-stock company and the rise of stockmarkets. He also understood that capitalism might be destroyed by its own success. He worried that a “new class” of bureaucrats and intellectuals were determined to tame capitalism’s animal spirits. And he warned that successful business people were always trying to conspire with politicians to preserve the status quo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


The Favor Jimmy Carter Did Us All (Eugene Robinson, September 18, 2009, Washington Post)

What I wrote last year about candidate Barack Obama -- that to win he had to be seen as "the least-aggrieved black man in America" -- may be even more relevant now. To lead this diverse and fractious nation effectively, the president has to negotiate racial issues with delicacy, caution and tact. He has to give even his most vocal critics the benefit of the doubt.

But I don't. So I can say in plain language that Jimmy Carter was right in essence, but wrong in degree. It seems clear to me that some -- but not "an overwhelming portion," as Carter claimed -- of the "intensely demonstrated animosity" toward Obama is indeed "based on the fact that he is a black man."

...the curious aspect of this whole argument is that while some of the opposition to Mr. Obama is certainly racial, all of his original support was. He was so inexperienced and ill-prepared for the office he sought that the only basis for favoring him was as a sort of quota hire. Kind of hard to take these foilks seriously when they denounce racism from a racialist perch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


U.S. Missile U-Turn Roils Allies (MARC CHAMPION and PETER SPIEGEL, 9/19/09, WSJ)

[S]ome prominent figures in the region, such as former Polish President Lech Walesa, worried the new U.S. administration was turning away from its traditional allies in Central Europe to placate Russia. "It's not that we need the shield, but it's about the way we're treated here," Mr. Walesa said on Polish TV.

"Putting a facility on Czech and Polish soil was symbolically, for the U.S. and NATO, extremely important to those countries, and to the former Soviet satellite countries like them," said Mary Beth Long, who as an assistant secretary of defense during the Bush administration was involved in promoting the system to allies in Europe. [...]

Moscow doesn't see abandonment of the Bush administration's missile plans as a concession to respond to, but as "a mistake that is now being corrected," said Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, in a phone interview in Brussels, repeating rhetoric from Moscow in the days before the Thursday's announcement.

"This is a recognition by the Americans of the rightness of our arguments about the reality of the threat, or rather the lack of one," from Iran's missiles, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee of Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, told state television. "Finally the Americans have agreed with us," he said.

Poles, Czechs: US missile defense shift a betrayal: Poles and Czechs voiced deep concern Friday at President Barack Obama's decision to scrap a Bush-era missile defense shield planned for their countries. (VANESSA GERA, 9/18/09, Associated Press)
"Betrayal! The U.S. sold us to Russia and stabbed us in the back," the Polish tabloid Fakt declared on its front page.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said he was concerned that Obama's new strategy leaves Poland in a dangerous "gray zone" between Western Europe and the old Soviet sphere.

Recent events in the region have rattled nerves throughout central and eastern Europe, a region controlled by Moscow during the Cold War, including the war last summer between Russia and Georgia and ongoing efforts by Russia to regain influence in Ukraine. A Russian cutoff of gas to Ukraine last winter left many Europeans without heat.

The Bush administration's plan would have been "a major step in preventing various disturbing trends in our region of the world," Kaczynski said in a guest editorial in the daily Fakt and also carried on his presidential Web site.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


New Tax in Senate Health Plan Draws Bipartisan Fire (ROBERT PEAR and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 9/17/09, NY Times)

The tax, proposed as a way to help finance coverage of the uninsured, would be levied on insurance companies. But the senators said they worried that it would be passed on to individual policyholders, families and employers who buy insurance for their workers.

...which corporate taxes do Democrats think don't get passed on and why?

September 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 PM


Constitutional Persons:An Exchange on Abortion (Robert H. Bork & Nathan Schlueter, January 2003, First Things)

Nathan Schlueter:

The last half–century of "living constitutionalism" and its subsequent judicial license has left a badly scarred Constitution in its wake, severely undermining the delicate balance of powers that was part of the Founders’ original design. The "least dangerous branch" of Federalist 78 has arguably become the "most dangerous branch" of Brutus 15. As many liberals are beginning to discover, the surrender of self–government to the Supreme Court is a double–edged sword that can cut both ways. We must be cautious, therefore, about seeking unwarranted readings of our privileged moral principles into the Constitution. For the purposes of this essay I will assume without argument that the proper reading of the Constitution is a textualist reading as that term is used by Justice Scalia in his book A Matter of Interpretation. A textualist reading assumes that the primary guidance for interpreting the Constitution comes from text and context. As Justice Scalia describes it, "A text should not be construed strictly, and it should not be construed leniently; it should be construed reasonably, to contain all that it fairly means." This principle excludes both "living Constitution" jurisprudence as well as "natural law" jurisprudence. According to this textualist jurisprudence, it seems to me, the unborn person reading is the most honest and legitimate, despite Justice Scalia’s claims to the contrary.

The simple syllogism for my argument can be stated as follows. The word "person" in the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment includes all human beings. Unborn children are human beings. Therefore, the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment protect unborn children. To refute this syllogism, advocates of the restoration interpretation must either deny the major premise, that the legal person of the Fourteenth Amendment includes all human beings, or deny the minor premise, that an unborn child is a human being. Because virtually none of the life advocates are willing to deny the minor premise, the main point of contention must be the major premise.

So, do the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment include all human beings? Based on the text of the Constitution, its repeated construction prior to Roe, explicit statements of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, and valid inferences from state practices toward abortion, we can answer this question in the affirmative.

The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment states: "Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The problem is that the Constitution never defines the word "person." Justice Scalia, among others, rightly looks to context for guidance on the meaning of this term, and he finds no evidence that the word was intended to include unborn persons. In a speech delivered at Notre Dame in 1997 he pointed out that none of the references to "person" in the Constitution have prenatal application. For example, the second section of the Fourteenth Amendment states that "representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed." Because there is no evidence that the framers contemplated counting unborn persons for purposes of apportioning representatives, Scalia argues, they must not have understood "person" to include "unborn person."

There are serious flaws in this argument, flaws that are attached to any contextual attempt to understand the meaning of the word "person" in the Constitution for due process purposes. The reason for this is that apart from the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments every reference to person is context dependent—that is, each reference is intended to accomplish a particular limited purpose. Take Justice Scalia’s example. The means for determining numbers of persons in each state is regulated by the second section of the first Article of the Constitution. According to this passage, "actual enumeration" shall be made by Congress every ten years "in such manner as they shall by law direct." In other words, Congress can determine by statute those who should be counted in the census for purposes of allocating representatives. Surely Congress could constitutionally include unborn persons in the census count, and with good reason, as the count might be more accurate. On the other hand, this might be an impractical enterprise. A clearer example illustrating this contextual problem is the eligibility requirement for holding office in the House of Representatives. The Constitution states, "No person shall be a representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty–five years." Does this mean that no persons under the age of twenty–five are protected by the due process clause? Of course not.

It is quite clear from the history of the Amendment that its framers did not intend to give Congress the power to determine personhood for due process and equal protection purposes. An early draft of the Amendment stated: "Congress shall have the power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper to secure the citizens of each state all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states, and to all persons in the several states equal protection in the rights of life, liberty, and property." Several Republicans objected to this language because it would merely "effect a general transfer of sovereignty over civil rights from the states to the federal government, while effectively failing to limit the exercise of state power that had produced the black codes." Instead, the framers of the Amendment chose to lodge the prohibition in the Amendment itself, while leaving Congress corrective power. The Amendment clearly does not give Congress plenary power over the meaning of the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment. The strong implication of the text and history is that the courts would have a strong hand in enforcing its provisions. Scalia’s interpretation is implausible and would effectively emasculate the Amendment.

Another prevalent and yet erroneous interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment holds that its provisions are limited exclusively to blacks. This reading is supported by neither the text of the Amendment, the history of its framing, nor its subsequent application. The Amendment was aimed not only at the "black codes" of various states, which sought to effectively reduce freedmen to slavery while technically obeying the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment, but also at the entire constitutional apparatus that placed the rights of persons at the mercy of oppressive state governments. (Remember, whites that supported blacks in their quest for freedom were also in danger of retaliation.) In other words, the framers were seeking a constitutional remedy for protecting the rights of persons when the states failed to do so. For this reason, they chose to use the term "person" rather than "blacks" as the object of protection in the text of the Constitution.

Abundant evidence from the congressional debates over the Fourteenth Amendment indicates that the framers intended the word "person" to include all human beings. For example, the author of section one of the Fourteenth Amendment, John Bingham, stated that "before that great law the only question to be asked of a creature claiming its protection is this: Is he a man? Every man is entitled to the protection of American law, because its divine spirit of equality declares that all men are created equal." And Senator Lyman Trumball declared that the Amendment would have the "great object of securing to every human being within the jurisdiction of the Republic equal rights before the law."

Robert Bork:

The main outline of Schlueter's position is familiar. Again and again, pro--life advocates have said that the constitutional guarantee that life not be taken without due process of law, found in both the Fifth Amendment, ratified in 1791, and the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, means, properly interpreted, that unborn children may not be deprived of life by abortion. That reading seems to me absurd. I think it clear that the Constitution has nothing to say about abortion, one way or the other, leaving the issue, as the Constitution leaves most moral questions, to democratic determination. I am, therefore, one of those whom Mr. Schlueter criticizes as restorationists: Roe should be overruled and the issue of abortion returned to the moral sense and the democratic choice of the American people.

The constitutional question is not what biological science tells us today about when human life begins. No doubt conception is the moment. The issue, instead, is what the proponents and ratifiers of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments understood themselves to be doing. It is clear that the Fifth Amendment's due process clause was intended to guarantee that no one be deprived by the federal government of life, liberty, or property without regular procedures. The Fourteenth Amendment made that guarantee applicable against the states.

Can those guarantees of fair and regular procedures be read as applying to unborn children who are deprived of life? Certainly not. When the two Amendments were proposed and ratified, abortion was known, had been known for millennia, and there had been arguments about whether life began at quickening or some other stage prior to birth. No one concerned in the adoption of these Amendments could have been ignorant of the fact that life did or could exist at some time prior to birth. Thus, if they intended to protect all human life, they would have known that the Amendments did, or very probably would, prohibit some category of abortions. It passes belief that nobody would have said so or raised the question for discussion, but the records are bare of any such question or discussion. The conclusion can only be that those who adopted these Amendments addressed only the rights of persons who had been born.

Indeed, the language of the Amendments strongly supports that understanding. The Fifth Amendment states that no "person" shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime except on presentment or indictment of a grand jury. Moreover, no "person" shall suffer double jeopardy for the same crime or be compelled to be a witness against himself. These all quite clearly apply only to persons who have been born since it is difficult to imagine an unborn child being charged with an infamous crime, or being tried twice for the same crime, or being required to be a witness against himself. The due process clause follows immediately after those guarantees and refers to the same persons mentioned in the preceding clauses. Not even the most tortured interpretation of the due process clause in the Fifth Amendment can make it apply to the unborn.

The Fourteenth Amendment starts by referring to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" and provides that they are citizens of the United States and of the state in which they reside. In the same section, it is provided that no state shall "deprive any person of life . . . without due process of law." Since this due process clause was carried forward from that of the Fifth Amendment, one would think it referred to the same persons. That inference is supported by the Amendment's speaking of persons born or naturalized. [...]

If there were no other objections to Schlueter's reading of the due process clauses, it should be enough that for two hundred years, in one case, and almost a century and a half, in the other, nobody suspected that those clauses meant what Schlueter would have them mean, not the men who proposed them or those who ratified them. The presumption is overwhelmingly against any revolutionary interpretation of the Constitution that occurs this late in the day. that it isn't even a contested question Constitutionally. The argument is entirely based on precedents of judicial activism commencing a century after the Founding. The presumption is overwhelmingly against any revolutionary interpretation of the Constitution that occurs that late in the day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Quid Pro...Quo? (Joe Klein, September 17, 2009, TIME: Swampland)

I do hope that this anti-missile move has a Russian concession attached to it, perhaps not publicly (just as the US agreement to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey was not make public during the Cuban Missile Crisis). The Obama Administration's diplomatic strategy is, I believe, wise and comprehensive--but it needs to show more than public concessions over time. A few diplomatic victories wouldn't hurt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:03 PM


Economic freedom (The Economist, 9/17/09)

Hong Kong tops an annual index from the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, which ranks 141 countries according to the degree to which their policies support economic freedom. Countries that promote trade (both internal and external), free competition and strong legal protection for private property score well. America comes sixth in the survey, just behind Chile but ahead of the big continental European countries. enormous was the impact of September 11, 1973 and how minimal that of September 11, 2001. Our maintenance of such a high level of freedom while waging a global war is almost as impressive as Chile's defiance of Third World pathologies under the leadership of Pinochet and his heirs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Obama and the Gun Lobby: A Policy of Appeasement? (Dennis A. Henigan, September 15, 2009, Huffington Post)

Is it a stretch to envision President Obama as the Neville Chamberlain of the gun issue? Consider the record so far. The President broke his campaign pledge to seek repeal of a set of Bush-supported appropriations riders (the "Tiahrt Amendments") that have weakened the Brady Act and other federal gun laws. Despite his personal commitment to voting rights for District of Columbia residents, Obama was silent as the NRA held the voting rights bill hostage to its vision of the District with virtually no gun laws. With not a syllable uttered in protest, the President signed credit card reform legislation laden with Senator Coburn's ridiculous amendment to allow loaded guns in national parks. When Attorney General Holder and Secretary of State Clinton suggested that strengthening U.S. gun laws may well help to reduce the arming of Mexican drug cartels with American guns, they were silenced. Then, in surely the most bizarre example, when protesters started showing up near the President's speeches with loaded guns, instead of condemning the practice, the White House responded that it had no problem with it as long as local laws were not being violated.

The guiding principle of the Obama gun policy seems to be: whatever happens, don't rile up the gun guys.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


US net worth grew in 2Q for first time since '07 (Associated Press, September 17, 2009)

Americans' wealth rose this spring for the first time in nearly two years, with stocks and home values gaining as the recession faded.

Still, household net worth remains about 19 percent below its peak in the third quarter of 2007, before the recession began.

The Federal Reserve said net worth grew by $2 trillion to $53.1 trillion in the April-to-June quarter. Net worth, or the value of assets such as homes, checking accounts and investments minus debts like mortgages and credit cards, rose nearly 4 percent from the first quarter, the Fed said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


Warsaw Fears Washington Losing Interest in Eastern Allies (Jan Puhl, 9/17/09, Der Spiegel)

Sept. 17 is not an auspicious date for Poland. In 1939 the Red Army marched into Poland from the east on September 17 and Hitler and Stalin divided the country between themselves. Up to today, Moscow still hasn't issued a clear apology for the attack. Exactly 70 years after the invasion, Poland is being forced to accept another defeat: US President Barack Obama has shelved his plans to build a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Americans wanted to build the silos for interceptor missiles intended to intercept any nuclear warheads that might be fired by rogue states in Slupsk, in eastern Poland. A related radar station was planned for the Czech Republic. On thursday, Washington announced that those plans were on ice in favor of a more short-range system centered on countering Iranian missiles.

Poland's Law and Justice Party sees it differently, and is suggesting Obama abandoned plans for the weapons system solely to improve ties with Moscow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


Did Thomas Jefferson Think Corporations Were People? (Carl Pope, 9/14/09, Sierra Club)

[I]f you want to argue originalism, you must also throw out all the judge-made law of the last half of the 19th century, too. And it is the cases of that era --cases that established that corporations have rights like individuals -- that Alito, Scalia, and Thomas are relying on to make their case for throwing out Congressional regulation of corporate political spending.

The key decision came in 1886, in Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railway. At the start of the case, the Chief Justice announced that the Court would not even hear arguments about whether the 14th amendment, guaranteed equal rights to all citizens, included corporations -- the Court simply declared that it did. In doing to, it ignored the well-established legal doctrine that once a state gave a corporation a privilege it constituted a contract that must be honored but also that the specific privileges granted came with its charter and did not extend beyond it.

Now this was judge-made law with a vengeance. It utterly upset the small-holder character of the original Constitution, with its deeply ingrained mistrust of corporations and other large economic institutions. But even after these cases, the Courts continued to rule that Congress and the states had the right to regulate some corporate political spending. (Indeed, in a 1978 case that restricted the right to limit corporate spending on ballot measures, Chief Justice Rehnquist dissented specifically because he did not feel that corporations were persons for purposes of political speech.)

Now what faces the Court in Citizens United v. the FEC is an effort to complete the judge-made revolution that begin in Santa Clara. Corporations would be granted not only the special privileges of their status (immortality, limited liability, protection from most criminal sanctions) but also the full range of political privileges of American citizens.

And Alito, Scalia, and Thomas don't acknowledge this enormous incompatibility with their purported judicial doctrine, and few in the media have challenged them on it. (Briefs have been filed with the Supreme Court raising this issue -- but they get barely any public notice.)

In the oral arguments, newly arrived Justice Sotomayor raised openly from the bench, for the first time in decades, the question of whether the original corporate personhood cases like Santa Clara were rightly decided.

Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems (Robert H. Bork, 1971, Indiana Law Journal)
The requirement that the Court be principled arises from the resolution of the seeming anomaly of judicial supremacy in a democratic society. If the judiciary really is supreme, able to rule when and as it sees fit, the society is not democratic. The anomaly is dissipated, however, by the model of government embodied in the structure of the Constitution, a model upon which popular consent to limited government by the Supreme Court also rests. This model we may for convenience, though perhaps not with total accuracy, call “Madisonian.”

A Madisonian system is not completely democratic, if by “democratic” we mean completely majoritarian. It assumes that in wide areas of life majorities are entitled to rule for no better reason than that they are majorities. We need not pause here to examine the philosophical underpinnings of that assumption since it is a “given” in our society; nor need we worry that “majority” is a term of art meaning often no more than the shifting combinations of minorities that add to temporary majorities in the legislature. That majorities are so constituted is inevitable. In any case, one essential premise of the Madisonian model is majoritarianism. The model has also a counter-majoritarian premise, however, for it assumes there are some areas of life a majority should not control. There are some things a majority should not do to us no matter how democratically it decides to do them. These are areas properly left to individual freedom, and coercion by the majority in these aspects of life is tyranny.

Some see the model as containing an inherent, perhaps an insoluble, dilemma. Majority tyranny occurs if the legislation invades the areas properly left to individual freedom. Minority tyranny occurs if the majority is prevented from ruling where its power is legitimate. Yet, quite obviously, neither the majority not the minority can be trusted to define the freedom of the other. This dilemma is resolved in constitutional theory, and in popular understanding, by the Supreme Court’s power to define both majority and minority freedom through the interpretation of the Constitution. Society consents to be ruled undemocratically within defined areas by certain enduring principles believed to be stated in, and place beyond the reach of majorities by, the Constitution.

But this resolution of the dilemma imposes severe requirements upon the Court. For it follows that the Court’s power is legitimate only if it has, and can demonstrate in reasoned opinions that it has, a valid theory, derived from the Constitution, of the respective spheres of majority and minority freedom. If it does not have such a theory but actually follows its own predilections, the Court violates the postulates of the Madisonian model that alone justifies its power. It then necessarily abets the tyranny either of the majority or of the minority.

This argument is central to the issue of legitimate authority because the Supreme Court’s power to govern rests upon the popular acceptance of this model. Evidence that this is, in fact, the basis of the Court’s power is to be gleaned everywhere in our culture. We need not canvas here such things as high school civics texts and newspaper commentary, for the most telling evidence may be found in the U.S. Reports. The Supreme Court regularly insists that its results, and most particularly its controversial results, do not spring from the mere will of the justices in the majority but are supported, indeed compelled, by a proper understanding of the Constitution of the United States. Value choices are attributed to the Founding Fathers, not to the Court. The way an institution advertises tells you what it thinks its customers demand.

This is, I think, the ultimate reason the Court must be principled. If it does not have and rigorously adhere to a valid and consistent theory of majority and minority freedom based upon the Constitution, judicial supremacy, given the axioms of our system, is, precisely to that extent, illegitimate. The root of its illegitimacy is that it opens a chasm between the reality of the Court’s performance and the constitutional and popular assumptions that give it power.

Had Robert Bork been confirmed to the Court, the Right would despise him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


A Wink at Colleges and a Nod to Clichés (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 9/17/09, NY Times)

“Community” is a bracingly funny NBC comedy that purports to send up community college, but mostly skewers the more egregious clichés of movies and television.

Or, as Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) puts it after catching himself confiding to a complete stranger in the Greendale Community College cafeteria, “Oh, sorry, I was raised on TV, and I was conditioned to believe that every black woman over 50 is a cosmic mentor.”

“Community” is mercilessly snarky and also surprisingly charming, which is not easy to pull off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


The monumental collapse of the left: Labour appears to have been crushed by the weight of its own unacknowledged contradictions (Deborah Orr, 9/17/09, The Guardian)

Can it really have come to this? Vote Labour, because we will be miserable as we make cuts to shrink the state! Don't vote Conservative, because they will be gleeful as they hack the public sector back! How did the mainstream left become quite so intellectually feeble, so desperate that it asks the electorate to choose between mere attitudes to the dirty work of an inevitable set of running repairs? How has this wretched failure of principle occurred, just at the time when economic orthodoxy of neo- liberalism has shown itself to be a paradise inhabited by fools?

For 12 years Labour believed it could sequester some of the cash that free-markets seemed to be generating, to build the social democracy that the markets eschewed.

...and this is where the Left flounders, is that you have to return that money to the people in the form of various personal accounts, the State can't hold it and spend it for them. Of course, the Right flounders over diverting the money in the first place...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Lobbyists still run Washington: It was supposed to change when Obama took office. But D.C.'s influence machine is going strong. Just ask Max Baucus (Andy Kroll, Sep. 17, 2009, Salon)

Nor has the White House withstood the pressure of the deep-pocketed health industries. Before the August congressional recess, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius broke new ground, declaring that a public option was "not the essential element" of a healthcare overhaul. By then, the Obama administration had already made its "secret," backroom deal with top drug company representatives. In exchange for early support for its reform agenda, the White House agreed to limit how much (via drug price negotiations and industry rebates) Big Pharma would have to decrease the cost of its products, now borne by taxpayers, to $80 billion over 10 years. The deal was a coup -- for the drug makers. After all, the total sales of the top five U.S. pharmaceutical companies alone totaled almost $660 billion in the past half decade, more than eight times the agreed-upon cost savings. [...]

While committing his administration to the Afghan war, the president has appeared unwilling to fight defense boondoggles down the line, as he did in the case of the F-22, and he's been less than forceful in defending sorely needed financial reforms -- like those for the $592 billion over-the-counter derivatives market -- in the face of Wall Street's lobbying clout.

Once again, this isn't entirely surprising: For all the talk of the flood of small, individual donations to Obama's historic 2008 election campaign, its coffers overflowed with money from financial powerhouses like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase and corporations like General Electric, Google and Microsoft. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama still ranks near the top among all recipients when it comes to contributions from the health, defense, financial and energy industries.

The same goes for Obama's staff. In an interview with, Bill Moyers put it vividly. "I think Rahm Emanuel, who is a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama's reelection would come primarily from the health industry, the drug industry and Wall Street, and so he is a corporate Democrat who is destined, determined that there would be something in this legislation," Moyers asserted, that will appease those powerful interests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


The cuts agenda is a brilliant diversion from the real crisis: Cameron has managed to switch the agenda from market failure to public debt. If that sticks, it's a recipe for a Tory landslide (Seumas Milne, 9/17/09,

Whatever else you might say about David Cameron and George Osborne, they have carried off a brilliant political manoeuvre. This time last year, as Lehman Brothers tipped the global banking system towards collapse, the Tories were floundering, irrelevant to the state intervention needed to prevent financial meltdown and hobbled by their support for the deregulation that unleashed the crisis. Cameron was reduced to bleating about "knee-jerk attacks on free markets", as he and his shadow chancellor made the wrong call on everything from the necessity of a fiscal boost to the takeover of the banks.

Twelve months on, the Conservatives have succeeded in turning the entire focus of political debate on its head. Instead of an argument about how to beat the slump triggered by the banking crash, all three main political parties are now competing over how to cut public spending and services. Cheered on by the bulk of the media, Cameron and Osborne have executed a startling sleight of hand, persuading a large section of the public that the real crisis facing the country isn't the havoc wreaked on jobs and living standards by the breakdown of the free-market model — but the increase in government debt incurred to pay for it.

For the Tories, this is a happy return to their small-state comfort zone.

One of the nice things about the complete interpenetration of media throughout the Anglosphere is that it puts paid to the notion that personalities, strategies, tactics and the like matter much. When the Stupid Parties everywhere from the US House to Denmark pull off the same "brilliant" manuever, you realize they're beneficiaries of social forces, not creators of them. Brits haven't been tricked into thinking they're spending too much on the State, the bulk of the West realizes the fact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


German POWs on the American Homefront: Thousands of World War II prisoners ended up in mills, farm fields and even dining rooms across the United States (J. Malcolm Garcia, September 16, 2009,

As World War II raged, Allies, such as Great Britain, were running short of prison space to house POWs. From 1942 through 1945, more than 400,000 Axis prisoners were shipped to the United States and detained in camps in rural areas across the country. Some 500 POW facilities were built, mainly in the South and Southwest but also in the Great Plains and Midwest.

At the same time that the prison camps were filling up, farms and factories across America were struggling with acute labor shortages. The United States faced a dilemma. According to Geneva Convention protocols, POWs could be forced to work only if they were paid, but authorities were afraid of mass escapes that would endanger the American people. Eventually, they relented and put tens of thousands of enemy prisoners to work, assigning them to canneries and mills, to farms to harvest wheat or pick asparagus, and just about any other place they were needed and could work with minimum security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Liberty Unbound: How Jerry Falwell's ambitious sons have led the Lynchburg university to financial success and a burgeoning student body. (John W. Kennedy, 9/10/2009, Christianity Today)

The late Falwell established Liberty in 1971 as a small fundamentalist Baptist Bible college. While students are still required to take Bible, theology, and evangelism courses—and to attend chapel services three times a week—the school aims to reposition itself as the nation's premier evangelical liberal arts school. (U.S. News and World Report rates the school as "least selective" in its student admissions policies.)

"The vision is to build for evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is for Catholic young people or what Brigham Young is for Mormon youth," says Jerry Jr., chancellor and president since his father's death. "We want to produce graduates whose primary calling will be to take their Christian worldview into every profession."

Jerry Jr. doesn't possess the booming voice and dynamic personality of his outsized patriarch; he still seems reserved and uneasy giving a speech before a large crowd. Yet he has a head for business that eluded his build-now, pay-later father. He also won't be holding televised debates with pornographer Larry Flynt, denouncing the Clinton family as crooks, labeling Muslims as terrorists, or hobnobbing with Republican presidential candidates. A University of Virginia law school graduate, Jerry Jr. is foremost a fiscal manager intent on recruiting quality students to the 39-year-old school that has the largest student body among evangelical colleges.

As vice president of spiritual affairs, Jonathan oversees religious aspects of the university, including pastoring Thomas Road Baptist, which moved onto Liberty's campus in 2006.

"The two sons were groomed for this," says Karen L. Parker, 58, dean of Liberty's School of Education. "Both are the right men for this time to reach a younger generation."

Before heart failure claimed his life, Falwell laid the groundwork for the school's path to financial health. With a life insurance policy payout of $34 million, the school paid off its remaining debt with enough left over to begin an endowment that now totals $36 million, including trusts and gift annuity reserves.

New amenities to attract students have more to do with keeping physically fit than spiritually sound. There are indoor swimming pools, an indoor track, whitewater rafting, an indoor soccer field, 60 miles of hiking, biking, and running trails, and, most recently, a snowless ski slope. Division I athletic programs, not usually found on evangelical campuses, prove a big draw for students and alumni.

When Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979, he convinced millions of conservative evangelicals that the political process was the most effective way to reform America. But Jerry Jr. and Jonathan, while not completely apolitical, believe higher education is the best vehicle for the kind of national transformation their father worked toward. They believe students trained at Liberty who are entering the fields of law, religion, business, government, and other vocations will usher in a new era of conservative Christian influence.

Traditional media are part of their game plan. Jerry Jr. has turned the school's monthly magazine, Liberty Journal, into a glossy, full-color promotional publication, a striking difference from his father's 1990s tabloid full of stories denouncing Democratic politicians and policies.

Cultural engagement is another on-campus feature. Last year, campus speakers included Bernice Albertine King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. who has marched against same-sex marriage, and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a sharp critic of former President George W. Bush.

Not only has Liberty paid down its debt, the school has also spent $38 million on facility upgrades without borrowing. Jerry Jr. has welcomed an on-campus Barnes & Noble that carries books by such authors as Jimmy Carter, Jim Wallis, and Joyce Meyer—not exactly friends of the school's founder.

It's the long counter-march through the institutions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Susan Boyle's Wild Horses wows US audience of 25m (MILES ERWIN, September 17, 2009, Metro)

Susan Boyle has cemented herself as a US sensation, performing in front of 25 million viewers in the final of America's Got Talent.

SuBo made her US TV singing debut with a cover of the Rolling Stones ballad "Wild Horses" and received a standing ovation from the jubilant crowd.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


ObamaCare and Red State Democrats: The president is changing the political landscape, but not in the way he intends. (KARL ROVE, 9/17/09, WSJ)

A Gallup poll this week found that 38% of Americans say their representative should vote for ObamaCare 40% want their member to vote against it. It was 37%-39% on the same question the day before Mr. Obama spoke.

Part of Mr. Obama's problem is his language. His speech contained little new information and his tone was unpresidential. Instead of binding Americans to his cause, he called legitimate concerns "misinformation," "false," "demagoguery," "distortion" or "tall tales." Earlier in the week he declared them "lies." This was like calling people with concerns stupid, and it's not the way to win them over. [...]

Today, Mr. Obama's approval among young voters is down 10 points since July, according to Gallup polls. It may drop more when those voters discover that the plan put out by Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) this week would fine them up to $950 a year for not being insured. Young people are 9.9% of the population. Fining them only antagonizes them.

Fiscally conservative independents who were already upset with Mr. Obama's stimulus spending will only be more upset with his health-care plan. It starts running annual deficits in its third year, piles up $219 billion in deficits in its first decade, and could add $1 trillion to the debt in its second.

Last weekend's grassroots rally against ObamaCare in Washington was a sign that voters are getting active to oppose the president's agenda. If it keeps up, middle-class anxiety about the national debt could make 2010 a tough year for any Democrat up for re-election.

Those Democrats will soon notice that seniors are worried about Mr. Obama's proposed Medicare cuts and that Hispanics the fastest growing part of the electorate are slipping away from the president. Gallup polls reveal his support among Hispanics fell 14 points to 67% over the summer. Mr. Obama may be changing the electorate for 2010, but in the wrong direction for his party. This has worried many of the 70 Democrats in congressional districts carried by George W. Bush or John McCain.

...and all I got was a GOP Congress....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


We trust people more if they resemble us (Becky McCall, 9/17/09, Cosmos Online)

Using computer graphics, a team led by Lisa DeBruine from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, manipulated faces so they looked more or less similar to participants in their study. Effectively, the faces either resembled siblings or not, said DeBruine.

One experiment involved the participant deciding whether they would trust another person to make an important decision about money which could go in their favour or not.

“We found that normally people trusted the other player 50% of the time but when the face was manipulated to look like them then trust increased to 73%,” said DeBruine – probably because we perceived these hypothetical people to be relatives.

In a follow-up investigation, the team wanted to find out when the appearance of genetic relatedness might be seen as bad thing. Again, using computer graphics, faces of the opposite sex to the (heterosexual) participants were manipulated to look more or less like a sibling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Obama Used Faulty Anecdote in Speech to Congress (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 9/17/09, WSJ)

President Barack Obama, seeking to make a case for health-insurance regulation, told a poignant story to a joint session of Congress last week. An Illinois man getting chemotherapy was dropped from his insurance plan when his insurer discovered an unreported gallstone the patient hadn't known about.

"They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it," the president said in the nationally televised address.

In fact, the man, Otto S. Raddatz, didn't die because the insurance company rescinded his coverage once he became ill, an act known as recission. The efforts of his sister and the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan got Mr. Raddatz's policy reinstated within three weeks of his April 2005 rescission and secured a life-extending stem-cell transplant for him. Mr. Raddatz died this year, nearly four years after the insurance showdown. [...]

The patient's sister, Peggy M. Raddatz, testified before the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee June 16 that her brother ultimately received treatment that "extended his life approximately three years." Nowhere in the hearing did she say her brother died because of the delay.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Proposal's Cost Savings Seem to Be Elusive (JANET ADAMY, 9/17/09, WSJ)

The latest health bill to emerge from the Senate contains a slew of measures designed to control costs. But it would be years before they kick in, and many may only put a dent in spending. [...]

"To be incremental in the cost-savings approach and to attempt to be universal in the [insurance] coverage seems to be putting the sweetener ahead of the savings," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan budget watchdog group.

The insurance industry also argues that Sen. Baucus's bill doesn't go far enough to reduce costs. They say the new tax on generous health plans would get passed on to consumers, even though it would be levied on insurance companies. "That's the wrong end of the spectrum to start the cost-containment domino," said Karen Ignagni, chief executive of America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry lobbying group.

Obviously the President has no life experiences nor educational background to prepare him to deal with economics, but all that's required here is that he apply in one area the ideas he's applying in another, just in reverse.

Mr. Obama believes that open competition has lowered the price of tires too far, so he's intervening to raise the costs of cheap ones and artificially hike costs through government mechanisms. So, to lower health care costs you would just reverse that, foster free market competition and withdraw some government interference.

Health Reform’s Missing Ingredient (RON WYDEN, 9/17/09, NY Times)

“MY guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition,” President Obama said last week in an address to Congress on health care reform. It’s a good principle, one that may determine the ultimate success or failure of reform, but unfortunately it’s not really guiding the Senate bill unveiled on Wednesday or any of the other health reform legislation now under consideration in Congress.

Under the nation’s current employer-based system, most people have little if any choice about where they get their insurance. They just have to accept the plan that comes with their job. That insurance company, in turn, is provided a captive group of customers, so it has no incentive to earn their loyalty.

Empowering Americans to choose from a broad selection of health plans would turn the tables. Those insurers that charged affordable rates and provided good coverage would attract more customers, while those that treated customers badly would be forced to change their ways or go out of business. To stay competitive, insurers would need to follow the example of places like the Mayo Clinic and offer good, low-cost coverage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Bill could block Gitmo closure (JOSH GERSTEIN, 9/17/09, Politico)

A bill that could go to the Senate floor as early as next week would make it impossible for President Barack Obama to move any Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. for any reason, effectively blocking his plan to close the facility by January.

The bar on all such transfers was written into the Senate version of the Defense appropriations bill passed by the Appropriations Committee last week and is stricter than current law, which allows prisoners to be brought to the United States for trial as long as Congress is notified 45 days in advance of any potential risks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Democrats join GOP czar wars (MANU RAJU | 9/17/09, Politico)

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin joined the anti-czar chorus Wednesday, asking Obama to detail the roles and responsibilities of all of the czars in his administration and to explain why he believes the use of czars is consistent with the Senate’s constitutional power to offer advice and consent on top-level executive branch officials.

“To the extent that this undercuts that role and people are put in the place of Cabinet people and really are the key authorities and you can’t question them, that’s something worth talking about,” Feingold said. “I think it’s a fair point.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


US expected to shelve Euro missile defense plan (ANNE GEARAN and DESMOND BUTLER, 9/17/09, AP)

The prime minister of the Czech Republic, one of two countries where the system was to be built, said Thursday that President Barack Obama had told him the United States would abandon the plan.

Plan? Isn't that "abandon our allies"?

September 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


Sotomayor Issues Challenge to Centuries of Corporate Law (JESS BRAVIN, 9/16/09, WSJ)

[J]ustice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong -- and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges "created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons," she said. "There could be an argument made that that was the court's error to start with...[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics."

After a confirmation process that revealed little of her legal philosophy, the remark offered an early hint of the direction Justice Sotomayor might want to take the court.

Leave it to the Organization Man, on at least her first case, she's the most conservative justice. Thanks, UR!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM

WHAT? NO DEAD BABIES?: (via Jim Yates):

'Liposuction leftovers' easily converted to iPS cells, study shows (KRISTA CONGER, 9/07/09.Stanford University Medical Center )

Globs of human fat removed during liposuction conceal versatile cells that are more quickly and easily coaxed to become induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, than are the skin cells most often used by researchers, according to a new study from Stanford’s School of Medicine.

One of the many things they'll thank W for later is that he held the line on stem cells and protected them from their worst selves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Is Harry Reid bailing on climate legislation? (Stephen Power, 9/15/09, WSJ))

Harry Reid - the Senate Majority Leader who’s facing a potentially difficult reelection campaign and known for announcing legislative timetables that he can’t deliver on - told reporters Tuesday that the Senate might wait until next year to vote on legislation that would require companies to pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Will Obama rue his trade tariff on China's tires?: The president's claim that his restrictions would only further free trade falls flat. Here's why. (The Monitor's Editorial Board, September 16, 2009, CS Monitor)

In a break from recent presidents, Barack Obama has taken America down a new economic path by proposing a novel idea: The US can expand free trade by sometimes restricting it.

In a way, he's saying that less trade in some instances might mean more trade. [...]

But there's a big hitch in Obama's reasoning. The US tire manufacturers are against the tariff. They make low-end tires in Chinese factories while making premium ones in the US. Unlike their union workers, they, like many US manufacturers, have learned how to adjust to a more competitive globalized economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Obama's Presidency Isn't Too Big to Fail (Robert Scheer, September 16, 2009, The Nation)

A president has only so much capital to expend, both in tax dollars and public tolerance, and Barack Obama is dangerously overdrawn. He has tried to have it all on three fronts, and his administration is in serious danger of going bankrupt. He has blundered into a deepening quagmire in Afghanistan, has continued the Bush policy of buying off Wall Street hustlers instead of confronting them and is now on the cusp of bargaining away the so-called public option, the reform component of his health care program.

Those are not happy sentences to write for one who is still on the e-mail list of campaign supporters urged to back the president in the face of attacks that are stupidly small-minded. But to remain silent about his errors, just because most of his critics are so vile, is hardly an example of constructive concern for him or the country.

He's most seriously overdrawn from the public attention account. In the absence of any serious ideas, plans, or philosophy for governance, the past 9 months have just featured an interminable parade of public appearances by Mr. Obama, babbling away incessantly about whatever topic was on the White House's mind that day. They've over-exposed him so completely that they can't make one pronouncement stand out from another.

Obama Over-Exposure? (Jake Tapper, September 16, 2009, Political Punch)

This Sunday, President Obama will be interviewed on five shows -- ABC News’ “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” CNN’s “State of the Nation”, CBS’s “Face the Nation”, NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Univision’s “Al Punto with Jorge Ramos." [...]

Polls indicate that Americans say the more they hear about the president’s proposed overhaul, the less they like it. An ABC News/Washington Poll last week showed 54 percent of Americans feel that way. White House officials say that’s because Americans are hearing false attacks on Obama’s plan, not reality -- hence the PR blitz.

Republican strategist Kevin Madden says it’s too much.

“I think the worry is it’s gone beyond over exposure and now we have what I would call the ‘Obama omnipresence.’ You almost can’t escape this president,” Madden said on ABC News’ “Top Line.” “It goes beyond just cable news and it goes into whether or not you’re flipping on ESPN and you’re seeing him talk about basketball or you turn on the Lifetime channel and you hear what Michelle Obama is wearing this week. And I think that begins to wear on a lot of people.”

Learning curve?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


The Man Who Defused the 'Population Bomb' (GREGG EASTERBROOK, 9/15/09, WSJ)

Norman Borlaug arguably the greatest American of the 20th century died late Saturday after 95 richly accomplished years. The very personification of human goodness, Borlaug saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived. He was America's Albert Schweitzer: a brilliant man who forsook privilege and riches in order to help the dispossessed of distant lands. That this great man and benefactor to humanity died little-known in his own country speaks volumes about the superficiality of modern American culture. [...]

In 1950, as Borlaug began his work in earnest, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, with Borlaug's concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly. Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands "at the lowest level in human history," despite the global population having trebled in a single century.

Or just point out that Malthusianism is nonsense, as Julian Simon did?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Obama Admin: Cap And Trade Could Cost Families $1,761 A Year (Declan McCullagh, 9/15/09, WSJ)

The Obama administration has privately concluded that a cap and trade law would cost American taxpayers up to $200 billion a year, the equivalent of hiking personal income taxes by about 15 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Dem Senator Warns of 'Big, Big Tax' on Middle Class in Baucus Bill (Teddy Davis, 9/16/09, ABC News)

It's not every day that you hear a Democratic senator charge that a fellow Democrat is proposing to raise taxes on the middle class, but that is what happened on Tuesday when Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., ripped into the health-care bill developed by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mt., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. [...]

Referring to Baucus, Rockefeller said, "He should understand that (his proposal) means that virtually every single coal miner is going to have a big, big tax put on them because the tax will be put on the company and the company will immediately pass it down and lower benefits because they are self insured, most of them, because they are larger. They will pass it down, lower benefits, and probably this will mean higher premiums for coal miners who are getting very good health care benefits for a very good reason. That is, like steelworkers and others, they are doing about the most dangerous job that can be done in America."

"So that’s not really a smart idea," Rockefeller continued. "In fact, it’s a very dangerous idea, and I’m not even sure the coal miners in West Virginia are aware that this is what is waiting if this bill passes."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Rapping Joe’s Knuckles (MAUREEN DOWD, 9/16/09, NY Times)

“When we are done here today,” said the man who accused the president of lying, “we will not have taken any steps to improve the country.”

Actually, Wilson is dead wrong again. When House Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, reprimanded the congressman on Tuesday evening for refusing to apologize to his colleagues for breaking the rules, it was quite a wonderful way to improve America.

It was a rare triumph for civility in a country that seems to have lost all sense of it — from music arenas to tennis courts to political gatherings to hallowed halls — and a ratification of an institution that has relied on strict codes of conduct for two centuries to prevent a breakdown of order.

Rangel picked up bad habits from Powell (Richard Cohen, September 16, 2009, Washington Post)
Rangel is now the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a man of immense importance in Washington. Nonetheless, he has been busy of late revising and amending the record, backing and filling, using buckets of Wite-Out as he discovers or remembers properties he has owned in New York, New Jersey, Florida and the Dominican Republic and God only knows where else — and has forgotten or neglected to fully report on the required forms, not to mention the income from them. Oops!

Rangel recently even discovered bank accounts that no one in the world, apparently including him, knew he had. One was with the Congressional Federal Credit Union, and another was with Merrill Lynch — each valued between $250,000 and $500,000. He somehow neglected to mention these accounts on his congressional disclosure forms, which means, if you can believe it, that when he signed the forms, he did not notice that maybe $1 million was missing. Someone ought to check the lighting in his office.

The dim bulb could also have accounted for why Rangel did not notice that he was soliciting contributions for the curiously named Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service on the congressional letterhead of the very same Charles B. Rangel. It may also account for why he failed to report dividend income from various investments in addition to what he made by selling a townhouse in Harlem. The place went for $410,000 in 2004, and had been rented — or not — to various people, who paid rent or didn't — since Rangel reported no income for years at a time. This is what he did, too, with the rent he earned on his Dominican Republic villa. Again, nada.

There is something wrong with Charlie Rangel. Either he did not notice that he was worth about twice as much as he said he was — which is downright worrisome in a congressional leader — or he thinks that he's above the law — which is downright worrisome in a congressional leader.

Will Ethics Problems Hurt Pelosi and the House Democrats in 2010? (Holly Bailey, 9/03/09, The Gaggle)
[D]oes this meet the standard Pelosi talked about when Democrats took control of the House and she bragged about ending a “culture of corruption” in Washington? In eyeing the Rangel situation, it’s hard not to remember the repeated calls by Pelosi and other Democratic leaders for DeLay to be ousted when he was under an ethics cloud for his ties to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff and questionable fundraising tactics. “Ethically unfit,” Pelosi said of DeLay back in 2004. They also trashed the House GOP for its ties to lawmakers like Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney, who went to jail for taking bribes, and for the Abramoff scandal. If Rangel were Pelosi’s only problem, it would be one thing, but the ethics panel is currently looking into several Democrats, including another with close ties to Pelosi: Rep. Jack Murtha, chairman of the key Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. In June, the ethics committee announced it was looking into ties between lawmakers and the PMA Group, a lobbying firm with ties to Murtha, whose clients received millions of dollars in defense earmarks in recent years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Obama lurches right on immigration (San Diego Union Tribune, September 16, 2009)

Error No. 1: Obama and his advisers should have listened to immigration reform activists who suggested the White House should tackle immigration before health care. Otherwise, the activists warned, concerns that illegal immigrants would get benefits could trip up the health care effort. [...]

But this administration has a steep learning curve on immigration. It's no wonder why. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, while serving in Congress, declared the issue the new “third rail” in politics and tried to protect conservative Democrats from having to cast tough and no-win votes on proposed legislation to legalize those already here. For whatever reason, the White House decided to take on health care reform this year, and push immigration reform back to next year. And the activists were right about illegal immigration tripping up health care reform.

...either that there's an issue where they're doing better or that they're learning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Mandated Health Insurance Squeezes Those in the Middle (VANESSA FUHRMANS, 9/16/09, WSJ)

All of the major health bills winding through Congress feature a so-called individual mandate similar to the one in Massachusetts. Mr. Obama supported the idea in his speech to Congress last week. Such a mandate, proponents argue, is necessary to keep premiums affordable: The healthy, who are relatively cheap to cover, help pay for the sick.

Subsidies for premiums would help low-income families gain coverage, while the prospect of fines would prod others to buy insurance.

But people like Mr. Norton show how difficult it could be to bring into the insurance pool the millions of consumers who make too much money to qualify for assistance, yet not enough to bear the full cost of new policies on their own.

Three years after Massachusetts's ambitious universal-coverage law went into effect, two-thirds of its previously 600,000 uninsured residents have coverage, according to state data. It has the lowest rate of uninsured in the country -- about 3% according to a state survey, compared with 15% nationwide. But the remainder -- many younger, male and fairly healthy -- has proved tougher to cover.

Costs to expand insurance coverage in the state are growing rapidly because of higher-than-expected enrollment in free and state-subsidized plans, and rising health-care costs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Israel Moves Toward Energy Independence: The huge natural gas reserves off the country's Mediterranean coast are 16% bigger than estimated just one month ago (Neal Sandler, 8/24/09, Business Week)

As CEO of Delek Drilling, an Israeli oil and gas exploration company, Zvi Greenfeld is a self-proclaimed optimist in an extremely risky business. But even Greenfeld was taken aback by the news on Aug. 11 that the huge natural gas reserves off the country's central and northern Mediterranean coast discovered by Delek and its partners in January are 16% bigger than estimated just one month ago. Independent energy experts reckon this once energy-poor country now has enough natural gas to meet its needs for the next two decades and may ultimately even transform itself into an energy exporter.

The discovery has raised hopes of further gas finds in a region that to date has been largely unexplored. Delek Drilling and its partners, Houston's Noble Energy (NBL), Avner Oil Exploration, Isramco (ISRL), and Dor Gas hold 16 additional expanses that cover 9,000 square kilometers, more than 20 times the size of the Tamar tract, which initial estimates value at $15 billion. In the near future, extensive seismic tests will be conducted to decide on additional drillings during 2010.

"The Tamar and Dalit discoveries significantly increase the probability of finding gas and/or oil in adjacent areas in the eastern Mediterranean," says Delek Drilling's Greenfeld. "If we find more gas, then there is a greater chance Israel will become an exporter."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


President Obama's top military adviser exposes Afghanistan rifts (Giles Whittell in Washington, Michael Evans and Catherine Philp , 9/16/09, Times of London)

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that more US troops as well as a rapid increase in the size and capability of the Afghan army were needed to carry out the President’s own strategy for prevailing in Afghanistan as the eighth anniversary of a debilitating war approaches. [...]

The call for more troops is supported by military commanders and Senate Republicans, including Senator John McCain, who warned yesterday that a “wait and see” approach to a surge risked repeating the “nearly catastrophic mistakes” that the US made in Iraq. [...]

Democratic senators lined up yesterday to reject calls for more US combat troops. Senator Russ Feingold warned that he and “a growing chorus” of Democrats would refuse to back sending more reinforcements. [...]

Admiral Mullen’s appearance before the Senate Armed Forces Committee was ostensibly an uncontroversial renomination for two more years as America’s most senior uniformed officer. In practice, he had to walk a tightrope, defending General McChrystal’s recent assessment of the Afghan security situation while explaining his failure so far to state the number of extra troops he needs, and making the case for a surge without prejudging the decisions of his Commander-in-Chief.

Wasn't pretending that Afghanistan is the good war and Iraq the bad supposed to insulate Democrats from this sort of cut-and-run imagery?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Snowe falls away, leaving Senate Dems without GOP health support (Alexander Bolton and Jeffrey Young, 09/15/09, The Hill)

Senate Democrats are going to have to move forward on healthcare without a single Republican supporter after Sen. Olympia Snowe said Tuesday she could not back the Finance Committee’s bill.

Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) failed to win any Republican backer despite weeks of intense negotiations behind closed doors to strike a deal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Obama Follows Bush on Salmon Recovery (WILLIAM YARDLEY, September 15, 2009, NY Times)

In its first major effort to address the plight of endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest, the Obama administration on Tuesday affirmed basic elements of a recovery plan set forth last year by the Bush administration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Italian Job screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin dies aged 77 (Jason Deans, 9/16/09, The Guardian)

In the early 1960s he created the long-running BBC drama Z-Cars, which broke new ground in the degree of realism it brought to the depiction of a northern police force at work.

Kennedy Martin moved into film writing with The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine, in 1967 and then Kelly's Heroes, a second world war action comedy featuring Clint Eastwood.

His later TV work included Reilly - Ace of Spies, for ITV; and Edge of Darkness, the critically lauded 1985 BBC thriller starring Bob Peck as a policeman who becomes embroiled in an international conspiracy to convert nuclear waste into plutonium.

Troy Kennedy Martin: scriptwriter of Z-Cars and The Italian Job (Times of London, 9/16/09)
Troy Kennedy Martin was responsible in large part for two pieces of television which have become classics. In the early 1960s he had a central role in the creation of Z-Cars, which challenged the traditionally cosy notion of the police series, while in the 1980s his nuclear thriller, Edge of Darkness, was a nightmarish warning about the dangers of ecological disaster. [...]

The credit for thinking up the idea for Z-Cars, a police series set in the north and based on patrol cars, is disputed. Elwyn Jones, from the BBC drama department, had already worked with the police in Lancashire and was keen to set a fictional series there. Kennedy Martin claimed to have had the idea while recovering from mumps and listening to police patrols on VHF radio.

Whatever the origins of the project, Kennedy Martin did more than anyone else to develop it and give it shape. He visited Lancashire more than once, went out with the police and observed the often difficult relations between the force and the community, particularly in working-class areas. The Z-Cars format was his, he held the copyright and he was paid a fee for every episode.

He wrote the first episode, which went out in January 1962, when he was not yet 30. It immediately signalled a new departure for police TV series, introducing a degree of realism never before seen. The police were seen as fallible, smoking and gambling while on duty and being violent towards their wives, He wrote several more of the early scripts and supervised others. But while the series was critcially acclaimed, and drew large audiences, Kennedy Martin soon became disillusioned and left. He felt that Z-Cars had moved away from his original intention of using the police as a device to explore people’s lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Iain Duncan Smith urges reform to get jobless into work: Report suggests radical simplification of the welfare system (New Statesman, 9/16/09)

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has recommended sweeping reforms of the welfare system, that could eventually move more than half a million households from benefits into work. [...]

Duncan Smith claimed that, if implemented, his proposals would be the most radical changes since the 1942 Beveridge report established the welfare state.

In his preface to the report, he said: "This review marks a watershed for Britain's benefits system. The recommendations hold to the simple principle that work is the sustainable route out of poverty.

"We believe the group's success in devising a system, which smoothes out the participation and marginal tax rates so that there is no financial disincentive to work, should be taken seriously by members of every political party."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


If Obama can't defeat the Republican headbangers, our planet is doomed: One year on, the world still looks to the US and holds its breath. The fate of a global climate treaty rests in American hands (Jonathan Freedland, 9/15/09,

Anyone who cares about the survival of our planet should start praying that Barack Obama gets his way on reforming US healthcare. That probably sounds hyperbolic, if not mildly deranged: even those who are adamant that 45 million uninsured Americans deserve basic medical cover would not claim that the future of the earth depends on it. But think again.

Next week, world leaders will attend the first UN summit dedicated entirely to climate change. Their aim will be to plunge a shot of adrenaline into stuttering efforts to draw up a new global agreement on carbon emissions. The plan is to replace the Kyoto treaty with a new one, to be agreed in Copenhagen in December. Trouble is, the prospects of getting a deal worthy of the name get bleaker every day.

Few deny that the world needs a new agreement.

...then why doesn't anyone pass climate legislation, least of all the British Labour Party?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Why Liberals Hate Max Baucus : The Senate Finance chair has health-care reform in his hands, and he’s bargaining it away. Michelle Goldberg on how his addiction to industry cash and GOP sympathies have doomed the bill. (Michelle Goldberg, 9/16/09, Daily Beast)

The Democratic Party is famously disunited, but one would think they could stand together in opposition to Congressman Joe Wilson’s boorish eruption at President Obama’s health care speech. After all, the South Carolina Republican wasn’t just violating long-standing norms of political protocol when he screamed, “You lie” at the president. Wilson was also himself lying, since there was nothing remotely untrue in Obama’s insistence that the Democrats’ health-care plans exclude illegal immigrants.

If a Democrat had so insulted a Republican president, he or she would doubtlessly be forced to apologize on the House floor. Instead, Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has acted as if Wilson had a point. This week Baucus said that, in order to address Republican concerns, his committee’s bill would tighten restrictions on illegal immigrants’ access to insurance, thus legitimating and even rewarding Wilson’s outburst.

Given the scope of health-care reform, this is a small matter. It’s symbolic, though, of what makes Max Baucus such an obtuse and maddening figure. Though ever ready to marginalize more progressive members of his own party, he is exquisitely sensitive to the demands of Republicans.

Nevermind that even Mr. Baucus's own leader, Harry Reid, was never forced to apologize for calling the president a liar, never mind formally reprimanded by congress for it, nor that the Democrats' sudden decision to exclude 10 or 12 million hard-working illegal aliens from health care makes a mockery of their promise of universality, just consider that Ms Goldberg and company seem to think there are no consequences to nominating conservative Democrats so that they have a realistic shot at contesting naturally Republican seats. Who's obtuse?

September 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Obama in no-win situation over Taiwan arms sale (Josh Rogin , 09/15/2009, The Cable: Foreign Policy)

The People's Republic of China cut off military-to-military relations with the United States following the 2008 sale of arms to Taiwan by the George W. Bush administration. Now there is a new weapons deal with Taiwan in the works, which Adm. Timothy J. Keating, who heads Pacific Command (Pacom), warns could result in China severing mil-to-mil ties again if it goes through.

"If the administration were to announce a new round of Taiwanese arms sales, I'm sure the Chinese would say ‘We have the right to consider turning off mil-to-mil relations,'" Keating said.

According to reports, China made a plea for the U.S. to scrap the planned $6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan during a June visit to Beijing by Michèle Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy. Flournoy's visit was also where the Chinese agreed to resume the mil-to-mil discussions.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


Evolution 2.0: On the origin of technologies (W. Brian Arthur, 8/19/09, New Scientist)

BARELY four years after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, the Victorian novelist Samuel Butler was calling for a theory of evolution for machines. Since then, a few hardy souls have attempted to oblige him, but none has quite hit the mark. Their reasoning, very much à la Darwin, is that any given technology has many designers with different ideas - which produces many variations. Of these variations, some are selected for their superior performance and pass on their small differences to future designs. The steady accumulation of such differences gives rise to novel technologies and the result is evolution.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


Obama supports extending Patriot Act provisions (DEVLIN BARRETT, 9/15/09, Associated Press)

The Obama administration supports extending three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of the year, the Justice Department told Congress in a letter made public Tuesday.

Lawmakers and civil rights groups had been pressing the Democratic administration to say whether it wants to preserve the post-Sept. 11 law's authority to access business records, as well as monitor so-called "lone wolf" terrorists and conduct roving wiretaps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


Rangel: Health bill harder after Obama speech (ERICA WERNER, 9/15/09, AP)

A key House committee chairman says proposals President Barack Obama set out in his health care speech are causing problems for Democrats trying to finalize health legislation in the House.

Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel of New York says House Democrats would have to slash subsidies to the poor to get their bill to the $900 billion, 10-year price tag Obama specified.

Obama's health prescription a problem for Dems (DAVID ESPO, 9/15/09, AP)

Taken off guard, Democrats at work on health care legislation are grappling with President Barack Obama's nationally televised insistence on immediate access to insurance for those with pre-existing medical conditions, as well as richer Medicare prescription drug benefits than originally envisioned.

The more he talks the worse they do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


America's got to end its deadly devotion to democracy: Washington needs to rid itself of the politically correct attitude that all nations are capable of becoming sustainable democracies. (Gerard DeGroot, September 15, 2009, CS Monitor)

America needs to rid itself of the hopelessly naive attitude that all nations are capable of becoming sustainable democracies. [...]

In the Ivory Coast, for instance, democracy and its sidekick – free market economics – have brought political instability and economic ruin.

The Tom Friedman School of Foreign Policy. Freedom for me. Slavery for you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Double Standard for Serena Williams (Dave Zirin, September 15, 2009, The Nation)

A top-ranked tennis player in a moment of rage cursed out a judge and shocked the world, headlining every sports and news program from ESPN to MSNBC. Meanwhile, another champion tennis player hurled expletives at a judge and the media barely yawned. While the tennis world still reels from Serena Williams's f-bomb-laced tirade against a line judge on September 12, the "classy" Roger Federer pulled a similar tantrum two days later and didn't get half as much coverage.

In US Open finals on September 14, Federer lost in five sets to the previously unheralded Juan Martín del Potro. In a tense third set, after a challenge by del Potro, Federer became infuriated with the line judge. After the judge told Federer to settle down, he said, "Don't tell me to be quiet, OK? I don't give a [expletive] what [del Potro] said, OK?" The 6-foot-6 power-serving Argentinean frustrated Federer throughout, and the favored player lost his famous cool. But after the match, there were no press conference apologies from Federer. And there were no calls for him to be suspended, fined or sanctioned. This despite the fact that his profanity was directed toward del Potro, a serious breach in tennis etiquette.

Williams without question lost control as well. After being called for a critical foot fault in her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters, she said to the line judge, "If I could, I would take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat." The foot fault was a terrible call, and it cost Williams the match. After her rant, she was given a point penalty, and the match was effectively over as Clijsters looked on in a state of bewilderment. It's worth mentioning that the call by the line judge was the equivalent of calling a technical foul in Game 7 of the NBA finals with the score tied in the closing seconds.

Saturday Night Fever: A Tense Scene on Ashe (Tom Perrotta, 9/13/09,
Let's start with something every tennis player can agree on: Foot faults are pathetic calls.

The point of the foot fault rule, of course, is to prevent the server from gaining an unfair advantage by striking the ball closer to the net. For recreational players, it can be an important rule, but it's difficult to enforce since there are no line judges. In the pro game, the foot fault is a harmless sin. When pros foot fault, they do it by fractions of inches, distances so small that no unfair advantage is gained. And they do it by accident. No pro polishes a service motion over two dozen years and then decides, in a moment of duress, "I'm going to sneak in for this ace and hope no one catches me!" Marat Safin put it best at last year's U.S. Open, when a foot fault sent him into a tizzy.

[It] doesn't help me to serve better," Safin said. "It's stupid rules that somebody made in, I don't know, 1850, and now they give me the problems with these things." [...]

Williams had every right to be angry, because this was an awful, foolish, atrocious, silly call. Clijsters had played so well, so intelligently, and she didn't need any help earning a match point. The small crowd assembled inside Arthur Ashe Stadium endured a day of rain, as did fans watching on television at home. Lots of money—and a lot more pride—was on the line, and as replays showed, this was hardly an egregious foot fault, if it was even a foot fault at all. There's a difference between being a conscientious official and being officious, and this lineswoman certainly crossed that line. She inserted herself into a match that should have been decided—frankly, that was moments away from being decided—by two first-rate athletes. People pay to see athletes, not a lineswoman. [...]

Of course, other players have said worse, or at least equally nasty, words and not received even a warning. Just yesterday afternoon we were treated, for what must be the millionth time, to Jimmy Connors versus Aaron Krickstein in 1991. These were among Connors' choice words for umpire David Littlefield on that day. "Kiss me before you do that to me." "You're a bum." "You're an abortion." Connors got away with it. By that standard, one might reasonably conclude, Williams was robbed.

Only a [what Van Jones calls Republicans] calls a foot fault. Serena should have shoved the ball down the linesman's throat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 AM


Good trade (The Ottawa Citizen, September 15, 2009)

A year ago, the Doha round of global trade negotiations looked dead. Truly dead. Beyond resuscitation.

But lately, world leaders, trade ministers and global bureaucrats have been talking about restarting the process. Australia's trade minister has even referred to the coming months as Doha's "end-game." [...]

A lot has happened in the last year, and a renewed interest in trade liberalization couldn't come at a better time.

The biggest thing that changed is the US presidency. When W put tariffs on steel everyone understood it was just a tactic to push freer trade through a reluctant Congress. By contrast, everyone understands President Obama's free trade rhetoric to be a a tactic so he can push forward with things like the tire tariffs and quashing our already negotiated trade agreements with South American nations. But he'd find it hard to resist the transnationalist blandishments accompanying a new global trade round.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


-ESSAY: Is conservatism dead?: A reply to Sam Tanenhaus's new book, The Death of Conservatism (James Piereson, September 2009, New Criterion)

Tanenhaus argues that conservatives failed because—well, because they did not act like conservatives at all but rather as extremists and radicals out to destroy everything associated with modern liberalism. The paradox of the modern right, he says, is that “Its drive for power has steered it onto a path that has become profoundly and defiantly un-conservative.” According to Tanenhaus, conservatives have been divided since the 1950s between their Burkean inclinations to preserve the constitutional order and their reactionary or “revanchist” impulses to tear up and destroy every liberal compromise with modern life. “On the one side,” he writes, “are those who have upheld the Burkean ideal of replenishing civil society by adjusting to changing conditions. On the other are those committed to a revanchist counterrevolution, whether the restoration of America’s pre-New Deal ancient regime, a return to Cold War-style Manichaeanism, or the revival of pre-modern family values.” In recent years, he concludes, the “revanchists” have gotten the upper hand over the Burkeans, and have thereby run the conservative juggernaut over a cliff and into irrelevance.

As we've mentioned previously, the problem with the Tanenhaus thesis is that W was exactly the sort of Burkean he calls for, the Ownership Society a Third Way adjustment to the reality that modern liberal democratic polities demand a social welfare net. It is certainly fair to say that the House GOP made itself electorally irrelevant by reacting against President Bush, just as Democrats drove themselves from power by reacting against Bill Clinton and Labour is about to cede power back to the Tories due to their ideological pique at Tony Blair's Thatcherism. Similarly, a pretty simple choice confronts Barrack Obama, who ran to John McCain's Right on taxes and barely mentioned anything else: he can follow the Clinton/Blair example and be a Burkean conservative coming from the Left or he can be of the Left and Thelma and Louise his way towards that cliff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Obama to courts: hands off Bagram (Josh Gerstein, 9/15.09, Politico)

In a forceful and lengthy brief filed with a federal appeals court in Washington today, the Obama Administration embraces with gusto Bush Administration arguments that the courts should stay out of matters involving prisoners held at the U.S.-run Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Somali Group Lauds U.S. Killing of Al Qaeda Suspect (Reuters, 9/15/09)

A Somali militia opposed to Islamist insurgents al Shabaab praised a U.S. commando raid that killed one of the region's most wanted al Qaeda suspects and called for more strikes to wipe out foreign jihadists. [...]

"We are very pleased with the helicopters that killed the foreign al Shabaab fighters," Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yussuf, the Ahlu Sunna spokesman, told Reuters late on Monday.

"God sent birds against those who attacked the Holy Mosque, the Ka'ba, millennia ago. The same way, God has sent bombers against al Shabaab. We hope more aircraft will destroy the rest of al Shabaab, who have abused Islam and massacred Somalis."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


What Will Kill Health-Care Reform (Matthew Yglesias, 9/15/09, Daily Beast)

he biggest obstacle to progressive dreams may not be the insurance industry, but simply politicians' aversion to the kind of tax increases that could really make reform work.

The crux of the matter is that to make the health-insurance system work requires a three-legged stool. First, you need to stop insurance companies from refusing to cover pre-existing conditions or people who seem to be at risk for getting sick. After all, providing coverage for sick people is the point of the health-care system. But in order to do that, you need to make sure that everyone buys insurance. Otherwise nobody will bother to pay premiums until they get sick and anyone offering insurance will lose money and go out of business. But in order to make everyone buy insurance, you need to make sure that everyone has enough money to afford it.

Thus, the health plans reported out by the relatively liberal committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions panel all included regulations on insurers, a mandate to purchase insurance, and a sliding-scale of subsidies that would go to families earning up to four times the federal poverty line. That’s $88,200 for a family of four, meaning that families into solidly middle-class territory who don’t get health insurance from their employers would be getting at least some direct financial assistance to buy coverage.

The trouble is that all that help costs a lot of money, on the order of $1.4 trillion over 10 years. Baucus wanted a cheaper plan, more like $900 billion. And that meant basically dropping the subsidies for people earning between three to four times the poverty line, or between $66,000 and $88,000 for a family of four.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Capitalist Health Insurance for All (Terry J. Allen, 9/15/09, In These Times)

[M]ost U.S. Fortune 500 companies wouldn’t touch private insurance with a 10-foot colonoscope.

When they need to insure their financial health against fire, terrorism, and liability lawsuits sparked by defective products and polluting factories that kill people, they don’t call State Farm. Instead, corporations routinely insure themselves by creating a “captive” insurance company as a wholly-owned subsidiary. “The parent company is insuring its own risk,” says Sandy Bigglestone, of Vermont’s Captive Insurance division.

But when we the people need health insurance against the high cost of staying alive, we, or our employers, pay private insurers—corporations that are more devoted to protecting their profits than our health. The premiums we pay go not only for our pills and treatments, but also for lobbyists (on whom the health insurance industry currently spends $1.4 million per day for the U.S. Congress alone), campaign contributions, stratospheric executive salaries, private jets, lawyers hired to fight legitimate claims, and, of course, profits.

Captive insurance cuts costs, first, by saving all the money an outside private insurer would take as profit. [...]

Captives also save administrative costs, since they have “an incentive to do business efficiently” because “it’s eventually coming out of the same pockets,” Dennis Harwick, president of the Captive Insurance Companies Association, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. On top of that, captive insurance companies rake in tax breaks by deducting from their profits the money they are required to reserve for payout­­—even if they never have to pay it out.

Bingo! Sensible health care reform would give every American captive self insurance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Uninsured like me: Diversity is healthcare reform's worst enemy. White America has never liked social insurance for people of color (Michael Lind, Sep. 15, 2009, Salon)

Is it a coincidence that following the Civil Rights Act white Americans stopped expanding the traditional welfare state and instead started building a private, income-based welfare state for themselves? Could it be pure coincidence that the most generous welfare states in the world have been those of ethnically homogeneous Nordic countries where, until recent immigration, nearly everyone was related to everyone else? Is the classic welfare state really a form of ethnic nepotism most likely to be adopted by a homogeneous, indeed tribal, nation-state?

Recent scholarship supports the hypothesis that ethnic diversity tends to be inversely correlated with generous, universal social insurance. In a 2001 paper titled "Why Doesn't the US Have a European-Style Welfare State?" Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote wrote that "race is critically important to understanding the US-Europe differences" and that "hostility to welfare comes in part from the fact that welfare spending in the US goes disproportionately to minorities."

Social Security and Medicare, the two major examples of universal social insurance in the U.S., were enacted during a half-century between World War I and the 1970s when the foreign-born percentage of the U.S. population was at an all-time low and ethnic differences were fading rapidly in a white majority that made up a secure nine-tenths of the population. Arguably a sense of post-ethnic, pan-white nationalism, combined with a small nonwhite majority consisting almost entirely of African-Americans, is one of the reasons, if not the major reason, that the U.S. came closer to European social democracy between 1932 and 1968 than in the periods of greater immigration and cultural heterogeneity that came before and afterward.

The tension between diversity and solidarity is a problem for both wings of the Democratic Party in the United States. In an increasingly diverse society with population growth driven by immigration, it will be even harder for the social democrats on the left wing of the Democratic Party to persuade the dwindling number of native white voters of the merits of universal policies that could benefit both them and the newcomers. But if immigration-driven diversity dooms ambitious plans for social democracy in America, it may be an even greater obstacle to the less expensive, targeted, means-tested programs favored by centrist Democratic neoliberals. After all, means-tested programs by design would exclude most of the white working and middle class, and benefit the nonwhite, increasingly foreign-born working poor even more visibly than universal programs, at even greater cost in their political viability.

...that the immigrants the Right despises keep us from being socialist. Part of the genius of privatizing the social welfare net is the illusion that everyone would be funding themself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


This Right Here Is Rich Terfry: The man also known as rapper Buck 65 becomes the voice of CBC Radio 2’s endlessly controversial makeover (Dave Morris, October 2009, Walrus)

When the brain trust at CBC Radio went looking for a face for their reinvented Radio 2, they needed someone with an established cheering section among the nation’s tastemakers. Terfry seemed an obvious choice. Although he wasn’t a CBC insider, he had years of radio experience hosting a popular hip hop show on the Dalhousie campus station CKDU (where he was known as DJ Critical). As Buck 65, a veteran Canadian hip hop artist whose gravelly voice and gritty, sometimes nostalgic lyrics attracted endless comparisons to Tom Waits, he had access to a young, hip audience CBC had frequently courted but rarely won.

In the late 1990s, Buck 65 became affiliated with anticon., a San Francisco hip hop collective that was to underground hip hop what New York’s legendary Wu-Tang Clan once was to the genre’s mainstream. In 2002, he signed a major-label deal with Warner and in 2003 released Square. Later that year came Talkin’ Honky Blues, a departure from his previous albums’ low-fidelity style, incorporating more guitars and, on the twangy but no less funky “Wicked and Weird, banjos. He had risen to the challenge of addressing a broader audience. Rolling Stone called him a “hot indie rapper. The influential Village Voice critic Robert Christgau hailed Talkin’ Honky Blues as “one of my favourite albums of the millennium.

In Europe — France in particular — he was even more successful. “Les Inrockuptibles — basically the French Rolling Stone — picked Talkin’ Honky Blues as one of the best albums of 2003, says Terfry. “The French just really picked up on that record, and it sold pretty well there. They came out and saw me in pretty big numbers — they still do. So he hit the road, playing a series of European festivals, including the UK’s legendary Glastonbury Festival. A highlight was the Les Eurockéennes de Belfort festival near Belfort, France; the day’s headliners included PJ Harvey and reunited indie rock icons the Pixies. Later that year, he returned for another, even bigger festival just outside Paris called Rock en Seine. “It was the most people I’ve ever seen. It seemed like they dropped off the horizon. It was definitely over 50,000 people. I was alone onstage; it was just me with a turntable and a CD player or a computer or something like that. It’s a tall order, one guy, so I did everything I could to make it as big as possible and try to make people forget about that fact, that it was one guy up there trying to hold it all together.

It was an auspicious beginning, but not all strong starts lead to stardom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Are we all autistic now?: Lumping Mozart and Einstein in with those who have severe socialisation problems is no help to sufferers or science. (Sandy Starr, 9/15/09, Spiked)

How can you tell if someone’s not autistic?

This may seem like an odd question, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the world of autism and the families, clinicians and researchers who deal with it. But speaking as someone who’s currently overseeing a project examining the genetics and sociology of autism, and who has experienced autistic traits and related difficulties both in himself (I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in my teens) and in his family, I believe that this is the most contentious question one can ask about autism today.

It is a question that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is currently wrestling with, following the UK government’s request that NICE ‘develop a clinical guideline in relation to the initial recognition, referral and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders in children and adolescents’. As NICE points out, ‘the prevalence in children and young people of all disorders in the autism spectrum (which includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome and atypical autism) has risen in the past decade’ and ‘ranges from 60 per 10,000 to more than 100 per 10,000 in the UK’, causing ‘a significant impact on referrals to diagnostic services’ (1). This proportion may yet rise further, as the general trend is to cease to regard autism as an exceptional disorder, and to see it a set of non-pejorative traits that most, if not all, of us possess to some extent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


So far, Obama's failing miserably (Jeremy Lott, 9/15/09, Politico)

Consider the following:

• Cap-and-trade legislation had to limp over the finish line in the House of Representatives with the help of a few moderate Republicans, who then caught holy unshirted hell from their constituents. Environmental legislation generally has taken a drubbing in public opinion polls when people consider how costly it is.

• The Employee Free Choice Act may be stripped of its “card check” provision in the Senate, which would effectively do away with secret ballots for unionization elections. Even in its watered-down form — which still includes highly objectionable, mandatory, binding so-called gunpoint arbitration and makes no concessions to employers who don’t want to have to prop up teetering union pensions — it might not pass the Senate. And the leadership of the House has refused to touch it until the other chamber has made up its mind.

• On health care, forget the rage set off by private citizen Sarah Palin tweeting about “death panels.” Forget the misleading talk about whether there will be a “public option.” (The ever-evolving plan is one giant public option, folks.) Forget the angry voters who crowded into the town halls during the August recess. Forget that a number of Democratic senators and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are still not willing to sign on to a bill. Right now, even after Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress last week, it’s possible Democrats don’t even have the votes in the House — where they currently enjoy a 77-seat majority.

...has always rested on electing a Republican Congress in 2010. He can be Bill Clinton. He was never going to be LBJ.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


US forces kill al-Qaeda suspect in Somalia (New Statesman, 15 September 2009)

American special forces launched a helicopter raid in southern Somalia yesterday, killing a al-Qaeda commander high on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list, according to US military sources.

Saleh Ali Nabhan, 28, a leader of al-Shabab, a group with close ties to al-Qaeda, was allegedly involved in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 229 people.

September 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


Norwegians, Prosperous but Weary, Head to Vote (WALTER GIBBS, 9/14/09, NY Times)

Norway’s left-leaning prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, wants his nation to renew its commitment to one of the world’s most advanced social welfare models, which has weathered the global financial crisis with nary a wobble because of the country’s carefully managed oil riches.

But as Norwegians voted in parliamentary elections on Monday, Mr. Stoltenberg, 50, appeared to be on the defensive. Many voters had already told pollsters that they were weary of the high taxes and open-door asylum policies they have associated with Mr. Stoltenberg’s so-called red-green government of laborites, socialists and agrarians.

...until it comes to paying for it and sharing it with the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


Orwell’s Grandchildren (David Forsmark, 9/14/09,

Perhaps the most anticipated popular fiction offering of the year for readers of this column is Heart of the Assassin, (Scribner, $25.95) Robert Ferrigno’s final volume in his trilogy about a future America split by civil war and dominated by Islamic rule.

For readers of the first two books—and please read them, don’t start with this one—there is really only one thing you want to know from me.

Yes, it is a worthy finale to the trilogy.

Heart of the Assassin is a rip-roaring mix of action, social commentary, and suspense, with just a touch of wicked satire to spice up the stew.

For the uninitiated, here is a clue as to just how great Ferrigno’s Assassin trilogy is: Giving a rave review to the first book, Prayers for the Assassin, was part of the indictment against columnist Mark Steyn when he was hauled before Canada’s so-called Human Rights Commission. Recommendations don’t come any higher than that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


Yale Killer Caught on Tape? (Wendy Murphy, 9/14/09, Daily Beast)

First it was bloody clothes hidden above ceiling tiles in the lab where Yale graduate student Annie Le was last seen alive. Then Sunday evening, Le's body was found behind a wall in the same building.

As yet, there are no suspects, but unlike most cases, odds are excellent the killer will be identified quickly. The building requires those who enter to swipe a card to get in—which means every potential suspect is already known to police. And even if the person gained entry without using a card, the building is under constant surveillance by 75 video cameras. Whoever killed Le is on the tapes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Lawmakers Push to Repeal Defense of Marriage Act (Rick Klein, September 14, 2009, ABC News: The Note)

A group of more than 70 lawmakers tomorrow will launch a push to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that bars the federal government from recognizing gay marriages.

Backers of the measure hope the bill introduction will quicken the pace of repeal efforts in Congress. President Obama has said he supports the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, though the administration has come under fire for moving slowly on this issue and other gay-rights initiatives.

Talk about queering your own pitch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Taking the Right Seriously: Conservatism is a tradition, not a pathology (Mark Lilla, 9/11/09, The Chronicle Review)

It's not even clear that the faculty members involved have figured out what terms like "right wing" and "conservative" might mean. The Web-site blurb introducing the center describes anti-Communism as the "transcendent" issue for the right for most of the 20th century, and says that since the end of the cold war, right-wing groups have "spun on to the political stage with centripetal energy," whatever that means. This statement does not inspire confidence. In fact, the right-wing political parties in Europe have much older pedigrees, going back to the 19th-century counterrevolution. So do American and British conservatism, which came onto the political scene at least a century before 1989. In his recent book, The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History (Yale University Press), Patrick Allitt, a professor of history at Emory University, explores the full range of conservative concerns: states' rights, religion, the corruptions of urban life, immigration, the League of Nations, mass democracy, creationism, the New Deal, free markets, race, and so on.

It is a convenient left-wing dodge to reduce 20th-century American conservatism to cold-war politics, since it implies that conservative ideas are embedded in a world that no longer exists and never should have. In fact, in the 1930s American conservatives were far more obsessed with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his domestic legacy than with Joseph Stalin, and looked askance at all foreign entanglements, including the Second World War. The anti-Communist cause was first conceived by cold-war liberals, not by conservatives.

And what of the Berkeley center's mission to encourage and nurture "comparative scholarship on right-wing movements both in the U.S. and abroad during the 20th and 21st centuries"? That could be a good thing. For instance, it would be useful to know something about the affinities between European right-wingers like Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front in France, and David Duke, the American white supremacist and anti-Semite now living, as it happens, in Austria. But mainstream American conservatism, which pretty much is all there is to the American right, shares nothing meaningful with those protofascist figures. Our conservatives accept the legitimacy of constitutional self-government, even when they hate the legislation and court decisions resulting from it; they play by the rules. The same cannot be said of the European right, which has always been suspicious of parliamentary politics. One wonders whether "comparative study" in the Berkeley context presumes a continuous slippery slope running from conservatism down to violent far-right movements. It's a little like the Hoover Institution announcing a study "comparing" the Red Brigades with, say, Adlai Stevenson.

But beggars can't be choosers. The unfortunate fact is that American academics have until recently shown little curiosity about conservative ideas, even though those ideas have utterly transformed American (and British) politics over the past 30 years. A look at the online catalogs of our major universities confirms this: plenty of courses on identity politics and postcolonialism, nary a one on conservative political thought. Professors are expected to understand the subtle differences among gay, lesbian, and transgender studies, but I would wager that few can distinguish between the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute, three think tanks that have a greater impact on Washington politics than the entire Ivy League.

Why is that? The former left-wing firebrand David Horowitz, whom the professors do know, has a simple answer: There is a concerted effort to keep conservative Ph.D.'s out of jobs, to deny tenure to those who get through, and to ignore conservative books and ideas. It is an old answer, dating back to the 1970s, when neoconservatives began writing about the "adversary culture" of intellectuals. Horowitz is an annoying man, and what's most annoying about him is that … he has a point.

Even the crazies at the town-hall meetings this summer were generally followers of Lyndon Larouche--a Democrat--not conservatives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


'Values of Jane Austen novels are as important as the characters' (Judith Hawley, 14 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Jane Austen excels at exploring nuances implicit in a precise turn of phrase and at taking tiny moments in life and expanding on their significance.

If you ignore the details, you upset the delicate moral and emotional balance she achieves in her prose.

I do not want to come across as saying you have to treat Jane Austen as a museum piece. Austen's novels are adaptable - the plots are robust - and you can change them, but it is important to strike that balance and think about what is lost when you add new material.

...because it's an argument against government intervention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Government's Trial and Error Helped Stem Financial Panic (DAVID WESSEL, 9/14/09, WSJ)

Experts say the leading candidates for most-successful moves are those that leveraged the credit and credibility of the U.S. government to replace broke and beleaguered private financial institutions and markets. The moves shored up rapidly dissipating confidence in the financial system before panic damaged it irreparably, and kept credit flowing while bankers and government officials debated how to rebuild banks' depleted capital.

Specifically, the Treasury rushed last fall to shield money-market mutual funds from what resembled a 19th-century bank run, and the Fed bypassed banks and markets by giving loans to credit-starved industrial companies. Then the government force-fed capital to the banks and, perhaps more importantly, guaranteed nearly all new bank borrowing so banks wouldn't all shrink simultaneously. More recently, the Treasury's "stress tests," to the surprise of their many critics, allowed big banks to take steps crucial toward renewed health.

One sign of success is the parade of people stepping up to take credit for what seemed, just a few months ago, an unpopular bailout of Wall Street. Mr. Bernanke, in speeches and interviews, recites the litany of Fed innovations. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is finishing a book that highlights the political risks he took last year to save the economy. .

Thanks, W. Just another way that having the first MBA president was a big help.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Bench Press: Are Obama’s judges really liberals? (Jeffrey Toobin, September 21, 2009, The New Yorker)

[H]amilton and Sotomayor are the usual suspects—both sitting judges, who had already been confirmed by the Senate. Of Obama’s seven nominees to the circuit courts, six are federal district-court judges. The group includes Gerard Lynch, a former Columbia Law School professor and New York federal prosecutor, and Andre Davis, who was nominated to the Fourth Circuit by Bill Clinton. (At the time, Republicans blocked any vote on Davis.) Two of the seven are African-American; two are women; all but one are in their fifties. (None are openly gay.) The one non-judge is Jane Stranch, who has represented labor unions and other clients at a Nashville law firm and is nominated for the Sixth Circuit. They are conventional, qualified, and undramatic choices, who were named, at least in part, because they were seen as likely to be quickly confirmed.

But then, as the first White House official put it, “Hamilton blew up.” Conservatives seized on a 2005 case, in which Hamilton ruled to strike down the daily invocation at the Indiana legislature because its repeated references to Jesus Christ violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Hamilton had also ruled to invalidate a part of Indiana’s abortion law that required women to make two visits to a doctor before undergoing the procedure. In June, Hamilton was approved by the Judiciary Committee on a straight party-line vote, twelve to seven, but his nomination has not yet been brought to the Senate floor. Some Republicans have already vowed a filibuster. (Republican threats of extended debate on nominees can stop the Democratic majority from bringing any of them up for votes.)

“The reaction to Hamilton certainly has given people pause here,” the second White House official said. “If they are going to stop David Hamilton, then who won’t they stop?”

Republicans in the Senate have not allowed a vote on any of the other nominees, either. So far, the only Obama nominee who has been confirmed to a lifetime federal judgeship is Sotomayor. The stalemate provides a revealing glimpse of the environment in Washington. Obama advisers (and Democratic Senate sources) aver that all the nominees, even Hamilton, will be confirmed eventually, but contrary to the President’s early hope the struggle for his judges is likely to be long and contentious.

“The President did not set a good example when he was in the Senate,” Orrin Hatch, the senior Republican senator from Utah, told me, pointing to Obama’s votes against the confirmation of John G. Roberts, Jr., and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., to the Supreme Court. “You have to be a partisan ideologue not to support Roberts,” Hatch said. “There is a really big push on by partisan Republicans to use the same things that they did against us.” Hatch himself, who had voted for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and every other Supreme Court nominee in his Senate career, voted against Sotomayor. [...]

“What you’ll get with Obama is basically Carolene Products—‘Leave me alone on economic issues and protect me on civil rights,’ ” Richard Epstein, the conservative legal scholar who was interim dean of the Chicago Law School when Obama taught there, said. Carolene Products was a 1938 decision, involving skim milk spiked with non-milk fat, in which the Court set up a structure that would shape constitutional law for the next several generations. The Justices gave the elected branches a more or less free hand on economic issues but exercised greater scrutiny of measures that affected minorities. “Obama has nothing much he wants from the courts,” Epstein told me. “He wants them to stay away from the statutes he passes, and he wants solidity on affirmative action and abortion. That’s it.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


The Ghosts of 1994 (ROSS DOUTHAT, 9/14/09, NY Times)

[Frank] Luntz insisted that in the run-up to the ’94 election, “it wasn’t the health care debate that was driving the anger; it was the crime bill.”

That piece of legislation, which mixed stricter sentencing laws with more money for prison-building and more financing for police, was supposed to cement Clinton’s reputation as a tough-minded centrist.

Instead, the crime bill became a lightning rod for populist outrage. The price tag made it seem fiscally irresponsible. (Back then, $30 billion was real money.) The billions it lavished on crime prevention — like the infamous funding of “midnight basketball” — looked liked ineffective welfare spending. The gun-control provisions felt like liberalism-as-usual.

“Every day that the Republicans delayed the bill,” Luntz remembers, “the public learned more about it — and the more they learned, the angrier they got.”

That’s exactly what’s been happening now. The health care push has opened up arguments about abortion, euthanasia and illegal immigration that the Democrats would rather avoid. At the same time, it’s become the vessel for a year’s worth of anxieties about bailouts, deficits and Beltway incompetence.

POLL: Obama's Speech Doesn't Turn the Tide (GARY LANGER, Sept. 14, 200, ABC News)
Bottom-line views on health care reform have stabilized but failed to improve since President Obama addressed the nation, leaving him with a continued challenge in selling his plan to a public that remains skeptical about its benefits and costs alike.

Obama shows some improvement. He's stanched his losses, shored up his base and gained on a few specifics. But his speech was no game-changer: Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll divide by 48-48 percent on his handling of the issue and by 46-48 percent on the reform package itself, both essentially the same as their pre-address levels.

More continue to think reform will worsen rather than improve their own care, costs and coverage. There's still a nearly even split on whether it'll improve care for most people in general. More think it'll weaken rather than strengthen Medicare. And nearly two-thirds think it'll boost the already vast federal deficit.

...the GOP gets to run against the fact that it boosts the deficit and raises taxes.

Blue Dogs Turn Red (W. James Antle, III, September 2009, American Spectator)

[R]oll over again, Blue Dogs, lest the voters hit your snouts with a rolled-up newspaper. To this advice there is only one reply: Remember Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky? In 1993, this first-term Pennsylvania Democrat spared her president and party an embarrassing defeat on the budget. With numerous defections from Congress's least liberal Democrats, a unified wall of Republicans came close to defeating Bill Clinton's first, tax-raising deficit- reduction plan. Margolies-Mezvinsky cast the deciding vote in the House; Al Gore did the same in the Senate.

Clinton's budget passed. The top marginal income tax rate increased by one-third, the second time it was raised in three years. Drivers were hit with a gasoline tax hike, seniors saw the taxable portion of their Social Security benefits zoom past 80 percent, the middle-class tax cut vanished into the ether of broken campaign promises. A stunning victory for the Democrats and a reminder of how impotent the Republicans had become -- until the next election.

Margolies-Mezvinsky went down in flames in 1994. She was joined by dozens of other Democrats representing districts where raising taxes gets you a free ticket to the private sector rather than a Profile in Courage award. Even some Democrats who voted against the Clinton tax increase found themselves washed out with the tide.

Of course, it wasn't the tax increase alone that doomed the Democrats in Clinton's first midterm elections. Gays in the military, Joycelyn Elders, the administration's abortion advocacy, gun control, midnight basketball, and a series of scandals large and small all contributed. But these liberal political gambits hurt Democrats in marginal districts whether they passed (like the crime bill and assault weapons ban) or didn't even come up for a vote (like the Clinton health care plan).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Netanyahu plays a Russian rope trick (Sreeram Chaulia, 9/14/09, Asia Times)

A key question regarding Netanyahu's rope trick is why he resorted to a secret face-to-face with the Russians (presumably with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev or someone close to one of them) if he just wished to warn them or convey war plans. Could the Israeli Embassy in Moscow, the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv or plain old telephonic communication not served that purpose?

The answer lies in the mounting mutual distrust between Israel and its longtime special ally, the United States, over restarting peace talks with the Palestinians. Since the Barack Obama administration has taken charge in Washington, unprecedented pressure has been applied on Israel to completely halt Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

So low is the confidence of Netanyahu's right-wing government in Obama that an internal memo by Nadav Tamir, the Israeli consul general in Boston, lamented recently that "the distance between us and the US government is causing strategic damage to Israel". [...]

One old strategy of states that are losing the unconditional love of a former ally is to court a rival of that ally and force the ally to realize the horrible blunder it is committing. Netanyahu's veiled personal visit to Russia could be part of such a long-term hedging strategy against at least three or probably seven more years of Obama rule in Washington.

For decades, Israel has had a single vector foreign policy towards great powers, banking on total diplomatic and military cooperation of the US. But with relations with Washington at an all-time nadir, Tel Aviv is forced to seek new powerful friends like Russia.

Since Moscow continues to contest Washington in every theater - from Latin America and Central Asia to the Middle East - Netanyahu could be probing an opening to Russia that the US would not take lightly. If Russia can somehow be inveigled to act tougher on Iran for its nuclear standoff, Israel would find fresh room to keep the heat on Tehran.

Already, Israel-Russia defense ties are on an uptick after a breakthrough US$50 million agreement on transferring the Israel Aerospace Industries' unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which were used by Georgia against Russia in the war over the breakaway Georgian state of South Ossetia last year.

Netanyahu's Russian gambit is a balancing maneuver that is being done on the sly because of the sentiment in Tel Aviv that Obama cannot be trusted. Netanyahu undertook a cloaked personal mission possibly out of fear that US intelligence is preying harder on cable traffic or electronic communication between Israel and Russia. Even in the friendliest of times, American intelligence is known to have kept an eye on Israeli diplomatic correspondence and vice versa.

Sure, a Russia/Israel alliance is implausible in reality, but the Realists are certain to buy it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Polls show Conservatives winning argument over public service cuts (Daily Telegraph, 9/14/09)

Gordon Brown has suffered another blow after polls suggested the Tories are winning the row over public service cuts.

The majority of voters favour spending reductions over tax hikes, and David Cameron's party is more trusted to deliver value for money, according to the research. the New Democrats presaged New Labour, as Tony Blair led to W, so do the Tories establish the themes the GOP will win on in 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Unions fearful of pay freezes but still prefer Brown to Cameron (Peter Riddell, 9/14/09, Times of London)

The main unions know that, before the election, their leverage is limited, even though they are Labour’s largest funders (far larger than during the Blair years because of the decline in donations from wealthy businessmen). If the unions threaten to hold back funds, or engage in confrontation, they risk weakening Labour even more.

All they can hope for is the postponement of controversial policies such as the part- privatisation of the Royal Mail, though this is likely to be brought in by the Tories. Their main influence over Labour will come after an election, when their votes will have a big say in the choice of a new party leader.

Brendan Barber, the TUC General Secretary, has had a couple of meetings with Mr Cameron. The unions hope they will have contacts with a Tory government, unlike their lack of access after 1979 when the Thatcher administration came to power. But that is a reflection of the unions’ weakness now, not their strength. Mr Cameron is happy to talk to the unions because they are no longer a serious threat.

You'd think Progressives would be prepared when progress comes.

September 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


The Best Health Care Plan You've Never Heard Of (John Graham, 9/13/09, Real Clear Politics)

Typically, CDHC arrangements couple high-deductible insurance plans for catastrophic care with either health savings accounts or employer-funded health reimbursement accounts.

Holders of health savings accounts can deposit money tax-free into their accounts and use the proceeds for whatever medical expenses they choose, from routine care to elective procedures like laser-eye surgery. Best of all, patients own the funds in their accounts forever. A deposit made today can be spent 50 years from now, when a person's medical expenses are likely to be higher.

When patients have a direct financial stake in the cost of their care, they're more likely to search for the best deal. The prices of medical services can vary widely and are usually unrelated to the amounts providers actually get paid, so asking informed questions can dramatically reduce health costs. Although still uncomfortable with transparency, hospitals and doctors' offices are finding it increasingly necessary to speak with patients about prices and payment.

Encouraging patients to consider the cost of procedures yields huge savings.

Research from the American Academy of Actuaries confirms that CDHC plans are driving health costs down without sacrificing quality of care. The typical plan results in first-year cost-savings of up to 15 percent. Meanwhile, traditional insurance plans have been increasing in cost each year. So a patient who switches from a conventional plan to a CDHC plan could save as much as 20 percent.

Further, CDHC plans deliver savings in subsequent years -- between 3 and 5 percent in each year after the first.

...would be funding them for the poor, to achieve universality. But that would be the UR's big victory. Thus, the perfect basis for compromise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


The Syrian way (David Schenker, 9/13/09, Jerusalem Post)

"mutual respect and mutual interest", the Obama administration has hit a wall. While Syrian officials routinely articulate a desire for improved relations with Washington, the Assad regime has yet to take steps necessary to make this possible. From Iraq to Lebanon to its ongoing support for Hamas, and despite Washington's conciliatory steps, Damascus remains intransigent.

Concerned that Iraqi-Syrian tensions could undermine efforts to rehabilitate Syria, Washington has yet to condemn Damascus for its role in the Baghdad bombings, preferring instead to describe the events as an "internal matter" between the governments. Based on the priority Washington ascribes to Iraq, however, a stronger US response is warranted.

TO DATE, the administration has been rather generous in response to Syria's promises to improve its behavior. Based on Syria's pledge to cooperate with US Central Command on border security issues, for example, this past June the Obama administration undertook to return an ambassador to Damascus, a seat vacant since 2005. In July, the administration likewise eased the process of granting export licenses to Syria's aviation industry, another conciliatory gesture designed to encourage better behavior.

Absent critical Syrian follow-through on Iraq, Washington may want to reevaluate its conciliatory approach. While the administration is unlikely to take dramatic steps anytime soon, it could deliver a powerful message to the Assad regime during the UN General Assembly in mid-September. Syrian officials have been advocating an Assad-Obama summit for months and are hoping to engineer a meet and greet on the sidelines of the New York meeting. Given the ongoing problems posed by Syria, Obama would be well advised to snub Assad in New York.

Despite the best of intentions, the Obama administration approach has not yet convinced Damascus to change its ways. While it may be premature to throw in the towel and resume the Bush-era policy of isolation, if Syria's current behavior in Iraq persists it should provoke a policy review that adds some sticks to the arsenal of carrots already deployed against Damascus.

All we are give regime change a chance....

Do Damascus and the WoT is done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Tea Party Express Makes Way To State Capitol (CHRISTOPHER KEATING, 9/12/09, The Hartford Courant)

For more than two hours, and at times in driving rain, the tea-baggers stood outside to hear the speeches about state and local politics.

Former state Sen. Joseph Markley, a longtime conservative, said all five Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticut need to be defeated in 2010.

"Above all, above everyone in America, we've got the No. 1 man in America that has to be retired — right here in Connecticut," Markley said. "You know who I'm talking about? ... If we can't get rid of Chris Dodd next year, we don't deserve to be in America anymore."

Another rally will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday in Waterbury on the town green. On Oct. 18, Markley will be leading a "Dump Dodd" rally in Hartford.

Dodd's campaign manager, Jay Howser, said that the tea-baggers have nothing to offer.

"The great thing about the far right wing, extreme group of tea-baggers who have entertained us throughout the summer is that their idea of free speech is akin to shouting down opposition, drowning out debate, and in Connecticut, encouraging Sen. Dodd to commit suicide with painkillers and alcohol," Howser said. "No responsible American, regardless of their political beliefs, thinks that this fringe element has anything valuable to offer to our country's discourse or debate."

...when the queer party engages in homophobic pejoratives like tea-baggers and pretends it's reasoned discourse, but it makes the press seem partisan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Obama Treats Dems' Internal Wounds, But Sewing Up Health Deal A Challenge (DAVID HOGBERG, 9/10/09, INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY)

ObamaCare's critics aren't sure if Democrats can deliver.

"I think they are trapped," said John Goodman, president of the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis. "If they force something through it will make people angry. But if they don't stick with the plan they have now, they'll irritate the left wing of their party."

"They're gonna have to pass something or Obama and the Democrats are in really big trouble," said a top GOP aide. "What that 'something' will look like, I don't know."

The aide further stated that Pelosi and maybe the White House are warming to the Baucus plan's mandate. It would fine families up to $3,800 for not buying insurance, though that may be trimmed.

...that the fine provision makes all the policy sense in the world. You don't have to be terribly bright to see how it's going to play out in the public debate, but you do have to be Bright to imagine it won't be political poison for Democrats. Each individual facet of their plan--abortion coverage, death panels, tax hikes, universal coverage--has been disastrous when the lens was turned on it, the fines are just the next blow-up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


A Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Presidency?: The choice to succeed or fail in Afghanistan is Obama's. (William Kristol, 09/21/2009, Weekly Standard)

The single most damning story about President Obama so far is one we know courtesy of his national security adviser, Jim Jones. Visiting the newly installed military commanders in Afghanistan in late June, Jones told General Stanley McChrystal that if he requested more troops any time soon, Obama would have a "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" (i.e., "What the f--") moment. Jones then, in an interview, made the claim--denied by everyone else involved--that military leaders had agreed that when the president earlier sent 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, "there would be a year from the time the decision was made before they would ever come back and ask for any more."

Okay. Jones is in way over his head. And, we gather, he'll likely be gone by Christmas. But it's still a remarkable statement by the president's national security adviser. Afghanistan is a war Obama supported repeatedly as a candidate. One of his first acts as president was to recommit to success in the struggle. Yet Jones was willing to portray his boss, both privately and publicly, as timid and fearful of tough decisions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


An Unnecessary Operation: Obamacare threatens what's right with American health care. (Fred Barnes, 09/21/2009, Weekly Standard)

This is the poll number that drives supporters of Obamacare crazy: Eighty-nine percent of Americans in a June 2008 ABC News/USA Today/Kaiser Family Foundation survey said they were satisfied with their health care. Put another way, more than 270 million Americans (I'm including kids) are reasonably happy with the system of medical care in this country. Other polls have found the same level of satisfaction.

One reason is the availability of first-rate care almost everywhere, day or night. But there's a more important reason: If you have a serious ailment, your chances of survival are better when treated in America than anywhere else in the world. Sure, the system has flaws, shortcomings, and inefficiencies. It probably costs too much. But if your goal is to live longer, then American doctors and American hospitals are your best bet.

Americans appear to understand this. So do the 400,000 foreign patients who come here every year for medical care. "Not too many people get on a plane and fly to Cuba or to France" to see a doctor, says Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, associate dean of clinical education at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and an expert on worldwide health care systems.

Why would they go anywhere but here?

..., though a powerful one, was the moral argument. They abandoned that when they decided it was okay to let illegal immigrants die if it would help pass their bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


Obama: Conservative anger is 'coarsening dialogue' (Mike Soraghan, 09/13/09, The Hill)

President Obama says the angry scenes on televised town halls represents a "coarsening of our political dialogue."

...since all those peaceniks were marching to save Saddam Hussein and keep the genocide going in Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


US could shift Afghanistan focus towards eastern provinces: Senior military officials said to believe Taliban's ability to find sanctuary across border with Pakistan has made move essential (Simon Tisdall, 9/13/09, Guardian)

The primary focus of the US war strategy in Afghanistan could shift towards the eastern provinces bordering Pakistan and away from the south of the country, where British forces are heavily engaged, under a plan being finalised by commanders.

Senior military officials are said to believe the Afghan Taliban's ability to find sanctuary and support across the porous border with Pakistan ‑ plus the suspected presence in the lawless tribal Waziristan area of al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden ‑ has made a bigger effort in the east essential if the insurgency is to be defeated.

...but in Waziristan.

Pashtuns and Pakistanis: A not-so-great game, but one America can't give up. (Reuel Marc Gerecht, 09/21/2009, Weekly Standard)

[T]here are many compelling reasons to keep fighting in Afghanistan. Most important among them is that an American withdrawal would return Afghanistan to civil war and reinforce frightful trends in Pakistan. In an Afghan civil conflict pitting the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Shiite Hazaras against the Pashtuns, the United States would have to choose the anti-Pashtun, anti-Pakistani side to protect against the possibility that the Taliban, a Pashtun-based movement, would again gain the upper hand. Remember Western insouciance about Afghanistan between 1994 and 1996, as the Taliban gradually gained ground? This time around, Washington would be obliged to intervene. It could not simply assume, as many suggest, that Pashtun jealousies, tribal differences, and powerful competing warlords would be enough to thwart a neo-Taliban advance. But successfully intervening in Pashtun politics from "over the horizon," with American troops no longer significantly deployed in Afghanistan, would be impossible. The Taliban currently have the offensive advantage throughout most of the Pashtun regions with U.S. forces active in the country; imagine U.S. forces gone.

Choosing sides would immediately thrust us into conflict with Islamabad, which remains a staunch and, at times, nefarious defender of Afghan Pashtun interests. Such a collision between Washington and Islamabad would be awful, fortifying Islamic militancy within Pakistan and placing al Qaeda and its allies, more clearly than ever before, on the same side as the Pakistani military establishment, which is only now getting serious about countering the radical Islamic threat at home.

The terrorist ramifications of this for us and for India could be enormous. Britain's domestic intelligence service, MI5, is working around the clock to monitor and thwart terrorist plots emanating from Muslim militants on the subcontinent. Great Britain does not receive the credit it deserves for doing the heavy lifting in building a security barrier against subcontinent Muslim radicals and their militant brethren resident in Europe. Even more than the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, MI5 is America's frontline defense against mass-casualty terrorism.

Pakistan, not the Arab Middle East, is where extreme Islamic militancy probably has the most growth potential. And Britain's intelligence officers are quick to confess that they could not do their work without cooperation on the Pakistani side, which today, even after Islamic militants have lethally targeted members of Islamabad's intelligence and security services, remains complicated and problematic. Pakistan has been loath to sever long-standing ties to the Afghan and Pakistani Pashtun militant groups with which it has dealt for years. This is particularly true for those who come under the Taliban umbrella. Mullah Omar, the Taliban's divinely anointed founding father, is more or less an honored guest of Islamabad, holding court in Pakistan's western province of Baluchistan. Imagine scenarios where the Pakistanis receive requests for help from the British and the Americans, even as Western powers are aiding Afghanistan's bitterly anti-Pakistani non-Pashtun minorities against pro-Taliban Pashtuns.

We should never underestimate the potential for Pakistani recidivism.

But we should underestimate the potential of it--all it would do is widen the free-fire zone. And clarifying battle lines is never a bad thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Boy, Oh, Boy (MAUREEN DOWD, 9/13/09, NY Times)

[F]air or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!

Equally fair...or not...Mr. Wilson may have heard the missing words in the UR's claim:
It is a lie, plain and simple.

"..., you honkey, mo-fo's"

Or, maybe we could drop Ms Dowd's "not fair" standard and assume the dueling liar charges by Mr. Obama and Mr. Wilson were partisan, rather than racial?

Of course, the question then becomes: "Why did the GOP participate in this partisan political dog & pony show to begin with?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Secret deal over killer of WPC Yvonne Fletcher (Hala Jaber Tripoli and David Leppard , 9/13/09, Times of London)

The Libyan killer of a British policewoman will never be brought to justice in Britain after a secret deal approved by Jack Straw.

The Foreign Office bowed to Libyan pressure and agreed that Britain would abandon any attempt to try the murderer of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, shot outside the Libyan embassy in London 25 years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Breast enlargement operation uses fat to give 'two for one' cosmetic treatment (Alastair Jamieson, 13 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The £8,000 procedure, to be discussed at a conference of cosmetic surgeons this week, sees fat extracted from where it is not wanted and injected into the skin of the breasts.

As well as providing a 'two for one' benefit over existing separate operations, it could provide a more natural shape to augmented breasts and removes the need for synthetic implants, which have to replaced after 10-15 years.'d hear the Hallelujah Chorus playing...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


A Legal Battle: Online Attitude vs. Rules of the Bar (JOHN SCHWARTZ, 9/14/09, NY Times)

“When you become an officer of the court, you lose the full ability to criticize the court,” said Michael Downey, who teaches legal ethics at the Washington University law school.

And with thousands of blogs and so many lawyers online, legal ethics experts say that collisions between the freewheeling ways of the Internet and the tight boundaries of legal discourse are inevitable — whether they result in damaged careers or simply raise eyebrows.

Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics at New York University Law School, sees many more missteps in the future, as young people who grew up with Facebook and other social media enter a profession governed by centuries of legal tradition.

Given the Right's newfound free speech absolutism, such professional restrictions are obviously just as unenforceable as legislative restrictions on corporations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Election trouble brewing for House Dems in 2010 (BETH FOUHY, 9/14/09, AP)

Fifty-four new Democrats were swept into the House in 2006 and 2008, helping the party claim a decisive majority as voters soured on a Republican president and embraced Obama's message of hope and change. Many of the new Democrats are in districts carried by Republican John McCain in last year's presidential contest; others are in traditional swing districts that have proved tough for either party to hold.

From New Hampshire to Nevada, House Democrats also will be forced to defend votes on Obama's $757 billion economic recovery package and on energy legislation viewed by many as a job killer in an already weak economy.

Add to that the absence of Obama from the top of the ticket, which could reduce turnout among blacks, liberals and young people, and the likelihood of a highly motivated GOP base confused by the president's proposed health care plan and angry at what they consider reckless spending and high debt.

So if the Stupid Party understood the health care plan we'd vote Democrat?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Public Option Fades From Health Debate (ROBERT PEAR, 9/13/09, NY Times)

It was just one line in a campaign manifesto, and it hardly seemed the most significant or contentious. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said he would “establish a new public insurance program” alongside private health care plans.

That proposal took on a life of its own, but it now appears to be dying, a victim of an ineffectual White House strategy, the president’s failure to argue passionately for the “public option” and all-out opposition by the insurance industry and much of the health care industry.

You can't overstate how unradical the UR is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Van Jones — unfit for print: The green czar affair should put the final lie to The Times’ ‘objectivity’ (KYLE SMITH, September 13, 2009, NY Post)

“This is not an excuse,” the managing editor of The New York Times said after offering the following excuse for completely missing the Van Jones story, except in a blog post: “Our Washington bureau was somewhat short-staffed during the height of the pre-Labor Day vacation period.”

Here’s how long-staffed The New York Times actually is. Long after Glenn Beck reported — back in July — that Jones was history’s first communist czar, and even after Gateway Pundit reported, on Sept. 3, that Jones had signed a wackadoodle 9/11 “truther” petition, The Times sent two reporters to Boston (in a story published Friday, Sept. 4) to pre-report the non-story of Joseph P. Kennedy II’s run for Ted Kennedy’s seat. (He later said he wasn’t interested. Also, the picture of Joseph the Times ran was actually of his brother Max.)

Maybe they meant they didn't have enough photo editors?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


U.S Government Jumps Voluntarily into Iran’s Trap, Pulls in Europeans, Too (Barry Rubin, 9/13/09, Rubin Reports)

The great French diplomatist Talleyrand put it best: "That's worse than a crime, it's a mistake."

By accepting the Iranian proposal for negotiations, the Obama Administration has just made the most important foreign policy decision of its term so far. And it is a very bad mistake, a very bad one indeed. [...]

[I]t gets worse. After all, what does the Iranian offer, entitled “Cooperation, Peace and Justice,” say? Well, it calls for a reform of the UN to abolish the veto powers, a Middle East peace settlement without Israel’s existence, and universal nuclear disarmament, the last being another idea with which Obama saddled U.S. policy.

....but the UR fails to comprehend that at the point "negotiations" between states begin, one has always already lost. In this instance, talks are a de facto recognition of a nuclear Iran governed by an unelected regime led by Ahmedinejad. Those are all of Mahmoud's goals already conceded.

Of course, Mr. Obama also doesn't grasp that the talks don't ultimately matter. Iran's immediate future lies more in Bibi's hands than in his own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


The Trial of John Roberts (JEFFREY ROSEN, 9/13/09, NY Times)

For decades conservatives have attacked Warren, who was chief justice from 1953 to 1969, as the face of liberal judicial activism. They have criticized him for presiding over a court that imposed a contested vision of social justice on an unwilling nation — overturning decades of precedents and scores of federal and state laws in the process.

Moreover, conservatives view Warren as a Machiavellian former politician (he had been governor of California) who used incremental strategies to pursue radical ends — handing down a series of cautious decisions that favored the police, for example, and then tying their hands by requiring officers to read suspects their rights in the 5-to-4 Miranda decision of 1966.

Likewise, if the Roberts court issues a sweeping 5-to-4 decision in the current case, Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, striking down longstanding bans on corporate campaign expenditures, it would define John Roberts as indelibly as Miranda defined Earl Warren. And there is no reason for the court to do so: it would be easy for the justices to rule narrowly in the Citizens United case, holding that the corporate-financed political material in question — a documentary called “Hillary: the Movie” — isn’t the kind of campaign ad that federal law was intended to regulate.

But many conservatives, and even some liberal devotees of the First Amendment, are urging the Roberts court to uproot federal and state regulations on corporate campaign spending that date back to 1907, as well as decades of Supreme Court precedents. If Chief Justice Roberts takes that road, his paeans to judicial modesty and unanimity would appear hollow.

...but whether they'll uproot them thoroughly enough. The ruling, to be consistent with the Constitution, would need to dispose of the judicially imposed doctrine of corporate personhood and restore the original standard that legislatures get to define corporate rights just as they do corporate responsibilities, corporations being convenient legal fictions created by those legislatures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


U.S. to Impose Tariff on Chinese Tires (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 9/12/09, WSJ)

The Obama administration will put steep import duties of 35% in the first year on Chinese passenger and light truck tires, responding to what the U.S. International Trade Commission determined to be a surge of Chinese tire exports that has rocked the domestic U.S. tire industry and displaced thousands of jobs, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced Friday night.

China's government responded quickly to the announcement, saying in a statement that it "strongly opposes" what it called "a serious act of trade protectionism." China "reserves the right to make further response," the Ministry of Commerce statement said.

Developed economies don't make tires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


The 11th of September Returns (Hashim Saleh, 9/13/09, Asharq Alawasat)

Are we not bored yet with 11 September? It seems to me that this year we are observing a listless anniversary. I have not yet felt that the French press, for instance, is preparing to observe this anniversary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Father of 'Green Revolution' and Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug dies (AP, 13 September 2009)

The Nobel committee honoured Borlaug in 1970 for his contributions to high-yield crop varieties and bringing other agricultural innovations to the developing world. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives.

Thanks to the green revolution, world food production more than doubled between 1960 and 1990.

In Pakistan and India, two of the nations that benefited most from the new crop varieties, grain yields more than quadrupled over the period.

Equal parts scientist and humanitarian, the Iowa born Borlaug realized improved crop varieties were just part of the answer, and pressed governments for farmer friendly economic policies and improved infrastructure to make markets accessible.

A 2006 book about Borlaug is titled 'The Man Who Fed the World.'

"He has probably done more and is known by fewer people than anybody that has done that much," said Dr Ed Runge, retired head of Texas A&M University's Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and a close friend who persuaded Borlaug teach at the school.

"He made the world a better place, a much better place. He had people helping him, but he was the driving force."

-OBIT: Norman Borlaug dies at 95; started 'Green Revolution' and won Nobel Peace Prize: Borlaug created a system of plant breeding and crop management in the 1940s that created huge harvests. The system was a huge success and was exported to countries around the world. (Thomas H. Maugh II, September 13, 2009, LA Times)

Alarmed by how food shortages might impact the war effort, the Rockefeller Foundation -- largely at the instigation of Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace -- established the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program in Mexico. It later became known as the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center or, by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT. Borlaug signed on in 1944 after finishing his wartime obligations to the chemical firm E.I. du Pont de Nemours.

Borlaug collected wheat strains from around the world and began cross-breeding them, a process he later recalled as "mind-warpingly tedious." To speed things up, he planted two crops per year, a summer crop in the low-quality, high-altitude soils near Mexico City and a winter crop hundreds of miles to the north in the low-lying Yaqui Valley.

This "shuttle breeding" was derided by experts at the time, who insisted that such experiments must be conducted at the same locations and times employed by local farmers to be useful.

Within five years, however, Borlaug had produced a strain that was resistant to rust, more productive than existing strains, and that grew in both climates when given adequate fertilizer and water.

But there was still one problem. Evolution had favored wheat strains with long, slender stalks that allowed the wheat to rise above the shade of nearby weeds. With the added weight of the extra grain, however, the stalks tended to collapse when irrigated or rained on, reducing yields.

After thousands of fruitless attempts to produce wheat with shorter stalks, Borlaug encountered a Japanese dwarf variety. After thousands more attempts, by 1954 he had succeeded in producing a short-stalked variety that was rust-resistant and high-yielding. And because the plant did not have to invest energy in producing long stalks, its yield was even higher than before.

Using the new strains, Mexico, which had imported 60% of its wheat in the early 1940s, became self-sufficient by 1956.

In 1954, a rust epidemic hit the American Midwest, destroying three-quarters of the durum wheat crop that was used for making pasta and accelerating use of the new strains in the United States. There has not been a similar outbreak since.

Using Borlaug's techniques, scientists at CIMMYT and elsewhere soon developed similar high-yield strains of rice and corn.

In the early 1960s, India and Pakistan were confronting famine and CIMMYT sent Borlaug to intervene. He planted demonstration plots of the new dwarf variety, but was unable to convince the state-owned seed companies to adopt them.

By 1965, however, famine in the region was so bad that the governments acquiesced. Borlaug organized a shipment of 35 truckloads of dwarf wheat seeds. Because of customs problems, the seeds couldn't be shipped from Mexico in time for planting, so he sent them to a port in Los Angeles.

U.S. customs officials held them up at the border before finally permitting them to cross. Then National Guard troops detoured them from Los Angeles because of the Watts riots. Finally, the $100,000 check drawn on the Pakistani ministry bounced because of three misspelled words on its face.

Ultimately, the cargo ship set sail for Karachi and Bombay and Borlaug went to bed relieved, only to wake the next morning to word that India and Pakistan had gone to war.

Because of the delays, the team had no time for germination studies and planting was started immediately, often in sight of artillery flashes. "We did a lot of praying," he later recalled.

Despite the problems, the new crop was 98% bigger than the previous year's and the Asian subcontinent was placed on a new path. India ordered 18,000 tons of seed from Mexico and the harvest was so big that there was a shortage of labor to harvest it, too few bullock carts to haul it to the threshing floor, and an insufficiency of jute bags, trucks, rail cars and storage facilities.

By 1968, Pakistan was self-sufficient in food production. India joined it in 1974.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


As Landon Donovan goes, so goes the U.S. team: Given free rein, midfielder has become one of the best in the world (Grahame L. Jones, September 13, 2009, LA Times)

Turning Donovan from an out-and-out goal scorer into a provider for front-running forwards Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies has transformed the U.S. star.

He is a more complete player now, more focused, more aware of his role and, if anything, even more dangerous. He created all three goals in the recent World Cup qualifying victories over El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago.

Playing wide left, but with freedom to switch flanks or to move inside when he wants, Donovan is difficult for opponents to track. He is enjoying the role.

"I like it," he said. "It came about, I guess, in the Honduras game in Chicago before we went to the Confederations Cup. I think having that game and then having five games in a row playing in that position at a high level against very good teams I just got comfortable with it.

"The biggest part -- and I'm still learning this as evidenced by the Mexico game -- is making sure in certain situations how to defend properly. But I like being able to face the defense, run at people, attack people, and I also like having two real forwards ahead of me that I can get the ball to so that they can do what they do."

In the El Salvador match, Donovan's pinpoint free kick from the right allowed Clint Dempsey to score on a diving header. Then, Donovan's well-timed cross from the left set up a headed goal by Altidore.

"I'm trying to put the ball in a dangerous area, and then it's their job to get on the end of it," Donovan said.

Against Trinidad and Tobago, his soccer smarts and vision came into play as he cut back a pass from which Ricardo Clark scored the game winner.

Is what he is doing similar to what Cuauhtemoc Blanco is doing for Mexico or Kaka for Brazil? Donovan was asked.

"You're comparing me to Kaka? I'll take that," he grinned.

The reality of the modern formation is that it doesn't matter where your width comes from, so long as the two guys providing it on the attack can get back and defend. When the US team has Donovan providing that width on the left and Jonathan Spector on the right they look have a coherent attack without losing any defense--especially because that leaves them extremely strong through the middle (Bradley, Clark, Gooch, demerit/Marshall). There are still a few adjustments to be made though: Dempsey has to replace Davies to receive the service into the box; you have to pair a midfielder who can hold the ball and distribute from the middle of the field with Donovan (Feilhaber, Torres or whoever); and you need to see if Marvell Wynne can be even more effective than Spector because of his superior speed. Not playing Wynne, Feilhaber and Torres in at least the Gold Cup was a wasted opportunity.

September 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Obama warns against scare tactics over healthcare (Matt Spetalnick, 9/13/09, Reuters)

President Barack Obama warned Americans on Saturday not to be tricked by "scare tactics" he accused his opponents of using as he went on the road to rally support for his drive to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system.

Obama’s Health Care Speech to Congress (September 9, 2009)
In just a two year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage. In other words, it can happen to anyone.

But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem of the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today. More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.

One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer more than doubled in size. [...]

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Cut public spending, say voters (Jonathan Oliver, David Smith and Marie Woolf, 9.13/09, Times of London)

Voters are overwhelmingly in favour of cutting public spending rather than tax rises to close the budget black hole, a Sunday Times/YouGov poll finds today.

Sixty per cent want to shrink the size of the state to curb the £175 billion deficit amid mounting government disarray over the public finances. [...]

The findings will put further pressure on Gordon Brown, who has already announced plans for increases in income tax for the wealthy and in National Insurance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


U.S. accepts Iranian offer for talks (JTA, 9/11/09)

The U.S. has joined with its five partner countries -- Russia, China, Great Britian, France and Germany -- in accepting Iran's proposal this week for "comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations," even though Iranian leaders also said earlier this week that they would not negotiate on their nuclear program, according to media reports.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the group is "seeking a meeting now based on the Iranian paper to see what Iran is prepared to do" and hopes a meeting can occur "as soon as possible."

...thus W refused the grand deal with Khamenei and Khatami and the UR rewards Ahmedinejad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Where's the Party of Ideas? (Michael Gerson, September 11, 2009, Washington Post)

This failure of imagination was on full display during Barack Obama's address to Congress. In a moment that demanded new policy to cut an ideological knot, or at least new arguments to restart the public debate, Obama saw fit to provide neither. His health speech turned out to be an environmental speech, devoted mainly to recycling. On every important element of his health proposal, he chose to double down and attack the motives of opponents. (Obama was the other public official who talked of a "lie" that evening.) Concerns about controlling health costs, the indirect promotion of abortion and the effect of a new entitlement on future deficits were dismissed but not answered. On health care, Obama takes his progressivism pure and simplistic.

The emotional core of the speech was a closing request to win one for Ted Kennedy -- an appeal that seemed designed to rally Democrats rather than unite Americans. And that clearly is now the goal. Eke out 60 Senate votes for passage, or perhaps 50 using the riding crop of "reconciliation." Victory without concession (except, maybe, on the already doomed public option). Victory without consensus.

This is the most consistent disappointment of Obama's young term. Given a historic opportunity to occupy the political center, to blur ideological lines, to reset the partisan debate through unexpected innovation, Obama has taken the most tired, most predictable agenda in American politics -- the agenda of congressional liberalism -- and made it his own. Elected on the promise to transcend old arguments of left and right, Obama has systematically reinforced them on domestic issues. A pork-laden stimulus. A highly centralized health reform. Eight months into Obama's term, American politics is covered in the cobwebs of past controversies. Obama has supporters, but he has ceased trying for converts.

This should surprise no one. Obama did not rise on Bill Clinton's political path -- the path of a New Democrat, forced to win and govern in a red state.

...that's been repeated more regularly without being understood than the way the two party bases react to the new ideas. After all, Margaret thatcher was forced from office by the Tories, not the people. Ditto her heir, Tony Blair, by Labour. Bill Clinton was only able to succeed with the help of the GOP--on trade bills, deficit reduction and Welfare Reform--not his own party, which blew itself up pushing the Second Way. Meanwhile, George W. Bush handed his party three unprecedented election victories and passage of most of the big ideas they'd fought decades for--school vouchers, HSAs, etc.--but the Congressional GOP turned on him savagely over Dubai ports, Harriet Miers, immigration reform, the bank bailout, etc., costing themselves two elections and clearing the way for Barack Obama.

Comes now President Obama, who was smart enough to run to John McCain's Right, as Bill Clinton had run to GHWB's. But the very fact of winning seems to have done to him what it did to Mr. Clinton, convince him he can govern as a retrograde figure rather than the reformer he promised. And he can't embrace the new ideas because they are too closely associated with despised figures like W, Tony Blair and President Clinton for his own party to accept them. He finds himself exactly where his predecessor was in 1993, dependent on the slaughter of his own party at the midterm so that he can work with the Republican Congress to pass an agenda consistent with the Third Way.

America is the ultimate Red State and to govern it he'll need to ape the later Clinton Years and the Blair premiership, becoming what his own party hates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Where Is Obama’s ‘Center’?: Look at his Rolodex and then figure out just where such a man would estimate it to be. (Mark Steyn, 9/12/09, National Review)

The New York Times’s in-house conservative David Brooks was an early champion of Obama and is profiled in the current edition of The New Republic cooing paeans to the then-senator”s “pant leg and perfectly creased pant.” Alas, for David Brooks, the bottom has dropped out of Obama’s perfectly creased pants. The other day he was tutting that the Obama administration is in trouble because “it joined itself at the hip to the liberal leadership in Congress.” My National Review colleague Jay Nordlinger was reminded of an old observation by the great Theodore Dalrymple. During his time as an English prison doctor, Dalrymple frequently met ne’er-do-wells who said they’d “fallen in with the wrong crowd,” but, oddly enough, in all those years, he never met the wrong crowd.

Likewise, Obama didn’t “join” himself to the liberal leadership; he is the liberal leadership. The administration didn’t fall in with the wrong crowd; they are the wrong crowd. Van Jones, Yosi Sergant, and ACORN are where Barack Obama has chosen to live all his adult life. Even if he wanted to be the bipartisan centrist of David Brooks’s fantasies, look at his Rolodex and then figure out just where such a man would estimate the “center” to be.

If you hire a guy with chief executive experience he knows executives. Hire a community organizer and he knows mainly lunatics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Friends, Not Allies: THE HAWK AND THE DOVE: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War By Nicholas Thompson (MARK ATWOOD LAWRENCE, NY Times Book Review)

The end of the cold war brought relief, even joy, for most Americans. With the crumbling of the Eastern bloc in 1989, more than four decades of anxiety seemed to be over. One of the few discordant voices came, surprisingly, from George Kennan, the former United States diplomat who had devised the “containment” policy widely considered responsible for the Western triumph. “I believe it would have happened earlier,” Kennan lamented less than a month after Germans began chipping holes in the Berlin Wall, “if we had not insisted on militarizing the rivalry.” [...]

Kennan rose to prominence in 1946, when the Truman administration urgently wanted to understand the reasons for Soviet hostility to the West. The senior United States diplomat at the embassy in Moscow, Kennan offered eloquent and forcefully argued answers. Soviet belligerence sprang from a mix of Marxist ideology and old-fashioned power-­mongering, he said. He then proposed that Washington adopt a policy not of directly confronting Moscow but of frustrating it by opposing Communists wherever they threatened to expand their influence beyond their borders. Over the long term, Kennan predicted, constant frustration would cause the Soviet system to mellow and then collapse.

Thus was born the policy of containment, which became the cornerstone of national security for the rest of the cold war. [...]

Yet, as Thompson emphasizes, acceptance of containment also brought Kennan disappointments that haunted him until his death in 2005. Kennan believed that the Soviet Union, however repugnant, posed little military threat to the West and urged that the United States rely mostly on economic and political means to resist Communist expansion.

...then we should have welcomed Soviet expansion, which, because Mr. Kennan was right about the unworkability of their system, was really just over-expansion. Containment was the worst option.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


What Ever Happened To 'Cool'? (Max Stier, September 12, 2009, NY Times)

After promising to restore faith in our government and make it "cool" and "competent," you slighted our public servants by derisively referring to them as "bureaucrats" in an effort to appease those who worry about a government takeover of health care.

On Wednesday, you told Congress and the American people, "I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need."

At a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo., on Aug. 15, you said, "I don't want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care."

It seems that you are willing to use -- at least for the sake of health-care reform -- the misguided language that government workers are incompetent and can't be trusted. It's a flawed strategy that only perpetuates the lack of trust in our government and reinforces negative stereotypes.

Did this guy sleep through the past thirty years? The Second Way is dead--no one trusts government to be more competent than the private sector at delivering services.

September 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Eight Years After 9/11: Why Osama bin Laden is a Failure (Tony Karon, Sep. 11, 2009, TIME)

The purpose of the 9/11 attacks was not simply to kill Americans; they formed part of bin Laden's strategy to launch a global Islamist revolution aimed at ending U.S. influence in Muslim countries, overthrowing regimes there allied with Washington, and putting al-Qaeda at the head of a global Islamist insurgency whose objective was to restore the rule of the Islamic Caliphate that had once ruled territory stretching from Moorish Spain through much of Asia.

Today, however, al-Qaeda is believed to comprise a couple of hundred desperate men, their core leaders hiding out in Pakistan's tribal wilds and under constant threat of attack by ever-present U.S. drone aircraft, their place in Western nightmares and security assessments long-since eclipsed by such longtime rivals as Iran, Hizballah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. This year's official threat assessment by the U.S. Directorate of National Intelligence cited the primary security challenge facing the U.S. as the global economic downturn. The report cited "notable progress in Muslim public opinion turning against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda" and said no country was at risk of falling to Qaeda-inspired extremists. It argued that sustained pressure against the movement's surviving core in the Pakistani tribal wilds was degrading its organizational cohesion and diminishing the threat it poses.

...was that rather than focus on al Qaeda he instead went all liberationist on them. You kill a few thousand of us, we free 20 million of you from genocidal dictatorship. How were OBL and company ever going to win that war?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Bush-Era Official's Appointment to Declassification Panel Draws Fire (Ellen Nakashima, 9/11/09, Washington Post)

The newest member of a panel that advises the president on declassification policy is a former top intelligence official who oversaw some of the Bush administration's most controversial counterterrorism programs.

Michael V. Hayden, a retired four-star Air Force general, was appointed to the Public Interest Declassification Board by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during the August recess. [...]

"To this day, the NSA continues to conceal virtually all information about the warrantless wiretapping program," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "As CIA director, General Hayden claimed that destruction of waterboarding tapes was 'in line with the law.' "

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Bleeding Independents: Obama's agenda has fanned fears that government is expanding too far, too fast. (Charlie Cook, Sept. 5, 2009, National Journal)

Obama and Capitol Hill leaders don't need to worry too much about their modest drop in support from Democratic voters or the predictable drop on the Republican side. But top Democrats should be very frightened about the sharp drop in support among independents, because it could ultimately threaten their party's hold on the House and shrink their majority in the Senate.

Independent voters -- fired up by the war in Iraq and Republican scandals -- gave Democrats control of both chambers of Congress in 2006. Two years later, independents upset with President Bush and eager to give his party another kick expanded the Democratic majorities on the Hill. Late in the campaign, the economic downturn, together with an influx of young people and minorities enthusiastic about Obama, created a wave that left the GOP in ruins.

That was then; this is now. For the seven weeks from mid-April through the first week of June, Obama's weekly Gallup Poll approval rating among independents ran in the 60-to-70 percent range. But in four of the past five weeks, it has been only in the mid-to-high 40s. Meanwhile, Democrats and liberals seem lethargic even though Republicans and conservatives are spitting nails and can't wait to vote.

What's going on? While political analysts were fixated on last fall's campaign and on Obama's victory, inauguration, and first 100 days in office, two other dynamics were developing. First, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression scared many voters, making them worry about their future and that of their children and grandchildren. And the federal government's failure to prevent that calamity fundamentally undermined the public's already low confidence in government's ability to solve problems.

If there's one thing the GOP should be good at after 150 years, it's rhetoric about reducing government spending.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


A Clear Signal on Total Cost, Less Clarity on How to Pay (JANET ADAMY, 9/11/09, WSJ)

President Barack Obama said in his address to Congress on Wednesday that the health overhaul should cost about $900 billion over a decade and not increase the budget deficit. It was the strongest signal he has given on the total tab, but Mr. Obama left unclear how he wants to cover it.

The Dime Standard (DAVID BROOKS, 9/11/09, NY Times)
[O]bama rested the credibility of his presidency on what you might call the Dime Standard. He was flexible about many things, but not this: “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future. Period.”

This sound bite kills the House health care bill. That bill would add $220 billion (that’s 2.2 trillion dimes) to the deficit over the first 10 years and another $1 trillion (10 trillion dimes) to the deficit over the next 10 years.

There is no way to get from the House bill to deficit neutrality. The president’s speech guarantees that the more moderate Senate Finance Committee bill will be the basis for the negotiations to come.

The Dime Standard also sets off a political cascade. Since the Congressional Budget Office is the universally accepted arbiter in such matters, the Democrats have to produce a bill that the C.B.O. says is deficit-neutral, now and forever.

Wanna bet? Prepare for the coming spin as they try to use a source other than CBO to score the bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Ambitious musical ‘Sammy’ to premiere at Old Globe: Sammy Davis, Jr. comes alive in production that runs Sept. 19 to Nov. 8 (Pat Launer, 9/10/09, SDNN)

[T]he show didn’t take its final shape until Obba Babatundé came into the mix.

“We had seen a lot of people,” Spisto says of the nationwide auditions. “With a show like “Sammy,” you either get the right man or you do not attempt it. We are incredibly fortunate to have found the perfect actor to play the role.”

“We had a reading in New York a few months ago,” says Bricusse, “and Obba came to meet us. And I remembered that Sammy had brought him to my house in Beverly Hills years ago, when Obba was young, maybe in his 20s. Sammy was his mentor. Up till that point, we weren’t sure what age Sammy should be in the show. When I saw Obba, I realized we should be doing it from the experienced Sammy’s retrospective point of view.

San Diego: poster“I knew it would be right to have an older Sammy looking back, being his own narrator at the beginning; then the scenes themselves become the narration. The show is 70% music, so the songs, as they should, tell the story. The songs reflect how he’s feeling. I knew Sammy so well, I found the dramatic moments, using a known song in a completely different context from which it was written. For instance, when Sammy loses his eye, he thinks he’ll never dance again, and he sings ‘Who Can I Turn To?’

“Obba had a natural affinity for the role,” Bricusse continues, “an uncanny take on Sammy. He captures his essence more than anyone I’ve ever known. And Obba knows that this is his ‘Once in a Lifetime’ moment, which just happens to be the song (from ‘Stop the World’), that opens the show.”

Like his mentor, Obba is a skilled actor, singer and dancer who’s been entertaining audiences since he was a child. Sammy once said of him: “I feel safe knowing that with cats like Obba, when I get out of this business, I am leaving it in good hands.”

“It may sound peculiar or cliché,” Babatundé says, “but this is a role I was born to play. As an African American child, Sammy Davis, Jr. was the image on TV I was able to identify with. He was an all-around entertainer, extremely proficient at everything he did, and one of the few African Americans who appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ ‘The Cavalcade of Stars,’ ‘Laugh-In,’ in film, even his own TV show. There was no comparative, and that went into my psyche. Without a conscious thought, I made a decision that I would become that type of entertainer. I patterned myself after Sammy, and like him, I wanted to do it in every field: singing, dancing, comedy, straight drama. He was without peer for me.”

Babatundé went on to fulfill most of his dreams. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance as C.C. White in the original Broadway cast of “Dreamgirls.” He was the first Jelly Roll Morton in “Jelly’s Last Jam,” and appeared in the Broadway revival of “Chicago.” He even took on the lead character in the Broadway revival of “Golden Boy,” 20 years after Sammy originated the role. Babatunté was nominated for an Emmy for his TV performance in “Miss Evers’ Boys,” and has appeared in 60 made-for-television movies, as well as a number of feature films, such as “The Celestine Prophecy,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and the upcoming “If I Tell You, I Have to Kill You.”

But the moment that’s seared in his brain, was that night in 1978, when he was co-starring in a world tour with Liza Minnelli.

“We happened to be on the same circuit as Sammy,” says Babatundé. “It’s a moment I will never forget, as long as I have breath in my body. Sammy was opening at Harrah’s in Tahoe. It was our closing, and he was opening the next night. Liza was aware that I was a huge fan of his. He was almost like her godfather. That night, she came to me and said, ‘Obba, Sammy’s in the dressing room. Would you like to meet him?’ I said I’d like him to see me after he sees my work. She said he wasn’t staying for the show; he was having trouble with his gums.

“I saw him and said, ‘How do you do, Mr. Davis?’ ‘Sam, Man,” he said. ‘Call me Sam.’ I couldn’t. He was iconic to me. I called him Mr. D - and that’s what I called him for the rest of my relationship with him. He said, ‘I’d love to see you… but my gums…’

“And then I found out that he had stayed. He heard me do my solo number, ‘Mr. Cellophane’ (from “Chicago”). After the show, there was a knock on my door. ‘It’s Sam,’ he said. ‘You, my man, are a bitch on wheels.’ And he went on to say some wonderful, kind praises about my work. When he stopped, I said, ‘Thank you for coming in through the kitchen, so I could come in through the front door.’ His eyes welled up, and he said, ‘Thank you for that, Man.’

“From that point, we became very close. It was an amazing relationship. A real special relationship. He came to see ‘Dreamgirls’ on Broadway. He said he enjoyed the relationship we had, the way I presented myself, the sense of professionalism and my commitment to entertainment. I knew him to the end.

“He didn’t have much education, but he was brilliant and knowledgeable about everything. This came from his great desire — to a fault, almost — to have what everyone else had. He knew everything about Shakespeare. He still holds the record for the fastest quick-draw with a six-shooter. Whatever it was, he did it to the maximum. I also have a large thirst for knowledge. I studied sign language, for example, just because I love learning.

“When I become Sammy Davis, Jr. in this show, it’s almost like the spirit of Sammy inhabits me. I was lucky to get into the inside of who the man was. In his case, much of who the man was is in who the entertainer was. However your life is developed by your environment, his was show business.”

The musical begins in 1951, on Oscar night, when Sammy opened for Janis Paige at Ciro’s nightclub on Sunset Boulevard. His memories take him back to his beginnings in Harlem, to the vaudeville days, the Cotton Club. Then forward in time, through the roller-coaster ride of his life, told via 25 songs, about 16 of which are new. The penultimate number is “The Good Things in Life.” But the big finish is Sammy’s signature song, “Bojangles.”

“It’s not an impersonation,” asserts Babatundé. “It’s what I would call a reincarnation, the essence of who he was. People have always compared me to Sammy. My voice sounds very close to his voice.

“I think we have something very, very special here.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


A Year After Last September's Panic, Geithner Says It's Time to Phase Out Economic Rescue Programs (MATTHEW JAFFE, Sept. 10, 2009, ABC News)

With the country's economy improving and the financial system showing signs of repair, the time has come to start winding down government programs put in place to rescue the nation from recession, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said Thursday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Obama Facing Doubts Within His Own Party on Afghanistan (ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER, 9/11/09, NY Times)

The leading Senate Democrat on military matters said Thursday that he was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces.

The comments by the senator, Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, illustrate the growing skepticism President Obama is facing in his own party as the White House decides whether to commit more deeply to a war that has begun losing public support, even as American commanders acknowledge that the situation on the ground has deteriorated.

Senator Levin’s comments, made in an interview and in the draft of a speech he will deliver Friday, are significant because his stature on military matters gives him the ability to sway fellow lawmakers, and his pivotal committee position provides a platform for vetting Mr. Obama’s major decisions on troops.

As hard as it is to take a neophyte like the UR seriously on national security matters, a party that defers to Carl Levin on those questions is laughable. Democrats ought to support term limits just so they can get rid of the guys who were even on the wrong side in the Cold War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Lebanon's political crisis deepens as prime minister-designate abruptly quits (Borzou Daragahi, September 11, 2009, LA Times)

If Suleiman designates him again as prime minister, Hariri could try to form a Cabinet without the support of the opposition. But analysts say that risks deepening the crisis.

"This would be seen as too dangerous," said Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at American University of Beirut. "Hezbollah would view this as a declaration of war."

There is no Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Pakistan army captures Taliban leader in Swat (Declan Walsh, 9/11/09,

The Pakistan army has captured the Swat Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan – the first arrest of an insurgent leader since the start of a major military operation in the picturesque northern valley four months ago.

An army spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, said that Khan and another commander, Mahmood Khan, had been seized. Both had £73,000 bounties on their heads. Three lesser commanders were also captured.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


OECD Data Point to 'Broad Economic Recovery' (PAUL HANNON, 9/11/09, WSJ)

There are increasingly strong indications that the world economy is on the path to recovery, with both the leading developed and the leading developing economies emerging from a downturn, according to figures released Friday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Paris-based think tank's composite leading indicator of economic activity in its 30 members rose to 97.8 in July from 96.3 in June.

The OECD said the indicators "point to broad economic recovery."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


The biggest problem for the Liberal Democrats is illiberal Britain (Martin Kettle, 9/11/09,

So why are the Lib Dems not doing better? The first answer can be put in two words: David and Cameron. Cameron's election as Tory leader in late 2005 was a watershed for the Lib Dems. Before Cameron – BC – they were most voters' default second choice. After Dave – AD – they weren't. A liberal Tory leader – and Cameron is, whatever anyone says – has stopped the long-familiar Tory-to-Lib Dem swing vote in its tracks.

The second answer, though, is that the Lib Dems have become part of the establishment. For decades they have prospered as the anti-politics party, running against the system, apostles of new politics. Now, particularly after the expenses scandal, they have woken up to discover that they are seen as part of the problem. The cosy two-party system is suddenly the cosy three-party system, and the Lib Dems are a cosy part of it. Meanwhile, other small parties have seized the ground the Lib Dems once thought to rule unchallenged. If you want to vote against the establishment, you can now vote Green or Red or Ukip or even BNP. Look at Norwich North or the European elections. Doubtless it's all very unfair. But it's also true.

However the third answer is that Britain may not, after all, be as liberal a society as many of us would like, and sometimes pretend. I don't think there is any doubt that the Lib Dems stand for liberal values and that the voters understand this. It is silly to pretend that Nick Clegg is in any significant way more or less liberal than Ming Campbell, Charles Kennedy or any of their predecessors. The truth is simply that most Tory and Labour voters are not instinctively liberals.

...where an Afro-Muslim Socialist agent of change is indistinguishable from a petro-fascist Christianist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Here's the link to the Brothers Judd collection of links from 9-11 and the days that followed. Some will inevitably be inactive by now, but you can probably find the original by entering the URL in the Wayback Machine. This still seems the best moment from the aftermath--President's Remarks at National Day of Prayer and Remembrance (The National Cathedral, 9/14/01, Washington, D.C.)--this the best instant essay, The Queen’s Tears (Mark Steyn, September 17, 2001, National Review)--and this the most evocative follow-up, The Falling Man (Tom Junod, September 2003, Esquire).

Please also let us know in the Comments if any of the ones you read are particularly good--we'll try to separate them out and post them separately, or if you see other stuff elsewhere today that should be added. Thanks

-The September 11 Digital Archive
-9/11/2001: Major Speeches and Interviews (Authentic History Center)

Our National 9/11 Schizophrenia: The great debate over 9/11 and the American response — is it coming to an end? (Victor Davis Hanson, 9/11/09, National Review)

In response, the United States quickly attacked and removed the Taliban government that had offered sanctuary to the killers. About 15 months later, in March 2003, America successfully invaded Iraq, deposed the dictator Saddam Hussein, and fostered a constitutional government in his place.

At home, a new Department of Homeland Security oversaw fresh counterterrorism measures. The government stepped up wiretaps and email intercepts of suspected terrorists. It established military tribunals, continued renditions of jihadists abroad, and inaugurated Predator-drone assassinations of terrorists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Bush administration ordered the creation of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

All of these post-9/11 measures were debated in the congressional election campaigns of 2002, and during the presidential campaign of 2004. Incumbents responsible for such a muscular response to al-Qaeda were mostly reelected — given that, despite the steep human costs, the Taliban regime and Saddam Hussein were gone, democracies were in their places, and the United States had not suffered another attack when most experts had affirmed that such an event was inevitable.

In addition, almost immediately after the removal from power and later capture of Saddam Hussein, Pakistan put its nuclear proliferator, A. Q. Khan, under house arrest. Libya voluntarily surrendered its stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and its facilities for manufacturing more. A peaceful “cedar revolution” in Lebanon led to the removal of long-standing Syrian occupation troops.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Blueberry is food for thought: A blueberry smoothie at breakfast can stop your powers of concentration waning in the afternoon - and even help fight dementia in the long term, new research suggests. (Richard Alleyne, 10 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The findings of the study, reported at the British Science Festival, add to the growing reputation of blueberries as the super-food of super-foods.

The fruit, which is an anti-oxidant, has already been linked to lower heart disease and cancer rates as well as anti-ageing.

Antioxidants remove free radicals - chemicals that have the potential to cause damage to cells and tissues in the body.

But Dr Jeremy Spencer, a molecular nutritionist at the University of Reading who carried out the latest study, believes its affect on the mind is less to do with its antioxidant properties and more to do with its ability to increase the blood flow to your brain.

Special chemicals in the fruit, known as flavonoids, open up blood vessels, allowing increased blood flow and at the same time a reduction of blood pressure.

The effect is improved cognitive performance in the short term, and a healthier brain in the long term.

Popcorn and cereals as rich in antioxidants as fruit and vegetables: Snack foods like popcorn and many popular breakfast cereals contain the same amount of healthy antioxidants as fruit and vegetables, claim researchers. (Richard Alleyne, 19 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)
Polyphenols are a group of chemicals found in many fruits, vegetables, and other plants, such as berries, walnuts, olives, tea leaves and grapes.

Known as antioxidants, they remove free radicals from the body. Free radicals are chemicals that have the potential to cause damage to cells and tissues in the body.

Polyphenols have up to 10 times the antioxidant effect as vitamins C and E.

It is known that whole grain foods are good for you but it was always thought that it was the fibre in them that had the health benefits.

Now scientists are reassessing their effectiveness and think it might be the polyphenols that are active health-giving ingredient.

The US chemist Dr Joe Vinson, who made the discovery, said: "We really were surprised by the levels of polyphenols we found in popcorn. I guess its because it's not processed. You get all the wonderful ingredients of the corn undiluted and protected by the skin.

"In my opinion it's a good health food."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Russia has huge political and economic problems, says Dmitry Medvedev (Luke Harding, 9/11/09,

Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, has admitted that his country faces appalling structural problems including a weak democracy, shrinking population, and a non-performing economy.

In a withering assessment of the country, Medvedev avoided criticising Vladimir Putin, the man in charge for most of the last decade and now prime minister, but said Russia had so far failed to fulfil its enormous potential.

The country faced vast social challenges, he said, including corruption, a feeble civil society, terrorism, alcoholism, and smoking. Russia was also in the grip of a poverty-fuelled insurgency across its North Caucasus, he added.

"An ineffective economy, a semi-Soviet social sphere, a weak democracy, negative demographic trends and an unstable Caucasus. These are very big problems even for a state like Russia," Medevdev wrote in his official blog.

It's a mark of little Democrats understand the world that the UR has wasted so much time and energy trying to appease them. W's closest adviser was a Sovietologist and he still began his administration by disposing of the ABM treaty and blithely ignored their objections to the liberation of Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


To Save Afghanistan, Look to Its Past (ANSAR RAHEL and JON KRAKAUER, 9/11/09, NY Times)

Afghanistan faces a number of crises, any one of which would alone justify convening a loya jirga as soon as possible. But the most compelling reason for doing so is to have Afghans from disparate tribes, regions and ethnicities come together, outside the acting government, to select a president who will be considered legitimate by the people. No other process — not a presidential decree, a special commission, a court ruling, an elections committee, an act of Parliament or an internationally sponsored conference — could accomplish this.

Certainly, a loya jirga is no panacea. The emphasis on achieving consensus can cause discussions to drag on interminably. The process may not be immune from political intimidation or even violence. During the loya jirga that considered the Constitution, ethnic factions argued so vehemently that some Westerners feared the nation would splinter.

There is no Afghanistan, just divide it up into its tribal constituencies.

September 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM




This Court decided at an early date, with neither argument nor discussion, that a business corporation is a "person" entitled to the protection of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific R. Co., 118 U.S. 394, 396 (1886). Likewise, it soon became accepted that the property of a corporation was protected under the Due Process Clause of that same Amendment. See, e. g., Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 466, 522 (1898). Nevertheless, we concluded soon thereafter that the liberty protected by that Amendment "is the liberty of natural, not artificial persons." Northwestern Nat. Life Ins. Co. v. Riggs, 203 U.S. 243, 255 (1906). Before today, our only considered and explicit departures from that holding have been that a corporation engaged in the business of publishing or broadcasting enjoys the same liberty of the press as is enjoyed by natural persons, Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 244 (1936), and that a nonprofit membership corporation organized for the purpose of "achieving . . . equality of treatment by all government, federal, state and local, for the members of the Negro community" enjoys certain liberties of political expression. NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 429 (1963).

The question presented today, whether business corporations have a constitutionally protected liberty to engage in political activities, has never been squarely addressed by any previous decision of this Court. 1 However, the General Court [435 U.S. 765, 823] of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Congress of the United States, and the legislatures of 30 other States of this Republic have considered the matter, and have concluded that restrictions upon the political activity of business corporations are both politically desirable and constitutionally permissible. The judgment of such a broad consensus of governmental bodies expressed over a period of many decades is entitled to considerable deference from this Court. I think it quite probable that their judgment may properly be reconciled with our controlling precedents, but I am certain that under my views of the limited application of the First Amendment to the States, which I share with the two immediately preceding occupants of my seat on the Court, but not with my present colleagues, the judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts should be affirmed.

Early in our history, Mr. Chief Justice Marshall described the status of a corporation in the eyes of federal law:

"A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of creation confers upon it, either expressly, or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created." Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518, 636 (1819).

The appellants herein either were created by the Commonwealth or were admitted into the Commonwealth only for the limited purposes described in their charters and regulated by [435 U.S. 765, 824] state law. 2 Since it cannot be disputed that the mere creation of a corporation does not invest it with all the liberties enjoyed by natural persons, United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 698 -701 (1944) (corporations do not enjoy the privilege against self-incrimination), our inquiry must seek to determine which constitutional protections are "incidental to its very existence." Dartmouth College, supra, at 636.

There can be little doubt that when a State creates a corporation with the power to acquire and utilize property, it necessarily and implicitly guarantees that the corporation will not be deprived of that property absent due process of law. Likewise, when a State charters a corporation for the purpose of publishing a newspaper, it necessarily assumes that the corporation is entitled to the liberty of the press essential to the conduct of its business. 3 Grosjean so held, and our subsequent cases have so assumed. E. g., Time, Inc. v. Firestone, 424 U.S. 448 (1976); New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, [435 U.S. 765, 825] 376 U.S. 254 (1964). 4 Until recently, it was not thought that any persons, natural or artificial, had any protected right to engage in commercial speech. See Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748, 761 -770 (1976). Although the Court has never explicitly recognized a corporation's right of commercial speech, such a right might be considered necessarily incidental to the business of a commercial corporation.

It cannot be so readily concluded that the right of political expression is equally necessary to carry out the functions of a corporation organized for commercial purposes. 5 A State grants to a business corporation the blessings of potentially perpetual life and limited liability to enhance its efficiency as [435 U.S. 765, 826] an economic entity. It might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere. Furthermore, it might be argued that liberties of political expression are not at all necessary to effectuate the purposes for which States permit commercial corporations to exist. So long as the Judicial Branches of the State and Federal Governments remain open to protect the corporation's interest in its property, it has no need, though it may have the desire, to petition the political branches for similar protection. Indeed, the States might reasonably fear that the corporation would use its economic power to obtain further benefits beyond those already bestowed. 6 I would think that any particular form of organization [435 U.S. 765, 827] upon which the State confers special privileges or immunities different from those of natural persons would be subject to like regulation, whether the organization is a labor union, a partnership, a trade association, or a corporation.

One need not adopt such a restrictive view of the political liberties of business corporations to affirm the judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court in this case. That court reasoned that this Court's decisions entitling the property of a corporation to constitutional protection should be construed as recognizing the liberty of a corporation to express itself on political matters concerning that property. Thus, the Court construed the statute in question not to forbid political expression [435 U.S. 765, 828] by a corporation "when a general political issue materially affects a corporation's business, property or assets." 371 Mass. 773, 785, 359 N. E. 2d 1262, 1270 (1977).

I can see no basis for concluding that the liberty of a corporation to engage in political activity with regard to matters having no material effect on its business is necessarily incidental to the purposes for which the Commonwealth permitted these corporations to be organized or admitted within its boundaries. Nor can I disagree with the Supreme Judicial Court's factual finding that no such effect has been shown by these appellants. Because the statute as construed provides at least as much protection as the Fourteenth Amendment requires, I believe it is constitutionally valid.

It is true, as the Court points out, ante, at 781-783, that recent decisions of this Court have emphasized the interest of the public in receiving the information offered by the speaker seeking protection. The free flow of information is in no way diminished by the Commonwealth's decision to permit the operation of business corporations with limited rights of political expression. All natural persons, who owe their existence to a higher sovereign than the Commonwealth, remain as free as before to engage in political activity. Cf. Maher v. Roe, 432 U.S. 464, 474 (1977).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


8 years later, 9/11 still no ordinary day for US Muslims who fear anniversary backlash (RACHEL ZOLL , 9/10/09, Associated Press)

[M]any American Muslims say Sept. 11 will never be routine, no matter how many anniversaries have passed.

"I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every year," said Nancy Rokayak of Charlotte, N.C., who covers her hair in public. "I feel on 9/11 others look at me and blame me for the events that took place."

Rokayak, a U.S.-born convert, has four children with her husband, who is from Egypt, and works as an ultrasound technologist. She makes sure she is wearing a red, white and blue flag pin every Sept. 11 and feels safer staying close to home.

Sarah Sayeed, who lives in the Bronx, said that for a long time, she hesitated before going out on the anniversary. The morning the World Trade Center crumbled, she rushed to her son's Islamic day school so they could both return home. The other women there warned that she should take off her headscarf, or hijab, for her own safety. She now attends an interfaith prayer event each Sept. 11, keeping her hair covered as always.

"There's still a sense of `Should I go anywhere? Should I say anything?' There's kind of that anxiety," said Sayeed, who was born in India and came to the U.S. at age 8. "I force myself to go out."

The anniversary brings a mix of emotions: sorrow over the huge loss of life, anguish over the wars that followed, but also resentment over how the hijackings so completely transformed the place of Muslims in the U.S. and beyond.

No pride that their country liberated tens of millions of Muslims?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:45 PM


We'll do the Brothers Judd Football Pool again this year. You just pick winners for every game every week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


France's Sarkozy urges carbon tax (GREG KELLER, 9/10/09, The Associated Press)

The tax would be initially based on the market price for carbon dioxide emissions permits, which is now euro17 ($24.74) per ton of carbon dioxide, Sarkozy said. At that level, the government expects to raise euro3 billion, which will be entirely returned to households and businesses through a reduction in other taxes or repaid via a so-called "Green Check," Sarkozy said.

The result would be a shift of the tax burden from other revenue sources to energy derived from fossil fuels in an effort to discourage their use.

Kind of sad that the French have to lead the way, but at least someone is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


For Iran's Spies, A Putsch D(avid Ignatius, September 10, 2009, Washington Post)

In recent private contacts with the West, some prominent Iranian politicians have underlined this theme: Ahmadinejad is trying to consolidate power, but the maverick president is facing growing opposition from within the ruling elite. Khamenei remains the crucial actor, according to these Iranians, and while he generally leans in Ahmadinejad's direction, he has overruled some of the president's decisions, such as his attempt to install his closest personal adviser, Esfandiar Mashaie, as first vice president.

These machinations illustrate how difficult it will be to chart a viable U.S. policy for Iran in the post-election turmoil. Already, the administration has shifted from its pre-election approach of active outreach to a more passive stance in which it's Iran's responsibility to make the next moves. "We're keeping the door open, but it's up to them to walk through it," says a senior administration official.

One Iranian political figure has told a Western intermediary that the Obama administration may have unwittingly encouraged the regime's power grab by sending two letters to Khamenei before the June election. The first, delivered through Iran's mission to the United Nations, was a general invitation to dialogue. Khamenei is said to have taken a month to answer, and then only in vague terms. A second Obama administration letter reiterated U.S. interest in engagement. According to the Iranian political figure, this may have emboldened Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to think they had a free hand on June 12.

A second prominent Iranian politician, who is close to Khamenei, advised a Western contact recently that if the United States wants to change relations, it must deal with Khamenei directly, without going through the Ahmadinejad government.

...he doesn't even realize that Ahmedinejad isn't Khamenei's man.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Quake: From: Quaker: Introduced in 1965 (Mr. Breakfast)

Quake and it's partner cereal Quisp were introduced by Quaker Oats in 1965.

Quake was described in commercials as "wonderful wheelies of corn and oats... buzzin' with honey and bustin' with earthquake power." The cereal pieces were shaped like small gears with holes in the center.

Quake and Quisp were almost always promoted together in television and print advertising. The cereals' mascots were developed by Jay Ward and Bill Scott, the creators of Rocky & Bullwinkle. Quaker enlisted the team to create characters that cereal brands could be built upon. Two years earlier, Quaker, Ward and Scott had great success using the mascot-precedes-the-cereal formula when they created Cap'n Crunch.

The cartoon spokesman for Quake was a large (nearly menacing), muscular, broad-jawed man who wore a miner's helmet and a cape. It was implied that Quake the character and Quake the cereal both came from the center of the earth, which explains the miner's equipment and references to earthquakes. Early advertising distinctly showed that Quake had the ability to fly. That aspect of the character was later downplayed in favor of Quake's clever use of unconventional transportation such as whales or swimming horses.

The mascot for Quisp cereal was a pink alien also called Quisp. By means of a propeller lodged in his head, Quisp would fly around promoting his cereal and often provoke Quake with challenges that Quisp was a better cereal with better premiums.

While the two cereals were virtually identical in flavor (Quake was said to be slightly crunchier), Quisp proved to have much more consumer appeal and traditionally beat Quake in sales. Quaker placed the blame on Quake the character. [...]

In 1972, Quaker asked consumers to vote on which cereal/character they liked best. The loosing cereal would be discontinued. Based on the cereal's sales in the preceding years, it was a foregone conclusion. By 1973, Quake had disappeared from grocery store shelves.

But not from the memory of bitter twerps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Japan death row 'breeds insanity' (BBC, 9/10/09)

Prisoners on death row in Japan are being driven towards insanity by harsh conditions, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

The group is calling for an immediate moratorium on all further executions and for police interrogation reform. [...]

In Japan, where criminal trials have a 99% conviction rate, the death penalty has wide public support.

Shouldn't they be calling for expedited executions to end the suffering?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


High Court's Conservatives Skeptical of Election Law (Robert Barnes, 9/10/09, Washington Post)

The Obama administration's solicitor general, Elena Kagan, arguing her first case before the court, seemed willing to sacrifice the case at hand to keep the court from making a broad constitutional finding that would hamper government efforts to restrict corporate spending in elections.

Under tough questioning from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. about whether the government was admitting that it should lose the case about the film, Kagan said no. But she added: "If you are asking me, Mr. Chief Justice, as to whether the government has a preference as to the way in which it loses, if it has to lose, the answer is yes." [...]

The court's liberal members defended the restrictions and said it is reasonable for Congress to differentiate between an individual's role in the political process and a corporation's.

"A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

Not that inventing rights out of whole cloth is any better when the Right does it, but we're long past the point where the Court's decisions are principled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


FACT CHECK: Obama uses iffy math on deficit pledge (CALVIN WOODWARD and ERICA WERNER, 9/09/09, AP)

President Barack Obama used only-in-Washington accounting Wednesday when he promised to overhaul the nation's health care system without adding "one dime" to the deficit. By conventional arithmetic, Democratic plans would drive up the deficit by billions of dollars. [...]

House Democrats offered a bill that the Congressional Budget Office said would add $220 billion to the deficit over 10 years. But Democrats and Obama administration officials claimed the bill actually was deficit-neutral. They said they simply didn't have to count $245 billion of it — the cost of adjusting Medicare reimbursement rates so physicians don't face big annual pay cuts.

Their reasoning was that they already had decided to exempt this "doc fix" from congressional rules that require new programs to be paid for. In other words, it doesn't have to be paid for because they decided it doesn't have to be paid for.

The administration also said that since Obama already had included the doctor payment in his 10-year budget proposal, it didn't have to be counted again.

That aside, the long-term prognosis for costs of the health care legislation has not been good.

CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf had this to say in July: "We do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount."

Fact check: A look at some of President Obama’s assertions last night: (Boston Globe, September 10, 2009)

OBAMA: Requiring insurance companies to cover preventive care like mammograms and colonoscopies “makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.’’

THE FACTS: Studies have shown that much preventive care - particularly tests like the ones Obama mentions - actually costs money instead of saving it. That’s because detecting acute diseases like breast cancer in their early stages involves testing many people who would never end up developing the disease. The costs of a large number of tests, even if they’re relatively cheap, will outweigh the costs of caring for the minority of people who would have ended up getting sick without the testing.

The Congressional Budget Office wrote in August: “The evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall.’’

You'd save money and improve health by banning such tests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


We often underestimate just how easy we have it here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Christie lays out case for showing Corzine the door (MICHAEL SYMONS, September 9, 2009, Asbury Park Press)

Seeking to return the focus of the gubernatorial race to incumbent Gov. Jon S. Corzine in general and the economy in particular, Republican Chris Christie laid out the broad-strokes rationale Wednesday for why he should be elected.

Christie made no new proposals in the speech but reiterated the philosophy he's touted on the campaign trail since January — support for cutting spending and taxes, restoring funding for property tax rebates, more charter schools and an increased focus on reviving the state's cities. [...]

Christie — citing increasing foreclosures, a 9.3 unemployment rate and the disappearance of 150,000 jobs since the start of 2008 — said New Jersey's economy continued to worsen over the summer. He dismissed the gain of 5,900 jobs in July, including 13,000 more private-sector jobs, emphasizing the higher unemployment rate.

"That, ladies and gentlemen, is Jon Corzine's New Jersey," Christie said. "And it is not the change anyone voted for in 2005, and it is time to show him the door."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Wilson's rallying cry (GLENN THRUSH, 9/9/09, Politico)

The night's defining moment — which Democrats hope to transform into a turning point – came when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted "You lie!" as Obama claimed his plan wouldn't offer free care to illegal immigrants.

Wilson's boorishness — for which he quickly apologized — enraged audience members on both sides of the aisle.

It also overshadowed a speech that included some of Obama's harshest attacks on his GOP critics to date, including a denunciation of "death panel" alarmists as liars — a veiled swipe at Sarah Palin — and a warning to Republicans who want to "kill" reform.

...but what's delicious is the reason that Mr. Wilson was right. The fact is that half of all illegal immigrants already have insurance and what's holding back the rest is that their employers don't offer it. A bill that puts any kind of mandates on employers will boost coverage of illegals, though the "free" part is probably unfair.

The bigger question is why the GOP's elected members went and sat through such a partisan speech? Mr. Obama is entitled to engage in political posturing, but a joint session of Congress isn't the place for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Rare TV satire mocks Palestinian politicians (ASSOCIATED PRESS , 9/10/09)

Palestine TV was once the boring channel that viewers skipped over while searching for entertainment. But this time, the state-run station has picked a winner - an irreverent comedy show that mocks and often bites the hand that feeds it: the government.

"Homeland on a Thread" satirizes inept Palestinian politicians, police bullies and Muslim extremists. It's Palestine TV's first ever attempt at political satire, an art form that remains rare in the Arab world where authoritarian regimes abound.

The 30-minute program's popularity is a sign that audiences are thirsting for more openness, said Manal Awad, one of three comedians featured in the skits broadcast every evening for the duration of the Muslim month of Ramadan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Pressure builds for high speed rail network (Daily Telegraph,10 Sep 2009)

Leaders from Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield have joined forces in pressing for a far more ambitious programme than currently proposed by any of the major parties thus far. [...]

Significantly the coalition included a number of cities who have not been mentioned by the two main parties as likely destinations for a high speed line, including Bristol, Cardiff, Nottingham and Sheffield.

“A high speed rail link in the UK would mean shorter journey times, improved reliability, accessibility and greater capacity and all this, most importantly, would have a dramatic effect on the nation’s economic output," said Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council.

"We know there’s huge support out there for a high speed rail network"

The Tories, of all people, should be pro-train.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Americans, While Sympathetic, Worry About Cost (DOUGLAS BELKIN, MIKE ESTERL and AVERY JOHNSON, 9/10/09, WSJ)

John and Barbara Stephenson were more skeptical.

Neither had voted for Mr. Obama, and nothing he said Wednesday night changed their minds.

They said the president's proposals were going too far.

"I think he's going to cost our children and our grandchildren $3 trillion dollars," said Mr. Stephenson, 73, a retired marketing manager.

Mr. Stephenson said the couple have Medicare, as well as insurance from his retirement package.

"Are we going to be taxed on that?" he asked. Then he shook his head and said, "There is already too much government."

The part of the speech that was most obviously dishonest was this:
[H]ere's what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits -- either now or in the future. (Applause.) I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period. And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize.

No one believes that, least of all the smartest leader in the history of the planet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Zardari claims Osama bin Laden is dead (PTI, 10 September 2009)

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has said that al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is dead, but has sought more international aid to expand military operations against Taliban, in areas where Americans believe he may be hiding. [...]

Zardari said that though democracy is functioning in Pakistan and the government is fighting militants with determination, the most important issue facing the country is the lack of resources.

The army, the civilian government and democracy could yield better results in the war on terror with the support of the international community, he said, adding Pakistan's security forces could expand the operations against the Taliban if the world community provided support.

Zardari also said the new US policy that lumps Afghanistan and Pakistan together is a mistake. The "Af-Pak" terminology is wrong and the two countries need to be treated differently, he said.

There need to be several more states in that term, not least a Pashtunistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Mediocre USA almost exploited by T&T (Ridge Mahoney, Sep 10, 2009, SoccerAmerica)

In the opening minutes, wide midfielders Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan pushed high up the field, trying to free up forwards Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore, and outside backs Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector drove balls up the touchlines to increase pressure on T&T's back line. A powerful run by Davies ended with a foul and free kick the USA couldn't take advantage of, and on another attack a harsh tackle flattened Dempsey and no foul was called.

After that initial flurry, T&T seized control of the flanks, and though Hayden Pinto seldom got free, outside back Carlos Edwards and midfielder Trent Noel were more effective getting dangerous crosses into the box.

Kenwyne Jones and forward partner Cornell Glen tested Howard with headers on several occasions as center backs Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu fought fruitlessly to establish dominance.'re serving the ball into the box to one forward whose entire game is pace?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Somali leader wants U.S. tour (The Associated Press, 9/09/09)

The newly elected president of Somalia plans a tour of U.S. communities with large Somali populations this fall in hopes of spreading the word about his country's problems and getting advice for solving some of them.

Elmi Duale, Somalia's United Nations ambassador and permanent representative, said Wednesday that Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed wants to visit communities in Minneapolis, Columbus and suburban Washington, D.C.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Israel's Netanyahu agreed to Golan withdrawal in 1998: Report (AFP, 10 September 2009)

The document was drawn up by US businessman Ron Lauder to summarise the positions reached by Israel during its indirect talks with Syria in which he served as a go-between. Lauder presented it to then US president Bill Clinton in 1999, after Netanyahu had left office.

Although the existence of the document has been known for years, Thursday marks the first time that its exact contents have been published.

Netanyahu, who was sworn in for his second term as prime minister on March 31, has always denied that he agreed to fully withdraw from the Golan in the talks held during his first premiership from 1996 to 1999.

Once the Israeli security services said they didn't need the Heights the cake was baked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


(President Barack Obama, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., 9/09/09)

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

...he can end death?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Understanding Poverty in America: What the Census Bureau doesn’t count when reporting on the “poor.” (Robert Rector, 9/10/09, National Review)

Nearly 40 percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. On average, this is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

Eighty-four percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

Nearly two-thirds of the poor have cable or satellite TV.

Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded; two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

The typical poor American has as much or more living space than the average individual living in most European countries. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.

Ninety-eight percent of poor households have a color television; two-thirds own two or more color televisions.

Eighty-two percent own microwave ovens; 67 percent have a DVD player; 73 percent have a VCR; 47 percent have a computer.

The average intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals by poor children is indistinguishable from that of children in the upper middle class. Poor boys today at ages 18 and 19 are actually taller and heavier than middle-class boys of similar age were in the late 1950s. They are a full inch taller and ten pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Child Mortality Rate Declines Globally (CELIA W. DUGGER, 9/10/09, NY Times)

The child mortality rate has declined by more than a quarter in the last two decades — to 65 per 1,000 live births last year from 90 in 1990 — in large part because of the widening distribution of relatively inexpensive technologies, like measles vaccines and anti-malaria mosquito nets.

Other simple practices have helped, public health experts say, including a rise in breast-feeding alone for the first six months of life, which protects children from diarrhea caused by dirty water.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Kremlin official confirms PM's trip (HERB KEINON, 9/10/09, JPOST)

A senior Kremlin official confirmed Wednesday to the Russian paper Kommersant that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did indeed make a clandestine trip to Russia on Monday.

Commenting on the visit, the official said that "this kind of development could only be related to new and threatening information on Iran's nuclear program."

The Russian newspaper quoted experts speculating that such a trip would only be justified under extraordinary circumstances, "for example, in the case of Israel planning to attack Iran."

Israel admits Binyamin Netanyahu's secret trip to Moscow (Sheera Frenkel, , 9/10/09, Times of London)

The Russian Government this week denied reports that the ship had been transporting an illegal shipment of S-300 surface-to-air missiles destined for Iran or Syria.

Reports suggested that the shipment had been aborted after it came to the attention of Mossad, the Israeli secret service.

Israeli security officials have been reluctant to speak about the incident, although several admitted to The Times that the full story had yet to be told.

“What exactly happened on that ship is still unknown, and everyone, from Moscow to Jerusalem is working hard to keep it a secret," said one diplomatic official in Israel.

"Unfortunately, they are tripping over themselves and being caught in the very web they are spinning. At this point, we have more denials over this story than actually facts."

Mr Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow appears to have been kept a secret even from some members of his own staff. "He made great efforts to conceal the trip from the public, as both he and the Russians agreed that it should be kept quiet,” one official said.

Nor is it clear whom he met. Russian authorities said that the Israeli premier had met neither his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, nor President Medvedev, although they did not explicitly deny the trip itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 AM


Leading Dem Says Obama Housing Plan 'Has Failed Miserably' (MATTHEW JAFFE, Sept. 9, 2009 , ABC NEWS)

This morning, the Treasury Department announced that the program had helped 360,165 homeowners reduce their mortgage payments. However, that is only 16 more homes than received new foreclosure filings during the month of July, according to RealtyTrac.

In response to the new data, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said, "Waiting for banks to 'volunteer' to end this foreclosure crisis is a waste of time. Treasury's latest report shows this approach has failed miserably."

September 9, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 PM


In Health Care Speech, Obama Is Expected to Stick to the Nitty-Gritty (Scott Wilson, 9/09/09, Washington Post)

But unlike his past thematic addresses -- his campaign speech on race in Philadelphia, for example, or his defense of human rights as an integral element of U.S. national security policy at the National Archives -- this one will likely have more of a PowerPoint feel as the president pursues clarity of vision above all else.

"This isn't one that is going to be measured by the number of standing ovations," said a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the address in advance. "It's going to be a workman-like speech."

At least no one will be watching.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


The Transistor Kid: When Announcer Vin Scully (left) came to Los Angeles with the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers, he was a stranger in alien corn. But in the six years since, he has become as much apart of southern California as the freeways (right), whose radio-listening drivers form a huge part of his audience (Robert Creamer, 5/04/1964, Sports Illustrated)

In the six years that he has been in California, Scully has become as much a part of the Los Angeles scene as the freeways and the smog. His voice reporting the play-by-play action of the 162 games the Dodgers play during the regular season, plus the few dozen extra in spring training, plus playoff games (the Dodgers have been in two postseason playoffs in six years), plus World Series games, floods southern California from March until October. He is seen as well as heard on television a few times a year (the Dodgers usually telecast only the nine games the team plays against the Giants in San Francisco). "Everybody" probably is not a mathematically precise description of the number of people who listen to Scully's broadcasts, but it is close enough. When a game is on the air the physical presence of his voice is overwhelming. His pleasantly nasal baritone comes out of radios on the back counters of orange juice stands, from transistors held by people sitting under trees, in barber shops and bars, and from cars everywhere—parked cars, cars waiting for red lights to turn green, cars passing you at 65 on the freeways, cars edging along next to you in rush-hour traffic jams.

Even during the off season, when baseball is wrapped up and put away until spring, Scully's personality infiltrates Los Angeles. He does a 15-minute afternoon sport show five days a week, and he is a frequent guest on television. This past winter he was a regular irregular on a TV panel show called First Impression; he was on for a couple of weeks, off for a couple of weeks. Because of his appearances on First Impression he is becoming a familiar TV face and personality as well as a radio voice, and several people have approached him with ideas for new TV programs that would use him as master of ceremonies.

Vin Scully's voice is better known to most Los Angelenos than their next-door neighbor's is. He has become a celebrity. He is stared at in the street. Kids hound him for autographs. Out-of-town visitors at ball games in Dodger Stadium have Scully pointed out to them—as though he were the Empire State Building—as he sits in his broadcasting booth describing a game, his left hand lightly touching his temple in a characteristic pose that his followers dote on and which, for them, has come to be his trademark.

Baseball broadcasts are popular in all major league cities, but in Los Angeles they are as vital as orange juice. For one thing, the Dodgers have been an eminently successful and colorful club in their six seasons in Los Angeles (two pennants and a tie for a third, two world championships, a Maury Wills stealing 104 bases, a Sandy Koufax winning 25 games). For a second, the Los Angeles metropolitan area is huge (6 million people in the 1960 census, the biggest in the country after New York). For a third, because of a minimum of efficient public transportation, practically everybody drives to and from work and, for that matter, to and from everywhere, and in almost every car there is a radio and every radio is always on. When a home-rushing driver bogs down in a classic freeway traffic jam, he finds that nothing else is as soothing as Vin Scully's voice describing the opening innings of a Dodger night game just getting under way a few thousand miles and three time zones to the east. This time difference has been a key factor in the growth of Scully's audience. A man who drives home from work listening to an exciting game is not about to abandon it when he reaches his house. As a result, millions of southern Californians have Vin Scully with their supper.

But it is not just the happy timing of road games that endears Scully to his audience. He appeals to them when the Dodgers are home, too. In fact, he holds his listeners when they come to the ball park to see games with their own eyes. When the Dodgers are playing at home and Dodger Stadium is packed to the top row of the fifth tier with spectators, it seems sometimes as though every member of the crowd is carrying a transistor radio and is listening to Scully tell him about the game he is watching. Taking radios to ball parks to listen to the game as you watch it is a fairly common practice, but nowhere is it so pronounced a characteristic as it is in Los Angeles, and has been since 1958, the year the Dodgers left Ebbets Field and moved west. Los Angeles was hungry for major league ball, and though the Dodgers had a dreadful season that first year (they finished seventh), the crowds jammed into Memorial Coliseum, where the team played until Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine opened in 1962. Perhaps their unfamiliarity with major leaguers prompted so many fans to bring transistors along at first in order to establish instant identification of the players. But a large percentage brought radios not just to identify players but to learn what they were doing. Scully was talking to an audience that had not been watching baseball. The old minor league teams that Los Angeles and Hollywood had in the Pacific Coast League seldom drew more than a few hundred thousand spectators in their best years. Now a million and a half, two million, two million and a half were pouring into the ball parks. Through Vin Scully they learned the fine points, the subtleties, the In language of the game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:55 PM


U.S. needs win in Trinidad badly (Grant Wahl, 9/09/09, ESPN SoccerNet)

The U.S. figures to make a few changes from the lineup that beat El Salvador 2-1 on Saturday. Coach Bob Bradley said Oguchi Onyewu will return to the central defense after serving a one-game yellow-card suspension. Onyewu has been training with the team all week, and Bradley said he's not concerned that the AC Milan player hasn't played a competitive game since the U.S.-Mexico qualifier almost a month ago.

Bradley has a couple of options for the rest of the back line. He could use Chad Marshall in the center next to Onyewu and put Carlos Bocanegra on the left, but I suspect Bocanegra will play in the center, leaving Bradley with a decision: Does he continue on the left with Jonathan Bornstein, who struggled on Saturday? Or does he move Jonathan Spector from the right side to the left (where he plays for West Ham) and put Steve Cherundolo on the right?

That's what I suspect will happen, and we'll see (from left to right): Spector - Bocanegra - Onyewu - Cherundolo. If Spector does move to the left, it will be important for Cherundolo to show that his crosses can be just as dangerous as Spector's have been in recent months.

Otherwise, I think the only change we'll see is in the central midfield, where Ricardo Clark could return to the lineup replacing Benny Feilhaber. That would mean a midfield of: Donovan - Clark - Michael Bradley - Clint Dempsey.

Up top, I figure we'll again see Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies, provided that Davies is OK after leaving the game on Saturday in the second half with a thigh contusion.

Dempsey-Altidore (sub Davies and Torres with 20 minutes left, moving Donovan forward)



Pearce-Gooch--Marshall-Spector (Cherundolo on for Spector in the 2nd half)


And somebody better man-mark Kenwynne Jones even if Coach Bradleyu doesn't believe in marking at all....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


‘Eradicate loser towns,’ says professor: Leading planning expert proposes to do away with 500 of the country’s smallest towns and villages (The Copenhagen Post, 28 August 2009)

Professor Jørgen Møller wants to eradicate the country’s ‘loser towns’.

For a town to fall into the Aalborg University professor’s unflattering classification, it needs a dearth of empty houses, no local supermarket or grocer and no school.

‘The wise general plots a retreat tactic and draws a line,’ Møller said, suggesting the smartest thing was to shut down the ‘loser towns’.

‘If there aren’t enough children to populate the schools and the nursing homes are closing, then a complete closure ought to be considered.’

Looks like we got out out of Jutland when the getting was good...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Anti-secrecy groups unhappy with Obama: Report compares use of executive privilege to Bush's (AP, 9/09/09)

Advocates for more open government who had hoped that the Obama administration would be less secretive than its predecessor say it is continuing to use executive privilege to block lawsuits over allegations of past abuses in the fight against terrorism. [...]

[C]ivil liberties groups argue that the Obama administration's interpretation of the state secrets privilege so far is the same as the George W. Bush administration's.

"This administration is continuing to use the enlarged executive powers of the Bush-Cheney administration," said Patrice McDermott, director of, who oversaw the report.

...then why does the UR keep virtually waterboarding the Left?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Bipartisan praise for Obama's school speech (Christi Parsons, September 9, 2009, LA Times)

After the speech, Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia said the country would be "much better off" if Obama could replicate its tone when he addresses Congress today. A conservative Republican Senate candidate in Pennsylvania applauded the address as "inspiring" and "moving."

Even the president's sharpest critic on the broadcast joined the chorus of approval, although he suggested that criticism may have shaped the event.

"My kids watched it, and I thought it was appropriate," Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer said. "The White House responded to the concerns of parents and educators across this country." was entirely unobjectionable pabulum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


On Afghanistan, GOP gives Obama an unexpected lift (Jeff Jacoby, September 9, 2009, Boston Globe)

Two recent national polls show plummeting support for the war. In a Washington Post-ABC News survey, 51 percent of the public says the conflict in Afghanistan is “not worth fighting,’’ and only 24 percent is willing to send more troops. A CNN/Opinion Research poll finds even wider opposition to the war - 57 percent, the highest since US involvement in Afghanistan began.

Drill down into those numbers, however, and you find a gaping partisan/ideological divide. “Majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now . . . solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troop levels,’’ the Post observes. By contrast, Republicans and conservatives “remain the war’s strongest backers.’’ A majority of conservatives not only supports the war but even approves Obama’s handling of it. The CNN poll puts Republican support for the war at 70 percent, as against the 74 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents who are opposed.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats are beginning to distance themselves from Obama on the war. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, claiming that “our military presence in Afghanistan may be undermining our national security,’’ wants the troops withdrawn. Massachusetts congressman Jim McGovern complains that “we’re getting sucked into an endless war here.’’ Two Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee - the chairman, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Jack Reed of Rhode Island - are signaling that any request for more troops “probably will run into resistance,’’ the AP reported over the weekend.

Republicans, on the other hand, have publicly let the president know that while they may oppose him on other issues, he can count on their support if he pursues victory in Afghanistan. “Stand strong, Mr. President,’’ urged the Republican National Committee in a statement posted on its website and distributed by e-mail. Explain “why the voices of defeat are wrong.’’

It's not surprising that Mr. Obama is depending on the GOP here, but that he isn't leaning on them in other areas. That's why he's failing, like Bill Clinton did during his first two years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


The Red Scare Returns: The right dredges up a familiar bogeyman. (Thomas Frank, 9/09/09, WSJ)

What is peculiar about this particular right-wing rebirth is the speed with which it is happening. We had the crash last year, as in 1929. The financial gods were duly dethroned, the banks started to fail, and the mighty were humbled, as per the time-honored script. A market-worshiping Republican Party went down in an avalanche of obloquy. A scary new populism made the cover of Newsweek back in March.

But then we skipped a step. Some new version of the Bonus Army never marched on Washington. No Huey Long materialized to haunt the wealthy and we have endured no wave of sit-down strikes.

Instead, we proceeded straight to the backlash, raging against a leftist upsurge that maybe should have happened but that didn't.

Mr. Frank would be less confused if he started over from the beginning and dismissed the notion--believed only on the Left--that the blip in credit markets represented a crisis of capitalism generally. Thus there was no glorious socialist moment in response nor any need for a counter-revolution. He didn't just live through the 30s but a replay of the early 90s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


How Havana Perfected the Sandwich (Ana Sofia Pelaez, 9/09/09, Daily Beast)

While its ingredients may (or may not) be up for debate, one thing’s certain: The Cuban is one of the tastiest creations since sliced flautas.

If failure is an orphan, the Cuban sandwich, or Cubano, has been an enormous success. Many want to claim it, each with definite ideas of the right and wrong ways to make it. A combination of sweet ham, marinated pork loin, Swiss cheese, thinly sliced pickles and spicy mustard in a long, pale loaf with a paper-thin crust, it’s fused together in a flat sandwich press called a plancha. Despite conflicting narratives, a general story emerges. The Cuban, a descendent of the Spanish mixto sandwich of mixed meats, was a typical lunch for sugar-mill and cigar-factory workers in 19th-century Cuba and Key West, Florida. When Vincente Martinez Ybor decided to move his popular Principe de Galas cigar operation from Key West to Tampa, Cuban and Spanish cigar workers followed, bringing the sandwich with them. Working alongside recent Italian immigrants, salami was added to the mixto and is still part of the traditional Tampa Cuban. By the 1930s, they’d become popular items in restaurants and cafes throughout Cuba and Southern Florida. [...]

While the sandwich has found its way to restaurants and delis across the country, even receiving the all-American validation of having its own stand at the new Yankee Stadium, there’s nothing like a real Cuban. With so many variations, it may be the best sandwich you’re not eating. Here are a few essential elements that go into the making of it:...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Dodd not replacing Kennedy on health panel, aide says (Washington Post, September 9, 2009)

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) has decided against succeeding his close friend and mentor, the late Edward M. Kennedy, as chairman of the Senate's health committee, a senior Senate aide said Tuesday. [...]

By remaining chairman of the Senate's banking committee, Dodd will oversee a complex rewrite of the regulations overseeing the financial services industry.

He's a liberal Democrat, so you don't particularly expect honest coverage of the story, but you'd think they'd note that he faces a tough re-election bid and staying where he is helps fill his coffers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Palm Cuts Pre Price, Unveils Pixi (Aaron Ricadela, 9/09/09, Business Week)

Amid intensifying competition in the smartphone market, Palm is trying to prove it's fleet enough to keep pace with bigger competitors including Apple, Google, and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion.

Palm (PALM) is cutting the price of its Pre device by $50, to $150, and on Sept. 9 announced it will release a new scaled-down smartphone, called the Pixi, in time for the holiday selling season.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Mohammed second most common boys' name in UK (PTI, 9 September 2009)

Mohammed, in all its various spellings, is now the second most common boys' name in the UK, next only to Jack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Our One-Party Democracy (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, 9/09/09, NY Times)

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.

That's an all-time Hall of Shame line right there. Somewhere in Hell, Walter Duranty is smiling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Less Spocky, More Rocky (MAUREEN DOWD, 9/09/09, NY Times)

As soon as I started covering Barack Obama, I knew he was going to be trouble.

Not Global Trouble, like W. and Dick Cheney. Or Hanky-Panky Trouble, like Bill Clinton and John Edwards. Or Tedious Trouble, like John Kerry and Michael Dukakis.

He was going to be the kind of guy who whipped you up and then, when you were all excited, left you flat, and then, when you were deflated and exasperated and time was running out, ensorcelled you again with some sparkly fairy dust.

Does she have no self-respect?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Finance Overhaul Falters as '08 Shock Fades (DAVID ENRICH and DAMIAN PALETTA, 9/09/09, WSJ)

On the regulatory front, Democrats' efforts to rework the rules for finance have bogged down amid infighting between federal regulators, fury among bankers and opposition from many lawmakers who believe that further expanding the government's reach will only create new problems. The all-consuming debate over health care has damped enthusiasm for tackling such complex legislation.

Meanwhile, major U.S. banks have regained their footing, and some of their swagger. Profits are off their lows. Large compensation packages are back. And so is risky business.

Perhaps President Bush was too aggressive and too effective in saving the banking system before derivatives were regulated?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


In Illinois, a Similar Fight Tested a Future President (Michael D. Shear and Ceci Connolly, 9/09/09, Washington Post)

Even with all of his concessions, Obama still faced opposition to the watered-down measure. On May 19, 2004, as the legislative session in Springfield drew to a close, Republican Sen. Pete Roskam derided Obama's bill as "socialized medicine" and "a bill with an agenda." [...]

Obama's speech that night barely acknowledged how his original vision for universal health coverage had evaporated. "So what I've done," he said, winding down, "is I've put together a bill that suggests, let's all sit down and actually try to figure out how to solve a problem."

When the roll was called, the tally was 31 to 26. Obama's bill had passed.

The task force created by the legislation recommended that the state aim to cover 90 percent of the uninsured by requiring everyone to buy insurance and offering subsidies to those who couldn't afford it. Many of those changes were embraced in proposals offered by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).

Those hopes remain unfulfilled. The cost of the proposals and the governor's personal scandals doomed them, leaving Illinois residents to wait with the rest of the country as Obama pursues similar goals once again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Bristling at Health Plan to Cover Early Retirees (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, 9/09/09, NY Times)

Within the battle over President Obama’s health care overhaul, critics of organized labor have latched onto a little-noticed provision in the legislation already circulating in Congress. The provision would cost $10 billion in federal money to subsidize employer-sponsored health plans covering early retirees, as a bridge to Medicare.

Labor’s critics assert that the provision, aimed at retirees ages 55 to 64, is a Democratic payback to unions and would further drive up the federal deficit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


The Nevada plan: Reintroduce Reid (MANU RAJU, 9/9/09, Politico)

Harry Reid’s power is the stuff of legend in Nevada. But as the Senate majority leader prepares for his 2010 reelection run, voters back home are beginning to ask what’s in it for them.

Nevada’s unemployment rate is 12.7 percent, 3 percentage points higher than the national average. Las Vegas has the highest foreclosure rate of any big city in the country. And economic forecasters are sounding the alarm about an impending crash in the state’s commercial real estate market.

It’s all taking a toll on Reid. While Reid may be at the peak of his power in Washington, a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll out earlier this month showed him trailing two potential GOP challengers. And Reid’s in-state approval rating stands at just 36 percent — statistically indistinguishable from the 35 percent approval rating of his adulterous Republican colleague, Sen. John Ensign. [...]

Reid’s advisers say they are plotting the most ambitious and aggressive campaign Nevada has ever seen, an effort centered on an ad campaign that one Democratic source said will eat up a staggering 75 percent of the $20 million to $25 million Reid is expected to spend on his reelection.

“I think he needs to reintroduce himself to Nevadans,” said Sig Rogich, a Republican consultant who is the senator’s longtime friend and is advising his campaign.

Why didn't Tom Daschle think of that....or Tom Foley...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Pelosi's trump card: the public option (GLENN THRUSH & PATRICK O'CONNOR, 9/9/09, Politico)

“Every time we have had a negotiation, Reid and [White House chief of staff] Rahm [Emanuel] say you have to accept this or that because we need the 60 votes [for cloture],” says a senior Democratic aide in the House. “That’s true this time. The difference now is that Pelosi can turn right back at them and say, ‘I can’t pass this in the House without the progressives.’ And that will be true, too.”

Pelosi’s leverage in her perpetual push-pull with Reid has been boosted by a rebellion among pro-public-option progressives, African-American and Hispanic House members, who say they are tired of being shortchanged by the White House and will vote no rather than OK a bill without the public option.

...could think it a good idea for the representative of one of the most marginal districts in the country to trump the President.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


'Glee' gets off to a good start (Ellen Gray, 9/09/09, Philadelphia Daily News)

GLEE. 9 tonight

BETWEEN THE mall tour, last week's "Tweet-peat," the "director's cut" of the pilot and the countless other promotions for Fox's "Glee" both on-air and online, it might feel as if the series about a high school show choir had been on for months.

But in a way it's like the health-care issue (which, no matter what ABC, CBS and NBC have chosen to do, won't be allowed to pre-empt tonight's fall premiere of Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance"): Just because you've heard a lot about it doesn't mean much has gotten done yet.

And tonight, as "Glee" makes its season premiere with only the second episode of the show, we're beginning to get a closer look at what creator Ryan Murphy has in mind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Great tits acquire taste for bats (Richard Black, 9/09/09, BBC News)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Bed sharing 'bad for your health' (BBC, 9/09/09)

Couples should consider sleeping apart for the good of their health and relationship, say experts.

Sleep specialist Dr Neil Stanley told the British Science Festival how bed sharing can cause rows over snoring and duvet-hogging and robs precious sleep.

One study found that, on average, couples suffered 50% more sleep disturbances if they shared a bed.

Dr Stanley, who sleeps separately from his wife, points out that historically we were never meant to share our beds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Obama Remains Popular in Europe, Poll Shows (JOHN W. MILLER, 9/09/09, WSJ)

A record 77% of Europeans approve of Mr. Obama's handling of international affairs, compared with 19% support for former President George W. Bush a year ago. In Germany, Europe's biggest country, the jump was 80 percentage points, the biggest increase in any category in the seven-year history of the survey.

"Beyond the hype about 'Obamamania,' this is a tsunami, a once-in-a-generation bounce in popularity," says Ronald Asmus, executive director of the Fund's Trans-Atlantic Center in Brussels.

The news for Mr. Obama personally is good, but less so for U.S. foreign policy. Europeans remain highly skeptical about America's goals for Afghanistan, the U.S.'s diplomatic pressure involving Iran's nuclear program and American support for Turkey's admission into the EU. "The president has not been able to convert personal popularity into real support for policies," Mr. Asmus says.

September 8, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


Consumer Credit Tumbled in July (Jeff Bater, 9/08/09, WSJ)

Americans reduced their borrowing a sixth consecutive time during July in a bad omen for any easy economic turnaround.

Consumer credit outstanding tumbled a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 10.4% to $2.472 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday. The $21.6-billion drop in borrowing was a record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 PM


Why Obama needs a big play as reality takes over (Michael Tomasky, 9/08/09, The Guardian)

Put the radiant optimism of the early Obama weeks and months out of your mind. It's gone. Reality has set in, and with force. Any thought that Obama could wave a wand and make the economy better, or give a speech that would force Iran's mullahs to see reason, has been defenestrated definitively.

Such thoughts were always unrealistic...

...but were the basis of his campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:13 PM


Obama Lectures to Students on Virtues of Hard Work (Michael Allison Chandler, Nick Anderson and William Branigin, 9/08/09, Washington Post)

One student asked Obama, "If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?" The president replied: "I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine."

...and assume he isn't aware his hero used to drink his own urine. Probably best to skip the dinner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


Up to $3, 800 Fine for Failure Get Health Insurance (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 9/08/09)

A top senator is calling for fines of up to $3,800 on families who fail to get medical insurance after a health care overhaul goes into effect.

The plan from Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana would make health insurance mandatory, just like auto coverage.

...but is there any other "right" that you get fined thousands of dollars for not exercising?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


We Needed Van Jones on the Inside (Melissa Harris-Lacewell, 09/08/2009, The Nation)

The modern environmental justice movement emerged more than three decades ago. Its fight has been centered on two important issues: the disproportionate impact of local decisions that site polluting industries and undesirable land uses in poor and minority communities, and the damaging health effects of urban pollution on black and brown citizens.

Distinct from the earlier conservation movement, EJ linked environmental injustice to racial injustice. It opened a new era of civil rights activism in many localities and created new Latino, African American, and Native American leaders who became important, if largely unknown, actors in green activism. [...]

There are likely to be real political consequences for the Obama administration as a result of Jones' exit. John Nichols calls it "an unnecessary and unwise surrender." Baratunde Thurston likens it to "negotiating with terrorists." They identify Jones' resignation was hasty, unnecessary, and ultimately more distracting than useful.

But it is not the politics of this episode that trouble me most. I am most concerned with the substantive consequences. The EJ movement was just beginning to gain a foothold in national politics, just beginning to develop a more cohesive and identifiable national platform, and Jones' position within the White House was important to those efforts.

Setting aside the hilarity of important but unknown activists, is this EJ anything more than affirmative action for the environmental whackos?

And, just in case you thought his main job qualification wasn't race, Obama Sells Out Van Jones to Racists (Matthew Rothschild, September 8, 2009, The Progressive)

Obama blinked again.

By hanging Van Jones out to dry, he showed that he can be easily rolled.

And he once again took the left for granted.

Van Jones was probably the single most prominent progressive in the Obama Administration. A founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and a leading green jobs advocate, Van Jones represented us in the White House. [...]

And Beck flailed against Van Jones because he signed a 9/11Truth petition, along with Ralph Nader and Howard Zinn and many others.

Can you really not fire a nutjob if he's black?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


Health Deals Anger Former Obama Staffers, Supporters (Stephanie Condon, 9/08/09, CBS News)

President Obama has said in recent weeks that he still supports a government-sponsored health insurance plan, or "public option," but he has stopped short of calling it a necessary element of health care reform. For tens of thousands of his supporters, that is not good enough.

More than 70,000 former Obama campaign staffers, volunteers and donors have signed a petition, spearheaded by the liberal group the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, saying as much.

Mr. Obama achieved everything he set out to do when he got to add a new line at the top of his CV.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


Obama nominee omitted ties to biotech (Jim McElhatton, 9/08/09, Washington Times)

President Obama's nominee at the Department of Homeland Security overseeing bioterrorism defense has served as a key adviser for a lobbying group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that has asked the government to spend more money for anthrax vaccines and biodefense research.

But Dr. Tara O'Toole, whose confirmation as undersecretary of science and technology is pending, never reported her involvement with the lobbying group called the Alliance for Biosecurity in a recent government ethics filing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


State auditor switches to GOP (The Associated Press, September 8, 2009)

Democratic Vermont Auditor Tom Salmon is switching parties to the GOP.

Salmon announced his plans today, saying he is frustrated with the Democrats’ handling of the budget, and says the party has moved too far to the left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


The problem with Obama's speech to kids: It's bland (Jonathan Zimmerman, September 8, 2009, CS Monitor)

[T]hat's the real problem with the president's message, which will be broadcast live on the White House website and on C-SPAN: It's bland, neutral, and mind-numbingly obvious. You can't even imagine a cogent objection to it.

...after a bland keynote, a counter-productive defense of the Reverend Wright, a disappointing Berlin speech, a pointless Convention Speech, a forgettable Inaugural, a forgotten State of the Union, and a series of health care talks that have driven voters away, whether Mr. Obama is capable of giving a speech that isn't mind-numbing at best? It would be nice if we could blame his speechwriters, but he's supposedly deeply involved in these matters himself. This prosaic blandness seems an accurate reflection of the man.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


Adviser losing patience with Obama (BEN SMITH, 9/8/09, Politico)

One of President Barack Obama’s former top campaign advisers is “losing patience” with the White House, he told POLITICO Tuesday morning, as frustrations among the president’s liberal allies crest over issues from health care legislation to gay rights.

“I am one of the millions of frustrated Americans who want to see Washington do more than it's doing right now,” said Steve Hildebrand, the deputy campaign manager who oversaw the Obama campaign’s field organization and was an architect of his early, crucial victories over Sen. Hillary Clinton in Iowa and South Carolina.

Obama, he said, “needs to be more bold in his leadership.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


Study: Human fat yields multipurpose stem cells (Elizabeth Landau, 9/04/09, CNN)

You know that fat in your body you wish you didn't have? It turns out those cells could be used to create stem cells that one day may be able to cure disease.

Scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered that the millions of fat cells removed during liposuction can be easily and quickly turned into induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, more easily than the skin cells that researchers used when the first iPS cells were created in 2007.

These iPS cells, like stem cells derived from embryos, can be turned into many different kinds of cells, and researchers believe they eventually could be used to regenerate tissue for organs and repair damage.

Do you suppose Ron and Nancy Reagan, John Kerry and the rest of them ever feel a twinge of conscience?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


The Chance for a Free Speech Do-Over: Will the Supreme Court finally overturn McCain-Feingold and enforce the First Amendment? (THEODORE B. OLSON, 9/08/09, WSJ)

Public discussion about the character and fitness for office of presidential candidates is at the core of the First Amendment's command that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the Freedom of Speech." Yet Congress, in its zeal to impose onerous campaign-finance restrictions, has made political speech a felony for one class of speakers. Corporations and unions can face up to five years in prison for broadcasting candidate-related advocacy during federal elections.

Is outlawing political speech based on the identity of the speaker compatible with the First Amendment?

...the truth is most often to be found by reference to the manner in which an argument is disingenuous. Thus the notion that a corporation is a "speaker: in any First Amendment sense. The reality, of course, is that the very purpose of the corporation is to be divorced from the normal responsibilities -- and, therefore, rights -- assigned to individuals: "the defining feature of a corporation is its legal independence from the people who create it."

What the Court ought to do to bring campaign finance law into harmony with the 1st is to uphold all restrictions on corporations and like legal entities but strike down those upon political speech by individuals (provided that it is not subversive--obviously the Constitution setting up the American regime can not be read to protect speech intended to destroy that regime).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


The Bloody Crossroads (DAVID BROOKS, 9/08/09, NY Times)

The Public Interest closed in 2005, when the last of the original editors, Irving Kristol, retired. It left a gaping hole. Fortunately, a new quarterly magazine called National Affairs is starting up today to continue the work. The magazine, edited by Yuval Levin, occupies the same ground: the bloody crossroads where social science and public policy meet matters of morality, culture and virtue.

The Eternal Return of Compassionate Conservatism (STEVEN M. TELES, Fall 2009, National Affairs)
The standard campaign-strategy orthodoxy of the time dictated directing attention to the issues voters associated with Republicans (crime, national security, taxes, abortion), and away from those (like racial ­equality, social services, urban policy, and social insurance) that they did not. Beyond simple campaign calculation, this strategy reflected a conservative inferiority complex, a worry that empowerment would simply hand Democrats an opportunity to push policy in a more liberal direction.

This strategic orthodoxy was undermined by three lessons Republicans learned in the 1990s. First, the Clinton campaign's success in seizing conservative issues for liberal purposes — most effectively by pairing welfare reform with "making work pay" — pointed to the end of an era in which each party stuck to its own turf, signaling that Republicans needed to become more entrepreneurial in their issue selection and campaign rhetoric. Second, the failure of the Gingrich Congress to roll back the growth of the welfare state, followed by Clinton's re-election in 1996, suggested the effective limits of anti-statism as a governing strategy. Third, while Republicans in Washington were failing to push back the frontiers of the state, Republican governors — in particular Tommy Thompson in liberal Wisconsin — were demonstrating that conservatives could devise creative strategies for using government, rather than just cutting it, and gain considerable political advantage in the process.

No Republican seemed to have learned the lessons of the 1990s better than George W. Bush. In his 1994 campaign for governor of Texas, Bush put education front and center. And at a time when fellow ­Republicans — like Dole in his 1996 presidential campaign — were seizing on immigration restriction, Bush embraced immigrants and aggressively campaigned for Hispanic votes. Bush avoided Republican hot-button issues like affirmative action, supporting an alternative that allowed for substantial minority representation in hiring and school admissions. Bush openly sold his policies as being in the interests of the state's minority voters, distancing himself from the rhetoric of race "blindness" that was making a bid for party orthodoxy. When Republicans in Congress sought to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit, Bush accused them of trying to "balance the budget on the backs of the poor."

Bush's approach was a sharp contrast to that of his own brother — who, when asked at a voter forum during the 1994 Florida gubernatorial campaign what he would do for African Americans, stated: "It's time to strive for a society where there's equality of opportunity, not equality of results. So I'm going to answer your question by saying: probably nothing." While Jeb Bush's answer may have been principled, it fed into the party's long-term image problem, which his brother in Texas seemed intent on correcting.

George W. Bush's re-election as governor in 1998 signaled to ­empowerment-oriented Republicans that the political strategy they had been urging for two decades might finally have arrived. Bush won a quarter of the black vote and half of the Hispanic vote — remarkable results for a party whose support from blacks regularly dropped into the single digits, and which was worried that the Hispanic vote was headed in the same direction.

Advocates of empowerment treated these results as proof that Kemp had been right all along. Michael Joyce, then president of the ­Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, argued at the time that Bush's compassionate conservatism was the key to "reach[ing] out to minority voters — especially the rapidly expanding Hispanic electorate in key states like California, Texas, and Florida — on terms that do not compromise core conservative principles." Even more important, Joyce wrote, Bush's ideas pointed to how conservatives could "appear (and more important, be) more compassionate — a critical factor as we seek to bridge the gender gap that is beginning to take a serious toll in the Republican suburban base." Joyce understood, as many empowerment advocates had, that conservatives' image problem on race and related issues was hurting them not only with minorities but with women as well.

The 2000 Republican National Convention was the setting for Bush to take the compassionate-conservative electoral strategy mainstream. The first night of the convention was labeled "Opportunity With A ­Purpose: Leave No Child Behind." In her speech that evening, Laura Bush stressed her husband's commitment to education as a strategy for reducing inequality. Colin Powell addressed the need for Republicans to consistently appeal to African Americans. George W. Bush's acceptance speech later that week was devoted largely to introducing the country to the concept of compassionate conservatism, and he followed it up with events emphasizing his commitment to education and faith-based ­strategies for fighting poverty.

The Republican convention only scratched the surface of Bush adviser Karl Rove's ambitious political strategy. His approach built on Kemp's appeal to traditional Democratic constituencies by using ­government affirmatively for a wide range of domestic concerns: money for faith-based social services, prescription-drug coverage under Medicare, education reform, more liberal immigration policies, and Social Security privatization.

This strategy aimed to give the party enough support to pass legislation that would cut into the heart of the Democratic coalition. Faith-based services and education vouchers would pit African Americans and Hispanics against Democratic governmental-provider interests, and transform inner-city churches and private- and charter-school ­operators into a lobby for conservative policies. Social Security privatization would weaken one of the Democrats' strongest electoral weapons, and create a new generation of conservative voters by directly connecting their financial interests to the stock market. This would gradually expand into a full-blown vision of an "ownership society," substituting connections between citizens and private markets for the Democrats' electoral logic of cementing connections between citizens and government programs. Rove argued that on this basis a long-term Republican majority could be built, as strong as that created by McKinley in 1896, and as enduring as that which Roosevelt established for the Democrats in 1932.

The strategy that Reagan refused to embrace when it was associated with Jack Kemp, and that George H. W. Bush had spurned when it was rechristened the New Paradigm, had become the party's electoral orthodoxy under the name of "compassionate conservatism."

...besides unprecedented electoral success, tax cuts, the Faith Based Initiative, public school vouchers, HSAs, retirement account reform...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Obama and the Left: The lesson of the rise and fall of Van Jones. (WSJ, 9/08/09)

As a candidate, Barack Obama was at pains to offer himself as a man of moderate policies, and especially of moderate temperament. He said he would listen to both the right and left, choosing the best of each depending on "what works." He sold himself as a center-left pragmatist. When his radical associations—Reverend Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers—came to light, Candidate Obama promptly disavowed them. Now comes Mr. Jones, with a long trail of extreme comments and left-wing organizing, who nonetheless became the White House adviser for "green jobs." This weekend he too was thrown under the bus.

However, Mr. Jones wasn't some unknown crazy who insinuated himself with the Obama crowd under false pretenses. He has been a leading young light of the left-wing political movement for many years. His 2008 book—"The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems"—includes a foreword from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and was praised across the liberal establishment.

Mr. Jones was a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, which was established, funded and celebrated as the new intellectual vanguard of the Democratic Party. The center's president is John Podesta, who was co-chair of Mr. Obama's transition team and thus played a major role in recommending appointees throughout the Administration. The ascent of Mr. Jones within the liberal intelligentsia shows how much the Democratic Party has moved left since its "New Democrat" triangulation of the Clinton years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


President procrastinator (Daniel Dombey, September 7 2009, Financial Times)

On issue after issue, the president has announced a new strategy or approach – but has avoided making the actual decisions that flow from those. Retired Gen Anthony Zinni, former head of US Central Command, says he cannot think of one big strategic decision Mr Obama has made. He adds that the administration needs a proclaimed national security strategy establishing what it stands for and how it intends to use American power.

Certainly, Mr Obama has made a huge impact on the world stage. His election campaign, with its vast crowds and promises of diplomatic engagement; his victory, with all the symbolism of becoming the first African-American president; and his inaugural speech promising a break with the era of George W. Bush, all had global resonance.

As president he has also embarked on two foreign policy drives that contrast with the last administration – to improve relations with Russia and to put pressure on Israel over settlements on occupied land. He has given speeches – notably his Cairo address to the Islamic world – that Mr Bush would never have made. But on a cluster of core issues, Mr Obama has not broken with the approach of the Bush administration’s last years, so bringing about continuity by default.

...he's actually riding a pushmi-pullyu...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Deeply Divided House Democrats Return to Work -- and the Same Set of Problems (Paul Kane, Ben Pershing and Perry Bacon Jr., 9/08/09, Washington Post)

They are in almost the exact position they were in when they left the Capitol in late July. Conservatives are still leery of supporting a government-funded, or public, insurance option. Freshman lawmakers from suburban districts remain fearful of increasing taxes for their wealthy constituents to pay for the new measure and await alternatives from moderate Senate Democrats. And progressives, who are demanding the most far-reaching reform since the Great Depression, are still threatening to bring down the legislation if it does not contain a robust version of the public option.

In the lead-up to President Obama's critical Wednesday night address to a joint session of Congress, interviews with a cross section of about 15 House Democrats and half a dozen aides show that there is still overwhelming support for some overhaul of the health-care system. But the caucus remains deeply divided over the details of the more than 1,000-page measure and now faces a public that is more skeptical than when House committees began drafting the plan two months ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


The Kid Issue (Joel Kotkin, 09/07/2009, New Geography)

Japan's predicament seems obvious. Its fertility rate has dropped by a third since 1975. By 2015 a full quarter of the population will be over 65. Generally inhospitable to immigrants, Japan could see its population drop from a current 127 million to 95 million by 2050, with as much as 40% of the population over 65 years of age. By then, no matter how innovative the workforce, Dai Nippon will simply be too old to compete.

While Japan's demographic crisis is an extreme case, many countries throughout East Asia and Europe share a similar predicament. Even with its energy riches, Russia's low birth and high mortality rates suggest that its population will drop 30% by 2050 to less than one-third of that of the U.S. Even Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spoken of "the serious threat of turning into a decaying nation."

Russia's de facto tsar has cause for concern. Throughout history low fertility and socioeconomic decline have been inextricably linked, creating a vicious cycle that affected once-vibrant civilizations such as as ancient Rome and 17th-century Venice.

Persistently low birthrates and sagging population growth inevitably undermine the growth capacity of an economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


World Cup Qualifying Preview: United States vs. Trinidad and Tobago (Noah Davis, 9/07/09, Goal)

Who: United States vs. Trinidad and Tobago

What: CONCACAF World Cup 2010 Qualifying

When: Wednesday, September 9; 7 p.m. EST

Where: Hasley Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain, Trinidad

TV: ESPN Classic, TeleFutura [...]

Despite some inconsistent refereeing, none of the nine U.S. players -- Jozy Altidore, Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Ricardo Clark, Jay DeMerit, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber, and Conor Casey -- carrying yellow cards into Saturday night's fixture picked up a second.

As a result, Bob Bradley will have his entire first-choice line up expect for an injured DeMerit. With the Watford captain missing, Bradley should slot Chad Marshall alongside Oguchi Onyewu, who returns from a one-match suspension, while Bocanegra can slide over to left back and replace Jonathan Bornstein, who struggled against El Salvador. (The American manager might also leave the team captain in the center, push Spector to the left, and put Cherundolo on the right.)

The world expects Ronaldo to deliver (Andy Mitten, September 08. 2009, The National)

Lionel Messi’s Argentina were well beaten by Brazil on Saturday night in Rosario, leaving Diego Maradona’s side an uncertain fourth in the South American qualifying group.

More acute is the situation facing Portugal and their star player Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite Carlos Quieroz’s side’s sublime talents like Ronaldo, Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe, Deco and Simao, they could only draw 1-1 on Saturday against group leaders Denmark in Copenhagen. Having won just two of their seven group games, Portugal are also fourth in a group whose only guaranteed qualifier is the first-placed team.

The optimism which surrounded Quieroz’s appointment has evaporated and Portugal’s wretched home form has left them without a single home win. Instead, they have been defeated by Denmark and been held by Albania and Sweden, not the form expected of a side which dispatched England to reach the semi-final stage in the last World Cup.

Ronaldo cut a forlorn figure as he left Denmark’s national stadium on Saturday night. [...]

The Portuguese public are understandably vexed, though their media are more critical and accuse Ronaldo of not taking his national team duty seriously.

He's trying, he's just one-dimensional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


A Power Station in Your Own Basement: Green-energy provider Lichtblick and German automaker Volkswagen are joining forces and promising to stir up the energy market with an unusual plan. Instead of relying on massive energy facilities, the average consumer may soon have a miniature power station in their basement. (Frank Dohmen, 9/07/09, Der Spiegel)

The ambitious new project could be worth billions of euros and generate enough electricity to replace up to two nuclear power stations or even coal-fired power plants in the near future. The technology required to put this plan into practice is highly complex, but -- depending on demand and the market situation -- the new setup could network 1,000, 10,000 or even 100,000 small natural-gas-powered thermal power stations and, in effect, instantly create a virtual large one.

A giant quantity of electricity could be generated by such a system. Channelled straight from the basements of individual houses, where Lichtblick plans on installing the mini power stations, it could then be fed into the public powergrid. Likewise, the mini stations could also provide a source of cheap thermal energy and warm water for each household.

It may all still sound like a fairy tale, but developers at Lichtblick have actually been testing the system as part of a field trial in Hamburg. What's more, now one renowned company has shown an interest in becoming a partner in this pilot project: the Wolfsburg-based motor- and auto-manufacturing giant, Volkswagen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM

HERE'S AN IDEA... (via Ed Driscoll):

Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why. (Steve Silberman, 08.24.09, Wired)

[MK-869] was starting to unravel. True, many test subjects treated with the medication felt their hopelessness and anxiety lift. But so did nearly the same number who took a placebo, a look-alike pill made of milk sugar or another inert substance given to groups of volunteers in clinical trials to gauge how much more effective the real drug is by comparison. The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people's health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology.

Ultimately, Merck's foray into the antidepressant market failed. In subsequent tests, MK-869 turned out to be no more effective than a placebo. In the jargon of the industry, the trials crossed the futility boundary.

MK-869 wasn't the only highly anticipated medical breakthrough to be undone in recent years by the placebo effect. From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II clinical trials, when drugs are first tested against placebo, rose by 20 percent. The failure rate in more extensive Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly due to surprisingly poor showings against placebo. Despite historic levels of industry investment in R&D, the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first-of-their-kind remedies in 2007—the fewest since 1983—and just 24 in 2008. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills.

The upshot is fewer new medicines available to ailing patients and more financial woes for the beleaguered pharmaceutical industry. Last November, a new type of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, championed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was abruptly withdrawn from Phase II trials after unexpectedly tanking against placebo. A stem-cell startup called Osiris Therapeutics got a drubbing on Wall Street in March, when it suspended trials of its pill for Crohn's disease, an intestinal ailment, citing an "unusually high" response to placebo. Two days later, Eli Lilly broke off testing of a much-touted new drug for schizophrenia when volunteers showed double the expected level of placebo response.

It's not only trials of new drugs that are crossing the futility boundary. Some products that have been on the market for decades, like Prozac, are faltering in more recent follow-up tests. In many cases, these are the compounds that, in the late '90s, made Big Pharma more profitable than Big Oil. But if these same drugs were vetted now, the FDA might not approve some of them. Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.

It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.

The fact that an increasing number of medications are unable to beat sugar pills has thrown the industry into crisis.

Bogus conditions are even easier to treat than real ones. The more people we pretend are depressed the more we can "cure" with sugar pills.

September 7, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


Iran policy reveals split between U.S. Jewish and Israeli left (Ron Kampeas, September 7, 2009, JTA)

"If Iran engages and the Obama administration argues that a deal has been made, the Israeli government will be very wary," Alpher said. "This could immediately create a whole world of suspicions."

Under those circumstances, the vast majority of American Jewish voters who backed Obama last year would be faced with the first either-or U.S. vs. Israel issue in decades, and groups that describe themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace will find themselves for the first time speaking for virtually no one in Israel on a critical issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Australia to deploy Israeli-made UAVs in Afghanistan (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 9/07/09)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 AM


Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama: Back to School Event (President Barack Obama, Arlington, Virginia, September 8, 2009)

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


Israel gets tough on intermarriage (Jonathan Cook, September 07. 2009, The National)

The Israeli government has launched a television and internet advertising campaign urging Israelis to inform on Jewish friends and relatives abroad who may be in danger of marrying non-Jews.

And the neocons are worried about an Obama speech to school children?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


Obama Faces a Critical Moment for His Presidency (PETER BAKER, 9/07/09, NY Times)

“It goes without saying that a lot is riding now on his ability to re-energize the health care debate and bring it home to a successful conclusion,” said John D. Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition and still advises him on health care, energy and other issues. “Nothing will influence the perception of the presidency more than whether he can be successful in getting a health care bill through the Congress.”


It might be helpful if these folks tried saying why it's critical.

After all, the success of the Clinton presidency traces directly to the failure of his health care plan and the election of a Republican Congress. Why shouldn't the same be true for Barack Obama?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


The Honorable Barack Obama

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:


You’ve called Afghanistan an "international security challenge of the highest order, " and stated that "the safety of people around the world is at stake." Last month you told a convention of veterans, “Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

We fully agree with those sentiments. We congratulate you on the leadership you demonstrated earlier this year when you decided to deploy approximately 21,000 additional troops and several thousand civilian experts as a part of a serious counterinsurgency campaign. Your appointments of General Stanley McChrystal as top commander and David Rodriguez as second in command in Afghanistan exemplified the seriousness of purpose you spoke about during the campaign. We are heartened to see that the much needed overhaul of our military operations has begun. [...]


Steve Biegun
Max Boot
Paul Bremer
Debra Burlingame
Eliot A. Cohen
Ryan C. Crocker
Thomas Donnelly
Eric Edelman
William S. Edgerly
Jamie M. Fly
David Frum
Abe Greenwald
John Hannah
Pete Hegseth
Margaret Hoover
Thomas Joscelyn
Frederick W. Kagan
Robert Kagan
William Kristol
Tod Lindberg
Herbert London
Clifford May
Robert C. McFarlane
Joshua Muravchik
Sarah Palin
Keith Pavlischek
Beverly Perlson
Danielle Pletka
John Podhoretz
Stephen Rademaker
Karl Rove
Jennifer Rubin
Randy Scheunemann
Gary Schmitt
Dan Senor
Marc Thiessen
Daniel Twining
Peter Wehner
Kenneth Weinstein
Christian Whiton

Those aren't IED's, they're liberal heads exploding....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Tradition as seen by the Muslim faith, yesterday and today (Michel Cuypers, 9/07/09, Chiesa)

[T]radition also feeds the Islamic collective imagination in a larger way, providing historical and cultural references and bringing back to life the exemplary first generation of believers. It thus plays an important role in the current re-Islamization of the Islamic world, preoccupied with returning to its original purity.

In this regard, attention must be paid to the importance of the Sîra, "the life of the prophet," written by Ibn Ishâq (died in 678) and revised by Ibn Hisham (died in 833). Although it is not part of the corpus of the hadîth, this biography enjoys an almost canonical status, and plays a considerable role in believers' devotion to the prophet and the first Islamic community. Devoting a great deal of space to the prophet's exploits in battle, the Sîra also describes in detail his daily life, so that his "way," sunna, can serve as a model for the believer in his material, moral, and spiritual behavior. [...]

Since the end of the 19th century, two main attitudes toward the criticism of tradition can be distinguished in Islam.

On the one hand, some official institutions have perpetuated, up until our day, the classical positions. We cite Ali Merad, a modernist Muslim author: "In many Islamic universities, the role of the teaching body seems to be limited to ensuring the continuity of a form of knowledge validated by a sort of community consensus. As for tradition (and also the biography of the prophet), the near sacralization of the ancient authorities in this matter is the rule. To discuss these authorities, to open new avenues of research, means breaking with a cultural model that has functioned for more than a millennium, and that points the community back to the image of its identity, of its socio-cultural equilibrium, in continuity with its first sources."

But on the other hand, a reformist current emerged with Sayyid Ahmad Khân (died in 1898) in India, al-Afghânî (died in 1897), and Muhammad 'Abduh (died in 1905) in Egypt, and their disciples. In the name of the purity of the faith, for which God is the sole legislator, these thinkers supported only two normative sources of Islam, the Qur'an and tradition, thus excluding consensus and the ijtihâd. They subjected the tradition to a more severe criticism of the chains of transmitters, and above all of the text itself. They kept only a small number of hadîth, rejecting the traditions that offend reason or good sense. They employed the model of the ancients, the salafi – the first three generations of Muslims – to restore dynamism to religion, but without closing it up in its past: their aim was to allow Islam to find its identity and independence in a modern world undergoing complete transformation.

After this, the reformist position evolved in two divergent directions: one legalist and neo-fundamentalist, and one of secularist modernism, which abandoned tradition as a normative source.

For the former, the decision not to consider the two secondary normative sources – consensus and rational effort – leads to increasing the normative role of tradition, and at the same time of idealizing the ancients, the salafi, the first transmitters of tradition. In reaction to modernity – and accepting only its material progress – the idealized primitive era became the model to imitate, in a closing off of identity. The Muslim Brotherhood (founded in 1929) are the main representatives of this tendency.

For the latter, tradition loses its normative character: the authenticity of most of the traditions, which are subjected to more severe rational criticism, is brought into doubt (according to the model of the work of the famous Islamologist Ignaz Goldziher, who died in 1921). Otherwise, only the ethical and spiritual aspect is retained, as a form of wisdom and a source of inspiration. The Qur'an therefore becomes the only truly normative source for Islam. This is a "sola Scriptura" that is not without influences from the Protestant model (some modernists are happy to be called the "Luthers of Islam"). This liberation from the shackles of tradition permits the hypothesis of a new exegesis of the Qur'an, which is being called for today by some Muslim intellectuals. The "occasions of revelation," drawn from the hadîth, are no longer the privileged method of exegesis as they were in the past. A critical exegesis has now become possible.

Saudi cleric urges prayer reform (Magdi Abdelhadi, 9/07/09, BBC News)

A leading Saudi cleric has called on Muslims not to pray for the destruction of unbelievers. [...]

Sheikh Salman al-Awda said such prayers were against Islamic sharia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


New Fee on Health Insurance Companies Is Proposed to Help Expand Coverage (ROBERT PEAR, 9/07/09, NY Times)

In a last effort to give the Senate a bipartisan health care bill, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee circulated a comprehensive proposal on Sunday to overhaul the health care system and proposed a new fee on insurance companies to help pay for coverage of the uninsured.

The proposal is the culmination of more than a year of work by the chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana. A similar fee was proposed by several liberal Democrats in July. In making it part of his proposal, Mr. Baucus may help cover the costs of the bill but also risks alienating Republicans whom he is trying to win over. [...]

The proposal by Mr. Baucus does not include a public option, or a government-run insurance plan, to compete with private insurers, as many Democrats want.

Hey, I know how we win back the support of voters! We raise the cost of their health insurance!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


In Adviser's Resignation, Vetting Bites Obama Again (Scott Wilson and Juliet Eilperin, 9/07/09, Washington Post)

Jones, a towering figure in the environmental movement, had issued two public apologies in recent days. One was for signing a petition in 2004 from the group that questioned whether officials in President George W. Bush's administration "may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war," and the other for using a crude term to describe Republicans in a speech he gave before joining the administration.

His involvement with the now-defunct Bay Area radical group Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM), which had Marxist roots, also emerged as an issue. And on Saturday, his advocacy on behalf of death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of fatally shooting a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, threatened to further deepen the controversy. A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel matter, said Sunday that Jones's past was not studied as intensively as that of other advisers because of his relatively low rank.

...that the UR thinks that green jobs stuff is a bunch of hokum too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Obama is fast losing white voters' support (Peter Wallsten, September 7, 2009, LA Times)

New surveys show steep declines in Obama's approval ratings among whites -- including Democrats and independents -- who were crucial elements of the diverse coalition that helped elect the country's first black president.

Among white Democrats, Obama’s job approval rating has dropped 11 points since his 100-days mark in April, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. It has dropped by 9 points among white independents and whites over 50, and by 12 points among white women -- all groups that will be targeted by both parties in next year's midterm elections.

"While Obama has a lock on African Americans, his support among white voters seems to be almost in a free fall," said veteran Republican pollster Neil Newhouse.

Like Bill Clinton, in office he's made the candidate version of himself -- the one that people voted for -- appear wholly inauthentic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Bulgaria Wins Praise for Austerity Efforts (JOE PARKINSON, 9/07/09, WSJ)

Bulgaria's new government has slashed spending and seen its approval ratings rise, making a political star out of Simeon Djankov, a former World Bank economist who runs the finance ministry. [...]

Mr. Djankov has frozen government wages and pensions, mothballed costly state investment projects, and slashed government spending by 15%. The result is an 81% reduction in Bulgaria's budget deficit to $76.5 million in August from $412 million in July.

Amid those measures, the government has earned accolades from Western economists and drawn the highest approval ratings at home since the fall of communism two decades ago. Recent Gallup polls put the government's approval at 64%.

Ivo Prokopiev, chairman of industry group the Confederation of Bulgarian Employers and Industrialists, said, "The crisis has given the new government a unique mandate -- every single unpopular decision could be explained -- and the public are more likely to support the policy."

The "crisis of capitalism" offers Republicans a golden opportunity to run on slashing the State down to size.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Divine intervention from the scientists (George Pitcher, 07 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

[I]'m taken slightly off‑guard by two stories emerging this Monday that suggest that sensible and important scientific people are taking religion seriously, even promoting it. [...]

The first comes courtesy of Professor Bruce Hood of Bristol University, who will present research to the British Science Association's annual meeting this week that shows the human brain is hard-wired by evolution to believe in God.

His cold, scientific analysis supposedly shoots celeb-atheist Professor Richard Dawkins's Darwinian fox, because Prof Dawkins has long held that religious beliefs are the consequence of poor education and childhood indoctrination (he's keen on that kind of tautology). But I'll come back to that in a moment. [...]

For a start, Prof Dawkins could argue, and undoubtedly will, that just because our brains have a capacity for the supernatural, that doesn't make a case for religion. To sense the divine doesn't prove there is a God. My brain might tell me there's chocolate in the fridge and I might believe it, but it doesn't mean it's there. And there could be any number of naturally selective reasons for the brain's God department; getting along together and being happy, for instance.

It will, nevertheless, be great fun to see Prof Dawkins & Co take on these new findings. Will they approach it with the reverence they profess to possess for all scientific discovery? Will they heck. They are ideologues, religious about their disbelief. And to accept that there is a scientific premise for religiosity would mean all is lost, not least some lucrative careers.

Except that the real problem for the Dawkinsists is that faith preceded the invention of Darwinism, which is a rather modern affectation. It is their beliefs that appear to be mere products of evolution and an evolutionary dead-end at that. Mr. Dawkins resembles nothing so much as the last dodo proclaiming himself to be one of life's big winners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Obama's Summit Flop (Jackson Diehl, September 7, 2009, Washington Post)

[I]t seems worth noting that as Obama heads into the homestretch of his first year he has yet to meet with any of the enumerated rogues -- a passing handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez at an inter-American summit notwithstanding. Nor is he likely to have any such meetings in the foreseeable future. In fact, one of the emerging lessons of the Obama administration's foreign policy might be summed up as follows: The idea that presidential "direct diplomacy" with actors such as Chávez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il or Fidel Castro is feasible or likely to produce results is, well, naive.

It's not that Obama hasn't tried. According to reports in the Iranian media he has dispatched two letters to Iran's supreme cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He has sent multiple high-level envoys to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Shortly after the administration took office, a new special representative for North Korea publicly offered bilateral negotiations to Pyongyang; former president Bill Clinton later met dictator Kim with the administration's sanction. Obama graciously accepted Chávez's gift of a stridently anti-American book and later dispatched a new ambassador to Caracas. He lifted some sanctions on Cuba.

The problem is that none of this has brought any results.

Gosh, it seemed so likely that appeasing evil regimes would work this time.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Nato's dissolution is long overdue (Mary Dejevsky, 9/07/09, Independent)

There are three main strands to the argument as it has developed so far, though with many gradations in between. The defeatist one would be that the alliance has outlived its usefulness. The second strand, you could describe as the reformist one, would be that the alliance has a future, but must change in line with changing times. And the third you could describe as the nostalgic strand: Nato, so its adherents would maintain, has done an excellent job, is essential to future global stability and needs less change and more belief.

I make no apologies for belonging to the first, rather small, camp which is hardly admitted to the debate at all. My firm conviction is that Nato should have declared victory and dissolved itself at the end of the Cold War. There are many reasons why this did not happen, including the considerable confusion at the time, the preoccupation of Western leaders with other matters, not least the hugely controversial reunification of Germany, and the uncertainty about how Russia and the former Warsaw Pact countries would develop.

But the dissolution of Nato would have sent the message – still not really heard in Moscow or points east – that the Cold War is over.

It should have been dissolved, but because it's not worth defending a secular Europe and because what threatens it is internal not external.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Supreme Leader’s photographer leaked Kahrizak rapes (Tehran Bureau, September 7, 2009)

One of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s photographers, who had been violated in Kahrizak, personally informed the Leader about the incident, leading to the closure of the detention center.

He was arrested during the post-election unrest and taken to Kahrizak where he was violated and tortured.

According to the source, who asked to remain anonymous, upon his release, the photojournalist personally went to the Supreme Leader and informed him about the jail rapes and prisoner abuse taking place in Kahrizak. After the Leader expressed disbelief, the man informed Khamenei that he himself was one of the victims.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


A Tory dystopia looms, yet ministers meekly sit and wait (Jackie Ashley, 9/07/09, The Guardian)

Let me take you by the hand and lead you to a very different Britain, one that's perhaps not more than half a year away. It's a country convulsed over its future in the European Union, one in which welfare is being slashed and new prisons are the only public investment still growing. Bodies set up to make life fairer and safer are disappearing in a "bonfire of the quangos".

The BBC is being dismantled and a Fox News-style Murdoch broadcasting agenda is ripping ahead. A rightwing Conservative parliamentary party is in power and sees little chance of opposition for a decade. Labour is a shattered shell of a party – nobody cares about who becomes its leader – and the future of opposition politics seems to lie with the Lib Dems.

Much of this will be, at least for a while, very popular.

Ah, there's the rub... When Labour rid itself of Tony Blair it ceded the Third Way back to the Tories.

September 6, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


Obama the Weak: The perils of a sycophantic administration. (Fred Barnes, 09/14/2009, Weekly Standard)

There are three President Obamas. There's the Obama who defers, the one who dithers, and the one who's out of touch. The Obama presidencies have one thing in common. They're all weak.

Obama is a great talker. He's also what used to be called a "press hound." That's a politician who can't go a single day without lavish attention from the media. But talking and availability aren't the same as leading. Nearly eight months into his presidency, Obama has yet to offer strong leadership, on anything.

What's more, Obama is a liberal who's surrounded himself with liberals. His weakness makes his liberal domestic policies more vulnerable than they otherwise would be. For a moment after Obama's inauguration, Republicans were fearful of him. They quickly found that opposing him is safe and fruitful.

...if he'd had the self-confidence and political acumen to surround himself with strong executives to compensate for his own lack of experience. Instead, he has the least prepared cabinet and staff in modern memory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:55 PM


Obama supporters question his leadership (UPI, 9/06/09)

U.S. President Barack Obama's leadership is being tested as his poll numbers dip and his supporters question his commitment to fight for them, analysts say.

Dozens of interviews this summer in six states conducted by The Washington Post and published Sunday revealed a growing sense of gloom and disappointment by the president's supporters over his administration's present course, especially coming after an August congressional recess dominated by angry attacks from opponents of his healthcare reform agenda.

Why can't he just go back to being an ink blot they could read their own dreams into?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Barack Obama rattled as Afghanistan's decision day approaches (Tony Allen-Mills, 9/06/09, Times of London)

Entertaining a group of US historians at the White House this summer, President Barack Obama revealed that he was beginning to worry about Afghanistan and the prospect that his ambitious domestic agenda would come to be overshadowed by an unpopular and unwinnable war.

Clinton Says Obama Was MIA on Afghanistan. But Was She, Too? (David Corn, March 3, 2008, Mother Jones)
In the past few days, as Hillary Clinton has intensified her attacks on Barack Obama prior to the all-important primaries in Ohio and Texas, she has claimed that he has been "missing in action" regarding Afghanistan. Clinton has been trying to make the case that she's better prepped than Obama to be commander-in-chief and more qualified to answer the phone at 3:00 a.m. when crisis strikes. To prove her point, she notes that Obama, who chairs a foreign relations subcommittee covering European matters, has held not one hearing on how to bolster NATO in Afghanistan. This weekend she told reporters on her campaign plane that he has failed in a "responsibility that is directly related to Afghanistan." She urged the journos to grill Obama on this. She said that Afghanistan is "one of the two most important challenges internationally." And she added, "I think he was missing in action...because he was running for president."

It's true that Obama has convened no meetings of the subcommittee, but his camp counters that he became chair of the subcommittee early last year, just as he was starting his presidential campaign. Clinton is technically correct that Obama could have used the subcommittee to conduct oversight of actions and policies related to Afghanistan. [...]

Clinton ought to be careful about hurling stones in this area. As she always tells campaign crowds, she is a member of the Senate armed services committee. In February the committee held two hearings on Afghanistan. On February 8, it focused on appropriations for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was a witness. Eight days later, the committee zeroed in on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, holding a two-part hearing examining recent reports on Afghanistan. Key witnesses included senior officials from the State Department and the Pentagon responsible for the administration's Afghanistan policy.

Clinton attended neither of these hearings. She was on the campaign trail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


No.10 turns on Obama and Clinton for criticising decision to release Lockerbie bomber (Simon Walters, 06th September 2009, Daily Mail)

British officials claim Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton were kept informed at all stages of discussions concerning Megrahi’s return.

The officials say the Americans spoke out because they were taken aback by the row over Megrahi’s release, not because they did not know it was about to happen.

‘The US was kept fully in touch about everything that was going on with regard to Britain’s discussions with Libya in recent years and about Megrahi,’ said the Whitehall aide.

‘We would never do anything about Lockerbie without discussing it with the US. It is disingenuous of them to act as though Megrahi’s return was out of the blue.

Maybe he should have given Gordo more than a DVD?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Breast cancer tests at overload (Sean Parnell, September 07, 2009, The Australian)

TENS of thousands of women aged under 45 and over 75 would be denied free mammograms under a contentious plan to stop those not considered at greatest danger of breast cancer from overloading the screening program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


As Joe Kennedy considers run, Chávez ties loom (Michael Rezendes and Noah Bierman, September 6, 2009, Boston Globe)

As Joseph P. Kennedy II contemplates a race to reclaim the Senate seat held by his family for nearly half a century, his most formidable obstacle may not be a Massachusetts politician but a political leader some 2,000 miles away: President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

Over the past four years, Citizens Energy Corp., the signature nonprofit founded by Kennedy in 1979 as a political launching pad, has grown from a local charity serving 10,000 Massachusetts homes a year into a national effort delivering free fuel to 200,000 households in 23 states.

And Kennedy, a former US representative, has relied almost exclusively on Chávez, a vociferous critic of the US government, for that growth.

It's a family tradition: first ties to Nazis, then to the Soviets and the IRA, now to our latest enemies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


For Obama and Democrats, Colorado Becomes Less Welcoming (Dan Balz, September 6, 2009, Washington Post)

A year ago, Denver enthusiastically hosted the Democratic National Convention, which culminated with Obama's acceptance speech before more than 80,000 people at the Denver Broncos' football stadium. Legions of volunteers, young and old, fanned out across the state throughout the fall to rally the vote for Obama's campaign.

Today, the energy that powered Obama to victory has begun to dissipate. Some of his supporters remain on the sidelines; others are, if not disillusioned, questioning what has happened to his presidency. As they look toward 2010, Democrats are nervous. Gov. Bill Ritter, appointed Sen. Michael F. Bennet and at least one Democratic member of the House will probably face difficult election campaigns next year.

Roy Romer, a former Democratic governor, called the state of play "very much tougher" for Obama and the Democrats than it was a year ago. "The slippage is there, and it's because things are tough and solutions aren't easy, and they [voters] don't see progress toward solutions," he said.

Mr. Obama went to Denver and said nothing, which was exactly what voters wanted to hear after 12 years of revolutionary Reform. But then he got to Washington and started trying to do stuff and none of it is supported by the American people.

The Change Agenda At a Crossroads: From Health Care to Wars to Public Anxiety, Obama's Strength as a Leader Is Tested (Scott Wilson, 9/06/09, Washington Post)

[O]pinion polls showed support for the president and his policies dipping sharply, and the disheartening numbers had shaken the confidence of some of Obama's staff. Vice President Biden addressed the anxiousness when the Cabinet and senior staff met in the State Dining Room in the White House residence the next morning.

"Did you really think this was going to be easy?" Biden said, according to one participant.

The slide has only quickened. Emerging from an angry August recess, Obama is weakened politically and faces growing concerns, particularly from within his own party, over his strength as a leader. Dozens of interviews this summer in six states -- from Maine to California -- have revealed a growing angst and disappointment over the administration's present course.

Democratic officials and foot soldiers, who have experienced the volatile public mood firsthand, are asking Obama to take a more assertive approach this fall. His senior advisers say he will, beginning with his Wednesday address to Congress on health care.

Being more assertive about a Congressional agenda that voters have rejected is a good way to elect Republican majorities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Will Labor Waste Its Big Opportunity? (Ruth Marcus, September 6, 2009, Washington Post)

Fewer than half of Americans -- 48 percent -- approve of labor unions, down from 59 percent a year ago, according to a new Gallup poll. That number is the lowest since Gallup started asking the question in 1936. Only 12.4 percent of workers -- and just 7.6 percent of those in the private sector -- belong to unions, down from 20 percent in 1983. [...]

Even as President Obama and other administration officials have signaled that they might need to abandon the public option, Trumka drew a line in the sand. "We won't support a bill if it doesn't have the public option in it," he said at a briefing last week. "Let me be as clear as I can be -- it's an absolute must."

It's hard for me to understand why this is the right line to draw -- especially for labor, whose workers are in group plans and would not be covered by a public option -- or why this is the right time to draw it.

...Big Labor has little interest in what's best for its own members.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Administration Seeks to Keep Terror Watch-List Data Secret (Ellen Nakashima, 9/06/09, Washington Post)

The Obama administration wants to maintain the secrecy of terrorist watch-list information it routinely shares with federal, state and local agencies, a move that rights groups say would make it difficult for people who have been improperly included on such lists to challenge the government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


A Medical Revolution Via the Cleveland Clinic (David Ignatius, September 6, 2009, Washington Post)

Second, Cosgrove says that a more efficient system will inevitably mean consolidation of hospitals. Rather than five trauma centers in a metropolitan area, say, a region could do fine with three. One way for the government to encourage consolidation would be to require electronic records. Smaller and less-efficient hospitals that don't connect to the grid will disappear.

Third, the system needs greater transparency and competition -- in both costs and quality of care.

Not that many of these folks make sense when it comes to health care, but the idea of getting rid of competitors and increasing competition is especially incoherent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


'Change They Can't Believe In' (Jim Hoagland, September 6, 2009, Washington Post)

[J]apan's upheaval also presents Obama with a significant challenge in Asia. The president will have to walk a fine line in correctly identifying and strengthening the moderates in the new government while containing the coalition's left- and right-wing extremists.

And the president has done himself no favor at this moment by choosing John Roos, a California lawyer and a mega-fundraiser for Obama in 2008, as his ambassador to Tokyo. Over time, Obama's complicity with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in stuffing the most important U.S. embassies with campaign bagmen instead of experienced foreign policy professionals will come back to haunt this White House -- nowhere more so than in Japan.

The UR was too inexperienced to chart the moderate course for his own presidency and he's supposed to figure out how to do it for Japan?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


The Elders' View Of the Middle East (Jimmy Carter, September 6, 2009, Washington Post)

A majority of the Palestinian leaders with whom we met are seriously considering acceptance of one state, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. By renouncing the dream of an independent Palestine, they would become fellow citizens with their Jewish neighbors and then demand equal rights within a democracy. In this nonviolent civil rights struggle, their examples would be Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

They are aware of demographic trends. Non-Jews are already a slight majority of total citizens in this area, and within a few years Arabs will constitute a clear majority.

Ironically, the one thing Israelis can never agree to is Eretz Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


USA goes airborne to ground El Salvador (Steve Pastorino, 9/06/09, Salt Like Tribune)

[L]ed by first captain Landon Donovan, with Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey flying as co-pilots, the Men's National Team used a barrage of crosses in front of dizzy El Salvador goalkeeper Miguel Montes late in the first half to fly away with three points with a 2-1 victory. [...]

Donovan, who put forth a signature tireless effort, finally delivered with two world-class assists in a five-minute span.

The first one, in the 41st minute with the USA surprisingly down a goal, found Dempsey off a corner kick while a quartet of his teammates appeared offside.

The in stoppage time, he curled one convincingly between flat-footed Salvadoran defenders and Jozy Altidore had no problem putting it way.

"Jozy and Charlie give us a physical dimension... speed, strength and keeping defenders on their heels," said a relieved coach Bob Bradley following the game.

The goals predictably came from Altidore and Dempsey (including the one that was absurdly disallowed), though it looked like Davies might have been useful as a sub at the end, when there was tons of open space as everyone slowed down.

The goal against was a function of atrocious goalkeeping--where was Howard going?

The defending--sans Gooch & Clark--was a tad scary.

And, as a general principle, Coach Bradley's insistence on not closing down the ball leaves opposing offensive players with absurd amounts of room to work in.

The highlight of the night for the US was just getting out of there without any more yellow cards, especially given how bad the refereeing was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Obama 'green jobs' adviser quits amid controversy (Will Lester, 9/06/09, Washington Examiner)

President Barack Obama's environmental adviser Van Jones, who became embroiled in a controversy over past inflammatory statements, has resigned his White House job after what he calls a "vicious smear campaign against me."

The resignation, announced early Sunday, came as Obama is working to regain his footing in the contentious health care debate.

It's probably not a great idea to appoint a guy if an accurate statement of his background seems like a vicious political smear.

September 5, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Missing channel pirate ship carried Russian arms for Iran (Mark Franchetti and Uzi Mahnaimi, 9/06/09, Times of London)

A CARGO ship that vanished in the Channel was carrying arms to Iran and was being tracked by Mossad, the Israeli security service, according to sources in both Russia and Israel. [...]

The alleged hijackers, four Estonians, two Russians and two Latvians, will go on trial in Moscow. According to the Kremlin’s account, they boarded the Arctic Sea in the Baltic by claiming their inflatable craft was in trouble and then took over the ship at gunpoint.

Sources in Moscow suggested Mossad may have played a part in the alleged hijacking by setting up a criminal gang, who were unlikely to have known anything about a secret cargo. “The best way for the Israelis to block the cargo from reaching Iran would have been to create a lot of noise around the ship,” said a former army officer.

“Once the news of the hijack broke, the game was up for the arms dealers. The Russians had to act. That’s why I don’t rule out Mossad being behind the hijacking. It stopped the shipment and gave the Kremlin a way out so that it can now claim it mounted a brilliant rescue mission.”

According to Israeli military sources, Israel received intelligence that weapons bound for Iran were being loaded in Kaliningrad, a port notorious for gun runners. “A decision was then taken to inform the Kremlin,” said the source.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Demand for electricity sputters and bills may fall (Mark Williams, 9/05/09, AP)

Consumers and businesses may finally be seeing some relief from rising utility bills, thanks to the biggest decline in U.S. electricity demand in decades.

Prices on wholesale markets are expected to decline for the rest of 2009, according to the Energy Information Agency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


2010 Preview: The Hottest Races in the Senate for Democrats (Holly Bailey, 9/03/09, Newsweek)

Election Day 2010 is still more than a year away—423 days to be exact. But it’s never too early to begin looking at what will be the hottest races to watch. Over the next two days, your Gagglers will look at a handful of must-watch Senate races, a list that will no doubt evolve over the next year as the battle for Congress begins. First up, a look at the seats currently held by Democrats. The party began the year with a comfortable margin in the Senate but now look at risking not just losing their 60-seat majority but possibly control of the chamber itself. On the vulnerable list: some of the best known Democrats in the country, including Chris Dodd, Barbara Boxer, and Harry Reid.'s not the obviously vulnerable you need to worry about, but the seemingly safe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


White House Discloses 10 More Ethics Waivers for Administration Officials (September 05, 2009, ABC News: Political Punch)

Calling President Obama's Executive Order on Ethics for Executive Branch personnel "the strongest ethics standards in U.S. government history," White House counsel Norm Eisen on Friday announced 10 more waivers for Obama administration officials.

Newsdump in the dead of night.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Time to Go ‘Down in Flames’ for Burma (Jean Geran, September 5, 2009, The American)

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice would lead any push on Burma at the Security Council and knows all too well the costs of not doing enough. In the Clinton administration, Rice served on the National Security Council during the Rwandan genocide. In a 2001 Atlantic Monthly article on the genocide, author Samantha Power (who, incidentally, is now the lead staff member on UN Affairs at the National Security Council) quotes Rice as saying, “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” Unfortunately, the State Department’s insipid statement this week on the current military assault in Burma notes only that State is “monitoring developments carefully” and is “deeply concerned.” During the several years I worked on Burma human rights policy at the State Department, it was well known internally (almost as gallows humor) that anytime an official statement included phrases such as “monitoring developments carefully” and “deeply concerned,” the real meaning was “we are doing little to nothing.” But doing nothing should not be an option.

You don't elect isolationists to lead the Crusade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Revealed: Libya paid for medical advice that helped Lockerbie bomber's release (Andrew Alderson, Robert Mendick and Damien McElroy, 05 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The British, Scottish and Libyan governments connived to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Medical evidence that helped Megrahi, 57, to be released was paid for by the Libyan government, which encouraged three doctors to say he had only three months to live.

The life expectancy of Megrahi was crucial because, under Scottish rules, prisoners can be freed on compassionate grounds only if they are considered to have this amount of time, or less, to live.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Conservatives float plans for massive privatisation (Melissa Kite, 05 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

A mass sale of public assets by an incoming Conservative government could include large parts of the BBC and Royal Mail, senior party figures have said.

Selling off a range of public bodies would be a "get out of jail card" as the Tories desperately try to balance the books, according to tax lawyer Charlie Elphicke, who has advised the party's economic team.

John Redwood, chair of the Conservatives' economic competitiveness commission, has published proposals on his blog for the sale of Britain's motorway network while Ed Vaizey, the shadow arts minister, last week suggested selling off Radio 1.

Remember how the new Great Depression was going to end capitalism?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


U.S. removes 'yellowcake' from Iraq: Last major stockpile from Saddam's nuclear efforts arrives in Canada (The Associated Press, July 5, 2008)

The last major remnant of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program — a huge stockpile of concentrated natural uranium — reached a Canadian port Saturday to complete a secret U.S. operation that included a two-week airlift from Baghdad and a ship voyage crossing two oceans.

The removal of 550 metric tons of "yellowcake" — the seed material for higher-grade nuclear enrichment — was a significant step toward closing the books on Saddam's nuclear legacy. [...]

The deal culminated more than a year of intense diplomatic and military initiatives — kept hushed in fear of ambushes or attacks once the convoys were under way: first carrying 3,500 barrels by road to Baghdad, then on 37 military flights to the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia and finally aboard a U.S.-flagged ship for a 8,500-mile trip to Montreal.

And, in a symbolic way, the mission linked the current attempts to stabilize Iraq with some of the high-profile claims about Saddam's weapons capabilities in the buildup to the 2003 invasion.

Accusations that Saddam had tried to purchase more yellowcake from the African nation of Niger — and an article by a former U.S. ambassador refuting the claims — led to a wide-ranging probe into Washington leaks that reached high into the Bush administration. [...]

The yellowcake wasn't the only dangerous item removed from Tuwaitha.

Earlier this year, the military withdrew four devices for controlled radiation exposure from the former nuclear complex. The lead-enclosed irradiation units, used to decontaminate food and other items, contain elements of high radioactivity that could potentially be used in a weapon, according to the official. Their Ottawa-based manufacturer, MDS Nordion, took them back for free, the official said.

The yellowcake was the last major stockpile from Saddam's nuclear efforts, but years of final cleanup is ahead for Tuwaitha and other smaller sites.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency plans to offer technical expertise.

Last month, a team of Iraqi nuclear experts completed training in the Ukrainian ghost town of Pripyat, which once housed the Chernobyl workers before the deadly meltdown in 1986, said an IAEA official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decontamination plan has not yet been publicly announced.

But the job ahead is enormous, complicated by digging out radioactive "hot zones" entombed in concrete during Saddam's rule, said the IAEA official. Last year, an IAEA safety expert, Dennis Reisenweaver, predicted the cleanup could take "many years."

The yellowcake issue also is one of the many troubling footnotes of the war for Washington.

A CIA officer, Valerie Plame, claimed her identity was leaked to journalists to retaliate against her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who wrote that he had found no evidence to support assertions that Iraq tried to buy additional yellowcake from Niger.

Of course, the real issue was the taliation by Ms Plame, who used her husband to try to subvert the Executive, not the retaliation that exposed the plot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


GOP's new diversity push (ALEXANDER BURNS, 9/5/09, Politico)

Some Republicans see the pipeline of diverse 2010 candidates as an unprecedented opportunity for the party to shake up its white-guy image, nothing less than a godsend after the historic election of a Democratic African American presidential candidate. [...]

The roster of viable contenders goes on and on. In Nevada, former federal judge Brian Sandoval, an Hispanic, is expected to enter the governor's race as the GOP frontrunner while state party chair Sue Lowden is testing the waters for a run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Hawaii's likely GOP nominee for governor is Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, who is of Chinese, Portuguese and ethnic Hawaiian descent. In Colorado, the Senate primary already includes Aurora Councilman Ryan Frazier, an African American, with former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton likely to join the race.

Republicans are also fielding promising female Senate candidates in New Hampshire and California, and women are leading candidates for governor in Oklahoma, where Rep. Mary Fallin is her party's top candidate, and California, where former eBay CEO Meg Whitman leads the field in the polls. In Texas, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is engaged in a contentious gubernatorial primary with incumbent Rick Perry.

"I think there's kind of an organic uprising of new blood and new faces in the party right now," said Alan Philp, the Republican National Committee's field director for an area including Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and five other states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


Chechen forces kill Moscow-bound suicide bomber suspects (Luke Harding, 9/05/09, The Guardian)

Russia is facing a major insurgency by Islamist radicals across the north Caucasus. In recent months they have successfully launched spectacular attacks, including an assassination attempt on Ingushetia's Kremlin-appointed president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and the devastating bombing of a police station in the town of Nazran.

Most ominously the militants appear to have revived the suicide bombings used extensively during the Kremlin's brutal second Chechen war from 1999 to 2005. This spring, the veteran Chechen guerrilla leader Doku Umarov said he was reviving the notorious Riyadus Salikhin group, a suicide battalion of "Chechen martyrs".

On 22 June a suicide bomber rammed into Yevkurov's heavily armoured Mercedes, leaving him seriously injured. Officials say Dzortov was behind the attack. In July another bomber blew himself up outside Grozny's theatre. Last month four suicide bombers on bicycles killing four policemen in Grozny.

Yesterday human rights activists said a new generation of radicalised teenage fighters had gone off to join the rebels in the forests and mountains of Chechnya. They said the wanton behaviour of local law enforcement agencies, responsible for a string of "disappearances", and for reprisals against the rebels' families had made the situation worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


International Bacon Day

Bacon Day is held on the Saturday before Labor Day US (the first Monday of Sep.). This year that is the 5th of September. Last year Bacon Day was celebrated in the US, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Switzerland, and the UK. Lets see how many more countries we can add to the list this year!

And here we thought it was International Bacon Galactic Year....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


White House Says Little About Embattled Jones (Garance Franke-Ruta and Anne E. Kornblut, 9/05/09, Washington Post)

White House officials offered tepid support Friday for Van Jones, the administration's embattled energy efficiency guru, who has issued two public apologies this week, one for signing a petition that questioned whether Bush administration officials "may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


WTO Ruling Calls Airbus Aid Illegal (JOHN W. MILLER and DANIEL MICHAELS, 9/05/09, WSJ)

The World Trade Organization ruled Friday that plane maker Airbus received illegal subsidies from European governments, according to two people familiar with the matter. The WTO said in a confidential interim ruling that the preferential government loans for the A380 passenger jet constituted an illegal export subsidy, these people said. [...]

The U.S. filed its case against the EU in 2004, contesting what the U.S. alleged was $20 billion in illegal support from European governements for Airbus to develop new models. The support was given as loans, known as launch aid.

It'll be fun to watch as those of us most devoted to the idea of sovereignty back the WTO as it rules against our various bail-outs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Corporate free speech? Since when? (Jim Sleeper, September 5, 2009, Boston Globe)

Yes, “robust speech’’ must be protected even if it’s obnoxious, but no corporation - unless it’s a news-media company, whose business is to facilitate free speech - can be the kind of speaker or citizen the First Amendment’s framers intended to protect.

The Obama administration will defend the restraints on the grounds that corporations are different from individuals. “Corporations are artificial persons endowed by the government with significant special advantages that no natural person possesses,’’ solicitor general (and former Harvard Law School dean) Elena Kagan has written.

She’s right, because a publicly traded business corporation, driven to maximize profits by market competition and its own charter, can’t rise above that mission any more than it can dance nude. Corporations aren’t “voluntary associations’’ with republican intentions, as Justice Antonin Scalia claims; in a civic sense, they’re mindless, because their shareholders change with every stock-price fluctuation.

Even a “nonprofit’’ corporation like Citizens United doesn’t deliberate openly with Americans as fellow citizens; it exists only to advance a business agenda in politics and is closed to persuasion.

If corporations want to claim the rights of individuals then they can forsake all of the legal and tax advantages of corporations and accept the responsibilities of individuals. Any takers? Thought not....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


We all want a deal -- that's what's scary: Despite signs of recovery, some see deflation looming (Tom Petruno, September 5, 2009, LA Times)

Deflation fears deepened last winter as the economy worsened and the stock market crumbled. Since March, however, those worries have seemed to abate as the housing market has stabilized, stocks have rebounded and more signs have emerged that the recession was ending.

But in recent weeks I've heard more chatter on Wall Street about deflation, including from some unlikely sources.

This week, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher -- long one of the Fed's loudest voices on the threat of inflation -- had a much different message in a speech at UC Santa Barbara.

"For the immediate future," Fisher said, "the risk to price stability is a deflationary risk, not an inflationary one."

The Fed's benchmark measure of inflation is the so-called personal consumption expenditures price index, which for various reasons the central bank has come to favor over the consumer price index.

In July, Fisher said, nearly 50% of the items in the PCE basket of goods and services were falling in price, even as the gloom over the economy was supposed to be lifting.

Many businesses, he said, "are operating in the shadow of the absence of pricing power."

The demographic implosion and productivity gains driven by technology and liberalization in the Third World mean that global deflation will continue to be a central feature of the world economy. But we are almost uniquely positioned to add to our population thanks to amnesty, increased legal immigration and the religiosity of the culture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Another One for the Gipper: a review of THE AGE OF REAGAN: The Conservative Counterrevolution, 1980-1989 By Steven F. Hayward (ROSS DOUTHAT, 9/06/09, NY Times Book Review)

Hayward is appropriately dismissive toward the anti-anti-Communist left, whose cringing posture toward the Soviet Union throughout the 1970s and ’80s still has the power to appall. (As he notes — harshly, but not unfairly — it was often difficult to tell the difference between the criticism by Reagan’s left-wing opponents and editorials in Pravda.) And his damning portrayals of Democratic politicians like Tip O’Neill and Walter Mondale, men who seemed incapable of imagining an economic policy that didn’t involve divvying up a shrinking pie among an expanding array of interest groups, feels entirely appropriate as well.

But not every argument from the 1980s is a dead letter today. In an age of counter­insurgency, the moral compromises that America’s support for third world anti-Communism entailed deserve more scrutiny than “The Age of Reagan” gives them. So too, in an era of mounting deficits, do the long-term consequences of Reagan’s fiscal policy — for the country, but especially for the conservative approach to governance. (Hayward does criticize Reagan for claiming, as his ­supply-side advisers rarely did, that tax cuts would increase revenue in the short run. But he doesn’t acknowledge the extent to which Reagan’s assumptions, rather than the sounder views of his advisers, have become orthodoxy for right-wing politicians ever since.)

But “The Age of Reagan” demonstrates the strengths of partisan historiography as well. Because he takes for granted that Reagan’s presidency was successful, Hayward is free to explore, as few authors have, exactly how he did it. Reagan the wordsmith gets his due — the book is filled, appropriately, with extensive quotations from the Great Communicator’s addresses, television chats and press conferences. So does Reagan the savvy diplomat, whose rapport with Mikhail Gorbachev played a significant role in easing the cold war to an end. But Hayward’s most timely portrait is probably Reagan the wheeler-dealer, who came to office with the presidency’s influence at a modern nadir and maneuvered sweeping domestic legislation through a Congress that was often controlled by the opposition party. (“The Age of Reagan,” in other words, puts Rahm Emanuel’s challenges in perspective.)

Hayward’s ideological vantage point also leaves him well situated to analyze where and how Reagan’s record should be deemed a disappointment by conservatives. This critique extends from specific fumbles, like the mishandling of the Robert Bork nomination, to the broader failure to significantly reduce the size and scope of government.

Many liberals have passed from underestimating the Reagan revolution to overestimating — out of shock at its staying power, perhaps — how revolutionary it really was. Hayward has a clearer view. “Reagan successfully curbed the excesses of liberalism,” he concludes, but “he did not curb liberalism itself.” The angst of his opponents notwithstanding, Reagan’s budgets hardly touched the Great Society, let alone the New Deal.

The Right is quite incapable of discussing the Reagan who actually governed the United States, preferring instead the conservative of their own imaginations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Britain's first Tory Gurkha wins council election (Daily Telegraph, 05 Sep 2009)

Tashi Bhutia, Britain's first Tory Gurkha, has won a local council election.

The Nepalese ex-serviceman, who will represent the Luton and Wayfield ward, received 1,042 votes, just four ahead of a rival Labour candidate in a turnout of 30 per cent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


On Kennedy, Andropov, and KAL 007 (Dr. Paul Kengor, 9/04/09, Townhall)

The most striking aspect of the KGB memo, not to mention Senator Kennedy’s many public statements and writings at the time—see, to cite just two examples, his March 24, 1983 Senate floor speech and March 1984 piece for Rolling Stone—was the late senator’s lack of faith and trust in President Ronald Reagan in contrast to his amazing faith and trust in Premier Yuri Andropov. This was evident in the memo, where the KGB head underscored that Kennedy was “very impressed” with Andropov—as opposed to Reagan, whose “militaristic politics” and “belligerence,” Kennedy judged, were the culprits for the increasingly tense Cold War.

This was a quite incredible perspective by Kennedy. I literally cannot name a single other American politician, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, who saw the Stalinist Andropov as anything other than cold, calculating, brooding, sinister. Yuri Andropov was no Mikhail Gorbachev. He was a throwback to the Stalin years.

And yet, because of that misplaced faith and trust in Andropov, Senator Kennedy believed that he could help arrange a P.R. tour for the Soviet dictator in the United States in August-September 1983, where Andropov could “influence Americans” with his (alleged) charm and generally produce a betterment in U.S.-Soviet relations, arms control, peace, and “define the safety of the world.” To quote the steps outlined in the KGB memo: “Kennedy believes that in order to influence Americans it would be important to organize in August-September of this year, televised interviews with Y. V. Andropov in the USA.”

On its face, this was obviously an extraordinarily misplaced judgment, quickly apparent to anyone who lived through the 1980s and remembers Yuri Andropov. But the full degree to which this is so brings me to the other historical irony that passed unnoticed this week:

...but Gorbachev was a creation of Andropov whose access to accurate information about the disparity between the USSR and the US had convinced him of the need to reform the economy in order to save the Regime. That's what Gorbachev in turn tried to do, but neither understood the degree to which even incremental Reform would unleash an assault on the Revolution itself and, thereby, destroy the foundations of the Regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Why Democrats lost the health care debate (Marta Mossburg, September 4, 2009, Washington Examiner)

I expected a Jesse Jacksonesque call to arms. What emerged was more like Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech.

[Wade Rathke, founder of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now] lamented the infighting within different unions and the inaction of Democrats in Congress on behalf of low-income Americans. "We're not going to get what many of us thought was possible a year ago," he said.

And even if organizers could unionize 100,000 or 150,000 Wal-Mart workers, no plan exists for how the organizations could handle the influx of new members, he said.

One bright spot is overseas, Rathke said, where unions are signing thousands of garbage pickers in India and Argentine cartoneros, the ultrapoor in Buenos Aires who recycle cardboard and other trash.

He said these informal workers are the fastest growing group of workers in the world. While that may be true, if the only place where U.S. unions are relevant is outside the United States, someone should be questioning the sustainability of their model.

You can almost feel sorry for the folks on the Left. Barack Obama is such a cipher that they were able to transpose their own dreams on to him at the same time he was taking advantage of that opacity to run to John McCain's Right. But what that meant is that his victory in the election indicated absolutely no change in the American people's hostility to the "progressive" project.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Maverick chess master Vladislav Tkachiev falls asleep at the board (Philippe Naughton , 9/04/09, Times of London)

Vladislav Tkachiev, 35, who was was born in Moscow, raised in Kazakhstan and now plays as a Frenchman, had to concede a game at the Calcutta Open and could face further sanctions from the game's governing body.

Tkachiev completed only 15 moves in an hour in a third-round match against India's Praveen Kumar after repeatedly dozing off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


US fury as Israel defies settlement freeze call (Sheera Frenkel, 9/05/09, Times of London)

Israeli plans to authorise the construction of hundreds of houses in the occupied West Bank sparked furious protests from American and Palestinian officials yesterday. [...]

Another US official said: “In the end America will be forced to do what is necessary to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. But the Netanyahu Government has proven difficult to work with.”

Mr. Netanyahu came out of the Wye River talks like a whipped cur, but he seems to have learned from the experience. Mr. Obama, by contrast, has no experience of any kind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Can we now debate immigration? (EDWARD SCHUMACHER-MATOS, September 5, 2009, North County Times)

Along U.S. borders and across the country, measures begun under the George W. Bush administration and refined and extended under President Barack Obama are reducing illegal entries, cracking down on employers and deporting immigrants with criminal records.

The results so far are such that, for the first time in its history, the nation is getting a handle on the enforcement side of controlling immigration. Some of the numbers are dramatic.

More adjustments are needed, especially the development of fraud-proof worker ID cards that would allow for even tighter control over jobs and employers, the most effective enforcement of all. But implementation of that will take more than a decade, and the current electronic system required of all federal contractors and in a growing number of states is now passably working.

What all this means is that it is now time for political leaders in both parties to take the debate away from the shrill extremists and give what upward of two-thirds of all Americans repeatedly tell pollsters they want, in addition to enforcement: Bring the roughly 12 million unauthorized immigrants out of the shadows by offering earned legalization that requires they undergo background checks, learn English and pay taxes; and expand temporary work programs that meet future needs for immigrant workers.

It was slowing economic growth--not least by killing immigration reform and botching the initial bank bail-out agreement--that slowed the immigrant flow. Legalization will crank the economy back up and restore the flow, not only via family reunification but because it will demonstrate once again that the wages of illegal immigration is amnesty. That's why reform should just open the borders for regularized mass immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


U.S. soccer: Altidore hopes to make an impact for U.S.
(Dan Rasmussen, Deseret News)

Billed by some as the Next Great Hope for American soccer, much fanfare and anticipation has followed the starlet from the start of his club career with the New York Red Bulls back in 2006 until now. Rather than get up in any of it, however, Altidore insists he's squarely focused on simply trying to become the best player he can.

And he'll be the first to tell you he's far from being there at this point in his relatively young career.

"I think I still have a long way to go," he said. "I try to keep myself grounded and just understand that success comes for a reason. It's not because you're lucky or it's given to you. You have to work hard to get it, so if I can continue to (work hard), hopefully more good things will come my way.

"That's where it starts — it's a groundwork from there. Hopefully if you're a talented individual, the rest will take over."

Pick Your USA Starting XI Against El Salvador: wants to know who you think should be in Bob Bradley's starting XI. (Goal, Sep 4, 2009)
Do you think it's time for Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies to get a start together up front? Who would you like to see filling in for Oguchi Onyewu on the back line? Is it time to see a new paring in the center of the midfield?



Spector-Chad Marshall (Onyewu is out on penalties)-Bocanegra (Demerit is hurt)-Cherundolo




We've got a copy of the Cosmos movie for whoever can get Bradley's starting 11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Obama: Plan for upping savings rate (NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, 9/5/09, Politico)

Obama said that to sustain long-term growth rather than to fuel "cycles of speculative booms and painful busts" would requrie Americans to save more, addding,"The fact is, even before this recession hit, the savings rate was essentially zero, while borrowing had risen and credit card debt had increased."

About 78 million people--or about half of all workers--don't have a retirement savings plan at work, and fewer than 10 percent of employees without work sponsored plans have retirement accounts of their own, according to White House figures.

"We have to revive this economy and rebuild it stronger than before. And making sure that folks have the opportunity and incentive to save – for a home or college, for retirement or a rainy day – is essential to that effort," Obama said. "If you work hard and meet your responsibilities, this country is going to honor our collective responsibility to you: to ensure that you can save and secure your retirement."

The changes will allow employees at small businesses to automatically enroll in 401 K or individual retirement account, make it possible for employees to convert unused vacation or sick days into retirement savings and allow tax filers to receive refunds as savings bonds. Senior administrative officials described those moves as immediate and administrative steps that don't require legislation--the IRS web site will offer information on the changes today.

That's thinkin' like a George W. Bush neconomist. Now, how about basing your health care reform on HSAs and adding partial privatization of SS and personal unemployment savings accounts?

September 4, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


Adolf Hitler sex video condemned by Aids charities (Matthew Moore, 9/04/09, Daily Telegraph)

An Aids-awareness advert depicting Adolf Hitler having unprotected sex has been condemned by mainstream health charities for stigmatising people infected with the virus.

The provocative commercial, which ends with the tag-line "AIDS is a mass murder", aims to scare young people into using condoms by associating the deadly disease with the German dictator. [...]

[W]hat appears to be a typical, if steamy, advert for perfume or underwear takes a macabre twist when the camera pans to man's face at the moment of climax - revealing him to be Adolf Hitler.

Of course, it only makes sense if he's having sex with Goebbels....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Pence calls on Van Jones to resign (Glenn Thrush, 9/04/09, Politico)

This sort of thing would usually be laughed off by Democrats -- a conservative Republican telling a Democratic appointee to quit.

But the Obama team isn't exactly jumping to back Jones today in wake of revelations that in the past he signed on to one of the "truther" groups that claimed 9/11 was an inside job. Oh, and he called Republicans a**holes in a video earlier this year before he was appointed.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


Pelosi ally Murtha wouldn't support health bills (Susan Crabtree - 09/04/09, The Hill)

One of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) closest allies has said he wouldn’t vote for any version of the healthcare bill under consideration right now and predicted Congress wouldn’t pass legislation until early next year.

Dem: Obama hasn't led on healthcare (Eric Zimmermann, 09/04/09, The Hill)
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said Obama has been sitting out the healthcare fight in August.

"We've been in a scrap through the month of August, but we really haven't had presidential leadership in the way we need it most," Weiner told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last night.

Weiner has previously threatened that up to 100 Democrats would vote against legislation that doesn't include a so-called public option.

The New York Democrat told Maddow that Obama's should use his address to Congress next week to demand a government plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


China now faces unrest from majority Han Chinese (Saibal Dasgupta, 4 September 2009, TNN)

Crowds of Han Chinese continued to protest for the second day today saying the local government has not done enough to protect them from the bizarre attacks by miscreants using syringes with needles to attack innocent people in the past few days. [...]

In a rare development, the crowds began naming the local Communist Party secretary, Wang Lequan, in their slogan shouting, reports reaching here said. The local party boss lords over the both the government and the party setup in provinces and it is unusual for anyone to question him.

Some people were seen arguing with the police and blaming them for failure to protect the lives of Han Chinese from insurgents working for the cause for creating an independent East Turkmenistan nation for Uighurs.

That's gotta be a rumor, it's just too inefficient a means of attack. Though it does have the nice whiff of Sax Rohmer to it....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Can the U.S. Lead Afghans? (MARK MOYAR, 9/04/09, NY Times)

First, the United States must pressure senior Afghan leaders to weed out bad commanders. Second, we must assign more and better officers to advise Afghan units. Third, American units should work more closely with Afghan units.

Given what is at stake, however, the United States should also consider more drastic techniques. One is direct control over selecting commanders, a model that the United States used to excellent effect in Vietnam with the Provincial Reconnaissance Units, paramilitary forces that proved successful against the Vietcong. By appointing the units’ indigenous commanders, the C.I.A. eliminated the political and other non-merit considerations that plagued other South Vietnamese forces. That arrangement would benefit Afghanistan, as cronyism and nepotism run rampant there.

Regrettably, these measures may not suffice. We therefore should consider the most drastic method, which is also the method most likely to increase quantity and quality simultaneously — foreign command of indigenous units.

In the Philippine insurrection of 1899 to 1902 and in the Malayan revolt in the middle of the last century, indigenous soldiers worked well under the command of able American and British officers. Effective indigenous units were thereby deployed at much lower financial and political costs than foreign units.

Some will object that those colonial wars are not relevant to our postcolonial world. Yet in postcolonial Vietnam, foreigners commanded indigenous troops through the combined-action program, an initiative long heralded as a paragon of enlightened counterinsurgency. The program succeeded by placing South Vietnamese militias and United States Marines under the leadership of American commanders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


The Coming Reset in State Government: My fellow governors and I are likely facing a permanent reduction in tax revenues. (Mitch Daniels, 9/04/09, WSJ)

The coming state government reset will be particularly wrenching after the happy binge that preceded this recession. During the last decade, states increased their spending by an average of 6% per year, gusting to 8% during 2007-08. Much of the government institutions built up in those years will now have to be dismantled.

For now, my state's situation is far better than most, but it won't stay that way if we fail to act in Indiana. At present, we are meeting our obligations, without raising taxes, and still have over $1 billion in reserve. But the dominant reality is that even assuming the official revenue projections are accurate (and they have been consistently too rosy for the past two years), the state of Indiana will have fewer dollars to work with in 2011 than it did in 2007. Most other states face similar or worse prospects.

Unfortunately, the slow down will be too brief to result in any permanent reductions in government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


Obama to stress common ground in health speech ( Michael Kranish, September 4, 2009, Boston Globe)

[I]f some parts of the reform effort fail to gain enough support, Obama could deploy a backup plan that includes measures such as ending the denial of coverage - and give him an interim victory. At the least, the potential for passing such a plan could give the president leverage to win concessions from Congress.

Amid all the angry discussion at town hall meetings, relatively little attention has been paid to the fact that many Republicans agree broadly with Obama - though not necessarily on the details - on ideas such as making it easier for small businesses to band together to buy insurance for their employees and for workers to take their insurance with them from one company to another, keeping the plan deficit-neutral, and imposing new regulations on the insurance industry to make it easier for anyone to get coverage.

What wouldn't we give for a Republican to offer an amendment requiring insurance companies to provide you with auto coverage for pre-existing damages....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


How the collapse of Lehman Brothers pushed capitalism to the brink: The Wall Street titan's bankruptcy triggered a system-wide crisis of confidence in banks across the globe (Andrew Clark, 9/04/09, The Guardian)

It was well known that Lehman, an Alabama cotton trader turned banking behemoth, was the biggest bankruptcy in US history. But nobody anticipated quite what would follow - a week that has become known on Wall Street as the great panic of 2008.

Mercifully, many Asian stockmarkets were closed the next morning for a holiday. But shares plunged in Taipei, Mumbai and Manila. And when the business day opened in Europe, the FTSE 100 index dived by 4%. In New York, financiers awoke to the news that not only had Lehman Brothers collapsed but that another struggling brokerage, Merrill Lynch, had been bought by Bank of America for $50bn (£30bn) in a buyout negotiated in just 48 hours. The Dow Jones industrial average slumped by more than 500 points, its worst fall since the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, with an all-time record of 8bn shares changing hands.

"There was a tremendous amount of nervousness," says Anthony Conroy, head trader BNY ConvergEx, a New York brokerage. "People were worried about the ramifications not just for a day or a week but for the months and years ahead."

At the time, it just seemed like a good dose of capitalist medicine to let Lehman fail. We free marketeers forgot that lending is primarily a matter of faith, not of capital.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


Japan Throws the Bums Out (Mary Kissel, 8/30/09, WSJ)

Mr. Hatoyama follows three lackluster LDP governments. He is—as Barack Obama was to George W. Bush—the anti-Koizumi. His political mantra is yuai, or friendship and love. Mr. Koizumi touted reform. Mr. Hatoyama is an anticapitalist. Mr. Koizumi embraced competition. Mr. Hatoyama wants to embrace Asia and the United Nations. Mr. Koizumi drew closer to the U.S. Mr. Hatoyama thinks China's rise is inevitable and that Japan should resign itself to making do with the prosperity it accumulated in the past. Mr. Koizumi took a firm line toward Beijing and wanted Japan to start growing again to support a strong defense.

These are not small differences, nor are they marginal to American interests in Asia. At home, Mr. Hatoyama's Keynesian worship may spell another lost decade of growth for the world's second-largest economy. He stands for agricultural protectionism, higher minimum wages, higher taxes in the name of environmental responsibility and more handouts to the elderly, parents and unemployed. He wants to protect small- and medium-sized businesses from competition. His pledges to cut taxes are minimal; his goal to cut fat from the budget, vague; and his commitment to free trade, marginal. The phrase "economic growth" scored nary a mention in his campaign pledges. [...]

The remarkable thing is that the Obama administration seems almost wholly unaware of this anticapitalist, anti-U.S. turn of events in its cornerstone ally in North Asia. This is a mistake. Mr. Hatoyama has little experience governing and could use some guidance from Japan's best and closest ally.

Lessons on governing from Barrack Obama? That has to be a joke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


Let’s Get Fundamental (DAVID BROOKS, 9/04/09, NY Times)

If I were magically given an hour to help Barack Obama prepare for his health care speech next week, the first thing I’d do is ask him to read David Goldhill’s essay, “How American Health Care Killed My Father,” in the current issue of The Atlantic. That essay would lift Obama out of the distracting sideshows about this public plan or that cooperative option. It would remind him why he got into this issue in the first place.

Goldhill’s main message is that the American health care system is dysfunctional at the core. He vividly describes how the system hides information, muddies choices, encourages more treatment instead of better care, neglects cheap innovation, inflates costs and unintentionally increases suffering.

...we'd say the biggest one is that we in the West are profoundly healthy. Accept this most basic fact and the absurdity of everyone carrying insurance their whole lives is obvious, while all of the perversities follow. What's needed is a system where we all set aside money during our ridiculously lengthy healthy period in some instrument that: compounds that money; allows us to draw upon it for minor stuff; and has built up to considerable size for our period of illness and death. There's plenty of room for political brawling about the details.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Transsexual prisoner wins move to women's jail (David Batty, 9/04/09,

A transsexual prisoner serving life for manslaughter and attempted rape committed while she was a man has won a high court battle to be transferred to a women's jail.

A vagina seems a small price to pay to preserve your anal virginity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Barack Obama, Explainer-in-Chief : Republicans have been able to confuse the issue, but their chances of killing health care reform remain slim. All Obama has to do is lay out the facts. (Terence Samuel, September 4, 2009, American Prospect)

It is important for the president to keep this bottom-line calculus -- that he is right on the right side of this issue both morally and politically -- at the top of his mind when he returns from vacation to a chorus of depressing reviews about how badly August turned out for him and the prospects of health reform.

Health care reform is an issue that won him the election, and it is one that is worth the good fight, one to which he should not just bring a megaphone, but a baseball bat.

Not entirely inaccurate, but it is the way that the issue contributed to his election that reveals why Democrats' health care plans are unsellable. Here's the sort of ad that the Obama campaign ran constantly, especially in swing states like NH, in order to get to Maverick's Right:

You know what ad he never ran--and for obvious reasons--the one where he talked about providing universal health care, doing so through a government bureaucracy, and adding one or two trillion dollars to the national tax bill to do so.

And here he is on health care at his own Convention:

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most. [...]

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime - by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less - because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

Okay, so during campaign 2008 we have the UR as, at worst, the defender of the status quo and, at best, the foe of taxes who will reduce your health insurance premium and whose health care plans will be entirely paid for by closing a few loopholes. In effect, he ran against exactly the sort of reforms that he and his party are now stuck trying to get past an unwilling public.

Let us concede for the moment the notion that Mr. Obama is the smartest person ever to run for president. Mightn't we suppose then that if he was on the right side of the health care debate both morally and politically he would have run on that position instead of against it?

You know the other ads he never ran? The ones about cap and trade and immigration reform and gays in the military and all the other things that Democrats in Congress can't pass. Sure, President Obama has the least effective legislative record of any modern president, but, to be fair, he didn't run on any kind of legislative agenda and ran against much of what he now proposes.

The contrast to George W. Bush is particularly damaging. In his first term, Mr. Bush had the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment since LBJ despite the radical nature of his proposals. And why was he able to achieve so much, even after losing control of the Senate? Because he actually ran on those plans.

Consider even the one big issue on which he carried elections twice, but could never get enough Democratic votes to pass legislation, SS Reform. Here he is at his convention:

Social Security has been called the third rail of American politics, the one you're not supposed to touch because it might shock you. But if you don't touch it, you cannot fix it.

And I intend to fix it.

To the seniors in this country, you earned your benefits, you made your plans, and President George W. Bush will keep the promise of Social Security, no changes, no reductions, no way.

Our opponents will say otherwise. This is their last parting ploy, and don't believe a word of it.

Now is the time - now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to end the politics of fear and save Social Security together.

For younger workers, we will give you the option, your choice, to put part of your payroll taxes into sound, responsible investments.

This will mean a higher return on your money in over 30 or 40 years, a nest egg to help your retirement or to pass on to your children.

When this money is in your name, in your account, it's just not a program, it's your property.

Now is the time to give American workers security and independence that no politician can ever take away.

And here his is on the vouchers in NCLB:
On education, too many American children are segregated into schools without standards, shuffled from grade to grade because of their age, regardless of their knowledge. This is discrimination, pure and simple, the soft bigotry of low expectations. And our nation ... and our nation should treat it like other forms of discrimination: We should end it.

One size does not fit all when it comes to educating our children, so local people should control local schools.

And those who spend your tax dollars must be held accountable. When a school district receives federal funds to teach poor children, we expect them to learn. And if they don't, parents should get the money to make a different choice.

And here on tax cuts:
Another test of leadership is tax relief.

The last time taxes were this high as a percentage of our economy, there was a good reason; we were fighting Wo War II. Today our high taxes fund a surplus. Some say that growing federal surplus means Washington has more money to spend.

But they've got it backwards. The surplus is not the government's money; the surplus is the people's money.

I will use this moment of opportunity to bring common sense and fairness to the tax code. And I will act on principle. On principle, every family, every farmer and small-business person should be free to pass on their life's work to those they love, so we will abolish the death tax.

On principle, no one in America should have to pay more than a third of their income to the federal government, so we will reduce tax rates for everyone in every bracket.

On principle, those with the greatest need should receive the greatest help, so we will lower the bottom rate from 15% to 10% and double the child credit.

Now is the time to reform the tax code and share some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills.

Meanwhile, his campaign ads hammered away on these reforms as a matter of trust: that you could be trusted to invest part of your own SS taxes; that you could be trusted with more of your own tax money back; and that you could be trusted to choose a better school if your child was in one that was failing.

He effectively laid the groundwork for his massive legislative agenda by running on it and demonstrating that the American people supported it. His campaign reflected a belief that he was on the right side of the issues morally and politically, just as President Obama's considered decision not to run on any of the current Democratic agenda would appear to reflect his accurate recognition that it would have been deadly political suicide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Most U.S. parents like their kids' schools: poll (CBC, August 24, 2009)

The majority of American parents like the schools their children attend, but hate the U.S. public school system overall, according to a poll released Monday.

Gallup Inc. said 76 per cent of U.S. adults were at least somewhat satisfied with the level of education their own child or children receive in that country's public school system. [...]

"It is not unusual to find that Americans rate aspects of society more negatively at the national level than they do at the local level. Education is a prime example of this phenomenon," the Princeton, N.J.-based pollster said in an analysis of its findings.

So you're trying to convince parents who are happy with their schools to admit kids from the "lousy" schools (particularly kids who are ethnically other). It won't fly, Orville.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Business Outlook: The Budding Recovery Has Staying Power: Recent business austerity is boosting profits and the need to expand, and rising global growth is lifting exports, all while massive policy efforts continue to support demand (James C. Cooper , 9/03/09, Business Week)

Plus, the Federal Reserve's support of the credit markets will continue to strengthen financial conditions, so crucial to growth, well into 2010. Housing will benefit greatly. Already, the housing component of GDP is set to add to growth this quarter for the first time in 3 1/2 years. Plus, with home prices bottoming out, prospects for mortgage-backed securities will improve, helping to further shore up housing while stanching the bleeding on bank balance sheets.

Prospects for business spending are also looking brighter, especially given the surprisingly strong performance of profits, which drive the expansion of outlays and hiring. In the second quarter, profits of nonfinancial corporations, based on the Commerce Dept.'s accounting, rose at a 19.3% annual rate from the first quarter—an especially solid performance for a quarter with falling GDP.

Profit margins also grew last quarter, a testament to the benefits of corporate cost-cutting and productivity gains. Nonfinancial companies are emerging from this recession with margins much higher than at the end of the last recession. With revenues set to pick up in the second half, further gains in profits are a sure bet.

Of course, consumers will be essential to a lasting recovery, and their help will require stronger labor markets. The plus here is that businesses have been extremely conservative in their spending and hiring, which puts them in a good position to gear up quickly as a recovery takes hold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Idris Elba, star of The Wire, to play detective for BBC (Daily Telegraph, 04 Sep 2009)

His new BBC One character, John Luther, is a "near-genius" murder squad detective who may have more in common with Bell than Inspector Morse and other traditional TV sleuths.

Elba said: "I'm really excited about playing Luther. He's a challenging and exciting character because he's so complex. While he's capable of great kindness and loyalty, sometimes he steps over the edge of madness - simmering with anger and rage."

The series is set in modern-day London and each episode will see Luther tracking down a killer.

It is the first lead television role for Elba, 36, who started out in the soap opera Family Affairs before moving to the US aged 22. "In the US, there are lead roles for black actors. That's why I went to American - to get the lead roles that I wouldn't here," he said recently.

...and I thought his English accent was quite good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


David Cameron can learn from The Avengers: Sinclair McKay says the Tory leader could do worse than emulate his fellow Old Etonian — the elegant, ruthless, cucumber-cool TV hero John Steed (Sinclair McKay, 2nd September 2009, The Spectator)

In the 1960s — the decade in which deference dissolved, and Harold Wilson’s raincoat became the synecdoche of a political era — Steed was the acceptable face of toffdom. (Incidentally, imagine such a hero on ITV now!) Whereas Fleming’s 007 was a bully and a snob, Steed was never less than charm itself with the lower orders.

Whether dispensing advice on how to handle an umbrella to an inept agent (‘Not so aggressive with the umbrella,’ Steed says. ‘Spritely. Not eager. Eagerness is the next worst thing to enthusiasm’) or remaining resolutely glib in the face of jeopardy (when up before an impromptu firing squad, Steed is asked for his last request. ‘Would you cancel my milk?’ he says), Steed embodied a very attractive approach to practical problem-solving. That was: keeping it light and, as Macnee once told me, ‘leaving it to the very last minute to manoeuvre out of trouble’. Go on, Mr Cameron — isn’t that healthier than Mr Brown’s incessant nail-gnawing?

Steed endeavoured to keep himself out of the class debate. In one episode, charm-school baddies have trussed Mrs Peel up with some public school neckties. As Steed struggles to free her, he observes: ‘Nothing so unbreakable as the bonds of the old school tie.’ But as Steed demonstrated, one’s own schooling never had to be brought into it. It was simply there, as a given, neither to be shouted about nor concealed.

And it was very much a case of iron fist, velvet glove. Even though Steed never used a gun (that umbrella had multiple offensive uses instead, including a concealed sword), he was smilingly ruthless. ‘That was very, very dirty,’ Mrs Peel remarks after some absurd fight sequence. ‘I never promised to fight fair,’ purrs Steed. Perhaps these days it is a slightly Mandelsonian quality, but is it any the worse for that? [...]

And how the Americans adored Steed! When the series went into colour in 1967, it was the first British series to be networked coast to coast (it is still repeated over there, on endless loops). Indeed, in recognition of this, the show’s chief writer and producer Brian Clemens sought to intensify the Englishness of the thing, resulting in all those beautiful shots of utterly deserted London streets, and endless green meadows (the production team never used extras — as well as making an empty landscape or cityscape an arresting visual leitmotif, the watch-phrase was: ‘If they’re in shot, they’re in the plot’). Steed was a figure that many Americans would have recalled from war films, cucumber-cool to an insane degree. Imagine if that style of insouciant Englishness were to have the same charming effect in Washington now. Indeed, we may need it. to compare the show to today's British spy drama, Spooks, where the operatives are yuppie bureaucrats, the Americans are bad guys and al Qaeda the good, or at worst the misunderstood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


The Pentagon's Newest Weapon in the War on Pirates (Mark Thompson, Sep. 04, 2009, TIME)

The U.S. military plans to deploy its newest warplane against one of the world's oldest threats, sending unmanned Reaper drones to the Seychelles islands to deal with pirates menacing seagoing commerce in the Indian Ocean. Fighting pirates off the coast of Africa was one of the founding missions of the U.S. Marines two centuries ago; today, in a sign of the changing face of warfare, the mission of protecting maritime trade routes falls to ground-bound desk jockeys remotely operating high-tech flying machines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


...journalists will have to do it for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Could Obama Rescue Ahmadinejad? (Amir Taheri, 04/09/2009, Asharq Alawasat)

But what would Ahmadinejad be prepared to give in exchange for all that he expects from Obama?

The answer from Tehran is: nothing of substance- at least in the short term.

"The US should recognize Iran as an equal partner in international affairs and acknowledge its position" says Dr. Manuchehr Muhammadi, an advisor to Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, " However, the US should not insist that the Islamic Republic of Iran change its policies or behavior."

Judging by the mood music in Tehran, Ahmadinejad is prepared to offer Obama a photo opportunity that the new American president could sell as his first diplomatic victory. In exchange, Ahmadinejad would expect Obama to recognize the Islamic Republic as the regional "superpower", giving it a veto on key issues of the Middle East including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Thanks to recent events in Iran, engaging Iran is no longer about the controversial nuclear dossier. It is about saving Ahmadinejad whose troubled presidency may be heading for even deeper waters. The hand that Obama has stretched out to Iran may turn out to be a lifeline thrown at a drowning Ahmadinejad.

Only one fact matters in any such negotiations between nations: at the point that the "negotiating" begins it is already over, because one side has already conceded. Applying that analytical framework to the US v. Iran it is obvious that if the Obama Administration sits down with Ahmedinejad it is accepting a radical interventionist and nuclear-armed Iran.

September 3, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM


How Team of Geeks Cracked Spy Trade (SIOBHAN GORMAN, 9/03/09, WSJ)

From a Silicon Valley office strewn with bean-bag chairs, a group of twenty-something software engineers is building an unlikely following of terrorist hunters at U.S. spy agencies.

One of the latest entrants into the government spy-services marketplace, Palantir Technologies has designed what many intelligence analysts say is the most effective tool to date to investigate terrorist networks. The software's main advance is a user-friendly search tool that can scan multiple data sources at once, something previous search tools couldn't do. That means an analyst who is following a tip about a planned terror attack, for example, can more quickly and easily unearth connections among suspects, money transfers, phone calls and previous attacks around the globe.

...and you'll have tens of thousands of people hunting terrorist networks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Sen. Lincoln Reverses Position on Public Option (David M. Drucker, 9/02/09, Roll Call)

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), still facing the prospect of a tough re-election in 2010, has reversed her position on the public insurance option, saying Tuesday she will oppose the measure as a part of health care reform after previously expressing support for the policy, the Arkansas News reported.

Lincoln’s vote on a health care reform bill could be key as the Senate Democratic leadership looks to build a coalition of 60 Senators to pass legislation without using reconciliation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


51% Say Congress is Too Liberal, 22% Say It’s Too Conservative (Rasmussen Reports, 9/03/09)

Fifty-one percent (51%) of voters nationwide believe that Congress is too liberal while 22% hold the opposite view and say it is too conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


Green jobs 'czar' signed 'truther' statement in 2004 (Amanda Carpenter, Sept. 3, 2009, Washington Times)

President Obama’s “green jobs czar” Van Jones has been targeted again and again by conservatives for his controversial views and now they’ll have another item to use as fodder.

Mr. Jones signed a statement for in 2004 demanding an investigation into what the Bush Administration may have done that “deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


I have been abducted by aliens, says Japan's first lady (Peter Popham, 3 September 2009, Independent)

The 62-year-old also knew Tom Cruise in a former incarnation – when he was Japanese – and is now looking forward to making a Hollywood movie with him. "I believe he'd get it if I said to him, 'Long time no see', when we meet," she said in a recent interview. But it is her claim in a book entitled "Very Strange Things I've Encountered" that she was abducted by aliens while she slept one night 20 years ago, that has suddenly drawn attention following last Sunday's poll.

"While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus," she explains in the tome she published last year. "It was a very beautiful place, and it was very green."

When the new Japanese first lady related her adventures to her then husband, he told her flatteningly that it was probably just a dream. But she is confident that Yukio, the man now entrusted with the task of hauling Japan out of its deepest recession, would have reacted very differently. "My current husband has a different way of thinking. He would surely say, 'Oh, that's great'," she wrote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


What are the benefits of Tetris? (Mark Yates, 9/03/09, BBC News)

[W]hile Tetris continues to win over new legions of entry-level computer gamers, it's also been drawing the interest of brain scientists. Some even suggest the game may actually be good for the health of the mind if not the body.

While hours spent struggling to sink those breezeblocks render fingers sore and gnarled, there are scientific studies that point to wider benefits.

The latest inquiry comes from the Mind Research Network (MRN) - a brain research organisation based in the United States. Using little more than MRI brain scanners and game consoles, scientists have found that regular turns on Tetris caused the grey matter in a group of teenage girls to thicken.

Earlier this year, Oxford University reported that Tetris could reduce the flashbacks experienced in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Iran’s Flip-Flopper Supreme (ROGER COHEN, 9/03/09, NY Times)

Will the real Ayatollah Ali Khamenei please stand up?

On June 19, a week after Iran’s disputed presidential election, the supreme leader shed the garb of the lofty arbiter to deliver a raging sermon in which he warned of “bloodshed and chaos” in Tehran if protests continued. They did, the next day, and I will never forget the blood that flowed at Khamenei’s behest. [...]

Now, 10 weeks later, with the Iranian revolutionary establishment still shaken by the brazenness of the June 12 electoral fraud and the rashness of the supreme leader’s gambit, Khamenei declares: “I don’t accuse the leaders of the recent incidents of being affiliated with foreign countries, including the United States and Britain, since the issue has not been proven to me.”

Well, sir, which is it?

Thus is it ever for conservatives, who have to allow enough reform to strengthen the regime but not so much as to lose exactly what they're trying to conserve. Khamenei hasn't been especially good at it, but so far he's doing better than the Shah....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


The Default Power (JOSEF JOFFE, 8/21/09, NY Times)

Every 10 years, it is decline time in the United States. In the late 1950s, it was the Sputnik shock, followed by the “missile gap” trumpeted by John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign. A decade later, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger predicted a world of five, rather than two, global powers. At the end of the 1970s, Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech invoked “a crisis of confidence” that struck “at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.” A decade later, academics such as the Yale historian Paul Kennedy predicted the ruin of the United States, driven by overextension abroad and profligacy at home.

Declinism took a break in the 1990s, but by the end of the Bush administration, it had returned with a vengeance. This year, inspired by the global financial crisis, Mr. Kennedy revisited the arguments he had laid out 20 years earlier. “The biggest loser is understood to be Uncle Sam,” he wrote. Chronic fiscal deficits and military overstretch were finally doing in the United States, he argued, and the “global tectonic power shift, toward Asia and away from the West, seems hard to reverse.”

But the history of declinism shows that doom arrives in cycles, and what comes and goes, logically, does not a trend make. Today, as after past prophecies of imminent debility, the United States remains first on any scale of power that matters — economic, military, diplomatic or cultural — despite being embroiled in two wars and beset by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The question, then, is, how well can the current declinism stand up to this enduring reality? consider how insignificant the two wars were and how easily dealt with the economic crisis was. Iraq and Afghanistan have been sideshows that didn't require any kind of national mobilization to wage and all it took was the announcement that we'd back banks despite their misstatements of the risk contained in derivatives to nip a global panic in the bud. These are demonstrations of our global dominance, not arguments against it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


String Theory Skeptic: Outsider Peter Woit is challenging the debate about physics "theory of everything." (Lee Gomes, 09.02.09, Forbes Magazine)

Three years ago [Peter] Woit, who teaches mathematics at Columbia University, published Not Even Wrong. The book combines science and polemics to argue that string theorists were heading down a scientific rat hole, one where fancy math tricks had been mistaken for genuine physics. At the time the conventional wisdom was that string theorists were the best in the business and on the brink of a new revolution on par with Einstein's theory of relativity.

Woit's book got its title from a rebuke once uttered by Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli (dismissing a muddled analysis of a physics problem, he said, "It's not right. It's not even wrong."). The timing was good, like a Wall Street analyst calling the top of a market the day before a crash commences. Boom turned into bust; university physics departments, which had been rushing to hire young string theorists, suddenly didn't want to talk to them anymore.

"String theory was a bubble waiting to be pricked," says Woit, 51. "The fundamentals just weren't there anymore." [...]

There is no direct evidence that the world really is made of strings; the idea was first proposed simply because it made a certain amount of mathematical sense.

And not even the most overblown bubble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


Obama and the Perfect Political Storm (Karl Rove, 9/03/09, WSJ)

[M]r. Obama is trying to overhaul health care without being able to tap into widespread public unhappiness. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans say they have coverage—and large majorities of them are happy with it. Of the 46 million uninsured, 9.7 million are not U.S. citizens; 17.6 million have annual incomes of more than $50,000; and 14 million already qualify for Medicaid or other programs. That leaves less than five million people truly uncovered out of a population of 307 million. Americans don't believe this problem—serious but correctable—justifies the radical shift Mr. Obama offers.

Moreover, he's tried to sell it with promises Americans aren't buying. He says ObamaCare will save money, but Americans believe it comes with a huge price tag because the Congressional Budget Office has said it will.

Workers are also rightly concerned they won't be able to keep their current coverage. Many businesses will drop their health plans and instead pay a fine equal to 8% of their payroll costs, which is less than what they pay for employee coverage.

Families believe they will be pushed into a government plan as the "public option" drives private insurers out of the market.

Health-care providers fear they'll be forced to follow one-size-fits-all guidelines drafted by bureaucrats, instead of making judgments for specific patients.

And seniors are afraid of Mr. Obama's plan to cut $500 billion from Medicare over the next decade, including $177 billion for Medicare Advantage. It's simply not possible to cut that much from Medicare without also cutting services seniors need.

Each of these concerns is energizing opposition among many previously uninvolved voters and political independents. Members of Congress, especially those in closely contested districts, saw this firsthand when they returned home in August.

...Beltway Democrats hate our health care system so mustn't everyone?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


An Exaggerated Death: In proclaiming the death of conservatism, Sam Tanenhaus misses several marks. (Peter Berkowitz, 9/03/09, National Review)

To retain relevance in the ministerial role to which he believes history has consigned them, Tanenhaus counsels conservatives to renew their appreciation of classical conservatism. This apparently friendly suggestion will require an extreme change of course, because “the paradox of the modern Right” is that “its drive for power has steered it onto a path that has become profoundly and defiantly un-conservative — in its arguments and ideas, in its tactics and strategies, above all in its vision.” To the extent Tanenhaus is correct, this is less a paradox than a truism, and a conservative truism at that: Power tends to corrupt. More paradoxical, and certainly more perverse, is that the classical conservatism to which Tanenhaus invites conservatives to return is one he has bleached of its passion for conserving.

Genuine conservatism, according to Tanenhaus, is the classical conservatism of the great 18th-century Whig Edmund Burke and the great 19th-century Tory Benjamin Disraeli. It is distinguished, Tanenhaus maintains, by opposition to ideologies of all sorts and extremism of every kind, and a devotion to achieving political stability through prudent and balanced reform of the existing order. This is correct insofar as it goes, but it goes so little of the way toward saying what needs to be said about classical conservatism as to be deeply misleading.

Although rightly celebrating Burke and Disraeli as prudent reformers, Tanenhaus says next to nothing about the standards or the goods in the light of which they believed prudent reform must be carried out. He credits Disraeli for recognizing that modern conservatism must serve “the interests, needs, and rights of the entire population.” And he observes that for Burke “the task of statesmen was to maintain equilibrium between ‘the two principles of conservation and correction.’” Yet Tanenhaus does not maintain equilibrium in his analysis of these principles, attending sympathetically to conservatism’s correcting function while neglecting its conserving imperative. The religious faith, moral virtues, customary practices and associations, and limits on government power that conservatives, following Burke and Disraeli, seek to conserve barely figure in his book. Nor does Tanenhaus notice, much less explore, the crucial conviction, common to Burke and Disraeli, that the conservation of these goods is not only good in itself but essential to preserving liberty under law. And Tanenhaus’s presentation entirely overlooks the classic account in The Federalist of the principles of sound constitutional government, and Tocqueville’s classic account in Democracy in America of both the dangers to freedom posed by democratic manners and morals and the appropriate remedies consistent with democratic justice. Both these accounts are crucial to any balanced assessment of the sustaining sources of conservatism in America.

By means of these truncations and omissions, Tanenhaus performs the amazing feat of transforming classical conservatism into progressive pragmatism. This prepares the way for his sensational claim that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been the leading political embodiments over the last two decades of a Burkean or classically conservative sensibility. One might as well argue that since for Marx all human beings are by nature free conscious producers and since politics depends on economics, Milton Friedman belongs among the outstanding Marxist intellectuals of the past half-century.

What Mr. Tanenhaus can not accept about George W. Bush, nor Mr. Berkowitz about Bill Clinton, is that a straightish line runs from Milton Friedman through Bill Clinton and W. And while it is not unlikely to eventually connect up with Barack Obama, it doesn't yet.

Let us accept for the sake of argument that the Third Way, in practice, is nothing more than the acceptance by the Right that the social welfare net is a permanent feature of modern liberal democracy coupled with the acceptance by the Left that such a net will be stronger if achieved through free market mechanisms than if entirely administered by the State. It is the use of First Way means to achieve Second Way ends.

This makes the Third Way a rather broad church, not coincidentally one that includes every successful political leader of the past thirty years in the Anglosphere. But it more or less began in Chile, when Augusto Pinochet imported the "Chicago Boys," economists from the Friedman-influenced University of Chicago, to bring free market reforms to bear on his country's developing economy. They did everything from partially privatize the Chilean social security system to establish individual unemployment accounts. While the various policies have required significant jiggering over time, the entire panoply also gave Chile the strongest economy in Latin America and the 11th freest economy in the world.

In turn, the early '80s saw Margaret Thatcher in Britain, the Labour Government under David Lange in New Zealand, and the Hawke/Keating Labour Party in Australia all undertake massive shifts of their nations back from socialism towards capitalism and experimentation with a variety of Pinochet-like welfare reforms.

Oddly, America, which might have been expected to lead the reform movement, at that time had a conservative Republican president who was also a New Dealer, and so wedded emotionally to the Second Way. This meant that we largely sat out the initial era and joined in only after a curious set of circumstances converged. Ronald Reagan, who had saved FDR's Social Security program largely unchanged, was succeeded bu George H. W. Bush who was basically just a caretaker. Not least because of his caution and lack of any modernizing vision, he was defeated for re-election by Bill Clinton, who ran mainly on the idea of "ending Welfare as we know it." Whether or not the new president was sincere about the essential conservatism he ran on in '92, once in office he moved sharply to the Left and promptly lost both houses of Congress. Happily, this created a situation where we had a putatively reformist president of the Left and a radically reformist Congress of the Right. The result was that Welfare as we'd known it was indeed ended, though the two parties proved unable to move other reforms.

Just as Tony Blair made Labour Thatcherite and John Howard made Australia's Liberals Hawkish, George W. Bush was elected (more or less) in 2000 on a platform that embraced the Third Way. In office he was unable to get Social Security privatization past the filibuster, but did pass a NCLB plan that included education vouchers, a prescription drug plan that authorized HSAs, Welfare Reform reauthorization, housing vouchers, etc. He was exactly the sort of conservative that Sam Tanenhaus desires.

The big question now is: whither President Obama? Whereas Canada has seen first Stephen Harper on the Right and now Michael Ignatieff on the Left converge on the Third Way and David Cameron has made the Tories Thatcherite again and Australia has seen Kevin Rudd make his party a replica of John Howard's which aped Hawke/Keating and John Key in New Zealand has made its party of the Right over in a Third Way and even Israel has, in Bibi Netanyahu, an aggressively reformist leader, no one really knows in what direction the Unicorn Rider will head. Though the Democratic Party is so reactionary--even disavowing the Clinton years--that he had to oppose W's proposed SS reforms, he ran for office to John McCain's Right, especially on the question of taxes. But he seems determined to run his presidency aground on the issue of a thoroughly Second Way health care plan. It's hardly surprising that such a retrograde policy is meeting with broad disdain. It runs counter to the politics that pervades the Anglosphere today.

But, the very real possibility exists that he could be saved in the same way that Bill Clinton was. He's making his party so unpopular so fast that Democrats could get swept away again in the midterm election. This would provide him an opportunity, salvific even if unwanted, to work with Republicans rather than Democrats and to pass the remaining reforms from the Third Way package. If he's that fortunate, and we are, he'll be seen as a natural successor to Clinton and W and a typical Anglospheric leader of the era, rather than an aberration.

This would confuse critics on the Right and Left terribly, but make him the important historical figure he clearly longs to be, instead of the peculiar footnote he's fast becoming.

Call to privatise main roads (Jim Pickard and Gill Plimmer, August 24 2009, Financial Times)

Ministers have been urged to consider selling part of the road network to the private sector to improve its strategic management and raise up to £85bn for the government’s depleted public coffers.

The radical idea is one of several put forward by Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, which has discussed it with Whitehall officials in recent weeks.

Under the proposals by the motorists’ body, major roads and motorways run by the Highways Agency would be sold to a private company in much the same way that water and gas ­networks have been privatised.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


President To Flesh Out His Vision In Speech: Address to Congress Is Effort To Seize Control of the Debate (Anne E. Kornblut, Ceci Connolly and Shailagh Murray, 9/03/09, Washington Post)

The White House is scrambling to take control of the health-care debate after watching from the sidelines as various Democratic proposals were assailed in town hall meetings during Congress's summer recess. "Clearly, over the August break we lost some momentum," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "It shows the president is in this fight for keeps; he's not backing off. He's doing just the right thing to take the momentum back."

White House advisers acknowledged that the president has begun to shift away from endorsing broad goals while allowing the legislative process to run its course. Early on, senior adviser David Axelrod said, Obama "was very clear about his principles."

"But now we're in a different phase," he added.

For better or worse, the high-profile speech is likely to tie Obama closer to the issue in the minds of Americans. Almost exactly 16 years ago, then-President Bill Clinton also attempted to break a logjam on health care in Congress with a prime-time address to lawmakers, and his administration's efforts ended in spectacular failure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Comedy in the Obama Age: The Joking Gets Hard (Richard Zoglin, Aug. 31, 2009, TIME)

In the George W. Bush years, political comedy came back in style, not just for late-night hosts like David Letterman and Jon Stewart — who are far more willing than Carson was to let their (usually left-of-center) political views show through — but also for the foot soldiers of the comedy clubs, where even guys who made their living from penis jokes were getting laughs from W.

With Bush's departure from the scene, much of the political urgency has drifted away from stand-up comedy. [...]

The problem, for white comics as well as black ones, is that they actually like Obama, and they say so. Even Lewis Black, the quivering maestro of political outrage, strains to put an edge on his obvious admiration for the President. "He's the first leader in my lifetime who's actually full of hope," Black says in his act. "His nipples are bursting with hope! He's lactating hope!" the way these guys, who style themselves provocative, have to muzzle themselves to serve the politically powerful. Consider what it says about their own doubts that they don't think the UR can withstand some joshing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Wrong Turns: How Obama's Health-Care Push Went Astray (JONATHAN WEISMAN, NEIL KING and JANET ADAMY, 9/03/09, WSJ)

A group called the Herndon Alliance -- a coalition of liberal health-care groups, unions and patient-advocacy groups created in late 2005 -- was only a few months into its work planning a health-insurance overhaul by the time it asked focus groups what they thought of the idea of a government-run plan to compete with private ones.

The public-option was an article of faith for many in the alliance, but the focus groups' reactions were sobering. Skepticism ran high. The chief worry: Giving access to inexpensive government insurance to America's 46 million uninsured would boost costs, or reduce care, for those who were already insured.

When pollsters told the advocacy groups the public option probably wouldn't fly, they were told to paper over the problem with a better "message," according to a participant in the project.

Over the last thirty years it has become an article of faith for the Left that their relentless string of defeats must just be a product of tricky GOP language, because it obviously couldn't be a function of the American people rejecting their ideas. But the belief that their fellow citizens are so dumb that they can be manipulated by mere vocabulary inevitably tempted them to just try and put lipstick on the pig instead of adjusting to political reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


G.O.P. Support May Be Vital to Obama on Afghan War (HELENE COOPER, 9/03/09, NY Times)

As President Obama prepares to decide whether to send additional troops to Afghanistan, the political climate appears increasingly challenging for him, leaving him in the awkward position of relying on the Republican Party, and not his own, for support.

...the eventual success of an Obama Presidency is dependent on him working with the GOP rather than the Democrats. Recall that Bill Clinton is justly celebrated for three things--free trade agreements; Welfare Reform; and not spending the Peace Dividend--all of them opposed by his own party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


WH withdraws call for students to 'help' Obama (Matthew Mosk, September 2, 2009, Washington Times)

President Obama's plan to inspire the nation's schoolchildren with a video address next week erupted into controversy Wednesday, forcing the White House to pull out its eraser and rewrite a government recommendation that teachers nationwide assign students a paper on how to "help the president."

Presidential aides acknowledged the White House helped the U.S. Education Department craft the proposal, which immediately was met by fierce criticism from Republicans and conservative organizations who accused Mr. Obama of trying to politicize the education system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Rookie Mistakes: Time for Obama to Lead (Joe Klein, 9/03/09, TIME)

Well, we survived August, which is good news. It was not a month that will be recorded in the Enlightened Discourse Hall of Fame. In fact, it was a nat