October 31, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Supply-Side Ideas, Turned Upside Down (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 11/01/09, NY Times)

[T]he signature domestic issue in President Obama’s first year in office — health care reform — is shaping up to be the antithesis of President Reagan’s supply-side economics. [...]

The key economic concept here is the marginal tax rate, which measures the percentage of a family’s incremental income to which the government lays claim. During Mr. Reagan’s time in office, the top marginal tax rate on earned income fell to 28 percent from 50 percent.

The verdict on supply-side economics is mixed. The most striking claim associated with the theory — that cuts in marginal rates could generate so much extra work effort that tax revenue would rise — is unlikely to apply except in extreme cases. But substantial evidence supports the more modest proposition that high marginal tax rates discourage people from working to their full potential. Mr. Reagan’s behavior as a movie actor is a case in point.

President Obama has said he wants to raise marginal tax rates on high-income taxpayers. Yet under his policies, the largest increases in marginal tax rates may well apply not to the rich but to millions of middle-class families. These increases would not show up explicitly in the tax code but, rather, implicitly as part of health care reform.

The bill that recently came out of the Senate Finance Committee illustrates the problem.

Dan Rostenkowski better start running....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


The G.O.P. Stalinists Invade Upstate New York (FRANK RICH, 10/31/09, NY Times)

BARACK OBAMA’S most devilish political move since the 2008 campaign was to appoint a Republican congressman from upstate New York as secretary of the Army. This week’s election to fill that vacant seat has set off nothing less than a riotous and bloody national G.O.P. civil war. No matter what the results in that race on Tuesday, the Republicans are the sure losers.

The GOP ran a moderate because the race was supposed to be competitive, but the late polling shows the Democrat under 30%. They underestimated the degree to which power has destroyed the Democrats' electability. That's tough to spin into a GOP loss.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


Abdullah Will Quit Afghan Election, Officials Say (DEXTER FILKINS and ALISSA J. RUBIN, October 31, 2009, NY Times)

Abdullah Abdullah, the chief rival to President Hamid Karzai, plans to announce on Sunday his decision to withdraw from the Nov. 7 Afghan runoff election, handing a new five-year term to Mr. Karzai but potentially damaging the government’s credibility, according to Western diplomats here and people close to Mr. Abdullah.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


Manmohan, Bush get candid over lunch (TNN, 31 October 2009)

Prime ministerial lunches are rarely fun affairs. People sort of get on with it, and then get on with their lives. Not on Friday. Early in the day, former US president George Bush, on a pleasure trip to India, announced cheerily, “I’m off to have lunch with my old pal.”

He sauntered across to the home of his pal, one Manmohan Singh, who famously abandoned his starchy mien to declare this nation’s “deep love” for Bush, then stood stoically through the vicious jokes hurled at him. But for all those present at the “friendly” lunch this afternoon, Bush clearly reciprocated in full measure. The food wasn’t to die for but the conversation, declared one guest, was adequate compensation.

Colleagues reported that Singh was rarely as “chirpy” as he was on Friday afternoon. The conversation was light and sparkling, there was a lot of laughter and banter. So when Singh talked about how much he appreciated the huge gesture of the nuclear deal, Bush quipped, “Yeah, it was a big deal and to get it we had to break a bit of china.”

W brought India into the Anglosphere so that we can break China (and the jihad) together and they haven't even figured it out yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Gore 'certain' Obama will attend climate talks (AFP, 31 October 2009)

Al Gore is confident that US President Barack Obama will attend key UN climate change talks in Copenhagen, the former US vice president and Nobel peace laureate said in a German magazine interview.

...he fails to get what he's there for, but wins a Nobel Prize instead...maybe for Physics this time?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Honduras 1, Hillary 0: A Honduran compromise provides Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with an elegant diplomatic exit. (WSJ, 10/31/09)

The big news in Honduras is that the good guys seem to have won a four-month political standoff over the exile of former President Manuel Zelaya. Current President Roberto Micheletti agreed yesterday to submit Mr. Zelaya's request for reinstatement as president to the Supreme Court and Congress, and in return the U.S. will withdraw its sanctions and recognize next month's presidential elections.

Mr. Zelaya, whose term would have expired in January, isn't likely to be reinstated, given that the court has twice ruled against his right to remain in office. The Honduran Congress, which voted in June to remove Mr. Zelaya, will then use that high court's opinion to decide if he should be restored to power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


After all the fuss, govt health plan to cover few (RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, 10/31/09, Associated Press)

What's all the fuss about? After all the noise over Democrats' push for a government insurance plan to compete with private carriers, coverage numbers are finally in: Two percent.

That's the estimated share of Americans younger than 65 who'd sign up for the public option plan under the health care bill that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is steering toward House approval.

The underwhelming statistic is raising questions about whether the government plan will be the iron-fisted competitor that private insurers warn will shut them down or a niche operator that becomes a haven for patients with health insurance horror stories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:31 PM


Scozzafava Ends Campaign in N.Y. Special Election (Lauren W. Whittington, 10/31/09, CQ-Roll Call )

Republican Dede Scozzafava on Saturday abruptly suspended her campaign to win Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.

Scozzafava, a GOP moderate, took this unusual and dramatic step as the latest poll in the race confirmed that her support had collapsed, and that she had slipped to third in her closely watched three-way race with Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman, who has benefited from the defections of conservative activists and some high-profile national Republican figures.

The Party understandably thought it had to field 50-50 candidates after the drubbings in '06 and '08, but it can field 60-40's again in this political climate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The Cosmopolitan Tongue: The Universality of English (John McWhorter, Fall 2009, World Affairs)

[T]he going idea among linguists and anthropologists is that we must keep as many languages alive as possible, and that the death of each one is another step on a treadmill toward humankind’s cultural oblivion. This accounted for the melancholy tone, for example, of the obituaries for the Eyak language of southern Alaska last year when its last speaker died.

That death did mean, to be sure, that no one will again use the word demexch, which refers to a soft spot in the ice where it is good to fish. Never again will we hear the word 'ał for an evergreen branch, a word whose final sound is a whistling past the sides of the tongue that sounds like wind passing through just such a branch. And behind this small death is a larger context. Linguistic death is proceeding more rapidly even than species attrition. According to one estimate, a hundred years from now the 6,000 languages in use today will likely dwindle to 600. The question, though, is whether this is a problem.

As someone who has taught himself languages as a hobby since childhood and is an academic linguist, I hardly rejoice when a language dies. Other languages can put concepts together in ways that make them more fascinatingly different from English than most of us are aware they can be. In the Berik language in New Guinea, for example, verbs have to mark the sex of the person you are affecting, the size of the object you are wielding, and whether it is light outside. (Kitobana means “gives three large objects to a male in the sunlight.”) Berik is doing fine for now, but is probably one of the languages we won’t see around in 2109.

Assuming that we can keep 6,000 languages alive is the rough equivalent of supposing that we can stop, say, ice from developing soft spots.

All that will remain are English, Spanish, Arabic and, for awhile, Mandarin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Powerful Islamic movement sees leadership struggle: The Middle East's most powerful Islamic political movement is undergoing a leadership struggle as young, more moderate activists try to push the Muslim Brotherhood to soften its fundamentalist ideology and become a more democratic force. (HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, 10/30/09, Associated Press)

The Middle East's most powerful Islamic political movement is undergoing a leadership struggle as young, more moderate activists try to push the Muslim Brotherhood to soften its fundamentalist ideology and become a more democratic force. [...]

Young Brotherhood moderates say it needs to become a more open and modern political movement if it is going to survive. Some want to imitate Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, an Islamic-rooted party that has embraced mainstream politics. The young critics contend the Brotherhood's old guard is holding it back.

"Those in charge aren't connected with today's world," Abdelmonem Mahmoud, a journalist and blogger, told The Associated Press.

Mahmoud, once a prominent spokesman for Brotherhood youth who was jailed several times for being part of the movement, said he froze his membership a year ago because of repeated intellectual clashes with the conservative leadership.

Several others have done the same. Mahmoud said that while it wasn't an organized exodus, if the leaders didn't start to pay attention to the younger generation, the Brotherhood would begin to lose many of its "open-minded" members.

"Their thirst for change is not sated by the Brotherhood, so they look for it elsewhere," he said.

Pharoah keeps them radical by not letting them participate in governance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Cap-and-trade mirage (Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, October 31, 2009, Washington Post)

Cap-and-trade means a declining "cap" on total emissions, while allowing trading of pollution permits. Confidence in the certainty of declining caps is based on the mistaken assumption that cap-and trade was proven in the EPA's acid rain program. In fact, addressing acid rain required relatively minor modifications to coal-fired power plants. Reductions were accomplished primarily by a fuel switch to readily available, affordable, low-sulfur coal, along with some additional scrubbing. In contrast, the issues presented by climate change cannot be solved by tweaks to facilities; it requires an energy revolution through investments in building clean-energy facilities.

The biggest obstacle to this revolution is that uncontrolled fossil fuel energy remains much cheaper than clean energy. Cap-and-trade alone will not create confidence that clean energy will become profitable within a known time frame and so will not ignite the huge shift in investment needed to begin the clean-energy revolution. In recent interviews, even the economists who thought up cap-and-trade have said they don't believe it's an appropriate tool for climate change.

If you want gasoline to be expensive enough that alternate energy sources are feasible just tax it until they are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Humiliating Japan: America's dangerously flawed Asia policy (Gordon G. Chang, 10.30.09, Forbes)

As he takes Japan in new directions, Hatoyama is bumping up against Washington. For one thing, he wants to end Japan's eight-year-old refueling site in the Indian Ocean, which supports NATO operations in Afghanistan, as well as investigate secret arrangements reached in the early 1960s regarding the shipment and storage in Japan of American nuclear weapons. Most important, he is now trying to show Japan is an equal partner in the alliance by renegotiating a 2006 agreement to reorganize American forces in his country. A particular sore point is Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is located near residential areas on Okinawa. Simply put, the Japanese prime minister wants the base off the island, not merely transferred to another part of it.

The Futenma matter is extremely controversial. An overwhelming majority of Okinawans want the American military to leave, but the Pentagon is adamant about not reopening the deal involving the Air Station's relocation. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a visit to Japan last week, publicly shot down the concept of renegotiation in blunt words, embarrassing the Hatoyama government by calling its proposals "immensely complicated and counterproductive" and telling it to "move on." Washington would like to settle the spat before President Obama arrives in Japan on Nov. 12, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano has made it clear there will be no early end to the already nasty disagreement.

...the UR only treats our closest allies with contempt. If they were an enemy he would have announced the base was closing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


In the Oil Patch, a Tale of Have and Have Not (THOMAS CATAN And BERND RADOWITZ, 10/30/09, WSJ)

For years, Repsol YPF SA was derided as the oil company with no oil, but its gamble on boosting exploration has paid off handsomely, with the Spanish company hitting the jackpot in Brazil, West Africa—and now the U.S.

Repsol is expected to announce Friday a new oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico that it says will boost production from its Shenzi field and help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Iain Duncan Smith: the quiet Tory who is making his voice heard:Andrew Pierce meets Iain Duncan Smith, the ridiculed leader who has fought back to win respect (Andrew Pierce, 10/31/09, Daily Telegraph)

Mr Duncan Smith, the first modern political leader to be forced out after losing a motion of no confidence from his own parliamentary party, said trying to persuade Tory MPs to share his interest in social justice was "like shining a pencil torch into a dark void". Today, six years after his expulsion, Mr Duncan Smith's social justice agenda is at the heart of David Cameron's repositioning of the Tory party under the Compassionate Conservatism banner.

"Mrs Thatcher was right [in 1987] to talk about the inner cities. She just never got there," said Mr Duncan Smith. "There are people who thought for far too long in the Conservative Party it's only about the economy. You cannot separate the two. I have had the freedom since 2003 to engage with both."

After he returned to the back benches, Mr Duncan Smith, 55, confounded his critics when he set up the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in 2004, an independent think tank, to seek solutions to the poverty that has blighted "broken Britain". The Tory party high command has already embraced 67 of its ideas. This week, David Willetts, the party's families' spokesman, said a Cameron government would change the law to ensure grandparents do not lose contact with their grandchildren after a family separation, divorce or bereavement. It came straight from a CSJ paper.

Back in the USSR he would have been called a theoretician. His is the intellect that has shifted the Party back to Thatcherism/Clintonism/Blaisism/Bushism, but Cameron gets to be the official leader.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Kissing was developed 'to spread germs' (Daily Telkegraph, 10/31/09)

It isn't the most romantic theory, but scientists believe kissing was developed to spread germs which build up immunity to illness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Sorry for using military in Iraq but there was no choice: Bush (PTI, 31 October 2009)

Describing Hussain as a "brutal dictator" who posed a danger to the US, he said it had become more important for America to remove him after the 9/11 attacks.

Removal of Hussain was important as it was "felt" that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction and the then President was not allowing IAEA inspectors in, Bush said while addressing the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit here. [...]

"My hope was to disarm Saddam peacefully... I am sorry we had to use military but there was no choice," the former US President said.

Explaining the necessity of using force, he noted that the UN Security Council had passed 17 resolutions calling for disarming of Hussain but the Iraqi ruler was not cooperative.

...ever to take the UN seriously, it was left to W and Tony Blair to enforce its resolutions.

President Bush's address to the United Nations (George W. Bush, September 12, 2002)

Twelve years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation. And the regime's forces were poised to continue their march to seize other countries and their resources. Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world. Yet this aggression was stopped by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations.

To suspend hostilities, to spare himself, Iraq's dictator accepted a series of commitments. The terms were clear to him and to all, and he agreed to prove he is complying with every one of those obligations. He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge, by his deceptions and by his cruelties, Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.

In 1991, Security Council Resolution 688 demanded that the Iraqi regime cease at once the repression of its own people, including the systematic repression of minorities, which the council said threatened international peace and security in the region. This demand goes ignored.

Last year, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights found that Iraq continues to commit extremely grave violations of human rights and that the regime's repression is all-pervasive.

Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation and rape.

Wives are tortured in front of their husbands; children in the presence of their parents; and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolutions 686 and 687, demanded that Iraq return all prisoners from Kuwait and other lands. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke this promise.

Last year, the Secretary General's high-level coordinator for this issue reported that Kuwaiti, Saudi, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Bahraini and Armeni nationals remain unaccounted for; more than 600 people. One American pilot is among them.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council through Resolution 687 demanded that Iraq renounce all involvement with terrorism and permit no terrorist organizations to operate in Iraq.

Iraq's regime agreed that broke this promise.

In violation of Security Council Resolution 1373, Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel and Western governments. Iraqi dissidents abroad are targeted for murder.

In 1993, Iraq attempted to assassinate the Amir of Kuwait and a former American president. Iraq's government openly praised the attacks of September 11. And Al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq.

In 1991, the Iraqi regime agreed destroy and stop developing all weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles and to prove to the world it has done so by complying with rigorous inspections.

Iraq has broken every aspect of this fundamental pledge.

From 1991 to 1995, the Iraqi regime said it had no biological weapons. After a senior official in its weapons program defected and exposed this lie, the regime admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with scud warheads, aerial bombs and aircraft spray tanks.

U.N. inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons. Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.

United Nations' inspections also reviewed that Iraq like maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.

And in 1995, after four years of deception, Iraq finally admitted it had a crash nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War.

We know now, were it not for that war, the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993.

Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program, weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, and accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon.

Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year.

And Iraq's state-controlled media has reported numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons.

Iraq also possesses a force of SCUD type missiles with ranges beyond the 150 kilometers permitted by the U.N. Work at testing and production facilities shows that Iraq is building more long range missiles that can inflict mass death throughout the region.

In 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the world imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Those sanctions were maintained after the war to compel the regime's compliance with Security Council Resolutions.

In time, Iraq was allowed to use oil revenues to buy food. Saddam Hussein has subverted this program, working around the sanctions to buy missile technology and military materials. He blames the suffering of Iraq's people on the United Nations, even as he uses his oil wealth to build lavish palaces for himself and to buy arms for his country.

By refusing to comply with his own agreements, he bears full guilt for the hunger and misery of innocent Iraqi citizens. In 1991, Iraq promised U.N. inspectors immediate and unrestricted access to verify Iraq's commitment to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles. Iraq broke this promise, spending seven years deceiving, evading and harassing U.N. inspectors before ceasing cooperation entirely.

Just months after the 1991 cease-fire, the Security Council twice renewed its demand that the Iraqi regime cooperate fully with inspectors, condemning Iraq's serious violations of its obligations.

The Security Council again renewed that demand in 1994, and twice more in 1996, deploring Iraq's clear violations of its obligations. The Security Council renewed its demand three more times in 1997, citing flagrant violations, and three more times in 1998, calling Iraq's behavior totally unacceptable. And in 1999, the demand was renewed yet again.

As we meet today, it's been almost four years since the last U.N. inspector set foot in Iraq -- four years for the Iraqi regime to plan and to build and to test behind the cloak of secrecy. We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left?

The history, the logic and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein regime is a grave and gathering danger.

To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble, and this is a risk we must not take.

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The first time we may be completely certain he has nuclear weapons is when, God forbid, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

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 help 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, Turkemens 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.

October 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


The Earth Cools, and Fight Over Warming Heats Up: Many Scientists Say Temperature Drop From Recent Record Highs Is a Blip, While a Few See a Trend; Inexact Climate Models (JEFFREY BALL, 10/29/09, WSJ)

Two years ago, a United Nations scientific panel won the Nobel Peace Prize after concluding that global warming is "unequivocal" and is "very likely" caused by man.

Then came a development unforeseen by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC: Data suggested that Earth's temperature was beginning to drop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


Chavez: Sean Penn may make film in Venezuela (Hollywood Reporter, 10/29/09)

President Hugo Chavez said he met privately with actor Sean Penn on Wednesday, and that the Oscar-winning celebrity may film a movie in Venezuela .

I still don't get what Robin Wright was thinking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


Chavez: Sean Penn may make film in Venezuela (Hollywood Reporter, 10/29/09)

President Hugo Chavez said he met privately with actor Sean Penn on Wednesday, and that the Oscar-winning celebrity may film a movie in Venezuela .

I still don't get what Robin Wright was thinking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


The Tenacity Question (DAVID BROOKS, 10/30/09, NY Times)

I’ve called around to several of the smartest military experts I know to get their views on these controversies. I called retired officers, analysts who have written books about counterinsurgency warfare, people who have spent years in Afghanistan. I tried to get them to talk about the strategic choices facing the president. To my surprise, I found them largely uninterested.

Most of them have no doubt that the president is conducting an intelligent policy review. They have no doubt that he will come up with some plausible troop level.

They are not worried about his policy choices. Their concerns are more fundamental. They are worried about his determination.

These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.

Their first concerns are about Obama the man.

Speaking of statements of faith....how do they know there's a man there?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


The I in Me: a review of Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics by Galen Strawson (Thomas Nagel, November 2009, LRB)

What are you, really? To the rest of the world you appear as a particular human being, a publicly observable organism with a complex biological and social history and a name. But to yourself, more intimately, you appear as ‘I’, the mental subject of your experiences, thoughts, feelings, memories and emotions. This inner self is only indirectly observable by others, though they ordinarily have no doubt about its existence, as you have no doubt about their inner lives.

He's fallen into the same trap as always. Everything beginning with "rest of the world" depends on faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


Public Option, RIP?: The Congressional Budget Office explains the perils of compromise and the limits of its own interest in health costs. (Timothy Noah, Oct. 30, 2009, Slate)

I've had a bad feeling since Tuesday that Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's pledge to filibuster any variety of public option eliminated its chances of becoming law. Continuing recalcitrance from moderate Democrats didn't help, either. But I never figured that the final death blow would come from the Congressional Budget Office.

Here's the killer sentence, spotted by Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown on Page 6 of the CBO's analysis of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "blended" House bill: "[A] public plan paying negotiated rates ... would typically have premiums that are somewhat higher [italics mine] than the average premiums for the private plans in the exchanges."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


A Senate Naysayer, Spoiling for Health Care Fight (MARK LEIBOVICH, 10/30/09, NY Times)

Senator Tom Coburn’s office is the rare Capitol Hill work space without a “me wall” — the display of photographs of a lawmaker standing beside presidents, foreign leaders and other dignitaries, all illustrating How Big a Deal he is.

Instead, hanging above Mr. Coburn’s desk is a large framed print of the word “no.” It was a tribute from a liberal voter in New York thanking Mr. Coburn, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma, for his efforts at thwarting expensive legislation.

Known as Dr. No, Mr. Coburn, a family practice physician, views legislative battle less in terms of Republicans versus Democrats than as a matter of yes versus no. He sees himself as a one-man treatment center helping Congress beat its bipartisan addiction to misguided spending.

“I’ve always considered myself an opposition within the opposition,” said Mr. Coburn, whose willingness to block, delay or neuter bills through an array of procedural measures has made him an effective nuisance during his five years in the Senate.

As the health care overhaul heads to the Senate floor, Mr. Coburn is preparing for what he considers a career pinnacle of havoc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:56 PM


In Des Moines speech, Gates urges renewal of Green Revolution (PHILIP BRASHER, October 15, 2009, Des Moines Register)

The World Food Prize was the brainchild of the late Norman Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in boosting grain yields and bringing about the Green Revolution.

Environmentalists have frequently attacked that achievement, however, because of the pollution caused by the fertilizers and pesticides that were used with the high-yielding grain.

It kept alive people they wish weren't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Tehran seeks big changes to nuclear deal (James Blitz in London, Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran and,Daniel Dombey in Washington, October 30 2009, Financial Times)

Iran last night indicated it wanted to make significant changes to a draft agreement with the US and other world powers over its nuclear programme, in a move that may scupper the chances of any final accord being reached. [...]

[E]uropean diplomats told the Financial Times that Iran had told the agency it wanted to transfer the LEU out of the country in stages over a period of time rather than meeting international demands for a large and immediate transfer.

The diplomats say Iran has also told the agency it should transfer each batch of LEU out of the country only after first receiving a consignment of more highly enriched uranium from France and Russia. This would mean that the entire process would last well into 2010.

"They are trying to turn this into a negotiation," said a European diplomat with knowledge of Iran's response to the agency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Pelosi's Not-So-Robust Public Option (John Nichols, 10/29/2009, The Nation)

The public option was always a compromise for serious supporters of health-care reform, who -- like Barack Obama when he was running for the Senate in 2003 -- knew that a single-payer "Medicare for All" system was what America needed to provide health care to everyone while controlling costs.

But, in the reform legislation debuted Thursday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the compromise was even more compromised than had been expected.

...can't we just Kevorkian the thing?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Looking for a True Conservative (Paul Johnson, 10/29/09, Forbes)

A true conservative today should stress construction, encouragement, moderation and understanding instead of destruction, prohibition, extremism and slogans. A conservative thinks in terms of countless minor corrections and improvements based on experience and experiment rather than in terms of a universal, uniform solution based on theory and enforced by inflexible law.

A conservative, in the best sense, sees the world and its inhabitants as an interdependent organism, comprising innumerable local communities and territories, each adapting to particular conditions. A conservative is someone who goes with the grain of humanity and the nature of the physical world, rather than trying to regiment and fashion a utopia through force of law. And, needless to say, an acceptable conservative is not one who thinks all the answers are obvious but is a modest person who admits that problems are not easily solved, that perfection is unattainable in this world and that it is often necessary to admit mistakes, change one's mind and start again.

...but he put the matter poetically in True Believer:
Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.

Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, particularly their willingness to compromise with Democrats if it advanced conservative ends as well, were avatars of this ideal. Of course, the Right hated them for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Exaggerated claims undermine drive to cut emissions, scientists warn (Mark Henderson, 10/30/09, Times of London)

Exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the threat from global warming risk undermining efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and contain climate change, senior scientists have told The Times.

Environmental lobbyists, politicians, researchers and journalists who distort climate science to support an agenda erode public understanding and play into the hands of sceptics, according to experts including a former government chief scientist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Amid Price War, Three Retailers Begin Rationing Books (JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG And MIGUEL BUSTILLO, 10/29/09, WSJ)

Two weeks after an online book price war broke out among giant retailers, the three stores involved—Walmart, Amazon and Target—are limiting the number of copies their customers can buy.

...and sure enough, they're rationing speech. Can the gun grabbers be far behind?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Obama to lift HIV entry ban soon (BBC, 10/30/09)

The US is to end its 22-year ban on people with HIV entering the country, President Barack Obama has confirmed.

It's legal immigrants we should keep out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Sixty Years of Maoism (George J. Marlin, 10/28/09, The Catholic Thing)

Throughout October there’s been plenty of fussing over the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Editorials world wide have saluted China’s growing economic and political influence. The Empire State Building lit up in red and yellow to commemorate the occasion. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman described the totalitarian regime as enlightened: “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 one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the twenty-first century.”

In Washington, White House Director of Communications Anita Dunn praised Mao Zedong’s political philosophy and called him a great defender of individualism. And Barack Obama, fearing to offend China, committed the most cowardly presidential act since President Ford declined to meet Nobel laureate Solzhenitsyn in 1975, by refusing to see the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been fighting Chinese oppression on his Tibetan people for half a century – the Dalai Lama. [...]

Mao enthusiastically adopted Lenin’s most violent terrorist techniques because he was a vile bloodthirsty thug. From 1920 to 1976 Mao murdered more people than Hitler and Stalin combined – 70-million Chinese. The “Great Famine” (1958-1961) in which 40-million perished was a direct result of Mao’s farm collectivization policies. To eliminate tens of millions of imagined enemies he ordered the “Great Leap Forward” (1958) and the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1968) which he privately referred to as the “Great Purge.”

Mao attempted to control every form of social intercourse. Merely having a dinner party, use of humor or sarcasm could be – and were – deemed criminal activities that warranted the death penalty. And he was proud of these policies: Mao told his fellow gangsters at the 1958 party conference that they should welcome, not fear, party policies that cause people to die.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Methane's role in global warming underestimated (Dan Vergano, 10/29/09, USA TODAY)

Greenhouse gas calculations blame carbon dioxide too much for global warming, and methane too little, suggest researchers Thursday.

In the journal Science, a team led by Drew Shindell of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York finds that chemical interactions between greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide cause more global warming than previously estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other efforts.

"The total amount of warming doesn't change, just the balance of gasses behind it," Shindell says. [...]

Current emissions of aerosols actually cool the atmosphere an average about 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit, notes aerosol expert Joyce Penner of the University of Michigan. "So changing aerosol concentrations through changing greenhouse gas emissions is certainly a factor that needs to be considered," Penner says." I think that what is needed here is a holistic approach to climate control that takes into account all the factors that influence climate change (including the present day "protection" by aerosol emissions)."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Obama shows pragmatic side as president (Mimi Hall, USA TODAY)

Nine months after he took office, however, his actions show that the steady way he ran his campaign may have said more about what kind of a president he would be than his message of change.

"He may be even more pragmatic than Bill Clinton, which has surprised me," American University presidential scholar Allan Lichtman says. "He's basically moved to the position that, 'I'll take whatever I can get.' I thought he'd be more of a crusading, turning-point president. Is this the next liberal renaissance or not?"

...he's done nothing. Perhaps the most honest campaign ever (provided that the health care bill fails).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


House Democrats Unveil $1.06 Trillion Health Care Bill (HUMA KHAN and JONATHAN KARL, Oct. 29, 2009, ABC News)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Bay State economy slips while nation makes a gain (Robert Gavin, October 30, 2009, Boston Globe)

The Massachusetts economy continued to shrink during the third quarter of this year, the result of rising unemployment and weak consumer spending, even as the nation showed growth for the first time in 12 months.

It wasn't just Republicans that Mitt betrayed by not running for re-election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Veto stands on medical marijuana (David P. Greisman, 10/28/09, Keene Sentinel)

[T]he bill stalled in the state Senate, where lawmakers voted exactly as they had before — 14 for, 10 against, the 58.3 percent majority two votes short of overriding the veto.

Lynch had cited concerns over distribution and cultivation and the potential for abuse. He also said the bill did not clearly restrict marijuana use to people suffering severe pain, seizures or nausea.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


The Pillage People: One year after the Wall Street bailout, real reform of the financial sector is still a dream. (Roger Bybee, 10/30/09, In These Times)

It’s as if last year’s meltdown—causing a $16 trillion bailout of the financial industry, the doubling of America’s unemployment rate and the loss of 2 million manufacturing jobs in 2008—had never taken place.

Given the secularity of the Left, the Resurrection of Conservatism and capitalism after roughly three days is particularly alarming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


Barriers to abortion rise, even in Brookline (Renee Loth, October 30, 2009, Boston Globe)

Surely in a reliably liberal state, with the finest medical facilities in the world, abortion is reliably available to women who need it?

Well, not exactly.

A recent survey by the Massachusetts chapter of NARAL, the abortion-rights group, found that five outpatient women’s health centers that once performed abortions have closed since 2002. There is now no provider on the Cape, for example.

But NARAL also turned up nervous providers begging not to be identified. Thirteen hospitals where NARAL believes the procedure is provided wouldn’t admit it to an anonymous woman seeking an abortion over the phone. “If we ferret them out and they ask us not even to put a dot on a map, you get a sense of the problem,’’ said Andrea Miller, NARAL’s Massachusetts executive director.

October 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 PM


Shortage of Vaccine Poses Political Test for Obama (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 10/29/09, NY Times)

The moment a novel strain of swine flu emerged in Mexico last spring, President Obama instructed his top advisers that his administration would not be caught flat-footed in the event of a deadly pandemic. Now, despite months of planning and preparation, a vaccine shortage is threatening to undermine public confidence in government, creating a very public test of Mr. Obama’s competence.

The shortage, caused by delays in the vaccine manufacturing process, has put the president in exactly the situation he sought to avoid — one in which questions are being raised about the government’s response.

...but people who believe government competent to deliver 300 million new flu shots every season deserve to get dope-slapped by reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


A Conversation With Gore Vidal: The American literary and cultural icon speaks out on the Polanski scandal, the Obama Presidency, the sexual exploits of Bill Clinton, and more. (John Meroney, 10/29/09, The Atlantic)

In September, director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for leaving the U.S. in 1978 before being sentenced to prison for raping a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson’s house in Hollywood. During the time of the original incident, you were working in the industry, and you and Polanski had a common friend in theater critic and producer Kenneth Tynan. So what’s your take on Polanski, this many years later?

I really don’t give a [****]. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?

I’ve certainly never heard that take on the story before.

First, I was in the middle of all that. Back then, we all were. Everybody knew everybody else. There was a totally different story at the time that doesn’t resemble anything that we’re now being told.

What do you mean?

The media can’t get anything straight. Plus, there’s usually an anti-Semitic and anti-fag thing going on with the press – lots of crazy things. The idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew, Polacko – that’s what people were calling him – well, the story is totally different now from what it was then.

...but what's Jewish about raping a child?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


Stimulus jobs overstated by thousands (BRETT J. BLACKLEDGE and MATT APUZZO, 10/29/09, Associated Press)

An early progress report on President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan overstates by thousands the number of jobs created or saved through the stimulus program, a mistake that White House officials promise will be corrected in future reports.

The government's first accounting of jobs tied to the $787 billion stimulus program claimed more than 30,000 positions paid for with recovery money. But that figure is overstated by least 5,000 jobs, according to an Associated Press review of a sample of stimulus contracts.

...but even if it's 30,000 what does that come to per job at $787 billion?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Radical Islamic leader killed in FBI raid (AFP, 30 October 2009)

The leader of a radical Islamic group who allegedly preached violence against the government to his mostly African American followers was shot and killed in an FBI raid near Detroit.

Just another fascist distraction...oops, forgot...W isn't president anymore.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


U.S. Economy Began to Grow Again in the Third Quarter (CATHERINE RAMPELL, 10/30/09, NY Times)

The economic growthcame without a major surge in inflation. The price index for gross domestic purchases, a broad measure of prices that Americans pay for goods and services, increased at an annual rate of 1.6 percent in the third quarter, compared with an increase of 0.5 percent in the second, the department said. Excluding food and energy prices, the inflation index rose 0.5 percent in the third quarter, compared with an increase of 0.8 percent in the second. [...]

A slower drawdown in inventories was one bright spot in Thursday’s report, as it indicated that businesses have largely sold out their current stock and may rev up orders in the coming months to replenish supplies.

“Everybody had been dealing with a just-in-time status quo,” said Sandra Westlund-Deenihan, president and design engineer for Quality Float Works, a plant in Schaumburg, Ill., that manufactures metal float balls and valve assemblies. “They were living off inventories they’d built up over the last several years. Now they’ve drawn that down and reached a point where they may have to have it ready and back on the shelf again.”

...it's that government can't create all that money without causing inflation....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


For U.S.S. New York, a Journey Home (A. G. Sulzberger, 10/29/09, NY Times)

The New York has been deliberately imbued with symbolism. The crest features the twin towers behind a rising phoenix and the words “Never Forget,” and the “the sacred steel in the bow of the ship,” as Cmdr. Curt Jones described it, is a point of unabashed pride among the crew members.

“To me it means that no matter how many times you attack us, we always come back,” said Christopher Davidson, 22, a master-at-arms seaman apprentice in the Navy Reserve from the Soundview section of the Bronx.

But the New York is also a warship. It is roughly the length of two football fields, and gleaming, with fresh paint and sophisticated technology. Dubbed an “amphibious transport dock,” it is the fifth in a new line of San Antonio-class vessels, distinguished by two octagonal structures that make it harder to spot the ship on radar and that some have likened to the twin towers.

The ship was named after New York in response to a request from Gov. George E. Pataki following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It is the latest in a string of American warships bearing that name, dating back to the Revolutionary War. Two sister ships are planned to honor victims who died that day in the attack on the Pentagon and in the crash of the hijacked plane in Pennsylvania.

After it is formally commissioned in a Nov. 7 ceremony, its main function will be to transport Marines around the globe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


What George Orwell Can Teach Us About Contemporary Antisemitism (Barry Rubin, 10/29/09, Ruben Reports)

“Antisemitism,” Orwell wrote, “is rationalized by saying that the Jew is a person who spreads disaffection and weakens national morale….There is some superficial justification for this….The disaffected intelligentsia inevitably included a large number of Jews. With some plausibility it can be said that the Jews are the enemies of our native culture and our national morale.”

Today, while this kind of thing still exists, the main thrust (certainly publicly) of antisemitism comes from the left. It is incontrovertible that antisemitism in the United Kingdom today is higher than at any point since World War Two began. Jews are targeted because of being allegedly too conservative, too religious, too nationalistic. If antisemitism isn’t now acceptable in much of British life it certainly is close, albeit with at times the word “Zionist” merely being substituted for “Jew.”

In a lot of English Jewish behavior and in American Jewish intellectual circles there is an obvious undercurrent of fear lest they be thought not sufficiently “progressive” and thus become or be seen as part of the old enemy on the right, either collectively or individually.

To assess this factor, in watching conservatives today I applied a test. How do they deal with the fact that so many Jews were on the left, among their greatest enemies? Would they again resort to antisemitic explanations?

To my relief, with few exceptions, they’ve largely adopted a different explanation: that the leftist Jews were not embodying the Jews true nature but were acting against their own people’s real interests. If they were traitors to anything, it was not to America or Britain but to their own people.

Not to their people, but to the faith. The problem is that conservatives take Judaism seriously and they don't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Swiss crackdown on 'suicide tourism' could spell end of Dignitas clinic (Roger Boyes, 10/29/09, Times of London)

Switzerland announced plans yesterday to crack down on “suicide tourism”, signalling that it might close the Dignitas clinic that has helped hundreds of terminally ill people to take their lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Chilling Fiction. . . (JOHN J. MILLER, 10/28/09, WSJ)

One morning in the 1950s, a housewife in Vermont woke up, walked downstairs, and found a note on a desk in her own handwriting. She didn't remember leaving it the night before. The message was simple and stark: "DEAD DEAD."

These cryptic words would have unsettled a lot of people, but not Shirley Jackson. She took them as a somnambulant inspiration and went on to compose what is now widely regarded as the greatest haunted-house story ever written. "I had no choice," she said. "The ghosts were after me."

There are, in fact, no ghosts in "The Haunting of Hill House"—or at least no garden-variety specters that float down hallways in their luminescent gowns and partial transparence. The novel, whose 50th anniversary is this year, nevertheless unfolds in a familiar setting: the creepy house with a sinister past, newly occupied by ghost hunters who seek to confirm the presence of the supernatural. It's a well-worn trick. In the hands of Jackson, however, it becomes a literary treat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


“I am a Leninist. Lenin wasn’t afraid to dirty his hands. If you can get power, grab it”: The eminent thinker Slavoj Žižek tells Jonathan Derbyshire why he rejects mainstream political theory, why he supports Barack Obama, and why we need Marx more than ever (Jonathan Derbyshire, 29 October 2009, New Statesman)

{W}hat's most significant about the academic left, in his view, is its abstract moralism, which he denounces as utopian, much as Marx and Engels denounced the early French socialists as utopian. "This excess of radicality concretely art­iculates itself in some kind of general moralistic outrage. You get a kind of abstract, moralistic politics in which you ­focus on groups which are obviously underprivileged - other races, gays and so on - and then you explode in all your moralistic rage. This has to do with what you might call our cultural, post-political capitalism, in which the most passionate struggles are cultural ones. A large majority of the left doesn't question liberal democracy and capitalism as such. In the same way that when we were young we wanted socialism with a human face, what a large part of today's left want is capitalism with a human face."

Since concrete morality requires God, they have no choice but abstract imitation or absolute amorality. The latter would be politically fatal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


GOP’s Bass Catch Prompts New Hampshire Rating Change (Shira Toeplitz, 10/28/09, CQ-Roll Call)

Former New Hampshire Rep. Charles Bass’ now-likely bid to reclaim his old House seat has elevated the Republican Party’s hopes of capturing the open seat in New Hampshire’s 2nd District – even though voters there, who generally have been trending Democratic, rejected the GOP centrist’s bid for a seventh House term in 2006.

Bass’ prospective candidacy has prompted CQ Politics to change its rating, to Leans Democratic from Likely Democratic, on the 2nd District race to replace Democrat Paul W. Hodes , who is competing in the state’s 2010 open-seat race for the U.S. Senate after just two House terms. Hodes was the challenger who ousted Bass by a 7 percentage-point margin in 2006.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


FEC puts Obama in a bind (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 10/28/09, Politico)

The ruling has presented the Obama administration with a tough choice: either go over the FEC’s head to appeal the ruling, which some experts caution could result in even wider money-in-politics loopholes, or let the decision stand in hopes of closing the new loophole in another case.

Letting it stand would draw the ire of Obama’s allies in the watchdog community, who are urging his administration to appeal the case, in which the Democratic powerhouse EMILY’s List successfully challenged FEC fundraising and spending limits as unconstitutional and over-reaching.

The watchdogs had high hopes for Obama, who has long cast himself as committed to reducing the power of special interest cash in politics, but are growing impatient with his perceived unwillingness to bolster campaign finance rules that have been diluted by a skeptical judiciary and divided FEC.

Is there any issue on which the UR has struggled with the choice between political expediency that serves him and ideology that serves his supporters?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Top Obama fundraisers get posts (Fredreka Schouten, 10/28/09, USA TODAY)

More than 40% of President Obama's top-level fundraisers have secured posts in his administration, from key executive branch jobs to diplomatic postings in countries such as France, Spain and the Bahamas, a USA TODAY analysis finds. [...]

Nearly a year after he was elected on a pledge to change business-as-usual in Washington, Obama also has taken a cue from his predecessors and appointed fundraisers to coveted ambassadorships, drawing protests from groups representing career diplomats. A separate analysis by the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats' union, found that more than half of the ambassadors named by Obama so far are political appointees, said Susan Johnson, president of the association. An appointment is considered political if it does not go to a career diplomat in the State Department.

That's a rate higher than any president in more than four decades, the group's data show, although that could change as the White House fills more openings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Pardon Me, but Your Sycophancy Is Showing (John Steele Gordon, 10.27.2009, Commentary)

It’s amazing how many people seem not to know where to look information up, or perhaps don’t care, as they have things other than accuracy on their agenda. Take Rocco Landesman, the new head of the National Endowment of the Arts. In a speech in Brooklyn last week, he said of Barack Obama, “This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln.”

Oh, dear, where do I begin?

...but the one that he does help write his own speeches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


A Man Apart (Herbert I. London, 10/29/09, Hudson Institute)

Based on his performance so far, President Obama is a man apart. He seems to equate power with arrogance; pride with willfulness and exceptionalism with dominance. As a consequence, he has changed foreign policy perceptions: the America he leads is just a nation like any other - no more, no less. As a Nobel laureate, he is considered by the Europeans not merely a citizen of the United States, but a man of the world as a man of the world, not merely a citizen of the United States.

When asked if the United States is exceptional, President Obama said America is exceptional and England is exceptional and Greece is exceptional. That the United States is different did not cross his mind. How could it? He is pledged to a scenario in which America opts out of its traditional role as peacekeeper, the balance wheel in maintaining international equilibrium. Without America’s leadership role, the war against terrorists is over.

Unfortunately the war fatigue President Obama embodies is not embraced by our global enemies -- they read this shift in his policy as a sign of weakness and retreat. The President may actually think that unilateral concessions to our enemies will result in reciprocal responses. But as his overtures to the Olympic Committee demonstrated, gestures directed at multilateralism and his own celebrity status have not so far translated into favorable results. Real, or hard, power -- as opposed to soft power -- still has meaning on the world stage.

A man with roots would know that the wild and extravagant policy swings of the kind that we have experienced with healthcare, cap and trade and education proposals cannot possibly fly with the American people, even with those who voted for President Obama. Despite cultural shifts in the nation, the United States still fashions itself as a conservative nation. Only a man apart cannot sense that condition.

...you just know the sound emanating from his would be that of crickets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Lindsey Graham frustrated with Guantanamo Bay stalls (JOSH GERSTEIN | 10/29/09, Politico)

When it comes to the thorny issue of Guantanamo, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is the closest thing President Barack Obama has to an ally on the Republican side of the aisle.

But with the White House’s drive for Congressional approval to close the prison stalled for nearly six months now, Graham is sounding increasingly restless and is even opening a battle with the administration that could be politically damaging to Democrats.

...one whose "help" would damage the cause.

October 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


Report: Cash for Clunkers was a lemon: A study by Edmunds.com released Wednesday suggests that Cash for Clunkers mostly gave money to people who were going to buy a new car anyway. (Mark Trumbull, October 28, 2009, CS Monitor)

American taxpayers paid a lot of cash for those clunkers: $24,000 for each new car sold, according to a study released Wednesday. [...]

The government could have done almost as well by just giving away cars for free, instead of creating an elaborate incentive program, according to an analysis by the automotive information firm Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, Calif.

Worst of all, cars are wasting assets. We should have given people houses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


Oval Man Cave (MAUREEN DOWD, 10/28/09, NY Times)

Obama likes to play sports, watch sports and talk sports. (Even his favorite TV shows, “Mad Men” and “Entourage,” are set in male-dominated worlds.) So the Obama aides who can do that, like Robert Gibbs, have a deeper personal connection with the president than someone like Rahm Emanuel, the former ballet dancer who prefers yoga to golf.

Just as some men can’t ingratiate themselves through sports, some women can. Condi Rice drew close to W. — nudging away Dick Cheney — by working out with him and talking football.

As long as I’ve covered politics, there were always women running up against “The Boys.” In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro complained about the “smart-ass white boys” from Walter Mondale’s campaign who tried to boss her around. As first lady, Hillary Clinton had to deal with Bill’s coterie of cocky “white boys.”

It was a bit surprising that the same dynamic recurred with the first black president. But it is the very enormity of the change Obama represents that makes him cautious at times about more change.

Indeed, the change is so enormous that it looks exactly like stasis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


US making plans for Iran nuke strategy (ROBERT BURNS, 10/27/09, AP)

The Obama administration is quietly laying the groundwork for long-range strategy that could be used to contain a nuclear-equipped Iran and deter its leaders from using atomic weapons.

...liberals never have. What's shocking is how little he understands our allies. The notion that Israel will trust him to contain a nuclear Iran is deeply delusuonal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


An apple for the secretary (Ruben Navarrette, October 28, 2009, San Diego Union Tribune)

In a speech at Columbia University's Teachers College, [Arne] Duncan delivered a stinging critique of the schools that trained most of the more than 3 million teachers who currently work in U.S. public schools.

“By almost any standard,” Duncan told an audience of student teachers and faculty, “many if not most of the nation's 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom.”

The word “mediocre” had extra bite because teachers colleges are, as Time magazine put it, “the stepchildren of the American university system.”

Duncan is onto something. With so much scrutiny aimed at measuring student performance from kindergarten through high school, many education reformers never get around to asking embarrassing questions about how well teachers are doing in their profession, where they got their training, how much they learned, and what can be improved. Until we start scrutinizing this part of the process, and look at who is teaching the teachers, we'll never empower students to reach their academic potential and create a work force that is globally competitive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Atlanta Polls Signal Racial Shift: Councilwoman With Big Lead Would Be First White Mayor in Over Three Decades (COREY DADE, 10/28/09, WSJ)

More than three decades after Maynard H. Jackson Jr. became the first African-American mayor of a major Southern city here, the era of uncontested black leadership in the cradle of the civil-rights movement is facing its first true test: A white city councilwoman leads the mayoral race by a wide margin just days before the Nov. 3 election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Did Schwarzenegger drop 4-letter bomb in veto? (Phillip Matier,Andrew Ross, 10/28/09, SF Chronicle)

Schwarzenegger's people say no. But the X-rated evidence is hard to miss in a message that Schwarzenegger sent to explain why he was vetoing an Ammiano bill dealing with financing for the Port of San Francisco.

A straight reading of the guv's letter laments "the fact that major issues are overlooked while many unnecessary bills come to me for consideration," and concludes, "I believe it is unnecessary to sign this measure at this time."

But a vertical read of the far-left-hand letters in each of the missive's eight lines offers a more blunt explanation: "I f- you."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


US warned on deadly drone attacks (BBC, 10/28/09)

The US has been warned that its use of drones to target suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan may violate international law.

UN human rights investigator Philip Alston said the US should explain the legal basis for attacking individuals with the remote-controlled aircraft.

October 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


Whiner in chief should do Fox interview (John Nichols, October 21, 2009, Capital Times)

The Obama administration really needs to get over itself.

First, the president and his aides go to war with Fox News because the network maintains a generally anti-Obama slant.

Then, an administration aide attacks bloggers for failing to maintain a sufficiently pro-Obama slant.

These are not disconnected developments.

An administration that won the White House with an almost always on-message campaign and generally friendly coverage from old and new media is now frustrated by its inability to control the debate and get the coverage it wants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


A Feminist Case for War?: Women's rights activists are conflicted over a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan. (Michelle Goldberg, October 27, 2009, American Prospect)

Women for Afghan Women (WAW), a nongovernmental organization that runs women's shelters, schools, and counseling centers in three cities in Afghanistan, has watched with alarm as American opinion has turned against the occupation. An American withdrawal, its board members say, would be catastrophic for the women they work with. "Every woman who we have talked to in Afghanistan, all the Afghan women in the NGOs, in the government, say the United States and the peacekeeping troops and NATO must stay, they must not leave until the Afghan army is able to take over," says Esther Hyneman, a WAW board member who recently returned from six months in Kabul.

In fact WAW, which has over 100 staffers in Afghanistan and four in New York, is, with some reluctance, calling for a troop increase. "Women for Afghan Women deeply regrets having a position in favor of maintaining, even increasing troops," it said in a recent statement. "We are not advocates for war, and conditions did not have to reach this dire point, but we believe that withdrawing troops means abandoning 15 million women and children to madmen who will sacrifice them to their lust for power." [...]

Earlier this month, The Christian Science Monitor ran a story about a visit that the radical anti-war group Code Pink made to Afghanistan, where they met with local women's rights activists adamantly against a pullout. "Code Pink … is one of the more high-profile women's anti-war groups being forced to rethink its position as Afghan women explain theirs: Without international troops, they say, armed groups could return with a vengeance -- and that would leave women most vulnerable," the Monitor reported.

...W was not similarly conflicted. He just liberated them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Keeping the Flame Burning for a Beloved Queen of Salsa (DAVID GONZALEZ, 10/28/09, NY Times)

Celia Cruz’s mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx looks downright homey. Colorful plants flank a modest walkway, and clear side windows let visitors peer inside, where family photos, a rosary and a Cuban flag rest atop the singer’s tomb, along with a framed magazine clipping about “The 10 Unbelievable Wigs of Celia Cruz.”

While titans of industry and government spend eternity hidden behind thick granite walls, there’s a reason her final resting place is so inviting.

The Queen of Salsa is still holding court.

“It was specifically designed so the fans can look in,” said Susan Olsen, the historian for the cemetery. “Someone comes in on a regular basis, cleans it out and changes the photos so there’s always something for the fans to see. It was totally thought out.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


As US population increases, Congress must adjust: Today the average House district has a startling 650,000 people. How can one person fairly represent them all? (Jane S. DeLung and Judith A. Himes, October 27, 2009, CS Monitor)

The federal courts were recently asked by plaintiffs from five states (Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Delaware, and Utah) to rule that the size of the House be increased from its current 435 seats to reflect our nation's population growth. The US District Court has agreed to hear the case. The states argue that the disparity in the size of Congressional districts leaves many Americans without equal representation. Although the court may decline to intervene in the internal affairs of a coequal branch of government, the impact of national population growth on fair and effective representation merits a serious discussion.

Would adding members to the House of Representatives result in a more orderly or efficient governing system? In fact, it could have the opposite effect – imagine a House with twice as many members, committees, caucuses, and strong personalities, and you are unlikely to visualize an effective legislative body.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


Crude ‘at least $20 too high’ (Chris Stanton, October 27. 2009, The National)

Surging oil prices have become “divorced” from supply and demand and are now at least US$20 more than they should be, one of the world’s top oil experts warned at the Dubai Economic Forum.

With oil futures markets that set benchmark prices now serving a dual function as a site to hedge price risk and “a betting casino” for mainstream investors, the oil price had lost its link to market conditions, said Dr Robert Mabro, the former director of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and a prominent adviser to OPEC nations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Joe Lieberman: I'll filibuster Harry Reid's plan (MANU RAJU, 10/27/09, Politico)

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Tuesday that he’d back a GOP filibuster of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s health care reform bill.

Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats and is positioning himself as a fiscal hawk on the issue, said he opposes any health care bill that includes a government-run insurance program — even if it includes a provision allowing states to opt out of the program, as Reid’s has said the Senate bill will.

He's just setting himself up to caucus with the GOP majority....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Britain Resolves, U.S. Wavers (ROGER COHEN, 10/27/09, NY Times)

Special relationships are forged in blood; the U.S.-British bond is no exception. So, as President Obama hesitates, his decision on American troop levels ever “weeks away” as the weeks pass, the British view of the war offers as good an indication as any of what Obama will do. An hour-long conversation with David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, suggests reinforcements are on the way.

When I asked if the mission needed substantially more troops, Miliband said, “What I think that you can see from the prime minister’s strategy is that we believe in serious counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is a counterterrorist strategy.”

He continued: “The Taliban has shown what it means to provide safe space for Al Qaeda.” Describing the fights against the Taliban and Al Qaeda as “distinctive but related missions,” Miliband said “the badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan are the incubator of choice for international terrorism,” adding that, “Ceding ground happened in the ’90s and then we all know what happened.”

That’s a clear rebuttal of the ever-larger school, most often identified with Vice President Joe Biden, advancing the view that Al Qaeda is the real threat, the Taliban much less of one; and so the United States should not commit more military resources to a nation-building struggle in Afghanistan that’s an expensive diversion from core U.S. strategic interests.

Wrong. Counterinsurgency in the “Af-Pak” theater is indeed a counterterrorist strategy.

...is that our brothers can step in and lead from time to time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Let Freedom Ring: Democracy and Prosperity are Inextricably Linked (Joel Kotkin 10/26/2009 , New Geography)

[A] new study released Monday by my colleagues at the Legatum Institute refutes the notion that the road to worldly riches lies in autocracy and repression. In a careful study of everything from economic opportunity, education and health to security, freedom of expression and societal contentment, the Legatum "Prosperity Index" makes a powerful case for the long-term benefits of democracy, free speech and the rule of law.

Some of this stems from how Legatum measures prosperity. The survey takes into account both wealth and well-being, and finds that the most prosperous nations in the world are not necessarily those that just have a high GDP, but that also have happy, healthy, free citizens.

The top of the list, which ranks 104 countries, is dominated by flourishing democracies. The only exception in the top 20 is No. 18's Hong Kong, which ranks first in economic fundamentals and continues to be ruled, if not quite democratically, under a far more permissive system than the rest of mainland China. The next semi-autocratic state on the list is Singapore, at No. 23 – another Confucian-style autocracy with great economic and human capital fundamentals.

This linking of democracy and prosperity with well-being is by far the most significant aspect of the study. But what else determines the success of nations in the modern world?

1. Small democracies do best.

The denizens of the Greek city-states or their Renaissance counterparts would have recognized something of themselves in the small, well-managed countries that dominate the top of the list. The top five, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway – as well as the Netherlands at No. 8 – certainly fit this description. These countries rank highly on the quality of life measurements, and, not surprisingly, their main cities also tend to dominate the most-livable-cities lists. [...]

2. Among the mega-countries, the U.S. is still way ahead

Don't cry for me, America. In terms of the large countries, both in population and size, no one comes close to the No. 9-ranked U.S. Indeed there's not another country with over 100 million people on the list until you get to Japan at No. 16.

Hawaii and Alaska are the most obvious sovereign states, but various regions will also become independent. 500 million people is a wonderful thing, but too many for a single political entity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Don't Follow US in Treating 'Emotions as Illness'-Expert (AAP Oct 26, 2009)

Australians are being urged to not follow the "American trend" of branding "emotions an illness" and then being coaxed into expensive therapies to rectify them.

Associate Professor John Pead, from the Melbourne-based Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, said this approach could distract people from making the lifestyle changes required to be genuinely happy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Bush's first stand on a new podium (Mary Jordan, October 27, 2009, Washington Post)

Looking younger than his 63 years and relaxed, Bush did not appear to have an overarching theme, but strung anecdotes and jokes together and frequently mentioned his faith in God.

"I don't see how you can be president without relying on the Almighty. Now when I was 21, I wouldn't have told you that, but at age 63, I can tell you that one of the most amazing surprises of the presidency was the fact that people's prayers affected me. I can't prove it to you. But I can tell you some days were great, some days not so great. But every day was joyous." That, he attributed, to the prayers of others.

His speech came after the crowd at the "GET MOTIVATED!" seminar stood up and danced to the Beach Boys' song "Surfin' USA" and batted around beach balls tossed into the audience.

The well-publicized event appears to mark the beginning of a higher profile for Bush.

Just last week he gave three speeches in Canada, and he has joined the Washington Speakers Bureau. He is scheduled to give another motivational speech next month in San Antonio. Former presidential adviser Karen Hughes said he has "quite a few speeches planned" during the fall.

Along with his book, due out next year, Bush is planning his new presidential library and policy institute at Southern Methodist University -- the alma mater of Laura Bush. He also has been spotted riding his mountain bike on local trails.

Many people interviewed afterward said they liked Bush, perhaps even because he wasn't the best speaker of the day. He could have said a thesaurus was a big scaly creature that roamed the planet millions of years ago and they would have applauded.

His most memorable story, one after another said, was about Barney, his Scottie:

Mindful of his new neighbors, who have had to endure as many as 650 people a day gawking at his new house in a cul-de-sac, Bush said he took Barney for a neighborhood stroll with "plastic bag on his hand" to scoop poop. That was a moment, he said, when he realized "Man, my life has changed!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Loyalty test: Managed competition: Will City Council side with unions or voters? (San Diego Union Tribune October 27, 2009)

Despite a bogus opposition campaign that depicted government outsourcing as both sinister and untested, San Diegans voted decisively three years ago to allow City Hall to consider using private companies for many services whenever it was “determined to be more economical and efficient while maintaining the quality of services.”

So far, however, zero city jobs have gone private as a result of this vote. [...]

The main reason, however, has been the refusal of these unions — the Municipal Employees Association, which represents about 4,600 white-collar workers, and Local 127 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents nearly 2,000 blue-collar workers — to acknowledge voters’ wishes.

Today, the City Council is expected to decide whether to allow the mayor to proceed with his managed competition plan or to force him to continue with fruitless and pointless negotiations with the unions. Boiled down, this is the question facing the eight council members: Do they side with voters or public employees?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Biden's popularity plunges; lower than Cheney's (Byron York, 10/26/09, Washington Examiner)

Vice President Joe Biden's favorable rating has fallen to 42 percent in a new Gallup poll, down from a high of 59 percent just after last year's election. Biden's unfavorable rating in the new poll is 40 percent, up from 29 percent last November. (Eighteen percent of those surveyed say they have no opinion of Biden.)

They needed to keep him better hidden and that last number much higher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


Shades of 1950: Phillies Arrive in New York by Train (DAVID WALDSTEIN, 10/27/09, NY Times)

Evoking a bygone era when rail travel was the main mode of transportation in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies rolled into Penn Station on a chartered train about 6:03 p.m. Monday, but they were not looking to the past century for inspiration.

The Phillies previously took the train to the World Series in 1950, when they were swept by the Yankees. But that dreary omen did not deter the defending champion Phillies from using the same mode of transportation that Philadelphia’s Whiz Kids took 59 years ago.

The reason for the train was neither historical novelty nor an exercise in team building in advance of the World Series, which begins Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. It was pure convenience. The distance between Philadelphia and New York is too short for a flight, and a fleet of buses traveling up the New Jersey Turnpike could spend as much time on the approach to the Lincoln Tunnel as the entire train ride.

October 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 PM


Kremlin warns against wrecking Russia with democracy (Guy Faulconbridge, 10/26/09, Reuters)

The Kremlin's chief political strategist warned in an article published on Monday that Russia risked collapsing into chaos if officials tried to tinker with the political system by flirting with liberal reforms.

Kremlin Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov said it was clear Russia was falling behind in many areas of economic development and that the country could not simply continue being a "resource power."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


The Space Between Pro-Israel and Anti-Israel (Michael Goldfarb, October 26, 2009, Weekly Standard Blog)

I had the chance to speak with the director of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, as well as his director of policy and strategy, Hadar Susskind. On the issues, the best that can be said about these two is that they are squishes -- at all costs they avoid taking a strong position on any major issue other than settlements. Take the issue of Iran sanctions, for example. J Street has been at the center of the anti-sanctions coalition. Ben-Ami coauthored an op-ed on the Huffington Post with Trita Parsi, the head of the National Iranian-American Council who serves as the Iranian regime's man in Washington, urging against sanctions legislation in Congress. As that position became increasingly untenable for J Street -- support for sanctions on Iran is near universal in the Jewish community and in Congress -- the group has shifted. In the House, sanctions legislation is being shepherded by the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Howard Berman. J Street has tried to square the circle by supporting Berman's mark-up of the legislation while opposing final passage of the legislation. I asked Susskind, "you do not support sanctions but you support Berman?" He answered: "Correct."

The Goldstone report has also put J Street in an awkward position. J Street released two statements on Goldstone, neither of which condemned the report. Meanwhile, Ben-Ami told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that J Street is "refusing to embrace the Goldstone report." I asked Susskind, what is J Street's position on Goldstone? "There's a lot of space between condemn and embrace," he said. When I asked Susskind whether J Street would support a resolution condemning Goldstone, and introduced by the same Howard Berman J Street claims to support on sanctions, Susskind punted, saying he'd not read the text of the resolution. It is, however, hard to believe that the policy director for J Street isn't following this kind of hot-button legislation on the Hill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Despite Obama's Concessions, Russia Remains Unhelpful on Iran: U.S. efforts are producing few results on nuclear problem (Joshua Kucera, October 26, 2009, US News)

[W]ashington's hopes took a hit last week. First, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to walk back that shift, saying, "Threats, sanctions, and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive." Visiting China the next day, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called talk of sanctions against Iran "premature." The snub was sharper because Lavrov's comments came shortly after he met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Moscow, where she had traveled to discuss a host of issues, including Iran, with Russian leaders. Russian media reported that Michael McFaul, a National Security Council expert on Russia who accompanied Clinton, said the United States would back off of criticism of Moscow's human rights record, another annoyance to Russia.

...because one party has won what it sought. Thus, in the "negotiations" between Russia and the US, the former seeks our acquiescence on a range of security and human rights issues that directly effect Russia, whereas we seek their help on various matters extrinsic to Russia. To get them to the table, the UR agrees to their demands and then they'll talk to us about what we want. Of course, having secured the stuff that matters to them, there's no reason for them to help us out anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:47 PM


Interview with Charles Krauthammer: 'Obama Is Average' (Der Spiegel, 10/26/09)

Krauthammer: He is a man of perpetual promise. There used to be a cruel joke that said Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be; Obama is the Brazil of today's politicians. He has obviously achieved nothing. And in the American context, to be the hero of five Norwegian leftists, is not exactly politically positive.

SPIEGEL: It hardly makes sense to blame him for losing the Olympic bid in one week, and then for winning the Nobel Prize the next.

Krauthammer: He should have simply said: "This is very nice, I appreciate the gesture, but I haven't achieved what I want to achieve." But he is not the kind of man that does that.

Totally unfair...to our Brazilian allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Open Letter Hailed as Sensation: Radical Cleric Calls on Muslims in Germany to Reject Violence: Mohammed El Fazazi, a radical cleric serving time in Morocco for his role in the 2003 Casablanca attacks, has written an open letter to Muslims in Germany, saying he has forsworn violence and praising Germany's religious tolerance. German authorities say the letter is a sensation. (Der Spiegel/10/26/09)

Mohammed El Fazazi, a Moroccan preacher who knew three of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots, appears to have forsworn violence. Fazazi, who was sentenced to 30 years in jail in his home country for the 2003 Casablanca attacks, has written an open letter addressing Muslims in Germany and saying he has "taken a wrong turn" and "overshot the target."

In 1999 and 2000, when he was imam of the Al-Quds mosque (now Taiba mosque) in the northern port of Hamburg, he called on Muslims "to remove the infidels from power, kill their children, capture their women and destroy their houses."

Now Fazazi writes that "Germany is not a battle zone." Every immigrant has a contract with the German state that must be adhered to. Germany, he writes, "has a freedom of religion which does not exist in many Islamic countries."

The fact that Hamburg alone had 46 prayer rooms was evidence of the German state's tolerance towards Muslims, he said, "because there is no comparably large number of churches in a city in any Islamic country."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 PM


Medical marijuana is an insult to our intelligence (Charles Lane, 10/26/09, Washington Post)

I don't think the federal government should be spending a whole lot of time on small-time druggies, and I'm undecided about legalizing pot, which enjoys 44 percent support among the general public, according to a recent poll. Recreational use is not the wisest thing -- and if my 12-year-old son is reading this, that means you! -- but it's no more harmful than other drugs (e.g., alcohol) and impossible to eradicate. On the other hand, I worry it's a gateway to harder stuff. So I think we probably should have an open debate about decriminalization.

But it should be a real debate, about real decriminalization, and not clouded -- pardon the expression -- by hokum about "medical marijuana." To the extent it puts the attorney general's imprimatur on the notion that people are getting pot from "caregivers" to deal "with serious illnesses" -- as opposed to growing their own or flocking to "dispensaries" just to get high -- the Justice Department's move is not so constructive.

Marijuana Smokers Face Rapid Lung Destruction -- As Much As 20 Years Ahead Of Tobacco Smokers (ScienceDaily, Jan. 27, 2008)
A new study finds that the development of bullous lung disease occurs in marijuana smokers approximately 20 years earlier than tobacco smokers.

A condition often caused by exposure to toxic chemicals or long-term exposure to tobacco smoke, bullous lung disease (also known as bullae) is a condition where air trapped in the lungs causes obstruction to breathing and eventual destruction of the lungs.

At present, about 10% of young adults and 1% of the adult population smoke marijuana regularly. Researchers find that the mean age of marijuana-smoking patients with lung problems was 41, as opposed to the average age of 65 years for tobacco-smoking patients.

Lucky for them, their self-destructive behavior won't stand in the way of forcing insurance companies to cover the illness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


PM: Trade deal big step for economy (Fran O'Sullivan, 10/27/09, NZ Herald)

John Key says the signing of a free trade deal with Malaysia is another vital move towards a "step change" for the New Zealand economy. [...]

The Malaysian deal builds on the free trade agreement that New Zealand and Australia jointly signed this year with the 10 countries of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

Tariffs on manufactured goods, including some steel lines, paints, varnishes and plastic products, will be eliminated under the Malaysian pact at a faster pace than under the Asean agreement.

Malaysia has also agreed to give greater access to New Zealand exporters of services such as waste-water management and tourism, veterinary, management and maritime services, including cargo handling.

Where's Austan Goolsbee when we need him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 PM


Film-maker Paul Haggis quits Scientology over gay rights stance: Oscar-winning writer of Crash and Million Dollar Baby denounces tolerance of 'gay-bashing' after 35 years in church (Xan Brooks, 10/26/09, guardian.co.uk)

The Church of Scientology lost one of its most high-profile members when the Hollywood film-maker Paul Haggis quit the organisation in protest at its stance on same-sex marriages. In an explosive letter of resignation, Haggis claimed he could no longer "be a member of an organisation where gay-bashing is tolerated".

...to get gay Hollywood stars to control themselves?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


J Street conference opens (Eric Fingerhut, October 26, 2009, JTA: Capital J)

"We want to change the nature of the Jewish communal conversation on Israel," [J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami] said, and he said he trusts the American Jewish community is "strong enough to handle wide open discourse."

What should be a prominent part of that discourse? "Defining support for the creation of a Palestinian state as a core pro-Israel position," said Ben-Ami.

"No longer should this 'pro' require an 'anti,'" said Ben-Ami.

He also stressed that J Street wants the United States to be pushing the parties forward as urgently as possible.

"We want action and we want resolution -- we want the conflict to end," he said to big applause.

Ben-Ami stressed that his movement "gives expression to the most basic and universal values of Judiaism," which includes caring "about the future of the Palestinian people -- not because it is in our interest, but because the Palestinian people deserve a future. Palestinian children should enjoy peace and happiness every bit as much as Jewish children."

"Only through peace can there truly be a state created in our image," he said, one of "treating your neighbor as you wish to be treated yourself."

...that requires your neighbor not live in your state?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:46 AM


Vizio Forecasts Big Growth in Flat-Panel Shipments, Despite Price Drops (DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI, 10/26/09, WSJ)


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


Hard Times for Nonprod Workers in Manufacturing (Michael Mandel, October 26, 2009, Business Week)

The rate of job cuts for production workers in manufacturing has slowed dramatically in the past few months, as companies start to rebuild inventories.

However, they are still aggressively slicing their nonproduction workers—engineers, managers, sales staff, and the like.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


Conservatives Maintain Edge as Top Ideological Group (Lydia Saad, 10/26/09, Gallup)

Conservatives continue to outnumber moderates and liberals in the American populace in 2009, confirming a finding that Gallup first noted in June. Forty percent of Americans describe their political views as conservative, 36% as moderate, and 20% as liberal. This marks a shift from 2005 through 2008, when moderates were tied with conservatives as the most prevalent group.

...because, as the pundits tell us, the election last November marked the end of conservatism and made it safe to proclaim yourself a liberal again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


Healthcare system wastes up to $800 billion a year (Maggie Fox, Oct 26, 2009, Reuters)

Some other findings in the report from Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Reuters:

* Unnecessary care such as the overuse of antibiotics and lab tests to protect against malpractice exposure makes up 37 percent of healthcare waste or $200 to $300 a year.

* Fraud makes up 22 percent of healthcare waste, or up to $200 billion a year in fraudulent Medicare claims, kickbacks for referrals for unnecessary services and other scams.

* Administrative inefficiency and redundant paperwork account for 18 percent of healthcare waste. [...]

"The average U.S. hospital spends one-quarter of its budget on billing and administration, nearly twice the average in Canada," reads the report, citing dozens of other research papers.

...if you think increased government involvement will reduce bureaucracy, paperwork, fraud and CYA practices....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Congress' health care bills leave millions uninsured (John Fritze, 10/25/09, USA TODAY)

The high cost of health insurance premiums would continue to put coverage out of reach for millions even if Congress approves legislation President Obama says is intended to ensure "that every American has affordable health care."

...but oughtn't it at least be sort of universal?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Death panel dudgeon: A very public disagreement between two prominent American bioethicists shows that they have only themselves to blame for attacks on their profession. (Michael Cook, 10/26/09, MercatorNet)

[T]he most recent attack on [President Obama's chief health care adviser, Ezechiel] Emanuel, who is also the head of bioethics at the National Institutes of Health and the brother of President Obama's chief of staff, came not from the right-wingers, the tabloid press or the internet wackos, but from a leading bioethicist colleague.

This was sparked by an address by Dr Emanuel to the annual conference of the ASBH. He argued that what bioethics needed was more statistics. Without a solid grounding in quantitative methods, bioethicists simply aren't much good. Ideally, aspiring bioethicists should study behavioral economics, psychology, decision theory or sociology. There should be less public discussion and more number-crunching. And, he implied, it is number-crunching bioethicists who will be getting the precious government funding which enables them to stay in business.

America's best-known bioethicist, Arthur Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania, was so irritated that he almost immediately posted an open reply. He responded that a bioethicist must be a "moral diagnostician". "A crucial part of the bioethicist's role is to alert, engage and help to illuminate ethical problems and challenges both old and new in the health and life sciences." Empirical data are just one tool in the bioethical toolbox.

Emanuel's address has not been published on the internet yet. But this very public dust-up provides more ammunition for those who believe that the field of bioethics is in crisis. When the most quoted US bioethicist says that the philosophy of the most powerful US bioethicist is "narrow, misguided and wrong", what are laymen to think? It certainly gives them no confidence whatsoever that President Obama is getting the right bioethical advice.

The problem is deeply rooted in American bioethics, at least the kind represented by Dr Emanuel, and to some extent, Dr Caplan himself. Americans have every right to think that bioethics is about clarifying and defending human dignity. But to their surprise, when these mysterious seers emerge from their academic caves, all they hear is talk about statistics, efficiency and quality-adjusted life years.

...to justify killing patients. It has nothing to do with ethics or bio.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Benedict’s Gambit (ROSS DOUTHAT, 10/26/09, NY Times)

The news media have portrayed this rightward outreach largely through the lens of culture-war politics — as an attempt to consolidate, inside the Catholic tent, anyone who joins the Vatican in rejecting female priests and gay marriage.

But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.

Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.

Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.

By contrast, the Church of England’s leadership has opted for conciliation (some would say appeasement), with the Archbishop of Canterbury going so far as to speculate about the inevitability of some kind of sharia law in Britain.

There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Battle for American Jews: An upstart Washington advocacy group called J Street has mounted a leftist challenge to the hawkish establishment over who speaks for American Jews. (Matthew Yglesias, 10/26/09, Daily Beast)

As the small but vocal minority of conservative Jews rarely tires of lamenting, the vast majority of Jewish Americans persist in holding left-wing political opinions. But on the question of Israel and the broader region in which it’s situated, Jewish political influence has been felt overwhelmingly on the hawkish side—skeptical of concessions to Palestinians, eager to believe that military force can stop terrorism, and more recently pushing for aggressive confrontation with Iran. J Street aims to change that and give voice to those of us who see Jewish identity and support for Israel as part of a progressive, internationalist, and generally dovish worldview.

Because those who favor appeasement and passivity and don't mind Ahmedinejad deserve a voice too?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Bright Prospects in the Old Dominion: This time, Virginia's Republican campaigns look like the real thing. (Jim Geraghty, 10/26/09, National Review)

The White House staffers’ don’t-use-my-name trashing of the Deeds campaign is likely to have reverberations well beyond Election Day for both Obama and the Virginia Democratic party. The Post’s circulation area is a region that any Virginia Democrat must win handily to secure a statewide victory. Beyond that, some of the most competitive and important state legislative races are within the Post’s distribution area (Margi Vanderhye vs. Republican Barbara Comstock, Chuck Caputo vs. Jim LeMunyon, Stevens Miller vs. Tom Rust). An apathetic or discouraged Democrat who doesn’t show up to vote for Deeds is likely not to show up for those other races.

Any display of arrogance by Washington Democrats, oblivious to how their actions play in rural areas, is a circumstance tailor-made for David “Mudcat” Saunders, Democratic political strategist, human quote machine, and God’s gift to political reporters. Saunders often punctuates his pithy, memorable observations with four-letter words; he concluded that the White House’s criticism was bull-you-know-what, and that the leaks were chicken-you-know-what. Saunders, a John Edwards supporter, was never likely to be on the Obama White House’s Christmas-party list, but it’s rather striking to hear a blistering, profanity-laced denunciation of inexcusable incompetence and dire consequences directed at the side that has Rahm Emanuel.

Republicans in central Virginia chuckle that Deeds’s new campaign ad — in which he doesn’t say a word, while the president sings his praises — now drips with cruel irony, with the president effectively calling on Virginians to vote for the guy who his staff thinks has completely botched his campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


One Tribe At A Time #4: The Full Document at last! (Steven Pressfield, October 26, 2009, It's the Tribes, Stupid)

I’ve been promising for several weeks to have a free downloadable .pdf of One Tribe At A Time. Finally it’s here. My thanks to our readers for their patience. On a personal note, I must say that it gives me great pleasure to offer this document in full, not only because of my great respect for Maj. Jim Gant, who lived and breathed this Tribal Engagement idea for years, but for the piece itself and for the influence I hope it will have within the U.S. military and policymaking community.

One Tribe At A Time is not deathless prose. It’s not a super-pro Beltway think tank piece. What it is, in my opinion, is an idea whose time has come, put forward by an officer who has lived it in the field with his Special Forces team members–and proved it can be done. And an officer, by the way, who is ready this instant to climb aboard a helicopter to go back to Afghanistan and do it again.

Questions and comments

At the moment, Maj. Gant is at Fort Polk, Louisiana, getting ready to deploy to Iraq, where he will lead an Iraqi commando battalion. He’ll be available in the meantime, however (depending of course upon time demands), to answer questions or take criticisms. Just respond in the comments section below. And I myself have further thoughts I’d like to offer on this subject in the coming weeks.

Here’s a quick one:

The most common response I anticipate to the Tribal Engagement concept (and it’s a valid criticism, shared by Maj. Gant) will go something like this: “Yeah, this is a great idea–but where are we going to find the men to implement it?”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


The Indecider: About New York’s governorship, as about so much in his recent political career, Rudy Giuliani can’t fully, wholeheartedly make up his mind. (Michael Crowley, Oct 25, 2009, New York Magazine)

For a man defined by his certitude and personal force, his presidential campaign was oddly halfhearted, an echo of his abortive Senate bid eight years earlier. After his 2008 campaign, Giuliani all but vanished from the public eye. But David Paterson’s haplessness opened a door. The Rudy-for-governor buzz built for months, providing a failed White House contender with an opportunity to reintroduce himself, on television (Meet the Press panelist, CNBC Squawk Box guest) and on the front pages of the Times and Post. He seemed to draw energy from all the attention. (Although his appearance with Mayor Bloomberg reminded many New Yorkers of what they didn’t like about him.) The rumblings of a run even brought the ultimate compliment, the attention of the Obama White House--leading to that clumsy attempt last month to persuade Paterson to stand down, clearing the way for Andrew Cuomo. (While recent polls consistently show Giuliani thumping Paterson by double-digits, the reverse has mostly been true with Cuomo.)

But in Kingston, Giuliani was coy. He hardly seemed prepared to commit to saving New Yorkers from their dire fiscal fate. That much was clear when, just before his speech, Giuliani fielded questions. "I’m here to help," he explained. "I’m not here to dip my toe in the water." So when would he make up his mind? "I’ll turn my attention to that after the elections are over and figure it out," he said. "There’s still plenty of time."

Hoping to learn more, I met with Giuliani last month in the sleek and modern offices of Bracewell & Giuliani, the Houston-based law firm where he has been a partner since 2005 and where he spends about half his time. Rudy was running late. It was September 8, the week of the sacred anniversary, and Giuliani was observing it this year with, among other things, a pretaped guest appearance with his wife, Judith Giuliani, on The View. Seated on a canary-yellow couch, he explained to Barbara Walters how seeing someone jump from the burning towers changed him forever. Walters was dazzled. "Should he run for president?" she cooed to Judith.

Judith smiled and dodged the question. But when Rudy marched into a Bracewell conference room--"Let’s eat!" he said, going bulgy-eyed at the catered sandwich plates--he sounded like someone who thinks more about being president than about being governor. He opined on health care (no big government), Afghanistan (send more troops), and Iran (be wary of meddling in their politics) on the way to rendering his verdict on Obama: ""I thought we would get more of a moderate," he said. "I was expecting more like Clinton than more like Jimmy Carter."

In this context, the subject of running for governor seemed less inspiring to him. He gave the distinct impression of a man for whom the state job may not be quite enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Voices for Choice: D.C.’s school choice movement isn’t going down without a fight. (Mark Hemingway, 10/26/09, National Review)

Kevin Chavous is an African American and former Democratic city council member from Washington, D.C. He says he’s an Obama supporter, but he is distinctly unhappy with the president. Elections may have consequences, but no one expected that the White House would be so brazenly petty as to allow poor minority children in the nation’s worst school district to become the victims of political score-settling.

That’s exactly what happened when the Obama administration killed off the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program several months ago. Of course, if the White House thought that it could pay off the powerful teachers’ unions, and that the 750 kids in the program would be powerless to fight back, they made a serious miscalculation. Though Afghanistan, the economy, health care, and many other issues have been sucking up all the national-media oxygen, the school-choice efforts on the ground and in D.C. and in the halls of the Congress have been incessant and unyielding since the program was abruptly terminated.

Chavous has made some strange friends in his quest to bring school choice back to D.C. On this particular evening, he’s gripping the podium at the Heritage Foundation — one of the conservative movement’s brain trusts — and expressing his frustration over a recent meeting he had with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


The Economic Bomb That Didn’t Drop (JOHN HARWOOD, 10/26/09, NY Times)

[N]eel T. Kashkari, who served both sides as a top Treasury Department official, hears something different: the quiet of the economic bomb that did not drop.

It did not drop, in his view, because the leaders of America’s rival political armies ceased firing long enough a year ago to pass the $700 billion bailout that prevented Wall Street from imploding. They included President George W. Bush and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the liberal Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts and the conservative Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and the Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

“As bad as it is today, it could have been so much worse,” Mr. Kashkari said in an interview. “If the financial system had collapsed,” businesses on Wall Street and Main Street alike “wouldn’t have been able to access funds to pay their employees, who then wouldn’t have money to pay their bills. It would have cascaded through our economy.”

It was “one of the worst times in our country’s history,” he said. “But it was in many ways the best time, watching all these people come together to put out the fire.”

...the only cohort from either party that deserves none is the House GOP, which voters deservedly punished Republicans for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Veteran reporter's 5 lessons for Obama (Helen Thomas and Craig Crawford, 10/25/09, CNN)

The theme of your campaign was summed up by the title of one of your books, "The Audacity of Hope." You've given us hope, Mr. President. Now show us the audacity.

In Afghanistan, Mr. President, you risk repeating Lyndon Johnson's disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War after listening too much to the generals. Again, the Pentagon wants more troops for a tricky war, vowing success in Afghanistan if you only agree. That's what the British and the Russians thought before they utterly failed to subdue their foes in Afghanistan's difficult terrain.

Have courage to resist such pleas if your instincts say otherwise, Mr. President. That is why the founders of our nation put a civil servant in charge of the military. You are the decision-maker, not the follower.

Remember, the generals work for you. Think about how Harry Truman once proved the point. He had just fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur for publicly disagreeing with his policy against expanding the Korean War into China.

Thereby prolonging the suffering of the North Koreans and Chinese under vile regimes for a needless sixty years. How many lives did Truman's decision cost 60-100 million?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


On the Way to the N.F.L. Draft, a Year of Fulfillment in England (PETE THAMEL, 10/25/09, NY Times)

[Myron] Rolle, 22, established himself as an elite student and athlete at Florida State, becoming a Rhodes scholar and a top N.F.L. prospect. But he temporarily said no to millions of dollars and risked his N.F.L. draft standing to study here. He is perhaps the most prominent athlete to accept a Rhodes scholarship since Bill Bradley in 1965. [...]

Rolle walks the same streets that the future president Bill Clinton did when he was a Rhodes scholar. Rolle trains on the same grounds where Roger Bannister, an Oxford graduate, ran the first sub-four-minute mile in 1954. And as Rolle prepares for a life as a doctor and philanthropist after football, he aims to take a similar path as his role model, Bradley, the former N.B.A. player and United States senator.

Rolle plans to carve his own legacy after Oxford by attending medical school and becoming a neurosurgeon. He has started a foundation that is building a medical clinic and recreation center on a remote island in the Bahamas.

Although he misses football, Rolle has forged friendships that cross cultures and continents. He takes stimulating classes in which discussions and engaging classmates matter more than papers and tests.

“I think it’s a great message for all of us,” N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell said of Rolle’s decision to attend Oxford. “Even the greatest players don’t play forever. And they’re going to have to think about other careers, and he’s obviously thought about that at a young age.”

Football remains a part of Rolle’s future. He rises at 6:30 a.m. every day for two-hour workouts to prepare for this spring’s N.F.L. draft. Bradley, by contrast, ate five meals a day, did not exercise and gained 30 pounds in the two years he studied abroad, he said in a recent phone interview. Bradley jokingly encouraged Rolle not to follow his lead.

Bradley said he was proud that Rolle had set the groundwork for a life after sports. Rolle and his foundation have made strides toward raising the $5 million it will cost to open the clinic in the Bahamas. Rolle’s decision to study for a master’s degree in medical anthropology here will help him build an education foundation for his medicinal and philanthropic career.

“It shows real character on his part that he’s giving up the chance to sign a big N.F.L. contract and going to Oxford,” Bradley said. “The experience he’ll have will last a lifetime, while the context of his experience in pro football compared to college football will not be as different as his experience in Oxford will be from the non-football life he’s led.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


China's culture offensive hits a wall (Antoaneta Bezlova, 10/27/09, Asia Times)

For several years now, Beijing has battled to reverse its "cultural deficit", where it imports 10 times more books than it exports. Now one of the world's largest economies and trading powers, China has spearheaded a cultural counteroffensive in a belief that cultural industry is the next step in its transformation from global upstart to superstar.

As part of this attempt to raise the country's cultural profile abroad Beijing has invested in hundreds of Confucian institutes that are teaching Mandarin around the world and launching new foreign-language media outlets. In publishing, Wu, as a senior official at the Information Department of the State Council, has led a team of experts tasked with selecting the most appealing titles to be translated and marketed around the world.

They spent nearly five years and invested US$15 million preparing for China's debut at the Frankfurt Book Fair - referred to here as the "Olympics of the publishing world" - which was held on October 14-18. The country was featured as the guest of honor - a choice that pleased Beijing in a year marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the communist republic.

But to the cultural officials' dismay, the event was marred with controversy and spats over human rights and press freedoms.

...we read the dissidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Corzine comes back, but far enough?: Recession adds to New Jersey governor's woes in a race drawing national interest (Karl Vick, 10/26/09, Washington Post)

In much of the state, however, Corzine remains associated with New Jersey's heavy tax burden, especially the onerous property levies that he promised to reduce when campaigning four years ago. Those plans were largely undone by the recession, which left the state with a $7 billion shortfall and the governor's approval ratings mired in the low 30s.

"He's a failure," said Bob Armstrong, 63, an engineer from Howell. "He made promises that he hasn't kept. The state has, if not the highest taxes in the country, we're right there. Property taxes are through the roof."

The revenue pinch also hurt Corzine with state employees, a usually reliable Democratic constituency that was angered when he reopened contracts to remove automatic raises.

"Where he is now has to do with retaliation a little bit," said Andrea Rouse-Baldwin, 35, who formerly worked at the state's welfare division.

The new labor tension overshadowed Corzine's widely publicized romance, while he was in the U.S. Senate, with Carla Katz, head of the local that represented nearly half of state workers. The relationship might have lent Corzine street cred in Jersey politics, but in the end it underscored his wealth: In parting, he forgave Katz a $470,000 mortgage on a condo.

"I think a lot of people felt that he used his money, his own personal money, in ways that are not appropriate," said Marlene Carlson, a retired teacher among several thousand Democrats at a rally last week headlined by President Obama, who urged voters not to blame the governor for the weak economy. The last Democratic governor to serve during a recession, James J. Florio, was swept out of office in 1993 on a wave of anger very much like the one facing Corzine.

"Virtually identical," Florio said in an interview.

...property taxes were the #1 issue to voters when I worked on the '85 gubernatorial...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Survey: Hiring, spending pickup seen in next 6 mos (BETSY VERECKEY, 10/26/09, AP)

Results from a new economic survey may ease concerns about rising unemployment and its effect on consumer spending, as forecasters say more employers appear willing to hire in the coming months.

The latest quarterly survey from the National Association for Business Economics, set for release on Monday, shows that unemployment is moderating. It also signals an improved hiring outlook over the next six months, which may help alleviate worries that the nation's unemployment rate will continue to jump and constrict consumer spending, the main driver of the U.S. economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Bringing the peace: a review of The Good Soldiers by David Finkel (Steven Martinovich, October 26, 2009, Enter Stage Right)

The Good Soldiers is a searing piece of reportage that can be difficult at times to read. The story that Finkel tells is of men suffering both physically and mentally in an unforgiving battle zone and the toll it took on their families. Just as with Rick Atkinson's masterpiece In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat in Iraq or Evan Wright's Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War, Finkel thrusts the reader into the Humvee alongside the soldiers and effectively unfolds a story that both tires and inspires, often for the same reasons.

There is one considerable failing with The Good Soldiers and it is that Finkel actually concentrated too much on the action on the ground and ignored the wider picture. Although some of the soldiers became increasingly discontented with their mission, the end result is that the surge did quell the worst of the violence. And although Finkel attempts the neat trick of editorializing without doing so by contrasting the increasingly optimistic Bush quotes he picked to headline each chapter with the horrible violence the soldiers are experiencing, Finkel never illustrates the other actions taken that made the mission a success. It's difficult to square Finkel's reportage on the ground with the reality of what actually happened on the strategic level.

It's a weakness but not a fatal one. At the end of the day we know Bush's surge actually was successful and that leaves us to concentrate on the individual soldiers and their stories. The surge's success came at considerable expense when measured in lives and limbs and although it can be unbearable at times to read as soldiers are shredded by IEDs and RPG fire, we can thank Finkel for chronicling the exceptional bravery and determination of the men on the ground. Regardless of where one stands on the war in Iraq, The Good Soldiers is a testament to those who served their nation and refused to fail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


The Nukes We Need: Preserving the American Deterrent (Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, November/December 2009, Foreign Affairs)

The primary purpose of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attacks on the United States and its allies. During peacetime, this is not a demanding mission. The chance that leaders in Beijing, Moscow, or even Pyongyang will launch a surprise nuclear attack tomorrow is vanishingly small. But peacetime deterrence is not the proper yardstick for measuring the adequacy of U.S. nuclear forces. Rather, the United States' arsenal should be designed to provide robust deterrence in the most difficult of plausible circumstances: during a conventional war against a nuclear-armed adversary.

In the coming decades, the United States may find itself facing nuclear-armed states on the battlefield. U.S. alliances span the globe, and the United States is frequently drawn into regional conflicts. Washington has launched six major military operations since the fall of the Berlin Wall: in Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and twice in Iraq. Furthermore, most of the United States' potential adversaries have developed -- or seem to be developing -- nuclear weapons. Aside from terrorism, the threats that dominate U.S. military planning come from China, North Korea, and Iran: two members of the nuclear club, and one intent on joining it.

The central problem for U.S. deterrence in the future is that even rational adversaries will have powerful incentives to introduce nuclear weapons -- that is, threaten to use them, put them on alert, test them, or even use them -- during a conventional war against the United States. If U.S. military forces begin to prevail on the battlefield, U.S. adversaries may use nuclear threats to compel a cease-fire or deny the United States access to allied military bases. Such threats might succeed in pressuring the United States to settle the conflict short of a decisive victory. [...]

To illustrate the growth in U.S. counterforce capabilities, we applied a set of simple formulas that analysts have used for decades to estimate the effectiveness of counterforce attacks. We modeled a U.S. strike on a small target set: 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in hardened silos, the approximate size of China's current long-range, silo-based missile force. The analysis compared the capabilities of a 1985 Minuteman ICBM to those of a modern Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile.

In 1985, a single U.S. ICBM warhead had less than a 60 percent chance of destroying a typical silo. Even if four or five additional warheads were used, the cumulative odds of destroying the silo would never exceed 90 percent because of the problem of "fratricide," whereby incoming warheads destroy each other. Beyond five warheads, adding more does no good. A probability of 90 percent might sound high, but it falls far short if the goal is to completely disarm an enemy: with a 90 percent chance of destroying each target, the odds of destroying all 20 are roughly 12 percent. In 1985, then, a U.S. ICBM attack had little chance of destroying even a small enemy nuclear arsenal.

Today, a multiple-warhead attack on a single silo using a Trident II missile would have a roughly 99 percent chance of destroying it, and the probability that a barrage would destroy all 20 targets is well above 95 percent. Given the accuracy of the U.S. military's current delivery systems, the only question is target identification: silos that can be found can be destroyed. [...]

The United States' nuclear weapons are now so accurate that it can conduct successful counterforce attacks using the smallest-yield warheads in the arsenal, rather than the huge warheads that the FAS/NRDC simulation modeled. And to further reduce the fallout, the weapons can be set to detonate as airbursts, which would allow most of the radiation to dissipate in the upper atmosphere. We ran multiple HPAC scenarios against the identical target set used in the FAS/NRDC study but modeled low-yield airbursts rather than high-yield groundbursts. The fatality estimates plunged from 3-4 million to less than 700 -- a figure comparable to the number of civilians reportedly killed since 2006 in Pakistan by U.S. drone strikes.

One should be skeptical about the results of any model that depends on unpredictable factors, such as wind speed and direction. But in the scenarios we modeled, the area of lethal fallout was so small that very few civilians would have become ill or died, regardless of which way the wind blew.

Critics may cringe at this analysis. Many of them, understandably, say that nuclear weapons are -- and should remain -- unusable. But if the United States is to retain these weapons for the purpose of deterring nuclear attacks, it needs a force that gives U.S. leaders retaliatory options they might actually employ. If the only retaliatory option entails killing millions of civilians, then the U.S. deterrent will lack credibility. Giving U.S. leaders alternatives that do not target civilians is both wise and just.

A counterforce attack -- whether using conventional munitions or low- or high-yield nuclear weapons -- would be fraught with peril. Even a small possibility of a single enemy warhead's surviving such a strike would undoubtedly give any U.S. leader great pause. But in the midst of a conventional war, if an enemy were using nuclear threats or limited nuclear attacks to try to coerce the United States or its allies, these would be the capabilities that would give a U.S. president real options.


As the United States restructures its nuclear arsenal and overall strategic posture, it should ensure that it has three distinct capabilities. First, it still needs some high-yield nuclear weapons (such as those deployed on land-based missiles and in submarines), although fewer than it currently possesses. If the U.S. military had to destroy an enemy's nuclear force in circumstances so dire that collateral damage was not a major concern, these weapons would provide the best odds of success. They maximize the odds of getting the target, albeit at the cost of enormous collateral damage.

The United States also needs conventional counterforce weapons. The U.S. military already fields precision nonnuclear weapons that can destroy nuclear targets, and the Pentagon has wisely made conventional capabilities a key element of its "global strike" mission, which seeks the capacity to hit any target anywhere in the world in less than an hour. Conventional weapons permit the United States to conduct a counterforce strike without crossing the nuclear threshold, and without killing millions.

To illustrate the promise of conventional counterforce, we modeled an attack on 20 land-based silos using B-2 bombers and bombs guided by GPS. If GPS signals were not jammed, an attack would destroy most of the silos and have about a 50-50 chance of destroying them all. The problem with conventional counterforce weapons is that, lacking the destructive power of nuclear weapons, they depend on pinpoint accuracy. If an enemy can jam GPS signals near the target, the odds of destroying all 20 silos with current bombs are essentially nil. In short, conventional weapons offer the ability to destroy an enemy's nuclear forces with minimal collateral damage, although with only a fair chance of success.

For the third leg of the U.S. strategic force, the United States should retain the lowest-yield warheads in its nuclear arsenal and (if it has not already done so) enhance their accuracy. If the low-yield nuclear bombs and cruise missiles, which reportedly use inertial guidance systems, were even half as accurate as their conventional, GPS-guided cousins, they could match the effectiveness of high-yield nuclear weapons while inflicting casualties more akin to those caused by conventional bombs.

Professor Press thinks me a lunatic, but the fundamental question here is whether that "primary purpose" of deterring an enemy attack isn't almost unjustifiable given how easily, as he and Mr. Lieber demonstrate, we could eliminate their nukes pre-emptively.

Rather than sit back and figure out ways to prevent a nuclear attack on us by our enemies in the event of war, we should use the capability outlined above to render our enemies non-nuclear to begin with. Given the evil nature of the regimes in question, we would be justified in striking without prior notice. But we could also issue them quiet ultimatums so they might save some face. The PRC would be required to surrender its weapons and North Korea and Iran to raze their facilities.

At the same time, we could let Pakistan know that while not yet an official enemy of ours, both the instability of the government there and the historic enmity against our ally India make its nukes intolerable as well.

And, while we're at it, we could tell France and Britain to give up their delusions of grandeur and give up their nukes.

India and Israel would be allowed to keep their weapons not only because they are friends but because those weapons are aimed at mutual enemies.

This leaves only Russia and it represents the most difficult case. Not difficult militarily, but difficult strategically. The fact is that Russia is no longer an enemy but not really a fried, certainly not a reliable one. It's also a dying state but one that happens to border the PRC and restive Islamic states, besides having increasingly radicalized internal Muslim populations itself. If it ever were to use its nukes, it would not be unlikely to use them on folks we'd not be oversorry to see bombed. The most brutally realistic position would be to allow them to keep their nukes just in case we want them to use the weapons. The tidier and more humane solution would be to tell them that their nuclear days are over too.

At any rate, we're awfully fond of making pronouncements like "Never Again" and raging against Chamberlain for not pre-empting Hitler or W for not stopping al Qaeda pre-911. Well. here's a perfect opportunity to show that we've learned from history and we're serious about using our power to prevent the unspeakable before it occurs. We have the means to not just end nuclear proliferation but to roll back the nuclear club to a small but trustworthy membership of Anglospheric allies. Heck, President Obama would even have earned that Nobel Peace Prize if he he removed nukes from the Axis of Evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


A Party With No Punch: Three parables for progressives and the Grand Old (Democratic) Party. (David Sirota, 10/26/09, In These Times)

During the early attacks on Jones, Obama officials remained largely silent, refusing to publicly defend him. When Glenn Beck and others amped up their assault by citing Jones’ signature on a 2002 petition questioning the government’s behavior before 9/11 as proof that he was a national security threat, White House officials went completely silent, even as Jones himself disavowed the petition. After a week of undefended attacks on Jones as a “9/11 truth” conspiracist, the administration showed him the door.

This is, of course, the same administration that aggressively defended Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner after revelations that he had not paid his taxes. It is also the same administration that put Wall Street-linked conservatives in major policy positions, and largely shut movement progressives out of those roles.

In the context of this reality, the Jones firing becomes a parable telling progressives that the Democratic Party that stands by corporate-connected insiders will quickly abandon movement-connected activists the moment their background becomes public or is made controversial by the right. As the Wall Street Journal aptly noted in its editorial about the Jones firing, the right “counts for more at this White House” than the left, and Democrats “will happily employ movement progressives, but only so long as their real views and motivations aren’t widely known.”

...to tell them that the progressive movement is unacceptable to the American electorate? You'd think sixty years of election results would do the trick.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Darwin teaching 'divides opinion' (BBC, 10/26/09)

More than half of adults in a survey of 10 countries thought school science lessons should teach evolutionary theories alongside creationism.

Among those who knew of Darwinism, on average 53% felt other possible perspectives should also be taught. [...]

In Great Britain 60% felt this way. [...]

A previous survey suggested a lot of people were open-minded about having a faith and understanding that evolutionary processes occurred, and she thinks the polarisation of the arguments has confused them about how science works as a process.

That's where the real hilarity begins, when more detailed polling reveals that the vast majority of those who claim to believe in Darwinism think the process is directed, not Natural.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Glimmering new dawn for the GOP: Obamacare could generate some negative coattails (Donald Lambro, 10/26/09, Washington Times)

One of the Senate Democrats who is on their party's vulnerable list is two-term Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln who is fast gaining a reputation as someone who has a hard time making up her mind on the issues now before Congress and sometimes saying the wrong things at the wrong time.

Recent polls report Ms. Lincoln is trailing her four strongest Republican rivals, including front-running state Sen. Gilbert Baker who was leading by 47 percent to 39 percent in the latest Rasmussen poll. "She has a history of being on one side, then on the other side of an issue. Couple that with the intensity of the health care debate in Arkansas, and it makes for a pretty dour political environment for her," said Clint Reed, a chief political adviser for the Baker campaign. [...]

Perhaps no other issue in the state has stirred its political passions as much as health care. Angry Arkansas voters packed Ms. Lincoln's town-hall meetings in August to rail against Obamacare, throwing her off-guard and on the defensive. At one point, she called the protesters "un-American," and was later forced to apologize.

The nearly $1 trillion cost of the Democrats' plan and the mushrooming debt remain major issues among voters, but also deep cuts in Medicare spending among the state's large number of retirees who fear it will reduce their medical benefits.

"Lincoln has two problems. First is the overall political environment and that Barack Obama didn't win the state," said senior elections analyst Jennifer Duffy at the Cook Political Report.

While the state's top elective offices are in Democratic hands, Arkansas supported Sen. John McCain last year by a lopsided 59 percent to 39 percent.

...it would be humiliating to return having just led his party back into the minority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Why Government Health Care Keeps Falling in the Polls: The health-care debate is part of a larger moral struggle over the free-enterprise system. (ARTHUR C. BROOKS, 10/25/09, WSJ)

[P]ublic resistance stems from the sense that the proposed reforms do violence to three core values of America's free enterprise culture: individual choice, personal accountability, and rewards for ambition. [...]

An April 2009 survey conducted by the polling firm Ayers, McHenry & Associates for the conservative nonprofit group Resurgent Republic asked respondents which of the following statements about the role of government came closer to their view: (a) "Government policies should promote fairness by narrowing the gap between rich and poor, spreading the wealth, and making sure that economic outcomes are more equal"; or (b) "Government policies should promote opportunity by fostering job growth, encouraging entrepreneurs, and allowing people to keep more of what they earn." Sixty-three percent chose the second option; just 31% chose the first.

This is consistent with nonpartisan surveys showing that most Americans think our increasingly redistributionist government is overstepping its bounds. For example, a September 2009 Gallup Poll found that 57% believe the government is "doing too much"—the highest percentage in more than a decade. Just 38% said it "should do more."

We will continue to hear both sides of the health-care debate argue about particulars of insurance markets, the deficit impacts of reform, and the minutiae of budgetary assumptions. These arguments, while important, do not address the deeper issues involved.

The health-care debate is part of a moral struggle currently being played out over the free enterprise system.

The Left and the media wonder why Americans view Mr. Obama as so alien, but it's inevitable when he's backing assaults on our values, no matter how timidly. The transition from a campaign message that John McCain would tax health care benefits but, implicitly, Barack Obama would do nothing to them, to an Administration that wants to hike at least those taxes and radically restructure the entire health care sector only exacerbated or accelerated the sense of alienation.alienation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Germany's Free Democrats endorse government coalition deal (Monsters & Critics, Oct 25, 2009)

The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) on Sunday endorsed a coalition deal designed to let them govern Germany in a conservative government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel for the next four years. [...]

Merkel said her new government would concentrate on spurring growth in Europe's biggest economy, which has recently shown signs of emerging from its worst recession in 60 years.

Key points are 24 billion euros (36 billion dollars) in tax cuts, some which will come into force next year, increased family benefits and an overhaul of health care funding.

There was also agreement to prolong the life of nuclear reactors due to be phased out by 2020, a move which overturns a policy adhered to by Merkel's previous coalition with the left-of-centre Social Democrats.

...is that America is virtually never a Left outlier and the rest of our allies are moving Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Fox News relishes Obama administration scorn: 'This is tremendous fodder for us,' the cable channel's Brit Hume says of the White House's salvos. (Matea Gold, October 26, 2009, LA Times)

[T]he White House's stance also gave extra lift to the network at a time when it is on track to record its best ratings year ever. This year, Fox News has averaged nearly 1.2 million viewers across all its programming, a 16% increase over the same period last year, according to Nielsen. In the two weeks since aides to President Obama took after the coverage, the audience has been 8% larger than the previous two weeks.

If anything, the Obama administration has succeeded in reinforcing Fox News' identity as a thorn in the side of the establishment -- a role the network loves to play.

"We may be No. 1, but there is sort of an insurgent quality to Fox News," said senior political analyst Brit Hume. "And that's kind of our attitude: 'Hoist a Jolly Roger, pull out our daggers and look for more throats to slit.' This is tremendous fodder for us. My lord, we've been living on it."

October 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 PM


George P.'s Battle Plan: The Bush family’s fourth-generation standard-bearer talks about his military commission—and plots his political future in Texas. (Bryan Curtis, 10/25/09, Daily Beast)

Lt. Junior Grade Bush, 33, joined the Navy Reserve in 2007 as an intelligence officer. The Navy recently told him, like thousands of others, that the two ongoing wars required him to go active-duty overseas. “It’s been communicated to me that it’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when,’” Bush told The Daily Beast. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Bush’s Prince Harry moment is the latest and most unusual chapter in the life of the political scion. When he came on the political scene in 2000, as a TV-ready spokesman for his uncle’s presidential campaign, P. was named one of People magazine’s sexiest men and considered an amusing presence. Now, in addition to his military service, Bush is assembling an ambitious political program in Texas devoted to one of his family’s most cherished issues. With his uncle and dad in semi-retirement, P. has become the de facto keeper of what his grandfather once called the “legacy thing.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 PM


Marx, Hubbard, and the Totalitarian Impulse (Robert McHenry, August 20, 2009, The American)

As is well known, Marx was deeply influenced by, though later critical of, Georg Hegel’s brand of German idealist philosophy. But while he gave up the central tenet of what we might call capital-I Idealism in favor of materialism, he remained a man of ideas, and he retained the epistemological method of his predecessors, which might be summarized thus: to discover the true nature of reality, sit quietly and think very hard. Marx did a good deal of his sitting in the British Museum, where quiet is strictly enforced. What he thought hard about was chiefly history and economics, and what he concluded was that they are governed by certain laws that had thitherto eluded discovery.

It is interesting to imagine how he discerned those laws. The past might best be thought of as a gigantic Jackson Pollock canvas. The job of the historian is to decide which few of those myriad dots and splotches and swirly drips are of significance and then to describe how they are related. The possibilities are innumerable, and each one is quite simply an invention. What’s a fellow with strong ideas to do? It helps to be smart, of course, but smart alone will not do much more than generate yet another Ph.D. dissertation. To really put your marks on things you need confidence and a certain sort of blindness. Reinhold Niebuhr explained (in The Irony of American History):

The inhumanities of our day, which modern tyrannies exhibit in the nth degree, are due to an idealism in which reason is turned into unreason because it is not conscious of the contingent character of the presuppositions with which the reasoning process begins, and in which idealism is transmuted into inhumanity because the idealist seeks to comprehend the whole realm of ends from his standpoint.

Marx had that confidence, in the degree the Greeks called hubris and identified as the source of tragedy. He had that trick of mind that looks upon an idea that it has spawned and sees that it is good. Better than good: True, with a capital T, then, now, and for always. He sat there in the British Museum and decided the he, alone, saw the true pattern in the dots and swirls, and so he worked out the laws that had and must always govern all of human history. He never betrayed a hint of a doubt that he might be, in any way, wrong about anything. How could he be wrong, after all, about ideas that were so clear, so galvanizing, so congenial to his prejudices? The balance of his career was spent in organizing ways to forward the operation of those laws, although it is by no means clear why it is that any such iron and immutable laws would need the help of an impecunious journalist, or (once it had been properly instructed by himself) of a worldwide proletariat.

Try to put by the shock of bathos now as we shift our view from that quiet reading room in sooty 19th-century London to a sailing boat off the coast of post-World War II California. The fellow in the jaunty cap is Hubbard. He is thinking, too, if not very hard or quietly. He is dreaming up a system of mental discipline that he will later declare to be “a milestone for Man comparable to his discovery of fire.” There’s your confidence, vast but not so much a case of hubris as of chutzpah. He will go on to found a movement that will call itself a religion when it is convenient but at other times will be “an applied religious philosophy.” In either case it will describe the whole of human history more or less as Kurt Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout might have, and it will make lots and lots of money.

Gotta add Freud and Darwin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 PM


When Atheists Believe: The confounding attraction of the Christian worldview. (Chuck Colson with Catherine Larson,10/22/2009, Christianity Today)

Well-known scholar Antony Flew was the first, saying he had to go "where the evidence [led]." Evolutionary theory, he concluded, has no reasonable explanation for the origin of life. When I met with Flew in Oxford, he told me that while he had not come to believe in the biblical God, he had concluded that atheism is not logically sustainable.

More recently, A. N. Wilson, once thought to be the next C. S. Lewis who then renounced his faith and spent years mocking Christianity, returned to faith. The reason, he said in an interview with New Statesman, was that atheists "are missing out on some very basic experiences of life." Listening to Bach and reading the works of religious authors, he realized that their worldview or "perception of life was deeper, wiser, and more rounded than my own."

He noticed that the people who insist we are "simply anthropoid apes" cannot account for things as basic as language, love, and music. That, along with the "even stronger argument" of how the "Christian faith transforms individual lives," convinced Wilson that "the religion of the incarnation … is simply true."

Likewise, Matthew Parris, another well-known British atheist, made the mistake of visiting Christian aid workers in Malawi, where he saw the power of the gospel transforming them and others. Concerned with what he saw, he wrote that it "confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God." While Parris is unwilling to follow where his observations lead, he is obviously wrestling with how Christianity makes better sense of the world than other worldviews.
While we can't reason our way to God, I've long believed that Christianity is the most rational explanation of reality.

Could this signal a trend? Well, not yet. But it does illustrate something I have been teaching for years: Faith and reason are not enemies. We are given reason as a gift. And while we can't reason our way to God (only the power of God can transform fallen men—I've seen that in prisons for over 32 years), I have long believed that Christianity is the most rational explanation of reality. And that fact, winsomely explained, can powerfully influence thinking people to consider Christ's claims.

It was the pragmatist Richard Rorty who coined the term freeloading atheists, for those rationalists who wish to believe in morality even though the central dilemma of two thousand years of philosophy is the failure to find any grounding for it in the absence of God. Andrew Delbanco offers a good example of the incoherent knots such decent folk twist themselves into when they believe Reason forces them to reject God despite their desire for Him.

As this essay suggests, while a personal experience of God might make things easier, reason and aesthetics afford quite acceptable paths to Him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 PM


Will South Korea become Christian? (Christopher Landau, 10/26/09, BBC)

In just over 50 years, the Yoido Full Gospel Church has grown from five people meeting in its founding pastor's home in South Korea, to a membership of more than 750,000 people.

It means that the church, in Seoul, has more members than some entire denominations in Europe. [...]

And Pastor Lee has a dramatic prediction about the long-term impact of Christianity in South Korea.

"Our church is still growing, so sooner or later Christianity will be the major religion in Korea. All Christians are praying for that right now." [...]

Myoung-kyu Park, a sociology professor at Seoul National University, says Christianity is intrinsically associated with Western prosperity in the minds of many Koreans.

"Unlike Buddhism or Confucianism - traditional religious ways of thinking - Christianity could give Korean people very positive motivation," he says.

There is certainly little doubt that Christianity is having a significant impact on South Korean society - whether it is the red neon crosses that illuminate the Seoul skyline each evening, or the presence of church bands playing Christian music in the street.

South Korea is modernising rapidly, and embracing Christianity seems to be part of that process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 PM


Health insurer profits not as fat as Dems claim (AP, 10/25/09)

Quick quiz: What do these enterprises have in common? Farm and construction machinery, Tupperware, the railroads, Hershey sweets, Yum food brands and Yahoo? Answer: They're all more profitable than the health insurance industry. [...]

Health insurance profit margins typically run about 6 percent, give or take a point or two. That's anemic compared with other forms of insurance and a broad array of industries, even some beleaguered ones.

Profits barely exceeded 2 percent of revenues in the latest annual measure. [...]

Insurers are an expedient target for leaders who want a government-run plan in the marketplace. Such a public option would force private insurers to trim profits and restrain premiums to compete, the argument goes. This would "keep insurance companies honest," says President Barack Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 PM


Household Debt Can Hasten Recovery, When It Goes Unpaid (MARK WHITEHOUSE, 10/26/09, WSJ)

One of the biggest clouds on the economic horizon is the vast amount of debt U.S. households took on during the boom years. The Federal Reserve puts total household debt, including mortgage debt, at about $13.7 trillion, or 125% of annual after-tax income, a burden that many economists believe will take several years to pare down to what they see as a more sustainable level of 100%.

Well, sure, except that household net worth--which doesn't even include the value of the educations we all borrowed much of that money to pay for--stood at $51.5 trillion at the end of 2008. And by using the after-tax figure you ignore all the money put in pre-tax retirement instruments and the like. Oh, and it makes no economic sense to pay back debt during a deflationary period, especially when a simple stock index fund is paying off so handsomely. Our debt in reality, as opposed to in the imagination of valetudinarians, is too trivial to have much effect on our consumption.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Washington caught off guard by Netanyahu visit: Israel says PM did not consult Obama ahead of trip because meeting on peace process unnecessary (Yitzhak Benhorin, 10/25/09, YNet)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intention to visit Washington for the annual UJC General Assembly has surprised many on Capitol Hill and was apparently not coordinated with the Obama administration.

An American source told Ynet Sunday that news of the visit had been received with reserved astonishment.

Do any of our friends not hold the UR in contempt?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


AP sources: Senate likely to cut employer mandate (DAVID ESPO, 10/25/09, AP)

Businesses would not be required to provide health insurance under legislation being readied for Senate debate, but large firms would owe significant penalties if any worker needed government subsidies to buy coverage on their own, according to Democratic officials familiar with talks on the bill. [...]

Reid is also searching for ways to scale back a tax on high-cost insurance policies approved by the Senate Finance Committee. Organized labor strongly opposes the proposal, and the House bill is not expected to include it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


Barack Obama on ropes over pardon of black boxer Jack Johnson (Tony Allen-Mills, October 26, 2009, the Australian)

FOR once Barack Obama seemed to be facing the easiest of decisions. Offered a chance to right a grievous historical wrong and to honour an African-American hero, he needed only to issue a presidential pardon that even his fiercest political rivals agreed was long overdue.

Yet there has so far been no pardon for Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing world champion, who was jailed for immoral behaviour 100 years ago after he flaunted his relationships with white women. [...]

Senator John McCain, Obama's Republican rival in last year's election, launched a campaign last April to secure a posthumous pardon for Johnson, who held the world title for seven years and thrilled his fellow African-Americans by trouncing James Jeffries, the so-called "Great White Hope" who declared that he had taken on the fight "for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a negro".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Science Museum's climate change poll backfires (David Barrett, 25 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

A poll by the Science Museum designed to convince the nation of the perils posed by climate change has backfired after being hijacked by sceptics.

The museum’s Prove It! website, which is designed to influence politicians at the Copenhagen climate summit in December, allows members of the public to pledge their support, or lack of it, to the environmentalist cause. [...]

By Saturday, 2,385 people who took the poll said “count me out” compared to just 415 who said “count me in”, after being asked whether they agreed with the statement: “I’ve seen the evidence. And I want the government to prove they’re serious about climate change by negotiating a strong, effective, fair deal at Copenhagen.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Barnes Golfs (Politico, 10/24/09)

If it’s Sunday, expect to find Obama golfing at Fort Belvoir. This week, though, his foursome includes Melody Barnes, President Obama’s chief domestic policy advisor -- and the first woman who’s played golf with Obama during his 24 trips to the links since taking office.

Barnes, wearing a baseball cap, dark long sleeve shirt and beige pants, joined Obama the same day that the New York Times is running a front page story, Man’s World at White House?...

You can make him do whatever you want just by threatening the image of him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


Liverpool show signs of life with victory over Manchester United: Liverpool 2 Manchester United 0 (Frank Praverman, 10/25/09, Times of London)

After thousands of supporters had protested against the club's owners, George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks, prior to kick-off, the team produced a display that Manchester United simply could not cope with. [...]

But United had no answer to Liverpool's spirit as Fernando Torres and David Ngog scored the goals to reignite their faltering Premier League campaign.

The "best" teams in the EPL this season are so weak in central defense that anyone can win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Done with touches of madness & genius: The Prisoner may have lost the plot, but it’s still interesting (Chris Knight, October 23, 2009, National Post)

[T]he majority opinion seems to be that its creator and star, Patrick McGoohan, lost his grip on the show over the course of its 17-episode run.

Take the view of Derren Nesbitt, who appeared in the episode titled "It's Your Funeral." He says he played his character, No. 2, as a bewildered buffoon because that's how he felt even after reading the script. McGoohan demanded to know why he wasn't acting more serious. "I said, ‘I've no bloody idea what it's about. You tell me what it's about.' He said, ‘Well I don't know.' So I played him totally confused."

Ian Rakoff, who wrote (but never received credit for) the episode "Living in Harmony," remembers a meeting with McGoohan in which he practically feared for his life. "He was swaying and swinging and walking around me and banging the desk," Rakoff says. "It was totally incomprehensible." (It also sounds oddly like a description of each episode's opening sequence.)

In another incident, the actor playing No. 2 (there was a different one each week) suffered a nervous breakdown that brought filming to a standstill. McGoohan had taken a battle of wills between their characters and made it personal.

All tv shows like The Prisoner, The Fugitive, X-Files, Life on Mars, Lost, etc. ought to only be green-lighted if the final episode is written at the time production starts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Democratic Party encounters 'Obama hangover' in state, local elections (Peter Nicholas, October 25, 2009, LA Times)

"It's like the morning after the party," Michael McGann, a Democrat running for clerk of courts in the Philadelphia suburbs, said in an interview. "The party was wonderful and exciting. The day after it's like, 'Gee, I don't want to do that again for a while.' "

Combating the malaise, Obama is trying to galvanize voters by reminding them of the "fired up, ready to go" fervor that made last year's race riveting political theater. [...]

In New Jersey, the election is in some measure a referendum on the Democratic incumbent, Jon Corzine, who has been in office nearly four years. Local issues loom large in New Jersey. A recent poll by Monmouth University showed that people see property taxes as the dominant issue, trumping the economy and healthcare.

The UR ran on a content free message of change. Now voters are changing the leadership of their states too. It's not a reaction to Obama. It is Obamist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


White House confronts the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Tom Hamburger and Alexander C. Hart, October 25, 2009, LA Times)

In recent weeks, President Obama, his Energy secretary and one of his other most senior advisors have begun criticizing the chamber publicly, casting it as a profligate lobbying organization at odds with its members in opposing the administration on such issues as consumer protection and climate change. [...]

The White House role in criticizing the chamber has, predictably, riled Republicans. But it also has made some Democrats nervous.

"The chamber represents thousands of businesses . . . most of which are apolitical," said Rep. James P. Moran, a Virginia Democrat. "I'm not sure that that is the appropriate target to go after."

They've unlearned everything Bill Clinton taught them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


History's road to Waziristan (David Ignatius, October 25, 2009, Washington Post)

The tribes of Waziristan have been resisting outsiders ever since the British first reached their borders in 1850. The initial battles established a pattern that has been repeated ever since: The Mehsuds and Wazirs, the fiercest of the tribes, would repel those encroaching on their territory; the British would launch punitive raids. The tribes would bloody the British in battle and refuse concessions, whereupon the colonial troops would retreat. The modern Pakistani experience has been very similar.

The British launched at least six punitive expeditions into Waziristan from 1850 to 1880. Their frustration was exemplified by an 1860 assault by more than 5,000 British Raj troops down the same roads the Pakistanis are following today. The Mehsuds refused to negotiate, even after the invaders destroyed the homes of the tribal leaders. Eventually the British gave up and marched back out.

The tribal maliks prized their independence as part of the code of honor known as Pashtunwali. For the British, this obstinacy made Waziristan, as one colonial officer wrote, "a land of insolence." But a 1921 British history of military operations there conceded: "The Wazirs and Mehsuds operating in their own country can be classed among the finest fighters in the world."

One of the great delusions shared by both Islamicists and neocons is that these tribal leaders, who haven't even evolved to the nationalist stage yet, will set aside their eternal enmities and unite under a transnational banner carried by Arab intellectuals. Us policy should be to force Afghanistan and Pakistan to forsake any claims of sovereignty to these regions where they manifestly don't exercise any in practice and to divide the tribal areas up into their constituent parts. Make their tribalism work for us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


In Defense of the ‘Balloon Boy’ Dad (FRANK RICH, 10/24/09, NY Times)

Certainly the “balloon boy” incident is a reflection of our time — much as the radio-induced “War of the Worlds” panic dramatized America’s jitters on the eve of World War II, or the national preoccupation with the now-forgotten Congressman Gary Condit signaled America’s pre-9/11 drift into escapism and complacency in the summer of 2001. But to see what “balloon boy” says about 2009, you have to look past the sentimental moral absolutes. You have to muster some sympathy for the devil of the piece, the Bad Dad. And you can’t grant blanket absolution to those in the American audience who smugly blame Heene and television exclusively for the entire embarrassing episode.

The metaphor that shrieks out for application here is of the Balloon Boy to the Unicorn Rider, even if that does make Mr. Rich part of the gullible audience. The daring sky-high ride that turns out to be unmanned in the end--it is the Obama story.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


It's Vietnam, Again (Jackson Diehl, October 25, 2009, Washington Post)

"One of the lessons of Vietnam," said Democratic Sen. John Kerry, "is if you are going to send American forces into harm's way, you don't do it in a limited way. You don't do it tying hands behind your back ahead of time. You don't ask people to give their lives for something less than the prospect of success."

Kerry might have been talking about Afghanistan -- only he wasn't. He was talking about the Serbian province of Kosovo, in April 1999, in the middle of the U.S. intervention there.

Kerry, one of the country's best-known Vietnam veterans, makes a lot of comparisons to that war. But he's hardly alone. Each time Washington has debated sending troops to war in the past 30 years, or bringing them home, parallels to Vietnam have been drawn -- and endlessly argued over.

Comparing other wars to Vietnam is a worthwhile exercise so long as you understand what was wrong with the way that war was waged. By setting a goal of merely preserving South Vietnam's independence we had that conflict wrong from the get go. At a minimum, the goal should have been regime change in the North. Better still, we should have just skipped that bit player in the Cold War and regime changed the PRC and the USSR. The ultimate question wasn't whether the South Vietnamese should be free of communist domination but whether humankind should be. Shying away from ultimate questions always leads you into messes.

Similarly, the ultimate question in the Muslim World is whether its people should be free of Islamicist domination. The big difference between communism and Islamicism is that the latter is so easily regime changed if it crops up again anywhere. Chasing al Qaeda and the Taliban around is certainly time consuming but it requires so little in the way of men and material that there's really no reason for us to stop. A duck pond isn't a quagmire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Electric vehicles are charging up the automotive industry: A dozen all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles are expected to hit the market in the next three years. They promise to combine blinding fuel efficiency, radical new technology and futuristic styling. (Ken Bensinger, October 25, 2009, LA Times)

In the next three years, at least a dozen pure electric or plug-in hybrid cars are slated to hit the market in the U.S. Electricity-driven vehicles from giants such as General Motors Co. and Nissan Motor Co., as well as start-ups like Fisker Automotive Inc. in Irvine, will provide consumers with a wide variety of choices. These new vehicles promise to combine blinding fuel efficiency, radical new technology and futuristic styling that makes the hybrid Toyota Prius look downright staid.

Battery makers and automakers alike are tooling up factories to produce big volumes of electric vehicles. Meanwhile, power utilities and regulators are scrambling to figure out just how big the market will be.

"This is happening and it's happening soon," said Mark Duvall, director of electric transportation at the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent, nonprofit research group. "By the end of 2011, consumers will have more choices in vehicles they can plug in than they currently do for hybrids."

The electric vehicles will be arriving at a good time. With gasoline prices creeping up once again and federal regulations calling for huge fuel economy gains in the next half-decade, there's increasing demand for cars that burn less fuel, make less noise and push automotive technology forward.

..in the absence of confiscatory gas taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Ugly racial litmus tests (Ruben Navarrette, October 25, 2009, San Diego Union Tribune)

Black conservatives Clarence Thomas, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams and others know what it's like to be deemed inadequately black. So does Bill Cosby, who was raked over the coals by academics and other members of the African-American left for sharing uncomfortable truths about what ails the black community.

Another person who has done that effectively and has the bruises to show for it is my friend Juan Williams, a Fox News contributor and analyst for National Public Radio.

Recently, during an appearance on Fox's “The O'Reilly Factor,” Williams defended Rush Limbaugh's free-speech rights and criticized NFL owners for caving into racial intimidation tactics. Left-wing radio talk show host Warren Ballentine, who was also on the segment, disagreed with Williams and said that Limbaugh's comments were offensive to “real black people.” After Williams pushed back with another rebuttal, Ballentine — clearly out of ammunition — landed a cheap shot, telling Williams to “go back to the porch.”

The inference: That Williams is an Uncle Tom.

This isn't Williams' first rodeo. The arbitrators of blackness went after him in 2006 for his insightful book “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America — And What We Can Do About It.” They did it again in 2007 when he defended Bill O'Reilly for an innocent comment that O'Reilly made on his radio show about how he had visited a restaurant in Harlem and “couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference” between the black-run establishment and others in New York City. Professor Boyce Watkins of Syracuse University responded by calling Williams a “happy Negro” during an appearance on CNN.

Lovely. Maybe besides the racial litmus test, there's some professional jealousy at work here since Williams has such a large audience.

Pity poor President Obama who had to use the Reverend Wright to prove he was "real black people," only to find that if you want to appeal to a broader constituency that's a bit too black

October 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Troop-Boost Plan Gains Backing (PETER SPIEGEL and YOCHI DREAZEN, 10/24/09, WSJ)

The Obama administration is moving toward a hybrid strategy in Afghanistan that would combine elements of both the troop-heavy approach sought by its top military commander and a narrower option backed by Vice President Joe Biden, a decision that could pave the way for thousands of new U.S. forces. [...]

People familiar with the internal debates say Mr. Obama rejected a strictly counter-terror approach during White House deliberations in early October. One official said Pentagon strategists were asked to draft brief written arguments making the best case for each strategy, but the strategists had difficulties writing out a credible case for the counter-terror approach -- prompting members of Mr. Biden's staff to step in and write the document themselves.

Sure, we all get that Mr. Obama has little interest in the job of being president generally, and none in the foreign affairs part, is he really just there to split the difference between the US military and a vp they can't even let appear in public? It's entirely possible that Mr. Biden has the better argument, but aren't we entitled to some evidence that his boss understands the arguments and has thought them through?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


The Grand Mufti's mission (Michael Gerson, October 23, 2009, Washington Post)

Sheik Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, possesses a wonderfully exotic title, a scholarly manner and the unique burden of issuing about 5,000 fatwas a week -- the judicial rulings that help guide the lives of the Muslim faithful. On a recent visit to the United States, he explained to me the process of "resolving issues of modern life." And modern life offers Gomaa and his team of subordinate muftis plenty of fodder for resolution, from the permissibility of organ transplants, to sports gambling, to smoking during Ramadan, to female judges, to the use of weapons of mass destruction, to mobile phone transmitters on the tops of minarets. [...]

Reform in the Arab world is not likely -- at least soon -- to reflect the Western privatization of theological beliefs. All of life is subject to sharia law, and most Arab governments gain at least a part of their legitimacy by reflecting it. At its worst -- but rarely -- this involves the classical Islamic punishments of stoning and amputation. At its best, sharia law plays an equivalent role to the rule of law, binding both rulers and ruled by the same objective standard of justice.

Really? Is amputation so clearly worse than a mandatory prison sentence? Or is the Puritanism that results in those sentences a matter of American life at its worst? It's easy to see why the amoral Left should hate sharia. But how does the Right square its moral conservatism with a hatred of Arab moral conservatism?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


The Human Genome in 3 Dimensions (Brandon Keim, October 8, 2009, Wired)

In April, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences linked patterns of gene activation to their physical proximity on chromosomes. [...]

With the aid of software that cross-referenced the gene pairs with their known sequences on the genome, they assembled a digital sculpture of the genome. And what a marvelous sculpture it is.

“There’s no knots. It’s totally unentangled. It’s like an incredibly dense noodle ball, but you can pull out some of the noodles and put them back in, without disturbing the structure at all,” said Harvard University computational biologist Erez Lieberman-Aiden, also a study co-author.

In mathematical terms, the pieces of the genome are folded into something similar to a Hilbert curve, one of a family of shapes that can fill a two-dimensional space without ever overlapping — and then do the same trick in three dimensions.

How evolution arrived at this solution to the challenge of genome storage is unknown. It might be an intrinsic property of chromatin, the DNA-and-protein mix from which chromosomes are made. But whatever the origin, it’s more than mathematically elegant. The researchers also found that chromosomes have two regions, one for active genes and another for inactive genes, and the unentangled curvatures allow genes to be moved easily between them.

Lieberman-Aiden likened the configuration to the compressed rows of mechanized bookshelves found in large libraries. “They’re like stacks, side-by-side and on top of each other, with no space between them. And when the genome wants to use a bunch of genes, it opens up the stack. But not only does it open the stack, it moves it to a new section of the library,” he said.

"Marvelous sculpture"
"More than mathematically elegant"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


Primate fossil called only a distant relative (MALCOLM RITTER, 10/21/09, AP)

Remember Ida, the fossil discovery announced last May with its own book and TV documentary? A publicity blitz called it "the link" that would reveal the earliest evolutionary roots of monkeys, apes and humans. Experts protested that Ida wasn't even a close relative. And now a new analysis supports their reaction.

In fact, Ida is as far removed from the monkey-ape-human ancestry as a primate could be, says Erik Seiffert of Stony Brook University in New York. [...]

The new analysis says Darwinius does not belong in the same primate category as monkeys, apes and humans. Instead, the analysis concluded, it falls into the other major grouping, which includes lemurs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Are Humans Still Evolving? (Eben Harrell – Fri Oct 23, 2009, TIME)

Stearns' team examined the vital statistics of 2,238 postmenopausal women participating in the Framingham Heart Study, which has tracked the medical histories of some 14,000 residents of Framingham, Mass., since 1948. Investigators searched for correlations between women's physical characteristics - including height, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels - and the number of offspring they produced. According to their findings, it was stout, slightly plump (but not obese) women who tended to have more children - "Women with very low body fat don't ovulate," Stearns explains - as did women with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Using a sophisticated statistical analysis that controlled for any social or cultural factors that could impact childbearing, researchers determined that these characteristics were passed on genetically from mothers to daughters and granddaughters.

If these trends were to continue with no cultural changes in the town for the next 10 generations, by 2409 the average Framingham woman would be 2 cm (0.8 in) shorter, 1 kg (2.2 lb.) heavier, have a healthier heart, have her first child five months earlier and enter menopause 10 months later than a woman today, the study found. "That rate of evolution is slow but pretty similar to what we see in other plants and animals. Humans don't seem to be any exception," Stearns says.

Douglas Ewbank, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania who undertook the statistical analysis for the study, which was published Oct. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), says that because cultural factors tend to have a much more prominent impact than natural selection in the shaping of future generations, people tend to write off the effect of evolution. "Those changes we predict for 2409 could be wiped out by something as simple as a new school-lunch program."

Evolution and Equality: What do Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, and the Freedom Riders have in common with each other? (Terence Monmaney, February 2009, Smithsonian magazine)

Darwin and Lincoln might have had more in common than we thought. Lincoln, of course, was motivated by the cruel injustice of slavery, but recent scholarship suggests that so was Darwin, whose family was staunchly abolitionist. "He was disheartened to see advocates of slavery justifying their position by saying that white European humans and black African humans were not the same species," Hayden says. "One of the animating thoughts in the young Darwin's mind as he set out to understand the world was his conviction that all humans were one."
Of course, the problem for Darwinists is that if humans are all one species then you have to abandon the notion that the variety of beaks differentiates finches into separate species, etc. Alternatively, if you take Darwinism seriously, as Darwin did, then slavery is just a function of inferior species of humans meeting superior.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Back Door Slam: Sizzling Rock Gets the Blues: Hear an Interview and In-Studio Performance (NPR, February 29, 2008, World Cafe)

The British blues-rock trio Back Door Slam brings to mind the rougher-sounding work of English blues-rock players such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and John Mayall — which is especially impressive given that its members are all twentysomethings from the tiny Isle of Man.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Blood, Iron and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the Globe by Christian Wolmar: review: Trains have fascinated us all since they first left Liverpool in 1830 (Michael Williams, 24 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Once upon a time, every self-respecting schoolboy owned books with titles like The Wonder Book of Railway Wonders or Thrilling Trains of the World. They contained magical tales of speed records, lofty viaducts, plunging tunnels and streamlined locomotives. It was a golden age that many thought had disappeared for ever – until now, when suddenly trains are fashionable again. Want the smartest way to Paris? Take the Eurostar. Impress your friends with your green credentials? Take your holiday in the Dordogne by TGV. New high-speed lines are spreading across the world. Even Britain is expected to build a brand new fast-track line from London to Scotland soon.

Amid this renaissance, Christian Wolmar has written the first general history of the world’s railways for more than 40 years, and, like those schoolboy books of old, it is a ripping read. [...]

It is a shame that at the end of the book Wolmar allows his “trainspotter” persona to take over, speculating on the “delicious prospect” that trains might outlive cars. “Imagine a world without car parks, motorways or service stations.” Nevertheless, this authoritative and highly readable book will remain the definitive history for years to come.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Waziristan or Bust: Pakistan Army in Fight for the State’s Survival: The Pakistani military has been sleeping with the enemy while keeping the civilian government down (Ahmed Rashid, 10/19/09, YaleGlobal)

While the armed forces are unwilling to admit what many Pakistanis now believe – that there is some degree of penetration by extremist sympathizers within its ranks – the civilian government refuses to admit that the largest province of Punjab and especially its poverty hit southern part has become the major new recruiting ground for militants.

The Punjab provincial government is run by Shabaz Sharif, the brother of Nawaz Sharif and leader of the opposition in the country. The Sharif brothers who ruled the country twice in the 1990s are known to have close ties with the leaders of several militant groups, including Hafez Saeed, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba whose militants carried out the massacre in Mumbai India last year.

Saeed, wanted by India and Interpol has been freed twice from jail in Punjab, on account of lack of evidence to hold him. The Sharifs have refused repeated requests by the Americans, British, Indians and the federal government to crack down on militancy in south Punjab where it is strong and providing recruits for the Taliban.

Meanwhile the federal government has suffered increasingly fraught relations with the army. Last week at the height of the suicide attacks, the army chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani chose that moment to blast the civilian government for agreeing to a US $ 7.5 billion five year aid package from the US for civilian and developmental purposes.

The army was furious that the government had agreed to US imposed conditions, which only insisted that there be civilian control of the army, democracy be maintained and the fight against extremism continued. The army with its deep tentacles in the Pakistani media and among opposition politicians, whipped up a storm of public opinion against the deal, with some commentators accusing the government of President Asif Ali Zardari of treason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Obama a tough guy, at least with Fox News: White House tries to intimidate U.S. media while being a pushover with our foreign adversaries. (MARK STEYN, 10/23/09, OC Register)

Benjamin Disraeli's most famous advice to aspiring politicians was: "Never complain and never explain." For the greatest orator of our time, a man who makes Churchill, Lincoln and Henry V at Agincourt look like first-round rejects on "Orating With The Stars," Barack Obama seems to have pretty much given up on the explaining side. He tried it with health care with speech after speech after exclusive interview for months on end, and the more he explained the more unpopular the whole racket got. So he declared that the time for explaining is over, and it's time to sign on or else.

Meanwhile, to take the other half of the Disraeli equation, Obama and his officials and their beleaguered band of surrogates never stop complaining. If you express concerns about government health care, they complain about all these "racists" and "domestic terrorists" obstructing his agenda. If you wonder why the president can't seem to find time in his hectic schedule of international awards acceptance speeches to make a decision about Afghanistan, they complain that it's not his fault he "inherited" all these problems. And, if you wonder why his "green jobs" czar is a communist 9/11 truther, and his National Endowment for the Arts guy is leaning on grant recipients to produce Soviet-style propaganda extolling Obama policies, they complain about Fox News.

The most recent whine – the anti-Fox campaign – is, apart from anything else, unbecoming to the office. President Obama is the chief of state of one of the oldest free societies in the world, but his official White House Web site runs teasers such as: "For even more Fox lies, check out the latest 'Truth-O-Meter.'" It gives off the air of somebody only marginally less paranoid than this week's president-for-life in some basket-case banana republic ranting on the palace balcony because his interior security chief isn't doing a fast-enough job of disappearing his enemies.

George W Bush: Remember him? Of course, you do. He's the guy who's to blame for everything, and still will be midway through Obama's second term. It turns out he's in exile abroad. Presumably he jumped bail and snuck across the border on the roof of a box car. But, anyway, he was giving a speech in Saskatoon. That's a town in Saskatchewan. And Saskatchewan's a province in Canada apparently. And in the course of his glittering night playing the Saskatoon circuit, he was asked about media criticism of him, and he told the … Saskatoonistanies? Saskatchewannabees? Whatever. He told them the attacks never bothered him, although his dad used to get upset: "He'd read the editorial pages, he'd watch the nightly news, and I didn't. I mean, why watch the nightly news when you are the nightly news?"

...that while it truly didn't matter what anyone said about W, because he had such a firmly established core being, it matters utterly what the critics say about the UR's clothes, because there is no emperor.

N.B. The UR above refers to the JibJab video with Mr. Obama as a Unicorn Rider:

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

October 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 PM


Will the Buckeye State Swing Back to the GOP in 2010? (Stuart Rothenberg, 10/23/09, Real Clear Politics)

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that after controlling the state for years, the Ohio GOP got slaughtered in 2006 and again in 2008. In addition to losing the state's top offices, the party lost a U.S. Senator, four U.S. House seats and its majority in the Ohio House of Representatives over the past four years.

But timing is everything in politics, and Ohio once again looks like a barnburner in next year's midterm elections.

Strickland's opponent in his race for re-election will be former Rep. John Kasich (R), 57, a high-energy populist conservative who will have to defend himself against Democratic attacks that he was a managing director at Lehman Brothers, the financial services firm that declared bankruptcy in 2008 and helped trigger the nation's financial crisis.

Strickland, 68, starts as the favorite in the race, though his job approval numbers aren't as stratospheric as they once were.

The race is worth watching not only because of the state's size and reputation as a swing state, but also because Ohio's governor is one of three statewide officeholders on the state Reapportionment Board, which draws the state legislative districts after the next census. Plus, if Kasich wins, he could have a hand in deciding who carries Ohio in the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 PM


Obama's misguided Fox hunt: The White House is over the line when it tries to persuade other media organizations to shun the news outlet. (Tim Rutten, October 23, 2009, LA Times)

One of the lessons most people carry away from the schoolyard is that picking an avoidable quarrel with somebody who really likes to fight generally is a losing proposition.

It's too bad nobody reminded the Obama administration of that before it launched into its ill-advised campaign against Fox News.

Fox wars: The 'post-partisan' president makes an enemies list (Charles Krauthammer, October 23, 2009, Washington Post)
At first, there was little reaction from other media. Then on Thursday, the administration tried to make them complicit in an actual boycott of Fox. The Treasury Department made available Ken Feinberg, the executive pay czar, for interviews with the White House "pool" news organizations -- except Fox. The other networks admirably refused, saying they would not interview Feinberg unless Fox was permitted to as well. The administration backed down.

This was an important defeat because there's a principle at stake here. While government can and should debate and criticize opposition voices, the current White House goes beyond that. It wants to delegitimize any significant dissent. The objective is no secret. White House aides openly told Politico that they're engaged in a deliberate campaign to marginalize and ostracize recalcitrants, from Fox to health insurers to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

There's nothing illegal about such search-and-destroy tactics. Nor unconstitutional. But our politics are defined not just by limits of legality or constitutionality. We have norms, Madisonian norms.

Madison argued that the safety of a great republic, its defense against tyranny, requires the contest between factions or interests. His insight was to understand "the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties." They would help guarantee liberty by checking and balancing and restraining each other -- and an otherwise imperious government.

Factions should compete, but they should also recognize the legitimacy of other factions and, indeed, their necessity for a vigorous self-regulating democracy. Seeking to deliberately undermine, delegitimize and destroy is not Madisonian. It is Nixonian.

And the UR is almost as inept at it as his predecessor was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


House health care bill exceeds $1 trillion (DAVID ESPO, 10/23/09, AP)

Health care legislation taking shape in the House carries a price tag of at least $1 trillion over a decade, significantly higher than the target President Barack Obama has set, congressional officials said Friday as they struggled to finish work on the measure for a vote early next month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


Disappointed Sarkozy shifts gaze from Washington (Crispian Balmer, 10/23/09, Reuters)

- French President Nicolas Sarkozy, initially dubbed Sarko the American for his pro-U.S. stance, is finding it much tougher to deal with Washington than he had anticipated and is recalibrating his policies accordingly.
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Stung by perceived snubs from U.S. President Barack Obama and encouraged by the growing importance of the G20, Sarkozy is increasingly reaching out to non-aligned states in an effort to extend France's international influence.

He has forged especially close ties with Brazil, is seeking alliances in central Asia and is intensifying his activities in the Middle East, using multi-billion dollar military and civilian nuclear trade deals as his calling card.

These initiatives are being played out against a discordant tone in Franco-American relations. This lack of harmony does not constitute a crisis, but is nonetheless raising eyebrows.

Strange how it's only now that we discover how good our relations with allies were under W...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


How Václav Klaus Blocks European Union (Timothy Snyder, 10/23/09, NY Review of Books)

The Czech Republic is a country where everything seems to work, except for the political system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


A deficit revolt in the Senate (David S. Broder, October 23, 2009, Washington Post)

It is never fun for the party in power, but this year will be harder than ever on the Democrats. The final accounting on the just-ended fiscal year, delivered last week, showed a record deficit of $1.4 trillion, a gap that is the largest since the end of World War II when measured against the size of the overall economy.

The Republicans are poised to pounce. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell accused the Democrats of "acting like a teenager on a spending spree with his parent's credit card with no regard to who pays the bill." [...]

"People understand that we're stealing from future generations," Bayh said. "We're setting the stage for another Perot moment," referring to the 1992 campaign, when independent candidate Ross Perot received 19 percent of the popular vote, making it impossible for incumbent George H.W. Bush to win a second term.

Governors Daniels, Barbour, Jindal & Pawlenty should be banging the debt/spending reduction drum relentlessly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Three Extreme High-Speed Rail Concepts for Las Vegas: Las Vegas developers hear proposals for new transportation methods to hook up visitors from LA (Jeremy Hsu, 10.23.2009, Popular Science)

The Tubular Rail concept would work as a single rigid train that threads the needle through elevated support rings. Each train would have guidance rails, and would keep in contact with the electric motors on at least three rings at all times, to reach speeds of up to 150 mph. [...]

A second concept by Californian Frank Randak, called AVT SolaTrek, would take cars off highways and load them onto moving maglev trains. The cars first get onto an automated shuttle vehicle that speeds up to match a moving train, and then load onto the train via conveyor belt. Passengers can then leave their cars to check in with private entertainment compartments.

A third idea called America's Sunlight Bullet Expressway would combine a nationwide network of electric trains with guideways that could also hold transmission lines. The trains themselves would resemble air-cushioned vehicles, and could theoretically carry up to 1,400 passengers at speeds of up to 500 mph.

...unless they're hosting the World Championship of Naked Crisco Twister and the Final Four is Selma Hayek, Serena Williams, Margaret Thatcher and me.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Poll: US belief in global warming is cooling (DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press)

Americans seem to be cooling toward global warming. Just 57 percent think there is solid evidence the world is getting warmer, down 20 points in just three years, a new poll says. And the share of people who believe pollution caused by humans is causing temperatures to rise has also taken a dip, even as the U.S. and world forums gear up for possible action against climate change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Beirut's Shiite bastion revives after '06 war (HAMZA HENDAWI, 10/23/09, Associated Press)

The sprawling Shiite suburb of south Beirut has made a comeback after the destruction wreaked by Israel during 2006 fighting, a symbol of the community's resilience at a time when its political patron, Hezbollah, is seeking a greater voice in Lebanon's government.

The district, called simply Dahiyah - meaning "the suburb" in Arabic - is the stronghold of Hezbollah, and was heavily targeted by Israel during its war with the militant Shiite group three years ago. The bombardment leveled Hezbollah's headquarters as well as entire blocks across the neighborhood.

Now dozens of newly built or repaired apartment blocs stand in place of those destroyed, the result of a reconstruction program led by Hezbollah, which receives millions of dollars a year in aid from its ally Iran.

Property prices are soaring. The district's main streets are congested bumper-to-bumper with cars, while uniformed Hezbollah members direct traffic. Commerce is thriving, restaurants are packed.

There is no Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Glitch Complicates Calculations of Carbon Emissions (SINDYA N. BHANOO, October 22, 2009 , NY Times)

An accounting problem in the way some greenhouse gas emissions are calculated could critically hobble efforts to reduce them in coming years as nations move to combat global warming, scientists warn in a new report.

The accounting irregularity even gives the impression that clearing the world’s forests, which absorb and thereby diminish heat-trapping carbon dioxide, is good for the climate, the scientists write in an article published Friday in the journal Science.

...NH was 90% clear cut during the time these people think climate was at its Goldilocks optimum, but now we're reforested and the polar bears are dropping like flies....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


In Massachusetts, Obama won't promote state's plan (Ceci Connolly, 10/23/09, Washington Post)

President Obama will travel Friday to Massachusetts, one of only two states to implement a universal health-care program similar to his ambitions for the entire country. But he does not plan to use the trip to make his case for far-reaching reform; he will tout clean energy and raise money for the Democratic governor.

The president's critics say his reluctance to spotlight the Massachusetts model is real-world evidence that his vision would not work on a national scale. High costs have forced the state to trim benefits for legal immigrants and prompted one safety-net hospital to sue over a $38 million shortfall.

Obama's allies -- and even one prominent adversary -- see a more nuanced picture....

"Nuance" being Democrat for, "reality refuses to conform to my ideas."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Obama, Clinton Connected to Blago Scheme: Obama sent Blago a list of 16 people he wanted Blago to hire (ANDREW GREINER, Oct 16, 2009, NBC Chicago)

No one needs more evidence that Rod Blagojevich is corrupt.

The Sun-Times dug some up anyway, and the latest round of Blago shadiness goes all the way to the top.

Turns out that when the former governor instituted a state-hiring freeze back in 2003, it was just a ruse so that he could do favors for a bunch of politically connected buddies. He ended up hiring just over 2,500 people during the so-called freeze.

But these weren’t ordinary applicants; politicians, including then-state-senator Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, pushed all the job seekers on Blago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Bay State liberals shun Barack Obama’s visit (Edward Mason and Hillary Chabot, October 23, 2009, Boston Herald)

President Obama blows into the bluest state tomorrow facing a cold shoulder from once true-blue admirers, as gay rights activists, anti-war protesters and vexed environmentalists vow to picket a fund-raiser he’s headlining for Gov. Deval Patrick - a marquee event that hasn’t even sold out.

As of last night, liberals who once braved frigid temperatures to behold Obama were shunning tickets to the fund-raiser at the posh Westin Copley Place featuring the president, sources told the Herald. And despite campaign denials, Patrick operatives reportedly were pushing the ducats - between $500 and $6,000 - by e-mail up to the last minute.

“He’s reaching the point in his presidency where not only has the honeymoon ended, but the fighting has begun,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia presidential scholar.

We were walking home from school the other day and the Daughter Judd said: I've learned an important lesson about presidents.


They all lie to get you to vote for them.

Why do you say that?

Because if my pony isn't in the driveway when we get home I'll never believe President Obama again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Deeds ignored advice, White House says (Rosalind S. Helderman and Anne E. Kornblut, 10/23/09, Washington Post)

Sensing that victory in the race for Virginia governor is slipping away, Democrats at the national level are laying the groundwork to blame a loss in a key swing state on a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign that failed to fully embrace President Obama until days before the election.

...is that there wasn't enough ash.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Mistakes undermined message (JASON WHITLOCK, 10/23/09, FoxSports.com)

Let me first apologize to Rush Limbaugh.

Last week in explaining why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell needed to put an end to Limbaugh's latest publicity stunt, I attributed racially insensitive quotes to Limbaugh that I read in two Missouri newspapers, saw on CNN and confirmed through a Google search. Prior to posting the article, I never found a denial of these quotes by Limbaugh, and had no reason to believe those statements were not true.

It was unfair to Limbaugh. And I regret that. I've commented on some of his earlier controversies. I've long been an admirer of his broadcasting skills.

Mr. Limbaugh is an entertainer not a journalist, like his critics who got the facts so wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


The Copenhagen Climate Extortion: Going into the Copenhagen climate change summit, the delegates appear to be competing over who can offer the most ambitious and least realistic targets. (Jon Entine, October 23, 2009, The American)

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, commissioned by the British government, estimates that reorganizing the world energy economy could cut GDP growth by upwards of 1 percent, and perhaps as much as 5 percent, per year. Under current Copenhagen treaty drafts, developed countries are expected to cover the modernization and clean up of the energy sector in developing countries, which could result in an annual transfer of $150 billion by 2020.

Now, some measure of wealth redistribution can have merits, including greater global stability. And if indeed the world faces environmental disruptions from greenhouse gases and the more prosperous countries are in a better position to finance mitigation efforts, then expediency if nothing else dictates that targeted foreign aid to address climate change may be warranted. But there must be limits—and strings. And there’s no sign yet that’s in the cards.

The issue was put in play earlier this month, rather bluntly, in an interview with the incoming president of the summit, Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for climate and energy. It’s the obligation of North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan to “prove … to the developing world [that] we know we’re going to pay, or there will be no agreement,” she said.

Let’s be clear on what she is saying. The economically successful countries of the world are being threatened into reducing emissions far beyond what is possible, its impact on growth and world economic stability be damned, while simultaneously financing the transition of the rest of the world to a lower-carbon economy.

...that while the Administration whines about the Tories being too British and Euroskeptical, even Democrats have better sense that to try and sell this sort of internationalism/transnationalism to the American people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Terrified Whispers in Pakistan: As reliable information in Pakistan dries up, ours has become a fearful populace addicted to rumors and whispers about who is targeted next. (Fatima Bhutto, 10/23/09, Daily Beast)

There are stories being whispered in Pakistan these days, and their veracity is hard to gauge. No one knows what is real anymore in this country that seems hell-bent on self-destruction. In fact, our chief industry now seems to be the manufacture of fear, and everyone’s on the assembly line. The combination of ever-present violence and lack of reliable information has made us a country of debilitating Chinese whispers.

Doesn't matter whether they're true or not as long as they keep the political/military classes fighting the war instead of providing aid and comfort to the Islamicists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Obama's Foxhole: Is journalistic objectivity at risk of becoming collateral damage in the war between Fox News and the White House? (Terence Samuel, October 23, 2009, American Prospect)

The larger issue at play is whether the public will ever again seriously differentiate between newsgathering that serves the public good, and information-gathering that serves a specific cause. Fox is not the New York Times, and we should make the distinction.

Destroying the bizarre notion that the news media is the one uniquely objective human institution is all to the good. Let them all be honest about their subjectivity and we can decide about their content. Pretending, for instance, that a NY Times that is staffed by a Gay Mafia is the model of objectivity is obviously silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


Miliband on Cameron (ROGER COHEN, 10/23/09, NY Times)

Cameron, whose party holds an advantage of close to 17 percent over Labour, is likely to become prime minister next year. Britain, governed by Labour for a dozen years, craves change.

A centrist makeover has characterized Cameron politics (didn’t it work for Blair?), but not on Europe. Bowing to his party’s Euroskeptics, he’s broken with the conservative mainstream in the European Union — the parties of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — and hopped into bed with a band of central European right-wingers united only in loathing for European federalism.

No one will mourn the passing of France, Italy and Germany, but we are an English country and ought to be helping them avoid the continent's fate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 AM


Bands want to know if their music was used on Gitmo detainees (CNN, October 22, 2009)

A coalition of top musicians, including R.E.M. and Pearl Jam, want to know if their music was used by the U.S. military as part of controversial interrogation methods at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The artists have endorsed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, which were filed Thursday morning, asking the U.S. government to declassify documents that would reveal which artists' work was used on detainees at U.S. prison facilities and military detention centers, including the one at Guantanamo Bay.

Isn't the question they should be asking: Was it helpful to my country's security?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 AM


Obama's Third World press rant (Wesley Pruden, 10/23/09, Washington Times)

Throwing rotten eggs at "them lyin' newspapers" has always been great sport in America, and sometimes even effective politics. But it has to be done with wit and humor, which may be above Barack Obama's pay grade.

October 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Senate Hands Reid a Defeat on ‘Doc Fix’ (John Stanton, 10/21/09, Roll Call)

The Senate soundly defeated a $250 billion extension to the Medicare physician payment program Wednesday, marking a potentially inauspicious start for Democratic leaders to the formal floor debate on the larger health care overhaul.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — normally a master vote-counter — was unable to muster even a simple majority for the “doc fix” bill: The legislation was defeated, 47 to 53. A clearly nervous Reid paced the chamber’s well just prior to the vote and afterward looked to blame the defeat on GOP Senators, arguing it was a result of “activities and actions by the Republican-dominated Washington.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 PM


A classic game is still a winner as it rolls into electronic future (Amy Z. Quinn, 10/21/09, The Inquirer)

The first Skee-Ball alleys were 36 feet long, but the length had been trimmed to 14 feet by the time the first known Skee-Ball tournament was held in an Atlantic City boardwalk arcade in 1932. In 1981, the lanes had been pared down to the now-standard 10 feet. The original hand-crank ball returns were gone by the time the electronic version debuted in 1974, and over the years the old-timey wooden balls - exactly 31/8 inches in diameter and made of compressed sawdust from cutting the wood for the lanes - have been replaced with plastic, Graham said.

"The plastic balls are OK, but they really don't make the same sound," Graham said. "Unfortunately, [the wooden balls] are really hard to come by these days - the company we used to use to make the balls shut down."

Still, Skee-Ball forges ahead, employing about 35 people who make, market, and service a catalog of arcade and amusement games. And while it seems to go hand-in-hand with summer weekends at the Jersey Shore, about 100,000 Skee-Ball lanes are currently operating in arcades, bars, and amusement centers worldwide, Graham said.

The iPhone version of the game, developed by Brooklyn-based Freeverse Inc., was released Sept. 22 and has since been near the top of the list of most popular paid downloads. It was important that the digital version somehow capture the spirit of the actual game in order for Skee-Ball Gaming Co. to license its brand, Graham said.

"It's really an odd mix because you have so many people who are interested in the retro feel of the Skee-Ball game, but then on the other hand you have all this technology going on, and it's just amazing that it's transcended the generations," she said.

Reviewers and gamer blogs have raved about the handheld game's rich, authentic sound - the clacking noise the balls make as they roll down into the chute is spot-on - and the ability to direct the ball toward the higher-point targets by tilting the iPhone. The game also scores with detailed graphic touches like the familiar prize tickets and appropriately cheesy items for which to redeem them, such as plastic vampire teeth and a paper finger trap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Islamabad dismayed by 'dithering' US (Zahid U Kramet, 10/23/09, Asia Times)

[A]n editorial in The Wall Street Journal quoted Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Quereshi, saying in response to a question on a US pullout from Afghanistan, "This will be disastrous. You will lose credibility. If you go in, why are you going out without getting the job done? Why did you spend so many billion dollars and lose so many lives? Why did we ally with you?" And regarding the consequences, he predicted "more suicide bombings" with an emboldened Taliban, no longer pressed by coalition forces, knocking at Islamabad's doors.

This view pervades Pakistan's government circles and when such sages as the Brookings Institute's Bruce Riedel, interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman of the Council on Foreign Relations, present the perspective of an Obama perplexed over "How many troops? For what purpose? Where will they be deployed? What are the rules of engagement?" it does nothing to restore the confidence of a besieged regional ally.

In short, the fine line between "rethinking" and "dithering" to which Riedel refers, is fast fading and Obama needs to strategize on his Afghan policy now if he want to make an impact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Is China's rebound for real?: Some economists say that too much of China's growth is coming from investment in inefficient state-owned enterprises and that stimulus policies are diverting the country away from long-needed reform. (David Pierson, October 21, 2009, LA Times)

Though economists credit Beijing's policies for carrying the country through the worst of the global crisis, some question the sustainability of the recovery. Some say that too much of China's growth is coming from investment in inefficient state-owned enterprises and that current stimulus policies are diverting the country away from the reform long needed to balance its economy.

"They're moving the economy in exactly the wrong direction," said Yasheng Huang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management and a leading critic of China's economic strategy.

At the heart of China's recovery is a $585-billion government stimulus package and a torrent of new bank loans totaling $1.27 trillion this year. The injection has kept industry humming, maintained employment at reasonable levels and launched billions of dollars' worth of public infrastructure projects.

China Struggles to Curb Steel Output (CHUIN-WEI YAP , 10/22/09, WSJ)
Despite China's campaign to slim down its steel industry, the country's crude steel production in September was the second-highest ever in terms of volume, underscoring the formidable challenge Beijing faces in curbing capacity.

The National Bureau of Statistics said Thursday that steel output rose 29% in September from September 2008 to 50.71 million metric tons.

"The signs point clearly to overcapacity, and we expect output will be maintained at high levels" in the coming months, said Ma Haitian, senior steel analyst with state-owned metals consultancy Antaike Development Co.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


Wired for Hypocrisy: Why it's so easy to justify our bad behavior. (Sharon Begley, 10/21/09, Newsweek)

It's not only the rich and famous who have made hypocrisy a fine art, though when advocates for the poor such as John Edwards build gargantuan homes, or family-values preachers such as Ted Haggard fess up to "sexual immorality", they sure make it seem so. But garden-variety hypocrisy is so rife—the "environmentalist" who bought a Hummer because, come to think of it, driving lots of kids to soccer practice would use much less gasoline than if every parent made the trip; the "humanitarian" who turns down the charitable appeal because, on second thought, it's much better for the poor to learn to fend for themselves—it seems as if the brain must have a special circuit for it.

That's pretty much the case, according to new research. Since actions cannot be undone, the only option when they conflict with beliefs—which produces the phenomenon called cognitive dissonance—is to alter the beliefs.

Since Man is Fallen, how would we teach our children morality if we didn't counsel them to aspire to standards we can't meet ourselves and they won't meet either? What's the old saying? "Hypocrisy is the honor that vice pays virtue?"

October 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


When Late Night Attacks: Left Worries Obama Becoming Punchline (Jason Killian Meath , 10/21/09, Big Hollywood)

A few weeks ago, a funny thing happened — call it a late night political paradigm shift. Conan O’Brien put some extra bite to his bark by featuring a tape of Sesame Street characters who earlier in the day had visited with the First Lady to talk about healthy eating. Conan overdubbed the clip and, suddenly, instead of talking about food, the muppets questioned Obama’s ‘United States birth certificate’ and his ’socialist health care agenda.’ In the past, satire like this might have been automatically assumed to be an attack on the right, but the skit ended up taking some Obama fans aback. Perhaps it struck a nerve.

Then, Saturday Night Live rolled out a skit blatantly saying Obama had accomplished nothing, and followed it up by laughing at his Nobel Prize — relatively mild in execution, but they managed to cause a stir in the press. These comedic bits, once routine against President Bush, distressed many Democrat opinion leaders. Suddenly, more than a few talking heads were calling for the White House to start making their accomplishments clear — (so it looks like they have some). Others were killing the messenger — calling SNL’s Fred Armisen, who plays Obama, “no Tina Fey.”


...can a man laugh at himself if he hasn't one?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


GM replacing traditional health plan for some retirees (Jerry Geisel, 10/21/09, Business Insurance.com)

General Motors Corp. will replace its traditional health care plan for salaried retirees younger than 65 with a consumer-driven health plan linked to health savings accounts effective Jan. 1, 2010. [...]

In 2010, salaried retirees with individual coverage will be allowed to contribute up to $3,050 to health savings accounts, while retirees with family coverage will be allowed to contribute $6,150 to an HSA. In addition, retirees age 55 and older will be allowed to contribute an additional $1,000 a year to their HSA in so-called catch-up contributions.

Retirees will be allowed to establish an HSA at a financial institution of their choosing. However, GM will pay administrative fees of HSAs that are set up with Bank of America Corp.

Monthly premiums for the retiree consumer-driven health plan will range from $150 for individuals to $253 for families.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


Is There "Hope" for Shepard Fairey?: How does fair-use law work, anyway? (Tim Wu, Oct. 21, 2009, Slate)

[T]ake a look at what has been declared fair use by courts or legislatures. They include:

* Quotations of reasonable length
* Parody (but not satire)
* Use in news reporting
* Time-shifting (recording TV for later viewing)
* Thumbnailing (resizing) for image search engines
* Reverse-engineering for a new operating platform (figuring out what you need to do to write a game that works on a Sony Playstation)
* Limited copying for classroom or educational use

What do these things have in common? One answer, borne out by the quotation example, is that fair use aids secondary creativity, or creativity that builds on an original. "The use must be of a character that serves the copyright objective of stimulating productive thought and public instruction," Judge Pierre Leval of the federal appeals court wrote in a famous article.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Homegrown Terror Plot to Attack U.S. Malls?: Mass. Man Charged With Conspiracy to Kill Politicians, Mall Shoppers in Terror Plot (JASON RYAN and DEVIN DWYER, Oct. 21, 2009, ABC News)

In what appears to be another case of an American resident plotting a terrorist attack on the U.S. from within, federal prosecutors today charged a 27-year-old college graduate from Boston with conspiring to kill politicians and wage violent jihad at shopping malls.

Tarek Mehanna was arrested and charged last year for lying about his connections with Daniel Maldonado, a Muslim convert who moved from the Houston area in 2005 to join an Al Qaeda training camp in Somalia.

...we find that the correct talking point here states: this is just another attempt by our fascist government to distract us while the gulag door clangs shut. No...wait a minute...that's only for when W was president, not the Obamessiah...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


A global wake-up call about abuse of women (Bill Williams, October 22, 2009, Boston Globe)

In their urgent new book, the husband and wife team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue passionately that the oppression of women and girls worldwide is “one of the paramount human rights problems of this century.’’

Serious abuses include female genital mutilation, honor killings, sexual slavery, and mass rape, but this book is far more than a catalog of horrors. The authors include numerous steps that can be taken to reduce the awful suffering.

...and assume that turning a blind eye to dictatorships and Islamicists doesn't advance the rights of women.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Obama must shift focus off Guantánamo: The new White House should use the president's credibility abroad, while he still has it, to focus attention on the underlying questions related to detention and terrorism prevention. (Juan Carlos Zarate, October 21, 2009, CS Monitor)

Come Jan. 2010, if Guantánamo remains open, and this looks increasingly likely, the president's credibility among Congress, the American people, and the international community would be weakened.

Even worse, the legal and policy questions surrounding how to hold detainees legitimately in the war on Al Qaeda and its allies – a formulation the president uses intentionally – would remain muddled. The international focus would remain on the closure of Guantánamo.

Just change the name and pretend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


An underground challenge to China's status quo: As Obama plans his visit to China in November, he should pay attention to the Tuidang movement. It shows that the Chinese people understand human rights and civil liberties. (Caylan Ford, October 21, 2009, CS Monitor)

The lead image on the Sept. 27 edition of the Jinzhou evening newspaper was hardly unusual. In anticipation of the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule in China, it featured a street lined with enormous red flags beating in the wind.

It would have been nearly indistinguishable from any other Chinese state-run newspaper that day but for one important detail. In the bottom left corner of the photo, scrawled on a bike rack, were eight tiny but clearly visible characters: "Heaven condemns the Communist Party; denounce it and be blessed."

Similar writings that dare to challenge the divine mandate of China's rulers appear regularly across China, hanging as banners in city parks, posted on Internet forums, or handwritten on paper bank notes. It is all evidence of a movement that has silently swept the nation. Called Tuidang, which translates simply as "withdraw from the party," the movement encourages people to publicly renounce their membership in Communist organizations. The implications are manifold. This is the first time since the 1980s that China has seen such a large, organized dissident movement – if an underground one.

The essence of Realism is that the world is less of a headache with a billion people kept quiet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Rising Debt a Threat to Japanese Economy (HIROKO TABUCHI, 10/21/09, NY Times)

How much debt can an industrialized country carry before the nation’s economy and its currency bow, then break?

The question looms large in the United States, as a surging budget deficit pushes government debt to nearly 98 percent of the gross domestic product. But it looms even larger in Japan.

Here, years of stimulus spending on expensive dams and roads have inflated the country’s gross public debt to twice the size of its $5 trillion economy — by far the highest debt-to-G.D.P. ratio in recent memory.

Just paying the interest on its debt consumed a fifth of Japan’s budget for 2008, compared with debt payments that compose about a tenth of the United States budget.

Yet, the finance minister, Hirohisa Fujii, suggested Tuesday that the government would sell 50 trillion yen, about $550 billion, in new bonds — or more. [...]

One of the lessons of Japan’s experience is that a government saddled with debt can quickly run out of room to maneuver.

...the lesson is that debt matters if you run out of temporal room to maneuver. Japan ran debts far higher than ours the whole time people insisted they were going to overtake as us the economic uberpower. It's only the recognition that they are a terminal nation, rather than a growing one, that makes the debt matter. They're on a path where there will be no one to pay the dent back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Evangelicals and Immigration (Mark Tooley, 10.21.09, American Spectator)

Essentially the NAE has endorsed the failed Comprehensive Immigration Act (CIR) of 2007, calling for a path to citizenship for illegals that critics call amnesty, and urging "a realistic program to respond to labor needs." [...]

Specifically, NAE urged establishing "a sound, equitable process toward earned legal status for currently undocumented immigrants, who desire to embrace the responsibilities and privileges that accompany citizenship." NAE's president, Minnesota megachurch pastor Leith Anderson, unveiled NAE's new advocacy earlier this month to the U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship. "We believe that undocumented immigrants who have otherwise been law abiding members of our communities should be offered the opportunity to pay any taxes or penalties owed, and over time earn the right to become U.S. citizens and permanent residents," Anderson testified. "The process of redemption and restitution is core to Christian beliefs, as we were all once lost and redeemed through love of Jesus Christ."

The notion that they need redemption for immigrating is risible, but overall it's a step in the right direction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


Volcker Fails to Sell a Bank Strategy (LOUIS UCHITELLE, 10/21/09, NY Times)

Listen to a top economist in the Obama administration describe Paul A. Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who endorsed Mr. Obama early in his election campaign and who stood by his side during the financial crisis.

“The guy’s a giant, he’s a genius, he is a great human being,” said Austan D. Goolsbee, counselor to Mr. Obama since their Chicago days. “Whenever he has advice, the administration is very interested.” [...]

Mr. Volcker’s proposal would roll back the nation’s commercial banks to an earlier era, when they were restricted to commercial banking and prohibited from engaging in risky Wall Street activities.

The Obama team, in contrast, would let the giants survive, but would regulate them extensively, so they could not get themselves and the nation into trouble again. While the administration’s proposal languishes, giants like Goldman Sachs have re-engaged in old trading practices, once again earning big profits and planning big bonuses.

Mr. Volcker argues that regulation by itself will not work. Sooner or later, the giants, in pursuit of profits, will get into trouble. The administration should accept this and shield commercial banking from Wall Street’s wild ways.

“The banks are there to serve the public,” Mr. Volcker said, “and that is what they should concentrate on. These other activities create conflicts of interest. They create risks, and if you try to control the risks with supervision, that just creates friction and difficulties” and ultimately fails.

Candidate Obama had to surround himself with economic guys we take seriously, since no one took the junior senator from IL seriously. Now he won't listen on things like trade, banking, etc?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:14 PM


Detroit: The Death — and Possible Life — of a Great City (Daniel Okrent, 9/24/09, TIME)

The riots that scorched the city in July 1967, leaving 43 people dead, were the product of an unarticulated racism that few had acknowledged, and a self-deceiving blindness that had made it possible for even the best-intentioned whites to ignore the straitjacket of segregation that had crippled black neighborhoods, ill served the equally divided schools and enabled the casual brutality of a police force that was too white and too loosely supervised. (See pictures of 50 years of Motown.)

The '67 riots sent thousands of white Detroiters fleeing for the suburbs. Even if black Detroiters with financial resources wished to follow, they could not: the de facto segregation was virtually de jure in most Detroit suburbs. One suburban mayor boasted, "They can't get in here. Every time we hear of a Negro moving in ... we respond quicker than you do to a fire."

Soon Detroit became a majority-black city, and in 1973 it elected its first black mayor. Coleman Young was a talented politician who spent much of his 20 years in office devoting his talents to the politics of revenge. He called himself the "MFIC" — the IC stood for "in charge," the MF for exactly what you think. Young was at first fairly effective, when he wasn't insulting suburban political leaders and alienating most of the city's remaining white residents with a posture that could have been summed up in the phrase Now it's our turn. But by his third term, Young was governing more by rhetoric than by action. These were the years of a local phenomenon known as Devil's Night, a nihilistic orgy of arson that in one especially explosive year saw 800 houses burn to the ground in 72 hours. Violent crime soared under Young. The school system began to cave in on itself. When jobs disappeared with the small businesses boarding up their doors and abandoning the city, the mayor seemed to find it more useful to bid the business owners good riddance than to address the job losses. Detroit was dying, and its mayor chose to preside over the funeral rather than find a way to work with the suburban and state officials who now detested him every bit as much as he had demonized them.

When Young finally left office in 1993, he bragged that Detroit had achieved a "level of autonomy ... that no other city can match." He apparently didn't care that it was the autonomy of a man in a rowboat, in the middle of the ocean, without oars.

But Young isn't the only politician to blame. In 1956, when I was 8 years old, my Congressman was John D. Dingell. There are people in southeastern Michigan who are still represented by Dingell, the longest-serving member in the history of the House of Representatives. "The working men and women of Michigan and their families have always been Congressman Dingell's top priority," his website declares, and I suppose he thinks he has served them well — by resisting, in succession, tougher safety regulations, more-stringent mileage standards, relaxed trade restrictions and virtually any other measure that might have forced the American automobile industry to make cars that could stand up to foreign competition.

By so ably satisfying the wishes of the auto industry — by encouraging southeastern Michigan's reliance on this single, lumbering mastodon — Dingell has in fact played a signal role in destroying Detroit. He was hardly alone; if you wanted to get elected in southeastern Michigan, you had to support the party line dictated by the Big Four — GM, Ford, Chrysler and their co-conspirator the United Auto Workers. Anything that might limit the industry's income was bad for the auto industry, and anything bad for the auto industry was deemed dangerous to Detroit.

The UAW had once been the most visionary of American unions. As early as the 1940s, UAW president Walter Reuther was urging the auto companies to produce small, inexpensive cars for the average American. In 1947 and '48 the union even offered to cut wages if the Big Three would reduce the price of their cars. But by the early 1980s, the UAW had entered into a nakedly self-interested pact with the auto companies. After the union's president joined GM's chief congressional lobbyist to defeat a tougher mileage standard in 1990, the lobbyist declared that "we would not have won without the UAW." It was, he said, "one of the proudest days of my life."

The union really can't be blamed for pushing for fabulous wages and lush benefits for its members — that game required two players, and the automakers knew only how to say yes. But the union leadership's fatal mistake was insisting that workers with comparable skills and comparable seniority be paid comparable wages, irrespective of who employed them. If a machinist at a prosperous GM deserved $25 an hour, so did a machinist who worked for a barely profitable Chrysler or for a just-holding-its-own supplier plant that made axles or wheels or windshield wipers.

This defiant inattention to market reality not only placed the less healthy firms in peril, but by pricing labor so uniformly high, it also closed off Detroit to any possible diversification of its industrial base.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


The Front: The Taliban-Al Qaeda merger. (Peter Bergen, October 19, 2009, New Republic)

In August 2008, prosecutors allege, Zazi traveled to Pakistan's tribal regions and studied explosives with Al Qaeda members. If that story sounds familiar, it should: Nearly every major jihadist plot against Western targets in the last two decades somehow leads back to Afghanistan or Pakistan. The first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was masterminded by Ramzi Yousef, who had trained in an Al Qaeda camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Ahmed Ressam, who plotted to blow up LAX airport in 1999, was trained in Al Qaeda's Khaldan camp in Afghanistan. Key operatives in the suicide attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000 trained in Afghanistan; so did all 19 September 11 hijackers. The leader of the 2002 Bali attack that killed more than 200 people, mostly Western tourists, was a veteran of the Afghan camps. The ringleader of the 2005 London subway bombing was trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistan. The British plotters who planned to blow up passenger planes leaving Heathrow in the summer of 2006 were taking direction from Pakistan; a July 25, 2006, e-mail from their Al Qaeda handler in that country, Rashid Rauf, urged them to "get a move on." If that attack had succeeded, as many as 1,500 would have died. The three men who, in 2007, were planning to attack Ramstein Air Base, a U.S. facility in Germany, had trained in Pakistan's tribal regions.

And yet, as President Obama weighs whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, the connection between the region and Al Qaeda has suddenly become a matter of hot dispute in Washington. We are told that September 11 was as much a product of plotting in Hamburg as in Afghanistan; that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are quite distinct groups, and that we can therefore defeat the former while tolerating the latter; that flushing jihadists out of one failing state will merely cause them to pop up in another anarchic corner of the globe; that, in the age of the Internet, denying terrorists a physical safe haven isn't all it's cracked up to be.

These arguments point toward one conclusion: The effort to secure Afghanistan is not a matter of vital U.S. interest. But those who make this case could not be more mistaken. Afghanistan and the areas of Pakistan that border it have always been the epicenter of the war on jihadist terrorism--and, at least for the foreseeable future, they will continue to be.

Al Qaeda isn't much of a threat, the Taliban are easy enough to kill, and the Pakistanis and others in the region have ample reason to do the killing themselves, so a US withdrawal would hardly be catastrophic. But here's the question: given how little effort is required for us to hang about and disrupt them, what's the rush to leave?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Slavic Soul Party: The Bayou Meets Bratislava (Banning Eyre, 10/20/09, NPR)

Slavic Soul Party is a New York brass band that takes inspiration from Balkan and gypsy music, but also funk and New Orleans traditions. Its members play with punk-rock energy and have won fans all across the country. Their fifth album, Taketron, is just out, and it's a brass-band fusion tour de force.

Anytime musicians study traditions deeply and then free themselves to follow their own whims, it's a beautiful thing. But when it comes to the brass-band fusion of Slavic Soul Party, that's just the beginning. With razor-sharp precision, juggernaut force and a healthy dose of playfulness, these guys start out in overdrive and never let up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Rush to Timesman: "Kill yourself" (Glenn Thrush, 10/20/09, Politico)

Rush Limbaugh thinks mankind's carbon footprint would be cut down if the New York Times' environmental reporter would just go ahead and kill himself.

"This guy from The New York Times, if he really thinks that humanity is destroying the planet, humanity is destroying the climate, that human beings in their natural existence are going to cause the extinction of life on Earth -- Andrew Revkin. Mr. Revkin, why don't you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?"

...Mr. Revkin isn't serious about his ideas, is he? None of the Malthusians ever think they're part of the "problem."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


High-Speed Rail Keeps Train Makers on Track (PAUL GLADER, 10/20/09, WSJ)

[R]ussia's new trains mirror a global push in high-speed rail that spans from China to the U.S., an effort that is buffering Siemens AG, Hitachi Ltd., Bombardier Inc. and other industrial giants against the economic slump.

Global spending on trains, tracks and equipment is expected to reach €122 billion ($182 billion) this year, up 18% from 2004, according to Unife, an international trade association. It projects that the figure will rise to €150 billion by 2016.

Rail spending "has a short-term effect on unemployment as well as a longer-term effect on economic growth," says Michael Clausecker, Unife's director general.

A high-speed rail link between Madrid and Barcelona that opened last year has stolen former air travelers, cutting daily flights between the cities in half to 35. France hopes to double its high-speed track to about 2,500 miles by 2020.

In the U.S., President Barack Obama has vowed to spend $13 billion over five years to build high-speed rail links between major cities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Pakistan, Taliban fight intensifies (Hussain Afzal and Zarar Khan, 10/20/09, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Pakistani soldiers fighting inside the hometown of the Pakistani Taliban leader gained ground Wednesday as they pressed ahead with a major offensive on a militant sanctuary close to the Afghan border, intelligence officials said.

The advances came as intelligence officials said suspected U.S. missiles killed three alleged militants in a neighbouring region where the army has tried to convince other insurgent factions to stay neutral during the military assault in South Waziristan.

Are they Pakistanis or tribes?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Dem thumbs down to Reid doctors deal (Alexander Bolton, 10/20/09, The Hill)

Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Tom Carper (Del.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) on Tuesday voiced opposition to separate legislation that would freeze scheduled cuts in Medicare payments to doctors for the next 10 years.

Passing the “doctors’ fix” on the Senate floor this week is central to Reid’s (D-Nev.) strategy for passing a broad healthcare reform bill in coming weeks. Reid told doctors groups in a private meeting last week that he would bring the payment fix bill to the floor but that in return he expected their help in passing the healthcare package later this year.

But the five Democrats are insisting that the legislation, which costs $247 billion, be offset with spending cuts or tax increases.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Iran trapped in a ring of unrest (Mahan Abedin, 10/20/09, Asia Times)

At a broader strategic level, this attack exposes the Iranian government's lack of strategic vision and action. While the United States may not have directed this terrorist attack, the fact is that the emergence of suicide bombings in Sistan and Balochistan is a recent phenomenon that is entirely connected to the prevailing regional strategic environment, which has been shaped for the most part by the Americans.

To counter this threat successfully, the Iranian government needs to articulate an alternative strategic vision for the region and develop and implement more complex policies on the outstanding issues in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The strategic environment in which suicide bombings are used is one of ethnically based sovereignty. It is a response to the West's attempts to create artificial colonies and states. Distasteful as the idea is to Christian democrats, it would be better if we were to adopt that vision there and devolve Israel, the Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc into their "natural" constituent parts.

October 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


Man in infamous Enumclaw horse-sex case faces new charges in Tennessee (Jennifer Sullivan, 10/20/09, Seattle Times)

A former Washington state man who was convicted of trespassing at an Enumclaw farm where a man was fatally injured while having sex with a horse in 2005 is accused of having sex with animals on a Tennessee farm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Generic Congressional Ballot (Rasmussen Reports, October 20, 2009)

The GOP advantage over Democrats increased from two points to five in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 42% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate while 37% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


CNN Poll: Half the country disagrees with Obama on issues (CNN, October 20th, 2009)

For the first time since he took over in the White House, Americans don't see eye to eye with President Barack Obama on the important issues, according to a new national poll. But the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey does indicate that a majority approve of how Obama's handling his duties as president.

According to the poll, which was released Tuesday, 48 percent of people questioned say that they agree with Obama on the issues that matter most to them, with 51 percent saying no. That's a switch from April, when 57 percent said they agreed with the president on important issues, with 41 percent disagreeing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast (ROBERT L. BERNSTEIN, 10/20/09, NY Times)

AS the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state. [...]

The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


Vatican welcome to Anglicans boldest move since Reformation (Nick Squires, 10/20/09, The Christian Science Monitor)

The Vatican launched an historic initiative Tuesday to make it easier for disgruntled Anglicans worldwide to join the Roman Catholic Church. The church said the move was not a swipe at the Anglicans but it could nevertheless result in hundreds of thousands of churchgoers unhappy with openly gay and female clerics defecting to Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI gave his approval to a new framework to bring back into the fold Anglicans who oppose their church's liberal stance on gay marriage and the ordination of women priests and gay bishops while allowing them to retain some of their separate religious traditions.

The move comes nearly 500 years after Henry VIII's desire for a divorce led him to break with Rome and proclaim himself as the head of the newly formed Church of England in 1534.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Obama’s Moral-Leadership Balloon Crashes: Realpolitik and misplaced faith in diplomacy keeps trumping human rights. (Mona Charen, 10/20/09, National Review)

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians endured tear gas, bullets, arrests, and torture in an attempt to topple one of the most vicious and dangerous regimes in the world. Yet day after day, President Obama, moral beacon to the world, dismissed and even denigrated them. He was not going to allow a bunch of democrats to interfere with his meticulously planned overture of friendship toward the mullahs. His condemnation of the violence and brutality of the regime was so tepid, tardy, and grudging that it amounted to tacit support for the government. Another blow to human rights and morality.

The people of Honduras, who have struggled painfully to achieve a successful democracy, threw off a would-be dictator who threatened to plunge the nation back to autocracy. Rather than help to solidify Honduras’s devotion to its constitution, Obama (together with those well-known human rights avatars Hugo Chávez and the Castro brothers) sided with Manuel Zelaya and imposed sanctions on the legitimate government. Which side better represents human rights and morality?

But surely on a matter as grave as mass murder, President Obama will not permit realpolitik or misplaced faith in diplomacy to trump human rights? Who can forget Senator Obama’s eloquent condemnation of the Bush administration for negotiating with the Sudanese regime? “I am deeply concerned,” candidate Obama intoned, “by reports that the Bush administration is negotiating a normalization of relations with the Government of Sudan that would include removing it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. . . . This reckless and cynical initiative would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments. . . . Before we improve our relationship with the government of Sudan, conditions must improve for the Sudanese people. We cannot stand down — we must continue to stand up for peace and human rights.” Why did the senator feel so strongly about it? Because “the United States has a moral obligation, anytime you see humanitarian catastrophes. . . . And when you see a genocide, whether it’s in Rwanda, or Bosnia, or in Darfur, that’s a stain on all of us; that’s a stain on our souls.”

How are our souls looking today?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


Full results show AIDS vaccine is of modest help (MARILYNN MARCHIONE10/20/09, AP)

Fresh results from the world's first successful test of an experimental AIDS vaccine confirm that it is only marginally effective and suggest that its protection against HIV infection may wane over time. [...]

The results also hint that the vaccine may work better in the general population than in those at higher risk of infection, such as gay men and intravenous drug users.

So it's effective for those at no risk?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


Don’t bail on Wall Street outrage (Derrick Z. Jackson, October 20, 2009, Boston Globe)

Just a year after the bailout, the Wall Street Journal last week reported that the nation’s top 23 banks and investment firms plan to give out a record $140 billion in bonuses. The Dow may be back up over the 10,000 mark, but unemployment is still going up, too, to nearly 10 percent, more than double what it was at the beginning of this decade. Black unemployment is 15.4 percent. States, including Massachusetts, are still announcing massive job and funding cuts. Workers are told to be patient, that jobs might not come back in a few months or even a few years, but they will come back.

But the toga party is already back on Wall Street. All that Obama has done so far is send out his charges to bleat some mild humbugs on the talk shows.

You were supposed to give up on capitalism.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


The Eagle and the Bear (Gary Hart, 10/19/09, Huffington Post))

A post-Cold War mystery prevails. Why, almost twenty years after the end of the Cold War, are there still so many members of the U.S. foreign policy community (often called foreign policy elites) who seem instinctively to dislike the Russians?

Reasons can be found: Russia is not yet a democratic society; it is far from having a genuine free press; political dissent is discouraged; power and wealth are concentrated; too many Russians lean toward authoritarianism; and so forth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Glittering Year, Golden Anniversary (TOM NOLAN, 10/18/09, WSJ)

In February, Thelonious Monk, a pianist-composer best known then for solo and combo work, appeared in concert with a big band at New York's Town Hall, an event preserved on disc by Riverside Records. In March, trumpeter Miles Davis recorded his modal-based "Kind of Blue" LP, now the biggest-selling traditional-jazz album of all time.

Tenor-saxophonist John Coltrane, one of Davis's "Kind of Blue" colleagues, in May made his vigorous "Giant Steps," an LP that helped shape the course of jazz for the next 20 years. And also in May, bassist-composer Charles Mingus delivered "Mingus Ah Um," a gospel-tinged album that many consider a pinnacle of his work.

In June, July and August, pianist-composer Dave Brubeck assembled "Time Out," an inventive exploration of unusual time signatures that also became a formidable best-seller and yielded the hit single "Take Five."

"It's a mystery why it all happened at that time," Mr. Brubeck said recently by telephone from his Connecticut home. "It's hard to know why."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Rational Exuberance: Strong GDP reports are on the way. (Brian S. Wesbury and Robert Stein, 10.20.09, Forbes)

Very early this year, when the consensus was predicting a 1% real economic growth rate for the third quarter, we were forecasting 3%. Now the consensus is up to 3%, and we are at 4%. Meanwhile, our forecast for the fourth quarter has jumped to a super-charged 5.5%.

Back in mid-July, we laid out the case for medium-term economic optimism, showing that production gains would come in the form of an end to severe inventory reductions, improving exports, a bottom in housing and modest consumption growth, propelling the economy forward at least through the end of 2010.

Now we think the case for medium-term bullishness probably extends deeper into 2011, as monetary policy is likely to stay looser for longer into 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Has Rep. Shea-Porter 'gone native'? (ALEX ISENSTADT, 10/20/09, Politico)

Has Washington changed Carol Shea-Porter?

It’s a question that’s being asked in New Hampshire as the Democratic congresswoman gears up for reelection amid criticism that she’s become an insular member of the political establishment she once confronted as a grass-roots activist.

While Republicans have seized on the issue as part of their effort to deny her a third term, the state media has also focused on the theme after Shea-Porter avoided scheduling open town halls during Congress’s August recess.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Wall St. Giants Giving Little to Obama Party Fund-Raiser (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 10/20/09, NY Times)

The Wall Street giants that received a financial lifeline from Washington may have no compunction about paying big bonuses to their dealmakers and traders. But their willingness to deliver “thank you” gifts to President Obama and the Democrats is another question altogether.

...the Party is in real trouble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Obama Made Arlen Specter Big Promises For Switching Parties. Now, Specter Wants Him To Pay Up (Howard Fineman , 10/19/09, Newsweek)

Barack Obama and Ed Rendell were delighted when they convinced Sen. Arlen Specter to switch parties earlier this year. But now that coup falls into the category of "be careful what you wish for," because the president and the governor of Pennyslvania have a problem on their hands: Arlen Specter. Here's the problem: Specter is up for re-election next year, and he was promised the full campaign backing of Obama and Rendell--not just in the general election but in the primary next May, if there was one. Well, there is one, and it is shaping up as a fierce one, against Rep. Joe Sestak, who represents the Philly suburbs. Specter, a notoriously tough and nasty campaigner, will expect his two big backers to support him to the hilt. And Specter, a 79-year-old cancer survivor with enough fortitude for the three of them, has leverage: he's the "60th vote" in the Senate. Read one way, Specter has no choice but to support Obama down the line; read another, Specter has the power, should things get ugly, to snarl the president's legislative agenda.

Mr. Specter's only power is that of the suicide bomber. Breaking with the President would mean giving up on re-election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Frustrated Liberal Lawmaker Balances Beliefs and Politics (CARL HULSE, 10/18/09, NY Times)

Representative Earl Blumenauer should be experiencing the most fulfilling days of his more than 35 years in public service.

The liberal Democrat from Portland, Ore. — known for his bowties, his Trek bicycle and a pragmatic brand of progressivism — embraced Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy early in 2008 and campaigned hard alongside him, steadily gaining confidence that the young senator from Illinois was the ideal liberal remedy to eight years of conservative dominance.

Now political reality has set in, testing Mr. Blumenauer’s faith that Mr. Obama’s election and big Democratic majorities in Congress would yield quick advances in the progressive agenda.

Instead of forging ahead, Mr. Blumenauer, 61, finds himself fighting to retain one of the touchstones for liberals this year, a public insurance option in the health care overhaul, and is watching his hopes of curbing global warming grow cold in the Senate. Mr. Blumenauer, a seven-term congressman, is bracing for a tough vote on sending more troops to Afghanistan while he frets about the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay remaining open.

“It has been a hard landing for a lot of the people that I represent,” Mr. Blumenauer, referring to his largely liberal constituency, said as he assessed the first months of the Obama administration.

Welcome to America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Endurance Test (ROGER COHEN, 10/20/09, NY Times)

President Obama is playing a wait-for-Karzai-to-shape-up game. I don’t buy it because it hangs McChrystal out to dry. As the general has said, “Time does matter” for “a favorable outcome.” Waiting is bad.

Most Afghans still support the American presence. A swift commitment to endurance, with minimum additional troops required to convey that message, is needed from Obama.

More than a specific number of troops, what McChrystal has pleaded for is “patience, discipline, resolve and time.” Do you hear him, Mr. President?

Europe's angst over Afghanistan: Allies have a question: Will Obama walk away? (Jackson Diehl, October 19, 2009, Washington Post)

As the president and his National Security Council privately debate whether to send tens of thousands of troops to war, America's European allies watch with a mixture of anxiety and anguish. They know that if the deployment goes forward, they will be asked to make their own difficult and politically costly contributions of soldiers or other personnel. But they are, if anything, even more worried that the American president will choose a feckless strategy for what they consider a critical mission. And they are frustrated that they must watch and wait -- and wait and wait -- for the president to make up his mind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Oil soars despite fundamentals; gasoline prices might follow (Ronald D. White, October 20, 2009, LA Times)

[Pump price expert Fred] Rozell says all bets are off in spite of several fundamentals, such as the facts that oil supplies are plentiful, demand remains weak and refiners have slashed production because motorists aren't driving enough to allow gasoline makers much of a profit.

October 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Employers Hold Off on Hiring (TIMOTHY AEPPEL and CONOR DOUGHERTY, 10/20/09, WSJ)

Businesses also face uncertainty about the potential costs of regulatory moves -- such as an expansion of health care and climate legislation -- that could drive up costs. And many employers have learned how to produce more with a smaller number of people than they previously thought possible.

That is what happened at D'Addario & Co. in Farmingdale, N.Y., one of the world's leading producers of guitar strings. [...]

[Chief Executive James] D'Addario sees no reason to start hiring. He shed 150 workers and cut hours during the darkest days of the slump, bringing the head count down to 950. A host of efficiency moves -- such as teaching many workers to inspect their own work, which let D'Addario go from 17 inspectors to 10 -- has saved so much labor that there's no need to hire now. "I estimate we can produce 15% to 20% more with the same number of people," he said.

The same story is being repeated across the economy -- in factories, hotels and banks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 PM


Coal gets emissions free pass until 2033 (ROSSLYN BEEBY, 10/20/09, Canberra Times)

Australia will not cut emissions from coal-fired power for at least 24 years under the Rudd Government's proposed carbon trading scheme, a leading economist says.

Instead, the scheme's polluter loopholes will force the Government to spend millions buying carbon permits from developing countries to meet even modest greenhouse targets, The Australia Institute's executive director Richard Denniss said.

''The whole point of the scheme is not to reduce Australia's domestic emissions but to import a large number of permits from developing countries,'' he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Large Hadron Collider 'Being Sabotaged from the Future' (Fox News, October 19, 2009)

Scientists claim the giant atom-smashing Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is being jinxed from the future to save the world.

In a bizarre sci-fi theory, Danish physicist Dr Holger Bech Nielsen and Dr Masao Ninomiya from Japan claim nature is trying to prevent the LHC from finding the elusive Higgs boson. Called the "God particle," the theoretical boson could explain the origins of mass in the universe — if physicists can find the darn thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Columnist Says Obama Screwed Up on Peace Push: Arab Israeli ‘Jerusalem Post’ writer blames Palestinian leadership, too (Jordan Hirsch, Oct 19, 2009, Tablet)

“He made three crucial mistakes,” Abu-Toameh said of Obama in an interview after his talk. “The first was manufacturing a crisis out of the settlements issue; the Palestinian Authority never made an issue of the settlements until Obama demanded a full freeze. The second mistake was dragging [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas to New York to meet with Obama and Bibi on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly—that was a humiliation for Abbas because the Friday before the meeting Abbas had announced he unequivocally that he would not restart the peace process until all settlement activity had been frozen. Then the third mistake came with the Goldstone Report scandal, when the Americans forced Abbas to pull the Goldstone petition from the U.N., and then the story leaked. So this administration has wrecked Abbas’s reputation and credibility.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


The Pandemic Is Political (Michael Fumento, October 16, 2009, Forbes.com)

As evidence continues to mount that swine flu is more of a piglet than a raging razorback, why isn't curiosity mounting as to why the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic? And definitions aside, why does the agency continue to insist we're going to get hammered? The answers have far less to do with world health than with redistribution of world wealth.

Medically, the pandemic moniker is unjustifiable. When the sacrosanct World Health Organization (WHO) made its official declaration in June, we were 11 weeks into the outbreak, and swine flu had only killed 144 people worldwide — the same number who die of seasonal flu worldwide every few hours. The mildest pandemics of the 20th century killed at least a million people worldwide. And even after six months, swine flu has killed about as many people as the seasonal flu does every six days.

So how could WHO make such an outrageous claim?

Simple. It rewrote the definition of "pandemic."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:05 PM


U.S. Savings Bind (ROGER LOWENSTEIN, 10/18/09, NY Times Magazine)

For the 35 years after World War II, Americans dutifully set aside about 9 percent of their income. Their savings were plowed into stocks and bonds and formed a pool of capital for investments and new technologies (and a couple of wars, not to mention the space program). They begat a golden era of productivity and growth and, eventually, the 1990s boom. But by then, habits were changing. Starting in the mid-1980s, the personal-savings rate declined. Credit became more available, and people became used to borrowing what they needed. (The commonplace phrase “saving up” — as in “I’m saving up for a washing machine” — all but disappeared.) Also, bubbles in stocks and real estate convinced people they didn’t need to save much for the future, since even a small nest egg would grow into a big one. By the late 2000s, the savings rate plunged to less than 1 percent.

The savings decline tracks precisely with the rise of 401ks and IRAs...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Liberals frustrated with President Obama; angry their issues took back seat to health care reform (David Saltonstall, 10/18/09, NY DAILY NEWS)

"The advocates of choice are starting to get disillusioned with President Obama," said UCLA law professor Adam Winkler.

Winkler was lobbying on Capitol Hill with Planned Parenthood recently and was dismayed to be told by a key Democratic congressman that the Obama White House isn't pushing for abortion services in the bill. The reason? It would drive away prospective Republican and conservative Democratic votes.

"For the pro-choice community, it's going to be Barack Obama's 'no new taxes,'" Winkler predicted. Conservatives famously cried betrayal after President George H.W. Bush reneged on his 1988 read-my-lips campaign pledge not to raise taxes.

Abortion rights activists aren't alone. Immigration rights groups marched on Washington last week demanding that Obama live up to past pledges to tackle comprehensive reform this year - a highly unlikely prospect at the moment.

And gay rights proponents remain unhappy that Obama has yet to overturn the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars gays from serving openly in the military - a policy Obama has long said he opposes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Supreme Court's Stevens keeps cards close to robe (Joan Biskupic, 10/18/09, USA TODAY)

The self-effacing man who is rarely recognized beyond the court's marble walls is a powerhouse behind the scenes — and this might finally be his last term. Stevens' retirement would leave a major gap among liberals and shake up a court already in transition with a new justice this term. Stevens has not hired his usual set of law clerks for the session beginning next October. He says he is surprised by media attention to a signal he might retire soon.

"That can't be news," he says, declining to reveal his plans. "I'm not exactly a kid."

In a rare interview, Stevens was expansive about his nearly 34-year tenure, spoke warmly about his colleagues and elaborated on his outside pursuits — tennis and golf, plus a daily swim in the ocean when at his Fort Lauderdale home. He eluded questions about retirement, yet his tone looking back on his work was valedictory.

"We're getting to a point that our cases are revisiting issues that I wrote on 10, 20, 30 years ago," he says. "I really have felt pretty good about re-reading the opinions I wrote many years ago. I have to confess that."

Stevens' departure would alter the court and could strengthen the hand of its conservatives. President Obama likely would appoint a successor whose votes are similarly liberal. But it would be unlikely that a freshman justice could assume Stevens' mantle of leadership on the divided court, which has four reliable conservatives and four liberals, and Kennedy often straddling the middle.

Harvard University law professor Richard Fallon says Stevens' retirement would leave a significant void, especially given the role he took on after liberals William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall retired in the 1990s.

...is that the UR repeated the Gipper's mistake, appointing the unopposable quota hire first, rather than the intellectual heavyweight at the point in your presidency when you're strongest. The next justice will be even more moderate than the wise Latina, meaning President Obama will have moved the Court significantly to the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Combat's positive effects examined (Gregg Zoroya, 10/18/09, USA TODAY)

Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Frikken says three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan have robbed him of precious time with his family, but have also changed him — in some ways for the better.

A sense of personal strength, appreciation for life and love of family have all been enhanced, says Frikken, 39, who directs artillery fire for 10th Mountain Division troops fighting here. "I will never be the same person I was before my combat experiences," he says.

What happens to soldiers like Frikken has led Army leaders to develop a resiliency program that urges GIs to look inward and discover how combat may have made them emotionally stronger.

Research appears to show that many people can emerge from traumatic experiences with greater self-confidence, a keener sense of compassion and appreciation for life, says Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. Cornum and other experts call this concept post-traumatic growth.

"If it isn't fun, why do it?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


The Obama-Dubya Connection: Obama is a lot more like Bush 43 than anyone involved—including Obama and Bush 43—would readily admit. (Jon Meacham, 10/18/09, NEWSWEEK)

..that it took Newsweek two years to figure it out....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


... that Egypt nearly makes the top 10.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


It's the merriment that makes him dangerous to the Left.

October 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Pakistan closes in on Taliban leader's South Waziristan strongholds (Saeed Shah in Lahore and Daud Khan in Peshawar, 18 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Troops were advancing towards the towns of Makeen and Ladha in the mountainous region of South Waziristan, in a military offensive that could prove decisive in the country's struggle against Islamic extremism.

On the second day of the long-awaited ground operation, soldiers on three sides approached the area held by the fearsome Mehsud tribe, which forms the backbone of the Pakistani Taliban movement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


McDonnell, a poised presence, could lift the GOP (Tyler Whitley, October 18, 2009, Richmond Times-Dispatch)

On the campaign trail, the former attorney general is cool and unflappable, traveling the state in a Ford Expedition with a McD4VA license plate.

In his trademark button-down shirt and khakis, he moves slowly through a crowd, pausing to shake hands and make conversation with each prospective voter. He also exhibits a keen sense of humor.

In February, during a dinner with reporters who cover state politics, McDonnell poked fun at one of his formative political alliances. He said he was so worried about the Democrats' media coverage and fundraising that he "called Pat Robertson and asked if he could direct a hurricane" to their Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner.

McDonnell, 55, caught a break in his quest for governor when Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling decided not to challenge him for the Republican nomination, but instead run for re-election.

It wasn't the first time good fortune blessed McDonnell's family. In 1912, according to family lore, one of McDonnell's grandfathers got sick and missed a voyage -- on the Titanic.

McDonnell was born in Philadelphia but grew up in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County. A Roman Catholic, he attended Bishop Ireton High School, where he played wide receiver and defensive back for the football team.

In November 1971, McDonnell's Bishop Ireton squad faced off against the undefeated T.C. Williams High School powerhouse team memorialized in the film "Remember the Titans."

Ireton lost 26-8, but McDonnell scored his team's only points, on a 63-yard touchdown reception and a two-point conversion.

Scott O'Brien, quarterback on the Bishop Ireton team, says McDonnell was a "tough and feisty" football player. When he scored the two-point conversion against T.C. Williams, McDonnell "was hit so hard that he vomited on the sidelines, but he was back in the game on the next play," O'Brien said. "He probably didn't weigh 150 pounds dripping wet."

Now a high school administrator in Myrtle Beach, S.C., O'Brien also remembers McDonnell's sense of humor.

"He had a nickname for everyone," O'Brien said. McDonnell called O'Brien "Sonny" after Washington Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen.

"He had great people skills," O'Brien said of McDonnell. "Everybody congregated around him."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


2010 Threat to Democrats Comes From Three Directions (Dan Balz, October 18, 2009, Washington Post)

Three forces threaten Democrats in the 2010 elections: populist anger on the right, disaffection in the middle and potential disillusionment on the left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM


The President's Frank Capra Moment (David Shribman, 10/18/09, Real Clear Politics)

Now, as the Obama era unfolds, there increasingly is less patience for the familiar arguments that the war in Iraq started in obfuscation, that the conflict in Afghanistan was ignored for too long, that a lethal combination of lax regulation and laissez-faire fever pushed the economy to the brink, and that Iran spun out of control, while Americans focused on lesser threats in the region. All that might be true, but it can no longer be part of the Obama repertoire.

Several factors combined to produce the president's Frank Capra moment.

One of them surely was the 66-page report on Afghanistan produced by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, whose recommendations for the war in Central Asia would put the Obama administration on a far different footing. The McChrystal report is forcing Obama to make a decision -- carry on or change course -- and thus already has helped brand the war as Obama's, a notion that was fed last week when PBS aired a Frontline show called "Obama's War."

One of the factors was the president's reappointment of Ben S. Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve. That gave Obama's seal of approval to the prescription, written primarily in the Bush years, for ending the recession. The result is that the Bernanke way is no longer the Bush way, but the Obama way.

So, too, with the recent meeting with top Iranian officials on the nuclear weapons issue. Iran is officially an Obama problem, not an inheritance from Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


Obama's mettle is about to be tested: As the Middle East slides towards renewed conflict, the president has to revitalise US efforts for a peace – or face humiliation (Simon Tisdall, 10/18/09, guardian.co.uk)

It's getting harder each day for the Obama administration to maintain the illusion of progress in Middle East peacemaking. The UN human rights council's vote to condemn Israel's January assault on Gaza, furiously rejected by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, at the weekend, was the latest blow to US efforts to kickstart negotiations on a two-state solution. Across the region, all the signs point not to reconciliation but to renewed confrontation.

Given how much time he spends apologizing and groveling to dictators, it's hard to believe the UR will mind another humiliation much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Before Mitchell Announces His Failure (Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, 10/18/09, Asharq alawasat)

Nine months have passed since George Mitchell was entrusted with the task of preparing a peace plan between the Arabs and Israel, which the US President took on in order to set up a Palestinian state. The US President thought that it would take him a mere two weeks to start the negotiations, but no one appears to have learned from the past.

The one thousandth plan for negotiations is currently in the process of announcing its failure, and the reason is the same one that recurs in every project of negotiations. It is the Israeli prevarication and repeated Arab stubbornness. The Arabs do not look at the finishing line where the big prize lies. [...]

I listened to statements made by chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat whom I regard with respect. He repeated the same conditions on starting the negotiations, as if negotiation were an American, not a Palestinian and Arab dream in order to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state.

In fact, I failed to understand the philosophy that makes him rigidly adhere to this condition, not because I differ with his view on the legitimacy of halting the settlement activity, but because it is a minor condition in a more important issue.

If the negotiations succeed, the settlements, including most of the ones where the Israelis live, will be evacuated, just as the Israelis evacuated the Sinai settlements after the Camp David Accord and just as the Gaza settlements were demolished when Israel withdrew from the Strip.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


In Somalia, a New Template for Fighting Terrorism (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, 10/18/09, NY Times)

One widely held misperception about Somalia is that it is rabidly anti-American. This may come from the indelible images of gleeful Somalis dragging the corpses of American soldiers through the streets after militiamen shot down the two Black Hawk helicopters and a heavily armed mob finished them off. Later American policies did little to curb antagonisms. In 2006, the C.I.A. shoveled a few million dollars to predacious warlords in an attempt to stymie a competing Islamist movement. When that didn’t work, the American government supported Ethiopia, Somalia’s historic enemy, when it invaded. What followed was a nasty guerilla war that ended only when the Ethiopians agreed to leave earlier this year and the Islamists were allowed back in. Essentially, the 2006 status quo was returned, minus 15,000 Somalis, now dead.

Still, “most Somalis are not anti-American,” said Afyare Abdi Elmi, a Somali-Canadian political scientist at Qatar University’s International Affairs Program. “Most Somalis are pragmatic and they do not inherently oppose America’s involvement in Somalia per se. They reject when such involvement is associated with warlords or Ethiopians. Neither condition exists now.”

This could spell an opportunity, as the Obama administration seems to think. The United States and other Western powers have provided the new Islamist government with weapons, money and diplomatic support. While terribly weak, the government has proven to be relatively moderate, vowing to repel terrorist groups, and seeking a middle path in its interpretation of political Islam.

The United States, for its part, is helping the government in a crucial way, with pinprick counterterrorism attacks like the commando raid that killed Mr. Nabhan; these presumably advance the mutual interest of eliminating Qaeda terrorists and weakening the Somali insurgency, while avoiding civilian casualties.

The sad thing it that helping Ethiopia was such an obvious mistake when W made it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


7 Months, 10 Days in Captivity (DAVID ROHDE, 10/18/09, NY Times)

During our time as hostages, I tried to reason with our captors. I told them we were journalists who had come to hear the Taliban’s side of the story. I told them that I had recently married and that Tahir and Asad had nine young children between them. I wept, hoping it would create sympathy, and begged them to release us. All of my efforts proved pointless.

Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.

Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.

I had written about the ties between Pakistan’s intelligence services and the Taliban while covering the region for The New York Times. I knew Pakistan turned a blind eye to many of their activities. But I was astonished by what I encountered firsthand: a Taliban mini-state that flourished openly and with impunity.

The Taliban government that had supposedly been eliminated by the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was alive and thriving.

All along the main roads in North and South Waziristan, Pakistani government outposts had been abandoned, replaced by Taliban checkpoints where young militants detained anyone lacking a Kalashnikov rifle and the right Taliban password.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Small Group Now Leads Closed Negotiations on Health-Care Bill (Perry Bacon Jr., 10/18/09, Washington Post)

Three months before he was elected president, Barack Obama vowed not only to reform health care but also to pass the legislation in an unprecedented way.

"I'm going to have all the negotiations around a big table," he said at an appearance in Chester, Va., repeating an assertion he made many times. He said the discussions would be "televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies."

But now, as a Senate vote on health-care legislation nears, those negotiations are occurring in a setting that is anything but revolutionary in Washington: Three senators are working on the bill behind closed doors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Delaware's Battle: A Big Political Test in a Small State (David S. Broder, October 18, 2009, Washington Post)

A year from now, when we are in the final weeks of the midterm election campaigns, voters across the country will probably be focused on a state that has rarely drawn attention from any but its own residents. Delaware, noted only for its gentlemanly politics, will probably be the site of one of the most hard-fought and headline-grabbing Senate races in America.

Republican Rep. Mike Castle, who has never lost in 12 trips to the statewide general election ballot, is expected to face Democratic Attorney General Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Biden, the longtime Delaware senator.

As Democrats from Connecticut to Colorado struggle to hold on to their filibuster-proof 60-seat margin, no state -- not even Barack Obama's Illinois -- will have higher priority for the White House than Delaware.

...seats like this will already be written off by then. It will be the "safe" ones--where even the GOP didn't think their own nominee had a chance--that Democrats are scrambling to save.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Fie, Fatal Flaw! (MAUREEN DOWD, 10/17/09, NY Times)

[Vaclav Havel asked:] Was it true that the president had refused to meet the Dalai Lama on his visit to Washington?

He was told that Obama had indeed tried to curry favor with China by declining to see the Dalai Lama until after the president’s visit to China next month.

Dissing the Dalai was part of a broader new Obama policy called “strategic reassurance” — softening criticism of China’s human rights record and financial policies to calm its fears that America is trying to contain it. (Not to mention our own fears that the Chinese will quit bankrolling our debt.)

The tyro American president got the Nobel for the mere anticipation that he would provide bold moral leadership for the world at the very moment he was caving to Chinese dictators. Awkward.

Havel reached out to touch a glass dish given to him by Obama, inscribed with the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. “It is only a minor compromise,” he said. “But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Iran military officers killed in terror attack (AFP, 18 October 2009)

Several senior officers in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps were killed in an attack early on Sunday in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, Fars news agency reported. [...]
Iran has previously accused shadowy Sunni group Jundallah (Soldiers of God) of launching regular attacks in the province, which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Sistan-Baluchestan is home to a sizeable Baluch minority which adheres to Sunni Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


In Oregon, an eight-year antiwar protest: The day the Afghanistan war began in 2001, several dozen people held a candlelight vigil in Corvallis, Ore. Every afternoon since, the protest has continued. (Kim Murphy, October 18, 2009, LA Times)

On Oct. 7, the day after bombs began falling on Kabul and Jalalabad, several dozen people got together and held a candlelight vigil against the war in Afghanistan.

The next day, Beilstein stood with an antiwar sign outside the Benton County courthouse. Two other people showed up with signs of their own.

The next day, more protesters came.

Since then, a war has started in Iraq, a new president has been installed in the White House, and the Taliban has been beaten back, only to regroup.

Yet in Corvallis, they're still saying no to the war in Afghanistan.

Here the nutters stand at the Ledyard Bridge, between NH and VT, with signs insisting on an investigation into 9-11 too.

October 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 PM


House, Senate Dems at odds on health care overhaul (ERICA WERNER, 10/17/09, The Associated Press)

Some of the toughest fights loom over what requirements employers should have to shoulder to see that their workers are covered, and perhaps stickiest of all, how to make coverage affordable and pay for extending it to millions of uninsured.

Senators would tax high-value health insurance plans to pay for covering the uninsured, an approach supporters say would curb health costs because it would lead to employers offering less generous benefits. The more populist House would tax the highest-income people, placing the burden of caring for the neediest Americans on the backs of millionaires.

"I don't know how you split that difference," said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. "It's not just about numbers. These are philosophical differences about how you pay for reform."

Any showdown between the House and Senate is a ways off, and will happen only if both succeed in passing their own health bills. Democratic leaders in both houses are working to finalize their legislation - a process that is itself fraught with difficulties - in time to hold floor debates within the next several weeks.

Presuming the House and Senate do pass bills, they will go to a conference committee made up of Democratic leaders and key committee chairs from both chambers. There, with plenty of input from the White House, the most powerful members of Congress will fight it out in private.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., put it mildly this past week: "There are different views in the House," he said.

If you were running the GOP 2010 campaign war room you couldn't ask for more than that Democrats spend their tenure on this voter alienating mess.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


In Shift for Obama, U.S. Settles On Modulated Policy for Sudan (Colum Lynch and Mary Beth Sheridan, 10/16/09, Washington Post)

[T]he administration's policy also marks a significant evolution for the president and close aides such as Rice. During last year's campaign, Obama and his top advisers had advocated a more confrontational approach to Sudan -- including tougher sanctions and the establishment of a no-fly zone that would prevent Sudanese fighter jets from bombing Darfurian villages. "There must be real pressure placed on the Sudanese government," Obama said last year. "We know from past experience that it will take a great deal to get them to do the right thing."

For her part, Rice last year accused the Bush administration of offering "the regime major concessions in exchange for minor steps."

Clinton is expected to frame the evolving U.S. strategy toward Sudan as part of the broader effort to engage America's traditional enemies to achieve U.S. political goals. American officials said that although the United States is not planning to detail possible rewards or penalties, many such ideas are on the table, including tightening U.N. sanctions and removing Khartoum from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Indeed, the overall U.S. approach builds on an engagement strategy that Gration has been pursuing independently for months, which has placed more emphasis on the prospects for improved relations with the United States if Khartoum pursues peace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


Why Liberals Kill (Thaddeus Russell, 10/17/09, Daily Beast)

Should President Obama continue his escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will be the liberal thing to do.

What too few Americans realize—especially the president’s anti-war supporters, who accuse him of betraying liberal or "progressive" values—is that if he accedes to General McChrystal's request for more troops in Afghanistan and intensifies the drone attacks in Pakistan, he will follow squarely in the footsteps of the great liberal statesmen he has cited as his role models. Though opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cheered loudly when Obama spoke reverentially in his campaign speeches of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, those heroes of the president promoted and oversaw U.S. involvement in wars that killed, by great magnitudes, more Americans and foreign civilians than all the modern Republican military operations combined.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


Teachers' unions uneasy with President Barack Obama (NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, 10/17/09, Politico)

A skirmish between powerful teachers’ unions and President Barack Obama over nearly $5 billion in education spending is shaping up as a preview of the battle to come over No Child Left Behind in Congress early next year.

But the tables are turned: now the unions are worried that Obama, a Democratic ally, is going to be just as tough on them as President George W. Bush, a longtime foe.

The dispute adds teachers’ unions to a growing list of key Democratic constituencies that have been frustrated by Obama’s lunges toward the political middle...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Injury blows will force Bradley to reshape U.S. (Jeff Carlisle, 10/16/09, ESPNsoccernet)

The other blow was the injury suffered by defender Oguchi Onyewu, who suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee late in Wednesday's match. Onyewu has been ever-present since first suiting up for the national team back in 2004, and had been relied on heavily during qualifying.

"Just his presence on the field, his experience makes it a tough loss for the team," said defender Jimmy Conrad about Onyewu. "But we're a team that has a good team spirit, and has shown that we have a lot of character and resolve."

Given an expected recovery period of three to four months, time would appear to be an ally for Onyewu. But his lack of playing time with AC Milan had already resulted in a slight drop in form, and duplicating his Confederations Cup displays seems unlikely if he isn't getting regular minutes, be it with Milan or some other club. Is an Onyewu at say, 80 or 90 percent going to be good enough? Will it be better than someone else at 100 percent? Those aren't sure bets by any means.

There certainly are plenty of candidates to replace Onyewu, but that list has grown shorter in recent weeks. Jay DeMerit's impending eye surgery is expected to sideline him for as long as two months, while Chad Marshall is currently sidelined by a left knee sprain.

Granted, these are short-term obstacles, and a player with the World Cup experience of Conrad is a nice insurance policy to have. But the friendly matches set to take place between now and the start of the World Cup were supposed to be a time to apply the finishing touches, not embark on a major remodel. The injuries make for a more complicated set of circumstances.

It's astonishing how few good central defenders there are in the world and we did well this Summer mainly because the Onyewu/DeMerit pairing--with Bradley and Clark in front of them--liberated the rest of the side to apply offensive pressure. If you're forced to play defensive defenders on the wings too you end up with no width whatsoever and it gets awfully tough to score goals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Change we can’t believe in: Barack Obama promised a sharp break from the Bush era, yet he seems to have stepped into the shoes of his disgraced predecessor. As the anniversary of his election approaches, Mehdi Hasan investigates what went wrong (Mehdi Hasan, 08 October 2009, New Statesman)

Now is, in fact, an ideal time to pass an interim verdict on Obama's presidency, with the one-year anniversary of his election fast approaching. Previous presidencies, from FDR on, have been judged on their first 100 days in office: Obama has had more than 250, representing a fifth of his first - possibly only - presidential term.

On health, he has proposed reforming the system of care that leaves 46 million Americans uninsured, but has retreated at the first sign of trouble, backing down on the "public option" - a government-run rival insurance plan - even though it may be the only method of ensuring that the private insurance industry so beloved of the Republican Party is exposed to real competition and challenge.

On climate change, Obama, unlike Bush, has recognised the need to combat global warming. Like Bush, however, he has failed to persuade Congress to take substantive action on emissions and has yet to pledge significant financial support for developing countries to help them cope with the coming climate crisis. His rhetoric may have shifted since the late 1990s when, as a state senator, he lent his support to a bill condemning the Kyoto Treaty, but it has yet to be matched by action.

One of Obama's executive orders calls for an increase in motor vehicle mileage standards, but this will only, in the words of Steven Hill of the New America Foundation, "push fuel efficiency by 2020 to a level that European and Japanese cars reached several years ago, and which even China has already achieved". Meanwhile, in May, the administration opted to retain, despite Congressional support to overturn it, a Bush-era rule that limits protection for polar bears in the Arctic - classed as an "endangered species" by the US Environmental Protection Agency - from the effects of global warming.

On financial reform, Obama has been accused of being a "socialist" and a "Marxist", intent on nationalising the US economy. The fiscal reality is, however, very different. The multibillion-dollar bank bailout, approved by Bush, has simply been continued by Obama in the same vein (his treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, worked closely with the Bush administration as president of the New York Federal Reserve). Obama has tried to rein in bank bonuses and failed. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan - recipients of bailout aid - paid out billions more in bonuses in 2009 than in 2008. Meanwhile, he has continued to defend executive pay on Wall Street and set himself against European proposals to regulate remuneration or impose a cap on bonuses.

Obama came to power with a "firm pledge" not to raise "any form" of taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year. However, despite an off-the-cuff remark that he wanted to "spread the wealth around", his tax plans have done little to advance even modest social-democratic goals. As the treasury department's "Green Book" on revenue proposals has acknowledged, "The [Obama] administration's primary policy proposals . . . [make] permanent a number of the [Bush] tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003."

Diane Lim Rogers, chief economist at the bipartisan fiscal think tank Concord Coalition, told me that "almost all of the tax policy proposed in the Obama budget is just a continuation of the Bush tax policy". Under the "Bush-Obama tax cuts", the only income group not to benefit is the top 0.1 per cent - households with an annual income of more than $2.7m. Like Bush, Obama seems keen not to upset or disturb the rich and powerful.

On torture and Guantanamo Bay, Obama was praised for announcing, in his first week in office, that the world's most notorious prison camp would be closed within a year and that torture - including the Bush-approved technique of "waterboarding" - would be outlawed. Last month, however, with Congress refusing to agree to closure, the Pentagon's top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, said the administration was committed to shutting Guantanamo Bay by early 2010, but stopped short of confirming it will happen. According to the Columbia University law professor Scott Horton, force-feeding operations have continued at the camp, and are apparently administered with "such violence and brutality" that one prisoner has died.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the US is increasing its capacity to imprison people by expanding facilities at bases such as Bagram, where human rights groups have documented many incidents of torture and several unexplained deaths in custody. In February the new administration told a federal judge that military detainees there have no legal right to challenge their captivity. So much for ending the Bush administration's policy of indefinitely detaining "enemy combatants" without trial.

Obama has refused to release the shocking photographs of the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation" techniques, as well as CIA documents describing those interrogations. He has criticised Senator Patrick Leahy's proposal for a "truth commission" to investigate the Bush administration's national security policies, and backed immunity for senior Bush officials implicated in torture. In effect, he is covering up the torture he decried as a presidential candidate. As the neoconservative Charles Krauthammer wrote with glee in May: "Observers of all political stripes are stunned by how much of the Bush national security agenda is being adopted by this new Democratic government."

It is on foreign policy, and the "war on terror" in particular, that Obama was expected to make the biggest break with the Bush regime. Early on, he announced that he would begin winding down the war in Iraq - but only, it seems, in order to divert US troops, spies and diplomats to the war in Afghanistan and operations across the border in Pakistan. He has approved air strikes there that have killed more civilians in nine months than died in US bombings in the final year of the previous administration.

The most significant differences are actually the areas where W's policies favored people of color: immigration amnesty; trade; NCLB; personal SS accounts; liberalization in the Muslim world; etc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Free Trade Has Enriched the World With More than Diverse Goods: The populists attacking globalization get it wrong again (Daniel Griswold, 10/17/09, Epoch Times)

During difficult economic times, import competition allows American families to keep their heads above water by delivering lower prices on staples such as food, clothing, and shoes. The prices we pay for goods exposed to global trade tend to rise more slowly than inflation or even fall. The expansion of product variety alone from trade delivers an estimated $400 billion a year in benefits to American families because of increased consumer satisfaction, according to a 2004 study by Christian Broda and David E. Weinstein for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

No consumers benefit proportionally more from trade than the poor, and nobody suffers more from existing trade barriers. The imported fresh fruit and vegetables, T-shirts and discounted sneakers sold at big-box retailers loom especially large in the budgets of poor and middle-class families.

Perversely, the highest remaining U.S. trade barriers are aimed at products that are disproportionately made by poor people abroad and consumed by poor people at home. The $25 billion the U.S. government collects each year through import tariffs is the most regressive tax in the federal arsenal. According to a study by the Progressive Policy Institute, a single mother earning $20,000 a year pays a much higher share of her income for import duties than a manager earning $100,000 a year. Labor unions and other groups that oppose tariff-lowering trade agreements are unwittingly serving a status quo that is punishing the poor.

Despite what the populists tell us, the consumer benefits of trade have not come at the expense of jobs or wages. As a candidate for president in 2007, Barack Obama was echoing CNN’s Lou Dobbs when he told a cheering union crowd in Chicago that importing lower-priced T-shirts from developing countries was not worth the loss of jobs. “People don’t want a cheaper T-shirt if they’re losing a job in the process,” he said. “They would rather have a job and pay a little bit more for a T-shirt.”

Like most politicians, candidate Obama chose to represent a small but noisy special interest at the expense of the large majority of Americans. Only one-third of one percent of American workers are engaged in making clothing and textiles of any kind. That compares to the virtually 100 percent of Americans who buy and wear T-shirts and other clothing. If Americans are forced to pay higher prices because of import restrictions, a small number of jobs would be “saved” but at a huge cost to working families.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


Brown backs Altidore to shine (Football.co.uk, 10/16/09)

Hull City boss Phil Brown is expecting summer loan signing Jozy Altidore to prove his worth in the coming months.

The 19-year-old USA international has returned to the Tigers after helping his country seal a place at next summer's world Cup finals. [...]

"Now will be a valuable period for him to settle, but we will provide the environment for Jozy to be a key player for his country next summer."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Massive war games showcase deepening India-US ties (Bappa Majumdar, 10/12/09, Reuters)

India and the United States began a massive joint military exercise on Monday, underscoring their deepening security ties they view as crucial in a troubled South Asia region. Hundreds of soldiers using heavy transport aircraft and battle tanks are participating in the biggest-ever war games between the two countries which were on the opposing side of the Cold War but now seek to build strategic and military ties. [...]

The two countries share security concerns centered around Pakistan and Afghanistan, and New Delhi seeks to enlist American support to press Islamabad to tackle militants on its soil. They also both share concerns about a rising China.

Washington is increasingly realising the impact of India-Pakistan rivalry on efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan and Pakistan will remain areas of concern for both countries and the U.S., instead of leaving Afghanistan as a theatre, is looking to quarantine the security threat in the region itself," said Uday Bhaskar, a strategic analyst.

"Therefore, this tactical exercise between the two countries to prepare their troops for future makes sense," Bhaskar, director of the National Maritime Foundation, said.

One of the most fascinating themes of the Bush years continues to be that he understood this future then whereas so few critics and "experts" recognize it even now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Lessons from the Massachusetts healthcare experiment (James Oliphant and Kim Geiger, October 17, 2009, LA Times)

[I]nsurance premiums for most residents are going up, not down. Many middle-class people who had insurance before the overhaul see little change -- except that they're spending more. They're seeing little or no difference in the quality of their care.

In crafting their plan, Massachusetts lawmakers ducked the tough issues of cost control, including how much public and private insurers would pay physicians and hospitals. So the state still has some of the most expensive medical care in the U.S. And costs are rising faster than the national average. Far faster than wages too.

"What we did was health insurance reform, not healthcare reform," said Massachusetts state Sen. James Eldridge, a Democrat who regrets having voted for the bill.

Critics of the healthcare overhaul bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee this week say that it too doesn't do enough to control costs.

Robert Laszewski, a healthcare policy analyst and former insurance company executive, calls the finance panel's bill "Massachusetts all over again." Ralph Neas, of the National Coalition on Health Care, says that the few cost provisions focus too much on public programs, especially Medicare, and not enough on reducing what doctors, insurers and hospitals charge customers who get their coverage from the private market.

"The long-term cost-control provisions are few, and they do not have adequate enforcement mechanisms," Neas said.

The agenda isn't secret, just blind to reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


The Very Separate World of Conservative Republicans (Democracy Corps, October 2009)

The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps. These base Republican voters dislike Barack Obama to be sure – which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush – but these voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. They overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail.

Instead of focusing on these intense ideological divisions, the press and elites continue to look for a racial element that drives these voters’ beliefs – but they need to get over it. Conducted on the heels of Joe Wilson’s incendiary comments at the president’s joint session address, we gave these groups of older, white Republican base voters in Georgia full opportunity to bring race into their discussion – but it did not ever become a central element, and indeed, was almost beside the point.

Democrats only gave him the nomination because of his race, so it's natural for them to believe opposition to him is racial.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Pakistan launches all-out assault on Taliban (Associated Press, Saturday 17 October 2009 )

More than 30,000 Pakistani soldiers have launched a much-awaited ground offensive in an al-Qaida and Taliban stronghold along the Afghan border.

The offensive in South Waziristan follows months of air strikes intended to soften up militant defences. The bombing has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee.

Pakistan's full-scale operation comes after two weeks of militant attacks that have killed more than 175 people, increasing the pressure on the army to take on the insurgents.

Haven't they heard, the UR has no objections to the Taliban governing the wogs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Growing Rifts, Abbas's Crisis Dim Hope for Talks (Howard Schneider, 10/15/09, Washington Post)

Obama named Mitchell as his peace envoy just one day after taking office in an effort to demonstrate to Arabs and Europeans that he was deeply invested in achieving a peace deal. Mitchell was given instructions to set the stage for talks by negotiating a package deal that included an Israeli settlement freeze and incremental steps by Arab states toward normalization of relations with Israel.

But the settlement push backfired. It raised hopes among Palestinians, who began to demand nothing less than a full freeze, and led to severe tensions in U.S.-Israeli relations. Obama abruptly shifted course last month at the three-way meeting, calling for immediate talks, but it has since become apparent that both sides were dug in.

"The peace process, by all indications, appears to be at an impasse," Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Wednesday during a two-hour news conference in which he acknowledged that Abbas had been put in a position of "major weakness" because of decisions made in consultation with the United States.

The practice of his presidency has been fatal to the promise of his candidacy.

You can't blame the Palestinians for perceiving that he was on their side against Israel. But what they, and he, forgot is that he governs a pro-Israel electorate. He just doesn't matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Impatiently Waiting (CHARLES M. BLOW, 10/17/09, NY Times)

When, Mr. President? When will your deeds catch up to your words? The people who worked tirelessly to get you elected are getting tired of waiting. According to a Gallup poll released on Wednesday, Americans’ satisfaction with the way things are going in the country has hit a six-month low, and those decreases were led, in both percentage and percentage-point decreases, by Democrats and independents, not by Republicans.

The fierce urgency of now has melted into the maddening wait for whenever.

Will the last liberal off the unicorn ride please turn off the teleprompter....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The nation's weather (WEATHER UNDERGROUND, 10/17/09)

A developing low pressure trough will sweep the eastern third of the U.S. and provide an early glimpse of wintry weather.

Stormy weather on the trough's eastern edge is expected to move up the Eastern seaboard, scattering moderate to heavy precipitation through the Mid-Atlantic states and coastal New England. This activity will continue into Sunday as the storm moves up the coast with a chance of flooding in some areas of the Mid-Atlantic.

The trough will allow seasonally cold air to plunge into the eastern third of the country down to the Southeast. Cold air will mean some snow for areas of the Northeast and greatly dampened daytime high temperatures for much of the eastern U.S.

Looks like canned beer and sliced bread have some competition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


O's 'blank screen': Why he's losing credibility (LYNN FORESTER DE ROTHSCHILD, October 17, 2009, NY Post)

IN "The Audacity of Hope," Barack Obama described himself as "a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views." This is a powerful tool in elections and explains why liberals, moderates, Democrats, Independents and Republicans joined together to give him 53 percent of the vote last November. [...]

[T]he American people have begun to judge President Obama on his record, not his rhetoric; on his policies, not his narrative -- and on his ability to govern, not on his campaign machine.

The cool and reasonable candidate who gave hope to his voters, who promised to rise above the ugly politics and big money of Washington, is turning out to be as conventional a politician as any other. Indeed, as he runs a permanent campaign from the White House, he is proving to be more committed to protecting the vested interests of his party than standing up for actual change.

What we thought was a unicorn turns out to be a clotheshorse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


'Reform' no one wants to pay for (MICHAEL BARONE, October 17, 2009, NY Post)

The legislative process can also be a learning process, and as Congress considers health-care legislation -- the latest act being the Senate Finance Committee's vote in favor of Chairman Max Baucus' bill, or "conceptual language" -- we've been learning something useful. It's that legislators would like to provide generous, even gold-plated health-insurance coverage to almost all Americans, but that no one wants to pay for it. [...]

We may be in the process of learning something else. Which is that insurance coverage that further insulates patients from costs results in unanticipated increases in health-care spending. Yes, it bends the cost curve, but in the wrong direction. That's what has happened with the much-praised Massachusetts system.

...is to deny access to the subject goods and services.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin loves London but is baffled by customs (Henry Winter, 17 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

“But the lifestyle is very difficult for me. There are a lot of rules I don’t understand. In Russia, you can break any rule. Here you can’t break rules.’’ Like what? Parking?

“My parking is now OK. Look, for example, I need a visa for my family. Here they can give me a visa only for three months. Why? In Russia, I can get a visa for one year. In Russia for players, especially in Zenit, no problem.’’

Privilege untangled red tape in Russia. “It is good that everyone here in England is equal and it doesn’t matter whether you are a bus driver or player, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you must follow the rules. I like it. It’s democratic.’’

He felt that his post-Soviet homeland was hewn with division. “In Russia, rich people say life is now better, you can buy anything you want. For older people and average workers, it is not a good time for them now. They are not sure of the future, whether they earn a good pension.’’

Coming from the captain of the Russian national team, such criticism of life back home is strong stuff. He does not flinch. “Sometimes, I speak directly and of course it’s about the wrong way of my government. I say we have this wrong, this wrong. But of course, there is more freedom, towns become more modern, more beautiful.’’

While at Zenit, Arshavin would be out about town, meeting friends. Now he spends time at home with his wife and two young children. “They are demanding! For my family, life is good here. It is common to consider it is ---- weather here but it is very similar to St Petersburg and even better in winter because there is no snow here. Of course, my wife likes it here because in London the shopping is the best.

“I like that you keep your history in Britain. You don’t use your red telephone boxes but you keep them. When we went to Scotland [to play Celtic] we stayed in an old castle. I felt it was only yesterday that knights had left the building.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


How much ObamaCare costs the average family (Dick Morris and Eileen McGann, 10/16/09, The Hill)

If your household income is $66,000 a year, slightly above the national average, Obama’s healthcare bill will require you to spend 12 percent of your income — about $8,000 a year or almost $700 a month — to buy health insurance before you get any federal subsidy. * Even those making less will have to reach deep into their meager resources to satisfy Obama’s statutory requirement. Families scraping by on only $44,0000 a year will have to pay 7 percent of their income (about $3,000) on insurance.

* Even those making just $33,000 will have to ante up 4.5 percent of their income (about $1500) for health insurance.

...so much as taking your income.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Biggest Obstacle to Global Climate Deal May Be How to Pay for It (ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, 10/15/09, NY Times)

A number of proposals are on the table to generate money to help developing countries rein in future emissions as well as to adapt to the effects of climate change. But most remain far from producing money.

In September, the European Union offered a plan in which “industrialized nations and economically more advanced developing countries” would provide $33 billion to $74 billion a year to help poor countries adapt, with the European Union’s share placed at $3 billion to $22 billion. The climate bill passed by the House in the United States in June would auction emissions permits, and donate a portion of revenues to help poor countries. The climate legislation is now before the Senate. [...]

When Germany and France suggested at a recent Group of 20 meeting in London that they would contribute to the fund by reducing other types of aid, India rebelled. Financing to help poor countries adapt to climate change or to reduce emissions “should not be at the cost of other monetary support,” said Pranab Mukherjee, India’s finance minister.

Equally contentious is the issue of which countries should give, and which should receive. Should the contributors be only industrialized nations, or should they include rapidly developing — and increasingly wealthy — polluters like China?

Xie Zhenhua, the lead Chinese climate negotiator, speaking at a news conference in New York last month, said the United Nations should not expect China to pay.

“Global warming is a result of CO2 from developed countries during their industrialization,” Mr. Xie said. “China is one of the countries that has borne the brunt of that.”

...unless you expect democracies to transfer it to other countries.

October 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 PM


God’s Battalions: After centuries of apologies for Christian perfidy, perhaps it is time to rethink the Crusades. (Bill Muehlenberg, 16 October 2009, Mercator)

He takes head on myth after myth and makes a strong case that the Crusades were in fact in many ways justifiable. He clearly demonstrates that modern historians have distorted the historical record. This takes guts, intellectual rigour and academic qualifications. Stark is the man for the job: he has become one of our finest writers on the sociology and history of religion, and is unafraid to question the conventional wisdom. In previous books, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (1996), One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism (2001), or The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (2005), he has broken new ground.

The negative image of the Crusades began with the Enlightenment about 300 years ago. Critics claimed that the Crusaders were mainly about greed for land, loot and converts. Moreover, bloodthirsty, barbaric Christians are contrasted with the peace-loving Muslims. As usual, Voltaire says it best: the Crusades, he wrote, were "an epidemic of fury which lasted for two hundred years and which was always marked by every cruelty, every perfidy, every debauchery, and every folly of which human nature is capable." But as Stark persuasively documents, almost none of this is true. The real story is that the Crusades were certainly provoked, and the Crusaders were mainly concerned to free the Holy Lands from Muslim oppression and to protect religious pilgrims. The seven major Crusades from 1095 to 1291 were, he says, episodes in "a justified war waged against Muslim terror and aggression".

To properly understand the Crusades, a lot of background information is needed. That is why Stark spends the first hundred pages of his book looking at the 600-year period of Muslim conquests and dhimmitude. The story begins in the seventh century when Muslim armies swept over the Middle East, North Africa, and southern Europe. One Christian land after another was attacked and conquered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


Robert Harris Interview: Robert Harris tells Tom Holland why he finds the world of ancient Rome, and the great orator Cicero, so thrilling in his new novel Lustrum (Tom Holland, 16 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

In the course of writing Lustrum he read The Siege of Krishnapur, JG Farrell’s Booker Prize-winning novel set during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and came across a sentence that now serves as his own book’s epigraph: “We look on past ages with condescension, as a mere preparation for us… but what if we’re only an afterglow of them?” It is a well-chosen question: for Lustrum is indeed powerfully informed by a sense of just how primal the collapse of the Roman republic was.

Harris has gone to great pains to research the ways in which the challenges faced by Cicero were specific to his age; but he also seems to believe, in the way that political observers did in the Renaissance, that the great figures of the Roman republic can hold up a mirror to the power-play of any age. Disraeli can be found in Cicero; Hitler in Julius Caesar. The destruction of Rome’s centuries-old constitution can serve warning to even the smuggest parliamentary democracy that nothing should ever be taken for granted. The Classical ideal of active citizenship, which helped to foster the political culture of the West but is now about as fashionable as cold showers, might still serve both as reproach and inspiration to a modern electorate.

But if Harris really thinks all this, I wonder, why has he not followed the lead of his friend, Peter Mandelson, and thrown himself into “the game”? He answers – and it is hard to tell just how firmly his tongue is in his cheek – that he lacks the aptitude. He does not like giving orders; he lacks the capacity for drudgery; he prefers to play the part of an outsider looking in. This, he suggests, means that the character closest to him in Lustrum may well be its narrator, Tiro. But Harris has too much the look of a Roman senator ever to be mistaken for a slave. Here is a man with the profile and bearing of someone who would actually look good in a toga. He may not have aspired, in the manner of Cicero, to establish himself as a statesman; but in other ways, he leads a life closer to the Roman ideal than that of any other writer on the literary scene. “Otium cum dignitate” was the phrase that Cicero used to describe it – which might be translated as “the leisure to devote oneself to literary projects while enjoying the respect of one’s political peers”. Lustrum is a novel that could only have been written by someone with an intimate knowledge of politics; but with that knowledge, perhaps, has come the wry acknowledgement that writing novels might actually be more fun.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


‘Islam is violent’ says President Obama’s new pastor Carey Cash (Tim Reid, 10/15/09, Times of London)

More than a year after he was forced to disown his Chicago pastor, President Obama has begun to attend services led by a Christian chaplain who views Islam as a violent faith.

Mr Obama has been an irregular church attender since becoming President, but has expressed a fondness for Carey Cash, the navy chaplain at the Camp David presidential retreat who has been criticised for proselytising in the military and his mistrust of Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


Robbie Coltrane on Murderland: interview: Robbie Coltrane is solving crimes again – but this time as a troubled detective in ITV’s compelling new police series Murderland. (Mark Brown, 16 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

In Murderland, a new ITV thriller by David Pirie consisting of three one-hour episodes, 59-year-old Coltrane plays the role of Hain, a troubled detective who finds himself far more intimately involved in the case of a murdered woman than he would like. Wrestling with personal demons of both the alcoholic and sexual varieties, Hain is, Coltrane says, very distinct from the character of Fitz, the criminal psychologist in the actor’s award-winning television series Cracker.

“You can’t compare Hain with Fitz,” he insists, when we meet in Glasgow’s leafy West End. “Firstly, Murderland isn’t about police procedure, and, secondly, Hain isn’t a psychologist. What you’re talking about is a man who just happens to be a policeman.

He's never done, nor is he going to do, anything better than Cracker. Why not make more?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


On Tape: Bolton Backs Israeli Nuke Strike On Iran? (Nick Baumann, 10/16/09, Mother Jones)

During a little-noticed speech at the University of Chicago on Tuesday, John Bolton suggested a way to resolve the controversy over Iran's nuclear program: Israel should launch a nuclear attack on Iran. Speaking to the University Republicans and the Chicago Friends of Israel, Bolton, George W. Bush's hawkish ambassador to the United Nations, said, "Unless Israel is prepared to use nuclear weapons against Iran’s program, Iran will have nuclear weapons in the very near future." Bolton has repeatedly declared that Iran's nuclear program is unacceptable. Given that he holds this position, his contention that the only way to prevent a nuclear Iran is with a nuclear attack appears to be a backdoor endorsement of just such a strike.

Since states want them for their talismanic value not their military, it's only appropriate that we nuke them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


Pakistan's Partial War on Terror: The deadly results of cooperation with terrorists (C. Christine Fair, 10/16/09, The Wall Street Journal)

For decades Islamabad has viewed and used terrorist groups as assets to be cultivated. Before the Soviet invasion, Pakistan used Islamist militants for operations in India and Afghanistan. Today, Pakistan aids the Afghan Taliban mainly in the belief that if U.S. and international commitment to Afghanistan wanes, it would be better to be friendly with a group like the Taliban that can keep Indian influence in the country at bay—the same logic behind Pakistan's pre-2001 support for the Taliban.

At home, Pakistan has tolerated a raft of terrorist groups ostensibly linked to Kashmir, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for last year's Mumbai massacre, continues to operate under various names. Its leadership roams free and its offices remain open. Jaish-e-Mohammad, responsible for several attacks in India and against international and domestic targets within Pakistan, is similarly unconstrained. Pakistan's track record against so-called anti-Shi'a militias, such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipha-e-Sahaba-e-Pakistan, has been equally lackluster despite vicious attacks against Shi'a who are perhaps one-fourth of Pakistan's population. These varied groups are ensconced not in the unruly tribal areas, but in Pakistan's most populous and militarized province: the Punjab. Punjab hosts six army corps, yet these groups proliferate and operate with impunity literally under the nose of Pakistan's army.

Islamabad has long believed it could exploit these groups for strategic aims while preventing them from causing too much "unapproved" trouble. The government would have likely come to some modus vivendi with the Pakistan Taliban, had its leaders agreed to focus upon Afghanistan rather than Pakistan. Islamabad cracked down militarily on the Pakistani Taliban earlier this year only after it was clear that deal-making had failed. With respect to the so-called Kashmiri groups, Pakistan only sought to moderate their activities to prevent serious Indo-Pakistan crises and international pressure while maintaining their basic operational readiness.

Now it's possible to see exactly how shortsighted and dangerous Pakistan's strategy has been.

But the Nobel laureate assures us that if you give the Taliban what they want they'll co-operate....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


A Second Act for the Stars of 'Once': A romance between the musical's stars fades, but their performing relationship flowers (JOHN JURGENSEN, 10/16/09, WSJ)

Fans "seem to hold on to the view that we're still meant to be," the Czech-born Ms. Irglova says, adding, "It never seems to get in the way of how they perceive the music."

After the relationship ended, the couple became "closer friends. So it's important to think of it as steps up instead of steps down," Mr. Hansard says. A Swell Season tour, starting Nov. 1 in Milwaukee, will help the singers gauge how fans are reacting to the changed relationship.

As for "Strict Joy," the opening track "Low Rising," is laid-back soul in the style of Van Morrison, featuring smoldering horns and Mr. Hansard's emotional plea: "We've got to come up because there's no further for us to fall." Much of the album's mood is melancholy, and sentiments of loss and cautious hope pervade the lyrics. But the musicians say most songs weren't born of their breakup.

One track, "The Verb," a tumbling folk song about a union on the verge of collapse, is about eight years old. The song dates to around the time Mr. Hansard and Ms. Irglova first met in the Czech Republic, when she was 13 years old and her father, a fan of Mr. Hansard's music, invited the singer home. "The Rain" sends a apologetic message to the Frames, Mr. Hansard's longtime rock band that was eclipsed by the success of "Once." (The Frames serve as the Swell Season's backing band.)

Exclusive First Listen: The Swell Season: Hear The Duo's New Album, 'Strict Joy,' In Its Entirety (Stephen Thompson, 10/13/09, NPR)

As lead singer of The Frames, Glen Hansard has spent more than 15 years establishing himself as the Bard of big-hearted but emotionally delayed men. In the process, he and his band have become huge stars in their native Ireland, but hopscotched from failed label deal to failed label deal in the U.S.

Then came 2007's low-budget indie musical Once, in which Hansard and young Czech singer Marketa Irglova starred as struggling musicians who strike up a tentative relationship in Dublin. The pair became a couple in real life, and as the film took off, they toured the world to support Once and its best-selling soundtrack. In early 2008, they even won an Academy Award for the movie's beautiful signature song, "Falling Slowly."

Hansard and Irglova have split up amicably, but they maintain a fruitful professional relationship. Recording as The Swell Season, they've recorded a lush, lovely, heartfelt gem in the new Strict Joy, on which they examine a tumultuous relationship over a mostly calm bed of acoustic guitars, pianos and strings. You can hear Strict Joy in its entirety on this page for the two weeks leading up to its Oct. 27 release.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


U.S. Report Links Smoking Bans and Heart Health (PAM BELLUCK, 10/15/09, NY Times)

Smoking bans in places like restaurants, offices and public buildings reduce cases of heart attacks and heart disease, according to a report released Thursday by a federally commissioned panel of scientists.

The report, issued by the Institute of Medicine, concluded that exposure to secondhand smoke significantly increased the risk of having a heart attack among both smokers and nonsmokers. The panel also said it found that a reduction in heart problems began to take effect fairly quickly after a smoking ban was instituted and that exposure to low or fleeting levels of secondhand smoke could cause cardiovascular problems.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The peacenik gets a lesson (Wesley Pruden, 10/16/09, Washington Times)

It's never easy to be a friend of America, and Mr. Obama is making it impossible to be one.

He got a humiliating reminder of reality this week when the Russians, to whom he had paid such humble obeisance, gave him a hard slap across the face, just to remind him who he is and who is meant to be in charge of the world. Mr. Obama expected to get something when he blew off Poland and the Czech Republic, which had agreed to host NATO missile sites at considerable cost and risk, being close neighbors of the Russians.

What he thought he got was an implicit understanding that Russia recognizes the danger of the Iranian nuclear bomb, that it would change the power equation in the Middle East. Russia would join the West in imposing sanctions tough enough to get the attention of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But not so fast. It's not as if the Russians really meant it. Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister and an old KGB operative who is obviously still in charge of everything important in Moscow, warned "major powers" - diplomatic softspeak for "the United States" - against trying to intimidate Iran into behaving itself. He said talk of new sanctions against the Islamic republic are "premature." This is diplomatic realspeak for "not now and not ever."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Bankers, bonuses and the market: plus ça change (Philip Stephens, October 15 2009, Financial Times)

Remember those hysterical forecasts about a world hurtling towards economic Armageddon. Well, they turned out to be just that – hysterical.

The global economy has taken a serious knock, at huge human cost. But even the ever-cautious IMF thinks it is now on the mend. Capitalism, to adapt one of Winston Churchill’s famous aphorisms, has proved again to be the worst possible system of economic management, except for all the alternatives.

Politics carries the same message. A backlash against free markets would have seen the resurgence of the left. Well, I suppose you could say the crisis gave Mr Obama a helping hand into the White House. But look elsewhere and we are scarcely witnessing a resumption of socialism’s long march.

The centre-right Angela Merkel has just won the German election. The Conservative David Cameron seems set to emulate her in Britain. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy looks impregnable against a divided socialist opposition; even Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, sad to say, looks secure against the left.

As for the bankers, one or two have been packed off with platinum-plated pensions. Most of them are again counting the numerous noughts on their bonuses.

Our felt need to live in a uniquely dramatic and difficult time does not make it so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


An Unconstitutional Nobel (Ronald D. Rotunda and J. Peter Pham, October 16, 2009, Washington Post)

People can, and undoubtedly will, argue for some time about whether President Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile, though, there's a simpler and more immediate question: Does the Constitution allow him to accept the award?

Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution, the emolument clause, clearly stipulates: "And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


From North Carolina, a model of how to transform education: It's proven that schools will succeed if they are genuinely comprehensive (Johann Hari, 10/16/09, Independent)

A far better system is possible; we just need to follow the evidence. And the road-map runs through – of all places – North Carolina. Something extraordinary has been happening in the state's schools over the past few decades, and the best guide to this experiment is an important new book by Professor Gerald Grant called Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.

He looks at two very similar cities – Syracuse in New York State, and Raleigh in North Carolina. They are both 1950s boomtowns turned to 1980s ghost towns. It's the same-old, sad-old story: industry shrivelled and the white middle classes stampeded to the suburbs, leaving behind shell-cities scarred by poverty. Yet there is today an extraordinary gap between these cities. In Syracuse, only 25 per cent of 12-year-olds can read, write or do arithmetic to the appropriate basic level – while in Raleigh, it is 91 per cent. Almost all of the schools in Syracuse fail; none of the schools in Raleigh do. What are they doing differently?

Raleigh's governors decided to do something bold and unconventional: they looked to the scientific evidence. In 1966, Professor James Coleman was commissioned by the White House to conduct the largest study, to that time, of what makes good pupils succeed and bad pupils fail. After years of on-the-ground analysis, he came up with something nobody expected. He found that the single biggest factor determining whether you do well at school or not isn't your parents, your teachers, your school buildings or your genes. It was, overwhelmingly, the other kids sitting in the classroom with you. If a critical mass of them are demotivated, pissed off and disobedient, you won't learn much. But if a critical mass of them are hard-working, keen and stick to the rules, you will probably learn. Watch any 10-year-old: they are little machines for snuffling out the sensitivities of their peer group, and conforming to them.

Facing their schools' failure in the 1980s, the Raleigh school board returned to this evidence and tried to puzzle out: how should it change the way we run our schools? Touring the schools, they could see why the research was right. Children from poor families need more help than kids from rich families. They are more likely to have chaotic home lives, less likely to have the importance of education drilled into them from birth, and they have lower expectations for themselves.

In small numbers, in an ordered environment, these poor children can quickly be brought up to the level of the rest, and indeed exceed them in many cases. But when they form the majority of a school's pupils, the teachers can't cope, discipline breaks down, and learning stops. A school for poor children soon becomes a poor school.

So they formulated a bold – and strikingly simple – solution. They wouldn't allow any school, by law, to have more than 40 per cent of its children on free school meals, or more than 25 per cent of children who were a grade below their expected level in reading or maths. Suddenly, the children who needed the most help wouldn't be lumped together where their problems would become insurmountable; they would be broken up and fanned out across the educational system. Raleigh merged its school system with white suburban Wake County, so they became one entity, sharing pupils. In order to soothe suburban suspicion at this change, Raleigh turned a third of its inner-city schools into specialist academies, offering excellent music or drama or language specialisms. Soon, children were bussing in both directions every morning, in and out of the suburbs.

Many conservatives savaged the plan as "social engineering" and said it was doomed to fail. Some parents were angry, and a few decamped for the private school system – until the results came in. Within a decade, Raleigh went from one of the worst-performing districts in America to one of the best. The test scores of poor kids doubled, while those of wealthier children also saw a slight increase. Teenage pregnancies, crime and high school drop-out rates fell substantially.

It's not hard to see why. Each school had a core majority who respected the rules and valued education – and the other kids normalised to their standards.

Don't expect the congressmen representing white suburbs to accept a national plan that would bus in poor minorities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Obama isn't helping. At least the world argued with Bush
: For all the global love-in, the new president has led rich nations to neglect principled action and row back from climate deals (Naomi Klein, 10/16/09, The Guardian)

The US played a similar role at the United Nations conference on racism in April. After extracting all sorts of deletions from the negotiating text – no references to Israel or the Palestinians, nothing on slavery reparations – the Obama administration decided to boycott anyway, pointing to the fact that the new text reaffirmed the document adopted in 2001 in Durban.

It was a flimsy excuse, but there was some kind of logic to it, since the US had never signed the 2001 agreement. What made no sense was the wave of copycat withdrawals from the rich world. Within 48 hours of the US announcement, Italy, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Poland had pulled out. Unlike the US, these governments had all signed the 2001 declaration, so they had no reason to object to a document that reaffirmed it.

It didn't matter. As with the climate change talks, lining up behind Obama – with his impeccable reputation – was an easy way to avoid burdensome obligations and look progressive at the same time: a service the US was never able to provide during the Bush years.

The US has had a similarly corrupting influence as a new member of the UN human rights council. Its first big test was Judge Richard Goldstone's courageous report on Israel's Gaza onslaught, which found that war crimes had been committed by both the Israeli army and Hamas. Rather than prove its commitment to international law, the US used its clout to smear the report as "deeply flawed" and to strong-arm the Palestinian Authority into withdrawing a supportive resolution. The PA, which faced a furious backlash at home for caving in to US pressure, may introduce a new version.

And then there are the G20 summits, Obama's highest profile multilateral engagements. At the April meeting in London, it seemed for a moment there might be some kind of co-ordinated attempt to rein in transnational financial speculators and tax dodgers. Sarkozy even pledged to walk out of the summit if it failed to produce serious regulatory commitments. But the Obama administration had no interest in genuine multilateralism, advocating instead that countries should come up with their own plans (or not) and hope for the best – much like its reckless climate-change plan. Sarkozy, needless to say, did not walk anywhere but to the photo session, to have his picture taken with Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Copenhagen is fast approaching, but a deal seems further away (Suzanne Goldenberg, 16 October 2009, The Guardian)

There weren't many signs of progress at the last three big gatherings on climate change. Barack Obama disappointed at the United Nations by failing to press the Senate to move forward on climate change legislation, while Hu Jintao offered no specifics on how far China would go to reduce its future greenhouse gas emissions. At the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, the industrialised economies fell short of expectations they would produce a package on climate finance. And climate talks in Bangkok this month ended in even deeper acrimony between the developing and developed economies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Choosing America's Funniest Joke: In a noisy, cramped back room at Factor's Deli in Los Angeles, eight comedy legends put down their pastrami sandwiches long enough to help Reader's Digest choose America's 10 funniest jokes. (Andy Simmons, Reader's Digest)

Meet Our Judges
Sid Caesar: His 1950s TV hit, Your Show of Shows, introduced America to Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, and Woody Allen.

Monty Hall: Television producer and host of Let’s Make a Deal.

Arthur Hiller: Directed comedies like The In-Laws and Silver Streak.

Rocky Kalish: Wrote for All in the Family, Maude, and Good Times.

Hal Kanter: Bob Hope’s chief gag writer. Wrote Road to Bali for Hope and Bing Crosby.

Gary Owens: The voice of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

John Rappaport: Writer and producer for M*A*S*H.

Matty Simmons: Founder of National Lampoon; producer of Animal House and Vacation.

It's mayhem. Amid the clamor of pickle trays and pastrami-bearing waiters, eight old friends have gathered for their biweekly lunch. They're all talking over one another, and no one's listening. But somehow they can hear Arthur Hiller regaling Sid Caesar with a story about Billy Wilder. Gary Owens, Rocky Kalish, and Matty Simmons croon ear-wrenching, plate-shattering harmony on the old Benny Goodman standard "Undecided." Hal Kanter and Monty Hall trade stories about working with Jimmy Stewart, both favorable and not ("Jimmy was a brigadier general during World War II, and he never let you forget it," says Kanter). Any silence is filled by a Gatling gun salvo of one-liners from John Rappaport: "Hear the one about the Israeli newspaper reporter who yelled to his editor, 'Hold the back page!' ?"

These eight comedy legends, ranging in age from their 60s to their 90s—and with about 422 years of comedy under their collective belt—meet every other week to kibitz, eat, and reminisce. But mostly, they're there to exercise their comedy chops by cracking wise at every opportunity. It's this group whom Reader's Digest has asked to choose America's all-time best jokes. The magazine's editors have winnowed down the thousands of submissions our readers sent in. Our judges' job is to pick ten from that collection. That is, if I can get them to concentrate on the jokes. [...]

Joke #8
A man is walking in a graveyard when he hears the Third Symphony played backward. When it’s over, the Second Symphony starts playing, also backward, and then the First. “What’s going on?” he asks a cemetery worker.

“It’s Beethoven,” says the worker. “He’s decomposing.”
--Submitted by Jeremy Hone

A man walks into a drugstore and asks the guy behind the counter: Do you do urinalysis here?

Of course.

Well, wash your hands and make me a ham sandwich.

October 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


President Obama's Trip to New Orleans Draws Criticism -- Before He Even Arrives (KAREN TRAVERS and MATTHEW JAFFE, Oct. 15, 2009, ABC News)

[B]efore the president even steps foot on the ground in Louisiana, critics in the region have taken aim at the administration on several fronts: They fault him for waiting nine months before going to New Orleans, staying for only four hours and not going to any of the other states affected by the devastating 2005 storm, such as Mississippi and Alabama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


Changing the Metaphor: a review of Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America,1877-1920 by Jackson Lears (Richard White, October 14, 2009, The Nation)

For readers of Lears's generation, most of their adult life has passed during an epoch spanning the end of the Vietnam War and the ongoing war in Iraq; Rebirth of a Nation covers the era from the end of the Civil War to the end of World War I. The resemblances between the two periods are eerie. [...]

[L]ears insists that our recent past bears a striking resemblance to the half-century after the Civil War because during both eras much of the country was in thrall to "militarist fantasy" and "mystical nationalism." Many Americans, then and now, regarded violence and conflict as the crucible of moral regeneration and national rebirth. [...]

Lears wants to swap metaphors: to replace a "search for order" with a "rebirth of a nation" (itself an inversion of the title of D.W. Griffith's film Birth of a Nation). The consequence of Lears's shift of emphasis is clear in his book's opening sentence: "All history is the history of longing." The longing in question--a desire for spiritual, moral and physical regeneration--is deeply Protestant, and it is rooted not only in Protestant patterns of conversion but also in the country's secular saga of self-invention and transformation.

It takes great skill and talent to pull off this kind of sweeping cultural interpretation, and in large part Lears succeeds, but he makes two assumptions that are certain to be challenged. The first is that to understand how the United States changed between 1876 and 1920, it is largely the lives and longings of Protestants that are worth studying. Except as historical extras, there are fewer Catholics and Jews in these pages than at a camp meeting. Not only that but the cast of Protestants is a familiar one, including John Hay, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Theodore Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Ida Wells, Henry Grady (the father of the New South), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Woodrow Wilson, William James and Henry Adams. Lears makes a good case for concentrating on Protestants--a Protestant consensus, he notes, "dominated American politics from the Revolutionary Era into the twentieth century"--but his second assumption is more fundamental and probably more precarious. For Lears, rebirth and regeneration end up being more than metaphors. They are pervasive ways of thinking--habits of mind that shaped the public world of factories, banks, warehouses, battlefields and shop windows. Longing, not capital or political power, is in the saddle, and rides mankind. This is about as far from materialist interpretations of history as it is possible to go. It is an interpretation that will live and die with cultural history.

Whether it's political partisanship or self-deception, the need to start the analysis after the Civil War is revealing. After all, consider Lincoln's Second Inaugural:
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

And George W. Bush's speech aboard the USS Lincoln:
Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our Coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.

In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our Coalition are proud of this accomplishment — yet, it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other, made this day possible. Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect, and the world had not seen before. From distant bases or ships at sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division, or strike a single bunker. Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground, in one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history. You have shown the world the skill and the might of the American Armed Forces.

This nation thanks all the members of our Coalition who joined in a noble cause. We thank the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland, who shared in the hardships of war. We thank all the citizens of Iraq who welcomed our troops and joined in the liberation of their own country. And tonight, I have a special word for Secretary Rumsfeld, for General Franks, and for all the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States: America is grateful for a job well done.

The character of our military through history — the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima, the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies — is fully present in this generation. When Iraqi civilians looked into the faces of our servicemen and women, they saw strength and kindness and goodwill. When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country, and I'm honored to be your commander in chief.

In the images of falling statues, we have witnessed the arrival of a new era. For a hundred of years of war, culminating in the nuclear age, military technology was designed and deployed to inflict casualties on an ever-growing scale. In defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Allied forces destroyed entire cities, while enemy leaders who started the conflict were safe until the final days. Military power was used to end a regime by breaking a nation.

Today, we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war; yet it is a great moral advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.

In the images of celebrating Iraqis, we have also seen the ageless appeal of human freedom. Decades of lies and intimidation could not make the Iraqi people love their oppressors or desire their own enslavement. Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that freedom arrives, humanity rejoices; and everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.

We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We're pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime, who will be held to account for their crimes. We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. We're helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people.

The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our Coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.

The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 — and still goes on. That terrible morning, 19 evil men — the shock troops of a hateful ideology — gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one terrorist, that September the 11th would be the "beginning of the end of America." By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation's resolve, and force our retreat from the world. They have failed.

In the battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban, many terrorists, and the camps where they trained. We continue to help the Afghan people lay roads, restore hospitals, and educate all of their children. Yet we also have dangerous work to complete. As I speak, a Special Operations task force, led by the 82nd Airborne, is on the trail of the terrorists and those who seek to undermine the free government of Afghanistan. America and our Coalition will finish what we have begun.

From Pakistan to the Philippines to the Horn of Africa, we are hunting down al Qaeda killers. Nineteen months ago, I pledged that the terrorists would not escape the patient justice of the United States. And as of tonight, nearly one-half of al Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed.

The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.

In these 19 months that changed the world, our actions have been focused and deliberate and proportionate to the offense. We have not forgotten the victims of September the 11th — the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.

Our war against terror is proceeding according to principles that I have made clear to all: Any person involved in committing or planning terrorist attacks against the American people becomes an enemy of this country, and a target of American justice.

Any person, organization, or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent, and equally guilty of terrorist crimes.

Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilized world — and will be confronted.
And anyone in the world, including the Arab world, who works and sacrifices for freedom has a loyal friend in the United States of America.

Our commitment to liberty is America's tradition — declared at our founding; affirmed in Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms; asserted in the Truman Doctrine and in Ronald Reagan's challenge to an evil empire. We are committed to freedom in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in a peaceful Palestine. The advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror in the world. Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope. When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life. American values and American interests lead in the same direction: We stand for human liberty.

The United States upholds these principles of security and freedom in many ways — with all the tools of diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence, and finance. We're working with a broad Coalition of nations that understand the threat and our shared responsibility to meet it. The use of force has been — and remains — our last resort. Yet all can know, friend and foe alike, that our nation has a mission: We will answer threats to our security, and we will defend the peace.

Our mission continues. Al Qaeda is wounded, not destroyed. The scattered cells of the terrorist network still operate in many nations, and we know from daily intelligence that they continue to plot against free people. The proliferation of deadly weapons remains a serious danger. The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we. Our government has taken unprecedented measures to defend the homeland. And we will continue to hunt down the enemy before he can strike.

The war on terror is not over; yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory.

Other nations in history have fought in foreign lands and remained to occupy and exploit. Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home. And that is your direction tonight. After service in the Afghan — and Iraqi theaters of war — after 100,000 miles, on the longest carrier deployment in recent history, you are homeward bound. Some of you will see new family members for the first time — 150 babies were born while their fathers were on the Lincoln. Your families are proud of you, and your nation will welcome you.

We are mindful, as well, that some good men and women are not making the journey home. One of those who fell, Corporal Jason Mileo, spoke to his parents five days before his death. Jason's father said, "He called us from the center of Baghdad, not to brag, but to tell us he loved us. Our son was a soldier."

Every name, every life is a loss to our military, to our nation, and to the loved ones who grieve. There's no homecoming for these families. Yet we pray, in God's time, their reunion will come.

Those we lost were last seen on duty. Their final act on this Earth was to fight a great evil and bring liberty to others. All of you — all in this generation of our military — have taken up the highest calling of history. You're defending your country, and protecting the innocent from harm. And wherever you go, you carry a message of hope — a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "To the captives, 'come out,' — and to those in darkness, 'be free.'"

Thank you for serving our country and our cause. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless America.

The continuity that saw the one Republican president who devoutly believed in Providence liberate the American slaves and the other, a hundred fifty years later, liberate the Iraqis, can't help but shame the Left with the recognition that they were on the wrong side in the fight they were here for--mightn't they have taken the wrong side on earlier fights too?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


Darfur Advocates, Rep. Wolf Intensify Pressure on Obama: Letters Call for Harder Line on Sudan (Dan Eggen, 10/15/09, Washington Post)

Human rights groups and lawmakers are ratcheting up pressure on the Obama administration this week over its approach to ending violence in Sudan, saying the White House and the State Department are treading too cautiously in dealing with the government in Khartoum.

A coalition of U.S.-based advocates focused on the Darfur region -- where they say genocide is still being committed by the Sudanese government -- sent a letter to President Obama on Monday demanding the replacement of retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration as special envoy to Sudan, arguing that his attempt to engage with the country's rulers "is wrong and deadly."

Peace is just another name for letting dictators stomp on their own people while the West stays silent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 PM


Obama's salute to a New Orleans charter school: The president's visit to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. school helps validate America's nearly 20-year trend of charter schools. (The Monitor's Editorial Board, October 15, 2009, CS Monitor)

President Obama's visit to a charter school in post-Katrina New Orleans today is just one more indication that these nontraditional schools are finally getting the validation they deserve. This, after nearly 20 years of scrutiny as publicly funded but privately run schools.

The Obama administration is heavily promoting more of these hybrid schools. As part of a $4.35 billion education-reform initiative, the president plans to reward states that make it easier to start charter schools that often serve inner-city children. Eleven states still don't allow charters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


How messy it all is: a review of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (David Runciman, 10/15/09, London Review of Books)

The argument of this fascinating and deeply provoking book is easy to summarise: among rich countries, the more unequal ones do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator you can imagine. They do worse even if they are richer overall, so that per capita GDP turns out to be much less significant for general wellbeing than the size of the gap between the richest and poorest 20 per cent of the population (the basic measure of inequality the authors use). The evidence that Wilkinson and Pickett supply to make their case is overwhelming. Whether the test is life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity levels, crime rates, literacy scores, even the amount of rubbish that gets recycled, the more equal the society the better the performance invariably is. In graph after graph measuring various welfare functions, the authors show that the best predictor of how countries will rank is not the differences in wealth between them (which would result in the US coming top, with the Scandinavian countries and the UK not too far behind, and poorer European nations like Greece and Portugal bringing up the rear) but the differences in wealth within them (so the US, as the most unequal society, comes last on many measures, followed by Portugal and the UK, both places where the gap between rich and poor is relatively large, with Spain and Greece somewhere in the middle, and the Scandinavian countries invariably out in front, along with Japan). Just as significantly, this pattern holds inside the US as well, where states with high levels of income inequality also tend to have the greatest social problems. It is true that some of the most unequal American states are also among the poorest (Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia), so you might expect things to go worse there. But some unequal states are also rich (California), whereas some fairly equal ones are also quite poor (Utah). Only a few (New Hampshire, Wyoming) score well on both counts. What the graphs show are the unequal states tending to cluster together regardless of income, so that California usually finds itself alongside Mississippi scoring badly, while New Hampshire and Utah both do consistently well. Income inequality, not income per se, appears to be the key.

...to recognize that what's being measured is racial homogeneity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:13 PM


Obama’s Delusion (David Bromwich , 10/22/09, London Review of Books)

Obama’s career up to now, lucky as it was, had been wanting in singular achievements for which he alone was responsible. His experience seems not to have taught him the law of natural selection in politics by which majorities are put together out of remainders. Any act that achieves something concrete will leave small multitudes of the disappointed keening but unheard. There are hurt feelings in politics, which only time can cure if anything can. This is a truth now staring at Barack Obama, on several different fronts, but he does not accept it easily. His way of thinking is close to the spirit of that Enlightenment reasonableness which supposes a right course of action can never be described so as to be understood and not assented to. [...]

That the central lesson about his domestic enemies has not yet been learned by Obama is the mystery of the first eight months of his presidency. He has acted as if he were the leader of no party; as if patience and benignity of temper could bring out the best in everyone. This is part of a larger inward confusion about his role. He seems to speak at once, or rather he seems to speak at different times, as organiser and as mediator, national leader and national healer. There is something strange about the alternation of postures, from the point of view of empirical prudence. On the largest issues that he himself raised in his opening months – his decision to close Guantánamo, to press for a two-state solution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and to reform healthcare with a national plan – his pattern has been the grand exordium delivered at stage centre, followed by months of silence. He has left his agents or his advisers or his party or both parties to mind the details.

Only to true believers are one's political opponents in a democracy "enemies." But the UR's bigger problem is that it isn't "small multitudes" that oppose things like closing Gitmo and nationalizing health care but significant majorities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


U.S. shows heart in salvaging tie with Costa Rica (Ives Galarcep, 10/15/09,ESPN Soccernet)

It was a game that originally wasn't supposed to mean much, but for the U.S. men's national team, Wednesday's World Cup qualifying finale meant more than most could have imagined.

Having already qualified for the 2010 World Cup on Saturday, the Americans were expected to treat the game against Costa Rica as a celebration of their accomplishment. However, the devastating events surrounding teammate Charlie Davies' involvement in a deadly car accident changed that. Duly inspired, the U.S. team pulled off a stirring comeback to tie Costa Rica 2-2 that left the pro-American crowd at RFK Stadium roaring as if the U.S. had just qualified for the World Cup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


God vs. Science Isn't the Issue: When the poet Matthew Arnold wrote of faith's "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar," the thought was that scientific inquiry had forever undermined claims to certitude. In hindsight we see Arnold was only half right. (WILLIAM MCGURN, October 12, 2009, The Wall Street Journal)

In 1997, for example, an International Academy of Humanism statement in defense of human cloning -- whose signatories included scientists such as E.O. Wilson, Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins -- went out of its way to attack the special dignity of human beings. "Humanity's rich repertoire of thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and hopes seems to arise from electrochemical brain processes, not from an immaterial soul that operates in ways no instrument can discover." They concluded "it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning."

Here's the problem: Almost no one really believes this. Not, at least, when it comes to how we behave. And the dichotomy between scientific theory and human action may itself have something to tell us about truth.

That's not to deny electrochemical brain processes and the like. It is to say that much as we may assent to the idea that we are but matter in motion, seldom do we act that way. We love. We fight. We distinguish between the good and noble and the bad and base. More than just religion, our literature and our politics and our music resonate precisely because they speak to these things.

Remember Peter Singer? Mr. Singer is the Princeton utilitarian who accepts scientism's view that human beings are not fundamentally different from animals, just more complex. In his thinking, those who cannot reason for themselves or have lost their self-awareness have no real claim to life. Yet when Alzheimer's struck his mother, he paid for care to prolong and sustain her life. The irony is that an act that does him credit as a son must discredit him among those whose principles about life he claims to share.

To put it another way, while we talk about the clash between God and science, in practice it often comes down to disagreements about man and morals.

But there's never any disafreement if you act on their logic--they oppose it then too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Don’t we need trained minds to handle all this?: The governing class needs a scientific background, C. P. Snow argued half a century ago. His argument still holds today (Lisa Jardine, 10/15/09, Times of London)

In the new Britain, how were those who had risen to the top of the political hierarchy through their engagement with great art and literature to decide whether or not to authorise public expenditure on the hydrogen bomb, or the peacetime use of nuclear energy? How indeed were those at government level charged with rebuilding British industry to make choices about where to concentrate investment, or those in charge of the NHS to decide which medical research to fund?

This is the context for Snow’s Two Cultures lecture, a lecture that raises an urgent question: how are informed decisions to be made about matters as important as the development and use of nuclear weapons (or, in our own time, to decide on strategies designed to save the planet from man-made destruction) if the education required to enter the governing elite does not include a scientific training? [...]

Snow was not advocating government by teams of boffins, or a society defined by its mastery of military hardware and associated science and technology, like the Soviet Union. Snow maintains that it ought to be possible for those in positions of power and influence to assess proposals put to them that involve science and technology. To prevent such political decisions from being taken solely on the basis of advice from expertly qualified individual advisers — the politically detached boffins — the entire population needs to be given a basic scientific education.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM

50 IN '10:

Will 2010 bring a GOP wave? (George F. Will, 10/15/09, THE WASHINGTON POST)

In Colorado, where Democrats have won the last two Senate races, the appointed Democrat, Michael Bennet, faces a primary challenger, Andrew Romanoff, a former speaker of the state House. Annoyed because the governor did not appoint him to replace Salazar, Romanoff spurned the plea of a future Nobel Peace Prize winner that he not challenge Bennet. The Republican nominee might be a former statewide winner — Jane Norton, who was lieutenant governor.

In Illinois, which has not elected a Republican senator since 1998, the front-runner for the Republican nomination is Mark Kirk, a five-term congressman from the Chicago suburbs, where statewide elections often are decided. He annoyed his party by voting for the cap-and-trade legislation, but has sort of semi-apologized.

Connecticut's Sen. Chris Dodd, seeking a sixth term, has an approval rating of 43 percent and has drawn several serious Republican challengers. Any incumbent with a job approval below 50 percent should worry; Nevada's Harry Reid's is below 40.

Three seats held by Republicans are currently in jeopardy — Missouri's (Kit Bond is retiring), Ohio's (George Voinovich is retiring) and New Hampshire's (Judd Gregg is retiring). But Republicans have strong candidates in each state: In Missouri, Rep. Roy Blunt, former House Republican whip; in Ohio, Rob Portman, former congressman, head of the Office of Management and Budget, and trade representative; in New Hampshire, a possible nominee, former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, is currently leading her likely Democratic opponent.

Regarding House elections, substantial Republican gains are possible. As analyst Charles Cook notes, 84 House Democrats represent districts that were carried either by George W. Bush in 2004 or John McCain in 2008, and 48 of those districts were carried by both Bush and McCain. These and other uneasy incumbents know that Congress' job approval is 22 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Stagnant Prices Prevent Social Security Increase (Amy Goldstein and Neil Irwin, 10/14/09, Washington Post)

An increase in benefit checks each January has been a yearly ritual since the mid-1970s, when the government moved to ensure that its subsidies to retirees, pension recipients and others who receive Social Security benefits kept pace with inflation. Thursday's announcement by the Labor Department will mark the first time that the federal formula used since then, which is tied to the consumer price index, will translate into no increase at all. That is because consumer prices have remained stagnant in the weak economy -- a sharp reversal from this past year, when Social Security checks grew by 5.8 percent, an unusually large amount.

When inflation was also non-existent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Huff to Biden: Resign if Obama escalates Afghan conflict (MICHAEL CALDERONE, 10/14/09, Politico)

If President Barack Obama escalates the “disastrous” war in Afghanistan, Arianna Huffington has some advice for Vice President Joe Biden: resign.

Who cares about Afghanistan? Get yourself a vp you aren't ashamed of....

October 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


Russia Resists U.S. Position on Sanctions for Iran (MARK LANDLER and CLIFFORD J. LEVY, October 13, 2009, NY Times)

Denting President Obama’s hopes for a powerful ally in his campaign to press Iran on its nuclear program, Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that threatening Tehran now with harsh new sanctions would be “counterproductive.”

Homey got played...again...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


Bredesen warns cost to state could exceed $3 billion (Andy Sher, 10/14/09, Chattanooga Times)

Gov. Phil Bredesen warned Tuesday that pending federal health care legislation could cost Tennessee far more than the $735 million “best estimate” his administration previously has cited.

The $735 million would stretch over five years, but “in addition, there are huge unknowns for the states in this reform,” Gov. Bredesen said, estimating that those costs, if realized, could exceed another $3 billion from 2014 to 2019.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:50 PM


Democrats Take a Pass on Civil-Liberties Reform: While we were busy fretting about Obama's Nobel, the Democrats dropped the ball on reforming Bush-era civil-liberties abuses. (Adam Serwer | October 14, 2009, American Prospect)

For a minute, it almost looked like Democrats were going to put up a fight on the PATRIOT Act as it came up for reauthorization. With a majority in Congress, a clear list of reforms set out by Russ Feingold and six other Democrats in the JUSTICE Act, and a president who had presented himself as a friend to civil libertarians, it certainly seemed possible.

To whom?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Feingold sees similarities between Bush and Obama on intelligence sharing (Susan Crabtree, 10/13/09, The Hill)

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) voiced his suspicion that the Obama administration is stonewalling on intelligence.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) voiced his suspicion that the Obama administration is continuing some of the stonewalling practices of the George W. Bush administration when it comes to providing full intelligence briefings to the relevant committees in Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Why 1 in 4 Early-Stage Breast Cancer Patients Still Opt for Mastectomies (Deborah Kotz, 10/13/09, US News)

For more than 20 years, breast cancer patients have been overtreated with mastectomies, experts contend, instead of with breast-sparing surgery that removes just the lump and a little of the surrounding tissue. The good news is about 75 percent of women who qualify for breast-conserving surgery are getting it, according to a survey of 2,000 women published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found that for those who still opted for total breast removal, the decision was sometimes based on a surgeon's recommendation and sometimes against medical advice. In fact, nearly 9 percent of breast cancer patients opted to get a mastectomy when their doctors didn't state a preference either way or when their doctors actually urged them to get breast-conserving surgery. "Our findings suggest that patient preferences play an important role in initial receipt of mastectomy, especially in the absence of a surgeon recommendation favoring one procedure over another," wrote the study's authors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


SkyTran could bring futuristic transit to Valley (Katie Shoultz, October 13, 2009, State Press)

Traffic, congestion and related pollution in large cities could be problems of the past with the implementation of a futuristic, personal rapid transit system called SkyTran, according to the system’s designers. [...]

[I]f Unimodal receives the federal grant money it applied for last month, construction of the first public line will begin in St. Tammany Parish La., and be completed by 2012.

Once that line is operational, Unimodal has its sights on Arizona and California as its next destinations because of the environmentally friendly power options their climates provide.

“Arizona and California are the perfect places to use solar and wind power, which is something we are interested in,” Unimodal’s Arizona representative Jerry Spellman said. “That is where we will likely go next.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


The Value Added Tax (Greg Mankiw, 10/14/09)

From a strictly economic standpoint, a VAT is great. It is essentially a flat consumption tax, like the so-called FairTax, but implemented in a way to reduce compliance problems. Because it is collected in stages along the chain of production, rather than all at the retail level, tax evasion is more difficult.

If you look at the economic effects, a VAT is similar to the Hall-Rabushka Flat Tax, which many economists love. Essentially, the main difference between a VAT and the flat tax as developed by Hall and Rabushka is that firms get to deduct wages as a cost under a flat tax, but then those wages are taxed at the household level. Other than this minor change of shifting the responsibility for the tax on wage income from the firm to the household, the Hall-Rabushka flat tax and VAT have identical economic effects. (There is also an exclusion for the first X thousands of dollars of wage income under Hall-Rabushka, making it progressive in average tax rates, but the same result can be accomplished with a VAT as well by rebating some of the revenue via a demogrant.)

My bottom line: If I could replace our current tax system (including the personal income tax, corporate income tax, payroll tax, and estate tax) with a VAT, I would gladly do it.

...that like withholding taxes from your paycheck, it hides the cost of government. A national sales tax--that was applied in its entirety at the point of final purchase--would make it clearer what we're paying for all those services we demand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


What if Obama really wants a fight over gay pajamas? (Andrew Malcolm, 10/13/09, LA Times)

[I]t was very surprising -- even jarring -- when on Sunday CNBC's John Harwood, long a respected political journalist, reported a conversation with an anonymous White....
... House "advisor" about the growing grumbling coming not from the predictable party of No but from, oh my, Obama's own political left, described as the "Internet left fringe."

Here, just hours after Obama's warm remarks to his applauding gay constituency, is how Harwood described the conversation on air:

For a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn't take this opposition, one adviser told me today those bloggers need to take off their pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely-divided country is complicated and difficult.

Barack Obama senior adviser David Axelrod

There's nothing inherently wrong with pajamas. Obama was wearing his when he found about his Nobel Peace Prize early Friday.

In an e-mail to Huffington Post Monday Harwood clarified that the advisor was referring to the whole Democratic left, not just gays and lesbians.

But predictably such blunt talk ignited a furor over in that nattering neighborhood.

AmericaBlog's thoughtful John Aravosis wrote:

So the gay community, and its concerns about President Obama's inaction, and backtracking, on DADT and DOMA, are now, according to President Obama's White House, part of a larger "fringe" that acts like small children who play in their pajamas and need to grow up.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Republican Marsh Wins House Seat (WSMV, 10/13/09)

Republican businessman Pat Marsh's easy election to a vacated state House seat on Tuesday dealt a blow to Democrats' hopes of regaining control of the chamber next year.

The result also gives Republicans confidence they will be able to expand their now 51-48 advantage in the chamber before the Tennessee General Assembly goes about redistricting legislative and congressional seats in 2011.

"This race is going to have ramifications across the state, there's absolutely no question," said state Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Nobel jury speaks out in defense of Obama prize (IAN MacDOUGALL and KARL RITTER, 10/14/09, AP)

One judge noted with surprise that President Barack Obama "didn't look particularly happy" at being named the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Another marveled at how critics could be so patronizing.

...we were patronizing you guys as much as him.

October 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:59 PM


NV-Sen: Harry Reid's Dilemma (Chris Cillizza, October 13, 2009, Washington Post)

At the heart of Reid's vulnerability is the disconnect between his role in Washington as the leader of Senate Democrats and his status as Nevada's senior senator.

In Washington, Reid is tasked with carrying the agenda -- often, if not always -- of the Obama Administration. Reid drew headlines early this year when he insisted that the President wasn't his boss but he has generally been an advocate for his priorities -- as is expected from the Democratic Senate leader.

...in NV he has to face actual voters, none of whom were aware of this agenda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


Reagan’s Candid Way: Peter Berkowitz on The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution 1980–1989 by Steven F. Hayward (Peter Berkowitz, OCT/NOV 2009, Policy Review)

It is a great merit of Steven Hayward’s politically sophisticated, thoroughly researched, and generally superb exploration of Reagan’s eight years in the Oval Office that it demonstrates that through the ups and downs, Reagan’s labors were guided by his principles, which he never ceased to expound and defend. Focusing on Reagan’s statesmanship, Hayward’s book completes the work that he began with The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964–1980 (2001). Taken together, Hayward’s two volumes provide an abundance of evidence and analysis to support the increasingly solid consensus among historians that Reagan deserves to be considered among our greatest presidents.

A fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, Hayward writes as an admirer of Reagan, endorsing his principles and policies, delighting in his achievements, and evincing pain at his setbacks. Such was the level of contempt showered on Reagan by the media, the intellectuals, and the Democratic Party elite that Hayward is frequently compelled to pause in the narrative to note how the facts do not comport with the widespread belief at the time that Reagan was, in the mocking words of Democratic wise man Clark Clifford, an “amiable dunce,” a mediocre actor in way over his head, subject to systematic manipulation by his advisors and cabinet secretaries, always more likely than not through his domestic agenda to inflict irreparable damage on American society and economy, and, with his trigger-happy finger and cowboy diplomacy, a good bet to blow the world to smithereens. Yet his sympathy does not prevent Hayward from recognizing Reagan’s shortcomings as the nation’s chief executive and forthrightly examining Reagan’s greatest failure as president: the complex series of events that came to be known as the Iran-Contra affair, which significantly weakened Reagan in the final years of his presidency and tarnished his administration.

Hayward’s narrative is driven by the argument that in the name of individual freedom Reagan led a counterrevolution against the dominant left-liberalism of the day, opposing on the domestic front the great expansion of New Deal liberalism by lbj’s Great Society programs, and in the sphere of foreign policy rejecting the equivocal stance toward Soviet communism in favor of defeating it. In the process, Hayward maintains, Reagan corrected a dangerous drift to the left in American politics and “transformed the Republican Party in his own image.”

One hesitates to contradict Mr. Berkowitz, but individual freedom is unprincipled by definition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM


Whiner-in-Chief (John Nichols, 10/12/2009, The Nation)

The Obama administration really needs to get over itself.

First, the president and his aides go to war with Fox News because the network maintains a generally anti-Obama slant.

Then, an anonymous administration aide attacks bloggers for failing to maintain a sufficiently pro-Obama slant.

These are not disconnected developments.

An administration that won the White House with an almost always on-message campaign and generally friendly coverage from old and new media is now frustrated by its inability to control the debate and get the coverage it wants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


Cracker Jack: The Seventh-Inning Snack (JOHN BRANCH, October 13, 2009 , NY Times)

Baseball fans can buy Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles) in Denver, crab cakes in Baltimore, cheesesteaks in Philadelphia and fish tacos in San Diego. It can be harder to name what food and beverages cannot be found at the ballpark than to name what can.

All that would seem to threaten Cracker Jack’s vaunted culinary place in baseball culture. Yet concession managers consider it a do-not-disturb item amid an ever-changing menu. The caramel corn with a prize inside survives, even flourishes.

“It does still have relevance,” said Kevin Haggerty, who oversees concessions at Boston’s Fenway Park, where more than 1,000 bags (no longer boxes) of Cracker Jack are sold in a typical game. “It’s part of the ballpark experience. It is still a good snack. It sells well. It holds its place in the sales mix. And it’s in the song.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Our Euro President (Joel Kotkin, 10/12/2009, New Geography)

Lacking any strong, compelling voices of their own, the Europeans are now trying to hijack our president as their spokesman.

There's a catch, of course. In their mind, Obama deserves the award because he seems to think, and sound, like a European. In everything from global warming to anti-suburbanism to pacifism, Obama reflects the basic agenda of the continent's leading citizens--in sharp contrast to former President George W. Bush.

Indeed it's likely that if Obama wanted to run for presidency of the E.U., he could mail it in. Unfortunately for him, he presides over a country that faces a very different future from that of Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


Redistributing health: The public is catching on (ALAN REYNOLDS, October 12, 2009, NY Post)

PROPONENTS of compul sory, government-designed health insurance can't seem to understand why others disagree. Perhaps the public is realizing that these proposals are fundamentally about redistributing health?

Health-care "reform," that is, aims to shift costs and benefits of health insurance from some groups to others. And the losers are turning out to be less docile than politicians had hoped.

All the leading proposals involve massive redistribution from people with healthy lifestyles to those who take more risks. As the Congressional Budget Office explained, "Premiums in the new insurance exchanges would tend to be higher than the average premiums in the current-law individual market . . . because the new policies would have to cover pre-existing medical conditions and could not deny coverage to people with high expected costs for health care."

At a minimum, insurance companies should not be required to cover pre-existing conditions resulting from alcohol, tobacco, sex, and obesity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


House race to heat up in South Dakota (JOSH KRAUSHAAR | 10/13/09, Politico)

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) hasn’t had a tough reelection challenge since she won her seat in a 2004 special election. But now she joins the ranks of other conservative Democrats who must gear up for their first competitive races in years.

Two well-regarded Republicans — Secretary of State Chris Nelson and state Rep. Blake Curd — announced their candidacies last week against the backdrop of concerns about the rising federal debt and an unemployment rate that has hit double digits in South Dakota.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


EU Lisbon Treaty: Czech Republic government caves in to eurosceptic president (Bruno Waterfield, 12 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The crisis over the EU Lisbon Treaty has deepened after the Czech Republic's government backed down in a battle with President Vaclav Klaus over his refusal to sign the text.

Jan Fischer, the caretaker prime minister, announced a climb-down after an emergency cabinet meeting in Prague, saying he would negotiate President Vaclav Klaus's call for a new Lisbon Treaty "opt-out" when he met other European Union leaders later this month.

Mr Fischer, who has been summoned to Brussels on Tuesday to explain the Czech position, was forced to admit that he was unsure whether Mr Klaus would sign the EU Treaty, even if his demand was met.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


The Real Afghan Lessons From Vietnam: The 'clear and hold' strategy of Gen. Creighton Abrams was working in South Vietnam. Then Congress pulled the plug on funding. (LEWIS SORLEY , 10/11/09, WSJ)

All the better-known early works on the Vietnam War—by Stanley Karnow, Neil Sheehan, George Herring—concentrated disproportionately on the early period of American involvement when Gen. William C. Westmoreland commanded U.S. forces. As a consequence, many came to view the entirety of the war as more or less a homogeneous whole, and to apply to the whole endeavor valid criticisms of the early years, ignoring what happened after Gen. Creighton Abrams took command soon after the 1968 Tet Offensive. [...]

In the later years, Abrams, along with Ellsworth Bunker (at the head of the embassy in Saigon) and William E. Colby (in charge of support for pacification) devised a more viable approach for conducting the war even as U.S. forces were being incrementally withdrawn.

Security for the South Vietnamese became the new measure of merit. Instead of "search and destroy," tactical operations were now focused on a "clear and hold" objective. Greatly increased South Vietnamese territorial forces, better trained and equipped and integrated into the regular army, provided the "hold."

Abrams, Bunker and Colby regarded South Vietnam's President Nguyen Van Thieu as his country's "No. 1 pacification officer." Against the advice of virtually all his advisers, Thieu took the courageous step of organizing and arming a People's Self-Defense Force to back up localized defense forces that defended their home provinces. Thieu's own view, validated by the results, was that "the government had to rest upon the support of the people, and it had little validity if it did not dare to arm them." Ultimately four million villagers were enrolled in the self-defense force.

Thieu also implemented a "Land to the Tiller" program which, for the first time, brought real land reform to the South Vietnamese peasantry. By 1972 over 400,000 farmers had acquired title to two and a half million acres of land. Tenancy was eliminated.

Better intelligence and a structured Phoenix program (as the campaign against the enemy infrastructure was called) progressively identified and neutralized the enemy's covert infrastructure. Most were either captured or induced to rally to the government side, providing valuable sources of intelligence for going after the rest.

By the time of the enemy's 1972 Easter Offensive virtually all U.S. ground troops had been withdrawn. Supported by American airpower and naval gunfire, South Vietnam's armed forces gallantly turned back an invasion from the North amounting to the equivalent of some 20 divisions, or about 200,000 troops.

...to screw over this ally.

October 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 PM


A Political Scientist Who Does Great Economics: In praise of Elinor Ostrom (Thomas C. Schelling, 10.12.09, Forbes)

On the selection of Elinor Ostrom for the Frank E. Seidman Distinguished Award in Political Economy in 1997, I was invited to the award ceremony to say a few words. A colleague asked me who the recipient was, and I said "Elinor Ostrom."

His response was so enthusiastic that I asked how he knew about her. He said he owned a house on a parcel on a lake, along with 18 others, and the lake had become so polluted that they all had to stop using fertilizer and get rid of any horses or chickens near the lake water. They had no governing organization to compel cooperation, but inspired by Ostrom's work they negotiated among themselves to adopt some rules. I asked whether everybody complied with the rules. He said "all but one, but we're still talking."

Ostrom pioneered the study of informal, non-governmental institutions that people invent to ration their use of the "commons," even in asymmetrical situations like upstream versus downstream occupants of a river bank. What is known as the "free rider" (non-cooperator) problem has found a number of solutions, voluntarily adopted, in a variety of cultures and environments. Elinor Ostrom "discovered" this subject and revealed it to us with examples ranging from the simple to the sophisticated. The Nobel prizes are intended to honor not lifetime achievement but specific discoveries or inventions. Elinor Ostrom is a perfect example.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


A Third of Dinosaur Species Never Existed? (Brian Handwerk, , National Geographic News)

Many dinosaurs may be facing a new kind of extinction—a controversial theory suggests as many as a third of all known dinosaur species never existed in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


Parties Nearly Tied for Congress in 2010: Voter preferences for Congress split 46% Democratic vs. 44% Republican (Lydia Saad, 10/07/09, Gallup)

Roughly a year before the 2010 midterm elections, Gallup finds the Republican and Democratic Parties nearly tied in the congressional ballot preferences of registered voters. Forty-six percent of registered voters say they would vote for the Democrat and 44% say the Republican when asked which party's candidate they would support for Congress, if the election were held today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Heckuva Job, Barack (ROSS DOUTHAT, 10/12/09, NY Times)

Here was an opportunity to cut himself free, in a stroke, from the baggage that’s weighed his presidency down — the implausible expectations, the utopian dreams, the messianic hoo-ha.

Here was a place to draw a clean line between himself and all the overzealous Obamaphiles, at home and abroad, who poured their post-Christian, post-Marxist yearnings into the vessel of his 2008 campaign.

Here was a chance to establish himself, definitively, as an American president — too self-confident to accept an unearned accolade, and too instinctively democratic to go along with European humbug.

He didn’t take it. Instead, he took the Nobel Peace Prize.

...once you get past the facade there's only an abyss. People have mistakenly used the "Emperor has no clothes" analogy for the UR. The real point is the clothes have no Emperor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


They need a hero: For centuries Germans united around the tale of Hermann, a chieftain who rallied his fellow tribesmen to defeat the Roman army. But this founding national myth, cherished by Romantic poets and Nazi ideologues, was banished from memory in the postwar era. As Hermann-mania returns to a wary Germany 2000 years after his victory, Clay Risen considers the search for national identity in a post-national age. (Clay Risen, October 09. 2009, The National)

Atop a forested hill a few kilometres outside the sleepy west German town of Detmold stands a 19-metre high statue of Hermann, the Germanic chief whose forces annihilated nearly 20,000 Roman legionnaires at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9AD. Gazing toward the French border, the copper statue, wearing a jaunty winged helmet, holds an upraised sword, whose blade bears the inscription “German Unity is my strength, and my strength is Germany’s power”.

The Hermannsdenkmal, or “Hermann Monument”, was unveiled in 1875, in the aftermath of Germany’s crushing defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent unification of the disparate German states into the Second Reich. At the time it was the world’s largest statue; standing on an 18-metre pedestal, it is visible for nearly 50 kilometres. The monument became a symbol for German militant nationalism and a pilgrimage site for the growing cult that celebrated Hermann as a kind of Ur-German, a movement that reached its fever pitch under the Nazis.

After the Second World War the Germans purged their culture of anything remotely tainted by Nazism, and the monument – and Hermann – fell into anonymity. The battle, once known as the Hermannschlacht, or Hermann Battle, was rechristened the Varusschlacht, after the Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus: it is surely one of the only battles in history named after its loser. German schoolchildren, who once read from the countless Romantic Age poems celebrating Hermann, now learnt what a shame it was that the erstwhile hero had prevented Latin culture from reaching northern Germany.

This autumn marks the 2,000th anniversary of the battle, and Germany is witnessing a new-found interest in all things Hermann. But in a twist on Marx’s famous adage about how history repeats itself, the Hermann cult appeared first as tragedy, and second as a 12-million-euro marketing bonanza. What had been a question of shame has become a matter of kitsch: when I went to Detmold to check out the scene, I found a gift shop stocked with garden gnomes in the shape of a cartoonish Germanic warrior; a thick sausage called “Hermannwurst”; and Thusnelda Beer, named after Hermann’s mythical love interest. [...]

Germans are lightening up a bit – witness the flag-waving patriotism during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. But much of their energy is focused on reining in that patriotism, recasting it as something comfortably post-nationalist. A recent essay in the national newspaper Die Zeit boasted that Germany, unlike other countries, had no need to prove itself with national parades and the dangerous pomp and circumstance of state ceremonies – two things, the author wrote, “beloved by tyranny” and dangerous to democracy. “Though it’s something we might wish for, we can also deny it,” he wrote.

But the renewed interest in Hermann makes that an open question. Perhaps, as the Detmold organisers hope, the people rushing to attend the “Year of Hermann” festivities see him as nothing more than a historical curiosity. But it’s also possible that in a country bereft of heroes, Germans are slowly but healthily reaching out to the victor of the Teutoburg Forest as a psychological landmark in a continent where national borders are fast disappearing.

No one does holidays and salutes to heroes like America, and ours is the most durable and vibrant democracy on the books.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The Education Revolution: How Sweden can save our children from a lifetime of misery. (Reihan Salam, 10.12.09, Forbes)

In Sweden, the educational landscape has been transformed by the advent of a sweeping choice program that allows anyone--groups of parents, civil society groups, and, most important, for-profit enterprises--to establish their own schools that would then receive per-pupil funding at roughly the same rate as state-run schools. If this sounds like the familiar idea of universal school vouchers, championed by American libertarians and conservatives, you're on the right track.

But it turns out that the solidarity-minded Scandinavians have gone far further in this direction than any American jurisdiction. The results have been a stunning success, one that has delighted students and parents alike. As Anders Hultin, one of the creators of Sweden's system of "free schools," has argued, the profit motive has encouraged successful schools to clone themselves, not unlike a fast-food franchise. One can easily imagine such schools touting their success in placing graduates in good jobs. The beauty of this approach is that it doesn't demand that school administrators in some central office divine the one best way to encourage spontaneity; rather, it allows hundreds, if not thousands, of free-thinkers to experiment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Decline Is a Choice: The New Liberalism and the end of American ascendancy. (Charles Krauthammer, 10/19/2009, Weekly Standard)

The current liberal ascendancy in the United States--controlling the executive and both houses of Congress, dominating the media and elite culture--has set us on a course for decline. And this is true for both foreign and domestic policies. Indeed, they work synergistically to ensure that outcome.

Were liberalism ascendant they'd have done something with the power they won in November--instead they've followed in W's footsteps--and they wouldn't be terrified of the election next November. A blip isn't a trend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Two Americans Share Nobel in Economics (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10/13/09)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Misguided Monetary Mentalities (PAUL KRUGMAN, 10/12/09, NY Times)

In recent weeks there have been a number of statements from Fed officials, mainly but not only presidents of regional Federal Reserve banks, calling for an early return to tighter money, including higher interest rates. Now, people in the Federal Reserve system are normally extremely circumspect when making statements about future monetary policy, so as not to step on the efforts of the Fed’s Open Market Committee, which actually sets those rates, to shape expectations. So it’s extraordinary to see all these officials suddenly breaking the implicit rules, in effect lecturing the Open Market Committee about what it should do.

What’s even more extraordinary, however, is the idea that raising rates would make sense any time soon. After all, the unemployment rate is a horrifying 9.8 percent and still rising, while inflation is running well below the Fed’s long-term target. This suggests that the Fed should be in no hurry to tighten — in fact, standard policy rules of thumb suggest that interest rates should be left on hold for the next two years or more, or until the unemployment rate has fallen to around 7 percent.

Yet some Fed officials want to pull the trigger on rates much sooner. To avoid a “Great Inflation,” says Charles Plosser of the Philadelphia Fed, “we will need to act well before unemployment rates and other measures of resource utilization have returned to acceptable levels.” Jeffrey Lacker of the Richmond Fed says that rates may need to rise even if “the unemployment rate hasn’t started falling yet.”

I don’t know what analysis lies behind these itchy trigger fingers. But it probably isn’t about analysis, anyway — it’s about mentality, the sense that central banks are supposed to act tough, not provide easy credit.

And it’s crucial that we don’t let this mentality guide policy.

The Fed exists to fight inflation and protect the value of bankers' loans--as every bureaucracy serves those it is supposed to supervise, not the taxpayer--but it wages the battle whether inflation exists or not, which is disastrous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Endangered Democrats (Donald Lambro, 10/12/09, Washington Times)

At least a half dozen Democratic Senate seats are vulnerable, two dozen Democratic House seats have been given "competitive" ratings favoring the Republican Party, contributions are pouring into Republican campaign committees, and generic ballot preference polls have virtually erased the Democrats' once-sizable lead.

"The president's standing has weakened, Democrats are on the defensive on the economy, spending and health care, and key midterm voting groups - including seniors and independents - are moving away from the Democrats and toward the GOP," Mr. Rothenberg told his newsletter subscribers last month.

Mr. Castle's candidacy was another recruiting home run for Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, who has turned his party's bleak midterm prospects into what could be a gain or two.

In Democratic-leaning New Hampshire, polls show former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, a political newcomer, is leading Democrat Rep. Paul W. Hodes by seven points.

Among the Democrats' troubles elsewhere: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is running behind his Republican opponents in Nevada, as is Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who trails all four of her Republican challengers. Even Mr. Obama's old Senate seat is at risk in heavily Democratic Illinois, where Republican Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, in a show of strength, has raised more than $1.6 million in the third quarter in a race in which his opponents have ethical problems in a state marred by widespread corruption.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Insurers Mount Attack Against Health Reform (AP, October 11, 2009)

After working for months behind the scenes to help shape health care reform, the insurance industry is now sharply attacking the emerging plan with a report that maintains Senate legislation would increase the cost of a typical policy by hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars a year. [...]

Late Sunday, the industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans sent its member companies a new accounting firm study that projects the legislation would add $1,700 a year to the cost of family coverage in 2013, when most of the major provisions in the bill would be in effect.

Premiums for a single person would go up by $600 more than would be the case without the legislation, the PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis concluded in the study commissioned by the insurance group.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Defiant Abbas Reiterates Conditions Before Talks (Howard Schneider, 10/11/09, Washington Post)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday seemed to distance himself from U.S. efforts to restart peace talks and defended his recent handling of a report on war crimes in the Gaza Strip in a defiant televised address meant to boost his political standing amid growing criticism. [...]

Under criticism for a series of perceived concessions to the United States and Israel in recent weeks, he also used the speech to deliver a harsh criticism of Israel, saying that recent clashes around Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque and construction in Arab neighborhoods of the holy city amounted to an effort to "erase the Arab and Muslim identity of Jerusalem." He said that he would push for the prosecution of Israeli troops for war crimes during the winter's three-week war in the Gaza Strip.

"We are at the peak of this terrible and awful battle," Abbas said...

...the UR just won the peace prize!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Iran threatened by U.S. buster bomb (UPI, Oct 8, 2009)

The Pentagon has acknowledged that it is speeding up plans to deploy a massive bomb capable of knocking out deeply buried enemy facilities.

The giant "bunker buster" is believed to add fighting power to the U.S. arsenal against Iran's nuclear program, defense experts argue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


U.S. Can’t Trace Foreign Visitors on Expired Visas (JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr. and JULIA PRESTON, 10/12/09, NY Times)

Eight years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and despite repeated mandates from Congress, the United States still has no reliable system for verifying that foreign visitors have left the country.

New concern was focused on that security loophole last week, when Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19-year-old Jordanian who had overstayed his tourist visa, was accused in court of plotting to blow up a Dallas skyscraper.

Last year alone, 2.9 million foreign visitors on temporary visas like Mr. Smadi’s checked in to the country but never officially checked out, immigration officials said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Tories claim victory over Heathrow expansion (Joe Murphy and Sri Carmichael, 12.10.09, This is London)

AIRPORT operator BAA today said it would not submit a planning application for a third runway at Heathrow before the general election.

The Conservatives, who have a manifesto pledge to scrap Government plans for extra capacity at the airport and look likely to win power, insisted the announcement showed BAA had "given up".

October 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Two could beat Reid, poll finds (BENJAMIN SPILLMAN, 10/11/09, 2009 LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL)

Nevadans say they're ready to replace longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Harry Reid with an untested Republican.

Which Republican? Undecided.

But of their top two picks -- former GOP party official Sue Lowden and real estate developer Danny Tarkanian -- either one would unseat Reid if the election were held today, according to a poll commissioned by the Review-Journal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Missouri's Skelton offers suggestion to colleague: Shove it (David Goldstein, 10/12/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri got too close to the live mike on the House floor Thursday when he let another lawmaker, a fellow Missourian, have it.

"So stick it up your a--," Skelton could be heard saying during the debate on a defense bill.

Not exactly a Joe Wilson moment.

Why not?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Trotsky by Robert Service: Robert Service's debunking biography proves that being Stalin’s great enemy does not make Trotsky in any way a good man (Simon Sebag Montefiore, 11 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

While Lenin and Mao have been recast as brutal monsters not unlike Stalin himself, the best biography of Trotsky remained, until recently, Isaac Deutscher’s reverent trilogy with its revealing titles The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, The Prophet Outcast. Now, in the last of his triptych of Bolshevik leaders (Lenin and Stalin already published), Robert Service delivers an outstanding, fascinating biography of this dazzling titan. It is compelling as an adventure story – the ultimate rise and fall – but also revelatory as the scholarly revision of a historical reputation. [...]

At the end of Service’s revision, what remains of the Prophet? The intellectual, orator, manager of the Bolshevik coup and architect of the Civil War victory remain, but alongside them must be laid the mendacity of his memoirs, the ugly egotism and unpleasant, overweening arrogance, the belief in and enthusiastic practice of killing on a colossal scale, the political ineptitude, the limit of ambition. Apart from their famous row about 'socialism in one country’ versus international revolution, there was little politically between Stalin and Trotsky. It was personality that divided them and both personalities were highly unattractive. If Trotsky had become dictator, Service is clear that while Russia would have avoided Stalin’s personal sadism, the same millions would still have been killed.

Gorbachev thought that Glasnost would allow dissidents to blow off some steam about Stalin, but instead they revealed that Lenin was a Stalin and the entire Revolution was delegitimized.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Another Fine Mess: Comics Whack Obama (MARK LEIBOVICH, 10/12/09, NY Times)

Is President Obama in trouble with his late-night comedy base?

It’s likely he hasn’t noticed or doesn’t care. He is, after all, in the midst of his oft-invoked “full plate” of supposedly “defining moments” in his presidency — a “defining” decision on Afghanistan, “defining” legislative battle on health care, among other “defining” things.

But there is perhaps another more subtle set of "defining” episodes playing out for Mr. Obama in the televised comedy salons that had previously, by and large, been relatively gentle spaces for him. The bits about him are getting harsher. They are no longer just gentle gibes about Bo the dog, big ears, bad bowling and beer summits.

...he's a comedy goldmine if you're not in the bag for him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Obama has betrayed mission to forge Mideast peace (Gideon Levy, 10/11/09, Haaretz)

Oslo decided to change its ways and begin giving out deferred Nobel Prizes: Win now, pay tomorrow. There's no other way to explain the bewildering, not to say bizarre, decision to grant the Nobel Prize for Peace to Barack Obama. Just like the reserved, esteemed Norwegians on the prize committee, we here, sweating and bleeding, were overjoyed with Barack Obama's election as U.S. president - black, eloquent, enchanting, striking and promising. Many an eye welled with tears, from Jerusalem to Rafah, at his unforgettable inauguration address, and even as late as his Cairo speech we still clung to his beautiful words.

We here in the Middle East could not help but be impressed by the new spirit he ushered in. Negotiations with Iran, a handshake with Hugo Chavez, openness toward Cuba, tolerance toward North Korea and the cancellation of the missile shield in Eastern Europe.

Just as the Nobel was apparently not a joke, this doesn't appear to be a parody. This knucklehead actually thinks oppressors should be rewarded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Irish children told to bring loo roll to school to save costs (Daily Telegraph, 10/07/09)

Children at an Irish primary school have been asked to bring their own lavatory roll in order to help save money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


This Is a Story About the DVD of Garry’s Show (DAVE ITZKOFF, 10/11/09, NY Times)

Created by Mr. Shandling and Alan Zweibel, an alumnus of the original “Saturday Night Live” writing staff, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” superficially resembled a network sitcom. Mr. Shandling played a Los Angeles bachelor with a nebbishy best pal, a platonic female friend and a nosy neighbor but was also permitted to step out of the story and address the audience directly. (When Mr. Shandling pitched a similar idea to NBC, the network asked if he could instead talk to a dog.)

“Both of us had a distaste for what was a very predictable, pat situation-comedy formula,” Mr. Zweibel said. “What we thought was, let’s be Off Broadway — let’s be more theatrical about it.”

So at every level, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” was infused with self-awareness and self-reference, even in its theme song, whose lyrics reminded viewers that they were listening to a theme song. (“I’m almost halfway finished/How do you like it so far?”) Episodes were crammed with pop-cultural allusions, absurdist humor and guest appearances from retro-chic stars like Red Buttons, Steve Allen and Florence Henderson.

Otherwise, the “Shandling’s Show” writers had to observe only two rules: keep their star armed with plenty of one-liners, and make sure he was the funniest person in the room.

“Garry likes stuff where he gets the laughs,” said Tom Gammill, a “Seinfeld” and “Simpsons” veteran who with his writing partner, Max Pross, contributed to the show. “If there’s a scene where everyone else is getting laughs, he goes: ‘I think there’s a problem with this scene. I can’t put my finger on it.’ ”

For Mr. Shandling, the offbeat opportunity came with a significant sacrifice: in 1987, he quit “The Tonight Show,” where he had been invited to share guest-hosting duties with Jay Leno, to focus full time on “Shandling’s Show.” In a tentative phone call, Mr. Shandling broke the news to his mentor, Johnny Carson, who had recently frozen out his former protégé Joan Rivers when she became his broadcast rival.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Iowa Republicans give an early soapbox to Pawlenty (Johanna Neuman, October 11, 2009, LA Times)

[M]ore than a few political commentators took notice Wednesday when Iowa Republicans announced that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty would be the headline speaker at the "Leadership for Iowa" event at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Nov. 7, where he will share the stage with Republican candidates for Iowa governor.

Matt Strawn, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, called Pawlenty "an innovative, conservative leader" and predicted that his "message of balanced budgets, lower taxes and market-based reforms for healthcare and education will resonate with all Iowans."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Beware of America's housing crisis - huh? (Ben Wattenberg and Michael Sriqui, 10/11/09, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

In America, alone among today's wealthy nations, is on a path of solid population growth. This is good, notwithstanding the harum-scarum alarms by those who see disaster impending from a "population explosion."

The U.S. population was approaching 300 million in 2000. Quite solid projections by the Census Bureau see the number at about 400 million people in 2100.

Why is the U.S. growing, while other modern nations shrivel up? First, our total fertility rate is about 2.1 children per woman - a magic number in the demographer's kit, because that's what it takes to "replace" a society. Sooner or later, Mom and Dad pass on (sorry to break the news), and they must be "replaced" by two children. The extra 0.1 accounts for children who do not live to reproductive age.

A strong relationship exists between America's "replacement fertility" families and what/where they call home. Much more than their counterparts in Europe and Japan, Americans inhabit single-family detached houses. There is room for two, three - or more - children to play in the backyard, and the nice sense of privacy those children have because they live in their own rooms. Residents of other large, modern and wealthy nations tend to live in apartment nations, where space limitations put a damper on the idea of having a big family.

The coming housing boom will not only employ carpenters, electricians and roofers, but real estate lawyers, policemen and firemen, teachers and athletic coaches to begin a very long list. It was once said that the automobile industry was the great American job producer. No more. That honor surely goes to housing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Hiroshima survivors in Seattle still suffer effects from atomic bomb (Nicole Tsong, 10/11/09, Seattle Times)

When the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, more than 200,000 people died in the blasts or immediately after. About 340,000 survivors are still alive, with 60 or so in Washington state.

Survivors, who have an average age of 74.5, suffer more from hypertension, tend to have a higher rate of breast cancer, and also have thyroid and gastrointestinal problems, said Linda Eremic, director of operations for Pacific Medical Centers. They also suffer from exhaustion and memory loss.

They're old!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


USA Qualifies for World Cup Finals (Rahul Vaidyanath, 10/10/09, Epoch Times)

The U.S. men’s national soccer team qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa next summer with a stunning 3–2 victory over Honduras on Saturday night. They have secured one of three automatic berths for South Africa out of the CONCACAF region.

The star in Honduras for the Americans was powerful replacement striker Conor Casey who scored twice. Casey was preferred over Jozy Altidore. Clint Dempsey was injured and did not play for the U.S.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Have asked US to 'warn' India: Rehman Malik (PTI, 11 October 2009)

Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik says the US has been told to "warn" India not to meddle in the country's affairs and charged New Delhi with supplying "some kind of terrorism" in Balochistan.

...(see under Ike Skelton).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Why Islamic Extremists Hate India (Salil Tripathi, October 11, 2009, Far Eastern Economic Review)

There is also deeper animosity. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, India initially criticized the Soviet action, but then stopped doing so, once the occupation was in place. While India did not welcome Soviet presence in Kabul, it was also alarmed by the flow of arms into Pakistan to assist the mujahideen, which boosted not only fundamentalist forces in the region, but also bolstered the military dictatorship of Zia-ul Haq in Pakistan. Just as the U.S. was willing to ally with the mujahideen because that short term partnership was more important to achieve the strategic objective of bleeding the Soviets, India despaired, fearing that the weapons Pakistan was receiving may be used against India some day. The Taliban now represents the ugliest face of the mujahideen, and they are no fans of India. Taliban has strong links with Pakistani intelligence, which has long believed in low-intensity warfare with India. For the Taliban who want to settle historical scores, India remains a target, because from their perspective, India sided with the Soviets.

Then there is the Indian soft power, which can corrode the kind of austere lifestyle the Taliban would like to impose again in Afghanistan. Afghans like Bollywood films – Jon Lee Anderson’s reporting from Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul for the New Yorker magazine showed how young Taliban conscripts carried photographs of Bollywood stars, and some even played Bollywood songs on their cassette players. Cricket is another passion the Afghans share with Indians; the Afghan cricket team is making impressive strides internationally. For the stern Islamist view that the Taliban holds, Indian influence is wrong. The imams fulminate against the West and its decadence; India, to its East, represents similar hedonism, is closer, makes films in a language Afghans understand, and must be shunned.

But more than anything else, India is a danger because by its pluralistic nature it is a real threat for Islamic extremists. Not only does India have the world’s third-largest Muslim population (Pakistan finally overtook India recently), despite domestic differences with the majority Hindus, Indian Muslims have remained loyal to the Indian state, and have fully embraced democracy. While many Muslims live in poverty in India, so do other Indians, including Hindus. And Muslims alone are not victims of human rights abuses in India. What’s more, talented Muslims have often reached the top of Indian corporations, judiciary, armed forces, bureaucracy, and other fields, entirely on merit. They are able to express their grievances through the democratic system. It is no surprise, then, that of all the recruits al Qaeda has been able to attract around the world, barely a handful of Indian Muslims have been swayed by al Qaeda’s nihilist ideology.

This is not an accident; it is the result of India’s democratic structure.

The most obvious geostrategic accomplishment of George W. Bush was liberalization in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Liberia, Haiti, The Lebanon, Palestine, Liberia, The Sudan (southern Sudan), Indonesia, etc., and the election of pro-American regimes in place of anti-US in Canada, Germany, and France. More subtle, and, therefore, easier for ideologues on Left and Right to misunderstand, was the way both the Anglosphere and the wider Axis of Good were more closely knit together. In particular, Columbia and Brazil were brought on board in Latin America, India, Mongolia, The Philippines, and Indonesia in Asia, and former captive nations of the USSR in Eastern Europe. The task was made easy by three big factors: (1) common enemies--China, Russia, narcoterrorists, Bolivarism, and Islamicism, (2) the desire of these developing states to be treated like they matter; and, (3) the economic benefits they could potentially reap by trading freely with us. But, however simple the endeavor was in practice, it required a certain vision to see that it existed and that the effort was worthwhile because a concert of democracies could provide tangible global good.

These fields were always likely to lie a tad fallow after W left office, what with two senators vying to replace him--one does not look to legislatures for strategic thinking. But John McCain does at least think militarily and retains a healthy hatred of our enemies. Barack Obama though combines an astonishing lack of thoughtfulness where long-term strategy is concerned with a desperate need to be liked, even by our enemies. In both domestic and foreign affairs this has made him prone to alienate friends in a bid to eke out short term gains by appealing to foes.

Thus, he has taken a series of steps that appear, objectively, designed to punish our friends in the world and reward the shared enemies. He opposes the constitutional government of Honduras and blocks the trade treaties with allies like Colombia. He plays kissy face with the PRC, Burma, The Sudan, Iran and North Korea. He ditches the missile shield in Eastern Europe because Putin doesn't like it. He decides it's okay for The Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan. In the process, he hangs Israel, India, South Korea, Japan, Poland, the Czechs, etc., etc., etc. out to dry.

It's kind of funny when he screws his own friends over at home--single-payer types, the gun lobby, gays, abortionists, peaceniks, the ACLU, etc. But it is not okay to treat our friends abroad so shabbily. Contra the CW, he inherited an incredibly easy foreign situation from W. It is he who will leave behind some heavy lifting for his successor.

October 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 PM


The hope diamond (David Warren, 10/10/09, Ottawa Citizen)

There is broad speculation, among the sort of people I hang out with, that it was offered to Obama on the understanding that he would "do a Le Duc Tho," and decline it, thus showing the world his immense strength of character. (But how can such a narcissist pass up the opportunity to give a Nobel Prize speech?)

Instead, I think the intention of the prize, for which nominations closed on Feb. 1 -- less than a fortnight after Obama took office -- is in fact designed as an essay in pre-emption. The left-wing, pacifist committee wanted to saddle the new U.S. president with their little "hope diamond," in case he got any ideas about killing more jihadis in Afghanistan. Or hesitated to do to Israel what Neville Chamberlain did to Czechoslovakia.

...maybe they'd let him defer it, kind of like a college admission?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM


KGB-style, The Guardian removes Israelis from Nobel Prize winners list (Tom Gross, 10/10/09, NRO: Media Blog)

To accompany their story about Barack Obama winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, The Guardian posted on their website what they claimed was “every peace prize winner ever,” stating that the information came from the website Nobelprize.org. But guess whose names The Guardian took off the list, KGB-style, hoping no-one would notice? All three Israelis who have won the peace prize: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

Following outrage in Britain, including online articles on the websites of the conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph and Spectator (why are most anti-Semites on the Left these days?), The Guardian slipped the Israeli names back on to their list.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


China dissidents top Nobel Peace Prize speculation (DOUG MELLGREN and IAN MacDOUGALL, 10/06/09, AP)

Chinese dissidents are leading the odds of winning the Nobel Peace Prize this year, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the 60th since the establishment of the People's Republic of China. [...]

U.S. President Barack Obama is thought to have been nominated but it's unclear on what grounds.

Nobel watchers say he could be a contender for next year's prize, following his lofty call for global nuclear disarmament at the United Nations last month, which came after the nomination deadline for the 2009 prize.

Chinese dissidents let down by Obama Nobel (AFP, Oct 9, 2009)
China's dissidents are voicing unease about President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, saying that the award could have been effective in promoting human rights in their country.

Some in China's democracy movement are outraged at what they see as a weak stance on rights by Obama, who the same week as Friday's announcement avoided a meeting with Tibet's exiled Dalai Lama that would have upset Beijing.

No one's happier about the prize than the ChiComs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM


US funds dry up for Iran rights watchdog (Farah Stockman, October 6, 2009, Boston Globe)

For the past five years, researchers in a modest office overlooking the New Haven green have carefully documented cases of assassination and torture of democracy activists in Iran. With more than $3 million in grants from the US State Department, they have pored over thousands of documents and Persian-language press reports and interviewed scores of witnesses and survivors to build dossiers on those they say are Iran’s most infamous human-rights abusers.

But just as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was ramping up to investigate abuses of protesters after this summer’s disputed presidential election, the group received word that - for the first time since it was formed - its federal funding request had been denied.

“If there is one time that I expected to get funding, this was it,’’ said Rene Redman, the group’s executive director, who had asked for $2.7 million in funding for the next two years. “I was sur prised, because the world was watching human rights violations right there on television.’’

Many see the sudden, unexplained cutoff of funding as a shift by the Obama administration away from high-profile democracy promotion in Iran, which had become a signature issue for President Bush. [...]

Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington-based think tank, said, “It is a shock that they did not get funding.’’ A reason, he asserted, may be that “the Obama administration is so focused on engaging Iran that they don’t want this information to get in the way.’’

...Peace is not the absence of repression in a state, but keeping quiet about it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


US lead in danger? Nobels tell a different story (MATT MOORE and LOUISE NORDSTROM, Associated Press, 10/09/09)

After cleaning up in the Nobel science prizes, the United States on Friday scored another coup: the peace prize for a president less than nine months in office.

At a time when some had begun to question how long America's pre-eminence in science and diplomacy could last, nine of the 11 nominees who won or shared this year's five prizes handed out so far are American.

On Monday, the economics prize will be announced, and Americans are the favorites.

...if they'd doubled down and given the UR the Literature Prize.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


A Prize Too Far: The Daily Beast's award-winning columnist delivers a message from President Obama to the Nobel committee: Thanks, but no thanks. (Christopher Buckley, 10/10/09, Daily Beast)

I don’t know the Norwegian words for “Let’s get real,” but I tried earnestly to convey in plain English that awarding me the Nobel Peace Prize, at this stage of my presidency, opens the Committee itself to the charge that it dispenses its gold promiscuously, without regard to actual accomplishment.

Pity poor Mr. Buckley, the UR is undeserving of the Prize for the exact same reasons he was undeserving of the author's vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


How Traffic Jams Help the Environment: Efforts to lighten a city's car load can reduce subway ridership; the eco-upside of stalled traffic (DAVID OWEN, 10/09/09, WSJ)

[C]ongestion pricing has dubious environmental value. Traffic jams, if they're managed well, can actually be good for the environment. They maintain a level of frustration that turns drivers into subway riders or pedestrians.

Jay H. Walder, the man appointed this week as chairman and chief executive officer of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, helped design London's congestion pricing scheme. New York certainly has plenty of congestion. At the busiest times of the day, cars on side streets in midtown move so slowly that they appear almost to be parked, and taxi passengers often watch in dismay as pedestrians outpace them and disappear into the distance. Mr. Walder has said he isn't planning to bring up congestion pricing again for New York, but the fact that he was chosen for the job suggests that it's at least a possibility.

In 1949, only 3% of American families owned more than one car; in 2001, for the first time, the number of cars in the United States exceeded the number of licensed drivers. The resulting traffic jams look like an ecological disaster. And they are one, but not for the reasons that people usually assume.

Congestion isn't an environmental problem; it's a driving problem. If reducing it merely makes life easier for those who drive, then the improved traffic flow can actually increase the environmental damage done by cars, by raising overall traffic volume, encouraging sprawl and long car commutes. A popular effort to curb rush-hour congestion, freeway entrance ramp meters, is commonly seen as good for the environment. But they significantly decrease peak-period travel times—by 10% in Atlanta and 22% in Houston, according to studies in those cities—and lead to increases in overall vehicle volume. In Minnesota, ramp metering increased overall traffic volume by 9% and peak volume by 14%. The increase in traffic volume was accompanied by a corresponding increase in fuel consumption of 5.5 million gallons.

Traffic jams can actually be environmentally beneficial if they turn subways, buses, car pools, bicycles and walking into more-attractive options. Residents of the New York metropolitan area are extraordinarily committed transit users—they account for almost a third of all the public-transit passenger miles traveled in the United States. Making a cab ride seem more efficient than the subway, by reducing the congestion on the streets, would be a loss for the environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


China tells US to back off after Dalai Lama award (The Associated Press, 10/09/09)

China accused the United States on Friday of meddling in its domestic affairs after American lawmakers recognized the Dalai Lama with an award for his efforts to improve human rights.

The U.S. Congress presented the award, which was in honor of the late U.S. human rights activist Tom Lantos, to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader on Tuesday.

It's a sad state of affairs when Congress has more moral courage than the president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Limbaugh to judge 2010 Miss America Pageant (The Associated Press, October 9, 2009)

The Miss America Organization says Rush Limbaugh will be a judge for the 2010 pageant in Las Vegas.

...when he has to crown Barack Obama the winner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


French Culture Minister Refuses to Resign Over Paid Sex Trysts (KATRIN BENNHOLD, 10/09/09, NY Times)

[O]n Wednesday, the spokesman of the Socialist Party, Benoît Hamon, seized on the issue: “As a minister of culture he has drawn attention to himself by defending a filmmaker accused of raping a child, and he has written a book where he said he took advantage of sex tourism. At the very least I find this shocking.”

By Thursday the pressure had become so intense that Mr. Mitterrand, 62, a nephew of former President François Mitterrand and a longtime television celebrity, scheduled an appearance on prime-time television to defend himself.

“Yes, I had relations with boys,” a visibly shaken Mr. Mitterrand told the interviewer on the TF1 network when he was asked about the passage in his book that talks about seeking out male prostitutes in Southeast Asia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Lobbyist Pushing to Represent Sudan (Dan Eggen, 10/10/09, Washington Post)

A prominent Democratic fundraiser and ally of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) is attempting to secure a lobbying contract with the pariah regime in Sudan, which has embarked on an aggressive effort to enlist U.S. support against allegations of genocide and war crimes.

Robert B. Crowe, a partner at Atlanta-based Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, has met with special U.S. envoy J. Scott Gration and several Democratic lawmakers in recent weeks in an attempt to garner support for the deal, which would give the Khartoum government its first official U.S. representative in nearly four years.

...the Democrats'll be there...helping administer the drubbing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Evolution All Around: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins (NICHOLAS WADE, 10/10/09, NY Times Book Review)

Dawkins is aware that evolution is commonly called a theory but deems “theory” too wishy-washy a term because it connotes the idea of hypothesis. Evolution, in Dawkins’s view, is a concept as bulletproof as a mathematical theorem, even though it can’t be proved by rigorous logical proofs. He seems to have little appreciation for the cognitive structure of science. Philosophers of science, who are the arbiters of such issues, say science consists largely of facts, laws and theories. The facts are the facts, the laws summarize the regularities in the facts, and the theories explain the laws. Evolution can fall into only one of these categories, and it’s a theory.

Other systems of thought, like religion, are founded on immutable dogma, whereas science changes to accommodate new knowledge. So what part of science is it that changes during intellectual revolutions? Not the facts, one hopes, or the laws. It’s the highest-level elements in the cognitive structure — the theories — that are sacrificed when fundamental change is needed.

Which is why the Darwinists have become so deranged in recent years. The paradigm always shifts and the one invented by a guilt-ridden Victorian to justify the dominance of his ethnic cohort over every other has long since outlived its usefulness. The true believers can feel the paradigm shifting right out from under them--as witness the burgeoning rejection of the theory in even Darwin's and Dawkins's own England-- and they are, understandably, filled with dread.

Even Dawkins himself drifts into Designism (not to mention self-contradictory incoherence) when he tries explaining his dogma:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


There’s No Place Like Home, Americans are Returning to Localism (Joel Kotkin 10/09/2009, New Geography)

Thriving neighborhood restaurants are one small data point in a larger trend I call the new localism. The basic premise: the longer people stay in their homes and communities, the more they identify with those places, and the greater their commitment to helping local businesses and institutions thrive, even in a downturn. Several factors are driving this process, including an aging population, suburbanization, the Internet, and an increased focus on family life. And even as the recession has begun to yield to recovery, our commitment to our local roots is only going to grow more profound. Evident before the recession, the new localism will shape how we live and work in the coming decades, and may even influence the course of our future politics.

Perhaps nothing will be as surprising about 21st-century America as its settledness. For more than a generation Americans have believed that "spatial mobility" would increase, and, as it did, feed an inexorable trend toward rootlessness and anomie. This vision of social disintegration was perhaps best epitomized in Vance Packard's 1972 bestseller A Nation of Strangers, with its vision of America becoming "a society coming apart at the seams." In 2000, Harvard's Robert Putnam made a similar point, albeit less hyperbolically, in Bowling Alone, in which he wrote about the "civic malaise" he saw gripping the country. In Putnam's view, society was being undermined, largely due to suburbanization and what he called "the growth of mobility."

Yet in reality Americans actually are becoming less nomadic. As recently as the 1970s as many as one in five people moved annually; by 2006, long before the current recession took hold, that number was 14 percent, the lowest rate since the census starting following movement in 1940.

...but you could achieve the same effects and economic growth with adequate gas taxes. Mobility is a solvent and what it eats away at is society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Does Obama Have the Backbone? (Richard Cohen, October 6, 2009, Washington Post)

Barack Obama's trip to Copenhagen to pitch Chicago for the Olympics would have been a dumb move whatever the outcome. But as it turned out (an airy dismissal would not be an unfair description), it poses some questions about his presidency that are way more important than the proper venue for synchronized swimming. The first, and to my mind most important, is whether Obama knows who he is. [...]

[T]he ultimate in realism is for the president to gauge himself and who he is: Does he have the stomach and commitment for what is likely to continue to be an unpopular war? Will he send additional troops, but hedge by not sending enough -- so that the dying will be in vain? What does he believe, and will he ask Americans to die for it? Only he knows the answers to these questions. But based on his zigzagging so far and the suggestion from the Copenhagen trip that the somber seriousness of the presidency has yet to sink in, we have reason to wonder.

No, we don't. A guy whose entire career is based on the pursuit of tangible signs of approval from society to make-up for the lack of same from his absentee parents is not going to swim against the tide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Mexico, U.S. taking different routes to 2010 World Cup: While a victory over El Salvador is regarded as a foregone conclusion for the Mexicans, the Americans must overcome a Honduran team that at home is undefeated and has outscored opponents, 22-3. (Grahame L. Jones, October 10, 2009, LA Times)

[M]arquez and Mexico have only to defeat El Salvador at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City today (3 p.m., Telemundo). A Mexico victory is regarded as a foregone conclusion outside of El Salvador.

For Davies and the U.S., the task is more complicated. They will have to overcome Honduras on the road today in San Pedro Sula, where the home team is 8-0-0 and has outscored opponents, 22-3, during the 2010 qualifying campaign.

That has not stopped Davies, 23, from making a prediction that, all things considered, was best left unspoken.

"By beating Spain in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup [in June] and by narrowly losing to Brazil in the final, we showed we can do something global," Davies told L'Equipe in France. "With the players we have, if things go well, we can win the World Cup."

Bob Bradley, the U.S. soccer coach, has no doubt had a quiet word with Davies since that rash prediction and has perhaps told him that actually getting to the World Cup might be a good idea before talking about winning it.

Not with Bob Bradley coaching. Why not hire Roy Hodgson, whop keeps getting passed over for the England jobe because he's English.

October 9, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


DNC official: GOP siding with terrorists (Ben Smith, 10/09/09, Politico)

"The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists - the Taliban and Hamas this morning - in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize," DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse told POLITICO

...that the Committee gave the UR the prize because they assume he'll get in bed with Hamas and the Taliban?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 PM


Prize Fight (Peter Beinart, October 28, 2002, New Republic)

Two types of people win the Nobel Peace Prize. The first are the more obvious: People who resolve international conflicts. In 1926, Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann won for the Locarno Pact, which supposedly guaranteed the borders of Germany, Belgium, and France. In 1929, America's Frank Kellogg won for the Kellogg-Briand Pact, in which the great powers renounced war. In 1973, Henry Kissinger and Vietnam's Le Duc Tho won for ending the Vietnam War. And in 1994, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yasir Arafat won for the Oslo Peace Accord between Israel and the Palestinians.

The second type of winners promote peace in a very different way: They don't resolve conflict, they advance freedom. In 1960, the Nobel Committee honored African National Congress leader Albert Luthuli, and, in 1984, it honored Archbishop Desmond Tutu, even though both men pursued conflict with the apartheid state. In 1983, it selected Poland's Lech Walesa; in 1991, Burma's Aung Sun Suu Kyi; and, in 1996, East Timor's Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta. None of these dissidents were peacemakers in the narrow sense; some even rejected negotiations with the regimes that persecuted them. By honoring them, the Nobel Committee implied that conflicts can't truly be resolved without freedom.

Jimmy Carter falls into the first category. In explaining its decision to award Carter the prize last week, the Nobel Committee praised him for championing "mediation and international cooperation" and "respect for human rights." But in reality, Carter's career is marked by fidelity to the former over the latter. As the American Enterprise Institute's Joshua Muravchik detailed in The New Republic in 1994, Carter has repeatedly praised dictators in the name of international rapprochement. [...]

[T]he committee has turned its back on that other definition of peace embodied by Walesa, Tutu, and Suu Kyi. Viewed from that other tradition, the post-September 11 world looks not like a conflict between Islam and the West but a conflict within the Islamic world, a conflict in which peace is best achieved not through negotiated settlements but through the advance of freedom. In 1983, when the Nobel Committee chose Walesa, it signaled that totalitarianism, not the cold war, was the problem and that freedom was the answer, not détente. Today it could have sent the same message by choosing one of the many dissidents suffering in relative obscurity under the dictatorships of the Muslim world. It could have chosen Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian pro-democracy activist recently thrown back in prison for challenging Hosni Mubarak's repression. It could have chosen Dr. Sima Samar, who ran schools and health clinics for refugee Afghan girls denied education and medicine by the Taliban. It could have chosen Asama Khader, Jordan's foremost crusader against honor killings. Or it could have chosen Iranian philosopher Adbolkarim Soroush, targeted by Tehran's mullahs for advocating separation of mosque and state. Rather than Carter and Annan, world figures who fly in to negotiate with dictators in their palaces, it could have chosen one of the men or women who suffer under those dictators' rule. The Muslim governments that praised Annan's and Carter's selections would have howled with outrage. But they would have howled for the same reason the governments of South Africa, Poland, and Burma howled when their dissidents won the prize: Because the world was no longer indifferent to their peoples' plight.

Bingo! If the Realists are to have their peace at any cost, it will require our indifference to the plight of those living under dictatorships in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


Why Obama? Deconstructing the Nobel Peace Prize nomination (Simon Reid-Henry, 10/09/09, New Statesman)

This was the last in a series of three presidential choices whose logic now reveals itself to be clear: from former President Jimmy Carter in 2002, to would-be President Al Gore in 2007 (joint with the IPCC), and now recently-elected President Barack Obama in 2009, a remarkable run of US politicians as Nobel Peace Laureates comes to an end, neatly bracketing - and standing as pointed rejoinder to - the Bush years.

...if Osama weren't dead in a cave in Tora Bora he'd be on his way to Oslo to pick up his loot.

Meanwhile, consider the cover of The New Statesman this week

Repudiating W is repudiating America, as even the UR has discovered to some chagrin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Okay, suppose for a moment that the case being made by the apologists for the Nobel Committee make any sense, that they are kind of like the boys in Weird Science and the Barack Obama they honored is a Kelly LeBrock-like avatar of their own construction. They didn't give the prize to the actual guy who's president, but to the ideal Obama they want to believe he could be. Here's the beautiful thing, it would have been easier to justify the award if they'd given it to him last year, before he'd even been elected. With every day that passes it becomes more glaringly obvious that he's nothing like what these types of folks were hoping for and the pretense that he is--or might be--is less tenable.

It's exquisite: the prize comes too late, not too soon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


Nobel Reaction: The Turn-it-Down Trend (Susan Davis, 10/09/09, WSJ)

“Turn it down! Politely decline. Say he’s honored but he hasn’t had the time yet to accomplish what he wants to accomplish,” writes Mickey Kaus, a liberal-ish blogger for Slate. “And the downside is … what? That the Nobel Committee feels dissed?” [...]

Others note that the award at least has the potential to create an unnecessary p.r. headache for the president. “With less than a year in office, and relatively few accomplishments to speak of (yet) this prize may prove to be pretty awkward for the president, as he’s constantly had to fight the image of all-hype-little-substance,” writes Joe Weisenthal for The Business Insider.

...was there any period of time today when this news was greeted with other than derision?

Oops, sorry, I see he's been offered truly devastating support: Gore 'Thrilled' By Obama's Nobel (Allan Dodds Frank, 10/09/09, Daily Beast)

-Obama Undeserving of Nobel Peace Prize (Matthew Rothschild, October 9, 2009, The Progressive)
The Aspirational Nobel (Richard Kim on 10/09/2009, The Nation)

I woke up, read the New York Times website and thought I had come to the Onion instead. I hit refresh. Still there: "Obama Wins Nobel for Diplomacy." Maybe this is one of my weird work-related dreams, I thought. Maybe I am still drunk from last night's party. Better close my eyes and wake up again in the real world. Five minutes later...and still no dice.

-He won, but for what? (JENNIFER LOVEN, 10/09/09, AP)
The prize seems to be more for Obama's promise than for his performance. Work on the president's ambitious agenda, both at home and abroad, is barely underway, much less finished. He has no standout moment of victory that would seem to warrant a verdict as sweeping as that issued by the Nobel committee.

And what about peace? Obama is running two wars in the Muslim world — in Iraq and Afghanistan — and can't get a climate change bill through his own Congress.

His scorecard for the year is largely an "incomplete," if he's being graded.

-Obama's Nobel Farce (Peter Beinart, 10/09/09, Daily Beast)
George W. Bush launched a “preemptive” war. Now the Nobel Committee is trying for “preemptive” peace. I had always thought the way these things worked was that you helped bring peace or democracy to some corner of the globe first, and then you won the Nobel Prize. But this year, the Nobel Committee has turned that logic around: It clearly likes what Obama is trying to do: on nuclear disarmament, climate change and Middle East peace—and so, in a “preemptive” strike, it’s giving him the award now, in hopes that doing so will boost his chances of success later. It’s an interesting idea. Perhaps next they’ll start giving Oscars not to the people who have made the best movies of last year, but to the people who have the best chance of making the best movies next year. After all, once you’ve already made the movie, you no longer need the encouragement.

-Obama's Nobel Prize Is More of a Burden than an Honor (Claus Christian Malzahn, 10/09/09, Der Spiegel)
The Nobel Peace Prize has come too early for Barack Obama. The US president cannot point to any real diplomatic successes to date and there are few prospects of any to come.

World leaders hail Obama's Nobel Prize (Sydney Morning Herald, October 9, 2009)
The 1983 Laureate, Poland's Lech Walesa, was more blunt.

"Who, Obama? So fast? Too fast - he hasn't had the time to do anything yet," Walesa told reporters in Warsaw.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Report Shows Narrowing Achievement Gap Between Different Student Groups (Zach Miners, 10/08/09, US News)

Finally, some good news when it comes to the educational prowess of America's public school students: The results of a recently released national study assert that the achievement gap—or the difference in achievement levels between various subgroups of students—is narrowing between advantaged and disadvantaged students on state reading and math tests.

The findings published in the study, which was conducted by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, show that achievement gaps for minority and low-income students have narrowed across all grade levels and subjects in 74 percent of cases between 2002 and 2008.

On the whole, the report says disparities are narrowing because of accelerated achievement of lower-performing groups, rather than slower progress by high-achieving groups. For instance, the percentage of students who were "proficient" grew at a faster rate for African-American students than for whites in 142 of the 153 trend lines studied.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Republican sweep looking likely in Virginia (Josh Kraushaar, 10/08/09, Politico)

Republican Bob McDonnell has emerged with a commanding lead in the Virginia gubernatorial race over Democrat Creigh Deeds, according to a newly-released Washington Post poll.

With less than a month until the election, the poll shows McDonnell leading Deeds by nine points, 53 to 44 percent – and contains a wealth of encouraging developments for the Republican nominee. [...]

The poll also shows Republicans looking in strong position for the two downballot statewide races. Lieutenant governor Bill Bolling and AG nominee Ken Cuccinelli each hold 49 to 40 percent leads over their Democratic opponents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


GOP Lawmakers Reach Out to Isolated Honduran Government (Mary Beth Sheridan, 10/08/09, Washington Post)

GOP lawmakers have blocked two of Obama's key nominations for Latin America, weakening his diplomatic team. In the past week, two Republican delegations have traveled to Honduras to meet with the de facto government, which is not recognized internationally.

Those actions have complicated the strategy of the Obama administration, which has been seeking to impress a growing crop of leftist Latin American leaders with its pro-democracy credentials. The administration is pressing for a negotiated solution to the Honduran crisis and worries that the de facto government is trying to run out the clock until Nov. 29 presidential elections -- with the support of its allies in Washington.

"It gives [the de facto government] this hope you can hang on," said one U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. "It's not helpful."

Republicans say the issue goes beyond Honduras. They maintain they are trying to prevent the spread of a leftist, anti-American ideology promoted by Venezuela's leader, Hugo Chavez -- a close ally of Zelaya's.

"We've seen these power-hungry leaders of South and Central America take command and never let go. It's a worrisome trend," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


A Better Way to Health Reform (Martin Feldstein, October 8, 2009, Washington Post)

Let's scrap the $220 billion annual health insurance tax subsidy, which is often used to buy the wrong kind of insurance, and use those budget dollars to provide insurance that protects American families from health costs that exceed 15 percent of their income.

Specifically, the government would give each individual or family a voucher that would permit taxpayers to buy a policy from a private insurer that would pay all allowable health costs in excess of 15 percent of the family's income. A typical American family with income of $50,000 would be eligible for a voucher worth about $3,500, the actuarial cost of a policy that would pay all of that family's health bills in excess of $7,500 a year.

The family could give this $3,500 voucher to any insurance company or health maintenance organization, including the provider of the individual's current employer-based insurance plan. Some families would choose the simple option of paying out of pocket for the care up to that 15 percent threshold. Others would want to reduce the maximum potential out-of-pocket cost to less than 15 percent of income and would pay a premium to the insurance company to expand their coverage. Some families might want to use the voucher to pay for membership in a health maintenance organization. Each option would provide a discipline on demand that would help to limit the rise in health-care costs.

My calculations, based on the government's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, indicate that the budget cost of providing these insurance vouchers could be more than fully financed by ending the exclusion of employer health insurance payments from income and payroll taxes. The net budget savings could be used to subsidize critical types of preventive care. And unlike the proposals before Congress, this approach could leave Medicare and Medicaid as they are today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Tories lead in Toronto. Sun rises in West (Kelly McParland, 10/09/09, National Post)

[T]his Ekos poll is so striking I can't help it. Forget the general collapse of Liberal support, now trailing the Conservatives in every region of the country (and third to the NDP in British Columbia). Also nevermind the apparent popularity of the Greens in Alberta -- 12.5%, a virtual tie with the Liberals and NDP -- which suggests the few Albertans who don't support the Tories are so distraught they've given up trying.

What's really astonishing are the figures suggesting the Conservatives are 10 points ahead of the Liberals in Toronto, and four times as popular as the NDP. If the poll is accurate, the Liberals' last redoubt, its ability to pull votes in big cities, has all but disappeared. In all of Canada, only the island of Montreal continues to cling desperately to its faith in the party. And not by much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Babe Ruth the Way You’ve Never Seen Him Before (JOHN BRANCH, October 8, 2009, NY Times)

Babe Ruth has struck out looking. Displeased, he leans on his bat, right hand on his hip, and looks back at the umpire. He utters something that can only be imagined. Lou Gehrig, on deck, leans on his bat, too, as if he has seen this act before. Ruth finally shuffles away, head turned to the umpire, dragging his bat through the dirt.

The scene, along with eight seconds of footage never publicly seen of Ruth playing the outfield, was part of an 8-millimeter film found by a New Hampshire man in his grandfather’s home movie collection. It provides a rare look at Ruth, a showman even in defeat. [...]

The latest Babe Ruth film, unseen publicly until now, is part of a 90-second clip shot from the first-base stands at Yankee Stadium. There is no sound. But there are sweeping views of the park. And there is Ruth, obvious by his shape and waddle.

He is shown in right field, hands on his knees, glove on his right hand. To a casual fan, it appears unremarkable. But it represents the archive’s only game action of Ruth playing in the outfield — where he spent more than 2,200 games — other than a between-innings game of catch.

Nick Trotta, baseball’s manager of library licensing, took a look at the newly arrived Ruth clip first. He quickly realized it was something he had not seen before.

When others saw it, it was “wow, wow, wow,” Mr. Trotta said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Sinking with Mr. Rangel (NY Times, 10/09/09)

It is time for Democrats in Congress — who once justifiably complained about the corruption of the Republican majority — to demonstrate to Americans that someone in that august body has ethical standards.

Instead, House Democrats have again shielded Representative Charles Rangel from his serial ethical messes and ducked their responsibility to force him from the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, maintaining her tunnel vision on behalf of a powerful colleague, led the majority to defeat the Republicans’ latest call to depose the New York lawmaker. She does the nation no favor.

The Timesmen can utter the safety word as much as they want, but Ms Pelosi will keep grinding the stiletto heels into their delusions about the Democratic Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize (WALTER GIBBS and ALAN COWELL, October 9, 2009, NY Times)

In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced Friday that it had awarded its annual peace prize to President Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” less than nine months after he took office.

“He has created a new international climate,” the committee said in its announcement. With American forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama’s name had not figured in speculation about the winner until minutes before the prize was announced here.

This guy is pure comedic gold. His reality is indistinguishable from an Onion parody.

The general backlash is going to be fun, but the best part is: You know who's got to be choking on his own bile right now? Jimmy Carter.

Heck, Mr. Obama barely breaks into the Top 10 of the worst recent laureates

Actually, the thought occurs: were the UR the wise politician of his supporters fanbtasy, he could turn this PR disaster to his advantage by refusing the prize and saying: "I don't deserve it until I produce peace in an independent state of Palestine."

Of course, that would deprive him of a new line on his CV, so....

And so it begins, Obama Nobel win shocks Swedish peace group (The Local, 9 Oct 09)

The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (Svenska Freds) has classified as "shameful" the decision by the Nobel Committee in Oslo to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to Barack Obama.

"The choice of Barack Obama as the recipient of the world's foremost peace prize is shocking," said the group's chairwoman Anna Ek in a statement.

October 8, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Barack Obama: Taleban can be involved in Afghanistan future (Tim Reid, 10/08/09, Times of London)

President Obama is prepared to accept some Taleban involvement in Afghanistan’s political future and is unlikely to favour a large influx of new US troops being demanded by his ground commander, a senior official said tonight. [...]

The official, speaking anonymously to the press about Mr Obama’s internal discussions – a tactic that is causing dismay among some senior military officials – said the president’s final decision on his war strategy and troop levels is still at least two weeks away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


Pirates held after mistakenly targeting warship (AP, 10/08/09)

Somali pirates in two skiffs fired on a French navy vessel early Wednesday after apparently mistaking it for a commercial boat, the French military said.

The French ship gave chase and captured five suspected pirates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


Congress Acts to Extend Hate Crimes to Cover Gays (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, October 8, 2009)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Anti-Semitic acts strike Buenos Aires (JTA, 10/08/09)

A Jewish school and the property of a Jewish businessman were painted with anti-Semitic graffiti in Buenos Aires.

Painted swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti were discovered Sunday on The Buenos Aires Yeshurun Jewish High School, in the Palermo neighborhood. [...]

Meanwhile, a former police officer reportedly is set to be questioned in a wiretapping case involving the phone of a member of the Familiares y Amigos de las Victimas of the AMIA attack support group.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


No Free Lunch at the White House (Elizabeth Williamson, 10/08/09, WSJ: Washington Wire)

Ka-ching. The White House rang up another tab Thursday when four chief executives came to dine with President Barack Obama—at their own expense.

A White House aide said the administration served sandwiches and salads in the president’s private dining room for “the same price as the going rate outside the walls of the White House.” After a wide-ranging discussion of financial sector recovery, health care overhaul, climate change and job creation policy, CEOs Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com; Lew Hay of Florida Power & Light; Antonio Perez of Eastman Kodak, and Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft handed over their credit cards.

Let's just hope he had the decency to lend them sweaters, what with the White House heat turned down and everything....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


Is Obama Becoming a Joke? (David Paul Kuhn, 10/08/09, Real Clear Politics)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


Afghan War Debate Now Leans to Focus on Al Qaeda (PETER BAKER and ERIC SCHMITT, 10/08/09, NY Times)

President Obama’s national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday. [...]

It remains unclear whether everyone in Mr. Obama’s war cabinet fully accepts this view. While Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has argued for months against increasing troops in Afghanistan because Pakistan was the greater priority, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have both warned that the Taliban remain linked to Al Qaeda and would give their fighters havens again if the Taliban regained control of all or large parts of Afghanistan, making it a mistake to think of them as separate problems.

Moreover, Mr. Obama’s commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has argued that success demands a substantial expansion of the American presence, up to 40,000 more troops. Any decision that provides less will expose the president to criticism, especially from Republicans, that his policy is a prescription for failure.

The White House appears to be trying to prepare the ground to counter that by focusing attention on recent successes against Qaeda cells in Pakistan.

If we've determined that we have no problem with an Islamicist regime then why pursue al Qaeda, whose goal is Islamicism?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


French 'boy sex' minister defiant (BBC, 10/08/09)

A French politician [,Frederick Mitterand,] has refused to quit over comments that he enjoyed paying for "young boys" in Thailand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


Couple battle to make insurers liable for coverage decisions (Lisa Girion, 10/08/09, LA Times)

Surrounded by supporters, Hilda Sarkisyan marched into Cigna Corp.’s Philadelphia headquarters on a chilly fall day, 10 months after the company refused to pay for a liver transplant for her daughter.

"You guys killed my daughter," the diminutive San Fernando Valley real estate agent declared at the lobby security desk. "I want an apology."

What she got was something quite different.

Cigna employees, looking down into the atrium lobby from a balcony above, began heckling her, she said, with one of them giving her "the finger."

Sarkisyan walked out, stunned and hurt.

"They showed me their true colors," she said. "Shame on them."

...until the folks you're Mau-mauing speak back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


You Can't Say That: At the UN, the Obama administration backs limits on free speech. (Anne Bayefsky, 10/05/2009, Weekly Standard)

For more than a decade, a UN resolution on the freedom of expression was shepherded through the Council, and the now defunct Commission on Human Rights which it replaced, by Canada. Over the years, Canada tried mightily to garner consensus on certain minimum standards, but the "reformed" Council changed the distribution of seats on the UN's lead human rights body. In 2008, against the backdrop of the publication of images of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, Cuba and various Islamic countries destroyed the consensus and rammed through an amendment which introduced a limit on any speech they claimed was an "abuse . . . [that] constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination."

The Obama administration decided that a revamped freedom of expression resolution, extracted from Canadian hands, would be an ideal emblem for its new engagement policy. So it cosponsored a resolution on the subject with none other than Egypt--a country characterized by an absence of freedom of expression.

Privately, other Western governments were taken aback and watched the weeks of negotiations with dismay as it became clear that American negotiators wanted consensus at all costs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Mortgage rates below 5 percent fuel re-fi boom (J.W. ELPHINSTONE, 10/07/09, AP)

Refinance applications climbed 18 percent from the previous week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported Wednesday, as rates on 30-year home loans dropped to their lowest level in four months to 4.89 percent.

With extra cash lining their pockets each month, homeowners could help the economy recover. Since the recession began, American consumers have reined in spending, which accounts for up to 70 percent of the economy. A refinance savings of a couple hundred bucks could go a long way in boosting household finances.

Given the deflationary climate that's a real rate of close to or over 5%, which is still too high.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Without God We are Nothing: My claims this afternoon are simple. It is more reasonable to believe in God than to reject the hypothesis of God by appealing to chance; more reasonable also to believe than to escape into agnosticism. (CARDINAL GEORGE PELL, October 4, 2009, CERC)

As well as being an accomplished philosopher Antony Flew is also an excellent populariser, able to express controversial thoughts forcefully and pithily.

The most controversial claim in his recent book is "that of all the great discoveries of modern science, the greatest was God".

This is provocative for unbelievers, especially unbelieving scientists, and provocative for believers, who know that the roots of monotheism are found with Abraham about 3,700 or 3,900 years ago.

Although much of public opinion still regards science as an enemy of religious understanding and therefore of God, recent developments in physics and now in biology have strengthened the case for God the Creator as a first rate mathematician as well as being prodigal and unpredictable in His creation.

We cannot arrive to God within the framework of science, because God is outside space and time. Flew explains neatly that when we study the interaction of physical bodies, such as sub-atomic particles, we are doing science. When we ask how or why these particles exist, we go beyond physics to metaphysics. We are doing philosophy.

I should repeat that the God for which we are arguing is not a God of the gaps, not a God who is brought in to paste over the gaps in our present scientific knowledge, which might be filled later as science progresses. It is the whole of the universe which is not self-explanatory, including the infrastructure and elements we understand scientifically.

Many people over the ages have found evidence for the Mind of God in the laws of nature, in their regularity and symmetry.

The law of the conservation of energy, Newton's first law of motion and Boyle's law, mathematically precise regularities, universal and tied together, are the examples Flew gives as he asks how nature is packaged in this way.

Flew shows that as well as Einstein, the great scientists who developed quantum physics, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger and Paul Dirac were all theists.

If the quantum physicists are correct, God is necessary to collapse the waves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Friend Driscoll with another entry in the All Humor is Conservative Files.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Command Performance: With U.S. forces in Korea beleaguered and demoralized in 1950, American prestige and the future of South Korea hung in the balance. Then Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway took charge: An adaptation of The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War (David Halberstam, November 2007, Smithsonian magazine)

He was, moreover, a strategic genius. Immediately upon arriving in Korea, he had sized up the situation, soon discerning that the Chinese were ill-equipped and under-supplied. The key, he believed, would be to bring in American firepower, inflicting casualties on the Chinese until a stalemate was achieved. Only then, he was convinced, would the enemy be persuaded to come to the negotiating table.

In every respect, his analysis proved prescient.

And catastrophic for the Chinese and North Koreans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


REVIEW: of Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece By Declan Kiberd (Justin Moyer, October 8, 2009, CS Monitor)

Something stays a reader’s hand when he reaches for a dusty copy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Maybe it’s the lack of quotation marks. Or the run-on sentences. Or the Dublin street slang. Or the frequent absence of plot, narrators, logic, or any trappings of what might be called a story. Or a vocabulary that would challenge the most self-assured SAT scholar. (“Scortatory,” anyone? How about “monoideal?”)

Or it could be the fussy, rag-and-bone- shop references to the Bible, Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Irish myth, and Irish colonial history juxtaposed with graphic depictions of sex acts that outdo the most shocking Internet pornography.

No, just that it is both unreadable and an assault by the writer on the reader.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


The FTC's Mad Power Grab: The commission's preposterous new endorsement guidelines. (Jack Shafer, Oct. 7, 2009, Slate)

If you're a blogger and you write about goods or services—and what blogger doesn't write about books, movies, music, theater, restaurants, home theaters, laptops, manicures, clothing, tutoring, bicycles, cars, boats, cameras, strollers, watches, lawn care, pharmaceuticals, gourmet food, maid service, hair care, concerts, banking, shipping, or septic tank service from time to time?—then you've just made yourself vulnerable to an investigation from the Federal Trade Commission.

In new guidelines (PDF) released Oct. 5, the FTC put bloggers on notice that they could incur an $11,000 fine if they receive free goods, free services, or money and write about the goods or services without conspicuously disclosing their "material connection" to the provider. The FTC guidelines extend even to Facebook and Twitter posters. If you received a gratis novel from the publicity department of a publisher and posted a tweet about it without disclosing that the book was a freebie, you become an "endorser" in the FTC's view. It could—in the name of consumer protection—hit you with a fine. The 81-page guidelines, which also mandate stringent celebrity endorsements rules, will take effect Dec. 1.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 AM


Yo La Tengo performs in The Current studio (Jim McGuinn, October 7, 2009, Minnesota Public Radio: The Current)

They stopped by The Current studios and played "Periodically Double Or Triple," "If It's True," and "Nothing To Hide."

October 7, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 PM


Folk and Chamber Pop, Topped With Electronic Spices (JON PARELES, 10/07/09, NY Times)

“All I want is the perfect love,” Sufjan Stevens sang on Tuesday night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The song, “Impossible Soul,” was among the new ones he has been introducing on a tour that included a series of New York City shows concluding Wednesday. In his new songs, love leads him to improvisation, chaos and spasms of rhythm, all precisely dolloped out, as he takes yet another tangent away from whatever category briefly seemed to hold him.

Playing older material, Mr. Stevens was still a whisper-voiced, fingerpicking folkie for songs like his devout “To Be Alone With You,” a deceptively hesitant piano balladeer for “Barn Owl, Night Killer” and a master builder of chamber-pop suites like “Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!).” “Detroit” perked along in its odd meter, adding part atop part...

...but doesn't reading that last bit make you want a Pop Tart?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


World's First All-Electric Locomotive Has Over 1,000 Batteries, Runs 24 Hours On a Single Charge (Adrian Covert, 10.07.2009, Popular Science)

Norfolk Southern is the latest company to push a piece of heavy industrial machinery into green territory with their 100% electric NS 999 locomotive. The zero-emissions train makes use of 1,080 12-volt batteries that allows it to run for 24 hours on a single charge--all while carrying the same load as a conventional locomotive.

Developed in conjunction with the Department of Energy, the 1,500 horsepower machine makes use of regenerative braking for extra power and is also able to recharge in just two hours (requiring calibration once a week).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:04 PM


Does work kill in the country of 35-hour week? (Emma Charlton, 10/07/09, AFP)

Short work weeks, enviably long lunches and vacations their American or Japanese counterparts can only dream of: French labour conditions are well-known to be among the most generous in the world.

But a string of suicides at France Telecom has cast the spotlight on a darker side of French corporate life, where high stress and fraught relations with management drive many workers into depression. [...]

France has one of the highest suicide rates among the world's leading economies -- at 17.6 per 100,000 compared to 13 in neighbouring Germany, 11 in the United States and 6.7 in Britain, according to World Health organisation figures for 2005.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


-MYSPACE: Soulive
-Soulive (Royal Family Records)
Soulive Live at Antone's on 2009-05-02 (Internet Music Archives, May 2, 2009)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


White House will keep Olympic office open (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 10/6/09, Politico)

Despite the embarrassing rejection of his effort to lure the 2016 Olympic Games to his hometown of Chicago, President Barack Obama will keep the first-ever White House Olympic Office, POLITICO has learned.

The White House stressed that the office, officially called the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport, is permanent and has purposes other than helping U.S. cities bid on and host the Olympics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Losing the Latino Vote: In the Long Run, the GOP Must Be Inclusive (Michael Gerson, October 7, 2009, Washington Post)

In ethnic politics, symbolism matters. And recent Republican signals to Hispanics have often been crudely unwelcoming. During the 2006 congressional debate on immigration reform, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) grabbed the Republican microphone to call Miami a "Third World country." The same year, Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) darkly warned of illegal immigrant murderers as a "slow motion nightmare" greater than Sept. 11. A provision of the House immigration reform bill would have made it illegal for priests, ministers and volunteers to "assist" illegal immigrants -- criminalizing a religious duty. Republican presidential candidates conspicuously avoided Hispanic forums during the 2008 primaries. Conservative shock radio, on its frightening fringes, can be overtly racist, referring to Mexican immigrants as "leeches," "the world's lowest primitives" and diseased carriers of the "fajita flu" who may "wipe their behinds with their hands." Pat Buchanan sells books with this title: "State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America."

As Martinez points out, many Republicans who oppose his pro-immigration views are not divisive or inflammatory. But other, angry voices crowd them out. As a result, Republican support among Latinos is collapsing. In Martinez's home state of Florida, for example, 56 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for George W. Bush in 2004. Four years later, 57 percent voted for Barack Obama.

Now hearings are beginning on another immigration reform bill, with a legislative debate likely to ripen in 2010. For Democrats -- pledged to comprehensive reform but weighing union opposition to a temporary-worker program -- the immigration debate will be difficult. For Republicans, it may be an invitation to political suicide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Chicago Violence Haunts Obama as Gun-Control Backers Left Cold (John McCormick, 10/07/09, Bloomberg)

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder plan to appear at City Hall with Mayor Richard Daley in what the Obama administration described as a search for solutions to youth crime. They also will meet privately with students and parents.

Chicago’s violence has long burdened Obama’s political career, including the embarrassment of a missed vote as a state senator that hurt his 2000 bid for Congress. Duncan, 44, a Chicago native and Obama friend, admits to “total failure” in curbing violence during his seven years as chief of the nation’s third-largest school system, which serves more than 400,000 students, 85 percent of them living below the poverty line.

Some gun-control advocates question the administration’s timing as Duncan and Holder arrive after a highly publicized beating that didn’t involve a gun.

“Where there have been opportunities for the president to speak out about the issue of firearm violence, he has missed any number of opportunities,” said Thom Mannard, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

Doing so in the Albert case “provides the cover” to address youth violence without confronting the gun lobby, said Mannard, whose group’s board of directors included Duncan until he left for his current post.

October 6, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


Al-Qaida showing smaller presence in Afghanistan (ROBERT H. REID, 10/06/09, Associated Press)

Al-Qaida's role in Afghanistan has faded after eight years of war. Gone is the once-formidable network of camps and safe houses where Osama bin Laden and his mostly Arab operatives trained thousands of young Muslims to wage a global jihad. The group is left with fewer than 100 core fighters, according to the Obama administration, likely operating small-scale bomb-making and tactics classes conducted by trainers who travel to and from Pakistan.

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that al-Qaida has "lost operational capacity" after a series of military setbacks and vowed to continue the battle to cripple the terror organization.

With the U.S. reassessing how to achieve that objective, the key question now is whether al-Qaida could reconstitute its Afghan base even if its Taliban allies regain power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


Jews A Scapegoat In Honduras Political Stalemate (ADL, October 1, 2009)

The tense political stalemate in Honduras has given rise to expressions of anti-Semitism and disturbing anti-Israel conspiracy theories. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), some political leaders, pundits and others in Honduras and Venezuela are saying that Israel and Jews played a role in the ouster and intimidation of President Manuel Zelaya and are in cahoots with the de facto president, Robert Micheletti.

The League has released translations of excerpts from interviews and comments made by some Honduran political figures and Venezuelan media commentators showing a pattern of blaming Jews and Israel for the political crisis. On September 25, a commentator on Radio Globo in Honduras pointed to Jews and Israelis as "people that do damage in this country" and added, "After what I have learned, I ask myself why, why didn't we let Hitler carry out his historic mission?"

"From President Zelaya himself down to media pundits and political activists, there has been a troubling undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the situation in Honduras," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


Poll: Most in U.S. would back Iran strike (UPI, 10/06/09)

A strong majority of U.S. residents say it is important to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action, a poll indicates.

The survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, released Tuesday, indicates that 61 percent of respondents agreed with the assertion, including 71 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of independents and 51 percent of Democrats. Only 24 percent of the respondents said [it] is more important to avoid a war with Iran -- including 31 percent of Democrats who said so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


French gay soccer team snubbed by Muslim team (AP, 10/06/09)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Europe vs. Vaclav Klaus (Joshua Keating, 10/06/2009, FP: Passport)

A libertarian nationalist who is best-known internationally for his anti-environmentalism, Klaus is also a strident Euroskeptic, he refuses to fly the EU flag from Prague Castle, saying it would be "reminiscent of Czech subservience to Moscow under communism." In his latest gambit, 17 of Klaus's allies in parliament have challenged the treaty in the Czech Republic's constitutional court, allowing the president to delay his signature until there's a ruling.

The EU is hoping to get the Czech ratification over with quickly, but foreign pressure isn't likely to work on Klaus, who waited nine months to sign the International Criminal Court treaty after parliament had approved it. There's even speculation that Klaus might try to delay ratification until a new Conservative government is elected in Britain that could torpedo the treaty permanently.

Pressure? No one wants it but bureaucratic elites.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Driving on Glass? Inventor Hopes to Lay Down Solar Roads: U.S. roads paved with glass panels encasing photovoltaics and LEDs would double as national grid (David Biello, 10/06/09, Scientific American)

A truck tire supporting a 36,300-kilogram load repeatedly traverses an 18-meter stretch of road, day in and day out, rolling up 483,000 kilometers on the odometer at the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DoT) testing facility in Virginia. The goal is to thoroughly challenge any new paving techniques and see how the road surface holds up. Now imagine putting a solar panel under there.

That's exactly what Scott Brusaw of Sagle, Idaho–based Solar Roadways hopes to do next February. The electrical engineer is currently at work building a prototype of his so-called "Solar Road Panel" with the help of a $100,000 small business grant from the DoT.

"We're building solar panels that you can drive on," Brusaw says. "The fact that it's generating power means it pays for itself over time, as opposed to asphalt."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM

50 in '10:

Race Rating Change: Castle’s Senate Bid Sets Up Key Race (Greg Giroux, 10/06/09, CQ-Roll Call)

Delaware Rep. Michael N. Castle , a prominent Republican centrist, announced Tuesday that he is running for the Senate seat formerly held by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. The decision by Castle, a longtime fixture in Delaware politics, was a victory for Republican strategists in a Democratic-leaning state.

Castle’s 2010 candidacy, widely seen as crucial to Republicans’ hopes of competing for the seat, has prompted CQPolitics to change its rating on the race to Leans Republican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


The Tyrannical History of Military Tribunals for Civilians (Greg Robinson, 10/05/09, HNN)

Army courts were part of the military government that took power in the then Territory of Hawaii following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Commanding General Walter Short (who browbeat the civilian governor into approving unlimited martial law) declared himself military governor, dissolved the elected legislature and suspended the U.S. Constitution. The military regime proceeded over the following weeks to issue decrees regulating all aspects of civilian life. Meanwhile, the army closed down all civilian courts. When the courts reopened one week after Pearl Harbor, they were restricted to considering civil cases, a network of military commissions and provost courts was established to try all criminal cases.

These military tribunals, presided over by armed officers without legal training, were classic examples of drumhead justice, unfettered by rules of evidence, presumption of innocence, or other constitutional safeguards. Juries were forbidden and lawyers discouraged or even barred. The courts were effectively rigged against defendants. Of the 22,480 trials conducted in provost court in Honolulu in 1942-1943, 99 percent ended in convictions—one officer who heard 819 cases issued convictions in all 819! Judges frequently issued severe sentences, including imprisonment and hard labor, for trivial offenses, and no machinery existed for appeals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Another oil strike for Keystone in Kurdistan (Tamsin Carlisle, October 06. 2009, The National)

Britain’s Gulf Keystone Petroleum has found more oil in Iraqi Kurdistan, while Norway’s DNO International is restarting its oil operations after settling a dispute with the Kurdish government.

Gulf Keystone, a minor oil explorer, said high quality light crude oil flowed from its Shaikan-1 well at rates as high as 2,000 barrels per day during tests, along with up to 2 million cubic feet per day of gas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM


The Economist

Dear Reader,

I'd like to inform you about important changes at Economist.com.

Beginning October 13th, we will be limiting access to certain sections of our site to subscribers only. Over the past few years, Economist.com has become a hub for intelligent discussion, with news commentary, blogs and an award-winning debate series. We will continue to encourage both subscribers and non-subscribers to participate in those conversations. We will also enhance the experience we offer our most loyal readers by expanding our subscribers-only features.

Currently, all content published within the last year is free of charge. Soon, this access will be limited to articles published within the last 90 days. The print edition contents page, which offers a convenient way to browse articles and features from the latest issue of The Economist, will also be limited to subscribers only.

Through these complementary aspects of Economist.com, we will continue to foster intelligent discussion and debate, while enhancing the value we bring to our community of subscribers.

I hope you'll continue to visit the site and enjoy all it has to offer.

Ben Edwards
Ben Edwards, Publisher

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Can Ahmadinejad Invoke the Right of Return?: They say his mother was Jewish … (Brian Palmer, Oct. 5, 2009, Slate)

In the unlikely event that Ahmadinejad's parents were Jewish, would he have a right to Israeli citizenship under the country's Law of Return?

No. The Law of Return permits the Israeli Ministry of the Interior to deny citizenship to otherwise qualified applicants who are "engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people" or are "likely to endanger public health or the security of the state." Ahmadinejad, who famously referred to Israel as a "stinking corpse" and has repeatedly called for its destruction, would be declared ineligible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


...it really isn't all that tough to make fun of the Obamessiah...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


The Coming Energy Revolution: Smart-grid technology will bring huge savings to companies as varied as Cisco, PG&E, and Cargill, and to consumers, too. But who will foot the bill? (Rachael King , 10/05/09, Business Week)

The secret behind this money-saving plan lies in what's known as the smart grid—a wholesale revamp of the system that distributes energy to homes and businesses around the country. Government bodies and utility providers are in the early stages of this multibillion-dollar upgrade to transform the existing grid into a two-way network where power and information flow in both directions between the utility and the customer, not just from the provider to the user.

Done right, the revamp will cut bills, reduce consumption, give users more say in the kinds of energy they use, and even let customers produce their own energy and sell it back to power providers. "What's going to happen with the smart grid is that we're going to create a network that's larger than the Internet," says Guido Jouret, chief technology officer for the emerging-technologies group at Cisco Systems (CSCO), one of the many companies working on the technology needed to modernize the electric grid.

The Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit research and design group, estimates that it will cost $165 billion, or roughly $8 billion a year for 20 years, to create the smart grid. The market for the gear needed to overhaul smart-grid communications alone may reach $20 billion a year in five years, Cisco estimates. Other technology companies developing smart-grid software and hardware include IBM (IBM), Oracle (ORCL), Google (GOOG), and Siemens (SI).

The tech sector's interest is fitting considering the similarities between the energy-grid upgrade and the computing revolution of the 1980s that saw hulking, centralized mainframes give way to PCs. The existing U.S. power grid dispenses electricity but is limited in its ability to gather intelligence from end users—hence the monthly visit from a meter reader. Now utilities are replacing outmoded meters with so-called smart meters that foster a back-and-forth between customer and utility. In much the same way PCs opened the door to third-party software and services and use of the Internet, smart meters are paving the way for tools and services that make the system more responsive to shifts in energy demands.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Bentham vs. Hume (DAVID BROOKS, 10/06/09, NY Times)

If you put Mr. Bentham in charge of the government, he’d proceed with confidence. If you told him to solve a complicated issue like the global-warming problem, he’d gather the smartest people in the country and he’d figure out how to expand wind, biomass, solar and geothermal sources to reduce CO2 emissions. He’d require utilities to contribute $1 billion a year to a Carbon Storage Research Consortium. He’d draw up regulations determining how much power plants would be allowed to pollute.

He’d know about battery efficiency and building retrofit programs, and he’d give you a long string of dazzling proposals. So then you’d ask him to solve the health care mess.

He’d say we have to cover the uninsured without bankrupting the country. He’d design a set of insurance policy regulations to make sure everybody gets uniform care. He’d get out his magnifying glass and help pay for expanded coverage by identifying waste in Medicare.

Then, he’d say, we’ve got change the way government reimburses providers. He’d set up a $1 billion-a-year Innovation Center within the Department of Health and Human Services. He’d organize a superempowered Medicare commission to rewrite regulations and hold down costs. He’d set up comparative effectiveness research centers with teams of experts who would determine what treatments work best. He’d encourage doctors to merge their practices into efficient teams because he’d seen successful pilot programs along that line.

Mr. Hume, I’m afraid, wouldn’t be so impressive. If you asked him to take on global warming, he’d pile up reports on the problem. But if you walked into his office after a few days, you’d find papers strewn in great piles on the floor and him at his desk with his head in his hands.

“I don’t know the best way to generate clean energy,” he’d whine, “and I don’t know how technology will advance in the next 20 years. Why don’t we just raise the price on carbon and let everybody else figure out how to innovate our way toward a solution?

That, in its entirety, is how the Anglosphere avoided the worst problems of the Enlightenment, which blighted continental Europe. Hume, despite some setbacks, generally prevails.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Kiwi Conservative: Meet New Zealand’s Reaganite prime minister. (Lydia Bevege, 10/06/09, National Review)

Since taking office, Key, head of New Zealand’s center-right National party, has signed a multilateral free-trade agreement with twelve countries in the Asia-Pacific region and has commenced a regulatory review program aimed at eliminating unnecessary and inefficient regulations. His government has also capped the number of staff in the public service (halting the growth of a bureaucracy that became hugely bloated under Key’s predecessor, Labour prime minister Helen Clark, who served from 1999 to 2008) and introduced a bevy of tax cuts designed to stimulate job growth. Delivering his first budget in May, Key continued to distinguish his economic policies from those being adopted in Washington, London, and Canberra. He imposed a cap on government spending set at half the average spending level over the past five years, reining in government growth to 2 percent per year. Key’s “line-by-line” review of federal spending identified and cut back $2 billion worth of non-essential programs. His conservative budget pushed the New Zealand dollar higher and prompted the ratings agency Standard & Poor to increase New Zealand’s foreign-currency rating from negative to stable.

Key’s economic-stimulus plan has sought to improve private-sector productivity by reducing red tape and fiscal disincentives, rather than by borrowing and spending billions of dollars to prop up growth and bail out ailing industries. Meanwhile, his health-care reforms have reduced bureaucracy, encouraged private health-care provision, and improved value in the public health system. New Zealand health minister Tony Ryall has stated categorically that the government is “not interested in supporting any recommendations that increase bureaucracy.” The Key-Ryall reforms are a world away from Obamacare.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


No Rush to Escalate (E.J. Dionne Jr., October 5, 2009 , Washington Post)

Obama has said over and over that the war in Afghanistan, unlike the war in Iraq, is necessary. "We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and our allies," he declared in March. He cannot walk away from that.

But while his March speech was sweeping in certain ways, he defined a limited core objective. "I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal," he said, "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future." These are the words that will give Obama room to reconsider his policy. [...]

Is this a situation in which Obama should commit tens of thousands more troops for a lengthy war? Should it surprise us that some administration officials are asking why it is that al-Qaeda has weakened even as the Taliban has grown stronger? These skeptics now question whether routing the Taliban is actually essential to Obama's core goal of defeating al-Qaeda.

If the Administration doesn't like who the Afghans elect to govern themselves and doesn't care if the Taliban takes over then they should just withdraw entirely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Liberals looking to defect, Tories say (Susan Delacourt, 10/06/09, Toronto Star)

A Conservative government official said Monday there have been discussions with three Liberal MPs interested in crossing the floor to the Tory side over the past month. [...]

There has been speculation in the past few days that Ruby Dhalla, Liberal MP for Brampton-Springdale, has considered defecting to the Conservatives because her own party has refused to back her private member's bill to increase old-age benefits to immigrant seniors.

Conservatives would not name the trio – even suggesting Dhalla might not be "a good fit" in the caucus – but such talk will create more headaches for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, already falling in the polls and trying to put out a party fire in Quebec caused by the resignation of Denis Coderre, his lieutenant in the province.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


Obama breaks precedent by not meeting Dalai Lama (David Alexander, 10/05/09, Reuters)

President Barack Obama will not meet the Dalai Lama during his five-day trip to the U.S. capital beginning on Monday, the first time in 18 years the exiled Tibetan leader has visited Washington without seeing the president.

...he spends so much time crawling on it before dictators that he's grinding it down.

October 5, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


The end of the Assad regime? (FARID GHADRY, 10/05/09, Jerusalem Post)

Between US sanctions, a severe drought in an agrarian-based economy, sustained terror that has caused the migration of over 1 million Iraqis to Syria, political risks promoting "resistance" instead of cooperation, dwindling oil revenues, an alarming increase in Syrian population and a determined new Israeli government, Assad is being squeezed like a Syrian olive for its oil.

Very few people grasp the reality Assad faces now that he has systematically destroyed whatever he inherited from his father through ill-advised policies. Some Middle East analysts are aware of the economic pressure Assad is under, but the extent of the harm his policies have caused the Syrian treasury is largely unknown.

AS IMPORTANT to the piling problems on Assad's shoulders is the latest challenge Iran was confronted with during the G-20 summit last week, regarding the discovery of its secret enrichment plant in Qom. Assad suddenly finds himself burdened by outside forces over which he has no control. Even his most potent tool of terror seems to have gone stale in the face of the overwhelming pressure Iran is facing for its actions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 PM


Barack Obama angry at General Stanley McChrystal speech on Afghanistan (Alex Spillius, 05 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The relationship between President Barack Obama and the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan has been put under severe strain by Gen Stanley McChrystal's comments on strategy for the war.

According to sources close to the administration, Gen McChrystal shocked and angered presidential advisers with the bluntness of a speech given in London last week. [...]

An adviser to the administration said: "People aren't sure whether McChrystal is being naïve or an upstart. To my mind he doesn't seem ready for this Washington hard-ball and is just speaking his mind too plainly."

In London, Gen McChrystal, who heads the 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan as well as the 100,000 Nato forces, flatly rejected proposals to switch to a strategy more reliant on drone missile strikes and special forces operations against al-Qaeda.

He told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that the formula, which is favoured by Vice-President Joe Biden, would lead to "Chaos-istan".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


Black Market Shows Iran Can Adapt to Sanctions (CHARLIE SAVAGE and MARK LANDLER, 10/05/09, NY Times)

[A]s the focus on sanctions intensifies, a review of the United States’ experiences in enforcing its own longstanding restrictions on trade with Iran suggests it would be difficult to truly quarantine the Iranian economy.

Black market networks have sprouted up all over the globe to circumvent the sanctions. A typical embargo-busting scheme was detailed in a plea agreement filed in federal court here on Sept. 24, the day before Mr. Obama and European allies announced the existence of a previously undisclosed Iranian nuclear enrichment facility near Qum.

In the court filings, a Dutch aviation services company and its owner admitted that they had illegally funneled American aircraft and electronics components to Iran from 2005 to 2007.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Midterm elections raise ante for Obama (Susan Milligan, October 5, 2009, Boston Globe)

Failure, especially on his promise to expand health care coverage, could spell significant Democratic losses in Congress in November 2010, say members of both parties and analysts.

“The tough part of this presidency is that everything is on the front burner,’’ said Peter Fenn, a Democrat consultant. To achieve victory and minimize damage to Democratic majorities, Obama and his team will have to have their policy and political strategies clicking perfectly, he said.

Recent history underscores the stakes for the White House.

The Clinton Administration fought hard for a health care package, failed miserably, and then his party was hammered in the 1994 elections, losing control of both chambers of Congress. The Democratic hemorrhaging on the Hill meant theat Clinton had to struggle to win approval of nearly every major piece of legislation he offered for the rest of his presidency."

Not coincidentally, his rather good reputation on policy rests on Republican offerings--GATT, NAFTA, etc.--not Democrat. This is what could save the UR too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


All the President’s Meddling (SUSAN DUNN, 10/05/09, NY Times)

In a fireside chat in June 1938, he carefully explained that as president, he would not intervene in Democratic primaries. But, as the head of the Democratic Party, he said, it was his right and duty to support liberal candidates who stood by the New Deal. In addition, he believed that the nation should have two effective and responsible political parties, one liberal, the other conservative, each ideologically consistent and united. Newspapers branded his tactic a “purge” — and the inflammatory label stuck.

Roosevelt spent the summer of 1938 zigzagging across the country, holding rallies, speaking out against some incumbents and campaigning for others. On the top of his hit list was Millard Tydings. “Take Tydings’s hide off and rub salt in it,” Roosevelt once snapped. Tydings had opposed nearly every New Deal measure — even on Social Security, which was approved by all but six senators, he demurred, voting only “present.” Yet, aware of the president’s extraordinary popularity among his constituents, Tydings improbably insisted that he embraced the “bone and sinew” of the New Deal.

But in Maryland as in other states in which the president spoke out against the incumbents, the purge failed. It succeeded in only one race, against John O’Connor, a New Yorker who was the reactionary chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.

...it wasn't until '42, when he miscalculated and portrasyed the GOP as Nazis for wanting to fight Japan and stay out of the European War that he lost control of Congress (though not the majority, because Southern conservatives were Democrats back in the day).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Conservatives on 'crusade' to help poorest in society, Michael Gove says (James Kirkup and Robert Winnett, 05 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

[Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary] insisted that the Tories’ “back to work” policies are focussed on narrowing the gap between rich and poor and helping the children of poorer households improve their own circumstances.

Mr Gove said: “The Conservative Party this week is a party that is on a mission, a crusade to deal with the long-standing issues which have kept 20 to 30 per cent of our people in poverty”

He told GMTV that the Tories would support people whose benefits were cut.

He said: "Crucially, we will invest more in making sure that they have the sorts of skills and job opportunities which will allow them to move from a life on benefits and a life where they don't have the opportunities that work provides into a meaningful and fulfilling job."

The Conservatives have said that within three years of David Cameron being elected, every person on incapacity benefit will be tested to see if they can return to work.

The Conservatives predict that about 400,000 of the 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit are incorrectly claiming the payments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Thumbs on the Wheel

[T]he way to stop people from using cellphones while driving is not to make it a crime. Too many drivers value convenience more than safety and would assume they wouldn’t get caught. A more effective approach is to get telecommunications companies to tweak technology to make it difficult or impossible to text and drive.

When a cellphone is used in a moving car, its signal must be handed off from one cell tower to the next along the route. This process tells the service provider that the phone is in motion. Cellphone towers could be engineered to not transmit while a phone is traveling. After a phone had stopped moving for a certain amount of time — three minutes, maybe — it would be able to transmit again.

Another solution would be to install hardware in cars and software in cellphones that would disable some phone functions when cars are moving. It would be the electronics equivalent of putting a guard on a knife handle or a grill over the blades of a fan.

October 4, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


6 members of Supreme Court attend Catholic Mass (AP, 10/04/09)

Five of the six Roman Catholics on the high court - Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito - heard the homily by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo; the sixth, Justice Clarence Thomas, did not attend. Justice Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish, was there as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


Queen 'appalled' at Church of England moves, claim Vatican moles (Richard Eden, 03 Oct 2009, Dail;y Telegraph)

When Pope Benedict visits this country next year, he is expected to stay at Buckingham Palace as a guest of the Queen. The warmth of her welcome will come as no surprise to the Pontiff, if senior sources at the Vatican are to be believed.

According to informants quoted in The Catholic Herald, the Queen has "grown increasingly sympathetic" to the Catholic Church over the years while being "appalled", along with the Prince of Wales, at developments in the Church of England.

The usually well-informed newspaper adds that the Queen, who is the Supreme Governor of the C of E, is "also said to have an affinity with the Holy Father, who is of her generation".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM


President is AWOL as our commander (Michael Goodwin, 10/04/09, NY Post)

IF you still doubt Presi dent Obama is trying to do too many things and is giving short shrift to the most important ones, consider this pathetic scene at the Copenhagen airport. It was Friday, and the president went to Denmark to make his pitch for the Chicago Olympics.

Before Air Force One took off for home, Obama met with Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Our commander in Afghanistan was summoned from London and got 25 minutes of face time with the commander-in-chief.

That's it -- 25 minutes on the plane for the man Obama picked to lead 68,000 troops and rescue a war he calls one of "necessity." Compare that to the 14 hours or so Obama wasted flying and speaking about the Olympics, and you get a snapshot of a president off course.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


China launches first-ever private railways (Saibal Dasgupta, 10/04/09, TNN)

Even as Chinese president Hu Jintao was telling an audience in Beijing that the government will stick to the path of socialism on October 1, a quite capitalistic revolution was taking place in distant Sanxi province in north China.

The first-ever private railway project began construction on the 60th anniversary of the Communist revolution. It may seem like a modest beginning for the project’s private owners but the business focus is clear as the project will link coal mines of Sanxi.

Another project that will bring China’s rail network very close to the border of Myanmar went in into operation late September. This project connecting two towns in Yunnan province is now being extended to connect Ruili, the Chinese outpost on the Myanmar border.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


The Conscience of a Capitalist (STEPHEN MOORE, 10/04/09, WSJ)

For the 12th straight year, Mr. Mackey's company has been praised as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" by Fortune Magazine. Whole Foods sells healthy food, practices "socially responsible trade," and prides itself on promoting foods that are grown to support "biodiversity and healthy soils." Mr. Mackey donates 5% of company profits to charity and has been one of America's loudest critics of runaway compensation on Wall Street. And he pays himself $1 a year. He would seem to be a model corporate citizen.

Yet his now famous op-ed incited a boycott of Whole Foods by some of his left-wing customers. His piece advised that "the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us closer to a complete government takeover of our health-care system." Free-market groups retaliated with a "buy-cott," encouraging people to purchase more groceries at Whole Foods.

Why did he write the piece in the first place?

"President Obama called for constructive suggestions for health-care reform," he explains. "I took him at his word."

Silly goose.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


HOW I MADE IT: JASON PYLE: Using algae to make fuels, he's thinking beyond pond scum: Sapphire Energy CEO Jason Pyle, who has had a hand in start-ups in medical engineering and biotechnology, now is developing algae-based fuels that have already propelled planes and a car. (Tiffany Hsu, October 4, 2009, LA Times)

The gig: Chief executive of Sapphire Energy Inc., a San Diego biofuels company that develops algae-based fuel that has been used experimentally to power airplanes and, recently, a car that was driven across the country. The serial entrepreneur has had a hand in starting several companies in industries including medical engineering and biotechnology.

Sapphire hopes to produce 1 million gallons of algae diesel and jet fuel each year in the next two years, and up to a massive 1 billion gallons of fuel a year by 2025.

A company born of conflict: Sapphire Energy grew out of a dinner argument in 2006, where Pyle contended that biofuels, especially corn ethanol, were a flawed fad that could never be developed on a commercial scale. But ever the problem solver, he, along with partners Kristina Burow and Nathaniel David, began looking into alternative fuel sources.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


The Coming Failure On Iran (Jackson Diehl, October 4, 2009, Washington Post)

The Obama administration's positive tone following its first diplomatic encounter with Iran covers a deep and growing gloom in Washington and European capitals. Seven hours of palaver in Geneva haven't altered an emerging conclusion: None of the steps the West is considering to stop the Iranian nuclear program is likely to work.

Not talks. Not sanctions, even of the "crippling" variety the Obama administration has spoken of. Not military strikes. And probably not support for regime change through the still-vibrant opposition.

For obvious reasons, senior officials won't state this broad conclusion out loud.

Since Mr. Obama refuses to lead, he'll have to follow Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Canada, U.S. border gates separate, unite towns (John Curran, 10/04/09, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

DERBY LINE, Vt. | For decades, the towns of Derby Line, Vt., and Stanstead, Quebec, have functioned as one community.

Located on each side of the border, they share a sewer system, emergency services, snowplowing duties and the border-straddling Haskell Free Library and Opera House, where a narrow black line across the hardwood floor of the reading room marks the international border running through the property.

Work began Thursday, though, to erect of a pair of 5-foot-tall steel gates across two previously unguarded residential streets - a project that is dividing the towns physically but uniting them in displeasure.

Border authorities call the gates a necessary evil to stem smuggling and illegal-alien crossings. Locals say there's enough security - surveillance cameras and patrols by U.S. Customs and Border Protection - as it is.

"I've always considered Derby and Stanstead like brother and sister," said Mary O'Donnell, 57, of Stanstead, walking into the library to use a computer Friday. "We've always been on friendly terms. Now, suddenly, 9/11 hits and everybody in the U.S. freaks out. So we're now going to get some really ugly things at the end of the streets that I don't think is going to serve much of a purpose."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


The Rabbit Ragu Democrats (FRANK RICH, 10/04/09, NY Times)

[Y]’s in this context that you have to wonder what some of the Obama era’s most moneyed and White House-connected lobbyists were thinking as they preened before a Washington Post reporter recently for two lengthy articles. We’re not even nine months into the new administration, yet these swaggering, utterly un-self-aware influence peddlers seem determined to prove that nothing except the party affiliations has changed in the Beltway’s pay-for-play culture since Tom DeLay. If these lobbyists were stocks, I’d short them.

One of the articles focused on Heather Podesta — “The It Girl of a New Generation of Lobbyists” — who lobbies for health care players like Eli Lilly, HealthSouth and Cigna. Podesta is half of what The Post has called a “mega-lobbying” couple. Her husband, with his own separate (and larger) lobbying shop, is Tony Podesta, the brother of John Podesta, the Clinton White House chief of staff who ran the Obama transition. Back in November, Tony Podesta told The Times that only “very unsophisticated” clients would hire his firm because of his brother’s role in assembling the new administration. That encyclopedic and ever-expanding list of “unsophisticated” clients includes Amgen and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity — and that’s just among the A’s. His business was up 57 percent from last year in the first six months of 2009. Heather Podesta’s was up 65 percent.

When we first meet Heather Podesta in The Post, she is being bussed on the cheek by Charles Rangel at his August birthday party at New York’s Tavern on the Green. In keeping with the usual pattern of blowback, it took only one day after the article appeared for The Times to report that Rangel, the ethically challenged chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was guilty of yet another lapse: He’d neglected to list at least $500,000 in assets on his 2007 Congressional disclosure form. As if that were not karmic retribution enough, Tavern on the Green filed for bankruptcy just days after that.

The second Post article, on the front page two weeks ago, described the scene, as well as the rabbit ragu, at Ristorante Tosca, the lobbyists’ hangout on F Street in downtown Washington. The Post did not mention that it is just four blocks away from the location of the now defunct Signatures, the restaurant whose owner, Jack Abramoff, was the go-to fixer of the DeLay “K Street project” before scandal brought him down.

Will the Real President Stand Up? (David S. Broder, October 4, 2009, Washington Post)
Barack Obama has reached the moment of truth for answering the persistent question about his core beliefs and political priorities. The coming votes in the House and Senate on his signature health-care reform effort will tell us more about the president than anything so far in his White House tenure.

The challenge is not one he invited. All during last year's campaign, Obama skillfully skirted the question of whether he was a moderate, consensus-seeking pragmatist, as his words suggested, or a faithful adherent to the liberal agenda, as his voting record demonstrated.

In stylistic terms, he cultivated the pragmatic image. On issues, he was alternately one or the other ...

...but it is kind of surprising how openly the advertise their naivete.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Pak, US lost track of Osama five years ago: Musharraf (ANI, 4 October 2009)

Former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has said that the US and Pakistan both lost track of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden five years ago, The Dawn reports.

Musharraf, who is on a lecture tour of the US currently, told students and delegates at a college in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that both Pakistani and US intelligence have failed to collect any details regarding Laden's whereabouts, and now they are even unable to ascertain whether he was dead or alive.

The spelunkers will find the corpse.

October 3, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 PM


Wins popularity contests, not much else (JAMES KIRCHICK, October 3, 2009, NY Post)

President Obama is following the advice of that great philosopher Woody Allen, who once said that "eighty percent of success is showing up." In health care legislation, foreign relations and, now, the Olympics, Obama believes his very presence is enough to bend the world to his whim.

But even Allen allowed for 20% of something else. I'm guessing good ideas and effort. [...]

The stunning rebuke delivered to this most internationally popular of presidents is a teachable moment.

If Barack Obama's suave, "citizen of the world" charm can't even get us beyond the first round of an international sporting competition, what does that say about his ability to garner support for solving far more serious and intractable problems?

No one likes the most popular kid in the high school.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


Obama adviser says no climate change law this year (AP, 10/03/09)

President Barack Obama's top energy adviser says there is no way Congress will be able to pass a bill on climate change this year.

"That's not going to happen," the adviser, Carol Browner, said Friday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Medical premiums could still be a 'heavy lift' (RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, 10/02/09, Associated Press)

Many middle-class Americans would still struggle to pay for health insurance despite efforts by President Barack Obama and Democrats to make coverage more affordable. [...]

"For some people it's going to be a heavy lift," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. "We're doing our best to make sure it's not an impossible lift."

...but are Democrats really imploding their party just to achieve a goal of not making it impossible to have health insurance when they're done messing with a system most of is are satisfied with?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Kerry's Banana Politics (IBD, 10/02/09)

Banana republic politics aren't just confined to Honduras these days. On Thursday, Sen. John Kerry tried to halt Sen. Jim DeMint's trip there in a tit-for-tat slap. And he thinks it's Hondurans who need dialogue?

Kerry's unprecedented bid to keep South Carolina's Republican senator out of Honduras shows how much spite there is in the party line of Democrats. The senior senator from Massachusetts leads the Foreign Relations Committee and seems to agree with the current nonsense that Honduras' legal ouster of its rogue president was a "coup" that deserves "punishment."

...how many more chances does he have remaining to help Leftists enemies destroy democracy? Carpe diem!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Guys, Do You Need A Physical? (Morning Call, 10/03/09)

Getting an annual physical is good for you, right? Don't be so sure, suggests a study published in September in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study suggests that, for healthy adults, the benefits of an annual physical may not justify the financial cost.

"A lot of doctors don't think physical exams are very helpful," says the author, Ateev Mehrotra, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a policy analyst at Rand. The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Rick Kellerman, agrees: "The annual physical is not necessary." [...]

In fact, the annual physical is too often a formality that siphons time and money from the healthcare system without offering definitive improvements for patients in return, argues H. Gilbert Welch, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Cod's comeback stuff of dreams and controversy (Andrew Chung, 10/03/09, Toronto Star)

There is a nostalgic fondness for cod, still, 17 years after the fish stock's near demise led to the end of an industry, a way of life and tens of thousands of jobs.

So they might be ripe to hear something that hasn't been said for more years than most care to remember: cod is coming back.

A little-noticed but important decision was taken last week by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization to reopen the Flemish Cap off Newfoundland's southeast coast to cod fishing. [...]

"We're starting to see signs of rebuilding," says David Balfour, head of the Canadian delegation to NAFO's annual meeting in Bergen, Norway. "We've seen (Flemish Cap cod) rebuilt and we're seeing positive signs with respect to other cod stocks. That's the good news."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Tories vow to block Tony Blair’s appointment as EU president
(Rosa Prince, 03 Oct 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The Conservatives have vowed to fight attempts to make Tony Blair the first president of the European Union if Ireland is declared to have voted ‘yes’ in its referendum today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to have Jewish past (Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat, 03 Oct 2009, 10/03/09, Daily Telegraph)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vitriolic attacks on the Jewish world hide an astonishing secret, evidence uncovered by The Daily Telegraph shows.

A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.

A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver.

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


We Were Wrong: Why I'm Not Voting for Clinton (Katha Pollitt, October 7, 1996, The Nation)

In 1996 we can say with some certainty that Clinton has more than fulfilled the fears of his critics, including the ones at this magazine, who received a great deal of grief in the early years of the new Administration for being too "negative" and "carping". Michael Kazin and Maurice Isserman's 1994 Nation article urging leftists to give Clinton a break looks positively quaint today. Among his accomplishments they list the "affirmative action" appointments of Mike Espy, Ron Brown, and Janet Reno, three big disasters; a "sexually explicit" anti-AIDS campaign (what?); an expanded definition of homelessness (with expanded actual homelessnes soon to come); and access and jobs for our side (plus the chance to quit on principle). Yes, in a few high-profile area Clinton has been less bad than Bush would have been: the Supreme Court (but not the lower courts); abortion rights, the largely symbolic assault weapons ban and the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Violence Against Women Act. But it's a short, narrowly tailored list. On many of the great issues before government he's continued Bush's policies--the crime bill, the neglect of the cities, the erosion of civil liberties and privacy, NAFTA. On some--welfare, food stamps--he's arguably been worse.

Liberal defenders of Clinton blame the 1994 Republican victories for his current conservative stands, particularly on welfare. But it was Clinton himself who made welfare a burning issue. His original welfare proposal, which Gloria Steinem and other feminists now portray as benevolent, included many of the punitive features of the bill he eventually signed--cutoffs, time limits, forced work. Donna Shalala herself (whose shameful tenure as secretary of H.H.S. is hardly an argument for getting "liberal to radical activists" into government service) admitted that under the Clinton plan some mothers would lose their children.

Besides misreading the actual chronology of events, blaming Gingrich for Clinton takes much too narrow a view of politics. Clinton and Gingrich are part of the same worldwide phenomenon: the slashing of the welfare state, the lowering of the working class's standard of living, and the upward transfer of wealth. You can plausibly argue that Clinton prepared Gingrich's way by accepting Republican terms of debate.

Of course, we cannot know what a second Bush Administration would have brought. We can safely say, though, that we would not see Bernie Sanders voting for more prisons and Carol Moseley-Braun advocating trying 13-year-olds as adults. We would not have Barbara Mikulski and Tom Harkin voting to abolish the federal entitlement to welfare, or Nita Lowey supporting abstinence-only sex education. We would ahve an opposition in Congress--and out of it too. If Bush had proposed the Clinton health plan, single-payer activists would never have signed on to flack it. If Bush had suggested hooking up to the Internet schools that don't have neough desks he would have been ridiculed as a clueless showboater. And if a bill cutting $54 billion out of public assistance had come up during his tenure, Marian Wright Edelman, Jesse Jackson, and Gloria Steinem would have been out in the streets. Who knows, Donna Shalala might have been there too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


For Obama, No Payoff From Gamble of a Personal Pitch (Michael A. Fletcher and Anne E. Kornblut, 10/03/09, Washington Post)

"I think Americans want a president who is going to fight for their country," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who argued that Obama would suffer no significant fallout because of Chicago's defeat.

...but we would kind of like a president who doesn't humiliate himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Clinton 'hated,' but defends, Haiti embargo (JONATHAN M. KATZ, 10/02/09, Associated Press)

Bill Clinton grimaced Friday as he recalled the severe embargo he oversaw as president against Haiti's then-brutal regime, a move that destroyed the very economy he is now fighting to revive.

Clinton said the action was necessary to end a junta's brutal and illegal rule. [...]

An assembly sector that had employed 100,000 workers fell to just 17,000 jobs, according to the U.S. State Department. It has barely recovered since.

The regime finally fell when Clinton ordered U.S. troops to prepare for an invasion of the country in September 1994 and the coup leaders stepped down. Aristide returned to power, only to be ousted again in a 2004 rebellion and depart for Africa aboard a U.S. plane.

...even the threat of our military changes regimes. It's almost impossible to justify the measures we use instead of war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Newer Justices Could Transform Supreme Court (Robert Barnes, 10/02/09, Washington Post)

The chief justice, 55, has emerged as a canny tactician, patiently moving the court's decisions to the right, but without bold steps.

"When the court has gotten to the brink of overruling a major precedent, the court has stepped back from the cliff," said Steven R. Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Whether that is because of Roberts's preference for narrow and incremental change or because Justice Anthony M. Kennedy remains the decider between the court's equally divided conservative and liberal blocs is the great debate about the court.

But Dellinger and others expect Roberts to play a pivotal role that often eluded his mentor and predecessor, Rehnquist.

"With each passing term, Chief Justice Roberts may take an increasingly muscular role on the court," Dellinger said "Unlike any other chief justice, he comes to the position from a professional career as a Supreme Court advocate in which he excelled at persuading five justices to agree with his position."

It's probably because he isn't a lawyer that George W. Bush understood the institution of the Court so well and how to move it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Obama moving slowly on judges (LARRY MARGASAK, 10/02/09, Associated Press)

Eight months into office, President Barack Obama is moving far more slowly than his predecessor to fill federal court vacancies, leaving liberals waiting for the judiciary to tilt to the left.

At stake are precedent-setting rulings on issues that divide liberals and conservatives: immigration, the death penalty, discrimination, campaign finance and abortion.

As of Oct. 1, Obama has submitted only eight nominees to fill 20 current appeals court vacancies. During his first full eight months in office, former President George W. Bush had nominations for filling 23 of 34 vacancies, according to figures compiled by the Alliance for Justice, a liberal court-watching group.

Obama has nominated only 10 people for 75 currently vacant district court judgeships. At this time in his first term, Bush had sent the Senate 32 district judge nominees for 81 then-vacant seats.

...it's liberal court rulings.

October 2, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 PM


France warns US on deal with Iran (James Blitz in London, Daniel Dombey in Washington and Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran, October 2 2009, Financial Times)

France is anxious about the Obama administration’s pursuit of a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, warning that the US must not allow Tehran to expand its uranium enrichment without facing fresh sanctions.

...it was the Brits who did it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Health Care’s Swiss Solution: Fostering competition among insurers has empowered consumers and controlled costs. (Alphonse Crespo, Philip Stevens, 2 October 2009, City Journal)

U.S. policymakers still enamored of European solutions have better models to choose from. Switzerland enjoys some of the highest quality health care in the world, largely because it has avoided some of the pitfalls of the Franco-German model, allowing a large measure of consumer-driven competition while subsidizing premiums for the indigent with taxpayer dollars. It’s not perfect: mandatory insurance has led to some cartel-like behavior among insurers and given the government increased control over health-care provision, but it has kept a lid on health-care inflation while continuing to offer patients high quality and more choices.

The Dutch have followed suit. The Netherlands for years labored under a Franco-German health-care model that absorbed 30 percent of its GDP growth. In 2006, it shifted to a Swiss-style system in which all citizens must purchase insurance from one of 41 competing private-insurance funds. This introduced a strong element of price competition into the system, with large numbers of switching customers forcing insurers to focus on patients’ needs and increase their back-office efficiency. The new arrangement has injected innovation into the system, too, as insurers seek to steal a march on their competitors. Crucially, costs have been kept under control without rationing. Since the Dutch enacted their reforms, health-care spending inflation has slowed from 4.5 to 3 percent annually, even as quality has improved.

The lessons for the U.S. are clear. Creating a state-subsidized insurer or non-profit co-op to cater to those unable to afford private premiums is the most expensive way of covering the uninsured. As Switzerland and the Netherlands demonstrate, lifting barriers to competition among insurers can provide a more sustainable solution to the cost and access problems that plague American health care. Mandatory insurance, however, needs careful checks on insurance cartel power.

Better still, a uniquely American solution would create universal health-savings accounts (with government subsidies targeted at the poor and high-cost patients) that would encourage consumers to adopt healthy lifestyles and seek care in cost-effective settings—like buying generic drugs at Wal-Mart or seeking basic care from retail clinics. The central insight now lacking in the health-care debate (whether in Europe or the U.S.) is that consumers demand better technology at lower cost from every market where they have “skin in the game”—whether it be electronics or automobiles. A combination of high-deductible catastrophic health insurance and HSAs is the only kind of “universal health care” that will, in the long run, work.

One of the GOP candidates needs to hurry up and make that the Pawlenty (or Daniels or Jindahl...) Plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


David Hume and the Conservative Tradition (Donald W. Livingston, 10/02/09, First Principles)

Russell Kirk defined the conservative tradition as essentially a critique of ideology in politics, first exemplified in the French Revolution and first exposed and criticized in 1790 by Edmund Burke’s eloquent Reflections on the Revolution in France. In Burke’s view (and Kirk’s) a normal or healthy political society reposes in the enjoyment of inherited traditions and practices. The art of politics is to preserve these general arrangements and, when necessary, to correct them by recourse to principles already intimated in them. An ideological style of politics, however, imagines an alternative order of politicsknown by reason, entirely independent of tradition and expressed in a set of abstract principles. For the ideologue, the task of politics is to instantiate that alternative (and philosophically “correct”) social order.

If we take conservatism to be essentially a critique of ideology, then Hume must be counted as a founding figure in the conservative tradition because he was the first to launch a systematic critique of modern ideologies. The critique is grounded in a distinction Hume makes between “true philosophy” and “false philosophy” that was forged in his first work, A Treatise of Human Nature(1739–40), and that runs throughout all his writings, including his historical writings. What Hume calls “false philosophy” is what we would describe today as “ideology,” a term unavailable to either Hume or Burke. HUME USES “philosophy” and “reason” to mean the same thing; so a critique of philosophy is also a critique of reason. But how can one distinguish between true and corrupt forms of philosophy (or of reason)? Such a critique would itself be another philosophical theory, and how could one know that the critique was not itself of the corrupt sort? This apparent inability of philosophy or reason to throw itself seriously into question led some to think that reason is a self-certifying guide to truth. Descartes, for instance, taught that the cause of error lies in the will,not the intellect. Philosophic reason, rightly conducted, is infallible. Hume, however, taught that philosophic reason contains within itself the seeds of its own corruption. How is this possible?2

According to Hume, the philosophical act of thought is structured by three principles: ultimacy, autonomy, and dominion. First, philosophical claims purport to provide an unconditioned understanding of what is thought to be ultimately real. Second, philosophy is autonomous, i.e., self-determining. The philosopher cannot (without ceasing to be a philosopher) defer to the pre-reflective authorityof custom, tradition, or to the dogmas of priests and poets. Third, philosophical claims about the real, grounded in the philosopher’s autonomous reason, have a title to rule over the domain of the pre-reflective. As Plato said, philosophers should be kings.

What Hume discovered is that these principles of philosophic reason are incompatible with human nature. When cut loose from the authority of the pre-reflective, they are indeterminate and can establish no judgment whatsoever. But philosophers typically do not recognize this; instead, they secretly smuggle in their favorite prejudices from pre-reflective custom and pass them off as universal principles entirely free from the authority of custom. In doing so they deceive themselves and others. And since the aim of philosophical truth is self-knowledge,this form of philosophic reason is falsein the sense of being self-deceptive.

What Hume did for the Anglosphere in particular can not be overstated. He killed Reason and he did so by applying reason to it. Thanks to him, we were largely insulated from the utopian schemes and intellectual certitudes that ravaged continental Europe.

Unsurprisingly, given his achievement, we aren't know for our philosophers. And, revealingly, such as we have are notable for their skepticism and sense of humor about the enterprise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


Obama's Olympic Failure Will Test the Washington Press Corps (Fred Barnes, 10/02/09, Weekly Standard)

Now is the time for the mainstream media to show it’s not totally in President Obama’s pocket. The Washington press corps will never fault Obama for pushing hyper-liberal policies in a moderate-to-conservative country. Ideological criticism by the press is reserved for Republican presidents.

But the media is faced with three facts as a result of Obama’s embarrassing failure in Copenhagen. 1) The failure itself. 2) The incompetence. 3) The lack of persuasive ability. There’s nothing ideological about any of these items.

The scary thing for the White House is that the media is passing the Barnes Test:
For Obama, an Unsuccessful Campaign (PETER BAKER, 10/03/09, NY Times)
President Obama not only failed to bring home the gold, he could not even muster the silver or bronze.

A dramatic 20-hour mission across the ocean to persuade the International Olympic Committee to give the 2016 Summer Games to Chicago proved such a miscalculation that his adopted hometown finished fourth of four candidate cities.

Rarely has a president put his credibility on the line on the world stage in such a personal way and been slapped down so sharply in real time. [...]

His decision to become the first president to lobby the Olympic committee in person, just two weeks after saying he was too busy with health care legislation, was a risky gamble from the start. It was predicated on the theory that Mr. Obama’s star power overseas — “the best brand in the world,” as his advisers have put it — was luminescent enough to sway enough committee members to make the difference.

The agony of Obama's defeat (JOSH GERSTEIN, 10/2/09, Politico)
ven before Air Force One made it back to Andrews, political finger-pointing broke out. White House officials insisted that Obama decided to go only after very aggressive lobbying from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who offered assurances that the city’s bid was within striking distance of winning.

Many political pros said they wouldn’t even consider letting Obama put his prestige, popularity and time on the line to go to Copenhagen unless he thought Chicago was a lock, or a near-lock. Some even speculated that Obama must have had some inside information about the strength of Chicago’s bid that prompted him to go – something the White House denied.

But at least one Olympics expert said that if the White House aides truly believed Daley’s assurances, they were simply naïve.

“Obama and his advisers have proven to be less smart post-campaign than in the campaign,” said John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor who studies the International Olympic Committee. “The specter of a smart politician like Obama walking into this is not pretty."

Posted by Stephen Judd at 6:00 PM


The next generation of Brothers Judd have joined the Cub Scouts. Their goal (well mine actually) is to make it further than Uncle Orrin, an esteemed Webelo.

The fall fundraiser is selling popcorn. If you're so moved, you can purchase some from Trails-End online, and their Pack gets the credit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


The Lost Polanski Transcripts : The idea that Roman Polanski was done in by an unscrupulous judge is a myth. Marcia Clark studies the startling transcripts from his 1977 guilty plea.(Marcia Clark, 10/02/09, Daily Beast)

“Mr. Polanski, because this offense involved a girl under the age of 14, it is mandatory that MDSO proceedings be instituted. MDSO means Mentally Disordered Sex Offender. If you are found to be an MDSO, you would have to register that fact with the law enforcement officer of the community in which you resided.”

Gunson then went on to ask: “….on March 10, 1977, the day you had sexual intercourse with the complaining witness, how old did you believe her to be?”

Polanski conferred with his lawyer and then answered: “She was 13.”

Gunson: “Did you understand that she was 13 on March 10, 1977, when you had sexual intercourse with her?”

Again, Polanski conferred with his lawyer, then answered: “Yes.”

So Polanski knew he faced the possibility of becoming a registered sex offender and admitted in open court that he was subject to that penalty because he knowingly had sexual contact with a girl who was 13 years old.

...this is about anything more than the Left's belief that sex is never immoral?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


Hug 'em close: How big is Gordon Brown's “big choice” really? (Bagehot, Oct 1st 2009, The Economist)

The headline message was that Britain faces a “big choice” election, like those of 1945 (after which the modern welfare state was created) and 1979 (won by Margaret Thatcher). [...]

The principal debate is no longer about “Labour investment versus Tory cuts”. It is Labour cuts versus Tory cuts. Minister after minister gave warning this week about the inner axe-murderer who would be unleashed should David Cameron become prime minister, to set about massacring teachers and nurses. Labour’s savings, they claimed, would come from “efficiencies” and magically disposable “lower-priority budgets”. There is indeed a disagreement about when the cutting should begin; further contrasts may be drawn in the government’s pre-budget report later this autumn. But the blood-curdling warnings cannot disguise the essential symmetry of the two parties’ positions.

Then there are the vows to keep government fiscally honest. Mr Brown and Alistair Darling, the chancellor, announced plans for a “fiscal-responsibility act” that would make reducing the deficit a legal requirement. Meanwhile, and notwithstanding their professed desire to liquidate quangos as a class, the Tories have proposed to set up a new one to monitor the public finances. One is a watchdog and the other is a law, but both are macho bids to demonstrate seriousness about Britain’s debt burden.

Perhaps the main policy theme of Mr Brown’s own speech was what is clunkingly known as “antisocial behaviour”. He advanced various schemes for dealing with “chaotic families”, teenage mothers and problem boozers. The Tories have a name for this set of problems too: they call it the “broken society”. Mr Brown’s team eschews that crassly denigrating vocabulary, but they evidently feel a need to match the Tories’ emphasis on social dysfunction. Another big target for Mr Brown was bankers and their bonuses. The Tories have also called for bonus restraint, and for the tumbrels to cart financial miscreants out of the City.

The choice is which party can best be trusted to continue Thatcherism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Hollywood's Shame (Eugene Robinson, October 2, 2009, Washington Post)

Could it be that the conservative culture warriors who portray Hollywood as a cesspool of moral bankruptcy have been right all along?

Isn't the truly amazing thing here that the Left has made its hideousness so obvious that it's causing folks like Mr. Robinson and Katha Pollitt to make sense, however briefly...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM

WHY DO THEY HATE US? (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Rio Wins Bid for 2016 Olympic Games (JULIET MACUR and LYNN ZINSER, 10/02/09, NY Times)

The announcement was shown live on Rio’s Copacabana beach, where tens of thousands of people had begun the party early in front of a main stage flanked by screens. As the envelope was opened in Copenhagen and the city’s name rang out, a loud scream rose from the crowd. Confetti exploded from the stage, as the people, dressed in shorts and bikinis, jumped to samba music and waved Brazilian flags and balloons of green and yellow, the national colors. The crowd spread to the water’s edge, and more people continued to arrive for a celebration that promised to last well into the night.The scene was different earlier in Chicago as throngs in Daley Plaza gasped in disappointment when Rogge announced that Chicago was out. It was a surprising verdict, especially after President Obama’s whirlwind trip to boost the bid of his adopted city. Mr. Obama was the first American president to make an in-person appeal for a bid city, and the first lady, Michelle Obama, had also come this week to lobby I.O.C. members for votes. The Obamas were flying back to Washington at the time of the vote.

In an even more direct blow, they refused to make unicorn riding a medal event.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


The NS Interview: Robert Harris (Jonathan Derbyshire, 01 October 2009, New Statesman)

Do you agree with Enoch Powell's line about all political careers ending in failure?

I think that's indisputably true, because there is a false assumption built into the whole rhetoric of politics, which is to think that somehow things could ever be solved. Every politician and political party connives in this falsehood. The National Health Service is not a problem that can ever be solved, because people are always going to get sick and die. I have sympathy with the view of François Mitterrand that politics is not a crusade, it is a profession.

That is what attracts me about Cicero: he was a practitioner of the humane art of governance. There were few politicians more skilled, yet he was crushed by the forces around him. [...]

You take the title of the novel from a ritual purification that occurred in Rome every five years. Do we need something similar?

I think so. In Rome, it was seen that this ritual purging, with the census coming in and clearing out the senate every five years, was needed. And yes, we're definitely about to have one.

Although I'm no Conservative, I do think in a way a change of government is to be welcomed, because this lot do seem to have run out of ideas. We need that sort of five-year sacrifice and sweeping away to see whether we can find something new, some fresh way forward. I feel we have now run into a dead end, and I think that there is generally a strong feeling of that
in the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


The First Counter-revolutionary (Corey Robin, October 19, 2009, The Nation)

The second argument offered in favor of the monarchy, the constitutional royalist position, had deeper roots in English thought and was therefore more difficult to counter. It held that England was a free society because royal power was limited by the common law or shared with Parliament. That combination of the rule of law and shared sovereignty, claimed Sir Walter Raleigh, was what distinguished the free subjects of the king from the benighted slaves of despots in the East. It was this argument and its radical offshoots, Skinner maintains, that quickened Hobbes's most profound and daring reflections about liberty.

Beneath this conception of political liberty lay a distinction between acting for the sake of reason and acting at the behest of passion. The first is a free act; the second is not. "To act out of passion," Skinner explains, "is not to act as a free man, or even distinctively as a man at all; such actions are not an expression of true liberty but of mere licence or animal brutishness." Freedom entails acting upon what we have willed, but will should not be confused with appetite or aversion. As Bramhall put it: "A free act is only that which proceeds from the free election of the rational will." "Where there is no consideration nor use of reason, there is no liberty at all." Being free entails our acting in accordance with reason or, in political terms, living under laws as opposed to arbitrary power.

Like the divine right of kings, the constitutional argument had been rendered anachronistic by recent developments, most notably the fact that no English monarch in the first half of the seventeenth century still believed it. Intent on turning England into a modern state, James and Charles were compelled to advance far more absolutist claims about the nature of their power than the constitutional argument allowed.

More troubling for the regime, however, was how easily the constitutional argument could be turned into a republican one and used against the king. Which it was, in the muted pleas of common lawyers and parliamentary supplicants, who argued that by flouting the common law and Parliament, Charles was threatening to turn England into a tyranny; and in the utopian demands of radicals, who insisted that anything short of a republic or democracy, where men lived under laws they had consented to, constituted a tyranny. All monarchy, in their eyes, was despotism.

Hobbes thought that the latter argument derived from the "Histories, and Philosophy of the Antient Greeks, and Romans," which were so influential among educated opponents of the king. Skinner agrees, and a considerable portion of this book (as well as several of his other books and essays) is devoted to tracing the classical lineage of what he calls the "neo-Roman" or republican argument. That ancient heritage was given new life by Machiavelli's Discorsi, translated into English in 1636, which Skinner suggests may have been Hobbes's ultimate target in his admonition against popular government.

But Skinner also points out that the underlying premise of the republican argument--what distinguishes a free man from a slave is that the former is subject to his own will while the latter is subject to the will of another--could be found, in a "word-for-word" reproduction of "the Digest of Roman law," in English common law as early as the thirteenth century. Likewise, the distinction between will and appetite, liberty and license, was "deeply embedded" in both the scholastic traditions of the Middle Ages and the humanist culture of the Renaissance. It thus found expression not only in the royalist positions of Bramhall and his ilk but also among the radicals and regicides who overthrew the king. A fascinating subtext of Skinner's argument, then, is that beneath the chasm separating royalist and republican lay a deep and volatile bedrock of shared assumption about the nature of liberty. It was Hobbes's genius to recognize that assumption and his ambition to crush it.

While the notion that freedom entails living under laws lent support to the constitutional royalists, who made much of the distinction between lawful monarchs and despotic tyrants, it did not necessarily lead to the conclusion that a free regime had to be a republic or a democracy. To advance that argument, the radicals had to make two additional claims: first, to equate arbitrariness or lawlessness with a will that is not one's own, a will that is external or alien; and second, to equate the decisions of a popular government with a will that is one's own. To be subject to a will that is mine--the laws of a republic or democracy--is to be free; to be subject to a will that is not mine--the edicts of a king or foreign country--is to be a slave.

It's not always clear from Skinner's text how the republicans made these claims; his Liberty Before Liberalism, published in 1998, provides a better map of their maneuvers. But what is clear is that they were aided in these efforts by a peculiar, though popular, understanding of slavery. What made someone a slave, in the eyes of many, was not that he was in chains or that his owner impeded or compelled his movements. It was that he lived and moved under a net--the ever changing, arbitrary will of his master--that might fall upon him at any moment. Even if it never fell--the master never told him what to do or never punished him for not doing it, or he never desired to do something different from what the master told him--the slave was still enslaved. The fact that he "lived in total dependence" on the will of another--that he was under the master's jurisdiction--"was sufficient in itself to guarantee the servility" that the master "expected and despised."

The mere presence of relations of domination and dependence...is held to reduce us from the status of..."free-men" to that of slaves. It is not sufficient, in other words, to enjoy our civic rights and liberties as a matter of fact; if we are to count as free-men, it is necessary to enjoy them in a particular way. We must never hold them merely by the grace or goodwill of anyone else; we must always hold them independently of anyone's arbitrary power to take them away from us.

At the individual level, freedom means being one's own master; politically, it requires a republic or democracy. Only a full sharing in and of the public power will ensure that we enjoy our freedom in the "particular way" freedom requires. It is this movement from the personal to the political--the notion that individual freedom entails political membership and participation, that it is fatally abridged by our not being full citizens of the polity--that is arguably the most radical element of the theory of popular government and, from Hobbes's view, the most dangerous.

And, so long as the laws are not arbitrary--in terms of their adoption and application--they are consistent with liberty, no matter how much they limit "freedom."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM

MOOSE TRACKS (via Thomas W. Nicholson):

MY SPACE: Pomplamoose

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Leaving Israel With No Choice? (Michael Gerson, October 2, 2009 , Washington Post)

Obama has injected considerable suspicion into the American-Israeli relationship, picking public fights on issues such as settlements and adopting a tone of neutrality in other controversies. If Israel thinks America is an increasingly unreliable partner, Israel will be more likely to depend on itself alone -- and let the bombers fly. "When someone is trigger-happy," says Zakheim, "the last thing you want to do is make them paranoid."

In the end, it is American leaders who can talk Israeli leaders off the ledge of military confrontation. This is possible only if Israelis trust American goodwill, competence and strength of purpose. The immediate precedent does not encourage confidence. Israelis look at the North Korean crisis and see an example of meticulous, multilateral cooperation resulting in spectacular counterproliferation failure. Why, they wonder, is Iran going to be different? Weak American credibility on North Korea has strengthened the argument for direct Israeli action against Iran.

Here is a paradox for President Obama to ponder while traversing the Iranian minefield: If the Israelis were confident that America would act decisively against the Iranian nuclear threat in the greatest extremity, they would be far less likely to act themselves. Lacking that confidence, they may conclude, once again, that delaying the threat is good enough.

If Israel does strike, President Obama is far too weak to do anything but back them fully.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


The Left: What's Left of It? (Amir Taheri, 10/02/09, Asharq Alawsat)

A broader look at the major democracies shows that Socialism is not doing well.

Outside the Iberian Peninsula, the European Union is almost entirely blue- the color of conservatism. However, even Iberia may not remain red, the color of socialism, for long as the governing Socialist Workers' Party in Spain seems to be heading for defeat in the next election. As for Britain, where the mildly socialist Labour Party is still in government, most pundits expect a return of the Conservatives in next year's election.

What makes this perceived retreat of the Left more interesting is that it comes when capitalism is experiencing what is supposed to be its gravest crisis since the 1920s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Obama’s French Lesson: Sarkozy could not conceal his astonishment at Obama’s naïveté. (Charles Krauthammer, 10/02/09, National Review)

On September 24, Obama ostentatiously presided over the Security Council. With 14 heads of state (or government) at the table, with an American president in the chair for the first time ever, with every news camera in the world trained on the meeting, it would garner unprecedented worldwide attention.

Unknown to the world, Obama had in his pocket explosive revelations about an illegal uranium-enrichment facility that the Iranians had been hiding near Qom. The French and the British were urging him to use this most dramatic of settings to stun the world with the revelation and to call for immediate action.

Obama refused. Not only did he say nothing about it, but, reports Le Monde, Sarkozy was forced to scrap the Qom section of his speech. Obama held the news until a day later — in Pittsburgh. I’ve got nothing against Pittsburgh (site of the G-20 summit), but a stacked-with-world-leaders Security Council chamber, it is not.

Why forgo the opportunity? Because Obama wanted the Security Council meeting to be about his own dream of a nuclear-free world. The president, reports the New York Times, citing “White House officials,” did not want to “dilute” his disarmament resolution “by diverting to Iran.”

Diversion? It’s the most serious security issue in the world. A diversion from what? From a worthless U.N. disarmament resolution?

Yes. And from Obama’s star turn as planetary visionary: “The administration told the French,” reports the Wall Street Journal, “that it didn’t want to ‘spoil the image of success’ for Mr. Obama’s debut at the U.N.”

Image? Success? Sarkozy could hardly contain himself. At the council table, with Obama at the chair, he reminded Obama that “we live in a real world, not a virtual world.”

...to get to the hollowness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Christie and Corzine trade shots (MICHAEL FALCONE, 10/1/09, Politico)

Corzine largely stood by his record as governor over the last four years, saying that his administration has worked to reduce “the size and scope of government” and accusing his Republican opponent, Chris Christie, of failing to come up with a specific plan to help the state regain its financial footing.

Christie, a former United States attorney vying to be the first Republican to be elected to statewide office in New Jersey in more than a decade, said repeatedly on Thursday that New Jersey voters were “suffocating” under a weighty tax burden that was driving residents and business from the state, and said that Corzine’s high taxes had stalled the state’s economic engine.

“People are leaving this state in droves, business are leaving this state in droves and taking their jobs with them,” Christie said. “That’s why we have the worst unemployment rate in 33 years.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Climate Bill Would Ease Energy Costs, Senator Says (Juliet Eilperin, 10/02/09, Washington Post)

Senate Democrats will initially devote 70 percent of the pollution allowances in their new climate measure to making it easier for people to pay their energy bills, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer said in an interview to be aired Sunday on C-SPAN.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Survey: Pro-life views gain under Obama (Julia Duin, 10/02/09, Washington Times)

Popular support for abortion rights has dropped seven points in the past year due in part to the election of a pro-choice Democratic president, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said Thursday. [...]

Pew's findings square with a similar Gallup Values and Beliefs survey in May that showed more Americans consider themselves to be pro-life (51 percent) than pro-choice (42 percent).

They also square with a Pew survey released in May showing an even larger drop of 8 percentage points - 54 to 46 percent since August 2008 - of abortion rights advocates. The biggest drops in support were among white mainline Protestants and men. Approval among both groups fell by 10 percent. [...]

In a question about President Obama's handling of the issue, 42 percent said they didn't know his stance on abortion....

October 1, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Pawlenty preps 2012 campaign team (JONATHAN MARTIN, 10/1/09, Politico)

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been quietly assembling the blueprint of a presidential campaign and will announce Thursday the support of a group of high-level political strategists and donors, complemented by a handful of top new media consultants, POLITICO has learned.

Pawlenty, under the radar of D.C.’s political community, has locked up some of the key operatives who engineered then-President George W. Bush’s reelection campaign — a significant feat for a little-known Midwestern politician.

Not that there was any reason that Mitt Romney would do better this time, but with all the energy of the Republican Party devoted to preventing President Obama from putting in place a national version of the Romney Health Plan, he's a non-starter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Obama, Dictators and democrats: How many rogue nations can President Obama hold in one hand? (DANIEL HENNINGER, 9/30/09, WSJ)

[W]hat is one to make of a left-of-center American political leader taking such a diffident stance toward democratic movements? The people who live under the sway of the top dog in all the nations that have earned high-level Obama envoys are the world's poor, and one would expect the social-justice left to support them. That may no longer be true on the American or European left.

Transforming dictatorships into nations with reasonably competitive democracies increases the odds that their people in time will find a competent leader, such as Colombia's Alvaro Uribe, who will introduce productive economic policies. That makes it more likely these peoples will join the global trading system, raising their incomes.

For the American left, now fused to financial support from domestic labor unions, the world's dispossessed represent a threat—less costly labor selling goods into the high-cost world.

Active help for democratic oppositions in Venezuela, Syria, Egypt, Iran or even Guinea hardly serves this interest. Today, social justice stops at the water's edge. Even as Mr. Obama extends his hand to a Chávez, Morales or Castro, he makes no effort to finish free-trade agreements with certifiably democratic Colombia and Panama.

The one thing the Obama tack of talking to dictators and slow-walking free trade assures is that many of these populations may be run indefinitely by economically incompetent psychopaths who pose no threat to the interests of American labor and their Democratic dependents. This anti-democratic protectionism of course has fans on the xenophobic right in the U.S., too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


Roman Polanski Has a Lot of Friends (Katha Pollitt, 10/01/2009, The Nation)

If a rapist escapes justice for long enough, should the world hand him a get-out-of-jail-free card? If you're Roman Polanski, world-famous director, a lot of famous and gifted people think the answer is yes. Polanski, who drugged and anally raped a thirteen-year-old girl in 1977 in Los Angeles, pled guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor and fled to Europe before sentencing. Now, 32 years later, he's been arrested in Switzerland on his way to the Zurich film Festival, prompting outrage from international culture stars: Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodavar, Woody Allen (insert your own joke here), Isabelle Huppert, Diane von Furstenberg and many, many more. Bernard-Henri Levy, who's taken a leading role in rounding up support, has said that Polanski "perhaps had committed a youthful error " (he was 43). Debra Winger, president of the Zurich Film Festival jury, wearing a red "Free Polanski" badge, called the Swiss authorities action "philistine collusion." Frederic Mitterand, the French cultural minister, said it showed "the scary side of America" and described Polanski as "thrown to the lions because of ancient history." French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, called the whole thing "sinister."

Closer to home, Whoopi Goldberg explained on The View that his crime wasn't 'rape rape,' just, you know, rape. Oh, that! Conservative columnist Anne Applebaum minimized the crime in the Washington Post. First, she overlooks the true nature of the crime (drugs, forced anal sex, etc), and then claims "there is evidence Polanski did not know her real age." Talk about a desperate argument. Polanski, who went on to have an affair with 15-year old Nastassja Kinski, has spoken frankly of his taste for very young girls. (Nation editor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel, who tweeted her surprise at finding herself on the same side as Applebaum, has had second thoughts: "I disavow my original tweet supporting Applebaum. I believe that Polanski should not receive special treatment. Question now is how best to ensure that justice is served. Should he return to serve time? Are there other ways of seeing that justice is served? At same time, I believe that prosecutorial misconduct in this case should be investigated.")

...as fast as she's spinning. It's so hard to take a position when there are so many PC rules you could violate...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM


Morning Fix: Republicans' Independent Gains? (Chris Cillizza, 10/01/09, The Fix: Washington Post)

For the first time in more than four years of Gallup polls, more self-described independents now lean toward the Republican Party (15 percent) than toward the Democratic party (13 percent). Those numbers are a far cry from late 2006 -- when almost twice as many independents leaned toward Democrats -- or even late 2008 when Democratic-leaning independents outnumbered Republican-leaning independents 16 percent to 12 percent.

Largely as a result of the movement of independents toward Republican, the wide party identification gap Democrats have enjoyed for the last two elections has shrunk to just six points -- 48 percent Democratic, 42 Republican -- the smallest that space has been since early 2005.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


How Young Is Too Young? (Thaddeus Russell, 10/01/09, Daily Beast)

When I taught "Introduction to American Studies" at Barnard College, I asked my students a question that made me "Enemy Professor No. 9" on the conservative Free Republic website. Roman Polanski's recent arrest reminded me of the public condemnation I received for asking that question: who is too young to have sex with an adult? [...]

Most often my students argued that sexual relations between an adult and a child (whom some defined as anyone under 18, some under 16, and others as the "emotionally immature") necessarily involved the manipulation of the weak by the powerful, which was wrong. But then, I asked, why was it acceptable for adults to cajole and at times physically force children to play sports, wear hipster t-shirts, attend church, wash the dishes, listen to "good" music, obey authority figures, or, as the president of the United States told them directly, to take responsibility for "nothing less than the future of this country"?

That's probably what passes for a devastating argument in his social circles, but even many 13 year old girls could explain to him the difference between the things we encourage children to do for their own well being and the things pedophiles do to them for their own pleasure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Our Uncrowded Planet: Imminent doom has been declared again. But don’t worry, neo-Malthusian predictions of overpopulation are wrong. (Ronald Bailey, October 1, 2009, The American)

Every so often, the overpopulation meme erupts into public discourse and imminent doom is declared again. A particularly overwrought example of the overpopulation meme and its alleged problems appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch in a piece by regular financial columnist Paul B. Farrell.

Farrell asserts that overpopulation is “the biggest time-bomb for Obama, America, capitalism, the world.” Bigger than global warming, poverty, or peak oil. Overpopulation will end capitalism and maybe even destroy modern civilization. As evidence, Farrell cites what he calls neo-Malthusian biologist Jared Diamond's 12-factor equation of population doom.

It turns out that Farrell is wrong or misleading about the environmental and human effects of all 12 factors he cites.

Forget his reliance on Malthusianism, does the Journal really employ a guy who thinks declining demand is good for market economies and declining populations produce civilizations?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Treemometers: A new scientific scandal ( Andrew Orlowski, 29th September 2009, The Register)

A scientific scandal is casting a shadow over a number of recent peer-reviewed climate papers.

At least eight papers purporting to reconstruct the historical temperature record times may need to be revisited, with significant implications for contemporary climate studies, the basis of the IPCC's assessments. A number of these involve senior climatologists at the British climate research centre CRU at the University East Anglia. In every case, peer review failed to pick up the errors. [...]

In particular, since 2000, a large number of peer-reviewed climate papers have incorporated data from trees at the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia. This dataset gained favour, curiously superseding a newer and larger data set from nearby. The older Yamal trees indicated pronounced and dramatic uptick in temperatures.

How could this be? Scientists have ensured much of the measurement data used in the reconstructions remains a secret - failing to fulfill procedures to archive the raw data. Without the raw data, other scientists could not reproduce the results. The most prestigious peer reviewed journals, including Nature and Science, were reluctant to demand the data from contributors. Until now, that is.

At the insistence of editors of the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions B the data has leaked into the open - and Yamal's mystery is no more.

From this we know that the Yamal data set uses just 12 trees from a larger set to produce its dramatic recent trend. Yet many more were cored, and a larger data set (of 34) from the vicinity shows no dramatic recent warming, and warmer temperatures in the middle ages.

In all there are 252 cores in the CRU Yamal data set, of which ten were alive 1990. All 12 cores selected show strong growth since the mid-19th century. The implication is clear: the dozen were cherry-picked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


National Organization for Women attacks Polanski (Jennifer Harper, 9/30/09, Washington Times)

"He's a criminal. He is a convicted criminal pedophile," said Terry O'Neill, president of NOW. "How dare Roman Polanski think he could get away with this. I believe he has banked on men -- powerful decision-makers -- who are more intent on protecting rapists than children. This is the world Polanski is exploiting. It's outrageous."

Whoopi Goldberg defends Roman Polanski: 'It wasn't rape-rape' (Lucy Jones, September 30th, 2009, Daily Telegraph)
Speaking on television show The View, Goldberg said “I know it wasn’t rape-rape. I think it was something else, but I don’t believe it was rape-rape.”

It's your own allies on the Left excusing child rape.

Polanski's defenders lose sight of the true victim: The grand jury transcripts of the sex abuse case paint a far more damaging picture of the events that allegedly unfolded between the director and a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson's home in 1977. (Steve Lopez, September 30, 2009, LA Times)

Q: Did you resist at that time?

A: A little bit, but not really because . . .

Q: Because what?

A: Because I was afraid of him.

That's Roman Polanski's 13-year-old victim testifying before a grand jury about how the famous director forced himself on her at Jack Nicholson's Mulholland Drive home in March of 1977.

I'm reading this in the district attorney's office at the Los Angeles County Criminal Courts Building, digging through the Polanski file to refresh my memory of the infamous case, and my blood pressure is rising.

Is it because I'm the parent of a girl?

Maybe that's part of it.

But I wish the renowned legal scholars Harvey Weinstein and Debra Winger, to name just two of Polanski's defenders, were here with me now. I'd like to invite Martin Scorsese, as well, along with David Lynch, who have put their names on a petition calling for Polanski to be freed immediately.

What, because he won an Oscar? Would they speak up for a sex offender who hadn't?

To hear these people tell it, you'd think Polanski was the victim rather than the teenager.

And then there's Woody Allen, who has signed the petition too.

Woody Allen?

You'd think that after marrying his longtime girlfriend's adopted daughter, he'd have the good sense to remain silent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Health care in Massachusetts: a warning for America (Paul Hsieh, September 30, 2009, CS Monitor)

In his recent speech to Congress, President Obama could have promoted healthcare reforms that tapped the power of a truly free market to lower costs and improve access. Instead, he chose to offer a national version of the failing "Massachusetts plan" based on mandatory health insurance. This is a recipe for disaster.

Three years ago, Massachusetts adopted a plan requiring all residents to purchase health insurance, with state subsidies for lower-income residents. But rather than creating a utopia of high-quality affordable healthcare, the result has been the exact opposite – skyrocketing costs, worsened access, and lower quality care.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Dubai unveils $7.6-billion mass-transit rail system (Meris Lutz, September 10, 2009, LA Times)

Dubai, a Persian Gulf boomtown where Porsches share the road with truckloads of South Asian laborers, launched a mass-transit rail system Wednesday in an effort to ease crippling traffic that costs the city-state an estimated $1.4 billion a year.

Despite recent economic reverses, the railway in this United Arab Emirates city of superlatives -- home to palm-shaped artificial islands and the world's tallest building -- will sport a showy attitude. The system will include VIP cars with fares equivalent to $3.55, more than seven times the lowest-cost ticket. [...]

Only 5% of Dubai residents use public transportation, but authorities are hoping to raise that number to 20% by keeping regular fares between 50 cents and $1.50, the same as the bus system.

Rapid transit is an element of public space and life in cities such as New York, London and Paris. Many wonder whether Dubai's rail system can make a difference in a city defined by individualism and gated communities.

Do you want a society or atomization?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Cash for the classrooms : Green Dot Public Schools has been able to reduce class sizes by watching the pennies and going after grants and state funding. It raises the question of whether L.A. was shortchanging the students. (September 28, 2009, LA Times)

It requires a second or even a third look at Locke High School to discern the changes this fall, one year after it was taken over by charter operator Green Dot Public Schools. The uniforms are still an ensemble of chinos and polo shirts. The teenagers still gather in the quad for lunch. But almost without exception, the students now wear those uniforms without complaint, unlike last year when they would shrug off the shirts as soon as they thought no one was looking. And instead of huddling on the quad with a few friends in clumps, a large group plays pickup soccer on the grass.

The teachers are still mostly young -- well, one tough year older -- and passionate about the mission of teaching disadvantaged students. The big difference: There are 43 more of them than last year, a 25% increase. And a tour of classrooms -- English, math, chemistry -- shows fewer students in each. Average class sizes, which had hovered in the low 30s last year, are now in the mid-20s.

This isn't just a change from the year before; it stands in marked contrast to the Los Angeles Unified School District and many other public school systems that have laid off teachers and increased class sizes because of miserable education funding. At the same time, Green Dot maintains order on what was a traditionally unruly campus by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more on security than most schools.

Many charters use private donations to enhance educational offerings, but Green Dot leaders say they use only public funding for the day-to-day operation of their schools. Part of the Green Dot mission from its inception was to show that charters could offer a superior education with the same resources as public schools. And although Locke has a pool of private grants, it is using that money solely to make the five-year transition from an urban high school of 2,600 students to a series of small academies. Green Dot brought on several of the academies' principals a year before the takeover, for example, to plan the transition. Money is currently being spent on shop equipment for the new school of architecture, construction and engineering -- a vocational program that will nonetheless put its students through all the courses required for entrance to four-year colleges.

So it is instructive to study the ways in which Green Dot managed to lower class sizes to levels that would be the envy of many more affluent California public schools. Such an examination reveals the years of neglect and mismanagement by L.A. Unified; it also sheds light on the historically inefficient use of revenue in the district that has kept money out of classrooms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Obama official regrets advice to gay student in Concord (Associated Press, September 30, 2009)

The Obama administration is defending an Education Department official over advice he gave a gay student about sex 21 years ago. [...]

[Kevin] Jennings was teaching high school in Concord, Mass., in 1988 when a sophomore boy confessed an involvement with an older man in Boston. He told the boy, "I hope you knew to use a condom."

If they want to pretend that homosexuality is okay and that children can know themselves to be gay then what did the guy do wrong?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Refighting the Culture War over Roman Polanski: The furore over his arrest is not about what happened in LA on 10 March 1977 - it’s a pathetic proxy clash between a clapped-out left and right. (Brendan O’Neill, 29 September 2009, spiked)

[P]erhaps the worst aspect of the Polanski affair is the competition of victimhoods. It is testimony to the domination of the victim culture in contemporary society that both Polanski haters and Polanski defenders, both sides in this bizarre re-enactment of the Culture War of the 1960s and its aftermath, have used the language of victimology to make their case. For many American and British commentators this is all about Samantha Gailey, whom they have transformed into the archetypal and eternally symbolic victim of the alleged great evil of our time, Child Abuse. ‘Remember: Polanski raped a child’, says a headline in Salon, in an article that provides sordid, misery-memoir-style details of what Polanski did with his penis to Gailey’s vagina and anus. For European observers, by contrast, Polanski’s actions can be explained by his own victimised past, especially during the Holocaust. We have to understand his ‘life tragedies’ and how they moulded him, says one filmmaker. Anne Applebaum, the American commentator who spends much of her time in Europe, says Polanski fled America in 1978 because of his ‘understandable fear of irrational punishment. Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz. His father survived in Mauthausen. He himself survived the Krakow ghetto.’ (Applebaum fails to disclose that she is married to the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, who is actively campaigning against Polanski’s extradition.)

This spat in victimology confirms that the politics of victimhood, the pursuit of law, politics and morality in the name of respecting and helping victims, dominates debate on both sides of the Atlantic, but in the Anglo-American sphere it is the victim of child abuse that is most sacrosanct, while in Europe it is the victims of the Holocaust who enjoy the greatest, most unquestioned moral authority – to the extent that Polanski’s pretty cowardly fleeing of America in 1978 can be excused as a latent reaction by a tortured man to the emotional horrors of Auschwitz.

L’Affaire Polanski has become a Culture War that dare not speak its name, a pale and dishonest imitation of the debates about values and morality that have emerged at various times over the past 50 years. As a result we are none the wiser about the legal usefulness of 30-year-old arrest warrants or contemporary extradition laws, as desperate political observers have instead turned Polanski into either a ventriloquist’s dummy or a voodoo doll for the purposes of letting off some cheap moral steam.

So because Polanski seeks victim status his victim isn't one?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


“We’ll win when we become New Labour”: The reforming Tories around David Cameron and George Osborne are determined to pick up where Tony Blair left off. (Richard Reeves, 01 October 2009, New Statesman)

The new Conservative/old Blairite mission is to use consumer choice to produce better, fairer public services. The idea is to create what the New Labour academic Julian Le Grand has called "quasi-markets" - but then rig these markets in favour of the poor. Labour made a start in both health and education, with foundation hospitals and academy schools. But then Blair ran out of road. Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary, wants to give choice to parents over which school to send their children to, with money following the pupil wherever he or she goes. But crucially, he also plans to weight the choice in favour of the least advantaged by giving them a "pupil premium". Parents will also be able to use the money to set up their own schools, although few are expected to do so. The National Curriculum will be slimmed down. Head teachers will get much more power over pay and rations.

Tory education policy is an example of undiluted Blairism. It chimes perfectly with Cameron's calls for a "radical redistribution of power" and with the call in Leading from the Front, a new pamphlet from Demos, for more discretion and power to be given to front-line public servants. Conservative plans to give local councils greater authority are another part of the drive for more diversity, competition and accountability.

Three years ago, one of Cameron's inner circle said to me: "We'll win when we become New Labour, and Labour ceases to be New Labour."

Just as Labour won when it became Thatcherite and the Tories stopped being.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Sex, scorn and videotape (Ben Smith, September 30, 2009, Politico)

When John Edwards returned to North Carolina in the course of his long quest for the presidency, Andrew Young always met him at the airport in Edwards’s big black Chevy Tahoe. Young drove, and Edwards rode shotgun, silently raising his left hand whenever he wanted a Diet Coke, which Young would wordlessly supply.

When Edwards and his family arrived home, Young had made sure there was fresh milk in the fridge, a neatly trimmed lawn and neatly folded dry cleaning. When he arranged their vacation to Disney World in 2004, he naturally booked himself a ticket. And when Edwards’s mistress became pregnant, Young — at the cost of his reputation, his wife’s and his minister father’s — stepped forward to say the child was his.

Young sometimes described himself as Edwards’s “special assistant” and dreamed of serving in an Edwards White House. Other aides, with a combination of disgust — and, perhaps, a bit of envy — referred to him as Edwards’s “personal servant,” or worse, Edwards’s “butt boy.” The relationship was so intense, at least on Young’s side, that it generated friction between him and Elizabeth Edwards. But if Elizabeth and John Edwards sometimes seemed to feel that Young — at 40 no longer an eager kid, with three children of his own — had gotten too close, there was no getting rid of him. He had made himself indispensable.

...if you're an effective butt boy the campaign will hate you--because you insulate the candidate from them--but the wife better like you or you're toast. Color us dubious about Mrs. Edwards being an innocent victim of a Svengali-like staffer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Thomas the Tank Engine coming to the big screen (Jay A. Fernandez, 9/30/09, Reuters )

All aboard! Thomas the Tank Engine is heading back out on the tracks.

The cheeky children's book character is en route to the big screen via HIT Entertainment, which has hired screenwriter Josh Klausner (Shrek the Third) to write a script for a feature based on the tiny-train world of Thomas & Friends created by the Reverend W.V. Awdry in the 1940s. [...]

The new film project - a mix of live-action and CGI - is slated for a spring 2011 release.

Thomas represents the world's most popular preschool property, with more than 100 million books and wooden train accessories sold globally. HIT plans a new CGI animated TV series for 2010 (Thomas' 65th birthday) that will for the first time provide voices for Thomas, Percy, James, Toby and the rest.

CGI? Swine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Bipartisan Supporters Call on Congress to Reauthorize D.C. Voucher Program (MARY BRUCE, Sept. 30, 2009, ABC News)

While most children across the country have been in school for several weeks now, 4-year-old Nia Thomas spends her days waiting. Nia is one of 216 students in Washington, D.C., who received federal scholarships last spring to attend local private schools, only to have the funding abruptly revoked by the government.

Her mother, LaTasha Bennett, joined more than 1,000 parents, students and elected officials at a protest today on Capitol Hill to urge Congress, the Education Department and President Obama to change their minds and reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for low-income students.

"These politicians can't put themselves in my shoes," said Bennett, who is now trying privately to raise the $5,700 annual tuition to send Nia to Naylor Roads private school in southeast D.C. "They can't understand our struggle to get our children good educations."

Unless Nia run s a serious GOTV program, why would Democrats care about her?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Profit is the key to success in ‘Swedish schools’: Anders Hultin, an architect of the Swedish government’s voucher system, says the Tories’ plan to emulate it will fail unless they encourage a new breed of education entrepreneurs (Anders Hultin, 3 October 2009, The Spectator)

For us Swedes, it is gratifying to see David Cameron put our free schools model at the heart of his reform agenda. He has chosen well. In a few short years, the voucher system has transformed education in Sweden and led to the creation of almost a thousand new schools. But the Conservative leader has failed to grasp a key aspect of their success. To flourish, these schools must be allowed to make a profit.

This isn’t just one of a long list of pessimistic predictions — it’s the only crucial criticism; he can ignore the rest. The doubts I hear about school choice in England now are the same ones I heard when I helped draft the policy as an adviser in the Swedish education and science department in 1992. Who on earth, we were asked, would want to set up their own school? Surely low-income parents don’t want choice — they just want their local school to improve. Our political opponents thought the policy such a dud they didn’t even bother to attack it. Even we had our doubts. Our proposal was fairly simple: anyone could set up a school, and be paid the going rate (or, at the time, a bit less) that the state-run schools were receiving. But in our heart of hearts, we did not expect a rush of applicants. This is a symbolic policy, I was told by a colleague. It was in our manifesto, so we had to honour it.

Isn’t it strange how little faith government places in the people whose lives it seeks to organise? Once we put our ‘symbolic’ policy into practice, and handed power from government to communities, the effect was extraordinary. A thousand flowers bloomed. Or, more accurately, the number of independent schools grew from 80 to 1,100 — educating 10 per cent of all pupils at the compulsory education age and 20 per cent of those in upper secondary. The drive and energy came from outside government: we in the education department just paid the bills. This, perhaps, explains the success: it was a grassroots-led revolution.

Shhhh, the Right thinks the Third Way is a Socialist plot....